Review: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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*I received this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Book of Speculation

Author: Erika Swyler

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Publication Date: June 23, 2015

ISBN: 9781250054807

The Book of Speculation

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Simon Watson, a young librarian on the verge of losing his job, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home, a house perched on the edge of a bluff that is slowly crumbling toward the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a traveling carnival reading tarot cards and seldom calls.
On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious package from an antiquarian bookseller. The book tells the story of Amos and Evangeline, doomed lovers who lived and worked in a traveling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes, sketches, and whimsical flourishes, and his best friend and fellow librarian, Alice, looks on in increasing alarm. Why does his grandmother’s name, Verona Bonn, appear in this book? Why do so many women in his family drown on July 24? Could there possibly be some kind of curse on his family, and could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in six years, risk the same fate in just a few weeks? In order to save her–and perhaps himself–Simon must try urgently to decode his family history while moving on from the past.

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I was so drawn to this book. It combines that bit of mystery, with the thrilling creep of a ragtag circus, a family cursed, and hidden secrets.This book was full of a strange kind of magic. It’s dark and ominous, but will have your heart racing. Swyler paints a vivid picture of the traveling circus of the past, and the haunted family in the present. I loved her characters. Each has a magical quality, almost not real, but still totally believable: the mermaid who can hold her breathe seemingly indefinitely, the gypsy who reads the taro cards that never lie, the wild boy who can’t be tamed. These characters leap to life, stealing the stage, but their lives seem doomed. In contrast is the studious and homely Simon.

Simon Watson is an unassuming character. He’s a librarian, with a passions for solving the mystery of a text. He can hold his breath, just like the many family members before him. When he comes across a book that ties so closely to his own family history, Simon uncovers things about his family’s past that perhaps he wishes remained hidden. He feels a pull into the past, needing to know more, and burning with a desire to protect what remains of his family. With his parents dead, all he has left to hold on to are his sister, Enola, and the house that his parents loved so dearly. As he makes his way through a mysterious text labeled The Book of Speculation, he begins to uncover a trail of curses and death tied closely to the figures he comes to know as family.The knowledge of his past throws his present into turmoil as dark secrets loom overhead. Death stalks his family and who knows who could be next.

This is the perfect book to get me into the carnival stories. I’ve been told that I’ll enjoy The Night CIrcus after loving Swyler’s book. This is a story of unknowns, of speculation. The past and the present are intricately tied. Swyler creates tension between the characters and between eras as well. No action is without consequence and Simon seems to be racing against the clock, trying to stop whatever evil looms so closely on their horizon. In the present, the taro cards, so similar to the images recorded in Simon’s book and read by Enola, threaten a disastrous, unspeakable outcome. History threatens to repeat itself. I couldn’t put this book down. I’m so excited to share it with you today.

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Review: Boo by Neil Smith

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*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. *

Title: Boo

Author: Neil Smith

Publisher: Vintage

Publication Date: May 12, 2015

ISBN: 9780804171366

Boo

Synopsis from Goodreads:
When Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple wakes up in heaven, the eighth-grade science geek thinks he died of a heart defect at his school. But soon after arriving in this hereafter reserved for dead thirteen-year-olds, Boo discovers he’s a ‘gommer’, a kid who was murdered. What’s more, his killer may also be in heaven. With help from the volatile Johnny, a classmate killed at the same school, Boo sets out to track down the mysterious Gunboy who cut short both their lives.

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I LOVED this book. It’s a story about a thirteen-year-old boy who wakes up in a “Heaven” where only other thirteen-year-olds end up. It, like their lives on Earth, is only temporary. This place is called the Town and it functions much like regular society with rules, duties, and consequences. But Zig, a god-like figure, provides all that they need like food and tools to work, but also somethings that they might want, like toys.

Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple is a social outcast with his pale, pale skin and his penchant for memorizing facts and learning the science behind the world around him. In the Town, he transforms into a functioning member of society with close friendships that were impossible for him back in America. It is the death of another boy in his class, their subsequent friendship, and their search for a killer who might be lurking around Town to harm others.

Once I got into the story, I couldn’t put this book down. It’s surprising, and Boo is extraordinarily likeable. He’s quirking, but he learns to relate to the other kids around him, reaching out to make true friendships. He’s also a boy who was taken away from his life, his parents, way too young. His story is a book that he is writing to his parents, and his appeals to them, his cries for them, are devastating. Although somethings might be better in this strange afterlife, Oliver can’t help but miss the world he left behind, and the parents he loved so much.

My only criticism is that on the front cover, there is an endorsement with the statement, “never predictable.” This one tiny statement, so unassuming, had me hypothesizing what was NOT predictable, and in this manner I managed to guess every outcome in the story well before I reached the end. Had I not focused so much on this quote, things may have been a bit more surprising for me. This didn’t stop me from zipping through the story, unable to put it down.

5 stars. Without a doubt. Read it.

Cookbook Review: Seven Spoons

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*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Seven Spoons

Author: Tara O’Brady

Publisher: Appetite by Random House

Publication Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 9780449016305

Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Seven Spoons is O’Brady’s remarkable and much-anticipated debut. In it, she shares more than one hundred of her best and most mouthwatering recipes—crowd-pleasing breakfasts like Blackberry Buttermilk Whole Grain Scones, weeknight staples like Everyday Yellow Dal, and terrifically inventive desserts like Roasted Grapes with Sweet Labneh. These elegant, flavorful, and wonderfully creative recipes, plus the show stopping photography, will have you heading straight for the kitchen to get cooking.

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Yum-o! Seven Spoons was a very different experience for me. Who knew a cookbook could be delicious and entertaining! First off, this cover is simply stunning…and it’s not just the cover. This beautiful book is filled with gorgeous photography of the food and of Tara’s environment. Before I cooked anything, I sat down and read this book cover to cover. I can honestly say, I never thought I’d be saying that about a collection of recipes. Tara prefaces each section, each recipe even, with anecdotes and memories that connect on a very personal level with the reader. I myself felt like Tara at the beginning of her cooking journey, wanting to try something new, but not sure what to create and not the most educated in  cooking knowledge. But Tara walks you through each recipe, step-by-step, demonstrating to you that cooking lovely looking food is not daunting, but can be quite simple.

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The recipes I tried:
1. Salad Rolls (page 75)
2. Chocolate Olive Oil Zucchini Brean (page 57)
3. Basic, Great Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 215)
4. An Uncomplicated Cheesecake (page 243) with Twangy Blueberry Sauce (245)

 

 

The baking went over well. Receiving this cookbook was perfectly timed. The day I set out to bake, we had a surprise birthday party to attend. The cookies were gone in a flash. I had people coming up to me all afternoon telling me how delicious they we. Thank you Seven Spoons!

20150509_102145The chocolate zucchini bread froze very well. I made muffins for myself for the week. Quick tip though with this recipe, because of how moist the dough is, once baked the zucchini muffins went mouldy pretty quickly. My suggestion is to freeze and thaw as desired. Perhaps refrigeration might have helped preserve them longer. I made a loaf for the boyfriend’s parents, which I froze, and gave to them a week later. It went over extremely well. This is definitely a recipe I’ll be making again.

20150519_222326Lastly, my favourite recipe of all was the cheesecake, but then again, cheesecake is the world’s best food. What’s not to love? The blueberry sauce was divine. What boggles me completely is why someone would purchase canned blueberry sauce, when this recipe took less than 5 minutes to whip together. So easy and absolutely delicious. Boyfriend took it to work with him to celebrate his birthday (Happy birthday!!).

5 stars to this cookbook. I’ll be using it for years to come, there’s no doubt about that.

 

Y: The Last Man

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Title: Y: The Last Man | Author: Brian K. Vaughan | Publisher: Vertigo

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In this third volume, Yorick’s unbalanced sister Hero tracks him to San Francisco, only to find him seemingly succumbing to the male-killing plague after losing his still-unused engagement ring to agents of the Setauket Ring. Plus, Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr. Mann ship out across the Pacific to Japan in pursuit of Yorick’s stolen monkey Ampersand, whose innards may hold the key to mankind’s future. 
As this deluxe edition begins, we catch up on the adventures of Yorick’s monkey Ampersand (whose biology may hold the key to stopping the male-killing plague) and tells the origin of Yorick’s mysterious protector, Agent 355 as Yorick searches for his fiancée in Australia, with deadly results. From Australia, Yorick and his companions continue on to Japan to learn the truth behind Ampersand’s abduction.
In this final deluxe edition, Yorick and Agent 355 prepare for their ultimate quest to reunite the last man with his lost love, while the person, people or thing behind the disaster that wiped out half of humanity is revealed. Then, Yorick Brown’s long journey through an Earth populated only by women comes to a dramatic, unexpected conclusion.

———

So I’ve finally powered through the final books in the Y: The Last Man series. It took ages to get a copy from the library, but they were finally available and I zoomed through these second half of this series. I know I blather on about how awesome Brian K. Vaughan is, but HOW AWESOME IS BRIAN K. VAUGHAN? This series is witty, it’s dark, it’s human, it’s everything you’d ever want in a comic series and so much more. I absolutely loved this story.

Yorick experiences such awesome transformation throughout the story arc. He’s a bit of a whiney baby at the beginning, naive and innocent, but the years harden him into someone who’s fierce, protective, and loyal. But he’s not immune to stupidity, and he makes many mistakes. The thing is, he always learns from his mistake. He transforms from the sad damsel in distress into a hardened, vital member of the team.

355 experience incredibly great transformation as well. As she grows, she softens, becoming more and more human with each page. She’s still a killer and is incredibly protective of her own, but she opens up, revealing the woman beneath her tough, no-nonsense exterior. As an unlikely friendship grows between 355 and Yorick, we come to know her intimately and she turns out to be one of the most likeable and interesting characters in the series.

If you haven’t read these books, go out and do it NOW. Yes, that is an order. Because these books are phenomenal. The story shows the absolute best and worst of humans put into a completely hopeless situation. It demonstrates resourcefulness, and provides clever insight into the constructs of our current world.

Have you read Y: The Last Man? What are your thoughts?