Thursday, April 17, 2014

Virgil's Barbeque Road Trip Cookbook: The Best Barbeque From Around the Country Without Every Leaving Your Backyard


Author: Neal Corman, Chris Peterson
Genre: Cookbook
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Pages: 336
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: April 8, 2014
First Line: "Virgil's Real Barbeque Restaurant stands at the "crossroads of the world," better known as New York City's Times Square."

Book Description from GoodReads: Open Virgil’s Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook and you’ll find a winning mix of barbecue and grilling recipes plus perfect summer sides for quick weekday dinners and relaxed weekend entertaining. Tapping the secrets of the best ‘cue from Texas, North Carolina, Kansas City and Memphis, Virgil’s has tested and tasted it all until the ninety-eight recipes in this book are foolproof for home cooks and backyard grillmasters.Virgil’s Barbecue Road Trip Cookbook has the instructions you need for anything you’re in the mood for: get serious and do some smoking, in either a basic kettle grill or dedicated smoker, or stay casual and sample some rubs and marinades for succulent grilled meat, fish or vegetables. You’ll make
--Beef: from True Texas Brisket to Chicken Fried Steak with Country Gravy to a Kansas City Burnt Ends Sandwich
--Pork: from Baby Back Ribs to Boston Butt (the Virgil’s Way) to Slow-smoked Ham
--Poultry: from Classic Pulled Chicken to Kansas City Fried Chicken to Jerk Chicken
--Rubs, Marinades and Sauces: from Virgil’s meal-making Universal Flour to Carolina Vinegar Sauce to Alabama White Barbecue Sauce

Surrounded by unstoppable sides and sweets, such as Southern Accent Cheddar Grits, Georgia Pecan Rice and Virgil’s Perfect Banana Pudding, Virgil’s barbecue is about to change the way you eat and entertain: this food will make you happy!


Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  My family and I love food.  We love to eat it, share it and cook it.  Yes, food makes us happy and this cookbook makes my belly oh so very eager for some BBQ'd treats.

We are pretty avid BBQers here in the Bookworm Family.  And by 'we' I mean my husband, Brad.  He BBQs come rain, come snow, come sleet or heat my man is out there Q'ing up some good eats!  He's so devoted that one time he had to chip the ice off of our BBQ in the middle of winter just so we could grill some steaks.  The stomach wants, what the stomach wants and the people at Virgil's understand that.

Even though I'm not a big BBQ'er myself this cookbook laid out its recipes in such a clear and concise manner (with mouth watering pictures) that I think that even I may venture outside of my kitchen to grill up some grub.  Newbie BBQers need not fret because this book is not intimidating for the novice griller.  It points out the important techniques and equipment needed to being your relationship with your BBQ and with the easy to follow recipes even novices will be grilling up some tasty grub in no time.  Honestly, this book has something for everyone.

Virgil's is a very successful restaurant group with three locations - Bahamas, Connecticut and their flagship restaurant in NYC's Times Square.  You'd think that with Virgil's success and popularity that the recipes, techniques and even kitchen gadgets needed to replicate their dishes would be hard for the average person to understand or afford to own.  Or that some of the spices needed would have to come from their signature recipes available only through their business. I'm happy to report that this is not the case here at all.  You get the feeling that the people at Virgil's just want you to be able to make their great food so they give you the tools, directions and even include the recipes for their special rubs and sauces so you can make it happen at home. 

The authors also make it clear that you can make great BBQ'd food with the tools and cuts of meat that you have on hand.  Being able to make a great pulled pork or a brisket that is oh-so-tender is definitely just as important as being able to grill the perfect steak (in my book anyway) and I appreciate the fact that the authors don't focus just on the expensive cuts of meat.

As I mentioned before, the instructions are easy to follow but the authors also include tips, tricks, menu suggestions and even beer pairings for different dishes.  The addition of beautiful pictures of so many of the recipes is the BBQ sauce on the proverbial back ribs.  If I had one wee complaint its that beer was the only alcoholic beverage that was suggested for the dishes.  And while this was a cool addition to the book I've never been a beer drinker and would have loved to have seen a bit more selection in bevvies for us non-beer drinkers.

While this book definitely focuses heavily on the gastronomical desires of all carnivores, they also give a fairly healthy nod to vegetables this book.  I appreciated that they didn't just focus on wild beasties but also included sections for rubs, marinades, salads, sides and even desserts which really shows the versatility of the barbeque.

This cookbook was a pleasure to read.  The recipes are easy to follow, many have beautiful pictures and the narration of the book felt very laidback and easy going giving it the perfect feel for a barbeque cookbook. 

Recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Homemade Taco Seasoning

After almost two weeks off from blogging, I'm back!  My family and I had a fabulous time in sunny Florida with my parents.  I'll blog about that once I get all my pictures organized but needless to say it was fun and involved me snogging a sea creature.  'Nuff said.  Until that post, here's a seasoning mix that I refuse to buy because it's so easy to make and keep on hand for those taco emergencies.

The only thing better than making something delicious to share with my family is when one of my family members makes something to share with me!  For our movie night a few weeks ago Boy 1 offered to make the Super Taco Dip for us all to enjoy.  Say wha?!? I knew I liked that kid.  The man-child knows his way around the kitchen and his future wife will be forever in my debt.  Now if I can only get him to remember to clean up after his creations.

This is a super easy spice mix that you can whip up and use for all sorts of taco-esque dishes.  A little heat (depending on how much cayenne you choose to use) and a whole lotta taste!  Use it for tacos, taco meat for nachos, add to bread crumbs then coat chicken breasts or pork tenderloin, sprinkle over buttered popcorn for some added Mexican flair ....  The uses are endless and you get the satisfaction of knowing what ingredients you used and none of the nasty preservatives.



1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients and store in an air-tight container.  Use on ground beef for tacos, sprinkled on buttered popcorn, added into my Super Taco Dip ....

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Wolfsangel


Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: Direct from author
Publisher: Perrat Publishing
First Published: October 1, 2013
First Line: "We gather in the cemetery, before the ossuary, with the straggle of other remaining survivors and their families."

Book Description from GoodReadsSeven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt.

1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes.

When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration.

As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for France.

Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen. But the decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days.

A woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.
  
Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to author Liza Perrat for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  As readers of my blog already know, I really enjoy reading books about WWII so a book that is set in this era has to bring something new to the table to keep me interested.  Wolfsangel did ... and then some. 

I found this to be an emotional, touching read with edge of your seat action that made me see WWII through different eyes.  It still deals with the highs and lows of human behaviour during such a horrific time, but Perrat gives a face to the destruction that happened on a smaller front -- occupation in a small French town.  It showed how the townspeople were forced to live alongside German soldiers and how that affected them financially, emotionally, socially and ultimately very personally.  It was a very unique take and showed just how far reaching the Hitler's power went and that the brutality of war wasn't only on the battlefields.

This was a very character driven read that focuses on the life of Céleste, a young French woman who hasn't really figured out who she is yet.  The reader sees how Céleste goes from being a naïve young woman to a strong, capable and brave woman who now knows that she wants better for herself.  She's not written as a predictable stereotype as the reader sees her struggle with being with the man she loves, with the chaos around her and supporting her family and friends during a very tumultuous and dangerous time.  Céleste was impetuous at times, made the wrong decisions occasionally but throughout she was courageous and a character that was believable and that I had no trouble rooting for.

The secondary characters were also well-fleshed out and if felt like we really got to know the people around Céleste as well as the inner workings of this small town.  They each had their own secrets and, when pushed, would do whatever it took to ensure the safety of those around them.  I also thought it was interesting and unique to get Martin's struggle on what it felt like for him to be stationed in the French town as a Nazi soldier. 

"I sense they are thinking: how can he be in our home when his countrymen have taken the head of our house prisoner?  Or that I see their house as a hotel, not appreciating the comfortable bed and clean sheets,' he said.  'I do.  But I still miss my home, and wish I did not have to stay in theirs."

That said, I do wish more time had been spent fleshing out the relationship between Céleste and Martin, her German officer beau.  For two people on very different sides of the war their relationship seemed to happen a little too quickly and easily for me to totally get on board and believe the strong emotions between them.

This is a book about the resilience of the human spirit, love and how the devastating effects of war stay with those who were unfortunate enough to be touched by it.  While the Céleste's fight isn't on the battlefront it is no less brutal or barbaric as the reader witnesses the atrocities the townspeople had to endure under the German occupation of their small, formerly peaceful town.  The inclusion of the French Resistance movement was very interesting and helped Wolfsangel to keep me on the edge of my seat several times and forced me to have a Kleenex at the ready as I saw the personal (and no less horrific) effects of the war.

The book ends with an emotional, disturbing and shocking ending that I didn't expect.  The addition of the historical information that inspired this book helped to give this already poignant and touching ending an even bigger emotional punch for this reader.  I'm very happy that this author reached out to me and asked me to review her book.  While I wasn't familiar with this author before receiving this book, I can guarantee that I will be picking up some of her other books.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Independent Study (#2 in The Testing trilogy)


Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Source: Public Library
Pages: 310
Series: #2 in The Testing series
Series Order: #1 The Testing, #2 Independent Study, #3 Graduation Day (June 2014)
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
First Published: January 7, 2014
First Line: "Examination Day - I slide the cool material of my shirt over the five long, jagged scars on my arm and examine myself in the reflector."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the series debut The Testing, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale was chosen by the United Commonwealth government as one of the best and brightest graduates of all the colonies . . . a promising leader in the effort to revitalize postwar civilization. In Independent Study, Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas—and though the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government’s murderous programs put her—and her loved ones—in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.

My Review: When I read the first book in this series, The Testing, back in February I was quite impressed with it.  Sure it's a Hunger Games knock off but it gave me enough to consider it a good read on it's own merits so I was eager to read this second book of the series (after Boy 2 had finished with it, of course).

Sadly, like so many second books in a trilogy, this book fell into the Sophomoric Blues and didn't come close to matching the energy or plot twists of the first book.  I realize that the second book in a trilogy is typically a 'bridge' between the first and third books but it has to give me enough substance and energy to make me want to pick up the last book in the trilogy.  Sadly, Independent Study didn't hold its own which was disappointing.

There were a few issues that I had with this book.  First, I was hoping to get a much better idea of why the government has been set up this way with the testing of it's youth to make a better government.  Let's face it, when there is a vast shortage of people left in a country finding the elite and then testing and killing those who don't measure up doesn't seem like a great plan in the long term.  Yet no one in the upper echelons of society see a problem with it and I wanted to know why.

Why put in the time to educate these teens only to kill off the few who aren't as smart as the small group of elite students?  These kids are still ten times smarter than the kids who weren't even asked to do The Testing so why not keep them around for other purposes?  More background would have been nice because the reader is just expected to accept why things happen instead of understanding why.

This book also lacked the fast-paced action from book one and easily could have been scaled down a bit because there were several slow parts that had me skimming over large sections in the hopes that things would pick up.  It didn't.

I think my biggest complaint about this book is Cia.  She is made to appear so unbelievably smart that she could easily be the love child of Sheldon Cooper, MacGyver and Einstein (if three men could make a baby together).  Seriously.  The girl is wicked brilliant and never seems to make a mistake.  Even when she decides to make a mistake, she turns out to be right.  Must be nice.  That's all well and good for Cia but doesn't provide me with a realistic or even likeable protagonist because on top of her brainiac personality she was pretty boring.  I want to see her falter and see how she reacts to it. It was frustrating seeing how she breezes through this very rigorous education (which she's been given many more classes than other students yet she doesn't seem fazed) and yet still has time to skulk around to learn more about the nefarious plot of the government officials.   Throughout this book I always felt like Cia would come out on top which really puts a damper on the action scenes and intensity of the storyline.

Independent Study wasn't as 'edge of your seat' as The Testing and didn't seem to have a clear storyline.  It felt like it's main goal was to set up for the third book and I realize that that's kind of the point of the second book but I also want the second book to have its own story to tell and not just be a bridge between book one and three.  That doesn't make me compelled to read the third book if the second can't keep my attention.  I had high hopes for this book but with no momentum and a character I can't get behind this book it just didn't give me enough reasons to pick up the last book in the trilogy.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Lost Sisterhood


Author: Anne Fortier
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
First Line: "The young men completed their training row in record time."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe Lost Sisterhood is the new novel from the author of Juliet, an Oprah's Book Club Pick published in 30 countries which has been picked up by Universal to be made into a feature film. The Lost Sisterhood tells the story of Diana, a young and aspiring--but somewhat aimless--professor at Oxford. Her fascination with the history of the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece, is deeply connected with her own family's history; her grandmother in particular. When Diana is invited to consult on an archeological excavation, she quickly realizes that here, finally, may be the proof that the Amazons were real.

The Amazons' "true" story--and Diana's history--is threaded along with this modern day hunt. This historical back-story focuses on a group of women, and more specifically on two sisters, whose fight to survive takes us through ancient Athens and to Troy, where the novel reinvents our perspective on the famous Trojan War.

The Lost Sisterhood features another group of iconic, legendary characters, another grand adventure--you'll see in these pages that Fortier understands the kind of audience she has built with Juliet, but also she's delivering a fresh new story to keep that audience coming back for more.


My Review:  After reading and really enjoying Fortier's debut novel, Juliet, four years ago I was very eager to get the chance to review her next book.  Fortier has a talent for weaving two storylines using dual narratives, in two very different eras, so that each depends upon the other in order to tell the story.  She also has a unique way of taking an age-old tale and putting her own spin on things.

One of the things that drew me to this book (besides Fortier's name on the cover) was the fact that the book dealt with mythology.  Who doesn't like a good battle over a woman and talk of Greeks, Trojans and mythological creatures?  Ever since taking a mythology class at university I've always found the ageless stories of myth to be very compelling so reading a book that had characters from The Iliad and the infamous Trojan War was right up my alley.  That said, I'm wondering if readers without any knowledge of Greek/Trojan myth would find this book to be a little confusing (or just not as compelling)?

This book incorporates some high energy Indiana Jones/Dan Brown-type action scenes having Diana going from one place to the next in search of various relics and information and it also included a bit of romance.  The modern day romance I could have done without because I think it came off as predictable and ever so slightly cheesy.  Diana was also whisked so quickly from one local to the next on her hunt that I never felt like I got a really good idea of what each destination (like Turkey and Algeria) was like before being shuttled to the next.  I'll just chalk that up to the need to keep the pace and energy high during her storyline.

There were parts of this book that I felt utterly riveted to the storyline but then the plot would focus on Diana and I found the pace to lag -- probably because I didn't love Diana as a protagonist.  Here's a highly educated, Oxford professor who is easily swindled into travelling with a nefarious man to a strange location, given little to no information or chance to contact her loved ones ... and she's okay with that.  For a very smart woman she was too naïve and her desire to learn more about the Amazon culture didn't seem enough of a reason (to me at least) for her to just jump blindly into this adventure.

Where Myrina was a strong, determined and resilient woman warrior, modern day Diana was portrayed more as a main character in a Romancing the Stone-type book.  Diana, for all her education, doesn't seem to do much more than read from her Grandmother's diary to solve the mystery too which I found odd since as an academic in the field she should know quite a bit about the topic.  Diana's character doesn't change much throughout the book and that lack of development doesn't tend to endear me to characters.

The Lost Sisterhood had an interesting premise but I think the book is a little long in the tooth.  By the time I got to the last quarter of the book I found myself skimming through and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that a lot of the ending focused on Diana.  Her storyline seemed a lot weaker and less interesting and I found myself wanting to go back to Myrina's story. 

Overall, I enjoyed this read (just not as much as I loved her first book Juliet).  It was an interesting premise but the main story didn't quite live up to my expectations.  Otherwise, I think that this would be a good read for mythology/history buffs.

My Rating: 3 stars

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Simple Stromboli

There comes along, once in a blue moon, the kind of experience we Moms dream of.  I'm not talking about having "Me Time" with your girlfriends, sleeping in past 7am on a weekend or even getting to pee alone (although those are all high on the wish list of Moms of young kids). 

I'm talking about the situation where after hours of working away in a hot kitchen to prepare sustenance for our families our dream of having a meal where NO ONE complains, gripes, grouses or whimpers about the food is finally realized.  Honestly, this experience is so rare that it's like sighting the Loch Ness Monster AND Big Foot in the cereal aisle of your local food store.  This experience is that rare and oh so very coveted!

This Simple Stromboli is one of those Holy Grail meals where all five of us loved what we were eating and at first I wasn't sure how to take it.  Where were the wary looks and question "What's for dinner tonight?"? This question is typically repeated over and over which I can only assume my kids do to either: 1) make me lose my mind or 2) ask in the hopes that the answer will suddenly change and morph into something that they actually want to consume.  I was waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop and the complaining to commence ... and it never did. 

There I quietly sat as my family dug in to this Stromboli carefully eyeing my kids as they put forkfuls of this Stromboli into their mouths.  But I heard nary a grievance, squawk or grumble from the kid faction at my table.  In an attempt (I believe) to permanently get my jaw to stay on the floor my boys even went up for seconds .... and then third helpings!  Then they proceeded to argue about who would get the leftovers.  Okay, what the heck is going ON!?! 

As I was eating my piece of the Stromboli, warily eyeing my small humans, I was thinking that either I'm being Punk'd or should prepare to see Nessy buying some Froot Loops in the local Zehrs soon.  I was also waiting for the 'how much do I have to eat before I can get down?' cacophony of whining to begin but instead heard my kids and husband talk about their day.  So THIS is what it feels like to win the Super Bowl and Lottery at the same time!! 

It was Supper Nirvana ... and I truly loved it.

Simple Stromboli


1 1/2 lbs bread dough (**The recipe I used with my bread maker is below**)
10-12 slices of Italian salami (I used mild)
8-10 slices of ham
1 1/2 cups of pepperoni, thinly sliced
2 cups marble cheese, shredded
1 egg white, lightly beaten

Garnish -- 1/2 cup pizza sauce

Using your bread machine (or buy the bread dough frozen from your local food store) prepare bread dough using the Dough setting on your bread machine (usually takes about 2 hours).

Preheat oven to 425F.

Very lightly dust a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan with flour.  Place bread dough onto the prepared pan and roll out until it touches the sides of the pan -- approximately 1/2-inch in thickness.

Layer salami, ham and pepperoni down the centre of the dough (you'll be folding the long sides of the dough over the fillings so make sure you don't go too wide with your toppings). 



Sprinkle shredded cheese over the meat.  Wrap the long edges of the dough over the filling ingredients and pinch the seams (as well as the seams along the ends). 



Brush the top of the Stromboli with the beaten egg white.

Bake in the preheated oven until dough is nicely browned, approximately 18-20 minutes. 


Allow Stromboli to sit for a few minutes to allow the cheese to set a bit. Slice into approximately 2 inch servings.  Serve with pizza sauce for dipping.

Bread Dough
Inspired by: All-In-One Automatic Breadmaker (Black and Decker) - Basic White Bread

1 1/4 cup water
1 tbsp powdered milk
2 tbsp shortening
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
3/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp bread machine yeast

Measure ingredients in the order listed into the Baking Pan then place pan into your bread machine.  Select 'Dough' setting (process should take approximately 2 hours).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Something About You




Author: Julie James
Genre: Light Mystery, Romance
Type: e-audiobook
Series: #1 in the FBI/US Attorney series
Source: Public Library
Duration: 10 hours, 3 minutes
Publisher: Tantor Media
First Published: July 23, 2012
First Line: "Thirty thousand hotels rooms in the city of Chicago, and Cameron Lynde managed to find the one next door to a couple having a sex marathon."

Book Description on GoodReadsOf all the hotel rooms rented by all the adulterous politicians in Chicago, female Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde had to choose the one next to 1308, where some hot-and-heavy lovemaking ends with a death. And of all the FBI agents in Illinois, it had to be Special Agent Jack Pallas who gets assigned to this high-profile homicide. The same Jack Pallas who still blames Cameron for a botched crackdown three years ago—and for nearly ruining his career.

Into each other's arms...

Work with Cameron Lynde? Are they kidding? Maybe, Jack thinks, this is some kind of welcome-back prank after his stint away from Chicago. But it's no joke; the pair is going to have to put their rocky past behind them and focus on the case at hand. That is, if they can cut back on the razor-sharp jibes—and smother the flame of their sizzling-hot sexual tension.


My Review:  I have never proclaimed to be an avid read of the romance genre but I thought I'd give it a go as an e-audiobook.  I've only tried listening to a couple of audiobooks over the years and always struggled with keeping my attention on what was going on.  So this time I wanted to try a lighter book so I could make sure that my attention span (that rivals a gnat's) could keep track of what was going on and who was who.

I listened to this book in a variety of settings - on a short road trip, on some walks and while driving back and forth to work.  I have to say that I quite enjoyed a way to 'read' when I couldn't have a book/Kindle in my hand.  I liked it so much that I've put a hold on several e-audiobooks at my library.

So ,I liked the format of the book but unfortunately the storyline was just 'meh'.  After reading the book description I was expecting a mystery with a romantic storyline.  What I got was a full-on romance book with a very small side of mystery and a weak plot.  Not a glowing review.

The main reason why I didn't love the mystery part of this book is because there isn't enough tension and suspense -- and no mystery after about a third of the way through.  This is because the reader is told, fairly early on, who the murderer is.  Letting the reader in on this little secret pretty much wipes out any chance of a suspenseful read. Plus, the murderer's point of view is taken into account so we're privy to his/her next move as he/she tries to avoid getting caught.  I prefer to find out the 'whodunnit' on my own. I don't think adding the point of view of the murderer added anything to the storyline either.  If there was some huge, explosive 'ah-ha!' moment at the end I could have overlooked it but there wasn't.  

That's not to say that I hated this book.  I found it to be a very light read and enjoyable for what it is ... literary fluff.  Cameron was a good main character and was likeable enough and Jack was the typical brooding good guy if a little bland.  The humour (via their banter) came through in several parts of the book which I enjoyed.

I liked that Cameron and Jack had believable reasons for initially hating each other.  It wasn't some simplistic, stupid reason for them to be bantering back and forth.  That said, their dislike for each other turned to lust a little too quickly to be believable but I'll chalk that one up to the genre.  You can't have a 'romance' if the two people are constantly bickering at each other, right?

As with most romances, there were steamy love scenes which I could take or leave.  In fact, I fast-forwarded through one of the steamier scenes because they quickly went into the cheesy/corny territory.  Towards the end even some of their conversations were hokey and riddled with each other calling the other 'babe' and uttering their devotion to one another when only a week before they hated each other. 

Overall, this book was okay.  It wasn't earth shattering, nor was it boring but could have used a healthy dose of action and less predictability. It kind of tread somewhere between entertaining (due to the humourous banter) and a very light read that just barely kept my attention.  If this book had more action (as in suspense, not bedroom scenes) and the reader wasn't privy to the murderer's inner thoughts I would have scored this book much higher.  As it stands, this was a good book to ease my way into my first e-audiobook and I would recommend it as a light beach read.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Butterfly Sister


Author: Amy Gail Hansen
Genre: Mystery
Type: Paperback
Pages: 320
Source: Local Library
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
First Published: August 2013
First Line: "Gwen could not have been more explicit at our first session: I was to cease reading books by or about women who killed themselves."

Book Description from GoodReads"My past was never more than one thought, one breath, one heartbeat away. And then, on that particular October evening, it literally arrived at my doorstep."

Eight months after dropping out of Tarble, an all-women's college, twenty-two-year-old Ruby Rousseau is still haunted by the memories of her senior year-a year marred by an affair with her English professor and a deep depression that not only caused her to question her own sanity but prompted a failed suicide attempt.

And then a mysterious paisley print suitcase arrives, bearing Ruby's name and address on the tag. When Ruby tries to return the luggage to its rightful owner, Beth Richards, her dorm mate at Tarble, she learns that Beth disappeared two days earlier, and the suitcase is the only tangible evidence as to her whereabouts.

Consumed by the mystery of the missing girl and the contents of the luggage-a tattered copy of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own, the book on which Ruby based her senior thesis, and which she believes instigated her madness-she sets out to uncover the truth, not only about Beth Richards's past but also her own. In doing so, Ruby is forced to re-examine the people from her past: the professor who whisked her away to New Orleans and then shattered her heart and the ghosts of dead women writers who beckoned her to join their illustrious group. And when Ruby's storyline converges with Beth's in a way she never imagined, she returns to the one place she swore she never would: her alma mater.


My Review: I recently got a job at one of my local libraries.  I know, right?  I'm in total book nerd nirvana!  One of the major perks is that I can easily take books out and see what's new in the world of books.  This book was sitting on the "New Fiction" shelves and I noticed it right away as I was waiting for my first training shift so I picked it up and I was very happy with this quick selection.

This was a very impressive debut novel that kept my attention right from the beginning.  There was something utterly riveting about this book.  It was paced perfectly and had many twists and turns, many of which I didn't see coming. All in all, a great read.

Going into this book I was assuming that it would be a suspenseful read -- and it was.  But it was so much more.  It was a mystery and suspense plus a slight nod to the supernatural.  I also appreciated that the author took the time to delve into the world of depression, loss, and obsession and how quickly she got me immersed into Ruby's life.

There were some slight drawbacks though.  While I'm an avid reader even I wasn't able to 'get' all of the literary references (and there were quite a few).  Not fully understanding the references didn't hinder me from keeping up with the plot but I also don't like that niggling feeling of not quite getting something.

Also, the ending was not predictable per se but everything seemed to work out a little too perfectly for the antagonist's evil plans with some coincidences that perhaps were a little far-fetched.  But it's fiction, right?  Plus, I have to admit that I enjoyed connecting the dots with the early parts of the story as we neared the end of the suspense. 

There were several twists that I didn't see coming and a couple that I did but overall I really enjoyed this page turner.  This was a very impressive debut novel that I thoroughly enjoyed because it engaged me and took me along a very different road than I was expecting.  I eagerly look forward to reading more from this author.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Midnight Rose



Author: Lucinda Riley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: March 18, 2014
First Line: "I am a hundred years old today."

Book Description from GoodReadsSpanning four generations, The Midnight Rose sweeps from the glittering palaces of the great maharajas of India to the majestic stately homes of England, following the extraordinary life of a remarkable girl, Anahita Chaval, from 1911 to the present day . . .

In the heyday of the British Raj, eleven-year-old Anahita, from a noble but impoverished family, forms a lifelong friendship with the headstrong Princess Indira, the privileged daughter of Indian royalty. As the princess's official companion, Anahita accompanies her friend to England just before the outbreak of World War I. There, she meets young Donald Astbury;reluctant heir to the magnificent, remote Astbury Estate; and his scheming mother.

Ninety years later, Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has the world at her feet. But when her turbulent relationship with her equally famous boyfriend takes an unexpected turn, she's relieved that her latest role, playing a 1920s debutante, will take her away from the glare of publicity to a distant corner of the English countryside. Shortly after filming begins at the now-crumbling Astbury Hall, Ari Malik, Anahita's great-grandson, arrives unexpectedly, on a quest for his family's past. What he and Rebecca discover begins to unravel the dark secrets that haunt the Astbury dynasty . . .

A multilayered, heartbreaking tale filled with unforgettable characters caught in the sweep of history, The Midnight Rose is Lucinda Riley at her most captivating and unforgettable.


Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  This sweeping saga follows Anahita's life, from her days as a young girl in India in the early 1900's until present day. The reader is taken from the exotic maharajas of India to the aristocracy in England as it follows the twists and turns, the passions and the losses of Anahita. 

This is definitely a large book (the paper version is upwards of 500 pages for the paperback).  It had a lot of wonderful historical detail but didn't fall into the trap of being bogged down in too many descriptions.  We're talking about piecing together the life of a one hundred year old woman so there are many places, eras and people involved and yet Ms Riley does an excellent job of keeping the reader on track.  The protagonists as well as the secondary cast of characters (for the most part anyway) were colourful, intriguing and I quickly got to know them.  It was a totally absorbing read that I had a hard time putting down.

The main reason why I loved this book is due to Anahita's character.  I was thoroughly engaged by the writing and riveted to Anahita's story from the beginning.  Seeing several periods in her life, from a young girl to a very elderly woman, helped to make her a very genuine character for me and one that I could easily root for.  Being given the knowledge that Anahita lives to be an old woman didn't detract from me being utterly captivated by her story either.  If anything it made me wonder how Anahita became the woman she was in her final years.

Rebecca's side of the story was interesting too but I found her story to be a little more superficial and I tended to look forward to getting back to Anahita's viewpoint as I was reading Rebecca's side of things.  I think a lot of this issue had to do with Rebecca's love life.  Her boyfriend came off as a stereotypical cad, bully and manipulator and it was fairly obvious where their relationship was heading.

Lucinda Riley is a 'new to me' author and I am very eager to pick up some of her earlier works.  She definitely has a passion and skill for storytelling as well as a knack for being able to keep the reader's attention on two main characters in two very distinct eras and cultures.  These are no small feats by any measure and I applaud her. 

While this is a big book it is also the perfect escapist read and so easy to get wrapped up in.  It has romantic elements and a dark mystery.  It also deals with enduring friendships, the importance of family, has interesting characters and a dual narrative which kept the pace high at all times.  Anahita's story will pull you in as the mystery surrounding her son begins to unfold and the pieces of her life begin to fit together.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Monday, March 17, 2014

Simply Stellar Carrot Cake {with Cream Cheese Icing}


This is my go-to carrot cake and I've been making it for almost 20 years.  While that number is staggering to me I quickly get over that double decade when I think of this moist, flavourful and pretty easy to make cake.  You'll notice that the ingredients list is quite long but please don't let the long list of ingredients scare you.  Sure it seems extensive but when you get down to it there's a lot of spices involved in making an amazing carrot cake.

Something that I always stress when people (especially my kids) get ready to bake something is to get all of the ingredients out on the counter in front of you so you can see what you've got, or more importantly, what you're missing!  I have to admit to forgetting to add certain ingredients (or the right amount of said ingredients) to recipes in the past because I've been busy chatting and figured I knew what I was doing.  Um, not so much.  Cake tends to taste better when it has all of it's flour and other ingredients are added.  Just sayin'.

I also highly recommend topping this cake with a cream cheese icing.  As a kid that icing was what got me into loving carrot cake because let's face it, when you tell kids that you're serving up a cake with a vegetable as the main ingredient you've got to come out with every trick up your sleeve in order to convince them to try it.  Plus, who can resist the creamy, rich goodness of cream cheese icing?  No one. That's who.  This icing is magical and can usually get even the pickiest of eaters (a hearty helloooo to Missy Moo!) to at least give good ol' carrot cake a try.  Ya, that icing works wonders.

So, from my kitchen to yours, I hope you enjoy this classic recipe.

Simply Stellar Carrot Cake



1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (or substitute with an additional 1/4 cup of flour, if desired)
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
3 eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup milk + 1 tbsp white vinegar and let sit)
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups carrots, shredded
1 cup coconut, shredded
1 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
1 (8oz) can crushed pineapple, with juice
1 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, applesauce, oil, sugar and vanilla.  Mix well until combined. Add flour mixture to the egg mixture slowly and gently mix.  Fold in the carrots, coconut, walnuts (if using), crushed pineapple (with juice) and the raisins. 

Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour.  Allow the cake to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Top with cream cheese icing, if desired OR place cooled cake into a large Ziploc freezer bag and freeze until needed.  This recipe can also be made into two loaves or cupcakes but the baking time will need to be adjusted.

Source: The Baking Bookworm

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