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Book Review: Six of Crows Duology

Book Review:

Six of Crows Duology

By Leigh Bardugo

A duology in the young adult genre, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are a mix of action and fantasy. It all starts when a group of thieves and criminals is hired by a wealthy merchant to kidnap a scientist, who was kidnapped and hidden away in the unbreakable Ice Court. Six of Crows starts the story, but of course, things don’t go exactly according to plan, so the story continues in Crooked Kingdom.

Review/Recommendation: This duology was enjoyable and a quick read. I bought it for vacation and couldn’t put it down. When I finished it, I promptly passed it to my husband, who read it even quicker than I did.

I realize that the above description doesn’t give you much, but I did want to avoid spoilers. So I’ll start here: Although this series was published after The Grisha Trilogy, which comes first chronologically, I actually read this series first. If you skip The Grisha Trilogy or opt to read the books out of order, you’re not missing much. It might take a little more time to grasp the gangs and nationalities of the various peoples and who/what all of the Grisha are, but that’s not a big deal. Additionally, there are a couple of characters that make a cameo, and you’ll miss some historical connections. All of that being said, I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing anything when I read it. It was only in retrospect that I realized that I missed a tiny piece of the story.

To be honest, I enjoyed the duology more than the trilogy. The two books were super fast-paced, filled with action, intrigue and mystery, emotional turmoil (but not the teenage angst you’d expect from a young adult series) and sprinkled with sarcasm and wit. The characters were all likeable and unique, with intense histories that emerged throughout the series, which make you like them even more.

Like The Grisha Trilogy, this set had vaguely Russian undertones to the people’s cultures, the locations, etc. As someone who’s always been drawn to Russian culture and history, it was slightly odd to see those connections but something I enjoyed. Those references made me reminisce a bit about the culture that I experienced through school. (Oh, how I long for blini!)

Given how much my husband and I enjoyed the books, I’m glad we bought the sets. I can see our children reading these in the future. I can even see myself rereading these in the future.

 

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Book Review: Sourdough {Book Review}

Sourdough

By Robin Sloan

Lois is a software engineer for a San Francisco robotics company, but she is isn’t particularly happy. She works long days, subsisting on takeout and a meal replacement ‘drink’ (a nutritive gel) called Slurry. Her anxiety lives in an ever-present knot in her stomach.

Lois’ world starts to change when a Mazg takeout menu is slipped under her door. She orders the Spicy Combo, a Spicy Sandwich and Spicy Soup, and becomes hooked. The Spicy Combo becomes her daily dinner in order to quiet her anxious stomach. That is, until the brothers that own the restaurant (which, come to find out, is their apartment kitchen) leave San Francisco. When they go, the brothers leave Lois with a parting gift – an opinionated, feisty sourdough starter that was the base of their Spicy Sandwich – which Lois is tasked to care in their absence.

Armed with the sourdough starter, Lois learns to bake amazing bread that takes her from programmer to baker-programmer at a new farmers market, selling her bread while teaching a robot arm how to help in her new bread-baking business.

Review/Recommendation: I absolutely devoured this short little novel – super cute, and relatable for those that find time in the kitchen as a place of relief, a place to recharge from work or life in general. It definitely hit home with me, since I work with a bunch of tech-savvy computer guys but am a liberal arts major (who loves crafts) that would be quite content working in a kitchen instead of an office.

Sourdough is filled with fun, quirky characters – from the farmer’s market crew to the Slurry club (a group a the robotics company who subsist on Slurry, to various degrees, instead of food), to the Lois Club (a group of old woman, all named Lois). This varied cast of characters, along with research and determination, help Lois find her way to happiness.

As the book progresses, following Lois’ journey, the weird comes out. The story behind the Lois Club was cute, although a bit unlikely. The idea that a sourdough starter has personality, never mind one so feisty, is definitely out there. At the height of weirdness, the end of the book has a scene that’s completely unrealistic, but that’s ok. All of this weird somehow works, and doesn’t seem quite so odd or outlandish as your read. At least not for this reader.

In summary, this book is light, funny, and definitely worth a read. I’ll be watching the bookshelves for Sloan’s next release, as he’s 2 for 2 in my book.

Sourdough is available on Amazon.

Want to read more by Robin Sloan? Check out Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, also reviewed on Books n’ Cooks and available on Amazon.

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This review covers the three books in The Grisha Trilogy: 

1 – Shadow and Bone
2 – Siege and Storm
3 – Ruin and Rising

This series also consists of a number of short stories (you can find the list on Goodreads). I did not read any of the short stories prior to writing this review.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Book Review: The Grisha Trilogy

Book Review

The Grisha Trilogy

By Leigh Bardugo

The Grisha are a people endowed with special powers, a people who are considered Masters of the Small Science. Each Grisha is able to manipulate a certain type of matter to achieve extraordinary results. Some, Corporalki, work with what’s in the human body. Others, Etherealki or Summoners, are able to manipulate nature’s elements (wind, fire, water). The final set, the Materialki, are gifted scientists and builders, working with elements such as steal.

Many Grisha – persecuted, experimented on, sold as slaves in some parts of the world – make their way to the land of Ravka, where their unique gifts are nurtured. Here, the Grisha, considered to be part of the country’s elite, learn how to use their gifts and then serve in Ravka’s Second Army, led by the Darkling. The Darkling is the only known Grisha who is capable of summoning darkness, a leader with no equal. That is, until Alina reveals herself. Alina is the Darkling’s opposite – she is the Sun Summoner, a woman who can manipulate light.

This trilogy is largely centered around Alina and the Darkling. In the first book, Shadow and Bone, Alina’s powers are revealed. Throughout the book, Alina struggles to find her place among the Grisha and how to summon light. She is unsure of who to trust, feeling very alone. By the end of the book, Alina comes to realize that the Darkling’s intentions are not what they seemed; that her destiny was not to lead along side him, uniting a country ravaged by war, but rather to oppose him and defeat his plans to rule Ravka.

The second two books in the series, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, chronicles Alina’s fight against the Darkling. She’s helped by both new and old friends as well as amplifiers, magical items intended to strengthen her power. She still struggles with who to trust, as everyone seems to have a hidden agenda and multiple sets of loyalties. Will Alina and her group of friends be enough to defeat the Darkling and rebuild a war-torn country?

Review/Recommendation: Although a couple of the books (particularly the third) was hard to get into, the trilogy was an enjoyable, quick read. This young adult series (fantasy genre)  has something for everyone – love stories and love triangles, action and deceit. For the most part, the story was fast-paced (I found the beginnings to be the slowest part) and kept me wanting to turn the page and read just one more chapter.

As a former student of Russian language and culture, I’d be remiss if i did not mention the similarities to the Russian culture throughout the series. For starters, the word “grisha” is the diminutive of Gregory, which means watchful. (Bardugo states in the Q&A in the back of book 1 that the word also visually and aurally evokes the word “geisha,” enforcing the sense of beauty and secrecy that surrounds the Grisha people.) The names of people (Nikolai, Morozova, Misha, Aleksander, Sankta Alina) and places (Tsibeya, Novyi Zem, Dva Stolba) were some of the most obvious examples that will resonate with those familiar with the Russian culture. But certain scenes in the snow, of the characters drinking kvas, the troika arriving with holiday gifts to the orphanage etc. reminded me of my Russian studies.

If you like young adult/fantasy books, this series is worth a read. While  I didn’t love it as much as I loved Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Daughter of Smoke and Bones or Divergent books(to name a few), it’s an enjoyable read if you’re looking for another series in the genre.

Available on Amazon.

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The Forgotten Garden chronicles the efforts of two women to uncover pieces of their own family history.

Book Review: The Forgotten GardenDisclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Book Review
The Forgotten Garden
By Kate Morton

A little girl is found alone with a small suitcase of clothes and a beautiful book of fairy tales on a dock in Australia in 1913. The little girl has no memory. The dockmaster is unable to find her family, or even figure out where to begin looking for them. He takes the little girl home and she is quickly adopted as the first child of the dockmaster and his wife. Named Nell, the little girl grows up knowing nothing of her past, the eldest child of a large family. But when Nell turns 21, her father tells her the truth of her origins – that she was not his biological daughter and that he had no idea of where she came from or who her family might be.

The Forgotten Garden is a story of Nell’s life through multiple sets of eyes during multiple time periods. First, there is Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra, who journeys from Australia to England after Nell’s death, to uncover the truth about Nell’s past (2005, the present of the book). The second set of stories is that of Nell’s own journey to England in 1975, when she attempts to identify her parents and learn about the first few years of her life. Third is set in the early 1900s, following the lives of the Mountrachet family, believed to be Nell’s family. And finally, interwoven in the above, there are short stories from Nell’s book of fairy tales written by The Authoress.

Review/Recommendation: This book was enjoyable throughout, but I really got hooked about halfway through, when I got caught up in the story and started reading at an almost feverish pace. I was thoroughly invested in all of the characters and plot lines, so the switching back and forth between characters and time periods was seamless to me. Additionally, Morton did an excellent job threading the pieces of Nell’s story through each part – showing the reader exactly what happened in the chapter from the early 1900s and then how those particular pieces of the story were brought to light for Nell and/or Cassandra. Amazingly, it felt like the story was packaged into a nice, neat bundle by the end of the book, both satisfying and slightly surprising at exactly how neatly things came together (I actually found myself rewinding the book a bit to make sure everything was covered).

The writing in the book was beautiful; the characters showed depth and evolution. In fact, after finishing the book, I couldn’t stop feeling sad for a couple of the characters. They weren’t the most likeable characters, but their life circumstances evoked such empathy for them. If their life were a bit different or a certain person did not have such a strong influence on those characters, things could have turned out so very differently for them. And no, that sadness didn’t grip me as I read the book but it was something I thought about after I finished it, as I started thinking about writing this review. It’s not often that sentiments about a book stay with me for a little while after finishing, so for that, kudos to Morton!

I gave this book 4/5 stars on Goodreads for two reasons. First, I found the “mystery” a bit predictable – I was pretty easily able to guess the ending, both because it was a bit predictable and because Morton so clearly laid out the clues surrounding Nell’s childhood. Secondly, one piece of the novel left me slightly unsettled as I read it – I was bothered by the strong parallels in several of the fairy tales to other fairy tales and stories that I grew up knowing. I suppose that my feelings about it may be a bit irrational, because so many fairy tales and stories are based on something else, but the parallels were a bit too obvious for me to feel completely comfortable with. That being said, if the fairy tales were absent from the book, I probably would have been curious and wished that they had been included. So it may be an imperfect solution either way.

The Forgotten Garden was an enjoyable read, a great book with which to finish my summer reading.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? If not, you can find this book on Amazon.

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Book Review: The Women in the Castle

{Book Review}

The Women in the Castle

By Jessica Shattuck

On the eve of WWII, a small group from Germany’s high society were planning  Hitler’s assassination. Marianne von Lingenfels was the sole woman present. She not only supported the plot, recognizing the monster that Germany’s leader was, but was charged by the men with protecting and caring for their wives and families, should the plot go awry.

Unsurprisingly, the plot fails and the men, the resisters, are sentenced to death. Marianne survives the war and returns to the castle owned by her husband’s ancestors. It is from that home base that Marianne searches Germany for the women and children she promised to protect. She successfully recovers two fellow resister wives and their children. Together, the three women and their children spend their days at the castle recovering from the war and searching for a way forward in life.

Review/Recommendation: I read a lot of WWII-era historical fiction books but not very many from a German perspective. This  book was super interesting and hard to put down. It was a fantastic story with engaging characters.

I thought it Shattuck did well showing the different perspectives of a German woman during Hitler’s reign. The three widows each brought their own perspective of WWII-era Germany – one [former] Nazi supporter, one adamant resister, and one just slightly the indifferent and a bit oblivious to the politics of the time. Each woman had a history that helped them make it through the years immediately following the war, when they were recovering and attempting to restart their lives. Each had a history that crafted their paths forward after the recovery period.

The Women in the Castle flipped back and forth between different dates (mostly prewar and postwar, the “present” of the novel) and between each of the different characters, giving the reader insight into the women’s history and life. The format worked well for the book and for the story Shattuck crafted.

I really enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to any fans of historical fiction.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

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The Little Paris Bookshop{Book Review}

The Little Paris Bookshop

By Nina George

Jean Perdu is a bit eccentric. He is know as a literary apothecary. Perdu owns a little bookshop, a barge docked on the Seine River. From here, Perdu prescribes books for helping and for healing whatever troubles his customers. “To a certain degree, [Perdu] could read from a body’s posture, its movement and its gestures, what was burdening or oppressing it” (p. 27). Intuitively, Perdu knows exactly what his customers need.

It’s a quiet life, with Perdu going through the motions of everyday life without really living, numb inside. But after a neighbor returns a long-forgotten letter from an old lover, Perdu’s world is turned upside down. Memories and feelings are woken. Perdu must learn to not just cope but to live and love again.

Recommendation/Review: I have mixed feelings on this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed the story. The books chronicles Perdu’s emotional journey starting with reading the letter from his old lover – breaking his heart all over again and inducing great guilt – through experiencing loss, mourning, and healing as he sails to his lover’s homeland. Along his journey, Perdu picks up other men that are in need to healing and self-discovery in their own way. The men provide support for one another, showing and experiencing life’s joys again, and gradually find their way back to living again. I found this touching, and enjoyed seeing Perdu and the other characters grow, learn, and find themselves. Especially Perdu – following him through the stages of grief before he was able to come to terms with history and move on with life.

However, on the other hand, I did find some of the dialog and descriptions in the book a little too flowery and unreal. Nicely written, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes or skimming ahead a bit. It was just a little too over the top for me, at some parts.

Overall, the book was enjoyable, and I’m glad I read it.

If you’ve read this book, what did you think? 

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This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

{Book Review}

The Shoemaker’s Wife

By Adriana Trigiani

In the early 1900s, people who lived in the Italian Alps were struggling to make ends meet. Everyone was poor, and increasingly, people were leaving the mountain to make their fortune in America.

Ciro’s family was one of those families. However, when his father died in a mining accident in America, his mother was forced to leave him and his bother in a convent, unable to take care of them. Ciro and his brother are raised well, but after Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village. The nuns send him to America to become the apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy.

Upon arriving in New York, Ciro has a number of run-ins with Enza, a girl from his childhood on the mountain. While Ciro learns and masters his new trade as a shoemaker, Enza makes a life as a talented seamstress.

The Shoemaker’s Wife alternates between Ciro’s story and Enza’s, from their childhood in the Italian Alps, to living their separate lives a few miles away in New York, to their lives together in a small town in Minnesota.

Review/Recommendation: I cannot tell you how much I loved this book – I might start to sound like I’m gushing a bit (and if so, I’m sorry!). The Shoemaker’s Wife is an absolutely beautiful story – inspired by Trigiani’s own family history – of love, family, and faith. Trigiani did a wonderful job portraying the time period, making her readers (at least this reader!) feel like they were living in the moment. I personally grew very emotionally attached to the two protagonists as well as the set of secondary characters. I’ll admit that I cried more times than I could count (mostly in the last 75 pages).

In Trigiani’s absolutely beautiful writing, the reader experiences not just life in America during the time period, the first half of the century, but also to life as an immigrant. She paints a picture not just of American and Italian culture at the time but of a true Melting Pot of cultures, a sense of community built around shared experiences as foreigners in America and around hard work.

My only criticism of the book would be the time periods. There were several points further into the book where we jumped ahead in time, by a few years. Chapters weren’t dated, which sometimes made it difficult to keep track of time. I’d also have loved more on Ciro’s and Enza’s life together – the bulk of the book (which is still amazing) actually focuses on the period of their life in which they lived separate lives. But this latter comment speaks more to how much I loved the book than anything. I just wanted more, more more!

I can’t recommend this book more, for lovers of historical fiction or fiction in general.

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The Red Scarf{Book Review}

The Red Scarf

By Kate Furnivall

Men and women taken to Soviet labor camps in the early 1930s endure day after day of manual labor until they cannot physically work anymore. It was a terrible fate for many, including Sofia. But unlike so many of the women in camp with her, Sofia remained hopeful and dreamed of freedom. She had her friend and fellow prisoner, Anna to keep her positive. Anna told story after story of her childhood filled of parties and her childhood love for a revolutionary named Vasily.

When Anna’s health suffers to the point where she must escape or would die the next winter, Sofia plots her escape. Sofia is successful and makes the long, hard journey halfway across Russia to the village where she believes Vasily lives, in disguise. There, she is adopted by a gypsy family and gradually becomes integrated into the town, earning the trust of (and falling in love with) the man she believes to be Anna’s Vasily. Her ultimate goal is to convince Vasily to return to the came with her to rescue Anna. (And that’s where this summary will end, so that I don’t give anything away.)

Review/Recommendation: I picked up this book after a friend and fellow fan of Russian historical fiction recommended the author to me.  I have sort of a mixed opinion about the book. One the one hand, it was a decent story and kept me engaged. It was a very optimistic and fantastic view of communist Russia. I mean, not only do you have a malnourished girl escaping from a Soviet labor camp, but she survived a trip of hundreds of miles and becomes more or less accepted into a town fairly easily, despite being such an unknown person. I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s just say that it was even more incredible than what I just described. Oh, yeah, and there was a bunch of magic in there too.

But this is where the realist in me comes in. I know the story is completely historical fiction, but it just seemed way too incredible, too far from the plausible for me, as a someone who studied Russian history a pretty good bit. I can appreciate a good historical fiction, but something difficult to articulate nagged at me a bit about this book.

Overall, the book was entertaining and a pretty good read. I’ve got another of Furnivall’s on my bookshelf that I’ll definitely read – it’ll be interesting to see if the same “plausibility” factor bugs me the way it did in this one.

Grade: B

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The Kitchen House{Book Review}

The Kitchen House

By Kathleen Grissom

Set in the late 1700s and early 1800s, The Kitchen House tells the story of an Irish orphan, Lavinia, who is taken by a ship’s captain to serve as a servant on a Virgina tobacco plantation. Lavinia lives with the slaves of the kitchen house – she plays with the young slave children, does chores for the kitchen, is trained to cook, and gradually becomes part of their family.

When tragedy strikes at the Big House, Lavinia earns a place up there, caring for the children. She becomes a fixture at the Big House when she becomes one of the only people who can console the physically and mentally unstable mistress of the house. From then on, Lavinia is given opportunities that gradually take her further and further away from her adopted family, and into the world of the wealthy.

Review/Recommendation: I found The Kitchen House a very emotional read. It didn’t shy away from some of the harsh realities of slavery – rape, beatings, the selling of family members – which was hard when the slaves were the characters I cared about the most. But the compassion I felt for the characters and my involuntarily cringing when I knew something bad was going to happen, speaks to Grissom’s success in pulling the reader into the story.

The kindness and fierce loyalty shown by the characters was amazing and transcended races. The slaves not only watched out for one another and Lavinia but they also kept an eye on the children of the house and the mistress… to make sure they were not wronged in any way (and they were). And as Lavinia got older, she did the same for her adopted family. Hard decisions had to be made, but the internal struggle over whether (and how) to help while balancing a some sense of self-preservation was clear.

I thoroughly enjoyed Grissom’s first novel. While not the happiest read, I’m glad I finally picked it up off my bookshelf and gave it a try.

Grade: A

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Not long ago, I had the opportunity to take a short trip to Denver for a friend’s wedding.Tattered_Cover

As much as I enjoy going out and seeing the sights, I’ve learned something about myself – I enjoy a new city so much more when I’m able to experience it, to savor it. I like being able to linger over a good meal (like we did at Tamayo in Lower Downtown, or Lodo) or wander through the streets looking at street art and architecture. Denver had some beautiful architecture – brick buildings framed with the snow-capped Rockies in the background. We visited the recently remodeled Union Station, where I wished for such elegant train terminals in my area. The train station had loveseats and desks and glass lamps. I could not believe how peaceful and relaxing it looked!

Alas, we did not stop to enjoy the scenery, but instead headed to The Tattered Cover, a large independent bookstore in LoDo. My hubby looked like he wanted to roll his eyes at me when I notified him about our destination, but it didn’t take any real convincing to get him to stop. I was smitten with the place  as soon as I walked in. I was immediately struck by the smell of books – which I rarely find anymore – and the worn wooden shelves, arranged in 90-degree angles rather than straight rows. I could have stayed in there for hours, but I would have come home with more books than my suitcases could handle.

As my hubby and I sat having a cup of coffee, me thumbing the pages of my purchases (two books for me, one for my daughter, and a baby shower gift), we discussed the fate of bookstores in general. My hubby wanted a graphic novel, but told me that it was $10 (about 30%) cheaper on Amazon. While I’m all about shopping around, books are one of the things I’m more than willing to spend money on, especially at brick-and-morter bookstore. Doubly so at an independent bookstore. It makes me sad that so many bookstores are struggling to stay open. I love being able to go, browse the shelves, read the book jackets, sit with a cup of coffee and enjoy a new purchase. That’s something that no online retailer (or e-reader) can give me. (And I feel this way, despite reading about half of my books each year on an ereader.)

Does anyone else share my sentiment on the fate of bookstores today?

And now for a review of one of my purchases from The Tattered Cover. 

The Intern's Handbook{Book Review}

The Intern’s Handbook

By Shane Kuhn

John Lago is one of the best interns Human Resouces, Inc. employes. But he’s not just an intern, Lago, like other interns HR, Inc. places into large corporations, is an assassin.

It’s a pretty brilliant set up. You see, interns work long, thankless hours doing grunt work in order to succeed. They are pretty much invisible to the corporate executives who come to rely on them to do everything from getting coffee to doing work that results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in billable hours. A a result, these interns gain easy access to the company’s executives, their targets, while largely being ignored. And then they move in for the kill, literally.

The Intern’s Handbook is Lago’s unofficial guide for new HR, Inc. recruits who are still in training. It tells of the lessons he’s learned in his decade at the company, through the story of his last assignment – the assassination of a partners of a top Manhattan law firm. The assignment is far from ordinary. Not only must Lago figure out which of the partners to kill (the one that is selling the FBI’s witness protection list) but during the course of his investigation, he learns that his primary asset, Alice, is actually an undercover FBI agent working on the same case that he is. What an assignment!

Review/Recommendation: Author Shane Kuhn’s debut novel was a good, quick read. The cover of the book calls it a thriller, but I’m not sure I’d categorize it so. It was more of an action-packed fiction novel that was heavy on the deception. It’s written in Lago’s blunt, sarcastic voice which is part wit, part dark humor. (If you’re sensitive or easily offended, then this isn’t for you.)

Kudos to Kuhn for taking some twists and turns I didn’t expect. Because everything is based on multiple deceptions, I found myself questioning which threads were complete fabrication and which had some basis on reality. As I was reading the book, I wondered how Kuhn was going to tie everything together. I can honestly say that the ending was something I never saw coming – couldn’t have guessed it in a million years – which is part of the reason that I rated this book so high. You just don’t find that any more.

Grade: A

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Disclosure

Books n’ Cooks is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. Some links on Books n’ Cooks may be affiliate links – links books and kitchen supplies that I love and would recommend. If you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Sunday Supper Movement