Lily is a student in Argentina for a semester. She is enamored with the culture, but feels unwelcome and uncomfortable in her host home, and her roomm...moreLily is a student in Argentina for a semester. She is enamored with the culture, but feels unwelcome and uncomfortable in her host home, and her roommate Katy is a bit of a drag. She becomes friendly with the odd, isolated young neighbor next door.
Sebastian, a wealthy diplomat's son, lost his parents when he was a teenager and now lives the life of a hermit, rarely leaving his neglected, dark and depressing mansion of sorts.
Several weeks later, Katy is found brutally murdered, and Lily is the prime suspect arrested in her murder.
The author clarifies that, while inspired by Amanda Knox, this story is entirely fictional.
This book alternates viewpoints, so one minute Lily seems to be a self-absorbed and thoughtless brat, and the next when you see it through her own eyes you think maybe she is those things, but also just a little misunderstood.
Sebastian is a very odd character that I just couldn't understand. Whether I was seeing him through his own eyes or those of someone else, I was totally confused over what is motivation was for his bizarre behavior.
Katy is a rather studious and serious girl. She's thoughtful and self-aware. She's something of the antithesis of Lily. Her death is shocking to everyone. While Lily might go to nightclubs and worked at a local restaurant, Katy was quiet and seemed to always have her nose in a book. She is the last person you would expect to find murdered.
This book unfurls like a Dateline murder mystery, piece by piece, first one view then another. You lean this way with one person’s view, and then another person’s view of the exact same event has you feeling totally different about it all. There really is a Gone Girl aspect to this book.
My final word: This was my first Jennifer duBois novel, and I would definitely read her again. Everything in this story is interwoven. One thing mentioned at one point will be addressed again later from a different perspective, and you think “Oh” in wonder as you realize your initial assessment is all wrong. It had great suspense. With only 70 pages left in the story, I still wasn’t sure “whodunit”. It definitely has a Gone Girl feel to it. However, unlike in Gone Girl, where the characters were so unlikable I just wanted to finish it to get away from them, with this novel, I wanted to reach the end to find out what happened! Peculiar, uncustomary and provocative, I've gotta recommend this one!(less)
This book is full of temptation. However what disappointed me was the fact that most of the recipes seemed too complicated and time-consuming for me....moreThis book is full of temptation. However what disappointed me was the fact that most of the recipes seemed too complicated and time-consuming for me. I don't generally have much patience when it comes to dessert. It would be a great addition to a baker's cookbook collection, but baking is something I am not overly fond of. I would rather make custards and puddings and the like, and this book is light on that sort of thing. Still it does what it does well.(less)
The year is 1828 and Agnes Magnusdottir, along with two others, has been condemned to die by beheading for the murders of two men. But the government...moreThe year is 1828 and Agnes Magnusdottir, along with two others, has been condemned to die by beheading for the murders of two men. But the government has spent too much money on the axe to be used for the beheadings, and they can't afford the upkeep of the prisoners until their execution. So Agnes is sent from the prison to the home of Jon Jonsson of Kornsa, the District Officer of Vatnsdalur, and his wife Margret. They are ordered, as part of his duty as District Officer, to take charge of Agnes until the date of her execution. The family is not happy about these orders, but feel they have no choice but to perform their duty.
This novel is a fictional story based on actual events. As the author explains in her Author's Notes: "Agnes Magnusdottir was the last person to be executed in Iceland, convicted for her role in the murders of Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson on the night between the 13th and 14th of March 1828, at Illugastadir, on the Vatnsnes Peninsula, North Iceland." Many of the events int he book are drawn from local history and lore.
Little by little, the life of Agnes is laid bare to the reader, and as heartbreaking as it is, you realize that it is nothing uncommon. This is the life of orphans and paupers.
However this novel is uncommon. It's a modest story, slowly pulling you in, absorbing you bit by bit. It is heart-wrenching at moments, and you yearn for Agnes to find some relief from her fear, and to find love and affection.
Agnes is returned to Kornsa, where she had a family for awhile in her childhood, and gains a family again before her death. She was fostered as a young girl by Inga and Bjorn until Inga died.
Agnes requests as her spiritual attendant Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jonsson, otherwise known as Toti. He is unclear why Agnes has requested him, and is uncomfortable with the assignment. He is still in training, and nervous about attending to a murderess. But he, like the Kornsa family, performs his duty as ordered.
Toti and Agnes form a bond as he permits her to pour out her soul and rehash her past.
One of my few complaints is that I would have liked to have seen more development in the relationships between Agnes and the family members. I would have liked to have felt warmth between them growing, and her opening up to them. Her relationship with them remained rather stilted.
My final word: This was one of those gentle reads, at times so entrancing it is almost hypnotic, like being rocked to sleep. Affective and sensitive, it moved me and it is beautifully lyrical. I would consider this novel to be rare and extraordinary, and it will carry you along to the bitter end, if you allow it, with tears streaming down your face as you take those final steps. But you aren't alone. Agnes is with you.(less)
So, the idea behind this book is to offer up some side options a little more interesting than the standard old rice and potato choices. Utilizing inte...moreSo, the idea behind this book is to offer up some side options a little more interesting than the standard old rice and potato choices. Utilizing interesting ingredients like couscous, chard, gouda and kumquats, this is not your usual fare for weeknight dinner!
The book discusses how to choose your sides, touching on things like texture, balance, and seasonality, and even provides a chart of pairings for your choice of protein or entree, where you will find suggestions like Arugula with Sugar Cranberries and Pancetta or Baby Spinach with Oranges and Manchego for Chicken, and Butter Lettuce with Ribbons and Chives or Panfried Chapatis for Fish and Seafood.
The chapters are then divided into sections like Brunches and Luncheons, Weeknight Dinners, and Warm-Weather Cookouts.
I made a couple of the recipes the other night for a birthday dinner. I decided to go with the Strawberry Feta Salad, and the Charred Asparagus with Shaved Parmesan, as well as some Sweet and Savory Onions and Mushrooms.
The salad was fresh and sweet, with greens and strawberries, scallions, feta and almonds. The asparagus turned out very tender, roasted in the oven, drizzled with fresh lemon juice and topped with Parmesan. And I loved the mushrooms and onions, which were sauteed up with vinegar and sugar. This gave them a sweet and tangy flavor that made a nice addition to our burgers (well, my veggie burger).
My final word: This cookbook sets out to offer you more interesting and creative options for dinner, and it succeeds. It includes beautiful pictures and easy-to-follow recipes, and suggestions for entree accompaniments.The cookbook feels a little...stilted, I guess, or as if something is being held back. A little choppy. But overall I found it to be a success in what it is trying to accomplish. Well done!(less)
This book may be a guide to helping gardeners coexist with wildlife, but it doesn’t read like a reference manual. It is almost like a memoir of the li...moreThis book may be a guide to helping gardeners coexist with wildlife, but it doesn’t read like a reference manual. It is almost like a memoir of the life of a gardener.
It is full of wonderful ideas for attracting wildlife to your garden, and living cordially with them when you succeed.
The author suggests keeping a “nature journal”. The author will sit in the garden with the journal and jot down her observations-- what she did (fertilizing, trimming, planting), what she saw, problems noted-- so she can see how her actions affect the garden, and what changes she may need to make. She also notes wildlife spotted, and what can be done to keep them coming around without causing conflict in the garden, or where they may need to be deterred.
The author also gives examples of how nature will take care of things, if you just leave it alone and allow it. She relays an example of discovering horned tomato caterpillars. But when viewing them with a magnifying glass, she then noticed little white rice-shaped bits on the backs of the caterpillars. She realized that parasitic wasps had laid eggs on the caterpillars, and those eggs had hatched into larvae which were now feeding on the caterpillars. Problem solved!
If you are a gardener, or if you enjoy welcoming wildlife into your yard, but want to avoid conflict with it, this book is for you! Interspersed with charming, homey illustrations, it is like taking a walk with the author through her backyard while she teaches you a thing or two about nature and living harmoniously with it.(less)
We read this book for my book club, and it was my first exposure to author Lisa Unger. One of my issues with this book is the constantly changing pers...moreWe read this book for my book club, and it was my first exposure to author Lisa Unger. One of my issues with this book is the constantly changing perspective. This person to that person to this person to that person. I always have trouble with shifting perspectives. There is always a moment of disorientation as I realize that someone else is now speaking, and have to figure out who it is. Add to that the fact that it would shift from past to present, and I found myself often left confused.
I began the book enjoying the first half. It was gripping, keeping me turning the pages, wondering what would happen next.
At moments I loved the turn of a phrase and where the author was taking me, but then the last half of the book took over, and the story just wound up sort of preposterous.
This book wound up just being sort of "okay" for me.(less)
NOTE: While I don't think this review has any major spoilers, it does have more revelations than I normally include.
This story begins through the eye...moreNOTE: While I don't think this review has any major spoilers, it does have more revelations than I normally include.
This story begins through the eyes of Dana Lynn, a young girl of color being raised in relatively poor circumstances. She and her mother don't live in poverty, but they are surviving on a single mother's nursing salary. As the first line in the book states quite bluntly, Dana's father is a bigamist, already married to another woman and yet married to her mother as well.
The book reveals Dana's life with her mother Gwen, and what she knows of the life of her father's other family with his wife Laverne and other daughter Chaurisse. It was fascinating to see the story through Dana’s eyes, and to build your impression of Chaurisse and her mother and everything else through Dana, and then to suddenly have that shift a little over halfway through the story, and see things from Chaurisse’s perspective. I loved that about this story.
Dana's mother Gwen married young, a boy she knew from middle school. She married him after graduation, and they divorced a couple of years later. Working a store counter, she met James Witherspoon one day while he was looking for a gift for his wife. Within a year after her divorce, she was living in a rooming house and pregnant with a married man's child.
So Gwen has her baby and puts herself through school to become a nurse. Shortly after Dana's birth, James and Gwen marry in a neighboring state. Dana is raised knowing from a young age about her father's other family, and getting the sense that she must spend her life playing second fiddle to sister Chaurisse.
However sister Chaurisse and the family know nothing of Dana and her mother. It isn't until grandmother Bunny is on her deathbed that her grandmother is finally told of Dana, and Dana is brought to meet her.
Bunny was my favorite character, as brief as she was in the story. She wished her boys would have told her sooner of Dana's existence, and that she'd had time to get to know her.
I read this one for my book club, and the consensus was that the characters weren't very likable. In fact, one woman in the group really disliked this book! It's one of those books that can just leave a bad taste in your mouth, because you are so frustrated with the characters and the way they handle the events in their lives.
And father James, while you give him credit for trying to be a part of his "illegitimate" daughter's life, you see the unfairness of it all. Dana is always given second best. She gets her father one day a week while here sister gets him every day. Throughout her life she has to sacrifice her wants for that of her sister (when her sister wants a summer job at the same place as Dana or wants to attend the same program, it is Dana that must forfeit her desire). And while her father and his wife Laverne make a good living and are able to provide their daughter Chaurisse with a comfortable life that include debutante balls, Dana lives in the projects, being raised on her mother's salary and whatever scraps her father tosses their way.
James' brother Raleigh is sort of likable, but his general inaction and silence in the face of what his brother is doing to Dana and her mother is infuriating at times. He is his brother's accomplice in his duplicity, and James could not have pulled off the dual lives (one public and one secret) without Raleigh, who is even named as Dana's father on her birth certificate.
Aside from the story content or writing style, I was surprised at the poor formatting of the ebook. There were a lot of typos and I could swear there were missing passages. There were strange stilted endings to chapters. Others in my book club agreed that some of the chapters ended rather abruptly.
My final word: This book was "okay". I enjoyed the unique dual perspective, I was intrigued by the concept. But when it came down to it, I just didn't like the characters very much. Bunny was the only one I really cared for, and the daughter Chaurisse and uncle Raleigh I liked a bit. The writing style was okay, but not thoroughly engaging. It gets an "eh" from me. Kind of intriguing, but the characters are ultimately unlikable.(less)
This is the story of three women, held captive and tortured for years by a sadist, and now 10 years free and still attempting to deal with the results...moreThis is the story of three women, held captive and tortured for years by a sadist, and now 10 years free and still attempting to deal with the results of their ordeal. One of the women is on a quest to find out what happened to her friend Jennifer, the fourth girl who died during their captivity.
Of course, first I must state the obvious and point out the crazy coincidence that this book was released right around the time that the three girls were rescued in Cleveland after ten years of captivity.
The story was intriguing. And at times the writing could be quite engaging. However one thing that really bugged me was the dialogue between the girls. It felt unauthentic, stiff and formal. Usually I am a dialogue reader-- it's what I prefer. Not this time. I came to dread the dialogue, as everything else in the story was so much better written. And there were times the story was just plain preposterous.
My final word: This story had its moments. It wasn't generally gratuitously violent or gory. (Considering the context, I feared I may be walking into something like the movie "Hostel", and was happy to see it was not.) Some of the writing was pretty good, and the story kept me guessing, wondering what would come next. There was a nice twist at the end that made the story ultimately satisfying. But I struggled with the dialogue and some of the characters, and some things were just plain ridiculous. I recommend this book, but not without reservations.(less)
This is the fictional story of scientist Norton Perina's adventures in the fictional islands of U'ivu, the research that developed from his time there...moreThis is the fictional story of scientist Norton Perina's adventures in the fictional islands of U'ivu, the research that developed from his time there, his ethical breaches, awkward social relationships, and unsettling personal life. This book begs the question...
"If a great man does unspeakable things, is he still a great man?"
This book is loosely drawn fromt he life of Nobel laureate Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who won a Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 for his work on the infectious brain disease kuru, which was prevalent among the South Fore people of New Guinea, and who was later convicted of child molestation in 1996.
Norton was something of a scientific misfit, not respected among his peers, young and inexperienced. Then one day he is sent to the remote Micronesian country of U'ivu, for what reason he does not know. He soon discovers that he is to assist anthropologist Paul Tallent, who is searching for a mysterious tribe that lives on Ivu'ivu, the most remote of the islands of U'ivu.
While on the island, they discover this "forgotten" tribe of U'ivuans on the island of Ivu'ivu who appear to have abnormally long lifespans that are triple the norm or longer, living 200 or 300 years or more. And Norton theorizes that their long life is connected to their ingestion of a certain turtle. However the same individuals who live extraordinarily long lives are also lost to a serious mental degradation that leaves them stumbling around with severe cases of a condition resembling Alzheimer's.
This book follows Norton over the decades, shifting from his childhood to his professional life, and then ending on a more personal note.
Considering that this novel is written in the form of a memoir, you have to give the fictional character of Norton Perina credit for his honesty. He is unabashed, as a child, in his frank exposure of himself, his thoughts and motivations. He is unapologetic. Well, occasionally he makes excuses, blaming everyone but himself. Other times he accepts responsibility for events, but doesn't really apologize for them. He is simply stating the way it was.
Later on Norton begins adopting children from the islands of U'ivu, as things there begin to degrade. Eventually he adopts a total of something like 40 children, offering them a chance at a better life.
My final word: I found this story to be intriguing, and it kept me wondering how it would all play out. However I found it did read something like the scientific memoir it was presented as. None of the characters are especially likable, but the story keeps pulling you along, dying to know how this will all play out. By the end of the story, as you are welcomed into Norton's personal life, you find yourself squirming in your seat, sort of uncomfortable in your own skin, almost physically cringing. Was it a fun read? No. At moments it could be touching or beautiful, but often it was awkward, uncomfortable, disturbing and a little stiff. But it was also fascinating, peculiar, and felt almost "profound". I really enjoyed it, despite being left with a bad aftertaste. It's an unsettling story, but read it anyway.(less)
This book briefly covers the life of Fahim Fazli in Afghanistan, but mostly covers his escape from Afghanistan as a refugee, his struggle to achieve s...moreThis book briefly covers the life of Fahim Fazli in Afghanistan, but mostly covers his escape from Afghanistan as a refugee, his struggle to achieve success in Hollywood, and his desire to serve both his adopted country and his native land as a linguist with the Marines in Afghanistan.
Born in Afghanistan, Fahim found himself attempting to survive in a country where he risked relocation to Russia for "re-education". At 12 years of age, he was living in a city invaded by Russia. He, his father and his younger brother had not heard from his mother, older brother or sisters for four years, as they had already escaped to the U.S. Fahim's father Jamil made the decision to take his boys to Pakistan, with hopes of later making it to America.
It was a trek fraught with danger, and there were some near misses. Much of their escape was done on foot, guided by a "coyote", a person who guides people out of the country for a fee. In Peshawar, Fahim found himself faced with armed Taliban fighters patrolling the streets with AK-47s. Once in Peshawar, Fahim was eager to get to America.
You feel for the woman who gave birth to Fahim. Born in a male-dominated country, married off at the age of 16, she is described as an intelligent and driven woman who wanted to be a doctor in a country where women are doomed to lives as housewives and maids and never anything more-- without choice. A woman with strong opinions and desires, she was always at odds with Fahim's father, and there was much yelling and fighting in the Fazli household when Fahim was growing up.
However the woman was no saint. Raised in a culture that believes that "Number One Son" is the favorite, and "Number Two Son" is the "Miserable Son", she could be brutal and cruel in her words to her second son Fahim at times. But there was a lot about her to respect, and she was very beloved by her son.
Fahim was raised with a heavy hand, as is common in Afghanistan. I remember author Andrea Busfield once describing in her book Born Under a Million Shadows (which takes place in Afghanistan) that "...in the streets the adults beat boys, the boys beat smaller boys, and everyone beats donkeys and dogs."
My final word: Fahim brings better understanding to the issue of the Taliban and what it has been like under their regime. The writing is very simple and straightforward-- not flowery or overly expressive-- but the storytelling is engaging and enlightening, exposing a side of Hollywood with which I was unfamiliar... the "in"-side. Fahim's story offers more clarity on the people of Afghanistan, how the Taliban came to power, and what refugees would go through in order to get their families to safety. Fahim is a strong man of conviction, yet kind and affable, and his warmth comes through in the telling of his story, albeit the writing style can be a little stiff, possibly due to him being assisted by military writer Michael Moffett. However I found the book to be a worthwhile read.(less)