Monthly Archives: January 2012

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading This Week?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading This Week? This is a weekly event to list the books completed last week, the books currently being read, and the books to be finish this week. It is hosted by Sheila from One Person’s Journey Through a World of  Books so stop by and join in!

Books Completed Last Week

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
The Chalk Girl by Carol O. Connell
The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak

Currently Reading

King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry (audio)
Come in and Cover Me by Gin Phillips

Books to Complete This Week

First You Try Everything by Jane McCafferty
The Baker’s Daughter by Sara McCoy

What are you reading this week?

Author Guest Post: Eva Stachniak, Author of THE WINTER PALACE

Yesterday, I reviewed The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak.  Today I’m thrilled to present a guest post by Eva about the research she did in writing this book:

When I decided to write about Catherine the Great I knew I had to go to St Petersburg and see the city where Catherine spent so many years of her life. I chose to go there during the white nights, because I live in Ontario, Canada, and I can imagine winter far easier than I can imagine constant daylight of the far north.

I knew it would be a unforgettable journey.

My husband knows how relentless I’m when I travel on a mission. I stop only when I’m too tired to make another step. Luckily for him, Russian food was on my research list, so we made frequent stops in Russian restaurants to sample bliny, smoked fish, borsch, and try some flavored vodkas.

What I searched for was imprints of Catherine’s presence. The Winter Palace itself offers some, but I knew the palace Catherine would’ve remembered burnt down almost completely in 1837 and has been extensively remodeled and rebuilt since. But some things didn’t change. The view from the windows on the Neva is still there, and so are the paintings Catherine collected, her jewels, her china, her carriage, her dresses. The Hermitage Museum also keeps a few rooms to illustrate how the palace looked under Peter the Great, and I could walk into these small, unassuming rooms, see tables covered by carpets rather than tablecloths, see his tools for he was an avid craftsman who loved to work with his hands.

The interiors least changed from Catherine’s times are located outside St Petersburg, in two magnificent palaces: Tsarskoye Selo (which in travel guides is called by its newer name Pushkin) and Peterhof. This is where I saw rooms commissioned by Catherine herself. I saw her study, her bedroom with a life-size porcelain figure of  Zemira, one of her favorite greyhounds, her gardens, as well as paintings, sculptures and wall coverings she had commissioned at various points of her life.

This is where I fully realized how clever Catherine was in what we would now call self-promotion. A sculpture of her? Yes, but it has to show her victorious, a ruler over nations which are bending at her feet, all under a spiritual patronage of Peter the Great. A portrait? Yes, but it must reflect one of her key goals. Establish her legitimacy, for instance, or make her victories well-known. Viewed from this perspective it is easy to appreciate the wisdom of commissioning a giant sculpture of Peter the Great in St Petersburg with its laconic inscription “To Peter I from Catherine II.” Or to have so many various representations of Russian military victories: on snuffboxes, on cutlery, on plates. I can almost hear Catherine’s thoughts: when they finish their borsch let them discover a victorious scene emerging at the bottom of the plate. Let them remember that I vanquished Turkey!

What an empress! What a woman!

Thank you, Eva! Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of The Winter Palace to give away.  To enter, please fill out the form below.  Open to US citizens only.  The winner will be contacted via email on Monday, January 23. 

Review: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (January 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0553808125
  • Source: Publisher

Varvara (Russian for Barbara) is the daughter of a book binder.  When her mother and father pass away within a year of one another, Varvara is taken under the employ of the Empress Elizabeth and finds a home in her court.  With Count Bestuzhev as her mentor, Varvara becomes an all-seeing eye to all the things that take place before her.  She’s waiting for a better opportunity, something to give her the life she’s long desired.

When a young princess Sophie arrives from Zerbst, Varvara has new hope.  Sophie is destined to marry the Empress’ nephew & eventually become Catherine the Great.  Sophie needs an insider, someone to be her confidante, protecting her against those who would like to see her fail. With Varvara by her side, Sophie/Catherine becomes a legend, surviving trials, tribulations, and the coup that allows her to rise and assume the throne of all of Russia.

The Winter Palace is a beautifully written, dramatic glimpse inside the world of Catherine the Great. With the intensity of a suspense novel, readers get a unique view of Catherine’s youth, from a young, shy girl to an incredibly strong leader.  Stachniak’s writing is so detailed, the reader will feel as though they are walking the halls of the palace themselves, a witness to all the (often cruel) actions. Most importantly, this isn’t merely a novel about Catherine the Great, but one about the confidant who was by her side as she rose to power.  Varvara was a truly impressive character. Despite having a difficult start, she evolved into a truly powerful woman.

To some, the pacing may be slow.  Personally, I thought it was perfect, allowing the growth of these two great women to be revealed slowly, rather than rushed. Fans of history, particularly Russian, will enjoy this fine novel. Highly recommended.



The Retribution by Val McDermid

  • Hardcover:416 pages
  • Publisher:Atlantic Monthly Press (January 3, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0802120172
  • Source: Publisher

Clinical psychologist Dr. Tony Hill and detective Carol Jordan make quite the dynamic team. The work they’ve done together to put away dangerous criminals makes them the envy of their coworkers. One individual, however, has forever changed & affected their careers, their very lives: Jacko Vance, a former celebrity and truly evil person. Jacko is imprisoned, never to walk the streets again. So they think…

Vance has a unique way of influencing people. With help from inside the institution he is imprisoned, as well as outside, Vance is able to escape, desperate to destroy the lives of those individuals who put him in jail. Including Tony and Carol. They don’t know who Jacko will strike out against, they just know it will brutal and painful. Meanwhile, the team is also on the hunt for another serial killer, responsible for the murders of multiple prostitutes.

The Retribution is the seventh book in the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series of books, but my first introduction to McDermid’s writing. In my opinion, this book serves as a good introduction to the characters.  While new readers miss out on a great deal of the character’s history, The Retribution does a pretty outstanding job and describing the characters and giving an introduction to who they are, including brief snippets of the past incidents that have influenced them.

I can’t believe I waited so long to read McDermid’s books! I hate to use the term “unputdownable” but I was so absorbed in the storyline and the characters that I couldn’t bear to take a break from reading. As mentioned above, we learn a great deal about the character’s past, specifically Tony’s childhood and his unloving and emotion-free mother (which just happens to play an important role later on in the book).  Additionally, the pacing is perfect, lasting throughout the entirety of the book.  This is an author I plan on devoting a lot of my reading time to. Highly recommended!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading This Week?


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading This Week? This is a weekly event to list the books completed last week, the books currently being read, and the books to be finish this week. It is hosted by Sheila from One Person’s Journey Through a World of  Books so stop by and join in!

Books Completed Last Week

An Appetite for Murder: A Key West Food Critic Mystery by Lucy Burdette (review)
The Retribution by Val McDermid

Currently Reading

King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry (audio)
The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak

Books to Complete This Week

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
The Chalk Girl by Carol O. Connell
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron


What are you reading this week?

Frightful Friday: The Innocent by Taylor Stevens

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s featured book is The Innocent by Taylor Stevens:

  • Hardcover:352 pages
  • Publisher:Crown (December 27, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0307717127
  • Source: Publisher

In the follow up to The Informationist , Vanessa Michael Munroe returns for yet another mission, this one hitting a bit closer to home.  It requires her to once again take a step inside the cult world, this time to rescue a young girl.

Eight years ago, five-year-old Hannah was abducted from her school, taken across the border into Mexico, and into the arms of The Chosen.  For the past several years, members of the cult have moved her from country to country to hide her.  A group of childhood survivors of The Chosen, now in their thirties, have survived life outside the cult. They see the “outside” world isn’t as it was portrayed by the cult leaders, and they are desperate free Hannah from the abusive conditions of the cult. They turn to Munroe, realizing they have to put faith in someone that doesn’t trust them in order to get Hannah back.  The line “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” comes into play in this novel quite a bit.

Realizing first-hand the conditions of living in a cult, Munroe agrees and heads to Argentina. The mission is at the request of her best friend Logan, a man that has been there for Munroe through thick and thin.  Munroe is a seriously wounded individual, nightmares about her past plague her nightly. Her fate would be far different if it were not for Logan.

Assuming the role of a donor to The Chosen, Munroe is able to get inside the cult’s compound and see just how “brainwashed” the member are, especially the children. They have been warned of the dangers of the outside world, told that individuals on the outside are lying and deceitful, set against putting an end to the cult. For many, the cult is all they know; they’ve become ingrained in the teachings and take what they are told to heart.  When Munroe is able to locate Hannah, she doesn’t have the easiest time in convincing her to leave. Hannah is now a teen, her formative years spent hearing the teachings of the cult over and over again. Despite knowing some of the actions of the leaders seem wrong, she is told that her compliance is her duty and her way of showing love and respect to the leaders.

Several scenes throughout the book are quite disturbing: male leaders touching the children inappropriately, older female children being led off to be raped by the older leaders. Certainly not a light read, but coming from a a former member of a cult herself, the author gains credibility and credence immediately.

While not as “action-heavy” as the The Informationist  I really appreciated seeing the weaker side of Munroe. Despite her strong appearance, she really is a damaged individual and in The Innocent, her stability has reached an all new low. Her obsession with knives, her determination to stop at nothing to complete a mission, is all a way for her to deal with her incredibly troubled past.

As with The Informationist , in The Innocent Taylor Stevens portrays an incredibly unique storyline, well developed (and slightly disturbed) characters, a fantastic, fast-paced thriller. This is book that will entice you from the beginning, the action carrying through to the conclusion. I cannot wait for more from this author, she’s quickly become one of my favorite female thriller authors.  I’m excited for the next book in this series, The Doll, due out in 2013.  Highly recommended!

Review: An Appetite for Murder by Lucy Burdette

  • Paperback:320 pages
  • Publisher:Signet; Original edition (January 3, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0451235517
  • Source: Author

Haley followed her “soul mate” and moved to Key West.  Unfortunately, when she catches him in bed with another woman, the relationship ends abruptly. Haley’s a strong, independent young woman and vows to make a life for herself in Key West.  She’s always been a foodie and decides to apply for a food critic job for a new Key West style magazine.  When she learns that her potential new boss, Kristen Faulkner, is the very woman who stole her “soul mate”, she doesn’t think things can get worse. Unfortunately, they do.

Kristen is murdered, killed by a poisoned Key Lime pie, the very pie Haley writes an article about shortly after Kristen’s death.  Due to her relationship with Kristen, the police name her the number one suspect in her murder. To save her reputation, and, frankly, any attempts to be a food critic, Haley must find out the identity of the real killer.

An Appetite for Murder is the first book in Burdette’s Key West food critic mystery series and it is a true delight! Not only does she cause your mouth to water with all the talk of food, but she really captures the essence of Key West as well; the culture, the people, the food, comes to life on the pages.  The setting is absolutely perfect, particularly for those of us up North suffering from frigid temperatures this time of year! 

Haley’s character is completely likeable; while she is a food critic she’s not snooty at all, she’s actually quite fond of tasting and critiquing food from local fast food restaurants.  The secondary characters are quite rich as well; I look forward to reading about them more in subsequent books. Finally, you can’t have a foodie book without recipes! Recipes for a few of the dishes Haley makes throughout the course of the book are included as well.

Bottom line: if you are a fan of cozy mysteries this is a series you can’t afford to miss out one! Highly recommended!

Review: The Dispatcher by Ryan David Jahn

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin ((December 27, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0143120700
  • Source: Publisher

Seven years ago, the daughter of Texas police dispatcher Ian Hunt was abducted while he and his wife were out to dinner. The abduction destroyed his family; he and his wife are no longer together. He hasn’t spoken to his son, responsible for his sister’s well-being that evening, in some time.  Four months previously, they finally declared Maggie dead, burying an empty coffin.

One day, however, he receives a phone-call from Maggie, now a teenager. She’s able to give her father a brief description of her abductor before she is ripped from the phone. Not nearly enough to make an arrest but certainly enough to re-open the investigation.

When the bodies of several young girls are found on the property of a local man, the local police finally has the leads it needs to generate a full-scale investigation. Ian can’t lose his daughter again, so he takes off on his own on a cross-country chase after the local couple responsible for Maggie’s abduction.  He abandons everything, including the law, to get his daughter back.

The Dispatcher is a chilling, absorbing, addictive read. The desperation this poor father has to find his daughter is heart-wrenching. He feels that in losing his family already he has nothing to risk, nothing to lose. There is a bit of violence so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book for the weak-stomached.  But if you want an engrossing, heart-pounding, fast-paced, crime novel? The Dispatcher is the book for you. Highly recommended.

Review: Affairs of Steak by Julie Hyzy

  • Paperback:304 pages
  • Publisher:Berkley; Original edition (January 3, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0425245837
  • Source: Kaye Publicity

White House chef Olivia Paras has been tasked to work with her nemesis, White House Sensitivity Director Peter Everett Sargeant, on an off-site event for the First Lady. This task, already seemingly unwieldy due to the tense relationship they share, is worsened when they discover the bodies of one of the First Lady’s assistants and the Chief of Staff. 

Olivia has quite the history of becoming involved in murder investigations. It isn’t intentional; she’d much rather stick to her duties in the White House Kitchen. As if all of this isn’t enough, she’s also dealing with other issues: Paul, the head usher, is taking a leave of absence to tend to his sick wife, his replacement is less than stellar; Virgil, the First Family’s personal chef and his “holier than thou” attitude is interviewed and leaks information to the press. Least of all is her pitiful excuse for a love life.  She’s been “seeing” someone but the relationship seems to be going nowhere. Finally, the reputation of Sargeant is at risk when it appears as though he’s making mistakes in his duties. Despite her initial feelings about Sargeant, Olivia decides to help Sargeant find out who is behind all of the seemingly innocent mistakes that keep popping up in the planning of this event.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long before Olivia gets in over her head and her life, as well as Sargeant’s, is put at risk. She’s forced to endure a 24-hour protection detail from the Secret Service when it’s obvious that some high-ranking official wants her dead. Can she and Sargeant pull off this high-profile event without winding up as victims themselves?

The fifth book in the White House Chef series, reading Affairs of Steak is like being reunited with old friends! I can’t tell you how much I missed reading about Olivia’s antics, the goings on of the White House kitchen, and more. This series is truly a delight! While food doesn’t have as big a role in this book as in others, it is still an engaging and entertaining book. I love that it is set in Washington, D.C.; I can imagine the scenes and locations (even the invented ones) as if they were right in front of me.  Olivia’s character is an outstanding one: she’s courageous, incredibly strong and independent, redeeming and refreshing qualities for a female character to have.

As indicated, this is the fifth book in a series. While you can theoretically start reading at any point in the series, I do recommend starting from the beginning in order to get a true feel for the characters.  Highly recommended….I now must wait impatiently for more from this author!

Review: More than Words Can Say by Robert Barclay

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (December 20, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0062041193
  • Source: Publisher

When Chelsea’s grandmother passed away she was devastated.  She was incredibly close to Gran and can’t seem to fathom how she and her mother are going to survive without her. Despite this closeness, Chelsea is surprised to learn that she has inherited Gran’s cottage in the Adirondacks, a cottage that has been closed for decades. 

In a letter left for her, Gran urges Chelsea to visit the cottage to find out what was so special about this property. She ends up staying the entire summer, discovering a past her grandmother had literally buried years ago.  War-time romances, pain, loss, so much she never knew about her grandmother. In the months she spends in that serene cabin, in rediscovering her grandmother, Chelsea also experiences a bit of an awakening herself.

In addition to her grandmother’s journal, she comes across a journal full of her wartime recipes; a true legacy passed on from one generation to another. The recipes are named after influential individuals, including war leaders, actors and more. They range from MacAurthuroni and Cheese to Roosevelt’s Roast, Eisenhower’s Eggs Benedict, and more. (The recipes themselves are included in the bonus material at the back of the book)

The past she uncovers isn’t one that she initially believed should be kept hidden from her family, but with the help of local townspeople and her attractive doctor neighbor, Chelsea learns that some secrets, if they don’t change the present, are better left alone.

Admittedly, the budding relationship that forms between Chelsea and her neighbor, Brandon Yale, is a little too “Nicholas Sparks” for me.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy this book; I really did. Not for the romance, but for the story, the legacy, that Chelsea uncovers in her grandmother’s cottage.  As she reads the journal entries, the storyline flashes back to Gran’s youth as the beautiful young bride, Brooke, and that fateful summer of 1942. Like other readers, I found similarities between this book and Sarah Jio’s Violets of March. Fans of multi-generational family sagas will be drawn into this novel, just as I was. Recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to participate in this tour. Be sure to check out the other stops along the way:

Tuesday, December 20th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, December 21st: A Cozy Reader’s Corner
Thursday, December 22nd: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Monday, December 26th: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms
Tuesday, December 27th: Amused By Books
Wednesday, December 28th: BookNAround
Thursday, December 29th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Friday, December 30th: Wandering Thoughts of a Scientific Housewife
Tuesday, January 3rd: Hospitable Pursuits
Wednesday, January 4th: Library of Clean Reads
Thursday, January 5th: Diary of an Eccentric