Cookbook Review: El Farol, Tapas and Spanish Cuisine by James Campbell Caruso

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: April 2004
Publisher: Gibbs Smith
ISBN: 9781586851019
FTC: From my husband's cookbook library
When my good friend first moved out to New Mexico, she told me about this fabulous tapas restaurant called El Farol in Sante Fe.  We went there together in the Spring of 2005. The food was fabulous, but even better, I scored a signed copy of the chef's cookbook El Farol: Tapas and Spanish Cuisine for my husband's birthday. And got to meet Chef James Campbell Caruso who came out to sign the book. (He was a complete sweetie).

Although the chef has since moved on to other projects, this cookbook remains one of my favorites. There is no tapas restaurant here in the mountains, but the recipes in El Farol are, for the most part, so easy that I can make them at home without breaking the bank or spending all day in the kitchen.

The book itself is very pretty. There are lots of pictures, although there could be more. (You can never have too many pictures). The chapters make sense. You have the basic sauces he uses at the very beginning, followed by soups, cold plates, hot plates, main courses and then desserts and drinks. 

My favorite recipes are the Grilled Honey-Caper Shrimp, the Posole Clam Chowder, and the Rosemary-Yogurt Flatbread. One of these days, I'm going to try making the empanadas and the sangria recipes. Even the complicated recipes are written with clear directions and do not use any fancy cooking techniques. These recipes are adapted for home cooks. Every recipe I've made has become a family favorite that is requested again and again.

My Grade: A-


Hump Day Halloween

On this last hump day before Halloween, I have a series of movies and cartoons for you.

First up, is the one for the kiddies: Trick or Treat by Disney.

You can watch it on Youtube: http://youtu.be/skdVouumMk4, but I have a copy on my Black Cauldron DVD. I just love watching Donald get his just desserts delivered by a feisty Witch Hazel.

I love old-school horror. Meaning Alfred Hitchcock is my man. Of all the thrillers he made, Psycho is probably my favorite. Anthony Perkins is super creepy. This movie scared the heck out of me when I first saw it. And it's iconic.

And, to keep things in the family, my other favorite Halloween scary movie is the 1978 version of Halloween starring Janet Leigh's daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis.

What are your favorite Halloween films? Do you love gory horror films or the psychological ones? Do you watch Halloween cartoons or are you too old for that?

If you'd like a copy of the classic Donald Duck Trick or Treat cartoon, it's included as an extra on the Black Cauldron.


Physically and Emotionally Damaged: the BDB

**Spoiler Warning: If you haven't finished the Black Dagger Brotherhood series up to Lover Mine, there may be spoilers for you in the ramblings below**

A few of the romance-minded people on Twitter were discussing a week or so ago the preponderance of damaged people, both emotionally and physically, that are present in JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood.  

I wonder if the sheer number of injuries and illness is a symptom of (according to her bio) JR Ward's former profession—in health care and hospital administration—or if there's another reason her characters have such a difficult time of it.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood members are warriors fighting for the survival of their race, but they are not just battle scarred. Life, itself, has been rough on almost every single one of them. All of them, to some extent, are damaged physically or emotionally.


Review: Scoundrel by Zoe Archer (Blades of the Rose #2)

Format: Mass Market
Pub Date: October 2010
Publisher: Zebra (Kensington)
FTC: Purchased myself

The Blurb:
London Harcourt's father is bent on subjugating the world's magic to British rule. But since London is a mere female, he hasn't bothered to tell her so. He's said only that he's leading a voyage to the Greek isles. No matter, after a smothering marriage and three years of straitlaced widowhood, London jumps at the opportunity - unfortunately, right into the arms of Bennett Day. 

Bennett is a ladies' man, when he's not dodging lethal attacks to protect the powers of the ancients from men like London's father. Sometimes, he's a ladies' man even when he is dodging them. But the minute he sees London he knows she will require his full attention. The woman is lovely, brilliant, and the only known speaker of a dialect of ancient Greek that holds the key to calling down the wrath of the gods. Bennett will be risking his life again - but around London, what really worries him is the danger to his heart... 

If I had to pick a word to describe Zoe Archer’s Blades of the Rose series it would have to be Epic. Because there is just something larger than life about her stories of adventure and romance. It’s partly because they draw on a rich literary and film lore to form the background, or flavor, of the adventures. But it’s also partly because the books are just plain fun to read.

I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy Scoundrel more than the first book in the series, but I did! Bennett Day is  definitely a scoundrel. He’s perfectly content mixing business with pleasure and is particularly happy when he gets to use seduction to further the aims of his group, the Blades, in their quest to keep their enemies, the Heirs of Albion, from pushing British Colonialism onto unsuspecting people using magical repositories known as Sources.  He will fight when necessary, but he’s equally at home using stealth or his ability at decoding ciphers.


Follow My Book Blog Friday

This is my first time participating in the Follow My Book Blog Friday hop hosted by Parajunkee.com , and I'm looking forward to finding new blogs and meeting new bloggers.

Today's question: What are you reading?

I'm finishing up Scoundrel by Zoe Archer.

It's the second in the Blades of the Rose series and is a blast to read. Set in the 19th century, Scoundrel is part adventure novel, part romance with a little magic and mythology thrown in. I am completely hooked on this series. The next installment, Rebel, is scheduled for release on November 2.

I'm also hosting a giveaway of Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis. If you love contemporary romance and haven't read her yet, you've been missing out. Wonderful characters and lots of humor!

I'm on Twitter, too! I'd love for you to follow me. My tweets are a mix of books, baking, and sometimes the antics of my two adorable but mischievous boys.

Thanks so much for stopping by!


Cookbook Review: Fine Cooking Appetizers

Pub Date: November 2010
Publisher: Taunton
FTC: Digital galley via Netgalley

I love appetizers. I love appetizer-only meals even more. It's like sanctioned snacking. You can take a culinary tour with just a few bites and feel like you've eaten more than you have.

What I'm not so fond of is pretentious food and that's what Fine Cooking Appetizers is filled with. It's from the editor's of the Fine Cooking Magazine, which on the whole I've found unpretentious and versatile. I want recipes I can make for my friends. Recipes that have easy to find ingredients. I don't mind fussy, but I do want something that appeals to palates beyond the sophisticated foodie.

Out of the very large book, I found only a half dozen recipes I would even consider making. And nearly all of those were in the Sips and Sweets category.

This book may very work well for those who want something sophisticated. But it doesn't work well for those who want to use ingredients from the supermarkets or for those who want a good go-to appetizer book for any occasion.

My Grade: C


Quickie Review: Goodnight Irene by Jan Burke

Format: Mass Market
Pub Date: 1993
Publisher: Pocket (Simon and Schuster)
FTC: Personal library

This is an oldie but goodie mystery that sits on my keeper shelf. Originally published in 1993, Goodnight, Irene introduces Irene Kelly, a former journalist with a sharp wit and a penchant for trouble.

This book has everything wonderful about the amateur sleuth subgenre of mysteries: first person narration, funny one-liners, a sometimes abrasive lead character, a hot guy and a very, very good plot.

There's something wonderful about Burke's writing. There's a simplicity to it that just makes the narrative flow, and the characters are so well developed that they become real almost instantly.There's also some lovely chemistry between Irene and Detective Frank Harriman, too, which appeals to the romance fan in me. I love how Irene never ventures into the TSTL* category and that Frank treats her as an equal.

This isn't a forensic mystery, so the gore is kept to the minimum. There's some gruesome stuff, people are dying after all, but it's not too descriptive or icky. This is a very dialogue-heavy book, which is likely the reason it reads so quickly.

Goodnight, Irene is the first of a series, and I've loved every one that followed. I hope you do, too.

*TSTL=Too Stupid To Live


Quickie Review: Assassin's Honor by Monica Burns

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: June 2010
ISBN: 9780425234167
Publisher: Berkley Sensation
FTC: Purchased myself

Most of the time, buzz on Twitter, Goodreads, and romance blogs is a good thing. And most of the time, I don't regret forking out money for a trade paperback I purchased based on overwhelming praise by my favorite sites. But...this is one of those times that I was very disappointed both in buying a new copy of a trade paperback and the highway robbery prices they charge for them and for wasting my time reading the book.

Assassin's Honor annoyed me right away by employing a spelling for archaeology that infuriates me. "Archeology" may be an "acceptable" alternate spelling, but it's not what people in the field use. Which means that if your main character is someone attached to Chicago's famed Oriental Institute, they wouldn't be using "archeology." So using it in the text and dialogue results in an immediate auto-fail with me.

So, already cranking about that spelling pet peeve, I start reading. Only to discover that what could be a fun, suspenseful story is...irritating. Our "hero" Ares likes to add little swear words to his thoughts and speech that just grated on my nerves. "Christus" this and "Deus" that. And let's not forget "Fotte" or "Merda" either. It felt hokey and unbelievable. Like a cheap ploy to add something exotic without expending any real effort. And, since they're in a different language, they are set off in italics. To make them even more irritating.

I guess my problem with this book is that it never felt real. The premise was fine, but I had serious problems with the execution. The characters felt phony and the plot seemed canned for something that was supposed to be fresh and different. Spelling pet peeves and style issues aside, I wish the author had taken a different approach with the plot. This felt too derivative and at times made absolutely no sense. Add in a TSTL heroine and my lack of enjoyment was sealed.

My Grade: D+

Hump Day Classic Movie: Mad Monster Party (1967)

I just realized I missed last week's hump day post! Ack! How about two movies today?

We'll start with a lesser known stop motion animation classic: Mad Monster Party. Some giants in the movie industry stepped in to voice a few of the characters, but the two standouts for me are Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller. Mad Monster Party features just about every classic monster you can think of and some very silly music.

For the bonus movie, I'll have to go with the one movie that used to scare me silly as a child: The Watcher in the Woods. Creeped me out to no end when I was little. It's less scary now, but still pretty creepy. The movie stars Bette Davis, but also has a much younger David McCallum in it! That's Donald "Ducky"Mallard of NCIS fame, although he's had a long and successful career in other roles.


Review and Giveaway: Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

Format: Mass Market
Pub Date: October 2010
ISBN: 9780446571616
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)

FTC:  Purchased myself; giveaway copy courtesy of Hachette Book Group (details at the bottom of the post!)
Maddie Moore's whole life needs a makeover.
In one fell swoop, Maddie loses her boyfriend (her decision) and her job (so not her decision). But rather than drowning her sorrows in bags of potato chips, Maddie leaves L.A. to claim the inheritance left by her free-spirited mother-a ramshackle inn nestled in the little coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington.
Starting over won't be easy. Yet Maddie sees the potential for a new home and a new career-if only she can convince her two half-sisters to join her in the adventure. But convincing Tara and Chloe will be difficult because the inn needs a big makeover too.
The contractor Maddie hires is a tall, dark-haired hottie whose eyes-and mouth-are making it hard for her to remember that she's sworn off men. Even harder will be Maddie's struggles to overcome the past, though she's about to discover that there's no better place to call home than Lucky Harbor.
There are a lot of authors who are known for their humorous romances.  And while I'll sometimes turn to one of them to lift my mood, they are often some of the more shallow romances out there. But Jill Shalvis is one of the rare authors whose writing is incredibly funny AND moving. Whose characters are flawed, complex, and—perhaps rarest of all—believable.


My Hubs "Reads" Romance

My husband has never been a big print reader, and the books he did read were nearly always in the fantasy genre. But since his job requires long hours spent on the road, he's become a huge audio fan and he finds it helps him concentrate on his driving, stay alert, and keeps his mind active.

We share an Audible.com account. And because he has far more time to listen to books than I do, he tends to finish his share of books earlier than I do. Which means he ends up listening to my books. And that's how I got him hooked on romance books. Heh.

I would say his first foray into romance started with Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Her books are what I consider the equivalent of a romance gateway drug. They are light, conversationally written books with fun characters and some serious romantic tension. The early ones (1-6) are especially good with lots of will they/won't they tension between Stephanie Plum, Joe Morelli, and Ranger. He loved them, even going so far as to recommend them to his boss and coworkers.


Review: Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: April 2009
ISBN: 9780451226259
Publisher: NAL (Penguin)
FTC: Purchased myself

The Blurb:
Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn't exactly glamorous, but it was Merit's. She was doing fine until a rogue vampire attacked her. But he only got a sip before he was scared away by another bloodsucker and this one decided the best way to save her life was to make her the walking undead.

Turns out her savior was the master vampire of Cadogan House. Now she's traded sweating over her thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan "Lord o' the Manor" Sullivan. Of course, as a tall, green-eyed, four-hundred- year-old vampire, he has centuries' worth of charm, but unfortunately he expects her gratitude and servitude. But an inconvenient sunlight allergy and Ethan's attitude are the least of her concerns. Someone's still out to get her. Her initiation into Chicago's nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war and there will be blood.

I am not a fan of the trade paperback format. To me, it's an oversized mass market that costs nearly twice as much. So it takes a leap of faith for me to buy something published in that format. Word of mouth about Chloe Neill's Chicagoland Vampires convinced me to give her a try. And I'm very glad I did.

I wasn't too thrilled with the first 20 pages. Underwhelmed would probably best describe it. Maybe the hype was too much or maybe Neill's world building just didn't click with me right away. I kept going, though, and by page 30, I was snorting with amusement. By page 50, I was laughing out loud and my kids were eying me warily.


Review: Finding Perfect by Susan Mallery

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pub Date: August 2010
Publisher: HQN (Harlequin)
ISBN: 9780373774685
FTC: Digital galley from Netgalley

The Blurb:
When Pia O'Brian's best friend dies, Pia expects to inherit her cherished cat. Instead, the woman leaves Pia three frozen embryos. With a disastrous track record in the romance department and the parenting skills of a hamster, Pia doesn't think she's meant for motherhood. But determined to do the right thing, Pia decides to become a single mother. Only to meet a gorgeous, sexy hunk the very same day.
A former foster-care kid now rich beyond his wildest dreams, Raoul Moreno runs a camp for needy children in Fool's Gold, California. After his last relationship, Raoul thought he was done with women and commitment. Still, he can't get sweet, sexy Pia out of his mind—and proposes a crazy plan. But can such an unconventional beginning really result in the perfect ending?

Susan Mallery's fictional town of Fool's Gold continues to be a sweet setting for her contemporary romance trilogy. We learn far more about the people in the community this time and less about the physical setting. Good for readers of the rest of the trilogy, but it may weaken the sense of place for those new to the series.

I had some major suspension of disbelief issues with this book. Pia O'Brian is supposed to be hyper-organized. But her approach to her friend's legacy is anything but. She doesn't research the heck out of the procedure until after Raoul does. She is completely unprepared for the reality of being a parent, and I just found that inconsistent with the rest of her character.

Raoul last appeared in Susan Mallery's Bakery Sisters trilogy as a teenager, so it was a bit odd to see him in his 30s here. Some kind of romance land hyper-aging process, apparently. It was cute, but also distracting.  He does provide a quiet strength that Pia needs, but I found his determination to stay aloof kind of phony.  I'm not sure I ever really bought into it.

I thought it was interesting that Pia, the girl the whole town seems to love, was a reformed high school mean girl. Small towns can be resentful, so it was unusual to see that the only one who remembers what Pia was like in high school seems to be Pia.

Despite being frequently tossed from the story by some WHAT THE HELL? moments (usually prompted by Pia not thinking something through) I did enjoy reading the last Fool's Gold book. It's a sweet story about good people. Even if the premise is wildly improbable and not especially suited to courtship and romance.

My Grade: B/B-


Hump Day Classic Movie: Operation Petticoat (1959)

I was saddened to hear last week that actor Tony Curtis had died. I grew up watching so many of his films. Not only was he gorgeous in that silver screen larger than life way,  he was incredibly funny.

Curtis's comedic genius is often cited in Some Like It Hot, a gender bending comedy co-starring Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. But for me, the quintessential Curtis movie is Operation Petticoat.

Also starring Cary Grant, Operation Petticoat is one of those films I think has held up well over time. Curtis plays a recreation officer turned supply officer who uses questionable methods to procure necessary supplies for a submarine during World War II. It's really a subtle role, where the humor is often situational and delivered in a dry, sarcastic and backhanded way.

In this movie, Curtis has that scoundrel air about him: the not quite a good guy but you love him anyway vibe. And that, I think, is what defines Curtis as an actor for me. He doesn't play the heroic good guy. He plays the reluctant one.

Watch a clip here.


Quickie Review: Slow Heat by Jill Shalvis

Pub date: February 2010
Publisher: Berkley
Format: Mass Market
FTC: Purchased myself

The Blurb:
Baseball player Wade O'Riley's bad-boy image is about to be cleaned up by publicist Samantha McNead. But the sexual tension between them is about to drive Wade to his knees.
I know nothing about sports. Zip. Nada. Diddly-squat. I never played them. I never watched them on TV. I couldn't tell you anything beyond the very basics of baseball. And I'm not really all that interested  either. (Which probably contributed to the gaping pit of knowledge mentioned above). But I loved this book. Loved. It.

Corporate sponsors are getting nervous about increasing bad publicity surrounding the private lives of the Heat's players. As the latest offender in the bad press brigade, Wade O'Riley is forced to pretend to clean up his act—by pretending to be involved in a committed relationship with  the Heat's publicist, Samantha McNead. The problem is that the two have a past... and some serious chemistry.


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And for the second year in a row, eBay sellers are launching a Bling My Bra campaign to raise money for the Susan G. Komen For the Cure.

Bling My Bra starts with a bra, designed by volunteers around a theme, and auctioned off as one of a kind art creations. 100% of the proceeds goes directly to charity. Bras are listed throughout the month and can be found by searching "Bling My Bra" on eBay.com.

Or, you can just click here for a link to current auctions.

These are funky, fun and all for a good cause. I hope you'll check the auctions out!

Some of the designs:


Cookbook Review: Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

FTC: From my personal library

I know it's been a long time since I posted a cookbook review. But reading Zoe Archer's Warrior and Jeannie Lin's Butterfly Swords brought this book to mind.  Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China is probably the most gorgeous cookbook I've ever seen. No exaggeration. This is the type of cookbook you read. It's far more than  recipes. But the recipes that are there are simple, surprising, and yummy.

Beyond the Great Wall reminds us that China is far more diverse than we give it credit for. And that Chinese food is far more than the Cantonese or Szechuan dishes served in American Chinese restaurants.  There are bread and pasta recipes. There are recipes for fried fish. For kebabs that look quite similar to foods from Iran. Even doughnuts.

But above and beyond the selection of recipes, the photos, and the narratives, this book does what all good books should do: it takes you on a journey through China that is so engrossing you feel, at least a little bit, that you've been there yourself.

My Grade: A

Review: Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

Format: Mass Market
Publisher: Harlequin
Pub Date: October 2010
FTC: Digital galley from Netgalley

It's a rare thing to have a historical romance that's not set in the American West or in Regency England these days. So in that respect, Butterfly Swords is a breath of fresh air. Set in China during the Tang Dynasty, the book tells the story of  Princess Ai Li and a barbarian foreigner named Ryam. 

I've read a fair amount of Asian literature, and the beauty and simplicity of the prose always amazes me. Jeannie Lin's writing is deceptively simple but manages to effortlessly evoke an Asian atmosphere. Her knowledge of Chinese culture shines through, and everything Ai Li does feels authentic to both the period and her culture.

But... (you knew this was coming) I did not feel the same way about our hero, Ryam.

One aspect of the story constantly bothered me—often enough to throw me out of the story. The author makes it a point to say (repeatedly) how different Ryam looks. But fails to tell us where he's from. Although the story takes place smack in the middle of the Silk Road trading routes, and it wouldn't be uncommon for foreigners to be there, it strains my suspension of disbelief that people wouldn't know where he was from or what his ethnicity was. Why the coyness? Why not just pick a nationality and stick to it? It's a secret not only from everyone he meets, but from everyone who knows him, too.  I found that indicative of the weakness of his character overall. He was a tall, muscular blond guy who fought well. Without a history, personality or culture to draw from, he's about as complex as an animated cardboard cutout.

I loved the fight scenes in this book. Especially those with Ai Li and her butterfly swords. I loved that she was strong, capable, and mature for her age. But that was not enough to overcome what felt like an utter lack of chemistry between Ryam and Ai Li. Perhaps if Ryam's character were not so sketchily drawn, I would have felt more involved in the story. As it was, this felt more like a book about political intrigue and less about the relationship between our hero and heroine.

My Grade: C+/B-