Whiskey in a Teacup: What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love, and Baking Biscuits by Reese Witherspoon
Actor and film producer Reese Witherspoon has written a love letter to life in the south. Reese grew up in Nashville, where she learned to enjoy music, food, and holidays, and learned the importance of manners and community. I listened to the audiobook, cozily narrated by the author, and glanced at the photos and recipes included as a document on one of the discs. Many of the recipes are from her grandmother Dorothea who was an inspiration to Reese on how southern women can be strong and beautiful. Menu suggestions for all kinds of celebrations and events are included, from a Kentucky Derby party to a book club gathering, along with music playlists and gift suggestions (especially monogrammed items or cake plates). Reese talks about her happy childhood, how she learned that you don’t have to be good at everything or bake from scratch, but be sure to be hospitable, respectful, and have some fun, maybe even catch some frogs. This is a charming, family-friendly look at southern life.
For lighter reading, I enjoy cozy and historical mysteries, often as audiobooks. Here are some recent reads you may enjoy:
The Christmas Cake Murder, by Joanne Fluke is a prequel to the popular cozy Cookie Jar mystery series set in small town Minnesota. This is a good place to begin the long-running series, before Hannah opens her bakery and acquires a cat and two boyfriends. It’s great fun reading about how Hannah and her family get started as amateur sleuths. Recipes are also included.
Toucan Keep a Secret, by Donna Andrews. Meg Langslow is locking up Trinity Episcopal Church one night while her pastor is on maternity leave and hears a disturbance behind the building. Meg’s large extended family in Caerphilly, Virginia all help solve crimes in this very funny series that’s up to 23 books and counting.
The Darling Dahlias and the Poinsettia Puzzle by Susan Wittig Albert. This historical series is set during the Depression in Alabama, with the members of the local garden club working together to solve crimes. In this book, there are hints of corruption out at the local prison camp, and little Cupcake, Violet’s adopted daughter, might be taken away. Liz Lacey, part-time legal secretary and secret novelist, has a possible beau or two. I think it’s fine to start with any book in this series.
Mrs. Jeffries and the Three Wise Women, by Emily Brightwell is a recent book in another series that doesn’t need to be read in order. The servants and neighbors of Scotland Yard’s Inspector Witherspoon investigate behind the scenes and give their information to housekeeper Mrs. Jeffries and Constable Barnes. The group has solved many mysteries, but their latest case is six weeks old and may interfere with plans for the Christmas holiday.
Paris for One & Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
A thoroughly enjoyable collection of eight short stories and a novella, set in England and Paris. All the stories are told by women, while the novella gives two points of view. Nell, who gives talks on risk assessment, splurges on a long weekend in Paris, surprising her boyfriend Pete. When Nell arrives in Paris alone, she would prefer to stay in her hotel room all weekend, except that she’s unexpectedly sharing her room with an American woman, and there’s no room service. With help from a hotel receptionist and handsome waiter Fabien, Nell takes a chance and explores Paris. An employee stays calm during a jewelry store robbery with startling results, another woman finds someone has switched gym bags and left her expensive high heeled shoes behind, and Chrissie finds a kind London cabbie giving her a new perspective on Christmas shopping for her unappreciative family. I really enjoyed the novella and hope that the author turns some of the short stories into novellas or novels. I listened to the audiobook, and enjoyed Fiona Hardingham’s narration of these appealing, humorous, and heartwarming stories.
The Dream Gatherer by Kristen Britain
This book has a novella and two short stories written to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Green Rider, first book in a fantasy series featuring Karigan G’ladheon. This is also a good place to start reading the series. Green Riders have minor magical talents and are called to serve as the King’s messengers. Estral, Karigan’s friend, narrates these tales. Lost on the road, she visits Seven Chimneys, where the Berry sisters are coping with a ship that has materialized in the middle of their house and use a dream lantern to draw dreamers to a party. The other stories tell some of the history and legend of Sacoridia. If you’re in the mood for compelling fantasy writing with some suspense and humor but don’t have the time for a long epic, this is an excellent choice.
Educated by Tara Westover
Tara never attended school before she got a scholarship at 17 to Brigham Young University. She also studied at Harvard and Cambridge, earning a Ph.D. in history. This is her remarkable story of struggle, survival, and achievement. The youngest of seven children raised in rural Idaho by a Mormon survivalist and a homeopathic midwife, Tara was taught to read and to work. I was angry at her parents for neglecting her education, endangering her life in their junkyard and on overnight car trips, but also for not protecting her from an abusive sibling. Remarkably, two of her brothers also have Ph.D.s and helped Tara escape the mountains and learn to tell her story. Compulsively readable and utterly heartwrenching, this memoir is a good readalike for Jeannette Walls’ books.
Merry and Bright by Debbie Macomber
Two coworkers unknowingly connect on a dating website and start chatting online daily. Merry Knight is a data entry temp at a Seattle firm, saving money to finish college. Due to a human resources mistake, her name tag says Mary. Jason Bright, nicknamed Jay, is a vice-president in his uncle’s firm, and isn’t very nice when asking data entry staff to work overtime or take down holiday decorations. Jay/Jason was a lonely rich kid sent to boarding schools and summer camps; his cousin Cooper is his only friend. Merry/Mary lives with her parents and adores her 18-year-old brother Patrick, who has Down Syndrome. Merry’s love for Christmas is contagious, but things go badly when the online pair agree to meet in person. I enjoyed the narration of the audiobook by Em Eldridge, with alternating chapters from his and her points of view, but it was confusing telling Mary and Merry apart. Light and cozy, this is a charming holiday read.
On November 20 at 10 a.m., the Tuesday Morning Book Group will meet to discuss Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. This is a contemporary thriller about a small plane crash off the coast of New England. We know that there will be survivors, but not who they are or why the plane crashed. My earlier review is here.
The Tuesday Evening Book Group will meet at 7 p.m. on November 27 to discuss Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. This is the poignant and funny contemporary novel that unexpectedly won the Pulitzer Prize. Here’s my review.
The Crime Readers will meet at 6 p.m. for an optional dinner at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien, and will discuss Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie at 7 p.m.
Copies of the books are available now at the Circulation Desk.
Stop in the library to see a display of discussible books for National Reading Group Month. Handouts include lists of book group suggestions from Indie Next and the Women’s National Book Association. I am planning winter and spring book discussions and find these lists helpful. Happy reading!