Reading Round-Up: February Edition

This is a short month, even with the extra day, and my reading list reflects that. I’ve only finished three books since my last update, so this will be a quick post.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

This is the one my book club is reading, thanks to everyone who voted in my recent poll. We meet on March 1st, so we haven’t discussed the book yet. But I loved it and I’m eager to talk about it with the group. Here’s my review:

“There is so much to love about this book, even with the heartbreak that runs through it like a river. Cussy Mary, the main character, is as strong a woman as I’ve seen in a novel, and her determination to bring books and learning to the hill folk of rural Kentucky is inspiring. The Book Woman is a beautiful tribute to the Pack Horse librarians of the WPA and to the ‘blue people’ who lived in Kentucky.

This book taught me a lot about the Depression-era sacrifice and the hardscrabble lives of the people in that unforgiving land, and I am happy to recommend it to anyone who loves books and libraries, anyone hoping to learn more about a group of people that I hadn’t heard of until I started reading the book, and anyone who loves a great story.”

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Callie’s Kitchen Mysteries Cookbook

Author Jenny Kales will be here in April to talk about this fabulous cookbook, and I couldn’t wait until then to read it. I’m going to make one of the recipes in it this week for my family, so I’ll be able to report back to you in April. Here’s my review:

“I am going to make every single recipe in this book. I can’t wait to get started! The Greek recipes sound fabulous and the Greek-inspired tweaks to Midwestern American foods are just that–inspired! This book is a great addition to any cook’s repertoire.”

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Under the Tuscan Sun

It took me almost a month to read this book and I will confess, I didn’t review it on Goodreads or Amazon because I just couldn’t give it a review of three stars or more. I finished it because by the time I got halfway through it, it had become a challenge and I’m no quitter.

The book is comprised of the musings of a professor from San Francisco who bought an old house in Tuscany and spends summers and winter breaks there. I found the writing pretentious. It tried way too hard to be poetic and it ended up sounding corny and off-putting. If the author implied one more time that she came from wealth by mentioning the cook her family had when she was young, I would have screamed. What could have been a fun story about the pitfalls of restoring an old house in a faraway land turned into a collection of so many lists of things to be done and excruciating details of some of the more expensive renovations.

The book did, on the other hand, encourage me to put Italy on my bucket list. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I would like to visit Tuscany someday.

If you have read the book, please let me know what you thought of it. I am definitely in the minority of people who didn’t like it.

What have you been reading this month?

Until next time,

Amy

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

Reading Round-Up: November Edition

This will be a short post for two reasons: first, I didn’t get much reading done this month because I’ve been so busy working on Be My Valencrime, and second, because it’s Thanksgiving week in the United States and people are too harried to read long posts over the next few days. 🙂

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The first book I finished in November was The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Ruth Ware) which I’d wanted to read since it was released in May, 2018. It has a Gothic-y cover and a creepy housekeeper and a forbidding mansion on a neglected estate, so I figured it was right up my alley. I didn’t think it lived up to its hype, but I enjoyed it. Here’s my review:

“I enjoyed this story, with its creepy old house, its Mrs.-Danvers-like housekeeper, and its twists and turns. I didn’t give it five stars because I felt the mystery was a little forced and contrived in some places.”

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You know I love cookbooks. And I LOVE eggs. So when I saw Sunny-Side Up by Waylynn Lucas on the New Releases shelf at the library, I knew I had to read it. It has some great recipes, and there are tutorials on how to make a perfect egg, which I actually found enlightening. I tried the author’s trick of making creamy scrambled eggs by adding a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese to them, and the results were delicious! Here’s my review:

“This book has some unique recipes using eggs, but I was hoping for a little more oomph in the savory department and a little less oomph in the pancakes/waffles department. I’m looking forward to trying many of the recipes. Gorgeous photos.”

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Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World by Admiral William McRaven (Ret.) is another book I’ve wanted to read since it came out in 2017 and I heard about it on a news program. The book was smaller and shorter than I expected, making it a quick read that it completely satisfying. Here’s my review:

“I loved this little book. I don’t normally read inspirational stuff, but this one was full of stories about perseverance, heart, and courage. I highly recommend it.”

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And last, but certainly not least, was Still Life by Louise Penny. This author has won award after award for her writing, and I’m embarrassed to say I had never read anything written by her. A friend gave me a copy of Penny’s first Inspector Gamache book and I’m so glad she did. Though I didn’t enjoy the first 50 pages or so, I found the rest of the book riveting and I’m glad I pushed through the beginning to reach the middle. Here’s my review:

“I enjoyed this book, the first in a series. I had a tough time with about the first 50 pages, but I’m glad I stuck with it because Inspector Gamache is a delight. I hope to see Agent Nichol in upcoming books, and I hope she learns some lessons about knowing when to keep her mouth shut. She was a great character–complex and compelling, yet aggravating in a good, literary way. I would love to visit Three Pines!”

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What have you been reading? Share your recent reads in the comments!

Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!

Amy

 

Reading Round-Up: July Edition

It’s going to look like I didn’t do a ton of reading in July, but that’s because I’m currently in the middle of four other books and I’ve been reading those, too. So August should be a big month.

The first book I finished since my last Reading Round-Up was Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. A friend on Twitter suggested that I read it so we could talk about the writer’s style. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

“This was a haunting book, based on true events that took place in the US in the first part of the twentieth century. It’s the story of a family of river gypsies and what happened to them as a result of the corrupt and horrifying practices of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. It’s written from the point of view of two/three characters (you’ll see why I say that when you read the book), but I think that’s almost the way the story had to be told. The language is descriptive and evocative–I think this is going to be one book that stays with me.”

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You may remember from last month that I read The Merlon Murders and that it was the first book in a two-book series. Well, I finished the second book and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it as much as the first one. The Merlon Murders II, by Victoria Benchley, is a great summer mystery. Here’s my Goodreads review:

“In this second book of The Merlon Murders, readers are treated to some exciting twists following the harrowing ending of Book One. Duncan becomes more deeply involved with the beautiful widow Menzies, he enlists the help of a Swedish expert in game theory, and he begins to form some alarming hunches about the identity of the person who killed Stuart Menzies. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good mystery, and especially one set in Scotland.”

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I’m becoming more and more interested in eating a plant-based diet as often as possible, so I read The Mediterranean Table, which is a cookbook of easy Mediterranean recipes. The Mediterranean diet is largely plant-based, though there are recipes in the book featuring meat, poultry, and fish, too. The recipes are not only easy to follow, but they use ingredients that are widely available. The book includes a great description of the Mediterranean diet, along with the countries making up that region of the world and their individual contributions to the cuisine of the area.

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This is a diverse collection of short stories about death. Most of the stories involve some element of whodunit, though not all of them are mysteries. The four I liked the most were by Robbie Cheadle and debut author Aly Locatelli. Cheadle’s stories are fictionalized accounts of historic events and legends and Locatelli’s story is a suspenseful read about a mysterious death. It’s an atmospheric treat that makes for a great debut.

I’m excited to get into August and finish all those books I’m working on! So many books…so little time…

Until next time,

Amy

Reading Round-Up: June Edition

It seemed like June was gone in a flash (flood–we had lots of rain), but I did manage to get a lot of reading done during the month. That is, a lot for me.

The first book I read was Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths. This was a little different from the mysteries I usually read, but I enjoyed it. It’s told from three different points of view and that kept things interesting. It was cool to see the same events from the perspectives of three characters. There are also a ton of references to other works of literature–some I knew and some I didn’t. When it’s all boiled down, the book is a murder mystery. There are some supernatural elements, which I don’t love, but I was glad the killer was a real flesh-and-blood person (and not some apparition).

Next up was The Tulip Shirt Murders by Heather Weidner. This was a great mystery, with some elements I didn’t know much about (think flea markets and roller derbies), so I learned something in the process! It features a female private investigator, which I loved, and her computer-savvy sidekick. There are a variety of red herrings, but our intrepid heroine figures things out in the end.

The Merlon Murders by Victoria Benchley is the first book in a two-book series (read: it ends in a cliffhanger, so be ready to scoop up the second book and start reading right away!) featuring a corporate investigator, Duncan, who travels to Scotland from London to check out the mystery surrounding the death of a man who left behind a fortune, an estate, and lots of questions. This book is like taking a vacation in Scotland–from the rugged mountains to the quaint villages to the culture and the food, it’s a delight for all the senses.

I also read The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook by Kate Macdonald. It has recipes AGG readers will remember from the books, like raspberry cordial and gingersnaps, and they’re easy to make. The book was geared to young cooks more than I expected, but it was still a fun, easy read.

Marilyn Meredith’s Spirit Wind is the continuation of the Tempe Crabtree mysteries, and like all the others, this doesn’t disappoint. There are Native American legends and spirits, a real-life murder, and someone who doesn’t want any of it uncovered. The book is a quick read and I learned a lot about Tehachapi, an area of California that was home to the Kawaiisu tribe of Native Americans.

Last, but certainly not least, was Robert Germaux’s More Grammar Sex, a fabulous book of essays about everything from vacation after retirement to baseball to his car’s GPS system. This was an easy-to-read book of common sense things that makes an afternoon spent reading on the patio (on one of the few days when it didn’t rain) very pleasant.

What have you been reading? I’d love to hear about it.

Until next time,

Amy

Ode to the Cookbook

Before I begin, I’d like to thank everyone who has purchased my book, either in paperback or ebook form. It’s getting some really nice reviews online, and I appreciate each and every one of you. And if you’ve read the book and enjoyed it, please consider putting up a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are greatly appreciated by all authors!

This week I am blogging about a subject near and dear to my heart: cooking. Specifically, cookbooks and how much I love them.

There are certain people in my family (they know who they are) who read cookbooks like novels, and I am proud to count myself among them. (Incidentally, my family is also made up of fabulous cooks, and I get my love of cooking from them. Note that I didn’t say I am a fabulous cook myself, but I do love the process). I like to curl up with a good cookbook just like many other people do with thrillers and romances. I love those books, too, but there’s just something about cookbooks that is different from any other type of reading.

Whenever I eat a meal at home by myself, there is always a cookbook or a cooking magazine next to me. When I need to take a break from writing or editing or research, I reach for a cookbook. Sometimes I’ll read a cookbook before I go to sleep at night.

Just today, my husband was trying to have a conversation with me while I perused the pages of a cookbook devoted entirely to macadamia nuts. I have casserole cookbooks, dessert cookbooks, an ahi tuna cookbook, a Halloween cookbook, a million Christmas cookbooks, and even a butter cookbook. I also have countless regular cookbooks- you know, the ones with thousands of recipes of every variety. Think Better Homes and Gardens with the red-and-white checkered binder. One of the things I love to do is to find new recipes for my weekly menu. If nothing in my millions of recipes sounds good at the moment I make my grocery list, I go with one of the tried-and-true favorites, like tacos or Greek chicken salad, but I do like to try something new as often as I can.

Cooking is how I relax. It’s how I show people I love them. I love to cook for friends and family; I cook as often as I can for people who have been sick and for mission groups that come to my church.

My favorite thing to cook, unfortunately, is dessert. I love making anything sweet. Luckily for me, my husband does not love dessert, so I don’t make it all the time. If I did, we’d all be fifty pounds heavier. The kids love it when I make dessert, though, so I do try to have it once in a while.

If any of you have visited my website, you’ll see that I have a section devoted to wines that I enjoy. The truth is that I also wanted to include a section devoted to the meals that my characters eat. My first book, Secrets of Hallstead House, has lots of meals in it. My hope was to include recipes for all the dishes I named in the book, but in the end I decided that I didn’t have the time to make up and test the recipes for those meals. My second book, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, has food in it, too, but not as much as in the first book. And I can’t wait to start writing my third book. I don’t have a name for it yet, but the main character is a personal chef in Hawaii. That’s right- a book that combines two of my great loves- Hawaii and food!

One of my favorite cookbooks (don’t laugh) is Cooking with Mickey and the Disney Chefs. It’s full of recipes from the various Disney properties. It’s got everything in it from Coconut Curried Chicken Stew from Boma-Flavors of Africa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge to Fantasia Cheesecake from Plaza Inn on Main Street, USA, to Grapefruit Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting from the Hollywood Brown Derby. But my hands-down favorite is Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup from Le Cellier Steakhouse at EPCOT. My son, whose normal response to my home-cooked meals is “I hate chicken” or “can I just have cereal?” begs for this cheese soup all year long. Fortunately for our waistlines, I only make it in the fall.

There’s a movie out right now called “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” I can’t wait to see it. I don’t go to the movies often, but this is one I want to see in the theater rather than waiting for its release on DVD. It’s about a family from India that wants to open a restaurant in a small town in France. It’s actually based on a book of the same name by Richard Morais, and I may just have to read the book first.

So what’s on the menu at your house this week? Got any good recipes that you’d like to share?

Until next week,

Amy