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In the Woods by Tana French is a double mystery. The first occurred in the mid-1980s and the second takes place 20 years later. There are numerous common threads, not the least of which is Adam Robert Ryan, the main character.
Ryan is also the narrator. His tone is engaging, self-deprecating and intelligent. Known as Rob, he’s a detective in Dublin’s Murder Squad. He and his partner, Cassie Maddox, work to solve the murder of 12-year-old Katy Devlin, whose body is found in the same general area where three pre-teens went missing all those years ago. One was Ryan who went by his first name, Adam, and was found covered in blood with no recollection of what happened to him or his friends.
Are the disappearance and murder related? Will Ryan’s memory be jarred? Should he even be involved in the more recent investigation? These questions drive the well-paced novel; the characters make it an interesting and intense journey. French provides plenty of suspects and plot twists. The result is a richly nuanced suspenseful novel.
Only Maddox knows of Ryan’s past. The two are close friends; they’re like siblings in their banter and knowledge of each other. As partners on the case they complement each other in their skills, thought processes and a shared, ironic, disrespect of authority – at least when it comes to their superintendent.
Anyone looking for resolution to both mysteries may be disappointed. This doesn’t necessarily require a spoiler alert, but it should add to the intrigue.
In the Woods
Carrying an umbrella in case of rain is almost a sure sign that it won’t be needed. Upon arriving in Barcelona we worried that the final weekend of our European vacation would be wet and dreary. For the first hour, it was. So, I unpacked the umbrella and the rain in Spain stayed mainly away.
Although, I’m sure we would have enjoyed the sites and food no matter what, the blue skies were an exclamation mark. We marveled at Barcelona’s beauty while also taking the opportunity to sample Catalan cuisine such as tapas, paella and other dishes that expanded our waistlines.
Tapas aren’t only only found in Spain, but that is certainly where they’re an art form. Following a walking tour of the Gothic quarter we wandered into a small tapas bar. Our server spoke wonderful English, which she said she was happy to practice.
We ordered jamon (paper thin slice of cured ham big on salty flavor), tomato bread, a cheese plate and potato balls. There is nothing like Spanish ham (jamon) and as much as I loved it, the potato balls were my favorite. Golf ball-size rounds of mashed potatoes were quickly fried creating a crusty, non-greasy exterior encasing creamy potatoes. Each had dollops of aioli. I could have eaten several platefuls.
My tapas-sized order of paella at another restaurant was uninspiring. The flavors were fine, but the abundance of shellfish made it difficult to eat. I suppose, in retrospect, that wasn’t a bad thing.
My favorite meal was grilled chicken and French fries topped with roasted pepitos. These mild, savory peppers were smoky. The crispy chicken skin, which I ordinarily would have discarded, provided contrast to the juicy meat.
We enjoyed pastries at breakfast and gelato for afternoon/evening snacks.
We did a lot of walking in Barcelona; we had to!
I’ve seen enough Viking Cruise-sponsored Masterpiece Theatre episodes on PBS to have sailed around the world. At least it seems that way, so when the opportunity arose to actually book a Viking ocean cruise, my husband and I grabbed it.
Unlike the river cruises, Viking’s liners on the open seas, in this case the Mediterranean, are larger. With 888 passengers, plus more than 400 crew members, the new Viking Sky is a mini-city with a Norwegian flair.
Like other cruise ships, dining is a major activity. With six dining areas, plus the option for room service, the Viking Sky doesn’t disappoint. A recent tour of one of the galleys helped put a few things into perspective. First, there are 13 kitchens with more than 100 chefs, chefs de cuisine and sous chefs, who work 10-hour shifts to ensure that everyone on board gets more than they need to eat.
Everything is made fresh, from the breads and pastries to pasta. Chef de cuisine Wayan explained that formulas are used to determine how much of each food item is needed on a daily basis. This involves a heavy reliance on past experience and nationality of the guests, among other factors. For example, the kitchen goes through 3,200 eggs per day!
Much more was shared on the tour and each meal on our 8-day cruise has been exceptional from crispy calamri to grilled sea bass, from fork-tender Chateaubriand to a hamburger. The combination of well-prepared dishes and exceptional service has made each meal a special dining experience.
Mani ai Pizzeria’s doors open at 6:30 p.m. We arrived just as a small line was forming. This is a no-frills pizza joint that serves great pies and entertains, at least we were entertained by the pizzamakers. There was neither tossing nor twirling of unbaked dough, but a calm, systematic approach to churning out 15 made-to-order pizzas at a time.
We shared a mixed salad, a liter of the house red and a Margarita pizza. That was our first order before we were mesmerized by the assembly-line process with a personal touch.
Pieces of dough are pulled from a large mound and formed into the size of tennis balls. These are rolled flat and stacked. Initially, there were two men making the pies. One rolled, creating a flurry of flour, one checked supplies and fed the wood-burning oven. The maestros then methodically cover some with sauce, most with cheese – a lot of cheese – and then the specific topics that included mounds of mushrooms, zucchini blossoms, raw sausage (it cooked in the oven), more cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. The marble slab looked like a carpet of pizzas.
I wondered if the first ones in the oven would be the last out. This wasn’t the case. The guys know their stuff. The pizzas are served unsliced. The crust is thin and easily folds in half. The ingredients are fresh and flavorful. We enjoyed ours so much we ordered a second just so we could keep watching — and eating!
It’s obvious that my husband and I are tourists in Rome. We wear expressions of awe and confusion. One thing we don’t do is always carry a guidebook. There’s nothing wrong with them, but I was surprised to count the number of people who approached Trattoria da Teo with books in hand.
Our B&B host told us about Teo’s. We didn’t know we needed reservations. The restaurant, like most in Rome, opens at 7:30. This was something many with Rick Steves and Frommer’s weren’t aware of either, but a fair number was. Perhaps the guidebooks should be more detailed. We sat in the small piazza watching people go to Teo’s door only to be turned away. We waited more than 30 minutes and once inside were told there was one remaining table available for someone without reservations.
Although this is a popular Trastevere eatery, we weren’t wowed. The food wasn’t photogenic, but there were a few bright spots, including the lightly breaded calamari with artichokes. Read the rest of this entry »
I’d been told many times that pesto made from basil grown in the Cinque Terre is especially good. The warm sun and coastal air make the licorice-flavored herb uniquely pungent. Basil is not a mild flavor, so I was intrigued by the idea of a different, perhaps stronger taste. I ate pesto several times over the course of three days to make sure.
Rest assured, it was very good, but I think the local olive oil may also be a contributing factor. Although, each dish I sampled allowed the rich green basilica to shine. The oil did not overpower, which can be the case with some versions.
We stayed in Riomaggiore where in late February it is still the low season. We found only two restaurants open. In nearby Manarola, there were more options, but not an overwhelming number.
My pesto dinners were surprisingly different, albeit only slightly. One, at Pizzeria da Mam’angela, featured potatoes. Osteria Maite’s had pine nuts and was a darker green, but both were mixed with perfect al dente tagliolini, a linguini-like fresh pasta.
La Scogliera in Manarola offered several options for pesto, including lasagne, gnocchi and minestrone. I had the latter. The soup was rustic and hearty . The serving was just right for a late lunch.
At home a large serving of pasta with pesto would suffice as a meal. One night I opted to eat as Italians do and had a primi plati and a secondi plati (grilled swordfish). It was a lot of food. The second evening I had only pasta. Perfecto!
Assimilation, family expectations and grief are at the heart of Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, which is both humorous and poignant, albeit long.
Although Amina Eapen was born in the United States, her parents’ roots remain tied to their native India. Amina is a single, 20-something, professional photographer. Her mother, Kamala, convinces her to return to Albuquerque on the pretext that Amina’s father is not well.
The story alternates between present day and Amina’s youth. Her parents’ marriage is problematic while her relationship with her brother, Akhil, is more consistent. One of Jacob’s threads leads to a family visit to India when the children are young. Largely, though, the focus is on the siblings in high school and Amina’s struggle to see her mother as more than a manipulator and her father as someone with physical ailments.
The settings Jacob presents include India, a small town near Albuquerque and Seattle. None would seem to have much in common with the other, yet they all contribute to the characters’ personalities and the life paths Amina and her family follow. Interestingly, the Eapens create a tight-knit community with other Indian nationals. They are so close as to be like a large, surrogate family, which Amina finds both tiresome and comforting.
The sounds and smells of India are vibrant in the Eapen kitchen, where food is something that Kamala uses as both bribery and solace. These serve their purpose as the family comes to grip with loss they have long kept buried — literally.
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
Random House Trade Paperback, 2015