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Book Review: Six of Crows Duology

Book Review:

Six of Crows Duology

By Leigh Bardugo

A duology in the young adult genre, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are a mix of action and fantasy. It all starts when a group of thieves and criminals is hired by a wealthy merchant to kidnap a scientist, who was kidnapped and hidden away in the unbreakable Ice Court. Six of Crows starts the story, but of course, things don’t go exactly according to plan, so the story continues in Crooked Kingdom.

Review/Recommendation: This duology was enjoyable and a quick read. I bought it for vacation and couldn’t put it down. When I finished it, I promptly passed it to my husband, who read it even quicker than I did.

I realize that the above description doesn’t give you much, but I did want to avoid spoilers. So I’ll start here: Although this series was published after The Grisha Trilogy, which comes first chronologically, I actually read this series first. If you skip The Grisha Trilogy or opt to read the books out of order, you’re not missing much. It might take a little more time to grasp the gangs and nationalities of the various peoples and who/what all of the Grisha are, but that’s not a big deal. Additionally, there are a couple of characters that make a cameo, and you’ll miss some historical connections. All of that being said, I certainly didn’t feel like I was missing anything when I read it. It was only in retrospect that I realized that I missed a tiny piece of the story.

To be honest, I enjoyed the duology more than the trilogy. The two books were super fast-paced, filled with action, intrigue and mystery, emotional turmoil (but not the teenage angst you’d expect from a young adult series) and sprinkled with sarcasm and wit. The characters were all likeable and unique, with intense histories that emerged throughout the series, which make you like them even more.

Like The Grisha Trilogy, this set had vaguely Russian undertones to the people’s cultures, the locations, etc. As someone who’s always been drawn to Russian culture and history, it was slightly odd to see those connections but something I enjoyed. Those references made me reminisce a bit about the culture that I experienced through school. (Oh, how I long for blini!)

Given how much my husband and I enjoyed the books, I’m glad we bought the sets. I can see our children reading these in the future. I can even see myself rereading these in the future.

 

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Book Review: Sourdough {Book Review}

Sourdough

By Robin Sloan

Lois is a software engineer for a San Francisco robotics company, but she is isn’t particularly happy. She works long days, subsisting on takeout and a meal replacement ‘drink’ (a nutritive gel) called Slurry. Her anxiety lives in an ever-present knot in her stomach.

Lois’ world starts to change when a Mazg takeout menu is slipped under her door. She orders the Spicy Combo, a Spicy Sandwich and Spicy Soup, and becomes hooked. The Spicy Combo becomes her daily dinner in order to quiet her anxious stomach. That is, until the brothers that own the restaurant (which, come to find out, is their apartment kitchen) leave San Francisco. When they go, the brothers leave Lois with a parting gift – an opinionated, feisty sourdough starter that was the base of their Spicy Sandwich – which Lois is tasked to care in their absence.

Armed with the sourdough starter, Lois learns to bake amazing bread that takes her from programmer to baker-programmer at a new farmers market, selling her bread while teaching a robot arm how to help in her new bread-baking business.

Review/Recommendation: I absolutely devoured this short little novel – super cute, and relatable for those that find time in the kitchen as a place of relief, a place to recharge from work or life in general. It definitely hit home with me, since I work with a bunch of tech-savvy computer guys but am a liberal arts major (who loves crafts) that would be quite content working in a kitchen instead of an office.

Sourdough is filled with fun, quirky characters – from the farmer’s market crew to the Slurry club (a group a the robotics company who subsist on Slurry, to various degrees, instead of food), to the Lois Club (a group of old woman, all named Lois). This varied cast of characters, along with research and determination, help Lois find her way to happiness.

As the book progresses, following Lois’ journey, the weird comes out. The story behind the Lois Club was cute, although a bit unlikely. The idea that a sourdough starter has personality, never mind one so feisty, is definitely out there. At the height of weirdness, the end of the book has a scene that’s completely unrealistic, but that’s ok. All of this weird somehow works, and doesn’t seem quite so odd or outlandish as your read. At least not for this reader.

In summary, this book is light, funny, and definitely worth a read. I’ll be watching the bookshelves for Sloan’s next release, as he’s 2 for 2 in my book.

Sourdough is available on Amazon.

Want to read more by Robin Sloan? Check out Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, also reviewed on Books n’ Cooks and available on Amazon.

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Book Review: Life, On the Line{Book Review}

Life, On the Line:
A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat

By Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Life, On the Line is the story of Grant Achatz, a young man from Michigan who grew up in the kitchens of family restaurants and how he rose to become one of the greatest chefs in America.

Review/Recommendation: Although I consider myself to be somewhat of a foodie, Grant Achatz was unknown to me until my husband received his gorgeous cookbook, Alinea, one year for Christmas. After paging through the cookbook – which was more of a coffee table book full of incredible photos than a cookbook for the home cook – I immediately ordered Life, On the Line to learn more about Achatz.

Achatz’s story – his drive and passion for food and cooking – was incredible, and shown through every aspect of the book. I was rooting for him from the beginning, as a young chef out of culinary school who wanted nothing more than to learn and become the best. We readers watched Achatz grow, experiment, and find himself in Life, On the Line. We watched him nurture his restaurant and his food to become Best Restaurant in America, per Gourmet magazine.

I also was really touched by Achatz’s relationship with his mentor, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry. Another famous chef from one of the country’s best restaurants, I loved reading about how Keller mentored Achatz, encouraged him to find his own way, and cheered on his successes.

About 80% into the book, the tone changed completely as Achatz’s life was turned upside-down in his early 30s. For those that don’t know, shortly after Achatz’s restaurant took off and started receiving national accolades, the chef was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma – tongue cancer. The end of the book was emotional and sometimes tough to get through, as the reader followed Achatz’s battle for his life – his fight to find the will to survive, the journey to figure out how to keep his tongue and his livelihood, the torture of his treatments, and his struggle to maintain his passion for food.

Food-lovers would love the insight into the drive and passion of one of America’s greatest chefs. But truthfully, Achatz’s story should inspire everyone to work hard to make their dreams come true, despite any obstacles that get tossed in their way.

Life, On the Line is available on Amazon.

 

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This review covers the three books in The Grisha Trilogy: 

1 – Shadow and Bone
2 – Siege and Storm
3 – Ruin and Rising

This series also consists of a number of short stories (you can find the list on Goodreads). I did not read any of the short stories prior to writing this review.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Book Review: The Grisha Trilogy

Book Review

The Grisha Trilogy

By Leigh Bardugo

The Grisha are a people endowed with special powers, a people who are considered Masters of the Small Science. Each Grisha is able to manipulate a certain type of matter to achieve extraordinary results. Some, Corporalki, work with what’s in the human body. Others, Etherealki or Summoners, are able to manipulate nature’s elements (wind, fire, water). The final set, the Materialki, are gifted scientists and builders, working with elements such as steal.

Many Grisha – persecuted, experimented on, sold as slaves in some parts of the world – make their way to the land of Ravka, where their unique gifts are nurtured. Here, the Grisha, considered to be part of the country’s elite, learn how to use their gifts and then serve in Ravka’s Second Army, led by the Darkling. The Darkling is the only known Grisha who is capable of summoning darkness, a leader with no equal. That is, until Alina reveals herself. Alina is the Darkling’s opposite – she is the Sun Summoner, a woman who can manipulate light.

This trilogy is largely centered around Alina and the Darkling. In the first book, Shadow and Bone, Alina’s powers are revealed. Throughout the book, Alina struggles to find her place among the Grisha and how to summon light. She is unsure of who to trust, feeling very alone. By the end of the book, Alina comes to realize that the Darkling’s intentions are not what they seemed; that her destiny was not to lead along side him, uniting a country ravaged by war, but rather to oppose him and defeat his plans to rule Ravka.

The second two books in the series, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising, chronicles Alina’s fight against the Darkling. She’s helped by both new and old friends as well as amplifiers, magical items intended to strengthen her power. She still struggles with who to trust, as everyone seems to have a hidden agenda and multiple sets of loyalties. Will Alina and her group of friends be enough to defeat the Darkling and rebuild a war-torn country?

Review/Recommendation: Although a couple of the books (particularly the third) was hard to get into, the trilogy was an enjoyable, quick read. This young adult series (fantasy genre)  has something for everyone – love stories and love triangles, action and deceit. For the most part, the story was fast-paced (I found the beginnings to be the slowest part) and kept me wanting to turn the page and read just one more chapter.

As a former student of Russian language and culture, I’d be remiss if i did not mention the similarities to the Russian culture throughout the series. For starters, the word “grisha” is the diminutive of Gregory, which means watchful. (Bardugo states in the Q&A in the back of book 1 that the word also visually and aurally evokes the word “geisha,” enforcing the sense of beauty and secrecy that surrounds the Grisha people.) The names of people (Nikolai, Morozova, Misha, Aleksander, Sankta Alina) and places (Tsibeya, Novyi Zem, Dva Stolba) were some of the most obvious examples that will resonate with those familiar with the Russian culture. But certain scenes in the snow, of the characters drinking kvas, the troika arriving with holiday gifts to the orphanage etc. reminded me of my Russian studies.

If you like young adult/fantasy books, this series is worth a read. While  I didn’t love it as much as I loved Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Daughter of Smoke and Bones or Divergent books(to name a few), it’s an enjoyable read if you’re looking for another series in the genre.

Available on Amazon.

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The Forgotten Garden chronicles the efforts of two women to uncover pieces of their own family history.

Book Review: The Forgotten GardenDisclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

Book Review
The Forgotten Garden
By Kate Morton

A little girl is found alone with a small suitcase of clothes and a beautiful book of fairy tales on a dock in Australia in 1913. The little girl has no memory. The dockmaster is unable to find her family, or even figure out where to begin looking for them. He takes the little girl home and she is quickly adopted as the first child of the dockmaster and his wife. Named Nell, the little girl grows up knowing nothing of her past, the eldest child of a large family. But when Nell turns 21, her father tells her the truth of her origins – that she was not his biological daughter and that he had no idea of where she came from or who her family might be.

The Forgotten Garden is a story of Nell’s life through multiple sets of eyes during multiple time periods. First, there is Nell’s granddaughter Cassandra, who journeys from Australia to England after Nell’s death, to uncover the truth about Nell’s past (2005, the present of the book). The second set of stories is that of Nell’s own journey to England in 1975, when she attempts to identify her parents and learn about the first few years of her life. Third is set in the early 1900s, following the lives of the Mountrachet family, believed to be Nell’s family. And finally, interwoven in the above, there are short stories from Nell’s book of fairy tales written by The Authoress.

Review/Recommendation: This book was enjoyable throughout, but I really got hooked about halfway through, when I got caught up in the story and started reading at an almost feverish pace. I was thoroughly invested in all of the characters and plot lines, so the switching back and forth between characters and time periods was seamless to me. Additionally, Morton did an excellent job threading the pieces of Nell’s story through each part – showing the reader exactly what happened in the chapter from the early 1900s and then how those particular pieces of the story were brought to light for Nell and/or Cassandra. Amazingly, it felt like the story was packaged into a nice, neat bundle by the end of the book, both satisfying and slightly surprising at exactly how neatly things came together (I actually found myself rewinding the book a bit to make sure everything was covered).

The writing in the book was beautiful; the characters showed depth and evolution. In fact, after finishing the book, I couldn’t stop feeling sad for a couple of the characters. They weren’t the most likeable characters, but their life circumstances evoked such empathy for them. If their life were a bit different or a certain person did not have such a strong influence on those characters, things could have turned out so very differently for them. And no, that sadness didn’t grip me as I read the book but it was something I thought about after I finished it, as I started thinking about writing this review. It’s not often that sentiments about a book stay with me for a little while after finishing, so for that, kudos to Morton!

I gave this book 4/5 stars on Goodreads for two reasons. First, I found the “mystery” a bit predictable – I was pretty easily able to guess the ending, both because it was a bit predictable and because Morton so clearly laid out the clues surrounding Nell’s childhood. Secondly, one piece of the novel left me slightly unsettled as I read it – I was bothered by the strong parallels in several of the fairy tales to other fairy tales and stories that I grew up knowing. I suppose that my feelings about it may be a bit irrational, because so many fairy tales and stories are based on something else, but the parallels were a bit too obvious for me to feel completely comfortable with. That being said, if the fairy tales were absent from the book, I probably would have been curious and wished that they had been included. So it may be an imperfect solution either way.

The Forgotten Garden was an enjoyable read, a great book with which to finish my summer reading.

Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? If not, you can find this book on Amazon.

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Ash and Quill Book ReviewDisclaimer 1: This is a review of the third book in The Great Library Series. If you have not read the first two books in the series, you can read my review for those here.

Disclaimer 2: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

{Book Review}

Ash and Quill

By Rachel Caine

The third book in The Great Library series picks up where the last left off. Jess and his friends escape the clutches of the Library but end up arriving in Philadelphia where a new threat awaits, the Burners – those that would rather burn book than succumb to the Library; those that believed that a human life was more valuable than books and knowledge.

The group is immediately taken prisoner and bides their time until they can escape by performing various tasks for the Burners. But escape is no easy feat, for just outside the city walls sits one of the Library’s High Garda armies, who would surely take them captive as soon as they are seen.

Review/Recommendation: I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, so the wait for this one to be released in July was a long one. After a few weeks of waiting for my library to receive and process the book, I gave up and ordered it myself. Thank goodness for credit with Amazon!

Ash and Quill did not disappoint. The story was as engaging as the first two, much to my husband’s dismay (because I would rather read it than watch Game of Thrones with him). The characters didn’t seem to evolve as much as previous books, but there was nice plot progression. The story line of this book focused on Burner life, culture and beliefs rather than that of the Library. That was something we got a glimpse of in previous books, but neither book were centered around it like this one is.

Like the second in the series, Paper and Quill, this book ends on a pretty big cliffhanger meant to bring the reader back for more. Super annoying when the next book is nowhere in sight. But that, along with the way the story is told indicates that this series is meant to be read in order, so if you haven’t read the first two, please don’t jump to this one. You’ll lose a lot pieces from the story as well as the characters.

Now to anxiously await the release additional book in the series. (Goodreads indicates that there will be a total of five books in this series. As of this writing, there were no details on Rachel Caine’s website, so it probably won’t be released until 2018, at the earliest.)

Buy this book on Amazon

 

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Book Review: The Women in the Castle

{Book Review}

The Women in the Castle

By Jessica Shattuck

On the eve of WWII, a small group from Germany’s high society were planning  Hitler’s assassination. Marianne von Lingenfels was the sole woman present. She not only supported the plot, recognizing the monster that Germany’s leader was, but was charged by the men with protecting and caring for their wives and families, should the plot go awry.

Unsurprisingly, the plot fails and the men, the resisters, are sentenced to death. Marianne survives the war and returns to the castle owned by her husband’s ancestors. It is from that home base that Marianne searches Germany for the women and children she promised to protect. She successfully recovers two fellow resister wives and their children. Together, the three women and their children spend their days at the castle recovering from the war and searching for a way forward in life.

Review/Recommendation: I read a lot of WWII-era historical fiction books but not very many from a German perspective. This  book was super interesting and hard to put down. It was a fantastic story with engaging characters.

I thought it Shattuck did well showing the different perspectives of a German woman during Hitler’s reign. The three widows each brought their own perspective of WWII-era Germany – one [former] Nazi supporter, one adamant resister, and one just slightly the indifferent and a bit oblivious to the politics of the time. Each woman had a history that helped them make it through the years immediately following the war, when they were recovering and attempting to restart their lives. Each had a history that crafted their paths forward after the recovery period.

The Women in the Castle flipped back and forth between different dates (mostly prewar and postwar, the “present” of the novel) and between each of the different characters, giving the reader insight into the women’s history and life. The format worked well for the book and for the story Shattuck crafted.

I really enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to any fans of historical fiction.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

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The Little Paris Bookshop{Book Review}

The Little Paris Bookshop

By Nina George

Jean Perdu is a bit eccentric. He is know as a literary apothecary. Perdu owns a little bookshop, a barge docked on the Seine River. From here, Perdu prescribes books for helping and for healing whatever troubles his customers. “To a certain degree, [Perdu] could read from a body’s posture, its movement and its gestures, what was burdening or oppressing it” (p. 27). Intuitively, Perdu knows exactly what his customers need.

It’s a quiet life, with Perdu going through the motions of everyday life without really living, numb inside. But after a neighbor returns a long-forgotten letter from an old lover, Perdu’s world is turned upside down. Memories and feelings are woken. Perdu must learn to not just cope but to live and love again.

Recommendation/Review: I have mixed feelings on this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed the story. The books chronicles Perdu’s emotional journey starting with reading the letter from his old lover – breaking his heart all over again and inducing great guilt – through experiencing loss, mourning, and healing as he sails to his lover’s homeland. Along his journey, Perdu picks up other men that are in need to healing and self-discovery in their own way. The men provide support for one another, showing and experiencing life’s joys again, and gradually find their way back to living again. I found this touching, and enjoyed seeing Perdu and the other characters grow, learn, and find themselves. Especially Perdu – following him through the stages of grief before he was able to come to terms with history and move on with life.

However, on the other hand, I did find some of the dialog and descriptions in the book a little too flowery and unreal. Nicely written, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes or skimming ahead a bit. It was just a little too over the top for me, at some parts.

Overall, the book was enjoyable, and I’m glad I read it.

If you’ve read this book, what did you think? 

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{Book Review}

The Freedom Broker

By K.J. Howe

Thea Paris, nicknamed “Liberata,” is an expert in the kidnap-and-ransom field, working for a private consulting firm. She routinely negotiates for the release of hostages, but sometimes, works with an elite team to bring the hostages home through covert missions and/or forceful means.

When Thea’s father, a prominent oil executive, is abducted from his home in Greece, she sets off to find him. Thea jets from Greece to Africa, unsure of who she can trust and having no idea what she’ll unravel.

Review/Recommendation: Super short summary, right? The truth is that, while the above is the main plot line, there are a lot of smaller stories that run through the course of the book, all tying into the above at the end.

This mystery/suspense novel was a breath of fresh air from others in the genre. With a lead character a profession other than a cop, federal agent, or a lawyer, it was still fast-paced and very engaging like others in the genre. There were a number of connected story lines that the reader had to puzzle through – how were those story lines connected to Thea’s missing father? Who was lying and about what? Who was trustworthy and who was not? Some answers were clearer than others, which is part of what made the novel so entertaining.

I also appreciated how Howe drew upon the childhood experiences of the main characters. Thea’s brother was kidnapped when the two were children and was missing for about a year. Thea was the intended target. These experiences shaped Thea and her brother’s paths in life, from their occupation to their relationships with others.

If you enjoy mysteries and suspense novels, I’d encourage you to pick up this one.

The Freedom Broker is K.J. Howe’s first novel. It was published in February 2017.

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This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

{Book Review}

The Great Library Series

By Rachel Caine

Books
Book 1: Ink and Bone
Book 2: Paper and Fire
Book 3: Ash and Quill (To be published in July 2017)

Associated Short Stories:
Tigers in the Cage (Book 0.1) – Available for free online here
Stormcrow (Book 0.5) – Available for free online here

This series takes place around the year 2045. It’s a world that is unrecognizable to the reader, as this version of the future starts with a very different version of our history. The Great Library of Alexandria not only survives but rises to a position of power and protects knowledge from being lost from war and disaster that plague Earth’s history. While there are some technological advancements, the Library banishes all ideas that would challenge it’s existence to The Black Archives, essentially rewriting history.

In this version of history, electricity is non-existent, trains and vehicles run on steam. But more important to the plot, Johannes Gutenberg never invented the printing press, or rather, he did but his research was banished to The Black Archives. Instead of reading physical books, stories and books are read on “blanks,” or codices, preloaded with stories from the Library via alchemy. In this way, the Library can not just censor what is read but it can track what the user is interested in. It’s illegal to own handwritten books, with the exception of your own personal journal.

It is in this version of the future that Jess Brightwell lives. Son of a black market book trader, Jess grew up smuggling books and running from the Library. However, at his core, he loves knowledge and books. As he approaches adulthood, his father buys him the opportunity to test into Library service, with the intention that his son would serve the family business from within its enemy.

Ink and Bone starts off with a scene from Jess’ childhood, but is centered around his introduction to the Library, surviving the training and the elimination process, and building a relationship with a small group of fellow trainees. And in the middle of all of that? Jess and his friends are caught in a Library plot against their teacher, putting them into dangerous situations and testing their loyalty, not just to the Library but to each other.

Paper and Fire picks up where the first book left off. Jess and his friends finished training, but are caught up in some pretty dangerous Library plots. This second book is even more fast paced than the first, as the friends embark on a mission to save a friend and constantly run from threats from the Library.

Review/Recommendation: Although it took me a little while to get into the first book, I very much enjoyed the first two books in this series. I particularly enjoyed the historical references throughout the novels – to well-known authors, inventors, and scholars… even if the references in the books didn’t match up with our history. Although it’s supposed to be a young adult series, the historical contexts and general writing style made it feel like more of an adult novel, allowing it to appeal to a wider variety of audiences.

I did read the two short stories associated with this series. They were very short and quick. While interesting, they were so short that they didn’t add much to the general story line, even as background notes on the characters. You can read them or not. If you skip them, you won’t miss anything.

I’ll probably skip any additional short stories that come out, but I look forward to the third book (and any others that come out) coming out this summer.

Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire are both available on Amazon: Ink and Bone and Paper and Fire

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Books n’ Cooks is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. Some links on Books n’ Cooks may be affiliate links – links books and kitchen supplies that I love and would recommend. If you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

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