Amy’s August 2022 Picks and Pans


I spent much of August traveling, so I am a trifle embarrassed by my monthly total. It was an interesting month of reading; no 5-stars books, and more 3-stars novels than is typical. Maybe it was a post-vacation let-down? Still, I suspect every reader will find something to add to his or her TBR list here.

My blog will have a major renovation later this fall. First, it will have a new name: “Gourmet Bookworm” to highlight my two favorite pastimes… cooking and reading. The format will also change. Not only will I be reviewing the books I read each month, but some posts will also include author interviews along with recipe reels pertaining to the plot, setting, or season. Won’t that be fun? I have yet to work on the technology bits, but you’ll be seeing more of me on Facebook, Bookstagram, and possibly BookTok. Stay tuned!

Without further ado, here are my August 2022 reads.


The German Wife
by Kelly Rimmer

“Hell is simply the place where hope is lost.” — Kelly Rimmer, The German Wife

This gripping novel was inspired by the true story of Operation Paperclip: a controversial secret US intelligence program that employed former Nazis after WWII.

Berlin, 1930—Although Sofie von Meyer Rhodes and her husband Jürgen do not share the social views growing popular in Hitler’s Germany, his position with its burgeoning rocket program changes their diminishing fortunes for the better.

Twenty years later, as part of Operation Paperclip, Jürgen is one of the many German scientists offered pardons for their part in the war and taken to America to work for its fledgling space program. Sofie looks forward to making a fresh start in Alabama. But her neighbors aren’t as welcoming as she’d hoped. She and her family face social isolation, hostility, and violence, climaxing in a shocking event.

This dual timeline/narrative really works in this novel. It’s rare to find a book in which I am invested in all the characters, a mark of great writing. Rimmer had my emotions tied in knots as I contemplated the turmoil Sofie felt as she watched her beloved Berlin transform into something unrecognizable and was forced to consider what she and her husband must sacrifice morally for their young family’s security. Opposing the Nazi regime has severe consequences. I found it especially disturbing that the Nazis brainwashed impressionable children against the Jews. When the family moves to Alabama, the US Government thrusts Sofie into a foreign environment in which she is a complete outsider, loathed by most of those around her.

Rimmer’s research was impressive. Operation Paperclip was an immense undertaking that brought 1,600 German scientists and engineers—specialists in rocketry, chemistry, physics, architecture, and medicine—to the United States to design and built rockets. Jürgen’s career loosely follows that of the historical figure Wernher von Braun. The life of life of Gerda Weissmann Klein, a concentration camp survivor liberated after a death march wearing the ski boots her father insisted would help her survive, inspires another storyline.

The German Wife is my favorite Kelly Rimmer book. 4.5 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review. 


Small World
by Jonathan Evison

Jonathan Evison’s Small World tells the stories of a train’s passengers in 2019 and their mid-nineteenth-century ancestors after a disastrous crash. There’s Walter Bergen, a veteran train conductor on his last run before retiring, and a descendent of Irish twin orphans. Malik, a young basketball star, is the descendent of a slave. Then there’s Jenny, a corporate consultant whose ancestors were Chinese immigrants, and Laila, a Native American, fleeing her abusive husband. Small World chronicles 170 years of American nation-building from many points of view across place and time. This inventive work explores the immigrant experience, and that of the modern era in the United States.

I read and reviewed Jonathan Evison’s last novel, Legends of the North Cascades, in July 2021 and really enjoyed it, so I was eager to read Small World. I was not disappointed. He did a masterful job juggling complex, multiple narratives and then connecting them throughout generations.

To mix things up, he wrote these storylines differently. For example, he wrote Nora’s chapters as letters to her long-lost brother, Finn, a great way to not only share her story, but her emotions. Coincidentally, Finn struggled with despair. “For six nights he slept beneath the prairie sky, gazing up at the unfathomable firmament, the stars splashed across the bowl of night. He took no solace in the night sky. The loneliness was crushing, as though he could feel the weight of the heavens pushing down on him.”

It’s a sizeable cast of characters, but they are well done and unique. Although the chapters are short and interesting, he sometimes provided too much detail about events. The play-by-play of a ball game, for example, was over the top and quickly lost my interest. I also found the climax of the novel to be unsatisfying. The book was overlong, and some storylines didn’t conclude, like an ellipsis at the end of a sentence. Still, the book is meaningful and well executed. 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy for an honest review. 


Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love
by Kim Fay

This novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really connects us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.

When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter, as well as a gift of saffron, to fifty-nine-year-old food columnist Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and unexpected tragedies in their own lives. In their letters, Joan and Imogen explore their experiences and their thoughts about love, joy, sadness, and death, and the result is beautiful.

There’s no denying I’m a foodie. I have more fun putting together my two-week menu than almost anything else. I’ll admit, however, that saffron rarely makes it onto my grocery list. If an interviewer asked about my hobbies, I would say reading and cooking, so this book was spot on for me.

Love & Saffron was a delightful departure from my usual reading fare. The author uses letters to tell the story, which is a convention that rarely appeals to me, but this time I ate it up. In many ways, Fay’s novel reminds me of 84, Charing Cross Road, another gem of a novel. The book is a brief respite from our turbulent world and gave me a smidgeon of joy as I traveled through its two hundred pages (four hours on audio). The characters are likeable, and the story is touching. Recipes are even included! Love & Saffron is a witty and tender novel about friendship (and cooking, of course) during uncertain times and I adored it. 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.


The Sweetness of Water
by Nathan Harris

 “Yet sometimes—just sometimes—hope was enough,” — Nathan Harris, The Sweetness of Water

In his debut novel, author Nathan Harris shares the story of brothers Prentiss and Landry who’ve been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. They plan to save money for the journey north to find their mother, who was sold when they were boys. George and Isabella Walker hire them to work at their neighboring farm, hoping to stanch their grief over the loss of their only son to the Civil War.

Parallel to their story runs a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers. The young men, recently returned from the war to the town of Old Ox, Georgia, hold their trysts deep in the woods. When their secret is discovered, they rock the entire community.

The Sweetness of Water is intelligent and gorgeously written—some sentences were so lyrical I got lost in them. Case in point, “The house was pitched with an enveloping blackness. It was neither night nor morning but rather than a long lull of hours between the two, a period of nothingness—one Caleb knew too well.”

The book includes a wide range of well crafted, distinct characters. Although the author mentioned in an interview that the story came first, he blew life into his characters. A Booker Prize and Goodreads Choice for Historical Fiction this is an impressive debut by a gifted storyteller. I was, however, uncomfortable with the LGBT content. 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.


Two Nights in Lisbon
by Chris Pavone

“Nothing is more important to democracy than holding the powerful accountable for their transgressions.” ― Chris Pavone, Two Nights in Lisbon

My inner detective worked overtime trying to solve the mystery in this riveting thriller.

Ariel Pryce is excited to join her new husband on a business trip to Lisbon, Portugal. While he is in meetings, she can explore the beautiful city. But on day 2, she wakes up alone in their hotel room. John is gone, and he’s not answering his phone. Something is wrong.

Hotel security, Lisbon police, and the American embassy, has a lot of question, questions she can’t answer. What exactly is John doing in Lisbon? Who would want to harm him? Why does Ariel know so little about her much younger husband?

The local police are dubious. So is the CIA, since John had once been among their ranks. Why are there no witnesses to John’s kidnapping? Why had Ariel changed her legal name ten years prior? When his captors demand 3 million euros for his release, she has only one person to call, a man who has a lot to lose if he doesn’t help her.

If you enjoy books about secrets, revenge, and international intrigue, this one is for you. It’s fast-paced and full of surprises. 4 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.


Deep Water
by Emma Bamford

Many of us dream of selling everything and sailing around the world, so the premise of this book was captivating.

When a Royal Malaysian Navy vessel receives a mayday message, the captain orders they rush to a yacht adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Captain Danial Tengku orders his ship to rush to its aid. On board the yacht is a British couple: a horribly injured man, Jake, and his traumatized wife, Virginie, who breathlessly confesses, “It’s all my fault. I killed them.”

Through flashbacks, Virginie tells a harrowing tale about when happened after she and her new husband invested their life savings to buy a beat-up yacht and live off the grid on a remote, exotic island far from the reaches of civilization. When they arrive, they are stunned by the unspoiled beaches and tropical waters, but disappointed that several other boaters have moored in the bay. What they’d hoped would be the adventure of a lifetime turns into a nightmare. The naval captain must decide how much of Virginie’s story is true.

Deep Water fell flat given the promising synopsis of the book. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies, you know, that torturous book too many of us had to read in school. I supplemented the eBook with audio, and while I didn’t notice the flaws while listening, they leapt off the pages as soon as I started reading. The intricate plot was certainly intriguing, and the author did a fine job developing her characters and building drama, but I found the writing to be sophomoric. She left too many massive holes in the story that I’d hoped she’d fill by the conclusion, but she left them gaping. The reviews on this novel are all over the place… I give it 3 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.


Total Power
By Kyle Mills, Vince Flynn (series creator)

Total Power is my 19th installment in the CIA super-agent Mitch Rapp series created by fellow Minnesotan Vince Flynn. Since Flynn’s untimely death in 2013 of prostate cancer, author Kyle Mills has taken the helm. The Mitch Rapp saga isn’t as good, but these thrillers still have great storylines and are fun to read.

In Total Power, Mitch captures ISIS’s top technology expert while he is on his way to meet a man who claims he can take down the American power grid. Despite the Agency’s best efforts, the terrorist accomplishes that very thing; computers and communication networks crash, fuel doesn’t flow from gas stations, water and sanitation systems are on the brink of collapse, and the supply of food is running out.

It could take months, if not years, to get the power up and running. Rapp and his team of extraordinary heroes embark on a mission to find the only people who can repair the damage and prevent ultimate chaos from collapsing the nation… the terrorists, themselves.

This is an absorbing story about what would happen if terrorists took down the power grid… a frightening thought, to be sure. How would the American people cope without their gadgets? I appreciate Mills’ writing style; he is a storyteller who doesn’t try too hard to build flowery sentences. The book was good, but the ending was too abrupt. Will I read #20 in the Mitch Rapp series? Probably, but this one only gets 3 stars.


The Sisters Sweet
by Elizabeth Weiss

The vaudeville era of US entertainment history took place in the early 1920s and featured a variety of specialty acts: singers, dancers, trained animals, ventriloquists, magicians, clowns, etc. Comic giants Laurel & Hardy were among the biggest names on vaudeville stages, as were renowned celebrities Mickey Rooney, Jack Haley, and the Marx Brothers.

The Sisters Sweet by Elizabeth Weiss takes place between 1918 and the early 1930s. It’s about Harriet and Josie, two sisters who perform for eleven years as conjoined twins at the behest of their parents, former stars. When they are exposed as frauds, Josie runs away to Hollywood and her family falls on hard times as the Great Depression grips the country. Harriet, the less talented sister, struggles with growing up as her sister seeks fame and fortune.

This coming-of-age debut started out promising, but was just okay for me. It moved at a snail’s pace, dragging through what was an otherwise interesting plot. I didn’t care for the alternating narrative, with Harriet’s chapters in first-person and her mother Maude’s recounting of her own career in third. The book would have been better had both been written from the narrator’s own point-of-view. I was never invested in the characters, and although the plot was imaginative, the writing wasn’t great. 3 stars.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.



22 Seconds
by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Murders abound in the latest installment in the Women’s Murder Club series. A young girl’s body is found in a ditch, former police officers are murdered, their lips stapled shut and “You talk, you die” written on their foreheads, an inmate is hanged in his prison cell. A huge shipment of guns and drugs is on its way from Mexico. There are shootouts. The end… meh.

The ratings for this book are sky high, so if you’re a diehard James Patterson fan and have been hooked on the Women’s Murder Club series, you’ll likely enjoy the latest installment. I surely didn’t. The author, not James Patterson, but Maxine Paetro, attempted to be clever, but she wasn’t. I didn’t care about the characters and the plot was formulaic and forgettable. I’m done with the Patterson book factory for a while… there are too many talented authors to read. 2.5 stars rounded up to 3.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review.






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