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.