Be Frank with Me

Last week, when I was scrolling through the available audio books in the Download Library, the bright turquoise cover of Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson popped out at me. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I’m glad I did, because is a pleasant read. Be Frank With Me follows Alice who gets the assignment of “assisting” (read: babysitting) M.M. Banning, a washed up author, who’s writing her comeback novel, and the author’s son, Frank. Frank is an incredibly smart, well dressed kid, who needs Alice’s one-on-one attention, more so than his mother. Although the book starts off a bit slow, (it picks up more at the climax) it has humorous moments, as well as heart warming ones. The bonding moments between Alice and Frank, and Frank and his mother are touching. It’s refreshing to see a very imperfect mother who loves her son deeply, even if she struggles to express it sometimes. Frank and M.M. Banning where definitely the highlight characters of the novel.

The real drawback of this book is that Alice isn’t a very intriguing character. She does have a slight romantic and personal development arc, but both seemed a bit flat and drew away from the mother-son narrative that I found more interesting. The book would have been much stronger if Alice had been used, not only as the reader’s window into Frank and M.M. Banning’s world, but as a nuanced character who had a stronger role in this novel.

Overall, this book was an enjoyable summer read and a great audio book option. However, if you are looking for a book with similar themes that is a bit more complex, I’d suggest The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.   3.5 stars

  • Jenna H.

Omens

omensI’ve always been a vampire/supernatural lit fan and my comfort zone has always resided with the king and queen of the genre: Bram Stoker and Anne Rice. For this fan, few contemporary writers rise to their level of writing. On a suggestion from a friend, I took a chance on Kelley Armstrong. I admit I was hesitant and quite skeptic at first but I gave it a go nonetheless and have not regretted the choice thus far! In the Women of the Otherworld series, Armstrong produces several strong female protagonists that although have men in their love/family lives, they do not “need” the men to save them. These female characters are a breath of fresh air amidst the slew of female “heroines” who disappointingly need men to save the day and to save them (e.g., Twilight, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, etc.)

Once I completed that series I moved onto the Cainsville series beginning with the book Omens.    In the series  a character named Olivia has just found out she is adopted and that her birth parents are convicted serial killers Pamela and Todd Larsen. In trying to cope, Olivia flees to the small, sleepy town of Cainsville where time seems to have stopped. Everything seems so perfect, almost Rockwellian or is it? From mysterious gargoyles, murder mystery, mind control to hidden identities it is soon learned that everyone in Cainsville has a secret, even the town itself! In the first novel Omens, Olivia is trying to cope with her new lineage. Strange things are starting to happen to her, she is starting to see things, strange animals are showing up and only she can see them. Is she going crazy like her birth parents or is it supernatural? Did her parents really murder all of those people? She is not so sure anymore as she begins to remember her past and with bodies showing up seemingly everywhere she goes, Olivia is determined to get to the bottom of present and past murders. People she meets are not as they seem and she cannot trust anyone except for Gabriel. Or can she?

Exploring the historical sides of Welsh and Celtic cultures, traditions and folklore, Armstrong has penned yet another series I am unable to put down. She intricately weaves mythology and history into the plot line and character development, spinning historical fiction and supernatural fiction to create a thrilling read. It is Dan Brown meets Anne Rice and it’s perfect for this vamp fan!

– Sabrina B.

Shadow of Night

Shadow of Night is the second book in the “All Souls Trilogy” by Deborah Harkness. The first title A Discovery of Witches was awesome! It was fast paced, thrilling plot and an excellent blending of historical fiction and fantasy!

Because of this I was really looking forward to book 2,  Shadow of Night and was ultimately disappointed. After struggling to read it for a year, I have finally finished it and am sad to say I only gave it 2 stars out of 5.

In Shadow of Night, Diana and Matthew have traveled back in time to try and locate the elusive Ashmole 782 manuscript (a.k.a. The Book of Life) and are reconnected with notable historical figures including Queen Elizabeth, William Shakespeare and many others! Unfortunately, for nearly half of the book Harkness drags on and on about the clothing Diana wears, some descriptions are 2 and a half pages of detail! There was no purpose to such over-detailed descriptions of fabric, colors, jewels and chiffon. It has zero purpose to plot/character or even setting development.

I do look forward to concluding this series with the final installment entitled The Book of Life. I have begun reading a few chapters and the pace is much quicker with lots of plot development as well!

– Sabrina B.

 

 

The Food of Love Cookery School

The cover says “A novel to make your mouth water and your heart miss a beat.” I agree with the former but not exactly the latter.

This book, about four strangers who travel to Sicily on a cookery tour, definitely will make you want to visit Italy (if you didn’t already), perhaps try your hand at making pasta from scratch (if you haven’t already) and dream of “amore”.

By coincidence, the host and teacher at the school was called Luca Amore. But don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a romance novel (not that there’s anything wrong with those if that’s your “thing”). Far from it. But these women aren’t travelling to Italy looking for love or to be swept off their feet.

Moll, Tricia, Valerie and Poppy (two Brits, and American and an Aussie) each are there with their own reasons and agendas. One is searching out her Italian roots while another is fulfilling a lifelong, foodie dream; ticking one thing off the bucket list. Someone escaping sadness; another one there as a result of a slightly misguided gift.

Is there love and romance in this book? Yes, but it most definitely takes a backseat to the food and the stories of friendships made and life appreciated.

The characters from Luca to his friends in the mountain village of Favio to his guests, are flawed, likeable, real. The author’s love and appreciation of cooking and food is obvious and she has shared a few recipes at the end of the book.

To learn more, visit Nicky Pellegrino’s website or follower her on Twitter @nickypellegrino

Also Reads: Delicious and Recipe for Life by Nicky Pellegrino.

As for me, I’m sharing a favourite recipe of mine. Buon appetito!

— Sandi H.

Stracoto with Porcini Mushrooms

1.9kg pot roast
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
2 onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 c dry red wine
1 ¾ c beef broth
½ oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 tsp dried rosemary

Preheat oven to 350F.

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in roasting pan. Brown beef on all sides; will take approx 15 min.

Remove beef from pan. Add more oil. Cook onions until tender, about 5 min. Add garlic. Cook for a minute. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add wine, broth and mushrooms. Return beef to pan. Cover.

Roast for 1 ½ hours. Turn beef over in pan. Roast for another 1 ½ hr or until fork tender.

Transfer beef to cutting board. Cover with foil to rest. Transfer juices and vegetables to blender. Blend til smooth. Add salt, pepper, rosemary to season. Keep this gravy warm in saucepan until ready to serve.

Stracoto means “overcooked”. This roast always turns out perfect, tender, juicy. Guinness can also be used instead of the red wine and is equally delicious.