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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Three Historical Mysteries

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Sometimes you need an escape from the outside world, and books can take you away to another place and time. A good mystery can do that, and the three authors highlighted this month have each written a series set in a different era, with a female protagonist in an interesting profession.

Susan Elia MacNeal set her Mr. Churchill’s Secretary in 1940 London. Maggie Hope is a young American woman, all set to attend prestigious MIT in Massachusetts when she is called to London to oversee the sale of her late grandmother’s home. 

With the looming war, Maggie is unable to sell the house, so she stays in London and finds work as a secretary for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Maggie had her sights set on working in British intelligence, using her education in math to help break German codes, but as a woman that avenue is closed to her.

There is a mystery to Maggie’s life. For some reason unknown to Maggie (or the reader), British intelligence is keeping tabs on Maggie. At the same time, she discovers something about her dead father that puts her in the middle of a dangerous situation.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary is a fast-paced and well-researched novel. McNeal reveals in a Historical Note at the end of the book that she came upon the idea while touring the fascinating War Cabinet rooms in London, and researched the women who worked there. (Don’t skip this interesting section.)

Maggie is a wonderful character, and several times in the book, MacNeal had me audibly gasping as she put Maggie in some tight situations. If it was a movie, I would have spilled my popcorn many times.

MacNeal plunges the reader into wartime London, and you get a real sense of what it was like to live with the terror of bombs descending on the city where you live. MacNeal has six more more books in this terrific series, with a seventh due this August, and I can’t wait to read them all in succession.

Radha Vatsal’s debut novel, A Front Page Affair, takes us to 1915 New York City, as Capability (what a great name!) “Kitty” Weeks is working as a reporter on the fashion and society pages for the New York Sentinel newspaper. 

Kitty really wants to cover the hard news stories, something that women just weren’t allowed to do.  While covering a society party on Long Island, a man is murdered and Kitty is the only reporter on the scene.

She takes advantage of her position and works to discover why Mr. Cole was murdered. Was he having an affair with a married woman? Did he owe money to someone shady?

As Kitty delves deeper into the murder mystery, she discovers that her father (like Maggie Hope’s) has something he is hiding. The murder mystery may also have something to do with a wartime conspiracy, and Kitty uses her wits and education to unravel the truth.

Kitty Weeks is an intriguing protagonist, and the jailhouse scene is tense and well done. Vatsal’s second book in the series, Murder Between the Lines publishes in May, and her interest in female silent film directors is supposed to be a running theme in her books, which is unique and interesting.

Victoria Thompson writes about turn of the 20th century New York City in her Gaslight Mystery Series, featuring midwife Sarah Brandt. The first book in the series, Murder on Astor Place introduces us to Brandt and NYPD Detective Sgt. Frank Malloy. 

As a midwife, Sarah has seen many women die in childbirth. But while on one house call to aid in a delivery, she stumbles upon a young woman who has been murdered. The woman comes from a well-to-do family, a family that Sarah knows well, but they seem uninterested in why or how their relative died.

Sarah meets Sgt. Frank Malloy, a widower with a young son. Since the murdered woman’s family is interested in the case, Malloy decided he has other more pressing issues. Sarah pushes Malloy to work the case and insinuates herself in the investigation, and a friendship blossoms.

Thompson has written 18 books in the series, all set in New York neighborhoods, such as Murder in Chinatown and Murder in Little Italy, and her series has an avid fan following. If you are a New York City history buff, the Gaslight Mystery Series gives you a true look at a growing city.

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal- A+
Published by Bantam Books
Trade paperback, $15, 306 pages

A Front Page Affair by Radha Vastal-B+
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
Trade paperback, $15.99, 312 pages

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson-B+
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group
Trade paperback, $15, 268 pages

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Weekend Cooking- A Trip to Amelia Island

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

Last week my husband had a conference in Amelia Island in Florida, so I went along and his brother and sister-in-law met us there for a fun little weekend.

One of my coworkers at the Book Cellar, the used bookstore where I volunteer in NYC, has a brother who owns two restaurants in Amelia Island, so we stopped in for lunch.

It was the coldest day in a long time in Amelia Island (57 degrees- I know, I know, my Central New York hometowners are laughing at that right now) when we visited Cafe Karibo for lunch.

We walked into the cheery and inviting bar area, which has three shiny vats of small craft beers on tap for the beer drinkers in the crowd.
KariBrew- clever name!

Just outside the bar area is a beautiful outdoor patio with a huge stone fireplace which was all fired up on the cold day we visited. It is so lovely!
The inviting patio area

I had the Pig & Apple sandwich, which was delicious, as was everything we ordered. I really liked their inventive pub grub menu, there were so many things I would have ordered.

The next day we visited Cafe Karibo's sister restaurant, Timoti's Seafood Shak, similar to ones we visited in Cape Cod. We placed our order for fish inside, and headed outside to soak in the warm sunshine at one of the picnic tables.

My husband and I ordered the fried fish and sweet potato chips, and the others ordered blackened and grilled grouper. All of our meals were fabulous, some of the best fish we have had. The blackened grouper looked like a work of art.
Grilled, fried and blackened grouper

It was Super Bowl Sunday when we were there, and we headed over to the Falcon's Nest sports bar located at the Omni Resort where we were staying on Amelia Island. The gang decided to start with a HUGE platter of nachos, topped with smoked brisket, chicken and guacamole. We weren't sure we could eat it all, but that was an unnecessary worry. We demolished it!

For dinner on Monday we visited Le Clos, a lovely French restaurant in the downtown area. My husband and I each had the escargot appetizer, which was fabulous. I ordered the shrimp dish, which was served in a white wine reduction of shallots, garlic, fennel, sundried tomatoes, herbs and chevre over pasta. It was so light and tasty.
Shrimp dinner

My sister-in-law had her favorite, scallops, served with a citrus beurre blanc sauce over spinach and pasta.

The ambiance was very intimate and it feels like you are in someone's beautiful home as you dine. If you are looking for something a little more upscale, this is the place.

We enjoyed all of our dining experiences in Amelia Island, I can recommend each of the restaurants we visited. In a future post, I'll share some photos of the other fun places we saw in Amelia Island, including a wonderful bookstore.

 Cafe Karibo's website is here.
Timoti's webiste is here.
Le Clos' website is here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Runaway Midwife by Patricia Harman

The Runaway Midwife by Patricia Harman
Publsihed by William Morrow ISBN 9780062467300
Trade paperback, $15.99, 416 pages

Sometimes a book just draws you into its universe so deeply, you feel like you are part of the story. I felt that way about Patricia Harman's The Runaway Midwife.

Midwife Clara Perry is dealing with her husband's recurring infidelity, her painful estrangement from her daughter, and the shocking suicide of her best friend when a tragic end to a childbirth she was attending occurs.

Fearing the consequences of that tragedy, Clara decides to runaway to a remote island town in Canada. She changes her name, rents a small house, and hopes to just hide out.

Soon Clara finds that cannot live totally off the grid. She meets her neighbor Molly, a mom who befriends Clara and offers her a ride to the closest grocery store. Pete is the local cop who takes it upon himself to check up on everyone in the area, making sure they are OK. Jed runs the local clinic and recruits Clara to help him out, which she agrees to do.

There is a group of people who live on a commune, and there is friction between the townies and them. Clara tries to keep a foot in both camps, as she likes Molly and Rainbow, who lives on the commune.

There is conflict between the people who want to see a casino built, because that means jobs and more tax money for schools and roads, and those (like the commune residents) who love the pristine nature of the beautiful land surrounding them and don't want to ruin that.

Harman does a wonderful job creating this small community. As a reader, I felt like I was right there, living among the community members instead of reading about it in a book. I grew up in a very cold, snowy region of the country, and related to the climate of this tiny island outpost off Lake Erie.

The Runaway Midwife harkened me back to my days reading Little House on the Prairie books, with the townspeople banding together to help one another. I loved the characters, they felt like real people you would meet, and Clara's evolving story kept me interested. There are secrets (will Clara's identity be discovered?), sex, true friendship and community, and although The Runaway Midwife isn't necessarily a book I would have thought I would like, I truly loved it and highly recommend it. Now I will look for Patricia Harman's first book, The Midwife of Hope River.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Patricia Harman's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 31st: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, February 1st: bookchickdi
Thursday, February 2nd: West Metro Mommy
Monday, February 6th: The Book Bag
Tuesday, February 7th: M. Denise Costello
Wednesday, February 8th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 9th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Friday, February 10th: StephTheBookworm
Tuesday, February 14th: Art Books Coffee
Wednesday, February 15th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Thursday, February 16th: Tina Says…