Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Geography of You and Me

Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Genre: Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Pages: 337
Publisher: Little Brown and Company
First Published: April 15, 2014
First Line: "On the first day of September, the world went dark."

Book Description from GoodReads Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they're rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

Lucy and Owen's relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and -- finally -- a reunion in the city where they first met.

A carefully charted map of a long-distance relationship, Jennifer E. Smith's new novel shows that the center of the world isn't necessarily a place. It can be a person, too.

My Review:  I'm a little at a loss with how I feel about this book.  It was a very quick read (I read it in just over a day), it had a romantic tone to it and the characters were okay.  It was very ... 'vanilla ice cream' for me.  Good, kind of tasty but not something I'd really crave or go out of my way to have regularly.

It started off to a strong start with a fairly unique and romantic situation paired with quirky dialogue.  Unfortunately the quirkiness petered off quickly leaving the main characters a little lackluster and I was left with a back and forth 'will they be together or won't they?' as they attempt to stay in contact in a very quaint and romantic way.

While this was a quick, easy read and would be great if you didn't want something heavy, I personally needed a bit more to go on.  The storyline itself didn't have a lot of action, the plot was very predictable and I had to suspend reality a bit in order to enjoy the book.  Some of the characters were clichéd and a little unbelievable (Lucy's parents in particular) and their relationships weren't developed to the reader enough.  Some situations (like Lucy's outburst later on in the book) seemed contrived and out of left field.

Overall this book was just okay for me.  Not bad but not memorable either.  For hopeless romantics out there this book should tweak your interest.  It had a very Nora Ephron feel to it.  Think Sleepless in Seattle with a teenage twist.  The Geography of You and Me was sweet, predictable, kept me engaged and may appeal to people wanting a quick and easy read.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 26 May 2014

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

Author: Jennifer Senior
Genre: Non-Fiction, Parenting
Type: audio e-book
Source: Public Library
Publisher: HarperAudio
First Published: February 19, 2014
First Line: "There's the parenting life of our fantasies, and there's the parenting life of our banal, on the ground realities."

Book Description from GoodReadsThousands of books have examined the effects of parents on their children. Award-winning journalist Jennifer Senior now asks: what are the effects of children on their parents?

"All Joy and No Fun is an indispensable map for a journey that most of us take without one. Brilliant, funny, and brimming with insight, this is an important book that every parent should read, and then read again. Jennifer Senior is surely one of the best writers on the planet."-Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

In All Joy and No Fun, award-winning journalist Jennifer Senior isolates and analyzes the many ways in which children reshape their parents' lives, whether it's their marriages, their jobs, their habits, their hobbies, their friendships, or their internal senses of self. She argues that changes in the last half century have radically altered the roles of today's mothers and fathers, making their mandates at once more complex and far less clear. Recruiting from a wide variety of sources-in history, sociology, economics, psychology, philosophy, and anthropology-she dissects both the timeless strains of parenting and the ones that are brand new, and then brings her research to life in the homes of ordinary parents around the country. The result is an unforgettable series of family portraits, starting with parents of young children and progressing to parents of teens. Through lively and accessible storytelling, Senior follows these mothers and fathers as they wrestle with some of parenthood's deepest vexations-and luxuriate in some of its finest rewards.

Meticulously researched yet imbued with emotional intelligence, All Joy and No Fun makes us reconsider some of our culture's most basic beliefs about parenthood, all while illuminating the profound ways children deepen and add purpose to our lives. By focusing on parenthood, rather than parenting, the book is original and essential reading for mothers and fathers of today-and tomorrow.

My Review:  I first noticed this book because it was featured on my library's website.  I've read my share of parenting books in the past but this one grabbed my attention.  Maybe it was the psychology major in me or the mom in me but Senior's premise of looking at parenting, not as it affects the children, but how it affects the parents was quite intriguing. 

All Joy and No Fun shows the evolution of parenting and how what we currently deem 'essential' for raising a child may not be quite so essential in the grand scheme of things.  It puts parenthood and childhood in the spotlight and shows the toll that the pressure of modern day parenting can take on parents, their marriages and even their individual feelings of satisfaction with their lives. 

Going back to the basics may be the way to go in modern parenting and therefore learning where we've come from is essential so Senior takes a look into the history of childhood, the teenage years and parenting in general.  I found it fascinating seeing how the roles of children and parents have changed over different generations and that the idea of 'parenting' children is a fairly recent phenomenon - really only beginning in the last 70 years or so.  Before that, children had a very different role within the family.
 A word of caution; this book may not be as relatable to all readers.  No one parenting book can encompass every parent in every situation and Senior stipulates that this book focuses only on the middle class parenting situation.  The differences in the parenting experience for people in the lower class as well as the upper class will be different due to various factors, namely economic issues.

What jumped out at me most about this e-audiobook (which I listened to on my daily drive to and from work) was how laidback it felt.  While it does have a lot of great facts, sociological/psychological studies and deals with several parenting situations it never felt like Senior was trying to jam any parenting tips down my proverbial throat.  And I loved that. 

It felt like more of a discussion around the coffee table with some really great facts thrown in for good measure. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that many parenting situations brought forth were very relatable and I found myself nodding my head and thinking 'That's exactly how I feel!'.  This wonderful sense of validation was the icing on the cake for me.  There is a great comfort in knowing that you're not alone in your feelings - especially your occasional feelings of frustration.  This book helped me to feel that I may be on the right track after all and that this parenting thing, while being wonderful, doesn't necessarily have to be all fun, all the time either.

One thing that did set this book apart for me, the mother of two tweens and a teen, is that it doesn't only focus on how infants and young children affect the parents.  It also incorporates the effects of older children and the enigmas that are teens on parents.  And I will admit that it did help me view the battle ground of 'screen time' in our house more from the point of view of my boys which will help a lot in our household.

All Joy and No Fun was a refreshing look at parenting in the modern world while giving a nod to the evolution of parenting.  It also shows the difference between being a parent and actually 'parenting'.  So if you're looking for a 'how-to' parenting book to extol advice on how to raise your small humans then this book isn't for you.  You're not going to learn how to sleep train your baby, handle a toddler meltdown in public or win the next argument with your 15 year old (is that even possible?).  But you may come away with a better understanding of how our children can influence our lives and marriages and gain insight to help us navigate the wonderful, stressful, rewarding and joyful adventure of parenting our own unique child(ren).
 Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Friday, 23 May 2014

The Invention of Wings

Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Genre: Historical Fiction (US Slavery)
Type: Kindle e-book (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group - Viking
First Published: January 7, 2014
First Line: "There was a time in Africa the people could fly."

Book Description from GoodReadsHetty "Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

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

My Review:  Slavery and the beginning of women's rights are a couple of weighty and emotional topics for one book to take on.  The Invention of Wings has a lot to prove as it juggles these two issues, but ultimately it's a story about the friendship between a young white, privileged girl named Sarah Grimke and Hetty 'Handful', a black slave on the Grimke plantation.

The relationship between these two girls is the heart of the book as they each take turns to narrate their stories of struggle to gain freedom.  One for her physical freedom and the other for her freedom from social and ethical constraints put upon her.  I liked the fact that Handful and Sarah's relationship isn't an easy road and felt believable.  It's not cut and dry or could ever be overly friendly for the time and atmosphere in which they lived.  It was interesting to see how Sarah comes to understand the truth about slavery and how her views morph into something so much bigger than she could ever imagine.  Admittedly, it wasn't a smooth road for Sarah and some of her motivations, influences and understandings as a young girl/young woman weren't always comfortable for me but I liked that they always feel authentic to the character and era.

There was a lot of research done for this book (since it loosely follows the lives of the real-life Grimke sisters).  It is full of historical detail but I think that sometimes this historical information came at the cost of the character development and pace of the book.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed learning about some of the women who shaped how the world viewed women's rights and abolition.  But there were a couple of times when it felt like the reader was stuck in a specific moment in Sarah's life instead of moving the storyline on.  Surprisingly, this feeling was the strongest for me when Sarah decides to get involved with Women's Rights and abolition wholeheartedly. 

Maybe this disconnect with Sarah stems from the fact that I never felt like I got to know her.  There are some emotional scenes in the book, not surprisingly with Handful's storyline, but the emotion surrounding Sarah was quite lacking. What I did enjoy was seeing how similar Sarah and Handful were regarding their lack of freedom and the feeling of being trapped and stuck in their lives by the decision of others. 

"She was trapped same as me, but she was trapped by her mind, by the minds of the people round her, not by the law." ~ Handful

And yet, even though they both feel trapped there's still that fire inside each of them that struggles to maintain who they really are even in the face of opposition from so many others around them. 

Overall, I enjoyed this fictionalized story based on the real life of a woman who was instrumental in the beginning of the Feminist and Abolition movements.  It was an inspiring read that shows the inner strength of two women fighting the same fight, each in her own way.    

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Favourite Quotes:
"If you must err, do so on the side of audacity."

"I saw then what I hadn't seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I'd lost the ability to be repulsed by it.  I'd grown comfortable with the particulars of evil.  There's a frightful muteness that dwells at the centre of all unspeakable things and I had found my way into it."

"I have one mind for the master to see.  I have another mind for what I know is me."

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Triple Cheesy Bacon Quiche

I love quiche.
Quiche is one of those dishes that can be easy to throw on the table for those 'gotta feed the family FAST!' kind of meals.  I tell my kids that quiche is like breakfast pizza because you can pretty much add whatever toppings/add-ins you want.  Boy 2 and Missy Moo (not lovers of quiche) eye me like I've done lost m'mind.  "Pizza is nothing like quiche, Mom.  Quiche is all eggy and gross."  Thank you sweet child, your comments warm my heart.
But seriously, folks.  Quiche is so versatile.  If you love red onions, sun-dried tomatoes and feta you've got yourself a Greek Quiche.  If you prefer Swiss cheese, ham and asparagus, go at it!  It also makes a great way to use up some of those veggies that are begging to be used up.  A fridge cleaner-outer and a quick meal in one?!?  Yes, that is miracle that is quiche.
This quiche is very yummy.  Bacon and three kinds of cheese?!  Fabulous!  You can use this dish as a great breakfast or brunch option or, like in our family, a great 'breakfast for supper' idea that, if you use a frozen pie shell (I won't tell), can be on the table lickety-split!

frozen pie shell (or from scratch)
3 green onions, sliced
1/3 cup bacon (or good quality, fresh bacon bits)
1 1/4 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
6 eggs
1/4 cup creamer (or milk)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan, grated

Preheat oven to 400F.  Sprinkle green onions, bacon, Cheddar and feta into the pie shell.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs until mixed well.  Add creamer and water and mix.  Place your pie plate (if using a frozen pie shell) onto a cookie sheet (otherwise it will be floppy and hard to get into the oven without being covered in egg). 

Carefully pour egg mixture over the bacon/onion/cheese mixture in the pie shell.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400F.  Reduce heat to 350F and continue baking for 30 minutes more or until a knife inserted into the centre of the quiche comes out fairly dry and the eggs have set. 

Serve with a green salad and fresh bread!

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Hollow Ground

Author: Natalie S Harnett
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: May 13, 2014
First Line: "We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say."

Book Description from GoodReadsSet amongst the deadly coal mine fires of 1960s Pennsylvania, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut that will "grab you by the brisket and not let go." (Gary Shteyngart)

"We walk on fire or air, so Daddy liked to say. Basement floors too hot to touch. Steaming green lawns in the dead of winter. Sinkholes, quick and sudden, plunging open at your feet."

The underground mine fires ravaging Pennsylvania coal country have forced Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents, the formidable Gram and the Black Lung stricken Gramp. Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest who ran afoul of the Molly Maguires. The weight of this legacy rests heavily on a new generation, when Brigid, already struggling to keep her family together, makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft. In the aftermath, decades' old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet. Inspired by real-life events in now-infamous Centralia and the equally devastated town of Carbondale, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. Not since To Kill a Mockingbird has a young character been so heartbreakingly captivating. A "powerful story of love and survival" (Pulitzer Prize finalist David Gates), Harnett's novel is a must-read for lovers of literary fiction.

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: One of the things that I love about a good historical fiction read is that sometimes it places me in a time and situation that I knew nothing about.  The Hollow Ground dropped me down right smack dab in the middle of the Pennsylvania underground mine fires which started years before and had been burning underground ever since.  Seeing how it threatened to destroy the town and displace people from the only homes they'd known (while the government hid behind red tape and legalities) was the most interesting part of the book for me. 

Unfortunately, I didn't feel that the characters were as well-developed as I had hoped.  I can't say that I felt a connection or empathy for any of the characters.  Even though the reader sees the devastation through Brigid's young eyes as she describes the upheaval and loss at having to leave their home and the loss of her aunt, I still had a hard time getting emotionally invested in her story.  It was sad, drab and depressing, no doubt.  But the connection with the characters is what this story was lacking.

I was also disappointed that the mystery surrounding the mine and even the family curse wasn't more suspenseful or dealt with more in the book.  The Hollow Ground was much more of a look into family dynamics as Brigid describes her impoverished life in a small Pennsylvania coal town on the brink of environmental disaster.  Her family is in constant turmoil as Brigid struggles to live with her two dysfunctional and neglectful parents who have their own demons to deal with.

While this wasn't the page turner that I had expected it to be I appreciate that I now know more about an era and situation that I knew nothing about previously.  I would consider this a good book for people looking for a dark, historical read.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, 15 May 2014

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Author: Karen Joy Fowler
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 310
Source: Public Library
Publisher: G.P Putnam's Sons
First Published: May 2013
First Line: "Those who know me now will be surprised to learn that I was a great talker as a child."

Book Description from GoodReadsMeet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

My Review:  After reading the description on the book jacket while perusing the library for new reads I was eager to crack this book open.  It sounded like a family drama wrapped up in a suspenseful read.  A missing sister and a brother hunted by the FBI for domestic terrorism?  Sounds good but after reading this book I could describe this book in one word ... strange. 

The book started off strong with me anxious to find out what happened to Fern, Rosemary's missing sister.  And then, fairly early on, we learned who Fern is and I was utterly gobsmacked and felt almost betrayed and tricked by the surprise.  This revelation changed the entire book for me from then on. I was expecting a mystery of sorts to figure out where the sister went and I suppose there is one but not what I was expecting.

Without giving anything away, there were some issues brought up in the book that were heart-wrenching and the inclusion of the psychology-based information throughout the book helped me feel like I was using my psych degree just a bit. ;)  But even that seemed to get tedious and overdone quickly.

Unfortunately Rosemary and the other characters weren't engaging at all.  Rosemary was a confusing protagonist as she tells her story but often wasn't sure if what she was telling was in the present, past or something from a dream.  This made it very confusing for the reader.  Then there were the secondary characters who just didn't seem to fit into the plot well.  There were a couple of truly odd characters, namely the marionette (yes, a puppet) and the CIA-wannabe landlord, who both felt out of place within the main story.  I'm still not sure why they were added. 

The writing also felt disjointed and the plot just plodded along so much so that I ended up skimming passages less than half way through.  I finished the book, but just barely.   I can't help but feel that the controversial aspect of the book and the case studies took precedence over the quality and interest of the storyline.  While I did find some of the scientific/psychological aspects of the book interesting the fictional writing was less than captivating.

I think the author was going for a unique plot and it is unique.  Just not interesting and verged on being tedious and very grim.  I do believe that the issues brought forth are very important and this is shown with some emotional and disturbing situations in the book.  I have no issue with forcing the reader to look at something uncomfortable and in need of change.  Unfortunately, there were just too many other hurdles in this book to overcome and overall I just didn't like this book.  

My Rating: 1/5 stars

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Murder with Ganache

Author: Lucy Burdette
Genre: Light (cozy) mystery
Pages: 320
Type: Paperback
Source: directly from author
Series: #4 in the Key West Food Critic mystery series
Publisher: Signet
First Published: February 4, 2014
First Line: "Faster than a speeding KitchenAid mixer, I scraped the freshly squeezed lime juice and lime zest into the bowl and beat the batter into a creamy pale green."

Book Description from GoodReadsHayley Snow, the food critic for Key Zest magazine, has her plate heaped high with restaurant reviews, doughnut and sticky bun tastings, and an article on the Hemingway cats. But this week she’s also in charge of her best friend’s wedding. And then someone adds a side of murder…

For better or worse, Hayley has agreed to bake over 200 cupcakes for her friend Connie’s wedding while still meeting her writing deadlines. The last thing she needs is family drama. But her parents come barreling down on the island like a category 3 hurricane and on their first night in town her stepbrother, Roby, disappears into the spring break party scene in Key West.

When Hayley hears that two teenagers have stolen a jet ski, she sets aside her oven mitts and goes in search of Rory. She finds him, barely conscious, but his female companion isn’t so lucky. Now Hayley has to let the cupcakes cool and assemble the sprinkles of clues to clear her stepbrother’s name—before someone else gets iced.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Lucy Burdette for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: This is a cozy mystery with some good twists, a warmth in the relationships that you can connect with and delicious descriptions of food (with recipes at the end of the book t'boot).  Yup, this book (and series) has it all for the cozy mystery buff.

I'm not one to just jump into the middle of a series of books.  I hate that not knowing feeling about characters and larger story arcs so I was happy to receive not only this fourth book but Lucy Burdette's first book in her Key West Food Critic series, An Appetite for Murder, which I read and reviewed a few weeks ago.  I'm glad that I read the first book because it really gave me the background needed to really understand the relationships between the characters and where the larger story arcs began. 

Like the first book in the series, I enjoyed this latest installment too.  Hayley seems to have grown quite a bit from the first book in the series where she came off as a little naïve.  In Murder with Ganache Hayley is right there in the middle of everything - juggling family issues, work and even a murder.  She's grown up a lot over the past few books and now comes off as competent but still realistic as we see her struggle to maintain order in her complex life.  

While the murder aspect of the book was good I can't help but feel that Hayley's family drama took more centre stage than I was hoping.  A little more action would have been appreciated throughout the book.  That said, I love the dynamics between Hayley and her extended/step family.  Hayley's devotion to her family is clear and I like that there aren't clichéd characters (ie. the despised evil stepmother) and I really respect that.  The addition of the homeless characters as well as street kids into the plot were an interesting addition and socially conscious too.  Personally, I didn't miss the fact that Hayley's tarot card reader from the first book didn't make an appearance in this book.  I thought he felt a little out of place in the first book.

Overall, this is a solid series.  It has characters that you can care about, a good mystery and tasty recipes (that you can even try at home).  With the added oomph of action at the end of this book (that had me on the edge of my seat) I think that that makes for a very delicious series in my book.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Iron King

Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Type: e-book
Source: Local Library
Series: 1st book in the Iron Fey series
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
First Published: Feb 1, 2010
First Line: "Ten years ago, on my sixth birthday, my father disappeared."

Book Description from GoodReadsMeghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth - that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil, no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

My Review:  Let me just preface this review by saying that there are two reasons why I picked up this book.  First, I was utterly captivated and totally enthralled when I read the first two books of Kagawa's The Immortal Rules (I eagerly bought the third one recently and it's on my To Be Read pile).  Her writing, characters, pace and plots were truly fantastic in that series.  The second reason why I picked up this book is due to the rave reviews about the very popular Iron Fey series in general.  That's got to count for something, right? Um, unfortunately no.

Expectations aren't always a good thing.  I brought a digital copy of this book on my recent trip to Florida to visit my parents but sadly I have to admit that I didn't love this book and really struggled to get into it and through it.  I honestly feel like I'm betraying the author because I so adored her other series but I can't honestly give this book a glowing review.

I also finished this book wondering if I had read the same book that so many other reviewers had read.  My response to this book was that different.  Granted I wasn't the sole person who didn't love this book but by and large the vast majority of reviewers on-line loved this book.

Let's get through this issues I had with this book:

1. "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto".  Or maybe we are?! -- My preconceived notions going into this book were waaaay off.  I get that this isn't the awesome perfection that is Kagawa's The Immortal Rules but I will admit that I was expecting something much edgier. 

I liked the premise of the book and was on board with it until Meghan goes to rescue a loved one who has been taken.  At that point all of the suspense in the plot withered and I was plunked down into a strange world where it felt like too many different famous fantasy characters lived.  I expected it to have a supernatural element but the characters and themes that I got were not what I had expected at all.  Fairies, Midsummer Night's Dream characters, a wicked stepmother and a Cheshire cat?  It felt like the author tried to incorporate too many famous fantasy characters into the mix and instead made it more of a mêlée that felt forced and confusing.  I half expected to see a witch in ruby red slippers squished under a house.  Honestly.

2. Ahhh, l'amour -- As expected there was a teen love angle with this book but it fell very flat for me.  I realize that I'm not the main demographic here but I think if I was I'd still have a hard time believing this love story.  These two teens, who had major issues and attitude between them, suddenly (and unexpectedly) were deeply and madly in love ... and so they were.  And the reader is just supposed to accept this.  There was no build up to their feelings just the author telling the reader that this is the way it was.  And, I'm sorry I just can't get behind a relationship merely because the boy is dark, brooding and hot and can't decide if he wants to kill the girl of his affections or kiss her.  Again, I'm not a 16 year old teenage girl but I still think that if I were I'd need more to go on.  The soul of a romantic, I have.

3. All tell and no show does not a happy reader make -- There was quite a lot of 'telling, not showing' going on in this book and I reeeally don't like that.  I want to see how the relationships have built up and the twists in the plot unfold.  I don't want to be spoon fed the story and just have to accept it because it's written because it takes the suspense and energy out of the storyline.  Sure there were action scenes in the book but they felt like they were placed there with no real use to the storyline.  Unless you just want the damsel to keep doing stupid things so she can get saved while the man child continues to brood.  If that's the case then you're golden.

4. Wussy female protagonist -- This is one of my biggest pet peeves in teen fiction.  Why does the female protagonist have to be weak and be saved by the brooding menfolk? *Sigh - memories of 'Twilight' come flitting into my consciousness* 

Meghan was not a strong main character and came off as quite naïve and annoying if truth be told.  I realize she had a sheltered childhood but does that mean she had to be so naïve as to repeatedly do things that others have warned her against?  Time and again she makes life threatening deals with supernatural beings even after being told to knock it off!

She never once came off as courageous to me.  Just naïve, rather ignorant and very, very lucky.  She is the total antithesis to Allie Sekemoto, the main character in Kagawa's Immortal Rules series who is the female lead that I love -- a kick butt, 'don't wait around for boys to save you' strong teenage girl.  It's shocking the difference between the two teenage girls and I'm happy to say that The Immortal Rules was written after The Iron Fey series so perhaps Kagawa changed her mind about how she wanted her female protagonists to be perceived.

5. Bad Boys, Bad Boys ... whatcha gonna do? -- There are two guys in Meghan's life -- Puck and Ash.  Puck was a quirky guy who was probably my favourite character out of the bunch.  Unfortunately he was left in the shadows quite a bit and only pulled in to create the overdone teenage love triangle. 

Ash, the bad-boy, brooding hottie was a cliché from the get-go.  While he was cute he was pretty darn dull.  At first I was excited because he came in there with attitude to spare and I figured he would be a good match for Meghan.  Unfortunately, his character never grew throughout the story so we were left at the end of the book with a brooding, bad boy. 

So you may have guessed that I wasn't a fan of this book.  While I don't plan to read any of the other books in this series I kept hoping, even by the middle of the book, that Kagawa would pull something magical out of her writer's hat to turn this book around.  Sadly, for me anyway, that didn't happen for me.

I'm still an ardent fan of Kagawa and if I haven't made it clear enough, I highly recommend picking up The Immortal Rules if you want to see Kagawa's writing at its finest.

My Rating: 1.5/5 stars 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Tomato, Sausage and Spinach Risotto

If you're looking for an easy, one dish meal this is it.  It's not a hard to make so if you can stir with a spoon and pour ingredients into a skillet you can totally make this dish.  The only caveat is that it does take time ... about 40 minutes actually.

See, risotto is a dish that requires patience.  This rice (called Arborio) is cooked long and slow so each piece can take in the liquid that you will gradually pour in as you stir, stir, stir.  It's actually a good dish to make if you're sitting around your kitchen drinking wine.  I speak from experience here.  I love it because you can converse, sip wine and stir your rice mixture.  Easy peasy. 

This is exactly what we did last weekend when I made this dish (along with my Spectacular Spinach Salad) as a welcome home meal for my Snow Bird parents who had just arrived back from their sojourn in sunny Florida.  Sure, it was a little time consuming but the result is well worth the effort.  You get a very tasty dish with little chunks of sausage, bits of tomato and the goodness of fresh spinach.

Needless to say it was a hit and helped to warm my parents' old bones as they got used to our Canadian climate.  It did the trick and apparently may have even kick started Spring (it is a glorious very warm spring day here today!).  The miracle that is risotto.


2 (14oz) cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3 cups chicken broth (I used sodium-reduced)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely diced
5 honey garlic sausage, casings removed
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp butter
2 cups chopped, fresh baby spinach (stems removed)
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

In a large saucepan, heat the tomatoes and chicken broth until at a low simmer.  Maintain the low simmer.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Once the oil is hot, add the onions and sausage.  Using a spatula, break up the sausage into small pieces while it cooks.  Cook onions and sausage until sausage is no longer pink - approximately 7 minutes.

Add the rice to the sausage mixture and mix until the rice is coated with the oil.  Cook rice for 1 minute.  Add the wine and stir until most of it evaporates, approximately 1 minute. The wine adds a great flavour to this dish.  Don't skip this step!

Using a large ladle, spoon the tomato mixture - one ladle at a time -- into the rice mixture.  Stir constantly until the tomato mixture is absorbed into the rice.  Spoon the next ladle of tomato mixture and continue this process until you've added all of the tomato/broth mixture.  This step will take about 30 minutes.

Remove rice mixture from heat.  Add butter, baby spinach and Parmesan cheese.  Mix until the spinach has nicely wilted.  Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese or freshly ground black pepper (personally we just added some pepper and it was amazing!). 

Inspired by: Tomato, Sausage and Spinach Risotto by A Bitchin' Kitchen

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Invisible City

Author: Julia Dahl
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
First Line: "I was in Chinatown when they called me about the body in Brooklyn.'

Book Description from GoodReadsJust months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a big-city reporter. But she’s also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.

Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah’s shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD’s habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can’t let the story end there. But getting to the truth won’t be easy—even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it's clear that she's not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

In her riveting debut Invisible City, journalist Julia Dahl introduces a compelling new character in search of the truth about a murder and an understanding of her own heritage.

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

My Review:  I do love me a great mystery.  If a little extra 'somethin'-somethin' is thrown into the mix, all the better for this reader.  Invisible City is the debut novel by Julia Dahl and I found it to be quite impressive.  Not only did she write a compelling mystery but she included the intriguing addition of the ultra-private Hasidic community into her storyline.  I enjoyed getting a very personal look into what it would be like to be a woman in the Hasidic community. 

"Most Heredi in Brooklyn are descended from Holocaust survivors.  My mother's entire family - six brothers and sisters, her parents and grandparents - were murdered by the Nazis in Poland.  We know intimately how quickly our goyish neighbors can turn on us.  We know that to survive we must rely on one another, we must support and protect our fellow Jews.  We do not do this because we do not believe that sin should be punished. 
"The strength of our community is vital to our survival.  You look at us and you see black hats and wigs and you think we are to be pitied.  You think you know better.  But you don't see more than you see.  You think the prohibition against men and women touching is misogynist.  You don't see the tenderness, or passion, with which a husband touches his wife after she is niddah.  You think that clothing that exposes you flesh makes you free.  but in my modest clothing I am free from the leering stares of men.  I am free to be judged by my intellect and my actions, not my body."

Personally, I found learning about the Hasidic community fascinating and it was my favourite part of the book.  Seeing their 'cultural baggage' and the legacy of hate, condemnation and discrimination that they continue to deal with on a daily basis was eye opening.  I appreciated how Ms Dahl compassionately and respectfully showed the strong sense of community and determined self-preservation of the Hasidic culture.  

Ms Dahl also spent time letting the reader get to know Rebekah.  Sure she's a new reporter and has to deal with the chaos that comes with that job but it's seeing how Rebekah is still dealing with the absence of her mother, her acute anxiety disorder and getting to know her Hasidic roots is what really solidified Rebekah as an interesting protagonist for me.  Rebekah is young, impulsive and new as a reporter and I liked that she faltered and make mistakes.

Invisible City was a solid mystery with enough twists to keep me guessing.  But this book also has the added benefit of educating the reader (at least this reader) on the Hasidic community - a community that I knew very little about before picking up this book.  The book was nicely paced for the most part -- although I will admit to a little bit of a lull in the middle of the book.  Overall, this was an impressive debut mystery read and I'm interested to see where Rebekah's search for her past takes her in the future books in this series.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, 5 May 2014

An Appetite for Murder

Author: Lucy Burdette
Genre: Light Mystery
Series: 1st book in the Key West Food Critic mystery series
Type: Paperback
Pages: 323
Source: directly from author
Publisher:  Penguin Group
First Published: January 3, 2012
First Line: "Lots of people think they'd love to eat for a living."

Book Description from GoodReadsHayley Snow's life always revolved around food. But when she applies to be a food critic for a Key West style magazine, she discovers that her new boss would be Kristen Faulkner-the woman Hayley caught in bed with her boyfriend! Hayley thinks things are as bad as they can get-until the police pull her in as a suspect in Kristen's murder. Kristen was killed by a poisoned key lime pie. Now Hayley must find out who used meringue to murder before she takes all the blame.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Lucy Burdette for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I currently work as a Library Assistant at my local library (and I truly adore my job) but one of my dream jobs is to be a food critic (as well as to own a book store/coffee house -- this girl is full of dreams).  The chance to get paid for eating and writing?!  Bliss.  The reason I mention this is because 'An Appetite For Murder' is the first book in the new cozy mystery series that focuses on the life and antics of Hayley Snow, a food critic from Key West, Florida.  Mystery, beautiful beaches and delicious dishes?  Serve me up some of that!

I found this to be a strong start to new series.  Sometimes I find that 'cozy mysteries' fall into the cutsie zone where the mystery is less in the forefront than the antics of the main and secondary characters.  This is not the case with the Key West Food Critic series.  I found this to be a well thought out mystery and a wonderful beach read -- because I literally read this on the beach while in Florida.

The only thing more vivid than the descriptions of the food that Hayley critiques are the descriptions of life in Key West. You can tell that the author has strong ties to the area and I appreciated getting a look into life in this very distinct area.

The mystery itself was strong and threw in enough twists (and some suspense) to keep me in the dark about the culprit until close to the end.  There was a little less action than I was expecting but I also think that that kept the situations real because, let's face it, we're in a very small community and if the body count kept piling up it wouldn't be believable.  We're talking Key West here, not NYC.

Hayley is a strong, but not totally invincible, main character who was easy to root for.  She was a little more subtle than I was expecting for a main character but overall I liked her.  While Hayley was impulsive at times she didn't come off as bumbling or irritating (as some cozy mystery characters sometimes do).  She's likeable, her motives for some of her choices (while sometimes naïve) still came off as believable and not hokey.  The secondary characters rounded out the storyline and I look forward to seeing Hayley's character develop as well as her ability to solve a good 'whodunnit'.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  It was mouth-watering with its food descriptions, suspenseful, set in a unique location and with a cast of quirky characters that made me hungry for more of Hayley's Key West adventures.  Make sure to check out the back of the book for some of the recipes of the dishes mentioned in the book.  Yup.  It's a mystery with recipes!  Love that! 

I look forward to sharing my review of the fourth, and latest book, in this series, Murder with Ganache, with you soon which the author provided me with as well.

NoteLucy Burdette also writes under the name Roberta Iseib (author of the Advice Column mystery series).

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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