Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Lily and the Octopus

Author: Steven Rowley
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
First Published: June 7, 2016
First Line: "It's Thursday the first time I see it."


Book Description from GoodReads: Combining the emotional depth of The Art of Racing in the Rain with the magical spirit of The Life of Pi, Lily and the Octopus is an epic adventure of the heart.

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details.

We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without.

For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog.

Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Remember the last book you told someone they had to read?

Lily and the Octopus is the next one.



My Rating: 3/5 stars


My Review: This book is about Lily and Ted who are the best of friends for over 12 years. It just so happens that Lily is a dog.  This book didn't have a detailed blurb on the cover. It only hinted that it's about a man and his dog but you get the feeling that it'll bring out some emotion in you.  You just know it.


I understand on a personal level the relationship between a dog and his/her human.  I've always had a dog in my life, a couple living over 16 years, so this book interested me in that respect.  Dogs become part of your family.  They're the family members who forgive you in an instant, show utter devotion and are there for you through thick and thin.  

This book is about the bond between Ted and Lily. Lily is a sweet Dachshund and her best friend is Ted, an emotionally frail 42 year old man who is trying to overcome the end of his long-term relationship.  Ted is very lonely and sad and it's Lily who is pretty much the only constant joy that he has in his life. 


And then the octopus came. 


Lily is diagnosed with a brain tumor (which they refer to as 'the octopus') and their world is thrown into a tailspin.  The scenes with Lily were sweet and Rowley captures the innocent devotion and 'live in the moment' attitude of dogs.  Unfortunately the octopus bits were my least favourite part of the book.  I liked Ted and could empathize with how he had to come to terms about losing his best friend but after awhile his total dependency on wee, sick Lily got old. 


Many people are over-the-moon gushing about this book.  I'm not one of those people.  While this book did have it's great scenes (mainly at the end) there was a large part of the book that was just plain bizarre.  I'm referring to a large scene about three-quarters of the way in when Ted and Lily go on a fantasy-based adventure to hunt the octopus.  It was odd (not the good quirky kind of odd) and I didn't like it.

There were parts that were touching I admit that it got the tears flowing and a rather large lump in my throat as it brought me back to losing our dog, Brandy.  It's a very difficult and emotional time and Rowley captures those feelings with sensitivity and complete accuracy.
 
While this wasn't a favourite of mine, this was an emotional book with a strong 'nod to the odd' that should appeal to those who have deep attachments to furry folk.

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

Monday, 30 May 2016

Jane Steele

Author: Lyndsay Faye
Genre: Gothic, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Penguin Random House
First Published
First Line: "Of all my many murders, committed for love and for better reasons, the first was the most important."

Book Description from GoodReadsA sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement.  Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.
 
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past? 
 
A satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies, by a writer who Matthew Pearl calls “superstar-caliber” and whose previous works Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular,” Jane Steele is a brilliant and deeply absorbing book inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre.



My Rating: 3/5

My Review: This book has been on my radar for awhile and has gotten quite a bit of buzz on the book review/library scene.  I was drawn to it for its' Gothic vibe and the connection to the classic book, Jane Eyre.  The reference to the classic was a rather big undertaking and I thought the author would have big shoes to fill if the mere mention of Jane Eyre was used in the same sentence as this book's description.  While Jane Steele admits to reading Jane Eyre (I cannot make the same claim) and that it inspired her, this is not a retelling of the original.  

This book had two very distinct parts for me.  The first third of the book I loved. The writing was unique and very smart, it was funny in parts and Jane, though an admitted murderer, was a character I could get behind.  There aren't many multiple murderers that I've found myself rooting for but Jane Steele definitely fit the bill and I was surprised when I found myself justifying her murders.  Jane is strong, resilient and has a strong sense of loyalty to those close to her even though she's suffered throughout her life.  Her voice was refreshing, candid and quite humorous.

Then Jane becomes a governess for Mr Thornfield's ward and the story takes a rather sharp turn.  The momentum pretty much halts as the book focuses less on Jane and more on a mystery surrounding lost items in the Sikh war and her quiet, sedate life as a governess.  Even so, there were still certain characters that I quite liked in this part of the book, namely Sardar Singh, young Sahjara (and to a lesser point Mr Thornfield).  Unfortunately at this point in the book my interest waned almost to the point of me giving up on it.  

But I persevered and finished the book.  I can honestly tell you that I didn't enjoy the last two-thirds of the book. The writing itself wasn't as smart, Jane didn't feel like the same person and I didn't care for the mystery which took over that part of the book leaving Jane to the shadows.  I'd give the first part of this book a solid 4 stars but the ending I'm giving a generous 2 stars for an overall rating of 3 stars.



Friday, 27 May 2016

Basement Renovation - Part Eight - Custom Cabinetry

It's been awhile since I've updated you all on our Basement Renovation Extravaganza so let's catch up. So far I've done posts on walls, paint, flooring, furniture, a small planked wall and a large planked accent wall.  That's a lot of work and money but now we move into some more big ticket items ... cabinets and built-ins.

Admittedly (and not surprisingly) I own a lot of books and with publishers continually sending me new books to read and review I needed a spot to house my 'paper babies' as well as have a spot to decorate with some personal items.  Mama needed a LOT of sturdy shelving because books be heavy. We could have gone to a box store or IKEA for options but we decided to go the custom route. It's a big expense but something that we were adamant that we wanted for the feel of our space, amount of storage we needed, quality and the increased value for our overall house. 

We didn't look around much for a cabinet maker.  We initially went to one local guy (he did our kitchen cabinets in our current house) but he didn't even bother to call us back for 2 weeks.  Not cool or professional.  So we went to the kitchen designer we had used at our previous house who had designed our beautiful cherry kitchen.  Their quality and workmanship was outstanding.  Like in the past we were able to plan everything out with the designer to ensure that we got something that would suit our needs and fit our space like a glove.  She also gave us some great tips and design ideas which took the cabinets (especially our wine rack) to over-the-top gorgeous.

The designer told us that since we were painting our cabinets she suggested we use MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard).  Say wha?  If we're paying a LOT of money for these cabinets I wanted real wood.  But as she explained real wood can warp but MDF doesn't and paints like a dream.  No knot holes, no odd grain just beautifully flat surfaces.  After seeing the finished product I'm a firm believer in the MDF cabinets/doors.

So what cabinetry did we get?  Let's start with the bar, shall we?

Bar Cabinetry
As I showed you in my first basement renovation blog post, we opted for more of a wet bar feel.  In the picture below you can see our bar area that is at the back of our media room.  We planned a wet bar because A) walk around bars take up a LOT of floor space, B) we didn't want people sitting at a bar with their backs to the rest of the room and C) because it suited our style.



We were happy to go the custom route for cabinetry for one very good reason.  This bar area is directly under our laundry room on the first floor so there's a slightly lower head room due to plumbing and venting.  Using standard store-bought cabinets would cause the upper cabinets to be too close to the counter.  Our designer made the uppers slightly shorter (they still have three levels of shelving) and really maximized the space that we had to work with.



As you can see, the cabinets (which we did in a simple Shaker style) fit like a glove and because we went custom they painted them the colour we chose (Sherwin Williams Cityscape 7067).  Originally we had wanted to do a tall wine rack beside the fridge (right up to the ceiling) but after talking to our designer (and figuring out that we wouldn't be able to afford to stock such a big wine rack) she came up with the double 'X' shaped wine rack and we love, love, luuurve it.  Not only is it more stylish but it can hold small and bigger bottles of wine.  Mmmm, wine.  The extra fridge at the bar (just out of view) is imperative for this family of five and frequenter of Costco.  White isn't my colour of choice for downstairs but it'll do until this one conks out.

With this long bar we now have more than enough counter space (great for serving food/drinks), storage for items that I can't house up in the kitchen, oodles of space for various glasses, chip bowls, napkins, snacks, mixes, my home canning supplies and bevvies of all kinds. Tis a bar keep's dream!  All that's left is to do a white subway tile backsplash and perhaps one or two rustic wooden shelves over the sink.  Can I tell you how much I love our deep, square bar sink!? So much!



Belly up to the bar, y'all!

Bathroom Vanity
Next up was the vanity in our basement powder room.  We knew we wanted a 48-inch vanity and looked all over hell's half acre at various box stores.  When we looked at the cost of bathroom vanities from these stores it would cost us slightly more to get our cabinetry people to whip up a custom vanity for us while they were building our entertainment unit and bar cabinetry.  It was money well spent. The vanity fits perfectly in the space, gives us lots of storage, we know it's well built by a company who will stand behind their work.



Laminate Countertops
One simply cannot have beautiful cabinetry without gorgeous counter tops.  We have granite in our kitchen and laminate in the three bathrooms upstairs.  In the basement we opted to use laminate counter tops instead of the costly stone options for a few reasons: 

  1. Cost 
  2. Laminate has come a long way and we could get the look we wanted for a lot less 
  3. By eliminating the laminate back splash we could give it a more expensive look
  4. Did I mention cost? 

With the omission of that back splash piece and the square edges it really modernizes the look and it may even trick you into thinking it's real stone.  My sister Jennifer (who is very detailed oriented and knows her way around home decorating) came over to see the basement and asked how we liked the marble in the bathroom.  When I started to snicker and told her it was laminate she quickly hightailed it to the bathroom and touched the counter top.  Yup, she was surprised and impressed.  Laminate has come a loooong way, baby.

Bathroom Counter Top: Formica - Cararra Bianco (6696-46) We kept the background light for the bathroom
and love the gray veining to give it a marble feel to it.
For the sink in the bathroom we wanted a vessel sink but none really suited the style we wanted our our budge.  I think this square sink that's slightly elevated off the counter is a good compromise and the older looking facet fits in with that style too.


Bar Counter Top: Formica 'Jet Sequoia' 3476. A black background with beautiful gray striping
gives this counter a very stone-like look.
Huge entertainment unit
Last but certainly not least is the entertainment unit which consists of 6 feet of bookshelves/cabinetry on either side of the fireplace.  So much storage!!  We decided to build our bookshelves really sturdy so they are 2 feet each in length and the height of the shelving can be adjusted.  This spacing makes for a LOT of different shelves to decorate which is not my strong suit. 

I appreciate bookshelf decor but putting it together was tricky for me. Armed with Pinterest and Google I figured out some tricks from the experts.  I persevered and bit by bit, trip by trip to Home Sense and scavenging from my main floor for items I already owned, I think I did a bang up job with my book shelf design.  I opted to bring in some of the light teal from the powder room into the main space with some jars and even some of my book choices.

Due to the scavenging, sadly my main floor looks rather plain now with no cute odds and ends.  But I'm proud with how the basement shelves have come together with homey things like family pictures, books, glass jars, a little wood, a little metal  - I think it looks great. 


We plan to add thin stonework to the front and sides
of the fireplace.  All in due time (says Brad).

Left-side of entertainment unit.

Right-side of entertainment unit
Below the bookshelves we have cabinets to house DVDs, electronics, the Wii and blankets for snuggling.  We wanted the focus to be on the cabinets/TV/fireplace not on cords dangling all over the place from the TV, Wii etc so Brad, in his infinite wisdom, put electrical plugs in each of the cabinets that house electrical components.  This keeps unsightly cords out of sight but still very accessible.




Also behind the scenes, as I've mentioned before, Brad used conduit piping to run cables out of sight to keep things nice, neat and out of the way.  Our network, HDMI cables connecting the laptop, Wii, Steamlink, AppleTV, Blu-Ray, Bell Box etc run through these conduits to the receiver in the right-side cabinet behind our fireplace and up to the TV.  The right-side cabinet has similar receptacles and conduits. 




Ok, back to the pretty stuff. You can see that the top of our cabinets as well as our mantle are a dark wood to go with the wood grained flooring.  Originally we wanted a 'dinged up' rustic look to the wooden top/mantle but the designer said they don't 'do rustic' since it's so subjective.  How many hammer and chain dings/divots etc make for a perfect piece?  Too hard to determine. We could have opted to do it ourselves or get someone else to do it but it wasn't a deal breaker.  We just wanted it done.  We can add rustic elements on the shelves.

You may notice that four of the doors are different and appear to have cut outs.  Those were done with a purpose.  See, we were concerned that the electronics, like the receiver and Wii, that would be housed in the lower cabinets (I did not want them on the shelves!) wouldn't be able to 'speak' to the remotes if the doors were solid.  

Soooo, I contacted our designer gal (she must LOVE us by now) and asked her about adding metal radiator insert panels for the doors on either side of the fireplace. It would have function and add some panache and interest to the fairly plain Shaker cabinets.  She came back with the idea to get the pattern cut out of MDF and I'm so glad she suggested the switch.  It looks awesome and I was able to choose the pattern I wanted!  Does it work with the remotes?  Um, sort of ... but they look really pretty so I'm happy.




So, that is where we stand for our custom cabinetry. Was it costly?  Of course.  Was it waaaay costlier than going to a box store?  Not as much as you'd think when you add it all up.  Does it look like a built-in and fit perfectly in our space?  YES!  I am so glad we went the custom route.  We got exactly what we wanted and had fun working with the design team for something that fits our family and needs in a basement that is already becoming 'the spot' to be in our house.

Next up for home renovation blog posts? 

To gas or to plug in?  Deciding on a fireplace.

Doors, trim and stone fireplace surround.  Will I be collecting old age security before these things get done?  How much nagging is too much?

If you'd like to look at some of my earlier basement renovation posts you can find them HERE as well as towards the top of my main page along the black ribbon under my blog's title.



Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Don't You Cry

Author: Mary Kubica
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
First Published: May 17, 2016
First Line: "In hindsight, I should have known right away that something wasn't quite right."

Book Description from GoodReads: In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she's the person Quinn thought she knew. 

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.  

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under Pearl's spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end.


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: Last year Mary Kubica came on my radar as a new-to-me suspense writer.  After reading her novel, Pretty BabyI was hooked.  Her writing was tight, edge-of-your-seat action abounded, she had great flawed characters and there were twists upon twists. I was in biblio heaven.

In her latest book, Don't You Cry, Kubica deals with a missing roommate and a mysterious woman who suddenly shows up in a small Michigan town.  The story is told via two viewpoints: Quinn, an aimless young woman in Chicago whose roommate, Esther, goes missing and Alex Gallo an equally directionless eighteen-year-old man who lives in a small town outside of Chicago with his drunken father.  As the story progresses their lives merge together resulting in quite a malevolent ending.

What caught me by surprise is how slow the tension building was in this book.  I had expected it to take off from the get-go but readers should consider this to be a slow boil kind of read.  Instead of fast pacing, Kubica focuses on revealing her characters to the reader.  Unfortunately, I found Quinn and Alex to be quite tedious and often annoying with their decided lack of chutzpah yet sudden, deep-seated concern for Esther/Pearl.  While Kubica divulges details to her readers at a much slower pace this time around, in the end, everything comes together.  Readers just have to be patient.

I can't say that I liked this book as much as Pretty Baby but it's still a solid read.  Although I didn't find the characters as interesting this time around, the plot has the twists I associate with Kubica's writing ... just a little further along than I was expecting.  If the reader is patient the plot itself is quite detailed and I enjoyed piecing together the puzzle and finding the links between the characters.

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

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The Flood Girls

Author: Richard Fifield
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 336
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: February 2, 2016
First Line: "Harmonica, December 1990 - Every night, Frank played harmonica for the cats."


Book Description from GoodReads: This snappy, sassy redemption story set in small-town Montana is “a wild and crazy debut novel by a talented young writer” (Jackie Collins), filled with an uproarious and unforgettable cast of characters you won’t want to leave behind.

Welcome to Quinn, Montana, population: 956. A town where nearly all of the volunteer firemen are named Jim, where The Dirty Shame—the only bar in town—refuses to serve mixed drinks (too much work), where the locals hate the newcomers (then again, they hate the locals, too), and where the town softball team has never even come close to having a winning season. Until now.

Rachel Flood has snuck back into town after leaving behind a trail of chaos nine years prior. She’s here to make amends, but nobody wants to hear it, especially her mother, Laverna. But with the help of a local boy named Jake and a little soul-searching, she just might make things right.

In the spirit of Empire Falls and A League of Their Own, with the caustic wit of Where’d You Go, Bernadette thrown in for good measure, Richard Fifield’s hilarious and heartwarming debut will have you laughing through tears.


My Rating: 2/5 stars

My Review: I've been hearing a lot of positive buzz about this book so I thought I'd give it a shot.  As a former youth baseball player and someone living in a small town it sounded right up my alley.  The Flood Girls is touted as 'hilarious and heartwarming' but sadly this wasn't a hit with me.  In fact, I struggled to finish it.  How is it that certain books are absolutely adored by some and then there are those like me who wonder if we're reading the same book? 

This debut novel of Richard Fifield, is a tale of redemption and has its gaggle of offbeat (often outlandish) characters and occasional witty/crass banter.  A large portion of the book is devoted to Rachel's addiction and making amends to those she's hurt in the past so I was surprised when she, and the other characters, lacked depth and emotion.  I never felt like I was drawn into their lives but merely an outside observer.  It didn't help matters that many of these women felt like clichés. A few were perpetually mean spirited and I didn't appreciate the grand sweeping stereotypes (strong women + plaid = lesbian, really?).  The only character I truly liked was 12-year-old Jake, the eccentric, 'mature for his age' boy who has a penchant for putting a sassy outfit together and is an avid fan of both Madonna and Jackie Collins.

While I appreciate that the author dealt with serious topics (addiction, dysfunction and forgiveness), I also enjoyed the baseball scenes and found his writing to be fairly strong.  Unfortunately, there many things that I didn't like which overshadowed my enjoyment.  The characters were one-dimensional, the plot felt contrived and the ending, while tragic, was sudden and felt like it was thrown in like a pinch hitter to garner the emotional home run in the nick of time.  Sadly, this book was a strike out for me.

Monday, 23 May 2016

The Trap

Author: Melanie Raabe
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Spiderline (House of Anansi Press)
First Published: May 28, 2016
First Line: "I am not of this world."


Book Description from GoodReads: The famous novelist Linda Conrads, 38, is a mystery to her fans and the media. She hasn’t set foot over the threshold of her villa on Lake Starnberg for more than eleven years, and yet she’s extremely successful. Her life, though comfortable, is highly artificial and her grip on reality is fragile. Only very few know that she is tormented by a dark memory.

When she was young, Linda found her sister Anna in a pool of her own blood and saw the murderer fleeing. His face haunts her dreams. So it is a tremendous shock for her one day when that exact face appears on her television screen — it belongs to the high-profile journalist Victor Lenzen. She decides to set a trap to catch Victor by writing a novel based on the death of her sister and promote the book through one interview —with Victor. But what actually happened that night many years ago?


My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review: Going into a new book I always read the description so I have a good idea of how things are going to pan out. With The Trap I was expecting a standard 'whodunnit' but Raabe, a new German author, switched things up and gave me a very character-driven and impressive psychological thriller. I ended up with a very different kind of experience than I initially expected and I quite enjoyed it.

The premise is that author Linda Conrads found her sister's murdered body 12 years ago and even caught a glimpse of the culprit before he escaped.  The man was never apprehended by police. Since then she has become agoraphobic, shutting herself off from the outside world while making a living as a successful author.  When she sees her sister's killer on TV she comes up with a plan to write a novel titled Blood Sisters, a fictionalized version of her sister's murder to entice the killer to come out of hiding.  She has set the trap to catch him ... but will it work?

There are two stories going on - the main story line featuring the reclusive author trying to find her sister's killer and the other being excerpts from Blood Sisters
This quickly went from merely a whodunit to a well crafted psychological thriller.  Raabe sprinkles doubt in the reliability of Linda's perspective and these feelings continue through most of the book.  You see how unraveled she's become but is her reality the truth?  She even admits to herself that she's always loved to tell stories. I loved that I wasn't quite sure about Linda's take on things and I think Raabe wrote this aspect of doubt very well.  I admit that there are some parts that seemed to feel repetitive as the reader gets glimpses into Linda's muddled psyche but I think that only helped me to get inside her head and see just how haunted she continues to be over her sister's murder.

There are many twists thrown in that left me questioning my initial assumptions about Linda and the crime in question and with the heart-stopping endings to some of her chapters I was hooked and had a hard time putting down this book. 



The only criticisms that I have for this book is that the romance angle could have been omitted for all that it added to the plot and the ending felt a little too easily wrapped up and was over before you knew it. 


In the end, I found this book to be a gripping, twist-filled and tense psychological thriller that leaves the reader questioning the motives of the characters.  This is a very impressive debut novel.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Spiderline Publishing (House of Anansi Press) for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

In the Clearing

Author: Robert Dugoni
Genre: Suspense
Series: #3 in the Tracy Crosswhite series
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Thomas and Mercer
First Published: May 17, 2016
First Line: "Buzz Almond informed dispatch he was rolling, punched the accelerator, and smiled at the roar of the 245-horsepower V-8 engine, the g-forces nudging him back against his seat."


Book Description from GoodReads: Detective Tracy Crosswhite has a skill, and a soft spot, for tackling unsolved crimes. Having lost her own sister to murder at a young age, Tracy has dedicated her career to bringing justice and closure to the families and friends of victims of crime.

So when Jenny, a former police academy classmate and protégé, asks Tracy to help solve a cold case that involves the suspicious suicide of a Native American high school girl forty years earlier, Tracy agrees. Following up on evidence Jenny’s detective father collected when he was the investigating deputy, Tracy probes one small town’s memory and finds dark, well-concealed secrets hidden within the community’s fabric. Can Tracy uphold the promise she’s made to the dead girl’s family and deliver the truth of what happened to their daughter? Or will she become the next victim?


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My ReviewIn this third installment of the Tracy Crosswhite series there are two cases.  The first case involves a domestic abuse/murder in Seattle.  This case is very secondary, and quite cut and dry with a minor and obvious twist.  Tracy isn't involved much in this case, which is quickly passed on to Tracy's partner Kins and their fellow detectives who, unfortunately, don't get much page time.

The bulk of the book deals with a forty year old cold case involving the apparent suicide of Kimi Kanasket, a Native American teenager in Klickitat County, Washington. When case notes written by the now deceased sheriff come to light forty years after Kimi's death, the sheriff's daughter, a former police academy classmate of Tracy's, asks for some help to determine if Kimi's death truly was a suicide. Tracy is motivated to help solve cold cases due to the loss of her sister so many years ago and her desire to help family members get closure for their loss.  This story line jumps back and forth from current day to 1976 as well as between Seattle and the small, tight-knit community in rural Washington state.  For this case there were some twists and turns, as well as some interesting suspects and townspeople but overall there just seemed to be something lacking compared to the first two books in the series.  

Tracy is still the detective with a nose for solving crimes and I really like her.  She's strong, has a good head on her shoulders but has some very real issues in her personal life, namely how the death of her sister still haunts her.  I think seeing how this ongoing loss affects her gives her a very relatable and human feel and not just the head strong detective out to get the bad guys. 

There were a couple of new secondary characters thrown into the mix (I loved the former newspaper publisher).  But I was surprised that Tracy's love interest, Dan as well as her fellow Seattle detectives - Kins, Fax and Del (and even her cantankerous boss Captain Nolasco) are barely in this book which is a shame because they bring both humour and nastiness (I'm looking at you Nolasco) to the books.

Overall this was a good read but definitely not my favourite in the series.  I highly recommend reading My Sister's Grave (which I adored) followed by the second book in the series, Her Final Breath (another great suspense read) to get a clear idea of where Tracy is coming from especially since her sister's death is brought up several times throughout this book.

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

Monday, 16 May 2016

Children of Earth and Sky

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 427
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: May 10, 2016
First Line: "It was with a sinking heart that the newly arrived ambassador from Seressa grasped that the Emperor Rodolfo, famously eccentric, was serious about an experiment in court protocol."


Book Description from GoodReads: The bestselling author of the groundbreaking novels Under Heaven and River of Stars, Guy Gavriel Kay is back with a new novel, Children of Earth and Sky, set in a world inspired by the conflicts and dramas of Renaissance Europe. Against this tumultuous backdrop the lives of men and women unfold on the borderlands—where empires and faiths collide.

From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman, posing as a doctor’s wife, but sent by Seressa as a spy.

The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.

As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance, when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world…


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review:  Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay has written a grand, epic adventure in his own fictionalized realm that is influenced by real historical elements.  This book has a large ensemble cast of characters, many of whom pick up the reigns of the story.  Due to this large number of characters I regularly had to use the character index at the beginning of the book, and even bookmarking it, since I used it so often.  It was hard to keep certain characters and their relationships to each other straight at first and using last names that are similar (Valeri, Villani) didn't help matters.

This is my first book by Kay and I immediately realized that this man can write.  His descriptions of his characters are elaborate and he is quite descriptive (sometimes overly so).  He takes his time getting his reader into time, place and the internal thoughts and feelings of his characters.  I found it unique that Kay takes influence for his story from real historical situations then gives them a twist to fit his story. In this book he was influenced by the Ottoman Empire, Venice and Dubrovnik each given new names of Osmanli, Seressa and Dubrava.

This book has a very slow start but once the story gets going, about a third of the way in, the plot becomes more interesting yet still cannot be considered fast-paced.  There were some periods when I'd get immersed into the lives of a few of the characters, specifically Leonora Valeri, Danica Gradek and Pero Villani, but this was followed by long, overly descriptive moments which slowed down the pace and my interest. There was also at least one story line, which I was eager to learn more about, that didn't go anywhere which I found very frustrating and just plain odd.

While I respect Kay's ability to write, his attention to detail and his unique fictionalized history/fantasy genre, I found large sections of the book a struggle to get through.  I also wasn't a fan of how often Kay switches narrators, often without warning or help to the reader to remember who is speaking.

This book has its good moments of murder, spies, revenge and love all within the complicated plots involving political machinations, war, power and religious persecution.  Kay is an impressively descriptive writer who delves deeply into his fictionalized history and characters.  Unfortunately I didn't find myself as riveted with the plot or characters as I was expecting.

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

Friday, 13 May 2016

Breaded Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Cherry Tomato Sauce

Are you looking for an impressive meat dish that looks like you've slaved away for hours?  A dish that even your pickiest of eaters will take one bite of and look at you with love and utter fascination at the bounty that you've made with your awesome culinary ingenuity??

Ya, me too. 

Until that utopian scene occurs there's this recipe that was a hit with four out of five Bookworm abode inhabitants.  There's always one in the bunch, amIright?  By the end of the meal the one holdout claimed the pork was "Just okay." "Wellll, my wee food critic, it's my lucky day then because I was only aiming for a meal that was 'barely okay and marginally edible' so I guess I hit this one out of the park!!"

(Note: I occasionally like to serve a side of sarcasm with meals. It's the side dish that is not only satisfying for the cook but great paired with any main course.)


The rest of us quite enjoyed this meal (and the leftovers too).  The idea for this meal came to me out of the blue.  I had two pork tenderloins thawing with no idea what to make and time was ticking.  I also had some frozen Balsamic Cherry Tomato Sauce from last summer just beggin' to be used. Hmmm.  Add a crispy coating to the pork and voila!  A meal that 80% of our household will enjoy.


While there are a few steps involved with this recipe they are quite quick.  There's a lot of dipping of the pork medallions in egg, flour and bread crumbs and two cooking times but they go by fast.  Trust me.  Served with a salad and perhaps some roasted or mashed spuds this is a great, go-to meal for family and/or guests.




1 pork tenderloin (1 1/2 lb)
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence (or spices you'd prefer)
Salt and Pepper
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp oil
1 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce (I used my Balsamic Cherry Tomato Sauce)
Garnish - Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cut off any fat on the pork tenderloin.  Cut the tenderloin into 3/4-inch thick medallions.



Get out three medium bowls. 

  • In the first, place the flour.
  • In the second bowl, place both eggs and whisk well.
  • In the third bowl, place the bread crumbs, thyme, Herbs de Provence, salt and pepper.  Mix well.
Using ONE HAND, take each medallion and coat it in the flour from the first bowl; tap off excess flour.  Then coat the medallion in the egg mixture (allowing excess to drip off) then coat the medallion in the bread crumb mixture.  Place on a clean plate and continue with the rest of the medallions. By using one hand to touch the messy medallions you'll keep the mess to a minimum with only one hand that look like you have cheese sticks stuck to the ends of your digits.



Preheat a large frying pan to medium heat. Add oil to the heated frying pan then place the medallions into the pan and brown on the first side.  Flip each piece of pork and brown the other side. 



Place browned pork medallions into a baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes or until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 160F.

Meanwhile, heat tomato sauce.  When serving, drizzle the tomato sauce over the medallions (or serve it on the side).  Add some grated Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese for a Pork Parmesan feel.

Source: The Baking Bookworm






Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Unbecoming

Author: Jennie Downham
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult, Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Dan Fickling Books
First Published: February 23, 2016
First Line: "It was like an alien had landed."

Book Description from GoodReads: Katie is seventeen and in love with someone whose identity she’s afraid to reveal.

Caroline, Katie’s mother, is uptight, worn out, and about to find the past catching up with her.

Mary, Katie’s grandmother, suffers from Alzheimer’s and suddenly appears after years of mysterious absence.

As Katie cares for an elderly woman who brings daily chaos to her life, she finds herself drawn to the grandmother she never knew she had. Rules get broken as allegiances shift. Is Mary contagious? Is “badness” genetic?

In confronting the past, Katie is forced to seize the present. As Mary slowly unravels and family secrets are revealed, Katie learns to live and finally dares to love.

Unbecoming is a vivid and exhilarating celebration of life and learning to honor your own story, infused with jenny Downham’s signature warmth, humor, and wisdom.
  


My Rating: 4/5 stars

My ReviewUnbecoming is a family drama told through the eyes of three women - seventeen year old Katie, her mother Caroline and her grandmother Mary.  Downham gets to the heart of several issues surrounding this trio of multi-generational women who are forever connected by blood but struggle to connect on a daily basis due to long-seated and still quite heated family issues.


Downham brings to light many complicated family issues - dealing with an ailing elderly parent suffering from a degenerative cognitive disease, abandonment, loss, long-held family secrets, identity, mental health ...  There are a lot of issues presented to the reader but Downham handles them with care, knowledge and sensitivity as she gets to the heart of the issues that threaten to tear this family apart.



The characters are quite engaging, each with their own issues and unique flaws.  Throughout the book Mary, Caroline and Katie struggle to find out who they are in relation to each other and within themselves.  I found them to all be interesting, in varying degrees.

As Downham reveals the truth about family secrets you see how Mary's past decisions - and decisions made for her - affect her daughter and grandchildren.  Downham's narration brings readers into the lives of these three women at different points in time giving us a clear look at why and how these women became who they are today and why the emotions continue to affect them.  These revelations helped to solidify Mary, Katie and especially Caroline for me as great multi-dimensional main characters. 

At first Caroline comes off as rather cold hearted especially in the way she treats her birth mother, Mary and how strict and controlling she is when it comes to her children.  But as the story unfolds, and gaps are filled in for the reader, we learn about Caroline's past and how it has affected her relationships with her children, Mary and her extended family.


Mary is forever fearless, unpredictable and full of energy but her memory loss is sad to witness.  I applaud how brilliantly Downham describes living with dementia through the eyes of Mary. She's still just as spunky as she was in her youth but her dementia has taken a toll on her freedom and her grasp of the past.

The book focuses a bit more on Katie and her personal struggles which I felt were honestly portrayed.  It was heartwarming to see the almost instant bond she felt with Mary and how, even with dementia, Mary provided the much needed support that Katie craved.

Although the story has its slower parts I quite enjoyed this read. Deep-seated familial issues with engaging and believable characters are what this story is all about.  The focus is ultimately on family - in all its forms -, love and how we deal with the baggage.

Recommended.
  

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