Book Review: Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

cupcakeMeet Me at the Cupcake Cafe
by Jenny Colgan
410 pages
Published 2011 (UK) (2013 in the US)
General Fiction

This was a sweet book about a woman chasing her dreams. Issy gets let go from her real estate firm and decides to open a cupcake bakery, following in her grandfather’s footsteps. (He owned and operated three bread bakeries in his prime.) The book follows Issy’s troubles with opening the cafe, her romantic misadventures, and the slow decline of her beloved grandfather to dementia. Interspersed with the chapters are actual recipes, most in the form of letters written to Issy from her grandfather. And these recipes look DELICIOUS. I’m going to be writing a few of them down before I take this book back to the library!

The characters in the book are endearing, from Issy, to her acerbic flatmate Helena, to her employee Pearl and Pearl’s adorable son, Louis. Really, the only unlikable character in the book is Issy’s on-again, off-again douche of an ex, but he’s meant to be the villain of the story. Even Pearl’s erratic boyfriend is at least a nice sort. Set in London, there’s a kind of timeless quality to the story, so when Issy mentioned Facebook I was a little taken aback – I had not even realized it was set in modern times! I was thinking 1970s or so.

The book has a sequel, but unfortunately the reviews are all quite bad for it. People who loved this book say the second did not hold true to the characters, so I probably will not read it. There was another book mentioned in the back of this one, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, that I may look into.

I love baking, so reading a book that centered on baking cakes, with recipes, was a lot of fun. From the sweet pink cover to the simple joy Issy takes in feeding sweets to people, I really loved this book.

From Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe:

Issy Randall can bake. No, Issy can create stunning, mouthwateringly divine cakes. After a childhood spent in her beloved Grampa Joe’s bakery, she has undoubtedly inherited his talent. She’s much better at baking than she is at filing, so when she’s laid off from her desk job, Issy decides to open her own little cafe. But she soon learns that her piece-of-cake plan will take all her courage and confectionary talent to avert disaster.

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Book Review: Medea

medeaMedea
by Kerry Greenwood
428 pages
Published 2011 (First US publishing in 2013)
Historical Fiction

Medea is the first of three “Delphic Women” novels to be published in the US by Australian author Kerry Greenwood. It tells the story of Medea from the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. The version that everyone knows involves Medea, as a witch, helping Jason to steal the Golden Fleece in return for marrying her. The story goes that some years later, when he attempts to put her aside, she not only kills his potential bride, but also the children that she’d borne him.

Medea tells a different story. She is a priestess of Hekate, the Black Mother goddess. The story details her fall from that religion, her marriage to Jason, the death of their children, and her life after her marriage. It is an utterly enthralling book, and I am eager to see Greenwood’s other Delphic Women novels, which appear to be about Cassandra and Electra. Greenwood has a talent for keeping the feel of ancient Greek mythology while also making the characters accessible for the modern reader. She includes a chapter after the end of the story, in which she explains why and how she came to the conclusion that Medea was NOT responsible for the death of her children, despite every other popular story saying she killed them.

While Medea has often been painted as the villain of the story, Greenwood had me cheering for her the entire book, from the first time she was brought to the dark caves of Hekate as a toddler to when she mourned over the deaths of her children and slowly learned to love again. I enjoyed seeing one of the ancient legends from a woman’s point of view; none of them are ever told that way! I also found it really interesting how the book portrayed Herakles; he turned out to be one of my favorite characters!

I’d definitely recommend this book if you like retellings of mythology or ancient legends.

Edit: 2 years after publishing this review, I’m updating links and discover Kerry Greenwood is also the author of the Phryne Fisher murder mystery series, which Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is based on! I just finished marathoning that entire series on Netflix, it’s fantastic! What a crazy coincidence.

From Medea:

My mother gave birth to me in the darkness under the earth and died in doing so. I loved the velvety blanket of night before my dazzled eyes ever encountered light. And when I did, they say I wept, and the people said, “Here is a true daughter of Hekate!”

I am standing in the dark again, in the central room of my own place – no, of Hekate’s temple, which was once mine, before I went with Jason. Jason the thief, the pirate, the betrayer. Jason the stranger. I have left my own gods, my own tongue, my own beliefs, for too long….

The knife blade gleams, and I try the blade. I feel the sting as it slides along my thumb. It is very sharp. I can hear the children laughing as they play.

How did I come to this?

Book Review: The Iron Druid Chronicles

houndedHounded, Hexed, and Hammered
by Kevin Hearne
Published 2011
~300 pages each
Urban Fantasy

So when my husband first saw these at the library, he laughed and handed one to me, saying they “looked like trash” but “might be fun anyway.” Having read them, yes, they’re light reads, but SO MUCH FUN. They’re very reminiscient of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files; Atticus is a total BAD ASS, is the last Druid, and is a total lady’s man to boot. (I mean, look at those covers, he’s a cute-as-hell Irish dude.)

Atticus may be a special snowflake (he’s 21 centuries old, and the last living Druid, so the Tuatha de Danann take an inordinate interest in his life) but he’s hilarious. It’s especially interesting to see how his morals (he freely admits they’re based in an Iron Age mentality) conflict with the morals of modern humanity, and with the morals of his gods.

Atticus has collected a crazy menagerie of friends and allies – his lawyers, a vampire and a werewolf, come from a firm run by werewolves. His vampire lawyer has a group of ghouls on speed-dial for easy disposal of bodies. Being a druid, he’s befriended a couple of elementals that help protect his house and himself. His wolfhound is unusually intelligent, with a wicked sense of humor, due to Atticus’ meddling.

These are only the first three in the series; the library had 1, 2, 3, and 5 on their shelves, but I’m waiting to read #5 until I get my hands on #4. (I’ve got a hold request on it.) #6 is on order at the library, and #7 is due out this summer. If you liked The Dresden Files, you’ll probably like these. (Also, if you like reading about sexy Irish dudes kicking ass.)

hexedThere was one scene that bothered me. I can’t remember whether it was in Hexed or Hammered (they blend together a bit) but at one point Atticus and the Morrigan raise some sex magic to repair Atticus’ missing ear. (He got a bit banged up in an earlier fight.) And the sex scene, while not explicit (god knows I don’t have a problem with explicit sex scenes!) was a bit…rapey. As in, the Morrigan quite literally magicked him into it, and by his own admission he felt pressured (how do you say no to your own goddess?) and it was NOT pleasurable in the least. So….yeah. He’s grateful to her for fixing his ear, but the entire scene made me really uncomfortable. It did make me think about gods having sex with mortals, though – there are many, many stories about Zeus taking any woman he pleased, whether she was willing or no. Even if one is “willing” – if a god asks you to have sex, how exactly can one say no? I guess it made me think about how there are laws against teachers and other authority figures taking advantage of those they have authority over. If a teacher-student relationship is rape, no matter how consensual, then how can a god-mortal relationship be anything else?

A review I read of the books mentioned they’re very sexist – in the reviewer’s opinion, all the female characters fall in to one of three roles – harmless sex object, laughably dangerous sex object, and unhinged psychotic actually dangerous sex object. While I can see where they were coming from, the books are told from Atticus’ point of view, and he is, self-admittedly, a ladies’ man and operating on Iron Age morality. So where does a book cross from portraying a sexist character to actually -being- sexist? I’m not sure. At about book three, Atticus does get a strong female apprentice. And while he is attracted to her, she’s definitely portrayed as having a mind of her own. (The reviewer also ignored the Widow who Atticus has a close friendship with – she’s not a sex object in the least.)

There are definitely problematic bits in these books, but if you’re willing to look past those, they are a rip-roaring good time. Just – enjoy with caution.

From Hounded:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

hammeredFrom Hexed:

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

From Hammered:

Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully—he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare.

One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plain of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.

More Nerdfighter-y stuff

In the same vein as my last post, I’d like to plug another Youtube channel. This is one I only discovered a couple of days ago, and promptly watched all the videos. It’s called “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and it’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice as a vlog. It’s also absolutely AMAZING. It was produced by Hank Green, of the vlogbrothers, and he won an Emmy for it. (Learning he’d won an Emmy for something is what brought it to my attention.) It’s hysterical at times, and tear-inducing at others. It’s beautifully done.

I’m a big fan of re-imaginings of old stories. I’ve read (and own!) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. I have not yet read Android Karenina, but it’s on my list! In finding the Amazon links for what I just listed, I also discovered several more – Mansfield Park and Mummies, Little Vampire Women, and Jane Slayre. Given my unending love for Jane Eyre, I will DEFINITELY have to get my hands on that last one! There also appears to be both a sequel and a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Looks like I have whole new slew of books for my to-read list!

(Edit: There’s now a movie in the works of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!)

I’m not sure why I love retellings of Pride and Prejudice so much – maybe because the plot is very similar to Much Ado About Nothing, which is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. I love the back-and-forth verbal sparring between two prickly characters. (Perhaps because it reminds me of my relationship with my husband!)

Without further ado (see what I did there?), the first episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries:

Crash Course Literature is coming back!

Today is Digital Learning Day, so I feel it’s appropriate to plug one of my favorite Youtube channels!

If you’ve followed this blog for a few months, you know I’m a Nerdfighter. If you haven’t, and have no idea what a Nerdfighter is, well. A Nerdfighter is someone who, instead of being made of flesh and blood and inner organs is instead made of pure awesome. …..actually a Nerdfighter is someone who is a fan of John and/or Hank Green, also known as the vlogbrothers of Youtube fame. Several years ago, the two started making Youtube videos to talk to each other, EVERY DAY – and developed a following. These days they run several successful Youtube channels (all educational!), like SciShow, Mental Floss, Crash Course, and the original vlogbrothers. They started VidCon, the Con for Youtubers, and dftba Records, a recording company for Youtube artists. They’re kind of internet famous. (Oh, and John is a highly successful young adult author whose latest novel is being turned into a movie set to release this summer, so there’s that, too!)

ANYWAY. John and Hank make videos for the Youtube channel Crash Course, and they generally do a series of videos on a topic. Past topics include a 40-video series on Biology, a 43-video series on World History, an 8-video series on Literature, 12 videos on Ecology, and the two currently running, U.S. History (at 46 videos so far) and Chemistry (at 47 videos.) Hank handles the science, and John the humanities. When Chemistry and U.S. History wrap up, they’re moving on to Psychology (Hank) and another round of Literature (John).

The last Literature course covered Romeo & Juliet, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. And they were EXCELLENT. So I am very excited for the next round. (I’m excited for Psychology too, but it’s not on topic for this blog!)

I thought I’d post the reading list for the next round of Crash Course Literature, since I’ll be reading it in the next few months and posting the accompanying videos with my reviews of the books. The Course is supposed to start sometime in February.

nerdfighterThe list of books John is covering:

The Odyssey by Homer
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
Hamlet by Bill Shakespeare
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Beloved by Toni Morrison

I’ve started reading The Odyssey already, and it’s surprisingly good. I expected it to be hard to read, but it’s actually easier than Shakespeare. And I love Shakespeare. So it’s going pretty quickly! I’ve read a few of the others on the list – Oedipus, Hamlet, Jane Eyre – but actually have not read the rest. So this should be fun!

Book Review: Angelology and Angelopolis

angel1Angelology
by Danielle Trussoni
463 pages
Published 2010
Modern Fantasy

Angelopolis
by Danielle Trussoni
320 pages
Published 2013
Modern Fantasy

So – I wanted to like these books. Angelology started out strong, despite the horrid title. It was shaping up to be a religious thriller along the lines of The DaVinci Code, with shadowy organizations and cryptic clues leading to a treasure that would shake the foundations of civilization – and then it kind of fell apart. The entire point of the plot was discarded like a piece of trash at the end of the novel, and it ended on – not quite a cliffhanger, but also not an ending, either. With three years between books, had I read Angelology when it came out, I would have been extremely frustrated with not being able to continue to read the story. I continued on to Angelopolis hoping to find answers and continue the story – and was disappointed at the turn it took. I assume there will be at least a third book, as so much was left unresolved in Angelopolis, just as the first novel was left unresolved. The very last sentence of Angelopolis stunned me as it was a complete 180 from the rest of the book and seemed completely at odds with how the characters had acted for the past two novels.

In short, the first was decent and the second was a train wreck with so many plot holes….well, you could drive the train, in the process of wrecking, through them. Don’t waste your time. And – Angelology? Really? Angelologists? Those terms made me cringe every time I read them.

angel2From the back of Angelology:

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. –Genesis 6:5

Sister Evangeline was just a girl when her father entrusted her to the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York. Now, at twenty-three, her discovery of a 1943 letter from the famous philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller to the late mother superior of Saint Rose Convent plunges Evangeline into a secret history that stretches back a thousand years: an ancient conflict between the Society of Angelologists and the monstrously beautiful descendants of angels and humans, the Nephilim.

For the secrets these letters guard are desperately coveted by the once-powerful Nephilim, who aim to perpetuate war, subvert the good in humanity, and dominate mankind. Generations of angelologists have devoted their lives to stopping them, and their shared mission, which Evangeline has long been destined to join, reaches from her bucolic abbey on the Hudson to the apex of insular wealth in New York, to the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris and the mountains of Bulgaria.

From the back of Angelopolis:

A decade has passed since Verlaine saw Evangeline alight from the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of her new wings a betrayal that haunts him still. Now an elite angel hunter for the Society of Angelology, he pursues his mission with single-minded devotion: to capture, imprison, and eliminate her kind.

But when Evangeline suddenly appears on a twilit Paris street, Verlaine finds her nature to be unlike any of the other creatures he so mercilessly pursues, casting him into a spiral of doubt and confusion that only grows when she is abducted before his eyes by a creature who has topped the society’s most-wanted list for more than a century. The ensuing chase drives Verlaine and his fellow angelologists from the shadows of the Eiffel Tower to the palaces of St. Petersburg and deep into the provinces of Siberia and the Black Sea coast, where the truth of Evangeline’s origins—as well as forces that could restore or annihilate them all—lie in wait.