Wednesday, December 17, 2014

And the Winner of The Novel Cure Is......

The winner of a copy of The Novel Cure is.....

Madeline Jarvis!

Madeline:  please email me your contact information!

Stay tuned for my Best of 2014 Reads coming the last week of December!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Last Giveaway of the Year! The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

I can't believe this year is almost over!  But before we say adieu to 2014, let's have one more book giveaway, shall we?

This lovely book is sure to cure anything that ails you--a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn't read, being a control freak, or even...ahem...being locked out of your house.  Yes, Ella and Susan have managed to compile a brilliant list of books both classic and contemporary to help you through life's little bumps.  

And now you can have your very own copy of this delightful book, which is coming out in paperback.  

All you have to do is enter the contest below, and do 1 or 2 things:  comment on this post about what you read to cure your afflictions, or like my facebook Bookalicious page.  You can do both if you'd like! The contest runs December 13th through midnight, December 17th.  Please make sure if you are picked as the winner, you send me your email!  Otherwise, no Novel Cure for you.

This contest is open to US peeps only.  Thanks to Penguin for the giveaway!   Now get busy and start entering!

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Second Bite at the Apple by Dana Bate

I'm still on my kick of fun books to read while finishing up my school semester.  I just finished this book today right after I had my last class for the semester!  Now it will take me a few weeks to decompress, then gear up for the Spring semester in January.  I will do my best to read like a fiend.

Meanwhile, let's talk about A Second Bite at the Apple by Dana Bate. If you're a fan of food fiction (or food writing), you will love this book.  If the character of Rick the baker wasn't described as so physically unattractive and chauvinist, I'd want  to marry him just for his baking skills.  I'm pretty sure I can rule out working at a farmer's stand selling baked goods as a future job.  I'd be like the candy-line Lucille Ball of the farmer's market, stuffing food in my mouth in a futile attempt to maintain control. 

Sydney Strauss lives in Washington, D.C.  She's just been handed her pink slip from the television station where she works at a job she hates, with people she can't really stand.  It's not what she wants to do anyway, but once again she feels like a failure at life.  Sydney really wants to be a food writer, but no one will hire her to write about her passion.  A breakup with Zach 5 years previously has given her a complete avoidance of cooking.  They were quite good at creating meals together, and it gave Sydney her passion for food writing.  Now all she has left is a horrendous, visceral reaction to spaghetti carbonara, and plenty of bitterness towards men and love.  

Sydney makes ends meet by working for Rick, owner of the Wild Yeast Bakery.  He travels to local farmer's markets each week and sells amazing breads, cookies, muffins, and pastries.  He's a total crab, a real ass, and a giant complainer.  But his food is amazing.  Sydney meets Jeremy when her friend forces her to go out, and they have a rocky beginning.  Jeremy keeps coming back, and eventually they start to date.  Jeremy has a past that Sydney finds out about, and she questions her choice in men.  Their relationship has plenty of ups and downs, mostly based on Sydney's problem with trusting men.  Oh--did I mention Jeremy is a home brewer, who has a knack for creating pretty awesome beer?  

Things seem to be going slowly, but  pretty well with Jeremy. But Sydney has to make things complicated when she finds out Jeremy is indirectly involved in a huge food world cover-up.  This is her chance to finally have a story in a major newspaper, and jump-start her career as a food writer.  Her decisions are the one thing about Sydney that really, really really  annoyed me.  To the point that I was talking to the book, telling her what an idiot she was; I believe I had a few other choice comments to make to Sydney.  She really does have a problem with her past determining her present decisions.  She makes some really poor choices.  

So.  Did I like this book?  Yes.  Put food in a book and I'm all over it!  I was, and still am, not completely happy with Sydney.  I am a big believer in learning from the past, and moving forward.  Reading a novel about someone who carries her past with her all the time kinda drove me a bit batty.  I would have liked her to have a bit more faith and confidence in herself.  I won't tell you what happens to Sydney, but you'll be satisfied.  And you will love all the food!  And Dana Bate makes me want to jump on a plane to Washington, D.C. in the spring just so I can walk around the city and take in all the sights.  

Available in paperback and e-book.
Rating:  7/10.  The food and city of Washington, D.C. are lovingly described.  Sydney is a complex character that stayed stuck too long on her past for my taste, but otherwise I enjoyed this novel and would probably read more from this author. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Ruth's First Christmas Tree: A Novella by Elly Griffiths--And It's Free!

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and I immediately hunted it down.  And what do you's a free novella!  Anyone who's read the Ruth Galloway series (even just the first one or two) will enjoy this sweet  short story about Ruth's first Christmas tree in her little cottage by the sea.  

A little appetite teaser for me.  Now I want to grab the two Ruth Galloway novels I have on my bookcase that I haven't read yet and dive in!  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites by Libby O'Connell

History + food=me laying on my couch reading voraciously and getting grossed out by the idea of eating beaver tail.  Yes, it was, at one time, considered a yumalicious treat for trappers.  Full of fatty goodness, it was a good source of protein and best cooked over a campfire.  And I've always wanted to know just what exactly pemmican tastes like, thanks to all that history I read in my earlier years about the West and Native American food. (pemmican is dried meat, berries, and animal fat mixed together for a high protein snack bar).

I'll stick to hamburgers.  If you're a foodie like me ( and I say foodie in a very amateur way), this is the  kind of book that will make you giddy.  100 "bites" of food history, from the early 1400's and the three sisters (maize, squash, and beans), to trendy foods of today's American food scene.  Read a few pages, put it down.  Pick it up, thumb through, and turn to something that catches your eye.  You certainly don't have to read cover to cover, although it does move in a chronological order.  But skipping around is certainly part of the fun.  

O'Connell is the chief historian for the History Channel, and it's evident she's a big fan of history and food.  Her personal asides add to the book, as well as some recipes for dishes you may (or may not) want to try.  This would make a wonderful gift for anyone on your list who likes to cook, or is interested in history--or even is a big fan of Uncle John Bathroom Readers.  Short chapters chock full of those little nuggets of history that remind us how unique and interesting the American plate really is, and how far we've come in our food tastes.  These are the stories that make history so darn fascinating.

I'm hoping with fingers crossed this is developed for the History Channel as a series.  I will certainly be glued to the TV--and probably snacking on popcorn.  

Available in hardcover and e-book.

Rating:  8/10 for short, tasty bites of American culinary history.  You won't be able to resist it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Look of Love by Sarah Jio

If you've been following my reviews for a while, you know I love Sarah Jio.  I believe I've read all of her novels.  When Penguin's First Read program offered up this one, I immediately hit the download button and actually read it on my laptop.  This is something I never, ever do.  I am firmly in the "holding a book in my hand" camp and miss the connection I have with a story when I'm reading it on a device.  

But I digress.  I've had a chance to mull over this book for a few days, and the more I think about it, the more it takes on a rosy glow in my head and I realize I enjoyed the whole idea of it.  It's not the usual Sarah Jio, where she mixes a dual storyline and a bit of history.  This is firmly contemporary and yes, you could say a holiday novel.  Jane Williams is 29, runs a wonderful flower shop in Seattle, and is a bit wary of love.  She finds out on her 29th birthday that she has a special gift:  she can actually see love.  All her life she's had "neurological" problems that come and go, affecting her eyesight.  Her doctor tells her she must have brain surgery to correct the problem, or it can result in permanent brain damage.  Jane, however, believes the surgery will ruin her gift, and she has until her 30th birthday to identify six types of love.  If she doesn't, she will lose her chance of ever finding a love of her own.  

Luckily, Jane's friends and her brother are all deep in the throes of major love issues, so there's no shortage of finding the six types of love.  Her brother Flynn is in love with a woman he sees only through his apartment window; her friend is having an affair with a married man, and her hairdresser finds herself connecting with a man working on her kitchen while her husband continues to put his career before his marriage.  Oh, there are more!  I found myself getting sucked into all of these love dramas, and by the end, I was reading with my fingers crossed.  Not everything works out perfectly, people make choices.  But what's important is Jane's quest:  does she make it?  Does she herself find love? 

This is a quick read, and a sweet treat to enjoy during the holidays.  It will have you looking around at people you know, and trying to figure out just what kind of love, if any, they have with their special someone.  If you're a fan of Sarah Jio, be prepared for something a little different that her usual fare.  But you will love it!  

Rating:  7/10 for an imaginative plot line and characters you will cheer on in their quest for love.  

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander

The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander combines a bit of modern day fantasy with  one of the most horrible historical women I've ever read about: the notorious Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory.  She was known to bathe in the blood of virgins and was walled up in her castle as punishment.  Lovely lady, right?  

I should also mention two other historical figures who feature prominently in this novel:  Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley.  Dee was famous in his time as a mathematician, astrologer, and all around "magic man" to Queen Elizabeth I.  Kelley was Dee's assistant and had a reputation for channeling messages from angels.  In this story, the men find themselves traveling through Poland at the request of the Polish King to save his sister Elizabeth Bathory from certain death.  
The other side of this story continues in today's world, with Jackdaw Hammond. She's a 30-something young woman who has an unusual life--she's actually dead.  What keeps her alive are the symbols on her skin and the mystic potion she drinks regularly to stay alive.  And where do these come from?  Yep.  Dee and Kelley's trip to Poland, hundreds of years before Jackdaw modern England.   

Is Elizabeth Bathory  still around, hunting victims in present day England? Who is draining other people like Jackdaw of blood?  Jackdaw is working to save  people who have been assigned a time to die, but are saved from certain death by the symbols and potion created by Dee and Kelley. It's a lonely existence and quite frankly exhausting keeping death at bay.

 We all know messing with a sure thing like death is never a good idea, and all of this comes back to create high drama for Jackdaw and occult expert Felix Guichard.  The novel starts a bit slow, with back and forth between Dee and Kelley's adventure in 1585 Poland to present day England and a crime scene Felix has been called to investigate for occult symbolism. Soon, however, the novel picks up speed and I found myself on the edge of my couch, hoping Dee and Kelley would fail on their mission, but knowing their success was creating a puzzling and potentially horrible situation for Jackdaw and Felix.  

I did enjoy this novel.  It was very different from the usual sci-fi/fantasy stuff I usually read, and that's not a bad thing.  I always love a mix of history and fantasy, and I thought this was a clever plot.  At the end, I was left wanting to read more of Jackdaw and Felix.  Surely there are more adventures for them!  The major theme of triumph over death made me ponder the whole idea of everyone having a time to die.  Whether that time is young or old, peaceful or not, should we ever be able to choose or change it?  Or even stop it completely?  

Rating:  7/10 for a clever mix of historical figures and fantasy.  A good book for a sci-fi book club to read and discuss.  This is a novel that requires a bit of reflection after you've turned the last page.  

Available in paperback and e-book.