Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Living Well Spending Less - Review

Living Well Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life by Ruth Soukup

Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Based of her blog by the same name, Soukup gives us the 12 secrets to leaving a life with less stress, less spending and more happiness.  She talks about everything from daily routines to budgeting and gives ideas and her own personal stories to illustrate what works and what doesn't.

Genre: Non-fiction

Why I Picked This Book:  By the time Christmas rolls around I always feel a little bit out of control both in my schedule and my spending.  I thought this would be a good way to get a better grip on things and be ready for the new year.
My Impression:
Pro: I liked the way Soukup didn't present herself as an expert but more of a "this is what worked for us".  There were a number of fairly simple ideas that I hadn't really thought of - especially in establishing routines and budgeting - that I'm really excited about implementing.  She also provides a number of printables from her site to help organize, budget, or just have life running more smoothly.  While Soukup is married and has small children this advice is pretty universal.  No matter if you live with 8 people or alone budgeting is still important as is having routines to feel productive.

Con:  I felt the way the bible verses were inserted made the reading a bit choppy.  I'd be reading along and then would get a whole chunk of bible verses kind of thrown in the middle of a chapter.  I thought it would flow better if they were put at the end of the chapter or the beginning so as to keep the flow going a bit better.  There's some repetition, particularly in the first couple of secrets as several weren't that different.

Overall:  It's challenging to review self-help books because just because something didn't work for me didn't mean the advice of the ideas were bad it just means it didn't fit my particular set of issues.  While this book wasn't perfect and not everything applied to me I did get a lot of ideas to use going forward and I'm now motivated to clean out a couple of closets I've been ignoring.  I call that a win!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I plan on following her blog Living Well Spending Less from now on and will definitely keep my eyes open for any new books though she wouldn't necessarily be an autobuy.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Definitely!  Despite the choppiness I think there's a lot here for those feeling overwhelmed or just wanting to get a better handle on things.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Resolutions

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is Top Ten Goals/Resolutions for 2014 though I'm interpreting this to mean 2015.

Bookish and Blogging Resolutions:

1.  Read 132 books this year - My goal this year was 130 and I beat it by a few books so I'm increasing my goal by 1.

2.  Finish re-reading Agatha Christie's books - I stared this at the beginning of 2014 and have read her Tommy and Tuppence books, her non-series books and the first Poirot books.  This year I want to finish Poirot, and read all the Marple and short story collections.

3.  Build up at least 2 weeks of blog posts - Right now I've only got at best a few days and there's always a slight panic-y feeling.  Having 2 + weeks would be great.  I've already made some prgress but I'd like to keep it going.

4.  Actively participate in the Reading Challenges I signed up for - I signed up for some really fun challenges this year (see Challenge page in the header) and I want to really focus on participating instead of forgetting like I did this past year.  I'm adding a Challenge section to my review template and plan on staying more organized about them.

5.  Limit my NetGalley requests so I can get my review backlog cleared out and make some progress on my TBR shelves - I thinking maybe limiting it to maybe 10 new releases a month so I'll have some time to read older books.

Non-Bookish Resolutions

6.  Learn how to make candy - I have no idea why a candy thermometer scares me so much but it does.  It's time to tackle that fear because I do love fudge!

7.  Actually put together the photo books I've been talking about putting together for years - Pretty much since we switched to digital cameras I've been meaning to make photo books so we can actually see the pictures.  This is the year to do that!  I'd also like to put together a cookbook of all the recipes I use all the time.

8.  Go one place we haven't been once a month - I'm not talking about a big trip but go somewhere.  Be it a town, a restaurant or even a store.  I want to go one place that I've never been before.

9.  Actually attempt to do some of the thousands of pins I've pinned on Pinterest - I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to make this work but I need to come up with something.  I've got so many pins and haven't done a fraction of them!

10. Start preparing for December before it actually is December so I'm not running crazy again - This year was much crazier than it had to be.  So much so that I ended up getting myself sick.  There was so much that got left to the last minute that I could have taken care of in October and November and been much happier.

What do you resolve for the coming year?

Monday, December 29, 2014

On the Fifth Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me - 5 Cozies

Trish at Between My Lines is hosting the Twelve Days of Christmas but instead of talking birds and lords o' leaping were talking books.  Way more affordable and much easier to store than swans a swimming.  Be sure to check out the other 11.

January 5:  Twelve YA's with Lots of Kissing from Chelsea @ Starbucks & Book Obsession
January 4:  Eleven Covers for Adoring from Rachel @ Confessions of a Book Geek
January 3:  Ten Books with Dancing from Trish @ Between My Lines
January 2:  Nine Plots A-twisting from Miranda @ Tempest Books
January 1:  Eight Maids Kick-assing from Jessica @ Lovin' Los Libros
December 31:  Seven Dystopias Awaiting from Rita @ View From My Home
December 30: Six Sizzling New Adults from Sheri @ Tangled Up in Books
December 29: Five Cooooo-zies from Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
December 28: Four Contemporaries from Jenna @ Rather Be Reading YA
December 27:  Three Time Travels from Terri @ Second Run Reviews
December 26:  Two Chick Lits from Lola @ Lola's Reviews
December 25:  And a Thriller Where the Family Flee from Trish @Between My Lines

For the fifth day we have cozies.  Of if you're singing it it'd be Fiiiive Cooooo-zies.

1.  Jennie Bentley's Do It Yourself Mystery series - There's small town Maine, history, restoring old houses, a dash of romance and hefty dose of dead bodies.  In the first of the series Fatal Fixer Upper there's even long buried family secrets.

2.  Lynn Cahoon's Tourist Trap Mysteries Guidebook to Murder was the first in the series and I enjoyed it enough that I've read the other 2 in quick succession.  If anything the series is getting strong.  Plus, there's a bookstore!

3.  Jenn McKinlay's Library Lover series - While I love McKinlay's cupcake series and I'm sure her hat shop books are fantastic my favorite is these set in small town Connecticut involving local librarian Lindsey Norris.  There's a book club, a nemesis with just enough of a presence to be interesting but not so much as to be annoying.  Oh yeah, and murder.  Books Can Be Deceiving is the first in the series.

4.  Sheila Connolly's Orchard Mysteries or her County Cork Mysteries - One Bad Apple introduces us to Meg, the house she unexpectedly inherited and the old apple orchard she was unaware even existed.  I always want to go comb farmer's markets for unique apple types after reading these books!  While I have enjoyed her museum series the plotting can be a bit confusing and my reason for loving it is because I used to work in a musuem.  I have read the first in the County Cork series, Buried in a Bog, and it was great.  Plus, it's a cozy set in Ireland!  I'm not sure what else you could want!

5.  Kate Carlisle's Bibliophile Mysteries - I know this is a big surprise but books about books are quite possible my favorite topic and this mystery series about book restorer Brooklyn Wainwright, never fails to disappoint.  Start with the first, Homicide in Hardcover, so you can learn who everyone is.  Carlisle has recently started a new series of mysteries about restoring houses that I can't wait to get my hands on!

So those are the 5 cozies I recommend!  If you're a regular cozy reader did I leave out any of your favorites?  There's so many fun cozies out there it's hard to narrow the list down.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

This Week in Reading - December 28

I'm linking up with Kimberly over at The Caffeinated Book Reviewer for the Sunday Post where it's time to talk about what we got, what we read and everything else!

What I Got:

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George - So it's a bookstore on a barge in Paris.  Do I really need to say anything else?  (NetGalley)

Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown -I love cookbooks and I love trying new recipes so this one that focuses on good food and cheap food is one that I definitely want to try! (NetGalley)

Scorched Eggs by Laura Childs - I won this in a giveaway hosted by Kristin at Always with a Book.  While I'm not current on the series this is an author I've been reading for years so I was thrilled to get the book.  Not only did the book arrive this week but it arrived signed from the author with a personalized comment.  There may have been some a little bit of a dance when I opened this one! (Giveaway win)


Reading:  The Mystery on the Blue Train by Agatha Christie and Living Well Spending Less by Ruth Soukup

Listening: Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan.  I just got this from the library and though I haven't had time to listen to very much what I have heard is pretty funny.

Watching: Netflix movies.  I was thrilled to discover they had Grosse Pointe Blank.  It was my favorite move for years so I was worried it wouldn't live up to my memories but turned out I still enjoyed it!

Off the Blog:

So we have done Christmas with my dad, Christmas with my mother, Christmas Eve with J's brother and family but without Eleanor, Christmas day and the day after Christmas with J's brother and family WITH Eleanor.  All we have left is the Tornado's birthday.  While this year has gone by much too fast I don't think I'll be too sad to see December over with.  I need a nap.

I love this time of year!  Christmas is over and it's time to get ready to start fresh for the new year!  I love lists and reorganizing.  I'm already working on limiting the review books I take on and just being more organized overall.  I will definitely be far more prepared for December than I was this year!

On the Blog:

What Happened this Week:

What's Coming Up:

Monday:  Five Coooo-zies with the Twelve Days of Christmas hosted by Between My Lines
Tuesday:  My Resolutions for 2015
Wednesday: Living Well Spending Less - Review
Thursday: First Book hosted by Book Journey
Friday: Friday Linkups with whatever book I'm reading
Saturday: Cook It Up Cookbook Challenge post

Have a great week and happy reading!

Cookbook Wrap Up for 2014

I'm linking up with Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking

I don't think it's any secret that I love cookbooks and this past year thanks to review books, figuring out the online holds at my library, and Trish at Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity's Cookbook Challenge I've tried out a lot of new ones!  So looking back here were the ones I found myself reaching for the most.  This is only for books that were new to me in 2014

The Tried and True

Come Home to Supper by Christy Jordan

I love Christy's first book Southern Plate and her blog by the same name so I was excited to get my hands on her 2nd book Come Home to Supper.  This is a handy book with tons of perfect weeknight dinner recipes.

The Surprise

The Chopped Cookbook from Food Network
While I'm a huge fan of the show I wasn't sure what to expect from a Chopped cookbook.  What I found were some adventurous but not crazy recipes and my family is still talking about the pretzel crusted pork sliders!

Mayim's Vegan Table
While I'm not a vegan I love the idea of getting more meatless meals on rotation both for health and for budget.  Many of Mayim's recipes were naturally vegan or would easily be made vegetarian by substituting regular mayo for the vegannaise.  The meals are affordable and accessible.

Special Occasion

My Irish Table by Cathal Armstrong and David Hagedon
I have had a cold for the past week and my biggest dream is for someone to make me the chicken noodle soup from this cookbook.  It's amazing and while time consuming isn't complicated.  The recipe is drool worthy and every recipe I've tried has come out perfectly.


Sweets from Food Network
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book based off the elaborate cover but while there is a section on decorating there's lots of recipe for those of us who aren't exactly artistically inclined.  And the whoppie pies were crazy good.

Ovenly by Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin
If I had to pick a favorite new cookbook this would probably be it.  It's probably not the most family friendly but it's perfect for gift giving or just for treating yourself.  I highly recommend the shortbread, the scones and the bourbon chocolate chip cookies.


Burnt Toast by Kathleen Flinn
I laughed, I cried and I really wanted to eat.  I've heard this was Flinn's weakest book but I absolutely loved it.  I'm really looking forward to reading the first 2.

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg
If you can read this book without wanting pizza I don't think we can be friends.  I don't even really love pizza but I would stand in an all day line for pizza from Delancey without hesitation.  Plus if you've ever wondered what opening a restaurant is like I imagine this is a pretty true to life look.

So these are my favorite foodie books from 2014.  What new cookbooks ended up on your shelf this year?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Friday Linkups: The Mystery of the Blue Train

It's Friday Linkup time!  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 Book Blogger Hop Question:
Do you have a book with a location you just HAD to visit after reading the book?

My Answer: 
In terms of specific locations probably not though books have put coastal Maine and several other areas in the US on my one day list.  At this point we're just not able to travel as much as I'd like to visit all the places I read about.  I do tend to do the reverse - pick up a book because I love a specific location.

My book this week is The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie.  This is the 6th Poirot and according to some sources one that Agatha was the least satisfied because she had caved to pressure from her publisher on a few points.  I, however, have always enjoyed it and it's nice revisiting it.

From the Beginning:
"It was close on midnight when a man crossed the Place de la Concorde.  In spite of the handsome fur coat which garbed his meagre form, there was something essentially weak and paltry about him."

From page 56:
"Madness! Yes, Just that, madness!  For the first time in her life she was swept away by emotion, swept away to the point of doing a thing which even she knew to be incredibly foolish and reckless.  She was enough Van Aldin's daughter to realize her own folly, and level headed enough to condemn her own action."

So what do you think?  Keep reading?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas and Christmas Book Roundup

Merry Christmas!  I hope everyone is having a wonderful day!  If nothing else you can be glad you're not the poor mall Santa that the Tornado choose to interrogate about reindeer.  After having Christmas with my Dad, Christmas with my Mother and Christmas with J's family Christmas Day is our day to truly relax.  We'll have Christmas morning with Santa presents and cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  The kids will be in their new pajamas because they get a new pair every year on Christmas Eve.  But after all that we'll have a little bit of peace and it's always so crazy that I really enjoy spending time with my family at home on this day.

This year I read a lot of Christmas books so I thought I'd round them all up in one handy post.  The Christmas books I read this year. Click the link for the full review:

1.  Tim Cratchitt's Christmas Carol - fiction
2.  Maybe This Christmas - romance
3.  Cowboys for Christmas - romance
4.  Christmas at Carriage Hill - romance
5.  Merry Christmas Baby - romance and a must read for Lucky Harbor fans
6.  Christmas in Snow Angel Cove - romance
7.  If the Shoe Kills - mystery and probably more about Thanksgiving than Christmas but still good
8.  The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog - fiction
9.  All He Wants for Christmas - romance
10. The Christmas Bouquet - romance
11. Make My Wish Come True - mostly fiction but with a dash of romance
12. The Christmas Wedding Quilt - romance

This was my first year of really doing some holiday reading and it definitely won't be my last!  Have a lovely day!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Christmas Wedding Quilt - Review

The Christmas Wedding Quilt by Emilie Richards, Janice Kay Johnson and Sarah Mayberry

Rating: 4 Stars
Source: Purchased

Description:  3 cousins who grew up as close as sisters have drifted apart in their adulthood.  Until the death of their aunt and a wedding quilt for her daughter bring them back together.

Genre: Romance

Why I Picked This Book:  I've always been a fan of Emilie Richards and I'd been wanting to try Sarah Mayberry.  Pus I loved the premise of this one.

My Impression:
Let it Snow by Emilie Richards - When it comes to romance novellas one of my favorite plots is second chances.  Part of it is because the characters already have a history so if they fall in love very quickly it doesn't seem far-fetched.  As usual Richards didn't let me down.  Brody and Jo were both likable characters trying to do what was right which had pushed their personal lives to the side.  I liked the Gift of the Magi mentions and their reasons for not telling each other were motivated out of kindness and protectiveness.  This was a sweet second chance story witha  dash of humor.  4 Stars

You Better Watch Out by Janice Kay Johnson - Ella is the 2nd cousin to get the quilt and as soon as she finishes sewing her part but before she can send it on it's way her car is stolen with the quilt in it.  While trying to chase down the thief she barrels head first into disillusioned defense attorney Brett Hollister.  I really liked both Ella and Brett and I think their characters work very well together but the premise was just a little absurd.  The two of them basically spend a couple of days driving around town looking for her stolen car.  While it did give them a chance to get to know each other it just didn't feel very believable.  I also felt like her guilt regarding her mother was a little over the top.  I'd definitely be willing to try another book by this author on the strength of her characters but I'll be reading the blurb carefully.  3 Stars

Nine Ladies Dancing by Sarah Mayberry -  This isn't exactly a 2nd chance story though they did go to high school together.  Rachel remembers Leo but not fondly and Leo only has the vaguest memory of her.  When they meet again through Leo's mother who just happens to be Rachel's quilt teacher it doesn't go well.  But then Leo goes to the library where Rachel is a Librarian and they talk about books!  That alone would make this my favorite story in the book.  Luckily, I also get a well paced story and likable characters.  4.5

Overall:  I expected to love this one going in with Emilie Richards heading up the book and it being about a quilt that each cousin works on but I ended up really loving it.  While each story does focus on a romance there's more focus on each of the women getting to know themselves better.  The heat is very low with scenes doing the fade to black before anything happens but I found it worked with the feel of the book.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I would read more from all 3 of these authors.  Richards will remain a favorite and I'll be hunting down Sarah Mayberry's books.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Absolutely!  This is a great Christmas read!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I want Santa to Bring

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing This Year.

1.  LudoBites Recipes and Stories from the Pop Up Restaurants of Ludo Lefebve - I love Ludo on The Taste so I'd love to try some of his recipes and learn more about him.

2.  A Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin - I saw the review for this on Bea's Book Nook and am intrigued.  Have a cold?  A broken heart?  Jet lag?  They have a book for that!

3.  A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable - It's an apartment crowded with all kinds of old stuff and it's in Paris.  Really that's all I need to know!

4.  The Silent Sister by Dianne Chamberlain - I've seen so many good reviews for this one I can't even name all the blogs.  It sounds like a great thriller and I could use a little darkness after all the fluffy Christmas romances I've been reading.

5.  One More Thing by B.J. Novak - I loved and sometimes loved to hate Novak's character on The Office and I've loved every interview I've read of his.  This book is high up on my wishlist!

6. In the Woods by Tana French - This another author I've heard such good things about that I can't wait to try her books.

7.  Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble  by Marilyn Johnson - If I could have any job in the world archaeology would be in the top 5.  Since it's not exactly a hiring field I'd like to live vicariously through this book!

8.  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain - I definitely have some introverted tendencies and my husband is right in the middle on the introvert camp.  This one is high up on my wishlist!

9.  Abandoned America by Matthew Christopher - I'm always fascinated by abandoned places and always want to know the story.  Why places were abandoned the way they were.  This coffee table type book looks like a fun one to flip through.

10.  Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home by Marcus Samuelsson - I've been fascinated by Marcus Samuelsson since I saw him compete on The Next Iron Chef and became even more interested when I read his memoir - Yes, Chef last summer.  I'd love to try out some of his recipes.

What books do you want Santa to leave in your stocking?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Make My Wish Come True - Review

Make My Wish Come True by Fiona Harper

Rating: 3.5 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Juliet is tired of working tirelessly to make Christmas perfect for everyone except herself while her sister Gemma breezes in and out with only the  slightest of excuses.

Gemma is tired of her sister thinking that she's irresponsible and unreliable.  It isn't her problem that Juliet is determined to be stressed.

After an uncharacteristic argument Gemma comes up with an idea.  She will stay and run Juliet's Christmas, because really how hard can it be? Juliet will take Gemma's tropical vacation.  But the sisters quickly learn that maybe the grass isn't greener on the other side.

Genre: Fiction

Why I Picked This Book:  It looked Christmas-y and is set for the most part in England which had been sadly lacking in my Christmas reading.

My Impression:
Pro:  I had only glanced at the premise when I request this book and if I had studied it more closely I probably wouldn't have requested it.  Going in I didn't have high hopes for the actual premise.  How could it possible be set up and not just seem silly?  But it worked.  It made sense why Gemma came up with the idea and it made sense while Juliet took her up on it.  I loved both Juliet and Gemma.  They were both flawed and had real issues with each other and it was interesting to watch them both figure themselves and each other out.  There wasn't a lightbulb moment where they each realized that the other sister's life was more difficult than they had given them credit for and everything was fixed.  It slowly evolved and they began to understand why the other acted the way they did. I really identified with both sisters and I really wanted them to work through their issues.

Con: The romance in this is a subplot at best and really I could have done without it.  One had red flags popping up from the beginning and the other had an ick factor though it does get resolved.  While I really liked Juliet the parts from her perspective did tend to drag a bit.  Partly because at the beginning of her vacation she wasn't doing much other than figuring out how to do nothing.

Overall: This was an interesting read about sisters with lots of baggage learning to get past it and rebuild a relationship with each other.  It also is about two women getting a better grip on who they are as people.  If you're reading this book for those reasons I think you'll really enjoy it.  If you're reading it as a Christmas romance I think you'd be disappointed.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!  Despite my hesitation about the premise I really enjoyed this.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Definitely!  Though I'd recommend it as fiction not a romance.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

This Week in Reading - December 21

It's Sunday Post time!  Hosted by the awesome Kimberly over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer

What I Got:

Medium Dead by Paula Paul - I haven't read many historical mysteries and this one with the comparison to Jacqueline Winspear set in Victorian England looked intriguing.

Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander - Have I mentioned I have a weakness for any book involving chefs?  Especially pastry chefs?  Throw in a murder and I can't resist.

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende - Really the title says it all on this one.  This comes out in April and I'm really looking forward to reading it.


Reading:  If You've Got It, Haunt It by Rose Pressey

Listening: Still listening to Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag.  I haven't had much listening time in the last couple of weeks but I'm almost done with this one.  

Watching:  I'm loving The Librarians!  I watched the first show this week and loved it.  I enjoyed it more than the most recent movie.  I think this show has lots of potential and TNT owes me one for cancelling Perception.  I also enjoyed The Sing-Off.  I don't know why but I love acapella.  I'm just sad it was a one episode competition instead of the longer ones they've done in the past.  I have caught up on this season of Doctor Who.  I'm currently emotionally crushed but I have hope that it'll get better.

Off the Blog:

So we have all (J, Paul, Emma and myself) gotten addicted to a trivia game called Trivia Crack.  It turns out when it comes to trivia games none of us are good people.  There's a lot of trash talking around the house and periodically one us will scream something along the lines of "What!", "You've got to be kidding me" or "Boom" depending on what happened.  Right now we're all pretty neck and neck with J taking a slight lead because he can kill us all at sports. Our dinner table conversations have turned to the various weird questions we've gotten.  Eleanor came home for the weekend and has joined in the fun.  It is good to know that the kids either through us, the public school system or their own initiative do seem to have a pretty broad knowledge of science, arts and history.

I think I've gotten Christmas taken care of.  There are a few things that didn't end up being able to do but it'll be fine.  I did manage to stop by the mall so the Tornado could visit Santa.  When I asked him what he had asked Santa for he informed me that he had so many questions he had forgotten to ask for anything.  Apparently they did discuss the reindeer in detail though.  Whatever mall Santas get paid it isn't enough.  This year has just seemed so crazy.  I don't know if it was because Thanksgiving was right at the end of December or I just wasn't paying attention.  Regardless, I'm spending Christmas day in my pajamas and doing nothing more challenging than deciding how many of the Doctor Who Christmas specials I want to re-watch.  

On the Blog:

What Happened This Week:

Thursday: Bonfire Night plus The Christmas Bouquet - Reviews (my first and probably only DNF)

What's Coming Up:

Monday:  Make My Wish Come True - Review
Tuesday:  Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing this Year
Wednesday: TBD
Thursday: TBD
Friday: Linkups with whatever book I'm reading
Saturday: TBD but something food related

Have a great week and happy reading!

Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen - Cookbook Review

Last summer I didn't miss an episode of the American Baking Competition.  I loved the format, loved the judges, I loved the job Jeff Foxworthy did hosting and I loved seeing what the various contestants would come up with to deal with the challenge of the week.  While Francine might not have been my absolute favorite she was probably a close second and she was one that was always entertaining to watch.  Between her flavor combinations or what she said you never knew what to expect.  So when I came across her cookbook on Blogging for Books I didn't hesitate.  And I"m not disappointed!  It's no secret that I enjoy baking and that I love cookbooks and this one was a treat.  There are a lot of classic (classic - not basic) recipes like Carrot Cake, Banana Pudding, Catch-a-Husband Blackberry Cobbler, Lemon Bars, and Nana's Iced Pound Cake.  There's a nice choice of unusual recipes like Cheesecake Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars, Pretzel Pie, Chocolate Whoopie Cake, Honey Bun Cake, and Francine's World-Famous Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie.  This was the pie that on the show that British baking purist Paul Hollywood thought sounded awful only to admit upon tasting that he had been wrong and it was absolutely delicious.
In the week that I've had this book I've made two recipes.  I made the Cheesecake Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars and they've won over everyone.  I followed her instructions to the letter and they were clear and precise. I think they'd be easy for a baking novice to follow but I didn't feel like anything was over-explained.  The cookie bars have been a hit though I think when I make them again I'll bake them for about 5 minutes less than called for as the crust dried out a little.  That hasn't stopped everyone from scarfing them down - including the extremely picky Tornado.

Next up were these Cheese Muffins -
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pans
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cubed Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease 12 muffin cups.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and butter.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt and cheese and mix, stirring with a wooden spoon, until just combined.  Do not overmix.  Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin cups.
Bake until golden brown on top and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes in the pans, before turning out onto wire racks to cool at least slightly.

If you slather a little honey on these I could inhale them.  The texture is almost like a biscuit and they little cubes of cheese give little cheesey explosions though grating the cheese would work as well.  I did end up with more than 12 - more like 16 - but I'm not complaining.  These would be great served with breakfast or alongside a soup for lunch or dinner.

I'm looking forward to trying out more of Francine's recipes!  The hard part will be deciding which one to try next!

I'm linking up with Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

*This book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Linkups: Christmas with Anne

It's Friday Linkup Time!  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 write a review for every book you read or only review copies from publishers?

My Answer:
I review pretty much every book I read/listen.  The main difference is that I publish the review book reviews as close to the review date as possible whereas I may store the review for a book I read just for fun for a week when I get behind.

For my last Christmas book of the year is a book I reread every year around this time.  This is a collection of short stories and excerpts from L.M. Montgomery.  All are Christmas-y and all are wonderfully feel-good!

The Beginning from "Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves"
"Matthew was having a bad ten minutes of it.  He had come into the kitchen, in the the twilight of a cold, grey December evening, and had sat down in the wood-box corner to take off his heavy boots, unconscious of the fact that Anne and a bevy of her schoolmates were having a practice of "The Fairy Queen" in the sitting-room."

 My thoughts: This excerpt is from one of my favorite scenes in the book Anne of Green Gables.  I'm always thrilled to revisit it in this this story.

The 56 from "Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket"
"The khaki boy said he hadn't tasted anything half so good since he left home.  "They didn't give us pound cake in South Africa," he said"

So what do you think?  Keep reading?  Do you have any rereads for around the holiday season?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bonfire Night plus The Christmas Bouquet

Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn

Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Lady Julia Grey and her husband Nicholas Brisbane are very much surprised to hear that he has been left a country house and even more surprised to hear that they have to be there in 2 days for All Hallow's Eve and Bonfire Night or they forfeit their inheritance.  However, in the charming and beautifully run house all is not as it seems.

Genre: Mystery
Why I Picked This Book:  Even though I'm incredibly behind on the series I love it and couldn't resist picking up this novella.

My Impression:
Pro:  Once again Raybourn impresses me with her ability to fully flesh out the world around her characters without being excessively descriptive.  The house the Brisbanes inherit is beautiful and and fascinating with nooks and crannies and mysterious stairs and halls. Mrs. Smith may as well be an actual person she's so vividly drawn.  Unlike in previous novellas the cast list is small so it isn't difficult to figure out who everyone is and their personalities are well fleshed out.

Con:  I loved absolutely everything about this novella until I got to the ending.  It felt a little rushed and if you weren't familiar with the series I think it would've felt a bit like it came out of left field.

Overall:  With interesting characters and beautiful settings this is a must read series for mystery lovers.  This would be a perfect Halloween/Fall read for those who like creepy atmosphere but don't like scary books.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Yes, definitely!  I'm hoping to do a massive read of the series in 2015.

Would I Recommend this Book?: This book may not be the perfect choice for new readers but I'd definitely recommend the series.

The Christmas Bouquet by Sherryl Woods

Rating: DNF
Source: NetGalley

Description:  An unexpected pregnancy is not on Caitlyn Winters' schedule.  A driven medical student, she barely has time for a relationship much less a baby.  She's unexpectedly fallen in love with family medicine resident Noah McIllroy.  With the help of Noah and her large and interfering family can she figure out how to have everything she wants?

Genre: Romance
Why I Picked This Book: I loved Sherryl Woods' other books and was in a Christmas-y mood..

My Impression:
Pro:  Sherryl Woods' writing didn't disappoint and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of the O'Brien family in their books.

Con: Have you ever hit the point with a person where you're so annoyed with them that nothing they do wouldn't be annoying?  They could be sitting their quietly breathing and it'd be enough to drive you nuts.  That's where I got with Caitlyn before I put this down.  It wasn't a good sign for me when the book started off with a pregnancy test.and an unplanned one at that.  The pregnancy is definitely unplanned and definitely not at the most convenient for her so I could understand this not being a joyous surprise.  However, her complete inability to see anything positive or be able to change anything at all got annoying as it went on far too long.  Noah was a good guy, a bit too good but while reading I was so annoyed at Caitlyn all I had left over was pity for him.  I wanted to tell him just to run away and quickly!  It should have been a giant flashing red sign for him that he had never once met her family in any form after a year and when it was revealed that she had not only not mentioned him to them but actually hid signs of presence and gone out of his way to lie I had a hard time believing she had any real feelings for him.  It's Sherryl Woods so I'm sure the ending would've wrapped things up nicely and redeemed Caitlyn but I'm not sure this is a happy ending I could have rooted for.  If Noah had been my friend I would've told him to go to a lawyer, make sure they agreed to a custody plan and then walk away.

Overall:  While this didn't work for me part of it is my dislike of pregnancy based plot lines.  If that doesn't bother you you may have an easier time with Caitlyn.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Absolutely!  I've read and enjoyed several books by this author.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  I would recommend this author but not this particular book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All He Wants for Christmas - Review

All He Wants for Christmas by Lisa Plumley

Rating:  3 Stars
Source:  NetGalley

Description:  Toy Company CEO Jason Hamilton has appeared in some very un-family friendly photos.  To revamp his image the board sends him to Kismet, Michigan to the highest performing store and home to manager, Danielle Sharpe.  Danielle's goal is to get into the corporate and get herself and her children out of Kismet.  She's hoping Jason's visit may just be the way to do it.

Genre: Romance

Why I Picked This Book: It sounded like a cute premise and the cover looked adorably winter-y.

My Impression:
Pro: There's a lot to like about this.  The premise is unique.  I can't think I've read a book around a toy store and the challenges to keep it not only going but successful. The amount of scandal worked.  It was enough where you could see some outrage but not so much that there was no way to recover.  The banter was cute and light and as characters these two really worked well together.  I loved how Jason was not only fine with Danielle's kids but good with them. As well, the setting of Kismet, Michigan is nicely done.  It's definitely steeped in Christmas but not so much it's silly.  I can easily picture it as a tourist-y destination for the holidays.

Cons: Here's the hard part.  Have you ever had a book just not work for you but you can't put your finger on exactly why?  That was this book for me.  Obviously, there's a lot of good points but this isn't a book I would say I enjoyed.  After much thinking it over I think my problems were the characters were just a bit too over the top.  While I liked Danielle and Jason the way they acted reminded me far more of teenagers than a company CEO and top performing store manager.  Their internal dialog just seemed a bit immature.  Danielle's kids were a little to adorable.  Her ex was a little too much of a jerk and the new wife was a little too much of a bimbo.

Overall:  While I think this would be a fun holiday read for many people it didn't quite work for me.  The setting and the premise were great but the characters seemed a little too stereotypical or over the top.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?:   There's a lot of potential here so I'd like to read one of the earlier books in the series.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Not sure.  If someone is looking for a light holiday romance this would certainly fit that but it's not my favorite of the Christmas books I've read this year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is my Top Ten Books read in 2014.  This a tough one because I read some fantastic books this year!  I'm not counting rereads so these are only first time reads!  So here's my top ten favorites from various genres.  Just click on the title to go to my review:


Delancey by Molly Wizenberg - I had loved Wizenberg's previous book but I think I loved this one even more.  I really had no interest in opening a restaurant but now I really have no interest!  That being said, I would wait in whatever line I had to wait in to get a seat in Delancey!

Murder on the Home Front by Molly Lefebure - a true account from a female journalist turned secretary to one of the most renowned early pathologists.  She gives us a look at the morgue and police investigations in World War 2 era London.

The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax - I read this book back in January and March and am still talking about it.  It's fabulous but don't go into a grocery store right after reading it or you will spend far too much money!

Louisa Catherine: The Other Mrs. Adams by Margery M. Heffron - I know a lot about John and Abigail Adams but I know very little about their son and President John Quincy Adams and even less about his wife.  This was a really interesting look at a little known First Lady.


Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison - I really enjoyed this modern day mystery set in England.  It had touches of history, lots of mystery and great characters.  I'm hoping there will be another one out very soon.

Buried in a Bog by Sheila Connolly - Do you ever have an author whose writing just works for you and you're not even quite sure why?  That's Connlly for me.  Her mysteries are definitely not flawless but I always enjoy them.  This is the first of a series set in Ireland.  


When the Rogue Returns by Sabrina Jeffries - I read Jeffries when I first started reading romances back in college but had stopped years ago.  I was thrilled to rediscover her with this fabulous story.  The plot was intriguing and the characters were well developed.  


The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow - I was almost afraid to read this book as my expectations for it were so high but it didn't disappoint!  There's a lot of history, a touch of mystery and a good dose of heart.  

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier - This book wins the award for book I've recommend the most this year.  The Birds is the short story that Hitchcock loosely (and I mean loosely) based his movie of the same name on.  I've always thought the concept was kind of silly until I read the story.  Now I'll never look at birds the same way again.  The other stories in this collection are great too. 

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio - This is the most feel good book I read this year.  Throw in the children's book references and the treasure hunt through bookshelves and if you put this book down without a smile on your face I'm not sure we can be friends!

I wouldn't have expected it but this was probably one of my best years for non-fiction.  I had a hard time picking just a few and I definitely feel like I'm leaving great ones out.  What were your favorites this year?

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog - Review

The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry

Rating: 4.5 Stars
Source:  Purchased

Description:  It's 1960 and time for the annual Christmas pageant at St. John's Episcopal Church.  This year Doug Barnes gets to be a Shepherd which is better than the Three King he was last year because you get to carry a stick.  Unfortunately Mrs. Elkins takes this pageant very seriously and Judy Flanders, the girl who Doug has a crush on is Mary opposite the coolest boy in school.  There's also car ants, Frank and his squirrel tendencies, Walter, and a whole lot of bat poop.

Genre: Fiction

Why I Picked This Book:  I've always enjoyed Barry's humor books and I heard an excerpt of this read and thought it sounded really funny.

My Impression:
Pros: I've been reading a lot of sweet Christmas romances and I was a bit sweeted out but wanted to stay with the Christmas spirit.  That's when this short, quirky little story came to mind.  This is actually a reread but if anything I enjoyed it as much if not more this time than the first time around.  The narrator is a boy - about 10 - who comes across as very much a boy of that age.  When he's at school or practicing for the Christmas pageant his focus is on Judy Flanders a pretty girl who is nice to him.  His description of their "date" will have you both laughing and cringing at the awkwardness. Doug's descriptions of things are pretty funny - like how Doug's dad is in advertising which his mom says means he drinks martinis at lunch.  The description of Doug's dad putting together the bike had me laughing and the Christmas pageant descriptions will be both funny and painful to anyone who has tried to do anything similar with children.  The science project (which leads to the car ants) had me laughing though it will possibly give me nightmares.  The book itself is more of a shorter novella with a scattering of photographs and illustrations.  It's a quick read which is perfect for this time of year because my downtime is the 25 seconds between when I sit down and when I fall asleep.

Cons: None that I can think of.  I really enjoyed this book.

Overall: The story is sweet but not in a sugar coated way but in the odd sweet way you get in real life with little kids.   It's funny without being slapstick - well the end is a little slapstick but it worked.  It's Christmas- without being Santa overload and it made me want a really big dog again.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: While this is the first fiction book I've read by Barry I've really enjoyed his humor books in the past. I"m looking forward to trying more of his fiction later.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Yes, this would be a good holiday book for those that don't enjoy the plethora of holiday romances but still want a good Christmas story.  Plus, I think this would be a fun read aloud to kids.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

This Week in Reading - December 14

It's Sunday Post time which means time to link up with the awesome Kimba over at The Caffeinated Book Reviewer to talk about all that's been on this past week and what's coming up.

What I Got:

This was not a silent week but not too bad. I got some books but several of the reviews aren't for April or May so I'm calling it good!

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham - Allingham is one of the classic mystery authors I haven't read much from.  This one has been on my TBR for awhile so I was excited to see it on NetGalley.  (For Review)

With Vics You Get Egg Roll by Diane Vallere -  I really enjoyed the 2nd book in the Mad for Mod series so I'm excited to see what Madison gets up to in this 3rd entry.  I'm hoping it will push me to read the 1st book that I bought right after I read the 2nd. (For Review)

Criminal Confections by Colette London - It's a murder mystery involving chocolate.  How could I pass that up? (For Review)

The City of Blood by Frederique Molay -  With all the cozies and holiday romances I'm looking for something with a little more grit to it so I figure this thriller set in Paris will be perfect.  (For Review)

Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson - The title makes me cringe a bit since sometimes TV makes it look like all Southerners are rednecks (we're not if you're wondering) but I loved Francine on The Great American Bake-Off last summer and am looking forward to trying out some of her recipes.  (For Review)


Reading:  I'm not feeling super motivated when it comes to reading though I've been enjoying All He Wants for Christmas by Lisa Plumley.  I'm starting to overdose a bit on Christmas stories but I only have a couple more to go.

Listening:  Still listening to Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag.  It's good but long.

Watching:  I really loved The Librarians last week and am looking forward to tonight's episode.  It's like a middle grade adventure book in TV form for adults.  Not the most believable but so much fun!  Also, thanks to a comment by Nelle from Nelle's Nightstand over at Herding Cats and Burning Soup I discovered Hallmark's TV movie Christmas with Holly which is based on one of my favorite Lisa Kleypas books - Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor.  Which led me to discover Debbie Macomber's Mr. Miracle starring Rob Morrow who I kind of love.  Needless to say I'm planning on watching some cheesy Hallmark movies!

Off the Blog:

So I'm not as behind as I was last week which is nice.  I've still got tons to do but I have lists so everything is good!  Most of the shopping is done so now it's just extras and candy and the stuff that needs to be made.
Emma had her final ACT yesterday.  So fingers crossed.  Her score is good but she's competitive and wants a few more points.
Eleanor was in town this weekend to decorate the Christmas tree. It was a lot of fun though we have a prelit tree and a few sections decided to randomly not light up.  We were in a time crunch so we just added a few strings to make up for it but now we have to decide if we are going to fix it or replace it. 
It's ridiculously hard to get a decent picture of all 4.  The Tornado is so excited he can barely stand it, Emma is hiding and judging from Paul's expression Eleanor is teasing him about something.  

On the Blog:

What Happened:

Saturday:Epic Tomatoes - Review

What's Coming Up:

Monday: The Shepherd, the Angel and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog - Review
Tuesday:  Top Ten Books of 2014
Wednesday: TBD - review
Thursday: TBD - review
Friday: regular link ups
Saturday: TBD - something food related 

Epic Tomatoes - Review

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time by Craig LeHoullier

It's cold and grey and very very December.  My garden is very dead except for 2 parsley plants that have managed to stay green and 3 pepper plants that are riding out the winter in the garage.  By the time of the first frost I'm kind of done with the garden maintenance.  I'm tired of checking for pests and making sure everything's properly watered but not too wet.  I'm definitely ready to do something else.  But come December I'm already looking forward to that first taste of a fresh tomato which is so much better than anything you can find at the grocery store.  I love all the varieties of tomatoes and always pick at least 2 or 3 new different types to try.  I was so excited when I came across Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time by Craig LeHoullier on NetGalley that I couldn't resist it.

Everything you ever wanted to know about tomatoes is in this book.  Their history, the different shades and types, the different flavors, and everything else you can think of.  Their charts and illustrations and lots and lots of pictures.  I loved that tomatoes pictured weren't flawless as so often the case in seed magazines.  There are some flaws or cracking on the tomatoes and the shapes aren't perfect but they're so colorful and summery looking that I want a BLT sandwich right away with the tomato still warm from the sun.

This would be a great book for anyone who is just starting out with gardening or even for a more intermediate gardener like me.  It focuses on tomatoes in a way I  haven't come across before. I think it will be a really useful guide for everything from selecting the varieties, choosing the plants themselves and keeping them growing and healthy enough to have a great harvest.  I'm looking forward to be getting a print copy and flipping through this one.  I can't wait to start making my list of tomato varieties for next year!

I'll have my old favorites - Black Cherry, Golden Jubilees, Mortgage Lifters and Celebrity but I may have to add in a few new ones as well.  I know I'll be keeping an eye out for Cherokee Purples, Golden Queen, Abraham Lincoln and a few others.  If you like to garden and love freshly picked tomatoes this book is like a little taste of summer!

I'm linking up today with Weekend Cooking with Beth Fish Reads

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday Linkups: The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog

It's Friday Linkup time!  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 Book Blogger Hop Question:
How many books do you read in a week?  How many hours a day do you spend reading?

My Answer:
I probably read 2 to 3 books a week.  It's hard to say exactly how many hours I spend reading as with 4 kids (one of which is preschool age) I don't have many long interrupted moments.  I grab a few minutes here and there and then probably read an hour or so at least at night after everyone's gone to bed.

So I'm pretty saturated in Christmas books right now but they've been mostly romances.  I decided it was time for a little bit of a change and pick a non-romance Christmas book.  This funny yet sweet book was just the thing.  Set in the 1950s this book has a almost Christmas Story vibe to it as we see Christmas told through the eyes of a young boy.  There's plenty of craziness and a few heartwarming moments.  I read this a few years ago and have been really enjoying the reread.

The Beginning:
My names' Doug Barnes, and this stuff happened on Christmas Eve in my town, which is Asquont, New York.  According to Mr. Purcell, who's my Social Studies teacher is an Indian name that means some Indian thing like "Hunting Place in the Green Forest," but sometimes I think it was just a joke by the Indians to get white people to say "Asquont."

And the 56:
"We were driving on Route 218 when Frank saw a squirrel, and he must have thought it was a really dangerous-looking squirrel because he jumped out the car window to get it."

So what do you think?  Keep reading?