Mar 24, 2014

Audio Review: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #3)

As this series continues, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete is once again called to Three Pines to investigate another death. Gamache has become very fond of this quaint little village that lies south of Montreal, and many of its inhabitants, so its a double-edged sword to return there for this purpose.

It is now Spring and with the arrival of a visiting phychic to their community, the villagers plan a seance, though not everyone thinks its a good idea to do this at Easter time. Nonetheless, they hold a first seance in Olivier's Bistro with lackluster results, so they hold second seance at The Old Hadley House, well known to everyone for having evil spirits. It is during that second gathering that the unthinkable happens and one of their own dies in the process. Gamache arrives and confirms that the death was a murder and sets out to find the killer. Again, he relies on the residents of Three Pines to help put the pieces together and find out who had the means and the motive to commit murder right under their noses.

While Gamache is busy with his list of suspects, someone within the Surete is stepping up their plot to bring down Gamache and ultimately humiliate him into resigning. But this time, they are also going after his family, whom Gamache will do anything to protect.

My Thoughts on the Book:

Louise Penny is one of those mystery writers who does not rush anything in her stories. As with her previous installments of this series, this is a slow-paced thought-provoking journey into the minds of both the killer and the Chief Inspector. If you're looking for edge-of-your-seat thrills, you won't necessarily find them here, but you will find smart, provocative characters, with interesting backgrounds and insights weaved together with believable murder plots. Penny's who-dun-its unfold methodically, slowly showing that anyone could be the murderer. That's what I love about her books.

In this third book, I had a real feel for the Surete officers on Gamache's investigative team and I knew for the most part who to trust and who not to trust, but that is not to say there weren't some surprises in that regard.

I love the character of Gamache and I instantly dislike anyone who goes against him. His second in command, Jean Guy, is also a favorite, though he can be brash, but his loyalty to Armand Gamache is unshakable. I also enjoy the familiarity of the core group of villagers of Three Pines. They can be strange, loving, funny and even down-right odd but they are good people. They each have their own quirks about them but that is what makes them interesting. Now that I am well into the series, I get the little inside jokes and jabs the villagers have with each other, not to mention the name-calling that would seem mean or harsh to an outsider but comes across lovingly if you know the source. One of my favorite things about this installment is the lovely, metaphorical way in which Penny allowed us to learn more about Ruth Zardo, one of the core group who always has come across as the mean and nasty poet who doesn't think twice about telling you exactly what she thinks of you. The realization of who Ruth really is underneath all that gruff was beautifully done using two baby ducklings to do it. It was fantastic and makes me appreciate Penny's writing even more.

In these last three books, along with the main plot of the murder, there has been an underlying ongoing plot of who is trying to bring down Gamache. I'm anxious to see where that story leads us in the fourth book, as much of that story has now been brought to light. In my opinion, this series is more for the mature reader who enjoys uncovering and learning the physic of its characters. Not to stereotype, but some younger readers may find it a bit slow and lack the excitement they are looking for, though, if given a fair chance, I believe they would appreciate the provocative storytelling these books offer.      

Audio Review:

This is the first time I've chosen the audio version for this series and though at first, I didn't feel like I was going to enjoy the narration by Ralph Cosham, I did end up changing my opinion. At first I thought he was a bit drab, but soon I realized his voice was very suitable, especially for the voice of Chief Inspector Gamache. I'm relieved that I ended up favoring his performance because I very well may choose to listen to more based on that decision.

THE CRUELEST MONTH (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Louise Penny
Narrated by: Ralph Cosham
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Published: March 2008
Length:  11 hrs 46 mins

Mar 16, 2014

The Sunday Salon: Spring Begins Anew

When Spring arrives it brings with it such hope and promise for a fresh start and that's why I think people look forward to it so much. I've started my Spring cleaning and have a few projects around the house I'm anxious to get started. With the March winds in full force, I'll also be doing more yard clean up in the next week or so, which is really interesting for a girl with less than half of her vision! Luckily, I'll have help with that!

My reading has been going very well this past month, mainly because I changed e-readers. For the last year, I've been using the Kindle Paperwhite because of the non-glare, e-ink screen and I'd been doing fairly well with it. I wasn't reading as fast as I would have like, but with the page lit up, I didn't have to worry about having a light over my shoulder all the time. That is the main problem with my reading - having enough light to be able to see the large print. In January my mom bought a Kindle Fire HD and I fell in love with it when I saw it. Having the ability to change the background and font colors is exactly what I needed but was unavailable on the Paperwhite. The white background on the Paperwhite was getting increasingly difficult for me because it was too bright and I had trouble keeping the words in focus causing me to blink a lot. While toying around with Mom's new Kindle Fire, I switched the background to black and made the font white and Wow! It was incredible! I honestly don't know why I didn't think about that sooner. I was able to fly through the pages and it was so much easier on my eyes. I knew right then and there I was getting a Kindle Fire for myself. 

After receiving my Kindle Fire HD, I read two books in 14 days (one was almost 600 pages!) and didn't have the eye fatigue I'd been experiencing with the Paperwhite. I'm reading almost at the speed I used to read before my RP diagnosis. I'm not saying the Paperwhite isn't a good product, but for my sensitive and complicated eye condition, it just didn't give me what I was needing anymore. The Paperwhite is completely different than the Fire and it has features that are very helpful (like being able to read in bright sunlight with the non-glare screen) but I am so much happier with the Fire. I also love how quickly the pages turn. There is no delay at all, unlike the Paperwhite where you have to wait for the screen to 'flash' and turn the page. You wouldn't think it would, but that makes a huge difference in your reading speed.  Another feature of the Kindle Fire HD is the voice over option. Though I don't need it now, there may come a day when I will. My sister, who is totally blind, uses that feature on her iPhone and you'd be amazed at what all she can do! 

Another reason I think I'm enjoying my reading so much lately is that I'm reading books from my TBR pile.  I am finally getting to some books that have been waiting on me. They may not all be new releases, but that doesn't really bother me. I've also been borrowing Kindle books from my local library, which I think is the best thing EVER! 

I'm still listening to a good amount of audiobooks on my iPod as well. I rarely clean house or do laundry without an audiobook going in my ears. But my favorite thing to do is to cook while listening. I get so absorbed in what I'm hearing and what I'm cooking that I lose all track of time. If I was still driving, I think I'd really enjoy that time as well, but that ship has sailed.  I never thought I'd enjoy listening to audios the way I do, but I have become a complete audio hound!  

Between my new Kindle and my iPod I'm keeping very busy. Right now I'm reading Jeffrey Archer's new book, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR and I'm listening to Louise Penny's THE CRUELEST MONTH. They are both series books that have totally sucked me in. If you've never read an Archer book, just know that he is the King of the Cliffhanger! 

That is all the ramblings I have for today. I just wanted to share my insights about the Kindle Fire and hopefully the information may help someone else who is having difficulty reading. It looks like its going to be a beautiful day and I'll be heading over to my mom's house later for a cookout to celebrate my, um...50th birthday, which is tomorrow. My mom is making my favorite  Boston Cream Pie and some of my extended family are coming over. It should be a lot of fun. 

Enjoy your Sunday and Happy Reading!

Mar 14, 2014

Review: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

A year after losing her husband Matt in a tragic accident, Kate Pheris finally wakes up for her stupor of grief and realizes she must take back her life, not only for herself but for the sake of her eight year-old daughter Devin. Ever since Matt's death, Kate has basically been on auto-pilot, just going through the motions and allowing her mother-in-law, Cricket, to make the decisions in both Devin and Kate's lives.

On the day Kate and Devin are to move into Cricket's house and start the life Cricket has planned for them, Kate finds a postcard from fifteen years ago that her mother apparently hid from her. It was from her great-aunt Eby who Kate remembered from the wonderful summer she spent at Eby's camp when she was twelve. The camp is situated around Lost Lake and though Kate remembers having the time of her young life, there was a falling out between Kate's mother and Eby and they abruptly left. Kate never knew what happened, only that she didn't get the chance to say goodbye to the friend she met there and spent every day of that summer with.

With Kate's mother gone and the discovery of the postcard, it was important for Kate now to go see Eby and explain why she never responded or saw Eby again. For the first time in a year, Kate made a decision about her life without consulting Cricket. She would take Devin and head out of Atlanta to the small town near the Florida border to Lost Lake so Devin could meet her great-great aunt who Kate remembered so fondly. Hopefully at the same time Kate can figure out if she's doing the right thing following Cricket's plan or to make one of her own.

My Thoughts:

It didn't take me long when I began reading LOST LAKE to realize how much I'd missed Sarah Addison Allen's writing. Just like her other books, of which I've read all but one somehow, there's an air of familiarity and comfort to her stories. I always connect to her characters so easily, even the unlikable ones. But mostly, her stories are so heartfelt and genuine that its easy to get caught up in them. Her lyrical prose and the mysterious magical elements she includes in her stories go together like peaches and cream.  I've read many books with that magical realism element but I find that no one does it better than SAA.

LOST LAKE is not just Kate's story - its also Eby's story that began some fifty years ago in Paris while on her honeymoon. Though Kate and Eby are the main protagonists, there are five other pivotal characters with great stories of their own in this book about love, grief and hope and Lost Lake has special meaning for all of them, even if they don't admit it.  As the story unfolds, SAA gives relative background on each of them without weighing it down or straying from the main plot line. Her character development is seamless.  Each of their stories is important to the plot and makes for great reading. Another plus is the diversity of the characters.

As with all of her books, the magical realism elements are subtle and not over the top, which allows them to fit perfectly into the story. Its funny, I've had recurring nightmares of alligators for years and I had no idea there would be an alligator in the storyline so that was a surprise. Though my nightmares are much more scary than the alligator in this story! I thought the symbolism of the alligator was great and tied the story together very nicely.  By the end of the book, I was wishing I had my own Lost Lake and Aunt Eby to go visit for the summer.

Sarah Addison Allen has shown me once again why she is one of the authors I look forward to reading the most. If you're looking for a book that will have great characters with a meaningful message and a little something magical, reach for one of her books - you can't go wrong with them.

Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: January 2014
Length: 303 pp
Source: Publisher/Netgalley
Recommend? Absolutely Yes!!

Mar 11, 2014

Review: Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

With the end of summer closing in and a steamy Labor Day weekend looming in the town of Holton Mills, New Hampshire, thirteen-year-old Henry—lonely, friendless, not too good at sports—spends most of his time watching television, reading, and daydreaming about the soft skin and budding bodies of his female classmates. For company Henry has his long-divorced mother, Adele—a onetime dancer whose summer project was to teach him how to foxtrot; his hamster, Joe; and awkward Saturday-night outings to Friendly's with his estranged father and new stepfamily. As much as he tries, Henry knows that even with his jokes and his "Husband for a Day" coupon, he still can't make his emotionally fragile mother happy. Adele has a secret that makes it hard for her to leave their house, and seems to possess an irreparably broken heart.

But all that changes on the Thursday before Labor Day, when a mysterious bleeding man named Frank approaches Henry and asks for a hand. Over the next five days, Henry will learn some of life's most valuable lessons: how to throw a baseball, the secret to perfect piecrust, the breathless pain of jealousy, the power of betrayal, and the importance of putting others—especially those we love—above ourselves. And the knowledge that real love is worth waiting for. (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts:

When this book first came out in 2009, there was so much talk about it and it seemed the blogosphere was saturated with it, so I purposely held off reading it. Then I forgot about it. This past winter with the release of the film version looming, my interest was sparked again. I'm a huge Josh Brolin fan and I wanted to read the book before I watched the movie. 

When I first started reading, I was unsure if I was going to like it. Adele, the mother, seemed a bit off to me and I had trouble relating to her and the way she lived her life. Thankfully, as the story went on I began learning more about her background and I understood her a little better, though I still thought she was a bit odd.  Additionally, in the beginning, the story just didn't sound all that realistic to me.  That said, Frank did come across as a likable guy once you knew the real story of how he ended up in prison and I did like how he related to Henry and taught him things.  But the fact that this man had so much power over them was just strange to me.  I still have trouble accepting it as realistic sometimes when I think back on it. 

For me, this is one of those books that slowly got better and by the end, I was glad that I'd decided to finally read it. I did really like the ending, though it was a sad and strange story. I am looking forward to seeing the movie to see how they interpret it for the big screen. Maybe it will come across a bit more realistic to me. Plus, there's the Josh Brolin thing....

Though I did end up enjoying the book, I can't say it's one of my favorites or one that I would recommend highly. If I'm completely honest, I just don't relate to all the hype this book garnered when it was first released.  For me, it was okay but I didn't love it. 

LABOR DAY (Kindle Edition)
Author: Joyce Maynard
Publisher: William Morrow
Published:  July 2009
Length:  256 pp

Mar 1, 2014

Review & Results: Super Shred Diet by Dr. Ian Smith

I have been a fan of Dr. Ian Smith ever since I first saw him on the VH1 reality show Celebrity Boot Camp, where he helped celebrities lose weight. His healthy approach to weight loss and proper diet always impressed me. A few years ago when he introduced the 6 week Shred Diet, I was already on Weight Watcher and doing quite well, so I never tried it. This past winter he unveiled his more intense 4 week plan, the SUPER SHRED.  Last October I was lucky enough to find an advance copy in my mailbox from his publisher, St. Martin's Press. With the holidays approaching, I knew it would be really tough to stick to the plan without making myself miserable, so I decided to wait until January to try it.

I began the diet on January 8th. The thing about me is once I commit, I'm all in and there is no cheating. Thats how I lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers a few years ago.

The SUPER SHRED is a very strict, regimented diet plan, and Smith tells you exactly what to eat every single day. Each meal or snack is laid out specifically so you know exactly what you will be eating and at what time. He also tells you how long to work out for that day.

In the beginning of the book, he explains how the diet works. You may have heard of Carb Cycling and that is basically what this is. With the chosen meals and snacks you are basically tricking your body into keeping the metabolism rate going and burning fat instead of storing it. You can still eat carbs but you will be eating them at optimal times that are beneficial to your body's metabolism. Its a smart theory and I have to say, it works. You are not depriving your body of carbs, but you're eating them at specific times when they will be burnt off instead of stored. The plan also has you eating 5 meals a day. Sometimes 2 meals and 3 (healthy) snacks or sometimes even 4 (light) meals and only 1 snack. Honestly, I felt like I was eating all the time so I never really got hungry. Each week has a different time table for eating. The third week were the most difficult for me.

The Results:

Now for the part you really want to know! The book says you CAN lose 20 lbs in 4 weeks, however, I did not lose that much. I lost 10 pounds in the first 3 weeks and didn't lose anything the last week. But I also didn't work out every day of that last week. Other than that, I followed the plan to the letter. You could say the diet failed me because I didn't lose 20 pounds, but I DID lose 10 pounds in 3 weeks, which, as you know if you've tried to lose weight before, that is incredible! Yes, I lost 30 pounds on WW, but it took me several months to do it. I achieved this in 3 WEEKS!!! Would I have loved to have lost 20 pounds? Absolutely, but I'm not going to say this diet failed me. The cardio workouts that I did ere probably not as intense as Dr. Ian expected but I alternated between my treadmill and my stationary bicycle. And I probably only missed a total of 4 days of working out. Also, I didn't have a reliable food scale, so my portions may have been off here and there, but I don't think I did a bad job of measuring my food.

What was great about this book was that at the beginning of every week, there was a grocery list. That is very important for this diet plan. I would take a look at the meal plans for the next week and buy my food accordingly. That way, I always had the food I needed. Because I can't drive, it was imperative for me to have the food already on hand.

Also included in the book are examples of 100 and 150 calorie snacks with very specific quantities appropriate for this diet plan. These snack ideas are normal every day foods that don't require anything special.  I'm sure I will refer to those snacks often in the future. They were incredibly helpful and supplied a lot of variety for the diet. Its known that while dieting, if you eat the same foods all the time, your body gets wise to that and your metabolism will return to normal. So its important to keep variety going while dieting. There are also many soup and smoothie recipes that are easy to make and tasty.

I would also like to mention that Dr. Ian Smith is on Twitter all the time and he is there to answer any questions and offer encouragement.. He has a good rapport with his followers. I had a question that first week and I tweeted him and he answered my question within 2 hours of me asking it. I don't get that quick of a response from my regular doctor and he's in the same town as me!  That was a big plus for me!

The bottom line is that I don't feel like I failed at this diet. I'm back to wearing my jeans that had gotten so tight I couldn't button them. I may not have lost 20 pounds, but I will definitely try this diet again and hopefully with better results. I did learn many things from reading this book and with that knowledge and my experience from this time, I'm confident I can do it again. My friends and family were so supportive of me while I was on this diet and I appreciate it so much. If you need to lose 10-20 pounds in a short amount of time and you are willing to be committed to a strict eating schedule, you should give this a try. I'm measuring my success on the numbers and the fact is, I lost 10 pounds in three weeks and I didn't deprive myself of food and I still was able to eat many of my favorite things.

Author: Dr. Ian Smith (@DrIanSmith)
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: December 31, 2013
Source: Publisher