Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shining Sea

Shining Sea by Anne Korkeakivi
Little, Brown and Company: 8/9/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316307840

Shining Sea by Anne Korkeakivi is a highly recommended family saga that spans generations.

The novel opens with Michael Gannon, 43, family patriarch and Bataan Death March survivor, realizing that he is about to die from a heart attack while finishing painting their California home. The focus then shifts to his widow, Barbara, mother of four: Mike Jr., Luke, Francis, Patty Ann, and pregnant with their fifth child, Sissy, and to Francis, the troubled youngest son. Chapters in the novel open with the dates, chronologically ranging from 1962 to 2015. Each dated chapter then follows either Barbara or Francis and the events that happened to them or the family that year, from their point of view.

The time span between chapters can be short or span many years, unlike family sagas that follow a set year by year progression (like Jane Smiley's hundred year's trilogy). While there is insight into family dynamics and the impact loss and war has played in their lives, the only two family members the reader will have any insight into are Barbara and Francis. Barbara's chapters will have more about her children, especially Patty Ann's troubled life, but the insight provided is based on what Barbara sees and experiences. Francis is always on the move, on the run, and an enigma to his family.

Shining Sea is well written and the story of the Gannon family, told through the experiences of Barbara and Francis, is captivating. The changing family dynamics over the years is captured along with the attitudes of the changing times. The damage, both physical and psychological, and loss the family experiences are caused by war, either the declared/military or the domestic variety, is poignantly captured. Life rarely turns out how you planned it to; it can be challenging, difficult and full of pain. It can also be full of hope and beauty. I think Barbara captured the acceptance of a situation and the ability to keep moving forward, even though she also chooses to be in denial sometimes.

There are a couple drawbacks for me. First is that the other children and characters are not fully developed. Then, there is closure at the end, but it seemed almost too pat. The final niggling thought I have about Shining Sea is not really a problem as it is endemic and what is expected of a family saga, but, at a certain point, if you have lived long enough, you have experienced all they have or more.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Hot Sauce Nation

Hot Sauce Nation: America's Burning Obsession by Denver Nicks
Chicago Review Press: 10/1/16

eBook review copy; 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781613731840

Hot Sauce Nation: America's Burning Obsession by Denver Nicks is a very highly recommended celebration of the most popular condiment on earth and a tribute to the people who make it and the people who love it. Nicks explores the history of hot sauce, and some of the people and places who love it.

"Philosophers have often looked for the defining feature of humans - language, rationality, culture, and so on. I’d stick with this: Man is the only animal that likes Tabasco sauce." Dr. Paul Bloom.

What a timely book as I have just started harvesting my habanero and tabasco chilis, and my jalapenos are coming on strong. I'm not the greatest fan of hot sauce in my home, but I understand how a hot sauce fanatic rates their various sauces and can distinguish one sauce from another. This is a fascinating look at how the chili pepper was "discovered" by Columbus in the New World and the love was subsequently spread around the world. in fact, that has continued to be the key to the success and the expansion of the varieties of hot sauces: immigration. As cultures intermingle, they bring their own varieties of hot sauce with them and we love it. Think of sriracha and the spread of its popularity

The true hot sauce aficionado can never have too many varieties of hot sauce. We love our hot sauces. "But, as you know if you’ve ever poured too heartily from the wrong bottle of hot sauce, taste and smell are but secondary pieces of the hot sauce puzzle. There’s something else happening with hot sauce unique to the chilies that are its essential ingredient, something weirder and kinkier and a stubborn mystery that cuts to the heart of what it means to be human - pain."

That pain is from capsaicin, but "capsaicin is just one of at least twenty-two compounds, called capsaicinoids, that account for a pepper’s heat in the myriad forms it takes." The heat profiles of various peppers differ widely, just as hot sauces differ. 

In fact, "Dr. Bosland developed a multidimensional heat profile to more fully describe a chili pepper’s heat, including five separate descriptors: how fast or delayed the heat is (Asian chilies tend to come on fast, while habaneros come on slowly); how long it lingers (habaneros stick around, but jalapeƱos dissipate more quickly); the sharpness or flatness of the heat (cayennes are sharper, like pins sticking in the mouth, whereas New Mexican chilies are flatter, like the heat is applied with a paintbrush); where the heat is strongest (jalapeƱos burn nearer the tongue and lips, habaneros attack the back of the throat); and finally how much heat the chili has. These are our good old-fashioned Scoville heat units."

I found this exploration of the history of hot sauces and the current trend to more varieties and more heat fascinating. We'll see how far the trend to more heat/pain goes. In the meantime I've got some jalepeno poppers to make and it's time to explore some recipes for homemade hot sauces for my tabasco and habanero chili peppers.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Wonder

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Little, Brown and Company: 9/20/16
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316393874

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue is very highly recommended historical fiction novel set in rural Ireland, 1859.

Lib Wright, a nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale, is hired to travel to Athlone, Ireland. There she is to simply keep watch over eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell. Anna has reportedly not eaten in four months, and yet is supposedly healthy. Lib and another nurse, who happens to be a nun, have been hired by Dr. McBrearty, the family's physician, and a local committee to provide twenty-four hour surveillance of Anna for a period of two weeks. They are to record if Anna is eating or drinking anything without discussing their observations with each other. Clearly they are present to determine if Anna's claim is a hoax or a miracle.

It is evident to Lib that Anna, a devout Catholic girl who claims to be living off manna from heaven, is not entirely healthy. It is also clear that the doctor wants to believe Anna is the embodiment of a miracle. Tourists are already coming to the family's cabin to see the Wonder. Lib records Anna's vital statistics and notices that since the nurses arrival, Anna's health is deteriorating. Anna claims she has not eaten, but what could be the logical explanation for her survival for four months and is the presence of the nurses going to mean her death? And why are all the adults in Anna's life willing to let her kill herself by starvation in deference to some idea of piety and reverence?

Lib becomes more and more attached to Anna, while at the same time she tries to find a logical answer to the girl's situation. Obviously something is going to have to happen, some break-through is going to have to be made or Anna will die.

The inspiration for Donoghue's novel is based on the true cases of nearly 50 "Fasting Girls" from the 16th to the 20th centuries who were from the British Isles, western Europe, and North America. She also includes detailed descriptions of period customs and social behavior of the characters, including the overwhelming prevalence of Catholicism in the daily routine of Anna and the O'Donnell family. Lib must negotiate this unknown culture and decode the words and language they are using. Language and the meaning of words is an essential element in The Wonder. In fact, each chapter opens with a single word, followed by the multiple definitions for the usage of the word. It is obvious that unless the usage of a word is understood by all parties, miscommunications can/will occur.

This is an incredibly well-written, compelling novel that will grip you and hold you immersed in the time period and setting until the end. The suspense and the tension deepen slowly, incrementally, and are amplified as the narrative progresses and more information is revealed. There is a claustrophobic atmosphere in the tightly clannish society and the small cottage set in the isolated country side. Anna's behavior is constricted; she is following societal rules above and beyond normal expectations. In sharp contrast, Lib has broken societal rules in her training with Florence Nightingale and her out outspokenness.  I loved the ending.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

The Other Side of the World

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
Atria Books: 9/20/16
eBook review copy; 256 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501133121

The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop is a recommended literary novel about searching for home and postpartum depression.

It is 1963 in Cambridge. Charlotte and Henry are married, have one daughter, and are expecting another. Charlotte is going through postpartum depression and feels as if in motherhood she has lost the essence of what makes her unique and gives her satisfaction, like her painting and long walks. Henry, a university lecturer and poet, is dreading the coming cold, damp winter and dreaming of moving someplace warm. He feels the answer to Charlotte's malaise and his dislike of cold weather is found in a brochure he discovered on relocating to Australia.

He brings up the idea until Charlotte, too overwhelmed with her own situation, reluctantly agrees. Charlotte regrets her acquiescence to Henry's idea immediately, but is too exhausted, and depressed to bring up her objections. Henry applies and gets a position as a lecturer, so the family moves and settles in Perth.

Although it is warm and brings up childhood memories of India for him, Australia is not the paradise Henry thought it would be. As an Anglo-Indian, Henry is met with racism at work. He finds himself questioning his identity and it becomes increasingly hard for him to concentrate on writing his book. Charlotte longs to be back at home, in England. Almost every waking moment has her struggling to cope, but wanting to escape.

The actual quality of the writing in The Other Side of the World is quite good - lyrical and descriptive. The writing will please those who enjoy literary fiction. Bishop's descriptions of their surroundings and various landscapes are noteworthy. The plot, however, is slow, perhaps because this is an introspective novel that is driven by the character's inner thoughts, memories, dreams, and longings. The characters themselves are very well developed. The problem I had was I found it difficult to make a connection and empathize with the characters. This leaves me with rating a book where the actual prose is exquisite, but the plot and characters were lack luster and became tiresome.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley
Random House Publishing Group: 9/20/16
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345539960
Flavia de Luce Series #8

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley is the highly recommended eighth book in the popular Flavia de Luce series.

Twelve-year-old chemist Flavia de Luce is back! After being banished to Canada and sent to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, Flavia has now been re-banished back home to England at her family estate at Buckshaw and the village of Bishop's Lacey. All is not well, however, when Flavia is met at the dock by Dogger and told that her father, Col. Haviland de Luce, is in the hospital with pneumonia. The reunion with her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne (Feely and Daffy) and her younger cousin Undine, Flavia is ready to jump on her trusted bike, Gladys, and sets off to see Cynthia Richardson, the vicar's wife.

When Flavia consents to running an errand for Cynthia, she is sent to deliver a message to wood carver Roger Sambridge. Once at his home, Flavia knocks but no one answers. She tries the door and discovers it is unlocked. Further investigation leads to her discovery of the reclusive man crucified upside down on the back of the bedroom door in his cottage. Naturally, Flavia examines the body and the crime scene. Her discoveries have her off and running on a new investigation

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd is another winning addition to Bradley's Flavia de Luce series. As with the other books in this series, the current addition is extremely well written and clever. Flavia is an appealing, intelligent girl full of wit, logic, and scientific experiments to help her solve the mysteries she investigates. Flavia, as most readers of the series realize, is a unique character and definitely acts more mature than you would predict anyone her age would act. (I tend to ignore her given age at this point and mentally place her as older than 12.) Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd ends with another cliffhanger, so be forewarned to look for the next adventure.


Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Only Daughter

Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra
MIRA: 9/20/16
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778319443

Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra is a highly recommended psychological thriller.

In 2014  a young woman who is detained for shoplifting in New South Wales, Australia, claims to be Rebecca “Bec” Winter. Eleven years ago, in 2003, sixteen-year-old Bec went missing from the streets of Canberra. She was last seen working her shift at the McDonald's. This Bec, however, is an imposter who saw a TV show and noticed she resembled the missing girl. To avoid giving her real name and to escape the shoplifting charges, she tells the police the lie.

Soon she is being reunited with her "family" and talking to the lead detective on the case, Special Investigator Vincent Andopolis. Fake Bec is claiming to be foggy on the details of what happened to her and says she just wants to be home, with her family. Her family seems to be... odd, and then there are the threatening text messages.

The narrative alternates between the stories of the real Bec in 2003 versus the Fake Bec in 2014. In 2003 Bec seems to be all about teen drama and hijinks at first, but there are also unexplained, dark occurrences. Her family is more focused on how her twin brothers Andrew and Paul are doing than what Bec is up to. The tension begins to rise for Fake Bec too, as she decides to stick around and look for clues to try to find out what really happened to Bec. 

This is a well written debut novel that is both a quick and compelling read. The tension and ominous feeling carries through in both time periods. I was glued to the pages even when the action seemed a little far-fetched. It does require some suspension of disbelief (for example, Fake Bec even getting to meet the family, let alone the reaction of the family) and in the surprise ending, but I had no problem with that for Only Daughter. This is a perfect airplane book. You will be glued to the pages and the time will fly.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

The Kept Woman

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter
HarperCollins: 9/20/16
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062430212
Will Trent Series #10

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter is a very highly recommended mystery/police procedural.

Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is back. After failing to get a conviction in the case of basketball superstar Marcus Rippy, who was acquitted of rape charges, Will is now investigating the murder of Dale Harding at a construction site with his partner Faith Mitchell. His lover and GBI medical examiner Dr. Sara Linton is also on the case, as is Amanda Wagner, the GBI deputy director. Harding was a despicable man, but he used to be a detective with the Atlanta PD. There is a whole lot more blood on the scene than could have possibly been Harding's. It is also not his blood type and evidence points to it coming from a woman, so potentially there is a witness or more than one murder happened.

When a Glock found at the scene is discovered to be registered to Angie Polaski, the search is on for Angie - or for her body. She and Will are still married... but it's complicated and they rarely see each other unless Angie wants something. In any event, suddenly Will's past is thrust into the case, and Angie's past is closely tied to Will's. To further complicate matters, the building is the future home of the All Star, a nightclub owned by basketball star Marcus Rippy. Construction was suspended for Rippy's rape trial, but now it is due to start again in a couple weeks.

Slaughter does an excellent job presenting the complicated investigation as the clues are discovered and leads are checked out. Part way through The Kept Woman, the action shifts to a week earlier which provides an insight into information the investigators aren't privy to yet. This really ratchets up the tension and makes the pace feel even more frantic. Will's personal demons seemed to be coming to the surface as he is conflicted over Angie's presence in his life, however marginal, versus his love for Sara.

Incredible writing, realistic, complicated characters, incredible tension, and a fast pace make reading The Kept Woman addictive. There are plenty of twists to surprise you, and questions for which you will be desperate to find answers. While it is a police procedural, it also is a psychological thriller that explores choices and consequences as well as the lasting effect of psychological damage experienced as a child.

Although The Kept Woman it is part of a series, you can read this on its own and follow the plot just fine.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.