The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Book – Greta is one of the Children of Peace, hostages of the world’s leaders who live in the Precepture in Saskatchewan. If their country goes to war, they die. It’s one of the rules of Talis, the AI who rules the world – war should be personal, and the people declaring war should have to suffer for it. Talis’s scheme works to keep wars rare, but in a world where water grows scarcer by the day, Greta knows that, sooner or later, her mother’s kingdom will go to war to defend Lake Huron, and she is going to die. The arrival of Elián, the hostage from the newly-formed Cumberland Alliance, shakes both the calm society of the Precepture and Greta’s perception of the world – and her willingness to go peacefully to her doom.

There are a lot of ideas in this book: AI threat, water wars, population devastation, extreme solutions to the age-old problem of war. And they’re all secondary to Greta, who is an amazing character, someone who’s walked blindly for most of her life through a horrible, unfair, heartless system that she grows to believe is not the inevitable way the world has to work. It’s gorgeously written (the last couple of chapters in particular) and the characterization is impeccable. This was an incredible book – heartbreaking and brutal, not gratuitously, but as much as it needed to be. Although technically YA, anyone who loves science fiction or dystopian fiction should love this.

Macaron Mayhem: Conquering the French Dessert 1 Batch at a Time

Books & Recipes – French macarons are my guilty pleasure.  I love the light, crispy yet chewy texture of the delicate cookies, and the sweet, buttery filling ranging from buttercream to chocolate ganache.  Intimidated as I was, I decided to give the fanciest of French desserts a shot.

Naturally, my first stop in my macaron adventure was our library, where I collected some cookbooks, including: The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer, Bake it, don’t fake it! by Heather Bertinetti, and Bouchon Bakery by Sebastien Rouxel.

The Art of the French Pastry and Bake It, Don’t Fake It were both very helpful in introducing me to the world of French pastries, including detailed baking guides as well as helpful hints for novice bakers.  Bouchon Bakery is a beautifully photographed cookbook that made me believe I too could create Instagram worthy delicacies.  Additionally, I requested Macarons: Authentic French Cookie Recipes by Cecile Cannone through Interlibrary Loan,  which features a ton of recipes for both macaroon shells and fillings.

The first batch was an absolute failure and did not reach fruition.  Anyone who has made macarons will tell you how  crucial it is not to overbeat your egg whites; and mine ended up looking like a pile of soapy egg suds.  Yuck.

The batter was still fairly lumpy in my second batch but I persevered, hoping everything would magically work itself out, which somehow, it did!  My third attempt went 1,000 times better.  With the assistance of my sous-chef (aka: Mom), I managed to whip the egg whites into shiny, perfectly stiff peaks.  With the grace of an experienced baker, she showed me how to gently (so as not to collapse the fluffy batter) fold in the dry ingredients.

Three more batches and 12 hours (yes, TWELVE hours) later, I could bake no more, with over 100 macarons.  With some fancily piped Vanilla Buttercream (recipe courtesy of Cecile Cannone’s Macarons: Authentic French Cookie Recipes), even I was impressed by my handiwork.

 

Letting Go by Maya Banks

Book – Josslyn is widow after a tragic accident. She finally decides to move on with her personal love life 3 years later. She has a wonderful set of best girlfriends who help her grieve, but no one has been her rock more than Dash. Dash is her dead husband’s best friend. Her husband, Carson, was abused relentlessly as a child and had never been able to provide Josslyn with the one thing she craved most – dominance in the bedroom. Dash has always had a romantic interest in Joss, and Carson is well aware of this, but absolutely secure in his marriage. After many years of grief, its time for her to step up and explore that world she has always wanted/needed but knew Carson could never give her. With lots of decisions, and expectations laid out for herself she obtains a membership at The House. The House is a safe and secure place to explore all your inner sexual fantasies without any judgment. On her first night there, she is discovered by Dash himself just feet inside the door. He is furious that she is that and she has no idea what she has gotten herself into. He drags her out of the building in an instant, takes her home and they have the awkward talk about why she was there and what she is looking for. At this point it is Dash her knows he is able to fulfill her every need with his long time Dominant/Submissive lifestyle. It is Dash who introduces her to the intriguing world of BDSM.

I found this book to be truly an eye opener into the world of BDSM. I have never read Maya Banks before, but am eager to see what other series she has. This is book 1 in a series called The Surrender Trilogy. This book does have some light BDSM , but it is a character driven story.  The character development is incredible. I cried, laughed, blushed, and ohh la la ‘ed with this story. Definitely a book for adults looking for a little steam, I highly recommend this entire series. There are surprises all along the way.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender By Leslye Walton

Book– Foolish love seems to run in the Roux family tree, reaching back four generations and finally landing on poor Ava Lavender. Ava was born with the wings of a bird, a peculiar disposition to be born with. In her seemingly never ending quest to fit in with her peers, she dives into her families history with bad love. An great aunt that turned into a bird, a great grandmother who faded away, a mother who was abandoned for another, a man murdered for loving the wrong person. It’s just a few examples of the surprising tragedies that seem to follow this family everywhere. When Ava is five a new family moves into the house next door and she finally makes a friend for life, the two of them go on adventures everywhere and one day when they are both sixteen a mysterious Pastor moves in down the street. He quickly falls in love with Ava, but under the belief that she is an angle. This haunting novel comes to a conclusion when Ava goes missing, how? You’ll just have to read it to find out.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book, it turned into a haunting and beautiful tale about what it means to love too deeply and get hurt in the end. I could not put this book down. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender had me moved from the first page and kept me thinking to the very end. This is a must read for everyone.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

dbd04a03f81f114a28fac1068a273e72Book—  His Bloody Project concerns the murder of a husband, wife, and child in a remote 1800s Scottish highland town. There is no question that local teenager Roderick Macrae is guilty. Framed as a series of historical documents found by the author, Macrae’s fictional descendant, the novel captivates not on the basis of who did the murders, but why he did the murders. We get views of Roderick from his neighbors, his lawyer, the newspapers, his priest, a famed criminal anthropologist of the time, and his own diary, each of them proffering viable explanations . Despite all of this testimony, I was unsure at the end what motivated Macrae and am still spinning theories to explain his reasons.

I was surprised to learn this novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. His Bloody Project has all the drive and atmosphere of a tautly written thriller and is more reminiscent of the documentary Making a Murderer than the literary fare that generally garners Man Booker prizes. If you enjoy this novel, I would recommend others with compelling, unreliable narrators in historical settings, such as The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell.

Answering 911: Life in the Hot Seat by Caroline Burau

Book – Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a 911 operator, to be on the receiving end of any number of emergencies and daily life struggles, never quite knowing what that next phone call will bring?  Needing to respond clearly, quickly, without hesitation.  I can’t imagine the pressure and anxiety of worrying whether you helped someone, and especially if your help came too late.

Caroline Burau shares her experiences working as an emergency dispatch operator in Answering 911: Life in the Hot SeatWhile weaving in details from her past and personal life, Caroline composes a relatively chronological account of her work as a 911 dispatcher.  Reading the memoir, it feels as if we the readers are actually shadowing the author through her daily work.  Because of this writing approach, it’s easy to picture the dispatch center’s environment.  We see the inner workings of the center, and watch Caroline’s as she first becomes an operator through her decision to leave the job.  I appreciated that the author doesn’t try to romanticize her career as a dispatcher.  The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about this job is “Wow!  That must be really exciting and she must have a lot of crazy stories!”  Which isn’t true, as Caroline points out.  More often than not it is not emergencies that come through the phones, but day to day struggles, claims of stolen items, neighbor complaints…etc.

Caroline is honest and to the point, detailing the highs and lows of the job, it’s impact on her life, and through it all, her desire to help people.  Her writing style is informative, but not really humorous as most memoirists I tend to read.  When we are not learning about her career, readers gain insight into Caroline’s own personal thoughts/mind, encountering her inner demons, self-doubt, and desire to make a difference.

 

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

Book – The death of a mutual friend reunites former lovers Amanda and Dawson 25 years later in The Best of Me, set in the small town of Oriental, North Carolina.  As high school sweethearts, the couple persevered in their relationship and defied the realities of their very different lives.  Amanda’s family was wealthy and socially prominent.  Dawson lived on the wrong side of the tracks.  His family was well known as a bunch of low life thugs and Dawson desperately wanted to rise above that and better himself not only for Amanda, but for himself, as well.  A kindly man named Tuck took Dawson under his wing and helped the young couple shield their romance from the disapproving outside world.  Being young and naïve the couple was convinced that love would conquer all.  But life’s circumstances eventually separated them.

When they meet again so many years later, they are both filled with mixed emotions.  Evidently, the passion is still there for both of them. As they reacquaint with each other we learn about their lives for the last quarter century.  Once, again very different circumstances from each other.  Hence, the big question – Should they finally give in to their love for each other or should they fulfill their responsibilities to their current lives and part ways again?

This is classic Nicholas Sparks.   Heartfelt, bittersweet, and predictable for some, but that is the appeal of his stories.

If you enjoy this novel, you may also want to watch the The Best of Me that is based on this book and read the many other books by this author including his most recent, Two By Two.

The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Book – Surrealism, as it was invented, wasn’t just an art movement but a political one as well, designed to help the practitioner break out of the mindset imposed on us by the culture we live in and invent a new and better world. Given that, it was really only a matter of time before China Miéville wrote a book about a surrealist city rising up to overthrow its fascist oppressors.

It’s 1950, and Paris is still occupied – both by the Nazis and by the manifs, physical embodiments of surrealist art and poetry that sprang into existence after the S-bomb exploded in a café in the 40s. The city has been sealed off to prevent the manifs from infecting the surrounding countryside. Thibaut is the last remaining member of Main á Plume, a surrealist Resistance faction, when he’s joined by Sam, an American photographer who’s chronicling the manifs for a book she wants to produce, The Last Days of New Paris. But Sam has other goals in mind, and they have to do with the Nazi scheme to leash the manifs as weapons, which is beginning to show signs of success.

This is such a perfect China Miéville book that I really can’t give it a better recommendation than that: If you like his books, you should love this. It’s probably a little easier to follow if you’re moderately familiar with the Surrealists, but there are some helpful illustrations (and an index chronicling the sources of the manifs, if you want to look them up). If you’ve never tried Miéville before, this isn’t necessarily the place to start (unless you really love Surrealism). May I recommend The City & The City, a surrealist mystery novel that’s recently been announced for an upcoming BBC adaptation?

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Book – With the new Hulu show buzzing all over the internet (yes, it’s exactly as good, exactly as well-acted, exactly as gorgeous and exactly as wrenching as you’ve heard) and the book back on top of the bestseller lists, I thought it was high time for a re-read of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in the Republic of Gilead, the onetime United States, in a not-so-distant future.  In response to a precipitous drop in the birth rate and following a major terrorist attack, America’s freedoms have been subtly stripped away–first the suspension of the Constitution, then the freezing of women’s bank accounts and the passing of a law against women taking work outside the home, then the declaration that second marriages and homosexuality are illegal and an oppressive and extreme form of Protestantism is the only legal religion.  By the time our heroine attempts to flee for Canada with her husband and daughter, it’s too late to get away.  The family is seized and split up.

Because the character we know as Offred (her real name is taken from her) has proven her fertility by producing a healthy child, she is a valuable natural resource.  Instead of being labeled an ‘Unwoman’ and facing certain death on a crew cleaning toxic waste, she is trained as a ‘Handmaid’–part concubine, part surrogate mother, the property of one of Gilead’s powerful Commanders and designated to bear children which will then belong to him and his wife.  Powerless to prevent her own monthly ritualized rape and subject to hatred, jealousy and violence –mostly from other women whose domination over her is the one small power they themselves have left in a world where women cannot lead, read or work outside the house–Offred finds tiny methods of rebellion, tiny ways to keep her sanity and sense of self.  Over time, she builds the tools and connections to foster a more definite resistance.

As that description suggests, The Handmaid’s Tale is anything but a simple read.  It’s dark, painful and, above all, terrifying.  But it’s also starkly beautiful, a masterpiece of linguistic efficiency with not a syllable wasted, and unforgettably powerful.  Everyone should read it at least once in their lives.

Pogue’s Basics: Money: Essential Tips and Shortcuts about Beating the System by David Pogue

Book – I love to read books about saving money. Pogue’s book focuses on ways to save that don’t require a lot of time or lifestyle changes. One chapter highlights shopping hacks, such as the timing of purchases, finding online discounts and maximizing Amazon prime, coupons and gift cards. For the home, he discusses cutting the cord (from cable) and methods of economizing heating and cooling. The book also covers cars, travel and tax tips. One chapters details things you can do to earn money and another considers your existing financial arrangements. His writing style is casual and easy to understand. A fun, quick read that just may end up saving you a few dollars. Pogue also wrote Pogue’s Basics: Life: Essential Tips and Shortcuts for Simplifying Your Day.