Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Read 100 Books in 2011!

I'm super excited that I reached my goal and managed to read 100 books in 2011! I finished my 100th book this afternoon with a little less than eight hours to spare before the clock strikes 2012. Phew--that was close! I admit that December sort of looks like the month of the novella, but what the heck! I say as long as a book has its own ISBN number, it's fair game.

I'm putting together a 'Best of 2011 in Books' post to go up in January--I'm still having too much fun crunching my book stats ;) --but if you're dying from curiosity, you can see the 100 books I read on my 100 Books in a Year Reading Challenge 2011 post OR my 2011 Reading Challenge on goodreads. I love the visual of all those book covers lined up like that.

In the meantime, here's a quick  look at what I read this month [December 2011]:

Romance ................ 4
Crime fiction ........... 3
Young adult ............ 2
Graphic novel .......... 1
General fiction ......... 1

Total books read ............... 11

Of those books, SIX were novellas.

1. Origin in Death by J.D. Robb
In Death, Book #21
Mini reviews of the In Death books I read this month can be found on the December In Death Reading Challenge post HERE.

2. Once Upon a Winter's Eve by Tessa Dare
Spindle Cove, Book #1.5
A very sweet romance about a young woman who has only loved one man since her childhood... and the love she finds with a stranger who literally stumbles into her world who looks remarkably similar to her one true love. GRADE: B

3. A Taste of Midnight by Lara Adrian
Midnight Breeds, Book #9.5
This is the first ever published novella in the Midnight Breed series and takes place between the events of Deeper Than Midnight [Book #9] and Darker After Midnight [Book #10], which will be released in January 2012. A Taste of Midnight is the story of a long lost friendship between Breedmate Danika MacConn and Malcom MacBain, the once best friend of Danika's deceased mate Conlan, who you may recall was killed in the first book of the series, leaving Danika widowed and pregnant with his child. Danika is still grieving over her mate's death while she visits with Conlan's family in the Scottish highlands for Christmas with her newborn son. After overhearing horrific talk about human trafficking for the pleasure of the Breed's most depraved, Danika makes the mistake of publicly insulting the dangerous Breed named Reiver who is a mob leader of sorts behind the "blood clubs" in this region. Now he is out to kill her and she can barely believe that the man she once knew and was close to--Malcolm MacBain is one of Reiver's closest associates.

A Taste of Midnight is a thrilling little teaser for fans of the Midnight Breed series and contains all the key elements for a satisfying story--a strong heroine, a brooding but fiercely protective Breed male, an evil villain with nefarious intentions and a touching romance. The result is a short, but intense story that with a logical connection to the series arc but can also be read as a stand alone story. I enjoyed this novella, but I must confess that Danika makes some careless decisions that jeopardize her safety and that of her newborn son, which felt largely out of character for someone so vulnerable in the Breed world. Also, while the attraction, concern and ultimately the budding romance between Danika and Malcolm was believable, I felt the professions of love were a little too much too soon for both of them, which inevitably made the happily ever after come across very rushed. Still, A Taste of Midnight is a great morsel for fans of the series who are dying to get their hands on the next book in the series, Darker After Midnight which will be released on January 24, 2012. Which, by the way, is the long awaited story of Sterling Chase and his mate! Finally!

4. The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland -- For A Little While
by Catherynne M. Valente
Fairyland, Book #0.5
This is the prequel novella to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Written in Ms. Valente's signature whimsical prose, this short isn't nearly as captivating as the full length tale of September in Fairyland. It took several pages of what felt like a long winded introduction to get this short story going and then just as it gained momentum, it was over. Still worth the read, though, if you're interested in an introduction to this author's talented story telling.

5. Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson & Lauren Myracle
This book is a collection of three intertwined short stories written by three of today's wonderfully talented young adult writers and a perfect wintertime-Christmasy read for teens. All three stories expertly capture the trials and tribulations and intense joys of being a teen and the crazy and confusing and often wonderful things that can happen when you least expect it. GRADE: B+

6. Memory in Death by J.D. Robb
In Death, Book #22

7. Haunted in Death by J.D. Robb
In Death, Book #22.5
Mini reviews of the In Death books I read this month can be found on the December In Death Reading Challenge post HERE.

8. To Desire a Scoundrel by Tracy Sumner
Southern Heat novella
I purchased this ebook after reading an interview with the author on the Book Lovers Inc. blog and became intrigued by an American historical romance set in North Carolina in the late 1800s. To Desire a Scoundrel a sweet and sexy Christmas romance about a second chance for a couple whose love fell apart after a betrayal and lack of communication two years prior. I liked this story a lot, got a little frustrated when the characters repeatedly passed up every opportunity to talk about their past when so clearly they both wanted to. There were also a few times when I stumbled on a sentence or two that pulled me out of the story. The story was still charming, though, and I'm already reading another book by this author.

9. The French Maid by Sabrina Jeffries
This is a very short novella about a married couple at the cusp of their one year wedding anniversary who each receive a little push from an unusual French maid to work harder at making their marriage a happier, more mutually satisfying relationship. It was short and sweet, but I was disappointed that the woman needed to make herself more beautiful and seductive in order to get her husband to notice her. There were other positive messages in the story, however, to still send valuable messages about how a husband and wife need to work at their marriage, not take each other for granted, and speak up when they need something from their partner.

10. Macbeth by William Shakesepeare,
Graphic novel, script adaptation by John MacDonald for Classical Comics
This graphic novel makes a fantastic supplement to Shakespeare's original work or in my case, a fun and easy way to refresh my memory after having read Macbeth years ago in high school. It would also serve wonderfully as a introduction to Shakespeare for the reluctant reader. I highly recommend this and all other graphic novels from Classical Comics.

11. after the quake by Haruki Murakami
A collection of short stories

after the quake is a collection of six unique short stories about characters whose lives were indirectly transformed by the disastrous Kobe earthquake in Japan in 1995. The impact of the earthquake on these characters' lives is in fact subtle, but in a way also quite profound as it serves as a catalyst in personally meaningful ways that give each of them a new direction in their lives, or at least peace of mind.
" 'Strange and mysterious things, though, aren't they--earthquakes? We take it for granted that the earth beneath our feet is solid and stationary. We even talk about people being 'down to earth' or having their feet firmly planted on the ground. But suddenly one day we see that it isn't true.' "[quote from the story "thailand," p. 92]
Murakami shows how earthquakes are a lot like life. The world as we know it can change in a heartbeat, suddenly shifting our lives in ways we never expect. It's unpredictable and often out of our control. What ultimately matters most is how we choose to embrace life and love when adversity strikes.

I enjoyed this collection of short stories--the stories are meaningful and show how a natural or man made disaster can spark self reflection and positive change to even those remotely affected. The final story in the collection, "honey pie" is my favorite and perhaps the easiest with which to identify in the way that a tragic event can provide the inspiration to not waste another day not being with the one you love.

I also met both my Holiday Reading Challenge 2011 hosted by Book Lovers, Inc. AND my Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge hosted by tanabata this month! Yay!

Here's to another year of great books in 2012 for all of us!

Friday, December 30, 2011

What I Read Last Month [November]

Phew! Got this one up in the nick of time since in less than two days 'last month' will be 'this month,' which will also be 'last year' and that is just crazy! This will be short--sort of--because I only read five books in November. So here is my two cent, ten sentence commentary on each book.

Romance ..................... 3 [two historical, one contemporary]
Young Adult ............... 1
Children's Literature .... 1

1. The Bastard by Brenda Novak
The Bastard is a post-French Revolutionary historical romance written by Ms. Novak and currently only available in ebook format. I was literally swept away in this classically romantic tale of Jeannette Boucher, a young woman who masquerades as a boy in order to acquire passage on a ship from France to England in an urgent attempt to escape marriage to an old and powerful Lord who plans to compromise her in the cruelest of ways. On board The Tempest, Jeannette is discovered by Lieutenant Crawford Treynor who struggles with his illegitimacy and hence his difficulty climbing the ranks of the Royal Navy, is heroic in the truest sense of the word to his country, his shipmates and the lovely Jeannette with whom he falls in love. This vividly written novel is full of high seas adventure with a colorful cast of characters and a delightfully sweet romance--I loved it!

2. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
I thoroughly adored this thought provoking and whimsical fairy tale. It would make a wonderful read out loud book for you and the child in your life. You can read my review HERE.

3. The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne
I had the inexplicable urge to re-read this book after having last read it in 2008 and was thrilled to discover the story is as exquisite the second time around as it was the first time I read it--if not more so! Annique Villiers is a elusive French spy who finds herself imprisoned with two British spies she later discovers--after she helps them escape with her--are the renowned British spymaster, Robert Grey and his badly wounded colleague, Adrian Hawkhurst. Grey's assignment is to capture Annique and her secrets, but there is a reason she is nicknamed 'Fox Cub' for she is intelligent, extremely sly and veryadept at slipping through her captor's fingers. That, and the fact that Grey is an honest sort of spy, if there is such a thing, and he barely forces her to do anything she doesn't want to do. Grey and Annique develop a mutual respect and admiration for each other through which a love also grows, although Annique is rather reluctant to admit is truly love. The Spymaster's Lady is an enthralling historical novel with the most tender of love stories that develops with an emotional and intelligent intensity that's simply splendid. Quite perfect.

4. My Soul to Steal by Rachel Vincent
This is the fourth full length novel in the young adult urban fantasy Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent. Ms. Vincent has a wonderful talent for capturing the true essence today's teenagers all the while weaving typical teenage drama with a believable, thrilling fantasy plot involving the handling and manipulating of human souls by banshees, reapers, maras and other Netherworld beings. In this book, Nash and Kaylee are struggling to make something out of their relationship after a serious betrayal in the last book tore them apart when Nash's ex-girlfriend, Sabine, shows up, determined to get Nash back at any cost. In the meantime, people in their school start dying and it's obviously connected to something Netherworldly. Of course, being the heroine she is, Kaylee is determined to figure out what's going on and put a stop to it. This book was an exciting, fast paced read and the relationship stuff sure made me want to pull out my hair, but that's teenagers for you, right? I really need to get my hands on the next book, If I Die.

5. Dream A Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
This was my first EVER Susan Elizabeth Phillips book, but it certainly won't be my last. There something so satisfying about a well written contemporary romance and obviously SEP knows how to write 'em--funny, sexy and also very emotional . This story is about Rachel Stone, a widowed, single mom who is ostracized because of her marriage to the now deceased televangelist who stole millions from his followers. Now nearly destitute, Rachel is willing to take on any job just to have money to buy food for her young son and give him a safe place to sleep at night. Luckily, Rachel's car breaks down in front of a work-in-progress drive-in theater owned by Gabe Bonner, who allows her to work for him and get his theater up and running. Gabe has some serious problems of his own, struggling to get over his grief from losing his wife and son in an accident several years ago, but it turns out each is just what the other needs in order to find faith in love again and to dream a little dream that just might come true...

I usually ask you to share your favorite read from last month in these 'What I Read Last Month' posts, but November is such a blur by now, isn't it? Sheesh.

Instead I'll ask what book are you looking forward to in 2012? 

I'm looking forward to Lisa Kleypas' new contemporary romance trilogy starting with Rainshadow Road in February and also Angels' Flight, Tangle of Need and Archangel's Storm by Nalini Singh. What a prolific writer!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

My 4th Blog Anniversary

So I guess I've been blogging for four years now! What started out as a book blog has transformed over the years to a comfortable place where I get to share my interests in books, fitness, cooking, travel and basically bits and pieces of myself! The happily ever after... has become one of my favorite creative outlets over the years, thanks to all of you who visit and leave comments or visit and never say a peep [I still appreciate your interest!] and a small handful of you who have connected with me privately via personal email. I appreciate all of you and your interest in what I have to say.

For fun, here are some stats:

Top 3 Most Frequently Visited Posts:
Cross (stitch) My Heart posted on August 21, 2008 with over 3400 page views.
And no... I still haven't finished either of those cross-stitch projects! 

Homemade Strawberry Daiquiris for Two posted on June 18, 2010 with over 1500 page views.  Yum!

A Volleyball Pumpkin Party posted on October 17, 2009 with over 1400 page views.  Really??

Should I try to learn something from these stats? Post more about cross-stitching and crafts? More recipes? Specifically recipes for two? I don't know what to get out of all those page views on Volleyball Pumpkin Party! It's so specific!

Top 3 Most Commented-on Posts:
Name Your Desert Island Keeper 339 comments on May 14, 2008 <--that was fun! :)
REVIEW: Passion Unleashed by Larissa Ione  59 comments on March 28, 2009
REVIEW of Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas and.... 56 comments September 26, 2008

Authors who have left comments on my blog over the years:
Megan Hart
Meljean Book
Carolyn Crane
LB Gregg
Jaci Burton
Carolyn Jewel
Melissa Walker
Jocelyn Drake
Larissa Ione
Ann Aguirre
Lara Adrian
Lisa Kleypas
Lori Brighton
Margaret Mallory
Sarah MacLean
KT Grant

I hope I didn't forget anyone! Author visits are always so exciting. :)

Book Character who has left a comment on my blog:
Colin Ames-Beaumont, main character in Demon Moon by Meljean Brook's and present in other Guardian series novels. < ---that was so cool!

Anyway, thank you all for keeping me company here on the happily ever after ...  

Here's to another great year! :)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In Death Series Reading Challenge December 2011

Interested in joining the 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!

It's that time again to share which In Death books we've read this month. I read two full length novels and one novella in this series in December--a new record for me! How did you do?

Link up any In Death posts you made this month here. 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. You can also just use the link to your goodreads or other virtual bookshelf as well.

Origin In Death
Book #21
It's Thanksgiving season in the year of 2059 and New York City's top homicide detective Lieutenant Eve Dallas is investigating the murder of Wilfred B. Icove, a world renowned and esteemed cosmetic surgeon while also trying to deal with her first ever familial holiday celebration. The murder investigation reveals connections between this respected physician and extremely controversial and unethical genetic manipulation and experimentation. The genetic science and the moral and ethical implications of such behind this investigation was all very interesting, but unfortunately, it left for a rather dry plot, lacking the usual fast paced homicide investigation I've come to expect in this series. In addition, the secondary thread of Dallas' personal life was barely addressed. Had the personal aspects of the story been more deeply developed, it could have made up for the slow pace of the murder investigation, especially given the holiday nature of the story and the arrival of Roarke's relatives from Ireland.

There are a couple of very brief scenes in the book that do bring some meaning to Eve's personal life, however. My favorite is one involving Eve and her friend and partner, Peabody. After some extremely unorthodox connections between the victims of Icove's experiments is uncovered, Peabody expresses her strong desire to connect and talk to her parents. Of course having no parents or family, Eve responds with an "I wouldn't know." and states that if that's what makes Icove's victims artificial, then so is she. After a moment of silence, Peabody responds:
"I know I'm lucky to have them [parents], and my brothers, my sisters, all the rest. I know they'll listen, that's the thing. But not having that, having to make yourself out of what gets dumped on you, creating your life out of that ... it's not artificial. It's as real as it gets."
Memory in Death by J.D.Robb
Book #22
A very solid installment in the series. It's days before Christmas--Eve and Roarke's second one together--and Eve is visited by a 'ghost' from her past. Okay, not exactly a ghost, but someone she hasn't thought of in decades. Trudy Lombard was Eve's first foster mother after being found dazed, bloodied and unidentified in an alley in Dallas, Texas at the age of eight. Far from motherly, Trudy was strict and cruel to Eve, causing even more damage to Eve's sense of worth and overall emotional well being. After shocking Eve with her presence in her office, Trudy tries to blackmail Roarke with exposing Eve's past to the media. When Eve decides to visit Trudy's hotel to put her in her place, she finds Trudy on the floor of her own hotel room, beaten to death. For the first time ever, Eve feels indifferent one of her homicide victims and struggles with this for the entire case. Eventually she comes to terms with it all and of course, solves the murder. The nature of this murder and the crime investigation was appropriately presented and connected to Eve's present stage in life--finding love and a home. Merry Christmas, Eve.

Haunted in Death by J.D. Robb
Book #22.5
In this novella, Eve is investigating the death of a business man who is the grandson of a club owner who was romantically linked to a female rock star legend who mysteriously disappeared eighty-five years ago. The club is apparently haunted by the ghost of this rock star, which has everyone but Eve believing in the supernatural.

This novella was just ok--it wasn't awful, but I found it rather dry and uneventful. It didn't even feel as if any serious investigating was taking place and then all of a sudden the killer practically announced his or her guilt to Eve.

By a stroke of luck, I was at the point in this series that had me reading Origin in Death and Memory in Death in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas--which was the same time frame in the stories! I couldn't have planned that if I tried!

One theme that recurred in the two holiday themed novels--Origin and Memory In Death is Eve's natural struggle with concepts of home and belonging. With that comes Eve's attempts to figure out how to "do" holidays--the gifts, the gatherings, the proper things to do or say. It's both comical and endearing to watch her come into this new phase in her life in which there are other people for her to consider aside from herself. The best part is how she accepts Roarke as her family and her home at his side--wherever he is.

I think this is a valuable message to all of us during the holiday season--that no matter your past, present or future, home is where you hang your heart.

Happy Holidays!

What message(s) of family, if any, are you getting from this series? 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Life According to the Books I Read in 2011

This is a fun meme to do at the end of the year as you reflect on all the book titles you've read throughout the year. This year marks the third year I've done this one, so it's officially become an annual tradition for me. I was thrilled to see so many of you joining this meme in the last two years and I hope you decide to do it this year, too! Hopefully you've kept track of what you read this year! It helps.

If you decide to do this meme--which I hope you all do!-- please come back and add your post below with Mr. Linky. This way we can find everyone's posts easily. After you've posted your meme, simply type your name in the top box below and copy and paste the link to your My Life According to the Books I Read in 2011 post on your blog in the link box. I hope you join in--it's a lot of fun! I can't wait to see what answers you come up with!

Using only titles of books that you read this year (2011), complete the prompts below. Try not to repeat any book titles. Think creatively and have fun!

Describe yourself:
Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

How do you feel:
Deeply, Desperately by Heather Webber

Describe where you currently live:
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:
Elfland by Freda Warrington

Your favorite form of transportation:
Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Your best friend is:
My One and Only by Kristan Higgins

You and your friends are:
Burning Up [anthology] by Knight, Singh, Kantra and Brook

What's the weather like:
Kiss of Snow by Nalini Singh

What is life to you:
The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds

Favorite time of day:
Knight of Passion by Margaret Mallory

Your fear:
Reaper by Rachel Vincent

What is the best advice you have to give:
Dream A Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Thought for the day:
Everything Changes by Megan Hart

How I would like to die:
Archangel's Kiss by Nalini Singh

My soul's present condition:
Naked by Megan Hart

You're turn! :) 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Christmas . . .

. . . from my home to yours.

Wishing you and your loved ones all the peace, joy and love of the season. xo

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wrapping Presents

Right now I'm wishing I had several hours I could pull out of my back pocket. How about you?

I have a lot of last minute things to do today for Christmas--mostly food preparations, tidying the house before guests arrive and wrapping presents.

Doing my best to do it all merrily!

Speaking of wrapping presents... check out this adorable video on How to Wrap a Cat for Christmas.

Merry Christmas Eve!  ^_^

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Library Loot XLV

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! This week's Library Loot is at Claire's

I thought last week's library loot post was going to be my last one of the year, but I was wrong! Hey, it happens sometimes! My youngest is reading Indigo's Star by Hilary McKay in school and discovered the author has written several books about Indigo's siblings, as well, so of course it became extremely urgent to get her hands on all of them at once. Thankfully, our library had all of them except one. We'll have to hunt that one down at another library at some point. Since we were there on a Saturday afternoon, it gave me the opportunity to browse the shelves at a leisurely pace instead of my usual rush in, grab books, rush out. It was nice.

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander

A new Christmas Historical Romance.

I may not get to this one in time for this holiday season, but I couldn't resist taking it home just in case!

My Father's Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow
I saw this cookbook on the new release shelf for non fiction and the only reason I picked it up was because it won the 2011 Goodreads Readers Choice Awards in the Food & Cooking category. I like Gwyneth Paltrow, but I did not vote for her cookbook. [I voted for Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home by Jeni Britton Bauer, in case you were wondering.] I usually pass over cookbooks by celebrities on the principle that the only reason their cookbook is in bookstores selling copies is because they are celebrities, NOT because they are exceptionally original or talented in the kitchen. In fact, I think those are largely same reasons why this cookbook even won the Readers Choice Awards--because people know and recognize Gwyneth Paltrow. Not because they have read or cooked from her cookbook.

So out of curiosity, just this once, I brought home a celebrity cookbook from the library. It's a nice cookbook that uses simple, fresh ingredients in basic, familiar recipes that are healthful--which is how I strive to cook for my family. The food in the cookbook looks good, but not exceptionally noteworthy, but perhaps that's just because I already cook similarly to Ms. Paltrow. However, I am going to try her recipe for American Rotisserie Chicken tomorrow for dinner, so maybe I will be surprised and it will be the most exceptional roast chicken I've ever made! I'll let you know..

What's your take on celebrity cookbooks?

I borrowed some music by Maroon 5, Britney Spears and Pussy Cat Dolls. Don't judge.

I bought some Christmas novels on the 'books for sale' shelf to add to my collection. This coincided with my decision to collect little hardcover Christmas novels.



The Christmas Hope Donna VanLiere
Our Simple Gifts by Owen Parry
A Cedar Cove Christmas by Debbie Macomber
The Perfect Christmas by Debbie Macomber

Is there a particular sort of book you like to collect from used book sales or stores?

Monday, December 19, 2011

About Rainshadow Road {A video from Lisa Kleypas!}

I'm so excited to share this new video with you from Lisa Kleypas. In this short video, author Lisa Kleypas shares her thoughts about her upcoming new novel, Rainshadow Road, the first book in her  Friday Harbor trilogy.  Look for Rainshadow Road in bookstores in February 2012.

I posted this video for my readers as part of "Lisa's Divas" - a group of select fans who share info & content related to Lisa's novels and get sneak peeks & swag in return. But please feel free to grab the link, post the video and basically spread the word about Lisa's upcoming Friday Harbor series to your friends, too!

If you think you'd like to be one of Lisa's Divas, there may be room for a few more fans in the Lisa's Divas community. Visit this site for more information and how to sign up.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spritz Cookies!

Baking an assortment of homemade Christmas cookies has been a tradition in my family for at least three generations now. My maternal grandmother immigrated to the United States from Germany as a teenager, following her sweetheart from her hometown, already skilled in cooking and baking, including traditional German recipes for a variety of holiday breads and cookies such as stollen, lebkuchen, linzer cookies, and spritz cookies. My mother continued the tradition of baking tins full of Christmas cookies for the holidays--some of my grandmother's traditional recipes and some new ones she found here and there in her own cookbooks or passed to her from friends. We would eat more than our share of cookies the week between Christmas, but my mother would also package several cookies of each variety into decorative tins to give to friends and family during the holidays. I have joyfully continued this Christmas cookie tradition in my own home, establishing a repertoire of Christmas cookies I bake every year. My husband even has two cookies he makes every Christmastime, too. *loves*

I have baked a lot of different Christmas cookie recipes over the years,  recipes I found primarily in cooking magazines that I have accrued over the years--many of the magazines special issues dedicated entirely to Christmas cookies. I also own Joy of Cooking Christmas Cookies by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker, which is a must for anyone who loves classic, tried and true Christmas cookie recipes.

Every year I'm on the lookout for new Christmas cookie recipes to try, because you never know what's destined to be the next family favorite. Favorites may come and go over the years, but one cookie that has a permanent spot on the family favorites list--and one I enjoyed from my grandmother's and my mother's kitchens is Spritz cookies! My daughters especially have come to love and expect spritz cookies every year at Christmas and I'd like to share my recipe with you.

Spritz cookies are a traditional German butter cookie also known as Spritzgebäck, that are made from a very basic butter cookie dough that is pressed or 'squirted' [spritzen is the German verb for squirt!] through a cylindrical cookie press that is fitted at the opened end with discs with patterned holes that form special shapes. So technically you will need a cookie press to make traditional spritz cookies. They are inexpensive and fairly easy to find at specialty food shops, department stores and possibly even grocery stores during the holiday season.

What if you don't have a cookie press or don't want to invest in one just to make Spritz cookies?

Do not despair! You can still make spritz cookies using a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip. Simply fill the pastry bag with the cookie dough and pipe the cookie dough directly onto cookie sheets. You can pipe the dough into 2" sticks,  circles for wreaths or shape the piped dough into hearts.

Spritz Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Place butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes. Set your kitchen timer for 5 minutes because these cookies really do turn out best when you beat the butter and sugar for the full 5 minutes.

3. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well blended.

4. Add the flour in three additions, adding the salt with the first addition, mixing well with each addition.

5. Assemble and fill your cookie press according to the manufacturer's instructions.

6. Press cookies onto ungreased, cool cookie sheets. If you are reusing the same cookie sheet for separate batches, make sure the cookie sheet cool completely before using again.

7. Decorate with colored sprinkles, if desired. This is a must in my house. :)

8. Bake for 6-9 minutes or until the cookies are just lightly brown at the edges. Watch carefully to avoid over baking. They tend to go from perfectly baked to burned in just a few seconds.

9. Cook the cookies on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack or large platter.


Yield: 4-5 dozen.

Weekend Cooking, a weekly blog event hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food related post to share--a food related book review (fiction or nonfiction), cookbook review, movie review, a recipe, random thoughts, gadgets, food quotations, photographs, etc. Please visit Beth's blog for more information and join the fun!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Library Loot XLIV

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! This week's Library Loot is at Claire's

These two books will be the last few I plan on reading in 2011. I have a specific list of books I want to read by the end of the year in order to meet a couple of Reading Challenges. I'm going to be cutting it close, but I think I can do it! Among the last few books I hope to read in 2011 are these two books I recently borrowed from the library:

After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Translated by Jay Rubin

After the Quake is a collection of six fictional short stories set in Japan after the devastating Kobe earthquake in 1995. Reading this book will meet the challenge to read one of Murakami's works in 2011 as per the Haruki Marakami Reading Challenge I joined back in February. After much internal debate, I had finally decided to read Sputnik Sweetheart--partly based on the story premise, partly on the length of the book and partly on which book was currently available at the the library! As I was about to reach for Sputnik Sweetheart on the shelf, I spied this little book right next to it and decided straight away that it was an even better choice for me. A collection of short stories in under 180 pages would give me a sampling of Murakami's style without the commitment to read one of his longer, more involved novels. I understand 1Q84 comes in at 925 pages! I'm looking forward to reading After the Quake and am curious to find out if I'll enjoy Murakami's writing.

Macbeth : The Graphic Novel by William Shakespeare
Plain Text version

Script Adaptation: John McDonald
Character Designs & Original Artwork: Jon Haward
Coloring & Lettering: Nigel Dobbyn
Inking Assistant: Gary Erskine
et. al.

My 16 year old is reading Shakespeare's Macbeth right now in Honors Brit Lit and while I recall having read it myself when I was in high school, I remember very little of the play. Reading the Classical Comics' graphic novel version of Macbeth will be a quick and fun way to refresh my memory of the play and invoke some Shakespearean discussion with my daughter.

Other Classical Comics graphic novels I read in 2011 include Jane Eyre and Frankenstein.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A 500th Post Holiday Giveaway

It took me almost exactly four years [my blogging birthday is December 29, 2007], but I've finally reached my 500th blog post and this is it! That's an average of 125 posts a year, 10.4 posts a month or about one post every 3-4 days. That sounds about right.

What started out as a place to share my thoughts on books with an emphasis on romance novels has expanded and transformed into pretty much a personal blog. I still post regularly about bookish things, but also about fitness, food, family and other assorted adventures. All are topics I'm passionate about and enjoy sharing with my readers here on the happily ever after... I hope you all enjoy the mix, too. :)

To celebrate this 500th post milestone and the upcoming holiday season and to thank all of you who visit the happily ever after... and keep me company on this blogging adventure, I'm giving away a holiday ebook prize to one lucky winner. Below is a list of holiday novellas, most of which are new releases, from which one lucky reader will win up to three stories of their choice.

I'm afraid I don't know a lot about the restrictions of purchasing ebooks for recipients overseas, but I will look into that between now and the closing of the entries and see what I can do. In the meantime, assume that you will at least need to have one of the following to qualify for the prize: A kindle or kindle app on your reading device OR an iPod touch, iPad, or iPhone with either iBooks or the Kindle app installed, depending on the book below.

Winner will choose from the following list of fantastic holiday ebooks:
  Click on titles to see the book on goodreads.


Newly Fallen by Megan Hart [kindle only]
A steamy contemporary Hanukkah romance!

A Taste of Midnight by Lara Adrian [iBooks or kindle]
A Midnight Breed novella, book #9.5
Paranormal romance, not so Christmas-y

Once Upon a Winter's Eve by Tessa Dare [iBooks or kindle]
A Spindle Cove novella, book #1.5
Historical romance.

Or perhaps one or more of the following contemporary romance novellas from the Carina Press holiday anthology, Holiday Kisses:


Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey [iBooks or kindle]

It's Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon [iBooks or kindle]


A Rare Gift by Jaci Burton [iBooks or kindle]

This Time Next Year by Alison Kent [iBooks or kindle]

Romance not your thing? That's okay! We can still be friends and you can choose this "regular" Christmas book: ;)

The Christmas Shoes by Donna VanLiere [kindle only]

To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment letting me know which THREE holiday novellas you would like to read.

All entries must be received by Friday, December 16, 2011 12 noon EST.

Be sure to leave an email address if it is not easily found in your profile.

Happy holidays! :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

REVIEW: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

If that title alone doesn't grab you, perhaps my review will... 

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a charmingly whimsical, albeit at times dark fairy tale about a precocious twelve year old girl named September who longs for excitement and happiness when her life has become less than joyful after her father has left to fight a war overseas and her mother has gone to work as an airplane mechanic. Within the first pages of this story, September is visited by the Green Wind--a gentleman in a green jacket and green jodhpurs, who invites her on an adventure into Fairyland. In Fairyland, September meets a myriad of creatures and beings and specifically befriends a Wyvern and a boy named Saturday and soon becomes embroiled in a quest to the far reaches of Fairyland. September must rely on her quick wit and growing heart to stay alive and find her way through Fairyland. With sophisticated and poetic story telling, the reader is whisked away into Fairyland right along with September where countless insights into the hazards and joys of life provide the reader with much to ponder.

Many times while reading this story, I would find myself rereading passages for no other reason than that they invoked such vivid imagery for the senses. Such as this paragraph:
"And so I may tell you that the leaves began to turn red as September and her friends rushed through the suddenly cold air on their snorting, roaring highwheels, and you might believe me. But no red you have ever seen could touch the crimson bleed of the trees in that place. No oak gone gnarled and orange with October is half as bright as the boughs that bent over September's head, dropping their hard, sweet acorns into her spinning spokes. But you must try as hard as you can. Squeeze your eyes closed, as tight as you can, and think of all your favorite autumns, crisp and perfect, all bound up together like a stack of cards. That is what it is like, the awful, wonderful brightness of Fairy colors. Try to smell the hard, pale wood sending up sharp, green smoke into the afternoon. To feel the mellow, golden sun on your skin, more gentle and cozier and more golden than even the light of your favorite reading nook at the close of the day. " [p. 130]
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is an unforgettable fairy tale that would appeal to adults and children alike. In fact, it would make a wonderful read aloud book to be share with the child in your life. Even if you think the days of reading aloud are over in your house, capture them with this book if you can, because...
"As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses." [p. 156]
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making has a decisive conclusion and can certainly be read as a stand alone novel. However, I am compelled to tell you that never before has one short sentence near the end of a book made me gasp in bittersweet delight that a sequel would be on the horizon for September and her friends. Said sequel to this unforgettable and enchanted book is expected to be published in March 2012, and will be titled The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. I'll be reading it.

You can visit the author, Catherynne M. Valente at her website

Be sure to check out Cat's page of free reads, including The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland--For a Little While, a prequel story to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, who are, by the way, two different girls. ; )

Saturday, December 3, 2011

RECIPE: Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

This simple roasted root vegetable soup is works well with just about any combination of root vegetables such as turnips, celeraic, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas or parsnips. I'm not a huge fan of turnips or celeraic, so when we got both of these in our co-op share one week, I decided making soup would be the best way to use them up. Since turnips and celeraic have a strong flavor, potatoes would mellow the flavor and onions and garlic would sweeten it up a bit. I happened to have two lonely carrots left, and decided to use them in the soup too. Finally, I opted to roast the vegetables instead of boiling them so that the soup would have a more carmelized flavor.

I hope you give this recipe a try--it's really easy and very tasty!

Roasted Root Vegetable Soup

1 celearic [celery root]
2 turnips
4 potatoes [I used two red and two yellow]
2 carrots
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
sprigs of fresh thyme [or 2 teaspoons of dried thyme]

1. Peel vegetables, cut into similar sized chunks and place in a large bowl. Toss with olive oil, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and dried thyme, if using, until vegetables are evenly coated.

2. Place vegetables on cookie sheets in a single layer and top each cookie sheet with a few sprigs of the fresh thyme. Don't over-crowd the vegetables. It's better to use additional cookie sheets.

3. Roast vegetables in a 375 F oven for 45 minutes to an hour or until vegetables pierce easily with a fork, tossing every 20 minutes or so. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Working in batches, place roasted vegetables in food processor, scraping any olive oil and roasted bits of vegetables from the cookie sheets--there's a lot of flavor there! Add about 3 cups of water for every 4-5 cups of vegetables. Purée until smooth and pour into a large sauce pan.

5. When all of the vegetables are puréed, cook over medium-low heat until heated through, adding additional water if necessary until soup is desired consistency. Taste for salt and pepper, and add accordingly. Keep in mind that this soup is prepared with water and not broth, so don't be alarmed by how much salt you may need to add.

6. Serve warm, garnish with fresh thyme leaves, if desired. Chopped chives would work, too.


This post is my contribution to Weekend Cooking, a weekly blog event hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food related post to share--a food related book review (fiction or nonfiction), cookbook review, movie review, a recipe, random thoughts, gadgets, food quotations, photographs, etc. Please visit Beth's blog for more information and join the fun! 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Reading Challenge 2011

December is here! Along a huge list of other things, December means there's only a few weeks left to try to finish all those reading challenges YOU I joined this year. At this point, I've completed some, others were a total fail and there are yet a few that I admit I'm going to scramble to finish by December 31. Either way, I'm not stressing over it much, but I really, really would like to meet my goal of reading 100 books in 2011 and I'm SO close, too. And still, here I am joining one more challenge! This one is a Holiday Reading Challenge hosted by Book Lovers Inc. and I just couldn't resist. I have a few Christmas themed books I wanted to read this time of year anyway, so why not?

Holiday Reading Challenge 2011
Hosted by Book Lovers Inc.
November 10-December 31, 2011.

There are three levels from which to choose:
Santa's Helper: 1-3 holiday themed books
Serial Mistletoe-er: 4-6 holiday themed books
Candy Cane-aholic: 7 or more holiday themed books

The books may be any adult or young adult holiday related book and any format is acceptable--paper books, ebooks, audiobooks, short stories, novellas, etc. Children's books do not count towards the challenge.

I am going for Serial Mistletoe-er because HEY! It's mistletoe, people! And where there's mistletoe, there's kissing and who doesn't love kissing??!!

I have several holiday themed books on my shelves here at home and a few new ones on my wish list, so I certainly won't be lacking for reading material! You can see my selection on my goodreads holiday shelf.

What Christmas or winter holiday themed books are on your list?

Any favorites that you'd recommend?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In Death Series Reading Challenge November 2011

Interested in joining the 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!

It's that time again to share which In Death books we've read this month. I'm in the middle of reading Origin In Death [Book #22] and was so close to finishing it tonight while it was still November, but a girl scout meeting with my youngest and precalc homework with my eldest took priority over reading so that's not happening. How about you? Did you read an In Death book this month?

Link up any In Death posts you made this month here. 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. You can also just use the link to your goodreads or other virtual bookshelf as well.

... not this month.

It's Thanksgiving during the time frame of Origin in Death and Eve and Roarke will be hosting their first "familial" holiday dinner in their home. At the point I'm up to in the book, Eve and Roarke have been fumbling over how to actually carry out such an foreign feat--the guest list, what to serve, etc..  It's actually quite charming how awkward and clumsy they are when they discuss possible plans. So I was imagining guests arriving at their home for Thanksgiving dinner and wondered what people would possibly bring?

What would you bring to Thanksgiving dinner at Eve and Roarke's?

I would bring homemade pumpkin pie with a crust made from real butter and the filling from fresh pumpkin puree, sweetened with pure Canadian maple syrup. I would hope that my gesture of making something from scratch in the age of the AutoChef would show the depth of my thankfulness for being invited to their home and included in their holiday dinner.

Fitness Challenge Report Card: November 2011

Interested in joining the Fitness Challenge? Please visit the Sign Up post for more information, including the challenge rules. You may leave a comment there or on this post if you'd like to join. Be sure to include your fitness miles goal in your comment.

Did you track your fitness challenge miles* in November?

*ONE fitness challenge miles = 1 mile walked or run for fitness OR = 15 minute increments of other exercise for fitness such as aerobic or strength training exercises.

What kinds of exercise have you been doing?

My ongoing goal has been to reach 100 fitness challenge miles* every month and I just squeaked by this month with 100.97 miles. Phew! That was close. You can see what kinds of fitness related things I did this month in my November fitness log.  I ran A LOT this month. In fact, I worked out 27 out of 30 days in November and 11 out of those 27 workouts were spent running. I think it's the weather. There's something unique about chilly fall mornings that makes me want to get outside and run.

Here's a summary of the fitness challenge miles I earned in November:

Running [outdoors] .... 36.97 [36.97 miles]
Cycling [on road]....... 25 [85.9 miles]
Spin class [in gym] ....14
Kickbox class ........... 13
Strength training........ 12

Total ...................... 100.97

I'm shooting for another 100 fitness challenge miles in December. How about you?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Random Bits

This should have been the November round up post for the In Death Reading Challenge, but I haven't finished my book yet, so I'll post that tomorrow. Instead, I have some random bits to share, although since they are all Thanksgiving and Christmas related, I guess they're not so random. Alas.

  • If you haven't already eaten all of Thanksgiving leftovers by now, this is your last chance! The recommended limit for left over roast turkey is about four days if you've handled it properly, i.e., refrigerated left overs promptly after the meal was over and your refrigerator is set to 40 F or below. I roasted a turkey breast for our Thanksgiving dinner and used the whole left over carcass with some meat still on it to make a big pot of homemade turkey broth today. As soon as I post this, I'll be using that broth to make Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice soup.
  • Do you make homemade stock or soup from scratch? Would you like to learn how?
  • No worries about any leftover pie. That always gets gobbled up first! We have one slice each of apple and pumpkin pie left over. And five people in our family... hmm...
  • I shelve my cooking magazines on a shelf with my cookbooks and actually do revisit past issues for recipe ideas. Today I pulled a few December issues off the shelf so I can start to get inspired for some holiday cooking. Hooray for CHRISTMAS COOKIES!
  • Do you bake cookies or other treats for the holidays? What is your favorite to bake or eat?
  • Right now I'm reading Origin In Death by J.D. Robb, Book #22 in the In Death series and it's Thanksgiving in this book! How cool is that?
  • Does anyone know if that means it's Christmas in Memory In Death? I need to know if I need to put the pressure on myself to read it on time.
  • I've read 89 books so far in this year and my goal is to read 100+ books. Am I cutting it close or what? I'm starting to get a little nervous about this... 
  • Did you make a book count goal for 2011? If so, have you met it or are you still working on it? 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Still Running

Approximately two years ago I did something completely out of my comfort zone and joined an outdoor running group. I had just started biking a month or two prior, but aside from that my regular workouts for several years consisted of pretty much the same four fitness classes at the gym, four days a week. I was not a runner. I would run once in a blue moon if I had to, but it was definitely not my thing. I decided to give the running class a try anyway, in order to support the instructor [who was also a friend] who was trying to get this new class off the ground.

So I joined this running group.

I admit I was not very good at it.

In the beginning, I could barely run 2 miles [3.2 K] before I'd have to slow down to a walk to catch my breath. But I stuck it out and thanks to the efforts of the instructor, the support and positive encouragement from the small group of awesome women in the class, I slowly improved. Five weeks later, everyone in our group signed up for a local race and I ran in my first ever race on November 28, 2009. It was a 5 Mile Race [8 K] and I finished in 1:01:46. It was a slow 12:21 / mile pace and I recall having to power walk a couple of times to catch my breath, but I did it. I was very proud of myself for putting myself out there doing something new and something that was downright hard.

I decided to run that same race this year so I could see how much my fitness level has improved over the last two years.

On Saturday, November 26, 2011, I ran the same 5 Mile Race [8 K] and finished in 51:17 !!! :)

That's more than 10 minutes faster than my time two years ago! My pace was decent at 10:15 / mile, but this actually placed me in the bottom 20% of the 800+ people who participated in this race. Ugh, that stinks. There are a lot of really fast runners out there, people! But this is about me, not them, so whatever. Besides, I look SUPER FAST and HAPPY in this [blurry] picture, don't I?  

And that's what really counts. Not the super fast part, although that is nice. The HAPPY part. 

Get out there and try something new. Challenge yourself. Work for it. Make yourself healthier and happier. It feels good.  :) 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for the wonderful friendships I've made through blogging over the years and wish every one of you a very, very happy Thanksgiving. This goes for my friends outside the US as well, because I'm thinking of you today, too. ; )  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Library Loot XLIII

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries! This week's Library Loot is at Claire's

Today was a surprise library loot day for me. I haven't borrowed books from library since late September because I still had a pile of books out from three different libraries that I've been working through. I vowed not to borrow anything else until I had either read or returned everything. This morning, I finished that last library book, but since I've been pretty busy lately, I didn't even think about when I'd go next. But today I was quite unexpectedly out doing a quick errand during library hours [which is such a rare occurrence since library hours and my hours don't overlap much these days thanks to budget cuts... ] and I realized I was about to drive right past my library! As soon as I realized I was going to pass the library while it was actually open, I had this strong compulsion to go in and grab a book. I knew exactly which one I would grab, too, since I recently checked online if the library had it. So I literally ran in [I had all of three minutes to pull off this unscheduled library visit!] and grabbed it! Of course I couldn't resist bringing it home with a neighbor. And that's how today's surprise library loot came to be:

Let It Snow 
by John Green
    Lauren Myracle 
         and Maureen Johnson
An anthology of young adult romances for the holidays by some cool authors.

Eon by Allison Goodman

I intended to read one of three different books for my 2011 Big Book Challenge, but still haven't gotten to any of them and have sadly lost a lot of interest in those series. I had Eon on the back of my mind as a possible candidate for the challenge [per Mariana's recommendation, I believe], but it always seemed to be checked out of the library when I thought to look for it. I think this time it was finally meant to be, because there it was today, sitting right next to Let It Snow. Maybe I'll complete the 2011 Big Book Challenge after all!  

What are you reading now?