8/08/2017

The Corsican Caper and Mashed Limas

 

The Corsican Caper is another of Peter Mayles' light, summer reading type thrillers, with beaucoup good food and wine mingled throughout.  I have been enjoying his various "Capers" with a few yet to read.  Don't expect anything deep, or even thought-provoking here.  Just frothy entertainment.  Despite which, you will get lots of cooking inspiration, and ideas for wine selections.  From the Publisher: In The Corsican Caper, "Master sleuth, Sam Levitt....investigates a case of deadly intrigue among the Riviera's jet set."  His good friend, billionaire Francis Reboul, is being stalked and pressured to sell his villa to a Russian tycoon, who stops at nothing in getting what he wants.

7/30/2017

Salat Olivier for Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking


For Cook the Books Club this round we have been reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya Von Bremzen, the title of her memoir a bit tongue-in-cheek, as it might have been called Mastering the Art of Soviet Living.  Covering three generations of Russian life, which included millions dead, famine and food lines, before she and her mother fled to America from the repression of a Brezhnev era USSR.

At times horrific, sometimes sad and occasionally even funny, Anya's memoir is historically significant, though I was left somewhat confused, due to the held fantasy of an ideal socialism which never panned out. Russia's successive dictators led their country in a vast experiment, attempting to manipulate society, without regard for human nature, leaving former moral codes and God behind; those controlling powers having deemed religion "the opiate of the people." Von Bremzen seems in the end, to have a surprisingly  retained, lingering nostalgia for this failed socialist dream, looking down on Putin and Capitalism.  She at least has an excuse, having spent years of indoctrinated schooling in her home country.  Here in America it's astonishing how many seem to believe we should travel down that same path.  That it might work?  A scary thought.  This book should be required reading for Social Studies, Political Science or maybe Cultural Anthropology.  Definitely lots of food for thought here.

7/27/2017

A Conclave with Blue Marlin, Harissa and Rose

 I am going to recommend an excellent book here: Conclave, by Robert Harris.  When I pulled it off my TBR stack there were doubts.  Am I really going to get into a book on a Vatican election?  A good half of the books on that TBR stack do end up (on the way out) in the NTBR pile.  Of course, leave it to Robert Harris.  A great author can do wonders with almost any subject.  And as a Wall Street Journal reviewer says, "Harris is incapable of writing an unenjoyable book"  True in this case for sure.

The story concerns a pope's death in the near future, questionable  circumstances surrounding that, as well as the gathering of cardinals from around the world, the dynamics of their views and ambitions, as well as the election itself in the Sistine Chapel, all fraught with terrorist attack, protesters, and scandal.  I totally engaged with Harris' protagonist, the Dean of the College of Cardinals (in his fictional account), Cardinal Lomeli.  A truly spiritual man was well portrayed here, with human failings and struggles, who grows stronger through this trial.  All of the characters were engagingly delineated and believable, as Harris is able to competently connect with Religious life and motivations.  The ending was a bit incredible, but a great book altogether.

7/20/2017

Waffling for My Kitchen Year

Having been a fan of Ruth Reichl for quite a few years, I'm only surprised it took me this long to read her latest memoir/cookbook, Ruth Reichl, My Kitchen Year, 130 Recipes that Saved My Life.   Most cookbooks, I find at least, you don't really read from cover to cover.  This is one of those that you should.  I suppose it's the memoir aspect.  And, okay, so the title is a bit dramatic, but no one gets into the positions she has over the years without being something of a drama queen.

Her book was written in a depressive aftermath following the rather abrupt shutdown of Gourmet magazine, where Reichl had been editor in chief for 10 years. Most of us have gone through stuff equally horrid, say the death of someone close, relationship traumas, divorce, children gone off the deep end, job loss, etc., but for a writer like Reichl, it becomes material for a new book.  Taking lemons and making lemonade.  Which is good.  I just wrote a few desperate poems.  Though Jesus was and is my main support.

She is consistently a fine writer, even the tweets, dividing her notes and recipes, haiku like, are so descriptive, sense evocative and full of Ruth's wonder at and love of the surrounding world.  i.e.:

     "Sun coming up. Hawks hovering outside.  Dancing in the kitchen with gnocchi and the blues.  Good way to start a Sunday."

7/13/2017

Beets with an Avocado Cloud for The Marseille Caper


Peter Mayle's The Marseille Caper was a terrifically enjoyable read, right from the first sentence:

 "Shock has a chilling effect, particularly when it takes the form of an unexpected meeting with a man from whom you have recently stolen three million dollars' worth of wine."

Although pretty lightweight, his novel was throughout, entertaining, funny, romantic and included a thrilling high jinks rescue off a grand yacht.  There are gangster thugs, and an intrigue-ridden local real estate war going on in Marseille.  Sam, the fixer, takes on various tricky jobs mainly to make his life more interesting. This is on top of all the wonderful food and wine descriptions, being as our intrepid hero and his client are both connoisseurs.   Good summer reading.

The only other book of Mayle's I've read was French Lessons, a memoir which our Cook the Books group did a few years back.  That link will take you to the round-up with all our inspired dishes for the book.  I think, all in all, I like his fiction better.

7/06/2017

A Trade Wind Pizza

 This post has only a marginal link between book and culinary interest.   Trade wind by M. M. Kaye, is set in Zanzibar, so I had thought of investigating the food of that Island and making something.  Never got to it.  Anyway, I don't really recall  much  local cuisine being mentioned in the book.

However, that is a digression from the central point of any review of her novel.  It is so well written and researched, with fabulous characters who come alive, right off the pages; pirates, slave traders, concubines and sultans included.  The setting is a tropical paradise, though contrasted with the filth, disease and squalor of the time.  Ameliorated by romance, and fascinating history worked into an amazing plot and story.  I absolutely loved this novel.

"The year is 1859 and Hero Hollis, beautiful and headstrong niece of the American Consul, arrives in Zanzibar. It is an earthly paradise; it is also the last outpost of the slave trade. A passionate opponent of slavery, Hero is swept into a turmoil of royal intrigue, abduction, piracy, smuggling, and a virulent cholera epidemic. There in Zanzibar, the most cruelly beautiful island of the southern seas, she must choose her love and unravel her destiny." (from Goodreads)

6/20/2017

Goldy's Potatoes au Gratin


 Over the last few years I have enjoyed reading Diane Mott Davidson's fun culinary mysteries, starring her intrepid, nosy heroine, Goldy, who now has her own cookbook, Goldy's Kitchen Cookbook, Cooking, Writing, Family, Life.  If you've read any of the series you will know there are some terrific recipes included with each book, and they are all here, plus a few.  I especially loved hearing Ms. Davidson's background on the various books, origins of plots and characters, how she got started, and accomplishes her writing.  She is an inspiring as well as an entertaining writer.
 From the Publishers:

 "The beloved New York Times bestselling culinary mystery writer delivers a cookbook packed with more than 160 mouthwatering recipes and charming anecdotes about her writing and cooking life.
Diane Mott Davidson is the author of seventeen bestselling mysteries featuring caterer/sleuth Goldy Schulz, a woman who 'took the lemon that life had given her and made not just lemonade but Lemon Chicken, Lemon Bars, Lemon Cookies and Lemon Meringue Pie.'

6/15/2017

Split Pea with Fresh Corn Soup for Bertie

 Bertie needed a bit of comfort food in this book, another from the inimitable writings of Alexander McCall Smith, The Bertie Project, from Smith's 44 Scotland St. series.   Seven year old Bertie has a mother everyone loves to hate, the horrid Irene.

As the publishers write:
"Bertie's mother, Irene, returns from the Middle East to discover that, in her absence, her son has been exposed to the worst of evils -- television shows, ice cream parlors, and even unsanctioned art at the National Portrait Gallery. Her wrath descends on Bertie's long-suffering father, Stuart." 

Admittedly Stuart is a total wimp, but might just be acquiring some wee cojones by the end of this book.

6/10/2017

Olive Oil and Fresh Rosemary Cake - Happy 21st!!


 Ever since the bit of time I spent in Greece, and subsequently buying Greek cookbooks, I've been intending to make one of those lovely olive oil cakes popular around the Mediterranean.   The idea is a little off-putting, but they have two good things going for them: 1.  the excellent taste and 2. the ease of putting one together.  Being as we are celebrating my grandson's 21st birthday today, and as I was making a chicken curry, my thought was that this Rosemary Olive Oil Cake would be an excellent dessert pairing , accompanied by a light sorbet.

6/03/2017

Nuevo León Style Tamales


It's Potluck week at IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs) and I'm doing tamales.  Way too long since my last go around.  Those were Carnitas with Black Bean Tamales.  These were inspired by some excellent pork - wild boar brought me by a hunter friend.  A whole leg (what ham is made from for you folks not up on "know your cuts of meat".  Does anyone remember where that came from?  The old David Letterman Show, I think.  So you might say it was inspiring a whole cartload of meals.  And this has cleared out the lot.

From Rick Bayless - Nuevo León Style Tamales, which may be found in his excellent and extremely well-researched book,  Authentic Mexican.  I varied mine by using a formula for making the dough without lard.  For which recipe I am sadly without a source.  Someone over at the now defunct "Daring Cooks" event.

Tamales are quite an involved process, which can be broken down into 2 days worth of steps if you like.  Firstly soaking the corn husks.  Next making filling, by shredding the cooked pork and adding various spices, and seasonings.

5/25/2017

Warm Leek and White Bean Salad from River Cottage

 I've been enjoying dipping in and out of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's  River Cottage Every Day, though really, it's only a "cottage" in the sense of those lovely, big estates of a bygone era, on the East Coast, humbly referred to as cottages by their owners.  He at least is out in the vegetable patch occasionally, (judging from photos in the book) working at his gardening as well as cooking.

This recipe for warm leek and white bean salad with mustard dressing was delicious and a perfect first course along with some fresh baked bread.  We must give some credit here as well to Tamar Adler's section on beans in An Everlasting Meal.  She was such an encouragement to me about something so basic.  After a run of bad experiences, due to the keeping ability of dried beans in Hawaii.  I tossed all of mine and have begun again, with small amounts of a select few, meant to be used rather soon.  They don't keep long in the tropics, and refuse to soften.  She takes such care with the preparation, and suggests making a big pot of them, enough  for several meals during the week.

5/18/2017

Pub Grub for Bryant and May


 My latest read in the Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery series by Christopher Fowler, is Bryant & May: Strange Tide.  I'm caught up now and will just have to wait (impatiently) for the next in line. Anyway, being as the I Heart Cooking Clubs (IHCC) theme this week is Pub Grub, it fits right in with my fiction book selection.  The two elderly detectives spend a goodly amount of time in London pubs.  So, we're serving them up a digital lunch of Chicken and Leek pasties.  Though that term is a bit cringe-worthy, harkening as it does to naughty night club strippers.  I would prefer turnovers, empanadas, meat pies, hand pies, take your pick.  Good, tasty finger food at any rate -  the recipe from our IHCC featured chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's scrumptious cookbook, River Cottage Every Day.

Arthur Bryant, the oldest of the detective duo, by 3 1/2 years, is also the funny, wildly eccentric, totally intuitive, odd man out to his straight man, John May, who tries, unsuccessfully, to keep his partner in line with Metropolitan Police standards of operation.  Let's just say that Mr. Bryant operates out of the box.

Christopher Fowler has got to be one of the most inventive, witty, and hilariously funny writers on the scene today.  Mystery or otherwise.  As The Guardian says, he "takes delight in stuffing his books with esoteric facts, together with a cast of splendidly eccentric characters (and) corkscrew plots, wit, verve and some apposite social commentary, they make for unbeatable fun."  Totally on spot. Of course I've raved on previously about his novels, The Memory of Blood, and The Water Room.  Terrific reads.


So, Pub Grub.  I've had some in my day, not a whole lot as I don't really frequent pubs, since my husband doesn't drink.  In London I did enjoy fish and chips with a side of mushy peas in a nice pub near the Tower bridge, in Honolulu there are a couple of Irish pubs we've gone to, where the music was great, and in Ireland we  popped into one or two.  That's about it.   Still, you don't need to be in a pub to serve up some typical pub grub.


I especially liked the way Hugh's recipe separates the slices of chicken from the lightly caramelized onion and cream filling.  When you bite in it's not all smushed together, and the taste is sublime.  I used a thick kefir cream and previously prepared chicken. (you notice how I'm not using the L-O's term anymore?)  My pastries didn't get crimped too beautifully though.  Still they were yummy.


These little meat pies are great to take on picnics, as your lunch to go, or just for dinner with a bit of salad. You'll notice I'm also having mine with a glass of Guinness for more pub authenticity.

And, now a slight diversion on a little known pathway, about that particular sort of Guinness, the Draught, black label with the harp, it gets rid of tape or heart worms in your cat or dog.  I kid you not.  Just 1 oz. per 20 lbs. of critter, due to the particular type of hops, and that Dublin water, which renders worms sterile.  You can do your own research, but here's a link..  I was looking for something more natural, to replace the rather toxic meds from the vet, for our elderly kitty and came upon this info. And, yes the cat is fine now.  End of rave.


I'm linking this post to Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event and to IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs), so be sure to drop in and link up yourself or get some good book suggestions and or cooking ideas.
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5/11/2017

Cooking In Her Kitchen


An absolutely delightful book!!  In Her Kitchen, Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World, by Gabriele Calimberti.  Soooo precious, these lovely women in their kitchens with a meal they've prepared for family and friends.  And, what a raft of countries are represented in the pages of his beautifully photographed book.

Gabriele begins with a photo of his own grandmother, Marisa, in her kitchen in Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy on one side and a shot of the meal on the opposing page, then her story and recipe follow on the next two pages.  He continues with that format throughout the book, making for 58 evocative profiles and recipes.

All so different, and sympathetically portrayed.  Several of them had me in tears.  No matter their situations these special women show their love for home and family through the food they prepare.  As the publisher's blurb states:

 "The kitchens he photographed illustrate both the diversity of world cuisine and the universal nature of a dish served up with generosity and love. At each woman's table, Gabriele became a curious and hungry grandson, exploring new ingredients and gathering stories....From a Swedish housewife and her homemade lox and vegetables to a Zambian villager and her roasted spiced chicken, this collection features a global palate: included are hand-stuffed empanadas from Argentina, twice-fried pork and vegetables from China, slow-roasted ratatouille from France, and a decadent toffee trifle from the United States."

5/02/2017

Mango Crepes for Life from Scratch


Our Cook the Books Club selection for April/May is Life from Scratch, a Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness, by Sasha Martin.  All in all, heart rending, and poignant, but not my favorite memoir.

Just extemporizing here, as it's all another's history, but right at the outset, one would have thought that a woman with "Mom's" independence of mind, and spirited personality would have tucked her kids into their car, with all essentials and split for the West Coast or somewhere in between, rather than give up her precious children once again.  Especially since she regretted turning over her first two to an ex.  It's not explicitly stated, but perhaps she would have lost her welfare?  It happens all the time, for one reason or another, children are put into foster homes. That whole scenario bothered me.  Particularly as we see the awful effects it had on the children of both her relationships, based on Martin's memories. Definitely where forgiveness came into play.

Children without the mother they loved, no father, the business of her beloved brother's molestation and suicide, the coldness of her foster mother (which you can actually sort of understand, taking on two teens, angry and unhappy at leaving their own mother).   An interesting, honest, albeit sad story.


All that aside, and two thirds of the book in, we come to a point of, "Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,"  I loved the whole concept of  her Global Table Adventures, cooking right through the countries of the world, alphabetically.    I would like to give that a try myself, maybe take the remainder of my life, certainly no rush if you're not planning a book from it.

4/26/2017

An Everlasting Meal - Potato, Brussels Sprouts Salad


I have recently been reading a charming little book picked up at a secondhand book shop, An Everlasting Meal, Cooking with Economy and Grace, by Tamar Adler.  It's lovely popping into that store when you have a bit of time between things, getting a "free" book for later browsing with a cup of latte.  I say "free" because my account usually has a credit line from books brought in for re-sale.

Books about cooking and food in general, or cookbooks are especially nice when you come away with at least one excellent idea or re-encouragement.  This particular book had more than one, and reinforced something taken away from another recent purchase - A New Way to Dinner from Food 52 - purposefully preparing food ahead of time - not left-overs, combining various previously made foods in creative ways.  Also a good bit on how to "sharpen strategies for turning failures into successes."

Along those lines, I like Adler's note:  "A recipe for onion bread soup from Simple French Cooking by Richard Olney demands stale bread that is 'coarse, vulgar, compact.'  We have all tossed loaves for meeting that description at some point.  Stale bread cannot be bought.  It must be waited for, which gives all dishes containing it the weight of philosophical ballast, as well as dietary and budgetary ones."

And on the subject of adding herbs: "Fresh herbs have always been relied on to perk up whatever needs perking.  Parsley, in particular, has long been called into duty when things were fading:  in ancient Greece, anyone or anything on its way out was said to be 'in need of parsley'."  I often feel that way myself.

Her comments on the issue of steaming versus boiling vegetables, and for how long were also thought provoking as well as practical - "For boiled vegetables to taste really delicious, they need to be cooked.  Most of ours aren't.  Under cooking is a justifiable reaction to the 1950s tendency to cook vegetables to collapse.  But the pendulum has swung too far.  When not fully cooked, any vegetable seems starchy and indifferent: it hasn't retained the virtues of being recently picked nor benefited from the development of sugars that comes with time and heat.  There's not much I dislike more than biting into a perfectly lovely vegetable and hearing it squeak."

Tamar Adler, a former editor at Harper's Magazine, and chef at Chez Panisse and Prune, her writing in this book, on everything from eggs to olives is both wise and insightful, as well as being delicious and thought provoking.  Besides her interesting philosophical ramblings she does include lots of recipes, and with approachable instruction.

4/15/2017

Pasta Cheese Soufflé

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, gotta love that name, is featured chef of the moment at IHCC (I Heart Cooking Clubs); especially focusing on recipes with eggs in them this week, since it's that time of year.  I have a cookbook on order, but for now am going with something found at his BBC site: Spaghetti Cheese Souffle.  So, for Happy Resurection Sunday, we had this - risen eggs!  How appropriate.  I think so anyway.


4/11/2017

Chouquettes - The Postscript


As a bit of an addendum to my previous review post on Gourmet Rhapsody, I am sharing the lovely Chouquettes, which were mentioned as the elusive, wonderful flavor sought in that novelette.  Just couldn't resist making them, and so glad I did after eating about 100 of the little delights for breakfast with my hot cocoa.  They are just small cream puffs without the filling, and baked with coarse or pearl sugar on top.

4/07/2017

A Not So Rhapsodic, Gourmet Rhapsody

 Just finished a little, 156 page, novelette, Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery.  I had read a review of this book last month, which led me to check it out myself.  So, my two cents' worth follows.  Especially as it follows Dinner with Edward, this provided such a contrast in characters.  One a loving  husband, caring father and warm human being, the other a greedy, self-indulgent, self-absorbed and cold hearted individual, who treats his wife, children and most other people with contempt.  We know from the outset that he's an arrogant douche-bag, so no surprises there.

The book alternates the reminiscences of a renowned food critic on his death bed, trying to recall a particular flavor from his past, with chapters from the point of view of various his relatives, acquaintances, etc.  He blatantly  enjoys his power to make or ruin both chefs and restaurants; a man who has spent his life, as Barbery notes, among those erecting "temples to the glory of the goddess Grub."  Definitely an extreme of living to eat, rather than eating to live.  I found the whole thing rather sad, as there are so many in this world who do spend a lifetime seeking pleasure in one form or another, often at the expense of others, dying unregretted, and spiritually bankrupt.

3/28/2017

A Meal in Memory of Edward


I am currently hosting our bimonthly edition of Cook the Books Club, Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship, by Isabel Vincent. This was a book I read last year, and at my re-reading had to wonder -  how does one compose a proper tribute for a guy like Edward?  However, our author has totally nailed it.  I feel as though I was graced to know a wonderful man, just a bit, through her poignant memoir, She brought him to life for us.  Though it was also about her, and what she was going through at the time, that story served as a fine contrast and underscore to Edward's own character, his concern, compassion, ability to love, and enjoyment of life, which he is able to gradually regain after the death of his great love and wife, Paula.

 Isabel's old friend, Valerie, is worried about her grieving father, as as she and her sister are both out of the country. Valerie asks that Isabel look in on him occasionally.   When she does, he invites her to dinner. The book serves as a chronicle of their developing friendship and the dinners he prepared for her, with menus heading up each chapter.

Something Edward told Isabel early on, sums up his attitude toward entertaining, and hospitality:
"The secret is treating family like guests and guests like family,"  And she continues, " No matter how terrible I felt in the moments before I knocked on his door, I always left Edward's apartment with a smile on my face, a sensation that I had just experienced some kind of pure joy."

There was so much to inspire as far as food, lots that I eventually want to prepare.  The meal I finally chose came from near the end of the book, a dinner celebrating the anniversary of Edward and Paula's wedding.  His menu reads:

                         Chicken Liver Pate, Crackers
                          Flounder alla Francese over Steamed spinach
                          Grilled Sweet Potatoes
                           Chocolate Cake
                           Riesling


Well, I have made chicken liver pate, but not right at this point in time.  I'm attaching a photo of it though.  Mine has cognac included as well, and is from Elizabeth David's recipe.

Next adjustment - the flounder - which I couldn't source, but changed out for cod, and instead of Riesling, there was my Carambola wine.  Nonetheless it all came together wonderfully.  I am doing things in a more relaxed mode these days, thanks to a terrific cookbook, Food52 A New Way to Dinner, by preparing parts of a meal ahead of time.

3/21/2017

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower from Food52



What a terrific Cookbook.  I keep telling myself, "You do NOT need any more cookbooks Claudia!!" - however we are making an Executive Exception for this one -  A New Way to Dinner, by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs, sub-titled, A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead.  This was actually my first acquaintance with Food52.

At the present point in time, I've composed (yes, they're artistic compositions) a number of the recipes in this book, starting with that one shown on the cover, Steak with Arugula, Lemon and Parmesan.  In addition, there were Grilled Pork Chops with Hacked Romesco, which I double hacked, doing a more Mexican take with tomatillos, some wonderful Chicken Fingers (yes, home-made and delicious), Tad's Roasted Potatoes, which I converted to Claudia's Roasted Cassava, a lovely Braised Chickpeas with Celery (another adaptation using lentils instead), some wonderful meatballs (Bob's favorite), the Brussels Sprouts Salad with apples and Anchovy Dressing (pictured below), the wonderful lamb merguez with preserved lemon cream, and my featured Spicy Roasted Cauliflower.

3/10/2017

A Long Time Gone and Hawaiian Style Gumbo


 This novel, A Long Time Gone, by Karen White, takes place in the Mississippi Delta, my okra is getting harvested, and I was in the mood for Gumbo.  Life working in concert.  I'm calling it Hawaiian style because there is Ahi tuna in it, Kauai shrimp and vegetables from my Hawaiian garden.  Most traditional gumbos won't have fish other than shrimp and crab, but as Bob is picky about shellfish generally, I have been adding in fresh ahi to various dishes that call for shellfish.  So we're both meant to be happy.  Theoretically.

I do believe this is the first book by Karen White I have read, and will certainly be reading more.  She is an excellent storyteller.  Her novel involves a family where it seems the women always leave their children behind at some point.  They come back and often leave again.  It concerns the emotional damage and the danger of  relying on assumptions about the motives of others, frequently false assumptions,  rather than giving the benefit of doubt, until we know better, also the need for forgiveness,and  letting go of bitterness.

As the Publisher's blurb states: "When Vivien Walker left her home in the Mississippi Delta, she swore never to go back, as generations of the women in her family had.  But in the spring, nine years to the day since she left, that's exactly what happens --- Vivien returns, fleeing from a broken marriage and her lost dreams for children."

White weaves together seamlessly the family relationships, and Delta history going back several generations, up to and including the recent broken tie with Vivien's step-daughter.  Then there is the mystery of a woman's bones found under a lightening felled cypress in the back garden, as well as a new romance with an old love.  Terrific reading.

3/06/2017

Tea and Scones for The Chilbury Ladies' Choir

Jennifer Ryan's debut novel, The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, is just marvelous, so inspiring and heart-warming.  A World War II tale, involving the women of Chilbury in Kent, who have been left to manage on their own, with most of the men away fighting.  How, with the encouragement of a new singing teacher, they re-organize their disbanded Village choir, in defiance of a notice posted at the Village Hall by their Vicar.  "As all our male voices have gone to war, the village choir is to close."  That bold little turnaround is just the beginning.  Singing competitions, and concerts soon follow, cheering and lifting hearts in a sad, dreary time, as they put aside differences and learn to rely upon and draw strength from God and their own inner resources through music.

A bit reminiscent of Maeve Binchy, Ryan follows individual members of the choir in a pivotal year - 1940, with excellent characterizations, through diaries, letters and journals.  We see in these pages women and young ladies developing character, wisdom and maturity,  with occasionally gripping, emotionally stirring, even humorous, and interconnected village life stories, which draw the reader in.  My interest was held throughout.  There is mystery, a love story or two, bossy individuals, tragic death, greedy looters and spies.  These are not perfect people, but people tried, enduring and growing through their circumstances.

Music provides a unifying, comforting common bond.  As their choral director states: 'Music takes us out of ourselves, away from our worries and tragedies, helps us look into a different world, a bigger picture."

 Kitty, the Choir's 13 year old, talented lead soprano notes in her diary, "Does Hitler have any idea of the force and determination of 13 impassioned women?  At the very least, I suspect he's never considered the lethal potential of a three-tiered cake stand."  They had been practicing self-defense with objects to hand during a WIC (Women's Invasion Committee) meeting.

And always, throughout, there is the traditional English comfort - A Nice Cup of Tea.  Here, mine is Lapsang Souchong, and  with a scone.  I made a batch of blueberry ones.  Recipe to follow, for those interested.

3/01/2017

Vodka Rig for Tricky Twenty-Two


 Have just finished Tricky Twenty-Two, and must say  I really don't know how Janet Evanovich has so consistently accomplished putting out one completely hilarious novel after another.  I know, I know, it wasn't all that long ago I reviewed Turbo Twenty-Three, but somehow this one had gotten skipped. Her characters are just over-the-top, the situations original to say the least, and the plots excellent.  You might say "light and fluffy" but way better than that.  I've read them all, and now will be starting over from the first, One for the Money.  To give you an idea, for those not Evanovich cognoscenti, from this book, on the locale:

"The funeral home is on the edge of the Burg, short for Chambersburg (NJ).  Originally the Burg was a mob enclave, but most of the mob has now moved on to classier neighborhoods...I grew up in the Burg, and my parents still live there.  Houses are modest.  Bars are plentiful.  Crime is low.  Gossip is rampant.  The funeral home is the Burg equivalent to a country club.  It's free entertainment for everyone but the immediate family of the deceased.  People in the Burg go to viewings for the cookies, not for the dead guy in Slumber Room No. 2."

2/21/2017

Butternut Apple Enchiladas

 I've just finished a wonderful book by Kathleen Flinn, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks, which is the second of her books I've read.  We at Cook the Books, featured  Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good last year, and I did enjoy it, and posted about my  Perfect Pizza, but this one I'm way fonder of.  Great sense of humor right from the first paragraph, where she explains what got her started on the project that led to this book.  She says: "Normally, I do not stalk people in grocery stores.  I confess to the occasional practice of supermarket voyeurism."
Following a woman and her daughter through the supermarket aisles, amazed at what they were putting in their cart, how she found herself convincing the woman to make better choices, without preaching or haranguing. Flinn gives down-to-earth information on changing eating habits whilst being entertaining at the same time. All that and with recipes thrown in.

2/17/2017

Gooey St. Louis Butter Cake for Lovers Everywhere


I'm reading The Architect's Apprentice, by Elif Shafak, a truly Byzantine epic, and romantic tale involving, among other things, the doomed love of an elephant-tamer/architect's apprentice and the Sultan's daughter.  Hence the heart-shaped pan above, with my Valentine's dessert, a Gooey St. Louis Butter Cake.

The book is quite an adventure, full of historical interest, and lots of local color, as it's partly set  in the royal menagerie of the sultan's palace in Istanbul of the 14th Century.  However, books are something like desserts.  Sometimes you just have a taste, and stop, occasionally you get maybe halfway through and put it aside.  This was one of those, more than halfway finished, and I am unapologetic about this, it was too much or not enough, either way,  I think I prefer a more continuous flow going somewhere in a life.  Not the whole life, with countless occurrences.

 First time making this particular cake, though it  has been on my bucket "to cook" list for awhile.  Apparently it is a tradition in Missouri.  I added some dried cranberries on top for a bit of red, as well as balance against all the sweetness.  Nice for breakfast the next day too.  Especially with blueberries added on.  I do love my fruit, and we are between tropical fruit seasons at the moment, in our gardens at least.  Aside from lemons.

2/09/2017

Survival Garden Duck Soup


Not long ago I posted about a type of tropical spinach, the Pacific Spinach, after I had succeeded in identifying it.  In doing so, I mentioned other types, that it wasn't, but one of which I was then going to get, if that makes sense.  It's here now and planted, Okinawan Spinach, with mulch all around.  It's a bit wilty, having just been put into the ground. You will notice it has a sort of maroon color underneath the leaves and green on top. The Pacific variety is more tree like, this one is a lower growing, ground cover sort, hopefully. Trust me, this is going somewhere.

1/24/2017

Crispy Rice and Eggs for Stir

 Lots of reviews going on for this book, Stir - My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, by Jessica Fechtor, and due to it being our current Cook the Books Club selection, I'm joining the crowd, and delighted to do so. It was a book I hadn't thought to really enjoy. As Fechtor herself says:
"When I tell people that I am writing the story of a blocked and broken brain --- and oh, by the way, there will be recipes, too --- I get some strange looks.  Food is not supposed to top the list of things you think about, apparently, when you're recovering from a near-fatal brain explosion."
Surprisingly, to me anyway, it was a terrific read, due to the author's straightforward account, evocative writing, and her ability to keep a sense of perspective, objectivity and (gallows?) humor through a truly horrific time.  All that and the fact that we know she does get better in the end.

1/19/2017

Spinach and Mushroom Quiche Served up With Mystery


 I've just finished another of the marvelous Peculiar Crimes Unit novels by Christopher Fowler, The Memory of Blood.  Books like this one are what keep me reading!  Wit, comic relief, craziness, wit, entertaining, outstanding characters, mysteries, wit, you get the idea.  Very well written and yes, witty, original writing.  Plus, the murderer gets caught.  Not too long ago I reviewed another of their adventures, The Water Room.

Arthur Bryant and John May, a partnership of elderly detectives, along with their quirky, team of investigators, form what is known as the Peculiar Crimes Unit, an off-shoot of the Metropolitan Police, of which the affix 'peculiar' originally was meant in the sense of 'particular', in order to handle politically sensitive cases, or those with the possibility of causing panics or general public malaise.

Here, the cast party for a shocking new play ends with an even more shocking murder.  As the daughter of a prominent government official is involved, the case gets referred to the PCU.

The book begins with a prologue of the close-of-play party, (theater folks do enjoy parties) which is completed at the very end, revealing the solve.  And, since food is involved, I'll share with you the opening paragraph:
"Arthur Bryant stood there pretending not to shiver.  He was tightly wrapped in a 1951 Festival of Britain scarf, with a Bloody Mary in one hand and a ketchup-crusted cocktail sausage in the other.  Above his head, a withered yellow corpse hung inside a rusting gibbet iron.
     'Well,' he said, 'this is nice, isn't it?'"

1/12/2017

Very Bad Food, Very Funny Book

Stephanie Plum, in this latest novel, Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich, is not eating any better than usual.  She is in fact, the Queen of Fast Foods, an often inept bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton, N.J., and occasional undercover for a security company.  When she does eat good it's her mother's or boyfriend's mother's cooking, or sometimes tasty neighborhood deli take-out, like cannoli and a Jersey hot dog.

Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels are pretty much all hysterically funny.  The plots, the scrapes she gets into, her goofy sidekick, friends,  family members, co-workers, hot boyfriends, and other assorted characters are so over-the-top, I just laugh my way through the books.  This one is no exception.  Love it, though perhaps you may need a rude, crude and sexy warning.  Keep in mind though that laughter is good medicine. :)

Turbo Twenty-Three involves murder at the local ice cream plant, requiring Stephanie to go undercover on the factory line, on the loading dock and in an ice cream truck.  Among other things.  There is a comment at one point, by her partner: "It's sad to see a broken-down ice cream truck full of bullet holes," Lula said, "What's this country coming to?"  And, on top of all the humor, they actually catch bad guys and help solve mysteries.

One of Stephanie and Lula's favorite stops on the job is their local Cluck-in-a-Bucket, where Plum might get a Hot and Crunchy Clucky Meal and Lula a Supersized Bucket of Cluck with the Works, which includes mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, coleslaw, fried okra and an apple turnover.  After ordering, Lula remarked, looking back up at the menu, "I might need some ice cream as a palate cleanser."


Some nights Stephanie's fiance, Joe, will do BBQ.  So, in honor of the grill, I've served up some grilled steak and mash, which I mentioned in an earlier post.  I love that mixed mash and am adding some cassava root to the parsnips, celery root and sweet potato for this batch.  So, despite the post title, this is not bad food.  That is in the book.


You all know how to grill steaks, nothing new here.  I used only a bit of marinade on them, a few tablespoons of shoyu, garlic, a dash of vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil.

Will share with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event and with the Foodies Read Challenge.


1/06/2017

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb for The Girl in the Glass

The Girl in the Glass, which I've just finished, is the first book by Susan Meissner I've yet read.  But not the last.  I certainly enjoyed her blending of past and present, some history of 16th century Florence and the fabulous art of that city with the lives of her central characters.  Meg has been devastated by the divorce of her parents, and when her beloved grandmother, dies, even more so.  She had been promised a trip to Florence, first by her nonna, whose home city it is, and then by her father. She  kept putting off going by herself, expecting him to take her, always trusting that eventually he would, despite his history of being unreliable.

Meg does finally get there, though not according to plan, to find her dream city all she had expected and more.  Meg is an editor for a publishing house and is able to combine work with the thrill of finally visiting Florence.  She meets a woman, she had corresponded with through the publishing company, who is writing a memoir type travel book, and who hears messages from a long dead Medici princess. Romance is involved as well as some mystery and ultimately, Meg's discovery that what we can imagine is real.

 This blend of fantasy with a character others view as slightly unhinged, is a veer off my usual type of read, so I'm thinking it qualifies as my read for the Monthly Motifs Challenge.  The motif for January being "to read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own."  As well the slightly quirky character is also Catholic, so different from me in that way.

1/03/2017

2017 Library Love Challenge

The goal in this challenge is to support our local libraries and I do love libraries, having used them all my life, most especially our State Library system, here in Hawaii.  Hosted by Bea's Book Nook and Angel's Guilty Pleasures, you can  find out more or sign up, by clicking on either of those host links.  Participants will read a minimum of 12 library (audio or print) books in the year.  Pick your own challenge level.  Library Card on Fire: read 50+ books is my challenge selection.   Though, truth be told, not a tough one.  There should be a category, Book Addicted.  I read way more than 50 in any given year.  Also this will give me an update, in case I've forgotten about one.

 However, not keeping any sort of records, my New Year's resolution was to actually write down all the books read. This is one way of doing it, and I'll be adding to the list here.  I do check out a lot, but don't read them all.  If a book doesn't grab me, there's no need to finish, it goes back in the bag for return.  Which is one of the great things about reading library books.  You only need to read what you enjoy, without feeling guilty about wasting money.

Sometimes I post a recipe inspired by the book, or have a little more in depth review, and will add a link, in that event.  So, without further ado, here are my ongoing reads:

January Reading
1.  Angel Landing, by Alice Hoffman.  Not my favorite of her books, but an enjoyable and absorbing read all the same.  Unique, sympathetic characters, though the motivation of Finn, a major protagonist, was unclear.  I kept wanting someone to ask him, "why did you do it?" We were never told, so just assumed it was a radical reaction to his upbringing.

2.  The Girl in the Glass, by Susan Meissner.  A beautiful story, set partially in 16th century Florence with a Medici princess, but mostly in the present with a young woman who has longed all her life to visit Florence, and how one life impacts the other through another woman she meets there.  I loved the converging stories of  three women,  romance found and the realization that we can be what we imagine.  The importance of imagination balanced by reality.  More posted here.

3.  Mrs. Jeffries & the Silent Knight, by Emily Brightwell.  I do enjoy her Victorian mystery series, of which this is #21. Lightweight, English cozies, but usually with a good plots and enjoyable characters.  The Inspector's housekeeper and staff conspire to help solve his cases, without his being aware of their sleuthing.

 4. Turbo Twenty-Three, by Janet Evanovich.  Another of her hysterically funny Stephanie Plum novels.  Plum is an often inept bounty hunter for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton, N.J.  The whole plot, the scrapes she gets into, her sidekicks, family, co-workers, boyfriends, and assorted other characters are so over-the-top, I just laugh my way through the books, and this is no exception.  Love it, though perhaps it needs a rude, crude and sexy warning.  Further review and food here.

5. The Dark Enquiry, by Deanna Raybourn is in her Lady Julia Grey series.  I keep hoping for Lady Julia to be a bit more pro-active and less dependent upon others for rescue.  After all she knows how to shoot, and has now had boxing lessons.  Let's have a little more initiative if you want to be an investigator with your husband.

6.  The Dark Vineyard, by Martin Walker in his Chief of Police Bruno series.  Another terrific mystery with so much added goodness in terms of the food Bruno prepares, and the wines sampled and described.   Complex characters, with a helping of romance.  I especially like that the hero, Bruno, is one I can admire, with his gardening, hunting, cooking, truffle raising and wine appreciation.

7. Not My Blood, by Barbara Cleverly in her mystery series starring Joe Sandilands, a Scotland Yard detective .  These novels are set in the 1930s, sometimes in England, India or France.  In this book Sandilands must get to the bottom of a number of disappearances in an English boys' boarding school.  Eugenics and euthanasia are issues involved here.

8.  The Thirty-Nine Steps, by John Buchan, is a classic mystery of the old English adventurous spy school, taking place just before the outbreak of WWI..  Our hero, unasked and unprepared, finds himself at the heart of international intrigue, trying to stave off a grave threat to Britain and France, whilst fleeing pursuit from London and through the wilds of the Scottish highlands.

The Memory of Blood, by Christopher Fowler, one of my very favorite authors.  Yes I do have favorites.  He is the author of a series of wacky mysteries, featuring The Peculiar Crimes Unit, an off-shoot of MI5, or something like it, in London.  Starring an eccentric lead duo, entertaining cast of characters, and as with this one, a confounding, seemingly impossible case, they need to be read for full appreciation.  Further review with food here.

10.  Stir, My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, by Jessica Fechtor.  This was a truly excellent book.  Good, evocative writing, humor and so many recipes that I'm looking forward to trying.  My complete review is here.

11.  Jane and the Man of the Cloth, by Stephanie Barron, the second in her Jane Austen Mystery series.  It seemed to drag on a bit, bogged down I think by the language and customs of the time, not brought sufficiently to life.  Not really a very satisfying conclusion either.  Why build up a romance with Jane, when the author knows, and we know it won't go anywhere?

12.  Love Story, with Murders, by Harry Bingham was all right as far as murder mysteries go, and I liked that the heroine was able to hold her own and take down criminals using some martial arts skills (would like to see more like her) though a lot of her life was fairly problematic, due to psychological issues, and smoking weed all the time would certainly not help in the real world with overcoming mental problems. Other characters were well done however.

13.  A Fall of Marigolds, by Susan Meissner - I enjoyed this blend of times and the events surrounding two NYC catastrophes, a devastating factory fire in September of 1911 and the World Trade Center attacks in September of 2011, with connections between two women and a beautiful scarf, passed down through them.  Good characterizations and a well-crafted story-line.

February Reading

1.  The Seven Sisters, by Lucinda Riley - a favorite author of mine, debuts here the first of a new series.  This opening novel is the story of six adopted girls, with the main focus in this book on the eldest, Maia.  All six are named after the stars of the Pleiades, though the seventh is missing, to be revealed eventually we hope.  I enjoyed the settings, in Switzerland and then in Brazil, as Maia discovers her background before adoption, the individual characters and plot were very well done.

2.  City of Jasmine, by Deanna Raybourn - another by a favorite author.  I do enjoy her Lady Julia Grey series.  This one is an enjoyable stand alone about a 1920s aviatrix, who after losing her husband on the Lusitania, takes up flying.  A grand travel adventure, set in various colonial outposts, with treasure hunting, romance and a bit of  thrill thrown in.  What more could you ask for?  Well, maybe deep thoughts.

3.  Strangers in Company, by Jane Aiken Hodge - a new author to me, but one who's been around for quite awhile apparently.  It was okay, though I didn't identify much with the heroine.  She seemed to spend most of her time being tired.  Which is tiring to read about.  The plot was a bit implausible as well.

4.  Persuasion, by Jane Austen - which if I had ever read previously, did not remember.  It takes a bit of concentration, getting past the dated language, cultural expectations and expressions, such as "under-hung" :)
But once in the swing of it all, I enjoyed the story, and characters.

5. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, by Kathleen Flinn - A seriously enjoyable book, not an oxymoron, as it is serious, funny and enjoyable reading.  I like this one much better than the previous book of hers we read for Cook the Books, Burt Toast Makes You Sing Good.  Lots of excellent cooking and healthy food purchasing advice, as well as inspiration and recipes.  More review here.

6.  Mrs. Jeffries Appeals the Verdict, by Emily Brightwell - one of my favorite "cozy mystery" series, set in Victorian London, with a great cast of characters, and this one better than some with a tricky plot and good resolve.

7.  Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye - Just about the best novel I've read in quite awhile.  A "re-imagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer", slightly tongue-in-cheek.  As the dust-jacket  reads.  She considers herself irredeemable, and a horrid person, however we readers will look on it quite differently.  Each killing being quite justifiable in an exceedingly wicked world, by a stalwart orphan, often fighting for her very life or that of those dear to her.

8.  Tricky Twenty-Two, by Janet Evanovich - another novel from her hysterically funny Stephanie Plum series.  What can I say, other than that they are terrific, with utterly singular characters, outlandish plots, and wild resolutions, with of course great humor.  More on my review post.

9.  Villa America, by Liza Klaussmann - the fabled story of Sara and Gerald Murphy, their famous friends, Picasso, Hemingway, etc and the beautiful life they created at Villa America in Antibes.  All very decadent, and lovely with bits added, some of which I would object to, were I Gerald Murphy, or his survivors, being there is no verifiable evidence, though admittedly very politically and correctly expedient for an author.  If "he struggled with his sexuality" and overcame, keeping his family intact, that is more to the point.

March Reading

1. The  Invisible Code, by Christopher Fowler, another in his brilliant Impossible Crime series, featuring Bryant and May, the clever, elderly off the wall detectives.  At least Bryant is off the wall, balanced somewhat by his partner, John May.  Fowler is an amazingly creative writer.

2.  A Long Time Gone, by Karen White.  This is a very draw-you-in sort of book.  Hard to put down, with characters that make you want to simultaneously wring their necks and give them a hug.  Terrifically enjoyable reading, and a further review here.

3.  The Moth Catcher, by Ann Cleeves - a Vera Stanhope Mystery.  A clever English countryside who-done-it, with good plotting and characterizations.  However, Vera is not exactly an appealing central figure.  A good read.

4.  Peaches and Scream, by Susan Furlong - an okay sort of "cozy mystery".  I was not particularly taken by the backstory of the leading lady.  Overly fraught. 

5.  The Storm Sister, by Lucinda Riley - the second novel in her The Seven Sisters series, and it completely drew me in.  What a great storyteller, growing in competence with each book.  I am totally looking forward to her next, recently released, which unfortunately, our library does not yet have.

6.  The Crowded Grave, by Martin Walker is another in his charming Mysteries of the French Countryside series.  So sensual with descriptions of nature, animals and especially food.  Not to mention a good mystery, criminals to catch.  I wish the Renaissance man hero would settle with one girl though.

7.  A Spider in the Cup, by Barbara Cleverly, in her excellent Joe Sandilands Investigation series, a tricky political plot in the time of King George and President Roosevelt, with fear rampant that Germany would once again plunge the world into war, Joe is charged with guarding an American senator during a World Economic Conference in London.

8.  Don't Look Back, by Karin Fossum, Norway's "Queen of Crime" and my first opportunity of reading one of her mysteries.  Very well done.

9.  Mrs. Jeffries & the Best Laid Plans, by Emily Brightwell, another in her Victorian Mystery series.  A good "Cozy" as are the rest. Characters and plot well done.

10. Dragonwell Dead, by Laura Childs in her A Tea Shop Mystery series.  Delightful plotting, good culinary inspiration, with sides of an exotic poison garden, rare orchids and a greedy murderer.  Also included are some recipes I want to try.

11.  One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich, of the infamous  Stephanie Plum series.  The girl bounty hunter starts off her career in this novel.  I actually enjoyed how she's learning to shoot, etc. and getting a bit of competence, in contrast to her exploits in the following books, where she seems to get worse and worse at the job, which just my opinion, was not needed for the humor.  Does she really have to be so totally inept? I hate to kibitz since they're all so funny, and  I'd read them all, which is why we're starting over here.

12. The Color of Light, by Karen White, who is fast becoming a favorite author of mine.  This novel takes place in the low country of South Carolina, on Pawleys Island.  A good story of love, restoration and growth.  Great characterizations, plotting, a cold case mystery and local color.

13.  Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, by Christopher Fowler, another winner in his creatively wacky detective series.  The Peculiar Crimes Unit of the London police, is indeed peculiar, especially their Senior Detective, Arthur Bryant.  I always enjoy his books and will be sad indeed if and when they come to an end.

April Reading

1.  An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth is an involved, often rather technical look into the world of classical chamber musicians, as well as coming close to being classical romantic tragedy.  Sad, but an engaging and well written read.

2.  A Perilous Undertaking, by Deanna Raybourn, in her new series, the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries about a Victorian era lady lepidopterist, who also solves crime.  A rather implausible character, with loose morals and accompanied by a strong, manly sidekick who despite being the "bad seed" of his family, seems to have some gentlemanly principles.  I more enjoy the Lady Julia Grey series

3.  Through Waters Deep, by Sarah Sundin, a stand alone, unfortunately at our library.  This was such a contrast to the novel I'd just read.  She is a much more admirable character, bravely solving the mystery of WWII shipyard sabotage. Good plotting and characters who have some depth, and show growth over the course of events in the story.

4. Gourmet Rhapsody, by Muriel Barbery is a novelette about a food critic, supposedly satiric, but not all that witty or entertaining.  Lots of good food descriptions though.  My review post on it.

5.  Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller, a stand-alone novel about another dysfunctional family, this one mentioned on the dust jacket that "what Flora doesn't realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her."  I kept waiting for the hidden letters to be discovered, to no avail.  The whole place is burned down in the end, home, books and the letters.  Rather disappointing, though the book was engrossing and well-written.

6.  Enter Pale Death, by Barbara Cleverly in her Joe Sandilands series.  He finally seems to have gotten over his phase of robbing the cradle with Dorcas, thank goodness.  Good story with a cold case and more recent one linked to an aristocratic family in trouble.

7.  The Butterfly and the Violin, by Kristy Cambron, in a stunning debut novel, which alternates between a present day NY art dealer and the young violinist caught up in the Holocaust of 1940's Austria and Auschwitz.  A mysterious painting of the violinist is tracked down finally.  I especially appreciated her spiritual understanding.

8.  The Silence of the Sea, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, which is apparently one of her series about Reykjavik lawyer, Thora Godmundsdottir, who gets involved in solving mysteries.  This one left some teasers, that led nowhere (the child glimpsed under the bed? the father who is involved, but no clue til the end?) And other mysteries - Bella, the secretary from hell that no one fires?  Other than that, not too bad.  Hopefully the next I read will be better.

9.  Mrs. Jeffries & the Feast of St. Stephen, by Emily Brightwell in her fun cozy detective series, A Victorian Mystery.  Enjoyable, light reading.  Betsy is giving her beau Smythe a hard time after his return from 6 months in Australia, while everyone works to help the Inspector solve a death by poisoned port.

10.  Pieces of the Heart, by Karen White is a wonderful novel of reconciliation, individual growth through facing fears, and families reunited with love and new beginnings.  Good characterizations and story line.

11.  Bryant & May and the Burning Man by Christopher Fowler, in the continuing series featuring two elderly detectives.  I think Arthur Bryant is my favorite of all extant fictional detectives.  He is so wonderfully quirky, and clever that we can only hope he never quits.

12.  Two for the Dough, by Janet Evanovich in the hysterically funny Stephanie Plum series.  This was supposed to be #2 on my re-read of the list,  but must have skipped it on the first go round.  She is unfailingly entertaining.  These are not meant for deep meanings and complicated thoughts.  Just fun.  If I were to make a critical comment it would be to wish Ms. Plum might be just a tad more effective in her martial arts/combat skills.

13.  The Devil's Cave, by Martin Walker in his Mystery of the French Countryside series, featuring Bruno, Chief of Police in the small village of St. Denis.  These are such sensory experiences, combined with good mystery and detection.  An interesting array of characters, including an elderly heroine of the French Resistance.

14.  Life from Scratch, by Sasha Martin, a memoir of food, family and forgiveness.  I thought there was a bit of over dramatization, especially at the beginning, and I found it hard to believe that a feisty,  independent woman, such as her mother was portrayed, would give up and hand over her precious children.  Why not pack them into the car and head West?  Something was missing there.

15. Crowned and Dangerous, by Rhys Bowen in her Royal Spyness Mystery series.  Another great book, by Bowen, one you just don't want to end.  At least I don't.  Wonderful, charming characters all wrapped up with a bit of romance and mystery.

16.  Wednesday's Child, by Peter Robinson the the thrilling, well-written Inspector Banks Mystery series.  I'm close to being in a mystery series rut.  But, hey you like what you like.  A little girl's disappearance and a grisly murder tie in.  Good psychological depth and understanding of criminal minds.

17.  Secrets of a Charmed Life, by Susan Meissner, which I think is my favorite of hers so far.  A look from the inside at the London Blitz, and the relocation of many children to the countryside.  Present and past are interconnected in this missing person mystery.  Excellent writing.

18.  Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, which I do think is her best yet.  It's a charming little village she describes, Three Pines,  it's just that people keep getting murdered there.  But good character and place descriptions.  Now I'm wanting a vacation to Quebec City where a good part of this novel takes place.

May Reading

1.  If Fried Chicken Could Fly, by Paige Shelton, a new series debut for her - A Country Cooking School Mystery.  Fun little light reading, with clever plot and good, albeit weird characters (a ghost joins in the line-up).

2.  The Circle, by Dave Eggers, a book I had read a review of and had higher expectations for than materialized.  The story idea, plot line had so much potential, which unfortunately he was not able to bring out, and thus remained undeveloped.  It was well written, and entertaining, but the characters lacked dimension and failed to elicit much sympathy.

3. Envious Casca, by Georgette Heyer, is the first of her detective novels I've read, and is a well plotted country house mystery.  Lots of interesting, suspicious characters and witty dialogue.

4.  In Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen, a stand alone novel by one of the absolute best writers ever.  She is the penultimate story teller, just wizard.  Great characters, suspense, mystery and romance, blended perfectly.

5.  Crooked Heart, by Lissa Evans is the charming and touching story of a mismatched pair of characters living during the time of the London Blitz; a young orphan boy and an eccentric widow, trying to make ends meet in various unscrupulous ways.  She takes him in as his evacuee sponsor with hopes of earning a bit off the situation.  I loved the way they intersect, grow and turn into a little unit against the storms of life.

6.  Diana's Altar, by Barbara Cleverly in her Joe Sandilands Investigation series is another with double, possibly triple murders, intersecting plots and spies galore.  Joe doesn't seem able to sustain a love interest however, and here, just when we thought he'd found the perfect companion, she is lost to Diana's "Altar" (career).  The next one, who shows possibility by the books' end may be it. One can only hope.  Still, a very good read.

7.  Three for the Money, by Janet Evanovich from the Stephanie Plum series.  In this bad old world, with all the horror, wars, starvation and general nastiness that goes on, I think it's a relief to laugh occasionally, and no one writes humor better than Ms. Evanovich.  No One. She is in a class by herself here, and can make ordinary, everyday activities, whether taking a shower, feeding her hamster or thinking about her day hysterically funny, then mixes it up with some mystery, chasing bad guys, sexy romantic encounters, nutty characters and general mayhem.

8.  The Children Return, by Martin Walker, another of his terrific and thrilling novels - A Mystery of the French Countryside series.  This one has Police Chief Bruno bringing down jihadists who are  terrorizing his little town of St. Denis.  He also has a new romantic interest, seemingly a new one each book.  But so well done we can put up with that.

9.  After the Rain, by Karen White is another of her outstanding stand alone novels.  She is a terrific author, who manages to draw you into her stories.  Great characterizations and plotting with well-drawn landscapes as well as emotional detail.

10.  Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump, by Emily Brightwell in her Victorian cozy mystery series, starring the indomitable housekeeper, Mrs. Jeffries, helping her boss, the Chief Inspector, bring crooks to heel, unbeknownst to him, and with the assistance of the rest of his household servants.  Clever plot and a good bunch of unique characters.

11. Bryant & May: Strange Tide, by Christopher Fowler in his Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery series, and another mind-bending, wonderful who-done-it, starring the elderly detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May.  My further review here.

12.  Ashes to Dust, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, is the third in her series with lawyer heroine, Thora.  A very complex mystery, involving combined cold case bodies and a recent death.  It did go on a bit longer than necessary, dragging the solve out.  At least the obnoxious secretary was more helpful in this one.  The last outing had me yelling, just fire her!!  However, as it seems that was a more recent novel, inadvertently read first, I guess Bella's (the Secretary) actually getting worse.  I do enjoy the slice of Icelandic life in her books.

13.  Final Account, by Peter Robinson, an Inspector Banks Mystery.  Good, rather complicated plotting, though I really kept wanting to tell Banks to just spend some time with his wife, do it man!  And stop with all the smoking.

14.  A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny, from her Inspector Gamache series, another one where you just have to suspend disbelief, with all the murders that mysteriously take place in that sweet little hidden village.  Of course, there is always the intimation that something hidden, supernatural and evil is lurking above them on a hillside, in a dark old house, etc.  But a good, intriguing mystery all the same with her delightful cast of characters, with all their flaws and eccentricities.

15.  Death in the Stocks, by Georgette Heyer, one of her mysteries.  A perfectly delightful book, full of unexpected humor and wicked funny characters, plus a good crime solve.  I must read all of her mysteries now.

16.  Belshazzar's Daughter, by Barbara Nadel, a debut novel set in Istanbul.  Full of local color and improbable events.  I could not identify with any of the characters.  What a lot of horrid, immoral, addicted individuals, excepting only the Inspector's Sargent Suleyman  perhaps.  The Inspector would be okay if he went about his work without carrying a brandy bottle and chain smoking all day.  Really didn't want to spend any more time in that world, I only decided to finish the book to see if there was any redeeming value at the end, but no.  And I wanted to put in my 2 cents worth.

17.  The Shadow Sister, by Lucinda Riley in her engrossing Seven Sisters series.  What a contrast to the previous novel where you just want to leave the premises.  This is one to enjoy spending time and wanting to stay.  The 100 years earlier connection with Star's distant relation, and that woman, Flora's friendship with Beatrix Potter, Alice Keppel and the King were delicious fun.  Looking forward to her next, to be released here soon.

June Reading

1.  Falling in Love, by Donna Leon in her Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery series.  Not up to her usual high standards.  I felt the story cut short in the end.  Not enough resolve, and ambiguity with the last minute save.

2.  Glittering Images, by Susan Howatch, a stand-alone novel that was so well done, and so unusual in its depth and subject - an honest, clear-headed understanding of the spirit of religious life.  There is mystery, a possible scandal and the love stories.  Thoroughly involving and psychologically penetrating.  Quite refreshing to encounter a book with some substance and spiritual reality.

3. Amberwell, by D.E. Stevenson was well written, but cut short with not enough denouement at the end.  Was she expecting to do a sequel?  Though her characters and plotting were well done.   I was a bit disappointed in this one.

4.  The Patriarch, by Martin Walker in his French countryside series, featuring Bruno, Chief of Police.  One of his best, with lots of good food, fine wines, truffles and pates,  An inspiring hero who needs to find the right woman.  Please, and soon.

5. Four to Score, by Janet Evanovich, in the highly amusing Stephanie Plum series of lightweight, but worth it novels.  A Bounty Hunter with scruples.  Some at least. Lots of the usual: getting her cars firebombed, apartment torched, felons brought in and family dysfunction, in a humorous light.

6.  The Wangs vs. the World, by Jade Chang, a contemporary novel, set in the U.S., with a cross country road trip.  I loved the title and, though the book didn't quite live up to my expectations, it was an interesting slice of life in the real world.  The family did grow as individuals and as a functioning family, which was a plus.

7.  The Bertie Project, by Alexander McCall Smith in his 44 Scotland Street series.   I love his rambling, thoughtful style, and a cast of well thought out, unique individuals.  No real plot, just people carrying on with their lives, based on their character and circumstances.

8.  A Place of Execution, by Val McDermid, a suspenseful crime novel with an unexpected ending (if you didn't sneak a peek at the back of the book).  I thought the plot was well done and the characters as well, except for the lead detective's unaccountable guilt.  Spare us all, please. The punishment totally fit the crimes committed by a truly despicable villain, regardless of the law might have proscribed.

9.  Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman, a novel wherein the nosy investigator discovers she would have been better off not knowing all that happened.  Sometimes the past is not worth regurgitating.  I didn't like the continual back references that seemed to go nowhere, and when they ended up going somewhere, wished they hadn't.  Not the most entertaining or even thrilling read.

10.  Dying for Chocolate, by Diane Mott Davidson, the second in her series starring Goldy Bear, of Goldilocks' Catering, another of those pesky, nosy sleuths who are solving crimes while carrying on some other business altogether.  She is meant to be catering delicious meals, and a murder interrupts, so of course she must help with the mystery.  Good light entertainment, with some tempting recipes thrown in.

11.  Trade Wind, by M.M.Kaye, a fabulous novel with romance, history, exotic setting (Zanzibar), suspense and thrilling action.  She is such a marvelous story teller, and what wonderful characters.  Wish there were more of her books still to read.  Further review here.

12.  The Revolving door of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith, in his 44 Scotland St. series.  He's another one for story telling and characters, besides thoughtful diversions into philosophy and social issues.

July  Reading

1.  A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny, one of her charming (settings), though grisly series set in the mysterious village of Three Pines in Quebec.  I love the characters, especially the cranky old poet and her duck.  An interesting thriller, with intriguing side plots.

2.  My Soul to Take, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, featuring her lawyer sleuth, Thora.  I enjoy the series to a certain extent, mostly for the insights into the culture, history and landscape of Iceland.  A nicely twisted plot, though the main character is a bit annoying with her poor choices, as well as the law firm's irritating secretary and Thora's dysfunctional family members.

3.  The Unfinished Clue, by Georgette Heyer, another of her very satisfying mysteries, which I am thoroughly enjoying working my way through.  Terrifically unique characters, a nasty victim and sympathetic criminal, in a country house mystery.  Well done plotting, though a bit convoluted with all the understandable suspects.

4. In This Grave Hour, by Jacqueline Winspear, in her Maisie Dobbs series.  I totally enjoy the combination of Psychologist/Investigator as practiced by Ms. Dobbs.  The main characters are all back in this one, with a new puzzle to solve.  Very well done.

5.  The Waters of Eternal Youth, by Donna Leon from the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series.  A great addition to her list.  Good inspiring food mentions, an intriguing cold case solve, mixed in with the local concerns of present day Venice.  Especially loved the rather touchingly sweet ending.

6.  The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, a debut novel by Natasha Puley, historical fantasy merged with actual history, and  part steampunk pseudo "science".  The characters were interesting, though not altogether believable or even likeable (excepting Mori, Thaniel, and possibly the octopus).  In spite of almost universal rave reviews, I was not that thrilled, even given its enjoyable imaginary cruise, until near the end when things began to drag.

Isn't it interesting that we can imagine a "clock-maker" genius who can create wonderful robotic creatures and even gold fruits that reproduce, and no one would suggest that they were able to make themselves, oh no. But just let anyone dare say that the even more complex living world was created by God, and we are assured that it all made itself, over eons of time.

7.  Listening Valley, by the ageless author, D. E. Stevenson.  I do love her writing, which is so evocative of the Scottish countryside, and her engaging, carefully drawn characters, caught in the crisis of WWII London as well.  Great story here.

 8.  The Marseille Caper, by Peter Mayle was a delightful, fun little romp with lots of good food, lovely settings, romance, suspense and a bit of mystery.  He's sort of an uneven writer as I didn't enjoy the only other book of his I read (French Lessons).

9.  Leaving Home, by Anita Brookner, another of her novels about overly introspective, passive, always yearning for love, women of a certain age.  Makes me want to give them a good shake and lecture.  She writes well at least.

10.  All the Stars in the Heavens, by Adriana Trigiani, a novel about the Hollywood stars of the 30's and 40's, particularly the life of Loretta Young, which I was especially interested in as the actress bought my grandparents' house in Hollywood, way back then, after they retired.  Interesting view into the lives of the big stars of that time.

11.  Ruth Reichl, My Kitchen Year, by Ruth Reichl.  Another of her mostly outstanding memoirs, all of which I've enjoyed over the years.  This one covers the aftermath of Gourmet Magazine's shutdown and her dealing with the job loss and depression.  Great recipes to comfort anyone. My review is linked.

12.  The Widow, by Fiona Barton, a debut novel which is the mystery of someone who stays with a murdering pedophile.  A real mystery that. Though it must be said that she didn't know for most of the time, and then when she had her suspicions, refuses to believe it's true. Lots of rationalizing and "supportiveness" and a policeman who just won't let go until he has the solution.  Still an engrossing read.

13.  Why Shoot a Butler?, by Georgette Heyer, another of her delightful mysteries, country house cozy style.  Well varied and developed characters in an English Post WWI setting.

14.  They Came to Baghdad, by Agatha Christie, with one of her many, well done, stand-alone  mysteries.  Fun, exciting and in an exotic locale.  I forget sometimes that I haven't by any means read all of her work.

15.  The Bookshop on the Corner, a novel by Jenny Colgan, and such a relief after attempting another of Yrsa Sigurdardottir's rather depressing, bleak and grisly books.  I'd read a few, mostly for the Icelandic background, but enough is enough.  Put it aside unfinished, and had this lovely story on my stack to give a bit of cheer.  I think the book is misnamed however, as it's not about a bookshop or on a corner, but a roving book van.   And, I would rather have seen a picture of that on the cover, as it sounded so sweet from descriptions in the novel.  Colgan is a wonderful story teller and I am going to read more of her work.

16.  The Call in the Night, a stand alone novel by Susan Howatch,  though not one of her best.  A bit of a convoluted plot, and slightly unreal characters.

17. Conclave, by Robert Harris, a truly excellent novel by an author I don't believe I'd ever read before this.  Will correct that.  Well done plot, and thoroughly researched background and believable characters.  Further review here.

18.  Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee, a long and free-wheeling novel about a Korean girl, her family, her dysfunctional life and those connected to her.  A lot, not all, was enjoyable reading, and interesting to get the perspective of another mind-set.  Some was uncomfortable with bad choices being made, but I guess that's life.  Choices come out of character.

19.  Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a Memoir by Anya Von Bremzen.  Very perceptive historical account, mixed in with her own family and their lives pre and post emigration, with the food of Russia.  Further review here.

20.  Making Things Better, by Anita Brookner, another of her long list of novels describing the lives of rather hopeless, depressing, passive individuals.  One keeps hoping the lead character will develop a spine and take charge of moving their life forward, but no it never happens.  This one of the few of her books I've actually stuck through to the end.

August Reading

1.  Amanda's Wedding, by Jenny Colgan, a novel of somewhat adolescent humor, sometimes hysterically funny, sometimes pathetic, with a clueless heroine, a cliche bad, bad, bad Amanda, the not-so-good-friend, and a cliche bad boyfriend.  Amusing.

2. The Corsican Caper, by Peter Mayle, another of his fun, fictional, European adventures with fabulous food and wine mentions, a dashing hero, and with the wicked bad guys trumped.  Pretty lightweight, but enjoyable.  The caper characters  help their good friend to keep his villa from being hijacked by an evil Russian tycoon.  Further review here.

3.  Sacrifice, by J.J. Bolton, her debut novel of suspense, and a winner it is.  Very well done, with engaging characters, and unusual plot and fascinating location in the Shetland Islands.  Will be reading more by this author.

4. Fatal Pursuit, by Martin Walker in his wonderful series featuring Bruno, the Renaissance man, small town police chief, in the French Dordogne countryside.  This one is a mystery with a classic car race, and enthusiasts attempting to locate the famous missing Bugatti Type 57C.  Some will murder for it.

5.  Mourning Ruby, by Helen Dunmore a novel split between present time and the past, as subject of another book, being written by the lead character's friend.  A relationship that never seemed quite real, but as she didn't know who her mother was, he could have, by a remote stretch, been her brother.  Not sure that it worked completely, but the book was engrossing and though sad, satisfying finally.

6.  Glamorous Powers, by Susan Howatch, second in her series about the Church of England in the twentieth century.  This one was slow going for the first third or so, until her protagonist leaves his position as abbot.  Very well written and perceptive of human nature.

7.  The Cooking School Murders, by Virginia Rich.  I've read a few of her later books, prior to this which is the first in her mystery series with Eugenia Potter.  She does improve.  There were too many red herrings in this one.

8.  The Templars' Last Secret, by Martin Walker in his French countryside series with Chief of Police, Bruno.  Another good one, this time involving a mystery with archeologists and militant terrorists.  Bruno,  happy to be unpromoted, unambitious, and loving his small town life.

9.  The Alice Network, by Kate Quinn, a novel spanning two World Wars, about the women espionage agents who served, with little notice or acclaim, bravely leaving more comfortable lives behind, often to face death, imprisonment or torture.  Very well researched and written, sometimes truly gruesome, but perfectly balanced with some laughter and love.

10.  The Body in the Library, by Agatha Christie, the inimitable mystery author.  Always a delight to discover one I hadn't previously read.  There is a dead blond in the library.  How did she get there and who did it?  Obviously it won't be the obvious, and Miss Marple will discover all.

11.  Late Nights on Air, by Elizabeth Hay, an amazing experience of a novel, being immersed in a place so far from my own tropical milieu, the frozen barrens of the North West Territories of Canada.  A tale of endurance,  love and  loss.  The employees of a radio station set out on a great adventure and return changed.

12.  Wait for What Will Come, by Barbara Michaels, another of her stand-alone romantic mysteries, this one not quite as satisfying as her others.  We find ourselves wondering why the room in the attic was boarded up and locked, what was used to create the hallucinations our heroine saw.  A number of unresolved threads here. Though the plot was good, it remained a bit undeveloped.