Monday, May 27, 2024

Summer Reading

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Memorial Day is the traditional kickoff of summer in the U.S. Schools are (mostly) out, pools are open, vacations are planned. And for us bookish people, it's the time of year when we are inundated with ads for SUMMER READS!!! We talked about "beach reads" on the blog the other day, so I'm wondering if we can differentiate a "summer read" from a "beach read?" (I love, by the way, that SUMMER READING is the title of our Jenn McKinlay's wonderful novel from last year–and if you somehow missed it, add it to your list!) I am taking a stance on this and saying that "beach read" is a sub category of "summer read!)

Either way, heres a start on summer reads from Bookbub, with a lovely shout out to our Jenn's LOVE AT FIRST BOOK!

And here's another Bookbub list--this one designated "beach reads--several of which are already in my to-read pile. A glut of riches!

So do those of us not actually going on vacations still get to have "summer reads?" (The closest I ever get to vacation reading is on my trips to England, when I get to read whenever I want, for as long as I want–sometimes even into the wee hours of the morning, a luxury I seldom get at home.) I certainly don't want to feel left out, so here are a few books that I've earmarked for some special summer time.

I've bought all four of Liz Williams' Fallow Sisters novels, starting with COMET WEATHER. This series is described by Paul Cornell as "...a golden slice of British rural fantasy…" which I adore, and I've been saving them for a time when I could clear the decks a little.

Also, Susan Coll's BOOKISH PEOPLE, which is described as a "quirky gem" and sounded just the thing to enjoy while having a cup of tea in the garden.

And Nancy Thayer's THE SUMMER WE STARTED OVER, which I think, as it's set on Nantucket in the summer, crosses over into beach read category, but I'm fine with that.

Oh, adding two more on the British front!! Sara Nisha Adams' (author of THE READING LIST) THE WINTER GARDEN, and David Nicholls' (author of the fabulous ONE DAY) YOU ARE HERE!

What have you saved for summer reading, dear Reds? And how are you all spending Memorial Day?

JENN McKINLAY: Thanks for the nod, Debs. SUMMER READING was so much fun to write! 

As for what i’m reading this summer, I am trying to catch up to all of the recent cozy fantasy books since I’m stepping into that genre, so my beach reads are mostly in that vein with A WIZARD’S GUIDE TO DEFENSIVE BAKING by T. Kingfisher, HALF A SOUL by Olivia Atwater, and THAT TIME I GOT DRUNK AND SAVED A DEMON by Kimberly Lemming. You can tell by the titles, I’m in for a good summer!

LUCY BURDETTE: A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, Jenn??? That sounds irresistible though I don’t think I’ve ever read cozy fantasy. I started LOVE AT FIRST BOOK yesterday and I’m trying so hard to read slowly so it doesn’t go by too quickly. I love being in Ireland with you and your characters. And I love this line: “Don’t talk.” I held up my hand as I took another spoonful of the chowder. “I’m having a moment with my food.”

I think next up will be Ruth Reichl’s The Paris Novel. I certainly won’t go to Paris this summer with the Olympics happening, so I can go on the page. I’m trying to save the paperbacks for a long plane ride…

HALLIE EPHRON: I’m listening to Meryl Streep reading TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett. Harmonious mother and daughters, my favorite subjects. It’s a little confusing the way it moves back and forth in time… something that would NOT be confusing if I were reading the printed page. Just one of the many differences between reading/reading and listening/reading. 

RHYS BOWEN:  I loved the WIZARD’S GUIDE TO DEFENSIVE BAKING, Jenn. So different! And I’ve read Nancy’s Nantucket book–having had a lovely lunch with her there last year I feel a special affinity!  I’ve just had a rather busy week (British understatement) with two lots of copy edits and one proposal plus three chapters all due at the same time, but I have been sneaking a few minutes each day for Jenn’s LOVE AT FIRST BOOK and nearly finished it but I don’t want to.  Next up is Harini’s NEST OF VIPERS. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am so happy that I get to read Ruth Ware’s new  ONE PERFECT COUPLE –it takes place on an island, so THAT’s summer, right?

And in preparation to interview him, Chris Whittakers’ new ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, a big fat book–and that’s summer too, right? The perfect time for epic drama.

And for another interview–something completely different—Kristy Woodson Harvey’s A HAPPIER LIFE . It has a beach chair and a floppy hat and the beach on the cover–so that’s summer, too! 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Put me down as another Nancy Thayer fan - summer doesn’t start until I’ve read her most recent Nantucket novel. I’m a reader who likes her books in season, which means from June through August, I want to read mysteries, thrillers, romances and adult fiction set in expensive summer resorts or on east coast beaches, or at a tropical island. 

For the first, Lucy Foley’s latest: THE MIDNIGHT FEAST. If you’re a fan (I am) you know you’re going to get a luxurious, isolated setting, a Clue-like list of victims guests, and rich people behaving Very Badly. The fact the murder occurs on the summer solstice is just the chef’s kiss for this book.

JACKPOT SUMMER (Elyssa Freidman) scratches the second itch, as four siblings gather on the Jersey Shore to pack up their widowed father’s house - oh, and to win millions on a Powerball ticket. Will sudden wealth solve all their problems, or tear the family apart?

Finally, THE DESIGN OF US (Sajni Patel) coming out in July, presses all my rom-com buttons: fake dating, enemies-to-lovers, raincloud meets sunny-side-up-egg PLUS an Indian wedding, all set on the Big Island of Hawai’i.

Oh, and bonus goodie: LIES AND WEDDINGS by Kevin Kwan, author of CRAZY RICH ASIANS. It’s a pastiche of Anthony Trollope’s DOCTOR THORNE, with lots more money, travel, and sexy men!      

DEBS: How will we ever squeeze in a fraction of these??? I have to admit that I started Liz Williams' COMET WEATHER and it is absolutely delicious!! So glad today is a holiday and I can indulge myself a bit because I don't want to put it down!

Readers (at least our American set) how are you spending Memorial Day? And what are you cooking?     


Sunday, May 26, 2024

Dinner Anxiety aka Supper Stress @LucyBurdette


LUCY BURDETTE: All through last week, I couldn't get settled about making dinner. I had food, I had recipes, but nothing sounded quite right nor did I feel like making it. For the first time in a while, something I made tasted and smelled terrible to me. That only fed the uncertainty. (I suspect that this has to do with how hard I'm working on a draft of Key West food critic #15. All my creative juices are running in that direction.) This is kind of a silly question, but do you ever suffer from dinner anxiety?

This soup was one of the things that turned out well, the result of bits and pieces I had left to use—leeks, carrots, and kale. Apparently, Olive Garden has a popular chicken gnocchi soup though I’ve not tasted it. But I started with that recipe and tweaked it to add more vegetables. It’s a good recipe to use up leftover cooked chicken that you have in the freezer.


3-4 tablespoons butter

4 or so small leeks or two large

3 sticks of celery, sliced

1 cup carrots, diced

2 small garlic cloves or one large, minced

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 to 2 cups half-and-half or whole milk

4 cups chicken broth

½ teaspoon mustard powder

2 cups diced cooked chicken

12 oz. frozen potato gnocchi

1 cup fresh spinach or kale, roughly chopped

Fresh parsley

½ tsp red pepper flakes, optional but really good

Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice the leeks, the celery, and the carrots. Melt the butter in a large pan and sauté those vegetables for a few minutes until soft. Add the chopped garlic and sauté for a minute or more. Add the 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour and the mustard powder and stir that until beginning to thicken. Slowly add the chicken broth, stirring frequently like a gravy. Sprinkle in black pepper and red pepper.

Simmer for 10 minutes or so, then add the chicken and the gnocchi. Simmer another few minutes until the pasta is cooked through.

Add the milk and the kale and simmer until the kale is soft. (I also added some chopped fresh parsley because I had it in the fridge.)

We found this delicious—I added no salt, but more black pepper. And served with corn bread. Yummy!

What's for dinner at your house, especially when you can't think of a thing? Are you a planner or a pantser when it comes to supper?

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Lucy’s Tom Sawyer Garden by John Brady

LUCY BURDETTE: Read on, you'll see that today's blog needs no introduction!

JOHN BRADY AKA MR. TOP RETIREMENTS: When Lucy and I moved into our first house together 30 some years ago, it didn’t take long before she announced that we were going to have to have a garden, just like she used to have in her natural woman days in Tennessee. The new back yard was sunny, so we dug up a spot and got busy. She was insistent that it was going to be organic - manure and compost, but no chemicals of any kind. She chose plants like chard, radishes and tomato plants. We had a pretty good garden in no time, and even started an asparagus patch. That was one of our biggest successes because it not only tasted unlike anything you can buy, but it comes back up year after year. The chard was a big hit with our two guinea pigs, Tommy Moe and Chubby Checkers. The zucchini was so prolific that the kids drew the limit: no more zucchini boats! No more zucchini anything!

Then twenty five years ago we moved down the street to our current home. By that time Lucy had me hooked like Tom Sawyer, so we went through the same garden process again, including a new asparagus patch. One development I started noticing was that the master organic gardener’s enthusiasm seemed to be flagging a bit. Yes, each spring she was the driving force behind selection of plants from the nursery and seeds in vast quantities. But Lucy‘s appearances in the garden, particularly for digging and weeding, grew more and more into cameos. 

If I couldn’t count on Lucy for weeding, I was enjoying what she did with what was coming out of our plot.  One of the best successes was our bountiful cucumbers. Using skills from her days in Tennessee, we turned countless cucumbers into delicious bread and butter pickles. Another skill from her old southern days was okra. She found a variety that could thrive in Connecticut,  and we enjoyed those rounds dipped in batter and fried. Tomatoes, green beans, and beets were mainstays as well. The butternut squash not only thrived, but it actually climbed over the fence into the driveway. For some reason having to do with our soil, eggplant and lettuce pretty much refused to grow.

All is Not Well - Huns and Pestilence

But all is not well in our little garden of Eden. You might have a vision of coastal Connecticut as a fairly benign place. In fact, it is a dangerous, hostile environment, one where vegetative predators roam like the desperadoes of the old west.  Anxious to protect our hard earned crops, even the calmest person could turn into an obsessive-compulsive mess.   

Rabbits were the first destructive force we found. To counteract them we paid for a beautiful fence around the entire plot. Unfortunately, the devastation to our plants continued. Finally, we noticed a series of holes in the fence - it was made out of plastic, and our little bunnies just just chewed through it to enjoy the all you can eat buffet. A new, more expensive, wire fence ensued, 

After a season of feeling safe behind our new fort walls, more devastation returned. When you go to the garden in the morning and see that the crop that you were so proud of the night before is now a row of of plants clear cut about 2 inches above the ground, you are hosting a new friend, the woodchuck.  Otherwise known as a groundhog, Phil might be popular in Punxsutawney, but his cousin Woody is certainly not welcome in our garden.

Then there is the problem of raccoons, At age 25, our wonderful asparagus plants are starting to peter out. So last spring I researched the perfect replacement variety for our Connecticut plot. I followed the instructions carefully, digging deep, preparing the soil with topsoil, compost, and of course, organic fertilizer. Over the summer I weeded and gradually covered the young asparagus shoots with soil to get them back to ground level. About that time I noticed the asparagus was getting nipped off, but some managed to survive. I had high hopes that what would emerge in the spring would justify my many hours of backtracking labor. 

Returning from Florida last month I saw asparagus spears emerging from the ground in a few spots - hurrah! That joy didn’t last long, however,  as each day another spear was gnawed off about an inch off the ground. Desolation and desperation followed.

Lucy has been following what ensued with wry amusement. Since she refuses to sit in the garden all night with a shotgun, all of my compulsive urges have kicked in. I constructed cages around all the remaining plants from stakes and netting. I sprinkled cayenne pepper and coffee grinds around the plants. 

Then I bought a battery operated video camera with motion detector, hoping to find the perpetrator. After about a week, I discovered via a grainy video who the culprit is - a young raccoon. Somehow Rocky has figured out how to climb over 4 foot tall fence (topped with additional bird netting) to enjoy the feast. 

Hope springs eternal.  I ordered 25 more asparagus roots and planted them this week, hoping that my latest protections can keep Rocky a bay. Along with them, I ordered wire panels that I intend to circle around each plant. 

At this point Lucy has confirmed that I fit at least one description in her old psychiatric reference tome. But she only draws the line at violence. Since trapping or shooting are out, this sheriff welcomes any suggestions on how we can maintain the peace in the wild West of this Connecticut garden.

John Brady is Lucy's adorable and funny husband and the creator of Top Retirements, his website crammed with advice for baby boomers thinking about the how and where of retirement. Here's an article about his retirement with a Q and A about yours.

Friday, May 24, 2024

Confessions of a Super Fan by Katie Tietjen


LUCY BURDETTE: Back in April, I did an event for the Friends of the Library in Durham, CT. There I met Katie Tietjen, a brand new author with Crooked Lane Books. Since then, I attended her book launch at RJ Julia Booksellers, read her wonderful debut, Death in the Details, and persuaded her to blog with us. Welcome Katie!! 

KATIE TIETJEN: Since 2017, I’ve been stalking a dead heiress.

Here’s what you need to know first: Before Frances Glessner Lee became the mother of forensic science, she made dollhouses. 

Lots of them.

After all, domestic arts and crafts were a socially appropriate hobby for a good little heiress—and she was great at it. 

One year, for her parents’ anniversary, she created an exact replica of their beloved Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She nailed every detail, from the musicians themselves to their instruments, including miniscule violins that actually played. 

Decades later—after she married, raised three children, and divorced—she began putting her miniature-making skills to a very different use: death investigation.

I know, I know—that sounds like an incongruous leap, but stay with me. 

Lee had become fascinated by the field of legal medicine. The more she learned about America’s corrupt coroner system and the haphazard way investigators trampled all over potential evidence, the more it ate at her. Sloppy miscarriages of justice in the real world clashed terribly with the tiny, precise, orderly worlds she created. 

And so she decided to use the second to try and fix the first.

Photo courtesy of the Glessner House Museum

Lee created eighteen Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, each one of which depicted a detailed scene of someone’s demise. Was it murder? Suicide? Accident? Police officers from across the country attended Lee’s seminars at Harvard to learn better investigative strategies from studying her nutshells. 

It was the perfect mashup of the traditionally feminine art of miniatures and the traditionally masculine world of legal medicine, and Lee existed in the small center section of this very unique Venn diagram.

photo courtesy of the Glessner House Museum

As soon as I heard an NPR story about the Nutshells being on rare public display at the Smithsonian, I immediately booked a trip to Washington, DC. Within the next few years, I would also travel to New Hampshire and Chicago on Frances Glessner Lee-related missions.

Meanwhile, I started drafting fiction inspired by Lee. While walking around the Smithsonian, I decided it’d be fun to write a series of murder mysteries based around the different scenes depicted in the Nutshells. For Death in the Details, my inspiration was the one called “Barn,” and it shows a farmer hanging from a noose in (you guessed it) a barn.

Like Lee, my fictional protagonist, Maple, has a strong commitment to justice, an incredible eye for detail, an almost ruthless work ethic—and a penchant for making dollhouses, of course. Unlike Lee, Maple grew up in poverty and is a recent WWII widow who finds herself suddenly strapped for cash. 

Though she trained as a lawyer, she can’t get anyone to hire her in that field. To make ends meet, she decides to make and sell custom dollhouses, but when she goes to deliver the first one, she discovers her customer’s dead body hanging from a noose in his own barn. 

Maple sees details at the scene that could point to foul play; when the sheriff dismisses her concerns, she builds a miniature re-creation of the scene, marches into his office with it, and begins walking him through all the ways he messed up. 

You can imagine how well that goes (hint: he throws her out of his office), but by the end of the story, Maple figures out what happened to Elijah Wallace. Order is restored, at least to some extent, and justice is served.

I’m grateful to Frances Glessner Lee for so many things—first and foremost, her incredible work to advance the field of legal medicine and her willingness to break into a space not many women were occupying.

Photo by Karen Wylie Moore

But I’m also grateful to her for providing my imagination with a launching pad, for letting me study her Nutshells and think what if…? I had so much fun writing this book, and at the end of the day, the credit for that goes to her. 

What person (real or fictional) do you find so fascinating that you can't get them out of your head? 

Katie Tietjen is an award-winning writer, teacher, and school librarian. A Frances Glessner Lee enthusiast, she’s traveled thousands of miles to visit her homes, see her nutshells, and even attend her birthday party. Katie lives in New England with her husband and two sons. Death in the Details is her first novel. (FGL photos credit to The Glessner House Museum (Chicago)

ABOUT DEATH IN THE DETAILS: Maple Bishop is ready to put WWII and the grief of losing her husband Bill behind her.

But when she discovers that Bill left her penniless, Maple realizes she could lose her Vermont home next and sets out to make money the only way she knows how: by selling her intricately crafted dollhouses. Business is off to a good start—until Maple discovers her first customer dead, his body hanging precariously in his own barn.

Something about the supposed suicide rubs Maple the wrong way, but local authorities brush off her concerns. Determined to help them see “what’s big in what’s small,” Maple turns to what she knows best, painstakingly recreating the gruesome scene in miniature: death in a nutshell.

With the help of a rookie officer named Kenny, Maple uses her macabre miniature to dig into the dark undercurrents of her sleepy town, where everyone seems to have a secret—and a grudge. But when her nosy neighbor goes missing and she herself becomes a suspect, it’ll be up to Maple to find the devil in the details—and put him behind bars.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Have You Considered This? (good advice on every subject!)

 LUCY BURDETTE: it’s graduation season, the time for giving advice as young people sally out into the world. Makes me think of THE GRADUATE wherein the new graduate played by Dustin Hoffman is given cryptic one-word advice: plastics. (He needed other help too!) It’s also wedding season, and even though the happy couples may not think they need advice, they do. The reds team wrote a wonderful blog about advice for maintaining a happy marriage several years ago, and it’s well worth rereading (or reading for the first time.) Even if you’re not married, or think you know everything.  

I’d love to get one piece of short advice from all of you—you know the audience (advice takers) has a short attention span! Here are a few that caught my attention in the NYT article from December 2023 (I cannot find the link, so sorry!) that got me thinking about this subject:

You’re 73 years old — can you stop with the one-man shows? — Michael Kearns, Los Angeles

Nothing good is happening on your phone past 8 p.m. — Miriam Lichtenberg, Brooklyn, N.Y.

We are all juggling so many balls. Differentiate between glass balls and rubber balls — and don’t be afraid to drop the rubber balls. — Kathryn Cunningham, Carrboro, N.C.

Wait as long as possible to get your kids a phone. — Laura LaGrone, Asheville, N.C.

Breathe in, thinking, “I listen for the silence.” Breathe out: “I am not the hero of every story.” Breathe in: “I will not get free alone.” Out: “I am worthy of belonging.” — Richard Ashford, Chevy Chase, Md.

LUCY AGAIN: You see, the advice ranged over many different topics. Now it’s your turn Reds, what would you tell the world in a sentence or two? 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Wear sunscreen every day. Yes, even on those days when it’s raining - that’s when you put on the 15 SPF instead of 30. Cover everything that’s exposed. You’ll lower your chance of skin cancer by 40-50%, and I guarantee you’ll thank me when you look in the mirror on your fiftieth birthday.

HALLIE EPHRON: Smell the lilacs. Watch the catbirds making a nest. Sit outside and take in the setting sun. Savor. 

JENN McKINLAY: Be kind. It costs nothing. You have no idea what other people are going through and their struggle is none of your business, but you can always choose kindness.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Worrying is worshipping the problem—so don’t give your fears life by giving them that much attention.  

And count your blessings.  

RHYS BOWEN: Life isn’t fair. Get over it. Sometimes someone else will get what you deserve and sometimes you’ll get what they deserve. All you can do is your best, all the time.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Be open to possibilities. Plans and goals are great, but you have no idea what unexpected twists your life may take.

Okay Reds, your turn now! One piece of important advice…

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Lucy and John’s Excellent New York City Adventure @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: At least once a year, John and I take the train to New York to take advantage of what the city has to offer. I confess that I’m a creature of habit. We’ll often choose a Broadway show or two to splurge on, and then run through my obsessions.

 These include a visit to the Strand Bookstore (I know, I know, I have more books piled up already than I can read in a lifetime. But still…) And we often visit the Eataly store where we have a delicious Italian lunch and come out with a huge bag of their pasta. 

Plus have dinner at our favorite Greek restaurant in the East Village, Pylos. 

Since John teases me about being such a creature of habit, this time we squeezed in a few new stops. We visited the Morgan Library and Museum to see an exhibit about Beatrix Potter, featuring many of her letters and drawings and book illustrations. What a fascinating woman, a scientist and conservationist, as well as a writer and artist. 

She also was a whiz at character merchandising. I particularly loved this game board, which was apparently too complicated to produce commercially. 

From there, we took the ferry from 34th Street to Astoria. What a glorious way to travel on a beautiful day!  

We were headed to a retrospective of ceramic artist Toshiko Tokaezu at the Noguchi Museum. She was my college best friend’s mentor, and I’m pretty sure I took a class from her, though I lacked talent and she scared me to death! I knew he would not be able to attend the exhibit so we went in his honor. 

I highly recommend both the museum and the retrospective, which will be traveling once it closes in Queens. 

I’ll put extra photos from Beatrix Potter and the Noguchi at the end if you want more. When you go someplace outside your home turf, do you revisit familiar stops or like to try new things?

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Beach Reads by Ali Rosen

 LUCY BURDETTE: Ali Rosen visited us a while back and we enjoyed not only her first novel, but also her recipe for Amalfi Lemon Pasta. We’re thrilled that she’s back today with a second novel, and watch your waistlines—a recipe for Irish cheddar gougeres. Welcome Ali!

ALI ROSEN: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the term ‘beach read’ and what we all hope to get out of our reading in the summer. 

Among non-readers (or reading snobs!) there’s this idea that a beach read is vapid. That it’s meant to not challenge. As a romance writer, I see this dismissal all times of year, but there’s a certain synergy with summer and vacation that seems to make these stereotypes raise their heads even more.

But for those of us who love reading, summer is just a chance to maybe have a bit more time for our favorite escape and to perhaps get to do it outside. Winter is snuggling up on the couch with a book and summer is lying on a lounger in the warm weather. Maybe the mood strikes for something a little different (cozy mysteries vs sunshine escapes), but the sentiment to me is the same. A book is an adventure. A book is there to take me somewhere new. A book propels me inside someone else’s life. 

I think the assumption of frothiness in a beach read is because it often relates to books where we know the shades of the ending before we start. With a romance or a women’s fiction beach read, we’re guaranteed our happy ending. But to me, the knowledge of a happy ending can contain so much more depth than other books because it cocoons us enough to explore the complexities of life without the fear of them hurting us. 

My newest book, Alternate Endings, has all those fun trappings of a beach read—it’s a romance set across New York and Ireland and features all the hijinks you want out of a romcom (falling out of boats! sexy castles! a precocious kid!). But it tackles some headier topics that I hope resonate with the women who read it: what happens when we reach middle age and don’t actually have everything figured out as promised? How do we balance being mothers and career women who also want a romantic life? Can we ever become brave enough to not only ask for what we want, but just know what we want? 

For me, that’s the best kind of beach read. Because as women and readers, we contain all those multitudes. We want thoughtful prose along with our fun. So I’m going to wear the beach reader label as a badge of honor, and I hope you will too. I hope we all get time to ourselves on a beach (or wherever our summer vacations take us) to reflect on our lives while enjoying our books.

And since I can’t ignore my other favorite love - cooking! - I’m going to leave you not just with a recommendation to read my book (out now in paperback and on Kindle Unlimited for those digital readers like myself!) but also with an Irish recipe from it. Have a marvelous start to summer everyone!

What's a book everyone described as a beach read but has sat with you forever and changed your perspective?

Irish Cheddar GOUGÈRES

This is an appetizer that no one can argue with: it’s cheese and bread—come on! Gougères are technically French, but we’re making them Irish here with one of the best exports you can get from the Emerald Isle—assuming you can get Irish cheddar, of course.

Makes 30–35 small gougères.


1 cup water

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

5 large eggs

2 cups grated cheddar cheese (Irish cheddar preferred)

Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the water, butter, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to low and immediately add the flour, whisking it into the liquid. You want to stir quickly and long enough for the dough to get drier and much smoother—a bit of starch on the bottom is totally fine. Transfer to the bowl of a mixer and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then add the eggs slowly as the dough mixes (if you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a hand mixer, but put it on a low setting). The eggs should be fully mixed in and incorporated. Then add the cheese and fully incorporate that—the dough should be sticky but manageable.

Scoop out the dough into approximately 1-tablespoon balls and place them on the parchment paper.

Put the gougères in the oven and immediately turn it down to 350˚F. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through. They should be golden and puffy when cooked.

Note: you can also freeze the uncooked balls and then cook them for just a few minutes longer, and they should turn out almost completely the same.

About Ali Rosen:

Ali Rosen is a bestselling writer of both cookbooks and novels, and is the Emmy and James Beard Award-nominated host of Potluck with Ali Rosen on NYC Life. Her first novel is the #1 Amazon romance Recipe for Second Chances and her second, Alternate Endings, is coming May 7th. She is also the author of the cookbooks 15 Minute Meals, Modern Freezer Meals and Bring It!. She's been featured everywhere from The Today Show to The New York Times and has written for publications including Bon Appetit, Wine Enthusiast and New York Magazine. She is originally from Charleston, SC but now lives in New York City with her husband and three kids and can usually be found cooking in her kitchen or curled up in a chair reading a romance novel.

Follow Ali on Instagram

Monday, May 20, 2024

What we’re reading


LUCY BURDETTE: You know I adore this topic (and I know many of you do too) even though I honestly have more books in my multiple piles than I could finish in a lifetime. But new sparkly titles are constantly getting published, along with favorites from my most favorite authors, and reminders about older books that I’ve overlooked. Aside from all that, I’m judging a contest that I am forbidden to discuss. So I’m accumulating a teetering stack of books that might be right up your alley that I can’t mention!  I’m trying the technique of alternating the books I’m dying to read with the ones that are part of my contest obligations.

Most enjoyable books of the spring so far? Kristin Hannah’s THE WOMEN, Rhys Bowen’s THE ROSE ARBOR (one of her very best!), Kent Krueger’s THE RIVER WE REMEMBER…and I’m so looking forward to Barb Ross’s TORN ASUNDER and Jenn’s LOVE AT FIRST BOOK, and so many more—just look at my recent pile—wahhh! Reds, what are you reading?

HALLIE EPHRON: I just finished reading a book that Sarah Weinman suggested in a roundup of recommendations. It’s an oldie and now I’m wondering how I missed the series. I read DEATH AND THE PENGUIN by Andre Kurkov. Wonderful dark humor in a book with a detective/aspiring writer who’s in a dead end job writing obituaries and, oh by the way, he has a pet penguin. Highly recommend. 

And fascinated as I am by the movie business and alcoholic mega-stars, I’m reading COCKTAILS WITH GEORGE AND MARTHA, and nonfiction by Philip Gefter. It’s about the genesis and filming of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. From Edward Albee to Mike Nichols to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: utterly fascinating. Also an excellent doorstop.

I also loved Rhys’s THE ROSE ARBOR which I tore into the minute I got my hands on an advance copy.

JENN McKINLAY: Count me in for Rhys’s THE ROSE ARBOR! Such a fascinating story. I loved it. Also, I’m reading YOU’D LOOK BETTER AS A GHOST by Joanna Wallace. Very original! I can’t even describe how different it is but I’m enjoying it tremendously. Recently, I read WEYWARD by Emilia Hart and could not put it down. It was excellent.

RHYS BOWEN: Aw, I’m blushing because you all said nice things about The Rose Arbor! Thank you. It was a complicated book and I was relieved that it worked out so well in the end. What am I reading? I’m returning the compliment… Jenn’s LOVE AT FIRST BOOK.  It was exactly what I needed right now having had a stressful first half of the year with radiation for John, lots of strange doctor visits (the symptoms were strange, not the doctors). So I’m savoring Ireland and Jenn’s snappy dialog. Always so good. I’ve reread the Paris book at least twice.  

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I just read two absolutely fabulous books, completely fabulous! By two of my favorite authors, and was so honored to interview them afterward. The first is CLOSE TO DEATH— and I know I go on and on and on about how much I adore Anthony Horowitz and his brilliant meta-fiction, and they just get better and better. This book is absolutely terrific in every way, and sometimes I just had to stop reading and applaud. You know, this is the series where I Anthony Horowitz the author is a character in the book. I don’t know how he managed to do it so beautifully.

And the other book I just read, and adore is THE LAST MURDER AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Stuart Turton—- it’s sort of a dystopian utopia, yes, truly, or Agatha Christie meets the apocalypse on an isolated island. The world has ended, and there are only 121 people left, and they live this idyllic life – – although the reader is aware, something is not quite idyllic :-) – – until someone is murdered. And that’s like, chapter 1. This is an absolute tour de force in genre bending, with a solid mystery underneath.

It strikes me in discussing these—that both authors have written an intriguing, unique complex, unusual, pushing-the- envelope novel, but underneath both still depend on a satisfying, believable, and fair traditional mystery .

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Joining the dittos on Rhys’s THE ROSE ARBOR! I loved it! So well plotted, and I particularly loved the characters and the details of the late sixties setting.

Also, I’ve listened to the audiobook of THE WOMEN by Kristin Hannah, narrated by Julia Whelan, my absolute favorite female narrator, and was blown away. It’s one of those books that makes you feel desperate for someone to talk to about it when you’ve finished it. AND I finally, finally (I think I’m the last person in the world!) read LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY by Bonnie Garmus, and of course it is just brilliant. It was nice to read these one right after the other–similar themes, similar time period (LESSONS is a bit more than a decade earlier,) and then Rhys’s book also is set in the same time period as THE WOMEN. I listened to the audio of Marion McNabb’s SOME DOUBT ABOUT IT, which I really enjoyed. And now I’ve started Elly Griffith’s THE LAST WORD, but i picked up Jenn’s LOVE AT FIRST BOOK and will not be putting this one down until I finish it. So good!!!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, I saw THE LAST MURDER AT THE END OF THE WORLD and thought it was calling my name, but you've sold me - it definitely sounds like my kind of read. 

Loved THE ROSE ARBOR and LOVE AT FIRST BOOK (don't hate us because we get advanced copies, dear readers!) and I also recently read Tessa Wegert's next Shana Marchant mystery, THE COLDEST CASE. It's a little Agatha Christie combined with frigid weather and a great detecting couple, so if that appeals, pre-order it now!

Catching up with what everyone else raved about, I tore through Benjamin Stevenson's EVERYONE IN MY FAMILY HAS KILLED SOMEONE and EVERYONE ON THIS TRAIN IS A SUSPECT. I can see why HBO has picked this up. 

Next up, VILLAGE IN THE DARK, Iris Yamashita's follow-up to one of the most original mysteries of  '23, VILLAGE UNDER ONE ROOF. No science fiction! That's a first for me.

LUCY AGAIN: That's enough from us, but we'd love to hear what you're reading!

Sunday, May 19, 2024

My Travel Buddy:

RHYS BOWEN: If you've been reading my posts you'll know that I love to travel. But I don't love to travel alone. I need someone to keep me company. When I see something breathtaking I want to say "Look at that!" and I want to share amazing meals and have someone to commiserate with if it's pouring with rain or the hotel is terrible.  I'm an extrovert. If I'm alone in New York on business for three days, by the third day I'm chatting with every store clerk and waiter.

Having said that I do make sure that I have one travel buddy with me all the time. He is totally non-judgmental and delights in everything we do. For many years this buddy was a small fat bird my daughter gave me. I called him Hubyrd and he came with me on every trip. 

I got strange looks when I placed him on Queen Victoria's head in Malta but I had to document that he had been to every place with me.

 (See him on the wall?)

Alas, I lost Hybyrd. I know he is in my house somewhere. I've turned my bedroom upside down and can't find him. Is he behind a big chest of drawers? Inside an old suitcase? I wish I knew because I miss him.

I tried taking my tiny bears, Sophie and Alexander, but they did not enjoy the travel and got air sick in my


However last Christmas my same daughter put this in my stocking. He is clearly a traveling mouse, dressed ready for adventure. I've named him Hector and he's waiting to go off with my on my next travels. I'll keep you posted.

Do you have anything, anyone, that you have to take when you travel? (And am I quite sane, do you think? Do normal people take favorite animals with them?

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Brave New World

 RHYS BOWEN: Our recent Facebook trials when we tried to do a Facebook live event for our group REDS AND READERS highlighted how annoyingly stressful modern life can be. We all are suddenly required to be more tech savvy than we want to be. Mastering Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, not to mention Canva and learning how to create images with stars exploding all over them. Who would have thought it when I sat down with a pan and pen to write my first book?

Every time I have to do a Zoom, Streamyard, Chime etc etc I'm stressed that I won't be able to connect, that I'll freeze, that i'll suddenly notice my bra-strap is showing or I look as if I have no chin. I suppose the positive aspect of all this is that we can connect with readers in a way not possible before. I now speak to bookclubs anywhere in the world. When I do an event for the Poisoned Pen we get about 2000 watching the video , not just from America but from Australia, Sweden, you name it. It is mind boggling how one can have fans from across the globe.

But it is also so time-consuming. I reckon writers these days spend half their time writing and the other half in social media. I try to interact on Facebook every day. I post blogs, I do podcasts and interviews. On Monday I had two Zoom interviews, one after the other. Total of over 2 hours. When I went upstairs I said to John "My cheeks hurt from so much smiling." You can't look grumpy for a second on a Zoom!

So I'm thinking that Shakespeare and Jane Austen didn't have to spend half their time interacting on social media. Okay, that wasn't a good example. Shakespeare's works were performed so he was able to assess the success or failure of his words. Dickens's novels were published in weekly installments so he was also able to get feedback from his readers. but they didn't have to spend half their lives smiling on Zoom.

Of course it is lovely to meet many more readers than I ever could on bookstore visits. But it's made writing into a celebrity thing--that it's not just the words they like, it's the writer they follow. I find it strange and mind boggling that I have about 400,000 followers across social media (Facebook, Bookbub and Amazon). Did I ever, in my wildest dreams, imagine that my words would reach that many people, across the world. I should add that some of those followers are creepy guys from Nigeria, but then some are real African fans so it's hard to weed them out. (but that's why I started the private group TEA WITH RHYS as they have to be admitted and can be booted out if they do anything inappropriate).

I suppose I should be grateful and embrace the convenience. I still remember the days when the copy edits from my publisher came in a large envelope and I had to edit and reprint and send it back. Now it can be done in a day in the review mode. And I get a lot of fan mail because it doesn't require a stamp and a trip to the post office. And Google can alert me to any time my name shows up in the media. All good, but...

Maybe if I were younger I wouldn't have a hard time keeping up with technology, but it seems as soon as I've mastered one thing, something new replaces it. I'm still coming to terms with email. I'm not quite sure of the correct protocol. Should an email be considered a letter and therefor start 'Dear X?" and end with a yours sincerely etc.

Should it start like a chat with a friend? "Hi X! and end with kisses xxxxx

Or should it need not intro and conclusion at all since the recipient can see who it is coming from?

And then there is texting. Don't get me started on emojis or all of the acronyms. I haven't got past LOL yet. I can't see myself ever communicating with things like Wsg? hyd? NTG ISTG etc.

Even more baffling: 459 apparently means I love you!

39 means thank you (three and nine in Japanese apparently)

Do you think that humans are reverting to cave man speak and will lose the art of large vocabulary and polished sentences. No matter, there is always AI to do it for them. And that's another whole discussion.

So who here feels comfortable with technology and is glad of the conveniences we have? And who would like to return to the good old days when we sat down with pen and paper and wrote a letter instead?