Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House

Author: Kathleen Grissom
Genre: Historical Fiction (Slavery)
Type: Paperback
Pages: 370
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
First Published: April 5, 2016
First Line: "March 1830 Philadelphia - Robert's familiar rap on the door came as I was studying a miniature portrait of myself."


Book Description from GoodReads: A novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad.

The author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House continues the story of Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, whose deadly secret compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.

Published in 2010, The Kitchen House became a grassroots bestseller. Fans connected so deeply to the book’s characters that the author, Kathleen Grissom, found herself being asked over and over “what happens next?” The wait is finally over.

This new, stand-alone novel opens in 1830, and Jamie, who fled from the Virginian plantation he once called home, is passing in Philadelphia society as a wealthy white silversmith. After many years of striving, Jamie has achieved acclaim and security, only to discover that his aristocratic lover Caroline is pregnant. Before he can reveal his real identity to her, he learns that his beloved servant Pan has been captured and sold into slavery in the South. Pan’s father, to whom Jamie owes a great debt, pleads for Jamie’s help, and Jamie agrees, knowing the journey will take him perilously close to Tall Oakes and the ruthless slave hunter who is still searching for him. Meanwhile, Caroline’s father learns and exposes Jamie’s secret, and Jamie loses his home, his business, and finally Caroline.

Heartbroken and with nothing to lose, Jamie embarks on a trip to a North Carolina plantation where Pan is being held with a former Tall Oakes slave named Sukey, who is intent on getting Pan to the Underground Railroad. Soon the three of them are running through the Great Dismal Swamp, the notoriously deadly hiding place for escaped slaves. Though they have help from those in the Underground Railroad, not all of them will make it out alive.
  


My Review: Long time readers of my blog may remember that I loved Kathleen Grissom's book, The Kitchen House when I read it back in January 2012.  It was a beautifully written emotional and gritty story about slavery.  It's also a book that I frequently suggest to friends, family and customers at the library where I work who want a riveting historical fiction read.

Well, Grissom has done it again. In Glory Over Everything, the sequel to The Kitchen House, Grissom brings back some of her beloved characters and weaves a new story that was even more riveting and hard to put down than the first book. I actually stayed up well after 1am to finish it.

Yes, I loved, loved, LOVED this book.

Glory Over Everything is a page-turner and has Grissom's captivating writing style and characters who seem to come to life before you. It follows the life of Jamie Pyke as he makes a new life in Philadelphia while trying to hide a secret that could destroy all that he has built.  When someone to whom he owes a large debt comes for his help Jamie realizes he must return to the south and face a very uncertain future with potentially dire consequences. The story is told once again via multiple narrators and is a fast-paced read that not only focuses on race, slavery and the Underground Railroad but also on family ties and how one’s upbringing continues to influence us.

While this is considered a sequel to The Kitchen House, and includes several characters from that book, it can also be read as a standalone.  But I think you'd be missing out if you didn't read The Kitchen House first. Reading the first book will give the reader a more in depth understanding of Jamie and some of the other characters' histories, the reasons for their actions and their deeply rooted fears. But for those of you who want to jump right into this book, Grissom explains enough of the background of these characters for the new-to-Grissom reader to grasp the older story lines.

The only issue that I had with this book is that there were some rather unlikely (and too convenient) ways some characters met up in the book.  Out of all the plantations in all the state Pan just happened to meet up with someone Jamie knew?  Not quite believable but I loved seeing some of the characters from The Kitchen House so much that I didn't dwell on it. 

Some reviews of The Kitchen House complained about the brutal descriptions of the abuse of slaves. (It was a brutal time and I personally like that Grissom didn't sugar-coat anything.) While Glory Over Everything still deals with slavery I didn't find it to have such vivid descriptions of what life was like as a slave compared to the first book. There are still some gritty scenes but Grissom focuses quite a bit on the intense fear of being thrown back into slavery that many free slaves struggled with on a daily basis.

The secondary characters all play pivotal roles in the plot and are each quite engaging with Jamie's butler, Robert, being my favourite.  Jamie himself was an okay character.  You witness his struggles and fears but I wasn't fond of his self-loathing and doubt.

With complex characters, a gripping and often intense plot and emotional scenes Glory Over Everything is one of my favourite books of 2016 so far.  It is filled with scenes of human endurance, strength, love, violence, betrayal, family loyalty, courage and the power of hope.  That's a whole lot of emotion wrapped up into one book but Grissom is a master at writing gripping novels featuring characters that stay with her readers long after the last page is turned.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

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.



Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Sawbones

Author: Melissa Lenhardt
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Series: #1 in the Sawbones series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Redhook Books
First Published: March 29, 2016
First Line: "I'll have some fresh ones on the morrow."


Book Description from GoodReads: Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut. When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine's false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.


My ReviewSawbones is a combination of western, romance, adventure and historical fiction.  With its engaging characters, great premise and some rather outstanding (albeit gruesome) action scenes, I was kept engaged throughout and quite enjoyed this book.

Going into this book I wasn't familiar with the term 'sawbones' (for those like me it's an old term for "a surgeon or physician").  What really drew me to this book was the description likening it to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. While I enjoyed this book I don't think that is a fair or accurate comparison.  While Outlander is partially set in 18th century U.S and has a strong female physician as a lead character, there is no time travel or Scots to be seen.  It felt a little disingenuous for that connection to be made but that is more due to publishers/PR than the author so that factor won't be influencing my rating.

Like I mentioned this book has it all - adventure, mystery, romance and a spunky heroine who has a price on her head.  Nothing like a price on your head to give you a push to move into dangerous territory.  Catherine is a strong main character and it was easy to get behind her. She's smart, sassy, stubborn and generally a force to be reckoned with.  She overcame many obstacles to become a doctor and continues to try to get the same recognition for her accomplishments from her male peers and the general population. 

As readers see Catherine struggle to be seen as a 'real' physician Lenhardt also taps into other roles and limitations set on women of the time.  From a struggling doctor, to married women, to whores and laundresses and spinsters ... anyway you slice it, it was hard being a woman back then.

There is a strong romance aspect to the book and their connection was initially built with witty banter and not bed hopping which I was thankful for.  I can't stand the insta-love connections.  Was the romance aspect predictable?  Ya, kind of but it was sweet and fit the situation. If I allow myself a petty moment, I have to admit that I wasn't fond of Captain Kindle's name.  Namely because it constantly reminded me of my e-reader but also because it wasn't the strongest sounding name for a hearty military man.  Petty moment over.

What this book has in spades is action and boy, oh boy were there some action scenes!  There were several nail biting fight scenes and the author doesn't hold back on her descriptions of the atrocities that man commits against each other (or their very graphic and often misogynistic language).  Several of the scenes were shocking and quite gruesome in nature with some leaving me thinking "I didn't think she (the author) would go there ... but she did. Wow!"  Even though it was hard to read about killings, abuse, genocide, rape etc these shocking scenes gave an air of authenticity to the era. 

Sadly, another issue that was popular at the time was the prejudice and outright hatred for native Americans which was frustrating and hard to read.  I felt they were vilified in this book but sadly this was the view of the white population at the time.  It would have been nice to have had point of view from the Native side of things as these people struggled to deal with the end of their lands, people and way of life.

Overall I quite enjoyed this book.  It's a good ol' romp in the wild, wild west with some great action, a mystery and a sweet romance between two memorable characters.  I think people who enjoy historical fictions set in the old west with strong female protagonists, an engaging story and some action will enjoy this book.

Recommended.

Note: the second book in this new series, Blood Oath, will be out in late 2016.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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


Monday, 28 March 2016

Diary of Anna The GIrl Witch



Author: Max Candee
Genre: Supernatural, Children (Tween)
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Helvetic House
First Published: January 1, 2016
First Line: "Dear Uncle Misha, how are you?"


Book Description from GoodReads: What do you do when you discover you’re a witch... And that using your new powers destroys your soul a little each time?

Set in the Swiss countryside, this story blends ancient folklore with a coming of age tale about a young witch on the brink of womanhood.

Anna Sophia has always known she was different. She didn’t know just how different until now.

On the eve of her 13th birthday — in the orphanage where she’s spent most of her childhood — Anna wonders about her past. She never knew her parents, doesn’t even know where she came from. All she has to go by is an unbelievable fairy tale her uncle used to tell: that she was found as a baby, tucked among a pack of bear cubs in the wilds of Russia.

To make matters even more complex, Anna has discovered that she can see and do things that no one else can. So far, she’s kept her powers a secret, and they remain strange and frightening even to her.

It’s only when Anna receives a letter from her mother — a mother she will never meet — that she discovers some of the truths about her past, and begins to uncover the possibilities in her future. As Anna continues to learn more about her secret abilities, she finds out that her neighbors are hiding something of their own: a plot to harm Anna and her friends.

Can Anna Sophia use her newfound supernatural powers to stop them? Can she fight back, without endangering her own soul? And maybe, just maybe, is her own secret tied up with theirs?

Through a story of otherworldly magic, Anna Sophia finds a sense of real-world belonging. With its cast of strong characters, inventive setting, and engaging storyline, this fantasy adventure is a relevant novel for middle grade children or young adults.



My Review: Initially I was tempted to read this book based on its premise and its beautiful cover. This middle school supernatural adventure novel follows a 13 year old girl as she learns about her newfound power as a witch.  An orphan who learns of their magical powers while at a boarding school sounds familiar but Candee brings his own twist to Anna Sophia's powers and his plot.


I wasn't smitten with this book right off the bat. The plot was a little slow to start, the writing felt overly simplified and I didn't have a good connection with Anna Sophia, her powers or her rather odd unique sidekick. While it was interesting to see her come into her new powers, and I loved how using her powers affected her, it was a little hard to believe that she tackled them so easily considering that she didn't know she was a witch until a few weeks before.  She seemed to have an innate idea of how to handle things and I would have liked to see her struggle a bit more.


But I stuck with it and I'm glad I did.  About a third of the way through the pace picks up and the writing was much more engaging.  There are some great action scenes that had a rather nepharious and eerie feel to them due to the addition of some sinister adults and a faster moving plot.  There is some violence in the book but I feel it fit the plot well and really upped the eerie feel of the book without being gory or over the top. 


There were some nice sketches of scenes and characters scattered throughout the book which young readers will enjoy and the overall moral of the story regarding using your powers/strengths for good and never for revenge or harming others is a good one.


Readers are left with a bit of a cliffhanger which wasn't frustrating but made me eager to find out more about Anna Sophia's mysterious family and past.  It has some good moral lessons about friendship, loyalty and doing what is right.  This was a solid start to a new middle school supernatural/suspense series that, while it took me a bit to get into, I feel it will engage older tween/young teen readers and is a great way to introduce kids to magical/supernatural reads.


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars


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




Thursday, 24 March 2016

Bacon and Blue Cheese Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

It's a snow/ice day here in Bookwormville which means our school board has deemed the results of the ice storm last night too dangerous for the buses to run.  Buses and school are cancelled (and I can't blame them.  It's nasty out there).

This means my kids are over the moon because, due to Easter, they now get a five day weekend.  Wha?!  Where was that when I was a kid??  This snow day makes it the perfect time to hunker and just veg.  Lie like broccoli.  Watch Netflix.  Bake some cookies and perhaps blog in my jammies ... before I have to go to work this afternoon.  Them's the breaks.  Some of us still have to go to work.

It's been awhile since I've had a recipe up on my blog so I thought I'd share a delicious pork dish that I made for Brad and I a little while ago.  After serving a dish that used blue cheese I had some blue cheese crumbles left over and just begging to be used.  Back in the day (aka ten years ago) I hated blue cheese.  Just the thought of eating cheese with mold made me cringe.  But as I got older I learned to love the stinky cheese.

With a pork tenderloin, my blue cheese and a few other sundries from my fridge I came up with this recipe.  Tender, tasty and pretty impressive this was a hit with Brad and I.  My kids are still in the 'blue cheese is mold and therefore gross' camp so they made their own dinners and we didn't have to share with them.  They'll come around eventually.  Until then, Brad and I don't have to share.


Source: The Baking Bookworm

1 large pork tenderloin
2 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 tsp grainy Dijon mustard
1 green onion, sliced
2 tbsp. blue cheese crumbles
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp black pepper (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a baking pan with foil and set aside.

Slice the pork tenderloin lengthwise almost all the way through.  Lie the pork flat on a work surface.

Combine the cream cheese, Dijon, green onion, blue cheese crumbles, oregano, basil and pepper in a small bowl. 



Spoon the cheese mixture onto half of the pork tenderloin and then fold the other half of the meat over top of the mixture.  Pinch the edges of the pork tenderloin together and pin them together with toothpicks. 



Brush the pork lightly with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 160F.  Tent the meat with tin foil and allow it to sit for 5 minutes.  Slice and serve immediately.

Great side dish options:

Brown Sugar Glazed Carrots


Lemon Rosemary Orzo





Wednesday, 23 March 2016

We Are All Made of Molecules



Author: Susin Nielsen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Tundra Books (Random House Canada)
First Published: May 12, 2015
First Line: "I have always wanted a sister."

Book Description from GoodReads: Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.
Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.

Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.

They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.
  


My ReviewI've seen this book floating around the library where I work for some time now and it's been on my TBR (To Be Read) list for awhile.  So long, in fact, that I couldn't remember what it was about.  But it wasn't until this past weekend that it was finally my turn to read it.

I read this book in half a day.  Simply put, I loved it.  Like, 'gushing in utter book geek delight' kind of love.  I may have swooned.

This isn't a book about rainbows and unicorns of happiness.  It has a lot of depth and covers many serious issues that teens face.  It is a story about two families ripped apart by divorce, illness and death who slowly put themselves back together as one big family with humour, hope and a lot of bumps along the way.

A lot of my feeling towards the book stems from the characters.  They were quite varied and showcased different friendships, familial bonds and issues.  This family is broken for various reasons and Nielsen shines a spotlight on the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes and you can make it work.  While the book focuses on teens Ashley and Stewart I love that Nielsen also looks at different adult relationships as this group of people try to build a new modern family.  All of the relationships felt like they were dealt with in a realistic way and I loved that.

The book is told via two points of view - thirteen year old Stewart who is uber smart but not exactly high on the social scale and Ashley his fourteen year old 'sort of stepsister' who gives Mean Girl Regina George a run for her money.  These two couldn't be more different and struggle as they learn to live with each other at home and at school.

A few of the characters, like Ashley, give off a rather strong odour of cliché which you'd think would diminish my rating but I began to see the different layers in her and I still loved her.  She's a total self-absorbed Mean Girl with a mouth on her which would make her easy to hate but she a lot of comedy to the book because she's not exactly the sharpest eye liner in the drawer.  For example, her struggles to use correct words

Ashley - "I am counting the days 'till I can become unconstipated!" (er, um how about 'emancipated'?)


Ashley - "'Joie de beaver" that's French for just basically loving life"

and consistently getting the names of Stewart's cat and friend wrong bring levity that had me giggling throughout the book.

Stewart is an awkward sweetheart who is still dealing with the loss of his mother.  The only thing that kind of made me pause was the fact that he seems younger than his 13 years.  Sure he's loveably awkward and always stands up for the greater good but for a teen of thirteen his actions and words seemed like a much younger child - more in line with a 9 or 10 year old.  But I quickly got over that issue because Stewart is an old soul trying to make the best of things and really is the catalyst to bring this new family together.

Throughout this book the message is - beneath it all we're all the same.  We all have struggles, concerns and worries. We all want to fit in and be loved.  This book is about so many things - fitting in, life changes being thrown at you, standing up for yourself, being yourself, loss, love and family in all its many and varied forms.  It's funny, touching and an incredibly easy read that will leave you missing the characters after you've turned the last page.  Another book that gave me all these bookishly good 'feels' is Wonder by R.J Palacio.  I highly recommend both of those books to tweens, teens and adults.

Note to Parents: There is a disturbing scene towards the end of the book.  While it could be a great discussion point for parents to have with their kids it may be a little much for sensitive or younger readers.  I'd recommend a parent read the book first before giving it to a tween reader.  There are also some swear words/derogatory names in one scene as well.  Don't let these issues stop you from reading the book.  Both were important scenes which highlighted some real concerns for today's teens.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 5/5 stars



No One Knows

Author: J.T Ellison
Genre: Suspense
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Threshold, Gallery, Pocket Books
First Published: March 22, 2016
First Line: "One thousand eight hundred and seventy-nine days after Joshua Hamilton went missing, the state of Tennessee declared him legally dead."


Book Description from GoodReads: In an obsessive mystery as thrilling as The Girl on the Train and The Husband’s Secret, New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison will make you question every twist in her page-turning novel—and wonder which of her vividly drawn characters you should trust.

The day Aubrey Hamilton’s husband is declared dead by the state of Tennessee should bring closure so she can move on with her life. But Aubrey doesn’t want to move on; she wants Josh back. It’s been five years since he disappeared, since their blissfully happy marriage—they were happy, weren’t they?—screeched to a halt and Aubrey became the prime suspect in his disappearance. Five years of emptiness, solitude, loneliness, questions. Why didn’t Josh show up at his friend’s bachelor party? Was he murdered? Did he run away? And now, all this time later, who is the mysterious yet strangely familiar figure suddenly haunting her new life?
In No One Knows, the New York Times bestselling coauthor of the Nicholas Drummond series expertly peels back the layers of a complex woman who is hiding dark secrets beneath her unassuming exterior. This masterful thriller for fans of Gillian Flynn, Liane Moriarty, and Paula Hawkins will pull readers into a you’ll-never-guess merry-go-round of danger and deception. Round and round and round it goes, where it stops…no one knows.


My Review: Suspense, a missing person, twists and turns.  This book sounded so up my alley ... and some of it was.  There were many red herrings - some surprising, some not so much - to throw the reader off course as well as a rather dark and eerie feeling surrounding the disappearance of Aubrey's husband.

It took me until about a third of the way into the book to really get invested into the story.  The book had a different feel (I can't quite put my finger on it) and I liked the premise.  Ellison tells her story by jumping back and forth - from Josh and Aubrey's childhoods, to their marriage as well as when he disappeared.  Multiple points of view are also used to tell the story and while the changes in POV were clearly stated the switching back and forth between characters and time frames got to be a bit much after awhile. 

But, by using these flashbacks the reader sees where they came from, their difficulties and what they meant to each other, as kids and during their marriage.  No one truly is as they seem and this idea permeates this book.  I liked the fact that my opinions of these two love birds began to change as I learned more about them.  While I found the set up to be a little haphazard, things started to fall together and I became engaged in the mystery surrounding Josh's disappearance. 

And then I wasn't.  My interested started to wane in the middle for a few reasons. While I liked the red herrings there were a few things that didn't sit well with me.  I didn't enjoy a few instances and character connections that were too serendipitous and far-fetched to be believable.  Aubrey has a love interest but their 'love' was just too instantaneous for me to be believable and his connection to the plot was much too coincidental. 

Aubrey was also a hard gal to totally get behind.  As a protagonist you want to like her and see her be victorious but I can't say that I ever felt comfortable with her.  There was always that feeling underneath it all that I couldn't quite trust her.  That leads to some great suspense but also gives the reader the uncomfortable feeling by having an unreliable narrator (which is fast becoming a popular writing method).

Sadly I didn't love the ending.  I know it was a big twist (that I didn't see coming) but when I read it I had to step back and digest it.  It totally changed how I had viewed a character and I struggled to make sense of the revelation.  It just didn't work for me and felt like it was thrown in for a shocker of an ending.  This 'a-ha!!' moment can sometimes be awesome but this one didn't and it felt forced after everything I had already read.

This was a rather dark suspense read that had quite a few twists to it.  I may not have liked them all but I applaud Ellison for providing a lot of twists and how she slowly revealed her characters to her readers.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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



Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Only Ever You

Author: Rebecca Drake
Genre: Suspense
Type: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (imprint of St Martin's Press)
First Published: March 22, 2016
First Line: "On the day her life began to unravel, Jill Lassiter smeared sunscreen on her three-year-old daughter's soft skin and drove her, as promised, to the park."


Book Description from GoodReads: Three-year-old Sophia Lassiter disappears at the playground only to return after 40 frantic minutes-- but her mother Jill's relief is short lived. Jill is convinced the tiny dots on her daughter's arm are puncture marks. When doctors find no trace of drugs in her system, Jill accepts she won't ever know what happened during her daughter's absence and is simply grateful to have her home safely.

Except Sophia isn't safe. Three months later, she disappears again. This time from her bed at home, in the night. Working with the police and the community, Jill and her husband David are desperate to bring their little girl home. They remain hopeful---until information turns up suggesting their daughter was murdered, causing the police to turn their suspicions on the parents. Facing ugly family secrets and heart-rending evidence, Jill is still convinced her daughter is alive. But when the dragnet begins to close around them, Jill realizes the worst: if the police believe she has killed her daughter, that means they aren't out there looking for the real perpetrator. They aren't hunting for Sophie or the person who still has her.
 


My Review: Having your child taken is one of the biggest fears that parents can have.  Author Rebecca Drake has written a suspenseful psychological thriller that brings these fears and emotions to life. But it was the idea of this child being taken twice within a short period of time that really intrigued me.

Drake uses flashbacks and diary entries (of an unknown person) throughout the book to help tell the story and these additions flow well with the plot and keep the reader actively trying to figure out 'whodunnit'. I liked the fact that I, as a reader, knew more about what was going on than Jill and yet I still didn't know everything because Drake throws loads of red herrings at her readers to steer them off course.  Seeing Jill piece together the lies and deception to find her child proved to be quite a nail-biting read.

While I figured out some things early on the bigger twists surprised me.  The author gives the reader various scenarios as to whom the culprit could be and I liked that I continued to waiver on the identity of that person.  While the plot was detailed it wasn't fussy or confusing and the pieces slowly fit together for the reader until an action packed final scene.

The characters were a varied, though not an overly likeable bunch, and I can't say that I totally connected to Jill.  She sometimes felt quite selfish to me but that slight disconnect didn't interfere with me getting quite absorbed with this book.

Drake has written a very suspenseful and sometimes emotional read that will have readers riveted throughout.  Recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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

Monday, 21 March 2016

Forgetting Tabitha



Author: Julie Dewey
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: ebook
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tour
Publisher: Holland Press
First Published: January 1, 2016
First Line: "1920 - In my reverie, an old lady settled in a creaky wicker rocker, beside a bounty of lush gardens, I recall Mama's stories about my birth and our early years, both on the farm and in the city."


Book Description from GoodReads: Raised on a farm, Tabitha Salt, the daughter of Irish immigrants, leads a bucolic and sheltered existence. When tragedy strikes the family, Tabitha and her mother are forced to move to the notorious Five Points District in New York City, known for its brothels, gangs, gambling halls, corrupt politicians and thieves. As they struggle to survive in their new living conditions, tragedy strikes again. Young Tabitha resorts to life alone on the streets of New York, dreaming of a happier future.
The Sisters of Charity are taking orphans off the streets with promises of a new life. Children are to forget their pasts, their religious beliefs, families and names. They offer Tabitha a choice: stay in Five Points or board the orphan train and go West in search of a new life.
The harrowing journey and the decision to leave everything behind launches Tabitha on a path from which she can never return.



My Review:  I was attracted to this book based solely on the fact that it was a historical fiction read that dealt with orphan trains.  I was introduced to this little known part of American history a couple of years ago with Christina Baker Kline's book, aptly named 'Orphan Train', and it remains a very interesting part of the US's history.

Forgetting Tabitha starts out strong with good descriptions of what life was like in New York City for those less fortunate - the poverty, the lack of hygiene and education of children etc.  But as I continued to read, my feelings for the book began to wane and unfortunately that trend continued for the remainder of the book.

There are a few reasons for my lower rating.  While I enjoyed the orphan train aspect, it was short lived within the book.  As the book progresses the focus and even the style of the writing seemed to change and became weaker -  it almost felt like it was written by different authors.  The middle and end of the book had various characters who take over the reigns of the story but these points of view caused the story to feel muddled (the 'too many cooks in the kitchen' phenomenon) and also diminished my connection to Tabitha.  Gone was the gritty look at NYC and in its place we're left with many of the secondary characters feeling like clichés with the plots, big and small, feeling rather predictable. 

Dewey has some good ideas but with some editing, more complicated plots and more time to connect with the main character this book could have been great.  She has written some rather striking scenes showcasing the violence towards women at the time, specifically women in the world's 'oldest profession'.  Many of Dewey's story lines had good promise but for the second half of the book they started to feel contrived and predictable with some of the issues raised feeling too simplified and dealt with too easily or believably for the time.

While I applaud the author for writing about this era of American history Forgetting Tabitha was a much lighter read than I was expecting. It was an emotional and heart-wrenching time but unfortunately the plot, characters and writing weren't as strong as I was hoping for.  Readers who enjoy lighter historical fiction (author Josephine Cox' work come to mind) may enjoy this book.

My Rating: 3/5 stars



Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Julie Dewey and HF Virtual Blog Tour for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Friday, 18 March 2016

The Eternity Cure

Author: Julie Kagawa
Genre: Supernatural, Dystopian, Teen, Re-Reading (2)
Type: e-book
Series: #2 in the Blood of Eden series
Source: My Personal Library
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
First Published: April 30, 2013
First Line: "I smelled blood as soon as I walked into the room."


Book Description from GoodReads: In Allison Sekemoto's world, there is one rule left: Blood calls to blood

She has done the unthinkable: died so that she might continue to live. Cast out of Eden and separated from the boy she dared to love, Allie will follow the call of blood to save her creator, Kanin, from the psychotic vampire Sarren. But when the trail leads to Allie's birthplace in New Covington, what Allie finds there will change the world forever—and possibly end human and vampire existence.

There's a new plague on the rise, a strain of the Red Lung virus that wiped out most of humanity generations ago—and this strain is deadly to humans and vampires alike. The only hope for a cure lies in the secrets Kanin carries, if Allie can get to him in time.

Allison thought that immortality was forever. But now, with eternity itself hanging in the balance, the lines between human and monster will blur even further, and Allie must face another choice she could never have imagined having to make.



My Review: This is the second time reading this book for me and I loved it as much, if not more than the first time.  Yup, this book (and the whole series) is a goodie.  It's the second book in the Blood of Eden series and I've recommended it to countless people (many of whom come back and tell me that they loved it!).  Don't let the vampires and dystopian fool you, Allie and the other vamps in this book aren't the glittering lame vampires you're used to. Kagawa creates characters that have varying degrees of humanity.  You'll care about them even though they can be ruthless and violent.  Some will make you laugh and probably even make you shed a tear. There's edge of your seat action, an uber creepy evil master mind and a main character in Allie that you can easily get behind.  This is the Grand Poobah of supernatural dystopian. Period. The End.

How's that for an intro?  Yes, I love this series very much and the reason why I'm re-reading it is because three years ago when I initially read Immortal Rules (my first review from 2013 is here, most recent from 2016 is here) and The Eternity Cure I had planned to read the third only to get side tracked with a billion other books.  So, to give this series it's due, I'm rereading it again. And I'm so glad I did.

Allie is, once again, a flawed but realistic character as she races to save Kanin, her creator.  Kagawa adds in a few great twists in her plot as well as her characters but bringing back Sarren as the uber baddie (he's at the top of my list of creepy dudes I never want to meet) was the icing on the cake for me.  She also adds great chemistry between her characters and humour sprinkled throughout.

Once again, Kagawa has outdone herself.  I am more than eager to read The Forever Song as soon as humanly possible.  If you haven't picked up this series yet, I highly urge you to do so. Start with Immortal Rules and enjoy!

My Rating: 5/5 stars


Favourite Quotes:
“You will always be a monster - there is no turning back from it. But what kind of monster you become is entirely up to you.”  




Thursday, 17 March 2016

A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series: #6 in the Outlander series (read in order)
Source: Personal Library
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 980
Publisher: DoubleDay Canada
First Published: September 27, 2015
First Line: "The dog sensed them first."


Book Description from GoodReads: The year is 1772, and on the eve of the American Revolution, the long fuse of rebellion has already been lit. Men lie dead in the streets of Boston, and in the backwoods of North Carolina, isolated cabins burn in the forest.

With chaos brewing, the governor calls upon Jamie Fraser to unite the back-country and safeguard the colony for King and Crown. But from his wife Jamie knows that three years hence the shot heard round the world will be fired, and the result will be independence - with those loyal to the King either dead or in exile. And there is also the matter of a tiny clipping from The Wilmington Gazette, dated 1776, which reports Jamie's death, along with his kin. For once, he hopes, his time-traveling family may be wrong about the future.  



My Review:  This book, similar to the other books in the Outlander series, was a big read.  My hardcover copy was just shy of 1000 pages. Yup, it's a biggie.  I had actually bought it over 10 years ago and even got Gabaldon herself to autograph it.  {Book Geek Heaven!} But after struggling to get through the fifth book in the series, The Fiery Cross, years ago I was hesitant to pick up another book in this series.  Yes, it took me a whole decade to come back to the trials and tribulations of Claire and Jamie. 


Though a good writer, Gabaldon has a tendency to wax poetic and get too verbose for my tastes.  Her characters are amazing, her large story arcs are great but sometimes she gets stuck in the minutiae of daily life and the lives of numerous tertiary characters leaving me to wonder why certain scenes were added in the first place. 


After a decade of waiting I wanted to get back on the proverbial horse so I took time to reacquaint myself with her characters and story lines by re-reading the first two books as well as very detailed synopses on the other three books (there was no way I'd ever read The Fiery Cross again.  Evah.). 


In this latest installment Gabaldon has several great story lines which were interspersed with some of the daily goings on of life on Fraser's Ridge.  It was nice to get reacquainted with Claire, Jamie and their brood again.  There were some tragic and emotional scenes that had me at the edge of my seat and reminded me why I love Gabaldon's writing so much.  Those stellar scenes would follow with some quiet, much smaller story lines involving secondary/tertiary characters which were okay but not to the energy level of Clarie, Jamie or Bree's story lines.  I think she's going for a well rounded idea of what life was like back then but she adds so much detail and so many secondary story lines that the pacing is all over the place.  One minute you're on the edge of your seat as someone is rushing to save another character and next minute you're watching a rather mundane task being carried out by a character you can barely name.  Also, since she's written thousands upon thousands of pages some of the high action scenes are starting to feel repetitive (multiple kidnappings, abuse).




In the end this was a good installment.  It felt much more personable and less political than The Fiery Cross. Personally I'm in it for the characters and not so much the politics of the time.  The ending was great and has my interest piqued for the final books in the series but I think I'll wait a bit before jumping into another big book of Gabaldon's.  Not ten years but perhaps a couple of months.  While they are a good read, they demand a lot of your time and with the next season of the Outlander TV series expected in another month that will tide me over with all things Outlander for a wee bit.




Note: This is not a series that you can pick up at random.  You really must read them in order because of the vast number of characters and story lines involved in these very popular books


My Rating: 4/5 stars




Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Our Basement Renovation: Part Six - DIY Small Planked Wall

I have long been a Pinterest creeper.  I love to admire all the goodies - recipes, home décor, fashion etc - that are out there.  When I started to notice DIY planked walls popping up on people's boards I was eager to try one (or two) in my own home.  


Two of the blog posts that really inspired me were from:


Sarah at The Thrifty Décor Chick
http://www.thriftydecorchick.com/2014/09/13-planked-wall-finished-fireplace.html


and Tasha at Designer Trapped in a Lawyer's Body(http://www.designertrapped.com/2015/05/diy-wood-plank-wall.html)


I took ideas and tips from both of these fine ladies and tweaked them to fit our needs.

I knew I wanted two plank walls in our basement but I didn't want to jump into the large focal wall first (which would be the very first thing people would see when they came downstairs) because I had never done anything like this before and I'm a nervous Nelly, what can I say.  (The larger plank wall will be in a future blog post).  Instead we opted to do a smaller plank wall behind our TV which is above our fireplace and surrounded by 6 feet of bookshelves on either side - it's an 18 foot entertainment/fireplace/TV/bookshelf extravaganza along one wall.  I adore it.   



*Swoon*


Here's a drawing so you have a visual (thanks to Brad, my resident Autocad guru)


Anyway, this wee plank wall behind the TV would add some interest, colour and
texture to the small space and tie in with the larger plank wall across the room which will also be painted the same Grizzle Gray.  Plus, if we made any mistakes the large TV that will be on the wall would hide any imperfections. I have thought this thing through, y'all! This is not my first rodeo.


Step One: Measure
Measure out your space/wall to determine how many sheets of underlayment you'll need.  Each sheet of underlayment is 4' x 8' and you may want some extra for trim (or you could buy separate battens if you opt to do the trim).


Step Two: Buying Planks
One of the first things I learned from my Pinterest peeps is NOT to use thick wooden planks. Not only are they fairly expensive but they've been known to pop off due to their weight.  Ain't nobody got time for falling planks when you have a small bank account!

So off Brad and I went to the local Home Depot in search of underlayment.  What is underlayment you ask?  I believe it's used under certain kinds of flooring, kind of like a subfloor.  I don't really know or care what it's normal use is, all I know is that it's great for this project and that a 4x8' sheet of the stuff is around $21 here in Canada (and about $13 in the US).  It's not much to look at - it has a light wood colour on one side and the other has a reddish hue.  It's a little more than 1/8-inch in thickness and quite light which is great for this project.  For our wall behind the TV we used one sheet of underlayment.




Once you have your sheet(s) on your Home Depot cart you'll need to get your Home Depot Dude to cut each sheet into planks (whatever thickness you've decided to use) and you're good to go! For this smaller plank wall we went with 4-inch planks because it suited the small space and you'd see more of the planking effect at the sides of the TV.


Here's Brad grabbing our planks from Depot Dude as he cuts
the boards for our larger plank wall
Step Three: Things you'll need for this project
- underlayment planks
- brad nails
- pneumatic brad nailer
- long level and/or laser level
- sliding compound miter saw
- table saw
- sanding block with fine sandpaper
- stud finder
- 6-8 coins for spacers (we used two pennies glued or taped together)
- a good primer (we used Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer)
- paint (we used Sherwin Williams 'Grizzle Gray' - SW7068)
- good paint brushes (a good paint brush and Dollar Store artist brush)
- painting tarps to protect your floor
- painters tape (if needed)
- safety goggles



Our Extra Step: Prepping the Wall

Before we got into planking Brad built out the wall behind the TV for a few reasons: A) to allow a space for the TV/AV wires to be organized but not seen, B) to bring the TV out a bit so it was more in line with the bookshelves so everyone, no matter where they were sitting, could see the TV and C) to give the wall more support to handle the very large, very heavy TV that would be hanging off of it. There's actually two layers to this additional wall but you get the general idea.


Layer one of the wall build-out.

Brad is a Type A person like his beautiful wife so he wanted all that messy wiring from the TV, receiver, DVD player, Wii etc to be organized. It's a lot of wires so Brad, in his wonderfully brilliant wisdom (truly!), used conduit tubing to run the wires from under the TV, which then turn 90 degrees and run into holes he cut into the back of our lower cabinets where the receiver and video game consoles are housed.  Doing this keeps the extensive wire collection organized and makes my man happy. Once the framing was done, a piece of 1/2-inch plywood was added to the front followed by the TV mount.  The hole you see in the next picture will be hidden by the TV.



Note: By putting a sheet of plywood as the base of this new wall, it also gave our wall enough strength to hold the underlayment planks. If you're securing it to a normal wall you'll need to make sure you're nailing into wall studs (hence the stud finder in the list above). 


A look at where the wires will enter the conduit piping.
Our inner Type A's are in heaven.
Bookworm Design Detour
For this first planking project we primed the newly built-out wall and then painted it the dark Grizzle Gray so the cracks in between the planks would be dark gray and no primer would show through. In hindsight, after doing the large plank wall, this was the harder/more time consuming way.  Now I'd suggest adhering the planks to the wall (instructions below) then priming and painting the entire wall all at once. This is why all of the following pictures feature a gray plywood wall.


Step Four - Planking
You're now ready to put up your first underlayment plank.  It's easier to do this with two people so grab a partner.  It is vital that this plank is level. Your ceiling probably isn't level and that's, sadly, quite normal.  You want the first plank to be level regardless of your wonky ceiling.  Use a long level (or laser level) under your first plank to make sure it's straight.


Once you're sure it's straight, pop some brad nails every eight inches or so, top and bottom ensuring that you hit as many wall studs as possible.  If you have a long wall you'll have to add another section of board to finish off that first plank. Measure the size of the board needed, cut it with the sliding compound miter saw then lightly sand the edges and ends of the plank (watch out for fine slivers!!). Make sure you tuck the edge of the second plank up tightly against the first.  Ensure it's level and secure with brad nails. 

Now you're ready to do the second row!  If you have leftover plank from your first row use it as the first board in your second row.  This will help to stagger where your planks join together along each row (you don't your seams in a vertical row).  This will help to give your finished wall that casual, devil-may-care feel that we're going for.

Spacers: Before securing the second row of planks you'll need to put spacers between the bottom of the first row and the top of your second.  We used sets of two pennies adhered together.  We used to different ways to bind the pennies together - 1) with electrical tape and 2) we glued two pennies together.  Gluing was the easier choice.  If you're going the tape method just make sure the electrical tape isn't influencing the spacing of the planks.  


Place one set of coins towards one end of the plank and the other at the other end (you can add more spacers depending on how long your board is). For an 8 foot board I'd use at least 3 spacers.  Place the new board up tightly against the pennies (this is where having an extra set or two of hands is required). Using the level make sure this second row of plank is level.  Nail that sucker in top and bottom along the length of your plank (into studs preferably).

Keep going with this method - ensuring that you're level every couple of rows.  We had a few spaces that were slightly bigger than the others and we're not sure how that happened but it still looks good and the TV will cover most of this wall.  But for two Type A people it kind of bothers us but we're working through our issues on it. ;)

When you get to your last board you may have to cut it less than the original width to have it fit against your baseboards or in our case, the top of where our fireplace mantle will be.  For this long cut we used a table saw and two sets of hands to guide the plank to ensure that it was cut straight.

Step Five: Wood Fill
Now it's time to fill all those little nail holes with paintable wood filler.  Squeeze a bit on your finger (it's fairly dry and sandy) and wipe it into each hole.  Ya, it's not fun and it's messy.  You may opt not to fill the holes if that's the look you're going for (or if some of the boards will be covered up by something like our TV above our fireplace).  With a sanding block, lightly sand the wood filler until it's smooth with the planks. Vacuum any dust off the wall.

Step Six: Painting
Using a brush, with not too much paint on it, paint the seams, crevices and edges of your wall in your primer paint.  You may need a small artist's brush for the crevices where your normal brush couldn't reach. Then roll (or brush) the boards with the primer.  Once that is dry (it doesn't take long) you can brush and roll two coats of your main colour of paint on your seams and boards, allowing time in between coats for the paint to thoroughly dry. Also make sure that you don't use too much paint when doing the crevices because you don't want them filling up with paint!  If you do get a little too much use a wooden skewer or something similar to take away the excess paint.  We didn't have issues with too much paint.

 






We are very happy with the outcome of our first plank wall.  It was a fun and easy DIY project that gives the media room some added oomph and interest.  I like the fact that we were able to work out the kinks with this wall before trying it out on the much larger focal wall. 



Step Seven: Moulding
There's only one step left and that's moulding but I'll add that final picture later.  We plan to add moulding (1-1/4-inch strips of underlayment) along the sides to give it a cleaner look but won't be tackling this until we do the moulding for the large wall which has to wait until the trim and baseboards are done.  Everything is linked in the big circle of home improvement.



So that's our small plank wall in a nutshell.  I hope the directions are clear.  If not, I encourage you to look at the other two blog posts by Sarah and Tasha to see if their descriptions (which helped inspire me) make more sense to you.


Upcoming Home Renovation Posts:

Custom Cabinetry - is that the cost of the cabinetry or am I buying a small country?

Fireplace - To Gas or to Plug in?  That is the question.



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