Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness (All Souls Trilogy, #3)

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3)The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I could not be happier with the ending of this particular trilogy. I was worried how this third book might go after having mixed feelings about the second book. But, wow! The final book in the trilogy definitely exceeded my overall expectations and sealed this trilogy's fate as an all-time favorite of mine!

I wouldn't say this book is easily read as a stand alone novel - you really need the context of the first two books to fully understand and enjoy this one. I continue to be amazed at what a wonderful writer Harkess is ... her ability to weave a fantastic story with multifaceted characters is just superb! She's a master storyteller and kept me enthralled with this one for every single page!

I am often frustrated by the final book in a trilogy because many authors seem to almost give up and give the reader a half-hearted story that doesn't actually provide closure or it closes the story up so quickly that it feels undone. Not this one ... Harkness unravels the mysteries of the trilogy slowly and provides the reader with answers that have obviously been thought out and demonstrate a respect for the reader's intellect. THIS is what the final book of a trilogy should be! It's so good that it makes me want to go back and read all 3 books from the start, one after another!

I will point out that these novels, especially this one, are not fluffy vampire/witch fiction. These novels are well thought out, intellectual and cerebral takes on fantasy/gothic horror. These story lines are occasionally treated as fluff by other writers. But not Deborah Harkness ... she elevates them and brings them to life with her attention to detail and excellent writing skills!

This may well be one of my all time favorite trilogies - well written, great characters, intellectual exploration of identity and self awareness, and more! I can't recommend the trilogy more highly! In fact, I envy those of who haven't read them and get to read them for the first time!

Note: I received an electronic copy of this book for free from the publisher via Netgalley for review consideration.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove: StoriesVampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It absolutely KILLS me to rate a Karen Russell book of stories this low but I have to be honest ... this collection did not do it for me. In fact, I really only enjoyed the first two stories in the collection. I loved the title story - Vampires in the Lemon Grove - as well as the second which was about silkworms. That was also a really fascinating story that captivated my imagination. However, for the rest of the collection, I was frustrated and forcing myself to read them just to get finished with the book. The ideas she puts together are SO creative ... but some of them just didn't come together for me.

I should also add that short stories are not my favorite genre and I am often frustrated by them. Very rarely does a short story really resonate with me - it happens but rarely. I'm sad to say that this collection was not for me! But, if you love Karen Russell OR short stories that are outside the box, this definitely might be a collection for you to try out!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

All Fall DownAll Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me say upfront that I'm a big fan of Jennifer Weiner - the writer AND the person. I think she's funny, interesting, polarizing and fascinating! So, I was so excited to hear that she had a new book coming out!

And I have to say that I really enjoyed this novel - even more than I'd expected! Weiner's books have been hit or miss for me - either I like them ok or I love them. Never do I not like them but I don't love them all. This one actually did a great job of exploring a serious subject - addiction - while also giving the reader a really compelling and interesting main character.

I love how Weiner is able to be both realistic and compassionate about addiction through Allison's journey with addiction. And by adding in her trademark touch of humor, she makes the reader care for Allison while also feeling such frustration with her decisions while in the crux of her addiction. There were aspects of the story that I wish had been explored more fully than they were but that didn't necessarily make the story go downhill for me. They were just aspects that were ultimately left to my imagination which was fine given that I enjoyed the rest of the novel so much!

I highly recommend this novel if you're interested in reading a well written novel about prescription drug addiction and it's impact on a woman, her family life and her work life. It's a well-written and thought provoking novel that is well worth the read!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

The FeverThe Fever by Megan Abbott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first Megan Abbott novel and I only picked it up after hearing good things from a few readers that I trust! And I'm glad that I picked this novel up but I'm not sure that I loved it as much as some others have. Definitely a compelling read with pacing that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the novel. The story itself is definitely compelling and interesting. There is a strong focus on the lives of teenagers and high school which is to be expected given this is a young adult novel but part of me was hoping for something with a little more depth which is why I'm rating it a 3 instead of a 5.

The concepts being explored in this novel could have gone so much further with small shifts in focus. However, it is a good read that most who enjoy young adult reading will love! There is much good here such as Abbott's exploration of the impact of 'the fever' on this community and the exploration of the inner lives of teenagers (male and female). This novel was much darker than I expected for some reason. I was a little surprised by that aspect of the book ... in a good way. However, I was disappointed in the 'big reveal' which I didn't find to be nearly as good as all that led up to it. Perhaps that is just personal preference, in the end, but it just didn't resonate with me.

I think this was good for what it is ... but I was a little disappointed as I was hoping for a bit more given how many great things I was hearing about it. If you're a YA fan, this is one you should definitely consider. If the inner lives of teens is not your thing, you may want to skip this one!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Review: Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love from our Tuscan Kitchen by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar

Extra Virgin: Recipes & Love from Our Tuscan KitchenExtra Virgin: Recipes and Love from Our Tuscan Kitchen by Gabriele Corcos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pleasantly surprised by this cookbook. I watch the Extra Virgin television show on occasion so I suspected what I might be getting when I opened this cookbook. Overall, I think the cookbook is a nice companion to the show but also serves as a stand alone cookbook for those who haven't seen the show.

The quality of this cookbook is fantastic. The cover is just stunning - so beautiful! It just begs you to open it! In addition, it is made of high quality material. The binding is fantastic - it allows you to open to any section of the cookbook without worrying that the pages will fly over. It's perfect for a cookbook and eliminates that annoying flipping that pages can do when you lay a book down. The photography is quite good and there is a good balance of food photography and photos of Debi and Gabriele.

The stories that are interwoven throughout the cookbook really make this special. It's similar to how they talk about their families and food on their show and it's one of my favorite things about the way they talk about food!

This cookbook is divided into 12 distinct sections - Appetizers, Pasta and Sauces, Risotto, Soups, Salads, Meats, Fish, Vegetables, Pizza, Panini, Desserts and Drinks. As you can imagine, anyone and everyone can find something here! I think the section on the essentials of the Tuscan kitchen is a fantastic resources for those specifically interested in Tuscan cooking and stocking your own shelves with the basics you need!

I love how each recipe includes commentary from one (or both) of the authors - giving tips as well as stories that bring that particular recipe to life for the reader! The recipe instructions are clear and detailed (but not too detailed). This cookbook is the perfect balance of traditional Italian dishes as well as new and interesting dishes that don't automatically think of when I think of Tuscan cooking. I love that about this book! And I think the recipes are going to challenge me to try new ingredients and cooking styles!

Some of the recipes that I'm most excited to try include - Pecorino and Honey Dip, Lasagne Alla Bolognese, Pesto Lasagne, Sausage and Asparagus Rissoto, Lobster and Cannellini Bean Soup, Grilled Tuscan Chicken, Fried Artichokes, Pizza Dough, Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Sandwich with Basil Oil, Carnival Fritters, Florentine Orange Cake, and the Lemon Brule Tart.

I have just two critiques for this cookbook - I wish there were more photos. I prefer to have a photo of EVERY recipe if at all possible and there were many recipes with no photo. Quite disappointing to me. In addition, I was frustrated by the fact that there is NO nutritional information in the book for any of the recipes. Also quite disappointing to me!

All in all, this is a great cookbook and I highly recommend it. It's definitely a great addition to any home cook's collection!

NOTE: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. However, my feelings about this book are 100% genuine, regardless of receiving it for review.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Review: The Chopped Cookbook by Food Network Kitchens

The Chopped Cookbook: Use What You've Got to Cook Something GreatThe Chopped Cookbook: Use What You've Got to Cook Something Great by Food Network Kitchens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a huge Chopped fan! It's one of my go-to cooking shows and I love seeing what the chefs are able to create with the baskets. So, when I saw that there was a Chopped cookbook, I was all in!

This is a beautifully produced book - all of the photos are really great, very well designed graphics, and the overall graphic design of the cookbook is fantastic.

I think the books is well designed with a focus on using what you have available to create amazing dishes (which is really the focus of Chopped)! And I think this is a great cookbook for those with very little cooking experience and those that are more advanced since this is much more than just a bunch of recipes. There is a big focus on tips and ways to use what you might have on hand to make outstanding meals. Each section of the cookbook outlines new ways to use what you have! Which I think is why this cookbook is so successful!

Some of my favorite things about this cookbook include -

1. The plethora of tips throughout the book - some from our favorite Chopped judges and others just to outline a specific use for something or a cool tip to try!

2.Sections such as Play with your Pasta which outline ways to make a number of pasta sauces or Have Fun with your Frittata which demonstrates interesting combos to make yummy frittatas! Another favorite was Ten Fun Pan Sauces!

3. There is an entire section on cooking vegetables with lots of different options and flavor combinations. I often struggle with finding new and interesting ways to make veggies for our family so I love this section since it's so useful!

4. As I am trying to include more grains in our family meals, I love that there is a whole section on cooking grains. I know that will come in handy.

I have very few complaints about this cookbook but I'll share what did come to mind ...

1. I wish there was a photo for EVERY recipe in the book. I find that so helpful when I'm flipping through and trying to find something that strikes my interest. There are recipes here that I'd love to see a photo of before I decide if I want to make it.

2. I didn't see the nutritional information for any of the recipes which would have been a nice addition.

All in all, I'm really impressed by this cookbook and can't wait to get into the kitchen and cook! If you are a fan of the Chopped TV show, I definitely think you'll enjoy this cookbook. But, if you aren't, you may well still enjoy this one! It's a new favorite of mine and I highly recommend it!

NOTE: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. However, my feelings about this book are 100% genuine, regardless of receiving it for review.

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Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon

Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Outlander, #8)Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me just start out by saying that I'm a HUGE fan of this series and of Diana Gabaldon's writing style. This series isn't for everyone - especially the later books. I acknowledge they are very historically and detail heavy. That is one of the things I love (and sometimes hate) about them but I know that some find that a bit boring. I have yet to find any of them bother me enough to not continue reading. My favorites to date have been book 1, 3, and 7. I really liked this installment ... although it's not one of my all time favorites, it's a great addition to the series and I love where the story goes in this one.

I'm loving the view into the American Revolution and that time in America. I love the characters - Claire and Jamie, of course, but also the others who I love spending time with including Ian, Brianna & Roger, Lord John, etc. That is what really keeps me coming back ... the characters that I love so much. Each new book is like getting to spend a week with the beloved characters that I have come to love so much!

Was this one too long? Probably. But, I honestly didn't care because I'd missed the characters and stories and was happy to be back in their world for awhile.

All in all, I'm a satisfied fan of the series ... my biggest disappointment? Having to wait for #9!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Recent Reads (Mini Reviews)

Hi everyone! I know it's been awhile since I've posted something here so I thought I'd jump back in and get the ball rolling with a number of mini reviews of books I've read recently ...

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book had so much promise but it never lived up to it for me. I loved the book until about 2/3 of the way in when much of what I felt was set up in the early parts of the book fell apart and began to make no sense. The ending was completely hurried and felt rushed. It's such a shame because it had such potential at the start!

In the Shadow of the BanyanIn the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I seem to be the only one who didn't absolutely love this one. I really think it's a well written novel that gave me insight into a time & place in history that I wasn't as aware of as I should be. There were parts that were so beautifully written that they took my breath away. But, there were also parts that I felt dragged and made me almost want to put it down. As a result, I have to give it 3 stars. Definitely worth reading although it didn't wow me as much as I would have hoped!

Ladies' NightLadies' Night by Mary Kay Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this one! Very light and fun read. Nothing highbrow about this one but it definitely delivers for what it is ... a light, fun read. Nice break from heavier novels!

The One & OnlyThe One and Only by Emily Giffin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had a lot of fun with this one which kind of surprised me given it centers around sports (football, specifically) and I'm not into sports. But, it was such a fun little read - very light and breezy as Giffin novels tend to be. I understand some of the critiques of this novel completely but if I take it for what it is - a light, romantic story - then I really enjoyed it! I wasn't expecting great literature - just a great read and it delivered on that!

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not telling you anything about this book and please don't read anything about it ... just read it. It was really good but it could have been great for me if I'd gone in without any knowledge whatsoever about this book. It's really good ... just read it! (By the way, this is a young adult book but is definitely a book that adults can and will enjoy).

The Signature of All ThingsThe Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book completely surprised me ... a book that centers on botany which is something that I have little to no interest in. And yet it captivated me from the first page! Such a great story! Highly recommend this one!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Favorites & A Blog Update

Hi everyone! I just wanted to check in to do a 2013 favorites post as well as do a quick update on this blog. Although I love blogging, I've been on a bit of a break and haven't posted until late August sometime. I'm still reading and posting what I'll call mini-reviews over at Goodreads. Life has just been busy and something had to be cut back. I'm going to continue to not post as much here for awhile until I get things in my real life a bit more organized but I will be back! In the meantime, you can follow me at Goodreads if you want to see what I've been reading.

I read 97 books in 2013 and overall it was a really great reading year. In addition to all of my reading, I attended Book Expo America with my mom in May which was fantastic!

In the meantime, here is what I loved reading in 2013 -

I could not decide on which of the following novels are my favorite fiction of 2013. And so, we have a tie - there were two books that truly blew me away this year and I highly recommend both of them:


They are both amazing novels that just blew me away! I highly recommend that you read the physical book copy of Night Film rather than the ebook, if possible, since I believe the reading experience is much better with the physical book. Also, there is an app for the novel which really adds some interesting things to the reading experience.

My favorite non-fiction of 2013 is also a tie! I just couldn't decide which I loved more so I'm going with two for this category as well!


These are both amazing books that I highly recommend. They could not be more different but they are both such compelling reads!

Beyond those four books, the rest of my favorites are shown below! I think that 2013 was a fantastic reading year and I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store for us!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Dr. Sleep by Stephen King
The Bells by Richard Harvell
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Rosie Project by

Happy reading in 2014! What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments ...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

The PanopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is another book that the premise sounds RIGHT up my alley - foster care, social work, coming of age, etc. All of those are things that I tend to gravitate to for so many reasons.

Although I was never bored while reading this one, I also never really found myself to be truly engaged in the novel. I was certainly disturbed by the content (it's definitely dark) and felt an overwhelming sense of sadness at the injustice so prevalent in this novel. But, I didn't find myself compelled by it. I just never connected with it for some reason.

The characters were definitely well written and striking. I found the characterization to be the most outstanding aspect of the novel and that is likely what kept me reading. I didn't love the plot - and found a number of holes in it that I had a hard time overlooking. There were aspects of the plot that were alluded to but never really given any substance which I think was a bit of a letdown.

Jenni Fagan is obviously a good writer. There were several scenes that came so alive to me that they made me a bit sick to my stomach due to the intensity of the events being described. She certainly has a way with language and in describing events. Although I was initially taken aback by the dialect of the novel, I got used to that over time.

All in all, this novel didn't wow me as I'd hoped but it has outstanding characterization and says something pretty important about social injustice and child welfare. But, be warned ... this is a very dark novel. One that has quite a bit of dark and twisty content which might not work if you're weary of such things.

** NOTE: This book was provided to me by the publisher for review.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: The Returned by Jason Mott

The ReturnedThe Returned by Jason Mott
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really, really wanted to love this but it just fell flat for me. This was one of the books I brought back from BEA that I could not wait to read ... the concept/premise was outstanding but the execution was less than great. I was hoping for something more in the speculative fiction vein but it was much more of a story of contemplation. I had a hard time buying that there wasn't much concern around what was happening but rather they focused on the WHY behind their returning. I just didn't find that to be realistic. The lack of any exploration of what might be occurring just didn't satisfy me as a reader.

I found the characters to be particularly cardboard and one dimensional in this novel. I just never felt that they came alive in any way, shape or form. And, it makes it difficult to care what happens to any of them if they never feel 'real.'

This was one of those books that I had to push myself to finish. I could have easily walked away in the middle but hoped it would improve. Unfortunately, it never came together for me. What a shame! It's always sad when a book doesn't meet its potential!

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains EchoedAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am actually quite sad to be writing this review because I had such high expectations of this book ... I LOVED his first two novels. LOVED. Like Holy Grail LOVED. But, this one just fell flat for me. It certainly didn't meet my expectations and it was a disappointment in comparison to his first two novels. It appears that most readers seem to love it so take my review with that in mind. Most readers seem to have felt differently from me about this one.

My primary issue with this novel is how disjointed it felt to me. I never really connected with the characters or the story because I felt off kilter the entire time that I was reading. Although Hosseini is a great writer - and the writing here is very good, the story here just never came together for me. It felt very much like a series of interweaving stories but they never really came together as one story which appears to be what Hosseini intended. As a result of the disjointed feeling that I got from the story, I truly never connected with the story or the characters. The emotional intensity that I love in both of his earlier novels was missing here for me.

Despite my disappointment, I do think its a good novel and worth the read. Perhaps if you go in with lower expectations than me, you'll enjoy it more. It's never fun to not love a novel written by someone who has always produced fiction that you love but I'm still glad that I read this one ... I just wish it had come together a bit better for me!

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #1)Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had no idea what this one was about when I went into it. Beyond the fact that so many of my bookish friends loved it, I didn't have any context for the story or anything else. I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It's a very well written novel that creates a world and characters that blew me away! It took me a bit of time to really get engaged in the story and the world that Laini Taylor builds here but once I did ... wow! It was fantastic!

The first half of the novel was particularly strong. There comes a point where the narration changes and that interrupted some of the momentum for me but I was able to overlook that fact since the story itself was so compelling. I loved how unique and original the story is in this novel especially given the fact that the genre has been flooded with similar(ish) novels. I think this may be one of the best of these types of novels that I've read in a long time!

The beautiful, lyrical writing combined with compelling characters really made this one stand out for me. There really was magic in this novel. It's by no means a perfect novel but it's strengths outweigh its weaknesses for me. The world building was so well done that I really felt like I was dropped into another world while reading this one.

I highly recommend this to those who enjoy YA and those who just enjoy good storytelling and world building! This is a great read and I can't wait to sink my teeth into the second in the series!

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Giveaway Winner Notified

Just a quick note to let you all know that I've notified the winner of the book giveaway that I held here on the blog for a copy of The Never List by Koethi Zan! Thanks to all of you who entered!

Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

TampaTampa by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I knew going into reading this book that it would be an uncomfortable read - one that certainly wouldn't be enjoyable in any way. I was fairly sure that I knew exactly what I'd be walking into with this book. But, I have to say that I was still completely and utterly shocked by what I read. Which I think is partly the genius of this novel - how it gets in your head, making you think about things in new ways. I really liked the way that Nutting uses this novel as an exploration of female predatory behavior. It certainly made me think about it in a new way. This novel helped me begin to think through how we view male predators in our culture versus how we view female predators.

This is a really well written novel. Alissa Nutting is obviously a talented writer. She has created one of the most horrifying and captivating narrators that I can recall in all of my years as a reader. Being in her head for the duration of the book is one of the most difficult reading experiences that I've had. The descriptions of sex are jarring and unsettling. The narrative is engaging when it should make the reader want to run screaming. And that is the genius of Alissa Nutting's writing! To make me want to keep reading despite the disturbing content. I cannot say enough how effectively Nutting puts the reader inside the head of this woman, this sexual predator. There is no holding back of anything - the reader gets all entwined in her every thought, fantasy, and compulsion. You are taken deep into her darkest thoughts and its as disturbing as anything I've ever read.

This book is definitely not for everyone. If you're offended by sexual content, then this is not going to be a book that you should read. It's raw and dark and extremely disturbing. I tend to be very open minded and not particularly disturbed by much content and I found myself taken aback while reading this novel. But, in the end, I'm glad that I read it. It has definitely given me a new framework from which to think about sexual predators and how our society tends to view them. I found this novel to be absorbing, disturbing and thought provoking. I suspect this novel will disgust many readers and get quite a bit of criticism from some corners. But, those who are able to get beyond the difficult content may find themselves surprised at how effectively Alissa Nutting brings the reader to think about the intersection of sexual predators, the media and gender roles.

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