Monday, 23 May 2016

The Trap

Author: Melanie Raabe
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Spiderline (House of Anansi Press)
First Published: May 28, 2016
First Line: "I am not of this world."


Book Description from GoodReads: The famous novelist Linda Conrads, 38, is a mystery to her fans and the media. She hasn’t set foot over the threshold of her villa on Lake Starnberg for more than eleven years, and yet she’s extremely successful. Her life, though comfortable, is highly artificial and her grip on reality is fragile. Only very few know that she is tormented by a dark memory.

When she was young, Linda found her sister Anna in a pool of her own blood and saw the murderer fleeing. His face haunts her dreams. So it is a tremendous shock for her one day when that exact face appears on her television screen — it belongs to the high-profile journalist Victor Lenzen. She decides to set a trap to catch Victor by writing a novel based on the death of her sister and promote the book through one interview —with Victor. But what actually happened that night many years ago?


My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: Going into a new book I always read the description so I have a good idea of how things are going to pan out. With The Trap I was expecting a standard 'whodunnit' but Raabe, a new German author, switched things up and gave me a very character-driven and impressive psychological thriller. I ended up with a very different kind of experience than I initially expected and I quite enjoyed it.

The premise is that author Linda Conrads found her sister's murdered body 12 years ago and even caught a glimpse of the culprit before he escaped.  The man was never apprehended by police. Since then she has become agoraphobic, shutting herself off from the outside world while making a living as a successful author.  When she sees her sister's killer on TV she comes up with a plan to write a novel titled Blood Sisters, a fictionalized version of her sister's murder to entice the killer to come out of hiding.  She has set the trap to catch him ... but will it work?

There are two stories going on - the main story line featuring the reclusive author trying to find her sister's killer and the other being excerpts from Blood Sisters
This quickly went from merely a whodunit to a well crafted psychological thriller.  Raabe sprinkles doubt in the reliability of Linda's perspective and these feelings continue through most of the book.  You see how unraveled she's become but is her reality the truth?  She even admits to herself that she's always loved to tell stories. I loved that I wasn't quite sure about Linda's take on things and I think Raabe wrote this aspect of doubt very well.  I admit that there are some parts that seemed to feel repetitive as the reader gets glimpses into Linda's muddled psyche but I think that only helped me to get inside her head and see just how haunted she continues to be over her sister's murder.

There are many twists thrown in that left me questioning my initial assumptions about Linda and the crime in question and with the heart-stopping endings to some of her chapters I was hooked and had a hard time putting down this book. 



The only criticisms that I have for this book is that the romance angle could have been omitted for all that it added to the plot and the ending felt a little too easily wrapped up and was over before you knew it. 


In the end, I found this book to be a gripping, twist-filled and tense psychological thriller that leaves the reader questioning the motives of the characters.  This is a very impressive debut novel.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Spiderline Publishing (House of Anansi Press) for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

In the Clearing

Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense
Series: #3 in the Tracy Crosswhite series
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
First Published: May 17, 2016
First Line: "Buzz Almond informed dispatch he was rolling, punched the accelerator, and smiled at the roar of the 245-horsepower V-8 engine, the g-forces nudging him back against his seat."


Book Description from GoodReads: Detective Tracy Crosswhite has a skill, and a soft spot, for tackling unsolved crimes. Having lost her own sister to murder at a young age, Tracy has dedicated her career to bringing justice and closure to the families and friends of victims of crime.

So when Jenny, a former police academy classmate and protégé, asks Tracy to help solve a cold case that involves the suspicious suicide of a Native American high school girl forty years earlier, Tracy agrees. Following up on evidence Jenny’s detective father collected when he was the investigating deputy, Tracy probes one small town’s memory and finds dark, well-concealed secrets hidden within the community’s fabric. Can Tracy uphold the promise she’s made to the dead girl’s family and deliver the truth of what happened to their daughter? Or will she become the next victim?


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My ReviewIn this third installment of the Tracy Crosswhite series there are two cases.  The first case involves a domestic abuse/murder in Seattle.  This case is very secondary, and quite cut and dry with a minor and obvious twist.  Tracy isn't involved much in this case, which is quickly passed on to Tracy's partner Kins and their fellow detectives who, unfortunately, don't get much page time.

The bulk of the book deals with a forty year old cold case involving the apparent suicide of Kimi Kanasket, a Native American teenager in Klickitat County, Washington. When case notes written by the now deceased sheriff come to light forty years after Kimi's death, the sheriff's daughter, a former police academy classmate of Tracy's, asks for some help to determine if Kimi's death truly was a suicide. Tracy is motivated to help solve cold cases due to the loss of her sister so many years ago and her desire to help family members get closure for their loss.  This story line jumps back and forth from current day to 1976 as well as between Seattle and the small, tight-knit community in rural Washington state.  For this case there were some twists and turns, as well as some interesting suspects and townspeople but overall there just seemed to be something lacking compared to the first two books in the series.  

Tracy is still the detective with a nose for solving crimes and I really like her.  She's strong, has a good head on her shoulders but has some very real issues in her personal life, namely how the death of her sister still haunts her.  I think seeing how this ongoing loss affects her gives her a very relatable and human feel and not just the head strong detective out to get the bad guys. 

There were a couple of new secondary characters thrown into the mix (I loved the former newspaper publisher).  But I was surprised that Tracy's love interest, Dan as well as her fellow Seattle detectives - Kins, Fax and Del (and even her cantankerous boss Captain Nolasco) are barely in this book which is a shame because they bring both humour and nastiness (I'm looking at you Nolasco) to the books.

Overall this was a good read but definitely not my favourite in the series.  I highly recommend reading My Sister's Grave (which I adored) followed by the second book in the series, Her Final Breath (another great suspense read) to get a clear idea of where Tracy is coming from especially since her sister's death is brought up several times throughout this book.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Thomas and Mercer and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary ebook copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Children of Earth and Sky

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 427
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: May 10, 2016
First Line: "It was with a sinking heart that the newly arrived ambassador from Seressa grasped that the Emperor Rodolfo, famously eccentric, was serious about an experiment in court protocol."


Book Description from GoodReads: The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:  Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay has written a grand, epic adventure in his own fictionalized realm that is influenced by real historical elements.  This book has a large ensemble cast of characters, many of whom pick up the reigns of the story.  Due to this large number of characters I regularly had to use the character index at the beginning of the book, and even bookmarking it, since I used it so often.  It was hard to keep certain characters and their relationships to each other straight at first and using last names that are similar (Valeri, Villani) didn't help matters.

This is my first book by Kay and I immediately realized that this man can write.  His descriptions of his characters are elaborate and he is quite descriptive (sometimes overly so).  He takes his time getting his reader into time, place and the internal thoughts and feelings of his characters.  I found it unique that Kay takes influence for his story from real historical situations then gives them a twist to fit his story. In this book he was influenced by the Ottoman Empire, Venice and Dubrovnik each given new names of Osmanli, Seressa and Dubrava.

This book has a very slow start but once the story gets going, about a third of the way in, the plot becomes more interesting yet still cannot be considered fast-paced.  There were some periods when I'd get immersed into the lives of a few of the characters, specifically Leonora Valeri, Danica Gradek and Pero Villani, but this was followed by long, overly descriptive moments which slowed down the pace and my interest. There was also at least one story line, which I was eager to learn more about, that didn't go anywhere which I found very frustrating and just plain odd.

While I respect Kay's ability to write, his attention to detail and his unique fictionalized history/fantasy genre, I found large sections of the book a struggle to get through.  I also wasn't a fan of how often Kay switches narrators, often without warning or help to the reader to remember who is speaking.

This book has its good moments of murder, spies, revenge and love all within the complicated plots involving political machinations, war, power and religious persecution.  Kay is an impressively descriptive writer who delves deeply into his fictionalized history and characters.  Unfortunately I didn't find myself as riveted with the plot or characters as I was expecting.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Breaded Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Cherry Tomato Sauce

Are you looking for an impressive meat dish that looks like you've slaved away for hours?  A dish that even your pickiest of eaters will take one bite of and look at you with love and utter fascination at the bounty that you've made with your awesome culinary ingenuity??

Ya, me too. 

Until that utopian scene occurs there's this recipe that was a hit with four out of five Bookworm abode inhabitants.  There's always one in the bunch, amIright?  By the end of the meal the one holdout claimed the pork was "Just okay." "Wellll, my wee food critic, it's my lucky day then because I was only aiming for a meal that was 'barely okay and marginally edible' so I guess I hit this one out of the park!!"

(Note: I occasionally like to serve a side of sarcasm with meals. It's the side dish that is not only satisfying for the cook but great paired with any main course.)


The rest of us quite enjoyed this meal (and the leftovers too).  The idea for this meal came to me out of the blue.  I had two pork tenderloins thawing with no idea what to make and time was ticking.  I also had some frozen Balsamic Cherry Tomato Sauce from last summer just beggin' to be used. Hmmm.  Add a crispy coating to the pork and voila!  A meal that 80% of our household will enjoy.


While there are a few steps involved with this recipe they are quite quick.  There's a lot of dipping of the pork medallions in egg, flour and bread crumbs and two cooking times but they go by fast.  Trust me.  Served with a salad and perhaps some roasted or mashed spuds this is a great, go-to meal for family and/or guests.




1 pork tenderloin (1 1/2 lb)
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence (or spices you'd prefer)
Salt and Pepper
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp oil
1 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce (I used my Balsamic Cherry Tomato Sauce)
Garnish - Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cut off any fat on the pork tenderloin.  Cut the tenderloin into 3/4-inch thick medallions.



Get out three medium bowls. 

  • In the first, place the flour.
  • In the second bowl, place both eggs and whisk well.
  • In the third bowl, place the bread crumbs, thyme, Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.  Mix well.
Using ONE HAND, take each medallion and coat it in the flour from the first bowl; tap off excess flour.  Then coat the medallion in the egg mixture (allowing excess to drip off) then coat the medallion in the bread crumb mixture.  Place on a clean plate and continue with the rest of the medallions. By using one hand to touch the messy medallions you'll keep the mess to a minimum with only one hand that look like you have cheese sticks stuck to the ends of your digits.



Preheat a large frying pan to medium heat. Add oil to the heated frying pan then place the medallions into the pan and brown on the first side.  Flip each piece of pork and brown the other side. 



Place browned pork medallions into a baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 160F.

Meanwhile, heat tomato sauce.  When serving, drizzle the tomato sauce over the medallions (or serve it on the side).  Add some grated Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese for a Pork Parmesan feel.

Source: The Baking Bookworm






Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Unbecoming

Author: Jennie Downham
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult, Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Dan Fickling Books
First Published: February 23, 2016
First Line: "It was like an alien had landed."

Book Description from GoodReads: Katie is seventeen and in love with someone whose identity she’s afraid to reveal.

Caroline, Katie’s mother, is uptight, worn out, and about to find the past catching up with her.

Mary, Katie’s grandmother, suffers from Alzheimer’s and suddenly appears after years of mysterious absence.

As Katie cares for an elderly woman who brings daily chaos to her life, she finds herself drawn to the grandmother she never knew she had. Rules get broken as allegiances shift. Is Mary contagious? Is “badness” genetic?

In confronting the past, Katie is forced to seize the present. As Mary slowly unravels and family secrets are revealed, Katie learns to live and finally dares to love.

Unbecoming is a vivid and exhilarating celebration of life and learning to honor your own story, infused with jenny Downham’s signature warmth, humor, and wisdom.
  


My Rating: 4/5 stars

My ReviewUnbecoming is a family drama told through the eyes of three women - seventeen year old Katie, her mother Caroline and her grandmother Mary.  Downham gets to the heart of several issues surrounding this trio of multi-generational women who are forever connected by blood but struggle to connect on a daily basis due to long-seated and still quite heated family issues.


Downham brings to light many complicated family issues - dealing with an ailing elderly parent suffering from a degenerative cognitive disease, abandonment, loss, long-held family secrets, identity, mental health ...  There are a lot of issues presented to the reader but Downham handles them with care, knowledge and sensitivity as she gets to the heart of the issues that threaten to tear this family apart.



The characters are quite engaging, each with their own issues and unique flaws.  Throughout the book Mary, Caroline and Katie struggle to find out who they are in relation to each other and within themselves.  I found them to all be interesting, in varying degrees.

As Downham reveals the truth about family secrets you see how Mary's past decisions - and decisions made for her - affect her daughter and grandchildren.  Downham's narration brings readers into the lives of these three women at different points in time giving us a clear look at why and how these women became who they are today and why the emotions continue to affect them.  These revelations helped to solidify Mary, Katie and especially Caroline for me as great multi-dimensional main characters. 

At first Caroline comes off as rather cold hearted especially in the way she treats her birth mother, Mary and how strict and controlling she is when it comes to her children.  But as the story unfolds, and gaps are filled in for the reader, we learn about Caroline's past and how it has affected her relationships with her children, Mary and her extended family.


Mary is forever fearless, unpredictable and full of energy but her memory loss is sad to witness.  I applaud how brilliantly Downham describes living with dementia through the eyes of Mary. She's still just as spunky as she was in her youth but her dementia has taken a toll on her freedom and her grasp of the past.

The book focuses a bit more on Katie and her personal struggles which I felt were honestly portrayed.  It was heartwarming to see the almost instant bond she felt with Mary and how, even with dementia, Mary provided the much needed support that Katie craved.

Although the story has its slower parts I quite enjoyed this read. Deep-seated familial issues with engaging and believable characters are what this story is all about.  The focus is ultimately on family - in all its forms -, love and how we deal with the baggage.

Recommended.
  

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Who Broke the Teapot?



Author: Bill Slavin
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Type: ebook
Page Count of Hardcover: 32
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
First Published: April 26, 2016
First Line: "Baby sitting in his chair."

Book Description from GoodReads: Mom is very angry. Her very favorite teapot is broken, and no one is 'fessing up. Was it Dad, sitting in his underwear reading the paper? Was it Cat, who was all tangled up in a ball of yarn? Was it Baby perched in his highchair? Or is there a surprising twist to this mystery that teaches Mom a little lesson in anger management? Bill Slavin takes a sly poke at parents in their less-than-finer moments in this funny and energetic story.  

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: When Mom finds her favourite teapot broken on the floor she wants to know who broke it!  In this chaotic household there are a host of suspects including a baby, a big brother hanging from the ceiling fan, a big sister stuffing her face and even Dad sitting in his underwear reading the paper.  Or was it the dog or the cat??  Mom is mad and wants to know how her beloved teapot got broken!

Bill Slavin has written a cute story with a hint of a mystery for young children.  The text is quite simple with a nice rhyme and rhythm.  The art work is quirky, busy and filled with quite a lot of detail to keep youngsters captivated.  Adults will enjoy reading the humorous newspaper headings and children will like being able to tell the story using only the pictures.  While this is a relatively short picture book it was enjoyable and with the addition of the mystery and the twist at the end I think younger children will enjoy it as will the adults reading the book.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an ebook copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.



Monday, 9 May 2016

The House of Wives

Author: Simon Choa-Johnston
Genre: Historical Fiction, Memoir
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Penguin Group - Random House Publishing
First Published: May 3, 2016
First Line: "A four-year-old's encounter with the devil is different from a grown-up's."

Book Description from GoodReads: Two women compete for the affections of their opium merchant husband in a tale of friendship, fortune and rivalry in colonial Hong Kong

In 1862, a young Jew from Calcutta named Emanuel Belilios leaves his dutiful wife Semah and sets sail for Hong Kong to make his fortune in the opium trade. There, he grows into a prosperous and respectable merchant, eventually falling in love with his Chinese business partner's daughter Pearl, a delicate beauty twenty years his junior. As a wedding present, he builds for her the most magnificent mansion in Hong Kong. Then Semah arrives unannounced from Calcutta to take her place as mistress of the house...and life will change irrevocably for all of them.

Inspired by the lives of Choa-Johnston's ancestors, The House of Wives is an unforgettable novel about the machinations of the early opium trade, and about two remarkable women determined to secure a dynasty for their children in the tumultuous British Crown colony.


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: What drew me initially to this book is the idea of two women of different cultures, in 19th century Hong Kong, finding out that they share a husband.  Talk about family drama!  What was even more amazing is that author Simon Choa-Johnston based his book on his own unique family history.

The reader is pulled into the personal turmoil of both women as they learn to live with each other and their families, with limited success.  Choa-Johnston does a good job giving the wives Semah and Pearl very distinct voices and as a reader I could sympathize with the struggle of each of the women.  It was sad to think of all of the years wasted that the two women could have been supportive and close but at the same time sharing one's husband wasn't something that either of them signed up for.

While I found the premise quite interesting, for me there was a distinct difference between the first two-thirds of the book and the remaining third.  The first two-thirds, as we meet the wives and see how Emanuel's business takes off, was quite interesting.  Choa-Johnston brings to life the Jewish and Chinese cultures as well as the energy of Hong Kong.  I'd rate that first part of the book a solid four stars with the remainder of the book dropping to three stars.  It was still interesting but I found the energy to wane which was surprising since it's at that point when the wives come together and I thought there'd be emotional fireworks. During the last third of the book there were also large chunks of time that were quickly explained away but this resulted in me not having as much of an emotional connection to the wives, and even less with Emanuel as the story began its conclusion.

Emanuel came to a very unique and different solution to his multiple wife issue which was quite different than how others had handled similar situations during that time and makes for a very unique story.  Choa-Johnston's writing was quite descriptive in regards to the era and cultures and I appreciated that he included a description of his family history at the back of the book to give his readers more background information.  Overall, this was a good read.  It was an interesting look at different cultures, the author's unique family history and the power and strength of women.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Penguin Group - Random House Publishing for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Bread Machine Cinnamon Rolls & Celebrating Moms!

It's that time of year again ... time to do something nice for your Mom!!  Yes, it's Mother's Day weekend and it's time to celebrate!  You may know her as Mom, Ma, Mommy or Mooooooom! 

She's the person who: 

  • cuddled you when you were sick
  • snuck out of your room in a Commando crouch so you wouldn't wake up
  • read you that same book every night for two years
  • sat through each and every recital and clapped the loudest
  • went on field trips to the dump, zoo, amusement park ... you name it, she was there
  • stayed up late to bake cookies for your class party that you just told her about
  • tried so very hard not to take it personally when you walked a little behind her in the mall as a tween/teen
  • handled your exasperated eye rolls and your teenage snark (sometimes) with the patience of the Dalai Lama and other times she threw it right back at ya
  • is more proud than you could ever know about all that you've become and yet sad and nostalgic that time has gone so quickly as you pull away to make your own way in the world
We all know a woman who fills that role in our lives.  It's time to celebrate HER!

As a Mother myself I think I can speak for my brethren when I say that we love receiving gifts (who doesn't?) but going that extra distance, giving us your time, attention, love and thanks is really the best gift. I sound like a greeting card but it's true.

Spoil us.  Hug us. Tell us you love us and think we're still kind of cool (even though some of us, who shall remain nameless, tried to impress teenage you by using the term 'meme' but pronounced it 'me-me' instead of 'meem').  Bring us sustenance on Sunday while we lounge in bed trying to ignore the increasingly frustrated loud whispering as the dads and you kids try to make a lovely breakfast for us while we 'sleep in'.  We want to be treated like queens for one day.  Is that too much to ask?

For those of you who may have to remind your husbands and kids that your special day is almost upon us you can print off this recipe and leave it for them as a hint.  Perhaps even write 'Make this on Sunday!!' just in case your peeps are slow on the uptake. 

These cinnamon rolls take some prep time but are easy to make and are da bomb!!!  I made them a few weeks ago as a 'just cuz' baking idea.  I had a hankering for cinnamon rolls so I made 'em one afternoon and they rocked!  So much so that the 18 rolls that I made were gone in two days.  No judgement.  I'm no expert but I think that may be why my jeans were feeling snug later that week.  Nahhh, that can't be it.

These rolls were light with just the right amount of cinnamon with a crispy top.  They were heavenly, y'all and you so deserve to have them made for you (or your Mom deserves to have them made for her!).

Wishing all my fellow Moms in the trenches a wonderful Mother's Day.  Don't forget to thank all the Grandmas, Nanas, Nannies, Mother-in-Laws, Omas, Aunts and all the women who do all they can to make you be a better you.  Women rock, 'nuff said.



Time to Make: approximately 3 - 3 1/2 hours

2 tsp yeast
3 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. white sugar
3/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg, beaten
1 cup milk
3 tbsp. water

Filling
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3 3/4 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp. butter, softened

Glaze
3/4 cup icing sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
2-3 tsp milk

Put yeast in your bread machine pan first followed by flour, sugar and salt. 

Note: I know that this goes against most bread machine rules but just do it.  Usually you put the yeast in last with the flour acting as a barrier so the liquid doesn't touch the yeast until the right moment.  Throw that idea out the window for this recipe.

In a small bowl, combine melted butter, egg, milk and water. Pour onto the dry ingredients in your bread machine pan.  Set your machine to the Dough setting (usually takes about 2 hours).

Once dough is done, put it onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead the dough and add flour, if needed, to make the dough easier to work with (mine was a bit sticky so I had to add some).  If the dough is still too elastic allow it to sit for 10 minutes covered.

Divide dough into two equal balls.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the balls into a rectangular shape with approximately 1/4-inch thickness.  Do the same with the other ball of dough.

Combine filling ingredients and spread over each of the dough rectangles evenly, getting as close to the edges as you can. 


Roll up dough snuggly starting at the short ends of each rectangle (I found it easier to handle a shorter end plus you'll get more 'scrolls' (curls) as my cousin Jeff, who owns a bakery, calls them). 




Using a sharp knife, cut rolls into approximately 1-inch thick slices and place them in a greased 9x13-inch baking pan (I needed another smaller pan for extras).


Cover the baking dish(es) with a tea towel and place them in a warm area, away from drafts, for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350F.

Bake for about 25 minutes or until light brown on top.  Meanwhile, combine glaze ingredients (sifting icing sugar to ensure no lumps) and set aside. 



Look at that finished product!!  Now all it needs is some glaze!  So spoon the glaze over the warm rolls ensuring they're nice covered.  Serve immediately.  Store extra rolls in an airtight container.  These rolls are best eaten the same day but the rolls we ate the following day, when heated a bit, were almost as good.

Enjoy!

Inspired by - Food.com's 'Bread Machine Cinnamon Buns'



Thursday, 5 May 2016

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven

Author: Chris Cleave
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 418
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
First Published: May 3, 2016
First Line: "War was declared at 11:15 and Mary North signed up at noon."


Book Description from GoodReads: From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Little Bee, a spellbinding novel about three unforgettable individuals thrown together by war, love, and their search for belonging in the ever-changing landscape of WWII London.

It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.

Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.

A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage.
  


My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: I'm an avid reader of WWII fiction so this book greatly appealed to me.  This is my first book by Chris Cleave and it was clear that he has done his homework  researching what life was like for civilians during the London Blitz and the living conditions on Malta for British soldiers.  In fact, in the author's note at the end of the book Cleave states that the book was inspired by his own grandfather's experiences during WWII when he was stationed in Malta to keep an eye on Winston Churchill's son, Randolph.

Readers will instantly notice Cleave's writing style which is simply beautiful.  Cleave is quite descriptive of the time, atmosphere and place.  The plot itself isn't fast-paced but I still found it to be quite a page-turner.  That said, 
at times his writing was almost too descriptive which sometimes distracted from the plot.

War is devastating, all-encompassing and horrific so it might sound odd that my favourite part of this book was the humour.  It was dry, hilarious and wonderfully witty - just how I like it. It feels odd (and almost trite)to say that humour was one of my favourite things about a book featuring war, death and destruction but it's true.  His humour is spot on and I adored the banter between the characters, often finding myself re-reading many of their quips to have a quick giggle again. I didn't find it off putting and found it to show that even during horrible situations people will use humour to keep the darkness at bay.

Cleave shows many aspects of war - love, loss, race, injustice, bigotry and how status greatly affected how different classes of people experienced the same war.  This was more of a personal look at war and showed how different characters struggled to be brave (with different levels of success) but with the exception of a couple of tense situations, it wasn't as gritty of a read as I was expecting.

I liked the main characters (Mary, Tom, Hilda and Alastair) in varying degrees.  They each had their own issues surrounding the war and were reasonably well constructed and believable (except for Tom who was rather bland).  I felt like I sort of got to know Mary but felt like her inner feelings were just out of reach for me (as well as herself) ... and perhaps that was the point. Alastair was the character who truly shined for me and really the only one whom I felt I got to understand well.

Overall, this was a good read.  The writing is excellent, the humour is top notch. Cleave has given his readers an interesting look at London during the Blitz while his characters struggle to be brave in the face of war, each handling their fate and emotions with varying degrees of efficacy.  War strips away the excess and leaves people bare with only their true selves - the good, the bad and the things we don't want to admit even to ourselves. I look forward to reading more from Chris Cleave in the future.

Recommended.



Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Broken

Author: Kelley Armstrong
Genre: Supernatural, Canadian, Re-Read
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 397
Series: #6 in the Women of the Underworld series
Source: My Personal Library
Publisher: Bantam Publishing (Random House Canada)
First Published: 2006
First Line: "Clayton doesn't do 'unobtrusive' well."

Book Description from GoodReads: Ever since she discovered she’s pregnant, Elena Michaels has been on edge. After all, she’s never heard of another living female werewolf, let alone one who’s given birth. But thankfully, her expertise is needed to retrieve a stolen letter allegedly written by Jack the Ripper. As a distraction, the job seems simple enough—only the letter contains a portal to Victorian London’s underworld, which Elena inadvertently triggers—unleashing a vicious killer and a pair of zombie thugs.

Now Elena must find a way to seal the portal before the unwelcome visitors get what they’re looking for—which, for some unknown reason, is Elena…


Now Elena must find a way to seal the portal before the unwelcome visitors get what they’re looking for—which, for some unknown reason, is Elena…


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: I have long been a fan of Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Underworld series.  Armstrong's strength lies in her ability to create amazing visuals of her urban fantasy world.  She also has strong female characters, an interesting premise in that the protagonist changes with each book featuring a different supernatural woman.  That said, not all of her books are created equal and this one fell flat for me.


This is my second time reading this book (I'm re-reading the entire series slowly) so going in all I remembered was that this book featured werewolves Clay and Elena -- my favs.  Unfortunately the plot wasn't as riveting as I was hoping for.

What the book did have going for it was that it was set in Toronto.  I love it when I can picture locations in a book because I've walked those streets myself.  I also love it when Canadian authors write about Canadian locales and not automatically make a book set in the U.S 'just cuz'.  It's a pet peeve of this Canuck reader.

One of the big issues I had with this book is that it focused too much on Elena's pregnancy.  I suppose this was to be expected but, quite frankly, I didn't find it all that interesting.  As someone who has been in the pregnancy trenches three times it was hard to believe that a woman who is at the end of her final trimester, even though she's a werewolf, could do all of the things Elena did.  She couldn't tie her shoe but she could kick zombie butt?  Ummm, ok. And the reason why she continued to keep putting herself and her pregnancy in danger (because she was bored) didn't ring true for me. During this pregnancy-fest Clay and Jeremy lost quite a bit of their toughness as they took on the roles of worrying mother hens due to her 'condition'.  Don't get me wrong, I liked that Elena and Clay's relationship is taking on new ground but would have much preferred for it to be in the background with more focus on the mystery plot.

The mystery ... hmmm.  I wasn't a fan of the zombies and Jack the Ripper/time portal plot line.  It was weak at best and not described in enough detail for this reader be interesting.  I did enjoy seeing the Pack back in action as well as the addition of Torontonian vampire, Zoe (who I hope makes more appearances in future books).  She added some energy to the plodding plot.

Overall, this wasn't a bad read but it definitely wasn't one of the stronger books in the series either.  I loved that it was set in a Canadian locale and progressed the personal aspects of Clay and Elena but unfortunately I found the general plot lacking.
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