Book Review: Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

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★ ★ ★

Here and Gone is an unsettling and intense thriller that I wanted to love. The premise was intriguing, the pace set to keep me questioning and interested—and while I liked it, but at times I was skimming details that didn’t add to the story. While I am not fond of multiple POVs, I thought it was fitting with this story, reading the events through Audra, Danny, and Sean’s eyes build up throughout as it unfolded.

I was rooting for all of them, and couldn’t help but feel for each of them. I thought Here and Gone was well-written, fast-paced, and engaging. I am only left wondering about one character, but I thought it was a well-rounded ending. It’s a short, quick read that I finished in two sittings, and I will be on the lookout for more published by the author.

Synopsis 

It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them…

Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 20th 2017 by Crown Publishing Group

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Book Review: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime by Ree Drummond

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★ ★ ★ ★

My mother and I adore Ree Drummond; we watch her on the Food Network, check out her blog, and like numerous social media pages because she is a phenomenal cook, but also such a genuine, relatable person. This is the first Pioneer Woman cookbook that I own, so I was anticipating it’s arrival to check out what is inside, and get cooking in the kitchen. In this cookbook, there are over 125 simple, step-by-step recipes for delicious meals that the whole family will love, and want again!

There are eleven sections in this cookbook, which consist of Breakfast for Dinner; Salad for Dinner; Soup for Dinner; Freezer Food; 16-Minute Meals; Pasta Pronto; Comfort Classics; New Favorites; Veggie Sides; Starchy Sides; Quick Dinners. Before getting into the different recipes sections, there is an Introduction just like all cookbooks, but what I love comes after that, which includes A Typical Week, Prep Tips, and Stocking Up.

In Typical Week it is self-explanatory, but I know that anyone who adores Ree loves to hear from her point-of-view, or just about her day because she makes it enjoyable, and it’s nice to have the creator open up, and let those of us readers or foodie’s see a peek into their world, but also speaking about the recipes found within the cookbook. The Prep Tips and Stocking Up are two sections that I appreciate because as someone cooking in the kitchen, you can never have enough tips, insight, and guidance!

Each recipe includes serving size, step-by-step instructions with photos, along with make ahead tips, variations, and what can be served with the recipe. Prior to the ingredients and instructions, there are little paragraphs by Ree, which I could not help but reading in her voice, and it was a great start before getting into each recipe. When it comes to the recipes, I loved that there are a variety that anyone in the family can enjoy, but also easy-to-follow, and photos are included as a way to check and make sure you’re following the recipe right.

I have to say that my favorite recipe sections are Breakfast for Dinner, Soup for Dinner, and Quick Dinner. But there are so many to choose from, and this is a cookbook that can be used year around because it isn’t just for one season, and the variations note that includes different ways to serve the particular meal. I tried numerous recipes over the past week, and every dish was a hit in this household, with many more to be prepared over the week to come.

Synopsis

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime is a beloved collection of all the scrumptious supper recipes that make their way through my kitchen in regular rotation, from main dish salads to satisfying soups to hearty casseroles to comfort food classics . . . and everything in between. I lay out all the different ways I tackle dinner in my house, from super-quick 16-Minute Meals to make-ahead Freezer Food to irresistible pastas and a bundle of brand-new favorites of my crew.

You’ll want to immediately dive into surefire hits like Tomato Soup with Parmesan Croutons, Buffalo Chicken Salad, Baked Ziti, and Shrimp Scampi. But just wait till you try the Cashew Chicken, French Dip Sandwiches, Chicken Marsala, and Beef Stroganoff. And don’t even get me started on the Tomato Tart, Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce, and Pan-Fried Pork Chops. You’ll have a very tough time deciding on a favorite!

To take away the guesswork, I made sure to include all the step-by-step recipe photos I love to share, and I packed as much deliciousness into each chapter as possible. My hope is that you will turn to this book regularly to solve your dinnertime dilemmas, and that you will use these recipes to feed your family time and time again. The more stains, smudges, and smears on the pages, the better!

Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 20th 2015 by William Morrow Cookbooks

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Stirring Up Fun with Food by Sarah Michelle Gellar

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As a longtime fan of Sarah Michelle Gellar from back in her Buffy the Vampire days, I was thrilled to receive a copy of her newest cookbook, Stirring Up Fun with Food, published by Grand Central Life & Style. I love her enthusiasm when it comes to being in the kitchen as a family, and introducing her children to food in creative ways while keeping it healthy and simple. Organized by month, there are recipes for every occasion and theme, so the possibilities are endless and kid-friendly.

In January’s section, you’ll find quiche cupcakes that are light and flavorful, perfect for on-the-go during the busy week. March offers a delicious recipe for veggie egg rolls to make-at-home rather than ordering take-out—a little more involved, but a good way to get kids in the kitchen. In June, you can prepare coconut chicken fingers that not only the little ones will love, but adults will, too—paired well with a red pepper jelly or sweet chili sauce.

Each recipe includes ingredients, directions, serving size, and small blurb. While some recipes require as little as 5 ingredients and little prep time, it makes for fun and accessibility for everyone involved. I found some recipes better than others, while some weren’t clearly focused on fun and creativity—but overall it offers a great selection of projects and recipes for a family to enjoy. It was well crafted with time and quality, and Sarah and Gia did a wonderful job. It’s creative and cheerful, a cookbook that anyone with children would love to have in their home.

Synopsis

Why stop with making basic brownies? Why not put them on a stick and decorate them? Why not take boring broccoli and turn it into a yummy cheese muffin instead? Sarah Michelle Gellar learned quickly that to get her kids to be adventurous with food, she had to involve them in preparing it. She wanted that process to be fun and help them develop self-confidence, creative thinking, and even math skills! So Sarah and co-author Gia Russo came up with more than 100 fun food-crafting ideas that take basic food preparation to a surprising new level.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 18th 2017 by Grand Central Life & Style

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Book Review: Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

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★ ★ ★ ★

Deliciously dark, Exquisite is a book that you will not put down once you begin reading the first page. Alice Dark enters Bo Luxton’s quiet, simple life, and a sinister relationship develops. Told in both Bo and Alice’s point-of-view, an unnerving, claustrophobic story unfolds of passion, manipulation, loss, and obsession. I spent my Friday night on the couch, devouring all 306 pages within 5 hours. I found this leaned more towards psychological suspense rather than thriller—with a gradual build-up of tension and discovery that ended in a terrifying tale.

Stovell’s writing is rich and beautiful, with Exquisite being character rather than plot driven. Throughout, you can’t help but feel torn—who is the one with darkness seeping beneath their skin, the one with cruel intentions? It’s one of those stories were you think you may know where it is headed, but you’re left stunned in silence at the conclusion because it takes twists and obsession to an entirely new and unique level. A must-read for the summer, you’ll have this novel finished within hours!

Synopsis 

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.
Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.
When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops…
OR DOES IT?
Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Paperback, 300 pages
Expected publication: October 1st 2017 by Orenda Books

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Food Anatomy by Julia Rothman

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★ ★ ★

A delightful visual tour through international cuisine, Food Anatomy gives insight into cultures without being overwhelming with information, and makes for an enjoyable reading and learning experience. This is one of those books that you have on your coffee table, and pick up to read a little before putting it down for another time, so read in small doses. It’s full of food basics and information on cuisines and manners around the world, told through a charming and colorful illustrated glossary with little facts. It’s like taking a tour around the world on manners and food, right from the comfort of your own home. Whether your interested in different cuisines or a foodie, you’ll find this to be a light-hearted food-filled read.

Synopsis 

Get your recommended daily allowance of facts and fun with Food Anatomy, the third book in Julia Rothman’s best-selling Anatomy series. She starts with an illustrated history of food and ends with a global tour of street eats. Along the way, Rothman serves up a hilarious primer on short order egg lingo and a mouthwatering menu of how people around the planet serve fried potatoes — and what we dip them in. Award-winning food journalist Rachel Wharton lends her editorial expertise to this light-hearted exploration of everything food that bursts with little-known facts and delightful drawings. Everyday diners and seasoned foodies alike are sure to eat it up.

Paperback, 224 pages
Published November 15th 2016 by Storey Publishing, LLC

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

 

Book Review: The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner

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★ ★ ★ ★

This was phenomenal! I would have finished reading this in one day, but had a lot going on–still, I carried it with me everywhere to squeeze in a few more chapters whenever I had a free minute. Any chance I had, I let people know about this book because I was enjoying it so much. Kyra Winthrop remembers nothing about the diving accident that left her with a complex form of memory loss. When she begins to experience dreams and flashbacks to the last few years of her life, she learns that her life isn’t what her husband, Jacob, has made it out to be. It turns into a terrifying nightmare with a rocky marriage, broken promises, and secrets that are unraveled as she starts to remember and question her surroundings. Set on a fictional island located near the San Juan Islands in Washington, isolated from the mainland and the life she remembers, Kyra can sense that deep down, it isn’t what it seems.

The Twilight Wife sets the atmosphere for a engrossing thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. I flew right through this story, and had to take a few days to let my thoughts process because I could not stop thinking about it even after I put it down. A.J. Banner wrote a page-turner, that at times left me feeling claustrophobic because I felt I was in Kyra’s head throughout the story, as she discovers the horrifying truth, and how unnerving that was for her as a character. Imagine not knowing things are not right, but people will not be honest, and you just can’t remember despite living through it–it is frustrating and makes you feel despair. Banner’s story-telling is rich with world-building that brings the Pacific Northwest out of the pages, characters that are complex and at times surprising, but realistic and relatable.

Often times I tried to figure out what was going to happen as I read along, and by the end, I was stunned–and completely wrong! Banner adds twists and turners at every point you think you are about to figure out what is going on. You may think you know, but you have no idea, and that is refreshing for a thriller like this. The Twilight Wife is an engaging story, that will have you feeling the desperation and anxiety that Kyra feels while she is pieces the clues of her past life together.

Synopsis 

Thirty-four-year-old marine biologist Kyra Winthrop remembers nothing about the diving accident that left her with a complex form of memory loss. With only brief flashes of the last few years of her life, her world has narrowed to a few close friendships on the island where she lives with her devoted husband, Jacob.

But all is not what it seems. Kyra begins to have visions—or are they memories?—of a rocky marriage, broken promises, and cryptic relationships with the island residents, whom she believes to be her friends.

As Kyra races to uncover her past, the truth becomes a terrifying nightmare. A twisty, immersive thriller, The Twilight Wife will keep readers enthralled through the final, shocking twist.

Paperback, 304 pages
Published December 27th 2016 by Touchstone

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik

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★ ★ ★

Happy New Year! It has been a few weeks since my last post, both due to the holidays, and being in a reading slump, but I am back with another review.

I went into reading this one with no expectations, but being intrigued by the synopsis and relating to the mental illness aspect. I finally got around to finishing Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik, and it was a fascinating story. It was a slow burn for me. It started off strong, but dwindled midway through. It did take me a little longer to get through this because Maksik’s writing style and narrative, and at times it wasn’t the smoothest story-telling–other times, I just lost patience. It was a complex and demanding read, but it was also intense and engaging. When it comes to the mental illness aspect of this novel, it was written carefully and thought-provoking. There was so much more to this novel that was touched on, and done well, that being living with mental illness, the consequences to actions, violence, coping, and family. It certainly is not for everyone, and it is a challenging read, but it is a powerful one.

Synopsis

Joseph March, a twenty-one-year-old working class kid from Seattle, is on top of the world. He has just graduated college and his future beckons, unencumbered, limitless, magnificent. Joe’s life implodes when he starts to suffer the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and, not long after, his mother kills a man she’s never met with a hammer.

Joe moves to White Pine, Washington, where his mother is serving time and his father has set up house. He is followed by Tess Wolff, a fiercely independent woman with whom he has fallen in love. The lives of Joe, Tess, and Joe’s father fall into the slow rhythm of daily prison visits followed by beer and pizza at a local bar. Meanwhile, Anne-Marie March, Joe’s mother, is gradually becoming a local heroine as many see her crime as a furious, exasperated act of righteous rebellion. Tess, too, has fallen under her spell. Spurred on by Anne-Marie’s example, Tess enlists Joe in a secret, violent plan that will forever change their lives.

Paperback, 304 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Europa Editions

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

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★ ★ ★ ★

In The One Hundred Nights of Hero, after a brief introduction into the prehistoric mythical world with three moons, we are transported to the empire of Migdal Bavel, where two friends make a bet: Manfred has one hundred nights to seduce Jerome’s wife, Cherry, while Jerome is out to sea–and if he wins, Jerome must forfeit the castle and his wife. Unknown to both men, Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women have a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred with mesmerizing tales for 100 nights, keeping him at bay until Jerome returns.

I am still trying to untangle my thoughts from this graphic novel, but without a doubt, this is a wonderful read, and beautifully illustrated. I read this in one sitting a few nights ago, and as soon as I closed the book, I went on ramble about each story, the characters, and meanings behind it all because it left me feeling so much. It is about brave women, independence, love, sisterhood, and exquisite storytelling. It contains stories within stories that come together in the end, and fill you with empowerment and inspiration.

The artwork is stunning with muted tones, splashes of color, and Greenberg’s unique style, and makes for brilliantly telling of ancient tales. Hero tells simple stories while weaving traditions, folklore, and myths throughout each one. While getting lost within the pages, you’ll encounter faraway lands, empires, supernatural beings, explorers–and always, strong-willed, determined women who take no bullshit from men and will overcome anything. It is a tapestry of folk tale and myth retellings with modern twists, and although somber at times, there is also humor, insight, and wit.

Synopsis 

In the tradition of The Arabian Nights, a beautifully illustrated tapestry of folk tales and myths about the secret legacy of female storytellers in an imagined medieval world.

In the Empire of Migdal Bavel, Cherry is married to Jerome, a wicked man who makes a diabolical wager with his friend Manfred: if Manfred can seduce Cherry in one hundred nights, he can have his castle–and Cherry.

But what Jerome doesn’t know is that Cherry is in love with her maid Hero. The two women hatch a plan: Hero, a member of the League of Secret Story Tellers, will distract Manfred by regaling him with a mesmerizing tale each night for 100 nights, keeping him at bay. Those tales are beautifully depicted here, touching on themes of love and betrayal and loyalty and madness.

Hardcover, 224 pages
Expected publication: December 6th 2016 by Little, Brown and Company
I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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★ ★ ★ ★

Before we get to my thoughts on The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, I wanted to let everyone know about a great website that I recently discovered because I am partnering with them for this review. SocialCookCo is a website that helps you find, locate, and compare book prices so you can find the cheapest deal by comparing your chosen books with over 50 book shops around the world to make sure you get the best bargain. There are different formats available, such as paperback, audio, eBook, out-of-print, and even textbooks along with second-hand copies. SocialBookCo is a comparison engine and not a bookstore, so when you find the best price for your purchase, they will direct you straight to the retailer where you carry out the transaction. They give shoppers all the options when it comes to book buying, and want you to save your money, which I think is cool for those of us who frequently purchase books through online retailers because who doesn’t like saving some money that will most likely go towards another book? I sure do!

Ken Liu is a phenomenal author of speculative fiction, as well as a translator, lawyer, and programmer. He has won numerous awards for his novels, such as the Nebula, Hugo, and World’s fantasy awards. The Paper Menagerie, his debut collection, contains 15 fantasy, magical realism, and science-fiction short stories and novellas–some of which have been previously published. If I had to summarize this collection in three words, it would be profound, thought-provoking, and distinctive. Very rarely do I come to the end of a book, unable to form my thoughts on the experience because I am still in a literary daze.

The Paper Menagerie is an exceptional short story collection, but at times it was a challenging read. Through different genres and exploring different themes such as love, history, suffering, and diversity, to the complexity and connections with the characters, and Liu’s brilliant, imaginative, and unique story-telling. When it comes to short-story collections, it is common to find a mix of feelings and thoughts when it comes to the individual stories, but with this collection, whether I enjoyed the story or not, I appreciated and was engrossed in the writing. The stories strike a reader’s core when it comes to experiencing so many emotions throughout every story.

This is the first of Liu’s work that I have read, and I think it was the perfect introduction into his writing. When it comes to the stories, you really need to clear your head, focus, and dive into the worlds and character stories he builds–afterwards, take the time to reflect on each one before beginning the next. There is no doubt that Ken Liu is a remarkably talented author, and writes effortlessly and poignant no matter the genre or subject. My ultimate favorites were Good Hunting, The Regular, The Paper Menagerie, and The Waves. The Paper Menagerie is a beautifully crafted collection that was equally heartbreaking, captivating, and engaging. I am not one to often pick up or recommend short-story collections, but I highly encourage anyone who appreciates rich, authentic prose, to read this.

Synopsis 

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

Paperback, 450 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Saga Press

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Book Review: The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee

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★ ★ ★ ★

While sorting through her mother’s belongings, Jessica Campbell and her father find a horrifying discovery — beneath resealable plastic bags with frostbitten meat, in the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers are the bodies of two dead girls. The two girls are a pair of foster children, Casey and Jamie Cheng, that lived with the family in 1988 — two of the countless foster children her mother had taken in over the years. Six weeks after the sisters went missing, give their difficult history, everyone assumed they had run away. As Jessica learns more about the girls, and Donna, whom she thought of as the perfect mother, she uncovers dark stories and complicated truths about the life she thought she knew and mother she admired.

While The Conjoined is marketed as a mystery-thriller, it is more of a family drama. It is thought-provoking, well-written, and captivating until the very end. Through complex and realistic characters, and a writing style that flows effortlessly, Sookfong crafted a novel that makes you forget that you’re reading a book. Alternating between the past and the present, The Conjoined, is a not exactly a murder-mystery — the murder of the girls is not the main focus, but rather the exploration into the social work system that is often unfair and ineffectual. It is also about character psychology, trauma, family, self-discovery, and the struggles that immigrants and their children face.

This was a dark novel the further along, as the several layers were lifted. Sookfong’s prose brings depth and understanding into the story and characters, it hits nerves and brings forth real emotions that you physically experience. I devoured this in a few sittings, because of the compelling story and rich prose. There was so much that as a reader who was invested into the story and characters, I wanted to know, or at least have confirmed rather than wonder if  what I suspected was true. There is no resolution when it comes to the girls murder, or whether Donna committed the crime. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed Sookfong’s profound writing that crafted a riveting and disturbing story. If you’re looking for a dark thriller whodunit story, this is not it, but if you are willing to go in expecting the unexpected, and want a family drama that is much more, The Conjoined is your next pick.

Synopsis 

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

Paperback, 272 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by ECW Press

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I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.