Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Heiress - Lynsay Sands

Released March 2011

Usually, I don't hesitate to recommend reading a series out of order or missing the first book. With Lynsay Sand's The Heiress, I'm torn. The story could work by itself, but, on the other hand, there's a minor plot that carries through from the first book. That really makes me think it's better if you read this series in order.

If you read The Countess, you met the Madison sisters--Chrissy, Suzette and Lisa. If you didn't, here's a quick recap. After learning their father has gambled a huge amount of money, Suzette and Lisa head to their sister's house where they are virtually turned away by her new husband, "Dicky." When Chrissy's husband is poisoned, they learn that he's not who he said he was. He was actually an imposter posing as his supposedly deceased twin brother. The real Richard Fairgrave, owner of the estate, is very much alive and determined to keep Chrissy in his life. That's the premise to The Countess.

A good majority of The Heiress retells the events from The Countess. This time, things are told from Suzette's perspective. To spare her family from scandal caused by her father's gambling, she knows she must marry within two weeks. When she meets Richard's best friend, Daniel Woodrow, she's delighted. Daniel's poor, likely to want the huge dowry she offers and definitely makes her passionate nature come to life.

What Suzette doesn't know is that Daniel may have been poor in childhood, but he's actually incredibly wealthy now. While he's not as certain that they should marry quickly, he realizes no woman has made him feel this way before. Daniel clearly wants Suzette, but will the truth stand in their way?

I liked The Heiress, yet I didn't love it as much as The Countess. I think the problem here involves the duplicate story. On one side, I enjoyed seeing events play out from Suzette's point of view. But, it was exactly the same story, very little was different. After a while, it became tedious re-reading a story I'd read only a few weeks ago. Once the book reached the point where The Countess left off, I did quickly regain interest. Daniel's mother is a hoot and I'd love to see her feature prominently in more stories.

Monday, February 21, 2011

My One and Only - Kristan Higgins

Released March 29, 2011

Divorce attorney Harper has been dating hunky firefighter Dennis Costello for the past couple of years. She thinks she's ready for more. Since Dennis hasn't proposed, Harper decides to switch things up. However, he doesn't seem as agreeable. Before they can really discuss it, Harper's sister, Willa, calls to announce she's getting married.

Harper is shocked because Willa's still young and this will be her third marriage. Not to mention, Willa's only known the guy for a couple weeks. Worse still, the "guy" in question is Harper's former brother-in-law. Heading to Montana for the wedding is going to be tough because Harper's ex-husband, Nick, will be there and the two haven't seen each other since the divorce.

When Harper's flight home is delayed due to computer outages, she agrees to accept a ride across country with Nick. Maybe this isn't her best idea. The more time she spends with him, the more she realizes she never stopped loving him.

Kristan Higgins' My One and Only has to top the list of favorite romances in the past few years. Harper's definitely a flawed person. As the reader learns more about Harper's childhood and marriage to Nick, it becomes quite understandable. Watching the more mature woman come to terms with things is entertaining to say the least. I definitely shed a few tears, but I also snickered drawing questioning looks from my kids. There's a nice balance of emotion and humor. The writing is solid and the length of the book (over 350 pages) ensured these were characters you'd have plenty of time getting to know.

There are minor characters who also add charm to this contemporary romance, In My One and Only, you meet Harper's younger sister, stepmother and father. Each is undergoing issues that they really need help resolving, but Harper's determined outlook has made it hard for them to really share a bond. It's easy to imagine befriending this family. By the final page, readers will be wishing there were still chapters to go.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beat This! Cookbook - Ann Hodgman

Released March 2011

Technically, this isn't a new cookbook. Beat This and Beat That have made the rounds before. If, like me, you missed them, Beat This! Cookbook is a must-have. If you're looking for healthy, look elsewhere. If you're looking for recipes that will impress your guests, you'll find many winners here!

The cookbook is laced with humor from start to finish. I spent more time chuckling than I think I ever have reading one of Alton Brown's cookbooks (another must-have collection in my opinion.) Many times, I was mentally high-fiving the author for being so completely right. When talking about how brownies are best when cooked "custard-like," I call it "mooshy" but same difference. I haven't tried her brownie recipe yet, mainly because Alton Brown has a killer recipe with tons of melted chocolate that I think is the world's greatest, though her recipe is similar so I'm betting just as awesome.

The roast chicken recipe is fabulous. It's one I've been using for years (stuff the cavity with lemons) and that and my beer-can-up-the-butt chicken are family favorites. She also has recipes for things like Brussels sprouts, lentil soup, bread, meatloaf and much more. Every recipe looks intriguing, others I'd tweak just a bit. One is the Brussels sprouts recipe. I've made them for years using the heavy cream that she uses, but toss in bacon pieces and nutmeg and even those who claim to hate them will munch away.

 What makes Beat This! Cookbook so enjoyable is that Ann Hodgman comes across as a friend sharing her dearest recipes. The writing is honest and amusing. I had to read it twice. Once for the comments and the other time to actually look at the recipes and pick out the ones to try. As soon as it is out in stores, I plan to get a copy for my cookbook collection. It's just that good.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Grilled Cheese Please - Laura Werlin (Cookbook)

Released March 2011

On a cold fall or winter day, who doesn't love the idea of a steaming bowl of soup and a hearty grilled cheese sandwich? I know grilled cheese is a family favorite.

With Grilled Cheese Please, Laura Werlin offers up dozens of delightful grilled cheese sandwich recipes. Long gone are the days of a couple pieces of bread with a slice of bland American cheese in between. Instead, you're treated to a variety of hearty sandwiches, some with meats or veggies added to the mix.

Grilled Cheese Please opens with a description of the different breads and cheeses that you can incorporate into a grilled cheese sandwich or panini. Then it dives into delicious recipes. Start with the easy-to-make Spinach, Egg & Manchego or one of my all-time favorites, Welsh Rarebit. (And kudos to the author for not caving into the "Welsh Rabbit" that so many American cookbooks call it.) For those unfamiliar with this British staple--my Mom's English, so this was a childhood favorite--take English cheddar, beer and mustard and you get a hearty, extremely delicious treat. The recipe for Welsh Rarebit adds bacon and tomato, but when I'm in England, my aunts usually add caramelized onions and keep it vegetarian friendly.

Other recipes include the Cuban, the Jalapeno Popper and another of my favorites, the Monte Cristo. I'm curious on the Monte Cristo recipe she includes. She serves her sandwich with strawberry jam. Maybe it's regional, but every Monte Cristo I've ever had is served with a side of maple syrup.

Either way, if you are ready for a cookbook devoted to cheese sandwiches, this is a great addition to your library. Never again will you have to endure boring grilled cheese sandwiches. You'll have a huge selection of delectable sandwiches for every day of the week.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Head Over Heel: Seduced by Southern Italy - Chris Harrison

Released October 2010

Head Over Heel: Seduced by Southern Italy is Chris Harrison's book detailing how he ended up leaving his home country, Australia, for Southern Italy. In a nutshell, it was all for love. The book is part memoir, part relocation guide as he details the challenges he faced not only being allowed to remain in Italy but also getting a driver's license and getting necessary medical care when the average wait for care, due to national health care, is six months. For anyone considering packing up and moving to Italy or any other country for that matter, there is some solid information in this book.

As for the memoir aspect, there were times when I felt the book was a little too personal for my liking. I understand his passion for his girlfriend and know that's why he was in Italy, but I didn't really want to hear about their sex life. I also didn't care to read how his colored underwear supposedly stained a load of sheets or how he and his girlfriend's family didn't always see eye to eye. I understand it's very personal to the author and his new family, and if the author was family or a close friend, I would have that connection drawing me into the book.

That's what makes a memoir hit or miss. For me to want to know details, I really have to feel a connection to the author (i.e. celebrity memoirs) and in this case, the connection was lacking. I certainly can see Head Over Heel having great appeal with the author, his family and friends. For the average stranger that will pick up this book, details of life in Italy are great. The segment on veterinary care made me cringe.  However, the rest seemed hit or miss. If you want to learn about moving to Italy and the steps required to remain in the country, I say read it. If you are reading this thinking it's a whimsical romance,  you might want to look elsewhere.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Countess - Lynsay Sands

Released February 2011

Christiana "Lady Radnor" should be grieving, but there are more important things at stake. What started out as a fairy tale romance turned horribly wrong once "Dicky" had her dowry in hand. The discovery of her husband's body requires her attention, however he was a selfish, verbally abusive jerk, so she's relieved her marriage is over. She and her sisters decide to put him on ice, literally, until a better time. Things don't go as planned when he appears at a party very much alive and acting very unlike himself.

Richard Fairgrave is shocked to learn his brother has been pretending to be him for the past year. Now that his brother's dead, he's ready to resume his place in society. A stunning wife isn't what he expected, but he's willing to play along. The problem is his charming manners and kind attention to his "wife" leaves Christiana shell-shocked. Not to mention, Richard knows his brother was murdered and Christiana had all the reason in the world to want him dead.

The Countess appears to be the first book in a new series revolving around Christiana and her sisters. Each sister has a substantial dowry at stake making them prime targets for thieving men. I enjoyed the romance between Richard and Christiana. There was plenty of passion and his devotion to her was a nice change of pace after "Dicky."

There is one aspect of the story that isn't quite resolved. I'm assuming it's going to play an important role in the next story, The Heiress, coming out in March 2011. I think I understand what's going on and eagerly await the outcome to see if I'm right.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer - Moira Allen

Released January 2011

I've been a freelance writer for four years. Much of the information put forth in Moira Allen's guide is going to help a newbie. She covers the basics and delves into more advanced topics. However, the main focus of the book seemed to be on magazine writing and even manuscripts. She really didn't delve much into writing web content. That's where I make my money.

What you get out of Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer is really based on what you plan to write. I've dabbled in magazine writing, but honestly, waiting for the pay to arrive doesn't fit my needs. My husband pays the majority of the bills, my income is simply there to cover groceries, gas and unexpected expenses. Not everyone is in that situation, so your needs are likely to be different.

I prefer a steady paycheck that comes in once a week as promised. That's why I stick to SEO work. There are downsides there too. Work loads can be sporadic. In addition, if you're creating the content for a specific website and they ask for 25 articles on virtually the same topic, it can get tedious. You have to learn to be creative.

Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer is divided into sections:
  • Getting Started
  • Starting Your Article
  • Finding the Right Markets
  • Queries and Submissions
  • Rights and Contracts
  • The Online Writer (Focuses on building a website and blogging)
  • Expanding Your Writing Business
  • Commercial Freelancing (This briefly covers writing web content)
  • Taking the Plunge
Many of the questions writers struggle with are answered. The author covers issues like contracts and taxes. She details how to come up with an idea that magazines will buy. Guest authors appear throughout the book offering additional insight. Peter Bowerman is a name most freelance writers immediately recognize. He shares a few tips. She also does a great job with queries and provides many links to other helpful websites. For that reason, I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

All for One - Melody Carlson

Released March 2011

The third book in Melody Carlson's Four Lindas Series continues each friend's story. For those new to the series, the Four Lindas all share the same first name but use their middle names instead.

Abby is fretting over her husband following his heart attack. She's not sleeping and has pushed off plans for her bed and breakfast. Everyone knows she's about to crash and burn and they want to help rescue her before she burns out.

Attorney Janie, a widow, seems happy with her significant other and her office in the basement of Abby's bed and breakfast is coming along. Just when her life seems to be on an upswing, the ex-wife of her new beau comes to town determined to win her ex-husband back.

Caroline wrestles with the decision to put her mother in a nursing home. Her mother's reached the final stages of Alzheimers, but Caroline can't imagine being uprooted from the only place you've ever lived at this critical time in your life. When Caroline's unscrupulous brother returns to town years, she's not truly prepared for the battle that lies ahead.

Marley is happy with her beau and his charming granddaughter. However, something's up with Marley's grown son. She can't be happy knowing something is wrong in his life.

Each chapter continues the story of each woman. New challenges await and old habits appear to die hard. I found All for One really advanced their characters. I was surprised a little by Caroline's weaknesses in certain areas. I wish in the face of adversity that she'd grown a little bolder. I think it's Janie that I really liked best in this book because she definitely showed some guts on more than one occasion.

Without giving away any spoilers, I think readers will be surprised by events as they unfold. It's November as I write this review and I admit I do wish this book was being released right now. Set around Thanksgiving, I think it would make an outstanding story for the holidays.

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