Thursday, 30 January 2014

Undiscovered Goddess

Author: Michelle Colston
Genre: Chick Lit/Self Help
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher:  Authorbuzz
First Published:  August 13, 2012
First Line: "Stylish but Shallow."

Book Description from GoodReadsWho knew a Cosmo quiz and a bottle of wine could change a woman’s life?  Holly, housewife and frazzled mother of three, is determined to discredit the lackluster result of a Cosmopolitan magazine quiz. After buying a workbook geared toward helping her find her inner goddess, Holly sets off on a year of self-discovery, journaling through each exercise as she goes. Facing inner demons, yoga, an explosive colon cleanse and REALLY spicy curry, the lessons are hard on her emotions, not to mention her digestive system. But does she succeed in the end? Beyond the superficial, what important lesson does Holly’s inner goddess have the power to teach her…and what can Holly teach you?

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

My Review:  My blog readers know that I'm not a connoisseur of Chick Lit so when I saw the cover of this book on NetGalley I wasn't sure it was for me.  But after seeing the high ratings by other readers I was persuaded to give it a shot.  And I'm really glad I picked it up. 

This is the debut novel from Michelle Colston and I was very impressed with the writing, humour (sarcastic, dry humour at its best!) and the character development.   Colston deftly combines Chick Lit with Self-Help and Humour seamlessly and I loved it!  Loved it, I say!!

I like to think of myself as someone who has a firm appreciation of what great humour is (and apparently little humility).  This means that when I read humourous novels I have really high expectations.  Let's just say that Colston knows funny.  While reading this book there were so many parts where I literally laughed out loud -- like choked on my coffee at 6:30 in the morning all over my dog laugh out loud.  Parts were so funny (wait until you get to her cleanse!) that I'd go back and re-read the section only to continue my giggling because Colston really gets into the mind of the middle class housewife.  In other words -- my peeps. 

Holly, the main character, has a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour and I found that the voice that Colston gave her was expertly written and authentic.  I could see Holly as someone who I'd hang out with (after her metamorphosis, of course).   I envision her as being a cross between Claire Dunphy (my alter ego) from Modern Family and Tina Fey -- both women who exemplify humour, sarcasm and honesty when mothering the small humans who came from them. 

When we first meet Holly I honestly didn't like her at all.  She was a mom who didn't connect with her kids or husband.  She needed to drink regularly to get through the day and was someone who was utterly shallow (with a gaggle of superficial friends t'boot) who didn't realize she was so unhappy. 

But, as the book progresses, we see Holly begin to change and learn more about herself.  There is no Fairy Godmother to make these changes happen.  Holly does the work herself and the results happen at a believable pace which I appreciated.  I found that as Holly's eyes opened to some of her issues I also learned some stuff about myself -- something I wasn't expecting to take away from a book that I expected to be just some enjoyable fluff.

Another reason(s) that I loved Holly's character is that I could relate to Holly in so many ways.  Colston 'gets' today's modern women and the struggles that we face.  Sometimes I felt like Colston had a peep hole into my life.  For example,
  • Like Holly, I look drop dead sexy in my flannel jammies.
  • I complain that I never get flowers from my husband but then complain about the waste of money he just spent when he eventually buys them for me
  • I experience annoyance much more than I experience most other emotions
  • I'm strangely vain in that like to reread funny emails/blog posts that I've written so I can be impressed with my own sense of humour (oh, there's that humility thing again!) 
  • I have kids who have the exceptional ability to need to talk to me as soon as I have a phone to my ear
  • I love to make lists because it makes me feel like I've accomplished something even though I can procrastinate with the best of them
Holly's transformation isn't all about humourous looks into her life.  She is a mom and a wife who struggles with self confidence and finding meaning and purpose in her life and it's this struggle which made Holly very real to me.

If there was one wee negative I'd have to say that some of the self-help workbook excerpts came off a little long and a little dry for my tastes but then Holly would step in and I'd be giggling to myself again.

I finished this book and took a good look at myself -- how I treat myself as well as what things inspire me.  This inner reflection was definitely not something that I was expecting from this book.  Colston's unique ability to get into the mind of the middle class mom helped take this book from being a light read into something much more inspiring and yet not too heavy either. 

While I won't necessarily be trying to find my inner goddess, this book helped me to renew my interest in yoga, take more time for myself and to remember to treat myself (mind, body and soul) better.  I think those are issues where we could all use a little reminding.

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Memorable Quotes:

'Suffering is my teacher.  If I pay attention to it instead of trying to numb it out, maybe it can lead me to its root."

"It's simply about gratitude and honor.  It's about finding the joy in each of life's little facets, even the ones that are otherwise considered mundane.  It's all a matter of perspective, I guess.  Each day can be as joyous as you want to make it.  Every day can be Super Powerful Happy Goddess Fun Time Day. Kumbaya."

"It's the awareness beneath the thoughts, the stillness inside that creates space to connect with the magic on the outside."

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Belle Cora

Author: Phillip Marguilies
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Doubleday Books
First Published: January 7, 2014
First Line: "My experiences in the April 1906 earthquake in san Francisco have led me to write this book, so I suppose I'll begin there."

Book Description from GoodReadsBased loosely on the life of the 19th-century prostitute of the same name, the book is written in the form of a two-volume memoir by one of San Francisco’s richest and most revered dowagers. In it, the heroine tells the story of her moral fall and material rise over the course of the century, carrying her from the farms, mills, drawing rooms (and bedrooms) of New York to the California gold rush.

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

My Review:  I was in the mood for a big historical saga with grand characters, back stabbing family members, rich powerful people set in a tumultuous time ... the whole saga enchilada.  Belle Cora is a grand historical saga set in the mid-1800's to the early 1900's and follows the life of Arabella Godwin.  Arabella goes from a meek young girl of a fairly affluent New York family to someone who struggles to find her way in the world.  Eventually Arabella becomes Belle, a very confident, strong and independent woman (who also happens to be a successful San Francisco madam).

I can see how some people could be turned off reading about the life of a prostitute/madam but Belle's story intrigued me and honestly, Belle Cora is much more than a story about prostitution.  This is a story about strength, ingenuity and perseverance.  Belle takes her hard knocks, makes bad choices and has some choices thrust upon her but in the end those issues only make her stronger.  I will admit that there were several times when life in a brothel, even one run as well as Belle's, seem to be overly glorified.

Margulies excels at vividly describing life in NYC, as well a San Francisco in it's early days.  As someone who has never learned much about the colonizing of San Francisco I found the descriptions so realistic that I could easily envision life there.  Unfortunately, it was during Belle's time in San Francisco where I began to lose focus in the book.  The book had a different feel to it at that point and my attention began to wane.  It went from more of a character driven read to one steeped in politics -- politics which were unknown to this Canadian and I felt made the overall pace of the book lag.

One aspect that I was surprised to enjoy was the little hints at the future plot that Belle, as the narrator of the book, gave her readers.  You'd think that giving tidbits about what was going to happen in the future would hinder the excitement of the book but it was the opposite.  It was just enough information to get my interest piqued again and have me eagerly awaiting that point in the plot.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read filled with vivid historical descriptions, good character development and some gun fights, prostitutes and murder to round it all out. 

Recommended for people who enjoy grand historical sagas.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Cookies 'n' Cream Cake

After a couple of frustrating weeks dealing with Blogger and Internet Explorer compatibility issues I can now (fingers crossed) bring you the cake recipe that I've been itching to post for a few weeks.

A couple of weekends ago we celebrated a big birthday weekend in my extended family.  My 10 year old twin nephews celebrated their birth and their mom, my middle sister, also celebrated her birthday (and the fact that she actually had two people come out of her in a span of 7 minutes).  My parents hosted the 'do' and I was asked to bring the cake.

Not one to bring the same dessert twice (or at least I try not to) because I love to use my family as guinea pigs I decided to try a new recipe -- Cookies and Cream Cake!  Oreos and cake?  I loves me some birthday festivities!

Our large clan feasted on ridiculously tender beef tenderloins topped with crab, asparagus and Hollandaise sauce, baked spuds, Caesar Salad ....  My family loves food and it was a delicious celebration.

This is a very easy, yet impressive, dessert.  Cookies and cake.  A blissful combo!

Cookies and Cream Cake

18 Oreo cookies
1 (515 g) white cake mix PLUS eggs, oil and water needed to make cake

8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 (8oz) container of Cool Whip topping, thawed
15 Oreo cookies

1/2 bag of Mini Oreo cookies
1 can of whipped cream

Bake Cake:
Preheat oven according to cake mix directions (mine was set to 350F).  Line two 9-inch round baking pans with parchment paper and lightly grease.  Set aside.

Place the 18 Oreo cookies into a large Ziploc freezer bag and seal.  Using a meat tenderizer/mallet smash the cookies until they are a fine crumb (this is a great job for eager to help older kids).  Set aside.

Prepare cake mix according to package directions.  Gently fold in Oreo cookie crumbs.  Pour batter into your prepared pans.  Bake according to cake mix directions.  Once a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean the cakes are done.  Place the cakes onto a cooling rack and allow them to sit for 10 minutes in the pans.

Remove each cake from the pans (removing the parchment paper circle too) and allow cakes to cool completely on the wire racks.

Prepare Frosting:
In the same Ziploc freezer bag, crush the remaining 15 Oreo cookies.

Place the softened cream cheese into the bowl of your stand mixer (or you can do it by hand).  Mix it until smooth then add the icing sugar, a little bit at a time.  Add vanilla.  Remove approximately 1 1/2 cups of the icing and set aside.  Gently fold in the Oreo cookie crumbs into the remaining frosting.

Put your cake together:

Tip: In order to keep your cake plate clean, lay strips of parchment or waxed paper along the outer edge of your cake plate.  You don't need to worry about the centre of your cake plate because your cake will cover it (using one big piece of parchment under your cake will make it difficult to remove it when you're done).  The strips can then easily be pulled out from under the cake when you're done icing it leaving a clean edge of your cake plate.

Place one of the cakes onto a cake plate. Using only the white frosting that you set aside, frost the top of the first cake layer, ensuring that the frosting stays only on the top of the first cake layer.

Place the second cake layer on top of the white frosting on the first cake.  Using the Oreo frosting, frost the top and sides of the entire cake.  Refrigerate the cake until ready to use and to allow the frosting to set.

Before serving, pipe whipping cream along the base of the cake and make dollops of whipped cream every inch or so along the outer edge of the cake.  Place a mini Oreo in each dollop. Add a couple more dollops in the centre of the cake for good measure (as well as in your mouth and the mouths of the children circling you as your prep the cake).


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Still Life


Author: Louise Penny (Canadian author)
Genre: Mystery/Suspense
Type: Mass Market Paperback
Source: Public Library
Series: #1 in Armand Gamache series
Publisher: St Martin's
First Published: April 2011
First Line: "Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships.

Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines - a place so free from crime it doesn't even have its own police force. But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets

My Review: This is the first book in the mystery series by well respected Canadian author Louise Penny.  While I've heard of Louise Penny I hadn't had the opportunity to pick up one of her books.  That is until I bought a copy of this book for my Mom for Christmas.  After reading the synopsis on the book jacket I hightailed it to my local library and grabbed myself a copy (seeing as asking to borrow my mom's new copy probably wouldn't be viewed as 'good gift giving' before she's even read it herself, right?).

There are a lot of things that I love about this book.  First and foremost, I loved the Canadian references.  This book oozes our awesome Canadian vibe and brings to light the issues between Francophones and Anglophones in Quebec.  These issues aren't dealt with in any in-depth manner but just to add that authentic feel to the setting.  The author's description of Three Pines as the quintessential small town where everyone knows everyone else's business is perfect.  It's considered a safe place to live with "The only reason doors were locked was to prevent neighbors from dropping off baskets of zucchini at harvest time" and I could totally picture it.

Inspector Gamache, the protagonist, was probably the main reason why I enjoyed this book though.  He's a very unique main character and not the traditional leading man who jumps into the fray without thinking and has a dysfunctional home life.  He's a celebrated and successful Chief Inspector with the SQ who loves his wife (wha?!) and isn't impulsive or aggressive as he solves the crime.  Instead, he observes everything and everyone and takes his time thinking things through in order figure things out.  He's a very smart man and I loved how he dealt with some of the people who work under him.

Going into this book think that I was expecting a fast-paced, edge of your seat read but the pace of the storyline surprised me.  I suppose it goes hand in hand with Gamache's method of crime solving, but I found it to be a slower paced read.  There was still a build-up of suspense over the length of the book but it was more gradual and I was actually surprised that I was ok with it.

If I have to give a negative about this book I'd have to say that there are a LOT of characters and they were, at times, hard to keep track of.  Also, while they brought interest to the storyline, some of the secondary characters, namely Yolande and the sullen Agent Nichol, were a little too clichéd for my tastes.  Agent Nichol, in the beginning of the book, came off as quite adept and smart.  But as soon as they arrive in Three Pines it felt like she became someone totally different.  She tried too hard, she was obtuse and rude.  It felt like it came out of nowhere.

I would say that this book falls between a cozy mystery (due to the unique and well described setting) and a suspense novel (because the characters and the mystery itself were very well developed).  The writing was wonderful and I cannot wait to pick up the next book in the series (which I hear is even better than Still Life).

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Buried in a Book


Author: Lucy Arlington
Genre: Light Mystery
Series: #1 in the 'A Novel Idea' series
Source: Public Library
Type: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 285
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group
First Published: 2012
First Line: "I thought I'd be writing articles about church bazaars and Girl Guide cookie sales until I retired, so you can imagine my surprise when, at forty-five years of age, I was handed my very first pink slip."

Book Description from GoodReadsAfter losing her job as a journalist at the age of forty-five, Lila Wilkins accepts an internship at A Novel Idea, a thriving literary agency in North Carolina. Being paid to read seems perfect to Lila, although it's difficult with the cast of quirky co-workers and piles of query letters. But when a penniless aspiring author drops dead in the agency's waiting room-and Lila discovers a series of threatening letters-she's determined to find out who wrote him off.

My Review:  This is the epitome of a 'cozy mystery'.  It's set in a small town, it has a cast of quirky (if underused) secondary characters and a nosy, yet likeable protagonist.  "Buried in a Book" is also a solid start to a new series by Lucy Arlington (who also writes under the names Ellery Adams and Sylvia May).

As an avid reader, I'm a little hesitant to pick up mysteries because I can often figure out 'whodunnit' before the end of the book which kind of takes away from my enjoyment.  This was not the case here.  The author throws in some good 'red herrings' to keep her readers guessing who the murderer was.  There were also many references to popular authors due to the fact that Lila works at a literary agency which I also really enjoyed.

The overall pace was good and I really liked the author's writing style. Her inclusion of some of the quirky names of some of the businesses in Inspiration Valley, NC where quite cute -- Espresso Yourself coffee shop, Catcher in the Rye sandwich shop etc but I do wish secondary characters, namely Lila's mother, were used more in the plot.

Lila, as the main character, is a hard one for me to rate.  I liked the fact that she wasn't a 20-something  woman but a mature 45 year old mom and mother to a 17 year old son.  She had been a successful reporter so I assumed she'd be fairly worldly.  But she often came off as much more juvenile and impulsive than I was expecting.  That said, I suppose the protagonist in a mystery series has to be quite impulsive otherwise they'd just follow the rules and not solve the mystery, right? 

I guess my issue with Lila stems with how she handled (or didn't handle) her son's problems.  Trey's issues seemed to only be added to the story to give Lila a reason to have to move into her Mom's house in Inspiration Valley.  No real mention of Trey's issues were brought up later on and he seemed to get off scott free after putting his mother through so much.  You wrecked mom's car and trashed high school property?  Ok, we'll just move to Grandma's and all will be forgiven.  Not likely.  I would have liked her reaction to be written a little more realistically with a bit more substance.

Overall, I enjoyed this new mystery and feel this is a promising start to a new cozy mystery series.  While quite a few things seem to easily fall into place for Lila (ie. getting a new job and new BFF that loves to figure out mysteries with you all within a couple of days) it was still a good read.  If you can suspend reality for a bit and just hunker down with this nice light read I'm sure you'll enjoy this book. 

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

When I Found You


Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Kindle e-book
Print Length in Pages: 410
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
First Published: April 2013
First Line: "Nathan McCann stood in his dark kitchen, a good two hours before dawn."

Book Description from GoodReadsWhen Nathan McCann discovers a newborn baby boy half buried in the woods, he assumes he's found a tiny dead body. But then the baby moves and in one remarkable moment, Nathan's life is changed forever.

The baby is sent to grow up with his grandmother, but Nathan can't forget him and is compelled to pay her a visit. He asks for one simple promise - that one day she will introduce the boy to Nathan and tell him, 'This is the man who found you in the woods.'

Years pass and Nathan assumes that the old lady has not kept her promise, until one day an angry, troubled boy arrives on his doorstep with a suitcase

My Review: This is an e-book that I bought for my Kindle awhile ago and it has been sitting there waiting for me to 'crack click open' ever since.  I had bought it due to the high ratings from other readers and, let's face it, the lower price.  Unfortunately, you sometimes get what you pay for and sometimes you get a different feel for a book than the majority. 

This book had a great premise but that's about it.  The story plodded along and never, not once, gripped me.  The writing was emotionless and I guess I just expected a whole lot more from this book.

I think that the lack of 'oomph' I experienced with this book had a lot to do with the lack of character development.  Nat and Nathan seemed to be clichés -- the 'bad boy who just wants to be loved' and 'the heart of gold older man' -- and they never changed enough throughout the book.  Restricting the characters' development, I feel, negatively influences the plot, pace and interest in the book.

At first I really liked Nathan.  Here's this man in his late fifties who wants to do the right thing and help this innocent baby (and add some love to his own life too).  He's extremely patient, insightful, wise and has wonderful parenting skills even though it seems he's never really spent time with any kids.  He's the perfect father figure.  Don't get me wrong, I liked witnessing Nathan's commitment to Nat no matter how verbally abusive, aggressive or just plain unthankful Nat behaved.  It was admirable.  Even Mother Teresa and Ghandi would have been impressed with this man's attitude and perseverance.  That said, Nathan's lack of frustration, lack of emotion of any kind made him seem inhuman, utterly unbelievable and, quite frankly, oh so very bland.  Does Nathan ever lose his cool?  I would have loved to see some emotion from him.   I also would have really liked to have known why Nathan was so motivated to stick by Nat.  We're given a weak reason at the beginning but I guess I was hoping for something deeper.

That said, the secondary characters were decent and added some interest.  Clare was a nice addition but it was Nat's Gamma and her reaction and frustration to Nat's antics that felt the most true and realistic.   I could imagine this elderly woman trying to deal with and raise her grandson in the only way she knew how.  She felt frustrated, embarrassed and scared of what he'd become.  Did I agree with her actions?  Definitely not but they were believable and felt authentic.

The book was mainly set in a small town but the vast majority of the time was spent in the boxing ring than on character development and it shows.  The pace of the book was very slow, the plot predictable and the characters were wooden and hard to sympathize with.  There was no warmth within any of the characters and I felt very emotionally detached from any of them.  Unfortunately, I spent the majority of the book waiting for something big to happen but it never did.  It just trudged along and ended predictably.

I do not recommend this book.

My Rating: 1.5/5

Monday, 13 January 2014

It Takes A Witch

It Takes a Witch (A Wishcraft Mystery, #1)

Author: Heather Blake
Genre: Supernatural/Light Mystery
Series: #1 in the Wishcrafters series
Type: Mass Market Paperback
Pages: 309
Publisher: New American Library Obsidian
First Published: January 2012
First Line: "Usually I'm not in the habit of tiptoeing through strange houses under the cover of darkness."

Book Description from GoodReadsDarcy Merriweather and her sister, Harper, hail from a long line of witches who have the power to grant wishes using spells. They've come to Enchanted Village in Salem, Massachusetts, to join the family business, but they soon find themselves knee deep in murder...

Until three weeks ago, Darcy and Harper were working dead-end jobs and trying to put their troubles behind them. Then their aunt Velma delivered a bombshell: They're actually Wishcrafters - witches with the power to grant wishes with a mere spell. Wanting a fresh start, they head to their aunt's magic-themed tourist town to master their newfound skills.

But their magic fails them when a wannabe witch turns up dead - strangled with Aunt Ve's scarf - and Ve's sweetheart, Sylar, is found looming over the body. Ve is standing by her man, but Darcy overheard Skylar wish that the victim would disappear - forever. With Harper distracted by her handsome new crush, Darcy is determined to sleuth her way to the truth. But it'll take more than a wish to unravel this mystery....

My Review:  This was another library pick that, I believe, my 10 year old daughter, 'Missy Moo', picked out for me based merely on the fact that there was a cat and puppy on the front cover.  She doesn't have very discerning tastes when it comes to plot and character development but does have an affinity for cute, cuddly beasts.

That said, I did enjoy this first book in a new mystery series.  The author of this series, Heather Blake also writes under the name Heather Webber and is the author of the Nina Quinn and Lucy Valentine series.  I have read and enjoyed a couple of the books in the Lucy Valentine series so if you're looking for a quirky, light mystery series you might want to check that series out as well.  Here are my reviews for those books:

Truly, Madly (2010)
Deeply, Desperately (2010)

Back to the review at hand, overall this was a good, solid start to a new mystery series.  It had enough twists to keep me guessing and it had an interesting premise surrounding the supernatural element.  I'm not sure I wholeheartedly loved how the supernatural was explained but it was unique.  I think my issue with the supernatural was that it came off a little vague and much more in the background of the story than I was expecting.  I think that some of my issue with the supernatural powers were that a few of them were quite obscure powers.  Like people being Law Crafters -- supernatural people who are really good at law.  Who would want that power?  

As with any new series, and quite typical for mysteries, there were a lot of characters to introduce.  Keeping track of who was who became a little hard but the author would throw subtle hints to remind the reader. 

Darcy was a solid main character.  She has her flaws and struggles to learn about her newfound powers but because her craft is so new to her Darcy doesn't necessarily use her powers to solve the mystery.  I'm hoping that the magical element will become more prevalent in future books but for now I'm OK with not fully understanding everything about the supernatural element.  That said, I did find it frustrating (as Darcy did) that no one seems to want to help her learn her craft.  She finds out she's a Crafter and is then left to struggle on her own with no help from her Aunt or the mysterious Elder.  I just found that odd.

The secondary characters were varied and interesting (if a little hard to keep track of at times).  Unfortunately, Darcy's sister Harper was left out of the majority of the storyline and seems very immature for her age.  I'm hoping that we'll see more development in Harper's character in future books.

Another aspect which is common in light mysteries is a romance with the faint whiff of 'fromage'.  Yes, the cheesy romance or even perhaps the overdone 'love triangle'.  There was an inkling about romance in this book but I was pleased that effort was made to stay on the tasks of setting up the series, giving the reader a glimpse into characters and building a good mystery instead of the overdone 'will they/won't they?' issue. 

There is also some mystery left at the end of the books, like name of the Elder (head of the Crafters).  There isn't a cliff hanger at the end of the book, per se, but there is also an interesting character who is revealed at the end.  I had suspected who this character was ... only to be wrong.  I love that!

This is a nice, light mystery that you can curl up with and finish quite quickly.  I look forward to reading more in this series

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Delicious Mediterranean Diet Recipes

Genre: Cookbook
Type: Digital Advanced Reading Copy
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media
Publication Date: October 14, 2013
Pages: 51
First Line: "Kebabs, gyros and falafels ... not the usual fare that comes to mind when you think of what's best to eat on a diet."

Book Description from GoodReads: It’s true—a diet including pasta, cheese, wine, and dessert really can trim your waistline and improve your overall health. A 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine proves that adopting a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease while keeping your taste buds satisfied. Full of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, and poultry, this high-protein diet will never leave you feeling hungry. Praised by the New York Times and food expert Mark Bittman, this is a plan you’ll want to stick to for life.

These flavorful, colorful, and easy-to-prepare dishes provide plenty of variety for every meal of the day. Enjoy delicious recipes such as:
·      Asparagus-Romano Frittata
·      Chicken Gyros
·      Santa Fe Falafel
·      Sizzling Steak Kebabs
·      Red Wine–Poached Salmon
·      Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blackberrry Sauce

This collection makes it easy to stay healthy without feeling deprived. Start enjoying fresh and exotic meals inspired by the traditional eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Note: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media for providing me with a complimentary digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewMediterranean fare is definitely at the top of my favourite cuisines.  There's just something so fresh about it.  It's taking relatively simple ingredients and putting them together in a way to showcase each of their unique flavours.  It doesn't hurt that some of my favourite foods (artichokes, chickpeas, fish, lemon, tomatoes and olives) are well featured in many Mediterranean recipes either.

This cookbook is a compilation of recipes from various editors from some of America's top magazines including 'Woman's Day', 'Eating Light' and 'Good Housekeeping' among others.  It's filled with beautiful colour pictures that help to entice the reader and makes it easy for the home cook to get an idea about what the dish will look like.  I also enjoyed the addition of the interesting Side Bar tips, tricks and extra information that were throughout the book.  These included information on various grains, Roasted Veggies 101 and skewering techniques to make things easier while you're preparing your dish.

Delicious Mediterranean Diet Recipes is broken down in to several concise categories: A Healthy Start, Midday Meals, Starters, Sides and Apps, Dinner and Sweet Endings.   There were so many recipes within this cookbook that I wanted to try and, while I was able to make a couple of recipes before reviewing the book, I plan to go back and try several more.  Let's just say there will be some frittatas, kebabs and Greek turkey burgers on the Bookworm Family table very soon.

Initially, I will admit, I was a little nervous about reviewing a 'diet' recipe book because sometimes the term 'diet' means substituting higher fat ingredients with something that doesn't resemble the original ingredient in taste or texture.  As a devout lover of food I will usually choose flavour (and smaller portion size) over skimping on a few calories.  If this is your similar fear, fear no more. 

While this is a diet cookbook it doesn't lack in flavour and I think that has a lot to do with the wonderful spices, citrus etc as well as cooking techniques that are used in the recipes.  Mediterranean food is fresh, cooked simply for the maximum flavour ... and I love that.

This book was concise, well written and I think would make a wonderful addition to any kitchen trove of cookbooks. 

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, 6 January 2014

Honey Lime Haddock

One of the things that I've been doing to keep myself out of trouble for the past 4 months is working out.  Why you ask?  Because ....
  • I bake bread ... and can't stop eating it
  • If I have to be in my 40's I want to look awesome doing it
  • It's time to take this body back from the havoc these three kids had on it
  • I'm amazed at how strong I am and how you can see a transformation in your body in a matter of weeks
  • I want to buy any bathing suit bottom I want (not just the ones that hold it all in)
  • My very high metabolism as a teen/20-something UP AND LEFT ME!!  Curses!
  • I think turning beet red and sweating like a pig after each workout will keep me humble
Never in my life have I worked out this much.  I started with running in August and that went really well ... until it got cold, slushy and overall yucky.  I'm devoted but not THAT devoted. (Plus I always seemed to see people I knew as I ran and I was always red-faced and sweating like a swine.  Gah!) So I turned to workout DVDs to get me through the cold, nasty months.

I 'invited' my pals Brooke Burke and Jillian Michaels (see these links to my fav DVDs of theirs) to come over 3-4 times per week to keep me on track and because I really want to tone what I have.  While I like Brooke's cute chatter (to a point) and would LOVE to have her body, I do so love me some Jillian Micheals.  The woman is tough but knows when I need that verbal encouragement (aka kick in the ass) to get me through. 

In the very beginning it was hard.  My muscles screamed and I was sore for the first few days.  I struggled through the workouts and I usually started to give these ladies (especially Jillian) the stink eye and muttered under my breath about why I'm doing this around the half way point.  But after a couple of weeks things got easier and doable and .... I got me some muscles too!!  My arms have never looked better.  I feel stronger in my thighs, I have definition in my abs (which are still hidden under a bit of the Grinch Belly) and I've lost between 1/2 to 3/4" off both thighs.  Yay me! 

I'm going to keep this obsession of mine going because I have a goal.  We head off to Florida in April to see my parents and I plan to do a big reveal poolside with m'new abs, thighs, butt etc.  Oh happy day!  I may be revealing them to a seniors community but I'll take what I can get, right?

Since I'm putting so much energy into working out to tone all that my kids made flabby on me I decided that I also want to try to eat better.  Healthier.  But still tasty.

Brad is always on board for seafood/fish so I went on the net and looked at one of my favourite blogs for inspiration.  Have any of you visited Mel's Kitchen Café??  Truly an exceptional food blog with recipes that are gastronomical home runs/touchdowns/hole in ones ... or whatever sports reference you deem worthy.  Let's just say that I could see our stomachs being 'Besties'.

I did make a couple of changes to this recipe - one of which had to do with the fish we used.  I love tilapia and we eat it quite a lot but I don't necessarily like cooking it.  One side of the fillet is always thin and the other quite thick which makes it hard to get even cooking.  So, we opted to use frozen haddock fillets and they worked like a dream!

We served this up one night last week with an order of Mushroom Risotto (truly delish in it's own right) which is another easy (but fairly time consuming) stove-top dish.  Brad offered to help if we could make the risotto so I took him up on it.  Can I just say that I adore cooking with my husband?  We work well in the kitchen and there's just something satisfying about making a meal together then sitting down to enjoy it. 

Look at that man stir that risotto! 

This fish was light, flavourful and perfect with the risotto.  It got high praise from Brad and will definitely be going on my 'favourites list'. 

A delightful meal with a delightful man while keeping myself on track for a delightful body.  Bookworm bliss.

Inspired by: Mel's Kitchen Café 'Honey Lime Tilapia'

4-5 haddock fillets (500g pkg - thawed)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice (the juice from 1 large lime)
zest of one large lime
1 tbsp grapeseed oil**
1 1/2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 clove of garlic, minced

Flour Mixture
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1-2 tbsp grapeseed oil **

** Grapeseed oil is my oil of choice usually but olive oil would work just as well here too.

One to four hours before you will be cooking your fish:
In a medium bowl, combine the fresh lime juice, lime zest, grapeseed oil, honey, salt, pepper and garlic.  Mix well and set aside.  This mixture will smell wicked awesome!

Place fish fillets in a large Ziploc bag and pour marinade over them.  Remove air from bag and seal securely.  Place in the fridge, flipping your fish about halfway through the marinade time, to make sure each fillet is coated well in the delicious marinade. 

Cooking Fish
In a pie plate or other shallow dish, combine the flour, salt and pepper.  Combine well. 

Heat a medium (or large) non-stick skillet, over medium heat.  Pour in the grapeseed oil and allow it time to heat up.

Remove a fish fillet from the Ziploc bag and allow the excess marinade to drip off.  Place the fillet into the flour mixture and lightly coat each side.  Repeat for the remaining fillets (I was able to get all of our 5 small fillets into our large skillet.  If you can't you'll have to do two batches or use a bigger skillet).  Discard marinade.

Place fish fillets into the preheated skillet and cook for 4-5 minutes on the first side (don't try flipping them back and forth or you'll lose your batter!).  Gently flip the fish after the allotted 4 minutes and cook the other side for 4-5 minutes or until fish flakes easily.  Serve immediately.

Easy Stove-Top Side Dish Options:
Mushroom Risotto
Parmesan Basil Orzo

Friday, 3 January 2014

B Is For Burglar

Author: Sue Grafton
Genre: Light Mystery
Series: #2 in Kinsey Millhone series
Type: Paperback
Pages: 310
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: 1985
First Line: "After it's over, of course, you want to kick yourself for all the things you didn't see at the time."

Book Description from GoodReadsAlthough business has been slow lately for P.I. Kinsey Millhone, she's reluctant to take on the case of locating Beverly Danziger's sister Elaine Boldt. It's a small matter that Beverly should be able to handle herself. So why is she enlisting Kinsey's services? Beverly claims she needs Elaine's signature on some documents so that she can collect a small inheritance. But the whole affair doesn't sit well with Kinsey. And if there's something she's learned in her line of work, it's to always follow your instincts.

Kinsey's hunch proves true when she begins her inquiries into Elaine's whereabouts and discovers that the attractive widow was last seen in a flashy lynx coat boarding a plane for Boca Raton. But the more Kinsey searches for Elaine the more questions she encounters. Is Elaine's disappearance tied in to the brutal murder several months ago of one of her bridge partners? And what happened to Elaine's Persian cat who seems to have also vanished?

Things take a turn for the worse when a stranger vandalizes the home of one of Elaine's neighbors and another neighbor turns up murdered. With her reputation and career on the line, Kinsey risks all to find a missing woman and a killer who's waiting in the shadows to strike again.

My Review:  I read this book over Christmas holidays.  I wanted a fun, light read which, if I'm being honest, would be quick so I could meet my goal of reading 65 books in 2013.  I'm not new to Sue Grafton but I'm no expert either.  

I read 'A is for Alibi' several years ago after hearing how much one of my good friends adores this series.  Personally, I was surprised at how little I liked it because usually she and I are pretty on par with liking books.  Since our experiences were so different with Grafton's first Kinsey book I began to think that maybe I was too hard on A is for Alibi when I reviewed it back in December 2009 (see my review of A is for Alibi HERE).  So, I decided to pick up B is for Burglar just in case I was wrong about my initial feelings about this author and series.  Sadly, I feel the same way.  I just didn't love it.

I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that I just don't love Kinsey.  She's an OK protagonist but is she written strong enough and interesting enough to carry an entire series?  No.  She's no Stephanie Plum or Alex Cross ... she's forgettable.

Similar to the first book in the series, this book was very predictable (I guessed 'whodunnit' half way through again), it had red herrings that were only mildly diverting, tonnes of characters who weren't well fleshed out and a plot that was hard to get excited about.  As I was reading I kept thinking 'What am I missing?  This is supposed to be a great series!'

The very rushed ending that left me wanting was the straw that broke the camel's back.  This wasn't a bad book ... it just wasn't interesting or memorable.  I think Kinsey and I will part ways now. 

My Rating: 2/5 stars 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Fear Nothing

Author: Lisa Gardner
Genre: Suspense
Type: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC - ebook)
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group - Dutton
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Series: #7 in the D.D Warren mystery series
First Line: "Rockabye baby, on the treetop ..."

Book Description from GoodReadsMy name is Dr. Adeline Glen. Due to a genetic condition, I can’t feel pain. I never have. I never will.

The last thing Boston Detective D.D. Warren remembers is walking the crime scene after dark. Then, a creaking floorboard, a low voice crooning in her ear… She is later told she managed to discharge her weapon three times. All she knows is that she is seriously injured, unable to move her left arm, unable to return to work.

My sister is Shana Day, a notorious murderer who first killed at fourteen. Incarcerated for thirty years, she has now murdered more people while in prison than she did as a free woman.

Six weeks later, a second woman is discovered murdered in her own bed, her room containing the same calling cards from the first: a bottle of champagne and a single red rose. The only person who may have seen the killer: Detective D.D. Warren, who still can’t lift her child, load her gun, or recall a single detail from the night that may have cost her everything.

Our father was Harry Day, an infamous serial killer who buried young women beneath the floor of our home. He has been dead for forty years. Except the Rose Killer knows things about my father he shouldn’t. My sister claims she can help catch him. I think just because I can’t feel pain, doesn’t mean my family can’t hurt me.

D.D. may not be back on the job, but she is back on the hunt. Because the Rose Killer isn’t just targeting lone women; he is targeting D.D. And D.D. knows there is only one way to take him down:

Fear nothing.

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

My Review:  Lisa Gardner is well known for her suspenseful reads filled with interesting characters, twists and turns as well as some edge of your seat action thrown in for good measure. This book doesn't disappoint.

This wasn't my first time reading a book in Gardner's D.D Warren series but this is definitely my favourite book featuring D.D.  While it had Ms Gardners' signature suspenseful writing it also had a very sinister, eerie feel to it.  Yup.  It was ultra creepy {inner shiver} and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire read.

Lisa Gardner is not only known for her suspenseful writing but she's also known as being very adept at letting her readers really get to know her characters.  She doesn't write one-dimensional characters that are easy to predict.  D.D, Adeline and Shana were all very detailed characters, each with their own very distinct issues and voices within the book.  Readers get glimpses into the characters' lives, motivations, thoughts and actions but at the same time the momentum of the storyline never feels bogged down.  The mark of a great suspense writer.

In "Fear Nothing", Gardner addresses the 'nature versus nurture' issue but within a very chilling context and I was quite riveted throughout the entire book.  There were plenty of twists and turns to keep this reader from guessing 'whodunnit' until very close to the end.  


My Rating: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2013 in Review

Happy 2014, everyone!! 

I hope you had a blast welcoming in the new year last night.  We decided on a quiet night at home filled with loads of food, some family Wii time and a movie.  It was nice, relaxing ... and just what this Bookworm Family needed.

As I think back on 2013, I have to say that it was a good year here on the blog.  I saw a huge surge in blog traffic on the blog (and my blog's Facebook page) and I was given the opportunity by authors, publishers and NetGalley to review a tonne of Advanced Reading Copies.  I had quite a few posts that were more popular than others (thanks mainly to my Pinterest peeps).  Many of my top posts weren't actually written in 2013 but oldies are often goodies (that's what I'm hoping as I get older anyway).  I love seeing that people enjoy what I write.  There's nothing a blogger loves more than to know you're not just blogging to your friends and family or worse ... online crickets.  Talking to yourself is never much fun. 

Below I've listed my most popular 10 recipes (and blathering) posts as well as my top 10 book reviews of 2013.  Just click on each link to go see the original post.  I'm always amazed at how some of my older recipes continue to be at the top of my stats, namely my Greek Chicken Marinade (truly delish), my Mom's Peaches and Cream Dessert (a fav!)and my post about Household Tips and Tricks - which saw a lot of action from Pinterest fans!

Thanks again to all my followers, old and new, who keep coming back and checking out my blog.  It truly means a lot to me.  As you may have seen on the blog, I made my GoodReads quota in 2013 (I just squeaked in my goal of 65 books - phew!) and I plan to up that to 70 books in 2014.  Nothing like a little challenge to get me going. 

Here's to a delicious 2014 filled with great new reads to fill our souls and countless wonderful recipes to fill our bellies!  Thanks for a great 2013! 

Top Recipes and 'My Blathering' posts
1. Greek Chicken Marinade 
2. Overnight French Toast Bake
3. Ultimate Chicken Marinade
4. Karate Gi Cake
5. Bacon Chicken Ranch Pasta
6. Buffalo Chicken Dip
7. Purse Cake with Faux Strawberry Frosting
8. Peaches and Cream Dessert
9. Household Tips and Tricks to Save Sanity, Time and Money
10. Nutella Buttercream Frosting

My Fav Books of 2013
1. Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill
2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
3. Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
4. The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa (#2 in the Eternity Cure series)
5. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
6. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
7. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
8. Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn
9. The Arnifour Affair by Gregory Harris
10. Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell

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