Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Guidebook to Murder


Author: Lynn Cahoon
Genre: Light Mystery
Series: #1 in A Tourist Trap Mystery series
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) - Kindle e-book
Source: Kensington Books
Publisher: Kensington Books
First Published: April 17, 2014
First Line: "Empty shops are the death knell for small businesses."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the gentle coastal town of South Cove, California, all Jill Gardner wants is to keep her store–Coffee, Books, and More–open and running. So why is she caught up in the business of murder?

When Jill’s elderly friend, Miss Emily, calls in a fit of pique, she already knows the city council is trying to force Emily to sell her dilapidated old house. But Emily’s gumption goes for naught when she dies unexpectedly and leaves the house to Jill–along with all of her problems. . .and her enemies. Convinced her friend was murdered, Jill is finding the list of suspects longer than the list of repairs needed on the house. But Jill is determined to uncover the culprit–especially if it gets her closer to South Cove’s finest, Detective

Greg King. Problem is, the killer knows she’s on the case–and is determined to close the book on Jill permanently.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Kensington 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 always on the lookout for a new author and finding a good cozy mystery author is a fabulous find.  I found Guidebook to Murder, the first book in the Tourist Trap mystery series, to be an impressive start to a new series.

This was a well-plotted and nicely paced mystery.  I also liked the fact that the author fit the mystery into the small town setting.  She didn't make this quiet, small town have dead bodies piling up all over the place.  It felt much more authentic to keep the body count low and instead focus on the main mystery.  

I will admit though to being surprised (and a little disappointed) at how little the bookstore setting came into play with this book. I picked it up because, let's face it, any book set in a bookstore is my kind of book!  The bookstore was barely in the book and only acted as a reason for Jill to have come to the town in the first place.  I'm hoping that in future books it will be more pivotal to the plot.

I'm still on the fence a bit with the protagonist, Jill.  She was interesting and came off as a believable main character who has a lot on her plate from running her business, to dealing with the death of her friend to trying to valiantly save an old home.  Her responses to her stress and loss were believable although I will admit that when she was being badgered by some other characters it really grated on me.  I will chalk up Jill's being a pushover at times to the author giving Jill room to grow and develop over the course of the series.  Sure, she stood up for herself in some aspects but gave in much too easily in others.  Which, if I'm being honest, is more realistic than having the main character get her way the whole time, right? 

I (who apparently lacks the romance gene) also appreciated that this book didn't fall into the predictable rut of too much romance, not enough suspense.  I go into a cozy mystery for the suspense, not a love triangle, so I appreciated that the author took the time to set up her mystery, characters and their relationships for her readers.  That said, the one frustrating thing about this book is the fact that the author strings along the reader with a question that isn't answered until the very end.  This method can be used to create suspense over the duration of the book but when the answer is obvious to the reader and is summed up in a mere sentence or two at the very end of the book it comes off as more frustrating for the reader than anything.

Overall, this was an enjoyable cozy mystery.  There were some unique secondary characters that were introduced and I look forward to hearing more from them in future books.  The mystery had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing the identity of the culprit and I'm eager to see where the author takes Jill in the next book of the series.

Recommended.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Lemon Rosemary Orzo


I've always been a HUGE potato addict.  But lately I've been tiring a bit of my beloved spud.  Orzo comes is a very handy and versatile side dish option if you need a break from potatoes.  It may look like a large grain rice but, in fact, it's a pasta.  It is so easy to cook on the stove top and you can use it in a warm side dish or even as a cold pasta salad.  The ideas are limitless with this little grain of goodness.
 
Usually Boy 1, Brad and I get all excited when I make my Parmesan Basil Orzo (it is divine).  Fresh Parmesan and basil are a duo make in heaven.  But after awhile I get bored with the same old, same old so I went on the hunt for a new orzo recipe to add to my recipe coffers.  The inspiration for this recipe is the brain child of Eat Yourself Skinny and it is delicious.  I adore lemon so I squeezed some fresh lemon juice over my helping of orzo as well as decreased the salt and added some freshly ground black pepper to the main recipe. 
 
Man, oh MAN!  This was good.  Brad and Boy 1 still think my Parmesan Basil Orzo is their favourite but I'm on the fence with that argument.  The Lemon Rosemary Orzo was more refreshing and, dare I say, tasted lighter (probably due to the lack of fattening Parm).  Either way we're still big orzo fans and I really hope you all enjoy this recipe as much as I did. 
 

Yield: 4 servings

1 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups orzo
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 cup chicken broth (reduced sodium, preferably)
4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 tsp salt (or to taste)
to taste - black pepper

Garnish - fresh rosemary, small lemon wedges

Melt butter in a large skillet.  Add orzo and sauté, over medium-high heat, until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to burn it.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover.  Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed (this step always takes less time than I think).

Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.  Garnish with additional fresh rosemary and small lemon wedges.

Inspired By: Eatyourselfskinny.com (http://www.eat-yourself-skinny.com/2011/10/orzo-with-lemon-and-rosemary.html)

Monday, 28 April 2014

Unspoken


Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Genre: Supernatural, Young Adult, Mystery
Type: ebook from local library
Series: #1 in the Lynburn Legacy series
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Pages: 384
First Published: September 2012
First Line: "Every town in England has a story."

Book Description from GoodReadsKami Glass is in love with someone she’s never met – a boy the rest of the world is convinced is imaginary. This has made her an outsider in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but she doesn’t complain. She runs the school newspaper and keeps to herself for the most part – until disturbing events begin to happen. There has been screaming in the woods and the dark, abandoned manor on the hill overlooking the town has lit up for the first time in 10 years. The Lynburn family, who ruled the town a generation ago and who all left without warning, have returned. As Kami starts to investigate for the paper, she finds out that the town she has loved all her life is hiding a multitude of secrets- and a murderer- and the key to it all just might be the boy in her head. The boy who everyone thought was imaginary may be real…and he may be dangerous.

My Review:  I waited a loooong time to get this ebook from my local library.  With such a high in demand book I figured it had to be an 'edge-of-your-seat/not getting anything else done until I'm finished this book' kind of good.  Sadly, it just wasn't.  My overall my feelings towards this book can be described as lackluster (and disappointed, if truth be told).  Unspoken also received awesome review and high ratings on GoodReads and Amazon but I guess I just don't see why. The premise was great but the execution?  Not so much.

The book started out strong.  From the beginning the reader is faced with the unique connection that Kami has with a mysterious person.  I was eager to find out who Kami had the connection with but once that was divulged (about one-third of the way through) the momentum petered off and I started to lose interest.

Unfortunately by that time not enough had happened in the book to propel the storyline.  Sure the humour was refreshing and the banter (especially between Kami's family) was great but the author has to give me a reason to stick with the mystery and I just didn't get that with this book.  Don't get me wrong, the dry humour/banter between Kami and other characters was quite funny and was the highlight of the book for me but even the one-liners and zingers they'd throw at each other became too much after awhile. I do love me some dry humour but no one really talks that way all the time and it started to feel contrived and the situations set up just so that a good joke could be included. 

I think the issue is that the book focused much more on the teenage angst and trying to sound cool by overusing teen slang.  In the end I feel the reader is left with secondary characters that were just okay - if not a little clichéd.  Like the brooding and ultra cynical Angela (I'm still trying to figure out why Angela loves to nap so much.  Part of me wonders if there's a supernatural reason but the other part of me thinks it's just Angela's defining 'thing' which would just be odd).  I think better use of the secondary characters (and giving them more depth) would have saved this book for me. 

Initially Kami came off as an interesting character but her decisions and her inability to stop thinking about her relationship with her mystery man made her (dare I say it) start to resemble Bella Swan.  Kami, you don't need a boy to feel complete!  Where is the girl power?  I think the author was going for romantic angst but instead I was left with a love starved wussy main character.  Instead of focusing on the dangerous issues at hand she's more concerned that her man is angry with her.  Wha?

Kami also didn't make the smartest choices and paid the price every time.  I don't like it when the protagonist has no issues to deal with but, on the other hand, it quickly got frustrating seeing Kami take risks that I don't think a normal person would take.  Stupidly dangerous give-your-head-a-shake type risks.  Kami also has a lot of dialogue in the book.  She talks a lot to her friends and love interest and she talks a lot in her own head. Put a cork in it, girl!  Shut yer mouth, stop having the same argument with your man (and yourself) over and over again and get on with finding out 'whodunnit' already!  Less chatter more action would have kept this book's pace high.

This book had a very interesting premise but, for me anyway, just didn't deliver the suspenseful read that I was hoping for.  I know I'm in the minority on this book and after reading this review you may see me as a persnickety old biddy who just doesn't 'get' the YA genre at times.  But I do love this genre and therefore expect it to be good.  Teens need and should expect great writing, characters and plot too.  Throwing in some 'Will they? Won't they?' romantic angst with weak characters and a lackluster plot isn't showcasing what is truly awesome about this genre.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Friday, 25 April 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths



Author: M.J Rose
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Supernatural, Historical Fiction, Suspense
Series: 6th book in the Reincarnationist series
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: April 8, 2014
First Line: "March 1, 1574 - Barbizon, France.  Written for my son to read upon my death, from his father, Rene le Florentin, perfumer to Catherine de Medici, Queen Mother."

Book Description from GoodReadsA lush and imaginative novel that crisscrosses time as a perfumer and a mythologist search for the fine line between potion and poison, poison and passion…and past and present.

Florence, Italy—1533: An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fragrances and potent medicines—and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the potential to reanimate the dead. In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country but the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, Rene doesn’t begin to imagine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.

Paris, France—The Present: A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile, is trying to recover from personal heartache by throwing herself into her work, learns of the 16th century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work—particularly when she discovers the dying breathes he had collected during his lifetime. Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Florentin’s mysterious formula. Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection. A woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir… a purpose for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means. This mesmerizing gothic tale of passion and obsession crisscrosses time, zigzagging from the violent days of Catherine de Medici’s court to twenty-first century France. Fiery and lush, set against deep, wild forests and dimly lit chateaus, The Collector of Dying Breaths illuminates the true path to immortality: the legacies we leave behind.


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

My Review:  Sometimes my expectations get the better of me.  This was the case here because the book that I read was different from the one I had expected.  I had expected an historical fiction read with touches of supernatural and a healthy dose of suspense. Three of my favourite genres rolled into one?!  Sign me up!  What I got was a book that was lighter on the historical fiction and suspense that I would have liked with romance taking a much larger role in the plot.  That's not to say that I didn't like this book but I was really looking forward to learning more about the infamous Catherine de Medici and came away with a better knowledge of this nefarious and calculating queen but not as in-depth as I was hoping.

This book has a lot going for it and with the different genres involved may appeal to a wide range of readers.  I was riveted to the book for the first two-thirds because the pace was high, I found the details involving perfumery interesting and I was very engaged in the mystery surrounding the proposed ability to reanimate the dead with the final breath of a loved one.  But ultimately it was Rene's storyline that kept me riveted.  Jac's modern storyline wasn't nearly as interesting and I felt like I was reading her portion of the book just to get back to Rene's story.  

There were a few things, namely the predictability of the modern-day storyline as well as the romance, that didn't endear me to the book.  The love story involving Rene seemed to sizzle with very little provocation and turned into undying love rather too quickly for my liking.  It also became a little predictable which lessened the enjoyment of the suspense aspect for me. 

Overall, this was a very descriptive, Gothic tale the gives the reader a glimpse into the world of Catherine de Medici's reign and focuses on feelings of revenge, hate, love, passion, the bonds of family and the ends to which people are willing to go for their loved ones.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Every Crooked Nanny



Author: Mary Kay Andrews
Genre: Light Mystery
Type: Digital Audiobook
Source: Local Library
Series: #1 in Callahan Garrity series
Publisher: Harper-Audio
First Published as Audiobook: March 26, 2013 (originally published in 1992)

Book Description from GoodReads:  After ten years of cleaning up the dirt on Atlanta's streets, Callahan Garrity is trading in her badge for a broom and a staff of house cleaners. But, though the uniform is a little different, Callahan soon finds herself right back in the middle of a mystery when a client's pretty, pious nineteen-year-old nanny is gone ... along with the jewelry, silver, and a few rather sensitive real estate documents.

Before she knows it, the meticulous Callahan is up to her elbows in a case involving illicit love triangles, crooked business deals, long-distance scams, and a dead body. Now she has to roll up her sleeves and start some industrial strength sleuthing to solve -- and survive -- this mess.

My Review:  I downloaded this digital audiobook onto my iPhone based solely on the simple fact that I needed a light mystery to listen to as I drove back and forth to work and as I cleaned my house.  I love 'reading' hands/eyes free because it totally ups the multi-tasking that I do so love.

This definitely was a light mystery - too light actually.  Initially I liked Callahan and the secondary characters but I didn't feel like the author took them far enough.  They felt muted in their humour, weren't interesting enough nor did they really add to the story.  It reminded me initially of a very mild and meek Stephanie Plum but without the laugh out loud humour and strong cast of secondary characters that help to not only move the plot along but add a great dimension too.  Callahan has the potential to be a good, solid main character but so far she comes off as bland.

The mystery itself was just okay.  I realize this is a 'light mystery' but it still has to keep me guessing and unfortunately after about half way through the book the pace really lagged.  There were a few red herrings thrown in to attempt to keep the readers' attention away from the real culprit.  But, at the same time, so much attention was given to two specific characters that I knew right away that they couldn't possibly be the culprit because it would be too obvious.

Lastly, I'm not certain that people who live in Georgia or Mormons will enjoy this read because it felt like the author took many stereotypes of the South and the Mormon religion.  These clichés included including the use of the 'N word' (which I abhor) several times and portraying Mormonism in an unflattering light.

Overall, I wasn't impressed with this book.  I initially chose it for a light read but also based on the fact that I recognized the author's name (Mary Kay Andrews also writes under the pseudo-name Kathy Hogan Trocheck).  Unfortunately choosing fairly blindly doesn't always work out for the best.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Virgil's Barbeque Road Trip Cookbook: The Best Barbeque From Around the Country Without Every Leaving Your Backyard


Author: Neal Corman, Chris Peterson
Genre: Cookbook
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Pages: 336
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: April 8, 2014
First Line: "Virgil's Real Barbeque Restaurant stands at the "crossroads of the world," better known as New York City's Times Square."

Book Description from GoodReads: Open Virgil’s Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook and you’ll find a winning mix of barbecue and grilling recipes plus perfect summer sides for quick weekday dinners and relaxed weekend entertaining. Tapping the secrets of the best ‘cue from Texas, North Carolina, Kansas City and Memphis, Virgil’s has tested and tasted it all until the ninety-eight recipes in this book are foolproof for home cooks and backyard grillmasters.Virgil’s Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook has the instructions you need for anything you’re in the mood for: get serious and do some smoking, in either a basic kettle grill or dedicated smoker, or stay casual and sample some rubs and marinades for succulent grilled meat, fish or vegetables. You’ll make
--Beef: from True Texas Brisket to Chicken Fried Steak with Country Gravy to a Kansas City Burnt Ends Sandwich
--Pork: from Baby Back Ribs to Boston Butt (the Virgil’s Way) to Slow-smoked Ham
--Poultry: from Classic Pulled Chicken to Kansas City Fried Chicken to Jerk Chicken
--Rubs, Marinades and Sauces: from Virgil’s meal-making Universal Flour to Carolina Vinegar Sauce to Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

Surrounded by unstoppable sides and sweets, such as Southern Accent Cheddar Grits, Georgia Pecan Rice and Virgil’s Perfect Banana Pudding, Virgil’s barbecue is about to change the way you eat and entertain: this food will make you happy!


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

My Review:  My family and I love food.  We love to eat it, share it and cook it.  Yes, food makes us happy and this cookbook makes my belly oh so very eager for some BBQ'd treats.

We are pretty avid BBQers here in the Bookworm Family.  And by 'we' I mean my husband, Brad.  He BBQs come rain, come snow, come sleet or heat my man is out there Q'ing up some good eats!  He's so devoted that one time he had to chip the ice off of our BBQ in the middle of winter just so we could grill some steaks.  The stomach wants, what the stomach wants and the people at Virgil's understand that.

Even though I'm not a big BBQ'er myself this cookbook laid out its recipes in such a clear and concise manner (with mouth watering pictures) that I think that even I may venture outside of my kitchen to grill up some grub.  Newbie BBQers need not fret because this book is not intimidating for the novice griller.  It points out the important techniques and equipment needed to being your relationship with your BBQ and with the easy to follow recipes even novices will be grilling up some tasty grub in no time.  Honestly, this book has something for everyone.

Virgil's is a very successful restaurant group with three locations - Bahamas, Connecticut and their flagship restaurant in NYC's Times Square.  You'd think that with Virgil's success and popularity that the recipes, techniques and even kitchen gadgets needed to replicate their dishes would be hard for the average person to understand or afford to own.  Or that some of the spices needed would have to come from their signature recipes available only through their business. I'm happy to report that this is not the case here at all.  You get the feeling that the people at Virgil's just want you to be able to make their great food so they give you the tools, directions and even include the recipes for their special rubs and sauces so you can make it happen at home. 

The authors also make it clear that you can make great BBQ'd food with the tools and cuts of meat that you have on hand.  Being able to make a great pulled pork or a brisket that is oh-so-tender is definitely just as important as being able to grill the perfect steak (in my book anyway) and I appreciate the fact that the authors don't focus just on the expensive cuts of meat.

As I mentioned before, the instructions are easy to follow but the authors also include tips, tricks, menu suggestions and even beer pairings for different dishes.  The addition of beautiful pictures of so many of the recipes is the BBQ sauce on the proverbial back ribs.  If I had one wee complaint its that beer was the only alcoholic beverage that was suggested for the dishes.  And while this was a cool addition to the book I've never been a beer drinker and would have loved to have seen a bit more selection in bevvies for us non-beer drinkers.

While this book definitely focuses heavily on the gastronomical desires of all carnivores, they also give a fairly healthy nod to vegetables this book.  I appreciated that they didn't just focus on wild beasties but also included sections for rubs, marinades, salads, sides and even desserts which really shows the versatility of the barbeque.

This cookbook was a pleasure to read.  The recipes are easy to follow, many have beautiful pictures and the narration of the book felt very laidback and easy going giving it the perfect feel for a barbeque cookbook. 

Recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Homemade Taco Seasoning

After almost two weeks off from blogging, I'm back!  My family and I had a fabulous time in sunny Florida with my parents.  I'll blog about that once I get all my pictures organized but needless to say it was fun and involved me snogging a sea creature.  'Nuff said.  Until that post, here's a seasoning mix that I refuse to buy because it's so easy to make and keep on hand for those taco emergencies.

The only thing better than making something delicious to share with my family is when one of my family members makes something to share with me!  For our movie night a few weeks ago Boy 1 offered to make the Super Taco Dip for us all to enjoy.  Say wha?!? I knew I liked that kid.  The man-child knows his way around the kitchen and his future wife will be forever in my debt.  Now if I can only get him to remember to clean up after his creations.

This is a super easy spice mix that you can whip up and use for all sorts of taco-esque dishes.  A little heat (depending on how much cayenne you choose to use) and a whole lotta taste!  Use it for tacos, taco meat for nachos, add to bread crumbs then coat chicken breasts or pork tenderloin, sprinkle over buttered popcorn for some added Mexican flair ....  The uses are endless and you get the satisfaction of knowing what ingredients you used and none of the nasty preservatives.



1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients and store in an air-tight container.  Use on ground beef for tacos, sprinkled on buttered popcorn, added into my Super Taco Dip ....

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Wolfsangel


Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: Direct from author
Publisher: Perrat Publishing
First Published: October 1, 2013
First Line: "We gather in the cemetery, before the ossuary, with the straggle of other remaining survivors and their families."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt.

1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.

When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration.

As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for France.

Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen. But the decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days.

A woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.
  
Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Liza Perrat for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  As readers of my blog already know, I really enjoy reading books about WWII so a book that is set in this era has to bring something new to the table to keep me interested.  Wolfsangel did ... and then some. 

I found this to be an emotional, touching read with edge of your seat action that made me see WWII through different eyes.  It still deals with the highs and lows of human behaviour during such a horrific time, but Perrat gives a face to the destruction that happened on a smaller front -- occupation in a small French town.  It showed how the townspeople were forced to live alongside German soldiers and how that affected them financially, emotionally, socially and ultimately very personally.  It was a very unique take and showed just how far reaching the Hitler's power went and that the brutality of war wasn't only on the battlefields.

This was a very character driven read that focuses on the life of Céleste, a young French woman who hasn't really figured out who she is yet.  The reader sees how Céleste goes from being a naïve young woman to a strong, capable and brave woman who now knows that she wants better for herself.  She's not written as a predictable stereotype as the reader sees her struggle with being with the man she loves, with the chaos around her and supporting her family and friends during a very tumultuous and dangerous time.  Céleste was impetuous at times, made the wrong decisions occasionally but throughout she was courageous and a character that was believable and that I had no trouble rooting for.

The secondary characters were also well-fleshed out and if felt like we really got to know the people around Céleste as well as the inner workings of this small town.  They each had their own secrets and, when pushed, would do whatever it took to ensure the safety of those around them.  I also thought it was interesting and unique to get Martin's struggle on what it felt like for him to be stationed in the French town as a Nazi soldier. 

"I sense they are thinking: how can he be in our home when his countrymen have taken the head of our house prisoner?  Or that I see their house as a hotel, not appreciating the comfortable bed and clean sheets,' he said.  'I do.  But I still miss my home, and wish I did not have to stay in theirs."

That said, I do wish more time had been spent fleshing out the relationship between Céleste and Martin, her German officer beau.  For two people on very different sides of the war their relationship seemed to happen a little too quickly and easily for me to totally get on board and believe the strong emotions between them.

This is a book about the resilience of the human spirit, love and how the devastating effects of war stay with those who were unfortunate enough to be touched by it.  While the Céleste's fight isn't on the battlefront it is no less brutal or barbaric as the reader witnesses the atrocities the townspeople had to endure under the German occupation of their small, formerly peaceful town.  The inclusion of the French Resistance movement was very interesting and helped Wolfsangel to keep me on the edge of my seat several times and forced me to have a Kleenex at the ready as I saw the personal (and no less horrific) effects of the war.

The book ends with an emotional, disturbing and shocking ending that I didn't expect.  The addition of the historical information that inspired this book helped to give this already poignant and touching ending an even bigger emotional punch for this reader.  I'm very happy that this author reached out to me and asked me to review her book.  While I wasn't familiar with this author before receiving this book, I can guarantee that I will be picking up some of her other books.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Independent Study (#2 in The Testing trilogy)


Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Pages: 310
Series: #2 in The Testing series
Series Order: #1 The Testing, #2 Independent Study, #3 Graduation Day (June 2014)
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
First Published: January 7, 2014
First Line: "Examination Day - I slide the cool material of my shirt over the five long, jagged scars on my arm and examine myself in the reflector."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the series debut The Testing, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale was chosen by the United Commonwealth government as one of the best and brightest graduates of all the colonies . . . a promising leader in the effort to revitalize postwar civilization. In Independent Study, Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas—and though the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government’s murderous programs put her—and her loved ones—in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.

My Review: When I read the first book in this series, The Testing, back in February I was quite impressed with it.  Sure it's a Hunger Games knock off but it gave me enough to consider it a good read on it's own merits so I was eager to read this second book of the series (after Boy 2 had finished with it, of course).

Sadly, like so many second books in a trilogy, this book fell into the Sophomoric Blues and didn't come close to matching the energy or plot twists of the first book.  I realize that the second book in a trilogy is typically a 'bridge' between the first and third books but it has to give me enough substance and energy to make me want to pick up the last book in the trilogy.  Sadly, Independent Study didn't hold its own which was disappointing.

There were a few issues that I had with this book.  First, I was hoping to get a much better idea of why the government has been set up this way with the testing of it's youth to make a better government.  Let's face it, when there is a vast shortage of people left in a country finding the elite and then testing and killing those who don't measure up doesn't seem like a great plan in the long term.  Yet no one in the upper echelons of society see a problem with it and I wanted to know why.

Why put in the time to educate these teens only to kill off the few who aren't as smart as the small group of elite students?  These kids are still ten times smarter than the kids who weren't even asked to do The Testing so why not keep them around for other purposes?  More background would have been nice because the reader is just expected to accept why things happen instead of understanding why.

This book also lacked the fast-paced action from book one and easily could have been scaled down a bit because there were several slow parts that had me skimming over large sections in the hopes that things would pick up.  It didn't.

I think my biggest complaint about this book is Cia.  She is made to appear so unbelievably smart that she could easily be the love child of Sheldon Cooper, MacGyver and Einstein (if three men could make a baby together).  Seriously.  The girl is wicked brilliant and never seems to make a mistake.  Even when she decides to make a mistake, she turns out to be right.  Must be nice.  That's all well and good for Cia but doesn't provide me with a realistic or even likeable protagonist because on top of her brainiac personality she was pretty boring.  I want to see her falter and see how she reacts to it. It was frustrating seeing how she breezes through this very rigorous education (which she's been given many more classes than other students yet she doesn't seem fazed) and yet still has time to skulk around to learn more about the nefarious plot of the government officials.   Throughout this book I always felt like Cia would come out on top which really puts a damper on the action scenes and intensity of the storyline.

Independent Study wasn't as 'edge of your seat' as The Testing and didn't seem to have a clear storyline.  It felt like it's main goal was to set up for the third book and I realize that that's kind of the point of the second book but I also want the second book to have its own story to tell and not just be a bridge between book one and three.  That doesn't make me compelled to read the third book if the second can't keep my attention.  I had high hopes for this book but with no momentum and a character I can't get behind this book it just didn't give me enough reasons to pick up the last book in the trilogy.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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