The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King

The Chef's SecretA captivating novel of Renaissance Italy detailing the mysterious life of Bartolomeo Scappi, the legendary chef to several popes and author of one of the bestselling cookbooks of all time, and the nephew who sets out to discover his late uncle’s secrets—including the identity of the noblewoman Bartolomeo loved until he died.

When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.

As Giovanni pieces together the details of Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.

With luscious prose that captures the full scale of the sumptuous feasts for which Scappi was known, The Chef’s Secret serves up power, intrigue, and passion, bringing Renaissance Italy to life in a delectable fashion.

Book Details:

  • Book Title: The Chef’s Secret by Crystal King
  • Category: Adult fiction, 352 pages
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publisher: Atria/Simon & Schuster
  • Release date: Feb 12, 2019
  • Tour dates: Feb 11 to 28, 2019
  • Content Rating: R (for a couple of explicit, but loving, sex scenes (no abuse or rape) and minor curse words)

To follow the tour, please visit Crystal King’s page on Italy Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Indiebound ~Books-a-Million ~ Kobo ~ iTunesGoogle Play ~ Book Depository

Meet the Author:

Crystal King Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast, and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the leading creative writing centers in the US.

A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats, Nero and Merlin. She is the author of Feast of Sorrow.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest ~ Instagram

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Stranded by Greil Marcus

stranded“He triggers memories like you were a jukebox and he was the man with all the quarters.”
This quote comes from an amazing book that I have just rediscovered: Stranded: Rock & Roll for a Desert Island by Greil Marcus.

Sometime in the 70’s, Marcus decided that it would be really cool to ask music critics and performers what music they would absolutely have to have if they were stranded on a desert island. This book is a compilation of those answers, and it contains some brilliant essays on rock and roll and the people who made it part of the fabric of our lives.

Most notable is the astonishing essay by Ariel Swartley, “The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.” She dissects Springsteen and his band at a time when they were at their most raw. This was before The River (quite possibly the most perfect album ever made) and Born in the U.S.A., back when Bruce and the boys were still those grungy “boy-prophets” from the streets of New Jersey, before Bruce married and divorced a super-model, before he had kids and moved to Beverly Hills, before he became kind of ordinary.

The whole book is filled with essays like Swartley’s, and it is a psychadelic memory romp that includes music as diverse as the Ronettes and the New York Dolls. If you were alive and listening in the 70’s, you need to read this book. It will make you remember what it was like to feel the music you listened to.

It’s believed that certain smells can trigger strong memories. I believe the same is true for certain songs. There are songs that always take me back to a certain time, place or person. For instance, Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain takes me back to the parking lot of Grants on Jefferson Road, Rochester, NY oh, maybe 1973. It was the first time I heard a song that made me want to stay in the car and listen instead of heading inside with my mother. Then there’s Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill, which transports me to 1983, and the Journey’s End bar in Canton, NY with Tom Wanamaker, Jeni Armeson, Mary Foster, Liz Yeomans, Mike Collins, and Alan Haberstock. And of course, Genesis’ Follow You, Follow Me always puts me in 1985 at the bar of the Holiday Inn at the Airport in Rochester, with Cosmo. Very likely the night we fell in love, so this is a suitable post for Valentine’s Day!

24in48 Readathon

A couple times a year, the good people at 24in48 produce a weekend readathon where participants are challenged to read for 24 hours out of a 48 hour time period. This weekend was the winter version of the event. I was not at my best as I was down with a cold, but I did manage to get in about 16 hours of reading time. Here are the books I read:

lastwomanThe Last Woman in the Forest by Diane Les Becquets – What would you do if you suspected the person you loved was a sociopath? Not really a question we encounter often in our lives, but Diane Les Becquets does a masterful job of imagining how that might go. She has written a suspenseful and surprising story that starts out with a kick-in-the-gut scene that is every woman’s worst nightmare – when your car breaks down on a lonely road in the middle of the night and you have a bad feeling about the handsome guy who stops to help. I admit, though, that the tense and horrifying prologue set me up to expect that same tension all the way through the book. That didn’t happen in quite the way I expected. It’s a little like the difference between “Criminal Minds” and “Sherlock” – the beginning is raw and physical, while most of the rest of the book is more cerebral. However, all that thinking and worrying and doubting evaporates with a big twist towards the end. Recommended for fans of Lee Child.

Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Published By: Berkley Publishing Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

williamThe Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen – Is there anything more fascinating than the Dead Letters Depot? That’s where all the letters and such that go astray in the mail end up, and where our protagonist, the titular William Woolf, works. All those letters to Santa, God, and Elvis Presley. Those heartfelt love letters with the incorrect address. The wedding invitations and birthday cards. All those lost words and feelings, collected and cared for by 30 Letter Detectives. What a smashingly cool job!

I would have liked this book much more if it had focused on telling all those stories waiting to be told. Instead, we are treated to a rather uninteresting marriage on the verge of collapse and one woman’s search for her Great Love. William and his wife Clare are written as though they are middle-aged, but their ages were never clear. At one point, Clare is upset at how her lower body has grown since she turned 30 when she was so “effortlessly slim” in her 20’s. She may be in her 30’s, but she’s having a mid-life crisis.

The “Great Love” plot line is more interesting, but about halfway through I realized it was really just William fantasizing about the perfect woman. And we all know how that ends. You finally connect and (surprise!) the person you have idealized is really just a messy human like the rest of us.

Publication Date: June 4, 2019
Published By: Graydon House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Daisy Jones daisyand The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – This one is getting major love on Goodreads, with lots of 5 star, essay-length reviews rhapsodizing over the brilliance. It’s been picked up by Amazon for a series and will be produced by Reese Witherspoon, so it’s got all the earmarks of a cultural phenomenon. For me, this is a solid 4 star book. Plenty interesting, especially for those of us who grew up in the 1970’s, but it doesn’t hang together as a novel mostly due to the text being presented as a series of interviews. It felt like a refreshed version of Almost Famous.

Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Published By: Random House/Ballantine
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

January Micro-Reviews


devouringThe Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman – This creepy, eerie, and imaginative story grabbed me by the back of the neck and held on from first to last page. The plot is a refreshing take on the “monster in the woods” trope and features some sassy, kick-ass characters. The premise of four founding families (shades of Hogwarts, anyone?) isn’t new, but the relationship of the families to the monster and to the town they protect is pretty darn original. The author does a good job of making teens sound like teens, although the adults are portrayed as bullies or dopes. The plot flowed easily and kept my attention. It looks like this will be the beginning of a series, which makes me happy. It would also make a helluva TV series in the vein of Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Recommended.

Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Published By: Disney-Hyperion
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

prosperThe Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken – How did I miss this book when it first came out? It has everything I love about middle grade fantasy – hip and likable characters, clever humor, a multi-faceted villain, a surprise twist at the end, and a superb story. Here, the likable characters are Prosper and Nell and the villain (one of them!) is Alastor, a fiend who has waited hundreds of years for revenge on the family that bound him. The competing themes of revenge & betrayal and friendship & love can lead to some interesting discussions about relationships. The nods to some of my favorite classic stories (The Crucible and Doctor Faustus) only made this more enjoyable. Bracken successfully delivers what appears to be a prologue to some serious world-building, as she prepares to publish the sequel to this in February. The twist at the end was one of the best I can remember and set up the sequel beautifully.

lastThe Last by Hanna Jameson – This title has been sitting in my To Be Read queue for months and I finally opened it last night out of guilt. Holy smokes! I read it in one sitting, resulting in a foggy day spent at work today! I am not, as a rule, a fan of dystopian fiction which is probably why it took me so long to open this one. However, when dystopian fiction is blended with a tautly plotted, inventive mystery it becomes a book I cannot put down. The author has done everything right here – good dialog, evocative description, memorable characters, and an unusual plot. I’ll be recommending this a lot in the coming months.
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Published By: Atria Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

arloArlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon by John August – I am late to the Arlo Finch party, having missed the first in the series. However, this second-in-the-series stands pretty sturdily on its own. August explains enough about the Long Woods and the Rangers so a reader new to the series can follow along, although the characters are cool enough that I will definitely go back and read the first in the series. Here, Arlo and his fellow Rangers Wu and Indra, along with other Rangers, find themselves facing some really weird experiences as they head into their two weeks of camp. There are the usual suspects – the trio of friends who overcome great evil, the obligatory bully, the hip adults, and the scary monsters – all stirred up into a stew of steady action and hair-raising adventures. Kids who enjoy imaginative adventures will thoroughly enjoy Arlo Finch, in all his books. Recommended for middle grade readers.

Publication Date: February 5, 2019
Published By: Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Bestsellers in 1919

books6In 2010, I started a year-long reading project as part of the Rochester Public Library’s 100th birthday. My goal was to read one book from each decade that the library had existed. I spent some time researching bestsellers and other books published in each decade from 1911-2011, and then spent even more time tracking down copies of the books I selected. I found many print copies in the stacks of the Rundel Building, but also found plenty of e-books that had been digitized through the Google Books project.

As happens on the internet, things you wrote and posted years ago pop to the surface at odd times. That happened today with my very first post about 100 Years, 100 Books – a review of The Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum. That made me go back and look at the books I’d identified as published and popular 100 years ago. Below are two lists: one of notable books published in 1919 and one of the bestsellers of the year. 

1. Sherwood Anderson — Winesburg, Ohio
2. Edgar Rice Burroughs — Jungle Tales of Tarzan
3. Joseph Hergesheimer – Linda Condon
4. Hermann Hesse — Demian
5. W. Somerset Maugham — The Moon and Sixpence
6. Baroness Orczy – The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel
7. Mary Augusta Ward – Fields of Victory
8. Virginia Woolf — Night and Day
9. A. A. Milne – The Camberley Triangle
10. H. L. Mencken – The American Language

Publishers Weekly Best Sellers of 1919

1. Vicente Blasco Ibanez – The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
2. Joseph Conrad – The Arrow of Gold
3. Zane Grey – The Desert of Wheat
4. Mary Roberts Rinehart – Dangerous Days
5. Ralph Connor – The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land
6. Harold Bell Wright – The Re-Creation of Brian Kent
7. Eleanor Porter – Dawn
8. Temple Bailey – The Tin Soldier
9. Elizabeth von Arnim – Christopher and Columbus
10. Robert W. Chambers – In Secret

And, finally, my review of the book I read for 1919 – The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.

scarletI have fond memories of reading the book to which this one is a sequel – The Scarlet Pimpernel– one hot summer in between high school semesters. I was reading anything I could find about the French Revolution, and a librarian at the Gates Library recommended Baroness Orczy and the Pimpernel, which I devoured.

I had not realized there was a sequel until I started creating the lists for this reading project, and was delighted to find my old friend Percy Blakeney among the choices. In fact, I discovered there are a great many sequels to the original Pimpernel, which I’m sure will lead to much more reading for me!

The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel picks up with Sir Percy still rescuing unfortunate maidens and righting wrongs in post Revolution France, albeit in a collection of short stories instead of one longer novel. Each vignette has Percy or another member of The League righting wrongs committed against members the aristocracy or members of their staff. Children are rescued, fortunes restored, and lives set aright, all at the hand of the man with the twinkling blue eyes that can turn to steel in a second.

An entertaining read for fans of the spy genre and historical fiction.

Murder at the Palace by Margaret Dumas

9781635114638_06b62Murder at the Palace is the first in what promises to be a successful and addicting new mystery series set in San Francisco and featuring Nora Paige, former screenwriter/Hollywood wife/about-to-be-ex-wife/classic movie expert and cast of memorable characters, both alive and dead.

The series set-up has Nora taking over the management of The Palace, a vintage theater owned by her best friend, while she begins recovering from a messy end to her marriage to a high profile Hollywood actor. In the best mystery tradition, Nora finds a body in the basement of the theater on her first day, setting in motion a rollicking good mystery that includes the ghost of an epaulet-wearing usherette who died in the theater 100 years ago, a mysterious and gorgeous Columbian “entrepreneur,” and a whole cast of colorful characters.

Nora shows her deductive chops as she untangles a very complicated mess and ultimately solves two murders while making some friends in her new town. Interspersed throughout are “blog posts” about old movies, which made me want to go watch all of them. The focus on “old Hollywood” and classic movies put me in mind of the old George Baxt books, which I adored, but also stands with the best modern “cozy” mysteries like the Lily Ivory series by Juliet Blackwell. Nora is an appealing, strong, and resourceful protagonist who functions quite well independently of her Hollywood husband. The plot was a little thin at times (I guessed the MacGuffin early on) but the story is well-written and engaging. I’m adding this to my list of must-read series. Recommended.

Publication Date: February 12, 2019
Publisher: Henery Press
Thanks to for the review copy

What the Neighbors Read Last Year

Social media has been awash the last couple weeks with “Top Ten Reads of 2018” or lists of all the books people read last year. That made me wonder what the people of Monroe County borrowed, read, and watched in 2018. My curiosity was satisfied by three eclectic lists. Here they are, the Top Ten Books, DVDs, and E-books Borrowed from Monroe County Libraries in 2018!

Ten Most Borrowed Print Books


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
The Fallen by David Baldacci
The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly
The Midnight Line by Lee Child
The President is Missing by James Patterson & Bill Clinton
Fifty Fifty by James Patterson

Ten Most Borrowed DVDs

Wonder Woman
Black Panther
Despicable Me 3
The Shape of Water
Hidden Figures
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Spider-Man Homecoming

Ten Most Borrowed E-Books

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Camino Island by John Grisham
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Midnight Line by Lee Child
Origin by Dan Brown
The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Please note: this content was separated from any personally identifiable information on the borrowers before it was shared with me, in my capacity as Director of the Monroe County Library System.

Reader Profile – Cara Rager

photo jun 29, 7 27 44 pm

Cara Rager is the Manager of Educational Training and Family Engagement at WXXI in Rochester, NY. In her role, she works to engage, support, and empower Rochester’s families and educators using public media and PBS resources. In case you’re wondering, that’s Cara between D.W. and Buster!

What are you reading now?
I just finished reading The Burning Girl by Claire Messud and now I’m reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I have a pretty hefty “to-read” list.

Are you a fiction or non-fiction reader?
I mostly read fiction – I’m a big fan of psychological thrillers like The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, and The Girls by Emma Cline. Lately, though, I’ve been getting more into biographies. I’m loving reading about the lives of comedians, such as Bossypants by Tina Fey, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, and Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow. But my most favorite recent bio read was Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. Given my work at WXXI Education and growing up with Sesame Street, The Muppets, and Fraggle Rock, I learned so much about Jim Henson, his creativity, the people he worked with, and all the places and spaces that he impacted.

What book are you recommending that everyone read right now?
Educated by Tara Westover. I couldn’t put the book down and I’m pretty sure I was in shock reading most of the book because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that it was a true story. I’ve been telling everyone to read it and even bought it as a Christmas gift for my mom to read! Highly recommend.

Is there a book you feel is highly overrated?
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I read it, I think the basic message is there but to me, I felt like a lot of women were left out of her picture. I do think it’s important for women to be empowered to shake up the status quo in places where they feel like they are not being supported or treated equally, such as their workplace. And I also think it’s really important to hear stories from lots of different women who have been able to make serious change. But, given all the praise the book got in the beginning, I wasn’t as impressed when I read it.

What book changed your life, or changed how you view the world? In what way?
I actually have two books that changed my view of the world and specifically my philosophy of education – Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen and The People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. I read both books when I was in my undergraduate education program at St. John Fisher College. As someone who loved school and learning and was going to school to be a teacher, this was the first moment that I realized that the whole picture was not being taught in school AND that it was my charge as a teacher to make sure my students left with a variety of perspectives of history to build the full picture. I definitely felt cheated when reading these books and learning how much I didn’t know.

Do you read with your children? What are some of their favorite books?
While I don’t have kids of my own yet, I do have 6 nieces and nephews and I love children’s books! I love to read with them when I can, but I especially love choosing books for them. Gifting books is one of my favorite things; I like to collect some information about books/topics/genres they like and then see what treasures I can find. I love that they all have such different reading preferences even being so young. My niece, Ruby, is 2 years old and loves dinosaurs (like her older brother), cooking, and dress-up. For Christmas, I gave her Brontorina by James Howe (from Webster!) about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina but is too big and Razzle-Dazzle Ruby by Masha D’yans about a spunky little girl who uses her imagination to go on adventures with her dog. I have another niece, Lila, who is 8 years old and devouring books like crazy right now. She loves comic books (like Garfield!) and graphic novels and she’s really enjoying book series. For her birthday in November I gave her Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (A Narwhal and Jelly Book #1) by Ben Clanton which is the first book in a super silly series about a friendship between a narwhal and a jellyfish who both love waffles, parties, and adventures. She loved it!

Are you a “finisher” or do stop reading a book if you’re not connecting with it?
My personal philosophy is that reading should be enjoyable – that said, there are times when you must read something – but if I’m reading for pleasure, I’m happy to discard a book if it’s not grabbing me. I think choice is a big part of getting people hooked on reading – especially kids. I love getting lost inside books and then sharing what I’ve read or learned. Not everything is interesting to me and I’m okay leaving a book behind. Perfect example: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet.

Why do you read?
I read to relax, escape, exercise my brain, and learn.

What is at the top of your To Be Read pile?
Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I’m on the waitlist for the ebook but I might have to just buy it because I’m #138 of 30 copies!

Describe your favorite place to read.
My favorite place to read is on the couch, under a blanket, with a cup of coffee, and in between my two dogs. It’s the best, coziest spot.

2019 Reading Challenge – READO!

For several years, staff in the Monroe County Library System have participated in a year-long reading challenge. This year, we’re using a version of BINGO called READO. The concept is the same – make a line vertically, horizontally, or diagonally or get the 4 corners – and win a prize.

We are in the process of creating a number of READO boards, and thought we’d share them here. While only MCLS staff are eligible for monthly drawings, some of you might enjoy playing along. Here are the first three boards: Reading Experiences, World Literature, and Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors.

READO World Lit

READO experiences




Watch this blog for more boards throughout January.