Sunday, September 29, 2013

September Book Wrap-Up

Officially fall, and that means, pumpkins, apples, winter squash and cooler nights.  Mysteries and thrillers are favorite fall reads for me. How about you does your reading taste change a bot with the seasons?  I thought that September was a good month for books.

I read/reviewed 
  • (3) cookbooks
  • (1) fashion book
  • (1) kids book
  • (1) YA book
  • (1) Memior
  • (8) fiction books 
 (2) Favorite Fiction Books
October Reading Contenders
(have you read any of these?)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Apple Pie Cake Recipe

   Apple season means experimenting with new recipes and this, Apple Pie Cake recipe was a hit at our house last weekend. (Preferring Cortland apples for baking, I substituted them for Granny Smith, and skipped the lemon juice as well). It was delicious all the same, and the spring-form pan worked out beautifully.  (We topped ours with a scoop of vanilla Bean ice cream:) My husband is begging me to make it again this weekend.

VERY EASY - Trust Me.
(a Martha Stewart Recipe)


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • 5 pounds (about 12) tart apples, such as Granny Smith
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Cook's Note

To dust the cake with confectioners' sugar, put some sugar in a standard sieve, hold it over the cake, and tap the edge lightly.


  1. Step 1

    In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Using an electric mixer or a pastry cutter, cut in butter until the mixture forms pea-size pieces. Press 2/3 of the mixture onto bottom and 1 inch up the side of a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Step 2

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel apples, cut into thin slices, and place in a bowl. Pour off any accumulated liquid. Toss apple slices with remaining teaspoon cinnamon and lemon juice, and put them in the prepared pan, pressing down gently as you pack them in (they will mound above the edge of the pan). Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture on top.
  3. Step 3

    Put the pan on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and let the cake cool in the pan to set. Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Doctor Sleep; Stephen King

Title:  Doctor Sleep 
Author: Stephen King 
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Edition: audio 
Reader: Will Patton (excellent)
Source: publisher
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 5/5

Stephen King fans are in for a treat with Doctor Sleep; it's much better than I could have imagined. I anticipated for months how this sequel to The Shining might possibly play out, and my imaginings never came close to predicting how this one might shake out. Plan to read this one when you are sure to have a uninterrupted time, as you will not want to put this one down until you've finished the entire novel.

So yes, Danny Torrance, the little boy with the "the shining", is back in the sequel. He's all grown up now. He's battled alcoholism, and is winning the fight. He works at a facility for hospice patients called, the Rivington House in a small NH town. To his coworkers, he's referred to as, Doctor Sleep, as he, along with Azee the cat, have a way of helping guests there leave this world behind when the their time has come.

As Danny has aged, and since he has stopped drinking, his "shining" abilities are not as powerful as they once were. There is, however, someone who has been communicating with Danny in unusual ways, whose "shining" abilities far exceed anything Danny was ever capable of. Her name is Abra (Abby) Stone. Abra, even before she could walk and talk was trying to warn others about bad things that would and did happen. At just 11 years old, her powers are stronger than ever, and her parents and Danny fear for her safety.

Rattlesnake, Rosie the Hat, Snakebite Andi, Crow Daddy, Walnut, Mr. Business Man, Mr. Dealer Man and more, are a motley crew, part of a group called: The True Knot, the Steam Heads. The group travels cross country in RV clusters, and to the average person, their attire of cheap sun glasses, fishing hats, stretch pants and attention getting bumper stickers makes them appear like many other retirees traveling in RVs. Believing that they are regular folks would be dangerous, because they really are not interested in seeing the sites in their RV. They have a special agenda, and a special interest in talented young "shining" ones like Abra.

Although Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining, it can be read as a stand-alone novel. I was happy that there were references to the Overlook Hotel, and also to other characters from The Shining. Most were referred to briefly like: Jack and Wendy (Danny's parents), Richard (Dick) Hallorann, who saved the lives of the Torrance family when the Overlook was destroyed by fire. Also mentioned was Mrs Massey, Room 217, Horace Dorman, as well as Tony, Danny's imaginary friend. It was good to have their names reappear, even briefly in Doctor Sleep.

For me, this one is "classic Stephen King". When I read phrases like "eyes dripping and bloated", I smiled. This is the Stephen King, I love the best. READ IT!

(audio book provided to me by Simon & Schuster)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Widows of Braxton County; Jess McConkey

Author: Jess McConkey
Publication Year:  2013 
Publisher:  William Morrow
Edition: eGalley
Source: Edelweiss
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 4/5

The Widows of Braxton County tells the story of two women, Hannah and Kate who marry into the same messed up family a century apart. The husbands  of both women, Jacob and Joe Krause, die in a similar fashion, by a knife to their backs.
Kate's story takes place in the present day, in Braxton County, Iowa, when she marries Joe Krause. Kate couldn't be happier, she sees Joe is a good man and she feels that she has finally found happiness.  Kate's own parents died when she was young and her grandmother constantly reminded her of the sacrifices she made by raising her. After the wedding she moves into the farm house that has been in Joe's family for over a hundred years. Kate's  new husband has neglected to tell her that his abrasive mother Trudy, will be living with them. When Kate voices her displeasure, Joe reassures Kate that it's only temporary, but she is not so sure. Trudy isn't fond of Kate and at times is down right mean to her.
Bit by bit, details about Hannah's story and her marriage to Jacob over a hundred years earlier are revealed.  Like Kate, Hannah never felt like she has a place within the family, and a century long family feud was fueled after Hannah's husband Jacob was murdered.
The story alternates between Kate's story and Hannah's story a century earlier. I enjoyed this one a lot. The author does a great job with the mystery element, making the reader want to read just a few more pages until all is revealed.. At times I felt like the story had almost a Gothic feel to it and even a quick reminder of Rebecca. Readers who enjoy stories about family relationships and long buried secrets will probably enjoy this one as much as I did.

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Burial Rites; Hannah Kent

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Care to join us?
This week I'm featuring an intro from a September release I've been anxious to begin.

Little Brown & Co - Hachette Book Group


"THEY SAID I MUST DIE. They said that I stole the breath from men and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, coming to blow me out and to send my life up away from me in a gray wreath of smoke. I will vanish into the air and the night. They will blow us all out, one by one, until it is only their own light by which they see themselves.  Where will I be then?"

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Panopticon; Jenni Fagan

Title:  The Panopticon
Author: Jenni Fagan
Publication Year:  2013 
Publisher:  Hogarth
Edition: arc/eGalley
Source: Amazon Vine/Edelweiss
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 4/5

Anais Hendricks is a 15-year-old who has been in and out of the foster care system in England. Her mother gave birth to her in a mental institution, and later abandoned her.  Her adoptive mother, Theresa, a prostitute, was murdered in a bathtub, while Anais waited for her in a room nearby, not aware of what was happening.
Anais has coped with booze and drugs, and after being accused of beating a police woman into a coma, she is brought to The Panopticon, a detention center for kids in trouble. She was covered in blood, but because she was high on drugs, she doesn't remember the incident she is accused of.
The Panopticon, is a Scottish facility for young offenders up to the age of 18. It is an unusual circular  facility where everyone can be observed 24/7 from a watchtower. At the Panopticon, Anais thinks she and other inmates that she befriends are part of some grand experiment. Could she be right?
The story is told by Anais, and her voice is one of teenage angst.  She's an unreliable narrator, and given the fact she has spent years on drugs, the reader is never sure what is real or the result of hallucinations or even paranoia. As the reader, you'll have to sort all that out for yourself.
The author has done a terrific job on this debut novel, but be advised it is a tough story to read. It's raw and gritty and there is sex, drugs, violence and foul language as well.  The Scottish dialect takes some getting use to as well.
It's a pretty realistic story about cast off children who are trying to find their way in a society that has failed them, and reading about that will make many readers cringe.  The author has done her homework and seems to know an awful lot about her subject.
I'm glad I read it, but definitely not for everyone.

The Gravity of Birds; Tracy Guzeman

Author: Tracy Guzeman 
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Edition: arc/eGalley
Source: Amazon Vine/Edelweiss
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 3/5 

Alice and Natalie Kessler were 14 and 16 years old sisters on vacation with their parents at the same lakeside cabin the family has rented for years.  This year, 1963, Thomas Bayber, a talented artist, is staying in the cabin next door.  The girls enjoy spending time with Thomas, talking about birds and nature, even though he is twice their age.  The girls exhibit typical sibling rivalry for the attention of Thomas, and because he lives close to where the family vacations, the sisters manage to see him every summer until 1971.

Flash forward to 2007 and Thomas is no longer painting. He lives the life of a recluse in NY. Thomas has a never before revealed work of himself and the sisters in a somewhat compromising portrait from one summer when they spent time together. The the side panels of the triptych  are missing and he enlists the help of (2) men in the art profession, Dennis, an authenticator and Stephen, a historian to not only find the missing panels, but also to find these long lost sisters.

It took me a while to get into this story as the beginning was a slow-moving for me.  This is the type of novel that is going to take patience on the part of the reader for several reasons: It's a story that starts in 1963 and ends in 2007, and moves back and forth in time. There are several threads which run though this story which is challenging in itself, and there are quite a few unlikable characters as well.

To the author's credit, the writing shows promise.  Vivid prose, a mystery to unravel and great details about art --- it's a subject you can tell the author is passionate about. I wanted to love this debut novel, but it had just a bit too much going on in it for me.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Street Cat Names Bob: And How He Saved My Life ; James Bowen

Author: James Bowen 
Publication Year:  2013
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press
Edition: hardcover
Source: Library
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 4/5

Some of you may already by familiar with " Bob, the now famous, UK street-cat ". He's has a YouTube Video, and now even a book about him and his owner James Bowen. Cat lover that I am, I hadn't heard about Bob until I came across this book on Amazon

James Bowen came from a wealthy family, but found himself on a downward spiral. A down and out street musician, he was arrested for petty theft, and addicted to drugs. Trying to turn his life around, he was barely earning enough money to get by. He was living in a run down, supported housing unit in London. He earned money playing his guitar on the streets of London, while tourists and others threw cash into his opened guitar case.

One day in 2007, returning to his flat, he noticed a ginger cat inside his building curled on a doormat.  The next day the cat was still there and appeared to be sick and had an injured leg as well. The cat follows James to his flat, and while he tries to nurse the cat back to health, but realizes that the cat needs the expertise of a veterinarian. The local RSPCA  helps to pay for neutering and medical expenses and before long the cat was well and ready to return to the streets where he had come from.  

The cat, however, wanted no part of the outside cruel world again, and took a liking to James. The cat, named Bob by James, finally had a home, and became like a shadow of James. This cat, honestly, behaved more like a dog than a cat. Extremely loyal, he accompanied his new owner on his daily street gigs, and while James played the guitar, Bob slept in the guitar case in the sun. Other times he posed on his owner's shoulder and entertained tourists on the streets of London. James also saw his daily financial take more than double once Bob was in the picture.

Bob and James needed each other and the relationship that developed was truly amazing.  Each gets a second chance at life. This is their story.  

The book was very enjoyable --- nothing bad happens at the end.  It's a story that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere and not just cat lovers.  At times I felt that certain things about James' life seemed very repetitive, but I was still happy that I got a chance to read their story.  Bob is one unique cat, who has shown his appreciation for his new chance at life in ways that just made me smile.  It's a great story about positive impact an animal can make in our lives - READ IT.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars; John Green

Author: John Green
Publication Year:  2012
Publisher: Brilliance Audio / Penguin
Edition: arc and audio 
Reader: Kate Rudd (excellent)
Source: library
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 5/5

I pretty much knew that this would be a somewhat sad read going into it, but based on the glowing reviews, I decided to join the masses who enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars so much.  The audio version is read by Kate Rudd, who did a fantastic job.

The story is narrated by 16 year-old, Hazel Grace Lancaster, who was diagnosed with stage IV, thyroid cancer at the age of 13. She's survived cancer thus far (3 years), but she has had to endure experimental drugs, and now carries a portable oxygen tank with her everywhere she goes.

Depressed (who wouldn't be?) and taken out of her regular school during her treatments, she is encouraged to try a support group for cancer kids.  It is there that she meets, the handsome 17 year-old Augustus Waters, and the two engage in various philosophical debates, and one thing leads to another -- before long becoming more than just friends. Hazel is obsessed with a book about cancer called, An Imperial Affliction and she encourages Augustus (Gus) to read it, so she can get his opinion on the ambiguous ending.

Without giving away too much about this novel,  I'll just say that this book is very much about being a teen and dealing with cancer, in addition to dealing with the other challenges healthy teens face.  It's about making the most out of the circumstances you've been forced to deal with.  It's about love, life and death, and the delivery is just so well done. 

The story is full of beautiful passages. I ended up highlighting  these in my eBook edition after hearing some of them on audio.

"The marks humans leave are too often scars."

“There will come a time when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever. There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”  

 “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There's .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.”

“Almost everyone is obsessed with leaving a mark upon the world. Bequeathing a legacy. Outlasting death. We all want to be remembered. I do, too. That’s what bothers me most, is being another
unremembered casualty in the ancient and inglorious war against disease.”
“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
The Fault in Our Stars is a story that you'll think about for a long while. It's such a touching story, one that reminds us once again, that --- life, indeed, is hard and often unfair.  I enjoyed this book a lot and can't wait to see the movie in 2014.

Waiting on Wednesday - The Circle; Dave Eggers

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill @ Breaking the Spine.  Bloggers spotlight upcoming releases that they are eagerly anticipating! Want to participate? Post your own WOW entry on your blog, and leave your link at Breaking the Spine.This weeks pick is something from an author I've enjoyed in the past.

 October 8th - Knopf

The Circle is the exhilarating new novel from Dave Eggers, best-selling author of A Hologram for the King, a finalist for the National Book Award.

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Doctor Sleep; Stephen King - read-along

I was so excited to learn about this "read-along" on Ti's Blog.  I loved The Shining (book and movie) and can't wait to read/listen to the sequel Doctor Sleep. This Read-Along is being hosted by, Tif Talks Books and Charlene's Cheap Thrills

Here are some of the basics:

Doctor Sleep is being released on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 -- one week from today!  However, to allow participants enough time to get their hands on a copy of the book, the kick off will be on Monday, September 30.  

Monday, September 30:  Doctor Sleep Read-along Kick-off!
Monday, October 7:  Discussion #1 (approx. pages 1-180)
Monday, October 14:  Discussion #2 (approx. pages 181-360)
Monday, October 21:  Wrap-up Discussion (total 544 pages)

I received the audio version for review, but like you I'm expected to wait until the official release date to begin:)

Great way to get psyched about Halloween!
Won't you join us?

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph Tuesday Intros

Every Tuesday I host First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where I share the first paragraph or (a few) of a book I am reading or thinking about reading soon. Care to join us?
This week I'm featuring an intro from,The Panopticon, by Jenni Fagan.

"It's an unmarked car. Tinted windows, vanilla air freshener.  The cuffs are sore on my wrists but not tight enough to mark them--their tae smart for that.  The policeman stares at me in the rearview mirror.  This village is just speed bumps, and a river, and cottages with window blinds sagging like droopy eyelids.  The fields are strange. Too long. The sky is huge.

I should be playing the birthday game, but I cannae, not while there's witnesses around.  The birthday game has to be played in secret--or the experiment will find out.  What I need to do right now is memorize the number stickered inside the back window.  It's 75999.43.  I close my eyes and say it in my head over and over.  Open my eyes and get it right the first time."

[tae ? cannae?] - Scottish for too and cannot I'm guessing??

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Feel free to join us by linking your First Chapter post below.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Poppet; Mo Hayder

Title:  Poppet
Author: Mo Hayder
Publication Year:  2013 
Publisher:  Atlantic Monthly Press
Edition: eGalley
Source: Edelweiss
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 4/5

Beechway High Secure Unit, a former, Victorian workhouse now a psychiatric hospital in Bristol, outside of London, is the setting for Mo Hayder's, Poppet.  Mysterious deaths, incidents of mutilation and self-harm are occurring on a much too frequent basis. Each incident seems to be tied to a power failure at the facility, but exactly what is causing these incidents no one seems to know. Could it be a patient that was released before his time, or could there be some truth to an old ghostly legend, referred to as The Maude, a dwarf-like, former matron of the facility?
Senior nursing coordinator, A.J. LeGrande is taking his time responding to these incidents.  Although the cases and the mayhem which resulted needs to be investigated, A.J. is being dissuaded by Melanie, the facility clinical director, from moving too soon and getting others involved.  When he finally does call Detective Jack Caffery in on the case, Jack is involved in another case trying to locate the body of 25 year-old, Misty Kitson, a model who had disappeared after leaving a rehab facility over a year earlier.
Readers who enjoy creepiness and crime fiction should enjoy this one. The eeriness of the psychiatric hospital was awesome and sent a chill around each corner and behind each door. I like that the story blended a bit of the supernatural along with the already disturbed minds of the mental patients at the hospital. The slow way that the reader learns more and more about one of the disturbed patients, Isaac, intensified the creep factor, yet for me, this story never felt like a horror fest.  I really loved A.J's character and the way he interacted with the patients and situations.
I really enjoyed the setup and the writing and the fact that it the story took place in the present, however, I think I would have gotten more out of this novel (6th in series) if I had read the other books featuring Detective Caffery first.  For example, I was lost with the intro of the missing Misty, and felt bored by the references to the case, her mother etc, but later realized that she surfaced in an earlier novel.  For me, the Misty subplot seemed to spoil this one just a little for me.  Despite that, I would definitely read more books by this author -- she is very good.. No nightmares for me either.

Mailbox Monday - September 16th

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia who now blogs at To Be Continued. It is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week. Yolanda at Notorious Spinks Talks is hosting for the month of September. 

A few new books this past week which I am excited about - 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives ~ edited by Sarah Weinman

Author: (various) edited by Sarah Weinman
Publication Year:  2013 
Publisher:  Penguin
Edition: eGalley
Source: NetGalley
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 4.5/5

Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, is a wonderful anthology of crime fiction (domestic crime fiction) from days gone by, all written by females. Edited by Sarah Weinman, this book contains some (14) chilling stories from days gone by.  Many of the authors were ones I was familiar with and a few I've enjoyed in the past, like Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson. The authors in this compilation published these stories in the 1940s - 1970s, and before each story is a brief bio of the author and their work. Most paint an eerie picture of the sinister side of women. Some of the stories made me wonder whether the writers themselves might have experienced this darker side of domesticity themselves.  

Just a few of my favorites from the collection:
  • The Heroine; Patricia Highsmith  (about a nanny who appears to be very sweet, but we all know appearances can sometimes be deceiving)
  • Sugar and Spice; Vera Caspary  (2 women are in love with the same man which can only spell disaster)
  • The Splintered Monday; Charlotte Armstrong  (what really happened to my sister is the question an elderly woman has when visiting her sister's family following the death).
I actually enjoyed at least 10/14 stories in this book, even though I have never been a big short story fan.  However, for me, crime fiction is a special treat, and trust me, this collection is worth your time. The stories both shocked and fascinated me. Try a few of the stories and I bet you'll end up reading more than you thought you would.  

I loved that must every story takes place in and around the home and so many in the kitchen or bedroom (our favorite rooms right?).  Until finishing this collection, I never thought of domestic life as entertaining reading.  Trust me, revenge and an unstable frame of mind  at any age can prove to be deadly. 

One thing I noticed was that the choice of words and phrases in some of the stories definitely made the stories feel dated, but to me that was also part of the old-fashioned charm of stories from the 40s and 50s. The best feature about most of these stories was that they were about real life situations handled with a sinister twist. The 40s, 50s and 60s, were times when many an unhappy woman, just couldn't walk out of a relationship, so some of these women had backup plans. TRY IT!

Sarah Weinman is the news editor for Publishers Marketplace and writes the monthly “Crimewave” mystery and suspense column for the National Post. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the New York Observer, Slate, and the New Yorker online, among other publications.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Half of a Yellow Sun; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun, 2006, Knopf
Half of a Yellow Sun is another one of those books that I had been meaning to read for years. It became on of my 2013 Bucket List choices, and thanks to The Backlist Book Club created by Nomadreader, I finally had a chance to experience it. What a great book!

The novel takes place in mid-late 1960's Nigeria, during the time the Igbo people attempted to become the independent nation of Biafra.  I heard about this civil war, but really did not know much about the horror which resulted.

The story is told through the perspectives of (3) main characters (but there are other terrific characters as well). There is Ugwu, a 13 year old house boy for professor Odenigbo who teaches at the university in Nsukka. He is a very observant young boy who notices how well he is treated compared to other house boys.  For example, he sleeps in a bed and is given his own books. He tries his best to do everything right, but sometimes he takes things a bit too far like when he ironed his Mr. O's socks and burned a hole in them. He provides much needed humor at just the right times. Ironically, Odenigbo seems nicer to his house boy than most other people he encounters.

Olanna and Kainene are twin sisters who come from a wealthy family. Olanna is the beautiful sister, but lacks confidence. She becomes involved with Professor O and later moves into his home and the two eventually marry. At first Ugwu feels threatened by Olanna'a arrival, but then he becomes devoted to pleasing her.

Richard is a shy Englishman, a man who is not comfortable in his own skin. He's always felt inferior whether at home or in Nigeria. Richard has come to Nigeria as a expat to write a book about Igbo art. He becomes involved with Kainene, the twin sister of Olanna. Kainene is not considered to be attractive. She's somewhat aloof, very intelligent and financially savvy, and her relationship with Richard is tumultuous at times.

This story covers so many topics: war, genocide, relationships - infidelity, personal identity, loyalty, class struggles and more.  It is a book that would make a great choice for book groups.  It's beautifully written, the characters are fully explored and they are ones that will stick with you.  The author knows how to write, and although this is a work of fiction,  the information about the civil war was very informative. I found the graphic details of the war tough to read about at times, but because the writing had moments of humor and the characters were so interesting, it helped to take my mind off the horrors of war.


(my shelves)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kiss Me First; Lottie Moggach

Title:  Kiss Me First 
Author: Lottie Moggach 
Publication Year:  2013 
Publisher: Random House
Edition: arc and audio 
Reader: Imogen Church (very good)
Source: my shelves/library
Date Completed: Sept - 2013
Rating: 4.5/5

Kiss Me First, is a terrific debut novel that held my interest from the very first page. It takes place outside of London.

20-something Leila, is a sad sack, an underdog who has led a sheltered life. She lacks self-awareness, and because her mother suffered from MS throughout Leila's childhood and young adulthood, she has missed out on a lot. When her mother dies, Leila who is well familiar with the web and spending all of her free time with the World of Warcraft, finds a new website to occupy her time. The website is called Red Pill,  a chat room for members to for debate ethical issues such as assisted suicide and euthanasia.  After Leila engages in discussions on the philosophical forum -- she's  pro-euthanasia, since dealing with her mother's debilitating illness and death, she impresses the web site's founder, Adrian Dervish. He asks her to meet him to discuss something.

Adrian proposes that Leila help a woman named Tess who has lost her will to live. Tess is approaching 40, severely bipolar and wants to quietly slip out of her life by committing suicide, but without hurting her family and friends in the process. Leila's job will be to learn as much as possible about Tess, her background, family, friends, childhood, drug use, sexual encounters and more, all in just a few weeks so she can pretend to be her.  Tess will then slip out of the here and now and Leila will assume her identity online. Tess believes it would be easier to let her family believe that she has simply cut all ties, than to have to deal with her suicide. 

Kiss Me First is a story about lonely, messed-up people. Leila is an unreliable narrator who is smart, and a bit cunning, and not a particularly likable character (no likable characters in this book), yet the story held my interest throughout. The story is told by Leila after she had agreed to take over Tess's identity, and I loved the fact that the (2) women couldn't be more different. Both messed up, but different.

A psychological thriller of sorts, Kiss Me First is a story is one that really makes you think. A real eye-opener given all the information that is so freely shared in today's social media arena and all of the virtual relationships that have been created online --scary.  Just another reason I'm not a FB fan.

READ this book! I really enjoyed it.

Thanks Jackie/Farm Lane Books for bringing this one to my attention