Category Archives: Book Review

Bookies Review: A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

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A Constellation of Vital Phenomena was our book clubs April 2014 read.  Amazon describes this book as:

In a small rural village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.

For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

This book was a bit heavier than anything we have read recently.  Some of us stumbled through a deeper read with names (like Ahkmed, Khassan Akim, Maali,) and words that caused your mind pause as you sorted through the sound and meaning.  Admittedly, several Bookies were lost along the way and stopped early on in the read not finding their way around the words or the drawn out nature of the authors way of writing. 

On the flip of that – a few Bookies loved the challenge of the language and wholeheartedly embraced this fictional and historical read based around the Chechnya war.

“At the kitchen table she examined the glass of ice. Each cube was rounded by room temperature, dissolving in its own remains, and belatedly she understood that this was how a loved one disappeared. Despite the shock wave of walking into an empty flat, the absence isn’t immediate, more a fade from the present tense you shared, a melting into the mast, not an erasure but a conversion in form, from presence to memory, from solid to liquid, and the person you once touched runs over your skin, now in sheets down your back, and you may bathe, may sink, may drown in the memory, but your fingers cannot hold it.”
Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Whatever side of the book you fell on, yay or nay – we all had to admit it made for an interesting and engaging discussion.  Usually when I bring up a discussion question during the group’s time together one or two of us will respond with our thoughts and we move on, but this time,this book, brought out more discussion, some heated, some pained, much filled with facts,mixed with the facts of this war and the historic beauty as well.  I found myself as the “note taker” of the group, just sitting back and listening to the conversations of what each person found within this books pages.  Their discussion and enthusiasm made me want to dig in more.

We were, for the most part, touched that the books events actually happened in our lifetime… and in the end we were able to pull out themes in the books such as connectedness and the importance of it, humor within a dark world, author Anthony Marra pulls a deep passionate look at a war-torn country in this debut novel.

Of course we had food…

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The pudding, while quite to the point of the book – was pretty impressive.  I made the upper right hand corner Chechnya spicy chicken from the culture and the 4th picture down of the wheat pasta to tone done the strong taste of the chicken.  Lemon rice (2nd picture down) was mentioned in the book, the Gnocchi Salad (3rd picture down) was culturally correct, and the yummy desert on the bottom… well… yummy. :)

What will book clubs like about this book?

A Constellation Of Vital Phenomena will bring up some all so real discussion of what this was war must have been like to live through.  Discussion can lead to just what a fragile society we are, by removing resources we could just as easily experience something like this.  This is a book that caused conversation and emotion to flow freely -for our group, I barely needed to ask questions to stimulate conversation, we were talking about the book from the moment we walked in the door. 

While not a light fun read or discussion, it is one that will cause your group feel that they just read something very important and most likely come out the other side knowing a little more about our world. 

Personal note:  as of this writing, I sadly admit I have not thoroughly read this book myself.  In a busy month and finding the book more work to get into than some, I skimmed the pages getting the feel for the discussion.  I would also like to note after listening to my group share their thoughts on this book, I know I will be going back and reading it properly because hard read or not… I think this one is important for me to get a strong feel for this book…. something tells me, this one may move on  to something more and I do love being ahead of the media. :)  ~Sheila

Missing You by Harlan Coben

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2nd generation Detective Kat Donovan knows what it is like to be on the losing end.  Eighteen years earlier her father was gunned down and his killer now sits at the end of his life sentence.  Shortly after, Kat’s fiance Jeff breaks their engagement with little explanation.  From that point on Kat buried herself in her work leaving little time for anything else.

When a friend signs Kat up for online dating service, Kat is skeptical, but one night starts looking through the men that the site has lined up for her as possible “connections”.  Kat freezes when she finds herself staring at the man who broke her heart all those years ago; apparently using a false name.  When she tries to message him he replies with a flat response giving no acknowledgement of their past at all… and as Kat digs deeper… what she discovers is enough to bring chills up her spine…

If Jeff caught up in a scam of luring women and men with money into false hopes of a relationship? 

With her personal life and her career all colliding at once, Kat starts investigating where it is clear that people on both sides of the law do not want her looking in to deeply.

 

 

Harlan Coben NEVER disappoints.  Every book that man writes is worth the wait.  I loved this book!  Kat was a great protagonist, she was strong and independent, but had a softer side as well. 

As you dig into what is really happening in this book it is enough to give you chills as it is such a real feeling scenario you can easily imagine reading about something like this in a newspaper. 

There is so much awesomeness in this book yet I do not want to give even a sample away as this is a book served better with you diving in and putting your seat belt on – you are in for a thrilling adventure!

DO not hesitate to pick this book up – I mark my reputation as a book reviewer that this is Harlan at his finest.  Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

The Troop by Nick Cutter

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Goosebumpy good!  ~ Sheila

 

Scoutmaster Tim Riggs is once again taking his troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for their annual trip.  The boys are a great group that are a joy to hang out with.

Then their first night there while the boys are sleeping, Tim hears noises around the camp.  Going out to explore, he comes across a man who is clearly extremely sick and so bone thin Tim can not even believe that he standing on his own.  The man is hungry and Tim brings him back to the camp ground trying to do “what a good scout” should do to give him some of their food.

Things only turn worse as the man cries out in pain and thrashes around deliriously, and Tim starts to rethink his decision of bringing this man into a camp with the young boys who have awaken and are curious as to what is going on.

What starts out as simple weekend adventure, quickly turns into a nightmarish weekend of survival as Tim and the boys realize they have exposed themselves to something they could have never imagined and what happens next is not written in any scout book….

 

 

 

Goosebumpy good!  I have always been a fan of good old-fashioned scares…. the books and movies I grew up on that were scary, but not over the top gruesome and so far-fetched you wondered about the mind who wrote them.  When I heard that The Troop was a good scare… I was in. 

Is The Troop a good scare?  You bet!  As I listened to this one on audio, I found at times I was thinking “oh no, oh no….”  Nick Cutter’s debut novel does not leave you feeling like you were short-changed in the scare department for sure!  This read is totally camp fire worthy!  The book flashes backward and forward occasionally as pieces of what is happening is revealed brilliantly through snippets of information of both before the trip and after.  These flashes were well positioned and I never felt lost in what was happening only more involved.

The book is not perfect.  I was left with a couple of questions I felt should have been addressed, but still I would recommend this book to good old-fashioned thriller lovers…

Did it scare me?  You bet.  :)

Bookies Review and Fun: The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

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A few days ago I read and reviewed for the first time, The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.  This week, our book club The Bookies had the opportunity to discuss it.

On a scale of 1 – 5 (5 being the highest) the book rated mainly between 3.5 and 4.  The girls all agreed that they enjoyed the book.  While it was not one of those “WOW” that blew me away reads, it was an overall pleasant read with a nice mix of mid 60′s southern culture, and fats about honey and bees.

We discussed Lily’s home life situation with her father, and the loss of her mother.  We discussed the culture of the 60′s in South Carolina and what that meant at the time for a white girl to live among an African-American family.  (This still shocks me that this was really, not so long ago….)

Of course, we themed food and I found a fun little website called Book Menus that had a list of ALL the food in The Secret Life Of Bees.  Seriously, how cool is that?  We had pulled pork sandwiches and I made ham.  One of the girls had coleslaw and added peaches to it (delicious!) as peaches play a role in this book.  We had a pineapple strawberry upside down cake, orangeade, AND….

we had to try the coke and salted peanuts together like the y had in the book:

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Bookies, trying the coke with salted peanuts as Lily and August loved in the book, Secret Life Of Bees

Why is this a great book for book clubs?

The Secret Life Of Bees brings out some good discussion topics such as abuse, the loss of a mother and women who stand in as “mothers” in our lives.  There is also the topic of racial hatred and relationships among those of different backgrounds and color.  The book brings with it wonderful southern foods to try as well.

All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg

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Brooke has the type of marriage that you only see on tv.  Married to her high school sweetheart for 15 years, Brooke and Scott still acted like newly weds, sneaking away for quick moments together whenever they could.

Newly married Samantha finds a disturbing email on her husband of 48 hours computer.  And she does the only thing she knows … she runs.

Katherine has not really allowed much more in her life than her career and for the most part that was pretty satisfying, even if she does work for the man who crushed her heart many years ago. After an eye-opening blind date for her 40th birthday, Katherine gets a long overdue wake up call on life.

On the outside, these three women have nothing in common, yet their worlds are about to collide in a powerful way that is more than they could ask for.

 

 

So much draws me to this book at first look… the cover is gorgeous and inviting, it is a party I hope I am invited to.  It’s written about three strong women, each very different in how they live their lives…. and probably most intriguing – it is written by a man. 

I dove into All You Could Ask For with a sense of adventure (remember the party cover?  I knew I was in for some fun)  And I was in for some fun, all three women each had qualities that appealed to me as to how they lived their lives.  Brooke’s marriage sounded amazing and fun, Samantha’s desire to push herself physically through triathlon challenges brought out the sports girl in me, and I was impressed by Katherine’s work ethics – although misplaced, she was in a good spot financially.  Of course, as in all great reads, I had a favorite character… and I am not going to tell but I will say that at the end of the book it was fun to find out that the authors favorite was the same as mine.

All You Could Ask For is a good read about women who come together under hard circumstances.  I enjoyed the quick flow of the books and the alternating chapters told by each of the main characters from their point of view.  It is not a perfect book.  I have questions. There is a huge relationship gap that bugged me and made the book feel disconnected because of it.  However,  as I processed my thoughts on this book, I think that maybe Mike Greenberg was right to leave the gap… after all real life works that way.  As much as we would love all our situations to end wrapped neatly with a bow, quite often we just run out of tape.

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This book gives me a point in Connecticut, where all three women once lived.

 

 

I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn

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Abraham Lincoln was not always the President Of The United States.  He was once a young man filled with spirit and dreams.  Before he was the man we have read about and look upon the penny and the five dollar bill, he was just a poor boy from Kentucky.  He was a lawyer.  he was a member of congress.  He was a husband, and a father.This is his story.

 

Jerome Charyn takes what we know of Lincoln’s life from beginning until the end, and breathes life into the gaps in between using Lincoln’s own voice to tell this first person fictional masterpiece. In fact, I Am Lincoln, begins with the end…. in a theater in Washington DC with only the soft sound of movement and then a sting behind his left ear…

Wow.  Wow. Wow.

I have always been fascinated with Lincoln’s life and death.  He has always been my favorite of the presidents even though clearly we have never met nor even lived in the same century.  102 years after his death, I would be born.

Lincoln was the man who led us through the civil war, who pushed back against slavery, and did so with integrity.  When this book was offered up for review, I did not hesitate on saying yes.

Jerome Charyn writes I Am Lincoln from an amazing perspective; Lincoln’s.  For this I give him credit as those are big shoes to fill. Jerome Charyn not only lets us see history unfold, but through Lincoln’s own eyes and words is something pretty close to brilliant. 

I adored this book and lapped up each page seeing Lincoln’s life as I never had before.  Being able to write this review on Lincoln’s birthday is a great honor to me to be able to speak so enthusiastically about this book. 

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Thank you to Tribute books for allowing me a chance to bask in this incredible read on Lincoln’s life.

 

That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay

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I found McKinlay’s writing so delicious I had to say some of the lines out loud just to savor them on my tongue ~ Sheila

Eve Petworth finds her 40′s to be a bit of a rocky road.  Living in London on her own after a divorce, and struggling as her own adult daughter is about to be married and leaning a little too hard on Eve, Eve takes solace in books written by a popular American Novelist, Jackson Cooper.  When Eve writes to Cooper informing him of her appreciation of his books and comparing one of his lines about a watery summer day to ripe fruit, Cooper to her surprise, writes back.

Jackson Cooper has his own tales of love and loss.  Now in his 50′s and divorced twice, he really does not know what he wants.  Women fall all over him, and if that is what he wanted he would be set, but really he just wants to write that next book that seems stuck in his head without all the – well lets call it what it is:  Drama.  Writing to Eve in London is like writing to an old friend.  They share recipes, they talk about books and the weather…

and both wonder in the middle of this messed up life… if their might be something more…

 

 

I am not even sure if I can tell you how impressed I am with That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay.  Even now weeks after I have read the book, I glance over at it as I type with a little smile on my face.

This book reminds me a little of the flow of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but with a gentler flow to it.  This one grabbed me as I enjoyed Eve and her struggles with her every day life as well as Jackson’s struggles as he continuously (sometimes hilariously) messed everything up. 

This is the book I recommended for February in the Blogger Recommended publication.  I hope you too will take a closer look at this book and give it a read.  I seriously enjoyed it. 

 

 

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

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As Labor Day approaches in Holton Mills, New Hampshire, 13-year-old Henry and his mother Adele head into town to pick up some groceries and supplies for their home.  This is a rare trip to town as single emotionally damaged mom Adele does not like being around people and mainly sticks to home where she lives her quiet small life.  Henry, a product of his environment is much a loner himself with no real close friends and no one he really hangs out with except his dads new wife’s kids.  Henry spends much of his time playing with his hamster, trying to make his mom feel better, and thinking of girls.

At the grocery store a limping man, named Frank, approaches Henry asking for help.  Henry sees that Frank is bleeding and takes him to his mother who in turn takes Frank home with her and Henry.  This is when Frank shares his story that he has escaped and is a wanted man (not in a sexy way…. but in a “my face is going to be on tv” way). 

Over the next five days surrounding the Labor Day Holiday Henry will learn a lot about his mom, he will learn to bake with Frank’s expertise, and how to correctly throw a ball.  And Henry will come out of the weekend a changed boy – with more knowledge about love, betrayal, and letting go… even when it is the last thing we want to do.

 

 

Uhhhhhh.

I am having a hard time spilling out my feelings regarding Labor Day.  On one hand, I want to say that Adele’s inability to use her backbone brings the”strong female characters preferred” gene in me screaming through the book like fingernails on a chalk board.

But that is harsh.

And probably not fair.

Isn’t it funny how my own preferences of how women need to be strong and able to take care of themselves  rears up out of nowhere? 

I have a hard time wrapping my head around a single woman with a young son to look after, taking home a strange man that she knows nothing about and then under the strangest conditions keeping him there. 

On the other hand, I do not know the depths of Adele’s depression, or the amount of frailness she withholds from past hurts.  It is not fair of me to judge what I do not understand.

Labor Day is told from Henry’s point of view so we (I) must be reminded that what is happening is how he see’s things with his 13-year-old mind.  (Although… I can not see how else he could have seen it) Doh!  I did it again.

I think I am in the minority as I glanced at overall reviews of this book on Amazon they rate fairly high.  I struggled personally with the probability of such a thing happening – but… we do live in a strange world. 

Here are some different thoughts on this book from Bloggers I trust:

Bermuda Onion

Alison’s Book Marks

Red Headed Book Child

I clearly did not love the book, but I did not hate it either.  It is a book that still has me thinking about it.  The fact that it creates such strong emotion in me must say something :)

My book club received copies of this book to read as a group in anticipation of the movie.  Tonight we are going to the movie as a group and I am hopeful that my opinion of the storyline will change after the movie.  No matter what, I still get to hang out with a great group of girls :D

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Hello New Hampshire!

 

 

 

The Runners World Cookbook edited by Joanna Sayago Golub

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If you have followed my journey, you know that the past year I have “dabbled” in running.  I still don’t think I qualify as a runner, but my cousin says that if I am not laying on the couch and I am out moving my body, I am a runner.

Ok… I guess that makes me a runner.

Right before Christmas I treated myself to a purchase just for me.  I bought this book.  Runner or not, I am always interested in working with whole foods and breaking the habit of the “fast food fix” that tends to occasionally plague my busy lifestyle. 

The Runners World Cookbook promotes eating well if you run 10 miles a week or one hundred.  (A hundred!)  It also encourages “eating the rainbow” a colorful array of fruits and vegetables every day.  Mmmmmm

The book starts out with explaining healthy antioxidants, carbs, grains, proteins and fats. Then the book breaks down into chapters:

  • Breakfast
  • Snacks and Smoothies
  • Salads and Dressings
  • Soups and Stews
  • Sandwiches, Pizzas, Burgers
  • Sauces and Pasta
  • Meat and Poultry
  • Fish and Seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Desserts

The recipes look delicious!  They are submitted from runners, marathon winners, Olympians, doctors, test kitchens and more.  At the top of each recipe is a little paragraph of when is a good time to eat this (pre – run, after run, recovery…. daily….).  It also shares how long to prep, how many servings, and of course nutrition values.  I also like that each recipe is labeled : V: Vegetarian,  VE:  Vegan, GF:  Gluten Free, Many of the recipes are also accompanied by a photo which I love to drool over!

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I admit, I have not had a chance to cook out of this book yet although I have spent time over several days paging through and making note of the ones I want to try.  A few that caught my eye are:  Egg and bean burritos with avocado and yogurt lime sauce, banana oat energy bars, spinach bacon sweet potato salad, Asian Noodle Salad with eggs and peanut dressing, Thai Avocado soup, Smoked Salmon and Vegie Wraps, Jerk Shrimp with sweet potato and black beans… I could go on forever :)

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Tonight, I think we are going to try the Chicken Mango fajita.  Seriously, look at that tasty picture.  It is labeled as Fast, Recovery and Low Calorie.  Since I am planning on running a 5k today to keep up my motivation for the half marathon I signed up for at the end of this month as well as a walk with my dogs in snow shoes- it sounds perfect. :)  I think you may see recipes coming out of this book frequently this year :)

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I am submitting this post as part of Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking.  It is true, I always have more time to make good tasty and healthy dishes on the weekends. :)

 

The Roses Underneath by C. F. Yetmen

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In 1945 a war-torn Germany struggles to get a foot hold on some sort of stability.  Anna Klein and her six-year-old daughter Amalia are among those struggling as well.  Separated from her husband for their own safety, Anna finds herself working for the US Army’s Monuments Men as they search for art and other stolen treasures.  When it is discovered that Anna speaks English, she is recruited as a translator for American Captain Henry Cooper, a laid back man who likes opportunities to bend the rules.  When a mysterious stash of art is found, secrets are created causing Anna to question where the truth really does lie and look closely at the secrets she herself keeps….

 

 

The Roses Underneath is one of those books that you want to read slowly and cherish as one would a favorite candy.  Savoring each word as it dissolves into the next.  Reading this book caused me to slow down and really take it all in, which is not always the case in my reading style.  I often find myself reading fast paced books that flow with activity and crackle with adrenaline.  I was pleased when I started this read and found that this was a book that I needed to take my time with.

I am careful when I choose to read a book that involves war.  I tend to become so engrossed in the heaviness of the subject that I usually choose to pass on these books.  Yet there was something that called to me about The Roses Underneath that caused me to take a chance on it and I am glad I did.  Anna was a protagonist that I found myself hoping for things to turn out well. 

I enjoyed this book, even if it did make me slow down and well… smell the roses. :)

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