Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Gardenia

Author: Kelsey Sutton
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Diversion Books
First Published: February 28, 2017
First Line: "My eyes open."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeventeen-year-old Ivy Erickson has one month, twenty-seven days, four hours, fifty-nine minutes, and two seconds to live.

Ever since she was a child, Ivy has been able to see countdown clocks over everyone's heads indicating how long before they will die. She can't do anything about anyone else’s, nor can she do anything about her own, which will hit the zero hour before she even graduates high school.

A life cut short is tragic, but Ivy does her best to make the most of it. She struggles emotionally with her deep love for on-again, off-again boyfriend Myers Patripski. She struggles financially, working outside of school to help her mom and her sister. And she struggles to cope with the murder of her best friend, another life she couldn't save. Vanessa Donovan was killed in the woods, and everyone in town believes Ivy had something to do with it.

Then more girls start disappearing. Ivy tries to put her own life in order as she pieces together the truth of who ended Vanessa's. To save lives and for her own sanity.

The clock is always ticking. And Ivy's only hope is to expose the truth before it runs out completely.

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This is a teen read featuring seventeen-year-old, Ivy who can see a running countdown to the exact moment everyone around her, including herself, will die. It was this premise that drew me to the book initially but there are a few different genres at play within the story.  Adding to the paranormal aspect there is also a mystery regarding the death of Ivy's best friend and a strong focus on Contemporary Fiction involving family and romantic relationships.

A lot of page time was spent with Ivy's relationships with her family and Myers, her ex-boyfriend to whom she's still quite attached. Sutton delves into the various themes of life and death well and I liked how Ivy uses her paranormal knowledge to help those around her as her death draws nearer.  

But with so much focus on Ivy's relationships the mystery wasn't nearly as engaging.  It lost focus in a few spots and never took up the reigns, remaining on the fringe of the story.  There are some tense moments towards the end of the book but, in the end, I'd call this more of a contemporary teen read with a side of mystery.  

As a main character, Ivy is hardworking and the strongest force in her small family but she's lonely and has a bleak feel to her as she continues to mourn the loss of her one and only friend Vanessa. Her ability to see the countdown above each person is interesting but I would have liked to have known why she has this ability.  It also didn't play enough of a role in the book, mainly being used to influence Ivy's relationships with others and not as a major part of the mystery.  

While the suspense aspect was weaker than expected, this is a good contemporary read that makes you think about how you'll make the most out of the time you have left.

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

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide

Author: J.K Rowling
Genre: Fantasy
Type: e-book
Source: Personal Copy
Series: #3 in the Pottermore Presents series
Publisher: Pottermore
First Published: September 6, 2016
First Line: " We know quite a lot about Hogwarts."

Book Description from GoodReads‘The Ministry of Magic felt strongly, however, that to construct an additional wizarding station in the middle of London would stretch even the Muggles’ notorious determination not to notice magic when it was exploding in front of their faces.’ – J.K. Rowling

Pottermore Presents is a collection of J.K. Rowling’s writing: short reads originally featured on pottermore.com. These eBooks, with writing curated by Pottermore, will take you beyond the Harry Potter stories as J.K. Rowling reveals her inspiration, intricate details of characters’ lives and surprises from the wizarding world.

Hogwarts An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide takes you on a journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You’ll venture into the Hogwarts grounds, become better acquainted with its more permanent residents, learn more about lessons and discover secrets of the castle . . . all at the turn of a page.


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: I'm always eager to step back into the Potterverse.  In this third and final installment of the Pottermore Presents series J.K Rowling focuses on many aspects of Hogwarts including the history of the Hogwarts Express, Platform 9 3/4 and more information about the castle itself like descriptions of the Hufflepuff common room and the mysteries in the Great Lake. Rowling also gives her readers a better look at many magical artifacts that were featured in her famous books. These include the Sorting Hat, Dumbeldore's Pensieve, the Sword of Gryffindor, The Mirror of Erised and the Philosopher's Stone.  

Page time is also given to some of Hogwarts' inhabitants including the ghosts, Sir Cadogan and the people who dwell in the pictures throughout the castle.  I enjoyed the ballad about Nearly Headless Nick which was the icing on the cake for me.

This was a good read but, like most Potterheads, I would have liked even more detail.  I found the first book in the series, Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies, gave a bit more detail about the topics it touched on.  This is still a 'must have' for fans of Harry Potter.  It's always fun to spend time in Rowling's head and get a better idea of how she came up with her magical universe.  These e-books are a very quick read, a great price and are an easy way to get back to her Potter magic which, of course, is priceless.


Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists

Author: J.K Rowling
Genre: Fantasy
Type: e-book
Series: #2 in Pottermore Presents
Pages: 71
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Pottermore Limited
First Published: September 6, 2016
First Line: "Every witch or wizard with a wand has held in his or her hands more power than we will ever know."

Book Description from GoodReadsNo Muggle Prime Minister has ever set foot in the Ministry of Magic, for reasons most succinctly summed up by ex-Minister Dugald McPhail (term of office 1858-1865): “their puir wee braines couldnae cope wi’ it.”’ – J.K. Rowling
Pottermore Presents is a collection of J.K. Rowling’s writing: short reads originally featured on pottermore.com with some exclusive new additions. These eBooks, with writing curated by Pottermore, will take you beyond the Harry Potter stories as J.K. Rowling reveals her inspiration, intricate details of characters’ lives and surprises from the wizarding world.

These stories of power, politics and pesky poltergeists give you a glimpse into the darker side of the wizarding world, revealing the ruthless roots of Professor Umbridge, the lowdown on the Ministers for Magic and the history of the wizarding prison Azkaban. You will also delve deeper into Horace Slughorn’s early years as Potions master at Hogwarts - and his acquaintance with one Tom Marvolo Riddle.
 

My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: This is the second book in the Pottermore Presents trilogy that digs a little deeper into some of the characters and magical elements of Rowling's famous universe. While I'm a huge Potterhead this was my least favourite book in the trilogy.  There are some interesting tidbits but the portion dedicated to the Misters of Magic was overly lengthy and I can't say that Horace Slughorn is a character that I was interested in knowing more about.

That said, it's always nice to jump back in to Rowling's magical world and I enjoyed learning more about this history of Azkaban prison and the mischief-maker Peeves.  For Potterheads, overall, this trilogy series is a nice way to give readers some background knowledge on secondary characters, magical items and creatures.


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Orphan's Tale

Author:Pam Jenoff
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Harlequin
First Published: February 21, 2017
First Line: Paris - "They will be looking for me now."

Book Description from GoodReadsA powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival .

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night. 

Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I'm an avid reader of Historical Fiction, especially books that focus on WWII. So, I eagerly jumped at the chance to read this book.  

The premise was enticing but overall my feeling about the book could be summed up as 'interested by not invested'. The book is narrated by Astrid and Noa whose personalities and life experiences are quite different.  Astrid was a strong main character.  She's lived through a lot, she's broken and tough nut to crack. This is in complete contrast to teenage Noa who was overly naive to the point that it was grating. She never thinks things through, claims to love baby Theo yet pawns him off at every opportunity and never seems to struggle with his care even though she has no prior experience and has a new job as a trapeze artist. I just didn't connect with her on any level.

This book features a group of people who are trying to escape the Nazis' wrath.  This was a dangerous, turbulent time but the war seemed to be just a backdrop to the drama between the characters.  Besides the moment when the babies are found in the boxcar (an emotional moment for me - which is described in the book summary), it wasn't as gritty, emotional or tension-filled as I had expected for a book set during WWII.  Instead the focus was on the romantic entanglements (one of which came about too quickly to be believable) and melodrama between the characters. 

And yet this book continued to hold my interest enough for me to continue and find out how things end for this band of misfits. I think the premise was unique and thought the epilogue was quite interesting as Jenoff explains how she came up with the premise of her book based on historical details.

The secondary characters were a unique bunch but I wish that they had been used more within the story.  For example, the circus master's son was written as a potential bad guy but barely used; the older Jewish man's perspective would have been a benefit to the plot but his story wasn't explored, and the Circus Master's life, as he struggles to keep his circus afloat and help those running from the Nazis, was only hinted at. With the secondary characters' minimal lines and involvement, it was hard for readers to get to know them well enough to care about them.

This book had great promise and was touted as a mixture of "The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah and "Water For Elephants" by Sara Gruen. Those are some big shoes to fill and while I think the premise was solid, I found the execution weaker than expected. It started off as a vivid, emotional Historical Fiction read but as the book progressed it became more about the relationships of Astrid and Noa giving the book a lighter Historical Romance feel that happened to be set during WWII.  A good read just not as gritty as I had expected. This is a story about survival and family in various forms. With more tension and connection to the characters I would have given this book a higher rating. For people looking for a lighter Historical Fiction read this book is right up your alley.

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

Monday, 20 February 2017

A Bend in the Willow


Author: Susan Clayton-Goldner
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: ebook
Source: Author
Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing
First Published: January 18, 2017
First Line: Willowood, Kentucky 1054 - "I was seven years old the first time I wished him dead."

Book Description from GoodReadsWillowood, Kentucky 1965 - Robin Lee Carter sets a fire that kills her rapist, then disappears. She reinvents herself and is living a respectable life as Catherine Henry, married to a medical school dean in Tucson, Arizona. In 1985, when their 5-year-old son, Michael, is diagnosed with a chemotherapy-resistant leukemia, Catherine must return to Willowood, face her family and the 19-year-old son, a product of her rape, she gave up for adoption. She knows her return will lead to a murder charge, but Michael needs a bone marrow transplant. Will she find forgiveness, and is she willing to lose everything, including her life, to save her dying son?

My Rating: 3.5 stars

My Review: When I was contacted by the author to review this book I was immediately intrigued by the premise.  The idea of a woman with a hidden past who is forced to confront her turbulent history to save the life of her ill son.  It not only tugged at the old heart strings but I liked the mystery aspect as well.

Even though the book deals with some serious issues (childhood illness, violence, abuse) it was, overall, an easy read that flowed fairly well.  There were a few instances where it felt like some dialogue could have been cut down a bit but it's the emotional scenes of abuse and illness that I felt showcased the author's writing even though these scenes were difficult to read due to their subject matter.

Like I mentioned, the premise was strong but I think the book would have benefited from more character development and back story, specifically when Catherine was first out on her own.  This would have helped me to better understand her side of things.  Unfortunately,  I struggled to connect with Catherine who often came off as too detached and self-centred.  Her reunion with her first son was lackluster and too brief for the build-up in the plot. Catherine's only goal was to find a donor for her young son.  As a mother myself I get that, I do.  But to bound into this young man's life with barely a hello to him (or your estranged brother) and expect them to feel obligated to help you after decades of radio silence when she could have reached out was hard to fathom. 

In contrast, the connection Catherine had with her brother Kyle was my favourite part of the book.  It went from being very close, to damaged almost beyond repair to ultimately a very healing force.  Their bond was written with sympathy and heart and was very believable.

Overall, this was a good read.  It's a story about family bonds, loss, forgiveness and learning to move on.  And, while I would have loved to have had an epilogue to gain some closure and things fell into line a little too easily, in the end I still feel that people who enjoy a family drama will want to pick up this book.  

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Susan Clayton-Goldner for providing me with a complimentary ebook copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Cheddar, Bacon and Broccoli Soup

I love a good soup or stoup (thick stewy soup).  They warm all your chilly bits and paired with some crusty bread and a salad make for a great meal for those frosty days.

After a recent jaunt to Costco where I bought a huge bag of broccoli I decided to make a soup featuring a veggie that will not only nourish my family but will, in fact, torment my children.  They go on roller coasters, walk close to ledges in nearby gorges and cliffs yet continue to be afraid of broccoli.  I know, right?  To offset their immediate protest I thought I'd distract them from the 'green trees of yick' with some cheese and bacon.  It's the bait and distract method of feeding children.

This is a cheesy, delicious and filling soup that is not only great the first time around but wonderful for leftovers.  It's filled with veggies, a generous amount of cheese and some bacon for that smokey flavah!  It's reminds me of a cross between my Creamy Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup and my Cheeseburger Soup



Inspired by: Mel's Kitchen Cafe's Loaded Broccoli Cheese and Bacon Soup


6 bacon strips

2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups of chicken broth
3 cups potatoes - peeled and diced small
1 small onion - diced
3/4 cup carrots - peeled and grated
3 cups broccoli - small florets

2 tbsp reserved bacon grease (or butter)
3 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
3 cups milk ( I used 1%)
2 1/2 cups Cheddar cheese - grated

In a deep frying pan (or saucepan), cook bacon and garlic until the bacon is fairly crispy.  Remove bacon strips to paper towel and crumble.  Set aside.

In a soup pot, combine the chicken broth, potatoes and onion.  Bring this mixture to a boil, lower heat and simmer for approximately 8 minutes until the potatoes start to become tender.  Add grated carrot and broccoli florets and mix well.  Cook for another 5 minutes.

Drain all but 2 tbsp of the bacon grease from the frying pan (or use another saucepan with 2 tbsp of butter).  Heat grease over medium heat; add flour and cook for 1 minute or until mixture becomes golden in colour.  Add salt, pepper and dry mustard.  Mix well.  Slowly add the milk as you mix with a whisk.  Continue to cook for approximately 8 minutes or until mixture thickens, ensuring that you stir often.

Add the Cheddar cheese to the milk mixture and stir until cheese is melted. Gradually add the cheese mixture to the broth/veggie mixture.  Stir until well combined.  Add reserved crumbled bacon (you can save some to garnish on top of each bowl).  Serve with a green salad and fresh bread.

Side Dishes that work well with this recipe:
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
Olive Garden-esque Garlicky Bread Sticks

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Author: Eric Lindstrom
Genre: Teen, Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
First Published: February 14, 2017
First Line: "My big brother Nolan, used to say everyone has a superpower."

Book Description from GoodReadsFor sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?


My Rating: 3 stars

My Review: I feel so torn about this book.  I enjoyed some aspects and others I struggled with so much that I almost gave up on the whole thing. 

Unfortunately, I found the bulk of the story slow-going with the focus being on teenage angst, friendship and relationships vying for top billing instead of mental illness. It isn't until two-thirds of the way through the book (when I had almost given up) that I finally could sink my teeth into the story. It's at this point that Lindstrom gets to the heart of Mel's struggle with bipolar disorder and the results are vivid and emotional.  From the intensity of her feelings, to her loss of control, delusions and finally her breakdown readers will witness the heart-breaking struggle within Mel and the enormous stress she is under to keep it hidden from people around her.  

One of my issue with the book is that there was too much angst and not enough depth or character development. There is a mixed bag of secondary characters with the residents of the nursing home where Mel works being my favourites with their sass, personality and heart. Some of the teenagers by comparison (Declan and Holly, I'm looking at you) faded so much into the background that they were easily forgettable. 

The other issue I had was that there was too much telling and not enough showing. I wanted to witness the connection or disconnection between Annie, Connor, Zumi and Mel so I could better understand Mel's hesitation to inform her friends of her mental illness.  Similarly, the romance happened too quickly, felt forced and too good to be true considering all the issues and drama that occur in their brief relationship. Unfortunately, I just wasn't invested in these relationships.

Also, when it finally came down to the big reveal about the reason for the rift between Zumi, Connor and Mel, the result was disappointing for something that was alluded to many times. I would have preferred a more in-depth look at other relationships - namely, Mel's relationship with her brother.  Her bond with him underlies much of the book yet is barely talked about. Or even a look at Mel's mother and how she has handled having so much mental illness within her family. 

It sounds like I wasn't a fan of this book and for a chunk of it I wasn't. But I will take away a better understanding of bipolar disorder.  This went from a book I almost gave up on to one that became a decent read due to the vivid and honest look at Mel's illness and her heartbreaking struggle to be seen as 'normal'.  While this wasn't a home run for me I applaud the author for giving his readers a better insight into the mental health of teens. 

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

Friday, 10 February 2017

I See You

Author: Clare Mackintosh
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 374
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Berkley
First Published: February 12, 2017

First Line: "The man behind me is standing close enough to moisten the skin on my neck with his breath."

Book Description from GoodReadsEvery morning and evening, Zoe Walker takes the same route to the train station, waits at a certain place on the platform, finds her favorite spot in the car, never suspecting that someone is watching her... 

It all starts with a classified ad. During her commute home one night, while glancing through her local paper, Zoe sees her own face staring back at her; a grainy photo along with a phone number and a listing for a website called FindTheOne.com. 

Other women begin appearing in the same ad, a different one every day, and Zoe realizes they've become the victims of increasingly violent crimes--including murder. With the help of a determined cop, she uncovers the ad's twisted purpose...A discovery that turns her paranoia into full-blown panic. Zoe is sure that someone close to her has set her up as the next target.

And now that man on the train--the one smiling at Zoe from across the car--could be more than just a friendly stranger. He could be someone who has deliberately chosen her and is ready to make his next move... 


My Rating: 4 stars

My Review:  The premise of I See You is not only intriguing but quite appropriate since we live in a society that is determined to monitor our movements more and more. The idea that someone could monitor your daily movements without your knowledge is ominous and intimidating.  Worse still is the idea that someone might act on that knowledge for nefarious reasons.  This whole 'I'm watching you' premise is creepy as all get out, will give you the heebie-jeebies and cause you to look at your fellow commuters with suspicion. Oh ya.  It's that good.

This was my first book by Mackintosh and I quite enjoyed this suspenseful read.  The tension builds throughout the book with many prospective culprits and mighty fine twists brought into the fray.  I kept changing my mind about 'whodunnit' and while I had initially guessed the baddie I quickly dismissed him/her only to find out that my initial assumptions were true ... sort of.

I was on the edge of my seat for most of the book but when the big reveal happened (or at least the first part of the reveal) the ensuing scene was lackluster and felt oddly tacked on. Things pick up again in the last few pages but that one scene slowed the momentum of the book for me.

The story is told via three points of view - Zoe, a middle-class Mom trying to make ends meet; Kelly, the police officer determined to find the person who is hunting these unsuspecting women and lastly, the mystery person/baddie whose short, italicized chapters are interspersed to keep the creep factor high. 

While those sinister tidbits are scattered throughout it was Kelly and Zoe who tell the story.  Kelly's chapters are told in the third person showing her as an impulsive yet feisty cop.  I found her to be a more interesting main character than Zoe (possibly because we have more back story on her).  Zoe's chapters are narrated in the first person which means readers get caught up in her inner thoughts - many of which I thought put her in an annoyingly naive/doormat light.  The other characters are not as fleshed out as I would have hoped but play their parts - some are likable and others you can't help but dislike.

Overall, this was a very impressive, edge-of-your-seat suspense novel and while there were a few minor issues, it was an enjoyably sinister read.  Mackintosh takes her readers on one heck of a creepy ride and will make you look over your shoulder for awhile after reading it.  

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

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Winter Sea

Author: Susanna Kearsley
Genre: Historical Fiction (Scotland), Canadian author
Type: Paperback
Pages: 521
Times Read: 2
Source: Personal copy
Publisher: Allison and Busby Limited
First Published: January 1, 2008
First Lines: "It wasn't chance.  There wasn't any part of it that happened just by chance."

Note: Also published under the title "Sophia's Secret"

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen novelist Carrie McClelland decides to set her new novel in Slains Castle in Scotland and uses her ancestor, Sophia Paterson, as one of the characters, the novel begins to take on a life of its own and Carrie soon realizes that an unusual bond with her ancestor may be providing her with an immediate window into the past.

My Rating: 4 stars

My Review: The description of this book is accurate but doesn't come close to describing the rich characters, Scottish history and atmosphere that Susanna Kearsley brings to her readers. This was my second time reading The Winter Sea.  The first time was many years ago, and while I didn't recall the plot I always had images in my mind from reading the book the first time around.  The sign of a good book.

Kearsley's writing is rich in detail creating a vivid atmosphere for her story to unfold.  The story is told via two narratives - Carrie in modern day and Sophia in the early 1700's during a lesser known Jacobite rebellion.  Their stories intertwine, with a little help from a fantastical element, and while they were both compelling I admit to preferring Sophia's story line more.  There are some twists thrown into the plot and the characters, generally speaking, are easy to root for making it easy to see why this book is a fan favourite.

For readers looking for a bodice-ripper type read this is not it.  While there are some intimate moments they are only hinted at leaving the ensuing passion to the readers' imaginations.  Instead more focus was on their relationships, the beautiful setting and the Jacobites attempt to return James to England's throne to replace his half-sister, Queen Anne.

For people, such as myself, who only have a basic knowledge of Scottish history do not fear.  Kearsley explains some of the Jacobite history without a huge info dump while still keeping in line with her story.  Readers will enjoy reading the appendix at the end of the book where Kearsley explains which characters and events within her book are based on historical fact. 

The only criticisms I have for the book is that the ending is wrapped up a little too neatly.  Sure, it's a nice way to end the story but a little too easy.  I know that some readers weren't fond of one of Sophia's decisions in the book (I wasn't happy reading it either) but, in the end, that was probably a more realistic decision based on how things were in the 18th century.

Overall, I'm happy I could delve back into this book.  This time around I got to read my personalized, signed copy and that made it even more special.  For fans of well-researched Historical Fiction with a solid nod to genealogy, who like a good love story (or two) set in the beauty that is Scotland then this is a book for you. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A Perilous Undertaking

Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: e-book
Series: #2 in the Veronica Speedwell series
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
First Published: January 10, 2017
First Lines: London, September 1887 - "For the love of all that is holy, Veronica, the object is to maim or kill, not tickle", Stoker informed me, clipping the words sharply as he handed me the knife.  "Do it again."

Book Description from GoodReadsVeronica Speedwell returns in a brand new adventure from Deanna Raybourn, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries... 

London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer. 

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime. 

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....


My Rating: 4.5 stars

My ReviewIf you're told the book you're about to read is a Victorian murder mystery featuring a lepidopterist (butterfly collector) and her best friend, a taxidermist, it may cause you to question if the book is right for you. But with Deanna Raybourn at the helm, you can put away your doubts because you know you're in for a good ride.  Her writing is some of the best that I've read and the breadth of her vocabulary is wonderfully challenging (thank goodness for my Kindle's dictionary feature) and adds so much to the personalities of her characters and the era in which they live.

I have read a couple of Deanna Raybourn's previous books in her Lady Julia Grey series and quite enjoyed them.  I associate Raybourn with memorable, witty and well-rounded characters and her compelling writing. The first book in her Lady Julia Grey series, Silent in the Grave, features one of my all-time favourite opening lines ... 


“To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. 
Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.”

A Perilous Undertaking, the second book featuring Veronica Speedwell, was the first book I've read in this newer series.  For new-to-Veronica readers, you needn't worry about falling behind in character relationships or the plot if you haven't, like me, read the first book in the series, A Curious Beginning. Raybourn gives enough details without divulging the plot lines from the first book yet doesn't leave her readers with that niggling feeling that they're missing something by not starting with the first book.

While the mystery itself had some good twists and kept me guessing, this book is much more of a character focused read.  Even secondary characters, namely spunky old Lady Wellington, add much to the plot and humour.  But it's the bond between Veronica and Stoker that really drew me into this book.  They have a deep connection to each other that is based in respect and love but is sprinkled liberally with witty banter and some delightful romantic tension. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  With it's stunning cover, humorous exchanges, solid historical mystery and colourful main characters this book has it all.

Recommended.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Basement Renovation - Part Ten - Trim and Doors and Tile, oh MY!

We are officially in the final lap of our 2-year basement renovation!

Over the past 27 months we have gone from digging a plumbing trench, to sound insulating, drywalling, painting, flooring and furniture buying etc.  It's been a labour of love but it was all worth it because now we have the space that we dreamed of. We opted to do a lot of the work on our own (because we like DIY and saving money).  But, we're also wiser now that we're firmly in our 40's. We know what we're good at, what we aren't and when to hire professional help. I'm talking about skilled tradesmen like drywallers, fine carpenters etc.  They have some seriously mad skills.

Door Frames, Doors and Trim
In this last push to finish the basement we brought in a local family-owned company to complete the baseboards and door casings, install the barn doors, install the tile backsplash in the bar and the stone around the fireplace.  

We were asked by some why we didn't just buy ready made doors and frames from Home Depot and hang them ourselves. Two reasons: A) since we went with the thicker 5/8-inch drywall we couldn't order standard door frames and B) we didn't want to.  Brad has been working 80+ hours/week for months and I didn't want him installing door frames instead of spending time relaxing or with the family.  So, we had our fine carpenter, Rich, custom make our door jambs and they look fab-u-lous! Who knew doors and door frames could make a girl swoon?

I'm also happy that I pushed for the five paneled doors. They are definitely more expensive than the typical builder six panel doors but they make a much bigger statement in the rooms and fit with the Craftsman style we were going for. We decided on simple black knobs and hinges that mimic the barn door hardware and the knobs on all the custom cabinetry for a nice cohesive look.  With the addition of the simple and taller Craftsman-style baseboard I think the trim, doors and hardware really add to the style of the overall space.



Rich the Carpenter also hung our barn doors into the Den - see below.  We - meaning moi - will need to paint the wooden board behind the track when we (again, I) paint the trim.  We love these doors and are happy we had the space to use them. All of the doors will be painted in the Spring when Brad can use our paint sprayer to paint those bad boys in the garage.  





Here's a look into the Den. It's a big room but furniture-wise it's a mish-mash of old IKEA office furniture and an old, nasty loveseat. Not the look we're eventually going for but for now it works.  I love the look of the double closet doors at the end of the room as well as all of the extra storage these closets provide.  The next step will be to get a new desk (and get rid of that old love seat).  Brad and I have plans for a double T-shaped desk for the den.  I have a few ideas up my sleeve so we may DIY it - stay tuned. 


Bar Seating
We love our new bar as a place to hang out, use for extra storage and house our extra fridge.  We didn't go with a sit up bar due to the amount of floor space they take up and the fact that guests would have their back to the main area.  Instead, we opted to build a wet bar and buy a rustic looking sofa table and a few bar stools.  We have two wooden stools with comfy padding and backs on them ...


as well as two stackable, metal, industrial-looking stools we can pull out for extra people since the table can seat four comfortably. 


The table has a rustic, thick wooden top and metal 'X' legs for that industrial feel we like. We use this table all ... the ... time. We love that it faces the TV and we still have lots of room to walk around it in the bar area.

The Bar Backsplash
To add some finishing touches to the bar I went with a simple white subway tile (with no bevel) and a medium gray grout. Brad was ready to lose his mind if I reminded him one more time to tell the contractor that I didn't want a beveled edge on the tile.  I'm not fond of a beveled edge on tile. 



I think the white tile brightens up and finishes off the space but the gray gives the tile a bit of pop too. The last step will be to put one (possibly two) rustic wooden shelves above the sink area to display a few bar items that I will neglect to dust regularly.




The Fireplace Stonework
Last but certainly not least we added stone to the front of our fireplace.  Not one, not two but at least three people assumed that the stone board that we had on the fireplace for the past year was the finish we were going for.  Um, no.  Just no!  It had gaps and screws in it, people!  We are slow and picky, not lacking in style!



Ok, so admittedly it took us a loooong time to find stone that we liked.  Some were too dark, others were too sparkly and many just didn't wow me.  We had this unfinished fireplace for over a year.  Maybe that's why they assumed it was the style we were going for. Yikes.  

I knew I wanted a stone with lighter background with bits of gray and hints of browns in it.  And we finally found it!  



The tradesmen who installed it did a fantastic job and ended up cutting every piece except for one due to the shape of the space.  We appreciate their hard work and know it would have taken us many more hours and possibly the cost of a divorce lawyer.  Now that it's finished it's become a great focal point of the room.  Sometimes it pays to be patient ... and picky.




A little bit of stone, a little wood, a little white, a little dark.  It all works well together.

So that's where we stand with the final steps for our basement transformation. In my final basement renovation post I'll be showing you before and after pictures of the entire space.  Such a transformation - from dark basement to a fabulous, cozy family space.


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