Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Author: Susan Jane Gilman
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Published: January 2014
First Line: "We'd been in American just three months when the horse ran over me."
Book Description from GoodReads: In 1913, little Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family. Bedazzled by tales of gold and movie stardom, she tricks them into buying tickets for America. Yet no sooner do they land on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan, than Malka is crippled and abandoned in the street.
Taken in by a tough-loving Italian ices peddler, she manages to survive through cunning and inventiveness. As she learns the secrets of his trade, she begins to shape her own destiny. She falls in love with a gorgeous, illiterate radical named Albert, and they set off across America in an ice cream truck. Slowly, she transforms herself into Lillian Dunkle, "The Ice Cream Queen" -- doyenne of an empire of ice cream franchises and a celebrated television personality.
Lillian's rise to fame and fortune spans seventy years and is inextricably linked to the course of American history itself, from Prohibition to the disco days of Studio 54. Yet Lillian Dunkle is nothing like the whimsical motherly persona she crafts for herself in the media. Conniving, profane, and irreverent, she is a supremely complex woman who prefers a good stiff drink to an ice cream cone. And when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has spent her life building is at stake
My Review: I picked up this book from my local library because I was interested in a 'rags to riches' storyline and while this certainly was a book of that type it took on a different tone than I was expecting.
The book started out strong but my interest and the momentum of the storyline started to waiver about halfway through especially as the business side of the storyline took the lead. Some of the ice cream information given was interesting but I wanted more detail about the characters and progression of the storyline.
Unfortunately I didn't feel whole-heartedly engaged in the storyline. As Lillian goes from a likeable young girl to the matriarch of her family's booming business I tended to like her less and less and she became someone I hardly recognized. Some of her speech, specifically when she referred to people as 'darlings' and bringing her small dog everywhere she went, reminded me of the infamous Zsa Zsa Gabor. But her incessant mean streak had a strong Leona Helmsley (the original 'Queen of Mean') feel to it. This combination of overly exaggerated arrogance and nastiness got old fast and didn't endear her to me in the least.
This view of the character felt very disjointed with the young girl/young woman that I had just read about. I truly love tough, sassy old ladies (my Nana was queen of sassy ol' ladies!) but Lillian came off as much more of a clichéd, rich old dame who doesn't give a rat's patoot what anyone thinks of her. I also couldn't imagine my Grandma or Nana doing some of the things that Lillian does with her grandson.
In the end, my favourite part of this book was seeing what life was like for new immigrants in NYC. While this book kept my interest enough for me to finish the book, in the end I was left a little disappointed with the pace and character development since I felt that it was overly long and Lillian came off as little more than a cliché.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Monday, October 20, 2014
Last weekend we celebrated Thanksgiving here in Canada so my extended family and the Bookworm Family made the trek to my parents' cottage. Okay, truth be told the cottage is exactly 14 minutes from the front door of my house so for the Bookworm Family it wasn't so much of a trek as a slow, meander.
After looking at the amount of food we had planned (and to be neighbourly) we thought it wise to invite our cottage neighbours over for supper too. This wasn't a typical Thanksgiving feast -- this was the year for "Pub Grub Thanksgiving". It sounds great and oh-so-tasty and it was ... but it was also a tonne of work too.
Picture it if you will ... now we had 6 dogs, 11 kids and a tonne of adults milling around ready to be fed. The 'supper' became a 6 hour feeding frenzy where we dined on dishes like: chicken wings, my mom's awesome ribs, cheesy bacon fries, meatballs, chicken fingers, sausages and peppers (my Dad's version of his favourite appetizer at Carrabba's Grill in Florida), and the list goes on and on(we didn't even get to the Caesar Salad or loaded nachos!).
SO ... MUCH ... FOOD!
My donation to the family food trough was cheesy bacon fries and two of these bread loaves stuffed with cheese, bacon and a buttery ranch topping. If you suspect that I was going for a cheesy-bacony theme you'd be right.
These loaves didn't stand a chance with my hungry brethren. They were eaten up faster than one of Taylor Swift's relationships! My dad told me again last night how good my breads were. THAT, friends, is why I love to cook for others. Kudos from a happy belly is the best praise indeed! I have so many things to be thankful for and that is definitely a reason to celebrate. Enjoy!
1 large loaf of crusty bread **
1 1/4 cups marble cheese, shredded
1/2 cup good quality bacon bits (the real thing) ***
1/3 cup butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp Ranch dressing powder
2 green onion, sliced
more cheese (if desired)
** Note One: Due to Boy 1 and my nephew's peanut allergies I can't buy store-bought crusty bread so I baked two of my Garlic and Herb Topped Rosemary Bread. If you want to save some time (and have no food allergies to contend with) I highly recommend picking up a loaf at he store.
***Note Two: Only good quality, real bacon bits will do. I tend to love Costco's bacon bits and Walmart has a really good quality version too. Just DON'T use those reddish, nasty, hard fake bacon bits in the jar. Blech!
Preheat your oven to 350F.
Place two long pieces of aluminum foil in a cross shape (your bread loaf will go into the centre where the two pieces overlap).
Using a bread knife, slice the bread across, in approximately 1-inch strips, making sure that you don't go all the way through (go to about 1/2-inch from the bottom). Turn the loaf and cut the loaf again in 1-inch strips (not going all the way through) so that it looks like you have a nice checkerboard.
Using your fingers, stuff the cheese and bacon bits in between each of the bread crevices. Get that cheesy-bacony goodness down in there, y'all!!
Put the butter and minced garlic in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt the butter in your microwave (ensuring that you watch it carefully). Add the Ranch dressing powder and stir well.
Using a brush, brush on the butter mixture all over the bread. This concoction rocks, people!! Sprinkle more cheese over the top of the loaf if you feel the need to up your cheese intake for the day.
Fold up the top two side pieces of foil over the bread and then do the same with the remaining two pieces so that your loaf is completely encased in foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Uncover the top of the bread and bake for another 10 minutes to ensure that the top crisps up nicely.
Remove from oven and let it sit for a few minutes -- it will be HOT! Sprinkle green onion over top and then put it in front of your family/guests and watch it disappear before your very eyes. If you have any butter/ranch mixture left over it's great to dip the bread into it. You may also want to keep a knife handy because it can be a little tough getting all of the bread pieces out. This did not, in any way, deter the people at the party from inhaling this bread.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Author: Jeffrey Deaver
Series: #1 in the Lincoln Rhyme series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Viking Adult
First Published: March 1997
First Lines: "She wanted only to sleep."
Book Description from GoodReads: Lincoln Rhyme was once a brilliant criminologist, a genius in the field of forensics -- until an accident left him physically and emotionally shattered. But now a diabolical killer is challenging Rhyme to a terrifying and ingenious duel of wits.
With police detective Amelia Sachs by his side, Rhyme must follow a labyrinth of clues that reaches back to a dark chapter in New York City's past -- and reach further into the darkness of the mind of a madman who won't stop until he has stripped life down to the bone.
My Review: I picked up this older read based on a recommendation from a library customer. I had, of course, heard of Jeffrey Deaver and knew that this book had been made into a movie years ago with the main character being played by Denzel Washington. Always on the lookout for a new suspense writer I thought I'd dive into a new series.
Unfortunately this book just wasn't my cuppa tea. It definitely had its suspenseful moments. At first the forensics/scientific side of things interested me but it soon became clear that this book was more about the forensics than the suspense. There were pockets of suspense throughout the book (which honestly is what kept me reading) but the science bogged down the story. I'm sure for someone more interested in forensics it would have been great but for me who finds it mildly interesting it was a little too much. I think that because it was all written (and not laid out on TV like in CSI: NY format that I could view) it became really heavy in the scientific descriptions. Add to the fact that there were very gory descriptions and I didn't love this book.
I also found it hard to believe that Lincoln and his team could figure out some of the clues so easily. The explanation was often given but it was told in such scientific mumbo-jumbo that I wasn't sure if it was even feasible for them to come to the conclusion so quickly.
What I did like was Lincoln and his rapport with Sachs as they learn to work with each other. Lincoln's mind set and his physical limitations made him a very unique and interesting character. Getting a chance to understand what he lives with, as a quadriplegic, on a daily basis (emotionally and physically) was something that I didn't expect to get from a suspenseful read.
Overall, I was let down by this book. While it did have a unique main character the science bogged down the pace of the book, the scenes with the 'bad guy' were just too creepy and graphic for my weak stomach and Lincoln and Sachs came off as just too smart for their own good.
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Author: Ann Moore
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: #1 in the Gracelin O'Malley trilogy
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
First Published: August 2001
First Line: "Campfire flickered in the woods along the far bank of the River Lee."
Book Description from GoodReads: Gracelin’s father, Patrick, named her for the light of the sea that shone in her eyes. But joy and laughter leave the O’Malley clan when Gracelin is six-and-a-half and tragedy befalls the family. Less than a decade later, Gracelin must put her romantic dreams aside and marry a local landowner, the son of an English lord, to save her loved ones from financial ruin. Although she is a dutiful wife to capricious Bram Donnelly, Gracelin takes dangerous risks. With political violence sweeping through Ireland and the potato blight destroying lives, she secretly sides with the Young Irelanders, among them her brilliant brother, Sean, and the rebel leader Morgan McDonagh.
Set against the rise of the Irish rebellion, with a cast of unforgettable characters led by the indomitable eponymous heroine, Gracelin O’Malley weaves a spellbinding story of courage, hope, and passion.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
My Review: I've been on the lookout for a great, sweeping historical saga of a read lately and I haven't quite been able to find it. Until now.
Gracelin O'Malley gives a wonderfully vivid (and often distressing) description of life in Ireland during one of the famines where not only did the Irish have to deal with extreme poverty but utter starvation. It also describes the horrific cruelty and neglect that England showed to Ireland as they often viewed the Irish as less than human.
While this story had its heartbreaking moments it was also filled with hope and the amazing tenacity and strength of the Irish to overcome what seemed like impossible odds. This was a well-researched historical fiction read with the writing having such a beautiful, lyrical quality to it that I found myself easily imagining the characters with their melodic accents speaking the words.
As for the characters themselves, they were well-rounded characters for the most part. There were a couple, namely Grace's husband Bram Donnelly, who tended to have more of a clichéd 'bad guy' feel to him. But you can't help but root for Grace who is an endearing and likeable main character. We watch her struggle at such a young age to help her people survive one of the worst famines to hit Ireland as well as the struggle within her marriage and how she fights to stay true to who she really is. There is a fairly strong Christian theme to the book, which is often what gave Grace the strength to overcome the odds that were stacked against her. That said, I wish that she wasn't quite so perfect. For such a young woman she handles herself a little too well and I often had to remind myself just how young she really was.
There is a romance aspect to the book which was admittedly sweet but I felt it was rushed a little too much for my liking. While it was a fairly predictable read I was always engaged and never bored which kind of threw me because usually when a book is predictable I tend to lose interest. I think that the plight of the Irish (which probably happened to some of my own family many generations before) is what kept me interested.
This is not a lighthearted book but I appreciate the amount of research that Ann Moore obviously put into this book. And even though it deals with such a ruthless and depressing era in Irish history you can't help but get a sense of pride, resilience and faith from those who fought so hard to keep the Irish culture and spirit alive at such a dark time. This is a book about love, dignity, loyalty, tenacity, faith and strength all taking centre stage as two countries battle it out for control of Ireland. This was a very enjoyable family saga that kept me engaged the entire book. I am eager to read the second book in this trilogy to see what happens to Grace and her family.
My Rating: 4/5
Friday, October 10, 2014
Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: Modern Fiction, Women's Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Putnam Adult
First Published: July 29, 2014
First Lines: "That doesn't sound like a school trivia night," said Mrs Patty Ponder to Marie Antoinette. "That sounds like a riot."
Book Description from GoodReads: Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . . A murder… . . . a tragic accident… . . . or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what?
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads: Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay. New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take
Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.
My Review: I blame Liane Moriarty for my demeanor and appearance for the couple of days that it took me to read this book. Why? Because I couldn't not, for the life of me, put this book down until the wee hours of the morning a couple of nights in a row. Yes, it was that good.
Prepare for some gushing praise, my readers! I simply loved this book and I think the reasons are that I was invested into the lives of the main characters pretty much from the get-go. Her characters felt authentic and I felt for them - well, some of them anyway. I could easily imagine the snotty, posh moms, the competitive moms, the bullied child ... Then she adds the mystery component and 'Oh calamity!!' ** I had no chance in putting this book down for any length of time.
** I just have to say that as soon as I saw one of the characters utter this phrase I knew that I had to add it to my vernacular as soon as possible usually with a southern drawl - don't ask me why
Needless to say, this was a delicious romp through the trials and tribulations, betrayals and lies we tell in order to survive. You think you know your friends, neighbours and fellow school parents but do you really? This book tells you that you probably don't. Everyone has skeletons in their closet and this book brings them to light.
I wouldn't deem this book a 'Chick Lit' read because it deals with some serious topics -- elitism, murder, bullying, infidelity and another serious topic that I won't divulge in order to save the plot. But nor is it as dark and dismal as it could be and even had quite a sense of humour to it as well. Let's just say that it was a nice balance between the two poles. I loved how the author set up the murder and then went back several months to unfold who was murdered and how circumstances occurred in order for that to happen. The addition of police interviews as well as the tertiary characters and their gossip was the icing on the cake for this Nosy Nelly.
Big Little Lies is all about the secrets we keep and tell ourselves in order to be able to keep going in life. To protect ourselves and those around us that we love. It's also a bit of a satire about the social microcosm within the school among parents and children alike. I think Moriarty is a wonderful storyteller. She creates believable characters while balancing her plot with scenes from silly and humourous to serious and intense. It shows that there are no easy answers and that as we get older sometimes the decisions get even harder to make as are the repercussions from those choices.
I can't believe that this is my first book by Liane Moriarty. Shame for this book blogger! I definitely plan to pick up more of her books -- specifically her 'The Husband's Secret' -- very soon.
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Thursday, October 9, 2014
If you own a Kindle you know that they're worth their weight in gold. At least my two Kindles rank rather high on my beloved things list so I protect them as much as possible but as we unfortunately know these cases can get ridiculously pricey!
But not all cases have to break the bank. This envelope-style padded case made by Inateck is a great option for keeping your Kindle safe especially if you're prone to throwing it into your bag or purse where the risk of getting your screen scratched with keys and other detritus is quite high. It is a good blend of protection/functionality and affordable price and the fact that it is made from an environmentally friendly material which is sustainable, renewable and biodegradable is the icing on the cake for me.
I used this product over the past week and I find it to be well made with quality stitching and the thick felt didn't seem to pill when I used it. Think of this as a sleeping bag for your Kindle.
While sleeping bags are comfy and protect you from the elements they aren't known for being stylish. The same goes with this product. Admittedly it is rather plain with its industrial gray felt and no nonsense strap with Velcro fastener. Personally, I'd prefer to stay a little stylish while still being functional so I wish I was given the option on colour or pattern. Medium gray is fine but it gives the case a more industrial, not so feminine feel to it.
I also prefer my Kindle case to be attached to my Kindle so that I have one less thing to keep track of but for those times when you really need to protect your Kindle this product would work well. I wasn't willing to drop my Kindle while it was in this sleeve (I shudder at the thought of possibly hurting my beloved Kindle) but with the well-padded, thick felt I feel confident that this case would protect it.
The case also has a sturdy strap that has a few functions. First, it acts as a case closure ensuring that your Kindle won't slip out. The strap goes down inside the sleeve to the bottom and then continues up the sleeve on the opposite side where it is secured. This ensures that the bottom of the Kindle is nestled on the strap and not pushing on the bottom of the sleeve. Lastly, since the Kindle is a snug fit into the sleeve when you want to remove your Kindle from the sleeve just release the Velcro and pull on the strap which pulls your Kindle out easily.
Given the choice, on a daily basis I still think that I prefer my hot pink Kindle case that automatically awakens my Kindle when I open it. I hate the price I paid for it but the hot pink helps me find my Kindle in the chaos that are my large purses/backpack. But if I were to be going on more of a trek with my Kindle in hand I would definitely put my Kindle Paperwhite or Kindle Touch (both of which fit well) into this snug sleeve for some added, padded protection. At a very decent price and great quality this well-made Kindle sleeve is a great addition to Kindle covers.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Disclaimer: I was given a sample of this product by the manufacturer to review and provide my honest review.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Fall is here, people!!
I adore all things Fall and it's not just because my birthday is coming up or the fact that Canadian Thanksgiving is this weekend. Ok, maybe it is because there's a whole lotta food involved in both of those celebrations not to mention lots of family time.
Stay tuned for a great (hopefully) appetizer recipe that I'm trying out on my unsuspecting extended family this weekend which involves bread, bacon, green onions and a whole lotttta cheese because our family is doing 'Pub Grub' for Thanksgiving. It's not traditional but neither are we! Sure we'll have turkey (my mom is making one ahead of time) so we can have smothered hot turkey sandwiches along with chicken wings, dips, cheesy bacon fries, bruschetta .... The list is seriously long so stay tuned!
Another reason I love Fall is because it's apple season! Glorious bushels of Macs are just waiting to be made into my favourite dishes. Before I get into the recipe for Apple Crisp Muffins here's a list of some of my ultimate apple recipes in case you get a hankering ...
Apple Fritter Pancakes
Apple Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Apple Cranberry Pear Crisp
Strawberry Rhubarb Apple Crisp
Bavarian Apple Torte ** one of my favourite recipes of all time! **
Gooey Warm Apples
My Mother-in-Law's Famous Apple Pie
Without further adieu, here's a great recipe for apple muffins that are moist, a little spicy from the cinnamon/nutmeg/cloves. It, of course, has a delicious crumble topping that we know and love from the heavenly bliss that is a dessert that combines apples and a crumbly, cinnamon-y, delicious, crispy topping in one amazing, hard to stop eating dish.
What are your favourite apple dishes?
1/4 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
1/4 tbsp grapeseed or vegetable oil
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 McIntosh apples, peeled and diced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup quick oats
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp margarine or butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 pinches nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350F and place muffin papers in a muffin tray. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine margarine, oil, sugars, applesauce, egg and vanilla.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Place diced apple pieces into a bowl and pour 2 tablespoons of the flour mixture over the apples and toss to coat (this will help the apples not sink to the bottom of your muffins).
In a small bowl, combine your topping ingredients. Using a pastry cutter blend the margarine/butter into the other ingredients until they look like pebbly crumbs.
Pour flour mixture into the wet ingredients and mix lightly just until combined. Over mixing will result in heavy muffins. Gently fold in apples.
Scoop batter into prepared muffin tin (I use my large Pampered Chef scoop for this). Sprinkle the topping ingredients generously over each muffin.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the middle muffins comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!
Inspired by: Iowagirleats.com (Apple Crisp Muffins)
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Author: Ruth Reichl
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Random House
First Published: January 2014
First Line: "You should have used fresh ginger!"
Book Description from GoodReads: In her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.
Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.
Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.
My Review: Going into this book, a book about food, I thought that this would be right up my alley. And it kind of was. I loved the beautiful descriptions of food strewn throughout the book, how they were incorporated into the storyline and the recipes that were provided. These were my favourite things about this debut fictional novel for Reichl which unfortunately also had a little too much going on and shallow, clichéd characters.
I understand that Ruth was the Editor-in-Chief at the former Gourmet magazine so she definitely knows how to entice her fellow foodies with descriptions of food, cooking techniques etc. Unfortunately it's the storyline and characters that need a little more fine tuning.
There were some very unique secondary characters and I specifically loved Sal and Rosalie who were the most authentic characters in the book. Sammy, while very unique, came off as the clichéd flamboyant, older mentor and the other secondary characters just blended into the melee.
Billie, on the other hand, came off as shallow and a little pathetic if I'm being honest. Here's this woman who has a unique and highly sought after palate so why wouldn't she use it more to her advantage?? It seemed like a waste. The family trauma that resulted in Billie's fear and reluctance to cook for people felt forced and not believable that this incident (although tragic) would cause her to fear cooking the rest of her life. That said, why on earth, with a fear of cooking, would she want to work at a food magazine? It just didn't make sense to me.
Then there's Billie's Cinderella metamorphosis where she went from dowdy, frump girl to princess with the addition of contacts, a new wardrobe and a haircut. I'm sorry but it felt hokey. A few changes and suddenly she's confident and the belle of the ball? Um no. Plus when you add in the romance aspect (specifically the 'rose petal' comment) which wreaked of 'fromage' (of the Limburger variety) it was over the top and screamed "Chick Lit" in a book that I thought would be deeper. No guy, in the history of the world (outside of a cheesy romance novel) has ever uttered that phrase. Ever.
This book has the right elements (for the most part) - historical mystery, hints of the main character having a tragic past that is slowly revealed, beautiful food descriptions, unique secondary characters - but I don't feel it was well executed. There was just too much going on in this book. We have the sweet one-sided letters between young Lulu and James Beard, Billie who is trying to find her way in NYC with her unique palate and mysterious past, WWII .... With all of these different issues, settings etc I was surprised to find myself losing interest and forcing myself to finish the book.
Overall, this book just wasn't for me. I was hoping for a grittier mystery and a much more solid main character but if you're a foodie and just want a very fluffy Chick Lit read with smatterings of foodie talk then this could be the book for you.
My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: Sept 2, 2014
First Line: "Tuesday 2nd November 2010 - Hi Jim!"
Book Description from GoodReads: Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children's lives.
Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they've never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in -- and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.
Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family's desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
My Review: The Bird family lives in a quaint old house nicknamed The Bird House in the Cotswolds where the childhoods of the four Bird children - Megan, Bethan and twins Rory and Rhys - are filled with their annual Easter egg hunts and other childhood memories lead by their eccentric mother Lorelei. Life is good for the Birds until one fateful day when one instance shatters their idyllic family life and sends them all into a tailspin, each dealing with the devastation in their own way. Sounds awesome, right?
I adore great character development in a book and The House We Grew Up In was one of the best characterizations of a family in turmoil that I've read in a long time. The story is told from the viewpoints of Megan, Bethan and their mother Loralei and jumps back and forth to different time frames in the family's life. The members of this family are believably flawed, make poor decisions and their dysfunction quickly begins to show.
One would think that this focus on their daily lives would get dull quickly but I was absolutely absorbed in the Bird family. Getting into their inner thoughts helped me to become emotional about their plight. I experienced feelings of sadness to utter frustration and anger, to incredulity and finally understanding and even sympathy.
When Lorelei's issue was first brought up (I don't want to give it away so I'll keep it vague) I wasn't sure where the author was going with it. As her behaviour worsened it was very frustrating for me (as well as pragmatic Meg who really connected with) but, at the same time, the author slowly reveals why Lorelei has changed so drastically since her family was torn apart. It's during this revelation that I began to have a better understanding and even sympathy for the way Lorelei dealt with her pain as well as sympathy for her loved ones who tried desperately to understand and deal with her.
This book admittedly has a lot going on. From describing how people deal with grief in different ways, looking at mental illness, death and relationship issues between spouses, parents, children and siblings. It's a veritable melee of relationships and emotion. But it works and never felt soap opera-ish to me.
This was a wonderful family drama that Jewell tells with insight and sensitivity. It was absorbing and was hard to put down for any length of time. Highly recommended.
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Other books I have reviewed by Lisa Jewell: Before I Met You
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Michael Joseph
First Published: February 2011
First Lines: "London, 1910 - You must be a whore. You live in a brothel!"
Book Description from GoodReads: London 1910 -- Fifteen year-old Belle has lived in a brothel in Seven Dials all her life, with no understanding of what happens in the rooms upstairs. But her innocence is shattered when she witnesses the murder of one of the girls and, subsequently snatched from the streets by the killer, she is sold into prostitution in Paris.
No longer mistress of her own fate, Belle is blown across the globe to sensuous New Orleans where she comes of age and learns to enjoy life as a courtesan. Yet thoughts of home - and the knowledge her status as golden girl cannot last - compel her to break out of her gilded cage.
But Belle finds escaping tougher than she imagined, for her life is threatened by desperate men who crave her beauty and attention. Armed only with resourcefulness and spirit, she has a long and dangerous journey ahead of her.
Will courage be enough to sustain her? Can she make it back to her family and friends and find her chance at true happiness?
My Review: I had high hopes for this book based on the description on the book jacket and a recommendation from a library customer. Belle is a historical fiction read set in England and the US in the early 1900's that delves into the seedy underbelly of prostitution, human trafficking and the life of a teen girl who gets caught up in it. I was itching for a good, intense historical saga and I figured this was it. And it almost was. Almost.
This was a good read but I wouldn't say it was great. It kept my interest throughout but there were a couple of things that stopped me from giving this book a higher rating. First of all, while the storyline (which, at times, was predictable) kept my interest the writing itself was weak and overly simplistic with the dialogue between the characters being bland and simple.
While this book dealt with serious issues I still consider this a light historical fiction read. I say light because it wasn't as dark, gritty or emotional a read as I was expecting considering the dark subject matter (and pretty graphic sexual scenes). I had a hard time believing that Belle could endure the physical and emotional abuse she suffered only to almost embrace her new profession and come out of the whole affair fairly unscathed. This left her as a very flat and unconvincing main character. I suppose one could argue that she was suddenly empowered, resilient and made the best out of a horrible situation but it just didn't ring true for me.
Secondly, the characters were okay but could have been improved with better dialogue and some more back stories on them. Belle herself wasn't a strong main character and often frustrated me with her decisions - especially when she eagerly divulged her past to people she barely knew time after time ... and paid the price each time. I realize she's only fifteen at the beginning of the book but with the life experiences she has thrust at her she still comes off as overly naïve and juvenile. The other characters didn't undergo much development but were colourful enough to make the storyline interesting.
That's not to say that this book wasn't interesting with all of its twists and turns. And boy were there a lot of twists which made me want to see how Belle's life would turn out. I do think that the story could have been whittled down a hundred pages or so and that would have helped the overall flow of the book.
Overall, this was a good light read for historical fiction buffs. For fans of this book the second book in the series, The Promise, continues to follow Belle's life.
My Rating: 3/5 stars