September 30, 2013

Promise From A Cowboy by C.J. Carmichael

You would expect grown men to have a little more sense. Especially if they're trying harder to be responsible. But in this 3rd book of the Coffee Creek Montana series, common sense is hard to find. And being that it's the 3rd book, I'd highly recommend reading the series in order if you want to understand the characters, although it isn't entirely necessary.

B.J. Lambert has decided that the rodeo just doesn't hold the draw for him it used to. In fact, the sheriff from his hometown has more appeal. But then again, she always has for him. But it's a shame she doesn't trust him because of an unfortunately fire that involved him and her brother as youths. Because of that, and the new evidence found in it, he may find that Sheriff Savannah will never be willing to have feelings for him.

B.J. is infuriating. He tries to hold back things on the pretense of not hurting someone, even when they tell him the truth would make them feel better. It makes absolutely no sense and is just used to drive the plot. I quickly became disgusted with his character and would not have seen him the way that Savannah does. Savannah herself is a pretty strong woman. She has to be, to be the sheriff, so that too baffles me why she would fall for someone who's obviously not up to her standards. I was relieved to see the mother drama of the Lambert clan was toned down a bit. I don't like the woman, and that's probably the intent of the book, but it makes me want to skip over the parts that mention her.

The fact that a poor decision on keeping the truth is what drives this plot makes this one of the weaker ones in the series. Sure it moves along at a good pace and more loose ends in the Lambert family are tied up, but I've come to expect better from the series. Since they have a great setting (Montana) and cowboy characters, there's some good ingredients in the mix. It's not a bad book, but it certainly isn't one of the better ones in the series. And for the romance aspect of it, it's all pretty mild, so if you don't like graphic sex scenes, this would probably be a series right up your alley.

I'm eager to see what the fourth and final book will bring. Hopefully it will be better than this one.

Promise From a Cowboy
Copyright 2013
216 pages

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Ugh. I just could not get through this book easily. It took me forever because I would use any excuse to put it down and not read anymore. Which is never a good way to read through a book.

Sai has been brought up by her grandfather after her parents are killed. He is a distant man, whose only love appears to be his dog and Sai's main companions are the cook and the elderly sisters who see to her education. The cook has a son in America, who is struggling to make ends meet and achieve the greatness he believes can be found there. And then Sai has another tutor as she grows, a young man she is fond of who is to help her with physics. But he is pretty lost himself.

There are a lot of people to keep track of in this book. And sadly, I didn't really care about any of them. Not even Sai, who is one of the more sympathetic characters in the book. The judge, I found almost useless, even though everything seemed to revolve around him. His forays into his past didn't add anything for me and I couldn't even hate him despite his violence and apathy. Because he just didn't matter that much. The rest of the characters had briefer histories and not a lot of time, excepting the cook and his son Biju. But again, those felt more like interruptions of the book rather than part of the story.

Maybe it was all of the apathy. Maybe it was just the plot not really meandering anywhere. But this book was very hard to sink into. The language was nice enough. Desai definitely has a unique voice. But instead of making a book that I could care about, she just uses pretty language to talk about people that aren't that interesting. And while she does introduce a lot of political elements into the book, they felt forced and nobody has a positive description. From Americans, to Europeans, to Indians, nobody seems to have admirable traits in this book. I realize it's just a story of people struggling to get by, but if I wanted bad news with people I'm disconnected to, I'd just turn on the news. When I read a book I want to be able to understand the characters and feel for them.

Maybe I'm too picky, but this wasn't for me. I can't even really judge who this would be a good book for, but I'm sure someone out there likes it.

The Inheritance of Loss
Copyright 2006
324 pages

September 28, 2013

Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives by Guy Fieri and Ann Volkwein

I love the FoodNetwork show that this cookbook is based off of. Seriously, I practically worship it and Guy Fieri and make it a point to go to all the places I can that have been featured on the show. Which means, that when this book came out, it of course had to go on my shelf. But now, I've owned it a few years, and have still rarely selected it as a go-to cookbook. But I'm still obsessed with the show.

For those not familiar with Guy Fieri or Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, it's a show where chef Fieri drives around America looking for those places to eat that only the locals known about. These can be roadside stops to hole in the wall diners. But the thing they all have in common is delicious food you can't get enough of. Sometimes this food is as innovative as Captain Crunch French Toast (a recipe in this book) or as simple as a burger cooked right. This book, in addition to having some recipes either from the locations or loosely based off of some of the recipes, has small snippets about the different places the crew went, little blurbs written by Guy, and an introduction to the team that films the show.

The book itself is separated into regions (i.e. Northeast, South, etc.) but if you're looking for a specific type of food, there's a glossary in the back that separates them out with page numbers according to the meal type. Then, in the regions, we are introduced to the place without about a page of description on the location, maybe a picture, and then however many recipes are being offered for the location. Unfortunately none of the pictures are in color though. I would have paid more for this book for color photographs.

I've tried about twelve of the recipes in this book. The first of course (going in order of the book pages) was the American Chop Suey. I pasta and hamburger dish that was tasty, especially when you added cheese to it. It made a lot though, so prepare to eat leftovers! The Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese was very filling and had a thick sauce with a rich taste. The Beef Brisket from MoGridder's was ok. I made the seasoning and sauce that went with it, but they were both pretty standard and nothing any better than what I get on a grocery store shelf. Pete's Rubbed and Almost Fried Turkey was very salty. And I have to warn, this should probably be done outside, even if it is just a breast, because most kitchen's exhaust systems won't be able to handle it. The InCrusted Dolphin Sandwich from Scully's Tavern had a nice crunch to it. And you could bake instead of fry if you want to. A local haunt near where I live, The Penguin, offered up some pimento cheese. It did not taste the same as at the restaurant and had too much mayo. Although admittedly there has been change in ownership since the show filmed so that could account for the variance of taste as well.

Probably some of the best recipes in this book were the pies. Both the Coconut Cream and the Black-Bottom were delicious and easy to make. And in case of the Black Bottom Pie, it was very impressive looking. Because I can't pass up a Mac & Cheese recipe, I also tried Smoque's version. It wasn't bad, and I did enjoy the breaded topping. Unfortunately Mom's Meatloaf wasn't near as good. It was plainer than a lot of other meatloaf recipes I've come across. I also had a lot of trouble with the Hodad's Bacon Cheeseburger. My bacon patties just wouldn't stay together. And the Squeeze burger is definitely better made on a flap top. A regular home cook just won't be able to replicate it easily. The Greek Money Meatballs were also nothing special but they were filling. The pollo guisado was way too spicy for me. I couldn't handle it. And I'm very glad that I didn't add water to the sauce, because it was watery enough without adding it.

So overall the recipes were a mix of good and bad. I think this book is more useful as a guide to the different places Guy visits rather than a cookbook. There are some decent recipes but really, they aren't the ones from the show and some make you scratch your head wondering where they came from as they were dishes not even mentioned at the various places. I'd rather cook Guy's original food (which you know is the exact recipe you're seeing on tv) than have fake copies of the ones off of DDD. And a lot of the recipes are more appropriate for a restaurant setting as they use a myriad of different ingredients and would be expensive for a standard sit down meal at home.

I think if you approach this book for the stories you'll be more content than thinking of it as a cookbook. But since it advertises itself as "with recipes" it's hard to align yourself to that sort of thinking. Maybe with some color photos and a few better recipes this could have been something amazing. But hey, there's a second book (and maybe even a third at the time of writing this review) that may be worth taking a look at! For now though, I'll consider this book merely average compared to the brilliance of the show.

September 25, 2013

Not In Kansas Anymore by Christine Wicker

I wanted to give this book five stars just because the author used the word "kairos" in it. But sadly I had to actually review it on all of its merits, not just the particular use of a word. And having read Wicker's "Lily Dale" I had high expectations going into this book that just weren't fulfilled.

Not In Kansas Anymore attempts to explain how magic is invading America (or maybe already has been completely submersed in the culture). Wicker travels around the country attending parties of vampires, meetings of hoodooists, ceremonies of Wiccans and talking to people who have some kind of belief in magic, magical beings, or spiritualism outside of the realm of mainstream religions. Throughout the book she intersperses history telling the tale of the founder of Wicca, several notable historical figures who dabbled in alchemy or other magical pursuits, and the persecution of those associated with magic. But in reality, most of this book read like a memoir telling of Wicker's own experiences and her feelings towards the different types of magic.

This book is Wicker-centric. That means she is telling you how she feels about the magic and how she experiences it. While at the same time telling you she's a skeptic and doesn't believe anything about it. Since I thought this was going to be more following her line of work as a journalist, it wasn't something I expected because I figured she'd just report on what she observed and not inflict her own bias on the information. She also seeks out some really strange characters in all of these magical realms. It's not the everyday people that you would actually be curious about how they like magic, but rather the ones that dress in full goth or parade themselves as magical beings. I more wanted to hear about the secretive ones. Still, she does get some good stories out of these outrageous people.

This book didn't change any of my thoughts on magic, spiritualism and other such things. Since I read it as a memoir and history book it just didn't provide evidence for me one way or the other because I wasn't sure of the validity of the narrator. The writing in this book was very choppy compared to some of her other works too. It bounced all over the place. Instead of being laid out in chapters such as "Hoodoo", "Vampires", etc. it was laid out in themes such as "Weird Looking People" or "Werewolves Just Want To Have Fun." Ok, so those sound like they are about a specific thing, but really hoodoo pops up in nearly every chapter as does Wicca and a few other things. There's no streamlining too it and it's disorienting. I would have preferred she separate her subject so we don't get used to reading about one thing, then start reading about another, and then all of a sudden we're back to the first thing again. And the subtitle of the book "A Curious Tale of How Magic Is Transforming America" is a bit misleading because it had more history and things that happened in previous decades than what is going on in the more recent decades (aside from Wicker's own experiences that is).

Lily Dale was a great book. This one was not. I can't say that I enjoyed it very much and I was really hoping too as the premise sounded intriguing. It won't put me off of Wicker's books entirely, but I really hope any future ones are more written like Lily Dale than Not In Kansas Anymore.

Not In Kansas Anymore
Copyright 2005
264 pages + sources

September 24, 2013

A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova

Ok, we're going to ignore the fact that I thought this was a food memoir because of its cover. That's what I get for not actually reading the description. But I like regular memoirs too, so that wasn't a deal breaker for me. And this one, a tale of growing up in Russia, has some very interesting memories in it.

Elena Gorokhova was born to a Physician mother and her third husband. Her mother, having gone into the medical field as it was deemed a reliable profession, has a series of unfortunate marriages which results in two kids. Elena, and her sister Marina. Elena grows up in a typical Russian household (not quite peasant but not the highest class of society either) and from an early age has an interest in the English language. This combined with her sister's desired profession of acting provides her mother with quite a few fits as she'd rather have them be in the medical field or engineers. Still, they follow their dreams and Elena follow the path of learning English only to have it present her opportunities that might not have existed otherwise.

Since this is a memoir we get Elena's opinions on all her family with her bias. Her sister, she obviously adored and admired, I can't recall too much bad being said about her. Elena definitely seemed to look up to her. Her mother, she was a bit harsh on. Several times in the book she mentions wanting to get away from her mother, but yet I don't feel as if we ever had the reason fully explained. She didn't agree with some of Elena's choices, but no huge fights or other disagreements are shown to back up that relationship. Regardless, her mother sounds like a wonderful woman and accomplished a lot with her life. I found her part of the book the best. Elena's father was a bit more distant but he seemed doting and despite not really wanting kids, he clearly loved Elena. Other people move in and out of her life and appear in stories, but aren't given the kind of description her immediate family is. Excepting one marvelous uncle that she meets on vacation.

As a memoir, this one is fairly standard. The author has a different spin because she grew up in Russia, so to an American reader there is a lot of interest and difference when compared to growing up anywhere else. Just the thought of queuing up for toilet paper is amazing to me, but it was a reality for Elena. But she does spare a lot of the troubling aspects and focuses more on funny stories about teaching English or her vacation near Turkey, or random things like that. The history and Russian politics is more told through her mother's story, which is a shorter part of the book. Despite having all these different aspects though, I found the pace of the book kind of slow. The stories, while showing Elena's life, stretched on a bit too much and could have been made more concise. It wasn't that I wasn't interested in them. I was in the beginning, but when they stretched into describing different kinds of alcohol and other random details, it lost my attention a bit. And I wish we would have had a little more than the short epilogue on her adjustment to life in America. You can definitely tell that she studied English extensively though, in my opinion, this book is flawless in language except for normal things that any English writer would do.

I would probably give this book 3.5 stars. Elena clearly led an intriguing and unconventional (by American standards anyway) life and I just wish that we would have had the opportunity to learn more about certain areas of her life than read the massive amount of detail that was spent on others. However, the parts about her mother were excellent and definitely the best part of the book.

A Mountain of Crumbs
Copyright 2009
305 pages

September 20, 2013

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlen

I thought this was supposed to be science fiction? Or at least, that's what everyone (including the cover says). But anyways, this is a classic in a lot of people's eyes. And since I've heard nothing but good things about it, I thought I'd give it a try.

The world is in an uproar when a space mission to Mars discovers the wrecked remains of a crew that was sent years earlier. Mainly they're in an uproar because they found the son of two of the crew living among the native Martians and very strange in his own way. He is brought to Earth, where it is thought to use him in intrigues, and possibly control him because due to inheritance, he is also very rich. But a group of people who don't want to see him disappear make plans to get him out of the government's clutches. The only thing is, they have no idea what they're in for.

Michael Valentine Smith, the "martian" is a strange character. He's not supposed to be quite human since he was raised by Martians. But he also is human, with normal human genetics. So that makes things puzzling at times. Jill is probably the other main character that travels with Mike a lot but I never felt as if she had a fully developed personality. She kind of mirrors Mike in a lot of ways, sometimes intentional, sometimes not. It's actually a flaw with most of the feminine characters in this book. And then there's Jubal, the lawyer/writer/so many other things. He's interesting, and has a sense of humor, and I actually found myself liking him even if he was somewhat chauvinistic. There were a lot of people to keep track of in the book. And since a lot of them had the same personalities, you didn't really distinguish between them. Which actually kept some complications down while reading.

I said before I thought this was science fiction. Yeah, the guy is from Mars. But honestly, the whole story could have happened with him being from Earth in any time rather than in the future and from Mars. It was more philosophical than science fiction. With some politics thrown in at the beginning. I actually did enjoy the writing. It was descriptive without being flowery and moved at a smooth pace, despite it being a long book. That being said, there was one sentence in the book that really kind of ruined it for me. "Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it's partly her fault (pg. 304)." That quote, along with the way females are portrayed in this book just made me sick to my stomach and wiped out most of the enjoyment of reading the book for me. I almost stopped reading there, and wished I would have as it just devolved into more of a theological/spiritual/alternative lifestyles experiment than a book about a guy from Mars and political book. I'm not normally against those things, but it just seemed to be a completely different story than what it started out as and going for more shock value than anything else.

A book that was sadly taken down by a few ideas I just couldn't stand. As a result I don't know if I'll be reading any more Heinlen in the near future.

A Stranger in a Strange Land
Copyright 1961
438 pages

September 15, 2013

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex is one of those books that where when you're reading it, and someone asks what it's about, "hermaphrodites" just doesn't cover it.  Even though that's what the book is about.  But it is so much more than that as well. 

Calliope was born under some unusual circumstances.  First, there is the family history; grandparents with a very big secret, parents who almost didn't get together, and a myriad of other things that lead to Cal's conception.  Then there are genetics.  Genetics cause Cal to be born very different, but noone realizes it due to a series of chance happenings and it isn't until the teenage years when it is discovered that Cal may not be the little girl that she was raised as.  Throughout all of this, we have Cal as the narrator during the adult years and the tribulations that come up as a result of this unconventional life.

Cal is a very complex character.  As an adult narrator he is very descriptive with his life and eloquent at the same time.  You can almost believe he is a real person.  And he doesn't seem to dwell on his bad luck either.  For someone who went through a great deal, he's likable.  As a little girl, he expresses the right amount of confusion.  Even if the questionable gender wasn't there, it's a moving story with complicated issues and real life scenarios.  The feelings for the classmates, the complications with the brother, it's all very life-like.  The grandparents were also interesting to read about, although I think their story could have been developed a little better.  And the parents probably had the least time of all, although we learn a little about them.

The whole story is interesting.  Even if Cal wasn't hermaphroditic (which you do know from the beginning of the story, so I'm not giving anything away) the whole family history and childhood was well developed enough that the book is still remarkably written.  Eugenides has a way with words and you get sucked into the story right away.  While the pace does dodder a bit, since it feels like a real story it actually is ok.  I love home Eugenides took the time to really explain the events that fell into creating Cal.  Everything had meaning.  And some of the way he writes feels like a movie, which I think was intended.  You can kind of see the slow motion and scenes flashing by that he describes.  He also intersperses it so well with real history that everything seems plausible.

I think this is a tremendously well written book.  It may not be for everyone because of the subject matter, but really, its one that you should give a shot!

Copyright 2002
529 pages

Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program**

**I have tried 13 of the recipes in this cookbook**

I've been back and forth on how to review this cookbook. Having had it in my possession for about a year now (I always take a long time to review cookbooks since I try out a good amount of recipes), it's been hard for me to open it up and actually use it. So many of the recipes just didn't appeal to me or jump out and make me want to use it. And I've hard mixed feelings on some of the recipes I have made. I'm not a vegetarian, but I cook vegetarian quite often and enjoy the cuisine. And I think I have more vegetarian cuisine cookbooks than I do of other types of cuisine.

I received an Advanced Reviewer's Copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program. This means that it isn't a "complete" cookbook that I've been working through. The only picture was the cover (which is beautiful) although I've been told that the finished product has wonderful pictures. So when reviewing this, I have to bear in mind that maybe some of the recipes would have been more appealing with pictures to back them up and those who buy the full copy of the book will have a more positive experience than I did. As far as the rest of the layout of the book, I found it easy to read and well organized, with appropriate sized text for the recipes. Aside from the recipe section, there's also a beginning describing ingredients and kitchen tools, which can be helpful at times. I also appreciated the descriptions of the dish and the information at the beginning of the recipes.

In Appetizers and Small Dishes, the first chapter of recipes in this book, I actually only tried one recipe. There were several I thought about, but alas, just didn't have the time to powder my own cheddar cheese for the onion rings or do some of the other time consuming tasks that were required. I did make the Tempeh-Filled Potstickers. They were good, filling, and the sauce was great, but they were exceptionally time-consuming to make. At least for someone who's not experienced with making gyoza.

I made two recipes in the Soup section. The Garlic Miso Broth, which tasted heavily of Garlic and not much of anything else. And the White Bean and Kale Soup, which had a main flavor of the added Parmesan, but was otherwise plain with a nice texture. I think if I were to make it again, I would try adding quite a few spices to the mix. I do plan on making the Butternut Squash Soup with Maple Pumpkin Seeds in the future, it's just sourcing the pumpkin seeds that is proving difficult (and I just don't have enough time to peel individual seeds after carving a pumpkin myself). But it sounds delicious.

I did not make any of the salads. That's just a section I avoid in most cookbooks as it seems like a lot of work for a salad, no matter the book. There were some interesting sounding ones, like Green Mango Salad and Jicama, Radish and Orange Salad. But it's not a section that appealed to me.

I was surprised to see that the Main Course section was rather small. Only 8 recipes in total. But the Superfrice Grilled Cheese was good. I know it's a standard recipe, but the author was able to make it a little bit special using a unique cooking method.

The Main Course Pasta and Noodles dishes section was much larger. I tried the Spaghetti with Garlic and Oil and the Linguine with Mushrooms. Both were quick enough to make, but didn't offer a lot in terms of flavor, although I used all the ingredients recommended. I even added extra red pepper flakes to the Spaghetti with Garlic and Oil. The Linguine with Mushrooms had a wonderful texture with the mushrooms and white wine, but I think maybe adding more seasoning would have helped the dish. Just a bit of basil or oregano.

I thought the Stovetop Main Courses were interesting sounding. I actually only tried the Quinoa Cakes. Which had a great flavor once the salt and pepper was added, but I had the worst time keeping them together in cake form so it ended up just being quinoa on my plate. Not a terrible thing, but a little frustrating when trying to make it. There were enough eggs in it for a binder, so I'm not sure why they weren't holding together well.

From the Oven Main Courses I immediately went to the Mac and Cheese. This version was a Triple-Smokey Mac and Cheese. I loved the idea, and loved the texture, but ultimately found it a little too spicy. I think half of the chipotle amount would make this dish just about perfect. Unless you can really stand the heat, in that case you're good to go with the recipe. It also is a mac and cheese that freezes well. A couple of the other recipes in this section look easy to make, so in comparison with some of the other sections, this is one that is more approachable.

Side dishes was the next section. The Roasted Cipollini Onions and Beets were very good. There's not a vegetable out there that can't benefit from roasting, at least as far as I'm concerned. And this was a good mix of things. Jamaican Rice and Peas was spicy, even from one pepper, but it was very easy to make in my rice cooker and I was pleased with the results. It was also very filling.

I'm not much of a dessert person, so it really surprised me that I found the dessert chapter the best chapter in the book. The Raspberry-Blueberry Buckle was the perfect way to get rid of old fruit in the fridge. The Maple Pudding with Spiced Pecans was simple to make and absolutely delicious. The pudding was the perfect texture and used relatively few ingredients. And I loved the spice on the pecans. It was my favorite recipe in the book actually.

There's a breakfast section, but my idea of a breakfast is soda, so I have not tried anything from that section. And the last chapter of the book is just for various condiments and cooking items. I tried out the book's way of making homemade bread crumbs, and it was very effective and easy. The other items in the chapter were mostly sauces and they sounded interesting.

Overall I wouldn't call this a cookbook for beginners or new vegetarians. The recipes can get complicated and a lot are time consuming. They also require that you know very many different types of cooking using a variety of different appliances. Those that like a challenge though, could appreciate this cookbook. That's not saying that there aren't simple recipes, because there are a few in here. But, like I mentioned before, there's a recipe in here where you have to powder your own cheese. So it runs the gamut.

I think ingredient-wise it might not be as approachable either. I live in a major Metropolitan area (Charlotte) and I was even a little intimidated by some of the ingredients that were needed for this book. I'm sure there's somewhere around here that sells 99% of what's in this book, but finding that can be daunting and a lot of things (morels, certain sauces, fresh lychees) are not something that most people are going to be able to get their hands on. So that's something to keep in mind when you are cooking with this book. Sure you can go off of the recipe and use replacements, but sometimes that doesn't always work out as well, and for those who like to stick to recipes, it can be frustrating. Some of the ingredients, even if they are something you can find, can be on the pricey side too, so that may be another deterrent.

As far as it being vegetarian, this book does a good job of providing variety. Some of it may not sound that appealing to people, but at least it doesn't make use of a lot of fake meats or other standard vegetarian fare and it does have a lot of unique recipes. There are recipes that use cheese, so I wouldn't consider this a vegan cookbook, but it does have some vegan recipes in it.

I think that there are people out there who this would be a great cookbook for. But for me, it was just a little too time consuming to get some great recipes, and the others weren't as appealing to me. The ones I did have were mostly average (with a few really good recipes). But overall, this is a nice book to have around if you want to do something special.

September 13, 2013

Her Cowboy Dilemma by C.J. Carmichael

This is the second book in the Coffee Creek Montana series. You could read them in order, but having read the first book, I don't think it's entirely necessary. There's a prologue on this one so it kind of fills in the backstory and you can muddle through without any trouble. That being said, I do think the first was a better written book.

Cassidy has just graduated and while she waits to hear about a job interview, she's moving back home. Something she's not looking forward to with her overbearing mother. And her arrival coincides with an outbreak of illness in their horses on the ranch. Which means that she's going to have to spend a lot of time with the local vet; a man whose heart she broke and he's never forgiven her for it.

Cassidy is kind of a weak character. She spends all this time being passionate about something but doesn't seem to truly know herself and has multiple changes of heart. She's flaky. The male lead is actually the better character this time around. He had a wide range of emotions and strong feelings and was very appealing. The mother; I can't decide if she's for real or not. I know there are people out there like her, but it's hard to believe no one has really called her down for her actions and gave her some consequences. It's infuriating at times. I also grew tired of the conflict with her sister. Since the author isn't willing to even let a tidbit drop about what was going on, I kind of just lost interest.

I also thought the plot was weaker this time around. It seemed very out there with the cause of the horse illness and the "strife" between Cassidy and Dan seemed forced. Especially since they are able to dash it away pretty quickly. But being that this is a romance novel I can't absolutely trash the book. It was still mostly entertaining and involved cowboys. Those are good things. I just sometimes wish that romance novel writers would spend more time developing stories and characters, especially if they have a lot of potential to begin with. And since this was a quick read, it was hard to put down. On the romance side of things there wasn't a whole lot of description, but things were insinuated.

Not the best in the series so far, but I still think this is a series worth reading. Can't wait to get on to the next

Her Cowboy Dilemma
Copyright 2013
219 pages

September 12, 2013

Remember Me, Cowboy by C.J. Carmichael

Cowboy romances, they are definitely my guilty pleasure. After all, what's better than some handsome dude on the cover in a cowboy hat? The story doesn't even have to be good as long as I can keep flipping back to the cover. Luckily, the story in this one is decent even if the cover is tantalizing. Although I keep looking at it and forgetting what it is I'm trying to write here...

Laurel is in town for her friend's wedding. She hasn't been to Montana for awhile since moving to New York and starting a life there for herself. But the day of the wedding several members of the party are involved in a terrible accident. Including the man that Laurel slept with at the rehearsal dinner. The man that is the father of her unborn child and now doesn't have a clue who she is due to amnesia.

This is a short romance novel. None of the characters are particularly well developed. There's a lot of hints at their stories and pasts, but nothing is fully fleshed out. And a lot is left hanging (this is the 1st book in a series though, so anything could happen). We have conflict between characters that is never resolved, and that's a little irritating. Laurel is decent. She starts out knowing what she wants but then kind of has to readjust her whole way of thinking when she finds out she is pregnant. And I do think that she lets people walk on her too much. Corb didn't have much of a personality.
Sure he does sweet things, but aside from the amnesia, we don't really know that much about him. It makes it hard to really go crazy for him as a character.

I'm never too tough on romance novel plots. They have to follow a formula and getting the next bestseller out of those kinds of conditions just isn't going to happen. This one was decent. Rushed, and a lot of conflict thrown in in an attempt to make it interesting. But the amnesia wasn't the usual so I found that unique at least. I also liked the family issues thrown in as they made it seem realistic. This was a regular romance novel so I was surprised to see the romantic parts glossed over. All flash and no bang. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but just surprising. So if you're looking for something descriptive in that realm, it's just not here.

I'll keep reading the series. They are entertaining and I do like my cowboys. For the first in a series, it wasn't a bad start.

Remember Me, Cowboy
Copyright 2013
217 pages

September 11, 2013

Anything That Moves by Dana Goodyear

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program**

I used to think I was an adventurous eater. Even a foodie. That is, until reading this book. After reading it, I think I'd prefer not to associate myself with the foodies. Goodyear takes a whole world of underground, raw, illegal, and just downright strange eating and brings it to light.

There are several sections in this book about different forms of food. Some focus on the people that get these hard to eat goods, like ant eggs. Others focus on using illegal product, like cannabis in their cooking. Still others focus on meats from endangered animals whose sale is illegal in the United States. And then there are a few sections on underground restaurants and the raw milk movement.

Goodyear hangs out with a lot of unscrupulous characters. Or at least she did when she wrote this book. People who think nothing of eating whale or procuring quite a lot of pot to make a themed meal. I actually don't care about the second, it's the first that gets me. If something is endangered leave it alone, it can become food when the population has been restored. There are a couple of unique characters though who get their reputation by serving dazzling food and never in the same way twice. Like the chef who runs an underground restaurant out of his apartment. Him, I found quite interesting. Everybody tended to be a bit snobby about their food choices though, and have a strict definition of what a foodie can be. Live and let eat I say (except in the case of endangered animals or unnecessary cruelty).

I felt like this book was comprised of many smaller articles. It just didn't flow naturally like a general book would. There were several interesting topics though, the biggest one for me being the subject of raw milk. It's one of the things I think should be legal everywhere with it being up to the person to determine if they want to take the risk (we can purchase soy sauce and drink it in mass quantities if we choose but it's illegal to purchase raw milk in most states and drink it. I know, crazy comparison, but think about it. It's true.). On the other side of the spectrum I was disgusted with the thought of eating endangered animals and the sheer volume that gets consumed just in CA. But all of it was descriptively written and I can appreciate that even if I didn't care for some of the topics.

I can't say I'll be in a rush to try the majority of things that were mentioned in this book. But it was an interesting look into American food culture and I learned a lot. I even learned some things I probably didn't want to know. This is definitely a book for anyone interested in food to read.

Anything That Moves
Copyright 2013
259 pages

September 08, 2013

To Be A Runner by Martin Dugard

I'm always looking for something to inspire me into liking running. I run, I can't say I particularly enjoy it all the time, but I always feel like I've accomplished something after a run. So, enter all the running books I can find for helping with that inspiration. This one had an interesting title "To Be A Runner: How Racing Up Mountains, Running with the Bulls, or Just Taking on a 5-K Makes You a Better Person."

We start the book with how Dugard got into running through his parents. Then we jump ahead to some of the races he's done and his eventual entry into coaching cross-country. In fact, most of this book is about his coaching and his runners and what they do. But he intersperses it with musings, stories about when he wasn't running, stories about injuries, and a few different races (including one that sounds like the original Tough Mudder).

Dugard is very self-focused. This book is about him and I'd call it more a memoir than a running book. Sure, there was a lot of running, but it was more about Dugard running than running in general. He mentions coaching cross-country because of his kids, but we don't really hear to much about his kids in the book. And the same with his wife, she's mentioned here and there, but it's usually just her telling him to go running when he's cranky.

I found some useful tidbits in this book. Like not tracking my time while running and it might make it more relaxing. I'm going to start leaving my tracker on silent and just enjoy my run (although music will still be a must). And I learned the names of several interesting sounding races that might be a goal someday. But I also got to learn of Dugard's disdain for runners like myself. It's kind of clear from his description that I'd more be considered a non-runner rather than part of the elite. But that's ok, I'm likely to never encounter the man so I'll just keep doing my thing. He's a good writer, very eloquent and the story flows nice. It does jump around a bit in terms of topic, but I didn't think it was distracting.

A decent book about running. It has some interesting topics and some not so interesting stories. But I still think it's worth a read.

To Be A Runner
Copyright 2011
235 pages

September 05, 2013

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program**

I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of Cixi before picking up this book. China's early history (at least before Mao) is not something I've delved into quite a bit. But having read the author's "Wild Swans" I decided to give this book a try. And I'm very glad I did.

Plucked out among many other girls as one of the royal concubines to the then emperor, Cixi was a normal Chinese girl. Well, normal insomuch as royal concubines are. Not even the Empress, she had to use force of will to climb up the ladder and become one of the most powerful figures in China's history. Ruling for the better part of a half century, a woman, in a land that oppressed the female gender, she had to be intelligent and cunning. According to this book, she was progressive and brought in a lot of modern improvements to China despite being wracked by rebellions, hostile foreign policies, and other hazards. And since she couldn't rule in outright name because she was female, she had to maneuver politics and emperors around to best direct her needs.

Cixi is a strong person, and that comes through in this book. Few women (or even men) can claim to do half of what she did in a lifetime. And she had to overcome a myriad of obstacles just because of her gender to rule. This book paints a pretty optimistic picture of her, but refers to the notion that she is not always portrayed this way. Having experienced this book about Cixi before anything else, I of course am disposed to lean towards the fact that she did the best she could in leading China, and when she made mistakes, she admitted them. So I admire her. And the author does mention several other people in this book as well, but to be honest, there's so many of them it's hard to keep track. It's obvious that Cixi is the main focus in this book, and that's just fine.

I learned a lot about China's history from this book. And about Cixi. It's amazing how many things can happen over the course of a few decades. There's even a good bit written about the Boxer Rebellion since it happened during Cixi's rule. But it wasn't dry as some historical books can be. It kept me riveted the whole time and even though it lagged a bit in parts in the latter half, I still found it hard to put the book down. It's the kind where you can probably go back, read it again, and discover new facts you may not have noticed the first time around. Really, the parts that made it lag were some of the politics, but the book can't be faulted for that as it's a book about a country's leader and politics go hand in hand with that. And from what I can tell it is well researched. Wild Swans was also well done and both books have had a lot of care put into them.

An excellent book and one I'd recommend to anyone interested in history or China. It's a powerful biography on a very interesting woman.

Empress Dowager Cixi
Copyright 2013
373 pages