Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review

What a year! Especially the last month-ish. Here's the recap from a personal level:
  • January I was in full hibernation mode. I went nowhere and did nothing.
  • February I turned, well, the corner into the downhill slide to 40. Had the one and only snow day of the year and painted the laundry room.
  • March The Spawn turned ten. My department at work doubled in size - going from one (me) to two (Mexinese). This guy is my hero!
  • April I took my first vacation in... a long time... and went to Las Vegas.
  • May the first bat appeared in the house.
  • June The calm before the storm...
  • July The month of insanity. The Spawn went to camp for the first time. Both kids had swimming lessons and VBS. Summer Conference for work. The Spawn had pink eye. Bats #2 through 7 were in the house.
  • August Tried to keep this month as simple as possible. I attended a bachelorette party. The CofC went to the fair. Work took on a whole new level of challenge.
  • September Sent The Diva off to school.
  • October The Diva's daycare closed and we had to find a new daycare. The Diva turned five. Boyfriend and I broke up.
  • November Had a minor fender bender the end of the month. I took on a second job. The Diva's school switched teachers. Bat #8 came out of hiding. Completed an essay for a writing contest.
  • December The busiest month.ever. The Winter Conference for work, The Spawn's orchestra concert, making gingerbread houses with The Diva, and an offer to write a newspaper column were a few highlights. A car accident that totalled out the car was not a favorite highlight, but thankfully no one was hurt. Bats #9 and 10 were also not on my top ten list.
So that was my personal life in a nutshell. Probably explains why reading was put on a back burner. Well, that and this little thing called Pinterest... So let's wrap up what happened on the book front this year:
  • I made up my own little book challenge to try to move things off the TBR shelf. It was a good effort, but the "restriction" of my normal reading habits became tiresome. Sometime around the halfway mark I gave up completely.
  • Goal of  47 books for the year: failed. Finished the year with 37 books, and 2 books that I'm still trying to finish up going into 2013.
  • Reducing the TBR shelf: failed. Even though I did some serious culling in the last few months, I just didn't read enough to keep up with the new books.
So what's up for 2013? I have no idea. I don't know if I'm going to set a To Read goal this year. This may be the year where I eliminate the TBR shelf. Ideally I'd like to have that shelf around 20 books - 10 "real" books and 10 e-books, but I don't know that would ever happen. I'll keep y'all posted!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pizza Rolls

I found this recipe on Pinterest (see, it's not all evil), but I didn't save the link. I found this when I was looking for a variation of pizza for The Spawn. Pizza is one of the few foods he'll eat, so we may eat it up to three times a week. Pizza is not one of my favorite foods, so I was in desparate straits when I gave this recipe a try. The first time I made this, I followed the recipe (shown in the photo) and the bottom of the rolls never fully cooked. So I have done some experimenting and made a few tweaks and now they turn out perfect every time. Both kids get excited when these are on the menu and I've even come to appreciate them.

1 can refrigerated jumbo biscuits
about 3/4 of an 8oz. cheese block cut into 8 cubes, any flavor - we like mild cheddar
16 slices pepperoni
1 egg beaten
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 to 1 tsp italian seasoning
pizza, marinara or alfredo sauce for dipping

Move oven rack down one space from "typical center". [Okay, has anyone else ever noticed that the "center" of the oven really isn't the center? Drives.me.crazy. Moving on...] Preheat oven to temperature indicated on biscuit container, usually 375°F.

Lightly spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Take each biscuit and press it flat with your hand. It shouldn't be thin, just spread out more.

Place one cheese cube and 2 slices of pepperoni in the center of each biscuit. Fold up all the edges around the cheese and pepperoni and pinch closed. These should stay closed well by themselves.

Place each pizza roll with seam end on the cookie sheet and some space between each one.

Brush rolls with beaten egg.

Combine parmesan cheese, garlic powder and italian seasoning. Sprinkle over rolls.

Bake for recommended time on the biscuit package, usually 15 minutes or until tops are lightly browned.

Serve with dipping sauce of choice.

These freeze well uncooked and without the egg/seasoning on them. Allow to thaw in the fridge for one day before baking.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Diva's Butterfly Cupcakes


In case anyone has noticed and is wondering: Yes, The Spawn does have birthdays too, but with the exception of the makeup-for-being-a-bad-mom-chess-cake, he prefers very simple vanilla on vanilla cakes. For which I do have an awesome vanilla cake recipe that I will post for his next birthday, I promise... Now, on to The Diva's birthday cupcakes from like,  two months ago... These adorable butterflies came about from the combination of two Pinterest ideas and a little bit of "what I already have in my cupboards". I apologize in advance for the lack of thorough How To photos... I might have gotten bored halfway through making these...

What you need:
24 baked and frosted cupcakes, your flavor choices
48 tiny twist pretzels
pull and peel twizzlers, pulled apart and cut to 24 pieces (I eyeballed it, but approximately 3" long) flavor/color of choice
24 tootsie rolls flavored or plain and cut in half lengthwise
96 M&M's in color matching sets of 4 (or if you want to do whatever, do whatever.
Melted almond bark. I used white and chocolate separately.
wax paper

Here's what you do:
Spread a long piece of wax paper out on the counter. The assembled butterflies take a bit to set up to be moveable so you'll need space to do a lot of them. I found it better to completely assemble each butterfly before moving on to the next one. Place two pretzels with the wide end together as shown in the photo above.

Fill pretzel space with melted almond bark as shown. You'll want to spoon a good amount across the center to help secure the butterfly antennae and body.

Fold twizzler in half and place fold at the top center of pretzel. This is the antennae. (Did I need to tell you that? I really just like typing "antennae"...) They should spring open on their own. If they don't, then give them a little nudge with your fingertip after you place the body.

[Insert epic fail for lack of pictures, here] Place one cut tootsie roll in the center of the pretzels, cutside down and covering the twizzler bend.

Place one M&M in each section of the wing. I tried to place mine without the "m" showing.

Allow to harden completely (about half an hour depending on the kitchen temp) before placing on top of cupcakes.

These keep well for about two days. After that the tootsie rolls and twizzlers will start to goop up [sorry for the techinical term] due to the moisture in the frosting.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Whole Wheat Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

These are a solid staple in my house as both kids love them. I bake up a batch and throw them in the freezer for grab and go breakfasts or afternoon snacks.
 
3 mashed ripe bananas
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips (I use mini chips)
 
Preheat oven to 375°F and place liners in a muffin pan.
 
In a medium bowl, mash bananas (can use a fork or the mixer) and add in oil, milk, eggs and vanilla mixing until well combined.
 
In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and chocolate chips.
 
Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and combine until just blended (do not overmix).
 
Fill each muffin well about 3/4 full.
 
Bake 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
 
Place muffins on a cooling rack and allow them to sit 10-15 minutes before attempting to remove the wrapper.
 
Makes 12 large muffins.
 
Recipe found in Blue Spring 2012 Newsletter.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wanted: An Interesting Life

Wanted: An Interesting LifeWanted: An Interesting Life by Bev Katz Rosenbaum
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Meh. Another trying-to-be-cutesy romance. I couldn't get into this one - the main heroine wasn't well put together. She did a lot of things that were out of character and despite the author's attempt to rationalize it, I just didn't buy it. The main guy was waaaay too "girly" to be believable. Maybe I'm a romantic pessimist at the moment, but I couldn't get interested in this book at all.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Browned Hamburger



Browned hamburger isn't hard. It isn't even really extraordinary, but it is one of those things that I can't live without in my freezer. I make mine in smallish batches. I usually start with a 5lb. log of ground beef and cut it into 6 sections. Each of my "pounders" is actually less than a pound. Why? Well, 1) I don't usually have a lot of money in my food budget so if I can squeeze an extra meal out of something, I will. b) Hamburger isn't on The Spawn's "things to eat" list, so usually it's just The Diva and I eating it. This is just enough for our meal and one or two servings of leftovers.

I also like to throw in extra "stuff" in my browned hamburger - stuff like roasted tomatoes, red peppers, onions, carrots, grated zucchini, basically anything that might have a possible nutritional or flavor value. It's different every time depending on what I have on hand. On this particular day, I had onions, red peppers and shredded carrots on hand. For future reference I will likely grind up shredded carrots.

3lbs. ground beef (I use the highest quality I can afford)
finely chopped onions, peppers, onions about 1/4 to 1/3 cup each depending on your taste

Brown everything together in a high sided pan on the stove - or in a crockpot on high. If you choose the crockpot method, you will need to stir every 30 minutes for about the first 1-1/2 hours or you'll end up with meatloaf. Leave in the crockpot an additional hour to finish cooking.

Strain meat well. Allow to cool and separate into three containers. Freezes well for quick meals such as tacos, spaghetti and last minute casseroles.

The Good Life Rules

The Good Life Rules: 8 Keys to Being Your Best at Work and at PlayThe Good Life Rules: 8 Keys to Being Your Best at Work and at Play by Bryan Dodge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was fortunate to see one of Bryan Dodge's inspirational talks a few years ago. This guy is really enthusiastic, believes what he's saying and cares 100%. But is his book as good as his talk? Absolutely. The book is just as energetic as his talks. At the end of every chapter, or "rule", there is an action plan to bring a good life rule into YOUR life. Now, don't get bent out of shape, these rules are meant for you to incorporate into your own goals, your priorities, your schedule. These rules are meant to work for everyone. Your goal list isn't going to look like my goal list, but using Bryan's enthusiasm and inspiration, anyone can do this.

I thought after reading this book that I would donate it to the work library, but I think I'm going to keep it to periodically remind myself to reset.

Synopsis: Learn one of the most life-changing messages in the world from one of its most dynamic speakers.

Bryan Dodge's message is spreading from coast to coast--and transforming lives day by day. With 600,000 radio listeners at Dallas' WBAP--and hundreds of speaking engagements each year, Dodge definitely has something to say. Something that could change your life . . . in 48 hours.

His message is this: the good life is within our reach-- once we know how to find it. His simple but powerful lessons show us the way to find more satisfaction at work and at home, how to embrace change, create upward growth, and focus on the things that really matter. These are "The Good Life Rules."



Recommended Reading:
The Richest Man in Babylon by George Samuel Clason
Steak with Friends by Rick Tramonto
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Thank God it's Monday by Roxanne Emmerich
Second Acts That Change Lives by Mary Beth Sammons

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Stress and The City

Stress & the CityStress & the City by Stephanie Rowe
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I didn't finish this book. I'm not sure how to approach writing this review, so this might seem all over the place. First I'm all for writing having a "voice", but when both characters have monologues in their heads that read like Hammy (from The Hedge. If you haven't seen this movie, you must. Go. Now.) I have to wonder how much caffeine the author drank while writing this. Second, this book started well - I had high hopes for it. The heroine has just returned from a solo honeymoon after discovering her groom cheating on her the night before the wedding... and then it just falls apart. Or more accurately, SHE falls apart. I'm with it. What I'm not with was the obsession/stalking the heroine took up with the main guy in the story. In real life, this would have been a restraining order. Third, I was halfway through the book and the two main characters hadn't spent more than a few minutes with each other - but yet they were mooning about each other in their heads. Neh. Where's the love story? It wasn't there for me.

Synopsis: Cassie Halloway is definitely not losing it! So she sucked face with a perfect stranger to prove she was over her ex-fiancĂ©. So the new guy nearly made her swoon and forget anyone else was around. And so he turned out to be Ty Parker, her latest client. And, okay, so maybe he’s just a little engaged to another woman…Whatever! As a brilliant stress-management consultant, Cassie has everything perfectly under control. And soon she’ll be able to face a stress-free Ty with equal calm.

After all, there’s no problem a little chocolate therapy can’t cure…is there?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Oatmeal Milky Way Brownie Bars

Consider this your warning: These are the crack cocaine of all brownies. I found this recipe at I Am Baker. I did bake mine slightly different as I thought her bars looked under-done.

Brownies:
2 cups old fashioned oats (I actually used quick cook and they came out fine)
2 cups flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2-1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups boxed brownie mix (I used a generic dark chocolate mix)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 egg

Caramel Sauce:
11 oz. bag Kraft caramel bits (I used the regular caramel cubes)
1/2 cup heavy cream (I forgot to buy and used milk + a tablespoon or so of butter)
2 (regular sized) Milky Way candy bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine oats, flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar, and butter. Either use a fork (pastry cutter) to incorporate or just use your hands. It's ok if there are some chunks of butter, but no larger than pea-sized.

Add in brownie mix, egg, and oil. Stir until just combined.

Using a prepared 9x13 baking dish, spread half of the oat mixture into the dish and press firmly to flatten. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

In a medium sauce pan, place Milky Way bars, caramels (wrappers removed if using the cubes), and heavy cream. Allow to simmer over medium to medium low heat until fully melted. Remove from heat and let cool approximately ten minutes. (Make this while first brownie layer is baking. This will allow both the brownie layer and the caramel layer to cool perfectly.)

Pour the caramel sauce over the first brownie layer, making sure to get all the way to the corners.

Top with remaining oat mixture.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.

These froze very well.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Banana Bread in ABM

This is the first banana bread in a bread machine recipe I've seen that comes out very moist. A favorite with The CofC.

1/3 cup + 1 tbsp buttermilk (I used 1/3 cup + 1tbsp water and 1-1/2 tbsp buttermilk powder)*
1/2 cup butter, cut into chunks for easier mixing
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 mashed bananas
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 cups bread flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

All ingredients should be at room temperature. Place ingredients in bread machine on quick bread or cake cycle. (I used quick bread on medium crust and it seemed to cook the bread too thoroughly in some places so a lighter crust option may get better results.)

*I have also used 1/3 cup milk + 1 tbsp vinegar.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Blackened Chicken and Beans

It's been so long since I actually made this, I'm having a hard time remembering what worked and what didn't... I think this might have been too spicy for The Diva (don't you just love her photo bomb?) and when/if I make it again I'll cut the spices. It made a lot of corn and beans so I would also cut back on those amounts as well.

2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 tbsp canola oil
15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup chunky salsa

Combine chili powder, salt and pepper; rub over both sides of chicken. In a large nonstick skillet, cook chicken in oil over medium heat for 4-5 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer reads 170 degrees F. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.

Add the beans, corn and salsa to skillet; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until heated through. Transfer to a serving dish; serve with chicken.

Garnish with sour cream and chips.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Todd's Best Ever Margarita

I received this recipe from a co-worker. I personally wouldn't call it the "best ever" margarita - it was a little too boozy for me. Next time I'm in the mood I will probably try it without the beer. (Or maybe without the Tequila and call it a Beergarita? Hmmmm....)

And before you even ask... when it comes to Tequila, here's the rules.

If you're drinking it straight, buy the spendy stuff.
If you're mixing it, buy the cheapest bottle you can find.

Ice to desired coldness
12 oz can 7Up (or other lemon lime soda)
12 oz beer (recommend Modelo or Dos Equis)
6 oz (1/2 can) limeade concentrate thawed
6 oz Tequila

The first time I made this, I didn't really think about it and put it in the blender... it took me a week to get it cleaned off my cabinets. Due to carbonation in the beer and soda, I strongly urge you to follow these instructions...

Use a container that will hold all the ingredients and leave approximately 1/2 the container empty for headroom and has a tight fitting lid. I fill my container halfway with ice, but use as much or little ice as you like. Pour ingredients in order into container, place lid securely on container and GENTLY shake to mix.

Pour over shaved ice or ice cubes to serve.

This makes quite a bit of drink, so make sure you're able to drink all of it or have friends to help you!

The Elephant in the Playroom

The Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About the Extraordinary Highs and Heartbreaking Lows of Raising Kids with Special NeedsThe Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About the Extraordinary Highs and Heartbreaking Lows of Raising Kids with Special Needs by Denise Brodey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a remarkable collection of essays written by the parents of special needs children. What surprised me the most was the quality of the writing - neither too professional nor too unpracticed - everything was well paced. I enjoyed the variety of the essays and the topics covered.

As the parent of a child with high-functioning Aspergers, I found the autism stories more meaningful - and also a reminder of how much worse things could be for my son.

Synopsis: Candid, passionate, personal, and heartbreakingly funny, a view from within the whirlwind of parenting a child with special needs

Three years ago, magazine editor Denise Brodey's precocious four-year-old son, Toby, was diagnosed with a combination of sensory integration dysfunction and childhood depression. As she struggled to make sense of her new, often chaotic, often lonely world, what she found comforted her most was talking with other harried, hopeful, and insightful parents of kids with special needs, learning how they coped with the feelings they encountered throughout the day.

In The Elephant in the Playroom, moms and dads from across the country write intimately and honestly about the joyful highs and disordered lows of raising children who are 'not quite normal.' Laying bare the emotional, medical, and social challenges they face, their stories address issues ranging from if and when to medicate a child, to how to get a child who is overly sensitive to the texture of food to eat lunch. Eloquent and honest, the voices in this collection will provide solace and support for the millions of parents whose kids struggle with ADD, ADHD, sensory disorders, childhood depression, Asperger's syndrome, and autism, as well as the many kids who fall between diagnoses.

Offering readers comfort, community, and much-needed perspective, The Elephant in the Playroom is sure to become essential reading for parents of special needs kids.


Recommended Reading:
Love You to Pieces by Suzanne Kamata
Road Map to Holland by Jennifer Graf Groneberg
Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid by Gina Gallagher
Being the Other One by Kate Strohm
Miles from the Sideline by Maura Weis

Saturday, September 29, 2012

On The 'Flipside'

"So, Sherbs, what's up with all these Harlequin Flipsides?"

Yeah... about those short trashy romance novels... I really don't know how to defend myself. They've been around forever. Like, seriously, I think I started collecting them before I moved in with my ex-fiancee and that was way back in 2004-ish. They've been moved and rejected so many times, but I can't seem to completely let them go. I don't know what it is about them, but I was completely obsessed with gettting and reading all of them.

This year I decided "This is IT." I'm getting rid of these books once and for all. So I'm trying to read as many as possible by year end to ease my guilty conscience...

... and then maybe read the Hunger Games trilogy?? We'll see. I may get to that one this year yet.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Lothaire

Lothaire (Immortals After Dark #11)Lothaire by Kresley Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was really excited to get this book. I wanted to see what KC did with the biggest, baddest vampire around - and I am so glad that she didn't let me down. Great characters - a vampire whose mind has gone over the edge? brilliant! A redneck girl from the mountains? Genius! The storyline was there all the way through, even when things got messy and people/immortals started to fall in love, the plot stayed focused. The ending was a little too fairytale-ish, although I think Lothaire is still bad, he's not "pure evil".

Synopsis: ALL FEAR THE ENEMY OF OLD

Driven by his insatiable need for revenge, Lothaire, the Lore’s most ruthless vampire, plots to seize the Horde’s crown. But bloodlust and torture have left him on the brink of madness—until he finds Elizabeth Peirce, the key to his victory. He captures the unique young mortal, intending to offer up her very soul in exchange for power, yet Elizabeth soothes his tormented mind and awakens within him emotions Lothaire believed he could no longer experience.

A DEADLY FORCE DWELLS WITHIN HER

Growing up in desperate poverty, Ellie Peirce yearned for a better life, never imagining she’d be convicted of murder—or that an evil immortal would abduct her from death row. But Lothaire is no savior, as he himself plans to sacrifice Ellie in one month’s time. And yet the vampire seems to ache for her touch, showering her with wealth and sexual pleasure. In a bid to save her soul, Ellie surrenders her body to the wicked vampire, while vowing to protect her heart.

CENTURIES OF COLD INDIFFERENCE SHATTERED

Elizabeth tempts Lothaire beyond reason, as only his fated mate could. As the month draws to a close, he must choose between a millennia-old blood vendetta and his irresistible prisoner. Will Lothaire succumb to the miseries of his past . . . or risk everything for a future with her?



Recommended Reading:
Wicked Nights by Gena Showalter
Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole
Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost
Immortal Riders by Larissa Ione
Spirit Bound by Christine Feehan
Midnight Reckoning by Kendra Leigh Castle

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Pop-Up Dating

Pop-Up DatingPop-Up Dating by Natale Stenzel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was so "not into" this book, I can't even say what the main characters names were. The story line just wasn't there. I didn't finish this book.

Synopsis: There's nothing trivial about the pursuit of passion. At least not when Cassie Smythe and her friend - who have OD'd on "serious relationships" - decide they're in for a good time, not a long time. Scoping out the terrain, they discover passion is not on tap in sports bars and that cyberromance is as exciting as a loose connection. And trolling? That nets nothing but trolls.

The only thing left is for Cassie to bite the bullet and introduce her friend to her own Mr. Maybe. The one she'd seen such a future with she never dared date him again. After all, she isn't ready to settle and he deserves a good relationship, right?

So why is she so reluctant to give up that number?

Note from Sherry: This is possibly the worst synopsis ever written. Totally not how this book played out (at least the 75% of it that I read) at all. What really happened was more like... main girl almost had a one nighter back in college with this guy. Fast forward 5 or 6 years, she runs into him again and decides to set him up with her broken hearted friend... all the while she wants the guy and the guy wants her and the friend knows all this.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Debutante

The Debutante: A NovelThe Debutante: A Novel by Kathleen Tessaro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can I call this the best book I've read this year?! This book was fun, interesting, detailed, historical... everything my inner nerd requires in a good book. I'm always slightly skeptical of books that deal with stories on two (or more) timelines. Flashback narratives annoy me - Which, my friends, is why I'm so happy to say this book... might have a few. A FEW. The past timeline of the story is played out through letters, just enough info to put the reader in "the know" while the characters in the contemporary timeline are still running around like headless chickens. I loved it! I even loved the little "mystery solved but nobody knew it" at the end. I thought the characters were great, quirky, sophisticated and oh so vulnerable. The story grabbed me from the start, although I did wonder if I had accidentally wandered into something 50 Shades of Gray - like. Fortunately, not. I felt the graphic language was applied where needed and was tastefully done. Loved loved loved this book! And now, I'm off to find another book by Kathleen Tessaro.

Synopsis: Can the secrets of one woman's past change another woman's future?

A gifted artist, Cate has come to London from New York to escape her recent past. Working for her aunt's auction house, she is sent down to Devon to value the contents of Endsleigh House, the once gracious but now crumbling estate of a former socialite. There, hidden in the back of a dusty bookshelf, Cate discovers an old shoebox. Inside is a strange assortment of objects: an exquisite pair of dancing shoes circa 1930; a diamond brooch; a photograph of a young sailor; a dance card; and a pearl and emerald Tiffanys bracelet.

Intrigued by her find, Cate sets out to solve the mystery of the box, becoming immersed in the story of its owner, Baby Blythe. Bright, beautiful, and reckless, Baby was the most famous debutante of her generation . . . and the most dangerous. As the clues begin to reveal a shocking tale of destructive, addictive love, Cate finds herself being drawn deeper into Baby's tragic life story--a story that will force Cate to face some dark truths about her own.



Recommended Reading:
Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro
The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel
The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate
The Overnight Socialite by Bridie Clark
Friday Mornings at Nine by Marilyn Brant
Take A Chance on Me by Jill Mansell

Thursday, September 13, 2012

I Will Survive

I Will SurviveI Will Survive by Samantha Connolly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As far as short romance stories go, this one was pretty good. The characters seemed well-rounded, although the plot seemed to center mostly on the heroine, I felt I never got to know the hero. Story line was something like Survivor but on a smaller scale. Secondary characters were a bit flat. Still a fun read.

Synposis: When mild-mannered librarian Jessie Banks ends up as a finalist on the hot reality TV show Survive This!, her whole world turns upside down. "Stranded" on a tropical island with Nick Garrett - a hunk of a host - and two other competitors, she's thousands of miles from home, with only her humor, her smarts and the contents of a clutch bag to help her win a million dollars.

Will she survive the scheming producer's ways, tricky challenges, secret cameras, the theatrics of the other contestants and Nick's charm and dirty good looks? Well, with her book knowledge, paractical skills and blossoming confidence, everyone else just might be surprised.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dracula

DraculaDracula by Bram Stoker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was sad that I didn't finish this book, but 2 months to get halfway through the book just seemed like a waste of my time. The story is told from multiple perspectives by way of journals and newspaper articles. The first perspective was that of Jonathan, and introduces us to Count Dracula. This was a quickly moving narrative, detailed and action filled. The next section is told from Mina's (Jonathan's affianced) and her friend Lucy's perspective. This was a slow moving section filled with monotonous details and not much information at all. I left the book just as Van Helsing and Dr. Seward joined the story. At this point the action does pick up quite a bit (a sexist hinting by the author perhaps?) but Van Helsing's monologues are long and often go no where. It was at this point that I gave up.

Synopsis: Count Dracula has inspired countless movies, books, and plays. But few, if any, have been fully faithful to Bram Stoker's original, best-selling novel of mystery and horror, love and death, sin and redemption. Dracula chronicles the vampire's journey from Transylvania to the nighttime streets of London. There, he searches for the blood of strong men and beautiful women while his enemies plot to rid the world of his frightful power.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Secret Year

The Secret YearThe Secret Year by Jennifer R. Hubbard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book in one day - partly because it wasn't a long book and partly because I had to see how it ended NOW. At times I thought the book might have been better written with adult characters - some of the situations and emotional responses were more adult-like than I think a teenager would be capable of (but I think that a lot about YA novels, so maybe it's just me). The story is well-written and the plot is more emotion driven than action driven. Julia's personality is strongly felt in memories and through her diary, which rounded out the characterization and the story development. Characters were nicely done. Overall a nicely written book.

Synopsis: Take Romeo and Juliet. Add The Outsiders. Mix thoroughly. Colt and Julia were secretly together for an entire year, and no one - not even Julia's boyfriend knew. They had nothing in common, with Julia in her country club world on Black Mountain and Colt from down on the flats, but it never mattered. Until Julia dies in a car accident, and Colt learns the price of secrecy. He can't mourn Julia openly, and he's tormented that he might have played a part in her death. When Julia's journal ends up in his hands, Colt relives their year together at the same time that he's desperately trying to forget her. But how do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?


Recommended Reading:
Rosebush by Michele Jaffe
Try Not to Breathe by Jennifer R. Hubbard
Where It Began by Ann Reddisch Stampler
By the Time You Read This by Julie Ann Peters
Dead to You by Lisa McMann
The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg

Thursday, August 30, 2012

So Many Books ... Part II

The Spawn is harassing me. Constant badgering. I swear, sometimes I even hear him in my sleep... "Read The Hunger Games series"... and then I wake up and he's standing over me saying, "Mom. Seriously. You read Twilight twice but you won't read Hunger Games. You disappoint."

In an effort to read The Hunger Games series guilt-free... there's been more shelf purging. It's like my shelves are puking up books. There's all kinds of things going out the door - erm, well, okay not the door. More like getting shoved into stacks in my closet to be dealt with later. I'm even purging my current read stack. Seriously? I've been trying to read Dracula for over two months and I'm not half done yet. It's not happening. Anyways, here's what has moved into the closet. Hopefully they'll find a better home at a later date.

Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin. The first two were part of a series and the third, well, it just seemed wrong to keep.

One Enchanted Evening by Lynn Kurland. It was hard letting this one go. I used to love Lynn Kurland's books, but then well, I changed and she stayed the same. The books started to become repetitious and the family/character chain so convoluted, I couldn't keep it straight. The fact that this sat on my shelves for over 2 years is an indication of my reluctance to read it.

Embassytown by China Mieville. I received this in a giveaway on goodreads.com. I started to read it, but put it away hoping to get back to it at some point when my brain cells were fully functioning. Well, that's never gonna happen. This is probably a great read for someone who like science fiction and likes figuring everything out without any explanation. I like sci fi well enough, I just need to be fed details a little more than this book did.

The Other Woman by Jane Green.

Smart and Sexy by Jill Shalvis.

Also hitting the road:
  • 2 computer books (let's be real: I barely have time to post to this blog, much less make a really cool webpage)
  • 5 German language books (see above regarding time)
Things are going a lot better on the reading front now that I've gotten those things out of the way. I actually feel excited to read.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Forget Prince Charming

Forget Prince CharmingForget Prince Charming by Natale Stenzel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A very generic romance. Characterization was lacking - we never really saw evidence of the hero's "nerdiness" other than he owned a chain of computer stores. The story fizzled out a few chapters in. Eh... pretty generic.

Synopsis: Haley Watson has kissed one too many Prince Charmings -- those major hunks with major character flaws. She caught her latest ex-hunk warming up for their romantic weekend by having sex with his secretary. So if all princes are jerks, then geeks -- aka frogs -- must actually be a sweet, reliable, overlooked species. Natural habitat: computer stores and libraries.
But just when Haley has a real live geek in her sights, her new neighbor Rick Samuels -- the Anti-Nerd -- starts in with the charm. Haley informs him that she dates only hotties with pocket protectors and thick glasses.

Rick resents Haley's stereotyping and feels it's time to teach Haley rule #1 of the Genus Geekus ....
 
Some frogs really are just frogs. And some princes are frogs in disguise.

Friday, August 17, 2012

So Many Books...

... so little time.

Occasionally this happens. And by "occasionally" I mean very very often. It's not that I don't want to read these books, I just want to read other books more. Right now my bookshelves are overflowing. Trust me, if you think my TBR page looks a little ridiculous... try not to think about the fact that I'm behind updating that page by about 20 books. *sigh*

In moments of desparation, to keep myself from being overwhelmed (and my family from checking me into a mental facility) I cull out the books that I've accepted I'll never get to read. Here's the latest on my I Give Up list:

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan. I bought this one for The Spawn. I don't think he finished reading it, honestly. I added it to my list because I really enjoyed the Percy Jackson books. I trust The Spawn's judgment - if it's not worth finishing, I shouldn't start.

Listen by Rene Gutteridge; Tiger Eye by Marjorie M. LiuFatal Judgment by Irene Hannon; Man Law by Adrienne Giordano; Blood Safari by Deon Meyer; Irresistible Forces by Brenda Jackson. These were all Nook Book freebies. No harm, no foul.

A Hopeless Romantic by Harriet Evans. I picked this up because it was in the recommended reading list for another book that I enjoyed. This book is HUGE! I like chick lit, but not that much. I kept reshuffling (every day I'm shuffling... uh-hem. Sorry.) it around my book shelf just to avoid reading it.

Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie, Bob Mayer. This was recommended by a friend. I wanted to try to read it, but honestly I just don't think it's my kind of reading. (And if you figure out what my kind of reading is, please let me know.)

I know there's a few others that should go, I just haven't gotten up the nerve to do it. Maybe I'll update the TBR page and it will inspire me a little further.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Cupid Effect

The Cupid EffectThe Cupid Effect by Dorothy Koomson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. This woman can write. Great story, great characters... oh man.

The first thing I notice in every Dorothy Koomson book is that her characters start out completely whole - they are real people with personality. The main character, Ceri, is no exception here. By page six I wanted to be her best friend. Or I just wanted to be her.

The storyline here was less dramatic than I expected, but great nonetheless. It has a supernatural twist that isn't forced or overanalyzed, it just is.

The one thing that still got me was the ending. I said this about the last DK book that I read and it seems to hold true with this one. She could have ended the book with one chapter less and it would have been perfection. The last chapter always seems to be a wrap up the loose ends and give it a happy ending with a big fat pretty bow on it to remind us that it is, after all, just a story.

Still, I give this book five stars feeling it was well earned.

Synopsis: Ceri D'Altroy watches too much Oprah Winfrey - and it's having serious repercussions. Bored with London life and writing yet another 'have the perfect orgasm' feature, she's decided to take Oprah's advice and follow her heart's desire. Going back to college might not be everyone's dream but all Ceri's has ever wanted to do is lecture . . .

Unfortunately, Ceri's new start seems to involve disrupting lives: within days she's reunited a happily uncoupled couple, encouraged her new flatmate to do something about his unrequited love, and outed the secret relationship of her two colleagues. Only, while Ceri's playing Cupid for others, the highlight of her social calendar is trying a new hair conditioner. Something needs to be done, but can Ceri stick to her vow to give up her accidental matchmaking for good. . ?

A delicious comedy about love, life and following your heart...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful SymmetryHer Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had really high expectations for this book after reading The Time Traveler's Wife. I'm not sure yet if I was disappointed or not.

This is a very strange book about love and death - and the secrets that both keep. Overall it wasn't a very emotional book, it was hard to really care about the characters because, well, they were so weird. The plot was see through, all though I did really love the details. The little things that I wouldn't have thought of added a bit to the reading experience. The characters were great when taken individually. Throwing them all together into one story was overwhelming. I really started enjoying the story when the stories became more individualized.

I ranked this rather high despite my criticism of plot because the writing was so.darn.good. There were also many thought provoking points on love and grief, I often sat with the book in my lap, thinking "Wow. Just wow." I can only recommend this book if you're willing to accept the weirdness in the world that Niffenegger created.

Synopsis:  Julia and Valentina Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest in college or finding jobs. Their attachment to one another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. From a London solicitor, the enclosed letter informs Valentina and Julia that their English aunt Elspeth Noblin, whom they never knew, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions to this inheritance: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the estranged Elspeth and Edie, their mother.

The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders the vast and ornate Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Stella Gibbons and Karl Marx are buried. Julia and Valentina come to know the living residents of their building. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword-puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder; Marijke, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including - perhaps - their aunt.


Recommended Reading:
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert

Monday, August 6, 2012

Whew!

Here's some late night ramblings for your reading enjoyment. Or not.

I'm a little behind in getting book reviews posted. I currently have two books completed and two in the works. I'm hoping to get caught up this week.

July was truly a crazy month. Conference week, two weeks of swimming lessons, pink eye (The Spawn), VBS and baseball... It's taken me the entire first week of August to recover... just in time to get back into some craziness. I haven't worked a full week since the end of June and it doesn't look like I'll be working another full week any time soon. I'm sure my boss is pleased. Or not.


All I need is popcorn...
 So, let's see... my washer decided it was too tired to continue on. It was leaking oil and water all over the place. I originally purchased the washer/dryer set last summer for $75 (used) just to get something into the house. Knowing that the set was roughly 15-20 years old, I didn't expect it to last long. I managed to tuck just barely enough money away over the last year to purchase a new set outright. The set finally arrived on Friday. I am pleased, to say the least.

I also have a bat infestation in the house. Over the course of a week I had three flying loose and found one dead in one of my favorite AirWalks. I have an exterminator/bat control guy coming the end of this week to get the situation under control. In the mean time, I'm sleeping with a firm grip on the broom.

This weekend friends from Texas will be in town. Their arrival also coincides with the PACH Back-to-School food drive; I'll be two-timing everyone to fit it all in. Oh, and my father in law decided this weekend would be the perfect time to install the bathroom fan I've been asking him to help with for the last ten months.

Next weekend I have a bachelorette party that requires my attendance. And by attendance I mean chaperoning my sisters.

After that, I'll be gearing up for back to school peparations for The CofC. The Spawn is heading into 5th grade and is none too pleased with his teacher or that none of his friends will be in his class. This year is going to be difficult. The Diva is off to Junior Kindergarten. I think I'm more of an emotional wreck about this than she is. How did my kids get so big so fast?!

And then to top everything off, because my life just isn't crazy enough, I'm doing this whole life evaluation thing. Deciding what I want and what I have to let go. But dammit, I want it all!

So there ya go. My mad mad life. Long story short: Book reviews coming soon!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Carnitas

When I originally posted this, I was too busy fighting The Diva for the last tortilla to grab the camera. This has now been corrected. This is one of our favorite Sunday night dinners and it turns out perfect every time. Actually, after guac, this might be my favorite mexican food, ever.

Carnitas are slow-cooked pork pieces that have been pan-fried to a crisp. You can make it with pork butt - which is actually pork shoulder. Feeds 5.

2lbs boneless fatty pork butt, cut into 2-inch pieces
a few tbsp vegetable oil
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 orange, cut into quarters
1 small white onion thinly sliced, plus extra for garnish
4 garlic cloves peeled
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
1 package 6-inch tortillas
a handful washed chopped cilantro

Put all the ingredients except tortillas, extra onions and cilantro in a wide 6-7 quart heavy pot (don't worry if pork is not completely covered) and bring to a boil, skimming surface as necessary to get rid of the foam that rises to the top.

Reduce heat to medium and simmer vigorously, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender and the liquid has completely evaporated, about 1-1/2 hours.

Discard the orange and bay leaves. Lower the heat and continue frying the pork in the fat left in the pan, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve on corn tortillas; top with white onion and cilantro.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Hellllllooooo, Summer Vacation!

So I'm off work all of this week. The Children of the Corn and I have been looking forward to my daycare's annual summer vacation for a month. Last year I spent it trying to move into a house and close up an apartment, it was stressful and busy. This year, while we're still busy this week, we also have plenty of downtime. So far our schedule has looked like this:

     Friday 29 June: After the longest day at work EVER, picked up The CofC, grabbed a quick supper at home before heading to Farley Fest to listen to some music and watch fireworks. It was, in the words of The Diva, "Totally Awesome!"
     Saturday 30 June: Tried to accomplish a few things around the house before we made the 90 mile (round trip) trekk to my niece's birthday party. We grilled out at home, enjoyed ice cream on the deck before putting CofC to bed and The Boyfriend and I enjoyed a few cocktails and conversation into the wee hours of the morning.
     Sunday 1 July: Happy Housavesary to me! Went to church and saw a lot of old friends who were home visiting their parents for the weekend. After church went out to the in-laws for lunch. Went to the parade to score a couple grocery bags full of candy. Came home completely drenched in sweat (Hello, Summer!), turned on the central air for the first time this year (I am so cheap...), and packed everyone up for the lake to hang out with two of The Sistahs. 4-1/2 hours later, everyone was exhausted and starving. I kid you not... I made half a bag of chicken nuggets, fish sticks and french fries and The CofC were still looking for food twenty minutes later. In honor of summer vacation, and it being damn hot upstairs, I let everyone sleep downstairs.

And the next few days look like this:

     Monday 2 July: Today's plan is housework and misc stuff in the morning, lunch, waiting for the washer repairman (aka my dad), and then heading to the lake until who knows when.
     Tuesday 3 July: We have a little bit more on the schedule for today as The Spawn has a counselor's appointment in town in the afternoon. We'll also hit up the firework stand and maybe pick up a friend for a sleepover. We may also make an appearance at the neighbor's yard party. I think this is the night we'll tackle glow in the dark bubbles.
     Wednesday 4 July: Today we're hanging home to blow up some stuff - er, I mean fireworks. In the afternoon The Sistahs and Mom will be coming for a swim and grill out party for another niece's birthday. And then more blowing up stuff.
     Thursday 5 July: Today's plan will be mostly at the lake. The Diva and I have haircuts scheduled at 5, we'll have supper out before we drop The Spawn off at his dad's for a few days.
     Friday 6 July: Another lake day for The Diva and I. The Boyfriend has a gig that night, so likely won't see him until mid-afternoon on Saturday.
     Saturday 7 July: Last minute shopping and packing The Spawn for camp. Possibly a meltdown about sending my baby out into the world. If the rain hasn't started by then, we'll be at the lake. Firework show in the neighboring town.
     Sunday 8 July: The Spawn should arrive from his dad's in the morning. Church at the Indian Church. The Spawn leaves for camp. Probably lake time if the weather is still holding.

And then I return to work, just in time for the crazy summer conference schedule. This is really the last of my free time in July. Every day starting the 9th I have something going on, including the weekends. If I survive July, August should be fairly calm. And that's the long story why I won't be getting much reading done after the first week of July... I love summer!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Chicken Fajitas

Here's an update on one of the first recipes featured on the blog. I used to make this in a pan, but since I bought a George Foreman wanna be grill a few years ago, I make them on there. I put the chicken and veg's on at the same time (in batches) so the flavors meld together.

Mild, kid friendly fajitas: (pictured)
Lime Chops marinade

Spicy, adult-sized fajitas:
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
dash of chili powder

3 chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips
1/2 bag frozen peppers & onion mix (or 1 red pepper, 1 green pepper and 1 white onion if fresh)
soft tortillas
guacamole
sour cream
taco sauce
salsa
shredded cheese

If using frozen veg's, warm through in skillet and drain onto paper towels.

For marinated chicken, follow directions as with Lime Chops.
For adult-sized flavoring, place chicken in sealable plastic bag, add spices, seal and shake until thoroughly coated.

Heat olive oil in skillet on medium-high heat, add chicken. When chicken is completely browned, add veggies. (If using fresh, I like to heat until warm but keep the "crunch".) Allow veggies to heat through, stirring often.

Serve on tortillas and garnished as desired.

It's a meal all by itself, but if you need to add more, I like to serve this with a simple fruit mix.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tacos (American Style)

This recipe isn't exotic. Or original. It's how I make tacos at my house and we like 'em. We always have our tacos with guac and chips. (Yeah, yeah, I like mine without lettuce. Sue me.) Here's the guac recipe:

1 avocado
some onion
some garlic
jalapeno (or diced green chiles)
lemon or lime juice
salt
pepper
some tomatoes
sour cream

Okay so my guac recipe is a little lacking in the measurement department - this is a totally by taste recipe. Any measurements are guesstimates on my part and suit my (and fams) taste. Usually when I make this I omit the jalapeno because The Diva loves it when it's not spicy. I also use my little Black & Decker chopper to make this.

Place avocado (scooped out of the skin and depitted), about a quarter of a medium-sized onion, two cloves of garlic (or one nice big one or 3-4 small ones - this is why I hate measurements), if using jalapeno add it here (if using green chiles from a can, I add it with the sour cream and tomatoes), if using lemon juice I give half a lemon one nice gentle squeeze if using lime juice I give half a lime several hard squeezes, salt and pepper to taste. Blend well in food processor (or other like kitchen tool). Scoop into bowl with room for mixing, add 2 large spoonfuls sour cream and about 3 tbsp diced tomato and gently fold into bowl. Refrigerate until chilled (or tacos are done) and serve with chips, veggies, on tacos or turkey sandwiches (or eat it straight out of the bowl....).

Here's the taco recipe:
1lb. hamburger
1 small can (6 oz? It's the small one you can usually pick up 3/$1) tomato sauce
chili powder
cumin
taco fixings: tortillas, shredded cheese, lettuce, black olives, salsa and sour cream

Brown hamburger and drain fat. Stir in tomato sauce, chili powder and cumin. I probably use about 1 tbsp chili powder and 1/2 tbsp cumin. You can use however much you want, but I think that the flavor balances out the best when using a 2:1 ratio of chili powder to cumin. Heat through and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Assemble tacos and serve with chips and guac. Oh and a little note about the guac... I use mine within 24 hours. It does look a little brown after the first few hours, but tastes fine.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Coffee Concentrate To Make Iced Coffee

To say that I am excited about this post is an understatement!! Or maybe that's the caffeine talking... and I take my caffeine pretty seriously. I've wanted to make coffee concentrate for iced coffee for a long time, but honestly I was scared. Of what, I don't know. This is SO easy! And now that the sticky days of summer are finally here, I'm going to share it with you.

Here's how I do it. I based my recipe from the method used by PioneerWoman (Ree). It's pretty much the same but I cut the quantities of water and coffee. If you want to see a great pictoral step-by-step, go here.

1 gallon cold water - I use cold water from the tap
1-1/3 cups ground dark roast coffee - I like the generic Wal-Mart brand, but use the roast and brand that you prefer. You may need to increase the amount of coffee for lighter roasts. Everyone's taste is different, I found my quantities by doing the math. 'Cuz I'm nerdy like that.
A few other things that come in handy:
     two one gallon pitchers with a little extra room at the top and lids
     plastic colander or fine mesh sieve
     medium sized pyrex bowl
     paper towels or coffee filters or cheese cloth

Five minutes before going to bed, place the coffee grounds into a container that will hold a little more than a gallon. Gently stir to moisten all of the coffee. Cover and let sit for 8-10 hours. (In other words, go to bed and we'll finish this in the morning).

In the morning, if you're really patient, place a fine mesh sieve over a second one gallon container. Place a single coffee filter in the sieve. Ree uses cheesecloth, but filters work fine too. Slowly pour coffee mixture through the filtered sieve, allowing to drain into the new container. This will take a bit of time and several "pours" to get all of the coffee grounds strained from the concentrate. Occasionally change the filter for a fresh one at least once during the process to help speed things up.

---OR---

If you're not so patient in the morning like me, grab a medium sized pyrex bowl, your favorite plastic colander and two or three Viva paper towels. Line colander with paper towels and place over pyrex bowl (colander should fit on outside bowl rim, just slightly off the bottom). Slowly pour about half the coffee mixture into filtered colander, allowing to drain into bowl. Empty bowl into second pitcher as needed.

After the first time you do this, you should have a feel for how much to strain at a time so that you can go off and do other stuff - like wake up your kids, get ready for work, pack lunches... check FaceBook...

After concentrate is filtered from the grounds, cover and place in fridge. I recommend allowing it to chill completely before serving. This keeps well for about 3 weeks in the fridge. After 4 weeks it gets a little bitter and at 5 weeks it went a little "spotty" (which is my-speak for "might have been moldy but couldn't really tell so I tossed it just to be safe"). And if you're wondering why this hung around so long in my fridge: it was my first batch that I made this spring and it was too durn cold to drink iced coffee. Poor timing on my part.

To serve: Fill glass with ice. Fill half full with coffee concentrate. Fill remainder of glass with milk, sweetener and stir. [I use 2% milk and a splash of flavored creamer.] Enjoy!

Natural Blonde Instincts

Natural Blond InstinctsNatural Blond Instincts by Jill Shalvis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a good read. Both characters were interesting. The plot was weak - more introspective than actual action. There was a side story romance that added a bit of humor.

Synopsis: Kenna Mallory is giving up "making it on her own" — aka puddle groomer and accounts payable clerk, jobs that haven't used all her natural abilities — to join the family biz and prove she's got what it takes to be VP of the newest Mallory Hotel. Okay, so maybe she has way more hair and cleavage than it takes, but that should be an asset around co-VP Weston Roth.

Wrong. Wes is hot, as Ivy League as the hotel's elite guests, and isn't buying the blond routine. Time to change tactics and start working the numbers. Good thing math is Kenna's other natural asset. And when it comes to getting the guy, if it isn't hair that grabs him . . . it's, uh, figures.

One True Love?

One True Love? (Harlequin Flipside, #2)One True Love? by Stephanie Doyle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a chick-lit type romance that I really enjoyed. The characters were over the top. The situations were a tad bit ridiculous with just enough realism to not throw the book out the window. It was a fun and fast read.

Synopsis: Corinne Weatherby believes everyone on this planet has one true love. Just one. Okay, so the one she's picked is a shallow, inconsiderate womanizer -- nothing a good breakup scene can't fix. Corinne comes from a legendary acting family, and there's a drama queen lurking just below her financial-controller surface. Her "I'm leaving you!" -- which really means she's going on a two-week vacation -- is bound to turn the boy around by the time she gets back.

But her office buddy Matthew overhears her performance and goes after her, determined to prove he is her real one and only. So Matthew, the unadulterated accountant, reveals his alter ego: Superstud.

Whether it's revenge or the thrill of seeing Matthew suit-and-tie-less, Corinne is suddenly ready to play his Lois Lane.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stick Shift

Stick ShiftStick Shift by Mary Leo
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Awful. I hate to say that about any book, but really, I was gagging 10 pages into this book. I can't really pinpoint what I didn't like... the writing style, the creepy leacherous hero, the repetitive language... it was just bad. I gave up a few chapters in and won't regret not finishing it at all.

Synopsis: Lucy Mastronardo is heading in the right direction - good job, good apartment, good fiance - until a detour to Naples throws her off the map! Sure, she's just days away from tying the knot, but her next big promotion hits a roadblock and Lucy can't steer away from the last-minute business trip. With reassurances to everyone, including her vanilla-pudding-cup fiane, she vows to return before she has to say, "I do."

Lucy's certain she'll have everything sorted out in no time. But then her drop-dead due dates are laid to waste by wacky staff and the tempting restaurant owner next door. The one who makes her think there's more to life than deadlines and rules.

Do Over

Do OverDo Over by Dorien Kelly
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book wasn't horrible, but wasn't really likeable either. The story starts out meeting the heroine and I was ready to throw in the towel. Then we meet the hero, and he kept me interested in the story. He was the only character with personality - the heroine fell way flat. The storyline itself was inconsistent and lacked suspense. The romance was really subpar. For a quick read though, it wasn't a bad way to spend time.

Synopsis: If the gods decided to grant Cara Adams one "do-over," the choice would be a no-brainer--she wouldn't have been sucked in by Mark "the Shark" Morgan. Back in law school, Cara had "dumbed down" to catch Mark's eye. Thanks to her stunt, she lost a plum job at a Wall Street firm, and the Shark is enjoying life in the Big Apple. Now Cara's thirty and doing just fine, thank you very much. Positive she's a shoo-in for a partnership at her prestigious Michigan law firm, Cara's bought herself a new loft, paid off her student loans and is ready for the success she deserves. But the gods are laughing now. Her ally in the law firm bolts in the middle of the night, her secretary gets fired for using the file room as her own boudoir, and...Mark the Shark has come home. Really, the gods must be crazy.  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Phantom of Pemberley

The Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Murder MysteryThe Phantom of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Murder Mystery by Regina Jeffers
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If I hadn't recently read Pride and Prejudice, I might have given this book more of a chance. I loved P&P and when I realized that these books were connected, I was kind of excited. Excited until I started reading the book, that is. Pick something - anything - and that's what was wrong with the book. Bad dialogue, bad characterizations, unrealistic behavior in a period setting... I was about 25% through the book when I quit and I still hadn't figured out what the plot was. Very disappointing.

Synopsis: HAPPILY MARRIED for over a year and more in love than ever, Darcy and Elizabeth can’t imagine anything interrupting their bliss-filled days. Then an intense snowstorm strands a group of travelers at Pemberley, and terrifying accidents and mysterious deaths begin to plague the manor. Everyone seems convinced that it is the work of a phan-tom—a Shadow Man who is haunting the Darcy family’s grand estate.

Darcy and Elizabeth believe the truth is much more menacing and that someone is trying to murder them. But Pem-berley is filled with family guests as well as the unexpected travelers—any one of whom could be the culprit—so unraveling the mystery of the murderer’s identity forces the newlyweds to trust each other’s strengths and work together.

Written in the style of the era and including Austen’s romantic playfulness and sardonic humor, this suspense-packed sequel to Pride and Prejudice recasts Darcy and Elizabeth as a husband-and-wife detective team who must solve the mystery at Pemberley and catch the murderer—before it’s too late.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had to wait a few weeks to gather my thoughts on this book. There is just so.much. to process, I'm a little overwhelmed. So, first of all this book is about a kid whose father was killed in 9/11. This is probably the first book I have read about a significant historical event that has happened in my life time. 9/11 was a crazy period in time for me, but I remember very clearly the horror I felt about what happened and the fear (I had just found out DAYS, literally, before that I was pregnant with The Spawn) of what was going to happen next. Second, the book never says what's really up with this kid, but I suspect he's Autistic. So many of the conversations didn't make sense in a normal context, but once I realized how eerily similar it was talking to The Spawn (who has high functioning Aspergers), it was so much easier for me to understand the character and get into the story. I struggled a bit with the plot line that involved the grandparents - there was just some of it that I felt was unnecessary and really turned me off from the book. I found the use of pictures interesting, but not an integral part of the book for me. Overall, this was an okay book but I hardly think it deserves the big attention that it seems to be getting.

Synopsis: Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.


Recommended Reading:
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz
The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club by Gil McNeil
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Man Walks into a Room by Nicole Krauss

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Demon From the Dark

Demon from the Dark (Immortals After Dark, #10)Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this book. I knew how it would start and end (having just read the last IAD book that ran in the same timeline as this) but I really didn't know the who and how. I eagerly jumped into this book, probably more than the last two, and was rewarded with a great story. There was a definite Me-Tarzan-You-Jane plot, which I loved. Both characters motives were true and remained constant through the story. The eroticism became a little repetitive - in fact I'm pretty sure I read the same scene separated by 100 pages - but the strong story and characters made up for it.

Synopsis: Malkom Slaine: tormented by his sordid past and racked by vampiric hungers, he’s pushed to the brink by the green-eyed beauty under his guard. Carrow Graie: hiding her own sorrows, she lives only for the next party or prank. Until she meets a tortured warrior worth saving. In order for Malkom and Carrow to survive, he must unleash both the demon and vampire inside him. When Malkom becomes the nightmare his own people feared, will he lose the woman he craves body and soul?


Recommended Reading:
Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole
Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole
Born to Bite by Lynsay Sands
Midnight Crystal by Jayne Castle
Sin Undone by Larissa Ione
Taken by Midnight by Lara Adrian

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Dreams of a Dark Warrior

Dreams of a Dark Warrior (Immortals After Dark, #11)Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was hard to read - even though I finished it in a few days. My main problem was that I don't like the heroine. Regin is one of my least favorite characters in this series. I'm not sure what it is I don't like - maybe the teenage smartassed attitude? - and getting inside her head was a challenge. This story had some very graphic gore scenes. The kind of stuff that gives me nightmares. The erotic storyline wasn't a key part of the story as it has been in the past books. So why did I truck through this book? The hero really held this story together for me. I have a fascination for stories about past lives, and the hero was a reincarnation. He was also seriously flawed, less than perfect, so REAL. And also, what is that vampire Lothaire up to?

Synopsis: Murdered before he could wed Regin the Radiant, warlord Aidan the Fierce seeks his beloved through eternity, reborn again and again into new identities, yet with no memory of his past lives. Murdered before he could wed Regin the Radiant, warlord Aidan the Fierce seeks his beloved through eternity, reborn again and again into new identities, yet with no memory of his past lives. Yet every reincarnation comes with a price, for Aidan is doomed to die when he remembers his past. To save herself from Declan’s torments, will Regin rekindle memories of the passion they once shared—even if it means once again losing the only man she could ever love?

Recommended Reading:
Deep Kiss of Winter by Kresley Cole
The Darkest Secret by Gena Showalter
Eternal Rider by Larissa Lone
How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper
This Side of the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
On the Hunt by Gena Showalter
Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole

Friday, June 1, 2012

Mid-Year Review

Yay! It's summer! We have a busy summer planned around here - baseball, swimming lessons, VBS, camp, plus the usual assortment of weddings and birthdays... I just hope I have enough time to sleep!

Over the course of the year I have revamped the 2012 book challenge a bit. The month to month time frame wasn't working for me (too much pressure? I dunno.) So here's the genres, the number I've read and the goal to read:

Old Books 3 of 10 (30% complete)
Favorite Books 1 of 6 (17% complete)
Self-Help Books 2 of 8 (25% complete)
Trashy Romance Novels 1 of 12 (8% complete)
Oddo 5 of 8 (63% complete)
Writing 0 of 3 (0% complete)

There are a few books that I read for Book Club that don't count in these numbers. Also a few books that I simply haven't posted the reviews for. But still... Oddo (Nook Books) are kicking butt.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pleasure of a Dark Prince

Pleasure of a Dark Prince (Immortals After Dark, #9)Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Despite chapter one starting with erotic plot, this book really turned out well. The true plot of the book shaped itself out so that the romance and eroticism were not the full focus. Lots of action and well-done dialogue. One thing I appreciated is that the placement of the story fell more towards the beginning of the series, which meant that I didn't need to remember what happened in the other stories. Someone just picking up this book would find it easy to follow, if they could keep some of the name dropping straight.

Synopsis: Lucia the Huntress is as mysterious as she is exquisite, she harbors secrets that threaten to destory her - and those she loves. Garreth MacRieve, Prince of the Lykae is the brutal Highland warrior who burns to finally claim this maddeningly sensual creature as his own. From the shadows, Garreth has long watched over Lucia. Now, the only way to keep the proud huntress safe from harm is to convince her to accept him as her guardian. To do this, Garreth will ruthlessly expoit Lucia's greatest weakness - her wanton desire for him.

Recommended Reading:
Deep Kiss of Winter by Kresley Cole
First Drop of Crimson by Jeaniene Frost
Ecstasy Unveiled by Larissa Lone
Defeat the Darkness by Alexis Morgan
Master of Fire by Angela Knight
Atlantis Redeemed by Alyssa Day
Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner

Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner (Lord John Grey, #3)Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is, in my opinion, nothing better than a book written by Diana Gabaldon. I think this is the best Lord John book she's written. The plot point was clear from the beginning of the story. There were the usual twists and turns - and characters! - that make DG's stories so easy to fall into. There's always that pang that comes when turning the last page, the wish that the story would just go on and on. This story led brilliantly into The Outlander series, covering a part of Jamie's life after Claire went back to the future. It was also a peek into how the relationship between Lord John and Jamie developed into the friendship of peers that is portrayed in the later Outlander books. I look forward to the Lord John books just as much as The Outlander books.

Synopsis: London, 1760. For Jamie Fraser, paroled prisoner-of-war, life is coming apart at the seams. In the remote Lake District, where he’s close enough to the son he cannot claim as his own, Jamie’s quiet existence is interrupted first by dreams of his lost wife, then by the appearance of an erstwhile comrade still fighting to rally the Irish. But Jamie has sworn off politics, fighting, and war. Until Lord John Grey shows up with a summons that will take him away from everything he loves—again. Lord John is in possession of explosive documents that expose a damning case of corruption against a British officer. But they also hint at a more insidious danger. Soon Lord John and Jamie are unwilling companions on the road to Ireland, a country whose dark castles hold dreadful secrets, and whose bogs hide the bones of the dead.

Recommended Reading:
The Outlandish Companion by Diana Gabaldon
Lord John and the Hand of Devils by Diana Gabaldon
Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade  by Diana Gabaldon
An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
Lord John and the Private Matter by Diana Gabaldon
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon