Sisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway

Sisters of Heart and SnowSisters of Heart and Snow by Margaret Dilloway
Rachel and Drew Snow may be sisters, but  their lives have followed completely different paths.

Married to a wonderful man and a mother to two strong-minded teens, Rachel hasn’t returned to her childhood home since being kicked out by her strict father after an act of careless teenage rebellion. Drew, her younger sister, followed her passion for music but takes side jobs to make ends meet and longs for the stability that has always eluded her. Both sisters recall how close they were, but the distance between them seems more than they can bridge. When their deferential Japanese mother, Hikari, is diagnosed with dementia and gives Rachel power of attorney, Rachel’s domineering father, Killian becomes enraged.

In a rare moment of lucidity, Hikari asks Rachel for a book in her sewing room, and Rachel enlists her sister’s help in the search. The book—which tells the tale of real-life female samurai Tomoe Gozen, an epic saga of love, loss, and conflict during twelfth-century Japan—reveals truths about Drew and Rachel’s relationship that resonate across the centuries, connecting them in ways that turn their differences into assets.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a beautifully written and deeply thoughtful story. With dual tales in this novel, one set long ago in the twelfth century and one set in the current day, this book has a lot to offer to both those who love contemporary writing and for those who love historical books.

Margaret Dilloway keeps getting better with every novel she writes. I was not only impressed with her dialogue in this book as it was easy to read and believable, but also with the unusual family dynamics she creates for her characters. This author gives you a reason to want to continue with her books from the very first page.

When reading this, I found that I became very involved in the story of Tomoe, wanting to know more early on. The descriptions used for the setting were wonderful and made it easier to visualise the story. I like the parallels between the modern story and that of the Shogun period.

This book made me smile, made me cry and in the end and is a novel that I happily recommend to others. Margaret Dilloway is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors and a name I automatically associate with above-average fiction.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Amish Confidential (light on the confidential part)

Amish ConfidentialAmish Confidential by “Lebanon” Levi Stoltzfus

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d like to preface this review by saying that this is a well written book, but definitely not what I expected it to be. Who doesn’t love a bit of sensationalism? I, like many other people, watched this show because it was interesting, and because it blew apart an ideal that many of us who are not closely familiar with the Amish held. They are different than us–we knew that, but I suppose I thought that meant that they did not experience the same things that we do out in the “English world.” I was aware whilst watching the programme that some of it must have been filmed as it was to increase the shock value for the viewers, but I also felt that it showed some true events going on that no outsider to the communities featured would have ever guessed at. I was hoping for more of the same with this book.

It wasn’t what I expected.

Based upon what was said by Levi himself, I thought this book would be more of a ‘here is what was and is really going on behind the scenes’ kind of thing. I expected to learn more about those he felt had wronged him and thought he would offer up an explanation for some of the events America witnessed on the series but didn’t learn more about. That isn’t what this book is. With the buildup for the release of the book and the promises of secrets exposed, I think a lot of people will buy this in close connection with the end of the series, thinking they will find out what happened to favourite cast members or get a peek at what producers and cast members didn’t or weren’t allowed to share during the filming. They won’t learn a thing.

Even so, this is an interesting look into the world of the Amish. Levi and his co-author do a good job of putting the traditions and long-standing beliefs of his people into focus for those of us who would not ordinarily understand them. There is a lot of information about events that have happened in the Amish community, although many of them weren’t shocking, or anything that you could not google and come up with results for on your own.

I suppose getting an insider’s take on things when you are curious about a certain region or community does have benefits over just researching news articles, and Levi does include many personal details about his life.

My honest opinion is that this is a good history of the Amish and a look at the daily lives of those who follow this lifestyle, but isn’t anything so dramatically exciting that you will be rushing to share tidbits with your family and friends.

I think the ever present threat of lawsuits for slander stop people from saying what they really think a lot of the time. I have a feeling a lot more could and would be said if it weren’t for that fact. The show was exciting and filled with lots of “I can’t believe he did that!” The book is not.

Although I can respect the co-author for making the book grammatically correct and for flowing smoothly, I did not see the big personality from Levi as it was displayed in the TV show. I missed that. Eighth grade education or not, I felt like he should have been more present in his own book.

Overall? I’m glad I read it, but I think in this case, the marketing was more exciting than the book.

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

The StrangerThe Stranger by Harlan Coben

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Harlan Coben is pretty far up there in my list of favourite authors and so it pains me a little to admit that I really didn’t like this book, but sadly, that is the case.

What makes a Harlan Coben book a good read in my opinion? The fact that he can think up plots that are outside the normal everyday realm and yet make the reader believe them. He can take something ordinary and make it extraordinary. I didn’t see that with this book, and here’s why I feel that way:

Flimsy plot device in the form of silly power-wielding character who causes evil by trying to prevent it. The “villains” in this book are numerous but ultimately I could not suspend belief long enough with the central villain to believe anyone could or would go to such extremes for such a small benefit. It reminded me of a bad rehashing of every religious-leader-gone-bad-fire-and-brimstone-cult-mentality film or book ever written.

Even the protagonists in this story seemed to be thin on character development. Hello person that we really know nothing about, let us support you.

There are a lot of twists, but without a strong backbone for the story, they became all jumbled together. Around every corner is a surprise of some sort, but none of them were particularly impressive to me as I felt the rest of the story still had no oomph. The main character fell flat for me, his wife we didn’t ever get to know and the reader likely spends half the story thinking she was quite possibly evil incarnate. So…how are you supposed to care what happens to them? Combine that with the list of unimportant characters that keep growing and never being sure why they are doing what they are doing in the first place and I found this book to be a recipe for disaster.

Of course, this is just my personal opinion and others might love it. I encourage you to give it a read and see what you think. The author pulled a lot of punches in this book, but I thought most of them missed the target. I also missed the humour that this author’s books tend to have interspersed throughout the more serious subject matter.

Loved the last couple of books, “Missing you” and “Six Years” were both fantastic, but this one just didn’t do it for me.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna Van Praag

The Dress Shop of DreamsThe Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

For fans of Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and Adriana Trigiani, The Dress Shop of Dreams is a captivating novel of enduring hopes, second chances, and the life-changing magic of true love.

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a sweet, charming tale with characters that are easy to love. If you like magic realism and you are looking for a story to take you away from everything, this would be a good book to choose.

I liked the characters right away. This is one of those stories that will transport you away from your daily stresses and make you smile and feel warm inside. The relationships between the characters, (both family and love interest,) are interesting and different from other books. You feel as if you have gotten to know these people within the first few chapters and after that, it is like you have become part of the story yourself.

The magical surprises in this book are many and as the story continues, you find yourself hoping that everything will work out the way you want it to.

This was a great book, with a lot to recommend it.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher as part of the shereads.org blogging program. All opinions are my own.

The Connicle Curse by Gregory Harris

The Connicle Curse (Colin Pendragon Mysteries, #3)The Connicle Curse by Gregory Harris

Victorian London’s private detective Colin Pendragon learns that the cost of wealth can indeed be dear as he investigates the grisly fate of a well-heeled financier. . .

When wealthy Edmond Connicle suddenly disappears, his distraught wife enlists the services of master sleuth Colin Pendragon and his loyal partner, Ethan Pruitt. Already on the case, however, is Scotland Yard’s Inspector Varcoe. He suspects the Connicles’ West African scullery maid of doing in her employer, especially when a badly burned body is discovered on the estate grounds with a sack of Voodoo festishes buried beneath it.

But all is not as it seems, and as more bodies are found, the pressure mounts on Varcoe, forcing him to forge an uneasy alliance with his nemesis, Pendragon. At the same time, Mrs. Connicle’s fragile mental state appears increasingly more precarious. Could madness, not black magic, be at the root of these murders? To untangle the twisted truth, Pendragon and Pruitt must penetrate the hidden lives of the elite and expose the malevolent machinations of a ruthless killer. . .

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I say yay for character development. Whereas some series tend to fizzle out after a while because the characters become predictable and so do the events, Gregory Harris has ensured that this didn’t happen with these novels.

I’m always excited to see what Colin and Ethan are going to get themselves into with each new book, and what location they will find themselves in. This has become one of my very favourite series and this book reminded me once more, why I love these books so much.

The relationships in these stories are as complex as the plot and mysteries within. I like that the reader finds out more about the pasts of the two main characters with each new novel, and the emotional connection I have with these two unlikely heroes grows every time I read another one.

Of the three books thus far, this one has the most intricate mysteries, involving a larger group of suspects. I appreciate that try as I might, I can’t guess what is really going on until it is fully revealed in the end.

This book made me laugh as usual. The relationships between Colin and those he is forced to work with to solve these cases allows for many snarky remarks and uncomfortable situations, easing the tension of the grim subject matter. I was sad to see a favourite character go in this book, but liked the way it ended overall.

In the end, I find myself impatiently waiting for the next book and hoping it isn’t a long wait.

Always recommended.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Flat out, there is no other way to describe this book–I loved it.

For anyone who has an interest in the German Occupations during WWII, this book will likely be interesting. Even if you don’t, this book still has something to offer.

Have you ever read a book that brought you so close to the characters that you forgot you were reading a book at all? That is what happened to me whilst reading this. I found myself so involved in the lives of these characters that I felt their pain, longing, loss and redemption.

Down to the very last detail, this is a beautifully written and immaculately researched novel.

One of the things that made me love this book, is that the characters seem to truly belong in the setting. Everything does not turn out perfectly at the end as so many books seem to force. The sad times of war including, cold, hunger and loss of lives is well described here and the characters experience it, enough that the reader feels it too.

The relationships in this story are complex and go far beyond those in the average book. The people grow and change and make you believe in them even when all hope seems to be lost.

I can’t say enough good things about this novel. It is amazing.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.


Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery

If you are a Christian, or even if you aren’t and are just interested in religion or history, this may be very interesting to watch. Here is the trailer, and the press release is below.

 

CNN New Original Series FINDING JESUS
Blends Science and Archaeology
to Offer Fascinating Insights into
Well-Known Biblical Relics

Academics and theologians examine the value and authenticity of six objects which could shed new light on the historical Jesus
in show premiering March 1, 2015

NEW YORK, NY (Feb. 4, 2015) – Loved and worshipped by billions, Jesus of Nazareth is, unquestionably, the most famous person of the last 2,000 years. His influence on art, politics, education, literature, music, law, language, philosophy and philanthropy continues to this day. But he left no physical trace.

Or did he?

That’s the question at the forefront of Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery, a CNN original series premiering March 1 at 9 p.m. ET/PT that discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest state-of-the-art scientific techniques and archaeological research. Part documentary exploring the marvelous and mysterious artifacts emanating from the world of the Bible, the series is also a thrilling and emotional drama, examining the Gospel characters and stories connected to these artifacts – the baptism, the betrayal, the Passion, the Resurrection and after.

Each episode of the six-part series investigates the value and authenticity of a historical object which could shed new light on Jesus: the Shroud of Turin, relics venerated as part of the True Cross, the gospel of Judas, relics believed to be of John the Baptist, the burial box of Jesus’ brother James and the gospel of Mary Magdalene.

A first-class panel of on-screen contributors will provide expert comment – academics from the world’s best universities including Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Oxford provide historical and theological insight, while the likes of Father James Martin SJ (the editor of ‘America’ the United States’ national Catholic magazine), the Rev. Paul Raushenbush (executive religion editor of the Huffington Post), and Erwin MacManus, senior pastor of MOSAIC Los Angeles, help bring our characters and their emotional journeys to life for our audience.

Also appearing to offer expert analysis throughout the series is David Gibson, an award-winning journalist and filmmaker who specializes in covering the Catholic Church. He is co-author of the series’ companion book from St. Martin’s Press, also titled Finding Jesus, due to be released Feb. 24.

###

About Nutopia Productions:
Nutopia is a television company with offices in the UK and US. Founded in 2007, Nutopia is best known as creators of the ‘mega doc’ and produces factual programming for networks including HISTORY, DISCOVERY, CNN, BBC, CNN, ITV, C4 and National Geographic.

About CNN Original Series:
The CNN Original Series group develops non-scripted programming for television via commissioned projects, acquisitions and in-house production. Amy Entelis, senior vice president of talent and content development, oversees CNN Original Series and CNN Films for CNN Worldwide. Vinnie Malhotra, senior vice president of development and acquisitions, works directly with filmmakers and producers to develop original projects for CNN Original Series and CNN Films.

 

Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes

Mourning LincolnMourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes

Read

Mourning Lincoln

The news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865, just days after Confederate surrender, astounded the war-weary nation. Massive crowds turned out for services and ceremonies. Countless expressions of grief and dismay were printed in newspapers and preached in sermons. Public responses to the assassination have been well chronicled, but this book is the first to delve into the personal and intimate responses of everyday people—northerners and southerners, soldiers and civilians, black people and white, men and women, rich and poor.

Through deep and thoughtful exploration of diaries, letters, and other personal writings penned during the spring and summer of 1865, Martha Hodes, one of our finest historians, captures the full range of reactions to the president’s death—far more diverse than public expressions would suggest. She tells a story of shock, glee, sorrow, anger, blame, and fear. “’Tis the saddest day in our history,” wrote a mournful man. It was “an electric shock to my soul,” wrote a woman who had escaped from slavery. “Glorious News!” a Lincoln enemy exulted. “Old Lincoln is dead, and I will kill the goddamned Negroes now,” an angry white southerner ranted. For the black soldiers of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, it was all “too overwhelming, too lamentable, too distressing” to absorb.

There are many surprises in the story Hodes tells, not least the way in which even those utterly devastated by Lincoln’s demise easily interrupted their mourning rituals to attend to the most mundane aspects of everyday life.  There is also the unexpected and unabated virulence of Lincoln’s northern critics, and the way Confederates simultaneously celebrated Lincoln’s death and instantly—on the very day he died—cast him as a fallen friend to the defeated white South.

Hodes brings to life a key moment of national uncertainty and confusion, when competing visions of America’s future proved irreconcilable and hopes for racial justice in the aftermath of the Civil War slipped from the nation’s grasp. Hodes masterfully brings the tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination alive in human terms—terms that continue to stagger and rivet us one hundred and fifty years after the event they so strikingly describe.–From Goodreads

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Truly one of the best “Lincoln Books” that I have had the pleasure of reading.

Rather than just showing the side of America (and the world at large) that felt sorrow for the loss of the sixteenth president, this author researched, learned and wrote a book that shows both sides of the after effects the death of Lincoln had.

Whilst some were angry, disbelieving and sorrowful over the new of the president’s assassination, others were jubilant, relieved or even boastful. This book defines the boundaries between the belief systems of the North and South in a way that I have seen no other book attempt.

Through a multitude of first person accounts, the author manages to paint a picture of the American public after the death of Lincoln and show the reader what was really happening in the minds and hearts of those who survived the event.

From describing the feeling of some that mourning the loss of the president was a collective effort of everyone, to the reality that it was not, the author does a brilliant job of recounting history.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who is looking for further information about Lincoln, and the period after his death. A smartly researched, intelligently written book.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberol

Doctor DeathDoctor Death by Lene Kaaberbøl
From the New York Times bestselling coauthor of The Boy in the Suitcase, a gripping historical thriller and poignant coming-of-age story set in nineteenth-century France.

Madeleine Karno is an ambitious young woman eager to shatter the confines of her provincial French town. Driven and strong headed, Madeleine is set apart by her unusual occupation: assisting her father, Dr. Albert Karno, in his job as a forensic doctor.

The year is 1894, and a young girl is found dead on the snowy streets of Varbourg. Dr. Karno is called in to determine the cause of her death, but before he can examine the body, the girl’s family forbids the autopsy from taking place. The only anomaly he manages to find is in the form of a mite in her nostril. Shortly after, several other dead bodies are discovered throughout the city, and Madeleine, her father, and the city commissioner must use the new science of forensic evidence to solve the mysterious cases before they all become the next victims of a deadly disease – or of a heinous murderer.–Goodreads

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. The author has given us once more a strong main character that is both intelligent and willing to get her hands dirty to get to the root of a mystery.

In the realm of early forensic science there have been quite a few recent novels, but most of them I felt were either using science too advanced for their time or not advanced enough. This book seemed to strike the right balance and also told an exciting story in the process.

The author did a good job of making her main character emotional enough that we feel her pain, and yet kept her sensible enough that she did not come off as silly and a damsel in distress.

Overall, I thought this was a great book with lots of mysteries to solve and characters that I could easily care for.

Recommended.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Flour + Water Pasta

Flour and Water: PastaFlour and Water: Pasta by Thomas McNaughton

An elevated guide to the craft of pasta-making by rising star chef Thomas McNaughton of San Francisco’s hottest Italian restaurant, flour + water.
San Francisco’s flour + water has a devoted local following, a strong national reputation, and is well known for its specialty regional pasta varieties, all-Italian wine program, and star chef Thomas McNaughton. McNaughton is an artisan truly passionate about pasta whose inventive recipes and fresh flavor combinations–such as Corn and Crescenza Cappelletti with Bitter Honey; Spaghetti with Confit Albacore, Pole beans and Chili Flakes; and Asparagus Caramelle with Brown Butter–set “Flour + Water”apart from other pasta books. The 75 recipes are organized seasonally, and appeal to all pasta-lovers, from those who’ve never made it themselves to weekend warriors looking for their next challenge. Steeped in Italian tradition with a chef’s flair, “Flour + Water “is a must-have for all home pasta-makers.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is definitely “elevated” as they claim. Most of the ingredients in this book, other than possibly the flour and the water will not be found easily in the home cook’s basic pantry, nor will they be located at your local grocery store unless that store is a specialty foods place.

All of that aside, this is a well organised and useful book regardless. The beginning sections of the book deal with how to make a basic dough and how flour and water bind together to make pasta, so for people just starting out making their own, this is helpful information. There is also a complete section on how to cook the pasta properly.

The photos in this cook book are beautifully done and there are many of them, so if you are like I am and want to see if your product looks like the recipe says it should, this is a good book for that.

The book is arranged into seasons so you have a perfect pasta for each time of the year.

Overall I thought this was a delightful addition to my home library and would recommend it for those looking to add a little excitement to their family dishes.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review.