#PubDay Book Review | “The Chef’s Secret” by Crystal King

Posted Tuesday, 12 February, 2019 by jorielov , , , , 3 Comments

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Acquired Book By: In December [2018] I was approached about this New Year’s release – with such a stirring plot and depth of historical presence, I must admit, I felt moved by the sheer volume of what would become explored in the context of the novel itself! The more I explored the writer’s presence online (by her tweets and website) the more captivated I had become and a desire to read this novel increased tenfold. Not just because I love exploring cookery and ambrosial delights as a home cook myself but because I have a dear attachment to Foodie Fiction – inasmuch as I love exploratory Historical Fiction which seeks to root out lost truths and hidden passageways in the historic past – illuminating people we might never have met otherwise had a Historical novelist not uncovered the story to be told. Thus, my heart aches dearly for Historical Fiction and it is not oft I can pass over a chance to delve into a new unknown chapter of History!

I received a complimentary ARC copy of “The Chef’s Secret” direct from the publisher Atria Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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The reason reading ‘”The Chef’s Secret’ appealled to me:

This novel sounds delish to read! I admit, I do not know the history behind Scappi but I love Foodie fiction and I love reading about the Renaissance inasmuch as I love a wicked good Suspense! I’ve read through the premise and it sounds wonderfully intriguing – especially as the nephew goes against his wishes,…

At the time I accepted this novel for review consideration, I was not yet aware of *Feast of Sorrows* nor of the accompanying cookbook which the author graciously sent me a digital copy of and of which I was able to browse at my leisure as it isn’t long in length and it happily opens like a wide angle format PDF file. Even in this sampler of a cookbook where the author is exploring Renaissance era recipes, she’s been inclusive of the ‘history of food’, the manner in which food was resonating with those who cooked their ingredients and the long, long history of how self-identifiable foods by culture, tradition and country of origin are not as we might have felt they had been – including those countries in the Mediterranean who are anchoured through food to speak on behalf of their culture.

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#PubDay Book Review | “The Chef’s Secret” by Crystal KingThe Chef's Secret
by Crystal King
Source: Direct from Publisher, Scribd | Audiobook Subscription
Narrator: Jacques Roy

A 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.

Genres: Biographical Fiction, Cookery, Foodie Fiction, Historical Fiction, Historical Thriller Suspense, Literary Fiction

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 978-1501196430


Also by this author: The Chef's Secret (Interview)

Published by Atria Books

on 12th February, 2019

Format: Paperback ARC

Length: 9 hours and 36 minutes (unabridged)

Pages: 352

 Published By:  Published By: Atria Books (@AtriaBooks)
{imprint of} Simon & Schuster (

The novels of Crystal King:

Feast of Sorrow by Crystal KingThe Chef's Secret by Crystal King

Converse via: #TheChefsSecret, #HistNov and #HistFic
+ #Renaissance #Cookery with #BartolomeoScappi

Available Formats: Hardcover, Audiobook & Ebook

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I originally felt I would have only been able to listen to a sampler of the audiobook version of #TheChefsSecret – until I had the unexpected JOY of listening to the audiobook in full ahead of posting my review as it released just after midnight the day of publication! The sampler begins as Chapter One begins,..

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About Crystal King

Photo Credit: Wayne Earl Chinnock (Boston Commercial Portrait Photography)

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.

Photo Credit: Wayne Earl Chinnock

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My Review of the chef’s secret:

We enter into Scappi’s life at the time of his death – where we find Giovanni, his nephew is introducing us to how beloved his Uncle had been to everyone who had tasted his foods. It is through food where Scappi had found his destiny – to influence the taste everyone sought from him and to inspire Giovanni to better understand how to cook; to fuse flavour with the ingredients he preferred to use in his creations. It is through this overview of a lived life, we gain perspective – of how one man’s death has a larger net of sorrow – everyone in this community is grieving as if with one heart, one mind. Everywhere people are affected by the absence of this legend of a man, Bartolomeo Scappi. It is here we recognise how one man can impact so many lives through how he chose to interact and engage whilst he was alive. Yet, for Giovanni it is much, much more personal than that – for him, it is an arrow to his heart as Scappi was a surrogate father to his younger self when he needed a guiding hand in his life.

Shortly after this is announced, Giovanni is reunited with one of his dear friends, Valentino but the weight of the hour is alleviated by his Uncle’s trusted friend Francesco who was taking over the particulars in the background. From here, we meet quite a few officials of importance including the sitting Pope; a man Giovanni is not very fond of as he has changed too much of the past for his liking. The days of the lushly eloquent banquet dinners where Scappi could be inventive with his baking skills and his main dishes were cast aside for a more humbled and limited diet. It is this shared fate, Giovanni is learning will become his own as the Pope wishes for him to carry-on in Scappi’s absence as his personal chef.

It was here where you start to feel for Giovanni – he was under his Uncle tutelage yet when he is ready to ascend from his lessons and embrace the responsibilities he is inheriting, he’s cut to the quick straight out of the gate! He must yield and conform to the needs of his employer rather than to see a future cast through the creations his own heart yearns to cook. As a foodie and as a girl who loves to experiment with spice, herb, flavouring, protein, fresh farm veg and fruit and the cultural cooking heritages from the world – I can fully understand his vexations! It would be troublesome to not allow it to afflict your mind with a deeper sorrow than the loss of your Uncle.

Francesco broached the gift Scappi had left for his nephew – it was here where I felt there could be a firm turning of the tides awaiting us. It was enough motivation to give Giovanni a purpose to seek out his Uncle’s office in the middle of the night – for how can sleep come if his Uncle’s strange request weighed on his heart? And, why of course had his Uncle insisted on something that didn’t quite make much sense on the surface of things? It was for these reasons but mostly for idle curiosity Giovanni made his way to his office. It was on arrival where he discovered the hidden boxes Scappi entrusted his nephew to do with the contents as he requested.

The journals Giovanni discovered hidden away without a purpose now that their writer is deceased held more than one curiosity inside them. For Giovanni and myself, the most curious request was what his Uncle had enscribed within the journal itself – a parting sigh about how it would be best for the words he had left behind were erased, burnt and released. This is interesting because how can mere words and a journal put anyone in jeopardy past their death?

As the funeral was underway, Giovanni was full of pleasant memories of his Uncle, whilst grateful to Valentino – for he could voice his own reflections of gratitude he, himself, did not have the ability to share as he had issues with public speaking. It was also a time for him to take better stock of who was keeping audience here – who turnt out for the funeral for their last respects to a man they still hadn’t reconciled as being gone and who was curiously out of place with the attendees he was already expecting to see in attendance. Ever since he first was clued into something being amiss in his Uncle’s affairs, Giovanni was taking it upon himself to try to sleuth out the truth – even if that meant for being overly observant at his Uncle’s funeral when he would rather simply deal with his own emotional state of mind.

Interestingly enough, once the will had been read it revealled a few things to me about the order of how Scappi was revealling himself even in death. He had a purpose in mind – that much you could tell, as he wanted to lift Giovanni up and out of his current circumstances whilst he also had made provisions for young Salvi; a boy who would be ‘let go’ and live without people watching over him if he hadn’t. I felt this was a good impression of the caste system and how different classes of people have always fallen through the cracks in society if it weren’t for a few sympathetic individuals who tried to make a difference one persona at a time.

Time moves slowly in this novel – a lot of the foundation is set against the rhythm of Giovanni’s life – since his lifestyle is rather tame, it is mostly time spent contemplating his job, the intentions of his Uncle (by the actions he had taken after death) and the curious path life takes you when your not expecting anything to change until of course you find out about your (unexpected) inheritance! I had to feel for Giovanni – there were too many unanswered questions – those are the kind that could truly drive you a bit batty if you couldn’t buckle them down with reasonably logical resolutions.

The letters his Uncle left behind were centrally important to the plot because they delve into the parts of his life Scappi hadn’t wanted to disclose to his nephew, Giovanni. Through reading the letters and the journals, he felt he was drawing closer to his Uncle. Even if he couldn’t communicate directly with his Uncle and ask the questions this desire to understand why these were sequestered away to be burned was enough inspiration to read what was not meant to be preserved.

When I first started to see Scappi as he had been – transitioning through his journals and letters, as he left pieces of himself for Giovanni to find and in doing so, he had a certain kind of immortality; I was quite shocked to learn that Scappi did not have the best confidence in his self-worth! He was a genius in the kitchen and he had a dedicated following of women but there was a part of him where he self-doubted his own allure and that felt truly sad to me as you had to wonder if it was through this challenge in his character he had remained alone or if there was more to it than that?

I felt it was rather sad Scappi didn’t think he was deserving of a chance at happiness simply because he was a cook and perhaps, had a lingering scent about him from the kitchens. His passion for food is something King does well to bring into the foreground of the story-line – we get to hear about the kinds of foods he enjoyed pairing together, how he wanted to cook luxury foods but make the taste of how they felt as they were consumed to be the light which shined the brightest. For Scappi, it was all about the enjoyment of the person who was eating the food – as that was his gift, to give an experience and a moment of joy through the food he put every ounce of his soul into creating.

This story isn’t rooted strictly in the present-day as it shifts backwards to retrace Scappi’s life as we walk backwards through time, to better understand what is affecting him. Whilst we’re time slipping with Scappi, part of me was curious to swing back to the present for a bit – to focus on the ciphers and to see if Giovanni could find a way to piece together the messages which held a secret from his eyes until he could solve them. You have to remain patient as even in the quieter moments of the story, there is an elongating of the scope and breadth of the story itself. It bends and flows through time – taking you where you need to go and giving you a close look at why those moments are important to remember lateron.

Note on Content: (within the ARC)

The only thing which I didn’t quite understand in the pacing of the novel is how it was assembled – nearly every chapter is entitled as “Giovanni” except for a few which shift perspective for “Scappi” – which I understand, but when a novel is predominately written focusing on one singular character, I don’t understand the repetitiveness in having to label those chapters consistently as “Giovanni”? It felt a bit redundant and I am unsure if this is found in the finished copies of the novel as I am seeing this in the ARC. I’d rather have no chapter headings – just have them numbered and then, if to mark the alternative perspective arriving, then that chapter could be titled as “Scappi” as otherwise, it is very well known by how King wrote the novel our lead character and focus is most definitely the chef’s nephew Giovanni!

on the food centric historical styling of crystal king:

When we are still in the early stages of understanding Scappi’s life – I must say, King has a way of enticing you forward into the novel when she starts to talk about the kinds of foods Scappi had cooked and given a feast of celebration for the late Pope Julius III; a man in my opinion who was more in-tune with how to make life be full of mirth and happiness. The two Popes who succeeded him were more about purity of the station they were ascending to and thereby, did not partake in the festivities. To me, they lost out, as a well-cooked meal is an experience of its own.

It was there – when it is mentioned about the fowl being used to dress the feast where I flashed back in my mind about happily watching the series Two Fat Ladies (a title I was never charmed over) wherein I learnt a heap about game and how to use different proteins than you would normally feel someone (of any century) would be motivated to eat and yet, they were and still readily consume those kinds of foods. It was their kitchens they used to use as they travelled to different locations that tugged at my foodie heart the most – especially whenever they had that large expansive centre island in which to fold out their bakery delights or to assemble the larger bits of their organised meals. I digress!

In the background of what is happening to Giovanni, King has a natural acquiescence towards inferring what is happening in the Renaissance at the time in which we are meeting her characters. Little nods of whom might have been a friend of Scappi and little tucked in announcements of what life is like during this period of time gave a fuller grounding of the timescape, I felt. I like seeing those gestures as the novel becomes centrally important to the given century it is placed rather than feeling as if it could be a capsule of time somewhere within living history but without an identifiable marker. I felt Historical Fiction benefits from this kind of dedication as you get to tuck closer to how people are living – seeing how their lives are different from our own and knowing exactly why those differences are visible based on what their doing as we read the story.

The Italian language:

I loved how Ms King inserted the proper words and phrases into the context of her novel, The Chef’s Secret as it gave more authenticity to this being a novel set during the Renaissance. They would definitely have been far more former back then, of how to articulate what they wanted to say and how they would go about their ordinary lives. When I listened to the audiobook, these random inclusions took on newer meaning as I heard how they were meant to be pronounced vs what I had felt they could have said? There was of course a stark difference between the two but I never shy away from admitting being a dyslexic adult has its unique interpretations on how certain words are pronounced!

I did enjoy hearing the narrator speak these words because it heightened the experience of the novel – vs when I was reading the ARC myself, stumbling a bit to get my tongue round how to say those same words aloud. In some regards, I think this is an added benefit of listening to audiobooks – they help you stop muddling through how to pronounce words and give you the joy of hearing them as they are properly spoken.

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Whilst I read this novel, I listened to the Renaissance Italian Lute Music Playlist via #Spotify – as I like to seek out music which befits the stories I am currently reading. In a way, it helps me feel more rooted into the texture of the novels whilst it also helps offset my migraines as music has such a calming effect. At least for me. The music on this playlist elevated my reading experience as I felt like I had musically travelled where my bookish heart was visiting as I read Ms King’s narrative!

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Post Script banner created by Jorie in Canva. Coffee and Tea Clip Art Set purchased on Etsy; made by rachelwhitetoo.

Acquired Digital Audiobook by: I have a subscription to Scribd for audiobooks and shortly after midnight I realised this audiobook was available to listen too! I was quite excited as I didn’t think I’d get to listen to it until long after my review went live lateron in the morning – thereby, I was not obligated to post my opinions about the audiobook, as I am adding these notes about the performance and sound of the audiobook for my own edification as I personally love listening to them! They also happily help offset my chronic migraines – but this particular selection was a random bit of joy whilst I was researching what to listen to for a Hamilton: the Musical inspired readathon in March! I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

specifically in regards to the audiobook:

As I am relatively new to reviewing audiobooks and listening to them with a greater frequency than of the past, I am appreciative of Ms Jess providing a cursory outline of how best to articulate my listening hours on behalf of this audiobook and the others I shall be blogging about or reviewing in future. I’ve modified the suggestions to what I felt were pertinent to respond too on my own behalf as well as keeping to the questions I felt were relevant to share.

Number of Times I’ve heard the Narrator(s):

This is my first audiobook experience with the narrator Jacques Roy. I tried to find them online but came up empty – in regards to a website or a social presence.

Regards to the Narrator’s Individual Character performances:

Giovanni: Although he is not a man of younger youth, his voice has a freshness about him; of someone who has not yet proven himself or what he is capable of on his own. This voice of his fit his station now as he was his Uncle’s successor and his voice showed the growth he needed to achieve to feel more comfortable and confident in his newer lead role with his Uncle now absent.

Scappi: For some reason, I didn’t detect too much of a difference in the voicing of Scappi from Giovanni; their voices started to co-merge together and it was harder to tell which of them was speaking. Since the narrator’s narrating voice sounds so similar to his male characters, you have to think a bit more about whom is meant to be speaking.

Secondary Characters:

Francesco: His voice was more settled in his thoughts – he spoke with purpose and did not rush nor mince his words. You could tell he had confidence in his life and it was a trait I think Giovanni needed to embrace in his own.

Valentino (Giovanni’s best friend): His voice made me smile the most – he was very blunt and assertive!

Serafina (Valentino’s mother): Her voice was softened – which was quite lovely as I know when I listen to male narrators, sometimes when they switch genders within a narration, it is harder to make out the female voices.

Cesare (Giovanni’s brother): A horrible character who has nothing but spite for his brother, which is aptly voiced by how he speaks to Giovanni.

Salvi (the boy Giovanni inherited from his Uncle): I really appreciated how the narrator embraced his youthful innocence and gave us the illusion that a young boy had joined the cast.

There is a larger supporting cast in the background of the story-line – from Virgilio who helps make the funeral special for Scappi to the court jester both Uncle and nephew had had a fondness of appreciation for being in their lives. Each comes and takes their turn, entering into the scenes or taking their leave – whilst the story remains centred in focus on Giovanni.

How the Novel sounded to me as it was being Read:

(theatrical or narrative)

The Chef’s Secret is a spoken narrative audiobook – however, for the first chapter, the alignment with the narrator’s voice to the text was quite charmingly beautiful. Everything was paced well and the dictation in his delivery was lovely as it helped me understand better how to pronounce the Italian words which are inclusive to the plotting of this novel. By the time the second chapter began, the pacing felt a bit off – as the words started to rush and everything felt a bit jumbled. I wasn’t sure what would have caused that rift between one chapter to the next – as I do not adjust the sound or delivery of a narrator’s narration. I know quite a few listeners who do this but for me, I always preferred the version of how the audiobook sounds when you first play it.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on his style of narration until I reached chapter three – he reminds me of Jim Parsons! I’ve been watching episodes of young Sheldon for the first time recently and his style of narrating this story reminds me of how Parsons narrates the show.

How was the sound quality? Any special effects? or other notations?

As the audiobook opens, your treated to a musical overture before the narrator begins his narration. This is one audiobook which held a special treat – the narrator spoke aloud the letters and journals important to the plot and the forward motion of the novel. Sometimes I find certain narrators do better with these kinds of insertions than others – but what worked for me here, is how the letters and/or journal entries never felt rushed. You could savour over the words and try to root out for yourself the reasons behind Scappi’s secrecy even when it came to his nephew!

For the most part, the sound quality is rather good – that is why that stumbling block of a start in chapter two threw me for a bit as the rest of the audiobook was without further ‘quirks’.

Preference after listening to re-Listen or pick up the book in Print?

Being that I had an ARC of this novel on hand as I was reading it for this review, I happily was able to do something I love to do – listen to an audiobook whilst I’m reading the content of the story in print! I love holding a physical book in my hand with my headphones on and simply disappearing into the story – there are hidden layers I notice in a story when I do this, a few of which I might have overlooked previously if I had only read the print edition and/or listened to the audiobook version. For audiobooks – if I’m strictly listening to them without a book, I might listen to them a few times to make sure I didn’t miss the nuances I love so much to root out from an author’s personal style of story-telling!

Thereby, I’d say I am generally spoilt – I love to read and listen to audiobooks in tandem! I can attest it was a charmer of an experience with The Chef’s Secret!

In closing, would I seek out another jacques roy audiobook?

Yes, I would. When I initially heard the chapter sampler via SoundCloud, I had a completely different impression of his narration style than when I listened to the finished copy of the audiobook. I am thankful there was a difference between the two as I much preferred the second time I heard his narration of this story as the fuller version really embraces the story’s depth and heart. I think perhaps the sampler might have been a demo copy? It sounded like it to me but then sometimes audiobooks alter how their intoned by how you listen to them – this can even differ from platform to platform but for the time I listened to it on Scribd, I was most impressed!

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This book review is courtesy of:

Atria Books / Simon & Schuster

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Kindly help tweet awareness of this novel & the video above by sharing the author’s s/o!

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Be sure to visit my fellow book bloggers I was able to find
– wherein you can gather different perspectives on behalf of the novel:

Book Review of “The Chef’s Secret” & Bookaway | Write On Cindy

Book Review of “The Chef’s Secret” | Nichole Louise

Book Review of “The Chef’s Secret” | Linda’s Book Obsession

Book Review of “The Chef’s Secret” | shreewrites.com

“Seasoned for Stealth” Book Review of “The Chef’s Secret” | cl-bookreviews.com

(*) note – though it is a bit tricky to find my fellow book bloggers who are receiving this novel for review from the publisher, I do try to seek them out and list their reviews for you to enjoy reading – whilst further gauging if this is a story you’d like to be reading yourself. A few of course, might be offering a bookaway – enjoy your journeying!

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 I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary! Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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Reading this novel counted towards some of my 2019 reading challenges:

2019 HistFic Reading Challenge banner created by Jorie in Canva.

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2019 Audiobook Challenge banner created by Jorie in Canva.2019 New Release Challenge created by mylimabeandesigns.com for unconventionalbookworms.com and is used with permission.

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{SOURCES: Book covers for “The Chef’s Secret” & “Feast of Sorrows”, book synopsis for “The Chef’s Secret”, author biography and author photograph of Crystal King were all provided by Simon & Schuster (courtesy of Atria Books) and used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Audiobook sampler of “The Chef’s Secret” was provided by embed codes provided by SoundCloud. Crystal King’s vlog provided by embed codes provided by YouTube. 2019 New Release Challenge badge provided by unconventionalbookworms.com and is used with permission. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Book Review Banner using Unsplash.com (Creative Commons Zero) Photography by Frank McKenna; Post Script banner using Coffee and Tea Clip Art Set purchased on Etsy; made by rachelwhitetoo; 2019 Audiobook Challenge banner, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge banner and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2019.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Tuesday, 12 February, 2019 by jorielov in 16th Century, Bartolomeo Scappi, Biographical Fiction & Non-Fiction, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

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