Friday, December 31, 2010

The Cigar Maker Contest Ends Today

Last Day to Enter - Author in the Spotlight contest

The author of The Cigar Maker, Mark McGinty, is giving away 3 personalized copies of his book to BookSnob Followers.  To enter please click the link below:  The last day to enter is December 31st until midnight, central time.  The contest is open internationally.  Good Luck!

The Cigar Maker Contest

You can check out my review of The Cigar Maker here:

The Cigar Maker Book Review

You can read an interview with the author, Mark McGinty here:

Mark McGinty author interview

You can read Mark's guest post about Cuban Food and Holiday Traditions here:

Mark McGinty's Guest Post

Mark's first book is called Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy.  He is currently at work on his third historical novel that takes place during the second World War.

The excerpt below is from Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspircay via GoodReads.

The first and only novel that tells the TRUE story of the first moon landing. Cleverly merging the Apollo 11 mission with the death of Marilyn Monroe and the assassination of JFK while explaining all those Elvis sightings. You won’t find a more amusing story than this one!

Described by the Midwest Book Review as “a wonderful romp in never-land,” “patently absurd” and “certainly original” this book will interest anyone intrigued by all those conspiracy theories that are constantly emblazoned on the pages of the supermarket tabloids. And more importantly, it’s the perfect book for anyone looking to put a little humor into their life.

Not a book about Elvis Presley, ELVIS AND THE BLUE MOON CONSPIRACY tells the story of how our government, the press and our national icons interact through the power of television.

Months before man landed on the moon in 1969, NASA Administrator and former JFK adviser Jack Monroe thought the mission needed a slight touch-up. He turned to Peter Dixon, his second-in-command and an avid Elvis fanatic, and together this dynamic pair concocted a spectacle that would honor the pinnacle of human achievement: a lunar celebration to cap the space race with an outer space gala called Operation Blue Moon. To make it happen, they needed to hire the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley.

Dani Mitchell is a young, ambitious journalist from The Sensational Nation whose recent breakout interview with the Dalai Lama earned critical acclaim. Her next assignment is an exclusive one-on-one with Elvis – but the King is nowhere to be found.

With Monroe and Dixon standing in her way, Dani embarks on a mission to track down Elvis Presley. Was Neil Armstrong the first man to walk the moon? Or was it somebody else? In the final days before the first moon landing, Dani will find her way to the bottom of NASA’s mysterious Operation Blue Moon and learn the true story of Apollo 11.

I hope you have enjoyed meeting Minnesota Author Mark McGinty and learning about his two historical novels on the market.  I have really enjoyed working with Mark and look forward to reading his next book.  Please support Mark and read his books.  Please check out his website at

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Quiet Little Woman

The Quiet Little Woman.  A Christmas Story by Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott is one of my favorite writers so when I found this volume of Holiday stories in a thrift store, I quickly grabbed it.  It is a lovely combination of three short stories that focus on the lives of teenage girls.  Each story imparts moral lessons with Christmas as the backdrop.   This is a very short volume of Louisa May Alcott's work that can easily be read in one sitting or read aloud to children.

These three stories were written for a home-produced magazine called Little Things.  Little Things was produced by a group of impoverished sisters, the Luken girls, who wanted to emulate Little Women's in home family paper called The Pickwick Portfolio.   The Luken girls were very successful with their paper and amassed 1000 subscribers, at which point the paper began to be a burden and so they sold off the paper's rights.

These stories stayed hidden for years and thankfully were found and re-published to be enjoyed by another generation.

Louisa May Alcott was a nurse during the Civil War and with her many stories that were published, she was the person who pulled The Alcotts out of poverty frequently.  If you are interested in reading a good biography of the Alcott family try reading Eden's Outcasts.  The story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father by John Matteson.  It is a large volume, sometimes a bit dry but very informative and interesting especially if you are a big fan of Alcott.  What I found most interesting was how Little Women was created and fashioned after Alcott's own family.  Her health after her short career as a nurse in the Civil War was greatly affected by the mercury poisoning she suffered after getting typhus.  It explains her death at a young age. 

Louisa May Alcott and her family are fascinating and her stories are timeless.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Safe from the Sea

Safe from the Sea by Peter Geye

Northern Minnesota in November can be a perilous place with unforeseen snow storms, rattling winds, monster size waves on Lake Superior, with a chill that resides in your bones.  It is enough to make you stoke up the fire and stay indoors until Spring.  Peter Geye's novel "Safe from the Sea" evokes the unpredictable Minnesota landscape amidst a powerful survival story that will make you want to pack your bags and move to a cabin in the Northwoods.

Safe from the Sea is a story about a father and son relationship torn apart by a shipwreck on Lake Superior.  Olaf is on an ore boat in November during a Northeaster when his boat catches on fire and sinks.  He physically survives but emotionally he is a wreck at the bottom of the sea. Forty years later Olaf is sick and dying and his estranged son, Noah, finds himself learning to understand and love his father.

Lake Superior is the largest lake in the world and it is like a mini-ocean.  The huge waves crash upon the shore, there is a swift undertow in some locations and the water is very cold.  There have been approximately 350 shipwrecks on the lake with the most famous being the Edmund Fitzgerald which sunk on November 10th, 1975 and Gordon Lightfoot sang a song about it.  Most shipwrecks on Superior take place in November because of the quick "Northeasters".  Northeasters are storms that contain high winds, rain, snow, and cold temperatures.

This is an amazing journey through the rough seas of Lake Superior and the nature of being human.  The relationships and the landscape juxtapose to create a beautiful story that is timeless.

Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes and full of fishermen and women.  Do you like to fish?  Throw some bait on your hook, drop in your line and reel in this book, it is definitely a keeper.  Safe from the Sea will reside on my bookshelf to be reread for years to come.  I can't wait to share this story with those I love.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How to Say Goodbye in Robot

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Good Evening Everybody and welcome to the Night Light Show where where lonely people and freak and geeks listen and call in.  "This is the Night Light Show, your Light in the Night, and I'm your host." (pg. 26)

 Hello Ghost Boy, what is your story?
I am a high school kid who isn't really living, in fact I'm considered a ghost. My mom and brother died when I was in third grade and my dad pretends I'm not in the room.   In school, kids had a funeral for me and pretended to no longer see me a few years ago and so I exist only to exist in your memory.  Someday I will fly away.

Wow, that is one unique story Ghost Boy.  I feel for you. 

Next up, is Robot Girl.  What's going on Robot girl?
I am new to town and a senior at a private school where I don't really fit in.  My mom is sort of losing it and has gone bonkers for chicken.  My Dad is a teacher and rarely home.  I think I found a friend although he keeps me at arm's length.  I just want to fit in but I think I am turning into a girl with no emotions.

Hang in there Robot Girl.

Hey does anyone want to take a magic carpet ride to Ocean city with Ghost Boy and Robot Girl?  Come on and call in.  The carpet is warming up and ready for fun.  Let's go.

This book is not a fantasy but a realistic portrayal of two high school seniors in need of each other.  It is an unrealistic love story that bought me to tears at the end.  I was left cheering for Robot Girl as I cried for Ghost Boy.  Read this book,  it will make you happy you stayed up late to listen.  Call in.  It's worth it!

This is your Night in the Light show host signing off.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mark McGinty Author Interview and Giveaway

Hey Everyone, I like to introduce you to Mark McGinty author of The Cigar Maker.
He is the December Hometown Track MN Author in the Spotlight and he graciously agreed to answer some questions about his book for my readers.  If you want to win a copy of The Cigar Maker please find the link at the end of this post.

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a descendant of Cuban cigar makers and as a child I spent a lot of time in Tampa, Florida which used to be the cigar capital of the world, and the home of many of my relatives. My experiences there served as the inspiration for The Cigar Maker. My work has been published in Cigar City Magazine and La Gaceta (the nation’s oldest tri-lingual newspaper). My first book was called Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy, published in 2003 by Beaver’s Pond Press and The Cigar Maker was published in 2010 by Seventh Avenue Productions. I am currently working on a World War II thriller which should be published sometime in the next two years. I live in Northeast Minneapolis with my wife and daughter.

  1. What is the inspiration behind the story of The Cigar Maker?

The story is based on the true events that shook the cigar industry in the early part of the 20th century in Tampa, Florida. I realized there was no novel on the early days of the cigar industry in Tampa and it is a fascinating time period – a story that absolutely needed to be told but I needed a hook. Growing up, I heard many colorful stories from my Cuban relatives about the heyday of Tampa, when it was the cigar capital of the world. I was frequently immersed in Cuban culture, Cuban people and Cuban food, and surrounded by history books about Tampa and the cigar industry.

In one of these history books I found an obscure reference to a group of cigar makers, labor leaders, who were kidnapped during a major strike in 1901 and deported to a deserted beach in Honduras and left for dead. I became fascinated with that event and wondered what kind of men would be involved in such a dramatic kidnapping. What events lead up to that moment? and what happened next? The story grew from that incident into the epic tale of a fictional cigar maker who moves his family from Cuba to Tampa and gets involved in the labor strife and vigilante violence that was common in the industry during that time.

  1. Why did you decide to place your novel in Cuba and particularly in Ybor City in Tampa?

Since the story is based on true events that took place in Ybor City. Cuba has a fascinating history, even before Castro rose to prominence. Before the 1959, it is a country that has almost always been at war, either with itself of with Spain. The time period is filled with conflict, colorful characters and wonderful culture. I also knew that there was a built-in market for the book in Tampa and in the vast cigar smoking community.

  1. What is Ybor City like today?

Ybor City still retains much of the charm that made it a great cigar city. Many of the old brick cigar factories still stand, but have been converted into apartment buildings, offices or libraries. It is a historical district, with the old streetcars restored and running as they did during the heyday. Seventh Avenue is still populated by restaurants and cafes serving Cuban food, with many small buckeyes, or cigar shops, on every block. The social clubs still stand, and are magnificent cathedrals amid an otherwise quiet, culturally diverse community. You could spend an entire day there walking the street, visiting the shops and museums and immersing yourself in the history.

  1. Have you ever visited Cuba?  If so, what it is like?  How do you feel about Cuba’s communist background?

I have not visited Cuba yet but I do plan to go in February or April of 2011 with a delegation of artists and writers, to attend the International Book Fair in Havana. The trip is legal and approved by the US government but there is some red tape and a few open questions to be resolved before the trip happens. I plan to do extensive reporting on the trip so I will certainly have plenty to write about once I return! As for the communist background, since it is not something I have experienced firsthand, I am unable to make an educated comment. If I am able to make the trip I’m sure I will certainly have an opinion.

  1. Is this novel based on the history of your family ancestors?  If so, which family members are represented?

Both of my great-grandfathers on my mother’s side were Cuban cigar makers who brought their families to Tampa in the early part of the 20th century. Parts of the novel are loosely based on their transition from Cuba to the U.S. but the main character, Salvador Oritz is completely fictional. The two characters who most closely resemble family members are Salvador and his wife Olympia, who are based on my grandparents Carlos and Camelia Roque. Though my grandmother was not the daughter of a wealthy sugar planter like Olympia, her personality is definitely represented by the book’s female lead. My grandmother was very confident, and very much in charge. My grandfather on the other hand was more reserved and he took pride in a hard day’s work, a recurring theme in the book, and he loved to play the lottery. My grandparents, like Salvador and Olympia, both loved to play dominoes, were closely connected to their families and culture and put their families above and beyond all.

  1.  Usually an author puts some of his own life experiences in the book.  Did you do that?  Do you have anything in common with your characters?

I would say I inherited my grandfather’s work ethic, my mother’s and grandmother’s love of cooking Cuban-Spanish cuisine, and Josefina’s sense of adventure. I grew up hearing all kinds of stories about the old days of Ybor City, and having a very large family filled with many colorful Cuban personalities led to many anecdotes that made their way into the book. Most famous was a story that my grandfather told me about a man who once bit the head off a live rooster after his bird lost an important match at a cockfight. My grandfather told me this story probably a dozen times, always thinking he was telling it for the first time, and it became such a family legend that I started The Cigar Maker by bringing that very event to life.

  1. Why are Cuban cigars known as the best in the world?

They used to be, because they had the most skilled workforce and the best tobacco but since the embargo, many other countries have learned to produce a cigar whose quality compares to, and even exceeds the Cuban cigar. Cuban cigars are coveted in America because they are hard to come by but most of the serious, seasoned cigar smokers know the rest of the market has caught up. The Cuban tobacco industry simply does not have the finances or infrastructure to consistently produce the world’s best cigars. Ask a group of seasoned cigar smokers which country produces the best cigars in the world and you will hear a variety of opinions. The definition of quality is decided by the person smoking the cigar.  
  1.  Are cigars still made in the traditional ways mentioned in your book, or has industrialization ruined cigar making in America?  What is your opinion?

For the most part, premium cigars are still hand-rolled though industrialization has definitely diluted the artistic aspect of producing cigars. In the old days cigar makers were proud artisans, and a good cigar was a work of art (many would argue that a good cigar is still a work of art, and I agree!). The struggle for cigar makers to retain their identity as artists and for their craft to survive the profit-driven efforts of industrial quotas is a major source of conflict in The Cigar Maker, and a reason cigar makers walked out of the cigar factories in 1899, a strike that is portrayed in the novel.

  1.  I noticed your novel is self-published.  Why did you choose to self- publish?  What advice would you give to first time authors who want to self-publish?

There are several reasons I chose to self-publish. One is that I found the traditional route to be incredibly slow not very fulfilling. I found myself spending most of my time writing and sending query letters to agents and publishers. Once someone asked to read the manuscript, all work had to stop while I waited for a response. This was not a rewarding experience, and was not the reason I write books. I like to tell a story and then market and promote my work. I found that sending query letters was a waste of time, time that could be better spent polishing my work, producing a novel and marketing it to the masses.

My advice to an author who wants to self-publish is that the success of a book depends almost 100% on how it is promoted. It is a hustle and you need to do something every day to get the word out. Luckily, The Cigar Maker has two built-in markets where almost all of my promotional efforts are spent: Tampa and the cigar smoking community.

I review books for self-published authors and common mistakes I see them making are: having no presence on the Internet, a poorly written or edited book, a book with no target market, an author with no branding, and a book with little or no marketing plan. If you are a self-published author and want to know more, please don’t hesitate to contact me:

  1. I really enjoyed reading about La Resistencia, one of the cigar maker’s unions.  Can you tell us a little history behind this union?

This is a real union of cigar makers that formed in Tampa around 1900 after the Weight Strike of 1899 to protect the workers from, what they perceived to be, a threat of capitalism. The union was meant to give the workers a common voice but also to provide health care, and a sense of community. Management, of course, was not comfortable with the union’s rise to prominence and tried to mitigate the union’s power in a variety of ways (which are portrayed in the book). Eventually the conflict ignited into a violent strike that cost several lives and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and resulted in the union leaders being kidnapped and deported to Honduras. The main character Salvador Ortiz is one of these labor leaders and the reader will experience this conflict through his eyes.

  1. Please tell us in one sentence, why we should read The Cigar Maker?

You do not have to like cigars to enjoy the book because it is ultimately a story about family, and a family’s struggle to survive and become descent American citizens who work hard and take care of each other.

Thanks Mark!  

Here is the link for the contest to win a personalized copy of The Cigar Maker.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Cigar Maker

The Cigar Maker by Mark Carlos McGinty

"Salvador had been in Ybor City  less than one day when he saw a man bite the head off a live rooster."  The first sentence of The Cigar Maker quickly grabs your attention and doesn't let go.

Travel through time and place with Salvador Ortiz as he fights Spain for independence in Cuba, finds the love of his life, moves his family to Ybor City in Tampa, makes fine cigars at a Cigar Factory, Joins La Resistencia, goes on strike, is kidnapped to Honduras, all under the backdrop of the turn of the 20th century.  What an adventure in reading!

This book will entertain you while it teaches you about the Cuban immigrant experience in Florida.   I found the backdrop of the novel compelling and the history of Ybor City fascinating.  The characters are unique and interesting people who are like an extended family minus the corrupt police and the mafia street thugs.  Racism and anti-worker rights run high in the capitalistic system that is trying to make the cigar making industry more productive. 

I love reading books that offer me a new experience and teach history.  The Cigar Maker taught me a part of the history of Cuba and America that I never knew, particularly the Cuban immigrant experience.  The author Mark McGinty makes you feel like you are a part of the Ortiz family as you laugh, love, dine, smoke, hope and cry with them.

Have you ever smoked a cigar?
This is the perfect novel to light up a cigar (or not), kick your feet up, sit on the porch, and read.  It will take you back in time to a distinct and diverse place.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Away Laughing on a fast Camel

Away Laughing on a Fast Camel by Louise Rennison.
Even more confessions of Georgia Nicolson.  Book #5

Can I just tell you how much I love Georgia.  She is such a selfish, self-absorbed, prankster girl who is obsessed with her looks and older band boys.  Every time I read a "Georgia" book, I know that I am going to laugh, roll my eyes and enjoy the read.

The sex god moved to kiwi-a-gogo land and left Georgia for sheep.  She was very upset and quickly moved on to fall in love with the new lead singer of the Stiff Dylans, an Italian dreamboat named Masimo.  Georgia spends the majority of this book trying to figure out the opposite sex and has stolen a book from her mother called How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You.  Her gal pals try out the tricks and amaze themselves by how well they work on hypnotizing men.

Ohmygiddygodspajamas, Georgia's dad bought a new batmoblie and is driving it around town embarrassing her.  Georgia heads out to one night to see sex-god's former band, where she is introduced to Masimo.  Georgia blinks seductively and her boy entrancers ( false eyelashes) get stuck together and she blindly finds her way to the bathroom.  She discovers the hot lead singer leaves the building with her archnememis Wet Lindsey. 

It is nippy noodles here and joy joyity joy, I sit in hamburger-a-gogo land waiting for Georgia to visit in book six with her Vati.  As Georgia would say, "Oh dear Gott in Himmel and Donner and Blitzen", I can hardly wait.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

the perks of being a wallflower by stephen chbosky

December 20, 2010

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you because I know you will listen and understand what I am trying to say.  I picked up this book because a 9th grade student recommended it to me.  It is a epistolary novel written to a unknown person by a 9th grade student named Charlie.  Charlie is the youngest of three children and has suffered his share of tragedy.  Charlie is tragically wonderful and unique.  He will make your heart skip.

Truly this novel is very emotional, powerful and unique.  Charlie wiggled his way into my heart and hasn't let go yet just like he did with the friends he acquired.  The perks of being a wallflower is about Charlie's first experiences of high school, of falling in love, his first kiss, his first dance, his first time using drugs in the year 1991 and so much more.

According to urban a wallflower is:  
a type of loner. seemingly shy folks who no one really knows. often some of the most interesting people if one actually talks to them. cute.
In high school, I was a total wallflower just like Charlie.  I told my husband this and he agreed, I was definitely a wallflower.  I was a really deep thinker, very shy and would often sit by myself at parties.  I would still go to parties and like Charlie, I wanted to "participate" in life and I still do.  Maybe that is why I love Charlie's character so much because he is so real to me.  I think I have a crush on him.

Charlie has a special teacher named "Bill" who provides him with classic books about teenage boys.  Bill encourages Charlie to "participate" and he takes that advice.  This book is a testament to friendship and love.  It is a novel about life and the importance of taking part in it regardless of your inner demons.

A movie is being adapted from the novel due to be released in 2011.

This poem is on page 70-71 in the book and it brought tears to my eyes.  Still does.
Once on a yellow peice of paper with green lines
he wrote a poem
and he called it "chops"
because that was the name of his dog
and thats what it was all about
his teacher gave him an A
and a gold star
and his mother hung it on the kitchen door
and read it to his aunts.
that was the year Father Tracy
took all the kids to the zoo
and he let them sing on the bus
and his little sister was born
with tiny nails and no hair
and his mother and father kissed alot
and the girl around the corner sent him a
Valentine signed with a row of X's
and he had to ask his father what the X's meant
and his father always tucked him in bed at night
and was always there to do it

once on a piece of white paper with blue lines
he wrote a poem
he called it "Autumn"
because that was the name of the season
and that's what it was all about
and his teacher gave him an A
and asked him to write more clearly
and his mother never hung it on the kithcen door
beause of the new paint
and the kids told him
that Father Tracy smoked cigars
and left butts on the pews
and sometime they would burn holes
that was the year his sister got glasses
with thick lenses and black frames
and the girl around the corner laughed
when he asked her to go see santa claus
and the kids told him why
his mother and father kissed alot
and his father never tucked him in bed at night
and his father got mad
when he cried for him to do it

once on a paper torn from his notebook
he wrote a poem
and he called it "Innocence: A Question"
because that was the question about his girl
and thats what it was all about
and his professor gave him an A
and a strange steady look
and his mother never hung it on the kitchen door
because he never showed her
that was the year Father Tracy died
and he forgot how the end
of the Apostles's Creed went
and he caught his sister
making out on the back porch
and his mother and father never kissed
or even talked
and the girl around the corner
wore too much make up
that made him cough when he kissed her
but he kissed her anyway
becuase it was the thing to do
and at 3 am he tucked himself into bed
his father snoring soundly

that's why on the back of a brown paper bag
he tried another poem
and he called it "Absolutely Nothing"
because that's what it was really all about
and he gave himself an A
and a slash on each damned wrist
and he hung it on the bathroom door
because this time he didnt think
he could reach the kitchen----

Perks Of Being A Wallflower Cover

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Author Mark McGinty Guest Post

Hometown Track Minnesota Author in the Spotlight Guest Post

The Best Cuban Holiday Dishes
One of the best parts of being part of a Cuban family is the food. Especially during the holidays. Whether you married into a clan of crazy Cubans or grew up smack dab in the middle of a kitchen steaming with black beans, roast pork stuck with garlic, sangria, and loud passionate voices, the Cuban holiday kitchen is the home of the epic feast, and a place where the world’s best holiday dishes are born and loved.
It starts in late November.
Thanksgiving: Boliche

There are several ways to make boliche but it’s essentially an eye round roast hollowed out with a long carving knife and then stuffed with chorizo sausage, ham, or bacon usually mixed with a paste of garlic, oregano, onion, cumin, black olives,  or whatever you decide will taste great! It’s roasted for several hours over a bed of potatoes, apples, green peppers, celery and onions. The vegetables caramelize with the juices from the meat and the cup of red wine your pour over them as they roast and then the meat is sliced into 1-inch “steaks” and served with rice, fried plantains (platanos) and plenty of red wine. It is a very unique dish, and because of the intricacy and care that goes into its preparation, a Cuban holiday dish that is best enjoyed on special occasions. Perfect for a Thanksgiving feast.
Christmas: Lechon
Quite possibly my favorite Cuban holiday dish, as long as it’s slow roasted over Christmas Eve night and ready the next day, dripping with a tangy mojo (moe-ho, not moe-joe) and served with lots and lots of rice. When you wake up Christmas morning, you’re greeted with the sweet smell of this slow-roasting pork marinated in a light garlic-citrus. Your mouth waters all day while you open presents, sip Christmas coffee and nibble on Christmas sweets. When it’s time to feast, you pile hoard and hoards of this ripe meat onto your plate and cover it with a mojo glaze. And like a Christmas turkey, there are enough leftovers to last for days!

New Year’s Eve: Cuban Sandwiches and Sangria 

The greatest sandwich in the world goes great with a cold beer or a tall glass of sangria on ice. A great meal to start (or end) a night of partying.  For more details on this awesome sandwich, check out my article The Cuban Sandwich – How to Spot a Fraud!!

When it comes to sangria, don’t buy the bottled stuff. Try this homemade version:
One bottle red wine (use a nice burgundy)
1 cup rum
1 cup orange juice
Juice of 1 lime
Half a cup of sugar
2 cups of water (trust me, you’ll want to water this down a bit!)

Mix all of the above into a pitcher and then add the following:

2-3 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, sliced into thin wedges
Cherries, pineapple chunks and whatever tropical fruit you like!
Stir with a wooden spoon (using a wooden spoon is part of the charm)

Stick it in the fridge for about 30 minutes and serve cool. Have plenty of extra rum and wine available so you can make a second pitcher after you finish the first.

Drink gently.

New Year’s Day: Ropa Vieja
When it comes to preparation, rope vieja is my favorite Cuban holiday dish, or favorite Cuban food (no, favorite food PERIOD). This is a joy to cook. Imagine a kitchen smelling of simmering flank steak steaming in a kettle flavored with garlic, lime, tomato, onion, and bay leaves. Once the steak has been simmered and shredded, it’s slow cooked in a pot of chopped green peppers, garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, tomato sauce, and lots of dark, red wine. Serve it over a bed of rice with plenty of platanos and slices and slices of fresh Cuban bread.
Freeze the leftovers and when you thaw them weeks later, the sauce has been soaked into the meat creating the most tender, most tasty Cuban dish you’ll ever know.
What are platanos?

Platanos are simply nothing more than ripe, sliced plantains cooked in olive oil until they’re crispy and golden brown. For best results, once they’re light brown, turn off the burner and let them cool in the olive oil until they’re lukewarm. Then drain, top with salt and serve as a side dish to any of the above Cuban entrees. They’re awesome!!

Here are some more ideas for excellent Cuban side dishes:
Avocado Salad
Sliced avocado served with raw onion, cilantro, oil and vinegar or lime juice. The above photo uses mango instead of onion. Works for me!!

Black Beans and Rice

Although this is commonly served as a meal unto itself, it also makes a great side. Serve with fresh chopped onions.
I grew up with this stuff, and now I’m making sure my daughter, who is 5, will experience these Cuban holiday dishes too. She seems to enjoy them as much as I did. When she gets a little older, I’ll teach her how to prepare these feasts and soon, perhaps she will begin to prepare them herself, and may even teach them to her children.
I almost forgot the best part: dessert!!
Flan de Leche

My mother used to do this homemade but you can find it in bakeries or even in a small, single-serving container like pudding. This simple yet elegant caramelized custard is a common dessert in Latin America. It might take a few tastings to get used to – then again you might love it before it even touches your tongue!
Panatela Borracha
Cuban drunken sponge cake. Soft and sweet and dripping with juicy syrup than covers your fingers and runs over your palm and down your wrist. Bliss.
Fresh Papaya and Sliced Mango
Who says you need to kill yourself making dessert? Sweet tropical fruits are a great finish to any Cuban meal. Just make sure you wash them down with a swig of rum!
Most of these recipes can be found in Clarita’s Cocina a Cuban-Spanish cookbook that has been in my family for decades. To read about how these dishes become part of the Cuban lifestyle in America, check out The Cigar Maker.
For more information on Cuban Cuisine, click here.
Mark McGinty is the author of The Cigar Maker and Elvis and the Blue Moon Conspiracy. His work has appeared in Cigar City Magazine and La Gaceta.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Elvis and Olive Contest Winners!!!!

I would like to congratulate the winners for the Elvis and Olive contest.

1.  Debbie
2.  Jen
3.  Kate T.
4.  Fiona C.
5.  Anna C.

The books have all been personalized by author, Stephanie Watson.  I drove across town to pick them up and they are ready to be shipped.  Thanks to everyone for entering and for following Booksnob.  If you didn't win you can order a copy of the book here. 

Please enter my December contests.  The Cigar Maker and Dragon Tattoos

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dragon Tattoo Contest

Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Or will you be reading it soon?  Do you like dragons?  Were you born in the year of the Dragon?

I have two dragon tattoos to give away to one lucky follower of Booksnob.  The Contest is open internationally and will close at midnight on Dec 31st.

The tattoos look almost exactly like the image on this post except it has the words The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in small red letters running down the length of the dragon's body.  They are identical tattoos and very cool looking in black and red.  The tattoo will last about two weeks and is easy to apply.

To enter please fill out the form.  Good luck!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

The Girls with the Dragon Tattoo begins as a legal thriller that reminded me of John Grisham's The Firm.  It is about 100 pages of complete business talk and legalese and I seriously got lost in translation.  I probably would have quit reading at this point but since it was picked by my book club, I kept on reading.

Lisbeth has to be my favorite character, mainly because she rides a motorcycle, doesn't take crap from anyone, especially creepy men, she is an awesome computer hacker and has an super cool dragon tattoo.  What is not to love? 

If you love psychological mysteries and suspense, you will probably love this book.  My mom adores these books.  It is definitely multi-genre, combining business, law, murder, mystery, sex, journalism and family saga all in one.  The family saga is particularly entertaining.  The novel takes place in Sweden and I love to visit other countries in the books that I read.

My book club met at IKEA in the Mall of America to discuss the book.  I had a delicious plate of Swedish meatballs with ligonberries.  The discussion was good and we all applied Dragon tattoos somewhere on our body.  We were a book club of women all sporting dragon tattoos.  I felt invincible, ready to kick ass and hop on my motorbike in the freezing cold winter snow.  Anything is possible if you have a dragon tattoo. It was a lot of fun and I think ligonberries are my new favorite food. 

This book is beloved by many who go on to read the second and third books in the trilogy.  I wanted to love it, I really did but all I can say was it is OK.  I guess I was turned off by the sadism and had a hard time stomaching the brutal violence towards women in the book.  Basically the book had me seriously stressed out probably because I was a victim to a sex crime when I was a child.  I had a few bad dreams.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

People of the Book

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the book is about a famous book called the Sarajevo Haggadah.  It is famous because it is an illuminated manuscript that illustrated the Jewish text of the Bible from Creation to the Exodus from Egypt.  The book is over 500 years old and extremely rare because most Jewish families did not illuminate their books as that went against tradition.  Illuminating books was primarily done by Christians.  The Haggadah is commonly used by Jewish families on the Passover Seder.  The Sarajevo Haggadah is illuminated with gold and copper and handwritten on delicate calfskin.  It currently resides in Sarajevo but the book has traveled far and Brook's fictional story illuminates the journey of this great book through the eyes of Hanna, a Australian book conservator.

Have you ever read a book and wondered if you left something in it?   Imagine that a book you have read survived for hundreds of years and that what you left behind tells part of the journey of the book.
Hanna finds several items left behind in the book when she is restoring it.  She finds a hair, a wine stain, salt crystals, an insect wing and she discovers something is missing from the book.  What follows is Hanna's account of the possibilities and the history of the Jews in Spain, Italy, Vienna and Sarajevo.  I love the concept of the rare book restorer discovering personal items and recreating the history of the book. 

Have you ever found something in a book or purposely left something behind?  I once found a 5 dollar bill in a book and have found numerous book marks and lists, I even found a plane ticket stub.  It is fun to imagine the travels these books went on.

This is the third book I have read by Geraldine Brooks and every book has been entertaining, educational and enjoyable.  I met the author right after she published:  The Year of Wonders, a tale about the Black Death in a small village in England.  She is a petite and spunky woman and super nice.  All of her books are on my reading list for my World History classes.  I can't wait to see what she publishes next.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Cigar Maker Contest

Contest:  The Cigar Maker

Hometown Track Author in the Spotlight, Mark McGinty has offered to giveaway 3 copies of his book The Cigar Maker.  The Contest is open internationally until midnight on Dec 31st.  All Booksnob followers are eligible and Mark has agreed to personalize your copy if you win.  If you love historical fiction you will love this book.

Here is the synopsis of the book according to Good Reads.

The Cigar City. The year is 1898. Young Cuban rebel Salvador Ortiz and his family have escaped the hardship of war-torn Cuba, but the union halls, cigar factories, and dark alleys of Tampa are filled with violence and vendetta. Salvador must defy constant labor strife and deadly corruption in a one-industry town known for backroom cockfights, street thugs, late-night abductions and mass production of the world's best hand-rolled stogies. An ideological battle for control of the cigar industry tests Salvador's self-respect and love of hard work as he fights to abandon his rambunctious, outlaw past and lead his proud Cuban family into a colorful immigrant society. His wish for a peaceful life as a husband, a father, and a man of dignity is threatened by a lawless underworld and a cultural conflict with a dangerous, bloody history.

Please fill out this form and good luck!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Master Butchers Singing Club

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

The Master Butchers Singing Club draws you into the story with its unique title and keeps you reading because of the emotion packed mysteries that unfold throughout the story.  This story is like peeling back the layers of an onion, you may cry a bit, bleed a little, smile sometimes, all while you taste the flavor of comedy meets tragedy.  Each layer of the onion, like the layers in the story are related and intertwined.  Truly this story of Fidelis Waldvogel, a WW1 vet from Germany who immigrates to North Dakota and becomes the town butcher will really get under your skin. Delphine Watzka is the daughter of the local town drunk and she becomes best friends with the Butcher's wife.  Delphine and Fidelis's destinies are immediately affected by the sands of time. And yes, there is a singing club in the book that includes two butchers and several other men.

Louise Erdrich is an excellent storyteller.  Her stories interweave and mingle with each other and each book contains strong, memorable characters.  If you haven't read a book by Louise Erdrich you are truly missing a unique reading experience.

This is the fourth book I have read by Erdrich.  Erdrich is a well known Native American writer from Minnesota whose books mainly take place in her native state of North Dakota. Many of her books are semi-autobiographical where she details and fictionalizes some of the extended members of her family.  Native American themes are strongly represented in most of her books and in The Master Butcher's Singing Club she figuratively represents the German side of her family coming into contact with the Native side. 

  Louise Erdrich currently lives in Minneapolis and owns a bookstore called Birch Bark Books.