Saturday, January 20, 2018

What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up by Elizabeth Heiskell

I was raised in Ohio. Just as in the South, when someone dies, just returns from the hospital, has problems, we take food to the house. It may not be the Southern recipes from this book, but I was eager to read Elizabeth Heiskell's cookbook, What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion.

She covers all kinds of events from potlucks (in southwestern Indiana, those are called pitch-ins) to tailgating parties to weekend getaways and bringing home the new baby. And, it's a beautifully illustrated book. Best of all, though, are the stories that go with the recipes. Because I seldom cook, I really do read cookbooks for the stories. These recipes include "Delta" food because the author lives in Rosedale, Mississippi, and grew up in Mississippi. But, a few of the recipes are similar to ones I've seen. Someday I may tell you why Heiskell's "Consomme Rice with Mushrooms" resembles our family's funeral rice.

Do you know what I liked best about Heiskell's stories? They're told with a Southern humor, and I can just hear one of my friends telling them. There is a written accent to them. For instance, when she writes about "Sausage, Egg, and Grits Souffle", she talks about trying to transport it. "The challenge comes with the 'bring it' part...It must be transported uncooked and cooked on-site. If you try to move it in your car in a Pyrex casserole dish it will slosh everywhere, and no amount of money or carpet cleaner will ever get the foul smell out of your car. You will just have to sell it."

There's an entire chapter as to what to send when a husband goes duck hunting. Heiskell's introduction to "Vegetable Beef Stew" is priceless. "There is nothing like a pot of vegetable beef stew on the stove after a long, cold day in an icy duck blind. Lord, I cannot lie to you sweet people. I have  no idea what in the world a cold day in an icy duck blind feels like.There is nothing that could drag me out of a warm bed into the dark, below-zero weather - especially not a duck. Not even a duck covered in diamonds could lure me out from under the covers of my cozy bed."

There are a few recipes I'm going to copy and try. But, if for no other reason, pick up What Can I Bring? to discover Elizabeth Heiskell's voice. She should be writing Southern fiction.

What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up by Elizabeth Heiskell. Oxmoor House, 2017. ISBN 978048754389 (hardcover), 272p.

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Winners and an Amateur Sleuth Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Bury the Past is going to Marie R. from Horseheads, NY. Mary P. from Rome, NY won A Hunt in Winter. Due to our weather, the books will go out in the mail on Saturday.

This week, I'm giving away two mysteries featuring amateur sleuths. Even if you've never read one of Katherine Hall Page's Faith Fairchild mysteries, you can pick up The Body in the Casket. Faith is asked to live in for a weekend when a director/producer of musicals holds a reunion of the people involved in his last show, a flop. Yes, she's going to cater it, but he wants her to use her detecting skills. He's convinced someone is planning to kill him.

Or, you could enter to win the first in a series, Nancy J. Parra's A Case of Syrah, Syrah. It's a Wine Country Mystery. Taylor O'Brian plans to capitalize on her aunt's local winery, and offer "Off the Beaten Path" Wine Country Tours. But, the murder of a local businesswoman on Taylor's first tour means her business is in jeopardy. And, it won't matter if Taylor's in prison for murder.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win The Body in the Casket" or "Win A Case of Syrah, Syrah." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Jan. 25 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

What Are You Reading?

First, I want to thank Jeff, Grace, Margie and Glen for sharing their favorite books of 2017. Let's do it
again next year! Watch for those good books this year.

I bet it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone that I'm finishing Foxglove Summer, the next book in Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series. I like this better than the last one. Peter Grant is on his own this time, as he travels out of London to help when two young girls go missing. Well, he isn't really on his own. He's with one of the river goddesses, Beverley.

What are you reading this week? The focus is all on you this week! Let's talk about books.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

While Broken Homes isn't my favorite in Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, the ending came as surprise. And, it was perfect.

Peter Grant is a police constable with a little bit of magic. He and a former classmate, Lesley May, reside at the Folly with their instructor, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale. It's there that they continue their lessons while fighting against those who use magic and the supernatural for evil purposes. Peter calls one of those the "Faceless Man", and they've been hunting him since Peter first ran into him.

This time, the small group travel all over the countryside as they investigate a case that could have a connection to the Faceless Man. Eventually, they end up in a confrontation with a Russian woman, who like Nightingale, seems to be aging backwards. She, too, had been active in World War II, using her magic skills.

But, it's one building, what we would call the projects, and the book refers to as an estate, the infamous Skygarden Estate, that draws Grant and Lesley. They move in, searching for someone with a connection to magic or to the "Faceless Man". And, they find more than they expected, a dryad, river goddesses, fae, and others who hear what's going on in the building. Peter also makes connections with residents of the neighborhood, while keeping his occupation a secret. It's only at a climatic scene that he's forced to reveal his identity.

As I said, Broken Homes isn't my favorite book. There's a little too much German, a little too much discussion of architecture. But, the resolution will come as a shock to anyone who has been following the series. On the other hand, as I said, it was an appropriate, perfect ending. It will be fascinating to see where Aaronovitch goes from here.

Ben Aaronovitch's blog is at

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch. DAW Books, 2014. 326p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn

How often do you read a novel and find it so wonderful that it makes you want to not only reread it, but also read another book? Deanna Raybourn's third Veronica Speedwell mystery, A Treacherous Curse, moves the characters' relationship along, while also making me want to go back and reread Jane Eyre.

After the Earl of Rosemorran fell over his Galapagos tortoise, the planned expedition to the South Pacific is off, and Veronica and Stoker, the scientist, Templeton-Vane, are back to piecing together museum pieces at Belvedere, the earl's estate. For entertainment, Veronica and George, the young hall boy, read newspaper reports of the Tiverton Expedition to Egypt.The stories turned to accounts of appearances of Anubis, the god of the underworld, and curses because of a recovered sarcophagus. Did the curses cause the death of the project director and the disappearance of photographer John de Morgan, who seemed to have absconded with wife and a diadem? It was only when Sir Hugo, head of Scotland Yard's Special Branch, called Stoker and Veronica to his house, that Veronica learns De Morgan was once Stoker's best friend, the man who left him to die in the Amazon. And, De Morgan's wife? She is Stoker's ex-wife, whose stories of Stoker's brutality scandalized London.

If Stoker hadn't once beaten De Morgan almost to death, he might not now be considered a suspect in his disappearance. The meeting with Sir Hugo sets the two on an investigative path. They need to find the missing photographer, who seems to have disappeared from Dover, look for the stolen diadem, and, worst of all, in Stoker's opinion, interview his ex-wife. The two also arrange a meeting with the Tivertons, to discuss the expedition and ask a few questions. They don't realize how dangerous their task is. And, someone seems to be following them all over London.

A Treacherous Curse is an exciting adventure with marvelous characters. Veronica, with her independence, and her ability to match wits with Stoker, has become a favorite character. She's an intelligent, adventurous woman who actually is derived from stories of women of the Victorian age who did travel throughout the world. She's shrewd and knowledgeable as to how to deal with men, Stoker in particular. The two are irreverent about everything, and they make a perfect duo. Their developing relationship is fascinating to observe.

Fans of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books should enjoy this series, and this book in particular. Jane Eyre? I don't want to spoil the actual story. Both A Treacherous Curse and Jane Eyre deal with social standing and prejudice. But, I'm not going to set the scene for you when the similarity hit me in the face. My favorite line from the book, though, is, "Reader, I carried him."

Deanna Raybourn's website is

A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn. Berkley. 2018. ISBN 9780451476173 (hardcover), 320p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Murder of a Good Man by Teresa Trent

I liked the first mystery in Teresa Trent's new Piney Woods series. I really did, and I hope to read the next book. But, her stereotypes and comment about a senior really bothered me when I realized how old the character was. And, neither the author nor the amateur sleuth are young enough to make these comments. More about this later. If the comments won't bother you, you might enjoy Murder of a Good Man.

Nora Alexander was surprised with her dying mother's last request. She asked her to deliver a letter to Adam Brockwell in Piney Woods, Texas. Nora could have mailed it, but she drives from New Orleans to the town she never heard of, only to be almost run off the road before she reaches her destination. In Piney Woods, she finds a quirky little bed-and-breakfast with enchanting owners. But, she isn't so enchanted with the people she meets at Brockwell's house. His reaction to the letter stuns her, and, because she presented it unopened, she doesn't know what the letter says. When she asks, she's read a scathing letter that attacks Brockwell. It appears as if her mother hated the man. That comes as a surprise to others because Adam Brockwell is one of the top candidates for that year's Piney Woods Pioneer award for the best citizen in town.

When Brockwell is killed, the hunky police chief, Tuck Watson, looks at Nora as the only one known to hate the man. He asks Nora to stay in town. Desperate for money, she accepts a job helping Tuck's aunt restore a historic hotel. It gives her time to search for someone else who might have wanted him dead. Nora Alexander doesn't want to end up in prison now that she runs into people that know her mother's history.

Murder of a Good Man is an enjoyable story. The historic hotel shows great potential for future books. But, here's my issue with Trent's comments, and Nora Alexander's. Nora is thirty-three. Yet, when she and other characters discuss Adam Brockwell, they refer to him as "an old man", "a grizzled old man", "in his old age". I could accept that until about halfway through the book when a character says, "Maybe he wasn't as on top of his game as he used to be. The old guy had to be close to sixty." What the heck? What thirty-three-year-old views a man not yet sixty as old?

I'm sorry. I did like Murder of a Good Man, but at sixty, with an active mother over eighty, I don't appreciate the stereotype and the comments about age. Trent needs to examine her attitude and her characters' attitudes if she wants fans who are cozy readers.

Teresa Trent's website is

Murder of a Good Man by Teresa Trent. Camel Press. 2018. ISBN 9781603816359 (paperback), 256p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

A friend in Wales told me to believe everything Ben Aaronovitch's books say about London, and, even more so. That means underground London is even more interesting than Paris with its catacombs. Peter Grant, police constable and wizard-in-training, has the chance to spend more time than he would like in London's tunnels in Aaronovitch's entertaining Whispers Under Ground.

It all starts with a simple murder. An American student, James Gallagher, is found dead in an Underground tunnel. DCI Seawoll doesn't want to hear anything about magic. Unfortunately, Peter finds traces of magic on the murder weapon, a piece of pottery. And, Gallagher is the son of a U.S. Senator, which means an FBI agent trails along when the Senator comes to retrieve his son's body. Agent Reynolds doesn't believe in magic, but she seems to pop up wherever the case takes Peter.

In this case, it takes him into the tunnels underneath London's Underground. It's a whole other world under there, and he needs the help of the British Transport Police. Sergeant Kumar is a little more inclined to pay attention to Grant when it comes to the magical aspects of the investigation. He's seen too much underground to be surprised by much. But, the magical beings, the fairies, goblins, ghosts and Whisperers are all part of a world that Peter Grant is still trying to understand.

The third book in Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series is filled with tidbits of British history, including an unexpected journey back in that history. While Peter Grant's first concern is the murder investigation, and the serious aspects of what they uncover, his wry outlook on life is fun and refreshing. Outside of a Terry Pratchett novel, where are you going to read about "the world's first ever Anglo-American Olympic sewer luge team"?

If you're up to exploring the tunnels, the Underground, the sewers of London with Peter Grant, you'll want to venture into Whispers Under Ground.

Ben Aaronovitch's blog is at

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch. Del Rey, 2012. ISBN 9780345524614 (paperback), 303p.

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