Monday, November 29, 2010

In Death Challenge Post: November 2010

Interested in joining the In Death Series Reading Challenge? Anyone is welcome to join in at any time of the year at wherever in the series you currently are. See the sign up post HERE and join the fun.

This is the 11th monthly round up post of the In Death Reading Challenge. Hopefully that means you've read at least 11 In Death books since January. If not, hopefully you've read at least one?

Link up any In Death posts you made this month at the bottom of this post. If you made a post on your blog whether it be a review or commentary, please grab the link to your post and enter in the Mr. Linky below along with your name so we can find each other's latest In Death posts easily.

If you're just keeping a running list of the books as you read them, grab the link to your list post and enter in the Mr. Linky so we can recognize your success this month.

If you're reading or rereading without documenting it on your blog, let me know in the comments which book(s) you read in this month. This will also help me keep track of who's eligible for the challenge giveaway in December!

NOTE: In order to be eligible for the challenge giveaway in December 2010, you must have read four In Death books between September 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010 and have documented that you have either on your own blog or on my blog within the comments of the monthly In Death Reading Challenge posts.

Portrait In Death by J.D. Robb
Book 18

It's August 2059 and the sweltering heat and humidity in New York City is making everyone edgy and short tempered. Lieutenant Eve Dallas, the NYPSD's lead homicide detective, discovers the body of a young woman who was killed and stuffed into a dumpster in an alley downtown after Dallas' friend and TV news reporter Nadine Furst received an anonymous tip and a set of portraits of the victim. The young woman was a pretty, wholesome college student with a solid family life and a bright future ahead of her. Soon a second young life is taken in a similar fashion, this one also tipped to Nadine Furst and also accompanied by a set of portraits. Eve and her investigative team race to solve the crime before more young lives are taken, which proves to be difficult as the victims had only their youth and vitality in common, their occasional visits to data clubs frequented by college students, and that they were both recently photographed professionally.

On the personal level, Roarke meets the head crisis counselor at Douchas which is the center recently established for battered women, funded by Roarke and Eve under the direction of their trusted friend Dr. Louise Dimatto, and this counselor shares some startling information with Roarke about his past. At first, Roarke denies the plausibility of these allegations, but he cannot ignore the possibility that they may be true, so he investigates them on his own, the results of which turn his world upside down. Speaking of upside down, Summerset takes a serious fall on the stairs of their home hours before he is to leave for a three week vacation. He's hospitalized and then released to recover at home with a full time nurse attending him. Needless to say, everyone's world falling apart, and ironically, it's Eve who keeps "their family" from falling apart in all this mess.

The crime fiction and personal components were very well balanced in this installment. I was also rather glad that Eve and her team handled this investigation almost entirely without Roarke posing as their civilian consultant. Portrait in Death also pleasantly surprised me with it's emotional impact The murder mystery was decent on its own merit, but I think it was improved upon by the way it tied so well with the personal issues going on in Eve and Roarke's world in this story. Also, the denouement of the actual capture of the murderer was one of the more exciting ones. The new revelations about Roarke's past and how it threw Roarke for a loop, nearly pushed he and Eve apart, but in turn brought them together in such a beautiful way, was definitely a highlight of this novel. There was plenty of emotional punch with these discoveries and consequently some very emotional and sweet moments between Eve and Roarke. It was especially striking to see Roarke so vulnerable and off his mark and Eve the one grounding him. There was also a tender albeit stark scene in which Eve has to tell someone she knows that their loved one has been murdered and brings him to the morgue to identify the victim. Very heart wrenching and made me admire and love Eve all the more.

On the lighter side of things, Portrait in Death had some one liners and small scenes that made me smile and giggle out loud--often right in the middle of a scene that already had me shedding some tears over a serious emotional moment. I love when a book does that to me. For example, in one scene, Roarke, who is in Ireland at the time, calls home to check in with Eve and he is piss drunk-- a tremendous rarity for the man who is always in control. Eve has never seen Roarke foolishly drunk and gets a little worried for his safety.

Eve says,

"Don't go anywhere tonight. Promise me you'll stay in Brian's flat. Drink yourself unconscious but don't go anywhere."
"Not going anywhere till tomorrow. Heading west tomorrow."
"West?" She got an image of cattle ranches and mountains and long, empty fields. "Where? What, Montana?"
He laughed until she'd thought he'd burst. "Christ, is it any wonder I'm besotted with you? West in Ireland, my darling, darling Eve. [...] "

To someone who doesn't read this series, maybe this scene isn't very amusing, but if you know Eve, you know how easily she is freaked out by anything to do with nature and countrysides--heck anything outside of a city. And then there's Roarke who never gets sloppy drunk and off his game. Even though he's the one being a bit foolish, she's the one who panics about the countryside and thinks Montana when he's in Ireland saying he's going west in the morning. LOL!

A moment or two later in their conversation, Eve hears a loud crash in the background and asks Roarke what it was.

"Ah, Brian's down, and appears to have taken a table and lamp with him. Passed out flat on his face, poor sod. I'd best go try to haul his ass up and into bed. I'll ring you up tomorrow. See that you take care of my cop. I can't live without her."
"Take care of my drunk Irishman. I can't live without him either."
He blinked those blurry eyes in confusion. "What, Brian?"
"No, you idiot. You."
"Oh." He grinned at her again, so foolishly her throat burned. "That's good then. Makes us even. 'Night now."
"Good night." She stared at the blank screen, wishing she could just reach through it and haul him back to where he belonged.

I love that scene. It's all sweet and romantic and they make me laugh. :)


Eve is a smart, complex woman who continues to delight me in every installment. She makes think when she's on a case, she makes me laugh and she makes me cry. I enjoy watching her evolve as she grows as a detective, a friend, a colleague, a wife and as an individual. Sometimes gracefully and at other times rather clumsily, but she always owns it and I admire her for that.

I love how Eve is naive about a lot of things in history from the early 21st century, anything to do with babies, nature, or anything outside of city life. How she doesn't know about so many things she ought to have learned as a child like games, treats, movies, literature, etc. It's heartbreaking to know Eve missed out on childhood entirely, but at the same time often very funny when Roarke makes reference to something and she's clueless. Like when he teasingly suggests they play Cribbage to pass the time alone together and she gets suspicious that it's some sexual game. Of course, it's even more amusing when Roarke laughs at her and doesn't bother to correct her. At least not straight away.

What are some of your favorite things about Eve?

Is there a particular scene that you find amusing on Eve's behalf?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

At Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Happy Thanksgiving! :)

We woke up this morning at the crack of dawn... not to put the turkey in the oven, but to drive into New York City for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!!! Yay!

Wearing hats, scarves and gloves, we packed our cameras, a thermos of hot chocolate and a step ladder, then headed into the city. This is the second time we've gone to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade in person. Several years ago we went with friends of ours who go every year and at that time, we arrived to our viewing spot along Central Park West over an hour before the parade started. We had stood about in the cold for awhile that time, but we were practically right at the curb with a fantastic view of everything. This year, we got into the city closer to 9 am, which is when the parade starts, so we had a difficult time getting close to curb of the parade route due to the crowds. We ended up on 59th St. near the parade route along 7th Ave. and it was packed with people. This is where the step ladder came in. We propped the step ladder on the sidewalk and had the girls take turns standing on it so they could see over the crowd for a better view of the parade. We could still see the balloons when standing on the sidewalk, but from the step ladder, the girls could see the marching bands and floats, too.

My husband with our girls standing on the step ladder..
A head above the rest!
Oldest on step ladder--see how high she is?
 I and youngest in front of her.

Hello Kitty! ^_^
Mickey Mouse 

Kung Fu Panda
Horton from "Horton Hears a Who" by Dr. Seuss
Me and my youngest 

My husband and me
What a fun time! If you ever have the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving in the New York area, I highly recommend that you make the effort to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in person. There's something so special about it from the sounds of the marching bands and the occasional siren in the background, the smells of roasting nuts and pretzels from food carts and of course the amazing sights of the parade itself. Watching those over sized balloons float down the city streets between skyscrapers is truly a sight to behold. The traffic afterwards not so much. But hey... more family time, right? ;)

When we got home we had som pie. Before our Thanksgiving dinner! That was fun.

Wishing you and your loved ones a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

What kind of pie are you?

You Are Apple Pie

You're the perfect combo of comforting and traditional.
You prefer things the way you've always known them.
You'll admit that you're old fashioned, and you don't see anything wrong with that.
Your tastes and preferences are classic. And classic never goes out of style.

Those who like you crave security.
People can rely on you to be true to yourself - and true to them.
You're loyal, trustworthy, and comfortable in your own skin.
And because of these qualities, you've definitely earned a lot of respect.

I did this quiz over and over again about seven times, altering two or three of the questions to my second choices and all the variations thereof, but no matter what I did, I always came up Apple Pie. I was trying to make it come up with Pumpkin Pie which I love and so imagined was more 'me', but it didn't work. Not that Apple Pie isn't great. Those qualities of Apple Pie are very admirable. I should be happy. But... but ... why am I not Pumpkin Pie? : /

I had hoped to post a book review today--it's one that has been in the works for almost a week already, but I keep getting distracted by other things and still haven't finished it. I don't know about you, but even after blogging for nearly three years, balancing the whole reading-blogging-bloghopping cycle is challenging for me, especially when I get pulled into a book or series that I just cannot put down, which happened to me last week. I re-read Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning and got so caught up in it that I promptly picked up and read the second book in the Fever series, Bloodfever. Now I've decided to read her Highlander series before I continue with the next Fever book and am currently finishing up Beyond the Highland Mist. I figure now is as good a time as any to finally read the Highlander series, especially since I understand there is a bit of a cross over in the mythology between the two series and even couple of characters. So that's where I spent my time in the reading-blogging-bloghopping cycle last week, which kept me from the blogging-bloghopping parts. Maybe this week will be more balanced between the three. In between baking pies and raking leaves, that is.

For the benefit of my non-American visitors, and in case you didn't know, this Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. This morning I went to the grocery store at 8:30 am for a few basic things plus the turkey, and could not believe what a ZOO it was! I'm so glad I don't have to go back there until Saturday or Sunday.

Our Thanksgiving celebration is just going to be our little family of five this year, but I'm still preparing a fairly elaborate meal, just in smaller portions. As much as I love this meal-- it's truly one of my absolute favorite meals of the whole year, I don't love eating it for days on end. Just one fabulous meal and one day of leftovers, that's it. Except the desserts. Those I could eat for days on end, no problem. This year, I'm baking a pumpkin pie, coconut cream pie and a cinnamon apple cake.

Black Friday is the name given for the day after Thanksgiving Day that marks the official start to the Holiday shopping season. Retail stores open insanely early on Black Friday with special sales and big discounts to draw in shoppers. I personally avoid shopping this day altogether. For one, I barely have my Christmas list started at this point and two, the aggravation of dealing with rude crowds and aggressive drivers just isn't worth saving a few bucks. Instead, I'll workout early in the morning as penance for eating too much pie, then spend the rest of the day home and sip coffee, eat more pie, watch a movie, play some Rock Band, plan my Christmas cookie list and maybe even do some online window shopping.

What are your Thanksgiving plans this year?

Do you shop on Black Friday? Have you started your holiday shopping?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Grape Plum Jam

Or how to make jam out of the fruit in your fridge that is past its prime. ;)

I know I keep saying it and I know you still don't believe me, but it really is very easy to make your own jam! The jam that I made developing this recipe makes a small batch that you prepare and then store in a clean jar in your refrigerator. I created this recipe using fruit that I had on hand in my refrigerator that is a bit past its prime. I used grapes and plums, but you could also use fruit such as berries, peaches, apricots, and even the juice from a pomegranate or citrus. Fruit can be wrinkly and a little soft, cutting away any bruised spots, and do not use fruit that has mold on it.

For this recipe, I had a bunch of very fragrant and flavorful Niagara grapes that had been sitting several days too long in the fridge. They were very sweet and flavorful, but I admit that I was lazy about eating them because they take a bit of work to eat. That sounds really lame, but the thing is these grapes have thick, tart skins and three or four seeds inside each tiny globe, so after popping one in your mouth, you have to work the sweet pulp from the skin and the seeds, and then you spit out the skin and seeds and swallow the pulp. Like I said, a lot of work for a little bit of grape. The skin and seeds of these little grapes are edible, but the skin is tough and I don't particularly like biting the seeds. I also had three plums that were a little wrinkly and mushy in spots. So I decided a grape plum jam would be a great way to use these two fruits.

Grape Plum Jam
Use flavorful grapes such as Niagara or Concord grapes and black or red plums for the best jam color.

1 small bunch of Niagara or Concord grapes (about 1/2 lb.)
3 plums
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Wash the grapes and remove from stems. Put the grapes in a medium sauce pan and add a cup of water. Bring grapes to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring frequently and breaking the grapes up with a spoon as they soften. Simmer for 10 minutes or so, adding additional water if necessary so the grape mixture has the consistency of pureed soup.

Strain the grape mixture through a fine sieve over a bowl. Press the grape mixture with the back of a spoon to extract as much grape juice and pulp as possible. Discard skins and seeds and return strained grape mixture to the saucepan on medium-low heat.

Coarsely chop the plums, skin and pits removed. Add sugar and additional water if necessary until the fruit mixture the consistency of a thin soup. Bring the fruit mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat so the jam cooks at a very gentle boil. Cook the jam for 15-20 minutes or until it is thickened to jam consistency. Remove jam from heat and ladle into a clean jar.

Store in the refrigerator for one month, in the freezer for longer storage.

This jam tastes delicious on warm crusty bread or even over ice cream.

Enjoy. :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Young Adult Reading Challenge COMPLETE!

Completed on October 29, 2010

I posted a review of Stringz by Michael Wenberg two days ago and turns out it was the twelfth young adult novel I read in 2010, completing the Young Adult reading challenge I joined back in January. I've read two more young adult books since finishing Stringz and am even reading a third now and may even read one or two more before the end of the year. Perhaps reading twelve young adult novels in a year isn't as much of a challenge as I thought it would be. ;)

Here's a list of what I read for this challenge:

1. Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
2. Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
3. Nothing But Ghosts by Beth Kephart
4. Beastly by Alex Flinn
5. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
6. My Soul to Save by Rachel Vincent
7. Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater
8. The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
9. Looking for Alaska by John Green
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
11. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater
12. Stringz by Michael Wenberg
13. No Such Thing as the Real World anthology by An Na, M.T. Anderson, K.L. Going, Beth Kephart, Chris Lynch and Jacqueline Woodson
14. "Winter's Passage" novella by Julie Kagawa

All great books that I highly recommend. What a blanket statement, huh?

Okay, okay, I highlighted my favorites in blue.  Oops. That's most of them. ^_^

Have you read any of these books?

What's your favorite young adult novel for 2010 (so far)?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

REVIEW: Stringz by Michael Wenberg

Stringz is a contemporary young adult novel about a teenage boy who finally finds a sense of belonging and direction in his life after spending years adrift without any constants in his life aside from his passion for playing the cello.

Jace Adams is a mixed race teenage boy being raised by his single black mother who constantly moves them from city to city in search of a better life, or at least a life away from whatever boyfriend she just broke up with. Jace's white father is completely out of the picture and his older brother, Derrick, who was Jace's role model, landed himself a jail sentence a while ago and since then Jace hasn't heard from him. Now Jace and his mom are living with Jace's Aunt Bernice who is rather mean and harsh to Jace from the get go. Clearly lacking any constants in his life, Jace sees this current move to Seattle from L.A. no different than the other dozens of moves and expects to be uprooted again in a few months. Obviously, he's reluctant to make any attachments to people or places, yet it's pretty clear that like any typical teenager, Jace wants to fit in somewhere once and for all and find a little happiness.

On his first day of school, Jace witnesses some bullies picking on a scrawny kid. He knows better than to interfere, but when he sees the bullies about to bash the kid's violin to smithereens, Jace intervenes, saving the violin and the kid. Now Jace has the school bullies out to get him and a friend he doesn't want in the kid with the violin, Elvis Goldberg.

Jace spends his time just going through the motions at school, halfheartedly trying to prove his skill with the cello to the racist orchestra instructor and trying to avoid being friends with Elvis and Marcy Gordon, the first string cellist in the school orchestra. Jace spends his time outside of school playing the cello on the streets of Seattle to earn cash that he's saving for when he turns 18 and can take off on his own.

Eventually Jace starts to find some comforts and constants in his life in unexpected places, starting with Elvis and Marcy, a homeless man in downtown Seattle, an esteemed private cello instructor and even in his Aunt Bernice.

Stringz sounds like a straightforward, if not predictable story with the somewhat common basic premise of the loner-type teen with a dysfunctional family who just wants to belong somewhere, who finally makes friends and finds their niche. Right? Well, that is true about this book, but what really makes this book shine is how many valuable lessons are layered within this fairly straightforward story. Some of these lessons are very subtle and others are blatant, but each is important and relevant to teens today. There's bullying, racism, issues of abandonment, dysfunctional family issues, friendships, sharing mutual respect for others whether one is an esteemed master musician or a homeless person on the streets, being accepted for who you are and what you do ... not for your color of skin or your socio-economic status ... having an adult have confidence in you and help you be all you can be today in this very moment ... and in your future.

Stringz is a wonderful story of teen triumph and hope with uplifting messages for teens of any age and background. I loved Jace's passion for the cello and music as a whole and how it was both his solace and his celebration. I loved how Stringz accurately portrayed the challenges teens face every day at school and at home and that with a little help from a few good friends and a supportive adult or two, teens can overcome anything. I loved how Jace learned to be confident in himself and put his best foot forward. Not always so easy for teens, or adults for that matter, but what a difference it makes.

You can visit author Michael Wenberg at his website at

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Catch the Fever!

Join the Fever Series Read Along hosted by Smexy Books and Fiction Vixen Book Reviews!

The Fever series is an urban fantasy pentalogy (is that a word?) by author Karen Marie Moning.

The highly anticipated fifth and final book, Shadowfever comes out in January, 2011, so to get psyched up for this book's release and to share and spread the enthusiasm for the series, Mandi and Tori from Smexy Books and Sophia from Fiction Vixen Book Reviews are hosting a Fever Series Read Along in the weeks preceding Shadowfever's release. This is a great opportunity to start this series if you haven't already but have always wanted to, or if you're like me and have read one or two of the books and this is just the inspiration you need to get back into it... and into the thrill of anticipating the final installment. I read Darkfever years ago when it first came out in paperback, but if I have time, I'm going to reread it for the first discussion date. I believe I have both Bloodfever and Faefever somewhere around here...

Visit Smexybooks or FictionVixen Book Reviews to find out more about the read along.

Here is the book discussion schedule:

Darkfever Discussion - November 18th
Bloodfever Discussion - December 9th
Faefever Discussion - December 23rd
Dreamfever Discussion - January 13th

So who else is in? You know you want in on the fever!

Do you read the Fever Series? Tell me why I should definitely be read it. 

... besides the fact that I have three of the books on my shelf already. ;)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Halloween weekend

I had intentions of sharing a few Halloween themed posts here last week for the days leading up to and including Halloween, but life happens and I had some wicked busy days that kept me from blogging. Now it's days after the fact and I sat here debating whether or not to follow through with them at this point. For example, I had a post nearly prepared titled, "How to sew a Powerpuff girl costume without a pattern." I did that last week. Three times, actually, because you can't have Blossom without Bubbles and Buttercup, right? I even have some of the instructions typed up already and have photos to go with the instructions, too. But who wants to know how to sew a Powerpuff girl costume in November? No one, right? So that post isn't gonna happen.

Instead, I'm just going to share a few photos from Halloween weekend.

As I've shared before, my teenage daughter has developed a passion and creative talent for photography this year. Over the weekend, I took her up to the reservation for some fall foliage photo opportunities. She brought along a friend which I should have known instantly changed my role in this trip from companion photographer to mere chauffeur. I drove them to the head of a trail that goes around a lake and we weren't even ten feet from the car and my daughter's asking, "You're not really going to go with us, are you?" I looked down at my camera hanging around my neck ... "Well, actually... " and before I said anything else, I realized that even though this was my idea to come up here together, it's not the mother-daughter outing that I thought it was going to be. So when we get to the part of the trail that goes around the lake... I went one way and daughter and her friend went the other way. :(

Here are some photos I took on my solitary walk around the lake...

I took the photo above from the end of the lake.  The lake is above that stone wall, the water level of which is low at this time of year, but during heavy rain and snow melt, the river would overflow at this point into the stream bed in which I'm standing to take this picture.

Most years, we try to make a family event out of driving to a farm, going on a hayride to the pumpkin patch to pick our pumpkins, displaying them on our stoop for a week or so before carving them for Halloween. This year found us at the farm stand down the street ten minutes before closing time on the night before Halloween, picking a pumpkin from a selection of pumpkins laid out on wooden pallets. We didn't even get to carve it that night, but on Halloween afternoon. Talk about last minute! At least it was finished by nightfall.

Concentrating on pumpkin guts
Photo credit to my husband
Canon EOS 40 D

Li'l Monster Pumpkin
Photo credit to my husband
taken on his iPhone

I later escorted the Powerpuff girls--Buttercup, Blossom and Bubbles trick-or-treating. I barely got them to stand still for a picture as they were on an important mission... get as much candy as they could before they froze. It was a very chilly Halloween this year, but they managed to trick-or-treat for over two hours. ^_^

The Powerpuff girls... 
Buttercup, Blossom and Bubbles :)

Pretty Kitty   :)   
Photo credit to my husband
Canon EOS 40D

My eldest daughter left for trick or treating while I was out with the Powerpuff girls, so I didn't even get to see her before she went out. Fortunately, my husband snapped a photo of her with his phone before she left.

I guess two hours was the chill factor threshold for trick-or-treating this year, because my eldest and her friends lasted about the same amount of time before they called it quits, too.

I don't know how it is where you live, but in our area a lot of teens in high school still go trick-or-treating. When I was a kid, most of us stopped in middle school! I used to think that teenagers were too old to be trick or treating, but now I think it's kind of nice that they're still interested in having some wholesome fun. But I still expect to hear "Trick-or-Treat" and "Thank you" when they ring the doorbell!

How old were you when you stopped trick-or-treating? 

If you live somewhere other than the US, do kids trick-or-treat in your country?