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.”

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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

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.”

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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

 

Reader Spotlight: Angela Holland

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As promised, this week I am featuring another reader here on Reade and Write. Welcome, Angela Holland!

How often do you read?

Every day.

What is the name of the last book you finished?

Newton & Polly by Jody Hedlund.

What are you reading now?

A Carol Christmas by Sheila Roberts.

What is your preferred genre?

Historical Fiction but I also enjoy cozy mysteries, romance and biographies.

How often do you venture outside your preferred genre?

Often.

What was the last book you read outside your preferred genre?

I am reading one now that is not historical fiction.

Are you in a book club?

Yes.

If so, what book did your club read last?

Sting by Sandra Brown

Where do you obtain most of the books you read- from a bookstore, online, the library, borrowed from a friend, etc.?

From Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

How do you decide which books to read?

First my genre and then by subject.

What is in your To-Be-Read pile?

I have many books in my TBR I am working my way through: Patience Griffin’s Quilts and Kilts Series as well as Laura Childs’s Tea Shop Mystery Series. 

Do you pay attention to especially bad reviews of books when deciding whether to buy or read them?

No. It seems that is people don’t like things, then I tend to like them.

Lots of people don’t have a favorite book for a variety of reasons. Do you have a favorite? What is it?

The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon is one of my favorites.

Where is your favorite reading spot?

Anywhere and everywhere.

Anything else you want me to know?

I have loved reading since I was little girl and never leave home without a book.

Thank you, Angela! I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you and your reading habits!

Until next time,

Amy

Book Club Resources

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I’ve got book clubs on my mind this week. My first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, is being discussed at the inaugural meeting of a local book club during March and they’ve invited me to attend (woo hoo!). Once the meeting is over I think I’ll join the book club (because I already know I love their taste in books).

Recently I tried to join a pop-up book club which meets at a hotel about a half hour from my house. They meet for three months a year and this year the topic is Ernest Hemingway. They’re reading The Sun Also Rises by the man himself, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, and Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck. Alas, the book club was full by the time I heard about it, so I’m on the wait list and it doesn’t look like they’re going to have any open slots for me. I’ll just have to make sure I join early next year.

You may remember a while back I mentioned I was writing book club questions for my new novel, House of the Hanging Jade (coming out in about three months!). They’ll be in the back of the book. I also composed lists of discussion questions for Secrets of Hallstead House and The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, though those questions are not in the books– they’ll be going up on my website instead. While I was researching book clubs and discussion questions, I came across some useful and interesting websites. I thought I would share them with you in case you’re part of a book club and are looking for discussion ideas. They’re even good if you’re not in a book club and just want a way to dig deeper into a book you’re reading.

  1. The best site I found was for the Westfield Memorial Library in Westfield, NJ. It has an extensive list of discussion questions for fiction. You can find the list here: http://www.wmlnj.org/bookclubkits/generalquestionsfiction.asp.
  2. Another great site is https://multcolib.org/talk-it-book-groups-kids. It’s billed as a list for a kids’ book group, but I think the questions are great for anyone, adults or children.
  3. Here’s another: http://classiclit.about.com/od/bookclubs/a/aa_bcquestions.htm.
  4. This is a good one, though you have to scroll down to find the sample discussion questions: https://www.bookbrowse.com/bookclubs/advice/index.cfm/fuseaction/diy_guides.

I’ve also composed a list of a few good websites to find discussion questions for non-fiction books. You’ll note the first website is familiar–the Westfield Memorial Library again!

  1. http://www.wmlnj.org/bookclubkits/generalquestionsnonfiction.asp.
  2. http://www.bellinghampubliclibrary.org/yourlibrary/specialcollections/bellinghamreads/Reading%20Guides/General%20NF%20Bio%20Discussion%20Questions.pdf.
  3. http://lagrangelibrary.org/lagrange/images/general%20questions.pdf (this list contains questions for both fiction and non-fiction).

Want to know my favorite place to look for discussion questions? Go right to the source–the author! If there isn’t a list of discussion questions at the end of a book, email the author or visit his or her website to ask if there are any questions he or she could suggest for your book club. Trust me, the author will love it!

Do you have any resources you’d like to share?

Until next week,

Amy

My Three Favorite Book Club Recipes

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I heard from a reader last week who is planning to discuss Secrets of Hallstead House at her November book group meeting. She was wondering where to find questions that her group might discuss after reading the book. My first thought, no joke, was “I wonder if they have snacks at their book group meetings.”

After I emailed the reader a list of questions, I got thinking about a couple things:

First, I’d love to have book club discussion questions at the end of each of my books. I can’t do that for Secrets of Hallstead House or The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, but I quickly contacted my editor and he thinks he can get some discussion questions into House of Hanging Jade before we get any farther in the production schedule. So thanks, Susan, for the idea!

Second, I started wondering what I would serve at a book club meeting. I am not in a book club, but I’ve been to plenty of book club meetings. There’s always food. I’ve been to meetings with cheesecake samplers, pizza bites, cookies, chips, pretzels (the kind covered with chocolate and dipped in nuts and sprinkles), sandwiches, and other foods too numerous to mention.

I decided to come up with my three favorite appetizer recipes and I’m going to share them with you here. Please note, at least two of these recipes are not for people who are trying to diet!

 

Jalapeno Popper Dip (I got this from “EveryDay with Rachael Ray”)

3 slices bacon, chopped

1 c. panko

3 cans (4 oz. each) diced jalapenos, drained

2 pkgs. (8 oz. each) cream cheese, room temperature

1 c. mayonnaise

1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese

1 small fresh jalapeno, seeded and chopped

1 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Tortilla chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet cook bacon over medium heat until crispy, 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all but 2 T. of the bacon drippings; add the panko and stir to coat. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, mix half the bacon with the canned jalapenos, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and cheddar cheese. Transfer mixture to a 2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with the panko, remaining bacon, fresh jalapeno, and Parmesan cheese.

Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes.

Serve with tortilla chips.

 

Tomato Sort-Of Bruschetta (I adapted this from “Food Network Magazine”)

2 lbs. tomatoes, cut into large chunks

3/4 t. Kosher salt

2 T. olive oil

1 T. red wine vinegar

1/4 c. chopped chives or basil

1 baguette, sliced

Toss tomatoes with the salt and set in a colander placed over a bowl: let drain for 15 minutes. Whisk the olive oil and the vinegar into the tomato juices. Toss tomatoes with chives or basil and serve with bread.

 

Fruit Dip

2 small boxes instant vanilla pudding

3 c. cold milk

8 oz. container whipped topping

almond extract to taste

cut-up fruit

Mix pudding and milk for about 2 minutes. Fold in whipped topping. Add almond extract to taste. Serve with cut-up fruit.

 

What would you serve at a book club meeting?

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. Wine is also a staple at many book club meetings! If you’re interested in my thoughts on wine, please check out the “Wines” section of my blog or go to my website (http://www.amymreade.com) and select the “Home” tab then select “Wines.”