November 27, 2013

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti by Giulia Melucci

The name of this book is what makes you want to read it.  Anything with spaghetti in the title is a must read.  However, this memoir I only felt luke-warm about, and that won't cook a noodle in any hurry.

Giulia is unlucky in love.  Not even dating until her early twenties, she falls for a series of men who just aren't quite what she needs.  And she's obviously not what they need either as they don't offer to make things permanent.  And this is in spite of her good cooking, active personality, and want of a decent relationship.  As she travels the years she dates several people, and each have their own quirks and good, but they also have some flaws too.

Giulia isn't afraid to point out everything she does wrong when it comes to dating.  She says she falls too fast, tries too hard, and goes after people who are interested in her, not necessarily those she is interested in.  She just wants that relationship.  The men she meets are interesting.  I can't say that I would have been attracted to any of them, too broody and not enough work ethic in some of them.  Most of them were able to cook though, so that's a plus.  Since it's Giulia's memoir, we get a somewhat biased view of them though so it's hard to tell what their true personalities may be, although it seems like she tried to be fair.

As memoirs go, this one was actually kind of depressing.  There's so many failed relationships that if you're single and having trouble in the dating realm yourself you start despairing of ever getting a good date.  Or a date for that matter.  Because you certainly don't want to go with whatever's interested regardless of your feelings.  Giulia's relationships she does have actually last for long periods of time (at least the 3 and 1/2 that she really focuses on in the book) so the breakups are more traumatic too.  One thing that really irritated me about the book (and this may just be my personal preferences) is the constant talk about music and how certain music was edgy and people liking bands before they were popular.  If the music's good, who cares about the when and why?  Not a huge deal, but whenever I encounter it in a book it rubs me the wrong way.  Aside from that though, the writing was smooth and progressed at a good pace.

This was an ok memoir.  It's very much a story of dating and a little bit about food (there are recipes).  If you really like drama this will be a good book to read and if you like food, stick around for those recipes.

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti
Copyright 2009
273 pages

November 25, 2013

Cow Across America by Dale Neal

What a strange charming little book. Cow Across America draws you in with its name. Well, and that pair of cow eyes staring at you from the cover. I couldn't help myself when I saw it at the local library book sale and it went into the stack of to-reads.

Dwight is named after someone special. Or at least that's what his grandfather tells him. While growing up and experiencing the usual growing pains, Dwight has a love hate relationship with his grandfather. Hate because of the usual embarrassment of being around adults, and love because his grandfather is a holder of tales. And the biggest tale is how he and a boy named Dwight walked across America with a cow.

Dwight is kind of a spoiled little boy. He has a particular disdain for everyone, and having never been a little boy myself, I can't say whether or not that was accurate, but he probably could have used a bit more discipline than his parents gave him. He does have remorse though and tries to make up for some his brattier behaviors. His grandfather is the typical forgiving sort of man who cares for his grandchild. He's willing to overlook the attitude and share his life with the boy, and be proud of his achievements. The grandmother, mother, and father are all kind of side characters. We see them through Dwight's eyes and he isn't very forgiving at times.

This is a tall tale. Sort of. The grandfather tells a tall tale and it's often hard to tell what's the truth and what isn't. There are certainly elements of truth to his story, but for all we know, he made the entire thing up to amuse Dwight. And interspersed throughout is Dwight's story of growing up. He progresses from childhood to an adult and has his own personal experiences. Although I enjoy the grandfather's story more than Dwight's. Dwight had a way of leaving things unfinished and it made you feel like you weren't getting the whole story at times. Especially when he was sixteen and staying with his father. I felt like there should have been more to that part of the story.

This was an interesting book. I think it will definitely appeal more to people who like coming of age stories, but it's well written and may have a broader appeal as just standard fiction.

Cow Across America
Copyright 2009
220 pages

November 24, 2013

Christmas at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels

Well this certainly wasn't a relaxing Christmas romance. It barely had any Christmas at all actually. But there was adventure and mystery.  And this is the fourth book in a series that has had its ups and downs but takes place in the beautiful state of Montana.

Tag headed up to Montana in hopes of spending the holidays with his father.  It was a sentimental thing, and he sure didn't expect to become embroiled with a couple of murders.  Worse, his father is acting like his is a part of it.  And a local lady he just met the acquaintance of seems to be involved as well.

I actually didn't get much of a personality out of Tag.  He was more of a prop to keep Lily out of trouble and respond to what she was doing.  And he's highly suspicious of everyone even though he doesn't know them.  I guess that's a reason to be suspicious, but being that he normally works in a social setting (is in the restaurant business) it just doesn't seem authentic.  Lily is smart.  She's a mathematician and more logical than most.  And it was made clear that she's just helping her brother out by waitressing because she's family, not because she needs to.  There are a couple of reoccurring characters in this book.  Hud and Dana are there, but while they have glimmers of themselves in the first book, they're still much weaker characters than they used to be.

There was a lot going on in this book.  The excitement never ended and there was always someone after somebody else.  It was a little overwhelming in fact.  I think that the author tried to mix in a few too many plotlines and it left the story very convoluted and fast paced.  Just removing a side story (namely the one involving an antagonist from the last book) would have given more detail to the main plot and made the book more believable and easier to read.  I'm not saying that the book was terrible, but it wasn't as good as the last one in the series.  I did enjoy all the descriptions of Montana again and think that the author always has a good setting for her romances.  And there was a little bit of romance in this particular romance novel, which I also appreciated.

I'm sure there will be more books in this series, and I'll probably read them.  It would seem that they are definitely more action oriented than romance though.

**This book was received as a Goodreads Giveaway**

Christmas at Cardwell Ranch
Copyright 2013
218 pages

Review by M. Reynard 2013

The Broken Circle by Cheryl Potter

The Broken Circle is the first book in the "Yarns of the Knitting Witches" series.  A young adult series,  it explores the magic of knitting, and the women who make wondrous items.

Once upon a time there were twelve.  Twelve women who made magical knits with fiber dyed from special crystals.  But things have changed in the world.  When one of their decided she desired power more, she left the circle and stole some powerful crystals.  Now, magic is outlawed and the witches have been tracked down  because of their gifts.  But with the evil one coming from the South to try to find the famous crystal caves, the world is in need of the knitting witches more than ever.

I have to say that the children act more like adults than the adults do in this book.  It's somewhat surreal actually. You have Skye, who is more level-headed than her mother and less flighty and who tries to do the right thing along with her brothers.  But then you have some of the other witches who are more concerned with themselves than anything else.  I'm actually surprised that only one of them turned rogue since they all don't seem to care much about anything but their own power and influence.  It was like reading about a group of toddlers.  They were all varied in their personalities though, and it was the strange ones I found myself liking the best.  Ratta was prickly, but she had a little sense about her and truly cared for Mamie, the woman she took care of for so many years.    And Mae, although mad, probably had the clearest goals of any of the women.

The history of the knitting witches world was varied and interesting.  I like the concept of the crystals and dyes.  But there was so much of it that I didn't understand what was going on at all times.  The story started off slow, it took about a hundred pages to really get moving, and it was filled with a lot of information, but it seemed that there was just so much detail to the world that you never really knew all of it before it started becoming important.  Too many irons in the fire it would seem.  But it did draw you in and I wondered what would become of these witches and their knitting.  After all, there is still a special crystal to be found.  And the descriptions of the knitting were probably the best features of this book.  You could almost see what the author was describing and I'm glad she referenced where you could find some of the patterns.

Cute pictures, interesting story, just needs to be tied together a little bit better.  Three and a half stars for this book.  I would read the next book in the series.

**This book was received as a Free Advanced Reader's Copy**

The Broken Circle
Copyright 2013
361 pages

November 23, 2013

The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics by Trey Jones

So I'm one of those lazy people who only got a degree in Linguistics (pg. 121). But that Linguistics 101 course just totally drew me in and the world was never the same. After all, who wouldn't want a Linguistics degree? So I took my new shiny degree out into the world, and promptly discovered that in order to be marketable, potential job prospects actually have to know what your degree is. I'm now working with data. So I think that's what really made me appreciate this book, the fun "choose your own story" Choose Your Own Career In Linguistics sections of the book.

This guide to Linguistics is almost entirely satire. Taking articles referencing various fields of linguistics; Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics, Socio-Linguistics, Typology, Applied Linguistics, and more, there's something for everyone in here. And by everyone I mean those that enjoy language and actually want to know what the different words I just mention actually mean. Because it is satire, most of the studies are not going to be real references to the real world, but mirrors of what could be.

With all the different contributors to this book, it was actually kind of surprising that the writing style in all of the articles is mostly the same. Sure a lot of the contributors are not actually real, but there was more than one contributor. I had a few favorite articles. "An Introduction to Familial Linguistics" was spot on and since I'm a big fan of socio-linguistics, it was a stand out for me. "Rating the World's Languages" was an interesting look at the language myth that some languages are better than others. With all the interesting articles though, there were a plethora that made me feel like an idiot and the need to hand in my Linguistics card. Indeed, if you have not perused the textbooks in awhile, some of the articles on syntax, topology, and others can make your head spin. Although die-hard linguists will go crazy for it.

The format of the book was mostly good. I really did enjoy the choose your own story for a career in Linguistics and like most choose your own, it had you flipping pages back and forth to see how you'd end up. The article format was nice too because you could take the book in as big or small does as you'd like and choose what area you wanted to read about. Depending on your mood, you can immerse yourself in syntax or phonetics at will. My only real complaint about this book would be some of the pictures. There were a lot that were hand drawn and while they weren't quite bad photo-copier quality, some were hard to read unless you really zoomed in (e-book format). They just could have been a little clearer to give the full impact, especially when some had accompanied hand-written labels, which is already hard to read compared to typing. But since that's my biggest complaint, then obviously this book is doing pretty good when it comes to content.

A definite must read for Linguists or those who just like language and have some time on their hands. It made me have some fond memories of tape recorders and the numerous ways people can pronounce a vowel.

**I received this book as a free advanced reader's copy**

The Speculative Grammarian
Copyright 2013
339 pages

PS: I want to be a vowelkyrie.

November 21, 2013

Called Again by Jennifer Pharr Davis

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

Ok, so it's probably not the best thing that my first takeaway from any book about people who hike the Appalachian Trail is, "what kind of job do these people have that allows them to do this?" The author's husband is a teacher, so I kind of get that, but for her and everyone else I'm continually amazed at how they're able to take that time to hike the trail, and even a bit jealous. But that's not really what this book is about, just a musing on my part.

Jennifer Pharr Davis is a long distance hiker (and sometimes ultra-marathoner). At the age of 21 she completed the Appalachian Trail. But the experience left her wanting more. So she sets out to beat the women's speed record on the AT. And then later she wants to do even better than that so she sets out to break the overall speed record. Which her husband and friends as her support crew she hikes the over 2,000 miles in record time, and strains the relationships around her during it.

Davis did the speed record on a smaller trail to get over a broken heart. She uses the experience to heal and get away from things for awhile. And she's definitely determined, and definitely a bit of a diva sometimes. But she describes herself as that, so she recognizes it. And I don't know anyone who gets low blood sugar and is still pleasant to be around, myself included. Her husband was very very patient. He seemed like a good guy and supportive of her dreams and he wanted to do all he could to help her, which is really quite fantastic. And she has a wide variety of friends, most of whom have done some amazing things themselves.

Davis tells us about all the good and bad in her trip. Although from the sounds of it pain was high on her list and most of what was shared. I know she was setting a speed record, but I would have loved a little more description of the scenery. This was more of a personal story which explains the subtitle of "A Story of Love and Triumph" so I can see why it was more about feelings than environment. I do have to say she was able to evoke my sense of smell, just hearing about the other hikers odor was enough to make me imagine it. The AT is something I eventually want to do someday when I can get enough time off of work and I love reading stories about it. Each one makes me impatient for the day I can strap on my own hiking shoes.

And this book is no different. It was a good story and well worth reading for any hiking enthusiast.

Called Again
Copyright 2013
292 pages

November 19, 2013

The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love by Beth Pattillo

Maybe the problem is I came to this on the second book rather than the first. Because Knit for Love is the second book in the series. I honestly feel like I probably didn't miss much, just a little backstory. But maybe it would have helped me connect to the characters a bit more.

The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society studies books and knitting. Together. A group of ladies get together once a month to read a book and knit a project related to that book. And this year, the leader Eugenie chooses love stories, probably as a result of her recent marriage to the preacher. Her foster daughter Hannah is pursued by a new boy in school, but he is in a different social realm than her and it makes her nervous. Camille too is pursued by an old crush who doesn't want to lose her, but she desires to get out of the town and finally go to college. Esther finds herself greatly in debt after the loss of her husband and has to make some hard decisions. Merry struggles with leaving her child at daycare and going to work full time with her lawyer husband and Maria too has financial troubles brought on by her father's death. And sometimes the club just isn't enough to help these ladies get through their day.

There are a lot of dead people mentioned in this book. Nearly every character has lost someone. But rather than focus on that, the theme is on love instead which means there are all kinds of romances happening in this book. Maria's admirer started off as pompous and considering her old, yet seems drawn to her in a way he can't control. I found him a bit cold, but to each their own I guess. Merry has a good husband who sees her through. Although she's a bit spastic about her children, which I guess only a mother could understand. Eugenie's husband, for being a preacher, is pretty quiet and secretive, which surprises me in a new marriage. Hannah's boyfriend seems a bit too good to be true which Hannah suffers from a low self esteem. Which is actually pretty realistic for a teenager her age. Camille and her boyfriend are in the book, but felt more like afterthoughts to me as their stories weren't developed quite as much or focused on.

I liked reading all of the different stories for the characters but felt they were too rushed and incomplete. It's obvious this book is part of a series and it suffers from middle-book syndrome. It couldn't just stand alone but made you want to read the rest book as you wanted to finish the stories. Which I'm not even sure if there's a next book out yet. But the pace did hurt this book quite a bit. That and the lack of actual knitting. It was mentioned here and there, along with different stitches, but it and the books took a back seat to all the drama of the characters. I would have really liked to hear more about the knitting. Luckily, in the literature's case, they did at least have a short one or two page discussion about a book each time. This is a slightly religious book too as the church is mentioned several times (since one of the characters is married to the preacher) and the Song of Solomon is one of the selections for the club. It's not overt though.

I'd probably read the next book just to finish up the characters stories. And maybe the first book, just to see if the series started out strong. But this one was just average.

The Sweetgum Ladies Knit for Love
Copyright 2009
354 pages

November 18, 2013

Cardwell Ranch Trespasser by B.J. Daniels

Cardwell Ranch Trespasser is the third book in the series.  I hesitate to send you back to the first two, as I didn't really enjoy them, but I think they're necessary in order to understand the background for this book.  This book was much better than those two were though.

Hilde is a little disturbed when her friend Dana invites a long lost cousin to come and stay for an indeterminate amount of time.  And from day one, her instincts prove right.  Dee Anna isn't just mysterious, but she seems to be the cause of many of Hilde's most recent accidents.  Growing more worried for her friend, Hilde finds out what it's like to have everyone think she's crazy, while this stranger grows closer and closer to Dana.

Hilde is probably the best written character that I've come across in the series so far.  She has sense, speaks her mind, but still acts like a normal person.  And she's written so well that you actually feel frustrated right along with her when it comes to the situation.  Dana grows dumber and dumber with each book unfortunately.  She starts out so strong but becomes less of herself with each additional book.  Same with her husband.  I realize we're focused on new characters, but I'd like to see the original ones make a comeback.  The antagonist in this story was exceptionally well written.  You knew who was trouble from the start, but still wondered what lengths they could go to and just how psychopathic they could get.

Like I said, you knew from the start of this book what you were getting into.  But that didn't stop it from being an on the edge of your seat type of book.  I was worried the whole way and eager to find out what happened.  And there was even some romance in this book (and a small sex scene) which compared to the amount of romance thrown in on the previous two books is a lot.  It was still fast paced though, but not as bad as the first two.  This one didn't feel as if you were running a sprint while reading it.

Much better than the first two.  I'm now eager to read the fourth book, especially since it's a Christmas one.

Cardwell Ranch Trespasser
Copyright 2013
282 pages

Justice at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels

Ok, so I won the fourth book in this series in a giveaway, and now I'm reading the three before it in order to get prepared.  I have mixed feelings about it.  They're set in a wonderful place, but the characters leave much to be desired.

Jordan Cardwell is back in town because of a buddy and a mysterious phone call.  So when Liza finds him standing over the dead body of his buddy, things do not get off to a good start.  But Joran's charming, and there doesn't seem to be a feasible way that his friend was murdered by him which means there's a killer at large.  And this is a killer who doesn't want Liza solving the crime. 

In the first book Jordan took his sister by the shoulders and shook her.  And I seem to be the only one who remembers this.  At least out of a pool of myself and the book characters.  So how does he end up the likable protagonist in this book?  It kind of angers me as that was physical abuse and it never comes up again and everything is sunshine and rainbows.  Liza at least is a good character and knows what she wants.  I liked how she made decisions and followed through with them.  It showed she has guts and is a realistic thinker.  We have some of the characters from the first book as well, but they are toned down quite a bit.  Which is probably because six years pass in between the last book and this one. 

Again, I love that these books take place in an area of Montana I'm familiar with.  I've even been to Ousel Falls and having that personal connection makes it sort of special.  Although I do have to wonder why she kept saying "down" to Bozeman and "up" to West Yellowstone.  Bozeman is North and West Yellowstone is South.  The pace in this book was rather fast and jumbled and I thought the ending was a bit unbelievable.  Again, what is going on with the water in that town?  They have more than their fair share of crazy people. There's a little side plot in this book involving Dana's sister that I thought was actually more interesting than the main plot.  It was all very mysterious but then it was resolved pretty quickly too.

I've got the third book in my hands so I'll read it.  But I'd only give this one about 2.5 stars.  Hopefully they improve by the time I get to the fourth one (or the next)!

Justice at Cardwell Ranch
Copyright 2012
216 pages

November 17, 2013

Crime Scene at Cardwell Ranch by B.J. Daniels

So this was more of a mystery than a romance.  Probably because there wasn't enough time to fit both a romance and a mystery in the book.  Something had to be left out.

Hudson Savage is back in town to be a temporary Marshall.  So it's not the greatest of instances when his first case is a dead body found on Cardwell Ranch.  Mainly because the owner of the ranch is his ex-fiance.  An ex-fiance that was hurt terribly by him and someone that he still has feelings for.  As for Dana, she's having the worse birthday ever.  A body, Hudson being back in town, and some deplorable siblings make for a rough day.  And because she's close to the crime, there may be someone who doesn't want her around either.

I don't like Dana.  I think she jumps to conclusions to quick and is kind of flighty, despite the fact that she's supposed to be the solid one of her family.  Sure she holds a lot of responsibility, but she seems to stretch herself thin and I can't say I actually saw her do much hard work in this book.  I just heard a lot alluded to.  Hudson is a better character.  He actually is out there doing something and is pretty level headed.  In fact, he's so reliable that you can't see how things really got destroyed in the first place.  And all the other characters?  Someone needs to fix the water in that town. 

I was pleased that this took place in a part of Montana that I really know.  Especially hearing the Emerson in Bozeman mentioned.  That just made my day.  It's such a beautiful area that I love when books take place there and cringe when the details are wrong.  And I did enjoy the mystery in this book, although I somewhat guessed what it was half ways through and thought that it should have gone a different way.  But I'm hoping the next book in the series will include a little of the romance.  I sure didn't get enough of it in this one. 

This is an ok book, considering that on the cover it's advertised as free and so many have enjoyed it for nothing.  Quick, rushed, but still easy to get through, it's good for a read you don't have to think about.

Crime Scene At Cardwell Ranch
Copyright 2011
248 pages

101 Things to Eat Before You Die(t) by Anneka Manning

Ok, so you know right away from the cover this is going to be a book full of delicious foods.  Because you're not supposed to have them while dieting.  And it's true.  Almost everything in here is delicious.  In fact, the cover is falling off of my copy because I've used it so much.  As of November 2013, I have made 27 of the 101 recipes in this book and there are still tons that I'd like to make. 

The book is separated into four different sections.  Nibbles, Snacks & Things in Small Packages, Soups & Mains for Hearty Eaters, Pasta, Rice & Noodles, and Vegetarian Plates.  There are no desserts in this book, but the author has another book full of those that if it's even half as good as this one, it will be full of good stuff.

Nibbles, Snacks & Things in Small Packages is of course the appetizer section of this book.  But really, a lot of them could be made into full meals.  The first recipe, Beef Nachos, took kind of a long time to make.  It had good flavor, but wasn't overly different than the dips you can get at the store.  The Quesadillas were fantastic though and very simple to make.  I liked the use of the taco seasoning in the mix.  Fried Ham and Cheese Sandwiches were somewhat plain but definitely old style comfort food.  Being that I'm living in the South now, I also tried the hushpuppies, which weren't your standard hushpuppies but very good.  And they cooked quick.  If you like Shrimp Scampi, the Garlic Shrimp will fit the bill.  One of the less favored recipes in this section was the Ham and Pineapple Pizza Wheels.  They were pretty but didn't have a lot of flavor.  A standout recipe, in comparison, was the Honey-Garlic Ribs.  They had great flavor.  Just a bit sweet with a kick.

Another interesting recipe in the appetizer section was the Corn Pancakes with Bacon and Maple Syrup.  This is a wonderful mix of flavors and I can't believe I'd  never had it until this book.  They reheated well too.  The Fried Potatoes with Garlic Mayo was a little too tangy for me, but the potatoes crisped up nice.  The Potato and Coriander Samosas had kind of a plain flavor.  And there was a lot of extra that there wasn't enough dough for.  But that was tasty on its own.  The Sausage Rolls cooked well and you can make them as spicy as you want depending on the type of sausage.  There seemed to be a good representation of Mexican food in this book, and the Tortilla Flutes were one of the first recipes I made.  I liked them, but loved them when I added cheese to the recipe.  Same with the burritos.

I didn't make as many recipes in the Soups and Mains section.    The Chicken Laska involved a lot of ingredients and wasn't as flavorful as I expected from the amount of spices in it.  It was good, but not fantastic.    The Chili Pork Ribs though were full of flavor and I'd recommend making extra sauce as you're going to want it.  Chili con Carne was easy to make and tasted like a standard, good chili.    The Classic Burger with Barbecue Sauce was very full of onions and delicious because of it.  And the sauce recipe was so easy to make you wouldn't believe it.  Quiche Lorraine was great, but not near as thick as the picture would lead you to believe. 

Pasta & Rice was my favorite section.    The Vietnamese Fried Rice had a lot of good stuff in it and was very good at hiding vegetables in a delicious dish.  Pastitsio was interesting, especially in its use of lamb and the topping made of yogurt was the best part.    It's hard not to like gnocchi and the use of bacon in the dish in this book just puts it over the edge.  Same with the spaghetti carbonara.  Quick to make, it uses cream and bacon as well and everyone loves that!  The paella was as good as most paellas, although it called for some pricy ingredients.    For those that like a plain spaghetti, the bolognese had all the meat you could want and you could definitely taste the wine. 

My favorites out of this section were the Singapore Noodles and the Spanish Noodles.  The Singapore made use of char siu (which I had to scour the Chinese markets for) and little vermicelli and was so good I couldn't stop eating it.    Same with the Spanish noodles.  They used a lot of pork, some great seasonings, and a picada sauce that tied it all together.  And it was easier to make than I thought it would be.

Lastly was the Vegetarian section.  Because they have good food too.  The Pasta Boscaiola was just as good as the other pastas, and was quick to make.  It's actually the only recipe I made in this section.  But there's a lot of cheese in most of them.  Which always makes for a good thing. 

Most of the ingredients in this book are easy to find.  Although there are a few that may be out of some budgets (saffron) or ability to find (char siu).  But since there is such a wide variety that just means you can go on to something else that is tasty.  And most of the recipes are easy enough for a beginner to make.  There are some that use a lot of ingredients, but the method and directions are clear to follow.

The book is quite beautiful too.  Almost every recipe has a full sized picture (a few have smaller ones) that takes up a whole page.  And all is in bright vivid color.  Including the cover.  In fact, the pictures made me try quite a few dishes I might not have otherwise tried because they looked so good.  There are notes on some of the recipes for added tips, and serving amounts listed as well.  There's also a standard index. 

I would definitely recommend this cookbook.  It may not be one you can use every day because of its heavy ingredients, but it's one  you will want to use every day.  Because the food is just that good.

November 16, 2013

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon by RaeAnne Thayne

There's something insanely comforting about a holiday romance novel.  Really.  I don't know what it is but I love them, and I must not be the only one because there are quite a few out there.  Who wouldn't want to get a nice mug of cocoa (spiked of course), sit by the fire, and read a lovely book?  And this one fit the bill, albeit a little unconventionally at times.

After spending her credit cards to the max, Genevieve Beaumont is tricked into coming back to the States by her father who seeks to put her on a shorter leash.  He wants her to fix up her grandmothers house for sale and actually start taking some responsibility for her life.  However, plans go awry when she starts a bar fight over Christmas carols and ends up having to do community service with the dark, dashing, and wounded Dylan Caine.  Dylan is a war vet who lost his eye and arm to a blast and has come back Hope's Crossing to live a quiet life in the mountains.  So he is less than pleased when he has to do Community Service at a local charity for wounded warriors that his sister helped create.  And he is even more displeased at his growing attraction to Genevieve.

These are some flawed characters.  But in a realistic way.  You've got your wounded war vet, who pushes people away from him thinking they won't like him since he isn't "complete."  You've got your spoiled socialite who just wants to go back to France and shop her days away.  And you've got your supporting cast making sure that these two fall in with each other every chance that they get.  It's a good mix.  I actually did like Genevieve despite her materialistic tendencies. She wanted to do good, she just seemed a little lost.

The situations were pretty realistic too.  I mean, how much more realistic can community service and punishment get?  No romantic meeting on mountaintops for these two.  Just bar brawls.  Although there was one thing that troubled me about the bar scene, and this may just be showing my ignorance of how the law works.  Why is it that only Dylan and Genevieve got in trouble?  The ADA was the one who made the first physical contact.  I would think that they would have been charged for assault as well.  But oh well, we probably didn't want to see them doing community service anyway.  The writing is quite humorous.  There were a couple of lines in there that made me laugh out loud.  Especially the one at the front involving cookies.  It's great, look for it.  And there are no explicit sex scenes, but there is a lot of romance and cussing.  So it's not one of your "tame" romances. 

I really enjoyed this story and didn't even realize it was the sixth book in a series.  Obviously it can be read as a stand alone but I think I'll enjoy seeking out the first five books.

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon
Copyright 2013
362 pages

**This book was received as part of a Good Reads Giveaway**

November 15, 2013

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

Apparently Patrick Ness is a pretty popular author. I had no idea who he was until I picked up this book. The Crane Wife is based on a Japanese Folklore story and has quite a bit of imagery.

George is a nice guy. Really nice. So much so that he can't sustain a relationship because women don't want to become a bully towards him. So he runs his print shop and is there for his daughter and grandson. Until the day a crane, hurt by an arrow, flies into his yard and he helps it. After it flies away, he has no idea what is to come. One day, a woman named Kumiko stops in his shop and together they learn that when they combine their arts (her feather tiles and his paper cuttings) they make something beautiful. And there is something in Kumiko he yearns for, although she remains mysterious to everyone.

Kumiko is mysterious. You get a little bit of dialogue from her, but not much, and she remains as mysterious to the reader as she does to the other characters in the book. Of course the whole time you know who she is so that makes you look at her in a different light as well. George I liked. I'm not sure what's wrong with the women in this book not wanting such a nice guy. I would think that would be every woman's dream to find. He has a very gentle way about him. I still can't figure out why the daughter played such a huge role in this book. She kind of distracted from George and Kumiko's story I thought. She's a well written character, but I wanted more of the focus on George and Kumiko.

I've never read the original story so I'm blindly putting faith in the fact that this book is pretty true to it. At least in the parts that's actually telling the myth rather than the story about George and Kumiko. And I loved the writing style of Ness. Almost poetry at times and he has an interesting way of looking at the world. Even the words the child said were slightly profound. But when I got to the end, not the "end" end, but the last couple of pages, I couldn't stand how he decided to use George's character. It almost ruined the book for me as I felt it kind of cheapened everything else. I'm sure it's just a matter of personal preference but without spoiling it for everyone, I can't really describe it here. Most will probably like the ending far better than I did.

It's still a well written book and definitely worth reading. My biggest take away is that I'd love to see some of the art in the book actually reproduced in real life.

**This book is part of the Amazon Vine program**

The Crane Wife
Copyright 2013
310 pages

November 14, 2013

Stop Drifting Start Rowing by Roz Savage

This is more of an environmental and spiritual quest book than it is one of adventure. Sure a woman rows across the Pacific Ocean, but that's actually more of a side note.

Stop Drifting Start Rowing is the tale of Roz Savage's trip across the Pacific Ocean in her rowboat. Having already completed the trip across the Atlantic she wants to try to do the same with the Pacific to help promote awareness of her cause of taking care of the environment and the fight against plastic. (We will ignore the fact that in the picture of her supplies there is quite a bit of plastic, the stuff is just unavoidable unfortunately). Her first attempt at the Pacific ends in a Coast Guard rescue but she is able to try again the next year and starts a journey from California, to Hawaii, to Kiribati and then on to Papau New Guinea. All by rowboat.

Savage interacts with a lot of people on their journey and they all support her. Which is rare. She is fortunate in this as it allows her to complete these trips and attend functions for her cause to speak on taking better care of the environment. I do have to say that I had never heard of her before this book though and wonder where exactly her trip was being advertised. After all, there were a lot of plane rides and other resource consuming activities that accompanied these trips so I'm hoping the awareness she spread was more than enough to counterbalance that. I'm sure it was, but her journey wasn't really advertised here in the East side of the U.S. that I know of.

The book itself followed a fast and interesting pace. I enjoyed the transitions between the actual trip and some of Roz's thoughts on the environment and what she had done in her personal life to stop being as much of a consumer (although I did tire of hearing about Larabars, even though I too think they're good). Someone who decides to change their life in such a big way has got a pretty strong spirit. There's not many who could be completely alone out on the ocean in only a rowboat and stay sane. I also appreciated the pictures that she included of the trip as it really showed how small that boat was.

This was a lively book and Roz has led an interesting life. I'll probably check out her first book on the Atlantic trip she made just because this one was so interesting.

Stop Drifting Start Rowing
Copyright 2013
200 pages

**This book was received as part of the Amazon Vine Program**

November 12, 2013

Stuff You Already Know by Gina DeLapa

Short, sweet, and to the point, Stuff You Already Know is filled with advice tidbits that are mostly helpful.  It's the stuff that your parents, grandparents, colleagues, and others tell you trying to be helpful.  Although ultimately, it's up to you to decide how to best run your life.

Stuff You Already Know has 437 tips for getting through life.  Some of it you may already know, some of it you don't.  Most are tips given straight from the author herself, although there are some from relatives and friends of hers as well.  In addition to one sentence tips, there are others that she expands on, telling either a personal story or giving a web link or detail and explanation that needs more than just one sentence.  All are to the point and not ambiguous. 

I agree with most of the advice that was given in this book.  From such gems as "Don't fry bacon while naked" to "Don't try to win everyone's approval," there's a lot in here that can apply to everyone.  But there are some things I don't agree with.  Like always respond to an invite.  Because let's face it, in today's world of a million facebook invites, you'd be spending most of your day responding to them and not living your life.  Or some of her advice on employment such as "stay home when you're sick."  This all depends on the workplace culture.  You could argue that you shouldn't be working in a place that makes you work when you're sick, but sometimes those bills just have to be paid until you can get to something better.  It should also be noted that this book is Christian in nature and gives a few tips relating to that as well; it does have a tip that says you should recognize that not all share the same religion as well to counterbalance this.

It was a quick read, and cute for a recent high school or college graduate as a gift.  Since it was written for the author's nephew (per the introduction) it seems like it was actually intended for that purpose.  But really, anyone who needs to have life put into perspective occasionally would probably enjoy this book.

Stuff You Already Know
Copyright 2013
150 pages

*This book was received as a Free Advanced Reader's Copy**

Let the Drum Speak by Linda Lay Shuler

Let the Drum Speak is the 3rd in Shuler's series about Kwani, She Who Remembers.  These are books that need to be read in order as you need the history of the characters and to know how everyone relates to everyone else.

This is the story of Antelope, Kwani's daughter who has traveled far to the East with her mate in search of good trading.  They come to a city where a being called the Great Sun rules.  And that being wants Antelope and is determined to have her no matter what.  But he doesn't want to deal with the inconvenience of her child, especially when it makes such the perfect sacrifice for an upcoming festival.  With her mate nowhere to be found, Antelope must find what friends she can if she ever has a hope of returning home.

I never really realized that there were Queen and King figures in North Native American tribes.  The civilizations that were described sounded more like the Mayans or Aztecs, especially with the talk of Jaguar pelts.  So I learned more about the people of the area, if the information is indeed true.  Antelope is only a little more likable than her mother Kwani.  They are both pretty selfish and concerned with their own worth, but at least Antelope mellows out a bit with time.  Far Walker I actually liked.  Of all the men in these stories he actually didn't act the womanizer and was decent.  The rest had some pretty large fatal flaws and weren't the best people.  At least the younger ones.

This story moved with a better pace than the previous two.  And the story, despite spanning a number of years, had enough description to make it realistic.  There's still the usual vivid descriptions of sex, rape and violence though, so reader be warned.  There are a number of plot contrivances in this book (and the previous) that always make me question some of it though.  Like how people are always against Kwani and her daughter.  It seems that their lives are needlessly hard and everyone is out to get them.  While I recognize that sometimes powerful people have a hard time with people wanting to bring them down, I've just always felt that it's skewed a little too much in these books.  But they're still enjoyable, and if you like prehistory you'll probably like these books.  And you even get a little bit of real history as the author has done research before writing them.

I think there's a fourth book in the series and I might see if I can get my hands on it.  I'd like to know how the story ends and these books are decent enough to keep reading.

Let the Drum Speak
Copyright 1996
446 pages

November 10, 2013

Voice of the Eagle by Linda Lay Shuler

Voice of the Eagle is the second book in Shuler's Kwani series.  I would say that this is definitely a series you need to read in order, as it makes reference to characters and events that happen in the previous book.  You'd be a little lost if you started out on this one.

Kwani has had her son and become the mate of Tolonqua, a handsome hunting chief.  They return to his home where she is mostly welcomed, despite her blue eyes.  But not all is well.  Tolonqua is the leader of a group that wants to build a new city.  One that will be better protected.  But some have reason to hate him and Kwani and don't want to see that happen.  And they will try everything in their power to stop it.

This book has the same problem as the first one in that the characters just aren't that likable.  They all think they're pretty special and above the rules of society.  Some humility would not be unwelcome.  And they're a bit selfish as well.  While I recognize it probably makes the book realistic, I still wanted some character I could care about and really root for.  And the bad guys, well let's just say that there is always at least one that is easily taken care of and they don't have any redeeming qualities at all.

I think part of the problem with the characters is on account of the pace.  This is a big book but it moves very quickly.  So much so that my favorite part, the last section, was not nearly long enough even though it was the most interesting.  I enjoyed hearing about Kwani's children grown up and everything that was happening and even Kwani became a more likable character.  There is a lot of history and information that was provided in the book though and I think it was well researched for a work of fiction.  I'm sure there are some errors, but it's clear that the author spent time learning about what she was writing.  I will put in my standard warning that there is graphic mention of sex and violence in the book, but it was all keeping with the time and setting of the book.

I'll read the third book.  I want to know what happens and where the story is taken from here.  But once again I'll be hoping for some better characters.

Voice of the Eagle
Copyright 1993
615 pages

November 08, 2013

She Who Remembers by Linda Lay Shuler

She Who Remembers is the first book in the Kwani series by Linda Lay Shuler.  A prehistoric fiction, it is compared to the Clan of the Cave Bear series quite often.  And while I see some similarities, I don't think it's quite as engaging as that series.

Kwani is of the Pueblo, Anasazi actually.  But because of her startling blue eyes she is accused of being a witch and driven from her home.  It is during her wandering that she stumbles into the path of Kokopelli, a proud and mysticized trader that decides she is perfect for his mate.  But Kwani may be meant for more, and will her love for Kokopelli hold her back?

I can't say that any of the characters in this book are really likable.  They're all quite selfish actually.  And Kwani I didn't quite understand.  She's born an Anasazi, yet when she goes to another tribe they have to explain customs to her that are shared across the tribes.  It seems like she should have known them all already.  I can understand when she goes to tribes that are not Anasazi and having to learn the customs, but that wasn't the case all the time.  Kokopelli was a jerk and definitely not how I had envisioned such a popular figure.  In fact, I think men were done a real disservice in this book because most of them didn't have anything good about them and were seen as controlling.  While I recognize that men play a stronger role in some cultures, it just painted too broad a brush on their personalities.

But as much as I complain about the characters in this book I do have to say that the plot was well done.  It was engaging, hard to put down and really researched quite well for being fiction.  I learned things about the Southwestern region that I didn't know before.  And the journey was lifelike and exciting.  So much of what Kwani had to endure was probably true to the times and realistic.  There was a lot of sex, and some of it was quite graphically written (and there is rape as well) so anyone who doesn't like these topics in a book should probably steer clear.  There is also some violence. 

I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next book and hope that the character development is a bit better.  Or that there's at least a likable one.  The series has such a great premise that it could be something truly terrific with those aspects.

She Who Remembers
Copyright 1988
395 pages

November 06, 2013

Their Fate Is Our Fate by Peter Doherty

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

What do birds have to do with global warming, or swine flu, or other alarming occurrences in our world? A lot actually. Doherty explains just how our avian friends are linked to the health of the world and what we can tell from their reactions to it.

In nineteen chapters, this book covers a myriad of different topics relating to health of birds and health of humans. The use of sentinel birds is explained (ever wonder why there are sometimes chickens on golf courses?), what can be derived from studying embryos, Bird Flu, Bugs, the Hawaiian wipeout, cancer, metal detection, and global warming are just some of the topics covered. There are also extensive notes from the author on different topics and a list of Latin binomials for common bird names. The author also provides further reading, references, and other assorted information.

This is a science heavy book and is not for pleasure reading. Not being experienced in the sciences there were several key medical phrases that I had to do an internet search on just to figure out what the author was talking about. While it is written in relatively easy to understand language, unless you were a science major, there are some things that just can't be put into layman terms. An example sentence from this book would be "Inspired by Rosalind Franklin's X-ray crystallographic pictures (see Chapter 9), which Jim sighted (unbeknown to Rosalind) during the course of a visit to Maurice Wilkins at King's College, London, Watson and Crick built the iconic physical model that shows binary pairings of the deoxyribose nucleic acis (DNA)-adenine-thymine (AT) and guanosine-cytosine (GS)-can assemble as a double helix (pg.123)." This is how the book is written and if that sentence isn't too your liking you probably shouldn't pursue reading it. If it instead piqued your interest, go for it! There's a wealth of knowledge to be had. My only complaint about the writing itself would be the occasional name dropping by the author, but the sporadic additions of humor more than make up for it.

So do you learn about birds in this book? To an extent. It's actually more about diseases and bugs and things that happen to birds rather than learning about any one individual bird itself. Which is good, because it sets out to explain what birds have to do with health and I think it follows that topic quite well. I was surprised and intrigued by all the different topics because I thought it would primarily be about viruses. So the added information on global warming and heavy metals was a bonus. And since it's all presented as science, with references to back it, I was able to feel confident that the information being presented was correct since I am definitely not an expert in the field. I volunteer at a bird rescue and am passingly familiar with some diseases in waterfowl, but found that this book helped me learn more than I ever thought existed. And it made me want to learn more.

A very informative book and while it is high-level, it's something that makes you aspire to learn more, even if you don't quite understand it all on the first read through. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in viruses, birds, and science.

Their Fate Is Our Fate
Copyright 2013
247 pages

Four Seasons of Travel by National Geographic

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

Oh! All the places I'm probably never going to get to visit. Good thing these sorts of books exist to live vicariously through the authors and their pictures. And this one is a little bit different than a lot because it breaks down the places into the best season to visit.

Obviously, since this is separated into seasons we have entries covering Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter; in that order. And these are United States seasons because in the winter section it will mention places around the world to visit that are actually in their summers (i.e. Antarctica). For each of these seasons there are several places that are highlighted with a page or two and pictures. The places are featured either because of the scenery, local events or music, food and sporting activities. Sometimes a small box would appear with the listing called "In the Know" that told about great places to stay, topics for foodies, and other such tidbits. Interspersed are also Top Ten lists featuring such things as Top Ten Hot Drinks, Top Ten Valentines Spots, etc. And at the end are two pages that have general destinations and activities listed and a Calendar of Events. This makes for a great area to look up things quickly. And in the front of the book is a large map that has all the places numbered and shown.

Spring started the book and it highlighted such areas as Idaho Craters of the Moon, Netherland's Scheveningen, and Romania's Danube Delta. Summer featured Rhode Island's Newport, Norway's Svalbard, and Kakadu National Park. Fall has raptor watching at Hawk Mountain in PA, the Galapagos Islands and Scotland's Shetland Islands. Finally, some of the places for Winter were Easter Island Tapati Rapa Nui, Mallorca and Prague. But these are only a little of the many places that were shown in this book.

I honestly couldn't really tell the different voices that wrote the articles in this book. They were all quite short, often only a few paragraphs and in some cases just a few sentences. So the pictures really showed more of what was going on than the writing did. I really wish there had been more description of the local activities and maybe some side lists of additional things you could do if you went to a location for a specific event. It would have made the book feel a little more complete. But as it is, this is a great coffee table book because of the short snippets of information and the vibrant pictures. I have no complaints on the pictures. The small ones had great clarity and color and the larger ones, while not quite as crisp, were still wonderfully done. They, more than anything, made me want to visit some of the places in the book.

Because this is a large and heavy book, it could be difficult for some people to read. Again, this is where the coffee table book comes into play. Having it on a flat surface is going to work much better for people than picking this up and reading it like you would a novel. So just a word of the wise to people who are looking for more of a pleasure reading travel book.

This was a fun book. I wouldn't say it would be something you'd plan a vacation on, but at least it gives you some ideas to get started. And best of all, it has things in the United States and all over the world, so even if you're not a world traveler, there still may be something for you here.

November 02, 2013

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

It's a good thing this book had a strong ending, because it was a definite slog to get through. Having been told it was a really good mystery, I decided to chance it.

An Instance of the Fingerpost is the story of a murder. Well sort of. It's more of the story of four different men who were in some way connected to the murder and the people that were associated with it. Being in England in the 17th century, policework didn't have fingerprinting and other modern methods of solving crimes and so quite often, eyewitness testimony was all you had. Which means that you have unreliable witnesses, which these four are. And so begins the tale of who, what, when, where and why, with four different spins on it.

Let's be honest, none of these narrators were very likable.  They all had their own voice but they were similar as well.  They were men, of higher class, who had pretty high opinions of themselves.  Except maybe the last narrator, his opinion wasn't quite as high.  They each told the story like they believed it to be true.  Which is quite believable as we all interpret events to best suit our own needs.  Pears did a good job of making these characters realistic.  And Sarah, one of the main characters, was as much of an enigma at the end of the book as she was at the beginning.

But the pace of this book was exceptionally slow.  I think a hundred or  so pages could have been cut out and not missed.  And this is due to there being a lot of side plots that only the characters themselves care about.  Obviously these are part of their interpretations of the events that happened, but some were so random and non-meaningful to the main plot, that even though it added realism, the reader may just want to move on to the murder and what happened there.  The history was well researched.  While I don't know much about that time period in England, clothes, speech, and other detail reflected something that wasn't modern.  I do wish we would have gotten Sarah's perspective though.  Just as a counterpoint to all the men's stories.

This was an interesting read and I might pick up a Pears book again.  But only when I'm in the mood for a lot of detail and a meandering plot.  Historical fiction readers will probably greatly enjoy this book.

An Instance of the Fingerpost
Copyright 1998
735 pages