Monday, 30 December 2013

The Seers



Author: Julianna Scott
Genre: Supernatural, Young Adult
Series: #2 in The Holders series
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Angry Robot - Strange Chemistry
Publication Date: February 4, 2014
First Line: "'Do you think if I passed out, she'd let me sit for a few minutes?' I mumbled, as my legs started to twitch."

Book Description from GoodReadsAfter nearly being drained of her ability and betrayed by a man her father trusted, Becca Ingle was left with one clue — Ciaran Shea. He holds the key to the downfall of the power-mad Holder, Darragh, and can ensure the safety of both Holder and Human kind alike... but is he willing to help?

Becca, Alex, Jocelyn, and Cormac set out for Adare Manor to meet with the Bhunaidh, an aristocratic group of pure blooded Holders of whom Ciaran is a rumored member. However, when Becca discovers that they might not be the only ones after the information Ciaran has, everyone begins to wonder if Bhunaidh might not be as uninvolved with Darragh as they claim.

A race to uncover Ciaran’s secrets begins, where the line between friend and foe is blurred, and everyone seems to have their own agenda. Becca will have to call on every ability at her disposal to uncover the truth, all the while knowing that sometimes the answer is more dangerous than the question.


Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Angry Robot for providing me with a complimentary Kindle e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I reviewed "The Holders", the first book in this new YA supernatural series, back in February 2013.  It was a strong start to a brand new series so I was eager to be given the chance to review this second installment in the series.  I'm happy to report that The Seers is even better than The Holders.

Becca remains a good, solid main character.  She's still strong, sassy and a bit bad ass-y.  But even though we witness her insecurities and fears (which makes her more believable in my book) she comes off as a strong character that the reader can rely on.  While Ms Scott has given the reader a solid female lead I do wish that other female characters (namely Chloe and Shannon) were given more page time so that their strengths and character development could happen.  Unfortunately without more page time these two young women were the clichéd 'Bubbly Sidekick' and 'The Mean Girl'.  I would have loved to see more development to their characters and maybe even shown a different kind of strength that Becca doesn't possess.  Just a thought.

One of my favourite relationships remains the bond between Becca and her father, Jocelyn.  It's a new relationship for the both of them and I like that the awkwardness between them, as they try to figure out their relationship, was believable.  I will admit that I was hoping to get a better insight into Jocelyn but I suppose I also wouldn't like it if I knew everything about this interesting and mysterious character right off the bat either.  Here's hoping that the next book in the series sheds some light on him.

There are a few new characters who are added into the mix which spice things up considerably - namely Stephen and Bastian.  Without giving anything away, I just have to say that I loved Bastian from the get-go.  He can hold his own with Becca and his strength and determination keeps Becca on her toes.  Stephen has a quiet presence and I'm hoping (and predicting) that he makes a bigger appearance in future books.  That's all I'm saying about those two guys.

For those of you who adored Alex's character, fear not, he's by Becca's side but he is admittedly more in the background.  He remains a very unique leading man in that he's this quiet, strong guy (who blushes, no less) who adores Becca and is a calming force for her.  But he's not a doormat either.  I honestly can't think of main male character like him.  It's refreshing to see him relate to Becca as she continues to be independent and 100% herself.  He supports her and loves her but doesn't try to be the hero and save the day.  It could easily get annoying or make Alex seem like a wimpy wuss but the way his character is written, I believe it and I like him.

I also felt that Becca and Alex's relationship went to the next level in a couple of ways.  Yes, they're still teens in love but Ms Scott didn't let it get sappy or overrun with teenage angst.  When they had their issues, instead of breaking up over a trivial 90201-esque misunderstanding, they handled it maturely and it showcased the strength of their relationship.  Scott also deals with the budding sexuality between Becca and Alex well.  They are each other's Anam (life partners) so to ignore the fact that they may want to take their relationship to another level may not have played out well realistically.  But Ms Scott also realizes that she's writing a YA novel.  Let's just say Ms Scott walked that fine line well.

In this book, the storyline is taken away from St Brigid's School and I found that change of venue refreshing.  I loved seeing another side of the Holders' world as Becca and her group travelling to Adare Manor to hob nob with the Bhunaidh (pure blood Holder aristocracy).  It's a whole new world for Becca as she interacts with the Bhunaidh with their numerous social rules and favour carrying.  Becca has a hard time adjusting to the new rules especially the blatant and cruel discrimination that she witnesses from the Bhunaidh towards people they think are 'lesser'.

There were a few differences between the first book in the series and The Seers.
In the first book I felt like the budding romance between Becca and Alex took more of a front seat.  In this book, I enjoyed that the storyline and character development were in the forefront.  I think that was a very good call for the author to make.  For those romantics out there, you still have the romance but it stays a little in the background while the tension and story building are right up in front.

The Seers also had less of a Harry Potter meets X-men feel to it ... and I was ok with it.  I know, right?  I was surprised that I didn't miss that element.  But The Seers held its own with it's pace, storyline and twists.  It broke out of the Potter/X-men comparisons and is beginning to hold it's own - and that's a very good thing.  And I'm happy to report that the issues with predictability (that I struggled with in The Holders) are a non-issue here.  The twists in the storyline and the twists in the relationships threw me and I loved it. 

All in all, this was a great and refreshing addition to this budding new series.  While readers are left with no major cliff hanger I'm still eager to see where things head from here.

Recommended. (Tip: read The Holders first!)

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Cranberry Orange Baked Brie

It has been a crazy, exhausting, fun and inventive week around here.  Massive amounts of family time, staying in our jammies until noon, going through a huge ice storm and celebrating Christmas.  Yup.  It was ca-razy. 
 
It all started last Sunday when we went through a nasty and dangerous ice storm which included a massive power outage.  People in our neck of the woods were lucky and only lost power for 8 hours.  The Bookworm family handled it well.  My kids amazingly didn't go into shock when their hand-held devices wore out their batteries.  We stayed warm with our gas fireplace and played card games.  Brad and Boy 1 even cooked some Alphagetti and grilled cheese on our camp stove on the front porch (they got a few people pointing and laughing at them but our bellies were full).  Having our menfolk involved in Scouting has its benefits since we had our emergency kit at the ready!
 
Unfortunately, the good people in Toronto (and other areas) lost power for almost a week!!  Not a very lovely Christmas, I suppose so I'll be thankful for the little inconvenience we went through.
 
I hope that you, my wonderful blog readers, had a fabulous and relaxing holiday with family and friends.  Christmas around here came and went fairly peacefully.  We had our usual large family gathering which we usually have at the cottage (the only home big enough to house all 18 of us overnight) but after the major ice storm it was too dangerous to drive on our cottage road with branches continually falling so we opted to keep it safe and stay in town.
 
The venue wasn't the only thing to change this year.  A couple of days before Christmas my Dad sent out an email asking for each of his daughters to only bring one dish due to the overwhelming amounts of leftovers we usually accrue.  I'm sorry, Dad. Say wha?!?!  For me I was to only make two loaves of bread.  That's it.  To some, they'd be happy with only having to make one thing.  For me?  I have to admit that I had the wind knocked out of my sails a bit.
 
See, for me one of my favourite parts about Christmas is baking with my kids.  I adore it and it's something that I eagerly look forward to each year.  It's creative, relaxing and yummy. 
 
Christmas is also the Super Bowl for bakers. 
 
I realize my Dad was coming from a very responsible frame of mind but I sent a family wide email and said that I just couldn't abide by the new rules -- leftovers be darned.  I had to bake.  It was Christmas and I show my love through food so I was gonna bring Tupperwares full o' my love.  And I did.
 
And so Missy Moo and I baked 5 dozen frosted sugar cookies (only a handful were leftover by the way) and I also brought this appetizer.  If you're a lover of cranberry sauce you'll love this appetizer.  Melted cheesy goodness, tart and tangy, oh so easy ... and a hit!
 
Now I can eagerly look forward to the World Series of appetizers .... New Years Eve!!!

 


2 cups frozen cranberries
zest of 1 large orange (approximately 2 tbsp - divided)
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup white sugar
2 pinches dried cloves
1 pinch cinnamon
large wheel of brie (approx. 14oz)

Combine cranberries, half of the orange zest, sugar and orange juice in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until cranberries begin to burst.  Add cloves and cinnamon.  Mix well.

Keep cranberry mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator to use later or use immediately.

Preheat oven to 375F.  Place brie into a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour cranberry orange mixture over the brie. Sprinkle with remaining orange zest.  Return brie to oven and heat for an additional 10 minutes or until brie is soft inside.

Serve immediately with French bread slices or crackers.


Enjoy!

Tip: I stockpile bags of fresh cranberries in my freezer for recipes just like this.  I adore the mighty cran!

Friday, 27 December 2013

The Arnifour Affair


Author: Gregory Harris
Genre: Historical Mystery
Series: #1 in the Colin Pendragon mystery series
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Kensington Books
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
First Line: "The subject, as it so often is, was murder."

Book Description from GoodReadsSet against the fog-shrouded backdrop of turn-of-the-century London, Gregory Harris's new historical mystery series introduces tenacious sleuth Colin Pendragon, and a case that illuminates the darkness lurking in the heart of one of England's most noble families.

When a carriage bearing the Arnifour family crest--a vulture devouring a slaughtered lamb--arrives at the Kensington home of Colin Pendragon, it is an ominous beginning to a perplexing new case. Lady Arnifour's husband has been beaten to death and her niece, Elsbeth, left in a coma. Is the motive passion, revenge, or something even more sinister? Police suspicions have fallen on the groundskeeper and his son, yet the Earl's widow is convinced of their innocence.

Even as Colin and his partner Ethan Pruitt delve into the muddy history of the Arnifour family, a young street urchin begs their help in finding his missing sister. Ethan, regrettably familiar with London's underbelly, urges caution, yet Colin's interest is piqued. And in a search that wends from the squalid opium dens of the East End to the salons of Embassy Row, the truth about these seemingly disparate cases will prove disquieting, dangerous, and profoundly unexpected.


Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Kensington Books for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I am always on the lookout for a new author that I will adore and impatiently eagerly await their next novel. Whether it's their amazing characters that I can't stop thinking about, their witty writing or the twists they put into their plots, there's just that special 'something' that leaves me wanting more. 

I think I've found that in Gregory Harris. 

The Arnifour Affair has everything I love in a good mystery.  It's set in a historical setting(late Victorian era London, no less!), wonderfully dry humour and memorable characters.  It's the successful mystery author's Hat Trick.

This is Harris' first novel and I was quite impressed with the depth of the mysteries, the character development and the quality of the writing that drew me in from the beginning.  Pruitt and Pendragon have a wonderful and refreshing rapport with each other and I have to admit I was nicely surprised by the revelation of the extent of their relationship. 

Harris has given the two men a very 'Sherlock and Watson' feel to them (without overdoing it) with Pruitt being the more cautious and quiet of the two and Pendragon being the intellectual (rather impetuous) driving force behind the detective work.  I loved the addition of Pruitt's dark past and Pendragon's great quips and retorts.  And the addition of the surly and ill-tempered Mrs Behmoth was the icing on the proverbial cake.

Harris doesn't waste any time and jumps into the mystery right away.  The story is told from Pruitt's point of view as Harris gives his readers tidbits about some of Pruitt and Pendragon's past mysteries to give the reader a sense of their history and success together.  That addition of the history of the main characters helped me to get a better feel for these two protagonists, gave their relationship more depth but didn't make me feel like I was missing out on their past exploits.

There are two mysteries that Pruitt and Pendragon are trying to solve.  The main mystery kept me guessing until the end even though I will admit that it felt like it lost a bit of oomph towards the end of the book.  The pace did pick up though and I enjoyed the main mystery but it was the secondary mystery that surprised me with its conclusion.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this book.  It has an engaging writing style, wonderful humour and memorable characters.  I am eager to see what's future exploits Pruitt and Pendragon will get into next.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Sunday, 22 December 2013

The Ghost Bride


Author: Yangsze Choo
Genre: Supernatural/Mystery
Type: Hardcover
Source: local public library
Pages: 368
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: August 2013
First Line: "One evening, my father asked me whether I'd like to become a ghost bride."

Book Description from GoodReads"One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride..."

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of Malacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.

Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family's only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.

After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy—including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family's darkest secrets—and the truth about her own family—before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.


My Review: This is one of those books where the book description on the cover doesn't match the book inside. What drew me to this book in the first place was the interesting storyline regarding a woman having to marry a ghost.  I was intrigued by the cultural aspects of it and was expecting a mystery mixed with the folklore of a different culture.  This is not the story I ended up getting in the end.

At the beginning of the book I was captivated by the rare cultural practice of marrying a live girl to a ghost.  The book starts off quite strong and I was eager to find out more about this strange family and their hidden secrets.  But once the story was set in the ghostly afterworld I soon lost interest.  The plot plodded from there and the storyline became too convoluted and I ended up scanning passages in the hopes that the pace would pick up.  Unfortunately that never and I ended up putting this book down about half way through.

The plot suffered about halfway through because so much detail had to be explained to the reader regarding Malayan beliefs/afterlife etc.  The author therefore ended up describing and spoon feeding the reader instead of showing some of these beliefs which ended up slowing down the pace of the book considerably.

I can get through a complicated and even slow storyline if the protagonist is someone I can root for.  Li Lan wasn't that kind of character for me because she was one-dimensional and rather boring.  She seemed very meek and immature for a young woman of around 18 years of age.  I never felt like I got a solid picture of her in my head and some of her choices and love notions seemed much more like a 13 year old girl, not a young woman. She was too trusting, naïve and things seem to fall into her lap instead of her being the protagonist and taking up the reigns of the story.  She pines for a living man that she barely knows and I just couldn't buy it. 

Some of the secondary characters, like the cook who sees ghosts and Li Lan's Amah were much more interesting but not used as much as I would have liked.  Er Lang was an interesting character but his choice to ask Li Lan for help in figuring out what nefarious things are happening in the afterlife baffled me.  Out of all the people/ghosts he could ask for help he asks a naïve, simple girl?  I just didn't get it and by that point I really didn't care.

I lost interest in this book because I went into it eager to learn more about ghost marriages.  It's a very interesting concept but the farther I read, the less it had to do with the ghost marriage and the more it had to do with the afterlife (which was muddled with a confusing plot and numerous characters who were hard to keep track of). 

In the end, this book had an interesting premise but unfortunately suffered from poor execution.  I was initially hoping this book had much more of a folklore feel to it but instead I got a fantastical, creepy read that was bogged down in too many details with a dull protagonist.

My Rating: 0/5 stars (I didn't finish it)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Southern Fried (#1 Avery Andrews mystery)


Author: Cathy Pickens
Genre: Light Mystery
Type: Hardcover
Series: #1 in Avery Andrews mystery series
Source: local library
Pages: 288
Publisher: St Martin's 
First Published: February 2005
First Line: "A couple of county cop cars and several pick-ups, one loaded with an air compressor, crowded around the boat landing at Luna Lake."

Book Description from GoodReadsAvery Andres has just been downsized from her job in a law office in a North Carolina city and has returned to her small home town to lick her wounds and consider, with hesitation, trying to set up a law practice there. She quickly gets a client or two, and immediately the company building owned by one is destroyed by arson, and the body found inside was quite probably murdered. Meanwhile, an old high-school classmate has told the entire county that he is hopelessly in love with Avery and makes several attempts at spectacular suicides, each one of them carefully set up not to work. All in all, Avery finds that small-town life is not nearly so dull as she feared. And sometimes wishes it were.

My Review: My regular readers know that I don't give up on a book lightly.  For me, there's a fine line between giving a book and author their due and feeling like I'm wasting my precious reading time on a book that's just not clicking with me.

Unfortunately, this book and I weren't on the same proverbial page.  I'm all for the light, easy-reading mystery.  There's nothing better than curling up with a good book on a snowy day and a cuppa java in my other hand.  It's my bliss.  But 'light and easy' doesn't mean silly and ridiculous and that's how this book felt from the get-go for me.

My opinion is vastly different than the majority of people who have read this book but there are some things that just got in the way with me fully enjoying it.  First of all, when writing for the locals of this small southern town the author opted to write in their accent.  For example, "Tragic, itn't it?  It uz his true love for you that drove him to it."  I realize the characters are from a very small town in the South and an occasional word thrown in with the accent in tow is fine.  But I don't like to be spoon fed every little thing and if I have to decipher the majority of what these characters are saying it takes away from the momentum of the book and can get distracting.  And in this case, it did.

The mystery also seemed like it was never going to get started.  The pace was extremely slow with no burst of energy in sight.  The humour came off as trite and hokey and with the weak plot I guess this just wasn't a book for me.

In the author's defense, I think she was going for a charming, funny southern mystery but unfortunately the very slow pace of the plot, the silly banter between the locals and the lack of interest I had in the main character got in the way with me actually finishing the book.

My Rating: 0/5 stars (gave up on it)

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Canal House Cooking - Pronto!



Authors: Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton
Genre: Cookbook
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
Publication Date: October 2013
First Line: "Welcome to Canal House -- our studio, workshop, dining room, office, kitchen and atelier devoted to good ideas and good work relating to the world of food."

Book Description from GoodReads: 75 Fast, Easy, Fresh, Italian Recipes for All Seasons. The Canal House Cooking seasonal cookbook series is home cooking by home cooks for home cooks.

From James Beard award-winning authors Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, comes the newest volume in the beloved Canal House Cooking series, Pronto!
Pronto! is a handsome, 128-page book with 75 recipes and lush photographs collected in a highly covetable package. It's home cooking at its best; by home cooks, for home cooks and it's pure Canal House.

The delicious, easy-to-prepare recipes celebrate the practice of cooking Italian food, and the enjoyment of eating it. Using the best seasonal ingredients available, their recipes combine the rich tradition of Italian cooking with quick and easy execution. This instant classic includes recipes for dishes such as Pasta with Radicchio; Pancetta, Grilled Pizza with Raw Ripe Tomato Sauce, Chicken Alla Diavola, and Fig Gelato.


Canal House Cooking has previously been featured for its inspiring recipes, friendly and knowledgeable voice, and drop-dead gorgeous photographs in a variety of publications including O, the Oprah Magazine, Bon Appetit, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Christopher and Melissa's daily blog, Canal House Cooks Lunch, has thousands of daily followers interested in what these two women have cooked up that day. This wide fan base will be pleased to see the release of this dynamic duo's newest cookbook with accessible and easy recipes for home cooks.


Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for providing me with a portion of this book, in Kindle e-book form, in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: I have to admit that I am new to the Canal House cookbook series.  It seems that I've been living under a rock because these two women are quite well versed in the art of writing a good recipe and their love of good food is evident.

From the beginning of the book you get the feeling that you're sitting down with some girlfriends to chat around the kitchen table.  There's a very casual, homey feel to the writing in the way it describes the simple galley kitchen that they use, the view from the kitchen window and the history of the Canal House.  I honestly expected the authors to be creating their dishes in some rustic Italian villa but quickly came to learn that they're from New Jersey.  But honestly, where Canal House is located isn't an issue because at the heart of all of the recipes is the trinity that makes up a good recipe: fresh produce, good quality staples and keeping the recipe simple to let the fresh flavours play centre stage.

The recipes are accompanied by beautiful colour pictures of these dishes that the authors make for their own families on a regular basis.  The ultimate in 'tried and true' recipe and I love that.  There is also a very useful section on Italian wines which I plan to peruse more in the near future.

While there were quite a few recipes that caught my eye ('Pasta with Olive, Capers and Lemon' as well as the 'Avocados with Lemon Supreme Vinaigrette' to name just a couple) many of the recipes provided to me in the ARC weren't necessarily what I would make for my own (fairly picky) family.  The recipes were intriguing but some of the ingredients, namely the common use of anchovies, wouldn't necessarily be a selling point in our home or pallets.

Overall, this is an interesting read for people looking try their hand at adding some Mediterranean fare to their repertoire.  With its chatty tone it's an easy and interesting read.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 16 December 2013

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

 
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here.  It's cold, snowy and I'm craving comfort food which, in my family, usually means something to do with bread and butter.  I'm also trying to increase the amount of whole wheat I use in breads to attempt to be a little healthier while we engorge ourselves on homemade bread.  It's a steep learning curve, this healthy eating thing.  Baby steps.

I made this loaf two weeks ago on my day off to go with my Slow Cooker Beef Stew.  I followed the instructions and used my bread machine to mix and rise the dough (one of my favourite methods of baking bread).  It was super easy and the loaf was pretty much inhaled by my clan.  Only one meagre little slice was left.

I made this loaf again just this past Monday but decided to just bake it in my bread machine because my oven was filled with my Rotisserie-Style Roasted Chicken (seriously good eats, that chicken is!!).  While this loaf tasted just as good as the loaf I made last week it came out of my bread machine looking a little wonky. 

Ok, it looked like a butt. 


BUTT, our family is not one to scoff at any type of carb, pretty or not, so this loaf didn't stand a chance with our carb addicted family and was inhaled with glee.  Given the choice I'd prefer to use the first method (so you don't risk serving butt bread to guests) but in a crunch you can make this small loaf in your machine too. 

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Inspired by: Honey Whole Wheat Bread (Allrecipes.com)

1 1/8 cup warm water (110F/45C)
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp melted butter
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

Note: This recipe will take at least 3 hours from start to finish.

Place the ingredients into your bread machine in the order listed, making sure that the yeast doesn't come into contact with any liquid.  Set your bread machine to dough setting (usually takes about 2 hours).

Remove dough from bread machine to a lightly floured surface.  Punch down the dough then place it in a loaf pan and cover it with a tea towel.  Let it rise for 30 to 45 minutes in a warm spot.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Bake loaf for 25 minutes or until hollow sounding when the top of the loaf is tapped.  Allow loaf to cool for a bit in the loaf pan then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Hush Little Baby



Author: Suzanne Redfearn
Genre: Suspense
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Published: October 8, 2013
First Line: "The priest stands to the side waiting for the piano to quiet, then walks to the pulpit."

Book Description from GoodReads: If I stay, he will kill me. If I leave, he'll destroy Addie and Drew. Jillian Kane appears to have it all - a successful career, a gorgeous home, a loving husband, and two wonderful children. The reality behind closed doors is something else entirely. For nine years, she has hid the bruises and the truth of her abusive marriage in order to protect Addie and Drew, knowing, if she left, Gordon would destroy her-destroy them.

When, in an act of desperation, she flees, her worst nightmare is realized, and she finds herself on the run with her two young children, no money, and no plan. With Gordon in hot pursuit, there is only one inescapable certainty: No matter where she goes, he will find her. Kill her. And take her children.

A riveting page-turner, HUSH LITTLE BABY exposes the shame and terror of domestic violence as well as the disturbing role manipulation and sabotage can play in the high-stakes game of child custody. Suspenseful and unforgettably moving, it's a novel about the unbreakable bonds of family and the astounding, terrifying devotion of a mother's love.


Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchanged for my honest review.

My Review: I loved this book.  How's that for an opening line of a review?

It not only had me on the edge of my seat a few times but the short chapters kept the pace high and the emotions that Ms Redfearn's writing pulled out of me surprised even me.  Let's just say that it takes a lot to get an emotional response out of this reader but this book did.  

As Jillian's home life is described at the beginning of the book I found myself making stereotypical generalizations of Jillian -- the battered, powerless wife (I had failed to remember, after quickly skimming the book synopsis, that Jillian was a successful career woman).  Due to this oversight I'm ashamed to say that I made assumptions about Jillian from the get go.  That is, until the author turned those assumptions upside down.  Well played, Ms Redfearn, well played.  I loved the fact that this book put me in my place and helped me to open my eyes to the truth about spousal abuse.  It can affect anyone. You just never know someone else's story.

Hush Little Baby is filled with shorter chapters and I think that this helps to propel the storyline and keep the reader engaged.  It takes off right away on an emotional and suspenseful rollercoaster with the reader seeing and feeling Jillian's fear, uncertainty and abuse.  Reading certain passages, I felt myself tensing up and willing Jillian to make a different choice.  You can feel the tension that Jillian and her children, especially her son Drew, live with on a daily basis. 

But it was her conflicting emotions regarding her husband Gordon that got to me the most.  Her self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness were palpable and made me want to reach in and get her to realize, before it's too late, that it doesn't have to be this way.  

The mental abuse and degradation that Gordon commits against Jillian are just as appalling and hurtful as the physical marks he leaves on her.  To see this powerful woman denigrated and reduced to the point where she only views herself as a bad mother, useless and ugly was heart breaking, frustrating and maddening.

What I found frustrating was seeing how quickly Jillian's mindset reverts to forgetting about the horrible parts of her marriage when she's in a calm/peaceful time with her husband.  During those times she chooses to believe the image that Gordon portrays to everyone else.  The cop who coaches Little League and the hands on Dad who's a devote Christian.  It may be self-preservation and/or fear but seeing her talk about missing foot rubs and Gordon asking about her day even after he brutally hurts her was hard to read ... and yet I could see where she was coming from at the same time.  I think that Ms Redfearn truly got into the head of an abused woman and helped me to better understand what it's like to be in that position.

I really don't have any negatives about this book but I do have more of a 'wish list' of sorts.  I think adding the points of view of Drew and Gordon could have added an extra layer to the book.  Seeing how Drew truly views his dad and his mom as well as how he feels when he witnesses his mom being abused/denigrated would have possibly given a broader understanding of spousal abuse.

As for Gordon?  I hated Gordon but he was such a pivotal character and I would have loved to have gotten inside his head at least a bit.  Why does he do what he does?  The way he uses manipulation, shame and sabotage against the woman he supposedly loves was astounding and eye-opening but how did he view his actions?

I also wish that we could have found out what happened to Paul, Goat etc. They helped play an important part in revitalizing Jillian's sense of self so I would have loved to have heard if they were still a part of Jillian's life.

My 'wish list' is meagre and I had to really hunt for things that could have possibly made this book even better.  Like I said earlier, I loved this book.  It's filled with emotion and edge-of-your-seat action that had me rooting for Jillian and so scared for her too.  This was a hard to put down book and I'm very eager to read more from this new author.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Favourite Quotes:
"I'm surprised at the depth of his cruelty, amazed how irrelevant I've become.  Even as I hate him, I'm hurt by him, and a perverted part of me wants him to still love me." - Jillian

"A beautiful day. A beautiful family. I'm happy to pretend." - Jillian

"Fear paralyzes.  It replaces logical thought with a numbing inability to alter your destiny."

"Until you've almost died, you don't appreciate the tenuous tether you have to life, but when you come within a breath of your mortality, suddenly you become very aware of its precariousness.  And as insane as it is, and I acknowledge it's insane, I'm never so grateful for my life than the moment I realize Gordon didn't kill me." - Jillian

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively


Author: Gary Chapman
Genre: Parenting, Non-Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 277
Publisher: Northfield Publishing
Publication Date: April 2000
First Line: "I think it's safe to say that the task of parenting teenagers today is more perplexing than it has been in any previous generation."

Book Description from GoodReadsSocially, mentally, and spiritually, teenagers face a variety of pressures and stresses each day. Despite these peer pressures; it is still parents who can influence teens the most. Get equipped to be a better parent as The Five Love Languages of Teenagers explores the world in which teenagers live, explains the developmental changes, and give tools to help you identify and appropriately communicate in your teen's love language.

Get practical tips on loving your teen effectively and explore key issues in your teen's life including anger and independence. Finally, learn how to set boundaries that are enforced with discipline and consequences, and discover useful ways for the difficult task of loving when your teen fails. Get ready to discover how the principles of the five love languages can really work in the lives of your teens and family. Over 400,000 copies sold!


My ReviewAs you can see from my reading history on GoodReads or here on the blog I'm not a big non-fiction reader so it should come as no shock that I didn't happen upon this book by myself. I learned of it from a friend of mine who had read another book in the series and she had quite positive reviews of it.  I had never heard of or read any of Chapman's previous "Love Languages" books but the premise intrigued me.

As many of you know I have one teen and two tweens at home.  Let's just say that the household hormones runneth over.  Over the past couple of years as Boy 1 entered teendom I've noticed differences in how we interact with each other and they're not always as positive as I would like.  So I was eager to see if this book could give me a clearer view of what being a teen in 2013 is like for my son.

Overall, I enjoyed this light read, learned a little and was reminded about a lot of parenting tools that I already had in my parenting arsenal.  It reminded me of what it's like to be a teen -- how they feel, think etc and helped me to put some of my feelings/reactions into perspective (like not to feel hurt or put out when my teen wants/needs time to himself and doesn't necessarily want to hang with dear old mom).  Deep down I knew that but a little reminder was needed.

The notion of Chapman's five love languages is an interesting concept.  As I read the book I started to look at my kids differently.  Each of my kids have different 'love languages' so I tried, over the past few weeks, to figure out how to reach each them with their unique love languages.  Boy 1 is not one for hugs (never has been).  To reach him I had to stop using so much Physical Love (one of my main love languages) -- hugs, hair ruffling, kisses on the cheek -- and start using Words of Affirmation to get through to him.  He responded to me better and you know what?  He's actually become more OK with my occasional hugs.  Who knew, right?

Now Boy 2 is a different ball of wax all together.  Boy 2 truly speaks the love language of Physical Touch with his love of snuggling, hugging 'just cuz' and how he likes to sit close to Brad and I even while just watching TV.  It's always been easy for Boy 2 and I to show love because we kind of come from the same love language page, so to speak.

Missy Moo's love language is definitely Quality Time.  She adores having Brad or I to herself for some one-on-one time.  Three different kids, three different ways to show them that I love them.  So, by not showing each of my kids love using their own love language I may not have been imparting my love clearly to them.  That was an 'a-ha' moment for me.  Ultimately, by focusing on what my kids need/want from me I do feel that we have had a much calmer household over the past few weeks.

Throughout the book Chapman clearly describes the mindset of teens, how they may be feeling and what they need in order to feel loved during a very emotional and stressful age.  He uses a fairly strong Christian base to his teachings with several Biblical/Christian references being made throughout the book.  A couple of times it almost took on a preachy vibe but overall I don't think non-Christians will mind the references.

Is this the most concise parenting book I’ve read?  No.  I did find the book overly long for the amount of information that was provided and feel it could have been cut down quite a bit without losing the information given.  And while there is good information provided, many of the parenting techniques aren't anything new but can be used to remind parents of things that they knew all along but needed a refresher in.

One of the 'refreshers' that I needed was quite simple but made me do a mental forehead smack when I read it. 

You can't parent a teen the same way you parented them when they were a child. 

The rules change.  The boy who did as he was told as a child is now arguing and pushing boundaries at every turn because he wants to become his own person.  Pushing away from Mom and Dad is what's supposed to happen as teens learn to 'go it alone' more and more without Mom and Dad hovering over them to ensure that nothing bad happens.  That said, rules and boundaries are just as important now as they were when he was younger. 

Rules, consequences and boundaries must be set in advance and be clear and consistent so everyone knows what's expected and what will happen if boundaries are crossed.  This involves a lot of communication and respect all around.  I liked the fact that this book doesn't sugar coat things and encourages parents to allow their kids to feel the consequences of their actions.  Mom and Dad don't need to ride in on a white horse to save the day if Junior's decision ends badly.  The teens, after making their own decisions, have to face the consequences, good or bad, just as they will when they're adults.

I take away from this book a few new tidbits of parenting wisdom to make my parenting arsenal that much stronger.  Encouraging independence is something that Brad and I have always done with our kids but as Boy 1 begins to push farther than my comfort zone is comfortable with I can look back at this book and realize that it's OK for me to let go of the reigns (just a little).  Allow him to stumble, make decisions (even when I don't agree) and begin to pull away from Brad and I to become his own person.  Hard to do but oh so necessary because in the end creating independent, self-sufficient, caring and compassionate adults who know they are loved is the end result of parenting.

Recommended.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Bordeaux Dynasty



Author: Francoise Bourdin
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
First Published: November 12, 2013
First Line: "Bordeaux, 100 miles - Robert had only glanced at the road sign, more concerned about the two trucks ahead."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe Laverzac family gathers twice a year around its patriarch, Aurélien, on its magnificent vineyard in Bordeaux. But this particular summer, a storm of family tension starts to simmer—one that will be far more devastating than anything that could beat down on the grapes.

With the vineyard’s future at stake, Aurélien, who has dedicated his whole life to it, fights to preserve his domain by choosing his successor. Jules, the youngest of four sons, adopted thirty years earlier, seems to be the only possible candidate. He possesses all of the necessary qualities for managing the vineyard: he is charismatic, an excellent leader, and loves working the land.

But why should the adopted son inherit this colossal fortune? The vineyard is full of rumors. And Alexandre, the only son to have settled in the area, takes great offense.
Passions flare, fueled by the rivalry between the brothers, the jealousies of the women in their lives, the demands of the land, and the hierarchy of the region where the only things that count are the grape harvest and the next vintage.

In the heart of this storm, it is up to Jules to confront the ghosts of his past and face who he is.

Through this rich story in the heart of the Bordeaux vineyards, Françoise Bourdin explores the dramas that threaten the future of one family’s name and estate.


Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I love a large, epic read that I get utterly and hopelessly lost in.  When I found this book on NetGalley I figured I could dive in and become immersed in the story, forget about the craziness of my little world for awhile and just enjoy. 

The book started off well.  I was intrigued as each character was introduced (especially the mystery of Jules' mother) but somewhere around the halfway point the energy seemed to wane and I started to lose interest.  It seemed to go from a family saga (complete with passion, betrayals and jealousies, oh MY!) to something that felt like it was more from an 80's episode of Dynasty or Dallas script which had a slightly 'fromage' feel to it with it's characters literally rolling in the hay, bed hopping and half dressed at odd moments.

In an epic read I need to get behind the characters because it's their misdeeds/love affairs etc that I need to believe in order to stick around for the duration of such a long read.  Unfortunately I didn't feel connected to any of the characters.  They were shallow, self serving narcissists who were constantly making choices that hurt those they claimed to love.  {Can you hear the Dallas theme song?}  Pretty much all of the characters acted this way.  They did whatever they wanted, with whomever they wanted and were surprised when problems arose from the obviously bad decisions they had made previously. 

There were also a tonne of characters that were introduced in the beginning (the brothers, spouses etc) and I admit that I found it so confusing to remember who was married or cheating on whom that I made a cheat sheet to keep track.  This book felt like it was more about a bunch of love triangles that just happened to be set in a beautiful vineyard in France.  I guess I was expecting a lot more energy and twists to this book that ultimately came off as predictable to me.

Another issue that I had was some of the terms or colloquialisms that were used.  The book was written in French and then translated into English and I feel that the translation could have been better.  There were many colloquialisms that were used that didn't feel like they fit in with the setting or characters.  For example, "son of a gun" and "when Dad learned about it ... he had a cow".  I've never lived in France but that sounds like much more of a North American slang (a la Bart Simpson) than something I could envision being used on a vineyard in Bordeaux.  For me, a translation like that interrupts the flow of the story and makes my attention focus on the odd word placement instead of the storyline.

I'm disappointed that I didn't enjoy this book more.  I was really eager to read this book after I was sent a video from the publisher detailing the author's ideas behind the book. While I enjoyed the descriptions of the vineyards in France and the premise I have to admit that I really struggled to finish the book.  I was hoping for more energy, more twists and a faster pace.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Crumb-Topped Lemon Haddock

I don't know about you but convincing my kids to eat fish is a really hard sell.  Seafood gets a bad rap with kids (at least most of my minions) and that's really unfortunate.  My kids think that meeting me halfway in the mighty and on-going 'Eating More Fish Debate' entails deigning to let frozen fish sticks pass their lips.  There is one hitch ... I don't buy frozen fish sticks.
 
Brad and I are a whole other story (and for the most part so is Boy 1).  Brad and I could eat fresh, grilled salmon at least once per week (we inhaled some Grilled Citrus Salmon just last week with a lot of 'Oh WOW this is soooo good!'s escaping our lips between bites.  Definitely a fav).  Boy 1, while not a big salmon or white fish lover, will inhale shrimp, escargot, calamari and sea scallops until the sea cows come home.  Expensive tastes that one has but at least he tries new foods which is partly due to the fact that the man-child is now as tall as I am and needs more food to keep the growth spurt happenin'.
 
Anyhoo, this recipe meets our tastes half way (in my books anyway).  Haddock isn't an expensive fish and it's not 'fishy' tasting either.  Topped with this nice, crunchy lemon-y breading and this dish is a definite keeper.  Plus, it's a nice, quick meal that you can whip up on those crazy days.
 
 


1/3 cup butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
400g package of frozen haddock fillets
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup Panko Japanese bread crumbs
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp fresh lemon zest
to taste -- freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a baking dish and set aside.

Place minced butter and garlic in a small microwave safe dish.  Microwave until butter has melted.

In a medium bowl, combine the two types of bread crumbs, thyme, lemon zest and black pepper.  Pour butter mixture into crumb mixture and combine.  It'll be clumpy.

Place fish fillets into your prepared baking dish.  Spoon the crumb mixture onto the fillets (I ended up using my hands in the end and patting the crumb mixture onto the fillets).

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. 

This dish is wonderful served with my Parmesan Basil Orzo that you can easily whip up on the stove while the fish is cooking.

Yield: 4 servings

Inspired by: Taste of Home's 'Baked Lemon Haddock'

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Last Clinic


Author: Gary Gusick
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Series: Darla Cavanaugh mystery series #1
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group - Alibi
Publication Date: November 18, 2013
First Line: "It was 6:00 a.m. and still dark when Reverend Jimmy Aldridge dragged the seven-foot pine cross from the back of his oversized SUV."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn a fast-paced, suspenseful debut novel for fans of Harlan Coben and Lisa Gardner, detective Darla Cavannah goes Deep South in pursuit of a merciless killer.

Outside the local women’s health clinic, the Reverend Jimmy Aldridge waving his protest sign is a familiar sight. But that changes early one morning when someone shoots the beloved Reverend Jimmy dead. Sheriff Shelby Mitchell knows the preacher’s murder will shock the good people of Jackson—and the pressure to find the killer is immediate and intense, which is why Shelby calls in detective Darla Cavannah.

When police detective Darla moved from Philadelphia to Jackson with her husband—hometown football hero Hugh “the Glue” Cavannah—she never imagined the culture shock that awaited. Then after Hugh dies in a car crash, Darla enters a self-imposed exile in her Mississippi home, taking a leave of absence from the sheriff’s department. Now she’s called back to duty—or coerced, more like it, with Shelby slathering on his good-ole-boy charm nice and thick, like on a helping of barbecue.

Reluctantly partnered with a mulish Elvis impersonator, Darla keeps a cool head even as the community demands an arrest. The court of public opinion has already convicted the clinic’s doctor, Stephen Nicoletti, but Darla is just as sure he’s not guilty—even as she fights her growing attraction to him. From the genteel suburbs to a raunchy strip club, Darla follows a trail of dirty money and nasty secrets—until the day of judgment comes, and she faces down an ungodly assassin.


Note:  My sincere thanks to Random House Publishing Group - Alibi and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  Darla Cavanaugh is the protagonist for this new mystery series set in Mississippi.  Darla moves back with her husband back to his hometown when his NFL career is cut short due to injury.  After his sudden death Darla decides to stay in the small town even though she is considered an outsider by the townspeople. 

There are two things that I need in order to give a high rating to a mystery. I need to be surprised by the twists (which I admit can be a big undertaking) which keep me guessing 'who dunnit' and I need to have a connection with the characters.  While there were twists and turns to the storyline and it kept my interest in the beginning, it was the characters that I had an issue with.

First, Darla started out as a great character.  She was a strong, independent woman who just wants to prove to this small town that she's more than just her famous husband's widow and that she's got what it takes even though the locals still see her as a 'fish out of water' Yankee. 

Darla started to lose her likeability when she encounters her love interest.  It felt very rushed, unbelievable and I personally could have done without it.  I think it changed Darla's character from strong and independent to a mushy, doting female and I didn't like that.  The love interest, like Officer Elvis (see below) got in the way of the pace of the plot and that's where I started to waiver and lose interest.

There was one character which I couldn't stand.  Officer Elvis.  Well, bless his heart.  He was Darla's partner on the case and I found him to be very annoying with his antics and how he seemed to have carte blanche when it came to policing the town.  No one, not even his superior officer, even so much as rapped his knuckles for not doing things by the book.  I was honestly hoping that he'd get his comeuppance  .... or get shot.  Not a good sign for a character when you want them 'offed'.  He was the clichéd 'guy who has to be top dog' no matter what and was more of a distraction to the storyline if anything.  If the reader had been shown a glimmer of a deeper side to him then maybe I could have gotten on board with his antics but unfortunately he was a one trick pony.

There were also terms that were used by some of the townspeople which seemed unnecessary, outdated and prejudiced.  These terms made my stomach turn. It went from using the terms 'chink' and 'eyetalians' to describing a gay man as a 'butt guy'.  I'm not proclaiming to be an expert on all things Mississippi but I think that the author went a little overboard casting the townspeople as a bunch of ignorant, simple, narrow-minded bigots.  It was overdone and caused me to focus on these terms instead of the mystery.

As for the mystery?  There were quite a few minor plot twists thrown in to keep the reader guessing.  The main premise dealt with a very sensitive topic but in doing so, I didn’t feel like the author tried to sway his readers to support either side of the controversy for which I was glad.  He stuck to the murder mystery and the topic of abortion was left for the reader to decide.
 
I hope that the future books in this new series will focus on keeping Darla as a strong protagonist and less on the antics of her blue suede shoe wearing partner.  I feel that this series has the chance to be a good, suspenseful read if it focuses on the mystery and spends more time letting the reader get to know the main characters.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Related Posts with Thumbnails