Monday, 31 December 2012

The Romanov Cross

Author: Robert Masello
Type: E-book ARC (NetGalley)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Suspense
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
To Be Published: March 5, 2013
First Line: "Sergei, do not die," the girl said, turning around in the open boat."

Publisher Description: Nearly one hundred years ago, a desperate young woman crawled ashore on a desolate arctic island, carrying a terrible secret and a mysterious, emerald-encrusted cross. A century later, acts of man, nature, and history converge on that same forbidding shore with a power sufficient to shatter civilization as we know it.

Army epidemiologist Frank Slater is facing a court-martial, but after his punishment is mysteriously lifted, Slater is offered a job no one else wants—to travel to a small island off the coast of Alaska and investigate a potentially lethal phenomenon: The permafrost has begun to melt, exposing bodies from a colony that was wiped out by the dreaded Spanish flu of 1918. Frank must determine if the thawed remains still carry the deadly virus in their frozen flesh and, if so, ensure that it doesn’t come back to life.

Frank and his handpicked team arrive by helicopter, loaded down with high-tech tools, prepared to exhume history. The colony, it transpires, was once settled by a sect devoted to the mad Russian monk Rasputin, but there is even more hiding in the past than Frank’s team is aware of. Any hope of success hinges on their willingness to accept the fact that even their cutting-edge science has its limits—and that the ancient wisdom of the Inuit people who once inhabited this eerie land is as essential as any serum. By the time Frank discovers that his mission has been compromised—crashed by a gang of reckless treasure hunters—he will be in a brutal race against time. With a young, strong-willed Inuit woman by his side, Frank must put a deadly genie back in the bottle before all of humanity pays the price.

The Romanov Cross is at once an alternate take on one of history’s most profound mysteries, a love story as unlikely as it is inevitable, and a thriller of heart-stopping, supernatural suspense. With his signature blend of fascinating history and fantastic imagination, critically acclaimed author Robert Masello has once again crafted a terrifying story of past events coming back to haunt the present day . . . and of dark deeds aching to be unearthed.

My Thoughts:  This book pulled me in from the get-go.  How could it not?  It literally has a little bit of everything.  We have a mystery, adventure, superstition, supernatural, Inuit culture, historical figures, science, romance and edge of your seat action all set in two different eras!  That's a whole lot of topics in one book ... but in this book it works.

The first thing that struck me with this book was the pace.  It's literally non-stop and I think that stems from the fact that we're dealing with two very different storylines.  We follow the story of the mysterious Anastasia Romanov in the early 1900's in the tumultuous last days of the once powerful Romanov dynasty.  We also have epidemiologist Frank Slater in modern day Alaska with a very arduous task ahead of him.  While this jumping back and forth could prove to be confusing for the reader, the author helps the reader keep track of when and whom they're reading about.

If I had to choose my least favourite parts of the book I'd have to say that the romance between Frank and Nika was at the top.  In my honest opinion, it just wasn't necessary and didn't add to the storyline for me.  The romance between Anastasia and her beau was much more believable and was necessary to further the book.

I also wasn't a big fan of the rag tag band of misfit thieves in modern day Alaska.  While they added some suspense and chaos to the story, they ended up coming off as a bit of a farce.  They seemed to be able to outsmart a group of highly trained military personnel too easily.

The highlights of this book for me were its fast pace but even more so, how the author took two historical topics -- the Spanish flu epidemic and historical real-life figures of Rasputin and the Romanov dynasty -- and linked them with a tense, modern day issue to make a very entertaining, high action read. 

I look forward to reading more from this author.  Recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Random House Publishing, Robert Masello and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.

The Secret Keeper

 Author: Kate Morton
Type: E-book (NetGalley)
Genre: Historical Fiction
First Published: October 2012
Publisher: Atria books
First Line: "Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer's day at the start of the nineteen sixties."

Synopsis:  During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.  

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London.  The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the Blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

My Thoughts:  When I saw that a book by Kate Morton was being made available on NetGalley to review I jumped at the chance to request it.  When I got the go-ahead from the publisher I'm not ashamed to admit that I did a little happy dance.  Why?  Because I adore rich historical fiction sagas that are well-written and so descriptive that you can easily picture the scenes in your head.  Kate Morton is one of those author's who can take you back in time and write a story that keeps you interested yet throws you enough twists that make you change your initial assumptions about her wonderfully complex characters.  How's that for a recommendation!?

So did "The Secret Keeper" meet my expectations?  Oh, yes!  This is a wonderfully written combination of a family saga set in a rich, tumultuous historical setting and a murder mystery.  The book jumps back and forth from present day to the Blitz with many points of view.  And while this could make for a very muddled read, Ms Morton writes so seamlessly between the two eras while balancing the various viewpoints that this story and its characters quickly drew me in. 

I think what really helped to keep me interested was how my view of the main characters changed throughout the book.  As I learned more and more about the different main characters and what truly happened, I found myself changing my initial feelings towards them.  The innocent may not be so innocent.  One person's take on a situation may be influenced by various factors and therefore I now see them in a much different light.  I found myself rooting for various characters throughout the book and that helped me, not only learn more about the inner thoughts and motivations of the characters, but made them much more believable and authentic.  There are no clichéd, one-dimensional characters here.  Everyone is layered with the good, the bad and the not so lovely.

There are several main characters, each with a very distinctive voice. We have Laurel, the sixty year old woman who returns home to care for her ailing mother, Dorothy and is determined to figure out what she saw fifty years before.  Then there's Dorothy/Dolly who is portrayed as the ailing mother of Laurel in 2011 as well as during the WWII era where she is a young woman who is just trying to make ends meet during the tumultuous Blitz with her boyfriend, Jimmy.   By contrast, Vivien is the very vivacious and rich younger wife of her famous author husband, Henry. As the story unfolds, we see these characters' fates entangle with each other. What we initially thought about one character we may come to see in a very different light.

Another thing that I adore about historical fiction is that I get to learn about eras in history that I knew little or nothing about.  While I'd heard about the Blitz I cannot say that I knew much about it.  Ms Morton describes vividly what London was like during the Blitz.  The fear of the bombs, the loss, the hunger, followed after awhile by the normalcy of living with the bombings.  She brings a believable voice to a very horrible time.

Overall, I found that the wonderful characters and the turbulent era in which they lived paired with an ending that will surprise you makes this a very enjoyable read.  Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Atria Books, Kate Morton and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary copy of The Secret Keeper in exchange for my honest review.

What's A Witch To Do?

2012 has been a busy year in reading for me.  Even though I didn't come close to my 2010 reading goal of 101 books or meet my 2012 goal of 70 books, reading 53 books in one year is no mean feat for a busy mother of three.

Bookworm Admission: Over the past few months, my reading and my book reviewing weren't quite keeping up with each other.  In order to play catch up a bit I've written three reviews (only 1 more pending) which I will now post as a lovely fairwell to 2012.

Wishing you and yours a very happy, healthy and safe 2013.  May your days be filled with food, amazing reads and a whole lotta happy.

So, without further ado, here is my review for the first book in a new supernatural mystery series, "What's A Witch To Do?" by Jennifer Harlow.

Author: Jennifer Harlow
Type: Kindle ebook (Advanced Reading Copy)
Genre: Supernatural, mystery
Series: Midnight Magic Mystery series #1
Publication Date: March 8, 2013
Publisher: Midnight Ink Books
First Line: "My heart skips a beat."

SynopsisThirty-five year old Mona McGregor leads a busy life.  She runs the Midnight Magic Shop in her small hometown of Goodnight, Virginia, she's raising her two young nieces on her own and she's the High Priestess of a large coven.  Unfortunately Mona's love life isn't one of the things keeping Mona busy.  For the past 15 years she's been on a romantic lull but when a new young doctor begins paying attention to her Mona hopes that her luck is changing.  

One night, Adam Blue, the Beta werewolf of his pack, arrives on her doorstep injured and near death.  He has shown up out of the blue to warn Mona that someone wants Mona dead.  Against her initial feelings and with little other options available, Mona agrees to allow Adam to stay and protect her and the girls.  When Mona learns that an evil demon is stalking her, she teams up with Adam to find out who among her family, friends and the locals would want her dead.

My Thoughts:  This book has a lot going for it and while I can't say that I loved it, it did have enough going for it that I enjoyed the overall experience.  We're given a complicated main character (more to come on dear Mona), a brawny and tough leading man, a good mystery and interesting secondary characters and nice dose of supernatural.

The main character, Mona, is a complicated gal.  On the one hand she's a strong woman who has kept her family, business and coven together all on her own.  Even when Adam comes into her life she still prefers to do things on her own and even tells him that she doesn't need him to save her.  Score one for girl power!  On the other hand, her fairly consistent bouts of self loathing take away from her strength and even her general likeability.  At times these bouts seemed to take too much centre stage for my liking.

Adam, the werewolf, plays the part of the young, sexy, muscle-bound hunk with a big heart.   His character was believably written in that I could see him aggressively protecting Mona and in the next scene see him interact with the two young nieces made my heart melt. 

While the pace of the book was decent I did find that it lagged in the middle.  And while I did like the build up to the ending I found the demon slaying to be over too quickly and resolved much too easily for my liking. 

Overall, as a first book in (I assume) a new paranormal mystery series it's a good start.  Ms Harlow has set up future storylines well so that I'm quite intrigued to find out why Mona's younger sister (the mother of Mona's nieces) left so many years ago and disappeared from her family's lives.  I'd also love to see Adam's Pack be involved more in future storylines to cause a little friction. 

This is a well written light mystery with a healthy dose of supernatural.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Midnight Ink Publishing, Jennifer Harlow and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary ebook copy in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Frozen Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls of JOY!

I have something to admit.  I'm a closet Snack Sneeker. 

One of the things that brings me a ridiculous amount of joy is grabbing a really quick treat when no one is looking.  Something delicious, totally not appropriate to snack on at that time of day and a relatively rare treat that I can pop into my mouth quickly and therefore don't have to share with my small humans.  Ya, I don't always want to share. 

It's a stupid, kind of immature and slightly devious thing but it's apparently how I get my ya-ya's. (Note: I also get a thrill from keeping wee chocolate bars in my night stand and believing (falsely) that Brad is none the wiser.  A girl needs to have some not-so-secret secrets and a hubby willing to play along, right?)

Anyway, these little chocolate chip cookie dough balls fit the bill for an illicit sugary treat because they are pure joy and so easy to sneak!  Not only are they egg-free (so you don't have to worry about nasty food poisoning) but you can keep them in your fridge freezer and pop a couple directly into your mouth when you're feeling either ticked off, happy, frustrated, weepy, or (for a certain week of the month) when you're feeling all of the above at the same moment! Yes, they even cure PMS!  They are little miracle balls.

When Boy 1 and I made these several weeks ago (they've been on my proverbial recipe blog post back bench for awhile) we made them with one goal in mind - to make homemade cookie dough Blizzards.  Due to his peanut allergy we cannot go to Dairy Queen (the home of the Peanut Buster Parfait and our guaranteed trip to the ER for anaphylaxis) so we decided to make our own Blizzards.

Armed with my Kitchen Aid mixer, Chapman's peanut-free ice cream, sundae toppings, sprinkles, cherries, crushed Oreos etc and these cookie dough balls we were in glucose heaven if not a sugary stupor.  Perhaps we went a little overboard with all of the sugary treats in the Blizzards but you can bet your sweet bippy that we'll be making these cookie dough balls again because, for some odd reason, when Boy 1 went to sneak his own dough ball from the freezer they were almost all gone.  Huh.  Wonder how that happened. ;)

Frozen Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls of JOY!

1 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup salted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sour cream (I used 14% full fat)
1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until they're fluffy.  Add in vanilla and sour cream and blend well. 

Add flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir until mixed well.  Fold in the chocolate chips.

Using a melon baller (or teaspoon), scoop balls of dough and place them on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Place the cookie sheet of dough balls into the freezer for at least 3 hours or overnight.  Transfer the balls to a freezer bag so you can eat these delicious treats directly from the freezer or, if you have an ounce of restraint, add them to a homemade Blizzard treat!

Recipe Inspired by: Just A Pinch's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Taste of Home: Best Loved Recipes

Genre: Reference, Cookbook
First Published: September 13, 2012
Publisher: Reader's Digest
Pages: 928

Synopsis: An impressive and extensive collection of favourite recipes from the people at Taste of Home.

My Thoughts:  As a long-time subscriber to Taste of Home's 'Simple and Delicious' magazine I was extremely happy when I was chosen to review this cookbook by the lovely folks at Reader's Digest. 'Simple and Delicious' is one of the very few magazines that I receive and, by far, my favourite.  I have to admit that I get more than a little excited when I peek into my mailbox and see my plastic wrapped bundle of joy waiting for me!  I rip off the plastic, plop down at the table and start to dog ear all the recipes that I plan to make.  Heaven, I tell ya!

Why do I get all atwitter about a recipe magazine?  Because Taste of Home embodies good ol' home cooking.  You can't get better than 'tried and true' recipes from 'regular' people.  I'm not talking about some fancy schmancy TV personality with her hard to make recipe with odd ingredients and an army of prep people behind the scenes.  I'm talking about delicious meals straight from the kitchen of Edna from Maine, the mother of five kids or Estelle, the grandmother from Montreal, QC or Stephen from Vancouver.  Family favourite recipes that people have taken the time to send in and hopefully share with thousands of other readers.  You cannot get a better recommendation for a recipe than that! 

This book celebrates the home cook and is veritable warehouse of family favourite recipes all in one easy to use book.  I'm talking about 1,485 recipes hand chosen by the Taste of Home staff as their ultimate favourites from thousands upon thousands of recipes that they've received over the past 20 years!  That, my friends is called a Culinary Score!

One of my favourite things about Taste of Home's recipes is that they're written with the home cook in mind.  Each recipe has clear step-by-step instructions; they use common ingredients that you won't have to hunt for at the food store and many have a beautiful colour picture to entice you.  This means that these recipes will impress the experienced home cook as well as not intimidating the newer cook.  There are 26 chapters filled with delicious recipes as well as cooking tips.  There is everything from appetizers, to quick breads to main dishes and delectable desserts.

One of my favourite recipes that I reviewed from the sample that I received from the publisher were the 'Garlic Knots'.  Oh m'gravy these were good.  You wouldn't believe the kudos thrown my way by my small humans and hubby.  They were definitely a hit with my carb lovin' family!  And the best part?  So, so easy!  I'm talking 'whipping-them-up-as-a-quick-side-dish-for-a-spaghetti-supper-on-a-busy-Tuesday-night' kind of easy!   Yes, the good people at Taste of Home provide awesome recipes as well as helping to keep Moms' stress levels low on those hectic nights when you have to feed the brood to get them off to extracurricular events.  Tasty food, easy to make and peace of mind.  Perfect!

I highly recommend this cookbook as well as the Taste of Home magazine publications. 

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Note: Special thanks to the wonderful people at Taste of Home and Reader's Digest for providing me with a complimentary sample of this cookbook in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Garden of Stones

Author: Sophie Littlefield
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle ebook from NetGalley
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
First Line: “San Francisco, Tuesday June 6, 1978 --- Reg Forrest lowered himself painfully into this desk chair, which was as hard, used and creaky as he was.”

Synopsis:  This book begins with the police arriving at the house of Lucy Takeda to question her on the murder of someone she knew decades before.  Lucy's adult daughter, Patty, is taken aback at the police's accusations of her quiet mother.  Against Lucy's wishes Patty decides to find out the truth behind these claims in order to clear her mother's good name. 

The reader learns of Lucy's past through many flashbacks that vividly retell Lucy's tragic past. --- Before WWII, Lucy Takeda was a typical fourteen year old living in Los Angeles.  Lucy enjoyed an easy, upper class life with her parents.  Her father was a successful and respected businessman and her mother Miyako, was known for her beauty. 

Suddenly the bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbour and within a few short weeks Lucy's world begins to crumble.  Her father unexpectedly dies and shortly afterwards Lucy and her mother, Miyako, are rounded up along with thousands of other Japanese-Americans.  They are forced out of their homes, leaving all that they own and are herded into Manzanar Camp.  An internment camp which was quickly and poorly constructed to hold the influx of Japanese-Americans.

The camp places Lucy and her mother in horrible conditions - dilapidated and unsanitary housing, inedible food, intense heat and, worst of all, corruption of those in power.  Unfortunately Miyako, already slightly unstable, soon becomes victim to abuse by those in charge.  Unwilling to allow her daughter to have the same fate Miyako takes drastic and horrific measures to ensure that her daughter doesn't suffer the same fate.

Littlefield uses the points of view of three generations of Japanese-American women to tell a very moving and truly memorable tale of what happened to these citizens before, during and after living in the Japanese camps. 

My Thoughts: There a few items that a book has to have in order for me to love it and for it to stay with me long after I've turned/clicked the last page.  I love to learn something new and I love an emotional story with characters whom I truly care about.  This book has it all ... and then some.

"Garden of Stones" showed me quite clearly that although I had heard about Japanese-Americans being taken to 'special camps' during WWII, I had no idea the extent of their experience.  This book's account is truly eye opening and heart wrenching as it describes how innocent Japanese AMERICANS were treated so horribly solely based on their physical traits.  While the atrocities of Nazi concentration camps from WWII are well-known (and truly heinous) it is sad that the travesty that occurred on American soil is not as well known (at least to this Canadian).

While this book showcases the horrible conditions that the Japanese-Americans were put in, it is also a wonderful testament to how the Japanese people held onto their pride and cherished their culture even through these horrible times.  Honestly, reading about Japanese culture was one of the high points in the book for me.
As I mentioned above, for a story to stay with me it has to evoke some kind of emotion in me.  This book had me on a roller coaster of emotions. 
  • From embarrassment that I knew little to nothing about the Japanese camps. 
  • To anger at the American government for allowing such blatant racial profiling and prejudice of innocent citizens and treating them so horribly.  
  • To helplessness seeing how the Japanese-Americans were treated in Manzanar
  • To the heartache over what Miyako had to resort to in order to protect her only daughter. 
  • To horror at the terrible conditions of the Manzanar camp and the horrible things that went on in the camp.  
  • Happiness at how resilient the human spirit can be
  • and, finally, hope that this kind of mass prejudice never happens again. 
Oh ya, LOTS of emoting goin' on in this book!

If I had to choose something that I didn't love about this book it would have to be the minor plot of the murder that Patty (Lucy's daughter) is trying to solve.  While it did provide an interesting way to begin the book it soon fell by the wayside and I lost interest.  I preferred seeing how Lucy and Miyako dealt with the camps and the aftermath more than finding out who was the murderer of someone who I didn't care about in the least.  Plus, the resolution of the murder at the end of the book felt too quick.

All in all, I truly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note:  My sincere thanks and appreciate to Harlequin, Ms Littlefield and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary ebook copy in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Contessa's Vendetta

Author: Mirella Sichirollo Patzer
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: ARC (Kindle ebook), Canadian
First Published: October 2012
Published By: History and Women's Press
First Line: "I know what it is like to be dead, because I was once dead to the world."

Synopsis:  A plague has swept across the countryside and has devastated the town of Vicenza, Italy in the 17th century.  Contessa Carlotta Mancini is a much beloved woman of status but despite her position in the town she also becomes sick with the illness and is assumed dead.  Her body is swiftly tossed into a crude coffin and put into her family's tomb.  The problem is, Contessa Mancini is not dead.

She awakens, weakened from her illness and terrified, inside her coffin.   Luckily for her, the coffin that she was put in was poorly and quickly constructed making her escape possible. But as she escapes her coffin she is disheartened to find that she is locked into her family's mausoleum.  In her attempt to break free of the tomb she unearths a vast fortune of stolen gems as well as the hidden entrance that the thieves used in order to hide their treasure. 

Happy to have escaped certain death, she makes her way back to her villa to her adoring husband, her best friend and her young daughter to let them know that she is still alive.  Unfortunately, when she returns home she witnesses the ultimate betrayal and deceit that, unbeknownst to her, has been going on around her for some time.  Determined to get her vengeance, she decides to not tell her family that she is alive and begins to plan her revenge armed only with her newly found riches.

My Thoughts:  I had high hopes for this book.  I visited Italy 5 1/2 years ago and still have a special place in my heart for that beautiful country as well as its history.  When I read the synopsis of this book I thought it would be perfect for me.  A fictional tale about a woman bent on revenge all set in 17th century Italy?  Yes please!

While this book did hit on some of my favourite themes and places I finished it feeling a little let down.  The star of this book, for me, was the vivid descriptions of 17th century Italy which were stunningly portrayed.  Unfortunately I found the revenge/suspense aspect lacking and the characters came off as very clichéd.  We have the betrayed woman hell bent on revenge, we have the wizened old crone who goads her on her quest, the deceitful yet beautiful younger woman, the conceited handsome husband ....  You see where I'm going.  There were no real surprises. 

Carlotta started off as a good main character.  I liked her.  She was a kind yet strong main character but then she gets betrayed and she loses some of her likeability.  I know she's a woman scorned but the book focuses so much on her incessant inner dialogue of plotting her revenge that it gets old and monotonous quickly.  I'd prefer more action and seeing her get her revenge than hear her talk about it incessantly.  She quickly went from interesting character to a caricature of a woman scorned.

My favourite character in the book was the monk who helped the Contessa in the beginning of the book.  Unfortunately he was not used to (what I think was) his full potential.  He seemed like the most authentic character of the whole book and yet he played a very minor role. 

The same can be said for the notorious brigand Cesare Negri (as well as his band of thieves) whose stolen stash the Contessa found and used.  I was hoping and expecting for Negri to come back to claim his loot making a great addition to the story (in my humble opinion anyway) and added more excitement to the overall storyline.  Unfortunately that didn't happen.

Another issue that I had with the book was how unbelievable and contrived the storyline became. We started off on a good note -- there was the beautiful scenery, the buried alive contessa.  Somewhere after she broke out of her tomb and happened upon some jewels is where I think the story got off track for me.  I had to suspend my grasp on reality for me to believe that the loved ones of this contessa wouldn't recognize her after a short time even with her newly whitened hair, some dark glasses and a few scars.  It was just too big of a leap for me to take and it effected how I enjoyed the book.

Finally, I found the writing, at times, to be too melodramatic and over the top for me. {Please note that I admit that I'm not a romantic at heart and not a lover of romance novels in general}.  For example, when a woman (Beatrice) is telling her love how much she adores him she states "I am jealous of the ground you tread, of the air that touches you ..."  Really?  I guess I'm just not a romantic because I've never been jealous of the air around my husband.  The writing just felt too saccharine for my tastes. 

This romantic tidbit uttered by Beatrice was later followed by Carlotta calling her husband's lover a "worthless, frivolous, turd of humanity".  Nice image.  Accurate description of his character but was it historically accurate?  I couldn't be certain that Italians in the 17th century used the word "turd" but it felt a little odd to read.  Funny, but odd.

All in all, this was a decent if you enjoy a very light, historical fiction/romance read.  If you're looking for more of an in-depth, edge of your seat storyline with more plausibility you may not enjoy this book as much as you hope.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Note: Special thanks to Great Historicals and History and Women Press for providing me with this complimentary book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Parenting Post : "But everyone else has ..."

The following post is written for my Fairy Bookmother, Jen.  As my regular blog readers may remember Jen is my friend who would, every now and then, show up at my door with an armful of books that she liked and thought I'd enjoy.  It's for this reason that I dubbed her my "Fairy Bookmother". 

Not only was Jen an avid reader and loved to cook but she could decorate beautiful cookies for school holiday celebrations that put my meagre talents to shame.  She was a devoted, and much loved, mother and wife. 

It is with great sadness that I tell you that earlier this week, at the age of only 40, Jen suddenly passed away.  This news hit me like a tonne of bricks.  I've known Jen since we were 16 years old.  We lost touch over the years but reconnected four years ago and found out that we had a lot in common.

Jen has always been one of the biggest supporters of my little blog.  I would often write my more humourous blog posts hoping to get a comment on the blog (or in person) from Jen because Jen knew funny.  She was a riot and I loved her oh-so-sarcastic sense of humour.  She'd tease me for using terms like 'you bet your sweet bippy' (because apparently only 80 year olds use that term lol) and she encouraged me to keep at the blog when I thought of giving it all up.

Jen, this post is for you because even though this week I truly don't feel like smiling, I know that you'd appreciate this post.  Actually, I wrote it several days ago hoping to get a smile or comment out of you.

Will I miss you, Jen?  You bet your sweet bippy I will. 


As most of you know I'm now a mom to a teenager.  This is a bold new world that Brad and I are embarking on.  All we have to aid us is Brad's patience of a saint, my stubbornness and Mother Bear devotion and some pretty awesome parents that we watched raise us into the people we are today.  They did a pretty bang up job! :) 

Lately we've been hearing a lot of the same kind of sentences coming from our oldest son (ever since Boy 1 started middle school actually).  These sentences are: "When can I get a ...."  or "But everyone else has ..."  You can end those sentences with the following:
  • Smart Phone
  • no bedtime
  • no chores
  • unlimited screen time
  • TVs and game consoles in their rooms 
The endings for those sentences are, seemingly and sadly, endless.

How do Brad and I handle this type of question?  With 13 years of parenting experience under our belts you're probably waiting for a gem of a response in line with all of those wise parenting books, right?  You'll be waiting a little longer for a gem of wisdom because I've only read about three parenting books in my life.  I've been too busy parenting to read up on parenting.  Sad but true.

When I hear those sentences come out of my small human's mouth as well as little gems like "But 'so-and-so' got their own smart phone and didn't even have to pay for it themselves!  All they had to do was ask and their parents gave it to them." I respond in the following way ...

{said in an over-the-top valley girl voice} "O-M-G, Boy 1.  'So-and-so's parents are like so totally awesome and WAAAY more cool than YOUR parents.  Your parents totally suck if they're not going to buy you a smart phone just for being your own fabulous self.  How could your parents ask you to pay for your iTouch and half of your laptop???  They have their priorities out of whack.  Like, totally." {finish with a fake gum smack} 

OK, I will admit that my family is reknowned for our sarcastic wit and humour so I know that Boy 1 gets where I'm coming from.  Does he enjoy hearing my wicked awesome Valley Girl impression in a sarcastic tone?  A little (because he is my child and my impression is pretty darn good, I must say).  But he gets my point.

See, Brad and I hold firm to the following parenting ideal -- kids need to be raised so that when they venture out into the big wide world at the end of their teens they'll be ready and able to 'swim' on their own.  As I've said to Boy 1 (as well as the other small humans who dwell with me), you will be prepared when you leave home.  I promise you that. 

My kids already know how to cook/bake basic dishes, clean, use a debit card, do their own banking, do their own laundry (ok, nine year old Missy Moo needs help with laundry and banking but she gets the gist).  They know and understand how long it takes to earn enough money (whether that's from babysitting or doing chores) to buy something that they really, really want.  They no longer ask for everything when we go out to the mall because they get their own allowance and know that if they want something they can, by all means, spend their own money on it. 

Side note:  It's funny how the kids no longer want to buy something when they know it'll come out of their bank account and not mine.  

Brad and I know that if the kids spend their own hard earned money that they'll take care of their beloved iTouches/laptops etc.  This strategy, so far, is working.  Having a stake in something makes you care.  Period.  The end.

Where did I learn this enlightened tidbit of parenting knowledge?  My parents, of course.  My parents are financially well off but, unlike some people believe, they don't believe in hand outs.  Would they be there if we needed help financially?  Yes, most definitely.  But as my dear old dad likes to say 'struggling gives you character'.  Over the years I've felt like I've got character up the old wazoo (nice image) but I got his point.  Struggling makes you stronger and helps you appreciate what you have so much more because you've worked together as a couple (or on your own) to get over the bumps in the road to get there. 

Case in point - My parents made my two sisters and I pay for half of our University/college educations.  Why, when they could afford to pay the whole amount?  Because when you just spent thousands and thousands of your own hard earned money that you made slingin' burgers you do your darndest to get the best grades you can because you don't want to pay for an extra year of university. No, you definitely don't.  Did I get the best grades in my entire academic career while in university and college?  Yes ... I ... did.

Am I poo-pooing other parenting strategies that give children everything their hearts desire with little to no accountability?  Maybe a little, if I'm being honest.  Ok, more than a little.  You know why?  Because it makes teaching my kids that working hard for something will pay off in the end a LOT harder when they see Suzy take her 'totally old iPhone 4' and smash it against a wall to break it because she knows her parents will buy her the new iPhone 5.  A frighteningly true (and oh-so-maddening) story.

In my own opinion, what do I think these parents are teaching their kids?  That all you need to do is smile and ask for something and you'll get it.  But the problem with that train of thought is ... the world doesn't work that way.  No one is going to give you a job just because you asked for it (if that were the case I would have asked Guy Fieri for his job a LONG time ago).  No one is going to give you a huge discount on a new car just because you smiled pretty. No one is going to do your laundry each week for you because you asked them to do it (otherwise I'd have a shirtless Ian Somerhalder doing MY laundry!).  That's not how the big old world works.

I'm just hoping that my kids get the whole 'struggling builds character' thing before I lose my ever lovin' mind answering again and again the age-old question of 'why can't you buy me a cell phone like everyone else's parents?'  Here's to Brad and I continuing to have the strength of our convictions.  Here's to our kids being that much more prepared and appreciative for the struggle they worked through in order to get the prizes at the end. 

I don't want to raise spoiled kids.  Brad and I totally believe that if we can hold true and guide the kids through the bumps and struggles that are a given in learning to stand on their own, that these three kids will become strong, independent and even more awesome (than they already are) young adults.  That is my goal as a parent ... and to have a whole lot of fun along the way.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Egg-Free Kitchen Sink Cookies

I hope that all of my American followers had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.  Like all of you, I spent the better part of my weekend amongst my extended family.  We got together (all 10 grandchildren, my sisters, brothers-in-law and my parents) this weekend to see a local rendition of "Annie" at a local theatre.  We are a veritable force to be reckoned with when we all go out together.  It was a great time (I think even the boys liked the play although didn't love all the 'girly' singing).  I'm not ashamed to say that I knew all of the words to the songs being an Annie fan from waaaay back.

On Saturday night we all went to my parents' house for Saturday supper.  Our regular chaos ensued!  Since we're all Carb Addicts I was asked to bake some bread (read as 'obscene amounts of bread') so I brought two large loaves of my favourite bread (Garlic and Herb Topped Rosemary Bread). 

I also figured I'd bring some cookies for the kids that were safe for all of the little ankle biters.  See, one of my kids (Boy 1) and one of my nephews (S) are allergic to peanuts but Nephew S is also almost outgrown his egg allergy. Almost.  Not wanting to be the Aunt to test if he's 100% outgrown his allergy I opted to bake some egg-free cookies.  No one wants to stab a four-year-old with an Epi Pen if you don't absolutely have to, right?

I scoured the internet for 5 minutes and found this recipe.  It was a hit with the youngin's and the more mature faction.  Half the cookies were snuck, nabbed and nibbled before we even had supper.  There is no greater praise, I tell ya!  The goal of these cookies was to make an allergen safe yet truly yummy cookie.  I double-dog-dare-you to tell that these cookies are egg-free.  That's right, I'm pullin' out the big guns now.  I double-dog-dare you!  Not only does the base cookie have a great texture and flavour but all of the salty and sweet add-ins truly make this cookie stellar!

Granted, I did feel a little odd chopping up potato chips and pretzels for cookies but my love of all things salty and sweet took over and I got over my initial feelings. Plus, I got to purge my pantry all in the name of baking.  A win-win if there ever was one.

Egg-Free Kitchen Sink Cookies
Yield: 3 1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 cups baking add-ins (chocolate chips, coconut, Craisins, raisins ...)
2-3 cups snack food add-ins (potato chips, pretzels, crushed Smarties, crushed Oreo cookies, sunflower seeds ...)
1 cup butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
8 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
2 tsp vanilla

Note:  For my add-ins I used the following: 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup Craisins, 1 cup chopped Ruffles potato chips, 1 cup chopped Rolled Gold pretzels, 6 chopped Oreo cookies.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda and salt together.  Set aside.

Get your add-ins ready.  Crush some potato chips, chop up some pretzels and Oreos.  Go to town scouring your pantry for yummy things to throw into these cookies.  Toss them into a big old bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl), combine softened butter, white sugar, brown sugar, softened cream cheese and vanilla.  Slowly add in flour mixture and gently mix until just combined.

Fold baking and snack add-ins.  Using a large melon baller, drop cookie dough approximately 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten each cookie dough mound slightly (I used the bottom of a measuring cup).

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to stay on the cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes.  Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Please Note: the add-ins that I used are peanut and egg-free in Canada.  PLEASE, if you're making these cookies for an allergic person, check the labels each and every time.  Companies in different countries label and produce their products differently and labelling can change without notice.

Inspired by: The Art of Dessert's 'Crazy Delicious Egg-Free Cookies'

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Keowee Valley

Author: Katherine Scott Crawford
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: complimentary Kindle ebook copy via NetGalley
Published by: Bell Bridge Books
First Published: September 27, 2012
First Line: "My story begins before the fall, in that Indian summer time when the hills are tipped with oncoming gold, and the light hangs just above the trees, dotting the Blue Ridge with gilded freckles."

Synopsis: It's 1768 and Elspbeth Quincy "Quinn" MacFadden is a 25 year old woman living in Charleston, North Carolina.  Orphaned at a young age she has been raised by her grandfather along with her cousin Owen.  Quinn has been given everything most girls would dream of but Quinn longs for more.

When she is told that her cousin, Owen has been kidnapped by natives she vows to do everything within her power to find him.  Against her grandfather's wishes she travels to the edge of the frontier to search for her cousin and, if truth be told, to gain some independence and go on the adventure that she's been craving.  

She makes her way to the Blue Ridge Mountains and begins to set up her own homestead and await the arrival of a native tracker who can help her find her cousin.  Jackson Wolfe, a half Cherokee, half Irish young man, is a tracker who knows the area well.  When he arrives and assures her that he can find her cousin and negotiate his freedom from the Iroquois.

Jack and Quinn begin an adventure that will put them in danger as they attempt to free her cousin.  As the war looms, Jack must make an important decision.  Does he accept the position as native translator with the British Army or follow his heart and go against the King, committing treason?

Set in the vivid backdrop of the American frontier this book is full of adventure, romance and memorable characters.

My Thoughts:  I must admit that I was impressed, and more than a little surprised, that this was Katherine Scott Crawford's debut novel.  This is a well-written novel full of adventure and romance all set in one of my favourite historical settings.

That said, as I started reading this book I began to see many similarities between this book and one of my all-time favourite historical fiction series, "Into the Wilderness" by Sara Donati.   Since I adored "Into the Wilderness" I knew that Ms Scott Crawford had her work cut out for her if she wanted to impress me.  While the era she chose, the storyline and even her main characters were quite similar to the other series I'm happy to report that Keowee Valley holds its own and brings with it a new take on adventure/romance reads.   

One of the things that struck me from the get-go is that the writing is so descriptive and vivid making it easy for me to picture exactly what it was like in the frontier.  The storyline combines action and interesting characters that you want to root for.

The characters were interesting if not a little 'too good to be true'. Quinn is a very independent, feisty young woman who was able to set up her own homestead with little to no issues (which I found a little hard to believe). Seeing her struggle with her independence would have made me enjoy her character even more.   I loved the 'voice' she gave to the book and seeing the new world through her eyes was interesting.

Similarly, Jack is the perfect guy. The body of a Greek god, smart, brave ... a little hard to imagine such a perfect guy.  But I was OK with that because he did make for a good male lead and I enjoyed seeing his internal struggle with being stuck between the two worlds he lives in.

As many of you know I'm not a big romance reader.  I honestly think it's a very hard genre to get 'right'.  And by 'right' I mean not dripping with cheesy love scenes or saccharine prose.  I feel all icky and honestly uncomfortable when reading 'bodice rippers' where the sexual escapades take centre stage relegating the actual storyline to the literary fringes.  "Keowee Valley" balances the sweet romance (without the cheesy love scenes - just aptly placed love scenes) with the adventure and pace of the main storyline.  While Jack and Quinn's romance happened fairly suddenly it's a believable relationship.  Would I have preferred for them to have time to grow their relationship a little slower?  Maybe.  I do love me some 'will they/won't they?' between main characters to build up that lovely tension between two strong characters.

One of my favourite parts of the book (while sadly brief) was seeing more about life in a Cherokee village. Seeing their view of the impending war was interesting as was how they felt at being labeled 'savages' when they, in their daily lives, were a more peaceful (not to mention more sanitary) people who gave their woman much more freedom and respect than the white population.

All in all, Katherine Scott Crawford has impressed me with her debut novel.  She has successfully combined the drama of this historical period with romance and some 'edge of your seat' scenarios.  Keowee Valley ends with some unanswered questions leaving me to believe (and hope) that this is the first book in a series. I do love ending a book and not wanting it to stop.  For me, that's the mark of a good read.  I look forward to seeing more from this author.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Bell Bridge Books, Katherine Scott Crawford and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary ebook in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Map of Lost Memories

Author: Kim Fay
Genre: Historical FIction, Adventure
Type: NetGalley Advanced Reading Copy
First Published: August 21, 2012
Publisher: Ballantine Books
First Line: "At the far end of the apartment, a row of shutters opened onto a balcony overlooking the swayback oofs of Shanghai."

Synopsis:   Set in the 1920's 'The Map of Lost Memories' focuses on Irene Blum, a museum assistant in Seattle, Washington who feels angry and unappreciated at not being recognized for her contributions at work.  Irene is determined to prove to her male peers that they made a mistake passing her over for a promotion.  In order to do so, she needs to make a rare archaelogical discovery and bring fame to their small museum.

When her mentor, Henry Simms, provides Irene with rare maps and offers to bankroll an expedition to Cambodia to find the lost copper scrolls of the Khmer dynasty in Cambodia, Irene knows she has found a way to make her museum take notice of her skill. 

The Khmer people were famous for building the stunning Angkor Wat temple set deep in the jungles of Cambodia and these lost scrolls are said to document how and why this civilization suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.  Irene is determined to find the scrolls before Mr Simms succombs from the cancer that is ravaging his body so that they can share in the acclaim as well as their love of Cambodia.

Irene arrives in Indochina and begins to build a team of people to accompany her.  Simone, the Communist temple robber/drug addict who knows her way around the jungles of Cambodia and Marc, the secretive night club owner who has the connections Irene will need to begin her quest.  Unfortunately she soon realizes that each of the people in her team have their own agendas for finding the lost scrolls.

My ThoughtsIt is evident that Ms Fay has a love of Cambodia and has made it the star of this book. There are beautiful descriptions of the scenery, the people and the culture.   What initially drew me to this book was the book's description which made it sound like an Indiana Jones-type adventure read. I figured I'd learn more about a culture I know little about and be entertained by a race to find archealogical relics deep in the Cambodian jungles.   I did learn more about Cambodia but unfortunately, there was a lot less adventure than I was hoping for.  I wasn't expecting giant rolling boulders chasing down a whip wielding Irene per se but I was expecting more adventure than I got.

I think part of the issue is that a large part of the book was used to show how Irene puts her group together in Indochina.  Their actual time scouring the jungles is relegated to the end of the book which went against my initial assumptions.  I wanted her to jump into the jungle and get going pretty much from the get go. It felt like we were stuck in Shanghai for much too long and since the action was all towards the end of the book I felt that the book's pace lagged for me. 

Finally, I found the numerous serendipitous connections between the characters (past and present) forced, convenient and too unlikely to actually happen. Everyone seemed to be connected and it came off as unbelievable.

This was the first book by this author and I will say that I was very impressed with her writing style.   Unfortunately this book never truly drew me in except to provide me with truly vivid descriptions of the beauty of Cambodia, its culture and history.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Ms Fay and Ballantine Books for providing me with this complimentary Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Greek Chicken Marinade

This is one of those recipes that my family raved about but somehow it got lost in the bowels of my brain.  It was being tossed around in my cranium along with my ability to do long division and knowing the location of my car keys and cell phone.  It was that lost.  But luckily I somehow remembered where I had found this recipe and voila!  I'm here to share it with you!

Admittedly, I can be a bit scatterbrained at the best of times.  But I have the lame excuse that it's been a few months since I made this recipe.  I made it this past August when I had one of my dear university friends Ang and Scott and their kids over for the day.  I wanted an easy meal that was tasty and fresh but didn't force me to be stuck in the kitchen prepping and cooking.  I wanted more time for chatting and swimmin'.  There is nothing better than catching up with old friends and feeling like you pick up where you left off even if it's been a year since you last saw each other.  That is my own personal bliss. 

I decided to serve Greek chicken, Greek pitas, Greek salad and my beloved tzatziki sauce.  Mmmm, tzatziki!  You tangy, creamy uber yummy sauce that I could pretty much eat with anything.  Well, this dish was a hit with adults as well as my oldest son (aka The Carnivore) who ate more of the chicken than I did.  Not only did it have a wonderful tangy taste but the chicken was tender.  Needless to say, that day there were no leftovers.  When I made this dish again about a month ago I knew what to expect and made more.  Lots more! 

But this time I did things a little differently.  I marinated the chicken pieces but instead of only letting them marinate for a few hours that day I cut up my chicken, tossed it in the marinade ... then froze them for a future hectic week night supper.  It's a win-win situation because you prep ahead of time and, as the chicken thaws in the fridge, it marinates a little bit more.  I do so love having freezer meals at the ready.

This time around I also made extra, knowing that Boy 1 would hoover the chicken and knowing that this chicken, even when cold, would make for wicked Greek wraps for Brad and Boy 1 making my morning 'what am I making for lunches?!?' chaos a little easier on me.

Needless to say, this recipe will become a staple in my grillin' repertoire.  Enjoy!  Opa!

1/3 cup olive or grapeseed oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix all of the ingredients, minus the chicken breasts, in a small bowl.

Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. 

Note: If possible, partially freeze the chicken by placing it in the freezer for about an hour.  Partially frozen chicken is much easier to cut.

Place chicken pieces into a large Ziploc bag.  Pour marinade over chicken and massage chicken to ensure that all of the pieces are coated.  Plus, who doesn't enjoy a nice massage?  Place the bag of marinated chicken into the fridge for 4-6 hours (or overnight). 

One More Note:  You can also freeze this chicken (soaking in the marinade) for a future meal.  As the chicken pieces thaw they will marinate in the delicious flavours and make for an easy meal.

When chicken has marinated, place the pieces on several large metal skewers.  We bought ours at a local appliance store and love how they are angled.  This angle helps keep the chicken on the skewer and the metal helps to bring the heat right into the chicken.  

Grill the chicken on a lightly greased BBQ over medium-high heat, turning the chicken skewers occasionally, until the chicken is no longer pink and reaches an internal temperature of 165F. 

Serve with Greek pitas, tzatziki and a fresh Greek salad.

Recipe Inspired From: The Black Peppercorn

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Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: Dystopian, YA
Type: Kindle ebook
Series: 2nd book in the Divergent series
First Published: May 2012
First Line: "I wake with his name in my mouth."

SPOILER ALERTS: In order to effectively review this book I've had to include spoilers from the first book in this series, Divergent, as well as Insurgent.  If you haven't read either book already you may want to skip this review. 

Synopsis: 'Insurgent' picks up immediately where 'Divergent' left off where the balance of power has suddenly shifted in Tris' world.  Now the Erudite and Dauntless factions have banded together to rid the world of the Abnegation.

Tris, Four and their friends have fled their Dauntless residence and have found brief safety with both the Amity and Candor factions.  Unfortunately, it has become known that both Tris and Four are Divergent (possessing more than one trait) which puts large targets on their backs since it's known that Divergents are immune to the Erudite's mind controlling serum.  It's this serum which the Erudite are determined to use to take over the world. 

Before they can complete their plan the Erudite must capture some Divergents to work out a new serum that will be effective on all of the population, including the Divergent.  The Erudite have set their sights on capturing Tris.  If the Erudite are successful it would ensure the Erudite's ultimate control.  Armed with their small group of friends, as well as some people from their pasts, Tris and Four attempt to stop the Erudite's plan.

My Thoughts:  In a word, Insurgent was frustrating.  I hate saying it but that's how I felt while reading it.  After reading and enjoying Divergent I was excited to see where Roth would take the story and see what would happen to Tris and Four. Unfortunately Insurgent was much more lackluster and, at times, just plain confusing. 

This book picks up right where Divergent left off -- there is absolutely no recap to remind the reader so you may, like me, be a little lost as you try to remember what happened.  It had only been about 4 months since I had read Divergent but even so I had a hard time remembering the storyline and some of the secondary characters.  Lucky for me I have two other people in my house who had also read Divergent -- two lads who have a much better memory than their dear old mom.

Here's a list of reasons why I didn't jump on the proverbial Insurgent bandwagon: 

1. Tris quickly became my least favourite character in the book -- Not a good sign when you don't like the main character.  In Insurgent she becomes too vulnerable to be a good protagonist.  She's lost her spark and the fight in her is long gone ... as well as her basic common sense apparently.  The girl makes a bunch of rash, stupid decisions without thinking of their consequences and that just didn't jive with the Tris I knew from Divergent.  

In Divergent, Tris goes from being this meek, young woman who becomes a strong, 'hold her own' kinda gal.  In Insurgent, Tris seems to regress and 'rewuss'.  She forgets her strengths, gives up and pretty much just has a death wish.  Some of her decisions made me just shake my head.  Plus she has a 'suck attack' (my Dad's term for a pouty meltdown) for a good portion of the book.  Not ideal protagonist behaviour. 

Personally, I couldn't muster enough energy to get behind this sudden change in her character.  Yes, she's lost a lot but she broods for so long and gives up that you just want to give her a 'brain duster' and say 'Put your big girl panties on and smarten up! You've got a war to win!'.  If she doesn't have any fight left in her how is the reader supposed to muster up enough interest to care what happens to her?

Something else that bugged me about Tris is that she is supposed to be Divergent so why, in this book, is she so focused on only her Dauntless characteristics? She keeps making stupid decisions (which, for some reason, keep turning out in her favour) and she doesn't stop for a minute to think things through. Where is the Erudite side of Tris??

2. Other more interesting characters weren't used to their full potential -- I was actually hoping that Tris' parents (particularly her Mom) would be brought into the story more.  I was very disheartened when they were eliminated from the story so early on.  I think adding her Mom to the storyline and giving the reader a chance to learn why she changed factions could have added a whole other dimension to understanding this world that Roth has created.

3. Tris and Four's relationship -- In Divergent I could see that they were attracted to each other.  You saw their relationship emerge and grow and it made sense.  But in Insurgent it feels contrived.  They've gone from young love to crusty old married couple who just bicker at each other.  Picture Archie and Edith Bunker in a dystopian society.  Ya, not cool.  I just don't see why Tris and Four (or Tobias as he's now called) are together.  They've lost their spark and I quickly lost interest. 

I think the main thing that bothered me with their relationship was that the angst between them went on WAAAY too long and seemed to take centre stage in this book as opposed to the action or suspense.  This angst usually stemmed from Tris having a different standard for herself and Four.  Why is she allowed to keep secrets from him but he can't keep any from her?  It just felt too junior high for me.  I would have preferred more action scenes.

4. Things that make you go 'hmmm' -- There were some inconsistencies in Insurgent that tended to bug me.  

First, how could Tris, the person most wanted by the evil Jeanine, just waltz into enemy territory with only Erudite clothing to disguise her? Pardon? It only takes a new outfit to sneak past a powerful group of people who are known to have been smart enough to develop a mind-controlling serum?  Um, no.

Also, why, when Tris is captured, is she not frisked and found to have a knife on her?  Isn't patting down a prisoner the first step in the How to Capture a Prisoner handbook?  Even I know that from watching Law and Order (but maybe Tris didn't watch that show?).  Having her whip out a weapon to save herself felt too convenient and contrived.

Another thing that made me go 'say what?' was how distraught Tris was over Will's death.  Yes, it was extremely unfortunate but she keep referring to how close she and Will were during their Dauntless training.  Sure, they were friends and part of the same group of friends but I wouldn't have said that they were uber close which makes her angst over his death a little odd and over the top.

If you haven't noticed by now I didn't enjoy Insurgent.  Roth started her series with Divergent on a high note with her alternate world where people are divided into different factions based on one part of a person's nature.  Kind of cool, right?  Unfortunately her sophmoric book lacked the energy and edge of Divergent.  Divergent made the reader want to keep reading to find out what would happen to Tris.  In this book, that desire for me to keep reading and find out more wasn't there.  At all.  In fact, I had to force myself to finish reading this book.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars

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