Category Archives: Latest News

A sampling of things that are going on in my life…

Kiss Z Cook Hoisin-Glazed Pork Chops

Last night I received an early birthday present from my wife Debbie — Date Night at Kiss Z Cook, where we (and eight other couples) prepared Asian-influenced dishes under the direction of Chef Sean Bartosiak.  It was a wonderful experience. Debbie and I worked on the Hoisin-Glazed Pork Chops–awesome recipe.  Here’s a photo of Debbie and me with the result.

I’m hopeful there’s no problem with me posting this recipe as long as I attribute it to them. They gave us the recipe at the end of the evening.  We served it over Vegetable Chop Suey, which we also made, but I think it stands on its own.

Ingredients (serves 12)

Hoisin Glaze
1 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons curry powder

2 cups water
2 cups soy sauce
2 cups sugar
5-6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons coarse cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons sesame oil
4 to 6 lbs pork loin
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, for garnish.

For the marinade: In a container large enough to hold the marinade and the pork loin, combine the marinade ingredients and add the pork loin. Cover and allow to marinate for 4 hours.

For the glaze: in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the hoisin sauce, honey, vinegar, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and curry powder. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes to blend the flavors. Remove from heat.

To cook: Grill the pork loin indirectly over medium heat, turning after 5 minutes.  After ten minutes, start basting them with the hoisin glaze until the meat is done. A few minutes before they are finished, sprinkle with sesame seeds. Remove the loin from the grill and slice in the bias. Serve warm, drizzled with additional hoisin glaze.

Taco Soup

I haven’t posted a recipe in a while.  Even though the calendar says it’s spring, it’s gotten really cold here in Indiana (again), so I’m making this for supper. This is an incredibly easy recipe, it makes a bunch, and the leftovers freeze well. Could you ask for more?

Taco Soup

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 can Rotel
2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can pinto beans
1 can Ranch style beans
1 pkg. dry taco seasoning mix
1 pkg. Ranch dressing mix

Directions:  brown ground beef and chopped onion.  Drain fat.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer at least one hour, stirring occasionally.

Seriously, it’s that easy.  Here’s a photo of the simple ingredients and the resulting soup.

A couple of notes: while it’s not really high in calories, you can lighten it up by using a combination of lean ground beef and lean ground turkey (I use 93% lean turkey; it’s cheaper than the 99% lean and adds only a little fat); I posted a ‘hotter’ version of this on Amy Alessio’s website,, back in January to help promote my friend Molly MacRae’s new book Lawn Order. This is a tamer version that I prefer.


Running Dark by Jamie Freveletti

Running Dark, Jamie Freveletti’s second novel, is just as captivating as her first. It features the same characters that were in Running from the Devil now a few months into the aftermath of their Colombian experience. Cameron Sumner is still with security company Darkview, but this time his assignment is on a cruise ship believed to be carrying pharmaceuticals. When the ship is attacked by Somali pirates, it becomes apparent these are not ordinary pharmaceuticals, but maybe a new kind of chemical weapon. To find out what’s there, a chemist needs to be transported into the danger zone. Emma Caldridge, fresh from an ultramarathon in South Africa where she was unwillingly injected with an experimental drug, volunteers to be that chemist and to be with Cameron again. Behind the scenes, a United States Senator is trying to bring down Darkview because of the Colombian pipeline destruction in the first book. To keep this from happening, Darkview executives Edward Banner and Carol Stromeyer are dancing as fast they can, trying to avoid giving up incriminating documents—and trying stay alive. Both are in danger of being killed by an organization that wants revenge for their earlier successes.

Freveletti’s characters are likeable and sympathetic, and the action never stops. You will not—I repeat NOT—be able to put this down. Don’t even try it. Just give into the delight of reading something this good.

Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

Starvation Lake, Bryan Gruley’s debut novel that was nominated for just about every award in the mystery field, is every bit as good as advertised.

The protagonist Gus Carpenter, editor of the Pine County Pilot–circulation 4,733–doesn’t expect he’ll face the controversies he did during his stay at the Detroit Times, where he took a fall that continues to haunt him. The Pilot, based in his hometown of Starvation Lake, is more apt to run an article on a guy who believes in Bigfoot than hard-hitting news. But when pieces of a snowmobile that went down with Gus’ former hockey coach years ago washes up on the shore of a different lake from where the coach was believed to have drowned, Gus finds himself investigating the death. Was it murder? Gus, who was goalie for the team the coach led to the losing end of the state championship finals, discovers the coach had a secret so terrible that people who knew it likely wanted him dead. Gus is forced to confront his own fiends and former teammates to find out who wanted the coach’s secret buried—not just then, but still today.

Gruley, who is the Chicago bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, makes Gus a convincing journalist and adds layers of intrigue to the story that keep the pages turning. In the end, Gus is an investigative hero in the mold of Woodward or Bernstein, refusing to bend to higher powers that threaten to silence him if he won’t stop digging. His daring determination to learn the truth provides an uplifting end to a story set in a cold, blue-collar town that’s dying in more ways than one. Hockey fans will love this book, but as evidenced from all the awards it’s garnered, hockey is not the main reason readers are skating into Starvation Lake to find out who iced who.

Prologue for Saintly Remains


The answer was not in the pattern. The answer was in the exception.

Keri Schoening, age sixteen, dead in a Columbine-style massacre, was that exception. The non-jock, the non-bully, the sweet, loving young woman who answered “yes” when asked if she believed in Jesus, was the only one of the five dead students who didn’t fit the pattern.

So no one asked, what if she was the reason for the massacre?

I’m Nick Bertetto. I’m a freelance investigative reporter, and I didn’t ask the question, either. Not that I was looking for the answer. It wasn’t my story, not until five months later. And even then, I was asking a different question when I stumbled upon the answer.

The shootings occurred one gray Indiana afternoon on January 23 at West Jasper High School, the alma mater of my wife, Joan. Two students returned to school after lunch, shot five students, then shot themselves. None of the victims survived.

It was heartbreaking. The school closed for the rest of the semester. Students were transferred to Jasper High, the other community high school in town. Though there had been rumors the killings were the work of a Satanic cult, the police found no evidence of it, other than a cryptic verse of no known origin left on the wall of the library:

“When night is at its lowest ebb,

And Vict’ry’s sung from heav’nly tower,

Then evil spins its strongest web,

And Satan has his finest hour.”

The authorities believed that the two students who did the shootings sought revenge on athletes who had bullied them. It was said that, for years, the slain had inflicted misery on the shooters and their friends—and that, as in Columbine, the school had ignored what the popular jocks had been doing.

That’s what the police and the media concluded. Keri Schoening, huddled under a table in the library with other students, had been an afterthought. The wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We took the news of the massacre hard, especially Joan. Keri had been the daughter of one of her good friends from high school. Susan Schoening and Joan were close enough that when we were in Jasper, our families always got together. Keri had treated our daughter, Stephanie, like a little sister and even babysat her on occasion. Steph, like all kids Keri came in contact with, really liked her. We’d had eggnog at the Schoening’s house after Midnight Mass on Christmas morning. A month later, Joan and I went to Jasper for the funeral.

Not one of us asked, what if Keri’s death was not the exception?

Because we saw the pattern instead, the evil that had been in the boys lived on unnoticed. It lay low for a short while, but that time was very short. Just five months later, it resurfaced.

What my playlist says about me…

As I ran this morning at the gym (aside: I only run outside in good weather), I was listening to my iPod Shuffle and wondering what those around me were listening to. What you listen to says something about you, whether you wish it did or not. Of course, if I could hear what the other runners were listening to, I’d probably make some kind of judgment based on what I heard.

So what kind of judgment would someone make if they heard what played on my iPod this morning? Here’s what I listened to:

1. Bringin’ da Noise by *Nsync.

2. Overkill by Men at Work

3. Down Under by Men at Work.

4.  Come Alive by Mark Schultz.

5.  Don’t Cross the River by America.

6.  Closer Than I’ve Ever Been by Mark Schultz.

7.  Syndicate by The Fray

8.  What About Now by Daughtry.

9.  Lovers in Japan by Coldplay.

10.  Supernatural by Daughtry.

11.  What I Like About You by Lillix.

12.  Message in a Bottle by The Police.

There’s definitely a nostalgic component to my music, and that surprised me. I don’t dwell in past, but … songs by *Nsync and the Backstreet Boys end up on my Shuffle because they take me back to a time when my kids were in middle and high school and we used to take these long, cross-country vacations. We listened to their music in the van sometimes. Lillix’s “What I Like About You” is also from that time, from the Freaky Friday soundtrack. My kids (and Debbie and I) really enjoyed that movie, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis and the now-disgraced Lindsay Lohan.

Add to that Men at Work, America, and The Police, and this list practically screams nostalgia. Those groups were popular back when Deb and I were in college and then out on our own, before kids, back when we were cool. (At least, I thought we were cool. Deb says we were never cool.)

But there’s a good mix of up-to-date music in there, too. I love the contemporary Christian scene, especially artists like Mark Schultz and Chris Tomlin. I make no secret I’m a Christian, by the way. If you’ve never read them, my books straddle the line between mainstream and inspirational.

And I LOVE the Fray. Can’t wait for their next album. The Coldplay song is from Viva la Vida, which I got largely because of the title track, but I really liked “Lovers in Japan” as well. And Daughtry.  He is SO much better than American Idol, and I’m glad he lost the competition and is proving to be more popular than a lot of those who won. His thoughtful lyrics and driving melodies are really appealing.

So, in short, here’s the analysis based on my iPod playlist: I enjoy revisiting the past, because so much of it—especially concerning Debbie and my kids—was so enjoyable. But I don’t spend my life there. I live for today, and find good in as many places as I can.

That’s what I want to believe, and I’m sticking to it.

So Cold the River

Michael Koryta’s latest novel, So Cold the River, is nothing like the novels that he’s written to this point. While it still has well-drawn characters and impeccably-described settings, this one starts out with a quiet puzzle rather than a lit fuse. That puzzle is presented to a man named Eric Shaw, who has the ability to sense truth through photographs and video. The failed former cinematographer is hired to go to West Baden, Indiana to do a video portrait of the mysterious early life of a 95-year-old rich man who is dying. The project is financed by Bradford’s daughter-in-law against the old man’s wishes. Bradford started out as a purveyor of Pluto water which is drawn from the springs found at West Baden.

Weird stuff begins to happen as soon as Shaw is hired. The blue bottle of Pluto water the daughter-in-law gives him is strangely cold, even in the ninety-degree heat. Shaw makes the mistake of tasting the water and is soon drawn into fits of migraine headaches and—once he reaches the West Baden Hotel—surreal visions. A young man who is a descendant of Bradford’s becomes a thorn in everyone’s side as he, too, sees visions and is driven to protect old secrets, even if that means committing murder. Like quicksand, So Cold the River slowly pulls the reader in until there’s no going back. What starts out as a curiosity that tugs at your brain becomes a compelling urge, not unlike the one which possesses Shaw, to learn the truth behind the Pluto water and the mysteries that surround Bradford’s history.

Though the end didn’t completely satisfy all the questions I felt Koryta had built up, there’s no denying the power of the story and his ability to tell it in a literate, compelling way. Plus, for those of us who’ve been to the towns of West Baden and French Lick and stayed in the two amazing hotels, Koryta’s novel provides an imaginative turn on the history of the area while documenting the rise, fall, and resurrection of this part of southern Indiana.


Some of you may know that I wrote columns about being a stay-at-home dad for the Indianapolis Star.  The first column, which you can read here, was about my feelings the day my older daughter Liz started first grade.  This column was written on the day my younger daughter Katy finished high school.  It was never published, but I always liked it.  It serves as a nice bookend to that first column, and I thought I’d share it with you (especially since I got nostalgic over the holidays).  Keep in mind it was written two and a half years ago…


Katy’s gone.

She didn’t hustle by me on her way out the door.  To her credit, she stopped and gave me a hug when I said, “Well, here it is, your last day of school.”  I needed that hug.

I wished her good luck on her Physics and Econ finals.  She got in her sunburned, paint-peeling red Cavalier, backed out of the driveway, and drove away, waving at me as she did.

On this same porch about 15 years ago I put her older sister Liz on the school bus to first grade.  And got misty-eyed.

I’m misty-eyed again, for an entirely different reason.  Who could have seen this coming fifteen years ago?  Who knew time would pass so quickly?

Liz left the house a half hour ago, on her way to her summer job at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, but with suitcase packed because she and her boyfriend were leaving at noon to go to Peru to be at a friend’s wedding this weekend.  Her boyfriend is one of the groomsmen.


Liz will start her final year at Ball State this fall to finish up her degree in primary education.  She begins her student teaching in August.  Next year at this time she’ll (hopefully) have a job.  She is talking about moving away from Indiana.  She thinks North Carolina would be a good location.

North Carolina?

Katy will be at Purdue in the fall, studying at the Krannert School of Management.  She’s contemplating international business.  She speaks French reasonably well and has the kind of outgoing personality that would fit well in the business world.

International business?

Fifteen years ago I wondered how Mom had felt when she’d put me on the bus to first grade, if her thoughts were similar to mine, but since she had died the spring before, I couldn’t ask her.  Today I want to ask my dad a similar question, how he felt when my youngest brother Brian graduated from high school, but I can’t do that either.  Dad died last fall.  I hope that I will be around to answer these kinds of questions if my kids have them.

I open the door and walk in the quiet house, placing my now-empty coffee mug on the kitchen counter.  I sigh.  And although I know Katy will be home after school this afternoon, and that she will be living with us this summer while she works as a lifeguard before she starts college, something has changed today.

She’s not my little girl anymore.  Katy’s gone.

Running from the Devil by Jamie Freveletti

There’s been a lot of talk about newcomer Jamie Freveletti with the publication last year of her first book, Running from the Devil, and after having read it, I can understand.  This is a first-rate thriller, all the more amazing because it’s her debut novel.  The book opens with a gripping airplane crash set in the Colombian jungles. The survivors are quickly taken hostage by guerrillas, who have a score to settle with the Colombian and American governments.  Emma Caldridge, a chemist for a cosmetics company and an ultramarathon runner, is thrown from the wreckage and escapes capture.  Feeling she has no alternative, she trails along behind the hostages as they are marched toward an unknown fate.  Meanwhile, an American covert task force is rushed to the crash site in hopes of saving the survivors, only to find them gone.  Emma has the good fortunate to team with Cameron Sumner, an injured American government agent the captors have left behind to die.  As the two scheme try to stay alive, evade capture, and do what they can to save the hostages, they are being tracked by someone who is after Emma for a reason we do not understand.  There is some secret she knows that may have been the reason the plane was downed to begin with.  Will the task force be able to save them? Can Emma and Cameron stay alive long enough?

This is a compelling mystery/thriller that I could not put down.  I had been wanting to read it and picked it up in an airport on the way back from Florida when I ran out of books.  Freveletti does a great job of keeping the tension up as complication after complication prevents Emma and Cameron from helping the survivors escape and hampering their own ability to elude the crazed guerrilla who wants to see Emma die.  Plus, as you start to understand the reasons why both of them were on the plane and what secrets each carries, you fear for their lives even if they manage to get back to America.  I found that things became a bit muddled at the end as all the threads were all woven together, and I had to reread a few sections to ‘get it,’ but there is no question that RFTD is a fantastic read.  I highly recommend it.  I’m looking forward to reading Freveletti’s second book in the series, Running Dark, which came out earlier this year.

Here’s a photo of Jamie signing a copy of RWTD at Magna cum Murder.   Want to win this book?  I’m running a quickie contest. As I write this note, it’s Tuesday, November 16.  Send me a note at tony perona @ gmail .com (you know the drill here…there’s a dot between tony and perona, no spaces around the @ symbol, and no space between ‘gmail’ and ‘.com’)  Anyway, send me the first five words of the second sentence of this review (one of the words is hyphenated) to my email address through Friday, November 19, and you’ll be entered in a contest to win the book.  I’ll select a correct entry at random on Saturday, November 20th and send the winner Jamie’s signed copy.  Couldn’t be easier!

Jamie Freveletti

Mean Town Blues by Sam Reaves

I just finished reading Mean Town Blues by Sam Reaves and had to blog about it. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable book that will keep you guessing till the end how it’s all going to turn out.  Main character Tommy McLain has just returned from Iraq where he suffered some pretty tough injuries.  He’s from a dysfunctional family in Kentucky, and decides to leave home for Chicago because he has a good friend there.  But his future takes a turn for the worst when he ends up killing a man who’s stalking the girl he’s dating.  The man is related to a major mob boss.  Soon rival mobsters are taking hits at each other, unsettling Chicago police, who decide Tommy is worth taking a look at for the original hit.

Tommy could keep himself out of trouble except he has a conscience.  When an innocent man gets killed trying to protect his sister from the mobsters who blame her for the hit, Tommy gets re-involved.  He ends up working for the two rival bosses, playing one against the other.  Tommy’s tough and experienced in combat, and he just about has it worked out to his advantage when the police haul him in with news that rocks his world.  Could his girlfriend, the one he saved from the stalker, have been lying to him all the time?

Full of unexpected twists and turns, Mean Town Blues is a fun, quick read.  The prose is lean, and Tommy McLain is a believable war veteran who’s been through so much he sees the world a lot differently than you or I.  You’ll enjoy getting to know this character.  Others have compared Tommy to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, but where Reacher is nearly invincible at 6’5″ and 250 pounds, Tommy is just tough.  The question is, is he tough enough to survive this book?  The good news:  yes, he is.  I highly recommend Mean Town Blues