Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Second Life" by S.J. Watson, Served with a Cool & Creamy Limoncello Syllabub {Recipe}

Secrets and lies, people. It's always the secrets and lies that will get you in the end. Add those secrets and lies to some majorly bad decisions, toss in a murder and the search for a killer, and you have the dark and tense thriller Second Life by S.J. Watson. On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am reviewing the book and also whipping up some luscious Limoncello Syllabub to go with it, because what's better to eat while you are reading an angsty thriller in the summertime than a cool and creamy (and alcohol-spiked) dessert?!  

Publisher's Blurb:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep, a sensational new psychological thriller about a woman with a secret identity that threatens to destroy her.
How well can you really know another person? 

How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia’s quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she’s losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

A tense and unrelenting novel that explores the secret lives people lead; and the dark places in which they can find themselves Second Life is a masterwork of suspense from the acclaimed S. J. Watson.

Hardcover: 416 pages  
Publisher: Harper (June 9, 2015)

My Review:

Having read and enjoyed Watson's first hit novel Before I Go To Sleep, I was anxious to read Second Life. Overall, I really enjoyed it for its intensity and its dark premise, set along the theme of the potentially dangerous world you can find online--where you don't always know who you might be dealing with. I did not love Julia, the main character in this book, but I found her story compelling--an addict, apparently not very happily settled into her life with a surgeon husband and a teenage son, adopted when her younger sister could not properly care for him. Julia starts her online interactions when her sister is murdered, ostensibly to find out more about her sister's hidden life and discover her killer, but her reasons for exploring quickly turn to her own desires to escape her current reality and create a second life for herself. Her addictive personality plays a big role as her compulsions and actions put at risk her own safety and security, as well as that of her family. It is this selfishness and lack of judgement that put me off from her--I understand the grieving for her sister and the desire to escape, but especially as a mother, for her to risk so much for self-gratification was disappointing. Julia certainly wasn't the only one holding secrets in this book and those secrets and the lies or omissions to cover them up were very damaging.  

In Before I Fell Asleep, I loved the pacing and disliked the ending, feeling that it fell a bit flat after the climax of the story. Second Life had a slower build up and some uneven pacing throughout--but the final third was an intense roller coaster ride with plenty of twists and turns. I liked that while I guessed part of the puzzle and who was involved, I didn't have all of the pieces together in the right order as being surprised at the end is my preference in a psychological drama or mystery, and there were definite surprises here. I have mixed feelings about the ending. I can't go into any detail for risk of spoiling the story--you'll want to let it unfold yourself--but instead of the slow burn out in Second Life, it was extremely abrupt. It felt a bit like like running, pulse pounding, trying to catch your breath--then suddenly, a wall smacks down right in front of you and that's it. While I get the reason and see the beauty in an ending that leaves the reader wondering somewhat, my angsty self tends to need more closure than I got here. Still, Second Life has all the elements of a great summer thriller--a clever plot that pulls you in, plenty of action and drama, a few chills and a (much safer than creating a second life online) way to escape on a sultry day.  

Author Notes: S. J. Watson was born in the Midlands and lives in London. His first novel was the award-winning Before I Go to Sleep, which has sold over four million copies in more than forty languages around the world. It was recently adapted into a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong.
Find out more about S.J. at his website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Food/Recipe Inspiration:

There is not much food presence in Second Life so I grew a bit worried about what dish I would end up making inspired by the book. At a family dinner that Julia cooks to host her sister's friend Anna, right as the drama and tension really ratchet up, I found it--Lemon Syllabub. I am a fan of syllabubs--or really any billowy, cloud-like dessert, as well as citrusy desserts, so I knew it was the dish I wanted to make. 

I went to Nigella Lawson first for inspiration since I have made both her Turkish Delight Syllabub and her Calvados Syllabub (please excuse the ugly photos if you look at them). I didn't find a lemon syllabub recipe from Nigella, so I checked with my other go-to-for British-classics-chef, Nigel Slater, and while he didn't have an expressly lemon one, his basic syllabub recipe had some interesting variations to try and build from. I used it as my starting point and decided to use limoncello as my alcohol. I also used Greek yogurt with the cream to lighten it up a bit and add some tang. I've put both Nigel's classic recipe below, as well as my Limoncello Syllabub adaptation below.

Nigel says, "Syllabub is one of those ancient desserts that seems to be showing its face again. I am never sure whether to believe the story that this dessert was originally made by milking a cow directly into a bowl of wine, verjuice or cider, as some early recipes suggest (you can trace the recipe back to the Tudors), but I like the tale enough to at least give it house room. Early efforts involved the thickened cream being served floating on sweet wine."

Nigel Slater's Classic Syllabub

THE RECIPE: At its purest, the recipe involves dissolving sugar in lemon juice and sweet wine or brandy, adding a long curl of orange peel then leaving it to infuse overnight. The following day, double cream is introduced and beaten until thick. I use the grated zest and juice of one lemon, 2 heaped tbsp of caster sugar, 60ml sweet wine and a dash of brandy, leave the mixture overnight, then beat in 300ml cream.

THE TRICK: The whole business of infusing the sugar and alcohol with the orange and lemon probably seems a bit hocus-pocus, but the process shouldn't be skipped: the flavour is more mellow if you let it sleep overnight. The crucial part, and where this dessert stands or falls, is in the whipping of the mixture. Use a large balloon whisk or electric mixer and beat slowly, getting right to the bottom of the mixture. Watch the texture like a hawk. Stop as soon as the mixture starts to feel heavy on the whisk, when it will sit in soft folds, like a duvet. If you take it too far it will curdle quicker than you can curse.

THE TWIST: Good as it is, the odd embellishment is no bad thing with this recipe. A drop of Eau de vie, perhaps Framboise or Kirsch adds a welcome kick, as does some crushed ginger in syrup, or even a spoon of ginger marmalade. I have had it with a hint of nutmeg, a little rhubarb and flavoured with lime juice and zest. Nigella offers us a particularly fragrant twist by using Cointreau, orange flower water and rose water, to give it a Turkish feel.

Limoncello Syllabub
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen, Adapted from Nigel Slater's Classic Syllabub
(Serves 4)

finely grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 1/2 lemons--about a scant 1/4 cup worth 
2 Tbsp fine sugar, or to taste
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz limoncello
6 oz heavy whipping cream
4 oz thick Greek yogurt

Mix the lemon juice, zest, sugar, vanilla and limoncello into a bowl, cover, and let sit overnight in the fridge.

The following day--or before serving, Add the heavy cream and yogurt to the limoncello mixture in a large mixing bowl and slowly beat until soft folds (Nigel says "like a duvet") form. Go slow and be careful not to beat too much--folds, not peaks or curdled. 

Scoop into wine glasses or dessert bowls and serve garnished with fresh berries if desired. Enjoy!

Notes/Results: Just the kind of soft, cold, fluffy cloud of lemony goodness that I love. I did follow Nigel Slater's advice and let my lemon-sugar-limoncello mixture sit overnight, though I did no comparison to see if it changed or mellowed the flavor. I could taste the lemon and the limoncello and I was happy--very happy. This is a pretty effortless dessert. You just need to take the whipping of the mixture to that sweet spot of soft folds--it should not be stiff and if you don't take it there, or beyond that point, it shouldn't curdle. I used larger glasses for serving (8 oz), as those were the ones I wanted for the photographs but you can easily get 4 smaller servings out of the mixture. It is delicious on its own, but I like the contrast of color and texture when it is served with the fresh red raspberries.  I will definitely make it again.  

It's been a while since I have spent time with my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs since I've been taking a blogging 'semi-break'--only posting the book reviews I had previously scheduled--but since it's Potluck week, I am sharing this Nigel Slater-based recipe there. You can see what recipes and which IHCC chefs everyone cooked from by following the picture links on the post.

Note: A review copy of "Second Life" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Cherry Harvest" by Lucy Sanna, Served with Quick & Easy Fresh Cherry Sauce Over Ice Cream {Recipe}

One of the many things I miss about living in the Pacific Northwest is cherry season--when the freshest of sweet red cherries are readily available to snack on. My sister inspired much jealously by recently posting bowls of cherries from their tree on Facebook, inviting people to come and pick them up. Here, I have to wait until they get to the stores and pay a high price, even when they are in season and on sale--but they are worth it. 

Today's TLC Book Tour stop celebrates those sweet and juicy cherries, with a review of the historical novel, The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna. Set on a family farm and cherry orchard near the banks of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, it tells the tale of the changing home front during World War II and the effects it has on a family. Accompanying the review is a recipe for an almost no-effort Quick & Easy Fresh Cherry Sauce inspired by the book. 

Publisher's Blurb:

A memorable coming-of-age story and love story, laced with suspense, which explores a hidden side of the home front during World War II, when German POWs were put to work in a Wisconsin farm community . . . with dark and unexpected consequences.

The war has taken a toll on the Christiansen family. With food rationed and money scarce, Charlotte struggles to keep her family well fed. Her teenage daughter, Kate, raises rabbits to earn money for college and dreams of becoming a writer. Her husband, Thomas, struggles to keep the farm going while their son, and most of the other local men, are fighting in Europe.

When their upcoming cherry harvest is threatened, strong-willed Charlotte helps persuade local authorities to allow German war prisoners from a nearby camp to pick the fruit.

But when Thomas befriends one of the prisoners, a teacher named Karl, and invites him to tutor Kate, the implications of Charlotte’s decision become apparent—especially when she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Karl. So busy are they with the prisoners that Charlotte and Thomas fail to see that Kate is becoming a young woman, with dreams and temptations of her own—including a secret romance with the son of a wealthy, war-profiteering senator. And when their beloved Ben returns home, bitter and injured, bearing an intense hatred of Germans, Charlotte’s secrets threaten to explode their world.

Hardcover: 336 pages  
Publisher: William Morrow (June 2, 2015)

My Review: 

I liked The Cherry Harvest, immediately caught up in the story of German prisoners of war brought in to help with the harvest of local growers who have crops to bring in, but no help to do it with their local boys and men off to war and the remaining labor force working at the shipyards. The growers can't afford to pay the high wages or provide the steady work of the shipyards, making the idea of bringing in the loathed and feared Nazis that their husbands, brothers, and sons are fighting extremely polarizing for the community. Such an interesting premise and the author crafts a very real world and a story that I was easily swept up in. I typically have challenges liking a book when I can't connect to the main character and I had a difficult time with Charlotte beginning with the first scene where she takes (basically steals) and slaughters one of her daughter's rabbits to put food on the table. Although I admired her strength and ingenuity to keep the family farm going and her family fed, the way she went about things made me dislike her. Almost every action she took, even the ones she took for others, had some sort of thoughtless or selfish act attached. The story is told from her viewpoint, as well as from the perspective of her daughter Kate. Kate is spending her last summer before college earning money for school, being tutored in math by one of the POWs, and falling for a rich senator's son. She is young, immature and impetuous, but definitely more likable than Charlotte. Still, my dislike of Charlotte did not hamper my pleasure in the story and I did have empathy for her. With her son off to war and her daughter and husband closer and having much more in common with each other, much of her vulnerability and loneliness was understandable--although how she deals with it has huge consequences for her and her family. 

There are some heavy themes in this book--marital infidelity, violence, the war itself, and the terrible physical and mental effects it has on the soldiers and their families at home, so The Cherry Harvest is by no means a light read. Still, the absorbing story with its many twists and its cherry harvest setting make for an engaging summertime read--best enjoyed while on the lanai with a bowl of fresh cherries to munch on (or a bowl of vanilla ice-cream, topped with chunky fresh cherry sauce). 


Author Notes: Lucy Sanna has published poetry, short stories, and nonfiction books, which have been translated into a number of languages. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Sanna now divides her time between Madison, Wisconsin, and San Francisco. The Cherry Harvest is her first novel.

Find out more about Lucy at her website and connect with her on Facebook.


There was actually plenty of food inspiration in the book--starting with the cherry orchard of course--and the delicious cherry pies that Charlotte is known for. Even during the lean times of war and rations, Charlotte manages to obtain a variety ingredients to feed her family well--trading goats milk, eggs, and a knitted vest for meat, fish, citrus, vegetables and coffee. With the harvest and cherries to sell and trade trade, she buys large quantities of flour, butter and sugar to make her pies--another source of income for the family.

For my book-inspired dish, I had to use cherries, since they tempted me the most and are on sale right now. I am not a pie maker--too much skill and effort required--so I went with a fresh cherry sauce, served over vanilla bean ice cream. In the novel, Charlotte tells Thomas that once they have money again she wants to get a couple of dairy cows for the supply of milk and the butter, cheese, cream, and buttermilk she will be able to make, not to mention the ice cream. "I'll make vanilla bean ice cream. Oh, I can almost taste it! With cherry sauce."  Yes, vanilla ice cream with cherry sauce sounded pretty delectable to me. 

Not feeling like spending time in the kitchen, I had pinned a recipe for an almost no-effort (beyond pitting the cherries) quick microwave fresh cherry sauce from Confections of a Foodie Bride. A great idea and perfect for when you don't want to stand over the stove, stirring on a hot summer day. I adapted the recipe a bit--mainly adding in orange juice to sweeten the cherries and slightly adjusting the quantities of the ingredients. 

With my trusty cherry-pitter in hand, the whole process to make the sauce from start to clean up was about 10 minutes. Using a good store-bought vanilla custard-style ice cream made it even easier. The hardest part? Waiting for the cherries to cool enough to not immediately melt the ice cream and resisting eating it all with a spoon. Yum! ;-)

Quick & Easy Fresh Cherry Sauce
Adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride
(Makes About 2 cups)

approximately 1 lb of pitted fresh, ripe cherries
2-3 slices of orange peel
2 Tbsp orange juice
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp honey or sweetener of choice, or to taste (optional)

Place pitted cherries and orange peel into a *deep microwave safe bowl. Add orange juice and sprinkle cornstarch over the top. 

Microwave for 90 seconds. Stir gently but well, and microwave for another 90 seconds. Check consistency and microwave 30 seconds more if needed. Taste and if desired, add honey (or other sweetener) to taste if desired.  

Allow sauce to cool--it will thicken slightly more as it does. Serve slightly warm over vanilla ice cream. Keep leftover sauce in a jar in fridge and stir into smoothies or yogurt. (or just grab a spoon and go wild!) ;-)

*Deb's Note: A deeper bowl is best as the sauce can have a tendency to boil over as it cooks. You may also want to place a paper plate or paper towels under the bowl to catch any overflow that may occur.  

Notes/Results: Such a quick and easy sauce with great cherry flavor. The touch of orange juice and orange zest enhances rather than overpowers and lets the cherry flavor come through. Depending on how sweet your cherries are, you may want a touch of additional sweetener--I used about a teaspoon of local honey for mine. This was fabulous over good vanilla ice cream, sweet and tart, cool, and tasting of summer. I will definitely make it again.

Note: A review copy of "The Cherry Harvest" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Mapmaker's Children" by Sarah McCoy, Served with a Fried Egg-Topped Wheat Berry, Leek & Herb Risotto

On today's TLC Book Tour stop, I am reviewing the historical fiction novel The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy and along with the review, I am serving up a comforting dinner in a bowl with a Fried Egg-Topped Wheat Berry, Leek & Herb Risotto inspired by the book.  

Publisher's Notes:

When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.

Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.

Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way.

Hardcover: 320 pages Publisher: Crown (May 5, 2015)

My Review: 

I became a big fan of Sarah McCoy from her first book, The Baker's Daughter. (You can see my review and the scrumptious Milk & Honey Reisbrei Rice Pudding it inspired here.) I love her ability to weave the past and present through the dual perspectives of strong female characters, as well as the way her writing entertains while still making me feel like I am learning something along the way. The Mapmaker's Children tells the story of Eden Anderson, recently moved to an old house in the small town of New Charleston, West Virginia, and the story of Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, who spent time in New Charleston 150 years earlier--at the start of the Civil War. I remember learning about John Brown and the raid he led on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry in history classes, but I knew little about his daughter Sarah and I found McCoy's imagining of what her life might have been like to be fascinating. Sarah's experiences and the story of the mapmakers for the Underground Railroad were what pulled me into the story. It took me longer to warm up to Eden, struggling with her marriage and inability to have a child and full of anger that she wallows in and takes out on her husband Jack. The dog Jack brings home and her ten-year-old precocious neighbor Cleo begin to soften Eden and I began to like her more as the book went on but, I found Sarah's sections to be the stronger parts of the book and she was definitely the stronger and more inspiring character. The book had a slow build and meandered somewhat, but I liked the way the stories intersected and finding the connections between the two characters. I would have liked more pages at the end, or would gladly read a followup novel that went into more detail of the lives of the next generations. 

To me one of the marks of a great historical novel is if it makes me want to know more and if I take action on that desire. The Mapmaker's Children had me googling for more information on Sarah Brown, John Brown, and the Underground Railroad during, and after reading the book. If you loved The Baker's Daughter, enjoy women's fiction, historical fiction and the Civil War era, you should enjoy this one.  


Author Notes: Sarah McCoy is the  New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Ricoand The Mapmaker’s Children (Crown, May 5, 2015).
Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas. Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page or via her website,


There was certainly food to be found in The Mapmaker's Children--even if some of it was from "The Holistic Hound" cookbook from Eden's story. There was plenty of southern cooking--simpler fare for the Brown family--struggling to keep food on the table--and more abundantly at Preacher Hill's house. Eggs played into both stories--present day with "Milton's Devilishly Divine Eggs" from the local market, and in the past when Sarah and Freddy Hill have a conversation about eggs, then find them on the menu of the oyster house they dine at with Freddy's aunt. The eggs on the menu could be "boiled, fried, dropped, and served on toast, grits, wheat berries, or alone." I kept thinking about the fried egg on top of wheat berries and decided to make a version for my dish inspired by the book.
I love risotto and playing around with alternatives to rice like farro and barley, so I thought it would be fun to turn my wheat berries into a risotto dish. I had some leeks sitting in the vegetable drawer and fresh herbs on the patio--a nod to Sarah Brown's sister, Annie, who liked to work with herbs and flowers. Wheat berries make for a chewier risotto, full of fiber and the egg (and the butter I snuck in) adds creaminess to the dish--although you could also throw in some cheese. Nigel Slater has taught me to drizzle a little sherry vinegar on eggs and here, I splashed some into the risotto for a bit of bright acidity.

Fried Egg-Topped Wheat Berry, Leek & Herb Risotto
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 2-3

2 Tbsp butter, separated
2 medium leeks, white & light green parts, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 cups vegetable stock (low-sodium preferred)
1 cup white wheat berries
1/2 cup white wine of choice 
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh herbs of choice (I used thyme, rosemary, oregano parsley)
salt and black pepper to taste
splash of sherry vinegar (optional)

For Eggs:
olive oil for frying eggs
2-3 fresh eggs--one per serving
smoked paprika to garnish eggs

In a large pot or saucepan, heat one tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and garlic and saute for 5 minutes until leeks are soft and the white parts translucent. Meanwhile, heat the broth in a separate pot until just to a soft boil. 

Add the wheat berries to the pan with the leeks and garlic, reduce the heat to medium, and saute for a few minutes. Pour in the white wine and stir, letting it cook until mostly absorbed. Slowly add the hot broth, a ladle at a time, stirring and letting each ladle absorb before adding the next. (Note: This took me about 70 minutes and 5 1/2 cups of broth but timing may vary.) Wheat berries should be cooked through, tender but still chewy and the liquid absorbed and a lightly coating the wheat berries. Taste and add salt and black pepper to taste.

As risotto is finishing up cooking to your liking, stir in the fresh herbs and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Add a splash of sherry vinegar for acidity if desired. 

For eggs--fry in olive oil until done to your liking. I prefer sunny-side-up with set whites and deliciously runny yolks. 

To serve, place risotto into individual bowls. Top with a fried egg. Sprinkle with a little black pepper, some extra chopped herbs, and a little smoked paprika to garnish. 

Notes/Results: I have not spent much time in the kitchen this past month beyond the simplicity of a sandwich, salad, or bowl of popcorn dinner, as I'm just not feeling the cooking urge (and my cooking mojo) since my mom passed away. This risotto is a good balance of healthy and comfort and it felt pretty good to be in the kitchen putting it together. Although It took over an hour to cook to the chewy-yet-tender consistency I wanted, it isn't as fussy as rice and needs less stirring although you will want to keep an eye on it. I hung out in the kitchen, straightening it, putting together some notes from a call, and reading a few chapters from my current book while it cooked. Between the leeks, garlic, butter, herbs, and the sherry vinegar, it has excellent flavor and of course, a runny-yolked egg makes everything a bit more wonderful. An excellent comfort food dinner that I will happily make again.

Note: A review copy of "The Mapmaker's Children" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "Mireille"--A Novel by Molly Cochran

If you came of age anytime from the late 70s to the mid 90s, you are likely familiar with the plethora of giant and best-selling "trashy" novels of those decades. There was Deceptions by Judith Michael, Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins, Lace by Shirley Conran, A Woman of Substance by Barbra Taylor Bradford, and--from the grande dame of the trashy novel--Judith Krantz; Scruples, I'll Take Manhatten, Princess Daisy, and Mistral's Daughter to name just a few. These guilty pleasure tomes (500 to 600 pages or more) spawned soapy and sexy mini-series, were usually set in the glittering worlds of fashion or Hollywood, and always had money, drugs, power, revenge, and (the real reason most of us snuck them from our mother's nightstand) plenty of smut. They typically featured a rags-to-riches rise of a poor girl--who despite all the woes and abuse thrown at her over her life (from at least one relationship with a misogynist), rises to the top and then finds she isn't any better off being rich and famous. I am not going to lie, I read most of them--passing them back and forth with my friends, fascinated with both the glamour and the scandal of it all. So, I have to say that when I received my Advance Reader's Copy of Mireille: A Novel by Molly Cochran, and hefted the 600+ pages, I took a little trip back into time and started casting the mini-series in my head.

Paperback: 619 Pages 
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (June 9, 2015)

Publisher's Blurb:

Near the end of World War II, seventeen-year-old Mireille de Jouarre flees the home of her stepfather, a Nazi collaborator and abusive drunk. She finds shelter with her childhood friend Stefan, and the two fall deeply in love. But as the fighting escalates, Mireille must escape alone to Paris, where she discovers she’s pregnant and lacking a way to provide for her child.

So begins her new life as l’Ange—the Angel. After an unlikely meeting with a wealthy aristocrat in a Parisian hotel—and her acceptance of his solicitation—Mireille becomes the most celebrated poule in all of France, eliciting huge fees and invitations to exclusive parties. At one of these events, Mireille meets Oliver Jordan, an American womanizer and film producer, and is soon launching a promising film career. As her star rises, Mireille is determined to bury her past. But her success isn’t as carefree and glittery as it seems, and when her daughter’s future is threatened, Mireille must make a deadly decision in a desperate attempt to finally choose her own path.

My Review: 
I would classify Mireille as a summer poolside read, all the better if you have a cocktail in hand and you are staying at a fancy resort with cabana boys coming by to spritz you with Evian water. (Note: hold the book away from the mist during spritzing.) Taking place primarily from 1945 through 1963, it is tagged under historical fiction, but has many of the hallmarks of those popular novels of yesteryear--an exploited and abused heroine who is struggling to succeed, hide her sordid past, and protect her daughter from that past. It has an (evil) obsessed Svengali-esque lover, drugs, sex, and lots of Hollywood glitz and glamour. I am not sure that it needed so many pages to tell the story, but I was surprised at how quickly those pages went by. As much as I felt I knew the story and outcome, I wanted to find out how Mireille and her daughter Stephanie ended up and didn't mind taking the journey. 

There is a lot of sex in the book--most of it is not pretty and some of the rougher, abusive scenes had me cringing. If you like/need a clean book, look elsewhere. Mireille is an interesting character--hard to get to know and to warm up to, and quite naive in her decisions and reactions which was frustrating. I found myself wanting to shake her several times, but then I wanted to hug her a few times too. I imagine that Mireille's distance is part of the character Molly Cochran created, that epic and unobtainable "star" who didn't allow others to get close, but I was investing the time to read 600+ pages and I wanted to spend some of those pages going deeper and connecting with her and the supporting characters more. Overall, Mireille is more froth than substance, but its sweeping story makes for an entertaining escape and for me, it was a nostalgic journey back to a time when these novels ruled the best sellers lists. 

Author Notes: Molly Cochran is the author of more than twenty novels and nonfiction books, including the New York Times bestseller GrandmasterThe Forever KingThe Broken Sword, and The Temple Dogs, all cowritten with Warren Murphy. She is also the author of The Third Magic, and she cowrote the nonfiction bestseller Dressing Thin with Dale Goday. Cochran has received numerous awards, including the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award, the Romance Writers of America’s “Best Thriller” award, and an “Outstanding” classification by the New York Public Library. Recently she published a series of young adult novels, LegacyPoison, and Seduction, and two novellas, Wishes and RevelsLegacy won a 2013 Westchester Fiction Award.


Note: A review copy of "Mireille" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


Friday, June 5, 2015

The Book Tour Stops Here: A Review of "The Rhyme of the Magpie" by Marty Wingate, Served with a Chocolate & Brie "Toastie" (+ an eBook/eGift Card Giveaway!)

"One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl, four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold;
Seven for a secret, never to be told;
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss;
Ten for a bird that's best to miss."

A traditional children's nursery rhyme about magpies, where the number of birds spied, tells the future and the type of luck--good or bad--that someone will have. For Julia Lanchester's family, the rhyme has proven accurate--at least when predicting the gender of her sister's children. When Julia's father, a beloved nature television celebrity, goes missing, her magpie sightings take on a more ominous note as she tries to find him and solve a murder on the family's property. 

Today's TLC Book Tour stop brings us The Rhyme of the Magpie, the first book in the "Birds of a Feather Mystery" series by Marty Wingate. Accompanying my review of the book is a recipe for a Chocolate and Brie "Toastie" (grilled cheese sandwich), and at the bottom of the post, you'll have a chance to enter a drawing for an eBook copy of The Rhyme of the Magpie, plus an eGift Card for the eBook retailer of your choice.

Publisher's Blurb:

For readers of Laura Childs, Ellery Adams, and Jenn McKinlay, the high-flying new Birds of a Feather mystery series from Marty Wingate begins as a British woman gets caught up in a dangerous plot when her celebrity father disappears.

With her personal life in disarray, Julia Lanchester feels she has no option but to quit her job on her father’s hit BBC Two nature show, A Bird in the Hand. Accepting a tourist management position in Smeaton-under-Lyme, a quaint village in the English countryside, Julia throws herself into her new life, delighting sightseers (and a local member of the gentry) with tales of ancient Romans and pillaging Vikings.

But the past is front and center when her father, Rupert, tracks her down in a moment of desperation. Julia refuses to hear him out; his quick remarriage after her mother’s death was one of the reasons Julia flew the coop. But later she gets a distressed call from her new stepmum: Rupert has gone missing. Julia decides to investigate—she owes him that much, at least—and her father’s new assistant, the infuriatingly dapper Michael Sedgwick, offers to help. Little does the unlikely pair realize that awaiting them is a tightly woven nest of lies and murder.

Published by: Alibi  (June 02, 2015)
eBook: Pages: 224

My Review:

Having enjoyed the author's other cozy mystery series set in the world of gardening, the Potting Shed Mysteries, I was happy to try out her new series. Julia, our heroine, is likable and it is easy to relate to her desire to escape her circumstances and change her life. When Rupert Lanchester, her well-known father, remarries six months after her mother's untimely death (and he marries her mother's best friend to boot), it is a major blow for Julia. Having a hard time understanding how he could betray her mother's memory, she angrily leaves her job as his personal assistant and associate producer of his nature show. Licking her wounds and focusing on her new career of promoting tourism in quaint Smeaton-under-Lyme, she wants nothing to do with her father when he pops up at her rental cottage. When Rupert later turns up missing and a body of someone he recently argued with shows up at the family cabin, Julia's guilt pushes her to try to find her father and clear his name. She finds herself joined by her replacement, Rupert's new assistant Michael, and although she doesn't quite trust him, she finds herself soon falling for him. 

Like my plant and garden knowledge, my knowledge of birds is limited, but it doesn't matter in WIngate's books as she does a great job of weaving in information about her subjects in a way that is interesting and fun to read. I want to visit Smeaton-under-Lyme--it sounds like the perfect English estate and village so I hope that it is explored more in future books in this series. Julia and Michael have good chemistry, and the supporting characters--especially Rubert, Julia's boss, Lord "Call me Linus" Fotheringill, and her assistant and supportive friend Vesta, are all engaging. It's a cozy mystery, so nothing too taxing here, but Wingate throws in a few plot twists and turns. A great curl-up-with-a-cuppa book, and a fun start to a new series.    

Author Notes: Marty Wingate is the author of The Garden Plot and The Red Book of Primrose House, and a regular contributor to Country Gardens as well as other magazines. She also leads gardening tours throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and North America. More Birds of a Feather mysteries are planned.

There is some food in The Rhyme of the Magpie, although it isn't central. It seems like Julia was often grabbing sandwiches; packaged to go, tea sandwiches, and sometimes cheese toasties (the UK equivalent to grilled cheese). Plenty of tea and biscuits were consumed. (Julia prefers the "too ordinary" malted milk and her boss likes bourbon creams.) Nuala's Tea Room in the village serves a variety of cakes, scones and puddings--Dundee cake, Battenberg, sticky toffee pudding, blackberry sponge, and Julia's favorite, a  chocolate layer cake with thick frosting. Julia and Michael enjoy a fish dinner (sole and mackerel respectively) with goat cheese salads with balsamic dressing. She later cooks a dinner of steak, jacket potatoes and salad for him and he brings her a box of Belgian chocolates for dessert. 

For my book-inspired dish, I decided to combine Julia's fondness for chocolate with the toasties and make a grilled cheese sandwich with chocolate and Brie. The bread is a seeded whole grain in a nod to the many feathered friends featured in the book. You could enjoy this toastie as a snack, dessert or even a quick breakfast.

Chocolate & Brie Toastie
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Serves 1)

2 slices sandwich bread of choice
2 oz Brie, sliced thinly
2 oz dark chocolate of choice, chopped into small pieces

Lightly butter both sides of the bread slices and place brie on cheese on 1 slice of the bread. Scatter the pieces of dark chocolate on top of the cheese and top with the remaining slice of bread. Place sandwich in a heated grill pan or panini grill and toast until bread is toasted and chocolate and cheese are melty. 

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Notes/Results: Creamy brie, dark chocolate oozing out of toasty buttery bread, it's a sandwich... it's dessert... it's just kind of wonderful. The slight bitterness of the dark chocolate cuts through the creaminess of the brie really well, so use dark chocolate or at least bittersweet for this one. I thought the sandwich paired nicely with salt and pepper chips (or crisps if we are sticking with the British theme), or try a fruit salad or green salad to contrast. I would make this again. 

Note: A review copy of "The Rhyme of the Magpie" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.

You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.


This TLC Book Tour includes a Rafflecopter giveaway for an eBook copy of The Rhyme of the Magpie, as well as and an eGift Card to the eBook retailer of your choice! You can enter below for your chances to win.

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Good Luck!