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Monday, October 30, 2017

It's All About Romance

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

This month’s Book Report is the Romance Rundown, featuring four books from the genre that caught my attention.

First up is Eloisa James’ historical romance, “Wilde In Love”, the first in her new “Wildes of Lindow Castle” series. We meet Lord Alaric Wilde, who has returned home to his family’s castle near London in 1778 from his adventures abroad. Alaric’s books about his travels have made him famous, and his adventures with pirates and cannibals inspired a long-running play about the handsome man, which embarrasses him to no end. 

Alaric becomes enchanted by Willa Ffynche, who seems to the be the only woman in England who has not fallen madly in love with him. Willa prefers reading to adventures, but she soon finds herself thrown together with Alaric, who sets his cap for Willa.

James’ novel is the most explicit of the group, and she certainly knows how to give her readers what they want. Willa is a fantastic character, and she and Alaric make a great team as they banter back and forth.

It’s been awhile since I have read an historical romance, but I enjoyed “Wilde in Love” so much, I will be picking more of the many books James has written. She writes smart dialogue and keeps her readers wanting more.

Moving into the early 20th century, after WWI, is Lauren Willig’s “The Other Daughter”. Also set in England, Rachel is a young governess working in France when she gets word that her mother is seriously ill. She arrives too late, and discovers a newspaper clipping that the father she believed died when she was a toddler, is in fact alive and has another family.

Rachel decides to go to London to confront him. Her father is an English lord, and to get close to him she becomes involved with Simon, a Page Six-like gossip reporter who has his own reasons for helping Rachel. 

Rachel pretends to be a socialite who has been abroad. Simon introduces her to her half-sister’s group of friends, and her sister’s fiancee, an up-and-coming politician. As Rachel gets closer to meeting her father, things are not quite as they seemed.

Willig excels at writing dialogue between Rachel and Simon. Their scenes crackle with tension, wit and emotion, and in the Acknowledgments section, Willig states that this is the first single-narrative, single-viewpoint novel she has written. She succeeds beautifully here, and “The Other Daughter” has not only romance, but family drama and a few twists that will surprise you. If you liked “Downton Abbey”, this one is for you.

“Christmas at the Little Beach Street Bakery” is the third in a planned trilogy by Jenny Colgan. Polly owns a popular small bakery on Mount Polbeane in Cornwall, on the southern coast of England. She lives in a lighthouse with her boyfriend Huckle, a beekeeper, and Neil, a puffin bird who goes everywhere with them. 

Polly was raised by her single mother, and never met her father. When Polly’s best friend Kerensa does something regrettable, it causes problems between Polly and Huckle. The characters in the town are so interesting, especially Kerensa’s husband Reuben, a multimillionaire who is pushy and obnoxious and totally in love with his wife.

The plot revolves around Christmas, when a snowstorm hits the area and Polly works to keep everything from falling apart. It’s funny and sweet, and has some terrific recipes as well. You’ll be craving croissants and hot chocolate after reading this one.

If you are a fan of the Hallmark Channel, you may be familiar with the Chesapeake Shores series, based on Sherryl Woods’ series of novels. Her latest, “Lilac Lane” continues the story of the O’Brien clan of Chesapeake Shores in Maryland. 

Moira O’Brien brings her mother Kiera over from Ireland after Kiera’s fiancee dies suddenly. Kiera works as a consultant for her son-in-law Kevin’s authentic Irish pub and meets Bryan, the chef at the restaurant.

Bryan bristles at Kiera’s suggestions, and although they get along like oil and water, the matchmaking O’Brien clan (led by matriarch Nell and her son Mick) decide these two need to be together.

There is also a young woman looking for her birth father (disappearing fathers seem to be a theme here today), but again, things are always more complicated than at first glance.

“Lilac Lane” is a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys stories about big families, especially Irish families. The O’Brien clan feel like your own family, who you love and drive you crazy all at once.

Wilde in Love” by Eloisa James- A
Published by Avon
Mass Market Paperback, $7.99

“The Other Daughter” by Lauren Willig- A-
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin
Trade paperback, $15.99

Published by William Morrow
Trade paperback, $14.99

“Lilac Lane” by Sherryl Woods- A
Published by MiraBooks

Hardcover, $26.99

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods

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.

Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods
Published by MiraBooks ISBN 9780778331339
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages

It's been awhile since I visited the O'Brien clan of Chesapeake Shores in Maryland. I was introduced to them in Sherryl Woods' delightful The Summer Garden, the 9th book in the series. (My review is here). The newest book, Lilac Lane, is the 12th in the series, and reading it is like visiting old friends.

Moira O'Brien's mother Kiera has just lost her fiance to a heart attack in Ireland. Moira convinces her mother to come to Chesapeake Shores and stay with her, her husband Luke and toddler Kate. Moira agrees to visit, and Luke asks her to act as a consultant in his Irish pub, to help give customers the authentic Irish experience.

This doesn't sit well with Bryan Laramie, the chef at the pub. Bryan is an experienced chef, having worked in New York and Baltimore, and the last thing he wants is another family member putting in her two cents on his established menu. (He had enough of that with the O'Brien matriarch Nell.)

Kiera is as stubborn and outspoken as her daughter Moira, and Bryan and Kiera get along like oil and water. But the matchmaking O'Brien clan (especially Nell and her son Mick, who would give Dolly Levi a run for her money) see sparks between the two and scheme to push the two together.

Bryan hasn't dated much since he moved to Chesapeake Shores, he mostly keeps to himself. When Kiera moves into a small cottage next to Bryan, their relationship turns to friendship, and maybe even more.

Meanwhile, Megan works hard to convince a reluctant Moira to take on more gallery showings of her photography across the country, Kiera enjoys the morning gatherings of the O'Brien women, Nell convinces Bryan and Kiera to compete against each other in an Irish stew cookoff at the Harvest Festival, and a young woman from Virginia comes to town to try and find her biological father.

I truly enjoyed coming back to Chesapeake Shores, and Bryan and Kiera's budding romance between two mature adults who aren't in their 20s is a refreshing change of pace. I'm from an Irish-American family, and I laughed at the raucous O'Briens and all of their teasing and scheming and getting involved in everyone's business.

Even though I haven't yet read #10 and #11 in the series, I didn't feel lost at all; I was able to pick right back up with the O'Briens. Sherryl Woods' lovely novels are the basis for the Hallmark Channel's Chesapeake Shores series, and now I will be catching up with that on-demand. (I've also started picking up the rest of the books in the series- that's how much I love these O'Briens!)

If you like family stories, adult love stories and books featuring food (I'll be making Irish stew just as soon as the cooler weather gets here), Lilac Lane is a great book to add to your TBR list.

Sherryl Woods website is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Sherryl Woods tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Review tour for LILAC LANE:

Monday, October 16th: From the Library of Mrs. Gardner blog and Instagram
Monday, October 16th: The Sassy Bookster – spotlight
Tuesday, October 17th: The Sketchy Reader
Tuesday, October 17th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, October 18th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, October 19th: Readaholic Zone
Friday, October 20th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot
Monday, October 23rd: Katy’s Library blog and Instagram
Tuesday, October 24th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, October 24th: What is That Book About – spotlight
Wednesday, October 25th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, October 26th: Bookchickdi
Thursday, October 26th: Reading Reality
Friday, October 27th: View from the Birdhouse
Friday, October 27th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy – spotlight
Monday, October 30th: A Holland Reads
Monday, October 30th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, November 1st: Novel Gossip
Thursday, November 2nd: Suzy Approved
Saturday, November 4th: Girl Who Reads
Monday, November 6th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Tuesday, November 7th: Bewitched Bookworms
Wednesday, November 8th: Moonlight Rendezvous
Thursday, November 9th: LiteraryJo Reviews blog and Instagram
Friday, November 10th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Monday, November 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Tuesday, November 14th: The Romance Dish
Tuesday, November 14th: Blogging with A

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062699589
Trade paperback, $14.99, 336 pages

I've become a big fan of Jenny Colgan, having read The Cafe By The Sea and The Bookshop on the Corner, both set in Scotland. (I've talked so much about her books that I've gained her a few more readers at the Book Cellar where I volunteer.)

Her latest book, Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery, is set in the little seaside village town of Mount Polbeane in Cornwall, England. It is the third book in the series, (Little Beach Street Bakery and Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery being the first two) and not having read the first two, I feared I may be a little lost.

I needn't have feared, I was able to catch up quickly. Polly is the owner of Little Beach Street Bakery, after her previous life imploded when the fiance company she owned with her boyfriend went under, along with their relationship.

Now she is happy, waking very early each morning in the old lighthouse she lives in with her current boyfriend, Huckle, (an American chap who left his family in Virginia to become a beekeeper and sell honey) to make the pastries and breads that the villagers and tourists adore.

Polly's friend Kerensa is married to Reuben, a blowhard of a millionaire (billionaire?) who has a challenging personality, but loves Kerensa deeply. Kerensa makes a big mistake one night, and this causes a rift between Polly and Huckle, Reuben's best friend.

Polly was raised by single mum Doreen, and never knew her father who abandoned Doreen when she became pregnant. Doreen rarely leaves her home, preferring to watch television. Their relationship is somewhat strained since Doreen had hoped that her daughter would have more financial stability in her life, and Polly is sad that her mother seems so lonely.

I loved the characters in this town- Reuben is a hoot, and could have been a stock rich jerk, but Colgan makes him three-dimensional. His mother Rhonda is a real trip too. And how many books have a puffin as a character? (Yes, Neil is a bird.)

The story revolves around a snow storm that strands everyone at Reuben's mansion on Christmas Eve, where Polly has been talked into making pastries for Reuben's yuge holiday party when she would rather be snuggling with Huckle and Neil and relaxing.

There is a public proposal, snow sculptures, a trip to the hospital and a helicopter ride during the party, but fear not, all is resolved by the story's end.

Christmas at Little Beach Street Bakery is a perfect palate cleanser of a book. It's a lovely, light read, meant for curling up on the couch under a comfy blanket on a cold or rainy Sunday. It would make a wonderful stocking stuffer for a good friend this upcoming holiday season.

And if you like books with food references in them, this one will have your stomach rumbling, wishing that you lived close enough to the Little Beach Street Bakery so that you could sample some buttery croissants, Christmas twists, and homemade hot chocolate.

I have already gotten myself copies of the first two books in the series, and I can't wait to find out how Polly's story got her to this point.

Jenny Colgan's website is here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 10th: BookExpression
Wednesday, October 11th: BookNAround
Thursday, October 12th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, October 13th: Bibliotica
Monday, October 16th: Buried Under Books
Tuesday, October 17th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, October 18th: bookchickdi
Thursday, October 19th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, October 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, October 20th: Reading Reality
Saturday, October 21st: Girl Who Reads
Monday, October 23rd: Into the Hall of Books
Tuesday, October 24th: StephTheBookworm
Wednesday, October 25th: A Bookworm’s World
Friday, October 27th: Jathan & Heather
Friday, October 27th: Books and Bindings

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Trying To Eat Healthier

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.

We're trying to eat healthier in our household, something that has been hit or miss. My husband is out to business dinners two to three nights a week and I don't cook on those nights for just myself. I'll eat leftovers or cereal.

I did come across two recipes recently that worked well. One is Chicken Cacciatore with Peppers, Onions and Mushrooms that I saw on the Today Show, made by Anthony Scotto of Fresco by Scotto, a restaurant here in NYC. My husband loves peppers and onions (me, not so much), but I'll eat them in a dish like this.

The recipe calls for using a entire cut-up chicken, but I substituted chicken thighs and drumsticks because my husband prefers those. It also called for using 1/2 cup of olive oil to saute the chicken in, and I cut that back.

It takes about 45 minutes to cook on the stovetop, so this is a recipe that can be made on a weeknight. It was full of flavor, and adding red wine to deglaze the pan added a nice touch to this dish. I will be making this one again now that cooler is (supposed to?) be on the way. I served it over angel hair pasta with a salad on the side.

You can find the recipe for Chicken Cacciatore with Peppers, Onions and Mushrooms here.

I also made an Apple, White Cheddar and Spinach Salad with Honey-Apple Cider Vinaigrette one night, a recipe I found on Pinterest.  It's a simple salad, and the honey-apple cider vinaigrette was a huge hit, one I will make for other salads.

Apple White Cheddar Spinach Salad with Honey Apple Cider Vinagrette
For the salad:
6 cups of spinach (a package of fresh spinach that you find in the produce section works perfectly)
1 large apple, thinly sliced (I used a Fuji)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I had Havarti on hand so I used that)
1/2 dried cranberries
1/2 cup sliced almonds (we omitted this)

For the dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Layer the salad in a large bowl. For the dressing, in a small glass jar with a lid add all the ingredients and shake well. Pour the dressing on the salad, toss and place the salad on a platter immediately.

You can find the recipe on Averie Cooks.

Have you made any healthy recipes that you'd like to share? Tell me about them in comments.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Three Terrific Debut Novels

Finding interesting debut novels are one of the great joys of reading. Picking up a book from someone you don’t know, taking a chance, and then being rewarded for that can be very fulfilling. This month’s Book Report will introduce you to three debut novels.

Since so many of us have been consumed watching cable news since the election of 2016, the timing of CNN morning show New Day anchor Alisyn Camerota’s debut novel about a young cable news reporter “Amanda Wakes Up” is fortunate. 

Camerota has worked for many news organizations- Fox, CNN, ABC, MSNBC- and she gives the reader an insider’s look at what that is like. Amanda Gallo works for a small local NYC TV news station when she finds herself the only reporter on scene at a bank robbery in progress.

Her reporting lands her a job as a morning anchor at FAIR News, a new cable news network trying to make a big splash in a crowded space. Her boss wants to score huge ratings, her male cohost is a sexist blowhard, her liberal boyfriend is unhappy that she works for a company pushing a conservative agenda, and her best friend is a producer at a competing news organization who believes in anything for a story.

Camerota wrote “Amanda Wakes Up” following the 2012 election, but so many of the things that happen in the story are eerily prescient to the 2016 election. She sheds a compassionate light on people on both side of the issues, something that many people in the media have been unable to accomplish. If you are a cable news junkie, this one is for you, although I found the ending a little too pat.

If you grew up loving Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women”, Elise Hooper’s debut novel “The Other Alcott”, about May Alcott and to a great extent her complex relationship with her sister Louisa, is a book you will want to read. 

May wants to be an artist, but she is torn between her love and obligations to her family and her desire to strike out on her own. She longs to study in Europe, but she also wants to break free of her financial dependence on her sister. 

Hooper takes us to late 19th century Europe, where May studies to be an artist, meeting famous artists like Elizabeth Jane Gardner and Mary Cassatt, and fighting for the rights of female artists to be taken seriously.

“The Other Alcott” is for fans historical fiction like “The Paris Wife” and “Loving Frank”, and for people who like stories about siblings. 

The best debut novel I have read in a long time is Nigerian writer Ayobami Adebayo’s “Stay With Me”, a featured book at this year’s Editor’s Buzz Panel at the Book Expo in May in New York City. 

Yejide and Akin are a young married Nigerian couple troubled by their inability to have a baby. When their family brings a second wife to become pregnant by Akin, it creates a untenable situation. 

This strains Yejide and Akin’s marriage, and Yejide goes to great lengths, including going on a controversial religious pilgrimage, to become pregnant. Yejide will do anything to get pregnant, and Akin is helpless as he watches his wife struggle with their infertility.

Adebayo’s setting of 1980’s Nigeria, with its troubled political times, is enlightening and adds to the tension of the situation that Yejide and Akin find themselves in. I loved learning about the food, customs and life in general in Nigeria.

“Stay With Me” is one of the most compelling, heartbreaking books I have ever read. It is also one of the most surprising. Just when you think you know which direction it is going, it does a 180 degree turn, and you are taken to a new place.

Adebayo is a superb writer, one who combines fascinating, realistic characters and puts them in a storyline that just breaks your heart at so many different places in the story. I found myself so taken in by her beautiful writing, I would lose myself in the story. This is a book you must read in a quiet spot, where you will be uninterrupted.

The title, “Stay With Me” brings the whole story together at the end, and I confess to tearing up and even outright weeping at the end of this beautiful story. I give “Stay With Me” my highest recommendation.

Amanda Wakes Up” by Alisyn Camerota- B+
Published by Viking
Hardcover, $26, 327 pages

The Other Alcott” by Elise Hooper- A-
Published by William Morrow
Trade paperback, $15.99, 432 pages

Stay With Me” by Ayobami Adebayo- A+
Published by Knopf

Hardcover, $25.95, 272 pages

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash

The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062313119
Hardcover, $26.99, 304 pages

Although Wiley Cash's newest novel, The Last Ballad, is set in 1929, the themes of the struggling working class, the politics of rich versus poor, racism and sexism are as relevant today as they were then.

Young Ella May Wiggins is 28 years-old, a mother of four with a husband who deserts her. She works the night shift at the local textile mill, making less than $10 a week, which is not enough to feed her children.

When Ella had to miss to a shift to care for sickly daughter she is called into the owner's office, accused of being lazy and threatened with dismissal by a man who shows no compassion for Ella's situation.

Ella relies on nine-year-old daughter Lily and her friend and neighbor Violet to help care for the other younger children while she works. She is tired of not being paid enough for her work and when a union comes to town, Ella works up to the courage to attend a meeting.

She meets two women who are driving people to the meeting, and when Ella sings them a song she wrote about her situation, they convince her to sing for the crowd. Ella's beautiful voice and song move the crowd so much that Ella becomes a symbol of the labor movement.

Ella agrees to work for the union, and pushes for the union to include the black factory workers in their organization efforts. The factory where she works is one of the few that has black and white workers on the line.

The factory owners accuse the workers of being Communists, and indeed it is the Communist party that helps to organize the labor movement. The workers are threatened with violence and forcibly evicted from their factory-owned homes when they dare to try and organize a union.

The tension rachets up as the workers appear to be on a collison course with the factory owners. When a black union organizer, a Pullman porter named Hampton, comes to town to help Ella organize her neighbors, he is forced to reconcile a past he tried to forget.

Cash's writing is so powerful, and he conveys so much with his words, like this:
"Pretty took the will to be so and the money to do it and the time to see it and the sleep to maintain it, and Ella didn't have any of those things."
"But no matter how long the (Goldberg) brothers and their families lived in town, they never forgot the first night in their new home when some time before dawn they awoke to the orange glow of the six-foot-tall wooden cross afire in the front yard. They also never forgot the next morning's visit from the Christian Ladies' Association, a group largely comprised of the wives of local ministers. The women appeared unannounced that Saturday morning, cakes and flowers and casseroles in hand. They walked single-file up the walk past the blackened grass and the charred, smoking remains of the cross their husbands had left behind."
I'm not sure that reading The Last Ballad made me hopeful that things are better in our country or sad that not enough progress has been made. Cash based his book on a real incident, and Ella Wiggins was a real woman who took on factory owners in Gaston, North Carolina. Like the strong female characters in the movies Norma Rae (based on a real woman, Crystal Lee Sutton) and Karen Silkwood in Silkwood, Ella Wiggins is an unforgettable woman looking to make a more just world. We need more of them.

I highly recommend The Last Ballad, especially for young women.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Wiley Cash's tour. The rest of his stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 3rd: she treads softly
Wednesday, October 4, 2017 5 Minutes For Books
Wednesday, October 4th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, October 5th: bookchickdi
Monday, October 9th: Into the Hall of Books
Tuesday, October 10th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, October 13th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, October 16th: Tina Says…
Tuesday, October 17th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.
Wednesday, October 18th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, October 19th: Broken Teepee

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers of 141 St. by Karina Yan Glaser
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780544876392
Hardcover, 304 pages, $16.99

The first thing that takes you in Karina Yan Glaser's first middle school novel, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, is the colorful cover illustration. Looking at the figures in the windows of the bright red townhouse makes you want to look inside the book to find out who these people are. You want to be inside this building.

Once inside, you will be enchanted by the interesting Vanderbeeker family. Mama likes to bake and share her treats with the neighbors. Papa maintains the building, owned by Mr. Beiderman who keeps to himself. The Vanderbeeker children are not your typical plugged-in kids- 12 year-old Isa loves to play the violin, her twin brother Jessie creates scientific experiments, 9 year-old Oliver writes poetry, 6 year-old Hyacinth is an animal lover and 4 year-old Laney loves to draw, and they all love to read books. There is nary a cell phone in sight; instead, there are lots of pets.

When Mr. Beiderman tells the family that they must move after Christmas, the family is devastated. This is the only home they have known. They love their neighborhood- the bakery owned by the family of a boy who has a crush on Isa, the deli, the coffee shop, the library and City College. What if they have to leave the neighborhood and move far away?

The kids get together and come up with a idea to make Mr. Beiderman change his mind and let them stay, but it doesn't go as planned.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is the kind of book you want to share with everyone in your family- it would make a wonderful book to read aloud. The Vanderbeekers are a lovely family, kind to each other, but in a realistic way. It's refreshing to see children who respect their parents, and who help Mom cook and set the table without (too much) complaint.

The secondary characters are interesting too- the upstairs neighbors who are so sad to be losing their friends, and as someone who had a basset hound, Franz the basset hound warmed my heart. Even Mr. Beiderman's story is moving.

The theme of the book can be best summed up by a speech Papa makes at a farewell Christmas dinner:
"I have always believed that raising kids means more than just being a good parent and trying to do the things," Papa went on, his voice beginning to wobble. "It means surrounding your kids with amazing people who can bring science experiments and jam cookies, laughter and joy, and beautiful experiences into their lives. From every part of my being, I want to thank you for giving me and my family the gifts of friendship and love."
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street brings this wonderfully vibrant New York City neighborhood alive, and I can't wait for the next book in the series. I love the Vanderbeekers and all their friends and family and neighbors! If you have children or grandchildren in your life, you'll want to read this to them. And if you know a teacher, this would be a great addition to their classroom library.

Karina Glaser's website is here.