Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Countdown to New Year's Eve Munchies - Part Three

Here is my last blog post of appetizer suggestions for your New Year's Eve celebrations!  I've tried to add many tangy and even a sweet suggestion too (you will not be able to stop eating this sweet treat!).

Portebellini Mushrooms Stuffed with Basil, Tomato, Bacon and Goat Cheese
While this isn't a dish that is cute in the picture (due to my rather dismal photography skills and the fact that mushrooms aren't really photogenic), it is rather tasty and quite filling.

Spicy Potato Wedges
I adore these spicy wedges.  They are so tasty with just the right amount of heat!  Perfect pub grub!

Caramel Corn
I know that this isn't the norm for NYE but c'mon!  Who doesn't love homemade caramel corn?!  This may take a little time to bake but is really hard to stop eating and a crowd pleaser.

Pork Skewers with Molasses and Dijon Glaze
Delicious piggy on a stick with a sweet glaze!

Chicken, Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas with Avocado Sour Cream
Some of my favourite flavours in one spot. Great for a meal or to share with friends as an appetizer.

Greek Pita Pizzas
Great mini pizzas with a Greek twist!

Simple Stromboli
A delicious sandwich you can share!  Dip it in some warmed tomato sauce or eat it plain. Great for a group.

So that does it.  That's the end of my appetizers suggestions for your New Year's Eve celebrations.  I hope that you can find some inspiration somewhere in these three posts. 

Wishing you and yours a very happy, healthy and safe 2015!

Dark Triumph

Author: Robin LaFevers
Genre: Supernatural, Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle ARC
Source: NetGalley
Series: #2 in the His Fair Assassins series
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
First Published: December 4, 2014
First Line: "Nantes, Brittany, 1489 -- I did not arrive at the convent of Saint Mortain some green stripling."

Book Description from GoodReads:  When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.

But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...

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

My Review:  This is the second book in the His Fair Assassins series.  It's based on real historical events that happened in Brittany during the 1400's surrounding Anne of Brittany except that there are supernatural elements thrown in to take things to a whole new level.  Grave Mercy, the first book in the series which focused on Ismae's story, was a good read.  I loved the idea of young assassin nuns being the handmaidens of Death.  But Dark Triumph took my enjoyment up a big ol' notch.  It focuses on the experiences of Sybella, another of Death's handmaidens, and I found it quite hard to put down for several reasons.

I think the main difference between the two books is that I connected a lot more with Sybella.  She's smart and cunning but a tortured soul who is haunted by her secrets, private pain and sense of not belonging.  It was hard to read about the helplessness and fear she had to live with for so many years but that also helps give the reader a much better understanding of why Sybella is the way she is (something that I felt was lacking with Ismae's story in Grave Mercy).  

Right from the beginning of the book you could feel Sybella's apprehension, her fear and her reluctance to get close to others but you could also sense her strength and perseverance. The secrets that she keeps are slowly revealed to the reader and are, at times, hard to read.  

For those of us who didn't love getting our fill of the detailed political intrigue in Grave Mercy you can rest assured that it takes more of a back seat in this book.  It's still there but LaFevers focuses on the background of Sybella as she tries to conquer the past that ultimately stems from her history with the evil and loathsome D'Albret as well as a few others who stand in her way.

One of my favourite things about this book is that LaFevers gives the reader a new kind of hero in Beast (aka Knight Benebic de Waroch).  He has vowed to protect Duchess Anne but he's far from the knight of storybooks with the dashing smile, nicely coiffed hair and a cleft in his chiseled chin.  He's rough, admittedly unattractive and abrasive but you could see that he clicked with Sybella as they bonded over their mutual joy of killing.  LaFevers has given me a new vision of what a hero looks like (I actually pictured a younger, bigger version of Game of Thrones 'the Hound' Clegane as I read) and I'm eager to read more books with 'not so perfect' heroes.


Dark Triumph is just that.  It's a triumphant accomplishment that focuses on some very dark secrets and while the author took a risk with some of the story lines (one in particular) it paid off.  This is a wonderful read with bold, diverse characters, complex story lines and many edge-of-your-seat action scenes.  It's emotional and has an un-cheesy romance that is swoon worthy.  Another book blogger has given me the heads up that the third book in the series, Mortal Heart, which follows Annith, another of Death's handmaiden's, story is even better.  Needless to say I'm quite eager to get my hands on it soon!

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Monday, 29 December 2014

Countdown to New Year's Munchies - Part Two

I got the ball rolling with my first New Year's appetizer post yesterday so here are some more tempting treats that you can serve up as we ring in 2015 in a couple of days!  As promised there's a sweet treat added to this post.

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball
Chocolatey goodness smeared on a graham cracker?  Oh yes.  Truly sinful.

Goat Cheese Spread with Fresh Herbs and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Truly one of my favourite appetizers.  So fresh and when I have made it people tend to swarm around it.

Don't let my lack of photography skills fool you -- cheese balls are where it's at!  Easy to prep ahead of time, great to add extras too (like diced dill pickles!) and truly delicious.

You may recognize this bread from my Thanksgiving post.  It was definitely a hit (since my Dad has mentioned how much he liked it several times since) and two of these loaves were devoured.  Plus, with cheese, bacon, green onions and gaaaaarlic how can you go wrong?  Really?

This is not only pretty to look at but has a nice fresh, yet tangy, taste.

This is one of my favourite dips to order in restaurants but it can get really pricey. Making it at home is a breeze and so much more economical. Plus it tastes sublime!

A regular guest at all of our Super Bowl festivities this dip is great for a crowd.

I have a few more appetizers left to share with you tomorrow.  I need some new appetizers in my arsenal.  What are your favourite appetizers to make for a crowd? Or even a small gathering?

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Countdown to New Year's Munchies!!

We in the Bookworm home love to celebrate New Years.  Sure it's fun to don party hats and get down with our funky selves to welcome the new year but it's really the food that gets us excited.  So, I thought that over the next couple of days I'd showcase some of my favourite appetizers that you can share with your friends and family as we ring in 2015. Here are a few to get your taste buds eager to celebrate with you!

Crispy Breaded Goat Cheese with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
This is Brad's fav and will probably be making an appearance during our New Year's festivities.  A crispy coating with the creamy awesomeness of goat cheese inside.  Paired with sun-dried tomato pesto (or the pesto of your choosing) this is a classy appetizer.

Double Tomato Balsamic Bruschetta
Balsamic added to anything makes it so much better but this bruschetta (pronounced brus-ketta) is wonderfully fresh.  I love that you can prep the tomato mixture ahead of time which increases your party time instead of being stuck in the kitchen.

Buffalo Chicken Bundles with Avocado Blue Cheese Dip
Blue cheese, in recent years, has become a favourite of mine.  Add to that my new obsessions with Buffalo wing sauce and guacamole and this one is a no brainer.

Buffalo Chicken Dip
This is a delicious dip that feeds a crowd with just the right amount of heat.

Cheese.  Bacon.  Fries.  The gastronomical trinity that my stomach craves.  'Nuff said.

This easy to make dip is one of Brad and my favourite dips of all time.  Ya, I said it.  ALL TIME.  The taste and texture are just like the jalapeno poppers that we all love!

I'll be posting more appetizer recipes in the next few days so make sure you check back! I'll even thrown in a couple of sweet treats you can serve too.  You can also keep up to date by following me on Facebook.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Another Piece of my Heart

Author: Jane Green
Genre: Modern Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Listening Length: 13 hours, 42 minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
First Published: March 2012
First Lines: "The sheets are drenched."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Andi has spent much of her adult life looking for the perfect man, and at thirty-seven, she's finally found him.  Ethan--divorced with two daughters, Emily and Sophia--is a devoted father and even better husband.  Always hoping one day she would be a mother, Andi embraces the girls like they were her own. But in Emily’s eyes, Andi is an obstacle to her father’s love, and Emily will do whatever it takes to break her down. When the dynamics between the two escalate, they threaten everything Andi believes about love, family, and motherhood—leaving both women standing at a crossroad in their lives…and in their hearts.

My Review:  This past year I've found the wonder that are e-audiobooks.  I love to download them from our public library (they're free from the library, people!!) onto my iPhone and listen to them when I'm on a walk or driving.  They make me feel like I'm doing something other than just walking or driving and on a long 10 hour trip recently e-audiobooks were a great way to pass the time.  Brad, my husband, especially likes me listening to them for part of long trips because that ensures that I'm not talking his ear off about any and all topics that enter my head. 

I have read at least one book by Jane Green (over ten years ago) and I remember enjoying her writing style.  Another Piece of my Heart showcases the intricacies of step-family relationships and I thought that the premise was interesting but unfortunately the execution was quite weak.

As lovers of audiobooks, we know that the narrator can make or break our enjoyment of a book.  This book was read by the author who is British and while I love to listen to a British accent I have to admit that her accent threw me several times since the characters are all from California.  My mind kept placing the characters on the west coast of England, not California and that really distracted me in the beginning.

Unfortunately I also felt that the characters were underdeveloped and felt very clich├ęd -- the step-mom trying to fit in, the sullen, rude and obstinate teenage daughter who hates her father's new wife, the perfect younger sister ...  At first I found the issues between Emily and Andi interesting and complex but their issues soon felt very repetitive as they kept having the same arguments over and over again with no resolution in sight.  Emily's noxious behaviour and feelings towards Andi also seemed over the top at times and paired with her dark moods, psychological manipulations of her father and Ethan's rather great impression of an emotional doormat and I can't say that I had anyone to really root for or connect with. 

This isn't a bad book but it could have been so much better.  Green managed to keep me interested (but barely) and I can't help but feel that there could have been more drama and energy into the plot.  While the premise was interesting, unfortunately the plot was rather predictable and not very well executed.  Add to this the cliched characters with the contrived ending and this wasn't a favourite Jane Green book of mine. 

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story

Author: R.J Palacio
Genre: Young Adult, Modern Fiction
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
First Published: May 13, 2014
First Lines: "Okay, okay, okay."

Book Synopsis from GoodReads:  A brand new, exclusive chapter from the bestselling, award-winning, and critically acclaimed novel Wonder.

Over 1 million people have read Wonder and have fallen in love with Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face. Now readers will have a chance to hear from the book's most controversial character—Julian. 

From the very first day Auggie and Julian met in the pages of the #1 New York Times bestseller Wonder, it was clear they were never going to be friends, with Julian treating Auggie like he had the plague. And while Wonder told Auggie's story through six different viewpoints, Julian's perspective was never shared. Readers could only guess what he was thinking.

Until now. The Julian Chapter will finally reveal the bully's side of the story. Why is Julian so unkind to Auggie? And does he have a chance for redemption?

My Review: I cannot stress strongly enough how much I adored R.J Palacio's debut novel, Wonder.  Let's just say that I adored it with a capital A.  The Julian Chapter is a companion book to Wonder and shows the reader the story from the point of view of Julian, the bully in Wonder.

The Julian Chapter had moments that were touching as well as frustrating but I still didn't feel as emotionally involved in Julian's story as I did with Auggie's.   While I liked and enjoyed the book I can't help but feel that it didn't have as much heart as Wonder.  I wasn't invested into Julian's story as I had been with Auggie's and with the ending that was tied up a little too neat and tidy this book fell a little short for me.  

What this book does gives the reader is another view of how kids navigate the tumultuous world of Grade 5 (which, honestly feels more like grade 7 to me).  I like the fact that the reader gains a better understanding of why Julian treated Auggie so terribly.  But even though Julian's behaviour isn't viewed as acceptable in any way,  the reason why Julian's bullying behaviour begins felt a little contrived.

It was the secondary characters, like Julian's mother and especially Grand-mere, who stood out for me. I  enjoyed how the author brought to light how Julian's parents, specifically his mother who was incredibly frustrating, played a role in his bullying behaviour. But it was Grand-mere voice and story (as well as Torteau's) who stole the show for me.  If only more troubled kids had Grand-mere's like Julian's in their corner, the world would be a much better place. It was her relationship with Torteau that was my favourite part of the book.

Even though Palacio did a good job giving the reader a better look into Julian's take on what happened, I didn't feel nearly the connection to Julian as I did to Auggie.  But that's perhaps not quite fair because Auggie will be one of those main characters that will always stay with me.  Overall, this was a good companion to a truly wonderful book.  If you still haven't picked up Wonder I highly encourage you to do so.  Read it by yourself or even better?  Read it with your kids.  I think reading both Wonder and The Julian Chapter could be very useful to start a dialogue with kids about the effects of bullying.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Broiled Zucchini Strips

I've been a lover of zucchini for a very long time.  I was one of those weird kids who actually loved zucchini (especially when it was roasted in a tomato-y sauce and the zucchini's skin squeaked on my teeth. Odd, I know.) Zucchini is one of those veggies (along with broccoli, potatoes and asparagus) that I could eat on a daily basis - yes, I do so luuurve it. I love that, while zucchini has a very mild taste, you can jazz it up with various marinades and cooking techniques to bring out its flavour.  Not to mention the fact that you can grate it and bake it in a bread or cake.  Yup, it's a really versatile veg.

Yesterday I was trying to eat right.  I've had my FitBit One on me again to track the number of steps I take, number of flights of stairs I walk up, how I sleep, how much water I drink etc etc.  I can also manually track what I eat.  Knowing how many calories are in each food I eat is ... eye opening.  Not that I'd want to track everything I eat on a daily basis but I was interested in seeing when I was eating and just to be accountable for what I ate.

See, I love to eat in the evenings or whenever my hands are free, when I'm bored, when I'm reading ....  You get the point.  I've always loved to eat and I grew up with a ridiculously high metabolism.  I could easily eat more than my dad by my early teens and still maintain a very slim figure.  

And then my metabolism halted to a screeching stop in my 30's.  I got whiplash it was so abrupt and that's when I started to gain a bit of weight.  And I was fine with the weight gain (honestly with three young kids I was too tired to care) but now I'm trying to get back on track and exercise more, eat better and try to lose the Grinch Belly that my kids gave me.  Tis the gift that truly keeps on giving.  While I'm watching what I eat I'm not cutting out dairy or gluten or anything like that.  I'm just eating better and trying to not eat when I'm bored or watching TV.

Anyhoo, yesterday I noticed that I had a small zucchini in the fridge.  Not wanting to make a huge meal I decided to slice the zucchini and broil it.  Simple yet delish.  And it was!  Along with some other healthy choices my lunch was more than satisfying.  This was a super easy side dish and I could see adding other veggies into the mix and other seasonings to jazz it up a bit.  Sometimes, though, the simpler dishes are the best.  

Here's hoping that I will surpass 10,000 steps, climb more than 10 flights of stairs and drink 8 glasses of water today!  I realize that all these plans will go by the wayside by next week with all the Christmas goodies but I'm going to give it the ol' college try until then.

2 medium zucchinis, sliced length-wise, 1/4" thickness
salt and pepper (or other seasonings - cajun, seasoning salt ....)
grapeseed oil (or oil of your choice)

Set your oven rack to approximately 6" from the top of your oven.  Preheat your broiler on high.

Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease.  Lay zucchini strips onto the prepared pan and lightly brush with oil on both sides.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. 

Place pan in the oven.  Watch carefully!  Broiling can go from great to burnt offerings if you step away at the wrong time.  After a few minutes (4 minutes for me) the zucchini should be getting nicely browned.  Remove pan from oven and flip the zucchini strips.  Liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Return pan to the oven and broil for another few minutes, while you continue to watch it carefully.  When your zucchini strips are nicely browned they're done!

Serve immediately.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Husband's Secret

Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: Women's Fiction, Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 394
Publisher:  Putnam Adult
First Published: July 2013
First Line: "It was all because of the Berlin Wall."

Book Description from GoodReads:  At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read.

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died...

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves

My Review:  After reading the book jacket, and hearing such praise about it from other readers, I was excited to pick it up.  I really enjoyed her recent Big Little Lies so I was fairly certain that I'd feel just as entertained by this earlier book.

Unfortunately my reaction to Big Little Lies and The Husband's Secret are like night and day.  The description on the book jacket made it seem like there would be a huge secret revealed (and there was) but it wasn't nearly as interesting as I was hoping.  I kept on reading in the hopes that there would be some huge twist but sadly after the 'big reveal' there were no more twists to be had.

I also really struggled with the main characters.  First of all, there were a lot of women to keep track of and I didn't feel much of a connection to any of them.  While the big the secret was decent, how it was handled afterward was quite lackluster and its build-up took much too long to happen.  Add in the silly epilogue and this book was a let down.

If you're in the mood for a soap opera-esque read with cookie cutter characters then I'd suggest you pick up this book.  Unfortunately, I don't think it showcases the author's talent of writing with the charm, humour and wit of her latest work. 

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Survey: Picking the Cover Art and Title for a New Book!

Some of my blog readers may remember that almost exactly a year ago I was utterly ga-ga over the book "Hush Little Baby", the debut novel from new author Suzanne Redfearn.   I found it to be emotional, with an edge of your seat story line and well developed characters who I could root for.  Her writing style reminds me of authors such as Jodi Picoult, Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes.  It was so amazing that I even suggested that the library where I work order a few copies ... and they did.  Yup, it was that good!

When I was contacted recently to see if my readers would help vote for the cover photo and title for Suzanne's next fictional novel I thought that this would be a perfect fit for all y'all.  I figure that there's probably many of you who, like me, are initially attracted to books based on their cover art and title.  And honestly, who among us wouldn't want a say into the image and title for a new book?  No one, right?  

Here's a short synopsis of the upcoming book:

Four year old Molly Martin is suddenly thrust into stardom after a YouTube video of her doing an impromptu jig with a street musician goes viral.  Hollywood falls in love with Molly and initially her family thinks that they have hit the jackpot.  Molly is suddenly famous and her opportunities seem endless.  But they quickly see their lives begin unravel as the negative aspects of Hollywood begin to make cracks in their family. Will Mary's family be able to survive the tumultuous world of Hollywood?

Sounds great, right?  Plus, just for participating, you will be entered into a draw for a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble!  And I've been assured that both my American and Canadian readers can participate!  There are four options to vote for and I know which cover I'd like to see on the front.  

Now you can ...

So, if you have a few minutes you can Click here to add your two cents.  The poll ends December 21, 2014.

And if you haven't picked up Hush Little Baby yet, I highly recommend it.                

Monday, 8 December 2014

Grave Mercy

Author: Robin Lafevers
Series: #1 in His Fair Assassins series
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Supernatural
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
First Published: December 4, 2014
First Lines: "Brittany, 1405 - I bear a deep red stain that runs from myleft shoulder down to my right hip, a trail left by the herbwitch's poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

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

My Review:  If I were to say that this book was a historical fiction read about young assassin nuns your first response would be 'Say wha?'.  Am I right?  The main premise of this book is different and it's a veritable melee of different genres -- historical fiction, supernatural, romance and mystery/suspense -- it kind of works.  

I liked Ismae.  She's resilient, strong and courageous. She's a handmaiden of Death, for goodness sake.  How cool is that?  She's a tough girl who has been handed a really crappy lot in life.  I liked reading about her life in the convent and wished there was more time exploring that time in her life because I found it all quite fascinating.  I actually wish more time was spent on the supernatural element and the connection these women have with Mortain.

I have to be honest that the idea of killer nuns was what made this book stand out for me. wanted to read about Death's handmaidens and all that that entails but for a book about assassins there wasn't a whole lot of bloodshed.  Ismae and her fellow assassins have been training for years in the various arts of killing.  These are strong, capable women but Ismae, in several parts of the book, seems to wander around the castle halls more than she tries to take anyone out with her bare hands and her signature poison.  There's even a point in the book where she has to save someone and the way she saved him was, let's just say, rather 'eye-rollingly' silly. 

The era in which this book takes place is interesting but there was a point in the book (around 40%)  where the description of the political issues became rather heavy and tedious ... and I started to lose interest.  Luckily, the author ramps up the pace for the last part of the book and I got back on board.

To give this book a higher rating there were a few things that I wish would have occurred. First, I was hoping for a few more twists and turns.  There were a couple but they were rather mild and unfortunately the big 'who-dunnit' was rather obvious.  I also felt that I didn't quite believe the romance aspect.  It suddenly advanced where I didn't feel the connection between them nor was I given enough reason as to why they're suddenly enamoured of each other.  

This was a good start to a new series and while there are a few things that I wasn't fond of I think that this premise of intrigue within the court with a healthy dose of the supernatural is a very interesting idea.  I'm looking forward to reading the second book in the series, Dark Triumph, which focuses on Ismae's fellow handmaiden, Sybella.  

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Friday, 5 December 2014

Girl Runner

Author: Carrie Snyder
Genre: Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 354
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
First Published: 2014
First Line: "This is not the love song of Aganetha Smart."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Girl Runner is the story of Aganetha Smart, a former Olympic athlete who was famous in the 1920s, but now, at age 104, lives in a nursing home, alone and forgotten by history. For Aganetha, a competitive and ambitious woman, her life remains present and unfinished in her mind.

When her quiet life is disturbed by the unexpected arrival of two young strangers, Aganetha begins to reflect on her childhood in rural Ontario and her struggles to make an independent life for herself in the city.

Without revealing who they are, or what they may want from her, the visitors take Aganetha on an outing from the nursing home. As ready as ever for adventure, Aganetha’s memories are stirred when the pair return her to the family farm where she was raised. The devastation of WWI and the Spanish flu epidemic, the optimism of the 1920s and the sacrifices of the 1930s play out in Aganetha’s mind, as she wrestles with the confusion and displacement of the present.

Part historical page-turner, part contemporary mystery, Girl Runner is an engaging and endearing story about family, ambition, athletics and the dedicated pursuit of one’s passions. It is also, ultimately, about a woman who follows the singular, heart-breaking and inspiring course of her life until the very end.

My Review:  This book is a fictional story about a trailblazing young female Canadian runner in the early 20th century and was inspired by Canada's own 'Matchless Six' (the Canadian female athletes who successfully competed in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics).  I loved learning more about the history of women in the Olympics and the struggles that these women went through in order to be able to compete on the world stage but I didn't feel that the underlying personal story of Aganetha's life was as interesting.

Aganetha was a unique character and I enjoyed getting a look into 104 year old Aggie's mind set as she struggled to communicate and make sense of what was happening around her.  But I quickly learned that the overall story was less about the female runner and more about her dysfunctional family life, her familial loss and friendships.  And while I loved that the book had a Canadian setting, it felt like the links between the modern day story line and the the story line from the past were often jumbled and didn't transition smoothly.

I liked Aggie but I didn't feel any connection to other characters.  For example,  I wasn't sure how I was supposed to react to Kaley's character.  Was the reader supposed to feel sympathetic to her plight?  I couldn't muster up any sympathy and instead kept seeing her as a sneaky gold digger.  Also, from personal history with my own grandmothers, I couldn't see any nursing home allowing just anyone to wheel out a patient without showing any identification.

What I will take away from this book is a better understanding of how things were for female athletes in the early 20th century as well as the early struggles of women to gain control over their own bodies.  Unfortunately I wasn't as engaged in Aggie's life as I would have hoped and with the addition of the modern day story line I can't say that I loved this book.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Monday, 1 December 2014

Between Gods

Author: Alison Pick
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir, Canadian
Type: Hard Cover
Pages: 400
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
First Published: September 2014
First Lines: "Pain disappears.  These years later -- not even so many of them -- summoning the details is hard: what exactly it was that made me feel so alone, so outside myself and my life, so lifeless I no longer wanted to be alive."

Book Description from GoodReads:  From the Man Booker-nominated author of the novel Far to Goand one of our most talented young writers comes an unflinching, moving and unforgettable memoir about family secrets and the rediscovered past. 

Alison Pick was born in the 1970's and raised in a supportive, loving family. She grew up laughing with her sister and cousins, and doting on her grandparents. Then as a teenager, Alison made a discovery that instantly changed her understanding of her family, and her vision for her own life, forever. She learned that her Pick grandparents, who had escaped from the Czech Republic during WWII, were Jewish--and that most of this side of the family had died in concentration camps. She also discovered that her own father had not known of this history until, in his twenties, he had a chance encounter with an old family friend--and then he, too, had kept the secret from Alison and her sister.

In her early thirties, engaged to be married to her longtime boyfriend but struggling with a crippling depression, Alison slowly but doggedly began to research and uncover her Jewish heritage. Eventually she came to realize that her true path forward was to reclaim her history and identity as a Jew. But even then, one seemingly insurmountable problem remained: her mother wasn't Jewish, so technically Alison wasn't either. In this by times raw, by times sublime memoir, Alison recounts her struggle with the meaning of her faith, her journey to convert to Judaism, her battle with depression, and her path towards facing and accepting the past and embracing the future--including starting a new family of her own. This is her unusual and gripping story, told in crystalline prose and with all the nuance and drama of a novel, but illuminated with heartbreaking insight into the very real lives of the dead, and hard-won hope for the lives of all those who carry on after.

My Review: As soon as I saw this book in a Featured Reads pamphlet at my local library where I work I knew that I wanted to read it.  Canadian memoir, set in the beautiful backdrop of Toronto and dealing with such a deep personal crisis?  I'm in!

I have never read a book by Pick before but I was impressed with her writing and the emotion that she easily conveys to her readers as she struggled with her crisis of faith as well as debilitating depression.  Her struggle to find out who she is and where she came from was touching as she pieces together her faith and what it means to her as she looks back on her life with her parents and grandparents as well as the life she wants to build with her husband.

The struggles with her faith and depression felt authentic, compelling and, at times, quite touching.  I kept having to remind myself that this was a memoir because there was so much happening to the author that it didn't seem possible for her to handle so much all at once.  But I found Pick to be inspiring as she fought to discover this history that she recently knew nothing about.  I also thought it was very interesting to see how she somehow unconsciously felt Jewish all along.  Even though I've never had to deal with such a huge crisis of faith in my life, Pick managed to help me understand her frustration, sense of loss and then the strength she needed in order to stand up for what she ultimately knew was her calling.

Another perk to this book was how much I learned about the Jewish faith.  Pick was able to provide information regarding Judaism and its history without it negatively influencing the flow of the story.  I enjoyed learning about Judaism and I also found it fascinating to see how Alison's father reacted to her embracing their Jewish heritage even though he was raised Christian.

This was a powerful, well written book that showcases familial secrets, faith, dealing with depression and family all woven together quite seamlessly.  Pick's voice was not overly dramatic or saccharine but compelling and touching.


My Rating: 3.5 stars

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