Friday, April 27, 2012

Silent on the Moor


Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction / Mystery
Type: Kindle e-book
Series: 3rd book in the Lady Julia Grey series
Series Order:
  1. Silent in the Grave (2006)
  2. Silent in the Sanctuary (2008)
  3. Silent on the Moor (2009)
  4. Dark Road to Darjeeling (2010)
  5. The Dark Inquiry (2011)
First Line: "Julia Grey, I would rather see you hanged than watch any sister of mine go haring off after a man who will not have her," my brother Bellmont raged."

Synopsis:  Lady Julia Grey has never been one to sit back and let things happen at their own pace.  Especially when it comes to Nicholas Brisbane.  He's been holed up in his new Yorkshire estate, Grimsgrave Hall, without even a word to poor Julia.  This does not sit well with Julia so, against social protocol, Julia decides to pay him a surprise visit.

Her sister Portia has been asked by Brisbane to help organize his new household but she was given strict and clear instructions that Julia was not to tag along.  Never one to enjoy being told what to do, Portia invites Julia to come with her onto the moors of England (along with their reluctant brother Valerius) hoping to find out, once and for all, how Brisbane feels about her.

When the trio arrive at Grimsgrave it's to find that Brisbane's new home is in total disrepair.  They are greeted by the inhabitants of Grimsgrave.  The slightly sinister and quite odd Allenby women -- quiet Ailith, obstinate Hilda and their religious mother, Lady Allenby.  Grimsgrave has been in the Allenby family since Saxon times - a fact that every Allenby will proudly tell you.  Since their eccentric (and now deceased) Egyptomologist brother, Sir Redwall, lost everything they had to sell their beloved family home.  After buying the estate Brisbane has  begrudgingly allowed them to stay on at the estate as staff.

When Brisbane sees that Julia has come against his clearly expressed wishes he voices his displeasure to Julia.  Since Brisbane will have nothing to do with Julia, she decides to bide her time in his bleak home going through the late Sir Redwalls fascinating Egyptian finds.  It doesn't take long for Julia to unearth some gruesome family secrets as well as find out some of Brisbane's personal secrets along the way.

My Thoughts:  As I mentioned above, this is the third book in the Lady Julia Grey historical mystery series.  Unfortunately, if you base whether or not you think you'll like a book based on the cover you may not pick this one up ... unless you're an avid romance reader.  Personally, I'm not a romance book lover and cannot understand why the publisher chose a cover that more ressembles a 'bodice-ripper' than a historical mystery picture.  Bottom line -- ignore the cover and start reading this series.

Like the previous two books in this series the pace of this mystery is slower than you'd expect.  Many mysteries are pretty quickly paced but Raybourn takes her time delving into the mystery.  Instead, she chooses to first let the reader learn more about her characters (who often have a refreshing quirkiness to them) as well as detailed descriptions of the English moors and Brisbane's new gothic home that play important roles in this book. 

While Raybourn continues to bring eccentric characters into her books I really missed seeing a lot of Julia's family.  They have lovely banter between them which reminds me a little of my quirky family which sets them apart from the typical family of that time.  Portia, Julia's older sister, is one of my favourite characters but she, sadly, wasn't used in the storyline as much as I would have liked.

Julia continues to be a good main character whose feelings and thoughts make her more of a modern thinker than her counterparts. She's not afraid to put her pride on the line in order to find out where she stands with Brisbane. 

As for Brisbane?  To me he came off as a bit of an ass. Yes, he's fighting his feelings for Julia but I think he goes overboard. I wouldn't stand for his attitude or behaviour. The way Lady Julia puts up with his petulance could either be sees as 1) true love or 2) that Lady Julia needs to take a stand and stop being more than a little needy. I'm kind of in the middle of those two points.  Raybourn walks a very fine line with this relationship. At times I believe that it strayed into both views with the second view being irritating to me since over the past two books Julia has been portrayed as a strong, independent woman. Yet she puts up with his rudeness and outright verbal abuse? 

I will admit that I loved learning more about the mysterious Brisbane (even if he got on my nerves a bit). He's a hot-headed and sometimes infuriating male lead but yet I still like him. You know that he loves Julia but why does he keep pushing her away? He's dealing with his own demons and I'm eager to see how he handles that.

In the end I have to admit that I do enjoy that Julia and Brisbane's relationship isn't an easy one.  Raybourn has crafted interesting reasons for keeping the couple apart ... as well as together.  I'm intrigued by how the new twist will effect their relationship.  You know that Brisbane loves her but WHY is he holding back. It's that kind of back and forth that keeps me interested. 

I recommend this series but start with "Silent in the Grave" first.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Crispy Breaded Goat Cheese with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

One of the things that Brad and I look back on fondly is when we were first married and we loved to cook supper together.  He and I in our little kitchen cookin' up a storm that we'd then eat together leisurely with a nice bottle of wine perhaps.  Once the mini humans came along things changed.  Drastically.  No more leisurely and quiet suppers.  Now suppers became a more hectic affair with crying babies, toddlers refusing to try the 'green stuff ' on their plates and two parents who were counting down the hours until they could put the kids in bed and enjoy some quiet.

This past weekend Brad and I got to relive some of those memories -- minus the crying and petulant children.  We had a great time making 'so-NOT-good-for-us' treats.  After we spent an afternoon of kite flying with the kids Brad suddenly decided that he wanted to make homemade potato chips.  I'm not sure where this inspiration came from but I went with it.  I'm game for potatoes in any form -- especially if I'm not cooking.  Now, Brad is no stranger to the kitchen but he typically is King of the Q (BBQ, that is). {Side note: I plan to pester Brad to write a blog post or at least write down his recent recipe for amazing BBQ'd Ribs.  O-M-G they were good!}.

So, after we schnorffed eagerly ate Brad's potato chips with gusto he and I got a hankering to make a little culinary magic together.  Did we choose to make a healthy salad after all those chips?  No silly.  We chose breaded and fried goat cheese!!!  I know that all breaded fried cheese is divine but I just need to say that this breaded fried goat cheese is fan-freakin-tastic!?!  Oh m'gravy it was so good.  Thankfully the kids are still goat cheese haters so we didn't have to share any.  See, sometimes issues come full circle.  Now, having picky eaters enables Brad and I to enjoy ALL of the appetizer and not share everything.  Score!!  With a dollop of my Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto to accompany these little morsels of goaty goodness we were in heaven and literally gave each other a high five.  We are nothing if not cool.

If you're a fan of goat cheese (or want to be) give this appetizer/just 'cuz snack a try.


Yield: 4 servings

140g package of goat cheese
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
3-4 tbsp grapeseed oil (or vegetable oil)

Garnish: Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto

Place your log of goat cheese in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  This will make slicing it much easier.  In the meantime get your breading ingredients together. 

Combine the Panko breadcrumbs and spices in a shallow dish.

In a small bowl, beat eggs.

Pour flour onto a small plate.

Take your goat cheese out of the freezer.  With a sharp, unserated knife slice the goat cheese into 1/4-inch thick slices.  Remember to wipe the knife in between slices so your goat cheese will look pretty.

Now we're going to put the breading onto the cheese.  If you don't want to be covered in egg/flour/crumbs follow this simple rule.  Keep one hand for the messy stuff (egg and crumbs) and keep one hand clean.  Trust me on this one.  It will make you less messy and keep your cheesy goodness looking nice and pretty.

Take a slice of goat cheese and place it in the flour.  Carefully flip it so that it's coated on both sides.  Next, place the cheese slice (with your designated 'messy' hand!!) into the egg mixture and make sure the cheese gets coated in egg.  Finally, (with your 'messy' hand again) place the cheese that has been coated in flour and egg into the bread crumb mixture and coat it.  Set the coated cheese on a plate lined with parchment paper.  Complete these steps with the other slices of cheese. 

Note: You can prep this appetizer ahead of time up until this point.  Just make sure you keep your cheese in the fridge until you're ready to cook them up.

In a large skillet, heat the oil until it shimmers like Edward Cullen in sunshine.  You definitely don't want to burn the place down and have your kitchen smokin' but you also don't want tepid oil. Tepid oil will just get soaked up by the bread crumbs and turn into a big mess and you'll cry at the waste of good goat cheese.

Carefully place half of your breaded goat cheese slices into the hot skillet (I gently used tongs) and cook until the first side is browned nicely (this won't take long!!).  Carefully flip your cheese and brown the other side.  Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel-lined tray.  Cook the remaining cheese and serve immediately with Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Pesto or to accompany a salad.  Enjoy!

Inspired by: http://www.thehungrymouse.com/2010/12/23/crispy-fried-goat-cheese/

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rippler


Author:Cidney Swanson
Genre: YA/Supernatural
Type: Kindle ebook
First Published: May 2011
Series: 1st book in the Rippling series
Series Order: Rippler (May 2011), Chameleon (2011), Unfurl (Jan 2012)
First Line: "The screaming was the first clue that I'd turned invisible again. "

Synopsis: Samantha is a typical teenage girl ... except for her ability to become invisible and leave the physical world around her. She has only become invisible twice in her life (that she can recall) and unfortunately she has no control over it. 

When she accidentally becomes invisible in front her classmate Will, she's not sure how she's going to handle it.  Fortunately, Will knows more about Sam's condition that she does.  He informs her that she has Rippler's Syndrome, a very rare genetic disorder that his sister has been secretly studying.  Will and his sister Mickie offer to help Sam learn to control her Rippling but insist that she keep it a secret because people who have Rippler's (and even those who are merely studying the disorder) are turning up dead.

My Thoughts: I'm always on the lookout for unique supernatural reads.  Cidney Swanson has written an impressive and distinct debut novel that uses a very interesting supernatural premise.  It's not the typical YA supernatural read involving wizards or a love triangle between vampires and werewolves.  Swanson brings a new take on young-adult supernatural with her storyline and characters.

Sam is very likeable, strong and believable main character.  She's the typical 'girl-next-door' who has her own teenage issues involving family and friends.  I found her relationship with Will to be sweet without being too saccharine and annoying.  Some YA writers have a tendency to play up the cutsie aspect (sometime nauseatingly so) of teen romance but Swanson is able to make the relationship between Sam and Will believable.  In fact I was pleased that the romantic aspect didn't overshadow the main plot.  If I had my way I would have preferred  a little more romantic tension between Will and Sam.

That being said, I have to admit that Will wasn't my favourite character.  He kind of "Rippled" (ie.faded) into the background for me.  He's an OK leading man but he doesn't stand out as much as I would have liked.  He's kind of like vanilla ice cream.  Good but not substantial enough.  I'm hoping in the next two books Will is brought to the forefront a bit more and given a stronger personality to match Sam's.

One relationship that stood out for me was the close bond between Sam and her step-mother.  How refeshing to see a wonderfully strong and loving relationship between a girl and her step-mom!  There was no 'wicked stepmother' here.  I appreciated that new perspective on, traditionally, a negative relationship in many books/movies. 

As many of you already know I've long been a fan of supernatural/paranormal reads.  While I did find the premise of invisibility and being able to disappear from the physical world pretty darn cool I did have a couple of wee beefs with it.  Mere 'moos', if you will.  

First, I found it a little odd that Sam, Will and Mickie (three people who know of Ripplers) just happen to meet up in small town USA.  A little too coincidental for my liking but didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of this book.  Just made me go ''huh'.

Secondly, I wish that Sam hadn't mastered her powers so quickly.  I would have liked to see her flounder a bit more as she learned to control her powers.  Actually, seeing Sam learn about Rippling was my least favourite part of the book. It kind of slowed down the momentum at the beginning of the book. You'd think that learning how to use this power would be cool but I think too much time was spent discussing how cool it was to walk through a glass door etc.

Lastly, I was surprised that there were no negative effects or drawbacks from having Rippler's Syndrome.   {Without divulging anything, Rippler's includes a few more tricks than just invisibility.}  I kind of like my supernatural characters to have an Achilles heel or their own personal Kryptonite just to keep everything on an even playing field.  Something for the bad guys to zone-in on and make the main character a little vulnerable. I'm hoping that the negative effects of Rippling will be divulged in the future books.

Enough of the moos already!  Here's more of what I really enjoyed about this book.  Swanson gives the reader a nicely paced story that has some really unique elements.  I found it very interesting  (and more than a little disturbing) how the Nazi's were incorporated into the storyline.  What a great way to work this supernatural element into a real world event. Granted, it was a little hard to read at times (think of Mengele's experiments in Nazi Germany) but the background on the 'bad guys' was a wonderfully unique approach and gave them a lot more depth.

While the main action of the story didn't really pick up until farther along in the book than I was expecting Swanson was quite adept at dropping hints here and there and keeping my interest until I quite riveted with Sam's plight.  With the intense and very enjoyable last third of the book I am quite excited to read the next books in the series.

My Rating: 4/5 stars 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Quasi-Homemade Donuts

Do not adjust your monitor.  You are indeed seeing a picture of fresh, oh-so-squishy and ultra delishy quasi-homemade donuts!!!  When I say 'quasi-homemade' it's because these glorious treats are made by your own hands but actually come from a can!  Yes, a can of Pillsbury biscuits! 

Note: Is it just me or does anyone else cringe in fear (and sometimes yelp) as they open a can of Pillsbury product because you're afraid of the POP! sound??  Just me.  Duly noted.  I'm a wuss.

Because this recipe is so dangerously quick and easy I fear that I will be making these beauties so often that I'll have to install a Crispy Creme "Now serving fresh donuts" sign on my house!  Unfortunately if I throw caution to the wind and make oodles of donuts my cholesterol levels would sky-rocket and I'd more than likely increase the Grinch belly that my three kids so lovingly gave me. {shudder}  Not something that I want as we head into The Swimsuit Months.  So use this recipe in moderation. :)

My family loved these donuts.  Who knew that Pillsbury biscuits, some oil, a shot glass (more on that later) and some cinnamon sugar could put such stupid grins on the faces of my family.  Utterly ridiculous - and slightly embarassing -- how happy we were.  We even texted my parents to come over and sample our wares.  We got thumbs up from the 'Folks over 60' faction too!  Boo-ya!

These donuts were so squishy-good and coated with cinnamon-sugar it was like we were eating a donut at the local Timmy's!!  I was shocked to see just how much like a 'regular donut' these little disks of biscuit turned into with hardly any work at all.  The impetus for this culinary adventure was the fact that Boy 1 (who is anaphylactic to peanuts) has never really eaten a fresh donut (only certain prebaked donuts from the food store).  Needless to say he had a big grin on his face as he at a truly fresh donut. :)

I don't think we had even swallowed the last donutty bite before Boy 1 was making recommendations for the next batch of donuts (coincidentally he has recommended a cocoa/sugar coating with a potential Nutella filling -- can you tell how excited he is that he has now been given the all clear to eat hazelnuts by his allergist?!?).  Personally, I've found a delicious looking strawberry glaze.  Perhaps we'll blend our ideas together ..... interesting.  Very interesting.

Quasi-Homemade Donuts
Yield: 10 donuts and 10 donut holes

1 (340g) tube Pillsbury Country Biscuits (NOT the flaky kind)
approximately 2 cups vegetable oil
1/8 to 1/4 cup butter, melted
cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup white sugar + 2 tsp cinnamon)

Get your ingredients together.  You'll need:


Pour enough oil into a large skillet so that you have about 1/2-inch of oil covering the bottom of the pan.  Heat oil over medium heat until it reaches 350F (use a candy thermometer if you have one).  The temperature is important.  Too hot and the outside of your donuts will cook fast and the inside will be raw.   Too cool and the donuts will soak up a tonne of oil and be nasty.

As the oil is heating open the biscuit tube (beware the POP!) and lay out the biscuits on a cutting board or counter.  With a rolling pin gently roll the biscuits so they're fairly flat and about 1/4-inch thick. 

Now you're going to cut out donut holes.  How you ask?  This is where the shot glass comes in.  Stay with me.  It's not so you can have a little shot of Bailey's whilst you're making your donuts. I'm not opposed to a little Bailey's in one's coffee occasionally but we are using the shot glass for a different reason. To make the donut holes! {If you have a fancy-schmancy biscuit cutter you can use it instead.} I have some tall 2oz slender shot glasses that worked perfectly for cutting out the donut hole in the middle of m'biscuits.  Cut out the holes and set them aside.

Once the oil is hot enough gently (and carefully!) place donut rings and holes into the oil.  You will probably want to do them in two batches.  Cook on the first side until browned then flip to the other side -- don't leave the donuts to cook on their own because you'll be surprised that it only takes a couple minutes to cook them.  With some tongs, remove the cooked donuts and holes to a dish lined with paper towel.  Continue to cook the remaining donuts (it took us two batches to get er' all done).

Pour the cinnamon and sugar into a shallow dish and mix well.  Dip or brush each donut and hole with the melted butter then roll them in the cinnamon sugar.  Set aside.  Complete for each of the donuts and holes.  EAT! 

Note:  These donuts taste better if eaten the same day.  We did have one donut that made it to see the following day but my kids said that it wasn't nearly as good.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Morning Cup of Murder


Author: Vanessa Gray Bartal
Genre: Mystery
Type: e-book (Kindle)
Series: 1st book in the Lacy Steele mystery series
Series Order: see Fantastic Fiction
First Published: September 2011
First Line: "Barbara Blake was home, although she had a hard time thinking of the tiny one-horse town of her birth as "home"."

Synopsis After an emotionally rough couple of years in NYC Lacy has returned to her hometown to lick her wounds.  Due to finances (and a desperate need of some coddling) Lacy moves in with her beloved grandmother.  Unfortunately the highlight of Lacy's life is eating her grandmother's baking.  Her social life is practically non-existent with her only 'social' time being when she heads to the local coffee shop to take advantage of their free wi-fi.

The excitement in Lacy's life increases dramatically when a local woman is murdered.  When Lacy's grandmother is considered to be the main (and only) suspect Lacy decides to prove her grandmother's innocence.  As she begins to delve into the mystery she finds herself having to deal with police officer Jason Cantor, the handsome former high school quarterback who never noticed the frizzy-haired band geek that Lacy was in high school.
My Thoughts When I bought this e-book for a mere 99 cents on my Kindle I was hoping to find a diamond in the rough and a new cozy mystery series to jump into.  Sadly, sometimes you get what you pay for. 

For me, this book was lacking in all areas.  First, the mystery was extremely weak.  What sticks out in my mind is the reason for Lacy's grandmother to be considered a suspect.  It was just silly and so far-fetched that it wasn't believable and I was hoping for another reason to come about as to why this little old lady who baked for everyone was considered a heinous criminal. Unfortunately that never happened.
Secondly, I'm all for witty, romantic banter between the main characters (especially a romantic triangle) but I just didn't buy the romantic tension between Lacy and Jason (or the other male lead).  It felt too forced.

Lastly, pretty much the entire cast of characters were clich├ęd.  From the elderly who are enamoured with bran muffins, to the hot quarterback turned police officer, to the 'mean girl' who continued to be nasty after graduation.  Then there's Lacy.  Dear Lacy.  Lacy is supposed to be this writer from NYC who went from a small town to the big smoke and has a hard time fitting back into small town life.  But to me it feels like she never really grew up.  The way she talks and behaves makes her come off as a silly teenager who is much too insecure to be enjoyable to read.
With not much mystery and a cast of sterotypical characters I'd recommend giving this book a pass. 
My Rating: 2/5 stars

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Promise Me (8th book in the Myron Bolitar series)


Author: Harlan Coben
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Published: April 2006

Publisher: Dutton
ISBN-10: 0525949496

ISBN-13: 978-0525949497

Pages: 370
Series: 8th book in the Myron Bolitar series

Series Order: refer to Fantastic Fiction
First Line: "The missing girl -- there had been unceasing news reports, always flashing to that achingly ordinary school portrait of the vanished teen, you know the one, with the rainbow-swirl background, the girl's hair too straight, her smile too self-conscious, then a quick cut to the worried parents on the front lawn, microphones surrounding them, Mom silently tearful, Dad reading a statement with quivering lip -- that girl, that missing girl, had just walked past Edna Skylar."

Synopsis: Myron Bolitar is an ex-professional athlete turned agent who also sidelines as an investigator.  But for the past six years, Myron has been leading a pretty calm life.  He's spent his time focusing on his company which represents famous sports and celebrity figures.  He's also started dating, Ali, a 9/11 widow and even bought his parents' old house.  It seems like Myron is starting to settle down.
One night, he overhears his friends' daughter Aimee and Ali's daughter, Erin, talking about a drunken party they attended.  Worried about their safety he asks them to promise that if they're ever in a situation where they feel that they can't call their parents that they'll call him, no matter the hour or where they are, if they ever need a ride because they've been drinking.

When Aimee calls Myron at 2am one night he picks her up and drives her to a friend's house.  When Aimee doesn't arrive home the next day her parents begin to worry -- and Myron becomes the police's prime suspect.  Aimee's mom, a long-time friend of Myron's, has him promise that he'll find her daughter no matter what.  Myron enlists the help of his friends -- Win, Esperanza, Big Cyndi -- to help him find the girl.  As he delves into her disappearance he learns of another young girl's similar disappearance.  Can these two cases be related?
My Thoughts:  I picked this book up from my local library merely based on knowing that I really enjoyed Harlan Coben's previous suspense novels.  I had never read any of the Myron Bolitar series but thought I'd jump right in (without even knowing where in the series this book fit).   I'm nothing if not a 'go by the rules' kinda girl so jumping into the 8th book in a series (I found out later) wasn't my thang.  If I had to do it over again I'd read the series in order.  I'm a stickler for reading books of a series in order but I threw caution to the wind last week and gave it a whirl.

So, what did I think of Myron Bolitar??  I thoroughly enjoyed him as a main character.  Bolitar has the kind of dry sense of humour that I can totally appreciate.  I did feel a little in the dark about some of the previous storylines from the first seven books in the series (and I know that I found out about one major death which I'm not thrilled about.  My bad.).  I also didn't see the big deal of Myron's ex-girlfriend's inclusion into the storyline either.  But overall, I didn't feel like I was missing too much pertinent information in order to enjoy this book.
I think there were two things that made this book for me.  First, I enjoyed the pace of the book as well as the major twist at the end of the book which I didn't see it coming. Was it a little far-fetched?  Perhaps.  But it wasn't a silly or totally unbelievable ending so I enjoyed the ride nonetheless.

Secondly, and more importantly, I loved the characters.  They were interesting and, often times, quite funny.  I loved Win, Big Cyndi (who seems to be a twin of Lula from Janet Evanovich's "Stephanie Plum" series!) and especially the banter between Win and Myron.  They had some quips that had me smirking and thinking 'ya, that was a good one'.   Myron's humour is quite descriptive as well.  For example, "His worn blue jeans hung low, displaying enough plumber crack to park a bike."  Yikes! There's some mental imagery for ya!
Win is a great 'wing man' to Myron's main character.  He's also got a great sense of humour and I picture him looking a lot like Barney Stinson (of "How I Met Your Mother" fame) -- Neil Patrick Harris' character.  A tall, gangly guy who you'd never suspect could hold his own in a fight (and then some) but can also throw some verbal zingers that make you smile.  And yes, he is pretty much at the top end of the crazy scale but I like his friendship with Myron and feel that it's believable and real.  The other quirky characters round out the cast but I look forward to starting the series from the beginning so I can get a better idea about how they came to know each other.

On that note, I'm really looking forward to reading this series from the start.  In fact, I already have the first Myron Bolitar book waiting for me on my Kindle.  I highly recommend this book but take my advice and start at the beginning of the series.
My Rating: 4/5 stars

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