Reading Round-Up: December Edition

It’s almost 2021! This is my last reading round-up for 2020, and pretty soon this year will be just a memory. Though 2020 brought lots of changes and more than a few blessings to my family, I know that’s not the case for millions of people all over the world.

Reading has always been a great escape, and my belief is that books have been more important than ever during the past nine tumultuous months. I hope you’ve enjoyed my reviews and that you’ve been inspired to read and review a few books of your own. I look forward to continuing my reviews in 2021 and I hope you’ll join me.

***

A Noël Killing (A Provençal Mystery Book 8) by [M. L. Longworth]

The first book I read this month was A Noël Killing by M.L. Longworth. I was looking for a Christmas mystery, and though I hadn’t read the first 7 books in the Provençal Mystery Series, I took a chance on this one. I enjoyed it. It’s a traditional mystery, as opposed to a cozy mystery or a thriller, and the setting in the south of France made it feel exotic. You can read my four-star review here.

***

The Getaway: A Magical Christmas Story by [Bibiana Krall]

Next up was The Getaway: A Short Read Christmas Romance by Bibiana Krall. If you know someone with a humbuggy heart this year, give them this book to read. If it doesn’t bring a smile to their face, nothing will. It’s a quick read (as the title suggests), it’s got everything I look for in a Christmas story, and it wraps up with a note from the author that makes the tale even more endearing. Read my review here.

***

Two books down, five to go in the Harry Potter series! Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was a great read, and my husband grabbed it up as soon as I finished it. There was really only one thing I didn’t understand in the story, and that was the presence of one particular character. But as I say in my very short review, that really didn’t matter, because the book was a treat to read. Why did I wait so long to start this series?? Read my review here.

***

Mistletoe and Mayhem: Yuletide at Castlewood Manor by [Veronica Cline Barton]

Mistletoe and Mayhem: Yuletide at Castlewood Manor, Book 4 in the My American Almost-Royal Cousin Series by Veronica Cline Barton, was a fun Christmas read that I devoured in a few hours. If you are a royal watcher and you like cozy mysteries, this is one for you. Read my review here.

***

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding: A Hercule Poirot Short Story (Hercule Poirot Series Book 33) by [Agatha Christie]

It seems there are two versions of Agatha Christie’s Christmas short story The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, a shorter one and a longer one, and I have to say I don’t know which one I read. Whichever one it was, it was throroughly enjoyable. I love a good Hercule Poirot mystery, and this one was fun. Poirot is hired to (discreetly, as always) spend Christmas at an English manor house where he hopes to recover a ruby that was stolen from a prince who had placed himself in a, ahem, compromising situation. What ensues is a mystery that is finally solved after a key clue is found in the Christmas pudding. Read my review here.

***

Menace at the Christmas Market: An English Village Murder Mystery (Murder on Location Book 5) by [Sara Rosett]

Menace at the Christmas Market by Sara Rosett was a great short mystery. Though it’s not the first book in the Murder on Location series, I found that it was easy to follow. I was brought up to speed instantly with the main character and her job as a location scout in England for a Jane Austen documentary series (I want that job!) and her relationship with Alex, another recurring character in the series. This is a quick read that has all the satisfying elements of a longer novel—murder, red herrings, and a great setting. Highly recommend! Read my review here.

***

A LITTLE TASTE OF MURDER: A Brightwater Bay Cozy Mystery (book 1) (Brightwater Bay Cozy Mysteries) by [Carolyn L. Dean]

This was the 60th book I read this year, and my goal was to read 59 books. So…mission accomplished! And bonus—it was a great book AND the first in a series! A Little Taste of Murder by Carolyn L. Dean was an intriguing Christmas mystery with a gorgeous setting (the Pacific Northwest), wonderful and well-drawn characters, and some engaging red herrings. I didn’t figure out whodunit, and I love that in a mystery. Read my review here and put this on your TBR list if you love a good cozy!

That’s all, folks! Happy New Year!

Until next time,

Amy

Book Blogs to Follow…

…because we don’t have enough to do.

This week I’m going to keep it short because we’re all busy. But I do want to share four bookish blogs that I think you’ll love. My advice? Bookmark them and come back to them when things aren’t so hectic, because it’s fun to browse through their pages and find all kinds of great books and great authors.

And so here they are, in alphabetical order:

***

Blur, Blurred, Book, Book Pages

A Blue Million Books

This is author Amy Metz’s blog. She doesn’t do book reviews, but she features tons of interviews, guest blogs, book spotlights, excerpts, and more from a huge number of authors. You’re very likely to find something to tickle your fancy on this blog. Amy is the author of the Goose Pimple Junction mysteries, and I can tell you they’re excellent. So while you’re looking for your next favorite author at A Blue Million Books, check out Amy’s books, too!

***

Christmas, December, Background

2. Aunt Sairy’s Book Reviews

I came across this fairly new blog recently when Sarah, the owner of the blog, reviewed my book The Worst Noel in such a way that brought tears to my eyes. It’s that beautiful (click here to read the review for yourself). All of Sarah’s reviews are heartfelt, honest, and thorough without containing any spoilers. Sarah reads and reviews mostly cozy mysteries, so if you’re looking for a good cozy to read, you’re bound to find one on her blog. And bonus: you get a behind-the-scenes look at life with her dog, Havoc, who sounds like a big, cuddly bear.

***

Cocoa, Whipped Cream, Cookies, Read

3. Discovery

A treasure trove of bookish delights begun by the folks at Reedsy, this site includes a blog (under the
“Blog” tab) with such posts as “45 Best True Crime Books of All Time,” “30 Best Memoirs of the Last Century,” and “The Essential Guide to Reading the Sherlock Holmes Books,” among many other topics. But it also includes (under the “Discover” tab) a gazillion books that you can search by genre, keyword, and/or date added to the site.

***

Winter, Snow, Landscape, Book Hut, Cold

4. Dru’s Book Musings

Dru Ann Love, as her name suggests, is a beloved member of the mystery community. She’s an avid reader who also quilts, writes poetry, and works full-time. How she manages to blog the way she does, I have no idea. But I’m glad she does, because there’s always something new to discover on her site. She features new releases, cover reveals, her own reviews, and the “Day in the Life” series of guest posts (written by the characters in upcoming books!!).

I hope you’ll take some time to peruse all these blogs. They’re great fun for me to browse, and I always come away from them with a list of new books and authors I’d love to learn more about.

Do you have a favorite book blog you’d like to share? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Until next time, wishing all of you a merry Christmas,

Amy

Candied Citrus Peel

Years ago, my aunt started baking and giving away loaves of stöllen for Christmas.

What’s Stöllen?

Stöllen is a delicious, yeasty bread (sometimes called “Christstöllen) that is traditionally made at Christmastime. It is chock full of nuts, fruits, rum-soaked raisins, and marzipan and covered in powdered sugar. Like any homemade bread, it takes a little bit of time to make, but it’s easy and oh-so-worth-it.

My aunt would make this bread every December, and every other year when we visited for Christmas, she would give us a loaf. Alas, my aunt (and the rest of my family) lives in an area where the weather can be very unpredictable starting in November, so we had to stop planning Christmas trips to see everyone.

We also had to learn how to live without stöllen during the holiday season.

That would not do.

So I started making it myself. I’m not going to reprint the instructions here today, but here’s a link to the recipe I use. You’ll note, if you read the recipe, that the authors recommend making your own candied citrus peel (I also recommend a read because it’s a fascinating look at the history of the bread).

Candied Citrus Peel

I use the recipe for candied citrus peel that the authors link to in the stöllen recipe. It’s easy and delicious. In fact, each year the little sister of one of my son’s friends asks, “When are the Reades making those orange peel things?” Note to that little sister: you’ll be receiving some in a few days.

My son and I made the candied citrus peel today and I documented the process with photos. We used one red grapefruit, one lemon, one lime, and three oranges.

Wash your fruit first!

Slice the top and bottom from each piece of fruit.

Score the peels so the fruit is divided into fourths (just to make it easier to remove the peel), then remove the peel.

Save the fruit for juice or cooking!

Slice each piece of peel into 1/4″ wide strips.

Boil the strips in plain old water for 15 minutes.

Drain the strips, rinse them, drain them again, and repeat the boiling/draining/rinsing/draining sequence TWO more times.

Once the fruit is draining for the last time, mix 2 c. of sugar and 1 c. of water in the pot.

Bring it to a boil and boil for 2 minutes to dissolve the sugar.

Add the peels and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

While I wait for the peels to finish simmering, I pour some granulated sugar into the food processor and give it a whirr for a minute or so. Pour the sugar into a Zip-loc-type bag.

After the peels have simmered for an hour, scoop them out a few at a time and let them drain…

before tossing them in the sugar.

Take the peels out of the bag and lay them on a baking rack to dry. Repeat with the rest of the peels.

Save that leftover syrup! It makes a mean Tom Collins!

You have to let the peels dry out for a day or two, then use them up or freeze them. Eat them, give them as gifts, chop them up in stöllen, or use them in any other way you can think of!

I wish you happy cooking! Stöllen is a fairly new tradition for our family (within the past five years or so)—what holiday traditions do you have?

Until next time,

Amy

First Tuesday Recipes for December

This is my final recipe post for 2020 and I’m going all-out with a holiday baking edition. So no matter what holiday you celebrate, or even if you don’t celebrate, gather your ingredients and get ready to make some delicious goodies to share this season.

***

Peanut Crisp Bars

(with thanks to my mom)

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. light corn syrup

1 c. peanut butter

2 c. crispy rice cereal

1/2 c. butter

1/4 c. brown sugar, packed

1 T. milk

1/2 t. vanilla

1 1/4 c. powdered sugar

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and a dash of salt. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanut butter and then stir in cereal. Pat mixture evenly into a greased 8×8″ or a 9×9″ square pan.

In a small saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat; add milk and vanilla. Stir in powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Spread butter mixture over cereal mixture; chill. Cut into bars.

***

Cherry Bonbon Cookies

(with thanks to my dad)

For the cookies:

1 1/2 c. flour

1/8 t. salt

1/2 c. butter, softened

3/4 c. powdered sugar

2 T. milk

1 t. vanilla

24 maraschino cherries, drained well and patted dry

For the glaze:

1 c. powdered sugar

1 T. butter, melted

2 T. maraschino cherry juice

additional powdered sugar

Make the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour and salt. In another mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add milk and vanilla to the butter mixture and beat well. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until well blended.

Divide dough into 24 portions. Shape each portion around a cherry, forming a ball. Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a baking rack.

Make the glaze:

Combine 1 c. powdered sugar, butter, and cherry juice until smooth and a little runny. Add more cherry juice if too thick.

Drizzle glaze over cookies; dust with additional powdered sugar if desired.

***

Coconut-Macadamia Nut Bars

Bottom layer:

1 c. flour

1/2 c. packed brown sugar

1/2 c. butter, softened

Top layer:

1 c. packed brown sugar

2 T. flour

1/2 t. baking powder

1 1/2 c. shredded coconut

1 t. vanilla

1 c. diced macadamia nuts

2 eggs

Combine ingredients for bottom layer in a medium bowl. Beat well and press into 9×9″ pan. Bake for 12 minutes.

Mix ingredients for top layer until well-blended. Spread mixture over hot bottom layer and bake for another 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Until next time,

Amy

P.S. If you don’t already subscribe to my newsletter, click here! Every month I include a bonus recipe in the newsletter, along with news and deals!