Wednesday, 7 December 2016

To Capture What We Cannot Keep

Author: Beatrice Colin
Genre: Historical Fiction (France)
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Flatiron Books
First Published: November 29, 2016
First Line: "February 1886 - The sand on the Champ de Mars was powdered with snow."

Book Description from GoodReadsSet against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, this novel charts the relationship between a young Scottish widow and a French engineer who, despite constraints of class and wealth, fall in love.

In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France--a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear. Cait is a widow who because of her precarious financial situation is forced to chaperone two wealthy Scottish charges. Émile is expected to take on the bourgeois stability of his family's business and choose a suitable wife. As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.

Seamlessly weaving historical detail and vivid invention, Beatrice Colin evokes the revolutionary time in which Cait and Émile live--one of corsets and secret trysts, duels and Bohemian independence, strict tradition and Impressionist experimentation. To Capture What We Cannot Keep, stylish, provocative, and shimmering, raises probing questions about a woman's place in that world, the overarching reach of class distinctions, and the sacrifices love requires of us all.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: A Historical Fiction novel with a romance in Paris!  Ahhh, l'amour! 

What struck me about this novel was the historical detail that Colin brings to her story. Paris and the Eiffel Tower's very early days were clearly described for the reader and each played roles within the plot. This is a very atmospheric read and Colin places her readers deep in the heart of 19th century Paris with its culture, food and social mores (including the limitations for women at the time). She also shows the dichotomy of Paris' social classes - with its glamour, opulence and culture on one hand and in the other, the gritty, filthy streets where people struggle to make ends meet.  This history of the Eiffel Tower was fascinating and those bits saved this book for me.

Unfortunately, the romance was lackluster at best. I didn't think the connection between Emile and Cait was strong and found the 'obstacles' that they faced to be together weren't as monumental or as daunting as they were portrayed.

Other characters weren't substantial either with not enough page time devoted for the reader to get to know them. Cait herself was a weak main character and I didn't have a connection with her or her poor judgement.  Other characters, like Cait's young charges, were caricatures and the epitome of spoiled, insipid snobs yet interesting characters, like Gabrielle, weren't used as well as I would have hoped.  

This is a slow-paced book with only a handful of scenes, mainly in the last quarter of the book, that gave the plot some vitality.  It was also evident how things would play out and I struggled to stay invested in the story to the point where I was skimming pages to finish it.  The ending, without giving away a spoiler, was rushed, unrealistic and felt tacked on to appease readers.

Overall, my feelings for this book are all over the place.  It was a decent read of an interesting historical era but very weak in the romance department, pacing and character development. What I will take away from it is a newfound knowledge of 19th century Paris as well as the early days of the Eiffel Tower and the man who designed it but, sadly, the plot and characters will not stay with me long.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Holding Up The Universe

Author: Jennifer Niven
Genre: Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 391
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
First Published: October 4, 2016
First Line: "I'm not a shitty person, but I'm about to do a shitty thing."

Book Description from GoodReadsEveryone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything. 

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My ReviewI was drawn to this book because of its cover.  It reminded me of both Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland and We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen - both of which I adored. I'm a sucker for a good cover pic, what can I say.

What I liked about Holding Up The Universe: 

  • This book deals with some important issues - bullying, weight discrimination, self-acceptance, peer pressure, biases against overweight people, loneliness ...
  • The awesome cover
  • I enjoyed learning more about the neurological disorder, Prosopagnosia (aka face blindness - the inability to recognize faces, even those closest to you).  I had ever so briefly heard about it but Niven gives her readers an in-depth look at what it would be like to live with it - the scary and extremely lonely aspects of the disorder.
  • Libby is often a bad ass and I love her confidence
  • Jack's relationship with his younger brother Dusty (it gave me all the feels)
  • Niven gives readers a good look into the life of a teenager - some of their struggles and anxieties as they try to fit in 
    • “We're all weird and damaged in our own way. You're not the only one.” 

What I struggled with:
  • Jack and Libby didn't have enough emotional depth and rarely felt like they were more than their issues for me.
  • I couldn't understand why Jack wouldn't tell his family about his Prosopagnosia. Or how they didn't realize that he had trouble recognizing faces.  You'd think after a decade they'd put two and two together.  And why would Jack want to keep it hidden from them?  This issue didn't feel like it was addressed well and felt contrived when Jack simply revealing his problem could have helped solve a lot of his issues at school. 
  • this was a slower paced book that had only a few blips in the emotional/exciting radar.  While there were aspects that I enjoyed, the plot itself was pretty much a flat line.
  • the bond between Jack and Libby felt too rushed and the romance unnecessary. I couldn't believe that after he does a horrible, embarrassingly public thing to Libby, in a matter of weeks, they're all chummy and lovey. Libby was strong in other aspects of her life but went all to mush for the first guy to give her the slightest positive attention (after being an utter arse).  I would have preferred for them to become great friends, learn something about themselves and support each other no matter what.  Romance doesn't always have to come into play.
Overall, this was a good but not great read. Sure it was predictable and could have delved deeper into its character but I liked the issues it addressed and loved the overall message that everyone is wanted and deserves an opportunity to be themselves.

"Dear Friend, You are not a freak.  You are wanted. You are necessary.  You are the only you there is.  Don't be afraid to leave the castle.  It's a great big world out there. Love a fellow reader." ~ Holding Up The Universe

Friday, 2 December 2016

Find Her

Author: Lisa Gardner
Genre: Suspense
Series: #8 in the D.D Warren series
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Dutton
First Published: February 9, 2016
First Line: "These are the things I didn't know: When you wake up in a dark wooden box, you'll tell yourself this isn't happening."

Book Description from GoodReads
Flora Dane is a victim. 

Seven years ago, carefree college student Flora was kidnapped while on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure.

Flora Dane is a survivor.

Miraculously alive after her ordeal, Flora has spent the past five years reacquainting herself with the rhythms of normal life, working with her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. She has a mother who’s never stopped loving her, a brother who is scared of the person she’s become, and a bedroom wall covered with photos of other girls who’ve never made it home.

Flora Dane is reckless. 

. . . or is she? When Boston detective D. D. Warren is called to the scene of a crime—a dead man and the bound, naked woman who killed him—she learns that Flora has tangled with three other suspects since her return to society. Is Flora a victim or a vigilante? And with her firsthand knowledge of criminal behavior, could she hold the key to rescuing a missing college student whose abduction has rocked Boston? When Flora herself disappears, D.D. realizes a far more sinister predator is out there. One who’s determined that this time, Flora Dane will never escape. And now it is all up to D. D. Warren to find her.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: I've read a couple of the D.D Warren series but it had been awhile so I picked up this latest addition to this suspenseful series (which can be read as a stand-alone) and got ready for a wild ride.  

Wild ride indeed.

This was a fast-paced and intense book that places the reader firmly in the minds of two of the characters - Boston PD, Detective D.D Warren and Flora, a young woman who had been abducted several years previously for 472 days and who, once again, disappears. Flora has lived through absolute horrors and she's a survivor but is she someone who would take the law into her own hands to help other victims?

This is a book about losing oneself and the struggle to find the real you again.  Both main characters, D.D and Flora, struggle in their own ways with this issue.  D.D is, once again a solid main character.  She's strong, flawed and struggles to deal with imposed 'restricted duty' after a previous injury.  But it was Flora's battle to deal with the repercussions of her abduction that I found shocking, bitterly sad and made me furious and yet hopeful as I rooted for her. 

For obvious reasons, this was a book that I chose not to read before bed.  Yes, it's that intense.  It's also chilling and quite disturbing in places but that stems from Gardner's writing ability to place her readers deep within her story.  She does this by giving her readers access to Flora's inner thoughts.  The descriptions of what Flora physically lived through are vivid and emotionally jarring but its her inner turmoil that had the most impact on me.

Readers witness Flora's slow, downward spiral as she loses the essence of her old self due to her captor implanting deep-seated beliefs that slowly eat away at the fiber of Flora's personality.  Readers may question some of Flora's choices but I think Gardner did a fantastic job with explaining the intricacies concerning the connections between abductor and abductee as well as showing the effects of Flora's abduction on her family who have lost her not once, but twice. 

This is a truly gripping read with several red herrings that kept me guessing (I admit that my guesses were wrong, wrong, WRONG!).  This is a haunting read about survivors and their fight to stay alive even after so much has been taken from them.  It's also a story about their struggle to live within their old life after being held captive.  This is a haunting, gripping and touching read.  

Note: Make sure you read Gardner's very heart-felt acknowledgements at the end of the book.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Lost Property Office

Author: James R Hannibal
Genre: Fantasy, Middle School, Steampunk 
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Series: #1 in the Section 13 series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
First Published: November 8, 2016
First Line: "A pair of rather large, blue-green beetles buzzed north over the River Thames, weaving back and forth over the water's surface in that haphazard pattern that beetles fly."

Book Description from GoodReadsJames R. Hannibal presents a thrilling adventure through history, complete with mysteries, secret items, codes, and a touch of magic in this stunning middle grade debut.

Thirteen-year-old Jack Buckles is great at finding things. Not just a missing glove or the other sock, but things normal people have long given up on ever seeing again. If only he could find his father, who has disappeared in London without a trace.

But Jack’s father was not who he claimed to be. It turns out that he was a member of a secret society of detectives that has served the crown for centuries—and membership into the Lost Property Office is Jack’s inheritance.

Now the only way Jack will ever see his father again is if he finds what the nefarious Clockmaker is after: the Ember, which holds a secret that has been kept since the Great Fire of London. Will Jack be able to find the Ember and save his father, or will his talent for finding things fall short?

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I chose to read this book because it sounded pretty cool.  I liked the mystery and magical aspects and, honestly, the distinctive square shape of the book with its beautiful cover featuring a blue-green beetle caught my eye as well.

This is a middle school read that is a combination of steam punk, historical fiction, fantasy and DaVinci Code type adventure.  There are robotic scarabs, hidden passages, cool machines, the inclusion of some real historical events (namely The Great Fire of London in 1666) and even some magical elements.  It's got a lot going on and I was intrigued.

It has an interesting premise with Jack finding out he has special powers which he must use to locate a mysterious artifact to find his missing father.  This is the first book in a new series so there is a lot of world building going on but unfortunately it also gave the book quite a convoluted feel, especially in the first half of the book. 

My feeling on this book can be summed up by 'meh'.  I liked some parts but it was missing that special something. I spent the first third of the book trying to grasp the ideas of 'sparking' and 'tracking' (I sort of kind of got it but it was more complicated than I think it had to be). The middle third dragged and the last third, especially the last 60 pages or so, was where the action ramped up a notch.  

My 'meh' feeling also stems from the fact that it was too light on character development.  Sure, there's some good banter between Jack and Gwen but we really don't get to know them (and hardly see Sadie, Jack's sister, at all).  The nefarious Clockmaker wasn't featured much and came off as a moustache twisting baddie caricature.  

I think with a less complicated plot and more time spent on character development I could have really sunk my teeth into this book.  I'm hoping that now that readers have a good idea about this unique world the future books in this series will address the characters more because, while this is a good start, this could be a fantastic series for middle school readers.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Yes Please

Author: Amy Poehler
Genre: Autobiography, Humour
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper Audio
First Published: October 28, 2014
First Line: "At this very moment I'm trying to write this preface in the dark while my oldest boy, Archie, sleeps next to me."

Book Description from GoodReadsDo you want to get to know the woman we first came to love on Comedy Central's Upright Citizens Brigade? Do you want to spend some time with the lady who made you howl with laughter on Saturday Night Live, and in movies like Baby Mama, Blades of Glory, and They Came Together? Do you find yourself daydreaming about hanging out with the actor behind the brilliant Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation? Did you wish you were in the audience at the last two Golden Globes ceremonies, so you could bask in the hilarity of Amy's one-liners?

If your answer to these questions is "Yes Please!" then you are in luck. In her first book, one of our most beloved funny folk delivers a smart, pointed, and ultimately inspirational read. Full of the comedic skill that makes us all love Amy, Yes Please is a rich and varied collection of stories, lists, poetry (Plastic Surgery Haiku, to be specific), photographs, mantras and advice. With chapters like "Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend," "Plain Girl Versus the Demon" and "The Robots Will Kill Us All" Yes Please will make you think as much as it will make you laugh. Honest, personal, real, and righteous, Yes Please is full of words to live by.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: This was not my first time picking up this book.  I had taken out the hardcover copy at the library many months ago but couldn't get through the first chapter where Poehler discusses over and over how hard it is to write a book.  After a few pages of this 'poor me' attitude (as if someone forced her to write it) I gave up.  It just wasn't in the cards that day.

I recently decided to give it another shot but this time I took out the e-audiobook version with Poehler herself reading the book to me.  I love her quirky, fun attitude and it definitely comes through in the audio version. She also invites several famous faces to add little bits to her story including Carol Burnett, Sir Patrick Stewart, Kathleen Turner and Seth Meyers.  These additions added that Hollywood panache and some fun ... well, except for Meyers whose reading came off as extremely stiff and awkward which I hadn't expected from a SNL alumni. Even her mom and dad who read some parts felt more relaxed that poor Meyers.

It's hard to put this book into a specific category.  It's not quite a memoir, nor is a comedic laugh out loud book (although there were certainly parts where I did laugh out loud to the shock of people walking by me as I listened).  It's somewhere in the middle with the surprising theme of self-help coming to the forefront. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise since Poehler is quite involved in her organization Smart Girls which encourages girls to change the world by just being themselves.  

My feelings for this book wavered all over the place.  As expected, this book has its funny parts and you get a sense of Amy's personality off-screen (which is quite similar to on-screen).  Poehler ranges from the funny, goofy friend to a quiet sage who gives some great advice.  But it has a very scattered feel to it as it jumps around from various topics and times in her life.  And, sometimes, as with SNL, the focus on some topics went on for too long and became awkward - this included her conversation with Meyers which went from kind of funny to 'I guess you had to be there', to awkward and finally 'ok, wrap it up!'

Poehler keeps her personal life close to the vest which, on one hand, I can understand but on the other, when I'm reading a memoir of sorts I kind of wanted to know more about her family life etc. If you're looking for info on her marriage and subsequent divorce from Will Arnett you won't get it here and even her anecdotes about life on the SNL set and Parks and Recreation are brief.

Overall, I admit to being a little underwhelmed by this book. It had its great moments but they seemed far and few between.  It's not a comedic book per se but much more of a look at life lessons she's learned, her rise to fame and some pretty great advice for getting through the sticky stuff of life.  Poehler is down-to-earth, genuine and is a funny gal who you can see yourself hanging around with. So, Ames, call me, 'kay? 

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: #1 in the Six of Crows series
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 462
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
First Published: September 29, 2015
First Line: "Joost had two problems: the moon and his mustache."

Book Description from GoodReadsKetterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: I wasn't sure that I wanted to start a new fantasy series from Bardugo after I had a lackluster feeling for the first book in her Grisha series, Shadow and Bone. I was in the vast minority with my rating of that book but after teenage co-workers loved this book so much I decided to give her another shot. I'm glad that I did.

This book started off strong and I loved the premise of a heist and a gaggle of misfits.  Both this series and the previous Grisha series are set within the same fantasy world and, according to other readers, have some overlap between them.  But this is a solid stand-alone novel so you do not need to read the Grisha series before picking this one up.

This book has a lot going for it. There's suspense, action, some great banter between the characters and even some romance.  While it did feel like the author was trying to do a little too many romantic pairings of her characters I liked that the romance played more in the background and didn't feel like it outweighed the other aspects like the heist itself. 

What struck me about this book is that it is such an ensemble piece and has a great group dynamic. Many of the characters take up the reigns of the story giving readers an up close and personal look at each of them.  We learn some of their back stories and see their diverse personalities - hilarious Jesper, intense, sometimes hard to like yet brilliant mastermind Kaz, quirky Wylan, the strong yet silent type, Inej ... and a few more.  They were each so different yet their personalities complimented each other well. It would be hard to choose one favourite so I'll say that Inej, Jesper and Nina were my favs and leave it at that.  The book focuses on several different issues - from loss, to abandonment, to enslavement and deeply held discrimination these characters Six of Crows will have you feeling all the feels - the good and the bad. And I loved that.  

All in all, this was a really good book.  I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Crooked Kingdom, the second book in this new YA fantasy series. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Gathering of Shadows

Author: V.E Schwab
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 512
Series: #2 in the Shades of Magic series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Tor Books
First Published: February 23, 2016
First Line: "Delilah Bard had a way of finding trouble."

Book Description from GoodReadsIt has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell's possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland's dying body through the rift – back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games – an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries – a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:  This past summer I read the first book in this series and I was immediately intrigued with the premise of four different London's existing at the same time, each with varying amounts of magic.

Unfortunately, this book second book in the series didn't live up to the first book and I think it could have been down-sized considerably.  The main issue I had was that not a lot happened.  Much page time was devoted to the build-up to this big, multinational magical competition (think Tri-Wizard Tournament from HP).  And yet the actual competition was lackluster and didn't happen until much closer to the end.  Other than this tournament not a lot else goes on and the larger story arcs, which I loved from the first book, weren't addressed to the extent that I had hoped.

The issues were compounded by the fact that the characters didn't seem to develop any further than they had in the first book and their personalities, while familiar felt muted (except for Lila's arrogance which ran rampant throughout).  But I did enjoy the addition of Emery Alucard.  He has some mystery, can handle Lila and has a healthy dose of sass.  But the animosity between him and another character, while explained, seemed much too weak of a reason for the intense and long held feelings between them.

Then there were issues with the plot that didn't make sense to me. Why would Lila, a Grey Londoner with no magical training, suddenly decide to cheat her way into a magical competition where the other competitors are people with magical ability and who have been training for many years?  She's arrogant and puts herself in increasingly dangerous situations and based on that alone readers are supposed to believe she has a chance to win the competition? Um, no. 

Overall, this was just an okay addition to the series.  Even though not a lot happened it remarkably kept my interest enough that I finished it. So why the three star rating when it feels like I've kind of dumped on this book?  Schwab is quite a talented writer, the story started off strong (mainly with Lila's story line and the introduction of Alucard) and I continue to love her premise of the four Londons. I also loved the addition of Rhy's romance.  Unfortunately, this book suffered a severe bout of Second Book Syndrome and felt like it was merely a set up for the third book in the series.  It had action, various romances and a good cliffhanger but I wish some of that energy had been used earlier on. I'm hoping that the author will pull out all the stops for the final book.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Dill Pickle Cheeseball

The Cheese Ball.  The ultimately easy party food.

Think about it.  

It's just a bunch of mushed up cheese, some spices and voila!  You have a delicious appetizer that will become one of your go-to items on an appetizer tray.

Our family is all about the cheese ball.  In fact, my sister Jennifer (who is well known for her dill pickle cheeseball - which this recipe is based from) makes multiple balls at a time because one of her 12-year-old twin boys could, can and has eaten his own weight in cheese ball.  Ok, I maybe not his weight but let's just say that you don't get in between this boy and his mama's cheese ball!

Last weekend I had some of my gals over to watch the DVD Bad Moms, drink some wine and eat some nibblies.  Each of us had already watched the movie in theatres so we could throw out spoilers with abandon.  And yes, the movie is still hil-arious.  Rude and crude but hilarious.

As host, I want to always feed people so I made up a tray of meat, cheese, crackers, olives etc.  On said tray was this Dill Pickle Cheese Ball and I think it went over well.  My gal, Lee-Anne asked for the recipe so I decided if my friends liked it, it was good enough to post here on the blog.

Appetizer items pictured above: Clockwise from top left - Dill Pickle Cheese Ball, Gherkins, Goat Cheese Spread with Fresh Herbs and Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Brie with Homemade Red Pepper Jelly, Green olives stuffed with garlic cloves, Fantino & Modello Salametti Parmesan

Note: The Salametti is da bomb!!  17-year-old Boy 1 will inhale half of this salami on his own.  It's pricey but so delish.  It's salami wrapped in Parm!! *bliss*

The cheese ball is an easy appetizer (which would be great for the impending US Thanksgiving) that you can whip up ahead of time and even freeze for later cheese ball emergencies.  Easy, impressive and a crowd pleaser.  You can't get better than that.

Dill Pickle Cheeseball
Yield: 2 medium-sized cheese balls or 1 large cheese ball

8oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup diced dill pickles
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
A pinch of cayenne (optional)
2 tsp pickle juice
1 1/2 - 2 cups old (or medium) Cheddar cheese, grated
1 large garlic clove, minced

Garnish - dried dill, fresh parsley, finely diced pecans/walnuts ... (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except garnish.  Mix well.

Divide in half and place each half onto its own piece of plastic wrap (or just put the whole thing on a piece of wrap and make one ball).  Wrap each mound into a ball shape and put in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Before serving, unwrap cheese ball(s).  If you decide to garnish, either sprinkle dill over top or roll in diced pecans/walnuts or fresh parsley, pushing the nuts into the sides of the ball as you go.

If you don't need the second ball, you can keep it wrapped in the plastic wrap and place it in a medium freezer bag.  Partially close the freezer bag then, with a straw, suck out as much air from the bag as you can.  Seal up the freezer bag, label clearly with title and date and freeze for up to 3 months.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Review & Book Giveaway - The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness

Author: Maddie Dawson
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Lake Union
First Published: October 25, 2016
First Line: "So he was really, really leaving, like his parents had told him he had to, and even though she already knew he wouldn't stand up to them, she had held out the tiniest bit of hope that something would happen and there would be a reprieve."

Book Description from GoodReadsThree women, three lives, and one chance to become a family…whether they want to or not.

Newly orphaned, recently divorced, and semi-adrift, Nina Popkin is on a search for her birth mother. She’s spent her life looking into strangers’ faces, fantasizing they’re related to her, and now, at thirty-five, she’s ready for answers.

Meanwhile, the last thing Lindy McIntyre wants is someone like Nina bursting into her life, announcing that they’re sisters and campaigning to track down their mother. She’s too busy with her successful salon, three children, beautiful home, and…oh yes, some pesky little anxiety attacks.

But Nina is determined to reassemble her birth family. Her search turns up Phoebe Mullen, a guarded, hard-talking woman convinced she has nothing to offer. Gradually sharing stories and secrets, the three women make for a messy, unpredictable family that looks nothing like Nina pictured…but may be exactly what she needs. Nina’s moving, ridiculous, tragic, and transcendent journey becomes a love story proving that real family has nothing to do with DNA.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: This book explores family and all it's various forms and variations.  From the relationship between mothers and daughters, parents and their kids to siblings.  Add in the complicated feelings surrounding adoption and this book has a lot going on.

The story is told via the different perspectives of three women - Nina, Phoebe and Lindy - who are each eccentric in their own rights but while they are connected by blood they have been separated by a decision made several decades before.  These women have different life experiences and want different things out of their relationships with each other. I think their varied reactions to the adoption gives the reader a well-rounded look at the issue of adoption but I feel that one point of view was missing - the perspective of Lindy's adoptive mom. Readers get a glimpse, but a deeper, heart-felt look into how she felt seeing her daughter connect with her birth mom would have been touching and added another layer to the adoption issue.

The book focuses mainly on Nina who has a desperate need for family after the loss of her adoptive mother.  She's almost obsessive in her need to connect with people who are 'hers'. I will admit that I didn't always like Nina with her erratic and desperately needy behaviour.  Honestly, sometimes I wanted to shake some sense into her - especially when she becomes a doormat to her new 'family'.  She is a woman who wants to belong at any cost and she loses herself a little in the process but thankfully she goes through a metamorphosis which I enjoyed witnessing.  She's a positive person who imagines the best in situations (even if those dreams are unrealistic) and I suppose the cynic in me clashed a bit with her character.  

Readers also get a very different look at adoption through the eyes of Lindy, Nina's newly found sister as well as Phoebe, the mother who gave them up for adoption over 30 years before.  I really clicked with Lindy's story line and wish that she was given more page time.  Reader's get a look into Lindy's hectic life and what she does to compensate for her lack of control but I would have liked to have known more about her - what was it like growing up in a large family, how did things progress with her relationship with her adoptive mother, did she still feel the obsessive need to count things? 

The book started off strong with these varied characters and the mystery surrounding the reason for the adoption and my emotions ran the gamut with this book.  I enjoyed getting into the nitty-gritty of these complicated family relationships.  I liked that Nina's romantic life wasn't as easy road and how my emotions relating to that relationship went all over the place - from 'awwww, that's sweet' to 'dump him, now!' to a realistic, yet satisfying ending.  But other times I felt the energy lagged and I didn't quite like or want to know more about Nina. And then the author picks up the pace in the last third of the book and ends with a wonderful epilogue that brings things full circle and wonderfully imperfect. This is why I'm sitting here struggling with my rating.

Dawson's writing is strong, occasionally witty and has a very heart-felt feel to it.  Her characters were complicated and even though I didn't like many of the choices one of them made (Nina, I'm looking at you) I still felt they were accurately drawn and believable.  

I enjoyed this book for what it is - a look at familial relationships in all their (occasionally) messy and wonderful stuff.  Relationships - familial, parental and romantic - are hard, hectic and hopefully wonderful things.  

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Now it's time for one of my followers to win a copy of The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness!!  Sorry, this giveaway is only open to Canadian and US residents.  Good luck!

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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Borrowed Wings

Author: Ruthie Morgan
Genre: Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Series: #2 in the Skylark series
Source: Author
PublisherLucky Arbuckle Publishing
First Published: August 4, 2016
First Line: "I was drawn to him."

Book Description from GoodReadsHow do you start again when your world has been torn in two? How do you move on when disaster follows like a shadow? Billie Skylark is trying, and Jack Kelly would like to know. 

Following the conclusion of Skylark; Billie must find her way forward and Jack must find his way back. 

In a world changed by fate and loss, the community of St. Cloud strives to find solace in love, friendship and new life. As Billie struggles out from the confines of Evan’s shadow, Jack fights to avoid the truth. But the future they try to build is threatened by the arrival of Jack’s brother Raife, whose presence forces open the Pandora’s box of Jack’s past. While Billie faces life alone, Jack must deal with the repercussions of death.

The small community are buffeted by St. Cloud storms, and life mirrors the islands dramatic weather. Dan finds himself helpless; forced to hurt those he loves most, Sadie has a secret that threatens her future with Jed, and Virginia faces a truth that turns her world upside down.

Borrowed Wings is the highly anticipated conclusion to Ruthie Morgan’s award winning debut novel, Skylark.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: I do so love a book with a whole bunch of drama and characters that leap off the page! With her new book Borrowed Wings, author Ruthie Morgan continues the engaging story she began in her first book, Skylark. When I read Skylark earlier last year, Morgan blew me away with her characters, story, humour and emotion.  So, it's no surprise that I jumped at the chance to read the sequel. 

This second book is very much an ensemble piece.  While the first book focused on the tumultuous relationship of Billie and Evan, this time around Morgan broadens her scope and allows the secondary characters from Skylark to take up the reigns. The story is told in a linear style but the multiple points of view give the reader better insight into the lives and struggles of various residents of St Cloud.  

Billie, the main character in Skylark, continues to tell her story in Borrowed Wings but I liked that she isn't always front and centre.  Her story is told in the first person so readers get to see how she's faring after returning to St Cloud and facing the memories that await her.  I liked witnessing her transformation from the darkness of loss and struggling to get her life back on track to figuring out who she is without her recently deceased husband. 

St Cloud is a small, tropical island community where everyone knows everyone ... or do they?  I enjoyed getting to know these secondary characters better and witnessing their joy and camaraderie and sharing in their heartbreak and tears. This book plays out like a big, emotional family drama complete with loss, redemption, love and a renewed sense of hope for the future.  People who enjoy ensemble casts, be it in TV (like Parenthood or This Is Us) or in books (like Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series) will enjoy this series where secondary characters are given time to shine and bring their unique issues to the forefront.  

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book there were a couple of things that niggled at me. First, while I had a recollection about the bond that Billie shared with Jack in the first book, I felt that their connection in this book was assumed rather than shown. I wanted to see and remember why they had such a close relationship.  Also, I found it difficult at times to keep track of some of the characters.  There's a lot going on with multiple characters/relationships within several story lines. I ended up making a little cheat sheet to help me remember who was dating/married to whom, careers etc since it had been over a year since I had read the first book.  I didn't need the sheet for long but in the beginning, it was very helpful. 

Morgan is a beautifully descriptive writer who brings her readers into the heart of this small community, its residents and their own personal self journeys. She doesn't shy away from big topics or Kleenex worthy scenes such as: loss, life after loss, dealing with aging parents and sibling discord. Morgan balances these heavier topics by weaving her wicked sense of humour into her characters and their camaraderie which gives readers a clear sense of community on this small island. 

While Skylark was about the complexities of relationships with a nod to the darker aspects of love Borrowed Wings brings the story full circle and has a more redemptive, hopeful feel to it. This book is about the strength of friends and family - in all its varied forms - and finding one's way to fulfillment and happiness.

Note: I highly recommend reading Skylark first to understand the depth of Billie's feelings and loss as well as the relationships between the residents of St Cloud.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Ruthie Morgan for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

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