Saturday, November 22, 2014

This Week in Reading - November 23

It's Sunday Post time!  Time to link up with the awesome Kimba over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer to talk about what's going on blogwise and otherwise!

What I Got:

So this week wasn't silent like last week but I turned in more feedback to NetGalley than I got books so I'm calling it a win!
Sherlock Homes: The Missing Years Japan by Vasudev Murthy - Couldn't resist!  I love the Holmes story and am trying to read as many different versions as I can. Plus, I like the cover and it looks like this may be the beginning of a new series. (NetGalley)

Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life by Ruth Soukup - I'm always trying to simplify and since next school year we'll have 2 kids in college the spending less part will certainly be useful!  (NetGalley)

Yes Please by Amy Poehler -  I've been wanting to read this since I first saw it mentioned so I was thrilled when I finally got to the front of the line for the ebook from my library!  (library)

My Perfect Pantry by Geoffrey Zakarian - I love Zakarian and am really excited about trying some of these recipes (Blogging for Books)


Reading:  The Big Four by Agatha Christie, Yes Please by Amy Poehler and Cowboys for Christmas by Liz Talley, Kim Law and Terri Osburn.

Listening: I finally finished The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister.  I ended up enjoying it though not quite as much as the first.  I'm still waiting for Food by Jim Gaffigan so until then I'm listening to Secrets of the Grave by Tami Hoag.  This is my first book by her and it took me a little while to get into it because it's obviously part way through a series but so far I'm really enjoying it.

Watching:  According to my DVR I'm not watching very much!  The stupid thing keeps filling up and I don't have time to watch it all!  Emma and I watch Criminal Minds together so I basically have the entire season sitting there because she's home so rarely.  Other than that I've been enjoying some of the Thanksgiving shows Food Network is showing.  As usual I'm loving NCIS and it's franchising.  I'm having mixed feelings about CSI this season.  I really loved the changes they made last season but I'm not liking this Gig Harbor Killer story arc. The nemesis plot device is not one I typically enjoy in crime shows.  Does anyone watch Forever?  I've thought about starting that one as all the episodes are on On Demand.   I'm also excited that Major Crimes is starting again this week.  I really enjoyed this past season of that.

Off the Blog:

We're gearing up for Thanksgiving here.  We actually just go to my mother's on Thanksgiving day but on the Friday after we have J's brother and his wife over and do the traditional massive meal.  It's lots of fun and because it's basically the same meal every year I've got it down to a science so it's not stressful at all.  I am thinking about trying the Brown Sugar Pie recipe that's in Geoffrey Zakarian's latest cookbook.  Anyone ever had one?

I'm trying to get organized for Christmas but can't quite get it to click how close December actually is!  I always have these big ideas of things I want to do but time always gets away from me.  I am having to admit that I'm just not quite as crafty as I want to be and stick to more food related things.

The Tornado went to a party at Build a Bear yesterday.  I had forgotten how much of a racket that place is!  The party included a bear but of course we had to buy an outfit.  Shockingly enough he picked the Darth Vader costume.  The kid is obsessed with Star Wars.  I'm not sure how J got it into his head but it's impressive.

Emma's finishing up her last full semester of high school.  Eleanor just moved out of the dorms and is now sharing a house with some friends she works with.  She's very excited to have her own space.  Paul is working on getting his license so that he doesn't have to take the bus when Emma switches to half days next semester.  I'm still having allergy problems but I think I'm starting to get them under control though all the medicine is starting to make me a little foggy.  Nothing too eventful this week and other than Thanksgiving celebrations I'm hoping next week will be fairly calm as well!

On the Blog:

What Happened:

Monday: Tim Cratchit's Christmas Carol - Review
Wednesday: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Rita Mae Brown - Review
Thursday: Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan - Review
Friday: Friday Linkups featuring excperts from Amy Poehler's Yes Please

What's Coming Up

Monday: Even in Death: A Short Story Collection - Review
Tuesday: The Top Ten Books on my Winter TBR
Wednesday: Cowboys for Christmas - Review
Thursday - TBD
Friday - linkups featuring whatever book I'm reading
Saturday - something food related though I'm not sure what.  Maybe a review for Zakarain's cookbook?

Happy Reading!

Weekend Cooking: Thanksgiving

I'm linking up with Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking where anything food related goes.  Since somehow it decided to be almost the end of November I've realized it's time for me to start working on my Thanksgiving menu.

I like to cook and I love to experiment and try new things but on Thanksgiving my sister-in-law and I are under strict orders from my husband and his brother to not "ruin Thanksgiving".  There's a lot of teasing about this and we threaten to pull out a hamburger bean pie recipe that traumatized them both during their childhood or to have a Russian food themed dinner or something like that but for the most part we stick with tried and true.  I've been pulling my recipes together to make sure I have all the needed ingredients.  We end up doing dinner with them on Friday so worst case if something gets forgotten stores are open but nothing causes frazzle worse than forgetting something mandatory and not realizing it until right when you need whatever ingredient.

So I thought I'd share my favorite Apple Pie recipe and a few of my go tos.  This apple pie actually came from some diabetic cookbook 20+ years ago when my grandfather was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  Although his parents had both dealt with the condition we had all kind of assumed that fact that he was fit and healthy would make it skip him.  It didn't but it did help him deal with the condition.  He eats great and is still active at almost 91.  Recipes that are naturally low sugar like this apple pie really help!

4 cups apples, sliced and peeled
1/2 cup apple juice, frozen concentrate
1 1/2 tps corn starch
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinammon or apple pie spice

1. Mix apples, apple juice concentrate, corn starch and spice and stir until apples are well coated.  Add lemon juice, if desired, to keep apples lighter.  (I skip the lemon juice step)

2. Pour into a pastry lined pie pan and top with second crust or pastry strips.  Seal the edges and cut slits in the top crust to allow steam toescape

3. Bake at 425 for 40 to 45 minutes (watch it like a hawk after 35 though)

Now for a crust I use this All Butter Crust from Four and Twenty Blackbirds and it's amazing.  This was the first pie crust I ever made for an actual pie and it always comes out exactly how a pie crust should be.  I cut about 1/3 off the ball of dough after it finishes cooling, roll the 1/3 out, cut it into strips and than use that to make the lattice on top of the pie.  Top with some lightly sweetened whipped cream and it's seriously good! 

Also on the set in stone menu is mashed potatoes.  For most of my life I've been pretty take it or leave it with mashed potatoes.  They're okay but not amazing.  When I started hosting Thanksgiving I began to hate mashed potatoes.  It takes time to mash up the stupid potatoes and if you don't get them smooth they're awful.  I spent many a Thanksgiving cussing at a pot of potatoes.  And then The Pioneer Woman came to the rescue with her Delicious Creamy Mashed Potatoes.  You can make them ahead of time and pop them in the oven about 20 minutes before time to eat.  What's even better is if you don't get all the lumps out the baking does it for you!  These things are magic.  Even the Tornado eats them!  I did discover (kind of by accident) that you really only need 1 stick of butter for 5lbs of potatoes and the cream is also unnecessary though you can thin it with a little skim milk if you must and you can use 1/3 less fat cream cheese so they're practically healthy!  

All this thinking abut food got me in the mood to do some reading about food.  I enjoyed the Laurie Colwin book of foodie essays I read last week and Kathleen Flinn, Molly Wizenberg and Ruth Reichl are some of my favorite authors.  Looking through my NetGalley list I stumbled upon a book entitled Writing in the Kitchen edited by David A. Davis and Tara Powell and thought what could bet better than a book full of bookish and foodie essays?  This book is fascinating.  Everything about food and the South are explored - from farming and soil experiments in the 1700s to Scarlett O'Hara's famous radish.  There are essays about slavery and the difference with how the different classes ate.  There is discussion about where the recipes came from.  Seriously, if it involves food it's mentioned here.  

That being said, when I reach for a food related book I'm basically reaching for the book version of comfort food.  I want homey and warm and maybe even a little quirky.  I want to smell the herbs and feel the textures of the bread and hear the crisp sound of the knife hitting the cutting board.  I found this book to be a bit dryer.  While the information was fascinating it read a bit more like a textbook than I was expecting.  This isn't a book I want to curl up with on a rainy day but if the college near me starts teaching a class with this as part of the curriculum I'll be first in line to sign up!

So what do you expect out of your foodie books?  And for the American readers what foods do you expect to see on the table for Thanksgiving?  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Linkups: Yes Please

It's Friday so I'm linking up with Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice.

This week's question:
Do you have any advice for new bloggers?

My Answer:
It feels a little funny answering as I don't really feel like I know what I'm doing most of the time!  The one thing I got burned with recently is not being flexible with my schedule.  I had it in my head what date a review was going to be posted and forced myself to read the book even though I wasn't in the mood for it.  It definitely impacted my reading experience in a negative way.  I'm trying to be a little more flexible in the future.

I really like Amy Poehler though I'm not exactly sure why.  I'm not a big SNL fan and though it's on my Netflix list I haven't watched Parks and Recreation.  I think the main reason I was so excited to get this book is because Poehler is mentioned in both Tina Fey and Mindy Kalinger's books and she always comes off as just a great person!  SNL probably isn't happening anytime soon but if I enjoy the rest of this book as much as I've enjoyed the first part Parks and Rec will definitely be moving up my To Watch list!

The Beginning from Chapter 1:
"I was in fourth grade and in trouble.  The students of Wildwood Elementary School in Burlington, Massachusetts, shifted in their uncomfortable metal seats as they waited for me to say my next line.  A dog rested in my arms and an entire musical rested on my shoulders"

Page 56 (well actually page 57 because there's no text on page 56:
"I remember many details about the days my sons came into the world but very little about my own birthday.  Partly because I was a newborn baby, and partly because my mother was always a little coy about how the birth went down."

Keep reading?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Maybe This Christmas - Review

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan

Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Tyler O'Neil is trying to make sure his daughter Jess has the best Christmas possible.  All around them Snow Crystal resort is booming with new business.  Tyler is still adjusting to life since his competitive skiing career came to a tragic end.  He's also having to deal with the fact that his long time friend Brenna is starting to look like more than a friend.

Genre: Romance

Why I Picked This Book:  I have read the first 2 in the O'Neil series and really enjoyed them.  I couldn't wait to read Tyler's story.

My Impression:
Pro:  I love the friends turn more story line and I've been rooting for Brenna and Tyler to get together since book 1.  It was also really lovely to revisit Snow Crystal again at Christmas.  Morgan makes snow and skiing seem so fun that even I kind of want to try it and I consider temperatures below 70 unbearable.   While I generally dislike the use of children in romances Jess's involvement and story line seems very natural.  I think that part of it is because we've gotten to know her over the 2 previous books and also because she's old enough where she doesn't really need to be taken care of and can participate in the story.  I liked the fleshing out of Brenna's character and making her more than the expert skier we'd gotten to know in previous books.  I also liked that even though Tyler wasn't aware of his feelings for Brenna we see hints in his behavior and he seems to be making an effort not to show anything.  It was great to see Kayla, Jackson and the rest of the O'Neil family.  I liked that Kayla's meddling was discussed and not always approved of as well as that it didn't always work.

While I liked that Brenna's character was more fleshed out she had so many self-confidence issues between her parents and the bullying that her love of Tyler made me cringe a little in the first half.  It felt like she needed to deal with her own issues before she could go into a relationship on equal footing.  There was also a lot of repetitive talk about the bullying and her issues with her parents.

Overall:  While this wasn't my favorite in the series it was definitely an enjoyable contemporary romance with a nice winter-y feel.  Morgan does a good job with mixing in humor without making it too silly.  It was fun to see Brenna and Tyler finally get their story and I was satisfied with the end.  While this could be read as a stand alone you definitely should start with Sleigh Bells in the Snow so you can really get to know the characters and the resort.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!  Even though there are no more O'Neil brothers I'm hoping this isn't our last visit to Snow Crystal.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Yes but start at the beginning of the series.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie - Review

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Rita Mae Brown

Rating: 2 Stars
Source: NetGalley

(from GoodReads)
Sister Jane and the Jefferson Hunt Club have traveled from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains to the Bluegrass State of Kentucky to ride with the members of the Woodford Hounds—in the teeth of foul weather. Sister knows better than anyone that an ill wind blows no good.

After the hunt, Sister Jane and her boyfriend, Gray Lorillard, head to a sumptuous party on a nearby estate, also home to a historic equine graveyard. The revelry is interrupted by jarring news: The discovery of grisly remains in the cemetery that are decidedly not equine.

Now Sister and her hounds are on the case, digging up clues to an old murder that links three well-connected Southern families. When mayhem follows the Jefferson Hunt back to Virginia, the deadly doings become all too real: A dear friend of Sister’s is found murdered. Sister and her animal friends must work fast to find a clever killer determined to keep deep-rooted secrets buried.

Genre: Mystery

Why I Picked This Book: Rita Mae Brown is an author whose books I've been seeing around for years.  While another series of hers didn't work for me I enjoyed her writing enough to give this one a try. 

My Impression:
Pro: The mystery itself is interesting and I definitely wanted to know more about how the body ended up buried with the horse.  The information about the Hunting clubs was new to me and it was fun to learn more about an activity I had heard so much about in a historical sense.  I visited horse country and Churchill Downs years ago and I enjoyed revisiting that area of the country.  Brown is very good at creating a likable and diverse group of people.

Cons:  I have found jumping in to a mystery series usually isn't an issue since mysteries tend to be plot driven.  This book however was a bit like the first day at a new job.  There are so many people busy with so many new tasks that I spent most of my time trying to remember who was who and what they were doing.  With all the characters and the hunt information the mystery itself got a bit lost.  

Overall:  If you are a fan of this series I suspect you will enjoy this one.  If you are new but want to try this series save yourself the headache and go back and start at the beginning.  Between the huge quantity of hunt and horse information and the enormous cast list I spent most of the time confused.  To give yourself and the series a chance start at the beginning.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?:  While I can see why Brown has a large following I don't think either series by her that I have read is for me.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Only to readers who are already fans of the series.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Anticipated Sequels

It's Top Ten Tuesday Time hosted by the amazing people over at The Broke and the Bookish.  So I guess it's time for a confession.  I don't go out and get a book I'm absolutely dying to read on the day it comes out.  If there's the slightest whiff of cliffhanger I wait until I can get at least 2 at once.  Obviously in a long running series it isn't possible to own all 15 books before I start reading (though I have tried) but I normally have at least 2 or 3.  If it's a trilogy or quartet I generally wait until I have all 3 or 4.  So for my Top Ten Anticipated Sequels I'm kind of drawing a blank.  After lots of thinking I went with the books that made me go buy the sequel or the next one in the series while I was still reading the first and then the authors whose books I request without without even reading the summary.

1.  Spackled and Spooked by Jennie Bentley - I love this series!  It's not a flawless cozy series but I love the home renovation mixed with mystery and love reading what Avery is getting up too.  There's always a little history connected to the mystery which is always a win for me.

2.  Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay - McKinlay is one of my favorite cozy authors and the library series is my favorite of her series.  She's a librarian!  How can I not love that?

3.  Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott - So while this sequel was probably published 100 years before I was born it took forever for me to find it!  I read Eight Cousins which was hands down my favorite Alcott book before the internet and the all reaching power of Amazon.  Finding this book took years and tons of searching.  I can still remember how excited I was when I finally had a copy in my hands!

4.  Treasure on Lilac Lane by Donna Alward - About 2/3 into The House on Blackberry Hill I knew I had to spend more time in Jewell Cove and went out and found Lilac Lane.  I'm really looking forward to reading it!

5.  Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - Miss Peregrine was weird but kind of awesomely weird and I wanted to see where the story goes.  Of course the sequel's been out for awhile and I still haven't read it but I'm looking forward to it.

6.  Nora Roberts - While I haven't loved every book she's written and I'd like to forget about pretty much every book she wrote in the 80s all I need to see is Nora Roberts on the cover and the book gets bought.

7.  Julia Quinn - Another romance author that I immediately buy.  I don't even have to look at the blurb!

8.  Tony Horwitz - I kind of want to be Tony Horwitz.  He comes up with great topics - like traveling Captain Cook's route and then does them and writes fascinating books that are informative and entertaining.  His book Baghdad Without a Map taught me more about the Middle East than anything else and made me laugh until I cried!

9.  Laurie R. King - I love Her Holmes/Russell series and even though I'm a few books behind it's always a series I look forward to revisiting.

10. Deborah Crombie - Basically everything I said about King!  Her Kincaid/James series is absolutely one of my favorite mystery series and her books are always on my autobuy list!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tim Cratchit's Christmas Carol - Review

Tim Cratchit's Christmas Carol by Jim Piecuch

Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Our last look at Tiny Tim was as a little boy on Scrooge's shoulder.  Now years later he is a well respected doctor who has let pressures from the other doctor in his firm and society keep him from doing what he set out to do - to do good.

Genre: Fiction

Why I Picked This Book:  A story told through Tiny Tim's eyes seemed interesting and so very Christmas-y.

My Impression:
Pros: This was a thoroughly Christmas-y story.  Scrooge's part was understated and well done.  I liked Tim but even more I liked the supporting cast - Ginny, Bridget, Henry and the others.  These were characters I really rooted for and wanted to do well.  Watching Tim take a step back from the life he had kind of fallen into and reevaluate where he ended up was nice.  His realization of what was actually going on was also fun to watch.  The end of this book was really fun and Christmas-y and there were several moments that I had happy tears in my eyes.

Cons:  It took a little bit for me to get into this book.  The pacing of the beginning was a little off and I was very conscious of reading the "he said, he did, he thought" instead of falling into the story. However, after a slightly bumpy start this improved. The ending was a bit contrived and tied up neatly but it was so sweet and Christmas-y I was perfectly fine with that!

Overall:  While there were some pacing flaws this was a lovely and sweet story.  It was nice to see Tiny Tim all grown up and to see the aftermath of Scrooge's Christmas Eve lived out by the Cratchit family.  A nice Christmas-y read!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!

Would I Recommend this Book?:  If you're a fan of the Christmas Carol and looking for a Christmas-y book I think you would enjoy this.