Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: Cookie Swap!

Cookie Swap! by Lauren Chattman

Source:  Review copy provided by the publisher via BEA

Rating:  4/5


Ideal for these thrifty, DIY times Cookie Swap! is an idea-packed, fun-filled, slightly sassy guide for everyone who wants in on the latest entertaining trend: cookie swaps! It outlines all the basics for planning and hosting a cookie exchange, as well as loads of extras: the rules of the swap; cookie swap math; swap-party themes; invitations; games; decorating and baking tips; essential equipment and pantry items; and more. And of course it features more than 60 delectable, foolproof recipes (and dozens of variations) for cookies of every sort, from simple drop cookies like Classic Peanut Butter Cookies and Hazelnut Espresso Chip Cookies to sophisticated sweets like Flaky Cardamom Palmiers and Green Tea Sandwich Cookies with Almond Cream. There are plenty of options, too, for people who prefer their cookies on the savory side, have special dietary needs, or who'd rather do their "baking" without turning on the oven. A full-color gatefold shows the cookies in all their tempting, swap-table splendor. (Goodreads synopsis)


My Thoughts:
While I'm not much of a cook due to lack of interest, I've always loved baking and my all-time favorite project has always been cookies! Cookies can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, and are always welcome no matter what the occasion!

I was pleasantly surprised when this book showed up in my mailbox, as I had forgotten I'd left my card with the publisher at BEA. I had left my card with several publishers, but Workman Publishing is the only one to have kept their promise of sending me a review copy. Yea Workman!

This title arrived at a perfect time, as I was able to try some of the recipes in time for Thanksgiving. Received nothing but rave reviews, and the recipes I tried were all easy to make! I'm a big fan of drop cookies, but this book also offers recipes for sandwich cookies, bar cookies, pastry cookies, biscotti, and shaped cookies. There's even a section on cookies for special diets (nut-free, wheat-free, sugar-free), which is a great addition.

Each recipe has a picture of the finished product, a list of ingredients, simple to follow directions, and some even offer variations. For instance, I've been making chocolate chip cookies for years, but never thought to add cinnamon and cayenne pepper to spice things up! Can't wait to see the reactions to that cookie!

All in all I think this is a great book for the cookie-lover! Loads of great recipes as well as helpful advice for hosting a cookie swap of your very own. There's even a countdown checklist to help you prepare for the cookie swap. Very helpful! So if you love to bake cookies, I think you'll love this book! Think I'll try the molasses raisin recipe next....


Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Review: Moonlight Mile

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Source:  Review copy received from the publisher

Rating:  4/5

Amanda McCready was four years old when she vanished from a Boston neighborhood twelve years ago. Desperate pleas for help from the child's aunt led investigators Kenzie and Gennaro to take on the case. The pair risked everything to find the young girl - only to orchestrate her return to a neglectful mother and a broken home. Now Amanda is sixteen - and gone again... In their desperate fight to confront the past and find Amanda McCready, Kenzie and Gennaro will be forced to question if it's possible to do the wrong thing and still be right or to do the right thing and still be wrong. As they face an evil that goes beyond broken families and broken dreams, they discover that the sins of yesterday don't always stay buried and the crimes of today could end their lives. (Goodreads synopsis)

My Thoughts:
This book is a sequel of sorts to Gone Baby Gone, which I read several years ago. That book stayed with me, so I was anxious to find out what happened to little Amanda, who is now sixteen. Life hasn't been easy for Amanda or her aunt, but at least they had each other. So when Amanda disappears again, it's Aunt Bea who calls on Angie and Patrick to find Amanda once again, and how can they say no? Well, Patrick does say no at first, but you know he'll eventually change his mind, as the original case has haunted him all these years.

Angie and Patrick have been out of the game for awhile, so they've gotten a little soft. Thank goodness they still have Bubba to watch their backs! And they need him, as Amanda's mother has been associating with some pretty shady characters. The odds were stacked against Amanda and she probably should have wound up a loser like her mom, but from what Patrick can piece together, she's turned out pretty well. But why would a girl with such a bright future disappear? And why do so many "bad guys" want Patrick to back off?

This story goes a few places I didn't expect, but it's still believable. The writing is as excellent as always, as Lehane is very talented. Good pacing and good characters make this a great read! I was happy to see Angie and Patrick again and hope Lehane doesn't keep them retired, as they make a great couple!


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge 2011

Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge
I find challenges hard to resist and have mixed results with the ones I sign up for. Had really high hopes for completing the 100+ Reading Challenge this year, but am sad to say I've only read 82 books. Here it is the end of November, and I can't really see myself finishing 18 more by the end of the year. :(

While I have read more this year than I did in 2009, I'm setting myself the goal of completing the full 100 in 2011! Since J.Kaye is no longer hosting the 100+ Challenge, I was very excited to find this cool Outdo Yourself challenge hosted by The Book Vixen! Looks pretty straightforward, and I am determined to succeed!


Details:

•Runs January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011 (books read prior to 1/1/11 do not count towards the challenge). You can join at anytime. You can sign up on The Book Vixen’s blog.
•The goal is to outdo yourself by reading more books in 2011 than you did in 2010. See the different levels below and pick the one that works best for you. Nothing is set in stone; you can change levels at any time during the challenge.
•Books can be any format (bound, eBook, audio).
•Re-reads and crossovers from other reading challenges are fine.
•You can list your books in advance or list them as you read them. It is not required that you review the books you read for this challenge but feel free to do so.
•Post this reading challenge on your blog so you can keep a list of the books you’ve read for this challenge. •You do not have to be a book blogger to participate. You can keep tabs on books you’ve read for this challenge on Goodreads or LibraryThing if you’d like (maybe make a shelf for “Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge”).

Levels:

Getting my heart rate up – Read 1–5 more books
Out of breath – Read 6–10 more books
Breaking a sweat – Read 11–15 more books
I’m on fire! – Read 16+ more books

I'm going for the I'm on Fire! level, as that will take me to my goal of 100 books read. Wish me luck!


Saturday, November 27, 2010

CSN Holiday Giveaway


Well, it's officially the start of the holiday season. Some of you may tremble in fear at the thought of braving the crowds in your quest for the Perfect Present, but never fear, CSN to the rescue! With over 200 online stores, you're sure to find just the right gift for everyone on your list!

CSN offers everything from holiday decorations to pet beds to leather messenger bags to book lights! Yes, all of these are on my holiday wishlist, and I'll be making some of my friends and family very happy thanks to CSN!

The wonderful folks at CSN have very generously offered a $100 online gift certificate for one of my lucky readers! What a great gift for the holidays! Treat yourself to something special or spread the love around, it's up to you!

How do you enter, you ask? Easy! Just fill out the form below and you're good to go! Want extra entries? Leave a comment on this post stating what you would buy from CSN with the $100. Another extra entry for leaving a comment on any post from November 1st to December 5th (not counting this one). Has to be an actual comment about the post content, not a generic comment. Want to comment on more than one post? More than one entry is fine, but multiple comments on the same post won't count.




The small print:
*Open to US mailing addresses only
*Must be at least 13 years old (or have parental permission) to enter
*One extra entry per comment
*Extra entry comments must be relevent to the post, and multiple comments on the same post will be discarded
*Entries will be accepted through Sunday, December 5th, 2010, 11:59PM EST
*The winning name will be picked using a random number generator
*All entries must be submitted using the form on this post. You MUST include your email address, as this is how the winner will be contacted
*The winner will be announced and contacted via email no later than Tuesday, December 7th, 2010, and will have 48 hours to respond. Should they fail to respond, a new winner will be chosen.
*Winning $100 gift certificate supplied in the form of an online promotional code


Good luck!


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cat Thursday (27)

Welcome to Cat Thursday, hosted by Michelle at The True Book Addict! Cat Thursday is a way to highlight pictures of cats, little tidbits about what our kitties are up to, or any snippets about cats we've come across. Love cats and love funny pictures, so wanted to share my latest find with you!




Happy Thanksgiving!



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book Review: Bleak History

Bleak History by John Shirley

Source:  Review copy provided by the publisher

Rating:  4/5

As far as Gabriel Bleak is concerned, talking to the dead is just another way of making a living. It gives him the competitive edge to survive as a bounty hunter, or "skip tracer," in the psychic minefield known as New York City. Unfortunately, his gift also makes him a prime target. A top-secret division of Homeland Security has been monitoring the recent emergence of human supernaturals, with Gabriel Bleak being the strongest on record. If they control Gabriel, they'll gain access to the Hidden -- the entity-based energy field that connects all life on Earth. But Gabriel's got other ideas. With a growing underground movement called the Shadow Community -- and an uneasy alliance of spirits, elementals, and other beings -- Gabriel's about to face the greatest demonic uprising since the Dark Ages. But this time, history is not going to repeat itself. This time, the future is Bleak. Gabriel Bleak. (Goodreads synopsis)


My Thoughts:
The whole idea of this book really appealed to me. I like the thought of using ghosts and supernatural powers to help locate bail jumpers. And Gabriel Bleak is one of those characters that could use the extra edge his abilities give him, as his life hasn't been easy.

Bleak is a bounty hunter who doesn't do well with authority, which is why he's no longer in the military and is doing his best to stay out of the clutches of CAA, a secret government agency. Any time a secret government agency is involved, you know they're up to no good! The CAA is no exception, as they want to use anyone with special abilities to advance their own agenda. Or should I say "misuse", because the people they've detained are basically prisoners with no say in how they use their abilities. CAA may have started out with a noble purpose, but it's been twisted and corrupted by evil.

Really enjoyed this story! I liked Gabriel and Loraine, the CAA agent sent to capture him. Didn't like several of the bad guys, which makes sense since they're, well, bad guys. Thought the plot was good, the story was well-paced, good action, things made sense, and the ending left me wanting more. Shirley is a talented writer, and I'm definitely going to check out his other books as I liked this one so much!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Book Review: Zombies vs. Unicorns

Zombies vs. Unicorns Anthology

Source:  Borrowed from Library

Rating:  4/5

It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

My Thoughts:
After careful review of all of these stories and despite a strong showing by Team Zombie, I proudly declare myself Team Unicorn! This collection proves once and for all that unicorns are not sparkly, cuddly and girly, but are awesome! And BTW, killer unicorns rock!

This was a strong collection of short stories with either a zombie or unicorn theme. Loved the little introductions at the beginning of each story, where Holly and Justine made their pro-zombie/pro-unicorn arguements. Nice touch, and very funny!

The stories alternate between zombie and unicorn, and there's a helpful icon above each title in case you want to read only one theme. But even if you're firmly in one camp or the other, I think you'll miss out if you don't read all of the stories, as there are some real winners in this collection!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Secret Santa Mania!


Despite the crazy traffic and all the stress involved, I've always enjoyed the Christmas holidays. And one of my favorite activities is the Secret Santa exchange! I've participated in Secret Santas at school, bowling leagues, and various jobs, so was really disappointed that I missed the blogosphere version last year. I was determined to participate this time around! So what do I do? I got so caught up in work that I almost missed it again! :o  

Luckily, I have some blogging buddies who are more on the ball than I've been lately, and they gave me the heads up on several gift exchanges out there.


Have to admit that I got a little nervous when the first few blogs I went to had already closed their sign ups, but was able to sneak in under the wire for three awesome Secret Santa-type exchanges! And I'm excited because when I checked my email yesterday, I have my Secret Santa assignments! I've already visited their blogs, and all three look like awesome bloggers!



Am really looking forward to shopping for my book blogging giftees! Don't really like shopping in general, but I LOVE shopping for books! And if a few things accidentally slip into the stack with my name on them, well....accidents happen.  :)

The only thing I haven't decided is whether I should stay anonymous or not. What do you think? Should Secret Santas stay a secret? Or is it more fun to make new friends after spilling the beans?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Book Review: Bound by Antonya Nelson

Bound by Antonya Nelson

Source:  ARC provided by publisher at BEA

Rating:  3/5

Antonya Nelson is known for her razor-sharp depictions of contemporary family life in all of its sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious complexity. Her latest novel has roots in her own youth in Wichita, in the neighborhood stalked by the serial killer known as BTK (Bind, Torture, and Kill). A story of wayward love and lost memory, of public and private lives twisting out of control, Bound is Nelson's most accomplished and emotionally riveting work. (Goodreads)

My Thoughts:
This book was very highly recommended to me at BEA. I'm always looking for a story that grabs me by the throat and won't let go, so was looking forward to reading this "guaranteed awesome" book! My verdict? Not bad, but not awesome either.

The story followed several different characters and, as I read the majority of it during my lunch hour, it was a little confusing at times to keep track of everyone. Would have probably been easier if I'd read it straight through, but who has time to do that nowadays?

Catherine and Oliver are a married couple, and I think they're supposed to be the main characters. There's also Catherine's mother, Catherine's childhood friend and her daughter, Oliver's children and ex-wives, Oliver's mistress, and another woman who I didn't figure out how she fit into the mix until the end of the book.  All in all, a little confusing.

The book starts off with Catherine's childhood friend dying in a car accident, and the ripple effects from the accident are felt by all of the other characters. Can't say that I really cared for any of the characters, as they were all a little unlikable. Not unlikable like evil bad guys, just unlikable as in flawed and/or weak. I think I liked the orphaned teenager Cattie the most, as she seemed the only one to have a backbone and any character.

Gave this one a 3/5 as it was okay, just wasn't for me. Nelson is a talented writer and I had no complaints about the story structure or pacing or anything, I just didn't care for the characters or the plot. Think someone else might enjoy this more than I did, and I believe the publishing agent I spoke with at BEA genuinely enjoyed the story and wasn't just trying to push her product.

Would be curious to hear your views if you've read this one.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

In My Mailbox (58)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. I've included links to Goodreads if you want more information on the book.

For Review:
Received an ARC of The Youngest Templar: Orphan of Destiny by Michael P. Spradlin from Media Masters Publicity. It's book 3 of a series that I haven't read, but it looks interesting. And characters named Robard Hode and Maryam? Couldn't resist!

Tristan and his companions - the fiery archer Robard Hode and the assassin maid Maryam - have escaped to England. But tragedy has occurred to Tristan's beloved abbey while they were on the Third Crusade, and Robard's home in Sherwood Forest suffers under the rule of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Many obstacles still prevent them from delivering the Holy Grail into safe hands. Tristan must defeat the evil Sir Hugh in one final battle. And he must learn the secret of his birth, a secret Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine are willing to kill to protect!


What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review: Dying to Live


Dying to Live by Kim Paffenroth

Source:  Review copy provided by the publisher

Rating:  5/5

Jonah Caine, a lone survivor in a zombie-infested world, struggles to understand the apocalypse in which he lives. Unable to find a moral or sane reason for the horror that surrounds him, he is overwhelmed by violence and insignificance.

After wandering for months, Jonah's lonely existence dramatically changes when he discovers a group of survivors. Living in a museum-turned-compound, they are led jointly by Jack, an ever-practical and efficient military man, and Milton, a mysterious, quizzical prophet who holds a strange power over the dead. Both leaders share Jonah's anguish over the brutality of their world, as well as his hope for its beauty. Together with others, they build a community that reestablishes an island of order and humanity surrounded by relentless ghouls. But this newfound peace is short-lived, as Jonah and his band of refugees clash with another group of survivors who remind them that the undead are not the only - nor the most grotesque - horrors they must face. (Goodreads synopsis)


My Thoughts:
This story grabbed me from the first page, and then wouldn't let go! The action starts right away, without any explanation or prologue. Just as well, because most prologues are usually pretty useless. It was like joining a program already in progress, but the author does it in such a way that I never felt confused or lost but instead was hooked and couldn't wait to find out what happened next!

The main character is Jonah Caine, a survivor wandering the country after failing to find any sign of his family. We eventually discover that Jonah was away from home when the zombie outbreak first happened, and he left his safe haven to try to find his family. I really liked how the author didn't feel the need to over-explain or simplify anything, and seemed to assume that we were smart enough to figure certain things out on our own. Thank you! I get so tired of some authors interrupting the story to explain things as though everyone is an idiot.

Gave this one a 5/5 rating because I kept reading just-one-more-chapter until suddenly it was past midnight and I had to go to work the next day. But I finished the book, so it was worth it! Love it when a story pulls you in and you lose track of time! Is this the best written book this year? No, but it's definitely worth reading! I'm not a huge zombie fan, but am starting to warm up to them. And this book was more about the human survivors than the zombies themselves. And the real monsters in the book weren't even zombies, but fellow humans. That scared me more than the thought of being eaten alive!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Review: Blood Lite II: Overbite

Blood Lite II: Overbite Anthology edited by Kevin J. Anderson

Source:  Review copy received from the publisher

Rating:  4/5

From the Horror Writers Association comes a brand-new collection of darkly humorous tales! The Big Questions of Life (and Death)...

Can a killer’s basement blood-feast be a tax write-off (under Entertainment)? Not if Vlad the IRS agent nails him first in Heather Graham’s "Death and Taxes." What does a pack of hungry she-wolves do to solve their man troubles? Ladies Night Out takes a wicked turn in "Dog Tired (of the Drama!)" by L. A. Banks. How far will an elite call girl go to beat a murder rap? Stuck with a dead client in a luxury L.A. hotel room, she might strike a costly bargain with a woman of unearthly powers in Allison Brennan’s "Her Lucky Day."  Who actually writes those tabloid stories about Bigfoot? Meet a journalist of the unexplained (she’s 50 percent demon) and her boyfriend (he’s 100 percent thief), as they heat up a museum exhibition that’s also a soul-snatching battleground in "Lucifer’s Daughter" by Kelley Armstrong. (Goodreads synopsis)

My Thoughts:
Another great anthology, this time from the Horror Writers Association. The theme for this anthology is dark humor, which is one of my favorites! Dark humor can make even a horrifying subject enjoyable, and some of these stories are so dark that they border on twisted!

Don't think there's a weak story in this collection, but some of them just aren't my taste. I can still appreciate them though, so think this is a great collection! My favorites are Dark Carbuncle by Kevin J Anderson and Janis Ian (a rock & roll singer's worst nightmare); Tails by John R Little (I always wanted a tail!); and A Wing and a Prayer by Sharyn McCrumb (college dean appoints an unusual dept chairman). And we get a great story featuring Hope and Karl from the wonderful Kelley Armstrong! While Clay and Elena are my favorites, Hope and Karl are pretty good too.

So if you want a taste of some darkly humorous tales, then I can highly recommend this collection! There's a little bit of everything in this anthology, so you're sure to find something you like!



Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cat Thursday (26)

Welcome to Cat Thursday, hosted by Michelle at The True Book Addict! Cat Thursday is a way to highlight pictures of cats, little tidbits about what our kitties are up to, or any snippets about cats we've come across. Love cats and love funny pictures, so wanted to share my latest find with you!


This is what my front yard looks like! Without the cute kitty of course... Love all the Fall colors, but hate raking leaves. :(


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review: The Twisted Path Home

The Twisted Path Home by Fae Bidgoli

Source:  Review copy received from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists

Rating:  3/5

It is 1991. Arezoo, an Iranian woman, is living in Berkeley, California with her second husband Robert, and working as a university professor. Recurring, terrifying dreams of eminent death lead her into therapy with a widely respected psychotherapist. As her memories unfold during therapy sessions, she flashes back to painful memories of her first marriage to Afshin, an Iranian man. Still, the dreams continue, prompting Arezoo to try hypnosis. Arezoo's life takes an unexpected turn under hypnosis and she begins to channel the dramatic life story of Sogand, a woman who lived in a village in Persia (now Iran) in the late 1800's. This seemingly inexplicable experience, and her sudden, intimate knowledge of Sogand's identity leads Arezoo back to Iran after many years in America. Through this woman's history Arezoo makes some life changing discoveries - key to both her past and her ex-husband's tortured, secret life. (Goodread synopsis)


My Thoughts:
Lately, I've found books about reincarnation hard to resist and I'm always on the lookout for new ones. I like the whole idea of reincarnation, but haven't made up my mind about the subject yet. So when I was offered the opportunity to review this story of an Iranian woman who may be the reincarnation of a Persian girl, I was happy to agree!

The story gives us glimpses into Sogand's life, but mainly deals with Arezoo, a modern woman living in America. After a traumatic early marriage, Arezoo has settled down with a good job and a happy second marriage, yet is troubled by horrible nightmares. Trying to find a resolution, she faces the dawning realization that she could be the reincarnation of a child bride from the 1800s.

Overall, this was an okay story. Some parts were rather dry, and the language was stilted at times. There was no mention of this story being translated, so I'm assuming it's because English is not the author's native tongue. Even with the stilted language, it was still interesting enough for me to want to finish the book.



Monday, November 1, 2010

CSN - If you want it, if you need it, they'll have it!

For anyone not familiar with CSN, it's a website with over 200 different specialty stores that carry everything from bar furniture to luggage to rugs to bookcases (a personal favorite!). I can spend hours browsing through their different stores, and am the satisfied owner of several CSN items!

Just a few weeks ago, I received a new bookcase from CSN. This is my second bookcase from CSN and, while they couldn't be more different (metal vs wood), they're awesome! They're both very sturdy, good looking, and hold tons of books for me!

My cat is also very happy with CSN, as I've bought her a few scratching posts and cat scratchers from their stores. She's happy because she loves scratching posts, and I'm happy because I don't have to worry about her damaging anything. It's a win-win!

CSN contacted me recently and offered me a great opportunity to review one of their items. As I'm still basking in the glow of my newest bookcase, I thought I would spread a little CSN love around and hold a contest instead. So keep your eyes peeled for a contest announcement, and get ready to discover the wonders of CSN!