Recipe: Tri-Cornered Cream Cheese Cookies with Jam Filling

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I have approximately a billion cookie cookbooks. This recipe is a variation found in the September 1994 Cookies Galore Pillsbury magazine. These are far more fussy than most of my usual cookies, since I'm more of a  drop cookie/bar cookie fan. But for Christmas, I make these for my husband who adores them. The dough can also be used for a sugar cookie dough that you can cut with cookie cutters. Baking times should be adjusted based on the size of the cookies.

Cream Cheese Cutout Cookies
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 (3oz) package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
jam in various flavors: I use blackberry, seedless raspberry, and apricot
powdered sugar

In a large bowl, beat sugar, butter, and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Stir in flour and salt; mix well. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 to 2 hours for easier handling. I refrigerate mine overnight. I also put any scraps BACK in the fridge before re-rolling, because this dough gets soft really quickly.

Heat oven to 375F. On lightly floured surface, roll half of dough at a time to 1/8" thickness; refrigerate remaining dough. Cut into 2 1/2" circles with cookie cutter. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased sheets. Spoon 1 teaspoon jam onto center of each round. Shape into triangles, folding 3 sides in without covering jam; pinch corners to seal.

Bake at 375 for 7-10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired.

To make cutouts, follow the recipe above, omitting the jam and powdered sugar.  Cut with floured cutters. Bake similar sized cookies together, carefully watching the time. They tend to over bake quickly.  If your cookies have detailed designs, you might consider chilling the cutouts before baking.


Review: Good Earl Hunting by Suzanne Enoch

Format: ebook
Pub Date: November 6, 2012
Size: 211KB
FTC: Purchased myself

A group of well known authors recently launched a site for short stories called Lunch Hour Love Stories. It features stories that are quick and mostly inexpensive,  all in one easy-to-find location. My first purchase was a short story by Suzanne Enoch called Good Earl Hunting.

I'm a long time fan of Ms. Enoch's, so it's no surprise that I bought this on name alone. She's an expert at characterization, which really helps in this shorter format. And it helps that this is one of my favorite themes in all of romance: the overlooked, less beautiful sister.

My only complaints are all largely a result of the short format. While the two main characters are lively and believable, everyone else is a bit thinly sketched. They are there, but don't do very much, and we never really get more than a fleeting description. The romance also happens extremely quickly here.  So quickly, it strains the believability for me just a little. This story would probably have worked better as a novella, with at least another 10-15 pages added on for the romance.

Overall, it's a cute, quick read, with some very memorable moments.

My Grade: B-

The Blurb:

Geoffrey Kerick, the Earl of Vashton, has had marriage-minded ladies flung at him for the past two years—since he inherited his brother’s title and wealth—which is much less amusing than when they were simply flinging themselves into his bed for fun.

However, this particular invitation for a country house party in Devonshire he accepts with alacrity; because this time someone has caught his eye.

Theodora Meacham is resigned to being second; a second daughter, second in beauty, and a distant second in charm. Knowing that the irritating Lord Vashton is coming to Beldath Hall to woo her sister, Theo is, for once, quite happy to remain detached from the silliness. But Lord Vashton isn't precisely the boor she expects. Even more surprising, he seems determined to ignore her sister…in favor of her!

Can two people who are perfectly ill-suited find that two wrongs do make a right?


Hump Day Classic Movie: His Girl Friday

It's pouring rain outside today and the weather experts say it will be raining all week. Time to break out the classics!

His Girl Friday is one of the quintessential romantic screwball comedies. It's famous for its frenetic, witty banter, and rightly so. I've probably watched this movie twenty times, and I catch something new every viewing. You'll need to crank up the volume to hear some of the dialogue.

Something I really love about this movie is how modern it is, even with the telephones and typewriters. It was made in 1940, adapted from a play, but the characters are so edgy. The two main characters are ex-spouses and in the newspaper business.  Hildy is going to be remarried, and Walter, confronted with the permanent loss of a wife he still cares for, sabotages her plans by using her love of the news business against her.

The dialogue is hilarious:

Hildy: "Walter, you're wonderful in a loathesome kind of way"

Walter: "There's been a lamp burning in the window for ya, honey... here."
Hildy: "Oh, I jumped out that window a long time ago. "

They remade this movie with Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner, and Christopher Reeve as Switching Channels in 1988, and it was nowhere near as good.

If you're a Prime member, His Girl Friday is free to watch via streaming.


Our Black Friday Tradition

Our family pretty much ignores the Black Friday shopping madness. And the fact that it seems to have overtaken the Thanksgiving holiday makes us extra cranky.  So instead of going shopping, we make a day trip to visit a museum. It's lovely, because most people are out shopping, and we tend to have the places almost completely to ourselves.

Last year, we visited the National Automobile Museum. This year, we visited the Nevada State Museum and the Nevada Railroad Museum.

For a small museum, the firearms exhibit isn't too shabby. Here is a blunderbuss, something that seems to come up quite a bit in historical romance.

The engraving on some of the guns was pretty spectacular.

 I just thought these keys were cool.

The boys had fun at the railroad museum, especially when they got to run a hand car up the rails.  The Carson City museum has several gorgeous steam engines, including the silver screen favorite, the Inyo.

I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving holiday, and maybe even got some reading done!


TBR Challenge Review: A Little Bit Wild by Victoria Dahl

Format: Mass Market
Pub Date: August 2010
Publisher: Zebra (Kensington)
Length: 329 pages
FTC: Purchased at RT11 book signing

This month's TBR Challenge theme was, "All About The Hype (a book that created such chatter that it was inescapable)." Normally, that comes in the form of squeeing fangirls, glowing reviews from every single person on Twitter, and the non-stop appearances on various review blogs. My choice is a bit different, as it was the negative attention that made this book omnipresent for a few weeks back in 2010.

There was a lot of hoopla surrounding A Little Bit Wild when it first came out. Those who loved it, and those who...didn't.   If you follow that link, you'll see accusations of the heroine possessing "raging horniness" and being "unapologetically lusty".  Which promptly called forth the backlash against the standard historical models and resulted in a huge internet kerfuffle.  I wanted to find out what the fuss was about and make up my own mind...but of course, was distracted by some newer, shinier book and this book was promptly relegated to my embarrassing TBR.

Victoria Dahl writes unconventional heroines who are, for the most part, not hung up on their sexuality. And that can cause some push back from readers who expect their historical heroines to be either a) virgins or b) widows. But anyone remotely familiar with Victoria Dahl knows that her heroines are naughty, so I went into this with eyes wide open.


Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Sauce

This is an oldie, but goodie. I really love the way the orange mellows the cranberry flavor. My family won't use any other recipe but this one. And forget about that canned stuff. This is super easy to make and tastes great on leftover T-day sandwiches, too. This one is from Pillsbury, although you can find variations just about everywhere. (Pardon last year's photo. I hope to have a more appealing one after this year's holiday!)

1 bag (12 oz) fresh cranberries
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice or orange flavored liqueur

In nonreactive 4-qt saucepan, mix cranberries, sugar, orange peel, water and lemon juice. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until juices start to flow and sugar is dissolved.

Increase heat to medium; simmer 6 to 8 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries pop. Stir in liqueur. Refrigerate about 1 hour or until completely cooled.

Hump Day Movie: Batman (1989)

While listening to a new-ish song by Prince the other day, we were trying to explain to my eldest son how influential Prince was (and is) as a musician and songwriter. And talking about that eventually led to the whackadoodle soundtrack he made for the 1989 version of Batman. A movie, we discovered, we no longer owned since donating our VHS collection to charity...to which my darling child replied, " a VH--what?"

*Cue sadness and a feeling of being old*

Anyway, despite Heath Ledger's creepy performance as the Joker in the Dark Night, Jack Nicholson's performance is still a favorite with our family. It's been awhile since we've watched it (clearly) so I'm curious to see how it holds up after 23 years.

Yes, I did the math. It's really been that long. *more sadness*


Things are calming down

Now that soccer is over for the kids —5 days a week of soccer was killing me!—I hope to have more time for blogging, baking, and reading.  My yearly reading total is pretty pathetic. And my TBR Challenge participation has been pretty half-assed.

Time to kick it in gear.

I missed most of the autumn, and we're expecting a winter storm today.

The birds are getting crazy busy gathering what food they can.

What's the weather like where you are?


Hump Day Classic Movie: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

I am currently raiding my mom's epic stash of monster movies for Halloween movie marathons. Here is one that we watched this week. One that I had, surprisingly, never seen.

While absolutely silly, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is an important one in the history of special effects and science fiction. It is an adaptation of a Ray Bradbury work (the first film made from his work according to the back blurb) AND it has a Ray Harryhausen monster.

The picture at left is a little blurry, so here's what all of those words say:

"The sea's master-beast of the ages—raging up from the bottom of time!"

"They couldn't believe their eyes! They couldn't escape the terror! AND NEITHER WILL YOU!"

"You'll see it tear a city apart!"

Amazon has it in a double movie set, along with THEM! The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms

TBR Challenge Review: Under Her Skin by Jeaniene Frost, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook

Format: ebook
Pub Date: October 2010
Publisher: Stories originally published by Running Press in the Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance.
Length: 101 pages
FTC: Purchased myself during a sale of some kind

This month's TBR Challenge theme is paranormal or romantic suspense. And, since I spaced the challenge again until exactly two days ago, I decided to scope out my digital TBR for a quick read. I picked this up during a promotional sale some time ago, and promptly forgot about it. Basically, here are three short stories, repackaged from another book. I normally love all three authors, but two out of three of these stories were decidedly underwhelming.


Banned Books Week Sept 30-Oct 6, 2012

Celebrate Your Freedom to Read: September 30-October 6, 2012

Every year, the ALA, the ABA, and book lovers everywhere dedicate a week to highlighting the never ending struggle between intellectual freedom and those who try to curtail that freedom via censorship and book challenges.

Although the US does not have outright bans in the same way found in other countries, there are frequent attempts to limit access to material in public libraries, school libraries, and classrooms. Most often, these are well meaning, if misguided, attempts to "protect" children from potentially disturbing ideas or language.

Many of our most celebrated classics have been challenged and removed from school and classroom libraries based upon their content. This happens every year and all over the country. Some of the states where challenges and removals have occurred may surprise you.

Celebrate your freedom to read this week by spreading the word, writing a letter to the editor to your local paper, or reading a banned book.


Firing of the Anvils

I know I tend to go on (and on) about where I live, but I love it here. The idiosyncrasies that make this area home for me are immeasurable. And the firing of the anvils is one of those quirky, WTF?! things that make this area so awesome.

If you've never heard of anvil firing, you're not alone. Before I moved up here, I hadn't either. It's a Southern thing, apparently. Which makes it extremely unusual to find out west.  And here, instead of replacing fireworks, we use it to signal the start of our annual County Fair Parade. I've blogged about this before, but this year, I GOT VIDEO!

This is a scaled down, "safer" version of the process, but it gives you an idea of what it would be like when people aren't gathered close to the anvils.

My favorite part of the process is when you get tourists. And they have this confuzzled look on their face.  It closely resembles the WTF you see at Heather Graham RT events. Old men haul these heavy anvils into the middle of the road. O...K... Then they do something you can't see, stack them on top of each other, and approach the anvils with a very long stick.

These same tourists are looking around, wondering what is going on, as the locals are plugging their ears.

Because this is what it sounds like when those things go off:

And even though I know the noise is coming, I still jump like a big sissy. (You'll see the camera shake. Feel free to mock me as my family did).

TBR Challenge Review: No Mercy by Lori Armstrong

Format: Mass market paperback
Pub Date: Dec 2010
Publisher: Pocket (Simon and Schuster)
Length: 379
FTC: picked up for free at RT 12

This month's theme is "something other than romance." And since I originally started the blog as a romance AND MYSTERY blog, I thought it was time to review a mystery. Most of my TBR pile is still in boxes from some room switching we did this spring, but I had my RT Convention books handy. And in that pile was No Mercy by Lori Armstrong.

I've read Lori Armstrong in her Lorelei James persona, but wasn't really sure what to expect of her writing as a mystery author. For starters, the styles are nothing at all alike. There are those authors whose books you would recognize regardless of who they are writing as or in whatever genre: Armstrong is not one of them. If I didn't *know* these were written by the same person, I'd never connect the two. Honestly? I prefer the James stories. And not just because they're filled with sexy cowboys and happily ever after.


Recipe: Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I discovered this recipe via the lovely food blog, Full Fork Ahead. They have adapted it from a Kitchen Aid recipe. My only change is to use a combination of milk chocolate chips and Nestlé semi sweet chunks. These cookies are soft, chewy, don't spread everywhere, and you can't bite into one without getting some chocolate! Imagine kick-ass Keebler Soft Batch without that chemical preservative taste. Mmmm...

You really need a sturdy stand mixer to make these. If you don't have one, you'll have to do these as you normally would,  adding the last of the flour by hand.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (I use 1 teaspoon to cut down on saltiness)
4 cups all-purpose flour
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chunks (about 1 cup)
6 ounces milk chocolate chips (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place sugars, butter, eggs and vanilla in mixer bowl. Attach flat beater to mixer. Turn to Speed 2 (just above "stir") and mix about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape bowl with spatula. Turn to speed four (about medium) and beat about 30 seconds more. Stop and scrape bowl with spatula.

Turn to Stir (low) Speed. Gradually add in baking soda, salt and flour to sugar mixture and mix about 2 minutes. Turn to Speed 2 and mix about 30 seconds more. Stop mixer, scrape bowl again. Add in chocolate chips and mix on Stir Speed for 15 seconds.

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets, or roll into balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges of the cookie have just started to turn golden brown. Leave on baking sheet for about a minute after removing from oven, then put them on wire cooling racks.

Keep an eagle eye on the cookies because they'll lose their chewy, soft texture if you overbake them.


Review: Howl for It by Shelly Laurenston and Cynthia Eden

Format: Trade Paperback, ebook
Pub Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Kensington Brava
Length: 315 pages
FTC: ARC courtesy of the publisher

I'm weird, but anything with less than 3 stories in one book does not qualify as an anthology for me. It's a two-in-one book (duology?). The first story is the one that really piqued my interest, having become what can only be described as a squeeing fangirl of Shelly Laurenston's books. Her humor just does it for me, but I was curious how she could turn the scariest, most violent character in her series into a hero. We find out in this prequel novella, Like a Wolf with a Bone.

Egbert Ray Smith is one scary guy. Even his own family is leery of him and the ease with which he takes life. But he is also very protective, and those protective instincts take center stage when he saves the youngest Lewis sister, Darla Mae, from an attack. And once he has her in his care, he's reluctant to let her go. Darla, a pastry chef for a ritzy shifter restaurant, is intrigued by this taciturn wolf who is at ease with violence.


The Most Stubborn Fire in the Known Universe

 (Smoke plume, taken by me last week.)

For those who haven't been following the incessant tweets, retweets, links I've been posting on Twitter, here's what's going on: We have one gigantic fire in our area. I am safe, aside from the horrific air quality that has forced everyone to stay indoors since the fire began at the end of last month.

Firefighters are having a heck of a time stopping the north-eastern spread of the fire. And that means it's burned up to the shores of a very popular reservoir camping area and is headed towards some small (I mean tiny) towns. If you are in Northern Nevada or Northern California, you're likely being impacted by the smoke from this fire. It has now burned more than 70 square miles.

Review: Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pub Date: May 2011
Publisher: Avon (Harper Collins)
Length: 374 pages
FTC: Purchased myself

I haven't really loved a Julia Quinn book since somewhere in the middle of the Bridgerton series.  I detested Eloise, Francesca, and Gregory's stories, and was apathetic about most of those novels that came after the series' end. At best, they were fun but forgettable.

Then came Ten Things I Love About You. It is what I consider a turning point for Julia Quinn's writing. Where she gave up any pretense of writing with depth and just churned out cutesy, polished writing with superficial characters and superficial emotion. Deciding to give her one last try, I picked up Just Like Heaven after letting it linger in the TBR for a year. The lingering was on purpose, because I suspected I would be disappointed. Sadly, I was correct.


Recipe: Lemon Yogurt Cake

This is my favorite pick-me-up recipe that doesn't involve chocolate. It has a bright, strong lemon flavor, a spongy, firm texture, and slices beautifully.  This cake received a Best of Division at the county fair least week (I'm totally bragging).  It is that good.

Recipe by Ina Garten. My commentary and adjustments are in italics. Photo is my own.

Lemon Yogurt Cake by Ina Garten

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons) (Microplanes are a godsend!)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice


Summer in the Mountains

We've been really lucky this year that the fire season has held off. Winter was short and dry, with no snow pack and very little rain.

Our luck ran out  last week, with not one, but TWO fires in our National Forest. One was to the east and quickly contained. The other, with the smoke plume shown here, is currently out of control and burning in a steep, windy canyon about 20 miles west of our little town.

The smoke is so bad that it is affecting the Central Valley of California and Northern Nevada, too.

We have some terrific wildland firefighters out west. And already, we're seeing crews from Nevada and all over California heading in to fight this fire. I'm hoping they get a handle on this quickly, because when the smoke settles in the valleys at night, it's like breathing mud. *fingers crossed*


Goodreads Steps in It

Much of the drama of the last year between authors and reviewers has centered around the Goodreads site. It has been likened to the Wild West or a walk through the bad part of town. There are rules, of a sort, but they are rarely enforced. To date, Goodreads has taken a hands-off approach to both authors commenting, harassing or spamming readers and to reviewers writing snarky reviews, putting misbehaving authors on do-not-buy shelves or otherwise not being nice.

That hands-off approach ended today when Goodreads admitted to hiding reviews and announced "new guidelines" for why they would be hidden.

In the thread started by Ridley titled, Why Has My Review Been Hidden, Community Manager Patrick explains in detail about new changes to a (supposedly) existing policy.

"Our philosophy is that your review is yours to write as you see fit and we're happy to have you express whatever opinions you like in those reviews. They'll always be shown on your profile and be on your shelves, but the book page is ours to curate, and that's something we've been doing since the start of Goodreads. We want to make sure that we're showing the most relevant and most useful reviews on that page. "

I don't know of other reviews being hidden before. It's possible. But call me skeptical given Goodreads' previous hands-off approach.

He also states
"We'll be posting our review guidelines, which clearly spell out what is likely to get a review hidden, in a couple of days."

Nice that they've been working on these guidelines but are enforcing them before making them public.

My favorite one is perhaps this one:

'One of the points in our guidelines will be "review the book and not the author."'

This one gets my goat probably more than anything else in his response. And the reason is because this is the "be professional" mantra of the poor authors complaining about bad reviews. It's straight out of their playbook and gives me a clear indication of where these new rules are headed. And it's not in the direction of open, sincere communication among readers.

If Goodreads wants to sanitize their book pages in order to monetize them, that's their business, obviously. But it seriously undermines my trust in the site. I want to see ALL of the comments about a book on the book page. Not those that Goodreads deems "relevant and useful." Without that openness, the site loses much of its value for me. 

I admit to being disappointed. Goodreads has started a practice that will only grow more cumbersome, more fraught with drama, more irritating as time goes on.


TBR Challenge Review: Wild & Steamy by Meljean Brook, Jill Myles, Carolyn Crane

Format: ebook
Pub Date: August 2011
Publisher: Self published
Length: 48K words
FTC: Purchased myself

Since I tend to know where or how I acquired my print books, I retreated to my digital TBR for help with his month's theme, "How did this get here?"  I'm pretty sure I picked this one up around DABWAHA time, but I honestly can't remember. Close enough!

Anthologies are a fun way to try new authors or to read shorter works by a favorite one. I'm always curious to see how well short stories and novellas fit together both with the theme and with the other authors included. In Wild & Steamy, I have to say not so well. Each author's story was well crafted, but as a whole, it just didn't fit together.


Quickie Review: Wolf Line by Vivian Arend

Format: Ebook
Pub Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Samhain
Length: novella
FTC: review copy courtesy of the author (via publicist)

I've only read one previous Granite Lake Wolves story by Vivian Arend, but I liked it. And she's a hoot to talk to in person (which I was lucky enough to do at this year's RT convention.)  But this book just didn't click with me.

Jared is running away from a nasty confrontation with the family of an ex-lover. He hitches a ride on a cruise ship, masquerading as a member of the crew. Keri has promised her best friend that she'll help keep this shifter-only cruise running smoothly, but her insane attraction to Jared is just the beginning of problems that crop up. The biggest? There's a thief on board, and evidence seems to point to Jared being the one responsible.

Coming in mid-series is always a problem in the paranormal romance genre, but this one seemed particularly troublesome. I felt like I should already know Jared based on other books, because his character was so thinly drawn in this one. His "disability" was somewhat awkwardly explained, and left me as confused as Keri was. There was humor, but it seemed buried under that 'insta-mate' compulsion that just overwhelmed the rest of the story.

Wolf Line was a steamy, short read, but I never really ended up invested in the characters or their romance. Maybe it's the novella length, maybe it's the lack of tension, but I found the book fun but forgettable. Fans of the series will like it anyway.

My Grade: C

The Blurb:
Into the best-laid plans a little chaos must fall.

Jared’s not sure how his quiet morning coffee near the harbour ended with him on a cruise ship impersonating one of his pack mates. Well, it might have something to do with a woman, but who can blame him? The female of the species was made to love, and he’s more than willing to share his considerable skills in that area. Especially since he figures the chances of meeting his own one-and-only are slim.
Keri Smith is positive the last-minute recruit sneaking aboard the Arctic Wolf Cruise Lines tour is her mate. Ix-nay on confirming that, though, at least for the next ten days. She’s promised her best friend to be overall troubleshooter for the shifter-only cruise. Getting tangled up in mating lust would reduce her skills to nil. Avoidance of the sexy wolf for the duration of the cruise, followed by jumping his bones, seems the logical solution.
But when libidos are on the line, “logic” and “wolves” don’t go together. Throw in suspicions of wrongdoing, and these two virtual strangers will need a lot more than luck to find their way through to forever.

Hump Day Movie: Stand by Me (1986)

While I normally love happy movies, I occasionally like revisiting movies that MOVED me. A movie that stuck with me, even if only parts, will sometimes demand a rewatching. Stand by Me is one of those films.

I never understood quite why this film bothered me until I found out it was based on a Stephen King story. Stephen King freaks me the hell out. Even his works that aren't supposed to. He makes me squirm in an uncomfortable way with his ability to delve deep into human behavior. *creepy*

On the film history angle, the sheer number of future stars contained in this film is astounding. And not just "stars" but TALENTS. Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O'Connell. I dare you to watch this film and not have some kind of visceral reaction to it. Good or bad.


Hump Day Movie: Flatliners (1990)

This is the movie that makes the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon so easy. Not only does it have Bacon, it has Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, William Baldwin AND Oliver Platt.

This is a relatively tame horror movie despite its R rating, but the sheer number of BIG NAMES in it made it a must-see for me when I was in high school. I think I've seen it maybe once since then. Luckily for us all, it's free to stream for Prime members on Amazon. Woohoo! And it's fairly cheap to purchase, too.

Here's the synopsis:

Are you afraid to die? Kiefer Sutherland isn't. He's an ambitious, charismatic medical student who persuades classmates Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon to take part in a reckless experiment. To see if there is life after death, they will kill themselves: temporarily shut down ("flatline") their heart and brain functions to briefly experience clinical death. After Sutherland survives the first experiment, the others flatline for increasingly longer intervals. But their horror begins when they realize that although they've come back alive... they haven't come back alone. Flatliners is a chilling suspense thriller of obsession, fear and redemption that will take you across the line to a place where terror lives forever. 
Oh, and while researching the whole Six Degrees thing I found this little gem on Wikipedia:
According to the Oracle of Bacon website approximately 12% of all actors cannot be linked to Bacon using its criteria (ie. cannot be linked to Bacon no matter how many steps)
Those poor souls...


Summer Vacation!!

Summer if finally here, and the boys are out of school. Surprisingly, this means I might actually get some reading done in between the road trips and plane trips, and jaunts down to the local pool.

So far, we've traveled to New Mexico...

(Camel Rock between Santa Fe and Los Alamos)

And we've taken a road trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park...

Sadly, no time for baking, but I do plan on trying a few recipes before our fair in August.

What is everyone else doing this summer?


TBR Challenge: Saddled and Spurred by Lorelei James

Format: Trade paperback
Pub Date: March 2011
Publisher: Signet
Length: 328 pages
FTC: received at a signing at RT

Late again... but I have an excuse this time. I was on vacation with no access to the internet.

The theme this month was western, and since historical westerns are my least favorite genre, I picked a contemporary that I received at this year's RT Convention. I figured that it's better to whittle from the top, considering how many books I brought home from that trip that ended up languishing in the TBR.

I normally love Lorelei James. Her books are spicy, but always seem to have some excellent characters with real emotion, real problems... Despite what can often be wall to wall sex scenes, I'm never really tempted to skim.  Unfortunately, that was not the case with Saddled and Spurred.

I can't quite figure out what's wrong with this book, except to say that after reading 150 pages of it, I didn't care to read further. It's just completely uninteresting to me. No memorable characters, no real humor or emotion. Nothing to keep me reading further. Very unusual for this author. It could also be the different publisher, because all of the other ones I've read have been published with Samhain.

I'm not sure if that counts as having "read" the book, but I made it about halfway through before throwing in the DNF towel. But at least it's no longer hanging around the old TBR.


Recipe: Cream Cheese Pound Cake

I've only made one previous pound cake, the Blackberry Swirl Poundcake from Martha Stewart. This one is a more traditional one, and I must say makes THE BEST strawberry shortcake ever. But...the ingredients are fat, fat, and more fat, so save this one for when you want to distribute most of it to the neighbors, family, friends...anything to get most of this cake out of the house because it is addicting and way too easy to make.

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
3 cups flour
dash of salt
1 tablespoon vanilla

Heat over to 300 degrees F. Grease and flour bottom, side and tube of a 10 x 4 inch angel food cake pan or a 12 cup fluted tube cake pan (Bundt®--this is what I used.)

In large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese with electrix mixer on medium speed until creamy; gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until blended.

Mix flour and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating on low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into pan.

Bake 1 hr 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on cooling rack 10-15 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack*; cook completely, about 1 hr.

*This is a crucial step that I messed up on. I set mine out to cool on a regular pan and the bottom got a little soggy. There is a lot of residual moisture in the cake, so a wire rack is important!

Hump Day Movie: Man From Snowy River (1982)

[Photo: ©1982 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation]

 This is one movie from the 1980s that I think those of us born in  the late 1970s and early 80s got heartily sick of. It was on TV every time you turned around for decades. But I haven't seen it in a long time, and since it's a Disney movie, thought it might work for something to watch with the boys.

The good news: the makeup screams 1980s, but other than that, it's still very watchable.

My favorite part of The Man from Snowy River, besides the lovely scenery, is Kirk Douglas. I just loved him in anything he ever did. Especially when they gave him a quirky role (or two) in a movie that let him have a bit of fun.

This is a WESTERN. It's set in Australia, but has every genre convention found in just about every western movie ever made. Coming of age, overcoming adversity, falling in love with the boss's daughter...you name it, it's here. The Man From Snowy River is worth revisiting. If only to get that famous film score stuck in your head for weeks.


Hump Day Movie: Thunderheart (1992)

This is one of those movies that surprises you. You think you're going to get a standard thriller with some cultural appropriation, and instead you get a thoughtful exposé on real events that happened during the 1970s in South Dakota.

Thunderheart stars Val Kilmer, Sam Shepard, and Graham Greene. I think this is one of the first movies I ever saw Greene in, and it's definitely the one where I developed my crush on him.

Kilmer plays an FBI agent in the 1970s sent as a liason to an Sioux Reservation to investigate a murder because he is 1/4 Sioux. The problem is that he doesn't identify with his Native American heritage, and to the people on the rez, he's just another white man in a suit. Once he arrives, he discovers that there is far more going on than a "simple" murder. He steps into the middle of a war, and some machinations by greedy people that have turned the South Dakota Badlands into the murder capital of the country.

There is a bit of "Hollywood" to the story, but enough heart remains to make this one of the more memorable Kilmer movies. It's one I recently re-watched on Amazon Instant Streaming, and it's held up just fine. It's also available on DVD for around $6.

It is very violent, however, and more than a little disturbing given the subject matter. If you haven't seen it, you've missed out.


Review: Bedding Lord Ned by Sally MacKenzie

Format: Mass market paperback, ebook
Pub Date: June 5, 2012
Publisher: Kensington
Length: 325 pages (plus a novella in the back of the print version)
FTC: ARC courtesy of the publisher

Part of the magic of Sally MacKenzie's writing can be found in the details. Her humor is the kind that builds. There's the laugh-out-loud outrageousness, too, but it's the small touches that make her books a cut above the pack when it comes to funny historical romance.

In this case, the critical detail is a pilfering pussy cat named Reggie with a fondness for stealing red undergarments.


Review: Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook

Format: Trade paperback, ebook
Pub Date: November 2011
Publisher: Berkley
Length: 320 pages
FTC: Purchased myself

It's rare for me to find a book with true depth that I also love on a really emotional level. Heart of Steel was such a book for me.

I know I've talked about my history background before. But I minored in English lit. Which means I've read and analyzed my share of literature, both contemporary and classic. And, while I love it, most genre fiction just doesn't have the layers there to really analyze in the over-detailed way you tend to do in lit crit classes. Heart of Steel has depth to spare. And at barely 300 pages for the trade paperback version, that's saying something.


Blog Tour Review: Lucky in Love by Jill Shalvis

Format: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Pub Date: May 22, 2012
Publisher: Grand Central/Forever (Hachette)
Length: 341 pages
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

It's probably a good thing no one was around to witness my booty shake when my copy of Lucky in Love arrived in the mail. I loved the first three in the Lucky Harbor series, and just knew I'd love this one, too. I live in a small town in the Sierras, so I'm very critical of small town romances. This one balances the good aspects of small town life with the very real negative aspects. But then, I've never met a Jill Shalvis small town romance I didn't love.


Recipe: Rum-Coconut Key Lime Pie

I've never made key lime pie before. I rarely make pies at all. Partly because they're difficult to share with the neighbors, and partly because I hate making pie crust. But I saw this recipe in a recent Pillsbury Casseroles and Potluck cookbook, and it sounded divine. Also? It doesn't use a traditional pie crust, but an incredibly yummy mix of coconut and crushed cookies.


TBR Challenge Review: The Rake's Retreat by Nancy Butler

Format: Mass Market Paperpack
Pub Date: April 1999
Publisher: Signet
Length: 224 pages
FTC: Purchased myself (no idea when, though)

I admit, this month's theme was a bit of a real challenge for me. I don't have that many books pre-2002 that remain unread. I've either read them, donated them, or sold them. But I found this traditional Regency lurking in a a random pile and decided it would work just fine.

I'm not really a category reader; I tend to like longer books. Which also makes the Regencies sometimes a problem for me. They're fairly short, too. But like categories, a skillful author can make me forget how short the book really is, and that's what happened with the Rake's Retreat.


Quickie Review: Crystal Gardens by Amanda Quick

Format: Hardcover, ebook
Pub Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Putnam
Length: 320
FTC: Purchased myself

It's been years since Amanda Quick's books have wowed me. I admit, the Arcane psychical stuff just isn't my cup of tea, but she's had paranormal or mystical elements in her work for decades now. What makes her more recent stuff, and this book in particular, so weak is that she is rehashing old themes and burying her characters in setting and psychic trappings. There's nothing new here, and the classic stuff is tired.

Amanda Quick used to have wonderful characters, strong heroines and enigmatic heroes. Ravished is one of my favorite romances of all time. There was adventure, humor, passion. All of that seems to have gone away, and we're left with an anemic pairing of two people whose auras are attracted to each other, but who never really have a basis for falling in love. There's no chemistry. No heat at all. And their characters are so thinly drawn that I found myself not really caring about them.

Even the mystery was ho-hum and easily figured out. Something has gone wrong with Amanda Quick's writing, and I'm not sure why. Maybe Jayne Ann Krentz/Jayne Castle/Amanda Quick needs to slow down her writing schedule. Because this isn't just phoned in. It's the literary equivalent of a broken up cell phone call. Half of it is missing and what's left isn't worth worrying about.

If you're a die-hard fan and still want to read it, I highly suggest using the library. This isn't worth the hardcover price (or the high ebook price). I'll keep my fingers crossed that the author can put some emotion and depth into her next offering.

My Grade: F

The Blurb:

Evangeline Ames has rented a country cottage far from the London streets where she was recently attacked. Fascinated by the paranormal energy of nearby Crystal
Gardens, she finds pleasure in sneaking past the wall to explore the grounds. And when her life is threatened again, she instinctively goes to the gardens for safety.

Lucas Sebastian has never been one to ignore a lady in danger, even if she is trespassing on his property. Quickly disposing of her would-be assassin, he insists they keep the matter private. There are rumors enough already, about treasure buried under his garden, and occult botanical experiments performed by his uncle—who died of mysterious causes. With Evangeline’s skill for detection, and Lucas’s sense of the criminal mind, they soon discover that they have a common enemy. And as the energy emanating from Crystal Gardens intensifies, they realize that to survive they must unearth what has been buried for too long.


Recipe: Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins

This week is Staff Appreciation week at our school. (It's also Teacher Appreciation Week nationwide.) In addition to a luncheon that our parent group organizes for Friday, we bring in goodies all week long. Today, I brought in two types of homemade muffins: Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins (recipe by Ina Garten)  and Banana-Pecan Muffins (recipe by Tyler Florence).  The banana muffins will require some tweaking for my altitude since they turned out a little on the dry side for my taste, but the blueberry ones? Perfect!

I have been on a quest for the perfect blueberry muffin for a while now. Most of the muffins I've made have been tough, dry, and just kind of meh. Even when I am very careful not to overmix and watch my oven like a creepy stalker. But these are moist, tender, and not overly sweet.  They kept fine overnight, although the tops got a little sticky, so be careful how you cover them.


Recipes for Cinco de Mayo: Queso Dip, Guacamole, Margaritas

I love Mexican food. And Tex Mex. And I don't need a holiday to break out any of the following recipes. The queso dip is originally from Food Network Magazine. The margaritas are a recipe I've had from multiple sources. They're not traditional, but they're really easy to make for a crowd. Also, they're a little on the strong side, so  adjust to your preference!

Queso Dip

3 tablespoons minced onion
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small can chopped green chiles
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup beer*
1/4 lb muenster cheese, grated
1/4 lb cheddar, grated
a handful of chopped cilantro.

In a small oven-safe skillet (I use cast iron), saute onion in oil. Add can of green chiles, flour, beer, both cheeses, and the cilantro. Stir with a whisk until the cheese melts, then broil until bubbly. Add more cilantro as a garnish and serve with tortilla chips.

*You can add more beer to thin this out for a terrific nacho sauce. If you can find them, the HOT Ortega chiles really make this terrific.


Review: About That Night by Julie James

Format: ebook, mass market paperback
Pub Date:April 3, 2012
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin)
Length:304 pages
FTC: Purchased myself

I've read a few Julie James books, and they just keep getting better. About That Night is easily the best one yet.

It takes some skill to make an ex-con, rich boy with a penchant for dating supermodels appealing, but James does that so easily it is almost criminal. Because Kyle might just have made it into my all-time, favorite hero list.


Tired of the Reader Shaming

I've mentioned before my high tolerance for historical inaccuracy as long as the story and characters are compelling. But once again, I feel the need to rant about something I've seen more and more frequently among blogs and on Twitter. There's a continuing trend in the book reviewing world that really sets my teeth on edge. Specifically, it's the calling-out of historical books as historically inaccurate.

Now, I'm not talking about taking someone to task when they've touted their book as 100% accurate. I'm not even talking about when a historical romance feels too modern, as that is often a failure in world building. I'm talking about the use of pejorative labels that shout out mistakes and errors, big and small, and invite attack against the book and the author's craft.

I understand the frustrations of those who would like historical romance to be more historically accurate, or those readers whose fields make them particularly sensitive to historical errors. But I think, as a group, this attack against "mistoricals" isn't doing what people hoped it would.

Instead of helping those accuracy-seeking readers find books that fit their standards of historical authenticity, it is making readers for whom those mistakes aren't a problem feel ashamed of their reading preferences.  In short, it's an extension of the reader shaming that many romance readers already suffer under from the non-romance reading public.

Instead of using terms like "wallpaper" or "mistorical" in an often snide tone, why don't these seekers of historical excellence come up with a positive term to trumpet a book that does it right? Instead of mocking a book for something that sales figures already indicate the majority of readers don't care about, why not highlight those books that will satisfy even the worst nitpicky reader?

And yes, "mistorical" is just as much of a pejorative as "wallpaper" is. You can tell by the superior tone of comments whenever that word is used. The public mocking of errors by certain people in my Twitter feed have had my finger hovering over the Unfollow button more than once. 

I don't enjoy feeling like I have to justify my preference for story and characters over historical accuracy. Or that I'm somehow letting down the book world if I really don't care that a book mentions an event that is a few months off from its actual date. I'm not a lazy reader (as often suggested by those of the pro-accuracy brigade.) My reading preferences are just that, and I don't think anyone should make me feel like I have to justify them because they've decided to make their own reading preferences into a crusade.


Nonfiction Review: Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War by Madeleine Albright

Format: Hardcover, ebook
Pub Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Harper
Length: 450 pages
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

If you're like me, the most you know about Czechoslovakian history is tied directly to appeasement during World War II.  I knew just the bare facts about what happened: France and England allowed Hitler to take over Czechoslovakia without putting up a fight (effectively ignoring an alliance that should have protected the country), hoping that he would be happy with that and would not encroach further outside his current sphere of influence. And, as history tells us, that appeasement was a spectacular failure.

What I didn't know was what life was like for those living inside German-occupied Czechoslovakia. I didn't know why Hitler wanted that land, what ruses or justifications he used, or what happened after the West basically turned a partially blind eye to the problem. Prague Winter fills in those gaps with a wealth of research and knowledge in a way that incorporates the author's, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, family history and background.


Suggestions and Feedback from RT12 for RT13

I've only been to one previous RT event, so it could just be that last year was an outlier. But this year's RT was crowded, the lines were really long, the food ran out early at nearly every event, as did the swag.

That didn't happen so much last year.

I think a large part of that was that RT didn't cap attendance or set a registration deadline (that I know of.) And there were several "high profile" authors who normally don't bother with RT.  They also opened up most of Saturday's events to a one day "FAN" pass. I don't mind the end of the "mangeant" (Mr. Romance) so much as the fact that they took a paid , convention-only event and then substituted something open to the public that they could then get extra $ for.

Especially when they were constantly RUNNING OUT of everything.


RT Convention: Day Three

Day Three:

By Friday, RT was starting to kick my butt. I had to pry myself out of bed for a quite lame party that consisted of breakfast. No info on the publishing house that "sponsored" it was there at all.

Following that I went to a series romance party hosted by authors in the Harlequin series imprints. After a brief introduction from each author, holding one of their covers, we played a brief game. 


RT Convention: Day 2

So...I didn't get this posted yesterday. Not much of a surprise. Busy, busy, busy.

Here are a few highlights from Thursday.

Historical Author Chat: Mary Balogh was unable to attend, but Lorraine Heath kindly stepped in to take her place.

Lorraine Heath, Jennifer Blake

Loretta Chase, Sarah MacLean


RT Convention: Day One

Having learned my lesson last year, I decided to skip a few sessions so I didn't wear myself out completely.  So I had time to get the photos off the ole camera card!

By far, my favorite panel today was the Romance Reader Family Feud hosted by Louisa Edwards, Vivian Arend, Tessa Dare, Zoe Archer and Nico Rosso. Based loosely on the old game show, teams had to guess which answers to questions were the most popular based on a survey sent around through Twitter.

 Survey Says...

Nico and Vivian

I also attended a writer's panel today. My first one at an RT convention. I'm not an author (published or aspiring), but I wanted a peek at what a panel was like. I attended the Love, Mythology and Monsters one with Stephanie Dray, Jackie Barbosa, Zoe Archer and Leeana Renee Hieber. Very cool to see how authors could incorporate mythological themes as a way to heighten emotion and tap into our deepest fears and beliefs.

The Ellora's Cave party this year had a hip hop theme, with tshirts, pants, sunglasses, hats and more as swag! Entertainment was a brief routine:


Heading to RT!!

In a few hours,  I'll be on a plane headed to Chicago for the RT Booklovers Convention! The convention runs Wednesday through Sunday. I will try to post daily updates, but as busy as I was last year, I'm not making any promises. I will be posting to Twitter, though, so you can follow along with the hashtag #RT12 or just check out my feed @buriedbybooks.

Some highlights I'm looking forward to are attending a JR Ward panel, attending Zoë Archer's Mythology panel (it's for writers, but sounds cool) and, of course, going to the parties.


Review: First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Format: Hardcover (also available as an ebook)
Pub Date: February 2011
Publisher: St. Martins
Length: 320 pages
FTC: Purchased myself

It's been a year since I first heard about author, Darynda Jones. My friend, Sandy, mentioned her on our joint first time trip to the RT Convention in LA last April. And then I promptly forgot about both book and author. When convention time came around again, I got more nagging reminding about how awesome this author was and felt reader-shamed into picking it up.

And this handselling is from a reader/bookseller who is not normally a paranormal romance reader. So I gave it a shot.