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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Title: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
Author: J. Ryan Stradal
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publish Date: July 28, 2015 (Today!)
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience."

My Two Cents:

"Kitchens of the Great Midwest" is a book that has been getting a lot of buzz the summer. I was excited to read it but I always have a little bit of trepidation when it comes to books that are getting tons and tons of accolades before they even come out and seemingly come from nowhere. Is it real buzz or is it just a hot whiff of marketing air? In the case of this book, the accolades are definitely earned. I didn't quite know what to expect when I opened this book but I got a great reading experience with the story that engaged me from the very beginning. Each chapter tells the story of a recipe and an inter-related character.

It's sort of hard to describe what's going on in this book because there is so much and it covers such a wide swath of years. This is not to say that the book is disjointed at all! Most of this story focuses on Eva, a girl who is never felt like she is fit in with her family and Iowa. As a teenager she figures out that she has an incredibly palate and believes that she is destined to become a great chef. This book is filled with family, family secrets, and great food. There are recipes sprinkled throughout the book that go along with the things that are being discussed in the book.

It's really a treat to be so engaged by a story. This story is very original. I really like that the way that the author is able to make the characters, even the secondary characters feel so fullly realized and so 3-D. To me, a mark of a good book is when you like the characters so much that you want to know more about them not because the author hasn't given enough detail but because you don't want the book to end and to have to step away from the characters! I know that these characters and the storyline are going to stick  with me for a very long time.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Truth or Dare Blog Tour: The S Word by Paolina Milana

Title: The S Word
Author: Paolina Milana
Format: Ebook
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publish Date: May 5, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "In accordance with her Sicilian Catholic family’s unspoken code, Paolina Milana learned at an early age to keep her secrets locked away where no one could find them. Nobody outside the family needed to know about the voices her Mamma battled in her head; or about how Paolina forged her birth certificate at thirteen so she could get a job at The Donut Shop; or about the police officer twenty-six years her senior whose promise to her Papà to “keep an eye on her” quickly translated into something sinister. And perhaps that’s why no one saw it coming when—on the eve of her sweet sixteen, pushed to edge—Paolina attempted to take her own mother’s life."

My Two Cents:

"The S Word" is a memoir covers the mostly teenage years of Paolina, the daughter of Italian immigrants who is facing a lot of difficulties. Her mother is schizophrenic but due to her not wanting medical attention and her father not being able to navigate the American medical system, she never really gets help. She threatens her family, including Paolina and none of the children nor her husband know what to do about it. Aside from the difficulties with her mother, Paolina is also facing difficulties at work. After laying her way to a job at a donut shop she comes into contact with a 40 something year old police officer, Gunner, who is anything but kind and takes advantage of her. This is a powerful memoir that is often difficult to read because of the subject matter but hard to put down.

I love memoirs when they cover extraordinary circumstances. Paolina definitely for better or for worse has an extraordinarily difficult time during her teenage years. She gives an unflinching account as to what it's like growing up in a household where your parent's mental stability is in question and nobody seems to know what to do about it. The tribulations that she faces by herself are incredibly difficult and she doesn't always deal with them in the most healthy way because she doesn't really have a great support system. Her father tries that he has his hands full with Palena's mother.

I really enjoyed this book because it is so raw and unflinching. I liked how the author gave us a first row seat to some really difficult subjects. Overall, I think this book would appeal to anyone who enjoys memoirs but doesn't mind really tough stuff.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Review and Giveaway: Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper by Hilary Liftin

Title: Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper
Author: Hilary Liftin
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: July 21, 2015 (Today!)
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Actress Lizzie Pepper was America’s Girl Next Door and her marriage to Hollywood mega-star Rob Mars was tabloid gold—a whirlwind romance and an elaborate celebrity-studded wedding landed them on the cover of every celebrity weekly. But fame, beauty, and wealth weren’t enough to keep their marriage together. Hollywood’s “It” couple are over—and now Lizzie is going to tell her side of the story.

Celebrity ghostwriter Hilary Liftin chronicles the tabloids’ favorite marriage as Lizzie Pepper realizes that, when the curtain falls, her romance isn’t what she and everyone else thought. From her lonely holidays in sumptuous villas to her husband’s deep commitment to a disconcertingly repressive mind-body group, Lizzie reveals a side of fame that her fans never get to see. Full of twists and turns, Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is a breathless journey to the heights of Hollywood power and royalty and a life in the spotlight that is nearly impossible to escape."

My Two Cents:

"Movie star by Lizzie Pepper" by Hilary Liftin is a faux celebrity memoir that has flavors of so many of those celebrity couples whose faces and combined names (TomKat, Brangelina, etc.) grace the likes of People and US Weekly. I've definitely been fascinated by that world and so I was looking forward to reading this book. It's fascinating to me that the author decided to write a faux celebrity memoir but what makes it even more interesting is that the author partially started her writing career as a ghostwriter for celebrity memoirs so she knows where she's going. As she put it, Lizzie Pepper would be her dream client!

Lizzie Pepper is a middle-of-the-road actress until she meets Rob Mars, one of the most eligible bachelors in Hollywood. Lizzie falls for Rob quickly and thinks that what they have is real but she slowly starts to realize that their fairytale is anything but a fairytale and all the things she loved about their relationship have a really cheap veneer. The book is written from Lizzy's perspective which I really liked because it allowed me to get into her head and to understand what she was going through.

This book is for those who are intrigued by the world of celebrity like I am. I love reading serious books but you can also find me scanning the tabloids in the grocery store checkout line. I loved the Hollywood insider flavor of this novel. The cool thing about this book is that because it is a faux celebrity memoir, we get closer to the elusive Hollywood world more than any other real celebrity memoir would allow us to get. Overall, this is a fun read that engaged me from the very beginning.


This book is already exciting a lot of people! Thanks to the publisher, I am giving away a prize pack to one lucky winner (U.S. only!). Included in the giveaway is a copy of the book, a pair of branded sunglasses with a Lizzie Pepper hangtag, and popcorn all packaged in a gold envelope.

Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below!

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Truth or Dare Blog Tour: Fire Season by Hollye Dexter

Title: Fire Season
Author: Hollye Dexter
Format: Ebook
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publish Date: April 14, 2015
Source: I received a copy as a part of BookSparks' Truth or Dare Blog Tour; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Hollye Dexter and her husband Troy woke one night to find their house ablaze. To escape the fire, they had to jump from their second-story window with their toddler son—and then watch their house and home-based businesses burn to the ground. Over the next two years, the family went bankrupt, lost their cars and another home, and got dropped by their best friends. As the outer layers of her life were stripped away, Dexter began to unravel emotionally; but then she found herself on the brink of losing her marriage, and she realized that if she was going to save her family, she would have to pull herself back together somehow.

As she fought to reassemble the pieces of the life she’d had, Dexter discovered that a shattered heart has the ability to regenerate in a mighty way; that even in the midst of disaster, you can find your place; and that when everything you identify with is gone, you are free to discover who you really are. Poignant and inspiring, Fire Season is a story for anyone who has ever lost hope—and found it again."

My Two Cents:

 After Hollye Dexter and her family wake up to discover their houses on fire, all of their belongings are destroyed and they feel like they're losing all hope. This book is about the family trying to find hope again and trying to get back on their feet after it seems like their life has totally been destroyed. This is a memoir that is about family and about what it means to lose hope and to, more importantly, regain it.

The Dexter family not only loses their house in a fire but their social circle is shaken as the friends that they thought would be there and the family that they thought cared for them weren't necessarily there. This book meanders from event to event after the fire that takes their house to show how the family copes and how they try to rebuild their life. The part that really hit home for me is how the Dexter's family and friends acted after they lose their house. I've always heard that it's the most difficult circumstances that show you who your true friends are. It's those life changes where friends or family either rally together or fall away. It shows you who's going to be with you when the going gets tough and who is simply a fair weather friend.

Like I said this book meanders quite a bit and it covers a lot of ground, not just the fallout from the fire. I did find myself wishing that the book covered a little bit less and was a little bit tighter because they've meandering takes away from the story actually and makes some of the events feel unrelated to each other.

The writing is very honest and because the narrative meanders so much, the book almost feels like stream of consciousness. You really feel like you are getting into the authors head and we are getting a front row for everything that she and her family go through. Overall, this book is for those two cars that give you a front row seat to be unimaginable.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Giveaway Winners!

Hello! I have one giveaway winner to announce today!

Ana of California/ Anne of Green Gables Giveaway:
Sandra K.

Thanks for entering and keep an eye out for more giveaways soon!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Review: A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light by David Downie

Title: A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light
Author: David Downie
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: April 28, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Abounding in secluded, atmospheric parks, artists’ studios, cafes, restaurants and streets little changed since the 1800s, Paris exudes romance. The art and architecture, the cityscape, riverbanks, and the unparalleled quality of daily life are part of the equation.

But the city’s allure derives equally from hidden sources: querulous inhabitants, a bizarre culture of heroic negativity, and a rich historical past supplying enigmas, pleasures and challenges. Rarely do visitors suspect the glamor and chic and the carefree atmosphere of the City of Light grew from and still feed off the dark fountainheads of riot, rebellion, mayhem and melancholy—and the subversive literature, art and music of the Romantic Age.

Weaving together his own with the lives and loves of Victor Hugo, Georges Sand, Charles Baudelaire, Balzac, Nadar and other great Romantics Downie delights in the city’s secular romantic pilgrimage sites asking , Why Paris, not Venice or Rome—the tap root of "romance"—or Berlin, Vienna and London—where the earliest Romantics built castles-in-the-air and sang odes to nightingales? Read A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light and find out."

My Two Cents:

Part love letter to Paris and part literary romp through that city, A Passion for Paris" takes a look at the history of the Romantic movement and its inextricable link to the city of Paris. With all of the big names of the Romantic movement working and playing in Paris, it works well to talk about both the city and the movement together! The author is very knowledgeable on the Romantic movement and makes it very exciting for the reader to follow him through that city on the trail of some of the biggest names in the Romantic movement.

Paris is someplace I've always dreamed of going and one thing that I really like this book is that the author gave great insight into what the city was like during the Romantic period and why it drew so many big names of the movement to its streets and parks. The author's passion for the topic certainly shines through and it rubbed off on me as the reader! I love just about any book on traveling and what makes this book unique is that it takes you on a trip to Paris through a very specific lens. You can see what the big authors of the Romantic movement or seeing and what they were doing. It's very cool!

I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Paris or getting a behind the scenes look at the Romantic movement. Overall, I really enjoyed this book.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: About a Girl by Sarah McCarry

Title: About a Girl
Author: Sarah McCarry
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publish Date: July 14, 2015
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Eighteen-year-old Tally is absolutely sure of everything: her genius, the love of her adoptive family, the loyalty of her best friend, Shane, and her future career as a Nobel prize-winning astronomer. There's no room in her tidy world for heartbreak or uncertainty—or the charismatic, troubled mother who abandoned her soon after she was born. But when a sudden discovery upends her fiercely ordered world, Tally sets out on an unexpected quest to seek out the reclusive musician who may hold the key to her past—and instead finds Maddy, an enigmatic and beautiful girl who will unlock the door to her future. The deeper she falls in love with Maddy, the more Tally begins to realize that the universe is bigger—and more complicated—than she ever imagined. Can Tally face the truth about her family—and find her way home in time to save herself from its consequences?"

My Two Cents:

"About a Girl" is the story of Tally, a very smart and very independent 18-year-old who seems very happy in her New York City home. She was adopted and is very happy with her family but it is interested in her past and to see if she can find out who she really is. This book is the third book in Sarah McCarry's Metamorphoses series. Each of these books focuses on a present-day story based on mythology. You definitely don't need to read the first two books in this series in order to understand what is going on with this book. This book is based on the myth of Atalanta, a myth that I was not familiar with before reading this book. I do suggest getting familiar with the myth before you read this book in order to understand it better. Eventually there is a little more of an explanation but it doesn't come until about the last third of the book.

The story itself was a little bit hard for me to get into. Tally goes in search of her father but by the end of the book we still don't really know much about him or Tally's origins other than she was abandoned by her mother. While Tally is on the other side of the country trying to figure out who she is, she falls for Maddy, a mysterious woman who has a hidden past. Again, I wish that I had a little bit more of a background in mythology and then maybe I would've understood where the story was going out little bit more.

One thing that I really enjoyed it about this book is that Tally's voice is very original. Tally is very sure that she wants to be an astronomer and she is extremely smart. The way that the author wrote her character was wholly original and I really did like her voice. I wish that I had liked this book a little bit more. I like that the author chose to use mythology and put a present day spin on it. I will definitely try other books by this author but the story was not my favorite!

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