Review: Bite Harder by Anonymous-9

 

Title: Bite Harder

Author: Anonymous-9

Published: Blasted Heath September 2014

Status: Read from September 27 to 28, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

Bite Harder caught my attention on Just A Guy Who Likes To Read, I left a comment and a few days later the author contacted me requesting a review and I decided to give it a shot based on the premise, and Josh’s praise.

Dean Drayhart is a paraplegic amputee, having been severely injured when a hit and run driver ploughed into he and his family on a crosswalk. Drayhart’s young daughter didn’t survive, nor did his marriage, and with little left to lose, Drayhart, along with Sid, his helper monkey/assassin, and Cinda, a prostitute with a heart of gold, embarked on a vigilante spree across L.A., in Hard Bite executing hit and run drivers who thought they had gotten away with their crimes. Bite Harder is the sequel, though it works well enough as a stand alone.

It opens with Dean arrested for the murder of his last target, Ambrose Malalinda, the youngest son of a local drug-dealing crime family who mowed down a father of four. The Malalinda family have already twice attempted to exact their own revenge on Dean by first attacking the police transport during his transfer, which resulted in the death of Ambrose’s older brother Mateo, and then arranging Dean be stabbed to death in his cell. With both attempts thwarted the apoplectic Malalinda matriarch, Orella, takes matters into her own hands and arranges to hijack Dean during a manufactured medical emergency but things quickly go wrong and Dean, reunited with Cinda and looking for Sid, is on the run.

Fast paced and action packed with plenty of humour, bordering on the slapstick at times, Bite Harder is an entertaining read. The characterisation is good, Dean is a well developed protagonist, though the author is fairly reliant on stereotypes for most of the supporting cast. The writing is solid, using both a first and third point of view, but personally I would prefer character’s don’t address the reader directly, as Dean does on occasion.

A quick, aggressive and darkly funny read, I enjoyed Bite Harder, and I’m glad I gave it a shot.

Bite Harder is available to purchase from

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Review: Love Me or Leave Me by Claudia Carroll

 

Title: Love Me or Leave Me

Author: Claudia Carroll

Published: Avon: Harper Collins UK October 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from October 09 to 10, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the The Light Brigade/publisher}

My Thoughts:

“A divorce hotel. Where you check in married and check out single….This would be a place where two unhappy souls could quickly tie up loose ends and where something that had long been a source of acute pain to both, could gently be eased out if its misery. At least that was the general idea.”

Claudia Carroll’s 11th book, Love Me or Leave Me, is a lively romantic comedy about love, betrayal, divorce and new beginnings. Chloe Townsend is certain she has the professional experience, and personal empathy as a jilted bride, to make Dublin’s newest luxury niche hotel catering to amicably divorcing couples a success and she is determined to ensure its opening weekend will prove it. But true love, and its dissolution, never runs smooth, and with her boss hovering over her shoulder, and her ex-fiance making an appearance, the honeymoon period might be over before its even begun.

The narrative unfolds from the perspectives of Chloe, and three of the guests, Dawn, Jo and Lucy, who slowly reveal why they believe their short marriages have reached crisis point. Dawn, young and heartbroken, can’t forgive her husband, Kirk, who is embroiled in an affair; Jo, a control freak struggling with infertility, regards Dave, an often out of work actor, as irresponsible; and supermodel Lucy believes her marriage to Andrew has disintegrated due to his grown children’s sabotage. Of course none of the women are entirely blameless, and almost uniformly the men are reluctant partners in the divorce.

“There is his story, her story and then somewhere in the middle lies the truth.”

As the weekend develops, the couples are forced to confront each other and deal with their mistakes and misunderstandings. Carroll presents their issues sensitively but also with plenty of humour. There is a frisson of suspense built up as reconciliation seems possible for some of the couples, and plenty of drama, from screaming arguments to medical emergencies.

With well drawn characters, and plenty of humour and heart, Love Me or Leave Me is an engaging and entertaining novel where everyone gets their happy ever after.

 

Love Me or Leave Me is available to purchase from

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Review: The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

 

Title: The Night Garden

Author: Lisa Van Allen

Published: Ballantine: Random House October 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from October 06 to 07, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

“To visit the Pennywort farm was to be reminded of everything in the world that was beautiful and bountiful…luxurious and endlessly good.”

In upstate New York, Olivia Pennywort tends the family farm and the remarkable garden maze that she has created as a haven at its heart. It is said that the maze offers its visitors the answers to their most difficult questions, but it affords no such benefit to its caretaker who harbours a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. Over the years, Olivia has schooled herself to accept that there is no solution to her problem, but when Olivia’s childhood best friend and sweetheart, Sam Van Winkle, returns to town, her fiercest desires are rekindled and she is compelled to ask herself if the garden she has created is her protector, or her prison.

Van Allen’s prose is often lyrical, with vivid imagery of the garden and its surrounds. I could easily visualise the bordered up house, the stone walled garden of poisonous plants and the ramshackle cottage where Olivia’s father made his home, though I wish I had a better knowledge of horticulture to fully appreciate the individual design of the maze.

” As she approached the garden maze, she saw that it too had gone wild with the joy of the rains. The smell of flowers was so thick it crossed the line from pleasant into nearly repulsive. Inside, Olivia wound through the twists and turns, admiring how rambunctious and joyful her maze seemed, as if it were spring instead of late summer. Morning glories the size of dinner plates stayed open all day long, and thickened beds of coreopsis gave off a mustardly glow. There was a slight breeze that carried the faintest scent of autumn, and far beneath the sweetness, the mineral scent of winter.”

Though billed as magical realism, the magic wasn’t grounded in the way I would expect from the genre, and instead I feel the story had more in common with a modern reinterpretation of a fairytale like Sleeping Beauty. Olivia, beautiful and beloved by all, lives alone at a top of a tower, is essentially trapped in stasis, and is eventually rescued by her Prince Charming, who has to hack through wild overgrowth to save her.

The romance between Olivia and Sam, which began when they were childhood sweethearts, and is reignited on his return, is touching and soulful. I sympathised with their hopes and fears for their relationship, I believed in their yearning to be together and I could feel their frustration at not being able to have skin contact.

” And then he was threading his fingers into the mass, twisting and untwisting it in his hands. She didn’t even try to make conversation while he touched her; the sensation was too exquisite, too painful and pleasurable at the same time. He combed his fingers through her hair from top to bottom, and each time he caught a tangle it was like a little bite, a small and precise blast of desire like the spark from flint and steel.”

In terms of plot, however, the neighborly conflict seems forced and fizzles out, and though we are told the garden can offer help to those seeking answers, Van Allen never really shows this. The overall conclusion too is unrealized, almost as if Van Allen couldn’t figure out how to solve the conundrum herself, and so just hoped the reader would would accept vague assurances of ‘love conquers all’.

A tale of loss, grief, desire, love and hope, I enjoyed the story of The Night Garden.

The Night Garden is available to purchase at

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Weekend Cooking: Cook Book by Matt Preston

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I’ve decided to make the Weekend Cooking meme, hosted by Beth Fish Reads  a regular monthly post at Book’d Out. Cooking is something I enjoy and I have been making more of an effort again lately, so I am looking forward to sharing some of my culinary adventures.

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Title: Cook Book

Author: Matt Preston

Published: Plum: Pan Macmillan October 2014

My Thoughts:

Matt Preston is a food critic and an editor for Taste Magazine but is best known as the chin stroking, cravat wearing co-host on the popular Australian television series of Master Chef.

The Cook Book is Matt’s second published recipe collection boasting ‘187 recipes that will make you incredibly popular’ and ‘Amazing cheats and food hacks’ with a centerfold to boot. It’s a large format softback with matte pages where the recipe faces an attractive full page colour photo of the dish.

Matt begins with a fairly standard introduction before offering advice on being a good guest, and a long list of rules for hosting the perfect dinner with friends. To be fair his guidance is sensible and useful including tips such as – ‘When you are planning the menu, serve as many things as possible that can be prepped ahead. You want to spend time with your guests, not alone in the kitchen.’ and ‘Don’t forget to put BBQ gas, booze and other drinks, too much ice and good toilet paper on the shopping list.’

Preston states that he has three firm rules when he writes a cookbook
1. The recipes must be simple
2. The ingredients in the vast majority must be available from a local supermarket
3. There can never be a pasta salad in the book.

The recipes are well presented with a short comment to introduce the dish, often offering a tip or two, a bolded list of ingredients and clear prep and cooking instructions. The Cook Book includes recipes for Breakfasts, Soups, Salads and Vegetables, Ubersalads, Snacks, Pasta, Seafood, Chicken and Duck, Meat, Desserts, and Afternoon Tea.

As promised, some recipes are very simple, for example Ice Cream Bread, Idiot Cake and Pizza Dough each have only two ingredients. Preston also builds on some of his basic recipes suggesting ‘4 ways with burgers’, ‘3 ways with flatbread’ ‘3 ways with kale’ and ’30 other things to do with chicken mince’.

Preston takes inspiration from a range of cultures for his presented dishes that include Middle Eastern Rice Pudding, Thai Pumpkin Soup, Spanakopita Filo Triangles, Blackened Lamb Backstraps with Turkish Muhammara and Ice Cream Peanut Butter Sandwiches. He also offers recipes for classic dishes such as Meatloaf, Potato Salad and Quiche Lorraine, with his own twist.

I’ve used his recipes to make Sticky Chicken Drummies and Thai Chicken Sausage Rolls {but I lost both photo’s with the iOS 8 upgrade}. They were, however, delicious and I still have a few recipes bookmarked to try including Chicken Loaf with Onion Jam, Pain Roules, Smoky Corn Macherony and Butternut Snap Tarts.

You can find a selection of recipes from Matt Preston – though not those found in this book, at Master Chef Australia and Taste.com.au

Cook Book is available to purchase from

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and all good bookstores.

Review: Best to Laugh by Lorna Landvik

 

Title: Best to Laugh

Author: Lorna Landvik

Published:  University of Minnesota Press September 2014

Status:  Read from September 13 to 15, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

I’ve read and enjoyed several of Lorna Landvik’s novels so couldn’t resist sampling this offering. Partly based on Landvik’s own early years in Hollywood, Best To Laugh is a funny yet poignant coming of age story set in the 1970’s.

Candy Pekkala is a half Korean, half Nordic, American born twenty two year old who trades Minnesota for California with a half formed idea of becoming a comedienne. She sublets an apartment from her cousin in the once famous Peyton Hall, right in the heart of Hollywood, bordered by Sunset, Santa Monica and Hollywood Boulevards and takes up a series of temp jobs while she tentatively hones her act in local comedy venues.

Candy’s quirky neighbours play a large role in the novel. There is the body building daughter of a television star, a retired animator, a Romanian fortune teller, a substitute teacher who supplements his earnings with game show wins, an elderly man who once owned the most popular nightclub in town, his son, a punk rock singer, and an assortment of actors, actresses and executives waiting for their big break. Orphaned at a fairly young age and raised largely by her grandmother, Candy creates an extended family among the residents of Peyton Hall who give her the confidence and support she needs to pursue her dreams.

There isn’t a lot of story to Best to Laugh but it is an engaging read with plenty of humour and a touch of wistfulness. Landvik acknowledges that the novel is a homage to the people and places that launched her career and as such it has a rosy glow of warmth and nostalgia. I enjoyed it.

Best to Laugh is available to purchase from

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Review: Craven by Melanie Casey

 

Title: Craven {Cass Lehman and Detective Ed Dyson #2}

Author: Melanie Casey

Published: Pantera Press May 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from August 29 to 31, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Craven, by Melanie Casey, is the sequel to Hindsight, featuring Cass Lehman, a woman with the psychic gift of retrocognition, and South Australian police detective, Ed Dyson.

As the book opens we learn that Cass has taken the leap and left home, securing a teacher’s position at a college in Adelaide. Cass is hoping for a fresh start but during her very first lesson she is recognised by her students and almost immediately becomes a target of gossip and derision.
Ed is conspicuously absent, it seems their romance stalled in the intervening months, though we soon learn that Ed is also in Adelaide, working with a local command on a year long secondment, and when Cass’s car is painted in blood with ‘Freak’ scrawled across the windshield he is the first person she calls. Thrown together as Cass’s stalker grows more violent, Cass is inevitably drawn into Ed’s latest case – a search for a serial killer.

Though I still really like concept of this series I was disappointed by the execution of this novel. I had issues with the uneven pacing and with what I felt were several underdeveloped elements in the plot. There was too much focus on the mundane details of Ed’s often circular investigation, and the obnoxiousness of his new partner. The identification of the stalker taunting Cass seemed come from nowhere since he barely rated a mention in the story.

The killer did have an interesting story and his motivations were suitably dark and twisted. There were moments of high tension, though much of the real action is crammed into the last few chapters when Cass is once again at the mercy of an insane murderer.

Despite the flaws in Craven I am still intrigued by the potential of this series and I hope Casey regains her footing in the third installment.

 

Craven is available to purchase from

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and all good bookstores.

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Review: Murder 101 by Faye Kellerman

 

Title: Murder 101 {Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus #22}

Author: Faye Kellerman

Published: William Morrow: HarperCollins September 2014

Read an Extract

Status: Read from August 28 to 29, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

I have missed the last two books in the Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus series, largely because they have been released since I started blogging and my reading time has rarely since been my own, so I jumped at the chance to rejoin the series with Murder 101.

It’s been six months since Peter retired from the LAPD and he and Rina are now living in upstate New York, closer to their adult children. Peter is working for the local police force which is rarely troubled by anything more than drunken college students, while Rina has made herself at home within the community. When the body of a young coed is discovered brutally stabbed to death, Decker is the only member of the Greenbury Police with the experience to investigate. He quickly connects the dead woman to a recent theft from a crypt and, teamed with an obnoxious rookie, Tyler McAdams, Decker suddenly finds himself in the midst of a case involving stolen art, Russian assassins and international politics.

I so enjoyed reconnecting with the characters of this series, I love that Kellerman has aged them in ‘real time’…it has been 27 years since The Ritual Bath was first published. The children Decker and Rina share, including foster son Gabe, are now grown up and on their own, Decker’s old partner Marg has left the LAPD for quieter pastures and Decker and Rina are adjusting to the changes their move has wrought.

In this book Decker is partnered with Tyler McAdams, a Harvard graduate with a silver spoon in his mouth and a chip on his shoulder, who initially drives Peter crazy but eventually, with Decker’s gruff guidance, proves useful.

I wouldn’t expect anything less from Kellerman than a well crafted mystery which requires shoe leather, rather than luck, to solve. Decker’s investigation is all about following leads, face to face interviews and a bit of hard earned cop instinct. The murdered girl is the first homicide to occur in Greenbury in twenty years so it makes sense that Decker is placed in charge, and in his usual bulldog manner, Decker is determined to solve the case even when his life, and Rina’s and Tyler’s, are threatened.

Murder 101 is another well paced, solid installment in the Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus series, which is likely nearing its conclusion, but proves that Decker isn’t quite ready to give up his badge just yet.

Murder 101 is available to purchase from

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Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

 

Title:  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Author: Haruki Murakami

Published: Harvill Secker: Random House August 2014

Status: Read from August 21 to 22, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Haruki Murakami in a Japanese author best known in western culture for the 2011 success of his epic dystopian novel,1Q84. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is his highly anticipated newest title.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the story of a man who has never really recovered from being inexplicably exiled by a group of close friends he met in high school. Drifting through his life, engineer Tsukuru is now in his mid thirties, single and largely friendless, until he meets a woman who encourages him to confront his painful past.

Throughout Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Murukami explores the themes of identity, friendship, alienation and mental health. Tsukuru views himself as having; “…no personality, no defined color. [With] nothing to offer to others…like an empty vessel”, and as such feels disconnected from other people and destined to be alone. This feeling can be traced back to the brutal abandonment of his friends and to redefine himself Tsukuru must resolve the lingering hurts and resentments.

I thought the symbolism in the novel was fairly heavy handed and the dream slips didn’t always make sense to me. I didn’t find the writing particularly special though I found it more accessible and grounded than I was expecting.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, not having read Murakami previously though I have read plenty of opinions about several of his earlier works, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t quite it. Essentially this seems to me to be lad lit (think Nick Hornby), perhaps given gravitas primarily because the protagonist, and the author, is Japanese. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story of Tsukuru’s journey to make peace with his past and redefine his sense of self, but I was largely underwhelmed by the whole thing.

 

Available to purchase from

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and all good bookstores.

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Review: I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

 

Title: I Work at a Public Library: a collection of crazy stories from the stacks

Author: Gina Sheridan

Published: Adams Media July 2014

Status: Read on August 17, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher/Edelweiss}

My Thoughts:

I Work at a Public Library is, as subtitled, a collection of crazy stories from the stacks, written and curated by librarian Gina Sheridan, based on her blog http://iworkatapubliclibrary.com/.

With chapters organised using the Dewey Decimal system, Gina Sheridan shares the amusing, touching and just plain weird experiences she, and others, have encountered in their work as a librarian.

The anecdotes are gleaned from overheard conversations, patron questions, observations and encounters with the people of all ages who visit the library for all sorts of reasons, sometimes not meaning to be there at all.

This short book is sure to raise a smile and a little consternation, from any one who has spent anytime in a library.

“Adult patron to librarian: “I was told to read three books. I think one is small and blue. Can you tell me which ones they are?”

I Work at a Public Library is available to purchase from

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Review: New Orleans Requiem by Don J. Donaldson

 

Title: New Orleans Requiem {Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn #4}

Author: Don J. Donaldson

Published: Astor+Blue February 2013

Status: Read from August 15 to 16, 2014 — I own a copy

My Thoughts:

New Orleans Requiem is the fourth book in Don J. Donaldon’s mystery series featuring chief medical examiner Andy Broussard and Kit Franklyn, a consultant psychologist for both the ME’s office and the NOPD.

The story opens with Andy and Kit being called to a crime scene in the New Orleans French Quarter. The body of a man has been discovered in a locker in Jackson Square, stabbed through the heart, with an eyelid removed and a newspaper propped on his chest with four scrabble letters taped to it. When a second body is found two days later with identical wounds, a newspaper and three scrabble letters, Andy and Kit fear a serial killer is stalking the town. Broussard and Kit are taken aback when what little evidence they have points to the killer being a colleague with a grudge, but with hundreds of forensic specialists in town attending the Annual American Academy of Forensic Science conference, narrowing the field of suspects isn’t going to be easy.

An interesting blend of police procedural and medical thriller, New Orleans Requiem is an enjoyable novel. The case at the heart of this mystery is well plotted and believable and the identity of the murderer came as a surprise. The pacing is good, with the duration of the conference providing a natural time frame in which to solve the mystery.

Broussard and Franklyn are well developed characters. An affable man with a large appetite, Broussard is an experienced and well regarded ME. Kit considers Andy both a colleague and a mentor. She has good instincts and is both resourceful and intelligent. Their professional skills complement each other and they make a good team.

First published in the early 1990’s the absence of ‘Google’ and cell phones are evident in some aspects of the novel but the story doesn’t feel dated. I’d recommend New Orleans Requiem to readers who enjoy procedural mysteries, especially those with a forensic focus (think Quincy, ME or CSI).

New Orleans Requiem  is available to purchase from

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Learn more about Don J. Donaldson and the Andy Broussard/Kit Franklyn series in a  Q&A with the author posted on Book’d Out earlier today

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