Monday, January 30, 2023

TBR Tarot Reads - Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties

At the end of 2022 Wendy over at Literary Feline posted about these fantastic TBR Tarot Cards she had picked up on Etsy and that sounded too good to resist so I immediately ordered my own set.  So when I'm not feeling strongly about what to read next I pull out my cards and pick a book based on the prompt.  Here is a book the fates chose for me recently.

Prompt:  Choose a book which has a dedication to "Mum"

Blurb: Julia Reed spends a lot of time thinking about ham biscuits. And cornbread and casseroles and the surprisingly modern ease of donning a hostess gown for one’s own party. In Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and Other Southern Specialties Julia Reed collects her thoughts on good cooking and the lessons of gracious entertaining that pass from one woman to another, and takes the reader on a lively and very personal tour of the culinary—and social—South.
 In essays on everything from pork chops to the perfect picnic Julia Reed revels in the simple good qualities that make the Southern table the best possible place to pull up a chair. She expounds on: the Southerner’s relentless penchant for using gelatin; why most things taste better with homemade mayonnaise; the necessity of a holiday milk punch (and, possibly, a Santa hat); how best to “cook for compliments” (at least one squash casserole and Lee Bailey’s barbequed veal are key). She provides recipes for some of the region’s best-loved dishes (cheese straws, red velvet cake, breakfast shrimp), along with her own variations on the classics, including Fried Oysters Rockefeller Salad and Creole Crab Soup. She also elaborates on worthwhile information every hostess would do well to learn: the icebreaking qualities of a Ramos gin fizz and a hot crabmeat canapĂ©, for example; the “wow factor” intrinsic in a platter of devilled eggs or a giant silver punchbowl filled with scoops of homemade ice cream. There is guidance on everything from the best possible way to “eat” your luck on New Year’s Day to composing a menu in honor of someone you love. Grace and hilarity under gastronomic pressure suffuse these essays, along with remembrances of her gastronomic heroes including Richard Olney, Mary Cantwell, and M.F.K. Fisher. Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns and Other Southern Specialties is another great book about the South from Julia Reed, a writer who makes her experiences in—and out of—the kitchen a joy to read.

My Thoughts:  Technically the dedication is "To My Mother" but I call it close enough.  This was the only book I had on my shelves (without digging deep into the stacks) that was dedicated to just the mother.  I had several that were dedicated to both parents or multiple generations or entire families but only one dedicated to just the author's mother.

This was a fun book of essays about eating in the Junior League world in the South with some forays into dinner parties in D.C. and Manhattan.  There's amazing descriptions of food and ingredients and dinner parties as well as yummy sounding recipes of varying degrees of difficulties.  

This is a quick read though best read in small doses.  While Reed's stories are entertaining read in large doses it can be a bit much and come off a bit pretentious.  

If you have a connection to the South or a love of Southern food this is a fun read to dip into.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Life with NO MORE Leukemia - January 29

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.

What I Got:

Vera Wong's Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto - I'm super excited about this one.  It was on my most anticipated reads for 2023 and I couldn't hit the accept button fast enough when it was offered.  (Publisher)


Wined and Died in New Orleans by Ellen Byron and Search the Shadows by Barbara Michaels

Listening:  Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Will is LEUKEMIA FREE!!!  He was diagnosed in June of 2020 and has gone through 3 phases of treatment with the last one being 120 weeks long.  He received his last IV chemo Tuesday and will take his last oral chemo this coming Monday.  He had a spinal tap and bone marrow test and both came back negative for disease which means he is officially in remission!

It was a long week with lots of appointments and two different procedurals.  We got back from Memphis yesterday and are flat out exhausted.  I think I could happily sleep for a week!

Have a great week and happy reading!

Black Coffee - Cozy Mystery Review

Goodreads: Black Coffee by Agatha Christie and Charles Osborne

Rating: Liked It (3 Stars)
Source:  Publisher

Description:  Inventor Sir Claude Amory feels a bitter taste in the mouth, when the new formula for explosive material stolen by someone in the household.

In order to quickly remedy the situation, Sir Claude locks the door and turns off the light, giving the thief a chance to return the formula without being detected. But darkness brings death and Hercule Poirot has to untangle family strife, love and suspicious visitors tangle in order to clarify the murderer and prevent disaster.
Genre: Mystery - Classic

My Impression:  This book is actually a play written by Agatha Christie fairly early in her career that was turned into a novel by Charles Osborne after her death.  The structure of this story is Christie at her best and uses a number of familiar Christie plot devices.  There's a murder at a country house, a missing formula with national defense implications, and a number of suspects who all have possible motives to do away with the victim.  Poirot and Hastings are back with Chief Inspector Japp.

What kept this book from being a winner is that it is clearly a play turned into a novel.  The descriptions frequently read like stage directions and the dialogue can be over the top in detail which works in a play but not so much in a novel.  I would love to see this story preformed as a play but it lacks a bit as a novel.  

Would I Read More of this Series/Author? Of course!  While this isn't the best Agatha Christie it was still a fun read.  

Would I Recommend this Book?  Unless you're already a big Christie fan this probably isn't the book to start with.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Friday Five - Five Books I'd Want to Read on a Snowy Weekend

I'm taking a bit of a break from my usual Friday Linkups to try something a little different.  I'm in a list making kind of mood so I thought I'd start making random five lists.  Sometimes they'll be bookish other weeks not so much.  It is cold here though in a dreary blah kind of way.    So if I have to be cold I'm imagining a nice cozy cabin in the woods with a picturesque amount of snow that under no circumstances do I have to go out in.  These are the 5 books I'd want to have stacked up next to me to read as I cozy up in front of the fire with nice soft blanket.

1.  Angel's Rest by Emily March - I read an Emily March book for the first time in awhile and it was so cozy and enjoyable that it reminded me that I need to read more books from her.

2.  The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman - I read the first book in this series and enjoyed it and want to continue the series.  It seems like the perfect read for a cozy cold weekend.

3.  52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander - Something about cold days makes me want to bake but there is a limit to how much bread I should probably eat so I'll get a little bit of virtual breadmaking from this book.

4.  Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford - The first book in this series involved a group of people getting snowed in at a mountain top hotel so it seems like perfect reading for a cold weekend.

5.  Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak - A family in quarantine around the holidays in an aging estate sounds like fun reading for a quiet weekend.

What books would you want if you were spending a snowy weekend in a cozy cabin?

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Books from the Backlog - Beyond the Pale

Today I'm linking up with Carole from Carole's Random Life of Books for Books from the Backlog.  I really enjoy the chance to feature a book that's been hiding in the piles of books for far too long!

Goodreads:  Beyond the Pale by Clare O'Donohue

Blurb:  It's a simple, twenty-minute job. At least, that's the pitch from Interpol to married college professors Hollis and Finn Larsson. Going undercover to procure a priceless rare book manuscript means an all-expenses paid trip abroad. A little danger thrown into the mix may even spice things up.
Soon after landing in the Emerald Isle, they realize the job is anything but simple. Their contact is a no show and they're left with fifty thousand euros, some serious questions, and a possible death threat. Ducking and dodging their way across Ireland, Hollis and Finn must hunt down the priceless manuscript and a missing agent while trying to stay one step ahead of a dangerous and unknown enemy.

Why It Needs to Come Off the Shelf:  This has been gathering virtual dust on my NetGalley shelf for years but it sounds like it could be an interesting read and I love the cove.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

When Time Stopped + Playing to the Gods - Nonfiction Reviews


Goodreads: When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father's War and What Remains by Ariana Neumann

Blurb:  In 1941, the first Neumann family member was taken by the Nazis, arrested in German-occupied Czechoslovakia for bathing in a stretch of river forbidden to Jews. He was transported to Auschwitz. Eighteen days later his prisoner number was entered into the morgue book.
Of thirty-four Neumann family members, twenty-five were murdered by the Nazis. One of the survivors was Hans Neumann, who, to escape the German death net, traveled to Berlin and hid in plain sight under the Gestapo’s eyes. What Hans experienced was so unspeakable that, when he built an industrial empire in Venezuela, he couldn’t bring himself to talk about it. All his daughter Ariana knew was that something terrible had happened.

When Hans died, he left Ariana a small box filled with letters, diary entries, and other memorabilia. Ten years later Ariana finally summoned the courage to have the letters translated, and she began reading. What she discovered launched her on a worldwide search that would deliver indelible portraits of a family loving, finding meaning, and trying to survive amid the worst that can be imagined.

When Time Stopped is a detective story and an epic family memoir, spanning nearly ninety years and crossing oceans. Neumann brings each relative to vivid life. In uncovering her father’s story after all these years, she discovers nuance and depth to her own history and liberates poignant and thought-provoking truths about the threads of humanity that connect us all.

My Thoughts:  This was one of those books I wanted to tell people about as I was reading it.  I found the story of the Neumann family heartbreaking and compelling and Ariana was a sympathetic detective digging into the past of a family she never really knew.  This is the story of an ordinary Czechoslovakian Jewish family desperately trying to survive the war and it's also the story of a daughter trying to understand her father and decode the clues he left for her.  There are plenty of heartbreaking elements in this book but because we are learning the story as Ariana investigates there's just enough distance to soften the blows just a little.  The story was fast paced and read like a novel but the story and this family are still with me long after I've put the book down.  My Rating: Loved It (5 Stars)

Goodreads:  Playing to the Gods: Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, and the Rivalry That Changed Acting Forever by Peter Rader

Blurb:   The riveting story of the rivalry between the two most renowned actresses of the nineteenth century: legendary Sarah Bernhardt, whose eccentricity on and off the stage made her the original diva, and mystical Eleonora Duse, who broke all the rules to popularize the natural style of acting we celebrate today.
Audiences across Europe and the Americas clamored to see the divine Sarah Bernhardt swoon—and she gave them their money’s worth. The world’s first superstar, she traveled with a chimpanzee named Darwin and a pet alligator that drank champagne, shamelessly supplementing her income by endorsing everything from aperitifs to beef bouillon, and spreading rumors that she slept in a coffin to better understand the macabre heroines she played.

Eleonora Duse shied away from the spotlight. Born to a penniless family of itinerant troubadours, she disappeared into the characters she portrayed—channeling their spirits, she claimed. Her new, empathetic style of acting revolutionized the theater—and earned her the ire of Sarah Bernhardt in what would become the most tumultuous theatrical showdown of the nineteenth century. Bernhardt and Duse seduced each other’s lovers, stole one another’s favorite playwrights, and took to the world’s stages to outperform their rival in her most iconic roles.

A scandalous, enormously entertaining history full of high drama and low blows, Playing to the Gods is the page-turning account of the feud that changed theater forever.

My Thoughts:  This was an absolutely fascinating look at the evolution of acting, theater, and the beginnings of the silent movie industry.  I recognize the name Sarah Bernhardt but know very little about her and Eleonora Duse was completely unknown to me.  Both of their stories are fascinating and at times heartbreaking.  I know very little about the history of theater but found the change of styles as illustrated by the two women as well as the relationship between the actresses, playwrights, directors, patrons, and the general public fascinating.   This was a well paced nonfiction about two interesting women in a turbulent profession.  My Rating: Really Liked It! (4.5 Stars)

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Authors I Read for the First Time in 2022

Today I'm linking up with Top Ten Tuesday hosted by 
That Artsy Reader Girl which is all about lists.  Since lists are one of my favorite things this is one of my favorite linkups!  Today's topic is New to Me Author in 2022.  Most of the authors and books have been around for quite some time but 2022 was the year I finally read something by them!

1.  Simone St. James - I've been wanting to read this author forever but this year I finally picked up The Book of Cold Cases and really enjoyed it.

2.  Joy Ellis - I read the first book in her DI Nikki Galena series and can't wait to continue with the series.

3.  Mercedes Lackey - I read The Fairy Godmother this year and really enjoyed it.  I'm not much of a fantasy reader so I probably won't be reading her books regularly but I do want to read more from her.

4.  Richard Osman - I couldn't resist picking up The Thursday Murder Club and really enjoyed it.

5.  Fiona Davis - I read and absolutely loved The Magnolia Palace this year and can't wait to read more by her.  

6.  Alice Feeney - I read Daisy Darker earlier this year and it kept me completely captivated.  

7.  Maddie Day - I have been wanting to read this prolific cozy author for ages and I finally did this year.  Now I just need to get caught on on her multiple series!

8.  Anne Bogel - I read and really enjoyed I'd Rather Be Reading and now I need to read the rest of her books.

9.  Genevieve Cogman - I finally read The Invisible Library and now I really need to continue the series.

10. Lucy Foley - I read The Paris Apartment earlier this year and loved the atmosphere that Foley created and can't wait to read more from her.

What authors did you read for the first time in 2022?