Saul Black thrillers: Not for the faint of heart

book blog thrillers

Fans of Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter: Get to know Saul Black.

Dark, gruesome, creative, twisty, his two novels — “The Killing Lessons” (2015) and “LoveMurder” (2017) — won’t disappoint.

“The Killing Lessons” introduces us to Detective Valerie Hart, who, like most interesting characters, is flawed and complicated and often unlikable. Two psychopathic predators (one haunted by the abusive Mama Jean, the other a poseur tagalong who wants a friend) leave a trail of bodies — most of them abducted, tortured women left with objects inside of them — and a lone survivor: A 10-year-old girl who holds the key to finding them. There’s a rhyme and reason for the murdering pair’s madness and as Hart slowly unravels the mystery, it’s a race against time.

Hart returns in “LoveMurder.” Six years have passed since Hart helped put the mesmerizingly smart and beautiful Katherine Glass in prison for a series of gruesome torture murders. But her partner in crime was never found and now he’s back — his style tweaked a bit — and he’s letting Hart know it. The detective, struggling to commit to a future not tainted by the worst of mankind, knows the only way to solve the cryptic puzzles the killer sends her in the mail is to go toe-to-toe with Glass.

Hart and Glass are drawn to each other, which scares the detective and amuses the convict. The verbal interplay between the two is great. Hart — and her colleagues and family — fear the collaboration spells nothing but trouble.

Valerie thought of her grandfather, the last member of her family for whom the Devil was a real entity. What had he said? First the Devil lets you know there are terrible things. Then he tells you which room they’re in. Then he invites you in to look. And before you know it you can’t find the door to get out. Before you know it you’re one of the terrible things. 

There is witty repartee between Glass and Hart. Glass cajoles, flirts, ridicules, condescends and verges too close for comfort.

“I’m not saying we’re the same,” Katherine said. “I’m saying we’re close. You see the world for what it is and do everything you can to make it otherwise. I see the same world and do everything I can to make it work for me. We’ve both looking at the same blank canvas. It’s just what we paint on it that’s different.”

The killer’s MO is personal for Hart, but she wonders if survival would be worth it to the victim:

Weren’t there things you’d rather not survive? Weren’t there things that someone could do to you that would leave you so changed, so unrecognizable, and so immune to love that you’d wish you hadn’t survived?

It’s a story of love and betrayal, God and the devil, truth and lies, life and death. Just like Glass and her Man in the Mask, from whom hope “was their aphrodisiacal drug of choice,” pleasure and pain are intertwined.

The best part: Huge twists that I didn’t see coming (and I’m usually really good at predicting whodunit).

The writing is clever and creative, the crimes brutal and unnerving. An abducted woman, thinking back to what Bede, a monk in 8th-Century England said about life:

A little bird … flying through the night flies in one window, through the bright hall, and out the window at the other end. It takes no time at all, just a second. That’s your life. You’re the bird and the world is the feasting hall. You have to make sure you see everything. All of it, as much as you can. You’ve got a moment, that’s all.

 

 

 

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The lost girls: ‘Marlena’ and ‘The Girls’

Julie Buntin and Emma Cline immerse the reader in the female teenager psyche. I highly recommend these debut novels.

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“We all want to be seen. ”
― Emma Cline, The Girls”


Female friendship is fraught with opposites: loyalty and betrayal, love and hate, envy and sympathy, ego and insecurity, and power and submission.

Two recent books dig deep into girls and their need to belong. “Marlena” by Julie Buntin takes place in the not-so-distant past in a fictional town based on Petoskey in northern Michigan. Buntin nails the us vs. them, the mansion vs. trailer undercurrent. “The Girls” by Emma Cline, a favorite from 2016, is stunning in its imagining of just what would lure girls to a Manson-like cult in the late ’60s.

I cannot recommend these books highly enough. The writing, the characters, the immersion into the female teenage psyche.

Both Catherine (trying to reinvent herself as the more risky Cat after moving away from all she knew in Pontiac) in “Marlena” and Evie in “The Girls”  are lost. They are children of divorce whose parents are absent — physically, economically, emotionally or all three. The girls’ mothers are struggling to find themselves, Cat’s mom in a dead-end town with few options and Evie’s stylish mom trying to break out with a career when women were just starting to look beyond the home. The fathers are on the fringes.

Evie says of her mother: “There are ways I made sense of my mother later. How fifteen years with my father had left great blanks in her life that she was learning to fill, like those stroke victims relearning the words for car and table and pencil. The shy way she looked for herself in the oracle of the mirror, as critical and hopeful as an adolescent. Sucking in her stomach to zip her new jeans.”

Cat and Evie are desperate to fit in, to feel the pull and security of a friend. They have drifted from their other friends. They are easy targets for girls they wouldn’t normally be drawn to. Both become accomplices to girls who are worse off than they are — underfed, without direction, neglected, victims of sexual abuse. But to each girl, they are stronger together.

In “Marlena”:  “Together, we had power.… Nothing could hurt us, as long as we weren’t alone.”

“I felt a grateful wonder at the fated-ness of our friendship.”

Cat and Evie are prey to girls eager to feel power and influence. Suzanne, a motherly figure and favorite of Russell (think Charles Manson), knows just how to lure Evie in.

“Girls are the only ones who can really give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved. They noticed what we want noticed.”

The attention doesn’t go unnoticed by Evie: “I was already starting to understand that other people’s admiration asked something of you. That you had to shape yourself around it.”

Evie and Cat are on the edges of violence. Close but never consumed. They are leery but thrilled by the danger.

Both writers craft beautiful sentences and infuse their characters with empathy. For example, Buntin writes of the cold winter sky: “The sky had turned hard and nickel gray, a color that, if you knocked on it, would make a tinny sound.”

One thing I loved about “Marlena” was the imagery of houses and home. Marlena stores her drugs in a little pin shaped like a house. When her lost pin is returned to her, damaged but repaired, it’s the beginning of the end. It’s the only home she’s been able to count on. While Cat believes her rundown trailer is “unutterably pathetic, the sum total of my family’s failures,” the motherless Marlena finds solace in it and in Cat’s mother. Marlena’s barn of a house reeks of rot and decay and the malevolence forged by her violent father who runs a meth lab in the woods.

The NY Times review calls Marlena and Cat’s friendship “a collaborative work of imagination.”

Marlena romanticizes Cat’s life in some ways because it’s something she’s never known. In her reminiscing, Cat wonders if her memory is accurate or romanticized by Marlena’s death and Cat’s regret:

“Why do I keep doing this? Making her out to be more than she was, grander, omniscient even, lovely and unreal. She could be such a bitch. She could sense what you hated about yourself, and if you pissed her off she’d throw it back at your face, she’d make sure you knew she thought it, too. Sometimes I feel like she is my invention. Like the more I say, the further from the truth of her I get. I’m trying to hold palmfuls of sand but I squeeze harder, I tighten my fists, and the quicker it all escapes.”

Both Cat and Evie return to the past that they can’t quite leave behind by the emergence of people who remind them of what was and could have been.

Suzanne keeps Evie from being swept up in Russell’s actions (as if she knows Evie isn’t of that world and was just tagging along) and the latter spends decades wondering what she would have done if she would have joined the others. She’s adrift and stunted.

“Only after the trial did things come into focus, that night taking on the now familiar arc. Every detail and blip made public. There are times I try to guess what part I might have played. What amount would belong to me. It’s easiest to think I wouldn’t have done anything, like I would have stopped them, my presence the mooring that kept Suzanne in the human realm. That was the wish, the cogent parable. But there was another possibility that slouched along, insistent and unseen. The bogeyman under the bed, the snake at the bottom of the stairs: maybe I would have done something, too. Maybe it would have been easy.”

Both are unmoored by the sense that they were left behind. Cat says: “I made it out, just like I wanted, and not once have I stopped looking back.”

After Marlena dies (no spoiler here), Cat struggles for decades with her grief and sense of guilt, that she didn’t notice or heed what she should have. She refuses to let herself off the hook:

“I’ve never believed in the idea of an innocent bystander. The act of watching changes what happens. Just because you don’t touch anything doesn’t mean you are exempt. You might be tempted to forgive me for being fifteen, in over my head, for not knowing what to do, for not understanding, yet, the way even the tiniest choices domino, until you’re irretrievably grown up, the person you were always going to be. Or in Marlena’s case, the person you’ll never have a chance to be.  … Let the record show that I was smarter than I looked. And anyway, I touched.”

 

Soundtrack of my life, 2005

Interestingly, I found this on my computer. It had been a gift to my sister, a very personal gift that told her a lot without telling her everything. Twelve years have past and the only other song I think I’d add to this is “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley. And Def Leppard and the Killers seem to have taken over as workout music.

“This is what I would regard as the soundtrack of my life from high school to 2005. You will probably hate some of these songs, but I think you need to broaden your horizons. Haha. This is a very personal gift and in listening to it you may learn a few things about me. And maybe you’ll go out and buy some new music! All these songs speak to me in some way.  It was difficult to limit the songs to just these dozen. Most of high school was taken up with hair bands (Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” being a higher-class one) and Phil Collins and sappy love songs. These are the songs that have stuck with me.

  1. “With or Without You” by U2. The song that introduced me to U2. This would have been around 1987. It’s off “The Joshua Tree,” their biggest album. Another fabulous song on there that will make you want to drive fast is “Where The Streets Have No Name.” You should own this album. My other favorite U2 albums are “Achtung Baby”  from 1991 (“The Fly,” “One” and “Ultraviolet [Light My Way]”) are particularly memorable!) and “The Unforgettable Fire” from 1985.
  2. “End of the Innocence” by Don Henley (1989). I love his voice almost as much as Bono’s. Henley, if you didn’t already know, is the drummer and one of the lead singers of the Eagles, a band you surely should spend some time with. This song was very important to me the summer before I started college. It’s also the first song I sang to Griffin as a lullaby because it was the only song whose words I could remember in totality besides “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” I saw Henley perform at Breslin.  The Eagles are great live. You need to own some of their stuff, too. Even  just a greatest hits.
  3. “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. An old song from 1975 off the album of the same name. I think this album is one of the absolute best from beginning to end and it’s among my picks as the music I’d take if stuck on a desert island. I bought the album in vinyl at a used music store in East Lansing my freshman year of college. I first heard the song right before I started college. Hearing it live is pretty magical.
  4. “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. I know you like this song a lot. It was on the jukebox at Bilbo’s, a great place for beer and great, great soft breadsticks with dill dip. I went there pretty often with Beth, Shefali, Cindy and Natalie. No longer in East Lansing; last I knew, a martini bar was in its place.
  5. “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order. This was alternative dance music, techno in my day in college. This is the only song I absolutely LOVE dancing to, and believe me I’m not a good dancer.
  6. “Jungleland” by Springsteen. Sigh. “The rangers had a homecoming in Harlem late last night/
    And the Magic Rat drove his sleek machine over the Jersey state line/
    Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge/
    Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain/
    The Rat pulls into town rolls up his pants/
    Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane.”

I know you are rolling your eyes at this one. Yes, it’s long. But it’s heartfelt, majestic, aching and has great piano. I have tried to find the sheet music. I listened to this song over and over on my record player (the vinyl makes it all wonderfully scratchy) lying in the dark, drinking Bud Light out of bottles in my room in Cedar Village. It was a very rough time for me, back in summer of ’90, I think, when a very unpleasant thing happened to me. Shefali and Beth thought I had lost it. But to me, this was musical therapy. I also danced to this song one night in college when he stopped by to make me feel better. I have since heard the E Street Band play this one live twice and it’s just fabulous. “Born to Run” opens the album; “Jungleland” closes it. You need to listen to the whole album. The songs are all linked. The song that almost bumped this one off is “Thunder Road,” another great, great, great song off that album. My old roommate Lita loved the line “You ain’t a beauty, but hey you’re all right.” Hahaha. We had that posted on the Spartan Avenue house refrigerator for a long time.

7.  “Love Song” by the Cure. Another big Europe song for me. I remember riding a bus through rural England listening to this on my Walkman. A very sunny day, lots of flowering shrubs on the side of the road. I think it was on the way back from Oxford or Cambridge. “Disintegration” (1989) was one of the few tapes I brought with me. The whole album is a bit melancholy. Shefali and I used to listen to this all the time during our dorm naps. Shefali was partial to Anita Baker and Barbra Streisand (!) for naptime music. “Plainsong” and “Pictures of You” are excellent, too. I was quite melancholy that summer for some reason; most likely the usual reasons I am melancholy. I don’t listen to this album very often, but it would be on the list to take with me on the desert island.

8.  “Walking in Memphis” by Marc Cohn. I listened to this song on the British Airways Walkman system all the way from Detroit to London. Seriously, almost all 8 hours. You could pick songs from all sorts of categories and I just randomly picked this one and loved it. It spoke to me. This is one of the songs on this CD that makes me get choked up  every time I hear it. Going to Europe was one of the best things I have ever done. I am sad you haven’t done this yet.

9. “Romeo and Juliet” by Dire Straits. Anyway, Shefali had a take-me-back tape in Europe from her old boyfriend and this song was on it. This is one of the most romantic, bittersweet songs I know. No, she did not take him back. Walking around the bay in a small Irish city when the tide was out, discussing her boyfriend dilemma, was also the only time I have ever seen Shefali cry.

10. “Rearview Mirror” by Pearl Jam. I cannot believe you would have ever heard this song, but this is my favorite PJ song. Derek and I really loved “Jeremy” but then Columbine happened and you just can’t listen to it the same way. You can’t say some demented kid is just “a harmless little fuck” anymore. Now “Rearview Mirror” is one fabulous song to run to. Back when I ran, very slowly but still I did run for awhile, this was a great song to get you going toward the end of a workout. It will also make you drive fast. Derek and I went with Rob and Lisa to see Pearl Jam at the Palace. This was the highlight of the concert for me.

11. “Miracle Drug” by U2. One of the most recent U2 songs, off the “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” CD.  Beautiful, beautiful lyrics. A song for those of us getting older and realizing hearts and flowers isn’t where it’s all at. (This is also on here to prove I don’t just listen to old music from the ’70s.) And the guitar during the song’s bridge is excellent.

12. “100 Years” by Five For Fighting. This song makes me cry every time I hear it. Even the credit card commercial featuring this song makes me cry. I love, love, love this song. And I don’t, don’t, don’t like getting old and knowing I’m going to die. Strangely, I was pregnant with Griffin during this guy’s other big hit, “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” and pregnant with Andrew during this song (when I was 33, which is significant).

13. “With or Without You” by U2, the extended live version. This is worth it just for the extra verse at the end. Plus, you MUST at some point see U2 live. You absolutely must. I have seen U2 at least 5 times so far and have yet to be pulled onstage. 😦 ”

Of course, there are themes running through this soundtrack. And big issues. And big feelings. Anytime I hear these songs, I’m taken back.

What would be on your soundtrack?

‘Hillbilly Elegy’: Love trumps circumstances

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“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” has been trumpeted as a book about why poor white folks voted for Donald Trump. To me, that’s a trumped-up pronouncement.

If you’ve read “The Glass Castle,” a stellar memoir by Jeannette Walls, this will be familiar. Children struggle to escape the poverty and the quagmire of generations of underachievers. There is dysfunction, drug abuse, domestic violence, joblessness, aimlessness, a overwhelming sense of stagnation. Like Ms. Walls, Mr. Vance rose above his circumstances, beat the odds and grew up to be more than the sum of his parts. Vance then looked deeper into just why he — and not others — was able to do so.

In a nutshell? His grandmother loved him, nurtured him, pushed him to succeed and filled in the gaps and it made all the difference. She made him see the possibilities.

“Never be like these fucking losers who think the deck is stacked against them,” my grandma often told me. “You can do anything you want to.”

Eloquent, she’s not. But she believes in her grandson and provided him with some stability and encouragement to be his best.

Vance writes: “Psychologists call it ‘learned helplessness’ when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes of my life.”

He raises many questions, but he doesn’t offer many answers as to how this can be prevented. Government aid and intervention help, but they aren’t enough. The real solution, he believes, involves vast cultural change. That segment of the population has to change its outlook and belief that there are few possibilities for its citizens. That means walking the walk (not just preaching responsibility but actually being responsible), trying harder, self-reliance and not self-pity.

As the New York Times said in its review, Vance offers “a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump.”

Vance writes of the underclass among whom he grew up (an underclass found not just in Appalachia and the Rust Belt, but throughout the country): “There is a lack of agency here — a feeling that you have little control over your life and a willingness to blame everyone but yourself.”

He says: “There is a cultural movement in the white working class to blame problems on society of the government, and that movement gains adherents by the day. … the message of the right is increasingly: It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault.”

Sounds like rhetoric from the 2016 presidential campaign, doesn’t it?

Vance didn’t write this book as a political statement. He wrote it to try to understand his success and his ties to his family and community. As an adult, he straddles two worlds. He takes a deep dive into his psyche and his fear that maybe he can’t completely escape the dysfunction and struggles that marked his early years.

It’s an eye-opening read from a political standpoint in the aftermath of the presidential election and a look inside hillbilly culture many of us only know through stereotypes. It’s a story of betrayal and loyalty, of struggle and crisis and of both loving and despising where you come from.

A terrifyingly good book, ‘It’ leaves a lasting impression

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My very well-worn copy of “It.”

The summer I was 16, I read “It” by Stephen King twice in a row despite the fact that it’s terrifying. It’s also terrifyingly good.

(By the way, the only book I’ve ever found to be scarier is the excellent “Helter Skelter.” I couldn’t even read that one indoors and certainly not at night. I still get freaked out just looking at it.)

Now, Stephen King and horror are not usually on my to-read list. However, I beg of you to please read the 1986 book before you see the upcoming movie. The trailer, which is floating around the internet like so many of Pennywise’s balloons, captures all the unease and creepiness and terror I remember. Just watching the trailer scares me, but I’m already planning to see the movie, which stars Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise.

In perusing the book now — many, many years later — it is clear that King is a master at setting a scene, at crafting a sense of dread and impending doom, at the quick scare. He’s not particularly gory. He’s incredibly wordy. He also intuits the fears that hide in the recesses of our minds. The bogeyman, dark basements, cellars, shadowy figures, the sinister underpinnings of small towns. And with Pennywise and John Wayne Gacy, I think clowns will always be a fear.

Interestingly enough, this came to my attention: 200 Superb Books Everyone Should Read at Least Once: http://bit.ly/2pwnuSF

The list put together by the BBC is unusual in that it features not only classics (Dickens, Austen, Hemingway), but children’s books and more modern novels. It is a tad heavy on British authors. (An aside: Just who is Jacqueline Wilson, who has multiple mentions on the list?)

But guess what also makes the list? “It” by Stephen King.

According to Wikipedia,  ” ‘It’ deals with themes that eventually became King staples: the power of memory, childhood trauma and its recurrent echoes in adulthood, the ugliness lurking behind a façade of small-town quaintness, and overcoming evil through mutual trust and sacrifice. Publishers Weekly listed ‘It as the best-selling book in the United States in 1986.”

“It” also topped the New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list for 12 weeks in 1986 and another two heading into 1987. The novel has high ratings on goodreads.com, too.

So I urge you to not just take my word for it, but please, please read the novel before you see the movie. It’s long (more than 1,000 pages), but it’s critically acclaimed and stands the test of time. And you’ll never look at storm drains the same way again.

The weight of expectations

Expectations are powerful. They can inspire, propel, intimidate, crush. In these books, they play a key role in the trajectory of characters’ lives.

These three books are among my all-time favorites. Their common theme is one that weighs heavily on me as I’ve always worried I won’t live up to expectations, especially my own.

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The unforgettable “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng is a staggeringly poignant story of expectations on children. In this case, it leads to tragedy, but that’s no spoiler because within the first sentence we know the teenage Lydia is dead. The novel is much like the stories of Jhumpa Lahiri (whose books I would highly recommend, especially “The Namesake” and “Unaccustomed Earth”) that involve immigrant experiences and the pressures children face to do more, be more and prove more. Ng’s book focuses on Marilyn and James Lee’s dreams — dashed by parenthood, racism and thwarted attempts at happiness — that end up being inherited by their favorite child. Lydia hopes that by relentlessly trying to be all her parents hope for that she can maintain the tenuous happiness and delicate balance in her family structure.

Assumptions chip away at relationships. Just how well do the Lees know their children? How well do Lydia and her siblings really know each other? How well does Lydia know Jack, the object of her affection?

Lydia struggles under the burden of being a disappointment. But just as she resolves to be her own best self, to stand up for who she is, free from the goals others have placed upon her and the sacrifices she puts upon herself, tragedy strikes.

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In “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach, Mike Schwartz sees a bright future for his college baseball team when he’s able to help recruit fielding phenom Henry Skrimshander. He takes Henry under his wing and puts his own best interests aside. When Henry’s confidence tanks, Schwartzy realizes he has sacrificed his future for Henry’s and the team’s. And the expectations the team and college place on Henry may not match his own. Several characters have to figure out how to live their lives on their own terms.

Edith Wharton skewers the pettiness and cruelty of 19th-Century New York high society (of which she was a member) in “The House of Mirth.” Lily Bart is a once-wealthy beauty whose currency, both literally and figuratively, is in decline. She expects to inherit from an aunt, but also knows she must marry to secure her future. The fly in the ointment is that she wants it all — money, love and a place in society — on her own terms. Missteps, delays, misinterpretations, malevolent maneuverings by supposed friends and desperate attempts to maintain her status keep her from her happy ending.

“… she had a fatalistic sense of being drawn from one wrong turning to another, without perceiving the right one to take until it was too late.”

Wharton paints Lily as a sympathetic character, one burdened by the circumstances of her birth and a victim of her own choices. In hesitation, a fate is determined.

“That’s Lily all over, you know: she works like a slave preparing the ground and sowing her seed; but the day she ought to be reaping the harvest she oversleeps herself or goes off on a picnic.”

It’s a beautiful novel, full of emotion and a chilliness within the opulent, manner-driven confines of a bygone society.

Oh, the Toll House Cookie

 

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Why is it that of all the cookies I’ve made, my boys love the recipe on the back of the bag of Toll House Semi-sweet Morsels the best?

There is nothing wrong with Toll House Cookies. Quite frankly, the extra salt makes the dough pretty tasty. The recipe is very reliable and easily adapts to substitutions on the add-ins.

Interestingly, the Toll House Cookie was an experiment by Ruth Wakefield, who decided in 1938 to chop up a bit of chocolate bar and add it to a butter drop cookie after she discovered she was out of baker’s chocolate. The Massachusetts innkeeper had a hit on her hands. The cookie grew in popularity after a Boston newspaper reprinted the recipe. In 1939, the folks at Nestle got her permission to promote her recipe on chocolate bar packaging and then on bags of chocolate chips. What did Wakefield get in exchange? A lifetime supply of Nestle chocolate and $1.

I love reading cookbooks and baking blogs and trying new things. I just don’t want to eat batches of goodies all by myself. I love baking dozens upon dozens to give away for Christmas, too. From the feedback I’ve gotten from friends, family and colleagues, they think the cookies are delicious. But, for some reason, my family just isn’t as thrilled. They want the tried and true.

I have attempted to sway them with all varieties of cookies, but somehow that simple recipe is the one they look forward to. Well, that one and Peanut Butter Blossoms, which are one of the few cookies I don’t like and the only variety that doesn’t last a day in our house.

Sure, they like frosted sugar cookies and my youngest gets excited for spiced molasses, a specialty for the holidays, but if I had a dollar for every batch of cookies that languished in its Rubbermaid container …

Even more unbelievably, my husband prefers cookies that have been around awhile. I will only eat them within the first two days or so.  And to top it off, he actually prefers cookies without a lot of chocolate or stuff in them.

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So instead of trying a new recipe today, I got out the trusty Toll House chocolate chips and flipped the bag over. I usually make them as bars (after enjoying a good scoop or two or three of dough) and underbake by a couple minutes. Sometimes I will substitute a different kind of chip or M&M’s. But what kind do the boys prefer? The original.