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BBC: 2017 Holiday Reading Guide.

Cozy up with a holiday read!

Well, Thanksgiving is over and it’s officially the holiday season! I have always wanted to read a Christmas-themed book during this time of year, but have never gotten my life together in time to do so… until THIS YEAR! Over the weekend, I picked up my first holiday book (a pick from last year’s holiday reading guide), “Winter Street” by Elin Hilderbrand. I read a book of her’s earlier this year, and I absolutely loved it – plus, I found out that “Winter Street” is actually the first book in a mini-series, so if I like it, there’s three more books for my list (I put the sequel in this year’s list). So, here goes:

“The Christmas Town” by Donna VanLiere 

Lauren Gabriel spent many years of her childhood in foster homes, wishing her mother would come back for her and be the family she needs. Now twenty-years-old, she still longs for a place that she can truly call home. Her work as a cashier is unfulfilling, and at Christmas it’s unbearable with the songs and carols and chatter of Christmas that she hears throughout the day.

When Lauren ends her shift one night, she finds herself driving aimlessly in order to avoid returning to her lonely apartment. And when she witnesses a car accident she is suddenly pulled into the small town of Grandon, first as a witness but then as a volunteer for the annual fundraiser for Glory’s Place, a center for single mothers and families who need assistance. Could this town and its people be the home she has always longed for?

“The Mistletoe Inn” by Richard Paul Evans 

Signing up for a writing retreat to assuage a broken heart after one too many romantic disappointments, 32-year-old Kimberly Rossetti looks forward to meeting a favorite writer and bonds with a fellow aspirant who gives her insight into her writing while gradually revealing his dark past.

“Winter Stroll” by Elin Hilderbrand 

The Quinn family celebrates their most dramatic Christmas yet in this enchanting sequel to Elin Hilderbrand’s bestselling Winter Street. 

Christmas on Nantucket finds Winter Street Inn owner Kelley Quinn and his family busily preparing for the holiday season. Though the year has brought tragedy, the Quinns have much to celebrate: Kelley has reunited with his first wife Margaret, Kevin and Isabelle have a new baby; and Ava is finally dating a nice guy. But when Kelley’s wife Mitzi shows up on the island, along with Kevin’s devious ex-wife Norah and a dangerously irresistible old fling of Ava’s, the Inn is suddenly overrun with romantic feuds, not to mention guests. With jealousy, passion, and eggnog consumption at an all-time high, it’s going to take a whole lot more than a Christmas miracle to get the Quinns–and the Inn–through the holidays intact.

For readers of Richard Paul Evans and Greg Kincaid comes The 13th Gift, a heartwarming Christmas story about how a random act of kindness transformed one of the bleakest moments in a family’s history into a time of strength and love.

After the unexpected death of her husband, Joanne Huist Smith had no idea how she would keep herself together and be strong for her three children—especially with the holiday season approaching. But 12 days before Christmas, presents begin appearing on her doorstep with notes from their “True Friends.” As the Smiths came together to solve the mystery of who the gifts were from, they began to thaw out from their grief and come together again as a family. This true story about the power of random acts of kindness will warm the heart, a beautiful reminder of the miracles of Christmas and the gift of family during the holiday season.

“Christmas at Little Beach Street” by Jenny Colgan 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… and the perfect moment to escape to a charming English village! From the beloved author whose novels are “sheer indulgence from start to finish” (SOPHIE KINSELLA) comes a delightful holiday story — funny, heartfelt, romantic and packed with recipes — perfect for the winter months. – In the Cornish coastal village of Mount Polbearne, the Christmas season has arrived. It’s a joyous time for family, friends, and feasting, as decorations sparkle along the town’s winding streets and shop windows glow with festive displays. And in Polly’s Little Beach Street Bakery, the aroma of gingerbread cookies and other treats tempts people in from the cold. – Though Polly is busy keeping up with the demands of the season, she still makes time for her beekeeper boyfriend, Huckle. She’s especially happy to be celebrating the holiday this year with him, and can’t wait to cuddle up in front of the fireplace with a cup of eggnog on Christmas Eve. – But holiday bliss soon gives way to panic when a storm cuts the village off from the mainland. Now it will take all of the villagers to work together in order to ensure everyone has a happy holiday. – Full of heart and humor, Jenny Colgan’s latest novel is an instant Christmastime classic.

“Mr. Dickens and His Carol” by Samantha Silva

Laced with humor, rich historical detail from Charles Dickens’ life, and clever winks to his work, Samantha Silva’s Mr. Dickens and His Carol is an irresistible new take on a cherished classic.

Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in.

Frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace in his great palace of thinking, the city of London itself. On one of his long night walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets the mysterious Eleanor Lovejoy, who might be just the muse he needs. As Dickens’ deadlines close in, Eleanor propels him on a Scrooge-like journey that tests everything he believes about generosity, friendship, ambition, and love. The story he writes will change Christmas forever.

…Ta-da! There are SO many books out there with Christmas plots at the center. Got one that’s not listed? I’d love to hear about it (although I may not get to it until next year…). I hope your holiday reading is festive this year!

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BBC: ‘Two by Two’.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I almost ran out and bought a box of Lucky Charms last night so I could eat it today for good luck – but I know I legit just wanted anything sugary because sometimes you just have to treat yourself. I didn’t (I had egg whites and spinach instead), but the day isn’t over.

In other news, my latest read from Blanche’s Book Club is “Two by Two” by Nicholas Sparks! This book came out in October of last year, and I’ve pretty much been on a waiting list at the library ever since – that’s how much everyone loves Nicholas Sparks. Here’s the scoop:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Nicholas Sparks returns with an emotionally powerful story of unconditional love, its challenges, its risks and most of all, its rewards.

At 32, Russell Green has it all: a stunning wife, a lovable six year-old daughter, a successful career as an advertising executive and an expansive home in Charlotte. He is living the dream, and his marriage to the bewitching Vivian is the center of that. But underneath the shiny surface of this perfect existence, fault lines are beginning to appear…and no one is more surprised than Russ when he finds every aspect of the life he took for granted turned upside down. In a matter of months, Russ finds himself without a job or wife, caring for his young daughter while struggling to adapt to a new and baffling reality. Throwing himself into the wilderness of single parenting, Russ embarks on a journey at once terrifying and rewarding-one that will test his abilities and his emotional resources beyond anything he ever imagined.

…Sounds basically like every other Nicholas Sparks’ book, right? Kinda. I’m being serious when I say I love Nicholas Sparks. He’s obviously found a formula that works, as he has published what – 20 books – or so? And I also like that I pretty much know what I’m going to get when I settle in with one of his stories.

The chances are likely that it will be the story of a man and a woman, and will involve a third-party of some sort. The main characters will be too good to be true – nice, gorgeous, hard-working, etc. The third-party will be an asshole, a drunk, a gold digger, or an abusive prick. The story will be punctuated with homemade dinners, wine, and late nights, and yes, there will be a sad part.

“Two by Two” meets this mold to a degree. But I’ll be honest, at first, the lead male was really ticking me off. He was definitely not perfect, and he painted his wife out to be a whiny, superficial B. But why?!???!

I present to you, Exhibit A: an excerpt from a People magazine article, dated January 6, 2015:

There will be no storybook ending for Nicholas Sparks and his wife Cathy – the woman who inspired so many of the best-selling author’s novels.

The king of the love story, who has penned 17 romantic novels – nine of which, including The Notebook, have been made into movies – is splitting from his wife of 25 years.

So, bitter much?! Now that Sparks is single (or, no longer married), he’s going to paint the women in his books to be greedy whores!

In all honesty, this was probably the lengthiest book in Sparks’ collection, and I read 95% of it one day. So, it still makes for a laid-back, easy read that moves quickly. And yes, it would make a great movie.

The next book Blanche’s Book Club will be reading is “Settle for More” by Megyn Kelly (oohhh ahhhhh…). I hope you’ll read it with us!

And to all, I hope you have a happy and safe weekend. I’ll be… trying not to eat an entire box of Lucky Charms in a single sitting.

BBC: ‘Kitchen Confidential’.

Introducing… drumroll… Blanche’s Book Club! I have been thinking for a few months that maaaaybe I should join a book club. After all, it would serve as a way to meet people AND read a few books.

But then I realized, finding the right book club actually takes work, and what if they read books that I don’t want to read? Plus, there’s that whole commitment thing, and I’m not really into it.

So, my genius friend was all, “Why don’t you just have your own book club and you pick the books?” Uh, YEAH. So, Blanche is hosting the book club, but we’re only going to read books I approve of.

We’ve already read one book, and it’s up for discussion until I finish reading the next book on my list (which I’ll mention at the end of this post in case you want to read it, too). Did I mention this book club is completely non-committal?

If you want to contribute to the discussion, leave a comment, email me at Holly@thebitterlemon.com, Snap me or DM me @OrangeJulius7 or whatever you have to do. Or, you can send me a book title to read, but I’m not making any promises, folks.

So, the first book of BCC is “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain.

Even if you’re not a foodie, you may recognize the name from TV: “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” and “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” …yes?

Bourdain is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and served as the Executive Chef for many kitchens, but is most well-known for his work at Brasserie Les Halles, which is based in Manhattan.

His book, “Kitchen Confidential” (published in 2000) was wildly popular,  and I was really amped when I came across it in the Half Price Books just down the street from my apartment a few weeks ago.

It’s written from the standpoint that, professional kitchens are not a joke and they aren’t often the places we imagine them to be, or see in the movies. According to Bourdain, they are hectic, often unpleasant, and full of characters.

Bourdain has often been pegged as the rebel of the culinary world – he’s not afraid to tell it like it is, and has been known to bash some of the more popular chefs we all know, for not being authentic to the food world.

But, his sense of adventure is why I enjoy watching him! He’ll eat anything, and he’s got an interesting way of looking at the world.

Grilled Oysters with Spiced Tequila Butter

Grilled Oysters with Spiced Tequila Butter

One of my favorite parts of the book was when Bourdain described the first time he had a raw oyster. He was a child, and he ate it as a challenge – he was determined to eat whatever was passed his way. To this day, a raw oyster remains one of Bourdain’s favorite foods.

Because of this, I’ve included a recipe for Grilled Oysters with Spiced Tequila Butter just for you, in case raw oysters aren’t your thing. If you’ve never tried them – you should!

“Kitchen Confidential” became a New York Times Bestseller, and also has a sequel, “Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook“. In 2001, Bourdain was named “Food Writer of the Year” by Bon Appetit Magazine for “Kitchen Confidential”.

While I’ll definitely be adding “Medium Raw” to the BBC reading list, that’s not our next book. Instead, we’ve started reading, “The Liar, The Bitch & The Wardrobe” by Allie Kingsley. It’s a book I’ve had for way too long and it’s time to read it, and report back! We’d love to have you join us, but it’s non-committal, so no pressure.