Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

Leah Stevens was on the fast track to be a great journalist, but a story that went terribly wrong has cost her her career and her reputation. And now she'll do anything to get away and escape the judgmental eyes of her former colleagues. A fortunate run in with an old roommate offers the perfect opportunity: Emmy Grey is moving the Pennsylvania and wants Leah to room with her. Emmy had come to Leah's rescue once before, and Leah is all too willing to let her do it again, taking her up on the offer immediately. 

Leah gets a job as a teacher, much to her mother's disappointment, and things are going fairly well until Emmy disappears. Their paths crossed less and less the longer they lived together, but the discovery of a body nearby - one that bears a marked resemblance to Leah - has Leah worried. As the days pass with no sign of Emmy, Leah finally brings the subject to the police. Of course Emmy is an adult and they aren't one bit concerned - until they find out Emmy Grey doesn't exist. 

Worried for her friend and unable to resist the need to make use of her journalistic skills, Leah becomes determined to find out what's happened. But as clues about Emmy and her guarded past begin to reveal themselves, Leah has to admit that she knows nothing about her longtime friend and roommate. 

Reading slumps are no fun, but finding a book that manages to get through even in the worst of slumps is always a great thing. That's what Megan Miranda's latest was for me, a book that caught and held my attention through a slump that still has yet to fully pass.

It succeeds in large part because of the numerous questions that begin to pop up as the book rolls along. First, what did Leah do that cost her her job? It's a big deal, something she keeps close and doesn't tell anyone in her new life. Even the reader doesn't find out until a good way into the story.

Then there's the question about Emmy - what happened to her and what's she been up to.

And the murdered woman who looks like Leah.

And the teacher accused of the murder, who's been harassing Leah.

And the notes Leah has been receiving that make it sound as though someone's been keeping a very close eye on her.

So many questions! All of them perfectly placed and timed to keep the book going at an almost breakneck pace. But they could have been, and are in lots of cases, a make or break situation for a book like this. Fortunately, The Perfect Stranger is a "make" rather than a "break." There were no massive jumps in logic and (for me) no need to stretch or suspend my disbelief to the point of almost breaking in order to continue with the story.  All of the questions fit together logically and cohesively and, the best part, wrap up nice and neat (but not too nice and neat) by the time the story rolls to its final stop.

The Perfect Stranger came to me at a time when I really needed to just lose myself in a good story and gave me exactly that and more. It was great fun, full of suspense, and perfect for anyone suffering from a wretched reading slump!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple Shah has no interest in finding a husband. Neither do most eighteen year olds. But she knows that her parents, her mother especially, would love nothing more than for Dimple to find and settle down with the "Ideal Indian Husband." Instead, Dimple is all set to attend Stanford in the fall. And she has her parents' blessing. Although Dimple doesn't want to push her luck, attending Insomnia Con over the summer could mean a big leg up for her future. Surprisingly, her parents readily agree to let her go.

Rishi Patel respects his parents and their traditions. Though he loves art, he knows drawing comics isn't really a way to make a living and support a family. And so, he's applied and been accepted to MIT in the fall. Insomnia Con wasn't in his own plans, but his parents and their friends have long hoped that their children would be a good match for one another and the con offers up a great opportunity to find out. Unfortunately, romantic Rishi isn't prepared for down to Earth Dimple - especially considering all the matchmaking plans have been done without her knowledge!

When Dimple Met Rishi is such a fabulously fun debut.

First, it's giggle worthy and lighthearted.

Second, Dimple and Rishi will absolutely steal your heart.

Third, and this is the big one, it's a contemporary teen story with Indian/American characters and culture. Finally!

Both Dimple and Rishi live in an in-between. It's something Dimple feels more strongly than Rishi, pointing out that even while visiting India as a child she still didn't feel she belonged. And her parents don't understand where she's coming from.

Rishi, on the other hand, is fairly comfortable in his skin. Or so he says. It turns out Rishi is struggling a bit as well, just less so than Dimple (because of his go with the flow attitude and overall belief that he should do what his parents want).

But one of my favorite things about the book is the fact that this isn't a contentious family drama. Dimple, like most teens, bucks against what she sees as her parents' old school beliefs. And while Rishi doesn't, he does struggle with coming into his own or following his parents' wishes.

These are pretty universal issues teens face time and time again. But told through a lens that is frequently missing in YA literature.

As the call for diversity and #OwnVoices continues, it's exciting to see a book like Dimple and Rishi gaining attention and popularity. It's universal themes and overall lovable characters make it a fun read regardless, but Dimple and Rishi are both a breath of much needed fresh air in terms of diverse teen characters!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Mars One by Jonathan Maberry

Tristan and his family are amongst the few who will travel to and prepare the very first colony on Mars. It's a plan that's been in the works for years, with each and every chosen person and family having been vetted and tested exhaustively. What's more, for a family like Tristan's everyone has to be in agreement and on board. If just one of them waffles on the decision, they're all out. But none of them have and the day for launch is fast approaching. 

The Mars One mission is a feat that the whole world will be watching with great anticipation. But not everyone is exactly supportive. A group calling themselves the Neo-Luddites has made their views on the mission very clear. As their final days on Earth come to an end, Tristan is faced with not only his final goodbyes - broadcast for all the world to see thanks to reality TV deals that help fund the mission - but also hoping that everything will go smoothly and without uproar from their detractors. 

And that's only the beginning because once they're in space, all they'll have to rely on is each other. 

This newest teen release from Jonathan Maberry doesn't have any zombies or elite soldiers. There's none of the horror I've personally come to know him for - at least not in the traditional sense. But there's plenty of thrills and chills, and even a little terror along the way.

Space does scare me. If I were given the option today, there's absolutely no way you could drag me onto a space ship. Well, maybe if you knocked me out first. I have no desire to travel in space - I've seen enough movies that show exactly what can go wrong - I'll keep my feet on the earth, thanks.

But in Mars One it's 2026 and a private company has funded and organized the very first mission to colonize Mars. They're not the only ones, China has plans to do so as well, but Mars One is going to be the first.

Tristan was just a kid when he and his family were picked to be part of the mission. His mother is an ace mechanic and his dad is a botanist. And they're not the only family going: a handful of equally qualified adults and their children will also be on board. So it's not just a mission full of scientists and astronauts, but one that includes four other teens as well.

The teens themselves are just as qualified to be there. Tristan's mom has a habit of dismantling every one of his possessions in an attempt to teach him how to fix just about anything. And she's succeeded, too. Of course this comes in handy as things begin to go wrong on board the two ships traveling to Mars!

While I enjoyed Mars One quite a bit, I have to admit it was something of a slow start for me. The first part of the book focuses on the latter days on Earth and I really wanted to get to the space adventure portion. But I have to admit that the story (and me as the reader) wouldn't have been served well by that - those last days on Earth are what gives us a chance to get to know Tristan and his family. So yes, skipping it would have gotten us to the action sooner, but I really don't want stories that are all action and no substance.

And that's what Maberry gives us with Mars One - a YA sci fi adventure with substance. There's ample attention paid to character and story development as well as the basics and mechanics of the mission itself. So in the end, these are characters I rooted for wholly (and - key - believed could and would be capable of the things they have to handle) and a plot that seemed as believable as if it were recounting the real preparation and dangers of man's first colony traveling to the Red Planet.

The addition of the inevitable reality TV aspect (because I very much believe that will be exactly what happens if/when a real colony mission starts getting discussed), added an extra layer of believability. Poor Tristan! I felt for him even more as his first love and breakup played out for all the world to see.

Mars One is, all in all, quite a great fun. And even without the zombies, scary enough for this space phobic reader!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

New Releases 5/30/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf

In this Moment by Karma Brown

Ultimatum by Anders de la Motte

Mormama by Kit Reed

White Fur by Jardine Libaire

Royal Bastards by Andrew Schvarts

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Spectacle by Rachel Vincent

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maureen Goo

House of Furies by Madeleine Roux

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

New on DVD:
The Blackcoat's Daughter
Before I Fall
Fist Fight

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

American Gods by Neil Gaiman + a Giveaway

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today I'm super stoked to be part of the TLC blog tour for Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past decade, Neil Gaiman has to have popped up on your radar in some form or another by now. Most recently, of course, is the long awaited American Gods show, based on the book, currently airing Sunday nights on Starz.

I'd vowed to start the book before watching the show, but failed in that regard. I couldn't resist! I did catch up quickly, though, as the first three episodes (which aired before my review date here) were just the first 100 pages or so of the book.

I have to say, now having read it and trying to sum up my feelings, I don't envy anyone who worked on this book and had to write a synopsis or pitch for it. I can't figure it out! I've tried and it turns into this long, rambly thing that makes no sense.

And in a way, that's the book. Except that under Gaiman's deft hand, a story that could easily have gone off the rails and landed readers in confusion land works. It works so much so that it's equally praised and revered by just about everyone out there (though as Gaiman tells it, folks seemed to passionately love it or vehemently hate it).

That being said, here's the good old Goodreads synopsis to kick things off:

Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.

But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and a rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.

Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined. Soon Shadow learns that the past never dies... and that beneath the placid surface of everyday life a storm is brewing—an epic war for the very soul of America—and that he is standing squarely in its path.

So we've got Shadow who's just been released from prison. His wife is dead under circumstances that are definitely adding salt to the wound of now being widowed, and he's been offered a job by a man he kind of doesn't trust. What's more, he's been knocked about by a giant calling himself a leprechaun and hounded by folks out for his new boss. And that's all before Wednesday's world REALLY starts opening up to our hero.

Gaiman's world of American Gods is one where gods and goddesses of the world's mythology have traveled to the shores of American with its believers. And now those once worshipped beings have all but been forgotten.

Shadow's travels and adventures are punctuated by tales of immigrants. A varying cast of characters and timelines, the stories illustrate the range of people and beliefs that built America. These pauses in the main plot might throw off some readers, but I found they added yet another layer to the already rich story. Sure, any student of mythology can likely identify, at the very least, the bigger of the Egyptian and Norse gods. But Gaiman doesn't stop there by any means.

And it's not just gods and goddesses that make appearances. The landmarks, the odder the better it seems, that are stops along Wednesday and Shadow's travels, are in large part real. House on the Rock, for example, and its carousel, really exist. Whether it plays hosts to a conference of powerful beings of folklore is the real question!

American Gods is yet another example of Neil Gaiman's genius. I may be a fan girl for saying it, but I'm in good company in that belief. And if you've got the chance, the show is definitely well worth the watch. It's Gaiman's story, visualized by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. Fuller, who was also the mind behind Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, and Hannibal, brings along his flair for tantalizing and graphic visuals as well as much of the cast he's worked with in the past. And the show is, so far, a quite true adaptation of the Gaiman's work.

And now for the giveaway. I've got two this round - first is for a copy of the movie tie in version AND a coloring book. Second is for just a coloring book. To enter to win, simply fill out the Rafflecopter of your choice (or both) below. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

For more on Neil Gaiman and his work you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on TwitterInstagram, and Tumblr.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Go-Between by Veronica Chambers

Happy Monday, readers! I hope you're all heading into a fantastic week!

Life as the daughter of a famous telenovela actress is hard. Obviously Cammi doesn't want for anything materialistic - she lives in a big house, has her own chauffeur and guard, and has tons of other "perks." No, it's making friends that's Cammi's problem. Friends that don't want an in with her mom and the industry. Friends that are friends in more than just name. 

So when her mom lands a role in LA, and Cammi and her father go along for the ride, a spot in a new school where no one knows her seems like a great place for a new start. But when Cammi lets her new friends roll with their assumptions - that she's a scholarship student whose mom works as a maid, things start to get a little sticky. Sure, this new role of Cammi's comes with none of the glamorous assumptions she's used to, but are the lies worth it?

Veronica Chambers tackles a lot of issues in her latest. It's a look inside Cammi's world, growing up as the daughter of a famous actress in Mexico. And as mentioned, Cammi has it all - at least in terms of material possessions. But she's much more grounded than the rest of her peers, thanks in no small part to her older brother. So for Cammi, it's not the things or the money that are all that important.

But while making friends who aren't using her for her mom is important to Cammi, her efforts in that regard go greatly awry.

At first, her new life in America is awkward. She befriends the school chef, something her parents don't understand and actively discourage at first. So when two of her classmates approach her, assuming that working in the school cafeteria is required as part of her being there, she doesn't correct them. The lies are her way of hiding who she is, but she soon realizes that these friends are no better than the ones she left behind.

And what kid hasn't wondered what it would be like to start fresh in a new school? To reinvent themselves and see how different things can be?

Identity is the key to this tale in more than one way. Cammi's identity, real and assumed, as far as school and friends are concerned. But also her identity as an immigrant. Cammi is a character split between two worlds: Mexico and LA. That becomes even more clear when a character refers to Cammi as Mexican-American, something she grapples with briefly but sticks in the reader's mind for sure. It isn't quite as effective as it could be, however, because for Cammi life in America isn't expected to be permanent. I don't think the question of Mexico Cammi vs American Cammi and the expectations of her parents and such is explored quite as in depth as it could be as a result.

I think this is the first time I've read a story like this from the perspective of a character who comes from a privileged background. It makes for a light and entertaining read, while still broaching important topics. That said, again I didn't feel it held quite as much weight as counterparts because Cammi always has an out.

All in all, The Go-Between is fun and breezy. Great for one-sitting summer reading!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

New Releases 5/9/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Sycamore by Bryn Chancellor

Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker

Silent Rain by Karen Salvalaggio

The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo

It Happens in the Hamptons by Holly Peterson

Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

The Thirst by Jo Nesbo

The Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick

Dear Reader by Mary O'Connell

Brave New Girl by Rachel Vincent

The Go-Between by Veronica Chambers

Edgeland by Jake Halpern & Peter Kujawinski

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

New on DVD:
A Fantastic Fear of Everything

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Queso! by Lisa Fain

For today's pre pub, aka books I'm dying to get my hands on in the coming months, I'm featuring a cookbook. Y'all know I'm just as much a cookbook junkie as a regular book junkie and Lisa Fain is definitely one of my favorite cookbook writers. Known online as the Homesick Texan, Fain has already released two books packed with Texas favorites. (She became a personal favorite of mine when she shared the recipe for Ninfa's Green Sauce. Try it, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it!)

Her latest endeavor is something very close to my heart - or stomach - Queso! Yep, Fain has put together an entire cookbook devoted to this cheesy dip!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

A fun, full-color look at everyone's favorite cheese dip, with history, tips, facts, and 50 recipes from beloved food blogger Lisa Fain, "the Homesick Texan."

Queso (aka chile con queso) is a spicy, cheesy, comforting cult favorite that has long been a delicious addition to any party, barbecue, or family gathering. This appealing and accessible book features a mix of down-home standards and contemporary updates, from historical, regional, and Mexican quesos to vegan and dessert quesos, including Chile Verde Con Queso, Squash Blossom Queso Fundido, Fajita Queso, Cactus and Corn Queso Poblano, Frito Salad with Queso Dressing, Pulled Pork Queso Blanco, and Sausage Queso Biscuits. Whether you're relaxing with friends, having a few people over to watch the football game, or entertaining a hungry crowd, queso is the perfect party food for good times.

Oh, I'm already hungry! 

Queso! doesn't hit shelves until September, but that does give you plenty of time to head over to Fain's blog and familiarize yourself with her recipes. Check out her previous cookbooks as well for fantastic Texas and Tex-Mex recipes!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Short Fiction Friday: Final Girls by Mira Grant

Dr. Jennifer Webb has come up with a brilliant and innovative new therapy technique. It involves, essentially, nightmares. Patients are put under and monitored while experiencing a scenario that plays out as a horror movie. By creating such a situation - fully sensory and catered specifically to each patient's needs, the patient can work out and conquer their biggest issues. 

Esther, a reporter for Science Digest, is skeptical to say the least. Her father was tormented by bad therapy techniques during her lifetime and she makes no bones about her prejudices against Webb's creation. Nonetheless, Esther dives in when convinced to try the therapy herself. 

Unfortunately for Esther, things don't go quite as planned. 

Soooo horror movies as therapy? Works for me, I think fans of horror movies have long accepted that there's a psychological reason we enjoy these films. Many agree that it's a safe and protected environment in which to experience the adrenaline rush of being scared. And of course you generally get to see good conquer evil in the end.

The therapy created by Webb is basically that - an interactive horror movie, again catered specifically to the client, that allows them to work out deep seated psychological issues in a safe environment. And that's the plan for Esther too - for her to get to work through the issues she's faced regarding her father thereby being shown that Webb's method works and earning the method a positive report in Esther's piece.

Things first get a bit out of hand when Webb joins in the nightmare. Having already witnessed a pair of sisters working through their animosity together in such therapy, linked mentally through Webb's technology, the reader knows that Esther likely would not have agreed. And Webb's motives can be questioned considering she too understands the emotional bond that can be forged as result - in an attempt to ensure Esther will write only nice things?

What neither of them plans on is the twist that Grant throws at them in the form of... trouble in the facility.

And oh, that ending!

Final Girls is yet another quick and clever read from one of my FAVORITE authors. It's campy and fun, and perfect for horror fans looking for a light diversionary read at the moment.

The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi

Hi, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Amita Trasi's debut, The Color of Our Sky.

In the late 80s, Tara's father, who made a habit of trying to help kids who needed it most, introduced Mukta into their home. Mukta, a daughter born into the Yellama cult, would have become a prostitute otherwise. 

Tara and Mukta spent the next five years together forging a friendship stronger than either had ever known. But in 1993, Mukta was kidnapped before Tara's very eyes. For years, Tara believed that Mukta had died in the aftermath, but when her father passed away she discovered that wasn't the case. Or at least there was no evidence of such. And so she began to search for her friend, returning to India to find out what happened to Mukta. 

I'm not going to lie, The Color of our Sky is a difficult read. The topics covered are terrifying and terrible. But the story is a powerful one as well.

Mukta grows up raised by her mother and grandmother. Both of them were forced into prostitution at very young ages. The difference is that Mukta's grandmother believes in the life and Mukta's mother does not.

Tara grows up under very different circumstances: allowed to go to school, given all that she needs in life... But when the two girls are brought together, they become fast friends. They provide for one another in a way no friend ever has for Tara in particular (there weren't really any kids where Mukta grew up). And the loss of both her mother and her friend shake her as does the guilt she feels over Mukta's disappearance.

The story alternates between Tara and Mukta and the two timelines - Tara returning to India after having lived in Los Angeles for about a decade, intent on finally finding out what happened to Mukta, and both of their past storylines. The threads intertwine to give the reader a full story for both of the girls. And again, it's not a pretty one. But Amita Trasi's writing is compelling and pulls you into the girls' tales. And amongst the horror of Mukta's life in particular, there are bright spots.

Ultimately, this is a story about the power of friendship. But it's also an eye-opening read about some of the worst suffering going on in the world today. Trasi's characters are fictional, but the unfortunate truth is that the story is reality for some. Readers moved by the story (and it's impossible not to be) can find a link to help on the author's website.

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

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

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson.

Imagine a time when married at nineteen was the goal for women. Now imagine you don't easily fall into the guidelines of those expectations. And imagine a war is about to begin. These are a few of the pieces that set in motion the beginning of The Marriage Bureau in 1939. Founded by Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, the Bureau began with "Mary's" (in fact, Audrey, but she didn't want her parents to know what she was up to) determination to find herself a husband. Two failed engagements and her parents continued exasperation led her to take out an advertisement, which she knew could be fraught with all kinds of complications. It cemented in her mind the need for a bureau to weed out and match suitable couples.

The Marriage Bureau is quite charming, even coming from someone who doesn't read a lot of not fiction. Among the history of the Bureau itself are anecdotes about real matches made and even an extra bit at the end outlining some of the more entertaining requirements on the part of both men and women looking to be matched.

As with many books set around WWII, not only does the book share the story of the matchmaking duo's budding business, but it also offers up a great snapshot of social mores and how those were being altered by the war. WWII was a time of great change and upheaval, for women in particular, as it meant more opportunities for work outside the home and more responsibilities previously thought to be inappropriate for the fairer sex. It also offered up changes in terms of the mixing of classes at the time.

Penrose Halson, author of the book, bought the matchmaking business's client list and archives in 1986, leaving her perfectly placed to pen a history of the agency. Even more so considering she herself was a client back in the 60s and again in 1981! (She was a client at the Katharine Allen Marriage & Advice Bureau, which she purchased in 1986 and was asked by Heather's daughter to then look after their clients as well.)

The Marriage Bureau is a fascinating and fun piece of dating and matchmaking history. It's also set to be adapted into a TV show in the UK (which I do hope will make it's way here!). The book is out on shelves now!

For a few fun extras, check out this Daily Mail piece on the Bureau and this post over at HistoricalNovelSociety.org, which features a great interview with Penrose Halson.

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

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

It's Wednesday, readers! The week is already halfway over. Today I'm part of the official blog tour for Emily Barr's fab YA debut, The One Memory of Flora Banks! Do note there is a tour wide giveaway on this one, so be sure to read through for the Rafflecopter at the end.

Flora Banks hasn't been able to make new memories since she was ten. Now, at seventeen, she leaves herself notes and messages to bring her up to speed each day and remind her of what's happened.

But when Flora kisses her best friend's boyfriend, Drake, at his going away party, she wakes the next day to find that she can recall every detail. As days pass, the kiss, and Drake, remain fresh on her mind. Certain that the first new memory she's made in seven years must mean something, she sets off to find Drake, traveling a road unknown and remaining steadfast in her mission. But her travels aren't easy and her discoveries aren't what she expected.

I loved the style and voice of Emily Barr's debut. Flora shines through as her day to day story, stunted by her lack of memories and reminders to herself, progresses. It's really what makes the book unique and a bit of a stand out, that voice and style. Of course Flora's story would be interesting even without it, but I think it makes it much more effective (always), being inside Flora's mind and thoughts. It gives the reader a sense of what she's going through and makes it easier to empathize with her.

From the start, her story is strange. Because she's afraid she'll forget Drake and the kiss, she of course writes herself a note - which is discovered by her friend Paige. Her parents leave town, under the impression that Paige, the now former friend, will be there to help Flora and Flora does nothing to correct their assumption (in part because she's forgotten already). So Flora is on her own for the first time. And decides the best course of action - the only course of action - is to find Drake. In Svalbard.

And what an adventure it is! Traveling to and trekking around Norway in search of her one true love, she meets and befriends a whole group of people who know nothing about her issue. And it's that that makes it easier for her to begin to come into her own.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started The One Memory of Flora Banks. It was compared to Memento, for obvious reasons, but my dark mind kept trying to imagine what the twist would be (and how dark it would be). And there are a few massive twists in the book - some I sort of saw coming and some I did not. Traveling with Flora as companion in her quest without any real notion of what was to come certainly made the book more of an adventure and definitely made it a whole lot of fun!

Huge thanks to the good folks at Penguin for setting up the tour and providing a copy for review. And as mentioned above, there is a tour wide giveaway! Enter via the Rafflecopter below, and good luck!

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman + a Giveaway

It's been four years since Lili's husband died and while things have gotten easier, she can't imagine a day when she'll ever be over it. His death sent her spiraling out of control, leaving her two daughters under the care of her sister in the immediate aftermath. These days, it means they're closer than ever. But as her beloved sister encourages Lili to get out there and meet someone - to take the reigns and join the dating pool once again - Lili remains staunchly against it. Not until the kids are out of college, she promises (they're seven and five). 

When her job asks her to join a gardening class at the local botanical gardens, Lili isn't at all resistant. Not only does it sound like fun, and she can bring the kids, but everyone hopes it'll get Lili and the company in the good graces of the Bloem family, a huge new account for the publisher. And since Lili will be illustrating their new vegetable guides, it should be a great opportunity for research. But what Lili isn't counting on is falling for Edward Bloem himself!

Abbi Waxman's The Garden of Small Beginnings is fantastic! It's more than bit of a tear jerker but it's still light and funny when it needs to be (which is most of the time).

Loss and grief and moving on are tough topics to tackle. As Lili and the rest of the characters show us, each and every person is different in how they react and recover to loss. And Lili is lucky that she has her sister, Rachel, in her life. Her sister who stepped up and helped out when Lili needed it most.

While this is very much Lili's story, it's also Rachel's story, and it's Lili's kids' story. And it's the story of the gardening class - led by Edward - a group of people who might never have crossed paths in their day to day lives, drawn together and made friends over the act of bringing a garden of vegetable bounty to life.

Fair warning, it'll likely make you antsy to get your own garden going, if you have one!

I loved this book. I really did - tears and all. And it really was all I could do not to let the tears take over. Out of both sadness and joy, I might add. But again, this is actually a pretty hilarious read overall. Between Lili and Rachel and Lili's daughters, there are some definitely laugh out loud moments throughout. And really, the tears are minor in comparison. Heck, even Molly Shannon (you know, MOLLY SHANNON) blurbed the book!

The Garden of Small Beginnings is new out today and should be on every reading list for anyone looking for a fun and upbeat feel good read. Perfect for spring in every way!

Thanks to the publisher, I get to give away a copy of Abbi's debut today! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, May 15. Open US only and no PO boxes please.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

A Meatloaf in Every Oven by Frank Bruni & Jennifer Steinhauer

Readers, I love meatloaf. But I didn't grow up eating it. In truth, my childhood memory of meatloaf consists mostly of sitcom jokes about the dish. (Apparently my dad wasn't overly fond of it, so it wasn't something that my mom ever made for us.)

My first taste of meatloaf was actually the first meatloaf I cooked. The recipe was from a fund raiser cookbook compiled of donated "family" recipes - it featured a layer of cheese sandwiched between two layers of meatloaf mix, and seemed like something my budding teenage kitchen skills could handle. And it was tasty!

My love of meatloaf had begun.

It's a dish I find almost irresistible on any restaurant menu and one that I try various versions of every time I come across a new recipe. And so you can definitely see why discovering Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer's A Meatloaf in Every Oven: Two Chatty Cooks, One Iconic Dish and Dozens of Recipes - from Mom's to Mario Batali's piqued my interest to the point of being a necessity for my cookbook collection.

The book is divided up into Classics, Around the World, Lamb, Cluck Cluck Gobble Gobble (poultry, obviously), Meatless Loaves, Guilty Pleasures, Political Postscript (recipes from a handful of DC folk), and Sides. Most of these chapters speak for themselves, but each contains multitudes of meatloaf wonders. Amongst these pages you'll find delights such as "Leslie Bruni's Sweet Nostalgic Loaf" (courtesy of Frank Bruni's mother), "South African Bobotie Loaf," "Jerusalem Loaf with Sumac and Couscous" (based off of a lamb meatball recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem), "Jerk Chicken Loaf," "Melissa Clark's Salmon Loaf with Mustard and Capers," and even a "Frito Pie Loaf." Just to name a few, of course.

Of the recipes I've tried so far (an almost embarrassing plethora) a few have risen to the top as kings of the meatloaf mountain: "Alex Guarnaschelli's Mom's Meatloaf" - a moist and flavorful wonder that has sour cream as one of its ingredients, and surprisingly "Michael White's Chicken Eggplant Loaf." I say surprisingly because while I expected it to be tasty, it was beyond that! The combination of eggplant, ground chicken, fennel, and cheese was incredibly flavorful and surprisingly moist - even though I opted to use white meat in spite of the direction to use dark; it's what I had on hand.

I of course haven't had a chance to try all of the recipes just yet. Bruni's mom's recipe is on my list to try as is tonight's planned "Spicy Turkey Loaf with Sriracha" a recipe that actually comes from Erin McDowell at one of my favorite food sites, Food52.com. I expect that means it'll be fabulous.

I've also tried my hand at quite a few of the sides included in the book: "Winter Salad of Fennel, Celery Root, Lemon and Pecorino" (also from a contributor to Food52) and might I say, fennel is a heavily underutilized ingredient. It's one of my favorite new veggies, which means I'm drawn to any recipe that includes it! The "Quick and Easy Super-Snappy Green Beans" proved to be the perfect pairing to the aforementioned chicken and eggplant meatloaf, and yet another Food52 addition (I promise, I didn't seek them out - it just happened that way!), "It's Maaaa-gic! Moroccan Carrots" were a hit as a meatloaf dinner pairing for company. ("Jonathan's Roasted Broccoli" seems like a good choice for the spicy turkey loaf tonight.)

This cookbook really begs the question, how much meatloaf is too much meatloaf? I pondered this as I flagged recipes to try - and again when I found myself making two different meatloaves two nights apart. I haven't found the answer to that question, readers, but I suspect the it is that you can never have too much meatloaf!

As you can see, this is a cookbook I'm clearly smitten with. If you like meatloaf even a tiny bit, this is the cookbook for you. The recipes vary in complexity, additions, and even meat (or meatless) base but each and every one I've tried so far has been yummy!