Book Club Winner and Reading Round-Up for January

The votes are in! Thanks to everyone who participated. The book my book club will be reading is…

The winner took 31%, followed by Woman Enters Left and Mystic River, each of which took 24% of the vote. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker came in at 14%, and Between the World and Me brought up the rear at 7% of the vote.

Now, on to my January Reading Round-Up. January got off to a slow start with reading, but I managed to pick up the pace for the second half of the month.

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First up was The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“If I had read this book 120 years ago, I would have liked it more. The story itself was intriguing and had a wonderful Gothic feel to it, but the endless exposition and introspection made me put the book down countless times out of sheer boredom.

With that being said, the book is considered a classic by many. It was revolutionary at the time of its publication, so I can understand why it was eventually labelled that way. But this is the 21st century and I believe there are other books out there more worthy of being read widely–books that aren’t based in bigotry and cultural misunderstanding.

If anything, this is a good book to read to marvel at how far we’ve come as a society. And I’m glad for it.”

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The second book I finished was The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves a great story. Here’s my review:

“I just finished reading this book and although I haven’t had time to fully process it, I couldn’t wait to write a review.

I loved The Yellow House. It was heart-wrenching, joyful, tear-jerking, infuriating–I got all the feels when I read it. The main character is a flawed woman with a staggering amount of anger inside her that has built up over years of brutal struggle. Her family is torn apart by religious violence, grief, and secrets. How she manages to hold onto her dream of returning to The Yellow House is testament to her warrior will.

There were a couple parts of the book where I felt Owen’s actions didn’t make sense, but I don’t want to spoil anything by mentioning them. You have to read this book for yourself.”

***

 

Next up was The Winters by Lisa Gabriele, an homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I LOVE the story of Rebecca and I was reluctant to read another writer’s riff on it. But I was pleased with how this author created an updated story that carried much of the same Gothic-style suspense that readers love in the original. Here’s my review:

“This was a really interesting take on the classic Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. In this version, you’ll find the unnamed main character, Max, a cast of other characters akin to those in Rebecca, and a magnificent home secluded from prying eyes. The book even starts with a reference to a dream.

The story held my interest, and the pacing was excellent. The main character had just the right mix of naivete, courage, and compassion, and her personality was a perfect foil for the other characters.

If you liked Rebecca, I think you’ll like this updated version.”

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I chose my next read, Very British Problems by Rob Temple, because I needed something light. And I was not disappointed. Here’s my review:

“If you’re British, know anyone who’s British, have ever visited England, want to visit England, are an Anglophile, are a non-British introvert, or just love funny books, find a copy of Very British Problems and find a place to read where your laughing out loud will not disturb anyone.

This book is chock-full of hilarious little bits of wisdom that will help you determine whether you have a mild, moderate, or severe case of being Very British. It’s a love letter to the quirks that one finds in Britain, and it’s done in a way that’s…sorry…apologetic and tongue-in-cheek.

There are quite a few repeats from the author’s Twitter feed, or else I would give this book 5 stars. But it’s definitely worth a read if you’re looking for something light and fun.”

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And continuing with my love for all things British, I next read Eating Royally by Chef Darren McGrady. Here’s my review:

“This is a gorgeous book, filled with recipes that Chef McGrady cooked for England’s royal family over the years of his employment for them and with anecdotes of the royal family. He later became private chef for the late Princess Diana, so the latter part of the book mostly talks about her and what it was like to work for her.

The photography in the book is exquisite. Not just the food, but the castles and the areas surrounding the royal residences.

I’m eager to try many of the recipes, though some are not to my liking. There are plenty of dessert and main dish recipes.

I do wish the author had shared an anecdote for every recipe. He shares stories for many of them, so when he left out the stories for quite a few, I was disappointed. It’s fun to know how the recipe came about, for whom he cooked it, and what people may have said about it at the time.

I highly recommend the book to avid cookbook collectors and fans of English food.”

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The last book I finished in January was The Guilty Party by Mel McGrath. Here’s my review:

“The premise of this book reminded me very much of the Kitty Genovese story every Psych 101 student learns, but the author took the psychological question in a different direction. This is the story of four friends who did nothing to help a woman they witnessed being brutalized. The reader learns what happens to their own psyches as a result of the attack and their failure to help the victim.

The story is told from different points of view in the third person, so that was interesting. The author addressed some very intriguing moral questions and it really got me thinking.

This book is not for the faint of heart. There’s some kinky activity that’s discussed frequently in the book and some readers may find it offensive.”

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I hope you’ll take a moment to share in the comments what you’ve been reading this month.

Until next time,

Amy

Cover Reveal!

I’m thrilled to be able to share the cover of my next release, Be My Valencrime!

This is the third book in the Juniper Junction Holiday Mystery Series and it finds Lilly Carlsen trying to keep it all together when her shop assistant’s almost-fiancée goes missing, her daughter’s love life takes a turn, her boyfriend is headed to a war zone, and her mother’s dementia continues to worsen.

Is it possible to find a happy ending this Valentine’s Day?

Here’s the blurb:

“It’s Valentine’s Day in Juniper Junction and love is in the air. Or is that just a dark cloud?
Lilly’s shop assistant, Harry, is about to pop the question to his girlfriend, Alice Davenport. He’s got the ring, he’s planned a romantic dinner, and he’s even thought of a gracious escape if Alice says no.

The only thing missing is…Alice.

Lilly wants to do all she can to help find Alice, even if that means interfering with a police investigation. But as she begins to learn more about Harry’s sweet, unassuming girlfriend, she discovers that Alice is hiding a shocking secret that will complicate everything.

And when Lilly suffers a lapse in judgment, the consequences are swift and painful. Can she pull herself together enough to help her daughter through a tunnel of teenage angst, deal with her mother’s dementia-related wanderings, and still help Harry find his Happily Ever After?”

My newsletter subscribers have already seen the cover, but I’m glad you’re here for its public debut!

What do you think?? I love it!

Here are the links to purchase/preorder (the ebook will download on February 4th):

Amazon

Google Play

Nook, Kobo, Apple, etc.

And there’s more!

The first two books in the Juniper Junction Mystery Series are on sale! Grab your copy or gift one to a friend.

The Worst Noel is just 99¢ right now and Dead, White, and Blue is just $1.99!

Amazon

Google Play

Nook, Apple, Kobo, etc.

 

Amazon

Google Play

Nook, Apple, Kobo, etc.

My regularly-scheduled Last Tuesday Reading Round-Up will be sent out later this week. Please help spread the word about my new book and the books on sale! Thanks as always for your support.

Until next time,

Amy

The Top 10 (or so) Books to Read in Winter

As I write this, it’s about 30 degrees outside my window. I know, I know. Not exactly the frozen tundra, but it’s still cold. The fireplace is kicking out heat and pretty soon I’ll bundle up to take my dog for a walk. She loves the cold–in fact, she’ll lie down on the chilly ground outback and just survey her kingdom for hours.

Today’s weather has me thinking about books set in the wintertime. This weather is perfect for curling up on the sofa and reading. My list isn’t limited to novels; there are books for grown-ups, books for children, and books that combine the best of both worlds.

So without further ado, I present you (in no particular order) with my list for the top 10 books to read during the winter:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that I read this book last year. It was haunting. In the several months that have passed since I finished the novel, I’ve come to regard it even more highly. It’s the story of a couple who are blessed with a magical child in early twentieth-century Alaska. You can read my review here.

 

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

I read this quite some time ago, but it has stayed with me. It’s a beautiful story told, in part, almost like a fairy tale (albeit a very dark fairy tale). It spans decades and has its roots in the starvation of Leningrad. It’s fascinating and spellbinding, and you’ll remember it long after you read it.

 

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

There’s a reason this book has been read by millions, made into a movie, and spawned countless imitations: it’s really that good. Set in a magical kingdom of eternal winter, it’s the ultimate tale of good versus evil. Younger readers appreciate the action and the family drama that unfolds; adults can appreciate the more subtle messages and dark humor in the story.

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

You know the story: the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future visit the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on the night before Christmas, prompting Mr. Scrooge to learn a valuable lesson about kindness and generosity. If you’ve never read the original by Dickens himself, do yourself a favor and read it. The language is flowery, much more so than modern novels, but there’s something about reading the words Dickens wrote that makes the story even better.

 

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Set in Russia, the coldest of cold places, this book examines the life of Anna, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who refuses to let that be her destiny. As she attempts to build a life with her lover, she faces scorn, ridicule, and social norms that force her to make a devastating choice. Spoiler alert: as with much of Russian literature, this book does not have a happy ending.

 

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Full disclosure: The Long Winter and the rest of the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been among my favorites since I was old enough to read them. This one is especially exciting because it tells the story of one particularly bad winter in the Dakota Territory, when one blizzard after another culminates in a shortage of food, fodder for the animals, and even firewood. It’s thrilling to read about how the people of the territory managed to survive.

 

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

This was one of my favorite books to read to my kids when they were little, but you don’t have to be little to enjoy it. A young girl and her father go owling, hoping to see one of the magnificent creatures swoop by in the moonlit darkness. The illustrations are exquisite and the story is timeless.

 

Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams and Jean Stoick

This book, comprised of gorgeous photographs and simple words, is a love story to nature. There’s a stranger in the woods and the animals need to determine whether the stranger means them harm. Spoiler alert: the stranger brings only good.

 

Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

David Sedaris has been called “one of the funniest writers alive” by Economist (because who knows humor better than economists??) and this collection of essays/short stories is an entertaining introduction to Sedaris if you’re not already familiar with his writing. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a Macy’s elf? Check it out.

 

And last, but not least, there is a tie between

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

 

 

and Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M. C. Beaton

 

You knew there was going to be an Agatha on this list, didn’t you? It was a toss-up between Dame Agatha Christie and another Agatha (Agatha Raisin, nosy and forthright brainchild of M. C. Beaton), so I chose to include both.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is classic Hercule Poirot, with the great detective trying to figure out whodunit in the murder of a millionaire businessman. The murdered man is surrounded by enemies on the Orient Express, a luxurious sleeper train that has become stuck in a huge snowdrift, so Poirot has his work cut out for him.

Kissing Christmas Goodbye follows the antics of fireball Agatha Raisin, Cotswolds detective and middle-aged divorcee, as she attempts to curate the perfect Christmas while trying to find the murderer of an elderly widow. M. C. Beaton, who passed away only three weeks ago, is a master at writing cozy mysteries.

What wintertime books do you recommend?

Until next time,

Amy

 

I Need Your Advice!

Some of you may know that I’ve recently joined a book club. I love being part of this group and I’ve enthusiastically embraced the duties of membership (i.e., I have to be ready to discuss each book we read and I’ve agreed to host the club at my house at least once a year–where we discuss the book of my choosing).

So here’s where I need your help. It’ll be my turn to host the book club in March, and I need to be thinking about which book I’m going to choose. I’ve narrowed it down to five books, and I’d like you to vote on which one you think our book club should read (many thanks to blogger and author James J. Cudney for sharing this idea–click on his name to be redirected to his site, which I think you’ll love).

Whichever book you choose, we’ll read. I won’t tell you which one I hope you pick! Scroll down through the choices to the poll at the bottom of the page.

Here are the choices:

Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“In a life that spanned nearly a century and witnessed some of the most momentous events in American history, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley was born a slave. A gifted seamstress, she earned her freedom by the skill of her needle, and won the friendship of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln by her devotion.

A sweeping historical novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker illuminates the extraordinary relationship the two women shared, beginning in the hallowed halls of the White House during the trials of the Civil War and enduring almost, but not quite, to the end of Mrs. Lincoln’s days.”

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Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“In the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: She has inherited the estate of Florence “Florrie” Daniels, a Hollywood screenwriter she barely recalls meeting. Among Florrie’s possessions are several unproduced screenplays, personal journals, and—inexplicably—old photographs of Louise’s mother, Ethel. On an impulse, Louise leaves a film shoot in Las Vegas and sets off for her father’s house on the East Coast, hoping for answers about the curious inheritance and, perhaps, about her own troubled marriage.

Nearly thirty years earlier, Florrie takes off on an adventure of her own, driving her Model T westward from New Jersey in pursuit of broader horizons. She has the promise of a Hollywood job and, in the passenger seat, Ethel, her best friend since childhood. Florrie will do anything for Ethel, who is desperate to reach Nevada in time to reconcile with her husband and reunite with her daughter. Ethel fears the loss of her marriage; Florrie, with long-held secrets confided only in her journal, fears its survival.

In parallel tales, the three women—Louise, Florrie, Ethel—discover that not all journeys follow a map. As they rediscover their carefree selves on the road, they learn that sometimes the paths we follow are shaped more by our traveling companions than by our destinations.”

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Mystic River by Dennis Lehane. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened — something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.

Twenty-five years later, Sean is a homicide detective. Jimmy is an ex-con who owns a corner store. And Dave is trying to hold his marriage together and keep his demons at bay — demons that urge him to do terrible things. When Jimmy’s daughter is found murdered, Sean is assigned to the case. His investigation brings him into conflict with Jimmy, who finds his old criminal impulses tempt him to solve the crime with brutal justice. And then there is Dave, who came home the night Jimmy’s daughter died covered in someone else’s blood.

A tense and unnerving psychological thriller, Mystic River is also an epic novel of love and loyalty, faith and family, in which people irrevocably marked by the past find themselves on a collision course with the darkest truths of their own hidden selves.”

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.”

***

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. Here’s the Amazon blurb:

“The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything―everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome’s got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.

Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.

Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere―even back home.”

The poll will close on Monday, January 20, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

Until next time,

Amy

 

First Tuesday Recipes of 2020!

Happy New Year! Welcome to another installment of my monthly First Tuesday Recipes series. This month we’re going international. I’ve got an Eastern European comfort food, a French-inspired entrée, and a German side dish.

Let’s get cooking!

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Chicken Babka

For the dough:

1 1/4 c. flour

1/4 t. salt

1 t. baking powder

1/2 c. solid Crisco (do NOT use butter)

1 egg, beaten

3 T. milk

For the filling:

2 c. cooked chicken breast, chopped

1/2 c. chopped celery

1 T. chopped parsley

1/2 t. salt

1 can cream of chicken soup, undiluted and divided (do not substitute another cream soup)

chicken broth

Prepare dough: sift dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in Crisco with two knives until pieces are pea-sized. In a small bowl, combine egg and milk; add to dry ingredients. Toss with a fork until dough holds together. With floured hands, pat dough into a ball. Chill overnight.

Prepare filling: in a large bowl combine chicken, celery, parsley, salt, and 1/2 c. soup.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Assemble: on a floured surface, roll out dough into 16″ by 17″ rectangle. Spread with filling. Roll up lengthwise. Shape roll into a ring and place in a greased 9″ pie pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until golden.

While babka bakes, in a small saucepan combine remaining soup and chicken broth to make a gravy. The amount of broth you use will depend on how thick you like your gravy. Simmer until heated through. Slice babka and serve with gravy.

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Chicken Monte Cristo

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/4 tsp. black pepper

3 slices deli ham

3 slices Swiss cheese

2 egg whites, lightly beaten

1/2 c. seasoned breadcrumbs

Cooking spray

Cherry preserves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Flatten chicken to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Sprinkle each chicken breast with black pepper. Cut each slice of ham and each slice of cheese in half. Place one piece of ham and one piece of cheese on top of each chicken breast. Roll up each breast lengthwise, tuck ends under, and secure with a toothpick.

Dip each chicken roll in egg white, then dredge in breadcrumbs.

Spray baking sheet with cooking spray and place the chicken on the sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until chicken juices run clear.

Serve with cherry preserves.

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German Potato Salad

6 medium potatoes

6 slices bacon

1/2 c. chopped onion

2 T. flour

2 T. sugar

1 t. salt

1 t. celery seed (key ingredient–no substitutions)

dash pepper

1 c. water

1/2 c. vinegar

2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

Cook potatoes until tender. Drain well and slice. Cook bacon until crisp, reserving 1/4 c. drippings. Crumble bacon and set aside.

Cook onion in drippings until tender. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, celery seed, and pepper. Add water and vinegar. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 1-2 minutes more; fold in bacon and potato slices. Heat through, tossing lightly. Add egg slices; toss lightly just to mix.

Enjoy!

As always, if you have a recipe you’d like to share, please email me at amymreadeauthor@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to include it in a future post!

Until next time,

Amy