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.


Connect with Jen Agg:
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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? 


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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:
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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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