Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dear Mr. Knightley and a Giveaway

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  I'm excited to share with you one of the sweetest, most romantic books I've read in a very long time:  Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay.  One of my lucky readers will win a copy of it, too.

If you love Jane Austen, romance, a sweet story with Christian themes, and characters who are hard to forget, then you will love this book!

According to Goodreads:

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.

My Review:

First of all I must admit that I read this book several months ago, and I can't believe that I forgot to blog about it.  I think I read it during show season late last winter, so I was distracted and forgot.  I saw this book on the "Suggested Reading" shelf at my local library, and I checked it out.  I found it hard to put down!  I liked it so much I bought a copy for my "keeper shelf" because I'll want to revisit these characters again.

I was skeptical that I would like the epistolary narration, but I truly loved it.  Katherine Reay did a super job unveiling the story through Sam's letters.  Sam's character is heartbreaking.  At first she turns down Mr. Knightley's offer to attend Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism because she didn't think she could handle another two years at the Grace House group home where she'd lived for eight years (basically through high school and college).  Unable to make it financially out in the world, she asks for a second chance a year later, and it's granted.  Sam doesn't really appreciate the opportunity as it's in journalism:  She lives in a dreamworld of characters from classic literature, especially Jane Austen.  Her speech is so peppered with quotes that she sounds like a walking, talking anachronism.  But the requisite letters to Mr. Knightley enable her to be herself and grow into the person she's meant to be according to God's plan for her life.

I really enjoyed the Christian elements in this novel.  Sam grows and matures spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally.  She learns to trust not only in God but in others.  She also begins mentoring a teenage boy who enjoys running like Sam does, and they bond over the sport.  There are several secondary characters in this book I adore, and as the reader sees them through Sam's eyes we learn even more about her character and growth.  I highly recommend this book even if you aren't an Austen fan!

Because I feel badly about not sharing this book sooner, I bought an extra copy over the weekend to share with one of my lucky readers.  

Come back tomorrow for a review of Katherine Reay's latest book, The Austen Escape.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Monday, October 30, 2017

What to Read for Halloween and a Tablescape

Happy Monday, My Lovelies!  It's almost Halloween, and if you want something fun to read, I have a suggestion:  Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero .  Does the term "meddling kids" ring a bell?  If it does, then mayhap you've seen a few episodes of Scooby Doo!  

Isn't the cover fun?  I admit I chose this book based on the cover and title.

I've been saving this book to read before Halloween, and the book has inspired the Halloween tablescape in our dining room.

I used the same haunted mansion last year for the Scooby Doo Halloween tabelscape.  There's a haunted mansion in Meddling Kids, too.

The orange daisies reminded me of the seventies when the young detectives were solving mysteries.

I used this table runner for a Nancy Drew post, but because it has some of the neon colors as the book cover, I used it rather than the Halloween runner.

According to Goodreads:

For fans of John Dies at the End and Welcome to Night Vale comes a tour de force of horror, humor, and H.P. Lovecraft. The surviving members of a forgotten teenage detective club (and their dog) must reunite as broken adults to finally solve the terrifying case that ruined them all and sent the wrong man to prison. Scooby Doo and the gang never had to do this!

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven't seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she's got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter's been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.

With raucous humor and brilliantly orchestrated mayhem, Edgar Cantero's Meddling Kids taps into our shared nostalgia for the books and cartoons we grew up with, and delivers an exuberant, eclectic, and highly entertaining celebration of horror, life, friendship, and many-tentacled, interdimensional demon spawn.

I was the same age as these kids in 1977.  I think it's perfect that the story's second chapter is in 1990 before the internet was widely used for research.  I'll be reviewing this book for my Literary Friday Post this week, so stay tuned!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, October 27, 2017

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories: The Witch Tree Symbol

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Today is the last Friday in October, so it's also the last Nancy Drew Mystery Story I'll be sharing (until next year, perhaps).  I've enjoyed getting in touch with my inner sleuth, and I hope you have, too.

Today's mystery is The Witch Tree Symbol.  I saved it for last because it reminds me of Halloween with the photo on the cover and its title.

This mystery takes Nancy, Bess, and George to Pennsylvania Amish Country in search of an antiques thief who stole from an estate near Nancy's hometown.  Some of the furniture stolen once belonged to George Washington: One of the items was his desk that's rumored to contain a hidden drawer with a mysterious gypsy letter describing where to find treasure.  The perp knows that Nancy is on the case and on his trail, so he does everything to sabotage her from trying to run over her cute little terrier to accusing her of being a witch to the Amish community.  Bess makes this mystery story more scary than it is because she's convinced that someone has hexed them.

Re-reading this as an adult, Nancy lets down the sisterhood when she says to Ned: "'I can sure use a man's help.  I hope you've brought us some luck.'"  The modern woman that I am now is convinced that Nancy is saying this ironically because this is mystery number 33 and Ned hasn't solved one.  Single.  Case....

In spite of the girls' injuries, Amish superstition, and Bess's constant whining (Girl....you almost deserved your fat shaming in this book), Nancy solves the mystery and encourages an Amish teenage runaway girl to return home.  

Now a little bit about the title:  The witch tree is a tree that has the witch's broom fungus, like in the photo on the cover:

Here's a photo of a tree with this fungus:

The symbol refers to hex or witch symbols often seen on the side of Amish barns.  There is a tie-in with the symbol and the witch's tree in the book.

There are two schools of thoughts about the origins of these signs.  One believes them to be a talisman for luck, and the other professes them to be just for show or decoration.  But their name certainly belies the "just for show" theory as the word hex is related to witchcraft.

In case you missed any of the Nancy Drew Mystery Story Literary Fridays, below you'll find links to the posts as well as the Nancy Drew Tea Party Post.

I hope y'all have a great weekend filled with fun activities and engaging mystery stories!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Hanna Who Fell From the Sky by Christopher Meades {Spotlight Blog Tour Stop}

About Hanna Who Fell from the Sky

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Park Row Books (September 26, 2017)
From highly acclaimed, award-winning author Christopher Meades comes a magical, provocative tale of forbidden love and one girl’s struggle for liberation 
Hanna has never been outside her secluded community of Clearhaven. She has never questioned why her father has four wives or why she has fourteen brothers and sisters. And in only one week, on her eighteenth birthday, Hanna will follow tradition and become the fifth wife of a man more than twice her age.
But just days before the wedding, Hanna meets Daniel, an enigmatic stranger who challenges her to question her fate and to follow her own will. Then her mother tells her a secret—one that could grant Hanna the freedom she’s known only in her dreams. As her world unravels around her, Hanna must decide whether she was really meant for something greater than the claustrophobic world of Clearhaven. But can she abandon her beloved younger sister and the only home she’s ever known? Or is there another option—one too fantastical to believe?
With lush, evocative prose, Christopher Meades takes readers on an emotional journey into a fascinating, unknown world—and, along the way, brilliantly illuminates complexities of faith, identity and how our origins shape who we are.
“Beautiful and delicate, Meades has written a powerful meditation on how we define ourselves, the gift and cruelty of faith, and the redemptive act of storytelling. A gorgeous blend of dreamy folklore and gritty reality.” -Erika Swyler, bestselling author of The Book of Speculation
“A strange and beautiful fable with shades of Deliverance, Room, and Winter’s Bone.” -Laline Paull, award-winning author of The Bees
“As she slashes through the mythology that restrains her, Hanna rises like a phoenix. Christopher Meades weaves a feast of paradox and surprise.” -Benjamin Ludwig, author of Ginny Moon
“Compelling and provocative, Meades weaves elements of magical realism into his poignant coming-of-age tale. In Hanna, readers will find a new heroine, one who uncovers the secrets of her repressive society as she journeys toward self-discovery.” -Paula Treick DeBoard, author of The Drowning Girls
“With original characters and graceful prose, Christopher Meades has created an indelible novel about faith, family and love. Your heart will soar and ache for Hanna on her thoroughly original coming-of-age journey.” -Kelly Simmons, author of The Fifth of July
Add to Goodreads badge

Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

About Christopher Meades

Christopher Meades is the author of three previous novels, including THE LAST HICCUP, which won the 2013 Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction. In addition, Meades’s work has appeared in several literary journals including The Potomac Review and The Fiddlehead. He lives in British Columbia, Canada, with his family.

Connect with Christopher

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Christopher Meades’ TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, September 18th: Girls in Books – Instagram
Tuesday, September 26th: Bookworm Everlasting blog
Wednesday, September 27th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Wednesday, September 27th: Mama Reads
Thursday, September 28th: Kahakai Kitchen and Instagram
Friday, September 29th: SJ2B House of Books
Monday, October 2nd: Katy’s Library blog and Instagram
Tuesday, October 3rd: A Thousand Books to Read – Instagram
Wednesday, October 4th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
Friday, October 6th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, October 9th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Monday, October 16th: Books & Bindings
Tuesday, October 17th: Girls in Books blog and Instagram
Wednesday, October 18th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, October 19th: Suzy Approved
Friday, October 20th: A Holland Reads
Monday, October 23rd: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, October 24th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Wednesday, October 25th: Blogging with A
Thursday, October 26th: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, October 26th: The Sketchy Reader
Friday, October 27th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

What I'm Reading Wednesday: A Field Trip to Sundog Books, Seaside, Florida

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  At this time last week, we were headed down to Hwy 30-A to the most beautiful beaches in the world for Fall Break.  We were so blessed that the girls' fall breaks aligned.  YAY!  Plus, Shanley Belle turned 25 last Thursday.

If you don't believe me about my claim that 30-A's beaches are the *best*, check out this photo:

Crystal blue water, sugar white sand.....I miss you, Seaside, already!

Being the book nerds that we are, one of the highlights of visiting Seaside is shopping at one of our all-time favorite Indie bookstores, Sundog Books.  

Sundog Books is my Mother Ship.  The booksellers are alway so helpful, and their recommendations have never disappointed.  In addition to a couple of books, I also bought a Sundog Books coffee mug and baseball-style t-shirt.

This time I went in with a list of about twelve books, most of them from recent Indie Next Lists.  They didn't have any of them in stock!  Most of them had been in stock previously and sold.  I was so sad (at first) but the sweet booksellers helped me find two books to take home:

I probably won't have a chance to read these before Christmas, but I can take them on our family trip during the holidays!  

What's your favorite Indie bookstore?

Also, please visit my The Welcome Home Diner giveaway post, HERE.

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Recipe for Apple Maple Syrup *plus* A Giveaway

Happy Tuesday, My Lovelies!  Are you enjoying gorgeous autumn weather where you are?  It's absolutely beautiful here in Central Alabama.

Are you enjoying the season's delicious apples?

We have several Honeycrisp apples, and when I saw Peggy Lampman's recipe for Quiche's Buttermilk Pancakes with Apple-Maple Syrup and Walnuts I just had to try them.  Peggy hosts a foodie blog called dinnerFeed, and you can see her original pancake and syrup recipe HERE.  You should follow her because her blog is super cool!

Sometimes you want a large breakfast.  Maybe you ate a salad the night before for dinner, skipped that "midnight snack," or simply know that you'll be burning tons of energy for the day.

Autumn brings a bounty of apples, and it's also the start of comfort food season.  Why not indulge in fluffy buttermilk pancakes and your favorite apples softly sautéed in butter?

What this recipe needs is a pinch or two of cinnamon...or maybe Penzey's spices cake spice; after all, they are panCAKES.  ;P

Now that I have your undivided attention, here's how I made the syrup.  Mine is slightly different because I used what I had on hand.  My recipe serves two.

Apple-Maple Syrup with Candied Pecans

2 T sweet butter
1 Honeycrisp apple, cored and cut into 1/4" slices
1/2 cup maple syrup (I used The Fresh Market's Maple Syrup)
1/8 t Penzey's cake spice
cinnamon to taste
Candied pecans

Melt butter in a castiron skillet over medium to medium-low heat.  Add the apple slices and sauté until tender, about 6 - 8 minutes.  Stir in maple syrup, spices, and pecans.  Remove from heat.

Now you're ready to make either waffles or pancakes.  Once they're made, add the syrup.

I made my  buttermilk pancakes in an iron skillet, too.  So yummy!  Now I'm ready to face my day!

Now on to the giveaway:

Complete the two tasks in the Rafflecopter widget for chances to win a copy of The Welcome Home Diner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'd like to thank the publisher (Lake Union, Seattle) and TLC Book Tours for sponsoring this giveaway.

Good luck!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Welcome Home Diner

Happy Monday My Lovelies!  We had a wonderful fall break: It was so wonderful celebrating Shanley's birthday at the beach.  We're so blessed that both girls had fall breaks simultaneously.  

While at the beach, I read a gritty novel set in Detroit entitled The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman.  

According to Goodreads:

Betting on the city of Detroit’s eventual comeback, cousins Addie and Samantha decide to risk it all on an affordable new house and a culinary career that starts with renovating a vintage diner in a depressed area of town. There’s just one little snag in their vision.

Angus, a weary, beloved local, is strongly opposed to his neighborhood’s gentrification—and his concerns reflect the suspicion of the community. Shocked by their reception, Addie and Samantha begin to have second thoughts.

As the long hours, problematic love interests, and underhanded pressures mount, the two women find themselves increasingly at odds, and soon their problems threaten everything they’ve worked for. If they are going to realize their dreams, Addie and Samantha must focus on rebuilding their relationship. But will the neighborhood open their hearts to welcome them home?

Add to Goodreads badge

Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Connect with Peggy

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter


My Review:  First of all I must disclose that Peggy Lampman grew up here in Birmingham, AL, but I don't know her (she currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, her college town).  Because of her heritage, I wanted to read and review this book.  She wrote me a very nice card (along with the book)  that contained a recipe for Louisiana Okra Gumbo which I plan to make soon.  She obviously had no idea that Mr. Sketchy Reader is from New Orleans, and his favorite food is gumbo.  In her note, she states: "I refer to my writing as food-centric, grit-lit.  That said, I also enjoy developing characters-living in and reconciling with- the shadows cast by their equally flawed parents."  She nailed her goal for characterization, and for that I give her five stars on Goodreads.

The story is told from two points of view: early thirty-something cousins Addie and Samantha.  Both share a home they picked-up for a song and a diner.  Usually I don't like changes in narration, but it works in this novel especially the times when there's overlap in the storyline.  Both want to contribute to Detroit's renaissance, and they're both idealistic and naive about the reception they'll receive in the predominantly black neighborhood.  The cousins also give insight into the secondary characters, all of whom are well-defined.  That's what I enjoyed most about the story: the quirky, unique "family" Addie and Samantha have assembled at the Welcome Home Diner.  Also adding to the drama are the parents of Addie, her boyfriend David, Samantha, and her boyfriend Uriah.  The parents provide drama and conflict as their relationships with their children (both current and in the past) are affecting how they relate to their significant others.  These parental relationships allow the reader to identify with the cousins and their boyfriends because many of the circumstances are typical.

Y'all know how much I love books with recipes, and this one is special because every dish mentioned in the narrative has a corresponding recipe in the back of the book.  I enjoyed reading about Polish culture: Many of Detroit's immigrants after World War II were polish like Samantha and Addie's grandparents.  Lampman includes a handy pronunciation guide and definitions for the Polish words used in the story at the beginning; I found this very helpful.  For you chocolate lover you should buy the novel strictly for Sylvia's jumbo "Heartbreakers" chocolate chip-walnut cookies.  My youngest daughter would love some during finals week to help her study!

If you enjoy gritty family dramas in an urban setting with the added bonus of fantastic recipes, then you'll love The Welcome Home Diner.

Come back tomorrow and see what I cooked from The Welcome Home Diner's collection of recipes.  Plus you can enter to win your very own copy of The Welcome Home Diner open to U.S. and Canadian readers.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of The Welcome Home Diner from the publisher via TLC Book Review in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Sketchy Reader October Letters Reveal

I hope you're having a wonderful Saturday, My Lovelies!  

I want to reveal October's letters from The Sketchy Reader.  These letters are available in my Etsy Store.

The Indie Next List Selection letter is about Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.  

My Favorite Books Selection letter is about Water for Elephants.

Each letter is addressed to the recipient and includes discussion questions and other happy surprises of the ephemera variety.  I host book discussions for each book on the fifteenth of the following month on my Facebook Page, so these books will be discussed November 15th.

If you have a book nerd who'd enjoy this subscription, please share or order a subscription for him or her today!  Happy snail mail is fun!!!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Friday, October 20, 2017

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories: The Hidden Staircase

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  Today is the third installment of Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and I hope y'all are enjoying these posts as much as I've enjoyed writing them.

It was fun re-reading this as an adult because I know why the child version of me loved it: This book has the trifecta of creepy ghosts, costumes in the attic, and several secret passageways and hidden staircases. 

Basically this story is about Nancy's friend, Helen Corning, and a mysterious haunting of Helen's great-grandmother's estate, Twin Elms.  I've never lived in a house with a name, and it seems as if many of the houses in Nancy Drew Mystery Stories have names!  Helen and her Aunt Rosemary ask Nancy to visit Twin Elms for a few days and solve the mystery of the ghost.  Furniture moves, music plays, and the ghost has sticky fingers because he's stealing jewelry and silver.  Nancy is torn about whether or not to take on the case because Nancy's father Carson could be in danger.  One of the landowners selling to the railroad didn't get his signature notarized, so a conman convinced him to "disappear for a bit" in order to extort more money from the railroad.  The conman's name is Nathan Gomber, and he's the one who "warns" Nancy about impending danger to Drew due to his legal services to the railroad.  According to Gomber, the landowners feel cheated by the railroad and their counsel, Carson Drew.  Gomber is a busy, nasty criminal, and he's been harassing Helen's great-grandmother Miss Flora to sell Twin Elms!

Some of the details I loved about this book are the masks the ghost wears (I can remember I was particularly scared by the gorilla in the window).  Nancy has a date with Dirk the tennis player to a play and then a dance. (Where did this guy come from and where's Ned?)  I also enjoyed the old fashioned food and ways meals were served.  So delightfully formal!  I should take out my sherbet glasses and serve grapefruit slices in them like Helen Gruen serves fruit to the Drews....why the heck not?  One of the desserts served in the book is "floating islands" which is a French dessert made popular by Julia Child.  You can see one and read the recipe HERE.

Next week is the last Friday in October (where has October gone?), and it will also be the last Friday of my Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series.  I'm saving the scariest one for last, so I hope you won't miss it!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Read the Books Before They Were Movies: Hallmark Channel Round-Up Post

Happy Thursday, My Lovelies!  Those of you who've followed me for a long time understand my addiction to love for Hallmark Movies.  My favorite time of year is about to begin in 9 days:  Countdown to Christmas.  I love it when Mr. Sketchy Reader builds a warm fire outside on our patio, I make warm beverages, and we tune-in to the lighthearted Christmas romances.  It gets even better when the girls are home from school and we all bake fun snacks, roast marshmallows, and make creative s'mores...all while watching Countdown to Christmas.

Some of my favorite movies and series that have been on the Hallmark Channel were actually lovely books before they were adapted to the small screen.  Let's take a look at a few of them; you can click on the links below and read more on the original posts.

The following books are in my Nook and they are from the Hannah Swenson series.  This series is the basis for the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries Channel series, Murder, She Baked.

This series is so cute, and the books have recipes, too!

This novel is the fourteenth installment in the popular Chesapeake Shores series, the basis for the Hallmark Channel's series Chesapeake Shores.

I'll probably read more books this year that have been made into Hallmark Channel Movies and when I do, I'll share here on the blog!

Today I'd like to wish a Happy 25th Birthday to our oldest daughter, Shanley Belle.  Happy Birthday, Sweetie!  I hope you live in a quaint college town that could double as a Hallmark town one day!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill