Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Honey Lime Marinade for Chicken

As this hot weather is upon us (and a long weekend on the horizon, no less!) we'd much rather BBQ than heat up our kitchens, amIright?  BBQing keeps a lot of the mess out of my kitchen and means Brad is doing the bulk of the cooking.  For me a BBQ'd supper is a win, win.

Marinating meats is something we do quite a bit.  It's a great way to add some pizzazz to different meats that can start to get a little boring after awhile.  You can add favourite flavours and turn a bland pork tenderloin or chicken breast into something quite guest worthy.  

This marinade, with a little zing of lime and sweetness of honey, is an easy to prep marinade that you can whip up the night before (preferably) or at least a few hours before supper.  

TIP: Personally, I like to add the marinade before freezing chicken in a Ziploc bag.  That way, as the meat thaws, it marinates your meat and you have one less step to do that day for supper prep!

This marinade is perfect for a backyard BBQ for your family or a bigger group.  I think leftover chicken would be fantastic as sandwiches the next day or to top off a green salad.

I wish my fellow Canadians a happy, fun, patriotic and safe Canada Day on July 1st and the same wishes to my American followers on July 4th!!  This is definitely a par-tay kind of weekend!

Marinade
4 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp grapeseed oil (or your favourite oil)
1-2 tsp fresh lime zest (I zested on lime but feel free to zest both)
juice from 2 limes
4 garlic cloves - minced
fresh black pepper - to taste

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

In a medium bowl, combine all marinade ingredients.  Mix well, ensuring that the honey isn't sitting at the bottom of the bowl.

Place your chicken into a large Ziploc bag (or a shallow dish).  Pour marinade over chicken ensuring that the marinade coats all of the chicken.  Seal bag (or cover dish) and refrigerate, preferably overnight or at least a few hours.  Turn chicken pieces a few times during marinating.  If using a Ziploc bag, massage the marinade into all sides of the chicken several times.

Preheat BBQ to medium-high heat.  Remove chicken from marinade and grill for approximately 20-25 minutes (depending on the thickness of your chicken breasts) or until juices run clear and internal temperature is 165C/74F.  Discard any marinade.

Serve with a green salad and baked potatoes with all the fixin's!  Enjoy!

Inspired by: Key West Chicken (Allrecipes.com)

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

All Is Not Forgotten

Author: Wendy Walker
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: July 12, 2016
First Line: "He followed her through the woods behind the house."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut everything seems picture perfect.

Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town - or perhaps lives among them - drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.
 



Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

My Review: I have never read a book that started off with such a startling, well written yet ruthlessly violent beginning. All Is Not Forgotten begins with a highly graphic opening scene as the reader witnesses a brutal rape of a teenage girl.  That would normally stop me from picking up this book but the premise, about a drug that could eradicate negative memories, was enticing.

The book starts out with high energy but then the pace slows down considerably as the narrator goes into a lot of detail regarding the science/psychology of PTSD and this new treatment that Jenny experienced.  Walker clearly describes, using various metaphors, how the brain files away memories and how this drug 'could' work in those who need to forget.  But this drug isn't the miracle they thought it to be. Even though Jenny was given the drug to forget, she feels like something is not right and that although her brain may forget the memory her body does not. It's at this point that her parents send her to a psychiatrist to help reveal the memory so she can begin to heal.

 "She had no memory of her rape but the terror lived on in her body." 

The book started to falter for me when it came to the narrator.  This omniscient narrator, whose identity isn't revealed until about a quarter of the way through, was hard to get behind.  He's egotistical, overly clinical and obsessive in his desire to have Jenny confront her memories.  For a book that deals with such emotional experiences as rape and PTSD I wasn't fond of the unemotional and detached way of story telling which resulted in me never feeling like I got to know Jenny's side of things.  He speaks to the reader (not a favourite style of mine) and while he frequently includes comments from other characters to get their take, all dialogue is filtered through his interpretations and their inclusion within the story wasn't smooth.   

The narrator provides ample details for the reader but his narration was quite choppy and jumped around with him frequently mentioning something/someone and telling the reader "more about that later".  Then why mention it at that point?  What this book does have are ethical dilemmas that would be great fodder for book clubs and result in some interesting discussions. 

This is a slow burn kind of read with the big reveal not happening until, quite literally, the final handful of pages.  I enjoyed the twist and learning the identity of the culprit which dramatically changed the way I viewed one of the characters. But ... overall, this was a miss for me.  While I liked the premise, was initially impressed with how strongly the book started off, I struggled to stay with it and unfortunately I can't say that I enjoyed the journey.  This book had a great premise, shockingly vivid descriptions of rape and PTSD and a good twisted ending but unfortunately the pace, lack of emotion and connection with the characters resulted in my lower rating.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Perfect Neighbors

Author: Sarah Pekkanen
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: July 5, 2016
First Line: "Kellie Scott frowned, her fingers hesitating over her keyboard."

Book Description from GoodReadsBucolic Newport Cove, where spontaneous block parties occur on balmy nights and all of the streets are named for flowers, is proud of its distinction of being named one the top twenty safest neighborhoods in the US.

It’s also one of the most secret-filled.

Kellie Scott has just returned to work after a decade of being a stay-at-home mom. She’s adjusting to high heels, scrambling to cook dinner for her family after a day at the office—and soaking in the dangerous attention of a very handsome, very married male colleague. Kellie’s neighbor Susan Barrett begins every day with fresh resolutions: she won’t eat any carbs. She’ll go to bed at a reasonable hour. And she’ll stop stalking her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. Gigi Kennedy seems to have it all together—except her teenage daughter has turned into a hostile stranger and her husband is running for Congress, which means her old skeletons are in danger of being brought into the light.

Then a new family moves to this quiet, tree-lined cul-de-sac. Tessa Campbell seems friendly enough to the other mothers, if a bit reserved. Then the neighbors notice that no one is ever invited to Tessa’s house. And soon, it becomes clear Tessa is hiding the biggest secret of all.


My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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

My Review: After I started this book not a whole lot got done around here - this reader was well and truly riveted.  Apparently I live under the proverbial rock because this is the first book I've read by Sarah Pekkanen.  Needless to say, I was very impressed with her writing style and her incorporation of modern issues within a group of well-rounded, and interesting female characters.  

The Perfect Neighbor focuses on the lives of four women each with her own unique personality and issues:

  • Susan - successful business owner and single mom who is struggling to deal with her divorce
  • Kellie, the long-time married mom of two who has just went back to work outside the home after years of being a stay-at-home mother
  • Gigi, married to a future politician and mother of two
  • Tessa, wife and mother of two who recently and abruptly uprooted her family to move into the neighbourhood
These four women live in Newport Cove, a highly sought after area that is hailed as "one of the 20 safest neighborhoods in America".  But even within this bucolic neighbourhood secrets abound.  Each of these women have their own issues to deal with including adulterous thoughts, learning to pick up the pieces after a divorce, dealing with a crumbling relationship with a teenage child and a secret that could destroy the new life they've built with their family.

What amazed me was how easily and thoroughly I was mesmerized by each of the women's stories.  They were each given page time to tell their own tales and I found myself drawn into their lives fairly evenly.  As a reader I felt like I got a bird's eye view of their family squabbles, insecurities and issues as they struggled with fears and uncertainties within some of their most influential and important relationships.

Secrets - we all have them - and so do Pekkanen's main characters.  While all of the issues were quite serious some had a more emotional tone. To balance out the drama, at the beginning of chapters she includes funny posts from the neighbourhood residents from their online interactive newsletter.  These sometimes banal yet funny responses to the 'issues' of living in their neighbourhood helped to bring some levity to such an issue laden read.

After I finished reading this book I sat back to digest it and I came to the conclusion that although there is a mystery/suspense aspect to the book The Perfect Neighbors is much more about the struggles each of these women face. Pekkanen has given these four well-rounded characters clear and distinct voices as they deal with their own issues, which are quite pertinent to today's woman. The mystery aspect was secondary but added a nice pull throughout the book and a suspenseful scene towards the end.  Part of me wishes that there was a bigger twist to the big reveal but overall it flowed well with the rest of the story.

In the end, I really enjoyed this book and it can firmly be put in the 'hard-to-put-down' pile.  Fans of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies will enjoy this book.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Taming The Highland Bride

Author: Lyndsay Sands
Genre: Historical Fiction Light (Bodice Ripper), Canadian
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Avon
First Published: January 2010
First Line: "Merewen Stewart stabbed the needle into the cloth and tugged it out the other side with an irritated jerk."

Book Description from GoodReads: She was ready to let her heart run wild . . . Merry Stewart has had enough! Enough of her brothers, whose behavior would make even the most improper lady blush. Enough of their Highland home, which would surely have fallen to ruin were it not for her. She dreams of escaping into the arms of her betrothed, Alexander d'Aumesbery;even though they haven't yet met. But when they do, Merry is devastated. It seems he's no better than the men in her family.
So beautiful, so brazen . . . From the moment he meets Merry, Alexander is determined to make her his. Desperate to convince her he's nothing like the members of her roguish clan, he will prove he is every bit the well-mannered gentleman. Yet, beneath it all beats a heart as intense and uncontrollable as hers. And finally, when his life is threatened, Merry realizes he's the husband she's been waiting for . . . and their passion becomes the one thing that cannot be tamed.



My Rating:1/5 stars


My Review: When I downloaded this e-audiobook from my local library I wanted an easy to follow light historical fiction read (with a hint of romance) to listen to while I gardened on the weekend. Light romance is not my usual genre but in years past I had read books that I enjoyed set in old Scotland, with a lighter tone and romantic story line (like Ransom by Julie Garwood or On a Highland Shore by Kathleen Givens) so I thought this would be similar.

This book started out as I had expected - rife with misunderstandings, a damsel that needs to be rescued from her drunken father and brothers all set in the beauty that is Scotland - but I never found Merry to be a 'shrew' as everyone kept calling her so I really saw nothing to be 'tamed' per se.  The book was a decent read until it took a bad turn after the wedding and went from okay to ridiculous.

In one scene in particular I think the author was going for humorous but it didn't work for me.  I cringed and said "OMG, you've got to be kidding!" to a hosta I was transplanting.  It was at that point in the book when an older woman tells Merry, who was nervous about her wedding night, to expect to see a chicken neck dangling between her new husband's legs.  *cough, sputter* Say wha?  Then, with her husband in a drunken stupor and passed out Merry decides she'll climb on top of her passed out husband whose 'chicken neck' is at the ready and get on with consummating this marriage herself.  That's where I turned it off.  Ridiculous and insipid.  Ain't nobody got time for that.

What this e-audiobook did have going for it was the narrator.  She had a nice Scottish accent and was able to convey different characters easily for the listener.  Unfortunately, I need a stronger plot and not silly contrived scenes. 

Not recommended.


Monday, 20 June 2016

Love, Reality Style

Author: Judith Natalli McLaughlin
Genre: Light Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Publisher: Blue Moon Publishers
First Published: June 7, 2016
First Line: "Ralph Ichy was certain he would do it this time despite having failed miserably on his last two attempts."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen cake-loving third-grade teacher Mary Grace Falcone receives a proposition of marriage from her germ-phobic boyfriend Ralph Ichy, her comfortable life is thrown into a tailspin. Should she marry Ralph? The man dubbed "the CEO of Antiseptic Hands"? Reluctantly, and despite the differing opinions of her best friends Jayde and Annie, Mary Grace accepts. Her decision gets her meddling mother off her back, but also lands her on a reality wedding show where handsome host, Nick Charmin, unexpectedly falls for her. 

Will Mary Grace choose hot Nick or faithful Ralph? Is the decision really hers to make? And, is a slice of cake actually the answer to all of life's problems?
 


My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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

My Review:  Cake.  Good female friends.  An engagement.  Reality TV.  Did I mention cake? These are the ingredients for a light, easy-going romantic read but the central relationship in this book may surprise you.  It isn't romantic; instead its the bond between three friends - Mary Grace, Annie and Jayde. These women have stood by each other through thick and thin and have a very odd addiction to cake when the going gets tough. Their camaraderie feels authentic and quite similar to what I have with some of my girlfriends.  These three have different romantic relationships going on to varying degrees of success but it's their friendship that is the strongest bond in the book.  

Unfortunately, other than the girlfriend bonding, this book fell flat for me. I get that it's a light read but I still want to care about the characters and that never happened.  Instead we have a main character in Mary Grace who was more than a little frustrating with her lack of ability to make decisions and stand up to her mother. The men, on the other hand, were quite a varied bunch -- from the odd yet sensitive Ralph with OCD to the cheater and finally the creepy TV host -- none of them were good husband/romantic material in my book.  There was an inkling of a love triangle but that never took off and I can't honestly say I was rooting for either man.  While these girlfriends and their male counterparts had a fair degree of development throughout the book the rest of the characters (of which there were few) fell into the one-dimensional category - namely Angela, Mary Grace's mother who was annoyingly over-the-top as the quintessential overbearing mother.

For a book whose title and description feature a reality show theme the show itself was not a focus of the plot but cake lovers will enjoy the plentiful descriptions of the confection that are sprinkled liberally throughout the book.  In the end, I enjoyed reading about strong bonds between girlfriends but even though I'm an avid baker this book just wasn't to my tastes.  But, readers with a sweet tooth who enjoy a lighter, quick read may want to pick it up.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Super Easy Grilled Veggies

This weekend is going to be a scorcher.  30C for two days! Fun in the sun is great but my lily white skin starts to burn just thinking about this heat -- not to mention that I get a 'little grouchy' when I get overheated (at this comment Brad tweaks his eyebrows and just nods his head.  He has lived through Humid Heat Laurie and it ain't pretty).

Although I was born in Hamilton, Ontario (southern Ontario) I spent a lot of my youth in the north, Timmins and Sudbury to be exact, so I consider myself a Northern gal.  This extreme heat just isn't my thang.

When the weather gets this hot we at the Baking Bookworm abode don't like to cook inside. Sure, we have air conditioning but we're huge BBQers and 'Q' all year long.  And by 'we' I mean Brad. Come rain, come sleet, come blowing snow my man is out there grillin' up a storm.

This is one of our go-to recipes and I could easily eat a huge bowl of this for supper ... and have.  You could serve it with any number of grilled meats or put these veggies over pasta and toss it all with some garlic oil and grated Parmesan. I'm thinking putting some on a flat bread and drizzling with some balsamic glaze would be fantastic too!

It's quite a versatile dish so you can change veggies to suit your tastes and tweak the spices too.  We'll be making up a big basket of these veggies this weekend while we sit poolside at my parents' house trying to keep Humid Heat Laurie at bay.  Happy weekend everyone!


2 zucchini - cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 large red onion - cut into small wedges
2 cups of white mushrooms - cut into halves
2 cups small broccoli florets
8 small brussel sprouts - outer layers removed and an 'x' cut into the base 
1 red pepper - core and seeds removed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 green pepper - core and seeds removed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
2-3 tbsp grapeseed oil (or oil of your choice)
hearty sprinkling of McCormick's Vegetable seasoning (or your choice of seasonings - rosemary, thyme are favs here)
Garnish - freshly grated Parmesan cheese and/or fresh herbs (like thyme, rosemary)

Preheat your BBQ to medium-high heat.

Place all of your vegetables into a large bowl.  Drizzle with oil to coat.  Sprinkle with seasonings and toss until vegetables are well coated.

Place vegetables in your BBQ vegetable basket and grill for approximately 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are slightly softened but still have a somewhat al dente texture.  Ain't nobody (in this household) like mushy veggies!

Serve immediately.  Sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Britt-Marie Was Here

Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: May 3, 2016
First Line: "Forks. Knives. Spoons."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. She eats dinner at precisely the right time and starts her day at six in the morning because only lunatics wake up later than that. And she is not passive-aggressive. Not in the least. It's just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention.

But at sixty-three, Britt-Marie has had enough. She finally walks out on her loveless forty-year marriage and finds a job in the only place she can: Borg, a small, derelict town devastated by the financial crisis. For the fastidious Britt-Marie, this new world of noisy children, muddy floors, and a roommate who is a rat (literally), is a hard adjustment.

As for the citizens of Borg, with everything that they know crumbling around them, the only thing that they have left to hold onto is something Britt-Marie absolutely loathes: their love of soccer. When the village’s youth team becomes desperate for a coach, they set their sights on her. She’s the least likely candidate, but their need is obvious and there is no one else to do it.

Thus begins a beautiful and unlikely partnership. In her new role as reluctant mentor to these lost young boys and girls, Britt-Marie soon finds herself becoming increasingly vital to the community. And even more surprisingly, she is the object of romantic desire for a friendly and handsome local policeman named Sven. In this world of oddballs and misfits, can Britt-Marie finally find a place where she belongs?

Zany and full-of-heart, Britt-Marie Was Here is a novel about love and second chances, and about the unexpected friendships we make that teach us who we really are and the things we are capable of doing.


My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

My Review: Unlike most reviewers of this book I'm feeling like a big old cranky grump in the Britt-Marie love fest but I just didn't like this book.  This comes as a shock since I loved A Man Called Ove and liked My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologizes but I'm unfortunately starting to see a downward trend with Backman's books and how much I enjoy them.

This book felt a little like Ove-Light with Britt-Marie picking up the curmudgeonly reigns but without the aplomb or heart of Ove.  Sure, she's finicky and opinionated and had some funny moments with her 'compliments' of others but one cannot live on insults and awkward exchanges alone. Britt-Marie has a heart underneath all her obsessive cleaning and nit-picking but readers are going to have to be patient ... and like reading about soccer.

Readers get some insider information as to why Britt-Marie is the way she is due to her life experiences and it was touching to see how desperately she wanted to be seen in her own right.  But I think that these touching and even funny moments were too rare and in between there was a lot of ... not much.  Small town life, many characters and even an odd, and frustrating character who Britt-Marie referred to as "Somebody" which got really confusing when she was referred to at the beginning of a sentence.

Britt-Marie Was Here has some good messages and a couple of touching moments but it's a very slow paced read and I'm sad to say that by three-quarters of the way in I had almost given up.  I was bored.  In the end I forced myself to finish it and while it did get a little better towards the end when you also add in the lack of closure I can't say I was a fan of this book.

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

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Tumbling Turner Sisters

Author: Juliette Fay
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages:339
Source: Simon and Schuster
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: June 14, 2016
First Line: "Nothing good comes from a knock in the middle of the night."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn 1919, the Turner sisters and their parents are barely scraping by. Their father is a low-paid boot-stitcher in Johnson City, New York, and the family is always one paycheck away from eviction. When their father’s hand is crushed and he can no longer work, their irrepressible mother decides that the vaudeville stage is their best—and only—chance for survival.

Traveling by train from town to town, teenagers Gert, Winnie, and Kit, and recent widow Nell soon find a new kind of freedom in the company of performers who are as diverse as their acts. There is a seamier side to the business, however, and the young women face dangers and turns of fate they never could have anticipated.
 


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: In her latest book, Juliette Faye gives her readers a glimpse into the life of Vaudeville entertainers.  It is evident that she has done her research on the era as she describes what life was like for someone who earned their living on the Vaudeville stage. Life was hard and competition fierce but there was a definite camaraderie between the entertainers.  I enjoyed learning more about how certain acts were chosen, the order in which they'd perform and their very unique abilities.

Faye also adds in societal pressures (women's suffrage, racism, prohibition ...) and shows that life wasn't easy for these performers - especially for women.  These issues, while important to the story line and characters, were woven into the plot well and made their impact without taking over the story line of these five women who suddenly find themselves struggling to make ends meet in the very diverse and competitive world of entertainment.

The story is told via alternating points of view of sisters Winnie and Gert who, while they were quite different in temperament, were a little lackluster for narrators.  I loved learning more about this era but I found the growth of the characters and lack of tension in the plot were weak points.  For a book that deals with the exciting world of Vaudeville I was surprised to find that the book lags in a few parts with the focus being too much on the descriptions of day-to-day life on the road.  It was during these parts that my attention waned and I never felt like the plot picked up much steam.  

The characters, while quite diverse, never got deep enough to be riveting and immerse me in their lives.  The girls' mother was one-dimensional as a stage mother of the worst kind and I wished we could have seen another side to her. The plot generally focuses on the coming of age of the sisters as they weather broken hearts, learn to stand up to their domineering mother and make their way in a male dominated world.

One of the highlights of the book were the quotes from famous entertainers of the time that were added at the beginning of each chapter.  Many were quite humorous and greatly added to the Vaudeville feel of the time.  I think that readers who are looking for a glimpse into life on the Vaudeville stage and want a lighter historical fiction read that deals with many issues of the era will enjoy this book.

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

Monday, 13 June 2016

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family

Author: Amy Ellis Nutt
Genre: Biography, Non-Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 279
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Random House
First Published: October 20, 2015
First Line: "The child is mesmerized."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe inspiring true story of a transgender girl, her identical twin brother, and an ordinary American family’s extraordinary journey to understand, nurture, and celebrate the uniqueness in us all, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning science reporter for The Washington Post

When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys, they thought their lives were complete. But it wasn’t long before they noticed a marked difference between Jonas and his brother, Wyatt. Jonas preferred sports and trucks and many of the things little boys were “supposed” to like; but Wyatt liked princess dolls and dress-up and playing Little Mermaid. By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt’s insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maineses came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt’s transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.

Becoming Nicole chronicles a journey that could have destroyed a family but instead brought it closer together. It’s the story of a mother whose instincts told her that her child needed love and acceptance, not ostracism and disapproval; of a Republican, Air Force veteran father who overcame his deepest fears to become a vocal advocate for trans rights; of a loving brother who bravely stuck up for his twin sister; and of a town forced to confront its prejudices, a school compelled to rewrite its rules, and a courageous community of transgender activists determined to make their voices heard. Ultimately, Becoming Nicole is the story of an extraordinary girl who fought for the right to be herself.

Granted wide-ranging access to personal diaries, home videos, clinical journals, legal documents, medical records, and the Maineses themselves, Amy Ellis Nutt spent almost four years reporting this immersive account of an American family confronting an issue that is at the center of today’s cultural debate. Becoming Nicole will resonate with anyone who’s ever raised a child, felt at odds with society’s conventions and norms, or had to embrace life when it plays out unexpectedly. It’s a story of standing up for your beliefs and yourself—and it will inspire all of us to do the same.


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: Becoming Nicole details the struggles that a transgender girl had to endure as she made the transition from male to female.  The book does a good job at educating the reader about what it means to be transgender and raise awareness of the discrimination, harassment and other external struggles that transgender people face.

The author, Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Ellis Nutt, does a great job detailing facts about transgendered people, the discrimination they face, the history of LGBT issues and their fight for rights.  This information gives readers a sense of the magnitude of the struggle LGBT people continue to face to gain equality, understanding and respect. The reader is able to witness some of Nicole and her family's struggles and it was often maddening and heart-breaking to see what Nicole had to live through in order to be her true self. 

A lot of facts are given but what is missing is the emotional, intimate connection.  For a Pulitzer Prize winning author, I expected a lot more.  I wanted to know Nicole's side of things, as well as her identical twin and her parents' takes, each of whom struggled differently with Nicole's transition.  While snippets from her diary were referred to, Nicole is never given any page time to detail her feelings about being transgender, the harassment and discrimination she faced.  Instead the story is told by a narrator with a very journalistic, slightly removed, feeling.  I think that omission was a huge missed opportunity.

I am very glad that I read this book and that Nicole has shared her story.  While I wasn't a fan of how that story was told I applaud Nicole for coming forward and for her family for standing by her.  I hope that this book educates the masses about gender identity and the need for acceptance and understanding.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Lemon Rhubarb Squares


"It's the MOST wonderful time ... of the year!!" 

While typically this song is either sung while a fat man gives out presents or the kids headed back to school (both being glorious times of the year!) June is also a month that you can sing this song because it heralds in the start of rhubarb season!

I'm lovin' the 'barb!!  In recent weeks I've made Rhubarb Jam, Strawberry Rhubarb Jam and a pan of these tasty, sweet treats.  You all know I'm a sucker (pun intended) for fresh lemon and when it's paired with rhubarb I just about lose my ever lovin' mind!



These are a very sweet square and would be nice cut into smaller pieces (not the gargantuan pieces Brad and I cut for ourselves the first time we dug in).  A tasty treat that combines two of my favourite flavours and helps get your rhubarb plants under control again.

Lemon Rhubarb Squares
Source - Inspired by: Dinner with Julie 

Base
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup white sugar
1 scant cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

Topping
1 cup white sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 large eggs
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon (approx. 3 tbsp)
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen rhubarb - finely chopped

Garnish
icing sugar - sifted

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray an 8x8-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Prepare base: In a medium bowl, stir together butter and white sugar until creamy.  Add flour and salt; stir until well combined but still crumbly.  Press into the bottom of the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or until just barely golden brown around the edges.

Prepare topping: In a medium bowl (you can use the same bowl as the base to save on clean-up), combine the white sugar, flour, baking powder and salt.  Add eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice; stir until well blended and smooth.  Sprinkle rhubarb evenly over the base and pour the lemon filling over top.  


Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and set (mine took almost 40 minutes to set).

  

Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before cutting or freezing.  Cut into small pieces (these are quite sweet) and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

Author: John Boyne
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 215
Source: Publisher
Publisher: DoubleDay Children's Canada
First Published: June 7, 2016
First Line: "Although Pierrot Fischer's father didn't die in the Great War, his mother Emilie always maintained it was the war that killed him."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler's wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.
 

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

My Review: John Boyne is the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a book that showed the horror of concentration camps through the eyes of a child.  In this new novel, Boyne has written a story in a similar vein (this time with more grit/violence) that shows the innocence and naiveté of childhood and how easily it can be corrupted.

This is a short novel (220-ish pages) but it's packed with a lot of food for thought as it tackles some serious issues.  While this book is written for a youth audience I'd suggest it for readers 12 years of age and up since there are some violent scenes which, while they would make for some great discussion with tweens/teens, may be too much for more sensitive readers.

In this new novel, Boyne deftly juggles the horrors of WWII with the innocence of childhood.  He showcases how hatred and power can trounce innocence especially when one sees no other worthy options.  He includes some touching scenes and some that are hard to witness but Boyne's words bring the reader into the heart of the issues that face this young boy and his unique living conditions.

I enjoyed seeing Pierrot's progression from likable protagonist who has lost so much to witnessing his metamorphosis into a very different person.  Gradually, Pierrot/Pieter accepts Hitler's teachings, eagerly wanting to have the acceptance, leadership and attention that Hitler could provide, as he transforms into Hitler's little minion.  While it was equally sad, maddening and frustrating that Pierrot was such a blind follower to Hitler, Boyne shows how this progression was possible with Pierrot not wanting/needing to think for himself or to think about the ramifications of his decisions.  I went through many emotions regarding Pierrot from wanting to shake him, hug him, help him and pity him but more than anything I wanted him to come to his senses.

Overall, this was a well-written and enlightening read that I read in two sittings.  While the book is a little slow taking off the amount of discussions that it can provide for young readers is well worth the wait.  It tackles many important issues including friendship, death, bullying, the loss of innocence, standing up for what's right and learning to find your own way in spite of the powers around you.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Doubleday Children's Canada for providing me with a complimentary hardcover copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Girls in the Garden

Author: Lisa Jewell
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: June 7, 2016
First Line: "July 5, 9:00pm - Pip stands behind her mother in the tiny bathroom."

Book Description from GoodReadsImagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really?

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play all swirl together in this gripping novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense.



My Rating: 4/5 stars

My Review:  Lisa Jewell is one of those authors who can be hit or miss with me.  Some of her books I've found amazing (The House We Grew Up In) and others I wasn't fans of (I'm looking at you, The Third Wife).  I'm happy to report that this book hit the spot.

In her latest book, The Girls in the Garden, Jewell has written a great, twisted whodunnit with loads of possible culprits.  Her writing is quite descriptive, her prose flows well and her characters and story lines pull her readers in. 

The setting was quite unique and could almost be considered a character itself.  It is a large, three acre private park which the various characters' homes surround deep in the heart of central London.  It's a private oasis for the residents, a gaggle of eccentric and odd neighbours.  They have formed an unusual close-knit community with their children roaming the communal park and in between each others houses and where everyone seems to know everyone else's business.  Or do they?

This was a very character driven read with the suspense feeling like more of a secondary aspect of the book.  And while the suspense itself wasn't fast-paced I was quite captivated by it. The story starts with an incident involving thirteen-year-old Grace and then backtracks to let the reader in on the secrets and issues between the neighbours.  As secrets are slowly unfurled, the reader gets a better understanding of what happened that fateful night to Grace. 

While I quite enjoyed this book as a whole I was let down somewhat by the ending.  It didn't feel as complete or as definitive as it should have and after reading it I would have loved to have asked the author why she ended it the way she did.  That said, I don't think this mildly lackluster ending is a reason to not pick up this book.  It has its strengths and I rather enjoyed the character development, the eerie feel and the issues that it raises.

For readers who enjoy well written, character driven novels this one is right up your alley.  It's got a good mystery, unique characters and brings up several intriguing issues, including young love, murder, mental illness, neglect, parenting, jealousy and secrets.  Oh yes, secrets abound in this one.

Recommended.

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

Monday, 6 June 2016

Untethered

Author: Julie Lawson Timmer
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group Putnam
First Published: June 7, 2016
First Line: "Char slumped low in the pew, fretting about the casket."

Book Description from GoodReads: When Char Hawthorn's husband dies unexpectedly, she is left questioning everything she once knew to be true: from the cozy small town life they built together to her relationship with her stepdaughter, who is suddenly not bound to Char in any real way. Untethered explores what bonds truly form a family and how, sometimes, love knows no bounds.

Char Hawthorn, college professor, wife and stepmother to a spirited fifteen-year-old daughter, loves her family and the joyful rhythms of work and parenting. But when her husband dies in a car accident, the “step” in Char’s title suddenly matters a great deal. In the eyes of the law, all rights to daughter Allie belong to Lindy, Allie’s self-absorbed biological mother, who wants the girl to move to her home in California.

While Allie begins to struggle in school and tensions mount between her and Char, Allie’s connection to young Morgan, a ten-year-old-girl she tutors, seems to keep her grounded. But then Morgan, who was adopted out of foster care, suddenly disappears, and Char is left to wonder about a possible future without Allie and what to do about Morgan, a child caught up in a terrible crack in the system.


My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: I had read Julie Timmer Lawson's first book, Five Days Left, about a year and a half ago and simply adored it.  I have my coveted author signed copy in a place of distinction on my bookshelves.  I consider it a 'Five Hanky Read' and I continue to regularly recommend it to people but always start off by asking 'How do you feel about crying while reading a book?'. Yup, it was a heart wrenching read and I waxed poetic about it while eagerly anticipating her next novel.

In her second novel, Untethered, Lawson Timmer focuses on several different issues that have great emotional impact: step-parenting, adoption, special needs children, foster care, family bonds - blood and otherwise - and even self-harm.  While the author juggled these heavy and emotional family issues, the story lines were easy to follow and the characters were easy to keep straight.

That said, even though it was easy to follow I think there was a little too much going on. These are important issues to bring to light but I didn't feel like some issues got enough page time for the reader to really get invested in the plot and characters. I would have liked to have had more time to delve into some of these issues, namely the step-parenting role which can be fraught with emotions and power struggles as well as the inner thoughts of the troubled ten-year-old girl who was truly the most untethered of the bunch.

The characters were varied but some felt a little one-dimensional (like Lindy, Allie's bio mom) and I think that was because the vast majority of the plot centred around Char's plight as the step-parent trying to hold things together.  I could get behind Char as a main character even though her indecision regarding her step-daughter Allie was at times quite frustrating. But, on the other hand, with the complexity of the step-parent role (and Lindy's personality) I also understood why she was hesitant to make her own desires known and stand up for what she wanted.

Overall, this was a good read that shows the intricate balance of a non-traditional, yet highly common, family of step-parents and step-children.  While it wasn't the emotional roller coaster that I was expecting, I applaud Timmer Lawson for bringing to light a few issues that I had never thought about, namely the lack of legal rights of a step-parent and the issue of adoptive parents changing their minds.  I have a new respect and deeper understanding of step-parents and the possible complications of being part of a new family even though they aren't recognized as a legal parent.  This book is about non-traditional family bonds and how well they weather through the storm when they are put to the test.

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


Thursday, 2 June 2016

Deadly Grind

Author: Victoria Hamilton
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Type: e-audiobook
Series: 1st book in the Vintage Kitchen mystery series
Source: Local Public Library
Length: 9 hours, 33 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Audio
First Published: May 2012
First Line: "Hoppy was snuffling at the man who lay on the floor of the summer porch by the Hoosier cabinet."

Book Description from GoodReads: When vintage cookware and cookbook collector Jaymie Leighton spies an original 1920s Hoosier brand kitchen cabinet at an estate auction, it's love at first sight. Despite the protests of her sister that the 19th-century yellow-brick house they share in Michigan is already too cluttered with Jaymie's "junk," she successfully outbids the other buyers and triumphantly takes home her Hoosier.

But that night on the summer porch where they've left the Hoosier to be cleaned up, a man is murdered, struck on the head with the steel meat grinder that is part of the cabinet. Who is this stranger—and what was he doing on their porch? Does his death have anything to do with the Hoosier?

As the police struggle to determine the man's identity, Jaymie can't help doing a little digging on her own, accompanied by her three-legged Yorkie Poo, Hopalong. But in her bid to uncover the truth about the hidden secrets of the Hoosier, Jaymie may be the one who ends up going, going . . . gone.
  


My Rating: 3/5 stars

My Review: This was a typical cozy mystery set in small town Queensville, a town on the Canadian-American border.  I enjoyed all of the accurate references to Canada, specifically south-western Ontario - my neck of the woods.

There is a vast cast of characters that were sometimes hard to keep track of at times.  Some were interesting but quite a few were bland causing them to blend into each other in my mind and most I'd consider forgettable. Jaymie, the main character was likable and her reasons for getting involved were believable as were the reasons she continued to be caught in the fray.  My only beef was that she comes off as a little overly naïve at times.

The mystery itself was solid but a little long winded.  I wish there were some bigger twists and while I had my guesses as to the identity of the culprit it was fairly enjoyable seeing the mystery play out.

Overall, this was a decent cozy mystery.  I found it enjoyable to listen about Jaymie's interest in old-fashioned family recipes and kitchen gadgets, specifically the hoosier.  Nothing too complicated in the mystery, a slew of culprits and it was a nice to listen to this e-audiobook while I gardened. 

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