Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Story of Our Lives


Author: Helen Warner
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 428
Source: TLC Blog Tour
Publisher: Graydon House
First Published: February 13, 2018
First Line: "Sophie could feel herself starting to sweat as she tried to heave the stone pot to one side."

Book Description from GoodReadsSophie, Emily, Amy and Melissa have been friends forever. But the problem with your oldest friends is that they always know your darkest secrets. A powerful, moving, unputtdownable novel following twenty years of friendship, and one unforgettable lie, The Story of Our Lives is a treat for fans of The Versions of Us and One Day

My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka 'an okay read')

My Review: The Story of Our Lives is a look at the friendships of four women.  Readers get an inside look at their ups and downs when they meet up for their yearly girls' weekends over a period of twenty years.

This was an easy read that was more melodramatic than I had anticipated. The book deals with a lot of issues but maintains a light, soap opera feel to it as the characters are continually pummelled with heartbreak, illness, some happy times and a wallop of good old betrayal thrown in for good measure.

This was a non-stop rollercoaster ride of maladies, secrets and lies. Unfortunately, I found the dialogue weak, the twists predictable and the issues were resolved much too easily to be believable with everyone going back to their beautiful lives filled with friends, love and high paying, fancy jobs. Ain't life grand! 

At the heart of this book is the connection between Sophie, Emily, Amy and Melissa and I appreciate a book that focuses on the bond between women. If you're looking for an easy read with a Days of Our Lives feel, lots of issues and features strong female relationships while still maintaining that light feel, then this is the book for you. 

Disclaimer:
This ARC was generously provided by the publisher, via The TLC Book Tour, in exchange for my honest review. 



Monday, 26 February 2018

The Immortalists


Author: Chloe Benjamin
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Publisher: J.P Putnam and Sons
First Published: January 9, 2018
First Line: "Varya is thirteen."

Book Description from GoodReadsIf you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.


My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka 'just okay')


My Review: I was intrigued by the premise of this book: if you knew the date of your death, would you live your life differently? Would you make the most of the days you have left?

But (why does there have to be a but?!) my feelings are all over the place with this book. The first quarter of the book, Simon's story, I found quite interesting. But as the book progressed I became less interested in the older siblings and I was disappointed that the fantastical element is pretty much forgotten after the initial chapters. 

I wanted the author to delve deeper into the whole 'you know when you'll die, how are you going to handle it?' issue. There's a brief mention of self-fulfilling prophecy but that's about it. Instead, it's more of a dysfunctional family saga where the story is told in chronological order which means that by the time we get to the older two siblings, the reader has missed out on most of their lives. An odd choice and probably why I liked Daniel and Varya's stories the least. (Honestly, I would have loved more time spent on Ruby). 

While the cover art is beautiful and eye-catching and the premise is unique, overall, I was underwhelmed by this book. It touches on some big topics but not in enough depth.  I know I'm in the minority with my feelings. This was an okay read for me but many readers adored this book. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of them.

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


Saturday, 24 February 2018

Tanya Bakes


Author: Tanya Burr
Genre: Cookbook
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 255
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Penguin Random House
First Published: September 26, 2017
First Line: "My life has changed a lot over the last few years but one thing that hasn't is my love of baking."

Book Description from GoodReadsFollowing the phenomenally successful Love, Tanya, Tanya Burr is back with her very first cookbook. In Tanya Bakes, she shares her passion for baking along with all her favourite recipes. As well as cakes and bakes, readers will love Tanya's delicious and simple puddings, loaves and pastries.

From everyday staple bakes to sweet treats for special occasions, Tanya's got the perfect recipe, every time:
- Tanya's Ultimate Celebration Cake
- Banoffee Pie
- Salted Caramel Cheesecake
- Rhubarb and Custard Muffins
- Earl Grey Tea Loaf
- Tanya's Nanny's Apple Pie
- Smarties Flapjacks

So make yourself at home in the kitchen with Tanya and treat yourself, your friends and family to something delicious!


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: When the publisher sent me a copy of this cookbook to review I'll admit that I hadn't heard of Tanya Burr. Apparently, I live under a rock ... or maybe it's because I'm not well-versed on YouTube stars. Be that as it may, I now know that Tanya Burr has a popular YouTube channel where she showcases her inner fashionista as well as her talent in the kitchen.

This book is a stunner. The cover art is eye-catching, and the photography highlights the beautiful and diverse recipes that will entice readers. Little blurbs are added throughout which give the book a personal feel as Burr chats about her inspirations in the kitchen which help readers get to know a bit about the author herself. 

Burr has included a variety of options for different tastes and skill levels. Readers will be enticed with delicious dishes like Salted Caramel Cheesecake, Bailey's Tiramisu (I'm in love!), Lemon Drizzle Loaf (my fav!) and unique and tempting Earl Grey Tea Loaf!

My only issue is that for North American audiences, who aren't as well versed in the metric system (yes, I'm Canadian but still bake with imperial measurements), figuring out the measurements may be a little time consuming until you get the hang of it.

Overall, this is an impressive and beautiful cookbook that has a down-to-earth feel to it as Burr shares her love of food, cooking and sharing well-loved recipes  

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.



Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Liar's Girl


Author: Catherine Ryan Howard
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
First Published: February 27, 2018
First Line: "It's 4:17 a.m. on Saturday morning when Jen comes to on a battered couch in a house somewhere in Rathmines, one of those red-brick terraces that's been divided into flats, let out to students and left to rot."

Book Description for GoodReadsWill Hurley was an attractive, charming, and impressive student at Dublin's elite St. John's College-and Ireland's most prolific serial killer. Having stalked his four young victims, he drowned them in the muddy waters of the Grand Canal. Sentenced to life imprisonment when he was just nineteen, Will is locked away in the city's Central Psychiatric Hospital.

Freshman Alison Smith moved to the Big Smoke to enrol in St. John's and soon fell hard for Will Hurley. Her world bloomed ... and then imploded when Liz, her best friend, became the latest victim of the Canal Killer-and the Canal Killer turned out to be the boy who'd been sleeping in her bed. Alison fled to the Netherlands and, in ten years, has never once looked back.

When a young woman's body is found in the Grand Canal, Garda detectives visit Will to see if he can assist them in solving what looks like a copycat killing. Instead, Will tells them he has something new to confess-but there's only one person he's prepared to confess it to. The last thing Alison wants is to be pulled back into the past she's worked so hard to leave behind. Reluctantly, she returns to the city she hasn't set foot in for more than a decade to face the man who murdered the woman she was supposed to become.

Only to discover that, until now, Will has left out the worst part of all ...


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This slow burn psychological thriller follows Alison, a woman whose boyfriend was charged with murdering five women ten years ago. Over the past decade she has desperately tried to leave her past behind but when the bodies of more young women turn up, the Irish police ask for Alison’s help to gain new information from her ex-boyfriend.

Normally I prefer my suspense reads fast-paced and twist-filled so I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this slower paced thriller. The story flips back and forth between 2007 and current day and is from Alison's perspective but the inclusion of another character's point of view adds to the building suspense. The time shifting was done well and helped show why Alison tried desperately to leave her past behind her. 

Readers will be kept engaged throughout the story but instead of packing in twist after twist, Howard focuses on strong characterizations of her characters, including the secondary characters who each play important roles within the story. Alison's struggle to overcome her past is told with sensitivity and her current concerns are believable but I didn't find her an overly likable character. 

But, it was the sinister feel kept me reading into the wee hours. There was one scene with a small twist that took my breath away and had the hairs on my arms standing up. It was creeptastically good!

This is a compulsive read that I finished in just over one day. It has a slower build-up but if readers are patient, the tension builds to a nail-biting final scene and the addition of the last twist packs a good punch for a solid finish. 


Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.


Sunday, 18 February 2018

Still Me


Author: Jojo Moyes
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Series: #3 in the Me Before You series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
First Published: January 30, 2018
First Line: "It was the moustache that reminded me I was no longer in England: a solid grey millipede firmly obscuring the man's upper lip; a Village People moustache, a cowboy moustache, the miniature head of a broom that meant business."

Book Description from GoodReads: Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life.

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

Funny, romantic, and poignant, Still Me follows Lou as she navigates how to stay true to herself, while pushing to live boldly in her brave new world.


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Still Me is the third book in the highly popular Me Before You series which I quite enjoyed. Me Before You was a quirky yet touching read that had me giggling in some scenes but reduced me to a blithering, sob-filled mess in others. It was awesome! After You still managed to get me to eek out a tear or two as I saw Lou struggle after great loss and was a better than average follow-up.

In Still Me, the focus isn't on loss (or a high Kleenex count) but on how Lou finds out who she is as she gains confidence, figures out what she wants and where she fits in the world. Years before Lou had promised someone important to her that she'd live life to the fullest - try new things and experience the world. So, she moves to New York City to take a job as a personal assistant to a young woman from the upper echelon of NYC society. Louisa quickly finds juggling her professional life (NYC high society as 'the help') and her personal life in two different countries a struggle. But with her plucky determination, big heart and quirky sense of style (and bumblebee tights!), she learns what she wants out of life as she stands on her own two feet for the first time.

While this was an enjoyable read it was predictable as events fall into place exactly how you think they will. But it was nice getting back into Lou's world and seeing her gain independence, confidence and love as she fulfills her promise to the person who helped her kick start this new life.

Still Me is an engaging read, especially for people who have followed Louisa's ups and downs through the past two books. While this book could be read as a stand-alone, I highly recommend reading the books in order to get a clear idea of Lou's struggles and her bond with the person that has so greatly influenced her life.


My Reviews of the previous books in this series:
Me Before You
After You

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A Great Deliverance


Author: Elizabeth George
Genre: Mystery
Type: Large Print Hardcover
Pages: 505
Series: #1 in the Inspector Lynley series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: MacMillian Publishing
First Published: December 31, 1990
First Line: "It was a solecism of the very worst kind."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the breezy, very funny Murder Gets a Life, the fifth Southern Sisters mystery from Alabama writer Anne George, petite, married Patricia Ann and her thrice-widowed amazon of a sister discover that murder's a family affair, thanks to Mary Alice's new in-laws. There's a corpse with a hog-butchering knife stuck in his chest, but plot's hardly the point in a story chock-full of engaging characters and knowing humor. When Patricia Ann wonders if the murder victim was married, Mary Alice says, "Probably, his clothes matched."

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My ReviewI picked up this mystery because Elizabeth George is one of the authors that had escaped me over the years. Too many authors and not enough time. 

I knew next to nothing about this series and didn't know what to expect for characters, locale or time frame. What I got was a murder mystery with wonderfully complex, well-drawn, yet flawed main characters in Lynley and Havers. I enjoyed the contrast between aristocratic Lynley paired with chip-on-her-shoulder, working class Havers. They each have issues they're struggling with and these personal aspects were balanced well with the mystery. 

But as the story progressed I became less interested in the mystery. It got bogged down in overly descriptive prose and too many POV changes from the slew of secondary characters who were hard to keep track of. I was particularly surprised by the description of an American couple who were given rather merciless, clichéd descriptions -- especially after I learned that the author herself is American! But, included in the cast is a duck named Angus Dougal McDuck - a duck with a jaunty Scots name always gets high marks in my book. 

Overall, I'm glad I finally read Elizabeth George. While I could do with a little less descriptions and some of the issues addressed were more gruesome and shocking than expected, the combination of Lynley and Havers have me eager to read more books in this popular series. 

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Sweet with Heat Baked Chicken

This recipe post is dedicated to my friend and former library bestie/co-worker Mary who noticed that my recipe posts were far and few between. I have to admit that now that I'm working full-time my desire to cook/bake has diminished but I do still dabble in the kitchen. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, Mar! Here's a recipe that I made a couple of weeks ago which Brad and I enjoyed.

I'm the first person to admit that I'm a big old wuss when it comes to spicy foods, but I enjoy the 'sweet with heat' combination. A little sass followed by some sweetness. 

That's how I roll.

For this recipe, I opted to use two tablespoons of sriracha sauce and even that, after a couple of chicken thighs (and extra sauce drizzled on my rice) had my mouth a'hummin! If you're braver than I, you may opt to up the sriracha or decrease it if you're squeamish about spiciness but still want great flavour. 

These moist chicken thighs are topped with a sauce that combines sweet brown sugar and spicy sriracha and is served over the nuttiness of basmati rice making it a delicious and easy-to-make weeknight meal.



2 tsp oil
10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper - to taste

Sauce
1 1/3 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp. Sriracha sauce (or more if you like it spicy)
1 1/2 tbsp. garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
pepper - to taste
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 400F.

Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine sauce ingredients. Bring to a boil then decrease heat to medium-low and allow sauce to boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.


Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until oil starts to shimmer.

Open each chicken thigh and dredge with flour mixture. Place thighs in hot skillet and brown each side until golden.

Remove chicken pieces from the skillet and place, in a single layer, into the prepared 9x13-inch baking pan. Pour sauce over the chicken and bake for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165F and cooked through but still juicy.


Serve over basmati rice. Drizzle with sauce, if desired.

Inspired by: Baked Sweet and Spicy Chicken from Crème de la Crumb

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Things To Do When It's Raining


Author: Marissa Stapley
Genre: Women's Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published: February 6, 2018
First Line: "Virginia has always loved the rain."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen secrets tear love apart, can the truth mend it?Mae Summers and Gabriel Broadbent grew up together in the idyllic Summers’ Inn, perched at the edge the St. Lawrence river. Mae was orphaned at the age of six and Gabe needed protection from his alcoholic father, so both were raised under one roof by Mae’s grandparents, Lilly and George. A childhood friendship quickly developed into a first love—a love that was suddenly broken by Gabe’s unexpected departure. Mae grew up, got over her heartbreak, and started a life for herself in New York City.

After more than a decade, Mae and Gabe find themselves pulled back to Alexandria Bay. Hoping to find solace within the Summers’ Inn, Mae instead finds her grandparents in the midst of decline and their past unravelling around her. A lifetime of secrets stand in the way of this unconventional family’s happiness. Will they be able to reclaim the past and come together, or will they remain separate islands?

From the bestselling author of Mating for Life comes a powerful story about guilt, forgiveness and the truth about families: that we can choose them, just as we choose to love.


My Rating: 2.5 stars (aka ‘it was okay’)

My Review: This is a cozy read featuring an intergenerational story about loss, lies and secrets. It hits all the right boxes for a good Contemporary Fiction read - nice setting, varying time lines, a family with issues and an interesting premise and yet it didn't garner a high rating from me for a few reasons.

First, I thought the big family secrets were underwhelming and were revealed too early in the story. I was in it for the secrets!! Second, I wanted better connections to the characters and would have loved more backstory on a few, especially Gabe and his less than idyllic childhood. The characters show various family dynamics but the transitions between past and present felt awkward, slowed the pace and made it difficult to keep track of who was speaking. 

What I enjoyed most about this book was the sensitive portrayal of Lily's progression into her illness.  Her internal dialogue was distressing and touching and got to the heart of an illness that affects many families.

For a story that deals with tragedy, grief, loss and betrayal, this book felt predictable and, unfortunately, underwhelming. There are many big familial issues introduced but I didn't feel they were really examined in enough depth.  

Disclaimer: This ARC was generously provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, 2 February 2018

The Winnowing


Author: Vikki Vansickle

Genre: Middle School, Young Adult, Science Fiction, Suspense, Dystopian, Canadian
Type: Paperback
Pages: 312
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Scholastic Canada
First Published: September 1, 2017
First Line: "I'm flying."

Book Description from GoodReads: Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday.


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet Vikki Vansickle at the Ontario Library Association (OLA) Super Conference in Toronto. She came to our booth for a book signing and quickly had a long line of fans.  Some came for a free signed copy after already reading and enjoying The Winnowing, while others came because they've heard the increasing buzz surrounding this book which has been short-listed for a Forest of Reading Red Maple award.




While this book has a strong Sci-Fi vibe, readers (like myself) who aren't avid Sci-Fi readers, will also enjoy it. The Winnowing is a blend of Sci-Fi, suspense, a wee bit of history, a healthy dose of nail-biting adventure and focuses on topics such as friendship, loyalty and finding strengths within ourselves. 


There are intense scenes and an eerie feel to the book, but it isn't filled with graphic violence and thankfully omits the popular romantic triangle. Instead, Vansickle focuses on a story filled with twists (some which surprised me and one that I saw coming), nail-biting scenes and a unique premise. The writing is atmospheric and descriptive with a plot that's fairly detailed and I appreciate that Vansickle doesn't talk down to her young readers. 


As for the characters, they were a diverse bunch. The main character, Marivic (whose name, I admit, took me a bit to get used to) is a well-rounded, likable character who doesn't wait around for a boy to save the day. She has believable flaws and struggles with some of her relationships, but she was easy to get behind. The same can also be said for other characters (I'm looking at you Ren and Gumps) who intrigued me so much with their backstories that I'm hopeful that this standalone book will be made into a series.


The Winnowing is a good choice for kids who want the adventure and energy of The Hunger Games-type books but who may not be ready to jump into that level of violence. While I would have liked a bit more focus on the historical aspects, this book has enough suspense and depth to its story that it will keep teen and even 'more seasoned' readers intrigued as well. 


The Winnowing is a blend of Sci-Fi, Dystopian and Suspense which will easily appeal to conspiracy loving fans of The X Files (Vansickle is a big fan herself) and Stranger Things but also to people who just want a good story to dive into.

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