Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Six

Author: Mark Alpert
Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: SourceBooks Fire
First Published: July 7, 2015
First Line: "My name is Sigma."

Book Description from GoodReadsTo save humanity, they must give up their own.

Adam's muscular dystrophy has stolen his mobility, his friends, and in a few short years, it will take his life. Virtual reality games are Adam's only escape from his wheelchair. In his alternate world, he can defeat anyone. Running, jumping, scoring touchdowns: Adam is always the hero.

Then an artificial intelligence program, Sigma, hacks into Adam's game. Created by Adam's computer-genius father, Sigma has gone rogue, threatening Adam's life-and world domination. Their one chance to stop Sigma is using technology Adam's dad developed to digitally preserve the mind of his dying son.

Along with a select group of other terminally ill teens, Adam becomes one of the Six who have forfeited their bodies to inhabit weaponized robots. But with time running short, the Six must learn to manipulate their new mechanical forms and work together to train for epic combat...before Sigma destroys humanity.

My Review:  This book had a great, original premise about a group of critically ill teens being given a second chance at 'life' as well as the opportunity to save mankind from an evil Artificial Intelligence being who is out to destroy mankind.  Cool idea, am I right?

I have to admit that I'm not in the target audience for this book.  First, I'm not a teen or a regular reader of Sci-Fi, nor am I very learned about computers in general (that said, I'm also not a computer novice - I get by).  So it should come as no surprise that I found, at times, that the story got too bogged down in the techie jargon.  There was a lot of describing the thousands of a second downloads and transferring their consciousness to this machine or that which seemed to happen a lot. But for teens who love technology I think that this would be right up their alley.  

The characters themselves were strong and fairly well developed with the main character, Adam, being believable and easy to get behind.  You really feel for him (and the other five) who have suffered so much physically from their illnesses that have ravaged their human bodies for so long.  

What I had a hard time getting behind is the fact that these teens had such an easy time getting used to their new robot 'bodies'.  Sure, Adam had a lot of background in coding and virtual reality but the others just seemed to intrinsically understand how to read hundreds of files in milliseconds, manipulate their new bodies, download their consciousness to various machines right from the get go.  Personally, I wanted to learn more about how these teens felt becoming robots and losing their human bodies.  It's touched on but I thought that we'd see more struggle.

Sigma was the character that stood out for me the most.  It was an amazing foe for The Six.  It is evil, focused on its goals and utterly ruthless and heartless.  There were a couple of scenes that upped the creepy factor and made Sigma stand out for me as a truly great villain.

This book isn't all about techie speak and evil machines.  It also puts the ethical dilemma of killing these teens in order to place their consciousness into robots on the table.  We see Adam's mom continually struggle with coming to terms with his new 'life' and how this affects her relationship with her son.  Adam and his dad's relationship was touching and the most believable connection in the book but even his father, who engineered the programme, struggled with his ultimate decision to enable his son to 'live' on and I found that to be very authentic.

Readers will be happy to know that The Six is also filled with action scenes and a healthy dose of suspense. There was even a 'romance' scene thrown in but I felt like it wasn't needed and personally I didn't think it added much to the story line. 

In the end, this was a good read.  While AI isn't something that I usually read about I think that many teens would love this book.  It had some heart, action and a very original plot that will make it stand out for teen readers. 

Look for this book in bookstores and online July 7, 2015.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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

Thursday, 25 June 2015


Author: Julie Kagawa
Series: #1 in the Talon series
Genre: Supernatural, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 464
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
First Published: October 2014
First Line: "Ember, when did your parents die, and what was their cause of death?"

Book Description from GoodReads:  Long ago, dragons were hunted to near extinction by the Order of St. George, a legendary society of dragon slayers. Hiding in human form and growing their numbers in secret, the dragons of Talon have become strong and cunning, and they're positioned to take over the world with humans none the wiser.

Ember and Dante Hill are the only sister and brother known to dragonkind. Trained to infiltrate society, Ember wants to live the teen experience and enjoy a summer of freedom before taking her destined place in Talon. But destiny is a matter of perspective, and a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught. As Ember struggles to accept her future, she and her brother are hunted by the Order of St. George.

Soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian has a mission to seek and destroy all dragons, and Talon's newest recruits in particular. But he cannot kill unless he is certain he has found his prey: and nothing is certain about Ember Hill. Faced with Ember's bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything that the Order has ingrained in him: and what he might be willing to give up to find the truth about dragons.

My Review:  Going into this book I was hoping it to follow along the lines (action, pace, amazing character development) of Kagawa's earlier Blood of Eden series (Immortal Rules, Eternity Cure and The Forever Song) which I ADORED!  That was an utterly engaging and a great series for teens and adults alike.

It is obvious from the beginning that Talon follows more in the footsteps of her Iron Fey series in that it's much more suited for older tweens or young teens.  The premise of Talon was interesting (dragons living among us and dragon slayers out to get them) but like the Iron Fey series the pace and focus wasn't as raw or engaging as I was hoping. Case in point, my thirteen year old son liked this book.  Me?  Argh. Not so much.

I'm going to assume that Kagawa has set her audience as a late tween/early teen reader. If I'm going from that standpoint this was a decent read. The plot itself is straight forward and fairly predictable from the get go.  I think that older tween/young teens will enjoy the Romeo and Juliet themed romance as well as the warring young men vying for the affection of Ember and the general teen drama that is a large part of the book.  

For me the book was divided into two sections.  The first half was much slower paced with the emphasis being on Ember and Dante making friends and setting up the romantic element.  In the second half the pace picks up and the story line takes on more intrigue ending with a cliffhanger to entice readers to proceed with the next book in the series, Rogue.  Overall, I found the book to be predictable and a bit slow since more time was spent with the budding romantic entanglements than dragon in plain sight issue .  There were some great action scenes towards the end of the book but when dealing with dragons, an evil organization and dragon slayers I guess I was expecting a little more fire and fight throughout the book.

I also missed the world building.  Kagawa is amazing at bringing her readers into the worlds she creates.  Talon brings the reader to ... the California coast's teen beach scene.  Yup.  I almost expected Dylan Walsh, Brandon and Brenda to walk up to them at the beach smoothie hut (I jest about the 90210 reference but the Smoothie Hut?  Yup, like the Peach Pit of 90210 fame it was a popular location in the book).   

Ember was a likable character.  She had normal teen insecurities and a twin to go through it with in Dante.  They had a believable relationship but if I had one beef it was that they blended into the teen beach scene a little too easily.  I know that Ember and Dante had been trained on how to live among humans but they seemed to fit in with no major issues.  I guess I was expecting a lot more 'fish out of water' floundering but they seemed to jump into the teen beach scene easily.

Kagawa is an amazing writer and she kept this mom of three's interest for the most part.  I just think that her focus in this book was more about the romantic entanglements than in the dragons living among us which was a let down.  I would suggest this book for older tween/young teens who want a lighter fantasy read with the emphasis on budding romantic entanglements.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Shadow and Bone

Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Fantasy
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 372
Series: 1st book in the Grisha series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Square Fish
First Published: May 2013
First Line: "The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke's house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches."

Book Description from GoodReadsSurrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

My Review:  I've been meaning to pick up this book for quite awhile.  The cover is striking and although I knew nothing about the characters or plot ahead of time I had heard wonderful reviews from other readers/book bloggers.  That's usually a good enough reason for me to pick up a new book.

From the book's description on the cover it had a lot going for it - a unique Russian-esque culture and setting.  Think of it as 'medieval fantasy with a Russian twist' with a war and a love triangle of sorts.  There's monsters, a dark and dangerous place ... ya, there was a lot to draw me to this book.

Unfortunately it took me awhile to get into it.  The setting, while promising, wasn't described or explained well enough for me.  It was hard to picture in my mind and the pace dropped off dramatically in the middle and didn't really pick back up until the last 50 pages or so which was very disheartening.

The characters were hits and misses too.  Alina, as the main character fell flat and never became the main character that she should have.  When she was first introduced I thought she was quiet but had a streak of sass in her. I do so love some sass.  Sadly, her strength and personality soon began to waiver. Once she was in the royal court she seemed to lose her oomph and my interest in equal measure.  Ultimately, she came off as weak and at a big disadvantage because she's described as plain to the point of ugly in a society where it seems only pretty people can succeed, it seems.  

The character that stood out the most from me was The Darkling but even he wasn't used as well as he could have been.  Unfortunately the vast majority of the characters weren't memorable (I can't even remember their names) and therein lies the overall problem of this book.  It has an interesting premise but not enough time is devoted to delving deeper into the characters' personalities and relationships or the setting for that matter. 

The plot of this book suffered from a scorching case of 'tell instead of show'.  Oh how I hate that!  The reader is told that the Grisha have these amazing powers but we don't really get to see them in action.  We're told that Alina goes through extensive training but hardly get to see any of it.  I think getting a better look into her training would have helped me understand her power better, especially since she's being trained by such a wizened woman.  But in the end the reader only gets a peek into the training but otherwise it's just Alina complaining about how mean her teacher is to her. It was frustrating and wasted time that the reader could have gotten to know Alina better.

The premise was so promising and there were some interesting points (The Fold, hierarchy at the royal court, the mysterious Darkling) but in the end I don't feel that these points were used in the story enough.  On the plus side, Bardugo's writing was solid and I did enjoy some of the humour and banter between Alina and other characters.  

I just wish that the story lines were more complex and not so straight-forward.  I wanted something deeper and juicier with more action.  This felt like YA Light which wasn't as satisfying.  I'm not into 'light' things whether it's yogurt, sour cream or coffee creamer.  And I'm not really into light fiction. This book had a good premise but the execution needed some work.  This is a very popular series and please note that I'm in the minority with my feelings.  I'm still hopeful that the author tightens up the plot and character development in the future books but unfortunately this book didn't entice me into reading more of the series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Those Girls

Author: Lauren Saft
Genre: Young Adult
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Little, Brown Book for Young Readers
First Published: June 9, 2015
First Line: "Same shit, new year."

Book Description from GoodReadsSome girls will always have your back, and some girls can't help but stab you in it.  

Junior year, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Alex, Mollie and Veronica are those girls: they're the best of friends and the party girls of the school. But how well does everybody know them--and really, how well do they know one another? Alex is secretly in love with the boy next door and has joined a band--without telling anyone. Mollie suffers from a popular (and possibly sociopathic) boyfriend, as well as a serious mean streak. And Veronica just wants to be loved--literally, figuratively, physically....she's not particular. Will this be the year that bonds them forever....or tears them apart for good? 

Lauren Saft masterfully conveys what goes on in the mind of a teenage girl, and her debut novel is raw, honest, hilarious, and thought-provoking, with a healthy dose of heart.

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Little, Brown Book for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: Those Girls follows the lives of three teenage best friends.  It's deemed to be "raw, honest, hilarious, and thought-provoking, with a healthy dose of heart" and while I whole-heartedly agree that this book is raw and thought-provoking I have a hard time agreeing with the description of 'hilarious' or 'a healthy dose of heart'.  

Instead, what I will vividly remember from this book are the numerous, excessively sleazy and explicit descriptions of teen behaviour, sexual 'relationships', language and stereotypical characters.  It was a very disturbing and sad commentary on modern teens and maybe it's because (thankfully) these three teen girls bare no resemblance to any teenage girl I've ever met, but it felt like the movie Mean Girls meets Gossip Girl on steroids.  

Each girl had her own issue to deal with: Mollie - the Mean Girl with the eating disorder and a cheating boyfriend; Veronica - the lonely, excessively promiscuous party girl and Alex, the pot smoking loner who is secretly in love with her best friend.  Those are the three main characters and surprisingly it's Veronica who has any sort of transformation of the three even if it's fairly minimal in the end.

I have to admit that I never felt connected to any of the characters.  I realize that I'm not in the target audience (in fact I'm a Mom to two teens and a tween) but I still think that I should have felt some connection.  What was lacking in the characters were the reasons why they were the way they were.  What made Veronica so promiscuous?  Why was Mollie so mean?  The reader isn't given enough access into their pasts to understand why they are that way, leaving the girls to be caricatures of mean teens.  Instead the book is filled with scenes that are included for shock value instead of taking the time to develop the characters.  If those scenes were omitted I don't think there would be enough of a story to keep the average reader engaged.  

The final straw for me was when the story lines all culminate in a train wreck of revenge that affects all of their lives.  Unfortunately the end result of the revenge scene was handled too easily and flippantly for the seriousness of the action - especially the subsequent issue that happened to Veronica.  Sadly, the abrupt ending was the proverbial nail in the coffin for me.

As for humour?  There were a few amusing comments (mainly between Alex and Drew) but they were at a minimum.  I think that some of the name calling between the girls was supposed to be deemed funny but having her best friends call Veronica every type of slutty reference (whorebox, c*m guzzling crack whore ...) felt over the top and just generally icky.  I couldn't believe that these self-proclaimed BFFs would regularly call one of their own derogatory, shaming and self-esteem destroying names on a regular basis. 

If Saft was going for a raw book showcasing the social jungle that is high school I think she may have overshot her mark.  This book deals with many teen issues but to the point of excess - eating disorders, feeling abandoned by parents, promiscuity, sex, rape and a lack of importance on self respect, contraception, underage drinking and drug use ....  It was just too much.  Under it all, I believe the main issue for all three girls is trying desperately to fit in.  To be loved by their friends - warts and all - even when they're not sure they can trust each other or have enough faith in themselves.  Unfortunately I think that the excessive bad language and extreme sexual scenes detract from the opportunity that Saft had to bring some of these real teen issues to the forefront and deal with them in a believable and heart-felt way.  

My Rating: 2/5 stars

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Keeper of Lost Causes

Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen
Genre: Suspense
Source: Local Public Library
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 395
Series: #1 in the Department Q series
Publisher: Dutton Adult
First Published: 2011
First Line: "She scratched her fingertips on the smooth walls until they bled, and pounded her fists on the thick panes until she could no longer feel her hands."

Book Description from GoodReadsCarl Mørck used to be one of Copenhagen’s best homicide detectives. Then a hail of bullets destroyed the lives of two fellow cops, and Carl—who didn’t draw his weapon—blames himself. So a promotion is the last thing he expects. But Department Q is a department of one, and Carl’s got only a stack of Copenhagen’s coldest cases for company. His colleagues snicker, but Carl may have the last laugh, because one file keeps nagging at him: a liberal politician vanished five years earlier and is presumed dead. But she isn’t dead … yet. 

Darkly humorous, propulsive, and atmospheric, The Keeper of Lost Causes introduces American readers to the mega-bestselling series fast becoming an international sensation.

My Review:  One of my informal 'Reading To Do's' is to read more Scandinavian authors. I've read Stieg Larsson but there are so many other authors from that area that I routinely see on the shelves at the library where I work whom I find intriguing -- Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell and Camilla Lackberg to name a few.  After reading some great reviews about The Keeper of Lost Causes I thought I'd jump back into the Scandinavian suspense genre with this series.

I was not disappointed.  This was a great read with the author doesn't waste any time throwing the reader into the suspenseful story line and unique, engaging characters.  The story is told using the alternating viewpoints of police detective, Carl Mørck and the victim,  Merete Lynggard, a controversial politician.  This method of storytelling keeps the reader actively involved in the police search as well as what is happening to the victim.  I found both viewpoints equally engaging.  Merete's struggle was emotional and, at times, hard to read but Carl Mørck really stood out for me as a solid main character. He was the epitome of a curmudgeon who has a real talent for solving crimes but also has his own demons to battle and a lot of emotional baggage to bear.  His assistant, Syrian refugee Assad, added light comic relief which brought some levity (and some additional mystery due to his own mysterious past) to a story which, without it, could have been a little too heavy.  Truth be told, Assad was my favourite character.

Without giving anything away I did have a bit of a negative feeling about the story line which was a little unbelievable.  That said, I don't think that it greatly affected my overall enjoyment of the book and I was able to forgive it but it was just one of those things that didn't sit right with me when I read it.

This was a fast-paced suspenseful thriller that one can't help but make comparisons with another extremely popular Scandinavian crime series, Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".  They both have an intense and sadistic feel to them with some truly cringe worthy moments but their twists and fast-paced writing keep readers on the edge of their seats.  With well-developed and believably damaged characters and a dollop of humour here and there this is a series that I plan to continue.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Lemon Snack Cake

I will be the first to admit that I've kind of lost my baking mojo recently.  So much so that my kids have noticed and asked why I don't bake anymore.  Part of me does an inner happy dance because they noticed and appreciate my home baking.  But let's face it ... the end of the school year is fast approaching and I'm in the annual Spring Mama Slump.  I've got my eye on the finish line and not a lot of energy to muster.  

I've given it my all for the last 9 months of the school year baking so my kids can take homemade treats to school but now I've plum run out of steam.  (This is not the first year it has happened -- read up on my rather humourous trials and tribulations of enduring the End Of School Mom Syndrome HERE).  I'm ready for the summer 'no school lunch' schedule!

Another factor that goes against my desire to bake is that Brad and I are  trying to eat better (which hasn't been going too badly).  Baby carrots are ... fine as a snack but if I had some homemade banana bread, brownies or crusty bread you know that would be inhaled in a second so I've backed off on the baking.  

But I know my kids love having homemade snacks in their school lunches so I went on the hunt for some new blog recipe fodder and found this recipe.  I made some tweaks (I'm not a fan of mixing batter in the same pan you're going to bake it in) and I also upped the lemon zest too (you can never had too much in my book) and changed up the glaze too.  

This was a lovely, mild lemon-y cake that was eagerly put into school lunch bags this morning.  Score one for mom!  To all the other mothers in the trenches ... keep your chins up.  Summer is almost here and the school lunch morning frenzy will be a thing of the past ... for a couple of months anyway.

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
zest from one medium-sized lemon (See Tip below)
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup powdered sugar
3 tsp fresh lemon juice (the bottled stuff doesn't compare to fresh)

Lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease the bottom of an 8x8-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Mix well and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine egg, lemon zest, melted butter and milk.  Gently pour wet ingredients into the flour mixture and lightly stir just until combined (it may look a little lumpy still - that's okay).

Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool completely on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, prepare the glaze.


Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice and mix until smooth.  Pour over cake and smooth out with the back of a spoon.  Top with lemon zest just before serving, if desired.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container.

Tip: I always use my microplaner to zest lemons (unless I want to see larger pieces of zest).  I tend to like the look of smaller flecks of zest and using the microplaner is a breeze.  I used the microplaner for the zest in the cake and a traditional zester for the garnish on top.

Source:  Inspired by - Land'o'Lakes Lemon Snack Cake

Here are some of my other favourite lemony treats:
Lemon Cranberry Muffins
Lemon Crinkle Cookies
Lovely Lemon Squares
Lemon Loaf Pound Cake
Strawberry Lemonade Cake

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Beautiful Girl

Author: Fleur Philips
Genre: Modern Fiction, Young Adult
Type: Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: SparkPress
First Published: June 9, 2015
First Line: "Clarissa sees Decker Bail before I do."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeventeen-year-old Melanie Kennicut is beautiful. Her entire life revolves around this beauty because her overly controlling mother has been dragging her to casting calls and auditions since she was four years old. According to Joanne Kennicut, Melanie was born to follow in her footsteps. But Melanie never wanted this life. 

When a freak car accident leaves her with facial lacerations that will require plastic surgery, she can't help but wonder if this is the answer to her prayers. For the first time in her life, she has a chance to live like a normal teenager at least for a little while away from the photo shoots and movie sets that have dominated her entire existence. But after Melanie allows her best friend to come to the house to see her, Joanne decides to hide her daughter in Montana for the remainder of the summer. There, Melanie won't be seen by anyone they know, and her face will heal in time for the scheduled surgery in late August. Joanne’s plan backfires, however, when Melanie meets Sam, a Native American boy hired by the home's owner to tend to the property. Sam is nothing like the Hollywood boys Melanie know she's poor, his father's a drunk who possesses a bizarre gift inherited from a Kootenai Shaman, and his only brother disappeared into the mountains after the death of their mother eight years before. What transpires over a mere 36 hours after Sam and Melanie meet changes both of their lives in ways they never thought possible

My Review:  Beautiful Girl had a good premise -- seeing a spoiled and beautiful teenage girl go through the process of self-discovery and self-identity.  I love books that empower teen girls and this book had the makings of one that could highlight the process of coming into one's inner strength. 

The downfall of this book is the pace.  Whoa Nelly! Usually I like a fast paced book but this book was so rushed that not enough time was given to delve deeper into some of the issues (which could have had some great emotional depth to them).  Instead they felt too easily resolved and rather weak.  

The pace also left little time to connect with Melanie (and other characters) and didn't give them enough time to develop leaving them to feel very one-dimensional.  That's not to say that I had no feelings for the main characters.  Both Melanie and Sam had horrible childhoods and I felt bad for them but the way that they connected so quickly didn't feel realistic and the book went downhill for me from there.  

I'm not a fan of 'Insta-Love' but I do like good romance -- if it's realistic.  I have to believe the relationship/issues for me to love a story line or character.  I just cannot buy into the idea that Melanie falls in love with a boy she's talked to casually twice.  There's also one scene between them later on that came out of left field and felt totally out of character for Melanie.  It felt like the scene was added to quickly 'tell' the reader that they had a deep connection.  I'm not a fan of the 'tell instead of show' type of writing.

The author added in a semi-decent twist at the end to explain some of the behaviour of one of the characters but I never felt like it was a good enough reason.  It felt like a weak and last minute excuse for this person to have treated Melanie so horribly most of her life.  I honestly didn't need that character to be redeemed.  In fact, it would have been more believable if that person had stayed the same and Melanie's character had developed more.  Unfortunately there just wasn't enough character development for any of the characters throughout the book and that was really disappointing.

Overall, this book had some good ideas but suffered with weak character development and an overly rushed pace.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Shattered Court

Author: M.J Scott
Genre: Fantasy
Series: #1 in the Four Arts series)
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group/Berkley 
First Published: April 28, 2015
First Line: "Milady, please pay attention."

Book Description from GoodReadsEntangled in a court ruled by tradition and intrigue, a young witch must come to terms with newfound power and desire—and a choice between loyalty and survival.…

The royal witches of Anglion have bowed to tradition for centuries. If a woman of royal blood manifests powers, she is immediately bound by rites of marriage. She will serve her lord by practicing the tamer magics of the earth—ensuring good harvests and predicting the weather. Any magic more dangerous is forbidden.

Lady Sophia Kendall, thirty-second in line to the throne, is only days away from finding out if she will be blessed—or perhaps cursed—with magic. When a vicious attack by Anglion’s ancient enemies leaves the kingdom in chaos, Sophia is forced to flee the court. Her protector by happenstance is Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, a member of the royal guard, raised all his life to be fiercely loyal to the Crown.

Then Sophia’s powers manifest stronger than she ever imagined they would, and Cameron and she are inextricably linked in the process. As a witch unbound by marriage rites, Sophia is not only a threat to the established order of her country, but is also a weapon for those who seek to destroy it. Faced with old secrets and new truths, she must decide if she will fight for her country or succumb to the delicious temptation of power.

My Review: When I saw the cover of this book I requested it because I was in the mood for a fantasy read complete with magic, action and mayhem.  Based on the cover I assumed it would be a Young Adult Fantasy with a bit of romance but this idea was quickly quashed after reading a rather sassy (okay, more like explicit) love scene early on.  After reading that scene I'd definitely consider this an adult read.

I'm all for a well placed love scene in a book but there has to be some meat to the overall plot. In The Shattered Court we are given a reason for the initial, steamy love scene but this theme of romance (albeit some was more of the 'bodice ripper' variety) took centre stage throughout the book leaving the reader without enough of a story line to keep up the momentum.  I spent a lot of the book hoping that there would be some strong plot twist to ramp up the energy of the book but unfortunately that never happened.  

The magic aspect is what drew me initially to pick up this book.  I do so love a good magical read but I don't think the magical element was used nearly enough (or described clearly for the reader).  We see a bit here and there and it's given as the reason for a few sexual entanglements but if I'm being frank, if you take out the romance/'insta-love'/sex aspect there isn't a lot of plot left to work with.  I wanted to see Sophia learn to use her power and see her deal with the intriguing Domina but a lot of that happened 'off stage'.  I was expecting the intrigue of living at court, magic and a bit of romance but instead most of the focus was put on the weak relationship between Sophia and Cameron leaving me less than invested or interested in the overall plot.

I don't want to be a Debbie Downer about this book because I did enjoy some aspects. Scott's writing was impressive and very descriptive and the world she created was interesting (especially her travel portals).  I think that she had some good ideas (loved the animosity of the Domina and Sophia's initial connection to the Princess) but they just weren't executed strongly enough.  

Initially I found her main characters, Sophia and Cameron, to be interesting but I soon found myself struggling with their weak character development.  For me, Sophia was too passive to be an interesting main character as were her fellow witches.  It was quickly evident that it was a book about women being treated as pawns and, depending on their powers, given to the next eligible bachelor to improve his household.  There isn't a whole lot of girl power in this first book and that was disappointing. I would have loved for this book to be about strong young women who use their supernatural powers (which, to be honest, were vaguely described) to take back some of the power to benefit themselves and their community.  I was more than a little shocked that they didn't see that they could rise up and overpower the powers that be.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book.  While it does have some interesting ideas it was weak in execution.  I think that with more focus on character development and a stronger plot the future books in this series could be much more engaging.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Station Eleven

Author: Emily St John Mandel
Genre: Dystopian, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 333
Publisher: Knopf
First Published: January 1, 2014
First Line: "The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored."

Book Description from GoodReads: An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleventells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

My Review:  How do I feel about this book?  That's a hard question.  When I was reading it I liked parts of it and other parts I found to be quite slow.  Some of the characters were interesting and others seemed to fade in and out of the story line without me getting a chance to know them.  After reading Station Eleven I liked it but didn't love it.  Ya, this is a hard one.

I've read my fair share of dystopian reads and I think going into this book I had some preconceived notions about how the story would be played out.  From the book description it's not necessarily a book that I would have picked up on my own but since it's being featured at the library where I work so I thought I'd give it a shot.  The King Lear/travelling Shakespearean actor troop meets the apocalypse is what made me question whether this was a book for me.  It seemed like an odd combination and I wondered how this troop of actors and the death on a Shakespearean stage would fit into the overall 'end of the world as we know it' story.

What I did love was that there were great descriptions of Toronto and that this Canadian author kept the Canuck factor in the book.  She has some very unique characters and quite a few of them take up the story at some point or other and I enjoyed seeing how their lives intertwined.

But it surprised me that, for a book that focuses on a post-apocalyptic world, it wasn't nearly as raw or scary as I was expecting.  This is a world that has been decimated so you'd think that there'd be rampant violence, a severe lack of food and general upheaval.  There are some scenes that get a little dicey but overall this was a fairly sedate dystopian society and that surprised me. I realize that the reader is coming in a many years after the initial downfall of society but I still thought the book would be grittier. But when I step back from it I think that the author wanted to focus on people's relationships and how they dealt with this new dystopian society emotionally.  It was a much more philosophical view of a dystopian world than I was expecting and the phrase 'survival is insufficient' sums it up well. I think that the author wanted to show how people, in their own ways, overcame the end of the world they knew.  I just wish that her ending was a lot more substantial and rounded out the story.  I definitely wanted to know what happened to some of the characters but was left hanging.

There are several unique and quirky characters and sometimes it was hard to keep track of who was who - especially within the travelling troop.  My issue was that it felt like the author kept them at arms length from the reader.  I never felt connected to anyone and maybe that's the feeling she was going for but it bothered me.  I think a major oversight was the fact that the author tells the reader that Kirsten has no memory of the first year or so after the flu wiped out most of the population and then we're never told anything else about that time.  It felt like a tease.  I was hoping that she'd let us know why Kirsten blocked out that time and what happened to her.

In the end, the author somewhat redeemed herself as the story lines converge and it started to come together for me.  Overall, I liked this book but didn't love it.  It was an interesting twist on a dystopian read where it focuses on how different people survived the apocalypse but I do wish I was more engaged with the plight of the characters and that there was more action.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Monday, 1 June 2015

Easy Porchetta Pork Tenderloin

Sometimes there are recipes that are so simple that I don't think of posting them here on the blog because it almost feels like cheating.  The dish may be amazing on the taste buds but it just seems kind of lame to post a recipe with two ingredients and a simple prep.  

This is one of those recipes - but I'm sharing it anyway.  Call me lame but I'm in luurve with Porchetta.

Food Fact: Porchetta (pronounced porketta) is a boneless, fatty Italian pork loin roast that is traditionally stuffed with garlic and herbs and is usually heavily coated with salt and pepper.

This recipe is a very simple version (I didn't stuff it with herbs) and it has only two ingredients.  So it can barely be considered to be a 'recipe' because you're pretty much just patting some spices onto some meat, cookin' it up and calling it a day.  That's my kind of easy week night meal!

But this tenderloin is sooooooo good I had to share it.  It's juicy, extremely tender and was a hit the two times we've made it over the past couple of weeks.  The first time Brad grilled it up on the BBQ and then last night, due to some rather craptasticly cold, rainy weather I took pity on my man and we opted to pop the meat into the oven instead.  Yet again it was very tender and had the fantastic peppery taste that porchetta is known for.

I first became a fan of porchetta as a child because my Mom is an uber fan of this roast.  We used to get it often when we lived up in northern Ontario but since then it's been rather hard to find at butchers/food stores in southern Ontario. I'm so happy to have an alternative so I can whip up my own version at home using pork tenderloin it's a nice fit for our family.

Even though this is a simple 'recipe' it is so tasty, tender and will impress your family and guests.  It's easy to double or triple and with some roasted potatoes thrown in at the same time and an easy side dish it also makes for an easy meal.

2lb pork tenderloin
Montreal Steak Spice

Pat generous amounts of Montreal Steak Spice all over the pork tenderloin.  The more you put on the spicier it'll be!

Allow loin to sit for about half an hour.  

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400F.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the internal temperature of the pork has reached 160F.  Tent pork tenderloin with tin foil and allow meat to sit for 10 minutes.  Slice into medallions and serve immediately.

BBQ Tips: Preheat BBQ to 400F.  Grill tenderloin, turning a few times, until internal temperature reaches 160F.  Allow loin to sit, tented, for 10 minutes before cutting.

Recommended Side Dishes:
Crispy Smashed and Loaded Potatoes
Italian Veggie Melt
Parmesan Basil Orzo
Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots

Source: The Baking Bookworm

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