Monday, 31 August 2015

A Man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: e-audiobook
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Dreamscape Media LLC
First Published: July 2014
First Line: "Ove is fifty-nine."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

Meet Ove. He's a curmudgeon, the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him the bitter neighbor from hell, but must Ove be bitter just because he doesn't walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove's mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents' association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fryand Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Fredrik Backman's novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.

My Review:  What a gem of a book.

When the reader is first introduced to Ove (pronounced "oo-va") he comes off as curmudgeon.  A cantankerous old coot.  He's a stickler for rules and complains about everyone and everything that doesn't follow his expectations and stanch rule set.  He hates Volvos (he's a Saab man himself), fancy coffee machines, little yappy dogs and laptops.  At first I feared that the whole book would be about him pointing out people's flaws and just being a grump in general.  That would have gotten old fast.

But as the story progresses you start to see Ove in a different light.  Sure, he loves order and rules.  He has his own way of doing things.  He will tell you in no uncertain terms if he doesn't like something you've done.  But through a series of flashbacks the reader is given a peek into Ove's past and we get to see why he became the man he is today.  Like all of us Ove has many layers and it was wonderful being able to peel them off one by one to get to the real man beneath.  

It's the humour and the touching aspect that surprised me the most about this book.  It walks the line between being overly sentimental and somber perfectly.  The relationships that Ove creates, even with the smallest encounter, with the people around him are what stand out and help you get to know Ove better.  Whether it's with Adrian, the delivery boy or Parvaneh, the young, pregnant Iranian mother (and Ove's neighbour) Ove touches many of their lives and they his.  

Ove has a goal and sets a plan in place to complete it but his plans are interrupted regularly by Parvaneh's family, a stray cat and Ove's neighbourhood nemesis. It's Parvaneh who plays a pivotal role in transforming the reader's perception of Ove.  She and her family are exactly what he needs and he slowly comes to realize this as well and it's through his relationships that his true demeanour is revealed to the reader.  

Ove doesn't have a big personality change towards the end of the book.  He's still the same curmudgeon set on upholding the rules and I loved that.  He is who he is.  Who could forget Ove's biggest compliment that he gave to Parvaneh -- 'You are not a complete twit'?  It's actually the reader's view of Ove that changes as we continue to chip away at his harsh exterior to the giving and accepting person beneath.  You can't help but love him - a man who stands up for what is right, who is a devoted friend (even when that friend irritates him so much), who is fiercely devoted to his wife, Sonja the woman who is able to put up with his quirky behaviours and he has a very generous heart if one only takes the time to see it.

This book will have you laughing and crying.  It's a good reminder not to rely on first impressions of people. I was expecting a simple story about a grumpy old man but what I got was a charming, heart-felt and touching read.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Saturday, 29 August 2015

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

Author: Jennifer Teege and Nikola Sellmair
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 240
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: The Experiment
First Published: April 2015
First Line: "It is the look on the woman's face that seems familiar."

Book Description from GoodReadsAn international bestseller—the extraordinary memoir of a German-Nigerian woman who learns that her grandfather was the brutal Nazi commandant depicted in Schindler’s List.

“I am the granddaughter of Amon Goeth, who shot hundreds of people—and for being black, he would have shot me, too.” In an instant, Jennifer Teege’s life turns upside down; the shock of discovering her ancestry shatters her sense of self.

Teege is 38—married, with two small children—when by chance she finds a library book about her grandfather, Amon Goeth. Millions of people worldwide know of him through Ralph Fiennes’ chilling portrayal in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. Goeth was the brutal commandant of the Plaszów concentration camp—Oskar Schindler’s drinking buddy, and yet his adversary. Responsible for the deaths of thousands, Amon Goeth was hanged in 1946.

Goeth’s partner Ruth, Teege’s much-loved grandmother, committed suicide in 1983. Teege is their daughter’s daughter; her father is Nigerian. Raised by foster parents, she grew up with no knowledge of the family secret. Now, it unsettles her profoundly. What can she say to her Jewish friends, or to her own children? Who is she—truly?

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me is Teege’s searing chronicle of grappling with her haunted past. Her research into her family takes her to Poland and to Israel. Award-winning journalist Nikola Sellmair supplies historical context in a separate, interwoven narrative. Step by step, horrified by her family’s dark history, Teege builds the story of her own liberation.

My Review:  The title of this book piqued my interest immediately.  And when I found out that it was a memoir written about a bi-racial woman who finds out her grandfather was one of the most brutal Nazis I knew I wanted to read this book because it took a look at the effects of WWII from a totally different viewpoint. It brings to light the question of how the family members of Nazi war criminals came to terms with their family member's horrific past deeds.  

Teege gives her readers a glimpse into the history of her birth family.  I assumed going in that I'd get a better picture of her grandfather, Amon Göth, the notorious commandant of the Płaszów concentration camp in occupied Poland (who was also one of the main characters in the movie Schindler's List).  But this book isn't about Teege's grandfather because she was adopted at a young age and had never met Göth.  

Instead the book focuses on how Teege comes to terms with her grandfather's past, her emotional abandonment by her birth mother, her feelings about being adopted (which never felt overly positive) and her time in Israel.  I appreciated how Teege struggled to come to terms with the grandmother she loved who had also been Göth's girlfriend.  I would have loved to have gone deeper into why and how the grandmother ignored the horrific situations (shootings, beatings ...) that she saw when she lived in an elegant home with Göth just ouside the concentration camp.

Unfortunately the pace throughout the book was very slow and I found that quite a lot of the book was reiterated to the reader.  In the end, although the book was written sensitively and thoughtfully I thought that the information given could have been written in a short story format.  I appreciated the addition of pages of documentary style information that author Nikola Sellmair provided.  It added to the story and gave me a broader idea of the history as well as how others in similar situations dealt with this type of revelation.

Teege brings up some interesting points - If our grandparents commit heinous crimes do we have to share in their guilt?  - but i'm not sure that she really got to the heart of the issues.  In the end I wanted more from this book and finished it feeling let down.  It didn't feel like Teege herself got a lot of closure from her family history.  She still felt lost to me at the end of the book and I never felt connected to her while reading her story.  In the end I struggled to finish this book and although the author brings up some interesting points I don't think that enough information was given to the reader to make it a compelling read.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Grilled Red Peppers with Balsamic and Goat Cheese

A couple of weekends ago Brad and I had our parents over for supper.  A 'just cuz' kind of gathering.  We wanted to enjoy these last few weeks of summer with a big grilled meal complete with corn on the cob. You aren't done eating corn on the cob until you have corn bits between all of your teeth.  That's my rule anyway.

The day before the supper I had picked up two baskets of red peppers from our local farmer's market (I had used some of these red peppers to make red pepper jelly that weekend - see my review of The Canning Kitchen for more about that endeavour! I went out of my comfort zone on that one but it worked out big time.)

These red peppers were a great addition to the Easy Porchetta Pork Tenderloin and the salmon that Brad caught last week on Lake Ontario.  Yup, m'man brought home a 16lb salmon!  Yummo!  These red peppers and the balsamic, thyme and goat cheese are always great to pair together and this was no exception.  A simple side dish with only a few really good ingredients can often take a meal from good to great.  We had a couple of red pepper halves left over so eagerly used them in a pasta dish the next day for lunch!

2 red peppers - stem and seeds removed
2 tsp grapeseed oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp grapeseed oil (or your oil of choice)
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme
to taste - black pepper

Garnish - 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Slice red pepper into quarters.  Toss with 2 tsp of oil and set aside.

Heat BBQ to medium heat.

Meanwhile, combine balsamic vinegar, oil, thyme and black pepper in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Grill red pepper slices, skin side down, for approximately 8-10 minutes or until al dente. 

Remove from heat and place in a serving dish.  Drizzle balsamic mixture over each red pepper and dot each red pepper with small bits of goat cheese.  Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Bug in a Vacuum

Author: Melanie Watt
Genre: Children's Picturebook
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 96
Source: Random House Publishing
Publisher: Random House Publishing
First Published: August 25 2015
First Line: "The bug started here."

Book Description from GoodReadsA bug flies through an open door into a house, through a bathroom, across a kitchen and bedroom and into a living room ... where its entire life changes with the switch of a button. Sucked into the void of a vacuum bag, this one little bug moves through denial, bargaining, anger, despair and eventually acceptance -- the five stages of grief -- as it comes to terms with its fate. Will there be a light at the end of the tunnel? Will there be dust bunnies in the void? A funny, suspenseful and poignant look at the travails of a bug trapped in a vacuum.

My Review: With her books and illustrations (specifically her Scaredy Squirrel series) Melanie Watt has proven that she can get to the heart of issues that affect children in an engaging way.  Bug in a Vacuum follows along this path as Watt introduces the five stages of grief to her young readers as they follow a fly who has been unexpectedly sucked up by a vacuum.  These stages were first introduced by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

Watt provides a story line that is simple enough for young children to understand but also gives parents the opportunity to delve deeper into the subject of grief and loss with older children.  Along with a great message, Watt pairs beautiful, detailed artwork with a wonderfully softened effect that also has a great sense of humour and a uniquely retro feel.

Watt engages readers young and old in various ways.  The detailed pictures will engage young children (they can follow the flight of the fly across the pages with their fingers), older children will be able to understand the underlying message because even though the book deals with serious feelings words are used sparingly but to great effect to get the message through.  As an adult, I can attest to loving the secondary and silent story of the dog and how it deals with its own loss as well as the humourous way each stage of grief is introduced to the reader.

Watt is a wonderful writer and illustrator and has created a unique picture book for parents to broach a very serious topic with their children and easily keeps adults engaged as well.  I truly enjoyed this book.

To view the video trailer of this book on YouTube click HERE

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Random House Publishing for providing me with a complimentary hard cover copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Industrial Magic

Author: Kelley Armstrong
Genre: Supernatural, Mystery
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 512
Source: Own
Series: #4 in the Women of the Underworld series
Publisher: Vintage Canada
First Published: January 2010
First Line: "Got another CSI question for you," Gloria said as Simon walked into the communication hub with an armload of papers."

Book Description from GoodReadsMeet the smart, sexy — supernatural — women of the otherworld. This is not your mother’s coven...

Kelley Armstrong returns with the eagerly awaited follow-up to Dime Store Magic. Paige Winterbourne, a headstrong young woman haunted by a dark legacy, is now put to the ultimate test as she fights to save innocents from the most insidious evil of all.. . .

In the aftermath of her mother’s murder, Paige broke with the elite, ultraconservative American Coven of Witches. Now her goal is to start a new Coven for a new generation. But while Paige pitches her vision to uptight thirty-something witches in business suits, a more urgent matter commands her attention.

Someone is murdering the teenage offspring of the underworld’s most influential Cabals — a circle of families that makes the mob look like amateurs. And none is more powerful than the Cortez Cabal, a faction Paige is intimately acquainted with. Lucas Cortez, the rebel son and unwilling heir, is none other than her boyfriend. But love isn’t blind, and Paige has her eyes wide open as she is drawn into a hunt for an unnatural-born killer. Pitted against shamans, demons, and goons, it’s a battle chilling enough to make a wild young woman grow up in a hurry. If she gets the chance.

My Review:  Many of my blog readers who have been with me for a long time will know that I adore Canadian author Kelley Armstrong's hugely popular 'Women of the Underworld' series.  No one writes strong female supernaturals better than Ms Armstrong.  Add to that some great suspense, some romance (the non-cheesy variety) and a cast of truly interesting and unique individuals and you've got a recipe for success.

There are not many books that I am eager to re-read or that I will buy for my home library after already reading them but this series is one of them.  In fact, this was my third time reading this book and I think I actually enjoyed reading Industrial Magic more this time around.  The second time I read it I was still yearning for more Clay and Elena (the werewolf couple) whom I adored from the first two books. This time I let the wolves go a bit and focused on Paige and Lucas and I enjoyed getting their take on things.  

Like in her previous books, Armstrong's cast of characters make appearances in other books and I love how seamlessly this is done.  Once again Armstrong pulls her readers into her unique world of supernaturals living among us but this time focusing on witches and the evil Cabals (think magical mafia). There's a solid mystery surrounding the murders of Cabal youth at the centre of this book but the reader also gets a deeper look into Lucas' extended family and all the baggage that entails.

Overall, this is a great addition to the Women of the Underworld series. I recently purchased my own copy of Haunted (the fifth book in the series) and can't wait to pick it up soon to remind myself of Eve Levine's role in this unique supernatural world.

If you haven't picked up this series yet I HIGHLY recommend you do.  Start with Bitten and read them in order.  A TV series is currently available on the Space channel and is loosely based on Bitten.  I love that it's being filmed in Toronto and Cambridge, Ontario!  The TV series is great but the book, of course, is better.

My Review: 4/5 stars

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Canning Kitchen

Author: Amy Bronee
Genre: Cookbook
Type: Paperback
Pages: 244
Source: Author
Publisher: Penguin Group
First Published: June 9, 2015
First Line: "The sound of knives clinking in jars was standard dinner music in my childhood."

Book Description from GoodReadsA modern take on a beloved tradition The Canning Kitchen blends the traditions of home preserving with the tastes of the modern home cook with 101 simple, small batch recipes and vivid photography. Fill jars with canning classics such as Strawberry Rhubarb Jam and Crunchy Dill Pickles, and discover new classics like Salted Caramel Pear Butter, Bing Cherry Barbecue Sauce, and Sweet Thai Chili Chutney. With fresh ideas for every season, you’ll want to keep your canning pot handy year-round to make delicious jams, jellies, marmalades, pickles, relishes, chutneys, sweet and savory sauces, and jars of homemade pantry favourites.

In addition to year-round recipes, The Canning Kitchen includes all the basics you’ll need to get started. Boost your canning confidence with straight-forward answers to common preserving questions and find out about the canning tools you need, many of which you may already have in your kitchen. Get tips on choosing seasonal ingredients and fresh ideas on how to enjoy your beautiful preserves. Use the step-by-step checklist to safely preserve each delicious batch, leaving you with just enough jars to enjoy at home plus a little extra for sharing.

My Review:  When I first received this complimentary book directly from the author my first thought was - "What a thoughtful gift.  It's a gorgeous cookbook but I don't do home canning".  Why you ask?   My hesitation stems from three thoughts: A) canning seemed to me to take a lot of work and many hands, B) I don't need 30 bottles of dill pickles or 40 jars of stewed apples in the foreseeable future and C) the idea that if I don't do it exactly right I'll end up giving my family a lovely bout of botulism.  Ain't nobody got time for food poisoning.

But as I started to read the book author Amy Bronee started to put me at ease and I found that my concerns were unfounded.  She has a very down-to-earth writing style that made home canning not feel scary and actually doable.  Bronee gives her readers all of the information they need to feel confident, inspired and knowledgeable enough to tackle the tradition of canning.  From answering some basic canning questions to telling her readers what equipment they must have as well as 'nice to have' items to giving her readers a Processing Checklist (great for Type A's like me) Bronee breaks down the canning process.  I also appreciated that the recipes in this book focus on small batch recipes (using 4-10 jars depending on the recipe) which is perfect for our family.

Her descriptions of the process were so clear for me that making a batch of her Red Pepper Jelly over the weekend was a breeze.  The jelly was extremely well received by my family as well as my parents and mother-in-law after I served it as an appetizer over cream cheese. Needless to say they each went home with a jar that day.  

That first foray into canning was so positive that yesterday I wanted to try my hand at Strawberry Jam before the fresh berries were gone for the season.  So I got up at the crack of crazy yesterday morning and hit the farmer's market before the tourists got there.  Armed with a tray of 'fresh from the farm' strawberries and some new mason jars I was set and proceeded to make two batches of jam.  Now I have 14 jars of strawberry bliss on my pantry shelves which The Bookworm Family can eat and share with friends and extended family. Yay!

This cookbook also comes with loads of pictures which are stunning and mouth watering.  As I read through the book I started to bookmark some of the 101 recipes so that by the end I had a gaggle of sticky bookmarks sticking out of the top of the book. Yup, I was intrigued to say the least and who wouldn't be?  This book includes sweet items like jams, jellies and applesauce including Salted Caramel Pear Butter, Strawberry Balsamic Jam (Wha?! YUM!) and Vanilla Bean Stewed Rhubarb.  But there's also more savory treats like Chipotle Apple Barbeque Sauce, Zesty Pizza Sauce, Beer Hive Grainy Mustard as well as the tried and true favourites of pickles, relishes and chutneys.  Yes, this book covers all the delicious bases.

It's official, y'all.  I've been bit by the home canning bug!  Canning is a great way to stock up your own cellar with culinary treats made with fresh local produce picked at its peak.  Plus you have the great option to treat your family and friends with jars of delicious treats made by you.  It's an age old custom that I'm happy to say will now become a tradition in our home.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Amy Bronee for sending me a complimentary copy of her cookbook.  My thoughts about the book are purely my own and the fact that I received a free copy of the book has not influenced my honest review of this book.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The Hesitation Cut

Author: Giles Blunt
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 308
Source: Random House Canada
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: August 18, 2015
First Line: "There are many farms amid the hills that roll from New York City to Rochester, and on one of these farms a bell was ringing at the unconscionable hour of 4:45 a.m."

Book Description from GoodReadsMaster crime novelist Giles Blunt is back with a standalone novel of penetrating psychological suspense. Turning the screw tighter on every page, he delivers an intricately plotted story of jealousy and obsession that rivals the best of Patricia Highsmith and Gillian Flynn.

Nothing could be more serene than the life of Brother William, a young Benedictine monk who had turned his back on the world ten years earlier to retreat to a monastery in upstate New York. But then Lauren Wolfe, a troubled young poet, comes to use the library to research a book on Heloise and Abelard; one sight of the faint scars from a failed suicide attempt on Lauren's wrist is enough to turn the monk's life upside down. 

Every suppressed romantic impulse rises to the surface: his desire to rescue and soothe her trumps his vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. Soon he is simply Peter, a gentle young man who has followed his beloved to New York City because he needs to look out for her, as sincerely as he once pursued his calling.

Of course, just because you love doesn't mean your love will be returned. Just because your intentions are good doesn't mean you'll achieve what you intend. No one illuminates the extreme psychological states this tale of obsession explores better than Giles Blunt. And no reader will ever see the end coming...

My Review: Giles Blunt is an award winning author of the Algonquin Bay mystery series.  He is touted as a Canadian 'master crime novelist' so I went into this book expecting a suspenseful read.  The Hesitation Cut was a good read and deals with some serious issues.  It kept my interest but instead of a suspenseful read it was more of a character analysis of Peter, a character whom I struggled to connect with.

I think a lot of my feelings stem from the fact that I didn't love either of the main characters, Peter or Lauren.  They were both quite wounded and on self-destructive downward spirals with no end in sight.  That's a dark place to be.  From a psychological perspective, the description of Peter's life was interesting but I couldn't fully get behind some of his motivations or his decisions which felt haphazard and unrealistic.

Overall this was a well written dark read about two troubled people with some rather extreme sexual and violent scenes.  It's a story about obsession and a subjective view of love and jealousy. While it isn't perhaps for the faint of heart it is an interesting read.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Zucchini Noodles with Garlic, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Bacon

Ahhh, zucchini.  You deliciously simple veg that has so many different uses in my culinary arsenal.  You are one of my all-time favourite veggies. I heart you (and your buds the spud, asparagus and brussel sprouts).  I could eat all y'all every day.

Seriously ... who can hate a veggie like zucchini that can be grilled, julienned into a salad, sauteed, baked and even shredded into cake or muffins?  

My kids, that's who ... but I digress.

Since I was reviewing the Spiral Slicer last week I came up with this little recipe.  It was quick and quite delish.  Spiral zucchini noodles?  Yes, indeed-y!  And they were awesome!  Cooked a little al dente they were extremely quick to cook and I had this delicious dish (I decreased it for one serving) quickly on my plate for a late lunch after work.  

This is perfect for people who are trying to cut down on carbs but also for gluten-intolerant people and for those of us who just want to try something new and want supper/lunch on the table in a matter of 10 minutes tops.  Paired with my favourites - sun-dried tomatoes, fresh Parmesan and bacon (!!!) I did so love it.  Enjoy!

2 small zucchini - I left mine unpeeled
2 tsp grapeseed oil (or oil of your choosing)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp real bacon bits (or 3 slices of bacon - uncooked**)
pinch - dried red pepper flakes
2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes in oil, sliced into small pieces
salt and pepper
Garnish - fresh parmesan cheese

Using your spiralizer with the end that has the larger blades, twist each zucchini (like you would a pencil in a pencil sharpener) through the device ensuring that you use the safety cap when you get close to the end of the zucchini.  Set zucchini aside.

** If you're using real bacon slices -- Cook bacon in a medium skillet.  Remove bacon slices and crumble.  Remove all but 2 tsp of bacon fat from skillet then saute garlic and red pepper flakes.

** If you're using real bacon bits -- In a medium skillet heat oil over medium heat.  Add garlic cloves, real bacon bits and dried red pepper flakes.  

Cook garlic, bacon and red pepper flakes for 2-3 minutes, stirring often.  Add the zucchini noodles and sun-dried tomato pieces and toss in the oil/bacon/garlic mixture.  Cook for approximately 3 minutes or until zucchini noodles have softened slightly but are still fairly al dente.

Dish onto plates.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh Parmesan cheese, to taste.  Serve immediately.

Servings: 2

Source: The Baking Bookworm

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Product Review: Varietyland's Healthy Spiral Slicer

When I was approached by Varietyland to review their Very Healthy Spiral Slicer I was excited.  One of my sisters has been waxing poetic about her love of her veggie spiralizer so it was high time for the Baking Bookworm to get on the curly veggie train!

The Varietyland Spiral Slicer is shaped like an hour-glass and within each end there are blades - one end has blades for thinner noodles and the other for a slightly thicker version.  The end that you use depends on the vegetable you choose and/or the thickness of the noodle you're going for.  You just put the veggie in and turn it like you would a pencil in a pencil sharpener and voila!  You have veggie noodles!  

Granted, some vegetables are better suited for a specific blade but the device comes with a handy, small instruction guide to help new users figure this out.  I love the fact that it also comes with the option of two free downloadable e-books filled with recipes and an e-book with more information on the device itself.

My first foray into the world of spiralizing was with white potatoes and in hindsight, even though it's my favourite vegetable, it probably wasn't the best veggie to start with.  The white potato, which I had to cut so it would fit into the device, didn't spiralize so much as make little hashbrown-like pieces which then stuck in the spiralizer. They were a little tricky to remove but manageable. I think perhaps my potato wasn't hard enough. 

I then tried another favourite vegetable of mine ... zucchini!! I adore zucchini and think it gets a bad rap (at least from my picky eaters).  It spiralized like a dream in about a minute.  I whipped up a recipe and with the short cooking time involved with these 'zoodles' I came up with a very easy side dish or even a main dish supper idea. I plan to give potatoes another try as well as sweet potatoes, carrots, cucumber, squash, beets ...  The veggie ideas are practically endless. 

I found the device itself easy to use, easy to store and fairly easy to clean.  It comes with a sturdy brush to clean it out so you don't risk knicking your fingers.  The Spiral Slicer itself is pretty straight forward - there's only one main piece plus the handy safety cap that has spikes to help you hold the veggie in place as you get closer to the blades.  I found it to be sturdy in construction and I love that its made from BPA-free plastic and the sturdy metal handles help you to keep your fingers out of contact with the blades. The life-time guarantee is pretty sweet too.

The Spiral Slicer shreds the outside of the vegetable and leaves a thin core as well as the last bit of base (which the spikes in the cap are holding onto and cannot get close enough to the blades to shred).  This means that if you're spiralizing cucumbers you won't get the core with the seeds in your 'noodles'.  Some people may complain about wasting the end piece of the veggie but those 'nubbins' of veggies could be used in other dishes if need be.

You can see the cone-shaped zucchini 'nubbin' in the background next to the Slicer.  
The zucchini noodles in the bowl were from a small-sized zucchini.  Great for one serving.

My only concern with the product is that you are limited to the size of the vegetable you want to use.  It works well for long vegetables like zucchini, carrots and cucumber but you'd have to cut down large, round vegetables (ie. potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets) in order for them to fit into the Slicer.  And if you're making a big dish for a group it may take awhile to process a lot of veggies.  The only improvement I could see with this device is to make the ends a bit bigger to accommodate large vegetables but for day-to-day use of a family this Spiral Slicer should do the trick.

Overall I was very impressed with the product as well as the customer service that Varietyland offers.  They seem to be very willing to help their customers enjoy their product and are quick to offer help and comments on Amazon.  With the reasonable price I think that the Spiral Slicer is a good addition to the home kitchen.  The recipe options for a spiralizer are practically endless for side dishes, salads and even main dishes.  For people with gluten sensitivities spiralized veggies make a great substitution for pasta.

Stay tuned for a recipe that I came up with using zucchini noodles and the Spiral Slicer!

Disclaimer:  I was offered the Varietyland Very Healthy Spiral Slicer at a very reduced rate in exchange for my honest review of the product.  The fact that I received this product at a large reduction in price does not, in any way, alter my opinions about this product.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Night of the Fae

Author: Lyneal Jenkins 
Genre: Supernatural
Type: Kindle e-book
Source: Directly from author
Series: 1st book in the Ana Martin series
Publisher: Jenton Publishing
First Published: November 2012
First Line: "I turned and sprinted towards the car."

Book Description from GoodReads“I love you,” he murmured as the wisps of light returned to his body.

What he didn’t say was that his love came with a heavy price and life was never going to be the same again. 

Twenty six year old Ana Martin has a past she is trying to forget. When she meets Gabriel, she believes that she can finally leave her troubles behind her. But Gabriel has a secret…

He may look human and be born of this world, but he is from an ancient race of empathic beings known as the Siis, a race that evolved millennia ago to a state of consciousness yet still take solid form to hide among us. 

When the homeless start dying at an abandoned Tannery, the police chalk it up to suicides. Ana knows different. The Siis have a secret, a past mistake they would rather forget, one that puts Ana in more danger than she can ever comprehend. 

Before long, she becomes a target for the Fae, once innocent children changed by the Siis thousands of years before. They are able to intensify and feed off the negative emotions of their prey, and are filled with malicious intent that has no bounds.

Can Ana survive the world of the Siis? More importantly, can she do it with her mind still intact?

My Review:  A book that has a suspenseful element with a healthy dose of supernatural thrown in is right down my alley.  In this first book in the Ana Martin series readers are given a crash course in Jenkin's rendition of all things Fae and it is quite unique.  They aren't the cute little Tinkerbell-type pixies spreading joy and light.  Faaaar from it!  They are described as rather nasty, volatile and evil little beings who are out for revenge and blood.  They provide a unique evil element with an intensely creepy factor. 

With this new version of Fae the reader may need time and information to fully understand Jenkin's different view of the supernatural.  Unfortunately I didn't find that a clear enough explanation was given so that I could grasp the idea of Fae and Siis.  There were also fairly large gaps in the telling of the story in the first half of the book which gave the book a muddled feel.  This unfortunately left me floundering to get a foot hold in the story.  

Jenkins introduces some fairly unique characters to her readers.  I loved Adam, Maria, Eris and yes, even Suraya (who brought some oomph to the story).  Unfortunately Ana isn't a strong main character. For a twenty-six year old, her reactions and decisions felt very juvenile.  She's the kind of girl in a horror movie would walk right into the creepy house even after someone was just murdered on that very spot.  Putting herself in dangerous situations - ie. following a homeless man she barely knows into an abandoned building - didn't endear her to me.

I'm assuming that Ana was written as a weak, naive character because this is the beginning of a new series so the author is starting Ana off as a weaker character who will come into her own as the series progresses.  I understand how readers like to see growth in their main characters but when a twenty-six year old woman makes such silly decisions that risk her life it's hard to get behind her.

Fans of supernatural romance will enjoy Ana's relationship with Gabriel.  They bring a very strong romantic element to the book which almost overshadows the supernatural aspect.  For me (who apparently lacks the romance gene) their relationship felt very co-dependent and didn't feel like a healthy relationship from the get-go.  I never liked Gabriel because he came off as domineering and felt like their 'love' was more obsession. In fact, if I was given the choice she would have chosen another character to fall for.

I'm sad to say that I struggled with Night of the Fae.  It took me a couple of weeks to get through the first half of the book but I also appreciate that Jenkins is trying to widen the idea of what makes up supernatural beings.  She also ups the creepy factor with these evil, twisted little Fae who will make you shudder.  I think with a clearer explanation at the beginning and less focus on the romantic element I would have been more eager to pick up the following books in this series. 

My rating: 2.5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to author Lyneal Jenkins for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of her book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Chocolate Kahlua Cheesecake

This cheesecake is oh so very dangerous.  Why?  Because it's simple to make and a sllllightly healthier (and a little cheaper) option when it comes to the mighty cheesecake.  But it's just as decadent! 

The difference with this cheesecake is that you use only one package of cream cheese.  The other two packages are substituted with sour cream and ... stay with me now ... cottage cheese. Ohhhh m'gravy!  This recipe is the BEST way to eat cottage cheese!

The recipe hails from a cookbook from two awesome Canadian sisters, Greta and Janet Podleski who have put out the uber popular LooneySpoons, Crazy Plates, Eat, Drink and Be Merry, and their latest book, The Looneyspoons Collection cookbooks. They make eating healthier taste so very good and seem like a couple of fun gals t'boot.  If you haven't picked up any of their cookbooks yet I highly suggest you do.  They have great recipes, cool cooking tidbits and our notorious Canadian sense of humour.

This isn't my first rodeo with this cheesecake but I did make it again for Boy 2 and Brad's birthdays a couple of weeks ago for a big family gathering.  Itt was inhaled, y'all!  A small piece will do you because it is rich and smooth and goes down well with a nice cuppa Joe after a good meal.

The prep is easy with the use of your blender/food processor but keep in mind that you won't be able to whip one of these babies up for a quick snack.  It takes almost an hour and a half to bake and two hours to sit in the oven afterwards and then it has to chill overnight.  But that's a blessing because if this cheesecake was as quick to make as it is delicious then we'd all be in trouble.  

Easy to prep.  Looks amazing.  Tastes incredible.  That's a Hat Trick when it comes to any recipe.  Enjoy!

1 cup chocolate Oreo baking crumbs
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp butter or margarine, melted
2 cups low-fat (1%) cottage cheese
2 cups sour cream (they recommend low-fat I used full fat)
1 - 8oz package of cream cheese, softened (I used low-fat)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
3 eggs
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup Kahlua or coffee liqueur
Fresh strawberries for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

To make crust - Combine crumbs, brown sugar and melted butter in a small bowl.  Mix well.  Spray a 9” spring-form pan with cooking spray (I used a 10” pan).  Press crumb mixture evenly over bottom of pan.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Reduce oven heat to 325F.

In a blender or food processor, whirl cottage cheese, sour cream and cream cheese until smooth.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together both sugars, cocoa and eggs on medium speed of electric mixer.  Add cream cheese mixture and beat until smooth.  Add cornstarch and beat again.  Add vanilla and Kahlua and beat until mixture is well blended.

Pour batter onto prepared crust.  Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Cheesecake will appear puffy and will jiggle slightly when shaken.  Turn off heat.  Open oven door halfway and let cake cool in oven for 2 hours (this will prevent the cheesecake from cracking and the cake will continue to cook too).  Chill cheesecake overnight. 

Before serving, run a knife around the edge of the pan and remove the sides.  Garnish with fresh strawberries, if desired.

Servings: 12

Source: Crazy Plates cookbook page 151

Thursday, 6 August 2015

What You Left Behind

Author: Jessica Verdi
Genre: Young Adult, Modern Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
First Published: August 1, 2015
First Line: "If there's a more brain-piercing sound than a teething baby crying, I can't tell you what it is."

Book Description from GoodReadsIt’s all Ryden’s fault. If he hadn’t gotten Meg pregnant, she would have never stopped her chemo treatments and would still be alive. Instead, he’s failing fatherhood one dirty diaper at a time. And it’s not like he’s had time to grieve while struggling to care for their infant daughter, start his senior year, and earn the soccer scholarship he needs to go to college.

The one person who makes Ryden feel like his old self is Joni. She’s fun and energetic—and doesn’t know he has a baby. But the more time they spend together, the harder it becomes to keep his two worlds separate. Finding one of Meg’s journals only stirs up old emotions, and Ryden’s convinced Meg left other notebooks for him to find, some message to help his new life make sense. But how is he going to have a future if he can’t let go of the past?

My Review:  This book tackles a lot of serious topics that face today's teens.  It focuses on everything from teenage pregnancy and cancer, to birth control, abortion, grief and absentee parenting.  The way some of these issues were dealt with in the book worked for me and others didn't.

The book focuses on teenage dad, Ryden.  I liked that it was unique for the author to focus not on a teenage mom but on the dad.  I also appreciated that the author doesn't sugarcoat these hard, real-life issues for the reader.  Some scenes, especially as a mother myself, were uncomfortable to read. 

I don't have to love or agree with everything a character does and that was the case with Ryden.  Ryden has a lot on his plate from mourning the girl he loved, to taking care of their baby, focusing on his post-high school future and trying to deal with his conflicting feelings.  Part of me could understand why he'd behave/react the way he did but I also couldn't whole-heartedly get behind him either.  Ryden came off as rather annoying, self-centred and pretty delusional throughout a lot of the book. Did I mention self-centred?  

He runs around like a chicken with its head cut off for the majority of the book and when he does focus on something it's on his future as a UCLA soccer star and not learning how to be a dad to Hope. He barely acknowledges his daughter for the bulk of the book and when he does it was more to whine that she doesn't have a bond with him.  That was very frustrating and heart breaking to read.  I suppose when you think of all that he's had to deal with it kind of makes sense but my overall feeling with this book was frustration and annoyance.  I get that he's suffering and trying to come to terms with his new life as a young dad but more often than not he came off as selfish and after awhile that got old. 

I think that my frustration stems from the fact that as a parent myself I cringed at how easily he put his future ahead of his daughter's safety and repeatedly tried to pawn her off on others.  By the time he started to make better decisions it was a little too late for me to get on the Ryden bandwagon.  Yes, he had an epiphany and personal growth but it took so long to see any glimmer of growth in him that he came off as a one-dimensional character.

There is a wee bit of romance in the book.  I like that the author tried to give Ryden a life line in Joni and I get the whole 'opposites attract' thing but it still felt a little cheesy. What bothered me the most was that it took Ryden so long to let Joni know about his big secret. Just because she makes one brief comment he decides to hide this huge secret from her?  You can predict the result of the omission from the get-go. It just didn't ring real for me and it felt like the author was trying to create some extra issues when she really didn't need to.  

Overall, I was disappointed with this book and I struggled to finish it.  It was filled with selfish decisions and both Meg and Ryden were annoying.  At first my frustration focused on Ryden but by the end of the book Meg edges out Ryden for most infuriating character. I also would have appreciated an epilogue to wrap things up so the reader could see how the decisions that were made affected the characters.  

Even though this wasn't a hit with me I think people who want a book that focuses on real teenage issues that will also invoke an emotional response may enjoy this book. 

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Night Sister

Author: Jennifer McMahon
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 319
Source: Random House Canada
Publisher: DoubleDay Canada
First Published: August 4, 2015
First Line: "Amy's heart hammers, and her skin is slick with sweat."

Book Description from GoodReadsOnce the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper's kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel's past, something that ruined their friendship forever.

Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock's next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.

My Review:  I found The Night Sister to be a wonderfully creepy Gothic read that is filled with familial secrets and a paranormal twist. The cover picture is absolutely stunning, sets the tone and drew me to this book immediately.  McMahon tells her story by flipping back and forth between two generations of people within three different time frames (1995, 1989 and 2013).  At times, especially towards the beginning, I found that it took me awhile to remember which characters were in which generation but as I got to know them better and how they were related to each other it became easier.  The benefits of the shifting points of view and timelines is that it helped to keep up the pace, it gave the reader snippets of information to keep the suspense high and made it a hard book to put down for any length of time.

Once I had the characters firmly set in my mind I enjoyed sitting back and allowing McMahon to unfold her story for me.  She has a knack for maintaining the sinister feel and gradually increasing the tension in her story line.  I also liked how the supernatural aspect wasn't blatantly obvious making me question whether it was real or in the characters' heads.

But it's McMahon's ability to write about the various complicated layers of family turmoil and tragedy that impressed me the most.  As the oldest of three sisters I can attest to the complicated relationship between sisters and often in books they aren't given an authentic feel.  But in The Night Sister the relationships between the two sets of sisters (Sylvie and Rose, Margot and Piper) were both well drawn out, very different from each other but still believable as they all balance between the many emotions surrounding the sometimes complicated sister relationship.

I'm a little embarrassed that this is my first time reading anything by McMahon but after this book you can bet this won't be my last.  This was an atmospheric read with a great edge of your seat creep factor that had me eager to keep reading and nervous at the same time.  There is a good twist at the end and with the engaging and complicated relationships between the characters this was can be labelled as an impressive hard to put down book.  

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Random House Canada, DoubleDay Books and Jennifer McMahon for providing me with a complimentary hard cover copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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