Nonfiction —What’s Cooking #3 Cooking With the Stars

It’s been a while since I posted some cookbook reviews so I thought I’d share some recent favorites that I’ve been putting to use quite a bit these past few months!

Trejo’s Tacos:  Recipes and Stories From L.A. by Danny Trejo and Hugh Garvey

Published April 2020 by Clarkson Potter

Danny Trejo is best known for his acting, having appeared in over 300 movies to date as well as several television shows.  He’s been a boxer and a bodybuilder, as well as a felon doing hard time in two of the nation’s toughest prisons.  But did you know he also owns eight restaurants in the Los Angeles area, including a Donut and Coffee shop?

I used to rob restaurants.  Today I own eight of them.”

His first restaurant, Trejo’s Tacos, was created with the memories of his beloved mother’s cooking in mind:  simple dishes with a ton of flavor.  And after trying several of the recipes in this cookbook I can tell you that yes, you can make delicious food with a handful of simple, easy to find ingredients.  I mention easy to find for a reason as so many “celebrity” cookbooks have great sounding recipes but a list of ingredients that are impossible to source.  I was able to find every single ingredient at my local grocery stores, which earns this book a bonus star from me!

As for the recipes, where to begin?  Maybe some Carnitas (slow-cooked seasoned pork) Tacos with a side of Street Corn on the Cob (fresh grilled corn  slathered with a mix of Cotija cheese, chipotle crema, seasonings, and fresh cilantro, a side dish that has me completely hooked!).  Another personal favorite, Citrus, Herb, and Garlic Shrimp makes a fantastic topping for tostadas or rice.  Barbacoa Brisket (braised beef brisket) is well worth the extra time and effort to create fork-tender meat perfect for enchiladas, tacos, and other creations.  And don’t forget dessert!  Danny shares his master donut recipe from his newest eatery, complete with variations like Margarita Donuts and The Abuelita (a classic donut topped with dark chocolate glaze and chocolate crumb topping).

I’ve only had this cookbook for four short months but it’s already one of my top five most-used in my collection.  Highly recommend checking it out.

5 out of 5 stars



Michael Symon’s Playing With Fire by Michael Symon

Published April 2018 by Clarkson Potter

I love watching all the various cooking shows and cooking competitions out there, and Michael Symon has been one of my favorite celebrity chefs for years.  The combination of his easy-going demeanor and story-telling skills make him a natural teacher when it comes to cooking.

I first heard of Playing With Fire when he promoted it on The Chew (man, I miss that show!).  He had tied it in with the opening of his new barbecue restaurant called Mabel’s BBQ in Cleveland.  I was intrigued, so when we finally bought an outdoor grill a few months ago this cookbook was at the top of my list of “must have” grilling/barbecuing books.

Symon offers more than just a collection of delicious recipes.  There is a section devoted to the different types of smokers and grills with their pros and cons.  Scattered throughout the book are profiles of BBQ pitmasters from around the central and southern regions of the United States.  But of course, the main attraction is the food.  This is a very meat-centric book, with the focus on pork and beef (strangely enough, I didn’t think the chicken and seafood dishes sounded nearly as good as the other meat dishes).  Side dish offerings include a variety of cold salads and slaws as well as warm sides like Smoky Butternut Squash (which I can’t wait to try this autumn when the squash starts ripening) and Spicy Potato Gratin (one of my husband’s new favorites).  For me, the best part is the chapter focusing on sauces and rubs.  I love a good BBQ sauce and Symon offers his takes on various regional standards like the mustard-based Carolina Sauce to the sweeter Kansas City style.  And the Standard Dry Rub with its variations has become a seasoning staple in this household!

If you have some skills with outdoor grilling and want to expand your menu for your next cookout, you can’t go wrong with Playing With Fire.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #131

Have I mentioned there’s a new mascot for All Dragons Read in the house?  I won’t say much more at the moment but hopefully he’ll be up for his debut photo shoot soon!  Until then, here’s what I’ve been reading this past week…

The Week in Books

Faithless by Hunter Shea — 4.5/5 out of 5 stars

4.5 stars, rounding up for Goodreads and NetGalley.    Father Raul Figeuroa loses his family in a horrific act of violence.  His faith is shattered so he retreats to his aunt’s abandoned house, hoping to fade away in a sea of alcohol and drugs.  Then strange things start to happen…

I can’t say much more about the plot without giving away some big spoilers so I’ll just say this:  Faithless is one helluva ride!   I was hooked from the beginning, constantly wondering what would be waiting around the next corner.  With memorable characters and some truly spooky moments, this has quickly become my favorite Hunter Shea novel to date.  Be sure to mark your calendars for its upcoming release date of October 19, 2021 (just in time for Halloween!).  Thanks to Flame Tree Press and NetGalley for the early ecopy.

Bone Black by Carol Rose Golden Eagle — 4 out of 5 stars

Wren’s twin sister goes missing after the pair visit a local bar.  After the local law enforcement dismisses the case, Wren begins a descent into a dark place within her and begins to seek revenge not only for her sister but for others who had justice fail them.   While initially this story begins as a sort of cautionary tale exploring the plight of indigenous women (the large number who go missing each year and the lack of police involvement in trying to find them), it quickly turns dark and disturbing.  While I felt the pacing seemed a bit off at times, I found myself totally absorbed in Wren’s story.  Perhaps not for everyone, but one I would definitely recommend.

The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay — 3.5 out of 5 stars

My August TBR selection.  A strange pandemic is sweeping through Australia.  The main symptom?  People can now hear the thoughts of all animals.  Jean, an alcoholic grandmother who works as a guide at a local wildlife park, sets out across this strange new land in search of her granddaughter and son, taking with her a dingo named Sue.    I found the overall story to be quite good and strangely prophetic (as in the human reactions, not the whole hearing animals speak thing).  While I thought it started out pretty strong, I found my interest waning in the last quarter or so, and I didn’t find the ending very satisfying.  But if you’re looking for something different in the dystopian future genre you still might want to give this a try.

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

NightWorms August Theme — Small Town Scares

Two more great titles featured in this month’s NightWorms package!

Richard Chizmar’s newest release, Chasing the Boogeyman, is fiction presented in true crime format, complete with “actual photos”!   Our MC, Richard Chizmar as a young college graduate, returns to his small hometown shortly after the bodies of several young women have been found.  He “recounts” the terror and panic that enveloped the small town as he looks for answers as to who…or what…is involved.

Come With Me by Ronald Malfi sounds like it may head more towards psychological horror territory.  Aaron has lost his wife.  Haunted by grief (and perhaps her ghost??) he discovers clues to her secret life and sets out to learn more, leading him to some dark realities about the woman he loved.

Also included:  some delicious Mojito Mint green tea (which I’m sipping on as I write this!)…yum!

September is just around the corner and I’m already anticipating the next package as, if memory serves, one of the featured authors will my one of my fan grrrl favs, Stephen Graham Jones!!  Stay tuned!

Until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!


Weekly Mash-Up #130

Only a month to go before my favorite season begins!  This summer has flown by, and while I haven’t been a fan of the unusually extreme heat, I have been enjoying the wonderful fresh local produce…the past few days have been spent making strawberry jam and vacuum-sealing peaches and plums bound for the freezer.  Nothing beats the winter blues like tasting a bit of summer!

Even with the more hectic pace around here over the past week, I was able to sneak in some quality reading time.

The Week in Books

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig — 4 out of 5 stars

This was a wonderful surprise!  Who among us hasn’t wondered what our lives would have been like if we had made different choices?  Stuck in a limbo of sorts after a suicide attempt, Nora gets to experience those alternate lives, learning about herself and the meaning of true happiness.  A lot of times, books like this tend to get too syrupy sweet for my tastes, but Matt Haig does a great job of creating a story that tugs the emotional strings without being melodramatic or overly cutesy.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey — 3 out of 5 stars

I’m a longtime fan of Matthew McConaughey so I was excited to find his new book available at the local library.  However, this mix of memoir and armchair philosopher just didn’t hit the mark for me.  The memoir aspect was a decent 3.5/4 stars (side note: if you’re looking for any kiss and tell kind of stuff, the best you’re going to get is some talk about three wet dreams, and I’ll just leave it at that), but all the philosophical side notes on every fucking page??  Let me put it this way:  by the half-way mark I quit reading them.  When I did go back to peruse some of the missed ones, all I could see were drunken/drug-induced ramblings that either didn’t make sense or completely contradicted each other.  Recommended for super fans, not sure about the rest of us.

California by Edan Lepucki  — 2 out of 5 stars

My July TBR selection that I finally finished!  I’m all for a post-apocalyptic themed novel where people are looking to survive the new reality and no zombies or other radiation-spawned creatures are involved.  But this one?  Yeah, not so much.  The main characters are beyond blah, and the whole (pretty extended) side note of cherishing a turkey baster as the last big splurge of  normal life grew old by the second sentence.  Oh, and let’s not forget that when they finally reach the Pines, it sounds a helluva lot like Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines.  And since Crouch’s Pines was published two years prior to this one?  Well, just saying.

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #129

Two weeks to finish only two books??  Yeah, that’s how it’s been around here.  I wouldn’t call it a reading slump per se, since I’ve been wanting to pick up a good read and relax in the shade with a tall glass of iced tea…it’s been the lack of a really good book to keep me motivated!

Regardless of some of my questionable book choices recently, I’m totally excited about my current reads, and  I can’t wait to share some great news regarding the new official mascot of All Dragons Read!!  Stay tuned!!

The Week in Books

The War of the Roses by Warren Adler — 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is one of those rare times where I can honestly say I liked the movie more than the book!  The tale of a so-called perfect couple who lose all sense of reality when battling each other during a divorce.  The story showcases hate and spite at a whole new level, and I have to say is a bit depressing.  At least with the movie there was a sense of some comic relief at times.  The book, however, was more of a public service announcement over the dangers of coveting possessions over people.  Overall I did like it, but I found the preachy aspect of one character to be a bit annoying…and don’t get me started on the very final scene as a potential sequel set-up!

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin — 3 out of 5 stars

A woman is driving across Texas with a man who may or may not have killed her sister years earlier (and who may, or may not, have killed other women across the state).  The man, Carl, might have dementia, or he might be some psycho serial killer messing with the female protagonist.  You have to read 342 pages in order to find some unfulfilling answers.  Three stars though for Heaberlin’s writing skills as they kept me going to discover the answers even though I had really stopped caring a bit past the halfway mark.

Stay safe and Happy Reading!

August — The Lazy Days of Summer

When I was thinking of my August TBR list, I couldn’t really decide on any particular theme.  My mind kept wandering to my large NetGalley list (I went a little overboard on the “read now” selections, oops!), to the couple of books I didn’t get to from previous months, as well as my remaining “20+1 For 2021” choices…not to mention all of the great books I’ve picked up recently and want to start before anything else!  Where do I begin?  How do I choose?

It was a toss-up, but thanks to some help from my son, I finally picked my must-read novel for August…

The premise sounds intriguing:  a pandemic sweeps through Australia, with a strange symptom that gives people the ability to hear the thoughts of all animals, birds, and insects.  The main character, Jean, and her pet dingo set off to find her young granddaughter and encounter the strange realities of this new world.  I’m looking forward to this one.

July Update —  Well, Idaho was pretty disappointing.  I’m currently about one third of the way into California and it doesn’t look like it will be much better!  And as for Travelers Rest?  After reading the first ten pages or so,  I put it back in my TBR pile, with no idea if or when I will return to it.

Goodreads Group Reads

Looking for other suggestions for lazy-day reading?  How about one of these classic chiller thrillers!

If you haven’t had a chance to read these, you really can’t go wrong with either one.   Thanks to the popular movies, the storylines are well-known, but you’re sure to find something new in the books!

What will you be reading this month?  Drop me a line and let’s talk books!

Don’t forget, starting September 1, I’ll be starting my yearly Sci-Fi and Scary/31 Books For Halloween personal challenge!  I have a lot of great titles this year, and I can’t wait to share them with you!

Until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!

Nonfiction — The World’s Strongest Librarian

The World’s Strongest Librarian:  A Book Lover’s Adventures by Josh Hanagarne

Published May 2014 by Gotham

4 out of 5 stars

I read a lot of dark, often disturbing, fiction as the norm, so it’s always refreshing to find a story, especially a true one, that raises my spirits  and helps to restore my faith in humanity.

Josh Hanagarne is just your typical book-loving family guy who works at his local library.  He just happens to tower over everyone at 6’7″ in height, and has the ability to launch fifty pound stones through the air with ease.  And he also  happens to have Tourette Syndrome.

Tourette’s is identified as a nervous system disorder characterized by uncontrollable movements and vocalizations.  While Josh wasn’t “officially” diagnosed until his teens, the tics first appeared when he was a young child.  He soon found escape from the unwanted movements through reading.  As he grew older and the tics increased in frequency and intensity, Josh found another escape route through exercise, mainly strength training and weight lifting.

Josh’s story is about much more than Tourette’s.  His parents provided a solid foundation with their loving devotion to their family and their faith.  He shares the highs and lows of his teen and early adult years, where through it all he would continue to find solace and escape through reading and weight lifting.  Peppered throughout are anecdotes from the day-to-day routine of working at a Salt Lake City public library.

I found Josh’s story to be memorable and inspirational.  While sharing his most vulnerable and painful moments alongside his personal achievements, he allows the reader a glimpse into the life of an ordinary man…who just happens to have Tourette’s.  Highly recommend.



Stay safe and Happy Reading!