Friday, 28 November 2014

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories 1995-2004

Author: Alice Munro
Genre: Short Stories, Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 640
Source: Random House of Canada
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
First Published: November 11, 2014
First Line: "For the last couple of decades, there has been a museum in Walley, dedicated to preserving photos and butter churns and horse harnesses and an old dentist's chair and a cumbersome apple peeler and such curiosities as the pretty porcelain-and-glass insulators that were used on telegraph poles."

Book Description from GoodReads:  From the recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature-perhaps our most beloved author-a new selection of her peerless short fiction, gathered from the collections of the last two decades, a companion volume to "Selected Stories (1968-1994)." 

By all accounts, no Nobel Prize in recent years has garnered the enthusiastic reception that Alice Munro's has, and in its wake, her reputation and readership has skyrocketed worldwide. Now," Family Furnishings" will bring us twenty-five of her most accomplished, most powerfully affecting stories, most of them set in the territory she has so brilliantly made her own: the small towns and flat lands of southwestern Ontario. Subtly honed with the author's hallmark precision, grace, and compassion, these stories illuminate the ordinary but quite extraordinary particularity in the lives of men, women, and children as they discover sex, fall in love, part, quarrel, head out into the unknown, suffer defeat, find a way to be in the world. As the Nobel Prize presentation speech reads in part: "Reading one of Alice Munro's texts is like watching a cat walk across a laid dinner table. A brief short story can often cover decades, summarizing a life, as she moves deftly between different periods. No wonder Alice Munro is often able to say more in thirty pages than an ordinary novelist is capable of in three hundred. She is a virtuoso of the elliptical and...the master of the contemporary short story."

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to McClelland and Stewart and Random House of Canada for providing me with a hardcover copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I have never read any books in the short story genre.  It just wasn't a genre I was drawn to.  But when I had an opportunity to review Alice Munro's new collection of short stories I was excited for the chance to give it a try.  

Munro is the 2013 Nobel Prize winner and a cherished Canadian author.  She is known for writing about slices of her character's daily lives - their struggles and successes - and providing her readers with snapshots of life in small town Canada. 

Like I said, this was my first time reading short stories but unfortunately I can't say that I'm a fan of the genre.  I think a lot of that has to do with the feeling of being plunked down into someone's life with not a lot of time to understand them to the depth that I wanted to before the story was over.  I guess I just love a good build-up to a story, time to get to know the characters and get my bearings.  For example, in the story "Love of a Good Woman" the story jumped around a lot between the doctor, the three boys and the woman who nurse's the doctor's wife.  It felt a bit jumbled for all this to have happened in such a short story.

There were also some instances where the reader isn't handed a nice clean ending and is left to imagine how the story would end.  After finishing stories like these I felt like I was left hanging.  I wanted Munro to tell me what happened to her characters.  I wanted closure.  

There were definitely some complicated characters in her stories.  No 'cookie cutter cliches' here and some were hard to like or even get behind.  There is no doubt that Alice Munro can write unique characters and capture an authentic feeling of a small Canadian town and the relationships within it.  Unfortunately, I just don't think that the short story genre is for me.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength and the Power of Family

Author: Josh Hanagarne
Genre: autobiography
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
First Published: May 2013
First Lines: "Today the library is hot, humid and smelly. It was like working inside a giant pair of glass underpants without any leg holes to escape through."

Book Description from GoodReads:  An inspiring story of how a Mormon kid with Tourette's found salvation in books and weight-lifting.

Josh Hanagarne couldn't be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn't officially be diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6'7" when — while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints — his Tourette's tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman — and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison — taught Josh how to "throttle" his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City's public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette's.

The World's Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability — and navigate his wavering Mormon faith — to find love and create a life worth living.

My Review:  When I first noticed this e-audiobook in the catalogue at the library where I work I was, at first, skeptical.  I think many people would be if I were to describe it in the following way.  It's a book about a 6' 7" Mormon librarian who goes to weight-lifting to deal with his severe ticks from Tourette's all the while questioning his faith as well as dealing with his family.  Ya, not typically the type of book I read/listen to and yet I was intrigued.

If I'm being honest, the fact that Josh works in a library was what pushed me to get this book.  But it's the heart, his humour, his conversational style of story telling and his apt descriptions of life working on the front lines in a public library - the challenges, the joys and the rewards -- that kept me listening.  Throughout the book, no matter what topic he was discussing, you always got a sense of who Hanagarne is and I loved that.

This was a very down-to-earth, unique, funny and heart-warming book where the reader truly gets to know Hanagarne.  He has definitely struggled in his life to overcome so much but uses his humour and family (who he unabashedly loves) to get through it.  He's a very relatable kind of guy.

I never would have thought that I'd enjoy a book that included Tourette's, weight lifting and Mormonism.  But I did.  Along the way I also learned a thing or two about Tourette's, Mormonism and weight lifting.  But it was the addition of his quirky, humourous tales about unique library situations and how he dealt with his questions regarding his Mormon faith and dealing with his Tourette's that made it impossible for me to not enjoy this book.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Bread Machine Crescent Rolls

1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp yeast

1/4 cup butter, softened
garlic powder
Parmesan cheese (optional)
dry parsley flakes

Place water and milk into a small saucepan over medium-low heat and heat until temperature reaches 110F/45C.  Remove from stove and pour into your bread machine pan.

To the water/milk mixture add the egg, 1/3 cup of butter, sugar, salt and flour.  Ensure that all of the liquid is covered by the flour mixture.  Add yeast on top of the flour mixture and then carefully place pan into your bread machine.  You don't want your yeast to get wet. Select Dough setting.

When the cycle finishes (usually takes approximately 2 hours) remove dough from the pan and divide it in half.  Place one ball onto a lightly floured surface and roll it into a 12-inch circle.  Spread half of the butter onto the circle and sprinkle with garlic powder (Parmesan cheese, if using) and dried parsley (or only butter if you want something more simple).  I opted for one simple (see below) and one with garlic and parsley.  I'll use Parmesan cheese next time.

Using a pizza cutter (or knife) cut the circle into 8 wedges. 

Roll each wedge, starting at the thick end, and then place it on an ungreased baking sheet.  Repeat for the remaining wedges.

For the remaining ball of dough, repeat these directions and place these rolls onto a second ungreased baking sheet.  Cover each pan with a tea towel and place in a warm place for about 1 hour.  

Preheat oven to 400F.  Bake crescent rolls for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  These were the perfect side dish for my Creamy Cauliflower and Cheese Soup (which is Missy Moo's favourite meal)! 

Source: Inspired by - Sweet Dinner Rolls 

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Tucci Table

Authors: Stanley Tucci and Felicity Blunt
Genre: Cookbook
Type: ARC e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books
First Published: October 28, 2014
First Lines: "Food and family are nearly inseparable in the Tucci household."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Featuring family-friendly recipes and stunning photography, an all-new cookbook from New York Times bestselling author, beloved actor, and respected foodie Stanley Tucci.

Stanley Tucci's association with wonderful foods began for fans with the movie Big Night and resonated in his role as Julia Child's husband in Julie and Julia. But well before these films, he was enjoying innovative homemade Italian meals throughout his childhood, when family and food were nearly inseparable and cooking was always a familial venture.

Now, in a completely new, family-focused cookbook, Tucci captivates food lovers' imaginations with recipes from his traditional Italian roots as well as those of his British wife, Felicity Blunt, tied together with a modern American ribbon. The time-tested recipes include pasta alla bottarga, mushroom-stuffed trout, pork chops with onions and mustard sauce, barbeque chicken wings, and much, much more! Nothing will make you happier to spend time with family than the aroma of a hearty Italian dish sizzling on the stovetop.

Featuring 100 luscious new full-color photographs, The Tucci Table captures the true joys of family cooking. Buon apetito!

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

My Review:  I have been a fan of Stanley Tucci's acting for quite awhile.  Who didn't love him in Easy A (um, no one!), The Hunger Games series and Julie and Julia to name only a few?  I will admit to having a bit of a crush on him as an actor but now to learn that he was a self-proclaimed foodie too?!  That was the sprinkling of fresh Parmesan on the proverbial ravioli for me!

Now, I've read my fair share of cookbooks and they each have their own feel to them.  The feeling that I got from this book was heart.  It has a whole lot of heart because Tucci incorporates his personality into each chapter as he shares family anecdotes, provides tips, helps the home cook outfit their own kitchens and brings the reader into his family kitchen.  It shows that food and family are inextricably linked in the Tucci home where their family dinner table is one of the foundations of family life.  With the casual feel to the writing I could easily imagine him reading them to me in his signature voice.  

From the beginning of the book you can tell that he and his wife Felicity adore food and feeding people.  It's a wonderful combination of Italian and English family favourites (with a touch of North American flair).  There are a vast array of dishes to choose from including appetizers, soups (the Tuscan Tomato Soup!), sandwiches (Grilled Cheese with Pesto and Prosciutto!), main dishes including fish, pasta and even some British fare from Felicity's upbringing in the UK like Beef Wellington and Shepherd's Pie.  While there are a few dessert recipes thrown in for good measure the Tucci/Blunt family aren't dessert lovers so there isn't a plethora to choose from in that category which is fine by me. 

The overall feel of the book isn't intimidating or snooty but very encouraging and doable.  The recipes may challenge a new cook with some ingredients that aren't standard North American fare as well as some instructions that assume a basic level of culinary understanding but for the intermediate cook this would be a great book to add to the home collection.  

'When I think of the moments that have brought me the most pleasure, the most joy, they are almost always framed within the context of food and the table."

Stanley's way of writing encourages the home cook to jump in and give his recipes a try.  The inclusion of short family stories and even some pictures of his family in the kitchen helped to give this cookbook a very homey feel to it which I really enjoyed.  He comes off as a 'normal kinda guy' who adores food and feeding those he loves.  Add into this the beautiful pictures of many of the recipes and this cookbook is a keeper and would make a great gift for a home cook. 

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Five Days Left

Author: Julie Lawson Timmer
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Canadian Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Putnam Adult
First Published: September 2014
First Lines: "Mara had chosen the method long ago: pills, vodka and carbon monoxide."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Destined to be a book club favorite, a heart-wrenching debut about two people who must decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice for love.
Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, and devoted wife and adoptive mother, has recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease. Scott Coffman, a middle school teacher, has been fostering an eight-year-old boy while the boy’s mother serves a jail sentence. Scott and Mara both have five days left until they must say good-bye to the ones they love the most. Through their stories, Julie Lawson Timmer explores the individual limits of human endurance, the power of relationships, and that sometimes loving someone means holding on, and sometimes it means letting go. 

My Review:  Have you ever finished a book and needed time to digest it afterwards?  A book that has made you think?  A book that has ravaged you emotionally so that you're in shock afterwards?

This book did that to me.

Five Days Left was a glimpse into the private lives of two families as they struggle to come to terms with the fact that there are things in their lives that they cannot control.  While both story lines were weaved together well, it was Mara's story that was at the forefront.  Not that Scott's decisions were less important, just different.  I'm glad that his story intersected with Mara's because if the entire story was about her I think it would have been too much for me to bear.

Going into the book I thought I had it figured out.  I knew that it would be an emotional read just from glancing at the book jacket but I didn't predict that it would make me think so much about the two issues that were raised involving suicide and foster parenting.  My hats off to Ms Lawson Timmer for her ability to make me see both sides of these highly sensitive issues.  At the end of the book I was left not knowing how I would have handled myself in a similar situations. This book made me think and feel.  And I loved it.

In Mara's case, where she's suffering from a debilitating and devastating disease, it had me thinking about what my initial reaction would be if I saw someone stumbling (or worse) at the food store.  Would I automatically assume it was due to an incurable disease?  Or would I assume that the person was drunk?  How would I have handled the situation if I was in Mara's unfortunate shoes?  

The characters truly brought this book to a whole different level for me.  They were believable and their relationships to each other were perfectly written.  I loved Mara's relationship with her parents, her daughter and husband.  I also loved Laurie's conflicting issues with Scott and how they figured out their future as a family.  Even the secondary characters, like Mara's parents and Harry, the cabbie, were well fleshed out and felt authentic and important to the story.  Add into the fact that I loved the author's voice from the beginning and you can see why I got so involved into this book. It was riveting from beginning to end.

One of the most important things that I will take away from this book is that I was educated on the devastating physical and emotional effects of Huntington's Disease.  I could feel Mara's humiliation as she struggled with the increasingly embarrassing results of the degenerative disease that was taking over her life.  I could also understand her desire to not wanting her family to watch her suffer and deal with the pain of caring for all of her needs in the near future.  But I also didn't want her to end her life.  Mara's options were portrayed so well that honestly didn't know what her decision would be until the I finished the book. 

Not everyone will agree with the decisions that were made in this book -- and that's okay. People will react differently to this book and, for that reason, I think that this book would make an excellent choice for a book club.  I think that everyone who reads this book will be on the edge of their seats wondering what Mara's choice will be because there are no simple answers.  

This was an exceptional book for me but if pressed to give a suggestion to improve it I'd have to say that I would have loved to have had the viewpoints of some of the secondary characters (like like Laurie and Tom, Mara's husband or even Harry).  Even if it was only within an epilogue, their input would have helped to give me a better understanding of their struggles and fears.

This was an exceptionally good debut from a new Canadian author.  It was powerful and poignant and covered a lot of emotional ground.  From biological versus non-biological children, sacrifice versus suicide, terminal illness, depending on strangers versus turning to family for emotional support ...  This book has a lot packed into it but I love that the author doesn't try to give the reader the answers.  Honestly, I don't think there is one definitive answer.  Instead, Lawson Timmer gives the reader different views of these two emotional decisions and allows them to come up with their own conclusions. I think that this is one of the aspects of the book that impressed me the most.  

This was a home run for me.  The characters were beautifully and realistically portrayed. The plot kept me at the edge of my seat as it dealt with serious issues without pity but with sympathy and respect.  The author's ability to weave two different stories together was seamless and I loved how she incorporated all kinds of family relationships and dynamics. And, last but not least, her talent for writing an emotional read (to the point when I'm crying with a huge lump in my throat and my dog is looking at me like I'm crazy) is unparalleled. Needless to say, I'm very eager to see what future literary gems she will produce.

Highly recommended. 

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte

Author: Kate Williams
Genre: Biography
Type: Hardcover, Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: Random House of Canada
Pages: 384
Publisher: Random House of Canada
First Published: November 4, 2014
First Lines: "December 1, 1804.  It was the most important night of Josephine's life."

Book Description from GoodReads:  This is the incredible rise and unbelievable fall of a woman whose energy and ambition is often overshadowed by Napoleon's military might. In this triumphant biography, Kate Williams tells Josephine's searing story, of sexual obsession, politics and surviving as a woman in a man's world.

Abandoned in Paris by her aristocratic husband, Josephine's future did not look promising. But while her friends and contemporaries were sent to the guillotine during the Terror that followed the Revolution, she survived prison and emerged as the doyenne of a wildly debauched party scene, surprising everybody when she encouraged the advances of a short, marginalized Corsican soldier, six years her junior.

Josephine, the fabulous hostess and skilled diplomat, was the perfect consort to the ambitious but obnoxious Napoleon. With her by his side, he became the greatest man in Europe, the Supreme Emperor; and she amassed a jewelry box with more diamonds than Marie Antoinette's. But as his fame grew, Napoleon became increasingly obsessed with his need for an heir and irritated with Josephine's extravagant spending. The woman who had enchanted France became desperate and jealous. Until, a divorcee aged forty-seven, she was forced to watch from the sidelines as Napoleon and his young bride produced a child.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  This was an extremely well researched, comprehensive biography that acknowledges that Josephine was much more than just the wife of an infamous historical figure.

The reader gets a very detailed look into the personality of Josephine.  She was a very resourceful, conniving and smart woman as she rose from her youth in Martinique to the immense wealth and power that she accrued with Napoleon and her powerful friends.  If it weren't for the fact that I know that Josephine was a real historical figure I would have thought there was no way that a woman could have survived what Josephine survived nor amass the power that she had over her very powerful husband.

While I had a limited knowledge of Josephine going into this book, Ambition and Desire went much more in-depth and even included many quotes from real letters between Napoleon and others.  I also enjoyed learning a few new things about the character and the era.  For example, the effects on the people who survived The Terror as well as the knowledge that Josephine was such a talented botanist and that she loved to collect rare animals and brought them to her home, Malmaison.  It's those facts that I tend to take away from a biography more than the names of the vast array of secondary characters.  And there were a lot of secondary characters which I unfortunately had a hard time keeping straight.

One of the main focuses on the book was, of course, Josephine's very unique marriage to Napoleon.  There is no arguing that they had a very deep connection to each other even though their relationship was often volatile.  I was surprised at the depth of Napoleon's feelings for his wife and the power Josephine regularly had over him.  Napoleon and Josephine went into the marriage for different reasons (he for someone to love him for who he was, she to invest in her future) but the result for both of them was an inordinate amount of power and a deep fondness for each other.

While the information provided was interesting I did find the book dry in several parts due to the amounts of detail provided.  Surprisingly, even though there was a lot of detail I didn't feel a real connection to Josephine and would have loved to have gotten more of a look into her emotions and how certain issues affected her.  She seemed very cold whereas Napoleon surprised me with the depth of feelings in the letters that he regularly wrote his wife.

Going into this book I admittedly had a limited knowledge about Josephine when I read one book on her several years ago.  This new book by Kate Williams, while heavy in historical detail, does provide a very extensive description of a very famous woman and wife of a truly notorious man.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 10 November 2014

Hello From The Gillespies

Author: Monica McInerney
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: ARC e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group Berkley, NAL/Signet Romance, DAW
First Published: November 4, 2014
First Lines: "It was December the first."

Book Description from NetGalleyFor the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth....

The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.

Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when Angela is taken away from them in a most unexpected manner, the Gillespies pull together— and pull themselves together —in wonderfully surprising ways….

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group Berkley, NAL/Signet Romance, DAW for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  I picked up this book based on the premise of family secrets being divulged and how the family deals with the aftermath. Who doesn't like to read about skeletons jumping out of other people's closets?  Unfortunately while the premise was intriguing, I finished this book with an overall lackluster feeling.

This was an easy read but I had a few issues with the book. First, it was really long and could have been whittled down a fair bit.  The characters felt like soap opera actors each very superficial with their own issues that are brought to light.  But like a soap opera it was engaging at certain points but these moments were surrounded by long descriptions of daily life that really slowed down the pace of the book.  

The most interesting point in the book (the incident that takes Angela away from her family) was over all too soon and the main story line (the after effects of family secrets being divulged) was much too brief.  Instead the book tended to focus more on the decline of a marriage and an obsession about a family reunion and the story soon lagged and ended with a very predictable and much too neatly tied up ending for each of the characters.

What I did appreciate was the fact that this book focused on an imperfect family. Their initial quirkiness and humour remind me of my own family.  But those quirky, flawed characters soon got on my nerves and I didn't feel connected to any of them, especially the three daughters.  Here we have adult children who arrive home unexpectedly (and for an indeterminate amount of time) and expect their mom (who has her own business and ranch to run) to wait on them hand and foot.  These adult daughters were whiny, very self-obsessed and seem more concerned with their next boyfriend than their family.  Sure they were 'flawed' but they weren't very likable either.  In fact, the only character that seemed believable was 10 year old Ig.

Overall, while I obviously didn't love this book, I also didn't hate it.  It was just okay.  It held my interest enough for me to finish it but without a connection to the characters and the focus veering off of the main issue I can't say that I loved it.  

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Crispy 'n Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

I am not a self-proclaimed 'sweet tooth'.  Far from it, actually.  

I know, I know.  I bake an obscene amount of brownies, cookies, cakes and crisps but honestly I don't eat a whole lot of it.  Sure, I like the very occasional (I'm talking once every few months) bowl of ice cream and I won't say no to a donut (that's the Canadian in me, I suppose) or a slice of Black Forest Cake (my weakness) but overall I much prefer salty over sweet.  And thus ends the a short refresher of my 101 Things About Me.

For cookies, I adore oatmeal cookies (with or without raisins).  They're mildly sweet with a big kick of vanilla goodness.  Plus, if they are able to walk the fine line and be crispy AND chewy?!?  Well there's no stopping me sneaking 'just one more'.  

These cookies were a delight and perfect for the upcoming week's school lunches.  Nice and crispy around the edges but with a chewy centre. Cookie perfection.  If you're not a fan of coconut (like a few of my peeps are) don't fret. It only adds a wee bit of a nutty taste but without it I think this recipe would lack a little somethin' something'.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut
3 cups quick oats

Preheat oven to 350F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you're doing it by hand) combine the softened butter, brown sugar and white sugar.  Cream until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of your bowl and add in the eggs and vanilla.  Continue to mix until the butter mixture is smooth.

In a medium bowl, combine salt, baking soda, flour, coconut and oats.  Mix well.  Slowly add the flour mixture to the wet mixture until all of the dry ingredients have been incorporated.

Using a medium scoop (I use my medium Pampered Chef scoop) drop balls of cookie dough onto one of the prepared cookie sheets.  Bake for 13-16 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned and the centres are set.  Meanwhile, prepare the second cookie sheet with the next batch of cookie dough balls.

Remove cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.  

Source: Inspired by (Crispy Chewy Oatmeal Cookies)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Belief in Angels

Author: J. Dylan Yates
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book ARC
Source: Directly from author
Publisher: She Writes Press
First Published: April 28, 2014
First Lines: "Sometimes in order to tell a story well, so it's truly understood, you have to tell it out of order."

Book Description from GoodReadsJules Finn and Szaja Trautman know that sorrow can sink deeply—so deeply it can drown the soul.

Growing up in her parents’ crazy hippie household on a tiny island off the coast of Boston, Jules’s imaginative sense of humor is the weapon she wields as a defense against the chaos of her family’s household. Somewhere between routine discipline with horsewhips, gun-waving gambling debt collectors, and LSD-laced breakfast cereal adventures, tragedy strikes with the death of her younger brother.

Jules’s story alternates with that of her grandfather, Szaja, an orthodox Jew who survives the murderous Ukranian pogroms of the 1920s, the Majdanek death camp, and the torpedoing of the Mefkura, a ship carrying refugees to Palestine. Unable to deal with the horrors he endures at the camp, Szaja develops a dissociative disorder and takes on the persona of a dead soldier from a burial ditch, using that man’s thoughts to devise a plan to escape to America.

While Szaja’s and Jules’s sorrows are different on the surface, adversity requires them both to find the will to live despite the suffering in their lives—and both encounter, in their darkest moments, what could be explained as serendipity or divine intervention. For Jules and Szaja, these experiences offer the hope the need in order to come to the rescue of their own fractured lives.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to the author for providing me with an e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: This was an impressive debut novel that showcases the strength and resilience of the human spirit despite some of the horrible things that can occur in life. The story alternates between Jules' and her grandfather Szaja's stories that showcase their personal struggles and what they had to do in order to survive.

My favourite part of the book was definitely Jules' story.  It was raw, heartbreaking and riveting as her life with neglectful parents unfolds for the reader.  It was easy to get behind her as she struggles to care for her brothers and keep her family life from the prying eyes of her small town.  At the beginning of the book I felt that Jules voice felt too mature for such a young child (especially when she was quoting Edgar Allen Poe) and couldn't see a child of her age dealing with such hardships on a daily basis.  Poe quoting aside, it quickly became evident that Jules' wasn't a typical child and that her life experiences had irrevocably changed her and made her grow up much too fast.

While this was an impressively written novel, it wasn't an easy read.  It was full of unfit, neglectful and abusive parenting, drug use and immense familial loss but it was worth the read because I could see a glimmer of hope within Jules.  As a parent this book touched me, broke my heart and made me so angry at what Jules' and her brothers had to endure.  To the author's credit, I was quickly invested into Jules' story and wanted so much for her to succeed and overcome the horrible lot life had handed her.

The other story in this book described Szaja's early life as he survived WWII and the pogroms the devastated his homeland.  Typically, the WWII-era genre is one of my favourites which is why it surprised me that I didn't find Szaja's story as interesting as Jules'.  His story was touching but I didn't feel as emotionally connected to him and I kept finding myself wanting to get back to Jules' story. 

Overall I enjoyed this book.  It shows the reader that even though life may seem bleak the old adage 'what doesn't kill us makes us stronger' truly can come into play.  This is a dark, haunting story but is a very impressive and compelling debut novel.

Favourite Quote“What I understand now about survival is that something in you dies. You don’t become a survivor intact. Survival’s cost is always loss. This is my mourning book.”

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Damage Done

Author: Hilary Davidson
Series: #1 in the Lily Moore mystery series
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 352
Publisher: Forge Books
First Published: September 2010

Book Description from GoodReads:  Lily Moore, a successful travel writer, fled to Spain to get away from her troubled, drug-addicted younger sister, Claudia.  But when Claudia is found dead in a bathtub on the anniversary of their mother’s suicide, Lily must return to New York to deal with the aftermath.

The situation shifts from tragic to baffling when the body at the morgue turns out to be a stranger’s. The dead woman had been using Claudia’s identity for months.  The real Claudia had vanished, reappearing briefly on the day her impostor died.  As Claudia transforms from victim to suspect in the eyes of the police, Lily becomes determined to find her before they do.

Is Claudia actually missing, or is she playing an elaborate con game?  And who’s responsible for the body that was found in the bathtub?  An obsessive ex-lover?  An emotionally disturbed young man with a rich and powerful father?  Or Lily’s own former fiancĂ©, who turns out to be more deeply involved with Claudia than he admits?

As Lily searches for answers, a shadowy figure stalks her and the danger to her grows.  Determined to learn the truth at any cost, she is unprepared for the terrible toll it will take on her and those she loves.

My Review:  After reading her latest book Blood Always Tells (which I really loved) I hate to admit that I was really disappointed with this book.  There just wasn't the suspense or the interesting characters that Blood Always Tells had in spades.  I kept waiting and hoping for a big plot twist but it never really came.

I also found the dialogue to be quite stale between the characters, many of whom came off as clichĂ©d.  From the gay best friend to the controlling boyfriend to the rich and highly powerful best friend of Claudia's who has a questionable past and interactions with nefarious characters.  These were cookie cutter characters and didn't endear me to this book.  

I just didn't feel invested in Lily's life and while the idea of her sister's death was interesting the twists just weren't that riveting.  There were also a lot of characters and I kept getting a couple of the women mixed up.  After awhile I stopped trying to figure out who was who and ended up forcing myself to finish the book basically because I thought the author would pull off a big twist at the end.  Sadly there was no twist.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

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