Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas

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A summer escape she’ll never forget . . .

Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna’s mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home. 

But she’s shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can’t bear the thought of the place changing hands – especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over! 

Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such savory stories and writing. I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance readers copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are looking for a refreshing travel escape while on lockdown or feeling bogged down by life circumstances.

The Story
Reading stories by Jo Thomas are always such a treat to dive right in and be whisked away to a lovely place.

Reads like the first glance at a restaurant menu, where everything sounds so delicious and you want to devour it all, a good restaurant with good conversation, one where you leave happy and satisfied.

Took me right there. First sip of morning coffee. An early day’s work of homemade pizza dough divided and ready for a lunch time feast, fired in a wood oven. Wandering around the plaza, the market, the people I might meet. The aroma of fresh cut citrus, garden basil, garlic, tomato, mozzarella bubbling, ready for your heart’s content. I was there enjoying it with Nonno and Nonna.

And this one was all about Italy, family, and love. With deeper sentiments, life circumstances, with crossroads that were unexpected, interesting, and dynamic enough to make me think about my own.

The Writing
Every book I’ve read thus far has delivered its promise and this was was no exception. Inviting and not overly descriptive. Just enough to create alluring atmosphere while just enough to allow my imagination to feel like it was my own experience.

I really liked the initial and subsequent use of Italian language and translational presentation.

Questions I had were later answered in more subtle, internal monologue and character interaction. Super gratifying when that happens and when it doesn’t feel forced, jarring, or overly-explanatory. Makes for a good reading experience that doesn’t feel either rushed or boring.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am looking forward to the next read!

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Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas Pizza | Erica Robbin
Pizza I craved and ate after reading this book.
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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Fiction Science Fiction

The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

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Two best friends create a computer that can predict the future. But what they can’t predict is how it will tear their friendship—and society—apart.

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity. 

The device can predict everything perfectly—from stock market spikes and sports scores to political scandals and corporate takeovers—allowing them to chase down success and fame while staying one step ahead of the competition. But the future their device foretells is not the bright one they imagined.

Ambition. Greed. Jealousy. And, perhaps, an apocalypse. The question is . . . can they stop it?

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love—even from themselves.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Future Is Yours by Dan Frey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was immersed in this one. I read this one for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book Club. I’d recommend this to anyone, especially those who have been intrigued by recent past events as it pertains to the aspects of corporate social responsibility when it comes to social media, where it’s been and where it’s headed. It is also a very accessible science fiction book if you’re new to the genre.

The Story
It was clean and linear while maintaining enough side interest. Well-organized plot from this aspect. The overall theme was just presented, not forced, which I found to be very refreshing. I didn’t feel like reading a book with a loaded political message so I was delighted to read how ideas in this book were brought forth, especially the ending.

A very interesting and insightful spin, as an informational source, entertainment, and at times an almost satirical take on recent past events which I adored.

Interestingly enough, I actually enjoyed the court proceedings. Usually I zone them out. I’m actually quite proud of myself for reading them through. Perhaps it was because I was one who was glued to watching the entire senate hearing of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on behalf of Facebook. I recognized aspects of it and enjoyed every bit of it.

There were some funny inferences. The Tumbler posts were hilarious and clever.

Relevant and timely.

The Writing
Sort of a modern epistolary format which matched the storyline and wasn’t overly complicated. Solid in its structure.

The characters were pretty standard, pretty stereotypical, which was quite fitting all in all. I wasn’t always incredibly personally attached them as a result because they didn’t offer too much out of the ordinary character-wise, but maybe that was part of its strength. Also maybe it was just as well because I felt that rejection in the returns of the thesis proposal and prospective partnership emails, very well written.

And I learned a lot.

The photos were a very nice touch too.

Enjoy reading this one, I certainly did!

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Categories
Book Reviews Books Cookbooks Featured

Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence by Claire Saffitz

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Claire Saffitz is a baking hero for a new generation.

In Dessert Person, fans will find Claire’s signature spin on sweet and savory recipes like Babkallah (a babka-Challah mashup), Apple and Concord Grape Crumble Pie, Strawberry-Cornmeal Layer Cake, Crispy Mushroom Galette, and Malted Forever Brownies.

She outlines the problems and solutions for each recipe–like what to do if your pie dough for Sour Cherry Pie cracks (patch it with dough or a quiche flour paste!)–as well as practical do’s and don’ts, skill level, prep and bake time, and foundational know-how. With Claire at your side, everyone can be a dessert person.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Dessert Person: Recipes and Guidance for Baking with Confidence by Claire Saffitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Really enjoying this cookbook.

It features beautiful, almost retro style photos. Thumbing through the book is like having a peak at yummy pastries behind the glass at a local bakery or donut shop and having a hard time choosing from all your favorites.

I like the informational tidbits at the beginning and reading the backstory behind each recipe.

The recipes overall are quite unique, well-thought out in proportion, and so far very yummy. Contains not only desserts, but a few savory ones as well which was a nice surprise.

I’m still working my way through it, mostly starting with cookies, and had a make a few ingredient substitutions which turned out lovely. But that has made it all that much more fun, especially after following along with the accompanying Claire Saffitz x Dessert Person YouTube videos where Saffitz even modifies her own recipes, which I find quite enduring as it has brought out a certain improvisational creativity that I’m quite drawn to.

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Categories
Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

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Sydney Green is Brooklyn born and raised, but her beloved neighborhood seems to change every time she blinks. Condos are sprouting like weeds, FOR SALE signs are popping up overnight, and the neighbors she’s known all her life are disappearing. To hold onto her community’s past and present, Sydney channels her frustration into a walking tour and finds an unlikely and unwanted assistant in one of the new arrivals to the block—her neighbor Theo.

But Sydney and Theo’s deep dive into history quickly becomes a dizzying descent into paranoia and fear. Their neighbors may not have moved to the suburbs after all, and the push to revitalize the community may be more deadly than advertised.

When does coincidence become conspiracy? Where do people go when gentrification pushes them out? Can Sydney and Theo trust each other—or themselves—long enough to find out before they too disappear?

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Rating: 2 out of 5.

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Enjoyed the scenes creation in this one. I read this one for the Literally Dead Book Club. I’m wondering if the audiobook version was the way to go.

The Story
I think this book is one that will speak to people differently and warrants such an individual interpretation based on certain experiences and perceptions of the past and present time.

Bits I thought were great, some a little less.

Really enjoyed a little bit of New England history. Most of the story focused on changes happening during gentrification of a neighborhood with overall increased racial and social divide that already pre-existed, told in a fore-telling way. Narrowing it down to the realization of it in a community from two points of view, highlighting differences in culture, social status, social inequality, social injustices.

An arching theme of racial subjugation. Made some social talking points in a nuanced way, some otherwise more overt. Inclusion in the lack of diversity while also pointing out the exclusion because of diversity.

Sort of spoke to a loaded point with presuppositions I was less clear about. Thriller aspects I quite enjoyed, especially the Uber scene.

My favorite scene was the hair boutique.

Definitely more of a modern take geared toward an audience likely within a certain age range. Spanned from Avon to emojis. It took a certain amount of know about of pop culture/modern references, some I understood, others not so much.

Tone
The overall tone at the beginning was negative, very hopeless. Hopeful for the glory days of Brooklyn, mostly told through neighborhood watch commentary.

I felt myself wanting to know more about these better days as the characters experienced them and what made it all so great without having any prior knowledge and I’m not sure if there was a real tipping point for the time frame since the beginning 2/3rds of the book was more of a slow burn in time, from a solidarity that was less defined.

I wondered about the familiar faces, where did they all go? I wanted more of the lived experiences rather than told in retrospect. I suppose I missed it in the book because it sounded like on page 56, that she came back to Brooklyn as an adult so I wasn’t sure her yearning because the golden years seemed to be mostly tainted from the start so it was hard to gauge if I hadn’t had any presupposition. Perhaps for her it went from bad to worse without measure and the portrayal was more nuanced.

Character descriptions like a “Hispanic teen” and mentions of Middle Eastern and Chinese restaurant businesses not being up to par with the main character’s standard, which at first hand was less credulous to her point, instead came back full circle, though I’m not sure if I understood it correctly in its entirety if that was the case.

Written as a character who was continually unhappy with her situation, with life, with herself. Action and description of those she encountered was in the most judgmental way, comparing all of her experiences to the glory days as a passive spectator, yet strong at heart and will, which was so different than the ending when pent up emotion finally came out. She took action with all her might, at least what was left of it after much time of suppression.

Her emotion from the start was worn down. I would have liked to have explored more and greater depth of her distant memories of the place and personal growth aside from being told of such things like the fire hydrant play, that would have been more unique to her as an individual aside from race and social status, as well as her friends and family as a collective experience. Maybe some points of joy to reference from in her previous relationships.

The Writing
It was like “Here’s the scene…” and proceeded to tell me about everything through a rant without any grounding into the lives and experiences I wanted to know more about.

Some of the writing I really enjoyed, brought out the curtness, loved the one liners, but other times because of perhaps the pacing, I didn’t find myself always immersed in it.

Pacing
A lot of commentary on everyone and everything as an introduction to her world and everything in it. The telling of it all became sort of repetitive. Until the end, then action, as in the writing of it. I sometimes felt like I was told after the fact and a little too late.

Characters
The characters sort of read the same to me. I only knew what was happening all around them. It wasn’t until about page 144 that the characters started to differentiate a bit in thought, though dialogue characteristics remained the same amongst them.

“You find something nefarious in everything” Marcus told her at one time. She remained hyper-vigilant and suspicious. I often wondered what life was like before Marcus because she didn’t start off with redemptive qualities to invite engagement with those different than her, so it was difficult to feel every disappointment alongside her, though perhaps it was half way through the book, when it became the point and started to make somewhat better sense. Half way I started to understand her social relationships with herself, others, friend betrayal, her mother, though I’m not sure I found all I was looking for in time for the plot to end like it did.

Dialogue
Much dialogue to plow through and because I felt the characters less distinguishable, I think likely audiobook may have helped in this one.

I’ll remember to choose the audiobook version if a subsequent book has multiple POVs and lots of dialogue the next time.

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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Fiction Mystery Thriller

The Family Friend by C.C. MacDonald

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Erin lives an idyllic life by the seaside with her baby boy and handsome Australian fiancée. She’s upbeat and happy – a natural mum. At least that’s what her thousands of followers on Instagram think. 

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Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Family Friend by C.C. MacDonald

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I loved the tension in this one. I would like to thank Random House UK, Vintage for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I think anyone looking for a modern read about social media with a bit of a unique twist on side story/pastime hobbies/dabbles you wouldn’t expect, will enjoy this one.

The Story
The overall premise was interesting. The story encompassed important issues of mother-child bonding, the waxes and wanes of having a public life on social media, and relational development, all of which I loved the insight, the perspective, the impact in the way it was portrayed.

I loved some of the social media effects pointed out in the story like forgetting that there are people in existence who don’t judge.

I really enjoyed how developmentally the story sparkled. This tension was kept tight in nature with good timing of reveal of the side stories, the peculiar elements, the intrigue of questioning if this was going to turn supernatural or stay within a realm of certain contextual, highly calculated, psychological play on the mind.

The slower pacing at the beginning however became too slow and content-wise, I would have liked to have seen signs of what was to come in a subtle way, hidden leads to red herrings, rather than focus on the plot as the driving force outright because when it was slow, it was really slow.

The Atmosphere
The atmosphere was driven by the plot but I think could have had a little more spark to tying into the personality of the characters and the world they lived it, how they perceived it as a defining characteristic unique to each character. There were parts that were spot on, others a little more safe and hesitant, that could have been enhanced, whether nuanced or overt, to bring out their personalities a little more.

Pacing
Page 72 is when it picked up for me, almost DNF’d it around 30. The beginning mettled around the slowest parts, drawn out, dramatizing the drama, extending the drama, dramatizing even more drama.

The Ending
The worst part for me was the ending. I liked certain aspects of how elements were tied together but then, spoiler alert, (view spoiler)[the coroner didn’t even request an inquest? All of that work to build a tight story and bam, no proper police procedural? It all came down to something that made a bit of sense, but when the end that would have been justified by the means, it concluded with a sloppy, overlooked police investigation? No satisfying remediation? OMG. #unsatisfyingendings. Too easy of a get away. It was a wiping of hands clean in a story for the amount of time I spent with the characters for it to end like that (hide spoiler)].

The Writing
Great at keeping the tension and chapter transition with good pick up sentences. Probably my favorite part of the writing.

The POV/tense felt inconsistent. I had often wondered if it might have been better served in first person/past tense perhaps. Times I connected with it, other times I had to think hard and I didn’t want to have to think that hard with this one. Especially with the interruptions of social media posts which I didn’t alway understand in their context/hashtag use.

It’s omnipresent action commentary but doesn’t dive deep enough into their thoughts and the separation is inconsistent. Some contrary to what I already thought and expected of the characters in my mind.

Descriptions
The beginning was rocky for me. It was pronoun verb, pronoun verb. Adjective noun, adjective noun.

I think there could have been a bit more creativity in the descriptions for a bit more something something. A bit more variety. Sometimes simple is great. Sometimes simple is boring. Example, instead of middle-aged man, something like beginning to gray, faint roots of gray, gray at the temples, peppered beard, or beginning of some sort of comment on facial lines or age spots, some sort of description to show rather than tell.

Atmospheric consistency in description was an issue for me. Like I imagine where this takes place in the hemisphere based off what I’m being told about the scene, but one day is described as cold January, yet descriptions of a grassy hill are noted. I just feel that if something is described in writing, it should reinforce the atmosphere. The feelings of a cold January were mentioned, but then to switch to a visual most would probably associate with summer was a bit weird for me. Grassy was unnecessarily mentioned again, no strength or purpose given to repeating this again. Would have probably been better served as withered lawn or tindered lawn or frosted fields or dusting of frost on the mountainside or the windy draft bit my cheeks. I don’t know, cold January, followed by grass (as in my visual of live, green, healthy, thriving grass), just didn’t put me in the scene very well.

Characters
I don’t think you have to like every character, but spoiler alert, (view spoiler)[she’s kind of mean (hide spoiler)]. And that would be ok, except I’m not sure if that was the intent. There were certain disconnects between the characters, their actions, and dialogue. Especially toward the end. The two ladies became so squirrely with their trajectory. It became a game of I love you, I love you not. I love you, I love you not. The main, contempt for her son, there was this sort of this misplaced character arc where I wanted to be satisfied in my mind rather than this moral obligation to wrap it all together neatly at the end. And then the end, my thoughts already said, but characters didn’t match or counter the strong emotion I wanted to see restitution with.

Kind of disconnections with interactions, it was hard to gauge where characters stand with each other. It was hard to make the connection of how the characters came to know each other from the beginning. It was more of a telling review style over hints of showing readers the information the author wanted us to have.

A lot of over-explanation and pointing out rationales of behavior and back story. Kind of come to know things about the characters a little too late.

Sometimes I felt like I was diving into a conversation I didn’t know anything about. There was quite a bit of repetition in the beginning, like Ground Hog’s Day movie repetition of activity.

Dialogue
And it was hard to follow the dialogue. Certain tensions of example argument suddenly jolted into a jovial conversation. Even in the dialogue the characters switched opinions during the middle of the conversation. I thought one was thinking/leading to a certain way, the it’s suddenly they were contradictory.

Overall I think the suspense elements could have been strengthened by a few bits that would have made this story and the writing move from ok to fantastic. Plenty of the it factor was there from a creative aspect, but not executed as strong as it could have been for me. I’ll be curious to read more by this author.

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Categories
Biography Book Clubs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him.

In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend.

He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really appreciated this one. I read it for Life’s Library Book Club. It was certainly different than what I expected and I’d recommend it for anyone looking to write in general and for gaining insight into other people’s life experiences. It has useful information and is a book that has essays that each have different tone and approach that would be great considerations for style. For advice, example, perspective. It’s a heavy and vulnerable read, one you’ll want to set aside ample time for or one you’ll want to devote making room in your emotional space for.

It would make a great pick for writing circles and book clubs wanting to explore a very reflective, naive, age-specific/life stage, pondering of how the author viewed and processed the world around him as a teen which shaped him into adulthood as he retells it. Journeying with him and learning how he fit into the world, development of self, cultural identity, social class, sexuality, sexual maturity as a whole, belonging. Fitting in. Not only loss, but rejection.

I honestly didn’t know about this one at first. A battle of my expectations. Times I thought wow this is genius other times I was like what in the world am I reading?

The Story
I won’t speak too much about the content from the autobiographical part for sake of spoiling it. I initially went into it without taking in the blurb which I think gave me a fresh dive into it during the initial chapter. Apart from his victories/tragedies I didn’t feel like I got to know the author, but it came full circle toward the end so if you’re thinking about DNFing the book at any point, hang in there.

The content as far as writing advice was very different. Approach at times was quite frustrating for me, but wasn’t without purpose. It is a unique take on a book titled “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays.” It was a unique book for an autobiography/memoir. It turned into an almost telling a story within a story about a story while writing a story which I quite enjoyed overall.

The Writing
Really enjoyed his writing style overall when he was writing. Some essays in and of themselves were a bit disjointed but I think that may have been deliberate to show different takes on writing style? Overall I loved the style which was to the point, not overly descriptive, yet drew clever detail/simile out of the scene. Simplicity by choosing just a few, accurate and profound concepts. He is super talented.

POV/Tense
Interesting.

Tone
At times sort of less optimistic and my thoughts about certain essays reflect that in some ways. I didn’t know the last chapter would take a turn like it did at the beginning, a bit jarring mention of religion and politics, and the last paragraphs left me a bit longing, but perhaps that was the point?

A lot of writing gems both subtle and overt. A lot memory retrieval for me from a writing aspect.

Side note, my favorite Stephen King novel is also Firestarter.

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Deckled Edges, always a nice touch.
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Categories
Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Science Fiction

Earth by David Brin

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As scientists frantically work to prevent the ultimate disaster, they discover that the entire planet could be destroyed within a year. But while they look for an answer, some claim that the only way to save Earth is to let its human inhabitants become extinct: to reset the evolutionary clock and start over.

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Rating: 3 out of 5.

Earth by David Brin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting speculations about Earth. I think those more well-versed in environmental science may appreciate it more than I did. I actually started this one July 14, 2018 for a Reading Rush challenge. Coin toss prompt. It was a brother sci-fi recommendation of course. I’m glad I finished it with today’s perspective because I know a bit more about the subject matter than when I started out 2 1/2 years ago. I am wondering if I may have enjoyed it more with the audiobook version.

The Story
Earth from an environmental standpoint, human interaction, anthropology, the effects of commonwealth over other countries, garbage rush.

The most interesting parts for me were about the Maori, disposable diapers, the climbing goats, the baboon. The chapters dedicated to Planet.

I got incredibly bored though. I felt like I was at 36% for forever.

I just don’t know enough about certain subjects to appreciate it and the writing and characters weren’t quite as interesting to keep me in the story like I had hoped. They all read the same to me.

It was the intermix of facts, though they were the same subject matter, weren’t really integrated into the narrative which made them feel rather dry and long-winded. Like a copy-and-paste from an encyclopedia type fashion.

It was hard enough to sift through the things I didn’t know about.

I may have liked it better if the book was cut in half, maybe thirds, maybe fourths. I was getting a little discouraged over the amount of book I had to read through.

Some parts were really clever, insightful, and funny though. Especially the more nuanced ones. Definitely a book I’m glad to have read.

The Writing
Almost like an essay style of writing at times which I quite enjoyed. I also liked the diagrams.

First published in 1990, the speculation was certainly interesting, could have been written today. Maybe I’ll revisit it in the year 2038.

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Check it out on Amazon

See it on Goodreads

Baboon Crossing, Malawi | Erica Robbin
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Categories
Audiobooks Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Romance

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist (Agatha Raisin #6) by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin’s marriage was put off when her ex-husband showed up, unfortunately alive. Fortunately, he was murdered and Agatha solved the crime.

Now she is off to Cyprus to track down her ex-fiance. Instead of enjoying their planned honeymoon, however, they witness the murder of an obnoxious tourist. Two sets of terrible tourists surround the unhappy couple, arousing Agatha’s suspicions. And, much to James’ chagrin, she won’t rest until she finds the killer.

Unfortunately, it seems the killer also won’t rest until Agatha is out of the picture. Agatha is forced to track down the murderer, try to rekindle her romance with James, and fend off a suave baronet, all while coping with the fact that it’s always bathing suit season in Cyprus.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M.C. Beaton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love this series so much! They are such a joy to listen to. Brightens up my mood no matter what. The perfect in-between books and I don’t want them to end. 19 more to go. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Penelope Keith, always so good. I’d recommend this series to anyone looking for a plot that unfolds like an adult version of Scooby-Doo. Amateur sleuthing that’s set in semi-reality, a little love intrigue, some character frustration, and always hilariously entertaining.

The Story
Loved the comments on the socio-economic climate. Certainly insightful and relative to today, even for having this book being written in 1997.

The murder reveal, like always, a little late in the book. I’m sort of getting used to it. Though at least this time there was a little tail end of them getting settled into their lives again.

Everything else read like intriguing gossip you’d overhear at the dog park and can’t help but tune your ears to.

The Characters
I didn’t remember Charles. The ones that we met were a little dry. I sort of hoped there would be a typical Mr. and Mrs. Howell type character during the encounter. There just wasn’t a whole lot of development to set them apart. Back stories were kind of just thrown in there. Which sort of makes sense when meeting other tourists. That initial meetup, that sometimes turns into a divulging of saturated personal story. But somehow I wanted a stereotypical and distinguishable personality that made me say “Aha, I’ve met that one before.”

The Setting
Loved that it took place in Cyprus. I was absorbed in the setting, everything from historical tidbits to the brochures Agatha read along the way as a tourist.

The Writing
M.C. Beaton even called her own characters out. Hilarious. Along with so many good reading the room observations and discourse.

Always looking forward to the next in series.

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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
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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