Thursday, 28 January 2016

Blood Rose Angel

Author: Liza Perrat
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Series: Bone Angel series
Page Count of Paper Copy: 412
Source: directly from author
Publisher: Perrat Publishing
First Published: Oct 2015
First Line: "Christ's toenails, ignore him Héloïse", Isa chided, as I glared at Drogan sauntering towards us through the marketplace stalls and customers."

Book Description from GoodReads1348. A bone-sculpted angel and the woman who wears it––heretic, Devil’s servant, saint.

Midwife Héloïse has always known that her bastard status threatens her standing in the French village of Lucie-sur-Vionne. Yet her midwifery and healing skills have gained the people’s respect, and she has won the heart of the handsome Raoul Stonemason. The future looks hopeful. Until the Black Death sweeps into France.

Fearful that Héloïse will bring the pestilence into their cottage, Raoul forbids her to treat its victims. Amidst the grief and hysteria, the villagers searching for a scapegoat, Héloïse must choose: preserve her marriage, or honour the oath she swore on her dead mother’s soul? And even as she places her faith in the protective powers of her angel talisman, she must prove she’s no Devil’s servant, her talisman no evil charm.

My Review: Author Liza Perrat once again has written a vivid tale set within a notable historical setting as part of her Bone Angel series.  This is the third book in her historical fiction trilogy but all three books are great as stand-alones (I had only read 'Wolfsangel' before this book) so readers can pick up any of the books without the fear that they're missing out on personal histories/story lines.

Blood Rose Angel centres around the 14th century pandemic plague that killed nearly fifty percent of Europe's population.  It was a time of great terror and extreme loss that was only exacerbated by superstitious, prejudicial and ignorant beliefs of the time. Perrat paints a vivid picture of life in a small French town during this plague complete with social, religious and personal issues that draw the reader into her story.  That doesn't mean it didn't have its frustrating parts that were hard to read - namely some of the (now silly) views that somehow everything from cats, lepers, amulets or Jews were the reason for the pestilence and disease spreading and killing so many.  Or how superstition trumped science when it came to hygiene, health and the treatment of women as lesser.

Perrat tells her story using a wide array of characters within the small French town of Lucie-sur-Vionne each with their own vibrant personalities.  I guarantee that you won't like all of them but you will remember them.  I found Héloïse to be a strong female character.  She was smart and went to great lengths to protect her family, friends and townspeople.  She was also stubborn and sometimes hard to support as she brazenly and sometime stupidly would put herself in harm's way because of her actions or, more likely, her big mouth.  There were a few times when I wanted to shake her and yell "Just shut UP!" because you could see that her mouth was, at times, her biggest adversary.

Readers are given a startling look at life back in the 1300's.  Perrat shows with vivid clarity the effects of the plague physically and emotionally on those who suffered its effects as well as the devastation it had on whole communities.  There was rampant fear, fear mongering as well as their misguided beliefs in medicine, general hygiene and the blatant lack of women's rights.

Midwifery is a big part of the story line as are the real threats of witchery and heresy claims that many midwives had to deal with due to ignorance spread by fear and patriarchal powers.  Within this tumultuous time Perrat also showcases the female bond between family members as well as women within the community.

My only negative about the book was that the pace in the middle lagged a bit and the big reveal of Héloïse's father was a little lackluster and felt like it was thrown in quickly to sum things up.

Overall, this was an enjoyable historical fiction book that was the wonderfully absorbing read that I've come to expect from Liza Perrat.

My Rating: 4 stars

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

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

No Priors

Author: Sophie Bérubé
Genre: Suspense, Canadian
Type: e-book
Print Length: 271 pages
Source: Directly from author
Publisher: Self-Published
First Published in French: 2011 
First Published in English: October 14, 2015
First Line: "The first time she walked into the bookstore, I knew right away that I wanted her to bear my children."

Book Description from GoodReadsThis best-selling novel tells the riveting story of Thomas, a seductive bookseller and underground artist, who falls in love with Roxanne; an ambitious lawyer looking for commitment. His dream of raising a family with her soon turns into a real descent to hell where the line between good and evil can be blurred. 

Told from each character’s perspective, the story does not reveal until the very end who is ultimately responsible for the tragedy hanging over them. This romantic suspense will stay with you forever. 

My Review:  Bérubé has written an energetic psychological thriller which is quite reminiscent of Gone Girl in that she reveals a volatile relationship by showing the reader two sides of the same story.  The only difference is that, in this case, I actually liked both characters at some point or other in the book.  

Sometimes reading a book that focuses on one situation from two different perspectives can feel a little monotonous.  A little of that happened here as various situations are rehashed from the two different points of view.  It's inevitable but the author also threw in some deeper insights which helped to slightly lessen these déjà vu feelings. Readers will be surprised at how they may switch allegiances when they get both perspectives.  Seeing the two perspectives on the same experiences was eye opening to say the least. 

I admit that I found it hard to read some passages because of the emotion and passive aggression.  To see someone try to bring their 'loved one' to their knees emotionally and psychologically was hard to witness ... but it also makes for a good read.  Both characters had their own issues (quite large ones in fact) that influenced their relationship.  Some were chilling, others were sad as you witness someone losing control and/or allowing others to control them.  Bérubé vividly shows how destructive words can be and gives the reader a lot to think about.   

She also shows different versions of love as well as the darker side that relationships can take.  This was an easy read and quite a page turner. Due to the various issues raised in this book I think that it would make a great book club selection.

NoteNo Priors was was originally printed in French here in Canada under the title Sans Antécédents and became a best seller back in October 2011.

My Rating: 4 stars

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

Monday, 25 January 2016

Our Basement Renovation - Part Two - Insulatin', Lighting and Drywall - oh MY!

Now that we completed the nitty and oh so gritty work of moving our bathroom plumbing across the room we could focus on getting some walls up.  Exciting stuff! Not that electrical and plumbing aren't fascinating .... er, but what gets me excited is seeing walls start going up and the basement start to take shape.  

Because we wanted an open concept space Brad only had to build a few walls.  He also framed in the two closets and created framework around the duct work in the ceiling. Bulkheads are a necessary evil of basements.  

Our builder had already insulated all of our outer walls with the pink stuff to keep the cold out but we chose to insulate the basement ceilings and the walls around the furnace room with sound reducing insulation.  There are a few reasons for this -- so we could play movies with the new surround sound LOUD, so we didn't have to hear the furnace going on and off during a movie and, quite honestly, we didn't want to hear the boys yelling at the TV with their friends as they played video games. 

This is not our first rodeo, people!

Armed with rubber gloves and masks (we were bringing sexy back!) Brad and I insulated walls and ceilings - okay, Brad insulated all the ceilings and I helped with a bunch of the walls.  Besides the safety stuff, you'll also need sharp retractable utility knives, some measuring tapes, a basic ability to measure and you're good to go.

Obviously fashion and good hair aren't prerequisites for insulation work.
Insulation is a messy business.  Health-wise, masks (like the sexy one I'm sporting above), are a MUST when dealing with insulation but they're also extremely hot and if you get insulation on your skin it's itchy (long sleeves are a good idea).  My point?  It's not a fun job but it's also not a hard job to do and I was quite pleased with the walls that I did myself.  We think it makes a big difference in keeping the noise between floors down especially since we have tile and hardwood throughout the main floor.

Result? - worth the extra money to make it more sound resistant.  I love my family but I don't always want to hear them.  AmIright?

Lighting is something that you may not notice if it's done right but if it's done 'less than right' you'll sense it.  It's also something you have to map out before you start to do your ceilings.  Brad and I thought long and hard about what we wanted.  We always try to go for less energy usage so LED was the way to go.  They are pricey bulbs but they've come down in price a little and with some offered rebates it was a no brainer for us.  We opted for LED pot lights throughout the basement and since we were going for a 'transitional with a slightly industrial vibe' in the basement we chose non-LED Edison bulbs for the cool lighting fixture in the stairway.

Love the slightly industrial look of this
fixture in the stairwell with its Edison bulbs.
When Brad mapped out his pot light plan each pot light would be 4 feet apart to minimize dark spots or shadows in the room.  The plan looked good.  But remember, our entertainment space is a honkin' 40 feet long so once the pot lights were installed it kind of resembled a runway.  God love 'im we had a lot of lights but they look great!

The pot lights are all on dimmers and are divided into different areas of the room so the entire basement isn't on one switch.  Brad, of course, took some ribbing from family members about the amount of lights we had.  Sure, we could probably have a doctor perform surgery in the basement or land a 747 but we don't have any dark spots in the basement!  Mission accomplished!

Note: The pot lights in the picture above had to be (easily) removed while the drywall was installed then reinstalled.

Part of getting older and wiser (and having a little more cash flow) is knowing when to do things yourself and when to call in the experts.  Installing and especially mudding drywall is a skill which Brad and I know we do not possess.  We are also fully aware that we are picky about quality when it comes to finishes because finishes are what we (and others) notice.  So we opted to hire out for the drywall and we're so glad we did.  It would have taken us forever to do and it wouldn't have near the quality that we ended up with.  Our drywaller Peter was even more quality conscious than we were, had amazing pride in his work and did a wonderful job.  He even guarantees no nail pops ... evah!

Peter also suggested that we drywall the ceiling.  We were originally thinking of doing a drop ceiling to save money but since Peter could do it for less than a drop ceiling we went for a fully drywalled look.  And we LOVE it!  It doesn't feel like a basement, the ceiling feels quite high and the California stucco looks great with the LED pot lights we installed.  It pays to listen to the professionals.

But along with drywall comes the inevitable drywall dust.  Drywall dust is like sparkles in the crafting world.  You will be finding that stuff on you and around your house for weeks afterwards!  It's the gift that keeps giving.  Gah!  I didn't think things would get THAT dusty.  

A view towards the media area and
the door to the bathroom. Now things are

taking shape!  Look at that DUST!!
Oooo baby!  Drywall dust seemed to creep up the stairs onto the main floor and our basement was layered with it.  It was a necessary evil though and the drywall guys cleaned it up really well.  After we mopped it a couple of times we were dust-free and ready to move on to the next {much more fun} stage - paint!!

Result? - totally worth it to get a professional to drywall and mud.  You'll notice a difference.

Tip: We have three good-sized windows in our basement but when we were building our house we had our builder increase the size of one of them.  Why?  Not only does it provide a tonne of natural light but we could also get 4'x8' sheets of drywall (or a long counter top for the bar) through the window.  Peter just made a makeshift slide for the drywall and easily slid the sheets through the window.  He was ecstatic and we saved a lot of time and money on labour.  If possible, think ahead to make your drywaller happy and save money.

That's where we stood in September 2015 for our renovation.

Next up for Our Basement Renovation blog posts 

"Do these painting clothes make me too sexy?" and 

"I know we're half way done painting but are you SURE you love this colour?" (and other things you shouldn't ask your spouse during a renovation)

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Dark Days Club

Author: Alison Goodman
Genre: Historical Fiction, Supernatural
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 472
Series: 1st book in the Lady Helen series
Publisher: RazorBill (Penguin Random House)
First Published: January 26, 2016
First Line: "In the sun-warmed quiet of her uncle's library, Lady Helen Wrexhall spread the skirt of her muslin morning gown and sank into the deep curtsy required for Royal presentation: back held straight, head slightly bowed, left knee bent so low, it nearly touched the floor."

Book Description from GoodReadsLondon, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

My Review: Historical fiction, mystery and some paranormal?  This book is right down my alley, right?  But it was also a hard book to review.  There are some aspects of this book that were amazing and others that left me wanting a little bit more. At the heart of this book is the historical setting - Regency London - and all its societal rules and restrictions for young women of the time.  There is also a strong supernatural aspect (which is rather dark) that is introduced to the reader as well as Lady Helen who becomes embroiled within these elements.

Lady Helen was a good protagonist whom I'd describe as a plucky Victorian gal with a side of sass and a penchant for trouble-making.  She's strong-willed and feels restricted by society's (and her overly-demanding and jerk of an Uncle's) rules of how a good young lady should behave.  She stands up for others and is rebellious enough to get herself into a good amount of trouble.  Helen goes through some personal conflicts that I found interesting as they pertained to the supernatural theme.  Overall, she was a solid main character who was easy to get behind.

Lord Carlston was probably the most intriguing character for me.  He gives off a strong Mr Darcy vibe - he's dark, brooding, handsome, strong and has some rather big rumours surrounding his past that I wanted to know more about.  But he, as well as the other characters (except for Helen), aren't given enough page time for the reader to get to know them better.  Instead the point of view is strictly Helen's which is why I think some of the pacing suffered.  The reader was stuck with Helen going to various parties and fetes with the Queen and young women on the hunt for the perfect spouse instead of unearthing demons and learning more about past secrets.

This book is almost 500 pages.  Yup, it's a biggie and I like big books, I cannot lie.  Goodman uses these pages to set her story and characters within jolly old 1812 London.  A lot of historical detail is given about the era - fashion, societal mores and social restrictions.  I enjoyed how the author wove various historical facts into her story line.  Unfortunately, sometimes good historical fiction can get too bogged down in descriptions of the era and that's what happened here.  

At the heart of the plot is a paranormal element but I can't say that I loved how it was handled and that surprised me.  It was an interesting idea but a little hard to wrap your head around at first.  I can't put my finger on it exactly except that it was hard to imagine a small group of 'good guy's battling thousands of 'evil dudes' and thinking they stood a chance.  The whole issue had a constant, and excessive, dark feel and if I was Helen there wouldn't have been a hard choice for me to make regarding the supernatural issue. That's all I'll say on that.

There is some romance in the story line but romantics better be ready to wait for it. It's a slow process even though the author dangles a love triangle in front of her readers.  The romance wasn't front and centre (which I liked) nor was it fully explained why the two men had so much bad blood between them (kind of frustrating).  

There are some great action scenes towards the end but getting to that point will take some patience on the part of the reader. I liked that some of the familial secrets start to unravel but wish some of these had happened a little earlier on to keep up the pace of the book.  There are quite a few questions left unanswered and I have my suspicions on future plot twists.  As to whether or not I'll pick up future books is still undecided.

This was a slower read than I was expecting for such a big book.  I enjoyed the era, the characters were, for the most part, memorable and it had a very different take on the supernatural element. This book is described as a Young Adult read but I'd recommend it for the older end of that spectrum (17-20 years).

My Rating: 3.5/5

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

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Finding Audrey

Author: Sophie Kinsella
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 286
Source: Random House Canada
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: June 8, 2015
First Line: "OMG, Mum's gone insane."

Book Description from GoodReadsAn anxiety disorder disrupts fourteen-year-old Audrey’s daily life. She has been making slow but steady progress with Dr. Sarah, but when Audrey meets Linus, her brother’s gaming teammate, she is energized. She connects with him. Audrey can talk through her fears with Linus in a way she’s never been able to do with anyone before. As their friendship deepens and her recovery gains momentum, a sweet romantic connection develops, one that helps not just Audrey but also her entire family. 

My Review: Quirky, funny with a good message.  That's what Finding Audrey is all about.

At the heart of the book is teenage Audrey struggling to deal with her mental illness on a daily basis.  Kinsella handled the mental illness aspect in a meaningful, respectful and approachable way for teens.  She enables the reader to get Audrey's take on her own feelings and progress as well as the setbacks she experiences as part of her recovery.  She also shows how Audrey's family, friends and psychologist struggle to help her and shows how differently some people handle, view and misunderstand mental illness.

I have to admit that initially I was surprised (and a little let down) that the triggering factor which caused Audrey's extensive anxiety disorder isn't fully revealed to the reader.  It is alluded to and the reader is given a basic understanding but that's it.  At first this lack of information bothered me.  I wanted to know what had happened but, in the end, the book is about Audrey's recovery so the details about why Audrey is the way she is didn't seem as important the more I read. 

In a recent article in Kinsella revealed why she didn't clearly depict the triggering factor for Audrey's mental illness.  This explanation made me appreciate why she made that decision.

I did consider revealing what happened to Audrey — but then decided against. I feel strongly that if you start to think “This event caused this reaction and was responsible for Audrey’s condition,” you actually relate less to Audrey’s predicament. So many teenagers these days suffer from anxiety, I wanted them to be able to relate to Audrey and not feel, “I didn’t have that event happen to me so I’m not like her.” It is also the case, as Audrey says in the book, that some things should be kept private; they’re not for sharing. I want readers who are suffering from anxiety like Audrey to feel that they don’t have to share everything. It’s important for some things to remain private. Source

Throughout the book Audrey is surrounded by her family members whose dynamics and interactions with each other were quirky to say the least.  They felt like a family you'd know (or are a part of).  They're loud, in each other's business, pretty peculiar but ultimately they love each other.  Audrey's mom is hilarious and, at times, frustrating but for me anyways, she had some valid concerns about 'screen time'.  She definitely had an over-the-top obsessive need to manage 15 year old Frank's video game usage which went into the farcical realm but as a mom of teenage boys myself, I can somewhat relate to her feelings.  I have to admit that I've had similar discussions about the merits of video gaming (although not nearly as wild/bizarre as Frank and his mom) with my own teenage boys.  My boys will be happy to know that reading Frank's reasons for his love of gaming gave me a new point of view that I'll definitely take to heart.

There's even a sweet romance thrown into the mix.  Ahh,l'amour!  When I first read the synopsis I was concerned that it would turn into a 'boy saves girl' issue (of which I'm rarely a fan).  Although love is grand I don't think it can cure acute anxiety disorder.  Luckily Kinsella handled that issue well and gave it a more realistic conclusion.

This was a quick read with Audrey as an engaging narrator.  Kinsella has written a story with some very funny situations but balances the comedy with some tender and eye opening moments that help her readers to understand the complexities of mental illness. While I still consider this to be a light read Kinsella dealt with mental illness in a respectful manner and will hopefully enlighten people about the issues surrounding mental illness.

My Rating: 4 stars

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

Monday, 18 January 2016

Our Basement Renovation - In The Beginning

Over the past 15 months Brad and I have worked our butts off to renovate our basement. Okay, truth be told, Brad did 85% of the work (because he be handy!!) with me backing him up on many of the jobs including design, painting, digging a trench, furniture buying and insulating against sound.  Oh ya, I said digging a trench!  I got my reno on! Look out Joanna Gaines, there's a new home reno gal in town!

This was a HUGE endeavor and probably much bigger than we had anticipated but it's all been worth it because, so far, it has come out exactly how we wanted it.  We are in the home stretch!! Over the next little while, amongst my book reviews and recipe posts, I'll be showing you the progress of our basement.  We went from the bare 'what the builder left us with' bones to a beautiful space that we now use on a daily basis.  

Currently we are about 90% done the entire process.  The only things left are the trim (baseboards, window and door frames), doors to be hung (including a set of 5-panel barn doors), adding stone veneer on our fireplace and buying some extra pieces of furniture and sundries to decorate.  This is not our first rodeo so we opted to spend more and get trades to do some of the work.  They know their craft so much better than us and I'll indicate when we've taken on projects.  There will be at least one DIY project post too.

As two self-proclaimed control freaks this renovation experience is a big thing for us to tackle.  We've done small renovations in our current house and our previous two houses in the past (a bathroom here, a new kitchen there, painting up the wazoo, new flooring etc) but never an entire floor of a house.  We were entering uncharted territory but we had a vision, we made plans and were able to bring it to fruition.  And we still love each other. That's no small feat.

In the Beginning ...  Back in November 2014, we started the renovation with our bare bones basement.  All we had was what the builder left us with - insulated walls and a lot of concrete floor.  We built our house in 2008 and until recently only used our basement as a place for the boys to play video games, as a make shift den for Brad, to house our extra fridge and deep freezer and, well ... crap.  Lots of junk that we hung onto. I'm letting you see some of my crazy so don't judge.  

And don't be jealous about our collection of mismatched couches. They've gone to a better place ... poor students who can't afford to care don't care that the couch we inherited from family members has brown 70's flowers all over it.

The Plan The living space in the basement is about 800 square feet so it was a big space to tackle.  Big space = big bucks so we wanted to make sure we had a plan.  I'm a visual person who has to see plans to truly understand how things will be laid out.  Luckily Brad knows AutoCad well.  He measured out our basement and "Cadded it".  This way we knew all of our dimensions and we could see exactly how furniture, cabinetry etc would fit into the space.  Call us geeks, I don't care. This system worked really well for us.

As you can see Brad and I wanted a lot of storage.  No one walks into a house and says 'This house has too much storage'.  No one.  Ever. So we opted to give our den two double closets as well as add storage to Brad's Shop/Utility Room for extra dry food storage (I love to buy in bulk when things are on sale).  This is over and above all the storage at the bar and the massive entertainment unit in the media area.  Ya, we love storage.

The first big project was to move plumbing for the powder room we would be installing.  When we were building our house we figured it would go in the far corner (at the far end where the wet bar is now).  After rethinking the layout we decided to move it across the room.  In TV Land these moves seem easy.  Dream boat Canadian TV home renovators extraordinaire Bryan Baeumler and Scott McGillivray seem to move bathrooms every other episode and in less than 60 minutes so how hard could it be?

O.M.G.  It was a lot of work.  We even got our kids working (and paid them well due to the extremely physical work).  We rented a jackhammer and moved the plumbing 22 feet. Yes, we dug a TWENTY-TWO FOOT concrete trench and then carted the rubble up the stairs and into a trailer on the driveway.  That stuff is freaking heavy!  

Then Brad put down the plumbing pipe into the trench, we poured the gravel over top and then he and I mixed, poured and smoothed 19 bags of concrete (we had a local plumber check things over too). Nothing says 'I love you' than spending a weekend mucking around with concrete.  Needless to say it was a lot of work and I never want to do that again.

This is where our basement renovation stood at the end of November 2014.  Yup, this was a loooong process but I look forward to detailing it out for you.  As I said we are currently about 90% done and most eager to finally have the basement completed.

Stay tuned for more updates!  

Next up: "Will I Ever Get All of This Drywall Dust Out of my House?" and "Honey, which of these 2,000 shades of Greige paint to you like the best?"

Friday, 15 January 2016

Bacon and Egg Pizza

I adore breakfast foods.  Eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, cinnamon rolls, waffles ....  I love 'em all!  It's also one of the few types of foods that my whole family can agree on. They hail me as awesome if I serve breakfast for supper.  S'all good, my small humans, s'all good because I hate making breakfast foods in the morning.  Too much clean up in the wee hours before my Caffeination Transformation process has taken effect.  I do so require love my morning java.  

One of the foods that I couldn't live without are eggs.  I eat them pretty much on a daily basis (a hard-boiled egg is a great snack) so making a breakfast-y pizza with eggs was a no brainer for me.  Add in some delicious additions which are tasty but also clean out my fridge and I'm a happy gal.

This is an easy meal that you could make at any time of the day.  Like any pizza you can personalize it with your favourite toppings - the combinations are endless.  Got some extra baby spinach?  Throw it on.  Got some leftover sausage?  Slice up that bad boy!  Have a hankering for feta?  Crumble on, my friend,  crumble on!

And these personal sized naan bread?  Where have you been all my life?  They are perfect for individual pizzas!  They bake up nice and crispy and they save time, y'all!!  We no longer have to schedule in the 'Family Pizza Night Argument' which consists of us trying to come up with a topping combination to suit everyone (which by the way there is no real answer because someone is always ticked off about the end result).  Now everyone can make their own pizza!  There is peace and harmony in the house, I'm not making all the pizza myself and there's warm pizza in d'bellies.  Another win for Mom!

Recipe for 1 personal pizza

1 personal sized naan bread
garlic powder
salt and pepper

1/2 tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
2 bacon slices, crumbled (or 3 tbsp of real bacon bits)
1/2 cup shredded marble cheese
2 eggs

Garnish Ideas - more cheese! Sprinkle of your favourite herb.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Line a baking pan with aluminum foil. 

Tip: You may want to have enough aluminum foil at the edges that enables you to fold it up over the edge of the naan just in case it starts to get overcooked as you wait for your eggs to set. 

Lightly spray or brush the foil with oil (don't skip this step - like I did - the foil will stick to your naan!).  Place the naan onto the baking sheet. 

Brush the outer edge of the naan lightly with oil.  Sprinkle with garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Place tomato slices into the centre of the naan bread.  Top with mushrooms, onion, bacon and shredded cheese.  Make two wells/divots among your toppings.  Crack each egg into a divot.  If you don't do this your egg whites will try to slide right off the pizza so shore them up with your mushrooms, onions and cheese.  It's like Jenga on pizza.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the egg whites are fully cooked or your eggs are set the way you like them.  

Remove from oven.  Top with extra cheese, herbs if you want.  Allow pizza to sit a couple of minutes so your toppings don't fall off when you cut into it.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Forgotten Room

Authors: Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Penguin Group Berkley
First Published: January 19, 2016
First Line: "New York City June 1944 - Kate -- The patter of rain against the blacked-out stained glass dome above where I sat numbed me like a hypnotist's gold watch."

Book Description from GoodReadsNew York Times bestselling authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig present a masterful collaboration—a rich, multigenerational novel of love and loss that spans half a century....

1945: When the critically wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought to a private hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, young Dr. Kate Schuyler is drawn into a complex mystery that connects three generations of women in her family to a single extraordinary room in a Gilded Age mansion.

Who is the woman in Captain Ravenel's portrait miniature who looks so much like Kate?  And why is she wearing the ruby pendant handed down to Kate by her mother?  In their pursuit of answers, they find themselves drawn into the turbulent stories of Gilded Age Olive Van Alen, driven from riches to rags, who hired out as a servant in the very house her father designed, and Jazz Age Lucy Young, who came from Brooklyn to Manhattan in pursuit of the father she had never known.  But are Kate and Cooper ready for the secrets that will be revealed in the Forgotten Room?

The Forgotten Room, set in alternating time periods, is a sumptuous feast of a novel brought to vivid life by three brilliant storytellers.

My Review: There are not many fictional novels that I've come across that have multiple authors, let alone three contributing authors, which is why this book caught my eye.  Add in the description of a historical fiction mystery within three generations of the same family and I knew this was a book for me.

From the description on the cover this book seems to be a historical mystery, but the romance aspect takes centre stage for most of the book.  It follows the lives of three women from three generations of the same family all with a link to an old New York City mansion.  There is Olive in 1892, her daughter Lucy in the 1920's and Lucy's daughter Kate, a doctor in 1944.  Also included are a hidden room, a ruby necklace and loads of familial secrets that bind these women's stories together.

The reason I love historical fiction is that the author draws vivid descriptions of an era long gone that I can picture in my mind as I read.  While I did get a taste of New York City in three different eras it wasn't nearly as detailed as I was hoping.  Instead the focus is on the three young women and their romances with the mystery aspect not picking up until closer to the end of the book (with some rather good twists, I might add).

For the most part I enjoyed this book. Sure, it felt a little unbelievable and contrived that these three women, from the same family, would all have such a strong connection to one room within the same building in New York City.   But it held my attention and was a good romp through the minefield that are familial secrets.  I will admit though that at the beginning of the book, and even continuing on towards the middle, I had a hard time keeping the three women and their stories straight in my head.  It was a little frustrating trying to keep these women's personalities, stories and love interests straight as the story jumped back and forth between them fairly quickly.  Eventually their stories stuck in my head but it took a bit before I got to that point.

The book came together well in the end as the various missing pieces are put into place - some of which I'm happy to say surprised me.  For a co-authored book I feel that it was written well and the writing styles were quite unified making the book feel like one person wrote the whole book with one exception.  For some reason, Kate's story is told in the first person while Olive and Lucy's stories are told in the third person.  Perhaps it was for that reason that I felt much more of a connection and interest in Kate's story than the other two.

In the end, this is a light, women's fiction read with a heavy dose of romance and a good mystery thrown in for good measure.  While the relationships were quite predictable and the story a little contrived I did enjoy the twists that the authors threw in later in the story. 

My Rating: 3.5 stars

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

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The Prairie Girl Cupcake Cookbook

Author: Jean Blacklock
Genre: Cookbook, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 128
Publisher: Appetite by Random House
First Published: January 12, 2016
First Line: "You might look at my early childhood -- born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the youngest of five children -- and say that I was destined to open a bakery."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe most decadent and delicious cupcakes imaginable, from Toronto's favorite bakery!

Raised as the youngest of five children in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Jean Blacklock has loved baking since she was a child. And while she found professional success as a lawyer and then as a wealth manager for a major bank, Jean always felt that her true career calling was to open a bakery. Luckily for cupcake addicts everywhere, the first Prairie Girl Bakery opened in downtown Toronto in 2011.

Focusing on classic techniques and ingredients--no shortening, mixes, frozen or stabilized products found here!--Prairie Girl took off at lightning speed. The vision is simple: exceptionally consistent, superior baking.

In Jean's first cookbook, Prairie Girl fans and cupcake aficionados alike will fall in love with these easy-to-bake, beautiful treats. Featuring all of Jean's everyday recipes such as Vanilla Cupcakes with Chocolate Icing, Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese icing, and the ever-popular Red Velvet, you will also learn about pantry necessities and how to perfect the art of icing. Additionally, you'll get a glimpse into the various Treats of the Week--everything from fruity flavours such as Cherry Cheesecake to the decadent options such as Caramel-filled Chocolate to an adults-only Irish Cream and kid-friendly Peanut Butter and Jam. You'll also find both vegan and gluten-free options!

With over 50 recipes for both cupcakes and icings, The Prairie Girl Cupcake Cookbook is a new classic for baking lovers everywhere.

My ReviewCupcakes.  Those divine little tasties that look almost too pretty to eat.  Almost.

In this new cookbook, Canadian baker and now author Jean Blacklock shares some of her favourite recipes.  She has a wonderfully down-to-earth voice as she introduces her book, tells a little about her history going from the prairies in central Canada to the owner of three bakeries in Toronto.  

Jean is the queen of cupcakes and this book is filled with beautifully enticing pictures of her creations as well as tips and tricks.  She shares many traditional cupcake recipes such as Golden Buttermilk, Dark Cocoa, Red Velvet and Carrot and also includes more decadent recipes such as Black Forest, Key Lime, Peanut Praline, Strawberry Daiquiri cupcakes.  The list goes on and on.  They're sinfully delicious and totally doable for the home baker!

I appreciated the pantry items section where Jean lists many of her main ingredients and explains why not taking liberties with a recipe, especially a baking recipe, is important. Tip to home cooks - recipe developers don't often enjoy it when you change up their original recipe - especially when it comes to baking because baking is a science, y'all! If you want the same result you've got to follow the instructions. Going for low fat margarine over butter or using the wrong kind of flour etc will effect the outcome of your treat.  So I appreciate that Jean takes her readers through various ingredients and why some of these important items should be followed to the 'T'.

What I will take away from this book, besides three cupcakes that I inhaled and loads of recipes to try, are some of Jean's tips and tricks.  I like to bake.  I find it cathartic, creative and I love to share it with others.  But even I learned a thing or three from this book.  Namely, don't skimp on whipping your butter and sugar together.  When I read that I was to cream my butter and sugar in my stand mixer for 8 minutes on medium-high speed I thought it was a typo.  Nope.  I was amazed at how fluffy the result was and how much of a difference that made to the texture of the cupcake.  Which, by the way, was the BEST homemade golden cupcake recipe I've ever made.  My quest to find a 'from scratch' white(ish) cupcake is complete! And for those who want vegan or gluten-free?  Jean's got you covered with several mouth watering recipes (including icings) to choose from.

Speaking of icings, Jean shares a variety of delicious icings from strawberry, lemon and peppermint to homemade lime curd, cafe au lait and even some adult-only variations like Pina Colada!  I also plan to use her trick for making delicious fruity icings!  After I baked her Golden Buttermilk Cupcakes I topped them with her Orange Icing. O-M-G!  It's a perfectly flavoured whipped icing that the kids and I kept dipping our fingers into.  It's great if you have a sweet tooth because it makes a lot!

The only wee negative that I have about the book is the binding.  I love hardcover books because they look nice but for a cookbook I much prefer having a book that will stay open on its own. 

Overall I was very impressed with this cookbook which focuses on classic cupcake recipes with simple yet impressive icings.  The recipes are impressive yet easy enough for the casual home baker to make on their own.  Jean can expect a visit from The Baking Bookworm at one of her bakeries in the near future. 

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Appetite-Random House Publishing for providing me with a complimentary hardcover of this cookbook in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Pillars of Light

Author: Jane Johnson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Pages: 469
Publisher: DoubleDay Canada
First Published: February 5, 2016
First Line: "Summer 1187 - It was born a godless creature."

Book Description from GoodReadsIn the Syrian city of Akka, Nathanael, a young Jewish doctor, and a Muslim girl called Zohra are about to fall in love, unaware that Jerusalem has just been taken by Saladin's army and that their city will soon be engulfed by war.

Meanwhile in England, John Savage, a foundling boy, runs away from his cruel life in a priory with The Moor, a mysterious man driven by a dream of perfection.

John and The Moor become members of a band of conmen travelling through the English countryside faking religious miracles for cash, until they are recruited in Richard the Lionheart's drive to regain the Latin Kingdom from the infidel. Akka awaits. It will be the site of the greatest--and cruelest--siege of its time. But even in the midst of war, lovers find ways to make transactions of beauty.

Pillars of Light is a powerful and moving novel about the triumph of the human spirit against all the odds. It will delight fans of Philippa Gregory, Ken Follett and Diana Gabaldon. 

My Review: I went into this book thinking that it was a romance set within a historical fiction backdrop of a 12th century siege.  What I got was an engrossing, vivid and human look at the impact of war on the people involved with some romance thrown in for good measure.

Initially the book feels like two stories in one.  The plot is told via multiple story lines with one starring John Savage and his group of English misfits who are on their way to help Richard the Lionheart's crusade to take Akka.  The other story line focuses on a Jewish and a Muslim family living in Akka and how they endure during the siege on their city.  These two story lines ultimately converge and show not only the brutality of war but how it affected people.

This was the first time I've read a book by Jane Johnson and I was quickly engaged by her writing style which is wonderfully vivid and introduces her readers to an era and cultures that readers may not know much about.  She does this in an engaging way without bogging down the plot's pace as she deftly includes information on Syria's history, religious architecture and the two year siege of Akka in the 12th century.  Ultimately she shows what happens when humanity does its worst to each other, each group fighting for what they believe is right. 

The common theme throughout the book was that we have more similarities than differences. This includes similarities in religion, family life, love and relationships with the author focusing on romantic relationships that were considered unorthodox at that time -- Jew and Muslim, Muslim and Christian and homosexual -- yet all had the same basis ... love.

"What did it matter that they each came from a different family, from a different culture?  Jewish, Muslim and in Nima's case who-new-what?  This was how the world should be -- people brought together by love." (pg 393)

"There is a savagery in all of us." (pg 426)

I found Johnson's way of writing about war very unique in that her readers get to see war from many different sides.  She shows the Christian side as they try to take Akka, the human side of the war through the eyes of the people, both Jew and Muslim, who live within the walls of Akka, John Savage's group and the two armies' points of view.  Throughout all of these different viewpoints, but especially through the citizens of Akka, Johnson brings the emotional side of war to the forefront as the reader sees the human toll of long battles - from starvation, disease, loss and brutality.  The author holds nothing back.  Johnson also gives her readers a glimpse into how this war affects people at various levels - from the commoner in Akka, to the soldiers on the battlefield to King Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.

Johnson describes war in a raw, vivid and brutal telling and shows the horror and often senselessness of war but she also brings to light the more human results of war. Readers, don't be afraid of this book's size!  You will enjoy this intelligent, historical read (similar in feel to Ken Follett's style) and will quickly get caught up in the characters lives and the historical references.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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

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