Thursday, December 15, 2016

December Food Fest: Chicken In Milk

chicken in milk
Image via Flickr, because I completely forgot to take a photo myself.
Bonjour, kittens! Today, me myself and I, Tasha from Team BBI, is here to share a chicken recipe perfect for winter. It's rich, comforting, and tasty. You'll want to try it immediately, and you can thank me afterward. You're welcome.

Say hello to your new favorite comfort food: Chicken in milk.

I first ran across this strange-sounding recipe by accident, when I spotted a post titled, "Jamie Oliver's Chicken in Milk Is Probably the Best Chicken Recipe of All Time" at The Kitchn. The recipe is basically a whole chicken braised in milk. The Kitchn wasn't the only blog enthusiastic about the recipe: others called it the best chicken ever, the most tender roast chicken, and "amazing." So naturally I had to try it.

As I was looking Oliver's recipe over, though, it reminded me of a similar recipe I'd seen on America's Test Kitchen, except this one was for milk braised pork loin. ATK had a few different techniques from Oliver's recipe, mainly to keep the milk from curdling. I hadn't tried ATK's recipe yet, but I decided to incorporate some of their tips in Oliver's basic recipe. Specifically, I didn't dump the fat out and used whole milk. Everything else was the same.

chicken in milk
Image by danebrian via Flickr


The results were delicious! This recipe really is ridiculously easy, and leaving the fat in the pot left the sauce just slightly curdled. The picky eaters in my family didn't even notice it.

But I kept thinking, what would have happened if I'd followed ATK's recipe more closely? Is their version superior to Oliver's? So I decided to make their milk braised pork roast as a comparison.

Unfortunately, I was HUGELY disappointed in ATK's milk braised pork. The pork was extraordinarily bland and the sauce never thickened, despite the fact that I boiled it nearly 10x longer than the recipe called for. I did about double the work in this recipe as I did for Oliver's, and got only about a quarter of the flavor out of it.

When I returned to Oliver's milk braised chicken, I wanted to see if I could get the smooth sauce ATK promised with all the flavor I'd previously had with Oliver's recipe. And I did! The sauce was rich and savory, with a ton of umami flavor, and the chicken was tender and moist. My family loved it.

But...

I think ATK tends to try to "solve" problems that aren't really problems, and the curdled sauce in these milk braises is a classic example of that. No, the sauce doesn't look pretty curdled, but it tastes DIVINE. There really isn't any good reason to do backflips just to make a smooth sauce when the curdled sauce tastes so effing good (unless you live in a house full of picky eaters you know will turn their nose up at such a thing, of course).

That said, here's my recipe for chicken in milk with the smooth, uncurdled sauce. If this is a little too much work, just use whole milk and don't dump out the fat when you're making Oliver's original recipe. Definitely try either or both, though!

chicken in milk
Image by thatturtle via Flickr

Chicken in Milk


Active time: 1 hour (includes standing around drinking, playing with the dogs, doing dishes, etc.)
Total time: 2.5 hours

Tools:

  • Whisk
  • Dutch oven


Ingredients:


  • 1 whole (approx. 3 lb) chicken
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • Handful of fresh sage leaves (MUST be fresh, otherwise it tastes too Thanksgiving-y)
  • 6 whole garlic cloves, peeled or not
  • 1 pint whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)



Directions:


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degs F.
  2. Rinse the chicken, pat dry, and season generously inside and out with salt and pepper.
  3. On the stovetop, heat the Dutch oven to medium-high heat. Melt butter.
  4. Brown chicken on all sides in the butter until golden. Remove from pot and set aside on a plate.
  5. Add milk, garlic, sage, baking soda, and cinnamon stick to pot. Stir and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot until the milk comes up to a boil, then lower heat to medium and keep stirring and scraping until milk has thickened slightly.
  6. Return chicken and any juices on the plate to the pot. Cover and cook in oven for 1 and half hours, flipping the chicken halfway through cooking.
  7. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove from pot and allow to rest under aluminum foil.
  8. Meanwhile, put the Dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stove and add the wine and lemon zest, whisking vigorously to smooth out the sauce. Bring to a boil and then simmer until sauce is the consistency of thin gravy.
  9. Once thick, remove pot from heat and add parsley, if using. Stir in any accumulated chicken juices and serve with with your favorite starch and veggie.


Notes:

  • Oliver says not to peel the garlic cloves, but I'm not a fan of finding garlic skins in my sauce, so I peel them before hand.
  • I cover the pot while cooking, but if you like your chicken skin crispy, by all means leave the lid off and baste occasionally with the milk.



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December Food Fest: Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

hoosier sugar cream pie recipe

No one can imagine a holiday without pie, and J. Doe from Sprung At Last is here today to talk about one of her favorite classic–and cheap!–pie recipes for Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie, as well as the difficulties of dieting while being a food blogger. Onward and pie-ward!

No one can hide from the truth forever, so here is my truth: I am a very poor excuse for a food blogger. Some of this may be due to the fact that I’m not really a food blogger, I’m just someone with a blog who happens to enjoy cooking.

Mostly, though, this is due to another truth: I gained a lot of weight during my unfortunate marriage, and gained even more since its abrupt end.

I tried lying at first, telling myself I hadn’t really gained that much. But my pants never lie, and they told a different story. Lose it, they said, and after a while, I listened.

Dieting is hard, and being a food blogger on a diet is harder still.

A better person than the one I am would probably write about healthy food and low-calorie eating, but not me: I am in deep denial that anyone could find kale edible under any circumstances, and furthermore, I don’t want to be anywhere near a kitchen when I am trying not to think about the kind of food I actually do want to eat.

When I’m not on a diet, the kitchen is place of memories, inspired by the comforting smell of roast chicken, or the astonishingly light weight of my grandmother’s beloved cast iron skillet. When I am on a diet, the kitchen is simply a room full of reminders of things I’d rather be eating: A hundred or so cookbooks, many of them devoted to cakes, pies, and cookies.

Like most people, I like the idea of healthy eating. I own a juicer. It was a gift, and I’ve never actually plugged it in, but I dedicate valuable countertop space to it, and I feel like must surely count of something.

My pants disagree.

I start my diet in the early fall. By the end of fall, I’ve lost some weight, by which I mean, more than twenty pounds. Three pants sizes.

I donate my disagreeable pants to charity, and take myself shopping for a happier pair.

The holidays roll around, and though I begin the season worried about the upcoming buffets and potlucks, it turns out it is not that hard to just eat a little bit of everything, when that has become the habit. I find I’m relaxed - enjoying myself, even. I look forward to baking the things I will contribute. I look forward to writing about them on my blog.

The stars seem to align for the return of my blog, but my friends have other things in mind: They all have their favorites, and with each invitation comes a request for something I’ve made before. Tradition! That pie!

That pie is sugar cream pie, a dessert I researched especially for a poverty-themed party last April 15. I discovered it in Paula Haney’s wonderful cookbook, Hoosier Mama’s Book of Pie, in the chapter of Depression-era recipes titled Desperation Pies. (Other entries in this chapter include Vinegar Pie, something I’ve not yet been personally desperate enough to make.) I tried to keep to the party’s theme with every step of the pie-making process. I resisted the urge to buy the cookbook online, and checked it out of the library. My plan might have been a frugal one, too, if I had not then left the book where my dog could get at it and chew off half the cover before I noticed.

I should probably mind the fact that I ended up paying full price for a heavily used and damaged cookbook, but I don’t. The pie was a hit at the poverty party, and was a hit again at the holiday potluck.

It is easy to make, especially if you do as I do and cheat a little by using a ready-made crust. Just prebake the crust and let it cool, then fill and bake to set the filling. Remember to leave a couple hours – at least four – to chill the pie completely before serving, or it won’t set correctly. You can reduce this time somewhat by resting the pie dish in a pan of ice water once it has cooled a bit, but you will get the best results by chilling it thoroughly before serving.

And if you forget, the pie will still be tasty, just a bit messy.

hoosier sugar cream pie


Recipe: Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

Adapted from Paula Haney, Hoosier Mama’s Book of Pie

Ingredients


  • 1 single-crust pie shell of your choice
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • two vanilla beans


Instructions


  1. Cut vanilla beans open lengthwise, and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds out. You will have about ¾ tsp of vanilla bean seeds, put in a small bowl and set aside. (Save the bean pods for some other purpose, like vanilla sugar.)
  2. Pre-bake the pie shell according to the directions, and set aside to cool.
  3. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. Whisk the sugar, brown sugar, flour, and salt together in a medium bowl. Use your hands to break up any clumps, if needed.
  5. Gently whisk in the heavy cream; taking care not to beat too much, as whipping the cream will prevent the pie from setting. Stir in the vanilla seeds.
  6. Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pie, and bake another 20-25 minutes.
  7. When the pie is ready, the top surface will be beautifully browned and bubbling vigorously; it will not look set.
  8. Set the pie on a wire rack to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least four hours before slicing.


Notes


  • If you have vanilla paste, you can substitute 1 tsp for the vanilla bean seeds.
  • If you are pressed for time, cool the pie for 15-20 minutes on a wire rack, then set it in a pan of icewater, as high as you can get without touching the rim, and place in the refrigerator to cool. This will reduce the time needed to cool the pie by about half. (Or, make the pie a day ahead, and save yourself some stress!)
  • This recipe was originally included in this blog post.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

December Food Fest: Do You Cookie Exchange?

christmas cookie exchange

It wouldn't be the holidays without cookies, and Candace from Beth Fish Reads is here today to discuss the plusses and minuses of a Christmas cookie exchange. Bonus: she's sharing one of her favorite Christmas cookie recipes! Take it away, Candace.

christmas cookie cookbooks

One of the holiday traditions I look forward to is our annual cookie exchange. On the first Sunday of December, a friend of mine hosts a boozy holiday brunch and get-together that also includes a cookie exchange. It's a fun tradition and a nice moment to relax before the holiday season descends in full force.

Truth be told, though, I have a love-hate relationship with cookie exchanges. What's the good? Although I bake only one kind of cookie I end up with at least eight different kinds, all baked by other people. That lets me put together a pretty platter for guests with just a minimum amount of work.

christmas cookie exchange boxes

What's the bad? Oh the temptation of having all those cookies! I'm not much of sweet eater, but a plate full of homemade goodies is so hard to resist. Every year I promise myself that I'll sample just one of each kind. That's all. The rest are for holiday visitors. Well, yeah, the best laid plans and all of that.

Still, despite the threatening sugar coma, I can't wait for the festivities--and cookies--to start! Here's the recipe I used this year. I cut three dozen cookies from each pan.

jan habel christmas cookie

Jan Habel

From Betty Crocker's Cooky Book

My notes: This is a Dutch cookie. I used pecans, because that's what I had in the house, and increased the amount to 1 cup. The cookies will seem very soft but they firm up after cooling. I cut 36 cookies per batch.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts


Directions:
Heat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 15-1/2 by 10-1/2 inch jelly roll pan. Mix butter, sugar, and egg yolk. Blend flour and cinnamon; stir into the butter mixture. Pat into pan. Beat water and egg white until frothy; brush over dough; sprinkle with nuts. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until very lightly browned. Cut immediately into finger-like strips. Yield: 50 (3 by 1-inch) strips.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December Food Fest: Send Out 2016 with the Comfort You Need

favorite holiday cookbooks

Our December Holiday Food Fest continues with a post by Serena, who blogs at Savvy Verse & Wit, runs Poetic Book Tours, and is also a fantastic poet herself. She was recently nominated for the Pushcart Prize!

Today Serena's here to share some of her favorite holiday cookbooks and comfort food recipes. Take it away, Serena!

The year wraps itself up in December. Although 2016 may not have the shiniest paper and sparkly bow, December is the time for reflection, giving, and, yes, eating. On the east coast, the weather can be rainy or snowy, but almost always, it is too cold for me. My cousin keeps telling me to move to Florida, but that hot weather would leave little room for some of my favorite comfort foods – soup, chili, and shepherd’s pie.

Book bloggers who love to cook gravitate toward cookbooks like children to candy. You can’t get enough. And look out if the latest cookbook also happens to be written by one of our favorite authors – Jane Green. What we really want is good food to warm the body and food that’s easy to prepare and share with family, friends, or even book club.

Some of my favorite recipes are so easy that you just throw the ingredients into a crockpot, set the timer, and go read! Six Sisters’ Stuff cookbooks have a number of easy recipes, but one of our favorites is macaroni and cheese for the crockpot. It does require some prep; you’ll have to cook the elbow macaroni and melt grated cheddar with butter in a saucepan. Spray the crockpot with non-stick spray and add the ingredients. It only takes two hours to cook, so it can be made quickly in a pinch. It is so creamy thanks to the sour cream, milk, and cheddar cheese soup.

My daughter would tell you that her favorite food is chicken nuggets, and Aviva Goldfarb’s SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue has a super easy recipe with some healthy side dish suggestions. Buttermilk-bathed chicken nuggets are easy to make once you prep the buttermilk wash with garlic and the batter of bread crumbs, Parmesan, and seasoning. They take between 15-20 minutes to bake in the oven. But don’t forget to cut the chicken breasts in smaller sizes. We ended up using pre-cut chicken. It was delicious, and there were no complaints from a girl who thinks most food comes from a bag or box.

What are some of your comfort foods? I'm always looking for new cookbooks and recipes to try.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

December Food Fest: Holiday Cocktails

holiday cocktails

Today please welcome Penny Watson, a book blogger and author who's famous for her quirky, unusual romances. Penny's most well-known series is the Klaus Brothers, about the sons of Nick Klaus who leave the North Pole to find love. I also happen to know Penny loves a good cocktail, so I thought it would be fun to have her share some Klaus-inspired cocktails for winter. Take it away, Penny!


Party with the Klaus Brothers! A Few Holiday Cocktail Suggestions from Penny Watson



Happy Holidays!

I’m Penny Watson, author of quirky fiction and lover of cocktails. My holiday romance series THE KLAUS BROTHERS always includes delicious food and beverages.

sweet destiny klaus brothers penny watson


Here are some fun suggestions for holiday drinks inspired by the five Klaus Brothers. They take their cocktails seriously. (And often drink with elves, but that’s another story...)

egg nog
1. Nicholas Klaus (Sweet Inspiration)

Nick Junior is the oldest Klaus brother. He’s a pastry chef who loves all things foodie. He would certainly choose this Salted Caramel Eggnog since it involves a bit of cooking on the stovetop. This recipe includes dark rum, pure vanilla extract, caramel syrup, and cinnamon sticks. Here’s the recipe from The Cookie Rookie.

2. Sven Klaus (Sweet Adventure)

Sven Klaus—toy-maker and hippie extraordinaire—loves his all-natural lifestyle, including fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs. What would a Birkenstock-wearing hippie drink over the holidays? A Grapefruit and Rosemary Cocktail.

This simple recipe includes vodka, fresh rosemary and super healthy grapefruit.

3. Gregor Klaus (Sweet Cinderella)

Gregor Klaus, the man-of-finance for Klaus Enterprises, enjoys a life of luxury in Manhattan. He would gravitate towards a bourbon-based beverage. Santa’s Little Helper is his perfect cocktail. It includes plenty of bourbon and some cranberries to jazz up the holiday. Check out this recipe from Aunt Peaches.

4. Oskar Klaus (Sweet Magik)

Oskar Klaus, green-haired punk snowboarder and crazy man, doesn’t hold back with his alcoholic beverages. He goes ALL out. Ergo, the White Chocolate Peppermint Martini is the drink for him. It includes Godiva white chocolate liquor, vanilla vodka, peppermint schnapps, chocolate syrup, and candy canes for garnish (of course).

Here’s a cheery recipe From A Family Feast...

hot apple cider
5. Wolfgang Klaus (Sweet Destiny)

What’s the perfect holiday beverage if you’re cabin-bound in the middle of the Vermont forest? Wolfgang and Belinda would love this recipe for spiked hot apple cider. Simmering this cider on the stovetop makes the whole house smell cozy and festive.





Penny’s Spiked Apple Cider



  • 1 quart fresh apple cider
  • 1 generous handful mulling spices (cinnamon sticks, orange peel, cloves, star anise, lemon peel, etc)
  • Laird’s Applejack
  • Orange/apple slices for garnish


Gently heat apple cider on stovetop. Add handful of mulling spices. When the liquid is at a low simmer, strain out the spices and pour hot cider into mugs. Add 1-2 shots apple brandy into the mug (depending on how “festive” you want your celebration). Garnish with sliced orange or apples and maybe a couple of cinnamon sticks for fun.

Enjoy!


For more information about the five Klaus Brothers, stop by my website. I have a cheat sheet for the series and a quiz to determine how much you love Christmas.


Happy Holidays To All!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cozy November: What the World Needs Now is Hygge?

cozy november


Let us welcome Chris from Chrisbookarama today.  She is here to chat about hygge.  What is that, and how does it relate to our Cozy Reading November?  Read on to find out!



WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS HYGGE?



So, things look bleak out there. Also, it's November. November is so blah. I feel like I could use some hygge. Do you know what hygge is?

Hygge is a Danish concept, meaning "cosiness." The Danes explain it here. I really like the idea of hygge, especially since I live where the darkness of winter tends to get people down.

There's a lot of reasons to feel upset, scared, and confused. But you got to take care of yourself. Get yourself some good self-care. Maybe hygge can be a part of your own regime. I'm going to dedicate the next few months to hygge*. I'm going to indulge in warm beverages (tonight I'm drinking a hot apple cider), comforting hobbies, and, of course, cozy reads.

I'm not sure what I'm going to read yet, but I have some suggestions for you.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Valancy breaks free of her overbearing family and finds herself.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. A girl and her grandmother spend a summer together on an isolated island.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. A woman goes to live on a relative's farm. High jinks ensue.

Relish by Lucy Knisley. Fooooooooood!

These are books that make me feel warm inside.

What are your favorite comfort reads? I need some suggestions!

Grab a blanket, light some candles, snuggle a favorite pet, and join me for some hygge reading.


*I feel okay co-opting hygge since my grandmother was Danish. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Cozy November: THE MAGGIE HOPE SERIES by Susan Elia MacNeal

cozy november


Today please welcome Beth from Beth's Book-Nook Blog, who's here to dish on one of her favorite cozy mystery series, The Maggie Hope Series by Susan Elia MacNeal. She even had a chance to interview MacNeal about the series! Take it away, Beth.



Today I was ask to do a guest post for BOOK BLOGGERS INTERNATIONAL, so I’m thrilled to be here to write about one of my very favorite genres: cozy mysteries!

I’m a huge fan of cozy mysteries — those fun reads that catch you and draw you in, but are never too scary or violent or cruel. I’m also a big fan of mysteries that take place long ago. The MAGGIE HOPE series by Susan Elia MacNeal is a wonderful series of novels, following the adventures of Maggie Hope, a WWII code breaker and British government worker. Maggie has all sorts of interesting things happen to her, all the while dealing with blossoming (and withering) romances, friends and relationships with interesting people, a unique family situation that could call for a flow chart while reading, and her own beloved cat.

The first book in the series is called MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY. Here’s the overview from Penguin Books:

ABOUT MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY

mr churchill's secretary


For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it. 
London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history. 
Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself. 
In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.

There are currently six Maggie Hope books – with THE QUEEN’S ACCOMPLICE being the latest one (all reviewed on my blog: http://www.drbethnolan.wordpress.com).

the queen's accomplice


DESCRIPTION: Spy and code-breaker extraordinaire Maggie Hope returns to war-weary London, where she is thrust into the dangerous hunt for a monster, as the New York Times bestselling mystery series for fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and Anne Perry continues. 
England, 1942. The Nazis’ relentless Blitz may have paused, but London’s nightly blackouts continue. Now, under the cover of darkness, a madman is brutally killing and mutilating young women in eerie and exact re-creations of Jack the Ripper’s crimes. What’s more, he’s targeting women who are reporting for duty to be Winston Churchill’s spies and saboteurs abroad. The officers at MI-5 quickly realize they need the help of special agent Maggie Hope to find the killer dubbed “the Blackout Beast.” A trap is set. But once the murderer has his sights on Maggie, not even Buckingham Palace can protect the resourceful spy from her fate.


**********************************

I never grow tired of Maggie adventures and I find Susan’s research to be startlingly in depth and on target.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Susan MacNeal a few questions. I am friends with her on Facebook and enjoy her posts (we actually have sons the same age with similar interests as well). Susan was gracious enough to send me some insider info that I can share with you readers about how she came to write about Maggie Hopeand her adventures.

1) How did you come up with the idea for Maggie Hope and the series?

Actually, I can thank the Muppets for the Maggie Hope series! Let me explain—my husband is a puppeteer for Sesame Street and the Jim Henson company, and he starred as Bear in the Disney Channel show Bear in the Big Blue House. Well, it was huge in London, so we got to travel there.
Our first night, we met a friend at a pub and he very kindly brought a copy of Time Out London and flipped it open to an ad for the Churchill War Rooms, saying, “Despite what you Yanks might think, World War II didn’t start with Pearl Harbor. Maybe you should go and take a look.”
Considering myself challenged, I set out the next day, through a horrible snow storm (I’m from Buffalo, so it didn’t slow me down).
The museum, set in the underground, concrete-ceiling-protected bunker from which Winston Churchill and his staff ran World War II, looked much as it did during the war. Walking the same hallways that the Prime Minister himself trof was awe-inspiring. And it was a catalist for writing the book. I knew I had to write about the people of the War Rooms, a woman working in the War Rooms—and specifically a young woman, working as a secretary, in the War Rooms.

2) How did you research each novel (as they are meticulously researched!)?

Well, I love to travel to the places in question and do as much first-hand research as I can. I also love to talk to people who lived through World War II. I was privledged to correspond with Mrs. Elizabeth Layton Nel, who was one of Churchill’s wartime secretaries. And one of my friends and editors is a woman who lived through the Blitz in London as a child. Then there are books, of course (first person accounts are best), documentaries, and newspapers and magazines from the time. I love to research!

3) How many books do you plan to have in the series?

Well, THE QUEEN’S ACCOMPLICE (Maggie Hope #6) is just out and made the USA Today- and Publishers Weekly-bestseller lists, as well as a finalist in Goodreads Best Books of 2016 best mystery/thriller catagory. I’m just now finishing up THE PARIS SPY, the next book in the series, slated for publication in summer ’17. And I’m under contract for books #8 and #9 with Penguin Random House. Love writing these books and have lots and lots of stories to tell!

THANK YOU, Susan, for answering my questions!

The Maggie Hope titles are:


  • Mr. Churchill’s Secretary
  • Princess Elizabeth’s Spy (my favorite!)
  • His Majesty’s Hope
  • The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent
  • Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante
  • The Queen’s Accomplice


All available from Penguin Random House Books!

Thank you for letting me guest post today at Book Bloggers International. Please stop by my blog at Beth’s Book-Nook Blog: http://www.drbethnolan.wordpress.com or find me on Twitter at @BethsBookBlog and on Litsy at BethsBookBlog!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cozy November: Cozy Mysteries From Kirrin Island To Gaborone, Botswana

cozy reading november


Today please welcome Uma from Books, Bags, Burgers. She's talking about her favorite cozy mysteries of all time. Take it away, Uma!



As a kid, books were my best companions and they still are! Being the only child, I spent most of my time at home reading books. My favourite genres of the moment always vary. Last month I devoured science fiction and horror like crazy and now I’m chin deep in Dark Fantasy but there is one genre I can read any day regardless of my current favourite genre – cozy mysteries! Today am gonna share with you all my favourite cozy mysteries through the years.

I first read Enid Blyton books 13 years ago and I still feel all wrapped up in warmth and comfort when I read her books. The delicious food that the Famous Five eat on Kirrin Island, the amazing disguises that Fatty puts on(The Five find-outers) and the cozy shed where the Secret Seven hold their meetings will forever be a part of my imaginary world.

the famous five run away together
Five Run Away Together (The Famous Five #3)

This particular Famous Five story is my favourite as it is not just a pretty intriguing mystery but also a beautiful story of friendship and family. This book in a simple manner shows the strong friendship that exists among the cousins.

I read my first Nancy Drew mystery in sixth grade and Nancy became my idol. I wanted to be like her and solve mysteries. I wanted to be part of the well balanced trio (Nancy, Bess and George). While the Nancy Drew Files were a bit serious, the Nancy Drew: Girl Detective series were the perfect fun mysteries to curl up with on a monsoon day!

nancy drew intruder
Intruder (Nancy Drew: Girl detective #27)

This mystery is one of my favourites as it has a Jane Austen themed Tea party and lost fortunes! Doesn’t that sound like such a good, old fashioned mystery? I remember really wanting to eat the tarts that Mrs.Fayne prepares for the tea party!

Throughout my High School years I loved the mysteries that Agatha Christie created. While my favourite character of Agatha Christie’s is Hercule Poirot, her ‘cozy mystery’ character is definitely Miss Marple! The kindly old lady who uses the nuances in human nature to solve seemingly unsolvable mysteries.

the moving finger agatha christie
The Moving Finger (Miss Marple #4)

This story is one of my favourite Miss Marple stories. It is slightly different from the rest of the series in that Miss Marple is present only for a short time in the story. She comes into the story towards the end and solves the mystery with ease. This book shows how human nature is such a giveaway for people’s actions.

More recently I got to see author Alexander McCall Smith at a literary fest and really loved his talk. I bought the first book in the series ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ (and got it signed by him by the way!!) and ended up reading it in one sitting. It’s in this beautiful place called Gaborone in Botswana where we meet Mma Ramotswe and many other endearing characters!

in the company of cheerful ladies alexander mccall smith
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency #6)

This is such a simple story that made my heart feel all warm and fuzzy. The characters are endearing and interesting and while the mystery is not a thrilling one with chases and danger, it’s realistic and well...cozy.







Some Cozy Mysteries on my TBR

irish creme killer

homicide in hardcover

black cat crossing

witch is where it all began



Thank you Tasha for having me at Book Bloggers International today!

Feel free to visit my blog Books. Bags. Burgers. for Book reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts and more!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

RIP READS: Ray Bradbury's October People

We are closing out the month with our final guest for RIP Reads.  Please welcome Dinara of Reading My Way Through Life.  

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Credit:  Abigail Larson
Ray Bradbury's October People
by Dinara Tengri

“Martin knew it was autumn again, for Dog ran into the house bringing wind and frost and a smell of apples turned to cider under trees. In dark clock-springs of hair, Dog fetched goldenrod, dust of farewell-summer, acorn-husk, hair of squirrel, feather of departed robin, sawdust from fresh-cut cordwood, and leaves like charcoals shaken from a blaze of maple trees. Dog jumped. Showers of brittle fern, blackberry vine, marsh-grass sprang over the bed where Martin shouted. No doubt, no doubt of it at all, this incredible beast was October!” 

Nobody knows October better than the grandfather of fantasy, Ray Bradbury. No other author that I know of, can capture the climate, the air and the spirit of this dark and chilling month like this guy right here. The excerpt above is from The Emissary, a wonderful little short story in Bradbury’s short story collection, The October Country. I reviewed The October Country last year, on my blog, but since I love it so much, I wanted to share my love with the readers of BBI.

While preparing for this article, I thought about different ways I could discuss The October Country. And believe me, there are many. The beauty of any good piece of fiction is that there are so many layers you can choose to dissect and discuss. In the case of The October Country, I could talk about how personal this collection has been to the author. I could also write a whole essay on Bradbury’s language and how he transforms the simplest weather phenomenon such as the wind into a magical, dreamlike dance.

Eventually, I settled on a topic that has been very rewarding for me to write about. And that is how all the stories and the characters in them can be viewed as the reflection of the human soul.
“October Country… that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…” 

In Bradbury’s fictional Universe, October is more than just a month, astronomically speaking. It’s more than foliage in every shade of red and yellow, and air that smells like overripe apples and cinnamon. It is a mystical time of year; a season that at the same time symbolises death and the beginning of a new life. The colours are bright and yellow, but also dark and grey. There is place for every emotion, from childlike joy over approaching Halloween, to deep despair over a lost love. It’s important to mention that not every story in this book takes place in autumn too. In this respect, October is not a time of year, but a place in the human heart. A place that is dark and lonely. A place where our deepest and most unclear fears can be realised.

In The Emissary, the boy – Martin – is suffering from an ailment that has chained him to his bed indefinitely, and his only lifeline, his only connection to the outside world is his beloved Dog. After frolicking outside all day, Dog comes running back to Martin, bringing with him the smells and little artifacts of the world in his fur. This way Martin can still experience the fresh bloom of spring, the heat of the summer and the musky spice of autumn.

It’s not a perfect system, but it works. Until one day, when Dog doesn’t come back. Heartbroken and crushed, Martin starts questioning loyalty and love – the very things that have made his life bearable so far. Why did his best friend abandon him? Why do your loved ones leave and never come back? And just when you think that life couldn’t get any worse for Martin, there’s a knock on the door one night.

The Emissary captures the tone of The October Country perfectly. There is the happiness that Martin feels when he’s playing with Dog; there is the anger that we feel about the boy's situation; there is the kaleidoscope of smells and images of autumn that Dog brings with him and that Bradbury describes with loving thoroughness. There is the grief and despair that we experience with Martin when Dog doesn’t come back. And finally, there is the chilling, thrilling horror of the third act. The ending is textbook Bradbury. It is both a satisfying payoff and a merciless gut punch. It left me horrified, excited and angry the first time I read it. (More on the topic of horror later.)

Martin learns the hard way how unfair life can be. But unlike most of the other characters in this book, he’s an innocent child (which makes the outcome of the story even more infuriating). The rest of the colourful menagerie of Bradbury’s characters are not as innocent or pure as young Martin.

The characters we meet here are deeply flawed. They become victims of their own weaknesses and vices. In Skeleton, a self-pitying hypochondriac falls prey to a dangerous charlatan. In The Next in Line, a woman deals with her greatest fear of being buried alive in the Mexican catacombs, while her emotionally abusive husband insists on ignoring her. And in The Scythe, a man who accidentally becomes the grim reaper, is faced with an impossible task.

These characters make bad choices. But they’re not bad people. They’re just people. And they deal with their problems the best way they can. And we can see ourselves in them, and in the mistakes that they make, which makes it easier for us to forgive them and to relate to them.

Coming back to the subject of horror, I will never get tired of pointing out that Bradbury doesn’t rely on blood and gore in his horror. His stories are among the scariest I’ve read, and I always marvel at his ability to invoke fear and a sense of unease and “creepiness” without spilling one drop of blood, or giving a detailed description of the monster under the bed. The horror lies in what’s untold. It’s the implication of the violence that is scary. It is the most rewarding way to write horror because it leaves so much to our imagination. It’s our imagination and our own fears that fill in the blanks. And nothing can scare us more than the products of our own subconscious.

Perhaps I’m way off in my interpretation of The October Country. Perhaps I’ve turned into one of those critics who think they know a book better than the person who wrote it. And since I can’t find any support for my interpretation in anything that Bradbury himself has said, I remain positive that this is something that I’ve conjured up in my fangirlish mind. But it is the complexity of these stories that opens up for the possibility of many different interpretations, my own included.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate my point is with another story. The Jar is about a farmer who buys a jar containing some unidentifiable tissue, a piece of goo. He brings it home, and invites all his neighbours to marvel at his new purchase. And every single person in the room, except for the main character’s wife cannot tear their eyes from the jar. What’s interesting is that everyone sees in this piece of goo exactly what they want to see. One woman sees the remains of her dead baby, another man sees the kitten he was forced to drown when he was but a boy. A third, more philosophically inclined man sees the origin of all life on Earth. And by saying what it is that they see in this jar, these people bare to us their souls. And here they are, naked, exposing their darkest fears and their deepest regrets. All this from a small glass jar.

And in a way, The October Country is kind of like this jar. Different parts of these stories speak to us, and we take from them what we want to take. What we need to take. These stories touch us on a personal level, and speak to our hearts. Reading this book almost makes me feel the cold touch of the wind, even though I'm all snuggled up in my room.

And I cannot talk about The October Country without mentioning the fantastic gothic illustrations by Joe Mugnaini for the 1996 edition.



The October Country is perhaps my favourite book by Ray Bradbury. And that says a lot.

What about you? Is there a book out there that speaks to you personally? Do you have any favourite "autumn books"?

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P.S.  For more information on Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Reads, check out the challenge here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

RIP Reads: 10 Creepy Audiobooks

Welcome back for another great RIP guest, Stacy of The Novel Life.  
Today, she is here to chat with us about the scary on audio.  
I can't wait to try a few of these myself!

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Credit:  Abigail Larson
10 Creepy Audiobooks

I was staying by myself at a campground the evening I downloaded this audiobook. The door to the camper was locked. My faithful standard poodle, Obie, was taking up almost the entire bed. And I had a free credit, plus a penchant for something gothic.

Although it was early October the cooler weather was well on its way to settling in to the small North Georgia mountain town. I could not have dreamed up a more perfect atmosphere for a creepy ghostly tale.

The moment I started to listen to Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I knew I was in for a scary night. There’s something about listening to a well-made production audio that feels completely immersive. Any of the audiobooks below will satisfy your desire to get in the mood for Halloween, Fall and Goth!

Side note: The key to audio I have found is in having a quality narrator. Several of the novels below have multiple releases and narrations. I can vouch for the quality versions/narrators below.


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Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Narrator: Daniel Weyman
Run Time: 7 Hours and 30 Minutes
Why You Should Listen: Atmospheric, creepy and the narration adds to the timeless ghostly appeal of Marina. This audiobook is what sold me on listening to audio!

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Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Narrator:  Justine Eyre, Paul Michael
Run Time: 26 Hours and 11 Minutes
Why You Should Listen: Not your typical vampire novel but one that feels almost entirely plausible! The narration will keep you sufficiently scared of things going bump in the night.

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Author: Justin Cronin
Narrator: Scott Brick, Abby Craden, Adenrele Ojo
Run Time: 36 Hours and 52 Minutes
Why You Should Listen: An epic trilogy that will keep you thinking long after completion. The narration is like listening to a radio show. Not to be missed.

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Author: Anne Rice
Narrator: Kate Reading
Run Time: 50 Hours
Why You Should Listen: Kate Reading is a phenomenal narrator taking you deep into the lives and horrors of The Mayfair Witches. Though the audiobook is the longest audio on this list, listening as opposed to reading will leave you afraid to turn out the lights! Promise!

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Author: Max Brooks
Narrators: Christopher Ragland, Rupert Farley, Nigel Pilkington, Jennifer Woodward, David Thorpe, Adam Sims, Robert Slade
Run Time: 14 Hours
Why You Should Listen: As this is “an oral history” the story is told as a series of interviews. This translates well on audio, giving World War Z almost an Orson Welles, War of the Worlds feel.

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Author: Jan Anson
Narrator: Ray Porter
Run Time: 6 Hours and 27 Minutes
Why You Should Listen: As long as you don’t get hung up on whether the story is true or not, this narration will scare the pants off of you. The narrator is top notch, creating a sense of eerie horror with each passing event. This one will give you nightmares if you let it!

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Author: Erin Morgenstern
Narrator: Jim Dale
Run Time: 13 Hours and 39 Minutes
Why You Should Listen: Not your typical scary tale as The Night Circus is more fantastical with hints of goth, but it’s Jim Dale. You can’t miss out on anything Jim Dale reads - Jim Dale of Harry Potter audiobook fame! Dale takes every audiobook he narrates to an entire new level. The voice he uses for each character is unique and thrilling. You can’t go wrong with this one!

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Author: Stephen King
Narrator: Craig Wasson
Run Time: 30 Hours and 44 Minutes
Why You Should Listen: The most remarkable audiobook I’ve ever heard in life. Not the scariest on this list by far, but it is a Stephen King novel so be prepared for creepy. Craig Wasson becomes the protagonist Jake Epping in a way that you feel like Jake is your new best friend sharing what happened when. . .

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Author: Dan Simmons
Narrator: Bronson Pinchot
Run Time: 9 Hours and 49 Minutes
Why You Should Listen: A supernatural ghost story made all the better by Bronson Pinchot’s narration. When Dale Stewart, the protagonist, becomes stressed {ie, terrorized}, Pinchot’s narration reflects that inner turmoil. The setting is atmospheric and perfect, taking place on Halloween in Stewart’s long-deserted boyhood home. If you like a slower buildup with a supercharged ending, then this audio is for you.

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Author: Caroline Kepnes
Narrator: Santino Fontana {Hans from Frozen - yup, that Frozen!}
Run Time: 11 Hours and 6 Minutes
Why You Should Listen: I hesitated adding this one to the list. It is gritty, explicit and downright disgusting in places but oh my gosh the narration takes this novel to an entirely new level. I both read and listened to You. The audiobook of this one will leave you breathless, looking over your shoulder and wondering if you’ll ever be the same again.

I’d love to know your favorite audiobooks! Do you find some narrators either make or break the book for you? Let’s discuss!

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P.S.  For more information on Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Reads, check out the challenge here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

RIP READS: Prologue - The Misunderstood Hero

Today, our special guest is taking 
a little different perspective on RIP Reads.  
Please give Uma of Books. Bags. Burgers. 
a warm welcome as she talks about . . . 

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Credit:  Abigail Larson

Prologue - The Misunderstood Hero

Have you ever wondered what makes a thriller click? What creates the suspense that makes a thriller novel unputdownable? If you have, you probably came up with answers like plot, compelling characters, action scenes etc etc. Today I am going to add to this list an unlikely plot device.

The Prologue.


Yes, you heard me right. The prologue; something that most writers do away with and most readers skip. I personally love prologues. And by prologue I don’t mean Info-dumps, excerpts from inside the novel, a synopsis of the story or a completely unrelated (to the novel) piece of writing that exists for the sake of existing. As a matter of fact, these are the reasons prologues have gained a bad rep over the years.

By prologue, I mean a well crafted piece of writing that draws the reader into the story and keeps them hooked. Very often I’ve picked up a book because it had a compelling prologue that made me want to read the whole story.

So what makes a thrilling, suspenseful prologue? Today I will be discussing just that with the help of some amazing examples.
‘Message: My name is Jocelyn Esperanza Albrecht. I am the eldest daughter of Illeana Marques and Grayson Albrecht. At Camp Holliwell Research Facility, I’m known as Sunday Cashus- Sunday, because that was the day I woke up after my family died in an accident, and Cashus, because I am the ward, patient and test subject of Dr.Laurence Cashus. My parents were longevity scientists. The irony is that due to their scientific breakthroughs, I now have a life expectancy of twenty-one. I just turned seventeen. That leaves about four years. Three good ones...If I’m successful tonight.’-        Glimmer by Tricia Cerrone

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen is how a thrilling prologue starts. Can any of you not want to read Glimmer now? 


The author introduces the protagonist and gives us all the necessary details in one paragraph! While there is so much information in that one paragraph, it does not feel like an info dump. The protagonist, in very simple words lets the readers know her name, where she is, who she is and why she is. That is one of the things readers look for at the start of the prologue...to know the main character, a reason to connect with them. The prologue sets the tone of the book. With just a couple of words, the author lets readers know the book is certainly going to be thrilling.

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‘“At first we didn’t know what to call them. Most called them zombies, but it didn’t seem right, because unlike their fictional counterparts, they didn’t hunger for flesh. Others called them demons, sent back from the underworld to the world of the living after a lifetime of sin. Ghosts, spirits, the possessed, one thing was certain: the dead were dead no longer” – A.J.Hill
-        Rise of the Chosen by Anna Kopp

Rise of the Chosen is one of my favourite Thriller/dystopian books and I personally love the prologue! Author Anna Kopp begins the prologue by introducing us to a futuristic Earth. I love how she gives us the necessary information through quotes by the people in her world. The prologue has two more quotes that don’t just provide us the information but also gives us an idea of people’s reactions to The Waking.

Prologues are a great way to introduce readers to an unfamiliar setting and give them the basic idea of it. The world Anna Kopp creates is scary and you know it at the very start of the prologue.


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‘My gift is the future.
My gift is salvation.
My gift is Inferno.
With that, I whisper my amen . . . and take my final step, into the abyss.’

-        Inferno by Dan Brown 

From the master of suspense himself, the prologue of Inferno ends with an ominous note. Someone has jumped to his death; taking with him a huge secret. Here too, the prologue sets the tone of the novel. I love action in prologue as there is so much show than tell.

I personally like prologues that make a hundred questions pop one’s head. Such kind of prologues are catchy and makes the reader want to read the rest of the book just to find out the answers to the questions.


So basically, in the prologue of a Thriller or a suspenseful book, we readers look for relevant information without it becoming an info dump. We like the suspense to begin at the prologue. We love it when the prologue brings up interesting questions whose answers will be revealed in the course of the story. We love action in prologue. We want the prologue to give us a reason to STAY and FINISH the whole novel.

And also, I’m pretty sure everyone has realized by now that I have an unhealthy obsession with Dean Winchester but can you blame me? I mean...


Thanks to Tif for having me here at Book Bloggers International today!

Feel free to visit my blog Books. Bags. Burgers. for Book reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts and more!

Ciao!
Uma

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P.S.  For more information on Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Reads, check out the challenge here.