Recipe: Butter's Famous Marshmallows

Finished marshmallows
I recently purchased a baking cookbook called Butter Baked Goods. It's written by the owner of a small bakery, but what intrigued me most were the marshmallow recipes. The recipes I've seen before were all a little intimidating, but this was super easy to do, and they turned out great. It's one of the few that does not have you sitting over a candy thermometer waiting for a specific temperature. And I've made two batches without a hitch. (Please excuse the horrid photo. The lighting in my kitchen is the worst).

Butter's Famous Marshmallows
1 cup water
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons vanilla
Lots of powdered/confectioner's sugar (about 2 cups)

1. In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, pour 1/2 cup of water into the bowl. Sprinkle in the gelatin. Set aside to let the gelatin soak.

2. In a saucepan over high heat, add sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a rolling boil and continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

3. Turn mixer to low and mix gelatin a few times. Slowly add the hot sugar mixture, pouring it gently down the side of the bowl, and continue to mix on low. (Make sure everything is mixed before cranking the speed up or you will end up splattered with scalding sugar!!)

4. Turn the mixer to high and continue to whip for 10-12 minutes until the batter just about triples in size and becomes very thick. It will look like glossy marshmallow cream, but thicker. Stop the mixer, add the vanilla, and whip briefly to combine.

5. Transfer mixture to a buttered 9 x 9 pan and use a spatula to scrape the bowl and smooth.

6. Cover with a greased sheet of plastic wrap.

7. Leave the marshmallow to set at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight. The marshmallow will be too soft and sticky to cut otherwise! I let batch one set overnight and batch two for five hours. Overnight is better.

8. Sprinkle a work surface with powdered sugar (I used a rimmed baking sheet to corral the mess). Run a knife along the edge to loosen the slab.

9. Use a large knife to cut the slab into 1 inch squares. Coat the freshly cut marshmallows in sugar until completely covered.

TBR Challenge Review: Rogue Rider (Lords of Deliverance Book; Book 4) by Larissa Ione

Format: ebook, mass market
Pub Date: November 2012
Publisher: Grand Central
Length: 424 pages
FTC: Purchased myself

This month's TBR Challenge theme is holiday stories. And since my definition of holiday novels is as quirky as my definition of holiday movies, I picked the last book in Larissa Ione's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse series. Because nothing says Merry Christmas like some demons and some bad-ass immortals.

 This is a series I've read most of, but it's been awhile. I had this one in the digital TBR and somehow managed to read it in time for the challenge. Woohoo! (I'm late posting, but what else is new? Stupid holiday obligations and all).

Unlike the first few Demonica books, which did NOT work for me, this series has been a winner so far. They have such a strong voice, lots of attitude, and everything works together well. My favorite part, though, is the very beginning. Mainly because the heroine discovers an unconscious, naked, frozen man in her woods and promptly christens him Fish Stick. What's not to love about that?


From the Ashes

Photo via the Walmer family
For those who weren't on Twitter Sunday morning, here's the recap: it was a busy, tragic weekend for my town. We lost 4 businesses to a catastrophic fire that burned most of a block in our historic downtown.  No one was injured, but it was a major blow to a town whose tourism dollars rely on our quaint, old-fashioned atmosphere. And for those who live here, it was a part of what made our town special.

It was so bad that we made the Sacramento news, and most people in Sac couldn't find us with GPS.

I vaguely remember hearing sirens blaring in the wee hours of the morning, but assumed it was some dumbass who had crashed on the icy curves just outside of town again. Little did I realize that the sirens were headed into town and that part of our town's very identity was burning to the ground.

Our fire department is 100% volunteer, as is nearly every other department in the county (many other communities responded to our fire, bringing the total number of personnel to over 35). And they stayed on site in the freezing cold for hours. It was so cold that water was turning to ice as it hit the streets. Even now, there are huge icicles inside on the charred timbers.

As the news spread through social media, you could feel the stunned disbelief and sorrow. Families who grew up here and had moved away were just as shocked and saddened as those of us who still live here.  The Pizza Factory, where the fire originated, was more than just a chain restaurant. It had occupied the same location for decades. The walls were adorned with jerseys of high school and community college players. Our elementary school principal's photo was there with her high school softball team. Artwork from artists who have moved on to bigger and better things were there. Little pieces of the town's history for more than a generation are now gone.

We're all still a little wounded by this loss. I know families coming in for the holidays are going to be hit by this the second they round the corner onto Main. 4 businesses may not seem like much, but in a town our size, it's devastating. Part of being from a small town like ours is the idea that nothing is going to change. The businesses might change owners, but the buildings themselves will always be there. That's no longer true.

Nothing left to do but babysit the smoldering ruins
Before the fire was even out, there were offers to help clean up. Offers to share or donate retail space. Discussions for how to help not just those businesses that were destroyed, but those that were damaged by water and smoke. And despite the loss, we were all collectively grateful for our firefighters and what they managed to do. Most importantly, they saved the two oldest buildings on the block and no one was hurt.

Our downtown is not going to be the same for a long, long while, but we are already coming together in a way that reminds me of why I love this place. It's not the buildings. It's the people. People like the owner of the thrift store that was adjacent to the pizza place.

Photo via Quincy Thrift

The only thing left of her shop are her prized action figures she had behind the counter. Firefighters saved those, and she is already in the process of reopening—1 day later— in an empty retail space just down the road.

It's going to be a bittersweet Christmas this year, but I'm left feeling extremely proud of my community.


Review: Ripped by Sarah Morgan

Format: ebook
Pub Date: November 26, 2013
Publisher: Cosmo Red Hot Reads/Harlequin
Length: 95 pages
FTC: Purchased myself

I've been a bit caught up in Real Life Obligations again, so I haven't been out and about in Romancelandia for the last month or two. Apparently, I missed hearing about this book. I did what I never do: I acted on an author rec to try a book. Of course, cynical me, I tried the sample first.  I was majorly hooked, and couldn't get the rest of it fast enough.

Not only is this a holiday novella, this is written in the first person! And (THANK GOODNESS) not the first-person, present. It's very rare that you read a romance that's written in the first person that is either a) not Urban Fantasy or Paranormal or b) not written in 1st/present  (which I loathe more than Ebenezer Scrooge loathes giving his employees the day off).  Added to that...this is absolutely hysterical. One caveat: the author is British or at the very least, lives in Great Britain. There are some phrases which may seem odd to American readers and the humor is definitely of the wacky, British style.


Cookbook Review: Butter: Baked Goods

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: October 2013
Publisher: Random House
Length: 264 pages
FTC: Purchased myself
List Price: $35 ($22.14 on Amazon as of today)

I ordered this recently as an early Christmas present for myself. I'm not familiar with the author or her bakery, but I LOVE to bake. And this one looked cute. Little did I know I would be receiving a gorgeous hardbound baking book that I would be proud to show off.

There is a wide variety of recipes in this book. Everything from scones and muffins to pies and cookies is here. There aren't a ton of any one type of recipe, but what is here is definitely appealing.  Most of the recipes are easily accessible for the average home cook. Only a few are the least bit fussy. And I only found one ingredient that I could not source locally: pistachio paste. Which isn't a problem for me, because I'm really not all that fond of pistachio.

Butter's claim to fame is the homemade flavored marshmallows. I've seen homemade marshmallow recipes before (Ina Garten has one) but I haven't seen flavored ones. The main recipe for marshmallows also features several variations including raspberry, coffee, mint, and coconut. Given the techniques, you can easily swap other flavors in where you want to as long as they're added in the right part of the recipe.


Recipes: Quick Holiday Goodies

If you need a quick hostess gift or addition to your holiday cookie tray, here are three super easy recipes that have always produced great results for me.

Candy Cane Hearts
Mini candy canes
white candy coating (sometimes called Almond Bark)

For each heart, you will need 2 mini candy canes. I crush the inevitable broken ones in a plastic bag using a rolling pin to sprinkle later. Melt candy coating according to package directions. If it's too thick to pour, try adding a tiny bit of vegetable oil until you get the right consistency.

Line a work surface with waxed paper. Arrange two candy canes into a heart shape. Fill with melted candy coating. Immediately sprinkle with crushed candy canes. Cool, then carefully peel from the paper.


The Great Christmas Tree Hunt

My town is in that valley in the distance.
The Christmas season is a mixed blessing when you live the middle of nowhere. You can't just pop down to the nearest Target to grab that last minute gift. (That's an 80 mile drive). So that means you're shopping online, hoping Amazon Prime sends whatever it was you forgot in the promised 2 days. But it also means that you aren't stuck paying upwards of $60 for dead or dying tree to stick in your house. We live adjacent to a National Forest, and our local area grocery stores, gas stations etc all stock Christmas Tree Permits. For a small fee, you can go cut your own. And that's what we did over Thanksgiving weekend.


Hump Day Movie: Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas Special

© Henstooth Video
For me, a child growing up in the 1980s, the Claymation Christmas Special made far more of an impact than the 1960s stop motion Rudolph and Frosty movies did. The Raisins and their friends were funny, they were unusual, and they were "modern."

Watching them today, the only thing that seems really dated to me is the sophistication of the claymation work. The California Raisins commercials were HUGE when I was little. Of course, I lived in California, but they made TOYS out of them. Those were some of the first toys *I* could ever remember being made from commercials. And they were raisins!  The Will Vinton Christmas Special took that stop-motion technique even further, using unusual characters to share a wide variety of carols.  The hosts are dinosaurs. The Carol of the Bells is done with goofy bells hitting themselves. It's silly, innocent, and still one of my favorite memories of the holidays as a child.

You can still find it on DVD, but I have yet to see this show in-store anywhere. Amazon has it for $20.

There are clips available on Youtube. I love We Three Kings . The shoes and mustaches on the camels kill me.

What's your favorite childhood holiday movie? Have you seen this one?


TBR Challenge Review: Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley

Format: ebook
Pub Date: December 2012
Publisher: Forever (Hachette)
FTC: purchased myself
Length: 136,000 words
Why it was in the TBR: Comparisons to crack. Not sure why that influenced me, except I wanted a massive reading glom.

This month's TBR Challenge theme is All About the Hype and this book really qualifies. Everyone is in love with Kristen Ashley's books.

Everyone, it seems, but me.


Review: The Secret Life of Miss Anna Marsh by Ella Quinn

Format: ebook
Publisher: Kensington
Pub Date: November 7, 2013
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley

This wouldn't have been half bad if every plot device ever used in a historical romance wasn't crammed in here. I liked the characters a lot, but the writing itself was riddled with cliches and tired scenarios.

You have the not-so-secret-crush. The woman-dressed-as-a-man smuggler. The spies. The amnesiac. The trouble on the road home. Your token strumpet. It's like the author threw every possible twist into a Bingo tumbler and wrote what she pulled out at random. Any one of those would have been fine, but to this experienced reader, it was all a bit over the top. I'll suspend my disbelief for one of them. But altogether? Nope. (Please click on the review title to continue reading.)


Fall Drive Down the Canyon

While the kids were in school, I grabbed my camera and my mom to do a little fall leaf peeping. The Indian Rhubarb (Darmera) is gorgeous this time of year, and I was finally able to find a spot to get down to the river to see it!


TBR Challenge Review: Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Format: Mass market. Also available in ebook.
Pub Date: May 2011
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin)
Length: 312 pages
FTC: Purchased myself. From Borders. :(
Why it was in the TBR: Lots of squeeing online about how different/fantastic/etc.

I've been trying to get in the mood to read this book since it came out.  I must have picked it up three or four times at least only to put it right back down again. The beginning few paragraphs just didn't hook me. In fact, this time, it probably took me at least 10 pages before I was at all interested in what was going on. If it weren't for the TBR Challenge, I'd have put it down again.

A lot happens in this book. There's a thief going on the lam; there's the capture of said thief. There's an attack by elves, a car wreck, capture by goblins, Fae shenanigans... There's plenty of action (both sexual and not) but there is very little emotion. At least for me. Things happen to Pia, but we don't really see her fall in love. She tells us she's falling in love, but we don't see it. Perhaps the pace just wouldn't work for more emotional scenes, but the frantic episodic nature of the book didn't do justice to the romance. For adventure/fantasy fans, there's plenty to like here, though.

Personally, I really didn't find Dragon Bound all that ground breaking. Katie MacAlister has been writing about dragons for some time now, and some of the best fantasy books have a similar romantic arc.  There were a *few* twists that made this one unusual, but it wasn't the genre busting book I had hoped for. Still, it was compelling enough to make me want to read the next in the series.

My Grade: B-

The Blurb:
Half-human and half-wyr, Pia Giovanni spent her life keeping a low profile among the wyrkind and avoiding the continuing conflict between them and their dark Fae enemies. But after being blackmailed into stealing a coin from the hoard of a dragon, Pia finds herself targeted by one of the most powerful-and passionate-of the Elder races.


Quickie Review: Beyond Pain by Kit Rocha

Format: ebook, print
Pub Date: August 19, 2013
Publisher: Self Published
FTC: Received for free via Twitter giveaway from @e_Bookpushers

I'm going to have to smack myself the next time I pick up a book mid-series. Really, really hard.

Although I enjoyed reading Beyond Pain, I felt—the entire time—that I had missed so much back story. It bugged the hell out of me. I understood the story just fine, but that sense of missing in-jokes and nuance drove me batty.

This is not the fault of the authors. This is my fault. I KNOW BETTER. Sigh.

Anyway, the 3rd in the Beyond series, Beyond Pain is a dystopian erotic story. This isn't the innocent, clean world we pretend we live in, but something darker and filled with gray. The world is divided into sectors, with some better than others. Life is hard for most. It's dangerous. And right and wrong are fluid concepts depending on the situation.

I'm not normally an erotic romance reader. I don't mind steamy scenes, but the sex:plot ratio often skews so heavily to the sex that I don't feel any connection the characters. That didn't happen here, despite the tons of sex, both with and without the main couple.

I liked it a lot. It's edgy. It's emotional. It's kinky. It's sexy. It's definitely different from the vast sea of racy erotic romance available right now.

My Grade: B

The Blurb:

A woman with no future…

Live fast, die young–anything else is a fantasy for Six. She’s endured the worst the sectors had to throw at her, but falling in with Dallas O’Kane’s Sector Four gang lands her in a whole new world of danger. They’re completely open about everything, including their sexuality–but she hasn’t survived this long by making herself vulnerable. Especially not to men as dominant as Brendan Donnelly.
A man without a past…

Bren is a killer, trained in Eden and thrown to the sectors. His one outlet is pain, in the cage and in the bedroom, and emotion is a luxury he can’t afford–until he meets Six. Protecting her soothes him, but it isn’t enough. Her hunger for touch sparks a journey of erotic discovery where anything goes–voyeurism, flogging, rough sex. He has only one rule: he won’t share her.
In Bren’s arms, Six is finally free to let go. But his obsession with the man who made him a monster could destroy the fragile connection they’ve forged, and cost him the one thing that makes him feel human–her love.


Review: Always on My Mind by Jill Shalvis

Format: Mass market, ebook
Pub Date: September 2013
Publisher: Grand Central (Hachette)
Length: 318 pages
FTC: Purchased myself

I'm a big, unapologetic Jill Shalvis fan. Her writing voice perfectly matches up with my reading preferences: funny, occasionally sarcastic, sexy, genuine, and a little off-kilter. I'm so happy that her Lucky Harbor series is getting the attention it deserves (although I wouldn't say no to more Wilder books. *ahem*).  The newest in the LH series, Always on My Mind, is one of my favorites. It's a friends to lovers story, my absolute favorite-est trope in all of Romancelandia. And it has baking in it. Anyone who knows me even just a little will understand why that appeals. (to continue reading, click on Read More below the recommended posts)


Good Riddance Goodreads

There comes a time when staying in an online community just isn't worth it.

When eBay first started changing from a place that welcomed small businesses to a place that gave free rides to huge corporations at the expense of the small businesses who helped build the company, I stuck it out. I had built a business there over 7 long years. But rule after rule made making money, and having fun, more and more difficult. At a certain point, sometime back in 2011, I decided I had had enough. I quit.

Well, it's not going to take me 7 years to quit Goodreads. I'm done.

I joined Goodreads back in 2009 at almost the same time I began blogging. It was a fun place to hang out with other book lovers. Other readers. It had a nifty way to catalog my books as I read. To comment, to take notes, to make observations I could share. And then the drama came.

You can trace it back to when Goodreads started aggressively marketing itself to authors as a marketing tool. At the same time, self publishing was booming, with lots of new authors completely overwhelmed with all that comes of being your own marketing department. Friction was inevitable.

Instead of protecting the providers of free content (the reviewers and GR librarians), Goodreads decided to sanitize book pages and reviews by hiding anything objectionable. Last week, it went even further, by deleting shelves and reviews without notice and without properly posting the policy changes IN ADVANCE or anywhere on the main page.

Any company not willing to let its community know about changes of this magnitude does not need my participation and does not deserve my respect.

As a result, I've deleted my shelves, books, and reviews and have moved them in their entirety over to Booklikes.com.  I will not supply Goodreads with content. I will not patronize their site. I will not look at their ads, providing them with revenue. I will not recommend their site to others. In fact, I will advise anyone currently using the site to go elsewhere and those looking for a book site to stay far, far away from Goodreads. I'm keeping my account alive to keep my user name from being used by others, but otherwise...you won't find me there.

You'll find me here.


Small Town Homecoming Parade

I often post about my itty bitty small town, and sometimes it really does sound like Mayberry. As anyone who has ever lived in a small town call tell you, it's not always a cake walk. People are nosy. Gossip is unavoidable and no one really has true privacy. But yesterday...yesterday was fun.

It was Homecoming Day for the high school. As a non-football watching parent of elementary school kids, Homecoming wouldn't normally make my radar.   This year, though, our entire elementary school, all clad in the high school's red and white colors, walked down to Main Street and watched the whole high school (divided into class floats) drive slowly through our little town.

This is our high school principal, our sheriff, and our local CHP commander, posing for a picture in the middle of the parade. (As Oldest shared with me, that bicycle is tricked out with lights and sirens just like a patrol vehicle).  The CHP and Sheriff's Department were also in their cars at the beginning and end of the parade. Some of the younger officers on bikes pedaled past the elementary kids and gave them all high fives.


I loved the fact that kids were hanging dangerously out of the trucks in the parade. They were in the pickup beds, on top of the fire trucks, sitting on the window sills. Since we're so safety conscious now (with good reason!) these kids didn't grow up riding in pick up beds like my generation did. But they had a ball "breaking the rules" for this short time. 


Banned Books Week: Top 10 Challenged Books of 2012

via ala.org

U.S. The Top Ten Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2012 reflects a range of themes and consists of the following titles:
1) Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
2) "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie.
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
3) "Thirteen Reasons Why," by Jay Asher.
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
4) "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E. L. James.
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
5) "And Tango Makes Three," by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
6) "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini.
Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
7) "Looking for Alaska," by John Green.
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
8) Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
9) "The Glass Castle," by Jeanette Walls
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
10) "Beloved," by Toni Morrison
 Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence


Celebrate Your Freedom to Read: Banned Books Week Sept 22-28

It's Banned Books Week, and I am celebrating MY freedom to read by reading Where the Wild Things Are to my kids tonight.

Books are challenged (and sometimes removed from circulation) all over the country every year. While not banned as other countries do, restricting access to ideas has a similar effect. Think your part of the country is immune to these challenges? It happens where you'd least expect.

View Book Bans and Challenges, 2007-2011 in a larger map


TBR Challenge Review: Matthew by Emma Lang

Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: February 2012
Publisher: Brava (Kensington)
Length: 254 pages
FTC: received free from author/pub at RT 2012

I feel like an awful person because I don't like westerns. Sorry, Wendy :(  I just...don't. But since I've been MIA the last few months from the challenge, I decided I was going to stick with this month's theme even if it killed me. Which it came close to doing.

The only westerns I have are ones from the RT conventions. In 2012, they had several western events including a signing and a Western themed Samhain party. Knowing I had those books in my TBR pile somewhere, I went hunting. I managed to find a historical western. With some spice. I didn't think they existed anymore.


Amelia Peabody ReRead Update

Okay, summer is over for most of us. How did you do on your Peabody reread?  *spoilers ahead*

I just finished reading He Shall Thunder in the Sky. That makes 12 of the 19 books I've managed to read. Admittedly, I stalled on some of the books that aren't my favorites. And I skipped River in the Sky, which I'll have to go back to.

Some random observations gleaned from the reread:

For all that Amelia is portrayed as not being maternal, we're given several examples of it throughout the series. But it's not until Ramses is grown that Amelia believes *herself* to be at all maternal. She's pretty hard on herself for not being a worrier, but once Ramses becomes involved in the war effort, she finds herself near tears often, and worrying herself sick.

I still really, REALLY hate the turns taken in The Falcon at the Portal. This is the book I threw against the wall when I first read it at its initial publication in 1999. I mean that literally. I still feel like Nefret's actions are more a device to continue the angst of the romance arc through to another book, rather than a natural reaction based on past actions. She's OLDER than Ramses. She's had medical training. She's smart, savvy, and while impulsive, she's NOT stupid. And her actions in that book are beyond stupid.

He Shall Thunder in the Sky is definitely one of my favorites. It's heartbreaking. It's complex, too, with all of the various POVs we're given through Amelia's journals, Manuscript H, and Nefret's letters to Lia. And Peters did an amazing job setting the stage with the wartime machinations without burying the reader in details. If you want to find out what war was like during World War I outside the trench warfare on the Continent, this is an excellent source. Even if it is fiction.

 I also discovered that I am a sucker for the Sethos books. I didn't realize it until now, but all of the my favorite books are the ones that feature Sethos. Clearly, I like rogues.

I'm continuing the reread through the Fall, because I can't just drop the series midway through. Follow along with the #Peabody tag on Twitter, along with the occasional title of the book I'm reading. 


Hump Day Movie: Back to the Future (1985)

I recently purchased the original trilogy on Blu Ray, because I didn't own a copy. This seemed to be a huge oversight, given how much I love Michael J. Fox.  I hadn't seen this movie since VHS days, so there's a lot I had forgotten.

Things I didn't remember:
Crispin Glover and Huey Lewis are in this movie
Marty's mom is very, VERY forward.  Ew.
This was made in 1985. That's 28 years ago for those who hate math.

Also, there's a ton of jokes that didn't age well. They went completely over my kids' heads because they didn't get the cultural references. This makes me sad.

The kids didn't really enjoy this one, although they did like the 3rd installment. Go figure.


Despicable Me Minion Twinkie Cupcakes

So...I've been promising to make  Despicable Me Minion cupcakes with the boys for the last month. School starts on Wednesday (yeah, don't ask) and it's rainy today. I finally made time for these little cuties.

 I didn't come up with this design...there's a few versions floating around the internet. Most used chocolate sprinkles, which I was inexplicably out of, so I used licorice for the hair instead. The rest is Twinkies, Smarties, black gel icing, frosting, and cupcakes.

I did this the laziest way possible. The cupcakes are made with a mix, the frosting is from a can. The only technique I would pass on is to decorate the Twinkie halves *before* adding them to the cupcakes. Seems obvious, but it took me a cupcake to figure that out. Draw the circles for the eyes with gel, draw the goggle straps, then add the Smarties. Easy!

Looking for more recipes and ideas? Check out my recipes page.


It's County Fair Time Again!

Why hello, there Smokey. In a time-honored tradition for our Fair (insert sarcasm) a dozen wildfires sprouted up the very next day after our parade. No, I'm not kidding. For those long time blog followers, you may remember last year's never-ending fire. These are being attacked much more aggressively, and so far are a tiny fraction of the 75,000 acre monster we endured last autumn.

I have no clue what this even is, but both boys found it hilarious. Like fall-over-laughing funny. Almost as funny as when I shrieked and squealed because I hadn't been paying attention when they fired the anvils. Right. Next. To. Me.

This was the highlight of my fair experience. It's so delightfully corny. Alaskan Racing Pigs (who, incidentally, had Oregon plates). How can you not love tiny little piggies with pun-ny names like Ham Solo or Hog-mione?

But wait! There's more!! I took video, too. Just for you.


Audiobook Review: Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Format: digital download
Length: 15 hrs 6 min
Pub Date: July 30, 2013
Publisher: Recorded Books
Narrator: Renee Raudman

I'm kind of over the whole "Can't wait for xyz book" phase I had when I first started the blog. Don't get me wrong, I love books. I still have my favorites. But with so much overkill on the buzz factor for new books, I've developed a finely tuned filter. Meaning...I don't pay attention. I certainly don't preorder books. This year, I preordered exactly three books: Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs, Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh, and Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews. Both the Briggs and Andrews books I also purchased on audio.

When I first read that Ilona Andrews had gone with a different publisher for the new Kate Daniels audiobook, I was disappointed. I love Recorded Books, but I was attached to Renee Raudman, the narrator for the previous installments. I don't know what magic they employed, but somehow, the publisher managed to snag the same narrator to continue the series. With that news, I was on board to listen to the newest installment.


Barbara Mertz ( aka Barbara Michaels / Elizabeth Peters ) Passes Away at Age 85

Sad news from William Morrow this morning:

It is with great sadness we relay the news that our beloved author, Barbara Mertz, (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters) passed away this morning at the age of 85.
Under her pseudonym as Barbara Michaels she has written twenty-nine novels of suspense. As Elizabeth Peters, she had produced more than 35 mystery-suspense novels, many of them set in Egypt and the Middle East, featuring the intrepid Amelia Peabody. Under her own name, she authored several nonfiction books about ancient Egypt, still in print today.

My Amelia Peabody reread soldiers on, but I'm a little depressed to know that Amelia's adventures are complete. Pith helmets off in respect to this pioneer of both the romance and mystery genres. 


The Flawed Heroine: Amelia Peabody, Racism, and the Modern Historical Romance

Source: Wikipedia/British Museum 

I'm one of those shallow readers who do not really like flawed heroines in my romances. I don't want them Pollyanna perfect, but I also don't want them to be truly unlikeable. And yet...I adore Amelia Peabody.

I've been tweeting my ongoing Amelia Peabody reread the last month or so. A reader on Twitter recently shared that the Amelia Peabody series, or —more specifically— Crocodile on the Sandbank made her uncomfortable because of all of the stereotyping of Egyptians. And then pointed to a novel by Mary Jo Putney as an example of how a historical novel set in the Middle East could avoid that.

I will be honest: The stereotyping in the Peabody series doesn't bother me. Or at least, I can understand why it's there. It serves a purpose.  Aside from the story being told in the first person, a not insignificant difference from most romances, we as readers are supposed to view Amelia as flawed. She's supposed to be irritating, snobby, racist, bossy, and completely self deluded about her own personality flaws. We're supposed to recognize her stereotyped observations of Egyptians and understand that she as a character represents the upper class, British sensibilities of the time.


Yes, Author to Author Blurbs Really Are Worthless

After my last gripey post , I was surprised by the number of responses I received from authors on Twitter.

Sadly, those authors were not objecting to the practice I had been describing as both deceptive and wrong. They were objecting to the notion that author blurbs (those marketable little quotes from fellow authors you see on the covers and on the first few pages) were fake. Or less than genuine. Responses ranged from "I only blurb authors I think my readers will love," to "Just because authors are friends, it doesn't make the blurbs less genuine."


Texas Brownies aka Texas Sheet Cake (Recipe)

This is more traditionally known as Texas Sheet Cake, but the recipe I've always used calls them brownies. It's from a 1988 recipe card from Great American Recipes, one of those companies that used to send you free cards to entice you to subscribe to monthly recipe deliveries. (Which, of course, I never did).

What makes this weird is that most of the prep is done on the stove. There's no creaming of butter for either the cake or the frosting. It has a unique flavor and texture as a result. This is not a gourmet, chocolate aficionado's type of cake. It's a family potluck type of dessert. It's a cake-like brownie (or a brownie-like cake). Very sweet, slightly chocolate-y, and makes a huge pan!  I don't own a 17x11 pan. Mine was 15 x 11 and worked fine. Just adjust the baking time to your pan and test the center with a toothpick. I got 36 brownies from my smaller pan.

Make sure you pour the frosting on while the cake is warm and resist cutting into it while it's still warm. It cuts much more cleanly after it cools.


Is the Author Bio the New Blurb?

When the news broke this week that JK Rowling had secretly published a "quiet" crime novel under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, everyone had something to say about it. Especially me.

Some believed JK Rowling wanted to try her hand at something without the huge burden of expectations that comes from being one of history's most financially successful authors.  Some thought the "discovery" of her alter-ego to be too convenient, as, predictably, the book's sales shot through the roof after the revelation. Some felt deceived that they had read/purchased/critiqued something without realizing who really wrote it.

I have every confidence that Rowling truly wanted to make a fresh start. There's no way she can ever publish anything under her name without having it compared to Harry Potter. There just isn't. Her publisher, on the other hand, may not have been as altruistic. My issue isn't with the pseudonym or keeping that a secret. It's with the falsified biography.


Rice Pudding with Cardamom and Pistachios (Recipe)

Our favorite Indian restaurant used to serve a delicious rice pudding at their lunch buffet, but no longer does. Craving it something fiercely in the epic heat wave we experienced last week, I went on a quest through recipe after recipe online before discovering this very easy preparation at Honeyandjam.com !

No weird ingredients, no fussy preparation. The worst part is waiting for this to chill, although in all honesty...it was delicious warm, too. Next time, I might try stirring in some lemon zest right before serving.

 Rice Pudding with Cardamom and Pistachios
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup basmati rice, rinsed and drained
2 cups milk
1 cup cream
1/4 cup pistachios, shelled and chopped, plus extra for garnish, if desired

1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
2. Stir in the rice, milk and cream. Bring the mixture to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook the rice, uncovered, until very tender, stirring occasionally, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and set the pan aside, uncovered, until the rice cools to room temperature, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. (The pudding will be very soupy at first, but will thicken as the rice continues to absorb the liquid as it cools in the pan.)
4. Stir in the pistachios, then cover and refrigerate the pudding until well chilled. Garnish with extra pistachios if desired. This makes about 3 cups rice pudding.


The Amelia Peabody Summer Re-Read!

Amelia Peabody Book 1
I've been a little disillusioned by the romance genre's offerings lately and decided to try a mystery. Sadly, none of the new mysteries appealed either. Enter, the summer reread. And not just any reread. It's the Amelia Peabody reread.

Beware, if you haven't read these books, they are highly (highly!) addictive. If you have read them, but not recently, don't start your reread unless you're prepared to neglect every other book on your TBR for a few weeks.

There are 19 books set from 1884 to 1922 and written by Elizabeth Peters from 1975 to 2010.  They are a hilarious blend of mystery, romance, family saga, adventure novels, and historical fiction. Set mostly in Egypt, although a few are set outside of it, these books are the (mostly) first person account of Amelia Peabody's life as an Egyptologist during the heyday of Egyptian exploration preceding the discovery of King Tut's tomb.

I'm on the 4th book, but anyone is welcome to read along! I'll be chronicling my adventure mostly on Twitter using the #Peabody hashtag, and occasionally the title of the book I'm currently on. Each book has a self-contained mystery, but the characters age and grow over the course of the series, so reading in order is important! (Completely unrelated, but I adore the titles in this series. They always have some bearing on the story, they are original, and they are easy to remember. Take note, Romancelandia)

The first book is Crocodile on the Sandbank.

The rest of the series (by series order not publication date)
Curse of the Pharaohs
The Mummy Case
The Lion in the Valley
Deeds of the Disturber
The Last Camel Died at Noon
The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog
The Hippopotamus Pool
Seeing a Large Cat
The Ape Who Guards the Balance
Guardian of the Horizon **
A River in the Sky **
Falcon at the Portal***
He Shall Thunder in the Sky
Lord of the Silent
The Golden One
Children of the Storm
The Serpent on the Crown
Tomb of the Golden Bird

**Published out of order as "lost seasons" books. They are shown above in the correct chronological order based on when they are set.
***Huge cliffhanger book. You'll want to have He Shall Thunder in the Sky close at hand.


Recipe: Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes

My husband loves Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It's his favorite cake in the world. I don't make it very often, though. This year, he told me he didn't need a cake for his birthday, and made me promise not to make him one. I, being the stubborn person that I am, nodded in agreement, while deciding that cupcakes were not "a cake" and therefore I was still honoring my promise.

My Google search for a cupcake-sized Pineapple Upside Down Cake resulted in quite a few recipes, surprisingly. The best one I found was from Allrecipes.com 
I made a few minor adjustments*, but was very pleased that they not only turned out well the very first time, but they kept well (refrigerated) through the next day.

Pineapple Upside Down Cupcakes
cooking spray
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
24 maraschino cherries
1 to 2 cans pineapple rings
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix (if you can find pineapple mix, that will work, too)
3 eggs
1 1/3 cups pineapple juice
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Move an oven rack into the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 24 muffin cups with cooking spray. Line a work surface with waxed paper. Spoon 1 teaspoon melted butter into the bottom of each sprayed muffin cup. Spoon 1 tablespoon brown sugar in each muffin cup. Press a maraschino cherry into the center of the brown sugar in each muffin cup. Trim pineapple rings to fit around cherry. It's okay if it covers the cherry slightly.

Mix  cake mix, eggs, pineapple juice, and vegetable oil in a large bowl with electric mixer on low speed until moistened, about 30 seconds. Turn mixer speed to medium and mix for 2 minutes. Pour pineapple cake batter into the muffin cups, filling them to the top; do not overfill.

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Allow cupcakes to cool at least 5 minutes before inverting muffin cups onto the waxed paper to release. Serve with pineapple and cherry sides up.

*Adjustments: The original recipe called for a pineapple cake mix, which neither of my grocery stores carried. The pineapple juice adds plenty of flavor, though, so I think the yellow cake mix worked fine. You can, of course, make the batter from scratch if you prefer. The recipe also called for crushed pineapple, pressed into the top, but I prefer the chew of the rings. And finally, I've omitted the dusting of powdered sugar called for because these are quite sweet all on their own. If the rings or cherries stick, it's easy to pop them out with a plastic fork/knife and rearrange while the cakes are warm. They'll stay put once they've cooled.


Quickie Review: Smart and Sexy by Jill Shalvis

Format: Mass market paperback
Pub Date: 2007, reprinted 2012 with the new cover
Publisher: Kensington
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

This is a reprint of the first in the Sky High series by Jill Shalvis which originally came out in 2007. And while you can get echoes of her now distinctive (and hilarious) voice in it, it does not come close to her more recent works in either characterization or charm.

Part of the problem is that this is an attempt to be both a romantic suspense book and a contemporary romance. Something it doesn't quite accomplish with any real skill. In a series of madcap episodes, the hero and heroine hop in planes and fly hither and yon trying to find hidden money at the heroine's deceased husband's unfinished resort properties.

I found the whole plot a little weird, really. Nothing made sense to me, the motivations and actions of the characters didn't match with who they were supposed to be, and other than an attraction, there didn't seem to be a lot of basis for a relationship between our hero and heroine.

As always, I liked the secondary characters, and the potential is there for the rest of the series (which I have not yet read).  This one just didn't gel for me, but given how excellent Jill's recent books have been, she may have set the bar too high.

My Grade: D

The Blurb:

Noah Fisher has worked for months to make Sky High the most prestigious charter airline in California. He's long overdue for a break - something involving ski slopes, cold beers, and hot ski bunny babes. The itinerary doesn't include being hijacked by Bailey Sinclair, gorgeous widow of one of Sky High's wealthiest (ex-) clients. But here they are, and being crammed in a cockpit with the scared, stubborn, unbelievably sexy former model he's been fantasizing about invokes Superman tendencies that could get Noah in serious trouble. Bailey is desperate to find the stash of money hidden by her conniving, thieving late husband - before the bad guys he owed find her. It's a long shot, but nothing compared to the gamble she's taking by being so close to Noah. Every minute in his company has Bailey thinking about doing crazy, reckless things like touching, grabbing, kissing...and oh wow, being kissed right back.


TBR Challenge Review: Don't Tempt Me by Loretta Chase

Format: Mass market paperback
Pub Date: July 2009
Publisher: Avon
Length: 355 pages
FTC: Picked up at RT Convention '10 or '11

This month's TBR Challenge Theme is Lovely RITA. Meaning any book that has won an RWA Rita award or been nominated for one. I had a Rita winner all picked out, weeks ago, but my house ate it. Or I left it in my husband's pick up. Something. It's disappeared. And then, after scouring my TBR, I realized that it was the ONLY book that precisely fit the theme. Oh well.

I had dozens of books written by Rita winners, though. Most either written immediately before after the author's winning book. Figures. So I ended up picking out a Loretta Chase book. I'm a late-comer to Loretta Chase, having only read Lord of Scoundrels (a Rita winner) a year or so ago. And I wanted to see how she handled what can often to be a problematic theme in Regency stories: the Harem Girl.


Trust and the Reader/Author Relationship

I got my ranty-pants on yesterday, but in an unusual turn of events, it wasn't about authors behaving badly regarding reviews or social media. It was about a publishing, writing, and marketing decision made by Sylvia Day and her publisher Berkley (a division of Penguin).

[To be as transparent as possible, I have not read the series in question. I can only gauge the content from the reader reactions I have seen online.]

In contrast to so many reader flame-ups regarding series direction, authorial choice, quality decline etc. this reader rage-fest was caused by a decision to extend a promised trilogy (the Crossfire books) to a (minimum) of 5 books—and in a less-than-transparent way that caught many readers who pre-ordered by surprise when they reached an abrupt ending in book 3. As of this morning, at least 50% of the readers who left reviews on Amazon are feeling taken advantage of, duped, misled... None of which is good for Sylvia Day's reputation.


Long Weekend In the Redwoods

Hard to believe, but our idea of taking a vacation from the woods was...to travel to a different kind of woods. We traveled across California to the Redwoods. They are spectacular, and the boys had never seen them. Nothing deflates your ego like the majesty of nature at its most gigantic.  When people unfamiliar with the diversity of California think of Cali, they think of So Cal beaches or the high desert riddled with joshua trees. But California, especially Northern California, is so much more.

This is my youngest posing by the root cluster of a downed redwood on the Avenue of the Giants.  They truly are enormous, with most tall AND  wide.

The light is very eery in the redwood forests. It has that damp, ancient quality that calls to mind Bigfoot or dinosaurs. You can find both here, as towns celebrating the Bigfoot legend proliferate and one of the Jurassic Park movies was partially filmed in Fern Canyon.

I wish I had taken a picture of the road condition sign we passed, because it was hysterical. In the Sierras, we have a short range broadcast on 1610 am for snow closures. In Humboldt county, they tune to the same station for elk reports. These stately, and LARGE, creatures know they're protected here. They dallied in the roadway for several minutes before ambling over to their rest area.

This is Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, CA. I was surprised by the size of Crescent City, because I'd always heard it was "quaint." It's significantly bigger than our town, though, and smack in the damage zone for tsunamis, having been hit twice before.

The boys were great. No one got carsick, although my youngest did complain that he had a case of terminal travel butt. California is a big, big state, but I'm glad we were able to make the trek to the ocean. Camping, alas, holds no appeal when we live in the woods.

Did you go anywhere on over Memorial Day?


Review: The Importance of Being Wicked by Victoria Alexander

Format: mass market paperback
Publisher: Kensington
Pub Date: February
Length: 358 pages
FTC: Review copy courtesy of the publisher

I used to love Victoria Alexander's books, but something has changed in the last few years. She's changed publishers, for one. And many of her books have been released in hardcover first. Not something I'm a fan of. The Importance of Being Wicked is a mass market original, though. Even if the title is ripping off the classic one The Importance of Being Earnest. (Romance community, I am BEGGING you to stop borrowing titles and tweaking them for your use. I hate hate hate it.)

The last few books she's put out just haven't worked for me. Which is sad, because the The Marriage Lesson and The Wedding Bargain are two of my favorite romance books. But I couldn't even finish this book's predecessor, What Happens At Christmas, after requesting it from Netgalley. I hate abandoning books midway through, but when I do, it's because I've lost interest.  I'd almost rather a truly bad book to one that leaves me indifferent.


Gone Fishin'

It's that time of year. Still cool enough to be outdoors, not warm enough for the bugs to eat you alive. Perfect fishing weather. And by that I mean watching the Hubs and the boys fish while I a) read or b) take pictures.

It's an unusually warm spring here. We normally are still getting snow into May. But the fish seem pretty sure that the warm weather is here to stay. They're a full month early on where they're being caught. At least according to our local newspaper. At this rate, we'll be out of wildflower season by early June. *sad face* Usually we can count on all kinds of flowers straight through until the snow hits in October. I even like the flowery weeds.

While my youngest and I sat quietly waiting for a fish to nibble on the worm-filled hook on his fishing pole, a family of geese swam by. I admit, I'm a little jealous of his sense of wonder. He got nearly as much enjoyment out of watching the geese as he did from catching two small rainbow trout.