Tuesday, May 31, 2022

What We're Reading

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We had so much fun with our "recommends" yesterday I thought we'd extend our chat to WHAT WE'RE READING–always a big fave here on Jungle Red. We love nothing more than talking about our latest finds.

I'll start with BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner. Set in 1949 London in a bookshop in Lamb's Conduit Street (the location of Duncan's police station in the present day–how could I not want to read this book?) three very different women navigate a changing world.

The male characters are very well done, too, and lots of famous literary figures are woven into the plot. I loved this book so much that I read Jenner's previous (and debut) novel,  THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, as there is some character and plot crossover. I enjoyed it, too, although I didn't adore it as much as BLOOMSBURY GIRLS.

Another big thrill for me was a new book by Ella Risbridger–you may remember me raving about MIDNIGHT CHICKEN last year. This one is called THE YEAR OF MIRACLES and is ostensibly a cookbook, but it is so much more. The subtitle is "recipes about love + grief + growing things) and is a journal of Risbridger's year following the death of her partner. It's also an accounting of the first year of the pandemic, as it begins in January, 2020. Risbridger's writing is absolutely gorgeous and it's a very inspiring and affirming book. The book is beautiful, too, so I'd highly recommend the hardcover. It will be a keeper even if you never cook a single recipe. (NOTE: It won't be released in the US until July 26th but it is out in the UK and you can order from Book Depository. It's fast and no more expensive.)

And one more! I somehow ran across a book called THE NOTHING GIRL by Jodi Taylor. We've mentioned her CHRONICLES OF ST. MARY'S series before, as Julia and I are big fans. Do not be put off by the invisible talking golden horse!! This is a gem of a novel about an isolated young woman who agrees to marriage as a business proposition and gets much more than she bargained for. It's laugh-out-load funny, touching, suspenseful, AND it's on Kindle Unlimited at the moment!

I also thoroughly enjoyed Connie Berry's latest Kate Hamilton mystery, THE SHADOW OF MEMORY. This series just gets better and better. Connie will be here Thursday to tell us more!

LUCY BURDETTE: I’m betwixt and between. I have just finished Alicia Bessette’s SMILE BEACH MURDER and I hate to leave the Outer Banks! Last week I hated leaving Julia Child’s Paris. I have a lot of books ordered, including Krista Davis’s newest and Sarah Stewart Taylor’s newest and Paula Munier and Kristan Higgins, and I have a million books on my nightstand. But still, sometimes it’s hard to dive into something brand new. Any recommendations for THE PARIS LIBRARY or THE TASTE OF GINGER or FENCING WITH THE KING?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Absolutely do not miss Sulari Gentill’s THE WOMAN IN THE LIBRARY.  It’s a meta-literary mystery and I cannot say anything more, but just–read it.

Along those same lines, ish, THE APPEAL by Janice Hallett. Those books both delve into the workings of a writer’s mind, and a reader’s too, and they’re marvelous and hilarious and brilliant, both of them.  And I am getting ready for THE MURDER RULE by Dervla McTiernan.   Also LOOK CLOSER, by David Ellis, one of my favorite authors ever. And I am reading JAMES PATTERSON by James Patterson–in preparation for interviewing him in June!  Reds and readers, this autobiography is AWESOME and wonderful and charming and unique.

DEBS: Hank, what fun! I sat next to James Patterson at the Bouchercon Dallas GOH dinner, and he was so nice. A very charming and interesting man.

JENN McKINLAY: I’ve been enjoying a wild variety lately. ALLOW ME TO RETORT: A Black Guys Guide to the Constitution by Ellie Mystal. Fascinating book mostly about the amendments and why they need to be revisited. DOUBLE SHOT DEATH by Emmeline Duncan.

A terrific cozy mystery set in Portland about a coffee cart owning amateur that really captures the PNW vibe. THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS by Lisa Jewell. Delicious suspense novel about three families and deep dark secrets. So good! 

RHYS BOWEN:   Rhys, the blurb queen here. It seems like a never-ending stream. They are mostly good reading but sometimes I’d like to choose.

I’ve just finished another upcoming book to blurb called The Spying Eye by Michelle Cox.

Quite good

And now I’m embarking on a non fiction about women’s lives around the world called Women’s  Work by Megan K Slack. Fascinating so far.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The heat has been climbing into the 70s and even 80s here in southern Maine, I've been mowing daily for the past five days (yes, I have that much lawn) so for me, it's beach read time! First up, THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay Andrews. If you've ever read her, you know she describes home renovation and decorating like a dream, and when I saw she had come up with that's basically about a young widow getting her own HGTV-like show, you know I had to have it. 

Next on my TBR pile, NEVER COMING HOME, a delicious domestic thriller from Hank's First Chapter Fun buddy, Hannah Mary McKinnon. Here's the start of the jacket copy:

Lucas Forester didn't hate his wife. Michelle was brilliant, sophisticated and beautiful. Sure, she had extravagant spending habits, that petty attitude, a total disregard for anyone below her status. But she also had a lot to offer. Most notably: wealth that only the one percent could comprehend.

For years, Lucas has been honing a flawless plan to inherit Michelle's fortune. Unfortunately, it involves taking a hit out on her.
Sounds awesome! I love rich people behaving badly.

Finally, this summer's book from my friend Nancy Thayer, SUMMER LOVE. It doesn't feel like summer until I've read one of Nancy's tales of heartache and hope, set on the idyllic island of Nantucket. SUMMER LOVE is about a reunion of people in my age bracket, which I love, accompanied by their twenty-something kids, which my daughters love. Something for everyone.

HALLIE EPHRON: I’ve just started reading Susan Orlean’s ON ANIMALS. She’s a wonderful essayist, musing on everything from household pets (hers) to the animals we eat to her experiences keeping chickens and critters further afield (Moroccan donkeys)… and on and on. It’s a book for animal lovers and perfect for the summer because you can savor it in chunks.


READERS, what books have tickled your fancy lately?

Monday, May 30, 2022

We'd Like to Recommend...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Every once in a while we like to post what our pal Ingrid Thoft called “I’d like to recommend.” Everyone’s probably (hopefully) busy enjoying Memorial Day, but maybe you’ll have time to pile on with a new favorite. Here are a few of ours.

 LUCY BURDETTE: I have two…

The first is the new Netflix show based on Michael Connelly’s THE LINCOLN LAWYER. I know that book was in our top five one of the years that I judged the Edgar awards best novel category. Last week I saw on Facebook that two Red friends, Kristopher and Dru, were watching the Lincoln Lawyer, so John and I tried it and are now attempting not to race through too fast. I especially love Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Mickey Haller.

My second suggestion–which I feel a little bad telling you about–is a new obsession with these Tarallini crackers with hot pepper flavor. They are addictive and though they’d be low cal and low sodium if you only ate a few, I find that hard to do. They’d be perfect for guests alongside little cubes of cheese or salami–if there were any left by the time the guests arrive.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, yes, we are watching The Lincoln Lawyer, too! We powered through Ozark, which I adore, and I even loved the ending. And Better Call Saul, which we watch with utter bafflement, saying: Isn’t this great? I don’t understand it at all. We also watched A Very British Scandal, but I was fascinated and distracted by Claire Foy’s impeccable lipstick. And Gaslit (or is it Gaslight?) the Watergate show. But–I am hesitant to continue because if it’s not true, I don’t want it in my head.  Does anyone know? Oh, and the OTHER British scandal one, with the MP and the lawyer. Implausible, but truly fun to watch. (I had read the book by Sarah Vaughn, and remembered it being just that.)

In the excesses of the pandemic, I have discovered breadcrumbs. I know, it's so silly, but I always wondered why people ruined perfectly good chicken and shrimp by coating them in carbs. Now I understand. 

And Lucy, what are “guests”?

 JENN McKINLAY: My first recommendation is SLOW HORSES an Apple TV show based on Mick Heron’s Slough House mysteries. In short, it’s about a bunch of MI-5 rejects doing mindless work until they get caught up in something big. Gary Oldman is AMAZING as Jackson Lamb and the series is short - six episodes but all cliffhangers and so so so good. The novels are fabulous as well. 

My only other discovery is that if you twist thick cut bacon up tight and bake it for 40 min at 350 degrees, it comes out crisp and chewy and doesn’t smoke (bacon smokes at 370 degrees, apparently) and you can fit all the slices on the pan. Thank you, Instagram!


DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am entirely the copycat here! We've just started THE LINCOLN LAWYER and I think it's terrific. I also, because I am really shallow, think that Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is absolutely delicious.

And I'm seconding Jenn on SLOW HORSES. Such a great cast and Gary Oldman is as always fabulous. 

Here's a little fun thing I've discovered recently, Madison James Flyaway Sticks from Terrain. These are ridiculously expensive for 40 sticks, but I figure they will probably last us years. They're insect repelling sticks that you put in the ground or a pot and light like incense, and they smell absolutely divine. 

I have got to try the twisty bacon!

 HALLIE EPHRON: I haven’t watched Lincoln Lawyer but I have loved the books, and of course I’m a huge fan of Michael Connelly. I’m just starting on the new season of Russian Doll and the jury’s still out. Also the Poirot mysteries with David Suchet are back on Public Television. 

Flyaway Sticks… do they work? Awaiting your verdict.

And something I just discovered: my local upscale market carries roasted artichoke hearts… from actual fresh artichokes! They must roast them in the store. So delicious.


RHYS BOWEN: This past month I haven’t had much time to watch TV, as you saw from last week’s post! And we don’t get Apple TV so I’ll have to stick to Mick Herron’s books, which are very good. I have enjoyed Hugh Laurie’s production of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, which is by far my favorite Agatha Christie book. And our local PBS has been rerunning all the old Poirots. Some of those short stories would actually have made great novels. Really clever.

After two years of boring, self-cooked food, I’ve been eating out and savoring new experiences, including a cocktail called Bubbles and Berries, that was not only champagne and some kind of fruit alcohol but also had those frozen nitrogen balls in it so that it bubbled away for about ten minutes (making it impossible to drink). And last weekend, at my daughter’s graduation in psycho-therapy from Pepperdine, I had an Aperol Spritz with my brunch and was reminded why I always drink it in Italy. Not sweet but tangy and so refreshing.


JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm not doing much TV watching, either (although I've discovered I can see shortened versions of my beloved HGTV shows on YouTube, so I've been indulging in that.) Instead I'll recommend a board game for everyone headed to family get-togethers this summer: Cranium Family Edition. There's a popular version for kids, which you may have seen, but 16 plus one is challenging and hilarious. It's played with partners, so it's perfect for a crowd. At our celebration of Youngest's graduation, my three kids, two significant others and I spent an evening having SO much fun with this game.

My other recommendation is a facial cleanser/treatment. I bought Urban Skin Rx Even Tone Cleansing Bar (which it's not, it's in a pot) after reading an article suggesting it was great for uneven skin tones. Sadly, it didn't get rid of the sun spots on my face. BUT! It is amazing for smoothing and softening skin. It worked so well on my face I started using it on my forearms, which I swear I could use to file down my nails. Now that skin has great texture as well. 10/10, as the kids say today.

How about you, readers? Anything you'd like to recommend?

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Reds Dish with Advice on Marriage

 LUCY BURDETTE: Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of John and me getting married. Thirty years! How did that happen? Last year at this time, John was in the hospital with medical problems, so I feel even more grateful this year. I hoped the Reds might help us celebrate with pictures of their wedding day, and best advice for folks just starting out. (Or really, people in the middle might use this too!)

A wise therapist once told me that there’s not really any such thing as one marriage. You and your spouse embark on what becomes a series of marriages, depending on how each of you might be changing internally, plus changes outside with family challenges, health issues, aging, money, etc. To make it through all this, keep talking, stay kind and calm, and focus on the positive reasons you married this person in the first place.  How about you Reds, advice for newlyweds?

HALLIE EPHRON: I hate to say it, but the most important thing is to get lucky and marry the right person. Not as easy as it sounds. I could have walked off with quite a few Mr. Wrongs.

Jerry was Right and his timing was impeccable. It helps if he’s easy to look at and laughs at your jokes. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I knew Jonathan was the one the moment I saw him. There’s no way else to describe this, and he felt the same way. We were “older,” me 46 and him 56, and I think that meant that we’d both been through a lot of experiences before, and realized not only what mattered, but what didn’t. 

Little stuff does not matter. If we’re feeling cranky, we just say–”I’m feeling cranky, it’s not you”. Individual items do not escalate into “you ALWAYS.”  We are both polite to each other–if someone does something small, like empty the dishwasher, the other always notices it, and remarks on it. We respect each other and we listen to each other. We take turns. I think he is fascinating and brilliant, and yes, he thinks I am funny, which is so important, because I think I’m hilarious but that’s not universally felt.

 We compliment each other every day. We are not one bit competitive with each other (except at Scrabble, another blog), and are truly supportive. We are patient with each other (although it doesn't feel like “patience,”) team players and good friends. We both think we are very lucky. And laughter, right?

JENN McKINLAY: Laughter. I often tell the Hooligans that the only reason that their dad and I are still married is because he makes me laugh. That’s a big part of it, I believe, but even more importantly, when adversity strikes, you have to jump in the fox hole together. Our marriage was a bit unbalanced as Hub suffered some big setbacks in the beginning, and I was always right there at his side. I thought I didn’t need him as much as he needed me. Then a crushing blow hit me, and lo and behold, I discovered my marriage had layers that I’d never even suspected. Hub kept me tethered with infinite kindness and patience, being there for me just like I’d been there for him. My advice? Keep your sense of humor and have each other’s back and you’ll be just fine. 

RHYS BOWEN: We were off to a rocky start as John was raised old school upper-class British–meaning you don’t show your emotions and the husband expects the wife to do the child rearing. He came from such a reserved background, boarding school at age 10, a father who only shook his hand, so I can understand how he turned out the way he did. Now he realizes how much he missed out on, not really knowing his kids. He has had so much more enjoyment from knowing his grandkids.

What has kept us together is sharing basic values on money, religion, ethics. Also we enjoy the same things–we love to travel, we love to get together with family and friends, and to laugh at British comedies. And as the years have progressed he has been so supportive of my career, my biggest champion. In fact the moment he retired he became a different person–much warmer, friendlier and encouraging. So perhaps the stress of work was an overriding factor.

Now he can tell the kids he loves them when they call him. He can be appreciative, in fact he tells me almost every day how lucky he is to have married me. So all’s well that ends well, I guess!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I would agree with everything said so far, and add 'practice kindness.' No matter how much you love someone, there will be days, weeks and sometimes even months where you would just as soon turn the garden hose on your spouse as talk to them. One of the most important things I learned in marriage counseling was to act loving, even when I wasn't feeling it. This does two things: it keeps your determination to make your spouse's life better alive. And, in the principle of fake it until you make it, you find that acting with love helps restore those feelings of love.

The second most important thing I learned was, if things aren't going well, get help! People often comment on what a great marriage Ross and I had. Well, that was because we worked hard at it, including going into couples therapy when necessary. If you have doubts about how well it works, take us as proof: we raised three fantastic children together and made it to our 30th anniversary.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Wow, I think we should go into marriage advice business! We are just a couple of years behind you, Lucy, as we just celebrated our 28th. Rick made me this graphic.

So obviously I agree that a sense of humor is super important, although it's not something that usually tops people's lists when they are looking for "romance."

But just when I am so annoyed at Rick I can hardly stand it, he'll make me laugh, and then whatever I was aggravated over doesn't seem nearly as important. And simple kindness and shared values can't be stressed enough.

How about you Reds? What's been important in your relationships? Or heck, things that haven't worked? Any advice for newlyweds or those out looking?


Saturday, May 28, 2022

Lucy‘s having a moment with Julia (Child, that is)


LUCY BURDETTE: No one would ever accuse me of being a trendsetter, including my recent obsession with Julia Child. I did watch the movie Julie and Julia (twice) and absolutely adored the performances of Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci as Julia and Paul. But I don’t own Mastering the Art of French Cooking, either volume one or two. I do have a lot of other books about Julia Child but until now I hadn’t read them.

But things changed as we watched the new mini series called Julia, focusing on the launch of her television career. Sarah Lancashire is brilliant as Julia. And now I’ve become officially obsessed.


 If you’ve seen it or if you decide to see it and you become infatuated with the show and the characters as I have, here are some other fun places to dive deeper.

A podcast about the making of each episode. You might think this is a dull topic, but it's not, it’s so interesting! (Including one for you Hank, about the inclusion of the black woman producer, who is one of the few completely fictional characters in the show.)

Here's Adam Robert’s interview with the Director, Daniel Goldfarb, in addition to a chat with Dorie Greenspan.

French pastry chef David Lebovitz wrote a long article in his newsletter about what the show got right, and what wrong—he has met and worked with a lot of the big name chefs under discussion so it’s fascinating to hear his take

Baker and cookbook author Dori Greenspan has two recent articles, one about Julia’s influence on her, and the other about the food stylist for the TV show, Christine Tobin. Both fascinating!

Because we had a discussion behind the scenes of our blog about what was real and true in the show, I finally read My Life in France by Julia Child (written with her nephew Alex Prud’homme.) Amazing book! She was an incredible woman, indomitable and totally unflustered by roadblocks in her cooking career, or in her life. It’s also a primer on having a good marriage.

And I forgot to add this photo earlier--celebrating Julia Child's birthday in 2012 with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law Lisa, who is always on trend!

Over to you Reds. Do you own or use Julia's Cookbooks? Have you watched the show? What did you think?

Friday, May 27, 2022

Two Things I Cherish: Animals & Books About Animals by Alicia Bessette

LUCY BURDETTE: Today's guest floated onto my radar earlier this year on Instagram, and her name sounded so familiar. I checked my bookshelves, and yes there she was: Simply from Scratch, a novel including heartbreak, great characters, and food. But now Alicia has her first mystery published, set in the Outer Banks, featuring a reporter turned bookstore clerk. It's called SMILE BEACH MURDER--I'm reading it now and it's wonderful! Welcome Alicia!

ALICIA BESSETTE: When I was a kid, I tried to teach my cats telepathy. Emily, a tuxedo, and Chaton, a tortoiseshell, sat patiently in the living room as I stared into their eyes. I was hoping for some indication—a meow, a tail flick, something—that they received whatever visual image I was trying to transmit. After a few minutes they’d patter off into the kitchen, and I’d throw up my hands. “It was a snowflake! Didn’t either of you see a snowflake?”

Alicia (age 7) with Emily

My efforts were inspired by The Cat Who mysteries by Lillian Jackson Braun. Huge in the eighties, the series features a psychic cat with crime-solving capabilities. He purrs like crazy when a certain song plays, or places a paw on a particular headline in the newspaper. Talk about books being tailor-made for a weird kid obsessed with her cats.

Then, one fateful summer when I was eight, I traveled solo to visit out-of-state cousins and developed my first dog crush. Their rescued poodle mix, the aptly-named Snuggles, used to park herself next to me on the couch the second I sat down. I remember my aunt calling my mom and saying, “Prepare yourself. Alicia and Snuggles are really bonding.”

I spent the next several years begging my parents for a dog. When they hit me with, “the cats will never forgive us if we get a dog,” I presented a musty copy of the children’s classic, The Incredible Journey, which I’d discovered in our attic and devoured in one sitting.

“This book is proof,” I said, “that cats and dogs love each other.”

“This book is fiction,” they said.

They had me there.

But eventually they relented, and when I was twelve, our family became the caretakers of a springer spaniel puppy. For the most part, Holly and the cats cohabitated without incident. Holly ended up being a spazz—though she could catch a tennis ball while flying through the air, an undeniable display of athleticism that the cats summarily ignored.

Shortly after Holly’s arrival, my feline allergy presented itself, only to intensify as the years went on. By the time I reached college age, I could barely look at a cat without breaking into hives and reaching for one of my three inhalers.

Mercifully, dogs do not cause me to sneeze, wheeze, or itch, but only make my heart explode with joy.

Alicia with Desi

At the moment, my husband and I are “in between” dogs, having lost our salty gentleman Scottish terrier to cancer a few months back. Saying goodbye to Desi was even more heart-wrenching than we’d expected. We always thought we’d wait a year before getting another dog. I doubt we’ll make it that long. We like quiet, but with Dez gone, life is too quiet.

These days I find myself rereading my favorite animal-themed nonfiction. Standouts are Following Atticus: Forty-Eight Peaks, One Little Dog, And An Extraordinary Friendship; Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World; Woodrow On The Bench: Life Lessons From A Wise Old Dog; and Running With Sherman: How A Rescue Donkey Inspired A Ragtag Gang Of Runners To Enter The Craziest Race In America.

What these books do so well is show how the bond between human and animal is mutual; we love them, and they love us, too. I am transported back to my Emily and Chaton days, and all the time we spent staring into each other’s eyes. Maybe, in their own mysterious ways, they really were trying to read my mind.

While my debut mystery isn’t an animal cozy per se, it’s no surprise that animals grace its pages. In SMILE BEACH MURDER (Berkley), you’ll meet a bookshop cat named Tin Man, whose only goal is to shamelessly steal your heart. You’ll also meet Hazelnut, a sweet, scared rabbit in need of a new home.

Speaking of sweet, scared rabbits in need of a new home, did I mention Watership Down is one of my favorite books of all time?

I’m giving away a signed hardback copy of SMILE BEACH MURDER to a lucky commenter (U.S. entries only). I’d love to hear about the special pets, past or present, that have taken up residence in your hearts—and about your favorite books, fiction or non, featuring furry (or feathered, or finned) friends. Thank you! Happy commenting and happy reading!


Before authoring the Outer Banks Bookshop mystery series, Alicia Bessette worked as a reporter in her home state of Massachusetts, where her writing won a first-place award from the New England Newspaper & Press Association. A pianist, published poet, and enthusiastic birdwatcher, she now loves living in coastal North Carolina with her husband, novelist Matthew Quick. She interviews authors about their pets on her Q&A video show, Bessette With Pets.


“Bessette offers everything a cozy lover could possibly want …” —Publishers Weekly on Smile Beach Murder

“... a page-turner ... I was enraptured ...” —Dru’s Book Musings

From author Alicia Bessette comes an all-new mystery series featuring Callie Padget, a former reporter turned bookshop clerk on the Outer Banks who is pulled into a deadly web of secrets when a mysterious fall at a lighthouse echoes a tragedy from her past.

When Callie is laid off from her reporting job, she returns to her hometown of Cattail Island and lands a gig at the local bookstore—the same one where she found comfort after her mother died.

In fact, the anniversary of her mother’s infamous death is approaching. Years ago, Teri Padget tumbled from the top of the lighthouse. As islanders are once again gossiping about the tragedy, devastating news strikes: the lighthouse has claimed another victim. Eva Meeks, of Meeks Hardware.

The police are calling it suicide, but Callie does not believe Eva jumped any more than she believes her mother did—especially because Callie knows that before her death, Eva had dug up a long-forgotten treasure hunt that could have put a target on Eva’s back.

In Callie’s search for answers, she enlists the help of some beloved books and several new friends, including handsome martial arts instructor Toby Dodge. But when another death rocks Cattail, Callie must face her fears alone. Earning enemies in pursuit of the truth, she will either uncover the killer—or become a victim herself.