Monday, February 28, 2011

Fitness Challenge Report Card: February 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.

*NOTE: One fitness challenge mile = 1 mile walked or run for fitness OR a 15 minute increment of other exercise for fitness such as cardiovascular or strength training exercises.

So how did everyone do with their fitness challenge miles* this month?

I set my goal for 100 fitness miles and came in at 96.1 miles. I spent most of my workout hours in spin class and strength training, followed by boot camp and kickboxing. I knew meeting my goal this month was going to be a challenge because February is a short month and I knew ahead of time that I was going to miss a few days in the beginning of the month. Yet I ended up coming much, much closer to my goal than I expected, so I'm still pretty pleased.

I'm even more pleased to be ending the month on really high note because I ran a 5K Race [3.1 miles] yesterday and ran my all time personal best! :D

Almost at the finish line.
I hadn't spotted my husband yet, otherwise I would have smiled. :)
Not only did I meet my fitness goal to run a 5K in 31 minutes, but I had seconds to spare!!!!

Jan. 1, 2010 5K    Race results: 34:51 11:19 min/mile pace

Feb. 27, 2011 5K Race results: 30:44.60 9:54 min/mile pace


That's over four minutes off my time from last year! I'm SO thrilled with this time. As if it isn't obvious, right? ;) I totally surprised myself yesterday. I set that 5K in 31 minutes goal and hoped I would come close, but didn't think I'd quite make it because I haven't run better than an average 10:17 min/mile pace before.
But I DID it!  

I'm looking for the official race results.
I'm anxious to know if I broke a 10:00 min mile pace!
Yesterday I ran an average pace of 9:54 minutes per mile!

Thank you to those of you who cheered me on yesterday when I posted about the race on twitter and facebook. I appreciate your support and enthusiasm. :)

This race was originally scheduled for January 1, 2011 but had been cancelled and rescheduled twice since due to snow and ice conditions. I'm so glad it finally took place yesterday and the weather was perfect. Overcast, but temperatures were upwards of 50 F [10 C].

I'm going to set my fitness challenge goal at 100 fitness miles again for March. :)

How did you do with your fitness challenge goal for February?

Did you have trouble meeting your goal?

If so, what were some of your obstacles?
Time? Motivation? Illness?

I hope you all join me again for March! :)
Please include your new fitness miles goal in the comments.

Thank you all for participating. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know.

Exercising minds want to know....

Do you own a jump rope?

[*Playstation Move workout]

In Death Series Reading Challenge Post: February 2011

Interested in joining the Challenge? Anyone is welcome to join in at any time of the year no matter where you are in the series. See the sign up post HERE to join the fun!

I am failing miserably at this challenge this year. I am at slump in this series and I don't know why. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with the series, but more to do with a recent interest in exploring other genres. In any case, I'd better get back on track next with this challenge next month or else it'll just get harder to pick up momentum again.

I hope you did better than I this month. Please share what you've read.

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.

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 this month!

REMINDER: In order to be eligible for the challenge giveaway in April 2011, you must have read four In Death books between January 1, 2011 and April 30, 2011 and have documented that you have either on your own blog, on goodreads [please leave a link to your profile if we're not already friends there] or you can let us know what you read here in the comments of the monthly In Death Reading Challenge posts.

I think maybe everyone has read enough books in the series to have come across someone stealing Eve's personal stash of candy in her office. She's started to hide her candy bars, but the thief is still managing to steal her candy.

Who do you think is the candy thief?

If you definitely know who it is because it has been revealed in later books, please don't spoil it. Speculations only!!! Thanks! :)

I have no idea who it might be.

I don't think it's Peabody. She already begs for Eve to share whenever she eats candy in front of her. I don't think Peabody is so gluttonous to steal and eat Eve's stash behind her back, too.

Feeney seems too obvious a choice.

It would be funny if it were Roarke, but he's supposed to be too busy buying and selling and owning half the world to be sneaking into Eve's office when she's not there to steal her candy.

Summerset would do it just to piss her off, but again... showing up at Eve's office for any reason would be beneath him.

Nadine? Nah.
McNab? Maybe.
Commander Whitney!? That would be funny.
Dr. Mira? That would be even funnier!

Who else could it be?


Sunday, February 27, 2011

RECIPE: Chicken Marsala

My inspiration for sharing my recipe for Chicken Marsala comes from having recently read Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. Bet Me is a fun contemporary romance that I recently reviewed here on my blog and for which I hosted an online book club discussion. [See previous post]. The couple in the story--Min and Cal, go to a little-known Italian restaurant called Emilio's for their first date. The date proves to be disastrous, but the Chicken Marsala is phenomenal. Despite trying to avoid each other, Min and Cal keep crossing paths and can't help but fall in love. It's quite an adventure, and throughout it all, everyone is eating a lot of Chicken Marsala.

I guess we'll never know if my recipe could top Emilio's, but mine seems to go over quite well in my house, so maybe it will in yours as well.

Chicken Marsala

1 1/2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon paprika, optional
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small onion
1 garlic clove, minced
8 oz. baby Bella mushrooms [or white button]
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good quality Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

Trim fat from chicken breasts. Horizontally slice the thick portion of the chicken breast so that the pieces are of uniform thickness.

Lay pieces of chicken breast between sheets of plastic wrap. Use a meat mallet or heavy can [such as a can of tomatoes] to pound chicken. Start at middle of the piece of chicken and work your way out to the edge of the meat.

In a shallow dish, combine flour, paprika [if using], salt and pepper. Dredge chicken pieces in flour, gently shaking off excess.

 Melt about 1/3 of the tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet or a well seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat.

Add about 1/3 of the chicken pieces into the hot skillet and cook until lightly browned, about 7 minutes, turning half way through. Remove chicken to a platter and keep warm.

Add another 1/3 of the tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and brown several more pieces of chicken, cooking until lightly browned.

Repeat with last remaining butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and remaining chicken, watching carefully not to burn chicken, especially towards the end when some flour and chicken bits may be stuck to bottom of skillet. You may want to lower the heat a little bit if it looks like the bits are getting too dark.

When all of the chicken is cooked, add another 1/2 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet along with the onion, garlic and mushrooms.

Give the onion, garlic and mushrooms a few good tosses to combine and to evenly coat with olive oil, then let it cook undisturbed for 1-2 minutes. If you keep tossing the mushrooms, you end up steaming them instead of sauteing them and they will never brown. You get the most flavor from the mushrooms by letting them brown and caramelize so don't over handle them. After the first minute or two, gently stir. You want to see that the mushrooms have browned, like in the photo below:

If they have browned, stir a few more times and then let everything sit again. If they have not browned, let everything sit another 1-2 minutes before stirring.

Once the onions and mushrooms have browned nicely, season with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Add the Marsala wine and cook for 30 seconds, stirring the browned bits from the bottom of the pan until they have dissolved into the wine. Then stir in the broth and soy sauce.

NOTE(s):Buy a decent quality Marsala wine from the liquor store. It's not that expensive and will definitely make a difference in the taste of this dish. Do not use the cooking wines you can buy at the supermarket that is sold alongside the vinegar. Those cooking wines will ruin the flavor and quality of the entire dish. Buy real Marsala wine for real Chicken Marsala. I'm sure Emilio would say the same. ;)
I'm sure he wouldn't say the same about adding soy sauce to Chicken Marsala. I know it sounds unconventional, but soy sauce is often my secret ingredient for adding depth of flavor to a dish that salt just can't achieve.

Return the chicken to the skillet, lower the heat to low and cook, covered, for about 10-15 minutes.

I always serve Chicken Marsala over pasta such as fettuccine, but you can also keep it simple and serve with a nice loaf of Italian bread alongside the chicken. Sauteed spinach and a tossed salad would make nice accompaniments as well.

 I hope you give both Bet Me and my recipe for Chicken Marsala a try. Please let me know if you do!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

REVIEW & DISCUSSION: Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

C This book is the February selection for the Authors by the Alphabet Book Club, representing letter C.

Bet Me is a fun, sweet, romantic story about two people who come together over a bet and end up taking their chances on true love. Although, in the end, you can be assured their happily ever after is a sure thing.

Min Dobbs has just been dumped by her boyfriend David in a bar. She's crushed and angry. It's not like she was in love with the guy, but she was working on it. He seemed to have all the right credentials to be 'the one,' after all. Now she's left without a date for her sister's upcoming wedding, which wouldn't normally bother her, but she'll never hear the end of it from her over-controlling mother.

Calvin Morrissey is a charmer and a heart breaker who has a reputation for dating a girl until she falls for him and then promptly breaking it off. Cal is at the same bar as Min when she has just been dumped. He's out with his friends and business partners, trying to avoid his most recent ex.

Min's friends encourage her to get over David asap by approaching a good looking guy in the bar and introducing herself. She and her friends single out Cal. As Min crosses the bar, she overhears David making a bet with Cal that he couldn't get the girl in the boring gray suit to sleep with him within a month. She realizes David means her and is obviously furious, but decides to play along just to burn David and maybe have a date for her sister's wedding in a couple of weeks to boot!

Min and Cal leave the bar together and grab a bite to eat at Emilio's Restaurant which turns out to be fabulous. The food, that is. The date, not so much. Min and Cal clash and bicker over everything! Yet there's this underlining current between them like gravity pulling them together. Yes, their conversation is prickly, but aside from the whole bet thing, they're honest and comfortable with each other to just be themselves. They part ways both happy to never see each other again--Min giving up on the wedding date idea and Cal thinking 'good riddance' to the woman who's taking out her anger against her ex-boyfriend on ALL men! Only it doesn't work out that way and Min and Cal continue to cross paths, slowly getting to know each other, quickly falling in love although of course, they don't want to admit it.

Bet Me is so much fun to read. It's fast paced, charming, funny, sweet, romantic, loaded with great dialogue and full of little surprises. The cast of secondary characters and all of the connecting side stories are entertaining and add a lot of drama and warmth to Min and Cal's love story. There are misunderstandings galore over the bet--make that bets, that will keep you laughing and guessing until the very end exactly how it will all work out.

If you haven't yet read Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie, what are you waiting for? I bet you'll just love it!

WARNING: This discussion and the comments below are a SPOILER ZONE! If you have not yet read Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie you have been warned that there are SPOILERS AHEAD. Read at your own risk.

This is my first time hosting the book discussion for the monthly Authors By the Book book club and Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie was my selection. If we were a book club that met offline, we surely would have had to met at a little Italian restaurant where we could chat about Min and Cal and the supporting cast of characters over Chicken Marsala, don't you think? ;)

Bet Me is a cute, light hearted romance. The characters and story is engaging yet my questions are quite simple.

Feel free to answer some or all of the questions on your own blog or here in the comments, You can also just Feel free to pose your own questions to the group in the comments or share what you didn't like about the book, too!

1. What did you think of 'the bet'? Do you think Min should have just asked Cal about it or do you think she was right in waiting for him to reveal it himself?

I thought the misunderstandings over 'the bet' were great. It kept things unsettled throughout nearly the entire book with both Min and Cal keeping what they knew about the bet to themselves instead of being honest about it. I mostly wanted Min to just ask Cal about the bet, but I completely understood that she wanted him to be the one to bring it up. It was her way of protecting herself from disappointment if the truth was that he really was just dating her for the bet. And even then, how would she have known if what he said was the truth if she did ask him. He could easily lie to her and still win the bet, right? The answer is that the only way she would believe him would be to trust him. Something that was difficult for both Min and Cal to do for a while. Thank goodness they straightened it all out and finally figured out to take that leap to trust and love each other regardless of that stupid bet. And how fun was that??? :)

2. What is your favorite scene in the book?

I have many, but here are a few of my favorites:

Every time Min and Cal kissed. I know it's sappy, but I can't help it. It's the romantic in me that felt all "awwww..." every time, because each and every time Min and Cal kissed it was unexpected, sweet and romantic. Every kiss was like a perfect first kiss and I loved how they both felt surprised at how strongly they felt for each other.

Another favorite scene is when Min, Bonnie and Liza are having dinner at Min's apartment and Liza tells Min that Cal is trouble and Bonnie tells Min that she thinks he's 'the one.' Liza and Bonnie had completely opposite views on Cal and I loved how convincing and determined Bonnie was when she stood up for believing in true love. She has some really great lines in that scene. [pp. 169-172 in the hardcover edition].

I also loved the very end of the last chapter [before the Epilogue] when Min and Cal discuss whether they'll actually live "happily ever after" once they're married.

3. Who is your least favorite character and why?

While I thought David was pretty much a jerk, I didn't think so highly of Cynthie either, although by the end I did feel sorry for her. My least favorite character, though, has got to be Min's mother, Nanette. Her obsession with controlling Min's diet and putting so my emphasis on her figure as an indicator of her happiness in life was crazy! At first, I thought Nanette just wanted to help Min fit into her maid of honor dress, but soon enough I figured out that she was just shallow and mean to reduce Min's self esteem, the last thing a mother would want to do to their child! Ugh. Although Min often told her mom to get over it, she was born with curves, end of story, it wasn't until Min's sister Diana finally told off Nanette that I finally cheered.

4. Who is (are) your favorite secondary character(s) and why?

I think the cast of secondary characters in this book is awesome. Cal's friends Roger and Tony, Cal's nephew Henry, Shanna, Min's friends Bonnie and Liza, and her sister Diana are all favorites. Everyone comes across very realistic and I enjoyed all the little side stories that were going on. Maybe Bonnie is my absolute favorite of that bunch. She had such a great attitude and despite her sometimes too-rosy view of life, she had some really great insights for her friends.

5. Do you believe in the fairy tale ending of finding true love and living happily ever after?

I imagine most of you do, otherwise you wouldn't be reading a book like Bet Me! :)

I believe in true love and living happily ever after, but it's dynamic-- constantly evolving and moving forward over time without the 'the end' part. There are ups and downs, give and take, hard parts and easy parts, but you stick together and love each other through it all and that's what living happily ever after is all about.

At very nearly the end of the book, Min says she's worried about what comes after the fairy tale ending:

"--but I'm worried. There aren't any happily ever after stories. That's where it ends. Where the hard part starts."
"All right," Cal said. "So?"
"So," Min said, meeting his eyes. "What are we going to do?"
"We're going to take it one day at a time," Cal said, holding on to her. "I don't know anything about this, either, I didn't plan for this, but I think we just stick together. Take care of each other. Pat each other on the back when things get tight." When she still looked unsure, he smiled at her with so much love in his eyes that she went dizzy, and then he said, "Bet you ten bucks we make it."


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

200 Days to Race Day!

Some of you may remember back in October when I announced that I registered to participate in my first triathlon. The race is a sprint triathlon {1/2 mile swim [0.8 km], 12 mile bike [19.3 km] and 5 K run [3.1 mile]} that takes place in September 2011, exactly 200 days from today. I only figured this out an hour or so ago and am excited to start counting down the training days to race day.

I registered for the Tri with several of my regular workout buddies, but a couple of weeks after signing up for the Tri last fall, I learned that another friend of mine (not a workout friend) also signed up for the same race! We were both excited to discover this and have talked about training, what to expect, what we're worried about, etc. often over the last few months, both of us expressing a lot of anxiety over the swimming. Today she emails me to say that she signed us up for semi-private swim lessons at our community indoor pool and it starts tonight!

Say what? At first I wanted to laugh, but I knew she wasn't kidding and that this was probably a great idea to get me in the pool and start training--starting with learning how to swim freestyle properly. So I consented and was at the pool a few hours later for our first lesson. I'm also counting today as my first official day of training for the Tri. Out of curiosity, I later looked up how many days there are until race day and discovered that it is exactly 200 days away from today! Let the countdown begin!

I'm so glad we took the plunge tonight.  {ha ha! pun intended}

Are you a swimmer? 

What's your favorite stroke?

I can't do butterfly at all and freestyle is probably my weakest stroke, but only because I never learned proper breathing technique. Hopefully I'll get that straightened out over the next several weeks of lessons. :)

Library Loot XXXIII

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 Marg's.

I didn't expect to have any library loot this week. Elfland is a long book with tiny print and I haven't even started it yet. But then I got a call from the library that my request to acquire a specific book that I submitted ages ago (maybe five months ago) was honored and it arrived! I was so surprised. Not that I forgot about wanting to read the book, but I had almost given up that my library would ever get it. So I went and picked up the book. You know library books are like eating potato chips. It's so hard to stop at just one, right?

My Soul To Keep by Rachel Vincent
Soul Screamers series, Book 3

Finally, I can read the next book! Which is good because Book 4 is already available! I know I could have bought this one, but when I already downloaded the prequel for free, then borrowed the first two books from the library, I like to stick to the pattern.

Anyway, I can't wait to read this installment in this young adult urban fantasy series featuring banshees and reapers and other kinds of beings who play a role in the state of a soul during that space between life and death. The main character, Kaylee Cavanaugh is an average, normal teen in so many ways that make these stories feel so realistic. When you believe in the truth of the character it's easy to believe in the magic of the myth.

I ventured to a new section in my library on this visit: the graphic novels. Possibly just the young adult graphic novels section... I'm not really sure. I grabbed what interested me in a quick perusal. I read all of them already. What fun. Can't wait to read more, starting with the other graphic novels in the Amulet and Good Neighbors series.

Book One: The Stonekeeper
by Kazu Kibuishi

This one grabbed my attention because the artwork reminded me of the anime films by Hayao Miyazaki of whom we are huge fans in my house. I admit I am more emotional than the average reader and easy to cry, but I cannot believe I cried after reading the four page prologue. Of a graphic novel! The story itself isn't sad, but I have to say there's a lot of emotion in this short novel. Looking forward to the reading more in this series.

Book One: The Good Neighbors
Written by Holly Black
Illustrated by Ted Naifeh

This one grabbed my attention because the story is written by Holly Black who has a great talent for writing dark, teenage urban fantasy novels with a particular affinity for the dark world of faeries. This story didn't disappoint. Again, I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next in this story line.

Jane Eyre The Graphic Novel by Charlotte Bronte
Classic Text version
Adapted by Amy Corzine
Illustrated by John M. Burns and Terry Wiley

I had never before read Jane Eyre nor was I familiar with the story. There, I admitted it. Now that I got that out of the way, reading this classic in graphic novel form was such a great idea. Although the graphic novel is obviously a much abbreviated version of the original novel, all of the text is Bronte's original text {there is also a second graphic novel version that is written in Quicktext that is basically paraphrased from the original text}.  At least now I have a decent understanding of the story and the characters, which makes me happy since I don't know when I'd otherwise read the full length novel.

Now that I've sampled some graphic novels, I can't wait to try more. I'm wondering if my library has adult graphic novels and if they have their own section or are the books simply mixed with all the other fiction. If that's the case, how am I supposed to browse the graphic novels without knowing exactly what I'm looking for? I'll explore that on my next library visit.

How does your library shelve graphic novels? 

What graphic novel stand alone or series do you recommend? 

Monday, February 21, 2011

OutDo Yourself Reading Challenge

This challenge is hosted by The Book Vixen at her blog The Book Vixen. This challenge is very straightforward. Simply challenge yourself to read more books in 2011 than you did in 2010. My annual number of books read has been creeping up every year for the last three years from 61 books to 79 books to 83 books last year. So my goal for the OutDo Yourself Challenge will be to read 84 books in 2011.

Although I REALLY hope to reach 100+ books.

I'm keeping a running list of the books I read this year in my 100 Books In A Year Reading Challenge post, but be sure there will be at least some celebrating going on once I've reached the 84 book mark later this year. If I'm on schedule that should be some time late October, early November.

You can sign up for this challenge HERE.

******** CHALLENGE COMPLETED ON OCTOBER 28, 2011 *********

Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge

Honestly, I had never heard of this author up until a month or so ago when I noted that Marg who blogs at the Intrepid Reader and co-hosts the weekly Library Loot meme borrowed one of this author's books from her library, Norwegian Wood. The title and cover art are what first grabbed my attention and when I looked into the book and read the blurb, I was intrigued. Marg mentioned she was reading the book for a Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge, so I googled that and came upon a gorgeous blog entirely dedicated to a Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge, which is hosted by a reader named tanabata. I poked around and learned more about the author, his works and his popularity first in his native country Japan and now around the world. So in my personal quest to become a more varied reader, I decided to take on this reading challenge!

There are various levels of commitment to the challenge from reading one book to Murakami's entire booklist!

I am joining at the one book level, just to see how it goes. If I like it, I may bump myself up and read more Murakami books.

Now to decide which book to read.... my library has six of his works, but not Norwegian Wood, which I am leaning towards. I did find it at a neighboring library.. hmm decisions, decisions....

Have you read any of Haruki Murakami's works?

If so, what book do you recommend?

**** CHALLENGE MET DECEMBER 31, 2011 **** 
(phew! that was cutting it close!) 

Big Book Reading Challenge 2011

I found a few more reading challenges. Go ahead, laugh's on me.  :)

Pretend it says 2011 ;)
The Big Book Reading Challenge 2011 is hosted by my lovely friend orannia at her blog, Walkabout. This is the same challenge she hosted last year and the idea is to challenge yourself to read a book that is 500 pages or more that you have been procrastinating reading because of its length. My chosen book for this challenge last year was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which I read in August 2010. This year, my book is a toss up between the following three young adult novels:

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, Book 3
First published December 2007
819 pages

InkDeath by Cornelia Funke

The Inkheart trilogy, Book 3

First published October 2008
713 pages

by Christopher Paolini

The Eragon trilogy, Book 3
First published January 2008
763 pages

I haven't decided which one I will read for the challenge, but I really ought to read all three at some point because they are all the third and final books in trilogies of which I've already read the first two books several years ago!!! Sooner is better than later, too, because the longer I wait to read them, the more likely I'm going to forget everything about the characters, their world and the story arc and I'll be completely lost reading these last books. In fact, I think that's my biggest reason for procrastinating picking up these books-- not their number of pages, but feeling lost and frustrated when I read them. And that they sure are long books.

Have you read either of these two series?

Which one do you think I should tackle first?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Library Loot XXXII

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.

As a result of budget cuts, my public library reduced their hours of operation last week and already I'm suffering for it. Now the only time I have to get to the library is for 30 minutes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday or Saturdays. I suppose it could be worse, but I'm still unhappy about it.

In fiction:
The Lover's Dictionary: a novel by David Levithan
I was excited to learn about the recent release of this adult fiction novel by David Levithan whose prior published works are all young adult fiction. I was even more excited to learn my library got a copy so soon after its release date. I borrowed this book last week and read it in just several few hours. Creatively written, but not as fulfilling a story as I had hoped for. It's more like a collection of insights on the joys and trials and tribulations of falling and being in love. My teenager is reading it now and I predict that she's going to enjoy it more than I did.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
I have been wanting to read this widely loved contemporary romance novel for ages and am finally making it happen by choosing it for this month's book selection for the Authors by the Alphabet Book Club. There are several book club members and numerous other book blogging friends who are reading--or rereading this book this month for a discussion that will take place here on my blog on Thursday, February 24, 2011. So if you'd like to join in, grab yourself a copy of Bet Me and get reading! It's a fun, easy read, too, so you should have no problem reading the book in a day or two.

Elfland by Freda Warrington
This the reading selection for February's Women of Fantasy 2011 Book Club hosted by Erika at Jawas Read, Too. I don't know a lot about the book, but I'm looking forward to another great fantasy selection this month. Kristen of Fantasy Cafe has an fantastic two part interview with the author, Freda Warrington posted on her blog. I learned a bit more about the world of Elfland which sounds really interesting. Hopefully I can finish this one in time for the book club discussion.

In non-fiction:

Well Preserved by Mary Anne Dragan
I have borrowed this book on home preserving at least a half a dozen times in the last year. We have been getting a lot of oranges from my organic co-op lately and I am thinking of making marmalade. I found several trusted recipes online, but they all sounded so complicated with the process of making marmalade lasting two days or more. One of the things I love about Well Preserved is that everything is done so simply--including the orange marmalade.

The Chocolate Connoisseur by Chloe Doutre-Roussel
A little pink book on chocolate. Need I say more?

Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites by numerous contributors to The Moosewood Collective 

I have two Moosewood cookbooks on my shelves that I love, especially The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I am constantly on the hunt for healthy and delicious recipes for vegetables, grains and soy. This cookbook is laden with amazing sounding recipes for soups, salads, beans, grains, salad dressings, desserts and more! Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks are traditionally vegetarian, but this one has several recipes that include fish. There are menu suggestions for almost every recipe and each recipe includes nutritional information, which is a major plus for me since I'm still tracking my calories in the Lose It! app. These last several pounds are so stubborn! Maybe some of these recipes will help me get there. :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fitness Challenge Mid Month Progress Report: February 2011

I'm feeling the crunch of trying to meet my 100 fitness mile challenge in this shortest month of the year! I knew this was going to be a tough month for a couple of reasons, but at this point, I'm going to need a few things to line up just right for it to happen. Like cooperative weather and no "sick days", not to mention the determination and stamina on my part to have a few days of double workouts. As of today I have 42 miles to my name for February, so I'm going to need to earn 58 fitness miles in only 13 days!! Yikes! That's going to be a challenge for sure, but I'm going to see what I can do to make it happen. Or at least come really close! :)

Are you struggling with finding time to exercise every day? 

Remember that when there is a will, there is a way.

Recognize how important it is to exercise regularly. Your body needs it. It will make your body stronger, improve your mood, keep you healthier and help you live a longer, fuller life. Plus it just feels good! Must be those endorphins...

Make exercise as important to your daily routine as maintaining good hygiene, eating well and getting enough sleep.

When you make exercise a priority in your life, you will find the time to do it every day.

Like at 6 am like me...

How are you doing this month so far?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day xo

Wishing you a day of love and laughter and of course,

 . . .  a happily ever after! xo


Friday, February 11, 2011

YOU'RE INVITED: Read Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie with me!

First published in February 2004.

It's my turn to select a book for this month's online Authors by the Alphabet Book Club. We're up to the letter C and I chose Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. It's a contemporary romance novel and is one of Crusie's most popular and widely loved novels. I've always wanted to read it and now I've got a handful of friends reading it along with me this month.

I'd like to invite YOU to read it along with me, too!

Need convincing? 
"Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet. Even if he is gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs. Even if she does wear great shoes, and keeps him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But Fate has other plans, and it's not long before Min and Cal meet again. Soon, they're dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kreme donuts, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a freakishly intelligent cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of. Including the biggest gamble of all-true love."

Sounds fun, right?

Buy a copy, borrow from a friend, download it to your e-reader!
No budget for more books this month? Don't worry! I bet your local library has a copy sitting on the shelf just waiting for you to borrow.

The Authors by the Alphabet Book Club is an online book club that was started by Paula who blogs at Tome's Devotee and is made up of a small group of bloggers who take turns every month selecting a book for the group to read and discuss, making our way through the alphabet by authors last names. The person who makes the monthly selection is the one to host a discussion on her (his) blog on the last Thursday of the month.

Be sure to stop back here on Thursday, February 24, 2011 to join in on the discussion of Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie!

I'd love it if you could make it! :)

Visit author Jennifer Crusie at her website at

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

REVIEW: Kiss Me Deadly edited by Trisha Telep

Kiss Me Deadly is a young adult anthology containing 13 Tales of Paranormal Love and a treasure trove of short stories by some of today's leading young adult paranormal authors. I have only read books by three of the thirteen authors--Sarah Rees Brennan, Rachel Vincent and Maggie Steifvater, all of whose stories I enjoy very much, so naturally I was looking forward to their contributions. Reading this anthology also gave me the opportunity to explore the writing of the other ten authors with whom I was less familiar. I can't think of a better or more efficient way of sampling the works of so many authors than by reading an anthology such as Kiss Me Deadly. Now that I've finished reading all of the stories, I want to look into so many full length novels by these authors, not to mention entire series!

Since the stories are rather short, it's difficult to write reviews for them without giving things away, so instead I've written a one (or two or three) sentence synopsis, a brief impression and my rating for each story. I will say that all of the stories have interesting premises and characters, yet some authors were more adept than others at introducing their world, developing their characters and writing a cohesive story with closure in such a short number of pages. Also, it took me a few stories to realize that this anthology is not a collection of paranormal romance shorts as I expected, but rather a collection of supernatural, paranormal or urban fantasy type short stories with romantic elements, but the overall tone is not romance with happily ever after endings.

"The Assassin's Apprentice" by Michelle Zink
A young girl out to avenge her parents' death by killing the demon who murdered them. An Assassin interferes with her plan by stepping in to help her, much to her chagrin. A little lacking in world building. It took almost the whole story to understand the significance young girl's lineage and the role of the assassins in this world.
3.5 out of 5

"Errant" by Diana Peterfreund
A unicorn hunter arrives at a privileged French estate with her beloved unicorn to stage a traditional unicorn hunt for a spoiled young bride's wedding. Lessons in friendship and the cages that societal circumstances impose on two young women of completely opposite upbringings and lifestyles.
4 out of 5

"The Spirit Jar" by Karen Mahoney
A young vampire nicknamed Moth from Boston goes to London, UK on a mission for her Maker to retrieve a book of spells. While stealing the book, she meets a young man named Adam who is also trying to steal the book. Moth is tough, spunky, and determined, yet humanity still resides within her.
5 out of 5

"Lost" by Justine Musk
A sweet story about a teenager who has an uncanny knack for finding lost things. When her best friend is in a coma, she is compelled to visit a house on the route which she walks her dog and meets a stranger named Haiden who feels very familiar to her. He teaches her to focus on herself and her instincts, revealing her talent for helping the souls of people near death find their way. A little rushed in the character and plot development, but still an enjoyable and touching story.
4 out of 5

"The Spy Who Never Grew Up" by Sarah Rees Brennan
A spy story based on classic Peter Pan. Creative and clever story telling, yet I didn't particularly like the characters and the story felt a little lacking in purpose or of lessons in love or friendship. Or did I just miss it?
3 out of 5

"Dungeons of Langeais" by Becca Fitzpatrick
This is a prequel type story in the author's Hush, Hush series takes place in 1769 France tells the story of Chaucery who has become immortal as he is possessed by an angel for two weeks every year starting on the Jewish month (Rosh Hashanah, I believe) and how Chaucery tries to force the angel Cheshvan to break their contract by kidnapping his mortal lover. Satisfying dark, gothic tone.
4 out of 5

"Behind the Red Door" by Caitlin Kittredge
Jo Ryan finds Red Door in the Ash House, apparently a haunted house. Jo goes into the house on a dare and thinks she sees something in the shadows. Curious, if not obsessed, she goes back and meets Nicholas Day a ghost who has been stuck there for years, claiming to have killed himself with razors when his beloved drowned in the river. Jo spends her free time in the house with Nicolas, falling in love with him. Except she starts to lose weight and vitality and is haunted by visions of other young girls trying to tell her something. A ghost romance with deadly consequences.
4 out of 5

"Hare Moon" by Carrie Ryan
A story from the world of The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
Tabitha is a dreamer and feels restless in her village surrounded by forest, fenced off from the rest of the vacant world. She feels a yearning every time she passes a gate and finally garners the nerve to open it and see where it leads. Ignoring the moans and cries surrounding her in the forest, she follows the trail to another gate where she meets Patrick who lives in a village on the other side of a gate. They talk and decide to meet two days after the full moon every month. Over time they fall in love and hope for a life together. One month he doesn't come, leaving Tabitha distraught. When she is discovered with her hand on the gate, she is punished and forced to become a sister at the convent, where she discovers a hidden cavern with a written history of their village and the world. She doesn't give up on Patrick and when they meet again after the Hare Moon, life will never be the same for anyone. A great and terrifying introduction to the world of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Am now considering picking up the full length novels in this series, even though horror is not my thing!
4.5 out of 5

"Familiar" by Michelle Rowen
Teenage witch Brenda is reluctant to come into her powers but finally agrees to obtain her "familiar" or her pet with whom she is to bond before she starts her formal training. She comes home bonded with an adorable kitten who immediately converses with her in her thoughts. Turns out he's a shifter named Owen who was hiding in the pet shop, biding time to figure out how to buy his way back into his pack of which he was kicked out. Brenda helps Owen retrieve the diamond bracelet that was his collar and they are confronted by a gang of werewolves who want to Owen's loyalty, profits from the bracelet or Brenda! The story was a tad bit predictable, but fun and was a sweet romance, hence a favorite.
4.5 out of 5

"Fearless" by Rachel Vincent
This short story is set in the world of Rachel Vincent's Soul Screamers series. Those familiar with the series will recognize Nash as a secondary character in this story along with a cameo appearance from his brother Tod.

Teenager Sabine was abandoned as a toddler and has spent her troubled youth bounced between foster homes. In this story, she has been sent to a halfway house for delinquent girls. Sabine has definitely gotten herself into trouble, but not without reason. She's a mara, a very rare kind of banshee who survives by feeding off the fears of others, which she does by visiting them while they dream, causing nightmares and exacerbating their fears. Shortly after arriving at the halfway house, Sabine starts to die when she can't nourish herself from the other girls. Interesting glimpse into another aspect of Vincent's Soul Screamers series, but now I'm all uncomfortable about Sabine and the promises she and Nash have made to each other when I am loyal to Kaylee and obviously want Nash and Kaylee together! I sense major trouble in the latest novel in this series, My Soul to Steal. Yikes!
4.5 out of 5

"Vermillion" by Daniel Marks
This quirky story takes place in Purgatory and features the teenage supernatural clean-up team of Velvet and Nick, a.k.a. Nyx, who also happen to be romantically involved. They work for Manny, a Station Agent in their district of Purgatory and through her, they meet Amie Shin who works for Howard Barker, the Station Agent of Vermillion, another district within Purgatory. Velvet and Nick are sent on assignment with Amie in Vermillion to chase down and trap a particular errant soul who is haunting humans in the realm of the living. Agents do this by slipping into the living realm through cracks and temporarily 'slipping' into human bodies to contain the evil spirits or illegal haunters or .. hmm.. dead souls doing bad things. Amie is also using seduction and trickery to try to break up Velvet and Nick. Bitch. This story was surprisingly complex in both the nature of the relationships and the world building and had an exciting and satisfying finish. I did a little investigating and have gathered that Daniel Marks has upcoming trilogy of full length novels set in this world featuring Velvet and Nyx and I think book one will be titled Velveteen. Very exciting.
5 out of 5

"The Hounds of Ulster" by Maggie Steifvater
Bryant and Sullivan are best friends and talented young musicians, with a particular affinity for Irish folk rock. Bryant plays guitar and Sullivan plays the fiddle. Determined to be a part of an elite club of musicians who play at Mullens, an Irish pub, the two brazenly crash a jig and finally capture the attention of the club members. A mysterious and beautiful girl standing in the wings sets her sights on Sullivan, jeopardizing his friendship with Bryant as well as his future. A poignant story of friendship and perhaps unrequited love. Not part of any series, but has elements similar to Maggie's Faerie books, Lament and Ballad.
4 out of 5

"Many Happy Returns" by Daniel Waters
A Generation Dead story
A bunch of teenagers of a small New England town are involved in a deadly car crash, leaving six dead and one in a coma, barely alive and if she does survive, is not likely to ever walk again. In this world, a certain genetic disposition enables some teenagers with the possibility of waking up from the dead within seven days after they have died, but in a permanent zombie-like state of being. As parents wait around to see if their child will be among those who 'wake' from the dead, feelings of anger, denial, grief, acceptance, anger and hope are rampant within the community. I've gone back and forth between giving this story a 3.5 or a 4 out of The focus of this story is on the adults as opposed to the teenagers, but it is a well written, thought provoking and heart breaking story with a bittersweet ending. Also, this story is more about the parents than with the teens or their relationships.
3.5 out of 5

Average rating: 4.11 out of 5


Do you have any book recommendations by any of the contributing authors above? 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Monthly Reads: January 2011

To sort of make up for the fact that I don't write many book reviews these days, I've decided to do what so many of you do each month as you list the books you've read that month along with some brief commentary. Although it appears I may have some difficulty with the 'brief' part, which probably means I should just write book reviews to begin with...

I've also decided to reinstate grading. Ugh. I can't believe I'm doing this. I have such a difficult time assessing and comparing books and I tend to grade highly, anyway. I'd honestly be happy rating books 1, 2 or 3 and be done with it. Excellent, Good, and Just Okay. Does it really need to be any more complicated than that? Apparently, it does. My grading scale can be found on my sidebar, and is basically as follows:

A+ Perfection
A   Excellent
B+ Very Good
B   Good
C+ Decent
C   Okay
D   Not Very Good
F   Did Not Finish

Here's a run down of what I read in January:

Total books read: 6

Young Adult: 3
Urban Fantasy: 1
Fantasy: 1
General fiction: 1

Within the young adult genre, two were contemporary young adult and one was urban fantasy.

1. The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa
The Iron Fey series, Book 3
This is the second full length novel in the Iron Fey series, but the third book if you count the novella, "Winter's Passage," which I am counting. In this story, Megan Chase who is half Summer fairy and half human, honors her promise to Ash, the Winter Prince, and returns to the Winter Kingdom with him, where she is sort of a guest, but more like a prisoner. Ash turns cold towards her immediately and isn't there to protect or stick up for her. Instead, Megan is alone and scared with no one to trust. Then Megan alone witnesses the Iron Fey stealing the Scepter of Seasons, and of course, no one believes her... except Ash. The two escape the Winter Court and are on the run from everyone in a race to find and return the scepter to the Queen of Winter before the Winter and Summer courts go to war against each other.

This is a really fun series. It has adventure rooted in both the faery world, Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, and a little bit of modernism with the introduction of the Iron Fey who were born from the human obsessions with technology and lack of imagination and emotion. There's also a little bit of romance. GRADE: B+

2. The Stormchasers by Jenna Blum
I read this book for the Authors by the Alphabet Book Club. It is a story about twins Karena and Charles, who was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder when he was an adolescent. On the night of Karena and Charles' 18th birthday they chase a storm that leads to a horrific event that they decide to keep secret.   Shortly afterwards the two are separated and don't see each other again until 20 years later.

I had difficulty getting drawn into the story for at least the first half of the book, largely due to the awkward point of view that the story is told--third person present. The story picked up in the last half of the book when Charles finally got some page time. The ending was well written and gave the story a very satisfying finish, but overall the book was merely satisfactory for me.  GRADE: C+

My full review can be found HERE.

3. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
This very emotional contemporary young adult book is told from the first person point of view of a teenage girl named Mia. Mia and her family are in a horrific car accident and she is seeing the scene of the accident from outside her body and then as she is transported to the hospital where she lies in a coma. Mia tells her story while she reflects on her life, her family, her choices and the possibilities of her future when she wakes up. If she wakes up. She also tells parts of her story as doctors, nurses, family, friends and her boyfriend visit her in the hospital. Have tissues handy, but a very good story.

4. The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams
I read this book after reading a review on The Book Smugglers last year. I waited on the hold list for this book for more than three months! The library was about to pronounce it lost when it was finally returned. Someone paid a hefty library fine. Anyway, once I started reading this book, I found it very hard to put down. It's a contemporary young adult novel told from the first person point of view of sixteen year old Evie, a loner with a vivid imagination and a tendency to fabricate lies usually as a means to be noticed or heard. When a childhood playmate, Zabet, is found dead in the woods, Evie's lies lead her to befriending the dead girl's father and pulled into a search for the killer with Zabet's best friend. It's a haunting coming of age type story that is very well written, yet will have the reader feeling uncomfortable from beginning to end. Interesting and thought provoking.

5. Shadowfever by Karen Marie Moning
Fever series, Book 5
I'm giving this book an A grade with a disclaimer of sorts, which I know is a pretty lame thing to do, but it's my blog, my prerogative, blah, blah, blah. Here's my deal. I read the first book in this series way over three years ago when it first came out in paperback. I loved the series premise and thought it had a lot of potential, but in hindsight I don't think I was ready for urban fantasy back then. I didn't appreciate the lack of romance or happily ever after ending or the more complicated world building or the slower development of a series story arc.  I reread the first book last November and found it so much more fun, fascinating and suspenseful than the first time. I was hooked. I read the second, third and fourth books and breathlessly awaited the release of the fifth and final book of the series, Shadowfever, anxious for answers to so many mysteries--people, places, connections, resolutions, and so on.

I was on the edge of my seat the entire time I read Shadowfever, half thrilled, half nervous with anticipation as pieces of puzzles came together, some coming swiftly and others not revealing themselves until the very, very end. I had a very pleased sense of 'Wow. What an adventure!' when I finished, which is what makes a great and memorable book, right? So hence the A grade.

Yet... (and there it is) despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this thrilling and fascinating final installment to the Fever series, there are a few things that don't sit perfectly with me regarding Shadowfever, which makes me question my own sanity or perhaps it's indecision in saying it's an A read.

Some of what doesn't sit right with me regarding Shadowfever may just be my personal reader preference. For instance, wanting a definite romance or at least one tender romantic scene where declarations of love are complete and believable. Is it so wrong of me to have expected Mac to get some genuine heart felt love from Barrons? Too much was still left unspoken between them and what some may consider 'THE love scene' of the book felt rather forced and unexpected to me. I waited five books for that? It wasn't enough. However, I understand this series is urban fantasy and no one promised me true love, they live happily ever after, the end. I can accept that.

Also, while so many pieces of this story do finally come together, there are a lot of pieces that don't. Some questions have been left unanswered and there are even new ones! Not exactly the way the last book in a series should come together, even with the promise of a spin off series.

However inconsistent as I appear, I stand by my love for this series and the fact that Shadowfever was a thrilling and fascinating adventure that kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. For another, albeit less wishy-washy perspective of Shadowfever, I suggest you visit Hilcia's review HERE where she gives Shadowfever a D!? *gasp*! But don't be hating on her! She raises some very valid points.

6. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
Book One of The Inheritance Trilogy
This is the January selection for the Women of Fantasy 2011 Book Club. What a story! In the short span of just less than five hundred pages, the author pens an elaborate tale about a world of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms--the mythology of creation, the hierarchy and powers of the gods, and how the world arrived at its current state of affairs. It's an intricate tale of the people who inhabit the world, their relationships to each other and their gods and how closely entwined the two are. The story encompasses such a vast array of topics such as religion, world politics, familial issues, racial and ethnic issues and above all, the life of one young woman who gets entangled in a complicated struggle between peoples and gods when all she wishes for is to live happy and free and to love and be loved.

I can't wait to read the next book in the trilogy, The Broken Kingdoms.