Friday, January 31, 2014

something for your mind’s eye.

The year is 1845 when naturalist Eliot Saxby sails forth on the Amethyst in an attempt to find surviving specimens of the Great Auk, a large bird/duck creature hunted to extinction. Captain Sykes is at the wheel of the ship, and heads a crew of rough and tough sailors. An Englishman named Edward and Saxby’s gorgeous distant cousin Clara are also on the adventure, each member carrying a secret. No one has any idea that Captain Sykes’ secret is to change the course of their mission until the crew discovers a remote island where a small colony of great auks inhabits, and crazy Captain Sykes voices his plan to kill them all.

The Collector of Lost Things by Jeremy Page is much more than a sportsman’s novel. The descriptions of the nature surrounding the Artic are incredibly beautiful. But, if you’re squeamish about hunting for sport, killing for the thrill of it, or wanton disregard for animal life, this is not the book for you.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

take gluten-free bread to the next level.

So I accidently made a grilled cheese sandwich on gluten-free bed that my mom had sitting around at her house the other day, and I have to say, I didn’t notice a thing. I mean, I do double the cheese on such a classy entrée, but I don’t think one had much to do with the other. Whatever brand it was, it was tasty. Now, I love homemade bread much more than store bought, so you can imagine my excitement when I received Gluten-Free on a Shoestring Bakes Bread by Nicole Hunn. I mean, I’m not eating any bread until I’m at my wedding weight, but at least I’ll be prepared for when I can properly feed myself again. 

Hunn doesn’t only include recipes for loaves of bread in this recipe book, obviously. She doesn’t even stick to one flour; more than just the basic all-purpose gluten free flour is used in most of her recipes. There are recipes for crescent rolls, monkey bread, sticky buns, ALL the good stuff. And I love me some Nicole Hunn monkey bread. Also, this cookbook is serious. It is incredibly well-researched and tested, it has to be. The chemistry is already done for you. All you need to do is follow the instructions and make some fab carbs that won’t make your bellyache.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

advice from America’s first bachelorette.

Aw, Trista Stutter is so cute, and I just love me a happy ending, especially for the underdog. This Bachelorette fell in love and chose her gorgeous husband Ryan all on live television and they are still married TEN years later. She’s like a unicorn.

In her book, Happily Ever After: The Life-Changing Power of a Grateful Heart,  readers come to find that Trista is just as sweet on paper as she is on the television screen, as she tells us how she stays positive in her everyday life. The main focus of this book is that no matter what messes are going on in your life, there are always ways to reduce stress, laugh more, and feel grateful for all that you have. Trista honestly makes you love her more than you already did as she shares her personal struggles. It’s rare that a person wakes up feeling grateful when things are going bad, showing gratitude to the people in your life AND yourself as a person is a conscious decision you have to make. You’ll walk away feeling grateful for the reminder of what’s really important in life.

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3. Contest ends 2/8!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

a family’s world history.

So many people think they have fantastic lives. Some of them even write a book about it. 50% of these people shouldn’t. I am not one of them, and neither is David Laskin. In his nonfiction narrative titled The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, Laskin tells the story of his family and to make it interesting, the story spans over 150 years. Wise choice, Mr. Laskin. Our characters are Jewish family members from Europe (Russia and Poland), Israel, and America, and their three separate stories are told in chronological order, through WWI , WWII, and beyond.

Laskin followed his family history through decades of births, marriages and deaths. We meet each person born in each generation and learn of their hopes and dreams. Some became entrepreneurs, some traveled to the Holy Land, and most endured war and depression. The Family is a book about survival, and between its history and Laskin’s writing, it will pull you right in.

Monday, January 27, 2014

the queen nobody knows about.

Alison Weir’s biography on Queen Elizabeth of York titled Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World is actually quite good considering there hasn’t been much written on this woman’s life, thus not much to go on. There were a few more “may have’s” than I would have liked, leading me to believe that no one really knows exactly who this queen was, but really how well do we know anyone from the past?

Personally, I enjoy how Elizabeth of York reads like a Life & Style magazine article about the Queen, her children, husband, and the times they lived in. Some historians may not enjoy the abundance of details and Weir’s literary writing style, making this history lesson much less of a bore, but I appreciate it!

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3. Contest ends 2/5!

Friday, January 24, 2014

a social and architectural biography.

The Chelsea Hotel has been a fixture in New York since 1884. I have seen the popular hotel in passing, but have never stayed there, and was completely unaware of its history. It doesn’t surprise me though, that it was the creative and literal home to artists and vagrants, from Bob Dylan to Andy Warhol.

Sherill Tippins educates readers on the history of the Chelsea Hotel in her history read titled Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel. From its founding in 1884 to present day, Tippins has created a bit of a memoir, one the hotel itself would have written (if hotels could do such things) about the lives and accomplishments of its notable guests over the past 125 years. The history is slowly uncovered, and the stories are divulged in chronological order filled with sexcapades, murder, along with literary and musical genius. The Chelsea herself would be pleased.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

a delightful holiday read.

Since manfriend and I still have our Christmas tree up because we missed the designated trash day and now have to wait until the end of the month, it’s Christmas at our house all through January, which makes my next review totally appropriate.

Christmas Bliss, a novel by Mary Kay Andrews is a super cute story about an antique dealer named Weezie Foley who is preparing for her Christmas Eve wedding which is only days away. As a follow up to Blue Christmas (which is another crowd pleaser, and should be read first), this series is set in Savannah, Georgia and revolves around besties Weezie and BeBe who will do anything for each other, and have.

While Weezie is up to her eyeballs in wedding details at home, her fiancé, Daniel, is serving as a guest chef in a trendy Manhattan restaurant. Weezie decides to surprise Daniel with a visit to NYC. Out on Tybee Island, a very pregnant BeBe is overseeing the construction of her new home when she gets some unsettling news about her ex-husband, which she hides from her boyfriend and baby daddy, Harry as to not upset things further. We all know that secrets and surprises lead to trouble, but not too much trouble as this is a light and fun read.

Win a FREE copy of Christmas Bliss!

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3. Contest ends 2/1!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

kick ass giveaway!

Win a FREE copy of Rick Steves' Italy 2014!
Contest Rules:
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2. E-mail your name and this book title to: to enter!
3. Contest ends 1/27!

my new profession?

I ordered a custom stamp of mine and Manfriend’s names and the new address of our home for our wedding invitations RIGHT before receiving Carve, Stamp, Play: Designing and Creating Custom Stamps by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, which would be kind of ironic if I was even remotely artistic enough to trust myself to design a return address stamp worthy of our wedding invites on my first try. Nah, my first stamp should be teacher oriented, I was thinking “What the…?” for when I grade papers.

Anyways, Balzer has created quite the stamp-creating resource, although you need a decent amount of supplies to get started, you’ll have half of them just lying around your house. Like a ruler, box cutter, pencil, etc. She also explains the basics in detail and has each stamp project formatted in step by step order. In my opinion, Carve, Stamp, Play is absolutely a stamp-making book for beginners and experts alike, leaving anyone room to advance their designs and projects.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

i wanna go!

When I think of Chicago, I think of deep dish pizza and cheesecake, veggies don’t typically come to mind. But apparently, Chicago is home to the most famous vegetarian hot spot around, the Chicago Diner. Boasting their thirtieth year of vegetarian and vegan cooking in the windy city, Jo A. Kaucher, Kat Barry and the rest of the Chicago Diner crew have released The New Chicago Diner Cookbook: Meat-Free Recipes from American’s Veggie Diner which includes over 100 Diner-tested recipes that will light up your veggie lifestyle.

The Chicago Diner has this ability to make vegan food taste amazing, and their cookbook doesn’t let you down. It’s filled with all of their secrets and recipes that will leave you satisfied and feeling energized, even though you’re only eating veggies, tofu, and beans. It’s crazy. Their ranch dressing recipe is to die for, and their meat substitutes will have you thinking that Wilber’s death was such a waste.

Monday, January 20, 2014

more than the best hitter in baseball history.

Ted Williams is well known for his achievements in baseball. He was no stranger to home-runs and was inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame. Author Ben Bradlee Jr. shares with us other sides to this baseball hero, sides that are bigger than the game, in his biography The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams.

William’s childhood was painful. He grew up in San Diego with a never present father who eventually abandoned the family. His mother was also terribly neglectful, preferring to spend her time soliciting money for the Salvation Army rather than spend time with her children. Williams found solace in baseball, and he wanted to be the best. But Williams was more than just a baseball player.  He spent 5 years of his baseball career, during his prime playing periods, serving as a pilot for the Marines in WWII and in Korea. He did a lot for his country, his race, and his fans. However, this isn’t a biography about a man who did everything right. His personal relationships were atrocious, and Bradlee made sure that this biography was honest, including interviews from multiple family members and people close to Williams who is still honored in the bio despite his faults.

Friday, January 17, 2014

the new atkins.

When I was a teenager and thought I was fat, I dabbled in the Atkins Diet, and in the 17-year-old world that meant eating chicken wings and bacon daily. Let’s just say, it didn’t work out the way I planned. Colette Heimowitz and her The New Atkins Made Easy, includes a diet that is much healthier than the one 10 years ago, and more realistic. If you don't care to get into all of the scientific information on how Atkins works, this is a great book to just get you started.

The New Atkins Made Easy has lots of delicious recipes, including full meals that require preparation as well as grab and go items. There are shopping lists, and advice on sticking to the diet while traveling. Also, each recipe has basic nutritional information including carb grams, calories, protein grams, etc. showing you that eating low carb actually allows you to eat more calories than a low fat diet. Going low carb does seem to be the best way to lose weight and now that it’s easier to do, why wouldn’t you give it a try?

Thursday, January 16, 2014

relax, it’s just parenting.

Parenting is terrifying, fact. No one really has any idea what they are doing, especially the first time around, and the rules change year to year. Parents who are not confident they are doing the job right typically become overbearing, and actually hinder their child’s development, rather than help them along. I learned that little tid bit from Deborah Carlisle Solomon’s parenting resource Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE Way. RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educarers, an organization that helps parents live and let live, basically allowing their children to develop at their own pace rather than hovering over them all the time trying to do things for them.

In this resource Solomon discusses the competence of babies and their ability to help themselves. She also discusses how being overbearing can actually mess with your child’s self-confidence, once you start handing them their toys they’ll expect everything to be handed to them. If you want to be a more confident parent, and have a more enjoyable experience in general, look into RIE and Baby Knows Best.    

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

a WNY suspense novel.

I am from WNY, and it’s pretty boring in our neck of the woods, which is why I was a little surprised that Linwood Barclay set his novel, A Tap on the Window in a small town outside of Buffalo. Well he jazzes the place right up drugs, hitchhikers and murder.

Cal Weaver is an ex-cop and a private detective who recently lost his son to an unfortunate incident involving drugs and a jump out of a window. While waiting at a stop light, a rain-soaked teenage girl raps on the passenger window and asks for a ride home. Claire Sanders, the mayor's daughter, he should definitely give her a lift, right? Cal learns the hard way that he was helping a teenage runaway, and is soon a suspect for a major homicide investigation. So many twist and turns, there’s no way to predict what will happen next.    

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

debut novel.

In Norah Vincent’s debut novel, Thy Neighbor you are not going to find a loveable main character that you can easily relate to. You’re going to find Nick Walsh, a freelance writer/loner who is seriously disturbed, and has been since his father did the whole murder/suicide thing with his mother thirteen years earlier. He’s become seriously paranoid, and spends his time secretly videotaping the private lives of people in his neighborhood. He is in a semi-relationship with a woman who steals for a living, because why wouldn’t he be? The heart of the novel revolves around a 12-year-old girl who went missing, and how her disappearance tied in with Nick’s parent’s deaths. It gets pretty uncomfortable and a bit disgusting at times, because let’s be honest, the private lives of most people are way more disturbing than reality television.


Monday, January 13, 2014

quite the children’s book.

It’s not often that you come across a children’s book as emotional as Monica Edinger’s Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad, about a girl named Sierra Leone who was sold into slavery by her father. Based on a true story, this nine-year-old girl tells the story of her experience aboard the Amistad, a well-known slave ship that took her and other slaves, young and old to Cuba, and eventually to America. It took three years for her happy ending, but this child was eventually freed, like many others, and able to return to Africa. Filled with beautiful illustrations and exceptional writing, Africa Is My Home should qualify as a nonfiction read, for all of you Common Core nuts out there, grades 4-8.

Friday, January 10, 2014

unlearn your bad habits.

Relationships are hard work. I really had no idea how hard until Manfriend and I moved into our home after we got engaged. Just getting used to the presence of someone new in the same space as you for long periods of time takes some getting used to. It was easier to be wonderful when we saw each other part-time. Dr. Barton Goldsmith is hoping to make my relationship (and yours) thrive with his resource The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time. Because 50% of marriages end in divorce, and I’d like to be the other 50, thanks.

The main purpose of this resource is to help couples establish a more positive relationship and a deeper emotional connection. Communication is key, we all know this, yet we do nothing to better the communication between us and our partners, myself included. I still find myself shouting my feelings at Manfriend at the completely wrong times, and pretending things are resolved when they aren’t, just because I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Dr. Goldsmith gives exercises to help prevent this lack of communication. The rest of the chapters cover other bad habits you may be bringing into your relationship. Communication is my problem, yours may be hurtful teasing, you may feel a lack of acknowledgement from your partner, or they may feel that from you, etc. No relationship is perfect; however, you may find the steps YOU need to make yours better right here.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

another spark's crowd pleaser.

Nicholas Sparks' latest novel The Longest Ride has a love story for the young and the old(er). Told in three different perspectives, and two separate storylines, we first meet 90-something Ira and his late wife, Ruth. Although I am in my twenties, Ira and Ruth's story was my favorite of the two. The story opens with Ira who has just gotten into a car accident that has him pinned in his vehicle. It is winter time in North Carolina, and the weather is cold, worrying Ira more and more as the chapters pass. In his car, he is able to see and speak to his wife Ruth, who died nine years previously. Together, they rehash their love story, showing readers how love can indeed conquer death.

Twenty-one year old Sophia is a senior in college and a sorority girl, although she doesn't act like the traditional form. She has just gotten over a breakup when she meets Luke at a country barn party after her and her girlfriends travel to a bull riding show. Luke has been riding bulls since he could walk, and he's extremely good at it. He and Sophia hit it off instantly, despite their obvious differences (she's an art history major from Jersey with immigrant parents, he works on his family's ranch, rides bulls and is super country). Their love story is sweet, but a little immature for my taste. Probably because I'm getting older. I just couldn't help but fall in love with Ira and Ruth, to me, they trumped.

I'm sure you all are wondering how Sparks managed to intertwine two couples who are not related and 70 years apart in age. Let's just say he did so in his Sparks kind of way.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

we want more! we want more!

As I mentioned before, I received the latest Stephanie Plum novel, Takedown Twenty for Christmas. Well, I gobbled it up within two days, which is pretty normal for me. It was such an easy read that I just breezed right through it, blast. I loved it, just as I've loved all of Janet Evanovich’s installments revolving around Jersey girl Stephanie Plum, my favorite bounty hunter who makes a habit of pissing off the wrong people and getting her car blown up on the regular.

All is pretty normal in Trenton, other than the fact that Lula and Stephanie spot a giraffe running through the ghetto and no one seems to feel the need to report it, including them. Stephanie is out to catch hometown favorite, mobster Uncle Sunny, who jumped bail after being brought in for running over a guy, twice. None of the Burg is interested in helping her, as Uncle Sunny is one of those mobsters that everyone likes and is related to, including Morelli. On the side there is Ranger (who really is her man on the side, sort of) who needs Stephanie's help solving the murder of a client's mother who played bingo with Grandma Mazur and turned up dead in a dumpster, along with a handful of other old ladies and no one knows how the killer hasn't been caught. As usual working with Grandma Mazur and Lula turns stressful, but at the end of the day you want the crazy on your side.

Monday, January 6, 2014

be objective while reading.

Just when you thought everything about the Cambrian Explosion has already been said, in walks Stephen C. Meyer with Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design. Trained in philosophy of science at Cambridge University, Meyer challenges Neo-Darwinist theories of undirected/unguided evolution. I have no opinion on the subject; I am here to tell you that this is a solid scientific review and a goldmine of information. Whether you agree with the author or not, Meyer’s research is impeccable, there is no argument.  Darwin’s Doubt is a must-read for any graduate or undergraduate student who is interested in getting up to speed with the latest in ID thinking and research.

Friday, January 3, 2014

alternative history story.

First and foremost, The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney isn’t some boy meets girl romance novel, though you might expect something along those lines from the cover. Set in Portugal at the turn of the twentieth century, The Golden City follows the story of Oriana Paredes, a spy amongst the social elite of the city for her people, the sereia—the mermaids. This novel alternates between two perspectives, Oriana and Duilio Ferreira, a police consultant with his own genetic roots in the sea. And although there is some romantic-tension between our two main characters, it is not the primary focus. The GIANT cliffhanger at the end won’t be the only thing that will keep you wanting more of this series and Cheney’s writing, but read slowly. The sequel doesn’t come out until July of next year.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

not what you would call a light read.

Duplex by Kathryn Davis is a novel that should probably be read twice to truly grasp the author’s message, as the first round may go right over your head. If you’re not turned off by a novel that challenges you, by all means dive in, the water’s fine. The world Davis has created in this novel is like a dream, a very strange dream that is almost impossible to understand. I must give the proper accoutrements to her vivid imagination; however, much of the story was lost on me at first glance. It opens on a suburban street with sycamore trees planted at regular intervals, as an attractive middle-aged schoolteacher named Miss Vicks, takes her dachshund on a walk. You learn more about this woman as the story reads on, strange things keep happening and it does not stop. It’s not exactly easy to explain, so I’ll leave it to you to take the plunge.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

happy new year...

to you and yours, from me and my handsome devil.

a great collaboration.

Shades of Mercy by Anita Lustrea & Caryn Rivadeneira is a coming of age love story about a fifteen-year-old farmer’s daughter named Mercy Millar who is deeply in love with her lifelong friend, Mick, a Maliseet Indian. The romance that buds between these two teenagers must remain hidden because well…it’s 1954 in rural Maine, and a harsh hatred for Indians was palpable during this time. When racial tensions escalate and Mick is thrown in jail under suspicion of murder, Mercy nearly loses all hope-in love and in God himself. Throughout the story, the author’s challenge readers to think about social justice issues, reminding us that loving our neighbor should not have contingencies. Shades of Mercy is an easy read, filled with lovable characters, and lessons that every teenager and adult alike should learn.