Sunday, 28 October 2018

Not Our Kind

Author: Kitty Zeldis
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Harper
First Published: September 4, 2018
Opening Line: "The yellow-and-black Checker cab nosed its way down Second Avenue in the rain."

Book Description from GoodReadsWith echoes of The Rules of Civility and The Boston Girl, a compelling and thought-provoking novel set in postwar New York City, about two women—one Jewish, one a WASP—and the wholly unexpected consequences of their meeting

One rainy morning in June, two years after the end of World War II, a minor traffic accident brings together Eleanor Moskowitz and Patricia Bellamy. Their encounter seems fated: Eleanor, a teacher and recent Vassar graduate, needs a job. Patricia’s difficult thirteen-year-old daughter Margaux, recovering from polio, needs a private tutor.

Though she feels out of place in the Bellamys’ rarefied and elegant Park Avenue milieu, Eleanor forms an instant bond with Margaux. Soon the idealistic young woman is filling the bright young girl’s mind with Shakespeare and Latin. Though her mother, a hat maker with a little shop on Second Avenue, disapproves, Eleanor takes pride in her work, even if she must use the name “Moss” to enter the Bellamys’ restricted doorman building each morning, and feels that Patricia’s husband, Wynn, may have a problem with her being Jewish.

Invited to keep Margaux company at the Bellamys’ country home in a small town in Connecticut, Eleanor meets Patricia’s unreliable, bohemian brother, Tom, recently returned from Europe. The spark between Eleanor and Tom is instant and intense. Flushed with new romance and increasingly attached to her young pupil, Eleanor begins to feel more comfortable with Patricia and much of the world she inhabits. As the summer wears on, the two women’s friendship grows—until one hot summer evening, a line is crossed, and both Eleanor and Patricia will have to make important decisions—choices that will reverberate through their lives.

Gripping and vividly told, Not Our Kind illuminates the lives of two women on the cusp of change—and asks how much our pasts can and should define our futures.

My Rating: 3 stars

WWII Historical Fiction is a favourite genre of mine and Not Our Kind caught my attention because it deals with the struggles and racism, surreptitious and overt, that Jewish people in New York City continued to experience years after the Second World War.  The story follows Eleanor Moskowitz, a young Jewish teacher who takes a job as a private tutor for Margaux Bellamy, a teen with a Park Avenue address and rich, powerful WASP parents to match.

The first half of the book whizzed by for me as Zeldis describes the era, its gorgeous fashions and introduces Eleanor to her readers.  But the second half of the book had a different feel with the plot and characters becoming predictable and lacking depth.  And while I loved Eleanor's strength, it was frustrating to see her make decisions flippantly which went against her character.  There are some great issues raised (anti-Semitism, consent, class discrimination …) but unfortunately, these issues were handled superficially at best and often too easily remedied.  By the time I finished the book I was underwhelmed.

Not Our Kind has a great premise, a beautiful eye-catching cover and is an easy read but I wanted a more complex look into the issues of the era and more depth to the characters.  Readers who prefer a lighter Historical Fiction read should enjoy this book. 

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Watch Your Tongue: What Our Everyday Sayings and Idioms Figuratively Mean

Author: Mark Abley
Genre: Nonfiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published: October 30, 2018
Opening Lines: "It was a blue winter day in downtown Montreal, and I was standing among thousands of other shivering people on the city's main shopping street".

Book Description from GoodReadsDo you ever wonder why you shouldn’t have a cow but you should seize a bull by its horns? Who has the better reputation in language—cats or dogs? Do you sometimes feel that our speech is all smoke and mirrors or that our expressions simply make no sense?

In Watch Your Tongue, award-winning author Mark Abley explores the phrases, idioms, and clich├ęs of our everyday language. With wit and subtle wisdom, he unravels the mysteries of these expressions, illuminating the history, tradition and stories behind everything we say. Pulling examples from Shakespeare’s plays to sports team names, ancient Rome to Twitter, Abley shares samples and anecdotes of the eccentric ways that we play with, parse, and pattern language.

Why do so many companies use fruit for their brand names? What do politicians mean when they say they’re going to “drain the swamp”? Why does English use chickens to signify cowardice? Abley dives into the history and psychology behind these examples and countless others, unpacking their significance (and sheer absurdity) to show how our language developed, where it is headed, and what we can learn about ourselves from it.

Whimsically illustrated, easily browsable, and full of catchy sidebars, Watch Your Tongue celebrates how we amuse ourselves with words and what our sayings reveal about the way we see the world.

My Rating: 4 stars

Watch Your Tongue explores idioms and popular phrases that most of us use daily without much thought to their origins. Throughout the book Mark Abley shares tidbits of wisdom that makes for an entertaining read that the average Joe and the avid wordsmith will both enjoy.

The book is broken down into several topics (animals, feelings, foreign idioms, religious, Shakespearean …) and describes the history of some popular and not so popular idioms. Language is constantly evolving and Abley doesn’t waste any time diving in to explore the history of ubiquitous idioms but be forewarned, once you start reading this book, you’ll start noticing idioms everywhere. 

It’s a quick read that can be picked up in fits and spurts and Abley has gone the extra mile to help readers understand the origin of English idioms. To make a long story short, the descriptions are informative as well as entertaining and may keep you up burning the midnight oil with Abley’s humour and so many idioms and phrases that it’ll boggle your mind.  So, give it a whirl … you may just find yourself adding idioms to your everyday conversations willy-nilly (how was THAT for idiom overload!?!).

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

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

The Make-Ahead Sauce Solution

Author: Elisabeth Bailey
Genre: Cookbook, Nonfiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Storey Publishing
First Published: Oct 16, 2018
Opening Lines: Let me set the scene. It's 5:00 (or 5:30 or 6:00) and you just got home from work. You are tired. You are hungry. Your kid/spouse/parent is hungry. And crabby. And has to go to an activity/do homework/do more work/ get ready for tomorrow. Are you going to pull fresh vegetables and meat out of the fridge and create something healthy and inventive from scratch? No. No, you are not."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom chimichurri to teriyaki, sauces make our mouths water — and our meals shine! Bland chicken breasts, plain pasta, or simple baked potatoes are transformed into memorable dishes with the addition of sauce.

The Make-Ahead Sauce Solution features 61 flavor-packed recipes for sauces that freeze beautifully and make home cooking easy. They run the gamut from traditional sausage ragu to Thai peanut, Gorgonzola chive butter, all-American barbecue, coconut lemon, Parmesan leek, cheesy cashew garlic, and Meyer lemon spinach. Every recipe is accompanied by a quick-reference chart showing the best base combinations of proteins and vegetables. The struggle to make imaginative, flavorful weeknight meals is over. With a few of these sauces stashed away in the freezer, a great meal can be topped off in minutes.

My Rating: 4 stars

Answering the daily question, "What's for supper?" can often feel daunting and frustrating for busy people. Elisabeth Bailey's cookbook helps to make weeknight suppers run smoother and inspire families' taste buds so home cooks will get kudos and requests for second helpings rolling in.

Home cooks simply choose from the list of base ingredients (meats, tofu, veggies, rice, pasta …) and pair it with one of Bailey's 'flavour bomb' sauces which can be prepared and frozen ahead of time to make many different meal options.

The cookbook features 61 recipes in a well-organized, easy-to-use layout featuring photos for many of the recipes.  Recipes are categorized into different cuisines and right off the bat, there were many sauce recipes that caught my eye -- Gorgonzola Chive Butter, Pineapple Ginger Sauce, Cheddar Ale Sauce (for Mac 'n' Cheese!!) -- just to name a few.

Bailey helps new-to-the-kitchen home cooks by giving detailed instructions and tips for preparation, storage, freezing and thawing. Recipes can be stored as single servings or larger servings for couples or big batches for large groups. Along with making sauces for our household, I also plan to make single batch servings to fill my 19-year-old son's freezer that he uses while he's away at University - a little taste of home while he's away.

While the pictures and easy-to-understand instructions make prepping these sauces and bases easy for new home cooks, more experienced cooks may find the explanations redundant or oversimplified, but the wide range of sauce recipes will still entice experienced cooks.  Unfortunately, and surprisingly, the nutritional information for each sauce recipe is not included.

Overall, this is a great addition to the home cook's cookbook library. It gives busy families the ability to adapt to various tastes, serving sizes and successfully turn everyday foods into tasty, easy, family-friendly meals with less time and les stress, using ingredients many homes have on-hand or are easily accessible at the local grocery store.

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

Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Library Book

Author: Susan Orlean
Genre: Nonfiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
First Published: Oct 16, 2018
First Line: "Even in Los Angeles, where there is no shortage of remarkable hairdos, Harry Peak attracted attention."

Book Description from GoodReads: On the morning of April 28, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library. As the moments passed, the patrons and staff who had been cleared out of the building realized this was not the usual fire alarm. As one fireman recounted, “Once that first stack got going, it was ‘Goodbye, Charlie.’” The fire was disastrous: it reached 2000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours. By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. Investigators descended on the scene, but more than thirty years later, the mystery remains: Did someone purposefully set fire to the library—and if so, who?

Weaving her lifelong love of books and reading into an investigation of the fire, award-winning New Yorker reporter and New York Times bestselling author Susan Orlean delivers a mesmerizing and uniquely compelling book that manages to tell the broader story of libraries and librarians in a way that has never been done before.

In The Library Book, Orlean chronicles the LAPL fire and its aftermath to showcase the larger, crucial role that libraries play in our lives; delves into the evolution of libraries across the country and around the world, from their humble beginnings as a metropolitan charitable initiative to their current status as a cornerstone of national identity; brings each department of the library to vivid life through on-the-ground reporting; studies arson and attempts to burn a copy of a book herself; reflects on her own experiences in libraries; and reexamines the case of Harry Peak, the blond-haired actor long suspected of setting fire to the LAPL more than thirty years ago.

Along the way, Orlean introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters from libraries past and present—from Mary Foy, who in 1880 at eighteen years old was named the head of the Los Angeles Public Library at a time when men still dominated the role, to Dr. C.J.K. Jones, a pastor, citrus farmer, and polymath known as “The Human Encyclopedia” who roamed the library dispensing information; from Charles Lummis, a wildly eccentric journalist and adventurer who was determined to make the L.A. library one of the best in the world, to the current staff, who do heroic work every day to ensure that their institution remains a vital part of the city it serves.

Brimming with her signature wit, insight, compassion, and talent for deep research, The Library Book is Susan Orlean’s thrilling journey through the stacks that reveals how these beloved institutions provide much more than just books—and why they remain an essential part of the heart, mind, and soul of our country. It is also a master journalist’s reminder that, perhaps especially in the digital era, they are more necessary than ever.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: This is a book for library lovers. Based on the book’s blurb, I expected a true crime type of read with a big love letter to libraries. And it is. Orlean’s clearly describes the 1986 fire that decimated the Los Angeles Public Library - a fire that reached 2000 degrees, ruined 400,000 books and damaged 700,000 others. She also touches on the mystery of the culprit’s identity (although I was hoping for more) but ultimately, it's a book about the history of libraries and the important role they play that gave this bookworm all the biblio feels.

I could have read all day about libraries and their pivotal role in society, but a fair bit of the book is spent veering off on smaller tangents. Some of these side stories were interesting but others focused on people who were loosely related to the LAPL and these stories often started to ramble. These tangents gave the book a choppy feel and personally, I just wanted to get back to the LA library main story!   

But, if readers can be patient and wade through these extra bits, there are some hidden gems that library lovers (and especially library personnel) will relate to and enjoy. These bits will evoke feelings of nostalgia in library lovers and a deep need to visit their local library.  While the focus was different than I had expected, I applaud Orlean for shining a spotlight on the importance of libraries, the vast array of services they provide as well as their constantly evolving roles in communities big and small.

My sincere thanks to the publisher for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Girl They Left Behind

Author: Roxanne Veletzos
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books (Simon and Schuster)
First Published: Oct 30, 2018 (Canadian release)
First Line: "The girl sits alone in impenetrable darkness."

Book Description from GoodReads: A sweeping family saga and love story that offers a vivid and unique portray of life in war-torn 1941 Bucharest and life behind the Iron Curtain during the Soviet Union occupation -- perfect for fans of Lilac Girls and Sarah's Key.

On a freezing night in January 1941, a little Jewish girl is found on the steps of an apartment building in Bucharest. With Romania recently allied with the Nazis, the Jewish population is in grave danger, undergoing increasingly violent persecution. The girl is placed in an orphanage and eventually adopted by a wealthy childless couple who name her Natalia. As she assimilates into her new life, she all but forgets the parents who were forced to leave her behind. They are even further from her mind when Romania falls under Soviet occupation.

Yet, as Natalia comes of age in a bleak and hopeless world, traces of her identity pierce the surface of her everyday life, leading gradually to a discovery that will change her destiny. She has a secret crush on Victor, an intense young man who as an impoverished student befriended her family long ago. Years later, when Natalia is in her early twenties and working at a warehouse packing fruit, she and Victor, now an important official in the Communist regime, cross paths again. This time they are fatefully drawn into a passionate affair despite the obstacles swirling around them and Victor’s dark secrets.

When Natalia is suddenly offered a one-time chance at freedom, Victor is determined to help her escape, even if it means losing her. Natalia must make an agonizing decision: remain in Bucharest with her beloved adoptive parents and the man she has come to love, or seize the chance to finally live life on her own terms, and to confront the painful enigma of her past.

My Rating: 5 stars

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

Roxanne Veletzos has written a engaging, informative and heart-felt story based on her mother's early life during WWII and later during the Soviet occupation of Romania. During the 1941 Pogrom in Bucharest, Veletzos' grandparents made the difficult choice to leave their three-year-old daughter, Natalia, on the steps of a building hoping to give her a chance to survive. Sent to an orphanage, she was quickly adopted by a wealthy couple who were devoted to her and gave her life of privilege.

Veletzos provides vivid descriptions of Bucharest during WWII and afterwards when the Soviets took control, a time when life for many Romanians continued to be fraught with uncertainty and danger - especially those who didn't support the Communist regime.  She includes the lesser known history of Romania during these times and blends her personal family history into a riveting, fictional read.

This is a captivating, sometimes heart-wrenching story about family bonds, resilience and hope. I highly recommend The Girl They Left Behind to fans of Historical Fiction that enjoy getting a different perspective in the popular WWII Historical Fiction genre.  

Monday, 15 October 2018

In Pieces

Author: Sally Field
Genre: Autobiography
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 416
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
First Published: September 18, 2018
First Line: "There was no proscenium arch, no curtains or lights to create an illusion, no proper stage at all."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn this intimate, haunting literary memoir, an American icon tells her story for the first time, and in her own gorgeous words--about a challenging and lonely childhood, the craft that helped her find her voice, and a powerful emotional legacy that shaped her journey as a daughter and a mother.

One of the most celebrated, beloved, and enduring actors of our time, Sally Field has an infectious charm that has captivated the nation for more than five decades, beginning with her first TV role at the age of seventeen. From Gidget's sweet-faced "girl next door" to the dazzling complexity of Sybil to the Academy Award-worthy ferocity and depth of Norma Rae and Mary Todd Lincoln, Field has stunned audiences time and time again with her artistic range and emotional acuity. Yet there is one character who always remained hidden: the shy and anxious little girl within.

With raw honesty and the fresh, pitch-perfect prose of a natural-born writer, and with all the humility and authenticity her fans have come to expect, Field brings readers behind-the-scenes for not only the highs and lows of her star-studded early career in Hollywood, but deep into the truth of her lifelong relationships--including her complicated love for her own mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

With In Pieces, Sally Field has written a soul-bearing, engaging and heartfelt memoir as she recounts her tumultuous childhood, quick rise to fame as a teenager, her rocky love life and her struggle to be seen as a serious actor.  She is brutally honest about her childhood as well as her struggle to find her own voice and her complicated relationships as a daughter, wife and mother. Some of these experiences are hard to read and some will, no doubt, shock many of her fans – especially the disparity between her public persona and her often dysfunctional private life. 

Throughout her career, Field wanted to be seen as a serious actor. Readers will see her continually trying to hone her craft as an actress in the male-dominated world of Hollywood that only thought of her as the ‘cutsie’ TV actor due to her early roles as Gidget and The Flying Nun.  While some of her roles in big movies were unfortunately glossed over in the book, she doesn’t skimp on details about her romantic relationships and provides insight into her tumultuous relationship with Burt Reynolds (he may have called her the ‘love of his life’ but she tells a very different story).

This is a brave and heartbreakingly candid memoir about a gifted and resilient woman. Well-written with humour and heart, readers will witness her difficult path to finding self-worth, maturity as a daughter and mother, and fulfillment as a respected, serious actor. Sally Field, we like you, we really, really like you.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

The Clockmaker's Daughter

Author: Kate Morton
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery
Type: digital e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books (Simon and Schuster Canada)
First Published: October 9, 2018
First Line: "We came to Birchwood Manor because Edward said that it was haunted."

Book Description from GoodReads: A rich, spellbinding new novel from the author of The Lake Hose -- the story of a love affair and a mysterious murder the cast their shadow across generations, set in England from the 1860's until the present day.

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery, and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: Kate Morton is one of my go-to Historical Fiction authors. When you pick up one of her books, you know you're going to get a well-written story with accurate historical details that pull you into the plot and lives of the characters. After hearing her speak a couple of years ago on her The Lake House tour about how she comes up with her book plots and characters ideas, I became an even bigger fan.

In The Clockmaker's Daughter, Morton once again has beautiful, descriptive prose and you can tell she's done her research on the era. But, unfortunately, this wasn't my favourite Kate Morton book. 

I enjoy books that have two different time frames but in this book, there is an overabundance of jumping back and forth (WWI, WWII, 1850-1860's) making the book feel disjointed. There are also several subplots, different narrators and loads of characters - some of whom don't play a big role but their addition muddles things up when you're trying to keep track of who is who and which time frame you're dealing with.

I loved the premise and the mystery involved but, in the end, it was just an okay read for me. It pains me to give an average rating for this book, but I will always highly recommend Kate Morton for anyone who adores Historical Fiction with wonderfully evocative writing. If you're new to this author, try starting with a few of my favourites: The Forgotten Garden, The Secret Keeper or The Lake House. I eagerly look forward to her next book.

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

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

One Day in December

Author: Josie Silver
Genre: Women's Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Crown Publishing
First Published: Oct 16, 2018
First Line: "It's a wonder everyone who uses public transport in winter doesn't keel over and die of germ overload."

Book Description from GoodReadsA love story about what happens after you meet, or rather, don't meet the one.Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

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

My Review:

This romantic dramedy is perfect for fans of When Harry Met Sally, Me Before You and Notting Hill.  Readers heart strings and funny bone will be equally pulled/tickled as they witness the sometimes tumultuous and complicated love life of Laurie James and her ‘bus boy’ – a man who catches her eye and heart in one brief encounter on a December afternoon.  They experience love at first sight but are unable to meet in person at that moment, so their connection haunts both of them until they are suddenly thrown together and unable to act on their feelings.

The story has likeable, believable characters and is a slow-burn kind of read since the story is told, via different points of view, over a decade. The timeline and POVs are woven together well and I enjoyed getting a bird’s eye view of the interconnected relationships of these friends and lovers.  Normally, I’m not a huge romance reader – I find them often to have quite an ‘ode de fromage’ feel but this light-hearted romance touches on some serious topics and how it handles its complicated relationships makes it more than a simple romance.

One Day in December is a wonderful, escapist-type read that I read in just over one day. While it is a romantic dramedy, the addition of its deeper moments about friendship, love, loss, regret and missed opportunities make it a book that will appeal to many different readers.

Favourite Quote: "You tread lightly through life, but you leave deep footprints that are hard for other people to fill."

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