Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Thriller

A Caller’s Game by J.D. Barker

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“I’m going to offer you a choice.”

Controversial satellite radio talk show host, Jordan Briggs, has clawed her way to the top of the broadcast world. She doesn’t hold back, doesn’t spare feelings, and has no trouble sharing what’s on her mind. Her rigorous pursuit of success has come at a price, though. Her marriage is in ruins, she hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, and she’s distanced herself from all those close to her. If not for her young daughter, Charlotte, her personal life would be in complete shambles.

When a subdued man calls into the show and asks to play a game, she sees it as nothing more than a way to kick-start the morning, breathe life into the beginnings of drive-time for her listeners. Against her producer’s advice, she agrees, and unwittingly opens a door to the past.

Live on the air with an audience of millions, what starts out as a game quickly turns deadly—events long thought buried resurface and Jordan Briggs is forced to reconcile with one simple fact—All decisions have consequences.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Caller’s Game by J.D. Barker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a solid read. I would like to thank Hampton Creek Press and author J.D. Barker for providing me with an advance readers copy for free. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an action-packed, escape read. Anyone who favors thrillers will really enjoy reading this book.

The Story
From a good opening line, paragraph, scene, the tension identified early on that created this sort of intrigue for both short term and long term, very satisfying. A unifying relational dilemma, character attributes that are set apart, voices distinct enough to just sit down and enjoy the ride.

All the elements of what I want in an entertaining book were there.

Though still working out in context, I was initially a little bit less sure about some scene plausibility for such an intricate set up, for such a short time frame. However I also realized it made enough sense anyway and ultimately maybe it didn’t matter because the scenes were so tightly written, like scenes in a movie, where it’s best not to over-analyze and be nit-picking over that of which keeps the storyline afloat and just enjoy it, of which I most certainly did.

So I’d say pages 300-350 were just about my threshold for plenty of volley for my mind. Intense, fast-paced, action scenes, complete with a countdown which I found was perfectly laid out with chapter length, change in scene/POV, and character distinction in both narrative and dialogue. Amusement that builds, depth and breadth, multi-dimensional, elements that made for a complete read.

I’m also finding I’m not as keen on action scenes in urban settings with buildings, offices, stairwells, elevators. I much prefer the setting/atmosphere of suspense with eerie mansions, iron fences, the countryside, beachfront, weather changes, seasons, those things of the sort. Just personal preferences though, things I’m learning about myself as a reader.

The Writing
Always well-written and this one was no exception. Affirming and interesting. The reading experiences are always so trustworthy. I didn’t have the urge to cross-check which is always a reading bonus. I like books that I can just settle into.

Loved the end notes. It’s interesting to think back to March 25, 2020. I was just coming into country from service as the borders were closing, crazy to think about, so many unknowns, a lifetime ago, yet just one year next month. I still can’t wrap my mind around it all.

The Characters
A creepy antagonist done well again. This villain, exactly that type that gets under your skin in a psychological way.

I was a little less sure about the daughter, an 11-year-old that sounded so intelligent at times but emotionally not so much with quite the sleeping habit of newborn baby naps. But I also didn’t mind too much, just something I noted as I read along.

Loved the agency banter.

Looking forward to reading more, like the satisfying cheese pull on pizza. You just know it’s going to be good, the anticipation always is there and is maintained consistently throughout the books. Satisfying, versatile, and well-written stylistically no matter the subject matter.

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Categories
Art & Crafts Featured

Adorable Wooden Valentine’s Day Craft Decor

Wooden Christmas Craft Decor | Erica Robbin

  • Servings: As many as you want
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Isn't this so cute?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here is a simple craft decor that you can gift to that special someone or for you own office/space.

These can actually be dressed accordingly to any occasion or season by changing out the clothing and accessories.

They are a lot of fun to make!


Credit: ericarobbin.com

Ingredients

WOODEN CHRISTMAS CRAFT DECOR:

  • 1 Wood board, any shape and dimension (ask your local hardware store for any scraps or errors and keep in mind that a better quality wood will require less sanding)
  • Medium grit sand paper
  • Indoor/outdoor paint (any desired colors)
  • 2″ paint brush
  • Fine detail paint brush
  • Baby clothes such as winter hats or gloves
  • Raffia, ribbon, felt, fabric, batting

Directions


WOODEN CHRISTMAS CRAFT DECOR:
  1. Sand, paint, and decorate each character as desired.

Adorable Wooden Valentine's Day Craft Decor Head | Erica Robbin
Adorable Wooden Valentine's Day Craft Decor Close Up Face | Erica Robbin
Adorable Wooden Valentine's Day Craft Decor Beanie | Erica Robbin
Adorable Wooden Valentine's Day Craft Decor Accessory | Erica Robbin
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Categories
Desserts Featured Recipes

Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding Oreo Cookies

Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding Oreo Cookies | Erica Robbin

  • Servings: 2 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Chocolatey, comforting goodness all-around.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Here is a cookie recipe combining Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding based cookie dough stuffed with Oreos. I also threw in pieces of a Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Candy Bar for extra chocolatey creaminess. If you’re a chocolate lover, this cookie is for you!

I like to brown 1/2 of the butter measurement for a toffee, caramel taste. Baking them until just barely done and letting rest in the pan to cool will result in a crispy outside with a chewy center.

A delicious chocolately treat!


Credit: ericarobbin.com

Ingredients

    GODIVA DARK CHOCOLATE PUDDING OREO COOKIES:
  • 1 cup of butter, softened (brown 1/2 cup over med-high heat, let cool, set aside)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3.6 oz Godiva Dark Chocolate Instant Pudding mix
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 row sleeve of Oreo cookies, coarsely chopped
  • 1.55 oz Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Candy Bar, coarsely chopped

Directions

    GODIVA DARK CHOCOLATE PUDDING OREO COOKIES:
  1. In a large bowl or mixer, beat 1/2 cup softened butter, 1/2 browned butter, sugar together until fluffy.
  2. Add vanilla and eggs, mix well.
  3. In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients.
  4. Mix wet and dry ingredients together.
  5. Fold in Oreos and Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Candy Bar
  6. Refrigerate dough for 30-60 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degree (177 C).
  8. Bake cookies for about 8-12 minutes, until almost not quite baked in the center.
  9. Let cool on pan to finish baking.
  10. Enjoy!

What are you baking for Valentine’s Day this year? Let me know as well if you try this recipe in the comments below!

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Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding Oreo Cookies Dough Mixture | Erica Robbin
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Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding Oreo Cookies | Erica Robbin
Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding Oreo Cookies | Erica Robbin
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Godiva Dark Chocolate Pudding Oreo Cookies | Erica Robbin
Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Historical Fiction

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

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In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

A bit disappointed sadly. I read this one for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Club. I think people who swoon over descriptive, flowery writing may like this one. I however just don’t have patience for books like this unfortunately, just not my preference.

The Story
I was looking for a fun adventure, lyrical or deep-spirited, world-mesmerizing, child-hood memory retrieval, challenging, mysterious, riddle-like, realistically-unrealistic reach into my appetite for a good escape book. Loved what the premise was going to be.

Instead this was an incredibly slow, portal type fantasy that came off as loaded, with hidden agenda, moralizing, teachable lessons from mundane actions of everyday life when the main character had a much more interesting story to tell. Often read like a mash-up of fan-fiction with unnecessary depictions of social commentary, meditations on life, fantastical romantic relationships that didn’t really mesh well together nor move the story forward enough for my particular taste.

By page 130, I realized that this story was not going much of anywhere. My mind wondered. Thoughts of needing to vacuum the house turned into full on chores. Took me way too long to finish it because boredom became distraction.

My favorite parts were about the dog and the sea, though not much action was really going on with the sea scenarios like I had hoped.

Some loosely inaccurate historical events. A new president in 1903. Grocery carts.

POV and Tense
Combination of present and past/retrospective. Timeline was sometimes hard to gauge because character growth and age-appropriate observations/language didn’t shape them enough to shine through.

Pacing
Progress was too slow. In my mind, each door was going to be a clue, instead they stood independently. Independently toward a mismatched agenda/goal that was not clearly identified in the beginning. By the time the middle picked up, I was already less invested.

Descriptions
Verbose in every way. It said a lot without really saying a lot. Too many color adjectives. A good example of where less would be more. A handful were very insightful though.

Characters
I started out enjoying the initial engagement with the main character and everything she had to offer; however, she came up very short. In fact all of the characters sort of got lost in the minutiae toward the end.

Overridden by the descriptions of the environment without much development on a personal level considering all the things happening around them. As a result, I didn’t find any connection to them or purpose of excessive detail in the story. The comments about race and origin didn’t have a strong base or unifying factor, very loose presuppositions, and therefore their triumph ultimately lacked wonderful achievement.

Oh well, next time I will look forward to checking out another from this author.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage (Agatha Raisin #5) by M.C. Beaton

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The morning of Agatha’s longed-for marriage to James Lacey dawns bright and clear. But her luck runs out in the church when Jimmy, the husband she had believed long dead, turns up large as life and twice as ugly. Agatha has a go at strangling him.

It’s all too much for James, who breaks off the engagement. So when Jimmy is found murdered the next day. Agatha and James are both suspects.

And they’ll have to work together in order to clear their names…

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh Agatha! You’ve gone and done it again! I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, always amazing. I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a light-hearted, good time, appreciate a bit of snickers as it reads like a bit of juicy gossip you’d overhear at a dog park.

The Story
I loved the commentary on the world situation. It was amazing how relevant to today and this book was written 25 years ago.

The Writing
One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve read along is how the author only really gets into physical descriptions when describing what people are wearing and they’re hilarious at that, really captured the whole essence of the person.

I love this series so much!

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Educational Featured Nonfiction

George Bickham’s Penmanship Made Easy (Young Clerks Assistant) by George Bickham

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George Bickham was an enterprising eighteenth-century engraver and calligrapher who promoted the practice of proper penmanship. This volume, an unabridged reprint of his now extremely rare calligraphy manual, The Young Clerks Assistant,provided “young practitioners” with much valuable information on how to write not only legibly but also with beauty and grace. 

The book begins with “Directions for Learners,” a series of helpful hints on forming letters, holding the pen, arm and wrist positions, proper posture, and so on, followed by a wealth of calligraphic specimens: alphabets, maxims, didactic verses, and other words of advice for elevating the moral standards of the young.

For modern calligraphers, Bickham’s guide offers an abundance of models for imitation and provides a delightful look back at the instruction manuals and teaching methods of the mid-1700s. Enhanced with many charming engravings, this hard-to-find antique teaching tool can be read as easily for pleasure as for inspiration. It will appeal to calligraphers, graphic artists, and any devotee of fine penmanship. 

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

George Bickham’s Penmanship Made Easy by George Bickham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Practicing cursive has been so much fun and very relaxing during lockdown. I’d highly recommend this book one to anyone who is interested in learning or perfecting.

I got my copy from Townsends. Which is printed on textured paper and bound together with stitching. A very nice touch.

I’ve wanted to continue to practice for many years and have finally picked it up again, I’m especially finding it helpful for adding a bit of elegance to my crafts/card-making activities.

Originally published in 1787, this booklet is for those who want to learn the art of penmanship.

It has fancy scripts ranging from Italian to Roman style, Round-hand, German, Square Text, Old English- which is a more heavy-handed gothic serif of sorts calligraphy, to more whimsical, infinity loops/scroll, all very beautiful.

I loved the comparisons of alphabet letters, the instructions that were presented with verses, as well as story poetry lines.

Really loved that the letter “x” is not xylophone, instead the example spells Xerxes. That’s how kids learned the letter back then.

I particulary found it helpful to develop my style of: P, A, D, X, L, Q, G, C, R, S, J, f, d.

I’m looking forward to practicing some more.

View all my reviews

Sketch Book | Erica Robbin
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“The Young Clerks Assistant or Penmanship Made Easy” was originally published in 1787. This booklet contains directions for young practitioners who wish to learn the art of penmanship. 

Begins with basic directions on the formation of letters and then contains many examples of different hands to copy.

Calligraphy Practice | Erica Robbin
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Calligraphy Alphabet Letters | Erica Robbin
1798 Classroom Rules | Erica Robbin
This photo (above) is a copy of some 1798 school rules.

Calligraphy Letter Practice | Erica Robbin

Rule 4. Do not scribble in your own or one another’s spelling, reading, writing, or ciphering books.

In particular, I’ve tried to find my style of the following letters:

P, A, D, X, L, Q, G, C, R, S, J, f, d

Do you enjoy building on your style of penmanship/cursive?What type of pens do you use? Let me know in the comments below!

One style I want to try next is Persian calligraphy.

Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting

Blaire Calloway has planned every Instagram-worthy moment of her cupcake and cocktails shop launch down to the tiniest detail. What she didn’t plan on? Ronan Knight and his old-school sports bar next door opening on the very same day. He may be super swoony, but Blaire hasn’t spent years obsessing over buttercream and bourbon to have him ruin her chance at success.

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was just cute! I read this one for All things books! Book Club month long February challenge of reading romance genre. I think anyone looking for a sweet, cutesy, cupcake-themed story with an enemies to lovers trope will enjoy this one.

The Story
The banter, the rival, comedic, the warm up, the peak of the plot all following the theme of opposites attract, yet enough commonality in the relationship to keep the romance fresh with present day relevance, made for a fun, high anticipation development of story.

The Characters
Loved the picture the author painted of people, the tension, their trailing thoughts.

Pacing
Just perfect. It started as a slow simmer and had enough support at the end to hold the plot together to the very end. And gladly the end wasn’t just a drop and end.

Loved the end chapter sayings.

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Categories
ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Cookbooks Featured Nonfiction

Mango and Peppercorns: A Memoir of Food, an Unlikely Family, and the American Dream by Tung Nguyen, Katherine Manning, Lyn Nguyen, Elisa Ung

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A powerful memoir of resilience, friendship, family, and food from the acclaimed chefs behind the award-winning Hy Vong Vietnamese restaurant in Miami.

Through powerful narrative, archival imagery, and 20 Vietnamese recipes that mirror their story, Mango & Peppercorns is a unique contribution to culinary literature.

In 1975, after narrowly escaping the fall of Saigon, pregnant refugee and gifted cook Tung Nguyen ended up in the Miami home of Kathy Manning, a graduate student and waitress who was taking in displaced Vietnamese refugees. This serendipitous meeting evolved into a decades-long partnership, one that eventually turned strangers into family and a tiny, no-frills eatery into one of the most lauded restaurants in the country.

Tung’s fierce practicality often clashed with Kathy’s free-spirited nature, but over time, they found a harmony in their contrasts—a harmony embodied in the restaurant’s signature mango and peppercorns sauce.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mango and Peppercorns: A Memoir of Food, an Unlikely Family, and the American Dream by Tung Nguyen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness I loved this so much! I would like to thank Chronicle Books for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I’d recommend it to everyone. One that I think everyone would love to have in their cookbook library and it would be a great book club pick.

It’s really a special book, unique with the merging of memoir and cookbook, done excellently.

When reading it I felt like a special friend was sharing a piece of their heart with me, something deep, almost sacred, along recipes that most restaurants hold tightly, and to share them at this point in time made me feel all that more fortunate to have them.

The Story
Depicting life journeys, business journeys, so honest in every which way. From fleeing Saigon as a refugee as the Vietnam War came to an end in 1975 to interpersonal relationships, struggles and celebrations.

It’s very personal as it depicts themes of cultural assimilation, customs, social class, restauranteurship, personal relationships, child-rearing, and everything along the way.

It evoked this strong sense of community, belonging, all while detailing what it also feels like to be an imposter, foreigner, lonely, lost, undeserving, all while having hope and living the best way you know how.

I loved the bluntness, newness, and vulnerability, bringing me in perspective not only as it was and but also how it was perceived.

The Writing
Incredibly well-written and well-organized. I loved how the stories were told in parallel, multiple POVs done really well.

I loved the photos.

The Recipes
I’m excited to try them all. So far I’ve tried two, absolutely delicious so far! Keep an eye on my website as I work my way through them.

A book that made me laugh, made me cry, I felt it to be very touching and I’m looking forward to getting a final copy for myself and for my sister.

View all my reviews

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Mangoes and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry Oven | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry Oven | Erica Robbin
Mangoes and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry | Erica Robbin
Mangoes and Peppercorns Watercress Salad with Hy Vong's Signature Dressing | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Watercress Salad with Hy Vong’s Signature Dressing | Erica Robbin
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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

Lost Property by Helen Paris

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Dot Watson’s life is stuck. She wasn’t meant to be single at this point, or still working in a temporary job she started over ten years ago. She was supposed to be in Paris, falling madly in love, building an exciting career. Instead, every day in Baker Street’s Lost Property office, she diligently catalogues hundreds of lost umbrellas, lone gloves and an alarming number of shoes.

There’s a comfort in her routine that Dot has become quite attached to. But then Mr Appleby arrives at her work asking for help to find his late wife’s purse. 

Dot recognises his desperation and grief – and they stir something unexpected in her: determination. As she resolves to help Mr Appleby, what else might she find along the way?

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lost Property by Helen Paris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I’d recommend this one to anyone who enjoys romance. It’s fresh, has a unique storyline, and deeper themes that will tug at you heart.

Loved the backstory, side stories, the insight into what really happens to all this lost luggage, research clearly done. Not that I would even know what happens on the back end, but I travel a lot and definitely found some incredible relatability here! The support for this premise was super unique.

One of my favorite aspects of the book were the tidbits of lost items and their owner. Really characterized items from the type of person who wears such clothing items or such luggage pieces, or whatever the item may be. Clever.

The Story
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this one with its plot, main setting, or occupation. They added so much interest and dimension to the overall story.

Themes of regret, loss, grief, self doubt, frustration, resentment, and hints of jealousy, were all integrated into the plot which made for a stronger, grounded narrative much deeper than I was expecting and I really enjoyed these aspects of the book.

I will say it was a little rather rocky in beginning. I guess bits were less memorable and I didn’t know their purpose nor their context. I didn’t quite identify the bigger picture dilemma or tension early on, aside from typical day to day work complaints. There was some clutter with detail that was somewhat interesting but I kept thinking less would be more. Too many tangents, made me lose focus of what was really happening. But it did come together nearer to the end though, definitely worth reading through.

The Writing
Even though my least favorite, first person present tense narration was used, it worked rather well with carefully curated perspective into her day to day tasks.

Loved the conversation-like writing style. Some casual pop culture references some I got, super clever, others I had to dismiss because I just wasn’t sure I understood, some verbiage I had to look up. Which was ok, I just had to leave the book quite a few times, taking me out of the book when I wanted to keep reading further one. It’s more because when I do that I get distracted and will end up definition, root words, other languages, looking up many other things, then check my email, then… I do love looking things up, particularly fact-checking and such when reading historical fiction/nonfiction, but any other genres not so much.

Descriptions
I enjoyed majority of the descriptions, especially more toward the end, but some became quite sore. Not every noun needs an adjective, especially a color at that. Just my own personal preference, others may love it, I don’t.

Some other examples, perhaps more to do with the writing, is why did I need to know about this character who wore hair gel, slicked back, mentioned, reemphasized as many times. Like one mention was enough, then maybe later a thought about not a hair was out of place or perhaps a mention of some other characteristic that made a more clear picture of the character as rather polished, classic, cool, or rockstar person of the sort. And I still wasn’t sure at second mention whether his slicked back hair made him more rebel rocker-esque John Travolta in Grease or Leonardo DiCaprio, waiting at the top of the staircase. Maybe it was just a simple tease or inside joke unbenounced to me that was I was waiting for to play a bigger role or deeper insight into a character.

It’s just the way my brain thinks I suppose. When I see a recurring description I interpret it as a hint, then tend to wait for some further reveal or deeper insight that will add deeper connection or insight into some bigger reveal in the end. Like I want everything in a book to count. It’s just I found some descriptions didn’t add much meaning, context, drive, or embellishments to the characters or story in their repetition when told the exact same way every time, especially at the beginning when I was loosely connected to the characters and plot.

The Characters
The hardest time I had with the book overall was with the main character. I didn’t get the main character. She commented on stuff happening around her but lacked emotional response. The emotion didn’t come through until about page 120. That was when the writing became the strongest and the plot more captivating. When the emotion was there is when the writing began to shine. Again, it wasn’t until later in the book where more vulnerable, intimate scenes and character expression, reaction, and reflection guided me into what I was wanting to embrace and understand to a certain extent early on.

The main character had great insight, seemed to read people well, but she was sort of lifeless early on I guess. I Iiked her character role, but elements to define her as a person were quite lacking. I needed some reflection earlier on to understand who she was to make a more complete characterization to connect with for stronger understanding later on.

Dialogue
Everyone read the same to me and too much of it. Most of the dialogue didn’t add anything or help me identify characters as unique individuals.

The Setting
Absolutely loved the work environment and beach scenes, took me straight there. Mundane work to a lovely day at the beach.

The little visual details of chapter tags were such pleasant bonuses! Unique for sure!

I am definitely looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Fantasy Featured Fiction Mystery

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

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Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was exactly the book I’ve been craving. I enjoyed it as audiobook, narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was amazing. His tone and voice inflection was where I anticipated it to be, even when the characters were self-reflective, asking questions, or talking amongst themselves. Never mundane or fizzling out. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially for readers who like meandering around, experimental literature, metafiction, and especially because it is rather short and inviting, visionary and puzzle-like.

The story
I liked the life reveals and philosophical questions. This riddle-like presentation, matching the cover of this half man, half beast, was intriguing. I loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, so this was long awaited publication from Susanna Clarke. This book is a bit different in content and style. I love C.S. Lewis so the ties to the story through certain characcatures were on an another level for me.

The writing
The descriptions, atmosphere, and innocent perspective was where it was at. These rooms, sometimes described so bluntly with obvious purpose, other times more lyrical with deeper meaning, evoked mystery, playing on emotion, making me think there was hidden mystery lurking around every corner, sometimes more complex than what I could understand at times.

Like if a brick was pushed, it would reveal a hidden staircase leading you into a completely different world.

It got me to thinking of Narnia of course and this movie called Labyrinth I watched as a child. Putting lipstick on a brick, marking it with an arrow, and after turning away, hidden creatures would reposition it, making the girl lose her way. Then it got me to thinking of the weird but awesome David Bowie concert at the end. David Bowie, George Lucas, Jim Henson, what a creative trio for a movie. I’d like to see this book as a movie.

Characters
Anyway, the strong visuals were there and I really enjoyed the trajectory of the characters, Piranesi especially. The timeline, the personal documentation with diary keeping, each piece titled out, The Year of the Albatross. Sometimes monotonous parts hovered around a little longer than I wanted for the moment. But the fantastical elements kept it intriguing and the unacquainted lessons with the world kept it in check with human experience and nature.

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Classics Featured Fiction Romance

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person — no mean feat for a black woman in the ’30s. Janie’s quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was so rich, really loved this, even after having read it three times now, first in high school, then chosen as a character study for a women’s studies course in college, and now for Life’s Library Book Club. I’d recommend it to anyone. A great pick for book clubs.

The Story
I loved the way the author created a certain kind of nuance to the story, paralleled with the life cycle of a plant, a pear tree in particularly, blossoms, embracing each part of its growth stage, the main character coming into her womanhood, her relationships, whether romantic or platonic. Coming into her identify in social status, following the racial divide, the freedoms she wanted, the tensions she faced, the contradiction of those closest to her, even her own friends and family, some unable to relate, some in denial, some with outright hate.

It’s an important book and I feel like my perspective in reading it at different times of my life has made me appreciate it so much more.

It evoked a certain nostalgia for me.

It’s interesting how a reread of a book can take you straight back to your thoughts at the time, memories you didn’t even realize you formed. When I came across the line, “Put dat in yo’ pipe and smoke it” I was immediately taken back to high school, kids giggling as they quoted such a line, challenging the teacher, the class clown being silly, pleading “Well it was in our reading!”

I remember the book having a certain impact at a young age, how my experiences of the world and myself were not well articulated but discovering how a book like this expressed feeling you could never put into your own words, references not even well formed yet context through shared experiences.

Coupled with the very fact that accessibility to a book like this with its known contents was in my possession as a teenager. I even remember the controversy over sexual explicitness, abuse issues, historical context, language, and even the lack of proper grammar being showcased in a book that was a required read. Class discussions (quite the way to develop a sense of self I must say), taking place about how topics of the sort were being revisited, the how and why it was part of our required reading, and what was the result. What did they want us to learn? I remember thinking how honored should I be that teachers would want to invest in our education, how amazing it was to be able to read about someone else’s experience, and how dreadful it must be to attend a school that thought of a book like this as poison.

For me, it also took me back to a time of vulnerable innocence, not quite grasping all that the book had to offer. In my university women’s study course, it was brought on as a character study. A course geared toward studying what it means to be a woman. What shapes a woman. How are women identified. What women can, have, and could contribute to society. Asking how can women progress in life and find personal satisfaction individually and collectively? What holds women back? How far we’ve come? What is the life goal for a woman? What are the things that bring us joy and genuine happiness? How is that passed on generationally?

With this most recent reread, I feel it’s more of a personal read, hits me in a different way, a more relational level, looking at Janie’s companionships, her personal and family relationships, free-spirited choices in life, looking at the ones that held her back and where she ultimately ended up.

The title makes for a great discussion.

In my heart also is a deeper appreciation for literacy as a whole.

The Narration
The POV kept a certain tone consistent, all while skipping around with enough perspective that gave me a sort of strong idea of where the character was coming from. I could see why she loved Tea Cake, though he had character flaws not likely to be desired by a certain majority of women, but her life experiences brought her to accept some, reject others how she saw fit, celebrating the notion that one could choose.

Setting
Florida, 1928. I’ve traveled to Florida, have survived hurricanes, of course never been to 1928, but the cultural aspects mentioned along with the writing made it easy to imagine it as so.

Vernacular
I loved the expressiveness mixed with the formal, philosophical quotes in more lyrical fashion. This was a big point of discussion with my first read in high school. Should required reading, books in general, really be “teaching” kids improper English? How does creative writing techniques and life perspective fit into a primary school curriculum? Does it condone such things? And how does a writer draw strength in showing this in books rather than readers being told? Can you ever get the same effect? I’d say not really, which is why I probably appreciated this book so much because the risk the author took telling it like it was.

Characters
A lot to unpack here. Nuances. The character arc is subtle and is shown through a few actions/inactions, but mostly mirrored in her relationships as they come along. Maturity, discretion, desire, hope, fulfillment.

My Favorite Lines
“Put dat in yo’ pipe and smoke it.”

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

“When God had made The Man, he made him out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Some angels got jealous and chopped him into millions of pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one over with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks make them hunt for one another.”

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Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death (Agatha Raisin #7) by M.C. Beaton

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Agatha Raisin’s neighbouring village of Ancombe is usually the epitome of quiet rural charm, but the arrival of a new mineral-water company – which intends to tap into the village spring – sends tempers flaring and divides the parish council into two stubborn camps. 

When Agatha, who just happens to be handling the PR for the water company, finds the council chairman murdered at the basin of the spring, tongues start wagging. Could one of the council members have polished off the chairman before he could cast the deciding vote? 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this series so much. Still laughing over this one. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, always great. I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a light-hearted, good time.

The story
Water rights, the environment, an internal will to adapt a healthier lifestyle, and of course, the pursuit of love, the timeless subject matter paired with topics relevant to today even though it was written over 20 years ago, that being in 1998.


As Agatha Raisin mills around the village as her merry self, I appreciated the tension and predicament straightaway, making for an inviting lead to both the community and personal battles. I loved how the author consistently brought all people and circumstances into such a tight, adventurous plot.


The writing
I loved the transitions from back story to the dialogue scenes.

This has become one of my all-time favorite book series.

FAVORITE LINES:
The world is one planet full of tourists… or displaced people.

Did anyone ever age gracefully? Or was it a choice of giving up or going down fighting?


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Weary traveler stop and stare
 At the water gushing here
 We live our days in this veil of strife
 Bend and drink deep of the waters of life
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Weary traveler stop and stare
At the water gushing here
We live our days in this veil of strife
Bend and drink deep of the waters of life

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