The news from Ukraine is just heartbreaking. My grandmother was from Kyiv, although I grew up being told she was from Russia. Turns out she was born in the “Russian Empire” in the city of Kyiv in the Ukraine. Her parents were killed and she was sent to America as an infant to live with an aunt and uncle in upstate New York. That was around the turn of the last century. And here we are again, the Jewish president with a target on his back and the country invaded by another madman.
Here’s how Americans can donate to help people in Ukraine* via the Washington Post. I donated to World Central Kitchen, Chef Jose Andres’s foundation. He is already there, feeding the refugees and anyone else who is hungry. https://wck.org/relief/activation-chefs-for-ukraine
With all the wars the US has been involved with in my lifetime, somehow what is happening in Ukraine feels different, even though American lives are not on the front lines. In 1990, I purchased a book called The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The review is buried deep on my blog, so I’m adding it here. It is one of the seminal works of the Vietnam War. Interestingly, O’Brien won the National Book Award for Going After Cacciato (another excellent book) but not this one which has become a classic. Why am I bringing this up? Yesterday, I saw that title in the New York Times in reference to this article about Ukrainians fleeing their country: The One Item They Had to Take When These 6 Afghans Fled*
THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien: I bought this book in 1990, read the first few chapters/stories and then came to “On the Rainy River.” It upset me so much that I put the book down and didn’t pick it back up again for sixteen years.
I don’t think most people would pick that particular story as the most upsetting, or the hardest to read, because it’s not about the horrors of Vietnam. Instead, it’s about the horrors of a young man getting his draft notice, and as that was a much more personal recollection for me, it packed an enormous emotional wallop. For me.
“I was a coward. I went to the war.”
I’m sure others had a much harder time with “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”, about a soldier who smuggles his girlfriend in from the states and what happens to her during her stay there, or with “The Man I Killed” with a grenade or with “The Ghost Soldiers.”
This book is a novel, a memoir, a collection of stories, a series of vignettes, the seminal work of fiction on the Vietnam War – take your pick, it’s all of these and more. The title page emphatically states that it is fiction, and indeed, there is even a chapter/story entitled “How to Tell a True War Story”, yet it is also dedicated to men with the same names as the characters in the book, and there is even a character named “Tim O’Brien”. But as O’Brien points out, the truth is a slippery thing, and if calling it fiction works best for the author, especially in light of the recent brouhaha over creative nonfiction writing, I certainly won’t argue the point.
Several of the chapters were previously published as short stories, including the title piece, “The Things they Carried”, an amazing piece of writing either on its own or as the opening to a novel. O’Brien lists the physical items that men carried with them in Vietnam, from the mundane like canteens and a toothbrush, to the war necessities of “…the three standard weapons – the M-60, M-16, and M-79 – they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive.” They carried good luck charms, a rabbit’s foot, a pebble sent from a girl back home. They carried diseases, and “…all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing.”
The stories are often tellings and retellings of the same event from different perspectives, again proving how difficult it is to nail down the truth. They flow, never moving linearly but rather back and forth through time, before the war, during the war, and homecoming. All in all, a very emotional read for me and I’m very glad I finally finished it. The first half or so of the title story is available on Google Books if you want to take a look.
“But this too is true: stories can save us.”
04/06; updated 03/22 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch
It is starting to feel like life is getting back to somewhat normal, or a new normal, at least. As of Feb. 25, the CDC has updated its Covid-19 guidelines. If you are lucky enough to live in an area where the COVID-19 Community Level is low, all restrictions have pretty much been lifted. You can check your Community Level by entering your state and county on the online form here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/covid-by-county.html. As of yesterday, where I live the level is “Medium” which means masks are not really needed unless you are high risk. That said, I’m not quite ready to stop wearing a mask in busy public indoor spaces, but I am definitely in the minority.
I think most people are just sick of it all – sick of wearing a mask, of isolating, of this whole damn pandemic. And I get that. But I still have some fears, especially concerning my husband and his health issues, and my too-young-to-be-vaccinated grandson, so wearing a mask makes me feel a tiny bit safer so that’s what I’m doing. For now. If my community level drops to “low,” I will probably retire my masks. As far as flying goes, that is up in the air (sorry!) The federal mask mandate is set to end soon, but whether it will be extended is unknown at this time.
I may be late to the party but I decided to try the viral recipe for Pasta Chips from TikTok, where all viral recipes come from now.
I know that when I make baked pasta, like baked ziti or lasagna, my favorite bites are of the crispy pasta on the top, so this sounded interesting to me. I made some soup the other night and had some leftover “pasta ribbons” so I decided to give it a try. I accidentally bought these instead of egg noodles – they look like egg noodles but they don’t have eggs in them, so Publix calls them “pasta ribbons.” I tossed them with a bit of olive oil. I decided to go with a “cacio e pepe” flavoring, so I grated some Romano cheese, coarsely ground some black pepper, and tossed it all together. I threw it in a single layer in the air fryer, and voila! Pasta chips.
It took about 10 minutes or so in the air fryer, and since I already had the cooked pasta, only another minute to grate everything and mix it up, so it was pretty easy to make. Most people serve these with some kind of dipping sauce like marinara sauce, and a feta dip is pretty popular, too. I didn’t bother since I only had a cup or so of the noodles, so we just ate them as is. They were tasty – not the best thing I’ve ever made by any means, and nothing I would set out to make. I mean, I wouldn’t cook up a pound of pasta to make this. But if I end up with some leftover pasta again, I would make it again. As far as snack foods go, it’s probably on the healthier side of things if you don’t mind the carbs. And by that I mean healthier than Doritos or potato chips!
The Washington Post wasn’t thrilled; this was their headline: TikTok’s viral pasta chips are a mediocre mess that I’ll never make again*. That said, they did their excellent reporting anyway and dug deep into the history of this dish. That led me to Toasted Ravioli*, which I’ve been meaning to make. I even bought a small bag of frozen smoked mozzarella ravioli from Aldi to try it with, but haven’t gone there yet. But now that Voraciously, the food arm of the Washington Post, led me to their recipe, I will give it a try soon.
I stumbled across this article in the Washington Post from a few years ago: A guide to dried chile peppers — your secret flavor weapon in the kitchen. I took a cooking class several years ago and they gave us some dried arbol chilies. I didn’t know what to do with them besides the recipe we made and I wasn’t sure how long they would keep, so I ended up throwing them away. Foolish me. Recently, I was at Aldi’s, the first time since the pandemic began (!) and they had a few different kinds of dried chilies from the Badia spice company. I purchased the ancho and guajillo, and have almost used them up already. It’s been cold here in the Sunshine State and I’ve been making chili.
Unfortunately, my experience with Aldi is to not bother making a list, I just wander through and see what they have. Most of the time I never see the same things there again. Even basics can be frustrating to find. I’ve looked for celery or cucumbers or Greek yogurt and they haven’t had them at one time or another. And this was pre-pandemic/supply chain issues! But I do enjoy the serendipity of shopping there occasionally, like finding smoked mozzarella ravioli and dried chilies.
How a Book Is Made*: Ink, paper, and a 200,000 pound printer! Have you ever wondered how a book becomes a book? Join the New York Times as they follow Marlon James’s “Moon Witch, Spider King” through the printing process.
Lisa Gardner, the Thriller Writer Who Loves Historical Romance*: I’ve known Lisa for years, and now you can, too!
2022 ITW Thriller Awards Nominees have been announced!
BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL
Megan Abbott – THE TURNOUT (Penguin/Putnam)
S. A. Cosby – RAZORBLADE TEARS (Flatiron Books)
Alice Feeney – ROCK PAPER SCISSORS (Flatiron Books)
Rachel Howzell Hall – THESE TOXIC THINGS (Thomas & Mercer)
Alma Katsu – RED WIDOW (Penguin/Putnam)
Eric Rickstad – I AM NOT WHO YOU THINK I AM (Blackstone Publishing)
S. A. Cosby – RAZORBLADE TEARS (Macmillan)
Narrated by Adam Lazarre-White
Samantha Downing – SLEEPING DOG LIE (Audible Originals)
Narrated by Melanie Nicholls-King and Lindsey Dorcus
Rachel Howzell Hall – HOW IT ENDS (Audible Originals)
Narrated by Joniece Abbott-Pratt
Gregg Hurwitz – PRODIGAL SON (Macmillan)
Narrated by Scott Brick
Nadine Matheson – THE JIGSAW MAN (HarperCollins)
Narrated by Davine Henry
BEST FIRST NOVEL
Abigail Dean – GIRL A (HarperCollins)
Eloísa Díaz – REPENTANCE (Agora Books)
Amanda Jayatissa – MY SWEET GIRL (Berkley)
David McCloskey – DAMASCUS STATION (W.W. Norton & Company)
Eric Redman – BONES OF HILO (Crooked Lane Books)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL
Joy Castro – FLIGHT RISK (Lake Union)
Aaron Philip Clark – UNDER COLOR OF LAW (Thomas & Mercer)
C. J. Cooke – THE LIGHTHOUSE WITCHES (Berkley)
Jess Lourey – BLOODLINE (Thomas & Mercer)
Terry Roberts – MY MISTRESS’ EYES ARE RAVEN BLACK (Turner Publishing Company)
BEST SHORT STORY
S.A. Cosby – “Not My Cross to Bear” (Down & Out Books)
William Burton McCormick – “Demon in the Depths” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Scott Loring Sanders – “The Lemonade Stand” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Jeff Soloway – “The Interpreter and the Killer” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
John Wimer – “Bad Chemistry” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
Maureen Johnson – THE BOX IN THE WOODS (HarperCollins)
Nova McBee – CALCULATED (Wolfpack Publishing LLC)
Ginny Myers Sain – DARK AND SHALLOW LIES (Penguin Young Readers)
Courtney Summers – THE PROJECT (Wednesday Books)
Krystal Sutherland – HOUSE OF HOLLOW (Penguin Young Readers)
BEST E-BOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL
Greig Beck – THE DARK SIDE: ALEX HUNTER 9 (Pan Macmillan)
John Connell – WHERE THE WICKED TREAD (John Connell)
Wendy Dranfield – LITTLE GIRL TAKEN (Bookouture)
E.J. Findorff – BLOOD PARISH (E.J. Findorff)
S. E. Green – MOTHER MAY I (S. E. Green)
Andrew Kaplan – BLUE MADAGASCAR (Andrew Kaplan)
Karin Nordin – LAST ONE ALIVE (HarperCollins)
ITW will announce the winners at ThrillerFest XVII on Saturday, June 4, 2022 at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, New York City. Congratulations to all the finalists!
As always, thanks for reading and stay safe.
*Thanks to The New York Times and The Washington Post for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to these articles, a lovely perk for subscribers.