Tuesday, September 19, 2017

I hear she's a real bitch by Jen Agg

3.5 Star

Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg, the woman behind the popular The Black Hoof, Cocktail Bar, Rhum Corner, and Agrikol restaurants, is known for her frank, crystal-sharp and often hilarious observations and ideas on the restaurant industry and the world around her.

I Hear She's a Real Bitch, Jen Agg's first book, is caustic yet intimate, and wryly observant; an unforgettable glimpse into the life of one of the most interesting, smart, trail-blazing voices of this moment. 

Sabrina-Kate - 3.5 Star

I was really excited about reading a book by a female chef. As she hates the term "foodie", out of respect for Jen Agg, I will name myself as a "food enthusiast" which made me especially excited to get a peek inside her head and thoughts.  The book was engaging, even though it began way back during her teenage years. I do firmly believe that our experiences shape us, so it was a revelation to see where she started out.

The basic story of her life thus far was pretty interesting and I did really enjoy seeing how hands on she really is, doing a lot of restaurant construction work herself. I am not sure about a few parts of the book though where she went a little to deeply into personal things. There were a few very "Too Much Information" moments that didn't really fit in with the rest of the book or even the chapters where they appeared.

I imagine that it is somewhat necessary for a female in the restaurant industry to be quite ballsy but I didn't really like the me-against-them attitude that was very apparent, especially at the end, given that she appeared to have a lot of support from many men in her life. I also didn't like how she rushed a bit through the last few years at the end of the book. Grey Gardens and Agrikol,  two of her greatest works, I would have liked a bit more focus on.

It was an interesting book to read though and to get some insight into the mind of a very successful woman and to see what it takes to get what you want, at least in the food industry.

Thank you to Doubleday Canada for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The House of the Soul by Annie Dawson

4.5 Star

Homemaker Ella Casey is circling the middle-age drain. Her once adventurous life is now measured in loads of laundry, her grand dreams of changing the world diluted with each rinse cycle. When she flies to the enchanting California estate of her best friend Teri for a Peace Corps reunion, the accomplishments of her peers threaten to soak up the last drops of Ella’s floundering self-esteem. 

Teri Flores is everything Ella is not: glamorous, wealthy, and fearless. Her sprawling mansion, La Casa Del Alma, serves as both artists’ retreat and modern day salon to Teri’s eclectic entourage. Teri entertains her guests with lavish meals, outrageous activities, and impassioned debates, but the weekend sours when old grievances mix with new ambitions. 

As past and present collide, Ella struggles to redefine herself, but will her growing need to validate her life end up destroying it? 

Amazon     Kindle  
Kathryn - 4.5 Star

My apologies to Annie Dawson as I sat on this novel for some time before reading it for no good reason other than I wasn’t sure I was in the right frame of mind to read it.  I suspected that it was going to tug at my heart (which I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for) but I actually found that I was more mentally involved than emotionally.  Sometimes you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

It reminded me of the movie Stealing Beauty from the 90’s with Liv Tyler - the music in that movie evokes a slightly hazy reality and for the second part of The House of the Soul I had the same impression of Teri’s home. A haven for artists and new artistic thinking there was something definitely on the outside of reality about La Casa del Alma.

By contrast the earlier part of the story when Ella and Teri meet in the Peace Corps seemed much more stamped in realism.  They were exploring their own notions of self and parted under distressing circumstances, a real coming of age for them both and a bond that united them as “sisters”.  Once they physically are parted they seem to have little communication and Ella becomes stuck in a bit of a rut.  The reunion of their group of Peace Corps volunteers brings in a host of interesting characters that inter-mingle, collide and give focus to Ella’s desire to do more with her life. 

I found the references to Captain Nemo a touch frustrating.  There wasn’t anything clearly wrong with her relationship with David, more a dissatisfaction with herself, so I found the implication that another man was on her mind a bit insulting.  However that does clear itself up and I am perhaps the only one to have found it distracting!

I encourage people to read this book because it’s insightful, different and covers a number of topics that I found fascinating.

Thank you to the author for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

Connect with Annie Dawson:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

How to change a life by Stacey Ballis

4 Star

Eloise is happy with her life as a successful private chef. She has her clients, her corgi, and a recipe for the world's most perfect chocolate cream pie. What more could she need? But when her long-lost trio of high school friends reunites, Eloise realizes how lonely she really is.

Eloise, Lynne, and Teresa revamp their senior-class assignment and dare one another to create a list of things to accomplish by the time they each turn forty in a few months. Control freak Lynne has to get a dog, Teresa has to spice up her marriage, and Eloise has to start dating again.

Enter Shawn, a hunky ex-athlete and the first man Eloise could see herself falling for. Suddenly forty doesn't seem so lonely--until a chance encounter threatens the budding romance and reveals the true colors of her friends. Will the bucket listers make it to forty still speaking to one another? Or do some friendships come with an expiration date?

Kathryn - 4 Star

I really have enjoyed the last few novels I’ve read by Stacey Ballis.  There’s something about the way she creates current, realistic personalities that immediately draws me into the story and I always find something in each character to relate to.

How to change a life focusses mainly on Eloise who is private chef to a charming family with a bunch of kids.  She’s happy enough being wrapped up in their family and catering to her other private clients on the side until she realises part of life really is passing her by…the man part. The reappearance of her high-school girlfriends at a teacher’s funeral cements the notion that none of them has reached their life plans that they’d set out in high school.  Both Lynne and Teresa are also struggling a bit, they’ve accomplished some of their goals but some things are still lacking- the three women’s promise to kick their lives into gear sends them all on their own personal life missions.

While the narrative sticks mainly with Eloise, her dating exploits and her hilarious mother & auntie we also do have some insight into Lynne and Teresa’s lives.  There’s a fair amount of conflict between the women as they try to make their bucket lists before they turn forty but for women who had led separate lives for the past 20 plus years this wasn’t really a surprise- it’s hard enough having someone who knows you well be critical of your choices let alone someone who hasn’t seen you in that long.

My only stumble was Eloise’s past relationship left in France- I felt there was so much stock given to this man and she deserved to not have had to drag that baggage around with her. It didn’t feel entirely realistic that she would have still been afraid to date.

Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

Connect with Stacey Ballis:
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Monday, September 4, 2017

The bookshop at water's end by Patti Callahan Henry

4 Star

Bonny Blankenship's most treasured memories are of idyllic summers spent in Watersend, South Carolina, with her best friend, Lainey McKay. Amid the sand dunes and oak trees draped with Spanish moss, they swam and wished for happy-ever-afters, then escaped to the local bookshop to read and whisper in the glorious cool silence. Until the night that changed everything, the night that Lainey's mother disappeared.

Now, in her early fifties, Bonny is desperate to clear her head after a tragic mistake threatens her career as an emergency room doctor, and her marriage crumbles around her. With her troubled teenage daughter, Piper, in tow, she goes back to the beloved river house, where she is soon joined by Lainey and her two young children. During lazy summer days and magical nights, they reunite with bookshop owner Mimi, who is tangled with the past and its mysteries. As the three women cling to a fragile peace, buried secrets and long ago loves return like the tide.

Sabrina-Kate - 4 Star

A perfect vacation read, I was thrilled to have this when I had a few days off from work and time to spend at the beach. This book is classic Patti Callahan Henry at her finest; she certainly creates characters that cause you to empathize with them.

You know the saying, "You can't go home again."? Well this was nothing further from the truth with this book. Despite her reservations, Bonny Blankenship returned home after a somewhat catastrophic period of her life. She then spent her time healing with her best friend Laney and her daughter Piper. Not always easy, but very necessary.

The book alternates between different points of view and past and present. This style is increasingly becoming one of my favorites as it seems to make the story more rounded and complete. The different perspectives created a wonderful synergy.

This book felt like catching up with an old friend and drew me into the plots deeply that I did not want it to end. It was one of those nice reads that feels almost like a warm blanket on a cold day.

Thank you to Berkley Books for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

Connect with Patti Callahan Henry:
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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Bridges by Maria Murnane

3.5 Star

It’s a piece of news Daphne never expected to hear: Her globe-trotting friend Skylar, who vowed never to get married, is engaged! Time to celebrate in Manhattan—Skylar’s treat, of course. After years scaling the corporate ladder, she can more than afford it. 

Daphne arrives in NYC with news of her own—the novel she’s finally finished appears to be going nowhere but the trash bin of every publishing house around. She’s devastated but plans to keep her disappointment under wraps, something that becomes trickier when she sees Skylar’s spectacular apartment. Could her life have been like this if she’d chosen a different path? 

What Daphne doesn’t know is she’s not the only one with a secret. Skylar and their friend KC are also holding something back, but what? As the trip unfolds, the truth about each woman emerges, along with tears. 

And laughter. And love. 

Kathryn - 3.5 Star

I was given Bridges and the prequel, Wait for the Rain, to read by the author and I read them back to back which was really helpful.

In Wait for the Rain you’re given a chance to explore all three of the friends’ personalities, though the perspective comes from Daphne alone.  It’s a chance to really get to know each of the ladies and see how they relate to each other.  As I was reading it though I wished there had been a little bit more about their connection in college.  I found it somewhat peculiar that after very little contact over many years that they would still feel so close to each other.  If I haven’t made contact with someone for ten years (bar a short email or phone call once in a blue moon) I would have likely seen that relationship peter out so more details about their past would have been appreciated.

However, I loved their banter and their support of each other while reading Wait for the Rain so I made up the rest of their history in my head!

I think you really need to read the first novel before reading Bridges.  I tried to see it as a stand-alone book and I just don’t think I would have found the connection to any of the women if I hadn’t had the prior read.  

I loved Skylar’s new found soft side and the tricky relationship she was experiencing with her step-daughter.  KC is my favourite so I was happy to connect with her again and although Daphne had come a long way I still felt she needed her friends to help her push into the next stage of independence.  

All in all I enjoyed both books but I wouldn’t recommend reading the second without the first.  I also wish we’d had a bit more history in their friendships.

Thank you to the author for our review copies.  All opinions are our own:

Connect with Maria Murnane:
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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hum if you don't know the words by Bianca Marais

5 Star

Life under Apartheid has created a secure future for Robin Conrad, a nine-year-old white girl living with her parents in 1970s Johannesburg. In the same nation but worlds apart, Beauty Mbali, a Xhosa woman in a rural village in the Bantu homeland of the Transkei, struggles to raise her children alone after her husband's death. Both lives have been built upon the division of race, and their meeting should never have occurred . . . until the Soweto Uprising, in which a protest by black students ignites racial conflict, alters the fault lines on which their society is built, and shatters their worlds when Robin’s parents are left dead and Beauty’s daughter goes missing. 

After Robin is sent to live with her loving but irresponsible aunt, Beauty is hired to care for Robin while continuing the search for her daughter. In Beauty, Robin finds the security and family that she craves, and the two forge an inextricable bond through their deep personal losses. But Robin knows that if Beauty finds her daughter, Robin could lose her new caretaker forever, so she makes a desperate decision with devastating consequences. Her quest to make amends and find redemption is a journey of self-discovery in which she learns the harsh truths of the society that once promised her protection. 

Kathryn- 5 Star

A novel told in two voices that come together to make one story- I found the book sometimes intense and sometimes agonising because I truly sometimes cannot believe the things people are capable of doing to each other-  if only we all were equipped with empathy…  

Beauty is drawn to look for her teenage daughter who had been living with her brother in Soweto and appears to have gone missing during the student uprising.  She leaves behind her younger children and makes the long journey into a city in which she feels ill at ease.  Beauty’s voice is that of a teacher, measured and consistent, calm and intelligent.  I connected with her as a mother immediately and could feel her frustration at the hurdles she faced just seeping off the pages.

The other perspective comes from 9 year old Robin who is white and English and whose parents are murdered during the uprising at an unrelated event.  The one person who can care for her is her aunt and though they both like each other the aunt isn’t really ready to become a parent and Robin finds herself in the care of Beauty.  I found Robin’s passages to be very well issued- she’s a child and her world has fallen apart. Her sense of abandonment is overwhelming and I found Marais gave her enough time to explore this life change, it wasn’t rushed.  I also like that her innocence brought us back to reality, her choice to keep something hidden later in the novel was a decision made by someone so young that you were forced to be reminded of how little of the world she knew.

Beauty’s searching brought out many aspects of apartheid South Africa in a subtle and matter of fact way that were natural to the exploration of the plot of the novel.  And yet, they were no less poignant. Her ability to weave story and reality was very well done.  I am certainly putting Bianca Marais on my to-watch list.

Thank you to Penguin Group for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

Connect with Bianca Marais:
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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Stranded on a desert island with Melissa Pimentel

Please welcome Melissa Pimentel, author of The One That Got Away as she tackles our Desert Island Interview!

About Melissa:

MELISSA PIMENTEL grew up in a small town in Massachusetts in a house without cable and therefore much of her childhood was spent watching 1970s British comedy on public television. These days, she spends much of her time reading in the various pubs of Stoke Newington and engaging in a long-standing emotional feud with their disgruntled cat, Welles. She works in publishing.

Connect with Melissa:
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Melissa Pimentel Stranded on a Desert Island

If you could only have one book with you, what would it be?

Gone with the Wind.  I read it the first time when I was eleven and completely fell in love with it, and then spent my teenage years rereading it whenever I could. My mom and I still debate about whether or not she gets him back. (I think she does. Come on, it’s Scarlett O’Hara!)

What one luxury item would you want to be stranded with?

I’m not much of a luxury item person (I like to say I’m thrifty. My husband thinks I’m cheap.) but I think Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour cream would come in handy on an desert island, and it’s definitely more expensive than my usual own-brand stuff.

What is the one practical item you would want to have with you to use?

Duct tape. Seriously, is there anything duct tape can’t do?

Would you enjoy the solitude, even briefly, or would it drive you crazy?

I would both enjoy it and be driven crazy by it. I like my own company but I definitely start to turn a little weird if I’m left to my own devices for too long. I would 100% be talking to myself non-stop.

If you could be stranded with one other person, who would you want it to be?

My husband, Simon.

What modern technology would you miss the most?

Water pressure. I love a good power shower.

What food or beverage would you miss the most?

Cheese. Unless there’s a cow on this island…?

How many days do you think you would cope without rescue?

I feel like I could do a month. After that, they’d have to come with a butterfly net.

What is the first thing you would do when rescued?

Facetime with my nieces.

What would be your first Tweet or Facebook update upon your return?

I am the world’s worst social media person (I think I’m allergic) so I probably wouldn’t say anything at all! I do love a good stalk, though, so I’d probably do a little bit of that to see what everyone had been up to.

The One That Got Away

A modern retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, where a young woman comes face-to-face with a lost love, proving that the one that got away is sometimes the one you get back. Ruby and Ethan were perfect for each other. Until the day they suddenly weren’t.

Ten years later, Ruby’s single, having spent the last decade focusing on her demanding career and hectic life in Manhattan. There’s barely time for a trip to England for her little sister’s wedding. And there’s certainly not time to think about seeing Ethan there for the first time in years.

But as the family frantically prepare for the big day, Ruby can’t help but wonder if she made the right choice all those years ago. Because there’s nothing like a wedding for stirring up the past…

Available at:
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