Wednesday, September 30, 2015

In the Dark by Deborah Moggach

At the risk of a weak pun, Deborah Moggach's In the Dark is a darker story about the owner and people of a boarding house in WWI London than her other two books about tenants and owners, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Heartbreak Hotel. They are more lighthearted and this book is more serious and tense. In the Dark is scheduled to be published in a hardback edition in the U.S. in November 2015. It actually was first published in an international paperback edition in 2007-08.

In this story the realities, consequences and naive concepts about the war are woven into the lives of the characters in subtle and stark ways. The war is an ever present element, either in the background or coming darkly forward. The main character, a war widowed mother of an adolescent boy, runs a boarding house for a collection of aging and injured people on the margins of life, each with some sort of handicap or loss. The story follows Eithne Clay as she tries to hold together her life and theirs by providing shelter and food for them, as well as income for herself and her son, with very little resources. Seeming good fortune comes her way in a raw, passion-filled marriage to the local butcher.

How this all unfolds reads like a script for an old Alfred Hitchcock TV show episode. There are a few Hitchcock-like twists, partly dark yet with ironic hope. Moggach has a sensitivity toward the emotional and personal stresses of life reflected in her characters and their difficulties, even if they play only a minor off-focus role. The butcher, Neville Turk, however, seems a little stilted and mechanical.

The title applies in a multitude of ways. Characters, soldiers, lovers, armies are each, literally and figuratively, in the dark, clueless at some time or another. Unfortunately the story seemed a little rushed in the wrap-up push to the conclusion of the book which comes at the close of the war.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Gorsky by Vesna Goldsworthy

By her own admission, author Vesna Goldworthy's book Gorsky owes its inspiration to F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. Her book is a "Gatsbyesque" read-a-like. One wonders why she wanted to use her creativity on a 21st century tweaked update of the 20th century predecessor. Title character Gorsky is a fabulously wealthy, as well as generous, Russian in contemporary London where he hopes to acquire the love of his life, Natalia, a willowy blonde Russian who is married to a less than honorable Brit. This is not to say that Gorsky is honorable since his wealth has been founded on the shadowy economic opportunities and activities of the Yeltsin era.

The story is told through the eyes of Serbian refugee/immigrant Nikola, who works in a run-down bookstore. Through circumstances he meets Natalia, Gorsky and others connected with each of them - designer's, artists, architects. Many of the cast of characters have connections to Russian mafia, drug dealing, adulterous liaisons and generally superficial lives supported by various levels of wealth. Gorsky hires Nikola to create a large and expensive book collection for the library in the cavernous house Gorsky is building in London. Nikola, while slightly beguiled by his contacts, especially Gorsky, in the end remains uncluttered in his life by possessions due to modest means and integral choice.

The back cover extols the book with praiseworthy descriptors, none of which I felt while reading the book. The advance reader cover summary speaks of Gorsky as wanting and getting the best of everything. Spoiler alert - he doesn't - either in the story or by the storyteller.

Goldsworthy does only an adequate job and perhaps she may stylistically echo Fitzgerald. If you are a Gatsby fan, give this book a try and see what you think. The book is due out in October from Overlook Press. I had been intrigued when I found it among the advance reader books at my local library. In disappointed retrospect, I should have probably overlooked it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Perfect Match by E.D. Baker

Series: Fairy Tale Matchmaker #2
Genres: Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Middle Grade
Release Date: October 6th, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Source: ARC from BEA 2015

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When former tooth-fairy-in-training Cory Feathering was stripped of her fairy skills, she discovered that, as the descendent of a cupid, she was born to be a matchmaker, and now her latest job is to find the perfect match for Goldilocks--the only trouble is that he is getting married to someone else.
The last time I read a book by E.D. Baker, I was in middle school. I had loved the book and when I found out about this series, I was excited. I started this book enthusiastic but after reading a little bit of it, I realized this was a sequel and not actually the first book *shakes fist at Goodreads for not being helpful*

That may be one of the reasons why I didn’t absolutely enjoy this book but to be honest, I am not sure reading the first book would have made much of a difference. There are certain things I would have been more aware of (in terms of world building) but the author still does a good job catching readers up so that even if it’s been a while since you read book 1 (or if you somehow missed the fact that there was a book 1 and read the sequel first), you won’t feel lost.

A lot of my issues with the book stem down to the fact I didn’t really relate to the characters. That could be because I hadn’t read the first book and didn’t know them as well but that’s probably not it. I’ve accidentally read sequels before first books several times and managed to love the characters (I seem to do this more often than I should.) I think my inability to relate to the characters was because I was so thrown off by the fact that the characters’ behaviors did not match up to their ages. The characters seemed pretty old (maybe even older than 18?!) yet their voices were very middle grade. It isn’t surprising given the book is a middle grade novel but it just didn’t work for me as a reader.

I was drawn in by the premise but was sad when the main focus of this book was not in fact figuring out a way to make a guy who is going to get married end up with his one true love. That bit was wrapped up REALLY quickly. The main conflict of the novel seemed to be Cory’s fight against the various fairy counsels and the abuse she was facing at their hands.

Overall, the book wasn’t a bad one per-say but I did find myself wanting more. Still, I am intrigued by Cory and her crew and I want to see Cory kick the fairy counsel’s butt! 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a series of short stories set in the Midwest all loosely connected to one main character and to food. I don’t normally care for this kind of narrative, but at least Kitchens of the Great Midwest moves forward chronologically instead of jumping around in time.

I found it slow starting but really enjoyed it once I got into it. Chapters are set in Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and South Dakota. Sad things happen, and touching things, but there is joy as well. We see inside the heads of a variety of Midwesterners, all of whom have a deep connection to food. Some recipes are included, and the plot is very up to date with the latest foodie trends.

I was left wondering what happened to some of the characters we met in various chapters and heard little or nothing more about, but that’s a sign of a well written short story. I do wish the book had a character chart, because I’m sure I missed some of the connections in the final chapter (which brings many of the characters together).

The book serves as a sort of recipe itself – a recipe for the life of one child born in the Midwest to Midwesterners whose life is focused on food.

I recommend Kitchens of the Great Midwest most for foodies from the Midwest, but other lovers of quirky literary fiction should also give it a try.

I read an advance reader copy of Kitchens of the Great Midwest. It is available at the Galesburg Public Library in print and electronic format.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Who Could That be At This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Series: All the Wrong Questions #1
Genres: Humor, Mystery, Middle Grade
Release Date: October 24th, 2012
Publisher: Little Brown
Source: Bought

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The adventure began in a fading town. Far from anyone he knew or trusted, a young Lemony Snicket started an apprenticeship for a secret organization shrouded in mystery and secrecy. He asked questions that shouldn't have been on his mind. Now he has written an account that should not be published that shouldn't be read. Not even by you. Seriously, we recommend that you do NOT ask your parents for this, the first book in his new ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS series.

I, like many other people, loved The Series of Unfortunate Events as a child so when I found out that this series would be a prequel of sorts, I was PUMPED. It only took me a couple years to getting around to reading the first book in this prequel series.

Lemony Snicket is probably one of my favorite characters ever so the fact that this series is all about a younger him made me really happy! I couldn’t wait to get inside his mind and see if he was just as awesome when he was younger. The answer to that is yes. However, this book just didn’t live up to the awesomeness of The Series of Unfortunate Events. The mystery element wasn’t as satisfying and I felt like it didn’t challenge me as much as The Series of Unfortunate Events did. There were also times when the book just jumped around in ways that didn’t work for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the book and it had me cracking up at several parts but it really doesn’t even begin to compare with The Series of Unfortunate Events.

One of the reasons this book probably didn’t blow my mind was because in some ways, all I really did was compare this book to The Series of Unfortunate Events and everyone knows that that’s probably not a good idea.

Who Could be At This Hour was a very fun read with an enjoyable mystery but one that didn’t challenge me so I was left feeling a little disappointed but I still plan on picking up the rest of the books in the series. I gots to have more of Lemony Snicket!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink and Jefferey Cranor

Genre: Surrealist Humor
Release: October 20th
Publisher: Harper Perennial

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Night Vale fans rejoice! The Welcome to Night Vale novel is almost out, and it does not disappoint.
For those unfamiliar with the highly popular podcast, Welcome to Night Vale started three years ago as a story-based podcast set in the eerie desert town of Night Vale, where conspiracy theories are true and weird is the norm. Taking the form of a community radio show hosted by narrator Cecil, Welcome to Night Vale quickly became well known both for its surreal setting and humor as well as for its clever use of social commentary.
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel effectively pays tribute to the eerie weirdness of the desert town many of us have become familiar with, incorporating characters and locations already well known to listeners of the podcast, while also providing a completely new story easily accessible to those of us who have never heard of federally mandated pizza or hidden cities under the bowling alley. The story revolves around two women who deal with living in Night Vale as a single mother and as a business owner (respectively) in very different ways. It tackles issues concerning age versus maturity, the right time to share difficult information with children, and uncertainty over identity, all with a delicate mix of weird humor and sincerity.
Unfortunately, the novel suffers a little from stretches of inaction which are only slightly relieved by the various absurdities of Night Vale. It did at certain points feel very much like an extended episode of the podcast, which while entertaining felt at times like the balance between telling the story and establishing the setting became awkwardly lopsided.

That being said, once the action picks up the reader is once again pulled eagerly through the strange world of Night Vale. Overall, Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel, though a little slow and clunky at times, proved just as entertaining, spooky, and timely in its treatment of social issues as the podcast it shares a name with. It makes a great introduction to the world of Night Vale to newcomers, and scratches at the itch we listeners always feel between long awaited episodes. A great read for those who enjoy Kafka, Mikhail Bulgakov, Haruki Murakami, H. P. Lovecraft, or Stephen King.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Story of Awkward by R.K. Ryals

Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, New Adult
Release Date: April 11th, 2014
Source: Bought

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If you are looking for a happy book about beautiful people, this is the wrong story. 
If you are looking for a narrative without emotion, without regrets, and without mistakes, this is definitely the wrong story. 

This is by no means an uncomplicated tale about uncomplicated people. It is by no means sweet or light. 

This story is ugly. 
This story is complicated. 
This story is emotional. 
This story is tragic. 

In short, this story is about being awkward. 

Peregrine Storke is an artist with an odd sketchbook full of pictures she’s drawn since she was a child. It is a book full of strange sketches and awkward characters, for there is no better way to hide from bullying and life than to create a world of your own. With a stroke of her pencil, she has given life to a spectacled princess, a freckle-nosed king, a candy loving troll, a two-horned unicorn, and a graceless fairy. 

At nineteen, Peregrine leaves her home, her sketchbook, and awkwardness behind. But what happens when something goes wrong in the world of Awkward? Trapped inside of her complex realm with the bully she thought to leave behind, Peregrine discovers there is nothing worse than falling for your own villain.

You know what I would have thought improbable about two weeks ago? Falling in love with a freebie novel I snagged from Amazon. It happened though. The Story of Awkward made me feel all the feels. It was an emotional rollercoaster and it was 100% worth it.

This is a book many people will be able to relate to. Are you awkward? Do you sometimes have trouble embracing yourself? Is it hard to sometimes remember that you are perfect the way you are? Then you’ve come to the right place.

The Story of Awkward tells the story of a girl named Peregrine. She created the world of Awkward as a way to escape all the badness in her real life. From bullying to her emotionally abusive father to her in-different mother. The thing is, in spite of all these issues, the book doesn’t start off in a bad place. It starts off with Peregrine ready to go to college and excited for a fresh start.

But, a near death accident transports her, and her tormentor (who also happens to be her best friend’s brother) to the world she imagined as a kid. To Awkward. And Awkward is in trouble. It will be up to Peregrine and Foster (her tormentor) to save it.

Awkward was an awkward world. There will be some things about it that don’t make sense but I decided to go with the flow and ignore those tid bits because it is still a wonderfully imagined world and SO CREATIVE!

This book takes us on an adventure to save a prince who has been lured in by perfection but it also takes us on a journey of self-acceptance. The book also features a super cute romance between Foster and Peregrine.

I know what you might be thinking, “BUT HE TORMENTED HER”, and I felt that too but Ryals does such a fantastic job with the romance and makes the two SO EASY TO SHIP. Their romance is wonderfully developed and doesn’t turn into instalove when it easily could have. I loved watching them support one another and help each other feel accepted.

This is a fantastic book written in a unique voice and it so loveable. It features a strong yet awkward female lead, a cute romance, an interesting world and also a great message. Defintiely a book I’d recommend and it’s still a freebie on amazon SO GO CHECK IT OUT!

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Diet Myth by Tim Spector

After reading The Diet Myth: Why the Secret to Health and Weight Loss is Already in Your Gut, by Tim Spector, you will realize you are never alone when you eat. You are host to millions of microbes in your gastrointestinal track that are eating with you. Talk about intimate dining! And each one of us has a different combination and balance of those microbes, influenced by a wide range of factors - heredity, culture, environment and food itself.

Spector is Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London. He has done extensive research on the genetics of twins. Some of this has led him to questions regarding what people eat and what is really happening to the food and to them.

Using the format of a typical nutrition label, Spector covers the topics of calories, fats, proteiens, carbs, sugars, fibre, additives, vitamins and warnings. He discusses existing theories, past thinking, current research and speculations about diet, health and our bodies. In our diets, what works, what doesn't? Why does a "one-size fits all" approach to a diet fail?

Spector clearly, with wry humor, navigates scientific research, including his own failures and successes with food choices. It appears our internal microbial "company" thrives on having a great diversity of foods - the greater the diversity the better for the microbes and, ultimately, us.

The book is written in an approachable manner, one topic easily leading to another. It can help make sense of the bewildering abundance of stuff out there about food, weight and health, giving the reader literal "IN-sight."

Scheduled to be published September 2015.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Kill by Jane Casey

Wow, this series just keeps getting better! The Kill is the fifth book in Jane Casey's Maeve Kerrigan series, and it was a nail biter for me, with a great plot and twists I didn’t see coming. Cops are being killed, seemingly at random. The premise made me think quite a bit about what’s going on in the United States right now.

Jane Casey’s real strength is character development, and I was legitimately worried about what was going to happen to some of the main characters in this series while reading The Kill. Although, like many police procedurals, this one features a romantic relationship for the main character, it was not the focus. Maeve’s significant other Rob was hardly in The Kill. But the other two men in her life were front and center.

There is Superintendent Charles “God” Godley, her boss, who has a fine reputation but has been feeding information to a criminal for years and no one but Maeve knows it. Godley is finally starting to crack under the strain. Then there is Detective Inspector Josh Derwent, her sexist pig of a coworker who has surprising depth and strength. The relationship between Josh and Maeve has been stretched and beaten into a real friendship, and their dialogue is a treat to read.

If you like police procedurals, I can’t recommend Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series enough. It’s a great one. I envy anyone just picking up book one when there are four more to read right away!

The Galesburg Public Library owns all five books in the series. The first, The Burning, can be found in the adult Fiction section under the author's last name, Casey. They are also available as ebooks through the Alliance Digital Media Library (

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bold Tricks by Karina Halle

Series: The Artists Trilogy #3
Genres: Romantic Suspense, Adult
Release Date: December 14th, 2014
Publisher: Forever
Source: Won in Giveaway

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The faster they live, the harder they fall...

Raised by con artists, Ellie Watt has a lot of crazy childhood memories - but none more so than being scarred with acid by crime boss Travis Raines. Now Travis has kidnapped her good friend Gus as well as her mother. And Ellie has only one chance of getting them out alive - using two dangerous men who love her to death...

One is Camden McQueen, a talented tattoo artist who's made a permanent mark on Ellie's heart. The other is Javier Bernal, her fiery ex-lover. From the streets of Mexico City to the jungles of Honduras, this unlikely trio forms an uneasy alliance in the deadliest game of all - a battle to the finish that will pit enemy against enemy and lover against lover. And Ellie must choose the right man to trust...or die.

After putting off reading this book for over a year, I decided it was time (plus it was just sitting there on my shelf, waiting to be read so I HAD to.) Bold Tricks; however, just wasn't as good as its predecessors.

I am not one for angsty novels but if there is anyone who can make me enjoy one, it’s Karina Halle. She knows how to make angsty situations come off as realistic rather than annoying and bothersome. It’s what sold this series to me in the first place.

Camden, Ellie and Javier have always been complex characters. There is no black and white when it comes to them, only the grey. And for some readers that won’t work. I didn’t think it would work for me! But Halle has a way of making it work which was why I gobbled up the first two books in this series in spite of the things that frustrated me.

This time around, Camden and Ellie still had some awesome moments but most of their moments were cheesy and cringeworthy. Like REALLY cringeworthy. Also given some of the things that happened in the previous book, you’d think Ellie would do some grovelling but she kind of just expects things to go back to normal because she lurves Camden.

Javier was the highlight of the book. And me saying this is kind of a big deal since I never liked him in the first place. He is such a complex character and even though you know not to trust him, sometimes, like Ellie, you’ll find yourselves doing exactly that. He is a sketchy character but his moves aren’t always predictable (even if they aren’t surprising.)

The plot aspect of this book was well done and Bold Tricks was just as addicting as its predecessors. I loved the hunt and I loved how those things wrapped up.

Overall, I’d say Bold Tricks was a decent conclusion to the series but I would have liked it better had Ellie and Camden not turned into cheesy goop around each other(I only like cheese in/on my food, not my books.)