Review: The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

Why I picked it: I'm finally caught up with my summer reading!  With the stack of books on my broken Nook behind me to was time to pick some new reading material.  So, when I was offered a review copy of this novel I jumped at the chance to read it.

Giveaway: I have an extra copy that I would like to give to a lucky reader! 

To enter: While I love new followers to the blog, it's not a requirement.... just leave a comment with your email, so I can reach you. 

Giveaway ends Sunday evening, Oct 2 (open internationally)

Synopsis: After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, writer Kathleen Flinn returned with no idea what to do next, until one day at a supermarket she watched a woman loading her cart with ultraprocessed foods. Flinn's "chefternal" instinct kicked in: she persuaded the stranger to reload with fresh foods, offering her simple recipes for healthy, easy meals.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School includes practical, healthy tips that boost readers' culinary self-confidence, and strategies to get the most from their grocery dollar, and simple recipes that get readers cooking.

Type: Memoir/Cooking

Quick Take: A delightful book, filled with stories and laughter.  Have you ever wondered if someone is watching you grocery shop?  What are you putting in your cart?

I learned so much and think I may have just put a ban on Parmesan cheese from entering my house!  Did you know it has up to 70% more sodium than Parmesan-Reggiano and it also has lower quality standards?

My kitchen is stocked with chef quality gadgets but I don't know how to use them...  as I read this book I kept reading parts out loud to my husband.  We both learned quite a bit and noted a few of the recipes included too. 

Confession: this vegetarian had to skip the chicken chapter on water injections and learning how to cut a whole chicken.....

If you enjoyed Julie and Julia... you will love this one.  I will be buying copies of this book for gifts, a great selection.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy/Net Galley

Review: Theodora: actress, empress, whore

Why I picked it: Simple... I knew nothing about Theodora and wanted to learn about her.

Synopsis: For citizens of Byzantine Constantinople, the name Theodora evoked strong reactions--awe, lust, and doubt to name a few. Sadly, Theodora is all but lost to history. Like Elizabeth I and Cleopatra, Theodora was expert at wielding power from the throne. Unlike those famous rulers, Theodora was not born into royalty. Her rise to become Empress of the Roman Empire began in the bear pit of the Hippodrome.

Born to the famed stadium's bear-keeper, Theodora's early life was drastically altered when her father was killed by his beloved bear. In order to keep their family afloat, Theodora and her two sisters were indentured to Menander, coach of one of the city's foremost dancing troupes. A natural performer, Theodora learns dance, acrobatics, and comedy, and by the age of fifteen, became the star of the Hippodrome. Like almost every actress of the time, Theodora was also a child prostitute.

At the age of eighteen and at the height of her popularity in Constantinople, Theodora decides to abandon her career in favor of following her lover Hecebolus to The Pentapolis (modern day Libya) where he is the new Governor. She leaves behind her beloved sister Comito, her theater community, and her daughter Ana, whom she barely knows. When things turn sour with Hecebolus Theodora escapes to a religious community whose views conflict with the contemporary Roman state.

Theodora renounces her former life, undergoes a religious conversion, and is eventually sent back to Constantinople as a spy. She is soon sent to meet Justinian, nephew to the Emperor Justin. Theodora works closely with Justinian and eventually he asks for her hand, changing the law forbidding former actresses from marrying, opening doors for all women. After their marriage, Theodora and Justinian stand side by side as he is crowned Emperor and she, his Empress.

Type: Historical Fiction

Quick Take:  Reading books about the women who made up our world inspire me.  So many women took control of their destiny, a lesson we can all use to our benefit.

Theodora may be smart and sassy but she's not the prettiest of gals.  She loves to entertain and her talents are acknowledged one night but selfish acts force her life to take a different turn.  She does move upward and at times is forced to take a few steps backwards after making poor decisions (her emotions get the best of her at times). 

Her life journey is intense at times but after running from a situation she has a spiritual experience that transforms her life, resulting in setting realistic goals and direction for her life. 

This novel is wildly entertaining, descriptive and enlightening.  Did you know HBO is making a series based on Theodora?  I can't wait to watch it!

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: NetGalley

Review: Exposure

Why I picked it: A Manic Mommies Book Club selection - after reading the synopsis earlier this year I forwarded it to one of the MM listeners (a teacher) to see if she thought it would be a good choice for the book club.

Synopsis: Amelia Wilkes’s strict father does not allow her to date, but that doesn’t stop the talented, Winsome High School senior from carrying on a secret romance with her classmate Anthony Winter. Desperately in love, the two envision a life together and plan to tell Amelia’s parents only after she turns eighteen and is legally an adult. Anthony’s mother, Kim, who teaches at their school, knows and keeps their secret. But the couple’s passion is exposed sooner than planned: Amelia’s father, Harlan, is shocked and infuriated to find naked pictures of Anthony on his daughter’s computer. Just hours later, Anthony is arrested.

Despite Amelia’s frantic protests, Harlan uses his wealth and influence with local law enforcement and the media to label Anthony a deviant who preyed on his innocent daughter. Spearheaded by a zealous prosecutor anxious to turn the case into a public crusade against “sexting,” the investigation soon takes an even more disturbing and destructive turn.

As events spiral wildly out of control and the scandalous story makes national news, Amelia and Anthony risk everything in a bold and dangerous attempt to clear their names and end the madness once and for all.

Quick Take: WOW is my first reaction to this subject of this novel.  Exposure is based on true events but I hope Harlan's reaction has been sensationalized to create drama for the reader.  Teenagers think they are invincible at times and tend to come up with strange/hopeful solutions, this is displayed well in the second half of Exposure. 

It's a bit of a Romeo and Juliet love story in modern day.

My son didn't have a camera phone until he was in college, for this I'm thankful!  The author's story (it is based on her son's situation) is one to concern all of us, technology can complicate our lives.

We had a wonderful discussion with the author last night, watch for the audio to post to iTunes in the next few days (search Manic Mommies Book Club under podcasts).

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy

Review: The Legacy

Why I picked it: The cover grabbed my attention and after reading the plot I knew I wanted to read this book. I enjoy stories filled with family secrets and stories with grandmother's (learning about life from another generation).

Synopsis: Following the death of their grandmother, Erica Calcott and her sister Beth return to Storton Manor, a grand and imposing house in Wiltshire, England, where they spent their summer holidays as children. When Erica begins to sort through her grandmother’s belongings, she is flooded with memories of her childhood—and of her cousin, Henry, whose disappearance from the manor tore the family apart.

Erica sets out to discover what happened to Henry—so that the past can be laid to rest, and her sister, Beth, might finally find some peace. Gradually, as Erica begins to sift through remnants of the past, a secret family history emerges: one that stretches all the way back to Oklahoma in the 1900s, to a beautiful society heiress and a haunting, savage land. As past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two terrible acts of betrayal—and the heartbreaking legacy left behind.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take:  From a blessed life in NYC, to the rough daily life of a rancher's wife, to running an English Manor, Caroline's story is one of mystery. 

This is a complicated story that unfolds at a nice pace.  As the synopsis above mentions, one of the granddaughters decides to find out what happened to a cousin who disappeared years ago.  The letters provide the clues to solve the mystery but they also expose a life no one knew about. 

I loved Caroline as a character. There is a point in the novel where her story ends... I wasn't ready for her story to end. I can't remember the last time a character stayed with me like Caroline has (wanting to know more).  Well done!

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Review Copy (NetGalley)

Review: Emily and Einstein

Why I picked it:  I picked this book up at the library, thinking it would be a great book to listen to while commuting to work last month.

Synopsis: Emily and her husband Sandy Portman seemed to live a gracious if busy life in an old-world, Upper West Side apartment in the famous Dakota building. But one night on the way to meet Emily, Sandy dies in a tragic accident. The funeral isn't even over before Emily learns she is on the verge of being evicted from their apartment. But worse than the possibility of losing her home, Emily is stunned when she discovers that her marriage was made up of lies.

Suddenly Emily is forced on a journey to find out who her husband really was . . . all the while feeling that somehow he isn't really gone. Angry, hurt, and sometimes betrayed by loving memories of the man she lost, Emily finds comfort in a scruffy dog named Einstein. But is Einstein's seemingly odd determination that she save herself enough to make Emily confront her own past? Can he help her find a future—even after she meets a new man?

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: What a delightful story, unexpected.

Sandy’s born into a wealthy family and is used to getting what he wants in life. Emily is a sweet woman with a big heart, all she wants is to build a life for herself and to love someone. Sandy is killed in an accident and is given a second chance when he comes back to life as a dog, Einstein. This story is told by both Emily and Sandy/Einstein. It’s more than chick-lit, it’s filled with funny moments as Sandy adjusts to Einstein’s four legged body, seeing Emily grieve, discover secrets about Sandy and rebuilt her life.

Emily adopts Einstein and starts talking to him, not realizing that Einstein is Sandy. I enjoyed the banter with all of the characters and the personal growth that Emily experiences. This is a fun, quick read that I’m happy I read.

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: Library, Audiobook

Review: The Lantern

Why I picked it: If I'm completely honest... I picked this book after seeing it all over the internet. It's getting a lot of press and I was curious.  I enjoy gothic novels (ie: Niffenegger) and thought I would enjoy this one.

Synopsis: When Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom, their whirlwind relationship leads them to purchase Les Genevriers, an abandoned house in a rural hamlet in the south of France.  As the beautiful Provence summer turns to autumn, Eve finds it impossible to ignore the mysteries that haunt both her lvoer and the run-down old house, in particular the mysterious disappearance of his beautiful first wife, Rachel.  Whilst Eve tries to untangle the secrets surrounding Rachel's last recorded days, Les Genevriers itself seems to come alive.

As strange events begin to occur with frightening regularity, Eve's voice becomes intertwined with that of Benedicte Lincel, a girl who lived in the house decades before.  As the tangled skeins of the house's history begin to unravel, the tension grows between Dom and Eve.  In a page-turning race, Eve must fight to discover the fates of both Benedicte and Rachel, before Les Genevriers' dark history has a chance to repeat itself.

An evocative and sensuous tale of romantic and psychological suspense set against an exquisite landscape, The Lantern is a gripping story of past and present, love and jealousy, secrets and lies, appearances and disappearances that captures our age-old terror of the dark.

Type: Fiction

Quick Take: Let me start by saying this book was good, not great.  I'm not sure if part of my confusion was due to reading an ARC on my ipad.  Some of the chapter numbers were sideways, some normal.  I was reading into this... trying to decide if this would help me understand who was narrating a particular chapter, or if we were time traveling to the historical part of the book.  I never figured this out. 

I wasn't emotionally attached to the characters but I can say I enjoyed Eve's story.  She becomes obsessed with Rachel, Dom's first wife who he refuses to talk about.  I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed this book more if I read it in a week's time.  Give this one 100 pages for the story to develop.  The pace picks up and you will enjoy the descriptiveness of France, the house and Eve's emotions. 

Rating: 3/5 stars
Source: Review Copy (NetGalley)

Review: I Married You for Happiness

Why I picked it: I have been enjoying NetGalley and this title grabbed my attention.

Synopsis: Slender, potent, and utterly engaging, I Married You For Happiness combines marriage, mathematics, and the probability of an afterlife to create Tuck's most affecting and riveting book yet.

“His hand is growing cold, still she holds it” is how this novel that tells the story of a marriage begins. The tale unfolds over a single night as Nina sits at the bedside of her husband, Philip, whose sudden and unexpected death is the reason for her lonely vigil. Still too shocked to grieve, she lets herself remember the defining moments of their long union, beginning with their meeting in Paris. She is an artist, he a highly accomplished mathematician—a collision of two different worlds that merged to form an intricate and passionate love. As we move through select memories—real and imagined—Tuck reveals the most private intimacies, dark secrets, and overwhelming joys that defined Nina and Philip's life together.

Type: Fiction/Novella

Quick Take: This book pulled me in immediately. Nina's husband dies suddenly and she spends one last night alone with him and years of memories.  Telling their daughter makes Philip's death real and Nina is not be ready, yet.

This book is just under 200 pages long and packs a punch.  The memories span over 40 years of marriage, from meeting each other to the birth of their daughter, from lovers/affairs to tender memories.  I read this book in just two sittings.  I loved every minute of it, until the last page.  There's nothing wrong with the ending... just that I had already build an alternative ending to end the story in my head.

I'm so glad the cover of the book didn't sway me from reading it (I still don't understand the cover). Have you read it?  I would love to hear your thoughts. 

Rating: 4/5 stars
Source: NetGalley

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