4/29/10

Review: Dangerous by Diana Palmer

FTC disclaimer: Digital review copy received from publisher through Netgalley

I don't think I've read a worse contemporary book in years. I'm stunned that publishers considered Dangerous worthy of a hardcover release. It's clear that Diana Palmer has zero familiarity with gaming. Equally clear that she's not all that familiar with law enforcement. In fact, based on her writing, I'm wondering if she's familiar with 21st century life at all.

Our hero, Kilraven, is a fed working undercover. He's still haunted by the murder of his wife and three year old daughter 7 years before. And while he's aware that Winnie, our young heroine, has a crush on him, he's content to ignore her in the hopes that her feelings will fade with time.

Winnie has watched and loved Kilraven from afar for a long time. She keeps a frail hope alive that he will one day return her feelings. Her work as a 9-1-1 dispatcher keeps her in at least peripheral contact with him--even resulting her saving his life once due to her somewhat supernatural intuition.

4/26/10

Review: McKettricks of Texas: Garrett by Linda Lael Miller

FTC disclaimer: Digital galley provided by the publisher through Netgalley

Spoiler Alert: this review will probably contain some minor spoilers

It's been months since I read the first in this trilogy. I really didn't like the first installment in the series, Tate, but fortunately, this one was much, much better.

Linda Lael Miller continues with her hit-you-over-the-head lecturing about animal welfare as well as the obvious McKettrick/Remington pairings. But at least this one didn't contain a history of infidelity--something that is on my short list of plot elements that turn my stomach.

It could be I enjoyed this book more because the characters were less self-involved. Julie is a high school drama teacher and Garrett is a senator's aide. At the beginning of the novel, they each have their own careers--their own lives. There is no deep, dark, tortured history between the two--although they are familiar with each other through the previous (failed) romances of their two respective siblings.

4/21/10

Review: Pride Mates by Jennifer Ashley

I just finished this novel, and I have to admit: I still don't know how I feel about it. The writing is  fine--not distinctive enough to rave about but compelling enough to keep the reader moving along.My problems with this book are entirely theme related. Ashley touches on some very sensitive themes here. Some that cause an almost instinctive revulsion in me. Spectres of injustices past reared their collective heads throughout this book so often and so clearly that I had to pause and regroup in order to keep reading.

Ashley's Shifter population evokes the complexities of Japanese internment camps, Jim Crowe discrimination, Jewish persecution by the Nazis, slavery. 

I still find myself struggling to come to terms with the realities expressed in this book. Wondering just what Ashley was trying to convey by putting such hot button themes so obviously out there. And whether the ability to stir such strong and conflicting emotions is a sign of a good writer or just a ballsy one.

Hump Day Classic Movie: The Dark Crystal 1982

Although best known for the lighthearted Muppets and Sesame Street, Jim Henson had a bit of a dark side as well. The Dark Crystal features the art design of Brian Froud--now a renowned fantasy artist.

This is unlike any other work by Henson. It's dark; it's creepy; it's violent. And it's proof that movies made for children can have depth as well as imagination.

4/20/10

Review: Destined for an Early Grave by Jeaniene Frost

Unlike early fans of the series, I'm a late arrival. Which means I didn't have to wait for each book to be released and read #2-4 back to back. Which might have influenced my reviews just a little bit.

I can honestly say that this is my least favorite of the Night Huntress books so far. I really didn't enjoy it as much. It's not terrible by any means, but it did come across as melodramatic and repetitive.

Cat and Bones are settling into their lives as husband and wife: vampire style. That is until a vampire named Gregor interrupts their honeymoon in Paris by invading Cat's dreams and insisting she is married to him and not Bones. And that Mencheres stole those memories from her. Added to that is the fact that Gregor is capable of abducting people while they are dreaming and it causes Cat to have some serious doubts about who she really is and what she wants.

4/18/10

Review: A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

I fully admit to being an Amelia Peabody fan girl. I started the series in college and have dutifully picked up each yearly book as soon as it was published--in hardcover. I mourned the conclusion of the series when Tomb of the Golden Bird was released and was ecstatic when Peters began publishing 'lost journal' books that filled in the gaps left by the original series.

The series as a whole is studiously researched and written with  a sly sense of humor through the tart, often abrasive voice of Amelia Peabody Emerson. Part of the charm is due to the characters. Part of it is due to the atmosphere created by Elizabeth Peters's expertise in the field.

Unfortunately, though, A River in the Sky was missing something. Something big. Two somethings actually. And those were a compelling mystery and archaeology.

4/16/10

Review: Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis

I'm a sucker for stories set in the Sierras because, quite frankly, there really aren't that many of them. Rockies, yes. Sierras, no. So I was delighted to hear about Jill Shalvis's Instant Attraction which is set in the fictional town of Wishful, located somewhere in the general area of South Lake Tahoe.  Once I started reading, though, it wasn't the setting that captured me. It was the writing.

I haven't read  many contemporaries that have appealed to me lately. They're either romantic suspense, paranormal, or so filled with sex scenes that the romance gets lost. No so with this book! The romance takes center stage as we watch two people recovering from life-altering tragedy muddle their way through a relationship while struggling to redefine themselves and their altered reality.

4/14/10

Hump Day Classic Movie: Clash of the Titans

I grew up watching the original Clash of the Titans made in 1981. It's a classic. It's campy. And has typical Ray Harryhausen special effects that are charming in their simplicity. You won't get motion sickness watching this one.

Starring Harry Hamlin, Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Burgess Meredith

4/12/10

Review: At Grave's End by Jeaniene Frost

I can now say I know what the fuss is about. Frost's Night Huntress series is probably the most consistently good series I've read in a long time. At Grave's End finds Cat and Bones newly married in vampire fashion and planning a human wedding.

Further complicating the plans is Mencheres' offer to bind Bones' line to his, strengthening them both. But, as we soon learn, Mencheres is anything but altruistic. He has a reason for everything. And that becomes apparent as a female vamp named Patra launches a terrorist attack in the midst of the binding ceremony--starting a vampire war.

I admit I was a bit annoyed with Frost's wholesale slaughter of Egyptian history, but because this is *fantasy* I gave it a pass.


The tone of this book is sad. Very sad. To the point of being depressing. But the emotional depth of the series is part of what I love about it.  Emotional pain can show reveal hidden depths about characters, and I think we see that here with both Cat and Mencheres. And Vlad--oddly enough. Sure, the beginning shows plenty of Cat's snarky humor, but midway through the book that levity disappears.

The pacing is a bit funky, which could be a turn off for some readers. The narrative either plods along in depressing emotional wallowing or is filled with an overwhelming, frantic urgency during the action sequences. There's very little consistency here, and I think that hurts an otherwise excellent book.

This book sets up not only the next installment of the Night Huntress series but the spin-offs being released this year. I thought it an excellent story that focused far more on the relationship between Cat and Bones than previous installments.


My Grade: B+

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4/7/10

Review: Chasing Perfect by Susan Mallery

FTC Disclaimer: Digital galley provided by the publisher through Net Galley
**May contain plot spoilers**


   Chasing Perfect is another of the hearth and home style romances that are supposed to be the new up and coming trend in romance publishing. Fortunately, though, Mallery's style lacks the sickly sweet tone so many of those novels have  and delivers a thoughtful and funny small town romance.

   Yes, there are the obligatory plot elements: move from the city to small town life, the traumatized dowdy woman seeking to settle down and have a family, the local playboy... But there's enough genuine emotion and characterization to overcome those conventions.

Hump Day Classic Movie: The Creeping Flesh (1973)

Okay, this one is just campy. It's biggest *ahem* recommendation is that it might provide some unintentional laughs. I know it did for me.

The Creeping Flesh stars Christopher Lee and features an oversized skeleton that can regrow tissue. Ewww.

Still, for dirty minds like mine, there's a memorable scene where a dismembered finger starts to grow...and um...it sort of doesn't look like a finger.

I love Christopher Lee. Modern audiences might recognize him from the Lord of the Rings or the newer Star Wars films, but he's a giant in the horror industry. He's been making films for what seems like forever. Don't believe me? Check out his filmography!

This title is out of production at the moment. You can find used copies from Amazon, though.

4/2/10

Authors With an Agenda

I've noticed a trend among certain authors lately that has me more than a little bit irritated. As far as I can tell, it's mainly restricted to well established authors with a high number of dedicated readers. And while this trend isn't new by any stretch of the imagination, it seems to be taking over the romance genre with increasing speed.

I'm talking about author activism.

Now, to be clear, I'm not talking about when an author takes a public stance about a particular social or political issue in their day to day lives. I'm talking about when those beliefs make their way into their stories in book after book with all of the subtelty of a sledgehammer. Where readers are subjected to mini-lectures over and over every time they pick up a book by a particular author.

For me, it's beginning to be a huge turn-off. Even if I, too, believe in the cause. Even if I, too, think these issues could use some publicity. Because I honestly don't think fiction should be used to preach an agenda. Even if that agenda is worthwhile.

Pot Stickers Recipe

For those of you who asked for the recipe. It was a little too long to send!


2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water
1/2 cup very finely chopped napa cabbage
8 ounces lean ground pork
2 tablespoons finely chopped water chestnuts
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2/3 cup chicken broth, divided

Dipping Sauce
Soy sauce and sweet red chili sauce (ratio depends on your taste preference)

1. Place flour in large bowl and make a well in center. Pour in boiling water; stir with a wooden spoon until dough begins to hold together. Knead dough until smooth and satiny on lightly floured surface, about 5 minutes. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
(You can substitute prepared wrappers for this, but they do have a different texture!)

2. For filling, squeeze cabbage to remove as much moisture as possible; place in a large bowl. Add pork, water chestnuts, onion, soy sauce, sherry, ginger, cornstarch, sesame oil and sugar; mix well.

3. Divide dough into 2 equal portions; cover 1 portion while you work with other portion. Roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness on lightly floured work surface. Cut out 3 inch circles with round cookie cutter or clean can. Place 1 rounded teaspoon of filling in center of each dough circle.

4. To shape each pot sticker, lightly moisten edges of dough circle with water; fold in half. Starting at one end, pinch curled edges together making 4 pleats along edge. Set dumpling down firmly seam-side up. Cover finished pot stickers while you make remaining dumplings. (Cook immediately, refrigerate for up to 4 hours , OR freeze in a resealable plastic bag.

5. To cook, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat (I've used pans that weren't nonstick and they turned out fine as well). Set 1/2 of pot stickers in pan seam-side up. ) If cooking frozen dumplings, do not thaw.) Cook until bottoms are golden brown, 5-6 minutes. Pour in 1/3 cup of the chicken broth. Cover tightly, reduce heat, and cook until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes (15 if frozen). Repeat with remaining oil, pot stickers, and broth.

Recipe yield is supposed to be around 32 pot stickers, but I always come up short. :) My cutter is a little bigger than 3 inches.

** Note: The filling also works terrific for wontons! If you have leftover filling (or cannot find ground pork in 8 ounce packages) you can easily double the filling recipe and do pot stickers one night and wonton soup the next. 

Gifts for the Baker