Thursday, 21 November 2019

The Shape of Family

Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 344
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published: Oct 15, 2019
Opening Lines: A young woman, hovering on the edge between adolescence and adulthood, is walking.  She climbs over a bed of rocks that marks the border between city sidewalk and seashore. She wears clothing the color of snow, of clouds, of nothing.  She wears nothing on her feet. She carries nothing.

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the international bestselling author of Secret Daughter and The Golden Son comes a poignant, unforgettable novel about a family's growing apart and coming back together in the wake of tragedy.

The Olanders embody a modern family in a globalized world. Jaya, the cultured daughter of an Indian diplomat and Keith, an ambitious banker from middle-class Philadelphia, meet in a London pub in 1988 and make a life together in suburban California. Their strong marriage is built on shared beliefs and love for their two children: headstrong teenager Karina and young son Prem, the light of their home.

But love and prosperity cannot protect them from sudden, unspeakable tragedy, and the family’s foundation cracks as each member struggles to seek a way forward. Jaya finds solace in spirituality. Keith wagers on his high-powered career. Karina focuses relentlessly on her future and independence. And Prem watches helplessly as his once close-knit family drifts apart.

When Karina heads off to college for a fresh start, her search for identity and belonging leads her down a dark path, forcing her and her family to reckon with the past, the secrets they’ve held and the weight of their choices.

The Shape of Family is an intimate portrayal of four individuals as they grapple with what it means to be a family and how to move from a painful past into a hopeful future. It is a profoundly moving exploration of the ways we all seek belonging — in our families, our communities and ultimately, within ourselves.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: In her latest book, Shilpi Somaya Gowda beautifully and sensitively details how a tragedy and its aftermath tears a family apart as each member struggles to deal with the devastating loss that has crippled their family.

With her wonderfully descriptive prose, Gowda brings readers into the Olander family with much of the book detailing how each family member handles their grief in vastly different ways. This is a quieter, slowly paced read that may not have twists and turns but will give readers much to think about making it an excellent book club selection.

This is a poignant and honest look at how grief affects people differently. I believe readers who have experienced such a loss will especially connect with the Olander family's journey from paralyzing grief, to their subsequent disconnection from each other and onward into healing as this family begins to understand what it means to be a family again.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

The Paris Orphan

Author: Natasha Lester
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 480
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Forever
First Published: September 3, 2019
Opening Lines: New York, September 1942 - Jessica May turned on her famous smile and raised her arm aloft, her movements as repetitive as those of the riveters and welders and all the other jobs women were doing these days. Except that she wasn't in a factory and she wasn't wearing overalls.

Book Description from GoodReadsAn American soldier and an enterprising photographer brave occupied France during World War II to help give a little girl her dream--a family--in this gripping novel from the bestselling author of The Paris Seamstress.
New York City/Paris, 1942: When American model Jessica May arrives in Europe to cover the war as a photojournalist for Vogue, most of the soldiers are determined to make her life as difficult as possible. But three friendships change that. Journalist Martha Gellhorn encourages Jess to bend the rules. Captain Dan Hallworth keeps her safe in dangerous places so she can capture the stories that truly matter. And most important of all, the love of a little orphan named Victorine gives Jess strength to do the impossible. But her success will come at a price...

France, 2005: Decades after World War II, D'Arcy Hallworth arrives at a beautiful chateau to curate a collection of famous wartime photos by a reclusive artist. It's the opportunity of a lifetime, but D'Arcy has no idea that this job will uncover decades of secrets that, once revealed, will change everything she thought she knew about her mother, Victorine, and alter D'Arcy's life forever.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: Fans of Historical Fiction set during WWII will want to get their hands on Natasha Lester's latest book, The Paris Orphan. This is a well-researched story loosely based on the real life of Lee Miller, a female American war photojournalist who worked for Vogue magazine during WWII - a time when female photojournalists were definitely not the norm. 

I enjoyed that this book focused on the female perspective - from the nurses and journalists in the middle of the war, to the women back home whose roles were changing. While at times it was hard to read, I appreciated how Lester focuses on the misogyny, harassment, abuse and general disregard for the women aiding the war effort, as well as the atrocities female European citizens often experienced at the hands of the enemy and the Allies.

The story is told using a dual narrative and two time lines - one in modern day and the other during WWII. I read this book over Remembrance Day and perhaps it was the emotions of the day, but I found Lester's descriptions of what life was like for the nurses, female journalists as well as the soldiers in the trenches quite vivid and poignant. These scenes are set within a story that combines mystery, family drama, history and romance.

I found the first two-thirds of the book quite engaging with the mystery and history aspects keeping me glued to the pages. But, as the book wrapped up, things got a little too melodramatic for my tastes. It was still a good read, but I was hoping for something bigger instead of everything clicking neatly into place. This is good read with an interesting perspective but perhaps a better pick for readers who enjoy a story that ties up loose ends nicely by the final pages. Fans of Lester's previous book, The Paris Seamstress, will no doubt enjoy this book.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Rosemary Balsamic Pork Tenderloin

I have an on-going, almost salacious obsession with garlic. It is the PB to my J. The Rachel to my Ross. I do so love it. 

My family? They are under the impression that I go overboard with it.  Pfft!

  • Have I been bitten by a vampire? No.
  • Am I planning to kiss anyone who is not dining with me tonight? No, so who cares if I have garlic breath?
  • It's a culinary superhero - it helps battle sickness, reduces blood pressure and risk of heart disease.
  • It tastes deeelicious and is just plain awesome (and apparently addicting).

As you may guess, this recipe has garlic. Since one cannot live on garlic alone (can they?), the rub includes a few of my other favourite flavours - balsamic vinegar, fresh rosemary and sun-dried tomatoes. So many delicious flavours in a rub that takes plain 'ol pork tenderloin (or chicken breasts) to a whole new level. 

What are some foods that make you ga-ga?

1 pork tenderloin
2 tbsp grapeseed oil (or oil of your choice)
1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
2 tbsp fresh rosemary - finely chopped
to taste - salt and pepper
2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes in oil - drained and chopped finely

Mix oil, vinegar, garlic, spices and sun-dried tomatoes well in a small bowl. 

Preheat oven to 450F.

Grease a baking pan (or line it with foil and lightly grease for easier clean-up).  Place pork tenderloin in the prepared pan.  Spoon herb mixture (it'll be pretty chunky) on meat, patting it in place. Roast for 10 minutes.

Reduce heat to 350F.  Cook for 45 minutes or until pork reaches an internal temperature of 145-160F.  Remove from oven.  Tent meat and allow it to sit for 10 minutes (don't skip this step).  Cut into medallions and serve immediately.

Great side dishes that go with this dish:

Creamy Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
Lemon Rosemary Orzo
Parmesan, Sage and Butternut Squash Risotto

Saturday, 16 November 2019

The Secrets He Kept

Author: Jackie Walsh
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Hera Books
First Published: November 6, 2019
Opening Lines: Smiles, tears, love, lies, deception. It all ends now. Blood flows from the wound, forming a warm blanket for me to lie in. The room blurs, my eyes flicker to a close.

Book Description from GoodReads: You know everything about your husband. Don’t you?

He loves you. He loves your children. He’d never put his family in danger.

One of these is a lie.

It started like any other day at the hairdressers where Sally works as a stylist… until her first client innocently shows her a family photograph; a photograph that causes Sally to collapse in shock.
In one moment, Sally discovers that Tom has been hiding an explosive secret – one that could tear apart the life they’ve built together. Faced with an impossible dilemma - search for the truth, or keep her contented life? – Sally is about to discover that even those closest to us have secrets… and that sometimes the truth is the last thing we want to hear.
My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: When Sally discovers her husband has been keeping a big secret from her, she begins to question how well she knows her spouse of 16 years. As her unease and questions mount, Sally attempts to get to the bottom of his increasing deceit. This is the premise behind The Secrets He Kept, an impressive and compulsive domestic thriller.

I found this to be a quick read and interesting in a 'rubbernecker' kind of way as the reader witnesses the implosion of a family that once had strong ties. Sally is the main character who is trying to make sense of her husband's deceit and keep her family together. Readers will sympathize with her but may feel frustrated at her initial naïveté as she tries to explain away her husband's growing lies until she can not longer ignore the truth. 

As the lies increase, so does the tension making this a hard to put down book. As an avid reader of this genre, I had a few suspicions but soon guessed the big secret. Even so, the journey to the end of this thriller was enjoyable and I was impressed by its twists, growing tension and satisfying ending.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

To Brew or Not to Brew

Author: Joyce Tremel
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Type: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 304
Series: #1 in the Brewing Trouble series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: December 1, 2015
Opening Lines: If looks could kill, the plumbing inspector giving me the bad news would have been in big trouble. "What do you mean there's a crack in the water line?" I said. "That's just not possible."

Book Description from GoodReadsAn all-new mystery series set in a Pittsburgh craft brew pub, featuring a brewmaster with a head for sleuthing.

The Allegheny Brew House is a dream come true for Maxine “Max” O’Hara, who went all the way to Germany for her brewmaster certification, and is now preparing to open her own craft brew pub in a newly revitalized section of Pittsburgh. But before she can start pouring stouts and lagers to thirsty throngs, there’s trouble on tap. Suspicious acts of sabotage culminate in Max finding her assistant brewmaster and chef Kurt Schmidt strangled in one of the vats.

Between rescuing a stray gray tabby she names Hops and considering a handsome ex-hockey player as her new chef, Max doesn’t have a lot of time to solve a murder. But with a homicide detective for a dad, she comes to criminal investigation naturally. And if someone is desperate enough to kill to stop her from opening, Max needs to act fast—before her brand-new brew biz totally tanks.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: Knowing that my husband and I were heading to Montreal for a few days to explore its history, food and craft breweries, I decided to bring this book to read on the trip. I figured it would be a light mystery with a focus on craft beer and a quirky group of characters (similar to Ellie Alexander's Sloan Krause series which I enjoyed recently).

Unfortunately, this was very simplistic mystery that needed a growler of oomph in a few areas. First, I didn't learn much about craft beer which isn't a big deal, but the mystery was weak considering the culprit is obvious early on and his/her motive was feeble at best. 

There's also a romance but it was just kind of there. No steam, no romance, just Max being naïve and awkward (which is apparently a total turn on for an ex-hockey player from her past).  Max spends much of her time running around town accusing people of being the murderer which results in confrontations (obviously) and over-the-top reactions that felt frustratingly melodramatic.   

This is a quick read, but it felt like this cozy was just trying too hard. It needed some major tweaking but didn't have enough substance to make me want to read more in the series.

Sunday, 10 November 2019


Author: Karin Slaughter
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Series: #2 in the Grant County series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: 2002
Opening Lines: "Dancing Queen," Sara Linton mumbled with the music as she made her way around the skating rink. "Young and sweet, only seventeen."

Book Description from GoodReadsSaturday night dates at the skating rink have been a tradition in the small southern town of Heartsdale for as long as anyone can remember, but when a teenage quarrel explodes into a deadly shoot-out, Sara Linton -- the town's pediatrician and medical examiner-- finds herself entangled in a terrible tragedy.

What seemed at first to be a horrific but individual catastrophe proves to have wider implications. The autopsy reveals evidence of long-term abuse, of ritualistic self-mutilation, but when Sara and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver start to investigate, they are frustrated at every turn.

The children surrounding the victim close ranks. The families turn their backs. Then a young girl is abducted, and it becomes clear that the first death is linked to an even more brutal crime, one far more shocking than anyone could have imagined. Meanwhile, detective Lena Adams, still recovering from her sister's death and her own brutal attack, finds herself drawn to a young man who might hold the answers. But unless Lena, Sara, and Jeffrey can uncover the deadly secrets the children hide, it's going to happen again ….

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: After reading and loving Blindsighted a couple of weeks ago, I eagerly picked up this second installment of the series asap. This is definitely not a series for squeamish people and Slaughter wastes no time describing, in graphic detail, several disturbing and even depraved situations. 

These violent situations put me wellllll outside my comfort zone and, unfortunately, they seemed to be the focus of the book. It took me almost 100 pages before I felt invested in the plot because it felt like more time was spent trying to shock the reader instead of developing the characters. 

The story is intriguing and twisty, but I can't say I liked Sara, Jeffrey or Lena as main characters. Sara and Jeffrey's relationship has a lot of baggage and they always seemed petty and mean towards each other making me wonder why they even wanted to try to be together again. I was also hoping Lena's character would have been fleshed out more but perhaps that will be addressed in the next book (?).   

Overall, this is an edgy, graphic addition to this series and while not my favourite, I'll continue with it (mainly because I liked Blindsighted so much). I want to see if this style of suspense is for me and I'm hopeful that the focus will be less on shocking, icky situations and more on the suspense and characters.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Healthy As F*ck: The Habits You Need to Get Lean, Stay Healthy, and Kick Ass at Life

Author: Oonagh Duncan
Genre: Self-Help, Health and Wellness, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 269
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Penguin Random House Canada
First Published: September 17, 2019
Opening Lines: Have you ever heard of gluten? It's this protein that's found in wheat that … just kidding! It's the 2020's, and even your weird survivalist uncle is gluten free. I bet you can name three people off the top of your head who would rather eat nuclear waste than gluten.

Book Description from GoodReadsJoin the Movement. Ditch the Diet.

Who's ready to stop thinking about weight loss? To free their brain from thoughts about ketones, calories, and fasting? Who wants life to be more effortless, energetic, and empowered?

Welcome to a refreshing and gloriously unapologetic conversation about health, fitness and habits. Award-winning trainer Oonagh Duncan cuts through the wellness clutter to drop some truth bombs: it might not be six-pack abs you're looking for - it might be happiness, confidence, and acceptance. But if losing your belly is what you want, don't let anyone - including yourself - stop you from going after it. And she'll show you how to make it happen.

There's only one major difference between those rare unicorns who have managed to lose weight and the rest of us: their habits. When you acknowledge that following a diet is not getting you anywhere, and you make a few small changes to your everyday routine, you'll find yourself happier and healthy as f*ck.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I'm not a big Self-Help kind of reader but I am a woman in her mid-40's whose high metabolism left skid marks as it screeched to a halt a few years ago. This change left me with 25lbs of extra weight and, while I wanted to be healthier, I clearly lacked the chutzpah needed to actually accomplish my goals.

Enter Oonagh Duncan. 

Oonagh is a Canadian fitness expert and the author of
Healthy as F*ck, a refreshing, entertaining and inspiring book that helps readers figure out their motivations and establish long-lasting habits, leading to a healthier life. By following her 7 Keystone habits and making small changes to your daily routine, you can build permanent, daily patterns to help you achieve your goals whether that involves weight loss or just living healthier. With her sense of humour, Oonagh motivates you, backs up her info with sciencey-stuff and speaks from a position of empathy since she has struggled with her own weight and making healthier choices herself. Duncan's sass, straightforwardness and humour spoke directly to the BS I've been slinging at myself for years.

"It's about doing your best absolutely every single day without letting your Bullshit suck 
you back into a relationship (with old patterns) that you've outgrown."

If you're not averse to cursing and a wicked sense humour (*hand held up hiiigh*) and want a book that's an encouraging conversation with a sassy friend, then this is the book for you. It is a no holds barred, honest approach that focuses on small successes, being healthy (physically and mentally) instead of being sucked into the shame spiral that never did anyone any good, evah. It's making the occasional concession (aka half-assed attempt) while keeping your eye (and self love) firmly on the prize - a healthier you.

"If you can't do something right, do it totally half-assed."

If you want a quick fix, this book isn't for you. But if you're willing to do the work, Duncan's hi-larious humour and common sense approach will help you develop a long-lasting, habit-based method that will help you ignore that negative talk in your head and focus on being a healthier version of the awesomeness that is already YOU! 

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

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Sick Kids in Love

Author: Hannah Moskowitz
Genre: Teen
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
First Published: November 5, 2019
Opening Lines: What is your favorite place in New York?

Book Description from GoodReads
Isabel has one rule: no dating.
It's easier--
It's safer--
It's better--
--for the other person.
She's got issues. She's got secrets. She's got rheumatoid arthritis.
But then she meets another sick kid.
He's got a chronic illness Isabel's never heard of, something she can't even pronounce. He understands what it means to be sick. He understands her more than her healthy friends. He understands her more than her own father who's a doctor.
He's gorgeous, fun, and foul-mouthed. And totally into her.
Isabel has one rule: no dating.
It's complicated--
It's dangerous--
It's never felt better--
--to consider breaking that rule for him.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: From the title you may expect a The Fault Our the Stars kind of tear-jerker but this is not that kind of read. Told with some humour and an interesting, diverse cast of characters, this is a sweet romance between two teens who live with chronic illnesses. 

This story has many poignant scenes that often occur within life's smaller moments. It's within these moments that Moskowitz enlightens readers about what it's like to live with a chronic, and often invisible disease. We see how their families and friends interact with them and how the two families handle the illnesses differently. There's a lot of love but there are also misunderstandings and assumptions and Moskowitz gets to the heart of these issues.  

You either have to be overcoming [your illness] or you have to be completely disconnected from it. God forbid it be an important part of your identity 
that you’re just living with.

While I loved the issues Moskowitz raises, there were some aspects that didn't sit well with me. I wanted more closure with Isabel's relationship with her mom and unfortunately, I wasn't a big fan of Isabel. Sasha? He was awesome but she grated on me a bit. But I appreciate how Isabel's character was used to raise issues related to living with an invisible illness: the fear of people thinking she's 'faking' her illness, not being 'sick enough' to be considered ill and society's view of ill people in general. 

While at first glance this seems like a heavy read, this is more of a feel good story that will give readers a lot to think about and hopefully a better understanding and awareness of what it's like to live with a chronic illness. Written with humour and heart, Sick Kids in Love will educate readers instead of making them grab the Kleenex box.  

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Entangled Publishing for my complimentary digital copy of this title, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

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