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Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Supreme Macaroni Company

The Supreme Macaroni Company

Review of The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

Overview from For over a hundred years, the Angelini Shoe Company in Greenwich Village has relied on the leather produced by Vechiarelli & Son in Tuscany. This historic business partnership provides the twist of fate for Valentine Roncalli, the school-teacher turned shoemaker, to fall in love with Gianluca Vechiarelli, a tanner with a complex past . . . and a secret.
A piece of surprising news is revealed on a fateful Christmas Eve when Valentine and Gianluca join her extended family. Now faced with life altering choices, Valentine remembers the wise words that inspired her in the early days of her beloved Angelini Shoe Company: "A person who can build a pair of shoes can do just about anything." The proud, passionate Valentine is going to fight for everything she wants and savor all she deserves—the bitter and the sweetness of life itself.

My Review:

It has been a while since I read the last book in this series. The Supreme Macaroni Company is the third installment of the series. It might be surprising to learn this but the first book in this series was not really one of my favorite. So why did I keep reading? Adriana Trigiani is one of my favorite authors and although I mostly prefer her Historical Fiction novels, I guess I felt like I had to give her more of a chance and I really wanted to stick with her for as long as I could.

The second book of the Valentine series was better. This one however was the best. I think it is also the last one.

The ending sort of surprised me. And one event in the middle really surprised me but I will not ruin it for future readers by giving it away.

So to summarize, I liked it and I liked it more than the other two and would even say that I liked it a lot though not as much as The Shoemaker’s Wife.

This story starts right where the previous novel stops if memory serves correctly though I wouldn’t fully count on my memory since it is been years since I read the last one and my memory is not so great these days.

Gianluca has just asked Valentine to marry him. I had forgotten that part, I just remembered that they had gotten together. So the story starts with Christmas and telling Valentine’s parents and then of course there is a wedding.

But then there are the issues. They do not just go off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

The characters are mostly all the same as I recall. The foremost being Valentine from whose point of view the story is told. Then of course there is the rest of her crazy family. And I thought mine was weird. Well, they are weird but I guess it just comforts me to see that in some ways, her family is weirder.

The only downside was that I didn’t think some of the Italian translations were correct but since I am not a full-fledged expert I will leave that to others to comment about it.

Positives about this include its realistic story line. The ups and downs didn’t follow the normal patterns where everything always works out in the end. And as I said earlier, the characters are unique as well which makes me feel as though this story could have really happened. And I liked how the Italian language was sprinkled throughout the story.

Check it out for yourself and see if you don’t like it as well, though you might want to start at the beginning of the series. Let me know what you think.

Contains: mild profanity

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Breaking Steele

Breaking Steele (A Sarah Steele Thriller) for fans of James Patterson, Janet Evanovich and John Grisham       

Review of Breaking Steele by Aaron Patterson & Ellie Ann

Overview from Sarah Steele has a lot to prove. Foster care brat turned successful Assistant District Attorney, she's enjoying her magical pumpkin carriage ride but knows she is only one mistake away from landing on the curb. When she's given an open-and-shut case regarding multi-millionaire Hank Williams and his murder of young Tracy Mulligan, Sarah's determined to win. But when everything goes wrong, and there's a killer on the loose, she isn't prepared for who the real battle is against: herself. Is she really willing to do anything to take Hank Williams down?

My Review:

Breaking Steele was my first introduction to what looks to be a new thriller series featuring ADA Sarah Steele, a young twenty something lawyer with a horrible past. Her case against Hank Williams (not the country singer) seems air tight so why are the defendant and his lawyers so jubilant in court?

It turns out that her case is not what it seems. First, she will have to contend with having her DNA evidence thrown out when a crime lab technician is suspected of working while high on drugs. Then there is the strange relationship between the defendant and his daughter.

Of course things just get weirder from there. They always do in these types of stories.

To be clear, this is more of a thriller than a mystery. That disappointed me a little but there were enough mystery elements in the story to keep me reading.

Sarah Steele was also an intriguing character and I think she has all the makings of a great protagonist who could not only successfully carry the series forward but also has potential to grow and change as a women as well as an attorney.

I can’t say that I loved this one. It was worth the read but perhaps not as good as some of the others I have read.

The other thing that I didn’t like about it though was that it looks like the writer might be pulling a James Patterson on us by having someone else write his book. Notice that his name is in big and bold letters but another author, Ellie Ann, is listed in smaller letters underneath. I hope her involvement will help get her name out there though I have my doubts.

I still recommend it but I consider it more of an “I like it” book rather than an “I love it.”

Contains: violence, sexual violence

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Greyson Gray: Camp Legend

Greyson Gray: Camp Legend       

Review of Greyson Gray: Camp Legend by B. C. Tweedt

Overview from At Morris College All-Sports Camp, Greyson Gray discovers intense athletic competition, quirky huddlemates, and budding romance to distract him from the loneliness he has felt since his father's mysterious disappearance. The lighthearted camp atmosphere turns, though, when Greyson stumbles upon a terrorist's sinister plot brewing in the observatory - a place already haunted by a chilling camp legend. Suddenly, Greyson toils with two dueling worlds - one of lurking danger and mystery, the other of competition and hormones. Spurred on by his father's words to do the good that ought to be done despite the danger, Greyson and his faithful friends must mount a cunning and coordinated heist on the observatory in order to save thousands of lives.

My Review:

Delving back into the world of YA, I have read Greyson Gray: Camp Legend as my book for this week. On first glance it seems strictly to be one of those summer camp/coming of age stories. But this summer camp has a strange twist to it.

Greyson, our twelve-year-old main character, comes to summer camp in Iowa at his mother’s insistence, presumably to help him forget his father’s strange disappearance. Instead he stumbles into a plot to cause havoc in the world and the whole thing is going down in the camp’s observatory.

It all starts when Greyson has an altercation with a fellow camper. The other boy puts his prized hat (given to him by his father before he left) on the cafeteria conveyor belt and Greyson dives for it, ending up in the back room where he overhears some references to the plot though he doesn’t know what it means.

He is then threatened by one of the same workers who insulted him earlier to keep quiet or else. Of course, he doesn’t listen and decides to sneak out at night and find out what is going on and to stop it if he can, convinced by the words of his dad who told him “to do the good that ought to be done.”

Meanwhile he becomes the camp heart throb to the eighth grade girls but he only has eyes for one them, a girl named Sydney who his new friend Jarryd has dubbed as “Deer Girl.” He tries to distance himself from the other girls but they are infatuated and refuse to leave him alone. He will later use their devotion to him as an asset to stop the evil plot of some of the camp workers to cause massive death and destruction.

I liked this one a lot. And I was reading the other reviews on the above website; I discovered that there was a sequel which I am probably going to buy.

The character of Greyson as well as Sydney and his other friends kept me laughing even though the story has a lot of serious elements. For example, I cried when Greyson cried, remembering his last conversation with his father. I laughed at Jarryd’s crazy remarks. And I loved Sydney’s efforts to understand Greyson as well as how she jumped in and tried to save him from himself and the camp plotters who wanted to kill him.

One of my favorite funny lines from Jarryd is as follows: “’Seriously, boys. Are you hiding something?’

“The tension was thick. No boy wanted to break, but if they had already been turned in, breaking would be the best thing to do.

“’Okay, okay.’ Jarryd sighed and looked Brandon straight in the eyes. ‘I am hiding something. I will confess…..I… have a third nipple.’” P.51
Contains: some violence

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Little Women

Little Women (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)       

Review of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Overview from Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.
It is no secret that Alcott based Little Women on her own early life. While her father, the freethinking reformer and abolitionist Bronson Alcott, hobnobbed with such eminent male authors as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, Louisa supported herself and her sisters with “woman’s work,” including sewing, doing laundry, and acting as a domestic servant. But she soon discovered she could make more money writing. Little Women brought her lasting fame and fortune, and far from being the “girl’s book” her publisher requested, it explores such timeless themes as love and death, war and peace, the conflict between personal ambition and family responsibilities, and the clash of cultures between Europe and America.

My Review:

Revisiting the Louisa May Alcott classic this week was somewhat of an emotional experience. Tackling this story, I thought, would be easy.

After all, it has all the characteristics of a Hallmark channel movie for those who remember those. A nice, cutesy little story about four girls growing up with limited means. The forward of the Barnes & Noble version of this classic tells how the novel was something of a mirror of the author’s own life and experiences.

Jo is basically Alcott, we are told. I knew this already but what I didn’t know much about was the involvement of Alcott’s father, Amos Bronson, in the Transcendentalist movement. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a close family friend who Bronson often depended on. Alcott’s father was also one of the residents of  “Fruitlands” in Harvard, Massachusetts, where the Transcendentalists conduct their first experiment in a social utopia. (And fail.)

So the saga of the March sisters is not just about the “little women” but also has some underlying messages in it that the author, for the most part, tries not make too heavy-handed. However, in many cases she fails. She even admits it at one point when she digresses into a sermonette on how old maids ought to be treated and then says: “Jo must have fallen asleep (as I dare say my reader has during this little homily).”

Back to the plot now, I mentioned Jo who is the writing sister and based on Alcott herself but we also have some other great characters. The oldest March sister is Meg who seems to be easy-going while hoping to be somewhat fashionable. Jo is second, followed by Beth, whose goal in life is simply to take care of the rest of the family as well as make life easier. The only selfish thing she asks for is time alone with her piano and music. While Amy starts off as the spoiled one who later hopes to bag wealthy husband in order to help others.

The girls grow up mostly on their own with the guidance of Marmi, their mother, and Hannah, the housemaid. That is until their neighbors Laurie and his irritable grandfather, Mr. Laurence, intervene. And then we also have the persnickety Aunt March who is constantly telling the girls and their mother how things should be done but to no avail since no one really listens to her.

Later Papa survives the Civil War to come home to his “little women” but is worse for the wear. Nevertheless trouble still stalks them in their personal lives as well as the issues of the time such as racism and the attitude of the wealthier set towards poverty.

Even though it seemed sadder to me this time that the last I really enjoyed the story. It was impossible for me not to fall in love with the girls all over again and feel their pains as my own even when I didn’t agree with them. Jo fancies herself a boy but finds that she is after all, a woman. The others become better women and in the end make the lives of those around them better for having known them. And that was the best thing about this story.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stranger in Town

Stranger in Town       

Review of Stranger in Town by Cheryl Bradshaw

Overview from Six-year-old Olivia Hathaway tiptoes down the center aisle of Maybelle's Market, stopping once to glance over her shoulder and make sure her mother isn't watching. But Mrs. Hathaway is too preoccupied to notice her daughter has slipped away. Minutes later, a frantic Mrs. Hathaway runs up and down the aisles, desperately searching for her missing daughter. But Olivia is already gone. Will PI Sloane Monroe find her before it's too late?

My Review:

A young girl is taken from a local store. The only witness to the kidnapping, an elderly woman, is dead, stabbed and run over by perpetrator’s car. As the years go by, the community never forgets.

But when another girl is kidnapped, her father is convinced that the same man has kidnapped his Savanah. He doesn’t trust the police any longer so he hires our protagonist, Sloane Monroe, a private investigator, to find his daughter and follow up on the lead he thinks he’s found.

Though this story is in many ways a typical thriller/mystery, the kidnapping is different angle from most of the novels in this genre that I usually read. For one thing the crimes are years apart from one another. And for another, two of the victims are children.

The progression of the story didn’t hold many surprises. In a way, it was probably more realistic than most thrillers since Sloane seems to know what she’s doing. She has solved every case she’s taken on or so says a police detective named Cade who later teams up with Sloane. He checked her out before making the offer apparently.

The same characteristic makes her somewhat less interesting of a detective however. She comes up against a few walls but all in all she’s a regular, modern, female, version of Sherlock Holmes. She just searches for the evidence to back up her assertions.

What kept me reading was the plot. I wanted to see if Sloane would be right or way off the mark and have to start all over again. Most of all I wanted to know why once I knew who. It didn’t make sense to me, even the way Sloane explained it Cade. Maybe that’s why no one takes her theory seriously, at first.

I didn’t want to say more since I am trying to avoid any spoilers here. Of course you can find out more by reading it. I liked it but only for readers who aren’t expecting any big surprises in their mystery/thriller novels.

Contains: some language