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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chocolate Passion: Recipes and Inspiration from the Kitchens of Chocolatier Magazine - Tish Boyle & Timothy Moriarty



Released October 1999

Tish Boyle


Wiley

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Granted, Chocolate Passion is an older cookbook. It is, however, about one of my very favorite foods - chocolate. Chocolate Passion is a collection of recipes taken from Chocolatier Magazine, now Dessert Professional. You'll find everything in here from cakes to ice creams and cheesecakes to cookies. There are also dozens of color pictures to go with the decadent recipes.

There are recipes for milk chocolate, dark chocolate and white chocolate. The variety is one thing I appreciate, though I admit, I jumped right to the dark chocolate treats. The very first thing I decided to make was the cover shot, the chocolate-raspberry cake. I love dark chocolate and raspberries together.

Recipes are set up to make them very easy to follow. I think anyone who can read and measure will have no problem with some of these recipes. That said, I do have one issue with this cookbook, all measurements are in cups and teaspoons. Any professional will say that weight measurements are the only way to ensure accuracy. I've done experiments in my own kitchen. I'm pretty skilled in the kitchen, but even I've had recipes fail when using cup/teaspoon measurements. When using weights, I've never had a recipe not come out perfectly. For that reason, I'd much rather have a cookbook give me the option of choosing between recipes using weight versus cup measurements.

That said, the recipe for the chocolate-raspberry cake was good. I did have to toy with measurements a little to get the batter to the consistency I felt was correct. I find store brand flours tend to require a little extra per cup than when I'm using local King Arthur flour products.

In the end, I loved looking at Chocolate Passion and there are recipes that made my mouth water, but when it comes to baking, I'm still going to stick to Alton Brown or my Le Cordon Bleu cookbooks.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Fallback Plan - Leigh Stein



Released January 2012

Leigh Stein
Melville House

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Graduating college should be the first step to a prosperous life, but Esther isn't finding that a degree is worth much. Six months pass without finding a job forcing her to live with her parents. Even Starbucks and Petco have nothing for her. Desperate, Esther agrees to babysit for friends of the family. Amy and Nate recently lost a child and their older daughter needs a nanny so that Amy can focus on her art work. It pays $9 an hour, which is better than nothing Esther figures.

On another front, Esther's in love with her best friend, though he's in a steady relationship. The more she works for Amy and Nate, the more she finds herself drawn to him.She's also convinced that her anxiety and borderline depression are the result of a brain tumor. Not sure what she really wants from life or what's wrong with her, Esther must face her fears, her demons and life in general.

I think your passion for The Fallback Plan is dependent on how well you can relate to Esther. Personally, I couldn't relate to her. I never had to move back in with my parents. I also never turned to drugs or alcohol to reduce stress. Her world is extremely delicate and, in my opinion, she's a little too fragile. Her parents needed to get her serious help, or to at least see that the help she's had wasn't working.

Leigh Stein definitely captures Esther's wry outlook on life, but I found it rather depressing. Despite this, I know people who would find a hero in Esther and really enjoy the book. Given that, I'd say that The Fallback Plan is worthwhile, if you don't mind a character who really must embrace the fantasy before she can move on in reality.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

April's Fool - Blanche Marriott



Released February 2012

Blanche Marriott
Avalon Romance

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Every year, April Vaillancourt and her friends gather to pull an April Fools prank. The best prankster gets a free meal. As her friends are all in married or getting married, talking about being in love and considering children, April decides she wants to prove she has a special someone too. After a miserable relationship that ended up in a broken heart, she really wants to show her friends that she can move on without Stan. Putting her photo editing skills to good use, she creates a wedding album that fools all of her friends and wins her the free meal. The wedding album, however, gets left behind.

Michael Goode is stunned when his co-worker comes in with a wedding album. Michael is certain he's never met the bride and cannot imagine how she got the pictures of him. With a little investigative work, Michael learns who the "bride" is and decides to pay her a visit. He never expects sparks to fly. After a little thought, Michael realizes he could put this fake marriage to good use by convincing his soon-to-retire boss who has strong family values that he's married. It might just land him the promotion he wants, IF he can convince April to play along.

April's Fool is quite charming. The chemistry between the couple is apparent from the start. While the relationship is initially built on a lie, the couple start to realize that there's an undeniable attraction. The problem is neither wants to admit that they're falling head over heels in love.

This is author Blanche Marriott's third novel and it's very impressive. I'll have to go check out her backlist because I really enjoyed her writing style. If you're looking for a lighthearted romance, you won't go wrong with April's Fool.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bond Girl - Erin Duffy



Released February 2012


William Morrow

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Kick in your pants fiction is something I always appreciate. I like stories told with such brutal honesty that I often forget it is fictional and not real. I'm pretty sure that some of the material in Bond Girl could only have come from the author's personal experiences during her 10 years on Wall Street, but whether or not it is exaggerated is left to the reader to decide.

As a young girl, Alex Garrett found herself immersed in the world of high finance thanks to her father's innovative "Bring Your Daughter to Work Days," occurring long before the national event started up. Her love of Wall Street developed early, but she had no idea what the world was really like.

After college, Alex lands what she believes is a dream job at Cromwell Pierce. Little does she know that her days are about to become filled with planting herself on a folding metal chair trying to make sense of what her co-workers are doing, running some of the oddest errands imaginable and trying to prove to the men that women can do everything the men do without crying, whining or letting them see you sweat.

I have a friend who works as an account manager for a financial firm, so I have heard about some of the things she endured during her training. None of that compares to what Alex goes through. Quite seriously, my hat is off to some of Wall Street's elite because scratching your way to the top doesn't sound fun.

Among the wackier things Alex must do, the reader follows her to Brooklyn on a quest to find a 50-pound wheel of Parmesan while also picking up dozens of eggplant or meatball grinders, all on her tab. There's also the job detail where she must watch a co-worker eat all of the contents from a vending machine and make sure he doesn't skip anything or throw up if he wants the $28,000 attached to the dare. Finally, there's the married client who will stop at nothing to try to get Alex to sleep with him, and crying sexual harassment isn't allowed in Wall Street's men's world.

I admit Bond Girl infuriated me, made me laugh and definitely had me cheering Alex on. It's a great read and one that is already getting a lot of buzz. Don't miss it!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Redwood Bend - Robyn Carr



Released February 28, 2012

Robyn Carr
Harlequin

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Moving from Vermont to California is challenging for any woman, but moving twin five-year-old sons all the way across the country is extremely challenging. Katie Malone knows she needs to be closer to her brother, Connor (Hidden Summit 1/12) so that her boys have a male role model. She never expects to deal with a flat tire and meet her dream man all in one night though.

If there's one thing Dylan Childress knows, it's that he is not the marrying kind. His parents went through more marriages than he can count and developing a lasting relationship is just not in his DNA. Yet, if Dylan could ever settle down, he's pretty sure Katie is the woman he'd want. Changing her flat is just the start of what could change his life forever.

Redwood Bend definitely tugged at the heartstrings. I liked Katie's character. She's been through a lot with her military husband dying before their boys were born, dealing with the fall out of her brother's stint as a key witness that put them both in the witness protection program and trying to be the best mother possible to very rambunctious boys. Dylan, for me, was a little harder to like because he's so hung up on his parents fault that he can't see he's nothing like them. It's really his insecurity that forms the heart of the tension in this book. Most readers will agree that it's hard to put the book down until you know that he's going to get it right.

This is the second in a series and the characters in April's release make an appearance in this book. I can't wait to see how things work out for them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Scrumptious - Amanda Usen



Released January 2012

Amanda Usen
Sourcebooks

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Marly Bennett's seen her father walk out on her, as well as having a month who bounces from husband to husband, and she knows marriage is not something she wants. Why commit to one man who will walk away in the end? For that reason, she makes it a point to enjoy sexual encounters without commitment.

Joe Rafferty's mother's dying wish was that he would stop having affairs and find the right woman. Joe, however, say how much his parents fought and doesn't think marriage is all it's cracked up to to be.

Soon, Joe and Marly find themselves working to help save a mutual friend's restaurant. After Olivia's head chef husband is literally caught with his pants around his ankles in the restaurant, Olivia fires him and needs Marly, her dessert chef, to help out on the main line. Olivia also recruits Joe, a talented chef. Putting the two together in the kitchen leads to more heat than just what's cooking.

Scrumptious is a dazzling entry in the newer sub-genre of foodie romances. Much of the story includes details on cooking and takes place in the kitchen. It's clear to the reader that Joe and Marly are meant to be together, but the couple are a little slower to catch on. There's lots of passion building up over the span of the book that will delight contemporary romance readers. The story captures more than just this growing romance though. Someone keeps sabotaging Olivia's restaurant and Joe and Marly team up to find out who is doing it since they're all keeping Olivia's soon to be ex out of the restaurant.

The one thing I would have loved to have seen are a few recipes. With culinary mysteries, authors always add recipes to the mix and I'd like to see the same here. The author talks a lot about creme brulee, and I think it would have been nice to add a recipe for it or the decadent chocolate wedding cake Marly makes during a few chapters.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Smitten - Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt & Denise Hunter



Released December 20, 2011

Colleen Coble
Kristin Billerbeck
Diann Hunt
Denise Hunter
Thomas Nelson

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I'm a sucker for stories set in Vermont. I've read some over the years that have completely gotten the state's geography wrong and others that were pretty spot on. The romantic anthology, Smitten, by Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt and Denise Hunter is one of those that is spot on. While Smitten is a fictional town, I imagine Waterbury in my head as I'm reading it. The only difference is that Waterbury's death hasn't the closing of a mill town, it's the flooding resulting from Hurricane Irene that ravaged the city. Big businesses like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has moved much of their plant to another town and are talking about moving some of the business out of state. Ben and Jerry's is moving much of their production to another town. Businesses along the main drag were severely flooded and many ended up shutting down. While reading Smitten, those are the images that popped up in my head.

Smitten is the story of four women who decide to save their town by turning it into a romantic hot spot. Each author takes on one of the characters. There's Natalie who's been raising her niece Mia since Mia was an infant. When Natalie's drugged out sister threatens to take Mia away unless Natalie gives her money, Natalie finds support in the man rumored to be Mia's father. Julia needs to find a place for her spa, and the other half of Zak's former grill doesn't seem ideal, no matter what her mentor says. A fire forces Shelby to find a new location for her finishing school for girls, and working with Nick seems like the best solution, but his attitude is making it hard to stay. Reese's dreams of owning a sporting goods store are coming true, but with her friend Griffen handling the renovations, she's not sure being friends is good enough.

Basically, while the women have the town's support for turning Smitten into a romantic getaway, the men in their lives think it's a ridiculous idea and fight the women every step of the way. That adds to the romantic tension that develops within each story. It's very enjoyable, though I did feel the romantic tension between Denise Hunter's Reese and Griffen was best.

All in all, this is a very enjoyable quartet of stories that captured the setting well and tossed very likable characters into the mix. Rumor has it that other books set in Smitten are in the works. I, for one, can't wait to read them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Please Read This

Quite simply, there will be no update today because of my stance against SOPA. Read more here:

https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Going Off Topic: Alton Brown

I'd planned to have another book finished today, however life got in the way again. Alton Brown and Hannaford proved to be my undoing this time.

It's no secret that I love to bake. When I found a bunch of red bananas at Hannaford for less than normal bananas, I decided to buy them up. Then, I found walnuts in their bargain bin and bought those too. Bananas and walnuts -- well they were just begging me to turn them into bread. I love banana bread.

Usually, I go with the recipe in my breast cancer cookbook, but I've discovered I prefer baking by weight rather than standard cup, tablespoon or teaspoon measurements. Alton Brown's cookbooks are all set up by weight. Pulling out my trusty Kitchenaid - it's pink and I don't care if pink goes with my gray/green kitchen, $50 from every sale goes to the Susan Komen Foundation, so it's important to me to only buy the pink mixer.



Anyway, his recipe for banana bread uses oat flour. I didn't have any oat flour on hand, but I did have steel-cut oats, so I put them in the blender until they were flour so all was good. In the end, I'm delighted to say that this is the best recipe for banana bread I've come across. It's moist, flavorful and the addition of oats gives it a little something extra. I highly recommend any of Alton Brown's cookbooks specifically because he does list everything by weight. If you don't have a scale, he also gives cups/spoon equivalents.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Lavender Lover's Handbook - Sarah Berringer Bader



Released April 2012

Lavender at Stonegate/Sarah Berringer Bader
Timber Press

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Of all my gardens, my herb garden is my personal favorite. I love watching honeybees on my sage bushes and collecting mint for teas, gathering chives for salads or using fresh oregano in pasta dishes. Lavender is the one thing I haven't successfully gotten to thrive. I think I may have learned why after reading The Lavender Lover's Handbook.

Sarah Berringer Bader, owner of Lavender at Stonegate, offers an in-depth look into lavender. Beautiful pictures show the different varieties and landscaping designs that incorporate lavender. She discusses companion plants, craft ideas, recipes, care and even reasons why every garden benefits from lavender. What I learned along the way is that the farm where I buy my lavender is wrong. They told me to plant it and leave it alone. Turns out that after all these years, I should have been pruning my plants. It's no wonder they've never really taken off and just become woody.

Using the tips found in The Lavender Lover's Handbook, I have a game plan for next year. I have very sandy soil that drains quickly and isn't great for retaining water. Apparently, these are conditions that suit lavender well. Given that, my biggest issue is going to be finding lavender that withstands Vermont's bitterly cold winters. The book offered lots of varieties for zone 5 or higher, but for those of us in zone 3 or 4, the selection is limited. I do have my list now of varieties to look for and plan to start searching in a few months. Around here, you don't tend to plant until late-May because up until that point, snow and freezing temps are still possibilities.

What I really loved is that she included recipes, including one I've been using for years--Lavender shortbread cookies, I've never frosted them though. She also includes recipes for household cleaners and scented sprays. Those alone are invaluable to me because I love a local lavender spray but have never figured out how to replicate their product, now I know.

If you enjoy gardening or simply want to learn more about growing and using lavender, this is the book to own. It's definitely a keeper.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Baker's Daughter - Sarah McCoy



Released January 24, 2012

Sarah McCoy
Crown Publishing Group

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Simply put, The Baker's Daughter is one of the warmest, most emotional books I've read in months. I cried, laughed, and really just couldn't put it down. Elsie as a senior cracked me up more than once, but Elsie as a teenager, well the things she endured just broke my heart.

In 1945, Germany is at war and most people know what happened to the Jews. Teenager Elsie Schmidt helps her parents run their bakery, while her older sister left to have her son and become part of the Lebensborn Program. Connected to her sister by only letters that come sporadically, Elsie finds herself growing more and more concerned by Germany's actions. Especially after she witnesses the cruel treatment of a young Jewish boy during a Christmas party. Eventually, she ends up hiding the boy and hopes her actions will not lead to her family's ruin.

In present day, journalist Reba Adams is trying to interview Elsie, owner of a German bakery, for a Christmas-themed article. Reba is engaged to a border patrol officer in El Paso, but doubt clouds her view of a happily ever after. When Elsie asks her why she wears her engagement ring on a chain around her neck, Reba finds herself sharing her story with the elderly woman. Meanwhile, Reba's questions take Elsie back to a time that changed her life forever.

The Baker's Daughter switches back and forth from Reba's life in the present day, Elsie's life during WWII and even Reba's fiance's experiences working with Mexican illegals. Connecting the treatment of illegals with the treatment of Jews was unexpected, yet quite clear and thought-provoking.

Elsie quickly became one of my favorite characters of all times. Her interactions with the Internet cracked me up. That laughter was necessary at times because the trips to 1940s Germany could be very heavy and emotionally draining. I realize I can't even begin to understand the terror that everyone felt, and I'm glad I never had to.

In the end, I'm so glad I read The Baker's Daughter. I think it would be an excellent choice for book discussion groups, and if they ever make it into a movie, I'll be first in line to see it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know - Ray Hilborn



Released April 2012

Oxford University Press

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Overfishing: What Everyone Needs to Know takes a hard look at the fishing industry and people's consumption of fish today. It's not a secret that many fish are no longer thriving. Cod is one fish that is usually mentioned by the media about having dwindling numbers and being overfished. People turn to fish like tilapia in hopes of finding a new source of white fish that is in abundant quantities.

The decline in fish populations is something I've grown up being extremely aware of. My grandfather was a North Sea fisherman. Decades ago, monkfish was known as "trash fish" and people refused to eat it. Some fishermen would throw them overboard or trash them, my grandfather would bring them home to his wife and daughter knowing the meat in the tail was boneless and incredibly tasty. Fast forward a couple decades and now I find it virtually impossible to find monkfish in stores and on the rare occasion I do it's well over $10 a pound. After WWII, larger commercial fishing ships rigged with trawlers entered the North Sea making it harder for the smaller fishing boats to take in a decent haul and destroying the sea floor. It was something that always concerned my grandfather. It's stories like these that I'll never forget.

In Overfishing: What You Need to Know, author Ray Hilborn discusses what overfishing is and if it's possible to eat fish, proven to be extremely beneficial to many organs, without depleting the different species. The author sets up the book by asking a question and then answering that question using research and interviews. He also discusses some of the fish on the verge of extinction and steps that are being taken to saving them. Orange roughy is one of the fish he discusses. I admit, I've only had orange roughy once in my life and that was back in the 80s. It's another fish that is virtually impossible to find now.

If you're interested in learning more about the dangers of overfishing and what is being done to save many fish species, Overfishing: What You Need to Know is an exceptional resource.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Blue Moon Promise - Colleen Coble



Released February 14, 2012

Colleen Coble
Thomas Nelson

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Her father's been murdered, her step-mother doesn't seem interested in raising their children, and that leaves Lucy March completely alone raising her younger brother and sister in a rental house. Worse, Lucy loses her job and her landlord announces she has one week to vacate because he's sold the property. Lucy doesn't know what she's going to do. It's at that moment that Henry Stanton shows up with an offer. He wants Lucy to enter a marriage by proxy with his son. Nate's been too busy running their cattle ranch to look into providing heirs and his father's had enough.

Lucy doesn't like the idea of marrying a man before she's even spend time with him. However, someone's been following her around and when that stranger breaks into their home, she's desperate to get away. Marrying Nate seems to be the only possible solution to her problems.

When his father drops Lucy and her two young siblings off, Nate's not happy. He can't see the scrawny woman being of any use. Yet, the more time he spends with her and the children, the more he hopes they'll become a permanent addition to his ranch. If only he could convince Lucy to give their marriage a chance...

As a Christian romance, Blue Moon Promise is truly enjoyable. The romance between Lucy and Nate develops slowly giving them plenty of time to get used to one another and adjust to married life. The addition of a dangerous stranger adds some tension to the story too.

There were a few times that I did question Nate's decisions, especially when he decides to have time alone with Lucy by leaving the kids home alone. With a stranger lurking around, I'm kind of surprised Lucy agreed to that. In addition, there's a twist towards the end that took me by surprise and that I'm not sure I liked, but I don't want to reveal more about that.

I recommend reading Blue Moon Promise. It's a fun romance and one that I ended up starting and finishing in one sitting because it was that engrossing. Once you have, I'd be curious to here what others thought of the twist.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Stubborn Dead - Natasha Hoar



Released January 2012

Natasha Hoar
Carina Press

The Stubborn Dead is very short, yet I was actually surprised at how well author Natasha Hoar managed to create what felt like a full-length story in just under 80 pages/20,000 words. Paranormal fans will find a lot to like in what I hope is the first part of a series.

Rachel Miller is one of the Order of Rescue Mediums and after finishing up one job, she receives an urgent call from a woman who has a wraith invading her home. Wraiths are a little trickier, but Rachel is up for the challenge. Little does she know that this is not your ordinary wraith, she's about to go head to head with an entity long expected to be extinct. If Rachel fails to do her job, orders are to have her powers removed permanently. No matter what happens, Rachel knows she cannot fail.

The story starts off with a bang as Rachel is in the middle of a challenging removal and the suspense and tension keeps building from there. I found it very hard to put the story down, so I'm actually thankful that the story was so short. It made it easy to read it in one sitting.

While there do seem to be some unanswered questions remaining, I'm assuming that's because this is the first book in what will be an exciting series. Hopefully, there will be more stories involving Rachel coming out in the near future.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Head Over Heels - Jill Shalvis



Released December 2011

Jill Shalvis
Hachette Book Group

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Chloe Traeger's never stayed in one place for long. After inheriting one-third of a run-down oceanside inn, Chloe reluctantly gets to know her half-sisters (Tara from The Sweetest Thing (A Lucky Harbor Novel) and Maddie from Simply Irresistible (A Lucky Harbor Novel)
) and starts selling her homemade skin creams and beauty products around the small town of Lucky Harbor. Her attraction to the town's sheriff, Sawyer Thompson, makes no sense, but she can't help but find herself enchanted by his charms, even when they're arguing.

Sawyer doesn't have time in his life for a woman, so why is it that he can't get Chloe out of his head. After one kiss, it's clear that he'll never be able to get enough of Chloe, but with his job, he can't afford to get into a steady relationship.

These two polar opposites want nothing more than to stay away from each other, but sometime fate has other plans...

Head Over Heels is the third novel in the Lucky Harbor series and I'm thrilled that the stories will keep coming, even though this rounds out each of the sisters' stories. I've liked Chloe from the start. She's enough of a rebel that she keeps everyone on their toes, but she definitely has a soft side too. Pairing her with Sawyer, a straight-laced sheriff with a long history, worked well and really made him one of my favorite heroes from this series. Don't get me wrong, I adored Jax, but Sawyer earned a higher score on my list of favorite fictional heroes.

If you haven't read any of the Lucky Harbor series, I highly recommend starting from the beginning. It's not that you need to read them in order, they do stand alone, but they're such a charming trio of books that I can't imagine wanting to bypass any of them.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Leone's Italian Cookbook - Gene Leone



Reissued 1997


Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

When my aunt died, she left behind her cherished, very dog-eared copy of Leone's Italian Cookbook. After marrying her very Italian, NYC husband, building up an array of Italian staples that reminded him of his grandmother's cooking was important to her and Mama Leone's was the cookbook that inspired her to become an amazing Italian cook in the comfort of her kitchen. Having that copy in my own kitchen is equally satisfying.

If you're unfamiliar with Mama Leone, she was more than the star of a Billy Joel song. She cooked up amazing dishes in an Italian restaurant that ran from the early 1900s to the 1990s. What you'll find in Leone's Italian Cookbook is an array of Italian recipes that don't disappoint that her son Gene collected and shared with the world.

My favorite recipe in this entire book is the Italian gravy she made. Packed with meats, herbs and spices, this recipe requires a lot of time slowly simmering, but it's amazing and well worth the wait. This is only the start, you'll find recipes for clam sauce, homemade cheesecake, lasagna, and some of the greatest meatballs I've ever had. It's not just the recipes either, I've read this book from cover to cover learning about Mamma Leone's history and the restaurant's history. All in all, if you can get your hands on a copy, it's a keeper.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Freebie from Susan Mallery

Fool's Gold Series

As a special gift to her readers, Susan Mallery is giving away a special cowboy calendar widget that you can add to your computer, or print out a Fool's Gold: Cowboy Country calendar, and add some eye candy to your day! Visit http://foolsgoldca.susanmallery.com/cowboycalendar.html for more information.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Canal House Cooking, Volume 7 - Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton



Released January 17, 2012

Open Road Media

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I love rustic Italian cuisine. I've always said that if I could move away, the Mediterranean is where I'd head--Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal all have piqued my interest over the years. This is one reason I eagerly dove into Canal House Cooking Volume 7. Part of the draw to these countries is the availability of fresh foods, year round. I live in Vermont and here what farmer market's exist, and there are not many, are only held in summer months. The rest of your time, you're stuck with what you froze from your garden or what is shipped to the area from southern states.

Canal House Cooking Volume 7 details Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton's journey to Italy. They decided to rent a house, purchase foods from locals and experience true Italian cuisine. Throughout this cookbook, they discuss their experiences and share amazing recipes for things like homemade pasta, including spinach pasta and ricotta gnocchi; homemade ricotta, something I'm trying this weekend; homemade sauces; homemade desserts; and much more.

I have a pasta machine, the hand-cranked type, not an electric one, and love making my own pasta. The authors do discuss flour choice and to me it really does make a difference. The best pasta I ever made was with a bag of semolina flour I found on a clearance rack. I laced it with fresh leaves of basil and it was amazing. The authors give you the basics in an easy-to-understand format, so there's no reason not to try it. Even if you lack a pasta machine, all you need is a rolling pin.

If you want a cookbook that really gets to the heart of Italian cuisine, Canal House Cooking Volume 7 is an excellent choice. It's available for the Kindle on January 17th.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ruby Red Heart in a Cold Blue Sea - Morgan Callan Rogers



Released January 2012

Morgan Callan Rogers
Viking

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

I don't think it took long before I realized I had another book to add to my keeper shelf. I try to limit the number of books I keep because of the size of our house, but Ruby Red Heart in a Cold Blue Sea is an amazing story. It's part-mystery and a solid coming of age story set in a quaint ocean town in Maine.

Florine Gilham starts her 12th summer off by getting into a little trouble. She and her friends decide to head to the summer homes and set off firecrackers, but one of them sets a porch on fire. That leads to Florine's mother reducing her hours and keeping her daughter under close watch. Soon the town's moved on and forgotten about the kids' prank, school resumes and Florine is back to her routine of making bread with her grandmother, watching for her father's lobster boat to return and spending time with her three buddies.

It's not long before Florine's mother disappears during a weekend trip. Days, weeks, months and eventually years pass without police finding a trace of the missing woman. Forced to grow up without a mother she desperately misses, Florine tries to navigate the world feeling a sense of loss that no one seems to understand.

There's very little I disliked about Morgan Callan Rogers' debut novel. Developing her characters seems to be the author's strong point because I felt for each and every one of them, especially Florine. The setting is breathtaking, and it's obvious the author is from the area I've visited for a week every year since I can remember. I adore coastal Maine and she captured the magic perfectly, even though I am one of the interlopers that come only in the spring or summer months. If you want a glimpse into Maine and can't afford the trip, the author does a great job at capturing the lifestyle of the lobstermen, the magic of the ocean and the quiet, peaceful setting.

I do advise having Kleenex handy. Ruby Red Heart in a Cold Blue Sea made me laugh, definitely brought tears to my eyes and left me wanting more.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Odds: A Love Story - Stewart O'Nan



Released January 2012

Stewart O'Nan
Viking

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

Years ago, I read Stewart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster and loved it, so I was eager to read The Odds: A Love Story. In O'Nan's latest tale, Art and Marion Fowler are on the brink of bankruptcy after both lose their jobs in the troubled economy. Their grown children no longer depend on them and Art's indiscretion is something Marion cannot forgive. With their finances in shambles, the pair are ready to sign divorce papers and start anew. With one last hurrah, the couple head off to Niagara Falls staying in the honeymoon suite of a fancy casino. They honeymooned here, so it seems fitting that their marriage ends where it began. Between sightseeing and fine dining, the couple take what money they have left and hope that Lady Luck might smile on them bringing an end to their problems.

The Odds isn't a lengthy story. At just over 190 pages, it's a quick read, yet still detailed and engaging. I hate to admit that I found myself sympathizing with both characters from time to time. Being married for so many years does cause couples, especially when there are children and jobs both demanding your attention, to get stuck in a rut at times.  By the end, I hoped for the best, but the odds of a winning big in a casino, as many know are incredibly slim. Readers will just have to pick up a copy of the book and find out if Art and Marion become a statistic or if they're able to save their marriage.

At the beginning of each chapter, readers will find a little snippet of trivia involving odds. Such as the odds of a marriage lasting, the odds of a person filing bankruptcy, the odds of returning to the place you spent your honeymoon or the odds of becoming sick during a vacation. These snippets are just as much fun to read as Art and Marion's story.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone!

Usually the start of a new year brings around the either dreaded or anticipated New Year's Resolutions.

Last year turned a chapter for me. After years of freelance writing, I landed an editing job and have been busy balancing personal time, editing and writing. Some days it's been a struggle to find time for all three and this year organization is top of my list. There are far too many days when I'm putting in a 10 hour work day and then realize that I still need to get laundry done, meals prepared and things set up for the next day. I need a better system, so that's my goal this year.


Anyone have tips or really worthwhile books on organization to share?