Monday, January 14, 2019

ARC Review: Our Year of Maybe


ABL Review At-A-Glance
Ø    Title: Our Year of Maybe
Ø    My Rating: 5
Ø    Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Ø    Author:  Rachel Lynn Solomon
Ø    Format:  Paperback ARC*
Ø    Publication Date:  January 15, 2019

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Goodreads Synopsis

Aspiring choreographer Sophie Orenstein would do anything for Peter Rosenthal-Porter, who’s been on the kidney transplant list as long as she’s known him. Peter, a gifted pianist, is everything to Sophie: best friend, musical collaborator, secret crush. When she learns she’s a match, donating a kidney is an easy, obvious choice. She can’t help wondering if after the transplant, he’ll love her back the way she’s always wanted.

But Peter’s life post-transplant isn’t what either of them expected. Though he once had feelings for Sophie too, he’s now drawn to Chase, the guitarist in a band that happens to be looking for a keyboardist. And while neglected parts of Sophie’s world are calling to her—dance opportunities, new friends, a sister and niece she barely knows—she longs for a now-distant Peter more than ever, growing increasingly bitter he doesn’t seem to feel the same connection.

Peter fears he’ll forever be indebted to her. Sophie isn’t sure who she is without him. Then one blurry, heartbreaking night twists their relationship into something neither of them recognizes, leading them to question their past, their future, and whether their friendship is even worth fighting for.

My Thoughts...

Every once in a while, I get a book that makes me so glad that I have a book blog.  Without my book blog, I would never have seen or known about Our Year of Maybe, and I would have missed out on a wonderful, contemporary novel.  Sometimes, I am so thankful that I get to read these books and get to live in these stories for a time.

In this coming of age story, we find best friends, Peter and Sophie, on the cusp of major life changes.  Most obviously, Sophie is giving Peter a kidney.  But beyond that, the pair are figuring out their relationship with a healthy Peter, who they are as adults instead of children, and what they want to do as high school comes to an end.

The reason I loved this book is simple: I related to it so much.  I’ve never experienced the pain and terror of a potentially life ending illness.  I’ve also, thankfully, never been in need of an organ transplant, so you may wonder how I could relate to this story.  For me, these issues were almost secondary to the characters and events taking place.  Rachel Lynn Solomon so perfectly writes about the feelings of first love, unrequited love, and complicated friendships, with a deep understanding of being a teenager trying to figure out these complex emotions.

There were moments from Sophie’s point of view that I literally felt in my chest how she was feeling, because I remember all to well what that was like.  Later in the book, Sophie’s mom gives her some advice that I wish I had when I was younger.  After recounting her own struggles with love, she says, “You are going to stop feeling this way. I can promise you that.  I wish I could tell you when, but this kind of unrequited love doesn’t last forever, kiddo.  It just can’t….Our hearts wouldn’t be able to take it.”

Full stop.  I could have saved myself so much heartache and time if only I figured out and believed that emotions are temporary, fleeting, and though their scars may linger, the acute pain will ease and change.  They have to, otherwise, our hearts wouldn’t be able to take it.

Go read this book.  It’s easy to read, funny at times, and so freaking relatable that I am little worried Rachel Lynn Solomon read my high school diary.  There’s a giveaway below and some links to buy Our Year of Maybe if you aren’t the very lucky winner.  Can’t wait to hear some of your thoughts.

* Special thanks to Rachel Lynn Solomon, FFBC Book Tours, and Simon Pulse for providing a copy of Our Year of Maybe in exchange for an honest review.

Book Links:



Rachel Lynn Solomon lives, writes, and tap dances in Seattle, Washington. Once she helped set a Guinness World Record for the most natural redheads in one place. She's the author of You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (out now from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse), Our Year of Maybe (1/15/19), and Today Tonight Tomorrow (2020). A short story of hers will appear in the anthology It's a Whole Spiel (Penguin Random House/Knopf, fall 2019).


Prize: Win a signed copy of OUR YEAR OF MAYBE by Rachel Lynn Solomon (US Only)

Starting date: 9th January 2019
Ending date: 20th January 2019


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Interview & Giveaway with Noam Kostucki author of Accessible Fine Dining

Who is this book for?

This book is for people who enjoy cooking for themselves and want to lift their cooking to the next level up without breaking the bank account and without necessarily needing to spend more time in the kitchen. If you like hosting dinners, lunches or brunches, this book will give you ways of creating a more memorable experience for your guests. You will learn about different principles and practices to make the not only the dish flavorful and visually beautiful, but also give it stories that enhance the experience of the dish. So anyone who enjoys cooking and likes to create memorable experiences may enjoy this book.

What’s your culinary background?

I have no formal culinary education or professional experience. I am very lucky that my parents took us to eat all over the world. They took us to three Michelin star restaurants as well as tiny mom and pop hole in the wall in the mountains of Nepal. I grew up eating food from all over the world and from all socio-economic level. This gave me an appreciation for what is common to everyone around the world and what is different and unique to each culture and group.

In terms of cooking, I started at university. I was in self catered halls so I cooked for myself two to three times a day. Then I spend most of the last 15 years self employed, which means I worked from home and generally cooked two to three meals a day for myself. I also always enjoyed having friends over for dinner, so I liked cooking three course meals or big meal with lots of small dishes.

The truth is that I had no idea I could cook as well as I cook now. It was never the plan to make a long lasting restaurant. I just had problems with the internet so I couldn’t do my business coaching and I thought that my cooking was good enough to do a creative 7 course dinner for locals who are tired of always eating the same thing. I thought it would be a fun thing to do for a few months but never that guests would be so happy and that I would receive such amazing reviews and awards. I am still blown away. I still expect guests to tell me it’s just pretentious and doesn’t actually taste good… and every time, people give us the most amazing compliments. It’s so wonderfully rewarding and humbling. It also makes me appreciate “real” chefs who run restaurants that serve 200 people per night. I couldn’t do that and it wouldn’t interest me. I love serving a maximum of 12 people per night because it feels like a family dinner. That’s also part of why I relate so much to home cooks.

You started a fine dining restaurant without culinary education or experience working in a professional kitchen, how is this possible?

It’s a combination of great planning and luck. Everyone told me I was crazy and it was a stupid idea. I completely understand why: starting a fine dining restaurant with no culinary background, 30 minutes away from the closest tourist town and without a car seems like a crazy idea.

As a business coach, I’ve learned to assess situations, and I knew what I was good at and what I wasn’t good at. I designed the entire experience to focus on my strengths and avoid my weaknesses.

I can’t take orders from 40 people at the same time and if one person wants a steak well done, another a steak medium rare and another wants salmon medium, I would screw up. I don’t have that kind of experience and developing that skill would take me years of working in a kitchen.

From cooking for myself for about 15 years, I knew that I could create 7 small nice dishes, and if everyone eats the same thing at the same time and they’re not rushed, then it’s fairly easy: I prepare one dish before they arrive so that it can be served quickly, and while they eat I have time to prepare the next one. With 3h30, it gives me 30 min per dish. Knowing that everyone is planned in advance and that you have the whole day to prepare the different bits, it becomes possible to do completely alone.

I only prepared what I knew. Every dish was something I had practiced for many times, and I knew everything I was doing throughout the day. With time, my dishes evolved and I often can’t believe what I serve.  

How can anyone elevate their home cooking to fine dining?

The basic idea is to shift the thinking from food only to zoom out and focus on the entire experience. Fine dining is not just about the food, it’s also about stories, about the search for unique ingredients and unexpected combinations. To elevate home cooking to fine dining, you want to think of your dinner in courses and about the story you’re telling through the evening. Each dish then has to have one to three unique components that surprise guests. You want to visually present and introduce each dish in a way that makes it appealing and memorable. Finally, you want to express who you are through your dinner because it will make your food authentic and exciting.

Book Details & Giveaway:

Review: A Murder by Any Name

ABL Review At-A-Glance
Ø    Title: A Murder by Any Name
Ø    My Rating: 4 
Ø    Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Ø    Author:  Suzanne M. Wolfe
Ø    Format:  Ebook*
Ø    Publication Date:  October 9, 2018

Goodreads Synopsis

When a brutal murder threatens the sanctity of the Elizabethan court, it’s up to a hot-tempered spy to save the day.

The court of Elizabeth I is no stranger to plotting and intrigue, but the royal retinue is thrown into chaos when the Queen’s youngest and sweetest lady-in-waiting is murdered, her body left on the high altar of the Chapel Royal in Whitehall Palace. Solving the murder will require the cunning and savvy possessed by only one man. Enter Nicholas Holt, younger brother of the Earl of Blackwell—spy, rake, and owner of the infamous Black Sheep tavern in the seedy district of Bankside. Nick quickly learns that working for the Queen is a mixed blessing. Elizabeth—salty-tongued, vain, and fiercely intelligent—can, with a glance, either reward Nick with a purse of gold or have his head forcibly removed.

When a second lady-in-waiting is slain at Whitehall, the court once again reels with shock and dismay. On the trail of a diabolical killer, Nick and his faithful sidekick—an enormous Irish Wolfhound named Hector—are treading on treacherous ground, and only the killer’s head on a platter can keep them in the Queen’s good graces.

My Thoughts...

It’s not secret here on ABL that I love historical fiction.  Especially historical that is thoroughly researched and accurate.  As far as I know, AMBAM fits the bill.  This book was filled with historical facts, pertinent information, and a whole lot of mystery.

As this was the beginning of a series, the author spent some time world building with lots of character insight.  I like the main character, Nick, a lot, but I had some trouble relating to him at times.  I admired his courage and intelligence, but couldn’t understand how he felt about the two main love interests in the story.  Let’s be clear though, the point of this book is not romance, as the chief motivator for almost all the action is catching the killer.  In trying to do an accurate and thorough review, I thought I should mention my confusion, but in no way was the focal story affected by it. 

At times, I also felt that Nick tended to veer off into tangential thoughts, which took me out of the story for a minute.  His contemplations usually contained fascinating or relevant information, though not always necessary for the story. 

My favorite character was probably, as usual, the dog.  Hector was hysterical and very well trained.  It was fun imagining him in each of the situations, and I was very impressed that the author always explained where he was so that the reader didn’t lose track of him.

The pace AMBAM was really good, perfect for this type of historical fiction.  I felt like I could see and hear almost everything that happened, which is quite impressive, because I have obviously never been to Elizabethan England.

* Special thanks to Suzanne Wolfe, Crooked Lane Books, and HF Virtual Book Tours for providing a copy of A Murder by Any Name in exchange for an honest review.


Suzanne M. Wolfe grew up in Manchester, England and read English Literature at Oxford University, where she co-founded the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society. She served as Writer in Residence at Seattle Pacific University and taught literature and creative writing there for nearly two decades. Wolfe is the author of three novels: A Murder by Any Name, The Confessions of X, and Unveiling.

Thirty years ago, she and her husband, Gregory Wolfe, co-founded Image, a journal of the arts and faith. They have also co-authored many books on literature and prayer including Books That Build Character: How to Teach Your Child Moral Values Through Stories, and Bless This House: Prayers For Children and Families. Her essays and blog posts have appeared in Image and other publications. She and her husband are the parents of four grown children. They live in Richmond Beach, Washington.

For more information, please visit Suzanne M. Wolfe’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

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