Monday, February 18, 2019

Excerpt & Giveaway: The Chef's Secret by Crystal King

The Chef's Secret by Crystal King
 Adult fiction, 352 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
 Atria/Simon & Schuster
Release date: Feb 12, 2019
Tour dates: Feb 11 to 28, 2019
Content Rating: R (for a couple of explicit, but loving, sex scenes (no abuse or rape) and minor curse words)

Book Description:

A captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.

When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.

With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion.

To follow the tour, please visit Crystal King's page on Italy Book Tours.

Excerpt from THE CHEF’S SECRET (Atria/Simon & Schuster) By Crystal King 

Forty-three days after he first laid eyes upon the most beautiful girl in the world, Bartolomeo had the good fortune to overhear the maids talking about a girl at the palazzo. Two of the serving maids huddled in the pantry near his post where he was prepping nightingales for the cena. When they mentioned the dress she had worn the night before, Bartolomeo realized the principessa was the object of their admiration.

One of the maids was a thin slip of a girl who served the cardinale’s sister. The other was a young woman who had caught his fancy for a time the summer before, but soon bored Bartolomeo with her empty gossip.

“She’s here from Roma,” the first said, awe in her voice. They talked of the girl’s extraordinarily wealthy family, of her famed dressmaker, and of how long it took to wrangle her curls each morning.

When they said her name, Bartolomeo had to put his knife down for fear of cutting himself. Oh, to know her true name! Happiness filled him like a carafe of fine wine. Her name, he thought, was like the taste of strawberries sprinkled with sugar. It was like the summer sun touching the petal of a freshly bloomed flower. That evening, when he gazed out his little garret window, he wished he could shout her name across the rooftops, but he could never say it aloud. To do so was too dangerous, for her and for him. He would take a thousand lashings for his Stella [Author’s note, this is a pet name that Bartolomeo has for her], but he could not bear to have her come to harm.

The next morning, Stella stopped Bartolomeo in the loggia. The sky was bright and the October air was still gentle and warm. He was readying to leave the palazzo to go to market when she approached. He was so startled to see her there he stopped in his tracks, mouth agape.

The princess was radiant in a red velvet gown, her hair piled high upon her head. Her beauty was staggering, her skin so clear, her cheeks ruddy and fresh. What a sight he must seem in comparison, with his own hair a tussle of wild waves, a grease stain adorning one sleeve. He hadn’t bathed, and he was certain he smelled too much like onions and ham.

She recognized his discomfort and giggled, in a way that immediately eased his fear. She gently touched his arm with one hand, and with the other she pressed a piece of paper into his palm. “What is your name?”

He looked around to see who might be witnessing the exchange, but there were only a couple of gardeners in the vicinity, none of whom paid them any mind. “Bartolomeo,” he said, gathering courage.

She released his hand and shared her own name. Bartolomeo’s heart sang as she repeated the word he had been turning over and over in his mind since the day before.

“Please tell the cook how much I love his tourtes.”

Bartolomeo nodded his head vigorously. “I will, madonna, I will.”

She dazzled him with another smile. “I liked the radish flower the best, though.”

She winked and turned away. He stood there, staring at the curve of her departing body, wondering what had just happened. He stared until she rounded the corner of the loggia. He was light-headed and it felt like he was spinning, like a little bird on a spit, fire rising all around it. The piece of paper in his hand was small and warm. He hurried out of the palazzo and down the cobbled street lining the adjoining Rio di San Luca canal.

When he was sure no one could see, he stopped and unfolded the little piece of paper.

Buy the Book:

                            Google Play ~ Book Depository

Meet the Author:

Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast, and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.

A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos

The journal of a 14-year-old girl, kept the last year she lived on the family farm, records daily events in her small New Hampshire town, her father's remarriage, and the death of her best friend.

 Hardcover, 144 pages
Published September 1st 1979
by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

This is the 1980 John Newbery Medal Winner. It’s a short little book coming in at 144 pages written in diary/journal style.  It spans about 15 months in the life of Catherine Hall.   There are many changes and heartbreak that she goes through and while some of the entries are short other ones are longer at times I got a sense of her frame of mind as she deals with everything.

This wasn’t a book that kept me glued to the pages, for a Medal Winner my expectations might have been elevated but this one fell flat for me. I didn’t connect with Catharine and a month after finishing it I struggle to remember all but a few pieces. The time period of 1830-1832 sees much happening in that area and I would have loved to see more.

My copy from personal library and part of my 2019 reading my shelf challenge as well as Project Newbery (reading all the John Newbery Medal winners )

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday: The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly post to showcase upcoming releases that I am anxious to get my hands on.

Hardcover, 400 pages 
Expected publication: March 19th 2019
 by Berkley

Elise Sontag is a typical Iowa fourteen-year-old in 1943--aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar, including her own identity.

The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. Together in the desert wilderness, Elise and Mariko hold tight the dream of being young American women with a future beyond the fences.

What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review: I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel

For so many people, reading isn't just a hobby or a way to pass the time--it's a lifestyle. Our books shape us, define us, enchant us, and even sometimes infuriate us. Our books are a part of who we are as people, and we can't imagine life without them.

 I'd Rather Be Reading is the perfect literary companion for everyone who feels that way. In this collection of charming and relatable reflections on the reading life, beloved blogger and author Anne Bogel leads readers to remember the book that first hooked them, the place where they first fell in love with reading, and all of the moments afterward that helped make them the reader they are today. Known as a reading tastemaker through her popular podcast What Should I Read Next?, Bogel invites book lovers into a community of like-minded people to discover new ways to approach literature, learn fascinating new things about books and publishing, and reflect on the role reading plays in their lives.

The perfect gift for the bibliophile in everyone's life, I'd Rather Be Reading will command an honored place on the overstuffed bookshelves of any book lover.

Hardcover, 160 pages
Published September 4th 2018
by Baker Books
When we share our favourite titles, we can’t help but share ourselves as well. Shakespeare said the eyes are the windows to the soul, but we readers know one’s bookshelves feel just as much.

This is a delightful little book that will reassure readers they are not alone in their reading lifestyle. It’s a small book from author Ann Bogel who also hosts a blog (The Modern Mrs. Darcy) and podcast (What should I read next?).

I didn’t read this all in one sitting but rather it’s a chapter a day type of book. There are some things that are repeated, there are new authors and books to discover. It’s the history of Anne's love and relationship with books and reading.

People read for a multiplicity of reasons. Nearly forty years in, I can tell you why I inhale books like oxygen: I’m grateful for my one life, but I’d prefer to live a thousand — and my favorite books allow me to experience more on the page than I ever could in my actual life. 

A fun little book, a perfect gift for any reader or yourself.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Review: The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler's wing and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets,
and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.

Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 1st, 2015
 by Doubleday Childrens
**** 1/2

Lately, I have decided to stay away from books pertaining to World War I & 2, just to give my mind and emotions a break. The Boy at the Top of the Mountain is obviously an exception. In an endeavor to clear my Netgalley backlog, I found this one and dove right in without reading the blurb. Being there meant I wanted to read it and my memory isn’t always so good - this was released in 2015, my apologies to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for the late review.

Marked as children’s fiction coming in at approximately 224 pages I was immediately drawn in by the plight of poor little Pierrot. He’s had a hard life and it only gets worse as this story begins in 1935.

I finished this book last week and I am still thinking about it. The author has written a story where I didn’t anticipate the ride I would be taken on (remember I didn't read the blurb). Time elapses over the years as Pierrot grows into an inquisitive boy/teen searching for a place to belong. From the book blurb, you can see what direction he takes, I was taken by surprise at some of the things that took place. Like I said this is children’s HF but I feel it has mature scenes of violence that might offend some. It’s a rating I can understand as some YA might find the first half too juvenile to continue.

This is my first book by John Boyle, I was impressed with his writing style how he drew me in and how he depicted the times, bringing the emotion this time period evokes. This is the story with many layers some of which include grief, bullying, loneliness, friendship and searching for oneself - all packed into 224 pages, well done John Boyle! Definitely an author I will read more of.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Review: The Temptation of Gracie by Santa Montefiore

Never give up on your dreams, no matter how long you hold on to them . . .

 Gracie Burton is a grandmother, living quietly in Devon. She has rarely left the village over the past forty years. Her daughter, Carina, is immensely high-powered with her own fast-paced business in London. She has very little time for her 17-year-old daughter, Anastasia, away at boarding school, and even less time for her aging mother. In many ways, the three of them barely know each other. Then Gracie stumbles upon an advertisement for a weeklong cookery course in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. She cannot resist and ploughs her life savings into the trip.

Carina and Anastasia accompany her. They have no idea why Gracie has been drawn to this venture. They have no sense of her past; she has never spoken about it. They have no idea that Gracie is harboring the secret of an extraordinary life that preceded them . . .

 Hardcover, 400 pages 
Published July 12th 2018
 by Simon & Schuster
**** 1/2

I became a fan of the Santa Montefiore with her Secrets of the Lighthouse and the Deverill Chronciles. Those books were an audio read for me of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Last year while browsing through Bookdepository I stumbled across this book, The Temptation of Gracie and ordered it not realizing that it would not be released in Canada/US for another year. Once I spotted it on NetGalley I grabbed my copy, which had gotten buried under other books, and dove right in.

I was drawn in right away and one of the things that I really really loved was the blurb. As you can read above there is no hint, no clue at all as to what happened in Gracie's past. The secret of an extraordinary life that she lived was hidden and I loved that. Sometimes I find blurbs give too much information and at times can spoil the ride (which is why I rarely read them or skim the first paragraph or so) in this case, I found the blurb perfect.

It doesn’t take long to get a sense of who Gracie was, where she came from what her life is like now. Traveling back in time to when she is in her teen years her journey is interesting and takes place in a country that I absolutely love, Italy.

With rich detail, the author transported me to the Tuscan countryside, to the vineyards, cooking, pasta and more. The Temptation of Gracie is a story of relationships, trust and healing. How life can change in a second or evolve over the course of a week.

While there were a couple little things that rubbed me the wrong way it wasn’t enough to affect my enjoyment of this book if anything it’s made me very anxious for my trip to Italy in September and to read more books set in Italy.

Santa Montefiore is an author I highly recommend, maybe a little more on the romance side than I usually read but it balances out nicely with the historical aspects.

If you haven’t read her Deverill Chronicles yet, I recommend it. Click on the covers below to take you to my respective reviews.

This book was from my personal library and part of my reading off my shelf challenge.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Spotlight & Giveaway: Weather Menders by Debra Denker

Publication Date: November 10, 2017
Catalyst Artistic Productions Paperback &
eBook; 298 Pages
Genre: Sci Fi/Climate Change Fiction/Time Travel

What if Time Travel were real? What if Time Travelers from 300 years in the future told you that there was a chance that you could prevent catastrophic climate change, plagues, and wars by going back in time to key Pivot Points and ethically altering the outcome of rigged elections? What if failure would result in the destruction of the biosphere? Would you go?

In post-plague 2050 Britain, palm trees tower over the rice paddies of Stonehenge. Tara MacFarlane, a weary 96-year-old anthropologist originally from Taos, New Mexico, longs only to finish out her life in peaceful Buddhist meditation, and rejoin the great love of her later years, the humanitarian Scottish-Afghan doctor Xander, in a future incarnation. Suddenly one stifling autumn day Tara, her great-granddaughter Leona, and Leona’s boyfriend Janus are faced with a trio of Time Travelers from a future alternate Timeline where humanity and the eco-system survived and thrived.

The fate of Earth’s biosphere falls squarely on the shoulders of Tara, Leona, Janus, and Tara’s small gray cat, Georgie, who shows a surprising aptitude for telepathy. Time is short to reverse catastrophe that will bleed through into the alternate Timeline, and the Time Travelers must first determine the ideal Pivot Points by reading Time Code vibrations off the great standing stones of Avebury. Unexpectedly joined by the brave and wise cat Georgie, the six plunge into the Time Circle of Stonehenge on their mission. Where and when will they go, and will they succeed in restoring the Earth and humanity to balance?

"Weather Menders is a pioneering cli-fi novel that combines science fiction with time travel and spiritual fantasy in a unique and captivating way. The message is clear: we must act soon and be woke. Oh, and there's a telepathic time-travelling cat!" -- Dan Bloom, editor, The Cli-Fi Report

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

About the Author

Debra Denker has been writing stories since she learned to read. Although novels and poetry were her first loves, she turned her talent to journalism in the ‘70s and ‘80s, writing about Afghanistan and the refugee situation in Pakistan for National Geographic and many leading newspapers. She has specialized in social documentation utilizing journalism, photography, and film to convey the experiences of people in war torn areas, with the intention of stimulating the empathy necessary for humans to stop violence against people and planet.
Denker is the author of two published books, the non-fiction literary memoir Sisters on the Bridge of Fire: One Woman’s Journeys in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and the novel War in the Land of Cain—a story of love, war, and moral choices set during the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980’s.
Denker now writes for the award-winning conservation media website, Voices for Biodiversity, raising consciousness to help ward off the Sixth Great Extinction.
She currently lives in Santa Fe with her family of cats, Dorjee Purr-ba, Yeshe Gyalpo, and Samadhi Timewalker, but travels frequently in earthly space, and hopes to travel in time and galactic space.

The novel’s website is

Her personal blog explores a range of spiritual, social, and political issues and their intersection with sacred activism.

Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away two paperback copies of Weather Menders! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.
Giveaway Rules
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on February 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US/UK/CANADA.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Weather Menders

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Review: Broken Trail by Jean Rae Baxter

BROKEN TRAIL is the story a thirteen-year-old white boy, the son of United Empire Loyalists, who has been captured and adopted by the Oneida people. Striving to find his vision oki that will guide him in his quest to become a warrior, Broken Trail disavows his white heritage--he considers himself Oneida. But everything changes when Broken Trail, alone in the woods on his vision quest, is mistakenly shot by a redcoat soldier.

Paperback, 246 pages
Published February 1st 2011
by Ronsdale Press

There is a trilogy that Jean Rae Baxter has written and while Broken Trail pertains to one of the characters introduced in The Way Lies North (book 1), it doesn't appear to be part of the trilogy.

I find myself really enjoying these books, it’s the kind of book I wish was around when I was a kid and could begin my love of history back then. With names I remember from history class and in the area that I live makes it all the more enticing for me, reading about things that happened in my backyard, or close to.

Broken Trail is taken on a journey of self-discovery, wrought with danger, remembering the past as well as to the future there are many obstacles and decisions that he has to make along the way. When people from his past appear he has to deal with it along with people who mistrust him - he is white but dressed as a Oneida.

There are three other books that revolve around the characters and time period which I hope to get to in the coming weeks. These are definitely books I recommend, especially for middle-grade ages, a perfect introduction to historical fiction and some of the events that shaped this country.

This book is from my personal library and part of my reading off my shelf challenge for 2019.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Review: A Dangerous Collaboration (Veronica Speedwell #4) by Deanna Raybourn

Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker's brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly's house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée--much to Stoker's chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly's wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband's mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker's help to discover the host's true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund...

Kindle, 336 pages
 Expected publication: March 12th, 2019
by Berkley

A Dangerous Collaboration is the 4th book in the Veronica Speedwell Mystery Series and it was such a treat to read!

Pretty well continuing where A Treacherous Curse leaves off Veronica and Stoker are yet again thrust into another conundrum. Traveling to a secluded island, staying at a haunted house with some interesting characters is a recipe for intrigue, right!?

Deanna Raybourn has cemented herself as a go-to author for me. Her writing puts a smile on my face. It's witty, saucy with the right blend of smart-alecky mixed in. Oh and yea an interesting mystery that needs to be solved. In this case, the location was yummy. A small island with an old castle - is it really haunted? Stormy weather, a bride missing for 3 years and the icing on the cake would be Stoker’s brother along for the ride. Is he really an innocent bystander? You’ll have to read this little gem to find out.

While I suppose you can read this one as a stand alone, but why?  Start with A Curious Beginning and go from there.  Clicking on the covers (below) will take you to my review, speaking of covers aren't they great?  I love them.

My thanks to Berkley for an advanced copy of this one (via Netgalley).

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Spotlight: A Class Apart (A Matter of Class, #1) by Susie Murphy

'A beautifully written historical novel with characters who linger long after the last page is turned.' - Hazel Gaynor, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home.

Kindle Edition, 285 pages
 Published July 10th 2018

 It’s 1828, and Ireland is in turmoil as Irish tenants protest against their upper-class English landlords. Nineteen-year-old Bridget Muldowney is thrilled to return to the estate in Carlow she’ll inherit when she comes of age. But since she left for Dublin seven years earlier, the tomboy has become a refined young lady, engaged to be married to a dashing English gentleman.

Cormac McGovern, now a stable hand on the estate, has missed his childhood friend. He and Bridget had once been thick as thieves, running wild around the countryside together.

When Bridget and Cormac meet again their friendship begins to rekindle, but it’s different now that they are adults. Bridget’s overbearing mother, determined to enforce the employer-servant boundaries, conspires with Bridget’s fiancé to keep the pair apart.

With the odds stacked against them, can Bridget and Cormac’s childhood attachment blossom into something more?

 A Class Apart is the first book in Susie Murphy's historical fiction series A Matter of Class. The second book is called A Class Entwined.

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A Class Apart is available on Amazon.

The cover for A Class Entwined is out (as is the book).  No am not sharing the blurb for fear of spoiling the ride if you haven't read A Class Apart yet (like me).