Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Club: Untraceable by Laura Griffin

By: Kris Gilson

I really need to start off by saying I LOVE Laura Griffin’s books! They instantly hook you in and keep you on the edge of your seat until the end. In Untraceable, we meet PI Alex Lovell who helps people drop off the face of the earth. She uses her extensive computer savvy and other PI skills to assist those who need a safe haven. When one of her clients disappears for real, she sets out to uncover what really happened. Alex ends up working with Austin homicide detective Nathan Devereaux and the sparks instantly fly between the two. This story has lots of action and suspense and keeps the reader engaged on every page. There are enough plot twists and turns to keep you guessing all the way through the story. The chemistry between Alex and sexy Nate is the icing on the cake!

Alex is a strong, smart, and independent female lead, and I liked the fact that she knew she needed help and wasn’t afraid to get it. I also liked that Nathan was torn between his guilt that makes him really want to help Alex and his loyalty to a fellow police officer. But, I also liked it that he wasn’t blinded by that loyalty as the truth starts to unfold. As the danger escalates, so does Nathan’s love for Alex. He is such a strong character, pursuing the case and the woman who captured his heart with equal voracity. Not only did I find myself loving the lead characters and cheering for their happy ending, I couldn’t wait for good to triumph over evil!!

I read this book some time ago, and since Alison Peterson read it just this past weekend, I asked her to chip in with a few fresh thoughts about the story and some of the things she liked. Thank you Alison!

I think Alex Lovell comes across as very tough, but she’s really a softie inside. She really cares about Melanie and even though she’s freaked out by baby Grace she’s hesitant to give her to CPS and later goes to visit Grace. Alex definitely gets into a lot of trouble…she’s nearly blown up when she goes to the cabin Melanie was staying at, she’s attacked in the mall when she tries to find out who’s following her, she’s nearly shot in New Orleans and she’s kidnapped by Craig at the end. I loved it when she finally went after Nathan and later offered him half her company....Awww!

Did you wonder about Sophie Barrett at the beginning? It seemed like she was after Alex for putting her old boss in jail, but since she never did anything I let her off the hook.

The Delphi Center is very cool. I want to meet more of the people who work there. I hope Mia gets a story. I’m very curious about the cute, young scientist. I didn’t realize how great Alex was with computers until she went into test at Delphi.

Nathan’s a homicide cop who met Alex several months ago on a previous case. He was attracted to her then, but didn’t do anything about it. Now, Alex wants his help investigating Craig Coghan, a friend and fellow cop. I can’t give Nathan any points for “smarts” for continuing to hook up with his ex-wife, Nicole, after their divorce. Why did she still have a key? She’s allowed to stop by anytime? Which she does, at the worst possible time….the morning after Nathan finally gets Alex in his bed. He redeems himself when he admits Alex means more to him than the case and when he holds Alex all night and lets her cry it out the night Melanie is shot. It was also pretty hot when he showed her they have more than just sex in New Orleans. Gotta love the house he leases for them!

Nathan doesn’t start believing Alex about Craig until bodies killed with baling wire start turning up. Apparently it takes a pretty strong person to kill with baling wire. I love tha he picks a fight and kicks Craig's ass in front of the courthouse to get Craig’s DNA! Craig needed his ass kicked! Especially since by then we know Craig is the sicko who is burning the prostitutes and his wife’s neck with cigarettes during sex.

I really liked Troy Stockton. It definitely doesn’t hurt that he looks like Brad Pitt, but he’s a good friend to Alex. He puts her in touch with the Delphi Center to analyze the blood on the ear bud she found. I loved when he kissed her in front of Nathan to just to get a rise out him. LOL! He’s the one who goes to New Orleans and calls her out on being a coward for letting Nathan leave. He freaked me out a little when he wouldn’t leave the motel and offered Alex $10k for her laptop. I for a second thought he might have lost it or was somehow involved…since at that point I didn’t know who all the bad guys were. I’m terrible at guessing who the bad guy is, so now I’m always looking at the person I would least expect!

John Holt’s an interesting character; I wonder if he’ll be in any of the other books in the series. He seems to be pretty good friends with Mia at the Delphi Center. I don’t know how he managed it, but he was always there when the serious action went down…Alex’s attack in the mall, when Melanie was shot at the All Saint’s Motel, and when Nathan and Hodges went after Coghan when he had Alex.

Laura will be with us today and offering a signed copy of her new release SNAPPED along with a $15 Starbucks gift card. We look forward to welcoming her to book club!

Here’s the hard part. Those of you who know me understand that if my husband didn’t cook, we’d likely starve at my house (or eat every meal out!). I figured I’d pick something that is Texas-ish, so I have not a clue if this is even remotely good, but it was highly rated!

True Texas Chili

  • 2 ounces dried, whole New Mexico (California), guajillo, or pasilla chiles, or a combination (6 to 8 chiles)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons lard, vegetable oil, or rendered beef suet
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, well trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (to yield 2 pounds after trimming)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups beef stock , or canned low-sodium beef broth, plus more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons corn tortilla flour
  • 1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar, plus more as needed
  • Sour cream
  • Lime wedges

Place the chiles in a straight-sided large skillet over medium-low heat and gently toast the chiles until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Don't let them burn or they'll turn bitter. Place the chiles in a bowl and cover them with very hot water and soak until soft, 15 to 45 minutes, turning once or twice.

Drain the chiles; split them and remove stems and seeds (a brief rinse helps remove seeds, but don't wash away the flesh). Place the chiles in the bowl of a blender and add the cumin, black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 cup water. Purée the mixture, adding more water as needed (and occasionally scraping down the sides of the blender jar), until a smooth, slightly fluid paste forms (you want to eliminate all but the tiniest bits of skin.) Set the chile paste aside.

Return skillet to medium-high heat and melt 2 tablespoons of the lard. When it begins to smoke, swirl skillet to coat and add half of the beef. Lightly brown on at least two sides, about 3 minutes per side, reducing the heat if the meat threatens to burn. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with 2 more tablespoons of lard and the remaining beef. Reserve.

Let the skillet cool slightly, and place it over medium-low heat. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of lard in the skillet; add the onion and garlic and cook gently for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, the remaining 2 cups water and gradually whisk in the masa harina to avoid lumps. Stir in the reserved chile paste, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a spatula to loosen any browned bits. Add the reserved beef (and any juices in the bowl) and bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain the barest possible simmer (just a few bubbles breaking the surface) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is tender but still somewhat firm and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of thickened but still liquid sauce surrounds the cubes of meat, about 2 hours.

Stir in the brown sugar and vinegar thoroughly and add more salt to taste; gently simmer 10 minutes more. At this point, it may look like there is excess sauce. Turn off the heat and let the chili stand for at least 30 minutes, during which time the meat will absorb about half of the remaining sauce in the skillet, leaving the meat bathed in a thick, somewhat fluid sauce. Stir in additional broth or water if the mixture seems too dry. If the mixture seems a bit loose and wet, allow it to simmer a bit more (sometimes we like to partially crush the cubes of beef with the back of a spoon to let them absorb more sauce). Adjust the balance of flavors with a bit of additional salt, sugar, or vinegar, if you like.

Reheat gently and serve in individual bowls with a dollop of sour cream on top and a lime wedge on the side.