Friday, September 30, 2016

Literary Friday: The Girl in the Castle

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  I read the best book this week by Santa Montefiore: The Girl in the Castle.  I've been thinking of my Downton Abbey loving friends: you will love. This. BOOK! Because it's BETTER than Downton Abbey: It's set during the same time period, but in an Irish castle.  *le sigh*

About Santa Montefiore

Santa Montefiore was born in England. She went to Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset and studied Spanish and Italian at Exeter University. She has written sixteen bestselling novels, which have been translated into thirty different languages and have sold more than two million copies worldwide. Find out more about Santa at her website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

About The Girl in the Castle

• Paperback: 576 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (September 27, 2016)

International sensation Santa Montefiore presents the first book in a trilogy that follows three Irish women through the decades of the twentieth century—perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Hazel Gaynor.

Born on the ninth day of the ninth month in the year 1900, Kitty Deverill is special as her grandmother has always told her. Built on the stunning green hills of West Cork, Ireland, Castle Deverill is Kitty’s beloved home, where many generations of Deverills have also resided. Although she’s Anglo-Irish, Kitty’s heart completely belongs to the wild countryside of the Emerald Isle, and her devotion to her Irish-Catholic friends Bridie Doyle, the daughter of the castle’s cook, and Jack O’Leary, the vet’s son, is unmatched—even if Jack is always reminding her that she isn’t fully Irish. Still, Jack and Kitty can’t help falling in love although they both know their union faces the greatest obstacles since they are from different worlds. Bridie cherishes her friendship with Kitty, who makes her feel more like her equal than a servant. Yet she can’t help dreaming of someday having all the wealth and glamour Kitty’s station in life affords her. But when she discovers a secret that Kitty has been keeping from her, Bridie finds herself growing resentful toward the girl in the castle who seems to have it all. When the Irish revolt to throw over British rule in Southern Ireland, Jack enlists to fight. Worried for her safety, Jack warns Kitty to keep her distance, but she refuses and throws herself into the cause for Irish liberty, running messages and ammunition between the rebels. But as Kitty soon discovers, her allegiance to her family and her friends will be tested—and when Castle Deverill comes under attack, the only home and life she’s ever known are threatened. A powerful story of love, loyalty, and friendship, The Girl in the Castle is an exquisitely written novel set against the magical, captivating landscape of Ireland.

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Purchase Links

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My Review:

This story chronicles the lives and friendships of Kitty, Bridie, and Jack from the time Kitty and Bridie are nine (Jack is a couple of years older) until they're 25.  Kitty and Bridie's friendship should be doomed from the start because Kitty is Anglo-Irish and wealthy, and Bridie is her Irish lady's maid.  Kitty is a member of the Church of Ireland, and Bridie is Catholic.  Both girls are in love with Jack, yet neither confide in the other about her feelings for him.  Plus they become adults during the Conscription Crisis of 1918 which snowballs into Sinn Féin's leadership in the Ango-Irish War. Although Kitty aids the rebels and has always considered herself to be Irish, her role in the war isn't enough to save her castle and home.

I love historical fiction, and this time in history is one of my favorites to read about.  The historical references are well-researched, and Montefiore's descriptions of Ireland are lyrical.  I enjoyed the family drama, and Kitty's ability to overcome her mother's neglect and become such a poised, confident, and accomplished young lady makes the story even more intriguing. For those of you who've read my blog for a long time, you know how I always appreciate stories steeped in lore. There are ghosts in the castle resulting from a centuries-old curse and will-o'-the-wisps...and I had no problem whatsoever maintaining my suspension of disbelief.  There were several surprises and cliffhangers at the novel's end, but never fear!  This is the first installment in the Deverill Chronicles series.  I'm looking forward to book two!

Disclosure:  I received an ARC of The Girl in the Castle from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Due to the ghosts' shenanigans in this book, it qualifies for the Gothic Reading Challenge.

If you're interested, I've reviewed two other books by Santa Montefiore on my blog:  The French Gardener and The Beekeeper's Daughter.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Smells Like Fall in Our Kitchen! {Book Review *plus* Recipe}

Polish Honey Bread, or "Piernik"

Happy Thursday, My Lovelies!  It smells like fall in our kitchen: I just cooked a loaf of Piernik!  I got the recipe from Susan Wiggs' The Beekeeper's Ball.  I'll talk about the book first, then I'll share the recipe!

According to Goodreads:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs returns to sun-drenched Bella Vista, where the land's bounty yields a rich harvest…and family secrets that have long been buried  

Isabel Johansen, a celebrated chef who grew up in the enchanting Sonoma town of Archangel, is transforming her childhood home into a destination cooking school—a unique place for other dreamers to come and learn the culinary arts. Bella Vista's rambling mission-style hacienda, with its working apple orchards, bountiful gardens and beehives, is the idyllic venue for Isabel's project…and the perfect place for her to forget the past. 

But Isabel's carefully ordered plans begin to go awry when swaggering, war-torn journalist Cormac O'Neill arrives to dig up old history. He's always been better at exposing the lives of others than showing his own closely guarded heart, but the pleasures of small-town life and the searing sensuality of Isabel's kitchen coax him into revealing a few truths of his own.

My Review:

Archangel sounds like the most perfectly quaint hamlet in all of Sonoma County.  The Beekeeper's Ball is encouraging me to book a trip to Northern California ASAP, and I bet that the Sonoma Tourist Office is thrilled that Susan Wiggs is writing books that highlight the beauty of the area.  This is the second book in the series; the first one is The Apple Orchard, and I'll write a post about it soon.  I didn't read them in order, but I didn't feel lost at all from not having read The Apple Orchard.  I didn't find out until later that The Beekeeper's Ball is part of a series. 

Isabel is living a dream life on her family's apple orchard by keeping bees and opening a cooking school in the main house she's lovingly restoring.  At around thirty years old, it has been a long journey for Isabel: Ten years earlier she was in culinary school but left before finishing her coursework due to a disastrous affair with one of her instructors.  This lapse in judgment has shaped her life and made her very guarded....until Cormac O'Neill shows up to write a book about her grandfather's heroism during World War II.

Cormac is very talented at getting people to open-up about their own lives, and I enjoyed the story of Isabel's Grandfather Max and the horrors of the Nazi occupation of Norway.  Cormac is also an amazing detective: He uncovers many secrets in Isabel's family.  He has a good eye for detail, and he can deduce facts from observations that most would overlook.  I really like how his character is developed in the book.  He, like Isabel, is jaded, but he is more than willing to take a chance on Isabel almost from the beginning of the book.  Their story is so sweet!  If you like romance, intrigue, action, family drama, historical fiction, and a gorgeous setting, you'll love The Beekeeper's Ball!

Speaking of sweet, the book is full of lovely honey-infused recipes.  I couldn't wait to try one, so I tried the Polish Honey Bread, or Piernik.  I had to adapt the recipe because some important information was missing (like what to do with the egg whites and the baking temperature, for example).

Piernik baked in my round bread baker

Piernik is a moist, sweet honey bread that is delicious served toasted with a bit of butter and a cup of tea. Thanks to the intense spices, the bread has a long shelf life.

It’s an old Polish tradition to bake piernik to welcome the birth of a baby girl. The loaf is then buried underground to preserve it. The bread would be brought out and eaten at the girl’s wedding.
These days, this is not recommended.

1/2 cup of soft butter
1-1⁄2 cups honey, warmed in a pan or in the microwave
1-3⁄4 cups of sugar
1⁄2 cup of vegetable oil
6 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup of dark beer
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
3 to 3-1⁄2 cups flour
2 cups of dried fruits and nuts: raisins, candied orange peel, walnuts, dried apricots, dates, etc.

This is a great recipe for the holidays, especially Thanksgiving.  I like to try recipes in advance before I share with guests!


Preheat the oven to 325.

In a medium bowl sift together the baking soda and four.  Beat together the butter, oil and warm honey. Add the egg yolks one at a time. Beat in the sugar and spices. Then add the beer and flour mixture alternately. 

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Finally, fold in the beaten egg whites and fruits and nuts.

Bake in buttered loaf pans for about an hour, until the tops begin to crack and the cake tests done.
Yield: 3 loaves or 6 mini-loaves.

The butter crock is Polish.  This bread tastes great warm with a small pat of butter.

The bread has a nice texture.  It would make a great breakfast with hot tea or coffee on a crisp autumn day.

Cook's Note:  I divided the recipe in half.  I also replaced the spices with Penzy's Cake Spice.  I used Guinness Stout Beer and wildflower honey because it tends to be sweeter.  I've seen recipes with a chocolate topping similar to icing.  When I bake this next, I'll not add any fruit and rely on the honey and spices for flavor.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Random Tuesday: Random This Week

Happy Random Tuesday, My Lovelies!  We're enjoying the first week of fall around here, but where are the autumn temperatures?  This is the hottest September I can ever remember, and I'm over the heat. But in spite of the hot temperatures, I'm dragging out the pumpkins and decorating for fall this week. Stay tuned for a punkin'-palooza post later on this week!

Here's a hint:  Our fall decor will combine cream, blue, and orange, of course!

The main reason I want the weather to cool down is so we can enjoy our patio and outdoor kitchen more.  We made a few changes on the patio: we changed our furniture by the fireplace.  Here's the before:

We had two smaller sofas

And here's the after:

...and replaced them with a semicircular sofa and ottoman.

I thought I'd lost my geraniums, but they've come back nicely because I've been watering the heck out of them.

Our roses and plumbago are still doing well in spite of the heat.

This week is Banned Books Week, and I read banned books!  ;P

My oldest daughter loves cereal (we call them jank-o's) and she bought home these creeptastic jank-o's yesterday:

Did you catch that?

Build your own marshmallow skeletons?  WTH?

Well at least she didn't bring home pumpkin spice jank-o's....

This might be more scary than Bloody Mary!

Our favorite show is back!  Yes!

Poldark, Season 2!!!

Last night our Chicago Cubs won game #100 with the help of a grand slam home run by Javi Baez.

So that about does it for me: Fluffing the house with pumpkins, reading as many banned books as I can, and watching the Cubbies and Season 2 of Poldark.  Life.  Is.  Good!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Monday, September 26, 2016

Congratulations to My Daughter

Good Morning, My Lovelies!  I would like to congratulate my daughter for being selected as a BookBub featured book which raised her Amazon rankings to #6 in paranormal romance.  As a result of her sales, Barnes & Noble is now selling her print books.  

The portrait above was painted by me over the summer.  It's entitled "Graduate School Barbie" and it's an 8 X 10 painting rendered in oils on linen.  I'm currently taking a portrait class from Annabelle DeCamillis.  I never thought I'd enjoy portraiture, but I do love it!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, September 23, 2016

Literary Friday: The Bone Tree

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  I hope you have a stack of wonderful books to read over the weekend.  I'm reading the eighth installment of the Flavia de Luce mystery series this weekend, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd."  I'm in a very happy place!

Recently I read the second installment of Greg Iles' Natchez Burning trilogy entitled The Bone Tree. This series is very dark, and the villains and action completely over the top.  But this is the fifth book Iles has written about the series' protagonist Penn Cage, and so far I prefer the first three books which are stand alone novels.  The Bone Tree is definitely not a stand alone: If you haven't read Natchez Burning, don't even bother reading it.

Join us for a readalong of the Natchez Burning trilogy!

More than fifteen dedicated and enthusiastic bloggers will endeavor to read Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree later this summer as they prepare for the release of the final installment of The Natchez Burning Trilogy, Mississippi Blood, on sale Winter 2017!

About The Bone Tree

Paperback: 832 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 13, 2016)

According to Goodreads:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Greg Iles continues the electrifying story he began in his smashing New York Times bestseller Natchez Burning with this highly anticipated second volume in an epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

Southern prosecutor Penn Cage is caught in the darkest maelstrom of his life. The heartbreaking but seemingly straightforward death of his father's African-American nurse, Viola Turner, has fractured Penn's family and turned Dr. Tom Cage into a fugitive from justice. And in the search for his father and his reasons for running, Penn has unwittingly started a war with a violent offshoot of the KKK, the Double Eagles, whose members seem to know much more about Tom's past than Penn or his mother ever did.

Desperately following his father's trail, Penn finds himself in a maze of mirrors, beset on all sides by a family of criminals and corrupt police whose power reaches into the highest levels of state government. To even the odds, Penn must rely on allies whose objectives are very different from his own. FBI special agent John Kaiser sees Tom Cage as the key to closing not only countless civil rights murders, but also the ultimate cold case: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Penn's fiancée, journalist Caitlin Masters, is chasing the biggest story of her career and believes Tom can lead her to evidence of America's most secret, shameful history. In the end, all roads will lead to the mysterious Bone Tree, a legendary killing site that may conceal far more than the remains of the forgotten.

Penn now knows that the death of Viola Turner is a door to the darkest chapters of America's past. In the civil rights battleground that was 1960s Mississippi and Louisiana, powerful men had audacious, sweeping agendas, and their violent race murders concealed a conspiracy that ran wide and deep, involving the New Orleans Mafia, a Double Eagle hit squad, and a world- altering murder in Dealey Plaza in 1963. And if the FBI can be believed, somehow Dr. Tom Cage stands at the center of it all.

Enthralling, captivating, and utterly engrossing, The Bone Tree is a masterpiece of modern suspense and the next novel in the monumental trilogy that Greg Iles was born to write.

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Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Greg Iles

About Greg Iles

Greg Iles spent most of his youth in Natchez, Mississippi. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, was the first of thirteen New York Times bestsellers, and his new trilogy continues the story of Penn Cage, protagonist of The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and #1 New York Times bestseller The Devil’s Punchbowl. Iles’s novels have been made into films and published in more than thirty-five countries. He lives in Natchez with his wife and has two children. Find out more about Greg at his website, follow him on Twitter, and connect with him on Facebook.

My Review:

I read Natchez Burning about three weeks before I read The Bone Tree, and I'm happy that I read them that close together because there are so many characters and storylines to follow.  The Bone Tree adds the assassination of JFK to the mix: this is my biggest criticism of the book.  I read a lot of historical fiction, but Iles does a poor job of integrating the history with his fictitious conspiracy theories.  It just doesn't work in this book, and if it had all been edited out the book would have been better and at least 100 pages shorter.

There is more over the top violence and ridiculously unbelievable rescues in this book as well.  I know that Iles is a better writer than this.  I know because I've read all of his previous novels but one. He doesn't need shock value to tell a good story.  His plot points are so crazy that he expects way to much from me to maintain my suspension of disbelief.  It's so disappointing!  And what he's done to Dr. Tom Cage's character is unforgivable.  His storyline is so messed up!  I wish I'd quit reading about this family before this series because the danger and upheaval Tom is putting his family through is unforgivable.

Although there's lots of tedious repetition in the book, Iles throws out so many new characters with little explanation.   I could have used a character log, truly.  Maybe that's Iles' plan, to write a Natchez Burning Companion so the reader can keep everyone straight.

SPOILER:  A major character dies in this book.  I didn't care, either.  Iles tries to give the character a condition to make the reader care, but when someone continually puts others at risk for selfish gains?
This character is selfish beyond belief.  Hopefully the third installment will benefit from his or her demise.

DISCLOSURE:  I received a copy of The Bone Tree from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill