Thursday, May 28, 2015

All The Light We Cannot See


Author: Anthony Doerr
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 531
Publisher: Scribner
First Published: May 6, 2014
First Line: "At dusk they pour from the sky."

Book Description from GoodReadsMarie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.


My Review:  All The Light We Cannot See has been the talk of the literary town.  It's the darling of critics, has gotten a lot of buzz and even won the Pulitzer Prize.  It's got a lot going for it.  Unfortunately I'm not on the same wavelength as the Pulitzer prize people (and many other readers) because this highly acclaimed novel just didn't live up to my expectations.  

I'm a huge reader of WWII fiction and have read some real gems in the past - The Paris Architect, The Storyteller, The Nightingale, Wolfsangel, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas to name just a few.  It's a favourite genre of mine so I expect a lot of emotion, action and character development.  All The Light We Cannot See introduces some unique characters (a Nazi youth and a blind French girl) and has some very lyrical writing and descriptions of France, Germany and the era.  The first half of the book was very enjoyable but then the pace slowed dramatically and continued at that pace for the remainder of the book.

Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't that I didn't like the book -- I just didn't love it and feel like it will be one of those books that won't stay with me long.  I think that where the book started to lose me was around the half way point when pace petered out and the character development became stagnant.  The reader is told a lot about what's happening to these two teens but we're not privy to their inner feelings very much.  

In the beginning I really felt for Werner as he's forced into the Nazi Youth training program.  But you'd think that after Werner witnesses a truly horrific incident involving someone he liked that it would have changed him.  Forced him to view the way the Nazi's run things differently.  Sure, he didn't like what he saw but it also didn't seem to change his path in life or even fundamentally change him as a person.  He's a young man who loves working with mechanical things and he doesn't really give any thought about how what he does leads to the death of others.  He felt very apathetic with his head stuck in a transistor radio instead of taking the time to look up and see what was going on around him and (in a some part) how his skill aids the Nazis.  He felt very juvenile throughout the book (I know that he's a teenage boy) but you'd think that the war would have matured him more than the reader witnessed.

Marie-Laure suffered a similar fate.  It was her character that enticed me to read the book but overall the reader is only privy to reading what happens to her, not how she really feels about things. I had a hard time relating to her when I only had these very short chapters to connect with her before the story switched back to Werner's point of view.

Overall, this was just an okay read for me.  There wasn't a lot of action, tension or even emotion that you'd expect from a WWII novel.  With the addition of the magical stone treasure hunt story line and two innocent children getting wrapped up in the fray, All The Light We Cannot See seemed to have a much more juvenile, young adult feel to it.  I kept at it hoping for a big climactic moment but I was left feeling that their converging stories never really came together in the end.  Or at least not as climactic as I was expecting after slogging through a rather slow last half of the book.  Frustratingly, the ending was very weak, predictable and not very believable.  The book is set during a very sensitive and horrific time but doesn't get to the nitty gritty nor the depth of emotion of that time than I was expecting.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Wonder Garden


Author: Lauren Acampora
Genre: Short Story, Modern Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
First Published: May 5, 2015
First Line: "John likes to arrive first."

Book Description from GoodReadsJohn likes to arrive first. He enjoys standing quietly with a house before his clients arrive, and today, although he feels pinned beneath an invisible weight, he resolves to savor this solitary moment. It’s one of those overhauled ranches so common to Old Cranbury these days, swollen and dressed to resemble a colonial. White, of course, with ornamental shutters and latches pretending to hold them open. A close echo of its renovated sisters on Whistle Hill Road, garnished with hostas and glitzed with azaleas. He has seen too many of these to count… 

A man strikes an under-the-table deal with a surgeon to spend a few quiet seconds closer to his wife than he's ever been; a young soon-to-be mother looks on in paralyzing astonishment as her husband walks away from a twenty-year career in advertising at the urging of his spirit animal; an elderly artist risks more than he knows when he's commissioned by his newly-arrived neighbors to produce the work of a lifetime.

In her stunning debut collection, The Wonder Garden, Lauren Acampora brings to the page with enchanting realism the myriad lives of a suburban town and lays them bare. These linked stories take a trenchant look at the flawed people of Old Cranbury, incisive tales that reveal at each turn the unseen battles we play out behind drawn blinds, the creeping truths from which we distract ourselves, and the massive dreams we haul quietly with us and hold close.

Deliciously creepy and masterfully complex The Wonder Garden heralds the arrival of a phenomenal new talent in American fiction.

My Review:  I am, admittedly, not an avid reader of short stories.  In fact, this is only the second time I've read a book of short stories - yes, I am a relative newbie to the genre.  The previous book of short stories that I read didn't get me too eager to jump on the ol' bandwagon again.  I found that I wanted to know more about the characters and was left hanging when they ended.  Thankfully, Acampora is a breath of fresh air and has reignited my desire to read more in this genre.

Acampora's debut novel stood out for me in a few ways.  The writing is crisp, to the point and yet very engaging.  She doesn't waste any time with excess descriptions but jumps right into the heart of the issues.  But the main thing that impressed me was her unique twist in that all of the characters from thirteen short stories all live in the same quaint, upper scale suburb of Old Cranbury and make appearances in each other's stories.  I loved how their lives intersected with each other and enjoyed recognizing characters who were introduced earlier.  This helped not only give me a better, overall picture of individual characters but also get a sense of how their issues are viewed by those around them.  It gave the book an authentic sense of community (granted a pretty dysfunctional one with all of their issues). And oh boy did these people have issues - their vices, insecurities, worries and problems are revealed to the reader.  It has a rather twisted feel to many of the stories yet they are, for the most part, relatable on some level. Or maybe I'm a little twisted.  Who's to say?

I won't say that all of the short stories engaged me in the same way.  I wasn't a fan of a few of them (especially Moon Roof) and sometimes had a hard time remembering which character was which but I definitely had my favourites (ie. Floortime).  

Overall this book was impressive, oddly relatable in some ways and was a great opportunity to see behind the facades that people put up.  Acampora's writing is engaging, descriptive (without being verbose) and her pace kept me interested throughout.  She truly has a knack for showing people's need to find connections with each other, to feel understood and accepted all in a very precise and eloquent way.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Things Half In Shadow


Author: Alan Finn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: e-book
Page Count (paperback): 448
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Gallery, Threshold Pocket Books
First Published: December 30, 2014
First Line: "When people mention Lenora Grimes Pastor, if they still speak of her at all, many insist that she was killed by a ghost."

Book Description from GoodReadsPostbellum America makes for a haunting backdrop in this historical and supernatural tale of moonlit cemeteries, masked balls, cunning mediums, and terrifying secrets waiting to be unearthed by an intrepid crime reporter. 

The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy--the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes...a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten. 

Now a crime reporter for one of the city's largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city's most highly regarded--and by all accounts, legitimate--medium, who dies mid-seance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor. 

Blending historical detail with flights of fancy, "Things Half in Shadow" is a riveting thriller where "Medium" and "The Sixth Sense" meet "The Alienist"--and where nothing is quite as it seems...



My Review:  A sign of a good book is when you're engaged right from the beginning.  This happened for me with the debut novel, Things Half in Shadow.  I loved how the book opens with the foreword written by Edward 'at the behest' of his granddaughter who has quite the macabre disposition and love of ghost stories.  In order to please his granddaughter Edward writes down the ghost stories that he knows.  It's one of these ghost stories that makes up Things Half In Shadow which was a very atmospheric historical fiction, suspense, paranormal and mystery all blended into a really enjoyable read.

Finn writes about an era that I admittedly didn't know much about.  But he deftly brings the reader into life in post-Civil War Philadelphia and delves into the emotional waters of the PTSD that the soldiers faced.  He also focuses on the increase in spiritualism and people's desire for psychic intervention to 'reach' their lost loved ones after the war which I found fascinating.  It was a time of great loss and people reached out in many different ways to ease their pain and likewise there were many charlatans who were eager to take their money and give the answers they yearned for (sometimes using quite intricate means).  

Edward was an interesting character that I could get behind.  He's an independently wealthy crime reporter for one of the local Philadelphia newspapers which gives him ample reasons for further exploits.  He's a rather quiet leading man but it's his hidden identity and his family background made him quite compelling as a main character.  He has a lot on his plate with trying to maintain his relationship with a society debutante while being thrust into an uncomfortable assignment and being forced to deal with a woman he finds quite detestable.  But it's this bantering with Mrs Lucy Collins, the detestable woman aforementioned, which was refreshing and brought a levity and an energy to the book.  She was a great balance to Edward's more subdued character making her my favourite character in the book. Her energy and humour reminds me of Lady Julia Grey (Deanna Raybourne's heroine) which made her easy to adore.  She was feisty, stubborn, forthright, funny and doesn't apologize for what she does to make a living.  

There is a romance angle in the book but it was thankfully not overdone.  But it was also easily foreseeable too.  It's not that I'm knocking the way it was done because I did, for the most part, enjoy that aspect but it was a little to predictable for my liking.

This was a very impressive debut novel.  Finn has an enjoyable writing style and a gift for putting his readers into the mindset and atmosphere of the post Civil War era with great ease.  This is a great stand-alone read but it also opens the door for further exploits for Edward and Lucy which I am most eager to read.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Disclaimer

Author: Renee Knight
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Hardcover Page Count: 304
Publisher: Doubleday
First Published: April 9, 2015
First Line: "Catherine braces herself, but there is nothing left to come up."

Book Description from GoodReadsFinding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction,The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew--and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.
 


My Review:  Hype.  I hate hype because it, more often than not, gives me such high expectations of a book only to have them dashed.  Disclaimer is one of those books (a la Gone Girl) that has a lot of buzz surrounding it.  It also has a great premise which is why I decided to ignore the hype and pick it up anyway.  The story is this: imagine being mysteriously given a book and when you read it you find that your biggest secret is revealed within the story. Someone knows the skeletons in your closet but you don't know who it is.

That's the premise of Disclaimer and as the story progresses the reader gets to slowly learn the big secret Catherine's has been hiding for so many years.  This book is touted as a suspense read but I'd have to say that it's more of a mystery with a twist.  There just wasn't that much 'edge of your seat' suspense or a fast pace that I was expecting.  

I also never truly got engaged with the characters.  That's a big thing for me.  Huge.  I don't have to love everything the main characters do but every character in this book fell flat and I just didn't care about them.  Any of them.  It also took quite awhile for me to be engaged in the story.  I'd read a bit, put the book down for a day then pick it up again to read a bit more. It just didn't grab me.

There was a twist towards the end of the book that I didn't predict but I didn't feel that the lead up to the big reveal justified it.  It felt a little lackluster after wondering for so long about Catherine's big secret.  But the twist was able to propel the story in a different way and made me view a certain character in a different light so that was a plus. 

I wish there was more energy infused throughout the story and the characters.  I wanted to lose myself in the story but found myself, more often than not, checking how far along I've read in the hopes that things would pick up.  There are a lot of people who loved this book but in the end, it just wasn't for me. 

My Rating: 2/5 stars

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bacon Cheeseburger Pasta Casserole

Happy 1000th blog post to me!!!  And a HUGE thanks to all of you who follow along and take the time out of your day to read my book reviews, recipes and general banter.  I appreciate you, I truly do!

I've been in a casserole slump lately.  I've lost my 'get up and go' when it comes to thinking up casseroles and I blame my kids.  I adore my small humans but they occasionally stress me out because a few (and sometimes all) don't like different foods touching (depending on the dish).  Ya, I know.  Crazy.  Apparently food touching in tacos, subs and pizza are okay but casseroles with pasta, cheese and meat is just ca-razy to them.  Say wha?

But Brad and I want leftovers to take for lunches at work so we are, as you say, at an impasse.  In order to solve this dilemma I've instituted the 'eat it or starve' mentality because I don't have the desire to keep track of who likes what, nor am I a restaurant and, in the end, I don't like to cater to picky palates.  

But I'm not a total culinary ogre so I thought I'd meet the kids halfway.  Like many kids, my kids love burgers, bacon and cheese.  It's the Mom's Dinner Menu Hat trick.  With a little time to ponder the beauty of these three ingredients I came up with the Bacon Cheeseburger Pasta Casserole.

I adore a smokey BBQ sauce and with the ground beef it resembles a Sloppy Joe enough to get most of my kids on board.  Paired with a Caesar salad and this was an easy to make, mid-week meal with the bonus of leftovers for lunches for Brad and I the next day.  Score one for Mom!



1lb ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 1/2 cups fusilli noodles
1 tbsp oil
1 cup real bacon bits (or 4 slices of bacon cooked and chopped)
1 can condensed tomato soup
1/2 soup can of water
1/3 cup smokey BBQ sauce
1 1/2 tsp mustard
1 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese, grated and divided

In a large skillet cook beef and onions until beef is no longer pink and onions are translucent.  

Meanwhile, in a large pot cook the noodles according to package instructions until they are al dente.  Drain and immediately rinse and sprinkle with some oil to prevent them from sticking together.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine bacon bits, soup, water, BBQ sauce and mustard.  Mix well.

In a large bowl, combine beef mixture, noodles, the bacon bits mixture and half of the Cheddar cheese.  Gently mix.  Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes.  Serve immediately with a green salad and crusty bread.  Leftovers can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.  The leftovers reheat really well.


Yield: 4-5 servings

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Finding Jake


Author: Bryan Reardon
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: February 24, 2015
First Line: "My name is Simon Connolly."

Book Description from GoodReadsA heart-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting story of psychological suspense in which a parent is forced to confront what he does—and does not—know about his teenage son, in the vein of Reconstructing Amelia, Defending Jacob, and We Need to Talk about Kevin.

While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn't. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school. 

Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.

As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn't really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?

Brilliantly paced, Finding Jake explores these questions in a tense and emotionally wrenching narrative. Harrowing and heartbreaking, surprisingly healing and redemptive, Finding Jake is a story of faith and conviction, strength, courage, and love that will leave readers questioning their own lives, and those they think they know.



My Review:  The premise of this book is what hooked me - suspense, a family and community in turmoil, emotional reactions ...  Sounds like a great read but it fell flat for me in a few areas.

The book focuses around Jake's dad, Simon as he tries to piece together what has happened to his son and how his son's life may have gotten so off course.  Simon's wife and daughter were unfortunately relegated to the outer edges of the story with no character development to speak of.  It was the Simon show.  I found this odd since getting different views of Jake would have helped me get more involved in the story. 

Unfortunately Simon, as the main character, got on my nerves pretty fast.  As a parent we often question our choices while raising our kids.  I get that, believe me, I do.  But Simon is neurotic and so insecure as a parent that he blames every issue that his kids have (especially Jake) on something he did as a parent.  Should he have forced his son to play with neighbourhood kids? Did he give his kids sippy cups too early so now they won't get into an Ivy League school? Okay, that didn't happen but that's the overall feel I got from him. 

While Simon did have valid (to a point) concerns about parenting I think that his concerns were made so big that they were unbelievable, felt unwarranted and became the focus of the book instead of the suspense of finding Jake.  This constant insecurity hindered me from getting behind Simon as a main character plus the author also made Simon's choice of being a stay-at-home dad such a big deal as if it is unheard of in this day and age and I wasn't quite sure why.

The premise of the book was about finding Jake and figuring out what happened to him was good - just not not overly unique.  There was one moment that gave me a lump in my throat and the author did a good job of jumping back and forth from present to past to tell the story.  Unfortunately I often felt the forays into the past were sluggish at best and I wanted to learn more about what was happening to Jake in the present.  Overall, the writing was decent but the pace was too slow and the suspense, for the most part, just wasn't there for me.

Rating: 2/5 stars

Thursday, May 7, 2015

At The Water's Edge

Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Pages in Hardcover: 368
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
First Published: March 31, 2015
First Line: 'The headstone was modest and hewn of black granite, granite being one of the few things never in short supply in Glenurquhart, even during the present difficulty.'

Book Description from GoodReadsIn her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.

After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.


My Review:  There were a few things that drew me to this book -- WWII fiction and it is set in Scotland (swoon).  But I never would have imagined combining a WWII romance and ... Nessie (yes, of Loch Ness Monster fame).   One would think that a sea creature of the deep would negatively influence the romantic element or take away from the horror of war but it worked.  It really did.  And if I'm being honest, I also wanted to give the author another chance because I'm the one person who didn't love Water for Elephants.  Yup, that was me.

I am thrilled that I gave this book a shot.  It has a lot going on but it works.  Gruen paints a clear picture of what life was like in Scotland during the war - the restrictions, food rationing, air raids and fear were all well described.  enjoyed the book even though the Nessie story line takes much more of a back seat than I was hoping for. Instead the book focuses on Maddie's personal relationships and settling into their spartan digs in rural Scotland during the war. I was glad that I found Gruen's characters were much more vibrant and believable this time around.  The addition of the secondary characters - Meg, Anna and Angus - were a breath of fresh air and balanced out the main characters' strong personalities.  

Maddie was a good main character.  She was easy to root for especially as the reader learns more about her upbringing and her marriage.  In the beginning Maddie was a little flat for me but as she goes through some self-reflection about what she wants in life and learns to stand up for herself I began to like her.

Ellis and Hank were another story.  I found them a little too cliched and just so easy to hate.  Hank may have had a moment or two where some human qualities shone through but Ellis had no redeeming qualities at all.  I actually started to think of Ellis and Hank as a much nastier version of Niles Crane (of Frasier fame).  Picture a much more pompous, spoiled, insipid and self-righteous Niles and you have a picture of Hank and Ellis. 

There is a wee romance in the book too but unfortunately I found it a little rushed and predictable.  That said, it was nice to see love bloom in the craziness of war and the epilogue was a nice touch to bring the story full circle.

While I enjoyed this book I did find the ending a little odd and predictable as well.  I wasn't sure that I liked the mystical twist but when you're dealing with Nessie I suppose anything can happen and in the end it was a satisfying ending for a very unique book. While some of the characters are a bit eccentric the majority are well drawn and believable.  And though the monsters - both real and imagined - take a back seat to Maddie's self-discovery, in the end I would say that I enjoyed this 'Gothic, historical romance with a twist' and had a hard time putting it down once I got into it.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of At The Water's Edge in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Carrabba's Sausage and Lentil Soup

I know that I've talked about my love of Carrabba's - a small Italian restaurant chain that my family and I love going to when we visit my parental units in Fort Myers, Florida.  It has a wonderfully cozy feel to it even though it's always busy.  Great service and even better food is why we always head there on vacation.  Seriously.  It was my main go-to stop on our last visit.

A couple of months ago we were in Florida and doing our requisite stop at Carrabba's and my dad (the self-proclaimed connoisseur of Carrabba's) said to try their Sausage and Lentil Soup.  It ... was ... fantastic.  The flavours were amazing together but beware that the spiciness of this soup sneak up on you. 

Over Easter one of my sisters made a batch at home and I knew it was time to give it a go myself.  Oh man!  This was sooo good!  I made it (along with a loaf of Caraway Rye Bread) and I loved it just as much as Carrabba's. I chose to puree some of the soup to give it a thicker texture but if you want a more traditional soup go ahead and leave that part out.  I now have a few servings of this soup in the freezer for those nights when I want a taste of Italian ... or Fort Myers.  


2 tsp oil
1 lb Italian sausage - remove casing
1 large onion - diced
2 celery stalks - diced
2 large carrots - sliced
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2 (14.5oz) cans of diced tomatoes
3 garlic cloves - minced
1 tsp salt
2 cups dry, red lentils - rinsed well
1 small zucchini - sliced
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4-1/2 tsp dry red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 cup real cooked bacon bits
3 tsp fresh lemon juice

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat, add oil and sausage.  As sausage cooks, chop it into bite-sized pieces. Cook until no longer pink. Add onion, celery, carrots, broth, water, tomatoes, garlic, salt and lentils.  Bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are soft.

** If the soup doesn't have enough liquid (the lentils suck up quite a bit) just add some more water as you go. **

After the soup has been simmering for about an hour, add the zucchini, spices, real bacon bits and lemon juice.  Simmer for 1/2 hour more.  If you desire a thicker soup like me, remove 1/3 to 1/2 of the soup to a bowl and, using a hand blender, puree it.  Return it to the original pot.

Serve with a green salad, crusty bread and, if desired, garnish with Parmesan cheese (or additional dried red pepper flakes - if you love the heat).

Source: Inspired by my sister, Jennifer's creation and http://www.food.com/recipe/carrabbas-sausage-and-lentil-soup-162864


Monday, May 4, 2015

The Precious One


Author: Marisa de los Santos
Genre: Women's Fiction, Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcopy
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 352
Publisher: William Morrow
First Published: March 24, 2015
First Line: "If I hadn't been alone in the house; if it hadn't been early morning, with that specific kind of fuzzy, early morning quiet and a sky the color of moonstones and raspberry jam outside my kitchen window; if I had gotten further than two sips of my bowl-sized mug of coffee; if he himself hadn't called but had sent a message via one of his usual minions; if his voice had been his voice and not a dried up flimsy paring off the big golden apple of his baritone; if he hadn't said "please", if it had been a different hour in a different day entirely, maybe -- just maybe -- I would have turned him down."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the bestselling author of Belong to Me, Love Walked In, and Falling Together comes a captivating novel about friendship, family, second chances, and the redemptive power of love

In all her life, Eustacia “Taisy” Cleary has given her heart to only three men: her first love, Ben Ransom; her twin brother, Marcus; and Wilson Cleary — professor, inventor, philanderer, self-made millionaire, brilliant man, breathtaking jerk: her father.

Seventeen years ago, Wilson ditched his first family for Caroline, a beautiful young sculptor. In all that time, Taisy’s family has seen Wilson, Caroline, and their daughter Willow only once.

Why then, is Wilson calling Taisy now, inviting her for an extended visit, encouraging her to meet her pretty sister — a teenager who views her with jealousy, mistrust, and grudging admiration? Why, now, does Wilson want Taisy to help him write his memoir?

Told in alternating voices — Taisy’s strong, unsparing observations and Willow’s naive, heartbreakingly earnest yearnings — The Precious One is an unforgettable novel of family secrets, lost love, and dangerous obsession, a captivating tale with the deep characterization, piercing emotional resonance, and heartfelt insight that are the hallmarks of Marisa de los Santos’s beloved works.
 


My Review: While it's been many years since I've picked up a book by de los Santos I still remember being utterly enthralled by her characters and plot in her previous Loved Walked In and Belong To Me.  I was captivated by her characters.  The Precious One is her new novel and with it comes some interesting characters.

The Precious One focuses on dysfunctional relationships and it engaged me pretty much throughout.  De los Santos takes on many relationship dynamics - parent/child, step-parent/step-child, first love, sibling relationships and even a very 'icky' one that I won't reveal.  It is narrated by sisters Taisy and Willow who each have their own unique voices but I wouldn't say it was as 'hard to put down' as her earlier books.  In fact, I'd say it was a little predictable - not so much that it bugged me but I wasn't shocked by the ending either. That said, there's a lot going on which held my interest and sensitive issues are at the forefront including an extremely dysfunctional blended family headed by Wilson, the patriarch.

Oh Wilson!  He was an easy character to hate.  He had a whole heap load of flaws, especially when dealing with his first family but also how he insisted on raising Willow. His lack of redeeming qualities (except perhaps his love for Willow and his wife) made him easy to hate.  He played the over-bearing father well but he had so many of these overpowering, self-centred tendencies that he became a caricature of the 'tyrant dad'.  I liked seeing how and why he became that way but would have loved to have gotten even more insight into his past through his eyes and the eyes of his sibling.  I felt like there was a lot more to his story that the reader wasn't privy to.

I definitely enjoyed this book and would chalk it up to a comfortable, easy read.  Sure, it engaged me and was perfect to curl up with but it wasn't quite up to par with her two earlier works that I adored.  Still it was an entertaining read and perfect for some down time in the summer.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Bullet

Author: Mary Louise Kelly
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: March 17, 2015
First Line: "My name is Caroline Cashion and I'm the unlikely heroine of this story."

Book Description from GoodReadsCaroline Cashion, a professor of French literature at Georgetown University, is stunned when an MRI reveals that she has a bullet lodged near the base of her skull. It makes no sense: she has never been shot. She has no entry wound. No scar. When she confronts her parents, they initially profess bewilderment. Then, over the course of one awful evening, she learns the truth: she was adopted when she was three years old, after her real parents were murdered in cold blood. Caroline had been there the night of the attack, and she was hit by a single gunshot to the neck. Buried too deep among vital nerves and blood vessels, the surgeons had left it, and stitched up the traumatized little girl with the bullet still inside. 

That was thirty-four years ago.

Now, Caroline returns to her hometown to learn whatever she can about who her parents were and why they died. Along the way she meets a cop who worked the case, who reveals that even after all these years, the police do not have enough evidence to nail their suspect. The killer is still at large. Caroline is in danger: the bullet in her neck could identify the murderer, and he'll do anything to keep it out of the police hands. Now Caroline will have to decide: run for her life, or stay and fight?


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

My Review:  The wonderfully intriguing premise is what got me to request this book immediately.  A woman not only finds out that she was adopted but learns that she has had a bullet in her neck since the age of three and doesn't remember ever getting shot nor does she have a scar?  Tell me more.

This novel is by Mary Louise Kelly, a former journalist, and while the premise was great I think that the execution needed a little work.  What I loved were the short chapters and the suspense of who the murderer was kept me reading for the first half of the book.  There's one action scene that I finished and I'm pretty sure I didn't have any fingernails left but overall I think the book lacked the tension I was expecting for a suspense read.

Caroline was an okay main character.  Her predicament put her in an unusual situation but overall I can't say that she's a character that will stay with me.  She's a smart woman, a university professor no less, but after learning she's adopted and the reason why she was adopted she suddenly becomes very erratic and makes some potentially dangerous choices.  Knowing that the bullet could put the murderer away why would you tell your story repeatedly to a newspaper?  Why wouldn't you set your security alarm on your house if you think you're in danger?  It just didn't sit well with me and made Caroline come off as silly.

I'm also not a fan of suspense reads who slip in a romance 'just cuz' and that's what Caroline's romance felt like.  It happened too suddenly for me could have been left out all together without hindering the main story line.

Overall, this was a decent read.  There were some good moments and some twists that I didn't see coming.  I enjoyed the beginning of the book and the build-up but in the last half of the book my interest started to wane a bit and unfortunately I didn't find it nearly as compelling as I was hoping.  This was a decent suspense novel and I'm intrigued to see what her future books will be like.  I think this would be a good book for people who enjoy lighter suspense reads.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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