Book Addiction: Girl Last Seen

Nina Laurin’s enthralling debut, Girl Last Seen, comes out today and I had the excellent luck of being able to read an advance copy. Most of the time, my Book Addiction posts have a focus on amazing historical fiction, but I’m diversifying this time because I’ve been reading a lot of suspense lately and Girl Last Seen is utterly compelling and highly recommended.

Laine, the novel’s vulnerable but determined protagonist, struggles to cope with her past abduction, a crime that has never been solved. Now, thirteen years later, a second girl goes missing, one who could be the image of Lainey at age ten. Dark and full of serpentine twists, Girl Last Seen is an addictive books that makes for such captivating reading that you might find  yourself still turning pages when you should be cooking dinner, or looking up from the book and realizing that it’s suddenly past midnight. (Full disclosure: both of those things happened to me).

Nina has kindly agreed to an interview on my blog, making this an extra special post. Welcome, Nina!

What was your inspiration for Girl Last Seen?

I was researching some true crime for another story and fell down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. I came across a particularly chilling story of a true crime that just stuck with me. I may have read too much about it, because I had actual nightmares for a couple of days. I can’t give you the link, because it would in itself be a spoiler. But some time later, the main character of GIRL LAST SEEN just appeared in my mind, and I simply had to tell her story.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

It was the manuscript that made me realize psychological suspense was my genre! At the end of 2014, I was facing a crossroads that no writer wants to face. I had broken up with my previous agent that summer and was disheartened by constant rejection, which made me question whether I was writing the right books—and whether I was really meant to be a writer at all. I don’t know what exactly possessed me, but I took out the first version of what would become GIRL LAST SEEN and started to overhaul it. To my surprise, it took off! And then I was writing the scene at the abandoned house where Laine is being stalked in the dark, and after a very long writing slump, I felt the energy come back into my fingertips. I felt like a writer again. I felt like I could write something good.

What was your favourite scene to write?

The scene at the abandoned house that I mentioned above, but also, the finale. It was breathtaking to write! I’m usually terrible at writing action and fighting scenes, but by then, I was invested in Laine and what happened to her. So writing that final showdown, where she faces her demons for the first time in ten years, was also heartbreaking in a way. And I think it gave the action sequence the super-high emotional stakes that made it easy to write.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

It depends on the project. I wrote the first draft of GIRL LAST SEEN in a couple of months, but the second and third drafts took a little more time and a little more discipline. It wasn’t about getting the words out anymore—it was about making them make sense. Which is (I think most writers will agree with me) a lot more difficult. Sometimes the writing flows, and other times, I have to force myself to get behind my desk (or motivate myself with chocolate… or bacon).

If you could pair your book with any reading snack or drink, what would you suggest?

Milk oolong tea (that’s a tea that tastes faintly creamy, not tea with milk in it—I’m sure some people like that, and that’s their business…) and dark, dark, dark chocolate. Together.

Stay updated on Nina’s book news:

Author website | Goodreads | Twitter 

From the book jacket: 

Two missing girls. Thirteen years apart.
Olivia Shaw has been missing since last Tuesday. She was last seen outside the entrance of her elementary school in Hunts Point wearing a white spring jacket, blue jeans, and pink boots.

I force myself to look at the face in the photo, into her slightly smudged features, and I can’t bring myself to move. Olivia Shaw could be my mirror image, rewound to thirteen years ago.

If you have any knowledge of Olivia Shaw’s whereabouts or any relevant information, please contact…

I’ve spent a long time peering into the faces of girls on missing posters, wondering which one replaced me in that basement. But they were never quite the right age, the right look, the right circumstances. Until Olivia Shaw, missing for one week tomorrow.

Whoever stole me was never found. But since I was taken, there hasn’t been another girl.

And now there is.

Author Biography:

Nina Laurin is a bilingual (English/French) author of suspenseful stories for both adults and young adults. She got her BA in Creative Writing at Concordia University, in her hometown of Montreal, Canada.

 

Book Addiction: Becoming Bonnie

My latest book addiction is Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh. I devoured this riveting novel in less than two days because I couldn’t bear to put it down. Evocative and honest, Jenni L. Walsh’s prose will immerse readers in the darkness and glamour of the 1920s, through the desperation of the Great Depression and the sultry jazz rhythms of Doc’s, the speakeasy where Bonnie Parker works. Going by Bonnelyn, she’s a wholesome, intelligent girl with big dreams. But as the Great Depression and strictures of prohibition show their teeth, she’s able to adapt to the pepper of gunfire. Bonnelyn is a likable, relatable narrator, and I felt like I knew her. And when she meets Clyde Barrow, his self-assurance and loyalty won me over, too. Thank goodness there’s an upcoming sequel, because I need more of these characters. Plus, it’s been optioned for a TV show!

One of my favourite aspects of the book is Bonnie and Clyde’s shared musical interest. They even write a song together, an adventurous, true-to-character ballad that I wish I could hear for real. I also enjoyed the relationship between Bonnelyn and Blanche, her sharp-tongued but pure-hearted best friend.

This is an extra special blog post, because Jenni kindly agreed to an interview. Welcome, Jenni!

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

Interestingly enough, Becoming Bonnie isn’t the story I first sought to tell. Driven by my desire to write the story of that iconic figure, I first began writing my own version of Bonnie and Clyde’s 1930s crime spree. I quickly put on the brakes, realizing my first challenge: I needed readers to understand who Bonnie really was at her core. What made her tick? What was her background? What were her aspirations, at the beginning and the end? Why was she so loyal to Clyde Barrow? So I put what I’d written aside, hoping to one day use it in a sequel, and started over, going back five years to tell Bonnie Parker’s origin story, which also allowed me to drop Bonnie into a 1920s speakeasy in the middle of a foxtrot. Now that was a good time (and a pleasant surprise!).

What was your favourite scene to write?

As Meghan mentioned, Bonnie and Clyde pen a song together in Becoming Bonnie. It was such a fun element of the story to write, so I’d like to share a snippet of the scene where Clyde reveals their first verse.


Clyde settles himself on the couch, then the instrument on his knee. He pats the spot beside him, pauses with his fingers ready to strum. I sit and fold my hands in my lap, watching as he clears his throat, swallows, clears his throat again. Clyde’s head tilts down, and he looks up at me from under his lashes.

“I started this here song a while ago, but she ain’t done,” he says. “Was hoping you’d help me finish her.”

“Me?”

His fingertips slide down the strings once, letting the soft sound vibrate ’round us. “You’ll see.”

He goes back for more, a dark melody forming with each stroke, and moistens his lips. Clyde says, more than sings, “Death is a five-letter word, with a five-finger clutch.”

His head stays down, his jaw relaxed, eyes closed. “It cornered him, pitting him against the bigger man . . . By the throat, edging closer, nearing Death’s final touch.”

The rhythm quickens, the beat an unexpected surprise.

Then there she was, light in the dark, defying Death’s plan . . . She stared it down, held on tight, fired off a shot all her own . . . Ohh”—he draws out the word, as if taunting Death—“Oh, oh, oh, death for the boy has been postponed.”

Clyde’s fingers shift to a higher pitch on the guitar. He smirks and sings from the corner of his mouth, “’Cause lean closer, listen close . . . How the story ends, no one knows . . . But one thing’s clear, you’ll see . . . Bonnie and Clyde, meant to be, alive and free.”

That last line, that last note hangs between us.

I forget how to breathe.

“That’s all I got for now,” Clyde says softly. “Thought maybe we could do the next verse together.”

“Together?” I wring my hands, staring into the eyes of Clyde Barrow, the criminal, the charmer, the . . . boy who wrote me a doggone song to show me how he cares.

“Yeah, Bonnie. You and me. What do you say?”

© 2017 Jenni L. Walsh


This plot element became doubly fun when a friend put the last line of the chorus into sheet music for me!

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

My process is slow. Real slow. I’m one of those authors who has to get a line/paragraph just right before I move on. Then, I’ll often go back to add in new details that’ll support the new scene I’m working on. It takes me forever to complete a first draft. The upside is that my first draft is usually pretty clean and ready for a second set of eyes. As far as when I write, I got to wait for the a’ok from my bosses (my 1-year-old and three-year-old). My oldest gives me the stink eye when she sees my laptop out, so I generally only write during naptimes and at night, unless my husband is distracting them on the weekends.

How can we stay updated on your book news?

I have a newsletter (and a firm no-spam rule)! I also have three books, one of which is the sequel to Becoming Bonnie, coming in 2018 that I’d love to tell you about, if ya want to sign up here. You can also catch me on Twitter and Facebook, along with my website.

From the book jacket:

From debut historical novelist Jenni L. Walsh, Becoming Bonnie is the untold story of how wholesome Bonnelyn Parker became half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo!

The summer of 1927 might be the height of the Roaring Twenties, but Bonnelyn Parker is more likely to belt out a church hymn than sling drinks at an illicit juice joint. She’s a sharp girl with plans to overcome her family’s poverty, provide for herself, and maybe someday marry her boyfriend, Roy Thornton. But when Roy springs a proposal on her and financial woes jeopardize her ambitions, Bonnelyn finds salvation in an unlikely place: Dallas’s newest speakeasy, Doc’s.

Living the life of a moll at night, Bonnie remains a wholesome girl by day, engaged to Roy, attending school and working toward a steady future. When Roy discovers her secret life, and embraces it—perhaps too much, especially when it comes to booze and gambling—Bonnie tries to make the pieces fit. Maybe she can have it all: the American Dream, the husband, and the intoxicating allure of jazz music. What she doesn’t know is that her life—like her country—is headed for a crash.

She’s about to meet Clyde Barrow.

Few details are known about Bonnie’s life prior to meeting her infamous partner. In Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh shows a young woman promised the American dream and given the Great Depression, and offers a compelling account of why she fell so hard for a convicted felon—and turned to crime herself.

 

Author Biography

​Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia’s countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni’s passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet.

For the mamas, Becoming Bonnie is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. The sequel Being Bonnie will be released in the summer of 2018.

For the kiddos, the Brave Like Me series is her middle grade debut that features true stories from heroic women who, at a young age, accomplished daring feats of perseverance and bravery.

 

 


Okay, now everyone go check out this book so we can talk about it!

How cool are these mugs?!

Book Addiction: Feast of Sorrow

I was lucky enough to read Crystal King’s Feast of Sorrow in advance of publication – which is tomorrow! Set during ancient Rome, Feast of Sorrow is a sweeping, decadent tale that tells the story of Thrasius, a talented cooking slave, as he enters the kitchen of Marcus Gavinus Apicius, a wealthy and ambitious gourmet with designs on becoming the culinary advisor to the Emperor. The intertwined elements of dangerous political intrigue and luscious feasts lured me in right from the first page, and I kept turning pages late into the night, riveted.

In between biting my nails over Apicius’ unpredictability and sympathizing with Thrasius’ sense of honour, I also found myself craving some of the delicious meals prepared in the story. Since Crystal King has compiled a few of the recipes on her website, readers can even try a few of the dishes. She also agreed to an interview on my blog, making this an extra special post. Welcome, Crystal!

What was your inspiration for Feast of Sorrow?

I was reading a book about banquets throughout the ages, FEAST by Roy Strong, and came across an anecdote about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, and the extraordinary way in which he died. I thought it was so unusual that I had to be the one to tell the story of how he ended up the way he did.

Did you face any unexpected challenges or pleasant surprises while working on the novel?

It took me awhile to find my voice for the book. I rewrote the first 15 chapters three different times in different points of view. It was necessary, but frustrating. I also ended up killing off a whole bunch of characters that I never expected to. I would look up from an afternoon’s worth of writing and think, wow, I didn’t expect THAT person was going to die.

Did you try cooking any of the fantastic meals featured in the book?

Not a whole banquet because that would be outrageous, but I’ve cooked many dozens of the individual dishes. My husband and I regularly make Parthian chicken for dinner.  There’s also an ancient cracker recipe that I make a lot for parties. The honey fritters are super easy and amazing too. In fact, I have a whole cookbook that I created as a bonus for book clubs reading the book that features all sorts of recipes of my own interpretation but also some from famous chefs. More information can be found on the Book Club section of my site.

What was your favourite scene to write? 

That’s difficult. I think that some of the most important and best scenes of the book are also the hardest for me to write. But I suppose that one of the darlings of the book is the curse scene, when several of the characters go to an ancient Roman cemetery to put a curse on someone. I struggled finding an agent because of the book’s length and it was a scene that my writing group and agents suggested I cut to help with the length. I hung on to it though, and while it used to be much longer, I managed to keep it. And while I can’t find the original reference now, the curse itself is an actual Roman curse that I found in some history book, which I modified just slightly to accommodate the person cursed and the family doing the cursing, plus the right Gods for the book.

What’s your writing process like? Do you have a strict schedule or can you write anywhere, anytime?

I wish I had a strict schedule. I go in spurts with my writing, depending on what is happening in my life or other deadlines that I have. I work full-time in marketing for a software company so writing at night is too taxing for my poor brain. I tend to work on weekends, usually devoting an entire Sunday to spitting out a chapter or two. I do like writing in cafes, on trains, libraries and other places from time to time to switch things up.

How can we stay updated on your book news? Readers can sign up for my mailing list and follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and at my site, crystalking.com.

From the book jacket:

Set amongst the scandal, wealth, and upstairs-downstairs politics of a Roman family, Crystal King’s seminal debut features the man who inspired the world’s oldest cookbook and the ambition that led to his destruction.

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome’s leading epicure.

Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

 

Author Biography

Photo by Wayne E. Chinnock

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 Harvard Extension School, Boston University, Mass College of Art, UMass Boston and GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US. A Pushcart-nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her M.A. 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 considers Italy her next great love, after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. 


 

Crystal is also happy to connect with book clubs, so if you’re a member of one, or looking to start a book club, I definitely recommend Feast of Sorrow. How fun would it be to read the book and then cook some of the meals? Contact information for book clubs is at this link.

 

Book Update – The Wardrobe Mistress

I’ve reached a milestone as a debut author – getting to hold my novel in book format for the first time. We’re at the galley stage, and I can hardly even explain the surreal excitement I felt as I opened up the box that came in the mail and lifted out copies of my book. It’s so beautiful! I can’t stop looking at it.

Rare author photo, wherein author cannot stop staring at the bound version of her book.

Seeing the story in proper book form even made me want to read it again, an occurrence that I never thought would repeat itself. Through all the writing and edits, I’ve literally read The Wardrobe Mistress at least seventeen times, no exaggeration, and the latest time (during the first pass stage, which is where it’s typeset as it will be for the book, and the last chance to look for errors) I had to read it out loud to force myself to pay close attention. It gets tough, when you know exactly what will happen and why all the characters feel the way they do! It turned out to be very good practise for me though, because I’d been wondering how ‘French’ I should pronounce character’s names at potential future book readings. After reading the whole thing out loud to my cat and dog (very uninterested audience members, by the way) and nearly losing my voice, I’ve figured out what is hopefully a charming compromise of accents.

I’ve been excitedly telling everyone I encounter, pretty much, that The Wardrobe Mistress will be published on June 27, 2017. There has been a slight change, however, and now the official pub date is August 15, 2017. I promise it’s not my fault – I met all my deadlines! – but just due to scheduling. As a debut author, I’m learning that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes with a publishing house in terms of scheduling and planning and marketing and everything. It’s been a really amazing learning experience, and I’m so impressed by how much work goes into a book after it’s picked up, and how many people get involved. While writing the first draft of a book, it feels like it belongs only to the author, but as it moves toward publication, it starts to belong to everyone, in a way. It’s a wonderful progression; I think it makes it feel more alive, more like a real thing and not just some figment of my imagination that I wrote down.

In the meantime, while waiting for pub day, did you know that you can read a sample of The Wardrobe Mistress for through “Spring/Summer Sampler – St. Martin’s First”? The e-book also has excerpts from 8 other fantastic authors who have books coming out this summer. And it’s free!

I mean…Ned Stark should really be saying this about winter reading (which is awesome, with hot chocolate and blankets) but since these books are all coming out in the summer, he’s still right

 

 

Book Addiction: The Fortune Hunter

It’s time for another Book Addiction post, where I share a historical novel I recently read and couldn’t put down, so that someone else might discover it, too. This month is The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin.

One of the things I loved most about The Fortune Hunter is that it made me feel much empathy for each character, even when their interests conflicted. The story centres around Bay Middleton, an expert horseman who loves racing and hunting, and is also a bit of a scandalous ladies’ man. Charming and flawed, he’s exactly the kind of romantic hero you hope will find redemption by the end of the story, and he’s also the most attractive hero with a mustache that I can think of. Due to his reputation for horsemanship, Bay is selected to be Empress Elisabeth’s pilot for the fox hunts while she is visiting England. The Empress, known as Sisi to her friends, is also an extremely skilled rider. The bond that grows between them threatens Bay’s recent engagement to Charlotte Baird, a practical young heiress with a flair for photography.

Sisi. She also apparently had a nineteen (!) inch waist

I found Sisi to be a fascinating character. Famed for her beauty, she also fears its wane as she ages, and undertakes some extreme measures to preserve her looks, such as occasionally sleeping with raw veal on her face to soften her skin. I have to say, there’s no way I would ever be motivated enough to do that. And she slept thusly with her wolfhounds in the room, necessitating the use of a leather mask to keep them from getting the veal. That’s dedication! Her ankle length hair was also so thick and heavy that she sometimes had to tie it in two ropes to the ceiling in order to relieve the pressure from her scalp. Sisi stopped allowing photographs to be taken of her, fearing that people would scrutinize them for signs of age diminishing her beauty, but every existing image of her really showcases just how long her hair must have been.

Sisi finds so much happiness in Bay’s company that I often felt myself feeling torn, because ultimately I wanted Bay and Charlotte to marry. I won’t give any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that this is a bittersweet, moving love triangle, full of tension but not melodrama.

I enjoyed Charlotte’s interest in photography, which was a relatively new technology for the time period. Her photographs are an excellent lens through which to view the setting and the minute interactions between the characters.

Queen Victoria makes a couple of brilliant cameos, as well. Her voice is so clear that you’ll swear there’s a snobby English lady over enunciating everything right inside your brain. I suppose that doesn’t really sound like a compliment if taken literally, but it is for reading. Goodwin has written two other books as well, The American Heiress and Victoria, both of which are now going on my to-read list. Victoria is actually the most recent of her books (I’m a little late discovering this treasure trove of excellent historical fiction) and Goodwin is also involved in the television series of Victoria, which is also now on my To-Watch list. I’m going to be – happily – busy!

From the book jacket:

Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.

Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.

The Fortune Hunter, a brilliant new novel by Daisy Goodwin, is a lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings of grand historical figures.

 

 

 

Holiday Reading List, with Festive Pairings

This morning when I woke up, the cold weather and combined wind-chill meant it was -26 degrees Celsius outside (about -15 Fahrenheit). I wanted nothing more than to snuggle back into the blankets, maybe with a cup of coffee and a good book. Unfortunately I couldn’t, because it’s Monday and that means back to the ol’ day job. However, there is one good thing about the cold days and dark evenings this time of year has to offer – perfect atmosphere for reading. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of holiday-friendly books and accompanying snacks.


A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

One line summary: Avaricious and just plain ornery Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits and forced to confront key moments of his life, leading to an epiphany.

Sure, it’s probably the most obvious title to add to this list, but I feel compelled to because I must confess I haven’t read it yet. I have only watched various film interpretations. My favourite is the one with Alastair Sim from 1951 because of the hilarious way he leaps around with joy at the end. (While I’m making confessions I might as well admit that I’m not actually a big fan of Dickens…please don’t throw things at me).

Pair with: Mrs. Cratchit apparently makes a phenomenal plum pudding – bonus points if you are reading the Christmas feast scene of the book while eating it. (Alternate could be roast goose). If you’re more inclined to drink, why not try Bob Cratchit’s “hot stuff from the jug”? Research tells me this is hot gin with lemons, but I think that sounds terrible, so let’s latch onto the key element of this drink, which is clearly the jug. Put whatever you want into a jug. If you’re being civilized, pour out into cups for your friends or family, and then read A Christmas Carol  aloud to them. (Helps if they are willing audience members). Otherwise, lean back in a rocking chair and keep the jug all to yourself.

jk

Drinking from glasses which have presumably been filled from the jug. 

The Polar Express  – Christopher Allsburg

One line summary: a young boy takes a magical train to the North Pole where Santa will offer the first gift of Christmas.

This children’s book really captures the feeling of anticipation and joy of Christmas, as well as the magic of a childhood imagination, and is an uplifting read even if you’re an adult or don’t personally celebrate Christmas. It’s also ideal if you are short on time, and the beautiful illustrations will be soothing after a long day.

Pair with: Hot chocolate, ideally as decadent as possible. Use a powdered mix if you must, but my festive hot chocolate indulgent goes as follows: per person, 1 cup milk, about 1-2 tbsp chocolate chips, 1 tsp sugar, cinnamon stick. Assemble ingredients into a pot and gently heat until chocolate is melted. Fish out the cinnamon stick (this is the only ingredient you won’t need to double if making for more than one serving) and pour into fancy cups. (Hm, I think I channeled Nigella Lawson in this recipe description).

polar-express

 Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

One line summary: the story of four sisters growing up during the American Civil war.

While not strictly a holiday book, it’s heartwarming enough to cheer up the coldest winter night. First published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, it’s a family-friendly story (depicting values such as generosity, kindness of spirit etc), possibly a little dated now, but that’s part of its quaint charm. I first read it when I was about ten, which I think is a pretty common age for discovering this book.

Pair with: Tea. I cannot recommend anything stronger, because it would conflict with the wholesomeness of this story. Brew up a pot of black tea with a little sugar and milk, or peppermint and honey if you prefer something more herbal. I think the added dose of sweetness is a necessity for either option with this pair.

You know what? Have a similar piece of cake too.

You know what? Have a similar piece of cake too.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie

One line summary: a Christmas reunion turns ugly after a bloody murder occurs in a locked room, and diamonds are stolen. It’s a case for Hercule Poirot!

If you’d rather have something a little more gritty for your holiday reading, this still fits the bill because it takes place at Christmas. This book isn’t overly long either, and thus ideal for catching up on your reading between holiday obligations of visiting people you hardly see the rest of the year, or decorating, baking etc.

Pair with: Crème de cassis. You have to, it’s Hercule Poirot’s favourite drink, and he is most particular. It’s a sweet liqueur made from blackcurrants, and since it’s not extremely popular,  selecting it as a drink option will give you an air of mystery. If you can’t bring yourself to try it (or procure a small sample) try black coffee instead. But for God’s sake, make sure it is not served out of a gaudy cup. Poirot can’t stand things without clean and geometric aesthetic appeal.

poirot

Christmas in Paris – Anita Hughes

One line summary: a woman who recently called off her wedding spends Christmas in Paris, and the combined magic of the city and the season sends her on a journey of self-discovery.

This book will whisk you away to all the glamour and romance and delicious food of Paris. It’s the perfect antidote to a case of the winter blahs. Pick it up after you’ve just shoveled your sidewalk or scraped your car windshield for the fourth time in one day, and first make yourself a little nest with pillows and blankets to read in. This is also a good choice if all your friends have just completed an annual watch of Love Actually, and you experience a yearning for a heartwarming, cosmopolitan, grown-up kind of Christmas story, but you find all the characters in that movie to be insufferable (not that this is biographical or anything…). Christmas in Paris is far, far more pleasant.

Pair with: Champagne. Wear something comfortable and glamorous, like silk pajamas or a fluffy robe and let the champagne bubbles fizz you into an airy feeling of confidence. If you prefer something non-alcoholic, try espresso and a little plate of dainty macarons.

christmas-in-paris-by-anita-hughes

The Mitten – Jan Brett

One line summary: A young boy drops his mitten in the snow, and animals ranging in size from a mouse to a brown bear try to crawl inside for warmth. (It sounds weird in a one line summary, but it’s good, I promise!)

A retelling of a Ukrainian folktale, The Mitten will make you smile with its funny ending and the beautiful drawings. It’s a children’s story, but I think adults will enjoy reading it to the little ones as well, and shows the value of sharing, as well as a lesson in cause and effect.

Pair with: Well, it depends. Are you reading along with kids? Honestly vodka is a match for this, but a more restrained option might be kvass, a non-alcoholic fermented beverage that can be flavoured with anything from strawberries to mint. There are plenty of recipes online, too – turn this into a lesson on sharing and kvass brewing!

the-mitten

The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart

One line summary: Merlin comes to terms with his power of the Sight and prepares for the coming of King Arthur. (It’s a trilogy, this is the first).

This is my personal Christmas re-read. I think everyone has one, whether it’s Harry Potter (all of them are good for the holidays, I think Christmas happens in every one and it’s always quite festive) or Lord of the Rings (not Christmas, exactly, but the epic quest and division of good vs evil feels fitting for the holidays). Arthur is born right around Christmas, but that’s really the only thing to link this book to that time of year.

Pair with: Red wine. People are always drinking wine in this book, and there’s a part where Merlin has been on the road for a long time, and when he finally gets to meet with Uther his ‘throat contracts longingly’ at the sight of mulled wine. I always remember that when I really feel like I could go for a glass of wine. Your alternate option is well water, but make sure you sprinkle a few drops for Myrddin before swigging it down, or else Merlin would heartily disapprove of you.

Bonus festivity if you drink it out of a similar goblet

Additional festivity may be achieved if you consume either beverage out of a similar goblet

All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot

One line summary: The adventures of a Yorkshire country veterinary before and after WWII.

I listed the first one here, but there are several James Herriot books and they are all equally delightful. Heartwarming and witty, it’s really easy to pick up one of his books and jump in anywhere. Most stories are anecdotal, which means you can read one while waiting for cookies to come out of the oven or the tea to steep.

Pair with: Whiskey, neat, and cheese, preferably something sharp. You’ll be surprised at the way the whiskey will draw out a creamy sweetness in the cheese. I can’t remember exactly which James Herriot book it happens in, but I’m fairly certain he has this exact snack with an old farmer after a grueling day of saving animals’ lives. Fruitcake will also be a nice addition, and of course, tea can always be substituted. Make sure it’s strong and splashed with fresh milk. This pairing is even better if you have a dog lying near your feet while reading/snacking.
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Have a festive reading suggestion of your own? Please share it in the comments!

 

 

Book Addiction: A Song of War

I just finished reading a fabulous anthology of stories of the Trojan War. With seven chapters by seven different authors, A Song of War skillfully weaves multiple perspectives into a vivid portrayal of the decade-long war and its many heroes. Sometimes the point of view is Achaean, sometimes Trojan, but it always engages the reader’s empathy for that character. I could barely put this book down. I fell seriously behind on my housework because I kept reading instead of vacuuming, but it was worth it. I think we can all agree that reading is much more fulfilling than cleaning.

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One of my favourite aspects of A Song of War is the way the authors have infused a well-known tale with lots of excellent little twists, giving each character or tale a fresh spark. Kate Quinn’s Hellenus and Stephanie Thornton’s Cassandra, are biracial, twins of King Priam of Troy and a Nubian concubine. Hellenus isn’t the most well-known figure from the Trojan War, but he should be, especially because he’s one of the few Trojans who gets a somewhat happy ending. I love the way Cassandra, of the doomed prophecies, has a correspondingly dark interest in death, and knows things like how to preserve an eyeball in honey. And even though she’s often seen by her fellow Trojans as crazy, she has the affection and support of her twin, Hellenus, and some of her other brothers. It’s nice not to see her completely shunned by everyone, as is sometimes the case in other adaptations of the Trojan War. In fact, Hellenus and Cassandra are both a little bit distant from the rest of the family, being illegitimate offspring of Priam, but are loyal to each other.

Libbie Hawker’s Penthesilea, the Amazon warrior, seeks not only glory but absolution in her duel against Achilles. Another of Hawker’s characters, Philoctetes, nurses a secret love for Achilles, whose dark, troubled portrayal throughout various viewpoints within the novel wrenches your heart even when you sometimes want to slap him. Agamemnon, usually portrayed rather villainously, becomes far more nuanced under Russell Whitfield’s hand, scarred by his sacrifices for the war, and I soon found myself pitying him. Odysseus is just as clever as one would wish, but Vicky Alvear Shecter also gives him a delightful sharp impatience as he has to form his schemes around some of his more bumbling compatriots. Odysseus also has the most (welcome) appearances in the book. Christian Cameron’s Briseis, instead of merely being Achilles’ concubine, is a woman strong and skilled enough to leave her own mark on the battlefield, and to seize her own future. The novel closes from Aeneas’ point of view, written by SJA Turney. Aeneas is the perfect character to end the story. Through the point of view of other characters, he can seem like a bit of a snob at times, often referring to his divine heritage, but when he gets his own feature, he’s brave and loyal, and while you might not necessarily want to sit beside him at a hypothetical banquet, he is the kind of person you’d want fighting at your side.

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This is such an intricate novel that I haven’t done all the characters justice. My ‘Book Addiction‘ posts are meant to share books that I recently read and immensely enjoyed, and that I hope others will discover, too. Definitely check this book out if you are looking for a book with: troubled heroes, noble heroes, good fight scenes, and of course, good death scenes.  Oh, the authors’ notes are fun, too.

 

From the jacket description:

Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy’s gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings . . . and these are their stories.

A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement.

A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster.

A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on.

A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel.

A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead.

A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all.

A goddess’ son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood.

Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age?