Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: Austensibly Ordinary

Austensibly OrdinaryAuthor: Alyssa Goodnight
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Kensington

Steamy, funky, and thoroughly modern, Austin, Texas isn’t much like the gardened country estates of Jane Austen’s work. But there might be a few similarities in its inhabitants…

Cate Kendall is no stranger to daydreams of brooding men and fancy parties—after all, she teaches one of her beloved Jane Austen novels in her English classes every year. But as for romance or adventure in her own life, the highlight of most weeks is Scrabble with her cute coworker, Ethan, and he draws the line at witty banter. But Cate is ready for a change. When she finds a mysterious journal that seems to have a link to the soul of the great Jane Austen herself, she knows it’s her chance. And she grabs on with both hands…

Before she knows it, Cate has invented an alter ego with an attitude, attended some seriously chic soirees, and gotten tangled up with a delicious mystery man. And she’s uncovered enough unexpected secrets about Ethan that her Scrabble partner has taken to brooding looks and unfathomable silences. It’s a positively Austenite predicament, and Cate is sure she’ll land in hot water and heartbreak—but maybe not with Jane herself to guide her…

“Honestly, I think my mom would be thrilled if I answered Ethan’s teasing booty call.” – ARC Copy pg. 7

“Mom and I were crafty, bookish rule followers, taking it on faith that magic would happen precisely when it was meant to, a personality type crafted initially by fairy tales and honed by Jane Austen.” – ARC Copy pg. 8

“I tipped my head down, seemingly absorbed in the world of Jane Austen, but actually assessing my outfit.” – ARC Copy pg. 14

“I’m going for glamour and mystery, not bitch with issues, and I think I can pull it off. It’s kind of like a dare.” – ARC Copy pg. 24

“I could write in this diary from the perspective of my impending alter ego, recording thrilling adventures and dispensing exciting life advice to inspire the English teacher side of me.” – ARC Copy pg. 33 & 34 (Being an English teacher myself, I loved to read this!)

“I was Cate Kendall, and that name spoke volumes about me. Sensible, reliable rule follower. I wanted to be mysterious, flirtatious, and sexy. A bit of a minx…Cat. I smiled to myself. If I were an author, it would be the smile of the cat that got the cream, but I wasn’t and that was a little clichéd. I liked it anyway.” – ARC Copy pg. 35

Allow me to first start off by saying that as a high school English teacher, this book did wonders for me. First off our main character, Cate Kendall, is a high school English teacher. Secondly, this book is an allusion to one of the greatest authors of all-time, Miss Jane Austen herself. This is a book full of magical realism as our main character finds a magical journal that changes her life entirely. This journal is supposedly possessed the spirit or soul of Jane Austen. Jane reads the entries that people write in the journal and erases most of the message while leaving a tiny snippet that forms a small type of inspirational message. This was an interesting concept for me and I loved, loved, loved the thought of communicating with Jane from the other side!
Cate Kendall was an excellent and inspiring heroine. She was sassy, confused, clumsy, and quirky. I loved her from the very first page. Not to mention we share the same profession. I also loved her relationship with her co-worker, Ethan Chavez. They shared weekly scrabble/pizza and beer nights in which I really got to see the inside of their relationship and watched a completely new Cate reveal herself. When Cate was around Ethan I felt as if we were back in high school and watching some brand new crush between two young, naïve high schoolers. Ethan was just as charming as Cate, and was definitely a catch. I loved their little flirtatious moments and secretly prayed that something would transpire between them. Now whether it does or not, I will not tell you.
Fans of Jane Austen will love this book and I highly recommend giving it a try. Cate is, of course, modeled after a beautiful and intriguing Austen heroine: Emma. Like Emma, I questioned Cate a lot and enjoyed watching her come into her own and really discover her inner beauty and stop sweating the small stuff. It is always inspiring to me to read heroines that are grown, functioning adults, but feel like they are young adolescent teenage girls. Cate was not afraid to make mistakes and usually did not realize she was making them until after the fact. There were several allusions to Jane Austen and her famous published works which I loved. It was not overdone and Goodnight puts just the right twist on Austen’s thought-provoking romances.
***A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review***

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Review: The Winter Witch

The Winter WitchAuthor: Paula Brackston
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Fledgling witch Morgana must defend her love, her home, and her life in this enthralling tale perfect for fans of Discovery of Witches

In her small Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana. She has never spoken, and her silence as well as the magic she can't quite control make her a mystery. Concerned for her safety, her mother quickly arranges a marriage with Cai Bevan, the widower from the far hills who knows nothing of the rumours that swirl around her. After their wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving, but she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the rugged mountains that surround it, while slowly Cai himself begins to win her heart. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there—a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana, even at the expense of those closest to her. Forced to defend her home, her love, and herself from all comers, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything.

Paula Brackston's debut novel, The Witch's Daughter, was the little book that could—with a captivating story, remarkable heroine, and eye-catching package, it has now netted over 40,000 copies in all formats. Now Paula returns with The Winter Witch, another enchanting tale of love and magic, featuring her signature blend of gorgeous writing, a fabulous and intriguing historical backdrop, and a headstrong and relatable heroine readers will cheer for.

“For a while I endured his jibs and sneers without response. It was not, let it be said, the first time I had encountered such treatment. People fear what they do not understand, and that fear can make brutes of them. Ifor, though, had not the wit to be frightened. Better for him if he had. Each day he prodded and poked and jested at my expense. Each day he won an inch more ground in his battle for position in the class. And each day my patience grew thinner.” – Hardback Copy pg. 16

“For a second I think he will do it; will step forward, sweep me off my feet, and transport me across the threshold as tradition dictates. But he does not. What am I to make of his reluctance to hold me? Can it be that he does not see me as a wife in all senses? Am I merely a necessity, then? A requirement of his statues as head drover? Is that to be my purpose in life and no more? I might not want his attentions forced upon me, but that does not mean I wish to exist in some manner of limbo, neither maid nor mistress. What can his intentions for me be?” – Hardback Copy pg. 24

“My mother’s entreaties come into my head. Do not be willful, Morgana. You must do as your husband wishes. Must I? Must I stay in this pointlessly big house pretending I care to cook while he walks the hills? I tilt my head a little to one side, asking. Understanding lifts his features.” – Hardback Copy pg. 26

“Morgana has bitten deep and drawn blood. He clutches at his wounded hand, shocked by what she has done and appalled at his own behavior. Never in his life before has he struck a woman. She leaps from the bed and stands, her back to the wall, fists clenched, defiant even now. The pain in his hand has a sobering effect on Cai, so that he becomes acutely aware of how badly he has behaved, and how much damage he may have done to his delicate relationship with Morgana.” – Hardback Copy pg. 117

This is the story of a Welsh Witch named Morgana and her recent arranged marriage to a man named Cai Jenkins. Morgana’s mother has decided that it would be in Morgana’s best interest to marry Cai and to remain a faithful wife for him for the rest of her days. Morgana may not clearly understand her mother’s intentions but Morgana does not oppose. Morgana is a very unique character and seems very closed off to the outside world, mainly because for most of her life she has not spoken. This story was nothing like what I thought it would be. This is a more of a love story than anything else, where as I somewhat thought it might be more fantasy and mystery.
At the beginning of the story readers learn that Morgana does not care much for Cai, and to be honest I was rather bored by her character. I knew that Morgana had not spoken since she was a small child and I was wondering how we were going to see Morgana interact with others and began hoping that we were not meant to solely rely on her inner thoughts. Her relationship with Cai does progress and honestly Cai was my favorite character because of his warmth and openness towards Morgana. I do not want to giveaway important plot points but I will say that Cai makes a world of difference in Morgana and that this is not your average love story.
Once Morgana comes out of her shell and opens up to Cai and a woman of the town who helps her unlock her magical abilities, things start to speed up and the storytelling becomes more and more intriguing. Morgana’s magical innateness intrigued me just as much as the vivid descriptions of the Welsh countryside. Once the magic starts to unveil itself I was really indebted to this story and I loved reading about the villain, even though it becomes obvious pretty early into the story whom that might be. As Morgana begins to find herself and her magic she easily became someone I could relate to. She just needed someone to open up her heart and her mind.
This book is for fans of magical fantasy, but I would say more so fans of a naïve heroine who slowly comes into her own with the help of comfort, nurturing, and heartwarming romance. Not at all how I thought I would describe this book, but entirely true.
***A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in return for my honest, unbiased review***

Sunday, January 27, 2013

ARC Book Review & Author Interview: The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking SocietyAuthor: Darien Gee
Publication Date: January 29, 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books

Perfect for fans of Kristin Hannah, Beth Hoffman, and Kate Jacobs, this luminous novel from the author of Friendship Bread follows a group of fascinating women who form deep friendships through their love of scrapbooking—as memories are preserved, dreams are shared, and surprising truths are revealed.

Welcome to Avalon, Illinois, Pop. 4,243

At Madeline’s Tea Salon, the cozy hub of the Avalon community, local residents scrapbook their memories and make new ones. But across town, other Avalonians are struggling to free themselves of the past: Isabel Kidd is fixing up her ramshackle house while sorting through the complications of her late husband’s affair. Ava Catalina is mourning the love of her life and helping her young son grow up without his father. Local plumber Yvonne Tate is smart, beautiful, and new to Avalon, but finds that despite a decade of living life on her own terms, the past has a way of catching up—no matter where she goes. And Frances Latham, mother to a boisterous brood of boys, eagerly anticipates the arrival of a little girl from China—unprepared for the emotional roller coaster of foreign adoption.

Enter Bettie Shelton, the irascible founder of the Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society. Under Bettie’s guidance, even the most reluctant of Avalon’s residents come to terms with their past and make bold decisions about their future. But when the group receives unexpected news about their steadfast leader, they must pull together to create something truly memorable.

By turns humorous, wise, and deeply moving, The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society is a luminous reminder that the things we hold most dear will last a lifetime.

“The morning light streams in behind her, a generous sliver of sunshine falling onto the farmer’s table that rests in the middle of the kitchen. Fresh loaves of Amish Friendship Bread, scones, and muffins are cooling on wire racks. Two arugula-and-bacon quiches are in the oven. Her kitchen is fragrant and inviting, and Madeline knows that her customers find these smells a reassuring comfort. They come to Madeline’s Tea Salon for that very reason – the promise of good food and an encouraging smile. A kind word and possibly a joke or two, depending on her mood.” – ARC Copy pg. 4

“‘Pictures are only one part of it,’ she tells them. ‘And these days people take hundreds of pictures and none of them get printed or put into a photo album. This is different – when you scrapbook, you’re evoking the memory of the feeling and the experience by the colors you choose. The little mementos you paste to the page.’ Enid breaks the seal of the packet and spreads the contents onto the table. ‘You take your favorite pictures, you look at all of this, and you think, what fits? What goes together? Not just aesthetically, but emotionally. Scrapbook pages capture all of it. For example – how did the two of you meet?’” – ARC Copy pg. 36

Scrapbooking supplies, it read, for all your memory-keeping needs.” – ARC Copy pg. 57

“‘Memories can happen anywhere. It’s not just the big events, but the small moments, too. Scrapbooking isn’t about making things pretty on the page, but about how you feel, about the details in life that are special, that feel good. Invite others to take an emotional journey with you. Using textures in your layouts is one of the fastest ways to get people there.’” – ARC Copy pg. 144

Books like this one here are my absolute favorite kind to read. Books that include the lives of so many people who are bonding over one commonality and here it just happens to be scrapbooking. Each chapter focuses on one of the main characters who are a part of The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society and there are some chapters in between that focus on outside characters that are either joining the Society or have already been affected by the idea and joys of Scrapbooking. Bettie Shelton is the lead organizer of the Scrapbooking Society and has a way of making people participate in her group’s activity, often times without their personal consent. This book blends humor, love, and loss with a touch of small town hospitality.
This story shares the lives, secrets, and secret desires of an array of women. We have Bettie Shelton, who is the town busybody and founder of our group. Yvonne Tate, who is the town plumber and often gets sideways glances for her career choice. Isabel is a young widow who is recovering from the betrayal of her cheating husband and then his sudden death soon after he left her. Ava is the product of Bill, Isabel’s husband’s, affair and is trying to cope with being a single mother and all alone. Madeline runs the local tea shop and Connie is her right hand woman. Each of these women has a story that is worth reading and they are the basis of what makes this book so inviting. They fill the town of Avalon, Illinois with love, friendship, and the need to feel a sense of belonging and fulfillment. I honestly connected to each of these women in some way or another and could feel their inner desires and personal aspirations as I read their stories.
This book has just a cozy, feel good factor about it. I mean this in a cuddle up under your heated blanket with a cup of cocoa kind of way. There is talk of food and the mention of the famous Friendship Bread from Darien’s first novel, which I thought was super cool. You all know how much I love books that put food descriptions is such heavenly terms. I also really enjoyed the scenes when The Scrapbook Society meets. You can feel the chaos and utter dysfunction that so often comes with a room full of loud, chatty women. They bond over good food, warm tea, and lots of scrapbooking, pictures, and memories. I long to be a part of something like this one day.
My only complaint is a small one and it honestly does not affect my final judgment, hence the five adorable pink cupcakes. I will be honest is saying that this book incorporates A LOT of different characters, but this makes no difference to me. I did not find it confusing or distracting I just did not always see the need to include so many different people. Like I said, I in no way found this confusing. The writing is very easy to follow and you always know whose perspective you are reading from. I will read this book again, possibly in the near future. I found it enlightening and inspiring. Some of these women felt lost and alone, and something as small as a Scrapbooking Society brought light to the dark tunnels they saw as life! Stay tuned for my interview with Darien Gee below.
***A big thank you to the publishers at Ballantine Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review***
Below is my interview with Darien Gee! Such a fabulous lady and author!
Me: What was your inspiration in writing this book?
DG: I was putting some of my own photos together and realized that if my house were on fire and I only had time to take one thing from the house, this would be it (this, of course, is assuming everyone in the house is outside and safe). You hear that all the time, even in this digital age. It’s not the clothes, your tax return, or even the house itself. It’s the albums, the letters, the photographs, the baby blanket, the locket. The memories alone are never enough—we need these triggers, the solidity of something we can hold in our hands and feel the weight of. In The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, we enter the lives of six women whose houses are, metaphorically speaking except for in one case, on fire. They all must choose what to take into their new life and make peace with what they have to leave behind.
Me: Tell us something about yourself that we, as your readers, would never guess.
DG: I’m thinking about going back to school for an MA/PhD in Educational Policy.
Me: What was your favorite part of this book to write?
DG: I love the anecdotal chapters that dot the novel. In both Friendship Bread and The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society, I wanted to give readers a glimpse into the lives of the residents of the town of Avalon, Illinois, and to also use these chapters as a way to show how, in the case of this novel, Bettie Shelton was pulling everyone into her scrapbooking fold, helping them find ways of documenting and celebrating what was true for them.
Me: What book are you reading now?
DG: I just finished Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I loved it.
Me: What is next for you as a writer?
DG: I’m working on my next book and researching ideas for future novels, which keeps the energy moving for me. Research is a great reason to get out in the world and do things you might not otherwise do. For example, I just sent in saliva samples for a DNA test that will give you ancestry, health and trait reports. It’s already birthed several possible story lines, and my own response to the results of test will show me which one to follow. I also did a cacao farm tour and chocolate making workshop, which I have (ahem) been researching for several years now.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Book Review: Teeth

TeethAuthor: Hannah Moskowitz
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse

A gritty, romantic modern fairy tale from the author of Break and Gone, Gone, Gone.

Be careful what you believe in.

Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.

Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.

“He’s only about twenty feet from me. And before I notice anything else about him, I realize he’s about my age. And then the rest of him hits me: webbed fingers, the scrawny torso patched with silver scales, and a twisted fish tail starting where his hips should be, curling into a dirty fin. A fish. A boy. The ugliest thing I have ever seen.” – Paperback Copy pg. 15

“Ms. Delaney clears her throat and says, ‘It really is amazing what the Enki fish can do. We came here when I was fourteen, when the cancer’ – she waves the word away like it’s a fly – ‘was close to killing me. My grandfather had written us letters about the place before he died, but we had no idea the effect the fish would have. And since I’ve lived here, I haven’t been sick a day. My grandfather lived to be a hundred and sixteen.’” – Paperback Copy pg. 21

“But Fishboy just smiles and says, ‘I’m their dirty secret.’ He wiggles around a little until he’s free, then gives me a nod and pushes himself into the ocean without my help.” – Paperback Copy pg. 30

“It’s going to tell me that everything has paused since the second I left, and nothing has changed, and my girlfriend misses me, and there’s a set of lungs for Dylan, and none of this has even happened. And that fish don’t do magic and they don’t talk.” – Paperback Copy pg. 49

“Spoken like someone who lives her life in books.” – Paperback Copy pg. 104

Teeth is the story of two lonely boys struggling to find their place in the world. One is human while the other is only half human and half fish. Rudy is depressed, lonely, and even a little frustrated with the fact that a short while ago his family packed him up and moved him to this remote island far away from his friends and the life he once knew. His younger brother, Dylan, is sick and his family has been told that eating the Enki fish on this magical island will heal the sick and dying. Rudy and his family have made the ultimate sacrifice for Dylan’s health and Rudy is starting to resent his younger brother and his parents, until he meets someone just as equally lonely and dysfunctional as he is; Teeth.

The complexity of Teeth’s character is unfathomable. Hannah Moskowitz has this uncanny ability to write some of the creepiest characters who seem the most real and almost tangible. At first I was wondering if Hannah intended for both Teeth and Rudy to be unreliable narrators, but then I caught onto the fact that she had written them as parallel characters. Both Teeth and Rudy are lonely and have the same sense of charm despite their noticeable weirdness. The first scene in which Teeth is introduced I could feel distinctive chills run up my spine and an image of what Teeth may looked like popped into my head. I was frightened of Teeth at first and warned Rudy to stay away from him, but Moskowitz has this uncanny ability to make readers feel sorry for the characters that seem like the bad guys. By the end I was utterly and completely devoted to Teeth and realized just how misunderstood he really was.

The story/plot had its moments where I was like “WOW! That did not just happen!” I was really impressed with Moskowitz’s ability to write things that are so absurd and out of this world, yet believable. She definitely embodied the voice of a young teenage boy as his thoughts often wonder and he uses a lot of foul language and slang terminology. Teeth was written in an entire different way, but with equal spark. He used the word “whatever” when he didn’t understand a word or know its meaning, and small touches like this made this mermaid/human all the more real for me. I was astounded by the world building even though it is nothing like Harry Potter, you still see a world where fish are the cure for everything and this is not something you read every day.

This book was nothing like what I imagined but will have a place on my shelf for a long, long time. I highly suggest picking up a copy, but beware that tears may fall once you reach the end!

***The awesome publishers at Simon Pulse provided me with two copies of this book, one is up for giveaway now, in exchange for my honest, unbiased review***


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow

The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow (Avenue of Dreams, #2)Author: Olivia Newport
Publication Date: January 2013
Publisher: Revell
Series: Avenue of Dreams Series # 2

Charlotte Farrow, maid in the wealthy Banning household on Chicago's opulent Prairie Avenue, has kept her baby boy a secret from her employers for nearly a year. But when the woman who has been caring for her son abruptly returns him, Charlotte must decide whether to come clean and face dismissal or keep her secret while the Banning’s decide the child's fate. Can she face the truth of her own past and open her heart to a future of her own? Or will life's tragedies determine the future for her?

This compelling story set against the glittering backdrop of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition captures the tension between the wealthy class and the hardworking servants who made their lives comfortable. Author Olivia Newport expertly portrays social classes while creating a story of courage, strength, and tender romance.

“‘Charlotte, where did that baby come from?’ Sarah paced swiftly around the yard in several directions, peering into every angle of the courtyard. ‘Did someone leave him in the laundry basket?’” – Paperback Copy pg. 18

“One more night had passed with her son slumbering across the hall, but still Charlotte had no plan for how to withstand the blustering storm when the truth leaped from her heart to the Bannings’ faces. And surely a storm was coming if she did not simply take her son and leave. She missed Lucy Banning Edwards keenly. Lucy would have known what to do.” – Paperback Copy pg. 39

“She swung her feet to the floor, stood, and moved to the vanity table, where she tucked in stray hand and pinched some color into her cheeks. Nothing was stopping her from seeing him right now if she wanted to.” – Paperback Copy pg. 116

“A shiver ran through Charlotte as she remembered his touch in the early days. She had always hated it, had never wanted Lathan Landers.” – Paperback Copy pg. 239

This book was a good read and I really loved the plot; however, this book did not meet the standards of the first book in this series. In this installment we have Charlotte Farrow, maid in the Banning household, who has hidden her infant child since his birth. The woman that has been taking care of Charlotte’s baby boy for all that time leaves unexpectedly and leaves Charlotte’s baby behind, forcing Charlotte to make some major decisions. Charlotte’s life as a servant in the Banning household will not lend itself to life as a mother as well. When people start questioning who the infant belongs to Charlotte realizes that she can never admit that he is hers. She believes that giving up her son, Henry, is what’s best.

I loved the Chicago setting and the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair as a backdrop is just a wonderful added detail. The setting was perfect for allowing readers to position a lens into a rapid expanding America and its industrial expansion as well. My history nerd was having an epileptic fit while reading because I don’t get settings like this very often and I absolutely loved it! We are able to see the more privileged classes as well as the struggles of the working class. It was also nice to see how Charlotte interacted with some of the other servants who were essentially her peers and close acquaintances.

I really admired Charlotte as a character and I loved her drive, as well as seeing her character progress throughout the story. Lucy was by far my favorite character in this series because she just had a certain spark about her from the spark where as Charlotte had to grow on me a little bit. For so long I just wanted her to speak up for her baby and to shut people like Sarah, who referred to her child as “It”, down. I liked Charlotte’s spunk and I loved Archie and their relationship even more.

Available January 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

***A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest and unbiased review***

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: The Lost Art of Mixing

The Lost Art of MixingAuthor: Erica Bauermeister
Publication Date: January 24, 2013
Publisher: Putnam Adult

National bestselling author Erica Bauermeister returns to the enchanting world of The School of Essential Ingredients in this luminous sequel.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.

“A ritual was a way to hold time – not freezing it, rather the opposite, warming it through the touch of your imagination.” – Hardback Copy pg. 24

“And yet he needed them – the food, the conversation, the feeling of communion they brought into his day. They were like perfume slipped behind the ear of a beautiful woman, or wine with dinner – nothing you had to have to live, and yet nothing felt more like life than the experience of them.” – Hardback Copy pg. 29

“The bakery was warm, the air filled with the scents of sugar and yeast and chocolate.” – Hardback Copy pg. 54

“Memories turned into recipes, recipes turned into stories.” – Hardback Copy pg. 57

“The taste of strawberries, warm from the sun, plucked from their hiding places in the overgrown garden of her grandmother’s house, where Chloe would visit for two blissful weeks during the summer. The clomp of the strawberries hitting the bottom of the metal bucket, until the layers deepened and the sound became a muffled plop, while the sun heated her shoulders and the fruit that didn’t make it into the pail dissolved in her mouth. Back at the house, she would wash and hull and slice the berries, dropping them in a big blue bowl while her grandmother made shortcake and whipped cream into clouds.” – Hardback Copy pg. 57

“Lillian was a woman in love with a kitchen. It was not the love of an architect, the deep satisfaction in a layout of counters and cabinets designed to make the act of cooking feel effortless. Nor was it the love of a grown-up for the kitchen of her childhood, nostalgia soaked into every surface. Lillian’s love for her kitchen was the radiant gratitude of an artist for a space where imagination moves without obstacles, the small, quiet happiness of finding a home, even if the other people in it are passing through – maybe even a bit because of that.” – Hardback Copy pg. 68

I have always loved to read books that surround cafes, bakeries, or just food in general. This book was like a warm bowl of soup on a cold, rainy day. I wanted this book to last forever, and was extremely sad to see it end. This book held a wonderful array of characters, each with a remarkable story to share with you. One of the characters, Isabelle, is suffering from Alzheimer’s and the story is somewhat built around her. We see how each character reacts to Isabelle and how her condition of life depletes. This story is beautiful and every bit worth the hours that I spent emerged in the pages.

This story is told from alternating view points of Louise, Al, Chloe, Lillian, Finnegan, Tom, Isabelle and a few other secondary characters that come onto the scene at different times. I especially loved Chloe and Finnegan, not because they were young but because they had the most to learn from each other and the wiser characters around them. Chloe’s first chapter was my favorite to read because it highlighted upon her relationship with Isabelle and readers can truly begin to see how much she and Isabelle mean to one another. At first I felt that the story was starting very slowly, but then I realized that it was just prepping readers with a little background knowledge surrounding each character. After the first few chapters the characters begin to connect and their relationships unfold.

Do not read this book when you are hungry. I say this because some of the most vivid and spectacular lines involved the descriptions of the foods and dishes that Chloe or Lillian were preparing. Even scenes while Lillian is at the supermarket picking out fresh fruit or vegetables had my mouth watering. The descriptions are so rich and so full of color that I felt as if I could just reach out in front of me and pull back one of the amazing dishes that were being prepared. I am not sure if Erica Bauermeister has a passion for cooking or just enjoys writing about people that do, but I will tell you that she has a knack for persuading her readers to jump on board with whatever is cooking in the kitchen!

***A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Putnam Adult in return for my honest, unbiased review***


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Giveaway: Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz

Hi all my wonderful readers!! I am so happy to be bringing you my first fabulous giveaway of 2013! I hope that there will be many more in the near future. Just the other day in the mail Simon Pulse provided me with an extra paperback copy of Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz, so I am offering it up to you guys in this giveaway. Please keep in mind that this giveaway is US ONLY! So please fill out the Rafflecopter below and good luck! The giveaway ends on January 28 and I will be contacting the winner shortly after. The winner has 48 hours to respond to my initial email. Thank you all for being avid readers and followers of my blog!


Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: The Death of Bees

The Death of BeesAuthor: Lisa O’ Donnell
Publication Date: January 2, 2013
Publisher: Harper

A riveting, brilliantly written debut novel-a coming-of-age story with the strong voice and powerful resonance of Swamplandia! and The Secret Life of Bees—in which two young sisters attempt to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents.

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.

Marnie and her little sister Nelly are on their own now. Only they know what happened to their parents, Izzy and Gene, and they aren’t telling. While life in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst housing estate isn’t grand, they do have each other. Besides, it’s only one year until Marnie will be considered an adult and can legally take care of them both.

As the new year comes and goes, Lennie, the old man next door, realizes that his young neighbors are alone and need his help. Or does he need theirs? But he’s not the only one who suspects something isn’t right. Soon, the sisters’ friends, their other neighbors, the authorities, and even Gene’s nosy drug dealer begin to ask questions. As one lie leads to another, dark secrets about the girls’ family surface, creating complications that threaten to tear them apart.

Written with fierce sympathy and beautiful precision, told in alternating voices, The Death of Bees is an enchanting, grimly comic tale of three lost souls who, unable to answer for themselves, can answer only for each other

“Another little foible of Nelly’s is how she talks. She sounds like the queen of England most of the time. She doesn’t say mum, she says mother and she doesn’t say dad, she says father. She has sentences in her head like “What the devil’s going on?” and “What on earth’s all this hullabaloo?” I’ve also heard her say “confounded” and “good golly.” Drives me nuts. Constantly having to protect her from head cases who think she’s taking the piss. She also wears spectacles, round ones like Harry Potter; she’s recently developed an obsession with him and wears them like they’re real glasses, except they’re not. Last Christmas Izzy got her a magic cloak, but she only wears it around the house and one time to take out the rubbish.” – Hardback Copy pg. 7

“A graceful woman our grammy, she said so. Carried age like cashmere, her scent drifting in whispers and folds wherever she went, unlike our mother, who preferred tight clothes and fun drinks, sooking them up with straws and slurps.” – Hardback Copy pg. 33

“They’re gone. The parents. Over Christmas if you can believe it. God knows where they are. They left for three weeks last time. Those girls are too young to be left alone, they’re just children and yet not children. The oldest one sits out back almost every night, smoking mostly. Smoking and staring into absence. You want to reach out sometimes, but you daren’t. I’d probably frighten them. Their parents certainly told them what to think of us. Two years we’ve been neighbors and not so much as a tired smile. I don’t blame them. I’m the boogeyman round these parts, branded and known. You’d be ashamed of me, Joseph, so ashamed.” – Hardback Copy pg. 34

“When the music stops, the curtains twitch, the netting pulls and pinches. He’s watching us from his windows, in a cardigan warm and woolen. He waters, clips, and prunes, all the times surveying, but I see him. He doesn’t know that. No one knows that and I’ll catch him. I’ll catch the fellow.” – Hardback Copy pg. 40

Wow! This book was nothing like what I had expected. This book is so eccentric and strange in its unveiling that I don’t even know where to start. I think the blurb does a fine job enough: “Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.” Yeah, about that…CRAZY! This is a debut novel, and I would just like everyone to keep that in mind. The writing and the storyline are so twisted and just plain mess with your mind. The story follows sisters Marnie and Nelly along with their rather odd neighbor, Lennie. All readers know at the beginning of the story is that the girls have been without parents for some time now and that they are buried in the backyard. We do not begin to find out what exactly happened until later in the story.

The novel switches perspectives quite a lot, as the chapters are pretty short and sweet. The chapters are told from the perspectives of Marnie, Nelly, and their neighbor Lennie. Marnie is the oldest sibling and she seems to be the more reliable narrator. Nelly is a little unreliable and readers will experience a bit of self-questioning when it comes to Nelly’s character. For example, in Nelly’s chapter she claims that Marnie killed their father, while in Marnie’s chapter she claims that Nelly didn’t realize what she was doing. So at times you will have to stop and really think about what you have read. I loved being able to be inside both of their minds and see how they each viewed the scenario differently. I found myself wanting answers and becoming impatient with both girls because they weren’t giving me details quick enough.

At first I felt really sorry for these girls and I was only imagining what awful parents they had, then I started to see Marnie’s character unfold and I was shocked to say the least. Marnie is far more experienced for her age than I ever was and she talks about things in a most vulgar way at times. I know that a lot of this had to do with the situations that their parents had put them into, but her character just seemed very hard and cold. She was a bit frozen if you ask me. It was almost as if her childhood had been ripped away from her and once you understand how her parents treated her and how they behaved you will understand this a bit more clearly. This book was just so creepy and twisted at times that I just couldn’t believe how bluntly some scenes were laid out. I wouldn’t change it, however, and I think that O’Donnell has a knack for writing things so vividly that it almost makes you question your own sanity.

This family was very dysfunctional and probably a little bit psychotic. I will say that I do not recommend this book to everyone, but that it is definitely worth a try. I loved it and would read it again if I had the time, but it is filled with a lot of R rated material. I feel like I should warn readers up front. There is nothing that is not taking place in the world all around us, but just to be on the safe side I thought I might share this information with you all. There are scenes of sexuality, drug intake, and even murder. The writing is so raw and moving and therefore that is why I say give it a fair chance!

***Thank you to the publishers for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest, unbiased review***

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Review: Anatomy of a Single Girl

 Anatomy of a Single GirlAuthor: Daria Snadowsky
Publication Date: January 8, 2013
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Series: Anatomy # 2

With Judy Blume-like honesty and insight, this sequel to Anatomy of a Boyfriend is about life after first love--romance, sex, friendship, family, and the ups and downs of life as a single girl.

After everything that happened—my first boyfriend, my first time, my first breakup—jumping back into the dating game seemed like the least healthy thing I could do. It’s not that I didn’t want to fall in love again, since that’s about the best feeling ever. But as a busy college premed still raw from heartbreak, which is the worst feeling ever, I figured I’d lie low for a while. Of course, as soon as I stopped looking for someone, an impossibly amazing—and devastatingly cute—guy came along, and I learned that having a new boyfriend is the quickest way to recover from losing your old one.

The moment we got together, all my preconceptions about romance and sex were turned upside down. I discovered physical and emotional firsts I never knew existed. I learned to let go of my past by living in the present. It was thrilling. It was hot. It was just what the doctor ordered.

But I couldn’t avoid my future forever.

In Daria Snadowsky’s daring follow-up to Anatomy of a Boyfriend, eighteen-year-old Dominique explores the relationship between love and lust, and the friendships that see us through
“‘Joel should feel honored.’ Amy squeezes the gold heart locket necklace that he bought her fall semester. ‘That I’m willing to endure this torment for him proves our love is real.’” – Hardback Copy pg. 11

“I sigh again, recollecting that winter’s day senior year when Amy took me to her school’s charity football game. Like a dolt, I tripped on my way to a Porta Potti, and he happened to be nearby and helped me up. There were instant sparks, but we were both shy, and it took two agonizing months of friendship before he worked up the guts to confess he wanted more. The moment we got together still ranks as the most magical in my life, though I should’ve taken the Porta Potti as a sign of where things would end up.” – Hardback Copy pg. 22

“I’d been looking forward to the fireworks all day. Now I hardly notice them as I replay in my head Brie gagging on the word “dateless” as if it were code for “pathetic hopeless ugly reject.” Like I haven’t wasted enough time feeling like one.” – Hardback Copy pg. 24

“Whatever age you are when you’re first burned is old enough to lose hope that you’ll ever get excited about anybody else.” – Hardback Copy pg. 41

“When his meaning registers a second later, it feels like a tornado sweeping through my heart. From day one Guy gave us an August expiration date, and here I was, daring to hope he could be my ever after. I cover my face with my hands, ashamed at how deluded I was not to detect earlier that he was too good to be true. How is it that two people can be in the same relationship and still have completely different ideas of what’s going on?” – Hardback Copy pg. 84
This book is, of course, a sequel to the first book in the Anatomy series and is one that I wish I had read before I had my heart broken for the first time or went away to college. Dominique, or “Dom,” has had her heart broken and feels like she will never be able to have those same mushy gushy feelings for anyone else ever again. She is content enjoying her time at college and time with her best friend, Amy, and doesn’t try to force herself on every available guy that she meets in between. Until one night, while volunteering at the local hospital, she meets Guy. Guy changes things for Dom because she soon realizes that this is the first guy, since her breakup, that has sent butterflies fluttering through her stomach. Will they last while so far apart or will it just be a summer fling?

Now that I am entering my last semester of college, I look back and see all the dumb mistakes I made along the way. I see the guy I thought I would never get over, and all the idiots, for lack of a better term, I dated in between. I see my fiancé and all the joy he has brought to me and I feel stupid for ever even pining over a guy the way I did my ex. In other words, I feel like Dom and I was really able to relate to her character. In fact, I am willing to argue that any girl who has ever had your heartbroken can and will relate to the events taking place in this book. Dom was realistic and not whiny like most girls after a breakup. I liked how her character handled relationships as well. She didn’t just throw herself at the next available guy and she stood up for her morals when it came to Guy. She didn’t sleep with him on the first date, and I think that is what we need in books. More girls with the desire to make sure a relationship is going in the right direction before making any serious moves. Dom is the perfect role model in this book, to me at least. I was proud of a lot of the choices she made and I loved moments where she was on her soap box. I.E. when she let Guy knew how she really felt about the place their relationship was headed.

This would be a perfect summer read or saved for a day when you feel like flying through a book in a few hours. The writing is smooth and easy and the content will be relatable, like I said, for most girls and guys even. This is a great example of contemporary fiction and kept me interested and in tune for its entirety. I also loved Dom’s relationship with her best friend, Amy. They were very different but still had a very close relationship. I also loved seeing Dominique transform into a very mature lady. She started to realize what constitutes a real relationship and I loved the fact that she had expectations and respect for herself. You don’t always find that in young women today. I think it is important and like I said before I wish someone would have handed me a copy of this book four years ago. I had one of those moments while reading where I actually said to myself, “So I’m not the only one that felt this way!”

Cute story and great message behind the central plot of the story! I say if it sounds like something you might enjoy then definitely give it a chance!

***A huge thank you to the publishers at Delacorte Press for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest, unbiased review***