12/30/10

Review: Wedding of the Season by Laura Lee Guhrke

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Avon (Harper Collins)
Pub Date: December 28, 2010
FTC: Digital ARC received from publisher through Netgalley

The Blurb:
Abandoned at the altar…

Lady Beatrix Danbury has always known she would marry William Mallory. She’d loved him forever, and she’d never doubted he loved her, too. But when she made him choose between their life together and his lifelong dream, Will chose the latter, and left two weeks before their wedding.

Return of the duke…

Will has no illusions that Beatrix will welcome him back with open arms, but six years has not diminished his love or his desire for her. The only problem is that she’s about to marry someone else. Someone safe and predictable… the complete opposite of Will. But can he stop the wedding of the season and win Beatrix back, or is it just too late?


Laura Lee Guhrke writes some of the most fun late 19th/early 20th century romances out there. They are wonderful, sweet, romantic, and sometimes very funny. Wedding of the Season definitely had its amusing parts, and it also had plenty of heart.

I love the second-chance-at-love trope. And there's plenty to love about Will and Beatrix. There really isn't a villain in this book. No third person who broke the young lovers apart. The parting was a result of mixed priorities, chance, and the naivete of youth. And pride. Lots and lots of pride. As I was reading the book, my sympathies swung from Will to Beatrix and back again. It's painful to watch these two wrestle with the realities of what drove them apart. And to watch them fight their attraction for each other.

12/28/10

Quickie Review: When Harry Met Molly by Kieran Kramer

Format: ebook (also available in mass market paperback)
Pub Date: November 2010
Publisher: St. Martin's
FTC: Purchased myself

I saw several recommendations for this book on Twitter. Lots of comparisons to early Julia Quinn.

Well...I didn't see that. I saw an attempt to be like early JQ. But this author forgot that it wasn't the situations that made those early books so terrific. It was the characters. And Kramer's characters are the most shallow, irritating, immature characters I've read in a long, long time.

Molly is a self involved, immature twit. Sure, she's romantic. As if that somehow excuses her utter lack of common sense. And Harry is a dishonorable jackass without that rakish quality that allows me to hope that he's putting on a show for others. He's a jerk, through and through.

I found the whole contest for "Most Delectable Companion" silly. In a bad way. And I felt that the ending was so predictable I could have skipped it entirely.

Fans of light hearted romance might like this one, but only if they don't mind shallow, immature characters.

My Grade: C-

The Blurb:

Dashing Lord Harry Traemore is perfectly content to live out his days in the pursuit of pleasure. But when he's named by the Prince regent as one of society's 'Impossible bachelors', Harry is drafted into a ribald romantic wager. The rules of engagement are scandalously simple: the bachelor whose mistress wins the title of 'Most Delectable Companion' gets to remain unmarried. Harry is utterly unconcerned about his status...until his latest lightskirt abandons him. Enter Lady Molly Fairbanks. Harry's childhood friend - actually, 'foe' is more like it - is the most unlikely companion of all. She's attractive but hot-headed, and in no mood for games. Besides, what could the self-indulgent Harry possibly know about what makes a woman delectable? It's time for Molly to teach him a lesson once and for all...but will it lead to happily ever after?

What Did Santa Bring You?

Santa was very good to me this year. He brought me a shiny new Kindle. No longer will I feel like I'm out of touch, a step behind everyone else.

Who am I kidding? I will probably always be riding the coattails of trends instead of leading the charge. It's how I operate. Weigh, assess, gather data...think about it some more...and then, maybe, cave.

But, back to the Kindle. I have to say that having the e-ink is wonderful on my eyes. I have my laptop and I have my Ipod touch. Both of which have backlit screens. And while they work to read ebooks, they aren't very comfortable to read from for long periods of time. I've read 4 books since Christmas. And my eyes aren't tired. That's saying something!

There are a few things I'm not so fond of with the Kindle:

I miss my covers. Kindle books do not show the covers! At least not that I've found so far. They show in the Kindle store, but not at the beginning of the story as I've grown used them doing on my Ipod. And not on the home menu either (If I'm wrong, someone please point me to the setting to change this!)

I don't like shopping from the Kindle. I prefer the Ipod/browser interface to the one on the Kindle.

And I have to say, I've finally discovered how fast EDGE coverage is (the secondary coverage outside the Sprint coverage map). It's slow. As in...dial-up slow.  Maybe slower. At home I have the Kindle set to use my wifi network. Which, even as slow dsl, is way way faster than EDGE. But I'm glad I have it anyway, given my husband's chatty nature. I can sit there and buy books while waiting on him wherever he decides to stop and chat in the car. It's awesome.

One last gripe: battery life. They are smoking dope on their specs. Granted, I've been playing Scrabble, have the wireless ON, and have been reading nearly nonstop. But the charge was halfway gone within 2 days. No way would it last 10 days on a single charge. Uh uh. I'm going to experiment with turning the wireless off for battery life to see what the real life range is.

Next up is figuring out how to use Netgalley with the Kindle.

Thank you Santa!

12/24/10

Review: Naked in Death by JD Robb (audio)

Format: Audio download via Audible
Pub Date: Print 1995, Audio 2008
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Narrator: Susan Eriksen
FTC: Purchased myself

The Blurb:

Eve Dallas is a New York police lieutenant hunting for a ruthless killer. In over 10 years on the force, she's seen it all - and knows that her survival depends on her instincts. And she's going against every warning telling her not to get involved with Roarke, an Irish billionaire - and suspect in Eve's murder investigation. But passion and seduction have rules of their own, and it's up to Eve to take a chance in the arms of a man she knows nothing about - except the addictive hunger of needing his touch.

At the urging of my husband, who listens to far more audiobooks than I ever could thanks to his job, I decided to give Naked in Death a try. I knew of the series, of course. JD Robb is the not-at-all secret identity of Nora Roberts. And I have more than just a smidge of Nora fatigue. So, to say I was a little cautious is an understatement.

But I have to give her credit: if I didn't know La Nora had written this, I would not have guessed it. It is completely different from any of her romances. (And I've read the majority of them). The futuristic setting is far grittier than anything I can remember her writing. And while there is a romantic element, the majority of the story focuses on Detective Eve Dallas and her quest to track a serial murderer.

The narrator does an excellent job of using different voices for each character. And the male voices don't sound forced as is the case for some women narrators.She does a solid job and enhances the story.

The story itself is technically a mystery, but I had no difficulty guessing whodunnit. I think the characters, and Eve's inner struggle with her burgeoning relationship with Roarke, are what make this book compelling. All of the characters are well done. Even the secondary ones. And Roarke is just plain awesome.

I think this skirts the line between mystery and romantic suspense. And I think the futuristic setting makes this just different enough to be unique without annoying those who don't like even a whiff of paranormal or fantasy in their books.

My Grade: A-

12/19/10

Quickie Review: Kiss of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Format: mass market
Publisher: Dell (Bantam/Random House)
Pub Date: 2007
FTC: Personal copy from the TBR

I've been hearing from several people (including my mom) how great the Breed series is by Lara Adrian. After reading the first book in the series, Kiss of Midnight, I'm not sure what everyone's raving about. I thought it a mediocre book that doesn't really add anything to the vampire romance subgenre. Sure, there are aliens, but other than that? Eh.

Plus the last 30 pages or so nearly strained my poor little eyeballs because I just couldn't stop rolling them. Sappy dialogue, a TSTL heroine, and an jerk for a hero. I thought the characters were well done other than the last minute (and completely unbelievable) attitude adjustment for Lucan. I just don't see this as anything other than a passable but not wow-worthy vampire book. Maybe the newer books in the series are better?

The Blurb:


INSATIABLE DESIRE. ENDLESS SEDUCTION. ONE TOUCH IS JUST THE BEGINNING.
He watches her from across the crowded dance club, a sensual black-haired stranger who stirs Gabrielle's deepest fantasies. But nothing about this night--or this man--is what it seems. For when Gabrielle witnesses a murder outside the club, reality shifts into something dark and deadly. In that shattering instant she is thrust into a realm she never knew existed--a realm where vampires stalk the shadows and a blood war is set to ignite.

Lucan Thorne despises the violence carried out by his lawless brethren. A vampire himself, Lucan is a Breed warrior, sworn to protect his kind--and the unwitting humans existing alongside them--from the mounting threat of the Rogues. Lucan cannot risk binding himself to a mortal woman, but when Gabrielle is targeted by his enemies, he has no choice but to bring her into the dark underworld he commands.

Here, in the arms of the Breed's formidable leader, Gabrielle will confront an extraordinary destiny of danger, seduction, and the darkest pleasures of all . . . .


My Grade: C

Recipe: Mrs. Elliott's Posh Potato Casserole

This one comes from my 9th grade English teacher. We make this pretty much every year to go with our Christmas ham. It's not heart or waistline healthy. At all.

Posh Potato Casserole

Ingredients
8 medium potatoes
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup melted butter
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 green onions, chopped
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs (regular or panko)

Directions:

Boil potatoes with bay leaf until barely tender. (If you over cook them, the potatoes will be mushy, and you'll lose the special texture of this dish)  Cool, peel and grate coarsely into large bowl.

In medium bowl, add melted butter to soup. Blend in sour cream, salt, pepper, onion, and 1 1/2 cups cheese. Pour over potatoes and stir gently.

Spoon into buttered 13 x 9 casserole. Bake uncovered in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese and bread crumbs on top. Bake 10 minutes longer.

12/18/10

Recipe: Finnish Stars aka Prune Tarts aka Joulutortut

Those who live in the Great Lakes area and/or those of Finnish heritage will recognize this Christmas classic.

Prune tarts (yes, prunes) are traditional Yule Tarts. They start with a dough, cut into a pinwheel shape using either a knife and/or a pinwheel cutter. Then a prune (yes, prunes!) filling is placed in the center. The dough is then folded over into the traditional star shape.

This is a vintage recipe that came from the old, metal cutter. And I do mean vintage. The original cutter was purchased by my mom's family sometime in the early 60s. There is a plastic pinwheel cutter out there, but it isn't quite the same. Since the metal one is so hard to find, though, it will work.

I think even prune haters should try this recipe as-is. But you can, of course, substitute any THICK preserves for the filling.

This is a bit of a retro recipe, so it may look a little funky to modern bakers. ;)

Prune Tarts

Dough: 
4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs

Filling:

3/4 lb prunes
1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup sugar

Mix butter into dry ingredients with pastry blender. In small bowl,  beat the eggs, milk and vanilla. Mix egg mixture into dry ingredients till a medium soft dough is formed. Set in a cool place for an hour.

Cook the prunes in water until soft. Remove the stones, and add the sugar. (Most prunes these days are already pitted). Beat to a paste.

Roll out dough to about 1/4 inch thick and cut with tart cutter (sharp knife or pinwheel cutter). Place a teaspoon of filling in the center, fold the strips over to the center and press together.

Place on a cookie sheet and bake in the over for 20 minutes or until golden brown at a temperature of 400 degrees.

Makes about 4 dozen tarts.

12/15/10

Hump Day Movie(s): Die Hard and Lethal Weapon

"Holiday movie" was a fluid genre in my house growing up. My mom is Queen of Monster Movies and Action Flicks. Which means that anything that had the slightest mention of the holidays in it was considered fair game for December viewing.

The two biggest in our house were the original Lethal Weapon and Die Hard . Both old school late 80s action movies with lots of guns, explosions, and foul language. The stuff that holidays are made of. Although, YES, there are some holiday decorations to put you in that festive mood. Plus, it has Mel and Bruce in roles that fit them well...unlike much of their newer stuff that lacks the impact of these movies.

12/13/10

Review: The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: October 2010
Publisher:
FTC: Purchased myself

The Blurb:
After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power — and fear — of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.
Mina can’t afford his interest, however. Horde blood runs through her veins, and despite the nanotech enhancing her body, she barely scratches out a living in London society. Becoming Rhys’s lover would destroy both her career and her family, yet the investigation prevents her from avoiding him…and the Iron Duke’s ruthless pursuit makes him difficult to resist.
But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans — and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.
This one is for the holdouts. Readers, like me, who view overly hyped  books with skepticism.  The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook deserves every bit of praise it's received and then some. This is one of those books that will shape the publishing world for years to come.

I am a steampunk virgin. Before this book, I'd never read a steampunk novel. In fact, steampunk fans have made me a little...hesitant in the past because they seemed so proprietary over what makes a book steampunk versus gaslight.  And my only experience with the steampunk aesthetic was through some spectacularly awful movies. But with several people familiar with the genre applying the steampunk label to this, I felt I had to give it a shot.

12/10/10

Review: American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen

Publisher: Harper
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: January 4, 2011
FTC: Review copy provided by the publisher
Blurb: (due to the length, placed at end of review)

I love micro-histories. They highlight stories often lost to history, and often have a narrow focus that allows them to go in-depth into the subject. And such is the case with American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen.

The research into this forgotten piece of history is amazing. The volume of first person quotes and primary source material used is tremendous. And Rasmussen's writing avoids that dry, textbookish style of writing often present in so many histories.

12/8/10

Hump Day Classic Movies: White Christmas, Meet Me in St. Louis, Miracle on 34th St

I am not a big musical fan. There. I said it. There are a few movies, though, that wormed their way past my dislike of the format to become favorites. Two of those are White Christmas (1954) (starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) and Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) starring Judy Garland.

The ironic part is that the music is precisely the reason I love both of those. The tunes are so catchy, I'm left with a earworms for weeks afterwards. Especially of the lesser known songs.

I'm not really a Judy Garland fan. But I think I like Meet Me in St. Louis because she isn't cast as someone much younger than she really is (Her character is 17. She was 22 at the time). And Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas songs. Probably because it's a bit of a bittersweet song. The movie isn't a "holiday" movie, exactly, but it does have a few holiday scenes.

My other favorite holiday movie, not a musical, is Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Why? Because Maureen O'Hara is in it. I swear, I love just about every movie she was in. And the guy that plays the lawyer (John Payne)? He was sooo cute. There have been a few remakes of this, but none have come close to touching this version for both charm and heart.

12/4/10

Recipe: Big Soft Ginger Cookies

My Aunt Cindy won second place in the California State Fair with this recipe.  I have made them every year for Christmas for the past 15 years and counting. She's no longer with us, but I think of her every Christmas when I dig this recipe out of my file box. And my family and friends ask me when I'll be be baking these for the cookie trays every year.  I even use them as bribery material for my brother-in-law when I need him to do me a favor ;)

Note: This recipe has been adjusted for baking at 3500 feet in elevation. If you live above or below that, you may need to adjust the baking time, temperature and/or molasses amount to get the soft texture that makes these so great.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies
1/4 cup molasses*
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup margarine, butter, or shortening**
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar

*We use a mild molasses
**This is the only cookie recipe where I use butter flavored shortening instead of butter. For some reason, at my altitude, it works better here.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. Combine flour, ginger, soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt; set aside
3. In large mixing bowl, beat shortening for 30 seconds on low speed to soften. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg and molasses; beat well.
4. Stir dry ingredients into beaten mixture.
5. Shape into 1 1/2 inch balls. Roll in the 2 tablespoons sugar (placed in shallow bowl or rimmed plate) and place on ungreased cookie sheet about 2 1/2 inches apart.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes or until light brown and still puffed. Do Not Overbake!
7. Let stand 2 minutes before transferring to wire rack. Cool.

Makes 24 3-inch cookies.

Gifts for the Baker