Monday, July 30, 2012

A Fantastic Author; A Fantastic Chef


I'm delighted to welcome Elizabeth Sullivan to my blog today. I had the pleasure of reading her novel, Different Hearts, From Bondage to Freedom, recently, and am anxious to try the delicious recipes she provided below. If you think her food sounds wonderful, please read the review of her novel that immediately follows this blog. I promise you ... it's a tasty treat for your mind.

And now, here's Elizabeth: 
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Thank you, James for inviting me to cookinwithmisshavana. While Miss Havana is busy cookin up trouble, I spice up my world in the kitchen.

From Italian roots--my maiden name is Bisconti--I inherited a passion for food. As a child, I watched, assisted, and had fun with family members while they created specialties. I gleaned cooking tips from both my mother and father who often said, “To cook with love add kisses to your dishes.”

At eight years old, I felt a kinship to all living creatures and refused to eat fish, fowl, or meat. Fresh fruits and veggies were our mainstays; therefore, it was easy to become a vegetarian. Contrary to popular belief, this vegetarian doesn’t like bland foods, overcooked broccoli, or steamed vegetables. Both Miss Havana and I like things tasty, hot, and/or spicy.

Regardless of my eating preference, I serve meat to family and friends. Since I choose not to taste the stuff, I cook by aroma. One whiff tells me not only which spice to add, but how much. Following is an example of an aromatic recipe:

Bisconti Meat Sauce

Olive oil
½ of red or white onion
5-6 garlic cloves chopped
2-28 oz cans whole tomatoes
2- 6 oz cans tomato paste
1-1 ½ cups water
2 links hot Italian sausage (remove casing & sauté until cooked)
1 lb hamburger meat (sauté until cooked)
1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons pepper, and 1-2 teaspoons sugar to offset the acid
1-2 tablespoons oregano

Heat oil, sauté onion, quickly add garlic (do not brown or garlic will taste bitter), add tomatoes, tomato paste, and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to a slow simmer. Add cooked sausage & hamburger meat. Add spices. Cook at lowest temperature for 3-5 hours refrigerate, and serve with pasta the next day—makes a great lasagna sauce.

I subscribe to several food magazines, have shelves of cookbooks, visit lots of food sites, and watch TV cooking shows. Although I’m a recipe junky I seldom follow any recipe to the letter. By imagining a desired result, I add, delete, or create a new recipe before trying it. I use as few ingredients as possible allowing each flavor to maintain its identity and integrity.  Following is one of my own creations.

Sullivan Mushroom Bake

Coat a 9 X 13 glass-pan with olive oil, layer 8 oz sliced mushrooms, dot with cream cheese, sprinkle with diced scallion & 2 teaspoons of capers, cover with shredded cheddar cheese, and drizzle with olive oil. Bake @ 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Last year my husband Bill and a neighbor built me a wood-burning pizza oven—il forno. The two men made a stone façade surrounding a clay dome imported from Tuscany. Using wood Bill cut, split, and cured he starts the four-hour process of raising the oven’s dome temperature to 1000 degrees—even Miss Havana would consider this oven hot.

Meanwhile, I prepare the dough—flour, yeast, salt, & water.  It takes three hours for the first proofing and 1 hour to proof the individual dough balls. I toss and shape the dough and top it with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil picked from my garden, crushed red pepper, chopped garlic, and olive oil. As my personal pizzaiolo--pizza chef—Bill bakes each pizza to perfection in 90 seconds. Yum!

Even after feeling satisfied with a recipe I tend not to measure usually adding a pinch of this and a dab of that. The exception is when I bake. Following is a family favorite:

Bisconti Cheesecake

1 lb cream cheese (2- 8 oz cartons)
1 lb ricotta (16 oz)
1½ cups sugar
4 room temperature eggs slightly beaten
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch

Mix well with an electric mixer (20 minutes on medium speed). Fold into mixture with wooden spoon ¼ cup melted butter & 1 pint (2 cups) sour cream.

Rub bottom & sides of a 9” spring-pan with butter; sprinkle with graham cracker crumbs. Cover outside bottom of pan with foil. Pour mixture in spring pan.  Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

Do not open oven.  Turn off heat.  Leave cake in oven for 2 more hours

Chill for several hours or overnight. Remove outer spring circle.

Top with strawberries, kiwis, fresh mint tossed with 2 teaspoons lemon juice or fresh berries and whipped cream. Indulge!

I especially enjoyed Miss Havana cookin up both mischief and wisdom by writing an advice column. As a psychologist, I too whip up practical psychological suggestions to enhance everyday life. A tidbit follows:

PERFECTION IS IMPOSSIBLE
EXCELLENCE IS ACHIEVABLE
BUT DOING WHAT WORKS IS BEST

Check out: http://www.ebsullivan.com/blog.html to view my Lyte Bytes Blog.
Buon Appetito!
Ciao, Elizabeth Sullivan 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Different Hearts, From Bondage to Freedom by E. B. Sullivan. Five-star review by James L. Hatch


To be honest, Different Hearts is the first historical fiction novel I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. I was initially drawn to the story when I read an excerpt posted on-line by Elizabeth Sullivan. Her editing was flawless, and her command of the language was far above the norm. I simply had to read more, so I emailed Elizabeth to ask if I could review her book. I’m glad I did.

The story begins in 1840 and covers the dark Civil War period of American history. The focus is on the events that befall the affluent Enraghty family in Newport, Rhode Island, and the offspring of a Miwok Indian slave girl named Hannah in California. On the East Coast, Sophia Enraghty is born an unwelcome arrival because she is not male. In California, Ezra is born of Hannah, who is owned by Jordan and Claudia Rawlings. As fate would have it, Claudia gives birth to a son on the same day Ezra is born. Because Hannah dies shortly after childbirth, Jordan brings Ezra into his home, and makes him the personal slave of his new son, Matthew. 
  
From the outset, it is clear Elizabeth Sullivan did her homework. Her enthralling descriptions of the way of life for the two families transported my mind to a time where modern conveniences did not exist. Yet, despite the hardships that were part of life, especially for the Miwok slaves, the people themselves were not much different from those you might meet today.

Ezra and Matthew grow up together. Both are loved by Claudia Rawlings, almost as twins, but Jordon treats the two vastly different. Ezra is a slave; Matthew is Jordon’s son. A similar situation exists in the Enraghty family. Sophia’s elder sister receives all her mother’s attention, and her younger brother, Dylan, is raised by his father. Just as Ezra learns everything in parallel with Matthew, Sophia learns everything in parallel with Dylan. The Civil War soon impacts both families. To avoid disgrace, Sophia travels to California where she meets Ezra, who has grown to be an honorable man among men. Despite societal taboos, the two develop feelings for each other.

I won’t provide more details of the story; I don’t want to spoil it. What I will say is that Elizabeth Sullivan brings the reader into the lives of each of her characters with such finesse and clarity that one can almost see the dust on the table in Sophia’s cabin, and smell the flowers in the field. The story is developed around real events of the day: the naval and land battles during the war, the gold rush, the freeing of the slaves and the hardships of the day. Reading the book is like living in that time.

There is also enlightenment. Freeing the slaves in southern states that seceded from the Union did not free the slaves elsewhere, and did not change the slave status of the Indians in California. As the story develops, both Ezra and Sophia must deal with their own enslavement, whether real or imposed by the values and attitudes of society (white women did NOT marry Indians, slaves or ex-slaves). The interplay of the townspeople with Ezra and Sophia is so captivating that, by the time I finished reading the story, it wasn’t clear to me whether the part of the title “From bondage to Freedom” applied to Ezra … or to Sophia.

Different Hearts, From Bondage to Freedom is a fantastic five-star read that will touch every heart. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. The novel is meticulously edited, carefully researched and extremely well-written. I whole-heartedly recommend it. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hooked by Jim Baugh; Review by James L. Hatch


I rarely read autobiographies, but this one “hooked” me from the beginning, like getting insight into a life that might have been fun to live, even though it was punctuated with pain. I have to admit that I wondered whether the book was fiction, as claimed by Solstice Publishing at the beginning, or Jim Baugh’s actual autobiography. The author claims the stories are based on real-life events, so I assume the latter with a few embellishments. If that’s true, then Jim Baugh lived an interesting life from the time he was a boy until he reached middle-age. I have only known Jim Baugh through the Internet for a few years, but I hope the rest of his life is as full and eventually rewarding as fate left him at the conclusion of Hooked.

Jim’s idyllic childhood consisted of fishing and crabbing in the area around the York River Yacht Haven “A” dock. His experiences reminded me a lot of a modern adventure of Huck Finn. I could almost feel the warm sun on my face and smell the salt air as the boys swam and cooked up their catch while their fathers guzzled booze, grilled mammoth steaks and had a good time. Even the description of his encounter with the fifteen-year-old cougar who gave him his first kiss was endearing. The stories brought back memories of my own youth near Muckilteo, WA, catching crab, fishing and steaming rock cod wrapped in wet newspaper in an open fire pit. I also truly understood Jim’s comment about all the womanizing at the marina when he was young: “If it was not a boat, a crab, foosball table or a pizza, I was not that interested.”

A beautiful Magnolia tree graced the center of the marina where Jim’s fondest memories took root. That was where Sunday services were held, and those services became the source of faith and strength that Jim called on throughout his life. He would need it. The docks were an escape from his mother’s schizophrenia at home. Despite her bouts with demons, Jim’s mom was a renowned opera singer and the source of Jim’s musical talent. He began playing piano and organ at eight years old, and never stopped. About the same age, he also became interested in close-up magic tricks. Music and magic would see him through most of his life and, of course, the faith he came to know under the Magnolia tree.

His father divorced his mother, and later married “the bitch from hell.” As Jim puts it, his stepmother was an ugly beast, an unearthly demonic woman drug from a poisoned shallow grave. And that’s when his life changed for the worse. From that point on, Jim’s life moved further emotionally and farther in distance from “A” dock, the only life he really wanted. His story is one of struggle, disappointment and triumph as he married, raised two children and then divorced. His tales of mid-life dating are comical and sometimes vicariously exciting, but his trials eventually lead him to peace with himself and his situation.

I loved reading Hooked. It made me laugh out loud many times, and I found the straight-up presentation as fascinating as a long talk with my favorite bar tender in a cozy little tavern. The story line is definitely five-star. However, there is a down side to talking with your bar tender – grammar and editing can suffer. I had trouble with that because this story could have been sparkling clean. Therefore, overall, I rate this novel with 4.5 stars. English teachers and grammarians will grimace, but casual readers will relish the story and the characters. Hooked is darn fine read.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What's In A Name?


If you have children, you know choosing names is not easy. It's the same for authors when naming characters, only—dare I say it—harder. You see, we need to name all the characters in each book, and give them surnames too.

Personally, I agonize over this with every book I write. We tend to be biased against and in favour of names if we know people who have them. Names that I once considered lovely have been forever ruined for me because I met horrible people who answer to them.

My criteria for choosing names? First, I have to like it. Even the villain's name has to be one that I don't cringe at. Next, it has to be appropriate. While I love the idea of names that are original and not over-used, I think calling your contemporary hero Cobra is akin to abuse. You're just opening yourself and your book to ridicule. Unless, of course, you have a great backstory to explain it. I'll leave it to you to come up with one for Cobra!

So, we've got likeability, appropriateness, and thirdly, we do need some originality. If you have a habit of calling your male characters by names beginning with the letter J—John, Jack, Jake, Jason, James...I could go on—then eventually readers are going to lose track of who's who.

Lastly, and most importantly, don't pick names that everyone else has already used a million times. Once I've chosen my names, I pick five paperbacks at random from my bookshelves, and five ebooks from my reader. If any of my characters' names come up more than once, I rethink them.

My biggest problem? Surnames. For some obscure reason, I tend to gravitate to the letter H. Hammond, Hampton, Hardy, Hall... I now have a rule about H names. I can't use them. It's really hard (oops, H!) though, because even when I search the phone book, it seems to naturally open to the H pages.

The name I had the most fun choosing is Jess's from Catch a Shooting Star.

Social misfit Jessamy James pays the bills with a cleaning job so she can do what she really loves: tell stories to children. She meets NFL superstar Nathan Powell when she cleans his house. He’s intrigued by her reclusive attitude, and she’s drawn to his open personality and lack of defensive walls. It doesn’t take long for attraction to set in, and for a relationship to blossom.
When Nathan is accused of dealing drugs, Jess is caught up in the media storm and finds her own vocation slipping through her fingers. They struggle together to clear his name and rescue both their careers.

The name Jessamy is unusual, but shortened to Jess becomes much more accessible, and pairing it with James for her surname makes it easy to remember. What do you think? Win or Fail?

You can find more details on my books at www.oliviaventura.netFriend and Like me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter. I'll be receiving a shipment of swag soon, so giveaways are on the horizon!
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I'd like to thank Olivia for posting today, and for providing one of her books for me to review. I asked for Miss Fix-It because I loved the cute cover. You can find my review for this book immediately below this post. Thank you all for visiting!

James L. Hatch

Four-star review of Miss Fix It by Olivia Ventura


This book made me chuckle out loud several times; I liked that. The novel is written in a first person point of view (POV), and the main character, Veronica Castellette, talked directly to me, the reader, like she expected verbal feedback as she related her story. It’s an interesting approach that added an extra layer of involvement as I read through the plot.

Veronica is a strong-willed woman who exchanged her career as an economist to become a handyperson and carpenter. She designs her own coveralls, making them colorful and feminine, and has a custom-made pink hammer hanging from her tool belt. She is caught up in the ebb and flow of everyday life, just making a living, as she flits from topic to topic and job to job (and offers parenthetical comments on almost everything she does or thinks).

Reading this book is like listening in on a young woman’s thought processes. Her thinking and actions sometimes seem odd from an old man’s perspective, but they are cute and often funny, like I might expect from one of my granddaughters. The plot is not deep (60% of the book can be summarized as: “girl meets boy and they sleep together”), but the flippant nature of Veronica, the relationships she has with friends and family, and her decision-making processes kept me interested. I wasn’t too surprised by the ending, but again, the real meat of the story is in how it is told and in Veronica’s spunky attitude, not in the plot or the outcome.

Overall, Miss Fix It is a fun read. You will laugh. You will enjoy Veronica and the demands she places on the police who try to protect her. That she would use her pink hammer to threaten a pervert who makes an advance on her seemed justified, but it didn’t seem fair that the police would drag her in for questioning on observing her raised hammer from a police car across the street. You would think those things could be sorted out on the spot, but maybe Veronica’s smart mouth had something to do with her detention. The girl has a quick wit and a clever way of putting people down when her ire rises. She’s also a taxpayer who expects the most for her tax dollars, especially from the police.

Frankly, I was tempted to rate this novel with five stars, but I didn’t because the grammar put me off, especially the extensive use of dashes for periods and commas. I know. I know. The book is presented from Veronica’s point of view, and the girl thinks in dashes, not commas and periods. Still, there are rules. Grammar aside, the book is definitely worth reading. It had a happy ending. I laughed; it made me feel good. As a comedy writer, I believe those are the most important elements a writer can achieve.

Reviewed by James L. Hatch, author of The Substitute.

Monday, July 2, 2012

City Girl’s Trip Down Reality Lane – Part 3



Joining us today from dusty Phoenix, AZ, is Penny Estelle (the one on the right). Welcome Penny Estelle, and welcome readers who are following the City Girl's Trip Down Reality Lane. Here is part 3 and the end of City Girl’s Trip Down Reality Lane (Or Livin' The Dream).
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Jim finally moved out of the mouse-infested trailer and in to a completely enclosed block, rectangular structure with a camp stove and a small gas fridge.  Life was better than good as far as my hubby was concerned.  He was in construction Heaven!

Plumbing, wiring, insulation, and framing the rooms would be our next step.  One weekend I came up and Jim had drawn lines on the cement floor showing where all the rooms, closets and appliances would be placed.  Let the arguments begin!  I tried to be reasonable, “This is not big enough, that cannot go there, and the size of this closet is a joke.  Compromises were made and redrawn lines and notes were final, until they needed to be changed again, and again!

I figured now was the time to call and find out about getting our electricity set up.  As the crow flies, our property lay 1.5 miles from the nearest point of electricity.  Imagine my surprise when the local utility company quotes a charge of over $85,000 to bring electricity to our property line.  Once I got myself up off the floor and my vision cleared, panic quickly set in.  Between feeling faint and blowing into a paper bag, I told my husband what I had learned.

“I kind of figured that would be the case,” he explained calmly.  “We are going to have to go with solar and wind generators.”  He continued to talk for several minutes, but I had quite listening.  What?  Solar?  Generators?  I needed to blow dry my hair!

Jim set up an “off the grid” electric system that produced enough energy to make me, I mean us, happy.  At this point, our system is complete with a 900-watt solar panel, a 2500-watt inverter, a load controller and two air-x, 400-watt windmills, enough for 24/7 power. Things were good when Big Bertha became a member of our family.  I love Big Bertha!  She is a Chinese diesel generator and she will run any and all of my everyday needs, such as blow dryers, curling irons, an evaporative cooler and a wall AC unit.  Have I mentioned I love her?

While Jim continued on the insides of the house I started on the horrific job of stuccoing.  I’m not sure how many weekends I poured stucco in a 5 gallon bucket, mixed it with water and then trawled it onto the blocks.  When I say stuccoing is one “sucky” job – it’s an understatement.  By the time I was done I had no fingernails and I had the hands of a 200-year-old lady!

Painting was next – which was a piece of cake compared to stucco!  When I finally washed out that brush for the last time it was a feeling of euphoria! What we had was a 1000 square foot rectangle with a kitchen, bathroom and great room.  We sat down and patted ourselves on our backs and enjoyed the moment!  I let Jim bask in his accomplishment for the night, which was the least I could do, then told him we had to start the bedroom!

The house finally ended up a 1600 sq ft home with one large bedroom/office and 2 bathrooms, laundry room, great room, and kitchen, but not with many, many – we’ll use the word discussions.  Compromises were made.  I got my doorless walk in shower and Jim gets to keep the stained cement floor.  I have my big laundry room, and again, Jim gets the stained floors!

We both retired in June of 2009 and are living here full time.  We have a 1500-gallon water tank that we fill about once a week.  We bought three chickens and I really enjoy watching them play.  We get an egg every day and I have learned there is a world of difference between grocery store eggs and eggs right out of the coop.  Though I have a black thumb, I have planted a garden and have actually grown carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach.  I have learned the hard way that any garden I expect to bear fruit must be built like Fort Knox.  Mice and rabbits are in abundance here and the packrats we have seen are the size of a small cat.  In the fall I am hoping to buy a couple pigs and maybe a cow or two.

There will be endless projects here and so many things to do and learn.  We have neighbors that will be life long friends.  There are miles of roads to be explored by quads or by car and I look forward to checking out every one.

Thanks for stopping by today.  If you would like to read parts 1 and 2, please visit www.pennyestelle.blogspot.com.
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Another fine work by Penny Estelle: Billy Cooper’s Awesome Nightmare - The Wickware Sagas

Seventh grader, Billy Cooper, is less that thrilled when Old Lady Wickware assigns a weekend assignment.  Each student must draw a name or event from a box and do an oral report on the drawn subject.  Billy has a full weekend and he has no time to be working on some legend dude named William Tell.  He figures he will just do a quick computer search and be able  to skate on this assignment.  All that changes when he meets his legend face to face in the fourteenth century!

Excerpt
Billy jumped up, took two steps backward and fell hard on his back from about four feet up, knocking the wind out of him. He was seeing blue sky and rolling green hills. An old, two-wheeled wagon was what he had fallen out of. The old man hurried over. “You alright, lad?”

Billy jumped to his feet before the old man could help him up. “Who…who….who are you? Where am I?” Billy stuttered, panic shooting through his body.

“Easy lad,” the old man said. “I was to bring you here.”

“Bring me where? Who said to bring me? Who? This is crazy! I’m not supposed to be here!” Billy’s voice got louder.

The man pulled out a satchel of coins, smiling. “Your mother paid me well to bring you to your aunt in Uri.”

“Uri?” Billy asked. “Dude, there’s no Uri in Arizona, I don’t think, and my aunt lives in Cottonwood.”

“Jonathan is my name, lad, not Dude.” The old man reached for Billy’s head. “Maybe when you fell you became…addled in your thinking.”

“I did not become…whatever. You’ve kidnapped me! I want to go home!”
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Thank you all again for stopping by. If you want to find Penny Estelle, here are some URLs: