Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Golden Son

Author: Pierce Brown
Genre: Dystopian
Type: e-book ARC
Series: #2 in the Red Rising trilogy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House Publishing - Del Rey Spectra
First Published: January 6, 2015
First Line: "Once upon a time, a man came from the sky and killed my wife."

Book Description from GoodReads:  With shades of The Hunger GamesEnder’s Game, and Game of Thrones, debut author Pierce Brown’s genre-defying epic Red Rising hit the ground running and wasted no time becoming a sensation.

Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

A life-or-death tale of vengeance with an unforgettable hero at its heart,Golden Son guarantees Pierce Brown’s continuing status as one of fiction’s most exciting new voices.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing - Del Rey Spectra for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  After reading and enjoying Red Rising (the first book in this series) I was eager to review Golden Son to see how Darrow's story continues.  It had been a year and a half since I'd read Red Rising and while I kind of remembered the plot I tried to read as many reviews/spoilers as I could to remind me of what was going on and who was who before I picked up this book.

Unfortunately that preparation wasn't enough to remind me of the plot and the numerous secondary characters for me to jump back into it easily.  Brown doesn't waste any time (and I mean ANY time) getting the story rolling.  No recap is given so I floundered for a long time trying to remind myself of what was going on. I kept hoping that all I'd need is one piece of the puzzle and suddenly the story line and characters would click in my head and I'd remember what happened.  

One of the things that I felt was missing was the lack of emotion that was in the first installment.  It definitely had loads of action scenes but it was missing that emotional side to Darrow that I loved in the first book.  

Sadly, after reading more than thirty percent of the book my frustration with trying to remember who was who and what was going on got to be too much and I finally gave up.  I don't give up on books easily but it felt like I still wasn't grasping the plot and I didn't remember how the characters were related and my frustration won out.  Some would say that I could look on the internet and look up some of the characters I was unsure of but I, as a reader, shouldn't have to do that.  Plus, there's not a lot on the net about this book yet. I checked.

While I'm not alone in my feelings towards this book I am still very much in the minority.  If you love Dystopian reads similar to the Hunger Games I recommend you pick up Red Rising and read it ... and then pick up Golden Son immediately so you still have all of the characters at the front of you mind so you can keep up with this non-stop action.

My Rating: DNF - did not finish

Favourite Quote: "Home isn't where you're from, it's where you find light when all grows dark."

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Banana Orange Smoothie

I've mentioned to you all that I've been on a big gym, yoga, 'trying my darnedest' to eat better regime for the past month.  Being someone who loves to bake and eat fresh bread isn't helping but I do my best since I'm going to be displaying my buff bod in Florida in 5 weeks.  Now there's some motivation!

One of the big no-no's for weight loss is to skip breakfast (apparently coffee doesn't count as a full breakfast - huh).  As a way to make myself eat breakfast and get the old metabolism jump started in the morning I've begun to make myself smoothies.  These easy to whip up beauties also taste great after I get back from a good workout at the gym. Armed with only a handful of ingredients and my beloved Ninja blender (with individual cups) smoothie making is so easy!  It is so easy that my kids have got on the smoothie band wagon and are asking for a fruit smoothie instead of a traditional snack.  The power of the mighty smoothie, people!

It also doesn't hurt that the combinations are endless with smoothies - from berries, to Nutella, to bananas and spinach ....   They are the pizza of the bevvie world but the combo of banana and orange is definitely my favourite (especially since there are no seeds to contend with afterwards).


Yield: 1 smoothie

1 banana - cut in half, peeled and frozen (see Note below)
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tbsp no-fat plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp ground flax seed (optional - and will make your smoothie less 'smooth')

Place all of your ingredients into the hopper of your blender (I love using the individual cups of my Ninja blender for this).  Blend until smooth.  Drink immediately.

Tip: One of my big tips for making smoothies easier is to peel older bananas, cut them in half and freeze them in a Ziploc freezer bag with a bunch of their brethren so they're easy to grab.  If you have no frozen bananas on had you can use an older banana on the counter (not a new one because it won't have enough flava-flava) but add about 1/2 cup of crushed ice to the blender to make your smoothie nice and chilly.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Same Sky

Author: Amanda Eyre Ward
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher:  Ballantine Books
First Published: January 20, 2015
First Line: "My mother left when I was five years old."

Book Description from GoodReads:  In this heartrending and poignant novel, award-winning author Amanda Eyre Ward tells the story of Alice Conroe, a forty year old Texas barbecue owner who has the perfect life, except she and her husband long for a child. Unable to conceive, she’s trying desperately to adopt but her destiny is quickly altered by a young woman she’s never met.

Fearless thirteen-year-old Carla Trujilio is being raised by her grandmother in Honduras along with her four year old twin brothers. Her mother is sending money home from Texas where she’s trying to make a better life for her family, but she only has enough to bring one son to her. When Carla’s grandmother dies, Carla decides to take her fate into her own hands and embarks on a dangerous journey across the border with Junior, the twin left behind.

Two powerful journeys intersecting at a pivotal moment in time: Alice and Carla’s lives will be forever and profoundly changed. Heartbreaking, emotional, and arresting, this novel is about finding the courage to trail blaze your own path in life with faith, hope and love, no matter the struggle or the tragedy.

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

My Review:  This was one of those books that surprised me.  It has some rather heavy subjects that it addresses but also has a rather quiet feel to it as the reader gets an intimate look at both Carla and Alice's lives as they tell their stories in alternating chapters. 

Both Carla and Alice's story lines focused on their daily struggles which were interesting and touching.  Carla's story was emotional, raw and showed that a child could endure so much more than you'd expect.  My heart went out to her as she struggled with what life (and her mother) left her to deal with.  She was naive but courageous and ultimately risked everything in order to save herself and her brother.

Alice's story was, for me anyway, less interesting than Carla's. Maybe it was because I found her to not be as likable as Carla.  Maybe that was because I wasn't fond of some of her choices - how she treated her husband, how she allowed Evian to take advantage of her repeatedly. I suppose Alice's struggles seemed to pale just a bit compared to Carla's because, while they were important to her, they weren't life threatening like Carla's. But on the other hand, if Alice's story was as dark as Carla's the book would have taken on too much of a somber tone.  

While this book deals with some heavy subjects it also gives the reader a chance to step into two very different people's shoes and get a very intimate take on their personal struggles.  Ultimately it is an emotional story that showcases how hope can endure in even the darkest of places.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Saving Grace

Author: Jane Green
Genre: Women's Fiction, Modern Fiction
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: December 30, 2014
First Line: "There are only so many hours Grace can stay away from home."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Grace and Ted Chapman are widely regarded as the perfect literary power couple. Ted is a successful novelist and Grace, his wife of twenty years, is beautiful, stylish, carefree, and a wonderful homemaker. But what no one sees, what is churning under the surface, is Ted’s rages. His mood swings. And the precarious house of cards that their lifestyle is built upon. When Ted’s longtime assistant and mainstay leaves, the house of cards begins to crumble and Grace, with dark secrets in her past, is most vulnerable. She finds herself in need of help but with no one to turn to…until the perfect new assistant shows up out of the blue.  To the rescue comes Beth, a competent young woman who can handle Ted and has the calm efficiency to weather the storms that threaten to engulf the Chapman household. Soon, though, it’s clear to Grace that Beth might be too good to be true. This new interloper might be the biggest threat of all, one that could cost Grace her marriage, her reputation, and even her sanity.  With everything at stake and no one to confide in, Grace must find a way to save herself before it is too late.

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

My Review:  Jane Green has a solid reputation as an author of women's fiction.  Many years ago I had read one of her books and remember enjoying it.  But it wasn't until last month that I picked up another book by Green -- Another Piece Of My Heart and listened to the e-audio version.   Unfortunately that book, and sadly, Saving Grace haven't lived up to my expectations for this popular author.

I found Saving Grace to be very predictable.  You could see Beth's 'game' a mile away but I gave the author some leeway and assumed she'd throw some big twist at the reader.  This never happened.   As soon as Beth told Grace to email her references warning bells went off in my head (as would most people) but sadly, not in dear Grace's head. 

Another deal breaker for me is when I don't feel connected to the main character.  This was the case with Grace.  Sure, I felt bad that her world was crumbling down around her but it was Grace's personality and lack of strength that got to me quickly.  She was cowed by her verbally abusive husband and seemed a little dim for having to farm out dealing with the day-to-day issues to a stranger and couldn't even pay bills or organize a kitchen pantry on her own.  I think she was supposed to be some Martha Stewart-type woman ... and at times she was with her cooking etc but she definitely didn't have any power.  

Grace was then pushed out of her life and marriage much too easily to be believable with the final straw that pushes her over the edge being the fact that tables, chairs and appropriate napkins weren't delivered for one of her famous 'do's'.  It was silly and the fact that she doesn't see who was behind it immediately is laughable.  It's this continual acceptance of the events that happen to her without asking for help, second opinions or even just standing up for herself that I found frustrating.  She struggles to make any decisions for herself for the entire book.

There was also a unique addition to the book that I wasn't expecting.  There were several recipes included throughout the book and while I realize that Grace enjoys to cook I wasn't sold on including these recipes in a contemporary fiction read.  They felt like an afterthought or a distraction more than a bonus.

Finally, there were some loose ends that weren't tied up by the end of the book and I find that frustrating.  For example, why did the reader not find out the motive of the psychiatrist?  Why was so much time devoted to the back story involving Grace's mom?  Why did Beth zone in on Grace's family specifically?  

In the end, this book was not a hit with me.  With no twists or turns, cliched characters and a very predictable plot this book felt like it should be a movie of the week.  This was not the kind of book I was expecting from a seasoned author like Jane Green.

My Rating: 2/5 stars 

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Art of Baking Blind

Author: Sarah Vaughn
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 406
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
First Published: July 2014
First Line: "April 1964 - Imagine your perfect home; a gamekeeper's lodge or rambling farmhouse, the walls wreathed in wisteria, brick warmed by the sun."

Book Description from GoodReads:  There are many reasons to bake: to feed; to create; to impress; to nourish; to define ourselves; and, sometimes, it has to be said, to perfect. But often we bake to fill a hunger that would be better filled by a simple gesture from a dear one. We bake to love and be loved.

In 1966, Kathleen Eaden, cookery writer and wife of a supermarket magnate, published The Art of Baking, her guide to nurturing a family by creating the most exquisite pastries, biscuits and cakes.

Now, five amateur bakers are competing to become the New Mrs Eaden. There's Jenny, facing an empty nest now her family has flown; Claire, who has sacrificed her dreams for her daughter; Mike, trying to parent his two kids after his wife's death; Vicki, who has dropped everything to be at home with her baby boy; and Karen, perfect Karen, who knows what it's like to have nothing and is determined her fa├žade shouldn't slip.

As unlikely alliances are forged and secrets rise to the surface, making the choicest choux bun seems the least of the contestants' problems. For they will learn - as Mrs Eaden did before them - that while perfection is possible in the kitchen, it's very much harder in life.

My Review: It shouldn't come as a shock that I picked up this book.  First off, the cover was beautiful (I adore teal) and it caught my attention right away.  Second, it's about baking, y'all!  I thought this book was a no-brainer for me but unfortunately I found this book lacking in a few areas.

The book deals with five competitors as they try to win a coveted British baking competition.  The problem was that I had a hard time remembering who was who among the competitors - except for the one male competitor, Mike who was barely in the story at all and was only viewed through the eyes of the four female competitors.  It got so bad that I actually had to write a cheat sheet listing each of the four female characters and their characteristics/issues so I could keep track of them.  Not a good sign.  With all this energy being used to remember characters it shouldn't come as a surprise that I didn't get attached to any of them.

While I did love that baking was the connection between the main characters, sadly one cannot live on descriptions of delicious cupcakes alone.  The depictions of delicious baked goods and baking techniques was interesting but the plot and characters fell flat for me and didn't develop as much as I would have hoped.

Overall, I wasn't impressed with this book.  While it's filled with descriptions of interesting baking techniques and treats, the low energy, lackluster characters and predictable plot left me hungry for a lot more from this author.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The DaVinci Code

Author: Dan Brown
Genre: Suspense, Mystery
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Narrator: Paul Michael
First Published: August 2003
First Lines: "Louvre Museum, Paris. 10:46pm -- Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor of symbology who can't stay out of trouble. Last seen in Angels and Demons (2000), this mild-mannered academic finds himself entangled in a deadly conspiracy that stretches back centuries. Visiting Paris on business, he is awakened at 2:00 a.m. by a call from the police: An elderly curator has been murdered inside the Louvre, and a baffling cipher has been found near the body. Aided by the victim's cryptologist granddaughter, Langdon begins a danger-filled quest for the culprit; but the deeper he searches, the more he becomes convinced that long-festering conspiracies hold the answer to the art lover's death.

My Review:  This is my second time reading this book except that this time around I decided to listen to the e-audio version as I went on walks or drove back and forth to work.  I had first read the book several years ago and only remembered that I really enjoyed it. 

This time around I enjoyed it just as much.  Brown doesn't waste any time getting into the action. It was narrated wonderfully by the very talented Paul Michael who truly brought the characters to life and did great French and British accents in both genders.  His vocal talent really added to the experience.  So much so that I'm going to find other audiobooks that he has worked on.

As with his other books, Brown weaves some historical facts with art history and his own fictional tale and in the end left me with quite a bit to think about.  Whether or not his suggestions are true is irrelevant to me. I enjoyed the book and liked getting a different view of some very popular beliefs.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Getting Fit in 2015

I'm not someone who is big on New Year's resolutions -- unless you count not following through with them.  But I do have a honest to goodness desire to get fit this year.  I have about 15lbs I want to lose but more than anything I want to firm up my jiggly bits. I'm not putting the pressure of a resolution on it but I do have a goal to have some nice abs and less Grinch belly and firmer thighs by bathing suit weather.  Everyone's gotta have a dream, right?  And it's a doable dream.

As part of my Christmas gift my parents gave me a one month membership to one of the gyms in town -- the one that is literally 150 steps from my house.  Yup, 1-5-0.  It's that close and I had never gone *hands her head in shame*.  I chose this gym because with it being so close there are no excuses for not going and a month will give me the chance to see if I like it and can stick with it.

Well, since I joined on January 2nd I've gone at least once/day (sometimes twice) to use the treadmills, weight equipment and do numerous classes from aqua Zumba (not my thing), Pilates (liked it) and yoga (love it).  I love how easy it is to zip over to the gym for the classes/gym equipment and with free access to skating and swimming included it's kinda a win-win situation.

One of the things that has helped me to keep at it is using my FitBit One.  Brad and the kids got me one for Mother's Day last year and I've used it on and off since then.  But at Christmas one of my sisters, my mom and several friends got FitBits too (my Dad is planning to get one soon too).  

There's something you need to know about me.  I have a ridiculously strong competitive streak in me.  Ya, I love to win, so the competition for daily/weekly step counts on our FitBits with family and friends is ON, y'all!!  I like being able to see how I'm comparing to my friends and family and it has really pushed me to get on the old treadmill and make my daily step goal.

The FitBit One is a small pedometer-like device that you wear that counts the steps you take during the day.  But the FitBit One doesn't just count steps.  Some of the other features that I love about my FitBit One are:

- it's nice and small.  I wear it on the waist of my pants so it's incognito most of the time (I could also put it on my shirt too).  I even wear it when I'm at work since I'm on my feet all the time

- I can set my own personal goals for number of steps, how many calories I want to burn, floors I want to climb/day, distance I want to go  ...
- It is very accurate
- I can wear it while I sleep to let me know how often I'm restless when I'm sleeping
- Using the app on my iPhone (or on their site) I can add in what I've eaten to count calories, any exercise I've done (yoga, elliptical, treadmill ...), set up challenges with friends/family to keep me motivated
- I'm a very visual person so I love that the One (not all of their products have a display!) has a digital display so I can see how many steps I've taken, staircases I've climbed, distance and calories I've burned etc
- The display also gives me little cheers now and then like "Woot Laurie!", "I love you, Laurie", "Step Geek!"
- Great customer service.  When my first FitBit One wasn't synching right or being accurate they quickly sent me a free replacement within a couple of days!

I don't want all this work to go to waste so I'm also trying to eat better too by counting calories, choosing healthier options as much as possible.  I know I'll cheat once in awhile and that's OK.  It's amazing to see how often I would eat just because I was bored.  I wasn't hungry, I just didn't know what to do with my hands (and I have a weakness for chips and carbs in the evenings). 

So that's my goal for 2015.  So far, so good!  Check back here on the blog (or on my Facebook page) for an upcoming delicious smoothie recipe that I've been whipping up after my workouts.

Note: I have not received any compensation from FitBit for my endorsement.  My comments are purely from my own experience with their product.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Before I Go

Author: Colleen Oakley
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold Pocket Books
First Published: January 6, 2015
First Line: "The kale is gone."

Book Description from GoodReads:  A heart-wrenching debut novel in the bestselling tradition of P.S. I Love You about a young woman with breast cancer who undertakes a mission to find a new wife for her husband before she passes away.

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

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:  When I read the synopsis of this book I was initially drawn to the premise of a wife with terminal cancer going on a journey to find someone for her husband to love when she's gone.  It sounded like such a selfless journey and I expected to be a big 'ol sniveling mess when I was done.

While it did have its emotional scenes towards the end, overall it was not nearly as gut-wrenching or as dark as I was expecting for a book that deals with a woman with terminal cancer.  It had an underlying sadness throughout but it was more of a look into the relationship between Daisy and Jack as they deal with such a devastating blow to their future plans and relationship.  It was their relationship, as it spiraled downwards, that was the saddest (and most frustrating) part of the book for me because of the vital time they seemed to waste as they struggled to deal with the effects of the cancer.

The addition of secondary characters helped to show the far reaching effects of cancer and rounded out the story.  There was Daisy's mother and her emotional outbursts and Kayleigh, Daisy's best friend, who brought a lightness, humour and honesty with how she interacted with Daisy and dealt with the diagnosis in her own way.

At first I wasn't sure how believable that portrayal of Daisy and Jack's relationship was. Daisy's focus on secretly finding Jack a future wife started off as a sweet idea but soon moved into an obsession which, as it went along, became more and more uncomfortable to read.  But, as someone who also likes to be in control of her life like Daisy, I can also see how, as she lost her independence and control over her life, she clung to this issue of ensuring that Jack was taken care of when she was no longer with him. This didn't make reading about their struggles easy though.  I kept wanting to shake her and say don't waste your time on this quest, spend it with Jack!

This was a good debut that focuses on the issue of finding your own happiness versus looking ahead to ensure the happiness of your loved one and gives readers an inside look at how cancer ravages not only a person's body but their emotional state and relationships.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Book Challenge 2015!

Now that we've entered a new year, let's up the ante on our reading challenges, shall we?  By now you should know that I'm a big lover of keeping track of what I read - not only here on my blog, but on an Excel spreadsheet at home and on my GoodReads account (I'm waving my book geek flag high and proud, y'all!!). 
I know not everyone reads as much as I do but that doesn't mean that we can't all spread our 'reading wings' a bit and try some new books, authors or genres that we've shied away from in the past.  Maybe this will open up a whole new world for us!
Normally my method of choosing books ranges from seeing soon to be published books on NetGalley, to hearing people tell me good reads as a Library Assistant or tips from m'peeps on GoodReads to 'Oooo, that book cover looks pretty'.  I'm all over the board.  But I know there are so many authors and their writing that I haven't experienced yet and some genres that I haven't tried yet (horror, for one ... EEEK!).
I got this idea of a reading challenge from my friend Beth (who is not only one of my oldest, dearest friends but also an avid read and Library Assistant t'boot).  We've each challenged ourselves to read 85 books this year so I'm hoping that we will be able to check off a bunch of the 40 challenges I've listed below.  No stress.  This is for fun and I'm just curious to see what I (we) can accomplish this year.  
Are you up for it?  :)

1. A book set in Canada. (eg. Still Life by Louise Penny)
2. A book with a non-human main character. (eg. The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien)
3. A book with more than 500 pages (eg. Roots by Alex Haley)
4. Read an e-book (C'mon.  You know you wanna try it!  Come to the dark side!)
5. A non-fiction read
6. A book written by a female author
7. A book from your library's ‘Featured Titles’
8. A book published during the year you were born
9. A book from a genre that you've never tried before
10. A book with a number in the title
11. A book written by a British author
12. An entire book trilogy/series (ie. 'His Fair Assassins' trilogy by Robin LaFevers)
13. A book of short stories  (ie. Alice Munro's 'Family Furnishings')
14. A book published this year
15. A Young Adult novel
16. A book that you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t yet
17. Re-read a book that you have read in the past and didn’t love
18. A book that you read in high school
19. Listen to an audiobook or e-audiobook (great when you're working out at the gym!)
20. Read a book that’s currently on the bestseller charts
21. A book set during a World War (eg. The Paris Architect by James Belfoure)
22. A book that was later made into a movie or mini-series (or will be a movie soon.  Many upcoming books to film choices!)
23. Read a classic novel
24. A memoir or biography
25. A book written when the author was older than 65 years of age
26. Re-read your favourite book as a child
27. A historical fiction read
28. A book with magic in it
29. A book set in a country that you’ve always wanted to visit
30. A thriller or suspense read
31. A book written by a Canadian author whom you haven’t read yet
32. A book set in the 1700’s (ie. 'Into the Wilderness' series by Sara Donati)
33. A memoir of a celebrity
34. A book that will make you cry (eg. Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer)
35. A humourous book (eg.Yes, Please by Amy Poehler)
36. A book that a friend recommends to you
37. A book originally written in another language
38. A graphic novel
39. A book written when the author was under 25 years of age
40. A guilty pleasure read
 Lots of choices!  C'mon, let's do this together!  I've put a new tab across the top of my blog where I'll tell you where I'm fairing in this challenge.  If it looks like I'm slacking off please give me a shout out and get me back on track.

Happy reading in 2015!!

Monday, 5 January 2015

The Paris Architect

Author: Charles Belfoure
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Published: October 2013
First Lines: "Just as Lucien Bernard rounded the corner at the rue la Boetie, a man running in the opposite direction almost collided with him."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Like most gentiles in Nazi-occupied Paris, architect Lucien Bernard has little empathy for the Jews. So when a wealthy industrialist offers him a large sum of money to devise secret hiding places for Jews, Lucien struggles with the choice of risking his life for a cause he doesn’t really believe in. Ultimately he can’t resist the challenge and begins designing expertly concealed hiding spaces—behind a painting, within a column, or inside a drainpipe—detecting possibilities invisible to the average eye. But when one of his clever hiding spaces fails horribly and the immense suffering of Jews becomes incredibly personal, he can no longer deny reality.

Written by an expert whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every life the architect tries to save.

My Review:  This was an impressive debut novel that hit all the major points that I love in a historical fiction read: vivid settings, wonderfully diverse, well-developed characters and a story line that was suspenseful and moved at a good pace.  This book has officially gotten me out of my slight reading slump!

I'm an avid reader of WWII/Holocaust reads but this book surprised me by bringing a compelling premise to the table surrounding Lucien, the architect at the centre of the story who hid Jews and their supporters 'in plain sight'.  I found these architectural details that Belfoure, as an architect himself, added to the story fascinating.  But it was Lucien's personal transformation that truly stood out for me.  The reader witnesses Lucien's struggle with his desire to be a successful architect in Paris and the fact that in order to do this he has to work with the Nazis who have brought such devastation and pain to his city.  The changes in his attitude and motives were convincing and believable.

It was eye-opening reading the descriptions of what life was like living in Nazi occupied Paris, for Jews as well as Gentiles.  The majority of the people struggled while the rich were able to scrape by and the Nazis took whatever they wanted.  Life was so volatile as Parisians lived in complete terror that the Nazis would learn that you were a Jew or the suspicion that you may be helping to protect Jews.  Their tactics were ruthless, obsessive and shocking making it not surprising to see neighbours turn upon neighbours in order to protect themselves.

If I had to list a negative I'd have to say that there were a couple of situations that seemed too coincidental but always ended up helping the main characters in the end. Could these things realistically happen?  Perhaps.  In war-torn Nazi infested Paris during the war?  Um, I'm not so sure.  But I'll suspend reality just a bit because the architectural aspect and the characters were so interesting.

This was a very impressive debut novel that had a lot of the items that I think make a good read -  memorable characters, interesting premise, full of some seriously nail-biting suspenseful situations as well as some heart-wrenching scenes.  But it is Lucien's transformation that is at the heart of this wonderful book.


My Rating: 4/5 stars

Sunday, 4 January 2015

One Plus One

Author: Jojo Moyes
Genre: Modern Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
First Published: July 2014
First Lines: "The irony didn't escape Jessica Thomas that she'd lost the best job she'd ever had because of a diamond."

Book Description from GoodReads:  One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like h
is first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

My Review:  Okay, it's official. I've hit a bit of a reading slump.  After reading two books that were 'just okay' I was looking forward to reading a book by Jojo Moyes (the woman who wrote Me Before You which I adored!!).  Unfortunately, this book wasn't able to fully pull me out of the reading doldrums and here's why ...

I wasn't emotionally invested in the characters.  They were an interesting bunch of misfits to be sure and generally had an authentic feel to them (with the goth son being my favourite) but my connection just wasn't there with Jess and Ed.  I get that Moyes was going for the old 'opposites attract' thang but the reasons why these people were thrown together (or why they agreed to be thrown together) just didn't ring true for me.  Plus some of the decisions that Jess and Ed made (particularly how he got himself into the mess he was in and how she dealt with her ex) just didn't right true for me and I couldn't imagine smart people making those silly decisions when they had so much at stake.

Those reasons aside, this book did have heart as well as some funny moments with quirky, unique characters.  It also has a good message of perseverance and that family comes in all forms.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Hidden Fire

Author: Elizabeth Hunter
Genre: Supernatural, Mystery
Type: Kindle e-book
Series: #1 in the Elemental Mysteries series
Source: Kindle e-book purchased from
Publisher: Self-Published
First Published: October 2011
First Lines: "The man stole down the hallway, his footsteps echoing in the dimly lit basement of the library."

Book Description from GoodReads: "No secret stays hidden forever."

A phone call from an old friend sets Dr. Giovanni Vecchio back on the path of a mystery he'd abandoned years before. He never expected a young librarian could hold the key to the search, nor could he have expected the danger she would attract. Now he and Beatrice De Novo will follow a twisted maze that leads from the archives of a university library, through the fires of Renaissance Florence, and toward a confrontation they never could have predicted.
A Hidden Fire is a paranormal mystery/romance for adult readers. It is the first book in the Elemental Mysteries Series.

My Review:  Vampire stories have admittedly been overdone in the past several years. Some are glittery, some are scary and all are beautiful but this book series brings a different view of vampires that I haven't read about  - an elemental factor where vampires have different powers associated with elements.  And while that was an interesting take it's not what initially drew me to this book.  The fact that a librarian was one of the main characters is what got me to crack this book open. Totally biblio geek, I know.

Going into this book I thought it was going to be a 'DaVinci Code meets Vampires' kind of book.  And it kind of was but there wasn't as much intensity or action as I was hoping.  Instead I think the author was going more for the romance element.  Gio and Beatrice (aka 'B') have a certain amount of chemistry (even though it felt like it came out of nowhere) but the overall plot was a little weak or perhaps it was just a little long in the tooth (ha ha) with too much talk and not enough action.  The mystery involving B's past is really what kept me reading but even that wasn't fully explained (which I assume is done in future books).

I've had enough of reading about Bella-esque characters who fall in love with vampires but can't seem to stand on their own two feet without help from their cold-blooded love.  While Gio is no Edward (of Twilight fame), he was still portrayed as the mysterious (yet hot) vampire while Beatrice was a little bland and had a slight Bella feel to her because she just wasn't as strong of a character as I was hoping for.  

In the end, this book was just okay.  It had interesting elements, a different take on portraying vampires but overall it didn't have enough energy and didn't give me enough to make me want to continue on with the series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
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