Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Mini-Reviews

What a great week we had last week.  I worked two days and then had the rest of the week off.  It was a nice chunk of time off and I really did spend the majority of it relaxing.  Having said that, I'm so behind on reviews that I want to toss my hands in the air and give up!  I've decided to just own up to the fact that I've entered one of the busiest times in my life.  Between teaching school and online classes, taking an online course for professional development, and various other organizations I'm involved with, I'm always feeling like I'm spread pretty thin.  (Okay.  I'm not "thin"--geesh, I wish!) My time and energy is spread thin, but life is really good.  Honest.  I'm just especially thankful for any and all time off that I get!

With all that's going on, I've made reading my greatest escape.  Because of that, I need to get a bunch of reviews published!  Here are some of what I've read in the last several months:

Review for Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin:  As a sequel to The Nanny Diaries, I was eager to revisit Nan and see what she was up to.  Fast forward twelve years from the last time we met Nan.  Now married and remodeling a home in New York City, Nan meets back up with her former young charge Grayer X.  Today, he's an incorrigible teenager who is seemingly messed up by his distant parents, who also has a younger brother being raised in the same way.  Nan gets herself mixed back up with the X-clan and in charge of these two young boys.  Now what should she do, when they are in an even worse situation than when Nan met them before?

Although an interesting read to pick back up with Nan and Grayer's lives, I will admit to being pretty frustrated this time.  Before, we laughed at some of what happened to Nan because it felt like a horror story of a young woman.  Now, the story is of tragedy and loss, and the responsibility of these two kids feels way too daunting.  More than anything, I loved Nan's relationship with her husband, so dragging this past craziness into her marriage made me sad and overwhelmed.  The story was definitely engaging, but really weighty, considering how the past read felt.  I would have liked to have more of Nan's husband in this, and a bit more resolution.  Overall, not a bad read, but just different from the first book and one that felt more serious than I expected.

Review for Born to Be Brad by Brad Goreski:  Brad Goreski is the endearing, quirky-chic dresser that appeared first on The Rachel Zoe Project show on Bravo and later in his own show with the same network.  Who doesn't love a story of someone coming up the ranks from nothing to great wealth and success?  Brad's story is just that.  Having started off as a troubled teenager and adult, dealing with issues of his sexual identity as a gay man, Brad struggled to come out to his family.  His story of drug abuse and failed relationships feels like a real triumph when we fast forward to his successful, current relationship and amazing red-carpet-ready styling in Hollywood, but there is an in between story that his book delves into.  I loved reading about how he became confident and secure in who he was as a person, how he worked and took on opportunities for styling experience wherever possible (hello, Vogue?!?), and how he took risks in branching out and trusting in his own talents to become the stylist he is today. 

Some have critiqued the writing and layout/styling of the book as "frothy" or nothing new.  I didn't find any of that to really take away from the foundation, which was his story.  Honestly, I thought that his personal voice came through very well, which made the story candid and true to who he is as a person.  I also thought the styling fit him, with its bright colors and funny pictures, and matched what he had experienced.  For me, it was an interesting life story and one that I thought was inspiring and made me like and understand Brad a bit better.

Review for Stranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas:  Thanks to my good friend Tasha over at Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books, I was pushed in the direction of this romance.  I don't always have good luck with a decent romance that doesn't make me roll my eyes from annoyance, so I'm happy to say that Tasha led me in a good direction.  This was one of those romances that tore my heart out and kept me turning pages as fast as I could!

Lady Hawskworth's husband has supposedly been lost at sea.  That's what she believes until her husband, that she had no love lost with before he left, has returned.  With the return of her supposed husband, everyone is left scrambling to figure out if he really is Earl Hawksworth or just some convincing swindler? 

This was a really romantic mystery at the heart of it.  Is he her husband or is he not?  Was Lady Hawksworth so starved for real love that she just overlooked the real identity of this man now that he appears to value her more than before?  All of these questions are a constant throughout the story, so between these unknowns and the growing love between the characters, I couldn't stop reading this book.  Yes, it's a romance, so be prepared for some sex scenes, but it's not the crux of the story--thankfully.  Overall, I really got into this romance and was on an emotional roller coaster through a huge portion of the novel. 

Thanks Tasha!  This was a great read and I need to ask for more suggestions!  :)

Well, thanks for sticking with me through a slew of reviews.  I'm still awfully wordy and could have made these individual posts, but it's nice to get them all out of the way!  Now, off to a crazy week ahead.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony

I'm not even sure how to go about explaining this amazing little graphic novel.  After seeing it in the early nominations for "Best of..." awards on Goodreads, I decided to check Chopsticks out and was not disappointed.  Told in a series of pictures, instant messages, letters, ticket stubs, etc., this was more of a study in critical thinking than in storytelling.  I quickly realized that this tale of piano prodigy, Glory, and her next door neighbor friend, Fred, was more than met the eye--literally.  The story starts off with a mystery of sorts, that you have to try to figure out.

The thing I most liked about this graphic novel was its unpredictability.  When I would think the story was heading in one direction, it would start to reveal itself as something completely different.  The ending in itself is pretty shocking.  As a complete story, I really found it intriguing and an interesting study in how to read, predict, and draw meaning.  I did feel that with its language and pictures that some young adults might find it offensive, so as a teacher I'll be careful about who I recommend it to.  As a complete story though, it was pretty amazing.  If you're geared up for a different kind of story, this is a graphic novel you ought to check out.  I really hope that other books of this style come out soon!

Check out the trailer for Chopsticks below.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Giveaway Winner: Miranda's Mount & Downton Abbey 2013 Calendar

Thank you to everyone who stopped in to my Miranda's Mount review and giveaway, thanks to the lovely and talented author, Phillipa Ashley.  I was excited to see the turnout and have used to draw for the winner. 

Congrats to:  

Emily K.

We will be getting in touch with and get you a copy of Phillipa's newest book release and calendar!  Thank you again to everyone who joined in and stopped by to check it out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Midweek Meandering

First off, don't forget to stop in on the giveaway for Phillipa Ashley's book Miranda's Mount and the Downton Abbey 2013 calendar.  This giveaway runs through Friday, 11/16 so stop in and check it out!  This was a fun escape read, so I hope you check it out.

As for life, things have been good and bad all at the same time.  It was really excellent on one hand, since I had the chance to go see the Ballet West perform Shirley Jackson's, "The Lottery."  Let me be completely honest.  I really did think I'd have a moment or two of boredom--yawn, yawn, stretch, stretch.  That wasn't the case at all!  This ballet company was so good that I was really sucked into the story they told through movement.  Now I think I'll have to get tickets to other performances in the future, because it was really amazing.

On the crazier side of life, I'm not sure when I'm going to learn that it is all a combination of good and bad.  I've just been so incredibly burned out this year that it sometimes really frustrates me.  This burn out so early in the school year might be evidence to me that I have to slow down and stop taking on projects, classes, grants, summer school, etc.  We all need a little extra money, but my peace of mind and sanity might be more important at this point.

Having said that, I can't wait for Thanksgiving and am counting down the days!  I'm excited for five days of family and relaxation.  I mentioned on Twitter that my mom and I might do a 5K on Thanksgiving morning, but I still haven't signed us up yet.  (What's up with that?)  This could be a problem.  Let's hope I can make the decision and just do it!  Besides, it's for a great cause--the local food bank--and it will burn off some calories before the big meal, right?  Please talk me into it!!!

Anyway, enough of my craziness.  Had I posted on Sunday, I could be back to the business of review writing.  As it stands, I now have a stack of quizzes to grade for my AP class and a bed screaming my name.  Below are the stack of lovelies I picked up from the library today.  Thanksgiving can't come soon enough so I can dive into some of these.

Happy midweek to you.  What are you up to, or what are you excited to start reading? 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: Miranda's Mount by Phillipa Ashley

I'm excited to share more about Phillipa Ashley's newest novel, Miranda's Mount.  Don't forget to check yesterday's guest post by Phillipa for a bit more background on the novel and a great giveaway!

Synopsis:  From Goodreads, "When Miranda finds herself fighting for her home, her job and her heart, sleeping with the enemy may not be the best tactic…

With no family of her own, Miranda Marshall has developed a healthy respect – some would say obsession – with other people’s histories. As property manager of a spectacular island castle in Cornwall, she’s made St Merryn’s Mount one of the UK’s most popular heritage attractions. While she may have the castle running like clockwork, Miranda hasn’t bargained on its sexy owner returning to claim his birthright. Dark, handsome and with a rakish reputation, Jago St Merryn not only looks like a pirate but is intent on flogging the Mount to a soulless leisure corporation. Miranda faces the battle of her life as she tries to persuade him to face up to his past and continue the St Merryn dynasty. But Jago has his own reasons for jumping ship and when he throws down the gauntlet to Miranda, she’s forced to delve into painful memories she’d much rather keep hidden…"

Review:  There is always such a great escape factor in Phillipa Ashley's books, and Miranda's Mount is no different.  Set on the property of a historical castle on a small island in Cornwall, we meet Miranda, who essentially runs the property for the owners in welcoming guests to the island.  As with many of Ashley's novels, there is a lightness to the story that pulls you in and is a fun time.  This novel was no different.  Miranda's professionalism in challenged right away when the aging property owner's son, Jago, returns to run the show.  He's not the bossy type.  In fact, he's the sell-and-run type.

In this contemporary novel, Miranda is the career girl and Jago is the dashing yet impersonal hero.  We quickly learn that people's interests cannot be turned on and off like a spigot, even if they have every reason to not be together.  Miranda is single minded in her career and loves her job, but Jago is broken by his past and determined to sell the property.  These factors make the story complicated and interesting to watch unfold.

As with most of Ashley's novels, the first third of the book has a delightful humor and playfulness to it that made me like Miranda and the other characters.  However, the twist in the story is always right around the corner!  I really did love the location, with the island castle and the tide around the island that either shut them off from the world or gave them a nice sandbar to walk back to the mainland.  I could picture that island and wanted to visit or stay for awhile.   The characters in this novel were also complicated and lovable, mainly because of their flaws.  In fact, I often wondered about Miranda's liking for Jago.  He was obviously easy to look at (and very rich to own that castle), but obviously had secrets underfoot.  What's not to like about a bit of mystery though, especially when it's couched in good looks, right?

Phillipa Ashley, once again, has written an escape read both in its story and location.  I always enjoy a great Ashley novel because they are books that you can sink yourself into for a nice visit.

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

Don't forget to stop by a great guest post by Phillipa, with a nice giveaway of her novel and Downton calendar!  Check it out to hear how she came to be inspired to write the castle island in Miranda's Mount.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Guest Post and a Book/Downton Giveaway!

My wonderful author friend, Phillipa Ashley, recently released another book here in the U.S. called Miranda's Mount.  I'm not shy in saying that I really loved her writing and her books from the very first, with Dating Mr. December.  I've thoroughly enjoyed each of her novels.

To aid in this newest release, Phillipa is my guest today here at One Literature Nut, and is going to share more about some amazing locations in England and featured in her newest novel.  She also wanted me to announce a great giveaway of her book and a lovely Downton Abbey calendar from there in the U.K.  Join me in welcoming Phillipa to my blog!

Guest Post:

I love visiting historic sites and homes and we’re spoilt for choice in Britain. I live in the Midlands of England and there are hundreds of places within a few hours drive – like London, Shakespeare’s Stratford, Jane Austen’s house and yes, Downton Abbey – which is Highclere Castle in Berkshire.  But my favourite place is a bit further away in Cornwall, about five hours drive from my house.

St. Michael’s Mount is a spectacular island castle off the south west coast England has to be seen to be believed. Founded in medieval times, the island is cut off by the tide twice a day. A handful of families still live and work there, including the owners, the St. Aubyn family.

As soon as I visited it, I knew I had to write a story set in a place like the Mount – but not a historical novel -- a contemporary romance with mystery, passion and a ‘bad boy’ aristocratic hero. In January 2011, I was dozing off on a car journey and suddenly I had one of those moments: not just light bulb but lightning. The idea for Miranda’s Mount flew into my brain. I started writing the moment I got home and a year later the book was finished and is now published in the US and UK Piatkus Entice.

More About Miranda's Mount:   

When Miranda finds herself fighting for her home, her job and her heart, sleeping with the enemy may not be the best tactic... 

With no family of her own, Miranda Marshall has developed a healthy respect - some would say obsession - with other people's histories. As property manager of a spectacular island castle in Cornwall, she's made St Merryn's Mount one of the UK's most popular heritage attractions. While she may have the castle running like clockwork, Miranda hasn't bargained on its sexy owner returning to claim his birthright. 

Dark, handsome and with a rakish reputation, Jago St Merryn not only looks like a pirate but is intent on flogging the Mount to a soulless leisure corporation. Miranda faces the battle of her life as she tries to persuade him to face up to his past and continue the St Merryn dynasty. But Jago has his own reasons for jumping ship and when he throws down the gauntlet to Miranda, she's forced to delve into painful memories she'd much rather keep hidden . . .

Check out more about Phillipa's latest novel and others out on the market:

Miranda's Mount (Amazon UK and Amazon US)
Phillipa Ashley's website

***Now for the ebook copy of Miranda's Mount and Downton Abbey calendar giveaway!  Please fill out the survey below to be entered in for a drawing.  This giveaway is U.S. only and will run until next Friday, 11/16. 

Thanks for stopping by!  Phillipa and I would both love to hear your comments.  Is there anything you'd love to know about Michael's Mount or how Phillipa got her inspiration?  Leave us a comment!  :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: May B by Caroline Starr Rose

I love that more novels are being written in free verse and other poetic forms.  The lyrical nature of these books really adds another level of tone to the stories they tell and I can't get enough.  Thankfully, I stumbled on to May B. at our library at school and decided to check it out.  Yes, it's 200+ pages, but it sucked me in and had me finishing it up in one reading.

Synopsis:  As a young girl living on the prairies of western Kansas, May Betts knew she came in second to her brother in importance to her parents.  At a time in the late 1800's, when children were needed to keep a farm and survival together for the entire family, May is no exception.  In need of some extra money, she is sent off to live with another family 15 miles to the west.  In that experience May learns how to really survive.

Review:  Extremely reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie, the story of May Betts is one that is touching and haunting all at the same time.  May B (as she is nicknamed) is a young girl in western Kansas with a thirst to learn and read, but something just isn't right, and she just can't fit the words together.  Because of that, she is labeled as not very bright.  She knows that can't be the case, but doesn't get a chance to find out before she is whisked off to a homesteader's home 15 miles to the west, to a farm that is so isolated that all they can see is prairie stretching out on all sides.

Many things happen to May B while at the homestead that leads to her growing up much too quickly and needing to be an adult who must fight for her very survival.  I loved the way the free verse in the text helped to create more of the isolation we felt from her surroundings and the isolation she felt in a new home.  Interspersed with scenes of mere survival were memories and snapshots of her struggle to learn that makes it all even more haunting.  Besides scenes of making biscuits and keeping dry under a table in the dugout, we see May B struggling to eek out the words in the little schoolbook she brought with her. 

This story about drove me into anxiety.  I loved it and couldn't stop turning pages, but I was tormented by the loneliness, frustration, and fear that drove this little girl.  I realize that this really is a story about determination and the power of the human spirit, but it was gut wrenching to get there.  Despite it all, I think this story and the way it was told was just amazing.  Whether you're new to these verse stories or not, you really must read this story.

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

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Pasta Sauces

To all of my east coast friends, I hope you are all doing well.  The news has been devastating and we're all  thinking about you (and donating to help where we can).  My thoughts and prayers go out to you as the clean up and recovery begins.

What can I say about this side of things?  End of term about killed me last week and weekend, so this week I think I spent it trying to gather strength and energy again.  I'm not sure what was up with that first term, but I was so burned out that I couldn't get enough sleep or rest enough to feel back to normal.  What's up with that?  Things are looking up though with a nice weekend relaxing and NO grading in sight.  I'm feeling a bit more back to myself.

For Weekend Cooking this week, I decided to do a little product comparison.  Have you ever looked at the expensive bottled spaghetti sauces and wondered if they're really worth all that extra cost?  Sometimes these sauces are over twice as much as the spaghetti sauces we're all familiar with!  Well, I purchased a couple of bottles of sauces I hadn't yet tried:  Mario Batali's Tomato Basil and Rao's Tomato Basil.  In my local grocery store, these sauces run about $7.99 a bottle.

Now, I usually just make my own sauce from my home canned tomatoes because I have a bit of a sensitivity to acidic tomatoes (supposedly, I'm allergic to them?), but I do fine if the product is high quality and canned when it's fully ripe.  Anyway, I thought I'd try out these sauces for those last minute dinners or baked pasta dish I want to whip up.   Here are my results.

Mario Batali's Tomato Basil
  • Flavor:  Very light and slightly tangy back taste.
  • Color:  Also, very light, which might mean the tomatoes have been thinned out or canned before fully ripe?
  • Basil-ness:  That basil flavor is pretty light.  In fact, it seems to be a bit thinned out.
  • Toothiness Quotient:  When applied to the pasta, it sticks nicely and has more of a fresh tomato flavor to it that makes the pasta taste a bit like a cheaper brand.
Rao's Tomato Basil
  •  Flavor:  Nice a deep, robust flavor.  This literally tastes like it's been cooking on your stove all day, developing a richness that doesn't taste like it could be bottled.
  • Color:  Even from the picture above, you can see that it's a beautiful, dark color.  It's a glorious dark red, with bits of basil and parsley leaves (obviously fresh) throughout.
  • Basil-ness:  It was a perfect balance.  The sauce was so rich that the basil was more of a compliment than anything.  
  • Toothiness Quotient:  When I tried it out on penne, it coated it delightfully, so spaghetti turned out even better.
My favorite sauce then?  As you can guess, it was Rao's by a landslide.  In fact, when I returned to the grocery store, they had it on sale and I bought four bottles to put on my shelves!  I've tried other expensive brands, but nothing has compared yet to Rao's.  If you look, others have also evaluated bottle sauces and agree with me.  Here's Cooking Light's taste test

If you're a bit cheap when it comes to sauces, which I've been since college, I have to at least say you should bite the bullet and try Rao's.  I'll be keeping this sauce around for quick dinner emergencies or a nice baked pasta. 

Weekend Cooking is a great, weekly post run by Beth Fish Reads.  There are some really great food-related posts there.  Stop by to check out other great posts from this weekend.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Holiday Reading Recommendations...

"Christmas Dreaming" painting done by one of my students. Love it!
I need help.  I'm starting to think ahead to the holidays and would really like to do a little holiday-themed reading.  After putting out a call on Twitter, Colleen @booksnyc came to my rescue with some great recommendations:  Comfort and Joy by India Knight, Over the Holidays by Sandra Harper, and Last Christmas by Julia Williams.  Thank you so much!

In the past, I've read a few holiday books:  Dating Mr. December by one of my faves--Phillipa Ashley, A Darcy Christmas by a collection of amazing authors, and a few by Marcia Evanick.  I'm just really in the mood to read a few great holiday reads, so I'm going to appeal to all of you.  Do you have books that you've read that feature holiday scenes in them?  Thanksgiving is an especially tricky one, but really I'm just looking for the holidays in general. 

Help a holiday-starved reader!