Monday, September 25, 2017

Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown

Yo, Ho, Ho. A Barrel of Fun! (Adventure)

Shiver me timbers, what a great book!  This is one of thoe books that I loved from page one.  The writing is witty and descriptive; the story is original; and the book is highly entertaining.

Set in 1819, Owen Wedgwood is kidnapped by the notorious Captain Hannah Mabbot. This fierce, red-headed fiend, villain, vixen, monster, and pillar of menace orders Wedgwood to cook one delicious meal for her every Sunday—in exchange for his life. And when Mad Hannah Mabbot wants something, everyone better listen. She’s a ruthless and respected leader. “A scowl from Mabbot is like the sleet-needled wind off of a frozen lake.”[1] Before killing Wedgwood’s employer, Ramsey, Hannah roared “Tell the devil to keep my tea hot. I’m running late.”[2]

Without the benefit of a well-stocked pantry, stuck in a tiny, woefully inadequate galley kitchen Wedgwood gets creative and manages to produce some mouth-watering meals such as herring pâté with rosemary on walnut bread; tea-smoked eel ravioli seared with caramelized garlic and a bay leaf; and for dessert, rum-poached figs stuffed with Pilfered Blue cheese and drizzled with honey.  The descriptions of his meals almost make me drool. I want to sit right down and join them.

Meanwhile, the motley crew of  the Flying Rose sets out to search for the elusive Brass Fox.  The crew is a colorful conglomeration of oddities.  Conrad is the ship’s regular cook whose meals taste “like a fart boiled in a shoe.”[3]   There’s Mr. Apples, a massive man with a huge torso and little head who likes to knit in his spare time and keeps a basket of scorpions.  Feng and Bai are relentless martial artists who give Wedgwood a very unwelcome welcome on his first day. And then there’s Joshua, the deaf/mute cabin boy whom Wedgwood befriends and teaches to read.

Eli Brown managed not only to pull me in with his amusing writing style and the outlandish adventure, but also with his full descriptions.  I can just picture Hannah, the Shark of the Ocean, with her flowing red hair, long olive coat, and jade handled pistols spitting out orders.  Brown makes the scenes come alive on the big screen of my imagination. In my mind, I walk the decks and touch the railings and fixtures with gargoyles carved into them.  I wish there was a B&B on a ship somewhere, where I could stay in a replica of Mabbot’s cabin surrounded with teak walls that are crowded with fine oil landscapes and still-lifes; a bed heaped with furs (faux) and hung with silk drapes; a crowded bookshelf topped with a leaning stack of maps, braced by a skull (again fake, I hope) with an orchid jutting out of it; down to the last detail of a pheasant perched atop a great mirror.  Then I would order room service and enjoy breaded cod topped in a sauce made with madeira wine, garlic, shrimp, dried figs, and salt, thickened with a roux. I’d nibble on a walnut crisp cake for dessert while someone played a Mozart minuet on the harpsichord.  Ahhhh, sign me up.

Blimey! This book was like finding a hidden treasure. I think Cinnamon and Gunpowder would make for a block-buster movie. 

This was a book club selection and my fellow readers had this to say…..

Big “ayes” all around.  Yo, ho, ho what a barrel of fun!

Happy Reading!


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[1] Eli Brown, Cinnamon and Gunpowder (New York, Picador—Used by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux under license from Pan Books Limited, 2013), 76.
[2] Ibid., 8.
[3] Ibid., 18.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell

A Key to the City of Light (Starting Over)

Paris is a magical place.  It’s a place of good food, art, fashion, love, and history. Known for the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arc de Triumph, and more, it’s one of the most beautiful and one of the most visited cities in the world. It has an undeniable draw, an allure that keeps tourists coming in droves.

For Genevieve, going to Paris is more than a vacation, in The Paris Key. After her marriage crumbles in California, Genevieve moves to Paris and takes over her late uncle’s locksmith shop in an attempt to start a new life for herself. Having spent time in Paris in 1997 after her mother’s death, she has a special connection to this city.  But just as it brings back memories of her mother, it also unlocks unexpected secrets. 
Medici Fountain in Luxembourg Gardens.
By Francis Bourgouin - originally posted to Flickr as DSCN0141, CC BY 2.0,
I really liked this book.  I enjoyed reading about a woman who finds herself, who starts over, and takes control of her life. Mostly, I liked getting immersed in Paris.  I loved how Juliet Blackwell describes the streets, the culture, the foods. Oh, how I wish I could sample all those cheeses and coldcuts while sipping wine and eating good bread!  I can imagine myself walking up the many steps of Montmartre, strolling through the Luxembourg Gardens, or touching the locks at Love Locks Bridge. This book makes me want to have ice cream at Berthillon, find a book at Shakespeare and Company, and roam through the famous Père Lechaise cemetery.
View of Montmartre with Basilica of the Sacre Coeur.
By Christophe Meneboeuf - Own workMore of his work on my photoblog:, CC BY-SA 3.0,
When I was eighteen, I was lucky enough to go to Paris with my aunt and uncle for a couple of days. It was a whirlwind trip where we spent hours and hours in a car driving in circles in crazy French traffic trying to get to the Eiffel Tower. We made it right before it rained and I was in awe looking over the great city from way up high, even as the clouds closed in the view.  One day I hope to go back and spend more time there. And if I do go, I’ll think of Genevieve in her small, crowded locksmith shop and how she brought Paris to life for me. 

Me in the Eiffel Tower, 1983.
Can’t get enough of books set in the City of Light?  Click below to read reviews about other Paris-related books.

I don’t usually recommend movies, but in this case I just can’t help myself. If you want to get lost in Paris, both past and present, check out Midnight In Paris— one of my favorite movies that takes a modern-day author, Gil Pender, back to Paris in the 1920s where he stumbles into the art/intellectual scene meeting Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald and many more celebrated personalities who end up giving him perspective on his own life in the twenty-first century.

Happy Reading,


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