Blog Tour: Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

Hello, and welcome to the blog tour for Fractured by Catherine McKenzie! Before I tell you about all the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed this book, check out the synopsis below:

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Fractured by Catherine McKenzie. Lake Union Publishing. 362 pp. 

Welcome, neighbor!

Julie Prentice and her family move across the country to the idyllic Mount Adams district of Cincinnati, hoping to evade the stalker who’s been terrorizing them ever since the publication of her bestselling novel, The Murder Game. Since Julie doesn’t know anyone in her new town, when she meets her neighbor John Dunbar, their instant connection brings measured hope for a new beginning. But she never imagines that a simple, benign conversation with him could set her life spinning so far off course.

We know where you live…

After a series of misunderstandings, Julie and her family become the target of increasingly unsettling harassment. Has Julie’s stalker found her, or are her neighbors out to get her, too? As tension in the neighborhood rises, new friends turn into enemies, and the results are deadly.

MyReview

As I’ve mentioned a few times, TLC is great for my reading habits because it’s a great opportunity for me to branch out. My husband reads far more suspense novels than I do. I enjoy them, but I often don’t know where to start when choosing one. And TLC’s authors rarely disappoint. I was very pleased to be introduced to Catherine McKenzie’s words this month. This book is a smooth blend of voice, mood, clues, intrigue, and (huzzah!) clean writing.

Maybe it’s because I don’t know the bad from the good, but I’ve grabbed a thriller here and there and been shocked by how weak the writing was. The sentences were sloppy, the dialogue was unbelievable, and I had a tough time slogging through. (These were bestsellers, too.) Over time, though, I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter authors like Catherine McKenzie, ones who’ve shown me that perhaps I just picked up the wrong authors when I was getting started in this genre. She writes like a dream. I mean, I don’t think there was a moment in this book where she didn’t have me exactly where she wanted me, and it was an absolute pleasure to be manipulated by her words.

I loved that Julie’s and John’s chapters sounded different, that the weather could do so much to affect the mood of a scene, and that the author just nailed the minutiae (and mundanity) of suburban life.

I appreciated not knowing who was involved in the accident until the last possible moment; I didn’t figure anything out ahead of time, and believe me, I tried. My brain felt itchy and alive, working overtime as it assimilated new clues. I also loved how the characters began to question reality. It made it even more difficult to guess where things were headed. The plot started to feel hazy, like jogging through fog or slipping vodka into my morning orange juice.

I go to the bookstore often just to browse. Sometimes I buy a book or two; sometimes I don’t. But it’s a great way to see what’s been published recently. Also, it’s like Penny Lane says in Almost Famous: I’m visiting my friends. I look at cover art, I read synopses, I feel how velvety the covers are, and I enjoy myself immensely. To me, one of the signs of a good book is that it makes me want to pick up another book by the same author the next time I’m browsing. I may buy it that day or I may not, but it’s piqued my interest. (I may turn it to face forward on the shelf, even if I don’t buy it, in the hopes that it catches someone else’s eye. I know you’re probably not supposed to do that but I do it sometimes anyway and I’m sure I’m not the only one.) Catherine McKenzie has joined the ever-growing list of authors who I’ll be visiting the next time I browse. She’s gifted, and I look forward to reading more books by her.

OtherInfo

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Catherine McKenzie, a graduate of McGill University, practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels SpinArrangedForgotten, and Hidden are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages. Hidden was an Amazon #1 bestseller and a Digital Book World bestseller. Her fifth novel, Smoke, was an Amazon bestseller, a Goodreads Best Book for October 2015, and an Amazon Top 100 Book of 2015.

Connect with Catherine

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

OtherTourStops

Tuesday, October 4th: Chick Lit Central

Wednesday, October 5th: Open Book Society

Thursday, October 6th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Friday, October 7th: Palmer’s Page Turners

Monday, October 10th: Write Read Life

Tuesday, October 11th: From the TBR Pile

Wednesday, October 12th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Thursday, October 13th: Reading is my Superpower

Thursday, October 13th: Stranded in Chaos

Friday, October 14th: A Book Geek

Monday, October 17th: Luxury Reading

Tuesday, October 18th: Booked on a Feeling

Wednesday, October 19th: Kritter’s Ramblings

Thursday, October 20th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Friday, October 21st: Not in Jersey

Monday, October 24th: 5 Minutes for Books

Monday, October 24th: A Bookish Way of Life

Tuesday, October 25th: Bewitched Bookworms

Wednesday, October 26th: Wall to Wall Books

Thursday, October 27th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Friday, October 28th: Book Chatter

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Book Review: The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone

TheLooseEndsList

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 352 pp. 

Seventeen-year-old Maddie O’Neill Levine lives a charmed life, and is primed to spend the perfect pre-college summer with her best friends and young-at-heart socialite grandmother (also Maddie’s closest confidante), tying up high school loose ends. Maddie’s plans change the instant Gram announces that she is terminally ill and has booked the family on a secret “death with dignity” cruise ship so that she can leave the world in her own unconventional way – and give the O’Neill clan an unforgettable summer of dreams-come-true in the process.

Soon, Maddie is on the trip of a lifetime with her over-the-top family. As they travel the globe, Maddie bonds with other passengers and falls for Enzo, who is processing his own grief. But despite the laughter, headiness of first love, and excitement of glamorous destinations, Maddie knows she is on the brink of losing Gram. She struggles to find the strength to say good-bye in a whirlwind summer shaped by love, loss, and the power of forgiveness.

Let’s start by talking about the NOVL newsletter, shall we? Not only are the folks at NOVL as ecstatic about books as I am — mayyybe even more so — they give away advance copies of books on a regular basis. There’s an entry form in the newsletter, and if you’re selected, you don’t get an email to notify you: a book shows up, out of the blue, at your door. This is the best. surprise. ever. I’m not one for unexpected company of the human variety, but if a book shows up at my door it will be welcomed with open arms.

It’s always a nice surprise to receive a free book, but it’s oh-so-much better when said book is good. And The Loose Ends List is better than good. It’s beautiful and fierce and heartbreaking.

The way that Maddie and her family joke, fight, and have the time of their lives together made me miss my cousins and how much time we spent together when we were kids. People move and life gets in the way, and all of a sudden the people you love so much become a thought bobbing in your brain: I wonder how she’s doing. I should really call her. And we (at least, I) never make the time. I admired Maddie’s grandmother for her desire to have the whole family together one last time, and I was envious of them all for having that opportunity.

Maddie’s relationship with her grandmother is touching: respectful yet irreverent, and so full of love. My mom is my best friend, and I can’t (don’t want to) imagine saying goodbye to her. I can’t imagine dragging a goodbye out for an entire summer, not knowing when it was gong to happen. I thought Maddie’s grief was portrayed well and realistically; she tries to distract herself from it for as long as possible, then it all comes slamming down.

Because all of the other patients on the ship are also terminal cases, I knew I was going to have to say goodbye to them all, but I still wasn’t ready when it started to happen. I was a mess for the last fifty pages or so of this book, and though I was sad, I was also moved to make every moment count with the people I love. The ship’s motto, “And still we dance,” captures this book in a neat four-word package that brings so many snapshots and “snow globe moments” to mind. The characters in this book aren’t perfect, but they are alive — practically leaping off the page — and they will worm their way into your heart.

All in all: A gorgeous book. Worth reading…then re-reading when you start to take life (and people) for granted.

Have You Heard?! (Big HP News)

Okay, so if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you probably already know this. But just in case you’ve been off the Internet all day, I’ve gotcha covered. 😉

As you (must) know, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will premiere in London later this year. If I were swimming in funds, I would be flying to Europe this summer to see it live. Sadly, that is not an option. So I was thrilled to hear that print and digital editions of the script will be published on July 31 (Harry’s thirty-sixth birthday…it’s so weird to think of Harry Potter as older than me).

Since next year is the twentieth anniversary of Book One’s publication, there are also going to be special UK re-releases, one for each of the four Hogwarts houses. I’ve never ordered a foreign edition of a book, but I think I’m going to have to make an exception for this one. I mean, really: a Ravenclaw edition of Philosopher’s Stone? And I’m expected to pass that up?!

Of course, there’s also publication of the second illustrated volume in the series this fall. Basically, what I’m trying to tell you is that I know where all of my money is going for the foreseeable future. I’m so excited that I started singing over breakfast, accompanied by my three-year-old’s eye rolls: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now!”

If you want to read more about all this news, here’s a link to Pottermore’s announcement.

Do you think there will be midnight release parties for the script of a play? If so, would that be the first time in history people have lined up in the middle of the night for a script? This is momentous on so many levels!

Confessions of a Busy Mom…er, I Mean “Blogger”

This just in: parenting two kids is exhausting, physically but also mentally. Sorry for the massive amount of days between posts lately. I’m disappointed in myself, but at the end of the day I’m often so tired that putting my thoughts into words sounds like too much work.

I don’t make resolutions, so I’m not swearing a turnaround because it’s early January. In fact, I’m not swearing a turnaround at all. I’m just hoping to find a middle ground between zero posts a month and two posts a week. I hope that you’ll bear with me as I figure things out.

I’ve been reading like crazy, both alone and with my kids, so I’ve got a long list of titles to be reviewed. I probably won’t remember all the details at this point, but I’d like to talk about a few of them because they were really good. So that’s coming up, along with a few blog tours and traditional reviews. Maybe I’ll even get around to talking about my favorite (and least favorite) local bookshops.

Okay. Update complete. More to come!

Keeping It Brief #2

You’ve probably noticed that I don’t post on this blog very frequently over the summer. That’s largely due to the fact that my husband is a teacher and has most summers off, so I take advantage of the opportunity to spend lots of time out and about with him and our two boys. I think there’s also a bit of residual summer vacation attitude involved: I like the idea of summer as a break from routine and obligations. And, while the blog isn’t exactly an obligation, I like the freedom to fly through books all summer without taking notes or writing reviews. I read some excellent books this summer, though (and some not-so-excellent ones…), so I want to put a few thoughts together about the two-foot stack of books I read (that’s not counting ebooks). Here goes!

Reawakened by Colleen Houck. Delacorte Press. 400 pp.

Reawakened by Colleen Houck. Delacorte Press. 400 pp.

I got an advance copy of this book at BookCon; I’d been waiting in line at Penguin Random House’s booth and things were getting so hectic that I thought I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on one. Penguin was so busy (and the crowd so crazed) that the line wasn’t moving; people kept pushing ahead, so those of us waiting patiently in line weren’t getting anywhere. They eventually started to send a security guy back and forth from the book table to the back of the line with armloads of books. And that’s how I got this one.

The cover is stunning; I’m in love with the colors and design. I was not, however, in love with the book. I was interested in the ancient Egyptian elements, and the action and adventure scenes were pretty good. Not the best I’ve ever read, but readable. The romantic aspects were…disturbing. I wanted to find out what happened to the couple, primarily because I didn’t know how the author would write them out of their particular dilemma (you know, an immortal falling in love with a mortal and all that). I didn’t feel emotionally invested, though, since they’d only known one another for a few days and their initial bond was based on a spell. I mean, Amon forces Lily to help him; she’s bound to him until he accomplishes his duty. She tells him that she will never forgive him for doing this to her. And then…she falls in love with the guy?! No, thanks. [Side note: I loved Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as a kid, but the falling-in-love-with-your-jailer theme becomes more and more troublesome for me as the years go by. I’m still working through it.]

Also, the narration drove. me. crazy. I hate it when a character TELLS me who they are instead of just showing me, and Lily tells the reader, time and time again, in lengthy asides. I kept getting yanked out of the flow of the story, and it was terribly frustrating.

Not the worst book I’ve read this year, but not a particularly great one, either.

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord. Mulholland Books. 336 pp.

When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord. Mulholland Books. 336 pp.

I requested a copy of this one from the Novl newsletter. I love their request form because it doesn’t tell you whether or not you’ll get a copy. They send the books out in the order that requests were received, so if you requested it in time, you’ll get one with no advance notice. I love checking the mail and finding a book that I wasn’t anticipating!

This one’s about a community where all the teenagers “breach” on every full moon. The rest of the town stays indoors and the youths run, naked and wild, abandoning all rules. It’s narrated by a girl named Lumen who insists that she has never breached, that she was the only one in her town who didn’t. As she delves deeper, though, looking back on her life, some disturbing memories surface.

The writing in this book is clean, evocative, and chilling. The story is wonderfully symbolic, frightening and moving all at once. I initially thought it sounded interesting, but I enjoyed it so much more than I expected to. I’d love to teach this one to a high school or college literature class.

Another Day by David Levithan. Knopf. 336 pp.

Another Day by David Levithan. Knopf. 336 pp.

This is a companion piece to Every Day, which tells the story of A, a bodiless individual who spends every day occupying a different person’s body. He doesn’t know how he came to be this way, and he’s mostly content with it…until he meets Rhiannon, the only person so far that’s made him want to stay in one place. Another Day tells things from Rhiannon’s point of view, showing the reader how difficult it is for her to wrap her head around A’s way of existence.

I loved Every Day because of how it explores gender and relationships; A isn’t male or female, and it’s beautiful to see Rhiannon’s preconceptions about the type of person she’d fall in love with being challenged. (I describe “A” as “he” in this review because it’s generally how Rhiannon thinks. “They” is probably more appropriate, though I struggle with that one for grammatical reasons. I so wish there was a singular gender-neutral pronoun in use!)

I didn’t love this book as much as Every Day because I didn’t enjoy the writing as much. Levithan’s usually-gorgeous, almost gauzy language wasn’t as present in this book, at least for me. I also didn’t like how much Justin was villainized when he doesn’t seem like a horrible guy, just maybe not-quite-right for Rhiannon. But I still adore the concept, and I also have a major thing for reading the same story from two different points of view. You should read this one if you loved Every Day and want to hear it from a different perspective, but don’t start here.

Aaaannnd that’s it for now. More soon!

Review: The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet by Karin Knight and Tina Ruggiero

The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet by Karin Knight & Tina Ruggiero. Fair Winds Press. 240 pp.

The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet by Karin Knight & Tina Ruggiero. Fair Winds Press. 240 pp.

If you’re a parent, you already know that having kids is expensive. They outgrow everything in no time flat (that is, if they don’t stain or otherwise ruin it first), they eat more than you’d ever assume is possible for their body weight…and let’s not forget the sheer number of diapers and wipes! When I had my first son, I bought dozens of jars of baby food every time it was on sale; it made me feel less likely to be eaten out of house and home. I’ve moved since then, though, and my new local grocery store’s baby food prices are nowhere near as good as my last one’s. I decided to try making my own baby food this time around in the hopes that it would be fresher (and cheaper). I had no idea where to start, though, so I grabbed a copy of this book to give me a base of knowledge and some ideas for flavor combinations.

The Best Homemade Baby Food on the Planet has been an immense help to me as I make my own baby food. It starts with a list of what you’ll need to make your own food, from pots and pans to a food processor and rubber spatulas. It also talks a bit about the benefits of making your own food, freshness guidelines, and when to introduce which foods. The recipes are simply written and easy to follow, with nutrition facts and information on how to store (including which ones can be frozen). Chapters are broken down by the baby’s age in months, with flavor combinations and textures getting more advanced over time. There’s even a table in the back where you can take notes on modifications you made to the recipes and how your child liked each one.

As the book progresses, it includes recipes for softer solids and finger foods. There’s a simple pastina soup, for instance, and sweet potato “fries.” Some are a bit labor-intensive (like fish sticks which are coated in Tempura batter then fried in olive oil), but there are some good suggestions as well as some I’d skip.

Like any book, really, this one has a few downfalls. For one, the recipes are written in super-small quantities; the apple puree recipe uses one apple and only yields three baby servings of about an ounce each. When I make a batch of food, I use at least six pieces of fruit and constantly have to multiply the amount of water needed. Granted, it’s an easy enough thing to handle, but honestly, who has the time to cook one piece of fruit at a time all week long?! It would be more realistic (and user friendly) to provide larger recipes and allow people to divide if necessary. The other thing I don’t like is that it includes foods that babies don’t really need. For instance, there are recipes for white potato purees, and the banana recipe recommends sautéing the banana in butter, which is unnecessary. My son gets fat from breastmilk and full-fat yogurt and doesn’t need butter in his diet. Besides, it’s easier (and faster) to simply mash a banana.

At first, I wasn’t thrilled about the fact that so many of the recipes seemed redundant; e.g., there’s a recipe for a plum puree and a peach puree, then there’s a recipe called “Peachy Plum,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a mix of peaches and plums. I thought it was a bit misleading to say that there were recipes for more than sixty purees when some were just flavor combinations. However, upon further reflection, I think it’s easier to find suggestions for complimentary flavors this way than through a chart because I can easily look up an ingredient in the index and find ideas for what to pair it with. (Note: I still don’t make the combo recipes; I make and freeze each ingredient separately and mix them once they’re defrosted.)

All in all: I’d highly recommend this one if you’re looking to try your hand at making your own baby food. It’s also a great shower gift if you know someone who’s thinking of going homemade.

Blog Tour: The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight

The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight, illustrated by Terrence Tasker. 92 pp. Altaire.

The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight, illustrated by Terrence Tasker. 92 pp. Altaire.

Welcome! I’m pleased to be today’s stop on the blog tour for The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight.

MyReview

I hadn’t read Antigone in at least a dozen years, so I dug out an old copy and re-read before diving into Marie Slaight’s collection of poems. I’m so glad I did, because I forgot how good the original play was. I mean, yes, tragedies can be a tad dramatic and overwrought, but underneath the high-running emotions are some excellent truths about humanity. Antigone’s insistence on burying her brother even though her power-hungry uncle has outlawed it is inspiring. Her ferocity and fearlessness make her a force to be reckoned with. The honesty of the other characters — especially Antigone’s sister Ismene, who longs to do the right thing but is rendered motionless by fear — is eye-opening as well. This play is a great examination of power, justice, and consequences, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting it. Of course, this is a tragedy, and there’s a strong undercurrent of futility, but that might make it even more moving.

When I moved on to The Antigone Poems, a collection of poetry by Marie Slaight, I struggled at first to see the connection between the poetry and the play. But as I moved farther along, I realized that I was being too literal: the poems seem to be inspired by Antigone rather than being a poetic retelling (which was what I originally expected).

The poems are strong yet despairing. Some are sparse and poignant while others are frenzied, almost breathless. Colors abound: at first, there are lots of reds and golds, spots of brightness like blazing light seen through closed eyelids or a match when it is first lit. As the book progresses, the lights are extinguished and these hues of passion deaden to blacks and greys, with the occasional green suggesting the return to earth that death brings. The final page of text is powerful, showing how one’s hopes may run high but in the end one’s life can be reduced to a mere few lines. It’s a sort of tragic ending but still somehow unifying and human, much like the ending of the original Antigone.

The illustrations, rendered in charcoal by Terrence Tasker, are a bit intimidating with their austere faces and vacant eyes. A charcoal sketch appears at the end of each chapter, and the stark, almost harsh nature of each image encourages introspection. The graphics are few, but that makes them even more effective, I think; at the end of each group of poems, I sat and gazed at the sketch, looking for similar emotions in the face I saw and the words I’d read. It was a great opportunity to let Slaight’s words sink in before moving on to the next section.

All in all: This is very different than the poetry I typically read — more symbolic, less direct. I enjoyed it, though, especially coupled with the artwork. Reading this book is like being immersed in a piece of art, one that approaches from multiple angles all at once, and I enjoyed the experience.

OtherTourStops

Friday, May 1st: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, May 4th: Unabridged Chick

Monday, May 4th: Read and Shelved

Tuesday, May 5th: Savvy Verse and Wit

Wednesday, May 6th: A Bookish Way of Life

Thursday, May 7th: 5 Minutes for Books

Monday, May 11th: Necromancy Never Pays

Tuesday, May 12th: Book Dilettante

Wednesday, May 13th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, May 19th: Everything Distils Into Reading

Tuesday, May 19th: Bell, Book & Candle

Wednesday, May 20th: Suko’s Notebook

Thursday, May 21st: It’s a Mad Mad World

Monday, May 25th: Giraffe Days

Thursday, May 28th: Patricia’s Wisdom

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