#50Booksin52Weeks

Here we are! It’s December, the last month of #50Booksin52Weeks, and I’ve come to two conclusions:

  1. I actually read way more than 50 books, and
  2. This experiment had no effect whatsoever on the height of my TBR pile.

Still, I consider it a success. I probably read closer to 65-70 books, all told, though not all of them were fiction and a few of them weren’t all that good. But of all of the books I specifically put toward the experiment, there was only one I didn’t finish, and it wasn’t even because it wasn’t well-written – the style of the writing just didn’t appeal to me. I discovered a lot of great books and a lot of authors I’ll continue to read, since I plan to keep this going through 2021.

And now it’s December, which means it’s time to pull out all of the holiday books I’ve been saving until now. Read on for December’s list!

If you read any of these books, I’d love to hear what you think! Let me know at courtney@fivedirectionspress.com!


Week 1: The Meaning in Mistletoe by Rachael Bloome

Week 2: Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Week 3: Notting Hill in the Snow by Jules Wake

Week 4: Small Town Christmas by Olivia Miles

 

Monthly Round-Up: November

Happy end-of-November! This has been a strange year, to put it mildly, and though it’ll probably be harder this year than any other in recent memory to find something to be grateful for, I hope we can all come up with something.

I am thankful that we’ve reached month 11 of the COVID pandemic and none of my loved ones have been seriously impacted. My husband has relatives in a different part of the US who caught the virus, but got over it without lasting effects. My own family has been spared, a fact for which I’m so grateful – especially in the case of my 102-year-old grandmother, who lives in a nursing home where things almost got bad, and my father, who suffers from chronic bronchitis and asthma. I’m thankful that I’m still employed, and that my gig-working husband has been allowed to collect unemployment for the last 8+ months (and that our marriage has survived 8+ months of constant togetherness). I’m thankful for the doctors and nurses who work so hard and put their lives in danger every second of the day to help those who need it, and for the scientists who have done what everyone thought was impossible – creating the potential for us to put this all behind us sooner than anyone could have expected.

Finally, I’m thankful that we’ve been given the opportunity to remember that despite what we’ve seen over the last few years, human decency still exists. I hope that we can take this opportunity to remember that no matter our belief system, as human beings we’re much more alike than we are different. This might be better saved for next month and the official end of the year, but it seems like as good a time as any to say that I hope that 2021 is a year of healing – on all fronts.

Read on to see how I spent November!


Reading

I’m about to get personal. Really personal.

Like a lot of people in modern society, I suffer from anxiety. It manifests in different ways, and I tend not to talk about it much – not only because it is a little more personal than I typically like to get, but because I’ve learned the hard way that talking about it with people who don’t understand it is typically an exercise in futility. In my experience, people who can’t imagine what it’s like to live with anxiety tend to get annoyed or angry when it comes up, which makes it harder to discuss even normal human worries because you start to fear being accused of worrying for nothing. But 2020 has been a rough year for all of us, and even more so for those of us with anxiety disorders. Rather than let it continue to control me and make these stressful times even worse, I ordered The Worry Cure. By the end of the first chapter, I was convinced the author had moved, unnoticed, into my head, lived there for a month, and then wrote down everything he saw. I can’t begin to explain how comforting it was to know that there are enough people like me out there that our experience could be written down with such pinpoint accuracy. And the exercises in the book have already helped me gain perspective and I hope that with continued practice, I can begin to approach everyday life with a less fearful mentality.


Cooking

With colder weather comes soup, and what goes better with soup than bread? I do like making yeast bread – I love the kneading process, I love watching the dough rise, I love the smell that fills my house as it bakes. But sometimes you don’t want to do all that kneading or wait for all that rising, and you want bread to go with the soup you just decided to make. And sometimes you find beer someone left in your fridge after a summer cookout and because you’re not a beer drinker, and because you want to clear some room for incoming Thanksgiving leftovers, you decide to make beer bread. This recipe is touted as the #1 Beer Bread Recipe in the world, and while I can’t claim to have tried every single beer bread recipe in existence, I can say it’s the recipe I always turn to when I want beer bread. Follow the directions closely – make sure to sift – and try not to eat half the loaf in one sitting.


Watching

Did you really have to ask?

 

 

 


That’s all for November! How did you spend the month?

Book Cover Wednesday

When I’m not writing, I’m designing. And when I’m designing, it’s usually a book cover. I design covers for my own books (those I’ve written, those that are just kernels of ideas, and those I might  never actually write) and for the authors in Five Directions Press. I’ve also recently begun to design covers and formatting print interiors for independent authors of romance, women’s fiction, and historical fiction. You can find more information on my services by checking out The Magenta Quill.

I also love looking at book covers. And on the third Wednesday of every month, I’ll be using my blog to share a book cover I love. This month’s featured cover is “Ghosted” by Rose Walsh. I read this book in July and reviewed it in my newsletter, but a big part of the reason why I picked it up in the first place was because of the colorful, whimsical cover.

Enjoy!


Are you a romance or women’s fiction author in need of cover design or print formatting? Check out The Magenta Quill!


DISCLAIMER: The covers posted on Book Cover Wednesday are not my designs, but those of other talented cover designers. I claim no involvement in their creation nor ownership over them – I just like them!

Review: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is not a new author, but when I picked up this book, she was new to me. I was intrigued by the plotline, which seemed to be part Jane Eyre, part Rebecca, and the setting, of course – the story was split between London and a crumbling ancestral manor in Kent. As anyone who’s spent five minutes in my company, virtually or in person, will tell you, I love anything that can transport me to England. I’ve spent time in both London and Kent, and this story took me right back there.

The story revolves around Edie, a young woman working for a publisher in 1990s London. Edie maintains a loving but somewhat distant relationship with her parents, neither of whom seem to have gotten over the loss of Edie’s younger brother when he was just a toddler. She’s spent her life wondering if they only love her because as her parents it’s their obligation, and she knows very little about their lives before her. Then one day, as they’re preparing to sit down to their weekly family supper, a letter – dated five decades earlier – is delivered to Edie’s mother, sparking a reaction Edie has never seen. Her mother cries.

Shaken by the reaction and intrigued by the mystery of the letter, which hints at a history Edie’s mother lived and about which Edie had no idea, Edie uses her connections at the publishing house to trace the source of the letter to Milderhurst Castle, formerly owned by Raymond Blythe – writer of the tale that inspired Edie, as a child, to pursue a career in writing. Raymond Blythe is long dead, but the castle is now inhabited by his three elderly daughters: Percy, Saffy, and Juniper. Spinsters Percy and Saffy have devoted their lives to caring for their younger half-sister Juniper, whose sanity was irrevocably lost one night in 1941 when she realized her fiancé wasn’t coming for her after all. And as Edie gets to know the sisters, she learns that the crumbling walls of Milderhurst have been keeping secrets more sinister than those involving her mother’s childhood.

If you’re looking for a quick read, something that can be knocked out in an afternoon, this isn’t the book for you. It’s slow, sometimes frustratingly so, but it was always obvious that each carefully-crafted detail was necessary to the story. And though it echoes the classic Gothic novels of the 19th centuries, in some ways this book was several years ahead of its time – it employs the dual-timeline technique that has become so popular in recent years, switching between the World War II era and the 1990s. Multiple characters tell the tale from their own perspectives, ensuring that the reader never quite knows what’s reality and what’s perception. Lovers of traditional Gothic novels and those with the patience for an extensive cast of unreliable narrators and sprawling detail will enjoy The Distant Hours.

#50Booksin52Weeks – November

Halloween is over, and the winter holiday season is officially here. (Don’t believe me? Turn on the Hallmark Channel. I don’t think I’ve turned it off since October 23.) We’re also rapidly approaching the end of the year, and so far my goal to read four books a month has been going very well. Of course, it did nothing to affect the height of my TBR pile – book-buying is one of my proven methods of stress-busting, and I think we all know how much of that we’ve had to do this year – but I’ve read a lot of really good books and discovered some new-to-me authors I’ll be reading for a long time.

This month’s goal is to read a few books I’ve borrowed from Kindle Prime Reading, and to clear the way for a completely holiday-centric list next month. Keep reading to see what’s on my shelf for November!

If you read any of these books, I’d love to hear what you think! Let me know at courtney@fivedirectionspress.com!


Week 1: The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Week 2: True to Me by Kay Bratt

Week 3: The Gold Letter by Lena Manta

Week 4: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Book Cover Wednesday

When I’m not writing, I’m designing. And when I’m designing, it’s usually a book cover. I design covers for my own books (those I’ve written, those that are just kernels of ideas, and those I might  never actually write) and for the authors in Five Directions Press. I’ve also recently begun to design covers and formatting print interiors for independent authors of romance, women’s fiction, and historical fiction. You can find more information on my services by checking out The Magenta Quill.

I also love looking at book covers. And on the third Wednesday of every month, I’ll be using my blog to share a book cover I love. This month’s featured cover is “The Ingredients of You and Me” by Nina Bocci.

Enjoy!


Are you a romance or women’s fiction author in need of cover design or print formatting? Check out The Magenta Quill!


DISCLAIMER: The covers posted on Book Cover Wednesday are not my designs, but those of other talented cover designers. I claim no involvement in their creation nor ownership over them – I just like them!

Review: Writing Mr. Right by T.K. Leigh

The concept of a “book boyfriend” is not a new one among romance readers. You’d be hard-pressed to find a reader who hasn’t at one time crushed hard upon a fictional character. For me, it was Gilbert Blythe. My infatuation ran so deep that when actor Jonathan Crombie, who played Gilbert in the only film adaptation that matters, died in 2015, I was 34 years old and mourned as hard as if I really had been in love with him for more than two decades. But as sad as that was, fortunately Gilbert Blythe the character lives on, and I can visit him any time I want just by picking up one of the Anne books. That’s one of the best things about a book boyfriend. The story usually ends before you find out about all their annoying habits, and you can always close the book when you need a break.

In Writing Mr. Right by T.K. Leigh, though, it’s kind of the opposite. Molly Brinks, a 30-year-old (just don’t call her that) living in Boston, writes steamy romances under a pen name – a fact she keeps a secret from everyone but her brother and her best friend. Least knowledgable of all are the men she dates. Not one for relationships thanks to her parents’ devastating split when she was a child, Molly picks her romantic entanglements based on one thing – how well they match up with the kind of love story she’s currently writing. So while these men serve up great inspiration and even better Saturday nights, and have more to do with her successful career than they’ll ever know, Molly herself avoids committment at all costs and discards her unsuspecting muses as soon as she types The End.

Until, of course, she meets Dr. Noah McAllister at the same time she’s suffering from writer’s block. As the neurologist overseeing her father’s rapid decline from Alzheimer’s disease, Noah is strictly off-limits. He’s also the one guy she can’t stop thinking about. As their relationship grows, Molly’s writing veers from her normal steamy but shallow stories into something far more meaningful to her, but even though the words start flowing, she knows they’re not the ones her publisher wants.

Terrified at the thought of losing both her five-book contract and her heart, Molly has to decide what’s more important – giving the readers what they want and keeping herself safe, or taking a chance on both Noah and herself.

This was my first book by T.K. Leigh and I’ll be going back for more, for sure. And if Gilbert Blythe didn’t already have my heart, Noah McAllister just might have a shot.

#50Booksin52Weeks

I write women’s fiction and romance, but they’re not the only genres I read – and they’re probably not the only genres you read, either! Some of my favorite other genres include cozy mysteries, which regular readers of my blog already know, psychological thrillers, and a good, haunting ghost story.

Since October is a pretty good time to indulge in stories like these, October’s list – pulled from my TBR pile – includes a little bit of everything. Whether you’re looking for something twisty, something cozy, something spooky, or something thrilling, you’ll find an option here!

If you read any of these books, I’d love to hear your impressions! Let me know at courtney@fivedirectionspress.com!


Week 1: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Week 2: Coconut Milk Casualty by Agatha Frost

Week 3: Girls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti

Week 4: The Haunting of Brynn Wilder by Wendy Webb

Recipe Wednesday: Turkey Enchiladas

This recipe was borne of a desire to both use up some stuff from my pantry, fridge and freezer and to satisfy a craving for Taco Bell (I’m trying hard to break myself of a fast food habit and haven’t touched the stuff in 3 weeks – caving now will undo all my hard work). I make my green chile chicken enchiladas all the time, but after I looked through my kitchen and realized I had all the ingredients to make a red version, I came up with this recipe. Feel free to adjust to fit what you have!

Enjoy!


 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb ground turkey (or beef)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 recipe taco seasoning, plus 2 tsp corn starch (or one packet store-bought taco seasoning)
  • 1 package Chi-Chi’s enchilada style corn/flour blend tortillas
  • 1 12 oz can red enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with nonstick spray, then pour in just enough enchilada sauce to cover the bottom of the dish.
  • In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add meat and onion and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until onions are soft and meat is no longer pink. Drain if necessary, and return to heat.
  • Add seasoning and water, mixing well to combine. Lower heat and simmer 5 minutes or until thickened.
  • Spoon filling into tortillas and wrap tightly, then put into the baking dish seam-side down.
  • Pour remaining sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle with cheese, coating evenly.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook 10 more minutes, or until warmed through and cheese is melted.
  • Serve with your favorite toppings and sides!

Did you make these? I’d love to hear what you think!

Monthly Round-Up: September

Happy fall! As I write this, a cool breeze is blowing through my open bedroom window and my cat is snuggled up next to me in the gray blanket he’s convinced is actually his mom. (They do resemble each other.) A loaf of homemade pumpkin bread sits on my kitchen counter and a fragrant cup of caramel apple herbal tea emits fragrant steam on the lap desk that also balances my laptop.

This, in case you hadn’t noticed, is what consider the most wonderful time of the year.

Read on for how I spent September, which was kind enough to grace us with a touch of autumn long before I expected it!


Watching

This movie. Guys. It was adorable. If you have Netflix and you love rom-coms, I cannot recommend this one enough. Starring Damon Wayans, Jr. as a man who sues an online dating app and Rachael Leigh Cook as the lawyer he hires to take them down, it’s predictable, sure, but a little edgier than your typical Hallmark movie. It was funny and just so cute. 

 


Cooking

Every year I plant a couple of things in containers and hope for the best. This year, I didn’t have great luck with my cherry tomatoes but my herbs and jalapeno peppers just exploded. I have just a single pepper plant, but in the last week harvested five full-grown jalapenos from it. That, combined with weather that was definitely more late-October than mid-September made it the perfect time to try a recipe I’d had my eye on since last spring – jalapeno popper white chicken chili from Show Me the Yummy. It cooked in the crock pot all day, making the house smell amazing, and tasted just as good as it smelled. It almost didn’t need the sprinkle of Mexican blend cheese and crumbled tortilla chips on top – but it definitely didn’t hurt.


Baking

I’m always on the lookout for the perfect pumpkin bread recipe. Ideally, it would have the light, fluffy texture of a Dunkin Donuts pumpkin muffin, but in bread form (and fewer than 550 calories per serving would be nice, too). So far the perfect recipe has proven elusive, but I’ve gotten pretty darn close with this recipe from Love Grows Wild. It uses one cup of pumpkin, which, if you’re using a 15 oz can, leaves you with less than a cup left over. The good news is that if you want to bake a second loaf (and you will), this recipe also works perfectly if you add enough applesauce to the leftover pumpkin to make a full cup.


That’s all for September! How did you spend the month?