Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Cowboys for Christmas - Review

Cowboys for Christmas by Liz Talley, Kim Law and Terri Osburn

Rating: 3.5
Source: NetGalley

Description:  These are three stories about three friends set over the same 2 week period of time.
In Love Me Cowboy Claire had always had a crush on her best friend's little brother.  Is now the time to finally act on it?
In Kiss Me, Cowboy by Liz Talley Georgia Hightower is certain she's seen the last of small town Texas until her best friend's wedding brings her back and she meets veterinarian, Reed McCormack
And finally in Marry Me, Cowboy by Kim Law,  Mary Catherine is marrying who she's supposed to marry until a run in with an old flame makes her start questioning herself.

Genre:  Romance

Why I Picked This Book:  Even though I'm not a big cowboy fan Reed McCormack had come up as my book boyfriend on the Book Boyfriend Quiz at Romance at Random so how could I pass this up?

My Impression:  Love Me Cowboy by Terri Osburn -  the first story in this book centers around elementary school teacher Claire Campbell and her best friend's brother, Tyler Holly.  Claire and Tyler had known each other since they were kids and had always been attracted to each other which had ended in a one night stand a few years before.  Even after a significant weight loss Claire's self esteem is down the drain and Tyler is having to reevaluate his life after a bull riding accident had sidelined him.  There was a lot I loved about this story.  I loved that Claire and Tyler had been friends for years.   I really liked that he had noticed her before she lost weight and had found her beautiful before.  I liked that the characters did get their feelings hurt and did sulk a little like regular people but they were able to communicate.  Both characters were just plain nice so it's easy to see this relationship working long term.  There was some lack of connection but I find that is typically the case with short stories.  It was one of those stories where I was always conscious of reading it which I don't love.

Next up is Kiss Me, Cowboy by Liz Talley which is wild child Georgia Hightower and local veterinarian Reed McCormick.  This was probably my favorite story of the three.  Georgia has some serious self-esteem issues as well.  She grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and always felt like everyone thought she was trash.  Georgia deals with her insecurities a little differently than Claire.  Choosing to show how much she's changed and how well life has turned out for her.  Except that things are starting to implode.  Reed has always wanted to be a cowboy and being a veterinarian in this little Texas town makes him happy.  He does want to settle down but he's not in a rush though he does have an image of the perfect wife in his head.  That woman is definitely not Georgia Hightower but he finds himself thinking about her all the time.  I like that while Reed has an idea of what he wants for his future he's flexible and doesn't get hung up on it when he realizes he wants something different. I also really liked that the end was satisfying without feeling like it wrapped up too neatly which often happens in the short stories where the main characters are meeting for the first time.  Reed and Georgia aren't quite as nice feeling as Claire and Tyler but they're definitely fun and I enjoyed watching their story unwind. 

And finally, Marry Me, Cowboy by Kim Law the story of Mary Catherine Holly's wedding that shouldn't be.  Going into this one I was a little hesitant.  I'm not a big fan of stories that involve even a whiff of cheating and I wasn't sure how this story could play out without that happening.  Law did a great job with a tricky topic.  This is more about Mary Catherine figuring out who she is than choosing between two guys.  Jax doesn't make a great first impression or really even a second or third but the more I saw of him the more I liked him and the more I sympathized with him. While I sympathized with Mary Catherine's trying to avoid arguing with her stepmother it did feel like it went a little too far.  My main problem with this story is that there so many great subplots - Mary Catherine's art, her relationship with her step-sister and Jax himself and the ranch he runs that it would've made a better full length book.

Overall:  While I'm not a big cowboy fan I do enjoy short story collections that are connected through a group of friends like this one.  I liked that they all took place over an overlapping time period so we saw some scenes multiple times through different angles.  I felt that the last two stories were stronger than the first but not so much that it felt jarring or inconsistent.  While I liked all the main characters there was the lack of the emotional connection that frequently occurs with short stories.  This is a fun holiday read especially for cowboy lovers!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I will definitely look for more from all 3 of these authors but especially Liz Talley

Would I Recommend this Book?:  If you're in the mood for a Christmas story and love cowboys than this isn't one to miss!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - My Winter TBR Pile

Today's topic from The Broke and The Bookish is the Top Ten Books on my Winter TBR Pile.

For the Fall TBR Pile I'd given up on reading TBR books and was just going to read review books in a fort made out of my TBR books as they've outgrown the bookcases and just about everything else.  For winter it looks like I'll still be in my book fort BUT my review books are starting to slowly get under control!  Maybe spring will involve reading some actual TBRs?

I'm keeping the books that were on my Fall TBR but am adding in some new ones as well.

1. Empire Girls by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan - It's New York in the 20s with a family mystery.  Cannot resist it!  Except obviously I can since it came out in May and was on my Fall TBR and yet I still haven't read it!

2. Chateau of Secrets by Melanie Dobson - basically ditto to #1 except instead of New York in the 20s it's an old house in France.

3. Always on My Mind by Belle Andre - This is another book that's been on my TBR since the Fall and this is an author I'm really wanting to read.

4.  The Hexed by Heather Graham -  So I didn't do so well with the overdue Fall TBR because this is another book that's a hold over.  I loved The Cursed and am looking forward to this and the next book The Betrayed

5.  So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan - This is a new book on the list.  I was really excited when I got this book about what made The Great Gatsby a classic and I am really looking forward to reading it.

Coming Up:
6.  Hardcastle's Quartet by Graham Ison - this is the only holdover from the Fall list but since it only came out earlier this month I'm not too worried about it.  This historical mystery looks like a great read!

7.  Murder at the Book Group by Maggie King - A cozy mystery set around a book club.  2 of my favorite things in one book!

8.  A 50 Year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot -  this is a memoir about a woman trying to solve the mystery of her grandparents' marriage an desperation.

9.  Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King -  King is one if my favorite authors so I'm really looking forward to this visit to Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell.

10. Finding Hope by Stacy Finz - I loved the first one in this series and spent the whole book hoping the 2nd book would be about Clay.  So I was thrilled to see Clay's book was being published in January.

These are the books I'm looking forward to reading this winter.  Do you have a list you're hoping to get to?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Even in Death - Review

Even in Death: A Short Story Collection by Kristy Feltenberger Gillespie

Rating:  3.5 Stars
Source:  Kindly provided by the author for review

Description:  Even in Death, a collection of ten short stories, explores the thin line between love and hate; extreme emotions that even death cannot destroy.

Genre: Fiction

Why I Picked This Book: I thought the concept looked interesting and I was curious to see how it was executed.

My Impression:

Pro:  I wasn't quite sure what to expect with 10 short stories about death.  I figured they'd lean towards horror or maybe supernatural.  But instead the stories are more about the people involved.  There is actual death in each story but there is also death of something else and that seems to be as strong and as poignant as the primary..  In "A Flower Story" we see the death not only of one of the characters but of a chance for something more.  In "Kayanna Pepper" the death is not only of a friend but of a passion as well.  The title story, Even in Death, really made me think and I've found myself mulling over which item would really represent me.  Probably my favorite story is "What Caught My Senses" which reads almost like a traditional mystery.  I really enjoyed each story and was always curious to see what would happen next each time I picked up the book.

Con:  While I was frequently intrigued and always interested in the stories I didn't really have an emotional connection to the characters.  I find this to be more a problem with short stories in general than a problem with this book.

Overall: This was an interesting and unusual collection of short stories.  While death featured prominently in all ten stories I found them more about human nature than death itself.  If you're looking for a quick read that's not too light and makes you think than this would be a great choice.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?:  I have her full length novel Jaded and am looking forward to reading it in the next few weeks!

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Definitely!  This was a unique and interesting set of stories.

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.