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weekly wrap-up 10/22

• After a great week last week, this one has been a tailspin. On Monday Matt called me at work to tell me our sweet Myra Jane passed away. Work was already extremely stressful, but his call put me over the edge and I was a wreck. Looking back, I’m so thankful he called – if he hadn’t I would have found out through a text or facebook and that shock would have been more than I could have handled.

• I’m still going through a massive reading slump. The past few books have been okay at best; the most recent was a DNF.

• Matt and I recently was a little banana crazy and bought a liiitle too many bunches. Yesterday was spent making ALL the banana bread!

MISSED IT THIS WEEK? Diane Chamberlain is back with The Stolen Marriage, a novel set it 1944 when polio was racing across the country. A woman suddenly calls off her engagement to the love of her life and abruptly moves states away to marry a virtual stranger. It’s Diane, you know it’s good.

Promise by Minrose Gwin
Palm Sunday, 1936, the height of the Great Depression. A tornado sweeps through Tupelo, Mississippi, killing hundreds. From what I understand, this novel follows two women: Dovey, an African-American laundress who barely escaped the tornado and is now searching for her family; and Jo, the daughter of a judge who finds a baby and is convinced it’s her brother. Thank you, William Morrow!

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The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain
Pub. Date: October 3, 2017
Source: Hardcover via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)
Summary: In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behavior and save her own life?
Genre: Historical Fiction

It’s no secret I live for the next Diane Chamberlain novel. Though I discovered her work pretty late in the game (she debuted in 1989 but my intro was her 2014 release, The Silent Sister!) I instantly fell hard for her writing and with 2015’s Pretending to Dance, knew Diane was someone special…and someone who clearly had a mission in life to crush my heart. So when her latest appeared at my door, you better believe I was ALL over it.

Everyone knew Tess and Vincent were destined to be together. When they were kids they spent almost every waking moment together and as they became older that friendship deepened into something more. Now engaged with a wedding rapidly approaching, Tess couldn’t be more excited about her future. Until the day she suddenly breaks off the engagement, moving hundreds of miles away to marry a man who’s practically a stranger.

Cutting off all ties to her life back home, Tess tries to love her husband and fit in with his elite Southern community as each day Henry becomes more and more mysterious. He spends long nights at his family’s furniture factory, he has a secret stash of money in a hidden compartment in his dresser, even his sister is in on it and never hesitates to rub Tess’s cluelessness in her face.

When the polio epidemic reaches Hickory, Tess feels compelled to act – despite Henry’s insistence that there has never been (and will never be) a Kraft woman with a job. All Tess needs to focus on is decorating the new house Henry is having built. But Tess can’t sit by, not when she has her nursing license, and soon begins feeling like the old Tess, the Tess she was back home in Baltimore. As the illness spreads, however, more and more doctors are brought in from around the country – including a doctor Tess never imagined she’d see again.

Right from the start I was captivated by The Stolen Marriage. It’s set in the mid-40s – hello, historical fiction! – and I was enchanted by Tess’s small but so tightly-knit Italian community. She and Vincent were so clearly made for each other and I’m a total sucker for a childhood romance. Diane Chamberlain is an expert at crafting characters and before I was even halfway into the book I felt as though I’d known Tess, her family, Henry, the people of Hickory, for years! She’s also very good at creating sympathetic characters – Tess breaks off her engagement to Vincent because she is raped by Henry and discovers she’s pregnant. Tess was convinced she was to blame, that what happened that night was consensual when, as a reader, I knew exactly what went on and absolutely hated Henry for it. Imagine my shock when, by the end of the novel, I saw him in a completely different light.

There are numerous storylines at work within this book’s pages: Tess’s lost love and her new life, whatever Henry is up to, a jilted lover who thought she was going to become Mrs. Henry Kraft, a man who can communicate with spirits, but the one that stood out the most was the polio epidemic. Or, more specifically, Hickory’s response. If you know me you know one of my all-time favorite sub-genres is what I’ve dubbed biographical fiction. Novels that feature real people and places from history. Here (and I wasn’t aware of this until Diane’s author’s note) it was the hospital that sprung up practically overnight. Known as the Miracle of Hickory, a functioning, fully staffed hospital was erected in just 54 hours. As if that wasn’t amazing enough, over 500 patients were treated there!

I once compared Diane’s books to Lifetime movies – and not in a bad way! Her books are filled to the brim with characters and plots and there’s never a dull moment (one of the characters in The Stolen Marriage fakes their own death)!

Diane Chamberlain has hit another homerun with The Stolen Marriage. While it didn’t tug at my heart nearly as much as Pretending to Dance, I was still glued to the page. She has the amazing ability to truly write something for everyone: there’s romance (including forbidden romance), intrigue, history, drama, the list goes on. I’ll admit I was angry with how the rape (yes it was indeed rape, Tess) was handled, but I understand the reasoning behind it. Despite that, however, The Stolen Marriage is a great read and I’m so excited to see what Diane does next!

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weekly wrap-up 10/15

• This will be a short, quick wrap-up: the past two weeks have been extremely quiet on the blog. Yesterday was our 6-year anniversary and Matt and I spent the day going on random drives (one of our favorite things to do). Matt’s also really into cars and yesterday morning we hung out at Cars & Coffee, a meet-up for those with wildly expensive or sporty cars. Some photographers there took pictures of Matt’s car!

• Did you see the size of this apple dumpling??? It was DELICIOUS but I barely made a dent!

• I recently discussed (on instagram) about how my reading this year has been pretty…blah. As of this morning I’ve read 100 books and the majority have been just okay, decent reads. A LOT of 3 & 4 stars on GR. I did have 7 5-star reads this year (so far), but out of those 7 only 2 were published this year. The rest are either rereads or pre-2017 releases. Ugh.

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? I recapped September!

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September 2017 recap!


WHAT I…DID

• I’m a soup person year-round, but once fall hits, look out. I made this amazing broccoli soup and was shocked by how simple and easy it was to put together!! I have a feeling this soup and I will become VERY good friends as the weather gets colder!

• I celebrated my birthday by seeing IT and touring a local animal sanctuary!

• September is practically an ode to literature: my birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday, Stephen King’s birthday, Banned Books Week, and Roald Dahl Day, which you all know is VERY near and dear to my heart.

• Nacho and I had an amazing experience with a local cop. I posted a long, rambly story on instagram all about it!

Reese’s coffee creamer, y’all. Life. Changing.

• I made the most delicious scones, all thanks to a burst of inspiration from a local blogger-turned-bosslady!

• I read 10 books in September, 2 on audio, 8 print/ebooks. Unfortunately, the majority were disappointing (or in the case of Everything Must Go, just plain AWFUL). Thankfully there were two Hercule Poirot short stories that made September’s reading not a total failure :( Here’s to hoping for better books in October!

WHAT I…REVIEWED

ELSIE MAE HAS SOMETHING TO SAY BY NANCY J CAVANAUGH was a book I wanted to get my hands on the moment I heard of it: 1930s Middle Grade about a girl who writes a letter to FDR in an attempt to save her beloved Okefenokee Swamp. You know me, I can’t pass up a book that features real people and events! Sadly, the summary was a bit misleading. While Elsie Mae is definitely a fun, super quick read, it’s more a story about hog bandits and Elsie befriending her cousin (who happens to be staying with them for the summer). I wish Roosevelt would have played a larger role here!

GHOSTS! MAGIC! MYSTERY! 3 MINI REVIEWS I didn’t plan it this way, but there was a Middle Grade, a YA, and an Adult novel featured in this post. Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller sounded like a fun, Victorian-esque paranormal…and turned out to be a bit of a dud (though my inner botany nerd rejoiced). Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones instantly brought to mind Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey – which I LOVED – and this similar read was just as fantastic! I also reviewed Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger which was an entertaining thriller, but the best thing about the book was that the main character had my name AND pronounced it the same way!

THE VISITORS BY CATHERINE BURNS was fine as far as debuts go, but I have to admit this was yet another letdown for me. I kept hearing stories about how chilling and horrifying this one was. I was fully prepared to sleep with all the lights on. Unfortunately, the terror simply wasn’t there. The twist is obvious from the start and before opening the book you know what’s going on in the basement.

THE ORPHAN OF FLORENCE BY JEANNE KALOGRIDIS kept me reading, but I felt like this book couldn’t decide if it wanted to be historical fiction or historical fantasy. A girl living on the streets as a pickpocket is taken in by the famed Magician of Florence and she soon finds herself caught up in a conspiracy surrounding the Medici court. I should have been all over this one. Sadly, the most memorable scene was one where the love interest’s eyes were described as a celery sea.

WHAT I…BLOGGED

AUGUST 2017 RECAP

2017 BOOKS I NEED TO GET MY HANDS ON PART 2: HISTORICAL FICTION

2017 BOOKS I NEED TO GET MY HANDS ON PART 2: MYSTERY/SUSPENSE

2017 BOOKS I NEED TO GET MY HANDS ON PART 2: SCI-FI/FANTASY

2017 BOOKS I NEED TO GET MY HANDS ON PART 2: CONTEMPORARY

4 THINGS I’M LOVING THIS SEPTEMBER

APPLE SPICE SCONES WITH CARAMEL GLAZE

WEEKLY WRAP-UPS
9/3
9/10
9/18
9/24

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weekly wrap-up 10/1

• After an all too short weekend (though relaxing and fun – we went bowling last night with friends we haven’t seen in months), tomorrow is Monday and I’m not ready.

• This mushroom baked ziti looks crazy simple and delicious…I just might have to try it this week!

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? I shared a recipe for apple spice scones with caramel glaze. These were not only incredibly easy to make, but so, so scrumptious – Matt loved them!

The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis initially sounded intriguing: a girl, living on the streets as a boy and stealing her way through Florence just to survive, has her luck finally run out when she gets caught. …only the man who apprehended her is the famed Magician of Florence, a mystical, magical man who is very close to the Medicis. Unfortunately, I wasn’t overly wowed with this one.


The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers
A successful LA artist seems to have it all: money, women, celebrity status. The only person who knows the real Roman Velasco is his newly hired assistant. She sees him wander the halls of his sprawling – but empty – mansion. What Grace doesn’t know, however, is that Roman takes to the streets at night, living out a secret life of a notorious, Banksy-esque graffiti artist. Still unidentified, if word got out, Roman’s entire career could end – and he could land in prison. I’ve been curious about Francine Rivers and this one sounds like it could turn into a feel-good romance…something I might need after all the dark, gory murder novels I also have coming up! Thank you, Tyndale!

The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain
I’ve been flailing over this one since May, when I first mentioned it in a Recently Added post. I featured it again in September in part 2 of my series on 2017 novels I need to get my hands on. I love Diane and her books (though I not-so-secretly believe her endgame is to utterly crush my heart). This one is set 1944 when a woman discovers the man she abruptly marriage isn’t who she thought he was. Racial tension, polio sweeps through the nation, at this point I would read Diane’s version of a phone book. Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!

Christmas in London by Anita Hughes
I received an ARC of this one back in May (side note: absolutely crying over the photo of Nacho!! That was taken right when we brought him home :( he was so little!!). A New York baker finds herself through into the spotlight – and on her way to London. Really, there’s food, London, possibly romance, Christmas, I expect this one to be perfectly fluffy. Thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!

The Vanishing Season by Joanna Schaffhausen
Once the only surviving victim of a brutal serial killer, Ellery is now an officer is a sleepy town where the worst crime is a stolen bicycle. But when three people vanish, all on her birthday, she begins to wonder if someone knows who she really is – and if more people will go missing. Her bosses brush off her concerns and so Ellery reaches out to the one person who she knows will believe her, the FBI agent who rescued her from the serial killer all those years ago. Murder mysteries go hand-in-hand with chilly weather for me and I think this one sounds great. Thank you, Minotaur!

Murder in the Manuscript Room by Con Lehane
A woman is murdered in New York’s 42nd Street Library and the curator of crime fiction is determined to solve the case. Libraries, another murder mystery, yep – I’m sold! Thank you, Minotaur!

The Ghost of Christmas Past by Rhys Bowen
I’ve always wanted to read Rhys Bowen, when I was a bookseller, we would see her books practically take over the shelves! I’m not concerned with this being the 17th volume in the series (I didn’t come to Aunt Dimity until book 20!), but I AM a little surprised that my intro will be a Christmas novel. I never really was a fan of holiday stories, but it seems this will be a year of firsts for me! 1906, Molly and her husband are quietly grieving a miscarriage and Molly’s subsequent depression, when the two are invited to a friend’s mansion for Christmas. Grateful to get away from San Francisco for the season, the two travel across the country, only to learn there won’t be a relaxing holiday in store for them. The learn their hosts’ daughter simply disappeared from the home ten years ago and was never seen again. No random note, no body. Nothing. On Christmas Eve, however, there’s a knock at the door, followed by “I’m Charlotte. I’ve come home.” Christmas mysteries! Thank you, Minotaur!

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The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis

The Orphan of Florence by Jeanne Kalogridis
Pub. Date: October 3, 2017
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!)
Summary: Giulia has been an orphan all her life. Raised in Florence’s famous Ospedale degli Innocenti, her probing questions and insubordinate behavior made her an unwelcome presence, and at the age of fifteen, she was given an awful choice: become a nun, or be married off to a man she didn’t love. She chose neither, and after refusing an elderly suitor, Guilia escaped onto the streets of Florence.

Now, after spending two years as a successful pickpocket, an old man catches her about to make off with his purse, and rather than having her carted off to prison he offers her a business proposition. The man claims to be a cabalist, a student of Jewish mysticism and ritual magic, who works for the most powerful families in Florence. But his identity is secret—he is known only as “the Magician of Florence”—and he is in need of an assistant. She accepts the job and begins smuggling his talismans throughout the city.

But the talismans are not what they seem, and neither is the Magician. When Giulia’s involvement with him ends with his murder, she’s drawn into a treacherous web of espionage and deceit involving the forces of Rome, Naples, and a man known as Lorenzo the Magnificent. Accused of the Magician’s murder, Giulia is pursued by the handsome policeman Niccolo, Lorenzo’s henchmen, and foreign spies, and in order to survive, she must not only solve the mystery of the mystery of the Magician’s murder, but that of her own past.
Genre: Historical Fiction

Abandoned as a baby, Guiliana was raised in an orphanage run by nuns. The closer she gets to fifteen, however, the nearer her time at the orphanage draws to a close: the only two options for her? Marriage or the convent. Guiliana isn’t interested in either one, thank you very much, not when she’s incredibly gifted with words and numbers (thanks to a fellow orphan, a boy, who secretly taught her to read) and has even devised her own coded language.

A close-cropped haircut later, and Guiliana became Guiliano, no one would give a second glance to a young boy living on the streets. With the help of a 6-year-old, the two started The Game, searching Florence’s streets at night, stealing what they could. …until the day they got caught.

Luckily for Guiliana, the man who caught her claims to be the mighty Magician of Florence and not only is he in need of an assistant, but he also seems to know something about the strange talisman she was wearing when she was abandoned as a baby, the only tie she has to her true identity and her long lost parents.

I’m hesitant to label The Orphan of Florence as historical fantasy, despite the talisman with magical properties. Kabbalah plays a large role, though it’s never directly stated – I don’t even believe it was specifically mentioned the Magician is Jewish, regardless of what the summary claims. Still, I can’t write off the fantasy element at play here. I’m wondering if I would have enjoy the book more if the author had decided to go one way or the either: do away with the magical talismans completely or totally give into it and have this novel be straight fantasy. As it is, The Orphan of Florence was just an okay, middle-of-the-road read and those are the hardest reviews to write.

The Medici family is heavily featured…and apart from a VERY spoilery spoiler, I couldn’t quite figure out why. There’s a plot dealing with coded messages and Lorenzo fleeing to France and it was all very…dull. I hate to say it (how on earth could the Medicis and a WAR come across as boring??) but there it is.

There’s also a confusing romance I could have done without. In RomCom fashion, Guiliana (still presenting herself as a boy, remember) meets the love interest…Niccolo? It’s only been a few days since finishing and I’ve already forgotten his name, that should tell you something about the staying power of this one. Of course he falls for her, confused as to why he’s suddenly attracted to a boy, only he doesn’t say anything until the very end when – surprise! – Guiliana is actually a girl! These two have VERY few interactions prior to their abrupt (and bewildering) sex scene and their proclamations of love and a marriage proposal had me rolling my eyes. I wasn’t buying it, sorry. Also, at one point, his eyes were described as a celery sea.

It doesn’t fare well for a book when the review alone takes a few days to write – and NOT because I had multiple days’ worth of discussion. Between the previous paragraph and this one, I’ve checked facebook a few times, watched a quick promo Stephen King did for Sleeping Beauties, and requested a library book. While reading, I was able to focus a tiny bit better, but there just wasn’t anything all that engaging in its pages. An orphan disguised as a boy, Florence in the time of the Medicis, a looming war, magic…The Orphan of Florence should have been an exciting, thrilling ride and I’m sad to say it left me disappointed.

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Apple Spice Scones with Caramel Glaze

Fall is officially here, though temperatures have been hovering near 90 lately in Pittsburgh! While I am definitely NOT a cold weather kind of girl, I love the beginning of fall when the leaves begin to change and apple cider starts hitting the shelves. I live for chunky cardigans (though when you work in my office it’s cardigan season year-round ha). I go into full on baking mode the second September hits and on Sunday I shared the story behind my need to make these scones. Long story short, an amazing local blogger/boutique owner had been making cranberry scones and was sharing the process on her instagram stories. That started a craving and I took to scouring food blogs.

Apple spice, y’all. Confession time: …I’m not a pumpkin spice fan. Eek!! I love me some pumpkin pie, but pumpkin lattes just don’t do it for me. …Apple, however. I changed up the recipe a teensy bit: the original has apple cider cinnamon glaze which sounds amazing and these scones were such a hit with Matt that I’m for sure going to be making them again soon (and I’ll have to try out her glaze next time – yum)! Instead, I drizzled caramel over mine, ooey, gooey deliciousness.

Apple Spice Scones with Caramel Glaze
Adapted slightly from Some the Wiser

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
pinch of ground allspice
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
½ cup whole milk Greek yogurt
1 heaping cup peeled and chopped apple
1 large egg
Caramel sauce, I used store-bought

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients.
3. Grate butter into flour mixture on the large holes of a box grater; use your fingers to work in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
4. In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt and egg until smooth. Add in the chopped apple.
5. Using a fork, stir yogurt mixture into flour mixture until large dough clumps form. Use your hands to press the dough against the bowl into a ball. The dough will be crumbly at first, but as you press, the dough will come together.
6. Place on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7-inch circle about ¾-inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 triangles; place on prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
7. Allow scones to cool and drizzle caramel on top.

Do you love fall baking?? Share your favorite recipes!