Thursday, 27 February 2014

The Rosie Project

Author: Graeme Simsion
Genre: Chick Lit
Type: Paperback
Pages: 329
Source: Local Library
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published: May 2013
First Line: "I may have found a solution to The Wife Problem."

Book Description from GoodReadsNarrator Don Tillman 39, Melbourne genetics prof and Gregory Peck lookalike, sets a 16-page questionnaire The Wife Project to find a non-smoker, non-drinker ideal match. But Rosie and her Father Project supersede. The spontaneous always-late smoker-drinker wants to find her biological father. She resets his clock, throws off his schedule, and turns his life topsy-turvy.

My Review:  There has been quite a lot of talk surrounding this book and, honestly, when I picked it up at my local library I really didn't have any idea of what it was about.  When I learned that it focused on a man who had Asperger tendencies (although this is never confirmed that he actually has Asperger's) I thought it sounded interesting.  What I got as a quirky, cute read which unfortunately came off as a little unrealistic and a slightly mocking tone.

Don't get me wrong, Don was a good protagonist and his quirky characteristics totally made me love him. That said, for a man with (assumed) Asperger's I feel that he came off as more of a caricature with every stereotypical Asperger's symptom known to man.  In fact, the image that almost immediately came to my mind as I was reading was my beloved Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory.  And like Sheldon, Don seems to be at the far, far end of the Asperger's scale which makes him come off as more of a cliché.  We all know that I loves me my Sheldon Cooper on Thursday nights but I guess I was expecting more than a TV comedic version of a person with Aspergers in this book.

I am not in line with the popular vote.  This book has received very high ratings on GoodReads and Amazon and I did find it to be a light, easy read but not nearly as wonderful as I was hoping.  I think that author was going for more of a romantic comedic feel for this book.  There were numerous romantic comedy movie references and that this book was supposed to be in the same vein. 

Unfortunately, for me anyway, reading about Don's repeated social faux pas never felt funny to me.  Seeing how others mocked him bothered me and the fact that he considers himself to be 'an expert at being laughed at' made me sad.  My heart went out to this man who knows he has odd behaviours, is overly scheduled and just generally 'different' from those around him.  He was just a guy who was trying to fit in and find his own happiness.

This was a very easy read and well written and while I didn't like the mocking tone or the clichéd look at Asperger's, Don was a very likeable character and very easy to get behind.  He's a great guy who just doesn't get social intricacies and he's brilliant (although why he doesn't realize he has Asperger's is beyond me).  Rosie was the antithesis to dear ol' Don and she was refreshing but her very negative feelings towards her stepdad were based on a very simple omission decades before felt very silly and trite. 

I would recommend this book to someone looking for a light, easy beach-type read.  It's quirky, predictable and Don will be a character that I will remember for a long time.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Monday, 24 February 2014

Precious Thing

Author: Colette McBeth
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
First Line: "September 2007 -- Officially, I don't think of you anymore."

Book Description from GoodReadsI know her inside out.  I know what she’s thinking, I know what she wants. So I can’t give up on her, she knows I never will. Some friendships fizzle out. Rachel and Clara promised theirs would last forever.

They met in high school when Rachel was the shy, awkward new girl and Clara was the friend everyone wanted. Instantly, they fell under one another’s spell and nothing would be the same again. Now in their late twenties Rachel has the television career, the apartment and the boyfriend, while Clara’s life is spiraling further out of control. Yet despite everything, they remain inextricably bound. Then Rachel’s news editor assigns her to cover a police press conference, and she is shocked when she arrives to learn that the subject is Clara, reported missing. Is it abduction, suicide or something else altogether?

Imagine discovering something about your oldest friend that forces you to question everything you’ve shared together. The truth is always there.  But only if you choose to see it. In Colette McBeth's Precious Thing.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:
There are a lot of online reviews of this book stating how similar Precious Thing is to Girl Gone by Gillian Flynn.  Fortunately for me, I haven't yet read Girl Gone so I won't have those outside influences as I review this book.

When I read the book description of Precious Thing on NetGalley I was intrigued.  I love me a good suspense read with loads of twists but I think that there were some issues with the book that kept me from loving it.  As with any suspenseful read, I'm going to review it without divulging the plot twists so bear with this scant review.

First off, I'm not a big fan of the majority of a book being written in a series of letters. Granted, this writing style was a good opportunity to get into Rachel's head and not knowing how Clara felt about things upped the suspense.  But often times I felt the writing got confusing and limited how far the author could go with the plot because we were stuck with just Rachel's take on things.

It didn't help matters that I just didn't know how to take Rachel.  I was almost instantly suspicious and untrusting of her as the narrator.  I'm not sure if that was the author's intent but it would have been good to have had even a bit of Clara's viewpoint to spice things up a bit in regards to suspense and not keep me focused on trying to find fault in the protagonist. 

Unfortunately, even though the reader gets Rachel's side of things I never felt connected to her.  Her paranoia, odd possessiveness and her take on things never really allowed me to get to know her.  So when the big reveal happened at the end (which, honestly, wasn't that big) it wasn't as climactic as I was hoping because by that time I just didn't like Rachel and I kind of expected it from her.  Having my suspicions confirmed was, I will admit, a let down for me.  I was hoping to be wrong about my assumptions of how this book would end but, unfortunately, I wasn't far off the mark.  The ending seemed too tidy which isn't the twist I was hoping for at the end of the book.

While I can't say that I loved this book it was a decent debut novel.  It kept me engaged pretty much throughout but I didn't enjoy the resolution or the main character.  While I'm much more of an action packed suspense lover, people who enjoy psychological thrillers may enjoy this read a lot more.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Friday, 21 February 2014

The Testing

Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Series: #1 in The Testing series
Series Order: #2 - Independent Study (2014), #3 - Graduation Day (2014)
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Series: #1 in the Testing Trilogy
Other Books in Series: #2 Independent Study (Jan 2014)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
First Published: June 2013
First Line: "Graduation Day - I can hardly stand still as my mother straightens my celebratory red tunic and tucks a strand of light brown hair behind my ear."

Book Description from GoodReadsKeep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say? But how close is too close when they may be one in the same?

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it. But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies--trust no one.

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

My Review:  Let's just get it out of the way, shall we?  There are a LOT of similarities between this book and The Hunger Games.  This fact will influence how much people enjoy this book because it's going to bother some readers and it's going to please other readers who are avid fans of the two very popular series.

Personally, I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games but, admittedly, my enjoyment of the series started off strong and quickly went downhill as I finished the trilogy.  I'm still a fairly avid fan of the dystopian/YA genre and I eagerly picked up this book because I was in the mood for something fast-paced and light (if teens in lethal and psychological testing can be deemed 'light').  Add to the fact that I'm always on the hunt for new reads for Boy 2 and this book was a no-brainer. {Note: Boy 2 read this book in less than a day and is already reading the second book in the series, Independent Study.  That boy reads faster than his Mama!}

Ok, so this book has similarities to The Hunger Games.  If you can get over that fact I believe that The Testing holds its own in the YA/Dystopian genre.  There were lots of high action scenes, interesting main characters and a lot of secondary characters to round things out. I never felt like I had a hard time remembering the numerous secondary characters either which is saying something because there are quite a lot of them.

I really enjoyed seeing how Charbonneau describes Cia's world.  She took the time to give the reader a clear picture of where Cia's coming from and the desolation of it all.  The author didn't berate me with endless history lessons on how the earth was destroyed but just enough for me to get a good idea of how and why things happened.

I think one of the things that sets this dystopian/YA read apart is that the characters view this testing differently.  No one is forced into The Testing, in fact, it's an honour to be one of the few chosen because it means a much more positive future for the honouree's family.  The testing is also kept a secret from the masses so no one really knows what to expect.

I also liked the fact that there were different tests that the teens had to perform.  Not just one big survival test but psychological, leadership etc that makes me wonder how the powers that be will use this information in future books.  It was also interesting to see how some of the candidates handled the pressures of the testing.  It always felt like no one was safe and that makes for a good suspenseful read in my book.

Cia was a good main character and I felt like the reader got a good glimpse into her who she really is.  She was strong, intelligent and had her own arsenal of talents to help her get through.  Cia was determined, devoted to her friends and stood up for the things that mattered to her.  She's a girl that I could totally root for but not without her own weaknesses too.

As I mentioned, there are numerous secondary characters to round out the cast.  Tomas was .... ok.  There's something about him that I just don't trust but I'll wait until I read more before I firm up my feelings on him.  Michel was a much more intriguing character (albeit not in the story much) but I predict he'll be used to make waves in the future books.

Even with its strong similarities to The Hunger Games I really enjoyed this read.  There were enough twists, action scenes and interesting characters to keep me riveted to the storyline.  There are little teasers given at the end of the book -- enough to make me need to encourage Boy 2 to hurry up with Independent Study so I can continue on in Cia's story. Overall, I'd have to say that I enjoyed this book more than Divergent but just slightly less than The Hunger Games.  I look forward to reading the next book in this trilogy, Independent Study, very soon.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Onion Cheddar Bread

Life always likes to throw people curve balls.  I think it's to keep us on our toes and to help us not get too complacent.  I realize that there are certain things in my life that I just assume will always be there.  No I'm not talking about relationships, spirituality or anything quite so heavy.  I'm talking about my oven ... and how it died last week. 
Yes.  LAST .... WEEK.
This Baking Bookworm has been sans an oven for over a week.  When the repair guy came last Tuesday I assumed that he'd work his magic and fix my oven up as good as new.  Sadly (as Brad can attest) I do not have a firm grip on how long things take in the general order of things.
Last night I got the call that the Oven Whisperer will come this Thursday to resurrect my beloved oven.  That's nine days without baking, people!  Needless to say it's been a week and a half of stove-top and slow cooker meals.  Even Missy Moo's Valentine's Day treats had to be stove-top (which were a hit -- we made my Mars Bars Krispie Treats -- but I would have preferred to bake some sugar cookies).
Another kitchen appliance that came to my rescue was my bread maker.  If I can't bake cookies at least I can still bake some carbs!  This bread was deeelish!  I wouldn't say that the cheddar flavour is obvious though.  Be aware that the cheese blends in with the dough so if you're expecting pockets of cheesy goodness you may be disappointed.  Overall it was a hit at our house.  Even my onion haters (Boy 2 and Missy Moo) gobbled this bread down ... even after I admitted that the topping was onion!  The carb addiction runs deep in this family.
Here's hoping that the Oven Whisperer can fix my oven this week and I can get back to baking muffins, cookies, chicken .....  I'll never take it for granted again!

Yield: 16 servings (2lb loaf)

1 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp warm water
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp + 2 tsp dry milk powder
2 tbsp + 2 tsp white sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp + 2 tsp butter or margarine
2 3/4 tsp bread maker yeast
2 3/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup dry minced onion -- divided
1 1/3 cup old cheddar cheese, cubed

Add water, flour, milk powder, sugar, salt, butter and yeast into the pan of your bread maker in the order suggested by your manufacturer (usually the wet ingredients are on the bottom with the dry ingredients keeping the yeast away from the moisture).  Set your machine for its Basic Cycle with a light crust.

When your bread machine's alert sounds, add garlic powder, 3 tbsp of the dried onion and all of the cubed cheese.  The machine will incorporate this into the dough.

After the last knead, sprinkle the remaining 1 tbsp of the dried onion to the top of the dough.  When the entire cycle is finished, remove bread to a wire rack and cool.

Inspired by: Onion Garlic Cheese Bread from

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Orphan Train

Author: Christina Baker Kline
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Public Library
Pages: 304
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
First Published: April 2, 2013
First Line: "I believe in ghosts."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe author of Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be delivers her most ambitious and powerful novel to date: a captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to ask.

Nearly eighteen, Molly Ayer knows she has one last chance. Just months from "aging out" of the child welfare system, and close to being kicked out of her foster home, a community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping her out of juvie and worse.

Vivian Daly has lived a quiet life on the coast of Maine. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past. As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly discovers that she and Vivian aren't as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

The closer Molly grows to Vivian, the more she discovers parallels to her own life. A Penobscot Indian, she, too, is an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past. As her emotional barriers begin to crumble, Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life - answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of second chances, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are

My Review:  I loved this book and I'm going to try to not gush too much but this is one of the best books that I've read in a long time. For readers who adore historical fiction this is the book for you.  It's an emotional story set in an interesting era about circumstances that I (sadly) knew nothing about. 

Right from the beginning I knew that this was going to be a book that I was going to take precedence over laundry and any other non-essential home chores that I had to get done. Who needs clean jeans when Mom has a great book in her hand?!  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the stories of a 17 year old orphan and a 91 year old orphan train survivor would grab me from the beginning with its wonderfully well developed characters and its dual storylines in two different eras.

There are so many things that I loved about this book.  The writing was so clear and honest that the fear of these orphaned children was palpable as they were treated no better than merchandise to be given away to anyone who was interested in either (hopefully) adopting a child or, more often, free labour.  The author deftly handles writing two storylines in two different eras.  Her writing was so engaging and I found myself needing to find out what happened to Vivian.

But without interesting and well written characters great storylines can often fall flat.  That is not the case here.  The characters were well fleshed out and believable -- especially Vivian's story which helped me to get engrossed into the book.  My heart went out to this young girl who is thrust into a situation she could never have expected.
My only criticism is that, at times, Vivian felt like she was much more mature than her 9 years of age.  I realize that it was a different era but when I think about what my 10 year old can do and how she speaks it isn't in sync with little Vivian.  There were a few scenes where Vivian came off as more of a teenager than a young girl of nine.

This is a book about the unexpected bond between two very unlikely friends and it's an emotional look at how the orphan trains impacted these young children.  I'm thankful to Ms Baker Kline for educating me to a part of history that I knew nothing about.

In the end, this is a book about resilience, people's need for love, acceptance and how the feeling of belonging is so essential to everyone.  It's about the importance of sharing our personal stories with others and asking to hear other people's stories so that we're not forgotten.  Orphan Train was wonderfully and emotionally written about a time that I'm thankful that I now know more about.  This is a truly compelling and emotional read.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Canadian Pride in Sochi

I'm not sure about you and yours but our family is riveted to the TV watching the Olympic coverage.  It's like an addiction for my kids who insist on watching the events and don't you DARE tell them the medal standings until they've watched the events themselves.  It's the ONLY time our family gets excited about watching hockey, curling or skiing ... evah. {And YES, curling is a totally riveting sport to watch.  It's chess on ice, people and we totally rocked at the 2010 Games!). 
We get so excited to see Canada kickin' butt at the Olympics and we're nothing if not proud to be Canadian and we are so very proud of all of our athletes.  From our snowboarders and our figure skaters to our free-style skiers we love see the Maple Leaf up on the podium!
One of my favourite Canuck athletes has got to be Alexandre Bilodeau.  The man rocks on the moguls (a gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics as well) but it's his relationship with his older brother Frederic who has Cerebral Palsy is what makes him a true champion.  Frederic is, by far, Alexandre's biggest supporter and you can see the pride in both of their faces as Alexandre shares the spotlight with his brother.  This picture makes me get all veclempt!  Love it!
Source: Huffington Post - Quebec
There is no doubt that Alexandre rocks the moguls but he also has the added bonus of being a total cutie-patootie!  On that note, has anyone else noticed how attractive these winter athletes are or is just me?  We sure do grow some good lookin' athletes here in the Great White North, eh? Just take a look at the Dufour-Lapointe sisters ....
Source: Yahoo Sports Canada
These lovely ladies also rocked the moguls (and apparently a great gene pool too).  Justine and Chloe grabbed both the gold and silver medals respectively and sister Maxime placed 12th (coming in 12th world-wide?  That's mighty impressive too).
Watching Justine Dufour-Lapointe accept her Gold medal with a single tear running down her cheek as "Oh Canada" played was one of the highlights for me.  So touching.

And finally, this incident occurred today.  When Russian cross country skier, Anton Gafarov was going down a steep slope during competition he fell and broke one of his skis.  On the sidelines watching the race was Justin Wadsworth, a coach for the Canadian cross country team.  When he saw Gafarov's ski break Wadsworth grabbed an extra ski that he was holding for his athlete and swapped it out for the broken ski.  Garafov was able to finish the race, albeit in last place. 

 When asked why he would help the competition Wadsworth commented “I was on the course with spare skis and poles for Alex [Harvey, a member of the Canadian team that didn't qualify for the sprint final],” said Wadsworth. “I just went to watch. The Russian fell on the big downhill before the finish area and broke a ski. I was surprised no one else on the course gave him anything. I went over and gave him one of Alex’s spare skis. It was about giving Gafarov some dignity so he didn’t have to walk to the finish area."
How awesome is that?!?  Truly a proud Canadian moment and it showcases healthy competition with a big ol' dose of compassion.
My wish for this Olympics is not only for our athletes to bring home a boat load of medals (which, of course would be totally cool) but for this feeling in Canada to continue.  The feeling we have now (and especially when we hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics) is phenomenal.  I love it when we show our Canadian pride and aren't apologizing for it!  We are an amazing country and it's time we shed the humble demeanor we portray to the world (just for a bit) and fly that Maple Leaf high!
Needless to say, the Bookworm Family will be watching for the full two weeks of coverage to cheer on our fellow Canucks.  My kids have managed to PVR every single sporting event so we'll be able to bone up on our (limited) knowledge of speed skating, biathlon and curling (we adored watching curling at the last Olympics).
Here's to another couple of weeks of great athletic competition that shows kids worldwide that it's wonderful to reach your goals and compete at the Olympics but it's even better if you can show the world that competition isn't the only thing to aim for.  That compassion and good sportsmanship are even better goals. 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Tyrant's Daughter

Author: J.C Carleson
Genre: Modern Fiction, Young Adult
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (Kindle e-book)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House Children's
First Published: February 11, 2014
First Line: "My brother is the King of Nowhere."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom a former CIA officer comes the riveting account of a royal Middle Eastern family exiled to the American suburbs.

When her father is killed in a coup, 15-year-old Laila flees from the war-torn middle east to a life of exile and anonymity in the U.S. Gradually she adjusts to a new school, new friends, and a new culture, but while Laila sees opportunity in her new life, her mother is focused on the past. She’s conspiring with CIA operatives and rebel factions to regain the throne their family lost. Laila can’t bear to stand still as an international crisis takes shape around her, but how can one girl stop a conflict that spans generations?

J.C. Carleson delivers a fascinating account of a girl—and a country—on the brink, and a rare glimpse at the personal side of international politics.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children's for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I have something to admit ... I'm (embarrassingly) not all that up-to-date on world events.  While I'm not at the bottom of the politically conscious scale, let's just say that I wouldn't choose the topic of Current World Events if I was a contestant on Jeopardy!  But when I read the book description of The Tyrant's Daughter I was intrigued by the author's history in the CIA and the authentic feel that background would give to the story. 

The Tyrant's Daughter brings a face to world politics and its influence on individuals.  It's a story about a teenage girl's self-discovery as she learns more about herself and learns the truth about her family.  I love and respect the fact that Carleson doesn't vilify the Muslim culture but shows the differences between that culture and North American culture in an honest way.

While this book obviously deals with a young Muslim girl thrust into the vastly different world of the USA, I was surprised that Laila's country wasn't ever named.  At first this was a turn off for me.  Why not divulge this info to the reader?  But as I kept reading I found that I liked this omission because it kept me focused on how Laila and her family are dealing with their new lives and didn't influence me by associating their past experiences with a specific country.

Laila was a big reason why I enjoyed this book.  She was a believable teenage protagonist who has a lot on her plate.  She's a normal teen who is dealing with hormones and regular teenage angst but she also has to acclimate to a new life in a vastly different culture.  She misses her old country and her personal values conflict with those she sees in the teens around her but at the same time there are parts of living in the US that she likes.  

She also struggles in her relationship with her mother and I found that to be a very frustrating and emotional relationship.  Once Laila, her mother and little brother arrive in the States her mother soon takes on a different personality to the one that Laila is used to.  Her mother becomes calculating, manipulative and secretive spending much of her time in clandestine conversations or in an alcoholic stupor.  It was hard to like the woman and her treatment of Laila but you can see why she fights for what she believes in as well.

But it's really how Laila learns about how her family (specifically her recently deceased father) are viewed by people outside of her small family that made her truly believable for me.  She struggles with this new information as she begins to question her old life and how others view her family.  As she's dealing with all of these changes she also struggles with her identity and how she fits into her new life.  Sure she's haughty at times, uncertain and even scared.  But it's her struggle between these two very different cultures and her descriptions of American culture that felt very honest, enlightened and were a highpoint for me. 

"Americans never seem to be at peace with their surroundings -- they're always heating or cooling or just constantly changing everything to meet their whims. Watching their industriousness exhausts me, and sometimes I want to shout out, to tell them to just be. But I know I have no right to criticize. Everyone needs to feel some degree of control over their universe."

"I'm embarrassed to say that my first thought when I meet Emmy is a single, ugly word.  Whore.  But it isn't my fault.  It isn't my voice.  It's the voice of my uncles."

This book could have easily fallen into the common teenage love triangle of angst but Carleson keeps the romance on the periphery and I appreciated the fact that the storyline focused more on Laila's coming of age struggles with her family, cultural differences and ultimately her identity.  Carleson has written Laila with a very real and personal voice that grabbed my attention right away.  Unfortunately, the secondary characters, namely Emmy, Ian and Amir, weren't nearly as well rounded as I was hoping and came off more as clichés.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read that gave me something to think about in terms of putting a personal face on a global issue.  Seeing Laila's struggles with her culture, deciding on whether she can (or would want to) return to her home country was touching.  The writing isn't overindulgent with flowery descriptions, nor does it describe gory events for shock value. Instead it focuses on the pain of war/dictatorship in a very personal way.  I think this would be a good book to give to high school students for a World Issues course.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield
Genre: Gothic, Mystery
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Pages: 408
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: December 2011
First Line: "All children mythologize their birth."

Book Description from GoodReadsBiographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still.

My Review:  The Thirteenth Tale has been on my 'must read' list for quite some time but  I had put it off for two reasons.  First, the old adage 'too many books, too little time' came into play (as it so often does in my life).  Also, I'm always a little hesitant to read a book that has a lot of hype surrounding it since, more often than not, I find that the hype isn't as warranted as I was expecting.  Plus, after reading this author's most recent book "Bellman and Black" I wasn't eager to jump into another book of hers.  If it weren't for my friend Beth's insistence on how good The Thirteenth Tale was I probably wouldn't have picked it up for quite some time.  I'm glad Beth knows me so well.

This book is gothic, atmospheric, well written with a classical feel to it and well deserved of the hype surrounding it.  I was on the edge of my seat for most of it.  It grabbed me right off the bat, the tension admittedly waned a bit in the middle but then there were some twists and the book ended with loose ends being tied up and an unexpected (albeit tidy) ending.  Fans of Deanna Raybourn's gothic 'Lady Julia' series will enjoy this spooky and suspenseful mystery. 

As with most gothic novels, this wasn't a joyful walk in the park.  It had an eerie, depressing feel to it as the reader witnesses the extensive problems in the family as well as in the protagonist's own life.  Filled with flawed and deranged characters the book takes an intimate look into a truly dysfunctional family as well as a look into Margaret's own life. Personally, I could have done without Margaret's own personal issues being added into the fray because I found the Angelfield family's issues much more interesting. 

The characters were very unique, to say the least.  I adored Vida Winter.  She's a no nonsense old dame who does what she wants, when she wants.  Margaret, I was less smitten with.  I think that if the author had spent a little more time on Margaret's issues she could have come out of the shadows a bit more.  Two of the characters who I really wish could have narrated even a bit were Adeline and Emmeline when they were teenagers.  Getting their view of things would have upped the eerie factor considerably.

The classical feel that I got from this book stems from the numerous references that are made to specific classical literature.  Namely, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Turn of the Screw (all of which I have not yet read).  I know the gist of Jane Eyre but it wasn't enough for me to truly get the references.  For readers like me, who haven't read those classics the references fell flat. 

Overall, I enjoyed this book and it lived up to its hype.  The first third and the last third kept my attention but the middle got bogged down just a bit.  The overall feeling of the book was definitely gothic and yet I have no idea what time frame in which it occurred.  At first I assumed it was the early 1900's but as I kept reading I wasn't so sure.  It was a little disconcerting and odd that it wasn't mentioned. 

As with any suspenseful/mystery read I like to try to figure out the culprit and I love that some of my theories regarding Miss Winter's past were just plain wrong.  The gothic vibe was wonderfully eerie and I was quite engrossed in most of the book and unable to predict the twist at the end.


My Rating: 4/5 stars

Favourite Quotes:
"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs, like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic."  ~ Margaret Lea

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The House Girl

The House Girl

Author: Tara Conklin
Genre: Historical Fiction (Slavery)
Type: Paperback
Pages: 370
First Published: February 2012
Publisher: William Morrow
First Line: Lynnhurst, Virginia 1852 -- "Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run."

Book Description from GoodReadsVirginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

It is through her father, the renowned artist Oscar Sparrow, that Lina discovers Josephine Bell and a controversy roiling the art world: are the iconic paintings long ascribed to Lu Anne Bell really the work of her house slave, Josephine? A descendant of Josephine’s would be the perfect face for the reparations lawsuit—if Lina can find one. While following the runaway girl’s faint trail through old letters and plantation records, Lina finds herself questioning her own family history and the secrets that her father has never revealed: How did Lina’s mother die? And why will he never speak about her?

Moving between antebellum Virginia and modern-day New York, this searing, suspenseful and heartbreaking tale of art and history, love and secrets, explores what it means to repair a wrong and asks whether truth is sometimes more important than justice.

My Review:  From the description of this book I should have loved it.  It deals with the era of slavery and it got great ratings from other readers.  Unfortunately, the raw emotional element that I've come to expect from books that deal with slavery -- that showcases the worst of human kind and the hope and resilience of the human spirit -- was missing in this book.

After reading books like "Roots" by Alex Haley (one of my all-time favourite books that I read before I started the blog, hence no review), "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom or Lawrence Hill's "The Book of Negroes" I've come to expect that raw emotional connection with the main character(s) and I just didn't get that here.  Perhaps it was because the story flips back and forth between two eras (modern day and the mid-1800's)?  Or perhaps the dual narration between Lina, a modern day lawyer and Josephine, a slave from antebellum Virginia was what didn't click with me?

Whatever it was, I found myself skimming paragraphs in the hopes that the plot would pick up.  Unfortunately not a lot of detail was given to life on the plantation (besides Josephine's life in the house) and I was a little surprised by that.  The secondary characters, namely the other slaves, were vastly underused and were only in the periphery of the story which was a shame because it would have given the reader a better understanding of what life was like back then.

I think that the lack of emotional element in this book also stems from the fact that the story seems to meander along and doesn't give the reader time to really get to know Lina or Josephine so that we can get emotionally attached to them.  Josephine was mildly interesting but I didn't click with Lina at all.  She was bland, wasn't all that likeable and, I suspect, will be quite forgettable.  For a successful lawyer she felt very meek and I had no interest in her family issues.  She is a successful lawyer and yet she never once thought to use her resources to learn more about her mother's death?  Or even ask her father about it?  It just seemed odd and out of character.

There were also a lot of coincidences involving Lina's storyline, especially stumbling upon (the extremely LONG) letters that shed light into Josephine's life as well as meeting someone connected to Josephine's story in such a random place.  It felt very implausible and that kind of thing really irks me.  I need for storylines and characters to be believable and the way the author told the story by using these letters felt like a short cut.  I'd much rather see how the character dealt with situations than read about it in a letter.

And while the idea of the reparations legal suit was an interesting premise (reparations for the modern day relatives of the victims of slavery) the thought that this was a highly unlikely situation kept niggling at the back of my mind.  What law firm would want to undertake such a huge and volatile case? 

This was a decent read but not nearly as wonderful or emotional as I was hoping for.  I'd highly suggest reading Roots, The Kitchen House or The Book of Negroes if you're looking for an in-depth, emotional read about this very disturbing era in American history.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Monday, 3 February 2014

Spicy Basa Fillets

While Brad and Boy 1 were camping with their Cub pack and Venture troop a couple of weekends ago I decided to be a little bit evil.  I knew that, while they eat really well at Cub camps, they wouldn't be eating as well as if they were at home.  At my table.  With the love that I cook up on a daily basis.  So I decided to make Brad jealous by making a spicy fish dish with my new favourite fish ... basa.

Boy 2 and Missy Moo ate something easy (they are not lovers of fish nor did I want to get into the 'how much do I have to eat' debate) so I made this delicious fish recipe for myself.  I also made some roasted sweet potatoes and roasted veggies to go along with it but the sweet potatoes won't be making an appearance here because they were pretty blaw.

As my frequent blog readers know, I'm not a lover of hot, spicy 'burn your face off' kind of food.  I love the flavour of spice but don't want to be downing a bunch of water or sour cream to relieve my poor mouth.  This fish was spicy but only left my mouth feeling warm.  The first time I made it (yes, I made it the next night for Brad's return home) I went whole hog on the spice per fillet and it was divine.  When I made it for Brad I used about half of the spice and Brad said he liked it.  I actually preferred a little more oomph to the heat of my fillet which totally surprised me.

The first time I had basa fish was a few months ago at a local restaurant.  I then proceeded, over the next couple of months, to order the same dish three times.  Yes, the blackened basa fish at Turtle Jack's and their lobster mashed potatoes (along with their stupendously amazing basa fish tacos) were amazing.  

For those of you who are wondering what the heck a Basa fish is, it's like a cat fish but it's native to rivers in Thailand and Vietnam.  It's not a fishy tasting fish so lovers of haddock or tilapia should love this.  I have found it at a couple of my local grocery stores in their frozen fish section.  If you can't find Basa fish, try using haddock or tilapia.

Spicy Basa Fillets
Yield: 2 servings
Inspired by: Epicurious' 'Spicy Blackened Catfish'

4 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp white sugar
4 basa fish fillets, thawed
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp oil

Combine spices and sugar in a small bowl. 

Pat fish fillets dry with a paper towel and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and sauté for one minute.  Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and discard.

Sprinkle the spice rub over both sides of the fish fillets. 

Add fish to the skillet and cook for 4-5 minutes per side (try not to flip the fish too much while cooking).  Fish will be done when it is flakey.  Make sure not to overcook your fish!

Note: This dish can easily be doubled if you have more fish lovers among you.


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