Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Tilapia & Zucchini Packets with Olive Tapenade

Now, I want to preface this post to say that I know the picture above may not appear to be the prettiest food item you've ever seen.  But I'm asking you to please not judge this dish based on my {lack of} photography skills or the fact that no one, not even the magical people at the Food Network, can make olive tapenade look pretty. 

Some dishes just aren't that pretty no matter how you serve it up ... and that's OK.  Not every dish can be beautiful but they can still be amazing to eat.  (The same can be said about my Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff.)  While both dishes get points for amazing flavour, sadly sometimes the best tasting foods aren't necessarily the most appetizing to the eye.  They are the Ugly Ducklings of the dinner table.

But we're not going to berate this dish for not being pretty because this tilapia/zucchini/tapenade combo was ahhhmazing! So light, pretty darn good for you and a meal that you get to open like it's a gift!  Who doesn't like to open up a gift full of fish and zucchini??  No one, that's .... ok, so it's no blue gift box from Tiffany's but I assure you that it tastes a billion times better than eating a blue gift box from Tiffany's.  So there is that.

This was an easy dish to whip up because I ran out of time and cheated made an executive decision to use a store-bought olive tapenade.  If you'd prefer to whip up your own homemade olive tapenade have at 'er.  I tip my hat to you.  Unfortunately Brad and I were low on time and patience so we opted for the easier route as I was dangerously edging into a Hangry state of mind -- a state that Brad has learned in our 16 years of marriage to bypass at all costs.  Smart man. 

Baking Bookworm's Definition of the term: Hangry
The combination of extreme hunger and anger
culminating in a nasty attitude, raging sarcasm and
irritability which can only be sated with food.
So before you and/or yours are verging on a Hangry state of mind you may want to take a run out to the food store and pick up the necessary items and keep them on hand to make this dish for emergency Hangry situations.  Ain't nobody got time to be Hangry!
Tilapia and Zucchini Packets with Olive Tapenade
Serves: 4

1 large zucchini (sliced length-wise into 1/8" thick strips) -- approx. 2 to 3 strips/fillet
1/2 lb (4) tilapia fillets (I used frozen fillets)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp black olive tapenade (I used President's Choice brand)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (oil-packed), finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lemon, juiced
2 tbsp olive oil
to taste - black pepper

Preheat oven or BBQ to 400F.

Grease 4 pieces of aluminum foil (ensuring that the foil is large enough to fold into a packet to enclose the fish).  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the olive tapenade, sun-dried tomatoes and the minced garlic clove. 

Lay a couple of zucchini slices in the middle of each piece of greased foil.  Place a fish fillet over the zucchini and top the fish with one quarter of the tapenade.  Sprinkle with fresh pepper, if desired.  Repeat for the remaining three packets.

Combine the fresh lemon juice and olive oil.  Drizzle the lemon juice mixture over the tapenade on each fish fillet.  Fold the foil over the fish and seal the edges securely (I triple folded the edges).

Bake (or grill) for 20 minutes or until fish is flaky.  Using a spatula, gently lift the zucchini and fish off the foil and serve immediately.

Need some ideas for a great side dish for this tilapia?  Try one of these!
Parmesan Basil Orzo
Roasted Greek Lemon Potatoes
Mediterranean Beans
Balsamic Roasted Potatoes and Green Beans

This recipe was inspired by: Proud Italian Cook's "Olive Crusted Cod in Foil"

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Always Watching

Author: Chevy Stevens
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) -- Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: June 18, 2013
First Line: "The first time I saw Heather Simeon, she was curled up in a ball in the seclusion room at the hospital, a thin blue blanket tight around her, the bandages sharp white lines around her wrists."

Book Description from GoodReadsShe helps people put their demons to rest.  But she has a few of her own…

In the lockdown ward of a psychiatric hospital, Dr. Nadine Lavoie is in her element. She has the tools to help people, and she has the desire—healing broken families is what she lives for. But Nadine doesn’t want to look too closely at her own past because there are whole chunks of her life that are black holes. It takes all her willpower to tamp down her recurrent claustrophobia, and her daughter, Lisa, is a runaway who has been on the streets for seven years.

When a distraught woman, Heather Simeon, is brought into the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit after a suicide attempt, Nadine gently coaxes her story out of her—and learns of some troubling parallels with her own life. Digging deeper, Nadine is forced to confront her traumatic childhood, and the damage that began when she and her brother were brought by their mother to a remote commune on Vancouver Island. What happened to Nadine? Why was their family destroyed? And why does the name Aaron Quinn, the group’s leader, bring complex feelings of terror to Nadine even today?

And then, the unthinkable happens, and Nadine realizes that danger is closer to home than she ever imagined. She has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most…and fight back.

Sometimes you can leave the past, but you can never escape.

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

My Thoughts:  This is Canadian author Chevy Stevens' third book and centres around Dr Nadine Lavoie, a character whom we first saw in previously in Stevens' other works.  While Stevens' is one of my go-to Canadian authors I have to say that this book falls somewhere in between her two other books for me -- meaning that I liked this book better than her 2nd book, "Never Knowing", but slightly less than her first book "Still Missing".

What this author does well is suspenseful writing.  She has a great sense of pace and had me sitting on the edge of my seat towards the end of the book.  In fact, it was so suspenseful that when I was reading the last quarter of the book while Boy 1 was in the dentist chair getting his teeth sealed, I was kind of hoping his appointment would take a little longer so I wouldn't have to interrupt the suspense.  Bad Mom Grade: C,  Good Suspense Grade: A.

Another aspect of this book that I found really interesting was seeing the disturbing view of the inner workings of cults and their methods to recruit and keep their members.  We've all heard of these cults who manipulate people to join them and use psychological methods to control them.  Stevens' brings these issues to the forefront and it makes for an interesting, yet oh so very disturbing read.   

Like with her second book, "Never Knowing", I still had some issues connecting to the main character.  Nadine was Stevens' typical pushy woman but, fortunately, not so much that it was annoying (as in her second book).  But she was still a hard character to get behind.  I just don't seem to love Stevens' main characters.  I root for them and there's suspense but there's always something about them that I can't quite put my finger on that makes them feel a little out of reach emotionally. 

Perhaps it's just Nadine's personality that I didn't love.  She definitely isn't a clichéd character.  She has her own demons stemming from her severely dysfunctional family growing up.  She also struggles with being a widow and the mother to a child who is very much in trouble and issues that she begins to unearth about her youth at a commune that still affect her today.  While some of the revelations about Nadine's past weren't jaw dropping it didn't hinder my enjoyment of the book and the suspense was held at a pretty high level until the very end.

These issues/revelations are brought to Nadine's attention, via flashbacks, as Nadine tries to help her patient, Heather.  Unfortunately, in order to deal with her issues she has to investigate the commune and confront its evil leader, Aaron.  Aaron is a great 'bad guy'.  He's brilliant and truly evil and knows which buttons to push to get people to do his bidding or to make Nadine squirm (or this reader for that matter whose stomach was in knots as I read some emotional scenes from Nadine's past).  He was creepy and brilliant ... a wicked combination for a literary bad dude.  This guy brings the term 'evil genius' to a whole new level.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for the suspenseful read that it is.  I'm thrilled that, once again, Chevy Stevens is a proud Canuck and centres her story in the beautiful BC area.  Got to love some good ol' Canadian pride!


My Rating: 4/5 stars

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Tell Me

Author: Lisa Jackson
Genre: Mystery
Type: ARC (Kindle e-book)
Series: #3 in the Pierce Reed/Nikki Gillette 'Savannah' series
Series Order: 'The Night Before" (2003), "The Morning After" (2004)
Publisher: Kensington Books
First Published: June 25, 2013
First Line: "His hand was cool as it slid up her leg, smoothly brushing her calf, tickling and teasing, causing her spine to tingle and a warmth to start in the deepest part of her."

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

Book DescriptionThe most hated woman in Savannah, Georgia, is about to be set free. Twenty years ago, Blondell O'Henry was convicted of murdering her eldest daughter and wounding her two other children. The prosecution argued that beautiful, selfish Blondell wanted to be rid of them to be with her lover.

Now Blondell's son, Niall, has recanted his testimony and demolished the case in the process. Reporter Nikki Gillette is determined to get the true story, and not just for professional reasons. Blondell's murdered daughter, Amity, was Nikki's childhood friend.

The night she died, Amity begged Nikki to meet with her, insisting she had a secret to tell, but Nikki didn't go. Her guilt is compounded by other complications—Nikki's favorite uncle, Alexander, was the attorney who helped save Blondell from execution. And rumors swirl that he was one of her many lovers.
Nikki's fiancé, Detective Pierce Reed, is concerned she may be compromising the case. As she digs for answers during one of the most sweltering summers in Savannah's history, he also worries for her safety. Everyone involved seems to have secrets, from Blondell's old boyfriend and his fundamentalist, snake-handling in-laws to the cop who led the original investigation. And somehow, the events of that tragic night connect to Nikki's own fractured family.

But now the killing has begun again. Is Amity's murderer still at large, or is this a new, darker danger? Soon Nikki will discover what really happened twenty years ago, but the answers may come too late to save her life. . .

My Thoughts:  This is the third book in the Nikki Gillette/ Pierce Reed series but the first book that I've read by Lisa Jackson.  Normally I don't like to jump into the middle of a series because I'm afraid I'll miss seeing how the characters develop and what's happened to them up to that point.  Luckily Ms Jackson came through for me and did a really good job of not making me feel like I was missing out on major storyline info.

Unfortunately, even though I didn't feel lost jumping into this series, I also didn't feel like it really ever had me on the edge of my seat.  I suppose going into this mystery/suspense series I was expecting assuming more of a Lisa Scottoline-type read -- a strong female character and an edgy mystery that keeps me guessing 'whodunnit'.  Unfortunately, this book just didn't meet my expectations.

My initial issue with the book is Nikki as the main character.  I had a really hard time rooting for her or even liking her.  She came off as annoying as she complained about wedding plans and the way she played the clichéd 'do anything for a story' reporter got old quick.  Nikki backstabs family and coworkers in order to get info on the story she's following and regularly harasses her fiancé for information that she knows he can't give her.  Those actions didn't endear her to me at all.

The mystery itself was OK but I never felt riveted or got a suspenseful feeling either.  There were a lot of characters to keep track of and not nearly as much action as I was expecting (except for the beginning and the very end).  There's nothing inherently bad about this book but I can honestly say that this is a book whose storyline or characters will stay with me.

From what I've read about Lisa Jackson's other books "Tell Me" is far from the calibre of writing that she's been known for in the past.  So for that reason, even though I don't recommend "Tell Me", I won't give up on this author and hopefully the next book of hers that I read will be as good as her fans have come to expect from her.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Rotisserie Chicken {on the 'Q}

My personal goal for finding delicious and (hopefully) nutritious fare to serve my family stems from a desire to get a hearty "That was delicious!" from my people.  A culinary pat on the back, if you will.  But there are times when I need more than their kudos.
Sometimes I like to make food on the BBQ that 'inspires' my neighbours.  And by 'inspire' I mean make their stomachs jealous.  Oh so very jealous. {insert steepled fingers and a maniacal giggle}
See, when I'm on a walk and I can smell that someone is BBQ'ing up a steak or some other grilled treat my stomach gets more than a little envious.  Who doesn't, right?  I want to be eating that delicious smelling steak and all the fixings instead of the KD I whipped up quickly to sate my small humans (in my defense the KD was accompanied by some wonderful 'Tube Steaks' - wieners - morphing it into 'Fancy KD'.  Don't judge me.). 
My point?  People's stomachs get jealous and if I can be on the giving end of the jealousy I much prefer it and my stomach thanks me.  Just showing a little neighbourly love. ;)
This is where this recipe comes in to keep me on top of the Stomach Jealousy scale.  And did it smell G-O-O-D good!!  We were doing little happy dances as we watched the bird, who was trussed up within an inch of it's life ... er, death ... spin around on the rotisserie.  This bird could have been in the middle of a tornado and wouldn't have been pulled off the rotisserie.  He was snug as a bug and this trussing ensured that his legs and wings wouldn't fall into the 'Q -- something that probably would have brought a tear to Boy 1's (aka The Carnivore) eye.  And to top it all off, this was a good lookin' bird!  Darkened skin with lovely spices.  "Who's a pretty birdy?  You are!  Yes, you are!"
So, we liked how this bird smelled and looked as it went around and around on the rotisserie but did we enjoy eating it?  Oh yes.  Yes, indeed.  It was the most moist chicken in the history of the world.  Period.  The end.  Man, OH MAN!  Was this chicken good!  Even Boy 2 and Missy Moo (who typically are not lovers of eating chicken that aren't in finger or nugget form) inhaled this meat.
Not only was it ultra tasty and gorgeous looking but it was so easy!  Why?  Because Brad took the helm and prepped this baby!  Gotta love a man that can cook, people!!  He skewered and trussed this bird up like it was resisting arrest.  It wasn't going anywhere but "IN MY BELLY!".
So, I got off pretty easy with this meal and all I had to contribute was a salad and I made a batch of my Roasted Greek Lemon Potatoes (another fav of mine).  I literally had to tell Brad to stop me from eating the leftovers as we cleaned up the kitchen.  Sooo good!

So, do you have any recipes that you make that cause a little neighbourly Stomach Jealousy?!

4lb roasting chicken
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp salt

Rinse the chicken under cold water ensuring to rinse the cavity.  Pat dry with a paper towel.

Sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt into the chicken's cavity.  Put chicken on the rotisserie skewer, ensuring that you truss it up good and tight (with kitchen twine) so the legs and wings are snug to the body.

Place chicken on the BBQ and cook for 10 minutes on high using the rotisserie burner on your BBQ.  Reduce heat to medium and put the rub on the outside of the chicken (adding more rub a few more times during cooking) until the internal temperature reaches 165F in the breast. 

Our bird took about 60-90 minutes to cook but Brad says the most important thing is to follow the internal temperature of the bird, not necessarily the time.

Tent chicken under foil for 10 minutes (this is important!  Don't skip it!) and then carve.  Now wait to see your neighbours looking around to figure out who made that delicious smelling bird. 

Source: 'Rotisserie Chicken'

NOTE: You can also find this recipe (and many more plus my book reviews) on my Pinterest page.  I'd love it if you'd follow me on Pinterest!  You can find me under Bookworm Baker (or click HERE)

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Darkest Minds

Author: Alexandra Bracken
Genre: Supernatural/Young Adult

Type: Kindle e-book
Source: (Kindle e-book)
Series: #1 in the Darkest Minds series
Series Order:
  1. Darkest Minds (2012)
  2. Never Fade (2013)
Source: Kindle e-book
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
First Published: December 2012
First Line: "When the white noise went off, we were in the Garden, pulling weeds."

Book DescriptionWhen Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.

My Thoughts:  If you've seen my Book Index at the top of the blog you'll see that I love Young Adult/Dystopian reads. I've read The Hunger Games trilogy, Divergent/Insurgent, Shatter Me, Immortal Rules ... the whole YA/Dystopian enchilada and, for the most part, I've really loved the genre.  My love of these two genres also makes me more of a connoisseur and I expect a lot from authors to keep me interested and add something new to a very popular genre.

That said, I have some very different and perhaps conflicting feelings about this book.  Overall, I have to say that I'm intrigued by it as the start to a new series.  It had a fast pace in the beginning and a great 'edge of your seat' ending but there were some aspects of the book that took away from the general positive feeling.

But let's start with the positives, shall we?  I think that one of the strongest aspects of the book were the some of the characters.  Even though the book centres around Ruby and Liam my favourite characters were secondary to the storyline.  It was wee Zu and Chubs who really stood out for me. Chubs was, by far, my favourite character. 

Chubs starts out at the beginning of the book as pretty obstinate and not a fan of Ruby's at all.  But over time we see why Chubs feels the way he does and we get to see more of the real guy behind the sarcasm.  I loved him.  I think that Chubs' personality, emotion, honesty and humour easily overshadowed Ruby and Liam. 

Ruby, as the main character, goes through a big metamorphosis.  We first see her as a very timid girl with no real world experiences and just a very beaten down, weak person.  She is then thrust into the real world where we see her struggle to gain confidence so she can learn to take matters into her own hands to change her life and the lives of those like her.  That said, she wasn't a character that I was really ever drawn to and I think that's because her struggle to gain confidence took a little longer than I was comfortable with. 

Also, the girl squanders her super powers.  Instead of learning how to use them and being in awe of how cool it is that she even has these powers she ignores them and is upset at even having them.  Say what??  She seemed like more of a weak Bella Swan (gah!) main character and that never sits well with me.  Ever.  She spends a lot of the time bemoaning the fact that she has these powers and makes decisions which seemed like she gave little to no thought to and were just generally stupid decisions that put her in danger.

Then there's Liam.  I just didn't love this guy.  Compared to Chubs' character Liam lacked depth and just general 'oomph'.  I think my lack of interest in Liam didn't help the romance aspect either which, if I'm being honest, felt like it came out of nowhere.  Much too sudden and it felt like the reader was expected to accept the fact that these two are now a couple when only a night or so before they were all awkward and unsure of each other.  And another little thing that bugged me about Liam was the fact that he's suddenly referred to as "Lee".  At first I was wondering who this Lee character was.  Confusing.  Why use a nickname (only one syllable less) when you don't need to?  

I know it seems like my positives quickly turned into negatives.  I hate dumping on a new book but I can't ignore certain facts.  Honestly, there were big gaps in the world building and general storyline that I just couldn't ignore. 

My major criticisms about this book mainly stem from the huge gaps in information or a lack of detail.  Honestly, for a good portion of the book I had the feeling like I sort of had the gist of the world and this vague virus that has annihilated civilization.  It's not a feeling that I enjoyed.  I felt in the dark about how this world was set up, the reasoning behind this mysterious virus that has annihilated 95%+ of American youth and even the 'powers' that these special kids have.  It was frustrating that so much was just glossed over and that I, as a reader, was just supposed to accept it.

For example, why would all of the parents of these 'mutant' kids be so willing to hand over their kids to the government to put in camps and never seen again?  What parent does that?  And why house all these kids for years on end?  What's the government's plan for these kids?  Doesn't the government worry about the effect on future generations if so many of their youth are dying/being killed off?  Why did this virus only affect American kids?  Why not use these little mutants and teach them to use their powers and become an army of X-men-type warriors? (Where is Professor X when you need him?) Why waste their powers? Too many unanswered questions that just didn't make sense to me.

This funky fog stayed with me for the entire book but the pace of the book towards the end and the 'edge of my seat' feel that I got helped me to forget (for the most part) this fog as I read the cliff hanger.  And a delicious cliff hanger it was!  The end of the book picks up the pace and tension big time!  So I can only hope that future books in the series will continue with this surge of energy and propel the storyline even further ahead.

Don't get me wrong.  I did enjoy this book but there is definitely room for improvement.  I will say that it kept my interest and I loved the fact that there isn't just one bad guy.  This dystopian world is utterly fractured so it makes perfect sense that different factions are vying for power and are willing to go to great lengths to ensure that they have these kids with super powers on their side. 
"The darkest minds tend to hide behind the most unlikely faces."

There is a huge amount of potential for the future books in the series to take off.  I hope that a lot more info will be given to the reader to help us really get a better grasp about the world that has been created.  The ideas in this book were great ... it was just the execution that needed more fine tuning to help the reader get up to speed.

There are some unanswered questions at the end of the book but those only added to my desire to jump into Never Fade, the second book in this series which I have been graciously given to review by the publisher, as soon as humanly possible.

I recommend this book for readers who loved The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Shatter Me by Tehereh Mafi, The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa or Divergent by Veronica Roth.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

First Grave on the Right

Author: Darynda Jones
Genre: Mystery, Supernatural
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 310
Series: 1st book in the Charley Davidson series
Series Order:
  1. First Grave on the Right (2011)
  2. Second Grave on the Left (2011)
  3. Third Grave Dead Ahead (2012)
  4. Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet (2012)
  5. Fifth Grave Past the Light (2013)
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
First Published: July 2011
Source: Public Library
First Line: "I'd been having the same dream for the past month -- the one where a dark stranger materialized out of smoke and shadows to play doctor with me."

Book Description:  A smashing, award-winning debut novel that introduces Charley Davidson: part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper.

Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an Entity who has been following her all her life...and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.

My Thoughts:  Supernatural books are a favourite of mine.  Add in a good mystery, a great main character and some humour and I'm a fan.  A big fan.  I'm happy to report that "First Grave on the Right" is a solid and enjoyable start to a new (to me) series.

This book has it all.  There is a strong main character in Charley, a unique take on the very popular supernatural genre, humour, some sensual parts (which took me by surprise), a great mystery and an even better subplot.

Charley is a likeable main character who has a penchant for getting into dangerous situations.  She's sassy, smart-assy and full of sarcasm.  Gotta love it when the three "S's" are all in one protagonist.  She also has a softer side as she deals with bereaved family members and the souls of the dead. 

I think that when we're shown what Charley's life was like living with her unique powers as she grew up well as her relationship with her stepmother she's given a much more human and believable feel to her.  She wasn't just some quirky PI who gets into trouble and needs to get bailed out.  She's strong at times, yet very vulnerable, sympathetic and really easy to root for. 

There are two plots in the book.  The first involves the murders of three lawyers.  This mystery was good but came secondary to the other plot which dealt with the mysterious dark force that haunts Charley's dreams (and reality at times) as well as a dark force that has followed her on and off for years that she refers to as "The Big Bad".  This second storyline is, honestly, what I was interested in. Who is this shadowy character that makes Charley weak in the knees?  It has a definite feeling of evil and I needed to find out what that was all about.

There are also a slew of secondary characters which, at times, I had a little bit of trouble remembering who was who.  But in the end they really added to the storyline (especially my favourite, Angel, the teenage gangbanger).  I'm hoping that in future books these secondary characters will be brought to the forefront so we can get to know them better.

One of the characters that intrigued me the most was Reyes.  Unfortunately, every time I'd read his name I felt like I was mangling it (as I did with poor Hermione's name from Harry Potter -- which I pronounced Herm-ee-own until it was finally explained to me.  I know, right?  Gah!).  I assumed Reyes is pronounced Rhys/Reece but I'm still not sure.  Anyone care to enlighten me?

Anyway, one of the most surprising aspects of this book was the smouldering, 'make you mutter 'My OH MY!', 'weak in the knees' sensual scenes.  Ya, I totally didn't expect those in a supernatural mystery (but I'm not knockin' them either!).  I will say that I'm predicting that Charley will have her hands full with a love triangle in future books.  Don't quote me on it; it's just a hunch.

In the end I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this book.  The way Ms Jones ended the book had me wanting to pick up the next book in the series asap ("Second Grave on the Left" is now on my night stand!!) which is always a great sign.

I recommend this book as a light, quick, quirky, steamy summer read.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Loaded Mashed Potato Portobellos

Right now I'm eagerly awaiting a text from Brad letting me know that Boy 1 and his Scout troop have touched down safely at Toronto's Pearson airport.  My boy and his troop have been in Alberta for the national Scout jamboree for the past 9 days.  This has been the longest time that Boy 1 has been away from home without any family members and I do so miss my first born.  I'm sure he'll come back with tonnes of memories, pictures ... and dirty clothes. Yay me!
While the rest of the Baking Bookworm family missed Boy 1, we did not sit at home twiddling our thumbs.  We physically cannot sit around that long.  As I mentioned in an earlier post I took Boy 2 and Missy Moo into Toronto to the Royal Ontario Museum to hang with dinosaurs, mummies and their brethren.  We also hit the drive-in and had a full day at the beach yesterday.
Note: My apologies to people in the Port Stanley area and our American neighbours on the other side of Lake Erie.  If you experienced a blinding light yesterday afternoon that would be the sun reflecting off my pasty white body as I hung out in the sand and surf -- under my sun tent, of course!  I'm not a person who likes to tan.  My skin tone is somewhere between Gwen Stefani, Edward Cullen and Wednesday Addams.  Yup, I'm pretty pasty but I'm hoping that staying out of the sun will get me skin like Nicole Kidman when I'm older. *fingers crossed*
Even though my boy was away from me it didn't stop me from trying a couple of new recipes.  One recipe was a stinker and won't be showing its face here on the blog (blech!) but this portobello recipe was awwwesome! 
Oh so very awesome!  It's amazing because it has some of my favourite 'flavahs' all in one little side dish.  You have the wonderful Portobello on the bottom which is then topped with a dollop of creamy loaded mashed spuds that are sporting some bacon, cheddar, cream cheese and green onions!  Oh man, these were good.  I could also easily see making the same potato filling but putting them in portobellini mushrooms (smaller than portabellos) and serving them as an appetizer.
OK BBW followers.  I've been working on this post for 90 minutes now and I'm still waiting for my text from Brad.  Gah!  I miss my boy but I'm planning on playing it real cool when he walks in the door.  By "cool" I mean not jumping all over him yelling "My BABY is HOME!!" and bear hugging him.  Ok, so maybe I won't be all that cool but he'll definitely know his Mom missed him. :)

6 slices of bacon
3 medium potatoes - peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tbsp Garlic and Herb Cream Cheese (I used Philadelphia Brand)
2 tbsp sour cream
3/4 cup Cheddar cheese - finely grated
4 Portobello mushrooms - stems removed and outside wiped with a dry cloth
3 large green onions, sliced

In a medium skillet, cook bacon until almost crisp.  Remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.  Reserve 2 tbsp of bacon drippings.

Cook potatoes in a medium pot of boiling water until they are fork tender.  Drain and add Garlic and Herb cream cheese and sour cream.  Mix until potatoes are mashed and smooth. 

Crumble bacon.  Add half of the bacon and half of the Cheddar to the potato mixture.  

*** The prep above can be done ahead of time and kept in the fridge.  Just reheat the potato mixture a bit before adding it to the grilled mushrooms. ***

Gently brush on some of the bacon drippings to the outside of the mushrooms to prevent them from sticking to the grill.  If you think using bacon grease is too much 'oinker' for you in one dish feel free to substitute olive or grapeseed oil. 

Grill mushrooms on a BBQ at medium heat for approximately 15 to 20 minutes -- grilling only on the outside (the side you greased.  The one without the mushroom gills).  Spoon some of the potato mixture into each mushroom.  Grill for a couple of minutes more to heat the potato mixture through.

Just before serving, top the potatoes stuffed mushrooms with the remaining bacon, Cheddar and green onions.  Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Friday, 12 July 2013

Red Rising

Author: Pierce Brown
Genre: Dystopian, YA
Type: Kindle e-book, Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group - Del Rey Spectra
First Published: February 18, 2014
First Line: "I would have lived in peace."

Note: My sincere thanks to Random House Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book DescriptionDarrow is a miner and a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he digs all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of the planet livable for future generations. Darrow has never seen the sky.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better future for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow and Reds like him are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow joins a resistance group in order to infiltrate the ruling class and destroy society from within. He will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if it means he has to become one of them to do so

My Thoughts:  In the past few years the genre of Young Adult/Dystopian has been very popular.  We've had The Hunger Games {for my review click HERE}, Divergent {for my review click HERE} to name just a couple. 

While, admittedly, there are several parallels to The Hunger Games (young people in a competition where only one will win; 'proctors' who are assigned to the competitors to help them; government leaders influencing the competition; main character who rises up from nothing to change things ...) Red Rising has a different feel to it.

The book felt like it was separated into three very distinct sections.  Red Rising begins with Darrow's life as a Red miner on Mars.  It's a drab, depressing life but Darrow has the love of his wife Eo to get him through. This was a very touching section and helped cement Darrow's personality for me. 

Next we see Darrow's major transformation where he is made into something that is better physically, emotionally and mentally than what he was.  With all these changes though he still maintains his humanity (that we witnessed in the first section) and has his eye firmly set on his ultimate goal.   These first two sections had me riveted. 

Unfortunately it was the final section that kind of lost my interest.  I guess I was expecting something different based on what I read in the book description.   I found that this section, which focused on the medieval-like competition between the youth, lagged and got a little convoluted.  The storyline got more complicated with war strategy and the addition of Greek/Roman gods (which, admittedly, I was surprised by their involvement).  Plus, with all the secondary characters that were introduced (and hard to keep track of) and the info dumping that happened to catch the reader up on all the action it felt like this part of the book went on too long.  I suppose I was looking forward to seeing Darrow get farther in his ultimate plan.  I realize that there are supposed to be other books in this series but I guess I was hoping for more of the story to be focused outside of the competition and to the disparity between the various classes of people. 

It's not that I didn't like this book.  I just found it a little hard to stay interested once the competition began.  My reaction kind of surprised me because with all of the action and young people doing brutal acts to each other you'd think it would be hard to not stay riveted.   

The main thing that kept me going was Darrow.  I really liked the fact that he's a flawed character.  He's not a born leader. He makes mistakes but he's also a man on a mission.  He has the ability to kick pretty much anyone's butt but he holds on to enough humanity that he doesn't want to be 'the bad guy' who throws around his weight to get power or respect.  And yet he knows he'll have to get his hands dirty -- very dirty -- in order to benefit the greater good and ultimately attain his goal.  It's this struggle between who he is and what he feels he must do that made his character stand out for me.

Another thing that I loved about this book is how women are portrayed.  It's evident that Darrow respects women and treats them as equals.  From the very beginning of the book we witness the deep love he has for his young wife, Eo.  He doesn't view women as inferior and neither, apparently, does Pierce Brown.  His female characters aren't relegated to being mothers, weak side kicks or sexual objects.  They hold their own in the midst of battle and strategy. 

Overall, this was an interesting read.  I loved the premise and even though I struggled to stay with the storyline I have a feeling that Pierce Brown is just getting things started with Darrow and his goal to infiltrate the society that kept him and his people under their thumb for so long.

I'd recommend this book to fans of The Hunger Games and Divergent.  While I found the world building a little much for me to keep track of, it was Darrow who truly made this book stand out for me.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, 8 July 2013

Gettin' outta Dodge ... for the day!

Since it's now the second week of summer va-cay I'm starting to get a little antsy.  Let's just say that I get bored easily and two days (yup, just two) of sleeping in, lying around, reading and swimming have me needing to get out and DO something; something out of the norm with my kids.  I'm thinking ... ROAD TRIP!

The kids -- Boy 2 and Missy Moo -- and I talked last night and decided we needed a day trip.  A few options were brought up but in the end we decided to hightail it into the Big Smoke.  Yup, we were headed to Toronto for the day.

This is a bit of a trek and a little out of my usual comfort zone being that I'd be driving on very busy roads and taking the kids on the subway so we could go to The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM).  I have very fond memories of exploring the ROM as a kid and I love sharing it with my kids every few years. 

One of my favourite things about the ROM is the stunning Nisga'a
and Haida totem poles that stand several stories high. 
This is only the top portion of one of the totems. 

Here are my peeps with a humongous dinosaur skeleton.

Note: You may be wondering where Boy 1 fits into this equation.  I have not forsaken my teenager.  My 13 year old is currently in Alberta with about 5000 other Scouts for the national Scout Jamboree.  Ya, 9 days of camping, making connections with other youth, a big concert, tonnes of activities and white water rafting t'boot?  Being 13 kinda rocks.

I have to admit that I'm used to heading downtown T.O on my own ... but it's been awhile since I've done it.  See, as a young teenager I used to tell my parents that I was hanging out at a friend's house when in reality my friends and I would catch a bus, then the subway and go shopping to our hearts content at The Eaton's Centre in downtown Toronto.   Our parents were none the wiser.

{On a side note: I had a hoot telling my parents 15 years later that their sweet, innocent first born used to hightail it downtown on a regular basis and they had no idea.  And thus ends my deviousness and 'wild child' side as a 13 year old.  Take notes, people I was pretty ca-razy!}  

So, my point is, I have experience in a large city but I've never taken my kids on my own.  It was so not a harrowing experience.  My kids were amazing and not an unkind word, argument or eye roll was to be had!  To top it off we had an easy 1 1/2 hour drive into T.O and a 20 minute subway ride down to the museum.  Easy peasy!  I drank my java whilst driving the Loser Cruiser and listening to a little Bruno Mars and then got to relax on the subway.  Life was good!

Now, I will admit that my kids are not Big City people. They have spent the majority of their young lives in a rather small city and, for the past 5 years, in a small town.  They have travelled a bit but there are still some things that get them excited about a big city trip.

The things that get my two youngest excited are ... escalators.  What can I say?  My kids have a love for escalators.  The only thing that I can think of that induced this love of moving stairways is the simple fact that we just don't have many in our neck of the woods.  Elevators?  Sure.  Escalators?  Not so much.  So when my two youngest see a set of escalators their eyes light up; they look at each other and go bounding towards them.  They want to go up, down, up, down.  You get the picture.  This adoration of the 'angled vertical conveyer of pedestrians' does not help make us country bumpkins 'blend in' with the City natives in the ritzy world of Yorkdale Mall.  Who knew, right?

I'm happy to report that my kids kept it pretty cool on the escalators at the subway station, Yorkdale Mall and even the ROM.  They still got that twinkle in their eyes but they played it cool.  Like city folk.  Way to blend in, my children.  You are like mighty bumpkin ninjas. 

The only other hint that we may be country mice would be just after we exited the museum and were sitting having a snack on a bench outside.  Our bumpkin cover may have been blown when Missy Moo became excited and started pointing when she saw her first pigeon of the day.  My girl regularly sees horses, cows, even the occasional rabbit but pigeons?  Yah, not so much.  It was a big moment and I let her have at it.  It was a mighty fat pigeon, I have to admit.

So, we had a great day learning about all kinds of cool stuff.  I know my kids are smart but I was still amazed at how much my kids knew.  I love it when my kids can teach me something.  How did they know odd facts about hummingbirds, Nero, echolocation and sarcophagi?    

Then there's me who kept talking to various dinosaur skeletons and saying "Don't I know you from the Ice Age movies??".  Ya, I'm cool like that.

Soooo, what are all y'all doing with your fine, fine selves this summer?  I'll be needing more Day Trip ideas for when I'm going stir crazy in ... a couple of days.

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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Gameboard of the Gods

Author: Richelle Mead
Series: Book 1 of Age of X series
Genre: Dystopian
Type: Kindle e-book Advanced Reading Copy (ARC)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group Dutton
First Published: June 4, 2013
First Line: "Mae dealt out death regularly."

Note: My sincere thanks to Penguin Group Dutton and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book DescriptionIn a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. But Justin is given a second chance when Mae Koskinen comes to bring him back to the Republic of United North America (RUNA). Raised in an aristocratic caste, Mae is now a member of the military’s most elite and terrifying tier, a soldier with enhanced reflexes and skills.

When Justin and Mae are assigned to work together to solve a string of ritualistic murders, they soon realize that their discoveries have exposed them to terrible danger. As their investigation races forward, unknown enemies and powers greater than they can imagine are gathering in the shadows, ready to reclaim the world in which humans are merely game pieces on their board.

Gameboard of the Gods, the first installment of Richelle Mead’s Age of X series, will have all the elements that have made her YA Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series such megasuccesses: sexy, irresistible characters; romantic and mythological intrigue; and relentless action and suspense.

My ThoughtsMs Mead has written a very large, very complicated world and story complete with an interesting and diverse cast of characters.  It's evident that she took a lot of time to research and come up with her new world but its complexities may have been a little too much to explain while also upholding an interesting storyline. 

I think that the major hurdle that I had for truly getting into this book was the sheer amount of information that was given.  The ambitious building of Mead's world took a lot of the book but unfortunately without any maps or even glossaries it was hard for me to keep track of what she was envisioning.  I realize that Ms Mead has to build her dystopian world for the reader but it came off as several information dumps which really bogged down the pace of the book.  Even after these confusing info sessions about the world, I never really felt like I had a firm grasp on the terminology, the reason behind the Decline, why religions were to blame ......  Just so much information! 

In the end this is the general info that I took away from the book: The world is being overrun with various religions so the powers that be feel the need to police these religions to separate the religions from the zealots.  There are various gods who are attempting to reintroduce themselves to the world and trying some interesting ways to vie for control of specific people in order to gain a foothold on Earth.  Overall, there are a lot of details and rather confusing bits to the storyline that really got in the way with me really enjoying this book.  I persevered but in the end I still can't say that I have a really great grasp on the details of the book.  And that bugs me.  

I don't want to seem like I disliked this book because I didn't.  I really liked and was intrigued by the premise of gods being banished years before and now trying to make their ways back into the lives of the people of Earth using very different ways.  Unfortunately I just never felt like the book dealt with this main premise enough.

The book focuses much more time and energy on explaining the world and following the main characters using three points of view -- Justin, Mae and Tessa.  Mae was a character that I was drawn to right away.  She's a strong, 'take no crap' kinda gal and I loved her from the start.  When we learn more about her background later on in the book I liked her even more.

Young, teenage Tessa was also used to tell the story.  Tessa is a young woman who is brought from the Provinces into the big, wild, modern world of RUNA.  While she was a sweet addition to the cast I wasn't really sure why she was added.  The only thing I can come up with is that this book was used as an intro to Tessa who will have a much bigger role in future books.

Then there's Justin.  Well, he leaves a lot to be desired.  I think he was supposed to come off as this cocky, rough around the edges, full of vices kind of bad boy but I just didn't like him. To me he came off as an arrogant horn dog with voices in his head.  I just didn't feel the chemistry between Mae and Justin and I think that stems from the fact that I was expected to believe that they have this deep connection with each other after a brief interaction at the beginning of the book.  It was much more of a quick romp than some kind of soul connection.  I just didn't buy it.

Another issue that I had with the book was waiting for a certain issue to be explained and clarified.  I have no problem with an author taking their time to create tension and suspense.  Love that!  But when I have to wait almost halfway through a book to learn why Justin has two voices, he refers to as Ravens, inside his head talking to him I don't get a feeling of anticipation.  I initially get confused ... and then I get frustrated.

Finally, I felt like the murder mystery that Mae and Justin were so focused on took a backseat to the drama between the main characters and the world building.  Once the mystery finally got going towards the end and the tension begins to build ... ba-bam!!  It was solved, over and done with.  Wha??  There were details given but, honestly, by that time I was kind of glad Mae and Justin finally figured it all out.

Overall, this wasn't a favourite book of mine.  It was much too long, more than a little confusing and more complicated than it needed to be.  But it did have some interesting characters and a really great premise ... if it had been scaled down a bit and explained to the reader throughout.  This is an ambitious beginning to a new series.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The First Rule of Swimming

Author: Courtney Angela Brkic
Genre: Historical/Contemporary Fiction
Type: ARC - Kindle
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
First Published: May 28, 2013
First Line: "The letter was written in a girlish hand, the purple letters drifting across the sky blue background of the stationery."

Book DescriptionA woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister-and confront the haunted history of her family.

Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where their family has always lived and sets off to New York to find her sister. Her search begins to unspool the dark history of their family, reaching back three generations to a country torn by war.

A haunting and sure-footed debut by an award-winning writer, The First Rule of Swimming explores the legacy of betrayal and loss in a place where beauty is fused inextricably with hardship, and where individuals are forced to make wrenching choices as they are swept up in the tides of history.

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

My Thoughts:  I have to admit that I'm a total sucker for a great book cover.  I've passed by many a book due to a ho-hum cover.  If it doesn't grab me and stand out amongst the other books on the shelf I will probably pass it by.  Too many books, so little time and all that.  This is one beeeautiful cover so I noticed it right away when I was perusing all that NetGalley had to offer the reading beast that dwells within me.  

What next drew me to this book was the premise.  Oh I do so loves me a book filled with family secrets and skeletons in closets!  Throw in a culture that I can learn more about and a mystery and I'm in heaven!  Unfortunately I didn't find this book nearly as suspenseful or riveting as I was initially expecting.  

The First Rule of Swimming just didn't grab my interest and I didn't feel a connection with the main characters.  The sisters definitely had their share of hardships and secrets but even those didn't engage me enough.  The premise is good but the pace lags and it was really hard for this reader to keep at it. 

I think a big reason that I didn't connect with the book is that very little background was given about Croatia's history.  Readers get dropped into the middle of (what I've since learned is) Croatia's struggle for independence from Yugoslavia.  Not being given this information made it quite confusing at times.  I don't need, or want to be spoon fed a history textbook on the subject but a little background information would have gone a long way with keeping me interested in the plot and how it affected the characters.  For example, I still have no idea what "UDBA Assassins" are or how they were involved in Croatia's independence.

There were a few things that did stand out for me in this book.  My favourite part was the vivid descriptions of Rosmarina -- the Croatian island where Magdelena, Jadranka and their family lived.  It was so well described that I could easily picture the people, the old houses etc in my mind.  Deliciously descriptive.

I also loved to read about the connection between the two sisters.  Witnessing the hardships that they faced growing up and how it created the bond between the two very different young women.  And seeing the struggles that Jadranka (as well as other Croatian immigrants) faced as they immigrated into the US was eye-opening and felt authentic.  That said, I found that the reason behind Jadranka's disappearance wasn't nearly as suspenseful as I was hoping.  In the end I didn't feel that there was any sense of urgency for me to learn about what happened to Jandranka.

I really struggled to determine how to rate this book.  It wasn't an edge of your seat read with a lot of action.  It wasn't boring (I liked the premise) ... and yet it wasn't all that interesting either.  The characters felt disconnected and I think that the pace derailed my interest early on.  In the end, this book was a bit of a battle of endurance for me.  That said, I did enjoy seeing the depths of the bonds between the three generations of family members and how they were able to 'keep each other afloat' even in their darkest times.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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