Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

Is there anything better than a cute little read that makes you smile and want to share?  That's exactly how I felt about Elizabeth Eulburg's Prom and Prejudice.  It was cute, it was short, and it was a fun P&P take off.  What could be better?

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn’t interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be — especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London.
Lizzie is happy about her friend’s burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles’s friend, Will Darcy, who’s snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn’t seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it’s because her family doesn’t have money. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk — so why does Lizzie find herself drawn to him anyway?

Will Lizzie’s pride and Will’s prejudice keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making? Whatever the result, Elizabeth Eulberg, author of The Lonely Hearts Club, has concocted a very funny, completely stylish delight for any season — prom or otherwise."

Review:  As far as remakes of Jane Austen's famous Pride and Prejudice go, this one is pretty cute.  With our famous "Lizzie" and Darcy now as teens studying in a famous prep school, the result of this romance is not marriage, but prom.  If you know the story behind the original story, then the personalities of the characters make perfect sense, even if the resulting reasons to be proud might be different.  Darcy, in this remake, is so sweet and mature that he almost seems unreal for a teen boy, yet that makes him even more endearing.  Let's be honest, we're reading his as a character, and not necessarily as a real to life teen, right?

I really loved this short, clean read.  Lizzie and Darcy both have valid reasons to not like the other, and I think that their conflicts are age appropriate and help forward the story.  The resolutions along the way are nicely put together, with new ways of showing why Darcy was so stand-offish with Lizzie and how he really is a good, well-mannered guy.  Is getting Lizzie and Darcy to prom the real "resolution" to this story?  I can't really say that's it, but the overriding story is very cute and fun to compare to the original.  I'll be recommending this one to many students I teach, and my adult friends that enjoy a cute remake of Pride and Prejudice.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based on a book provided by the Amazon Vine program.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Blatherings & Weekend Cooking

What an eventful week.  This school year ends this coming week, my BFF leaves for residency, and I leave for my trip to England and France in less than two weeks.  In preparation for my trip, I splurged a little early and bought the iPad 2.  I was going to get it for myself for my birthday in October, but realized that with my trip coming up, it might be better to get it now so I could leave my kindle and laptop behind and just use the slim little iPad instead.  Because I teach online classes, I really do need access to new contracts that will come rolling in while I'm on my trip, so this was a convenient excuse to purchase now and not later.  Yes, it was a nice excuse to get a new toy and I'm loving it!

Any suggestions on your favorite apps?  Please, share!

I've been playing on my iPad and not reading as much as usual, but I'm surrounded by family & friends this weekend.  Although I don't have great bookish news to share, I wanted to jump back into Weekend Cooking over at Beth Fish Reads and share my favorite drink.  It's not really cooking, but it's super simple and one of my FAVES. 

Let me give you a little back story to this drink.  I have real issues with orange juice.  I'm talking, take-me-to-the-hospital issues if I drink even a teeny glass in the morning.  Well, I saw this  OJ/Mango blend and had to try a sip.  I found that if mixed (in small doses) with Diet Sprite over ice, I could not only tolerate it, but also enjoy!  So, here's my simple drink.  I know.  It's not really cooking, but trust me when I say that this mix is great and gives you the yummy taste of OJ with the sparkling taste of a Sprite.  (My BFF says this is a cheap version of a mimosa, so there you go!)

Fool Yourself OJ
Serves 1

--1 c. ice
--1 can Diet Sprite
--1 c. OJ w/ Mango

Pour the Sprite over the ice, followed by the juice.  If you do it the other way around, it foams up too much.  Then enjoy!

There's my recipe for the day.  Do you have a drink mix that you love, that's super easy like this? 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Author Highlight: Maria Hamilton

Yesterday I posted my review of Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman and today I wanted to post a little about Maria Hamilton, the author.  I had a chance to ask her a few questions I've been thinking about, especially in connection with these Austen-related novels.

One of the things I've been wondering about is how our Austen authors come up with their ideas?  What sparks their interest so that they can find their own in-roads into these famous stories?  Here is some of what Maria Hamilton shared:

I have been a lifelong Jane Austen fan, rereading her novels with regularity.  About ten years ago when websites devoted to her books started to appear on the Internet, I began to become interested in Pride & Prejudice sequels and variations. The inspiration for my novel, Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman, came from the flash of image I had of Darcy and Elizabeth in Hertfordshire at a large dinner with their heads bowed deep in conversation.  From that picture in my mind’s eye, I was motivated to write a story where circumstances would allow Darcy and Elizabeth to be in company slowly getting to know each other.  In Pride & Prejudice, Austen never allowed them the time to interact in such a manner once they overcome their preconceived objections and prejudices.  Instead, it is a luxury left only to Mr. Bingley and Jane during the early days of their courtship.  I had read many wonderful Pride & Prejudice variations, but none seemed to capture that moment of courtship.  As a result, I felt compelled to write a story where I could place Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in various social settings and see how they behave.
In order to accomplish my goal, I introduce the reader to Mr. Darcy immediately after his rejection at Hunsford.  He begins to evaluate Elizabeth’s rebukes of his prior actions and decides to correct his mistake regarding Jane and Mr. Bingley much earlier. Doing so is harder to accomplish than he imagined and he is forced to return to Hertfordshire.  He asks Jane for a private interview in order to determine if she still has feeling for Mr. Bingley and Mrs. Bennett assumes that Darcy has come to court Jane.  Once Darcy is thrown into Elizabeth's company again, he vows to show her, by every civility in his power, that he that he can be a gentleman worthy of her esteem.  As Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy become reacquainted, he pursues her and a courtship evolves during a series of dances and dinners as they attempt to see each other without their prior misunderstandings.
While my story focuses on the dialog between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth and their developing intimacy, I also wanted to see how the characters would react in some of the scenes that I wished were in the original book, but are not.  For instance, I wanted to explore how Darcy would ask Mr. Bennett for permission to marry Elizabeth, Darcy’s confession to Bingley that he was in love with Elizabeth and had wrongly separated him from Jane, Caroline learning that Darcy had asked Elizabeth to marry him (twice), and Darcy and Elizabeth transformations from suitors to husband and wife.  In doing so, I wanted to keep to Austen original intent but give the characters enough the room to act in new ways. I will let the readers be the judge.
Here's a little about Maria Hamilton:

Maria Hamilton has been a lifelong Jane Austen fan.  Her first novel Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman was published by Sourcebooks in May of 2011.  She is presently working on several projects including a new Pride & Prejudice variation. She attended Boston College where she earned a B.A. and then a M.A. in history.  She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School and presently works as an attorney in Boston.  Her interests include travel, cinema, the Red Sox, and bicycling.  She is perpetually learning Italian and hopes one day to attempt a complete conversation.  She lives in southern New Hampshire with her husband, two children, and her dog Poseidon.

If you are interested in Maria’s writing style, she has two Pride & Prejudice short stories available on the internet at

Thank you to Maria Hamilton for stopping in "One Literature Nut" and sharing a little bit about herself and her interest in Pride and Prejudice.  I, for one, hope to see more stories out in the future!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman by Maria Hamilton

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "When Elizabeth Bennet refuses his hand, Darcy is devastated and makes it his mission to change. By every civility in his power, Darcy slowly tries to win her affections, but Elizabeth is not easily swayed. Darcy vows to unlock the secrets that will make her his. He curses himself for his social awkwardness and appearance of pride, and sets out to right the wrongs he's done her family.  Elizabeth's family and friends misunderstand his intentions, and being in Elizabeth's presence proves to be both excruciating for the shy Darcy-and a dream come true. For the first time in his life, he must please a woman worth having, and the transformation leads him to a depth of understanding and love that he never could have imagined."

Review:  Overall, Mr. Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman was a fun departure from the original story, asking the reader to consider "what if" Darcy decided to change from that first tongue lashing by Elizabeth?  Could he have changed and won her over by showing her who he really was?  These questions fuel this new story line as Darcy works to show Elizabeth that he isn't the pompous rich guy she has come to believe him.  He ends up showing back up at her home to interact with her family and to try to be more social.  

With these twists, some other story lines drop out from the original.  I won't give away which ones those might be, but you can imagine who might or might not show up in the story if Darcy stuck around.  One interesting change is in Mrs. Bennet, who soon recognizes that Darcy might be a better match for her Jane than she originally thought.  He quite wins her over with his charm and pocket change!  Not only does he win her over, but he also fuels the gossip mongers who all think he has eyes for Jane.  That, of course, makes Elizabeth slightly jealous and confused.  Her intrigue leads her to consider this man she wrote off, to wonder if she made a big mistake in jilting him.

Romance is all over in this retelling of Pride and Prejudice.  For the most part it is all good, clean romance, with some later interludes that make for a dramatic departure from the story we all know and love!  I wouldn't say it's salacious in any way, but might be shocking.  At times I'll admit to being annoyed by the miscommunication and constant fact checking Darcy and Elizabeth demonstrated; they just seemed so unsure of what the other meant, that they were constantly self conscious of everything they said or did.  Eventually, the "I'm sorry, that's not what I meant..." felt overdone at times.  I do get that this added extra tension and work to Darcy and Elizabeth's relationship forced them to draw together more.  I guess I just didn't want them to have to always feel so insecure.

The "what if" story between Darcy and Elizabeth is a relaxing continuation of sorts, for anyone who enjoys Pride and Prejudice and likes to read other retellings.  The story is romantic and filled with human missteps that keep the story moving in a new direction, and although the outcome isn't surprising, the journey is different and new.  

*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based on an advanced copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Review: Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

I was going back over the reviews I had written or needed to write and realized I had gotten so into the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, that I jumped directly from book two into book three without blinking an eye!  If that isn't a plug for this series, then I don't know what is.  I'm not quite finished with the entire series, but wanted to post my Bloodfever review before I get too much farther into them!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "MacKayla Lane's ordinary life underwent a complete makeover when she landed on Ireland's shores and was plunged into a world of deadly sorcery and ancient secrets.  In her fight to stay alive, Mac must find the Sinsar Dubh-a million-year-old book of the blackest magic imaginable, which holds the key to power over both the worlds of the Fae and of Man. Pursued by Fae assassins, surrounded by mysterious figures she knows she cannot trust, Mac finds herself torn between two deadly and irresistible men: V'lane, the insatiable Fae who can turn sensual arousal into an obsession for any woman, and the ever-inscrutable Jericho Barrons, a man as alluring as he is mysterious.

For centuries the shadowy realm of the Fae has coexisted with that of humans. Now the walls between the two are coming down, and Mac is the only thing that stands between them."

Review:  Mac has now learned a bit more about the world that took her sister from her and is now threatening the rest of humanity.  As overwhelming as it might seem, Mac is one of a small conglomeration of people (if you can call them people) who can fight the evil Fae from opening up this world to their kind and obliterating all of mankind and anything that is good in the process.  Now Mac realizes that this isn't just about the sister she lost, but is much, much bigger.

Once again, book two is not a stand alone type of a novel.  Book one was very much a set up to learning the rules and procedures of this magical world, and we have continued to learn so much more in book two.  As a Sidhe Seer, Mac can sense the evil Sinsar Dubh book, which is one of the reasons that manly man Jericho Barrons has kept a close rein on Mac.  Together they have sought out ancient relics that contain magic, and according to Barrons, will help them get closer to the magic book.  Why do we not believe him though?  Barrons is all that a complicated mystery man should be; he's handsome, rugged, and even a bit sadistic.  You know that he cares enough about Mac to keep protecting her and giving her information about some of the magical world, but not enough to really lay it all on the line.  We aren't even sure what he even is at this point!  Why can't the shades touch him?  What's the deal with that?  Is he just playing her and going to end up being the bad guy, or is he some "wounded" soul and really a good guy at heart?  We don't know.

By the end of this second installment, I now feel completely invested in what will happen to Mac.  She has pushed the boundaries of her powers and learned how to protect herself, without Barrons help.  Mac is gutsy and vulnerable, which make her a great heroine for this series.  So far, I've really gotten into the series and now feel much more eager to finish the series.  Once you get the gist of this magical world, the action and mystery really suck you in!  Honestly, it's not like any other paranormal series I've ever read.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based on a personal ebook copy of the novel.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Utah Author Month: Book I've Read

This month is Utah Author Month.  As part of that, bloggers who are participating in this celebration are trying to read and highlight local authors throughout the month of May.  I have the book Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me by Kristen Chandler that I'm currently reading and hope to finish up before the month is up.  It's a great book and really surprising.  Honestly, it's not really like any other YA book I've read in awhile, which is really refreshing.

In the meantime, I wanted to highlight some of the books I've read and reviewed here at One Literature Nut, since there are so many authors and books to talk about!  Here are some of the books I've read and reviewed:

Matched by Ally Condie

 Getting Away With Murder by Chris Crowe

The Dark Divine by Bree DeSpain

The Lost Saint by Bree DeSpain

The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans

Rapunzel's Revenge by Nathan and Shannon Hale

Calamity Jack by Nathan and Shannon Hale

The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum

There are a lot of other great authors that I still need to get around to reading.  Check out the Goodreads list that some of us joined in to compile.  Talk about a long list!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: A Congratulations

I hope you don't mind if I take a little diversion in my "blatherings" today.  This has been a really great week, even if I didn't get in a lot of reading. One nice distraction to my reading was my best friend's graduation from medical school.  I have come to know a teeny bit of the pain, agony, and hard work that went in to surviving these past four years and am super proud of her for getting through! 

Regardless of all the studying and work she had to put in, she managed to continue to read great books.  I loved watching her use books as a reward after major tests or on holidays, reading herself into a frenzy during her down times!  In fact, when she would come to my house, she would start snooping through my bookshelves and library finds, writing down every book that caught her eye.  She might be an M.D. now, but I love that she's as big of a bookworm as any of us! 

To my friend and fellow book-a-holic, I wanted to say a big CONGRATULATIONS!  I'm going to miss her as she heads off to Michigan for her residency in anesthesiology *sniff*, but I'm also excited for her.  Here's a picture of the two of us in Greece, on our big trip before she started medical school.  What fun times.  Here's to hoping there's a lot more to come!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Review: Encyclopedia of the Exquisite by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Encyclopedia of the Exquisite is a lifestyle guide for the Francophile and the Anglomaniac, the gourmet and the style maven, the armchair traveler and the art lover. It’s an homage to the esoteric world of glamour that doesn’t require much spending but makes us feel rich.

Taking a cue from the exotic encyclopedias of the sixteenth century, which brimmed with mysterious artifacts, Jessica Kerwin Jenkins’s Encyclopedia of the Exquisite focuses on the elegant, the rare, the commonplace, and the delightful. A com­pendium of style, it merges whimsy and practicality, traipsing through the fine arts and the worlds of fashion, food, travel, home, garden, and beauty."

Review:  I couldn't help myself when I saw this pretty book sitting on the "New Arrivals" shelf at my local library.  When I flipped it open, it had the coolest entries about things like milk baths, the trapeze, the omelet, badminton, and more, all with their history and context.  The history isn't intense, but it is a nice overview of how things have evolved.  In a sense, it's a cultural encyclopedia of random facts that might pop up in a British or French novel.  For instance, the entry on red lipstick was great, and something I could see featured in a magazine.  I also thought the information on obelisks and their popularity around the world was pretty outside the realm of normal history books.  Although I wasn't 100% sure how the topics were selected for the encyclopedia, seeing as they were a quirky collection of random facts and information, they were all pretty interesting. This is one "informational" book that can be read like a novel, for its fun facts and details.  I definitely think this would make for a pretty interesting coffee table book!
Here is a fun snapshot of one of the entries on the trapeze:

Does anyone even still set out coffee table books?  Maybe that would make for a great entry in this encyclopedia?

*FTC Disclosure:  Review was based on a library copy of the book.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jane Eyre (2011): Film Thoughts

Jane Eyre is one of those grand novels, that if you've read and compared to Wuthering Heights, you probably came to a definite conclusion about which Bronte novel you liked better.  I was always a Jane Eyre fan, although I'll admit to really wishing Jane would have given Rochester a good kick in the shins through many scenes in the novel.  Wuthering Heights always disturbed me, with Heathcliff and Catherine's cruelty to one another, all in the name of love.  Ironically, Jane and Rochester also have a pretty cruel fated relationship.  Both are fairly complex characters, with troubled pasts and emotional baggage to pack around.  To this we add the complexity of class distinction and gender difference.  Therein we get the recipe for an angsty, Gothic/Romantic novel that we continue to read, film, and discuss.

This newest Focus Feature filming of Jane Eyre is well done.  My emotions ran the gamut, and I can say that I was pretty invested in the characters and their story.  The opening sequence starts with the scene in the novel where Jane has run away from Rochester and Thornfield Hall.  From there, the film is a set of flashbacks from her life, including her troubled upbringing, her time in the girl's school, and her time at Thornfield Hall.  As with some of the other film versions of the novel, this Jane is plain, but very pretty in her plainness.  Rochester seems, at least in my opinion, to be the wild card. He can either be slightly mad and scary looking, or you can go for the ruggedly handsome, leading man type.  In this case, he seemed a bit of both.

Let me be frank in saying that I've always thought that Rochester was a bit of a jerk.  In some sick, sadistic way, I found that jerk side of him made his eventual romantic side that much more charming and romantic.  You know, the bad guy the girl turned good, or the rich guy who hooks up with the poor chick?  It's all very Cinderella story, but in this case, Rochester isn't exactly a "Prince Charming".    Here's what I found interesting.  In the novel, Rochester seems to do a series of things to Jane that reveal that he gets that she's lower status, poor, and lacks opportunities afforded to him.  How do we know?  He makes rude comments to her.  He seems to lord his money over her.  He makes snide remarks about Adele and her mother.  He gets to know Jane a little, only to drag a woman he is supposed to be courting into the picture and into her very face.  He ignores her.  He commands her.  He dominates her.  He pleads with her.  He taunts her.  You get the picture.  Yes, he's wounded, and yes you get that he falls for Jane.  What I couldn't quite grip was the gentle touch they gave to the film's Rochester.  Were they trying to not annoy a modern audience?  Would we see Rochester's brusqueness as the exact opposite of romantic love and not care to see Jane with him?  I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, but it was interesting to consider.

This version has a real movie feel to it, with the blending of beautiful sets, scenery, and music.  The acting is very good, with little deviation from the novel, aside from some of the order in which they tell it, scenes they chose to condense or leave out, and some pretty sexy kissing going on.  Overall, it was an excellent film and one that I will definitely add to my collection! 

If you've seen Jane Eyre, what were your thoughts? 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig

Life has slowed down significantly, at least after work hours, and I have been trying to work through as many books on my TBR pile as possible.  Having said that though, I couldn't resist reading Lauren Willig's newest that came out in January, The Orchid Affair.  I missed the Christmas story that was released, so I'll hold off and get that one later in the year, but I had to pick this up to find out what's up with Colin and Eloise, our modern couple, and whoever popped up as her newest female spy!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "Laura Grey, a veteran governess, joins the Selwick Spy School expecting to find elaborate disguises and thrilling exploits in service to the spy known as the Pink Carnation. She hardly expects her first assignment to be serving as governess for the children of Andre Jaouen, right-hand man to Bonaparte's minister of police. Jaouen and his arch rival, Gaston Delaroche, are investigating a suspected Royalist plot to unseat Bonaparte, and Laura's mission is to report any suspicious findings.

At first the job is as lively as Latin textbooks and knitting, but Laura begins to notice strange behavior from Jaouen-secret meetings and odd comings and goings. As Laura edges herself closer to her employer, she makes a shocking discovery and is surprised to learn that she has far more in common with Jaouen than she originally thought...

As their plots begin to unravel, Laura and Jaouen are forced on the run with the children, and with the help of the Pink Carnation they escape to the countryside, traveling as husband and wife. But Delaroche will stop at nothing to take down his nemesis. With his men hot on their trail, can Laura and Jaouen seal the fate of Europe before it's too late?"

Review:  All of Willig's female spies have a strength about them that is fun to read.  We expect spies to be gutsy and brave, and these characters definitely have a variety of skills and strengths that allow them to spy for the British against the French.  Interestingly, Laura is the first character that felt the most cunning.  Throughout this installment, we find that Laura can blend into her life as a governess with ease, and can stoically put her own interests aside in this role.  As readers it almost feels like we know nothing about how Laura really feels.

There is a lot of great action in The Orchid Affair, with lots of different action sequences.  In one scene, Laura plays a seductress to literally save her boss, Jaouen's life.  In that moment, he not only recognizes that she might not just be his mousy governess, but that she is a capable actress and possible spy (not to mention a complete babe).  The action in this novel is exciting and had me flipping pages.  Because Laura is such a strong, stoic character, you constantly feel like you want her to just reveal more about what she's thinking and feeling!  That stoicism leads to some pretty intense chemistry between Laura and her boss, all couched in unsaid thoughts and repressed emotions. 

This installment was tense, exciting, and downright delicious.  The modern day story that is woven in with Eloise, the scholar who is unearthing these female spies for her dissertation, and her new boyfriend Colin, the modern relation to one of these spies, is a true back story in this novel.  I've enjoyed their story a lot in past installments, but thought that their role in this one was not as fluid or even necessary.  For once, I didn't want them to interrupt what was going on with Laura! 

Although you probably could read this as a stand alone, I wouldn't recommend it.  There is enough back story about other spies, reappearance of past characters, and the modern day twist that is still going on, that it might be best to start from the beginning.  This is a great series of books, however, and ones that I'm always excited to dive into!  For me, The Orchid Affair didn't disappoint!

*FTC Disclosure:  Review was based on a library copy of the book.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: Sleep

While work is winding down, with the end of the school year just a few weeks away, I have had a fun little journey with sleep during my down time.  I've been pretty tired over the last four or five years, and in fact reviewed a book on sleep back in 2009, "52 Brilliant Ideas: Sleep Deep".  I'd gone in to my doctor before to complain of fatigue, but somehow thought it might just be stress.  Besides, aren't we all just a bit stressed out most of the time?!?

So, how did we figure out what was up?   It was in a bit of a roundabout way.  You might actually remember a blog post I did for Christmas "Christmas 2010: Mele Kalikimaka" where I talked about going for a hike up to this lighthouse.  What I didn't share was a scary moment of chest pain that accompanied that hike.  Now, I'm no wilting flower or wafer-thin girl, but I've never had heart issues, nor had any family members who ever had heart disease.  In fact, heart disease is really not an issue in my family at all, so it had me concerned.  Besides, it's not as if I don't exercise, even if I am a bit irregular with my schedule during the school  year.

I decided to bring it up to my doctor when I got home, which led to a diagnosis of asthma (much to my relief, strangely enough), but which also led to several tests that showed that I have sleep apnea.  Gah!  No, I was not thrilled about this upset in my world.  My dad had sleep apnea, and all I could think about was that noisy machine I could hear from my room and the scary mask he had to wear!  My dad was a big snorer, but I NEVER snore, so the whole thing had me annoyed.  Once I settled down and had my doctor explain all the ways I would feel better if I treated it, including a lengthy discussion about how many people go undiagnosed, I started to calm down.  I had already endured that first hellish night of non-sleep a month ago, cords running out of my head and body in every which direction that made me feel like the biggest science experiment ever, but Friday night was the test with the actual CPAP machine.  Amazingly, it went really well.  It wasn't that bad.  I'm still not thrilled to have sleep apnea, but I am eager to find out what happens after I start getting treatment.  From what I hear, everyone raves about how great they feel and how much energy they have.  Won't that be nice?

Here's a funny clip about sleep apnea that was on The View several years ago when Rosie O'Donnell was still a co host, where she shares her issues with sleep apnea.  Yes, watch and envy the sexy mask...

I know there are a lot of books out there on sleep, and I've read a few.  Who doesn't love sleep?  We could always seem to use more, or at least more restful sleep!  Although it's received mixed reviews from folks who would prefer something more clinical, I actually really liked the wide variety of advice in Sleep to be Sexy, Smart, and Slim by Ellen Michaud and Julie Bain.  The wide variety of sleep issues they address, with quick, easy to approach information, is really nice.

They break the book up into basic sections: how to tell if you have a sleep problem, ways to get a good night's rest, and all the "sleep saboteurs" out there.  Some of the saboteurs include stress, depression, hormones, biological changes, pregnancy (during and after), illnesses like allergies, grief, sleep disorders, nightmares, and jet lag.  I found it all pretty interesting and could relate to many different saboteurs that had me thinking about ways to make my sleep time more productive.  Besides, who doesn't want to be sexy, smart, and slim? 

This book has easy to flip through pages, with highlighted titles and lists of suggestions.  Sure, it doesn't go into deep, technical details, but the information is really good and covers a lot of different sleep issues.  If you're at all struggling to get a good night's rest, I would recommend that you check this book out.  Even if you don't struggle with sleep, but just struggle to have enough time for it, I think it has great information about making the most out of the sleep you get.

Anyone else struggle with sleep issues?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Chicken & Black Bean Enchiladas

What a nice weekend!  My house is all clean, and I mean CLEAN, from the floors and laundry to the junk drawers, windows, and sweeping.  I'm telling you, I really had a burst of energy and tackled the inside and outside, cleaning and clearing away cobwebs.  I'm completely exhausted at this point, but it's a nice exhaustion that has nothing to do with hours of grading or paperwork, so it feels pretty satisfying for a change!  Besides, now I know the cobwebs are all gone and I don't have to freak out about nasty spiders.  *shudder*

I ran to the store today and decided to make Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas, which is a recipe I found online several years ago, but adapted in a million different little ways.  I love it, and any guest I've ever had over  has loved it as well.  The ingredients cost about $12-15 for the finished pan of about 8 enchiladas, so I'd say that's one cost efficient meal!  I've never joined in on Weekend Cooking that is hosted by Beth Fish Reads, so I thought today would be a great day to start!

Chicken & Black Bean Enchiladas

2 chicken breasts
1 medium onion
1 can black beans
1 package of soft taco shells
1 can of green chili enchilada sauce (Las Palmas is my absolute favorite, if you can find it!)
1 1/2 c. shredded cheese (I like a blend that has Monterrey Jack and cheddar.)
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. cumin powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
dash or two of red pepper flakes  (optional)

Chop the onion into a nice dice and the chicken breasts into small cubes.  Heat a frying pan and coat with enough olive oil to fry  up the chicken and onions, about 2-3 tbsp.  Cook the chicken, just until cooked through (but not browned, as that makes it too tough) and then add the onion and cook to tender.  Turn the heat to low and add in one can of black beans, rinsed and drained.  Salt and pepper the mixture, adding in the chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and chili flakes.  Stir the ingredients together and then remove from heat.

Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Pour 2/3 of the can of green chili sauce on the bottom of the pan, then begin filling the soft taco shells with the chicken and black bean mixture, rolling them up enchilada style after each one and sliding them in close to one another  (I usually fill and roll all in the baking dish, which is messy, but coats each one in sauce.)  The pan should hold 7-8 enchiladas. 

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, uncovered.  Remove from the oven, cover in the shredded cheese and return to the oven for another five minutes or until the cheese has melted and has begun to bubble.  Remove from the oven and serve with sour cream, salsa, black olives, or other toppings of your choice.

My suggestion & advice:  I like to make a batch of these enchiladas and portion them out for lunch during the week.  I'll admit that it can get soggy if you leave it in the fridge for too long, so I like to portion it out and freeze it in small, individual containers.  That seems to stop some of the liquid from completely soaking the shells.  I'm really not a big leftover fan, but I love these! 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Mr. Darcy Vampyre by Amanda Grange

I should call this "Catch Up on Old Review Books" Month!  I've been trying really hard to get through books that I've had in my TBR pile or those I was sent back when I first started this blog--and didn't realize that you can't take everything that pops up.  I've since learned my lesson and know what I can handle, in general, and schedule as such.  One of those first review books I accepted was Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange.  I had a lot of curiosity about how someone would turn my favorite male character into one of those sparkly-fanged dudes that has become so popular!  Well, now I have a better idea and finally can say I've finished it.

Synopsis:  What would happen if Mr. Darcy actually had a deep, dark secret that he had to keep from Elizabeth?  What if that secret could actually endanger her life, that women he loved most?  For Fitzwilliam Darcy, he wants to have a normal marriage and relationship with his young wife, but his secrets just might not make that possible.

Review:  Taking off from the wedding day, Elizabeth and Darcy seem congenial and happy, but something is obviously eating up Darcy.  From Elizabeth's perspective we learn of her confusion at not having a husband to share her honeymoon night with, nor someone to have a chat with first thing in the morning.  Because she had no frame of reference for what a real couple did once they married, and only supposed, she could only rely on the fact that she felt sad and distant from the man she so desperately loved.

This interesting conflict changes later on in the book as Elizabeth begins to put two and two together about her husband's strange behavior.  They travel across the continent (Europe) and into Italy, where Elizabeth later learns more about her husband's secret.  I suppose you could say that Darcy's secret is the great "test" of their love, and not that early pride and prejudice issue they had pre-marriage.

On the whole, I thought the novel was entertaining and interesting.  There were times the story ran long and I wanted to jump across the continent in their travels to the resolution, as I became more frustrated by Darcy's avoidance of his young wife than maybe even Elizabeth!  The language is reflective of that restrained speech of Austen's novels, but delivered a bit more to modern tastes.  Although they have tension around the whole "celibacy" issue, there is nothing graphic about this tale.  You do get that Elizabeth is a little flustered by her lack of "romantic" time with her husband, which is a kind of funny.  For that time period, would a woman get that flustered and wonder about seducing her new husband?  I suppose so, but it felt strange with Austen's Elizabeth.

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre is a quick read, with an interesting twist on the vampire theme.  I can't say it's my favorite variation on a classic, although I'll also admit to not being as into the paranormal takes, but I will say that I thought it was interesting and entertaining.  Amanda Grange has a subtle hand with the pen, and you can see it played out in this vampire take on a much beloved Pride and Prejudice.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based on an advanced copy of the novel provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Review: Wings by Aprilynne Pike

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm participating in Utah Author Month.  In the book club I participated in this past school year, we read novels by local authors, which helps me to jump right in and share Wings by Aprilynne Pike!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "'Laurel was mesmerized, staring at the pale things with wide eyes. They were terrifyingly beautiful—too beautiful for words. Laurel turned to the mirror again, her eyes on the hovering petals that floated beside her head. They looked almost like wings.'

In this extraordinary tale of magic and intrigue, romance and danger, everything you thought you knew about faeries will be changed forever."

Review:  Before I read Wings, a small group of students in my Popular Fiction class read it in a reader's circle.  The girls thought it was a strange concept, for a girl to have the same cellular structure as a plant, and couldn't completely get over the odd facts about Laurel's life.  For instance, she was really only able to eat peach nectar and had the giant flower petals growing out of her back.  With that preface, I was a little nervous about my own response, but I can say that my own wasn't too far off.  The idea is original and pretty creative, to have a fairy be made of plant cells, and her wings really be the petals of a flower.  The creatures, therefore, are also interesting as we learn about Laurel's past and how she came to be with a human family.  My guess is that the second book might take off with a lot more action that the first book had to set up.  We find out that the faeries' land is being threatened by people who want to buy it, and other not so nice magical creatures that also come in to play.  The set up from this first book, as odd as it felt, might be leading to some more exciting story twists for Laurel and her new (and old) friends.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review is based on a personal copy of the novel.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday Blatherings: Utah Author Month

I'm a bit behind this month and what is new?!?  I've been debating, actually a lot lately, the idea of what I share or don't share on this blog.  There are times that I think, "Geesh!  Does anyone even want to hear about being busy with school or the cold I caught?"  Then other times, after I sit around wondering where some of my much loved blogging friends have disappeared, I think it might actually be good to get a little information eeked out once in awhile, right?  Having said that, life is good here in my corner of the world.  Really.  It is!

As my earlier quandary intimates, I came down with a humdinger of a cold over Easter, that kind of tortured me for awhile.  Any extra energy went in to getting those last essays and papers graded before my AP students took the AP exam, which is happily out of the way!  They felt really good about it, so I'm hoping that's a good sign.  Now that much of the stress that a school year can bring is over, I'm feeling pretty darn happy.  We still have four more weeks, but things are truly starting to wind down.

One of the things I missed this past week was the Utah Author Month, initial start up.  Natasha, at Maw Books Blog has spearheaded an awesome opportunity for those of us in this area, or who are interested in participating, in reading and highlighting authors from here in Utah.  I have to say that the list of authors is pretty amazing.  If you don't believe me, check out the Goodreads list "Books by Utah Authors" that we've compiled! 

For my participation, I'm going to try to finish a couple of books that I am currently reading and then try to maybe throw in another one by the end of the month.  I'll also post a little something about books that I've read and reviewed here on One Literature Nut that are written by Utah authors.  It should be a great time, and a wonderful opportunity to support some of our local authors. 

Since my mom and I are not celebrating Mother's Day until two weeks from now (when we'll be together), I better take advantage of this slightly rainy and chilly day to get some reading done.  Besides, I don't have a single paper to grade--for once--and I'm feeling a little bit out of sorts!  Happy Mother's Day all, and have a great week!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef

My students took their AP English Literature and Composition exam on Thursday, and from the sound of it, they all seemed to feel pretty good about the test.  Although I was anxious, and always feel like I could have done so much more to help them prepare, it wasn't as nerve-wracking as normal.  All I can say is--whew!  I now feel a huge weight lift off of my shoulders.  Maybe I'll pick up a bit more reading?

Recently I finished an interesting little information book about Jane Austen, called Jane Austen: A Life Revealed by Catherine Reef.  It was short and sweet, and pretty fun to read!

Synopsis:  In this short informational book, we learn more about the life and history surrounding the famous author Jane Austen.  Included are short synopses of each of the books she wrote, at the time she wrote them.  Altogether, the information gives the reader a good overview of Austen and her influences.

Review:  Although short and simple in its information, this little book seems like a nice source for basic background on one of our most famous authors, Jane Austen.  Since many of her letters were destroyed after her death, she didn't seem to keep a journal, and died much too soon to really write a self-penned autobiography, we're left with secondhand accounts, biographies, and recollections.  Reef gives some nice background history about the period to add to her novels.   For instance, we learn that Austen was pushed to write a dedication to the Prince Regent, George III in her novel Emma.  She wasn't a real fan of the King and her publisher had to help her out with a nice sounding dedication. 

For the casual fan of Jane Austen, this is the perfect, short read.  It isn't too weighty, nor does it list off names and dates at random; the piece feels like a nice history that one can sit down and read through like a story.  I'll admit to thinking that summaries of each novel a little unnecessary, but I'm thinking it was for the benefit of readers who might not have read her work.  My guess is that this is the perfect resource for a first time reader of Austen's work or history, and would be ideal for students who need some basic information.  I still liked this brief little read.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review was based on a copy of the book provided through the Amazon Vine Program. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

I've been making an effort to read some of the books from Oprah's Book Club list that I haven't yet read.  A long time ago I read Wally Lamb's novel I Know This Much is True and was really disturbed and moved by its story of twin brothers, one with schizophrenia.  I loved the challenging range of questions it posed, and I think that I connected to their story because of a distant cousin I had who also suffered from schizophrenia.  This led me to want to read She's Come Undone, which was quite the reading experience.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "In this extraordinary coming-of-age odyssey, Wally Lamb invites us to hitch a wild ride on a journey of love, pain, and renewal with the most heartbreakingly comical heroine to come along in years.

Meet Dolores Price. She's 13, wise-mouthed but wounded, having bid her childhood goodbye. Stranded in front of her bedroom TV, she spends the next few years nourishing herself with the Mallomars, potato chips, and Pepsi her anxious mother supplies. When she finally orbits into young womanhood at 257 pounds, Dolores is no stronger and life is no kinder. But this time she's determined to rise to the occasion and give herself one more chance before she really goes under."

Review:   Dolores is the strangest, craziest character I feel like I've encountered in a very long time.  Although I get why she ended up holing up in a room, eating her way to 257 pounds and shutting people out, her reaction to the events of her life still felt bizarre and even jarring.  Throughout the course of the book, we see Delores grow up from a little girl to a middle-aged woman.  She goes from grade school and backyard swimming parties, to college and a strange road trip across country.  From the innocence of her youth though, we see the events that cause her to shift and become less self assured, less self aware, and less able to cope with life.  In short, she falls apart and we are privy to each step along the way and after.

I'm still not 100% sure how to respond to the novel, since it is complex, just as humans are complex.  The entire story is very centered on Delores, her challenges, and her responses.  Although we meet a lot of other characters over the course of her life, it is as if Wally Lamb wrote us into the head of this odd character.  At times, I felt anxious and torn apart because of this viewpoint, but it strangely made Delores that much more sympathetic.  Without giving anything away, Delores does some crazy things in response to her life situations, and I often wondered if she ever really loved anyone?  There are moments that you think she has quieted the demons inside herself enough to allow people in, but then we realize that she has been playing at her own life.  In short, she never really seems to be able to let people in.

How can I sum up this strange novel without exposing all that happens?  I really can't.  Needless to say, I still found myself completely engaged in the novel and couldn't stop thinking about it.  Lamb has a really interesting writing style that grabs you with its details and cultural references.  It's hard to stop flipping pages once you start reading, and I can say I found that to be true in both of his books that I've read.  Is She's Come Undone a happy, feel-good novel?  I didn't think so, but it is the type of read that is unlike anything else, with complex characters and stories around every bend! 

Strangely, I'll never look at water and whales in quite the same way, ever again.  I tried to seek out a few other bloggers who have read and reviewed this novel, but couldn't find any after a basic search.  If you want more specifics or to learn more, you might check out the reviews posted on Goodreads.  Readers either seem to love or loathe it (listed in "Books I Loathed").  Check out some of those reviews, and if you have read it, let me know!  I'd love to hear some other takes on the novel.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review: A Crowded Marriage by Catherine Alliott

Things have been a bit "radio silence" for me over the past several weeks.  Although I've been online off and on, both finals for my online classes and a nasty head cold this last week kept me tied up.  Thankfully, the Royal Wedding was a relaxing diversion from all the other things going on.  Yes, I was a bit obsessive about it, but it was such a nice, positive event to get to view!

In the meantime, I'm horribly behind on book reviews and need to get posting! One of the books I recently finished was A Crowded Marriage by Catherine Alliott, which just came out today as a republish here in the U.S.

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "There are three people in Imogen Cameron’s marriage – herself, her husband, Alex, and their son, Rufus – and that’s just the way she likes it. But that’s about to change...

When the Camerons hit dire financial straits they’re forced to leave London and accept Eleanor Latimer’s offer of a rent-free cottage on her country estate. Ordinarily, such an offer is not to be sniffed at but, as Eleanor happens to be Alex’s beautiful, rich and frankly flirtatious ex, Imogen is very sniffy indeed.

And with good reason. Once installed in Shepherd’s Cottage, Imogen’s life is suddenly full to bursting with surly locals, psychotic chickens, a maddening (if handsome) headmaster, mountains of manure, visits from the infuriatingly bossy vet, and Eleanor, who seems to be glued to Alex’s side.

As far as Imogen’s concerned, two’s a marriage, three’s a family and this...well, this is just silly, someone’s going to have to go. The question is who?"

Review:  I have to admit that the story started off pretty slowly.  In fact, in the first 150 pages I wondered if I'd be able to finish it.  I didn't feel very connected to Eleanor, with her strangely muted relationship with her husband.  Was this a cultural gap that I'd missed, or was Eleanor's relationship truly of a different sort?  Her husband seemed a lot older to me, aloof, and just not engaged in marriage to begin with.  He seemed as though he liked everyone else around him, but his wife, except at random "playing house" moments.  Odd.  Honestly, I wanted her out of that marriage from the get go!

Once we get past the background stories we need to move forward, the story really gets going and the tension in Eleanor's marriage and relationships take on new meaning.  Although you start to feel you know where the story is heading, it doesn't all play out exactly as you might think.  We can't help but hate the husband's best friend, as she seems way too involved in their marriage.  Yes, you realize the marriage is falling apart, and yes, you hope that people get what's coming to them.  The surprising bit is how everyone reacts, and how things fit together.  In that way, the last 100 pages were pretty difficult for me to put down. (Although, maybe it was the hot, yet slightly grouchy veterinarian that captured my attention?)

On the whole, I really did like this book.  It was hard getting the groundwork set, but once I could clearly see the connections between our characters, the story snapped into place and I cared about what would happen.  Subtle humor is applied in spots, with crazy misadventures that didn't seem as funny as they might have been (considering the topic), but overall it rang true to me.  This book is a great getaway book for a vacation, with plenty of drama and relationships to consider.

*FTC Disclosure:  Review was based on an advanced copy provided by Sourcebooks.