Thursday, May 26, 2016

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Maria Conlon-McKenna's Rebel Sisters.

Grace, Muriel, and Nellie Gifford weren't brought up to be revolutionaries. They were raised in the upper crust of Ireland's society. Respectable and educated, they enjoyed privileges beyond those of many in their country. And yet all three were drawn into the Rising. Nellie, schooled in Domestic Economy, takes up arms as part of the Citizens Army while Grace, an artist, and Muriel, a nurse, are both drawn in after falling for leaders of the Rising itself. 

Theirs is a true story, a story of three sisters who played significant roles in Ireland's modern history. 

I knew literally nothing about the Easter Rising. In fact, it was Kate Kerrigan's story in Fall of Poppies that really alerted me to the story. And it's huge! A massive story, in fact, and yet it gets overshadowed by WWI, especially for those of us here in the States.

What's so fascinating about this story is that, as I believe the author shows through the opening chapters, these sisters were never the kind of people anyone would expect to take part in an effort like this. Certainly their mother never expected they would. As the author's note states in the end of the novel, the relationship between mother and daughters was strained (to say the least) as a result.

And while the book focuses specifically on Grace, Muriel, and Nellie, the Gifford family sported more rebels than them. We meet, for example, their sister Sydney as well. She was a journalist who famously wrote under the name John Brennan and was also a member of the Daughters of Ireland. Why the book's focus is limited to the other three is somewhat confusing considering Sydney was certainly as involved as the other three. (Chapters are narrated from the perspectives of Muriel, Grace, Nellie, and occasionally their mother.)

I did have a bit of a hard time getting into Rebel Sisters. The book kicks off in 1901, obviously setting the scene and introducing the reader to the characters, the family, and even the politics leading up to the 1916 Rising. But the coverage of years 1901-1913 in particular are so choppy that I found it hard to get truly taken in by the story.

Perhaps, though, the mistake was mine in assuming this was a story of the Rising itself. It's not. This is a story about the Gifford sisters. The book is two-thirds through before we even hit 1916 at all. Understandably, in writing Nellie, Grace, and Muriel's stories, one cannot ignore their childhood or upbringing. The death of Queen Victoria, the death of their own brother, their educations... all of this is appropriate context for their participation in the Rising. I can imagine it may even have been difficult to choose exactly what to highlight and when to start in order to give the reader a full picture of these extraordinary women! Knowing that, and knowing that anyone's biography - even a fictionalized one - can fill volumes, I still wanted more of a linear narrative than Conlon-McKenna provided here. I wanted to be swallowed up in the Giffords' story rather than feeling as though I was hopping through a highlight reel.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Marita Conlon-McKenna you can visit her website here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Alison Anderson's The Summer Guest.

The discovered diary of Zinaida Lintvaryova is something of a godsend and revelation for two very different women. For Katya Kendall, it could mean saving the publishing company she and her husband have struggled to keep afloat for so many years. For Ana Harding, the translator hired to rework the journal, it means the possible discovery of a long lost novel by one of literature's greats. 

Zinaida, a blind doctor living in Luka, meets young Anton Chekhov when his family rents her family's summer house in 1888. They form a close friendship, one that Zinaida chronicles in her diary as the days go by. And, as their friendship grows, so does the the mention, the promise, of a novel Chekhov may have penned at Zinaida's suggestion.

The Summer Guest was, as the author states on her blog, a quiet novel. One that will appeal most to literature fans and readers who enjoy books about books. I mean, what could be more appealing than a book about the rumor of another lost book? A book about a publisher, a translator (the author knows this part of the industry well!), and a famous literary figure all linked through the words and thoughts of a woman lost to history?

It's a slow burn of a read, one that does require quite a bit of attention and concentration (not something you'll be able to zip through in one sitting), but one that is ultimately rewarding. The culmination of the tale, one I won't spoil, was particularly fun. And the fact that the story itself - the diary, that is - is based on very real people makes it that much more appealing.

Zinaida was real. Chekhov did spend time on the Luka estate. There's even a museum dedicated to Chekhov on the old grounds. The story is fiction, but is, as was the author's goal, a fitting and respectful tribute to Chekhov.

And if, like me, you know very little about Chekhov, that's ok. Again, this is really a book about friendship and the love of books and literature.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Alison Anderson you can visit her website here.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish

If you're looking for a serious pizza cookbook, look no further. Ken Forkish's The Elements of Pizza: Unlocking the Secrets to World-Class Pies at Home is what you need.

But mind the fact that I note "serious." This is not, at least for me, a good cookbook for the average home cook looking to make quick weeknight pizzas without much fuss. The dough recipes provided take six hours or more and the author suggests purchasing and using specific pizza implements (a pizza stone, which I do have; a pizza paddle, which I definitely don't have space for; and even special tubs to allow your dough to rise and ferment). If you're not planning or prepared to put that kind of effort into your pizza, this is NOT the book for you.

I tend to fall somewhere in between. The amount of time required for a traditional dough, even the one Forkish titles the "I Slept in But I Want Pizza Tonight" dough is still usually an overwhelming amount of time for me to plan for a pizza night. Typically when I want pizza, I want it now. And even if I plan ahead and buy toppings and such, I haven't put that much planning into the dough. Using Forkish's book required a definite adjustment for me in that regard and does leave me a bit undecided on how I'd rate the book overall as a general cookbook. It's not a general cookbook, I know. And I guess I'm not enough of a hardcore pizza eater for it to really be considered a regular use cookbook either. But for special occasions or for someone with more drive than me, it's a great one to have on hand for sure.

Forkish spends a good stretch of time speaking to the philosophy and tradition of what has become an American favorite. The history of pizza's origins, the differences between regional pizza (including American regional pizza), etc are all covered and pizzerias famous for different kinds of pies are highlighted as well. There are even recipes from some (the Vodka Sauce and Sausage Pizza the author references as resembling Rubirosa's was my first attempt).

I do love the variety of pizzas covered - from the various topping combinations to sauces, types of dough, and methods of cooking. But I did have one significant issue beyond even the time requirements of the dough and the constraints of my somewhat limited pizza making tools - my oven. I was under the assumption that I had a fairly good oven. And it's a fairly new one as well. What I discovered, though, is that my own oven did not particularly like the required temperatures for making the above mentioned Vodka Sauce and Sausage Pizza. At least not while both ovens were running!

That's my own personal issue to troubleshoot, however, and I do appreciate that oven particulars are something the author draws attention to in the book. All in all, if you are a pizza aficionado willing and able to devote the time and effort to a really great pizzeria style home made pies, Forkish truly does cover it all. If, like me, you tend to make your pizza decisions on the fly, you can either make extra dough (most of the recipes are for more than one and include instructions for saving them for later use), take your chances with store or pizzeria purchased crust, or continue to order in.

Per Blogging for Books requirements: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

It's Monday, readers! And today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Robin Wasserman's latest, Girls on Fire.

Hannah was never part of any group. Never popular. Never one of the bright and shiny girls everyone wanted to be friends with. And that was ok. 

But then Lacey came into her life. Lacey opened her eyes. Lacey dubbed her Dex and made everything different. Dex was wild and unafraid. Dex was who Hannah could never have imagined being but, once changed, could never leave behind. Their friendship changed them both, and, in the time of Kurt Cobain and satanism scares, not necessarily for the better. 

Oh, my. I'm not even quite sure how to react to this one. It's all at once a bit of a mean and nasty book, a scary book, and a bleak book. I wonder if it's supposed to, as one of the characters notes, make mothers afraid of raising daughters!

There's no way to read Girls on Fire, as a girl that is, and not consider your own teen years. I knew girls like Dex, Lacey, and even Nikki. I wasn't one of them. Thankfully.

I'd describe Dex and Lacey's friendship as a toxic one. Hannah/Dex is a follower. She seems to rely on cues around her to determine who she is and who she wants to be. She allows Lacey to mold her into what Lacey wants, and latches onto it full force. But when she feels betrayed and abandoned by Lacey, Hannah/Dex becomes unmoored. Hannah has no strength or backbone.

In spite of the narrative, I find it hard to believe that Lacey is actually friends with Hannah. I think Hannah is a pawn, even as the story progresses and comes to its dark and inevitable close. Lacey is broken, a girl even Hannah's parents seem to believe has some redeeming qualities, but one who is shaped by her surroundings and left to flounder. And under the influence of the weird happenings of the 90s (remember this is the time when everything from heavy metal to horror movies was accused of turning teens into rampant and avid devil worshippers) Lacey becomes a festering ball of hot hatred.

I didn't really like Girls on Fire. It's just a little too everything for my taste. Most of all, it's a bit too real. As I said, I knew girls like this. I knew girls like Hannah who would follow any strong personality that paid attention to them. I knew girls like Lacey who would take advantage of girls like Hannah. And it's not too hard to imagine that some of the people I knew could have, under the right circumstances, had a story that played out as Hannah's and Lacey's does. And it's kind of terrifying.

That Wasserman captures that, is kind of amazing. But Girls on Fire is not going to be a book that hits high notes with every reader. In fact, I think it's a book that should come with a caution sticker: the writing is great, the story is ugly, enter at your own risk.

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here

For more on Robin Wasserman and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

New Releases 5/24/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Seven Days Dead by John Farrow

A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

A Blade of Black Steel by Alex Marshall

Flight Patterns by Karen White

The Children by Ann Leary

The 100 Year Miracle by Ashley Ream

Marlene by C. W. Gortner

The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson

The Progeny by Tosca Lee

Please Don't Tell by Laura Tims

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

The Last Star by Rick Yancy

The Hunt by Megan Shepherd

Return to the Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz

The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda

New on DVD:
The Finest Hours
How to be Single

New reviews at
Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

Friday, May 20, 2016

Short Fiction Friday: Runtime by S.B. Divya

Marmeg has everything riding on the Minerva Sierra Challenge. It's a race she's certain she can place in, if not win. And the winnings would mean enough to buy a license for her youngest brother, pay for her own nursing school, and maybe even buy some better gear. But the race turns out to be way more challenging that Marmeg could have anticipated and she'll soon have to choose between winning and doing the right thing. 

In her latest novella, S.B. Divya imagines a future where humans use technology to increase their strength, to stimulate their stamina, and even to erase and create new personas.

The problem with this future is twofold, though. First, only the richest can actually afford legal purchase of this technology. And the country has a new caste system where money isn't the only requirement - families and individuals require licenses to even get the kind of education that qualifies them for decent jobs (to earn legal money). Marmeg and her family don't qualify, which means that Marmeg's earnings are limited even though she's bright and talented enough to get a great job with a tech company. Instead, her strengths in this regard are put to use on the black market and on her own gear. Gear that's scavenged from trash bins and barely hanging together. This hindrance has always been apparent to Marmeg. It's one of the reasons she wants so badly to be able to purchase a license for her younger brother - so he'll have opportunities the rest of her family missed out on.

The second issue is one that's less obvious to Marmeg considering her own views on the world: folks are becoming increasingly less prepared for a world in which technology is compromised or altogether non existent.

This latter is an interesting element of the story and one that I particularly liked. Honestly, it's an element of our current society that I already see as problematic even if you consider the smallest inconvenience - your WiFi or internet goes out and you need to look up a phone number. Holy crap! I have phone books galore and DO know how to use them but there are plenty of folks who don't. There's also the issue that with less call for phone books, less folks are in them at all. Is your cell phone in a phone book? Do you have the numbers in your phone memorized? Think about it...

Of course it's a much broader issue that phone numbers in the story. It's survival. And Marmeg is faced with just that challenge as part of the race itself.

I really enjoyed Divya's tale but I definitely wanted more. This was just a taste, a sampling, of a world that can encompass so much story! And Marmeg's own story ends rather abruptly in this installment. So far there's no news about whether Divya will be returning to this world but I certainly hope that's the plan.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore + a Giveaway

Happy Thursday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Christopher Moore's Secondhand Souls, the follow up to A Dirty Job!

Okey dokey, when we left Charlie Asher and friends things were not looking so good. Secondhand Souls opens with Charlie dead/undead, Sophie orphaned, and Charlie's shop closed down by the now defunct as their relationship pizza and jazz restaurant started by Lily and Minty Fresh. Up to speed?

In the year since Charlie Asher and friends battled the Morrigan, things have not improved. Retired cop Rivera has been bumped up to death merchant but hasn't been collecting souls. And with Charlie still technically alive, apparently he's also neglected his continued duty to do the same. But it appears that even without having been collected by the official death merchants, the souls are vanishing none the less.  

No one knows yet what the ramifications of all this will be, but all hope is not lost considering Sophie's position. Except it appears the seven year old may just have lost her powers as well. And now the hellhounds have taken a hike, leaving the girl unprotected. If only Charlie had a real body, then he could go back to being a dad, protect his little girl (and maybe the world), and put things right!

Oh, Christopher Moore you wicked genius you! I have been waiting for the return of Charlie, Sophie, Lily, etc for so long - and you didn't let me down :) There's even a few "like bear" statements too!

A Dirty Job holds a very special place in my heart as my FAVORITE Chrisopher Moore title (hubs's is Lamb). So yes, as soon as I heard Moore was working on a sequel I started getting all antsy pantsy about getting my hands on a copy. It released last year, brand new on shelves while we were in New Orleans, and I bought a hardcover signed edition over at Faulkner House (the tiniest bookstore ever!). But I held off reading it until now... Maybe, considering I recommended A Dirty Job during some massive nasty news in 2008 (I don't recall what), it was simply that my reading brain knew I'd need similar relief now!

Moore, if you haven't read him (and I do recommend you rectify that if that's the case!) is one of the most hilarious authors I've ever had the pleasure of reading. He's raunchy and crass, but surprisingly (especially in the case of the two Grim Reaper books) charming and heartwarming at the same time. I mean ultimately you have a story here about a father and daughter and their support system of friends... trying to save the world. And sure, some of those friends might be little meat puppets wearing tiny theater garb but that just makes it all the more insanely amusing! And yes, you need insanely amusing in your life.

I won't give away any more but I will stress (STRESS) that you should definitely read A Dirty Job before diving into Secondhand Souls. It'll all make a little more sense to you if you do. Plus, you know, two great books is always better than one!

Rating: 4/5

To see all the stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Christopher Moore and his work you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him in Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

And now for the giveaway! Today I've got a paperback copy of Secondhand Souls up for grabs. All you have to do to get your name in the hat is fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, June 6. Open US only.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway