Wednesday, May 30, 2012

REVIEW: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Attachments is an engaging, honest story and just so much fun to read. The characters are realistic, every day kind of people--not perfect but perfectly human. They're so "everyday" that you can easily imagine this story taking place in your office or between people you know. It's refreshingly honest and straightforward and completely enjoyable.

Attachments takes place over the course of several months spanning the Y2K panic. Our protagonist, Lincoln is hired by The Courier newspaper as the new IT guy whose main job objective is to monitor company emails to ensure employees are not using their computers for personal purposes. Beth and Jennifer are close friends who work for the newspaper and constantly exchange personal emails throughout the day. Their emails obviously get flagged, but Lincoln finds them harmless and actually starts to enjoy reading them. He's always been a bit uncomfortable with reading people's emails for his job, but he really starts to struggle with the morality of his job as he gets to know these women through their emails and even more so as starts to fall for Beth. The pull to read how they're doing and have their emails brighten his day, however, proves stronger than the pull to send them a warning about breaking company policy. You know this spells trouble if he thinks he can ever approach Beth.

In the meantime, Lincoln is trying to get his personal life in order and move forward. His life has been stagnant since his first love broke up with him nine years ago and he really needs to get over her and move on. Really. It's been nine years. He lives at home with his mom, he's stuck in a boring job he doesn't like and his social life is not so social. Dungeon and Dragons with the guys, an occasional night out at the local bar and dinner in The Courier break room with the vending machine lady, Doris. He needs to do something.

The story is pleasant to read and rolls along at a quick pace. Chapters alternate between blocks of personal email messages between Beth and Jennifer and glimpses into the plain and predictable bachelor life of Lincoln, the really nice IT guy. The honesty, loyalty and joy of female friendship is accurately portrayed in Beth and Jennifer's emails which give Lincoln a unique insider's view to these two women. And how lovely it is that Lincoln fell in love with a woman for her compassion, humor and her views on life, love and companionship without ever having laid eyes on her! So romantic. Okay, maybe it sounds kind of weird and stalker-ish on paper, but you just have to read the story yourself to see that I'm right! In the end, this story is really about how Lincoln fell hard for a girl through her emails to her best friend and how he finally breaks the predictable pattern of his life and moves forward.

Attachments is a well written, entertaining read. Things started to get really interesting when Lincoln started to really struggle with the consequences of not reporting Beth and Jennifer and how it prompted him to get his life together. And when they started to figure each other out... I just loved how everything sort of fell apart and then fell back into place in a really satisfying way that suited these characters to a 'T.' Don't miss this fun read!

I give Attachments by Rainbow Rowell 4+ out of 5 stars.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

In Death Series Reading Challenge May 2012

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!

Did you read any In Death series books 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.


Creation in Death by J.D. Robb
In Death series, Book #25

This story opens with Lt. Eve Dallas called to the scene of a murder that's all too familiar: The body of a young brunette woman with wounds on her body indicative of horrific torture and carved in her belly is the time it took for her to die. Nine years ago, the department investigated a series of murders just like this one, the case never solved. Now this vicious, elusive murderer known as "The Groom" is back in NYC, targeting women who work for Eve's multimillionaire husband Roarke. Eve and her team are literally racing the clock with a vengeance to catch "The Groom" once and for all and before more women die.

I have to admit that it took me almost half the book before I got pulled into this one. The case was interesting enough, but there was a lot of fact gathering going on and very little criminal suspense or personal drama to the story at that point to keep me absorbed. Plus I have to admit being somewhat annoyed that once again, expert civilian Roarke is working around the clock with the NYSPD on this case and even present at meetings with the commissioner. Really?

Thankfully, around half way through the book the pace finally picked up. In fact, it got so intense that I didn't want to put it down! The reader is exposed to the murderer's disturbing torture methods throughout the story, which definitely raises the creep-factor several notches. His motives are slowly revealed as the investigation progresses, which in turn makes it all the more disturbing. Not only are the physical acts horrific, but so are the psychological aspects.

There are some great scenes between Eve and Feeney, both heated and emotional, as they rehash the investigation from nine years ago and discover that neither one of them have ever gotten over the frustration and guilt from having never solved "The Groom" murders long ago. These several scenes and the last couple of chapters turned this book from an okay read into one I thoroughly enjoyed. I even choked up a bit there at the end!

I gave Creation in Death 4 out of 5 stars on goodreads.



Broadly speaking, it seems that many of the In Death crime investigations can be categorized in one of two ways. Personal homicides or serial murders. By personal homicides I mean cases in which the  murderer kills people he or she personally knows; domestic or professional type relationships. By serial murders I mean homicides in which the murderer is selecting strangers as his victims who fit some specific criteria, usually tied to his or her past.

Do you prefer one or the other above type of crime investigation in this series? 

Or do you like to read this series primarily for the personal interactions with the characters? 

I don't prefer one crime investigation or the other, although I have to admit the serial murders usually end up being super creepy. The kind that make me nibble on my fingers and shudder and cringe at the horror. I do prefer, however, when the crime investigation gets entangled with the personal lives of our favorite characters, whether it be Eve, Roarke, Peabody or any one else in Eve's circle of friends. Those stories seem to be the biggest page turners for me.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Neverwhere Read Along: Part II

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman 
Chapter 6 - Chapter 12

This is the second set of discussion questions for the read along of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel Neverwhere [1997]. To follow along with the read along, including links to other readers' discussion posts, visit Carl's blog Stainless Steel Droppings.

1. Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, "I want to go home". How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

I don't blame him one bit! If I were in his shoes, I'm sure I'd be chanting the same thing. Heck, it worked for Dorothy, right? I admit some readers are going to think Richard is being rather wimpy the way he just sits there in the tunnel, chanting that he wants to go home, crying and pretty much giving up without a fight, but let's cut the guy a little slack. He's never really been the fighter-type guy before. In fact, standing his ground to Jessica about helping Door when they found her lying on the sidewalk might have been the first time he really stood up for someone--including himself! Now his world is completely different. He's already been erased from London Above and London Below shouldn't be real, but it is. Everything about it is completely unknown to him and it's frightening as heck. The important thing is that he didn't just give up. He forged on and decided to find a way back to his world Above. Granted, Door came back and suggested he come with them, but still. He went. And the rest, as they say, is history. So let's show a little compassion to Richard during his moment of despair and pat him on the back for running for his life instead of waiting for Croup and Vandemar to catch and kill him for fun, eh? ;)

2. The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week's reading. What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

The Marquis is definitely one of the most mysterious characters in Neverwhere. My confidence in his trustworthiness was still tested in this section of reading. I still wanted to trust him and his intentions with helping Door on her quest to find out who killed her family and why, but he doesn't seem to be very well liked by a lot of folks in London Below. He's banned from the Earl's Court! And when he went to Croup and Vandemar's Liar?! I thought for sure he was the one who betrayed Door! I admit I was relieved to discover otherwise in the next chapter. And once Croup and Vandemar captured and tortured him, I realized he wasn't on their side. Then I felt awful for him.

3. How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

Oh, the Ordeal of the Key. That was like a really bad trip [the psychedelic crisis type]. Of course, I was glad that Richard survived it and of course, I expected him to since he IS the protagonist, but overall, I didn't find the experience particularly memorable or insightful. But he was brave and kind and true, so he deserved the key. I liked the that the bead in his pocket from Anaesthesia's broken necklace is what helped Richard remember what he was doing there and why. I found it pleasingly sentimental, and also a testament to the power and importance of being a compassionate person--perhaps the very reason why he survived the Ordeal of the Key in the first place. I also appreciated how Richard's acquisition of the key perhaps made Door and Hunter admire and respect Richard more.

4. This section of the book is filled with moments. Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you. What are one or two of these that you haven't discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

I like the way Richard "writes" in his mental diary. It's his own personal way of dealing with this misadventure that's become of his life. I think it helps keep him grounded.

5. Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book?

I found that I didn't dislike Jessica as much when Richard crossed paths with her in the British Museum scenes as I did when she refused to help Door and broke up with Richard because of it. I rather felt sorry for her. Maybe she seemed a bit lost and lonely without Richard in her life, which made me think perhaps she'll learn to be more appreciative of a good thing when she's got it in the future.

Tune in next Monday [June 4] for the exciting conclusion when the group discusses the final chapters of Neverwhere!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Bookmarks: What's in YOUR Book?

bookmark |ˈboŏkˌmärk| 
   a strip of leather, cardboard, or other material, used to mark one's place in a book.*

*definition from the Oxford American Dictionaries widget. 

I have never used a strip of leather or cardboard to mark my place in a book, but I have, however, used a very wide assortment of "other material."

I've been reading Cold Magic by Kate Elliot over the last few days for this month's book club and I've been using the receipt I found inside as a bookmark. Probably a very commonly used bookmark. This particular receipt is rather special because it's not MY receipt. I received this copy of Cold Magic as a hand-me-down from nath [Thanks, nath! :))], so it's actually HER receipt I found inside the book... so I think of her every time I mark my page. The cherry on top? The receipt is in French! Ooo la la *love*

I started thinking about the random little things I use as bookmarks. I very, very rarely use an actual bookmark. If I do, it's usually an author's bookmark that was given to me by the author at a signing or in a mailing. I do use a pretty beaded ribbon "book thong" now and then to mark my page, but usually I'm using some totally random bits of paper--usually whatever is nearby on my bedroom nightstand, family room coffee table, desk, etc. when I need to mark my page. More recent items I've used are receipts, gum wrapper, cough drop wrapper, business card, clothing tag, a dollar bill, a torn scrap of paper, etc. I've even used the little paper you pull off the adhesive part of a panty liner. Weird! O_0 Good thing I do most of my reading at home.. that would be a little embarrassing!

What kinds of things have you used as bookmarks?

If you do all your reading on an e-reader these days, do you miss traditional bookmarks?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Recital Day! Plus How to Make a Hair Bun

Both of my daughters were lured by pink ballet shoes and tutus at a very young age and started taking ballet classes before they were even in school. Over the years they added tap, jazz, lyrical, hip hop and for my oldest--pointe to their dance repertoires. After spending hours and hours at the dance studio every week for a few years in a row, including most weekends for competition team, they both decided to take a break from dance a couple of years ago. This school year, however, my youngest decided to take up jazz again. So back to the dance studio she went for another year of dance, which culminated with her dance recital last Saturday night. What a fun show! :)

She is a such challenge when it comes to having her picture taken! While she's not too shy to take all those self portraits in the bathroom or bedroom mirror and then post them on facebook or instagram, she avoids getting in front of her parents' camera lenses at practically any cost! This is the best shot I have of her from Saturday night, just after the show was over:

You see what I mean? I felt like the paparazzi chasing down the star of the show! ; )

My husband took a bunch of photos with his fancier camera and lens, too. And luckily I snagged a few shots of her on stage during dress rehearsal earlier in the week. Her group literally lit up the stage during their number:

How could they not with such sparkly costumes, right?

Now for the instructional segment of this post...

How to Make a Perfect Hair Bun: 
After years and years of practice, gallons of hair gel and hundreds of bobby pins . . . I think I've mastered the art of styling the perfect bun for recital day. Or dress rehearsal, dance competition, picture day, first communion or whatever special occasion for which a neat, tight bun is desired. I imagine there are numerous YouTube videos available with similar instructions, so I encourage you to check that out if you need more visuals. In the meantime, here are my instructions:

What you need: 
hair gel, extra hold
            [I buy a big bottle of whatever is cheapest, usually L.A. Looks.]  
two elastic hair bands, one thick and one thin
            [also called pony tail holders]
a hair net
            [find at a well stocked drug store or beauty supply store like Harmon's]
bobby pins
            [the kind you have to sort of pry open] 
            [any brand is fine, Aquanet brand is inexpensive and effective]

What you do:
Read through all instructions before starting.

  1. If your dancer has short or medium length fine weight hair, go to next step. Otherwise, for dancers with long and or thick hair, it is best to start with very damp hair. Completely wet hair and gently towel dry. Then comb out any knots, if necessary.
  2. Once hair is brushed free of any knots, apply a GENEROUS glob of gel to hair, starting at scalp, working it in to the hair. Be sure to get the gel all the way to the hairline around the face, behind the ears and along the back of the neck. Don't be afraid to use A LOT of gel, especially if the bun is for a dancer or gymnast who will be bopping and leaping across a stage or flipping around over the mats. For a special occasion such as communion or flower girl, you can probably get away with less gel.
  3. Brush or comb hair using a wide toothed comb until smooth. Work the hair into a pony tail at the height you want the bun, brushing the hair smooth as you go. Secure with a thick, elastic hair band [pony tail holder].
  4. Add more gel to the pony tail, if necessary, which it usually is, to make sure the hair is slick enough to hold together without any little "fly aways" sticking out.
  5. Braid the pony tail and secure bottom with a thin, elastic hair band [pony tail holder].
  6. Now wind the braid around the base of the pony tail and tuck the end in to the base of the bun. Secure with a few bobby pins.
  7. Take the hair net and wrap it around the bun. You may need to twist and double or triple wrap the hair net around the bun until it covers the bun neatly. Secure the net to the bun and the bun to the hair on scalp with bobby pins. If your bun is well gelled and covered with the hair net, this may take only 4-5 bobby pins. But to be sure the bun is very secure--especially if the bun is for a dancer or gymnast, go ahead and use more. Have your dancer or gymnast jump and leap around a bit to make sure the bun isn't going anywhere.
  8. Have your dancer or gymnast cover her eyes with her hands and spray hair with hairspray. Gently pat or brush hair flat with your hands to tame down any fly away hairs.

Sounds like a lot of steps, but it's really pretty easy to do. Just like the advice you probably give your budding star, practice makes perfect, so keep practicing making hair buns and you'll be a pro in no time.

Good luck!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Nevewhere Read Along: PART I

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Prologue - Chapter 5

Today is the day to link up the first set of discussion questions for the read along of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel Neverwhere [1997]. To learn more about the Read Along, including links to other readers' discussion posts, visit Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

In full disclosure, I admit that couldn't stop reading this book at Chapter 5 and ended up reading straight through to the end. I loved it and give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. There is one thing--an unaddressed question that nagged me for maybe the last third of the book that keeps me from giving it five stars. I'm hoping other readers can help me understand that inconsistency later in our book discussion of the last chapter set. Maybe I missed something. Anyway, the discussion questions below and my answers do not reveal any spoilers past Chapter 5 in Neverwhere.  Actually, they don't reveal much of anything about the specifics of the plot, so even if you haven't read Neverwhere, it's still pretty safe to read.

1. What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar?

My first impression of Messers. Croup and Vandemar was that they were a sinister version of Abbot and Costello. I picture their physical appearances to be very different, but their airs quite similar. In my imagination, Croup and Vandemar have this classic retro villain style to them in looks and in their behavior. Their actions and conversations are almost comical, but they're SO sinister and downright creepy that instead of laughing, you end up cringing and fighting the urge to vomit instead. Okay maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not much! They're sly and creepy and enjoy gory things way too much. I would not want to bump into them in London Below, London Above or anywhere for that matter.. but they sure do make Neverwhere p-r-e-t-t-y interesting...

2. Thus far we've had a small taste of London Below and of the people who inhabit it. What do you think of this world, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the "real world" occupies?

London Below is a fascinating place both physically and conceptually. I suppose for the most part, London Below might just look like abandoned train or sewer tunnels, but somehow Gaiman paints it in a light that's a bit more magical than that. I suppose the people who inhabit London Below bring it to life with their different histories, talents and ambitions. Overall, though, I find London Below to be a rather melancholy place.

3. What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere? Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

I definitely see the theme of "finding your true self" going on with our protagonist, Richard Mayhew. He thinks he's on the path he's supposed to be on.. he's got good job, a beautiful fiancee--all leading him to a desirable future. But we all know that's not what life is all about, right? All of a sudden Richard gets thrown down a new path--a frightening one, one he doesn't want and you can't help but wonder and HOPE that this might just turn out to the best thing that's ever happened to him. Maybe he'll find himself along the way this time. If he doesn't get himself killed, that is!

4. We've met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?

The marquis de Carabas has grabbed my attention for sure because I can't quite figure him out! Who is he to Door? And is he really looking out for her best interests? Can he be trusted? I really want to trust him, but I can't shake this feeling that he would betray his own mother without batting an eyelid!

I also really liked Anaesthesia and was rather upset over what happened to her on the Bridge.

5. As you consider the Floating Market, what kind of things does your imagination conjure up? What would you hope to find, or what would you be looking for, at the Market?

Oh, I imagine a strange myriad of items for sale or trade at the Floating Market including strange, unidentifiable edibles, unusual trinkets from times past, articles of clothing... anything really. If I were at the Floating Market, perhaps I would look to purchase a small piece of jewelry--an unique ring, bracelet or locket of some sort, by which to remember my trip.

6. If you haven't already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first several chapters of Neverwhere and actually found it difficult to stop reading it... so I finished it! :)

Discussion questions and answers for Chapter 6 through Chapter 12 will be posted Monday, May 28th.

Want to join in on the read along? Grab a copy of Neverwhere and dig in! Be sure to visit the sign up page HERE and let Carl know you're on board.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

REVIEW: Saving Grace by Julie Garwood

[Published 1993]
TBR Challenge May 2012

The suggested theme for this month's TBR Challenge [hosted by Wendy the Super Librarian] is to read an old-school romance, published prior to 2000, from your TBR pile. Since I only started reading romance in 2006, I don't have many books that fit the 'old-school' criteria. However, thanks to some romance reading friends who have passed old school romances on to me [Mariana, Hilcia and Phyl], I do have a small handful. I believe I can thank Hilcia for this one? Anyway, when I saw Saving Grace by Julie Garwood among my TBR books, I knew right away it was just what I was in the mood for --a classic medieval romance and that's just what I got.

Saving Grace takes place in early 13th century England and Scotland--but mostly in Scotland. Lady Johanna was married off to the ruthless and greedy Baron Raulf when she was just a young girl. A favorite pawn of the wicked King John, her husband abused her in this loveless marriage, leaving Johanna wishing never to marry again upon his death when she is widowed at just sixteen years old. A few years later her adoptive brother, Baron Nicholas, convinces her to marry his friend, Gabriel MacBain, the Scottish warrior who is laird of the MacBain and Maclaurin clans. Not only is MacBain her only chance of safety, but perhaps even a morsel of happiness. More than that, the marriage also serves as a political move to keep the lands Johanna inherited from going to the evil English Barons under King John's rule and saves her from being married off by the King to another wicked Baron. It also puts Johanna under the protection of this strong Scottish clan since she happens to know of some incriminating evidence against the King.

So Johanna marries Gabriel MacBain and lives in this castle nestled in the Scottish Highlands, where the language and customs are so different from that of England--including her duties as wife to the larger-than-life Laird MacBain. He wishes for her to stay put in the castle and sew in front of the fire. She wishes to work the land, ride horses, practice her bow and arrow and make friends with the men and women of the MacBain and Maclaurin clans. It's a rocky road for this couple, and a lot is going on between them and the extensive but manageable cast of secondary characters, but in between exasperating discussions a few arguments and plenty of humorous missteps--usually on Johanna's part, they manage to make it work. Not only do they make their marriage work, but they both end up surprised to have found true love along the way. On this path to true love, Johanna learns that her new husband is fiercely loyal to and protective of those in his care and underneath his gruff exterior, he is a tender, patient man. As bits of Johanna's previous marriage to Baron Raulf and the absurd teachings of the Baron's Priest are revealed, Gabriel learns why Johanna is so timid and even a bit fearful of him. He also comes to know and respect the strong, independent woman who's breaking out of her shell and trying to live true to herself. So a lot of individual character growth going on amidst the growth of their love for each other.

Saving Grace is the third medieval romance I've read by Julie Garwood and I have to say each one has been an absolute delight to read. Garwood's writing is solid, the true history and politics of the time period are realistically woven into the story line ... and the love stories? Utterly romantic.

Saving Grace gets 4.5 out of 5 stars from me.

In the past year, I have read Garwood's The Bride, The Wedding and now Saving Grace. I can't wait to read more!

What's your favorite medieval romance by Julie Garwood?

Favorite medieval romance by another author?

You can visit author Julie Garwood at her website

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Library Loot LII

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 ???

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman 
I'm reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman right now and really enjoying it--both the storyline and Gaiman's style, so when his novella Odd and the Frost Giants popped up under a search for books of Norse mythology, I decided to give it a go. Of course, it helped that my library had it on the shelf. Odd and the Frost Giants will likely be my mythology book for the Once Upon A Time VI reading challenge, although if time permits, I may seek out another one. Especially since this one is a middle-grade book. I don't know very much about Norse mythology, so I'm curious. I only know very, very little. Basically what was mentioned in the recent Avengers movie. :P

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell 
I am reading this one on the recommendation of nath and then Leslie, ames and Brie. I saw it in the new release section at my library several weeks ago, but have such a long queue of books I want to read right now so I decided to wait on it. But then I saw it again today and noticed it has this red sticker on the binding with B & T on it. I finally asked the librarian what that means and learned that books that have that sticker are only in my library's catalog for a specific period of time before it is sent to another library. So I decided I'd better borrow this one while it was still available! So Attachments is about two women who are officemates and exchange personal emails throughout the day, chatting and gossiping and a man who is hired for internet security to monitor emails within the company. He starts falling for one of the women based on her emails. Sounds like a fun read!

B & T stands for Baker & Taylor and I think they're kind of like a library that lends books to libraries (or other organizations) for fees that would be smaller than it would be for my library to buy those books. Anyone else know more about it?

Of course I had to check out some new cookbooks while I was there.

Chole's Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli
A vegan cookbook by Chole Coscarelli, winner of Food Network's Cupcake Wars. Lots of variety in this cookbook with easy to find ingredients that many home cooks already have on hand.

Easy Thai Cooking by Robert Danhi
We just love Thai food in my house. I quickly thumbed through this cookbook at the library and saw several recipes that I might try. Best for cooks who have access to an Asian market as many of the ingredients--especially the spices--are Asian-specific. Some large supermarkets these days have well stocked ethnic food aisles, too. The author also took the time to explain ingredients and basic Thai cooking methods, which is always appreciated when approaching a new cuisine on your own!

Reel Cuisine: Blockbuster Dishes From The Silver Screen 
by Nami Iijma
I saw this little cookbook mentioned on someone's blog not too long ago during Weekend Cooking and thought it sounded so fun. I was excited to see it in my library's new book section. Of course I had to borrow it. It was originally published in Japan in 2009 with a translated copyright of 2011. The recipes aren't necessarily overly impressive, but the cookbook is such a cute concept and would make a great gift for the movie buff in your life who also likes to cook. There is a recipe for Crème Brûlée from one of my favorite films--the french film, Amélie. I might just have to make that one 'just because'! And if you haven't watched Amélie, I suggest you do!

What books, if any, do you have out from your library? 

What are you reading?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Once Upon A Time UPDATE

And Neverwhere [by Neil Gaiman] Read Along 

Once upon a time I used to blog more often than once every 10 days! Seriously, it has been over a week since my last post and even longer since I've visited most of your blogs. I just hate when that happens. A little speed bump in the life of a blogger, I suppose. Needless to say I'm so sorry!!!! Let's catch up this week! On the bright side, at least I've been reading! So far this month I've read four books and am nearly finished with the fifth, so I can't complain there. It's about halfway through the time period set aside for the Once Upon A Time VI Reading Challenge that I joined over at Carl's blog Stainless Steel Droppings and I thought I'd do a little update on my progress. Let you know what I've been reading and remind me what I still need to read by the end of June.

I decided to participate in Quest the Third which requires me to read one book in each of the following four sub genres: fantasy, fairy tale, folklore, and mythology and read Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.

So far I have read If I Die by Rachel Vincent for the folklore requirement. If I Die is the fifth book in the young adult Soul Screamers series that deals with bean sidhes, reapers, maras, syphons, hellions and other beings from folklore about death, spirits and the after life. The author seamlessly melds very realistic, modern teenage drama with fantasy elements in fast paced, suspenseful stories. The author never takes the easy road with her characters, which I appreciate. They make some bold--and sometimes poor-- decisions, but that's part of what makes them so realistic. Teens sometimes mess up. They take risks, get in trouble, they argue, they hurt each other's feelings, and sometimes they really care about each other more than anything else in the world and often do the right thing.

Right now I'm reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman for the fantasy element of the challenge. It's also one of the books that Carl has chosen for a group read along. I don't think you have to be participating in Once Upon A Time to join in. So if you've always wanted to read Neverwhere or a book by Neil Gaiman or if you'd just like to do a read along, why not check it out? Visit Stainless Steel Droppings at The Nevewhere Read Along and join in. This week is week one for which we're reading the Prologue through Chapter Five, posting our discussion Q&A on Monday, May 21, so you're not even late!

I feel obligated to tell you, however, that the book is so good that you might just have trouble stopping at Chapter Five. You might start reading it and then all of a sudden discover you're on Chapter Thirteen with less than 100 pages to go to the end and you just can't stop reading!!! I happen to know this from personal experience. ; )

After Neverwhere, I'll be looking to read a fairy tale, a mythological book and Midsummer Night's Dream. I'm pretty sure I'm going to read either Cat's Tale or Ember by Bettie Sharpe for the fairy tale. I'm still thinking to read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, but I'm not sure if I want to read it just now.

Do you have any recommendations for a mythological story?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

REVIEW: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier by Ree Drummond

This is the second cookbook from Ree Drummond, also popularly known as "The Pioneer Woman." If you're not familiar with Ree and her gorgeous Pioneer Woman website,
I'll give you the quick rundown. Ree was a city girl living the fast paced life when on her way from L.A. to Chicago, made a pit stop in her hometown in Oklahoma where she met a cowboy, fell in love with him, moved to his ranch, had his babies and now lives happily ever after on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma! No really! That's what happened. You can read all about her story in her memoir titled The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels--a Love Story or just visit her website and read all about it there. Anyway, while living on an fairly isolated ranch in the middle of Oklahoma, busy raising four children, tending their home, cooking for the ranch hands, etc.. Ree started a blog in 2006 where she posts photographs of and anecdotes about ranch life, her family,  homeschooling, gardening, photography and of course, cooking. Her popularity grew exponentially and she's now practically a household name. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but A LOT of people all over the country know who she is. And that's the dish on Ree Drummond, "The Pioneer Woman."

I own Ree Drummond's first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, which I enjoy reading even though haven't actually made any of the recipes in it. Most of the recipes are too decadent for me--a lot of rich dairy products, meat and some fried foods, too. When I saw Ree's latest cookbook at my library recently, I checked it out and spent an hour or so reading through the recipes and admiring her wonderful photography.

Ree has a wonderfully friendly way about her that shines through on both her website and in her cookbooks. It's a comfortable friendliness that makes you feel as though you're sharing recipes and daily anecdotes about your families with a close friend. She has a fun sense of humor and an appreciation for hard work, good food and the love of family and friends. And it shows in her cookbooks and on her website.

As for the recipes, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes From My Frontier focuses a lot more on the food--including step by step photos for each recipe, and a bit less on Ree's family and life on the ranch compared to her first cookbook. If you already read her website and or have read her first cookbook, you probably already feel as though you know Ree and you'll enjoy getting right into the kitchen and cooking up some of her mouthwatering recipes. It IS a cookbook, after all. If you're not familiar with Ree, that don't worry. You're still going to love Ree's recipes and end up wishing YOU lived on a cattle ranch. Or maybe not that last part..

Initially I bookmarked only one recipe to make from this cookbook, but after flipping through it again, I found a few more. Like Ree's first cookbook, there are a lot of recipes in this one that I won't likely prepare because the foods are fried or contain a lot of cheese and cream. Unless you're burning tons of calories wrestling cattle every day, these recipes are too high in calories for every day meals. Perhaps I'd make an exception for some of the desserts such as Billie's Italian Cream Cake, the Coffee Cream Cake or even the Knock You Naked Brownies. Mmmm.. The one recipe that I definitely want to try is the Peach-Basil Ice Cream Topping. A bit unusual, I know, but it sounds ultra refreshing, summery and delicious. Other recipes that I've bookmarked are Restaurant-Style Salsa, Steakhouse Pizza, Thai Chicken Pizza, Fig-Prosciutto Pizza and Carnitas Pizza. Can you tell I like pizza?

Vegetarians beware. Ree lives on a cattle ranch, so the recipes call for a lot of meat, eggs and dairy products and may not appeal to vegetarians, vegans or others with allergies and or a gluten-intolerance.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food From My Frontier is a must for fans of The Pioneer Woman and anyone else who loves tempting, home-cooked, comfort foods.

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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! 

Note: your post does not have to be posted on the weekend, but do visit Beth's blog over the weekend to link up your post. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Book Cover Quilt for a Cause

Yesterday was opening day for one heck of an online fundraiser for the fight against diabetes, organized by romance author and mom, Brenda Novak whose son has diabetes. Brenda Novak's Annual Auction for the Cure of Diabetes--I think this is the 8th annual--runs from May 1-May 31, 2012 where hundreds of items are up for auction and all proceeds are donated to diabetes research. Many items will appeal to book-minded folks whether you're a reader, aspiring or accomplished author, as well as many other kinds of items such as hand crafted jewelry and other gifts, beauty & fashion and even sports memorabilia.

Every year my friend Phyl [See Phyl's Quilts & Books!]--whose son also has diabetes--makes a donation to the auction either with an actual quilt she has made or the promise to make a custom made quilt to the winner's specifications. She's so creative and talented! I've been admiring her quilts for years now. This year, Phyl's donation is the offer to make a quilt that features up to four high resolution book covers like the one below Phyl sewed and gifted to Brenda earlier this year. Isn't it gorgeous?

Phyl has more photos of her book cover quilt on her blog at Auction time! It's a clever and creative way to showcase your favorite books and would make a great gift, too! You can bid on Phyl's quilt offer HERE.

If this isn't your thing, that's okay! Be sure to look around for other items--there's bound to be something there that interests you.

Good luck!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My April Adventures

"Time flies when you're having fun." That explains why it's May already! 

What a month. It's been joyous, but also a bit bittersweet, when my baby.. whom I birthed, nursed, nurtured and protected all these years.. turned 17 years old this month and is now driving a car. This is way harder than the first day of school, first time away at camp, first period, first boyfriend... seeing your child get in car and drive away from home is SO SCARY. I am proud and happy to see that she has become a strong, capable, independent young woman so anxious to get out there in the world, who by the way, learned first hand how to jump start a dead battery about 60 hours after getting her license, but at the same time I miss the little girl who is no more. Never has childhood seemed more fleeting to me than it has this month. Did I mention she's smart, too? She was inducted into the National Honor Society in April. :)

In fitness: 
My workout pattern has been pretty predictable this month. I've been running twice a week outdoors and biking on at least one weekend day. At the gym, I'm either in spin or kickbox class. I haven't been keeping up with strength training this month and I can feel it! I'm making a point to get weights, planks, push ups and ab work back into my weekly workout plan--even if I have to do it on my own at home. Here are my running and cycling stats:

Run 21.0 miles [33.8km]
Bike 191.5 miles [308.2km] <-- A new monthly record for me!

I know there are many, many cyclists out there who bike way more than this in any given month, but for a weekend cyclist like me, I think 191.5 miles rocks! I'll probably end up breaking this record before the summer ends, but for now.. I'm pretty happy with this mileage. I also made some new personal records with distances in April. One is for the most miles in two consecutive days, which was 68.4 miles [110km] (42.5 on Saturday and 25.9 on Sunday). The other record was for my longest ride yet at 52.2 miles [84km]. This route was mostly easy rolling hills, with one climb at the very beginning (4 mile mark) and one at the very end (48 mile mark). Most of our rides have several climbs interspersed with rolling hills. Did I mention we're signed up to ride a Gran Fondo [103 mile (165.8km) cycling event] in September?

What did you do to keep moving in April? 

In books: 
April was yet another productive reading month for me! I read twelve books! Well, three of them were re-reads of a graphic novel and a fourth was another graphic novel, but since Lover Reborn was over 500 pages, it kind of evens out, right?

Non-fiction...... 2
   Health & fitness... 1
   Memoir ..................... 1

Romance ............ 6
     Paranormal ...........3
     Contemporary...... 2
     Historical ..............1

Graphic Novel .....4

1. Crazy, Sexy Diet by Kris Carr
2. The Warlord Wants Forever by Kresley Cole
3. Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas
4. A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole RE-READ
5. Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward
6. A Dangerous Beauty by Sophia Nash
7. The Sweetest Thing by Jill Shalvis
8. Amulet: Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi RE-READ
9. Amulet: Stonekeeper's Curse by Kazu Kibuishi RE-READ
10. Amulet: The Cloud Searchers by Kazu Kibuishi RE-READ
11. Amulet: The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi 
12. Paris in Love by Eloisa James

I plan to review Paris in Love by Eloisa James, so stay tuned for that.

Do you read memoirs? If so, what compels you to chose the memoirs you read?

A girl and her cat
In photography: 
I missed another day in my Project 366, but I decided against starting over from the beginning. I'm just going to continue doing the best that I can and if I miss a few days in a year, so be it. I'm not perfect and the project is still fun.

In the garden: 
I haven't done a thing! I'll be so annoyed with myself if I fail to get my vegetable garden re-established again this year..

Thanks for taking the time to read about my April adventures!

Here's wishing you a marvelous May! :)