A Letter from America by Geraldine O’Neill


This book was a Kindle deal so I went ahead and bought it.  I had not heard of this author before but the premise of the story interested me.  I do like armchair traveling to Ireland.

The setting is 1968 in Tullamore Ireland with occasional chapters taking us to Dublin.  We meet the Tracey family who own a pub and grocery store.  The daughters have different goals in life and we get to meet each one.  The youngest girl, Bridget, is training to be a nun and lives at a Catholic school for women who want the same vocation.

Angela Tracey is the middle daughter and lives in Dublin.  She is very independent and loves her life in the city.  Angela doesn’t feel close to her family as she was striken with polio as a young girl and pretty much grew up in a hospital in Dublin. She had visitors from family with the exception of her mother.  Whaaat?  All is revealed later about that situation.  I very much liked Angela’s character.

Fiona Tracey is the oldest and much of the story focuses on her life and interactions with family.  The title Letter from America refers to her weekly correspondence with her good friend Elizabeth.  Her friend now lives in New York City and has managed to hook Fiona up with a job.  The plans are set, Fiona is excited but a family tragedy changes her plans and she has to postpone the trip.  (This is in the book jacket so no spoilers)

There is a secret and animosity between Fiona’s mother and her Aunt Catherine which is brought up fairly frequently as they argue or give the cold shoulder. The daughters don’t know what it’s about but it is finally revealed close to the end. This book is classifed as historial Irish fiction but there a bit more romance than I expected, though not enough to classify it in that genre.

For a light read I would look for more by this author. There was quite a bit of food and drink mentioned in the story.

Homemade Shepherds pie, chicken salad, cooked ham and fried potatoes, cold ham and brown bread, lamb chops, boiled potatoes and peas.

Cod with parsley sauce, floury potatoes and vegetables, Chicken with Dauphinois potatoes and broccoli, hot Apple tart with custard, trifle , lemon meringue pie.

Banycham, Tullamore Dew, pints of lager , Sherry and white wine.

The mention of fried potatoes had me craving them so, I saved some of the roasted potatoes from a previous chicken dinner, sliced them and fried them up.  They made an excellent accompaniment to last evenings dinner.


For more about Geraldine O’Neill check out her webpage HERE.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday


Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I’ve read the most


This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday is a list of authors we have devoured, lots and lots of books.  This is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

No doubt there are authors I can’t get enough of and try and get every single book they’ve had published. If there is a series I’m overjoyed – love me a series.

Peter Robinson‘s DCI Banks series is one I’ve read in order.  All 26 books in the series. This British author keeps the setting of his novels in northern England, Yorkshire area. He’s still writing them but I expect it will wrap up before too long.


J.K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith I will lump together because…well, it’s the same person.  I have read all the Harry Potter books as well as the Cormoran Strike books.  Bring ’em on!  I love the Strike series and am looking forward to the next installment.

William Stuart Long.  This author is a woman writing under a pen name.  Her series called The Australian Saga has 12 books and follows the generations of people (convicts, soldiers and settlers) through Australia’s development.  Some of the books were hard to find and when my husband would travel on business, he had a list of the books I was missing and kindly went to used book stores. I have them all!  This is historical fiction and you will read about real people such as Captain Bligh and Lachlan McQuarie, the Rum troops and more.


Edward Rutherfurd – This British author is the modern day James Michener. Big fat books with loads of history. The Forest and all in his Ireland trilogy are very good.

Robert Ludlum – My introduction to Ludlum was in Spain, 1976 at a used book store. I was aching to read and, lo and behold, here was a book printed in English.  It was The Osterman Weekend. These are espionage and thrillers – think Jason Bourne.


Maeve Binchy – I have read all 17 of her novels and several short stories.  Two of my favorites are Light a Penny Candle and Firefly Summer. If you want to armchair travel to Ireland, pick up one of her books.  I’d classify her books as women’s fiction.


Kate Morton – I’ve read all six of her books and will always look forward to her latest. If you like a mystery (not a police procedural), big estates with a historical background and a setting primarily in England you may like her work.

Tana French – The Dublin Murder Squad series is excellent. She has 7 books so far and I am looking forward to her next book, The Searcher.

Rosamunde Pilcher – One of my all time favorite books is The Shell Seekers and I have read over 18 of her books. She will immerse you in Cornwall and Scotland. Another favorite is Coming Home. 

Ann Cleeves is going on my list because now that I have discovered the Vera series, I can’t get enough. So far I have read half of her Shetland series and am about to knock off the 4th book in the Vera series.

What are your favorites?  I’d love to discover new authors, especially those who write a series.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday



Top Ten Tuesday: The most anticipated books in 2020

Welcome to this week’s edition of Top Ten Tuesday which is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is the most anticipated books still to be released in the second half of 2020. I admit I will cheat a little as one book won’t make it to publication until January but…it’s a favorite author and soooo close to the theme.

Jane Harper, one of my favorites, has a new book on the horizon titled The Survivors.  I have enjoyed her previous three books very much so I am eager to get my hands on this book.  So eager in fact that I preordered the book from Waterstones in London.  How sweet to get the English printed version in January 2021. (yeah, not this year)


Tana French.  Just her name makes me stop and pay attention.  Is she writing a new book, I wonder?  The answer is YES!  It’s called The Searcher and in spite of my lukewarm review of her last book, The Witch Elm, I will buy anything she writes as she is such an excellent author.


Santa Montefiore has a new book coming out titled Here and Now. Check it out on her website HERE.  This is scheduled for release in the UK July 9, 2020.  I’ve enjoyed all three books in The Devrill Chronicles as well as the Beekeeper’s Daughter and Secrets of the Lighthouse. Who knows when I’ll have chance to purchase it here. Of course I could order it through Waterstones as I did Jane Harper’s new book. Just a thought.


Robert Galbraith’s next book Troubled Blood takes us back to the Cormoran Strike series.  I love a series and this one was great.  I’m looking forward to more mystery, detective work and I hope if she (J.K. Rowling) plans to ever get Strike and Robin together she’ll wait until the last book.  I’m loving the detective work and chemistry here.


SkinnyTaste: Meal Prep by Gina Hololka.  I love her other cookbooks and this one will certainly give me loads of new ideas. Nigella Lawson’s upcoming book, Cook, Eat, Repeat is scheduled out in October.  From the TV show, Friends: an official cookbook  with Chandler’s “Milk you can Chew”, Phoebe’s grandmother’s cookies and more character inspired recipes.  Looks like it will be fun to read as well as cook from.

Is This Anything by Jerry Seinfeld looks like a fun read.  I always liked the show Seinfeld and right now, we could all use a few laughs.


The House of Correction by Nicci French.  I liked the Frieda Klein series by this husband/wife author team. The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult.

Those are my top 10 books I am hoping to get and read these upcoming months. Looking forward to linking up with the Top Ten this week (my first time).

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday for the five British author releases.


Beginning French: Lessons from a Stone Farmhouse

1DB503D8-4470-4313-AFB9-1FF5B277D8C6 Eileen and Marty are Americans who dreamed of living in France.  They bought a 400 year old farmhouse with a charming layout; they purchased it online.  I am personally not that brave.

There is much style in their new home and as they begin renovating to their taste it becomes the home they always wished for.  Oh, it’s full of issues here and there such as a bursting water heater that destroys all their furniture  and carpets, electricty issues where it just goes out completely if more than two applicances are plugged in, and of course a small language problem.

I’ll hand it to them, they did learn enough French to get by in restaurants and shoppping, talking to neighbors and such.  I always felt if we became ex-pats we would absolutely need to learn the language of the county.

There is French conversation sprinkled throughout the book and an interactive glossary embedded  in the book.  If your Kindle isn’t on airplane mode you can click on the French word and see the translations.

The book has many recipes, courtesy of Sara their chef daughter.

Goat Cheese souffle
Mussels with Almonds
Roasted Figs with Goat Cheese, wrapped in Pancetta
Tomato Peach Salad
Duck Burgers and Onion Jam

At the end of the recipe page it states you may go to BeginningFrench.com for more recipes and photos.  When I tried that you will find that website doesn’t exist and the URL is for sale.  I guess they abandoned it.

Also, it seemed enough time was spent explaining  how Marty “unwittingly” flirted with the carpet installer, Jaqueline, and how Eileen actually left him for weeks for me think, this was a major event in their lives there.  By the way, Jaqueline is described as looking like Marion Cotillard’s younger sexier sister.  I had wondered if Marty and Eileen still lived between Califormia and France and had to look online.  I guess they do.

Food inspiration for me wasn’t anything mentioned in the book, although I was tempted by the roasted figs.  Instead I went with a French chef and recipe from Jacques Pépin.  Here is Fettuccine with Summer Vegetables.   I’ll be posting the recipe at Squirrel Head Manor tomorrow or Wednesday.


Much thanks to Netgalley for providing me with this complimentary copy of Beginning French, a travel memoir . This was originally published in 2016.

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves {#2 in the Vera Stanhope Series}


It is a little while before Detective Vera Stanhope makes an appearance in this police procedural.  Just as the first novel in this series, our cantankerous detective arrives on scene after the basic plot is established.  The story is set in a small town near Hull, England.

It’s years since young Jeanie Long was accused and convicted of murdering fifteen year old Abigal Mantel but the case has now been reopened.  Jeanie commited suicide in prison after being denied parole again.  She had protested her innocence since the beginning and now, someone has stepped up, too late for Jeanie, to provide her with an alibi.

Witnesses from this case are questioned again, bringing hope and frustrations to the family members who lost a loved one.  Then another murder happens and it appears to tie to Abigail’s murder long ago.  There are a few misleading clues and you will be guessing on who the murderer(s) are as there is plenty of motive to go around.

Once again I liked Vera’s character as well as Detective Joe Ashworth.  Emma Bennett was a major character in this book, introduced straight away as she was Abigail’s friend.  I never could like Emma the way she was portrayed.  The other supporting characters were well developed and played their parts well!

This is the third book I have read in this series and plan to continue in order.  I had read the first book for a book club and liked it very much.  This series was on my back burner as I liked the author and I LOVE a series.  Then, much to my delight, NetGalley offered me the most recent book (#9) as an ARC so I’d not gotten a chance to get these read in order.  Steady on.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday


Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

So far Ann Patchett is batting a thousand with me. What took me so long to discover her books?  This engaging plot unfolds in a South American country at a posh social event.  A world famous opera singer, Roxane Coss, is the draw for dignitaries across the globe.  You have guests from France, Russia, Spain, Italy, Japan and the USA, all gathered for a Japanese businessman’s birthday.

Suddenly the lights go out as Coss’s crystal voice serenades the guests.  “I can sing by candlelight if anyone could provide a candle.” Then it dawns on everyone they have been taken hostage by a terrorist group. Gunfire, screaming and chaos ensue. Eventually a Red Cross negotiator arrives but it’s not a quick end to the hostage situation.

Patchett’s slow moving narrative had me wanting the pace to pick up yet I was fascinated by the interactions between the hostages and the terrorists.  One character called Gen is the translator for the Japanese guest, Katsumi Hosokowa.  He speaks an incredible number of languages so he is put upon for contant translating between the terrorists and all hostages.  Some guests knew French and Russian but not Spanish, some knew English and French but not Russian, and the list goes on. Watch as the relationships between those taken hostage and those wielding guns and control change bit by bit.  Not quite Stockholm Syndrome but it’s a remarkable and slow change in interactions.

I had to look up the term Bel Canto as I didn’t know what it meast.  Beautiful singing, how appropriate for this novel.

The ending was both expected and yet there was one event that took me off guard.  On reflection I can see the logic in how one pair of hostages ended up.

I could see how a 4 month hostage situation with “kindly” kidnappers could evolve into some unlikely relationships. These people weren’t killers, completely unorganized as well, so as the time stretched on privileges for the hostages were allowed.

I realize I’m being cryptic but to reveal details and my thoughts would completely ruin the story and progression for you. I will add my questions and thought in the spoiler portion when I post to Goodreads.

My next book by Ann Patchett will be Commonwealth, once I get through the stack of library and recently purchased books awaiting me in the den.  I need to read what is on hand and stop requesting and buying!

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Margery Benson is introduced in this story as a ten year old girl, sitting in her father’s study and enjoying his company as he shares the book Incredible  Creatures. She is quite taken with the sketches of animals and in particular a Golden Beetle from New Caledonia.

Suddenly this pleasant moment is shattered when her father receives a visitor telling him all four of his sons have been killed in the war.  His grief and shock is so great that he immeditely goes outside and kills himself. This life shattering event forces Margery and her mother to leave their home and live with relatives.

We quickly jump to 1950 in London, Margery is an unmarried disheveled school teacher getting zero respect or joy in her job. After a particularly horrible day at school she sinks into depression and suddenly remembers a bright spot in her life; her former obsession with the golden beetle in New  Caledonia.

Margery decides to upend her sorry, boring life and take an adventure to look for the golden beetle. Some of that inspiration may come from wanting to connect to her much missed father, in my opinion.  She knows nothing about New Caledonia and advertises for an assistant who speaks French so she will have an interpreter.  After interviewing several people she ends up with an unlikely companion, Miss Enid Pretty.  This beuatiful blonde tells her, after they are well underway toward New Caledonia, that she does not in fact speak French.  She only knows “Bon Shoor” and off they go. Margery and Enid set off unprepared for an adventure of their lifetime.

These women couldn’t be more different in looks and personality but a true friendship develops as they move through the jungle, end up in crazy predicaments and their lives intertwine. I very much liked the end but the middle of the book dragged a bit, just for a while.

Much thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book. This book will be published November 24, 2020. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated for this review.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday

brifri  netgalley

Birding without Borders and Wesley the Owl [2020 Nonfiction Challenge]

This past month my local library came through with two birding books I’d had on hold. The libraries were slow to open but once curbside service started, my books came flying in. Pun intended 🙂


If you enjoy reading about bird species populating our earth, Noah Stryker’s book Birding without Borders may capture your interest. In 2015 Noah set off with a backpack, binoculars and series of one-way tickets, the plan being to travel the full year and see as many birds as he could in as many countries as he could travel.

He managed all seven continents, 42 countries and …are you ready…6,042 species of birds!  This list is captured as one of his references at the end of the book, meticulously labeled by date, country and species.

1) Cape Perel (9 – 10) Date 1/1 Place Antarctica
2) Southern Fulmar Date 1/2 Antarctica – this list goes all the way to the last entry which reads
6042 Silver Breasted Broadbill date 12/31 India

Personally I enjoy looking at birds, love seeing visiting species as well as those unfamilar to me when we travel, but I don’t have this much interest or enthusiasum to consider such an epic venture.  It was an interesting book to read about his extreme focus and travels.

Noah Stryker is an associate editor of Birding magazine.  More about his books HERE.

Next up is Wesley the Owl.


Wesley the Owl by Stacey O’Brien is a wonderful book.  I learned so much and probably bored my husband to tears by constantly quoting from the book.  Did you know baby owlets smell like maple syrup or butterscotch?  They bond with their caregivers for their lifetime. That they mate for life and just die of sadness when their mate dies? They are very playful, problem solvers and intelligent.

I loved this book, it was very informative, engaging and I cried near the end. You won’t hear me admitting that too often, doesn’t actually happen often. This was written by the biologist who cared for Wesley all his life.

I’m sharing with Shelley at Book’d Out for her 2020 Nonfiction challenge.  Check it out HERE.
Category: Nature


The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves {Book #9 in the Vera Stanhope series}


Ages ago I was introduced to Ann Cleeves’ series Shetland and I enjoyed the few books I read.  But this series about Vera Stanhope has completely captured my attention.  If you like British police procedurals and an uncoventional detective you are in for a treat.

The setting is Northumbria near the Cumbrian border in December, just before Christmas.

Detective Vera Stanhope is on her way home from work when she is caught in a blizzard. She ought to have waited until the storm passed but being a stubborn woman, set off anyway. After a wrong turn she comes upon a car pulled off, the door open and a toddler strapped in a car seat in the back. No sign of any adult.   Vera takes the little boy through the blizzard to shelter at a nearby estate.  This manor home is a known to her as it’s in the Stanhope family.  Her father Hector took her there when she was a child but she never developed relationships with this distant family as Hector was the black sheep of the clan.

After calling the station to get assistance and report a missing woman (Vera assumes it’s a woman and most likely the child’s mother), a body is discovered near the estate.  It is indeed the child’s mother and she was most definitely murdered. There are a number of possible suspects, any of which may have motive.  This one keeps you guessing and I certainly thought I had it figured out early.  Nope!  I was wrong.  What an ending!

I enjoyed this book very much. As it’s book number nine in the series and I’ve only read book one previously, I obviously missed some character development. There is a detective named Holly who seems to want Vera’s approval and I sensed reading she is either a new character to the series or I’ve missed important developments. No matter, it was a smooth read and I never felt like I ought to put it down and start at the beginning of the series.

Foodie Stuff

Wine and mince pies, tea and thin sandwiches, meringues, roasted pheasant cooked slowly in with red wine and shallots, vegetable casseroles for the veggies and vegans, roast potatoes, sprouts and parsnips.
Bread and soup
Eggs Benedict, avocado on sourdough toast


I’m loving the series so plan to make it my goal for the remainder of the year to catch up. I’m on a Vera mission! Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced complimentary copy. I was not compensated for this review and throughly enjoyed this book.

Publication date is September 8, 2020. Genre is mystery and thriller.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday


The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher


The Shell Seekers and Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher remain two of my favorite books.  It’s rare that I will reread a book unless I need a comfort read so to speak.  I needed that recently and desired to immerse myself into this story and return, through print, to Cornwall, London, Devon and Ibiza.

There was much I had forgotten so there were happy surprises.  This book was written in 1987 and therefore a bit dated.  We open with our central character Penelope Keeling who is 64 years old.  She has discharged herself from the hospital after a heart attack and once you get to know her, you will get a sharp mental image of this strong, kind and likeable woman. She was brought up by an artist father, Lawrence Stern, and her French mother Sophie. There are many references and scenes that are pivitol regarding Lawrence Stern’s paintings, the Shell Seekers among those whose importance deserves to be listed as a character in it’s own.

You will travel back in time to when Penelope was a young woman durng WW II, her enlistment in the WRENS and how she met her husband. The times during the war are well written and you are immersed in the scenes of people rationing, happy and grateful for any extra that comes their way, deprivation yet hope and love surround Penelope.

Her children are Nancy, Olivia and Noel. With the exception of Nancy’s introduction at birth, we get to know her children mainly as adults.  Each one is very different. Olivia is genuine and I know you will love her when she is introduced but Nancy and Noel are greedy and fairly unlikable.  You need characters such as this to cause tension and do you ever get it.

I never realized how much food was mentioned in this book until I read a digital copy and used the digital bookmarks.

When Nancy requested a meeting with Olivia to discuss Penelope’s living situation, Olivia took her sister to a fancy restaurant she uses for business lunches. Omelette and salad for Olivia and consommé, escalope of veal with mushrooms for Nancy.

Olivia plans to have a gentleman over dinner. Crusty brown bread, butter, a pot of pate de foie gras; chicken Kiev and salad. Olive oil, fresh peaches, cheeses, a bottle of Scotch, a couple bottles of wine. She bought an armful if daffodils and loaded all this into the boot for her car.

In Ibiza there were many  picnics by the pool.  One day Cosmo took Olivia out on a boat and their picnic that day consisted of bread and tomatoes, slices of salami, fruit and cheese and wine that was sweet and cool from him hanging the bottles in the Mediteranean.

When they hosted a party there were boiled hams, roasted birds, concocted paellas, whipped eggs, stirred sauces, cheeses, breads and tomatoes.

Chelsea buns when Noel was in Knightsbridge.

In the kitchen the air was filled with the scent of roasting sirloin, baking onions and crisping potatoes. Penelope made a pastry, peeled apples, sliced beans and carrots.
Later she would arrange cheeses on a board, grind coffee and decant the thick cream she’d fetched from the village dairy.

Yorkshire puddings, beef, crisp and nutty vegetables, horse radish sauce and rich brown gravy.

A memory of Penelope’s French mother Sophie as we travel back in time during the war.  Sophie made a chicken cassoulet in their Cornwall kitchen.

Lunches shared with Danus: a pot of homemade vegetable soup, half a cold chicken and a crusty loaf of brown bread. Stewed apples and a jug of cream.
Cold baked ham, baked potatoes and cauliflower cheese. For pudding there were jam tarts and baked egg custard.
Fresh fruit salad, Shepherds pie, biscuits and cheese.

The fresh fruit available in England might have been different than what I had on hand, but it’s a refreshing accompaniment to any meal.


Baked trout with almonds, new potatoes, raspberries and cream was the meal served for Noel after cleaning out the attic.

This meal of roast lamb and potatoes, peas and broccoli was just finished before a big blowout between Noel and Nancy.  They certainly showed their true colors and argued over money. I love the way Penelope put them in their place.

Overall I can say I enjoyed this book very much and it was worth rereading.  Family tensions and historical perspective, love and despair….it’s all here.

Sharing with

Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for Souper Sunday.  Check out her cold cucumber soup.  I brought her a fruit salad.

Marg at The Intrepid Reader and Baker for the Weekend Cooking series

Carole at Carole’s Chatter for the Books you Loved, June edition

Joy at Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday