Category Archives: 3.5 stars

Review: Sacre Bleu

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore

Publisher: William Morrow

Ratings: 

Source: Publisher

It is the color of the Virgin Mary’s cloak, a dazzling pigment desired by artists, an exquisite hue infused with danger, adventure, and perhaps even the super natural. It is . . . Sacré Bleu

In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers try to take his life . . . and then walk a mile to a doctor’s house? Who was the crooked little “color man” Vincent claimed was stalking him? And why had Vincent recently become terrified of a certain shade of blue?

These questions confront baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as they seek the truth of their friend’s untimely death, a quest that will lead them on a surreal odyssey through late 19th-century Paris.

Have you ever run into a person and you thought ‘Man, what would it be like to spend a day in his or her mind?’ That’s how I feel about Christopher Moore. I just want to spend a day inside his head and see how he comes up with all of these ideas. I haven’t read a ton of books by Moore and to be honest I think the only other book I’ve ready by him is Bloodsucking Fiends. But he always surprises me with his creativity. Sacre Bleu is different from anything I’ve read before, but in a completely good way.

Honestly, I’m not even sure how to review this book without giving anything away. And it would be a shame if I spoiled it for you. Sacre Bleu started with such an easy concept: figuring out why van Gogh would shoot himself and then walk a mile to seek medical attention. Of course from there, the book just spiraled out of control and it took me on this journey that I never saw coming.

The beginning did start off a little confusing. There were so many different characters and so much was going on that I got lost with who was doing what. Not to mention that pretty much everyone was an artist so it was easy to mix up the names. Once the real story started though and things settled down, I was hooked. It was extremely clear that Moore did some extensive research while writing this book. And I’m not exactly sure what his objective was in writing this book, but he did give me a greater appreciation for art.

Things were just aligning for me while I was reading this book and I was able to stop by my local fine arts museum while I was reading this book. It was definitely exciting to see the paintings of the different characters in this book. While I know a lot of the things mentioned in the book were Moore’s own creation, there were also some facts in the book that I didn’t know about either and its always interesting to learn something new.

Sacre Bleu is different from other books and it is definitely one of those books that are outside of the box, but those interested in art should give this one a try. There’s some humor in this book too, but I think it depends on your sense of humor for you to find it funny or not. I enjoyed reading this book and it gave me something to think about besides my upcoming exam.

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Review: Operations Family Secrets

Operation Family Secrets: How a Mobster’s Son and the FBI Brought Down Chicago’s Murderous Crime Family by Frank Calabrese Jr., Keith Zimmerman, Kent Zimmerman, Paul Pompian

Publisher: Broadway

Ratings:

Source: Publicist

From the cover:

Operation Family Secrets is the chilling true story of how the son of the most violent mobster in Chicago made the unprecedented decision to work with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to incriminate his own father and to help bring down the last great American crime syndicate—the one-hundred-year-old Chicago Outfit.

The Calabrese Crew’s colossal earnings and extreme ruthlessness make them both a dreaded criminal gang and the object of an intense FBi inquiry. Eventually Frank Jr., his father, and Uncle Nick are convicted on racketeering violations, and “Junior” and “Senior” are sent to the same federal penitentiary in Michigan. Upon arrival, Frank Jr. makes a life-changing decision: to go straight rather than agree to his father’s plans to resume crew activities after serving his sentence. But he needs to keep his father behind bars in order to regain control of his life and save his family. Frank Jr. makes a secret deal with prosecutors, and for six months—unmonitored and unprotected—he wears a wire as his father recounts decades of hideous crimes. Frank Jr.’s cooperation with the FBi for virtually no monetary gain or special privileges helps create the government’s “operation Family Secrets” campaign against the Chicago outfit. The case reopens eighteen unsolved murders and also implicates twelve La Cosa Nostra soldiers and two outfit bosses. It becomes one of the largest organized crime cases in U.S. history.

When the publicist first approached me to review Operation Family Secrets by Frank Calabrese, Jr., two thoughts came across my mind. The first was what could have his father possibly done to him to have him turn on his own flesh and blood. And the second thought was how in the world did he live to tell the tale much less write a whole book about it.

After reading the book, my immediate reaction was WOW! This book was truly an eye opener in every way imaginable. At times I felt a little lost just because there was so much name dropping that it was hard to keep track of who did what and who killed who and who died and etc. But other than that, I thought the book was excellent in painting a picture of what it’s liked to be trapped in the mob and being torn between the love he had for his father and doing what’s best for him as well as society.

It was heart wrenching to read about the various crimes his father committed as well as the way he treated other people. It was extremely difficult for me to read about how cruel some people can be. I know very little about mobs and gangs before reading this book and I was completely blown away by how some people could be so cold and could walk away from a murder scene without feeling guilty.

On the other hand, I’m glad that Calabrese Jr was able to realize what was right and what was wrong and found a way to get out of that world. We get the story from his point of view, so of course I feel a little more sympathetic towards him. I’m glad he got his second chance in life and had a change of heart when he was arrested to turn his life around.

Operation Family Secrets is an enlightening look into how mobs work and it gives you a behind the scenes look at what Calabrese had to go through in order to put his father away for life. It’s definitely not a light read, but I recommend it to those who are interested in learning a bit more about mobs and gangs.

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Review: Before the Poison

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Publisher: William Morrow

Ratings:

Source: Publicist

From the cover:

Chris Lowndes built a comfortable career composing scores for films in Hollywood. But after twenty-five years abroad, and still quietly reeling from the death of his beloved wife, he decides to return to the Yorkshire dales of his youth. To ease the move, he buys Kilnsgate House, a rambling old mansion deep in the country.

Although Chris finds Kilnsgate charming, something about the house disturbs him, a vague sensation that the long-empty rooms have been waiting for him—feelings made ever stronger when he learns that the house was the scene of a murder more than fifty years before. The former owner, a prominent doctor named Ernest Arthur Fox, was supposedly poisoned by his beautiful and much younger wife, Grace. Arrested and brought to trial, Grace was found guilty and hanged for the crime.

His curiosity piqued, Chris talks to the locals and searches through archives for information about the case. But the more he discovers, the more convinced he becomes that Grace may have been innocent. Ignoring warnings to leave it alone, he sets out to discover what really happened over half a century ago—a quest that takes him deep into the past and into a web of secrets that lie all too close to the present.

Before the Poison by Peter Robinson was not the fast pace and thrilling mystery novel that I’m used to reading, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. The change of pace allowed me to draw out my reading experience and let the story sink in as I read it rather than racing through it.

The story starts with Chris Lowndes moving into Kilnsgate House to escape the grief he feels after his wife’s recent passing as well as to concentrate on creating a sonata in her memory. Upon moving into Kilnsgate House, however, he senses a ghost in the home and upon further investigation, discover the history behind the home. This causes him to go on a journey towards the truth and clearing Grace’s name as the murderer.

This is very much a character driven mystery. The characters and plot are extremely well developed and the mystery unfolds slowly. At the beginning of the book, each chapter started with a third person account of what occurred during the trials in which Grace was tried for the murder of her husband. In the latter chapters, the beginning included Grace’s personal journal entries of her time as a nurse during the war. These beginnings gave the readers a better understanding of Grace and it showed us her true personality as well as some background information to what happened in the past.

If you’re a patient reader and you’re looking for an entertaining mystery novel and you don’t mind a slow paced one, then I would definitely recommend this one. It was quite a change to read a mystery novel that didn’t make me want to rush through it and read it in one sitting, but it was a good change and I enjoyed being able to put it down and go to bed at a decent hour.

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Review: How to Eat a Cupcake

How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Ratings:

Source: Publisher

From the cover:

Funny, free-spirited Annie Quintana and sophisticated, ambitious Julia St. Clair come from two different worlds. Yet, as the daughter of the St. Clair’s housekeeper, Annie grew up in Julia’s San Francisco mansion and they forged a bond that only two little girls who know nothing of class differences and scholarships could—until a life-altering betrayal destroyed their friendship.

A decade later, Annie is now a talented, if underpaid, pastry chef who bakes to fill the void left in her heart by her mother’s death. Julia, a successful businesswoman, is tormented by a painful secret that could jeopardize her engagement to the man she loves. When a chance reunion prompts the unlikely duo to open a cupcakery, they must overcome past hurts and a mysterious saboteur or risk losing their fledgling business and any chance of healing their fractured friendship.

How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue was the perfect beach read to take with me on my spring break. It was a light and fast read that made me drooling for cupcakes! I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I told my friends I was craving a cupcake. I settled for some break and bake Nestle chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon rolls instead.

Annie Quintana and Julia St. Clair couldn’t be more different from one another, and yet they were childhood friends until high school happen and their friendship fell apart. Fast forward ten years, and on a chance encounter they decide to open a cupcake shop together. The cupcakery has always been Annie’s dream and Julia uses it as a distraction to avoid the bigger problem in her personal life.

And although a part of the story revolves around the two former friends making peace with one another and working together to regain the friendship they once had, there are many other underlining stories in the book too. Julia is keeping a secret from her fiancé and Annie is trying to find a way to stay close with her mother who passed away when she was in high school before she was able to fully apologize to her.

In addition, this isn’t the typical chick lit novel that is light and fluffy because there’s a touch of suspense and a mystery to solve. While the two girls are putting forth their best efforts to set their differences aside and make the cupcakery a smashing success, an unknown outsider is vandalizing their business. They also have to deal with a creepy stranger who has been lurking outside of their building and on occasion, following them home.

Overall, I did enjoy reading How to Eat a Cupcake, and would definitely recommend it to those who are interested in a fast and fun chick lit novel. Of course I’m a sucker for good books about friendship and although I wish their friendship had taken centered stage in this book, I’ll stettle for what Donohue did give me.

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Review: The Company We Keep

The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True Life Spy Story by Robert Baer and Dayna Baer

Publisher: Broadway

Ratings:

Source: Publisher

From the publicist:

Simultaneously a trip deep down the intelligence rabbit hole – one that shows how the “game” actually works, including the compromises it asks of those who play by its rules — and a portrait of two people trying to regain a normal life, The Company We Keep is a masterly depiction of the real world of shadows that absorbed CIA Agents Robert and Dayna Baer as their clandestine relationship unfolded amidst assassination proposals, Arab sheiks, oil tycoons, and terrorists.

I’ve never read a book that was written by CIA operatives before, but it was definitely a different experience. I’m one of those people who thrives on the details and like answers to all my questions, so I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see how much The Company We Keep by Robert and Dayna Baer lacked in that area. Of course I didn’t go into the book expecting them to spill all the CIA secrets, but I also didn’t expect discombobulated and disjointed stories about CIA missions either.

The book alternates back and forth between Bob’s and Dayna’s point of view. During the first portion of the book, we get a slice of what life is like in the CIA as well as the sacrifices they had to make to be a part of the CIA. And while we did get to learn a bit about the various missions they went on, it wasn’t enough to draw anything from it. It was interesting to read Dayna’s story as she trained to become an operative, but the majority of the stories were just random flashes of their memories of being CIA operatives.

And while I did find the book interesting, I can’t say I completely love the book mainly because of the characters. I found it difficult to relate to the authors due to some of the choices they made and how they portrayed themselves in the book. At the beginning of the book, I found Bob to be really cold and distant from his family and it didn’t seem like he cared about his children. I understand that his job is important, but I don’t think he should have put it in front of his kids. But that was one of the many sacrifices he had to make to be a part of the CIA. A lot of their personal lives were glossed over or weren’t covered in the book so it was harder for me to become attach to the characters because I felt like I didn’t really know them and I couldn’t relate to them.

I did enjoy reading the last part of the book where they went through the adoption process of adopting a child from Pakistan. I never knew the difficulties that went into the adoption process. I naievely thought that with all the orphans out there that people would be glad to have someone want to take care of a child. Child trafficking never even crossed my mind. Reading about all the trials and red tape they had to go through to adopt a child was extremely heartwarming and it also made me like them a lot more. It added some depth to their personality and made me realize that they weren’t just robots working for the CIA because that’s how I felt about them at the beginning.

The Company We Keep overall was an interesting book and it had some high points as well as some low points. I feel that if you are interested in the CIA or espionage, then this may be a book that you would be interested in, but keep in mind that not much is revealed and most mysteries remain unsolved.

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