Sunday, September 7, 2014

Countdown City, by Ben H. Winters- Review

From Goodreads:
There are just 77 days to go before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank's days of solving crimes are over...until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace – an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.

I probably shouldn't start my review of the second book of a series of three with the words, this was my favourite one, but I'm gonna be all badass and do it- Countdown City was totally my favourite of the Last Policeman Series.

OK, now I'm going to be good and not muddy the waters with info on book three, we'll get there in good time (Wednesday, I totally wrote it first because I wanted to save the best for last, though there's no way I can publish these reviews this way, so hang tight).  

Once again Winters has set off his fantastic detective, Hank Palace, on what is sure to become the most impossible of adventures.  Despite the quickly deteriorating state of affairs, Palace is plugging along as your run of the mill police detective. He has his trusty notebook, his charming sidekick (Houdini of course,  McGully and Culverson are anything but charming), and he's ready to deal with crime, one at a time in the most orderly of ways he can possibly manage, and just turn a blind eye to societal breakdown.

Things go from bad, to much, much worse, pretty quickly, and it's looking grim when all hell truly breaks out. I won't go into anymore of it, for fear of spoilage, but suffice to say it was surprising, and full of plot twists and turns, the last one involving coffee, and really, if I could wish Hank anything it would be coffee, and probably some good kibble for Houdini, I worry about that dog.  Regardless, Winters managed to really take me unawares in ways I found both exciting and heart warming, and with the grim march towards the asteroid collision I really wasn't expecting any redemption, for anyone really. What I'm saying is, it really keeps this story going, having a bit of good mixed in.

One of the things I find especially enjoyable in these books, are the little windows into the lives of the people who do the right thing. Things are far from good, and most of society has basically thrown in the towel, but those who are trying to eke out the last bit of good, and pay it forward wherever possible- Hank's people really- are heartwarming, but also what keep these books from being hopelessly depressing. They are also, often, the source of small bits of humour.
"As circulation improves over the next couple weeks, you'll start to get a persistent tingling, and then you'll need physical therapy to work toward regular functioning. Then, around early October, a massive object will strike Earth and you will die."
Granted, the humour is a bit dark, but well, the books are a bit dark. A great follow up to the surprisingly enjoyable Last Policeman, Countdown City was a great read.  And I read it while visiting relatives, which is a distracting way to read at the best of times, but which can really wreck a mid range book for me, so obviously this book was well above the mid-range bar.  Such glowing praise, I know, but it's true, it takes a great book to whisk you away while you're in the middle of chaos.

Countdown City, by Ben H. Winters
Published by Quirk Books, July 16th, 2013
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Countdown City on Amazon

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski- Review

From Goodreads:
As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

I had heard rave reviews and tales of disappointment about this one.  But Kristin Cashore, whom I deeply respect, was one of the most prolific praiser's of this book (she did a talk with Marie in Boston that I was tempted to drive the 10 hrs for) so I decided it was a well placed risk.

I loved a great many things about this book, but the tone and Kestrels voice were the two most striking things.  Kestrel is too sensible by half, everything is a calculation, a clever tactic or a winning strategy to a rigged game. Exactly nothing is about dresses, looks or attractive boys. In her bet with her father, marriage is only a means to an end not a romantic fairytale of love and devotion. Watching Kestrel rise to the occasion in the midst of the most trying situation, battle with her unwanted feelings and play the game to the end was both satisfying and thoroughly unique in my reading of late. *side eye's Cassandra Clare's sagging bookshelf of books full of girls moping over boys and vice versa*

The tug between the two mains, Arin and Kestrel, their star crossed lovers conundrum, not to mention their honour and patriotism to their countrymen put them in situations that are both heart stopping and full of opportunities for these two brilliant teens to shine.  With the ending what it was I am both dreading and dying for the next part in this series. I can't even imagine where it might take me as a reader, a refreshing twist that is rare for someone who always has their nose in a book.

Not at all your usual brand of romantic teen fantasy/alternate history, expect to be never quite sure about any ones intentions or emotions, instead be ready for a fast paced narrative full of twists and turns and you shouldn't be disappointed.

The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski
Published by Farrar Straus Giroux, March 4th, 2014

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

City of Heavenly Fire, by Cassandra Clare- Review

From Goodreads:
Sebastian Morgenstern is on the move, systematically turning Shadowhunter against Shadowhunter. Bearing the Infernal Cup, he transforms Shadowhunters into creatures out of nightmare, tearing apart families and lovers as the ranks of his Endarkened army swell.

The embattled Shadowhunters withdraw to Idris - but not even the famed demon towers of Alicante can keep Sebastian at bay. And with the Nephilim trapped in Idris, who will guard the world against demons?

When one of the greatest betrayals the Nephilim have ever known is revealed, Clary, Jace, Isabelle, Simon, and Alec must flee - even if their journey takes them deep into the demon realms, where no Shadowhunter has set foot before, and from which no human being has ever returned...

I have seesawed on this series many, many times over the six books. In many ways the story has stretched too thin. Clary and Jace are so overdone I was more inclined to laugh then swoon by the time she finally got to the BIG sex scene that she's been erotically building to for the ENTIRE series. Seriously, some of the scenes have read like bad outtakes from 50 Shades
-a chaste press of lips to lips at first, but it deepened quickly, and soon he was parting her lips with his, tongue stroking into her mouth, and she could taste him: the sweetness of Jace spiked with the bite of champagne.
Let me break down why this was more of an eye-roller than a swoon maker for me.

  1. Tongue stroking into her mouth, makes it sound like he's petting a cat or doing laps in a pool. I'm pretty sure this was one of the many times Clare used a word like stroking thinking it eroticised an otherwise tame make out scene. She can have a pretty horny fan base, and I'm guessing they're demanding, but seriously. No tongue stroking. Not unless you're going for the full 50 Shades of description in a much more graphic scene 
  2. This is going to sound catty, but again, if you're going for this kind of description, think it through. Jace and Clary have just been through a wedding, and possibly, though this part is a bit unclear, the wedding dinner. Although Jace is never described as a big eater, I'm thinking that hunting demons and trudging through levels of hell takes a toll on someones breath. So to say he tasted sweet and to imply that it's his natural taste, yah, I'm not buying it. Taste like breath mints, I can see that, or sweet like cake after, you know, eating cake, but I'm pretty sure most humans don't naturally taste sweet on the inside of their mouths.
  3.  Finally, the very worst part of this for me, was the fact it was page 699 and she was still wasting my time with clandestine Clary and Jace kisses. Boring.
Which brings me to my next point, this book needed some serious editing.  I know what it was she was trying to do, so don't yell at me. It was none to subtle that she was wrapping up these characters, while trying to sell the next trilogy to the fan base, all while trying to tie in the Clockwork Angel series. But what it really did was make this book too long, stretch across too many POV's and start to make her world seem really incestuous.  I mean really, you want to make one character, several generations removed, show a likeness to another charter, fine. When you start to try and show character traits in everyone from their predecessors, weird. Especially because these kids are now so mixed they are incredibly removed from the characters in Clockwork Angel, not to mention they're parents don't remind Tessa and Jem of anyone. It's a gimmick, and like so much in this series, it was overused to the point of loosing it's intended effect.

Also, back to the point of the lack of editing, this book had the always charming, 300 endings. They won the war and survived, crushing but YAY! The accords meeting and Jace and Clary running off to scatter Jonathan's ashes, epilogue one. They go back for Simon (SPOILER ALERT!), epilogue the second. The wedding, officially ending number two. The Tessa "talk" epilogue to ending two. Helen leaving and Jules and Emma's big, but not big, moment about being parabati? Teaser to The Dark Artifices, or chapter one of that book. EVERYTHING ELSE?! (Yes! There WAS more!!) boring nattering that went nowhere, but dragged out every little mini ending that were each boring in their own way already.

And this business with the Clave. Come on. Clare has spent wayyy too many books building every generation of the Clave into a heinous, intractable, oblivious set of monstrous adults.  I'm starting to really wonder about this whole society of Shadowhunters. Honestly, talking of tropes she's reused overmuch, this one has done nothing but alienate me from the society she wants me to keep reading about in two more trilogies!

Finally, and this one is my ultimate peeve, this entire series is about a group of people who lead a life with a high rate of death. So far, in 9 books there have been 3 serious wars. In this final part, two minor characters die.
That. Is. It.
Simon's loss to the group could have been the catastrophic thing, maybe. But Clare couldn't leave it be, and so in the end he only really benefited from their trip to hell and back. He's not even going to be a vampire any more, which was half of what made him interesting!

An underwhelming and overly long book, Clary managed to bleed everything I loved about this series out. The tension was beaten to death, the amusing repartee was forced and there was really zero left to discover about these characters, all there was left was to end it already. And even worse, the introduction of Emma and Jules only cemented the fact that I don't care about her characters anymore. How sad is that? She has been quoted as saying that she didn't feel confident she could write MG characters (while talking about her co-writing project with Holly Black), and I have to say, she should not have confidence at all in her ability to write believable MG kids. Emma and Jules were supposed to be 12, and Jules younger brother was supposed to be 10, but she wrote him like a 6 year old. And Emma and Jules ranged back and forth from being every bit as "mature" as Clary and co., to being babyish. 12 is a difficult age, granted, but she missed the mark, while also making these kids to troubled and angsty too appeal to me.

Alas, I am clearly over my Cassandra Clare phase.

City of Heavenly Fire, by Cassandra Clare
Published by Margaret K. McElderry, May 27th, 2014
Buy City of Heavenly Fire on Amazon

Saturday, August 16, 2014

June illustrated in Cakes and other food endeavours, with commentary on Bake it Like you Mean It by Gesine Bullock-Prado

June was an insanely crazy month for me. It was my husbands first fathers day, on the same day as his birthday, it was my daughters first birthday, it was the last few weeks of my mat leave before returning back to work, my mom was visiting and then it ended with my mothers 60th birthday. A lot of milestones, right? So clearly, this meant a lot of fancy cakes.

To back track a little, I've always really loved baking. My grandmother was a fabulous baker, and taught me early that there was nothing as joyful as baking a treat to brighten someones day. Towards the end of my pregnancy there was a running joke that my husband and I were on the cake diet. It involved eating cake, every day, sometimes twice a day, and if you didn't think that worked for you it was just because you hadn't given it long enough to pan out.  So it was hardly surprising that after Sybil was born I felt compelled to up my game in the cake department. I started perusing fancy cake cookbooks, looking for ones that would be good standbys for birthdays and lazy Saturdays with my little girl. Granted, it was premature, she was only a few weeks old, but I was already imagining us baking together, covering the kitchen in cookie dough and flour and driving her dad crazy.

Bake it Like you Mean It was the clear winner. The cakes were both opulent and fancy, plus the writer promised results no matter what your baking background.  It had a range of cakes and other pastries, and it seemed to have a good mix of diabolically difficult and more manageable recipes.

I started simple, a few months after first getting the book, and made the Chocolate Nutella Mousse from the Chocolate Nutella Pave recipe. It was amazing, and I liked that she broke apart the recipe so there were simple ways to tackle it a bit at a time. I made it while my dad was visiting, over the course of one of then 2 month old Sybil's naps. Totally do-able.

obviously her picture, not mine!
The second recipe I attempted was the Krapfen, a sort of Jelly filled donut of types. It was a few months later, my brother-in-laws birthday, and I wanted something a bit special for earlier in the day as I was making a dairy free/gluten free cake for the afternoon and wasn't sure how it would turn out.  This recipe was much more involved.  It was a success and everyone else really enjoyed it, but I wasn't crazy about the vegetable oil flavour from frying, and thought I would change it to peanut oil if I attempted it again.  Honestly, I had made simpler donuts before and was more impressed by the flavour.

Then there was a large break where I became so sleep deprived no amount of convincing could make me attempt her more complex recipes, until the hubbies birthday/fathers day event started looming.  In May I handed him the cookbook with the task of picking something delicious for me to treat him with.  He picked two recipes, a Black Pepper and Black Cherry Marble Cheesecake, and a Walnut Coffee-Cream Torte.  We ended up going with the Torte as the Cheesecake used an enormous amount of goat cheese and I really didn't want to go bankrupt baking it.
much messier, obviously my picture!

The Torte was divine.  It was also insanely decedent, with nearly 2.5 dozen eggs, more than a pound of butter and a pound of walnuts, plus vanilla bean paste. It actually has two kinds of butter cream, a coffee butter cream and a chocolate coffee butter cream with a coffee simple syrup on the cakes as well.  It took 3 or 4 hours to bake and assemble it all, but was well worth it.  We were glad we hadn't invited anyone over to celebrate (awkward birthday day, fathers day) since it meant we had the cake all to ourselves.
clearly not my picture.

For Sybil's birthday I really wanted a coloured cake. She was turning one and I figured I should be as simple and visual as possible. Bullock-Prado's rainbow cake was ridiculously complex, so I went with's Purple Ombre Sprinkle Cake.  It was a simple vanilla layer cake with jam and salted butter cream and it was beautiful. However, the Sprinkles were a B*tch to put on and took some insane amount of time (possibly 1.5hrs? I was watching t.v. and cursing out the blogger for not mentioning how awful that part was). That being said the cake was a tremendous hit with both guests and the wee one and it was both awesomely delicious and gorgeous. Though you'll notice less sprinkles on my cake since it was looking dire for the cakes survival if I continued trying to get them to stick to the icing.
mmmmmmm pretty cake.

Finally it was my mom's turn. It was her 60th birthday and I had to somehow top her 50th (when we payed an extraordinary amount of money on a substandard meal at Sassafraz in Yorkville so she could feel like a movie star. She's very into that sort of thing) without spending so much. I made Weber's Cajun Bourbon Beef Tenderloin (outstandingly delicious), parsley butter lobster tails, and baby king oyster mushrooms and paired it with this yummy french sparkling wine. Sadly Sybil had a bed time melt-down and the eating of was not luxurious, so no pictures!  

For her cake, I also handed her Bake it like you Mean it, and like Ryan, she picked two recipes. One that was diabolically hard and had about a million elements to it the Caramel Macadamia Carousel and the second a Truffle Caramel Fig Cake. Before I talk about this cake, let me quote you a bit from the recipe:
If you are still stumped as to whether I mean truffle as in mushroom or truffle as in chocolate confection, let me assure you: I am referring to the fungus. But give this unique cake a chance, and you'll experience it's surprising harmony for yourself.
It seemed very weird, but my mom was into it, and Bullock-Prado was emphatic it was tasty, sooooo, I invested in an 18$ bottle of truffle oil, a case of figs and all the usual over the top butter and egg allotments that seem to be standard in one of these cakes.

The figs were cut up and mixed into the cake batter as well as sliced and used to hold in the carmel sauce between the 3 layers of cake. So far, so good. Bullock-Prado called for 3 tablespoons of truffle oil in the batter, and I hadn't really thought about it, until the woman in the specialty store I bought it in commented that it was A LOT of truffle oil.  The minute I opened the bottle I knew this wasn't going to work for me. The fug of the oil was not something I would ever call delectable and certainly would never have reason to think it would be good in something sweet.  But I kept the faith and soldiered on thinking, 'the smell will die off in baking surely'. And then 'well I'm sure the figs and carmel sauce will even out the flavour', and later 'GOD how am I ever going to get that smell out of my cake tupperware?!'. My mom tried to convince me that she thought it was good, likely out of feelings of guilt, but she didn't finish her piece either the first or the second night, saying she was 'too full', which is something I'm pretty sure I've never heard her say about one of my cakes before.

All in all it was an expensive cake fail, and also one that now makes my stomach turn when I think of truffle oil. I feel like this cake needed to come with a strong warning that it was a particular taste. Or, you know, not have made the cut for the cookbook at all. One or the other.

Alas, they can't all be winners, or it just wouldn't be baking, would it?

Bake it like you mean it, by Gesine Bullock-Prado
Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, January 1st, 2013
Buy Bake It Like You Mean It: Gorgeous Cakes from Inside Out on Amazon

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Night is Found, by Kat Kruger, Review, Giveaway and Blog Tour!

From Goodreads:
When they tried to kill a prince, they made a king

In the aftermath of his pack leader’s assassination Connor Lewis is ready to take control. Rodolfus de Aquila’s plan before he died was to unite the European werewolf packs against their common enemies: the Hounds of God who make the laws and enforce them ruthlessly with questionable motives, and the Luparii, an intergovernmental group of werewolf hunters now bent on the extermination of his kind. The uneasy alliance between these two factions has fallen apart, and now a battle wages leaving the pack werewolves scrambling to escape bio-chemical warfare on one side, and total domination on the other.

After hearing rumors of a union between the American packs Connor returns with Amara to his home city of New York to learn how to bring the Old World packs together. Werewolf society in the New World has taken a very different course from that of Europe, but when Connor meets the American leaders he begins to question if their ways are, in fact, the path forward.

A world away from Madison, Arden, and all those that he is trying to protect, Connor must discover the secret to uniting and leading the packs under one final charge, or else risk extinction for their entire species in the epic conclusion to The Magdeburg Trilogy.

This series has been one of the strongest paranormal sagas I have ever read. Kat has taken the mythology of werewolves and given it a hierarchy and royalty every bit as enticing as Anne Rice's vampire empire but with more nuanced intrigue and much less sexual drama.  The power struggles are complex and keep you on your toes, the characters are rich, complicated yet totally lovable, even when they're impossible (cough, cough,*Madison and Arden*), and best of all, there is never a dull moment.  Her momentum from book one, straight through the series, is rampant with excitement, shocking reveals and thought provoking dilemmas.

I think one of the problems I have with paranormal stories, versus fantasy stories, is the tendency for authors to get carried away with slightly Gothic horror aspect, whereas on the flip side, fantasy tends to ground it's stories in familiar politics and power struggles. Kruger uses both elements to her benefit in this series. Her play on the born wolf versus the bitten monsters is nothing short of horrifying but the politics on how these two groups co-exist is what keeps it from getting kitschy and predictable. In fact, the dynamics of all the groups involved, scientists, Luparii, Hounds of God and the packs, wild or otherwise, drives book three into the most complex of the three plot-lines. Which you wouldn't think would work with the relentless action, but the two play off each other in an exciting way where you're not just rushing through action scenes but taking breaks to let all the implications sink in.

But most satisfying of all, Kruger has written some of the most dynamic and deeply complicated characters I've ever found all in one place. I fell deeply in love with many of them, which left me decided mopey when it came time for the casualties to start to fall.  Once again though, her war had unexpected sacrifices, which left the reader with much to mull over.  I can't help but think that there is much more to be told in this world, if not by Connor, then by others. So I'm going to cross my fingers and hope that one day, more of it will trickle out.

An intensely satisfying conclusion to a series I've loved from the get-go, the Magdeburg Trilogy will be the top of my recommended reading list for some time to come. As soon as I've gifted myself with a full set of these beautiful books in all their paper and ink glory.

But don't take my word for it! Enter for your chance to win one digital set of the full trilogy! Just be warned, it's a gateway drug and you'll want to buy the full books once you're done. Open internationally, enter below to win! Extra entries if you tweet the contest, follow Fierce Ink or Kat Kruger on Twitter or blurb this blog tour or contest somewhere else online (your facebook page, or your blog for example). Contest closes July 30th at midnight.

The Night is Found, by Kat Kruger
Published by Fierce Ink Press, July 22nd, 2014
Pre-order your copy! 
E-arc kindly provided by the publisher

Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Child is a Sleep Terrorist and Other Tales

Oh blog, you lonely little creature.  How I fondly pet your ears as I walk by, promising to sit down and get down to it any minute now, month after month. How determinedly you wait for me, I don't deserve you.

So, I've been on mat leave, and now vacation for 13 months as of Monday, when I head back to the shocking world of waking up to an alarm clock other than my child.  To say I drastically underestimated the impending extreme lack of sleep, is an understatement.  Lucky me, I got one of the 1 in a million children who has sleep issues long after the 6 month mark, and boy howdy, does she have sleep issues!  Sadly this has taken up enormous amounts of my energy, energy I had hoped to use in updating my blog once in awhile.  Of course I've had a few blips where she's been sleeping better and I've suddenly been able to take on the world, so it hasn't been dead silent, but I still have a staggering amount of review catch up to do.

All the same I thought it was long past due for me to drop in and say a personal hello, and more importantly, thank you for still coming by periodically! You're dedication to my blog has been a lovely rosy glow in my often chaotic days.

I won't lie, I'm pretty sure the cats miss being dressed up almost as much as you miss seeing them (oh please, you know you do).

With work starting on Monday I'm hoping that my increased structure will lead to more blog posts, though they may be a bit hair-brained due to increased (oh god, how will I survive!) lack of sleep.  Until then, I leave you with my now 1 year old cutie pie. Sybil says hi, and also I love you all, come over and I'll charm you into forgetting how disruptive and troublesome I am!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

In the Shadows, by Kiersten White and Jim Di Bartolo- Review

From Goodreads:
Cora and Minnie are sisters living in a small, stifling town where strange and mysterious things occur. Their mother runs the local boarding house. Their father is gone. The woman up the hill may or may not be a witch.

Thomas and Charles are brothers who’ve been exiled to the boarding house so Thomas can tame his ways and Charles can fight an illness that is killing him with increasing speed. Their family history is one of sorrow and guilt. They think they can escape from it . . . but they can’t.

From the moment I heard this was coming down the line I was excited about it. I love nothing more than a book with art in it, and the idea of mixing a silent graphic novel with a  regular novel deeply intrigued me. Of course having a wonderful artist attached to a project such as this makes it a given that it's going to be beautiful, but there was always the possibility it might be more gimmick then strong story telling.

Like Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, I was delighted to see the story make ideal use of its graphic portions so that the writing and images not only meshed together really well but they also augmented each other.  For most of the book, the reader is guessing at what's going on in the graphic portion. Although it is clear it's tied into the story, it's impossible to tell who anyone is, what exactly is going on and how it ties to the time frame of the written story. Because although the graphic portion jumps through time, the written portion doesn't, and unlike the graphic bits, the time period in the written part is never explicitly given.

The overall effect was one of deep mystery, and I loved having a constant string of speculation as to who I was following in the images and what his goal was (he clearly was chasing down something as well as a variety of someones but there were no clear whys). The final reveal at the end was shocking and so exciting I doubled back to re- "read" all the illustrated bits.

Beautifully executed, and a page turning read, I highly recommend you add this one to your growing summer reads pile. You won't be disappointed.

In the Shadows, By Kiersten White, and Jim Di Bartolo
Published by Scholastic, April 29th, 2014