Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Woman No. 17 by Eden Lepucki

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Edan Lepucki's latest, Woman No. 17.

Lady and her producer husband are separated and so she decides she needs a nanny to help with her youngest son, Devin. Lady is supposed to be focusing on writing a book, after all, and the help will allow her to do so. Or so she thinks. 

S answers the ad and seems a good fit. But S isn't just looking for a nanny position. S is an artist working on a live art project recreating the life her mother once lived. 

As the sweltering summer passes by, the two woman play out their roles almost perfectly. Almost. As the days pass, their secrets bubble to the top and threaten to spill over. 

Well, Woman No. 17 was a study in awful people and toxic relationships, apparently.

Lady and her husband are on a trial separation. A separation prompted and held strong by Lady herself. She says she needs space, room to breathe and think, and hiring a nanny further allows that. Or so she thinks. She's under contract to write a book after an article about her oldest son gained tons of attention. But she's blocked.

S meanwhile, is a floundering artist. Her first attempt at art flopped and now she's onto a new project, in part to prove her seriousness to her medium after her boyfriend dumps her. Her new project? To become her mother. She dies and cuts her hair, buys a new wardrobe, takes up drinking in massive quantities, and even adopts new mannerisms all to recreate her mother's life in the early 90s. And documents it through Polaroids.

The women are tied together by their terrible relationships with their mothers. Indeed, Lady and S's mothers seem like two peas in a pod. And Lady and S have a lot in common as well. In fact, had they not been so focused on their own projects, they would have seen that and likely gotten on like a house on fire.

But that isn't the story.

No, instead, again this is a story about terrible people and toxic relationships. Their story is a train wreck from the very start and the reader can't possibly tear themselves away as they watch it all come to a crashing, burning end.

Edan Lepucki can write crazy good. But all in all I can't say that this was a fun read. As I realized neither of these characters was going to learn from or do anything to change their ways, it became more and more difficult to watch their stories play out. They're miserable people making everyone around them miserable.

Again, though, Lepucki can weave an engrossing story. Her prose is undeniably powerful. I think, however, that her debut, California, is much more my speed. Woman No. 17 was too close to reality TV for my own taste.

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

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

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Stephen P. Kiernan's latest, The Baker's Secret.

The war has been raging for four years and twenty-two-year-old Emma sees no end in sight. Unlike the rest of her fellow villagers, Emma holds out no hope of the Allies' arrival. She fears the occupying army will always rule and that their current life is the new normal. 

In spite of this, and in spite of her staunch refusal to join the official resistance, Emma has become a one man underground trading market. It begins when the Kommandant tastes her baguette and insists she receive enough rations to bake a dozen of the loaves each day for him and his men. Emma complies, but pads the dough with ground straw in order to bake two extra she can divvy out amongst the starving villagers. Soon she's sourcing tobacco and fuel so that the villagers can have fish and other necessities. But with the ever present Germans oh, so watchful, Emma knows it's only a matter of time before she gets caught. 

Readers, this was a book I'd been greatly looking forward to. And I have to say Kiernan delivered wholeheartedly! My only regret is that I read this in the midst of having come down with a vicious cold and I fear that when I'm better, I'll come to the blog and see that this whole post is a bunch of gobbledygook!

So I will attempt a readable review, but I promise nothing.

The Baker's Secret is set in WWII occupied France, in a village that refuses to go down without making the Germans at least a little miserable for having taken their town. There is an arm of the official resistance, but everyone fights in their own little ways. One of the most prominent small battles: simply being late for all but collecting rations. And so, they've convinced the Germans that they're basically a village of buffoons earning latitude by being underestimated. Their resourcefulness is necessary for survival, because it's true none of them can see the end in sight.

But everyone holds out hope that the allies will arrive and provide salvation.

Except for Emma. Which is why she takes matters into her own hands, in spite of not wanting to get involved. See, there's a fire burning in Emma. A fire stoked by the murder of her uncle - the man she apprenticed with -, the conscription of her fiancé, and her father's arrest. That fire forces her to test the boundaries with her bread - how much straw can she add before the Germans will notice? It also forces her to test the boundaries with her boarders, carrying out her plans while a wormy and ruthless captain of the enemy army holds court in her own home. And it forces her to put aside any fear of her own safety, excepting how her capture or death would affect those who have come to rely on her.

I loved Emma and all of the characters that people her village! Kiernan does a fantastic job bringing this small town and their small (and increasingly larger) acts of rebellion to life.

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

For more on Stephen P. Kiernan and his work you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | IndieBound

Sunday, May 14, 2017

New Releases 5/16/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

You Were Here by Gian Sardar

It's Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert

Testimony by Scott Turow

Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton

Rise & Shine Benedict Stone by Phaedra Patrick

The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby

The Crown's Fate by Evelyn Skye

The Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Seeker by Veronica Rossi

A Million Junes by Emily Henry

New on DVD:
The Space Between Us
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Friday, May 12, 2017

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

Happy Friday! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Lisa Jewell's latest, I Found You.

Note there is a tour wide giveaway on this one, so be sure to read through to the end for the Rafflecopter!

The man had been sitting on the beach all day. Just sitting. By the time it starts raining, Alice figures it's time to step in. She offers him tea and a coat and later, when he's still there, she gives him a place to stay. At first, she's concerned. Inviting a strange man to stay in her house, even if it is actually a detached shed, isn't the best idea. Especially for a single mom with three kids to care for. But the man has no apparent memory of who he is or how he got to Alice's beach and she wants to help if she can.

At the same time, newly married Lily knows the instant her husband doesn't arrive home from work that something is very wrong. But when she reports him missing, the police all but brush her off. Until they discover his passport is a fake and there are no records of the man. 

I love Lisa Jewell. I mean, already knew this - The Girls in the Garden kind of blew me away. But she's done it again, which means I REALLY love Lisa Jewell!

So we begin with a man with no memory and a single mom whose story hints at something potentially dark. Her kids give her the side eye when she invites this man home, understandably, but her friend issues cryptic warnings about not letting the school find out!?

Then we meet young Lily. Twenty-one and living in a foreign country, in a new home in an all but empty neighborhood, with no job, no money, and no connections to anyone. And even though she believes her husband loves her and would never leave her, the police definitely think otherwise. But it's the discovery that his identity is fake that floors her and propels an actual investigation.

And there's a third storyline as well. In 1993, a family with two teenaged children is on their annual beach vacation. Gray, seventeen, is suspicious of a nineteen-year-old man they all meet while at the beach one day. To Gray, the man's attention on Gray's fifteen-year-old sister, Kirsty, is suspect.

The story weaves back and forth between these three storylines as each becomes more and more deeply imbued with a sort of sinister ambiance. And of course, I tried to theorize on my own about where the story was heading and was pretty wrong at every turn! Which made it even more deliciously fun!

Jewell excels at building tension packed, but at times quite quiet, stories with characters that are never quite what they seem. The deliberate pacing and careful doling out of clues serve to make the story that much more intense and addictively readable.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

For more on Lisa Jewell and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Edgeland by Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski

Wren is an orphan living at the edge of the world. Literally. Known as a grayling, Wren scavenges Edgeland for anything and everything she can use to escape. This includes scouring the water surrounding the island for treasures left behind by the dead. But when Wren is caught standing over the body of a murdered religious official, her plans are thrown into fast forward. 

Her best friend Alec is an apprentice at one of the most famous Bone Houses in all of Edgeland. It's his job to help ready the bodies for their passage into the Drain and on to the afterlife. When he scores a huge job for House Aron, the same day he discovers Wren is being sought for suspicion of murder, it seems fate is aligned to save her. Unfortunately, his fee is set to go straight down the Drain itself. 

Desperate, Wren and Alec attempt to catch their score before it goes over and end up falling over the edge themselves. When they surface, they discover that everything they've been told about the afterlife is a lie. 

Edgeland is a brilliantly unique read. From the very start, Wren and Alec, and the world they inhabit really do grab hold of the reader.

Wren, a clever girl with a mission, is basically one of the invisible and untouchable. She's a thief, one who's perfected her technique to the point that she's secured quite a fortune. And a fortune is exactly what it takes to get out of Edgeland. Her goal is to find her father, who she believes is living in a far off land and once tried to find her when she herself was apprenticing at House Aron.

It was there that she met Alec. The son of a wealthy family, Alec was sent to Edgeland to learn from one of the best in the Bone House business. His every effort is to please his family and prove his worth. But he's never abandoned Wren in spite of her being ostracized and banished from House Aron after being caught stealing from the dead. And so, when she's in trouble, he'll do anything in his power to help.

The world building in this latest from Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski is phenomenal! Every detail is so carefully thought out and presented to the reader, that you can't help but get sucked into the story and join in on Wren and Alec's adventure. And what an odd adventure it is!

Edgeland is great fun - perfect for its middle grade audience and much bigger kids (ahem, 35 year old ones) alike!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

It Happens in the Hamptons by Holly Peterson

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Holly Peterson's latest, It Happens in the Hamptons.

Katie Doyle didn't plan to take up George Porter on his offer of the family cabin in the Hamptons, but the promise of more time together was too much to resist. Plus, it's the Hamptons. 

With her son in tow, the two set off cross country to stay in the famed vacation spot of the East Coast rich and famous. But while the Hamptons may be paradise to some, Katie soon finds that there are dirty secrets hiding out in the glittery upper crust destination. Something becomes all that more apparent when she meets Luke, a teacher and surfer who is definitely not part of the privileged 1%. And her relationship with George, well it seems that might be on the rocks already. 

Peterson sets the scene quite well, giving readers all the down and dirty details of the setting and the people that populate it. So much so that the reader does feel as though they're right there alongside Katie, witnessing the antics of her fellow vacationers and the locals alike. It does make for quite an amusing read.

But, I didn't love It Happens in the Hamtons as much as I thought I would. A summery, beachy read was definitely what I was craving this week, and Holly Peterson's latest does deliver in that regard. But while I enjoyed Katie's story, I found it hard to get fully immersed in the book as a whole.

Part of the reason for this is a little pet peeve of mine: the tendency to change POV randomly within a given chapter. Some people might not even notice it, and I'll admit it sounds quite silly considering I don't mind multiple points of view in general - when they're set off from one another. But I find that when it happens as it does in this book, it kind of keeps me from feeling as though I'm truly getting to know the characters I'm meant to follow in the story. In this case, Katie and Luke. The effect of this style choice, for me, is that I'm pulled out of the story with each unexpected change back and forth.

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

For more on Holly Peterson and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Vibrant India by Chitra Agrawal

I feel fortunate to have grown up with parents who were always excited to try new cuisines. Any and every new opportunity to try something different was embraced with relish.

There weren't many opportunities for exposure to Indian food in our town, no Indian restaurants to speak of at the time, but our next door neighbors were Indian. Dad still raves to this day about a carrot fudge they shared when he helped them with a building project. I'm ashamed to say that I know no specifics about what part of India they were from and so can't say whether the food they shared was North Indian or South Indian. I don't even know if they were vegetarians or not. But I do know that that exposure and my parents' openness to foods beyond those they grew up with, left me with a lifelong love of all kinds of cuisine, Indian in particular.

I discovered Chitra Agrawal via Twitter and her blog, The ABCD's of Cooking. She started the blog back in 2009 (I came to it a bit later down the line), sharing vegetarian recipes "...rooted in traditional Indian cooking and reflective of Indian diaspora." And the recipes are based on those she grew up eating as well as those she's adapted and created herself using local ingredients in New York.  In reading her new cookbook, this becomes even more apparent with the many nods to her farm share as inspiration for new twists on recipes!

Agrawal's focus, and the focus of her new book Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn, is mainly on South Indian food, as opposed to the North Indian cuisine many of us are likely more familiar with. And the key, for me, is that the recipes are laid out in a manner that's easy to follow and that they're generally healthy. In other words, recipes I can feel confident in recreating and good about eating!

I've mentioned before that my process for reviewing a cookbook first involves flagging a multitude of recipes to try. And I began that way here as well, but there was an extra step before hitting the store to start cooking. I headed over to a fabulous Indian market amazingly located quite near my house. It's a store I've frequented before for ingredients that are harder to find elsewhere - Indian chiles, fresh curry leaves, asafetida, black mustard seeds, and a handy garlic ginger paste that I always keep on hand - so I had some familiarity with the ingredients called for in most of the recipes already. (And I should add that curry leaves are phenomenal!)

Those ingredients in hand, I hit the grocery store for a few items and headed home to make my first few dishes: "Cucumber, Tomato and Onion Yogurt Raita" to go alongside "Fragrant Eggplant and Green Pepper Rice." Readers, there was almost no raita left by the time the main dish was ready, it was that good! And the rice, with its base of turmeric spiked basmati was equally tasty. The following morning, I made Chitra's "Hotel" Scrambled Eggs and they were beyond divine!

My house now fragrant of black mustard seeds and curry leaves, I decided I had to try both the "Beet Yogurt Raita" and the "Radish Yogurt Raita" as well. And then the "Butter Lettuce 'Dosa' Wrap With Curried Potato and Chutney" caught my eye too.

Meyer lemons in the latest produce delivery means my next recipe will be the "Meyer Lemon Pickle" and, the one I'm really dying to get to next, "Ben's Curry Leaf Popcorn" is going to be my afternoon snack.

As is always the case, I've still got most of the book to go. But I love that the techniques, once learned, are pretty universal for most of the recipes. Tempering the black mustard seeds and spices, for example, is a method that appears frequently throughout the book (the method that's left my house smelling so yummy, in fact), and it's super easy to get the hang of. Honestly, the hardest part for most people will be sourcing some of the more specific ingredients. Not to worry, though, Agrawal does include a list of places to buy Indian mainstays.

The recipes are incredibly versatile. Agrawal includes an intro to each dish listing, in many cases, variations as well as pairings for the dishes. And while many of them are spicy, which satisfies me of course, they can be made less so for milder palates. And there's always those addicting raitas and rice to help cool them too!

This is a book I'm excited to continue using. One that will help especially as our garden picks up this year and we find ourselves buried under tomatoes, zucchini, and (hopefully) eggplant.