A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe

Mary Alice Monroe

A Lowcountry Christmas

As many of you know I am a huge fan of Mary Alice Monroe. Her environmental novels that mostly take place in the south are filled with important messages and wonderful characters I have fallen in love with. None more than the people in the Lowcountry series.  Just when I thought she’d finished the series along comes this masterful and poignant story of Christmas in the Lowcountry complete with all the amazing characters I have come to love including our beloved Mamaw.

This time Mary Alice Monroe brings us the back story of Taylor McClellan and his family. Taylor married Harper in the last book in the series; A LOWCOUNTRY WEDDING. And they have a baby girl named after Mamaw, Marietta.  Taylor survived the war in Afghanistan where he served as a Marine. But  his survival was not without issues. I had heard of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), but didn’t know much about it.  Well Taylor has this and he also has a service dog named Thor who is part black lab and part Great Dane. Now my understanding of how service dogs are able to aid sufferers of PTSD is more substantial. Mary Alice has done her research.

This story begins with us meeting the rest of Taylor’s family, back a few years ago. His ten-year-old brother Miller is sulking because his mom and dad have told him he can’t have the puppy he so longs for. But he’s already named the puppy Sandy and they have built a relationship. The puppy is from a litter that belongs to his best friend. They are selling the pups for hundreds of dollars, and, sadly, Miller’s parents just don’t have any extra money this year. His mom tells him that their gift is Taylor coming  home safely from the war. Even though Miller understand this he just can’t get past his puppy. His mom is already working two jobs and his dad recently docked his shrimp boat for lack of sales. After all, this is the modern depression.

So, what is the meaning of Christmas?  This novel goes on to show Christmas past, present, and future. Just like A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  Parts of the famous story are strewn carefully throughout the book. It’s smart.  And meaningful.

Then Taylor arrives. And then his service dog Thor arrives. Oh boy. You can see where this is going.  It’s like a tease; a dog in the house but it’s not his…

On Christmas Eve Miller decides to go out on his own with an axe to find a tree for his family who can’t afford to buy one. Everything changes.  And the true meaning of Christmas shows up.

So many families have been struggling financially the past several years. The stress it puts on parents and the worry passed on to the kids can be heartbreaking. Mary Alice has taken on this as well as what it’s like for a soldier to come home broken from being wounded in service to his country. She’s done her research and worked with experts who train service dogs. Plus, her own son served this country in the Marines. My hate goes off to her as always. Job well done. A great book!

At the very end of this very special and inspirational little book are several scrumptious recipes that would be great for the holidays. Mary Alice’s friend Nathalie Dupree writes award-winning southern cookbooks and is featured on the Food Network. Nathalie came up with these little wonders. What a nice perk.

Mary Alice Monroe

Mary Alice Monroe

Mary Alice Monroe

is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. She’s involved with several environmental groups and is on the board of the South Carolina Aquarium, the Leatherneck Trust, and Charleston Volunteers for Literacy. Her volunteer work with these and other groups provided the inspiration for her novels, The Beach  House Trilogy.

Stranded In Asheville:) YES!!

black-mt-2016Here I am on Black Mountain in North Carolina with my daughter Alicia. I am so glad my granddaughter Emerson decided to take our picture. And that is why Alicia is holding not one but two ice cream cones..

Black Mountain

Emerson & Liam on Black Mountain

When my husband Jack and I flew to Asheville for the weekend recently we fully intended to fly back to Cape Coral on Sunday morning, early.  We had flown up for a special day at the grandkids’ school. They were honoring grandparents. It was such fun. And so important to the kids, and to us as well.  We had three days of visiting and eating unbelievable foods.

Lucky us. We started the visit with lunch at  Sunny Point Cafe. I always say that there is no bacon like the bacon in North Carolina. We began our stay in style with plenty of bacon and biscuits.

The next day was filled with visiting the kids’ schoolrooms and participating in special classroom events planned with the grandparents in mind.


Emerson’s artwork.

As a treat Alicia booked us for a very special dinner at the Grove Park Inn Sunset Terrace. Talk about special. A once in a lifetime event! Views that make you breathless, and food touched by angels. Not to mention the pampering service that makes you feel right at home. Then we topped it all off with a coffee drink in front of the roaring ten-foot high fireplace in the bar. This fireplace is fronted with tall rocking chairs filled with people knitting, or reading, or just nodding off and glowing in the warmth as they rock away their troubles.

Grove Park Inn

Grove Park Inn Fireplace.

Not to be outdone, Saturday came along with a trip to downtown Asheville. The city was filled to capacity. Why, we asked ourselves? My son-in-law kept shaking his head and saying he had never seen the place so packed. Had to park in the parking garage. Well, in addition to a street fair there were mobs of people visiting that had to evacuate their coastal homes. Yes, that’s right, the hurricane scared them inland. It ended up adding  to the festive atmosphere. We joined the throngs and headed on out to find one of my favorite stores: the champagne book store called The Battery Park Book Exchange Champagne Bar.  Business was  booming. The place was filled with people browsing and sipping champagne.  The kids quickly sped up to the kids’ department where they discovered some little gems. Jack and I gravitated toward fiction where I came across a first edition of Anne Tyler’s THE LADDER OF YEARS.  Yes, I bought it! Time for lunch. White Duck Taco was a great spot for us. There was a line even though it was barely noon. A chalk board menu in pastels. Eclectic and unique, it was exactly what we needed.  Across the street we spied a great store called  Mast General Store. They have everything  and I mean everything. We all had a blast. But we had saved the most important shop for last: French Broad Chocolate Lounge. This place is an institution in Asheville; a must-visit.


French Broad Chocolate Lounge is an institution in Asheville. They have handmade chocolates that I dream about. Their salted honey caramels are like nothing I’ve tasted before.  The kids opted for their homemade ice cream even though it was chilly that day. A cup of their signature Liquid Truffle sipping chocolate was a MUST since Jack had never had it. He was properly wowed. It is simply amazing.  Served hot, smooth as silk and like nothing you’ve ever had before in this country. And we shared…

By late Saturday evening the winds were howling in the mountains.  Our bedroom on the third floor sounded like a wind tunnel. We were up before dawn and headed out to the airport in Greenville. As we left the mountains the sun came up and the weather was just perfect for an early morning flight out. Arriving early at the airport, we got special clearance. And we were so early we thought we’d have breakfast. Fun.  But the fun ended suddenly when we discovered the airline still did not have our gate number on the board. As we approached the corner spot of the terminal  we looked out and saw OUR plane, on the runway about to take off, without US. OMG! We missed the plane.  No one was around to speak to. No amount of yelling would have made any difference.  And it was ten minutes BEFORE take off time:( I thought my husband might have a conniption. Truly. We rushed downstairs and thankfully were able to talk to an agent. To make a long story shorter we were able to book Jack on the morning flight from Asheville. But there was only one seat. He needed to get home for business. I was then booked on the Wednesday flight out from Asheville. Done.

Hence, three extra days, with family, in Asheville. Oh what a shame:) Since my daughter had Monday off for the holiday, and the kids had no school, we decided a trip to Black Mountain was the perfect outing. After all, they had a small bookstore there… And shops.  It was a picture postcard day. The weather was cool and crisp in the morning. The sun was out.  And there was a tiny sweet shop that served Hops ice cream.

Alicia and Liam and Emerson

Sweet Shop on Black Mountain

Not to mention the many specialty shops in this quaint little town.

Tuesday found us  having lunch at 12 Bones. Yes, THE BBQ joint our president always makes a point to visit when in Asheville. You want to arrive early. There is always a line. And it is worth every minute of it. I’m presently working on reproducing the collard greens… Yum, yum. Later that afternoon I made a pumpkin pie and then settled myself on the back deck for reading and sunning. The back deck sits on the side of the mountain and has THE most gorgeous view you can imagine of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains.


Mountain view

When the sun began to move I moved as well, but only to the front porch where I sat reading until the grandkids arrived home from school. What a joy to be there to welcome their smiling faces and enjoy watching them barrel down the driveway shouting to me with glee.

Later, when Alicia arrived home from work, we enjoyed some mother-daughter time on the deck as we sipped cups of the Blue Lady tea that I had brewed and reminisced about the amazing week we’d shared.

So my stranded days finally came to an end. But I arrived home with the best memories to hold close and pull out at times when I miss the kids… And the morning I left I got this snapshot of the kids dressed up for hat day:)


Hat Day

I  am now trying to play catch-up. Behind in reading and writing. Not to mention housekeeping etc. But it was all worth it:)




Winter Storms by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand

Winter Storms

WINTER STORMS is the third and final episode in the Winter Street Trilogy. We find the Quinn family dealing with trials and errors just trying to get through the year.

Patrick is about to get out of jail after spending more than a year on the inside for insider trading. What has his almost perfect wife Jennifer been doing while he’s been away?

Ava is juggling two serious boyfriends. But she’s fed up with it all. The story begins with Ava vacationing on the island of Anguilla with her famous mother.  I never expected to visit Anguilla in one of these holiday books. I was totally caught off guard. It took me back to several years ago when I vacationed on this very island with my husband. We went specifically to  have dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Blanchard’s. And, yes, Blanchard’s is featured here. Small world.  But Ava meets someone totally different while basking in the sun. How  will this guy feature in her life?

Kevin and Isabelle finally decide to tie the knot. Now that Kevin’s new business on the beach is thriving he can afford to fly Isabelle’s parents over from France to be at the wedding. And, by the way, they’ve set the date for Christmas Eve. Very sweet and romantic.

Santa Claus is back. But he and Bitsy are caput.  Bitsy is back with Kelly. Kelly’s ex -Margaret is getting married… Yes, confusing. But only if  you are trying to read this book before reading the first two.  You will want to read those first:)

Even though I would classify this seasonal book as light, it is not all candy and roses; certainly not a romance.  Serious issues are tackled and done well.

I usually try to choose at least one holiday book to showcase each season. This year I have two. Even though I live in sunny S.W. Florida year-round, I totally enjoy spending Christmas on the snowy island of Nantucket, in my mind. Total fantasy for me…

I’ve been reading Hilderbrandelin-hilderbrand for years and years. In fact, I’ve read every single one of her books. She has a book out each summer. It always takes place on Nantucket. What’s not to like about that:) And the past three years she’s put a book out each winter about the holidays. These reads are not complicated. But they are good reads that are well-written and deal with issues we can all relate to.  I’m so happy so many readers have discovered her.

It was hard for me to get the idea of the holidays into my head so soon, but then I realized that they truly are right around the corner. And now I find myself getting into the spirit:)

My lovely finished copy arrived from the very generous people at Little Brown publishing. Thanks so much. I really enjoyed the book and it’s getting me in the mood for the holidays:)


Giveaway! You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris

“On Friday night you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hate.”

Antoine Leiris

You Will Not Have My Hate

On November 13, 2015, Antoine Leiris’s wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, was killed by terrorists while attending a rock concert at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, in the deadliest attack on France since World War II. Three days later, Leiris wrote an open letter addressed directly to his wife’s killers, which he posted on Facebook. He refused to be cowed or to let his seventeen-month-old son’s life be defined by Hélène’s murder. He refused to let the killers have their way: “For as long as he lives, this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom.” Instantly, that short Facebook post caught fire, and was reported on by newspapers and television stations all over the world. In his determination to honor the memory of his wife, he became an international hero to everyone searching desperately for a way to deal with the horror of the Paris attacks and the grim shadow cast today by the threat of terrorism.

Now Leiris tells the full story of his grief and struggle. You Will Not Have My Hate is a remarkable, heartbreaking, and, indeed, beautiful memoir of how he and his baby son, Melvil, endured in the days and weeks after Hélène’s murder. With absolute emotional courage and openness, he somehow finds a way to answer that impossible question: how can I go on? He visits Hélène’s body at the morgue, has to tell Melvil that Mommy will not be coming home, and buries the woman he had planned to spend the rest of his life with.

Leiris’s grief is terrible, but his love for his family is indomitable. This is the rare and unforgettable testimony of a survivor, and a universal message of hope and resilience. Leiris confronts an incomprehensible pain with a humbling generosity and grandeur of spirit. He is a guiding star for us all in these perilous times. His message—hate will be vanquished by love—is eternal.

I have one review copy of YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY HATE by Antoine Leiris for giveaway compliments of Penguin Press. Please leave a comment below to be entered in this giveaway. Only U.S. addresses, and no P.O. boxes, please. I will choose one winner on Friday, October 21. Good luck!




The Expatriates by Janice Y. Lee


Janice Y. Lee

THE EXPATRIATES, by Janice K. Lee, reminds me how much I loved   THE PIANO TEACHER.  Lee does Hong Kong so well partly because she was born and raised there.  Her sense of place is second to none.

There is an eerily devastating quality to this novel that will compel you through even while a part of you will wish to push away. The writing is exquisite as is the story-telling. This is an author clearly at the top of her game.

Three American women have relocated to Hong Kong. Mercy, a recent college grad has no job and no partner.  Hilary, a wealthy housewife is bored and unhappy because she is not able to conceive.  She thinks her ho-hum marriage can  be saved with the birth of a child. Meanwhile, I have to say that her husband is a jerk! Margaret is supposed to be the happy one with three kids and a good marriage. But she is about to experience a devastating loss.

I have often wondered what it would be like to resettle in a foreign county; not knowing the language, not having any friends, etc.  I did actually live in Toronto for three years many years ago when my children were little. But the language was English and we had family nearby.

Each of the three women in the story is dealing with an issue that is causing major disruption. Lee manages to show the emotions of each woman so that the reader begins to feel sympathy in the light of all the complexities they are dealing with.  I always say that many, many women are living lives of quiet desperation. That certainly pertains here.

The three women’s lives slowly become entangled and the bar goes up yet one more notch. Traveling between exotic locales and South Korea, Lee certainly knows how to make you feel as if you are right there on the page with her.  You’ll leave this book knowing oh-so-much more about Hong Kong than you did before picking it up.

Janice K. Lee was born and raised in Hong Kong. Of Korean decent, she moved to the U.S. when she was fifteen and graduated from Harvard College with a degree in English and American literature and Language. A former editor at Elle, she moved to Hong Kong in 2005 with her husband, where they lived with their four children until recently moving back to New York City.

THE EXPATRIATES by Janice Y. Lee is now available in a trade paperback form.  Penguin Books is the publisher. And I have them to thank for my beautiful paperback.


Janice K. Lee


Best Selling Novelist Writes Family And Friends Cookbook

Jane Green

Good Taste

They couldn’t have chosen a more fitting photo for the cover of Jane Green’s new cookbook, GOOD TASTE. It’s all about cooking for family and friends and this lovely table speaks for itself.

Jane Green is the best selling author of several novels, the latest is FALLING.  She’s also had some culinary training.  She humbly admits to a little training  at the French Culinary Institute in New York.  But the recipes in her cookbook are ones she’s lovingly collected over the years. They’re easy to prepare and she’s titled the contents  as Beginnings; Middles; and Endings.

From the French onion soup to the pavlova everything is fresh and looks amazing, and it’s all pretty simple to cook.

Crustless quiche

Crustless quiche



The very first recipe is for  a spinach and gruyere crustless tart.  I am always looking for great recipes with fresh ingredient and less carbohydrates. This is it. It’s lovely and delicious.




At the other end of the book is the pristine Pavlova. Topped with fresh fruit it’s the perfect dessert for me here in sunny Florida. Light and airy, and utterly scrumptious, my mouth is already watering.



I’m working on putting together a recipe collection of our family specialities. I thought it would be easy. However, it’s proving to be more challenging than I had first imagined. This book is spurring me forward. I believe pictures are very important. Jane captures each of her recipes beautifully.

If you’re looking for a great cookbook to give as a gift this holiday season this is one of the ones to place at the top of your list. It’s available as of today. It’s published by New American Library which is a part of Penguin Random House. My gorgeous finished copy arrived from NAL in exchange for an honest review. I love it!

Summer Secrets

Jane Green