Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Lightning Men

Author: Thomas Mullen
Genre: Historical Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Series: #2 in the Darktown series
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Atria
First Published: September 12, 2017
First Line: "The tunnel is long and dark, and though his feet are moving it feels like he is being pulled by some other fore, and then the tunnel recedes and he is alone before the vastness of the Georgia sky."

Book Description from GoodReadsOfficer Denny Rakestraw, “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, and Sergeant McInnis have their hands full in an overcrowded and rapidly changing Atlanta. It’s 1950 and color lines are shifting and racial tensions are simmering. Black families—including Smith’s sister and brother-in-law—are moving into Rake’s formerly all-white neighborhood, leading some residents to raise money to buy them out, while others advocate a more violent solution. Rake’s brother-in-law, Dale, a proud Klansman, launches a scheme to rally his fellow Kluxers to save their neighborhood. When those efforts spiral out of control and leave a man dead, Rake is forced to choose between loyalty to family or the law.

He isn’t the only one with family troubles. Boggs has outraged his preacher father by courting a domestic, and now her ex-boyfriend has been released from prison. As Boggs, Smith, and their all-black precinct contend with violent drug dealers fighting for turf in new territory, their personal dramas draw them closer to the fires that threaten to consume Atlanta once again.

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

My Rating: 4.5 stars

My Review: Lightning Men picks up two years after Darktown, the first book in the series, left off. Once again, Mullen brings his readers into the gritty streets of post-WWII Atlanta with its social and political issues, racial intolerance, corruption and outright brutality that continues to be the status quo for so many. Mullen doesn't shy away from these emotionally charged topics in this character-driven crime novel.

Readers continue to witness the Black officers struggle within the confines set for them by their supervisors as the small Black force polices the Black neighbourhoods which are grossly overpopulated and in need of even basic necessities. This is in stark contrast to the White neighbourhoods -- and many Whites are fine with the way things are, thank you very much. The dichotomy between Black and White continues within this second book and I like that Mullen doesn't give easy answers or hold back on the gritty, hard-to-read scenes. 

Mullen also continues to educate readers about aspects that many may not know about, myself included. For me, that issue involved the Columbians (aka Lightning Men) who formed soon after the end of WWII. With their lightning patches on their uniforms they, like the Nazis that inspired them, reveled in promoting hate against Blacks and any diversity and were a smack in the face to those American soldiers who had just returned from battling similar hatred overseas. 

The cast, including Rake, Boggs, Smith and MacInnis, continue to show great depth and readers get some backstory on each but I still feel there's a lot of untapped issues that Mullen will bring forth with each character in future books. The only issue I had with this book is that I found there to be a lot of characters to keep track of.

Mullen shows that, unfortunately, the process for social change is a very slow one as we sadly continue to witness in recent events. Racism, both blatant and covert, remains a timely issue and racial tensions ran high then as they do now. 

The Darktown series continues to be an eye-opening, gritty and gripping series with well-rounded, well-flawed characters who struggle within the stifling confines of racial injustice, ignorance, indifference and intolerance. Mullen has combined compelling characters weaves historical issues within his story with great skill. I highly recommend this book but I strongly suggest starting with Darktown.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Best Day Ever

Author: Kaira Rouda
Genre: Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Graydon House
First Published: September 19, 2017
First Line: "I glance at my wife as she climbs into the passenger seat, sunlight bouncing off her shiny blond hair like sparkler's lit for the Fourth of July, and I am bursting with confidence."

Book Description from GoodReadI glance at my wife as she climbs into the passenger seat, and I am bursting with confidence. Today will be everything I’ve promised her…and more…

Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he's promised today will be the best day ever.

But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How much do they trust each other? And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really? 

Forcing us to ask ourselves just how well we know those who are closest to us, Best Day Ever crackles with dark energy, spinning ever tighter toward its shocking conclusion. In the bestselling, page-turning vein of The Couple Next Door and The Dinner, Kaira Rouda weaves a gripping, tautly suspenseful tale of deception and betrayal dark enough to destroy a marriage…or a life.


Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Graydon House for providing me with a digital copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: Best Day Ever is a domestic thriller that takes readers on a wild ride of secrets, betrayal and deceit. Readers witness one full day in the lives of Paul and Mia Strom as they set off on a short holiday that they expect to be the 'best day ever'. As the minutes and hours tick by, readers are privy to the main character's innermost feelings and motivations and witness their idyllic holiday spin out of control. 

The beginning of the book has a slower pace than I had expected and I'll admit that it took me awhile to feel invested in Paul and Mia's lives. But if readers are patient they'll enjoy the slow building of tension as the author reveals, in wee doses, the cracks in her main character's perfect veneer. 

You never know what goes on behind closed doors and Rouda brings this idea home by giving her readers a chilling, bird's eye view of a dysfunctional and toxic relationship that appears perfect to those who know the Stroms. Best Day Ever is a story of a sociopath who has manipulated people and events to build a perfect life. This character will easily go down as one of the least likable yet compelling characters I can remember reading. You can't help but be mesmerized and a little bit fearful of their narcissism, sense of entitlement and total lack of empathy.
   
The story has a slow build and while some of the plot was predictable to this well-read suspense reader, overall this was a good creepy page turner that readers will have a hard time putting down. It has a memorable evil character and I enjoyed how the simple plot is slowly infused with a sinister feel as Rouda unfolds her story and reveals her characters' true natures to her readers.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Crispy Breaded Tomato Slices (with Balsamic Glaze and Parmesan)

It's the end of summer and my tomato plants runneth over. Knowing that one of my superpowers is growing tomatoes, this year I opted to plant only one beefsteak tomato plant and it's going gangbusters. Not to be left out of the fun, I also have a cherry tomato plant which started growing on its own from, apparently, seeds left in the soil from last year's crop. So, once again, I'm Crazy Tomato Lady giving tomatoes away left, right and centre.

Beefsteak tomatoes are big, juicy and a deep red.  They're great on burgers, sandwiches or even just on their own with a little salt and pepper. As with many foods, they're also wonderful if you bread and fry them up. The addition of the Panko bread crumbs gives these little gems a crispy coating on the outside and warm tomatoey goodness on the inside that, when paired with balsamic glaze and fresh Parmesan, make these a delicious and impressive appetizer or side dish.



2 large, firm tomatoes - cored and sliced into approx. 1/4-inch thick slices
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and Pepper - to taste
2 eggs
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/2 cup regular (fine) bread crumbs
1 1/4 tsp Italian seasoning (or a mixture of basil, thyme and oregano)
Oil for frying

Garnish
Balsamic glaze
Fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Place flour, salt and pepper in another shallow dish. Set aside.

Scramble eggs in a small bowl and pour into a shallow dish. Set aside

Combine the Panko crumbs, the fine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning and place it in, you guessed it, another shallow dish and set it aside too.

Using 'one hand only' method**, dip each side of a tomato slice into the flour mixture, followed by the egg mixture (let it drip a bit) and finally into the bread crumb mixture ensuring that the tomato slice is well coated.  Set aside breaded tomato slices on a baking sheet.  

** The 'one hand method' of dipping is helpful because breading is a messy business so having only one hand gooped up with flour, egg and crumbs is the way to go. At least this way you at least have one usable hand to do other things.


Once you have a couple of the slices prepped, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, pour in oil (so you have about 1/4-inch of oil in the pan - I used a little less and I think a little more oil would have been better). By the time you've finished breading the remaining tomato slices your oil should be up to temperature and shimmering.

Carefully place a few tomato slices into the hot oil ensuring that the slices aren't crowded.  Fry until the first side is golden brown and carefully turn each slice to the other side to brown.  


Drain slices on paper towel and serve immediately drizzled with a balsamic glaze and Parmesan.  Enjoy!


Source: The Baking Bookworm

Friday, 15 September 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Author: Jesmyn Ward
GenreContemporary Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 285
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Scribner
First Published: Sept 5, 2017
First Line: "I like to think I know what death is."

Book Description from GoodReads: Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she's high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie's children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward's distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
 


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

My Rating: 2.5 stars

My Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing deals with several serious issues such as poverty, bigotry, drug abuse and loss within a dysfunctional family in Mississippi. One would think I'd be pulled into a story that dealt with such emotionally charged subjects and yet I struggled throughout the book to connect with the plot and characters.

There are several things that just didn't work for me. First, the tone of the book was very monotone with a consistently depressing feel throughout. While the writing could be quite beautiful at times but the addition of the ghosts (who even had their own chapters) felt distracting and made the flow of the plot confusing. 

The live characters didn't fare better. With the exception of Jojo (and his wonderful bond with his toddler sister, Kayla) the characters were one-dimensional. But I stayed with the book in the hopes that things would come together.

My biggest issue with the book is the persistent niggling feeling like I was missing something - some bigger meaning, especially pertaining to the ghosts. It was like I was just on the cusp of getting the author's point and that is a frustrating feeling to have. 

Unfortunately, this book just wasn't a good fit for me. Other people have waxed poetic about this book and the emotions they felt while reading it and that's wonderful but I didn't have the same experience. This is a haunting, depressing look at a family that is almost completely fractured and, at times, had me incensed at how these children were being treated by their parents. Unfortunately, that was the only emotion that this book invoked within me. 

Monday, 11 September 2017

Elizabeth Street

Author: Laurie Fabiano
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: Own copy
Publisher: AmazonEncore
First Published: 2006
First Line: "We lived at 202 Elizabeth Street."

Book Description from GoodReadsBased on true events, Elizabeth Street is a multigenerational saga that opens in an Italian village in the 1900's, and crosses the ocean to New York's Lower East Side. At the heart of the novel is Giovanna, whose family is targeted by the notorious Black Hand--the precursor to the Mafia. 

Elizabeth Street brings to light a period in history when Italian immigrant neighborhoods lived in fear of Black Hand extortion and violence--a reality that defies the romanticized depiction of the Mafia. 

Here, the author reveals the merciless terror of the Black Hand-and the impact their crimes had on her family. Giovanna is based on Fabiano's great-grandmother, and the book's heroes and villains - such as Lieutenant Petrosino, the crusading cop and "Lupo the Wolf," a cold-blooded criminal - are drawn from real life in this thrilling tale. While set in a dynamic historical context, Elizabeth Street is, above all, the dramatic story of the heroine, Giovanna, and how she triumphed over tragedy.


My Rating: 2.5 stars

My Review: This is an e-book that I've had on my Kindle for over two years and finally cracked it open while I was on vacation in Croatia last month.   

The book is a familial saga set in the heart of an Italian family in early 1900's New York City, loosely based on the author's own family. At the time, NYC was experiencing an influx of immigrants and the prejudice against Italian immigrants was blatant as was the power and terror that the Black Hand held over its countrymen. These tidbits of history are woven into the plot throughout the book but, at times, it felt like the plot came second to her opportunity to add in a unique historical setting, for example, an impromptu trip to Coney Island.

Fabiano uses multiple timelines to tell her story but it often came off as awkward and distracting as the plot jumped back and forth. I also didn't enjoy being told about a major plot point early in the book which made for a lackluster second half of the book since I knew how things would pan out. 

The subject and era was interesting but for a book with such high ratings I found the writing to be clunky and mediocre at best with the letters that Giovanna received from the Black Hand coming off as silly and juvenile (and hard to read on my Kindle).  For a story that is loosely based on her own family, Fabiano's storytelling felt detached and many of her characters' actions felt improbable. Add in that there was too much 'telling, not enough showing' in regards to the plot and writing style and you can see why this book didn't live up to my expectations.

There was potential for a great, sweeping saga of a read but I don't think that Fabiano's writing was up to the task. Overall, a light read set in an interesting era but there are other books with similar plots that do a better job of showcasing the subject and early 20th century New York immigrant experience.

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Heart's Invisible Furies

Author: John Boyne
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 580
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Hogarth Press
First Published: August 11, 2017
First Line: "Long before we discovered that he had fathered two children by two different women, one in Drimoleague and one in Clonakilty, Father James Monroe stood on the alter of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in the parish of Goleen, West Cork, and denounced my mother as a whore."

Book Description from GoodReadsFrom the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, a sweeping, heartfelt saga about the course of one man's life, beginning and ending in post-war Ireland

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery -- or at least, that's what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn't a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from and over his many years will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more.

In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.
 


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

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: I loved this book. 

It has been awhile since I've felt such a connection to a book and become so totally immersed in a character. Yes, it's that good and I was hooked from the first line (see above). The Heart's Invisible Furies is an honest and eye-opening look at the complicated life of an Irish man who has forever felt unmoored in his life. 

This epic read spans 7 decades of the life of Cyril Avery (although he's not a 'real' Avery!) as he struggles to find himself and the courage to show the world who he is. Some choices were made for him, others by him. Some were good decisions, some had me shaking my head and others hurt my heart but I always felt in his corner.

Boyne's storytelling hits a whole new high as he adeptly uses foreshadowing to tease his readers with tidbits about Cyril's future. Never before have I read a book that gives such brilliant hints about its characters and plot that got my attention and intrigued me without giving too much away or interrupting the flow of the plot. Sure, there were a few all-too-convenient crossovers with characters but these secondary characters were such pivotal parts of the book and I looked forward to seeing who would reappear in Cyril's life.

This story is about finding oneself and the many different relationships we have in our lives - the messy, loving, complicated, fractured, soul-crushing and those precious bonds that heal. It also has hilarious, giggle-out-loud, dry humour which is interspersed with a raw, honest look at a man struggling to find out who he is within the confines of his conservative Irish culture and the opinionated and often bigoted views of the Catholic church. Boyne doesn't shy away from big issues, one of which was the Catholic Church's hold over Ireland and its hypocrisy. Other issues raised are IRA violence, the prejudice and injustice against the gay population and the terror and misinformation about the AIDS epidemic. 

This book had me laughing, almost in tears, angry and shocked. Cyril is a complicated character whose stumbles and successes always rang true to his character. Readers will be engrossed in his struggle to find himself with Boyne's emotional, laugh-out-loud funny and engaging writing pulling them along the way. Cyril is a lost soul that readers can't help but cheer on.

I highly recommend this book.


Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Gather the Daughters

Author: Jennie Melamed
Genre: Dystopian
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
First Published: July 25, 2017
First Line: "Vanessa dreams she is a grown woman, heavy with flesh and care."

Book Description from GoodReadsYears ago, just before the country was incinerated to wasteland, ten men and their families colonized an island off the coast. They built a radical society of ancestor worship, controlled breeding, and the strict rationing of knowledge and history. Only the Wanderers--chosen male descendants of the original ten--are allowed to cross to the wastelands, where they scavenge for detritus among the still-smoldering fires.

The daughters of these men are wives-in-training. At the first sign of puberty, they face their Summer of Fruition, a ritualistic season that drags them from adolescence to matrimony. They have children, who have children, and when they are no longer useful, they take their final draught and die. But in the summer, the younger children reign supreme. With the adults indoors and the pubescent in Fruition, the children live wildly--they fight over food and shelter, free of their fathers' hands and their mothers' despair. And it is at the end of one summer that little Caitlin Jacob sees something so horrifying, so contradictory to the laws of the island, that she must share it with the others.

Born leader Janey Solomon steps up to seek the truth. At seventeen years old, Janey is so unwilling to become a woman, she is slowly starving herself to death. Trying urgently now to unravel the mysteries of the island and what lies beyond, before her own demise, she attempts to lead an uprising of the girls that may be their undoing.

Gather The Daughters is a smoldering debut; dark and energetic, compulsively readable, Melamed's novel announces her as an unforgettable new voice in fiction.


Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 2 stars

My Review: With its dystopian setting and a cult-like group who sets themselves apart from the greater world this book's blurb was giving off an intense, slightly creepy vibe which intrigued me.

Unfortunately, this book didn't work for me on a few levels. Continually at the forefront of the book is the horrifying subject matter which varied from a total lack of women's rights, teen orgies and leading up to the glaring and horrific ongoing incest/sexual abuse. These are difficult, emotional and intense subjects that I found hard to read.  

The story is set within a small population which has set itself apart from the greater society. It's an interesting idea but the author doesn't go far enough with this concept. Readers aren't given enough backstory about how and why their small world was created except that the leaders are following what their forefathers wanted. Nor are we shown what life is like for the greater world (referred to as the Wastelands). I needed more explanation and kept reading hoping for some enlightenment about both worlds but no insight came. 

It also didn't help that there wasn't ANYTHING remotely redeemable about this small society and its demented rules/mores. The abuse was rampant and felt like it was used more for shock value because not much was happening with regards to the plot. I wanted to see the girls kick start a change within their society or something huge to happen but, for much of the book, the focus was only on the abuse and I found myself skimming through.  

The story's weak plot is told via the POVs of several teenage girls. But even with each telling their own story I didn't feel like I got to know any of them well. They remained almost indistinguishable from each other and I resorted to making a cheat sheet to keep track of them. Not a good sign.

If a horrifying, uncomfortable read is what the author was going for then I give full stars but as a reader, the continually alarming, sickening abuse was too much. I'm still at a loss to figure out the point of this book. The subject matter was so extreme and yet readers are left hanging as to how and why this small society came to be and how it has gone unnoticed by the greater world. This is a book about the antithesis of a good society filled with patriarchal control and rampant abuse. I believe this book will be discussed a lot due to its extreme and shocking subject matter but I cannot recommend this book.

Monday, 4 September 2017

A Promise of Ruin

Author: Cuyler Overholt
Genre: Historical Fiction Mystery

Series: #2 in the Dr. Genevieve Summerford series
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
First Published: August 1, 2017
First Line: "On the last day of life as she knew it, Teresa Casoria stood at the rail of the steamship Madonna and watched the sun rise over America."

Book Description from GoodReadsTo stop the trafficking ring plaguing her city, Dr. Genevieve Summerford must dive into New York’s underworld 

In early 1900's New York, the formidable crime syndicate known as the Black Hand has been terrorizing the city's Italian community with bombings and kidnappings. When a young Italian girl is found drowned and sexually defiled, Dr. Genevieve Summerford suspects the organization has expanded into forced prostitution, and she won't rest until the trafficking ring is brought to justice.


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

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My ReviewSet in early 1900's New York City, A Promise of Ruin is the second book in the Dr Genevieve Summerford historical mystery series. Genna is a young psychologist and continues to struggle to make a name for herself especially since some people think her profession is not something a woman should strive for.

Central to the plot is the plight of Italian immigrants who flooded New York City at the time but the strength of this book is in its historical information and the blatant prejudice against these immigrants. The Blackhand, a group of Italians who prayed on their fellow countrymen with abuse, threats and extortion as well as sex-trafficking, kidnapping, sex abuse etc are important and eye-opening parts of the plot.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed from the first book was a look at the psychiatric profession through the eyes of a woman in the early 20th century.  That struggle is focused on less in this book and readers who dive right into this book (which could be read as a standalone) will miss out on much of that important aspect of the series.

The mystery itself was good but lacked the energy of the first book and I felt that the romance between Genna and Simon ran a little lukewarm. While it took me a bit to get back into the characters lives, the plot ramps up with a solid ending. I look forward to more books featuring Dr Summerford.

Related Posts with Thumbnails