Friday, December 31, 2010

Top 10 Favorite Books of 2010

With this year ending and a new one beginning, I thought it best to post my favorite books of 2010.  Like last year's list, these will be books that I read for the first time this year, no rereads.  Some of these books were published this year but most were published prior to that.  It was harder to narrow it down this year.  I"m not sure if that's simply due to the fact that I read more this year or if it's just because I read more really good books over the last 12 months, despite the handful of really horrible reads sprinkled throughout.  I was actually toying with the idea of making this a Best/Worst of list but decided against that.  So with nor further ado, here are my favorite, in no particular order, books read in 2010.  If you click the title it will take you to my review of the book.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

In the Woods by Tana French

The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

Thursday, December 30, 2010

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

When a strange creature is spotted in numerous locations all over the globe, an American ship is set out to investigate and kill the creature that is starting to threaten ships in every ocean.  On board that ship is a French professor, Pierre Aronnax.  Through a series of events the professor discovers that not only is the creature a submarine, but ends up on that same submarine for a trip around the world.

As with, Journey to the Center of the Earth, this was a work by Jules Verne that I had always wanted to read, but never got around to it.  I'm glad I've read this one but I'm not really sure how often I'll be pulling it out.

For me, this book seems to be a strange combination of scientific journal, travelogue, and adventure story.    The story actually starts off in such a way that I was hooked from the beginning, the pace is fast and the writing style zips you along from page to page.  Where I ran into problems with this book is the science part of it, I really don't know how accurate all the scientific terms describing oceanic life are, but what I do know is that they take up multiples pages at a time and I tended to find myself skimming those sections.  The professor goes into great detail describing all the different species he sees out the gallery window as they are traveling through the waters.  When he isn't describing them, he's talking about them with his assistant who ended up on the submarine with him.  I know it's probably me, but I could have used more action and less description.

Where this books shined for me, were the action scenes.  Even the scenes where Captain Nemo leads the professor out of the Nautilus for jaunts on the sea floor are fascinating to read and I found myself wishing I was there to see everything for myself.  Thankfully there were enough of these segments to keep me reading the book and in a way they felt like rewards for plodding through all the other stuff.  Even the scenes that weren't very long captured my imagination.  Remember the giant octopus scene from the movie?  In the book it only takes up 2-3 pages but is so intense that it's what most people know about the book.

After I was done reading it, I was better able to understand why so many people love this story.  Now while I enjoyed it, I'm not one that loved it.  For me the descriptions were just too much for me and the characters were a little one dimensional and never really developed beyond where they are introduced to us.  Even with that though, I'm happy I read it and will probably do so again, but not anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Favorite Fictional Character --- Tess McGill

I was going to end this month and this year with another Christmas FFC, but I realized 4 a month would be fine.  So instead I'm going back to one of my favorite movies of the 80s and a character that I love for a lot of the same reasons I love Brantley Foster from "The Secret of My Success".

Tess McGill, from "Working Girl", is a bright young woman who is tired of being stuck in the secretarial pool and when she realizes she is never going to get where she wants in her current job, it's off to the next one.  At first she thinks she found the dream job, she has an understanding boss (Sigourney Weaver) who is willing to listen to ideas and even share the glory if they come true.  So when Tess comes up with a terrific idea for an acquisition, she takes it to her boss and when she's told it didnt' pan out, she didnt' think much of it.

Tess didn't discover the truth until a skiing accident left the boss hospitalized in another state.  When Tess is set on a mission to her home in order to send a few things out to her, she discovers that in fact the idea did pan out and that the deal is already in the works.  Now I don't know about you, but that would have pissed me off.  Unlike Tess though, I probably would have spilled the beans right then and there, and then quit.  Luckily Tess didn't do that.  Instead she decides to get even and impersonates her boss in order to close the deal and maybe the her bosses old job.

Tess is a strong, independent woman who goes for what she wants and refuses to back down when others keep putting roadblocks in her way.  She goes for the job and the man, and ends up with both.  She is also that kind of person that is always underestimated and not normally taken very seriously.  She is a little ditsy, with over the top hair and a sense of style that only a child of the 80s could love.  But underneath all that is a keen intellect and a drive to succeed, a wonderful combination to have in a character.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010 Recap

The goal of the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010, hosted by Carolyn of Book Chick City, was to read 12 books in a year, I'm afraid I blew this one out of the water and probably should have done a recap post months ago, but I forgot about it.  So for the challenge, I ended up reading 38 books that I counted towards the challenge as I was reading them.  I think I could have counted some more books, especially the urban fantasy books I read.  Since I didn't think of it as I was reading them, I didn't think it would be fair to count them now.

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen
The Big Four by Agatha Christie
The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
In The Woods by Tana French
Partners In Crime by Agatha Christie
Houses of Stone by Barbara Michaels
The Dragon Scroll by I.J. Parker
Daytime Drama by Dave Benbow
Tough Cookie by Diane Mott Davidson
The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Vanish With the Rose by Barbara Michaels
Into the Darkness by Barbara Michaels
A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
The Secret Keeper by Dorien Grey
The Mysterious Mr. Quin by Agatha Christie
When Dreams Bleed by Robin Cain
The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock
Death Mask by Graham Masterton
The Secret (Of Happiness) by Demosthenes Armeniades
The Case of the Daring Divorcee by Erle Stanley Gardner
Never Wave Goodbye by Doug Magee
The Spy Who Haunted Me by Simon R. Green
Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
i'd know you anywhere by Laura Lippman
The Terror by Dan Simmons
The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
The Dead Boys by Royce Buckingham
The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
The Insane Train by Sheldon Russell
Deck the Halls by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark
Santa Cruise by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark
Dashing Through the Snow by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mailbox Monday for 12/26/10 (The Christmas Edition)

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Lady Q at Let Them Read Books

I was so happy when i got my blogger Secret Santa package late last week.  My partner was Pam who lives in Elizabethtown, PA and she did a wonderful job.  She doesn't have a blog for me to link, otherwise I would have.  She got me paperbacks of both  The White Gryphon by Mercedes Lackey and Stolen by Kelley Armstrong.  She also gave me a Charlie Brown & Snoopy teacup and a Snoopy bookmark.

When I got my Christmas card from my friend Pablo, he sent $10 in it so I went straight to the book store to buy something.  I ended up with a paperback of Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen, plus I bought a paperback of Finding The Way edited by Mercedes Lackey.

I won a paperback of The Conqueror's Shadow and an ARC of The Warlord's Legacy, both by Ari Marmell.

My good friend, Michelle of The True Book Addict sent me this wonderful trade paperback of SciFi Christmas stories, Christmas Stars edited by David G. Hartwell.

R.I.P Teena Marie

I just came home and found out that one of the most talented singer, songwriters in R&B passed away in her sleep today.  She was only 54 years old and she will leave a lasting legacy that will influence generations of R&B artists to come.

2 Christmas Challenge Recaps

This year, once again, I participated in two Christmas/Holiday reading challenges.  I did both the Holiday Reading Challenge 2010 hosted by Nely of All About {n} and The Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge hosted by Michelle of The Christmas Spirit.  The goal for both challenges was to read 5 books, I ended up with 6.

Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb
Secrets of a Christmas Box by Steven Hornby
Deck the Halls by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark
Santa Cruise by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark
Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book by Chuck Fischer
Dashing Through the Snow by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.  May the day be filled with laughter, love, and all the joy you could ever want.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Favorite Fictional Character --- Misfit Toys

If you can't tell by know I'm a sucker for anyone labeled a misfit.  There is something about them that touches me and brings me back to the awkward stages of my childhood.  They are me in a way, the part of me that never grew out of those moments.  So who better than the inhabitants of The Island of Misfit Toys to be the focus of this weeks post.

What could be worse for a toy, other than to be unloved and not played with.  When you are made for a very specific purpose only to have that purpose taken away from you, it would be devastating.  i think it's a miracle these toys didn't come out of the process bitter or angry.  Instead all they want to do is be loved by a child and to bring that same child joy and happiness.  To be totally honest about it though, I'm not sure there was one toy on the island that I wouldn't have loved to own.  Some of them are so unique and different that I would have felt really cool to be able to play with them. 

Who wouldn't want a squirt gun that shoots Jelly?  Anyone can have a water gun, but who else on your block would have been able to squirt you in the face with grape jelly.  Besides, can you imagine how cool making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would have been with that thing.

The boat that sank instead of floating would have been really handy in the bathtub.  I always sank my boats anyway but would have to hold them down.  I used to love dunking my head under the water and using my G.I. Joes to explore sunken ships at the bottom of the ocean.  It would have been a lot easier to have a boat that just stayed down there.  I'm not sure what was wrong with the sailboat on the island, but I would have played with that as well.

For some reason the ostrich riding cowboy always reminded me of a movie version of The Swiss Family Robinson.  It would have been cool to race my friends toys with him.  If they started to get too far ahead of him, the ostrich could trip them with it's long legs. 

The bird that swims instead of flies would have come in handy in the tub too.  I would have been able to use him as a way for the G.I. Joes to get to the sunken boats.  He would have been really cool to put in a fish tank as well.

Some of them are just so cute it would have been nice to have them around to cheer me up.  The blue teddy bear with wings is adorable and I could imagine myself as a kid making up a story around it.  It would have been an angel bear sent down from Heaven to comfort me when I was sick.  The spotted elephant is just plain cute as is the dolly, even though her misfit status is never explained.

I'll even take the two clowns on the island.  Charlie in the Box is just cool.  If I'm going to own a clown that jumps out of a box, I want it to be called something other than Jack.  Jack is just a boring name in general, Charlie has a little more character.  Even the clown nesting dolls that end with a windup mouse would be welcome in my home.

While we are at it, send me the plane that can't fly, the two wooden soldiers with no faces, the scooter, the toy car, the fire engine, the train with square wheels, the rocking dog, the cat/dog looking thing on the box, and all those other toys in the background.  I'm sure there would be millions of boys and girls who would cherish them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

GLBT Reading Challenge 2010 Wrap-Up

Looking back on when I signed up for these challenges last year is making me realize that I still haven't signed up for any of them for next year.  I need to get going.  Well I signed up for this one on Nov. 16 and I committed to the rainbow level which was 12 or more books, I got exactly 12 books done.

Obviously my favorite books of this challenge was the Last Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey.  I can't even tell you how many times I've read these books but I'll never stop.  Most of these books were rereads for me but the new ones for the most part are new favorites as well. 

The Dreyfus Affair by Peter Lefcourt
Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite
Daytime Drama by Dave Benbow
The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff
The Secret Keeper by Dorien Grey
The Blue Moon Cafe by Rick R. Reed
Magic's Pawn by Mercedes Lackey
Magic's Promise by Mercedes Lackey
Magic's Price by Mercedes Lackey
A Demon Inside by Mercedes Lackey
Looking For It by Michael Thomas Ford

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Looking For It by Michael Thomas Ford

Part Of Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Mike Monaghan is the bartender at the Engine Room, a meeting place for the small but thriving community of gay men in Cold Falls, New York.  As Mike pours beer, wipes glasses and hears everything he's also witness to the men who come her looking for what they need - sex, direction, friendship, spiritual fulfillment, and love.

This was a reread for me and one that I love even more every time I read it.  Michael Thomas Ford, in every book I've read of is, does a fantastic job of creating believable characters that even when they are doing horrific things, the reader is still able to relate to what's going on.  And that's what this book is about for me, the characters.

The book tells the story of nine gay men as they navigate through life from Halloween night to New Year's Eve.  The time span is pretty short but the development these men go through is amazing, but never feels rushed.  The events feel like a natural progression of life and change their lives, most for the good, but their is some bad as well.

The two characters I love the most though are Mike and Father Thomas Dunn, an Episcopal priest.  They are wounded men both who have big losses in their past and while they are alive, neither one of them is really living life.  The relationship that they develop is one that at first glance doesn't seem to make too much sense.  One is a bartender in a gay bar, the other a priest who is on the verge of losing his faith.  Their friendship starts to heal them both and it's not long before that friendship turns into something more.

It's close to Christmas before either one of them is willing to admit to their feelings and they way it's expressed in this book is beautiful to witness.  There is a tenderness and shyness there that brings me back to the first time I really started to fall in love with someone.  The love they share changes them.  Mike gets his life on track and decides to teach again and Thomas regains his faith and love for the church.

The only other character that I wanted to go into in any detail, though I love them all, is Pete Thayer.  He is a deeply closeted, conflicted young man who can not get a handle on what he feels towards other men.  He fights it with such determination that he starts to make horrible decisions.  His only outlet is anonymous sex with strangers and when those strangers aren't quite willing, Pete has no issue with roughing them up a little bit.  He even comes into contact with two of the other characters in ways that change the lives of two of them and ends up terminating the life of the third.  Pete is the example of what self doubt and hatred can do to someone when they don't have anyone around to talk to.  Even when he is acting out and hurting others, you are able to feel the pain and anguish he is going through.

I would love to tell you about the other men but I would rather have you meet them yourself.  They all have their own stories to tell, all of which are worth hearing.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Typically British Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

Back on December 18th of last year, I signed up for the Typically British Reading Challenge hosted by Carolyn of Book Chick City.  My goal was the highest level, "Cream Crackered", which involved reading 8 books by British authors.  Well I'm glad to report that I doubled that goal with a total of 16 books.  I had a lot of fun with this challenge, and really didn't realize how many books by British authors I already read.  I'm hoping Carolyn is going to do this one again next year.

Here are the reviews in order:

The Big Four by Agatha Christie
Partners In Crime by Agatha Christie
A Madness Of Angels by Kate Griffin
Hell's Belles by Paul Magrs
The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie
Murder At The Vicarage by Agatha Christie
The Mysterious Mr. Quinn by Agatha Christie
The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
Death Mask by Graham Masterton
The Spy Who Haunted Me by Simon R. Green
Peril At End House by Agatha Christie
Noah's Castle by John Rowe Townsend
The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

Friday, December 17, 2010

Julie London Does Christmas (Plus Guest Post News)

Julie London is still probably one of my favorite singers and actresses of all time.  She was gorgeous and had one of those voices that seduced you from the get go.  I thought I would share some of my favorite Christmas songs that she made all her own.  On a side note, speaking of Christmas music, I have a guest post over at The Christmas Spirit talking about some of my favorite Christmas songs that don't get the radio play they deserve.  So please stop by and tell Michelle hi.

First up is "Warm December".  It was the first Christmas song I ever heard from her and it almost made me wish I was straight.

"I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm" is normally done in an uptempo style that sounds more fun than sexy.  When Julie London does it, it's slow, seductive, and sexy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dashing Through The Snow by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark


Just as a group of coworkers win a $180 million dollar lottery on the eve of the first annual Festival of Joy in the village of Branscombe, New Hampshire, one of them goes missing.  Nobody knows if it's foul play or if he bought the second winning ticket and doesn't want to admit it.

Fortunately for them the amateur sleuth and lottery winner, Alvirah Meehan and private eye Regan Reilly along with their families were already planning on attending the festival.  They set out to find out what happened to Duncan (the missing coworker) and to find out who really did buy that 2nd winning ticket before things get to far out of control.

I'm going to be the first to admit that I'm a junkie for this series now.  Once again this mother/daughter duo have proven to me that I really need to try their separate books.  This was another fun light hearted mystery that allows the heroes to not only have fun but lend a helping hand to some deserving individuals.

This will be a rather short review because once again I really can't go into too many details without giving away a lot of the story itself.  What I will say is that this is a fun romp of financial swindling, hidden identities, and love, though be it love that isn't always on a smooth track.  This is the 5th book in the series so now I just need to get a hold of the 2nd and 3rd books.  I probably won't be able to get to them this year but they are definitely on my list for next year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Favorite Fictional Character --- Gus (From The Ref)

I have a whole ritual around wrapping Christmas presents.  I make sure that I'm the only one in the house or at the minimum the only one awake.  I gather up all the supplies and get them organized (sort of).  I collect all the food and drink I will need and then I pop in the first movie that I will watch while I'm wrapping.  "The Ref" with Dennis Leary is that first movie and I never stop laughing.

One of the many things about this movie that keeps me laughing for hours is the character of Gus, which is played by Dennis Leary.  Gus is cat burglar who through some unfortunate luck during his last job (cat piss in the face, falling through a trap door, and getting bit by a Rottweiler), ends up taking the wrong couple hostage on Christmas Eve.

The couple he takes hostage are bickering, fighting, and constantly putting each other down.  They are going to a marriage counselor but it's obviously not working.  They have a juvenile delinquent for a kid, one that is too smart and way too bored for his own good.  When the rest of the family shows up, the story gets really good.

When Gus first takes them hostage, they get on his nerves and he's constantly yelling and threatening them with bodily violence.  Of course both the hostages and the viewers know that Gus really isn't the kind of guy to fulfill those threats but he doesn't seem to like them all that much.  As the movies progresses Gus turns into the family counselor.  He helps them work out there issues and by the end of the movie the family is helping him escape. 

For me Gus is that antihero.  He's the guy you don't want to like because he's a criminal and doesn't think of anyone but himself.  But as you get to know him, you discover a depth of personality you werent' expecting.  He can in fact be quite gentle and caring and even unselfish at times.  With that being said though, he is still crass, obnoxious, and way too fond of yelling at people.  He's just a fun character to watch develop throughout the movie and I'm grateful to the actor for playing him as well as he did.

I found the entire movie on YouTube but it's broken up into way too many parts for me to embed.  I'm going to embed the first two videos though because it will give you a good sense of who the characters are.  I'm warning you though that it will be addictive.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book by Chuck Fischer


Six beautifully crafted pop-up images bring the story of A Christmas Carol to life.  Each image is accompanied by a illustrated booklet, the first of which is an introduction to both Charles Dickens and the story.  The remaining five contain the full text of the story.

Last year I reviewed A Christmas Carol, which I had read for the very first time.  Because of that, this will not be a review of the story itself.  Instead this will be a rather subjective review of the way the story is told through the pages of this absolutely illustrated book.

The first image is this gorgeous view of the city street as Scrooge is leaving his offices for the day.  There is a lamplighter up on a ladder as he is lighting the lanterns for the night.  People are walking down the street as they are going home and the warmth that provides.  The church tower is just hitting 5 o'clock and life is bustling in the city.

When you turn the page you are confronted by the image of Scrooge being visited by the ghost of Marley.  He is sitting in his armchair and is rather startled as Marley floats through the door trailing chains laden down by books and locked boxes.  In the background floats a grouping of forlorn phantasms as they pass by a window.  I found this image to be rather interested because the scene is bordered by a lovely marbled green and white background which shows off a gorgeous golden vine of holly berries and bells.  It's a rather lovely juxtaposition of themes.

My favorite image is the third which shows the Ghost of Christmas Past rising out of the flames of a candle.  On the second page of the image you see Scrooge floating out of his bed which is surrounded by the image of a clock.  It's a brilliant use of framing to showcase the idea of time and movement.  What I love so much though is that this page is split and when you open it open you see Scrooge as a boy sitting by himself in the school room, neglected by both friends and family.  But that's not all, when you look closer you see that there is yet another tab that allows you to turn that page and you see Scrooge attending the Fezzwig's party then the last page shows Scrooge holding a locked box ending the relationship with his girl.  This one image shows everything you could ever want to know about Scrooge's past.  It's brilliant.

The fourth image shows Scrooge walking into the room that the Ghost of Christmas Present has taken over for his banquet.  The clock on the mantle shows 1 o'clock and the fire is full and roaring.  The image of the ghost in the one I'm familiar with from the movies, a giant of a man with a full red bear and velvety green gown trimmed in white.  He is surrounded by a humongous feast of ham, turkey, roast pig, puddings, kegs, and cornucopias overflowing.  It's warm and inviting and definitely a party I want to be at.  I the middle, at the very bottom of the page is a small medallion showing the Cratchits as they sit down for dinner.

I would think you could guess what the fifth image shows us.  A cowering Scrooge is seeing his grave for the very first time.  It's a cold, snowy churchyard that is rather uninviting and not where I would want to be buried.  The Ghost of Christmas Future towers over the graveyard and Scrooge.  He is in his normal guise, a faceless, silent image of death in all his glory.

The final image is of Scrooge holding up a very happy Tiny Tim in front of the opening scene.  The golden bells and holly once again frame the image and add such a warming touch to the scene.  It's full of holiday cheer and you can't help but smile when you look at it.

I'm not normally a big fan of pop-up books but I think that's because the ones that came out as a kid, at least to me, weren't that cool.  The seemed more of a gimmick and weren't well thought out.  This book on the other hand is more of 3-Dimensional art that highlights the story rather than upstage it.  I loved this book, my son loved this book and it will be a family favorite for years to come.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mailbox Monday for 12/12/10

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme created by Marcia at The Printed Page and is being hosted all this month by Lady Q at Let Them Read Books

On my trip to Barnes & Noble to buy my gift for the blogger Secret Santa I found Dashing Through the Snow by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark in hardcover on the bargain table.  Since I had already read two of their book I had to get this one.  I've already read it and will have a review up this week.

I received a paperback of Love Me To Death by Allison Brennan, an ARC of The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld, and a bound galley of Under the Mercy Tree by Heather Newton for upcoming TLC Book Tours.

I won an ARC of Guilt By Association by Marcia Clark from one of the BBAW giveaways.

Santa Cruise by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark


When lottery winner turned sleuth, Alvirah Meehan and her husband invited their good friends Luke and Norah Regan Reilly as well as Regan and Jack Reilly on a after Christmas cruise, they had no idea what was in store for them.

When Commodore Randolph Weed decides to use the opening launch of his restored cruise ship to gain publicity, it seemed like a no brainer.  Call it The Santa Cruise and invite those who have done good for the last year on board and you have a major piece of good publicity.  What he didn't know was that the cruise was being used for some nefarious activities that may just give his start up business a big coal black eye.

I think this is the fourth book in the series so I am jumping around quite a bit.  I mus say though that I don't feel as if I'm missing anything since so far they read like stand alone novels.  This book did cement for me the idea that these two writing together can do no wrong.  There are no visible seams in their voices and I find that their individual characters mesh so well together that I think by now they could probably write each other's books.

As in Deck the Halls, this is a fun quick mystery set on a cruise ship heading to the Caribbean from Miami.  The owner of the ship, Commodore Weed, invited various civic groups and organizations that have given back to their communities to join him on a free cruise.  The antique thieves and escape criminals on board however were not invited.  The two competing and separate group of criminals, plus those already on board helping them add a little excitement to the story, but not too much for our heroes to sniff out and solve before someone gets seriously hurt. 

As a side note, more of an observation really, just like Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple, or even Jessica Fletcher, things just seem to happen around these people.  I'm not sure I would ever really want to be friends with any of them.  I love to read about them, but think it would be a little dangerous knowing them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Deck The Halls by Mary Higgins Clark & Carol Higgins Clark


The mother/daughter team of two of Americas top mystery writers team up for the first of their Christmas series.  Regan Reilly, the young private detective who stars in Carol Higgins Clark's book and Alvirah Meehan, the lottery winner turned amateur sleuth, from the pages of Mary Higgins Clark's many books, hook up for the first time. 

When Regan's father, Luke Reilly, is kidnapped the two detectives team up to save him and his driver, Rosita Gonzalez.  With the help of Regan's mother, Norah Regan Reilly, the famous mystery writer and Jack Reilly, head of the NYPD Major Case Squad (no relation by the way) they set off to discover the identity of the kidnappers and save the victims before it's too late.

What goes together better than Christmas and a well written mystery?  I for one sure do, it combines two of my loves in life and I couldn't be happier that there are wonderful authors out there catering to that love.  Now I've never read a book by either Mary Higgins Clark or her daughter Carol Higgins Clark before, so I feel a little bad for starting with them on this book.  I feel like I skipped from 8th grade graduation straight to high school graduation.

The book itself is pretty simple, two amateur sleuths get together and with a group of friends save the day, just in the nick of time.  What's different though, other than the setting, is that these two authors blend their voices seamlessly.  There doesn't seem to be any conflict with where the story was going or any odd jumps in logic that sometimes comes with team ups.  This is a light hearted mystery that even with the suspense never takes itself too seriously which allows the read to be fun. 

Now I'm not going to go into too much detail about the story itself, other than what I put in the synopsis, but I can say that more than one character finds love in this book and to answer my opening question, the only thing that may be better than a Christmas mystery is Christmas love.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Secrets of a Christmas Box by Steven Hornby

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Enter the magical festive world of the Christmas 'Tree-Dwellers', as Larry, a Christmas snowman, wakes up after a long sleep in the Christmas box, to find his brother missing.

Desperate to find him before Christmas, Larry, along with his girlfriend Debbie, a newcomer Splint, and Larry's companion Tinsel, break the laws of the 'Tree-Elders' and escape down the tree and away into the house, to look for clues.

Away from the safety of the tree and in an unfamiliar world, the Dwellers stumble upon a dark and sinister secret that threatens their entire world.  Can Larry and the group make it back to the tree in time to warn the others, and finally uncover the truth behind the 'Secrets of a Christmas Box'?

I'm going to be up front with you and tell you in no uncertain terms that their is no way for me to get across how much I loved this book.  I haven't raved about a book in a while and I'm so glad I get to know.  As a life long Christmas lover who has always had a rather overactive imagination to find a book that lets me revel in one of my oldest Christmas fantasies is a treat.  As a kid I would sit by the Christmas tree making up stories and names to go along with the ornaments that hung upon it's branches.  I always imagined them coming to life and talking amongst themselves when nobody was around.  To be able to read a wonderfully written book that explores that, sent me back to my childhood.

When Larry and his friends set out upon their journey, little did they know they had a fourth companion.  I was right there, with them the whole time.  I got lost in this story and I could feel the pain and the fright as circumstances seemed to be getting out of their control and they were faced with making decisions that may not allow them to get back home.  What made the journey special for me was how "real" all of these characters seemed.  The author did a wonderful job of "humanizing" them, making them seem like they could be any of us.  It made them more likable to me and I wanted them to succeed in their quest.

I'm not going to get into a lot of the plot points because I don't want to ruin anything for you.  What I will tell you is this, if you are in the mood for a good Christmas mystery inhabited by an unusual cast of characters, this book is for you.  I was expecting a lighter story but instead I was treated to a thrilling mystery that made me wish more than anything that my Christmas ornaments would come to life.

By the way I am looking at my own ornaments a little bit more carefully.  If I notice anything odd, I'll let you know.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

CSN Stores: Hamilton Beach 7 Quart Slow Cooker Review

As you can tell I had to go with the stock image CSN Stores has on their website because I still don't have a camera to take lovely pictures to share with you guys.  I actually received my stainless steel, Hamilton Beach 7 quart slow cooker ages ago but it's been sitting in it's box waiting for cold weather.  I just can't seem to use a slow cooker when it's over 70 degrees outside.

Once that cold weather rolled in I was all about it though.  I've made chili in it twice and my roommate had made menudo once.  That's only been within the last two weeks.  I love the size of this slow cooker because the one I had before was smaller and I was never able to get enough food made with it.  This one allows to me make the right amount of food without stressing out about it.  Did I mention the stainless steel finish is gorgeous, it looks so good on my kitchen counter right now.  Especially since where it sits is right next door to a stand that has a silver tinsel tree with white lights on it.  The lights have beautiful warm reflection of it.

My only drawback is the fact it is stainless steel.  My other slow cooker isn't and I'm used to one that doesn't get all that warm on the outside.  The first time I used this one I wasn't thinking and crabbed the side to move it a little after it had been on for a few hours.  Needless to say my hands didn't like that all too much.  I quickly acclimated myself to my new situation and haven't done it since.

I'm not sure I can stop loving this one right now so if any of you need slow cookers or any other kitchen appliances, head on over and check it out.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Favorite Fictional Character --- Elizabeth Lane

I'm a Christmas movie junkie and can never get enough of them during the holiday season.  While it's true that most of my favorite movies are the classic TV specials, I have a lot of full length movies that I have to watch during December.  One of those is Christmas in Connecticut with the fantastic Barbara Stanwyck.

She plays probably one of the funniest characters to ever grace a Christmas movie.  Elizabeth Lane is the most popular homemaking columnist in the magazine business.  Her widely popular column appears in Smart Housekeeping and provides millions of women with domestic advice and mouth watering recipes.  Little does anyone know that she not only can't cook but she doesn't have the husband, baby, or the farm in Connecticut that she is always writing about.

Her biggest problem though isn't necessarily the fact that she isn't what she claims to be.  She has a friend, Felix, who happens to own his own bistro so she gets the recipes from him.  Her would be suitor, John Sloan, actually owns a farm in Connecticut so she is able to get those details from him.  The problems that sets off a merry ride of fun is that fact that her publisher, Alexander Yardley, invites a young sailor to her farm for Christmas.  And since her publisher is a stickler for the truth, Elizabeth is forced to marry John and pack up to the farm for Christmas.

Now if the story ended there, Elizabeth would not be on my list of favorite Christmas characters.  Thankfully the rest of the story involved several failed marriage ceremonies, loose cows, stolen sleigh rides, rocking chairs, flapjack flipping, and kidnapping.  It's a fun romantic romp through mistaken assumptions and good old fashioned mischief.  Of course it helps that the young sailor, Jefferson Jones, is both attractive and interested in Elizabeth.

What I really like about the character though is that even on the verge of loosing her job due to her less than truthful behavior, she goes along with both the marriage and charade to protect her editor who knew the truth the whole time.  She goes out of her way to help a friend and I have to admire her for that.  She also isn't the kind of person who allows a good opportunity (the sailor that is) to pass her by and she does what she needs to do to end up where she wants.  She is a strong, independent woman who has made her own way through life and isn't about to take too much from anyone.  The fact that she looks great doing it, is just the icing on the Christmas cookie.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards, 1949-2010

I just wanted to take a quick second to say farewell to one of the classiest, smartest women to ever grace a political stage.  While she never held office herself she was the heart and brains behind both presidential runs that her estranged husband, John Edwards, ran.

She was  a strong resilient woman who, dead on, dealt with some of life's toughest problems.  Her and John's oldest child died in a Jeep accident when he lost control.  The day Kerry conceded the presidential race she announced she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She spent the next few years fighting it and just when she found out she was going to have to deal with again, she found out her husband fathered a child with another woman.

Throughout it all she maintained her dignity and strength.  She is one of those people I admired for her determination and intelligence and I can only hope to live up to her example of how to face adversity.

She lost her battle to breast cancer today and the world is a emptier without her.

Sweet Magic by Michel Richard


Celebrated and award-winning chef Michel Richard goes back to his roots with this new cookbook.  His first passion was desserts and this book is a love letter to them.  This is not only a cookbook though, it's an exploration on the author's way of thinking and his approach to pastries.

I love to cook.  It's one of those endeavors that helps to take my mind of things and get lost in the moment of creation.  It's one of my escapes and one I hold dear to my heart.  Now with that being said, I'm not much a baker.  As of matter of fact, desserts scare the hell out of me because they all seem so easy to screw up.

This book didn't help ease those fears.  I'm not sure what it is but when I crack open a dessert cookbook my hands start to shake and my knees get wobbly.  I'm way too intimidated to even try most of the recipes in this one though for most experienced baking aficionados they would probably find most of them easy.  The recipes are written in a easy to understand with step-by-step instructions on what to do and when to do it.  There is a personal comment or explanation with each one that helps you understand where the recipe came from and why he made it that way.  In every aspect but one this is a easy, straightforward cookbook.  It just so happens for me, the subject matter is the hard part.

Now I did try to Macadamia Chocolate Chip Cookies and other than a little darkening on some of them (I don't think my oven bakes evenly) they turned out pretty well and my son loved them.  Now the recipe said that it makes 65 cookies but we ended up a with a little less than that, maybe I made them too big.  I brought some of the leftovers to work and they guys all seemed to like them as well.  I'll put the recipe and instructions at the end of the review.

I would recommend this to anyone who is a little more daring than me or to anyone who loves baking as much as I do cooking.  I think it would make a perfect addition to most home cooks libraries.

Macadamia Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups pastry flour
1 pound semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped

Preheat the over to 350.

Place the butter, sugar, and molasses in the bowl of a stand mixer (I had to borrow one) with the paddle attachment and beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Crack the eggs into a small bowl and stir in the vanilla.  While mixer is on high, add the eggs to the butter mixture in two stages, stopping the mixer and scrapping the sides of the bowl in between.  Add the flour (I did not know the difference between regular flour and pastry flour until I asked the friend I borrowed the mixer from) a third at a time, stopping, the mixer and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Add the chocolate chips and the macadamia nuts and mix until combined.  Chill the dough in the refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes, to make forming the cookies easier.  Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop the dough into 1 1/2-inch mounds with at least 2 inches of space between cookies.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until light brown.  The cookies should be firm around the edges but still soft in the middles.  Allow them to cool on a sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack (I don't have a cooling rack so I used to roasting pan racks).  Store in a tightly covered container for up to 3 days (the cookies lasted a bit longer than that around here and didn't seem any worse for wear).