Friends with Books: The Founder of

Friends with Books: The Founder of

This week I stumbled upon the great site, run by reader and chef Anu-Riikka. Half of the site is devoted to book reviews of romantic thriller and suspense novels and the other half has recipes from her kitchen, complete with photos. The books are rated by the spoonful and the recipes are straight comfort food. It’s fun, folksy, and well written.

I love combining books and food—all of the Detective Emilia Cruz novels include a recipe from something served in the book—and I know readers do, too.

Anu-Riikka was nice enough to chat with me this past week.

Carmen Amato: I love the premise of your website, Tell us how and why you started the site, which now has 14,000 weekly page views, and about your background as a chef.

Anu-Riikka: I found my passion for food, and baking especially, as I was working in a kitchen while in college to get my Bachelor’s degree. A couple of years after graduation I went back to school, and first got my degree in baking and pastry, and then in culinary technology. So I’m both pastry chef and a chef.

I have worked in variety of kitchens including as a baker in a country club, kitchen manager in a conference center, and a catering chef in a large sports arena environment. I’ve had the opportunity to cook and arrange events and private parties for royalty in Scandinavia  and managed hot dog stands in a World Cup sporting event. I have managed all the fresh food departments in gourmet grocery store, and catered private parties for all the life events one could have.

Due to some medical problems I have been partially handicapped, ‘mobility challenged’ as I like to call it, for about four years now. That changed my life drastically. After finding the balance with the new life and treatments, I needed something meaningful to do. So after planning and months of research, I started the website that is now Books & Spoons.

CA: You review many romantic suspense and thriller novels and always give a very well-rounded view of the book, including details about characters, pacing and writing style. I especially loved the way you described Cavanaugh in the Rough as having a “drizzle of clues.” What makes a book stand out for you as a reader? What don’t you like?

A-R: A great story for me has a balance, everything in moderation (yes, even those sexy scenes!) My first choice of genre is romantic suspense, and I love when both the romantic part and the action/suspense are well reasoned, the book has a good foundation that is built upon through the story, has feelings I can relate to, and solid characters I want to cheer for and wish them all the best. I like conflict when it comes outside of the couple, not something they cost themselves. I like angst, fear, danger, as long as it is balanced with sweetness and a little humor; I need both smiles and sighs. When it comes to the sex scenes I want them to be taking the plot and the couple forward. When it is obvious there’s a sex scene just because of it, I start to skip pages.

I don’t read stories with cheating issues, third party involvement, and a cliffhanger at the end is a deal breaker for me. I want the crimes solved, at least some of them if a series, and if there is something that is left open, please tell me the next book is out soon.

I have gotten a little feedback from readers that I use funny expressions sometimes. I know that, but I speak three languages daily, and it is possible that I take an expression from other language and make a translation that is ‘unique’. I would like to call that my trademark (hahaa)!

CA: Tell us about a favorite suspense novel? What snack you recommend to eat as we read it?

A-R: Oh wow. Nope, I can’t, too many to choose from. I can only give you some of my favorite authors.

The first romantic suspense book that I bought was Sandra Brown’s UNSPEAKABLE–and I was sold on the genre. Then there are Linda Howard’s MR. PERFECT and OPEN SEASON that I have reread countless times. But those are paperbacks before my first Kindle opened a new world to me, with countless stories just seconds away from my fingertips without waiting 3 to 12 weeks for the book order to arrive in Europe.

This year I have already read some excellent romantic suspense stories, one that stands out is AT CLOSE RANGE by Laura Griffin. The perfectly balanced story, in my mind.

When I write in a review that something is nail-biting intense or toe-curling scary, it means I actually did that while I read the book. So when I read suspense, to save my nails, I like to snack on something chewy. Salted licorice is often my first choice. My go-to snack is fresh berries and fruit, but the snack has to be something that doesn’t get books or my Kindle messy.

CA: On your site, which are more popular, the reviews or the recipes? (BTW I am trying the roasted cauliflower tonight). What is the most popular recipe on the site?

A-R:  I normally do one food post a week, and during a busy week, there can be up to 20 book posts. So BOOKS gets much more attention but SPOONS does very well when you count the overall number of viewers to the website.

The baking recipes get a lot of attention and the most popular recipe has been the Gingerbread Fudge.

There has been a lot of social media attention on the posts that are just a basic meal idea with a twist, for example, use rainbow carrots instead of regular ones to bring intensity to your plate.

CA: If you could invite any authors, living or dead, to dinner, who would you invite and what would you serve?

A-R: The menu part is easy; something seasonal, three courses. Right now it is the worst time of the year when it comes to local fresh produce. But since we are going towards the spring I would start with a gazpacho, a cold tomato soup. For the main course I would serve roasted pork loin with citrus avocado salad and couscous. For the dessert I would serve petit fours so we could taste as many different flavored cakes as possible.

As who I would invite, that’s a hard one. I’m sure I am in a minority when I say I prefer not to know too much about the authors whose books I read. Social media has twisted the concept of what we all share with the world, and what we know about total strangers. I don’t have the need to know every activity, meal, lipstick color and a cup of coffee for most people. That said, here are some authors I would like to have a conversation with:

Pat Conroy – Because of THE GREAT SANTINI and the growth experience reading it was for me

BT Urruela – A soldier turned into a cover model turned into an author must have great stories, and really, have you seen him?!

Jasinda and Jack Wilder – Because I admire their journey and their books were the first indie books I read.

Jill Mansell – Her books took me through some dark times when my disability was first diagnosed

Liliana Hart – I admire her business sense, the fresh look she has with the industry, and adore many of her early works

Sally Ann Phillips – An author I met on Twitter who has turned into a soul sister whom I haven’t had a chance to meet face to face.

Thank you, Anu-Riikka!

Readers, check out for all the reviews and recipes.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.



Celebrate Greek Culture Now More Than Ever

Celebrate Greek Culture Now More Than Ever

Greece has overspent itself to the brink of destruction and angry citizens are showing their contempt for further austerity measures by firebombing downtown Athens.  Talk continues of defaults and the downfall of a country and the entire eurozone as well.

But even if the country’s national institutions wobble, Greek culture will survive the current unpleasantness in Athens. Here are some reasons why:

1.  The Mediterranean Diet   The heart-healthy Greek menu emphasizes fish, olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables and a splash of wine for good measure.  According to the Mayo Clinic “most if not all major scientific organizations encourage healthy adults to adapt a style of eating like that of the Mediterranean diet for prevention of major chronic diseases.” Read the full article about the benefits of eating Greek here.

2.  Kiosks   There’s a tiny outdoor convenience store every few blocks in Athens where you can buy snacks,  newspapers, bus tickets, an emergency bottle of olive oil, etc.  The kids can be sent down the street with a few euros to buy an ice cream bar and Dad can stop for a small bottle of whiskey to soothe a bad day at the office.  Friends can meet for a quick chat, read the headlines and get a sports drink when the heat roasts marble buildings to a sparkling white and all the fresh oranges and eggplants you bought at the neighborhood laiki open air market start getting heavy on the walk home.  Maybe now isn’t the time to open that designer dress shop in Kolonaki but the kiosks will still be a central part of life this time next year, too.

3.  The lemonade at the base of the Acropolis   You came to see the famous Parthenon, step in Socrates’s footsteps at the Pnyx, imagine the chariot races and salute Hadrian’s arch.  But how did democracy thrive in this heat! The antidote is the amazingly crisp, fresh lemonade sold at the ordinary-looking concession stand at the base of the Acropolis. Buy one–at whatever today’s cost–after your trek up to the Parthenon. And be careful on the way down. There aren’t safety rails and Greece probably doesn’t have the money to install them now.

4.  Storytellers  Writing and storytelling are quintessential aspects of Greek culture. This proud heritage is being carried on by the Aegean Arts Circle. Writer, sculptor and all-around Renaissance woman Amalia Melis runs the Circle which hosts an annual writer’s workshop series on the island of Andros.  Workshops are led by notable authors who help both experienced and novice writers polish fiction manuscripts. This summer’s workshop will be led by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler whose “. . . workshop will focus on the fundamentals of the creative process for any fiction writers, beginning or advanced, who aspire to create enduring literature.”

5.  The Greek alphabet   Fraternities, sororities, astronomers, interior designers, and the electronics industry (Coming Soon! The beta version!) are among the notables who all embrace the timeless quality of the Greek alphabet.

6.  This. Is. Sparta.  Okay, okay. Yes, it’s an internet meme and King Leonidas kept slipping in an accent that suggested he’d been thrown out of his fair share of pubs, but Hollywood loves Greek history. Think Troy.  Alexander the Great.  Beautiful scenery, low budget costumes and pre-written plots.  And then there is the fabulously genuine Nia Vardarlos who singlehandedly brought Greek traditions of family, food, and loud arguments to the silver screen.  And made us laugh.

7.  Ohi Day  There is a Greek resilience best illustrated by a unique holiday which celebrates the day in 1940 that Greek Prime Minister Metaxas refused to allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified “strategic locations.” The ultimatum was delivered by the Italian ambassador on behalf of Germany and urban legend has it that Metaxas answered with just the word “ohi,” or “no” in Greek. The Axis forces invaded shortly thereafter. Forced to the brink of starvation, Greece barely survived the rest of World War II and its chaotic political aftermath, best captured in My Brother Michael by Leon Uris.

So tonight, I’m celebrating with My Life In Ruins, and some feta and olives. I’ll watch the news tomorrow.

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Greek culture


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


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