Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: DVD Agatha Raisin

Agatha Raisin, Series 1

Agatha Raisin
This DVD is based on the books of M.C. Beaton and her beloved character Agatha Raisin. Agatha has always dreamed of living in the English countryside and as a result she's left her successful PR Firm in London to make a go of country life, in the small and picturesque village of Carsley in the Cotswolds.

It doesn't take long for her to get involved in the community, and at the opening of this series, it's the local pie contest she's joined. But when a murder occurs she feels compelled to try and solve it, albeit with the help of a few new friends, giving her the much deserved reputation of an amateur sleuth. The series contains nine episodes that will keep you coming back for more. It's become one of my favorites, and how could it not be with the wonderful, fun, endearing characters and a slice of mystery on the side. I'm so hoping there will be a season two.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: The Heirs

The Heirs

The Heirs
Susan Rieger

The Heirs follows the story of Rupert Falkes and his wife Eleanor Phipps Falkes and that of their five sons. When Rupert dies, secrets emerge that the remaining members of the family must come to terms with, all while making sense of their own lives.

I wanted to like this book but, it's one that left me with mixed feelings. While it isn't a long book, it felt long. It often went on and on with perhaps too much detail. I can't quite put my finger on why, but I didn't feel a great connection to the main characters, Rupert and Eleanor, which made the first half of the book seem somewhat dull to me. Some bits of the first section were well observed, but I couldn't help feeling that it sometimes seemed pretentious, like the author is trying too hard to sound intellectual, which was slightly off-putting.

I only felt drawn into the book about mid-way through, when I reached the character of Jim, who, oddly enough, wasn't even part of the Falkes family. I'm not sure why this section seemed more appealing than the first section, maybe I was able to feel or empathize more with this character. He felt more genuine to me and more interesting than some of the others in the story. Overall, I felt the second half of the book was more engaging than the first half; it had more of a story to tell that connected some of the characters, without just describing characters to me. It was less boring, and it seemed to have a better, faster pace. In general, this book didn't have that spark of electricity I was hoping it would have.

Thanks to Librarything for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review: Catherine of Braganza

Catherine of Braganza: Charles II's Restoration Queen

Catherine of Braganza
Charles II's Restoration Queen
Sarah-Beth Watkins

This book provides a fascinating look at the life of Catherine of Braganza. She was born in 1638 in Portugal, and married Charles the II of England in 1662. She must have been an amazing women since she had to come to terms with the numerous mistresses of the king and the fact that, as hard as she tried she was never able to give the king an heir.

When she wasn't dealing with domestic hardships she had her detractors to contend with, particularly those who wanted to rid themselves of a Catholic queen. Even though the king stood by her during her most difficult times it seems true happiness may have come at long last when she was able to return to Portugal, where she was to rule as regent for João V.

I recommend this well written book for anyone who wants to know more about Catherine's role as queen and her life at the English court.

Thanks to Chronos Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: Vibrant India

Vibrant India: Fresh Vegetarian Recipes from Bangalore to Brooklyn

Vibrant India
Chitra Agrawal

I love the cover of this cookbook, like the name suggests it's vibrant and enticing. It was this cover that first drew me in. Inside, the author focuses on the food of Southern India, which is distinct from that of the North, which many readers are probably more familiar with in the form of creamy curries and meat dishes. The author goes into more detail explaining the differences and the importance of the history and culture in the development of southern cuisine, and how it focuses more on vegetarian dishes.

While I must admit, some of the recipes in the book seem a bit daunting to me, and if I'm honest, there are quite a few things I would prefer to eat in a restaurant, rather than try and attempt myself, I did find some recipes that were easier to prepare. I loved the idea of peaches in summer yogurt, for example, and the variations on yogurt raita as well as some new ways to make lentils.

I like that this book has some interesting recipes with unexpected ingredients. For instance, Lemon Peanut Rice, is something I wouldn't have expected, or Apple, Ginger Coconut Hand Pies. I think that is what makes this book and Southern India food unique and worth a look, especially for adventurous cooks who want to try something fresh and healthy.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: My Life to Live

My Life to Live: How I Became the Queen of Soaps When Men Ruled the Airwaves

My Life to Live
Agnes Nixon

I grew up watching One Life to Live and All My Children, but I didn't know anything about the creator of these two long-running soap operas. Therefore, this was quite an interesting book for me to read. I loved hearing about Mrs. Nixon's childhood and how she came to be interested in writing and creating characters.

It was also nice to read about a woman who was able to make both her family and her career a priority. It obviously helped that she had a loving and supporting husband. And while it did seem that her younger life with a father who appeared bent on controlling her and her future was tough, it no doubt led to her determination to chart her own path.

Although it was mentioned that she found writing a book more challenging than writing for television, I don't think many readers would ever guess this was the case. In fact, I thought more than once as I read this book; if Mrs. Nixon hadn't been writing soap operas she no doubt would have been writing best-selling novels. She clearly had a talent for keeping the reader hooked, not only on television but also in her autobiography.

I was saddened when I got to the end of the book and found out that before finishing it she suffered a debilitating stroke. But I was not surprised that she had the help of her family that allowed her to complete the work. I enjoyed getting the chance to read such an interesting book about an amazingly talented woman.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Review: The Postman's Fiancée

The Postman's Fiancée

The Postman's Fiancée
Denis Thériault

Tania has moved to Montreal from Germany, where she works as a waitress in one of the city's numerous restaurants. She has fallen in love with one of her regular customers, Bilodo, a local postman. Unfortunately for Tania, Bilodo has fallen for his Haiku writing pen-pal from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. But, when he has an accident that leaves him with amnesia, Tania sees her chance to claim Bilodo as her own betrothed. If only things would work out the way, she planned. But alas, fate and destiny might stand in the way.

This is a fabulous and original story which I couldn't put down. I don't remember reading anything quite like this one before. I loved the characters and the events which take place throughout the story. In fact, I think this is my favorite book so far this year. It is one I would definitely recommend.

Thanks to LibraryThing for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Review: The Inkblots

The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and The Power of Seeing

The Inkblots
Damion Searls

This book takes a look at the interesting life of Herman Rorschach and his iconic inkblot tests. The first half of the book analyzes in depth the scientist's short but extremely productive life. The second half is basically devoted to spread of the inkblots and how they were subsequently used.

Before reading this book I was unaware of the profound impact that Rorschach had on the field of psychology. I was fascinated to learn about his work in both Switzerland and Russia in the early 1900's. And while he died at the early age of 37 one has to wonder what he would have achieved had he lived even longer. It also made me wonder how or if he would have gone on to make further developments to his ground breaking tests. Nevertheless, the author provides a sympathetic and humane view of Rorschach and his work making this a must read for anyone interested in psychology or those who want to know more about the development of his infamous inkblot tests.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Review: Country Affairs

Country Affairs (The Tippermere Series) by [Stoneley, Zara]

Country Affairs
Zara Stoneley

If you are looking for a fun romp in the English countryside, this book is for you. It's number two in the Tippermere Series and it follows all the characters from the first book. In this installment, Charlotte “Lottie” Brinkely is set to take over her inheritance, the country house being left to her by her grandmother Elizabeth. But will the lovable boyfriend Rory be able to cope with all the responsibility, especially when Lottie has to come up with ideas to raise money to cover the estates enormous debts.

I found Country Affairs was a lot more fun than the first book in the series, although book one is good at laying the groundwork for all the characters involved. I felt book two was better developed and a lot more interesting. By the end of book two I was certainly ready for the next in the series entitled, Country Rivals.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review: The Women in the Castle

The Women in the Castle

The Women in the Castle
Jessica Shattuck

This historical novel follows the lives of three women who have to come to grips with the paths their lives have taken both during, before and after WWII. Marianne von Lingenfels has promised her husband and other male members of his resistance group that she will look after their wives and children if there plans to eliminate Hitler fail. When she is forced to do so, she must first locate the women and children who have been imprisoned or in the case of the children, moved to foster homes.

Marianne is able to reunite with two of the women Benita and Ania and bring them along with their children back to Castle Lingenfels. They must fend for themselves during a time of uncertainty and hardship. And as the story progresses secrets of the past are revealed that will test the friendship that has been built up between the women, around the memory of their lost husbands and the lives they once knew.

This richly detailed and atmospheric novel is at once sad and poignant and perhaps comes at the just right time. In it, we can see how political and cultural divisions can lead to disasters. It is both heart wrenching and unsettling but told with  warmth and understanding that made it hard to put down. Those who enjoy historical fiction will not be disappointed.

Thanks to Shelf-Awareness and William Morrow for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: Harvest

Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Extraordinary Garden Plants

Stefani Bittner & Alethea Harampolis

This lovely book consists of 47 projects using a variety of plants and flowers for creating among other things, herbal teas, infused oils, and striking arrangements using unexpected plants. The projects come with clear and easy to follow instructions with further tips at the end of the book. Each project focuses on a specific plant with information about the plant and how to grow the particular variety in question, as well as the project itself. The book is arranged by seasons, inspiring readers to make the most of nature throughout the year.

The authors included high-quality photos which I found inspiring. In fact, just reading this book made me want to run out to the garden shop and buy some herbs and other plants. It also made me appreciate the fact that some plants could be put to more uses than I had assumed.

This book would no doubt be the perfect gift for a gardener or a creative person who wants to make the most of some common plants found in gardens and backyards and with plants that can be easily found at a local shop.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review: The Threat Level Remains Severe

The Threat Level Remains Severe

The Threat Level Remains Severe
Rowena MacDonald

Grace works for the Economic Scrutiny Committee in the UK House of Commons. Originally a temporary job, it has turned into a permanent position. Things take a interesting turn when the committee gets a new recruit, Brett from Australia. He is everything Grace detests in the newcomers, set on making a name and career for themselves. Grace isn't exactly Brett's dream girl either but at some point they fall into a relationship, albeit a slightly complex one. When things don't work out for them, Grace turns to a secret email admirer. Unfortunately he isn't the antidote to Brett. In fact, the man who passes himself of as Reuben Swift, a struggling poet and musician is a lot more troubled then he lets on. By the time Grace meets him she has to ask Brett for help. All three end up in a downward spiraling trajectory after their encounter. The results of which will challenge them all.

The beginning of this book is very funny. I just loved the descriptions of Grace and Brett, especially
Brett as the overly-pleased-with-himself Australian. In the second part, it takes a turn into a darker area with the introduction of Reuben, and becomes a bit more serious, although certainly not less interesting.

What I really enjoyed about this story is the authors ability to capture the atmosphere around each character. I really felt like I knew these characters by the end of the story. Overall, it was skillfully written and I enjoyed being able to see the story from each characters perspective. This was such an entertaining read, I found it hard to put down. This is my first book by Ms. MacDonald but I hope there will be more to come.

Thanks to Netgalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: Speaking from Among the Bones

Speaking from Among the Bones (Flavia de Luce, #5)

Speaking From Among the Bones
Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce, the eleven year old amateur detective, is irresistible. Once again she is right in the thick of things in the English village of Bishop's Lacey. The village is preparing to celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the death of Saint Tancred. In order to do this the village plans to open the grave of the Saint but, before that happens a body is discovered, that of Mr. Collicut, the church organist. Even though the local police think they can handle the investigation, Flavia is intent of conducting one of her own. This is despite the drama that continues at her family's estate of Buckshaw. Flavia's father is under pressure to settle his debts or sell the estate creating a somber atmosphere at home. Although Flavia takes note she is more preoccupied with her latest murder investigation.

I can't get enough of Flavia, she is entertaining and as sharp as a whip. I can't imagine a reader who isn't going to fall for this endearing character, hook, line and sinker. Fans of British cozy mysteries will not want to miss this one.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review: The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love

The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love

The Amazing Story of the Man Who Cycled from India to Europe for Love
Per J. Andersson

This book follows the story of Jagat Ananda Pradyumna Kumar Mahanandia, or PK for short. PK was born in the Indian and grew up during the 1970's in a family of “untouchables”. His place in the caste system determined most things in his young life, how he was treated at school, where he could work and even regulated how he could worship. His treatment at the hands of teachers and other students had a lasting effect on PK and as a result he left his home village and set out for New Delhi to become an artist. Despite setbacks and hardships PK managed to make a name for himself drawing portraits.

During his early childhood a prophecy predicted that PK would marry a woman from far away, perhaps from another country. While in the capital PK meet Lotta, a Swedish girl traveling around India. And although they fell in love she decided to return to Sweden. In order for PK to find her there a year later he resorted to a bicycle, traveling across continents to eventually reach his destiny.

This book is filled with details of life in India during the 1970's, which I found very interesting. I did, however, feel a little disappointed that Lotta, seemed at times a ghost. The reader doesn't get to know her more than superficially. Since we get to know PK inside and out, it would have been nice if Lotta could have been more prominent in the story, especially in the second half of the book. I also expected a little more in depth coverage of PK's life in Sweden over the years. Despite these weaknesses it was an interesting tale of the determination and struggle of one man tying to find his place in society and the love of his life.

Thanks to LibaryThing for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Review: Human Acts

Human Acts

Human Acts
Han Kang

This heartbreaking, emotional tale follows fifteen year old Dong-ho and others involved in the 1980's uprising in the Southern Korean town of Gwangju. As Dong-ho sets out with his friend to the demonstrations in the town, he watches as this same friend is shot and dies in the street. Dong-ho is unable to help him. He is also unable to tell his family and others what happened to his friend. Instead he joins them on their search to find him, knowing all along that they never will. This leads to his caring for bodies of other dead protesters, even as soldiers are reported to be on their way to squash the rebellion in the city. The fact that he stays behind has consequences not just for Dong-ho, who looses his own life but for his family and others who knew him.

The story is told from several perspectives and each narrator has been either a witness or a participant in the uprising. All of them have a story to tell and wounds that have not healed. Due to the trauma experienced they may never heal. The reader can't help but be moved by the experiences of each and the author's exquisite prose makes this book hard to put down. It's both moving and powerful at the same time. And for those unfamiliar with South Korean politics in the 1980's, the translator has done an excellent job of setting the stage for events in the story and the importance of Gwangju during this period.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review: A Great Reckoning

A Great Reckoning (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #12)

A Great Reckoning
Louise Penny

Former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté of Quebec, Armand Gamache has decided to take on the role of heading up the Sûreté Academy in order to root out corruption. In doing so, he admits candidates previously excluded. One is Amelia Choquet, who Gamache is particularly drawn to, even though she isn't the usual candidate, considering her numerous body piercings and tattoos. Before the courses begin, Gamache is given a mysterious map by a friend back in his village of Three Pines. While several cadets are investigating the mystery of the map, Professor Serge Leduc is found dead at the academy. Gamache must figure out whether the murderer was a cadet or another member of staff. He must also find out why the murdered man had a copy of the mysterious map. Is it possible that all roads lead back to Armand Gamache and the village of Three Pines?

Louise Penny writes in an intelligent manner, exploring the lives of her characters with a sensitive and caring hand. The intricately plotted story reveals layers of secrets and intrigue that kept me guessing until the end. The moody atmosphere and the gripping dialogue made this a stunning novel and one that was hard to put down.

This review was originally written for and published by Manhattan Book Review.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: The Confessions of Young Nero

The Confessions of Young Nero (Nero #1)

The Confessions of Young Nero
Margaret George

Not since Robert Graves' I Claudius, have I read such an interesting book about ancient Rome. In The Confessions of Young Nero, we encounter a young boy who is almost murdered at the hands of the mad emperor Caligula. We follow him on his rise (with his mother's help, of course) to the exalted state of Emperor. The author presents a fascinating look into the world of Rome with her lush descriptions of culture, scenery, and food. It was so well written that I almost felt like I was there, walking around in the intricately decorated rooms. The fact that the characters speak directly to the reader is perhaps what makes this book so superb, giving it a feeling of intimacy. At times I felt like I was reading about long lost relatives, as so many of the events and people in the book are not only well known to us but they have captivated the attention of so many throughout the course of history.

I especially liked the fact that the author presented Nero not, as Hollywood has portrayed him as an over the top ruler, but as a character that one can understand and at times sympathize with, knowing that he often had the weight of the world on his shoulders. I am also happy to know that the story of Nero will be continued in a second volume, as this one ends with the burning of Rome. I for one, can't wait to read the next installment.

Thanks to Shelf-Awareness and Berkley Publishing for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: Dance of the Jakaranda

Dance of the Jakaranda

Dance of the Jakaranda
Peter Kimani

In this highly entertaining tale of the quest to build a railroad from Mombasa to Nairobi, in what at the time was the British East Africa Protectorate, we follow several characters whose lives are separated by race but intertwined by circumstances. Babu Salim has come from the Punjab as a technician to work on the railroad and his boss an Englishman, Ian McDonald takes an instant dislike to him, which has consequences that will follow him throughout the rest of the story. As the story progresses, we get to know Rajan, Babu's grandson, who is a performer at the Jakaranda Club a mainstay in the local community. But unbeknownst to Rajan, his attempt to find the woman of his dreams, will open up a world of secrets that will affect the whole cast of characters. And while Babu and the older characters were players in the struggle to build a railroad, Rajan's era will be defined by the struggle for Kenyan independence, creating another layer of drama to the story.

In this clever and mesmerizing story, the author takes the reader on a journey to another time and place, where twists and turns provide a truly entertaining ride.

Thanks to Akashic Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for a review.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Review: The Clancys of Queens

The Clancys of Queens: A Memoir

The Clancys of Queens
Tara Clancy

I wasn't sure what to expect from a memoir of an Irish/Italian American girl who grew up in Queens, New York. I was not only pleasantly surprised, I was thoroughly entertained as well. Tara Clancy, or scooter as her dad called her, and chickenella as her mother referred to her, tells a tale of growing up between two worlds, one in working class Queens and one in the more refined Hamptons. I loved the humor in this book and the fact that it was filled with fun and silly memories of friends and family. It was warm, thoughtful but also spunky, which made it a memorable and entertaining read. Tara Clancy has a style all her own and hopefully there will be more tales to come.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Review: The 17 Day Diet

The 17 Day Diet: A Doctor's Plan Designed for Rapid Results

The 17 Day Diet
Dr. Mike Moreno

Now that 2017 is underway, many of you may be thinking its a good time to turn over a new leaf and lose a few of those pounds that came with all the holiday desserts. If so, you might want to check out The 17 Day Diet. I've had this book for a while, and I've had some success with it, especially when I'm disciplined (and this was not the case of the holidays). The plan is made up of several levels that can be followed depending on the amount of weight one wants to lose.

In the initial level, the program encourages you to clean out your system by eating low-fat protein, such as chicken and fish with lots of “cleansing vegetables” such as green beans, broccoli, carrots, kale and low sugar fruits. It aims to cut out carbohydrates and sugar allowing you to burn fat. The plan lets you slowly incorporate more items into your diet once you reach your desired weight and it provides tips for helping you maintain your weight goals. It also has some useful menu plans so that the food doesn't become too boring and monotonous.

If you decide to follow this plan, I would love to know how you get on.