Love and Olive Oil

Beyond the Kitchen: Well Said. Well Read.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not even writing reviews of books that I rate less than 4 stars. There’s just too many of them and I feel like all my reviews start to sound the same.

Perfectly good books, but not amazing books.

These, on the other hand, are the rare ones.

The books that grab you from page 1 and keep you turning until the final period of the final page, and even then refuses to leave you alone.

The books whose characters invade your dreams.

The books whose morals make you want to become better than yourself.

The books that drag you into the story whether you like it or not and then teach you a little something too once you’re there.

The books that make your decision to cancel cable once and for all not even a hesitation in your mind; because if one book like this exists, how many others are out there yet to discover? There’s simply no time for TV if I want a chance at reading all the books that have found their way onto my list.

That’s the kind of book that gets 5 stars from me.

God bless the book people for their boundless knowledge absorbed from having words instead of friends. – The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

While all these books are worthy reads, technically only the first 2 warranted that coveted 5 star rating (Are my standards too high? Maybe they’re too high…) The others I gave 4.5 stars (if goodreads allowed such things as half stars, that is). Still truly great books worth sharing, but just not quite enough to warrant the 5 star rating. Most of the time I can’t even pinpoint exactly what was lacking that caused the loss of half a star.

If you don’t already, follow me on Goodreads where I’m trying to be better about posting reviews of things as I finish them.

(As always, there are affiliate links in this post but all opinions are entirely my own).

Beyond the Kitchen: Reading Rainbow

I grew up believing that rice was to nourish and tea was to heal. Now I understand that tea is also to connect and to dream. That seduction is deeper and more profound than could happen with any man. – Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane

I loved everything about The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. The story, the characters, and most of all, the tea (I am so intrigued by this… I want to go out and find some pu’er now!) The book filled with fascinating history and factual information, making me feel like I actually learned something in the process of reading it: which isn’t something you can often say with fiction. I can’t imagine the amount of research that went into it, but it shows in the carefully crafted narrative and culturally-accurate details throughout the story. I didn’t want it to end (and oh, does that ending leave you yearning for a sequel…) I can honestly say this is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

A Million Junes

I really, really loved A Million Junes, it had me hooked from chapter 1. Granted, the end got a little fuzzy and weird, but overall I highly, highly recommend this sweet book about love and loss and memory, with a little bit of magic mixed in. Almost immediately after finishing it, not yet ready to leave this delightfully magical and yet surprisingly real world I had discovered, I downloaded The Love That Split The World, the author’s previous novel, which is definitely worth a read as well.

At the sound of my name, whole forests grow from saplings into moonlit redwoods beneath my collarbones. – A Million Junes

A Curious Beginning

Miss Veronica Speedwell is a natural historian, amateur detective, lover of adventure and defier of convention. I love me some smart and sassy Victorian ladies, and Veronica certainly fits the bill. Along with her stern and devilishly handsome companion (who has fabulous musculature, btw, a fact she’s never shy to observe), she sets out to solve the mystery of her parentage. What a fun little mystery, charming and cheeky and just plain fun. A Curious Beginning is the first in the Veronica Speedwell series (I just finished the second today, actually, and plan to move on to the third in due haste!)


A quirky story about a girl who doesn’t quite fit into the hustle and bustle of city live, she finds refuge in baking bread, using a magical culture she unexpectedly inherits (hence the name, Sourdough). It started off cute and got more and more ridiculous as it went on, but that only made it all the more charming. Also, inspiring: it’s what finally pushed me from just talking about making more homemade bread to actually doing it (I’ve since got my own sourdough starter thriving and have been baking bi-weekly loaves of varying degrees of success, but the process is still incredibly satisfying to me).

Turtles all the Way Down

Everyone is talking about Turtles all the Way Down for a reason. It so perfectly describes, in words, feelings that are ever so hard to verbalize. It tells the story of Aza, a teenager dealing with severe anxiety and OCD in addition to the complications of everyday teenage life, who unexpectedly finds herself in the middle of a missing persons investigation. Less a mystery, it’s more about love and friendship and the complexities of life. Anyone who has experienced anxiety and fear and compulsion, even mildly, will immediately feel a connection with Aza, but, as the New York Times put it, “One needn’t be suffering like Aza to identify with it. One need only be human.

Anybody can look at you. It’s quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see. – Turtles all the Way Down

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

Sort of silly, a little outlandish, but most of all sweet and charming, this coming-of-age tale about a young man learning to accept and express himself is nothing short of wonderful. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue takes place in 18th century France but carries a decidedly modern feel (if the characters had iPhones instead of swords it could easily be set in the present time). “A gleeful romp through history” says one review, and that’s about as spot on as it gets.

Being with her was the same as staring into the sun; he saw nothing, and yet when he looked away, there she was, a raucous white light imprinted at the heart of everything. – The Music Shop

More Almost 5-star Reads…

The Music Shop – A story of love and music, it sucked me in with the engaging story and the beautiful writing, stunning descriptions of sounds and spaces that blurred the lines between image and sound and written word, though I did feel the music-talk took up a few too many pages for my liking (if you are a serious music lover, however, you will adore this).

At the Edge of the Orchard – Who would’ve thought a book about trees and apples would be so intriguing? The ‘seed’ of the idea for this book was originally inspired by Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire, and the resulting story was as engaging as it was educational (gotta love a book that’ll pull you in to the story and teach you a little something while you’re there too).

The Undateable (Librarians in Love) – The equivalent of a ‘romantic comedy’ in book form. Smart and quirky and, yes, maybe a little stereotypical in its obvious effort to break down stereotypes, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. A cute, light read.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly – Beautiful, dark, tragic… and oh so twisted. I don’t want to give too much away, but you should definitely read it if you’re looking for a book that’s not all butterflies and rainbows, but goes so much deeper, and darker.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – One man’s lifelong struggle to discover and accept the truth of himself, his family (and what that actually means), and his homeland. It is charming and outwardly funny, even while simultaneously breaking your heart.

Pachinko – A tale spanning four generations, this fictional story will teach you a plenty of facts about the Japanese occupation of Korea and the hardships it created for countless Koreans that was quite eye opening for me.

The Woman in the Window – One of those books that gives you twist after twist after twist. Just after you think you’ve outsmarted it (I predicted one twist within the first few chapters) but the author just kept on going until you are left with pretzels for brains, questioning just how twisted a book can be.


Now tell me, what’s the best book you’ve read lately?

Happy reading!

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  1. I just finished Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It was perfectly charming, a sweet mix of magic and music and history. Three separate stories tied together by the struggles of the Depression and World War Two, and a magic harmonica.

  2. thank you for these, I find it really hard to find readable fiction, the popular, best reviewed are in my experience, not worthwhile and over-hyped, and so many are trying to stand out with a literary trick or device that’s distracting or not worthwhile, so love the detailed recommendations

  3. Also loved Tea Girl….now have you read The Pink Suit? Fascinating story of the suit Jackie Kennedy wore in Dallas…how it was made, who made it ( it’s a Chanel COPY!) and the lives of those involved….

    Thank you so much for these recommendations…terrific!

  4. LOVED Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. And also loved Heart’s Invisible Furies. Both of those got my rare 5 star rating. It’s ok to have high standards for books. :)

  5. Thanks for these book recommendations! The best I have read recently was This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. I encourage everyone to check it out. Two other recs – Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello and Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt.

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