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Delicious by Ruth Reichl

Title: Delicious
Author: Ruth Reichl
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
ISBN: 9781400069620
Number of Pages: 400 
How I Got It: Edelweiss

Format: Kindle

Goodreads Summary: 

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.
Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.

My Review:
Ruth Reichl's memoir TENDER AT THE BONE was a celebrated memoir and now her debut novel DELICIOUS! is a foodie dream novel. Billie possesses an impressive palate, narrowing in on flavors and combinations like a musical prodigy with perfect pitch. As Billie becomes submersed in the food family surrounding her job, she begins to feel at peace with food again. Prone to panic attacks when entering a kitchen, she sticks to her work at the magazine and her side job at family run deli. When Delicious is shut down, Billie is offered the job of staying behind in the mansion to answer the telephone for the Delicious Guarantee. Filled with a great cast of characters, readers will experience the connections of workplace grudges and friendships. The secondary story of correspondence between James Beard and Lulu Swan is sweet and heartbreaking. A great novel for all the foodies out there.

** I was given a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review **

Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

Title: Black Moon

Author: Kenneth Calhoun
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
ISBN: 9780804137140
Number of Pages: 288
How I Got It: NetGalley 
Format: Kindle

Goodreads Description: 
Insomnia has claimed everyone Biggs knows.  Even his beloved wife, Carolyn, has succumbed to the telltale red-rimmed eyes, slurred speech and cloudy mind before disappearing into the quickly collapsing world.  Yet Biggs can still sleep, and dream, so he sets out to find her.

He ventures out into a world ransacked by mass confusion and desperation, where he meets others struggling against the tide of sleeplessness.  Chase and his buddy Jordan are devising a scheme to live off their drug-store lootings; Lila is a high school student wandering the streets in an owl mask, no longer safe with her insomniac parents; Felicia abandons the sanctuary of a sleep research center to try to protect her family and perhaps reunite with Chase, an ex-boyfriend.  All around, sleep has become an infinitely precious commodity. Money can’t buy it, no drug can touch it, and there are those who would kill to have it. However, Biggs persists in his quest for Carolyn, finding a resolve and inner strength that he never knew he had. 
Kenneth Calhoun has written a brilliantly realized and utterly riveting depiction of a world gripped by madness, one that is vivid, strange, and profoundly moving.

My Review:
I had great hopes for this book. Who can't relate to insomnia in this age of round the clock work expections and encroaching technology? I was ready for a dystopian drama playing my nightly dread of not getting enough sleep but instead got all of the horror with none of the Patient 0 /origin / reason that makes a story like this work. The scenes were great but the "climax" was so disappointing that I found myself extremely frustrated that I had put the hours into reading such a let-down. Not since Stephen King's Under the Dome have I been this disappointed in a dystopian novel. 

** I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review **

I See You Made an Effort by Annabelle Gurwitch

Title: I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, Indignities and Survival Stories 
Author: Annabelle Gurwitch 
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Publication Date: March 6, 2014
ISBN: 9780399166181
Number of Pages: 256 
How I Got It: NetGalley
Format: Kindle

NetGalley Summary:

Actress and humorist Annabelle Gurwitch returns with I See You Made an Effort, a book of essays so wickedly funny it may make you forget your last birthday. Not one to shy away from the grisly realities of middle age, the “slyly subversive” (O, The Oprah Magazine) Gurwitch confronts the various indignities faced by femmes d’un certain age with candor, wit, and a healthy dose of hilarious self-deprecation. 
Whether falling in lust at the Genius bar, navigating the extensive—and treacherously expensive—anti aging offerings at a department-store beauty counter, coping with the assisted suicide of her best friend, negotiating the ins and outs of acceptable behavior with her teenage kid, or the thudding financial reality of the “never-tirement” generation that leads her to petty theft, Gurwitch’s essays prove her a remarkably astute writer in her prime (in so many ways). Is this the beginning of the Eileen Fisher years? Where does one conduct an affair with a younger man? Is 50 the new 40? Or is 50 still just…50?
Scorchingly honest, surreally and riotously funny, I See You Made an Effort is the ultimate coming-of-middle-age story and a must-read for women of all ages. Reading glasses not included.

My Review:
This book was funny but it may have been funnier to me if I was 50. At 37, I can laugh at myself and the funny things that aging does to women or the general neuroses we are all victim of. Staying awake worrying about family, money, the Holocaust, anything really, until you realize you are not going to fall asleep and then wondering if you would feel better or worse if you took a sleeping pill this late at night. Gurwitch points out the limited shopping selections we have as women once we age out of the juniors section but are not quite ready for elastic waistband pants at Coldwater Creek. I currently am the mother of a teenager roughly the same age as Gurwitch's son. I am exhausted now and can only imagine how much more tired I would be if I were a decade older and dealing with the whirling vortex that is the teenage years. In short, I got a few chuckles out of Gurwitch's stories but I didn't crack up. If I revisit this read in 13 years when I am turning 50, I may find it hilarious, but to me today it is merely lukewarm. 

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

iRead Book Tour: The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli

Title: The Gondola Maker
Author: Laura Morelli
Publisher: Laura Morelli
Publication Date:
ISBN: 9780989367103
Number of Pages: 306
How I Got It: iRead Book Tours
Format: Paperback
In 16th-century Venice, the heir to a family boatyard rejects his destiny but is drawn to restore an old gondola with the dream of taking a girl for a ride.

Venice, 1581
Luca Vianello is the heir to the city's most esteemed gondola-making family. But when an accidental tragedy strikes the boatyard, Luca believes his true calling lies elsewhere. Readers will appreciate the authentic details of gondola craftsmanship along with a captivating tale of artisanal tradition and family bonds set in one of the world's most magnificent settings: Renaissance Venice.

My Review:
This novel will transport readers to Renaissance Venice with canals and a bustling city life. A bildungsroman fraught with class tensions, THE GONDOLA MAKER is a story of young love. Luca Vianello loves Giuliana Zanchi the moment he sets eyes on her. But as gondolier for local artist Master Trevisan, Luca is not of noble birth and therefore not an acceptable match for Giuliana. However, Giuliana needs privacy for a few errands and Luca is more than happy to be her personal servant. 

Q&A with Laura Morelli:
Hello Laura,
I thoroughly enjoyed reading THE GONDOLA MAKER and am excited to promote it on my blog at the end of the month. This will be my first time participating in a book tour. Exciting! I'd like to ask you a few questions and I will feature them with my review.

1. How did you compile your research of gondola making? 
I’m sure my method was “novel” (so to speak) in that the foundational research that went into The Gondola Maker was actually conducted for another book. I didn’t plan it that way! While I was writing Made in Italy, I traveled all over Italy, from the Alps to the islands, talking with contemporary artisans who still practice centuries-old traditions like Murano glass, Florentine leather, Sicilian ceramics, Roman gold smithing, and of course, Venetian gondolas. Over and over, the people I interviewed emphasized how important it was to pass the torch of tradition to the next generation. I began to wonder what would happen—especially centuries ago—if the successor were not able… or willing. The character of the gondola maker and his son began to take shape in my head.

As I began to work on The Gondola Maker, it was an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the primary historical sources about the history of the gondola, the world of the guilds or arti, and Venetian boatmen in Renaissance Venice. Historically, Venetians were well aware of their position in the world and so there are a lot of historical sources from which to draw, although private boatmen and other domestic servants only appear incidentally in the historical record, sometimes in reference to a crime or other infraction.

2. Was the virginity of some young Venetian women of high birth bartered in the way you describe Giuliana’s?
This part of the plot is purely fictional as far as I know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someday I came across a reference to it in the historical record. One of the fascinating things about Venetian history in this period is how easily people managed to entangle themselves in complex webs of personal and professional intrigues. There are stories everywhere about private dealings and underground rings of various sorts, involving everyone from prostitutes and boatmen to merchants and politicians. You have to remember how strictly the social hierarchy was drawn in the Venetian Republic; everyone had his or her place. Understandably, people tried to earn money, power, and privilege in ways that sometimes—very easily—took them outside the boundaries of the hierarchy.   

3. Is Master Trevisan based on a particular artist, a compilation of artists, or entirely your own creation?
Good question! My training as an art historian informed most aspects of Trevisan’s character, although he is not based on one artist in particular. I drew on art historical sources for well-known 16th-century Venetian painters like Tintoretto and Veronese, for whom we know quite a lot about their patrons, commissions, assistants, and workshop practices. I enjoyed writing Trevisan’s character and would like to spend more time with him.  

4. Would you say most modern gondoliers favor Alvise or Luca?
If you believe the historical record, Alvise is a stereotypical boatman of the Renaissance, and Luca would have been the exception. Historical documents of this period—including filings of legal and criminal proceedings, law books, guild statutes, and incidental mentions—include fascinating details about Venetian boatmen and their activities. If you believe these sources, they were notorious for cursing, gambling, carousing, and aiding in underground trade. I would say that the gondoliers of today are significantly fewer in number and infinitely more tame than their 16th-century predecessors!

5. What are some of your current writing projects?
I am working on revised editions of my books, Made in Italy and Made in France, and am also writing a series of small guides that lead travelers to discover authentic arts in specific cities and regions of Europe. Venice will be the first!

Sixteenth-century Venice is the star of Laura Morelli's well-crafted historical novel about the heir to the city's most renowned gondola builder.
--Publishers Weekly Starred Review

The heir to a gondola empire rejects his birthright in this fascinating glimpse into Renaissance Venice.
--Kirkus Indie Book of the Month

I'm a big fan of Venice, so I appreciate Laura Morelli's special knowledge of the city, the period, and the process of gondola-making. An especially compelling story.
--Frances Mayes, author, Under the Tuscan Sun 

Laura Morelli has done her research, or perhaps she was an Italian carpenter in another life. One can literally smell and feel the grain of finely turned wood in her hands.
--Pamela Sheldon Johns, author, Italian Food Artisans

Beautiful immersion into Renaissance Venice.
--Susan Van Allen, author, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Historical fiction at its best.
--Midwest Book Review



About Laura Morelli:
Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and a Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She has taught art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at several American universities. Laura authors a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic arts and travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, and other media. She is also the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction.

The Widow Waltz by Sally Koslow

Title: The Widow Waltz
Author: Sally Koslow
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: May 27, 2014 (first published June 13, 2013)
ISBN: 9780670025640
Number of Pages: 352
How I Got It: from publisher
Format: paperback

Goodreads Summary:
Georgia Waltz has things many people only dream of: a plush Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park, a Hamptons beach house, valuable jewels and art, two bright daughters, and a husband she adores, even after decades of marriage. It’s only when Ben suddenly drops dead from a massive coronary while training for the New York City Marathon that Georgia discovers her husband—a successful lawyer—has left them nearly penniless. Their wonderland was built on lies.
      As the family attorney scours emptied bank accounts, Georgia must not only look for a way to support her family, she needs to face the revelation that Ben was not the perfect husband he appeared to be, just as her daughters—now ensconced back at home with secrets of their own—have to accept that they may not be returning to their lives in Paris and at Stanford subsidized by the Bank of Mom and Dad. As she uncovers hidden resilience, Georgia’s sudden midlife shift forces her to consider who she is and what she truly values. That Georgia may also find new love in the land of Spanx and stretch marks surprises everyone—most of all, her.
 Sally Koslow’s fourth novel is deftly told through the alternating viewpoints of her remarkable female protagonists as they plumb for the grit required to reinvent their lives. Inspiring, funny, and deeply satisfying, The Widow Waltz explores in a profound way the bonds between mothers and daughters, belligerent siblings, skittish lovers, and bitter rivals as they discover the power of forgiveness, and healing, all while asking, "What is family, really?"

My Review:
This is a perfect summer read. The cover alone shows how great of a "beach book" this would be. After finding out that her recently deceased husband has failed to provide the financial security that he swore to her was in place for the care of her and their daughters after his death, Georgia Waltz must face reality. No more furs and fancy apartments in the city. Her daughters are now helping her to sell her prized antiques on E-bay and trying to gain their own personal footing as well. The two twenty-something sisters have always had a strained relationship and now they both find themselves needed by their mother while they each are facing major life decisions. 
While the story grows out of Georgia's husband's death and "missing" finances, the set of characters and their actions are warm and funny. Georgia's brother and his partner provide great snarky commentary and her daughters are so different but each at the universal doorstep  of true adulthood that any woman can relate to their confusion in some way. 
I really enjoyed this book, especially after I had just come off a terrible streak of difficult and unfullfilling reads. Stick THE WIDOW WALTZ in your beach bag and you won't be sorry.  
*** I received this book in exchange for an honest review, I was not compensated in any additonal manner. *** 

The Last Time I Saw You by Eleanor Moran

Title: The Last Time I Saw You
Author: Eleanor Moran
Publisher: Quercus
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
ISBN: 9781780876320
Number of Pages: 400
How I Got It: direct offer from publisher
Format: Kindle

Goodreads Summary:

When Olivia Berrington gets the call to tell her that her best friend from college has been killed in a car crash in New York, her life is turned upside down. Her relationship with Sally was an exhilarating roller coaster, until a shocking betrayal drove them apart. But if Sally really had turned her back, why is her little girl named after Olivia?
As questions mount about the fatal accident, Olivia is forced to go back and unravel their tangled history. But as Sally’s secrets start to spill out, Olivia’s left asking herself if the past is best kept buried.

My Review:
This is going to be a very short and honest review. I don't like to give negative reviews but consider it advice to my fellow readers to allow them to save their time and money. I should have given up reading this when I was not initially engaged, however, I completed the book. The story features repetitive scenes and the main character continually doesn't speak up when necessary and has outbursts at inappropriate times. The mystery surrounding Sally's death causes tension and suspension but when certain aspects come to light, reactions are vague and not fully flushed out. I would not recommend this book and will therefore not be promoting this selection on social media. 

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

The Forgotten Roses by Deborah Doucette

Title: The Forgotten Roses
Author: Deborah Doucette
Publisher: Owl Canyon Press
Publication Date: February 24, 2014
ISBN: 9780991121106
Number of Pages: 244
How I Got It: From author
Format: Paperback

Description (From Back Cover) : 
Rebecca Griffin has everything she could ever want--or so says her big-hearted, opinionated Italian-American family. But now her marriage is unraveling and her teenage daughter is hurtling toward self-destruction. While Rebecca struggles to hang onto her husband and save her daughter, she learns of the mysterious death of a young woman long ago at a local prison. As Rebecca's mother, Eva, reveals their family's connection to the girl, Rebecca is drawn into the story--it haunts her. A search for answers takes Rebecca from her small idyllic New England town, to the congested streets of East Boston and the tight-knit Italian neighborhood where most of the family still resides. As she tries to dig up the facts of the young girl's life and violent death, the puzzle pieces in Rebecca's life begin to take shape and she faces the difficult truth about her husband, Drew. Rebecca, her troubled daughter, Dana, and the enigmatic figure from the past, unknowingly embark on a collision course one desperate autumn night when the answers they seek come to light in the most forgotten of places from the most innocent of messengers.

My Review: 
After reading this novel, I read on Deborah Doucette's Goodreads author page that "[t]he books that influenced [her] writing are Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood, then Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees, and finally Alice Hoffman's Turtle Moon. All wonderful writers with unique voices, lyrical prose and sharp imagery." I believe THE FORGOTTEN ROSES is indeed a combination of these three novels. The cover and title were originally going to be the first things I would have suggested changing. My first impression was that the softly lit roses on the cover were a generic stock photo and the title wistful and generic, but upon completion of the novel, I think they are both perfect choices.  Without giving away any spoilers, I will simply say that I dare you to think differently when you finish reading it for yourself. 
Doucette nails the guilt and confusion of being a working mother with a rebellious child and a distant husband. Her mental photographs and internal dialogue are precise as well as universal and her imagery is shocking and memorable. 
There are a few inconsistencies and grammatical errors throughout the text and I wish the ending was a bit more detailed but Doucette reeled me in and I couldn't let go. I will be recommending THE FORGOTTEN ROSES as a book that may have been overlooked by mainstream media but definitely deserves a read. 

*** I received this book in exchange for an honest review ***

The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

Title: The Shadow Year
Author: Hannah Richell
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: June 20, 2013
ISBN: 9781455554331
Number of Pages: 416
How I Got It: She Reads May selection 
Format: Paperback

Summary: With a novel that Anita Shreve calls "engrossing and clever," Hannah Richell returns to the literary scene with her newest novel, THE SHADOW YEAR. Encompassing atmospheric storytelling, graceful prose, and layered plots Richell leads readers through twists, turns, ups, and downs to an explosive and emotional ending. THE SHADOW YEAR is told from dual perspectives, differing by 30 years. In present day we meet Lila, a young interior designer recovering from the devastating aftermath of a miscarriage. Mysteriously, Lila inherits a dilapidated cottage in London's Northern Peak district and decides to rehab it in hopes that the restoration will not only breath life into the house, but back into her soul as well. Thirty years earlier, five friends from university decide to shrug off the constraints of society and build a paradise in that same run down home. Living off the land and relying on each other, the five friends spend one unforgettable year together. But as the plotlines progress and Lila begins to untangle the life the cottage once contained, she discovers that even in the light of good intentions, unavoidable secrets are bound to be discovered. 

My Review: 
The dual storyline in THE SHADOW YEAR kept me flipping the pages and I was unable to put the book down at the end of any chapter. (Does anyone else tell themselves "I'll stop at the end of the chapter."? I like a designated starting and stopping point.) Chapters flew by and I just couldn't bring myself to take a break until it was absolutely necessary (my family likes me to feed them and stuff.) The earlier storyline had me thinking of Walden long before the book is mentioned. Living off the land, self-sustainability, and drinking in the beauty of nature caused much daydreaming by me in my college American literature class. Author Hannah Richell re-awakened those dreams with her lush descriptions of the lake, the cottage and the surrounding land. Thoreau, being secluded solitarily, dove into deep personal introspection. Richell twists this landscape to highlight personal interactions in a secluded group. The dynamics of the group appear "normal" enough at first (recent graduates uncertain about their future) but become darker as the novel progresses. Kat's quiet obsession with Simon may have fizzled out in a different setting but at the lake it becomes stronger. As Simon becomes more and more dominating, tensions rise until a dark chain of events propels the first storyline to merge with the second.
The group at the lake drew my attention the most in the novel. As the initial excitement of their seclusion wears off, the red flags begin to appear with Simon and I was still trying to figure out the twists right to the end. The title is an absolutely perfect choice because Richell was able to strike just enough of an uneasy feeling without pushing the reader to full terror.

** I received this book in exchange for an honest review**

Slices of Life by Leah Eskin

Title: Slices of Life: A Food Writer Cooks through Many a Conundrum
Author: Leah Eskin
Publisher: Perseus Books Group / Running Press
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
ISBN: 9780762452705
Number of Pages: 408
How I Got It: NetGalley
Format: Kindle


For nearly a decade, Leah Eskin has been serving up chronicles of everyday life, along with mouthwatering recipes, to the readers of her “Home on the Range” column in the Chicago Tribune. Now she has whipped up Slices of Life, a collection of her columns covering everything from her early married days to parenting adolescents—and everything in between. From “Best Friend Biscuits” to “Recovery Paella” to “Sullen Child Oatmeal Squares,” there’s always a recipe to cope with life’s sticky situations: the dinner party gone awry, the mortifying soccer match, the houseguest who eats nothing, the teenager who won’t listen. She tells the story of family life through its ordinary disasters—and pleasures.
Slices of Life is both a charming memoir told through food, and with more than 200 recipes, it’s also a delectable cookbook that will enchant anyone who appreciates the big and little moments of life.
My Review:
For those not familiar with Leah Eskin's columns, this compilation is a great introduction. SLICES OF LIFE provides over 200 great recipes, each accompanied by mini essay introductions. Equal parts personal stories about dinner party disasters, picky eaters, camping, and general family life, and fairly easy to follow recipes, this book will be enjoyed by any food lover / food critic / food blogger.

I have always thought that certain situations require certain food. Like a prescription or remedy. Tough days call for something hearty like spaghetti and meatballs to fill you and up and provide a good night's sleep. A simple roast chicken is perfect for Girls' Night In (plenty of time to chat while the chicken crisps up.) Like chocolate chip cookies for the first day of school, an easy casserole for new moms and neighbors, some foods and situations just go together. 

The Red Hot Pepper Cure looks especially like a recipe I will try. If it works as well as she states, I'll whip up an extra big batch to freeze and pull out whenever someone gets the sniffles. I also think I'll try the Almond Cake and the Onion Tart. I will definitely be revisiting this book regularly for some cooking inspiration. 

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

Love Poems

Title: Love Poems
Author: Charles Bane, Jr.
Publisher: Aldrich Press
Publication Date: December 27, 2013
ISBN: 9780615934969
 Number of Pages: 32
How I Got It: from author
Format: PDF

Goodreads Author Summary:
Charles Bane, Jr. is a Chicago native. His previous book, “The Chap Book, Poems by Charles Bane Jr.” was published by Curbside Splendor in 2011. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, his work has appeared in print and on line at The Indian Diary, Clutching at Straws, Durable Goods, Word Pond, and numerous other journals. His work has also been the focus of critical review, most recently in, “The Poetry of Charles Bane, Jr., An Introduction” in the Calliope Nerve. 

My Review: 
Charles Bane's "Love Poems" is a wonderfully accessible collection. Spanning time, place, and types of love, Bane presents an entire world in each compact composition. Ranging from romantic love in rainy Paris, familial love for a child, and forgiving love for a murderer, these poems portray the simplicity of love in a myriad of complex states. This slim volume offers readers the wonderful experience of 27 poems that initially appear simple and small but in truth are snippets of one of humanity's most powerful forces...love.

Listen here to the author read "In Paris"
Order your copy here

** I received a copy of this collection of poems in exchange for an honest review**