Review: Spider's Bite by Jennifer Estep

Format: ebook
Pub Date: January 2010
Publisher: Pocket (Simon and Schuster)
Length: 432 pages
FTC: Read for free via Amazon Prime
POV: 1st person, past

Yes, I'm extremely late to the party. The first Estep book I read was a YA one I received at the RT Booklovers Convention a few years ago. And I'm not really a YA reader. Still, I liked her voice, and when this became a free read for Prime members, I decided to try it.

In short: Kinda glad I am late, because there's a HUGE backlist of titles I can now glom. *snoopy dance*

I'm a bit of a wuss, so I admit to skimming some of the more graphic violence scenes. I have an extremely vivid imagination, and these are some gnarly descriptions. Ew.

I also discovered that the detailed descriptions of food weren't just a YA thing. They're present here, too. It's a funny quirk, and honestly (and weirdly) reminds me of the food descriptions in the Redwall series. Food is serious business.

Estep also manages to do emotion right, even when the main character is an assassin. Gin's not stereotypically dead inside. She cares about her small circle of people and has her own moral code. Which I guess is why we're not in full-on anti-hero territory. She's very pragmatic, though, so don't go expecting her to act like a good guy. She's not and neither are her friends and acquaintances. If you're the type of reader who needs the main character to be righteous 100% of the time, this is probably not the book for you.

For romance readers, there's some sexual tension and foreplay, but no real relationships here. You can see a glimmer of one maybe in the future, but that consumes very little page time. Far more action and mystery.

My only quibbles are with the pacing, which was extremely uneven, and (as with most first UF books) the amount of page time we spend on world building. That's to be expected, though, so I built that into the grade. 

My Grade: A-

The Blurb:
After Gin’s family was murdered by a Fire elemental when she was thirteen, she lived on the streets and eventually became an assassin to survive. Now, Gin is given an assignment by her handler to rub out an Ashland businessman, but it turns out to be a trap. After Gin’s handler is brutally murdered, she teams up with the sexy detective investigating the case to figure out who double-crossed her and why. Only one thing is for sure —Gin has no qualms about killing her way to the top of the conspiracy.

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Making the Time to Read

Last year's struggle was a reading slump that just devoured me. I couldn't finish anything. Nothing appealed. Even my go-to favorites, changing genres, and changing formats didn't seem to help. I finally clawed my way out by going back almost exclusively to print and by digging through the mountain of print books I've collected over the years. It helped.

This year, the theme seems to be lack of time. I'm no longer willing to stay up late to read, which has traditionally been my reading time. Or maybe it's I'm no longer ABLE to stay up late reading, as evidenced by the fact that I've been smacked in the face by book or Kindle several times since January as I dozed off while reading. *ouch*

I'd like to carve some time in the day to read, but I feel guilty doing it every single time. There's always plenty I'm supposed to be doing. And unfortunately, other than driving, I can't multi-task and listen to audiobooks while doing chores. I get distracted. My solution so far has been to drive myself to school early for pickup so I can read for 20 minutes without feeling like I need to be doing something around the house. Then I have another 45 minutes where I force my youngest to do HIS reading homework while we wait for high school dismissal. This has been working well, since we both get our reading done, and I have an excuse to make him be quiet and let me read. :)

When is YOUR favorite time to read? Any tips or tricks to set aside dedicated reading time?


Behold! The Great Fuddy Duddy

Maybe it's because I've been reading romance for so long. Maybe it's because I turned 40. (Yay?) Maybe it's just because "hotter" titles are more prolific these days. I don't know. But I'm finding myself turning into a sex scene skimmer.

I just really don't need the super duper explicit scenes anymore. Too often, they don't advance the plot, don't have ANY emotional punch, and are just way too explicit for lil ole me. So I skip or skim.

I don't begrudge those scenes to people who like them. I don't even need fade-to-black scenes. I'd just like more middle of the road scenes without going into such detail that you can practically hear the uncomfortable squishy sounds.

Finding less explicit books has been near to impossible. It's either inspy/closed door, women's fiction, or extremely explicit. Sometime in the last 5 years, romance and erotic romance have erased that separation. Now it seems to come down to page count rather than content.

Maybe I'm the only one out there looking for less explicit stuff, but post-50 Shades, it seems like the market has pushed so far into erom territory that people like me are being left out.

This is honestly what's led to me reading more mystery and urban fantasy and less romance. I just don't have the patience to flip through what is increasingly becoming 1/3 of the book to find the plot. Obviously, for a lot of readers, this explicit content is what they want. I just keep hoping the pendulum will swing back the other way, and (yes, I'm a dreamer) we find a common term to help identify them. Sweet doesn't seem to be effective, since many romances I consider sweet are also hella explicit.

Anyone else out there a skimmer?


TBR Challenge Review: Rocky Mountain Heat by Vivian Arend

Pub Date: Nov 2011 (reissue Feb 2017)
Publisher: Orig. Samhain, but a newer edition is self pubbed
Length: 232 pages
POV: 3rd
FTC: Free on Amazon, purchased Jan 2016

I think I downloaded this one when Vivian tweeted about it being free. Or someone did. I've read some of her other books, but none from this series before.

I have some mixed feelings about this book. I liked the characters, but for a contemporary, it felt really old fashioned. Which I guess is the point, since the early 20s heroine is grooming herself to be a rancher's wife. And the hero is a decade older. Which isn't really my issue. She has agency, it just seems weird. ESPECIALLY the weird byplay between all of the siblings. That is what icked me out the most.

Another quibble for me is the lack of modern technology. No mobile phones, really. No texting. A passing mention of a computer. You could explain that by the ranching community etc, but I live in BFE Northern California in a timber/ranching community, and everyone I know has had a mobile phone since well before 2011. There's rural and then there's nigh on unbelievably disconnected from the outside world.

Maybe it's just me.

Hump Day Classic Movie: Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

Irene Dunne plays a subdued school teacher who lives in a dinky little town and has a huge secret: she's the author of a scandalous serial novel that's taking the country by storm. The entire town is up in arms about the book. She even sits in on her literary circle as they debate it's immoral nature.

The screwball comes when she meets a man at a meeting with her NY publisher, only to have him show up incognito in her town, determined to needle her.

This is an interesting, and funny, film, not the least of which is because we are STILL dealing with authors who have to hide behind pseudonyms or risk ostracism in their small towns or chosen profession.

I watched it via Netflix, but you can also find it on Amazon.


Oh hey, I have a blog...

It's been 3 whole months since I've blogged, and the only excuse I have is just disinterest and a whole lot of weather related depression. Here in Northern California, we've just surpassed our wettest year on record. It has rained or snowed nearly non-stop since October. The good news is that while I haven't been blogging, I HAVE been reading, albeit at about half my usual pace. So reviews, recipes, and movie posts are coming again, soon!

RT is next month in Atlanta, and for the first time in years, I'm going as a reader and not a blogger. Mainly because RT seems to think it's okay to charge bloggers more for no extra benefits. Whatever.

Here's to a spring with more books, more reading, and some actual blogging.


TBR Challenge Review: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher (partial)

Format: audiobook
Narrator: James Marstars
Publisher: Penguin
Length: short stories, entire book:13 hours
POV: 1st person, past
Release Date: 2010

I've finally worked my way through the regular size novels in audiobook. That leaves the short stories and novellas, which are all out of chronological order, but that's ok. Basically: don't listen to them until you're done reading the series.

Because this month's TBR Challenge theme is "short," it lets me off the hook for finishing this in time, because this is an anthology. My commute is nonexistant, so my audiobook listening happens while cleaning or while winding down for sleep. Thus: FOREVER to finish the series. Hubs has had these read two or three times in the year or so I've been listening to them.


Review: Mercury Striking by Rebecca Zanetti

Format: mass market paperback
Pub Date: February 2016
Publisher: Zebra/Kensington
Length: 362 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Received for free from RT16

As much as I "enjoyed" parts of this book, it will always be the "ass spanking book." As in: non-consensual ass spanking, which is a firm DO NOT CROSS line for me. So however much the plot grew on me, that one thing still stands out.

The other problem with the book, which is not the author or book's fault, is that it is post-apocalyptic. Which, given what a shitstorm our country is experiencing, was so not the book I needed. It is bleak times 1000, and I suspect it's probably the very last book of this kind that I am able to read for at least the next four years.


Blogging stalled by the CA flood; Book tracking apps

I had great plans to review a book or two over the weekend, but our power and Internet kept going out. Northern CA is experiencing a ten year flood: I-80 is closed due to mudslides and downed power lines. The Canyon is currently closed due to flooding. As in: the highway is underwater.

Meanwhile, the power finally came on last night, but our internet is still iffy. I'm typing this up on my phone.

Since I don't use Goodreads because of the troll incident a few years ago, I've been on the hunt for an easier way to track my reading. This week, I downloaded 3 different book apps: Litsy, Bookcrawler, and Book Buddy. So far, Book Buddy looks the best for my needs, but I'm going to use them all for the next month and report back.

Stay dry, folks!


Review: The Fixer by HelenKay Dimon (Games People Play)

Format: ebook
Pub Date: December 27, 2016
Publisher: Avon
Length: 384 pages
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: Purchased myself

Well...I debated even doing a review of this one because I can't quite figure out how I feel about it. It was getting LOTS of buzz on Twitter, which should have been a huge warning sign for me (I'm a perpetual outlier), but I've also read and enjoyed HKD before, so... I bought it and read it. And now I can't decide how I feel. Sigh.

The whole book is just murky. I never did get a firm handle on the hero or heroine. The only real character that I clicked with was an employee of Wren's named Garrett. Everyone else just kind of existed in a bit of a fog. Unformed. The dialogue was even weirder since Wren is incapable of talking like a normal person and answers every question with another question or simply deflects. After awhile, it started to drive me completely crazy. Which is what it was supposed to do, I think? Murky.

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

Ok, I admit it. I am weird. I do NOT like chocolate chip cookie dough. Never have. I love chocolate chip cookies, but the unbaked dough is gross. But, that being said, I'm in the minority in this household, so I had my 3 guys begging me to make these after they spotted the recipe on Pinterest. 

I think everyone knows the warnings about eating raw cookie dough, because of the uncooked eggs. Fortunately, these use sweetened condensed milk as a liquid replacement for the eggs, but they DO contain uncooked *flour* which has recently become a bit of an issue, too. So eat at your own risk, cookie dough lovers.

Cookie Dough Truffles
Recipe from CakesCottage

½ cup (1 sticks) butter, room temperature
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans*
1 pound dark chocolate candy coating**
*My family doesn't like nuts in their chocolate chip cookies, so I just upped the amount of chips to 3/4 cup
** I use the pound-plus bars from Trader Joes or the Ghiradelli chocolate wafers available at my local grocery store. 

  1. In a bowl combine butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  2. Beat in the flour, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla until incorporated, beating well after each addition.
  3. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. (You can sub more chocolate chips for the nuts)
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for approx 1 hour, or until firm enough to handle.
  5. Shape mixture into 1 inch balls by rolling a spoonful in the palm of your hand (I use a melon baller to keep the size consistent.)
  6. Place on paper-lined baking sheets. Loosely cover and refrigerate for about 20 minutes or until firm again.
  7. In a bowl, melt dark chocolate candy coating either by placing atop barely simmering water as a double boiler or by microwaving according to package directions. I got tired of dipping truffles about halfway through, so you might consider doing this in batches, depending on how much time you have.
  8. Dip the cookie dough balls into the chocolate and place on parchment paper. I use a fork to dip and gently shake the excess off before placing on the parchment.
  9. Let the truffles sit until hard, about 15 minutes.
  10. Once set, remelt remaining candy coating.
  11. Carefully drizzle chocolate over truffles either by using a ziplock baggie with a tip snipped off or by dipping a fork and gently shaking it about 2 inches above the truffles. As you can see by the fancy picture, I didn't bother with that part this time. They still tasted fine according to the boys.
  12. Store in the refrigerator and serve cold. These can also be frozen for longer storage.


Review: Since the Surrender by Julie Anne Long

Format: Mass market paperback
Pub Date: August 2009
Publisher: Avon
Length: 371
POV: 3rd, past
FTC: purchased used

I discovered the Pennyroyal series really late. I've read a few over the years, but was so out of the loop that I didn't realize they were a series until recently. This is an earlier entry in the series (there's a myspace page on the author bio), and it's a good one.

Although I've heard complaints about anachronisms, I think what sells JAL's books is her voice. She writes with such emotion and could probably lead a master class on how to show and not tell. Her books are immersive. This one was so particularly strong on sensory details that I made a ton of notes of favorite passages...something I'm usually far too lazy to do.

An example:
Just slightly, he brushed his cheek along hers, and she felt the heat of his skin, the start of whiskers, the hard plane of his jaw. His breath, hot, soft, brushed the lobe of her ear, and then his firm lips were there, just scarcely brushing the whorls of it, and gooseflesh danced over arms and legs and spine and, for all she knew, her very soul.