Monday, July 25, 2016

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

Buy here*
Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 421
My rating: 2.5 stars
Ages: 16+

Eleven years ago, six kids disappeared on their first day of kindergarten. Five of them are back without any memory of where they've been or their lives for the past eleven years. As everyone is trying to discover the mystery of the five and what happened to the still missing boy, the teens are conducting their own investigation.

The concept of this book seemed so intriguing, but the execution didn't live up to it.

First, there were some strange typographical choices. While making it hard to read, there were a few that made sense, but most of them didn't seem to add anything to the narrative or just confused the narrative.

Second, there is an event at the beginning of the book that seemed unnecessary and happened so quickly and then glossed over that I was actually in doubt whether it had actually happened. Throughout the last fourth of the book I kept expecting a twist related to it to happen.

Third, the revelation of what happened seemed a little lost in technicalities. Why did what happen continue to happen time and again?

Basically, what started as an interesting mystery and novel turned into something a little mediocre by the end.

Only a little language and mild sexual innuendos.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Buy here*
Publication date: 1992 (first edition), 2016 (this edition)
Publisher: Tor
Pages: 261
My rating: 4 stars
Ages: 16+

Becca grew up with her grandmother telling her the story of the Sleeping Beauty. Her grandmother's dying wish was for Becca to find the castle and the prince from the story. During her search, Becca learns about her past, her grandmother's past, and the fate of hundreds of thousands of people that no one knows--or will talk--about.

Yolen is one of those names that I know from my childhood. She had written a huge variety of books, from historical fiction, to board books, to fantasy. So, when I saw this book at the bookstore (and intrigued by the Sleeping Beauty retelling), I bought it sight unread.

This was a fascinating way to learn about a part of the Holocaust that I think very few people know about, all framed within the familiar (and yet unfamiliar) tale of Sleeping Beauty.

While marketed to teens, and being an appropriate read for teens, it's a bit different than most YA books. The main character is in her early 20s, instead of being a teenager, though I think that she is still relatable to teens, especially when it comes to her family relationships.

Very light language and vague mentions of sex.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

Buy here*
Publication date: 2014
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Pages: 361
My rating: 2.5 stars
Ages: 17+

After Emma finishes university, she returns to Hartfield to figure out what she wants to do. Her neurotic father gives her everything she wants and she is well liked in the community, so the summer will go well. But then Emma decides to take the lives of the locals into her own hands. And that's when things start going awry.

I was interested to read a retelling of Austen's Emma, though I was a little disappointed by Smith's version of the heroine. I have always thought of Emma as, yes a snob, but one with the best of intentions. She's a good friend to Harriet, a loyal daughter, and a charitable neighbor. Emma has her faults and makes mistakes, but she's never been a truly bad person.

Smith's Emma is cruel and manipulative. She uses the people around her for her own amusement, thinking she is better than them in every way. Her father and Miss Taylor indulge her, with only George Knightley to ever show her that she's wrong. Speaking of Knightley, where was the romance? They barely spoke more than twice before his declaration.

With that out of the way, Smith was able to take a 200 year old story and update it with rarely anything seeming out of place. It did take me a while to read and didn't hold my attention the way that Austen's works do.

Little language, some sexual dialogue.

*I do not receive compensation from Amazon.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Home Cooked: Essential Recipes for a New Way to Cook by Anya Fernald

More info*
Publication date: 2016
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Pages: 287
My rating: 3 stars
Ages: N/A

Belcampo founder and CEO Fernald created this new cookbook, full of recipes inspired by the rural cooking of Italy.

When I saw the title of this cookbook, I thought "Oh nice! Simple, flavorful recipes for home cooked meals." Unfortunately, that's not what this book is. While I think that a lot of the recipes seem really interesting and sound delicious, it's not exactly the way I cook. Everything is made from scratch, from the pasta to the cheese, there are ingredients that don't seem that easy to come by (at least, they aren't in my grocery store), and it involves time that I don't have (or don't want to give up).  A lot of them also called for a cast iron pan, which I don't have.

That said, I did make three recipes from the book and they were all good. I made the Amoretti Morbidi, Asparagus and Fried Eggs with the Aioli in the book. I liked the personal touch Fernald gave every recipe, and the instructions were easy to follow. There are a few more recipes that I would like to try, perhaps with the help of family or friends, especially the panzerotti.

The physical book is beautiful. It lays flat, making it easy to look at the recipes while cooking, the pictures are gorgeous and hunger inducing, and pages are thick. I liked the hard cover binding with a fabric finish on the spine. It looks like the kind of book that I would have found in my grandmother's kitchen (which I mean in the best possible way).

I think that this cookbook would best be suited for an experienced cook who enjoys challenges when it comes to cooking.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Buy here*
Publication date: 2012
Publisher:  Penguin
Pages: 369
My rating: 3.5 stars (?)
Ages: 18+

When Lou Clark loses her job at the cafe, she has very few choices. When a caregiver position opens up to care for a quadriplegic man, she decides it's better than working at the chicken factory. However, Will Traynor is rude and sullen from the moment they first met. Determined to help him see that his life is still worth something, Lou steps outside her comfortable life to show him that the world is still open to him.

Moyes's writing is amazing. Descriptive and simple, straightforward but at the same time subversive. I found Lou relatable, though at times I really wanted to smack her (especially when it came to her boyfriend).

The thing about this book is that it isn't the normal "boy meets girl" romance novel. It deals with some pretty heavy morality--which is why I gave it a questions mark after my rating. I've known a quadriplegic man who became paralyzed at 19; my brother was one of his caregivers for two years. This man lived a full life; he was cheerful, funny, went on cruises and did skydiving. He had gone to school and become a lawyer before deciding he wanted to book cruises for people. So when it came to Will . . . it was hard to me to understand his choices. That he had become so caught up in what he used to be that he didn't even try to see what he could still be. For everything that he told Lou, he should have been listening to himself instead.

I know how I feel about the situation at the end of the book. My moral compass couldn't be swayed by the sympathetic nature that Moyes portrayed. However, if we never read about things like this, we wouldn't ever be able to make our own decisions.

There was surprisingly little language and crudeness, based on other English books I've read. However, there was still some hard language spattered throughout and some sexual talk.

*I do not receive any compensation from Amazon.