Monday, 31 March 2014

The Lost Sisterhood

Author: Anne Fortier
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
First Line: "The young men completed their training row in record time."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe Lost Sisterhood is the new novel from the author of Juliet, an Oprah's Book Club Pick published in 30 countries which has been picked up by Universal to be made into a feature film. The Lost Sisterhood tells the story of Diana, a young and aspiring--but somewhat aimless--professor at Oxford. Her fascination with the history of the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece, is deeply connected with her own family's history; her grandmother in particular. When Diana is invited to consult on an archeological excavation, she quickly realizes that here, finally, may be the proof that the Amazons were real.

The Amazons' "true" story--and Diana's history--is threaded along with this modern day hunt. This historical back-story focuses on a group of women, and more specifically on two sisters, whose fight to survive takes us through ancient Athens and to Troy, where the novel reinvents our perspective on the famous Trojan War.

The Lost Sisterhood features another group of iconic, legendary characters, another grand adventure--you'll see in these pages that Fortier understands the kind of audience she has built with Juliet, but also she's delivering a fresh new story to keep that audience coming back for more.

My Review:  After reading and really enjoying Fortier's debut novel, Juliet, four years ago I was very eager to get the chance to review her next book.  Fortier has a talent for weaving two storylines using dual narratives, in two very different eras, so that each depends upon the other in order to tell the story.  She also has a unique way of taking an age-old tale and putting her own spin on things.

One of the things that drew me to this book (besides Fortier's name on the cover) was the fact that the book dealt with mythology.  Who doesn't like a good battle over a woman and talk of Greeks, Trojans and mythological creatures?  Ever since taking a mythology class at university I've always found the ageless stories of myth to be very compelling so reading a book that had characters from The Iliad and the infamous Trojan War was right up my alley.  That said, I'm wondering if readers without any knowledge of Greek/Trojan myth would find this book to be a little confusing (or just not as compelling)?

This book incorporates some high energy Indiana Jones/Dan Brown-type action scenes having Diana going from one place to the next in search of various relics and information and it also included a bit of romance.  The modern day romance I could have done without because I think it came off as predictable and ever so slightly cheesy.  Diana was also whisked so quickly from one local to the next on her hunt that I never felt like I got a really good idea of what each destination (like Turkey and Algeria) was like before being shuttled to the next.  I'll just chalk that up to the need to keep the pace and energy high during her storyline.

There were parts of this book that I felt utterly riveted to the storyline but then the plot would focus on Diana and I found the pace to lag -- probably because I didn't love Diana as a protagonist.  Here's a highly educated, Oxford professor who is easily swindled into travelling with a nefarious man to a strange location, given little to no information or chance to contact her loved ones ... and she's okay with that.  For a very smart woman she was too naïve and her desire to learn more about the Amazon culture didn't seem enough of a reason (to me at least) for her to just jump blindly into this adventure.

Where Myrina was a strong, determined and resilient woman warrior, modern day Diana was portrayed more as a main character in a Romancing the Stone-type book.  Diana, for all her education, doesn't seem to do much more than read from her Grandmother's diary to solve the mystery too which I found odd since as an academic in the field she should know quite a bit about the topic.  Diana's character doesn't change much throughout the book and that lack of development doesn't tend to endear me to characters.

The Lost Sisterhood had an interesting premise but I think the book is a little long in the tooth.  By the time I got to the last quarter of the book I found myself skimming through and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that a lot of the ending focused on Diana.  Her storyline seemed a lot weaker and less interesting and I found myself wanting to go back to Myrina's story. 

Overall, I enjoyed this read (just not as much as I loved her first book Juliet).  It was an interesting premise but the main story didn't quite live up to my expectations.  Otherwise, I think that this would be a good read for mythology/history buffs.

My Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Simple Stromboli

There comes along, once in a blue moon, the kind of experience we Moms dream of.  I'm not talking about having "Me Time" with your girlfriends, sleeping in past 7am on a weekend or even getting to pee alone (although those are all high on the wish list of Moms of young kids). 

I'm talking about the situation where after hours of working away in a hot kitchen to prepare sustenance for our families our dream of having a meal where NO ONE complains, gripes, grouses or whimpers about the food is finally realized.  Honestly, this experience is so rare that it's like sighting the Loch Ness Monster AND Big Foot in the cereal aisle of your local food store.  This experience is that rare and oh so very coveted!

This Simple Stromboli is one of those Holy Grail meals where all five of us loved what we were eating and at first I wasn't sure how to take it.  Where were the wary looks and question "What's for dinner tonight?"? This question is typically repeated over and over which I can only assume my kids do to either: 1) make me lose my mind or 2) ask in the hopes that the answer will suddenly change and morph into something that they actually want to consume.  I was waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop and the complaining to commence ... and it never did. 

There I quietly sat as my family dug in to this Stromboli carefully eyeing my kids as they put forkfuls of this Stromboli into their mouths.  But I heard nary a grievance, squawk or grumble from the kid faction at my table.  In an attempt (I believe) to permanently get my jaw to stay on the floor my boys even went up for seconds .... and then third helpings!  Then they proceeded to argue about who would get the leftovers.  Okay, what the heck is going ON!?! 

As I was eating my piece of the Stromboli, warily eyeing my small humans, I was thinking that either I'm being Punk'd or should prepare to see Nessy buying some Froot Loops in the local Zehrs soon.  I was also waiting for the 'how much do I have to eat before I can get down?' cacophony of whining to begin but instead heard my kids and husband talk about their day.  So THIS is what it feels like to win the Super Bowl and Lottery at the same time!! 

It was Supper Nirvana ... and I truly loved it.

Simple Stromboli

1 1/2 lbs bread dough (**The recipe I used with my bread maker is below**)
10-12 slices of Italian salami (I used mild)
8-10 slices of ham
1 1/2 cups of pepperoni, thinly sliced
2 cups marble cheese, shredded
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Garnish -- 1/2 cup pizza sauce

Using your bread machine (or buy the bread dough frozen from your local food store) prepare bread dough using the Dough setting on your bread machine (usually takes about 2 hours).

Preheat oven to 425F.

Very lightly dust a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with flour.  Place bread dough onto the prepared pan and roll out until it touches the sides of the pan -- approximately 1/2-inch in thickness.

Layer salami, ham and pepperoni down the centre of the dough (you'll be folding the long sides of the dough over the fillings so make sure you don't go too wide with your toppings). 

Sprinkle shredded cheese over the meat.  Wrap the long edges of the dough over the filling ingredients and pinch the seams (as well as the seams along the ends). 

Brush the top of the Stromboli with the beaten egg white.

Bake in the preheated oven until dough is nicely browned, approximately 18-20 minutes. 

Allow Stromboli to sit for a few minutes to allow the cheese to set a bit. Slice into approximately 2 inch servings.  Serve with pizza sauce for dipping.

Bread Dough
Inspired by: All-In-One Automatic Breadmaker (Black and Decker) - Basic White Bread

1 1/4 cup water
1 tbsp powdered milk
2 tbsp shortening
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp bread machine yeast

Measure ingredients in the order listed into the Baking Pan then place pan into your bread machine.  Select 'Dough' setting (process should take approximately 2 hours).

Monday, 24 March 2014

Something About You

Author: Julie James
Genre: Light Mystery, Romance
Type: e-audiobook
Series: #1 in the FBI/US Attorney series
Source: Public Library
Duration: 10 hours, 3 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Media
First Published: July 23, 2012
First Line: "Thirty thousand hotels rooms in the city of Chicago, and Cameron Lynde managed to find the one next door to a couple having a sex marathon."

Book Description on GoodReadsOf all the hotel rooms rented by all the adulterous politicians in Chicago, female Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde had to choose the one next to 1308, where some hot-and-heavy lovemaking ends with a death. And of all the FBI agents in Illinois, it had to be Special Agent Jack Pallas who gets assigned to this high-profile homicide. The same Jack Pallas who still blames Cameron for a botched crackdown three years ago—and for nearly ruining his career.

Into each other's arms...

Work with Cameron Lynde? Are they kidding? Maybe, Jack thinks, this is some kind of welcome-back prank after his stint away from Chicago. But it's no joke; the pair is going to have to put their rocky past behind them and focus on the case at hand. That is, if they can cut back on the razor-sharp jibes—and smother the flame of their sizzling-hot sexual tension.

My Review:  I have never proclaimed to be an avid read of the romance genre but I thought I'd give it a go as an e-audiobook.  I've only tried listening to a couple of audiobooks over the years and always struggled with keeping my attention on what was going on.  So this time I wanted to try a lighter book so I could make sure that my attention span (that rivals a gnat's) could keep track of what was going on and who was who.

I listened to this book in a variety of settings - on a short road trip, on some walks and while driving back and forth to work.  I have to say that I quite enjoyed a way to 'read' when I couldn't have a book/Kindle in my hand.  I liked it so much that I've put a hold on several e-audiobooks at my library.

So ,I liked the format of the book but unfortunately the storyline was just 'meh'.  After reading the book description I was expecting a mystery with a romantic storyline.  What I got was a full-on romance book with a very small side of mystery and a weak plot.  Not a glowing review.

The main reason why I didn't love the mystery part of this book is because there isn't enough tension and suspense -- and no mystery after about a third of the way through.  This is because the reader is told, fairly early on, who the murderer is.  Letting the reader in on this little secret pretty much wipes out any chance of a suspenseful read. Plus, the murderer's point of view is taken into account so we're privy to his/her next move as he/she tries to avoid getting caught.  I prefer to find out the 'whodunnit' on my own. I don't think adding the point of view of the murderer added anything to the storyline either.  If there was some huge, explosive 'ah-ha!' moment at the end I could have overlooked it but there wasn't.  

That's not to say that I hated this book.  I found it to be a very light read and enjoyable for what it is ... literary fluff.  Cameron was a good main character and was likeable enough and Jack was the typical brooding good guy if a little bland.  The humour (via their banter) came through in several parts of the book which I enjoyed.

I liked that Cameron and Jack had believable reasons for initially hating each other.  It wasn't some simplistic, stupid reason for them to be bantering back and forth.  That said, their dislike for each other turned to lust a little too quickly to be believable but I'll chalk that one up to the genre.  You can't have a 'romance' if the two people are constantly bickering at each other, right?

As with most romances, there were steamy love scenes which I could take or leave.  In fact, I fast-forwarded through one of the steamier scenes because they quickly went into the cheesy/corny territory.  Towards the end even some of their conversations were hokey and riddled with each other calling the other 'babe' and uttering their devotion to one another when only a week before they hated each other. 

Overall, this book was okay.  It wasn't earth shattering, nor was it boring but could have used a healthy dose of action and less predictability. It kind of tread somewhere between entertaining (due to the humourous banter) and a very light read that just barely kept my attention.  If this book had more action (as in suspense, not bedroom scenes) and the reader wasn't privy to the murderer's inner thoughts I would have scored this book much higher.  As it stands, this was a good book to ease my way into my first e-audiobook and I would recommend it as a light beach read.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Butterfly Sister

Author: Amy Gail Hansen
Genre: Mystery
Type: Paperback
Pages: 320
Source: Local Library
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
First Published: August 2013
First Line: "Gwen could not have been more explicit at our first session: I was to cease reading books by or about women who killed themselves."

Book Description from GoodReads"My past was never more than one thought, one breath, one heartbeat away. And then, on that particular October evening, it literally arrived at my doorstep."

Eight months after dropping out of Tarble, an all-women's college, twenty-two-year-old Ruby Rousseau is still haunted by the memories of her senior year-a year marred by an affair with her English professor and a deep depression that not only caused her to question her own sanity but prompted a failed suicide attempt.

And then a mysterious paisley print suitcase arrives, bearing Ruby's name and address on the tag. When Ruby tries to return the luggage to its rightful owner, Beth Richards, her dorm mate at Tarble, she learns that Beth disappeared two days earlier, and the suitcase is the only tangible evidence as to her whereabouts.

Consumed by the mystery of the missing girl and the contents of the luggage-a tattered copy of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, the book on which Ruby based her senior thesis, and which she believes instigated her madness-she sets out to uncover the truth, not only about Beth Richards's past but also her own. In doing so, Ruby is forced to re-examine the people from her past: the professor who whisked her away to New Orleans and then shattered her heart and the ghosts of dead women writers who beckoned her to join their illustrious group. And when Ruby's storyline converges with Beth's in a way she never imagined, she returns to the one place she swore she never would: her alma mater.

My Review: I recently got a job at one of my local libraries.  I know, right?  I'm in total book nerd nirvana!  One of the major perks is that I can easily take books out and see what's new in the world of books.  This book was sitting on the "New Fiction" shelves and I noticed it right away as I was waiting for my first training shift so I picked it up and I was very happy with this quick selection.

This was a very impressive debut novel that kept my attention right from the beginning.  There was something utterly riveting about this book.  It was paced perfectly and had many twists and turns, many of which I didn't see coming. All in all, a great read.

Going into this book I was assuming that it would be a suspenseful read -- and it was.  But it was so much more.  It was a mystery and suspense plus a slight nod to the supernatural.  I also appreciated that the author took the time to delve into the world of depression, loss, and obsession and how quickly she got me immersed into Ruby's life.

There were some slight drawbacks though.  While I'm an avid reader even I wasn't able to 'get' all of the literary references (and there were quite a few).  Not fully understanding the references didn't hinder me from keeping up with the plot but I also don't like that niggling feeling of not quite getting something.

Also, the ending was not predictable per se but everything seemed to work out a little too perfectly for the antagonist's evil plans with some coincidences that perhaps were a little far-fetched.  But it's fiction, right?  Plus, I have to admit that I enjoyed connecting the dots with the early parts of the story as we neared the end of the suspense. 

There were several twists that I didn't see coming and a couple that I did but overall I really enjoyed this page turner.  This was a very impressive debut novel that I thoroughly enjoyed because it engaged me and took me along a very different road than I was expecting.  I eagerly look forward to reading more from this author.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Midnight Rose

Author: Lucinda Riley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
First Line: "I am a hundred years old today."

Book Description from GoodReadsSpanning four generations, The Midnight Rose sweeps from the glittering palaces of the great maharajas of India to the majestic stately homes of England, following the extraordinary life of a remarkable girl, Anahita Chaval, from 1911 to the present day . . .

In the heyday of the British Raj, eleven-year-old Anahita, from a noble but impoverished family, forms a lifelong friendship with the headstrong Princess Indira, the privileged daughter of Indian royalty. As the princess's official companion, Anahita accompanies her friend to England just before the outbreak of World War I. There, she meets young Donald Astbury;reluctant heir to the magnificent, remote Astbury Estate; and his scheming mother.

Ninety years later, Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has the world at her feet. But when her turbulent relationship with her equally famous boyfriend takes an unexpected turn, she's relieved that her latest role, playing a 1920s debutante, will take her away from the glare of publicity to a distant corner of the English countryside. Shortly after filming begins at the now-crumbling Astbury Hall, Ari Malik, Anahita's great-grandson, arrives unexpectedly, on a quest for his family's past. What he and Rebecca discover begins to unravel the dark secrets that haunt the Astbury dynasty . . .

A multilayered, heartbreaking tale filled with unforgettable characters caught in the sweep of history, The Midnight Rose is Lucinda Riley at her most captivating and unforgettable.

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

My Review:  This sweeping saga follows Anahita's life, from her days as a young girl in India in the early 1900's until present day. The reader is taken from the exotic maharajas of India to the aristocracy in England as it follows the twists and turns, the passions and the losses of Anahita. 

This is definitely a large book (the paper version is upwards of 500 pages for the paperback).  It had a lot of wonderful historical detail but didn't fall into the trap of being bogged down in too many descriptions.  We're talking about piecing together the life of a one hundred year old woman so there are many places, eras and people involved and yet Ms Riley does an excellent job of keeping the reader on track.  The protagonists as well as the secondary cast of characters (for the most part anyway) were colourful, intriguing and I quickly got to know them.  It was a totally absorbing read that I had a hard time putting down.

The main reason why I loved this book is due to Anahita's character.  I was thoroughly engaged by the writing and riveted to Anahita's story from the beginning.  Seeing several periods in her life, from a young girl to a very elderly woman, helped to make her a very genuine character for me and one that I could easily root for.  Being given the knowledge that Anahita lives to be an old woman didn't detract from me being utterly captivated by her story either.  If anything it made me wonder how Anahita became the woman she was in her final years.

Rebecca's side of the story was interesting too but I found her story to be a little more superficial and I tended to look forward to getting back to Anahita's viewpoint as I was reading Rebecca's side of things.  I think a lot of this issue had to do with Rebecca's love life.  Her boyfriend came off as a stereotypical cad, bully and manipulator and it was fairly obvious where their relationship was heading.

Lucinda Riley is a 'new to me' author and I am very eager to pick up some of her earlier works.  She definitely has a passion and skill for storytelling as well as a knack for being able to keep the reader's attention on two main characters in two very distinct eras and cultures.  These are no small feats by any measure and I applaud her. 

While this is a big book it is also the perfect escapist read and so easy to get wrapped up in.  It has romantic elements and a dark mystery.  It also deals with enduring friendships, the importance of family, has interesting characters and a dual narrative which kept the pace high at all times.  Anahita's story will pull you in as the mystery surrounding her son begins to unfold and the pieces of her life begin to fit together.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Monday, 17 March 2014

Simply Stellar Carrot Cake {with Cream Cheese Icing}

This is my go-to carrot cake and I've been making it for almost 20 years.  While that number is staggering to me I quickly get over that double decade when I think of this moist, flavourful and pretty easy to make cake.  You'll notice that the ingredients list is quite long but please don't let the long list of ingredients scare you.  Sure it seems extensive but when you get down to it there's a lot of spices involved in making an amazing carrot cake.

Something that I always stress when people (especially my kids) get ready to bake something is to get all of the ingredients out on the counter in front of you so you can see what you've got, or more importantly, what you're missing!  I have to admit to forgetting to add certain ingredients (or the right amount of said ingredients) to recipes in the past because I've been busy chatting and figured I knew what I was doing.  Um, not so much.  Cake tends to taste better when it has all of it's flour and other ingredients are added.  Just sayin'.

I also highly recommend topping this cake with a cream cheese icing.  As a kid that icing was what got me into loving carrot cake because let's face it, when you tell kids that you're serving up a cake with a vegetable as the main ingredient you've got to come out with every trick up your sleeve in order to convince them to try it.  Plus, who can resist the creamy, rich goodness of cream cheese icing?  No one. That's who.  This icing is magical and can usually get even the pickiest of eaters (a hearty helloooo to Missy Moo!) to at least give good ol' carrot cake a try.  Ya, that icing works wonders.

So, from my kitchen to yours, I hope you enjoy this classic recipe.

Simply Stellar Carrot Cake

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (or substitute with an additional 1/4 cup of flour, if desired)
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
3 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk + 1 tbsp white vinegar and let sit)
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups carrots, shredded
1 cup coconut, shredded
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
1 (8oz) can crushed pineapple, with juice
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, applesauce, oil, sugar and vanilla.  Mix well until combined. Add flour mixture to the egg mixture slowly and gently mix.  Fold in the carrots, coconut, walnuts (if using), crushed pineapple (with juice) and the raisins. 

Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour.  Allow the cake to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Top with cream cheese icing, if desired OR place cooled cake into a large Ziploc freezer bag and freeze until needed.  This recipe can also be made into two loaves or cupcakes but the baking time will need to be adjusted.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Thursday, 13 March 2014

House of Glass

Author: Sophie Littlefield
Genre: Suspense

Type: e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
First Line: "On Jen Glass's Saturday to-do list, she scheduled an hour to visit the apartment her father died in, and another for the morgue."

Book Description from GoodReadsBestselling author Sophie Littlefield delivers a riveting, ripped-from-the-headlines story about a family put to the ultimate test when two men take them hostage inside their home.

Jen Glass has worked hard to achieve the ideal life: a successful career, a beautiful home in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, a seemingly perfect family. But inside the Glass house, everything is spinning out of Jen's control. Her marriage to her husband, Ted, is on the brink of collapse; her fifteen-year-old daughter grows more distant each day; and her five-year-old son barely speaks a word. Jen is on the verge of breaking, but nothing could have prepared her for what is to come.

On an evening that was supposed to be like any other, two men force their way into the Glasses' home, but what begins as a common robbery takes an even more terrifying turn. Held hostage in the basement for more than forty-eight hours, Jen and Ted must put aside their differences if they have any hope of survival. They will stop at nothing to keep their family safe—even if it means risking their own lives. A taut and emotional tale of a family brought together by extraordinary forces, House of Glass is a harrowing exploration of the lengths a mother will go to protect her children, and the power of tragedy to teach us what truly matters.

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

My Review:  Over a year ago I reviewed another book by Sophie Littlefield called Garden of Stones and was quite impressed with Littlefield's writing style and ability to pull the reader into her story.  Needless to say, I was eager to request the chance to review Littlefield's House of Glass.

This was definitely a suspenseful read but starting out I was a little concerned that a book which took place mainly in one small location may get stagnant but Littlefield had me on the edge of my seat in quite a few situations and didn't let the pace lull in the least.  I think that having the setting based in the family's home, the one place where you'd think you'd feel safe and protected, helped take the creepy factor up a notch too.

This isn't just a suspenseful read though.  Littlefield has added a layer of family dysfunction into the mix.  Each member of the Glass family has their own issues that they're trying to deal with and because of these issues Livvy, Jen and Ted each have their own idea of why they've been taken hostage in their own home.  I liked being able to piece this mystery together alongside the protagonists and enjoyed seeing how assumingly small incidents can morph into something so much bigger and dangerous than anyone could imagine.  I, of course, had my own thoughts as to why the perpetrators were in the Glass' home but I was proven wrong as Littlefield tauntingly pieced the story together for me.

The characters felt authentic which really helped round out the read for me so it was easy to get behind these characters as we witness their world falling apart.  I also liked the fact that the characters aren't angels in their own rights.  Each of them has their own baggage that is brought to the forefront when their family home is invaded and the reader slowly gets to see the fractures in the Glass family.  

The only criticism that I have about this book is that I just didn't quite believe the point of view of four year old, Teddy.  I have a four year old nephew and I just can't imagine him going through the thought processes that Teddy had during the invasion.  Teddy's maturity level seemed older than his four years at certain times and then much younger in others.  For awhile his viewpoint takes precedence and it was my least favourite part of the book and I think that's because I don't think Littlefield took his situation far enough.

This was definitely an edge of your seat read for me.  With diverse characters, a creepy feel this was a book that I had a hard time putting down.  The fact that this story was based on a real case that occurred in Cheshire, Connecticut in 2007 was the icing on the proverbial cake for this mystery/suspense lover.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Weight of Blood

Author: Laura McHugh
Genre: Modern Fiction/Suspense
Type: e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
First Line: "That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body."

Book Description from GoodReads: For fans of Gillian Flynn and Daniel Woodrell, a dark, gripping debut novel of literary suspense about two mysterious disappearances, a generation apart, and the meaning of family-the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love.

The Dane family's roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn't keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy's few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls-the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn't protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri's necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri's death could be linked to her mother's disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie.

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

My Review:  There are a few elements which truly make a suspense read stand out for me.  The setting, well developed characters and that sinister/edge of your seat feel.  This is the debut novel for Laura McHugh and, well, two outta three ain't bad.

The word that comes to mind when I think of the overall story is gritty.  This may not be a book for the squeamish because it deals with a lot of heavy issues (sexual exploitation, kidnapping, abuse) and McHugh doesn't hold back any punches.  The Weight of Blood is haunting, it made me very uncomfortable and shocked at times.  The issues it deals with are horrifying and yet, sadly, I could picture it happening.

My favourite part of this book was the description of the Ozarks and the very small town where the story takes place.  The small town of Henbane, set in the Kentucky Ozarks, sets the stage for this very atmospheric novel.  McHugh clearly depicts life in a very small town where life can be stifling (from not only the heat but from constantly having your neighbours up in your business).  It's a place where the term 'outsiders' could mean anyone whose family hasn't lived there for several generations.  

The Ozarks is a very unique region and Lucy's small town of Henbane is clearly rife with gossip about why and how Lila and Cheri disappeared.  Personally, I loved getting a bird's eye view of the unique culture, customs and beliefs of this area.  That said, there did seem to be every small town southern stereotype thrown in to describe Henbane.

The weakness in this book, for me, was with the character development and my feelings for the characters which were all over the board. Some characters were well developed (Lila, Crete) but others like Carl seemed to be too weak and almost caricatures.  The fact that dual narration was used via Lucy and Lila didn't help matters either.  While it definitely helped keep the pace of the book high, at times, it also made it a little confusing.  It's a little thing but I wish that Lucy and Lila didn't have such similar names because there were a couple of times when I got them mixed up at the beginning of a new narration. 

I knew that Lucy, Lila and Cheri were inextricably linked early on in the book but I loved having to learn about why and how they were linked as I read the book.  There is a true art in being able to give the reader a look into the future of the story but still make them want to find out why.

I think that this book could make a great Book Club pick.  There's a lot of juicy stuff you could pick apart and argue for and against.  The title, 'Weight of Blood' made me stop and think because it's a wonderful apt description of this book.  How much weight do we give our blood connections?  Do we have to?  Are we connected forever despite other factors that may not be forgivable?

“You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There’s no forsaking kin. But you can’t help when kin forsakes you or when strangers come to be family.”

I enjoyed reading this book.  It kept me on the edge of my seat and even though some of the issues that were dealt with made me uncomfortable, I wouldn't say that was a bad thing either.  I will admit that I wish there was a bit more resolution regarding one issue that is discussed throughout the majority of the book.  As a reader this kind of thing frustrates me.  I also would have loved to have one big twist at the end because I guessed who the 'bad guy' was early on and that's not as satisfying as predicting one outcome and the author flipping things and me be shocked with a great twist.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  It is well written and definitely a suspenseful novel and while I do feel there is room for improvement I'm quite impressed with this debut novel and look forward to her future work.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Forbidden Queen

Author: Anne O'Brien
Genre: Historical Fiction (Britiain)
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
First Line: "It was in the Hotel de St Pol in Paris, where I was born, that I chased my sister through the rooms of the palace, shrieking like some demented creature in torment."

Book Description from GoodReadsAn innocent pawn

A kingdom without a king

A new dynasty will reign…

1415. The jewel in the French crown, Katherine de Valois, is waiting under lock and key for King Henry V. While he's been slaughtering her kinsmen in Agincourt, Katherine has been praying for marriage to save her from her misery. But the brutal king wants her crown, not her innocent love.

For Katherine, England is a lion's den of greed, avarice and mistrust. And when she is widowed at twenty-one, she becomes a prize ripe for the taking—her young son the future monarch, her hand in marriage worth a kingdom.

This is a deadly political game, one the dowager queen must learn fast. The players—the Duke of Gloucester, Edmund Beaufort and Owen Tudor—are circling. Who will have her? Who will ruin her? This is the story of Katherine de Valois

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

My Review:  Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres.  There's something awesome about reading a book that puts you back in time so you can learn a thing or two about an era long since gone.  I love the historical tidbits and felt that learning about Katherine de Valois, the mother of King Henry VI, would be a wonderful way to spend the weekend.  Unfortunately, I had a very hard time getting into this book.

I would characterize this book as much more of a romance than a historical fiction novel.  I would have loved to have more historical detail incorporated into the storyline but the book just seems to follow Katherine's love life (which I didn't find very romantic to begin with, truth be told).  Add to the fact that the character development and plot were both weak and one-dimensional and I just didn't enjoy this book.

In the beginning Katherine was a likeable, innocent young girl who has had a hard childhood (I actually would have liked to get more detail into her childhood but that time in her life was glossed over quickly).  As the story progresses Katherine continues to be this innocent, naïve, flighty girl and her lack of character development grated on me quickly.  She was defeatist from the get go and overall just had an utterly bleak feel to her.  It's one thing to be naïve because she was just a teenager when she was sent to England but she came off as whiny, weak and immature throughout the book.  She seemed shocked when Henry didn't have time for her.  He's the KING OF ENGLAND!  He's got countries to conquer and England to run, for goodness sake!  For a girl who grew up never imagining that she'd one day get the chance to be married, let alone a Queen, she sure did have a lot of preconceived notions. 

And for a girl who was raised in a neglectful (albeit royal) home and then sent to a nunnery you'd think that she'd have a lot more trouble fitting into her new life as the Queen of England.  But Katherine seems to worry more about whether Henry loves her than learning about her new role and helping to rule a country.  This issue continues as she is widowed and essentially looking for love in all the wrong places time and again.  There were many times when the story could have gone into further detail to help the reader get a better idea of life during this time but more often than not the details were glossed over to make room for Katherine's beaux.

I love strong female characters but Katherine came off as weak and silly.  Her happiness is solely dependent on her romantic life.  She was very self-absorbed in her own little world and felt very meek, immature, whiny and just generally not a character I could get behind.  If she started out weak and immature but then we got to see some growth in her character that would be one thing but it never felt like her character went through any substantial emotional changes throughout the book.

Another issue I had with this book concerned the writing style.  Throughout the book it felt like I was being told things instead of being shown by the characters actually doing something.  We got glimpses into Katherine's life but never really got down into the details.  For example, Katherine initially has issues with her 'damsels' (ladies in waiting) but other than the odd comment about her damsels not liking her it's not dealt with.  I would also have loved to get a feeling for the political and social issues of the time but instead the storyline felt like it just went from one bad relationship of Katherine's to the next.

Finally, one of the main reasons I requested to review this book was the fact that it dealt with Owen Tudor.  I was eager to get a peek at the early days of the Tudor dynasty but it was overshadowed by the 'will they won't they?' romantic banter between Katherine and Owen and that got old for me fast.

If there was more historical detail, intrigue and character development it would have made for a really good read.  Unfortunately, this book came off as a romantic novel with a weak historical framework that focused more on Katherine's love life and less on the political intrigue and historical details of the time.

My Rating: 2 stars

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoire)

Author: Jenny Lawson
Genre: Memoire
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Pages: 318
Publisher: Amy Einhorn: Putnam
Publication Date: April 2012
First Line: "This book is totally true, except for the parts that aren't."

Book Description from GoodReadsFor fans of Tina Fey and David Sedaris—Internet star Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, makes her literary debut.

Jenny Lawson realized that the most mortifying moments of our lives—the ones we’d like to pretend never happened—are in fact the ones that define us. In the #1 New York Times bestseller, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson takes readers on a hilarious journey recalling her bizarre upbringing in rural Texas, her devastatingly awkward high school years, and her relationship with her long-suffering husband, Victor. Chapters include: “Stanley the Magical, Talking Squirrel”; “A Series of Angry Post-It Notes to My Husband”; “My Vagina Is Fine. Thanks for Asking”; “And Then I Snuck a Dead Cuban Alligator on an Airplane.” Pictures with captions (no one would believe these things without proof) accompany the text.

My Review:  I picked up this book recently from my local library right before a job interview.  Trying to distract my nerves I sat there reading the book jacket I was quietly chuckling to myself and it honestly helped to reduce my nerves.  I like funny reads.  I do.  But I also feel that they're really hard to write well.  What is deemed "funny" means different things to different people and while I think that Jenny has a great sense of humour I don't necessarily think it came through well in this book.

There were some great, hilarious gems in this book but the overall feeling of chaos in her writing stifled those funny bits.  It felt very disjointed -- like you were talking to a overly caffeinated person who would shoot out random stories that didn't necessarily have anything to do with each other.  It often felt like she was just babbling and not caring about what she was talking about and after awhile that got frustrating.  And don't get me started about the overused and excessively annoying footnotes!  Gah!  Enough already! I know you're funny Jenny!  Show me!

Don't get me wrong, there were certain parts of stories where I did actually laugh out loud because Jenny is funny.  But then she'd take too long to get to the end of the story and start to lose me.  Or the story seemed much too unrealistic to be true and ... she'd start to lose me.  Overall, I guess I just felt really lost.  I read over half of the book before I finally called it quits because I just couldn't take any more of the rambling bedlam that is her memoire.

I think Jenny excels at writing funny little snippets (like on her blog, The Bloggess) but this full-fledged book didn't showcase her best comedic assets.  With better editing and a more polished feel I think this could have been amazing.  Unfortunately her frantic way of storytelling just isn't for me, I guess.  I'll stick to reading her blog.

My Rating: 0 (didn't finish it)

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Mediterranean Tuna Melts

This is a recipe that's been lurking in my 'gotta post to the blog' file for months.   There always seemed to be another recipe that was prettier to post because let's face it, open-faced sandwiches aren't that pretty.  But they sure are delicious.

The reason that prompted me to come up with this creation was that we had some leftover hamburger buns from some Sensational Sloppy Joes the night before.  I hate to throw out good food so I opted to use the buns for lunch the next day.

Unfortunately there is a snag in my plan since my kids hate tuna with a passion that only rivals the horror that they feel when they see spinach in a dish that I've made.  It's most likely the smell that gets to them and, let's face it, mushed up fish isn't exactly glamourous.  So Brad and I made these for our own fine selves and they were impressively delish.

I love that you can garnish this sandwich with whatever Mediterranean toppings you have on hand.  We opted for black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, some red onion and, of course, yummy feta.  Topped with some melty cheese and these were a hit for those aged 40 and up. 

2 cans tuna, drained
1/2 cup creamy Caesar salad dressing
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed), diced
1/3 cup black olives, diced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp fresh lemon juice (juice from 1/2 a lemon)
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, finely grated
2 hamburger buns

Combine tuna, Caesar dressing, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, oregano, lemon juice and red onion in a medium bowl.  Combine well.

Combine feta and Mozzarella and set aside.

Place each bun half on a cookie sheet (cut side up).  Broil until they are lightly golden -- keep an eye on them!  Remove from oven.  Top each bun half with the tuna mixture.  Sprinkle cheese mixture over top of the tuna.

Return tuna melts to oven and broil, watching very carefully, until cheese has melted.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Source: The Baking Bookworm
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