Lit Pairings – I was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon

Russia, July 17, 1918: Under direct orders from Vladimir Lenin, Bolshevik secret police force Anastasia Romanov, along with the entire imperial family, into a damp basement in Siberia where they face a merciless firing squad. None survive. At least that is what the executioners have always claimed.

Germany, February 17, 1920
: A young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Anastasia Romanov is pulled shivering and senseless from a canal in Berlin. Refusing to explain her presence in the freezing water, she is taken to the hospital where an examination reveals that her body is riddled with countless, horrific scars. When she finally does speak, this frightened, mysterious woman claims to be the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia.

Her detractors, convinced that the young woman is only after the immense Romanov fortune, insist on calling her by a different name: Anna Anderson As rumors begin to circulate through European society that the youngest Romanov daughter has survived the massacre, old enemies and new threats are awakened. With a brilliantly crafted dual narrative structure, Lawhon wades into the most psychologically complex and emotionally compelling territory yet: the nature of identity itself. The question of who Anna Anderson is and what actually happened to Anastasia Romanov creates a saga that spans fifty years and touches three continents. This thrilling story is every bit as moving and momentous as it is harrowing and twisted.

If you’ve read and enjoyed Lawhon’s other two books The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress and Flight of Dreams  as I have then you are probably really excited to settle in and consume this one too! If you haven’t read any of these then I think it’s obvious I highly recommend them. Lawhon has a way of doling out little tasty clues and hints throughout her stories that make you change your mind about what’s really going on several times until the very end when she hits you with a great twist.

The recipes I picked to accompany I Was Anastasia don’t focus on the Romanov’s when they were in power, but like the book highlight the time they spent is exile. This amazingly comforting Russian Chicken and Dumpling Soup seemed like just the thing to get you through a cold winter’s night in Siberia. I took a short cut and used Trader Joe’s Chicken & Mushroom Pelmeni instead of making the dumplings from scratch. If you’re a baker I would suggest making a nice Russian Black Bread to go with it. However, if you’re like me you’ll just go to your local grocery and pick up a tasty loaf of dark rye, throw it in the oven to warm it and call it good.

Let me know if you make the Russian Chicken and Dumpling Soup, and I’d love to know what some of your favorite cold weather reads and recipes are?


Lit Pairings – Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’ Nan

Perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall, the Red Lobster hasn’t been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift–just four days before Christmas and in the midst of a fierce blizzard–with a near-mutinous staff and the final onslaught of hungry retirees, lunatics, and holiday office parties. All the while, he’s wondering how to handle the waitress he’s still in love with, his pregnant girlfriend, and where to find the present that will make everything better.

I find that most people have serious feelings about Red Lobster. If you grew up when I did, in the late 80’s and the 90’s going to “The Lobster” was a big event! It was probably someone’s birthday or other special occasion, and best believe you were hoping there was an “all you can eat shrimp” situation going down.

However, as I’ve aged my love for The Lobster has waned. Like most food/restaurants we loved as kids it just doesn’t seem to taste as good now. So while reading this book I decided to do a little mini Lobster feast at home. First and foremost you need the Cheddar Bay Biscuits. In my opinion these are just as good if not better then the originals. Next you need to plan your fishy feast. Although not an official Lobster recipe I promise you won’t be disappointed with The Barefoot Contessa’s Baked Shrimp Scampi.

I’d love to know what were your favorite Red Lobster recipes growing up? Do you still enjoy it as an adult?


Lit Pairings – Still Life (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #1) by Louise Penny

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montréal and yet a world away. Jane Neal, a long-time resident of Three Pines, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more but Gamache smells something foul this holiday season…and is soon certain that Jane died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

I first heard about this series while listening to the podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. The reviewer said this was one book she really thought was best enjoyed on audio. So I put it on hold through RB Digital, and because of  it’s popularity I had to wait for it for several weeks. Let me tell you it was worth the wait! Because the story takes place in Quebec there are so many beautiful accents and french words I would have butchered them without having it read to me! This series spoke to me in so many ways. The characters are amazing and the descriptions of the meals they enjoyed were drool worthy. I will admit that the first book wasn’t an earth shattering read, but if you enjoy it please move on to the next book in the series. I think each one is better than the one before.

Now on to the FOOD! It’s really hard to narrow it down to just a few recipes, but I think keeping with the french bistro vibe is the way to go. Steak Frites is one of my favorite bistro dishes and it’s really very simple and delish. Serve with a nice red wine and finish with this easy French Apple Tart.

You may or may not know this but if you live in or around the Wichita KS area you are lucky enough to have a french bistro close by. You could take  your audio book to Georges French Bistro and enjoy a lovely meal with no dishes to clean afterward. I’m planning to go once the weather warms up and sit outside on their Paris inspired patio.

Let me know what french dishes are your favorite!


Book Review – Two Girls Down

Two Girls Down by Lousie Luna

First Line – Jamie Brandt was not a bad mother.

Summary – When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

Highlight – This is the kind of book that has you sitting on the edge of your seat, unable to put it down until you finish the last page.  Great original characters and so many twists and turns! I hope this spins off into a series.

Lowlight – I can’t really think of any.

FYI – Some graphic scenes involving children.


Book Review – Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

I received this ARC from Netgalley.

First Line – My dear friend, Roz Horowitz met her husband online dating, and Roz is three years older, and fifty pounds heaver than I am, and people have said not as well preserved, so I thought I would try it even though I avoid going online too much.

Summary – Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern in Florida, makes the mistake of having an affair with her boss–and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the beloved congressman doesn’t take the fall. But Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins: slut-shamed, she becomes a late-night talk show punch line, anathema to politics. She sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. This time, she tries to be smarter about her life and strives to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, Aviva decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet and catches up–an inescapable scarlet A. In the digital age, the past is never, ever, truly past. And it’s only a matter of time until Ruby finds out who her mother was and is forced to reconcile that person with the one she knows.

Highlights – Zevin has a way of writing about peoples flaws that feels very natural. You find yourself rooting for all the characters, and it doesn’t matter if you like them or not.

Lowlights – There were times where the story felt like it was being drawn out more than it needed to be.

FYI – Sexual situations and some strong language.

Book Review: Final Girls

Final Girls by Riley Sager


First line: “The forest had claws and teeth.”

Summary: Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

Highlights: Once you’re hooked you can’t put it down. It had lots of twists and turns and you’ll never guess how it ends.

Lowlights: It really took me longer to get into then I thought it would.

FYI: Lots of graphic violence.

Creating Great Summer Memories

I don’t know how you feel about summer, but my daughters and I start counting down the days shortly after Christmas. There are so many things to look forward to! Not having to hit the ground running every morning as soon as the alarm goes off. The almost transformative way laying in the sunshine by the pool makes you feel like a new person. The excitement of planning a summer vacation (with or without family). Most of all, at least for me, it’s the idea of making great memories that will keep us remembering the warmth even through the dead of winter.

I’ve found that when I’ve gone overboard to create the “perfect” summertime memory, those are never really the ones we remember. I’m usually stressed from trying too hard and it never lives up to the idea I had in my head. No, the times we end up talking about well into the next summer are the little things that don’t require much effort at all. Playing games outside and then staying out until dark eating dinner and watching them catch fireflies. Allowing them to have cheesy tots and pop at the pool. Letting them play outside in a summer rainstorm.  Going to Riverside Park with a picnic they choose themselves and telling them about when we were actually allowed to go down the rocket ship slide.

Going to the park is still as cool to my girls as it was to me when I was young and in this day and age I think that’s really saying something. It must be the same for a lot of kids and their families because every time I drive by Madison Avenue Central Park here in Derby it is always buzzing with activity.

So in honor of “Creating Great Summer Memories” the Derby Public Library is hosting a free outdoor concert at the Madison Avenue Central Park on Monday, June 12 at 7:00 p.m., featuring the group Hungrytown. Worried about dinner? The food truck B.S. Sandwich Press will be in the parking lot serving up some  delicious treats! We will also be collecting non-perishable food items to donate to the Derby Community Food Pantry.


To find out more about Hungrytown visit


Book Review: The Widow’s House

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

First Line: When I picture the house I see it in the late afternoon, the golden river light filling the windows and gilding the two-hundred-year-old brick.

Summary: When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation—of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career. They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration. But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is—this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate—it seems to be after Clare next…

 Highlights: I LOVE Gothic Fiction, and Carol Goodman writes it so well! Big old house ✓ Rich old money ✓ Ghosts ✓ Great twist at the end ✓.

Lowlights: I really can’t think of any. It was a great read that I didn’t want to put down.

FYI: This book is for anyone who wants to read a great Gothic novel.


Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

First line(s): “Pinch myself and say I AM AWAKE once an hour. Look at my hands. Count my fingers. Look at clock (or watch), look away, look back. Stay calm and focused. Think of a door.”

Summary: Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone. When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar … who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise. And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him? As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong — and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

Highlights: I couldn’t put this book down. It grabbed me from the first page, and I found myself thinking about what “the twist” was going to be even when I wasn’t reading it!

Lowlights (or what could have been better): There were a few parts in the book that really asked you to stretch reality, but I didn’t mind because those parts made the story SO good.

FYI: I feel like this is a very overused statement, but this book will appeal to fans of “Gone Girl” and “Girl on a Train.”




Book Review: The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen

The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen

First line:  “Pho is so elemental to Vietnamese culture that people talk about it in terms of romantic relationships.”

Summary: Vietnam’s most beloved culinary export pho is now within the reach of any home cook.
Andrea Nguyen first tasted pho in Saigon as a child, sitting at a street stall with her parents. That experience sparked a lifelong love of the iconic noodle soup, and here she dives deep into pho’s lively past, visiting its birthplace and then teaching how to successfully make it. Options range from quick weeknight cheats to 5-hour weekend feasts with broth and condiments from scratch, as well as other pho rice noodle favorites. Over fifty versatile recipes, including snacks, salads, companion dishes, and vegetarian and gluten-free options, welcome everyone to the pho table. With a thoughtful guide on ingredients and techniques, plus evocative location photography and deep historical knowledge, “The Pho Cookbook “enables anyone to cook this comforting classic.

Highlights: I LOVE PHO, and this beautiful book gave me so many new ideas to try. If you are a Pho lover like I am it will inspire you to get in the kitchen and prepare one of the amazing recipes ASAP!

Lowlights (or what could have been better): I think in an effort to make this book pop out from the others of its kind, the author put more of the same recipes (with little tweaks)  in than were actually needed and they became a bit redundant.

FYI: Since this book features several exotic ingredients it probably isn’t for the shy, first-time cook.