Saturday, 29 May 2010

Murder Melts in Your Mouth

Author: Nancy Martin
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 289
Series: 7th book in the Blackbird Sisters Mystery (read in order)
Series Order:
  1. How to Murder a Millionaire (2002)
  2. Dead Girls Don't Wear Diamonds (2003)
  3. Some Like It Lethal (2004)
  4. Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die (2005)
  5. Have Your Cake and Kill Him Too (2006)
  6. A Crazy Little Thing Called Death (2007)

First Line: "While yakking into her cell phone with her massage therapist, my sister Libby walked out into traffic and got herself hit by a Rolls-Royce."

Synopsis: Former debutante Nora Blackbird has a busy life. She's a social reporter for the local paper, she's 'off again' with her boyfriend/Mafia wise guy Mick and her sister Libby has been hit by a car and decides she needs to recuperate at The Ritz so she pawns her 5 children off on Nora. Plus, Nora's other sister, Emma, is on the brink of another drinking bender. Add her scandelous parents arrival on her doorstep (after taking the sisters' trust fund and leaving town several years ago) and poor Nora's got a lot on her plate!

Where is the mystery you ask? Well, when Nora's best friend Lexie is accused of murdering a local philanthropist Nora dives in and tries to prove her friend's innocence.

My Thoughts: I enjoy this series. It's not a book that's going to spark debates but it's a great summer time read with quirky characters and a decent mystery. I'd highly suggest reading this series in order. There is a growth to the characters that you won't get unless you start at the beginning.

While this is a mystery, this book dealt more with relationships among the characters than the actual mystery. I'm not complaining ... just an observation. This is a light read but it does deal with some serious issues like abortion and unplanned pregnancy, infidelity, unknown siblings ... not to mention the usual murder. I did enjoy the off-again aspect of Mick and Nora's romance but they seemed to make up rather quickly after he left her in the last book. They have a great good girl/bad guy thing going on which I like.

I also love how this odd family made up of spoiled debutantes and unlawful parents still feels very much like a family. They all may be totally off their respective rockers but there are great family bonds and loyalty that are shown in the book ... especially when a new family member emerges. There are some new secondary characters that are added to the story in this book and I'm looking forward to seeing how the effect the overall storyline.

My only negative comment is that, at times, it's painful to see how Libby uses Nora. I know Libby is supposed to be the self-centred, spoiled debutante but it would be nice if her character evolved a bit. Although she did show somewhat of a softer side in this book towards Nora, she really hasn't changed too much over the 7 books. Nora needs to get a backbone.

My Rating: 4 stars

Friday, 28 May 2010

BBQ'd Sliced Potatoes


I've mentioned before that I believe that the sun rises and sets over the glorious potato (aka spud, tater, apple of the earth ...). I adore potatoes and got my addiction from my mother who is the reigning Queen of the Tater (me being a mere Duchess of Spud). I love them fried, mashed, baked, french-fried, scalloped ... you get the picture.

Last week I had my husband BBQ dinner (easy clean up and, hey ... means I don't have to do as much, right!). I used my mandoline to slice up a few potatoes, chopped some onion, added a few other ingredients, packed it in foil and voila! Side dish is done. Really easy and it tasted soooo good. The potato slices get nicely crispy from the butter. They're so good that my husband B and I fight over the crispy ones. Mmmm.
Note: the mandoline that I mentioned should not be confused with the musical instrument with a similar name (mandolin). You could try slicing the potatoes with the strings of said instrument ... but I wouldn't advise it.


4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 large onion, sliced
3 tbsp butter
1 tsp basil
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup old Cheddar cheese, grated (optional)
To taste salt and pepper
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Place potatoes, onions and butter on a large sheet of tin foil. Sprinkle with basil and Parmesan cheese. Cover potato mixture with another piece of tin foil and roll edges together to seal so that you have a pillow of foil stuffed with the potato mixture.

Place on BBQ and grill over medium heat for 45 minutes. Be careful opening the foil packet because the steam comes whooshing out at first.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Sea of Monsters


Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Young Adult / Supernatural
Pages: 279
Published: 2006
First Line:"My nightmare started like this."
Series: 2nd book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
Series Order:
  1. The Lightning Thief
  2. The Sea of Monsters
  3. The Titan's Curse
  4. The Battle of the Labyrinth
  5. The Last Olympian

Synopsis: Percy has started yet another new school in NYC and it doesn't look good. When a game of dodgeball turns into a deadly game, complete with canabalistic opponents, and Percy's only friend at school is a really weird, huge street kid --- it looks like it isn't going to be a great school year for Percy.

Luckily Percy has Camp Half-Blood to look forward to. The camp is like a second home for Percy. It's an enchanted place that protects children who have one of the Greek gods for a parent. When the camp is poisoned and suddenly overrun with monsters they know that something is wrong and help is needed.

On top of all that 13-year old Percy, who is one of the sons of Poseidon, learns that his best friend Grover, a satyr, is being held captive by Polyphemus, a blood thirsty cyclops who is in control of the infamous Golden Fleece. Percy knows that he has to go on a quest to rescue Grover as well as bring the Golden Fleece back to Camp Half-Blood to restore the magical protection around the camp.

With Annabeth and his new friend Tyson, they set off on a quest through the Bermuda Triangle and into the Sea of Monsters where they encounter many famous monsters from mythology with a fair bit of action thrown in for good measure.

My Thoughts: I really like this series and I'm glad I listened to my 10-year old son and picked up the first book. It's a very easy read (I read most of this book in 1 day) and I love reading about the mythological characters that I learned about in a university course I took years ago (albeit with a new, modern slant!). I think it's a great way to get young readers interested in Greek mythology. This is an easy series to get immersed in and get young imaginations racing.

Percy is a really likeable main character. Like Harry Potter, he is a fairly weak, unpopular kid who has been in the dark about his powers. He's an unlikely hero who goes through a lot of changes in this book. I think that Riordan handled Percy's initial discomfort with Tyson really well and showed that Percy is a flawed character ... with a good heart. I love that! I also love the fact that Annabeth is such a strong female character. She doesn't wait around for her prince to save the day ... she saves herself.

I found it interesting how the book explains away some of the modern day myths. For example, the Bermuda Triangle is actually in the Sea of Monsters which is why so many planes go missing without a trace. Huh.

There are still some big similarities between the Harry Potter series and this series. I'm not sure I like how similar the stories are. The "Voldemort" character, Kronos, is mentioned again and even has a very similar storyline to Voldemort from HP fame. A little too close for comfort actually.

Overall, this is a great sequel to "The Lightning Thief" and even though quite a bit of it was used to set up future storylines, this book was filled with adventure, humour and heart. I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the series to see where these burgeoning storylines and new characters will go.

My Rating: 4/5


Time Of My Life


Author: Allison Winn Scotch
Genre: Chick Lit / Modern Fiction
Pages: 286
Published: October 2008
First Line: "Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding."
One Word Review: Good

Synopsis: Jillian Westerfield seems be the perfect Martha Stewart-type mom who can do it all and has it all -- a loving husband, a wonderful baby daughter, a large immaculate house in the suburbs of NYC... But in her eyes, her perfect life is not nearly so perfect. Jillian has become disenchanted with her life as a stay-at-home mom as well as with her husband. Hearing that her old boyfriend, Jackson, is getting married is the last straw.
After getting a deep chi-cleaning massage, Jillian wakes up and finds that she's awoke 7 years in the past. She's back to her old life with boyfriend Jackson, her best friend (who had died a few years previously) and her up-and-coming career in advertising ...
Now Jillian has a choice to make. Does she follow the same path she took 7 years ago or does she opt for a different life with Jackson? Hindsight is 20/20 but with the choices she now makes she can change her future. As she starts to get everything she thought she ever wanted she figures out that maybe not every problem she had she could really blame on her mother who abandoned her as well as the two main men in her life. That maybe she also had a big part in creating and continuing the problems in her own life.
My Thoughts: I thought this book had an interesting premise. Would you, given the choice, choose the life you have or choose another life path? Overall, I think this book dealt well with this idea ... but I would have liked there to be less lagging in the middle of the story.
I did enjoy seeing how Jillian's eyes were opened to her part in the downfall of her marriage. How she viewed things the first time around compared to when she gets to do it again are quite different. She sees how she had a hand in some of her misfortune and she learns that life doesn't have to be perfect and that things happen for a reason ... even if we don't understand that reason at the time.
While this wasn't a page turner it did have some interesting points to make. Jillian is a likeable main character (a little whiny) but I found that the choices she made were fairly expected. It was obvious early on who Jillian's true love really was. I would have liked more suspense about that topic.
I also found it odd (and a little disturbing) that Jillian barely shed a tear over leaving her 1 year old daughter, Katie, behind for months. Katie is hardly mentioned by Jillian. As a mom of 3, personally that would have been heart-wrenching for me. It just didn't seem believable enough for me.

My Rating: 3 stars

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Weekly Reading Poll

I'm still on holiday time which is why the poll is a day or so late. So ... what has everyone been reading this past week? Did you love it? Would you recommend it? Or did you waste hours that you'll never get back on a stinker of a book? What are you planning on reading this week?

Personally, I had a great reading week. I finished "Time of My Life" by Allison Winn Scotch (chick lit) -- review to come soon -- and I'm whipping through "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Sea of Monsters" (2nd book in the series). 10 year old "Cub" recommended the series to me and now 8 year old "Karate Guy" is hot on my heels and is almost done reading the first book in the series. He keeps asking me what page I'm on because he wants to read Sea of Monsters as soon as I'm done. Talk about pressure ... and a family of book addicts!! ;)

Next up for me? I'll either read "Cleopatra's Daughter" by Michelle Moran or a quick and quirky mystery by Nancy Martin called "Murder Melts in Your Mouth" (7th book in the Blackbird Sisters series) or "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant (highly recommended by posters here on my blog).

Rice Krispie Pizza


I hope everyone had a wonderful Victoria Day weekend. The weather (for the most part) was amazing and I was lucky enough to have a great weekend with extended family too.

My weekend was filled with 10 children (10 years of age to 10 months), 4 dogs, 2 jet skiis, an afternoon of swimming and loads of food. It was also hampered by a migraine (mine) and bad back pain (mine also) but overall a really good weekend.

Because my nephew "S" was coming to visit and has an egg allergy (as well as a peanut allergy like my "Cub") Aunt Laurie had to figure out what kinds of desserts I could make that would be safe for both boys and still taste great.

I made 3 desserts -- an egg free brownie, my awesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars (made with Freenut butter to be safe) as well as a cool dessert pizza. Baking without eggs can be tough because eggs are used to hold baked goods together. My first thought was to make some Rice Krispie squares but that was too boring so I went online and searched for a cooler dessert for the kids. I found it. This recipe is really cute and the kids loved it. I, personally, found it too sweet for me but that apparently didn't bother the 10 children.

3 tbsp butter or margarine
4 cups miniature marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1/2 cup (or so) Strawberry jam (I used Strawberry Rhubarb jam)
Whipped vanilla frosting
Red fruit roll-ups, cut into 1-1/4" circles
Green sprinkles

In a microwave-safe large bowl, heat butter and marshmallows on HIGH for 3 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes (my microwave only took 2 minutes total). Stir until smooth. Add Rice Krispies cereal. Stir well until coated.

Using a buttered spatula, press mixture into a 12-inch greased pizza pan. Cool.

Spread strawberry jam on top for 'tomato sauce'. Carefully spread vanilla icing over jam for 'cheese'. Add fruit roll-up circles for 'pepperoni' and sprinkles for 'green onions'. Cut into slices to serve. Best if served same day.

Original recipe from http://www.ricekrispies.com/.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Genre: Historical Fiction (England)
Pages: 324
First Line: "Susan Scott is a wonder."
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Synopsis: In early 1946, England is emerging from the devastation of World War II. Author Juliet Ashton receives a letter, out of the blue, from Dawsey Adams who had found Juliet's name inscribed in a book he was reading by Charles Lamb. Dawsey lives on Guernsey, a British island that was occupied by the Nazis.
Juliet and Dawsey continue to exchange letters back and forth. During one of those letters Juliet learns of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club that was put together as an attempt to protect it's members from being arrested by the Nazis. Juliet begins to receive letters from other members of the Society and becomes more and more intrigued with life on Guernsey. She finally makes the trip to Guernsey. A trip that will change her life forever.
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My Thoughts: For the past year, at least, I've heard nothing but praise for this book. I had been on the waiting list at our library for what seemed like decades so I was quite happy to finally have reached the summit of that long, long waiting list.
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"Guernsey" was a good read but was a little too .... calm? Not sure if that's the right word. There wasn't a whole lot of momentum or depth to the storyline ... especially considering the fact that it dealt with such a serious subject matter. Perhaps it was because the book was written in letter form (letters back and forth between the characters) which limits what the authors can do.
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I have a big interest in WWII for some reason and I did find it really interesting reading about the the Nazi Occupation and how it affected the people of Guernsey as well as the aftermath of WWII. But, personally, I liked how Ursula Hegi dealt with WWII in her wonderful book "The Stones From the River" (one of my all-time favourite books).
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The best part of the book for me was Elizabeth's story. While I don't want to give it away I found that storyline intrigued me the most. I think "Guernsey" was meant to be an easy-going read and I think it delivered. I expected it to be more raw and more of a "can't put down" type of book, which is wasn't for me. Please don't get me wrong. Overall, "Guernsey" is a good read ... just not what I was expecting. I hate that about really hyped books ... all of the hype often makes the book feel less than it is.
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I would recommend reading this book. It is an interesting era of time and the characters are easy to embrace and bring quite a quirky sense of humour. I especially like some of Juliet's dry quips back and forth to Sidney.
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My Rating: 3.5 stars

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Raspberry Balsamic Salad



Tonight I was hankering for a different kind of salad. Not the standard head lettuce, tomato, cucumber, green pepper variety. I wanted to spice things up! I knew that I'd love this salad because I adore balsamic and love strawberries and sunflower seeds. I thought that my husband would like it but I didn't expect his reaction. He LOVED it and ended up finishing off the remainder of the salad. I think I have a winner!

Personally, I love the balsamic and strawberry combination ... in fact, when my husband and I were in Italy 3 years ago we went to a Balsamic vinegar tasting and they poured it over strawberries. Delicious!!! I hope you enjoy this salad as much as we did tonight.




Note - May 20, 2010: I used the leftover salad stuff and dressing today for lunch with my husband (pictured above). You can see that I also added some precooked chicken strips and it was awesome. Just a heads up to my fellow carnivores in case you want to add some extra protein and make it a full meal.

Raspberry Balsamic Dressing
1/4 olive or grapeseed oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp raspberry jam (I used seedless)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Whisk together dressing ingredients until smooth. Set aside or store in fridge until ready to use. I made my dressing several hours before serving in order for the flavours to blend together.

Salad
6 handfuls of field greens lettuce mix
4 large strawberries, culled and sliced
4 tbsp sunflower seeds
1/2 cup mozzarella or marble cheese, cubed
1/2 cup red seedless grapes, halved (optional)

Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Pour dressing over greens right before serving. Toss to coat.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with chicken marinated in my Chicken Marinade .

Note: Dressing recipe adapted from a recipe on Allrecipes.com.


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Chicken Marinade

This morning I had bought 3 chicken breasts and all I knew was that I wanted my husband to BBQ them because I didn't want to bake them in the kitchen when it was hot outside (it was a beautiful 26C here today). I found a recipe for a marinade but had to tweak it a bit because the amount of oil involved grossed me out and I ran out of soy sauce so made due with what I had. I also changed the seasoning too. With all these changes I'm calling this MY chicken marinade now!

This chicken came off the grill looking amazing and was so juicy!!! Even my kids (who are usually chicken haters unless it is in finger or McNugget form) liked it. I served it with some roasted potatoes and a really tasty mixed green salad that had strawberries, cheese cubes and sunflower seeds in it. I topped the salad with a homemade Raspberry Balsamic Dressing and it was fantastic. My husband finished the salad and kept saying what a wonderful meal it was.

That's the kind of Yummy Noises I like to hear after a meal that, honestly, didn't take that much work. C'mon ... marinating chicken takes 10 minutes of work and throwing some potatoes in a foil pack with some butter and spices then plopping them on the BBQ while whipping up a quick salad. Yes, honey it was exhausting putting together this feast for you (*hand draped over forehead in exhaustion*). But I do it because I love you! Makes up for all of the times I slave away and no one (including me) is fond of the outcome! Enjoy!

1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or vegetable oil)
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except chicken breasts.

Put chicken breasts into a large Ziploc bag. Pour marinade over chicken. Remove air from bag and close tightly. Keep in fridge (turning and massaging chicken every couple of hours if you can). Allow the chicken to marinate for as long as possible (I marinated for 6 hours but overnight would be best) before BBQ'ing.

Serve with a green salad with Raspberry Balsamic Salad Dressing (recipe on this blog).

Monday, 17 May 2010

Dirty Blonde


Author: Lisa Scottoline
Genre: Suspense/Mystery
Pages: 354
First Line: "Cate Fante was the guest of honor at this celebration, which was drawing to a liquefied close."

Synopsis: Cate Fante is in her late 30's when she becomes a federal judge -- much younger than her fellow judges who are entering their retirement years. On the outside Cate seems to bring a fresh new vibe to being a judge. Inwardly, she leads a secret double life. So secret that even her best friend has no idea what Cate's been up to.

When a high-profile case erupts in Cate's courtroom suddenly her secret life is not so secret anymore. Suddenly she has paparazzi tailing her for pictures and digging into her personal life. When her fellow judges learn of her secrets the job she's worked so hard for becomes in jeopardy. When her life becomes in danger, as well as those she loves, she knows that she has to figure a way out of the mess she's created.

My Thoughts: Let me start by saying that Lisa Scottoline is one of my favourite authors for suspense novels. She always throws lots of curve balls and has really strong main characters. Unfortunately I didn't love this book. I liked it ... but I couldn't get all gushy over the storyline. It seemed a little too unbelievable and disjointed to me. Yes, the new, really young judge has a secret life (Scottoline never really explains why Cate behaves the way she does ... personally I'd like to know why). Also, bringing her back to her childhood town .... not sure why that was even brought up. Didn't seem like it really fit in.

Was there suspense? Yes. Was it as great a book as I've come to expect from Scottoline (who, by the way, is a hilarious woman herself. See "Why My Third Husband Will Be A Dog" review here on my blog). Um, not really. If you're looking for some great Scottline suspense check out "Devil's Corner" or "Daddy's Girl" -- both great reads.
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My Rating: 3/5

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Weekly Book Poll

What are you reading? Do you like it? Would you recommend it? What are you reading next?

I finished "Dirty Blonde" by Lisa Scottoline (review to come soon). I just started "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" ... so far, so good. I'm only on page 30. I didn't think I'd like the format used (letters back and forth between characters) but I'm finding it an interesting way to tell a story.

What's up next? I have "Cleopatra's Daughter" by Michelle Moran (amazing historical fiction author) and I have Carol Burnett's original biography.

Oreo Chocolate Chip Cookies


I'm always on the lookout for a new cookie. When I saw that this cookie had chunks of Oreos plus chocolate chips I figured it was fate telling me to make this cookie! There was just enough dough in each cookie to hold all of the Oreo and chocolate chips together. Now THAT'S a cookie for a chocoholic like moi! I've even started a new Recipe Category devoted to chocolate (I have 25 chocolatey recipes in it already!).

The only change I made was to decrease the chocolate chips from 1 cup to 3/4 of a cup. I know! Usually against everything that I believe in but I figured the Oreos would more than make up for the missing chips.

My final test to make sure a recipe is great is to have my husband and kids taste test them. I took some samples outside to my kids and husband and they said to put them on the blog. No better kudos than that!

1/2 cup butter, softened
6 tbsp white sugar
6 tbsp brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
11 Oreo cookies, chopped into small chunks
3/4 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet or white chocolate or a mix of both)

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper (my preference).

Cream butter and sugars until well combined. Add egg and vanilla; mix well.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Gently stir in dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Fold in Oreo chunks and chocolate chips.


With a medium melon baller, scoop batter onto prepared baking sheets. Look at how amazing the batter looks with the chunks of the cookies in it! ----->>>>>>>>>



Bake for 10-11 minutes or until cooked but still soft (mine were nicely browned around the edges). Let cool on rack for 3 minutes before removing to a wire rack to completely cool.

Store in an airtight container.

Adapted from http://www.pickypalate.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Balsamic Black Bean'n'Corn Salsa



I was hunting for new recipes on-line and came across this salsa on another blog. The ingredients, especially my beloved balsamic, intrigued me. I've never made traditional homemade salsa .... and currently don't really have a desire to actually. This recipe allows me to whip up a different kind of salsa without all of the fuss with chopping tomatoes.

I've made some changes based on what I had on-hand (no fresh cilantro but did have dried) and personal taste (added some finely diced green pepper). This is a great appetizer that you can easily whip up the day before and not only does it taste really good but it's really high in fibre.

1 (15oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed well
1 (15oz) can whole kernel corn, drained well
1/2 medium red onion, diced (about 1/3 cup)
1/2 cup green pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1 tsp dried cilantro (orginal recipe used 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro)
1 (7oz) can salsa verde (aka green salsa)
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl and cover. Let salsa marinate for several hours or, preferably, overnight before serving. Drain most of the liquid from the salsa before serving. Serve with tortilla chips or crispy pita chips.

Yield: appetizer for 8-10

Monday, 10 May 2010

Weekly Book Poll

Soooo, you all know what I've been reading this past week. What have you been reading? Did you like it? Would you recommend it to others?

Just One Look

I hope all the Moms out there had a wonderful Mother's Day yesterday and were spoiled rotten by their offspring! I spent the afternoon at my parents' cottage where my husband and my dad made my mom and I (and my 3 kids) a wonderful "Fancy Filet". Mmmm. Beef tenderloin slathered in butter then roasted with red wine and mushrooms. Delicious! Not heart healthy but it's Mother's Day! I was also surprised with 6 new Wilton baking tins and a pretty potted flower that Missy Moo painted for me at school. Isn't it nice to be the centre of attention for at least one day per year?!?

This weekend I finished up "Just One Look" by Harlan Coben. Here's what I thought ...






Author: Harlan Coben

Genre: Suspense

Pages: 370

First Line: "Scott Duncan sat across from the killer."

Synopsis: When Grace Lawson accidentally gets someone else's picture mixed in with her own photos she had developed she didn't think much of it. There are 5 people in the picture and one looks a little like her husband, Jack so she shows it to him. Jack denies that he's the man in the picture but later that night he leaves the house without an explanation.

Grace struggles to find her husband while still keeping her children in the dark about where their father is. She soon realizes that there are other people who are also looking for Jack and the picture - including a very dangerous murdurer. When friends and family can't help Grace find Jack she turns to some dangerous people from her past for help.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this book for it's suspense but found, at times, that it was hard to keep the characters straight. There were so many back stories to keep up on it felt a little dizzing at times.

Without getting into too much detail, I didn't think that the reasons for the murders was a great reason for all the chaos that followed. It just seemed too implausible and didn't seem like a good enough reason to me. I think I was expecting a more shocking reason, I guess.

Over all, the twists and turns were good, the characters were 'meh' and the suspense was great. I would definitely recommend others to check out Coben's other works which, in my humble opinion, are better than this book. Still, Coben's 'ok' books are still good, easy reads.

My Rating: 3.5 stars


Thursday, 6 May 2010

Double Chocolate Smarties Cookies



This afternoon I had a couple of hours until I had to pick up the kids so I wandered into my kitchen and decided to whip up some cookies. I had found a recipe for Double Chocolate M & M Cookies on http://www.melskitchencafe.com/ and they sounded like something my kids would clamour for.

I had to, of course, make them peanut-free which means not using my beloved M&M's (which I horde in my secret stashes as if the apocolypse was quickly approaching). I used Smarties instead. Smarties are more colourful anyway.

I did make another change to the original recipe but it was more in the method of making them. Instead of using the microwave to melt the butter and baking chocolate I used my double boiler. I personally don't like microwaving chocolate. It takes a lot of time because you have to use low power and I'm always worried that it will burn (yes, it can burn in the microwave and burned chocolate tastes horrible).
These cookies turned out great. They're easy to make and spread quite a bit but they have a nice chewy texture and are VERY chocolatey. Next time I think I'll try this recipe with milk chocolate baking chocolate. My kids loved them and my husband really liked them too. He even asked if I could make them again. Seeing that the recipe only makes about 2 dozen large cookies .. I may be making them sooner than I thought!
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1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
4 oz semi-sweet or milk chocolate baking chocolate (I used semi-sweet)
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup Smarties (or plain M&M's)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325F.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Set aside.



In a double boiler (pictured left), melt butter and chocolate. Once it is totally melted and smooth, remove from heat and allow to cool until it's room temperature (it can be warm but not hot).


In a large bowl (or the bowl of your electric stand mixer), combine the chocolate mixture, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until combined. Gradually mix in flour mixture on low speed until combined. Fold in Smarties by hand.


Line baking sheets with parchment paper or lightly grease them. Using a large melon baller (very large tablespoonfuls), drop cookie dough 1 1/2-inches apart on cookie sheet. Place a couple of Smarties on each ball of cookie dough.


Bake until the cookies have flattened and there are cracks on the top, approximately 13-14 minutes. The cookies will still be fairly soft. Let cookies sit for 2-3 minutes on cookie sheet before removing them to a wire rack to completely cool.


Store in an air-tight container for up to a couple of days, freeze between sheets of waxed paper or feed to the children in your kitchen who have been constantly asking "Can we have a cookie NOW??".
Tip: If you use a smaller melon baller cook for less time. I'd start with 10 minutes, see how they look and go from there.


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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Applesauce Bars

If you're always on the look-out for a school snack for your kids you should try this recipe. It's a nicely spiced, moist cake-like bar that I found on a recipes forum many years ago. It's easy to make and you can tweak it to suit your family's tastes. You could add some chopped walnuts or substitute craisins for the raisins depending on your preferences.

1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup apple, chopped finely (I use MacIntosh apples)

Icing:
1 tbsp butter or margarine, softened
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x9-inch pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix butter, brown sugar and egg until smooth. Stir in applesauce.

In a smal bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice; slowly stir into the applesauce mixture until well blended. Fold in raisins and apple. Spread into prepared pan.

Bake for 25 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. While the bars are cooling, mix icing ingredients and mix until smooth. Place in a small Ziploc bag and cut off one corner (leaving only a small hole). Drizzle icing back and forth over cooled bars by squeezing icing through the hole in the corner of the bag.

Secret of the Sirens


Author: Julia Golding
Genre: Young Adult / Supernatural
Pages: 401
Published: 2006
Series: 1st book in the Companions Quartet
Series Order:
  1. Secret of the Sirens (2006)
  2. The Gorgon's Gaze (2006)
  3. Mines of the Minotaur (2007)
  4. The Chimera's Curse (2007)
Own or Borrowed?: Library
First Line: "Go on, I dare you."

Synopsis: Connie is a 10 year old girl who has been sent to live with her eccentric aunt because she's been kicked out of yet another school. Connie has been having trouble in school due to her ability to connect with animals who seem to bother her while in class. She learns that she has unharnessed powers that her aunt's secret Society can help her use in order to protect mythical creatures that secretly exist in the world.

Usually members of the Society are able to connect with a specific type of creature. Connie learns that she is a very rare Universal who can communicate with all mythical creatures. This ability puts her life at risk when Kullervo, a powerful and evil force, wants to use her to help him destroy humanity. With the help of her Aunt's secret Society which protects mythical creatures, Connie tries to defeat Kullervo.

My Thoughts: This book sounded good when I read the back cover. Mythical creatures in the modern world, battles between good and evil ... It sounded like a blend of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. This book just didn't match up with my expectations. There is so much that this author could have done with the storyline ... but failed to do.

The theme was a good one - protecting the environment - but the book seemed to focus more on that than an actual storyline. I kept waiting for the momentum to pick up, but it never did. It just lagged the whole way through. At one point, midway in the story, there was a very exciting, action-packed scene .... and that was it. That was the excitement in the book. I personally think that the author doesn't engage the readers enough for them to immerse themselves in her world of mythical creatures (like J.K Rowling did with Potter fans). I want to be able to picture exactly what the author's talking about ... and I just couldn't do that with this book.

This book seemed to have too many parallels to my favourite boy wizard. If you're going to mimic Harry Potter you've GOT to go all out and that just didn't happen here. There's a Snape character in Mr Coddrington (is he good or evil? Why does he hate Connie?). Kullervo (the evil force) is very similar to Voldemort in the Potter series -- an evil which has been unnoticed for years resurfaces and tries to gain support from other mythical creatures to become all powerful. Kullervo also has some kind of mental connection with Connie similar to Voldemort and Harry. Just too many similarities. These similarities just make it more obvious the discrepancy between Rowling's writing and Goldings'.

If you're looking for a great book about mythical creatures I'd recommend picking up either Percy Jackson or Harry Potter.

My Rating: 1 star



Monday, 3 May 2010

Yummy Noises

As someone who loves to bake and cook I can't tell you how much it means to me when people express pleasure after eating something that I made. Some people use words to describe how much they like what they just ate. Others use what I call "Yummy Noises" (yes, it's capitalized because it's THAT important to me!). These noises are not to be confused by the obnoxious noises some people make while eating with their mouths open (which is just gross and should be stopped). Ew.

"Yummy Noises" are sounds that people make because the bite of food that they just put in their mouth is just sooooo good and they have to express themselves right away. A yummy noise can be a little moan or even just a thumbs up (I know that's not a noise but I'll accept it anyway).

Another word that some people use is "Foodgasm". A foodgasm can be defined as:
  • the euphoric sensation a person has upon eating an incredibly tasty morsel of food. When said morsel of food hits ones palatte there are no words that a person can use to describe such a sensation. (paraphrased from Urbandictionary.com)

Symptoms of a foodgasm can include:

  • making verbal sounds including moans and sighs
  • becoming weak in the knees
  • eyes rolling back while possibly shouting "This is so freakin' good!!"
  • tastes so overwhelming that you have to take breaks between bites in order to let the other people you're dining with know just how GOOD that bite was to you
I remember when my husband and I went out for a really nice dinner. We each had ordered Lobster Bisque as appetizers. Each bowl was topped with the most perfect sea scallop you've ever seen. We put the sea scallops in our mouths and, at the same time, little moans escaped our lips. Totally not a classy thing to do but we couldn't help it! Honest ... it was THAT good. Oh ya, baby. That's a Foodgasm. So tasty that you can't hold the experience in.

That being said, after an afternoon of constant running around all I ate for dinner tonight was .... cereal. No foodgasms from me tonight. :(

So what foods have you making yummy noises??

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Weekly Book Poll (May 2)

This has been a fairly productive reading week for me. I finished up "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett and, if you've read my review, I LOVED it. Highly recommend it. I've been thinking about the characters ever since I finished the book (one of the ways I know a book was a great read).

Then I started to read "Killer Heat" by Linda Silverstein and stopped after about 150 pages. It just didn't grip me.

Now I'm reading "Secret of the Sirens" by Julia Golding. It's a Young Adult novel that has a fantasy basis to it. A young girl named Connie learns she has special powers to speak to animals. She also learns that mythical creatures that she's read about in school actually exist and have been protected by a secret society to keep them hidden from humans. When an evil force threatens to gather the mythical creatures together to destroy all humans Connie and the Society have to work together to stop them. So far it feels a lot like the first Percy Jackson book (which I liked). "Cub" wants to read it after me since it sounds like it's right down his alley. Have I mentioned before how cool it is to share books with my kids!?!?

Next up? Maybe "Uglies" by Scott Westerfeld or "Dirty Blonde" by Lisa Scottoline or "Just One Look" by Harlan Coben. Or "Bundle of Trouble" by Diana Orgain (mystery/chick lit). That's just the books that I have out from the library ... not the new stack of books I just bought at the book sale!

So, what have you all been reading this past week? What did you think of it?

Used book sale or a little peace of heaven? You be the judge.

Last May I went to a local used book sale and hadn't expected much. It was in a small local town so I figured the pickin's would be slim since the books were from local donations. I was expecting a few tables of used books but that's about it.

I remember walking in and getting almost giddy with excitement. Some women get excited over shoe sales, others over purses .... me? My weakness is books, of course! There were THOUSANDS of gently used books as far as the eye could see (well, it filled a huge room but you get my meaning). The tables were organized according to genre making it easy to hightail to my favourite genres. Tables upon tables of veritable eye candy!! I had brought Missy Moo and Karate Guy with me. I'm glad they got some time to get some new books ... but honestly? They slowed me down. Oh the damage I could have done to my bank account if I had brought more money! I only brought $20 with me that day!!!

This year I knew better. The sale was yesterday and I had been eagerly awaiting it since ... last May. Ya, I know. Sad. "Farmer Geisen" and I got up early and hightailed it (sans offspring) to get there an hour before the doors opened. We thought we were so slick getting there early! Apparently we're still neophytes in the book sale world because there were about 50 other people ahead of us still who had brought folding chairs and carafes of coffee. Still, we were ahead of the other 200+ people behind us!

Well, for only $31 I got 15 chapters books for the kids as well as about 15 mainly hardcover books for yours truly. I managed to get a couple more Nancy Drew books that I loved as a kid (the yellow spined kind!) that hopefully Missy Moo will enjoy in a few years.

I also bought several books that I had heard good things about but wasn't willing to shell out full price. What are your opinions of these books?
  • "Five Quarters of the Orange" by Joanne Harris ($2)
  • "London" by Edward Rutherford ($2)
  • "The Boleyn Inheritance" by Philippa Gregory ($1)
  • "House of Orphans" by Helen Dunmore ($2)
  • "Daughter of Fortune" by Isabel Allende ($1)
  • "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" by Gregory Maguire($2)
  • "The Birth of Venus" by Sarah Dunant ($2)
  • "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant ($2)
  • "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving ($1)
  • "The Vendetta Defense" by Lisa Scottoline ($1)
  • "Mother of Pearl" by Melinda Haynes ($1)
  • "Fall on Your Knees" by Ann-Marie MacDonald ($2)
  • "Roots" by Alex Haley ($1) (one of my favourite books that I've wanted to own for awhile!)

Look at the prices I paid for those books! Most of my books were hardcover and were $2 or less with kids books only costing about 50 cents each. You cannot go wrong with those prices! It was B-U-S-Y but I still managed to get quite a good haul and not totally cripple myself under the weight of said books.

Will I be going next year? You bet your sweet bippy I am!! I already have it marked on my calendar!

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