Friday, 29 July 2016

A Boy Named Queen

Author: Sara Cassidy
Genre: Children (Middle School)
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Anansi Groundwood
First Published: August 9, 2016
First Line: "Evelyn has forgotten how to fold up the lawn chair."

Book Description from GoodReadsEvelyn is both aghast and fascinated when a new boy comes to grade five and tells everyone his name is Queen. Queen wears shiny gym shorts and wants to organize a chess/environment club. His father plays weird loud music and has tattoos.

How will the class react? How will Evelyn?

Evelyn is an only child with a strict routine and an even stricter mother. And yet in her quiet way she notices things. She takes particular notice of this boy named Queen. The way the bullies don’t seem to faze him. The way he seems to live by his own rules. When it turns out that they take the same route home from school, Evelyn and Queen become friends, almost against Evelyn’s better judgment. She even finds Queen irritating at times. Why doesn’t he just shut up and stop attracting so much attention to himself?

Yet he is the most interesting person she has ever met. So when she receives a last-minute invitation to his birthday party, she knows she must somehow persuade her mother to let her go, even if it means ignoring the No Gifts request and shopping for what her mother considers to be an appropriate gift, appropriately wrapped with “boy” wrapping paper.

Her visit to Queen’s house opens Evelyn’s eyes to a whole new world, including an unconventional goody bag (leftover potato latkes wrapped in waxed paper and a pair of barely used red sneakers). And when it comes time for her to take something to school for Hype and Share, Evelyn suddenly looks at her chosen offering — her mother’s antique cream jug — and sees new and marvelous possibilities.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:  This book was short and sweet with a good message about being yourself and accepting of others.  Geared towards the middle school age group it takes a look at the effects of peer pressure and the feeling that one needs to conform with what everyone else is doing.

I actually picked up this book because, based on the book description, I thought it would broach the subject of a child being transgendered.  This subject is only faintly hinted at but the book is a good starting point for parents to discuss peer pressure and being true to oneself no matter what others think.  Queen teaches Evelyn to be happy with who she is and that she doesn't have to conform to the group mentality to be happy.  The book never has a preachy tone which younger audiences will enjoy. 

Overall, this was a good middle school read. And while I found the ending to be more abrupt than I would have liked, I applaud the author for showing her young readers that being yourself and embracing your differences is okay. You should be proud of who you are and not base your self worth on what others think.

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

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Author: Elie Wiesel
Genre: Biography
Type: e-audiobook
NarratorJeffrey Rosenblatt
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Audio Bookshelf
First Published: February 1, 2000
First Line: "They called him Moshe the Beadle, as though he had never had a surname in his life."

Book Description from GoodReadsNight is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver.

Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary Of Anne Frank,Night awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: After his death on July 2, 2016 at the age of 87 I finally decided it was time to read/listen to Night.  Wiesel was an inspirational man and his life work was so much more than the books he wrote and also included teaching and political activism.  He was an inspiring speaker, man, leader, father, Nobel laureate, teacher ....

I had been putting off reading Night for years because, whenever I'd think of picking it up, I didn't feel like I was in the right frame of mind to read an autobiography of a Holocaust survivor.  There was something about the fact that this book was based on what he saw and experienced first hand that made it automatically feel like it would be a gut wrenching, emotional read.

It's hard to rate a book based on someone's life experiences.  I, in no way, mean to demean his experiences but I think I held this book in such high esteem that the reality was not as well written nor as emotional as I was expecting.  It still had its haunting and sad moments as he describes some of the horrifying things he witnessed and experienced in concentration camps.  But I think my expectation going into this book, as well as the large number of other Holocaust books that I've read, influenced my enjoyment of Night.

My slightly lower rating is not meant to discount, nor disrespect Wiesel or the other victims of the Holocaust and the horrors that they were forced to endure. But I felt like there was some disconnect between Wiesel's writing and his emotional response to his words.  Perhaps the only way he could relay his experiences was to slightly detach and tell the story as if he wasn't describing his own experiences.  Were there sections that were emotional?  Yes, but they were far fewer than I had expected. I went into this book preparing to be a sobbing mess and finished it without shedding a single tear.  That was unexpected.

I think part of my feelings towards this book stem from the narrator.  I wasn't a fan of Rosenblatt's occasional screaming at the listener in an attempt to relay the story.  It was abrupt, harsh and not nice to listen to.  I think that the emotion involved in those scenes could have been portrayed without screaming.

While this wasn't as strong of a read as I was hoping I still recommend it be included as part of a must-read book list for people who are interested in learning more about the Holocaust. Through Night Wiesel puts a face to the victims of the Holocaust and I give him the utmost respect for reliving the horrors he witnessed and experienced as a concentration camp survivor.  This was his reality and the reality of six million other Jews who suffered indescribably horrors at the hands of their captors and shows how easily and quickly tyranny can escalate if we don't stand up to it.  I thought that this book would change me after reading it and, while it reminds of us of how low the human race can go, I was left wishing this book had had a greater effect on me.

My Favourite Quotes by Elie Wiesel:

“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” 
― Elie WieselNight

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” 
― Elie Wiesel

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 
― Elie Wiesel

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A Darker Shade of Magic

Author: V.E Schwab
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Series: #1 in the Shades of Magic series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Tor Books
First Published: February 24, 2015
First Line: "Kell wore a very peculiar coat."

Book Description from GoodReadsKell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: V.E Schwab has written a unique historical fantasy read set within the YA genre. There's action, magic and even a want-to-be pirate.  She gives her readers strong characters, an interesting premise with some great twists all within fantastically unique settings.

In this world there are four different London's existing in parallel universes, each with their own degree of magic which has affected each city in significantly different ways.  Grey London which is quite similar to our own world, has no magic and is unaware of any of the other Londons.  White London has a darker kind of magic with constant power struggles where the weak are held in check by the powerful.  Red London is well-to-do and uses magic to benefit its people.  They realize there are other magical realms but since they live lavishly and safely they have no need to bother with worlds outside their own.  Finally, there was Black London which succumbed to darker magic leading the other London's to seal all gateways to it and assume that Black London destroyed itself.

Only a select few, called Antari, can travel between the different worlds.  This is where Kell comes in.  He is an Antari and uses his ability to relay messages from royalty between the different realms ... as well as smuggle, what he deems as innocent, artifacts between the Londons.  When one of his smuggling missions puts him in danger he is forced to rely on Lila, a thief from Grey London whose only goals are to survive and find adventure.  Unfortunately, Kell and Lila have many enemies who are out to get them and Lila may get more adventure than she bargained for.

This book started off quite strong.  Schwab clearly describes her unique setting with the various Londons and I was really drawn to Kell and, even more so, Lila. She's feisty, doesn't put up with a lot of guff and plays by her own set of rules.  Kell is quite powerful in his own right and struggles to find where he truly fits in.  He makes mistakes and finds himself relying on Lila, a common street thief.  There are some decent twists and I enjoyed that no one is who they seem - except maybe the villains who were evil-to-the-core nasties who didn't appear to have any redeeming qualities.

I'd give the first half of the book a solid 4 stars but my rating of the second half faltered to a three when my attention started to wain about two-thirds through.  The ending seemed a bit rushed and felt like it fell into place a little too easily.  I also wasn't fond that I was left with quite a few unanswered questions.

This book is all about brilliant world building with unique characters and ruthless villains. And while the ending was a little lackluster after all of the build up I can't help but think that things will be explained better in the second installment of this series, A Gathering of Shadows (Feb 2015).  Recommended for fans of historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure.

Favourite Quotes

"I'm not going to die," she said. "Not till I've seen it."
"Seen what?"
Her smile widened. "Everything."

"You know so little of war. Battles may be fought from the outside in, but wars are won from the inside out."

"I'm not afraid of dying.  But I am afraid of dying here." She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city.  
"I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still."

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A House in the Sky

Author: Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 373
Publisher: Scribner
First Published: June 25, 2013
First Line: "We named the houses they put us in."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe dramatic and redemptive memoir of a woman whose curiosity led her to the world’s most beautiful and remote places, its most imperiled and perilous countries, and then into fifteen months of harrowing captivity—an exquisitely written story of courage, resilience, and grace.

As a child, Amanda Lindhout escaped a violent household by paging through issues of National Geographic and imagining herself in its exotic locales. At the age of nineteen, working as a cocktail waitress in Calgary, Alberta, she began saving her tips so she could travel the globe. Aspiring to understand the world and live a significant life, she backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each adventure, went on to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth.” On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road.

Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives “wife lessons” from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape. Moved between a series of abandoned houses in the desert, she survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark, being tortured.

Vivid and suspenseful, as artfully written as the finest novel, A House in the Sky is the searingly intimate story of an intrepid young woman and her search for compassion in the face of unimaginable adversity.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: This is not a book that I'd normally pick up but when it was chosen for our local One Book, One Community read I thought I'd give it a try.  Going into it, all I knew was that it was about a hostage situation involving a young Canadian journalist in Somalia.  What I didn't expect was how riveting a book could be even though I already knew the outcome.

A House in the Sky starts out showing Lindhout's childhood with her sometimes turbulent family life in Alberta, Canada.  As a child she eagerly spends her meager pocket money on old National Geographic magazines and fantasizes about traveling to the far reaches of the world.  At the age of 19, she earns enough money waitressing to spread her wings and make her first trip to Venezuela.  There her love of travel is sparked and she continues to travel to far-off places including Pakistan, Ethiopia, Syria, Burma ...  The more she travels the more dangerous some of her destination choices become, especially for a woman often traveling alone.  While in Kabul, Afghanistan, and with no formal training, she decides to take up photography and journalism as a way to fund her passion for travel.  In order to get bigger, more newsworthy stories she decides to go into more dangerous regions which leads her to Mogadishu, Somalia in 2008 - an area rife with danger and where most reporters choose not to venture.

Accompanying her to Somalia is her former boyfriend Nigel Brennan, an experienced photographer from Australia.  Shortly after arriving in Somalia they are taken hostage and, in total, they are held captive in Somalia for a staggering 460 days.  During these months they are tortured - both physically and mentally, starved, beaten and worse.  Many scenes aren’t for the faint of heart and knowing that this wasn’t a work of fiction caused me to be much more emotional than I had anticipated.

Admittedly, some of Lindhout's decisions are na├»ve and impetuous and I had heard from other readers that witnessing her make these decisions frustrated them.  I didn't have the same reaction.  Instead, I thought she described her thought processes (and past experiences) well which enabled me to understand why she made those decisions.  Still, it wasn't easy to read.  I knew she'd be captured (and live through it).  I knew there would, most likely, be violence and abuse and yet even though I knew generally how things would pan out for her I found myself on the edge of my seat for the majority of the book (and often hoping she'd somehow miraculously make different decisions).  

Lindhout endured repeated horrors, deprivation, starvation and torture - both physical and psychological.  And yet what will stay with me is her compassion and forgiveness towards her young tormentors (many of whom were teens and young men) and even Nigel, her friend and fellow prisoner, who made some decisions that didn't sit well with me. Lindhout showed compassion and forgiveness far surpassing anything I think I could manage if I were put in the same situation.

The fact that Lindhout survives is astounding but what is even more amazing is how, through months of pain and torture, she was able to keep her wits about her by imagining her House in the Sky - a place she could go to in her mind to get away from the horror she lived with on a daily basis.  She is a testament to the power of the human mind, soul and the desire to survive.

This well-written book will pull you into Lindhout’s small world and while you may not agree with some of her decisions, you will be captivated by this book. Readers will witness vulnerability, strength, compassion and the strength of the human body and spirit.  They will experience the roller coaster of emotions with Lindhout - from fear, despair, anger, horror but always with a glimmer of hope.  Even though she had such a devastating experience in Somalia, Lindhout has proven that we have a choice in how life's events will affect our future.  She has chosen to bring something positive to the people of Somalia via her organization, Global Enrichment Foundation which provides university scholarships to Somali women.

This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time.  I am eager to meet Lindhout this fall when her book tour comes through my area.  It will be a privilege to meet her and I hope that she realizes how much her tragedy has impacted others.  

I highly recommend this book and give it my rare 5 stars.

Monday, 18 July 2016

The Forever Song

Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: Supernatural, Dystopian, Teen
Type: e-book
Pages: 402
Series: #3 in the Immortal Rules trilogy
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
First Published: April 2014
First Line: "The outpost gate creaked in the wind, swinging back on its hinges."

Book Description from GoodReadsVengeance will be hers.

Allison Sekemoto once struggled with the question: human or monster? With the death of her love, Zeke, she has her answer.


Allie will embrace her cold vampire side to hunt down and end Sarren, the psychopathic vampire who murdered Zeke. But the trail is bloody and long, and Sarren has left many surprises for Allie and her companions - her creator Kanin, and her blood brother, Jackal. The trail is leading straight to the one place they must protect at any cost - the last vampire-free zone on Earth, Eden. And Sarren has one final, brutal shock in store for Allie.

In a ruined world where no life is sacred and former allies can turn on you in one heartbeat, Allie will face her darkest days. And if she succeeds, her triumph will be short-lived in the face of surviving forever alone.


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: For YEARS I have been suggesting this series by Julie Kagawa to friends, patrons and family members because I adored the first and second books.  I had bought the final book in the trilogy but didn't jump right into it for various reasons - mainly because I like to savour a series and sometimes don't want it to end.  This was the case with the Immortal Rules series.

In the first two books Kagawa builds a unique, detailed and ruthless backdrop for her characters.  She fills pages with intense action, strong and diverse characters you care about, a good dose of humour (I do so love Jackal!) and some rather amazing twists and cliff hangers. The energy level is high throughout to keep the reader riveted. 

Unfortunately, The Forever Song was lacking some of the action that I came to love in the previous books and became more about teenage angst.  Compared to the first two books, Forever Song is more romance than dystopian action.  It's not that it's a bad finale, it's just not as strong as I would have hoped for one of my favourite series.

The difference in this book is the energy.  There's still lots of action but the bulk of the book feels like a lot of traveling with intermittent rabid attacks leaving the plot to feel quite slow and almost tedious with the teenage love angst at the forefront.  Too much time was spent repeating this combination of travel/attack/angst instead of adding some unique twist as they search for the cure.  The big cure that everyone is on the hunt for was too convenient and fit in right at the end as an easy way to wrap things up fast.  Meanwhile, I was left feeling a little let down. 

While I still loved seeing Jackal (king of the snarky wise cracks) he couldn't carry this book alone and I can't say that this final book lived up to the previous two books in the trilogy.  It's a decent ending to a fabulous series.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Girls

Author: Emma Cline
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House
First Published: June 14, 2016
First Line: "I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls."

Book Description from GoodReadsGirls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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

My ReviewThis book has had a lot of buzz and with its premise and vibrant 60's cover it's on the TBR (to be read) lists of many readers this summer. Normally this isn't a subject matter that I'd be drawn to - cults and Manson-like killings. Just not my cuppa tea. But with all the hype I was eager to see what this new author could bring to a very well known premise.

What I liked about this bookThe author really got into the mind set of Evie, a teenage girl who is struggling to find herself.  Her inner dialogue and actions seemed to be realistically portrayed for her age.  She's lost, lonely, naive and starved for attention. She's also impressionable which makes her easy pickin's for a group of laid back, confident girls who introduce her to their group which is lead by Russell, a musician with passion and charisma for his view of how the world should be. Readers will be shown why events in Evie's life make her vulnerable to Russell and Suzanne's charms.  Cline also vividly depicts the deplorable and often unsafe living conditions in the cult's camp.

What I didn't enjoy: Not a lot happens in this book.  Seriously.  Not until the last ten percent or so which is when what you've been waiting to happen finally happens - the crime. Up until then it's basic descriptions of day-to-day life in the camp and Evie's inner dialogue. I had to rely on my general idea of what a cult entails because not much detail is given to this specific group and how/why it was formed.

I also never felt like I got to know the cult members in any depth. I wanted to know what the other believers thought. How did Russell have such a hold over these people? Why did they do his bidding without question?  By allowing the story to only flow through Evie's commentary Cline loses the opportunity show her readers the motivations of other characters. I would have loved to get inside Suzanne's head to understand why she did what she did. And what about the cult leader, Russell?  He's barely even in the book so we don't get a chance to know him and how he became the leader of this group.  

I think part of my issue with this book stems from the fact that the book's ending is disclosed early on so there wasn't any big 'wow' moment to be had. Instead the story follows along as you'd expect because you already know Evie's future due to the secondary story line that follows Evie a couple of decades later (which was lackluster). And for a book that is, albeit loosely, based on the notorious killing spree I expected a big twist to be thrown in. We know Manson's story but I figured Cline would throw in something new to give this book its own vibrancy but sadly that was not to be. Instead, since we already know how things will pan out for Evie, we follow the course because there really wasn't much left to be told. This does not make for an exciting read.

I am in the minority (yet not alone) in my feelings for this book. It has received quite varied reviews with the majority singing its praises. While I found Cline's writing to be good (if even a little too overwritten at times) I can't say that she lived up to the hype surrounding her famous $2 million signing deal. In the end, I really struggled to rate this book.  While it had a good premise, interesting look into the mind of a struggling teenage girl Cline's lack of attention to the crime and other characters lead me to a lower rating.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Nine Women, One Dress

Author: Jane L Rosen
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 257
Publisher: DoubleDay
First Published: July 12, 2016
First Line: "Pin it!" The dressmakers were all riled up.

Book Description from GoodReadsA charming, hilarious, irresistible romp of a novel that brings together nine unrelated women, each touched by the same little black dress that weaves through their lives, bringing a little magic with it.

Natalie is a Bloomingdale’s salesgirl mooning over her lawyer ex-boyfriend who’s engaged to someone else after just two months. Felicia has been quietly in love with her happily married boss for twenty years; now that he’s a lonely widower, she just needs the right situation to make him see her as more than the best executive assistant in Midtown Manhattan. Andrea is a private detective specializing in gathering evidence on cheating husbands—a skill she unfortunately learned from her own life—and can’t figure out why her intuition tells her the guy she’s tailing is one of the good ones when she hasn’t trusted a man in years. For these three women, as well as half a dozen others in sparkling supporting roles—a young model fresh from rural Georgia, a diva Hollywood star making her Broadway debut, an overachieving, unemployed Brown grad who starts faking a fabulous life on social media, to name just a few—everything is about to change, thanks to the dress of the season, the perfect little black number everyone wants to get their hands on.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: This was a charming, light read with a strong Rom-Com feel to it.  It's a smallish book that weaves the lives of nine women together with the 'dress of the season', the little black dress.  I enjoyed seeing how each of these women's lives were connected via the dress, in varying degrees and page time, with some of the women only being in the book briefly. I liked that the book wasn't bogged down with a heavy story line for each of the nine women.  And while I found a few of the story lines to be quite predictable it was an enjoyable read with a humorous side.

The book features many secondary characters that were quite vividly drawn in a small amount of pages.  From the elderly pattern maker who created the 'must have' dress, to the 'off the farm' runway model who wears it on the runway, the Bloomingdale's salespeople who are eager to sell it, to the various women who wear it (and the addition of a mix-up in luggage that creates an interesting story line), this book had a lot going on but I think it worked.

While there were a lot of characters Rosen makes it easy to figure out who is talking by indicating the speaker at the beginning of each short chapter. Were some of the story lines predictable?  Yes.  Jeremy and Natalie's misunderstanding, Arthur's love life and Andie, the PI couldn't figure out who was lying, almost bordered on frustrating since their plots were so obvious.  That said, if the story lines had turned out any other way (Natalie, Andie and Felicia, I'm looking at you) I would have been quite dissatisfied. 

So I'm looking at this book as more of a romantic comedy of sorts making it exactly what it should be. Light and humorous with a gaggle of characters and a good helping of charm. In other words, a perfect beach read.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to DoubleDay books for providing me with a paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Creamy Greek Pasta Salad

Summer is upon us which means lots of socializing and BBQs to attend.  What's easier to bring to a potluck BBQ than a pasta salad you can make ahead of time?  Plus it's great alongside chicken, pork, burgers, sausages ....  If it had a mom this salad will go well with it.

We are huge Greek salad fans here so a pasta salad featuring my fav (and very popular Greek Salad Dressing) was a no brainer for us.  Filled with crisp veggies, the tang of olives and marinated artichokes all wrapped up in a creamy Greek dressing?  Yup, this was a hit and also perfect for a quick lunch idea as I'm running out the door to work at the library.

You can add more veggies or omit the ones you're not fond of making this a very versatile dish.  You could also try making it with cheese filled tortellini (a fav of Brad's and mine). Bring on the patios, BBQ's, friends and family!!

What's your summer salad staple for potlucks?

1 1/4 cup dry fusilli pasta
1/3 English cucumber - sliced and quartered
1 cup cherry tomatoes - halved (optional)
1/3 yellow pepper - seeded and chopped
1/3 red pepper - seeded and chopped
1 cup red onion - chopped
1/2 cup sliced black or Kalamata olives
1/2 cup marinated artichokes - chopped

1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/3 cup mayonnaise (or a bit more depending on how saucy you want your salad)
to taste - salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grapeseed or olive oil

1 cup feta cheese - crumbled or cubed

In a medium pot, cook pasta according to package instructions (preferably until al dente in texture). 

Meanwhile, place vegetables and olives into a large bowl.

Combine all dressing ingredients and mix well - I put them in my Ninja individual cup mixer to blend well.  

Drain pasta well.  Rinse with cool water.  Pour pasta into the bowl with the vegetables.  Pour salad dressing over and mix well.  Toss with feta cheese and store in fridge for at least 4 hours to allow for the flavours to blend.  Keep leftovers in the fridge.

Note: Sometimes pasta salads get dried out because the pasta sucks up the sauce.  I didn't find this to be the case though.  If this happens you can mix up a little bit more of the dressing and add it just before serving.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Monday, 11 July 2016

In The Country We Love

Author: Diane Guerrero
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
First Published: May 3, 2016
First Line: "One moment -- that's all it takes for your entire world to split apart."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe star of Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin presents her personal story of the real plight of undocumented immigrants in this country.

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahit Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents and brother were arrested and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family.

In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman's extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven't been told. Written with Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families likes the author's and on a system that fails them over and over.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: In this book Diane Guerrero, actress in the popular Jane the Virgin and Orange is the New Black TV shows, details her experiences as the daughter of undocumented residents who, at the age of 14, suddenly finds herself alone in the US when her parents are deported.  Readers will be shocked at how easily Diane slipped through the US system with no government agency contacting Diane, an American citizen, to make sure she was okay after her parents were deported.  Instead she relied on the help of her community in Boston, her own sheer determination and the generosity of family friends to take her in.  But even with their support, Diane feel quite alone and is forced to become an adult at too early an age.

The issues of undocumented residents has been in the news quite a lot lately making this book relevant and timely.  Guerrero gives a personal look into what life is like for undocumented residents - the constant fear of being caught, struggling to make ends meet and being victims of fraudsters out to take advantage of people who desperately want to become legal citizens.  She also shows the strength, love and support of her local community and how they come together to help whenever they can.

Her account is, at times, heart-breaking, maddening and shocking but always with a real honesty. She doesn't sugar coat her problems and faults with her readers as she struggles to remain connected with her parents, deal with her feelings of abandonment as well as confront alcohol abuse and mental health issues. 

She has a very causal and conversational feel to her writing with some contemporary slang (complete with occasional hashtags) thrown in.  Sometimes this writing style can backfire and this book felt more like chatting with a girlfriend most of the time.  But I think, for the most part, it works for this book and I couldn't help but imagine her saying some of these lines in a Maritza Ramos style.  For those who aren't Orange is the New Black fans, Maritza is the character that Diane plays on the hit show.  Diane talks a bit about her OITNB experiences and cast mates - their banter and connection is just as solid on and off set as you'd imagine. 

Now when I watch Orange is the New Black I have a much better understanding of this relatively new actress.  You really cannot understand a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes.  As a Canadian citizen, I have had a very different experience growing up but I appreciate how thoroughly she described her feelings and struggles to her readers to enable us to get a glimpse into her life and help us to sympathize with people in similar situations.

While she has started on a successful career as an actress and has become an advocate for immigrants, readers witness how the loss of her parents, at such an important juncture of her life, influences her positive and negative life experiences in such a dramatic way.  While Diane accounts her own struggles in this book she has become the voice of many who continue to fight for the opportunity to be American citizens.  She is a force to be reckoned with and I applaud her for sharing her painful upbringing, humanizing immigration and shedding the light on America's need for inclusivity.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Treasures of the Forgotten City

Author: Danny McAleese and David Kristoph
Genre: Children, Create Your Own Adventure
Type: Paperback
Pages: 180
Series: Ultimate Ending #1
Source: Directly from authors
Publisher: Createspace
First Published: April 4, 2016

Book Description from GoodReadsThree priceless star jewels. A century-old, cryptic journal. Using only the resources left by your grand-uncle, it's up to you to find Atraharsis — the legendary lost city beneath the sands. 

But the way won't be easy. Raging sandstorms, sinister traps, and a whole host of mysteries stand between you and your Ultimate goal.
Can you solve the riddles, and recover the fabled star gems in time?

Or will you — like so many who've gone before — become the next permanent resident of the forgotten city?

YOU choose your own path in this treasure-hunting adventure! Ultimate Ending lets YOU pick the story. YOU make the decisions, solve the riddles, avoid the traps and gather the clues. It's a mystery and adventure book that YOU control!

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to the authors for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

My Review:  Growing up I knew that there were Create-Your-Own-Ending books but they never really appealed to me (I can wholeheartedly blame Nancy Drew for keeping my undivided attention).  But now that I've read this Ultimate Ending book I'm wishing I had jumped into this unique genre as a child.

In this first book of the Ultimate Ending (UE) series young readers are given an Indiana Jones-esque adventure and are quickly pulled into a story involving lost treasure, sand storms, tomb raiding, puzzle solving, hidden cities and a few creepy creatures.  Armed with only an old mysterious journal and a side kick, readers try to uncover the lost city of Atraharsis and its famous jewels.

As this was my first foray into the Create-Your-Own-Ending universe I had my preconceived ideas of how things would work but the authors went over and above my expectations. They start off by clearly and briefly describing how the book works for the new-to-UE reader making it easy to jump right in.  I have to say that I loved being able to decide how things would pan out for my character.  Oh the power!!  

I thought the 'one Ultimate Ending' that readers strive to achieve is a great idea and while I didn't make it to that ending ending it was a fun ride. Yes, I succumbed to one of the perilous traps and even backtracked (because I kept a bookmark in my last page) and tried a different route which helped me last a little longer the second time around. Needless to say, the possibilities of re-reading this book are practically endless due to the addition of randomized coin tosses and dice rolls that readers can use to make some of the decisions.

My only reservation for young readers (I'd recommend this book for 9-12 year olds) is that some of the words used may be a little over the heads of some younger readers (glyphs, portcullis ...) so it would have been nice to have some of those harder terms underlined and a glossary of terms at the back of the book for those readers.

This is a great way to add a healthy dose of excitement to reading (and a great way for parents who enjoyed Create-Your-Own-Ending books in the 1980's to be nostalgic).  By giving the decision making over to the child it really engages them and the options for the story's path are practically endless.  There are MANY cliff hangers throughout this book that is filled with short chapters. Even reluctant readers will be eager to get back into the adventure and see if they can bypass the many fatal traps that are sprinkled generously throughout. This is a roarin' good twisty read that puts tween readers at the helm of the story.  Now THAT'S an adventure!

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

In Twenty Years

Author: Allison Winn Scotch
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Source: TLC Book Tours
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
First Published: July 1, 2016
First Line: "Admittedly, it was an overly nostalgic idea."

Book Description from GoodReadsTwenty years ago, six Penn students shared a house, naively certain that their friendships would endure—until the death of their ringleader and dear friend Bea splintered the group for good. Now, mostly estranged from one another, the remaining five reluctantly gather at that same house on the eve of what would have been Bea’s fortieth birthday.

But along with the return of the friends come old grudges, unrequited feelings, and buried secrets. Catherine, the CEO of a domestic empire, and Owen, a stay-at-home dad, were picture-perfect college sweethearts—but now teeter on the brink of disaster. Lindy, a well-known musician, is pushing middle age in an industry that’s all about youth and slowly self-destructing as she grapples with her own identity. Behind his smile, handsome plastic surgeon Colin harbors the heartbreaking truth about his own history with Bea. And Annie carefully curates her life on Instagram and Facebook, keeping up appearances so she doesn’t have to face the truth about her own empty reality.

Reunited in the place where so many dreams began, and bolstered by the hope of healing, each of them is forced to confront the past.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to TLC Book Tours and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: This book has the makings for a great summer read.  The story focuses around an eclectic group of university friends who were very close during their school years.  Since then they have become estranged due to an emotional blowout that was never resolved and, most especially, the death of their ring leader, Bea.  Now, on the eve of what would have been Bea's 40th birthday she has requested, via her lawyer, that the friends meet back in the house that they shared on campus. Twenty years later, each of their lives have drastically changed with their personal and professional lives becoming very complicated. This book had humour, heart and an authentic camaraderie between these friends despite their very different personalities.  Emotions run high, conflicts invariably arise and old wounds are opened up as these 5 friends are suddenly thrown back together.  

What stood out for me in this book is the characterization.  Winn Scotch does a wonderful job getting to the inner thoughts and feelings of each of the characters.  They each get their own fair share of page time helping the reader to understand how and why each of them are conflicted with different parts of their lives and how these once close friends have become estranged. They each struggled, to varying degrees, with their own demons (from feelings of not being good enough, to long hidden desires and secrets long buried ...) and the way they have been dealing with these issues reveals a lot about their personalities.  

That said, I was surprised that, besides one big reveal, that the secrets weren't bigger in scale and shock factor.  I guess they felt a little too predictable but seeing the way the characters reacted to some of these reveals was interesting.  I also think that there were parts, particularly towards the middle and Annie's issues, that could have been whittled down a bit.  It was at that point that I wanted an influx of energy because my interested started to wane.  I wanted less of their repetitive inner conflicts and get down to the nitty-gritty of the secrets and revealing the betrayals

One must also let go of reality a wee bit with this book.  I have a similarly close group of University friends whom I'm still close with and while we're all successful in our own rights, there is not a domestic diva, plastic surgeon to the stars nor a rock star among us. That's quite a fabulous assortment of careers within one small group but when it comes down to it I'm willing to overlook the fact that these six became quite extraordinary in their professional lives because it made things interesting.

Overall, this was a good read.  The writing was strong, the character development was solid and I liked how my perceptions of some characters changed fairly drastically over the course of the book.  Ultimately, this is a book about friendship.  About remembering the past, learning from it and having the courage to move on.  We may not become who we imagined when we were young but there is always room for change and new beginnings.


Want to win your own copy of In Twenty Years??  Enter into the draw below!  The publisher will mail a copy of the book to the winner!  A great (and easy) way to get an awesome summer read!  Draw open to Canadians and Americans only.

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Author Allison Winn Scotch


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