Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

indexBook – Arthur lost his wife, Miriam, a year ago and copes with his grief by clinging to his old routines. He takes tea at the same time every day, wears the same stiff collared shirts and uncomfortable pants and waters his fern, Frederica. He hides from the food-laden visits of his neighbor, Bernadette, and has infrequent contact with his two adult children, Lucy and Dan. But, when Arthur decides to clean out Miriam’s closet, he finds a charm bracelet that he’s never seen before. As he examines it, he impulsively dials a phone number engraved on one of the charms and is launched on a journey to learn the truth about his wife. Along the way, he learns truths about himself and his relationships. He discovers new friends and learns about their hardships and joys. This book is a cozy tale about life’s surprising twists and savoring what is in the present.

Free to Fall by Lauren Miller

18602289Book – In a society obsessed with the newest Apple gadget, it’s not hard to imagine what the future holds for us in technology. Apple watches and Google Glass are slowly starting to emerge while our smartphones grow bigger and bigger each year. Soon, perhaps everyone will be carrying around an 8-in tablet to fit their every need, with cellphones obsolete. Once the watches and glasses really take flight,  will the next big thing be completely virtual devices? Something implanted in our skin that monitors our health as well as fulfilling all our tech needs with some sort of virtual projection?  Oh what fun the future holds!

The technology we find in Free to Fall doesn’t seem so fantastical considering how dependent we have become on our smartphones and millions of apps. The events of this novel take place in the near future. Apple has become obsolete, replaced by Gnosis and its life-changing technology called Lux. Lux is a high-powered personal decision-making app that guides you towards the best decisions. Following Lux’s recommendations will lead you to a happy, and fulfilling life.

Like everyone else, teen Rory Vaughn does not stray from the guidance of Lux, consulting the app for every choice she makes in her daily life. When she is accepted to a prestigious boarding school, Rory can’t wait for the happy future she’s been promised. Yet something feels off once she arrives at the elite academy. After meeting a local outsider named North who refuses to use Lux, Rory begins to question everything she’s ever known.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

51hNZ0nGxXL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Imagine that every time you do something wrong – tell a lie, steal something, think an uncharitable thought – everyone can see it, in the form of a little puff of smoke that comes up from your body. It leaves soot on your clothes, your pillowcases, your furniture. You must be perfectly good at all times, or clean everything constantly, or both. And if not – everyone will know.

That’s the world of Smoke, a tremendous new literary fantasy by Dan Vyleta. In Victorian England, the aristocracy are trained from childhood to never Smoke, to repress all their baser instincts to demonstrate their inherent superiority over the lower classes. But what if it doesn’t really work that way? What if Smoke isn’t sin, but something else? Thomas and Charlie, two boys at an elite boarding school in the countryside, begin to question what they’ve been told after a trip to Smoke-filled London, and before long their whole world is unraveling.

I loved this book and its incredible explorations of good and evil, sin and repression. In addition to telling the story of Smoke, it’s also full of all the things that make Victorian novels great – family secrets, corrupt leaders, criminals with a heart of gold, murder, disguise, horse chases, and romance.

Caution: may cause hunger pains (Part I)

Movies – I enjoy a good film about cooking, food adventures, and or anything that features cooking. Food and movies go hand in hand. Here are couple of films without fail always make me hungry.

onesheetThe first one always makes me crave brie with pears, and fried egg sandwiches with a good beer. Spanglish, star Adam Sandler as a chef of a small restaurant. The movie is about boundaries and relationships, where they should start and end. Cultural and family dynamic differences are the major cause of drama in the movie. But it’s his fried egg sandwich that gets me every time.

chefNext on the list is Chef. It stars Jon Favreau as a chef who loses it after a bad review and his rant goes viral causing him to rethink his career and family responsibilities. This sends him from LA to Miami with his ex-wife and son, and into a new venture, the food truck business. While driving the truck back to LA, various stops are made and include beignets from New Orleans and brisket from Austin.  Brisket looks amazing and this film makes me want tostones (pressed fried plantains with garlic sauce) and yuca with garlic and vinegar! Mmm!!!

91XUvt3NWxL._SL1500_Tortilla Soup stars Hector Elizondo as a chef and father of three women. Hector has lost his taste and needs others to taste the food as he preps. The food shots of the films are gorgeous and tempting. His red snapper and nopales (cactus) make me crave breakfast by the ocean in Puerto Vallarta, MX. It also reminds me of my aunt in Mexico making fresh flour tortillas and huevos con chorizo (eggs and sausage). It always takes me back to when I was a kid!

chocolatFor dessert I give you Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche. A movie about a wandering women and her young daughter who come to a small French village to open up a chocolate shop on the eve of lent. Her hot chocolate drink is rich and thick the way it is traditional made in Spain. She uses her chocolate to change the lives of the citizens of this small village. It is only right for them to change hers as well. She also makes a chocolate with a kick from chili peppers. It’s a good thing I know a place that sells chocolate jalapeno ice cream. Hope I didn’t make you too hungry.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

13158378BookTop Chef meets Pirates of the CaribbeanCinnamon and Gunpowder is a fun adventurous seafaring tale that mainly takes place on a pirate ship called the Flying Rose in 1819. Owen Wedgwood is the renowned personal chef to Lord Ramsey, the wealthy owner of the Pendleton Trading Company.  The ruthless pirate is Captain Mad Hannah Mabbot, who murders Owen’s employer and has her right hand man Mr. Apples kidnap the chef.  Though the ship has a cook, Hannah feels that she deserves a gourmet meal once a week and tells Owen that she will spare him his life as long as he obliges her.  Though his culinary skills are extensive, even Owen is challenged to create edible fare with the limited supplies on board, such as gruel, rat meat, and moldy potatoes.  Though a prisoner, Owen dines with Hannah weekly and learns that her mercenary pursuit of another rogue pirate, the Brass Fox, might be for noble reasons.  As time goes on his cooking skills evolve with the help of provisions picked up along the journey and the reader’s mouth will water with the delicacies he creates.  This swashbuckling read is a pure delight!

Sano Ichiro series by Laura Joh Rowland

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indexBook- Set in 17th-century Edo (now called Tokyo), this mystery series follows the career of Sano Ichiro, a samurai investigator who rises from an ordinary policeman to the Shogun’s Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People. This position does not come without some attendant danger. In addition to the obvious dangers of police work, Sano must navigate the viper-pit of nobles, courtesans, and hangers-on that wield the weak-willed shogun’s power for him and who view Sano as a threat. The primary conflicts in the series derive from Sano’s strong idealized moral consciousness and samurai principles clashing with the actual degradation and corruption of the Tokugawa shogunate that he serves.

The series includes tons of fascinating historical details and personages and paints such a strong visual image that, despite the uncommon setting, it is not hard to picture Sano’s world. These novels will appeal to fans of other mystery series with a strong sense of place, such as Anne Perry’s Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series. Sano Ichiro’s adventures are finished, clocking in at 18 volumes altogether, so there’s no agonizing wait for a sequel. Start with Shinju and see if you like it!

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

17333319Book – Agnes Magnúsdóttir has been convicted of murder, and in the spring, she will be executed. The governor has decided that it’s too expensive to send her to the seat of government in Denmark, so she’s been sent to the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, to live there with his family until the execution date can be set.

Between scattered documents – real translations; this is based on the true story of the last woman executed in Iceland for murder – detailing the problems the government is having in getting an execution set for Agnes and her two co-defendants, we learn more about the family hosting her and about Agnes’s own life. She grew up practically an orphan, working for her keep in a variety of small farms, before falling in love with Natan – the man she’s been convicted of murdering.

This was a moving story, stark and bleak but beautifully told, of a woman who is famous but not very sympathetic in her home country. Hannah Kent helps us to understand Agnes, who has been so terribly isolated for much of her life, who fell in love with the wrong kind of man, who lost a life she had never been very successful at in the first place.

The Lufthansa Heist by Henry Hill

lufthansaBook – The Lufthansa Heist reveals the details of one the biggest heists in history. It tells the story of how a group of thieves stole over $6 million from the Lufthansa air hanger vault at Kennedy Airport without anyone ever being charged for the crime until 2013. Henry Hill a known criminal who associated with New York Mafia figures tells the story of how it all happened. Most readers will remember him as the character Ray Liotta portrayed in the movie Goodfellas. In fact the heist is a major part of the movie and eventually leads to the downfall of Hill.

In the book Hill gives the reader a more in depth look into how the heist happened and its aftermath. There schemes included college basketball point shaving, drug trafficking, assault, robberies, and murders galore. The story is fast paced and will keep readers intrigued even though most will know the outcome, assuming they have seen Goodfellas. This book will give you what the movie mulled over for lack of time.

Listening to the audiobook made things a little difficult however. The narrator has a heavy New York accent which made it difficult to keep up. This is because the story is being told from various perspectives. Even with the difficulty keeping the characters straight, due to the heavy accent, I enjoyed the book immensely. He does a good job at keeping a fast pace as I feel one would have if they were reading the book. The book is for anyone who enjoys true crime, mafia stories, and are fans of Goodfellas and mob movies.

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

maya's notebookBook – What did 19 year old Maya from Berkley, California do to make her a fugitive from the FBI and drug lords and hide out in Chiloé, an isolated island on the coast of Chile? Her heartbreaking story is told as Maya records the torrid period of her life in a notebook that her grandmother, Nini has given her. Her grandparents raised her after her mother deserted her after her birth and her pilot father was rarely home due to his career. Maya’s troubles soon began after the death of her beloved grandfather, an astronomer and Nini’s husband. Maya begins hanging out with the wrong crowd, starts doing drugs, and eventually runs away to Las Vegas. Her grief is so intense that she spirals into a world of addiction, crime, homelessness, prostitution, and near death. Nini arranges Maya’s exile with an old friend, an anthropologist named Manuel. As expected, Maya’s life on Chiloé is very different. Eventually the natives warm up to her and Maya once again enjoys the simplicities of life. But she might not be totally safe . .  Allende paints a rich picture of the healing of Maya and the culture, superstitions, and natural beauty of the island and its people. Though different from the author’s other novels, because it is contemporary instead of historical fiction, it is just as moving as her other books.

Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway

emmyBook: One does not forget their childhood best friend. Especially if their childhood best friend was kidnapped. Emmy will never forget Oliver, her next door neighbor and best friend. She will also never forget the day Oliver’s father took him out for a day of fun and never returned him. The whole town remembers. Emmy’s parents remember and responded by keeping her close, afraid that something similar would happen to her.

10 years later, Emmy is a high school senior, with a secret she is keeping from her over-protective parents. 10 years later, Oliver is finally found and comes home. How do you react when your childhood best friend returns home after being missing for 10 years? What should you say? What can you do? Can you go back to how things were before? These are the questions that plague Emmy’s mind as Oliver returns to the house next door.

As Emmy and Oliver reconnect, they realize that their friendship and their connection did not diminished over the last 10 years. Robin Benway is a fantastic writer as she weaves this adorable story together along with the mystery of what happened to Oliver all those years ago.

Emmy and Oliver is a romance, mystery, coming-of-age story. It is about family. Its about growing up. Its about love, lost and found.