Sunday, 11 December 2016

"Sweetness" by Christy Jordan | Cookbook Review

Publishing Date: November 8, 2016
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Pages: 304
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

"A celebration of sweetness in all forms - sweet foods, sweet memories, sweet blessings, and a sweet life - in recipes by Christy Jordan of Southern Plate."

Whether you have a natural sweet tooth or just occasionally need something sweet to satisfy a craving, we all have a place in our homes - well, in our stomachs - for a little sweetness.

Christy Jordan's new cookbook Sweetness has plenty of recipes that would help fill that place in an instant.

From cakes to cookies to milkshakes and beyond, you're bound to find something you're itching to make. As I was going through the recipes, I found myself so excited at all the possibilities of what I could make! Everything looks and sounds so delicious.

But when I came to one particular recipe, I knew I couldn't pass it up: Funnel Cake. You know, that delicious doughey concoction they serve at amusement parks and special events? How could I pass up an opportunity - or, excuse? - to make this in my very own home.

Funnel Cake (p.208)
To my pleasant surprise, Funnel Cake is incredibly easy to make. It involves a few ingredients, all of which are common and can easily be found at your local grocery store or, if you bake with any regularity, probably just in your pantry.

It took a bit of trial and error to get the cooking time just right - neither under- nor over-cooked - but by the end I was pretty darn good if I say so myself.

You can put whatever you want on top, but I used whipped cream and fresh strawberries, which made for an absolutely scrumptious treat, let me tell you. When I posted the above picture on my Facebook, there were calls for me to host a Funnel Cake party.

While I was very happy with how that recipe turned out, I should also mention that I tried another recipe that didn't go quite so well. I made S'Mores Muffins, which sounded great - chocolate and marshmallows, what could go wrong? But unfortunately, I found them very bland and won't be making them again.

All in all, this is a really cool cookbook. There's a huge variety of desserts and tasty treats to choose from, and most seem to be pretty straightforward. I definitely recommend picking this one up if you're looking for some sweet Southern recipes.

*I received a NetGalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 7 November 2016

"From Junk Food to Joy Food" by Joy Bauer | Cookbook Review

From Junk Food to Joy Food by Joy Bauer
Publishing Date: February 23, 2016
Publisher: Hay House, Inc.
Pages: 276
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

What if you could eat all the food you love - burgers, pasta, desserts - without the bloating and negative effects? In From Junk Food to Joy Food, Joy Bauer shows us how, with a few tweaks, we can turn our favourite comfort foods into healthy meals.

I'm always looking for healthier foods to make and eat, so when I read about this cookbook, I was so excited! Who doesn't want their favourite food to be healthier?

This book is full of a wide range of recipes, so there's sure to be something in it for everyone. It varies from starters and main courses to desserts and drinks. All the way through, we're met with helpful tips as well!

Now, let's see which recipes I made!

I was still having issues with my phone during the time when I made these recipes, so you'll once again have to endure my not-so-pretty Snapchat pictures - pictures should be back to normal for the next post!

There were so many recipes that I wanted to try, and I had a really hard time narrowing it down to I did four. The first things I made were Chocolate Crunch Bars (p.196). These are basically chocolate-covered Rice Krispies and oh. my. god. I loved these. I like my chocolate to have a little texture and crunch to it, and this is the perfect treat for someone like me. Plus, they're incredibly easy to make!

Next up was a good ole classic - General Joy's Chicken (p.144), which is a variation of the more well-known General Tso's Chicken. This was a really tasty meal and it went quickly in my house. I had a hard time thickening the sauce so it was a bit runny, but throw it over some rice and problem solved.

After that, I ventured into hot territory - I made Jalapeno Poppers (p.36). These are well-loved at my house on special occasions - let's be real, if we were allowed to have these on any other occasions, they'd be well-loved then, too - so when I saw these in the cookbook, I knew I needed to try them. They were delicious and disappeared very quickly.

For my final recipe, I tried the Frozen Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cups (p.202). These were an interesting and heavenly alternative to regular peanut butter cups. Banana fans will surely agree with me on this one!

All in all, this cookbook is chock full of recipes of the foods you already love, tweaked so that they're healthier. There's a wide range of foods that are sure to appeal to even the pickiest of eaters. You can't go wrong with this one!

*I received a NetGalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

"The London Cookbook" by Aleksandra Crapanzano | Cookbook Review

The London Cookbook
by Aleksandra Crapanzano
Publishing Date: October 11, 2016
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Pages: 304
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

This cookbook promises you all the best of London's cuisine...but does it deliver?

If you've ever wanted to take a trip to London, you might know that it has a great culinary culture - a drastic change from the bland way we thought of England's food not too long ago.

The London Cookbook contains recipes from all over London, but it seems to be mostly posh recipes. I had a really hard time finding any recipes that I either had the ingredients for, or could afford the ingredients for.

In fact, in keeping with my rule of three when I review cookbooks, I managed to make the only three recipes that I found to be affordable in this entire book.

Because my phone is currently malfunctioning, I've lost the pictures I took of the food I made (with the exception of one from my Snapchat), but I'll do my best to briefly tell you about each dish anyhow.

The first things I made were the Chocolate Squares (p.218). These were pretty simple to make, and they're basically delicious brownies. They're really rich in flavour, and are great with a dollop of ice cream on top. They were a hit with my family and I'd definitely make them again!

Next up, I made the Summer Pasta with Crème Fraîche, Arugula, and Lemon (p.52). As the title suggests, this is a great dish for summer. It was fairly straightforward to make this, with the exception of the cème faîche. I couldn't find any at the store, so I attempted to make some at home, which didn't work out exactly as I'd hoped, though that part of the sauce did taste great. Not being a big arugula fan, this wasn't my favourite meal, but I think anyone who likes arugula would love this.

Finally, I made the Shrimp Aguachili Ceviche with Jalapeño and Citrus (p.11). I was so excited to make this because I don't generally make many fancy things and this one sounded like an interesting concept. You marinade raw shrimp in a brine of citrus juices, and the citrus is supposed to essentially cook the shrimp. I had a lot of problems cooking the shrimp. When I realized the shrimp was still mostly raw after the allotted sitting time, I left it for longer. Eventually, I gave up on the citrus process and boiled the shrimp. This dish is absolutely delicious - it's a great appetizer (it would be so refreshing during summer!) and I'd definitely make it again, minus the whole citrus-cooking process.

This book gives you a feeling for the upper-class, stylish vibe in London, but to the average people like me - good luck affording any of the recipes. This cookbook would be best suited to someone with deep pockets who's interested in great-sounding dishes!

*I received a NetGalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

"101 One-Dish Dinners" by Andrea Chesman | Cookbook Review

101 One-Dish Dinners by Andrea Chesman
Publishing Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Pages: 192
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

We all love comfort food. Whether, to you, that means soup or mac and cheese or ice cream, there's always a place for comfort food at the table. 101 One-Dish Dinners aims to put these recipes into our hands - and stomachs - by showing us that they can be pretty simple to make.

The book starts with a brief history of one-dish dinners, as well as some tips and advice for cooking and cookware.

Full of recipes both familiar and new to me, I would definitely say this cookbook is accessible to a wide range of people. Whether you want to learn recipes from other cultures or you just want to make a simple meal, or whether you're skilled in the kitchen or...just want to make a simple meal, there's something in here for you.

When I was looking through the recipes, I noticed that most of the ingredients are pretty standard and easy to find at a local grocery store. To me, that's important in a cookbook because it's nice to be able to make delicious food without breaking the bank or going on a trek to find obscure ingredients.

My one criticism of the book is that 2 of the 3 recipes I tried were not one-dish dinners. The soup used a couple of pans (which I'm not complaining about, just, it's not one dish) and the casserole required several pots and pans. I wouldn't quite call them one-dish dinners, even though they were fairly straightforward to make - I was expecting something simpler based on the title of the book.

Clockwise from left: Stovetop Mac 'n' Cheese with Ham
 & Peas (p.116); Caldo Verde (p.50); Pastitsio (p.145)
On to the food!

The first thing I made from this book was the Stovetop Mac 'n' Cheese with Ham & Peas (p.116). It was super simple and easy to make, and it's a good way of getting some greens and protein into you. I didn't have any ham at home, so it ended up being a vegetarian version of the recipe, but ham could only make it tastier. I also tossed in some leftover broccoli, which was delish. The mac 'n' cheese is a little dry, so I'd suggest using a little more milk and cheese.

The second recipe I made was Caldo Verde (p.50), which is literally "green soup" in Portuguese. Being a half-Portuguese family, everyone in my house was super excited about this one, given that we love my grandma's version. There were a couple of things I did wrong, so I endured some light ribbing (all in good fun) from my Portuguese mother and the rest of my family ("What happened?"), but overall, I'd say it's a great recipe. It ain't pretty, but it's so incredibly tasty. Everyone who tried it absolutely loves it, and I'd say it's a big success in my house!

The last thing I made was Pastitsio (p.145), which is described as a Greek mac and cheese. This was probably the most popular thing I made from the book, as I made it late last night and it's nearly 2/3 of the way gone already. It was also the most complicated - this is the recipe that used multiple pots and pans, and it was also time-consuming. I won't be making it for a while because it was a lot of work, but I do think it's worth the effort!

All in all, this is a great cookbook if you're looking for some fairly easy, very delicious recipes.

*I received a NetGalley copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Blog Tour: "Darktown" by Thomas Mullen | Book Review

Hi everyone! Welcome to this stop on the Darktown blog tour! This is my first ever blog tour, so I'm super excited to be writing to you about a book I really loved. At the end of this post there'll be a 1940s playlist, put together by the lovely people over at Simon & Schuster Canada, which I highly recommend you give a listen while reading the book (I've been listening to it on loop - I love 40s music!). Also, be sure to check out the other stops on this tour - which are shown below - for some cool extras!

Darktown by Thomas Mullen
Publishing Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 384
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

From Goodreads:

"Responding from pressure on high, the Atlanta police department is forced to hire its first black officers in 1948. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers and their authority is limited: They can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they can’t even use the police headquarters and must instead operate out of the basement of a gym.

When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up fatally beaten, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust the community has put in them, and even their own safety to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against an old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood like his own, and Dunlow’s young partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines."

This is a fantastic read. It's a compelling story about a murder and the racial tensions surrounding it in 1940s Atlanta. It's about what happens when the black officers try to do the job they were hired to do, without the constraints the white officers have put on them. It's incredible and eye-opening to read a story about cops who aren't publicly allowed to do their jobs - all because of the colour of their skin. They have the title of "Police Officer", but when they try to flag down a white officer to help them make an arrest, instead of help they nearly get run over as the white officers yell racial slurs and laugh. Not even the Records lady wants to help them when they request information.

The characters were fascinating. The main characters felt so well-rounded and full of life to me, and it was interesting to read their different perspectives. Boggs and Smith, both of whom have pride in their jobs and want to actually be able to help, go through and deal with so much over the course of this story. They're faced with the choice of obeying the rules black cops were bound by and not doing anything about the murder, or doing the right thing, the job they as human beings should be allowed to do. As I mentioned earlier, it was eye-opening to read about the horrible racism and injustice they faced every single day.

Rakestraw was also an interesting perspective because you can tell that he's uncomfortable with the way his partner, Dunlow, treats the African American people they encounter, and yet for a long time he cowers, not wanting to mess with his comfortable position among his fellow white officers. On one hand, seeing the awful ways in which the white cops treat black people, you can sort of understand being afraid to disrupt the status quo - but nonetheless, it was frustrating to read about Rake wanting to step in and stop the racism and brutality, and then doing nothing. It was a real relief when he decided to help Boggs and Smith with their investigation.

The city of Atlanta itself seems like a character - the way Mullen creates the atmosphere of 1940s Atlanta really brings the place to life, and the whole time, I felt like I was there. I could feel the thick, muggy heat - it, like the tension, was palpable.

This book is incredibly uncomfortable at times. It can be jarring to read or even think about how cruel humans can be to each other and how terribly prejudiced someone can be toward another simply because of the colour of their skin. The depth of injustice and of corruption in the police force back then is almost unimaginable, and Mullen does a great job of interweaving these tensions with a compelling murder mystery.

Now, while you go read this awesome book, be sure to check out this Darktown-inspired playlist:

*This book was kindly sent to me by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

"Clean Soups" by Rebecca Katz | Cookbook Review

Clean Soups by Rebecca Katz
Publishing Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Pages: 160
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Rebecca Katz grew up watching in wonder as her mother and grandmother conjured up delicious soups. While working at the Commonweal Retreat Center in Bolinas, California, she realized just how healing nutritious soups could be; people who previously were barely able to eat would return again and again for a taste of her soup.

The recipes within this book can be made for a variety of purposes. If you want to start incorporating soup into your regular diet because of its nutrient-rich, easily-digestible properties, this is your book. On the other hand, you might be interested in trying a brief soup cleanse because of its detoxifying effects on the organs; in that case, this is also your book.

I love that at the beginning of the recipes, there's background information and a short history of the dish, including where it originated from, as well as what it's been said to treat and heal. I love that as you're cooking up a delicious meal, you can learn a bit of history so that you're knowledgeable on what exactly you're eating. Another thing I really appreciate about this book is the fact that it has such useful "Cook's Notes" - if you're ever in doubt about anything, your questions are usually answered within these notes.

My one criticism of the book is that there's too much back and forth for me. For many of the recipes, they require you to also make a recipe (usually some type of stock or garnish) from elsewhere in the book. Generally, I'm not a fan of making multiple things for one dish - when I'm making a recipe, I usually want to be making one recipe, not multiple. That said, none of the recipes I tried were particularly difficult.
Clockwise from left: Simplest Chicken Pho (p.108); 
Greek Cucumber Yogurt Soup (p.52); Mulligatawny (p.95)

Now, let's get into what I made!

The first thing I made from this cookbook is something I don't have much experience with: Pho. I'd tried Pho exactly one time before I made this and I knew I liked it, so I thought it'd be a good idea to try and find myself a good recipe for this tasty Vietnamese soup. And let me tell you, the Simplest Chicken Pho recipe (p.108) is so. freaking. flavourful. I don't have much to compare it to, but I'd definitely say this is the best Pho I've had. I made it for a get-together and everyone flocked to it and complimented me for it, so it's not just me who liked it - I highly recommend this one!

For that same get-together, I made Mulligatawny (p.95), which is an Indian soup. It didn't get as much love because everyone wanted Pho, but those who tried this liked it. I thought it was really tasty and if you're in the mood for Indian food but you're maybe not feeling the best, hey, soup is great for that kind of a day, so Mulligatawny's got you covered.

The Greek Cucumber Yogurt Soup (p.52) & Avocado and Cucumber Salsa (p.132) is a cold soup that reminds me of Tzatziki sauce, which I'm obsessed with. Out of the soups I made, this was definitely the easiest because you stick all the ingredients in a blender and simply whirl away.

Clean Soups is all about the healing power of soup. The recipes are super healthy, nutritious, and let's not forget - absolutely delicious.

*I received a NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

"Easy. Whole. Vegan." by Melissa King | Cookbook Review

Easy. Whole. Vegan. by Melissa King
Publishing Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: The Experiment
Pages: 224
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Melissa King was vegetarian for a long time before she became vegan and gluten-free, and the lifestyle permeates much of her life. The writer, photographer, and recipe developer for the blog My Whole Food Life, who is also a wife and mother, decided to switch to a plant-based, whole-food diet when a nutritionist suggested it could help her daughter, who had a host of serious medical issues. The new diet transformed her daughter and her family and now they swear by whole foods.

I've heard so many stories like Melissa's, about how embracing a vegan or plant-based diet has cured people of their ailments. It seems that natural foods, sans added chemicals and hormones, are best for us! Who would've guessed. Although I'm not vegan myself, I like to eat mostly vegetarian and vegan foods, and I find that I feel best when I eat plant-based foods. So I'm always excited to try new vegan recipes and cookbooks!

After we learn Melissa's family's story, she walks us through some common ingredients in a vegan pantry. I always find these sections useful because a vegan kitchen by nature has different staples than a "regular" kitchen does. One important distinction is that vegans need egg substitutes when baking! And did you know there are several ways to substitute an egg, including with chia and flax seeds?

I made a few recipes from the cookbook and the first one I want to mention is the Blueberry Muffin Smoothie (p.198), because it is SO GOOD. *Ahem* So. Good. I'm definitely a smoothie lover, but this is by far one of the best smoothies I've ever had. It feels like a hearty breakfast smoothie with just the right amount of sweetness. And I can't get over the shade of purple it was - the picture doesn't even do it justice. This is going to be a staple in my diet from now on.

Clockwise from top left: Maple Vanilla Bakes Oatmeal
Squares (p.33); Avocado and Chickpea-Stuffed Cucumbers
 (p.66); Caramelized Onion Soup (p.89); Blueberry Muffin
Smoothie (p.198)
The Maple Vanilla Baked Oatmeal Squares (p.33) were up next. I was excited to try these because based on their appearance, I thought they'd be granola bars, but they actually weren't. That would've been fine, but I found the texture really strange - I'm not really sure how to describe it, but I guess I'd say it was kind of soft and kind of like hard foam. That said, I know some vegan recipes take some adjusting to because they don't always use common ingredients. And these squares do taste good and would be great for on-the-go snacking!

I made the Avocado and Chickpea-Stuffed Cucumbers (p.66) as an appetizer for a get-together, and let me tell you, they went fast! These little bites pack a refreshing punch and are perfect for the summer weather we've been having.

The final recipe I made was the Caramelized Onion Soup (p.89). It was incredibly easy to make, as you just chop up your onions and gather a few other ingredients and then stick everything in a crock pot for a few hours. I found it nice though a bit bland, however, so I recommend using some pepper if you feel the same way. Since I'm not vegan, my quick fix was to eat it the traditional way, with some bread and melted cheese on top, and I found that it was great that way.

Overall, this is a useful cookbook if you're interested in going vegan. It provides good information how to adjust your pantry's staples and you'll learn vegan alternatives to common animal products. I have mixed feelings about the recipes I tried, but there are plenty more delicious-sounding recipes in the book, and the recipes I did enjoy were ones I loved.

*I received a NetGalley copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

"The Jungle Book" Movie Review & Giveaway!

The Jungle Book (2016)
DVD Release Date: August 30, 2016
Run Time: 1h 46min.
Rating: PG
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Family
Links: Amazon | iTunes | Google Play | Best Buy

"For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack." -Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

Raised by wolves in the jungle, man-cub Mowgli must flee the place he calls home when a tiger, Shere Khan, threatens to kill him. With the help of his friends - panther Bagheera and bear Baloo - Mowgli embarks on a journey of self-discovery to find where he belongs.

Based on the novel by Rudyard Kipling, this story tells of the bond between humans and animals. It takes that very real bond and gives it more of a fantastical twist because although human-wild animal bonds are not unheard of, they're not something we often see. And plus, the animals talk. I'd say that adds to the fantasy a little too.

This story has always been one that can appeal to a wide range of ages. Kids will love the story because here we have talking animals protecting a child they love from an "evil" villain, Shere Khan. Some adults will love it for that alone, but others may pick up on the underlying themes of the story as well. Shere Khan hates Mowgli and all humans not just because of the one man who left him disfigured, but because humankind is so destructive.

The acting and voice acting were great. Neel Sethi as Mowgli is a great match as he portrays the carefree, determined, resourceful character so well. Honestly, at the beginning I wasn't sure how I felt about the voice-to-CGI animal situation - I think because the 1967 animated feature is one of my favourite Disney movies, I was kind of stuck on THOSE being the voices of the characters. But once I got into the story, which didn't take long, I was able to appreciate how good the acting was. The standout voice actor in my opinion was Idris Elba as Shere Khan. He's able to be so menacing and as much as I love his accent, it's perfect for a villain like this tiger.

One of my favourite things about The Jungle Book is the soundtrack. The music is so beautiful. Going into this movie, I wasn't sure I'd be hearing the songs I love so much from the 1967 classic - but I was so glad when the iconic lyrics of "Bare Necessities" started up that I immediately broke into song with Baloo. And much to my brother's chagrin, I haven't stopped humming or singing the songs since. Fun fact: according to IMDB, Richard M. Sherman, who wrote songs for the 1967 Disney feature, wrote an extra verse for "Wanna Be Like You", which is here sung by Christopher Walken, who plays King Louie.

The visuals in this film are stunning. Being a story with a lot of talking animals, most of the film is CGI - but it's so much more than just that. The entire jungle comes alive in this movie and in any given scene, you can look around in wonder at the beauty and detail. It looks awesome. And watch through the credits because there's a really cool sequence that you won't want to miss.

Another thing I want to mention is that the action scenes are so well done. While our characters run through the jungle facing different adversaries, I found myself practically on the edge of my seat, heart racing.

All in all, The Jungle Book is a great movie that's fun for the whole family.

The Jungle Book is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Check out the trailer here:


And now for the giveaway! ThinkJam is very kindly providing a Blu-ray & Digital HD copy of The Jungle Book to give away.

Rules for this giveaway:

1. You must be following this blog - this is for you, my reader!

2. It is open to residents of Canada and the US.

3. If selected as the winner, you must be willing to provide me with your address, which I will then send to ThinkJam so that they can send you your prize.

4. I will email you if you're selected as the winner, and you must respond within 48 hours, or I'll have to choose another winner.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*Review and giveaway copies were kindly provided by ThinkJam in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

"The Couple Next Door" by Shari Lapena | Book Review

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Publishing Date: August 23, 2016
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Pages: 320
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Anne and Marco Conti's seemingly perfect lives are turned upside down one night when their 6-month-old daughter, Cora, is abducted from their home while they're at a dinner party next door. They're immediately pegged as the prime suspects, but it's much more complicated than that.

What follows is a story of lies, deception, and breakneck twists. As it starts off, we as the readers have mixed feelings about the parents. Even though they checked on Cora frequently, Anne and Marco left their 6-month-old home alone while they were next door, which is really not advisable. That said, the onus is of course on the kidnapper.

What may at first seem like a cut and dry situation is actually a dark and twisted tale. Once the action of the story gets going, which is pretty much immediately, the suspicion begins. Can we really trust these people? Is everyone really telling the truth?

We get several different perspectives in this story, from the parents to the neighbours to the lead detective. It's hard to trust some of the characters because you get this deep sense that they're "off", or that they're not letting us (or the police!) in on everything they know. At first, with all the secrets that were being revealed, I was left wondering which couple the ominous title alludes to, but it's actually relatively obvious.

The sheer amount of twists and secrets that are revealed are nearly whiplash-inducing, and that makes for a pretty entertaining story. I really liked the way those things were revealed as well, because it was done in such a way that I couldn't guess what was happening or what people were hiding until I was specifically told.

Whether or not you see the ending coming, this is a great thriller and I definitely recommend it if you want a quick read that packs a punch.

*This book was kindly sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

I'm participating in Bout of Books 17!

Hi all! If you've been around here for a while, you know I love the Bout of Books read-a-thon. I'm happy to say that it's that time of year again - time for the next Bout of Books - and I'm participating! It's super low-pressure and all you need to do is set your intention to read - and then you do your best! I always love the challenges and discussions they host as well. Here's the official blurb:

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week-long read-a-thon that begins at 12:01am Monday, August 22nd and runs through Sunday, August 28th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 17 information and updates, be sure ti visit the Bout of Books blog. -From the Bout of Books team

Let me know in the comments if you'll be participating! :)

Bout of Books

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

"The House Between Tides" by Sarah Maine | Book Review

The House Between Tides
by Sarah Maine
Publishing Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Pages: 400
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

After her last living relative dies, Hetty heads to her family's long-abandoned ancestral home, Muirlan, in Scotland's Outer Hebrides. When she arrives, she discovers that a century-old skeleton has been found under the floorboards. Her plans to renovate the place come to a grinding halt while she and some locals search for clues as to who the murder victim might be.

As it turns out, Theo Blake, a famous painter and naturalist (and a distant relative of Hetty's), came to Muirlan in 1910 with his new wife, Beatrice. The two were there for a short time, and their stories are shrouded in mystery - Theo seemed to be obsessed with a local boy, Beatrice disappeared suddenly from the island, and Theo eventually became a shut-in, his paintings reflecting his dark turn.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that the writing style is beautiful. In a book where art is so central to the story, it feels right to have the writing reflect that as well. Maine writes stunning descriptions, not only of the scenery, but of the characters' feelings. Her writing is poignant and so fitting for this story.

The story spans 100 years and we learn it through two different timelines - 1910, when Beatrice and Theo are living in the house, and 2010, when Hetty and the locals are searching for answers about the house's mysterious inhabitants. I was drawn mostly to Beatrice and her story in 1910, and always found myself wanting to read more of her story. She is an independent woman with such gumption, and I found her intriguing. She's brought to this place that, initially, she doesn't care for (she'd rather be vacationing in Europe), but that she tries to enjoy for her husband's sake. She ultimately gets wrapped up in what could be considered a scandal if people found out about it, but I was rooting for her all the way.

I felt a kind of disconnect with the love story in Hetty's timeline - I didn't really feel a spark between the two characters and so when something did happen between them, my reaction was something like, "Oh...ok". I wasn't opposed to that pairing, and in fact I think it was a good fit, but there wasn't much leading up to it that had made me root for them. When I was reading her timeline, I found myself mostly interested in finding out who the body belonged to.

The mystery unravels at a good pace and I must say, I very much enjoyed this book. If you like mysteries, love stories, and switching between timelines, I definitely recommend reading The House Between Tides.

*This book was sent to me by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 22 July 2016

"In a Dark, Dark Wood" by Ruth Ware | Book Review

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Publishing Date (Paperback): July 12, 2016
Pages: 352
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

Out of the blue, Nora is invited to a hen party for an old friend she hasn't seen for nearly a decade. What should be a fun weekend with a few people in the English countryside turns into a night of horror, betrayal, and revenge.

I love me some psychological thrillers, there's no two ways about it. I love that feeling of knowing something is off, but not quite being able to put my finger on what exactly it is. Maybe it's because I read this immediately after finishing another psychological thriller that blew me away, but this one didn't quite do it for me.

Now, don't get me wrong - this is a really well-written, intriguing story that I barely put down. But some points of the story dragged a little and I was left hoping the story would move along quicker, especially leading up to the action.

Once we got into the more intense part of the story, the clues kept coming, and along with those, the doubt about who we thought committed the crime. This story really makes you question the characters you feel like you've come to know, even though you've really only spent a weekend with them.

An interesting tidbit: Reese Witherspoon's production company has acquired the rights to make this story into a movie, and I'm definitely looking forward to that because I think this story will lend itself well to the big screen.

Overall, In a Dark, Dark Wood is an interesting, twisted thriller, even though it does drag in some places. Despite not being bowled over, I really enjoyed this book and I'd recommend it to anyone in the mood for a quick, dark read.

*This book was sent to me by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Interview with S. E. Lynes, author of "Valentina", plus a Giveaway!

Hi everyone! If you read my last post, you know I loved Valentina, and today we're joined by the author herself! I got a chance to ask S. E. Lynes a few questions about plot twists, writing, and becoming a sociopath...

First off, I want to say I love the book! It was enthralling and kept me on the edge of my seat - and I was always questioning what I thought was going on.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? What made you want to write a psychological thriller?

I am from the North of England. I am a linguist/polyglot and have always written, always wanted to write. I live in Greater London and before that I spent 5 years in Rome - and before that I lived in Aberdeen with my husband (and yes he went offshore). I have three kids. Most of my early attempts at writing I deleted or threw in the bin but then I did a writing course at Richmond Adult Community College and discovered that writing is a process, an art form like any other, and that you get better with practice. That course taught me to give myself permission to be rubbish for a bit - and that's what I say now to my students and to anyone trying to write - give yourself time and permission to be a bit crap and don't worry about that - keep doing courses and practising as you would a musical instrument - every day, in order to get a little bit better.

I wrote a psychological thriller after writing three other novels which got great feedback but which my agent at the time could not place. I realised I needed to write something people were mad about reading! I read Gone Girl and loved Flynn's prose and her fearlessness with her female character. I read Sister, Before I Go to Sleep, The Girl on the Train and loved the pared down nature of those books and, of course, I read Rebecca, in which Daphne du Maurier puts the reader ahead of the heroine and plays with the whole "somethin' ain't right" thing - you can't quite put your finger on why. For me, psychological thrillers are more intense the less characters there are - in film, that is shown brilliantly in Hitchcock's Psycho, of course, and I loved Single White Female too, which was also an influence.   

There's some sociopathic, if not psychopathic, behaviour prevalent in the story. What was it like getting into the mindset of people who think "outside of the box" and will do almost anything to make their lifestyle work? Did you have any sort of ritual to get into this mindset?

There is psychopathy/sociopathy in the book. I read up on these things. I won't say too much because I don't want to give any spoilers but to me there is no "getting in the zone" because all you're doing is writing a character, with as much richness as you can, but you are removing empathy and responsibility. So in that sense it is more useful to know and understand true love and true friendship - you have to understand the emotional stakes so better to subvert them, much as a comedy writer subverts expectation with surprise to create laughter.

Did you have the entire story planned out in your head when you started writing, or were there instances (related to twists) that came up that surprised even you?

I set out with something quite different for Valentina.  A hippy whose BoHo exterior masked a deeply materialistic nature, a woman who sees another woman's life and wants everything about it whilst seeming not to care a jot for those mundane things. But as the plot developed, so did the characters. I had no idea how I would get over certain hurdles but the solution to the biggest hurdle came in a blinding flash, as indeed it did to the character herself (you possibly know which moment I mean). The characters come from the demands of the plot - who do they need to be to go along with events, to react the way I need them to etc. Shona had to come from an urban and, as some would see it, crowded environment in order to idealist the country idyll, she had to be feisty and instinctive too... 

What was your favourite part about writing Valentina? What was the hardest?

My favourite part about writing Valentina was having the various plot epiphanies, which felt exciting. Also, I enjoyed camping it up as the 'baddie', working the whole fairytale wicked queen vibe. There are many obvious and obscure fairytale references in the book, including a Russian fairy tale called The Firebird and the Falcon. The hardest part was fighting feelings of nausea at the morally repugnant situation I was creating.

Do you have any writing quirks? For example, I once read a Dan Brown interview where he said he liked to wear gravity boots when he needed inspiration!

I don't have any gravity boots. I just walk the dog, shove a wash on and buckle down because I only have a couple of spare hours to play with. I do read all my work aloud - so towards the final drafts I can get quite hoarse.

Did you learn anything while writing this book? If your readers could learn one thing from the story, what would you want it to be?

I guess for me, this is a book about love and friendship. Love is the most important thing there is - it is the only thing that matters - and one should never play fast and loose with it. If you do, bad things happen!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, and best of luck with Valentina!

You can read my review of Valentina here.

And now for a giveaway! If you're itching to read Valentina after hearing how well-written and intriguing it is, and after hearing insights from the author herself, then today's your lucky day because the lovely people over at Blackbird Digital Books have been kind enough to provide 3 (three) digital copies of the book for this giveaway!

Some rules and general info:

1. This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.

2. You must be following my blog - this giveaway is for my readers (if you're following by email, make sure to confirm your subscription)!

3. Keep in mind that the prizes are digital copies (you'll have an option between Mobi, ePub, or PDF), so you need some kind of platform to view this on.

4. I will be sending the 3 winners' emails to someone over at Blackbird Digital Books, and they will be sending you your prize. Please only enter if you're comfortable with this! The email you enter with will be the email your prize is sent to.

Best of luck!

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Friday, 8 July 2016

"Valentina" by S. E. Lynes | Book Review

Valentina: A hauntingly intelligent
psychological thriller
by S. E. Lynes
Publishing Date: July 1, 2016
Pages: 280
Publisher: Blackbird Digital Books
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book DepositoryAmazon | Kobo

When Shona moves into a cottage with her partner, Mikey, and their daughter, Isla, in picturesque rural Scotland, they think all that's ahead of them is bliss. How very wrong they are. With Mikey working offshore and Shona left alone with their baby in the isolated countryside, Shona quickly becomes restless. But just when she needs her the most, Shona meets Valentina and they become best friends. But everything is not as it seems.

Valentina is an intense and, as the subtitle suggests, highly intelligent psychological thriller. The tension is palpable throughout as we feel the effects of cabin fever starting to show in Shona, and as little things keep cropping up that aren't quite right.

We know something is off before Shona does, and as such we start picking up on clues, trying to guess what exactly is going on. I was able to figure out most of what was at play fairly early on, but it was a hell of a ride anyway. I could barely put this book down because it was so intriguing. The story leaves you wondering: who can you really trust?

Initially, I found the switch in perspective we get about two thirds of the way through a little awkward, but I quickly became engrossed in the new information, the other side of everything leading up to that point. The story is so well written and you find yourself feeling empathy for and understanding points of view you wouldn't normally identify with.

I found the characters themselves really interesting and it was easy for me to become invested in their stories. Shona is a no-nonsense Scottish journalist, trusting and strong, a woman who wants to do what she thinks is best for her family. Mikey is a doting husband and father, the picture of the hard-working provider. And then there's Valentina, the mysterious, free-spirited best friend who seems to know more than she's letting on.

Valentina is one of the best psychological thrillers I've read to date, and it's definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far. It's a page-turner that will leave you second-guessing yourself. Psychological damage can make people do drastic things...

*This book was sent to me by Blackbird Digital Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

May Book Haul!

It's that time of the month again...time for book hauls! I'm looking forward to reading these stories soon - they all sound awesome. What's one book that you picked up this month?

1. The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne      3. The Girls by Emma Cline
2. We're All in This Together by Amy Jones                      4. The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

"You, Me and the Rest of Us: #NewYorkStories" by Alex Clermont | Book Review

You, Me and the Rest of Us:
by Alex Clermont
Publishing Date: March 31, 2016
Pages: 123 (eBook)
Publisher: See The Sun
Links: Goodreads | IndigoAmazon | Kobo

New York City: the Big Apple, the City that Never Sleeps...whatever you call it, chances are you know it by name, and even if you've never been there, you can probably picture the hustle and bustle in your head. You, Me and the Rest of Us: #NewYorkStories is a collection of short stories that brings the people of NYC to life.

Something I look for a lot in books is character diversity - and this book has it in spades. There are so many different people in this collection, and I really do mean different: there are a variety of races, genders, ages, really reflects the cultures present in the city.

This collection is very much about the "human experience". Everyone deals with different issues in their lives, and with these characters we see everyone from a young man from a small town moving to the big city, to a pair of immigrants envisioning their newborn's future, to a group of vigilantes tired of seeing their friends get killed by cops. We really get to know and feel for people from all walks of life.

The writing in this collection makes the characters so vivid, and it makes me care about them and become invested in their stories. Whether or not I could see myself in each character's situation, I was always able to empathize with them easily and understand why they felt the way they did or why they were reacting the way they were.

I've mentioned before that correct grammar is important to me, and there were quite a few errors in this book, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the stories. In fact, out of the 14 stories, there was only one I didn't really identify with. In a collection of stories, I'd say that's a pretty good ratio!

If you love New York City (or the idea of it), I definitely recommend giving this collection of short stories a read.

*This book was sent to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 30 May 2016

"Joy" Movie Review & Giveaway! | Movie Monday

Joy (2015)
DVD Release Date: May 3, 2016
Run Time: 2h 4min.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: History/Biography
Links: Best Buy | Amazon | iTunes | Google Play

"Joy is one of those people who rejoiced in making things."

Joy is the true story of a young woman with an entrepreneurial spirit. She was creative from a young age and loved making things, particularly those that solved a problem. When she comes up with an idea for a new mop, she's thrown into the cut-throat world of business and quickly realizes she faces more obstacles than she thought possible.

Joy's story is told to us in a voice-over by her grandmother, which is rather appropriate since she was the one who instilled in Joy that she could do whatever she dreamed of.

Joy's family plays a big, albeit complicated, role in her business journey. We see how her friends and family can make all the difference when they're trying to help each other out. She cares for and houses her whole immediate family and they are ever-present. Her home is chaotic and she's constantly running around trying to keep everyone in line while also fixing everything herself. As a viewer, it's kind of funny to see how hectic everything is in her household because you'd think she wouldn't be able to get anything done with all the things that go wrong. And yet, Joy manages to think up a game-changing invention.

What started as a great idea being manufactured out of her father's garage, turned into a business empire. In order to get there though, Joy had to endure a whole lot of hardships. She faced the trials of starting a business, the frustration and heartbreak that come with the unsuccessful days and the failures, and the disappointment that comes when people give up on you.

Through it all, she comes up with creative ways of getting the word out about her business and she perseveres because she believes in her product. She grows a lot in the business world - she learns the ins and outs and never lets anyone walk all over her, taking matters into her own hands when things go wrong. No matter how many setbacks she faces, she keeps going. She finds a way.

Jennifer Lawrence, as always, gives a great performance as Joy, and she has an Oscar nomination to show for it.

My one complaint about this movie is that it was very long, and did drag on at times. Overall though, I really enjoyed it.

Joy is a film with a lot of heart. It's an inspirational, endearing, and often funny tale about creativity, hard work, brains, and a whole lot of perseverance.

Joy is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Check out the trailer below:


And now for the giveaway! ThinkJam and Fox Home Entertainment very kindly provided me with a Blu-Ray & Digital HD copy of Joy to give away.

Rules for this giveaway:

1. You must be following my blog - this giveaway is for my readers!

2. It is open to residents of Canada (Sorry to readers everywhere else, shipping from Canada is extortionate!)

3. If selected as the winner, you must be willing to provide me with your address so I can send you your prize.

4. I will email you if you are selected as the winner, and you must respond within 48 hours, otherwise another winner will be chosen.

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*A review copy was sent to me by ThinkJam and Fox Home Entertainment in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, 27 May 2016

"The Voodoo Killings" by Kristi Charish | Book Review

The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish
Publishing Date: May 10, 2016
Pages: 352
Publisher: Vintage Canada
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo

In a world where zombies and ghosts are publicly accepted as real, and where (before it was outlawed) zombies were raised to help solve their own murders, Kincaid Strange is a badass "practitioner" - essentially a necromancer, though she prefers not to be associated with dead people sex stuff - just trying to pay her rent. But things take a twisted turn when she gets a call about a new zombie - one unlike any she's seen before.

When I first heard the plot of this story, I was completely intrigued. I love books with supernatural elements and I don't know that I've ever read an urban fantasy novel before - certainly not like this one, anyway. It uses tropes we know well - zombies, ghosts, necromancy - and spins a page-turning tale of mystery, betrayal, and an underground city.

As I started the novel, I was instantly drawn to Kincaid Stange's (can we just take a moment to appreciate how cool that name is?) snark. I find snarky and sarcastic characters very entertaining, and Kincaid is all of these things. Also badass, she's a complete badass.

The story is set in Seattle, where the Otherside is stronger due to the city's proximity to water. Kincaid "pulls a globe" every time she needs to examine a zombie's bindings, a habit that's taking its toll on her health, and calls on her ghost roommate, Nate, by writing on mirrors. "Ghost" as in actual ghost, not as in rarely there. Nate, a now-deceased 90's grunge rock star, is one of my favourite characters as he provides a lot of comic relief.

I got a lot of iZombie vibes from this story which, for me, is a really great thing because it's one of my favourite TV shows (and the comics are great, too). We've got zombies, a Seattle setting, and there's even a brief mention of someone getting their brains from a morgue!

The Voodoo Killings is the first in a new series and personally, I cannot wait for the next novel. This is definitely one of my favourite books of the year, if not ever. The story will thrill you and the ending will leave you itching for the next one!

*This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Neil Pasricha at the Appel Salon! | Event Recap

Yesterday I attended an event at the Toronto Public Library's Appel Salon featuring Neil Pasricha, author of The Book of Awesome and most recently, The Happiness Equation.

Rachel Giese interviews Neil Pasricha

He talked about what it means to be happy and discussed several different ways we can try to improve our happiness, including the formula he presents in his newest book:

"Want nothing + Do anything = Have everything"

Neil is such a great speaker and it was absolutely fascinating to listen to this discussion on happiness! I've been to quite a few of these events and this was definitely one of my favourite talks. I highly recommend watching the interview on the Toronto Public Library's YouTube channel once it's uploaded!

Me and Neil Pasricha

After the event, Neil did a signing and he was so friendly, taking the time to talk to everyone - and check out the awesome signed book!

My signed copy of The Book of Awesome

I haven't read The Happiness Equation yet, although I'll certainly be picking it up soon. In the meantime, I recommend checking out Michelle's review over at Musings of a Writer!

If you live in the Toronto area or are interested in attending, you can check out a list of upcoming events at the Appel Salon here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Day 2 Progress | Bout of Books 16

Number of books I'm reading: 1

Title: The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish

Pages read today: 21

How did you do on Day 2? Feel free to let me know in a comment below and remember to have fun during the read-a-thon! :)

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Day 1 Progress | Bout of Books 16

I didn't read very much on day 1, but you know what? That's ok because I'm going to do better for the rest of Bout of Books!

Number of Books I'm Reading: 1

Title: The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish

Pages Read Today: 13

How did you do on Day 1? Feel free to let me know in a comment below and remember to have fun during the read-a-thon! :)

Monday, 9 May 2016

"The Choice" Review | Movie Monday

The Choice (2015)
DVD Release Date: May 3, 2016
Run Time: 111 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Romance, Drama
Links: Best BuyAmazon |  iTunes | Google Play

Travis (Benjamin Walker, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Gabby (Teresa Palmer, Warm Bodies) start off as neighbours and quickly fall in love. But will they be able to weather the hardships life throws at them?

This film is based on the book by Nicholas Sparks, and I have a feeling that if you've ever read or seen anything that Nicholas Sparks has had a hand in, you pretty much know what to expect: the couple gets off to a rocky start but realize they're in love, and then tragedy strikes.

Travis is a fun-loving, cocky guy, while Gabby is studious, and struck by Travis' quips. They meet when Gabby (wrongly) accuses Travis' dog of getting her own dog pregnant. Their personalities often clash and they seem like they might not work, but for some reason, they just fit together.

Some of the writing and acting were a little awkward at times, but I like to kind of suspend my disbelief for this kind of movie and accept that I'm in a soppy romantic drama.

Being the sap that I am, I cried tears happy and sad. It's a typical Nicholas Sparks story that gets you invested in the couple and then makes something bad happen to them, with you hoping all the while that things work out happily. This one will make you laugh and pull at your heartstrings, especially if you're a hopeless romantic.

The Choice is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Check out the trailer below:

*A review copy was sent to me by Lionsgate in exchange for an honest review.

"Batch" by Joel MacCharles & Dana Harrison | Book Review

Batch by Joel MacCharles & Dana Harrison
Publishing Date: May 3, 2016
Pages: 352
Publisher: Appetite by Random House
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon

It all started with a blog. In 2008, the food blog "" was created; it now holds more than 700 recipes and has inspired a food festival, pop-up events, and even a graphic design company.

The first part of the book gives you instructions on seven different styles of preserving, including fermenting, cellaring, and infusing, which are the methods I used in the recipes I'll talk about at the end of this post. For complete beginners like me, these chapters will basically be your preserving Bible because they give you the basic knowledge you need to get started.

The recipes are organized by ingredient, which makes grocery store trips a dream when you're making things from this book. In each chapter, you'll learn a few different ways to preserve an ingredient, such as peaches, peppers, and meat. At the end of each chapter, there are recipes that show you the delicious ways you can use the preserves you've just made.

Along with each recipe, you can see the level of difficulty which, as a complete newcomer to preserving, I really valued. I wanted to start off easy so I could learn along the way and work up to some harder recipes.

Clockwise from left: Penne a la Chili-Infused Vodka (p. 178);
Fermented Pancakes with Maple Syrup with Dried Blueberries
(pp. 140 & 132); Fridge Pickles (p. 194)
The first things I made were Fermented Pancakes with Maple Syrup with Dried Blueberries. The maple syrup was easy to make, but you need to be very careful not to burn the syrup because that can happen in an instant. The pancakes were time-consuming (as pancakes generally are) but completely worth it because in all honesty, they are the best pancakes I've ever had - and my whole family was in agreement! My only problem was that there seems to be a missing step in the recipe - it never tells you what to do with the egg yolk mixture. Basically though, you just have to combine everything.

The pickles were by far the easiest recipe I made, and they were such a yummy snack.

Being the pasta freak I am, the penne recipe was definitely my favourite out of all the things I made. The recipe calls for chilies, but I went a step down in heat and used jalapenos instead. This recipe is SO delicious, I can't recommend it enough. It was my first time eating and making penne a la vodka, but it certainly won't be the last time!

I'm really pleased with how all the recipes I tried turned out, and I'm looking forward to trying more of these recipes and methods this summer when there are more foods in season!

*This book was sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.