HUNTER KILLER by Brad Taylor

January 7, 2020

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From the publisher:

Pike Logan tracks highly-trained Russian assassins to Brazil in this blistering, action-packed thriller from New York Times bestselling author and former Special Forces Officer Brad Taylor.

Pike Logan and the Taskforce were once the apex predators, an unrivaled hunting machine that decimated those out to harm the United States, but they may have met their match. While Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill prepare to join their team on a counter-terrorist mission in the triple frontier—the lawless tri-border region where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet—they are targeted in Charleston, South Carolina. A vicious explosion kills a friend, and the perpetrators have set it up to look like an accident. While the authorities believe this was not foul play, Pike knows the attack was meant for him.

When he loses contact with the team in South America, Pike is convinced he and the Taskforce are under assault. His men are the closest thing to family that Pike has, which means he will do anything, even ignore direct orders to stand down, to find them. Pike and Jennifer head to Brazil to investigate their disappearance and run headlong into a crew of Russian assassins. Within days they are entangled in a byzantine scheme involving Brazilian politics and a cut-throat battle for control of offshore oil fields.

Forged in combat, the Russians are the equal of anything the Taskforce has encountered before, but they make a mistake in attacking Pike’s team, because Pike has a couple of elite Israeli assassins of his own. And Pike will stop at nothing to protect his family.


Those who already addicted to ex-army Delta Force operative Brad Taylor’s novels involving Pike Logan and his Task Force team will find that the newest book in the series follows suit. The Task Force is a group of military operatives that was set up by the United States president to hunt down and neutralize enemies of the country in any way they see fit. Pike Logan is a leader of one of the teams and has spearheaded many successful ventures with them. And they report directly to the president with no affiliation to other clandestine organizations.

The novel opens as two of Pike’s men are in Brazil on assignment acting as the lead in a planned counter-terrorism operation when the Task Force is suddenly ordered to stand down from all activity pending investigation of whether or not they are acting legally. Pike’s immediate supervisor brings him the news directly but in an accident obviously aimed at killing Pike is murdered in Pike’s car when it blows up when the motor is turned on. Findings seem to indicate that it was a freak accident but Pike is of the opinion that it was a planned hit against him.

At the same time, word is received that the Task Force men in Brazil are aboard a ferry stopped by terrorists that then wired it with explosives. With no direct contact with the men in Brazil, Pike makes the logical assumption that he and his squad are under attack. Against orders he and his girlfriend and fellow Task Force member Jennifer Cahill along with several other men anxious to help those in Brazil fly down to South America. The area is actually the triple frontier between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay and is basically a lawless zone.

Once arrived the group finds that they are right in the middle of the activities of a team of highly skilled Russian agents whose goal is to gain control of a lucrative Brazilian offshore oil field. Without backing and against orders Pike and his team begin the action they deem suitable to save their men on the Ferry and rectify the entire situation. The action is constant, the planning and execution of their plans well done and we have another mesmerizing novel by Brad Taylor to keep us awake until finished.

1/2020 Paul Lane

HUNTER KILLER by Brad Taylor. William Morrow (January 7, 2020). ISBN 978-0062886026. 432p.

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THE NEW VOICES OF SCIENCE FICTION

January 6, 2020

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Hannu Rajaniemi & Jacob Weisman, editors

From the publisher:

“[STARRED REVIEW] A must-read for anyone interested in the latest and most exciting sf writing out there.” ―Booklist

Your future is bright! After all, your mother is a robot, your father has joined the alien hive-mind, and your dinner will be counterfeit 3D-printed steak. Even though your worker bots have staged a mutiny, and your tour guide speaks only in memes, you can always sell your native language if you need some extra cash.

The avant-garde of science fiction have arrived in this space-age sequel to the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology, The New Voices of Fantasy. Here you’ll find the rising stars of the last five years: Rebecca Roanhorse, Amal El-Mohtar, Alice Sola Kim, Sam J. Miller, E. Lily Yu, Rich Larson, Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Sarah Pinsker, Darcie Little Badger, Nino Cipri, S. Qiouyi Lu, Kelly Robson, and more. Their extraordinary stories have been hand-selected by cutting-edge author Hannu Rajaniemi (The Quantum Thief) and genre expert Jacob Weisman (Invaders).

So go ahead, join the interstellar revolution. The new kids have already hacked the AI.


I entered the world of science fiction back in the days of short stories about BEMs (Bug Eyed Monsters) published in pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories. I was fortunate to experience the entrance of authors such as Murray Leinster, Asimov, Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and classics such as “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451”. They took up a literary torch and turned the world of Science Fiction into a serious branch of literature. For some reason, I stopped reading the genre for many years. Upon seeing the title of this collection, I decided to see how the field has evolved over the time I’ve been away from it.

This review is my opinion and in that vein, I must state that I am disappointed in what the genre has apparently become. I found the stories very difficult to follow apparently due to a desire to use language based on the perception of descriptions that are thought to be proper for the genre. I recall being grabbed by the writers cited above and treated to adventures of other times and other places all presented with logical explanations of what allowed these events to occur. Not so with the stories in this anthology most of which left me wondering what the aim was.

1/2020 Paul Lane

THE NEW VOICES OF SCIENCE FICTION, edited by Hannu Rajaniemi & Jacob Weisman. Tachyon Publications (November 13, 2019). ISBN 978-1616962913. 432p.

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LOVE LETTERING by Kate Clayborn

January 3, 2020

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From the publisher:

In this warm and witty romance from acclaimed author Kate Clayborn, one little word puts one woman’s business—and her heart—in jeopardy . . .

Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . . .

A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late . . .


Is it too late to add a title to my favorite books of 2019?  Released on the final day of 2019, Love Lettering quickly became one of my favorite books of the year.  The first thing that struck me about this book was the writing.  The prose has a lyrical quality to it that I don’t often see in contemporary romance. I would describe the writing as artistic if that makes sense.  The language that Clayborn uses to describe Meg, Reid, and New York almost seems to embody Meg’s profession as an artist and calligrapher.

Clayborn expertly builds Meg and Reid’s relationship as Meg tries to convince Reid to stay in New York through a series of walks around the city looking for inspiration for her next project.  The reader gets to see the city through Reid’s eyes, for the first time really getting to know and love the city he has lived in for six years, and through Meg’s eyes, the eyes of an artist who looks for signs everywhere she goes.  I had never given much thought to hand lettering as an art form and I would have a hard time listing fonts beyond Times New Roman, but after reading about Meg’s passion for her art I find myself paying more attention to fonts and stopping to notice the style and design of signs.  I absolutely loved Meg and Reid as a couple.  Meg is creative, persistent and witty which serves as a perfect foil for Reid who prefers numbers and can have a hard time connecting with people. Since it was published at an awkward time (the last day of the year) I haven’t seen Love Lettering make many recommendation lists and get the attention it deserves.  I highly recommend Love Lettering, even to those who do not usually read romance.  It is exceptionally well written, features complex characters and an insightful look into the city of New York and the art of hand lettering.

1/20 Caitlin Brisson


A note from the BookBitch

I have to add my two cents here. Caitlin had texted me that she thought I would enjoy this book. I was off for a few weeks over the holidays and did quite a bit of reading. But this last week I had encountered several stinkers in a row. Books I did not finish. Books I didn’t get past the first chapter. Books I wasn’t in the mood for (but went back to and loved) and well, you get the idea. So I eagerly started this book on New Year’s Eve day and finished it before dinner. I loved it, for a lot of the reasons Caitlin mentioned. I would add that it is also a love letter to New York City.  The characters were interesting and well developed, the setting was really another character, and the romance seemed to bloom organically, if you’ll pardon the pun. The art of hand lettering so intrigued me that I started down a rabbit hole, and first found this interview with the author, which led me to this article on Bullet Journaling, which I had never even heard of.

Caitlin had emailed me that her entire review could have been, “This book is amazing. Read it.” Yep, that sums it up and I concur.

LOVE LETTERING by Kate Clayborn. Kensington Publishing Corp. (December 31, 2019).  ISBN 9781496725172. 320 p.

 

 


Best Books of 2019: Paul Lane

December 29, 2019

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Task Force Baum by James Shipman: A war story but not your average blood bath. The story is a true one based on a little known battle fought between American and German forces in the last few weeks of WWII. General George Patton orders an attack to free prisoners held in a POW camp. He does so for personal reasons with no military basis. The why is fascinating.

The Almanack by Martine Bailey: A novel that does a magnificent job bringing the reader into the past. Besides an interesting plot and well-told story, a picture is painted of London in the bygone time of the 1750s- dirty and disease-ridden. The title brings out a custom prevalent in those days of utilizing Almanacs to both write in and to follow forecasts made by them. Well written and fascinating as an era comes to life.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor: Listed as the first novel published by Taylor it certainly marks a comer. The plot involves the science fiction concept of time transference when a young lady is moved back in time to a period 100 years ago. She meets a soldier wounded in what was World War One and the two fall in love. The book is much more than the transference but also a wonderful love story.

The Russian by Ben Coes: Coes, who has given us many high adventure novels featuring Dewey Martin, has created a new protagonist in Rob Tacoma. He also moves the stages of operation from Islamic Terrorism to the Russian Mafia. Like action – Ben Coes is your man. We all need the all nighter to stimulate the imagination by meeting a hero.

The Bells of Hell by Michael Kurland: I obviously like action novels and continue with this description of a spy story set in New York City just prior to the U.S. entering WWII. The story involves a group of Nazis working to move the US into entering the war on the side of Germany and Japan. What is done to counteract this is laid to the prompt actions of several individuals.

Just Watch Me by Jeff Lindsay: The author made his literary reputation with the creation of Dexter, a serial killer who only killed serial killers. In this novel, he introduces a thief. Riley Wolfe features the same treatment as Dexter. He is a thief, and a master one at that, but first and foremost a picaresque rogue. In this, his first foray, Riley comes up with the challenge of stealing a diamond owned by Iran. One worth a fortune, and guarded by the Iranian government as well as it could be. The same novel provides the introduction of a policeman who is making his life’s work to catch and capture Riley. It should be another successful series by Jeff Lindsay.

Nothing Ventured by Jeffery Archer: And another very fine book by a noted author introducing a new character. William Warwick is the son of a very successful Defense Attorney with a thriving practice in London. His father would like nothing better than to have William finish university and enter his practice. No such luck. William in spite of all his family against the idea decides that he would rather be a detective and has wanted to do that since he was eight years of age. And of course, he does join Scotland Yard and does make it to detective. No problem looking for more William Warwick adventures in crime-fighting.


Best Books of 2019: Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

December 25, 2019

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Another year, another list of books. I tried very hard to narrow down my list to a reasonable number and settled on fifteen. My original list had 60! It was a good year for books. The books are sort of in order of preference, as of today. Ask me tomorrow, and the order will change. I tried to include a variety of genres, especially those who don’t usually get the love on these best of lists, like romance. Also included are thrillers, literary fiction, books bound for book club love, and even a holiday romance.


THIS TENDER LAND by William Kent Kruger: The writing is simply superb. The characters are unforgettable, and the setting is rich and evocative.  I have seen this book described as an updated Huckleberry Finn, and that is an apt comparison, as is its comparison to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and Homer’s Odyssey. These are some heady correlations, and Kruger’s book easily stands up to them. There are some major themes at play here, starting with the grand adventure on the river. This is an epic odyssey, often chaotic, and at times, spiritual. But other themes are also important, like the deplorable mistreatment of Native Americans in this country, and much of the history revealed here was completely new to me. Book clubs will love it; there is a deep, rich reservoir worthy of discussion. 

ALL THIS COULD BE YOURS by Jami Attenberg: Victor was a criminal in his business life, and a tyrant in his personal life, and is at the end of his life; the novel unfolds on the day he has his fatal heart attack.  Attenberg is a master of subtlety as she divulges everyone’s thoughts, including the one-off characters like the clerk at a CVS and the coroner. The unusual twist here is that the reader learns all their stories, while the characters do not. Contemporary family sagas don’t get much better than this.

BROMANCE BOOK CLUB by Lyssa Kay Adams: This was the most brilliant and original idea for a romance novel that I have seen in a very long time. The premise of men reading romance novels to learn about women was positively inspired, and made me think all men should be forced to read them! This is a clever, heartwarming, fun and sexy read.

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE BY Casey McQuiston: To pigeonhole this book is to do it a great disservice. Yes, it is a gay romance. It is also very political, but in a sweet, fantasy sort of way that really appealed to me. Alex and Henry’s story made me laugh and made me cry and especially made me wish for a better America. And if that surprises you, you must be new here. It’s fantastical and idealistic and I loved it.

FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: Toby Fleishman is a recently divorced 40-something doctor in Manhattan, AKA catnip to women, and they are not shy about letting him know. Toby is like a kid in a candy store. This new world order is working for him. Until his ex goes missing, and the party feels like it’s over. A lot of the stuff that happens is laugh out loud funny, and other parts are infuriating and sometimes sad, but all in all, this is a book that begs to be discussed. A first novel with complex characters and a lot of emotion, and I loved the writing.

THE OYSTERVILLE SEWING CIRCLE by Susan Wiggs: This is a book of the #MeToo movement, set in the fashion industry, which for some reason, has been exempt from this. At least I haven’t seen any earth-shattering stories, but as in any industry where mostly men are in power, one can’t help but wonderThis was a very good read, filled with the empathy and power that words can bring to such a dark subject. Book groups will find lots to discuss here.

THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF SAM HELL by Robert Dugoni: Our main character is Sam Hill, AKA Sam Hell, who is born with ocular albinism, which means that the irises of his eyes are red instead of the usual brown, blue, hazel, etc. and hence the nickname. We meet him as an infant, and get to watch him grow up, survive being bullied, and eventually become the man he was meant to be. The writing is really good, almost ethereal in parts, which seems fitting for a book steeped in Catholicism. This was my favorite line: “There comes a day in every man’s life when he stops looking forward and starts looking back.” Something to think about for sure. An excellent read, perfect for book discussion, and I’m just sorry I didn’t get to it sooner.

THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE by Katherine Center: Center turns the whole hot firemen romance genre on its head with Cassie, her feisty, smart woman firefighter. When her estranged mother asks her to move to Boston to take care of her for a little while, The small fire station she joins is Boston Irish, over a hundred years old, and has never had a woman working there, so not easy. But fun, so much fun! There are lots of starred reviews for this and tons of praise, all of it well deserved. It isn’t often that a book lives up to its hype for me, but this one did. I loved it.

DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This was a fun and nostalgic read for me. The format of the book, for lack of a better word, is interview style of a 70’s rock band. An oral history of sorts. Each character is quoted in response to questions, but we don’t know who is asking the questions or why until the end. So it reads in basically multiple first-person, an interesting technique. It’s also a fast read, especially as I got deeper and deeper into it. It is a very compelling story written in a unique way.

A COWBOY UNDER THE MISTLETOE by Jessica Clare: This romance ticked a lot of boxes that I really like; damaged characters, small town, cowboys, and Christmas. This was a warm, holiday read filled with love and grace and hope. A wonderful holiday romance!

GET A LIFE, CHLOE BROWN by Talia Hibbert: This is a British import and a wonderful read. The push for diversity in romance has been strong, and we, the readers, are reaping the benefits. I loved these characters. I was completely immersed in their world, and could not put down this book.

ELLIE AND THE HARP MAKER by Hazel Prior: I am loving this trend of romances with a main protagonist “on the spectrum,” as they say, and even though it is never explicitly stated, it doesn’t have to be. Dan builds beautiful and unique Celtic harps in his barn and lives upstairs. When Ellie stumbles onto his shop in the woods, he gifts her with a harp. Her husband is not happy about it, to say the least. This is a charming story, full of pathos and drama and love. I loved the Britishness of this story and especially the uniqueness of these English characters. The difference in our cultures is apparent here, and I loved that.

MY LOVELY WIFE by Samantha Downing: This was a dark but super fun read. The couple in this book are serial killers, yes a married couple, and they are killing for the fun of it. Super creepy. That is a hard thing to get around yet somehow Downing convinces us to root for them. It’s like magic. Or talent. Or both. There are some excellent twists in the story for sure, and the ending was a real surprise for me. It was truly unputdownable and I loved it!

THE WEIGHT OF A PIANO by Chris Cander: This book opens with the construction of a Blüthner piano, a fascinating tale about a brand of piano I had not heard of, that is supposedly in the same class as a Steinway. The story then moves back and forth in time, following the piano through two storylines. Cander makes it possible to grow attached to an inanimate object, for her characters and the reader. This is an excellent read sure to be beloved by book groups as there is much to discuss here, from the immigration of Russian Jews to the relationships that are so well depicted.

JUDGMENT by Joseph Finder: Wow! This is Finder’s best book so far, and that is saying a lot. I loved this character, Juliana is a working mom with all that goes along with that, has what seems like a pretty good marriage, at least from the outside, and a job that she loves. But there are definitely cracks in the marriage and her little infidelity brings such enormous consequences that the marriage is the least of it. The story is compelling, the characters seem like people I could know. This was a nonstop read for me, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.


10 BLIND DATES by Ashley Elston

December 24, 2019

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From the publisher:

Sophie wants one thing for Christmas-a little freedom from her overprotective parents. So when they decide to spend Christmas in South Louisiana with her very pregnant older sister, Sophie is looking forward to some much needed private (read: make-out) time with her long-term boyfriend, Griffin. Except it turns out that Griffin wants a little freedom from their relationship. Cue devastation.

Heartbroken, Sophie flees to her grandparents’ house, where the rest of her boisterous extended family is gathered for the holiday. That’s when her nonna devises a (not so) brilliant plan: Over the next ten days, Sophie will be set up on ten different blind dates by different family members. Like her sweet cousin Sara, who sets her up with a hot guy at an exclusive underground party. Or her crazy aunt Patrice, who signs Sophie up for a lead role in a living nativity. With a boy who barely reaches her shoulder. And a screaming baby.

When Griffin turns up unexpectedly and begs for a second chance, Sophie feels more confused than ever. Because maybe, just maybe, she’s started to have feelings for someone else . . . Someone who is definitely not available.


This is going to be the worst Christmas break ever… or is it?

A live nativity, bowling tournament, and an ugly sweater party.  Those activities wouldn’t exactly scream first date to most people, but to Sophie’s large, and well-meaning family they do.  After being dumped by her boyfriend the first night of winter break, Sophie’s extended family embarks on a plan to ensure that she has a date for every night of the break.  This plan results in a series of ten blind dates, some outrageous, some cringeworthy, and some actually fun.  It has been a while since I’ve read a teen romance that so well balances both humor and heart.  There are plenty of funny moments, a goat at the aforementioned live nativity and a drive-in movie that goes very wrong among them, but I also really enjoyed how Sophie’s family was at center stage in the story.  They are large, loud and meddle, but they genuinely love her and despite her recent heartbreak they always come first to Sophie.  Even though the book is about ten dates, it was refreshing to see a teen romance where the main character put her family and herself before a love interest.  With Netflix’s successful adaptation of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, I could see 10 Blind Dates being their next teen rom-com.  If you are looking for a heartwarming, but not sappy, holiday story I recommend 10 Blind Dates.

10 BLIND DATES by Ashley Elston. Disney-Hperion (October 1, 2019).  ISBN 9781368027496. 336p.

12/19 Caitlin Brisson

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THE TROUBLE WITH CHRISTMAS by Amy Andrews

December 23, 2019

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From the publisher:

All Suzanne St. Michelle wants is an over-the-top, eggnog-induced holiday with her best friend in Credence, Colorado. But when her hoity-toity parents insist she come home for Christmas in New York, she blurts out that her sexy landlord is actually her boyfriend and she can’t leave him—Joshy loves Christmas. The more twinkle lights the better.

Rancher Joshua Grady does not love Christmas. Or company, or chatty women. Unfortunately for him, the chattiest woman ever has rented the cottage on his ranch, invited her rich, art-scene parents, and now insists he play “fake rancher boyfriend” in a production of the Hokiest Christmas Ever. And somehow…she gets him to agree.

Apparently, he’ll do anything to get his quiet life back. At least there’s mistletoe every two feet—and kissing Suzy is surprisingly easy. But in the midst of acres of tinsel, far too many tacky Christmas sweaters, and a tree that can be seen from space, he’s starting to want what he lost when he was a kid—a family. Too bad it’s with a woman heading back to New York before the ball drops…

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Every December I embark upon a binge of holiday themed book reading. A friend who also shares a love of all things Christmas recently commented that she had only enjoyed one Christmas book so far this year. I’ve been having similar poor luck this year, but then I read The Trouble with Christmas. I hadn’t read the first book in this series (and it doesn’t matter, this book can be read as a stand-alone) but when I took Book Riot’s “What Holiday Romance Should You Read?” quiz this is the book they suggested. I figured a hot rancher and Colorado scenery should be fun. And The Trouble with Christmas is a fun book. Since taking a trip to Montana and Wyoming last year I have been eager to return to the West and Colorado is on the list. The small of town of Credence, Colorado sounds like it would be a great destination and the descriptions of snow-covered ranches and cozy cabins were perfect for a holiday romance. Suzy and Grady’s efforts to keep up the facade of their fake relationship with increasingly tacky and outlandish Christmas decor was fun to read. Suzy and Grady were a great couple with her sense of humor and tendency to talk too much balancing out Grady’s role of a stoic rancher. And of course, fake relationships in romance novels never lead to real feelings… If you enjoy Hallmark style holiday romances you’ll enjoy The Trouble with Christmas.

12/19 Caitlin Brisson

THE TROUBLE WITH CHRISTMAS by Amy Andrews. Entangled: Amara (September 24, 2019). ISBN 9781640638198. 418p.

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NOTHING FANCY by Alison Roman

December 17, 2019

Unfussy Food for Having People Over

From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • It’s not entertaining. It’s having people over. The social media star, New York Times columnist, and author of Dining In helps you nail dinner with unfussy food, unstuffy vibes, and the permission to be imperfect.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST COOKBOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AND NPR • A PEOPLE 2019 FOOD FAVORITE

Nothing Fancy delivers what those of hoping to up our dinner party game are looking for: It’s utterly current and distinctly doable.”—Eater

An unexpected weeknight meal with a neighbor or a weekend dinner party with fifteen of your closest friends—either way and everywhere in between, having people over is supposed to be fun, not stressful. This abundant collection of all-new recipes—heavy on the easy-to-execute vegetables and versatile grains, paying lots of close attention to crunchy, salty snacks, and with love for all the meats—is for gatherings big and small, any day of the week.

Alison Roman will give you the food your people want (think DIY martini bar, platters of tomatoes, pots of coconut-braised chicken and chickpeas, pans of lemony turmeric tea cake) plus the tips, sass, and confidence to pull it all off. With Nothing Fancy, any night of the week is worth celebrating.


I loved Alison Roman’s last cookbook, Dining In, so much that it was my choice for best cookbook of 2018. So I was really looking forward to this new one, and it does not disappoint. It has a definite audience this time out as it is a book all about entertaining. Now if you are thinking, I’d rather go out for dinner with friends than cook for them, this cookbook may change your mind!

She starts off with Snack Time, and there are lots of recipes divided by type: Dips, Spreads, and Stuff on Crackers; Fruits & Vegetables; Crunchy Things, Salty Things. That is followed by Salads, which are subdivided into Leafy Salads, Crunchy Salads, and the intriguing Kind-of Salads. Then come the sides, Vegetables and Grains, etc. Mains are next and include Meat, Fish, Pasta, etc. and the final chapter, appropriately titled, After Dinner.

Roman starts off the book with a page headed with “This is not a book about entertaining.” An interesting way to start! It is your introduction and Roman explains the how and why of her writing this particular book. She wants the takeaway to be: “Using your time and resources to feed people you care about is the ultimate expression of love…You got this.” Works for me. She then offers “three helpful things…ask for help; pick your battles; never apologize.” All excellent suggestions.

The ubiquitous grocery list comes next, what you should have on hand, but with an Alison Roman spin. Olive oil, sure, but her take on it? “not the fanciest or the cheapest; make sure it’s something you wouldn’t mind licking from a spoon.” She recommends kitchen equipment and pantry essentials as well.

Remember that first chapter, “snacks?” Roman warns not to confuse those with hors d’oeuvres or canapes. She says “snacks are breezy, snacks are fun.” Who doesn’t want breezy when you’ve invited people over? A most unusual snack that was tailor-made for my husband is Spicy Marinated Anchovies with Potato Chips. If you don’t love anchovies, and I don’t, then probably not for you. But definitely interesting! I like an anchovy in my Caesar dressing, and always use a couple in my Puttanesca sauce. Other snacks that I find intriguing are the Spicy Tomato-Marinated Feta, and the Crispy Haloumi with Honey and Pistachio. And even though I don’t love anchovies, “A Better Garlic Bread/Caramelized Garlic on Toast with Anchovies” is delicious.

I love recipes that can be made in advance, or better yet, ones that you forgot to make in advance, well, let’s make it now! Like “Overnight Focaccia, Tonight!” The salads are all super easy and very different, like “Lemony Watercress with Raw and Toasted Fennel,” “Iceberg with Pecorino, Crushed Olives, and Pickled Chile,” and “Celery and Fennel with Walnuts and Blue Cheese;” I’ll take all three, please! Not to mention the “Little Gems with Garlicky Lemon and Pistachio,” I am all over that. Those Little Gems are just adorable, and this makes a beautiful salad.

Sides are a wonderful assortment from “Mustardy Green Beans with Anchovyed Walnuts,” (there are those anchovies again); “Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Maple and Sour Cream,” which is as delicious as it is beautiful; and the irresistible “Baked Potato Bar.” You can use some of the “acceptable toppings include but are not limited to” sour cream and chives, but also Trout or Salmon roe, and finely chopped fresh dill. The “Frizzled Chickpeas and Onions with Feta and Oregano” will leave your guests talking for sure. Who knew the humble chickpea could be such a star!

The mains are well represented as well, and most have a do-ahead component. “One-Pot Chicken with Dates and Caramelized Lemon” includes a note that you can make this a few hours ahead, and keep in in a Dutch oven at room temperature. It can be reheated for 10-15 minutes if you want. Even better, the “Coconut-Braised Chicken with Chickpeas ad Lime” can be made up to 2 days ahead, and the “Harissa-Rubbed Pork Shoulder with White Beans and Chard” can be made 3 days ahead, and “Soy-Braised Brisket with Carmelized Honey and Garlic” can be made up to 5 days ahead. I can just feel her knocking down any argument about entertaining when you have days to prepare. Stress just flies out the window!

Desserts for Ms. Roman are optional, but she includes some interesting and beautiful ones to pick from. The cakes can mostly be baked a day or two ahead. “Crushed Blackberry and Cornmeal Cake” is not over the top sweet, if that is your preference, while the “Crispy Chocolate Cake with Hazelnut and Sour Cream” is made with Nutella – need I say more? The “Coconut Banana Cream Pudding” is sure to be a crowd-pleaser, with the pudding being made a day or two ahead and the whole thing assembled well before your guests arrive. Finally, the publisher has provided a couple of recipes if you’d like to try on the Amazon page, or if you have a subscription to the New York Times Cooking (worth it!) some of the recipes are there. Enjoy!

12/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

NOTHING FANCY by Alison Roman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 25, 2018). ISBN  978-0544816220. 400p.

Kindle


Best Books of 2019: Caitlin Brisson

December 15, 2019

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Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

I was charmed by Holmes’ debut and the relationship between Evvie, a recent widow who isn’t grieving quite as much as everyone thinks, and Dean, a baseball player struggling with a case of the yips.  A thoughtful, sweet, and funny read.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Red, White & Royal Blue is the standard that I have held all other romances I read in 2019 to.  After a potentially diplomatically damaging altercation Alex Claremont, the first son of the United States, must feign a friendship with his rival Prince Henry of England.  A rare book that made me both laugh and cry, Alex and Henry are two characters I will not forget any time soon.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

After most of her sister’s wedding party is incapacitated by food poisoning, Olive takes her twin sister’s place on a luxury Hawaiian honeymoon.  The only catch is she must share her vacation with Ethan, the best man and Olive’s archnemesis. A fun romantic comedy and perfect vacation read.

Regretting You by Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover is consistently one of my favorite authors and her 2019 novel Regretting You is no exception.  Hoover is known for her romances.  And while Regretting You has two well developed love stories, it is also a bittersweet story of a mother and daughter struggling to recover from a devastating loss.

The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

A perfect combination of well-drawn romance, Gilded Age history and the supernatural.  Both romance and paranormal readers will enjoy this ghost story.

The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare is one of my favorite writers of historical romance and the Wallflower Wager is another excellent entry in the Girl Meets Duke series.  Features Dare’s trademarks of sharp dialogue, humor, and a strong female heroine.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

Professional baseball player Gavin Scott tries to save his marriage by seeking help from a secret romance book club comprised entirely of men.  A fun ode to the romance genre.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The Flatshare has one of the most unique premises of any romance novel I’ve read.  Tiffy and Leon share a flat, they even share a bed, but they have never met.  An original plot and likeable characters made this book one of my favorites for 2019.

The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves

Alternating between 1991 and 2001, when Annika is unexpectedly reunited with her college boyfriend Jonathan, The Girl He Used to Know is a poignant and bittersweet second chance romance. As this book features a main character on the autism spectrum it will be of interest to fans of the Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test.

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey

Annie Cassidy searches for the perfect meet cute, and her Tom Hanks, in this delightful love letter to the romantic comedy genre.  Waiting for Tom Hanks is like the book version of a Nora Ephron film.


ROSE’S BAKING BASICS by Rose Levy Beranbaum

December 14, 2019

CLICK TO PURCHASE

100 Essential Recipes, with More Than 600 Step-by-Step Photos

From the publisher:

The ultimate baking book for everyone from best-selling author and “diva of desserts” Rose Levy Beranbaum

In this book of no-fuss recipes everyone should know, trusted baking expert Rose Levy Beranbaum guides you through every recipe for can’t-fail results—with a streamlined, simplified approach and more than 600 mouthwatering and instructive photos. Whether you’re a baking enthusiast or just want to whip up the occasional treat, you will be able to easily make perfect brownies, banana bread, holiday pies, birthday cakes, homemade bread, and more, with recipes including: Chocolate Sheet Cake with Ganache Frosting, Peanut Butter and Jelly Thumbprints, Beer Bread, Apple Walnut Muffins, Peach Cobbler, Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart, and more. Throughout, Rose shares her unique tips and methods for unlocking the secrets to the best flavors and foolproof results, for a treasury of essential recipes you’ll use forever.


I love Beranbaum’s cookbooks. I already owned The Cake Bible, The Pie & Pastry Bible, and The Bread Bible, and I treasure them. So why would I need this new cookbook? I’ll tell you – read on.

A while back, I started weeding my books. Weeding, for the non-librarians reading this, is library lingo for going through and discarding books that are too old, damaged, have out of date information, etc. In my case, I had to add other limitations, like cookbooks that didn’t have more than a couple of recipes that I use. I owned hundreds of cookbooks, including a collection of self-published cookbooks by various charitable organizations like the Junior League, churches, B’Nai Brith, and so on. I was running out of room, or rather I was definitely out of room, so I dedicated one bookcase just for cookbooks and whatever didn’t fit, had to go. That was about half of my cookbooks, so I had to be brutal. Why am I telling you all this? Because those Beranbaum cookbooks I already own are big and take up a lot of room on my cookbook bookshelves but I would not get rid of them. I ended up with a little over 200 cookbooks (please don’t judge!) and I can’t really add anything new unless something old goes. Discipline is required!

This new cookbook is only 400 pages, and yes, I said only. The Cake Bible, for example, clocks in at just under 600 pages and it only includes cake recipes and their acoutrements, like frosting. Also, this new book is on my Kindle. If you have never cooked from a digital cookbook, let me tell you that once you do, it is hard to go back to paper. For example, looking at the table of contents, everything is a link. You want cookies? Click on it. And the first thing I noticed about this TOC is that first thing on the page just says “recipe list” – yep, click on that and it takes you to a simple list of recipes divided by type: Cookies, Cakes, Pies and Tarts, Bread, and finally Toppings and Fillings. Then you just click away!

I don’t really know what Beranbaum’s background is, but I suspect she is something of a chemist. The biggest difference between cooking and baking is science. Everything that happens in baking is based on chemical reactions, and that’s why there is not a lot of room for experimentation. You can’t just swap out baking powder for yeast, the recipe won’t work. You can change up the flavor profile on most baked goods, but that’s about it. That’s why the kitchen world is divided into baking and cooking. People who like to freestyle it generally prefer cooking, where substituting ingredients may change the flavor but it won’t usually destroy a recipe.

I was curious about this new cookbook – would Beranbaum update her recipes? Yes indeedy! I’ve been making her apple pie with the cream cheese crust for just over 20 years. This newer version keeps the original recipe intact, but reorganizes the recipe.  One of my complaints about the Pie & Pastry Bible is the recipe for the apple pie, for example, is one of those recipes with recipes within it. So go to one place for the crust, another for the filling, and so on. I have it post-it notes stuck all over the place in that book. This new books has the entire recipe all together.

I also like the addition of “mise en place” to the recipes. This comes between the ingredients and the directions, and is very helpful in organizing the recipe. A lot of her recipes are complicated, but still very doable. Trust me, when I first started baking this pie I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. But there were enough instructions to give me the confidence to tackle it anyway. This newer version has simplified the process even further.

The publisher offered up the Bundt cake recipe so you can see what I’m talking about. Coming before the ingredients is the baking equipment you need. I love that it’s right up front, so I can dig that out before I go any further. In my teeny, tiny 9’x9′ kitchen with the horrible builder’s special cabinets (from 30 years ago!) that is no joke. It often takes crawling around with a flashlight to find the pans I don’t use that often.

Ingredients are offered by volume and weight, you get to decide. Then the mise en place, which I find incredibly helpful. Then directions are last, and explicit. There are also a ton of pictures. which I also find helpful.  You can see the finished Bundt cake, the slices taken from it, and there’s even a picture of the batter in the pan. You can see that this cake is loaded with apples!

There are not a ton of recipes here, but the ones included are all terrific and things you might actually want to make. Cookies include chocolate chip (of course!), brownies, thumbprint, shortbread, biscotti, and more. Your basic yellow, white, and chocolate cakes are here, both in sheet form and layers, chiffon and sponge cake, flourless cake, cheesecake, Whoopie pies, zucchini bread, and several different muffins. Pies include a variety of fruit pies, lemon meringue and it’s south Florida cousin, Key Lime, cream pies, cobblers, crisps, and more.

The bread chapter is a bit light, but includes biscuits, beer bread, no-knead bread, multigrain, pizza dough, a babka, and biga. Some people think biga is similar to sourdough starter, but Beranbaum calls it a dough enhancer rather than a starter, and several of her recipes benefit from it. The Toppings and Fillings chapter include buttercream, several kinds of ganache, glazes, whipped cream, cream cheese frosting, and meringue topping.

This is an all-around terrific baking cookbook that I think would be especially beneficial to beginning bakers. And if you haven’t tried cooking from a digital cookbook, this could be a great one to try.

rose's baking basics

Apple Walnut Bundt Cake from Rose’s Baking Basics

Serves 12 to 14 │ Oven Temperature: 350°F/175°C │ Baking Time: 50 to 60 minutes

This is the perfect apple cake for the fall season, but it can be enjoyed any time of the year. It is great to have this Bundt cake in your repertoire as it is easy to make and stays moist and flavorful for 5 days at room temperature, up to 10 days refrigerated. Because it is made with oil, it can be enjoyed at room temperature or cold. The caramel glaze is an optional but fabulous accompaniment.

Baking Equipment

The pan must be a minimum 12 cup capacity, such as a Nordic Ware Anniversary Bundt Pan with 10-15 cup capacity, or a 12 cup Bundt pan, coated with baking spray with flour; or a 16 cup two-piece angel food pan, bottom lined with parchment, then coated with baking spray with flour

Ingredients

· 3 large eggs (½ cup plus 1 ¼ tablespoons, or 150 g)

· 1 cup (100 g) walnut halves

· 2 ½ cups (300 g) flour, lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off

· 1 teaspoon (5.5 g) baking soda

· 1 teaspoon (6 g) sea salt

· 2 teaspoons (4.4 g) ground cinnamon

· 4 large tart apples, diced (4 cups/525 g)

· 1 ¼ cups (269 g) canola or safflower oil

· 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar

· ¾ cup (163 g) light brown sugar

· 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven

• 20 minutes before toasting the walnuts, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Set the oven at 350°F/175°C

Mise en place

• 30 minutes to 1 hour ahead, set the eggs on the counter at room temperature (65° to 75°F/19° to 24°C)

 Toast and chop the walnuts: Spread the walnuts evenly on a cookie sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Turn the walnuts onto a clean dish town and roll and rub them around to loosen the skins. Discard any loose skins and let the nuts cool completely. Chop medium coarse.

rose's baking basics

• In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

• Peel, core, and cut the apples into ⅛ to ¼ inch dice.

Make the batter

1. Into the bowl of a stand mixer, weigh or measure the eggs. Add the oil, gran­ulated and brown sugars, and the vanilla. With the flat beater, beat on medium for 1 minute, until blended

2. Add the flour mixture and beat on low for 20 seconds, just until incor­porated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl

3. Detach the bowl from the stand and with a large spoon stir in the apples and walnuts. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan

Bake the cake

4. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center

Cool the cake.

5. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. If using a straight-sided pan, run a metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the cake. Invert the cake onto a wire rack that has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray and cool completely for about 1½ hours

Store airtight. Room temperature, 5 days; refrigerated, 10 days; frozen, 2 months.

12/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ROSE’S BAKING BASICS by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 25, 2018). ISBN  978-0544816220. 400p.

Kindle

udible