Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fatally Flaky - Diane Mott Davidson (Culinary Mystery)

April 2010

The latest entry in Diane Mott Davidson's long-running Goldy Bear/Schulz culinary mystery series is, I think, one of her better offerings in a while, though there are still things I felt were left out. The past few books, to me, haven't lined up in terms of time frame. While the book series has been going on for 20 years and in that time, the characters have only aged 5 years, so in past books, I've gotten hung up on technology that really shouldn't exist yet. This time, references to  technology were minimal and realistic. Picky I know, but it's something that I can't help but notice.

This time around, Goldy is in the height of wedding season. One bride isn't so bad, but the other makes Bridezilla's look innocent. Frequent menu changes are driving Goldy nuts, and she's at her breaking point. When the Bridezilla shows up during the other wedding reception to announce she gave Goldy the wrong guest count, two days before the big event no less, Goldy's ready to quit. But, things take a quick turn when Goldy's godfather's best friend, Doc Finn, is murdered.

Goldy's determined to unravel the clues surrounding Doc Finn's murder. Between dealing with Bridezilla and trying to unravel this latest murder, Goldy has her hands full.

As a character, Goldy has more tenacity that I would. From the moment I was introduced to the Bridezilla, I was ready to strangle her myself. Why Goldy stuck with that particular job is beyond me. I would have quit!

I was able to solve the mystery far before it was unraveled. Maybe I'm just reading too many mysteries and becoming too aware of clues, but it didn't seem particularly tricky to solve. I was also a bit surprised that I never remember hearing about Goldy's godfather in the past. Maybe it's just been to long, but as important as he is in her life, I would have thought I'd remember him.

Nevertheless, Fatally Flaky kept me hooked and the recipes, as always are great. The only other downside I found was the exclusion of the recipes for a couple frequently mentioned dishes.

Throughout Fatally Flaky, Goldy discusses two key dishes on the Bridezilla's menu: New Potato Salad with Fresh Dill and Creme Fraiche and Crab Cakes with Sauce Gribiche. While I'm pretty sure I can find similar recipes, having both recipes would have been nice.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cake Keeper Cakes - Lauren Chattman (Cookbook)

Released October 2009

Reviewed by Tracy Farnsworth

It's always been my firm belief that every child should learn how to cook. Beginners can help the adult with measuring, stirring and gathering ingredients. As a child ages, teach fraction based math skills by doubling recipes, chopping is easy for pre-teens and teens. My children are now teens and both can prepare their own meals following any recipe. This is an essential basic life skill that I think too many overlook.

Cake Keeper Cakes is great for adults and children. The recipes are easy to follow, I love the addition of color photos, but more than that, children simply love cake so they'll be excited to help in the kitchen. And, cake as an occasional treat is good for the soul.

Lauren Chattman has worked as a pastry chef. The book covers the essentials you need for your kitchen, including pans, ingredients and various other equipment. She also includes a breakdown of techniques to use when making the 100 cake recipes within Cake Keeper Cakes. Overall, the text is thorough and will suit beginners.

Cake Keeper Cakes is divided into sections that include:
  • Snacking Cakes
  • Round Cakes
  • Loaf Cakes
  • Bundt Cakes
  • Crumb Cakes
  • Springform Cakes
I love pudding cakes. I have a collection of recipes from chocolate to maple to lemon. When I spotted Lauren Chattman's recipe for Cinnamon Pudding Cake, I was overjoyed. That's the first cake we made and it was amazing! If you want something a little healthier, the Super-Delicious Whole-Wheat Carrot Cake is equally delectable.

Lavender and Lemon Pound Cake-It's a yearly Easter tradition here. I make a similar pound cake for breakfast and we all enjoy slices along side platters of fresh fruit for a light Easter breakfast.

There are dozens of recipes and all of them look intriguing. If you want to learn to bake or simply enjoy cook books, this is a great collection to own!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bedtime Stories - Jean Johnson (Short Stories/Erotic)

Released April 2010

As soon as I glanced at the back cover, I knew I had to read Bedtime Stories. Jean Johnson's anthology takes the fairy tales we know and love and retells them in an erotic fashion. It's not as unusual as some might think, many of the original fairy tales were slightly erotic while others (particularly Brothers Grimm) were quite horrific.

I read the Frog Prince with glee. She does a great job turning that story into a story that captures very essence of a blossoming romance without ever seeming trite. I loved this story and think the author did a fabulous job retelling it.

The next story, The Courtship of Wali Daad, was new to me and probably will be for most readers. However, it's also very romantic and tells the tale of an older grass cutter who has spent his life saving his coins. He decides to use the money for a random act of kindness and that leads to a richly painted story of matchmaking.

After this, I started losing interest. Most readers will be delighted with the rest of the collection, but I really don't like sci-fi stories. Many of the remaining stories lean towards the sci-fi realm: The Princess on the Glass Hill, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Beauty and the Beast, even Sleeping Beauty. They just didn't grab me. However, those who do enjoy sci-fi will be thrilled with the retellings.

The story closes with two more fairy tale spin-offs. Puss in Boots leans towards paranormal/fantasy with talk of magic. I enjoyed seeing the story's leading character, Puss in Boots, changed to a woman. The final story, The King Who Heard a Joke, was also new to me and again very enjoyable and definitely steamy!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chocolate Magic - Zelda Benjamin (Contemporary Romance)

Released April 2010

Chocolatier Chloe Brandeau remains unsure why her aunt chose her over her cousin as the new owner of a run-down apartment complex, but she hopes to live up to her aunt's requests. It's not easy when an area developer, the very rich and handsome Ethan Behar, keeps throwing out offers for the building. She's said no dozens of times, but he refuses to take no for an answer.

Trying to keep the aging apartments in good order is tough and Chloe's running out of money. She can't go against her aunt's wishes though. Not to mention the fact that Chloe's friend keeps setting her up on blind dates hoping Chloe might find the man of her dreams. But, the more Ethan hangs around, the more Chloe realizes the man she wants is the man who may only be interested in her because of her property.

Chocolate Magic is a charming romance that's not short on chemistry, but like all Avalon romances, the books are gentler and suitable for both adults and teens. Not only do I think this is one of the best Avalon romances to be released in some time, but I also think there is great potential for a series. Having felt that way, I did a little research and found that this is actually the second book in the Love by Chocolate series, so I have some catching up to do!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Live to Tell - Wendy Corsi Staub (Suspense)

Released February 23, 2010

Want to be kept on the edge of your seat? Wendy Corsi Staub's latest, Live to Tell, hooks you in and keeps you reading for hours. Best of all, there's a sub-plot that is going to be carried over into her next release.

After her husband leaves her for another woman, Lauren Walsh does all she can to keep her family together. When the children's father fails to pick them up as promised for his weekend visitation, Lauren's annoyed and hurt that he doesn't see what he's doing to them. When he doesn't return phone calls or show up for work, her annoyance quickly turns to worry.

Meanwhile, Lauren feels that someone is watching her. In fact, she's certain she's seen someone in the shadows of her backyard. She's isolated herself from most of her former friends, so she has to figure out what happened to her ex and figure out if her mind is playing tricks or if her family is in danger.

The story within Live to Tell unravels through the perspective of a number of characters. I especially liked when the story turns to Sadie, the youngest child's, POV because she seemed to have an innate sense when it came to things being awry.

While gripping, I was a little disheartened when I figured out part of the mystery less than halfway through the book. While I couldn't finger the key players, I had why people were vanishing pegged right down to the last detail. Nonetheless, that didn't deter me from reading to the very end or being drawn up in the impressive suspense novel.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lake Magic - Kimberly Fisk (Contemporary Romance)

Released January 2010

Following the tragic death of her fiance, Jenny Beckinsale's found it difficult to pick up and move on. The business they started together is faltering, but Jenny's not willing to give up. After all, the charter plane service sits on land that her family has owned for decades.

Jared Worth wants the money he loaned to his friend and that means pushing Jenny into selling the charter service. He expects to walk in to her life and stroll out with a check in hand, but things aren't going as he planned. If she waits any longer, the business will be worthless. But, given her hardheadedness, Jared's not going to let that happen, so he decides to make the most of his portion of the business and turn things around.

While Jenny and Jared seemingly can't stand each other, the more time they spend getting to know one another, the more they realize they can't stand being apart. Will the business ruin the friendship they're developing or can they really make things work?

Lake Magic is a sweet contemporary romance. There's enough sexual tension to keep the reader engrossed, but the couple never rush into anything either. There's also a sub-plot involving Jenny's sister who is losing not only her husband but also her teenage son. Unless Anna changes her work ethics, she could well end up alone.

This is author Kimberly Fisk's first novel. One aspect of the storyline wasn't wrapped up as nicely as I'd hoped. Maybe the author plans to return to Hidden Lake...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

They Never Die Quietly - D. M. Annechino (Thriller)

Released February 2010

Here's the thing about D.M. Annechino's They Never Die Quietly; you can't go into the book expecting a mystery. This is a suspense/thriller, plain and simple. You know who the killer is from the get-go and along the way you gain insight into what makes him tick. The main difference for me is that despite knowing his past, I never liked him. I couldn't find any empathy towards his actions.

Detective Sami Rizzo and her partner Al Diaz are assigned to crack the case of a serial killer. Somehow he manages to take women and their children, hold them hostage somewhere before nailing them to a large wooden cross and cutting their hearts out. Readers are introduced to the killer, Simon, from the start. So there are no surprises there.

When Sami meets Simon while volunteering to feed the homeless, she is instantly drawn to him. He's charming, attractive and works at a local hospital as a physical therapist. When Simon asks her out, she hesitates but quickly accepts. By ignoring her gut instincts, Sami's life is in jeopardy.

I've read plenty of novels over the years, and will admit that the opening line caught my attention. "I lie naked on the makeshift crucifix. Along the underside of my arms, down my spine, against the back of my thighs, I can feel splinters from the rough-sawn wood prickling my tender skin."

The story is creepy. As the storyline played out, I was drawn into each victim's story. I did feel that Sami's actions were questionable at times, but every human has faults, so I can't state that every detective would have been a little smarter. I do know that when I dated, people always knew the name, phone number of the person I was dating and they knew were I was going. For a detective to have simply given her mom a first name and nothing more seems a little irresponsible.

In this economy, price matters. While I appreciate the difficultly that comes from writing and publishing a book, the cost to the consumer is equally important. I have this thing with paying more than $10 for a paperback book. If I'm paying more than $10, it has to be a book I'll read over and over or a hard cover version. That said, if you can find a copy of They Never Die Quietly on sale, I definitely think it's a worthy read. If you have to pay the full $15 asking price for the paperback version, I'd wait until you can find it a little cheaper because it isn't a story that would find its way to my keeper shelf.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Currently Reading: They Never Die Quietly

I'm hoping to finish this one today. It's a fascinating, if not pretty creepy, look into the mind of a serial killer.

They Never Die Quietly is part of a newer Amazon program that reissues books that never really were noticed by readers/agents/publishers the first time around, but that Amazon editors feel are outstanding reads.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

While I was Sick - Off the Beaten Track

Released February 23, 2010

During a good portion of last week, I had a stomach bug that persisted on lasting for a good four days. During this time, I didn't do much reading at all, hence the lack of posts. Instead, I curled up on the sofa and played Heavy Rain (PS3) a new game that, at heart, is an interactive mystery.

I like playing games, but I'm of the era where we spent hours playing King's Quest or Leisure Suit Larry point and click games. There were some challenging scenes, but most required you to think fast on your feet and deduce clues along the way.

Heavy Rain is the new era of these games. You start the game as Ethan, a family man who's son is about to celebrate a birthday. Along the way, you make Ethan decide what he'll do while his family is out shopping. Does he brush his teeth or skip it? Will he get a jump start on next week's work? All of your choices shape the character's future.

Eventually, Ethan and his wife end up at the mall with their children and one gets lost. When Ethan finds him, the kid runs into the road, gets hit and dies. The game skips forward two years. Now Ethan and his wife have split and he shares custody of their other son. Everyone's depressed. The heavy rain hitting Portland isn't helping. There's a killer on the loose. He's kidnapping young boys, drowning them and placing both an orchid and origami figure on their bodies. Soon Ethan's other son, Sean, is kidnapped by the Origami Killer and Ethan becomes desperate to find Sean before it is too  late.

Throughout the game, you make choices that affect the game's final outcome. You switch between characters. Ethan's role is obvious, but you'll also play as a reporter named Madison who has the potential to become a love-interest for Ethan. There's Scott, the portly private eye hired by some of the victims' families. FBI Agent Norman Jayden and his cool gadgetry was one of my favorites. And then you also get to play for a short while as a young boy towards the end.

My son played through Heavy Rain first, so I knew the killer's identity already, but ended up with a completely different outcome. It's kind of a Choose-Your-Own adventure book but on the television screen. If you want a game that is nothing like you've played in recent years, this one's fascinating. There are some plot holes that still leave me scratching my head, the voice acting and writing could have been a little better, but I still think the game is well worth it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Repo Men - Eric Garcia (Suspense/Sci-Fi)

Released March 2010 (Reissue)

This is not a new book. Repo Men was, in fact, released in 2009 under the title The Repossession Mambo. Now that the story is soon to be released in movie theaters, HarperCollins is reissuing the novel under the movie's title.

I've always preferred to read a book first and then see the movie. I like creating my own image of the character. Knowing the movie is coming out later this March, I'm curious to see how well Jude Law really does in the role of Remy, though while reading the book, I don't remember ever coming across the main character's name.

The story involves a man who works as a repo agent. In this case, he's not repossessing cars. The story is set in the future when Artiforgs are all the rage. To keep yourself alive, you can opt for artificial organs that are programmable and even remote controlled if you want to spend the extra money. The problem is the organs are expensive and interest rates are extremely high (think credit card max interest rates). If you fail to pay, your organ will be repossessed.

The hero of the novel reflects on his past while on the run from repo agents he once worked with. He's the one no longer paying his bills and to remain alive, he must outsmart those hunting him.

The novel was fascinating right up to the ending, though there were a few flashback scenes I rushed through to get back to the present. Characters are enjoyable and the action keeps you hooked. The story does jump back and forth between past and present, but much of the backstory is required to understand how the main character gets to where he is today.

Having finished the novel, I'm excited to see the movie but wonder how well it will translate to the big screen. I am happy the author also helped with the screenplay, that usually makes all the difference. In reading the main cast list, there seems to be one character either missing or maybe she's just been renamed. I'm hoping for the latter!

The Road to Christmas: A Sweet Holiday Romance Novel by Sheila Roberts

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