Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "For the Kellehers, Maine is a place where children run in packs, showers are taken outdoors, and old Irish songs are sung around a piano. Their beachfront property, won on a barroom bet after the war, sits on three acres of sand and pine nestled between stretches of rocky coast, with one tree bearing the initials “A.H.” At the cottage, built by Kelleher hands, cocktail hour follows morning mass, nosy grandchildren snoop in drawers, and decades-old grudges simmer beneath the surface.

As three generations of Kelleher women descend on the property one summer, each brings her own hopes and fears. Maggie is thirty-two and pregnant, waiting for the perfect moment to tell her imperfect boyfriend the news; Ann Marie, a Kelleher by marriage, is channeling her domestic frustration into a dollhouse obsession and an ill-advised crush; Kathleen, the black sheep, never wanted to set foot in the cottage again; and Alice, the matriarch at the center of it all, would trade every floorboard for a chance to undo the events of one night, long ago.

By turns wickedly funny and achingly sad, Maine unveils the sibling rivalry, alcoholism, social climbing, and Catholic guilt at the center of one family, along with the abiding, often irrational love that keeps them coming back, every summer, to Maine and to each other."

Review:  I know it's a popular trend to change the narrator every little bit, both to change the pacing of a story and to create interest in a range of characters.  For whatever reason, I'm not thrilled with the constant shifting of narrators and stories.  Sometimes I feel as though I am just getting attached to a character, or even just starting to understand what's going on in a character's life, and it veers off into a new direction.  Having said that, Maine has a range of mainly female characters who direct the story.  Centered around the matriarch Alice, who has decided to leave some prime real estate on the coast of Maine to the Catholic Church.  Obviously, if her daughters and grandchildren knew, they would be up in arms, but Alice is determined to give it all to the church.

To this bit of family drama are a number of other personal dramas going on in each household.  I think I was most drawn in by 32-year old Maggie's story, the granddaughter.  Her relationship issues were so painful to watch that I had to keep reading to see what she would do.  Her boyfriend was ridiculously emotionally abusive and manipulative (in my humble opinion) and really did a number on Maggie.  You could see her struggling to figure out how to hold on to him, even though all readers must be screaming at the pages for her to kick him to the curb.
The other women have dramatic stories as well, but they sometimes take a number of circuits, through everyone's stories to really get there.  As with life, each woman is injured and trying to protect herself.  There are old grudges and pains that we only learn as the story progresses, that make their relationships to one another a bit easier to understand.  I mainly thought their insights into one another to be really telling, as they only saw things through their own experiences, missing all that was going on that no one ever saw.  In truth, isn't that what we all do?  The amount of misunderstanding and miscommunication because of our own issues that filter what we see could fill millions of pages.  I found that to be a great, poignant reminder of our misjudgments.  

Overall, I think this was an interesting story.  The narrative style wasn't my favorite, and I think that for readers who enjoy a cast of complex female characters and stories, this might be a good fit.  For me, it left me wanting more from just one or two of them.  This isn't an area of the country I've read many stories set, so for that I was pretty interested and would have loved more descriptions and details.  In short, nice story elements with a lot of complex characters to figure out.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the novel.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giveaway Winner & A Little Monday Blathering

This feels weird to say I don't know your name, but all I had was your email address, so I'll call you #3!  :)  Thanks to random.org's random drawing, you're the winner of Sharon's awesome new book Miss Darcy Falls in Love.  I've sent you an email, so respond back and we'll get your book on its way!

Thanks to everyone who participated.  I love hearing from other readers.  I hope to see you around again!

Now, I need to pull things together to get more reviews posted ASAP!  Thanksgiving was great on my end and hope it was for all of you who celebrated it as well.  As expected, I spent a lot of time just hanging out with family (including the world's cutest 5 month old baby!), sleeping at random times, and watching too much television.  It was a really nice and relaxing time though, so I'm feeling much more relaxed and ready to hit the ground running this week.  I suppose it helps that I HAVE to hit the ground running though, with parent teacher conferences, midterms, and a couple of new units to prepare, I'll really be hopping.  Not to mention I'm in the home stretch with one online Senior English class and a brand new online class starting today.  I'm not keen on the overlap, but I'm looking forward to having those last several months of school free of online work, which is why I took on an extra class now and not later.  Is it fair to say that I'm already counting down the days until Christmas?  I can't wait!

FYI.  I mentioned last week that I purchased some new furniture that included a new bed and treadmill. Well, the treadmill is still in the box, but the bed finally has been put to good use and is by far the BEST present I have ever given myself.  I thought maybe I was being dramatic or a big baby about the back aches and pains, but I now know it was the bed.  With the wonders of a new bed, I'll never go for so long ever again!  Sleep is way too precious to put up with a lousy bed. 

Here's what I'm currently reading:

Well, on this glorious Monday, I wish you all the best!  What are you reading?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Giveaway: Miss Darcy Falls in Love by Sharon Lathan

Last week I posted a review of Miss Darcy Falls in Love and then hosted a nice interview with Sharon on Friday.  Somehow I missed that there was a book giveaway to go with the interview, so I'm excited to post that today!

If you would like to get a free copy of Miss Darcy Falls in Love, and you live in the U.S. and Canada (sorry to those outside the area), then please do the following:
  • Visit my interview with Sharon and leave a reply or a question.
  • Attach your email in the reply.
  • Post before Saturday, 11/26 by midnight.
That's it!  What a great chance to win a copy of this romantic read.  Honestly, I love Sharon's books and can say that this one can be read as a stand alone.  Stop by to put your name in!

One winner will be selected and posted by Monday, 11/28.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Late Sunday Night Blatherings

What's up in my world?  Work is always a huge stress, so I won't bore you with those details, but I will mention that my AP students have moved on to our writing unit and my juniors are reading Oedipus.  We're hitting that, "Ew, gross!" moment in Oedipus, so I have a little laugh and then reinforce the bit about hubris, blindness, and friendships.  Despite their freaking out, they really do always end up loving this unit, so I feel somewhat successful in my various learning objectives.

A lot of other stuff is going on at work, but I'm trying to not let my job permeate every other aspect of my life.  That's easier said than done!  One big thing I did this past week was splurge on some big ticket items for my house.  I finally realized that the backaches were simply not worth it and went to buy a new bed, which I can't wait to be delivered!  I also picked up a treadmill, which I think is an essential at this point.  As our lives change, so do those habits we established earlier on in life.  A college student's lifestyle (at least for me), was much more conducive to fitting in a trip to the gym.  Now I'd rather die than come home late afternoon or early evening (forget early morning--that would be like 5 am and I'm NOT doing that) and put on gym clothes, brave the traffic and construction around my area to drive up to my gym.  In other words, I had to close the gap between my goal and my excuses!  :)  No more excuses.  Now I'll have a treadmill.  Although, I have to admit that I'm excited about the set up; I have a TV/DVD combo set up, with my Netflix live streaming ready to go.  Yep, no more sharing the televisions with about ten to twenty other people.  Who needs sharing at the gym?  Okay, so it's not that bad, but I am pretty excited about the new set up.

Now.  To read, or not to read.  I thought that Thanksgiving would be a great time to kick back and do some reading, but the way I see it now, I doubt that is going to happen.  Honestly, I'm okay with it.  We are having a great family holiday this year with a group of my extended family, just like when I was little.  Although not everyone will be there, it still has me so excited to hang out with everyone that I can hardly stand it!  Having said that, reading will have to wait.  I'm ready to play card games, sit around and chat, and eat our way to a food coma.  Can't.  Wait.  Although, I always forget the football games.  Maybe I'll take a book or two with me so I can read during the games? 

With all the Thanksgiving stuff this next week, do you think you'll be able to squeeze in some reading time? 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Author Interview & Giveaway: Sharon Lathan of Miss Darcy Falls In Love

I'm excited to be hosting Sharon Lathan today, and I had a chance to ask her some questions that I'd been dying to ask!  With her daughter's recent wedding, I don't know how she finds the time to do all that she does, but I'm so excited to have her here today.

As the author of Miss Darcy Falls in Love and five other great Darcy saga novels, help me welcome Sharon!

Question:  How far do you see yourself writing into the Darcy series?

To be honest, and I know this will disappoint some people, I do not see myself writing past Dr. George Darcy’s story, which is what I am working on currently. Never say never, of course, but I really want to explore other options. I want to create characters that are 100% mine. Maybe it is a need to prove myself. Yet it is also a decision from a career standpoint. I can reach a wider audience with a novel that is not Austen related. Nevertheless, I do love these characters and somehow doubt they will let me go so easily!

My Response:  Well, you can always come back and write one that might jump out at you!  If not, I'll definitely check out your other adventures.

Question:  Without giving away anything too big, what other book ideas have you tossed around in your mind?  (Just curious. )

Well, aside from completing Dr. Darcy’s tale, I have 3 ideas for Regency romances that I have already shared with my agent. He loves them! I intend to expand on those, write a few chapters when I can, and see where that leads. I have also tossed around a couple contemporary ideas that I would someday like to tackle. More of me needing to prove myself capable, I guess!

Question:  What other characters in Pride and Prejudice would you like to see come more to the forefront in the story, maybe in the future?

 I have long wanted to write a better future for Charlotte Collins. I have spun ideas from time to time, but never taken it further. I feel she is okay in the life Austen gave her, however my romantic heart thinks she could do better! I also have a slight sympathy for Caroline Bingley and thought it would be fun to see another side of her. I really love the children I gave Darcy and Lizzy, all of them terrific characters IMHO that I would like to write about someday.

Question:  With your daughter’s wedding coming up (Congrats!), how does that affect your writing and do you etch out specific times to work on it?

To be honest, currently I am so focused on the wedding and the release of Miss Darcy Falls in Love that I have little free time! By the time this interview posts the wedding will be over and hopefully all my blogs written so that I can enjoy the release experience and seriously attend to my WIP.

*FYI--Sharon's daughter actually got married on 11/4th.  Congrats!

Question:  What other authors have you come to know and gotten tips from as a writer?

Oh so many! My first exposure to a collective of writers was the Casablanca Authors and we are still great friends. They are my go-to gals. Now I also have the fabulous Austen Authors that are my buddies and support. I have been blessed to meet so many terrific writers. Some have become friends and others I have only listened to at conferences or shared short conversations with, but all who have taught me about this business in various ways. And I cannot forget my local chapter of the RWA, the Yosemite Romance Writers. I love being a part of a fellowship of writers! Nothing compares.

Question:  Who would you still love to meet?  (Author or publisher)

 Of those I greatly admire I would love to meet Karen Marie Moning. Hopefully I will get lucky at the Romantic Times Convention next April. *fingers crossed*

My response:  That would be pretty awesome!  If you do, you'll have to share with us.

Question:  As we head into the holiday season, what are your wishes?

 I wish for a relaxing season filled with loads of family get togethers, as I always do, but this year especially because in March my daughter and her new husband will be moving to Maryland. Next, I have to admit that I am wishing most fervently that Miss Darcy Falls in Love will be a raging success! That would certainly be a fabulous Christmas present. Lastly I hope for extreme peace and quiet so I can get back to work on Dr. Darcy’s novel. I miss that fella.

Thank you so much to Sharon for stopping by today!  If you haven't yet checked out her books, Miss Darcy Falls in Love is a great book to try out.

Synopsis of Miss Darcy Falls in Love--

Noble young ladies were expected to play an instrument, but Georgiana Darcy is an accomplished musician who hungers to pursue her talents. She embarks upon a tour of Europe, ending in Paris where two very different men will ignite her heart in entirely different ways and begin a bitter rivalry to win her. But only one holds the key to her happiness.

Set in post-Napoleonic Empire France, Miss Darcy Falls in Love is a riveting love story that enters a world of passion where gentlemen know exactly how to please and a young woman learns to direct her destiny and understand her heart.


    “Forgive my boldness, Mr. Butler, but I find I am curious as to what you do plan to do with this education? Not to align myself with Lord Essenton’s discouragement, since it pains me greatly to imagine your talent wasted and never shared with those who appreciate fine music, however, I can, to a degree, comprehend his reasoning.”
    Sebastian did not answer immediately. He stepped onto a fallen log, tossing the shreds of bark from the twig he had been stripping into the bushes that covered the descending slope of Fourvière, and stared solemnly at the distant horizon. Georgiana began to fear she had angered him and was preparing to apologize when he spoke.
    “I ask those questions of myself frequently, Miss Darcy. I regret my father’s attitude, wish he were more understanding and supportive, and even feel angry upon occasion. Yet, logically, I know he has a point. What can I do with this… gift? Will I ever be able to use it other than to entertain my family and our guests?”
     The question hung on the air, Sebastian finally tossing the mutilated twig over the edge and turning to look at Georgiana, his gray eyes hard as slate and his voice firm. “I may not know my entire future, Miss Darcy, but I do know that someday I will be Lord Essenton, with an estate I love as my responsibility. I will have a wife and children. I will serve in the House of Lords. And I will play and compose music. I cannot separate and deny portions of who I am and all that is central to my happiness,” he finished with a shake of his head.
    They stared at each other for a long stretch. Sebastian’s countenance was as serious as she had ever seen. Gone was the amused twinkle that perpetually lit his gray eyes and the characteristic lilt to his full lips. Suddenly he appeared years older than three and twenty, intense and sure. It was as if he strained to communicate nonverbally to her, sensing that she would understand his heart. And the oddity was that she did, at least to an extent. As a woman with a set future before her, indulging in pointless whimsies, no matter how passionately felt, was easily tempered.
    Or were they?
    For years her dreams had been invaded with desires for more. Denial became second nature, knowing that for her, those dreams could never be realized. Mr. Butler, however, was a man, thus having no reason to reject his passions or accept inevitabilities.
    She nodded, holding his gaze. “I do understand, Mr. Butler. Perfectly. I applaud your persistence. Perhaps it is my naïveté and optimism, but I think your father will eventually understand and be as proud of you as the others in your family.”
    “Perhaps,” he agreed. “Someday.”

Sharon’s Bio--

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Her previously published novels are: Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, Loving Mr. Darcy, My Dearest Mr. Darcy, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, A Darcy Christmas, and The Trouble With Mr. Darcy. Miss Darcy Falls in Love is Georgiana’s tale of love and adventure while in France. Complete with a happy ending. In addition to her writing, Sharon works as a Registered Nurse in a Neonatal ICU. She resides with her family in Hanford, California in the sunny San Joaquin Valley. Visit Sharon on her website: www.sharonlathan.net and on Austen Authors, her group blog with 25 novelist of Austen literature: www.austenauthors.com

To win a free copy of Sharon Lathan's wonderful book Miss Darcy Falls in Love, leave a comment or question for Sharon, along with your email address by next Saturday, 11/26 by midnight.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

Have you ever made that Amish Friendship Bread?  It's been awhile since I received a bag of starter, but I have to admit to being freaked out by the stuff.  There seems to be something kind of wrong about not refrigerating a food product. Having said that, Friendship Bread by Darien Gee didn't freak me out at all, and as you can see from the book and title, it has friendship bread throughout the story.  I'm still not sure how/why the bread works, but I will admit that it tastes pretty good, and I haven't heard of anyone keeling over from eating it, so I guess it must be all right!

Synopsis:  Centered on a multi-character story of women in a small town in Illinois, each woman has a unique story of love, lost, and longing.  We are introduced to Julia Everts, mother of one daughter and wife to a wonderful husband who would do anything to make her happy.  Their wound centered on the earlier loss of their young son, long before their daughter was born.  With his loss came a lifetime of wounds that threatened to tear the entire family apart.  Another character, Hannah, has moved into town after her fellow cellist husband was found cheating on her.  She had not only given up on her career in order to marry her husband, but she had also agreed to move to this small town under the idea that she would start the life of a housewife with the husband she loved.  Now, she was facing divorce and a lifetime of unhappiness, or so she believed.  Finally, we have Madeline, who owns and operates a local tea shop and bakery.  Madeline is the oldest in the group, with grown children of her own, and a love for cooking and making other people happy.

To this town, filled with many other characters and stories, these three women unite in the tea shop one day to reveal heartaches and longings.  Having had "friendship bread" starters dropped off at their homes, it strangely transports their homes and lives into places of conversation and sharing, with an eye for others who also suffer in silence.  Together, the three women make fast friends.  Stories are revealed, and wounds begin to heal--all over a loaf of nice, warm friendship bread.

Review:  I really love the clear, freshness of Gee's writing.  There is a simpleness to it that makes the structure flow, even when the story itself is filled with complexity and difficulty.  In short, you can get lost in the story, understanding exactly what you suppose the author meant and wanted for her characters and story.

Friendship Bread has a lot of stories going on at once.  At times I wanted to just settle down to one, but I finally worked through these narratives to get to the meat of their collective story.  The stories felt familiar, with things that women all over the world experience, but in a way that we cared about what happened for each character.

In a funny way, the bread starter was the thread that not only pulled the characters together, but it also pulled the story together.  That single thread kept families talking and characters intermixing with one another, helping to lift other people along the way.  The story surrounding Julia Everts and her family dominates much of the story, and I really cared about what happened to her, especially in her marriage.  I almost wish we could have spent more time with them, but I got the overall picture by the end.  

Although it contains recipes and the cooking and sharing of food, this is really about the characters and how something as simple as a bread starter could pull people out of their busy lives and back into their families and relationships.  I liked the book and think that the recipes at the end of the novel are just an added treat.  I plan on sharing this one with my mother, who I know will love all the complex stories and friendships.  This might just be one of those stories I share with other women I know, just like those bags of friendship bread.

Check out "Friendship Bread Kitchen" for more information about the novel and lots of great recipes that you can make from these starters.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a review copy provided by the Amazon Vine program.  No monies were exchanged for this review.

Have you ever gotten a bag of this friendship bread, and have you ever deviated from the recipe to make your own variations?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to:


I drew from Random.org and you're the winner of Jane Austen Made Me Do It!  Thanks to everyone who joined in the giveaway! This is a great collection of short stories, so I highly recommend that those of you who are interested in dabbling in Jane Austen stories, or are already die-hard fans to give it a try!

Thanks again to all who participated!  I loved your responses and hope to see you again.  Also, a big thank you to Laurel Ann Nattress for a lovely blog post here and for all her work on the book.

For more information on the novel, please see my review of Jane Austen Made Me Do It.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: Miss Darcy Falls in Love by Sharon Lathan

Oh, how I love Sharon Lathan's books.  Seriously, Sharon's books are a much needed break from my own reality and have helped mellow the romantic cynic in me.  Forget what I think "reality" is in romance, I want Sharon's version!  Recently after finishing our first term at school, I felt like I was at my breaking point.  I picked up Sharon's book, for what I thought would be a couple chapters for a quick work break, that turned into a complete devouring of her book.  In one sitting, I started and finished Miss Darcy Falls in Love and can say that it was just what I needed.

Synopsis:  Shifting away from our most famous Darcys, Miss Darcy Falls in Love follows Fitzwilliam's prized sister Georgiana in a European tour that actually sent Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam home in the previous installment, to welcome their second child.  In the meantime, Georgiana finishes up her tour, stopping in France to visit friends.  There she meets up with Sebastian Butler, a fellow music lover who has been allowed to leave his land-owning responsibilities by his father to pursue music at the famous Conservatoire in Paris.  Before entering school, he and Georgiana strike up a great friendship, centered on their interest in music.  Sebastian and Georgiana both, are too conservative and gentle-minded to consider that their friendship might actually be a blossoming love, simply regarding one another more as the best of friends.  That is, until dashingly handsome Lord Caxton, teacher at the Conservatoire, takes an interest in Georgiana.  Somehow, with the push of another suitor, perhaps Sebastian and Georgiana might realize their friendship as something more?

Review:  In the characteristically romantic style of author Sharon Lathan, Georgiana Darcy's story feels nothing like a departure from our most famous Darcy couple, but feels more like a beautiful continuation within the family.  For fans of Pride and Prejudice, I think that most readers will agree that we want to see Georgiana happy in love someday, especially after all that she endured with George Wickham.  Now as an adult, and seeing the wonderful relationship of her older brother with Elizabeth Bennet, nothing could be better than to see Georgiana equally as happy in love.

Picking up where The Trouble With Mr. Darcy left off, we follow Georgiana home through Europe.  Focusing less on the travel aspect, and more on character development, we meet friends of the Darcys such as with Sebastian Butler.  Sebastian is not an ordinary character for his time, in that he is not necessarily aloof or terribly complicated.  That does not mean that he was not interesting.  His sweet character was kind and generous around others, but it was his passion for music that lent him that certain cluelessness that we love in Austen's men.  Sebastian, in all his gentleness, has made fast friends with Georgiana and shared a real passion for music that bonds the two.  Their friendship was sweet and delectable.  As for Lord Caxton, who comes along to complicate it all, he seemed more like the villain than the possible love interest, which made it all the easier to love Sebastian and root for his awakening to what he had with Georgiana.

Sharon's novels do contain sensual scenes, that are grippingly romantic.  If that is not your scene, let me warn you now.  I wouldn't say that this novel is nearly as sensual as previous books though.  I get that some people do not enjoy having a romantic interlude spelled out for them, but I can't say that is a reason to completely denigrate an author's story.  Sharon's writing has never felt overplayed, in my opinion, and her writing style has this period feel to it that is stunning.  As readers, we not only get swept away in the beauty of her writing, but we also develop a greater interest in her characters.  In every way, these characters feel real and applicable to us, with their dreams and emotions spelled out on the page.  Mixing the period with the timelessness and complications of romantic love, I simply can't get enough of the romance Sharon writes.  Beyond being a fan of all things Austen and loving this period to begin with, Miss Darcy Falls in Love is a delectable and delightful romantic romp back to a time when men and women held back on saying what they felt, yet showed it in a number of reserved, romantic ways.  Although the sixth in the Darcy saga, Miss Darcy Falls in Love can be read as a stand alone.  And for cynics of romance, which I would usually count myself a part, these books make me want to believe!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a review copy sent by the publisher.

For more information on the novel or on the writer of this great series, check back on Friday for a lovely interview I had with Sharon Lathan!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Blatherings & Weekend Cooking

With the start of a new term, comes that ever-needed brief reprieve from the grading that haunts me.  Honestly, I have to say thank goodness for that, because I have been so burned out that it has frightened me a little.  I'm talking epic burnout that I usually don't experience until about April.  Thankfully, Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so I'm looking forward to those five days off to check out for awhile. 

Nothing new is really going on in my world.  I've just been relaxing this weekend, doing a little cooking and cleaning, and reading more than I have in quite awhile.  Although I'm having a bit of downtime this weekend, I did review a couple of cookbooks that I received from Netgalley, The Sweet Life and I Love Meatballs!  Digital cookbooks are really great once you get used to using a device like the iPad when you're cooking.  In a lot of ways, it has completely changed the way I cook and gather recipes!

The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries is a great cookbook by Top Chef runner up Sam Talbot (although I kind of thought he should have won).  As with many health oriented cookbooks, Sam's cookbook encourages healthy eating that doesn't require you to give up flavor, taste, and enjoyment.  Many of his recipes center on foods that are high on energy and low on refined products, all in an effort to keep blood sugar levels steady and energy high.  Many of his recipes feature low-fat proteins like eggs and fish, but also utilize nuts, legumes, and beans; all of which will keep your body fueled and running properly all day long.  One of the recipes I'm dying to try out is his "Soft-Cooked Eggs with Yellow Squash and Broccoli Rabe Pesto."  Because I'm not very imaginative on how to include more vegetables in my day, and especially not in breakfast, this recipe sounds really interesting and delicious!  Although the recipes are aimed at demonstrating how to eat well with diabetes, he does still have foods that we might consider quick sugar burners, such as fruits and breads.  These foods though are used in small portions and are mixed with other foods that are on the low end of the glycemic index.

Much of the recipes in The Sweet Life draw on flavor profiles from around the globe, which we know add great flavor without the fat and sugar.  He has everything from Asian flavors like Ponzu and lemongrass, to south of the border tacos and grilling.  (The "Lemon Chicken with Lemongrass and Love"--love being this amazing marinade of basil, parsley, garlic, ginger, and rice vinegar--sounds amazing!)  Regardless of whether you have diabetes or not, I found his recipes to be so smart and unlike anything I'd seen before, that I know I'll be trying them out in an ongoing effort to eat healthy, eat fresher, and eat at home.

I Love Meatballs by Rich Rodgers is a nice look at all the ways that meatballs can be incorporated into various meals, and at all their varieties.  Obviously, meatballs can be eaten with pasta, but they can also serve as a nice protein to add to soups, as a nice appetizer, as a base in a sandwich, or as the main protein to a meal with sides.  The thing I most liked about this cookbook, to be honest, were the guidelines and suggestions at the beginning of the book.  I've cooked a lot of different types of meatballs, to freeze for quick meals and such, but have run into issues with meatballs that fell apart, dried out, or didn't cook all the way through.  The introduction really gives some great tips on binders, cooking, and preserving that will help me the next time I cook up a batch of meatballs.

Although I've cooked a lot of different types of  meatballs, I really want to try out some of the Asian meatball recipes in his cookbook, such as the "Braised Vietnamese Meatballs in Caramel Sauce."  The caramel bit freaked me out a bit, but once you read the recipe it all makes sense.  They are these great pork, ginger, garlic, and rice masterpieces, dipped in a sweet and sour type sauce of sugar, broth, shallots, lemongrass, ginger, chilies, and cilantro that sounds really good.  Who knows, I might have to try this one out of my family one night over Thanksgiving break. (Speaking of which, this cookbook even has a recipe for "Turkey Meatball Subs with Cranberry-Chipotle Mayonnaise" that is very Thanksgiving-ish.)

There are lots of different versions to the meatball that I find interesting and really enjoy in this cookbook.  You can eat a nice Greek-style meatball with a yogurt sauce, a Spanish tapas version with sherry sauce, a nice Asian-infused meatball with a sweet & sour sauce, or a simple escarole and meatball soup.  Whether you only like meatballs with your spaghetti or have fully embraced the meatball as a protein that can stand on its own, you really should check out the amazing variety of recipes this cookbook has to offer.  I can't wait to try some of these out!

Well, that's all for my great weekend.  I'm off to read the afternoon away before I have to hop online for my classes I teach there.  Hopefully you're eating well, reading well, and resting well!  Have a great weekend! 

For more weekend cooking, go to Beth Fish Reads.  You'll find all sorts of great food-related posts and recipes!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Broetry by Brian McGackin

Let's talk poetry for a second.  I like it.  Yes, I like pulling out a poem or two that can make me feel like grabbing a pen or pencil to help me delineate new and interesting ideas.  Having said that, Broetry was filled with the types of poetry that rather than write all over it, I would snort aloud and then take it to share with someone.  These poems beg to be read and then shared with someone.

When approached by Brian McGackin about reviewing his short book of poetry, I checked out his blurb, and this is what sold me, "...With poems like Ode to That Girl I Dated for, Like, Two Months Sophomore Year and My Friends Who Don't Have Student Loans, we watch the Bro grow, from his high school graduation through his quarter life crisis and beyond..."  I like a good healthy dose of irony and satire, so I really had to check this book out and I wasn't disappointed at all.

Review:  Brian McGackin's short poetry compilation Boetry is a funny take on being a "Bro" and all that entails from a cheeky, occasional mock up of previous classical poems to funny new dedications/observations on popular culture and young adulthood.   The mix of college drama, popular superheroes, and single-guy angst was pretty funny to read and had me sharing them with some of the guys I work with.  Having said that, I don't think you have to be a single guy to enjoy these poems; they are light-hearted and funny and can be enjoyed by anyone with a sense of humor about contemporary society.

This little book of poetry is very much a satirical look at young adulthood and popular culture.  Yes, there is some strong language and references to drinking, but it's a Bro's view on his life!  For the audience and purpose in the poetry, I got a good laugh and think a few of my coworkers have picked up their own copy as well.  I really enjoyed this little collection of poems and can pretty much open it up at any time and get a good chuckle.  Besides, who said poetry had to be serious and philosophical all the time?  Where would we be without a good satire to highlight things in our society we don't always readily recognize.  Check it out!

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a review copy sent from the publisher.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: Jane Austen Made Me Do It by Laurel Ann Nattress

Post crazy migraine that has been haunting me since last night, I'm sneaking online to share my review of Jane Austen Made Me Do It.  This great compilation of short stories center on the nearly infallible Ms. Austen and her wonderful novels.  What more need I say?

Whether you are a fair weather fan  of Jane Austen, or a die hard Janeite, Jane Austen Made Me Do It has a wonderful variety of original short stories to catch any reader's attention.  Some of the stories are retellings, based on the characters in Austen's famous novels.  Other stories are modernizations, featuring Austen characters or themes.  Honestly, there is a little something for everyone. 

Longtime Austen fans will quickly recognize the authors featured in this compilation.  Authors like Lauren Willig, Laurie Viera Rigler, and Beth Pattillo (to name a few) have short stories in the book, alongside a few newbies like Brenna Aubrey, who was the winner of the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest that was held at The Republic of Pemberley (as mentioned in Laurel's guest post on Sunday).  Regardless of the author, the stories are filled with great character sketches, romantic longing, and Austen-like whimsy.  For readers who are hesitant to try out a retelling or modernization, this is a great way to try out the stories available on the market, as many of these authors have also published longer Austen-expired novels. 

Without going into too much information about each of the stories, let me just share a few that I really enjoyed.  One of my favorites was "When Only a Darcy Will Do," by Beth Pattillo, in which Mr. Darcy steps into a modern tale and sweeps the heroine and reader off their feet--yet again.  Although I honestly enjoyed each story, a few others that stood out to me were those based on Persuasion, which I keep hoping some of these authors will take on and write more about (hint, hint, nudge, nudge).  "Waiting: A Story Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion" by Jane Odiwe was a delightful peek inside Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot's long awaited for reunion, and had me loving this sweet story even more.  I also got a real chuckle out of "Intolerable Stupidity," by Lauren Willig, which is a literary courtroom drama that puts the authors of these retellings and modernizations on trial.  The playful mix of Austen characters, stories, and tongue in cheek poke at authors such as those who wrote stories for the book, was too smart for words!  And to top it off, I 100% agree with the winner of the short story contest, "The Love Letter" by Brenna Aubrey; its modern equivalent for Persuasion had me cheering on love that can endure.

I swore I wouldn't pick out individual stories, but I hope that the few I highlighted--out of a book filled with delightful treasures--will better show the nice range included in the book.  There are homages to Northanger Abbey's Gothic ghost story, episodes with the newly wed Darcys, and even Emma.  Whether you are a true-blue Janeite, fair-weather Austen fan, or formerly-nervous Austen purist, this book has a great selection of stories for every reader.

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on an advanced copy provided by the publisher & Netgalley.

Don't forget to stop by the "Guest Blog & Giveaway" post to hear more from Laurel Ann Nattress about this fun compilation, and also to enter to win a copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It.  The giveaway ends this Sunday, November 13th, so stop by today!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Guest Blog & Giveaway: Laurel Ann Nattress of Jane Austen Made Me Do It

I am so excited to have the wonderful Laurel Ann Nattress from Austenprose and the editor of the newly released Jane Austen Made Me Do It.  I'll be posting my review of the book tomorrow, but let me just say that Jane Austen Made Me Do It has been such a fabulously entertaining and relaxing read over the last several weeks.  When I was pushed to the wall to get grading finished, I could escape into one of the  many short stories in this compilation.  As a Jane Austen fan, this really was the perfect book for a nice escape from the daily grind.

Having said that, let me introduce Laurel Ann Nattress!

Hi Becky, it is a pleasure to be here at One Literature Nut during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of the release of my new Austen-inspired anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. One of the most rewarding aspects of editing the anthology was working with the twenty-four authors. With such a mix of personalities and styles, we were bound to get an equally varied assortment of stories – and we did! From Regency to contemporary, romantic to comical, there is something here for everyone.

One of the stories, “The Love Letter,” by Brenna Aubrey, I am particularly proud of. It was selected as the Grand Prize Winner of the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest that was held online at The Republic of Pemberley last January. The contest was my idea. I thought that since Jane Austen had dedicated much of her life to her craft, that fostering new writers was in the spirit of her ideals. My editor was also very excited about the project. We worked on the concept and the rules while Myretta Robens, the web mistress of our host site, created the pages and story board.

The contest ran for six weeks and we had hope for about twenty to thirty stories. Imagine our surprise when eighty-eight stories arrived! And, best of all was the variety and quality. The public had a chance to vote for the Top Ten Finalists, and my editor and myself had the difficult task of selecting the winner. I had been particularly moved by Brenna’s story the first time I had read it, and just loved it. I was thrilled when my editor revealed to me that she felt the same way and we were in agreement of the winner. The day I called Brenna at home was very memorable for me. She was so quiet when I called. I could hear the trepidation in her voice. When I finally told her that her story had been selected the Grand Prize Winner, there was silence, and then elation.

I think readers will be as moved as my editor and myself by “The Love Letter.” Here is a description:

“The Love Letter,” by Brenna Aubrey

Young doctor Mark Hinton thinks his life is perfect.  He is just about to finish his residency and has accepted the offer of a fabulous new job.  Things could not be better…  until the arrival of an anonymous letter in the mail forces him to confront the truth he’s been hiding from for seven years.

Sent on a quest by the mysterious contents of the letter, he is forced to discover the contents of his own heart thanks to Jane Austen, a canny librarian, a cantankerous patient, and a coolly observant sister.

Since the release of Jane Austen Made Me Do It on October 11, 2011, the reaction to Brenna’s story by readers has been amazing. Many reviewers have mentioned it as one of their favorites in the collection. That is especially rewarding for me. I feel like I have had a small hand in the beginnings of a talented new writers career. Jane Austen would be happy with that!

Thanks again Becky for letting me share Brenna’s story with you today. I hope that your readers enjoy “The Love Letter” as much as I did and can bask with me in my pride of playing a small part in spotlighting her talent.

Cheers, Laurel Ann    

Editor bio:

A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs Austenprose.com and JaneAustenMadeMeDoIt.com, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

Ballantine Books • ISBN: 978-0345524966

Giveaway of Jane Austen Made Me Do It

Enter a chance to win one copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It by leaving a comment by Sunday, November 13th, stating what intrigues you about reading an Austen-inspired short story anthology. Winners to be drawn at random and announced on Monday, November 14th. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck to all!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Masterpiece Contemporaries

As with many avid readers, I also have a love for all things Masterpiece Theater on PBS.  Thanks to Masterpiece, we have been given some of the crown jewels of fiction to film, so how can we not keep our eye out for what's up and coming?

Here's what is coming up this Sunday, 11/6 and next Sunday, 11/13:

An MI-5 spy thriller called "Page Eight" is up this Sunday, starring Bill Nighy as the aging spy, with Michael Gambon, Rachel Wiesz, and Judy Davis. 

Following this first Contemporary, will be "The Song of Lunch," which stars the amazing Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson.  In this piece, Rickman is a copy editor/writer who meets back up with a former lover from 15 years ago.  The story unfolds from there. 

I know I can't wait for either of these showings, not to mention "Downton Abbey" series 2 that comes out on January 8th and will run through February 19th!  (I can't wait!)  There is always so much to look forward to on PBS when it comes to great dramatizations, classics, and mystery. 

See PBS, Masterpiece for all of their schedules and more about their 40th year anniversary. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review: Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci

While some of our east coast friends are getting snow, we are still blissfully strolling along, in denial that winter is on its way.  It's pretty cold here, which is why I finally gave up on the tomato plant that I moved inside over a month ago (can you believe I was still babying it?), and left it outside to finally kick the bucket.  With our first school term over, I was able to pack up my back porch and move everything inside.  Now we can go ahead and let it snow and storm, because I'm finally ready!

In the meantime, I've been stealing moments away to read, and have needed to share my review for Plain Janes for some time.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "When transfer student Jane is forced to move from the confines of Metro City to Suburbia, she thinks her life is over. But there in the lunch room at the reject table she finds her tribe: three other girls named Jane. Main Jane encourages them to form a secret art gang and paint the town P.L.A.I.N. -- People Loving Art In Neighborhoods. But can art attacks really save the hell that is high school?"

Review:  Plain Janes is an interesting, comic sort of story right from the get go.  With Jane's move from Metro City, where she experienced a traumatic bombing (in the first several frames), there is more to Jane's back story than expected.  I know that I found myself trying to figure out if "Metro City" was supposed to be some city today, with some connection to an attack or event, but I had to give that up to go with the story.  Although Jane has experienced something traumatic, that has changed who she is, the story is more about her difference and others who feel different right along with her.  

Jane has a nice bunch of "misfit" Janes that she befriends and is able to convince to start this gang of "artists" who go out doing obscure things to garner attention for art.  In this case, that art is an expression of some sort, which intimidates the law and everyone else who are trying to keep some order to Suburbia.  Of course, to this mix we have to add a mysterious boy, who may or may not like Jane.  What teen story would be complete without the mysterious guy who seems to notice how unique our main heroine really is?

Jane, meeting her misfit Janes on her first day at school.
 Plain Janes was an interesting read, with what felt like a heartier theme than I've felt from other graphic novels I've read in awhile.  There are some unique, gutsy characters to go along with the themes, so you really feel unable to predict the story.  As with most graphic novels I've read, I enjoyed Plain Janes for the interesting reading experience and story.  It's nice to get a message, but in a different way. 

*FTC Disclosure:  The review is based on a library copy of the novel.