That One Time I Reviewed a Short Story Collection |By the Wayside by Anne Leigh Parrish

I like short stories. I really do, although I don’t feature them often on Books & Tea. I have admiration for them because I think short stories require writers to have a certain talent that novel-writing doesn’t. Characterization, scene selection, and word choice become so much more important in a concise piece of writing. Short story authors have little room for error, too; in a novel, I can suffer through a dull chapter and still appreciate the story if the author manages to redeem themselves later, but I’m not as forgiving with short stories. I also tend to be more critical of short stories, and this is perhaps behavior learned from school days spent meticulously picking them apart and reading their related literary criticisms.

So, I don’t go out of my way to read short story collections, yet when approached to review a collection, called By the Wayside by Anne Leigh Parrish, I found myself tempted solely based on a story that involved a woman with a cyst in the shape of the Virgin Mary. I said yes! only to quickly find out this collection did not resonate with me.


By the Wayside by Anne Leigh Parrish

Released: February 2017
Publisher: Unsolicited Press

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Marvelous. Honest. Generous. From the first story to the last, “By the Wayside” catches your attention and demands that you give into its every whirl. Each character unfolds with a precision that will have you wondering how Parrish managed to create such real-to-the-bones people within a world that captivates you with ease.


This is going to be a short review because this collection did not evoke any strong emotion or reaction from me (which I suppose doesn’t have to be a bad thing because at least this review isn’t scathing).

I appreciated that this 18 story collection focused on women confronting…well, life. For example, in “An Angel Within”, the protagonist is forced to grow up too quickly and care for her younger (hellion) sisters following the death of their parents. And in “Artichokes”, the protagonist must accept the aftermath of her mother’s infidelity. In “Bree’s Miracle”, the protagonist must stand up for herself, when her spiritual doctor refuses to perform a surgery to remove an ovarian cyst simply because the cyst resemble the Virgin Mary. The conflict felt genuine and real (Virgin Mary withstanding). Further, the characterizations of the protagonists were intriguing (although I did think their voices were too similar).

Unfortunately, the ending to each of the stories is where everything unraveled for me. The stories ended abruptly, and the author wrapped them up too nicely and too neatly with forced symbolism and trite sayings about the lessons each of the women learned. It made what could have otherwise been a strong story seem hokey.

I am apparently an odd duck on this one though. To read rave reviews for this collection, be sure to check out the other tour stops.

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This novel was provided for free from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

A Historical Whodunnit in the Vaudeville Era|The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie is such a tough act to follow. Especially if the next book that is picked up is also of the historical fiction variety. How could anything even compare to a book that I’ve anticipated reading for months? Enter The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron– a bit of a historical “whodunnit” set in 1927 Boston and on the Vaudeville stage. It had the ingredients to become an instant favorite, yet in the end I just sort of felt like something was missing.


The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

Released: March 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins Christian Publishing
★★★☆☆
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Boston, 1926. Jenny “Wren” Lockhart is a bold eccentric—even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman’s dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini’s death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini’s ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he’s known as one of her teacher’s greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton’s defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren’s carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her.

Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age’s bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist’s Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life’s stage.


I think the thing that frustrated me the most about The Illusionist’s Apprentice is it’s one of those stories that bounces around the timeline. The story opens in 1926/1927 Boston. Then, six chapters later, we’re back in 1907 to reveal some small insight into one of the characters. A few pages later, we’re back in 1927 only to bounce back to 1924 in the next chapter for some more character insight. And so on and so forth. Part of me can appreciate what the author was trying to do; there were so many details in the past that seemed unassuming at first, but they ended up being totally relevant to the end of the novel. My biggest qualm was…I just felt disoriented. And I don’t think it’s through any fault of the author or the story; I think I just prefer more linear storytelling. I struggled to keep track of the timeline in Linda Lafferty’s the Girl Who Fought Napoleon after all. That being said, I also felt…well…bored? The timeline shifts slowed the pacing of the story down, sure, but what really frustrated me was that I finally discovered a novel that boasts being written about the jazz age that doesn’t revolve around/involve flappers, and I kept getting stuck in Wren’s sad childhood in 1907.

What I was really sticking around for was Cambron’s writing and world building. It was beautiful and atmospheric and full of intrigue both on and off stage. Plus, I was totally enamored by her choice to set the story against America’s Vaudeville scene, which is this jarring juxtaposition of gilt and grit and occasionally the grotesque. It’s a breeding ground for secrets and double lives and protagonist Wren Lockhart (illusionist, not magician) has them both; she’s a puzzle I wanted to unlock.

It also made me want to listen to nothing but dark cabaret music for about a week straight, so I’ll leave you with this:

TLC Book Tours

This novel was provided for free from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

I Had Good Reason to Feel Nervous About Starting This Book | Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

About a month after publishing a blog post about how I was nervous to start reading Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris, a reader pointed out that a fair amount of time had passed and I still hadn’t written a review for the novel; she was curious about what I thought of the book. The truth is…it took me nearly a month to read the novel, and it was a pretty grueling experience.


dead-until-darkDead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris

Released: May 2001
Publisher: Ace Books
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★★☆☆☆

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She’s quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn’t get out much. Not because she’s not pretty. She is. It’s just that, well, Sookie has this sort of “disability.” She can read minds. And that doesn’t make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He’s tall, dark, handsome–and Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s exactly the type of guy she’s been waiting for all her life….

But Bill has a disability of his own: He’s a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of–big surprise–murder. And when one of Sookie’s coworkers is killed, she fears she’s next….


I went into reading Dead Until Dark with skepticism. I’ve never developed a fondness for novels about vampires, and I suspected this novel was mostly smut, yet I was pleasantly surprised in the first few chapters. I was impressed by the character of Sookie Stackhouse and how vivid her voice was. She seemed like a down-to-earth and simple southern girl who had an insatiable curiosity about vampires. She also had a peculiar gift that allowed her to read the thoughts of others, which…okay…I wasn’t that impressed with. It was a little too Bella Swan for my taste (and yes, I realize Dead Until Dark was published first), though I was willing to overlook it.

And then everything changed following her first roll in the hay with Bill, the vampire. Sookie Stackhouse? Surely her name is really Mary Sue!

  • She’s the most gorgeous girl in Bon Temps, Louisiana, which she and everyone in Bon Temps constantly reminds the reader about. I guess the only reprieve the reader gets is at least Sookie doesn’t try to convince you she’s just mediocre looking despite an excess amount of male attention.
  • She refers to her magical ability, which allows her to read the minds of those around her, as a “disability”. Gross.
  • Said magical ability is a result of her not-so-human status (which is actually revealed in later novels, I just accidentally found a spoiler).
  • Spoilers also tell me of a love pentagon? A love hexagon? Just no.
  • She’s abstained from any romantic and sexual relationships because of her mind reading ability, so naturally her first sexual encounters, with a vampire of course, reveal she’s actually a sexual beast. Who doesn’t come out the gate swingin’ though, amiright? (Just kidding. The answer to that question is “NO ONE”).
  • She essentially has a minimum wage job, but she doesn’t ever have to worry about money because a giant “nest egg” has been willed to her. On multiple occasions. This allows her to take all the time off from work that she needs with no consequence. That and her boss is in love with her. How convenient.

There was a mystery in this book too that became quite muddled after Sookie lost her V-card. I mean, it was a compelling murder mystery at first, but then the story morphed into this weird relationship power struggle between Bill and Sookie. Bill was a bit of a wet blanket unless bedroom activity was involved, and Sookie was excessively stubborn by refusing her gentleman caller unless bedroom activity was involved. I forgot about the mystery until the last couple of chapters, which in all fairness, wrapped up nicely.

In the end, while I didn’t hate Dead Until Dark, it definitely didn’t impress me. I sort of wish I could have my month back to trudge through a different novel.

Have you ever read the Sookie Stackhouse series or watched the True Blood series? Do you prefer one over the other?

Saving the Best for Last | The Enemies of Versailles by Sally Christie

Pardon me. I’m just feeling a bit emotional right now. I’ve officially finished the Mistresses of Versailles series by Sally Christie. Now when book bloggers write discussion posts about series, I can brag that I’ve read THREE series from start to finish and then offer my opinion on whatever it is they’re really writing about. I’d like to say that it’s a testament to the author that the series has made it on my brief list of completed series, but it’s not because the Twilight saga is also one of those three.

I know I’ve dedicated a fair amount of blog space to the genius that is the Mistresses of Versailles already, but allow me just one more post (at least this quarter because I know the Enemies of Versailles is going to be mentioned again in my 2017 wrap up post). My love for this series was so unexpected because it was entirely out of my comfort zone. I only dabble in historical fiction, and I try to steer clear of any books that could be described as “steamy”. Yet, here I am, consuming these books faster than Victoire consumes her cordial. These books are vibrant and full of life and personality. They’re hilarious. And, tucked in between bed sheets pages of scheming mistresses and unfaithful kings, there is actually a lot of substance, whether it’s the surprising depth of the characters or…well…the socio-economic structure of 18th century France, the fall of the House of Bourbon, the French Revolution, how brothels work.


The Enemies of Versailles (the Mistresses of Versailles #3) by Sally Christie

Released: March 21, 2017
Publisher: Atria Boks
★★★★★
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In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

After decades suffering the King’s endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.

Told in Christie’s witty and engaging style, the final book in The Mistresses of Versailles trilogy will delight and entrance fans as it once again brings to life the sumptuous and cruel world of eighteenth century Versailles, and France as it approaches inevitable revolution.


The series as a whole was consistently well-written and engaging, but the Enemies of Versailles was perhaps my favorite novel of the trilogy. In the Sisters of Versailles and the Rivals of Versailles, there were several narrators. While the shift between the many narrators made the novels seem fast-paced, I did find the flip-flopping to be confusing at first. I also found some narrators more compelling than others. But the Enemies of Versailles only had two narrators– Comtesse du Barry, the king’s official mistress, and Madame Adelaide, the king’s daughter.

It’s been interesting to watch King Louis XV’s mistresses decline in social standing throughout the course of the series. The Sisters of Versailles were nobles. Madame Pompadour was bourgeois. And Comtesse du Barry, despite what the name suggests, was of an even lower social strata and made ends meet through prostitution. Comtesse du Barry, like previous mistresses, was portrayed as an airhead at first, distracted by gilt and gems, but she later grows in to her role at Versailles (thankfully not as maliciously as previous mistresses).

To give a voice to Madame Adelaide, the king’s daughter, was also a fascinating choice. I suspect one of the reasons is to juxtapose France’s First Estate (the nobles) against the Third Estate (the commoners), as the tides of revolution lap at the gates of Versailles. But it also demonstrates how unnatural the royal family feels– like the queen and her children just simply existed in the background because King Louis XV had more important things to pay attention to (certainly not church sermons though). With the children being taken care of by wet nurses and tutors and whose marriages were treated as business deals and war strategies, it’s surprising they would even have any kind of attachment to their parents. And yet, Madame Adelaide seems to truly adore her father and not just because he is the King of France. Their relationship made me feel so sad though. I got the sense that Madame Adelaide wanted to have a real relationship with her father but couldn’t. Not only has she been constantly cast aside when King Louis XV preferred to dote on mistresses, she, like every other royal subject, had to request an audience with her father!

The Enemies of Versailles didn’t seem as fast-paced as the two previous novels, but there was more character building and more world building this time around. Christie’s challenge was to make readers care about these two women, who seem self-centered and too caught up in living in material excess (maybe kind of like the Kardashians). Because, inevitably, the novel ends at the beginning of great turmoil– the French Revolution. The final scenes of this novel, this series, when royalty is being beheaded and nobles are being tried for being spies for the old regime are some of the most emotional, which is unexpected. Throughout this entire series, Louis, his mistresses, his family, the court at Versailles, heck! even church leaders, are caught up in this gross obsession with wealth at the expense of everyone else. They’ve bankrupted their country and raised the deficit and yet, the government will not make any motion to reform taxes. People are suffering, and to make matters worse, the nobles don’t even recognize the damage they have done. There is this wonderful passage to capture this:

“Six hundred black crows breaching the walls of our palace. Who are these men? Nothing, their blood denuded of that essence that marks the noble races. The nobles have defended France, the clergy has prayed for France, but what have these men done? Probably they do some tasks that are important, but they are menial ones, and why should they have any glory or power for that?

And yet, the final chapters are the most gripping. Despite their attitudes, I still hoped Madame Adelaide and her family could escape the revolution. I still hoped Comtesse Du Barry’s pleas wouldn’t fall on deaf ears as they dragged her to the guillotine.

I can’t praise these books enough. Stop what you’re doing and go read this books now!

TLC Book Tours

This novel was provided for free from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Four Reasons Why You Should Read the Mistresses of Versailles Series by Sally Christie

If you’ve read Books & Tea longer than a minute, you will know two things:

  1. I’m worse than you at reading series. Unless you are a non-reader; then I suppose you are worse by default. (Seriously though. I’m really bad.)
  2. Despite my lack of follow through with book series, I’m obsessed with the Mistresses of Versailles series by Sally Christie. I devoured the Sisters of Versailles. I read the Enemies of Versailles with fervor. I was even inspired to make some Pain Au Chocolat for the mistresses!

To say I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the third and final installment almost feels like an understatement, and now it’s almost here. The Enemies of Versailles officially hits the shelves March 21, 2017. If you’re late to the Sally Christie bandwagon, or you’re not quite certain you really want to invest your time into a historical fiction series, hopefully I can change your mind.

Four Reasons Why You Should Drop What You’re Doing and Read the Mistresses of Versailles Series Right Now

  1. If you’re a reluctant reader of historical fiction, the Mistresses of Versailles will change your mind. I think historical fictions gets a bad wrap. It’s sometimes perceived as stuffy and dry, and perhaps this is because we can still recall how dull high school American History or World History classes were. Or, perhaps we’re intimidated by tomes full of information rich world building. Either way, the Mistresses of Versailles shatters these perceptions. Sally Christie’s novels are full of life and personality and vivid imagery of life at Versailles and 18th century France.
  2. These books will make you laugh out loud. This is another way this series will shatter your perception of historical fiction. I think it’s an unwritten rule somewhere (that Sally Christie tossed to the wind) that historical fiction is definitely, 100% not supposed to be funny. Aside from the mistresses’ schemes and antics, Christie’s writing is clever and witty, which will have you snorting and chuckling (chortling?).
  3. If you’re a fan of double entendres, you will find this series satisfying. Allow me a brief digression. Fact: I’m a fan of Shakespeare. Also Fact: One of the reasons I love Shakespeare’s plays so much is because of all of the eloquently disguised references to butts. I happen to have a crude sense of humor, and Shakespeare makes me giggle chortle, and Sally Christie definitely gives Shakespeare a run for his shillings.
  4. You will realize that you’re actually mildly obsessed with 18th century France. Going into this series, I knew very little about 18th century France aside from the French Revolution (because school) and Marie Antoinette (because Sofia Coppola), and I found neither to be particularly memorable. (The Mistresses of Versailles takes place before the French Revolution anyway). In between chapters, you’ll find yourself surfing Wikipedia to learn everything there is to know about 18th century France, and you’ll start secretly hoping that Sally Christie does to the House of Bourbon what Phillipa Gregory did to the Plantagenet and the Tudors.

the Enemies of Versailles (the Mistresses of Versailles #3) by Sally Christie

In the final installment of Sally Christie’s “tantalizing” (New York Daily News) Mistresses of Versailles trilogy, Jeanne Becu, a woman of astounding beauty but humble birth, works her way from the grimy back streets of Paris to the palace of Versailles, where the aging King Louis XV has become a jaded and bitter old philanderer. Jeanne bursts into his life and, as the Comtesse du Barry, quickly becomes his official mistress.

After decades suffering the King’s endless stream of Royal Favorites, the princesses of the Court have reached a breaking point. Horrified that he would bring the lowborn Comtesse du Barry into the hallowed halls of Versailles, Louis XV’s daughters, led by the indomitable Madame Adelaide, vow eternal enmity and enlist the young dauphiness Marie Antoinette in their fight against the new mistress. But as tensions rise and the French Revolution draws closer, a prostitute in the palace soon becomes the least of the nobility’s concerns.


Have you read in of the books from Sally Christie’s Mistresses of Versailles series?

For Fans of Character-Driven Novels | Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

I had a friend in high school who was a little left of center. She never cut her hair. She never wore matching shoes. And she never cleaned her room. She cried when she broke a nail… and then taped the tip back on. She only listened to the Beatles, Kylie Minogue, and the Powerpuff Girls OST. And she only watched the Twilight Zone, Powerpuff Girls, and Sailor Moon. She collected (and I assume played with) dolls. She still collects (and I assume plays with) dolls. She had a high pitch, chirpy voice, and an even higher pitched laugh that sometimes sounded like she was screaming if she thought something was particularly funny. She colored strips of paper with pens and markers and taped them into bracelets, and then she wore them. Unless they broke…then she would toss them into her clear, plastic backpack, where they would collect at the bottom along with pencil shavings, empty Frutopia bottles, pen caps with erasers, and incomplete math homework.

She is the best writer I’ve ever known. She is an enigma. She’s probably the only reason why I had real friends in middle school and high school. And this is who I thought about when I read Eggshells by Caitriona Lally.


Eggshells by Caitriona Lally

Released: March 2017
Publisher: Melville House Printing
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★★★☆☆

Vivian doesn’t feel like she fits in – and never has. As a child, she was so whimsical that her parents told her she was “left by fairies.” Now, living alone in Dublin, the neighbors treat her like she’s crazy, her older sister condescends to her, social workers seem to have registered her as troubled, and she hasn’t a friend in the world.

So, she decides it’s time to change her life: She begins by advertising for a friend. Not just any friend. She wants one named Penelope. Meanwhile, she roams the city, mapping out a new neighborhood every day, seeking her escape route to a better world, the other world her parents told her she came from. And then one day someone named Penelope answers her ad for a friend. And from that moment on, Vivian’s life begins to change.

Debut author Caitriona Lally offers readers an exhilaratingly fresh take on the Irish love for lyricism, humor, and inventive wordplay in a book that is, in itself, deeply charming, and deeply moving.


I thought I preferred character-driven novels over everything else, but I was wrong. And, the thing about Eggshells by Caitriona Lally is it’s 100% character driven. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Eggshells. That’s far from the truth. But, I did find the novel to be…exhausting. Vivian, like my friend from high school, is a little left of center. Her behavior is extremely quirky (which, is just a polite way of saying, she’s a weirdo), and at first I found it charming and silly.

I was amused when Vivian sent letters containing the ashes of her late Aunt Maud to 22 of Aunt Maud’s friends– one to each letter of the alphabet. Then she picks four unsuspecting citizens from the phone book to complete the alphabet. I even related to her when she repeated the word “bumble bee” so many times that it started to sound meaningless because I do the exact same thing with the word “purple”.

Then, I felt sad for her when she felt confident that a letter sent via message in a bottle across oceans would get to her friend more safely than through the postal service. And that’s just barely scratching the surface. He whole perspective of the world is so abstract and bizarre, and it began to wear on me. I felt like my ability to enjoy this book depended on how well I accepted and appreciated Vivian, and perhaps she’s a bit too much of a social pariah for my tastes. In the end, I just felt overwhelmed by her, but maybe that’s the point.

What I really found myself sticking around for was Lally’s writing. It was poetic and clever and humorous (not in a laugh-out-loud sort of way, but subtly so). But even that was hard– sticking around for 250+ pages just because stylistically Lally’s writing is amazing.

In the end, would I recommend this book? Absolutely. Just make sure you understand what you’re picking up.

Are you a fan of character driven novels? What are some of your favorites?

This novel was received for free in exchange for an honest review as a part of TLC Book Tours

For Your Favorite Foodie | The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig

February is almost over, and I’ve only finished three books so far. With the exception of the Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata, which I devoured in two sittings, I find myself trudging through every book I pick up. Take for example the Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig- it’s a relatively short book with 288 pages, but I spent nearly a month reading it. Don’t get me wrong. There were aspects about this book that were engaging and beautifully written. But, there were also aspects of this book that I felt disconnected from, indifferent.


the-memory-of-lemon-book-coverThe Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig

Released: June 2016
Publisher: Berkley
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★★★☆☆

A crisp tang of citrus that is at once poignant and familiar, sharpening the senses and opening the mind to possibilities once known and long forgotten…
 
Claire “Neely” Davis is no ordinary pastry chef. Her flavor combinations aren’t just a product of a well-honed palate: she can “taste” people’s emotions, sensing the ingredients that will touch her customers’ souls. Her gift has never failed her—until she meets a free-spirited bride-to-be and her overbearing society mother. The two are unable to agree on a single wedding detail, and their bickering leaves Neely’s intuition frustratingly silent—right when she needs it most.

Between trying to navigate a divorce, explore a new relationship, and handle the reappearance of her long-absent father, Neely is struggling to make sense of her own conflicting emotions, much less those of her hard-to-please bride. But as she embarks on a flavorful quest to craft the perfect wedding celebration, she’ll uncover a family history that sheds light on both the missing ingredients and her own problems—and illustrates how the sweet and sour in life often combine to make the most delicious memories…


This book felt a little cozy

As in, if you added a thrilling murder and a pet cat, you’d have a cozy mystery novel. I suspect it was the introduction of the main character, Neely, who is in the process of divorcing her cavorting pro-football husband and starting fresh in her old hometown in southwest Ohio– a world away from posh NYC, which is where she lived prior. (What cozy mystery doesn’t start out with the main character arriving in a small town after leaving a husband or a long-time boyfriend?)

She has also just recently opened her own bakery called Rainbow Cakes, so you better believe your tummy will be grumbling throughout. If you’re a foodie or a baker, I’m sure you’ll love reading about all of Neely’s delicious baked goods! Plus, Rainbow Cakes is the perfect setting to meet all of the locals, like rough-around-the-edges Jett, Neely’s bakery assistant and the bashful professor, who has his heart set on Maggie, Neely’s emotionally guarded waitress.

I wasn’t sure if Neely’s gift was supernatural or synesthesia

My favorite aspect about this book is how Neely is able to connect emotions and memories to certain flavors. I thought she was a synesthetic at first, and perhaps she is, but her gift teeters on the edge of supernatural because she is able to experience feelings and memories of her ancestors. Fertig’s writing springs to life every time Neely experiences the past, and readers are treated to rich imagery of life in the Ohio River Valley during the 1800s.

But…I’d rather read about Neely’s past than her present

The part of the novel I feel indifferent about is Neely’s present, specifically the conflicts she has to overcome in her love life. Unlike Neely’s baked goods, Neely is kind of a bland character, and I had a hard time connecting with her. As for the conflict…it had potential. Neely is trying to divorce her football star husband, who doesn’t seem quite ready to let her go despite his debaucherous behavior. She especially wants to expedite the process because she’s falling in love with one of her best friends. She has to be careful though because there is a clause in the prenuptial agreement that could mean financial ruin if it’s determined Neely is being unfaithful. Fertig lets this conflict simmer throughout the novel; I wanted the pot to come to a full-boil, but Fertig removes it from the burner before it had a chance, and I was left feeling kind of let down.

That being said…the wedding Neely and her team are planning was totally my dream wedding!!!

Perhaps my timing was off

The Memory of Lemon by Judith Fertig teeters right on the edge of being a fluffy, contemporary novel, which are best devoured during a summer afternoon sitting on the back deck, soaking up the sun, not during the throes of winter while buried under blankets.

 

I’m Nervous About Starting This Book

A dense fog has sunk into mid-Michigan this week. It’s made my new, 30-mile commute dreadful and the woods across the street from my house particularly spooky. Perhaps the ominous atmosphere is what drove me to pluck Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris from the library shelf on Saturday. Or, perhaps it was the glitter on the book cover. Regardless the reason, now that I’ve sat down to read the novel, I find myself nervous to open the book. This is what I know about the Sookie Stackhouse series:

  1. It’s wildly popular. They even turned it into a TV show.
  2. It’s a pretty steamy series.
  3. There is a vampire in it (multiple vampires?), which immediately increases the probability that I will loathe the book.

So, here I am procrastinating by blogging and drinking tea that tastes more like the sweet clovers I tasted in late Springtime in Ohio when I was a child than something that should accompany a novel about vampires. Even if said novel has glitter on the front cover.

doomni-summer-oolongToday I drink Doomni Summer Oolong from Teabox Tea, which is from the Assam region, an area known for its malty, black tea rather than its Oolong. The dry leaves are a beautiful blend of dark green, rusty-brown, and taupe, and they smell creamy, sweet, and soft. The flavor of the tea is reminiscent of the red clover flowers that I used to taste growing up in Ohio– slightly vegetal and slightly honeyed sweet. I also pick up a very subtle floral flavor– jasmine, maybe? The package mentions there should also be some minty notes, but I do not taste it. Basically, Doomni Summer Oolong tastes like Springtime, and it seems to cut through the fog wrapped around soggy tree trunks. This tea is best sipped hot, but if you’re going to nurse it, you can add some honey to cut the bitterness that surfaces as it cools.

Have you ever been so nervous to start a new book that you found yourself procrastinating?

My New Library Still Rubber Stamps the Due Dates On All of the Books

I think the thing that surprised me most about my local library was how many people were there. Then again, in a village of about 3,000 people, what else is there to do on a Saturday morning in the middle of January? This particular Saturday was “balmy”– overcast and nearly 50 degrees. I would have pried open windows, as Michiganders are wont to do during brief spells of unseasonably warm weather, but all of my windows are missing screens. So…I decided to walk to the library instead, which happens to be a short zig-zag away from my house. I mean, it probably took me a whole minute to walk there.

Now, the library I used to visit in the capital city was a big, brand new building with high ceilings, couches, and a fireplace, and you could easily maneuver the stacks without bumping into anyone. My new library is a small brick building tucked beside the fire department. The front lawn is decorated with some awkward scarecrow made out of white fence pieces and a blow-up snowman that looks tacky now that Christmas is a month behind us. Inside is cozy though, perhaps a little dark in some corners, and almost over-stuffed with books, if such a thing were possible. Patrons included a man with a scraggly beard playing on the computers, an elderly woman, who has traced her ancestry back to the 1400s so far, and a middle-aged woman, who had just won $40 on a scratch-off lottery ticket, and the first thing she thought to do with the money was pay her library fine so she could borrow books again.

Even though the selection of books isn’t nearly as vast as my old library, I still managed to spend an hour perusing the stacks. This weekend’s library loot includes:

  • Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison — I read this over ten years ago when I was still in high school; I wonder if it’s still as funny as I remember.
  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel — a sci-fi novel told in interviews, journal entries, transcripts, and news articles. I’ve not had any luck with epistolary novels lately, but we’ll see if this one is different.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz — because it’s about time I catch up with the rest of the book blogosphere!
  • Dead Until Dark: Sookie Stackhouse #1 by Charlain Harris — because it’s about time I catch up with the rest of the world!
  • the Mental Floss History of the World by Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand — because I’m a nerd.

If you’re a library-goer, what are some of your favorite things about your library?

The Best of 2016

Yet another year passes, and I didn’t reach my goal of reading 52 books. How can I call myself a book blogger if I cannot even achieve such a minuscule goal? Surely there is a quota that must be met for this sort of thing. Still, I read some pretty incredible books this year. These books take the cake!

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson — I knew this hilarious travel narrative by one of my favorite writers would top the list before I even started reading.

Open Road Summer by Emery Lord — This novel started out as a two-star read but shifted into a four-star read that changed my perspective on YA Contemporary novels.

The Sisters of Versailles and The Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie — If you would have told me I was going to read and love this steamy romp through the palace of Versailles, I wouldn’t have believed you, but Sally Christie’s wit and storytelling abilities are irresistible. The final novel in this series, The Enemies of Versailles, is being released this year, and I cannot wait to read it!

The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson — I still can’t find the words to accurately praise this novel. It is my absolute favorite read of 2016 though.

The Art of Holding on and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz — This was a beautifully written novel about coping with grief and the healing powers of nature and rock climbing, and Lenz captured the essence of Michigan so perfectly (perhaps because she is a Michigander!).

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern — Halpern captures the voice of a fifteen year old girl so vividly in this hilarious contemporary novel about family, friendship, and Dungeons & Dragons.

Pique Tea Crystals — It’s a toss-up between their Earl Grey and their Mint Sencha, but Pique Tea Crystals is perfect for brewing a cup of iced tea on the go.

Lemon Soleil Tea from Adagio Teas — The bright and lemony black tea was, without a doubt, my absolute favorite tea to sip on in 2016!

Reading Nook Blend by Plume Deluxe — Just as the name of the tea suggests, this floral scented tea is perfect for keeping cozy while reading.

Charcoal-baked Anxi Tie Guan Yin Oolong Tea from Tea Vivre — This is another dreamy, floral-flavored tea that makes me wish Springtime were right around the corner.

Thai Chai Tea from Adagio Teas — this spicy and creamy blend of black tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, dried coconut, cardamom, and lemon grass kept me warm this Autumn.

What were some of your favorite Books & Tea in 2016?