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Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: The City Baker's Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

Title: The City Baker's Guide to Country Living
Author: Louise Miller
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publish Date: August 9, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "When Olivia Rawlings—pastry chef extraordinaire for an exclusive Boston dinner club—sets not just her flambéed dessert but the entire building alight, she escapes to the most comforting place she can think of—the idyllic town of Guthrie, Vermont, home of Bag Balm, the country’s longest-running contra dance, and her best friend Hannah. But the getaway turns into something more lasting when Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous, sweater-set-wearing owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, offers Livvy a job. Broke and knowing that her days at the club are numbered, Livvy accepts.

Livvy moves with her larger-than-life, uberenthusiastic dog, Salty, into a sugarhouse on the inn’s property and begins creating her mouthwatering desserts for the residents of Guthrie. She soon uncovers the real reason she has been hired—to help Margaret reclaim the inn’s blue ribbon status at the annual county fair apple pie contest.
With the joys of a fragrant kitchen, the sound of banjos and fiddles being tuned in a barn, and the crisp scent of the orchard just outside the front door, Livvy soon finds herself immersed in small town life. And when she meets Martin McCracken, the Guthrie native who has returned from Seattle to tend his ailing father, Livvy  comes to understand that she may not be as alone in this world as she once thought.
But then another new arrival takes the community by surprise, and Livvy must decide whether to do what she does best and flee—or stay and finally discover what it means to belong. Olivia Rawlings may finally find out that the life you want may not be the one you expected—it could be even better."

My Two Cents:

In "The City Baker's Guide to Country Living," pastry chef Livvy sets her career on fire... literally. After she is distracted by a love affair that goes awry, she causes a fire in the Boston restaurant and is terribly embarrassed she retreats to Vermont to find herself again. She gets a job at a small inn and plans to stick to herself, keep her head down, and try to put the pieces of her life back together. Life has a different plan and she is pulled into a tight knit community filled with secrets. 

This book is about so much more than just Livvy putting her life back together. It's about keeping secrets that will break you down and change you. It's about love and loss. Filled with a great cast of characters that kept me reading, this is a good book to just get lost in. At first, I was expecting a sort of comfort read with a familiar story: person ruins everything, person runs off, person finds themself again. It's a formula that works and is definitely present in this book but there is so much more there.

This book will definitely appeal to my fellow foodies. There is so much delicious food in this book and many of the best scenes take place while Livvy is cooking or while the characters are in the kitchen. The food was a treat in this book. Mixed in with the emotions of the book and good characters, this book is definitely a good selection for a comfort read to give you warm and fuzzies.

The writing of the book is good. The author did a great job of creating different voices for all of the characters, which helped me to really be pulled in the book. This was a good book!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Review: Letters from Paris by Juliet Blackwell

Title: Letters from Paris
Author: Juliet Blackwell
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: September 6, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "After surviving the accident that took her mother’s life, Claire Broussard worked hard to escape her small Louisiana hometown. But these days she feels something lacking. Abruptly leaving her lucrative job in Chicago, Claire returns home to care for her ailing grandmother. There, she unearths a beautiful sculpture that her great-grandfather sent home from Paris after World War II.

At her grandmother’s urging, Claire travels to Paris to track down the centuries old mask-making atelier where the sculpture, known only as “L’inconnue”—or the Unknown Woman—was created. With the help of a passionate sculptor, Claire discovers a cache of letters that offer insight into the life of the Belle Epoque woman immortalized in the work of art.

As Claire uncovers the unknown woman’s tragic fate, she begins to discover secrets—and a new love—of her own."

My Two Cents:

In "Letters for Paris," Claire's dying grandmother sends her on a wild goose chase while on her death bed. Claire's grandmother says that she should go to Paris to try to figure out the mystery of a mask that had been in their family for years. What Claire doesn't know is that there may be a greater reason that Mawmaw wants Claire to go to Paris, one that will help Claire come to terms with her own past.

I love a story with a family secret. This book is full of them. You have the secret of the mask. While the book is mostly focused on Claire, you get a glimpse of the Belle Epoque as well as World War II in the book, which I thought was great. I liked the historical detail in both sets. Mask making and sculpture is so fascinating and I liked the insight that the author provided. Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin both appear in the book. Both of them are so fascinating to me!

You also have the secrets of Claire's background to contend with in the book. The unraveling of this secret makes for a great ending. It has a little bit of a loose end but was still pretty satisfying. The author does a good job of giving readers a little bit to go on at a time.

The writing of the book was okay. The narrative often dives into telling too much rather than showing. The narrative definitely could have been streamlined a bit more, which would have helped with the flow in some places. The story was engaging enough to overcome some of the issues though!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: And West Is West by Ron Childress

Title: And West Is West
Author: Ron Childress
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publish Date: October 13, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "When Jessica, a young Air Force drone pilot in Nevada, is tasked with launching a missile against a suspected terrorist halfway across the world, she realizes that though women and children are in the crosshairs of her screen, she has no choice but to follow orders. Ethan, a young Wall Street quant, is involved in a more bloodless connection to war when he develops an algorithm that enables his company’s clients to profit by exploiting the international financial instability caused by exactly this kind of antiterrorist strike. These two are only minor players, but their actions have global implications that tear lives apart--including their own. When Jessica finds herself discharged from the service and Ethan makes an error that costs him his job, both find themselves adrift, cast out by a corrupt system and forced to take the blame for decisions they did not make."

My Two Cents:

"And West is West" is a thought-provoking debut novel by Ron Childress. In this day and age, wars are often fought from way off of the battlefield. Jessica is in the military and flies drones used on the battlefields of the Middle East from a safe stateside location. Ethan has found a way to harness political instability which in turn feeds into financial instability to make money hand over foot for his company. This novel explores ethics in the modern age where technology often blurs the lines.

This was such an interesting novel! The two main characters represent two powerful ideas in this modern world. Jessica is fighting a war from the other side of the world. She realizes that war waging in this way totally depersonalizes everything for her. She wonders if she is doing the right thing, especially because she's not on the ground. Much of her part of the book focuses on her struggle with what it means to be a world away from the chaos she is causing. Ethan likes making money but has his own struggle in the way that he's doing it. It was so interesting to see how the author showed changes in both characters throughout the book.

I really like when books leave you thinking long after you've closed the book. I especially like grappling with the idea of ethics, which this book definitely grapples with. The writing of the book is fairly even but could stand to be slimmed down in some parts of the story but overall it flows nicely.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Title: I'll Give You the Sun
Author: Jandy Nelson 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Dial Books
Publish Date: September 16, 2014
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world."

My Two Cents:

Before reading "I'll Give You the Sun," I had heard a lot about this book and the author Jandy Nelson. After hearing so much of the book I had high expectations for this book which were definitely met. What I can tell you is this is not the last time I will read anything by this author.

This book is about twins, Noah and Jude. Since having my own twins, I am absolutely fascinated by stories that include twins. Even at 16 months, I am already seeing such an amazing bond between my girls and that bond is present here between Noah and Jude. They used to be incredibly close but later on they fall apart after a series of missed connections and misunderstandings. This book explores what happened in the in between. I loved the way that the author was able to pull together both Jude and Noah's stories in really surprising ways!

Most of my love for this book comes from the way that the author is able to draw the characters so that you feel common ground with both of the main characters.I thought that the characters felt incredibly real and like people that you could know. This is a great read for when you're looking for something emotional and true!


Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman

Title: The Velvet Hours
Author: Alyson Richman
Format: ARC
Publisher: Berkley
Publish Date: September 6, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "As Paris teeters on the edge of the German occupation, a young French woman closes the door to her late grandmother’s treasure-filled apartment, unsure if she’ll ever return. 

An elusive courtesan, Marthe de Florian cultivated a life of art and beauty, casting out all recollections of her impoverished childhood in the dark alleys of Montmartre. With Europe on the brink of war, she shares her story with her granddaughter Solange Beaugiron, using her prized possessions to reveal her innermost secrets. Most striking of all are a beautiful string of pearls and a magnificent portrait of Marthe painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Boldini. As Marthe’s tale unfolds, like velvet itself, stitched with its own shadow and light, it helps to guide Solange on her own path."

My Two Cents:

"The Velvet Hours" is a book told in two time periods. It is told during the Belle Epoque in the late 1800s and during World War II in the 1940s. After enjoying a couple of Richman's other books, I knew that I wanted to read this book without really knowing what it was about. Luckily, once again, Richman has put together a great story about family secrets and how things are not always the way that they seem. 

We have two main characters here. There is Marthe, a woman who lives for beauty, who has a great love affair during the height of the Belle Epoque. Then there is Solange, a young woman who is just finding out her origins from her grandmother, Marthe. Solange is dealing with a different set of problems in trying to figure out whether it is better to wait out the war or to leave with her beau and his family where she knows she will be safer. The stories go back and forth between these two women and both of them are equally fascinating. I loved the juxtaposition of the two different time periods that the women were living and thriving in!

The writing in this book is indicative of why I keep coming back to Richman's books. She has a great way of weaving characters in with historical detail that feels like a treat for historical fiction lovers. This story was based on a true story about a real Solange who locked up her grandmother's apartment during the war, continued to pay for it while she was abroad, and the pristine apartment stuck in time was only found out in 2010 after Solange died and was no longer making payments on the house. It is a truly amazing story and I am so glad that Richman chose to capture it! 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review: The Possibility of Somewhere by Julia Day

Title: The Possibility of Somewhere
Author: Julia Day 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: September 6, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Ash Gupta has a life full of possibility. His senior year is going exactly as he’s always wanted-- he's admired by his peers, enjoying his classes and getting the kind of grades that his wealthy, immigrant parents expect. There's only one obstacle in Ash's path: Eden Moore—the senior most likely to become class valedictorian. How could this unpopular, sharp-tongued girl from the wrong side of the tracks stand in his way?

All Eden's ever wanted was a way out. Her perfect GPA should be enough to guarantee her a free ride to college -- and an exit from her trailer-park existence for good. The last thing she needs is a bitter rivalry with Ash, who wants a prized scholarship for his own selfish reasons. Or so she thinks. . . When Eden ends up working with Ash on a class project, she discovers that the two have more in common than either of them could have imagined. They’re both in pursuit of a dream -- one that feels within reach thanks to their new connection. But what does the future hold for two passionate souls from totally different worlds?"

My Two Cents:

In "The Possibility of Somewhere," Eden wants to get out from her small town and out of the trailer park she lives in. She wants something different for her life. Ash, on the other hand, lives a very privileged life but still wants to get out of his small town. Being a part of a rich family, he can have his choice of where he goes to school. When Eden and Ash fall for each other, neither one is sure that romance won't get in the way of their dreams and ambition. To complicate matters, neither one of their families approve of the other. Eden is white. Ash is Indian.

The characters in this book are great. Yes, this is a love story but the author does a really good job of making the characters feel real and not just like vehicles for a love story. They are well-rounded. Eden and Ash both have different thoughts and dreams. They are both strong willed and want something different from what their lives are now. Furthermore, both are fighting the expectations of their parents. Eden's parents expect her to stay around and help them out with money. Ash's parents expect him to go to his mother's alma mater and to follow the career path that they have already set out for them. I really liked how the author explored these different problem sets with universal themes.

I think it is incredibly important for books to explore difficult issues. It is especially important for YA books to explore hard issues. Racism, both blatant and passive as found in this book, are a huge social issue facing our society. This is such an important issue and I was happy to see it explored in this book.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: September 6, 2016
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "A Gentleman in Moscow immerses us in another elegantly drawn era with the story of Count Alexander Rostov. When, in 1922, he is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the count is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him a doorway into a much larger world of emotional discovery."

My Two Cents:

"A Gentleman in Moscow" covers several decades in the life of Count Alexander Rostov. When he refuses to renounce his aristocracy, he is told that if he ever leaves the grand Hotel Metropol in the center of Moscow, he will be arrested on sight. Rather than be arrested, he simply makes his home at the hotel. Little does he know how long he will be there or how much his life will change while he is basically on glorified house arrest.

Rostov is such a great character. Although the Soviets are changing the society of Russia dramatically, he does not really seem to be bothered by it at all. He is more than happy to make the best of things in a gorgeous location that is not left out of the changing society. Rostov plays witness to the entrenchment of the Soviets. Throughout it all, he seems to find good still and is willing to pass that on to the other characters that he comes in contact with in the book. I was not ready for this book to end and would love to see what happened to Rostov after the last page! Sequel, maybe?

I have a fascination with Russia and this book definitely fulfilled my want to read more historical fiction set there. This book covers a few decades and I loved seeing how the author captured the massive changes the country went through in the mid-twentieth century. The author includes a lot of historical tidbits in both the narrative as well as footnotes, which I loved. The author did a great job with making me picture Rostov's changing world. This was definitely a good historical fiction!

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