Thursday, September 24, 2015

Martha Stewart's Appetizers: A Cookbook Review

Martha Stewart is a household name for her skills at entertaining, and when I saw her newest cookbook would focus on appetizers, I was expecting some very fancy fare that might be too complicated for me to make, but I was pleasantly surprised by the recipes in Martha Stewart's Appetizers.  There were some traditional favorites, modern takes on classic canapes, pass-around bites for parties and quite a few new and interesting flavors to keep your guests happy.

I had checked a copy of Martha's Hors d'Oeuvres out of the library several years ago when I was looking for something to serve at a party we were holding for the closing night of a theatre production.  I remember thinking the food was a little too sophisticated to try and serve to the company we were expecting which included many children, and I wound up going a different route and making an herbed cream cheese pinwheel and having a fruit and vegetable tray because I was intimidated by the amount of preparation and unfamiliar ingredients in the book.  This book is what I was looking for then, and I'm happy they have published it now.

 Appetizers has many recipes I would never expect to find in a Martha Stewart cookbook.  There are cheese balls, deviled eggs, popcorn, and fried macaroni and cheese bites just to name a few - definitely not the high brow fare I had expected but I was very pleasantly surprised.  The recipes for the most part seem like I would be able to accomplish them, make them ahead and there are only a few that use ingredients I would consider out of my price range for a get together.  There is even a Chex mix recipe!

Many of the recipes will be able to be adapted to fit the new diet that my husband and I have begun which is also a very happy discovery.  I can cut the salt and swap lower fat dairy products in for many of the recipes without sacrificing flavor since they have lots of seasoning and are made with fresh ingredients.  There are vegetable dips and a spring rolls recipe that I can't wait to try.

Martha Stewart has proven her food to be approachable, fun and delicious with this latest book.  I'd like to thank the kind folks at Blogging For Books for providing me with this copy for review - it is the beginning of something delicious!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Broad Fork Cookbook by Hugh Acheson

The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits by Hugh Acheson, Photographs by Rinne Allen

First, let me say that celebrity chef Hugh Acheson (cheftestant and judge of Bravo's Top Chef and Top Chef Masters) has created a quirky, fun and gorgeously photographed cookbook.  The Broad Fork approaches its fruit and vegetable subjects seasonally and offers interesting and refreshing takes on ingredients both traditional and unusual.

I have enjoyed watching this chef critique dishes for several years on Top Chef and I've always been interested in knowing more about his background and perspective.  Reading through the stories behind these recipes and how his neighbors and friends supply his pantry with the fruits of their farms and gardens was a such a unique and charming take on the traditional cookbook format, that I think any of the recipes I choose to make will be extra special.

This is the kind of book that teaches you about the ingredients while inspiring ideas of how to refine them and gift them to your family's dinner table throughout the year.  Each season highlights a variety of produce and offers exciting ways to prepare it.

Acheson says early in the book that a neighbor's question "what the hell do I do with kohlrabi?" was in part his inspiration for the book's recipes.  It led him to explore the 50 fruits and vegetables he has represented and give in-depth ideas of how to transform the ingredients into something not only delicious but creative.

I too had no idea what to do with kohlrabi (or even what it was) but some of the ideas he has for more familiar produce like blackberries, apples, pecans, asparagus and beets are delightful departures from boring dishes or interesting and bold takes on our favorite seasonal fare.

I'm excited to try several of the book's recipes and will be able to put our humble vegetable garden and blackberries from this summer to good use in dishes such as the Southern ratatouille and blackberry cobbler with drop biscuit topping.  Pictured below are a few of the gettings from our garden that will be made into something special with the help of this book.

Truly, this book is gorgeous and I can't heap enough praise upon photographer Rinne Allen.  Her photos are so lively that they would convince anyone of the food's quality and make them wish they could dive into these plates for a bite.  Chef Acheson must be very grateful to work with such a talented artist.

Thank you to the kind folks at Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing for providing me with this review copy.  I look forward to making many happy dishes from the 200 recipes in it, through your generosity.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: Rave!

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Occasionally we are very lucky to find ourselves lost in a book.  We open the pages and are completely transported.  Reading The Little Paris Bookshop was one of those sweet and rare occasions for me.

From the map that begins the journey to the emergency literary pharmacy that graces the last pages, author Nina George has crafted a magical, thoughtful and heartbreaking gem of a novel which is destined to be at the top of many a reader's list of favorite books.  It's already at the top of mine.

Throughout its pages this book takes on many faces.  It masquerades as a diary, a moody love song, a travelogue, an impressionist painting and a love letter to the tango and to the delights of the whispers of the sea, buttery croissants and sweet summer wine.

We meet Jean Perdu - the literary apothecary who diagnoses the ailments of the broken hearted, the lovesick and the overstressed insomniacs of Paris with book suggestions or refused sales of symptom inappropriate reading material at his floating bookshop.  He embarks on a journey of self discovery where the books he so easily presents as remedies to others become his lifeboat as he searches for the self he abandoned 21 years before.   Jean's gradual self awareness informs our own and by the book's end I would venture any reader would have discovered something of value in his travels for the themselves.

The cast of characters are easy to root for.  You wish the best for this ragtag bunch even when they are busy lying to themselves and each other about where they are headed and why.  I was left with the hope I would chance upon even the characters with the smallest roles again - they seemed so real that I wouldn't be surprised to stumble across Kofi or Max's tango partner if I ever went on a European excursion.

Best of all there is an infectious literary language in this book.  There were phrases so lovely and words so imaginative and graceful that I read them aloud several times in the hopes they would live in my mouth.  Ms. George is an extraordinarily gifted writer and I give much credit to Simon Pate, the translator of this English edition as well.  The book is poetry.


I feel this is a book for anyone with a passion for language, beautiful stories and a chunk of time - you won't want to put it down.  Also, be forewarned, this book will make you want to read everything.  You'll regret there aren't enough hours in the day to experience all the wonderful books our hero suggests even if you don't suffer from the maladies they're prescribed for.

A most sincere and heartfelt thanks is owed to the kind folks at Blogging for Books for providing me this copy in exchange for a review.  I adored this book and I'm grateful for the chance to fall in love with it.  Thank you.

If you'd like a recommendation from the book apothecary or you'd like to dive in and sample the first chapter of this fantastic novel visit Read It Forward here!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Your Buts Are Showing

Social media can be a very depressing place.  It seems each time I open Facebook I see people engaging in behavior that is unbecoming at best and often downright hurtful and mean.  Scattered amongst the cats doing hilarious things, the images of celebrities in beautiful clothes, puppies, ads for things I can't afford and cute babies are some thinly veiled displays of anger, hatred and bitterness.  It pains me that I have come to expect them.

I understand the desire to express a personal opinion on hot button topics and the need to have your voice validated by that little blue "thumbs up" symbol.  It is important to be liked.  I feel the pressure of that desire as keenly as anyone.  It's difficult to be as witty, cool, and awesome as our peers and it is easy to get carried away.  That's where the buts start to creep in.

You know the buts I'm talking about.

I read at least ten posts a day that start with a but on display.

Here's a few examples...

"People are free to think whatever they want BUT...."

"This doesn't effect me in any way BUT..."

"I know many of my friends won't appreciate this BUT..."

"I'm not a racist BUT..."

"I don't hate gay people and I think everyone should be treated equal BUT..."

"I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings BUT..."

"Women are just as important as men BUT..."

"I'm not saying I'm better than you BUT..."

"It's sad that people died BUT..."

"I'm not telling you how to raise your child BUT..."

"I'm not saying all fat people are lazy BUT..."

My Facebook news feed has become but ugly.  When those buts find their way in they are all too often followed by a remark that negates the statement that precedes it.  I spend a good chunk of my day feeling depressed and angry that there are people out there who will display their buts proudly and carelessly.   It is getting the best of me.

I like playing devil's advocate.  I enjoy a good debate and I respect that people hold opinions that differ from my own.  I recognize that my beliefs may be crazy to others.  The only person who knows what's in my heart and mind is me.  I can try my best to explain myself.  I can also try not to put my own but on the line by keeping my thoughts and opinions away from the public.  The fights and name calling are tiresome, and my passion and energy is better spent elsewhere.  There are no buts about it.

I'm going to be positive.  I'm going to be happy.  I'm going to be thankful that I have a family and friends who are diverse and opinionated.  To do that, I think it is time for me to step away.  I don't feel the need to witness the buts on display.

I will miss the photos of your children and your pets, and I hope you keep me in the loop when something lovely happens to you.  I might (read: probably will) miss your birthday because I have a hard time keeping track of the date as it is and often can't figure out if it is Tuesday or Thursday.  I wish you all much love, much joy and much less drama.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Book of Joan by Melissa Rivers: Review

I was pleasantly surprised at The Book of Joan by Melissa Rivers.  It was a truly funny memoir of Melissa's life with her mother, comedian Joan Rivers.  Although I had seen many episodes of Fashion Police with both ladies, and had also seen Joan perform as a guest on talk shows and television programs throughout my life, I never had really thought of them beyond the footlights.  I loved Joan's  brash, frank, self deprecating humor and the fact that she poked just as much fun at herself as she did at others, but was happy to get a glimpse of her beyond the show business persona.  This book is a portrait of her as a mother, a grandmother and a wife as much as it is a tribute to her groundbreaking career in comedy.  It is also a lovely remembrance after her unexpected death last year.

Melissa Rivers is quick witted and charming in her delivery of anecdotes about her mom.  I enjoyed the fast pace of the book - each chapter delving into her mother's off camera antics and glimpses into her world as a hard working, mom who equally valued her family and her career.

Joan's career relied on her unapologetic nature and this book makes no apologies either.  The author doesn't always flatter her mother but there is never any doubt that she holds her in high esteem and loves her despite her flaws.  I found the many photos, handwritten notes from her mother, report cards and reminisces incredibly heartfelt and touching.  More than anything this book has convinced me to search out footage from the many stand up routines and appearances that are available online to see what a dynamo Joan Rivers was when she appeared on stage.

 I'm glad to have the chance to review this book and have my interest in Ms. River's comedy renewed as well as the chance to appreciate what a fine comic voice and storyteller her daughter is.  Thank you to the kind folks at Blogging For Books for providing me with this copy for review.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Since I've Been Gone

Writing a little something on my blog everyday occasionally felt like therapy, but more often than not felt stressful and trying.  The effort to be interesting and entertaining was fun when I had things to write about and share, but there were times when what I wanted to talk about was at odds with what I felt comfortable putting in front of an audience, even if they were comprised of folks who barely knew me out in cyber land.  

Things happened that didn't feel so good.  I went to a really negative place and decided that nothing I had to say was worth the effort to write it down.  I visit that place a lot.  I've grown to recognize it and have built the bitter walls up pretty high so I can hide behind them.  It isn't a happy place to live and I tend to get lost in it at times.  

It's like walking with a rock in your shoe.  You either stop everything, take off the shoe and shake it out or you bitch about how much it's bothering you as you deal with it.  Eventually you're so used to the annoyance you either decide you deserve it since you're too lazy or too incapable of dealing with it or you just stop walking so it doesn't annoy you anymore, but you also aren't going anywhere.  I wasn't going anywhere.  Honestly I think that I spend much of my time bitching about that rock still, but I'm moving so that's something.  Maybe the rock is smaller.  Perhaps I've worn it down or it worked its way out and I'm just so used to complaining I whine as a comfort.  

This is me stopping and shaking out the shoe. 

You'll be hearing more from me.  I'll be around.  Hopefully in motion, and not hiding.

If you see me sitting by the side of the road and I'm not headed anywhere or I'm staring at an upside down shoe while hopping barefoot, you might want to holler some encouragement.  Friends are things I need more of.  Walking alone sucks.

Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang: Book Review

      Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection  by Jia Jiang was a complete surprise.  I was amazed at how much this book resonated with me.  It was an emotional journey that dealt with author's desire to beat the feeling of rejection he was facing and turn it into a motivational inspiration. He had a simple idea: 100 days of rejection "therapy" wherin he would blog and vlog his experiences of learning to cope with rejection  in the hope that others could learn not to take it so personally.  He started with outlandish requests - like asking strangers to give him $100, and gradually came to the realization that many people said "no" but also asked "why?"  Hidden in his idea was a tremendous opportunity for growth in his communication skills and in understanding the business world in terms of how to make his inquiries in a way that opened the door to understanding the power of rejection and how to make it a more positive learning experience.  It teaches any reader rejection doesn't equal failure. Too often we equate the two, and Jiang shows us the lines between "no" and "yes" are not always black and white.

      I was quickly pulled into Jiang's story, and could completely relate to the feeling of defeat he had when his idea for a startup was denied financing.  I suffered with him when it seemed like his dreams were being met with closed doors and abrupt denials.  A funny thing happened when he set out on his journey to blog his experiences of rejection in the business world at - the ideas he thought would be outright "no" answers all became possible, thanks to his early positive experience in asking a Krispy Kreme employee who loved her job for something he felt would guarantee a rejection.  The viral "Olympic donut" experience turned me as a reader (and as a viewer on YouTube on the FearBuster blog channel) on to the amazing possiabilities of asking the right questions.

Watch as Jia Jiang gets his first warm acceptance to a crazy question...

I wish I had read Rejection Proof at an earlier point in my life.  If it had been available to me as a graduating senior when I had so many choices ahead of me and I didn't quite know where to begin, I think I would've gotten an even greater use out of its message and fearless response to coping with the difficulty of being rejected.  I think it would make an amazing gift to a recent graduate or anyone looking to improve their outlook and their communication skills.  It teaches us valuable lessons on how to ask questions, how to see the opportunities to learn from a rejection experience and how having as much knowledge about yourself and the person whose approval you seek can make all the difference in the outcome.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for the chance to read this fascinating story.  It arrived at just the right time and helped me to ask the right questions in a situation I really needed a boost of confidence in.  I'm thankful for the insight this book gave me, and I hope that you will watch Jiang's Ted talk about his journey and read this wonderful little book.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden by Karen Newcomb

The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden: Grow Tons of Organic Vegetables in Tiny Spaces and Containers by Karen Newcomb is a great resource for people with limited space who want to have a beautiful, abundant garden to grow their own produce.  My husband is the green thumb of our family and I was excited to share this book with him and see his interest in how it could help him plan our garden and get the most out of its space.

This book was originally published forty years ago, but it has been completely revised and updated with an eye to current trends including heirloom vegetable gardening and the importance of chemical free organic gardening practices.  It is packed with illustrations and plotting options to create garden spaces in areas as small as 4'x4' to 10'x10' areas and also contains suggestions for container gardening for folks who are limited to just their patios.  It has already been useful to our garden's planning in numerous ways, and has included many helpful hints that will make our crops much more productive this year even without following one of the precise diagrams.

Here are just a few of the wonderful tips this book includes:

A list of plants like lavender, cosmos and verbena which can attract beneficial insects to help pollinate and naturally rid your garden of other dangerous pests.

Helpful hints on which containers to choose for gardening in the smallest of spaces and how you can convert a simple drying rack into a vertical gardening helping hand.

Ratings on the ease of incorporating plants that will feed your family throughout the spring and summer including prolific vegetables like radishes and a chart of how many plants you will need per family member to plant a robust garden.

Step by step instructions on time saving strategies for watering and setting up a perfect growing medium for your plants with the inclusion of organic ingredients, and how-tos for composting your own nutrient rich soil.

A comprehensive list of plants that "like each other"; for example, how your asparagus plants may prompt your tomatoes to work overtime (something we enjoyed quite by accident last summer)!

Organic pest control recommendations specific to vegetable families and practical advice on how to maintain your garden plot once it is producing pounds of vibrant colorful veggies for your family's enjoyment.

There is much to learn in The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden for the skilled and novice gardener alike.   I know that there will be a great benefit to our garden this year thanks to the advice in its pages.  Ms. Newcomb's books have spent many years on the best seller list for a reason.  I'm thrilled that this book was available from the good folks at Blogging for Books for us to review for free, but I would choose other books by the author after seeing how thoroughly explained and easily she imparts her knowledge and love of gardening.  Thank you sincerely for letting me review this work.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Color For Spring

If you know me at all it should come as no surprise that the thawing snow and daffodils that are popping up made me eager to try out something new.  I always tend to get bored with whatever hair color I've chosen after a few weeks, but usually I make it through a season in the same color family, a honey summer, an auburn fall, a chestnut brown winter, or a strawberry spring.  I decided to be a little more dramatic than usual this year.


I'm calling it pineapple because it isn't quite platinum!  I'm thinking about a pixie cut as well.  I swept all my hair back in the bottom pictures to try and get an idea how it would look.  What do you think?  Please weigh in on the "to cut or not to cut" conversation!

Hope y'all had a great weekend.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Insurgent Tonight!

I am so excited that we got advance tickets to see Insurgent tonight!  Andy and I loved Divergent and I have yet to read the books but I'm thrilled to find out where Tris and Four are headed!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dermstore Mane Changers Grab Bag Breakdown!

I hunted and hunted for the contents of this particular Dermstore mystery bag and couldn't find a spoiler so for all of you that want to see what's inside here's a peek!

The Mane Changers Grab Bag is $40 on the Dermstore site.  It promises $190 worth of hair care and says it comes with 10 items.  I received 11 items (although admittedly a cosmetic bag is not a hair care item) and figured it had an approximate retail value of $197.38 (or $152.36 if you considered two items were discounted on the Dermstore website).

Here's a closer look at the products... First, the trial sizes.

I love the color of the inside of the bag - it matches the Deva Curl packaging.  Next are the full size products...

Here is a cost per item breakdown:

Please note that I paid for these products with my own money.  The prices I list were found on the Dermstore website and if there was no exact match I used an  approximate value based on the price per ounce (for the Deva Curl, Leonor Greyl and Fekkai products).  If there is a slash through the price and a second price written in pink it is the current sale price.  I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this post.  I am just posting it in the hopes that if you are on the fence about ordering this mystery grab bag you can see some spoilers before spending your cash!

 I have no idea if everyone will receive exactly the same items.  They may vary in brand or fragrance, but this should give you a good idea for figuring out if the $40 price point will be a good value for you.  I was thrilled with this box because it featured several products I've been dying to try, a few repeats that I was happy to see and new brands that are suitable for my hair type (super fine and color treated).  I had hoped for at least one Nick Chavez Beverly Hills product and was pleased as punch with two.  I have received them in sample subscription boxes before and I love the way they perform but was always reluctant to buy the full sizes in case they showed up in a Blush Mystery Beauty Box.  Now that the BMBB is the BeautyFIX by Dermstore box I'm unsure of what types of products they'ok send so I'm happy to have these.  This Klorane shampoo is my third bottle but I am almost finished with the first so I'm happy to have this one.  I love the fragrance and though I'd like to try a new variety this one works great for me so I have no complaints.

I also wanted to mention I bought a second kit at the same time that wasn't a mystery - it was called the Dermstore Volume Boosting Value set and was sold as a $57 value for 6 items.  The way I figured it the items came to about $54.66 and I was equally thrilled with this set.  Here is a quick pic of the contents...

Because my order was a qualifying amount (it was $59.99 but I don't know what the minimum qualifying amount was) I also received 2 magazine subscriptions - a two year subscription to Martha Stewart Living and a 1 year subscription to Time magazine.  I had subscribed to Time and had just cancelled it because it auto renewed at a really high rate and I was really excited that I had just gotten a $43 refund on the remaining issues and then got it for free.  It felt like I hit the jackpot and I will be glad to have both in my mailbox!  

If you picked up any of the other Dermstore grab bags please comment and let me know what you received.  I hope you love yours as much as I do!  I'm off to comb my hair with a $20 comb (this delights me as much as I find it silly that this item costs so much!) and if I tell you "sorry, I can't make it.  I have to wash my hair", you'll know I'm telling the truth and not just watching old Doris Day movies.

Have a lovely evening folks!

Monday, March 16, 2015

THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS by M.J. Rose - A Historical Fiction Novel, Out Today!

Howdy folks!  Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

I'm very excited to participate in my first blog tour for the launch of THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS by M.J. Rose.  This is a historical romance novel with gothic intrigue, magic and suspense.  In other words, this book is right up my alley and might just be your cup of tea as well.  Look at this GORGEOUS COVER...

I admit that I shop for books in stores by looking for colors and images that speak to me.  If a book doesn't look beautiful I'm not as likely to pick it up off the shelf and read the back.  Everything about this cover sings to me.  The artfully draped curls, the hint of a shoulder about to be exposed, and the Eiffel Tower by moonlight?  Yes. Please!  If the beautiful cover art wasn't convincing enough, there's the lure of the synopsis:

 Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother's Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it's dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine's deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten--her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She's become possessed byLa Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine's "wild night of the soul," her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery.

Longing for more?  Me too!  I can't wait to read this book!  Here is a taste of what's to come we open the pages of THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS published today by Atria Books...

Four months ago I snuck into Paris on a wet, chilly January night like a criminal, hiding my face in my shawl, taking extra care to be sure I wasn’t followed.
I stood on the stoop of my grandmother’s house and lifted the hand-shaped bronze door knocker and let it drop. The sound of the metal echoed inside. Her home was on a lane blocked off from rue des Saints-Pères by wide wooden double doors. Maison de la Lune, as it was called, was one of a half dozen four-story mid-eighteenth- century stone houses that shared a courtyard that backed up onto rue du Dragon.
I let the door knocker fall again. Light from a street lamp glinted off the golden metal. It was a strange object. Usually on these things the bronze hand’s palm faced the door. But this one was palm out, almost warning the visitor to reconsider requesting entrance.
The knocker had obsessed me ten years before when I’d visited as a fifteen-year-old. The engravings on the finely modeled female palm included etched stars, phases of the moon, planets, and other archaic symbols. When I’d asked about it once, my grandmother had said it was older than the house, but she didn’t know how old exactly or what the ciphers meant. Where was the maid? Grand-mère, one of Paris’s celebrated courtesans, hosted lavish salons on Tuesday, Thursday, and many Saturday evenings, and at this time of day was usually upstairs, preparing her toilette: dusting poudre de riz on her face and décolletage, screwing in her opale de feu earrings, and wrapping her signature rope of the same blazing orange stones around her neck. The strand of opal beads was famous. It had belonged to a Russian empress and was known as Les Incendies. The stones were the same color as my grandmother’s hair and the high- lights in her topaz eyes. She was known by that name—L’Incendie, they called her, The Fire.
We had the same color eyes, but mine almost never flashed like hers. When I was growing up, I kept checking in the mirror, hoping the opal sparks that I only saw occasionally would intensify. I wanted to be just like her, but my father said it was just as well my eyes weren’t on fire because it wasn’t only her coloring that had inspired her name but also her temper, and that wasn’t a thing to covet.
It wasn’t until I was fifteen years old and witnessed it myself that I understood what he’d meant.
I let the hand of fate fall again. Even if Grand-mère was upstairs and couldn’t hear the knocking, the maid would be downstairs, organizing the refreshments for the evening. I’d seen her so many nights, polishing away last smudges on the silver, holding the Baccarat glasses over a pot of steaming water and then wiping them clean to make sure they gleamed.
Dusk had descended. The air had grown cold, and now it was beginning to rain. Fat, heavy drops dripped onto my hat and into my eyes. And I had no umbrella. That’s when I did what I should have done from the start—I stepped back and looked up at the house.
The darkened windows set into the limestone facade indicated there were no fires burning and no lamps lit inside. My grandmother was not in residence. And neither, it appeared, was her staff. I almost wished the concierge had needed to open the porte cochère for me; he might have been able to tell me where my grandmother was.
For days now I had managed to keep my sanity only by thinking of this moment. All I had to do, I kept telling myself, was find my way here, and then together, my grandmother and I could mourn my father and her son, and she would help me figure out what I should do now that I had run away from New York City.
If she wasn’t here, where was I to go? I had other family in Paris, but I had no idea where they lived. I’d only met them here, at my grandmother’s house, when I’d visited ten years previously. I had no friends in the city.
The rain was soaking through my clothes. I needed to find shelter.
But where? A restaurant or café? Was there one nearby? Or should I try and find a hotel? Which way should I go to get a carriage? Was it even safe to walk alone here at night?
What choice did I have?
Picking up my suitcase, I turned, but before I could even step into the courtyard, I saw an advancing figure. A bedraggled-looking man, wearing torn and filthy brown pants and an overcoat that had huge, bulging pockets, staggered toward me. Every step he took rang out on the stones.
He’s just a beggar who intends no harm, I told myself. He’s just look- ing for scraps of food, for a treasure in the garbage he’d be able to sell.
But what if I was wrong? Alone with him in the darkening court- yard, where could I go? In my skirt and heeled boots, could I even outrun him?

I love the imagery used in this passage - I can just see those fiery opals gleaming around Sandrine's grandmother's neck and I already want to know who the mysterious man advancing toward her is.  I love the hook of a good story - how it catches you and pulls you in to a world created by someone else's imaginings.  M.J. Rose has created quite an effective hook in this brief passage.  Here are some details about the author and where to find her and her book on social media...

New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother's favorite books before she was allowed. She believes mystery and magic are all around us but we are too often too busy to notice... books that exaggerate mystery and magic draw attention to it and remind us to look for it and revel in it.

Rose's work has appeared in many magazines including Oprah Magazine and she has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, WSJ, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the '80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors -

The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose's novels in the Reincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and currently serves, with Lee Child, as the organization's co-president.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

Want to know what people are saying about THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS?  Here is some advance praise for the book:

"Haunting tale of possession." —Publishers Weekly

"Rose's new series offers her specialty, a unique and captivating supernatural angle, set in an intriguing belle epoque Paris — lush descriptions, intricate plot and mesmerizing storytelling. Sensual, evocative, mysterious and haunting." —Kirkus

"Mixes reality and illusion, darkness and light, mystery and romance into an adult fairy tale. [Rose] stirs her readers curiosities and imaginations, opening their eyes to the cultural, intellectual and artistic excitement that marked the Belle Epoque period. Unforgettable, full-bodied characters and richly detailed narrative result in an entrancing read that will be long savored."—Library Journal (Starred Review)

Can't wait to get your hands on a copy?  Hardcover and e-book copies of THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS are available today!  Find the book at any of the links below:

Last but not least, the author is having a giveaway on her blog for a gorgeous "Daughter of La Lune" pendant.  You can enter to win it on M.J. Rose's site: WIN A DAUGHTER OF LA LUNE PENDANT

I'm happy to be a part of today's book launch through Ink Slinger PR - this is the first of what will hopefully be many introductions to new titles and authors I hope to help you discover!  Please let me know if you have read or are going to read THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS - I'd love to hear your thoughts on the book.  It's at the top of  my To Be Read list on Goodreads - I'd love it if you would friend me there - let's compare the books we love and chat about reading!

Have a lovely St. Patrick's Day - remember to wear some green so you don't get a pinch!

The Great Big Pressure Cooker Cookbook Review

Howdy folks!

I'd like to apologize for being so scare the last few weeks.  I needed a little time to regroup and figure out how to best focus my blog and my writing.  I have the need for a creative outlet and sometimes I get completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things I have going on and I forget to focus on the things that make me happy.  Reading makes me happy.  Writing makes me happy.  Crafting, baking, doodling, watching "can't turn it off" television shows (Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead, Black Sails!), and just having a lovely evening hanging out with my husband and my crazy dogs are all things that make me happy.  I spent a couple of weeks relaxing, recharging and doing all those fun things so I could revamp and focus on how thankful I am that I have the time and ability to enjoy these daily gifts.  I'm not certain I will post every day going forward, but I will post most days, and boy do I have a ton of things to tell you about the last few weeks!

Today my topic is a new cookbook I was given the chance to review.  I am a huge fan of Food Network, The Cooking Channel and cooking shows in general, and although I am a novice cook, I love watching all of the fabulous dishes and delectable food that comes out of the kitchens on these shows.  Very often the chefs and cooks will turn to a piece of kitchen equipment that looks like something that would be fabulous to own and I assure myself that in owning said piece of equipment I would obviously create dishes worthy of a Michelin star or a James Beard award.  I know that this isn't the case and I'm pretty sure the accolades would only pour in after I dedicated myself to actually learning how to use the nifty gadget they're adept at, and that I'd be more likely to receive a thumbs up from the hubby or a tail wag from the pups.  Still, sometimes the allure of the sweet kitchen tool is too much and I bite.

My most recent "dang that would be handy"! purchase was a pressure cooker.

On Bravo's Top Chef I have seen dozens on instances where the cheftestants try to use a pressure cooker and fail.  They can't get the lid off or locked on or they waste valuable challenge time trying to beg the other folks for help because they've never used one.  I thought mastering this tool would save me time and money and make weeknight dinner more do-able, but I had (and if I'm being completely honest, still have) a tiny bit of fear that I wouldn't be able to figure it out.  Luckily, just after I purchased it I saw The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book: 500 Easy Recipes For Every Machine, Both Stovetop and Electric by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough come up as an option on the Blogging for Books website.  Points for awesome timing!

The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book is more than just a cookbook.  It has tips, tricks, hints and trouble shooting methods to help anyone master this cooking tool.  I like that from the very beginning of the book they tell you that if you have a pressure cooker that came with an instruction book you need to read it and familiarize yourself with exactly how your model works.  If you are using the dinosaur you found in your Aunt Betty's attic, there are a bunch of general how-to notes and tips included to help you figure it out too.  The best part is that since there are several different types of pressure cookers (electric, stovetop, dinosaur Aunt Betty models) they have included the ratios of liquid and ingredients to add for each model and also have specific step-by-step instructions that at different points in the recipe that explain how to best accomplish the dish with the type you have.

There are several great suggestions for the skittish (me!!) and some really helpful tidbits that would've never occurred to me.  For example - I have a stovetop with electric burners and it reminds you that when you remove the cooker from the heat that it is important that you don't simply move it to a cool burner because the metal coils are insulated and will retain heat so the pressure won't fall the way you desire it to and you could end up overcooking your dish.  This helpful tip was put to immediate use in my kitchen even without using the pressure cooker and I've recently begun to transfer my pans onto a trivet.  It has saved a batch of rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan and is a great tip.

The book includes 500 recipes with a gauge of effort from "not much" to "a lot" and has a truly amazing block of "tester's notes" for each recipe that can lend information that is funny, educational, and sometimes vital to the preparation so it's good to read them first.  Even before you make a single recipe there is a lot to absorb so read carefully before you begin.

There are a ton of recipes to try that run the gamut of "what? You can make THAT in a pressure cooker?" (cheesecake - woohoo! although you need a bit of additional equipment like a wire rack) to "why would I want to make this in a pressure cooker?" (oatmeal - I'm an "add boiling water to packet" kind of girl).  The soups, braises and time saving preparations of beans and grains are really the stars of the show though.  There are countless things I want to try and this weekend is going to be all about experimenting.  Actually last weekend was supposed to be about that, but there was a gardening show and a certain live action princess movie that had to be attended.  Priorities!

My only complaint is the lack of photographs.  There is a section in the center of the book with 32 pictures of the a sampling of the dishes in this book.  I love good food photography, and the pictures here are lovely but there isn't enough of them.  The recipes I am most excited by weren't chosen for a glamour shot and that was a little sad.  Still, the photos that are here are enough to make you want to get cooking and that is a very good thing.

The lovely folks at Blogging For Books were kind enough to provide me this cookbook for review.  Check out their site if you are a blogger who loves to read or eat or if you just want to see what folks like me have to say about a wide variety of titles that have recently hit bookshelves near you.  Thanks Blogging For Books!  Andy and the dogs thank you too!

Check back tomorrow to see an exciting new historical fiction novel THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS by M.J. Rose that will hit those very same shelves in the morning!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Julep Maven Subscription Box March 2015 - Beauty Lover Mystery Option

I'm excited that this month's Julep Maven selections included two different mystery boxes as options along with the standard profile choices.   There were several choices that I could've went with but I chose the Beauty Lover's Mystery Box.  It was promised to be a $70 value.  According to the full retail prices listed on their website, my box had a retail value of only $66, but it still had three products that I haven't had the chance to try yet and a good value for the $19.99 monthly subscription price.  I was glad to have an all beauty product option and very interested in the mystery products from previous boxes because I haven't purchased a Julep box in several months.  I was hoping for an oribital eye shadow or a highlighting powder, but I still  like what I received.

I received a Gel Eye Glider pencil in Olive which is the color I would've chosen for myself.  I love the Kajal liner from Julep, so I think this will be a win for me.  I also had a Plush Pout Lip Crayon in the color cardinal.  Although I wouldn't have chosen this color for myself it is a pretty red shade and the moisturizing core would  seem to make it very hydrating.  Finally the Night Shift Sleep Mask is a product I'm really excited about.  I love face masks in general and the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask is at the top of my favorite products list right now, so I'm happy to have a new similar product to try.

There were also some Smarties candies.  Andy will happily eat them.

My mailman made me very happy today by telling me he was coming back with packages.  I was glad he made the trek in such good spirits - he said he had a good day despite the tons of snow and that he hadn't slipped on the ice.  I was happy he came because I had an email from UPS that the package I was expecting wouldn't be delivered today and I thought that the mail would have a harder time getting out than UPS would, but the post office is serious about the whole "neither rain nor snow" promise.

Thankfully I had the walk cleared for him!  I can't believe how tired I am from shoveling today though.  My wrists are aching terribly tonight after clearing the sidewalk, back porch and driveway twice.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Target Clearance Steals!

I found some fabulous deals at Target today.  Going back into the store after not working there for over a year was strange.  I couldn't find the adult baby wedding gift wrap section which seems lost to additional party favors.  It was the best named aisle in the store so I was sad to see its demise.  There were a lot of things that were either recent Plano team resets or incredibly well zoned aisles.  I didn't see a ton of customers, but I did see lots of employees and they were all working on pulls so I guess that's a good thing.

 I went to buy a baby shower gift for my cousin and to check out the beauty clearance.  They had lots of 70% off things that haven't made it to the endcaps yet, and lots of what I picked up had previous markdown tickets on it but were actually lower than the marked ticket price.  I also got some great deals on Gilligan and O'Malley microfiber bikinis which rang up at regular price but had clearance tickets on them, so they were adjusted.  One two pack was $3.58, another 2 pack was $1.78 and a single pair rang up at $1.48.

Here are some the beauty section bargains:

The Clairol hair color was 30% off and was $7.68.  I think the inclusion of a free 3.9oz. bottle of shampoo with this makes it well worth it because I used this particular Age Defy color before in a different shade and loved the application.  It has a pre-treatment that makes your hair incredibly soft and shiny.  I would've bought another if they had one.

Two of the lipsticks are Maybelline Elixer lip products.  They had several shades on clearance but I haven't tried this formula yet so I just got two, Mandarin Rapture and Captivating Carnation.  They were only $2.08 each and that is a great "try me" price.

I have been waiting ages for them to get a Nyx section in our Target.  When I still worked there they taunted me by sending backer paper for it but no products.  It finally arrived without my notice at some point.  I wanted lots of things, but settled on a butter lipstick.  I would've bought several, but some loser twisted them into the caps and ruined all of the markdown ones but this.  I'm not sure I love the color, but for $1.78 BLS04 - a bright coral came home with me.

I've never tried the NYC Smooth Skin liquid makeup, but for $.98 I figured  it was worth a try.  It turned out to be a perfect match for my skin.  It has no fragrance and had enough coverage that it could work as a concealer for me.  I rarely wear foundation, but I will likely be trying this out to see how long it wears.

The best deal and my most exciting find was the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask.  The ticket said it was 30% off and $16.10.  I didn't really want to pay that, but this product is my favorite thing I've received in a subscription box last year and I am practically out of my sample which I've used sparingly since I loved it so much.  I noticed the brand's BB Cushions were 70% off so I was hoping this had missetha few markdowns and it had!  It was only $6.90.  I would've bought a few if they had them, because if they are discontinuing this product I will be really sad.  It is wonderfully hydrating and works as you sleep.  When you rinse your face in the morning it reactivates and boosts the moisture all over again.  It has made my dry winter skin so much better.  If they have some on clearance at a Target near you I would recommend it for over any other moisturizing treatment.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pinterest Fail!

So you know how you see those posts on Pinterest that say you can magically fix a smashed powder compact with alcohol?

Hmmm.  Not so much.

Thank goodness the nice folks at City Color Cosmetics reached out to me on Instagram and emailed to let me know they were sending me replacements for the ones that arrived damaged, because I made kind of a mess trying to perform the magic fix that everyone on the internet seems to have mastered.

The steps seem easy.  You take your pan filled with shards of powder, smash it up so it is even more powdery, then add a few drops of alcohol to it.  You supposedly mix it into a paste and then press it back into the pan with a paper towel which absorbs the alcohol and leaves a beautiful pattern behind.

Like hell you do.

The steps are more like this - try desperately to scrape the tons of powder from every surface of the compact that's not the pan, succeeding only in getting blush everywhere in creation.  Realize that you have accidentally added bristles from the blush brush and a piece of cellophane from the wrapper to the powder while trying to return as much of it as possible to the pan.  When you fish these out, accidentally flick the powder in your eye for good measure. In smashing the powder up, you'll notice you've once again gotten blush all over the surface of the compact which will need to be wiped off for the thirtieth time.  When you add the alcohol, one drop makes a difference between "not the least bit paste-like" and "blush soup", but you won't reallize this until at least three more drops have been added.  Finally, pressing down with the paper towel onto the soup causes it to squish out of the pan entirely and the soupy blush is not your friend because it makes everything slippery and orange and you drop the whole damn thing in the sink causing another square pan of the quad to crack and your husband to be supremely concerned when he finds you sitting on the floor exasperated and nearly in tears.

So, my advice is unless you have paid boocoodles of money for whatever you are trying to repair, cut your losses and add it to a sifter jar.  They sell them super cheap at Sally Beauty and you can just pretend it's bareMinerals.



Hrrrrm.  Still, they swatched super gorgeous because they're awesome.  I really love this company.


So pretty!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Just Add Watercolor By Helen Birch

 Just Add Watercolor: Inspiration & Painting Techniques From Contemporary Artists by Helen Birch is a tiny tome packed with gorgeous images and truly is a source of inspiration for artists of any level of experience.

I was so excited by the techniques explored in this book.  There are several sections devoted to different types of painting mediums including traditional watercolor, gouache, digital, mixed media, other water based media and non-paper media.  Each section provided detailed descriptions of the techniques used to achieve the artwork pictured along with a full page image created by a contemporary artist.

Some books of this type seem to tell you how to paint or describe "the best way" to paint.  They suffer from a "look what I can do" mentality.  I found nothing in this book except encouragement and inspiration to try my hand at some of the techniques pictured.  Ms. Birch highlights some amazing artists, and has a knack for showcasing their work in an approachable way.  I found this book delightful, and couldn't wait to put brush to paper (or in my case cardboard since I was amazed by the artists working on non-traditional papers and mediums).  Although my work can't hold a candle to the artwork pictured in this lovely little book, I still had a wonderful time creating it.

Thank you to the folks at Blogging For Books for providing me with this book for review purposes.  I think it would make fantastic gift for an aspiring artist and I encourage you to follow Helen Birch's art blog drawdrawdraw where she explores all types of art and artists.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

So Much Makeup I Need Another Face

I went a little crazy ordering makeup.  I've been working a ton of overtime and I've been sick for weeks, so I went a little overboard and ordered a bunch of things I'd been wanting for ages.  I plan on reviewing them and swatching them later this week.

First up - my City Color Cosmetics order.  I fell in love with City Color when they featured their Be Matte blush in an Ipsy glam bag last year.  Since then I've been lucky to receive a white gold cream shadow (similar to the Maybelline Color Tattoo line) and a creamy lip stain from the company.  Their products are affordable, beautiful and worth the splurge, especially when Ipsy offered a 20% discount.

Although the items were wrapped in bubble wrap and securely packaged, the bubble mailer wasn't enough to protect the two face palettes which were on the outside.  They arrived crumbled in their pans but the folks at City Color Cosmetics reached out to me on Instagram post almost immediately after I posted an image and they left an e-mail address for me to send them photos of the items.  They said they were really sorry they arrived in a less than perfect condition and that they'll work with me to replace them.  What stellar customer service!  It made me very happy to know they were on top of things.

My EyesLipsFace Cosmetics package also arrived.  It shipped crazy fast.  There was a mystery gift promotion on Monday (spend $25 receive free $21 gift of mystery products).  I can never pass up this promotion.  All of my favorite elf products were discovered in mystery bags over the last two years.  This is my third one and it doesn't have as many products as usual but it has some really nice things I know I'll use and like.

This is my actual purchase:

The mineral pearls (top right) are supposed to be a dupe for the Guerlain meteorites powder.  One Guerlain powder would cost me more than either of my two purchases.  The special edition one with the fancy pants packaging is actually $87 at Norstrom which is more than everything I bought in today's post.  That is the main reason why unless I hit the lottery I'll never be fooling with high end makeup brands.   If a lipstick from elf gets lost or dropped or a lipstain dries out I can grab a new one.  If I dropped an $87 powder I would cry.  

This was all the items in the mystery gift.  I have been dying to try the hd cream blush and this is the color I would've selected for myself.  I'm not a big fan of brush applicator lip gloss, but I will use everything else here.  The mineral mist looks interesting.  At $6 it was the most expensive mystery item.  

I'm looking forward to playing with all my new makeup this weekend.  This will keep me entertained for weeks!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

I'm Not Gonna Miss You

I watched the Academy Awards tonight (finally) after recording them on Sunday.

Glen Campbell's "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" was nominated for best song.   Tonight was my first time hearing it, in the deft hands of Tim McGraw, but I'm going to post a video of Glen Campbell singing it.

I was sobbing after I heard it on the telecast and even more so when I heard it in his own voice.

This powerful song is about his realization he would eventually succumb to Alzheimer's disease and is an I love you and goodbye to his wife and children.

Both of my parents are currently living with the disease, and my father's parents and my mother's aunt both passed away while suffering its effects.   In a word, Alzheimer's is terrifying.  Knowing there's every chance I'll develop it as I age and having four siblings all with a 10+ year age gap from me who are likely to suffer from it too is something that weighs on my mind.

I'm still here, but yet I'm gone
I don't play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you 'til the end
You're the last person I will love
You're the last face I will recall
And best of all, I'm not gonna miss you
Not gonna miss you
I'm never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids
You're never gonna see it in my eyes
It's not gonna hurt me when you cry
I'm never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains
I'm not gonna miss you
I'm not gonna miss you


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Read Lisa Blakely's Caught Up In Us Free!

Lauren Blakely's CAUGHT UP IN US is free, but it won't last long!

The team at InkSlinger PR alerted me that this book is available as a free download for a limited time - if you love contemporary romance Lauren Blakely's Caught Up In Love series may be right up your alley.  If you download this free book and enjoy it, please take the time to leave a review for the author on whatever platform you download it from.  I haven't read it yet, but I just downloaded the Kindle copy and hope to soon.

To read a plot synopsis, check out this book on Goodreads: Caught Up in Us (Caught Up In Love Book 1)

If you're not a member of Goodreads yet, consider becoming one - it's free, fun and it's a great platform to review the work of authors you love and find new reads.  When you finish the book you can post your review on Goodreads too - authors love reviews!

Find your free (for a limited time!) copy here...

Amazon ➜
Barnes & Noble ➜
iBooks ➜
Google Play ➜
Kobo ➜

Amazon UK: (NOT FREE YET - if you want it to be free in UK, please report the iBooks price on Amazon)
iBooks UK: