Saturday, September 7, 2013

Saving Saffron Sweeting - Book Review

Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated by England, which is a tad bit weird,  I was raised in Mexico with little to no British influence on TV or my surroundings, so no clue how I got to be an anglophile. I haven't visited the country yet, but when I do I'll be right at home thanks to books like "Saving Saffron Sweeting" by Pauline Wiles.

The story begins with Grace Palmer, a down-on-her-luck interior designer, she's a Brit living in San Francisco with her husband James. Before you can say "Keep Calm and Carry On", Grace finds out James cheated on her with her - only - client, confronts him, packs up her bags and goes back to England.

My initial reaction was "Wait a sec, let the man talk! Don't be hasty!" but as soon as Grace arrives in England I thought "James Who?". The way Pauline describes her home-coming is like an insider re-discovering her roots. The narrative is so detailed and intimate that I felt like I was experiencing things, like the chaos of Heathrow, as an every day occurrence.

Grace decides to live in the country for awhile and by chance ends up in a small town called Saffron Sweeting - I Googled it, the town doesn't exist, darn - nevertheless, this place will turn out to be exactly what she needed!

She begins to form a life, get a place to live and work, meet new friends and she finds her niche. Turns out, the town is full of extremely homesick American ex-pats and Grace is the bridge between the Americans who want to spend $$ and the English who wouldn't mind the ££ to keep their business afloat and thriving.

Here is where I get conflicting emotions, as an ardent anglophile I want her to stay in England, describe more of her life and sigh while I imagine myself there. As a romantic, I get worried she is being too hard on James and I feel for him, during the course of the story he keeps popping up. He's very sorry and truly wants her back, my heart breaks for him and I get concerned because Grace is trying to move on and actually begins dating!

The story is full of nuggets of interesting details, adorable characters and a plot that will keep you guessing what will Grace decide at the end. This is a great debut novel by Pauline Wiles, I am very grateful for the advance copy I received and be assured that my love for this book is truly my own.

I have a few more questions about England and Saffron Sweeting on the Interview with the Author.

You can find the book at Amazon:

Or visit her website for more information:

Interview with Pauline Wiles

Saving Saffron Sweeting was full of interesting tidbits about English country life, but I still had more questions for Author Pauline Wiles.

I love how you describe the life in a small town. Have you ever lived in a small town in the country?
The smallest place I've ever lived was a Scottish village near Aberdeen. The community was tight-knit and everyone knew each other's name - and business. And now, my parents live in a village just outside Cambridge, although it's larger than Saffron Sweeting and its shops are thriving. I didn't (deliberately) lift material from real life but I do think small communities provide some fun quirks and characters.

~~ Ellie side note: this beautiful pic came from Pauline's Pinterest, it's Woodbridge, Suffolk, England

Dandelion juice. Do you have a recipe for it? What does it taste like? Would it taste better with tequila or vodka in it?
Dandelion and burdock is best known as an acquired taste and I admit it's not one of my favorites. 'Medicinal' comes to mind, although other people mention root beer and even cherry cough syrup. A fairly straightforward recipe is here:
...although to be honest, if you are keen to try it, it might be simpler to just buy some on Amazon. Vodka might be a big improvement, yes!

~~Ellie side note: I did check online to see where they sold it and found this link:

You made a brief mention about warm beer, and I've always had that doubt. Is it really warm, or is it room temperature but since its always cold over there it evens out?
I think 'warm beer' is mostly an affectionate (?) term for beer that hasn't been chilled. So, yes, typically it would be room temperature. Personally, I really dislike beer, whether hot, warm or icy!

In the book, the villagers had to change their ways in order to accommodate the American way of living and thinking. Do you find that happening in small places?
I do feel small communities are changing to survive, not from the influence of any given nationality, but because our lifestyles and habits are evolving. Rather than resisting change on all levels, to me, it makes more sense for communities to find new ways to succeed together. For example, I can think of a couple of small food businesses close to Cambridge which are thriving because they're providing great quality, convenient food to a niche market.

The book was beautifully written, do you have people (editors, beta readers, writers group, therapists, etc) who helped you in your path and who you would like to mention?
Thanks for that kind comment. I feel lucky that the book got off to a great start, thanks to author Kristin Harmel and my fellow students in Media Bistro's Chick Lit class. ( Several of my beta readers came from that group and they were diligent in their critique! I also self-edited obsessively, literally hunting through the book for words which novice writers tend to over-use.
But I'm certainly still developing my writing skills and style; I'm constantly on the lookout for tips and articles on technique. There were some wonderful sessions at the San Francisco Writers Conference (, which I attended shortly before the book was published.

Make sure to visit Pauline's website, it has links to her Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. Plus more British expressions and a handy Book Club Guide. Thank You Pauline!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sophie's Turn by Nicky Wells - Book Review

Once upon a time, in Mexicali, Mexico, I was newly single and went to a metal show featuring a thrash metal band from Tijuana. I was among my friends when I spotted this super cute long-haired guy, we made eye contact, smiled and flirted from across the room. The band line-up was OK and eventually it was time for the main band to perform, to my surprise, the super cute long-haired guy was the drummer. He looked at me and he smiled at my surprise.

When the show ended he came to me and we talked, I got autographs from the band members all over my jeans with magic markers (I still have that autographed pair of pants) and the more I talked to the drummer, the less I wanted to go back home. I was invited to the after-party and I can't remember exactly how, but we ended up inside a hotel room all by ourselves. We did hug, kiss and explored with our hands, but we didn't went further than that, it was kinda innocent. I wasn't a virgin at the time, but I didn't want it to go too far and he was OK with that. It was almost 5 AM when he and the manager took me back home only to see my Dad waiting for me outside the house. My Dad was not happy.

The drummer and I kept in touch via romantic letters in the faraway time before the Internet and I'm talking Mexican postal service in the early 90's! To this day I'm amazed all our letters reached each other, eventually things ended when I decided to go back to my ex-boyfriend (another drummer). I kept all his letter, small gifts and photos he sent me, once in a while I would read them and wonder what if...

Fast-forward 16 years and thanks to MySpace I bumped into the band, contacted them and was told where I could find him. We got in contact and I went to see him perform at a bar in Tijuana. I was nervous, after all I wasn't the 20 year-old size-3 super-hot girl anymore, I was a 36 year-old size-12 super-hot woman. The reunion was bitter-sweet, he still has my letters and has thought about me but he wasn't the man in my fantasies. He was too skinny and had heartbreaking sad look in his eyes, eventually we said Good-Bye and I haven't seen him since.

Why am I telling you my personal story instead of diving into a book review? Well, I always suspected my life was like a chick-lit novel and Sophie's Turn has confirmed it! Of course, in the case of Sophie Penhalligan, the adventure was in a much more grand scale. While I had street tacos, 2 star hotel, a ride in a pick-up truck and a guitar pin, Sophie had food in the best restaurants in Europe, suites, private jets and diamond rings....ah damn, I wanna be Sophie!

In her debut novel, Nicky Wells brings us the story of Sophie, a very likable young woman with a good head on her shoulders. In the prologue we see the proposal from super-hunk, bad-boy, rock-star Dan, unfortunately Sophie can't get too excited since she is already engaged to another man. We go back to where everything began and we get to met the official fiancee, Tim, after a few chapters with him it seems like the logical choice to totally go for Dan. After all, Dan and Sophia already have a cute and romantic story together, at a concert in Edinburgh where things almost went to far in the tour bus.

The relationship between Sophie and Tim is deeply flawed. Tim is possessive and selfish, he is trying to make Sophie into his ideal of the perfect wife. While the relationship looks awful in black and white it's not hard to empathize with Sophie. I think most of us have at one time or another been in a similar relationship, and why do we stay? Sometimes not even we know. So when Tim proposes, it seems like a dream come true for Sophie and things would have run its course if it wasn't for a chance encounter with a band member from Tuscq, the band Dan used to play in. This chance encounter led Sophie to sneak out (again!) to see the band and there she re-connected with Dan.

Dan shows her the rock-star life with all the fine things money can buy and thanks to him Sophie ends up in the band tour where she gets to know Dan better. In the meantime, Tim, feeling Sophie slipping away becomes the boyfriend she always wanted, but is it too late? Eventually we come to the million-dollar question: go for the bad boy or stay with safe and secure?

I wish I could tell you my views on her ultimate decision, but I can't. I'm bound by book blogging common law not to give spoilers and ruin other readers enjoyment of the story. What I can tell you is that Sophie's Run is the second installment in the Rock Star Romance Trilogy and as soon as you finish Sophie's Turn you will get Sophie's Run (or at least that's what happened to me!)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Shades of Gray - Book Review

This is the type of story that I like, even if a person lives its entire life in a world of black and white, one small step towards light gray turns into a leap that ends up in dark gray. In his first novel Shades of Gray, Andy Holloman takes us into the lives of John, Wanda and Travis whose decisions take them little by little into situations where there is no way out.

The story begins in March 2002, when we are introduced to John and his 6 year-old daughter Lucy. The relationship between them is a loving one. As the two talk we learn that Lucy's mom is no longer in the picture and we are introduced to Wanda and her daughter Tonya.

Wanda is African-American and this fact leads to the topic of Uncle Travis, John's half-brother. Travis is a police officer with racist tendencies and a temper. John and Lucy spend a pleasant time at Chuck E Cheeses, when its time to go and they're on the road, something happens to the car and they crash.

The car crash scene is very hard to read, so real and haunting. Even writing about it is hard, you'll just have to read it.

All of the above happens in Chapter One! There are so many questions once the chapter ends. What happened to John and Lucy? What happened to the car? Was it accident or sabotage? Is there something going on between Wanda and John? I became engrossed in the story and devoured it in days!

The next chapter takes us back to 1975, where we have a sneak peak in the lives of young John, Wanda and Travis. Certain events in this period of their lives will forge the adults they will become. Then we fast-forward to July 2001 when the events that lead to the car crash began.

The characters are very believable, flawed and human. For example, Travis, he may be racist, a bad cop and temperamental, but he truly loves his family. Would he have turned out differently if his upbringing was different? In his current actions, we see his father's teachings. So maybe he really is not a bad person, only misguided? Or is that his true nature? Nothing is black or white, there are many Shades of Gray.

The scenes are very well researched and described. The plot mainly deals with drug trafficking, not only the illegal nature of it, but with the morals behind it. In a post 9-11 world, even drug traffickers and dealers need to be more creative if they are to keep in business.

The worst part once all is said and done is hindsight. What if they did this? What would have happened if they said that? What if...? What if...? But by then it's too late.

Magnificent first novel by Andy Holloman, I truly hope to see more from him!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Haunted by Maria Savva - Book Review

In the first chapter of Haunted by Maria Savva we meet Nigel, a shell of a man in his fifties. Everything he does, says, thinks or touches is tainted by his private hell. Nigel Price killed a woman 20 years earlier and got away with it.

That is it, the whole story revolves around those facts. Yet, it is not tedious, a psychological thriller like this one, if handled incorrectly, can be boring and seem like whining, not in this case, it is easy to feel the burden of regret, bad memories and the loss of the will to live.

As Nigel's shell of a life starts unraveling, we get to think: Is his private hell an appropriate punishment or should he go to jail to pay for his crime? Even though he's not in jail, he's not breathing the air of a free man, it is hard to be sympathetic to a murderer, yet Maria Savva did it in a masterful way. I kept wishing he didn't get caught, then had to remind myself he killed a person in a moment of rage and should pay. This is my inner dialogue as I read the book:

Me: Poor guy
Other Me: What do you mean poor guy? He killed Emily!
Me: But he didn't mean to
Other Me: Little consolation for her at this point
Me: And he's suffered for it
Other Me: Not enough in my opinion
Me: I wish he could forgive himself and start living life again
Other Me: Seriously???
Me: I'll just keep on reading and see what happens
Other Me: Yeah, let's do that

The story takes us back to that fateful day on the cliff, then it comes back to Nigel's life before, during and after the event ending with something hauntingly mysterious happening to him. We also get to know about Emily's life leading up to that terrible day when her life and the life of her unborn child was cut short.

The beautiful book cover conveys the story perfectly, there is Emily Baxter walking away to another world yet looking back with eyes that will follow Nigel Price as long as he lives.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Year End Book Review

My biggest claim for 2012 is reading a grand total of 155 books, a vast improvement from 2011 when I read 102 books, this is the breakdown:

Fiction - 147 books
Non-Fiction - 8 books

By format:
Audiobooks - 72
eBooks - 41
Graphic Novels - 34
Books - 8

All the audiobooks and most of the graphic novels have been borrowed/downloaded from the San Diego Public Library. The eBooks and Books have been purchased new from any number of sources, mainly Amazon and Comic-Con. 

Before I get to my reading highlights of the year, I want to say Farewell to one of the best story-tellers of our time Maeve Binchy (Evening Class, Tara Road, Minding Frankie and so many others) I was reading her second novel Echoes the day she died and felt very sad that there would be no more new stories from her. Not only did I felt like I lost her, but I also felt like I lost contact with Nora and Aiden, the people at Quentin's, Father Flynn, Anya and so many more of her characters that did cameos in each of her books. It was like catching up with them. Good-bye and Thank You.

# 3 - Graphic Novels

I belong to two Graphic Novel book clubs, one through a San Diego Meetup group and one on Goodreads. Both have opened my eyes to so many authors and artists, for many years all I had in my collection was The Sandman and Sin City, now my collection is increasing and I spent more time at the comics section at Comic-Con. I re-discovered my love for Transmetropolitan (the relationship between Spider Jerusalem and his weird cat is the best!) and Lucifer (so cunning!), both are series from Vertigo comics long ago ended, but still cherished and discussed in book clubs. Lucifer is now out of print so it is harder to get the collection but very much worth it if you do.

Another author I am now a big fan of is Craig Thompson, author of Blankets, Habibi, Carnet de Voyage and Good-Bye Chunky Rice. I read Chunky Rice for one of my book clubs and I am so glad I read Blankets first, otherwise I would never have read anything written by Craig Thompson. We read Chunky Rice six months ago and we are all still traumatized by it, and every month we meet we still discuss it, it is one of the saddest stories about relationships, loss and loneliness I've ever read, don't be fooled by the cute cover. This man is a black hole of despair, he's awesome!

# 2 - Indie Writers

Where to begin? Now that authors are no longer constrained by the traditional publishing industry, there has been an avalanche of great - and not so great - indie authors. Self-published is no longer a dirty word and since I do eBook Formatting I've been able to work with the best ones!

The following are a few of my favorite authors, in no particular order, whom I've met either through Goodreads or Twitter:

Susan Buchanan / Chick Lit
This girl is Marian Keyes good! From Scotland, it's been such a treat to read about life in the land of kilts, unintelligible accent and bad weather. She's also a world traveler and incorporates all that into her stories. So far she's written two novels Sign of the Times and The Dating Game and is working on her third novel...give it up for Sooz!!

J. Joseph Wright / Horror
So far I've read only his short stories (Gramma's Freezer, Brain Food, Cemetery Planet) and they are great! Very twilight-zone-ish, it usually happens that I impulse-buy one of his short stories to read later, take a tiny quick peak and become so engrossed that I devour the story right then and there. He is now a staple on my to-read list.

Jay Finn - up and coming
Irish author, he self-published two eBooks (Beneath the Darkness and Looking Back) and several of us in the Twitter world are waiting for a novel. I've read a chapter on something he's working on and it is very enticing. He has a rich style and I love the way he describes the interactions between his characters....keep on writing Jay!

Hardit Singh - Detective
This guy is Michael Connelly good! His short stories bring very rich characters that need a full length novel and the one novel I've read Traffic still haunts and makes me think. British author, Hardit's books have been published in 2011 and 2012 and I'm sure 2013 will bring more gut wrenching detective stories.

Maria Savva - Psychological thrillers
I met her not long ago thanks to Susan Buchanan and so far I've only read her latest novel, Haunted, which will be the next book to be reviewed in this blog. I'm very impressed with her style and depth in her story and in the next few weeks I'll be talking more about her.

And I can mention so many more like Nancy Warren (romance, chick lit), Johnathan Culver (weird), Diana Douglas (period romance), Jo Michaels (young adult), Yolanda Sfestos (paranormal romance), Andy Holloman (suspense thriller), Anne Allen (women's fiction) but you will be hearing about them in the months to come.

As reader etiquette, if you like a story, please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads or wherever you bought the book. This helps the authors enormously not only by getting better rankings and sales, but also it encourages them to keep on entertaining us!

#1 - A Song of Ice and Fire
George R.R. Martin - May he have a long life and swift pen.

'nuff said.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes - Book Review

I love reading and with this blog writing reviews has been a treat, but in this case the review was very yummy. I formatted "Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes" by Trudy Hanks nee Pilliner, Maureen Tapper nee Pilliner, and Rebecca Marshall nee Tapper and I was so interested in the recipes that I decided to cook several of them and invite friends over.

"Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes" was created by three Jamaican daughters remembering their Mothers' cooking. The book is filled with family anecdotes, cultural tidbits, and traditional recipes. The recipes themselves are explained very clearly and, in my case, even though I knew nothing about Jamaican food, I was able to follow the instructions and make delicious food.

My favorite anecdote is the one that accompanies the pig trotter's recipe:
The only son in the Tapper family was very mischievous and cunning as a boy. He somehow convinced his youngest sister that pig's trotters were not good eating, and that he would "help her" by eating her share.
Sister was happy that he was so nice to her, and it was almost a year before she wised up and noticed how much he enjoyed this food that he claimed was neither delicious, nor good for her. She decided to make the sacrifice and try a piece herself...and that was the day his double portion of pig's trotters ended!
A Tapper Family Memory
The cookbook contains Soups (beef soup, pepper pot soup, red peas soup), Entrees (curried shrimp, callaloo and salt fish, oxtail and butter beans, and many more), Side Dishes (corn fritters, macaroni and cheese, fried dumplings, and more), Desserts (bread pudding, egg custard, sweet potato pudding, and more), Beverages (ginger beer, sorrel drink, rum punch, and more), Misc (jerk seasoning, solomon gundy) and Notes. The notes section describes the uncommon ingredients like ackee, bammy, breadfruit, etc.

Each recipe and note has a photo, which came in very handy when I went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. I live in San Diego, which doesn't have a large Jamaican community, but I was able to find all the ingredients at my local Mexican grocery store.

I went wild making eleven recipes, most of the ingredients were inexpensive and easy to find at a good price. I selected recipes that my guests and I would be able to recognize and one of my guests is very sensitive to spicy food so I went light on the scotch bonnet pepper. Now let me show you my cooking:

Crayfish (Janga) Soup
Made with crayfish - I used large shrimp for this recipe - chicken, vegetables and dumplings. I made the recipe early that day and put it on a crockpot to keep it warm until dinner time.

Cook-Up Rice with Bully Beef and Cabbage
Made with cabbage, white rice, corned beef and vegetables. This was one of my favorites! Very easy to do and satisfying, after the dinner party I had this dish for lunch, super yummy.

Escoveitch Fish
Made with red snapper - yellow tail and flounder can also be used - the fried fish is marinated with onion, juliened carrots, allspice seeds and vinegar. The acidity of this dish complemented the other ones perfectly.

Fricassee Chicken (brown stew chicken)
Another favorite! The chicken is marinated in soy sauce, scallions, tomatoes, and more. The dish has a very rich savory flavor, this is a recipe I know I will be doing more than once.

Jerk Chicken
This was last minute - as if I wasn't cooking enough things! - I made the jerk seasoning, marinated the chicken and roasted it. So good!

Banana Fritters
So easy to do! I was fortunate to have eaten one when I made them, by the time I served my plate there was only one left. No leftovers here.

Cabbage, Carrot and Tomato Salad
One of my guests made the comment that this salad was very refreshing to the palate. I forgot to take a photo of this salad, the image below is from the cookbook, but mine looked just like it!

Rice and Peas
Made with red kidney beans, bacon, coconut milk, veggies and white rice. The red coloring comes from the red kidney beans. Very tasty side dish!

Coconut with sweet spices baked on top of pastry dough. I cut these in half so more people could try them.

Plantain Tarts
I thought this recipe would be hard, but even though it was a little time consuming, it was very simple to follow and the tarts came out great!

Ice-Box Cake
Super easy to do. Layers of pound cake and a buttery fruity mixture. The whipped cream on top wasn't sweetened so it balanced out the sweetness of the bottom making it taste just right.

Nine of us ate that night, everyone had seconds and I still had some leftovers to eat during the week. This is an excellent cookbook done from the heart.

You can find "Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes" at in print and digital format.