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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

Title: Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books
Author: Cara Nicoletti
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Co.
Publish Date: August 18, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "As a young bookworm reading in her grandfather's butcher shop, Cara Nicoletti saw how books and food bring people to life. Now a butcher, cook, and talented writer, she serves up stories and recipes inspired by beloved books and the food that gives their characters depth and personality.

From the breakfast sausage in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods to chocolate cupcakes with peppermint buttercream from Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, these books and the tasty treats in them put her on the road to happiness."

My Two Cents:

Is there anything that goes better together than good books and delicious food? In this book, the author explores some of the dishes from her favorite books and provides recipes for readers to try on their own. The book covers many different genres from children's lit to some of the classics. The author gives the meaning for her behind some of the books. Some of the books have universal appeal but there are others which may not appeal to as many people.

The design of the book is gorgeous and really drew me in. I love a good, stylish cookbook and that is definitely what you get with this book. This is definitely a book for book lovers. It inspired me to look back at some of my favorite books to see whether or not I could create any recipes from them!


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat by Vali Nasr

Title: The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat
Author: Vali Nasr
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish Date: April 16, 2013
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Vali Nasr, author of the groundbreaking The Shia Revival, worked closely with Hillary Clinton at the State Department on Afghan and Pakistani affairs. In The Dispensable Nation, he takes us behind the scenes to show how Secretary Clinton and her ally, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, were thwarted in their efforts to guide an ambitious policy in South Asia and the Middle East. Instead, four years of presidential leadership and billions of dollars of U.S. spending failed to advance democracy and development, producing mainly rage at the United States for its perceived indifference to the fate of the region.

After taking office in 2009, the Obama administration had an opportunity to fundamentally reshape American foreign policy, Nasr argues, but its fear of political backlash and the specter of terrorism drove it to pursue the same questionable strategies as its predecessor. Meanwhile, the true economic threats to U.S. power, China and Russia, were quietly expanding their influence in places where America has long held sway.  "

My Two Cents:

"The Dispensable Nation" is a grim look at American foreign policy and where the author thinks that it is going . Nasr worked in the White House with Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State and Richard Holbrooke, a much renowned foreign policy mind also in the State Department. Nasr has an axe to grind of sorts with Obama's foreign policy and for the most part, he makes a very good case throughout the book.

It was a fascinating read. It is easy to criticize things like foreign policy, which has so many moving parts and things that must be considered, from the outside. I am always more fascinated by those that have been on the front lines of making big decisions to see how they felt about the decisions that were made.

The book is broken down into different topical sections. I thought this worked really well for the subject matter in order not to overwhelm the reader. Although this book is filled with a lot of criticism for what the author sees as failings, I liked that the author also included other ways forward that should be considered by those that make and carry out foreign policy. I like books that stick with me long after the last page. This book gave me a lot to think about. It's a great read for those that have a keen interest in the difficult things that foreign policy makers face every day!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Review: The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Title: The Star Side of Bird Hill 
Author: Naomi Jackson 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Penguin
Publish Date: June 30, 2015 
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "After their mother can no longer care for them, young Phaedra and her older sister, Dionne, are exiled from Brooklyn to Bird Hill in Barbados to live with their grandmother Hyacinth, a midwife and practitioner of the local spiritual practice of obeah.

Dionne spends the summer in search of love, testing her grandmother's limits, and wanting to go home. Phaedra explores Bird Hill, where her family has lived for generations, accompanies her grandmother in her role as a midwife, and investigates their mother's mysterious life.

When the father they barely know comes to Bird Hill to reclaim his daughters, and both Phaedra and Dionne must choose between the Brooklyn they once knew and loved or the Barbados of their family."

My Two Cents:

"The Star Side of Bird Hill" is a coming of age story of two sisters who go to stay with their grandmother in Barbados after their mother, who is fighting demons of her own, can't take care of them. The sisters will deal with their new home in very different ways and the book really explores their feelings. This is a story about family and sisters and what it takes to overcome the most difficult circumstances.

The sisters deal with feeling abandoned in different ways with vastly different outcomes. Dionne is angry and acts out at every turn. At first, I wasn't sure what was driving Dionne's hot anger. It is just so intense. Eventually we find out that she is using her anger and acting out to hide her deep pain and fear. Phaedra acts completely different. She throws herself into learning what her grandmother will teach her about midwifery. It was so interested to see the juxtaposition.

The book takes a little while to take off but as we learn more about Phaedra and Dionne and what makes them tick, the book really hits a great stride. I enjoyed getting to know the characters through this book. This is Jackson's debut novel and this book made me excited to see what the future holds for her!


Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella

Title: Shopaholic to the Rescue
Author: Sophie Kinsella
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: The Dial Press
Publish Date: October 27, 2015
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Becky’s father Graham and her best friend’s husband, Tarquin, have disappeared from Los Angeles saying simply they have “something to take care of.”

But Tarquin’s wife Suze who is Becky’s best friend, and Becky’s mother Jane, are convinced the two men are hiding something and are in danger—their imaginations run wild. They must track them down!

Hijinks ensue as husband Luke drives Becky, daughter Minnie, Jane, Suze and other favorite Kinsella characters across country from LA to Las Vegas in search of the missing men.

Becky feels deeply guilty about ignoring her father while he was in LA, in addition Becky feels her enemy Alicia is threatening her friendship with Suze."

My Two Cents:

"Shopaholic to the Rescue" is book number eight in Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series. These books are so much fun. I've read every single one and they are like candy for the brain. In this book, Becky is trying to find her dad and her best friend's husband. Her best friend is mad at her and Becky can't quite figure out what's going on with her husband.

The book is fast paced and feels frazzled, which is extremely fitting for the book. There's a road trip and a crazy chase from place to place in the Western U.S. that holds down all of the things happening between the various characters. And if you know Becky, by now you know that frazzled is just a part of the territory. Which brings up a good point, this book is best for those that have read all or at least most of the prior Shopaholic books. If you haven't read them, you are going to be confused about the characters and all of the various relationships between all of the characters.

This is definitely a comfort read. I love that the characters feel so familiar to me now! Overall, this is a good pick for anyone looking for a funny book that has fallen in love with Becky the Shopaholic before!


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Author Guest Post: M.K. Tod

I am very excited to welcome M.K. Tod, author of "Time and Regret" here to A Bookish Affair today!

Essentials of a good mystery

My latest novel, Time and Regret, is a mystery, a very different genre from the historical fiction of my first two novels. And it’s written in two time periods – early 1990s and World War One – just to provide an added challenge. I stumbled on the story while sharing dinner and a bottle of wine with my husband at a quaint restaurant in northern France.

Once the decision was made to write it, I settled into the task of constructing a mystery. “Can’t be too difficult,” I kept muttering to myself. Well, actually, it can and here’s what I discovered.

Plot is everything. You have to have a great story; one that engages readers from the outset offering twists and turns and unexpected developments. For example, a character your readers expect to be the culprit dies before the novel ends. Or perhaps your heroine loses the very clue that promised to solve the mystery or her lover is revealed to be working against her.

Pacing must be high. Mystery lovers expect the story to build momentum and then for the action – those twists and turns – to remain in high gear. And there must be action! Too much interior musing will slow the story down. The hero has to be on the move with some sort of adventure happening while the mystery unfolds.

Tension has to build and build. Your heroine must experience danger and challenge. Conflicts and dead ends must occur. A clue or two – ones that readers think are meaningful – should turn out to be insignificant.

Characters can’t be boring. They need angst in their lives, personal dilemmas and demons and, like characters in any good novel, they need to change during the story. Their motivation for taking on the mystery must be clear.

The crime or triggering event has to occur early in the story. The sleuth and culprit also need to be introduced early and the crime has to be believable. No slow build up while readers get to know your characters. No extensive scene setting or backstory either.

The mystery must challenge most readers. Your story will fall flat if it’s too easy to figure out. Readers should wonder who did it for a long time. Readers should suspect someone only to find that person had nothing to do with the crime. And yet, the ultimate explanation for why the culprit has done the crime has to be simple.

Wait as long as possible before revealing the culprit. The reveal is your readers’ ultimate satisfaction. They don’t want a lot of story resolution after that occurs.

The culprit needs to be punished. Your readers expect justice and will be disappointed if that doesn’t occur.
Not surprisingly, I reconstructed the plot many times and wrote many drafts before being satisfied that Time and Regret hung together as a mystery. You’ll have to be the judge as to how well is satisfies these criteria.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review: Time and Regret by M.K. Tod

Title: Time and Regret
Author: M.K. Tod 
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Lake Union
Publish Date: August 16, 2016
Source: Author

What's the Story?:

From "When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her…

Through her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a man very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harboring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them."

My Two Cents:

"Time and Regret" is a story told in two different times. In the early 1990s, Grace is going through a messy divorce and is trying to put her life back together. She discovers diaries and a mysterious package left in her attic by her beloved grandfather. During World War I, Grace's grandfather, Martin, is fighting on the fields of France. What he experiences will change him forever. He keeps a detailed diary about all that he experiences including some secrets that he will keep for the rest of his life. Filled with many secrets, this book kept me on my toes.

The characters were fascinating. Grace becomes a vehicle for shedding light on all that Martin went through during the Great War but the author also infuses her with a lot of personality on her own, which I really enjoyed. Her personality and drive really come into their own as she realizes that there is someone just as driven as her trying to get to her grandfather's secret first. The action in the book really picks up as it goes along. I was incredibly drawn to Martin as I got to know him throughout the book. He is such an interesting character with a lot below the surface.

I loved the unraveling of the mystery in this book. It really kept me engaged and I loved seeing the trip that the author took us on. While I enjoyed the mystery, I enjoyed reading Martin's journal entries even more. The author packs a ton of historical detail in so you can feel all of the things that Martin is experiencing throughout the book. I love reading about WWI and you definitely get a good sense of just how much soldiers were expected to deal with during that time period. This is a satisfying book about family secrets that will be a treat for my fellow histfic lovers!


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

TLC Book Tours: Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff

Title: Secrets of Nanreath Hall
Author: Alix Rickloff
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: August 2, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Cornwall, 1940. Back in England after the harrowing evacuation at Dunkirk, WWII Red Cross nurse Anna Trenowyth is shocked to learn her adoptive parents Graham and Prue Handley have been killed in an air raid. She desperately needs their advice as she’s been assigned to the military hospital that has set up camp inside her biological mother’s childhood home—Nanreath Hall. Anna was just six years old when her mother, Lady Katherine Trenowyth, died. All she has left are vague memories that tease her with clues she can’t unravel. Anna’s assignment to Nanreath Hall could be the chance for her to finally become acquainted with the family she’s never known—and to unbury the truth and secrets surrounding her past.

Cornwall, 1913. In the luxury of pre-WWI England, Lady Katherine Trenowyth is expected to do nothing more than make a smart marriage and have a respectable life. When Simon Halliday, a bohemian painter, enters her world, Katherine begins to question the future that was so carefully laid out for her. Her choices begin to lead her away from the stability of her home and family toward a wild existence of life, art, and love. But as everything begins to fall apart, Katherine finds herself destitute and alone.

As Anna is drawn into her newfound family’s lives and their tangled loyalties, she discovers herself at the center of old heartbreaks and unbearable tragedies, leaving her to decide if the secrets of the past are too dangerous to unearth…and if the family she’s discovered is one she can keep."

My Two Cents:

"Secrets of Nanreath Hall" is a historical fiction tale told in two times. The first time is WWI where Kitty is the spoiled daughter of a titled family who falls in love with the proverbial "guy from the wrong side of the tracks." Her life is upended when she gets pregnant and is practically disowned from her family. The second time is WWII takes up Anna, Kitty's daughter, story. Anna's mother died when she was very young and she was left with a lot of questions. When chance sends her to her mother's family home to work as a nurse, Anna is hopeful that she will begin to unravel the mystery of her family and her origins. I love a good story about family secrets and this book definitely fits the bill.

I loved both Kitty and Anna. Their plights are very different. Although they are mother and daughter, their upbringings were very different. Kitty grew up extremely comfortable and Anna's life was much different. The contrast was really fantastic. Even though they grew up in such different environments, they still have the same ambitious, independent spirit. In books that take place in more than one time, I usually have a favorite. Because these characters are so strong, I enjoyed both parts of the book equally. I especially liked seeing how the author joined these characters together throughout the book.

WWI and WWII are two of my very favorite times to visit through books. I really liked that this book took place in both time periods. It was so interesting to see how Nanreath Hall changes throughout the book. During Kitty's time, it is a glorious house filled with riches that many can only dream of. During Anna's time, it has been turned into a hospital and has lost some of its luster during the war. I thought the author did a great job of showing the differences. 

Overall, this book had some good twists and turns that kept me guessing. According to Goodreads, this looks to be Rickloff's first plain ol' historical fiction and I will be on the look out for more. This book will appeal to those who like family secrets and vivid characters.

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