Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book Review: Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

Title: Winter Garden
Series: Standalone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 01/28/2010
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre(s): Women's Fiction

DESCRIPTION

"Can a woman ever really know herself if she doesn’t know her mother? 
 
From the author of the smash-hit bestseller Firefly Lane and True Colors comes a powerful, heartbreaking novel that illuminates the intricate mother-daughter bond and explores the enduring links between the present and the past
Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard; the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night. On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time—and all the way to the end. Thus begins an unexpected journey into the truth of Anya’s life in war-torn Leningrad, more than five decades ago. Alternating between the past and present, Meredith and Nina will finally hear the singular, harrowing story of their mother’s life, and what they learn is a secret so terrible and terrifying that it will shake the very foundation of their family and change who they believe they are."

MY THOUGHTS

Five stars. Five tissues...at least. Those of you who have read Kristin Hannah are already aware of how intensely moving her novels are. Winter Garden is no exception. It is a stirring depiction of two daughters, Meredith and Nina, dealing with the death of their beloved father and his request of them to get to know their secretive and reserved mother. They must get her to continue telling them the fairy tale she had started when they were young but hadn't yet finished.

As the novel (and fairy tale) unfold we learn how their mother's repressed behavior toward her own daughters has affected their lives and relationships. Since I don't do spoilers I will reveal no more specifics. I'll just say when Meredith, Nina, and their mother go to Alaska together more than just the majestic beauty of the area is revealed.

(Note: The story was motivation enough for finishing it in a timely manner, but another inducement was it would be my 52nd book read in 2011. I had challenged myself to read 40, but I could not leave my total at 51 when 52 would make my average for the year perfect!)


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Book Review: Port Mortuary by Patricia Cornwell

Title: Port Mortuary
Series: Scarpetta #18
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Published: 11/30/2010
Publisher: Berkley
Genre(s): Contemporary Mystery, Forensic Thriller

DESCRIPTION

"Kay Scarpetta has been training at the Dover Port Mortuary, mastering the art of 'virtual autopsy' - a groundbreaking procedure that could soon revolutionize forensic science. And it is not too long before these new skills urgently need to be put into practice. A young man drops dead, apparently from a heart condition, eerily close to Scarpetta's home. But when his body is examined the next morning, there are stunning indications that he may have been alive when he was zipped inside a pouch and locked inside the cooler. When the revolutionary 3D radiology scans reveal more shocking details about internal injuries unlike any Scarpetta has ever seen, Scarpetta realizes that this is a case of murder - and that she is fighting a cunning and uniquely cruel enemy. Now it is a race against time to discover who and why before more people die. But that time is running out ... Patricia Cornwell is the 2008 winner of the Galaxy British Book Awards' Books Direct Crime Thriller of the Year ? the first American ever to win this prestigious award. Postmortem was the only novel to win five major crime awards in a single year and Cruel and Unusual won the coveted Gold Dagger Award in 1993.

MY THOUGHTS

After not being able to finish the two previous Scarpetta novels (Scarpetta and The Scarpetta Factor) and barely finishing several (Book of the Dead, Predator, Trace, Blow Fly), before them, I am fairly pleased with Port Mortuary. In comparison, that is.

I found it heavy on confusing dialogue but felt returning to Scarpetta's point of view was its saving grace. It was a complex story line with seemingly unrelated things ultimately being connected. There was a number of very clever lines of dialogue and I enjoyed Kay's interaction with the Greyhound, Sock.

I will give the current Scarpetta novel, Red Mist, a try and be hopeful that I find it interesting enough to finish as well.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gift of Companionship



This Christmas I'm thinking out of the box. My gift under the tree isn't in a box wrapped in shiny paper. No, my gift is Lizzie - her companionship. Everyday. Around-the-clock. All year. Not just for those special days - birthdays, Christmas...She is with me when my family is away or busy. Her constant, quiet, timid demeanor is a true comfort to me. I try to be a comfort to her, as well. I'm offering her pep talks so she'll get in her bed even though there is now a towering tree and scary boxes above it. I'm coaxing her past the basket on the floor in the hall and the decorated broom by the front door. I think it helps. I hope it helps.

She's generally extremely quiet but acts outrageously silly with her toys and when on the shore of the river. She's quite frightened of the wind and thunderstorms in the house, but isn't afraid to go outside in the rain, wind, or snow. She loves the snow! Even more than playing at the beach. Watching her enjoy herself free from the things that worry her makes me happier than any gift in a box ever could. 

She's so patient while I take care of her eye, give her a 'Peticure', groom her, and brush her teeth. She never seems to assume it's time to eat or go outside. She simply waits for the cues and then gets appropriately excited.  When I find myself worrying about things or a little sad Lizzie is always nearby. Taking her for a walk. Talking to her. Petting her. She is my constant companion. Her presence is my comfort, and, yes, joy! 



Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: Lethal by Sandra Brown

Title: Lethal
Series: Standalone
Author: Sandra Brown
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 09/20/2011
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre(s): Romantic Suspense

DESCRIPTION

"When her four year old daughter informs her a sick man is in their yard, Honor Gillette rushes out to help him. But that "sick" man turns out to be Lee Coburn, the man accused of murdering seven people the night before. Dangerous, desperate, and armed, he promises Honor that she and her daughter won't be hurt as long as she does everything he asks. She has no choice but to accept him at his word.

But Honor soon discovers that even those close to her can't be trusted. Coburn claims that her beloved late husband possessed something extremely valuable that places Honor and her daughter in grave danger. Coburn is there to retrieve it -- at any cost. From FBI offices in Washington, D.C., to a rundown shrimp boat in coastal Louisiana, Coburn and Honor run for their lives from the very people sworn to protect them, and unravel a web of corruption and depravity that threatens not only them, but the fabric of our society."

MY THOUGHTS

Lethal is the 53rd book I've read by Sandra Brown. I was so into it I thought I had been reading it for two days. Come to find out, I only started it yesterday afternoon! Talk about an engrossing read!

The one thing I missed with this book was any sign of the Louisiana dialect. Sure, it's stated the story takes place in Louisiana and there are plenty of geographical mentions, but I wanted the characters to read like they're from Louisiana. You know what I mean? Sandra has done it before (Slow Heat in Heaven comes to mind). I wonder why not in this one? (A little hint here and there would have been nice.) There are plenty of twists and turns, and I couldn't settle on what characters could be fully trusted. I felt most of Honor's reactions came across realistically. Emily was adorable! Lee Coburn acted a little like a sociopath for my tastes, but he was amendable with Honor and Emily's influence. I had a inkling who The Bookkeeper might be in chapter 34, but WOW what an exciting reveal!

Oh, the ending...not the tidily wrapped up one we might hope for, but we know what happens, don't we?


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus
Series: Standalone
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 09/13/2011
Publisher: Anchor
Genre(s): Fantasy

DESCRIPTION

"The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart."

MY THOUGHTS

I have withheld reading any in-depth descriptions or reviews of The Night Circus. I had read bits and pieces of an extended sample, and after noticing a recent review on Goodreads, added it to my 'to-read-or-not-to-read' shelf. If I had read more about the book I doubt I would have read the book. I'm not intrigued by circuses or illusions, at all. The cover art didn't attract my attention. I do like historical fiction though. It was after my daughter sped through it and pronounced it "wonderful" that I knew I would give it a chance.

I don't think The Night Circus would fill the requirements for those seeking a plot-driven book. I thought of it kind of like a magical voice was guiding me along a winding, colorfully illustrated walkway. Everything but that walkway was dark and there were no other sounds but that enchanting narration. Once I got into the rhythm (the alternating timeline of the chapters), and found the magical characters had charmed me, I was hooked. This is a very visual story which could easily have been without a soul. I believe Erin Morgenstern kept the two aspects balanced beautifully! 

HIGHLIGHTS

“A show without an audience is nothing, after all. In the response of the audience, that is where the power of performance lives.” ~ Chandresh Christophe Lefevre

~*~

“Better to have a single perfect diamond than a stack of flawed stones.”  ~ Chandresh Christophe Lefevre

~*~

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” ~ Mr. Alexander H.

~*~

“That's the beauty of it. Have you seen the contraptions these magicians build to accomplish the most mundane feats? They are a bunch of fish covered in feathers trying to convince the public they can fly, I am simply a bird in their midst.” ~ Hector Bowen

~*~

“You believe you could not live with the pain. Such pain is not lived with. It is only endured.” ~ Tsukiko


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Book Review: The Next Always by Nora Roberts

Title: The Next Always
Series: Inn Boonsboro Trilogy #1
Author: Nora Roberts
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 11/01/2011
Publisher: Berkley
Genre(s): Fantasy, Contemporary Romance

DESCRIPTION

"The historic hotel in BoonsBoro, Maryland, has endured war and peace, changing hands, even rumored hauntings. Now it's getting a major facelift from the Montgomery brothers and their eccentric mother. As the architect of the family, Beckett's social life consists mostly of talking shop over pizza and beer. But there's another project he's got his eye on: the girl he's been waiting to kiss since he was fifteen..."

MY THOUGHTS

What an easy breezy read! I really do love Nora's books. If I had to pick the one thing that makes Nora my favorite author it would be the dialogue she writes for her characters—whether it be spoken between friends, siblings, or parent and child, it blows me away every time! I can't help being drawn into the tight knit circle of amazing characters. In this book, the first of the new Inn Boonsboro Trilogy, it's the Montgomery family and several remarkable women. This is Beckett and Claire's story. Of course there is chemistry between them, but there is so much more...some of the "more" being her three young sons: Harry, Liam, and Murphy. Beckett is one of three boys. When he is with Claire's boys it's chaotic and messy and loud (all things I detest in real life) and I want to be there to experience that bond. When Claire is dealing with the day-to-day stuff: meals, playtime, homework, baths, unending questions, I want to be the friend who is welcome in her life. When Justine Montgomery is talking with Beckett about him taking his time asking Claire out I laughed out loud. Just as I did when Beckett was "babysitting" the boys the first time. Claire's epiphany that lead to the title of the book is perfect! This book was filled with so many magical moments, and I'm not even referring to the ghost!

The fact that the location, Boonsboro, is real and that Nora and her family own the businesses whose names are used in the book, had me wondering...at first. The more I read, the more I believed this probably helped Nora portray this town, the businesses, the characters even more vividly than is her norm. This place is her home. (I've been to Boonsboro several times...I really want to return.) These characters are so remarkable. (I am anxious to spend more time with them in the next two books.)

Six months. We have to wait six months for Owen and Avery's story in The Last Boyfriend. Eager? Yes. But, I also know it will be worth the wait...they always are!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Vegan Feast of Thanks

This was my first vegan Thanksgiving meal and my first Tofurky Roast. I followed the recipe on the box this time, but will be on the lookout for a different basting sauce for the next time. I found the recipe for the dressing online, and between suggestions from my husband and my own ideas, will make some changes next year. The recipe for the gravy (Basic Brown Sauce) comes from the book, 1000 Vegan Recipes by Robin Robertson. I've made it many times, but this is the first time I've used it as a gravy. It's delicious! The two recipes below are mine to share. The others are in the books I've mentioned. I've been a vegetarian for a very long time, but I was determined to make the entire meal free of any animal products.  I have made the pumpkin pie a number of times but this was the first time I've made a basic crust in decades. Until last year I was able to find frozen crusts using vegetable shortening. They all have lard in them now. This forced me to get over my fear of failure and make it myself! My only difficulty was in rolling it out to the ideal 11" round shape needed. It wasn't perfect looking but it tasted a-okay! 

Several of the key ingredients are not available even remotely close to us, but with planning I was able to have them on hand. I am so pleased it turned out as well as it did, and next year...it will be better!!! 

Tofurky Roast w/Roasted Veggies, Dressing Made With Homemade Anadama and Italian Breads, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, and Steamed Veggies

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 8 cups peeled and cubed russet potatoes
  • 6 - 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½ - 1 cup plain soy milk
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup vegan parmesan (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons margarine (Earth Balance)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper 
Instructions

Put potatoes and garlic in a large pot.
Cover with water and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat. Simmer for about 20 minutes and drain.
Place drained potatoes and garlic in a mixing bowl.
Add remaining ingredients; beat with mixer until smooth.

Serves 6 to 8. 



Pumpkin Pie and Crust from Scratch!


Pumpkin Pie (Egg free)


Ingredients

1 15 oz. can pumpkin
1 cup soy milk
¾ cup organic sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Dash salt
1 tsp. cinnamon, ground
½ tsp. ginger, ground
¼ tsp. cloves, ground
9-inch pie shell (easy recipe in 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes by Kris Holechek)

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients until smooth in a large bowl.
  2. Pour into crust and smooth the top.
  3. Bake 15 minutes at 425°, then reduce oven temperature to 350°.  Bake until filling is set, about 50 to 60 minutes. (You may want to put a ring of foil over the crust after it's browned to perfection to prevent it from getting too dark.)  Chill.

Makes 8 servings.

Book Review: Flash and Bones by Kathy Reichs

Title: Flash and Bones
Series: Temperance Brennan #14
Author: Kathy Reichs
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 08/23/2011
Publisher: Scribner
Genre(s): Contemporary Mystery, Forensic Thriller

DESCRIPTION

"Kathy Reichs#1 New York Times bestselling author and producer of the FOX television hit Bonesreturns with a riveting new novel set in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring America’s favorite forensic anthropologist, Dr. Temperance Brennan.

Just as 200,000 fans are pouring into town for Race Week, a body is found in a barrel of asphalt next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next day, a NASCAR crew member comes to Temperance Brennan’s office at the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner to share a devastating story. Twelve years earlier, Wayne Gamble’s sister, Cindi, then a high school senior and aspiring racer, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette. Lovette kept company with a group of right-wing extremists known as the Patriot Posse. Could the body be Cindi’s? Or Cale’s?

At the time of their disappearance, the FBI joined the investigation, only to terminate it weeks later. Was there a cover-up? As Tempe juggles multiple theories, the discovery of a strange, deadly substance in the barrel alongside the body throws everything into question. Then an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes missing during Race Week. Tempe can’t overlook the coincidence. Was this man using his lab chemicals for murder? Or is the explanation even more sinister? What other secrets lurk behind the festive veneer of Race Week?

A turbocharged story of secrets and murder unfolds in this, the fourteenth thrilling novel in Reichs’s “cleverly plotted and expertly maintained series” (The New York Times Book Review). With the smash hit Bones about to enter its seventh season and in full syndication—and her most recent novel, Spider Bones, an instant New York Times bestseller—Kathy Reichs is at the top of her game."

MY THOUGHTS

After reading three lovely works of literature in a row I was more than ready to dive into the latest Temperance Brennan mystery. I really do enjoy this series and have since reading the first book in 1998. I find Kathy Reichs' "bare bones" descriptions of things to suit me well. Flash and Bones was a very quick (a few hours) read, and, as usual, reaching her suspenseful chapter endings sent me directly to the next. Unlike the Temperance Brennan in the television series, the older Tempe in the books is no slouch when it comes to pop culture references. Although she doesn't know much about NASCAR, which plays a rather large part in this book, other characters in-the-know explain it succinctly to her. Not being a NASCAR follower myself I appreciated the abbreviated explanations (education) greatly. She references music, books, movies, and technology by name, which alludes to her awareness of a world outside of her work. I very much enjoy Temperance's internal (often snide) comebacks, and the way she works through questions and case evidence to put the pieces into place. There are some light moments introduced into the story by Tempe's soon-to-be ex-husband's new fiance. Andrew Ryan and Tempe have only minimal contact via phone and email in this book. However, a rather hunky ex-cop seems to have revved Tempe's engine and caused her heart to go flip-flop. Wonder what's going to happen there. I can't wait to find out!


Monday, November 21, 2011

A Rustle of Leaves

"Time is an old firmly rooted tree; we are the breeze rustling its leaves." ~ Terri Guillemets
Digital photograph by Virginia Hill taken with a BlackBerry 9670 on 21 Nov 2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Music to My Ears

It's been five months since my last new music update and I'm thrilled with the awesome new tunes gracing my library and iPod. Alternative, rock, pop, and a soundtrack...REALLY good stuff!  I especially feel "with it" when my teenage daughter wants to listen to my music! w00t!

Broken Bells
The Ghost Inside (video)
Vaporize

The Civil Wars
Barton Hollow (video)

Florence + The Machine
Shake It Out (video) - (REALLY looking forward to having the entire Ceremonials Deluxe Album!)

The Fray
Heartbeat (video w/audio only) (their new album, Scars & Stories, is due out in February 2012!)

Jane's Addiction
Underground
Twisted Tales
Irresistible Force (video) - (these are my favorites so far...of course, I want the ENTIRE album!)

Jason Walker (the little known {why is that!?} pop artist from Illinois NOT the other guy!)
*Jason Walker (Down video w/audio and lyrics only)
*Midnight Starlight (Echo video w/audio and lyrics only)

Keane
Nothing In My Way

Kelly Clarkson
*Stronger (Mr. Know It All video)

Pearl Jam 
Nothing As It Seems
I Am Mine

Sting
Brand New Day (video)
Desert Rose (video)
A Thousand Years

Switchfoot (this band from San Diego has become a favorite in recent months)
Gone
*Vice Verses (Dark Horses video)

Various Artists
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I (A Thousand Years official video)

Wolfmother
Woman (first heard this during a commercial for Covert Affairs)

*denotes entire album/EP

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Family Research News for 15 Oct 2011


Since my last research update my subscription to Footnote (Fold3) has expired and I dropped my monthly U.S. Ancestry.com expense.  I've still managed to do a great deal of organizing, publishing (mostly to Flickr), and research utilizing subscription free services. I also did a major update to The KANE Family entry. Please contact me if you have information to contribute to our family tree. Thanks!

Latest Discoveries and Acquisitions
  • 1946 Roosevelt High School Yearbook (Patricia DeCOSTA - Sophomore Year)
  • 1948 Roosevelt High School Yearbook (Patricia DeCOSTA - Senior Year)
  • Naturalization Record for Alfred HUMPHRIES
  • Birth Certificate for Frank H. McCOY
  • Birth Certificate for William E. McCOY
  • Church Marriage Record for Lucy KANE and Alfred HUMPHRIES
  • Church Marriage Record for Charles KANE and Clara McCOY
  • Death Certificate for Arta ROOT
  • Death Certificate for Edwin BARRINGER
  • Dozens of Chicago and Denver City Directory Listings for my HANNAN and KANE relatives.
  • Several Chicago Tribune Newspaper articles and notices for my HANNAN and KANE relatives.
1920 U.S. Census Information and Records
  • Edwin BARRINGER
  • Manuel CABRAL and family
  • John CARVALHO and family
  • Joseph CARVALHO and son
  • Kate (CARVALHO) RODRIGUES and son
  • Cecil Abbie (PULVER) KANE and sons
  • Maybelle Ellen (HILL) WASHBURN and family
Marriage Licenses 
  • Genevieve HANNAN & Charles David TULLIS
  • Charles Frederick HILL and Lottie WICKS
  • Dorothy HILL and Joseph SLABAUGH
  • Ella M. HILL and Arta Xerxes ROOT
  • Grace HILL and George MUSCH
  • Hattie HILL and George MUSCH
  • John D. HILL and Charlotte Ellen KENYON
  • John R. HILL and Frances McINTYRE
  • Katherine HILL and George KENYON
  • Mary Jane HILL and George W. PATTERSON
  • Maybelle Ellen HILL and Harry Harrison WASHBURN
  • Mildred HILL and DeForest M. OLDS
  • Charles KANE and Clara McCOY
  • Edmund KANE and Cecil PULVER
  • Herbert KANE and Melvina LaCHANCE
  • Frances McINTYRE and Edmond H. LEWIS
WWI Draft Registration Cards
  • DeForest M. OLDS
  • Edmund KANE
  • Herbert KANE
  • John KANE
Death Notices, Obituaries
  • Clifford Herbert KANE
  • Cliford James KANE
  • Howard M. KANE 
  • Blake KENYON
  • Dorothy KENYON
  • Wiliam Edward McCOY
  • DeForest OLDS
  • Arta X. ROOT
  • Charles D. TULLIS
  • Charles W. TULLIS
Added the Following Individuals to the Tree
  • Beatrice T. CONWAY
  • Johanna A. HAASE
  • Marvel HERALD
  • Howard M. KANE, Jr.
  • James KANE
  • Kevin KANE
  • Mary Margaret KANE
  • Edmond H. LEWIS
  • Emma MOEHLE
  • Alice O'KANE
  • Cornelius O'KANE
  • Daniel O'KANE
  • Corwin OLDS
  • DeForest M. OLDS
  • Fred P. OLDS
  • Herman OLDS
  • Howard F. OLDS
  • Maynard OLDS
  • Mortimer OLDS
  • Theodore OLDS
  • Arta Xerxes ROOT
  • Wallace P. ROOT
  • Albert WICKS
  • Beatrice WICKS
  • Carl E. WICKS
  • Harry L. WICKS
Added Data for the Following Individuals
  • All the above
  • George W. LEWIS and Jennie BOYER
  • Norine (PRENDERGAST)(KANE) REYNOLDS
Latest Requests and Queries

Requested and/or received photographs of grave markers from Find A Grave Members for the following:
  • Agnes Julia (KANE) MEIERS
  • Dolores KANE
  • Gerald KANE
  • Sylvia KANE
  • Clemence MEIERS
  • Gilbert WASHBURN, Sr.
  • Gilbert WASHBURN, Jr.
Latest Contributions
  • Updated numerous Geni Profiles; added documents and events; merged several duplicates; and removed some unrelated matches. 
  • Added several Find A Grave Memorial pages and updated several others. 
  • Submitted several record corrections to Ancestry.com.
  • Added several comments to records on Ancestry.com.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Review: Mr. Darcy's Proposal by Susan Mason-Milks

Title: Mr. Darcy's Proposal
Series: Standalone
Author: Susan Mason-Milks
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 09/21/2011
Publisher: White Soup Press
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Romance

DESCRIPTION

"A Pride and Prejudice "What If?" Story

This retelling of Pride and Prejudice asks “what if” events prevented Fitzwilliam Darcy from proposing to Elizabeth Bennet that day at Hunsford parsonage? Darcy arrives with marriage on his mind, only to find that Elizabeth has just received news her father is critically ill and probably dying. In the process of offering his help to her in traveling home, he discovers what she really thinks of him—and it’s not good. Should Darcy deliver Elizabeth home to be with her family and then disappear from her life, or will he propose another kind of help? Will Elizabeth be willing to sacrifice her future happiness to save her family from financial ruin? Or, do she and Darcy, two very stubborn people, have a chance of finding happiness together? "

MY THOUGHTS

Yes, I very much liked this book, but more importantly after reading it I find myself even more enamored of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. I think this is a true testament to how beautifully Susan Mason-Milks crafted this "what if" version of Pride and Prejudice. I purchased it on a whim, which is so unlike me. I am so pleased I made that impulsive decision. To be able to spend so much time with Lizzy and Darcy was heavenly! I so loved being privy to what each was thinking and why they made the choices they did. Although I found it beautifully written I felt it was thankfully "modernized" to a degree. That allowed me to follow the story more easily instead of struggling with the words, as I did when I read the original work several years ago.

There were several passages I highlighted, but this one made me praise Darcy for his insight...

When Darcy entered the sitting room, Elizabeth was standing at the window. Crossing the room in a few quick steps, he put his arms around his wife. It was something he was learning to do when she was out of sorts. At first, he has tried offering solutions to her problem and he could not understand why this sometimes made her even more upset. Finally, he discovered quite by accident that simply putting his arms around her and listening was all that was generally required.

As I neared the end of the book I found I was nowhere ready to leave Lizzy and William. What to do? Watch my favorite "movie" ever - the five hour BBC mini-series, or read Pride and Prejudice again. I think both...in short order!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Vegan Dessert: Intensely Chocolate Bundt Cake

Intensely Chocolate Bundt Cake

This is the first dessert I've made from the recipe book, Have Your Cake and Vegan Too by Kris Holechek. I bought the book in August and just today got around to picking a recipe and trying it out.

It is very tasty as is, but if I make it again I will test it before the called for 38 minutes, as I think it is slightly over-baked.  I might also remove the walnuts and double up the semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I mistakenly bought mini-chips but using them was easier than chopping regular size chips.  I reserved some of the chocolate syrup to pour over the first few slices.  I poked the heck out of the cake, but it just didn't absorb it very well.  It has a lovely texture, color, and aroma.  Hard to go wrong with chocolate, right?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review: Mai Tai One On by Jill Marie Landis

Title: Mai Tai One On
Series: Tiki Goddess Mystery #1
Author: Jill Marie Landis
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Published: 07/01/2011
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Genre(s): Women's Fiction, Contemporary Mystery

DESCRIPTION

"Six months ago, if anyone would have told Em Johnson she'd end up divorced, broke, and running the dilapidated Tiki Goddess Bar on the magical North Shore of Kauai she would have told them to shove a swizzle stick up their okole.As if all that isn't bad enough, when an obnoxious neighbor with a grudge is found dead in the Goddess luau pit, suspicion falls on Em and the rest of the Goddess staff. With the help of a quirky dance troupe of over-the-hill Hula Maidens, Em and the cast of characters must ban together to find the killer and solve the mystery before the next pupu party. JILL MARIE LANDIS has written over twenty-five novels, which have earned awards and slots on such national bestseller lists as the USA TODAY Top 50 and the New York Times Best Sellers Plus. She is a seven-time finalist for Romance Writers of America's RITA Award in both Single Title and Contemporary Romance as well as a Golden Heart and RITA Award winner. She's written historical and contemporary romance as well as inspirational historical romance, and she is now penning The Tiki Goddess Mystery Series, which begins with MAI TAI ONE ON."

MY THOUGHTS

I believe I was looking for a comical mystery in the league of the Stephanie Plum books. Although I feel it is not the same caliber of fun the Plum series is, it was good enough for me to finish. There were a few lines of dialogue that were cleverly "cute" and some of the characters were fairly genuine. Many were too over-the-top eccentric for my tastes, but others were likable enough. The mystery was on the light side, and an obviously unpleasant character turned out to be the murderer. So, not much of a whodunit. The Island culture and language felt like a friendly character making appearances throughout the book. All in all it was a cute bit of fluff and not a total bust.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gray Sky Morning

A Gray Sky Morning

Digital photograph of the Rappahannock River by Virginia Hill taken with a BlackBerry Style 9670 on 9/22/2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Book Review: Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard

Title: Mr. Perfect
Series: Standalone
Author: Linda Howard
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 08/09/2011
Publisher: Atria
Genre(s): Romantic Suspense 

DESCRIPTION 

"What would make the perfect man? That's the delicious topic that heats up the proceedings at a certain table of professional women at their favorite restaurant. What qualities would he have? Would he be tall, dark, and handsome? Caring and warmhearted—or would just muscular do? Jaine Bright and her three girlfriends start off with the basics: he'd be faithful and reliable, the responsible type, and have a great sense of humor.

But as the conversation picks up momentum, so do the quartet's requirements for Mr. Perfect as and they write down a tongue-in-cheek checklist that's both funny and racy. The next thing they know, the List, as it has come to be called, becomes an overnight sensation, spreading through their company like wildfire and grabbing the interest of local newspapers and television coverage. No one expected this avalanche of attention for something that began as a joke among friends. But the joke turns deadly serious when one of the four women is murdered...

The prime suspect in the case is the victim's boyfriend, who was one of a number of men who found the List sexist and offensive. An impenetrable alibi gets him off the hook, but a deadly stalker targets the three remaining friends. Now, with the help of Jaine's neighbor, an unpredictable police detective, the puzzle must be solved as the dream of Mr. Perfect becomes a chilling nightmare."

MY THOUGHTS

Mr. Perfect is a little dated but still an excellent read with dynamic chemistry (verbal and physical) between the hero (Sam Donovan) and heroine (Jaine Bright). The friendship between the four women—Jaine, Luna, T.J. & Marcy, and the subsequent grieving felt absolutely genuine.

This book is probably the most well-rounded romantic/romantic suspense novel I have ever read. Linda Howard acquaints us with the characters at home, at work, at play, and while they experience a comprehensive range of emotions.

(Note: I read the paperback version in 2001 and 2005 and was thrilled when it was released as an eBook on August 9. This version I can keep!)


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vegan Dessert: French Toast Muffins

French Toast Muffins

From a recipe in The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes by Kris Holechek these muffins are a maple and cinnamon delight.  I topped this first batch with the confectioner's sugar and cinnamon she suggested.  She also mentions a glaze of maple syrup and confectioner's sugar.  I definitely want to add some chopped walnuts the next time.  How yummy does that sound?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Vegan Dessert: Chocolate Coconut Brownies

Chocolate Coconut Brownies

When looking for a new vegan baking recipe I have, to date, only looked through my baking recipe books totally neglecting the baking sections in what I consider a cookbook - 1,000 Vegan Recipes by Robin Robertson.  Today, I'm trying two baking recipes from that book. (Also making cornbread muffins.)  These brownies which are filled with coconut-y goodness from three sources: coconut milk, extract, and shredded (unsweetened and unsulfured).  The baking aroma was heavenly and the taste is scrumptious!  They are moist yet crumbly with little pockets of melted semi-sweet chocolate chips throughout.  I am certain they would have been even more delectable had I fresher organic coconut milk and natural coconut extract.  I was only able to locate artificial extract in our area and didn't want to have to purchase the 3 bottle minimum to get the natural stuff from an online retailer. At this point I'm glad I "caved" and bought the fake stuff because these needed to be made! :)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: Butchers Hill by Laura Lippman

Title: Butchers Hill
Series: Tess Monaghan #3
Author: Laura Lippman
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Published: 03/17/2009
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre(s): Contemporary Mystery

DESCRIPTION

"Tess Monaghan has finally made the move and hung out her shingle as a p.i.-for-hire, complete with an office in Butchers Hill. Maybe it's not the best address in Baltimore, but you gotta start somewhere, and Tess's greyhound Esskay has no trouble taking marathon naps anywhere there's a roof. Then in walks Luther Beale, the notorious vigilante who five years ago shot a boy for vandalizing his car. Just out of prison, he says he wants to make reparations to the kids who witnessed his crime, so he needs Tess to find them. But once she starts snooping, the witnesses start dying. Is the "Butcher of Butchers Hill" at it again? Like it or not, Tess is embroiled in a case that encompasses the powers that-be, a heartless system that has destroyed the lives of children, and a nasty trail of money and lies leading all the way back to Butchers Hill."

MY THOUGHTS

Butchers Hill is the third in the Tess Monaghan series but the fourth I've read. I gave up trying to read them in order as it requires too much coordinating with two libraries to do so. I find Tess to be a complex character with simple needs. She seems to believe in doing the right thing but doesn't hesitate to lie to get what she wants—answers and results. She has a newly opened office and two new clients. Neither client was completely forthright with Tess but she perseveres. Both cases made for fascinating reading and the conclusion was completely unexpected.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Through the Trees a River Runs

“The trees are our lungs, the rivers our circulation, the air our breath, and the earth our body.” ~  Deepak Chopra

Digital photograph by Virginia Hill taken with BlackBerry Style 9670 on 8/7/2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead Reckoning
Series: Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire #11
Author: Charlaine Harris
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 05/03/2011
Publisher: Ace
Genre(s): Science Fiction/Fantasy, Mystery

DESCRIPTION

"With her knack for being in trouble's way, Sookie witnesses the firebombing of Merlotte's, the bar where she works. Since Sam Merlotte is now known to be two-natured, suspicion falls immediately on the anti-shifters in the area. Sookie suspects otherwise, but her attention is divided when she realizes that her lover, Eric Northman, and his "child" Pam are plotting to kill the vampire who is now their master. Gradually, Sookie is drawn into the plot-which is much more complicated than she knows..."


MY THOUGHTS

I found this eleventh in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series to be much more to my liking than the previous book, Dead in the Family. Some of the things that pleased me in the book:
  • I appreciated that Sookie, in the midst of this unbelievably harrowing life she leads, worried about things like being a good hostess, keeping up her family home, and exhibiting compassion for those deserving of it.
  • Sookie's inner dialog was great! Her exclamation of "Irrelevant!" following silly thoughts, especially during times of peril, was hilarious!
  • I know Bill "done her wrong", but darn it, I like the Southern Gentleman part of his character...it's what's left of his humanity.
  • I admired Sookie for being responsible ("taking care of business")—giving Sam the money and preparing for the baby shower before the "big showdown."
  • I am fond of the author's characters, Lily Bard and Jack Leeds, from her Shakespeare Series, and was pleased they made a brief cross-over appearance.
  • Continuity issues may have "ruined" the book for other readers, but with my inability to remember such detail, this didn't bother me much.
  • I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not seeking a strong plot in these books. I am looking to be diverted when I read a Sookie Stackhouse book, and I feel, in that area, Dead Reckoning accomplished it quite well.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Mountain of Memories

Mt. Shasta
I took this photo of Mt. Shasta 30 years ago. I hadn't seen it in almost that long...

It was the negative I couldn't quite make out on the short strip of four.  I asked my husband to scan the three I could identify.  I had horses on my mind, you see.  I wanted to see the three images of Arabians on that strip. Fortunately, he did this one as well.  Seeing this image awakened memories of the reason I had this particular view through the window of my dad's car.

My dad and oldest sister had driven from San Diego to Northern California to pick me up and continue on to Oregon, for that is where my middle sister was getting married.  I don't remember how long it had been since I'd last seen Jacqueline.  All I know is this trip with my dad and oldest sister was special. Unusual.

The intimate garden wedding was casual and suited the new couple.  The following day we saw Jacqueline and her husband off at the airport. This was the last time my dad, sisters, and I would be together for quite awhile.  Jacqueline and Dad, well, they're both gone now...

Dad and Jacqueline

On the way south we stopped at Crater Lake for a short visit. I was always interested in taking photographs of beautiful places and animals at that age.  And it was so stunningly beautiful there...

Crater Lake
If I remember right my dad and sister took me straight home where we said our good-byes.  I would see them again in a few months. There were three photos to take to finish the roll of film.  I don't know if it was a conscious decision to take them of horses at the farm where I worked or just convenient.  I am thankful for whatever reason because they were the only ones I have from the year I was there.  Some say "It's never too late."  Well, I don't believe it for a minute.  Not when it comes to documenting ones memories. Ones life.  When we're young we think we'll always remember.  We say things like, "I'll never forget this moment for as long as I live."  Well, in reality that is far from accurate.  We do forget those "unforgettable" things.  Those things that, at the time, were so important. 

Back to those three photos of the horses.  The first was of one of my co-workers and a young gelding.  For the life of me I can't recall her name or the horse's.  The third photo was of a suckling colt.  I've tried to remember, with certainty, his sire and dam, but all I have is a guess.  The second photo though.  Even looking at the tiny pre-scan image I knew who she was.  It took me a little while but I finally remembered her name.  Apparently, she is memorable. 

Tryket (Fadjur x Fadneeka)

I'm determined to try to "fill in the blanks" of my life.  Photographs are strong reminders.  I very much regret not taking more.  A journal.  Why didn't I keep a journal?  It was never because I didn't think my life was worth writing about.  No, it was because I hated my handwriting.  How utterly ridiculous!  I often think if we'd had the technology available back then that we have now - personal computers, digital cameras & camcorders, quality printing at home...I could have taken thousands of photos without a thought given to the cost of film and processing.  I could have typed my journal entries, like I've been doing for 14 years, without any hypercritical concern about my less-than-perfect penmanship.  I could have taken digital videos with a camcorder the size of my hand (highly convenient).  Instead, the few home movies my dad took were lost decades ago when the original was always the only.

Those photographs buried under the bed or in the closet.  Get them out.  Look at them.  Scan them.  Share them.  Those memories you have of an ancestor, or job, or horse, et cetera...write them down, type them up, make an audio recording or a video.  Make copies. Share them before they are gone. 

They do matter.  They will be important to someone. They should be important to you. Okay, I'm done nagging...for now. ;)



Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review: The Pagan Stone by Nora Roberts

Title: The Pagan Stone
Series: Sign of Seven Trilogy #3
Author: Nora Roberts
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Published: 11/25/2008
Publisher: Jove
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romantic Suspense

DESCRIPTION

"From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Blood Brothers and The Hollow--the conclusion to the electrifying trilogy of three men and three women who join forces--and hearts--to battle the ultimate evil.

The Pagan Stone had stood for hundreds of years, long before three boys gathered around it to spill their blood in a bond of brotherhood, unwittingly releasing a force bent on destruction... Gage Turner has been running from his past for a long time. The son of an abusive drunk, his childhood in the small town of Hawkins Hollow was tough--his only solace his friendship with Fox O'Dell and Caleb Hawkins. But, aged ten, the boys unleashed evil on their town: every seven years murder and mayhem reign, and each cycle is more extreme than the last. Now Gage has returned home to help his friends save Hawkins Hollow, but a lifetime as a loner has made him wary of emotional ties. And who can make plans for the future when their present is so uncertain? For unless they find a way to use the Pagan Stone against the demonic force, everything they know and love will be destroyed...
"

MY THOUGHTS

To begin, an explanation. This book was published in late 2008 and is the third in the Sign of Seven Trilogy. I read the first book, Blood Brothers, the month it was released, and the second book, The Hollow, six months after its release date. I purchased The Pagan Stone two months after it was released and only just this month read it. That's two and a half years! Subconsciously I must have been aware that this is not my favorite Nora Roberts trilogy, but because I consider Nora my "go-to-author" I stuck it out. I did read several chapters in early 2009 before setting it aside hoping for the "right mood." So, either I still wasn't in the proper mood for this particular book or I am just flatly disappointed. I think it's the latter. Of the 90 books I've read by Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, this is only the second I rated less than 3 stars. Sure, there are tight friendships, devoted families, crackerjack dialogue, and steamy chemistry. Nora always delivers in those areas. In general, I'm not all that thrilled with her paranormal stuff. This series, and especially, this book, just seemed over-the-top. The whole unearthly aspect of the story—the visions, blood (lots and lots of blood), the parallels between Ann Hawkins and the three heroines (Quinn, Layla, and Cybil)... Then there was the research, charts, hypothesizing...

Regarding Gage and Cybil—I did appreciate the gradual building of their feelings; the acceptance that they would pursue a relationship for their reasons, and not because it was "obvious" they should.

The idea that a specific trio of men and a specific trio of women are all perfect for each other is the basis of a successful romantic trilogy. Of course, it's a highly unlikely fantasy, but it's that defying-all-odds amour that makes them fun, right? I think because this series dealt with the supernatural that usual ending wasn't "good enough." There was an absurd synchronous twist connecting the women beyond their incredible sisterly closeness and their improbably "perfect" relationships with the heroes. That twist alone further convinced me that more is not always better. Sometimes it's just too much.

I consider this atypical of Nora's consistently amazing reads, and, like always, look forward to being captivated by her next.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Book Review: The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

Title: The Restorer
Series: Graveyard Queen #1
Author: Amanda Stevens
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Published: 05/01/2011
Publisher: Mira
Genre(s): Fantasy, Romantic Suspense

DESCRIPTION

"Never acknowledge the dead.
Never stray far from hallowed ground.
Never get close to the haunted.
Never,
ever tempt fate.

My name is Amelia Gray. I'm a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I've always held fast to these rules passed down from my father…until now.

Detective John Devlin needs my help to find a killer, but he is haunted by ghosts who shadow his every move. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I've vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the headstone symbols lead me closer to truth and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next."

MY THOUGHTS

If The Restorer is indicative of Amanda Stevens' previous books I regret not having read her before. From the opening line to the epilogue I found her writing style extremely pleasing and all of her characters intriguing. I didn't feel overwhelmed by the supernatural aspect of the story—rather, I felt it enhanced the more literal goings on. The style in which she concluded each chapter made for a veritable page turner. I didn't want to stop reading! I was extremely impressed by the authors' knowledge of cemeteries, burial customs, and technology. The dialogue was completely believable and several well delivered lines elicited chuckles from me. I encountered no lulls in the story and no excessive explanations. The plot was highly compelling and definitely eerie. I was enthralled with Amelia's narration and her plausible reactions. The character of John Devlin could easily have been overly romanticized. Indeed he was not. He was complex and captivating.

The second installment in The Graveyard Queen series, The Kingdom, is due to be released in April 2012. The third, The Prophet, in May 2012. Having just finished this amazing first in the series that seems like an excessively long time to have to wait.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

Title: An Echo in the Bone
Series: Outlander #7
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Published: 09/22/2009
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance

DESCRIPTION

"In this new epic of imagination, time travel, and adventure, Diana Gabaldon continues the riveting story begun in Outlander.

Jamie Fraser is an eighteenth-century Highlander, an ex-Jacobite traitor, and a reluctant rebel in the American Revolution. His wife, Claire Randall Fraser, is a surgeon—from the twentieth century. What she knows of the future compels him to fight. What she doesn’t know may kill them both.

With one foot in America and one foot in Scotland, Jamie and Claire’s adventure spans the Revolution, from sea battles to printshops, as their paths cross with historical figures from Benjamin Franklin to Benedict Arnold.

Meanwhile, in the relative safety of the twentieth century, their daughter, Brianna, and her husband experience the unfolding drama of the Revolutionary War through Claire’s letters. But the letters can’t warn them of the threat that’s rising out of the past to overshadow their family."


MY THOUGHTS

Although not as amazing to me as the previous book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, An Echo in the Bone is nonetheless historically dramatic, heart-wrenching, and romantic. The unsettling and suspenseful ending has me wanting to read the excerpts and quotes shared by Diana Gabaldon from Book Eight.

What a journey!


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Vegan Dessert: Mocha-Cashew Cookie Bars

Mocha-Cashew Cookie Bars

It was necessary (food allergies) to swap out the macadamia nuts in the original recipe for cashews.  I used the suggested 2 tablespoons of instant coffee, which seems the perfect amount to me.  Next time I may use a smaller baking dish as this first batch was done before 30 minutes and seem a little thin using the 9 x 13" pan. Otherwise, they are deliciously chocolate-y and nutty!

The original recipe is from The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes by Kris Holechek

Monday, June 27, 2011

Soggy Doggy

Lizzie is one clean Corgi.  She doesn't have "doggy breath" or any other doggy odor and one year since her last bath she wasn't even dingy looking.  You'd think that would have earned her a reprieve from getting a bath today. NOT!  It seemed like a great way to rush the shedding along and a little "refreshing" couldn't hurt...right?  

She got to eat breakfast and go for a walk before it was time to get down to the "dirty details" - 'Peticure', brushing, and THE BATH.  It was only a few minutes in the tub followed by a brisk toweling and a quick misting of leave-in conditioner.  She even got to race around and rub on the carpet before having to descend the treacherous stairs back to her preferred level of the house - closer to access "outside"! (<----a favorite keyword of hers!)

She's presently alternating between sleeping and fussing.  I "messed" her up something terrible you know.  I'll give her a quick "straightening" with the slicker brush in a little while. When she's fully dry I'll brush another Corgi's worth of fur off her.  That will assure it ends up in the trash can instead of everywhere else!  Being a "neat freak" with a shedding Corgi in the house ain't easy but she's worth all the brushing, flicking, shaking, and vacuuming I can imagine!


"Water Torture"

Scary Stairs

The "Nightmare" is Over





Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Rose By Another Name

Hibiscus syriacus aka Rose of Sharon

Digital photograph by Virginia Hill taken with BlackBerry Style 9670 on 26 Jun 2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Book Review: The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

Title: The Fiery Cross
Series: Outlander #5
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Published: 10/01/2002
Publisher: Delta
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance

DESCRIPTION

"New York Times bestselling author Diana Gabaldon mesmerized readers with her award-winning Outlander novels, four dazzling tales featuring eighteenth-century Scotsman James Fraser and his twentieth-century time-traveling wife, Claire Randall. Now, in this eagerly awaited fifth volume, Diana Gabaldon continues their extraordinary saga, a masterpiece of pure storytelling that is her most astonishing Outlander novel yet....

The year is 1771, and war is coming. Jamie Fraser’s wife tells him so. Little as he wishes to, he must believe it, for hers is a gift of dreadful prophecy—a time-traveler’ s certain knowledge. Claire’s unique view of the future has brought him both danger and deliverance in the past; her knowledge of the oncoming revolution is a flickering torch that may light his way through the perilous years ahead—or ignite a conflagration that will leave their lives in ashes."

MY THOUGHTS

Let me just start by saying I loved the first four books in the Outlander Series—like everyone else! I read them in the 90's and again last year. I tried reading The Fiery Cross several times when it was released, but just couldn't get past the first few chapters. Was it all the breast feeding and "clout" talk? I am fairly certain that was it.

It took me over 6 months to read, but I did it! At some point I found myself looking forward to picking it up again. I'm sure that my interest was in direct correlation to Jamie and Claire being featured more prominently later in the story. I had reached the point where I had to find out what happened next.

I have A Breath of Snow and Ashes and An Echo in the Bone waiting for me. I look forward to reading them after a short breather—The Fiery Cross was a heavy read at 1456 pages!


Friday, June 17, 2011

A Bend in the Road

A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn.  ~ Author Unknown

Digital photograph by Virginia Hill taken with BlackBerry Style 9670 on 17 Jun 2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Book Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Title: A Visit from the Goon Squad
Series: Standalone
Author: Jennifer Egan
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Published: 06/08/2010
Publisher: Knopf
Genre(s): Literary Fiction

DESCRIPTION

"Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.

We first meet Sasha in her mid-thirties, on her therapist’s couch in New York City, confronting her long-standing compulsion to steal. Later, we learn the genesis of her turmoil when we see her as the child of a violent marriage, then as a runaway living in Naples, then as a college student trying to avert the suicidal impulses of her best friend. We plunge into the hidden yearnings and disappointments of her uncle, an art historian stuck in a dead marriage, who travels to Naples to extract Sasha from the city’s demimonde and experiences an epiphany of his own while staring at a sculpture of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Museo Nazionale. We meet Bennie Salazar at the melancholy nadir of his adult life—divorced, struggling to connect with his nine-year-old son, listening to a washed-up band in the basement of a suburban house—and then revisit him in 1979, at the height of his youth, shy and tender, reveling in San Francisco’s punk scene as he discovers his ardor for rock and roll and his gift for spotting talent. We learn what became of his high school gang—who thrived and who faltered—and we encounter Lou Kline, Bennie’s catastrophically careless mentor, along with the lovers and children left behind in the wake of Lou’s far-flung sexual conquests and meteoric rise and fall.

A Visit from the Goon Squad is a book about the interplay of time and music, about survival, about the stirrings and transformations set inexorably in motion by even the most passing conjunction of our fates. In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both—and escape the merciless progress of time—in the transporting realms of art and music. Sly, startling, exhilarating work from one of our boldest writers."

 MY THOUGHTS

I still haven't read any reviews of A Visit from the Goon Squad. The decision to order it through Interlibrary Loan came after its being chosen for the first Goodreads Book Club Selection. Winning the Pulitzer for Fiction offered me further incentive to give it a try. It's usually after reading the synopsis that I research a previously unread author further.

I had to push myself to finish this book. The things that were probably considered inventive and unique by the critics and Pulitzer Jury (shifting time periods and characters in each chapter) left me looking for depth and explanations. The entire book felt disjointed. I wanted, after reading each chapter, to have the puzzle pieces fit together cleanly. I wanted to feel something for the characters. When done I wanted to feel relieved that I finished the book. I'm not relieved but in some small way I'm glad it didn't end up on my "did-not-finish" shelf.

I don't know about anyone else, but I really could have used introductions (mini-biographies) to the characters. Something that would have helped me identify with the them enough to know whose chapter I was reading. I had to start chapters over several times to get into the right frame of mind and to understand what decade I was in.

I found little joy or promise. The glimpse into the future was disturbing. I'd hoped that I would be intrigued by the musical inspirations, but I can't say that's the case...until the end that is. Bennie came through for Scotty. Scotty wowed the crowd. Bennie and Alex remembered Sasha fondly in spite of her "sticky fingers". These things prevented the book from ending on a sour note. Thank goodness.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Music to My Ears

Since my last "new music" update of February 5 I've been able to get me some fine new tunes.  Three online sources and two people made it possible.  There's R&B/Soul, Blues Rock, Alternative, and Pop.  Something for nearly every mood!

Adele

*19
*21 (OUTSTANDING album!  Rumor Has It, Rolling in the Deep, Set Fire to the Rain, and Turning Tables are my personal faves so far. Thanks Mary!)

Dan Auerbach

*Keep it Hid (As much as I LOVE The Black Keys I had to have Dan's solo album - my faves so far, I Want Some More, The Prowl, and Street Walkin'.)

Foo Fighters


Learn to Fly (A Rock Band fave. Thanks Honey!)

Lady Gaga

Poker Face (Probably my favorite pop song and definitely my favorite Lady Gaga tune.)
*Born This Way (Yep, 99 cents at Amazon - couldn't go wrong! You and I is my favorite.)

Jimmy Eat World

The Middle (A Rock Band fave. Thanks Honey!)

OK Go

Here it Goes Again (A Rock Band fave. Thanks Honey!)

Pearl Jam


Just Breathe (Heard this at the end of the Castle episode, "To Love and Die in L.A." Even with dialog over the music Shazam identified it.  This song is AMAZING!)

Radiohead

Creep (Shoulda had this long ago.  After hearing "Messer" sing it to Sophie in the movie Life as We Know It, I made sure I did!  Thanks Honey!)

The Script

*Science & Faith (A consistently good sound, but without the standouts of their debut self-titled album.)

Music Videos


* denotes entire album

What say you?  What are you listening to these days?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vegan Dessert: Orange Chocolate Muffins

Orange Chocolate Chip Muffins

This is the third time I've made this recipe, which is from The 100 Best Vegan Baking Recipes book by Kris Holechek.  One large navel orange yielded a lot of juice and zest to make them flavorful, while the semi-sweet chocolate chips made them gooey inside! 

Here's a hint...they come out of the cupcake liners much easier several hours after cooling.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Turbulence and Tranquility

"The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky - seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness."  ~ Joseph Conrad

Digital photograph of the Rappahannock River by Virginia Hill taken with a BlackBerry Style 9670 on May 19, 2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Bright Side

"And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down.  Without the rain, there would be no rainbow."  ~ G.K. Chesterton

Digital photograph by Virginia Hill taken with a BlackBerry Style 9670 on 05/17/2011. Some Rights Reserved (please see Creative Commons License in the sidebar.)