Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Letters From Wishing Rock

Author: Pam Stucky
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: directly from author
Series: #1 in the Wishing Rock trilogy
Publisher: CreateSpace
First Published: March 2011
First Line: "Text from Ruby to Erin - Sent February 14, 2010. Hey, was just writing to Gran and someone knocked on my door."

Book Description from GoodReadsPam Stucky's charming debut novel is already garnering rave reviews and demands for book two in the Wishing Rock series. This engaging, fun read is written in the format of letters/e-mails amongst characters. It combines the easy readability of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the sassy, irreverent tone of Bridget Jones' Diary, with the slice-of-life sensibilities of Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street or Ladies' Detective Agency series.

What would happen if everyone in town lived in the same building? Ruby Parker is about to find out. Her fiancĂ© has left her and she needs a fresh start, so she moves to Wishing Rock, Washington, a small town on Dogwinkle Island in the waters near Seattle, where she meets a quirky cast of characters who quickly become family. Letters between the neighbors and their friends chronicle the twists and turns of the characters’ daily lives. There’s Jake, a handsome and charming first-year medical student who catches Ruby’s eye from the start, despite his being over a decade younger. Millie, a Wishing Rock resident for forty years, runs the town’s library, post office, newsletter and grocery store, knows everyone and everything, and shares the history of the area with her playful wit. World traveler and psychic Alexandra bestows insight and wisdom with humor and compassion, and Ruby’s Gran heads to the United Kingdom, heeding her own advice to seize the day. And then there’s Ed; if something fun is going on, the grandson of the town’s founding father is likely at the center of it. Amidst all this action, Ruby manages to find passion and companionship, but will she be able to open her heart to love?

Online dating, a group trip to Scotland, a discussion about dogwinkles, a fateful hoedown, and friendships old and new, all interspersed with recipes from some of the town’s best cooks, make Wishing Rock come alive in this delightful and insightful look at life, love, relationships, and community.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Pam Stucky for providing me with a complimentary copy this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  When the author, Pam Stucky approached me about reading and reviewing her book I was intrigued -- a novel and recipes?  Sounds perfect for me.  But I was also a little nervous because this story is only told via emails and texts between the characters.  In the past it's not a format that I've loved (and yes, I didn't love it in Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society either) because I felt disconnected from the characters but I figured I'd give it a shot.

Once I started to get a feel for the characters in Wishing Rock I was able to get into the storyline and the email format seemed to not matter so much.  What I was left with was a heart-felt, feel good book that gives off a strong sense of community where readers are immersed in the lives of the people of this unique small town.

When I say 'unique' I'm talking about how the town is set up.  This is a town on a small island off the west coast where all of the town inhabitants live in one big building.  I will admit to furrowing my brow as I first read this because I had a hard time imagining such a place.  I still do, actually.  Think of it as a cute, multi-generational version of Melrose Place with everyone all up in each other's business (and beds) minus the cat fights and shocking storylines.  Other reviewers claim that this is a cute version of Northern Exposure.  I've never seen an episode of that show but if you're a fan you may want to pick up this book series.

This is a character-driven novel and the characters are definitely quirky (Ruby's Gran was my favourite - fun and feisty, she was!).  Very quickly their different tones in speaking/writing came through making it easy to distinguish who was speaking.  It's also a book that focuses on three things: food, romance and travel.

I have but two wee criticisms.  First, I think a little too much time was spent describing the setting in Scotland.  I adore travelling and Scotland is almost at the top of my 'next to visit' list but there was so much time spent on describing the landscape and culture that I found it distracted from the general storyline and I will admit to skimming a bit during those sections. 

Secondly, while Letters From Wishing Rock deals with believable, quirky and sometimes humourous characters and situations it always had a light tone and fairly mild drama.  A little grittier issues would have gotten me a lot more invested in their lives and spiced things up a bit.

Pam Stucky has taken an original idea, different format and some quirky characters and tops it off with some 'tried and true' recipes.  Overall, I think this is a good start to a new series.  It has a cute, charming feel to it - if a little too predictable for my tastes.  If you're looking for a light summer read you may want to take a trip to Wishing Rock.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 28 July 2014

Artichoke, Sun-Dried Tomato & Goat Cheese Dip

This past weekend was the beginning of the very busy Birthday Season at the Baking Bookworm abode. For the next three months all five of us have birthdays -- that's a whole lotta cake, birthday candles (oh MY!) and parties! 

To officially open Birthday Season we hosted two parties this weekend to celebrate Brad and Boy 2's birthdays which are only two days apart.  Boy 2 had a bunch of his friends over on Saturday night for a very LOUD get together with his 13 year old brethren.  The following day we hosted a house-full of family (which was almost as loud as the first party) and began with a swim at my parents' pool.  We try to tire out the small humans as much as possible and two hours in the pool seemed to do the trick.

Both parties were a lot of fun and, of course, had a lot of food.  The thirteen year olds had very basic requests (snack foods, pop, hot dogs and burgers) but for our family get-together I opted for more of a BBQ and salad affair which of course means that I used my family as culinary guinea pigs.  Sure I used tried-and-true recipes like my very popular Greek Chicken Marinade, Spinach and Strawberry Salad with Maple Balsamic Dressing, Traditional Potato Salad and brownie ice cream sundaes.  But I also wanted to try something new.

As my family sat poolside with the 9 kids in the pool I served this Greek inspired dip along with some veggies.  I still swoon over goat cheese and my love of all things sun-dried tomatoey and artichokey is thankfully still going strong.  When these flavours are combined they made a reeeeally great dip.  It's a bit of a thicker dip so it was perfect for baby carrots and other veggies but with a wee knife you could spread it on baby pitas and crackers too.

I'm thinking that this dip could make a great spread for wraps or, as my sister Jennifer (or was it Jillian?) suggested, using it as a pizza base instead of traditional pizza sauce.  Yum, right?  Picture it if you will -- sliced fresh basil, garden fresh tomatoes, black olives and red onion!  This would make for a totally delicious pizza!  Perhaps I'll save that idea for the next family get together.  Enjoy!

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil -- drained and chopped
1/3 cup marinated artichoke hearts -- drained and chopped
8 oz package of cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz goat cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. sour cream
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
1/4 cup fresh basil -- chopped

Place all ingredients into a food processor.  Process on low until blended well and mixture is smooth.  Chill in an air-tight container in the fridge for several hours before serving.

Serve with vegetables, crackers or mini pitas.  Keep leftover dip refrigerated for a couple of days. 

Yield: 2 cups

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Midwife's Confession

Author: Diane Chamberlain
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Own - Second-hand bookstore
Publisher: MIRA Books
First Published: 2011
First Line: "Wilmington, North Carolina - September 2010 ---She sat on the top step of the front porch of her Sunset Park bungalow, leaning against the post, her eyes on the full moon."

Book Description from GoodReads
Dear Anna,
What I have to tell you is difficult to write, but I know it will be far more difficult for you to hear, and I'm so sorry-

The unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to the reason behind their close friend Noelle's suicide. Everything they knew about Noelle - her calling as a midwife, her passion for causes, her love for her friends and family - described a woman who embraced life.

Yet there was so much they didn't know.

With the discovery of the letter and its heartbreaking secret, Noelle's friends begin to uncover the truth about this complex woman who touched each of their lives - and the life of a desperate stranger - with love and betrayal, compassion and deceit.
My Review:  This is the third book by Diane Chamberlain that I've read over the past two or so years and it falls somewhere in between the two other books of hers (The Good Father and Secret Lives) that I've read.

Chamberlains books, in my experience, tend to be good reads even if they are a bit predictable at times.  Her writing is good and she handles different narrators well even as the story flips back and forth between the present and past. Even her characters were fairly well written and overall pretty believable with the teen daughter/mother angst being especially poignant among the three mom/daughter groups. 

Unfortunately, my love for this book began to wane when I was expected to suspend reality further than I was willing.  There are quite a few coincidences that are just too far-fetched to be believable.  And while this is a sad book with more than its fair share of tragedies I didn't understand why the addition of the superfluous love triangle was necessary. 

There was a good twist that I didn't anticipate towards the end but the book just didn't have as much energy as I was hoping for.  Tying up all the loose ends at the end of the book didn't endear me to this book either because it just upped the unbelievable factor that much more.  Honestly, I think that Chamberlain was trying for a Jodi Picoult-type read (moral dilemmas, loads of tension and twists) but this book just didn't quite make it. 

Obviously this was not my favourite Diane Chamberlain novel but I have not given up on her for a good, casual read and I look forward to reading her Necessary Lies which has been sitting on my book shelf for quite some time.  Overall the book was a little predictable and sad with its various tragedies but Chamberlain kept me engaged and The Midwife's Confession could make for a good, casual escapist-type summer read.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Dime Store Magic (re-read)

Author: Kelley Armstrong
Genre: Supernatural, Suspense
Series: #3 in the Women of the Underworld series
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Own
Pages:  416
Publisher: Vintage Canada
First Published: April 2004
First Line: "Todd adjusted his leather power seat and smiled."

Book Description from GoodReads Paige Winterbourne was always either too young or too rebellious to succeed her mother as leader of one of the world's most powerful elite organizations- the American Coven of Witches. Now that she is twenty-three and her mother is dead, the Elders can no longer deny her. But even Paige's wildest antics can't hold a candle to those of her new charge- an orphan who is all too willing to use her budding powers for evil... and evil is all too willing to claim her. For this girl is being pursued by a dark faction of the supernatural underworld. They are a vicious group who will do anything to woo the young, malleable, and extremely powerful neophyte, including commit murder- and frame Paige for the crime. It's an initiation into adulthood, womanhood, and the brutal side of magic that Paige will have to do everything within her power to make sure they both survive.

My Review:  A couple of days ago I reviewed Shatter Me for the second time.  I'm not an avid re-reader (too many books, so little time) but as I looked around my book shelves I noticed a few series that I've failed to keep up on.  So I informally named the summer of 2014 as the "remember all the book series that I need to catch up on!" Ya, it's a catchy title. 

Kelley Armstrong's wonderful 'Women of the Underworld' series was unfortunately one of these series that I had fallen behind on.  And that's sad because I adore it.  In my recent review of Shatter Me I had stated that the old adage 'you can never go home' can come into play when rereading a book you once loved.  Meaning, that you may find yourself not quite so smitten with the book the second time around.  I'm happy to say this isn't the case for Dime Store Magic. 

I had first read Dime Store Magic back somewhere around 2006 and liked it.  But, at that time, I think my love of all things Elena and Clay (the two main characters in the first two books in the series - Bitten and Stolen) kind of overshadowed what Armstrong was trying to do with Paige in Dime Store Magic because this time around I loved it.  I was really riveted to the story and had a hard time putting the book down.  Lots of great supernatural action with well fleshed out characters = a truly great read.

I've waxed poetic about this series by one of my favourite Canadian authors time and again on this blog so I won't tell you to go out and pick up Bitten (the first book in the series) ASAP just because I've gotten more people than I can count hooked on this series. 

I won't tell you to but I highly advise it. ;)

Highly recommended (but begin with Bitten and read in order!)

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: If you look up my first review of Bitten please keep in mind that it is pathetically short.  It was literally the first book review I posted here on my blog back in 2009.  I did re-read it back in 2010 and posted another (more comprehensive) review of it in case I've got you itching to pick up this series.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Shatter Me (Re-Read)

Author: Tehereh Mafi
Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural, Dystopian
Type: Kindle e-book
Series: #1 in the Shatter Me series
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published: November 2011
First Line: "I have been locked up for 264 days."

Book Description from GoodReadsJuliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior

My Review:  I first read this book back in December 2011 and really enjoyed it (see my original review HERE) but over the past few months I have bought a couple other books in the series and worried that since it had been so long since I had read it that it may be a good idea to reacquaint me with the storyline and main characters ... and I was right.  While the overall storyline slowly came back to me it was good to reacquaint myself with the dynamics between Juliette, Adam and Warner.

Do you know the adage 'you can never go home'?  This can also be true for re-reading books.  I can still see why I liked this book back in 2011 but only vaguely.  I guess time changes what we like and all that but I was surprised at how much more 'meh' I felt about a book that I remember really enjoying.

I still enjoyed Juliette's unique 'voice' and Warner's evil personality and his hint of humanity but overall this re-read was just a little lackluster from what I originally remember.  Still, it was good to remind myself what was going on at the beginning of the series because I have already read the next book (a novella) in the series Destroy Me (which focuses on Warner's view of things) -- review to come!

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Gone Girl

Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Pages: 432
First Published: June 2012
First Line: "When I think of my wife, I always think of her head."

Book Description from GoodReads:  On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 

My Review:  I admit to being a little slow on the uptake when it came to picking up this book.  It's been out for two years and has been highly recommended to me by quite a few people.  With the upcoming movie featuring Ben Affleck in the works I thought I'd finally pick it up to see what all the fuss was about.

This was a good read but I wouldn't call it a great read.  It was a hard to put down book for the first part and sure, there were twists but not nearly as many as I was expecting for such a popular suspenseful read.  I guess I thought that for the amount of hype surrounding this book that the twists would be more shocking and out of left field. 

Gone Girl started out strong for me but as I kept reading the rating I had in my head for it began to decrease from a 4.5 to a 3.5 or even a 3.  The pace and suspense starts our really strong but somewhere around half way the suspense just wasn't there for me and when the book ended suddenly (I'm talking literary skid marks!) my rating plummeted more.  There was no finality to the ending.  It just ended and that was very unsatisfying.  

The characters were interesting in their own creepy ways and I did find myself rooting for Nick and Amy at different times in the book.  But I never felt like I liked them.  Maybe it's because they are utterly miserable throughout the entire book.  Honesty, it's hard to believe that a couple could be THAT dark and twisted which (here's hoping!!) is totally non-relatable for the average marriage.  Some of Nick and Amy's decisions left me shaking my head because for fairly smart people they made really stupid decisions -- decisions that could affect their entire lives.

I think part of the issue that I had with this book is that the plot was too intricate.  So much so that it became unbelievable.  It felt like everything that happened in the first part of the book was just all part of the bigger plan.  Everything had a reason and was plotted out in minute detail to the point where it became ridiculous and hard to believe.


From the second part of the book, Amy goes from this brilliant (that word was overused!) sociopath with an intricate plan to trusting two strangers that begin to derail her ultimately evil plan.  It was hard to believe that a woman who set up this elaborate plan would succumb to such naivety.  It was ridiculous.  Amy was supremely patient when it came to concocting her plan and then falls for the obvious plan of two strangers and believes Nick's TV plea.  Her change of heart happened so fast I think I got whiplash.  Seriously unbelievable that she could be this brilliant psychopath and yet also be this gullible idiot who suddenly believes her cheating husband adores her again.


Overall, this was just an OK read.  It started off strong and then the characters and ending chipped away at my rating so that by the end of the book I was left with a generous 3/5 stars.  I think I'll take a pass at watching the movie.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Mushroom, Caramelized Onion and Swiss Panini

I don't know about you but where we live there has been a ridiculous amount of rain this year.  After the winter we had to endure we were hoping for 4 solid months of great BBQ'ing weather. 

Sadly, this overabundance of rain means that, in the Baking Bookworm house, BBQ'ing is put on the proverbial backburner.  We are diehard grillers (or at least lovers of grilled foods) but seeing Brad donning his big yellow rain suit with rain pouring down on him just so he can grill up some chicken breasts or hamburgers tugs at the kids and my heart strings.  Not enough to get my own sorry butt outside (let's not be silly!) but I do feel for my guy. 

Because we don't want Brad washed away in a torrential downpour we've often opted for more easy yet yummy suppers of sandwiches with sides of soup and/or salad.  A hearty 'sammy' and a great side dish are great substitutes for a big meal.  And while I do love a traditional grilled cheese sandwich now that I have my Panini maker we often opt for a fancified version of the iconic sandwich.

This sandwich has three of my favourite things: mushrooms, caramelized onions and Swiss cheese!  Just the idea of these sandwiches made my kids' noses wrinkle up (they are mushroom and onion haters) but it was realllly tasty for Brad and I.  And the upside is that we didn't have to share any with the kids.

Mushroom, Caramelized Onion and Swiss Panini

2 tsp butter
1 medium onion, sliced
8oz white button mushrooms, sliced
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp butter, softened
3 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
4 pieces of bread (preferably thick-sliced)
butter for spreading on bread
1 1/4 cups Swiss cheese, grated

Optional additions that I wish I would have added: chopped baby spinach, baby kale

In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tsp butter and sautĂ© the onions and mushrooms.  Add brown sugar and cook until they are no longer crunchy and onions are opaque.  Season with salt and pepper. 

Meanwhile, heat your Panini grill to medium-high heat on the Panini setting.  Butter one side of each piece of bread.  If you choose, spread the Dijon on the unbuttered side of two of the pieces of bread.

Place two pieces of bread on your Panini maker (or do one at a time) butter sides down.  Sprinkle some Swiss cheese onto the bread, top with mushroom mixture (and baby spinach or kale, if using) and more Swiss cheese.  Putting cheese on either side of the veggie mixture will help keep all the onions and mushrooms in place when you're eating it!).  Top with the two remaining pieces of bread (Dijon side down/buttered side up) and close the lid of the Panini press.

Cook until tops of the bread are golden brown.  Allow paninis to sit for a few minutes.  They will be hot!  Cut in half and enjoy with a green salad or soup.

Note: Here are some links to other easy sandwich ideas from my blog ...

Simple Stromboli
Totally Tricked Out Tuna Salad Sandwiches
Chicken, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas with Avocado Sour Cream

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Butcher

Author: Jennifer Hillier
Genre: Suspense
Type: Kindle e-book ARC
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Publication Date: July 15, 2014
First Line: "April 25, 1985 - It had once been a lovely apartment building, but the crackheads had changed all that."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the author of the acclaimed suspense novels Creep and Freak and whom Jeffery Deaver has praised as a "top of the line thriller writer," The Butcher is a high-octane novel about lethal secrets that refuse to die—until they kill again.

A rash of grisly serial murders plagued Seattle until the infamous "Beacon Hill Butcher" was finally hunted down and killed by police chief Edward Shank in 1985. Now, some thirty years later, Shank, retired and widowed, is giving up his large rambling Victorian house to his grandson Matt, whom he helped raise.

Settling back into his childhood home and doing some renovations in the backyard to make the house feel like his own, Matt, a young up-and-coming chef and restaurateur, stumbles upon a locked crate he’s never seen before. Curious, he picks the padlock and makes a discovery so gruesome it will forever haunt him… Faced with this deep dark family secret, Matt must decide whether to keep what he knows buried in the past, go to the police, or take matters into his own hands.

Meanwhile Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, has always suspected that her mother was murdered by the Beacon Hill Butcher—two years after the supposed Butcher was gunned down. As she pursues leads that will prove her right, Sam heads right into the path of Matt’s terrible secret.

A thriller with taut, fast-paced suspense, and twists around every corner, The Butcher will keep you guessing until the bitter, bloody end.

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

My Review:  I'm struggling with how I feel about this book.  On the one hand I enjoyed the writing and the author was able to keep my attention pretty much throughout (no easy feat).  It had a high creepy factor and overall it was an easy read.  It also had a few twists (some I was surprised about and some I saw coming) and some truly gruesome and bloody murder scenes. 

But there were also some things that just didn't sit well with me.  The thing that shocked me the most about this book was the fact that the reader learns the identity of the killer early on in the story -- I'm talking within the first couple of chapters!  Not a common thing to do if you want to build up suspense, right? 

So instead of a suspenseful murder mystery it suddenly becomes more of a character study of a psychotic killer.  The only real suspense in the book comes from the reader waiting to see how various characters will react to certain scenes and the knowledge of the serial killer's identity. 

And because the identity of the killer was divulged so early in the book I was expecting some huge twist at the end, something to make up for the lack of suspense.  Unfortunately I guessed the big revelation from early on in the storyline and I found the ending to be too abrupt and the loose ends tied too neatly for my liking.  The character development was also weak with Matt and Sam being one-dimensional main characters with little chemistry between them which didn't endear them to me.

So there were strengths with this book and some weaknesses.  I do appreciate the fact that the author was taking a risk using a different method to tell a suspenseful story.  Unfortunately I'm just not sure this method worked for me.  The Butcher is definitely a gruesome read at times but it was a book that definitely kept my attention.  While there is quite a bit of swearing and some sexual content, if you want a creepy read with a different slant on how to tell the story then this might be the read for you this summer.

My Rating: 3.5/5

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