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Title: The Kitchen Daughter

Author: Jael McHenry

Genre: Contemporary Paranormal

Opening lines: ‘…Bad things come in threes …’

Blurb: After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning about Ginny’s older sister Amanda (“do not let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish. A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

My thoughts: I love, love, loved THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER, it was one of those books that you pick up and are unable to put it down willingly for even one minute. Ginny is 26 and still lives at home with her parents, she doesn’t work and never finished university, her parents provide for her. Ginny has all the earmarks of having Asperger’s but has never been diagnosed. Instead her parents encouraged her to depend on them no doubt thinking they were doing the right thing protecting Ginny from distress of knowing that she had Asperger’s. Now her parents are dead, killed in a tragic accident, and Ginny is thrust into “normal” society with no protection. So what are the indicators of her Asperger’s? Well everyone is different and has different symptoms by with Ginny it is her dislike of eye contact, hiding in a dark cupboard when she is overwhelmed, her dislike of loud noise, her fixation on one thing – in this case cooking. She is very logical in how she figures things out, and she speaks very bluntly in short sentences. What she isn’t though is stupid.

THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER opens on the day of her parents’ funeral, with crowds of well-meaning mourners firstly at the service and now back at the family home. The reader starts to cotton on to Ginny’s plight when she tries to avoid eye contact with, and being touched by the sympathetic guests. Ginny retreats to the kitchen because the process of following a recipe, physically or mentally, is calming for her, whenever she is overwhelmed, upset, or uncomfortable she copes by turning to recipes, and cooking. Today she needs comfort food and cooks her late grandmother’s recipe of bread soup to settle herself down. What she didn’t expect was for her grandmother’s ghost to appear in the kitchen and talk to her and give her a cryptic warning to stop her sister Amanda.

Amanda is married with two children and thinks she knows what is best for Ginny. Amanda wants to sell the family home and have Ginny move in with her. What Amanda doesn’t realise is that Ginny is growing as a character and learning to live with her peculiar quirks and deal with life. In other words, Ginny wants independence and acceptance. Amanda wants her tested and put in a box marked ‘Asperger’s’ and won’t sit down and discuss things with Ginny. But Ginny has a family mystery to solve, friends to support her, ghosts to advise her and she learns that she can live life her way. At this point I have to say that my one and only disappointment in the novel was David, but I will have to tease you all and say that I can’t say why. Amanda is very unreasonable and the trickery that she inflicted on her sister was unforgivable, but backfired on her completely.

The writing is beautiful and inspirational; the paranormal elements blend effortlessly into the story and seem to be…well…so normal! It seemed perfectly normal to me that Ginny could conjure up ghosts while others can’t. in fact THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER tries to answer the question ‘what is normal’ when it comes to human behaviour, and I think Ginny has the answered nailed: “…There are so many flavours of normal, it doesn’t matter which one I am…There really is no normal…”

Rating: A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it..

For more about the author – Click Here

Title: Through the Cracks

Author: Honey Brown

Genre: Mystery

Opening lines: ‘…In the space of one week Adam grew strong enough to stop him…’

Blurb: Adam Vander has grown tall enough, strong enough, to escape his abusive father. Emerging from behind the locked door of their rambling suburban home, Adam steps into a world he knows little of.

My thoughts: It was a sheer coincidence that I started reading THROUGH THE CRACKS the very week that Daniel Morcombe’s killer was sentenced and the details were on every news service across Australia, so it certainly influenced my reading of the novel. I was overwhelmed by the concept that child abusers will always be with us and what can we do to keep our children and grandchildren safe. THROUGH THE CRACKS tells the story of two teens that have both escaped abusive childhoods. The story is told through the eyes of Adam, aged fifteen, which is a very clever ploy because this man child has been locked away for 10 years and his only contact with the human world has been with his abusive father Joe. He is not retarded in any way, although for a while there I thought he might have been. He is just totally innocent in the ways of the world and has a child’s mind as he has never been educated or socialised. So after 10 years confinement Adam finally locks Joe in the same prison that Adam has been previously confined, and ignorance of medication, and fear of trickery, means that he doesn’t give Joe the heart pills that Joe needs to survive. Adam now has freedom but doesn’t know what to do with it, in fact he is even too worried to even leave the yard at first. Help comes in the form of Billy who comes to visit Adam’s father to swim in the pool and finds Adam and Joe’s dead body; Billy had often visited Joe but had no idea that Adam was imprisoned there. Billy realises what Alan has gone through and tells him to avoid the Police because they will put him into the kind of juvenile care which Billy had been in and suffered abuse at the hands of a priest. Adam agrees to follow Billy. So the story begins.

THROUGH THE CRACKS is a story of survival, but it is not a pretty story, it is dark, violent (but not dripping in gore), gritty and heart wrenching; but there is hope that the system can be beaten, that if victims are empowered, and with strong support, they can rise above the terrible things that have happened. Child abuse is not a happy subject; in fact many of us prefer not to know about it – not because we don’t care but because we feel so helpless. What helped me is that the story is told by Adam and he can only tell the reader what he can see even though he may not understand what he is seeing. The reader understands the clues though even if Adam hadn’t, so author Honey Brown really had to use the ‘show don’t tell technique’ of storytelling and she did it perfectly. For instance the reader sees the dark side of Billy, but Adam only describes the helpful and protective Billy but in such a way as you know better than Adam. THROUGH THE CRACKS is not a nice read, it is not an easy read, but it is a must read, and as the title suggests sometimes when looking at the big picture authorities and welfare groups might unintentionally miss some cracks – and it is these cracks that the innocent are falling through.

Rating: C – Above average. Was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

For more about the author – Click Here

With thanks to Penguin Books and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

Through the Cracks is book # 17 for AWW2014

Title: Burial Rites

Author: Hannah Kent

Genre: Historical

Opening lines: ‘…They said I must die …’

Blurb: Burial Rites is a debut book inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Toti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard. Burial Rites asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

My thoughts: When I pick up a book that is set in Iceland, I just know that it is going to be dark, bleak and cold. BURIAL RITES has all these elements but added to them is the 19th century setting where the vast majority of rural Icelanders lived in dreadful poverty, close to starvation due to the struggle to farm in the unpredictable climate. Then there is the rigid class distinction between the outcasts, indentured servants, struggling farmers and the powerful clergy. Author Hannah Kent vividly brought alive the setting and it felt so real that it almost overwhelmed my senses. Life for most Icelanders was harsh. The battle just to survive was gruelling and dirty, and the farm were Agnes spent her last days was very typical, cold, wet, smelly and miserable conditions which probably echoed her emotional state. Kent did the setting very, very well and I loved this side of the book. The research she did was obviously meticulous. The trouble is her characters did not come alive for me in quite the same way. They were dotted around the setting, speaking and carrying out their activities, but never once felt real for me, and importantly, I just couldn’t connect with Agnes, I really wanted to as she was absolutely central to the story, but it just didn’t happen. I didn’t like the way the point of view of the story kept changing between Agnes and Toti and found insertion of the third person narration in the form of various letters, songs, and poems to be annoying rather than informative. It broke up the flow of the story for me. Speaking of Toti, I didn’t fully understand why Toti was having a crisis of faith, and indeed what his problem actually was; and I certainly didn’t like the inclusion of the ravens and the dream sequences, they seemed superfluous to the story. The inevitable end when it came seemed actually quite abrupt after pages and pages of slow but steady story; even though everyone knew that she was to be executed it seemed to jar when considered against the pacing of the rest of the book.

BURIAL RITES has been nominated for a swathe of literary awards, and has already won a few so it is obviously generally highly regarded.

Rating: D – Average – it was OK, a bit of a struggle to finish whatever redeemable aspects there were to this book, they were not fleshed out enough for me to truly enjoy it.

Book Trailer: Burial Rites

For more about the author – Click Here

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read and open to a random page:

* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser this week comes from IF WALLS COULD TALK by Juliet Blackwell a cozy paranormal mystery.

Background: Melanie (Mel) Turner is a thirty-eight year old divorcee who takes over her father’s construction business after her mother passes away. The construction business specializes in historic home renovation and repair in the San Francisco Bay area. Her friend Matt Addax, a former rock-star, has asked her to restore his newly purchased run down Pacific Heights mansion so that he and his business partner Kenneth can sell it at a profit. However Kenneth is murdered and Max is in jail as a suspect. Mel finds herself haunted by Kenneth. Kenneth wants her to help him find his killer and Mel agrees hoping that if she does she can rid herself of his ghostly presence…and not be killed herself.

The teaser I have chosen comes from page 153 and Mel and an ex-boyfriend who investigating Kenneth’s death have just been pushed into a storage crate.

“…The metal door clattered down, trapping us. Graham pushed me unceremoniously aside and jammed his booted foot under the door just as it slammed towards the floor. Then he tried to shove it up, while someone in the corridor struggled to keep it down. Graham grunted as the culprit stomped on his foot. Graham whipped the gun we had found at Matt’s, still in its plastic bag, out of his jacket pocket and shoved the muzzle under the door. He fired…”

Title 1: Slipping into Paradise: Why I Live in New Zealand by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Title 2: Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand by Alexander Elder

Genre: Non-fiction

Blurb: A travelogue is a film, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited by or experiences of a traveller. Both Slipping into Paradise and Straying from the Flock are both touted as New Zealand Travelogues but neither really fitted their descriptions.

1. Slipping into Paradise: Why I Live in New Zealand by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson:

I had very high hopes for this book, I thought to myself who could be more convincing of how wonderful New Zealand is than someone who has chosen to live there after being in so many other countries in the world. Sadly, I did not see Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s paradise all I saw was a person pontificate about anything and everything to with New Zealand. In fact he often mentioned the fact that he has written other scholarly books to prove what an intellectual person he was. There is an expression in Australia ‘You’ve got tickets on yourself’ and this author certainly did on many occasions throughout the book. Mind you, to be fair, I did find out some interesting facts, and some of Masson’s descriptions were amazing, but I was taken aback by the frequent negativity of his opinions about a country that the he was supposed to be touting as paradise. I certainly understood very quickly that politically he is very left of left and this coloured his views on a range of subjects over and above why you should visit New Zealand. The best chapter in the book was actually the very last one where he actually wrote about travelling through New Zealand and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would have been happier if the rest of the book had been about this rather than what turned out to be little more than lectures on fauna, flora and history of New Zealand, some of which was interesting but most had my eyes glazing over. And, strangely, in the first half of the book, Masson went into the psychological differences between various nationalities around the world to prove why New Zealand was a great country; I can’t help but think it was a bit rude to stereotype a whole nation. Overall I think the blurb was a bit misleading when it likened it to Under the Tuscan Sun and A Year in Provence

Rating: D – Average – it was OK, a bit of a struggle to finish whatever redeemable aspects there were to this book, they were not fleshed out enough for me to truly enjoy it.

For more about the author – Click Here

2. Straying from the Flock: Travels in New Zealand by Alexander Elder

This was the second book that I purchased before our trip to New Zealand later this year. We have been there on two previous occasions and love it, and always ken to pick up a few tips about places to visit that we may not have been before. To me the title implied that Alexander Elder was not going to follow the flock, he was going to do things differently. Not so…his idea of being different was to use home stay accommodation rather than back packing, caravanning or motels. STRAYING FROM THE FLOCK was easy to read, but was mostly about the deficiencies of the places he stayed and the often derogatory opinions about the people he stayed with as well as some of the tour guides he dealt with rather than his experiences. He set the tone from his first night in New Zealand, right down south on Stewart Island where he bad-mouthed his host whose only crime seemed to be taking Alexander in without a booking and not gushing over him. Then he was less than impressed with a woman who seemed nervous of a strange man arriving late at night while her husband was away – I’m sorry, I’m on the woman’s side. To be fair though, if the woman was nervous on her own, then maybe she shouldn’t make bookings while her husband was away, but Alexander should not have been scornful. He glossed over some of the tours he went on and sites he saw but concentrated on his opinion of a tour guide operator; this happened earlier on in the book when he went on a glacier walk where Alexander recounts the conversation but says nothing about the walk such as the views, the beauty – anything! OK you didn’t like the man – but what did you see that is what I want to know!

Rating: D – Average – it was OK, a bit of a struggle to finish whatever redeemable aspects there were to this book, they were not fleshed out enough for me to truly enjoy it.

For more about the author – Click Here

Title: Time Square: The Shift

Author: S.W. Lothian

Genre: Children’s/YA Historical

Opening lines: ‘…Imagine that you’re a bird, flying high above the mountains below…’

Blurb: How would you feel if your dad is a part-time archaeologist who has a tendency to discover things. One day, he comes home from an expedition with a crusty old relic, and dumps it in the basement. You’d probably think everything would be fine and dandy, but that’s where you’re wrong. Because that’s precisely when all the trouble started. It’s 1930, and Lewis and Eva Hudson are a couple of twin teens with just such a dad. Then, on a chilly wintry day in Washington D.C., the three of them mysteriously disappear into thin air, without a trace.

My thoughts: TIME SQUARE opens in 1930 with Dr Rex Hudson battling his way through the jungles in Peru to get to an ancient ruin!! In the ruins he finds a small obelisk that many other archaeologists have searched for but never found. He takes it home and puts it in the basement which is where it is sitting when Eva and Lewis along with their younger brother Thomas race home after school. They can’t see why their dad is all excited by what looks like a dirty old rock and Thomas soon wanders off upstairs. But Eva, Lewis and their father start cleaning the rock and vanish. Thomas hears them call for help and thinks at first they are playing a game of hide and seek, but when he can’t find them he raises an alarm and the police arrive – but there is no sign of the missing family members and no clues. The house gets locked up and Thomas goes to stay with his Aunty Grace.

The missing Hudson’s haven’t actually gone too far, they are in a place called Time Square which is the centre of all time, past, present and future. Time square is a portal to any period of history and it is located right inside the obelisk, in fact a whole society lives in there along with the time travellers who pop in and out. By moving the obelisk from its South American resting place untold damage has been done, a shift has occurred (similar to an earthquake in our world) and serious damage in Time Square will impact on our time, in fact it could result in time as we know it ending. Solutions have to found, and quickly, but before they can be enacted another huge shift occurs, Time Square is shaken, Time Square has been stolen. Who has taken it? How can they fix the problem? And how can they get back to young Thomas?

TIME SQUARE is the first in a trilogy and is very much aimed at younger teens and older children. There are lots of funny lines and a wide range of really quirky characters introduced to the reader. Dr Hudson is a well-meaning but clumsy but fortunately Eva and Lewis are very brave, and ready for adventure. Bring it on!

Despite the fact that I wasn’t in the age group that the book was aimed at, I really enjoyed the story and can see how kids would love it. Poo being flung, people being flung, walking talking statues being flung – such a lot of flinging – it is so much fun. And I can recommend it for kids from age 8 up.

Rating: C – Above average. Was very readable and I really liked it but was easily able to put it down and walk away for a while.

For more about the author – Click Here

With thanks to the author for my copy to read and review.

Title: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (aka The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry)

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Genre: Contemporary

Opening lines: ‘…As she steps off the ferry her phone rings …’

Blurb: A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he has isolated himself from all the people who live in his community of Alice Island. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. Something has to happen as he can’t go on like this.

My thoughts: To be totally honest THE STORIED LIFE OF A. J. FIKRY is a book where you think that nothing much happens then by the end you realise you have been so immersed in the story that you have been sucked in and are overwhelmed by emotion. It is at this point that you will realise the following quote is quite true:

“…We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works…”

A.J. Fikry is the owner of a small, independent bookstore on the tiny Alice Island in the Northeast of USA. The reader gets to know Fikry through a series of events (or a collection of works) that all take place mostly in and around his bookshop. He starts off a lonely recluse, cynical, depressed and cranky, who is still mourning the death of his wife, drinking and eating frozen TV dinners. The book opens with the arrival of a new publisher’s rep who gives him the pivotal push to get his life back on track even though the first meeting is far from auspicious. A combination of this meeting, the theft of a priceless classic book and the arrival of a little girl in quick succession means his life will never be the same again. Everything that happens in Fikry’s life he manages to link to his favourite books through quotes. In fact before he is dragged out to take part in life again he had retreated totally into his books and was constantly thinking about them, or talking about them. Gradually he realises that books can be incorporated into the real world and so this helps when the time comes to re-join it. To be perfectly honest, while Fikry is a very interesting character, he is not entirely likable and is a complete and utter book snob and very opinionated with it. He gradually understands that other people will like ‘worthless’ fiction and it won’t be the end of the world if he stocks books that appeal to the masses.

But “…no man is an island…” and once Fikry opens the door to the world he is joined by a wonderful cast of secondary characters ranging from the Publisher’s rep Amelia; his brother-in-law and sister-in-law; Lambiase the local police Chief and Fikry’s adopted daughter Maya who each play a part in bringing Fikry back to life and have hope again. I really enjoyed THE STORIED LIFE OF A. J. FIKRY and not just because the setting is a bookstore and books play an important part. I loved seeing how Fikry turned his life around from utter hopelessness to grabbing life with two hands. I loved seeing how the intricate sub-plots played out in the back ground – the links and the connections between characters. I also love the development in the reading habits of some of the characters over the years – like Maya starting with picture books and as the book ends she is reading quite meaty Young Adult books, Lambiase widens his reading repertoire and Fikry just becomes more accepting of people’s reading choices.

The highest compliment Fikry can pay a book is: “…Every word the right one and exactly where it should be….” I think Gabrielle Zevin has nailed it!

Rating: B – Great. I really enjoyed reading it and it is a book I will be recommending to all my friends who like this genre.

For more about the author – Click Here

With thanks to Algonquin Books and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.

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