Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Light Between Oceans

Author: M.L. Stedman
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Public Library
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 343
Publisher:  Scribner
First Published: July 2012
First Line: "On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small newly made driftwood cross."

Book Description from GoodReadsAfter four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel

My Review:  This is one of those books that I've been hearing so many good things about but haven't gotten the chance to pick it up until just recently.  Ever since the book came out I've heard all kinds of kudos from some friends as well as the very glowing reviews on popular book sites.  Unfortunately, for me, usually a highly acclaimed book tends to mean the kiss of death for a good review from yours truly.  Sadly, this book falls into the category.

It wasn't a bad book but I can't honestly say that I have really strong feelings about this book or its characters either.  It's going to fall somewhere in the accumulation of vague memories in my bookworm brain where I'll remember little bits of the story but overall the book will soon be lost to me. 

My opinion is not in the vast majority though (nor am I alone either).  Many people were utterly captivated by the book and, from the book description, I was intrigued.  It's a very interesting premise.  What would you do, after the devastation of a few miscarriages, if you find an infant and no one will be the wiser if you took the child as your own? 

It's that premise is what grabbed my attention.  This is a case where you know someone did something wrong and yet you can totally understand, due to their circumstances, why they did what they did.  And you can't 100% fault them for it.  But when the other person involved in the situation is brought into the picture those feelings are shaken as you now see the two sides of the story and the poor, innocent child stuck in the middle.  I found myself empathizing with Isabel as well as with Hannah but my heart really went out to little Lucy who was in the middle of it all.

This book did make me think and gave me a good moral dilemma to ponder but I don't think the energy and interest of the premise was used to its full potential.  It lacked a strong pace and it had a hard time keeping my interest.  I think that something that could have helped the pace and interest in the book is if subplots were used to spice things up.  We're really on a single track with this book.  With no other smaller storylines to bring other characters into the fray more it seemed a little bleak and dull.

There were in-depth descriptions of the island which gave the island a very desolate and lonely feel to it.  I did find that Stedman went a little heavy with the descriptions of the lighthouse and all that working on one entails.  The dialogue seemed a little heavy and clunky at times too but I'll chalk that up to this being Stedman's first novel.

That's not to say that this book is devoid of emotion.  Stedman tugs at people's heart strings and gets them to question a moral dilemma but I felt that the characters, those people who the reader is supposed to get behind, were too thinly created.  I just never felt connected to any of them.  Sure, it was emotional to read about miscarriages and lost babies but I the only time I got close to feeling emotional was when I was reading about Isabel's grief and seeing how she could view this new baby as very serendipitous and 'meant to be' as well as seeing how Lucy deals with the aftermath.

This is not a 'bad book' but I did struggle to finish it or to even feel immersed in the storyline and found it to be fairly predictable so even when all the secrets are revealed it wasn't a big shocker.  What this book does have going for it is the descriptions of Australia's history and culture.  It also showcases the power of a mother's love as well as the utter heartbreak when that love is questioned.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Before I Met You

Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: October 15, 2013
First Line: "

Book Description from GoodReadsHaving grown up on the quiet island of Guernsey, Betty Dean can't wait to start her new life in London. On a mission to find Clara Pickle - the mysterious beneficiary in her grandmother's will - she arrives in grungy, 1990s Soho, ready for whatever life has to throw at her. Or so she thinks...

In 1920s bohemian London, Arlette - Betty's grandmother - is starting her new life in a time of post-war change. Beautiful and charismatic, Arlette is soon drawn into the hedonistic world of the Bright Young People. But less than two years later, tragedy strikes and she flees back to Guernsey for the rest of her life.

As Betty searches for Clara, she is taken on a journey through Arlette's extraordinary time in London, uncovering a tale of love, loss and heartbreak. Will the secrets of Arlette's past help Betty on her path to happiness?

Disclaimer: I'd like to sincerely thank Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewBefore I Met You is one of those books that successfully tells two simultaneous stories,  one set in the 1920's and the other in 1995, and keeps the reader interested to find out the big secret that's been hidden for 70 years.  Sounds intriguing, right?

Jewell keeps her readers interest piqued as she slowly reveals bits and pieces of Arlette's secret past and I loved that!  She adeptly uses a split narrative between Betty and Arlette, in two different eras, to tell the story which helped to keep that feeling of suspense high. Just as you were finding out more about one of the women the speaker changes and you're left in suspense eagerly waiting to find out more.  The women's voices were very distinct that the switches between their narratives didn't slow down the pace of the book.

This book, for me, was very character driven. We're introduced to the two main characters, Betty and Arlette.  While both of these women were realistically portrayed, flawed and I liked both of them, it was Arlette's, Betty's grandmother, that really kept me riveted.  That's not to say that I didn't like Betty, I did, but her storyline and issues with her job, Dom etc felt a little distracting and not nearly as interesting as what happened to Arlette in her youth.  It's probably because I don't find the issues in 1995 nearly as interesting as the 'Roaring 20's'.  But what really solidified Betty as a good protagonist for me is seeing how she comes into her own and goes from being naïve, scared young woman out in the world by herself for the first time to a much stronger person who stands up for the things that she finally realizes are important to her.

One of the things that I loved about this book is the setting. I loved being transported back into 1920's London where the story of Arlette's youth is brought to life.  The clubs, the partying, the clothing, the music ...  I liked being able to see the kind of woman Arlette was in her youth before she became Betty's elderly, sick, Alzheimer-ridden grandmother.  I really liked seeing her character it two very different lights (the youthful and the elderly) and slowly finding out the pieces of her life that lead her to be who she was when we met her at the beginning of the book. 

I did have my own predictions about how things came about for Arlette but there were enough twists in the storyline that I was kept interested throughout the book (not to mention my initial predictions proven wrong).

I suppose if I had to pick a negative I'd have to say that there wasn't enough about Godfrey -- the almost too good to be true musician.  I really wish we could have learned more about him or even gotten his point of view at certain pivotal points.  He was a compelling character and I adored how he and Arlette were together.  I just wish we could have gotten to know him a bit better.

Before I Met You is an intriguing story that deals with the coming of age of two young women, finding friends and true love and figuring out what's truly important.  It has a little bit of everything - some romance, some mystery and even some suspense.  I'd classify this as a light read. Great for a cozy Sunday afternoon in front of the fireplace. :)


My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, 21 October 2013

Just Like Other Daughters

Author: Colleen Faulkner
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Kensington Books
First Published: October 29, 2013
First Line: "I lost Chloe twice."

Book Description from GoodReadsAlicia Richards loved her daughter from her very first breath. Days later, when tests confirmed what Alicia already knew--that Chloe had Down syndrome--she didn't falter. Her ex-husband wanted a child who would grow to be a scholar. For Alicia, it's enough that Chloe just is.

Now twenty-five, Chloe is sweet, funny, and content. Alicia brings her to adult daycare while she teaches at a local college. One day Chloe arrives home thrumming with excitement, and says the words Alicia never anticipated. She has met someone--a young man named Thomas. Within days, Chloe and Thomas, also mentally challenged, declare themselves in love.

Alicia strives to see past her misgivings to the new possibilities opening up for her daughter. Shouldn't Chloe have the same right to love as anyone else? But there is no way to prepare for the relationship unfolding, or for the moments of heartbreak and joy ahead.

With grace and warmth, Colleen Faulkner tells an unflinching yet heartrending story of mothers and daughters, and of the risks we all take, both in loving and in letting go.

Disclaimer: I sincerely thank Kensington Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  Since October is Down's Syndrome Awareness Month I thought that this book was very apropos and quickly requested to review it from NetGalley.  While I do have one distant cousin with Down's, I don't have a lot of firsthand experience with people with Down's and thought that this book may be a good way to enlighten myself.

This book successfully balanced educating the reader about all that Down's Syndrome entails (the good, the sweet and the frustrating) but it never felt like it was teaching and came off as very real and heart-felt. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that the story is told through the eyes of Alicia along with little snippets from Chloe's viewpoint.

The characters were what sold me on this book.  Alicia was a believable character and I loved that.  While she could be frustrating at times I could also relate to her misgivings and hesitancies involving letting her daughter grow up.  She and I are cut from the same proverbial parenting cloth.

Alicia was an imperfect protagonist.  She has always been Chloe's biggest, and often only, advocate.  Sure, she did things that I didn't agree with at times but underneath it all you knew that she loved her daughter.  I think it was her struggles as she comes to terms with Chloe's relationship with Thomas that really got me on board.  She's just a woman doing the best she can. 

Some of her fears are (to me) well-founded based on how Chloe deals with her daily life.  We see Alicia struggle on a daily basis with Chloe's outbursts and people staring and judging Chloe before they've even spoken to her.  Chloe is very sweet young woman who adores Disney movies but she's also very head strong and prone to temper tantrums.  Alicia's misgivings and concerns were things that I could see myself having in the same situation.  Alicia adores her daughter but that doesn't make living with her or letting her become more independent any easier for Alicia. 

Chloe is a sweet, innocent yet stubborn young woman and she felt very real to me.  She just wants to be treated like everyone else and I loved getting her view of certain events as the story progressed.  Sometimes her point of view was just a little snippet showing her view of a certain scene that we'd just seen through Alicia's eyes.  That addition of Chloe's feelings and view of the situation really helped me to get to know her and maybe rethink how I felt about some of Alicia's actions.

The secondary characters held their own and felt very well-rounded and not segregated to the outer edges of the main storyline.  I loved seeing how Randall, Chloe's father, struggled with his feelings about Chloe's Down's.  Not everyone in her life was able to accept her fully and I appreciated the fact that the author didn't sugar coat it.  He was not the perfect father by a long shot but I think he was, sadly, realistically portrayed.

I would have liked to have heard more from Thomas' mom and dad and how they felt about their son's relationship with Chloe.  Thomas' mother, Margaret, was the most frustrating person in the book for me.  I'm not sure if she was in total denial, just overly optimistic or saw a way for herself and her husband to get some time to themselves but she came off as believable even though I wanted to shake the woman out of her floral frocks a few times.

I have very few negatives about this book.  The main issue I have is that I felt that the ending was much too abrupt.  I would have at least have preferred to have an epilogue to see what happened to the characters later on.  I also found the breaks between Alicia's point of view and Chloe's could have been separated a bit better.

Overall I enjoyed this book.  Although it was a slower paced book than I was expecting I found it to be a very touching read that will, no doubt, help to educate people to the day to day realities for people with Down's and those who love them.


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Creamy Crab Dip

Hi y'all!
So, today is m'berfday.  Yup, I have gotten one year older and, God willing, better.  Like a fine wine, George Clooney or um ... old cheese.  You get my meaning. Some things just get better with age and I'm hoping that I fall in that category.
I thought I'd share a deeeelicious recipe that I made last weekend for my family.  Last weekend was our Canadian Thanksgiving so my extended family headed to the one home that can hold us all - my parents' cottage.  We had ball hockey competitions, lots of catching up, crafting for the girls and .... food. 
Ridonculous amounts of food.
You have to know that my family suffers from Too Much Food Syndrome.  Our desire to feed each other new dishes outweighs the actual sizes of our stomachs.  And we're OK with this.  We typically make enough food to get us all through the apocalypse.  
We all made it out on Sunday for lunch which my Dad requested be more of a Pub Grub/appetizer menu.  We had BBQ'd chicken wings in various sauces, several yummy dips (including Buffalo Chicken dip), a veggie tray (so we could feel better about all the other fattening treats), a cheeseball ....  Ya, our stomachs were totally thankful.  For my part I brought my Spicy Potato Wedges as well as this crab dip.
Brad and I adore seafood and he's been bugging me to make him his favourite seafood lasagna for supper in the near future.  Not that I don't want to make my man happy but I just didn't feel like shelling out (pun intended) oodles of money for a seafood lasagna that only Brad and I (and possibly Boy 1) would enjoy.  So, I figured this dip would help tame his seafood craving.  It totally hit the spot.
Oh yum! 
This was a hit at Thanksgiving with the adults.  All of the kids were scared away by the seafood aspect of it which left it all for the adults.  Well played, Laurie.  Well played.  It has the right amount of spice (from the Old Bay seasoning), a nice creaminess and big hits of crab meat in each bite.  Deeeelish!  I also love that you can whip up this dip ahead of time (I made mine a day ahead to let the flavours blend and save my sanity).
I hope that my fellow Canadians had a wonderful Thanksgiving with their families.  We are truly blessed to live in such a great country.

1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese -- room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tbsp green onions, white and green parts -chopped
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh Parmesan Cheese, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
juice from 1/2 lemon (2 tbsp.)
1 tsp hot sauce
3/4 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 lb crab meat (I used imitation crab meat), in bite-sized chunks

Garnish: grated Parmesan cheese and sliced green onions

Serve with: tortilla chips, French bread slices, crackers

Combine all ingredients except crab meat in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Gently fold in crab meat.

Refrigerate for later use OR preheat oven to 350F.  Top with extra grated Parmesan cheese, if desired and bake for 20-30 minutes or until heated through.  Top with extra green onions before serving.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Inspired by: Mardi Gras Munchies 'Hot Crab Dip'

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Bookstore

Author: Deborah Meyler
Genre: Modern Fiction/ARC
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books
First Published: August 2013
First Line: "I, Esme Garland, do not approve of mess."

Book Description from GoodReadsA witty, sharply observed debut novel about a young woman who finds unexpected salvation while working in a quirky used bookstore in Manhattan.Impressionable and idealistic, Esme Garland is a young British woman who finds herself studying art history in New York. She loves her apartment and is passionate about the city and her boyfriend; her future couldn’t look brighter. Until she finds out that she’s pregnant.

Esme’s boyfriend, Mitchell van Leuven, is old-money rich, handsome, successful, and irretrievably damaged. When he dumps Esme—just before she tries to tell him about the baby—she resolves to manage alone. She will keep the child and her scholarship, while finding a part-time job to make ends meet. But that is easier said than done, especially on a student visa.

The Owl is a shabby, second-hand bookstore on the Upper West Side, an all-day, all-night haven for a colorful crew of characters: handsome and taciturn guitar player Luke; Chester, who hyperventilates at the mention of Lolita; George, the owner, who lives on protein shakes and idealism; and a motley company of the timeless, the tactless, and the homeless. The Owl becomes a nexus of good in a difficult world for Esme—but will it be enough to sustain her? Even when Mitchell, repentant and charming, comes back on the scene?

A rousing celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them, The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for providing me with a complimentary Kindle e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  From the cover photo of a woman holding a stack of books (bliss!) to the short book description I knew that requesting this book from NetGalley was a no brainer for this bookworm.

The things that I loved the most about this book were the descriptions of New York City and The Owl -- the bookstore where Emse works.  Author Deborah Meyler has a unique talent in describing the sights, sounds and smells of Emse's little corner of NYC and the quaintness of The Owl.  It was so clearly described that I could almost smell the old books stacked precariously all over the store and could easily envision myself wandering through the stacks in the search of a new read.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that the animate characters of the story appealed to me as much as the city or the bookstore.  Esme was not a main character that I connected with.  She was the clichéd overly naïve academic who was book smart but shows the reader that education does not automatically mean a person is 'street smart' too.  I have nothing against a naïve character.  They can be charming and a beginning point for an authentic self awareness journey.  But, there's naïve and then there's gullible and I'm afraid that Esme came off to me as more and more gullible as the story went on.  It got to the point where I just wanted to shake some sense into her.

For me, Esme's gullibility stems from her wishy-washy decision making and her toxic relationship with the utterly nasty Mitchell.  The man has no redeeming qualities unless you find obscene amounts of money redeeming (I don't). He's sardonic, and utterly self-centred and can easily manipulate Esme. I just didn't understand why such a smart woman like Esme would be so stupid in 'love'.  I realize that love is blind and that it is admirable to stick out the bad times in the hopes for the good times ahead.  I get that, I do.  But after awhile of reading about Esme being used by the overly pompous, despicable Mitchell we quickly move from Naïve Esme to Doormat Esme.  And I do not like Doormat Esme.  Not one bit.  She frustrated me. 

Esme comes off as fragile and a 'fish out of water' since she's been transplanted from England.  In the beginning she has her PhD but as the story progresses we see less and less of a personality with Esme and more of her wondering again and again how she'll cope without Mitchell in her life and a baby on the way.  In effect, Esme loses her personality and likeability.  She refuses to stand up for herself and therefore we don't get to witness much growth in Esme.  I can stomach a doormat of a character if I can eventually get to the happily ever after (or close enough to it).  But Esme at the beginning of the book strongly resembles the Esme at the end of the book and I needed more of a self discovery from her.

The secondary characters at the bookstore (as well as Stella, Esme's neighbour) were quirky and stood out for me.  I would have loved to have heard more from Stella who balanced Esme's naivety with a healthy dose of reality and honesty.  The eccentric group of men who frequent The Owl were varied and each had their own brief background story.

As I was reading this book I got the feeling that the author was going for more of an intellectual contemporary fiction/mild chick lit read but some of the obscure art/literary references went over my head.  A few references here and there are fine but there were so many that it just left me feeling a little frustrated that I wasn't getting the reference being made.  

It feels like the book just touched on some of the issues and didn't quite delve into them as much as I was hoping.  I kept waiting for the 'big twist' to come and surprise me but this book was predictable right up until the end which itself felt too abrupt for me. I would have loved to have more resolution.

Going into it I was hoping for a quirky and charming read but I ended up feeling frustrated and bored since the pace never really took off.  Overall, I'm sad to say, this book just didn't resonate with me. 

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Monday, 14 October 2013

After The Ending (#1 in The Ending series)

Authors: Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) Kindle e-book
Series: #1 in The Ending series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: L2 Books
First Published: February 2013
First Line: "If someone had told me three months ago that 90 percent of the people in the world were about to die, I would've laughed."

Book Description from NetGalley:  The Virus spread. Billions died. The Ending began. We may have survived the apocalypse, but the Virus changed us.

When people started getting sick, “they” thought it was just the flu. My roommate, my boyfriend, my family…they’re all gone now. I got sick too. I should have died with them, but I didn’t. I thought witnessing the human population almost disappear off the face of the earth was the craziest thing I’d ever experience. I was wrong. My name is Dani, I’m twenty-six-years-old, and I survived The Ending.

The Virus changed everything. The world I knew is gone, and life is backwards. We’ve all had to start over. I’m someone else now—broken and changed. Other survivors’ memories and emotions haunt me. They invade my mind until I can no longer separate them from my own. I won’t let them consume me. I can’t. My name is Zoe, I’m twenty-six-years-old, and I survived The Ending.

We’ve been inseparable for most of our lives, and now our friendship is all we have left. The aftermath of the Virus has stranded us on opposite sides of the United States. Trusting strangers, making sacrifices, killing—we’ll do anything to reach one another.

Disclaimer:  I'd like to thank L2 Books and the authors for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book for my Kindle in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  Over the past few years I've come to enjoy post-apocalyptic reads.  Nothing makes you feel better about your day-to-day struggles than reading about the world ending, am I right?

While After The Ending sounded like it had all the right stuff to make a good read (and start to a new series) unfortunately it didn't appeal to me for several reasons.  First of all, while the premise was interesting I just didn't feel like there was enough energy and substance behind the idea.  I honestly had a very hard time finishing this book.

I also had no emotional connection with the two main characters, Dani and Zoe.  They were described as 26 year old women but the voices, tone and vocabulary that they used made them seem more like flighty teenagers (my apologies to teen girls everywhere for the comparison).  Imagine the Gretchen Weiner and Karen Smith characters from Mean Girls as central characters in a post-apocalyptic read.  Ya, not so 'fetch'.

These two women come off as very self-centred as they complain about having to take time to find the loved ones of the people who are helping them to safety.  Instead they prefer to focus their time getting art supplies instead of valuable survival gear (say wha?!?), complaining about having to share a laptop and flirting with guys after pretty much everyone they know has been killed by a horrible illness.  This honestly felt to me like Post Apocalyptic 90210 focusing on the angst of "teens" instead of the world ending and how these 26 year olds dealt with the aftermath.  If the only way to save the world is to hook up with someone then Dani and Zoe are on the right track.  Unfortunately, I don't think getting a new boyfriend will solve all their problems.

If an author wants to win me over with a post-apocalyptic read (or magical, supernatural etc) they have to give me a book and characters that have a smidgen of probability.  J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and Julie Kagawa (Immortal Rules) both have this technique down pat.  Do I expect to be able to ride off on my very own Hippogriff after reading Harry Potter for the umpteenth time?  Sadly, no.  Can I expect to run into zombie vampires like Allie in The Immortal Rules?  Thankfully, no.  But those authors have a way of describing events, characters and places that make the supernatural element seem possible. 

Unfortunately, the implausibility of certain things was an issue that I had with the book.  Dani and Zoe keep tabs on each other via texts and emails.  Great.  But in their world 90% of the population has died, there is no food, gas or power and yet these two ladies always manage to find Wi-Fi for this communication.  It just doesn't seem likely.  I can get behind a lot of stuff (like Time Turners and flying Ford Anglias) but it has to be written in a way to be probable (along with a healthy dose of imagination).  Sometimes it's those little inconsistent points that tends to stay stuck in my head as I continue reading and shadows how I feel about the book overall.

Back to those texts between Dani and Zoe ... It was these texts and emails between the two women that I felt really bogged down the flow of the story.  The two points of view were so similar that it was, at times, hard to figure out who was speaking.  Plus, the texts/emails between the two main characters quickly became redundant by retelling what just happened in the story.  Basically, there was too much telling of the story instead of showing.

I HATE giving a really bad review because I realize how much time and energy it takes to write a book.  But the author has to meet me half way and provide an entertaining and believable read with characters I can connect with.  Unfortunately, this book just didn't get there for me.

My Rating: 1/5 stars

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Olive Garden-esque Garlicky Bread Sticks

One of the things that I fondly remember about the Olive Garden (when we still had it here in Canada) were their bread sticks.  They were a soft, garlicky delight that you stuffed your face with (along with their salad) so that when your main meal came you wondered how in the love of God Almighty you were going to actually eat what you ordered.  We all remember that, right?

Well, I needed a bread to accompany my Leftover Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup that I made a few weeks ago for the Bookworm Family.  I had ulterior motives.  Boy 1 adores Chicken Noodle Soup so he had no issue with the main course but Boy 2 and Missy Moo? Unfortunately they are not known for being the easiest eaters on the planet.  So I thought that if I could buy their silence and distract them with a garlicky bread stick (that they could then dip into their soup) they may overlook the celery and onions floating around their bowls.  This trick somewhat worked but these bread sticks were so yummy that I was able to use them as leverage to get them to eat a few more bites of their soup.  So, I'll take that as a win.

I cannot take credit for this recipe.  It comes straight from Mrs Happy Homemaker's blog and these bread sticks are amazing!  I'm sure that she has oodles of other wonderful recipes so go on over and give her blog a look (link at the end of this post).

Garlicky goodness over soft, doughy bread sticks.  Bliss, I tell ya!  The only minor change that I made was to decrease the salt in the garlic butter topping because it was too salty even for the salt freaks in our household (yup, even I found them a wee bit salty).  Otherwise, these bread sticks are amazing and would be the perfect addition to a meal of pasta, Chicken Noodle Soup ....

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp salted butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (or bread flour)
2 1/4 tsp bread machine yeast

Garlic Butter Topping
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp salt

Add the bread stick ingredients into your bread machine according to your manufacturer's instructions.  I've listed the ingredients above in the order I put them into my machine.  Typically you'll put the wet ingredients on the bottom, the flour in the middle and the yeast on the top so it doesn't come into contact with the liquid (which will kickstart your yeast into action, something you don't want until later in the process).

Set your bread machine for the dough cycle (usually takes about 2 hours).

When the dough is finished, pull off small pieces of dough and roll them, on a lightly floured surface, into skinny logs. 

NOTE: If you make your logs too big now they'll turn into gargantuan bread sticks (think big ol' French sticks).  If you're looking to make massive bread then have at 'er.  If you want a nice, small bread stick to accompany a meal (not BE the meal) then keep 'em small! Mine were about an inch wide and 8-inches long and they were a nice size.  Some were a little larger and turned out to look like a small sub bun. :s

Place your wee bread logs onto a lightly greased cookie sheet and cover with a tea towel.  Set them in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 400F.  Bake your bread sticks for 12-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make your garlic butter topping.  As soon as you remove your baked bread sticks from the oven brush on a healthy dose of your garlic butter onto each bread stick.  You're going to want to eat them as soon as possible because they smell and look so darn good!  But show some restraint and allow the bread sticks to cool down a bit them serve them warm alongside a nice pasta, chicken noodle soup ....

Inspired by: Mrs Happy Homemaker's "Olive Garden Breadsticks'

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Bellman and Black

Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Supernatural, Suspense
Type: ARC (Kindle e-book)
Source: NetGalley
To Be Published: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Atria Books
First Line: "I have heard it said, by those that cannot possibly know, that in the final moments of a man's existence he sees his whole life pass before his eyes."

Description from GoodReadsCaught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget...

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman and Black is born.

Disclaimer: I sincerely wish to thank Atria Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) e-book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  While I have, of course, heard of author Diane Setterfield I must come clean and sheepish admit that I haven't yet picked up her highly acclaimed "Thirteenth Tale".  Shocking, I know.  But due to the praise I read from other readers about her first book I eagerly requested this book, Bellman and Black, from NetGalley to review it.

I must preface this review by stating that I'm not a connoisseur of ghost stories.  In fact, I was a little leery of requesting this book to review because, let's face it, I'm a wuss.  But while the book is very atmospheric and has a strong gothic feel, it wasn't nearly as eerie or scary as I was expecting from a touted 'ghost story'.  Either I'm not as wussy as I thought or this wasn't as chilling as I was hoping.  Unfortunately I believe the latter to be true.

When I began this book I was fully expecting to be immersed in this book for two full days leaving my family to wash their own clothes and eat canned soup and grilled cheese because Mom had her head in a book instead of doing laundry or whipping up something delish for supper.  Unfortunately, this book started off slow and never really took off for me.  While my family was happy to eat like kings in clean clothes those nights I was left a little disappointed that Ms Setterfield didn't draw me into her story as much as I was expecting.

In my mind there is no debate about the fact that this book is well written.  It has beautifully descriptive writing about the era, mills and Bellman's mourning emporium.  Unfortunately, the storyline never gets the momentum it sorely needed resulting in the plot feeling thin the entire way through.  

I think the story got too bogged down in the details describing the business side of Bellman's life in the mill and the shop.  Sure, I found some of the information interesting on how to run a mill and what people wore during their mourning period but I kept hoping that something big and macabre would suddenly happen to move the story along.  There's only so much one can read about mourning attire before it gets to be too much.

I also felt unsatisfied with the character development, the pace and the resolution of the story.  Maybe it's just me but I never really 'got' who Black really was or what the agreement was between the two men which left me feeling very unfulfilled as a reader.  He wasn't even all that menacing.  And while we get a clear idea about Bellman, the secondary characters felt neglected and not used to their potential (like Lizzie or Dora).

Overall, this book is well written but not nearly as macabre or chilling as I was expecting.  While the author sets the scenes with vivid descriptions and the premise is interesting I never felt like the book grabbed my interest or got deeper than the book description provided on the cover.  Since I feel that this book didn't stand out for me (and will soon be forgotten) I couldn't in good conscience give it a higher rating.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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