Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Sara and Amy bonded over books, in spite of the long distances between them. And so, one day, Sara decides to visit Amy. She travels all the way from Sweden to the tiny town of Broken Wheel, Iowa, only to discover that Amy has passed away in the meantime. 

Sara is all but stranded, unsure what to do or where to go. Fortunately, Amy was beloved in Broken Wheel and her friends and fellow townspeople had been anxiously awaiting Sara's arrival just as much as Amy had. The townspeople of Broken Wheel readily embrace Sara, befriending her, making her feel welcome, and even insisting she stay in Amy's home. And Sara, after her initial discomfort with the attention, decides to give something back - a book store. But not just any book store, one that will honor Amy's memory, one that might just offer the people of Broken Wheel exactly what they've needed for so long. 

It's no surprise that Katarina Bivald herself was a bookseller. And while it can be assumed that authors in general are book lovers, The Readers of Broken Wheel proves Bivald is one of the most enthusiastic of those!

From Sara's arrival through to the trial that will determine her fate in Broken Wheel (because, if you couldn't tell, she's working without a visa), Bivald tells a tale that's charming and sweet and absolutely packed with some of the most brilliantly built characters in fiction. They reminded me a bit of Chocolat, if I'm honest: quirky, scarred, broken, opinionated, secretive, nosy... Sara gets to know each and every one of them, teasing out the details of their most intimate secrets through simple friendship and observation. And, book lover that she is, she is determined to find the perfect book for each and every one of their needs!

The Readers of Broken Wheel is the kind of book any and every reader can appreciate. It's one that will tug at your heartstrings and make you smile. It'll also make you wish you could spend a day or two in Broken Wheel yourself!

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

Imagine if your father killed your mother. It'd shape you and affect you all your life. Now imagine his name is cleared fourteen years later. How would you feel?

Olivia is facing exactly that. When she was just three, she was found abandoned in a Wal-Mart three hours away from the very place her family was reported missing. Three weeks later, her mother's body was found wrapped in a tarp. She was stabbed nineteen times. Olivia's father's truck was left in an airport parking lot, leaving authorities to guess he'd killed his wife and left his daughter before running for good. 

But a woman walking her dog near the original crime scene stumbles across Olivia's dad's remains. Now everything Olivia ever thought she knew about her family has changed. Her father is no longer a killer but a victim himself. And Olivia is willing to do whatever it takes now to find the real killer. 

Once upon a time, readers, April Henry penned a fantabulous mystery series featuring a character named Claire Montrose: Circles of Confusion (1999), Square in the Face (2000), Heart-Shaped Box (2001), and Buried Diamonds (2003). I loved this series. Loved it! And it's one I've never forgotten (considering each featured vanity plate puzzlers, every vanity plate I see IRL reminds me of Claire). She also released a stand alone in the Claire Montrose gap year - Learning to Fly - which was equally fantastic. 

Anywho, after coauthoring two series with Lis Weihl (which I somehow missed), Henry eased into the teen mystery scene with Shock Point in 2006 and has continued in that vein ever since. Even though I've known about Henry's teen titles for quite some time, The Girl I Used to Be is the first of them that I've read (though Learning to Fly does feature a teen protagonist it was still marketed as adult). And I'm so happy to have gotten back into her work!

I recall very little of the Claire Montrose books except how much I enjoyed them and I can definitely say that The Girl I Used to Be hit the mark as far as enjoyment is concerned! It's also a great mystery with a heroine I loved spending the afternoon with. (This was a one-sitting read!)

Olivia has dug herself out of a sort of bad background. I mean, she grew up under the shadow of her mother's death and with the stain of her father's supposed crime. She spent years in the system too, eventually earning her GED and gaining her independence as an emancipated minor. Which is why at seventeen she's able to move back to her parents' hometown and poke around in an attempt to find the real killer. 

The book could have been longer and I most certainly wouldn't have complained, but honestly I think it was just about the perfect length. Olivia's story plays out quickly and with just the right amount of edge-of-your-seat tension and suspense. It was fun, pure enjoyment in fact!

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Kathleen Tessaro's latest, Rare Objects.

Maeve Fanning always wanted more. Clever and educated, she nonetheless found herself in a situation of her own creation that demanded escape. And escape she did, all the way to New York City. There she worked as a dancer, partying and drinking away the evenings after work. Unfortunately Maeve's grand adventure ended with her being committed, something she'd never admit to. Instead, she spun a lie that she'd been employed as a secretary for an eccentric and wealthy man whose demands were such that the had no time for writing or visiting home. 

Now, in 1932, Maeve is one of many qualified women searching for work that will allow her to eke out a living. But it's hard enough considering the current Depression, and being Irish doesn't make it easier. With a bit of a lie and a bit of bleach, though, Maeve transforms herself into May, earning a spot as a salesgirl at an antiques dealership. It's there that a new world opens up to her, one that offers connections and opportunities she could never dream of. It's a glimpse inside the world of the rich and elite, one whose doors open to her due to a surprising connection of her own - someone she met in her darkest days in New York. 

Rare Objects is essentially a tale of friendship and of the dangers of keeping up appearances. The time period in particular amplifies the issues, but they are not foreign to what some face even today.

Maeve has marks against her: the economy means less opportunity for everyone, even those in a better position than most. Maeve's own education and qualifications make her suitable for any number of jobs but that simply doesn't matter when there are no jobs to be found! The fact that she's Irish makes it worse considering no one in Boston wants to hire them and Maeve's red hair stands out as an undeniable marker of her heritage. But Maeve's own past is her enemy as well. She's dissatisfied with the life around her. She has secrets she'd rather those around her not know - secrets that could ruin every chance she and her mother have worked for. And her time as a patient at Binghamton State Hospital is certainly not something she's interested in sharing.

Which is why she finds something of a soulmate in Diana Van der Laar. Their reunion is purely coincidental, but their shared shame is a bond that trumps all of their other differences.

Their friendship is one that could save them both, if they'll allow it. But both women bear deep emotional scars that could, if they bend to weakness, ruin them both. And of course both of them must, at all cost, ensure that their carefully built facades remain unquestionable and unshakable. The stress of that alone is enough to threaten each girl's grip on reality!

I love Tessaro's work! I've mentioned in past reviews how graceful and fantastic her writing is and how alive her characters are on the page. Rare Objects is definitely no exception. From the start, Maeve's story had a hold on me that begged for attention. I couldn't put this book down until I knew how things would turn out for her. And of course, as with any great story, hers is one that still had me in its grip well beyond the final page.

Rating: 4/5

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here. For more on Kathleen Tessaro and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, May 1, 2016

New Releases 5/3/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Map of Bones by Frances Haig

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

Redemption Road by John Hart

I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh

Wilde Lake by Laure Lippman

Nightshift by Charlaine Harris

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

The Silent Army by James A. Moore

The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta

The Painter of Souls by Philip Kazan

And After the Fire by Laure Belfer

Finding Fraser by K. C. Dyer

A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison

After the Fire by Jane Casey

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

The Lost Stars by Jack Campbell

Mission Hill by Pamela Wechsler

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

The Apartment by Danielle Steel

Bloodroot by Cynthia Riggs

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

A Totally Awkward Love Story by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

Alice and the Fly by James Rice

The Girl I Used To Be by April Henry

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

The May Queen Murders by Sarah Jude

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

The Crown by Kiera Cass

Ruined by Amy Tintera

Dream On by Kerstin Gier

New on DVD:
A Royal Night Out
400 Days
The 5th Wave

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Pre Pub Book Buzz: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is a highly talented author who's tackled everything from steampunk and historical murderesses (with an added Lovecraft flavor) to vampires and superheroes - and tackled them well, I should add. But I have to admit I did a majorly dorky happy dance when I heard that her upcoming The Family Plot would be a haunted house tale!!!

It's no secret that ghosts and haunted houses are my favorite horror topic. FAVORITE favorite in a genre that is my favorite, that is. And Cherie Priest does ghosts fantastically! If you haven't checked our her Eden Moore series (which started with the uber creepy Four and Twenty Blackbirds, I suggest you do that soon). So yeah, to say I'm excited about this one is a bit of an understatement.

Here's a bit about The Family Plot from Goodreads:

Chuck Dutton built Music City Salvage with patience and expertise, stripping historic properties and reselling their bones. Inventory is running low, so he's thrilled when Augusta Withrow appears in his office offering salvage rights to her entire property. This could be a gold mine, so he assigns his daughter Dahlia to personally oversee the project.

The crew finds a handful of surprises right away. Firstly, the place is in unexpectedly good shape. And then there's the cemetery, about thirty fallen and overgrown graves dating to the early 1900s, Augusta insists that the cemetery is just a fake, a Halloween prank, so the city gives the go-ahead, the bulldozer revs up, and it turns up human remains. Augusta says she doesn't know whose body it is or how many others might be present and refuses to answer any more questions. Then she stops answering the phone.

But Dahlia's concerns about the corpse and Augusta's disappearance are overshadowed when she begins to realize that she and her crew are not alone, and they're not welcome at the Withrow estate. They have no idea how much danger they're in, but they're starting to get an idea. On the crew's third night in the house, a storm shuts down the only road to the property. The power goes out. Cell signals are iffy. There's nowhere to go and no one Dahlia can call for help, even if anyone would believe that she and her crew are being stalked by a murderous phantom. Something at the Withrow mansion is angry and lost, and this is its last chance to raise hell before the house is gone forever. And it seems to be seeking permanent company.

Tell me that does not sound super cool?! The Family Plot is due out from Tor in July.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Hi, everyone! Today I'm pleased as punch to be taking part in the blog tour for Roshani Chokshi's hotly anticipated teen debut, The Star-Touched Queen.

Since her birth, Maya's fate has been maligned by the stars. Her other siblings and the other mothers in her father's harem snubbed her or outright cursed her, telling her they would all be better if she died because of what they say was written in her horoscope. And Maya hates the stars because of it. 

Convinced she will never marry, and happy for it, Maya is surprised to find that her father has decided to use her as a bargaining chip to prevent war. But on the day of her she is to choose her husband, nothing goes according to plan and Maya finds herself wed to a man from a kingdom she's never heard of. He says he wants her to be queen, he wants her for her ideas and her mind, he wants her for her power. But secrets shroud their marriage and the new land she calls home. And as whispers and cries reach out to her from behind locked doors, Maya begins to understand the fate the stars have written for her. 

This book. THIS BOOK! Y'all everyone is raving about this book, so much so that I was actually worried when I started reading - worried that maybe it had been overhyped and that I wouldn't love it as much as everyone else.

That simply was not the case!

The Star-Touched Queen is steeped in Indian folklore and blended with the Hades/Persephone myth. (I was hesitant to include that particular tidbit in my review because I'd gone into the book without reading any real specifics about the plot at all and found myself both pleased and surprised by that element. But it's pretty much all over the internet including the original deal listing for the book so I figured I'd tell you.) I love folklore and will probably never tire of folk/mythology/fairy tale retellings. But coming across one that's unique and includes lore I'm fairly unfamiliar with is refreshing, to say the least.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes this book so fabulous! In addition to the lore that makes up the bones of the story, Chokshi has built a world that is lush and vibrant and absolutely filled with gorgeous and creepy imagery! It's a world that I wanted to eat, sleep, and breathe well after finishing the book.

Having said all of that (I know, I'm raving - it can't be helped), even the most beautifully built world and wonderfully built narrative are nothing without characters that are equal to their setting. Lest you think that Chokshi may have faltered here, let me set you straight. Maya does live up to the standard. She's stubborn and clever, a rule breaker even from the start. She defies her tutors, turns a mostly deaf ear to the overly loud insults in the harem, and sneaks into places women aren't even supposed to be in order to glean information and learn leadership from her father, the Raja. It all comes in handy as she begins her journey, too. And as her character and will are tested time and time again as the story plays out, her strength never falters.

The Star-Touched Queen is an absolutely phenomenal read, the first of what I hope will be many phenomenal reads from Chokshi!

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

America's Best Breakfasts by Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman

Readers, I'm a breakfast person. But not breakfast for breakfast most of the time. I like breakfast all day! And I love trying recommended breakfast places when we travel. Like the San Diego place with the mammoth biscuits we couldn't even finish, or the food truck breakfast tacos we had on our last trip to Houston... It's always been this way for me: midnight trips to the local 24-hour diner in my college and post-college years were a heaven of fried eggs and gravy fries, Corned Beef Hash with Dill Hollandaise was kind of a life-changing discovery when we found our favorite brunch place after moving to Colorado, and the fabulous Cajun Benedict concoction I had for lunch on my last trip to Lafayette is the stuff of dreams! And I haven't even mentioned some of our other local favorites we take visitors to here.

All that's to say that I think (or thought) America's Best Breakfasts: Favorite Local Recipes from Coast to Coast would be the absolute perfect cookbook for me. In their newest book Lee Brian Schrager and Adeena Sussman highlight some of the best breakfasts from around the country and provide readers with the recipes to make them in their very own kitchens. Yum!

But there are two things I don't love about this book. First, the title and premise are a bit misleading. The authors don't highlight ALL of the states. In fact, they hop skip and jump straight from LA, San Francisco, and Portland over to Omaha, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Ohio with nothing in between. That's a whole lot of states not covered by even one highlighted breakfast spot! Now I don't know the reason for this and (most of you don't know this) considering I once wrote cookbooks that required places to agree to have their submitted recipes printed in a book, it could simply be that the authors intended to highlight ALL of the states and had issues getting recipes. I don't know. But there are sections highlighting places without recipes in the book as well, so that still doesn't explain why so many states aren't represented at all.

My second issue with this book is that in perusing the recipes I noticed a lot of them require quite a bit of prep for multiple components, some of which have to be made a day ahead of time. Now, like I said I'm not hellbent on breakfast for breakfast but when I went to make the "Caramelized Grapefruit with Basil Sugar," for example, I was not prepared to have to let the grapefruit chill for at least an hour before I could eat it. It's broiled grapefruit with sugar! And considering it's got olive oil on it, it was essentially cold, greasy grapefruit...

Not all of the recipes were overly complicated or unappealing, though. The "Bacon, Egg, and Cheese 'Paco'" (a brilliant creation courtesy of the Food on a Roll Truck in Miama) is a breakfast wrapped in a pancake (why did I never think to do this?!). "Marlene Schrager's German Breakfast (For Dinner)" is a tasty and easy scramble as is the slightly more time consuming (only slightly) "Devil's Mess" from Richmond, VA's Millie's Diner.

In spite of my above issues, the variety and types of recipes is actually quite nice. There are omelets, crêpes, donuts, breakfast sandwiches, and even pop tart recipes included. There are a number of regional and ethnic dishes as well - "Pozole" (from San Jalisco of San Francisco), "Koko Moco" with a homemade mushroom gravy (from Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu), "Pho Bo" (courtesy of Dông Phuong in New Orleans), Ingrid Hoffman's "Yuca Buns" and an Avena Breakfast Smoothie, and even a Scrapple recipe from DC's Birch & Barley.

And while the "Morning Glory Muffins" (Panther Coffee and Cindy Kruse's Baked Goods in Miami) may have made me dirty every dish in my kitchen to make them and Lambert's (Austin) "Frito Pie" requires the forethought (and self control) of keeping extra brisket on hand after a BBQ meal, the argument could be made that there is enough variety and enough recipes like Versailles' (Miami) "Tortilla de Papas" and Miss Lily's (New York) "Coconut Pancakes" to appease even someone like me who doesn't want to think about breakfast a day ahead of time.

I do still wish there had been more representation of the other states, though.

Rating: 3.5/5

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