Thursday, January 29, 2015

Julie's Review: The Way Life Should Be

Author: Christina Baker Kline
Series: None
Publication Date: October 10,2009 (reissue)
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 306
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction,Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Sweet story about following your dreams
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Library
Summary: Angela can feel the clock ticking. She is single in New York City, stuck in a job she doesn't want and a life that seems to have, somehow, just happened. She inherited a flair for Italian cooking from her grandmother, but she never seems to have the time for it; these days, her oven holds only sweaters. Tacked to her office bulletin board is a photo from a magazine of a tidy cottage on the coast of Maine;a charming reminder of a life that could be hers, if she could only muster the courage to go after it. On a hope and a chance, Angela decides to pack it all up and move to Maine, finding the nudge she needs in the dating profile of a handsome sailor who loves dogs and Italian food. But her new home isn't quite matching up with the fantasy. Far from everything familiar, Angela begins to rebuild her life from the ground up. Working at a local coffeehouse, she begins to discover the pleasures and secrets of her new small-town community and, in the process, realizes there's really no such thing as the way life should be.

Review: The Way Life Should Be is a comforting story about taking risks in life and following your dreams. Granted the path isn't always easy and perhaps they shouldn't be easy to obtain. Angela Russo is an event planner and while she loves it, it's not her passion. So, when life takes a bit of a wrong turn, Angela runs away to Maine.

Things don't go the way she expected but she decides to stay in Maine anyway. As she settles into the community, she finds her way back into the kitchen. This is where she ignites her fires for cooking again.  She decides to take her Nonna's recipes and teach classes off of them. This is where she finds her niche and her friends.

Each one in the friends in her cooking classes has something they are trying to get away from or someone they are trying to get over. Over the course of the classes, they each begin to reveal a bit of themselves. There is one character where I was a bit taken back about her reveal but it was nice to see that not everything was going exactly the way I thought.

I liked Angela but I also thought that she didn't want to face the things that went wrong and take ownership of her part in those issues. She's been independent but she's just been floating a long in life. It is living simply in Maine that makes her take stock of her life and her choices.

This is my first Christina Baker Kline novel (I didn't jump on the Orphan Train ride) and while I enjoyed it, it didn't blow me out of the water. I would probably read another one of her books but I might look for something with a bit more substance.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Julie's Review: Food

Author: Jim Gaffigan
Series: None
Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Publisher: Random House Audio
Length: 7 Hours, 17 Minutes
Obtained: purchased
Genre:  Memoir, Comedy
Rating: 5.0
Bottom Line: Hilarious look at American's food habits
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: What are my qualifications to write this book? None really. So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book." Bacon. McDonalds. Cinnabon. Hot Pockets. Kale. Stand-up comedian and author Jim Gaffigan has made his career rhapsodizing over the most treasured dishes of the American diet ("choking on bacon is like getting murdered by your lover") and decrying the worst offenders ("kale is the early morning of foods"). Fans flocked to his New York Times best-selling book Dad Is Fat to hear him riff on fatherhood, but now, in his second book, he will give them what they really crave - his thoughts on all things culinary(ish). Insights such as: why he believes coconut water was invented to get people to stop drinking coconut water, why pretzel bread is number three on his most important inventions of humankind (behind the wheel and the computer), and the answer to the age-old question "which animal is more delicious: the pig, the cow, or the bacon cheeseburger?"

Review: Last week, I needed a laugh. All of the sudden a few things were going on and instead of starting an intense non-fiction, a friend suggested this one. Well for those of you out there in need of a good laugh, Food: A Love Story, is for you.

Since, Mr. Gaffigan is a comic he knows all about the delivery aspect of a line. He does this extremely well throughout the entire book. He riffs on our eating habits as Americans and food in general. Basically, he loves food. He'll eat pretty much anything except shellfish because it's like eating an insect.

The chapters aren't long and while I might not have died laughing, I was chuckling out loud, a lot. There are so many things that he says are true about how we eat and what we lie about eating. No one admits to eating McDonald's but we all do at some point.

While there are many great lines in this book, there are two that stand out for me:

"I'm an eattie, not a foodie". I laughed my butt off when he was going on about this phenomenon.
"Munchkins are the gateway donut." My kids love munchkins and so does my husband, so I found it particularly funny.

There is definitely something for everyone in this book. You might even see some of your own eating habits or maybe the way you approach food in here. Mr. Gaffigan is honest in his love for food and I appreciate that the most.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Julie's Review: The Dress Shop of Dreams

Author: Menna van Praag
Series: None
Publication Date: December 30, 2014
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Pages: 336
Obtained: publisher/
Genre:  Magical Realism
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: Easy to get lost in and not want to leave this highly enjoyable novel
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires. Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Review: The Dress Shop of Dreams is a perfectly lovely novel to sit with in front of a fire and devour. Unfortunately, I couldn't do just that but I did devour it; hungrily. The story focuses on Etta, Cora, and Walt and their quest to find love or in Etta's case to try to forget it. Cora is oblivious to life going on around her. The only thing Cora cares about is fulfilling her parents dream or finding a grain that can grow anywhere. She has been going to Walt's bookshop for years but barely acknowledges him other than requesting her espresso and slice of cherry pie.

Walt, on the other hand, has been in love with Cora since he was a kid and first laid eyes on her. He's been hooked every since. He's just too shy to say anything to her about how he feels.

Etta is magic. Her dress shop helps women see who they want to be and have the power to be whatever that might be. You see Etta weaves in a bit of magic after a dress has picked the women. The problem is that her own magic doesn't work on her; so she's been lovelorn for 50 years. Etta decides that it's time for Cora to open her heart and for Walt to learn how to speak what he feels, so she meddles. Of course it doesn't work the way she thinks it will but that's ok because it allows both Cora and Walt to discover themselves.

It's not that I couldn't see where the story was going but it was the ride. The ride was magical, lovely and comforting. Ms. van Praag has a wonderful way of making her characters come off the page and frankly I wanted Etta as my grandmother. Were there times when I got frustrated with Cora and Walt, yes but I kind of figured that was part of their growth plan.

I have The House at the End of Hope Street on my shelf and will be pulling it off sooner rather than later. She also has a book coming out later this year, The Witches of Cambridge, which looks enticing as well.

If you are looking for a quick book that will warm your heart and soul, look no further than The Dress Shop of Dreams.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Group Review: First Frost

Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Series: Waverley #2
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 304
Obtained: publisher
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Magical Realism
Rating: 5/5
Bottom Line: Like coming home
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of GARDEN SPELLS comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on new-fallen leaves...It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley's Candies. Though her handcrafted confections; rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds;are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts. Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby, a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has. Sydney's daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke?When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Jenn's Review: This is my second time starting the new year off with a Sarah Addison Allen novel and I think it's a New Year's tradition I will keep, even if it's just re-reading one of her novels  --which I also did.   If you visit this blog with any frequency you know that we are all huge fans of Sarah Addison Allen; I'm actually not sure there are enough wonderful words to describe her work.  Re-reading Garden Spells, I fell in love with it all over again --I fell in love with the characters all over again and I fell in love with Sarah Addison Allen's writing all over again.  Of all her novels, Garden Spells has always been my favorite, so much so that after re-reading it I almost didn't want to read First Frost because everything was so perfect the way it was.  But if there is any author I trust not to let me down, it is Ms. Allen, so I dove in with a hopeful heart.

Sarah Addison Allen did not disappoint.  It has been ten years since we last visited the Waverley's and the promise that life will be good continues to blossom from the garden.  Lately however, the women are trying too hard:  trying to prove themselves, trying to be more than who they are, trying to be accepted for who they are.  Being a Waverley has become more acceptable in Bascom due to Claire and Sydney's overwhelming success, but it still comes with social stigma. For Bay, even though she is accepted as a Waverley, she still isn't allowed to socialize with the popular crowd. While this doesn't bother Bay, it is hard on Sydney who remembers all too well what it is like not to fit in. It makes it hard for Sydney and Bay to communicate which is sad because they used to be so close. Claire is struggling too, having closed her catering business to make candy full time. Her business has grown beyond her capabilities and it's causing her to question herself.  I'm talking about the characters as if they were real again, but they are to me.  That is the real magic of Sarah Addison Allen's writing. You leave each novel with new friends.  I didn't realize how much I missed the Waverley's until I went back.

Ms. Allen's style is mellifluous and enveloping.  Her novels are full of hope, beauty, and strong women.  Her books are ones you don't want to rush through and miss a single delectable morsel, but at the same time you find you can't quite put them down.  It is through her work that I became obsessed with food lit.  (I can almost smell the delicious scent's in Claire's kitchen!)  However with her added touch of magical realism, no one quite compares to Sarah Addison Allen.  If you have never read her work, we all recommend it.  Start with Garden Spells.  You don't have to have read it to enjoy First Frost, but it helps you appreciate the scope of these women's character's lives and the allure of Ms. Allen's writing.

Julie's Review: First Frost is magic. At least it was for me. Coming back to the Waverley's was like coming home for me. I missed Bay, Sydney and Claire.  While the book did focus on all three Waverley women, the hook for me was Bay. I loved coming back to her and seeing how she has grown up. Bay is so comfortable being a Waverley, that her mom, Sydney, almost can't relate. You see, Sydney didn't like being a Waverley until she came back to Bascom.

You see in Bascom, being a Waverley has a certain connotation to it. Depending on people's needs it's either a good thing or bad thing. Claire's gift is food and Sydney's gift is hair. That's all I'll say about their gifts. We learn that Claire has switched from catering to a candy making business and that it's taking up all her time. It's exhausting her and not leaving her much time for anything else.

Sydney is desperate for another child. She's doing anything she can to make that happen. She's also not sure what's going on with Bay and how to handle it. Bay is in love. She knows where she's supposed to be and know that Josh is supposed to be with her but she's made a fool of herself.

What I adore about Ms. Allen's novels is her characters. I never fail to fall in love with them. They are the people you want to have in your life. I also adore the setting. There's something a bit special about Bascom and the people who inhabit it.

There's always magic in her novels. It's not the sweeping kind of magic in some novels but it's understated and part of each character.What I always walk away from after reading, is that all of us have a little magic in ourselves. What that magic is, is up to us. Perhaps this is her gift to us. Ms. Allen's magic is her ability to write books that I love to savor and devour at the same time!

Did you have to read Garden Spells to read/love First Frost? No. Does it help with the history of the characters? Absolutely. Plus Garden Spells is one of my favorite stories of Ms. Allen's and that's saying a lot.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Julie's Review: Long Way Down

Author: Michael Sears
Series: Jason Stafford #3
Publication Date: February 5, 2015
Publisher: Putnam
Pages: 352
Obtained: Amazon Vine
Genre:  Thriller, Crime
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Another great installment that gives you an insight into white collar crimes and murder thrown in for extra excitement
Grab, Just get it at the library, or Remove from your TBR list? Grab!
Summary: He approached me in the street—bone-thin, gray-bearded, holding out a small envelope. “The man said you’d give me five bucks for it.” Inside was a one-word message: RUN. Two years in a federal prison has changed Jason Stafford, is still changing him, but one thing it has taught him as a financial investigator is how to detect a lie. He doesn’t think Philip Haley is lying. An engineer on the verge of a biofuel breakthrough, Haley has been indicted for insider trading on his own company, and Stafford believes him when he says he’s been set up. Haley does indeed have enemies. He is not a nice man. Doesn’t make him a criminal. It does make him dangerous to be around, though. The deeper Stafford investigates, the more secrets he starts to uncover, secrets people would kill for. And that’s exactly what happens. Soon, it is Stafford himself who is under attack and, worse, his family—his fiancĂ©e, his young son—and he is a fugitive, desperately trying to stay one step ahead of both the killers and the law.

Review: Long Way Down, is the 3rd in the Jason Stafford series. With each book, Mr. Sears' writing gets stronger. Jason Stafford is a fantastic character. He admits his flaws and acknowledges that he's not innocent. For me, that's what makes him a great character. He's not squeaky clean, which adds an edge to him.

It's the interaction with his family, his son, specifically that redeems him. Although, when he's working a case he tends to get wrapped up in it, which can cause some issues with safety for himself and his family. This case centers around a wealthy-man who is accused of insider trading who, of course, claims he is innocent. Jason is hired by the man's bank to see if he is innocent and if so, how do they clear him?

Of course, things aren't always as they appear and the further Jason digs into the rabbit hole, the more he falls in it. He's not sure who he can trust and not sure who to share his information with.

Long Way Down is a quick and enthralling thriller and this case highlights Jason's knowledge of the financial markets. It also deepens his relationship with The Kid and his fiance, Skeli. There is also a great cast of secondary characters that help to add a bit of humor to the mix. Sometimes a bit of levity is needed when you are on the run.

Mr. Sears writes white collar crime, specifically financial crimes, so that the reader can understand it. These are crimes that are not always easy to understand. Obviously, his financial background helps in this manner. 
I can't wait to see what's next for Jason and his friends.