Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Literary Review

2015 flew by, and it's hard to believe that 2016 is almost here! As usual, I didn't read nearly enough, but I did read quite a few books that I really enjoyed. Here are the stats:

37 books read
19 books with an "A" rating
15 books with a "B" rating
3 books were marked Did Not Finish

After all is said and done, these were my top ten reads of 2015:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.

For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.


Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Hogarth (first published January 1st 2013)
ISBN 0770436420 (ISBN13: 9780770436421)


My final word: This is one of those rare and uncommon novels that you come across every now and again. Provocative and riveting, it is a beautifully written story with well-developed characters that you can really care about. A lyrical and intelligent tale of war-torn Chechnya, I found myself moved. I feared for the safety of those in danger, was sickened by the brutality and indifference, and yearned for the security of all. In the end, I found this to be a hard-hitting novel that is soft in all the right places.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus' surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature: and the remarkable connections it makes with humans.

Sy Montgomery's popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect"; about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?

The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.


Hardcover, 272 pages
Expected publication: May 12th 2015 by Atria Books
ISBN 1451697716 (ISBN13: 9781451697711
)

My final word: The author successfully shows that octopuses are so much more than what we typically think. Their behavior is sometimes reminiscent of a pet dog, seeking human interaction and their tactile natures touching and tasting their human companions. The author succeeded in affecting me, and not only making me recommit to never eating octopus or their cousin the squid, but it made me begin to doubt my ability to continue to eat seafood at all. The consciousness of even fish like grouper is phenomenal and at times unsettling. Tender and amusing stories of starfish and anemones had me shaking my head in amazement. I adored this book, and it left me yearning to make the acquaintance of an octopus, envious of others who have been so blessed. 

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles

Greg Iles continues the electrifying story begun in his smash New York Times bestseller Natchez Burning in this highly anticipated second installment of an epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice, featuring Southern lawyer Penn Cage.

Former prosecutor Penn Cage and his fiancee, reporter and publisher Caitlin Masters, have barely escaped with their lives after being attacked by wealthy businessman Brody Royal and his Double Eagles, a KKK sect with ties to some of Mississippi's most powerful men. But the real danger has only begun as FBI Special Agent John Kaiser warns Penn that Brody wasn't the true leader of the Double Eagles. The puppeteer who actually controls the terrorist group is a man far more fearsome: the chief of the state police's Criminal Investigations Bureau, Forrest Knox.

The only way Penn can save his father, Dr. Tom Cage--who is fleeing a murder charge as well as corrupt cops bent on killing him--is either to make a devil's bargain with Knox or destroy him. While Penn desperately pursues both options, Caitlin uncovers the real story behind a series of unsolved civil rights murders that may hold the key to the Double Eagles' downfall. The trail leads her deep into the past, into the black backwaters of the Mississippi River, to a secret killing ground used by slave owners and the Klan for over two hundred years . . . a place of terrifying evil known only as "the bone tree."

The Bone Tree is an explosive, action-packed thriller full of twisting intrigue and deadly secrets, a tale that explores the conflicts and casualties that result when the darkest truths of American history come to light. It puts us inside the skin of a noble man who has always fought for justice--now finally pushed beyond his limits.

Just how far will Penn Cage, the hero we thought we knew, go to protect those he loves?


Hardcover, 816 pages
Published April 21st 2015 by William Morrow & Company (first published April 9th 2015)
ISBN 0062311115 (ISBN13: 9780062311115)
 


My final word: After Natchez Burning, and now The Bone Tree, I'll read anything by Greg Iles! He holds my interest every moment-- and that isn't an easy thing to do! He is one of the few authors who can make me eager to read an 800 page novel! If you like crime dramas, historical fiction centered around the civil rights era, and books about the deep south, dive into this one with both feet. Greg Iles knows how to weave a great yarn! 

 Genius Recipes by Food52

There are good recipes and there are great ones—and then, there are genius recipes.
 
Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink the way we cook. They might involve an unexpectedly simple technique, debunk a kitchen myth, or apply a familiar ingredient in a new way. They’re handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacies. And, once we’ve folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. In this collection are 100 of the smartest and most remarkable ones.

There isn’t yet a single cookbook where you can find Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread, and Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake—plus dozens more of the most talked about, just-crazy-enough-to-work recipes of our time. Until now.

These are what Food52 Executive Editor Kristen Miglore calls genius recipes. Passed down from the cookbook authors, chefs, and bloggers who made them legendary, these foolproof recipes rethink cooking tropes, solve problems, get us talking, and make cooking more fun. Every week, Kristen features one such recipe and explains just what’s so brilliant about it in the James Beard Award-nominated Genius Recipes column on Food52. Here, in this book, she compiles 100 of the most essential ones—nearly half of which have never been featured in the column—with tips, riffs, mini-recipes, and stunning photographs from James Ransom, to create a cooking canon that will stand the test of time.

Once you try Michael Ruhlman’s fried chicken or Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s hummus, you’ll never want to go back to other versions. But there’s also a surprising ginger juice you didn’t realize you were missing and will want to put on everything—and a way to cook white chocolate that (finally) exposes its hidden glory. Some of these recipes you’ll follow to a T, but others will be jumping-off points for you to experiment with and make your own. Either way, with Kristen at the helm, revealing and explaining the genius of each recipe, Genius Recipes is destined to become every home cook’s go-to resource for smart, memorable cooking—because no one cook could have taught us so much.


Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 7th 2015 by Ten Speed Press
ISBN 1607747979 (ISBN13: 9781607747970)
 


My final word: The book offers up recipes that include "genius" techniques and twists you may not have thought of. For example, mashing up onions and cilantro into a paste, and folding that into mashed avocado for a smooth guacamole. Or cooking a whole chicken at super high heat with no basting to create a really juicy and delectable meal. Some things may seem contrary to what you would expect, but the results speak for themselves. Food52 knows how to do cookbooks right!


The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo

From a bright new talent comes this debut novel about a young woman who travels for the first time to her mother’s hometown, and gets sucked into the mystery that changed her family forever

Mattie Wallace has really screwed up this time. Broke and knocked up, she’s got all her worldly possessions crammed into six giant trash bags, and nowhere to go. Try as she might, Mattie can no longer deny that she really is turning into her mother, a broken alcoholic who never met a bad choice she didn’t make.

When Mattie gets news of a possible inheritance left by a grandmother she’s never met, she jumps at this one last chance to turn things around. Leaving the Florida Panhandle, she drives eight hundred miles to her mother’s birthplace—the tiny town of Gandy, Oklahoma. There, she soon learns that her mother remains a local mystery—a happy, talented teenager who inexplicably skipped town thirty-five years ago with nothing but the clothes on her back. But the girl they describe bears little resemblance to the damaged woman Mattie knew, and before long it becomes clear that something terrible happened to her mother, and it happened here. The harder Mattie digs for answers, the more obstacles she encounters. Giving up, however, isn’t an option. Uncovering what started her mother’s downward spiral might be the only way to stop her own.

Hilarious, gripping, and unexpectedly wise, The Art of Crash Landing is a poignant novel from an assured new voice.


Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Harper Paperbacks
ISBN 0062390546 (ISBN13: 9780062390547) 


My final word: I enjoyed the writing. It was a playful and fast read with colorful characters. The author does a good job of building the story and providing well-developed characters. It is told first-person, with flashbacks providing insight into Mattie's past. The author succeeds in creating a severely flawed and screwed up character in Mattie, while she is able to keep her likable and sympathetic. The banter is fun, and counter-balanced with some deeply emotional and revealing moments. I really liked this story, and the author's writing style!

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Neil Gaiman meets Joe Hill in this astonishingly original, terrifying, and darkly funny contemporary fantasy.

Carolyn's not so different from the other human beings around her. She's sure of it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.

After all, she was a normal American herself, once.

That was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.

Father could do strange things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.

In the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn't gotten out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient Pelapi customs. They've studied the books in his library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient power.

Sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of creation.

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.

But Carolyn can win. She's sure of it. What she doesn't realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God, she's forgotten a great deal about being human.


Hardcover, 388 pages
Published June 16th 2015 by Crown
ISBN 0553418602 (ISBN13: 9780553418606)


My final word: I was initially nervous about my choice to read this book, but by chapter four it started to get under my skin. Little by little things came together, and I began to see the big picture. It became more engrossing as time went on, and I was really impressed with the writer's ability to captivate and draw me in. I'll still be hesitant to read fantasy and sci-fi, as I still think it is a shaky genre for me, but this author has definitely won me over!

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

With a missing girl in the news, Claire Scott can’t help but be reminded of her sister, who disappeared twenty years ago in a mystery that was never solved.

But when Claire begins to learn the truth about her sister, nothing will ever be the same.






Hardcover, 397 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by William Morrow
ISBN 0062429051 (ISBN13: 9780062429056)


My final word: This book is graphic and filled with disturbing images, but I found it really suspenseful. It kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering what was coming down the pike next. The author is very readable, the characters well-developed, the storyline provocative. I really, really enjoyed this story, and that feels a little "wrong", given how violent the story was, but I just can't help it. The story could get a little preposterous at times and requires some "suspension of disbelief" to get through it, but it is really a great escape if you like mystery and suspense, and you aren't put off by graphic violence of a sexual nature. I'd give two thumbs up, if it weren't for the thumbscrews and shackles!


Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

Big Fish meets The Notebook in this emotionally evocative story about a man, a woman, and an alligator that is a moving tribute to love, from the author of the award-winning memoir Rocket Boys—the basis of the movie October Sky

Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam (the father of the author) were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.

Unfulfilled as a miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days with Buddy every day because of his unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert she raised in the only bathroom in the house. When Albert scared Homer by grabbing his pants, he gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or that alligator!” After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do: Carry Albert home.

Carrying Albert Home is the funny, sweet, and sometimes tragic tale of a young couple and a special alligator on a crazy 1000-mile adventure. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys/October Sky a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking tale is ultimately a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we inadequately call love.


Hardcover, 432 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by William Morrow (first published September 28th 2015)
ISBN 0062325892 (ISBN13: 9780062325891)


My final word: Clever, curious, and colorful, this story keeps you guessing. You never really know how much truth lies in it, but you get the feeling that there may have been a fair bit of truth, dressed up to make it a little fancier and bigger than life. Elsie can be a bit off-putting much of the time, but then she redeems herself with some tender moment, kind gesture, or humorous quip. And I found myself continually rooting for Homer in his quest to make her happy. Just a man, his wife, her alligator and a rooster on a road trip. What more could you ask for? I can almost hear Albert happily expressing yeah-yeah-yeah.

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

From a remarkable new voice in Southern fiction, a multigenerational saga of crime, family, and vengeance.

Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.

In a sweeping narrative spanning decades and told from alternating points of view, the novel brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the mountain and its inhabitants: forbidding, loyal, gritty, and ruthless. A story of family—the lengths men will go to protect it, honor it, or in some cases destroy it—Bull Mountain is an incredibly assured debut that heralds a major new talent in fiction.


Hardcover, 290 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published July 1st 2015)
ISBN 039917396X (ISBN13: 9780399173967) 


My final word: Clayton is the hero you can root for, and it's hard to feel too bad for his kith and kin as their livelihoods are threatened. Clayton's wife Kate is admirable and sympathetic, having battled with Clayton's demons for years. There is a nice twist or two in the story to keep things interesting. I really loved the author's writing, and I was already a fan of the subject material (I love southern lit and stories about Appalachian mountain families and the like). The jumping back and forth between different perspectives and time periods can be tricky to navigate, but you settle into the format and it does get easier as the story goes on. There is nice tension and suspense, a couple of twists and turns, some colorful characters with some very good character development. However one area I felt it fell short was in the character development of Agent Holly.

The New Sugar & Spice by Samantha Seneviratne

A wonderfully unique and unexpected collection of desserts that showcase spice over sugar, with 80 recipes that both reinvent classic sweets and introduce more unusual spice-infused desserts.

In Sugar and Spice, veteran food editor and recipe developer Samantha Seneviratne invites readers to explore a bold new world of spice-centric desserts. Each chapter centers on a different spice--some familiar, like vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger; others less expected (especially in sweet preparations), such as peppercorns, chiles, and cardamom. With fascinating histories, origin stories, and innovative uses for each spice, this book will inspire readers to rediscover and re-stock their spice drawers, and raise their desserts up to a whole new level of flavor.


Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Ten Speed Press
ISBN 1607747464 (ISBN13: 9781607747468) 


My final word: I was so excited to open this book for the first time. It looks and feels high quality. There is beautiful photography throughout to entice you, charming stories shared by the author. The recipes are easy-to-follow and have some pretty common ingredients that should be easy to come by. I love complex flavors and textures, and this cookbook is right up my alley! This isn’t just a cookbook. It’s a memoir and world travelogue of the palate.


It was a pretty good year, and I look forward to 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REVIEW: Five Thousand Years of Slavery by Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen

Synopsis

When they were too impoverished to raise their families, ancient Sumerians sold their children into bondage. Slave women in Rome faced never-ending household drudgery. The ninth-century Zanj were transported from East Africa to work the salt marshes of Iraq. Cotton pickers worked under terrible duress in the American South.

Ancient history? Tragically, no. In our time, slavery wears many faces. James Kofi Annan's parents in Ghana sold him because they could not feed him. Beatrice Fernando had to work almost around the clock in Lebanon. Julia Gabriel was trafficked from Arizona to the cucumber fields of South Carolina.

Five Thousand Years of Slavery provides the suspense and emotional engagement of a great novel. It is an excellent resource with its comprehensive historical narrative, firsthand accounts, maps, archival photos, paintings and posters, an index, and suggestions for further reading. Much more than a reference work, it is a brilliant exploration of the worst - and the best - in human society.


Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Tundra Books (first published January 11th 2011)
ISBN 110191792X (ISBN13: 9781101917923)

 


About the Authors

MARJORIE GANN, an educator for thirty years, has written language arts curricula, review articles on children's literature, and sat on the jury for the Canadian Jewish Book Awards. She lives in Toronto with her husband and has two grown children.

JANET WILLEN has been a writer and editor for more than thirty years, working on publications ranging from remedial writing curricula to articles on health and safety. She holds a master's degree in political philosophy from the New School for Social Research. Janet Willen lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband.

My Thoughts
Francis felt honored and excited. His mother was sending him to the marketplace to sell hard-cooked eggs and peanuts, with only the older village children to watch out for him. Francis was seven years old, but he knew his mother was giving him a big responsibility...
This book explores the long and dreary, yet fascinating, history of slavery. It begins in biblical times and continues through to present day.

There are interesting tidbits and stories, like the fact that the infamous Julius Caesar was once captured at 25 years of age by pirates. His captors demanded money for his freedom, and he laughingly offered even more money than demanded, and sent his men to obtain the funds. While waiting for his men to return, he partied and socialized with the pirates, and when things got tense and he was ridiculed by the pirates, he would threaten them with hanging when he was released. And, true to his word, once his ransom was paid and he was released, he captured the pirates and had them crucified.

Slavery has existed for five thousand years. It existed in Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike. The impact of the slave industry on Africa is staggering.
From 1450 to 1900 the slave trade robbed Africa of its workers, warfare and slave raids accelerated, and at least twelve million human beings were shipped away to the Americas.
And while white American men wrote of equality for all, they still supported slavery.
He [Patrick Henry] said that every thinking honest man opposed slavery in principle, but not in practice. When colonists spoke about the equality of men, they were not thinking of blacks or of women. They meant that they wanted the same rights as men of their rank in Britain.
This book is filled with fascinating details, such as the fact that thousands of years ago, slavers were required to list character flaws that would indicate "passion" in a slave, such as "an extreme interest in religion, the arts, or love".

And some slavers went beyond common cruelty. The Tupinamba people were a contradictory people. While treating their slaves well and even making them part of the family, there was always a cloud of doom hanging over the slaves head:
Even though some slaves lived with their masters for years, every slave knew what was coming: death in a horrible religious ritual.

Until that day, the Tupinamba tried to keep their slaves healthy and happy, and at times even found wives for the men. But they could also be very cruel: they tied ropes around their slave's necks, decorated with one bead for each month the slaves had left to live.

The sacrifice ritual lasted several days. First, they teased the slave by letting him or her try to escape. When they caught the victims, which they always did, they performed an elaborate ritual that included dancing and singing. They decorated the slave and chose one Tupinamba to club the slave to death. Afterward, the body was dismembered and roasted, and the victim's flesh was eaten. The heads of the victims were displayed on poles.
You may think that slavery ended long ago in the US with the Emancipation Proclamation, but that would be quite far from the truth. Sharecroppers were often little more than glorified slaves, and even in the 1920s, our own US government practiced a form of slavery with the Aleut people in Alaska.
We take it for granted that government employees get paid in money, and that they have other benefits too. But the Aleuts were not paid in cash, and they certainly didn’t receive benefits. Instead, they were given credit at the government store-- the only place to buy food-- and not only was the food expensive, but the shelves were often nearly empty, so there was hardly anything to buy.

From offices in faraway Washington, D.C., the government controlled the Aleuts’ daily lives. They were not allowed to leave the islands without permission. They were not allowed to speak their native language. Their chiefs were not allowed to have any say in how they were governed. Men were told when they could marry. Until 1924, they were not even allowed US citizenship.
And even today, products listed “Made in China” are often created in forced-labor camps in China, where those suffering religious persecution are being imprisoned.

My final word: This was a rather fascinating read about the history of slavery, in all its shameful truth. Fairly and honestly presented, it's a concise and very readable accounting, filled with photography and stories. Disturbing and strangely alluring, I would recommend this book for anyone wishing to have a better grasp of slavery and its impact on the world.

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound 

My Rating:






The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers, 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, December 24, 2015

QUICK REVIEW: The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Synopsis

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died...


Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

Acclaimed author Liane Moriarty has written a gripping, thought-provoking novel about how well it is really possible to know our spouses—and, ultimately, ourselves.


Hardcover, 396 pages
Published July 30th 2013 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published 2013)
ISBN 0399159347 (ISBN13: 9780399159343)

 


About the Author

Liane was born on a beautiful November day in 1966 in Sydney. A few hours after she was born, she smiled directly at her father through the nursery glass window, which is remarkable, seeing as most babies can’t even focus their eyes at that age.

Her first word was ‘glug’. This was faithfully recorded in the baby book kept by her mother. (As the eldest of six children, Liane was the only one to get a baby book so she likes to refer to it often.)

As a child, she loved to read, so much so that school friends would cruelly hide their books when she came to play. She still doesn’t know how to go to sleep at night without first reading a novel for a very long time in a very hot bath.

She can’t remember the first story she ever wrote, but she does remember her first publishing deal. Her father ‘commissioned’ her to write a novel for him and paid her an advance of $1.00. She wrote a three volume epic called, ‘The Mystery of Dead Man’s Island’

After leaving school, Liane began a career in advertising and marketing. She became quite corporate for a while and wore suits and worried a lot about the size of her office. She eventually left her position as marketing manager of a legal publishing company to run her own (not especially successful) business called The Little Ad Agency. After that she worked as (a more successful, thankfully) freelance advertising copywriter, writing everything from websites and TV commercials to the back of the Sultana Bran box.

She also wrote short stories and many first chapters of novels that didn’t go any further. The problem was that she didn’t actually believe that real people had novels published. Then one day she found out that they did, when her younger sister Jaclyn Moriarty called to say that her (brilliant, hilarious, award-winning) novel, Feeling Sorry for Celia was about to be published.

In a fever of sibling rivalry, Liane rushed to the computer and wrote a children’s book called The Animal Olympics, which went on to be enthusiastically rejected by every publisher in Australia.

She calmed down and enrolled in a Masters degree at Macquarie University in Sydney. As part of that degree, she wrote her first novel, Three Wishes. It was accepted by the lovely people at Pan Macmillan and went on to be published around the world. (Her latest books are published by the equally lovely people at Penguin in both the US and the UK)

Since then she has written two more novels for adults, as well as a series of books for children.

Liane is now a full-time author. She lives in Sydney with her husband, her new baby daughter Anna, and her son George, who likes to sit on her lap while she works, helpfully smashing his fist against the keyboard and suggesting that she might prefer to be watching the Wiggles instead.

Once upon a time she went heli-skiing and skydiving* and scuba diving. These days she goes to the park and ‘Gymbaroo’ and sings ‘I’m a Little Cuckoo Clock’ at swimming lessons. She has discovered that the adrenaline burst you experience from jumping out of a plane is remarkably similar to the one you get when your toddler makes a run for it in a busy car park.
 


Check out the author's website
Like the author on Facebook 


My Thoughts 
It was all because of the Berlin Wall.
A small town. One wife confronted with the end of her marriage, another confronted by a husband's deep secret. Another reminisces about her marriage before her husband's death years earlier and the loss of their daughter.

My final word: I just don't know what it was about this book. I liked the concept, the characters were okay, development was okay-- but there was just something about it that I found a little boring and maybe a little slow. I initially had trouble keeping track of the characters. I could keep track of the three main women, but when they would start out talking about other characters, it would take me a minute to figure out which woman those characters were associated with, in order to understand whose perspective we were following this chapter. Overall the book was "okay to good". 

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound

My Rating:


The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

This book was the November 2015 selection for the Cape Coral Bookies.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

QUICK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Synopsis

A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.


Hardcover, 325 pages
Published January 13th 2015 by Riverhead Books
ISBN 1594633665 (ISBN13: 9781594633669)



About the Author

Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction.

Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. The Girl on the Train is her first thriller.


Check out the author's website
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My Thoughts
There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks.
Rachel is a lonely divorced alcoholic who rides the train to and from work everyday, and who has become familiar with a couple that she regularly passes on her ride. She's made up lives for the couple, given them names, and feels as if she knows them. One day she sees something, and later  learns that the woman she's watched every day has been reported missing. Rachel finds herself enmeshed in the drama surrounding the disappearance of Megan (the real name of the woman she's been watching from the train), while having things further complicated by her raw emotions regarding her ex-husband Tom and his new wife Anna.
She’s a cuckoo, laying her eggs in my nest.
Since separating from her husband, Rachel has been living with Cathy, and things are wearing thin for both of them.
Cathy’s a nice person, in a forceful sort of way. She makes you notice her niceness. Her niceness is writ large, it is her defining quality and she needs it acknowledged, often, daily almost, which can be tiring.
Suffice to say, things get very complicated.

My final word: A little reminiscent of Gone Girl, with varying narratives and perspectives, it has some twists and turns that keep you guessing. You think you know what's happening, but then a twist is thrown in and you realize maybe you were wrong. And as with Gone Girl, I didn't find any of the characters very likable. They were all self-absorbed and annoying. So...it was okay...pretty good. I don't quite understand what all of the hullabaloo was, but it was okay. It was a pretty good mystery, keeping you guessing, and very readable.

Buy Now:
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Amazon
IndieBound

My Rating:







The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

This book was the October 2015 selection for the Cape Coral Bookies.


 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

QUICK REVIEW: My Mother's Secret by J. L. Witterick

Synopsis

A novel based on a true story, a mother and daughter risk their lives to provide shelter to two families and a German soldier--all unbeknownst to each other--in a tiny two-room house in Sokal, Poland, during the Nazi invasion.

Based on a true story, MY MOTHER'S SECRET is a profound, captivating, and ultimately uplifting tale intertwining the lives of two Jewish families in hiding from the Nazis, a fleeing German soldier, and the clever and "righteous" mother and daughter who teamed up to save them.

Franciszka and her daughter, Helena, are unlikely heroines. They are simple people who mind their own business and don't stand out from the crowd. Until 1939, when crisis strikes. The Nazis have invaded Poland and they are starting to persecute the Jews. Providing shelter to a Jew has become a death sentence. And yet, Franciszka and Helena decide to do just that. In their tiny, two-bedroom home in Sokal, Poland, they cleverly hide a Jewish family of two brothers and their wives in their pigsty out back, a Jewish doctor with his wife and son in a makeshift cellar under the kitchen floorboards, and a defecting German soldier in the attic--each group completely unbeknownst to the others. For everyone to survive, Franciszka will have to outsmart her neighbors and the German commanders standing guard right outside her yard.

Told simply and succinctly from four different perspectives, MY MOTHER'S SECRET is a reminder that there are, in fact, no profiles of courage and each individual's character is a personal choice.

This book was inspired by the true story of Franciszka Halamajowa, who, with her daughter, saved the lives of fifteen Jews in Poland during the Second World War. She also hid a young German soldier in her attic at the same time. Before the war, there were six thousand Jews in Sokal, Poland. Only thirty survived the war and half of those did so because of Franciszka.


Hardcover, 208 pages
Published September 5th 2013 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published 2013)
ISBN 0399168540 (ISBN13: 9780399168543)


My Thoughts
When you're a child, you think that your parents are the same as everyone else's and that what happens in your home happens in other people's homes too. You have no way of knowing any differently.
This story begins in Germany, where the family lives with their overbearing and at times abusive father who becomes a Nazi sympathizer. Francisizka is a compassionate, resourceful, and strong woman. She puts her children first, which is why she leaves her husband and takes her children Helena and Damian back to Poland.

Helena is a good daughter, she gets a job as a secretary at a garment factory to help out with the family, and falls in love with her boss Casmir.

Damian gets a job at an oil refinery, where he excels. As a valued laborer, the military leaves him alone as it builds an army to purge Poland of those individuals of Jewish heritage.

Being who she is, Franciszka cannot turn away those in need, and she winds up hiding a number of people throughout the war, risking her own life and that of her children. As stated in the books' epilogue by the author:
Before the war, there were six thousand Jews in Sokal, Poland. Only thirty survived the war and half of those because of one Polish woman, Franciszka.
My final word: This was an easy, fast read. It is inspired by true events, and the real Franciszka Halamajowa, "who with her daughter saved the lives of fifteen Jews in Poland and during the Second World War. She also hid a young German soldier in her attic at the same time." The book feels authentic. You can imagine that this is what it was like for these people, and it is a great tribute to both those who survived and those who died during the war and an attempted eradication. For those seeking to learn more of Holocaust experience, this is a fine semi-fictional exploration.

Buy Now:

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Amazon
IndieBound

My Rating:






The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers, 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, and quotes could differ from the final release.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

Mailbox Monday (11/16/15 edition)

 Image licensed from bigstockphoto.com
Copyright stands

Mailbox Monday is hosted here. I've received a few new books recently:

Thanks to the publisher, I got the first two books in the Elemental Journey series...

Earth (Elemental Journey Series Book 1) by Caroline Allen

In rural Missouri in the 1970s, thirteen-year-old Pearl Swinton has just had her first mystical vision. There is no place for Pearl’s “gift” in the bloody reality of subsistence farming and rural poverty. As her visions unfold, she must find her way in a family and a community that react with fear and violence.

When Pearl discovers that her Aunt Nadine, the family shame, has a similar gift, she bicycles across the state to find her. That trip unexpectedly throws Pearl into a journey to save her runaway sister and sends her into a deep exploration of herself, her visions, and her visceral relationship to the earth.

Told with fierce lyricism, Earth is a story about the importance of finding one’s own truth and sense of self in dire circumstances and against the odds. It is also a story about the link between understanding ourselves and our relationship with the earth.

In this first of the four-book Elemental Journey Series that will follow Pearl across continents and into adulthood, Caroline Allen introduces a form of storytelling that is unflinching in its honesty, filled with compassion, and underscored with originality. 



Air (Elemental Journey Series Book 2) by Caroline Allen

The second book in the Elemental Journey Series, AIR follows Pearl Swinton as she uproots and moves to Tokyo, where she hopes to live floating above the culture. Her encounter with Usui, a missionary who voluntarily makes himself homeless, brings her face to face with her own homelessness. AIR tackles core issues facing individuals coming of age in today’s world. How can anyone feel safe and at home, let alone find themselves, on an increasingly unstable planet? Where, truly, is home?





I got this one through Netgalley, but just got a hard copy in the mail from Blogging for Books. The author's book A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was one of my favorite reads of 2015:

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

From the New York Times bestselling author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena—dazzling, poignant, and lyrical interwoven stories about family, sacrifice, the legacy of war, and the redemptive power of art.
This stunning, exquisitely written collection introduces a cast of remarkable characters whose lives intersect in ways both life-affirming and heartbreaking. A 1930s Soviet censor painstakingly corrects offending photographs, deep underneath Leningrad, bewitched by the image of a disgraced prima ballerina. A chorus of women recount their stories and those of their grandmothers, former gulag prisoners who settled their Siberian mining town. Two pairs of brothers share a fierce, protective love. Young men across the former USSR face violence at home and in the military. And great sacrifices are made in the name of an oil landscape unremarkable except for the almost incomprehensibly peaceful past it depicts. In stunning prose, with rich character portraits and a sense of history reverberating into the present, The Tsar of Love and Techno is a captivating work from one of our greatest new talents.



And I also got these through Netgalley...

The Crime of All Crimes by Nicole Rafter

Cambodia. Rwanda. Armenia. Nazi Germany. History remembers these places as the sites of unspeakable crimes against humanity, and indisputably, of genocide. Yet, throughout the twentieth century, the world has seen many instances of violence committed by states against certain groups within their borders—from the colonial ethnic cleansing the Germans committed against the Herero tribe in Africa, to the Katyn Forest Massacre, in which the Soviets shot over 20,000 Poles, to anti-communist mass murders in 1960s Indonesia. Are mass crimes against humanity like these still genocide? And how can an understanding of crime and criminals shed new light on how genocide—the “crime of all crimes”—transpires?

In The Crime of All Crimes, criminologist Nicole Rafter takes an innovative approach to the study of genocide by comparing eight diverse genocides--large-scale and small; well-known and obscure—through the lens of criminal behavior.

Rafter explores different models of genocidal activity, reflecting on the popular use of the Holocaust as a model for genocide and ways in which other genocides conform to different patterns. For instance, Rafter questions the assumption that only ethnic groups are targeted for genocidal “cleansing," and she also urges that actions such as genocidal rape be considered alongside traditional instances of genocidal violence. Further, by examining the causes of genocide on different levels, Rafter is able to construct profiles of typical victims and perpetrators and discuss means of preventing genocide, in addition to delving into the social psychology of genocidal behavior and the ways in which genocides are brought to an end.

A sweeping and innovative investigation into the most tragic of events in the modern world, The Crime of All Crimes will fundamentally change how we think about genocide in the present day.


Angels Burning by Tawni O'Dell

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah Book Club pick Back Roads comes this fast-paced literary thriller about a small town police chief who’s forced to dig into her own shadowy past as she investigates the murder of a teenage girl.

On the surface, Chief Dove Carnahan is a true trailblazer who would do anything to protect the rural Pennsylvanian countryside where she has lived all fifty of her years. Traditional and proud of her blue-collar sensibilities, Dove is loved by her community. But beneath her badge lies a dark and self-destructive streak, fed by a secret she has kept since she was sixteen.

When a girl is beaten to death, her body tossed down a fiery sinkhole in an abandoned coal town, Dove is faced with solving the worst crime of her law enforcement career. She identifies the girl as a daughter of the Truly family, a notoriously irascible dynasty of rednecks and petty criminals.

During her investigation, the man convicted of killing Dove’s mother years earlier is released from prison. Still proclaiming his innocence, he approaches Dove with a startling accusation and a chilling threat that forces her to face the parallels between her own family’s trauma and that of the Trulys.

 
This one is from LibraryThing Early Reviewers:
 
We've Already Gone This Far by Patrick Dacey

A heartfelt, vital collection; the debut of an exciting new talent already hailed as one of George Saunders' "favorite young American writers"

In Patrick Dacey's stunning debut, we meet longtime neighbors and friends--citizens of working-class Wequaquet--right when the ground beneath their feet has shifted in ways they don't yet understand. Here, after more than a decade of boom and bust, love and pride are closely twinned and dangerously deployed: a lonely woman attacks a memorial to a neighbor's veteran son; a dissatisfied housewife goes overboard with cosmetic surgery on national television; a young father walks away from one of the few jobs left in town, a soldier writes home to a mother who is becoming increasingly unhinged. We've Already Gone This Far takes us to a town like many towns in America, a place where people are searching for what is now an almost out-of-reach version of the American Dream

Story by story, Dacey draws us into the secret lives of recognizable strangers and reminds us that life's strange intensity and occasional magic is all around us, especially in the everyday. With a skewering insight and real warmth of spirit, Dacey delivers that rare and wonderful thing in American fiction: a deeply-felt, deeply-imagined book about where we've been and how far we have to go.

 
I got these books through the Book of the Month club:

The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff

It began in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's daughter began to scream and convulse. It ended less than a year later, but not before 19 men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

The panic spread quickly, involving the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, parents and children each other. Aside from suffrage, the Salem Witch Trials represent the only moment when women played the central role in American history. In curious ways, the trials would shape the future republic.

As psychologically thrilling as it is historically seminal, THE WITCHES is Stacy Schiff's account of this fantastical story-the first great American mystery unveiled fully for the first time by one of our most acclaimed historians.



Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins. Heading east, they are waylaid in the desert by a charming and manipulative dowser – a diviner for water -- and his cultlike followers, who have formed a colony in a mysterious sea of dunes.

Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins’s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own.



And these I purchased from Barnes and Noble:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization's collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur's chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.


A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

WINNER OF THE 2015 MAN BOOKER PRIZE FOR FICTION From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a masterfully written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.
 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

REVIEW: Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Synopsis

From a remarkable new voice in Southern fiction, a multigenerational saga of crime, family, and vengeance.

Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.

In a sweeping narrative spanning decades and told from alternating points of view, the novel brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the mountain and its inhabitants: forbidding, loyal, gritty, and ruthless. A story of family—the lengths men will go to protect it, honor it, or in some cases destroy it—Bull Mountain is an incredibly assured debut that heralds a major new talent in fiction.


Hardcover, 290 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published July 1st 2015)
ISBN 039917396X (ISBN13: 9780399173967) 



My Thoughts
"Family," the old man said to no one. The word hung in a puff of frozen breath before dissipating into the early-morning fog. Riley Burroughs used that word the same way a master carpenter used a hammer. Sometimes he just gave it a gentle tap to nudge one of his kin toward his way of thinking, but sometimes he used it with all the subtlety of a nine-pound sledge.
This story covers several generations of Burroughs men, and sometimes it can be difficult keeping track as it jumps around. You may be current day with Clayton, then be in the 50s, 70s or 80s with Clayton's brother, father, grandfather or some other relative.

Clayton is the Burroughs man that "turned good" in a family of men that have broken many laws to maintain their way of life. As he explains to ATF Special Agent Simon Holly:
"...you don't understand how it works up here. Money isn't the endgame for my brother. It never was. It's simply a by-product of the lifestyle my father raised him on...

"...imagine the feeling you had the last time you took a few days off and packed the car, your girl, maybe a few beers and a camera, and set off to find a secluded spot in the mountains, or by a still pond or lake somewhere. You with me?

"...Now imagine that same setting, that pretty picture you got in your head, imagine that as the basis for your everyday. Imagine it's the foundation for work, family, relationships, wisdom, pain, all of it. It's a different mind-set. It's not a break from life for these people. It IS life, and the urge to protect it, and hold on to it, can be fierce."
Clayton's family lives in the mountains of Georgia, where they have lived and died for generations, fueling their way of life with the trafficking of moonshine, marijuana and meth-- and guns. Now Agent Holly has a plan to take the family down once and for all, with the help of Clayton.

For TV lovers, this book is Justified meets Longmire meets Sons of Anarchy. If you are familiar with the residents of Harlan County, then you'll be right at home with the Burroughs gang. Clayton has a Walt Longmire vibe, and then you can throw in a biker gang to boot.

My final word: Clayton is the hero you can root for, and it's hard to feel too bad for his kith and kin as their livelihoods are threatened. Clayton's wife Kate is admirable and sympathetic, having battled with Clayton's demons for years. There is a nice twist or two in the story to keep things interesting. I really loved the author's writing, and I was already a fan of the subject material (I love southern lit and stories about Appalachian mountain families and the like). The jumping back and forth between different perspectives and time periods can be tricky to navigate, but you settle into the format and it does get easier as the story goes on. There is nice tension and suspense, a couple of twists and turns, some colorful characters with some very good character development. However one area I felt it fell short was in the character development of Agent Holly. This book is going to make it to my "Best of 2015" list. I loved it!

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble
Amazon
IndieBound

My Rating:







The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley and the publisher, 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, and quotes could differ from the final release.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

QUICK REVIEW: The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Synopsis

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.


Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 2nd 2014 by Algonquin Books (first published April 1st 2014)
ISBN 1616204516 (ISBN13: 9781616204518) 



About the Author

Gabrielle Zevin has published six novels. Her debut, Margarettown, was a selection of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program. The Hole We’re In was on Entertainment Weekly's Must List and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Every day newspaper articles chronicle families battered by the recession, circling the drain in unemployment and debt or scraping by with minimum-wage jobs. But no novel has truly captured that struggle until now." Publishers Weekly called the novel "a Corrections for our recessionary times."

Of all her books, she is probably best known for the young adult novel Elsewhere. Elsewhere, an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, was nominated for a Quill Award and received the Borders Original Voices Award. The book has been translated into over twenty languages. Of Elsewhere, the New York Times Book Review wrote, “Every so often a book comes along with a premise so fresh and arresting it seems to exist in a category all its own... Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin, is such a book.”

She is the screenwriter of Conversations with Other Women (Helena Bonham Carter, Aaron Eckhart) for which she received an Independent Spirit Award Nomination. In 2009, she and director Hans Canosa adapted her novel Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (ALA Best Books for Young Adults) into the Japanese film, Dareka ga Watashi ni Kiss wo Shita. She has also written for the New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. She began her writing career at age fourteen as a music critic for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

Zevin is a graduate of Harvard University. After many years on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, she recently moved to Silver Lake, Los Angeles.
 


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My Thoughts
On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor's notes. 
AJ is the ornery proprietor of a small island bookstore. He lost his wife sometime ago, and his life is changed for the better when he unexpectedly finds himself the adopted father of a little girl. Meanwhile he navigates the complicated path to love with a book sales rep, all while dealing with some very Asperger-like qualities. And he does it all quite well.

There is a little mystery wrapped up in this romantic literary fiction, and I don't want to give away the mystery. Suffice to say that this was a pleasant and quaint read, and I rather enjoyed it. AJ's transformation warmed my heart, and I liked sales rep Amelia's quirkiness, along with precocious daughter Maya. They made for a charming trio! This would make a nice cozy winter read by the fireside!

My Rating:







The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

This book was the September 2015 selection for the Cape Coral Bookies.


 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

REVIEW: The New Sugar & Spice by Samantha Seneviratne

Synopsis

A wonderfully unique and unexpected collection of desserts that showcase spice over sugar, with 80 recipes that both reinvent classic sweets and introduce more unusual spice-infused desserts.

In Sugar and Spice, veteran food editor and recipe developer Samantha Seneviratne invites readers to explore a bold new world of spice-centric desserts. Each chapter centers on a different spice--some familiar, like vanilla, cinnamon, and ginger; others less expected (especially in sweet preparations), such as peppercorns, chiles, and cardamom. With fascinating histories, origin stories, and innovative uses for each spice, this book will inspire readers to rediscover and re-stock their spice drawers, and raise their desserts up to a whole new level of flavor.


Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Ten Speed Press
ISBN 1607747464 (ISBN13: 9781607747468) 



My Thoughts

We’re obsessed with sugar in this country, and we’ve overwhelmed our taste buds with the sticky sweet flavor of sugar. This book shows you how other spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, cloves and lavender can balance out the sweetness in desserts to produce more full flavors.

Author Samantha Seneviratne opens the book with an introduction on how she began baking and sharing her creations with her dearly beloved brother (whom she later lost), the hours spent in her grandmother's kitchen in Sri Lanka, and the transition that had her making over traditional American overly-sweet desserts to more full-flavored desserts spiked with things like cinnamon and cardamon. 

She then shares a chapter on “Baking Tips, Equipment, and Ingredients” before delving into the spices and recipes for which this book is named. The chapters are organized by spice ingredient:
  • Peppercorn & Chile
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Clove & Cardamon
  • Vanilla
  • Ginger
  • Savory Herbs & Spices (like Caraway, Bay Leaves and Lavender)
Each chapter has an introduction to the chosen spice named in it, replete with childhood memories surrounding how the spice was used in family recipes, the history of the spice, and buying and storing suggestions, before moving into the recipes themselves, which include lovely yummies like:
  • Golden Syrup and Berry Pudding Cake
  • New Love Cake
  • Indonesian Spiced Layer Cake
  • Pistachio and Chocolate Butter Cake
  • Pavlova with Lime Custard and Basil Pineapple
  • Butter Rum Snack Cake
  • Bay Leaf Rice Pudding 

My final word: I was so excited to open this book for the first time. It looks and feels high quality. There is beautiful photography throughout to entice you, charming stories shared by the author. The recipes are easy-to-follow and have some pretty common ingredients that should be easy to come by. I love complex flavors and textures, and this cookbook is right up my alley! This isn’t just a cookbook. It’s a memoir and world travelogue of the palate.

My Rating: 








The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through Blogging for Books and the publisher, 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.