Friday, August 30, 2013

ARTICLE SHARING: 50 of the best books you haven't read by authors you already love

Flavorwire has a list of 50 lesser known books by favorite authors. Such as...

Author of Brave New World
Author of IQ84
Author of The Color Purple
Author of The Round House

Some of these were already on my Wish List, and some got added today. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

REVIEW: Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond

Synopsis

Choosing Sides includes 130 fabulous recipes for side dishes to complement any entree and complete meals for every occasion. Choosing Sides is a cookbook devoted entirely to side dishes that honors the standards but offers fresh ideas for new favorites. It maximizes on the trend of emphasizing elements that have traditionally played a supporting role at the table and capitalizes on our obsession as cooks with our ability to accessorize a meal using quality ingredients in inspired, varied and memorable recipes.

Choosing Sides elevates accompaniments with more interesting options than plain potatoes or buttered noodles. It offers entrée suggestions for each recipe with flavor and textural pairings in mind, and helps cooks design entire meals, not just the main dish, instead of tagging on bland afterthoughts at the last minute. Today the food that flanks the entrée is as important as the focal point itself. It offers a range of recipes for broad appeal, crossing cuisines, techniques and complexity such as:

  • Chorizo Chard
  • Coconut Cilantro Toasted Israeli Couscous
  • Smoked Gouda Grits
  • Sugar Snap Peas with Grana Padano Crust
  • Browned Brussels with Maple Butter Drizzle
  • Vintage Potato Salad
  • Orange and Black Bean Quinoa
  • Pumpkin Cozy Rolls
  • Honey Balsamic Peaches and Burrata
Hardcover, 208 pages
Expected publication: September 10th 2013 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
ISBN 1449427111 (ISBN13: 9781449427115)



My Thoughts

So, the idea behind this book is to offer up some side options a little more interesting than the standard old rice and potato choices. Utilizing interesting ingredients like couscous, chard, gouda and kumquats, this is not your usual fare for weeknight dinner!

The book discusses how to choose your sides, touching on things like texture, balance, and seasonality, and even provides a chart of pairings for your choice of protein or entree, where you will find suggestions like Arugula with Sugar Cranberries and Pancetta or Baby Spinach with Oranges and Manchego for Chicken, and Butter Lettuce with Ribbons and Chives or Panfried Chapatis for Fish and Seafood. 

The chapters are then divided into sections like Brunches and Luncheons, Weeknight Dinners, and Warm-Weather Cookouts.

I made a couple of the recipes the other night for a birthday dinner. I decided to go with the Strawberry Feta Salad, and the Charred Asparagus with Shaved Parmesan, as well as some Sweet and Savory Onions and Mushrooms.

The salad was fresh and sweet, a simple mix of spring greens and arugula, some sliced strawberries and scallions, feta cheese and almonds. I served it drizzled with a store-bought Raspberry Vinaigrette. The asparagus turned out very tender, roasted in the oven, drizzled with fresh lemon juice and topped with Parmesan. And I loved the mushrooms and onions, which were simply sauteed up until they began to brown, with a splash of vinegar and brown sugar and salt and pepper tossed in. This gave them a sweet and tangy flavor that made a nice addition to our burgers (well, my veggie burger).

My final word: This cookbook sets out to offer you more interesting and creative options for dinner, and it succeeds. It includes beautiful pictures and easy-to-follow recipes, and suggestions for entree accompaniments.The cookbook feels a little...stilted, I guess, or as if something is being held back. A little choppy. But overall I found it to be a success in what it is trying to accomplish. Well done!

My Rating:





Disclosure:

I received a complimentary e-book copy of this book for review through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

BOOKCASE ENVY: BuzzFeed shares 16 unique shelving options...

BuzzFeed has 16 creative and unique bookcases/bookshelves...





Check it out!

REVIEW: The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale

Synopsis

Love and vengeance at the dark dawn of the East Texas oil boom from Joe Lansdale, "a true American original" (Joe Hill, author of Heart-Shaped Box).

Jack Parker thought he'd already seen his fair share of tragedy. His grandmother was killed in a farm accident when he was barely five years old. His parents have just succumbed to the smallpox epidemic sweeping turn-of-the-century East Texas--orphaning him and his younger sister, Lula.

Then catastrophe strikes on the way to their uncle's farm, when a traveling group of bank-robbing bandits murder Jack's grandfather and kidnap his sister. With no elders left for miles, Jack must grow up fast and enlist a band of heroes the likes of which has never been seen if his sister stands any chance at survival. But the best he can come up with is a charismatic, bounty-hunting dwarf named Shorty, a grave-digging son of an ex-slave named Eustace, and a street-smart woman-for-hire named Jimmie Sue who's come into some very intimate knowledge about the bandits (and a few members of Jack's extended family to boot).

In the throes of being civilized, East Texas is still a wild, feral place. Oil wells spurt liquid money from the ground. But as Jack's about to find out, blood and redemption rule supreme. In The Thicket, award-winning novelist Joe R. Lansdale lets loose like never before, in a rip-roaring adventure equal parts True Grit and Stand by Me--the perfect introduction to an acclaimed writer whose work has been called "as funny and frightening as anything that could have been dreamed up by the Brothers Grimm--or Mark Twain" (New York Times Book Review).


Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: September 10th 2013 by Mulholland Books
ISBN 031618845X (ISBN13: 9780316188456)



About the Author
from his website

Champion Mojo Storyteller Joe R. Lansdale is the author of over thirty novels and numerous short stories. His work has appeared in national anthologies, magazines, and collections, as well as numerous foreign publications. He has written for comics, television, film, newspapers, and Internet sites. His work has been collected in eighteen short-story collections, and he has edited or co-edited over a dozen anthologies. He has received the Edgar Award, eight Bram Stoker Awards, the Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Grinzani Cavour Prize for Literature, the Herodotus Historical Fiction Award, the Inkpot Award for Contributions to Science Fiction and Fantasy, and many others. His novella Bubba Hotep was adapted to film by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis. His story "Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" was adapted to film for Showtime's "Masters of Horror." He is currently co-producing several films, among them The Bottoms, based on his Edgar Award-winning novel, with Bill Paxton and Brad Wyman, and The Drive-In, with Greg Nicotero. He is Writer In Residence at Stephen F. Austin State University, and is the founder of the martial arts system Shen Chuan: Martial Science and its affiliate, Shen Chuan Family System. He is a member of both the United States and International Martial Arts Halls of Fame. He lives in Nacogdoches, Texas with his wife, dog, and two cats.

Check out the author's website
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My Thoughts
I didn't suspect the day Grandfather came out and got me and my sister, Lula, and hauled us off toward the ferry that I'd soon end up with worse things happening than had already come upon us or that I'd take up with a gun-shooting dwarf, the son of a slave, and a big angry hog, let alone find true love and kill someone, but that's exactly how it was.
I thought this one of the most intriguing opening paragraphs of all time.

Sixteen-year-old Jack and his younger sister Lula have just lost their parents to "the Pox", and their Grandfather is taking them to live with a family member, when further tragedy befalls them, killing Jack's grandfather and leaving his sister kidnapped by ruffians. Jack hooks up with several oddball characters who, with the promise of future payment, set out on a quest to help him track down his sister.

I wasn’t a fan of the first half of this story. I even noted at times that it was rather “mundane” early on. It wasn’t what I was hoping for, having been dazzled and thrilled after being exposed to his last book Edge of Dark Water. Even the dwarf in this story, which I thought was a quirky addition, instead felt boring and annoying in the beginning. (By the end, I was in love with him. The handsome Shorty is no joke, and by the end of the story, the fact that he is “a midget” is moot. You almost forget the fact. He is simply an intelligent, thoughtful and loyal hero.)

I love the author's turn of a phrase. It courts me.
Pox ran all through the town like it was looking for money. (p. 11)
As Jimmie Sue says, you don’t always remember it so much the way it was as how you thought it was. (p. 237)
At times his expressions and descriptions can be bawdy and crass, or even offensive, but rarely fail to entertain.
Had she been willing and not Winton’s wife, then I could have got past that face, which was like a hatchet to the soul. (p. 165)
...he had a face that looked to have been shaped with a rock and a stick wielded by an angry circus monkey. (p. 21)
Jack is a likable character, caring only about getting his sister back, even if she is changed and damaged by the experience. He is an ethical boy, having been raised with the strong influence of an evangelical grandfather. At one point, he compares coffee and sin:
When I was young and had my first taste of it I found it bitter and nasty, but later on I learned to like it by putting a little milk in it, and then I learned to like it black. Sin is like that. You sweeten it a little with lies, and then you get so you can take it straight. I just didn’t want to do it all the way. I wanted to keep a little milk in it. (p. 187)
Jack is joined by a young prostitute Jimmie Sue who decides to leave the brothel in an attempt to go straight. The band of criminals who kidnapped Lula are especially loathsome and ruthless, and leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

I have to note that I'm under the assumption that “the N word” is used regularly in Texas. Otherwise I'm not sure why it is used so heavily in the author's writing. I understand that it sometimes must be used for authenticity, which makes me wonder whether the use in his stories is to bring authenticity, because that's just how people talk in much of Texas? (Or at least it was common back when this story took place.) I don't know, but be forewarned.

My final word: This is my second Lansdale story, and he is a premier storyteller. Outrageous and raucous, his stories have an offbeat flair and peculiar characters. His stories are not for the easily-offended or overly-sensitive. You have to go into them with humor. I enjoyed the second half of this story more than the first half, and loved the ending (found it very satisfying). For some reason that I can't put my finger on, this story felt like a "short story" that would be found in a collection of stories (although it is actually too long to be a "short story"). Provocative and entertaining, I would recommend this to fans of southern lit who don't take themselves too seriously.

Cover: A-
Writing Style: B
Characters: B+
Storyline/Plot: B
Interest/Uniqueness: A

My Rating: B+


Disclosure:

I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The copy I received was an uncorrected proof, and any quotes may differ from the final release.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mailbox Monday (8/26/13 edition)

 Image licensed from bigstockphoto.com
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is hosted by a different blog each month. See the official list here. I've received a few new books recently:

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan
Won from No More Grumpy Bookseller
 
Michael Crichton meets The Time Traveler's Wife in this powerful debut novel in which a man, frozen in the Arctic ice for more than a century, awakens in the present day.

Dr. Kate Philo and her scientific exploration team make a breathtaking discovery in the Arctic: the body of a man buried deep in the ice. As a scientist in a groundbreaking project run by the egocentric and paranoid Erastus Carthage, Kate has brought small creatures-plankton, krill, shrimp-"back to life." Never have the team's methods been attempted on a large life form.

Heedless of the consequences, Carthage orders that the frozen man be brought back to the lab in Boston, and reanimated. As the man begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was-is-a judge, Jeremiah Rice, and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906. When news of the Lazarus Project and Jeremiah Rice breaks, it ignites a media firestorm and massive protests by religious fundamentalists.

Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, Kate and Jeremiah grow closer. But the clock is ticking and Jeremiah's new life is slipping away. With Carthage planning to exploit Jeremiah while he can, Kate must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the man she has come to love.

A gripping, poignant, and thoroughly original thriller, Stephen Kiernan's provocative debut novel raises disturbing questions about the very nature of life and humanity-man as a scientific subject, as a tabloid plaything, as a living being: A curiosity.



Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig

A beloved character brings the power of the press to 1920s Butte, Montana, in this latest from the best storyteller of the West

In the winter of 1920, a quirky bequest draws Morrie Morgan back to Butte, Montana, from a year-long honeymoon with his bride, Grace. But the mansion bestowed by a former boss upon the itinerant charmer, who debuted in Doig’s bestselling The Whistling Season, promises to be less windfall than money pit. And the town itself, with its polyglot army of miners struggling to extricate themselves from the stranglehold of the ruthless Anaconda Copper Mining Company, seems—like the couple’s fast-diminishing finances—on the verge of implosion.

These twin dilemmas catapult Morrie into his new career as editorialist for the Thunder, the fledgling union newspaper that dares to play David to Anaconda’s Goliath. Amid the clatter of typewriters, the rumble of the printing presses, and a cast of unforgettable characters, Morrie puts his gift for word-slinging to work. As he pursues victory for the miners, he discovers that he is  enmeshed in a deeply personal battle as well—the struggle to win lasting love for himself.

Brilliantly capturing an America roaring into a new age, Sweet Thunder is another great tale from a classic American novelist.


And received through Netgalley:

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?


I'm a little over-extended on Netgalley, and scrambling to read all of the books that I've requested and been granted, but I couldn't resist requesting this one.  It sounds fascinating, and it has great reviews!

Friday, August 23, 2013

REVIEW: The Texas Twist by John Vorhaus

Synopsis

After pulling world-class cons in California and New Mexico, Radar Hoverlander and his crew, including girlfriend and grift artist Allie Quinn and their hapless buddy Vic Mirplo, are back in action, this time in Austin. So many rich fools to bamboozle—but is Radar having a crisis of conscience? A smart, fast-paced, funny work—crime caper fiction at its best.

John Vorhaus introduced the charming con man Radar Hoverlander in the novel California Roll, followed by Albuquerque Turkey; The Texas Twist is the third Radar novel.



Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 11th 2013 by Prospect Park Books (first published May 17th 2013)
ISBN  1938849078 (ISBN13: 9781938849077)


About the Author

John Vorhaus is known to one and all as the man who brought Radar Hoverlander – con artist extraordinaire – to life in the “sunshine noir” mystery novel, The California Roll, and its acclaimed sequel, The Albuquerque Turkey.

John is also well known as the author of The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You're Not, and its acclaimed sequel, The Little Book of SITCOM, which continue to be definitive sources of information and inspiration for writers from Santa Monica to Scandinavia.

An international consultant in television and film script development, Vorhaus has worked for television networks, film schools, production companies and film funding bodies in 28 countries on four continents. He recently worked in Bulgaria, recruiting and training writers for that country’s adaptation of Married… with Children, and in Tel Aviv, consulting on the Israeli version of The Golden Girls. He also travels regularly to Nicaragua, where he co-created the social action drama Contracorriente to provide positive role modeling for the poor, young and disenfranchised of that embattled country.

And oh by the way, he has written more than three million words on poker, just in his spare time.

Vorhaus is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and a member of the Writers Guild of America. He has taught at such institutions as Northwestern University, the American Film Institute and the Writers Program of the UCLA Extension. He is the author of a dozen books, including Creativity Rules! A Writer's Workbook, the novel Under the Gun, the Killer Poker series and, with Annie Duke, the bestselling Decide to Play Great Poker.
 


Check out the author's website
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My Thoughts
A cold wind fell across the face of the west; a scratchy wet towel of a wind that poured down the front range of the Rockies, gathered speed across the prairie, and blasted into Manhattan, Kansas, slamming it sidewise across the north-south artery of Seth Child Road. 
I was first introduced to the characters Radar Hoverlander, Allie and Vic in the novel The California Roll, which was the first in the series. I missed the second novel The Albuquerque Turkey, but when the author offered me the opportunity to read his latest The Texas Twist, I jumped at the chance, having enjoyed our first encounter so thoroughly!

I became a fan of Vorhaus with The California Roll. I found then that he is really fun to read. He’s become something of a “guilty pleasure” of mine. (I don’t know whether that would be taken as a compliment, but it is intended as one!)

The Texas Twist takes place in Austin, Texas, and we find Radar, Allie and Vic still together. Allie is now pregnant, and Radar is thinking of making a few changes in his life. But he finds himself immersed once again in a caper, all while attempting to extricate himself from the grifter life.


Austin is one of my favorite cities. At one point, Radar and Allie are watching millions of Mexican Freetail bats fly out from under the Congress Bridge at dusk, and it reminded me of when I was in Austin with my friend, and we sat under that darn bridge for hours, waiting for this moment, only to see a single bat. I learned later that it was the wrong season for them. I wish I'd read that little detail online before sitting in the cold for hours, waiting in anticipation of this mass flight!

I love Radar. He's what I referred to in my review of The California Roll as an "honorable con artist". Born into the grifter life, he knows nothing else, but you get the feeling that he's uncomfortable with his life and his actions. Now, in the third book surrounding his life, he is beginning to truly question who he is and what he's doing, and seeking a way out. He seems to want to become a a truly honest man. He's even adopted a dog, which does not typically fit well with the grifter lifestyle!
Last year, using nothing more than sleight-of-mind and the power of persuasion, Radar had rescued Boy from the hands of a tweaking violent meth head. This may have been an outbreak of the goodness virus Vic named, for grifters, peripatetic by nature, generally avoid the canine encumbrance, but in this case Radar embraced it. (p. 29)
His girlfriend Allie is saucy and smart as ever, though perhaps getting a little rounder, and partner Vic is outrageous as ever. You're never quite sure what to make of Vic. One second he appears to be a bumbling idiot, and the next he's a freakin' genius. You get the feeling that it is all a farce, and you don't actually know the real Vic.

Vorhaus can be deceiving. Sometimes with the silly, light-heartedness and relaxed manner with which he writes, you forget what a talented storyteller lies behind it all. You're just enjoying the ride. Then you’ll read a passage that will remind you once again that the author really knows his way around the English language!

My final word: Crafty, verbose and essentially honest and good-hearted underneath it all, Radar is a character for whom you can cheer. He's sort of the Dexter of con artists. He may be doing bad things, but as long as he does them to the bad guys, you love every minute of it! And author John Vorhaus makes it all just plain fun to read!

Buy Now:

IndieBound 
Barnes and Noble
Books-a-Million
Amazon

Cover: B
Writing Style: A-
Characters:  A
Storyline/Plot: A-
Interest/Uniqueness: A


My Rating



 
Disclosure:

I received a copy of this book to review from the author, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Introducing...The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

PREFACE

I am Ronald Kubodera-- but only in academic journals. To everyone else, I am Ron. Yes, I am the Dr. Ronald Kubodera about whom you have no doubt read in the magazines and newspapers. No, not all the stories are true-- they rarely are, of course.

-- The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

QUICK REVIEW: Die For You by Lisa Unger

Synopsis

Isabel Raine thought she had everything–a successful career, a supportive family, and a happy marriage to the man she loved. Then one ordinary morning, her husband, Marcus, picks up his briefcase, kisses her good-bye, and simply vanishes.

That day, all her calls to him go straight to voice mail; the messages she leaves at his office go unreturned, too. Panicking after finally receiving a call from his cell phone in which all she can hear is a man’s terrified cry, Isabel calls the police. But they aren’t interested. Men leave, they tell her. They leave all the time. Desperate to find her husband, Isabel races to his office. But instead of finding him, she finds herself in the middle of an FBI raid. Hours later, she awakens in the hospital with a severe concussion and a homicide detective by her bedside waiting to question her about Marcus Raine–the real Marcus Raine.

Now the only thing Isabel knows for sure is that her husband of five years is gone. Where is he and who is he are questions no one seems able to answer. But Isabel will not rest until she discovers the truth about the man she loves, even if it means risking everything–including her own life.

Bestselling author Lisa Unger takes us on a nightmarish journey from bustling, glamorous New York City to the murky, twisted streets of Prague, seeking the answer to one bone-chilling question: What if the man you love, the one sleeping beside you, is a stranger?


Hardcover, 368 pages
Published June 2nd 2009 by Crown (first published January 1st 2008)
ISBN 0307393976 (ISBN13: 9780307393975)


My Thoughts

We read this book for my book club, and it was my first exposure to author Lisa Unger. One of my issues with this book is the constantly changing perspective. This person to that person to this person to that person. I always have trouble with shifting perspectives. There is always a moment of disorientation as I realize that someone else is now speaking, and figure out who it is. Add to that the fact that it would shift from past to present, and I found myself often left confused.

I began the book enjoying the first half. It was gripping, keeping me turning the pages, wondering what would happen next.
She knew then that he really saw her, that he might have been the first and only person who ever had, other than her sister. The face she wore for everyone else, the demure and polite smile, the unfailingly kind demeanor, the proper girl who did everything right...he didn't even notice it. When he looked at her he saw straight to the heart of her. (p. 123)
At moments I loved the turn of a phrase and where the author was taking me.
She never thought of that night anymore. It lived inside her like a room she never entered in a big drafty old house. She might walk down the dark hallway might even rest her hand on the knob, but she never opened the door. (p. 170)
But then the last half of the book took over, and the story just wound up sort of preposterous.

In the end, most of the book club rated this book around a "C". I said that I would give the first half an A-, and the last half a C+. So maybe a B- overall.

My Rating:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Synopsis

A mother must make the unthinkable choice between her husband and her son in this riveting domestic drama, the follow up to the author's "exquisite debut" (Publishers Weekly), Stiltsville

When Georgia returns to her hometown of Miami, her toddler son and husband in tow, she is hoping for a fresh start. They have left Illinois trailing scandal and disappointment in their wake: Graham's sleep disorder has cost him his tenure at Northwestern; Georgia's college advising business has gone belly up; and three-year old Frankie is no longer speaking. Miami feels emptier without Georgia's mother, who died five years earlier, but her father and stepmother offer a warm welcome-as well as a slip for the dilapidated houseboat Georgia and Graham have chosen to call home. And a position studying extreme weather patterns at a prestigious marine research facility offers Graham a professional second chance.

When Georgia takes a job as an errand runner for an artist who lives alone in the middle of Biscayne Bay, she's surprised to find her life changes dramatically. Time spent with the intense hermit at his isolated home might help Frankie gain the courage to speak, it seems. And it might help Georgia reconcile the woman she was with the woman she has become.

But when Graham leaves to work on a ship in Hurricane Alley and the truth behind Frankie's mutism is uncovered, the family's challenges return, more complicated than before. Late that summer, as a hurricane bears down on South Florida, Georgia must face the fact that her choices have put her only child in grave danger.

Sea Creatures is a mesmerizing exploration of the high stakes of marriage and parenthood, the story of a woman coming into her own as a mother, forced to choose between her marriage, her child, and the possibility of new love.


Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 30th 2013 by Harper
ISBN 006221960X (ISBN13: 9780062219602)



About the Author


Susanna Daniel is the author of two novels. Stiltsville was a winner of the 2011 PEN/Bingham award for debut fiction, and Sea Creatures was named an Amazon Editors’ Top Pick in August of 2013. Susanna is a co-founder of the Madison Writers’ Studio and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Columbia University. Her work has been published in NewsweekSlateEpoch, and elsewhere. She was born and raised in Miami, Florida, and now lives with her family in Madison, Wisconsin.




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My Thoughts
It was my husband Graham's idea to buy the houseboat. 
Town/Environment:

This novel takes place in the Miami area, much of it in a stilt home in Stiltsville, like the Jimmy Ellenburg home seen below.
By Justdweezil (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Georgia and Graham move back to Miami, where Georgia grew up, after they fall on hard times. They move into a ramshackle houseboat with their 3-year-old son Frankie, who is mute and hasn't spoken in a very long time. Georgia soon takes on a part-time job as an assistant to Charlie, a "hermit" who lives in a secluded stilt home in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Before they know it, Georgia and Graham will find themselves going through more changes than they ever expected when moving to Miami.

I saw author Susanna Daniel speak at a local book festival a few years ago, and was so charmed by her and the story of her debut novel Stiltsville that I immediately bought her book at the festival, had her autograph it, and looked forward to reading it. However I got bogged down amid so many other books that I had to read, and the book just fell off my radar beneath my other priorities. But I've never forgotten it, and it still has a place of honor on my TBR shelf in my bedroom (which holds the books which I most wish to read).

Now forward to 2013, and I get the chance to read Daniel's latest novel Sea Creatures, which also is about the stilt homes of Stiltsville in Biscayne Bay, Miami. I excitedly accepted the offer, especially since I live in South Florida (although on the opposite coast) and love the "idea" of Stiltsville. I wasn't quite sure what to expect with Sea Creatures.

Well, let me tell you, I was delighted. Some of the characters weren't very well fleshed out, like that of Georgia's father, but perhaps that suited the story, as her father was rather absent from her life most of the time, as he was often preoccupied with his own interests. But overall I loved the characters, and I loved the story and the setting.

Georgia is a strong, but somewhat confused woman, caught in a whirlwind and unable to get her bearings. She is doing her best, trying to muddle her way through the trials strewn in her path, but realizing that perhaps she has been going about it all wrong.

I found Georgia's husband Graham frustrating. He was hard to like at times. Of course, her son Frankie was suitably adorable.

But my favorite character was "the hermit" Charlie. An introvert, he realizes that he is better off living away from society and with minimal interaction with others, especially after a tragic event that left him shattered. He now leads an austere life in Stiltsville as an artist, and hires Georgia to assist him.

I loved Charlie. I loved his reserve, his social awkwardness, his creative genius, his hidden warmth. And on top of it all, he broke my heart.

I’m not a mother, but I thought that the author relayed a mother’s love beautifully, as she struggles to figure out how to do best by her son.
“...I should have been recording every thought I wanted to convey, so that if I were lost to him in the physical world, he would still own me in the words I’d chosen for him, as he had owned me in the flesh.” (p.64)
And there are times throughout the book when Georgia reflects on what motherhood really means, how it changes a woman, how her dreams and desires shift to accommodate the position. When once you may have done reckless and impulsive things, you begin to hold back, thinking of your children and the fact that they need you.
“The stakes,” I said. “They’re higher now.” (p. 130)
And mothers are flawed and human, and simply do their best, and often find themselves feeling inadequate and falling short of their expectations for themselves.

My final word: Why have I put off reading the author's debut novel for so long? After reading Sea Creatures, I am now eager to pick up her debut novel and experience her writing once again. She writes with authenticity and warmth and honesty, and her stories take place in my backyard, making me feel as if I've come home after a long, hard day and settled in my favorite chair with a cup of hot tea...and, of course, with a great book. Loved, loved, loved it!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour! See the master tour schedule:

Tuesday, July 30th: The Well-Read Redhead
Wednesday, July 31st: BookNAround
Thursday, August 1st: Luxury Reading
Monday, August 5th: nomadreader
Wednesday, August 7th: Time 2 Read
Thursday, August 8th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, August 12th: Read Lately
Monday, August 12th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, August 13th: Bluestalking
Wednesday, August 14th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Thursday, August 15th: Giraffe Days
Monday, August 19th: Melissa Firman
Tuesday, August 20th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Wednesday, August 21st: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Monday, August 26th: BoundByWords
Tuesday, August 27th: The Blog of Lit Wits
Wednesday, August 28th: A Bookish Way of Life

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Books-a-Million
Indiebound

Cover: B+
Writing Style: A
Characters: A
Storyline/Plot: A
Interest/Uniqueness: A

My Rating:





 
Disclosure:

I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The copy that I received was an ARC, and any quotes could differ from the final copy.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Introducing... Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

It was my husband Graham's idea to buy the houseboat. The notion took shape on the first leg of our move from Illinois to Miami, between pulling away from the cottage in Round Lake and stopping at the county fair outside of Peoria, where we urged our three-year-old, Frankie, into a gargantuan bouncy castle. For a few minutes Frankie seemed to take some pleasure in jumping haphazardly among strangers, until he remembered that he didn't like strangers, and staggered lock-kneed toward the exit. I mention this interlude in the long drive for one reason: a few minutes after we walked away from the enormous cartoonish castle, a gust of wind upended it, bouncing children and all. Ambulances arrived quickly.

-- Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mailbox Monday (08/12/13 edition)

 Image licensed from bigstockphoto.com
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is hosted by a different blog each month. See the official list here. I've received a few new books recently:

Most of my books this week have come through Netgalley...

Cartwheel by Jennifer Dubois

When Lily Hayes arrives in Buenos Aires for her semester abroad, she is enchanted by everything she encounters: the colorful buildings, the street food, the handsome, elusive man next door. Her studious roommate Katy is a bit of a bore, but Lily didn’t come to Argentina to hang out with other Americans.

Five weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered in their shared home, and Lily is the prime suspect. But who is Lily Hayes? It depends on who’s asking. As the case takes shape—revealing deceptions, secrets, and suspicious DNA—Lily appears alternately sinister and guileless through the eyes of those around her: the media, her family, the man who loves her and the man who seeks her conviction. With mordant wit and keen emotional insight, Cartwheel offers a prismatic investigation of the ways we decide what to see—and to believe—in one another and ourselves.

Jennifer duBois’s debut novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction and was honored by the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 program. In Cartwheel, duBois delivers a novel of propulsive psychological suspense and rare moral nuance. Who is Lily Hayes? What happened to her roommate? No two readers will agree. Cartwheel will keep you guessing until the final page, and its questions about how much we really know about ourselves will linger well beyond.



Mini-Treats & Hand-Held Sweets by Abigail Johnson Dodge

Forgo the fork—and spoon! These delectable desserts are fun to make and easy to pick up and devour: the 100 recipes in Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets will have sweet lovers sneaking seconds . . . and thirds. In these pages, expert baker Abby Dodge whisks together step-by-step baking instructions, for a sweet-shop sampler of treats—from cookies, mini tarts, and hand pies, to ice cream sandwiches and candy. No-fail recipes for sugary delights (along with delicious drizzles and favorite toppings ) abound in this collection of perfectly sized, perfectly portable desserts.



The Troop: A Novel of Terror by Nick Cutter

Lord of the Flies meets The Ruins in this frightening novel written in the bestselling traditions of Stephen King and Scott Smith.

Boy Scouts live by the motto “Be Prepared.” However, nothing can prepare this group of young boys and their scoutmaster for what they encounter on a small, deserted island, as they settle down for a weekend of campfires, merit badges, and survival lessons.

Everything changes when a haggard stranger in tattered clothing appears out of nowhere and collapses on the campers’ doorstep. Before the night is through, this stranger will end up infecting one of the troop’s own with a bioengineered horror that’s straight out of their worst nightmares. Now stranded on the island with no communication to the outside world, the troop learns to battle much more than the elements, as they are pitted against something nature never intended…and eventually each other.

“Lean and crisp and over-the-top....Disquieting, disturbing,” says Scott Smith, author of The Ruins and A Simple Plan, The Troop is a visceral burn of a read that combines boldly drawn characters with a fantastically rendered narrative—a terrifying story you’ll never forget.



...and I also bought these from Barnes and Noble. 


50 Best Plants on the Planet by Cathy Thomas

This encyclopedic guide to cooking the 50 most nutritious fruits and vegetables in the world comes from Melissa's Produce, the largest supplier of specialty produce in the United States. Cooks of all skill levels will love these 150 recipes for simple sides, breakfasts, dinners, and healthful desserts that make the most of fresh, accessible produce, from memory-boosting blackberries to antimicrobial chili peppers to vitamin A–rich watermelon. Featuring health and nutritional information, tips for buying and storage, quick recipe riffs, and gorgeous shots of finished dishes as well as photographs of individual fruits and vegetables, this impressive package is an indispensable resource for home cooks looking to put more fruits and vegetables on the table every day.


Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

A guy walks into a bar car and...

From here the story could take many turns. When this guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will both delight you with twists of humor and intelligence and leave you deeply moved.

Sedaris remembers his father's dinnertime attire (shirtsleeves and underpants), his first colonoscopy (remarkably pleasant), and the time he considered buying the skeleton of a murdered Pygmy.

With Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris shows once again why his work has been called "hilarious, elegant, and surprisingly moving" (Washington Post)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Introducing... The Thicket by Joe R. Landsdale

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

I didn't suspect the day Grandfather came out and got me and my sister, Lula, and hauled us off toward the ferry that I'd soon end up with worse things happening than had already come upon us or that I'd take up with a gun-shooting dwarf, the son of a slave, and a big angry hog, let alone find true love and kill someone, but that's exactly how it was.

-- The Thicket by Joe R. Lansdale

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

ARTICLE SHARING: 27 Problems Only Introverts Will Understand

I know there are lots of bookworms out there who can identify along with me on this one...

Source imgur.com

Check out all 27 items on the list!

ARTICLE SHARING: 23 DIY Bookends

BuzzFeed is sharing "23 Lovely DIY Bookends to Adorn Your Bookshelves".

From Book Bricks...


...to Faux Zinc Punctuation...

...they have something for everyone. Check it out!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Mailbox Monday (8/5/13 edition)

 Image licensed from bigstockphoto.com
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is hosted this month by Penelope at The Reading Fever. I've received a few new books recently:

Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car. She is headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can't remember what’s happened, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and Anais’s school uniform is covered in blood.

Raised in foster care from birth and moved through twenty-three placements before she even turned seven, Anais has been let down by just about every adult she has ever met. Now a counter-culture outlaw, she knows that she can only rely on herself. And yet despite the parade of horrors visited upon her early life, she greets the world with the witty, fierce insight of a survivor.

Anais finds a sense of belonging among the residents of the Panopticon – they form intense bonds, and she soon becomes part of an ad hoc family. Together, they struggle against the adults that keep them confined. When she looks up at the watchtower that looms over the residents though, Anais knows her fate: she is an anonymous part of an experiment, and she always was. Now it seems that the experiment is closing in.

Named one of the best books of the year by the Times Literary Supplement and the Scotsman, The Panopticon is an astonishingly haunting, remarkable debut novel. In language dazzling, energetic and pure, it introduces us to a heartbreaking young heroine and an incredibly assured and outstanding new voice in fiction.



Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch

It's 1832 and Coll Coyle has killed the wrong man. The dead man's father is an expert tracker and ruthless killer with a single-minded focus on vengeance. The hunt leads from the windswept bogs of County Donegal, across the Atlantic to the choleric work camps of the Pennsylvania railroad, where both men will find their fates in the hardship and rough country of the fledgling United States.

Language and landscape combine powerfully in this tense exploration of life and death, parts of which are based on historical events. With lyrical prose balancing the stark realities of the hunter and the hunted, RED SKY IN MORNING is a visceral and meditative novel that marks the debut of a stunning new talent.



The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener by Tammi Hartung

This one-of-a-kind book shows you how to create a peaceful co-existence between your vegetable garden and the wildlife who consider it part of their habitat. By understanding and working with the surrounding environment instead of continually fighting it you ll reap a larger harvest with much less stress and effort. Tammi Hartung explains how to start with a hardy and healthy garden, create beneficial relationships through smart planting, attract helpful insects and pollinators, intentionally create habitats for wildlife, and much more.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

REVIEW: The Anti-Breast Cancer Cookbook by Julia B. Greer

I won this book through LibraryThing, and the reason I opted to try to win it is because of my knowledge that I'm at a higher risk for breast cancer, due to never having had children and carrying a few extra pounds. This cookbook lists your risk factors:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Family History
  • Personal History of Breast Cancer
  • Race
  • Dense Breast Tissue
  • A Diagnosis of Lobular Carcinoma in Situ
  • Age at Menarche and Menopause
  • Mantle Field Radiation at a Young Age
  • Not Having Children
  • Recent Use of Birth Control
  • Using Hormone Replacement Therapy after Menopause
  • Not Breastfeeding
  • Consuming Alcohol
  • Being Overweight or Obese
  • Lack of Exercise
  • Diet
Cancer experts are uncertain whether any level of alcohol consumption is safe for women. Alcohol promotes breast cancer by increasing circulating estrogen levels. (p. 21)
The book then extensively describes the connection between an unhealthy diet and breast cancer, and what you can do to change this, such as:
  • The hormones found in meat and milk may increase your risks. However organic milk may be far better for you than conventional milk, as it has been shown to have higher levels of omega-3 as well as CLA, which may help decrease body fat, lower blood sugar levels and diminish growth of breast tumors. (I just recently started taking CLA supplements).
  • Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which may come from things like sunlight, cigarette smoke, and charred meat. "Free radical damage to cells may lead to DNA damage, which can contribute to cancer risk. Antioxidants interact with and stabilize free radicals, thereby preventing some of the damage free radicals might cause." Some great sources of antioxidants are cereals, nuts, legumes, sweet potatoes, dark orange, yellow and green vegetables, wine, tea, citrus, tomatoes, and so many other great food sources.
  • Cruciferous vegetables contain certain compounds that are "effective in keeping cancers from occurring as well as in slowing the growth of tumors that are already present. In breast cancer, cruciferous vegetables help trigger cell death and alter estrogen metabolism." Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, and arugula.
The book then moves into recipes that are great for preventing breast cancer, or even shrinking tumors. Many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free recipes are included and labeled.
Whole grains are rich in fiber and cancer-fighting nutrients and decrease the risk of developing diabetes. Go wheat, not white, for bread and pasta, and always choose whole grain. (p. 22)

I made the recipe for Pecan-Apple Sweet Potatoes, which is vegan and gluten-free.

Pecan-Apple Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

3 pounds (about 6-7) sweet potatoes
Nonstick cooking spray
5 apples (any combination of Fuji, Braeburn, Empire or Rome Beauty will work well), peeled, cored and sliced into large, thin pieces
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 tbs nonhydrogenated buttery spread (such as Smart Balance or Fleischmann's Olive Oil Spread)
1 1/2 tbs cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/3 cup pecans, chopped

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place potatoes in a large pot and cover by 2 inches with water. (I instead peeled and sliced the potatoes into 1/2 thick slices before boiling, to speed up cooking time.) Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20-25 minutes (test tenderness by cutting into a large piece with a knife). Remove from heat, drain water, and let dry on paper towels. Let potatoes cool until they can be touched and peeled. Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices and alternate with the apple slices in the casserole. In a saucepan, place sugar, water, nonhydrogenated spread, cornstarch, and salt; bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until thickened. Pour mixture over potatoes and apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. (I didn't have any nutmeg, so rather than do these three separate spices, I opted to just sprinkle on some Pumpkin Pie Spice instead.) Top with pecans. Bake until lightly browned and fragrant, about 1 hour. Let cool or serve immediately. This dish is delicious, warm or cold, the second day. Makes 10 servings.

Nutritional Information per serving:

Calories: 190
Fat: 4g
Saturated fat: less than 1g
Carbohydrate: 37g
Total sugars: 18g
Protein: 2g
Sodium: 150mg
Cholesterol: 0mg
Dietary fiber: 4g

Of course, I forgot to take pictures, but this turned out delish! This is a really forgiving dish, allowing you to easy make small switches and alterations, and you can even do as I did and turn the heat up to 450 degrees for the final 10-15 minutes (so I could cook another dish), and then even continued cooking it beyond the 1 hour mark. It came out great! The apples and potatoes almost melted in your mouth, the pecans added some nice crunch. Very good! It would probably have been good with a little coconut sprinkled on top in the last few minutes as well, to toast just a little.

Concentrate on eating fewer animal products and more plant-derived foods. (p. 22)
My final word: I'm very happy with this cookbook! There are a bunch more recipes for me to try yet, like Quinoa with Black Beans, Corn and Shrimp Salad, and BBQ Wild Salmon. If I were to have any complaints, it would probably be the lack of color photos of the cooked dishes (I love full-color cookbooks!), and the cheap binding which appears would fall apart without too much use. (It's already coming loose on me.) But as for being an informative cookbook for the prevention of breast cancer, with delicious recipes...SUCCESS!

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Books-a-Million
Amazon


My Rating:





Disclosure:

I won a copy of this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers in exchange for my honest opinion.

Friday, August 2, 2013

REVIEW: The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

Synopsis

17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, in 1867, pledged to marry a man she has never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. One truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she trusted.

Inspired by a pair of real caged graves in present-day Catawissa, this historical YA novel weaves mystery, romance, and action into a suspenseful drama with human greed and passion at its core.


Hardcover, 329 pages
Published May 14th 2013 by Clarion Books
ISBN  0547868537 (ISBN13: 9780547868530)


About the Author

Dianne K. Salerni is the author of YA historical novels We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks 2010) and The Caged Graves (Clarion Books 2013), and the forthcoming MG fantasy series THE EIGHTH DAY (HarperCollins). The Caged Graves is a Junior Library Guild Selection, and We Hear the Dead was recently adapted into a short film, The Spirit Game, which premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Salerni lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with her husband and two daughters, where she teaches fifth grade.


My Thoughts
Even facing probable death, Private Silas Clayton couldn't stop thinking about that leather satchel.
Verity Boone returns to her birthplace engaged to a man she has no memory of ever having met before. When she finally meets her intended, she is left with doubts and hesitation, and her return to her home leaves her filled with questions. How did her mother die? What happened to leave her father so closed off to the world? Was her aunt a witch? And what, in Heaven's name, is with the cages covering her mother and aunt's graves? Everyone she turns to for answers seem to only leave her with more questions.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book. The idea of graves with cages is just so...creepy! You can't help but think they are to keep the dead where they lay. Is this a zombie story? What is with those crazy cages?

There was a romantic element to this story that took me by surprise. It wound up having a bit of a historical romance feel to it which, given the caged graves aspect, you wouldn't think would work, but it did. There was a wealth of characters, but they were easy to keep track of (I hate when I can't keep up with the characters and follow who is who).

Verity's father is a little cold and distant, but he offers Verity her mother's diaries in hopes that she may find some of the answers she is looking for. In so doing, Verity also learns about the man her father used to be. She is charmed to find through her mother's diary that her father, Ransloe, once had a sense of humor.
I want to name all my children after virtues. Ransloe agrees but says please choose Patience this time, because Verity does not have any. (page 117)
The author had an engaging writing-style, with little witticisms tossed in to make me smile.
Arguing with those who'd renounced the use of reason, according to Thomas Paine, was like administering medicine to the dead. (page 233)

My final word: I enjoyed this story even more than I expected. It wound up being an odd mix of mystery, horror and romance, and yet it worked. Verity was a likable young girl, and her intended husband Nate was equally likable (although he had a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth). The storyline kept me guessing, wondering where it was going, and just how these caged graves fit into it. With equal parts romance and creepiness, I found this story surprisingly enjoyable.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
The Book Depository
Books-a-Million


Cover: A-
Writing Style: A-
Characters: A
Storyline/Plot: A-
Interest/Uniqueness: A


My Rating:





 
Disclosure:

I won a copy of this book from the author. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and could differ from the final release.