Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review & Giveaway: The Island of Doves by Kelly O'Connor McNees

Berkley; April 2014; $12.16 at Amazon
Do not let the demure painting on the cover fool you--Kelly O'Connor McNees' THE ISLAND OF DOVES packs quite a punch! I absolutely LOVE this novel. It is one of those rare books that can't put down and whose ending leaves you in pain pining for more.

THE ISLAND OF DOVES is set in 19th Century America, when the grand houses of the wealthy, newly-established Americans stood in a fascinating but fading co-existence with the camps of the Native American peoples. Susannah Fraser belongs to the first group, living in one of Buffalo's stateliest mansions amongst her fine china, jewels, servants, and a husband who spares her no love or kindness.

Following a particularly violent encounter with her husband, a Catholic sister offers Susannah a means of escape. She boards a steamboat across lake Huron toward Mackinac island and toward Magdaleine Fonteneau, a woman hell-bent on securing Susannah's freedom for her own reasons.

Magdaleine is a truly compelling character and based loosely on one of the most successful fur-traders in the Northwest Territory--Magdaleine Laframboise. McNees' Magdaleine is a wealthy fur trader too, widowed while pregnant with her first child and forced to take the reigns of her late husband's business. She is of direct French and Native American descent, like most of Mackinac's inhabitants, and she can row a boat or tap a tree as well as any man. She also volunteers her time selflessly to teach local girls how to read the catechism. But she struggles with showing any love or maternal instinct toward her now-adult son, and also coming to terms with the tragic death of her two sisters.

These two women--vastly unalike--manage to save each other. They weather many storms, including the possibility that Susannah's husband is on the hunt for her, not always with grace, but with a hearty tenacity that is the hallmark of pioneer women. I found this inspiring! By no means do men play second fiddle, but it is clear that the women in THE ISLAND OF DOVES can take care of themselves and each other.

This expertly-realized pioneer spirit, along with the most natural of dialogue (a difficult task for any author) and a plot that moves at a perfectly addicting pace, makes THE ISLAND OF DOVES a must-read in my book. I truly hope that Kelly O'Connor McNees will be writing a sequel so that we can all find out more of what happens to Susannah, Magdaleine and the crew. In the meanwhile, I've been inspired to do a bit of historical research into this era in American history--thanks for the inspiration, Kelly!

*WIN YOUR OWN COPY! Simply comment below and I will select a winner at random. The contest will end on Monday, April 14th at 11:59pm. Good luck!

Berkley provided me with a copy of this book for review and giveaway. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Adorable Deliciousness -- Bella Sophia Sugar Crafts (West Haverstraw,NY)

Red Velvet Cake in a Jar  *spoon originally
attached with twine. Super sweet!
This weekend I got to meet Eva, the owner of Bella Sophia Sugar Crafts in West Haverstraw, NY. Besides being drawn over to her vendor booth by her wonderful personality, her table was filled with the cutest little treats! She had rice crispy treats on a stick, pie pops, and a beautiful fondant-covered cake. But I was drawn most in by her awesome assortment of cakes in a jar. Cakes in a jar!! Can you just imagine the party favor possibilities?

Eva makes these cakes in a jar in so many delicious cake and frosting flavors I can't even recite them to you, but think along the lines of red velvet, mocha, coconut mandarin chardonnay (yum.) Check out her website for a full menu and pricing:

$5 for a 4oz Cake in a Jar
Eva so generously gifted me with a red velvet cake in a jar with buttercream frosting and it was great! While I would order cream cheese frosting with my red velvet cakes (which Bella Sophia Sugar Crafts can certainly provide), I thought the red velvet cake itself was super delicious. And I can just imagine rows of these little cakes in jars set out on a table at a party as favors or as part of a dessert bar.

So check out Bella Sophia Sugar Crafts if you're in the market for something beautiful and yummy for your next gathering.  I know that I'm looking forward to tasting more of her treats! You can also visit on Facebook and check out her amazing cakes with beautiful sugar flowers and expert sculpting work (I love the Super Mario Minion cake!)