Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Needlework Tuesday

I really enjoy reading about Heather's needlework projects on her blog Books and Quilts. Those projects are featured on her posts titled "Needlework Tuesday". Since I do a little crafting myself, I figured I'd try something new and join her. I procrastinate more than I craft these days so I won't be posting every week. Also, my crafting doesn't always include needles, so despite the name of the post, I'll be posting about some of my other crafts (if I ever get around to doing some of those again).

Last year, I started an afghan after reading about it on Heather's blog. The people at Bernat put together a Mystery Afghan Knit-Along. The link will take you to the introductory post if you are interested. I got a late start with this, then I changed my mind about which yarn to use. Needless to say, I didn't keep up with the knit-along. However, I'm back at it now and am determined to finish it. I only have the border to do so it looks promising. After reading on the blog that some of the knitters were doing a moss/seed border instead of the suggested garter stitch, I decided I'd do that too. I love the moss stitch! The yarn is Bernat Satin in silk, banana, camel. Here are a few teaser photos:

Very small section (including the border).

Three of the 8 blocks (in Banana, Silk, Camel).

I'll include a full photo of the afghan once I'm finished.

The other knitting project I started recently was a Stocking Stitch Shrug. I got the pattern from the Lion Brand website. (Unfortunately, I think you have to join the website to see the picture and pattern).

If I would have thought about it more, I may not have started it. However, I've done about 10 inches (out of 40ish), so I'm not about to rip it out. It's mostly unstructured and is more like a sweater/cardigan that doesn't close in the front. The back is also kind of strange and is supposed to be very roomy and drapey (not a word). Anyway, I found some "factory mill ends" at Walmart that I sort of liked and decided to use that instead of the Lion Brand yarn. I got carried away and bought 3lbs of it. More than enough to make several small projects. I'll probably use quite a bit of it on this project.

Here's my gauge swatch:

The pattern says "one size fits all", which we know isn't true. That one size usually fits those model types and not us eXtra Lovely (XL) ladies. I hope I adjusted the pattern enough to fit me. If it doesn't, I have a plan B.

Anyway, that's it for this week.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ideas That Changed the World by DK Publishing

Ideas That Changed the World presents "incredible inventions and the stories behind them". From medicines and machines that keep us alive to inventions that make life more enjoyable, the ideas in the book affect our everyday lives. The book also includes the inventor's name and other tidbits about each item.

This is a very cool book. It's filled with fascinating facts about the items we use every day. The presentation of the ideas is very well done. Each is featured on a two-page spread with large well-labelled photographs and interesting explanations. Occasionally, additional pages are used for further explanation as in the case of the "Ford Model T" (page 148-149), which has two more pages with information on Ford's model factory.

I loved all of the sidebars that offer additional information about the ideas. They include: "Tomorrow's World", which explains where the idea is headed; "Cool Science", which explains more about the science involved; and "Bright Sparks", which features a historical fact on the item. I also loved the "See Also" pointers at the bottom of most of the pages. For example, on page 46 you can read all about "Lasers" and then skip to page 128 to read about the related "Bar Codes".

All of the ideas in the book are interesting, but a few stood out for me as favourites. I really enjoyed reading about: elevators (pages 60-61), glasses (pages 114-115), zipper (pages 138-139), submarine (pages 154-155), Hubble (pages 182-185), space helmet (pages 198-198). Of course, the best one is the printing press (pages 84-85) for without this idea, this book would not be possible. There was one item that was new to me. In 1934, Percy Shaw invented "Cat's Eyes". I don't think I've even seen these in this form. They are the reflective devices on road ways to make them more visible at night. Interesting.

The ideas are sorted into groups. I'm not that fond of these. While some of them make sense (wheel, jet plane, Metro etc. in "On the Move"), some of them do not (stamp and money in "Handy Gadgets") What's the difference between a gizmo (as in "Great Gizmos") and gadget (as in "Handy Gadgets) anyway? I would have rather just had the ideas presented chronologically. I think it would be neat to see which ideas came about around the same time. It would also make it easy to see the progression of the ideas.

Speaking of progression of ideas, there's a timeline at the back of the book, which lists the ideas chronologically. It's very cool. One small improvement would be to add the invention name next to the date (or in the same bold font at the date) to make it stand out more.

The table of contents is very nice. It lists the groups and ideas in a large easy-to-read font. The glossary is also well presented. It offers compact definitions for a variety of terms from acoustic to x-ray. The index was a little disappointing. At the minimum the ideas and their inventors should appear in the index. Sadly, this is not so. I found at least a few of them missing.

Recommended. The DK website lists the book for ages 10-17. I'd say that about right. Some adults might also enjoy it (as I did), but may find the information a little sparse.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Canada website.

I'd like to thank Chris at DK Canada for this review copy.

Ideas That Changed the World by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2010. ISBN 9780756665319(Hardcover), 256p.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

In The Distant Hours, a letter arrives for Meredith, Edie's mother, 50 years after it was sent. She is visibly upset and refuses to talk about it. It is at that time, that Edie learns that her mother was shipped off during WWII (as other children were) to live in Milderhurst Caste with the Blythe sisters. Meredith refuses to talk about it, so Edie embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about her mother's evacuation. Along the way, she discovers other secrets that have been well hidden over the years by the sisters.

This was such a great book. At 562 pages, it was a bit long for me, but I knew I wouldn't have any trouble getting through it because I love Morton's work. I admit I was a little impatient with a few of the storylines in this book. I kept asking myself, what does this have to do with the mystery? How does this tie in? Then the author does what I didn't think was possible; she ties it all together. All of it! All of the odds and ends that I thought had nothing to do with the mystery were tucked in nicely at the end. Brilliantly, in fact. This is a terrific story from a wonderful author who undoubtedly has a fantastic imagination.

I loved all of the characters, but especially the three Blythe sisters: Percy, Saffy, and Juniper. Each of them had their idiosyncrasies that made them interesting. Of the three, Juniper stood out as my favourite. She was such an odd character, I wanted to find the real story behind her madness. Besides them, I really wanted to learn more about Meredith's experiences as a evacuated child in WWII.

There was one odd thing about the book. The story is broken up into several parts. Each part is further broken down into many chapters. The chapters are grouped together by present (1992) and past (1940s). Here's where is gets a little weird. The chapters in the present are named as in "A Lost Letter Finds Its Way", "A Memory Clarifies" and so on. However, the chapters in the past are numbered, as in One, Two, Three, etc. I'm not sure why this was done. Also, because the chapters were mostly grouped into past and present, the flow felt a little too regimented and not very natural. That could have been just my perception. The naming really did throw me off.

My favourite quote:
There's none like a sister for remembering one's ancient sins. (page 72)

The book contained a few new-to-me words:
trireme (page 126): ancient galley
placatory (page 150): soothing
ingénue (page 178): unsophisticated girl or young woman
déshabillé (page 211): casual or careless manner
sycophancy (page 244): flattery

I also have read Morton's The Forgotten Garden(my review). It's really wonderful. I also have The House at Riverton on my to-be-read bookshelf and can't wait to read it.

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book, please visit the Simon & Schuster website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Kate Morton's website.

I'd like to thank Christine at Edwards Magazine Bookclub and those nice people at Simon & Schuster for this review copy.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, Atria Books (Simon & Schuster), ©2010. ISBN 9781439152782(Hardcover), 562p.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Trees

All of the trees are up, so I thought I'd share some photos.

Our main tree. It's artificial, but loses "needles" just like a real one. *sigh* As you can tell, I come from the "the more the better" school of Christmas tree decorating. My motto is simple: if I can see the tree, there are not enough decorations on it. That's not to say that other more-sparsely-decorated trees are not lovely. It's just that in our house, for our tree, I simply cannot edit the decorations. I need to put them all on and then buy more. And people (make that sane people) wonder why it takes us two weeks to put up the tree. By the way, the same over-doneness goes for lights, too. 7' tree = almost 2000 mini-lights.

As for the stripes of different coloured decorations (from the top: pink, silver, white, gold, red)? Call it too much time on my hands a few years ago when I had this bright idea to do something really different. We've tried a few different variations, but always come back to this one.

Our second tree. It's new this year. The inspiration comes from a post from Cindy over at Cindy's Love of Books. Because it started out as an experiment, we created it in a mostly unused part of the house...the partly finished third floor book storage area (hence the raggedy carpet). Anyway, we like it so much that next year we will either finish the area (to be the third floor office/library) or build the tree where we can enjoy it more. Thanks Cindy!

Third, Fourth and Fifth. Three little artificial trees we bought at Walmart for 99¢ each. The funniest thing is that the assembly instructions say to spread the branches so that they look natural. To top that off, one of them is bright pink. Nothing natural about that. This one is sitting on our kitchen table, while the other two adorn our bathrooms.

Anyway, that's it. Have you put up your tree yet?

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Promises to Keep by Jane Green

In Promises to Keep, Callie, a successful photographer, wife and mother, is not at all like her sister, Steffi, who can't seem to keep a job or a boyfriend for more than six months. Their parents, Walter and Honor have been feuding since their divorce many years ago. They would love it if Steffi learned some responsibility, but no one is counting on that. When tragedy strikes, this family along with friends and acquaintances band together to care for the children, make the arrangements and keep the promises that they made to each other.

It's not often that I find a chick-lit book that I love, but I loved this one. The story was good, although it did get a little sappy a few times. Thankfully those times are few and far between. It was the characters that got me. Sometimes with books that many characters I find that I love a few and hate a few. Not so with this one. I loved them all. I wanted to know more and more about each of the characters as they appeared in the book. It was so easy to like them and to really care about them. Besides those mentioned above, there was also Lila (Callie's best friend) and Ed, who I thought were charming together as well as Mason and Olivia, who were anything but. There was also Callie's family: Reece, her husband and her children Eliza and Jack.

The author included some recipes that fit nicely with the story. She had the characters either making or eating the dish during the course of the chapter. Most of the time, it was just casually mentioned and didn't take the focus away from the main story. I certainly loved the recipes because I love finding new ones in unexpected places like novels. I've even read a few cozy mystery series because they contained recipes. Nevertheless, in this case I'm not sure they added much to the story. So that brings me to the question: Why include the recipes at all? Steffi was doing a lot of cooking in her job as a chef, so the recipes are a natural fit with that aspect of the story. However, there are certainly plenty of books out there in which the characters eat or talk about food and recipes are not included. I'm not complaining mind you, but I am wondering.

I admit that I had to put the book aside for a bit about 20 before the end. I knew sort of what was going to happen and I wasn't prepared to read it just then. I needed to put some distance between myself and the characters. Also, I didn't want to end that quickly. I picked it up again a few days later and was totally satisfied with the ending.

Highly recommended. I'd gladly read another book by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Jane Green's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

Promises to Keep by Jane Green, Viking (Penguin), ©2010. ISBN 9780670069149(Uncorrected Proof), 337p.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients by DK Publishing

The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients features information on over 2500 ingredients from meat and fish to vegetables and flavourings. It offers advice on how to buy, store, prepare and cook each of them for optimum results. The book also includes 200 classic recipes.

I really love this book. The variety of ingredients is outstanding. I love seeing the familiar and unfamiliar ingredients and love learning about their uses. I cook a lot, but I still found there were whole pages where all of the items were unfamiliar, such as the fish and sausages section; two ingredients that I have limited experience with. I even learned some new things about ingredients I use all of the time. For instance, did you know that you can eat rutabaga raw? I didn't.

The photographs in this book are large, stunning, plentiful, well labelled and annotated. This not only allows the reader to really get a good look at the ingredient, but it also gives them vital information about it. I found this particularly important. It will really come in handy if I have to hunt down a new ingredient at the grocery or speciality store.

I haven't made any of the recipes yet. I've been too busy learning about the new ingredients I've encountered. When I do make one, I'll likely start with one of the following: borscht (p. 215), baba ganoush (p. 261), riata (p. 239) or moussaka (p. 118).

The table of contents is a bit sparse and only lists the major section headings. The extensive index, though, more than makes up for it. I love that the recipe names are in italics. This makes them very easy to find. I also love that you can look up the recipes from the main ingredient or by the name of the recipe itself.

Highly Recommended. The next time I come across an unfamiliar ingredient (or a reference to it), this will be the first book I consult.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Publishers website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients by DK Publishing, Dorling Kindersley (DK Publishers), ©2010. ISBN 9780756667306(format), 544p.

What's Up Down There? by Lissa Rankin, M.D.

In What's Up Down There?, Lissa Rankin, M.D. answers "Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend". She uses her personal experiences and stories about her patients to answer those questions you've secretly been wondering about.

I loved this book. Rankin has a great sense of humour and is very personable. Reading this book really did feel like I was talking to my BFF. She answers the questions as a friend would and only puts on her M.D. hat when it's necessary. In answering the questions, Rankin relates stories from her personal life and the lives of her patients. Don't worry, she has changed the names to protect everyone. While her personal stories are perhaps a bit too-much-information at times, it's really what makes this book great. Also, she doesn't appear to shy away from any question. The questions are diverse and plentiful. A few of them made me blush.

The range of topics covered is varied. She answers questions on: being a gynecologist, how coochies look, smell and taste; sex, masturbation and orgasm; discharge and itching; periods; fertility, pregnancy and childbirth; menopause; and others. She even covers other female parts like: Boobs, Pee and Butts.

Some of the stories are absolutely heartbreaking; some are hilarious; most of them lie somewhere in-between. One thing they have in common is that they are educational. For me, the saddest (and strangest) stories were the ones that involved misinformation (the girl who used a potato as birth control), abuse (the woman who used her vagina as a purse) and mental illness (the woman who accused Rankin of stealing her genitals). Some of questions dealt with stuff I've been wondering about myself, while others dealt with things quite new to me. I won't get into specifics because that would really be TMI.

I even learned some new words for my girly parts: yoni and coochie. Rankin uses the proper names in some places, but these euphemisms make the book less clinical and more fun. One fun addition to the book might be a list of all of the euphemisms we use to describe our most intimate parts.

Highly recommended. I think it's a must read for every woman. Some men might also benefit from parts of it.

For more information about this book, please visit the St. Martin's Press website.

For more information about the author and her work, please visit the Owning Pink website.

Thanks to Dana Kaye from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

What's Up Down There? by Lissa Rankin, M.D., St. Martin's Press, ©2010. ISBN 9780312644369(Trade Paperback), 381p.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Greener Christmas by Sheherazade Goldsmith

A Greener Christmas offers ideas and solutions for celebrating a simpler, homespun, greener Christmas. It's packed with ideas for trimming the tree, outfitting the table, making the gifts and feeding the guests. It also offers many suggestions for more eco-friendly shopping and celebrating.

I loved this book. It's perfect for those, like me, who are tired of the commercialism of Christmas and wish this time of year wasn't so chaotic, stressful and wasteful. Even though the recipes and crafts look simple, the results are nevertheless stunning. The instructions for each are straightforward and easy to follow. Each project features a level of difficulty indicator, a list of materials, step-by-step instructions with accompanying photos, as well as a photo (or photos) of the finished product. The book even has templates for the crafts that need them.

I appreciate all of the "Green Tips" that are scattered throughout the book. These tips include how to recycling various items, what to look for when shopping, etc. There are also "Cooking Tips" on some of the recipes that further advice.

I loved all of the photographs in the book. They are large and beautifully presented. Especially lovely are the ones featuring the themed Christmas trees. I loved the Natural Christmas tree with the dried fruit slices and cinnamon sticks; the Fabric and Paper Christmas tree with the homemade decorations; and the Edible Christmas tree with the cookies and other treats to eat. Fabulous!

The book also features a substantial Table of Contents as well as a pretty good index. Both of these makes items in the book easy to find. There's also a Directory, which lists the various companies from which supplies can be purchased. Most of them are in the USA and have websites, so if you're into online shopping and can't find the items locally that might be an option.

I haven't made any of the recipes or craft projects yet, but I do have my eye on a couple. The first craft project on my agenda is called "A Flock of Festive Birds" (page 73). Basically, it's a tree decoration in the shape of a bird (or birds) made out of felt. Odds and ends are used for decoration. I already have the scrap felt and the rest assembled and ready to start. I also really want to make the cotton bag (page 170), which according to the introduction would be "perfect for taking to the beach". As far as recipes go, I really want to try the "Marshmallow sweets" (page 260), the "Spiced Nuts" (page 271) and the "Parsnip Chips" (page 272-273).

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Publishing website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

A Greener Christmas by Sheherazade Goldsmith, Dorling Kindersley (DK Publishing), ©2008. ISBN 9780756656478(Trade paperback), 352p.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel

In The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship, Val and Lilly have been close friends for a long time. The two of them have shared many recipes over the years as the only two members of "The Recipe Club". However, a misunderstanding has left them estranged. As they try to reconnect, a long kept secret is finally revealed and once again their friendship is threatened.

I loved so many things about this book. First, the format. It's a little quirky as most of the story is told through letters going back and forth between Lilly and Val. I thought the style and the story were a good fit. Second, the recipes. I love to cook and am always pleased to find new recipes. This is especially nice when I find recipes in unexpected places, like in a novel. Third, the story. Val and Lilly had a falling out and openly shared their thoughts about that. I loved that it wasn't just a big love fest. I also loved that the story was unique and unpredictable. I had no clue where the story was going or where it was going to end up.

Having said all that, I didn't think the recipes went that well with the story. Mostly the recipes were mentioned as an aside or after thought in the letters. Although one of the characters was a caterer, she didn't do a lot of that in the story, so there was little or no connection there. In addition, some of the recipes were a little exotic for girls of that age. For example, Lilly sent Val a recipe for "Wild Duck with Cherry Orchard Sauce" (page 81). This was when they were thirteen-year-olds. This recipe would not at all have appealed to me when I was that age. Perhaps they were more sophisticated. Also, the "Turkish 'Cigarettes'" (page 67) calls for phyllo dough. Was that readily available in 1965? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have been able to find it in our area.

I haven't made any of the recipes in the book, but I plan to. The "Cheerful Salmon Croquettes" (page 145) look promising. Also, the Turkish "Cigarettes" (with the above mentioned phyllo dough) sound wonderful.


For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website or The Recipe Club website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy.

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel & Nancy Garfinkel, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9780061992193(Hardcover), 363p.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published offers authors advice on how to write, sell and market their books successfully.

I really enjoyed this book. The information is offered a in concise and entertaining manner, which not only makes it easy to read, but fun as well. This material could be pedantic and heavy, but it really comes across as interesting and light-hearted in the hands of these authors. Even though I don't plan to write or publish a book, I found the information fascinating. I'll never really know how hard authors work, but after going through this book, I have a better idea. They have my upmost respect.

While the book is geared towards helping authors, it contains lots of information regarding the writing and publishing process that others (for example, book lovers) may find interesting. It covers topics such as: submitting the book, self-publishing, working with contracts, touring, selling your book and much, much more. There's also several appendices with invaluable information for the author, including a list of selected publishers and contact names.

The book was first published in 2005, but this recent edition includes a new chapter on social networking sites and all things online. There's tons of information for authors as well as others who use those online sites.


For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the Workman Publishing website.

Would you like a peek inside? There are a couple of chapters online: Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.

For more information about the authors and other cool stuff, please visit Eckstut and Sterry's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Workman Publishing for this review copy.

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, Workman Publishing, ©2010. ISBN 9780761160854(uncorrected proof), 468p (plus index).

Up from the Blue: A Novel by Susan Henderson

In Up From the Blue, Tillie is all grown up and about to give birth to her first child. With her husband out of town, she enlists the help of her estranged father. This brings back some painful memories of her childhood. Her mother's erratic behaviour and her disappearance after a move to another city have left some deep emotional scars on the young Tillie. Being raised by her father wasn't easy either, especially since she suspected that her father had something to do with her mother's disappearance. She soon finds out that it's a little more complicated that she first imaged.

I quite enjoyed reading this book. The story is beautiful told. I love the way it all unfolded. The book presented a great look at the life of a military family in the 1970s as they move to another city after the father gets a new job. With a strict controlling military man for a father and a mentally ill mother, Tillie was bound to have some problems and harbour some hard feelings. The parts of the story that dealt with mental illness and race relations of the time (because of Tillie's friend) were quite interesting.

For me, the last few chapters of the young Tillie's narration is what brought the story all together. Up until then, I had a little trouble believing that Tillie didn't have any idea what happened to her mother. Even though she was young, she should have known that something was not right. When she did find out what happened, she kept that information to herself and didn't do very much about the situation. I sometimes forget how unreliable children are as narrators. Their life experiences give them a skewed outlook. Perhaps that why parts of the story came across as unbelievable. I would have loved to hear this story from the father's point of view. Even the mentally-ill Mara's(Tillie's mother) take would have been interesting. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it at that.

I liked Tillie as a child, but not that much as an adult. She just seemed so bitter and aggressive towards her father even when she was asking for his help. He had his faults, but he did come to help her when she was in need. That in itself should have earned him so points and softened her harsh view of him. I understand grudges and bad feelings, but if that's how she felt about him, why did she ask for his help?

Despite what I said above, I would still recommend this book to others. There are plenty of great reviews out there with high praises for this book. They shouldn't be too hard to find.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website.

For more information about the author, please visit Susan Henderson's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins for this review copy.

Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson, HarperCollins Publishers, ©2010. ISBN 9780061984037(Uncorrected Proof), 317p.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Photo Friday - Vivid

For more "Vivid" photos, visit the Photo Friday website.
For more of my submissions, please my PhotoFriday set on my Flickr page.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Renovating our basement and CSN Stores

When we moved into our house just a little over 18 months ago, we knew that we were going to be renovating the basement at some point. That means insulating the walls, drywalling, painting, installing a drop ceiling and all the rest. Since there are some government grants available now for insulating basements, we figured we'd take advantage of them.

The supplies arrived on Monday and the workmen started yesterday. We were so excited until last night we were standing in the middle of the basement looking at all of the new living space we were going to gain, when we came to the realization that we had no furniture to put in it. Zippo. Nada. That's what happens when you move into a space that's bigger than your last one.

So this morning I was surfing the web and looking at newspaper flyers to see if I could find something (anything) to fill up that space. I came across these beautiful bar tables and stools that will come in handy in our little bar area. It's great because I found them on the CSN Stores website, a website that I love and have used before. They also have some other stuff that will look great in our new basement (once it's done). All I have to do now is decide what to get first.

Stay tuned because in the near future I'll be reviewing my purchase from CSN. Don't know yet what it's going to be, but it should be fun.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker

In The Dark Vineyard, Bruno, the Chief of Police in Saint-Denis gets called in when there's a fire at a research station for genetically modified crops. Bruno suspects that some local environmentalists are to blame and begins looking at that angle. Meanwhile, winemakers are interested in the land around Saint-Denis and Bruno is concerned that his small town is about to get very crowded. He has his hands full with suspicious characters and two mysterious deaths, but still finds time for romance, friends, food and wine.

This was such an enjoyable read. I felt like I had been transported to France in this wonderful quaint mystery. There are no car chases or high action scenes, but with writing and characters like this, who needs them. Even though the book is the sequel to Bruno, Chief of Police, you don't have to read that one first to enjoy this one. I haven't read the first one (yet) and I loved this book. There were a few references to past events that presumably happened in the first book, but not really that much. I had been looking forward to reading Bruno, Chief of Police, but now I'm even more excited to read it and to revisit Bruno in France. It should be fun.

I loved that Walker briefly explained the French legal system. It was quite interesting and made the story easier to follow. I was equally thrilled with the descriptions of food and wine/winemaking. Everything sounded so delicious. I wanted to join right in.

Bruno Courrèges was a great character. He clearly cared a great deal about Saint-Denis and wanted to protect it and its inhabitants. That showed in his police work and how he dealt with others.

New words: The book is sprinkled with French words, a few of which I didn't recognise. I was able to work out their meaning, though, so I didn't record many of them.
pompiers (page 3): firefighter
mairie (page 16): town hall

Highly recommended. I'd love to read another book by this author.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Looking for more recommendations, news from the world of books and other fun bookish stuff? Check out The Savvy Reader, the blog from HarperCollins Canada.

For more information about the author, this series and his other books, please visit the Bruno, Chief of Police website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9781554682669(Hardcover), 303p.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Penguin Book of Crime Stories: Volume II - Selected and Introduced by Peter Robinson

The Penguin Book of Crime Stories: Volume II is a collection of short stories from crime writers around the world. Peter Robinson selected the stories and introduces the lot, which includes stories from: Ruth Rendell, John Connolly, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Sue Grafton, Reginald Hill, Dennis Richard Murphy and many more.

Every time I read a book of short stories, I'm reminded of how much I love them! When the collection consists of stories from various authors, such as this one, it's a special treat. In this book, I loved the variety of stories, characters and writing styles. I enjoyed all of them, but there were a few that really stuck out for me. Among my favourites: "Dead in the Water" by Dennis Richard Murphy (which took a page or two to get into, but was fabulous); "The Listening Room" by Robert J. Randisi; and "Triangle" by Jeffery Deaver. Also, "The Visitors' Book" by Sophie Hannah because it was so creepy. All of these were full of surprises with regards to storyline and ending.

There were two stories that I liked, but didn't enjoy as much as I thought I would. These were Maureen Jennings's "The Weeping Time" and Sue Grafton's "A Poison That Leaves No Trace". I've read books by both of these authors before and really enjoy their work, but for some reason neither of these stories stood out as favourites.

I'd really like to read more works from Jeffery Deaver, John Connolly, Reginald Hill and probably all of the other authors who were new to me. I enjoyed this book so much. I really could have read at least another dozen or so stories.

Highly recommended for mysteries lovers and those who enjoy a great short story.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Penguin's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

The Penguin Book of Crime Stories: Volume II by Peter Robinson, Penguin, ©2010. ISBN 9780143172345(Trade paperback), 208p.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

In Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, the Major forms a friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shop owner from town, after the recent death of the his brother. They have both lost their spouses years before and are drawn together by their love of books. However, this relationship, which is becoming romantic, is seen as scandalous by the town's people, as Mrs. Ali will always be considered an outsider. The Major has a fight on his hands if he wants to continue seeing Jasmina.

Simonson's debut novel was an absolute joy to read. I loved it. The story was just quaint and delightful. It had so many facets beside the relationship. It was also about decorum, honour, respect, traditions and cultures. Because the Major was an older proper English gentlemen, there was no gushy romance involved in the story. His intentions were suggested rather than displayed openly. I also quite enjoyed the side story of the Major's guns. The guns were given to the Major and his brother shortly before their father's death. The stipulation was that when one of the brothers died, the other would get both guns. With the passing of the Major's brother, the guns should belong to the Major. However, not everyone agreed. I'm not a fan of guns at all, however, the Major's outrage and attitude about them was quite entertaining. Had they been arguing about something else (antique coins or the like), I would have shared his annoyance.

I adored the Major. He was proper, chivalrous, humble and utterly charming. He stood up to some characters and came to the defence of others. He did so many great things in the book, I wanted to stand up and cheer him on. I also really liked Jasmina, Mrs. Ali. I think she got stuck between a rock and a hard place when it came to her nephew. I didn't envy her position. That part of the story line was quite enlightening with respect to her culture.

Favourite quotes:
He had forgotten that grief does not decline in a straight line or along a slow curve like a graph in a child's math book. Instead, it was almost as if his body contained a big pile of garden rubbish full both of heavy lumps of dirt and of sharp thorny brush that would stab him when he least expected it. (page 35)

--America wielded her huge power in the world with a brash confidence that reminded him of a toddler who had got hold of a hammer.(page 173)

Life does often get in the way of one's reading.(page 200)

A couple may have nothing in common but the color of their skin and the country of their ancestors, but the whole world would see them as compatible.(page 265)

New word Alert:
ossified (page 8): hardened
scimitars (page 28): Arab sabre
tumescent (page 33): swelling
lugubrious (page 35): sad
inveigle (page 188): entice, deceive
ghillie (page 325): another spelling of gillie, which is a Scottish game warden. (I'd like to thank Helen Simonson for emailing the correct definition of this word.)

Highly recommended. I'd love to read another book by this author. Perhaps a sequel to this one?

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the Random House website.

For more information about the author and other cool stuff, please visit Helen Simonson's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Random House for this review copy.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson, Random House, ©2010. ISBN 9780385668644(Hardcover), 355p.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver

So Much For That takes a look at the American health care system through the eyes of two families. First of all, there's Shep and his wife, Glynis, who's been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare cancer. Shep is also dealing with his father, who's at the end of his life and is suffering from the ails of old age. The other family is headed by Jackson, Shep's co-worker, and his wife, Carol along with their children Flicka and Heather. Flicka has familial dysautonomia, a rare genetic neurological condition. Both families struggle with daily worries and medical complications, while trying to keep the medical bills paid and the insurance companies satisfied.

I loved this book. I admit that it took me awhile to get into this story, about 50 pages or so. However, after that I was hooked. Shriver's characters were very believable with powerful and unforgettable stories. I loved that she covered many bases with regards to illnesses. Her characters suffered from various afflictions (genetic disorder, cancer, age-related ails, elective surgeries) giving a broad picture of the health care system. I found I could relate to a few of the cases while gaining insight into many of the others. The whole story was definitely an eye opener.

There were parts of the story that I found absolutely incredible. For instance, there's one moment closer to the end where Shep is talking to Glynis's doctor about how much money was spent on her care and how much longer she lived because of it. I won't get into specifics, but the numbers are astounding. It's not something I'll soon forget. Heather's "medical condition" and treatment were also surprising. I had no idea that sort of thing went on.

Part of the story deals with Shep's desire to run away from it all in something he calls "The Afterlife". His plan (thwarted by Glynis's diagnosis) was to quit his job and move to a third-world nation where inhabitants can live on a lot less money. While I have no desired to move to a poorer country, living a simpler life and getting away from it all does have a certain appeal. I found that Shep's dream added an interesting aspect to the story.

Apparently, Shriver has been quite critical of the health care system in the US and this novel shows her displeasure with all of that. After reading this, I, too, am appalled at what goes on. Don't sick people and their families have enough to worry about? It was so sad that these families had to worry about money and insurance forms rather than taking care of loved ones. It's also amazing what these situations drive people to do.

Our Canadian health care system is quite different from the one in the United States. This book had me asking questions about our system and wondering about the differences between the two systems. There's plenty to complain about on both sides, but after reading this story, I'm pretty sure I know which one I prefer.

Favourite quotes:
So fixing tax rates is all about figuring out how much they can thieve while still leaving us poor wretches enough to keep working so that there's more to thieve next year. The government grows citizens like crops, and you have to leave a handful of seeds for the next planting. (page 157)

New words:
penury (page 85): poverty
hubristic (page 90): pride
garrulity (page 100): verbosity, excessive talkativeness
apocryphal (page 130): mythical
tautology (page 149): linguistic redundancy
ameliorate (page 195): improve
crenulate (page 207): having a wavy edge
rue (page 218): regret
spoliation (page 238): the seizing of things by force, plundering
autodidact (page 255): self-taught person
schadenfreude (page 279): pleasure taking in somebody else's misfortune
filial (page 283): relating to a child's relationship with his parents, filial duty.
elegiac (page 350): sad
insouciance (page 353): rudeness
derisory (page 428): pitiful
vertiginous (page 429): dizzying

I love Shriver's work. I've read two of her other books and would highly recommend both of them: We Need to Talk About Kevin (my review) and The Post-Birthday World (my review).

Highly Recommended. I have several other books by Shriver waiting on my to-be-read shelf. I can't wait to get to them.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Looking for more recommendations, news from the world of books and other fun bookish stuff? Check out The Savvy Reader, the blog from HarperCollins Canada.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

So Much For That by Lionel Shriver, HarperCollins Canada, ©2010. ISBN 9781554682010(Hardcover), 433p.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares

In My Name is Memory, Daniel has the gift of remembering past lives. and searches for his one true love, Sophia. He has encountered her many times through the centuries, but there's always something that keeps them apart. She doesn't remember her past lives, but for him it's heartbreaking to be apart from her. As they come together once again, separation and obstacles loom.

I loved this book. It had such a great premise and a beautifully written story. There was no doubt in my mind that Daniel was compelled to find Sophia and that they belonged together. The story was nicely laid out and even though it skipped around quite a bit in location and time, it was quite easy to follow. The author employed all kinds of techniques to help the reader in this regard. For instance: location and dates preceded each chapter; the past was written in the first person, while the present was written in the third person; two different fonts were used: one for the past, the other for the present.

There was one part near the end that was a little confusing with regards to Daniel (I don't want to give too many details lest I reveal a spoiler), but I found that if I slowed down a bit and read slowly I didn't have too much trouble following the action. All of this lead to a great ending.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was a little something missing in this book. I want to say that there wasn't enough depth, but I'm not sure if it's depth of character or depth of story. The only thing I can come up with is that Daniel had this great gift, which he could have used to do great things. However, his only concerned with finding Sophia. Even though he doesn't see her for centuries, that seems to be the only thing his does. It certainly was romantic and charming. However, maybe I'm not romantic enough, maybe I'm too old for this story, or too jaded. It left me wanting...just a bit. Nevertheless, I adored the whole premise and most of the story.

The book had me wondering about reincarnation. The "rules" that Brashares laid out seemed plausible and fascinating. The whole thing had me mesmerized. Without going into details, the existence of reincarnation would certainly explain a lot for me.

New word:
deigning (page 168): lowering yourself, forcing yourself

This is the first book I've read of Brashares. I haven't read the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, however, I've heard they are very popular. I'm not sure they are for me, but I'd gladly read another book by this author.

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Ann Brashares's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares, Riverhead (Penguin), ©2010. ISBN 9781594487583(Uncorrected Proof), 324p.

Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross

In Sima's Undergarments for Women, Sima runs a lingerie shop from the basement of her home. One day Tinma wanders in to buy a bra, but stays on as a seamstress when she learns that Sima is hiring. Tinma's youth and beauty also allow her to model some of the merchandize for the customers. Together, Sima and Tinma forge a friendship that takes on different forms throughout the book. The story of their friendship is interspersed with memories of Sima's life, her relationship with her husband, Lev, and her long-kept secret.

I really enjoyed this book. Even though there's an overall sadness to the piece, it was an enjoyable read. I particular liked the flashbacks about Sima's past with Lev and their friends, Connie and Art. I found this style of storytelling a perfect fit for this book. The background information filled in the story nicely and added a hint of suspense as the details regarding Sima's secret emerged.

Sima and Tinma's relationship was very believable. Sometimes they were like girlfriends, other times they were more like mother/daughter. Sima seemed so sad and lost. Her shop was a success, yet Tinma reminded her of her unfilled dreams. She envied Tinma's lifestyle and relationships, yet tried to protect her from making the same mistakes she did. I really felt sorry for her.

The whole lingerie shop had me intrigued. Of course, I've walked by stores like that, but I've always bought my underwear at a department store and haven't ventured into the world of specialized fittings for that kind of stuff. I did find it interesting, though, so maybe one day I'll put aside my shyness and travel into unknown territory. ;)

New words:
mezuzah (page 31): small parchment scroll with biblical passages
mikvah (page 188): ritual bath for purification among Orthodox Jews
yeshiva (page 281): orthodox Jewish seminary

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author, please visit Ilana Stanger-Ross's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger Ross, Penguin, ©2009. ISBN 9780143117483(Trade paperback), 317p.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Faux Finished by Peg Marberg

In Faux Finished, Jean Hastings is an interior designer and owns Designer Jeans with her daughter, Jean Jr. They have just finished redecorating the dining room at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club and plan to celebrate with a grand reopening. Suddenly, there are two dead bodies and Jean is compelled to investigate.

This book was pretty good. It's a fun cozy mystery with an interesting side story (interior design) and likeable characters. I did have a little trouble keeping some of the characters straight because there was so many of them. Also, a few of them had similar names, which didn't make things easier. Luckily there was a list of "Citizens of Seville, Indiana" at the beginning of the book that helped me keep track. I referred to it often. If it weren't for that, I'm afraid I would have been very lost at times.

The interior design aspect of the book was interesting, but there wasn't enough of it. Jean appeared to spend more time investigating mysteries than doing her full time job. I would have preferred that she do more designing (or talk about designing) while she was solving the mystery. She was a pretty good amateur detective, though, and I enjoyed following her around as she put together the pieces.

I didn't know it as I was reading, but this is the first book in An Interior Design Mystery series. It didn't quite feel like one. There was some background information presented, but I believe there were some previous investigations or events that were referenced. I assumed they happened in another book. Imagine my surprise when I learned this was the first in the series. This could have been the author's intention or maybe it was just my impression. It felt a bit odd.

I appreciated the information about the Art Deco style at the end of the book as well as the decorating tips on how to achieve that style. Before reading that section, I wasn't sure what Art Deco was. Now I have a better idea and I'll be sure to keep my eye out for it.

I'd really like to read the second book in the series before I recommend this series to others.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the Berkley Prime Crime website.

Faux Finished by Peg Marberg, The Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin), ©2007. ISBN 9780425314282(mass market), 214p.

Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump by Emily Brightwell

In Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump, Michael Provost is found floating next to the wharf. As Mrs. Jeffries and her team investigate, they discover that no one would want this man dead. Well, almost no one. They soon discover that this death may be connected to another death; one that Provost himself was investigating. Of course, Inspector Witherspoon is also investigating, and Mrs. Jeffries is there to help him as needed. Mrs. Jeffries isn't sure her suspicions are correct and starts to doubt herself. She certainly has her hands full in this cozy Victorian mystery.

I adore this series. It's quaint, very British and so fun to read. The Victorian setting makes this series different from others. Rather than getting bogged down in details of the era, Brightwell offers little clues about the setting. For example, characters travel by carriage, not cars. I especially love how Mrs. Jeffries holds her meetings with her "team" and assigns the different tasks to solve the mystery. I also love how she dispenses the information they gather to the Inspector without him catching on to what she's doing.

I've only read a few of these, but I love them. I have noticed that Mrs. Jeffries has taken more people into her confidence about helping the Inspector. Pretty soon everyone in town is going to know about her secret. Everyone except the Inspector, that is.

This particular story was a little confusing at times and I think I mixed up two of the characters at one point. That didn't last long, though, and it certainly didn't stop me from really enjoying this book.

New words:
bombazine (page 6): twilled material
woolgathering (page 61): daydream. This isn't a new one for me, I just love the word.
temerity (page 107): nerve, gall

Highly recommended for the cozy mystery lover.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Emily Brightwell's website.

Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump by Emily Brightwell, The Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin), ©2008. ISBN 9780425222089(mass market), 245p.

A Palette for Murder: Murder, She Wrote by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

A Palette For Murder is part of the Murder, She Wrote series. In this "episode", Jessica is invited to the Hamptons for some rest and relaxation. She plans to spend some time on her secret passion, painting, and finds an art class in the area to attend. When the nude model drops dead in class, Jessica is bothered that someone so young has died right before her eyes. She's determined to find out how this happened. This mystery will take her inside the art world where money, deception and greed might keep the truth from being revealed.

I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I've enjoyed most of the ones I've read from the series. There were a few exceptions, but those are few and far between. This book was fun to read. Even though a murder takes place and some dangerous situations ensue, the story remains light and fun to read. By having Jessica new to the art scene, the author was able to explain the basics of the art world and artists. All of this information was interesting.

Part of the reason I enjoy these books so much is that I loved the Murder, She Wrote TV series that was on a number of years ago. I even bought a few of the DVDs. I was thrilled to find books based on the characters from that series

I've read a number of these books and have watched the episodes from the TV series many times. It still amazes me that people are surprised that murder and other bad things happen when Jessica Fletcher is present. Don't they know that it follows her around? I realize that's part of the charm of the series. The reader/watcher knows something is going to happen, but the other characters are totally oblivious to it.

New word:
blatherskite (page 197): talkative person, one who engages in silly or unimportant chatter.

Recommended for fans of the TV show. I think other cozy lovers will enjoy it, too.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Donald Bain's website.

A Palette for Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain, New American Library (Penguin), ©1996. ISBN 0451188209(mass market), 290p.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark

The Book of Unholy Mischief takes place at the dawn of the Renaissance. In it, a book with immense power and many secrets is said to exist and people are dying to get their hands on it. When Chef Ferrero takes in young Luciano as an apprentice, Luciano not only learns his way around the kitchen, he also becomes aware that his mentor might know more about the book than he's letting on. He soon gets caught up in the mystery of it all. As Luciano performs his assigned duties, he witnesses a murder that leaves him unsettled as well as wary about whom to trust. Still, he does his best to unravel what's going on while protecting and helping those he cares about.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was presented in a perfect format for such a story. The adult Luciano related his childhood memories, which allowed for some interesting foreshadowing. I just adored how it all unfolded. The story grabbed me at the beginning and didn't let go until the very last page. I even thought about the characters when I wasn't reading the book.

I found it almost comical at times that the mysterious book caused such intense emotions even though there were many rumours about its contents and not many details. It didn't come across as unbelievable, though, considering the story took place a time when people were thirsty for knowledge and ready for change.

One very interesting (and controversial) part of the book was the suggestion that there was corruption at the root of Christianity. The book offered other ways to look at some of the stories in its history. I'm not going to get into those theories, but I will say that I found it extremely fascinating.

I was totally taken in by Luciano. He was naive at first, yet loveable. He didn't always do right the right thing (eavesdropping and stealing were among his transgressions), but he tried to remain loyal to Chef Ferrero, his friends on the street, and his love, Francesca. I also really liked Chef Ferrero. He took in and mentored Luciano and stood by his principles. I didn't care that much for Francesca, Marco or Domingo. They all seemed to want something from Luciano. Nevertheless, all of the characters were fun to read about.

The book is filled with great descriptions of food. They made my mouth water. Many of them sounded a bit modern, though; very much like dishes we'd eat now. I thought I heard/read somewhere that the food of that time was more rustic and very heavily seasoned because the meat/ingredients were so rank. Having said that, Newmark explains in the author's note that her Chef Ferrero is no ordinary chef and possessed knowledge that his contemporaries did not. Perhaps that why his food was so extraordinary.

Favourite quotes:
Much of life is waiting. It helps if you can do it with grace. (page 278).

New words:
doge (page 1): chief magistrate
imbroglios (page 12): mess, embarrassment
ignominious (page 27): humiliating
erudite (page 61): learned, knowledgeable
avuncular (page 68): resembling an uncle
tisanes (page 75): herbal beverage or tea
salubrious (page 190): healthy
pugnacious (page 201): aggressive
hirsute (page 201): hairy
obeisance (page 287): bob, genuflection
doublet (page 315): man's jacket with or without sleeves
halberds (page 315): long-handled medieval weapon

Highly recommended. I'd love to read another book by this author.

For more stops on this blog tour (reviews and interviews), please visit the Pump Up Your Book! website.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Simon & Schuster's website.

For more information about the author, please visit Elle Newmark's website.

I'd like to thank the author and Tracee at Pump up Your Book! for this review copy.

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark, Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster), ©2008. ISBN 9781416590576(format), 367p.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pasta Bowls from CSN Stores.

Honestly, I didn't really NEED new pasta bowls. I have two old sets. One set I bought at Canadian Tire for $8 on sale and the other I got at a garage sale for $1. Both sets are chipped, stained and have seen better days, but they still worked.

I still figured it was time to get some new ones. It was a really easy decision once I saw these ones on the website. I fell in love.

I was waiting for the matching serving bowl to come in (CSN was out of stock for awhile), but I thought about it and decided to do without it. My husband and I usually serve from the kitchen so I didn't really need a serving dish that much. I figured I'd spend my money elsewhere. (Did you see my post about the mandoline?) Having said all that, now that the serving bowl is in stock, I reserve the right to change my mind and order it in the future. Or maybe I'll order another piece from the Hot Tamale Collection. Isn't it beautiful?

As beautiful as the dishes are on the website, they are more impressive in person. The colours are bold and vivid. Also, the bowls are larger than I thought they'd be. That's a huge plus for big eaters like me and my husband. Well, maybe not such a good thing for our waistlines. Because the bowls are a little larger, I can snuggle a piece of garlic toast right in beside the pasta and not have to use a side plate.

We use our current pasta bowls a lot; not just for pasta. I can see us using these ones even more. I'm thinking: stew, main-dish risotto, chili, etc. ; anything that's a little too runny for a plate, but not quite suitable for a regular soup bowl. These ones are so pretty I'm tempted to use them for snacks and dips or maybe even a serving dish for a small side.

Check out these pasta bowls at the CSN stores website. If these ones are not to your taste, type "pasta bowls" into the search box for more selections.

Disclaimer: I received a coupon/gift certificate from those nice people at CSN Stores that partly covered the cost of this item. I tried to present an honest review despite that fact.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

OXO Mandoline Slicer from CSN Stores

I love making (and eating) scalloped potatoes. However, I refuse to make it unless I can get the potatoes sliced paper thin. I used to have a mandoline, but it was old and a little broken, so it got thrown out before we moved. So when I saw the mandolines on the CSN website, I knew I had to have one. You can probably guess what I made first.

But first let's back up a little...

When this slicer arrived, I was immediately impressed with the packaging. I just knew something special was inside because those people at OXO made the box even look beautiful. Notice the instructions on the lid in the second photo. A more detailed instruction booklet was included inside.

I did some trial cuts with a potato before making the above-mentioned scalloped potatoes. The slicer is well-built, sturdy and comes with an easy to grip food holder. The food holder clips to the underside of the body when not in use. This means that it's not necessary to keep the storage box. As far as cleaning goes, the whole thing comes apart without difficulty making cleaning a breeze. The body is even dishwasher safe (a must in this house).

I found the slicer fairly easy to use. I was able to create slices in various thicknesses and a couple of different sized juliennes. The crinkle cut also worked like a charm. However, I couldn't get the waffle cut to work correctly. It looked like it should work in theory, but the slices are too thick so the waffle pattern doesn't come through. Maybe I'll have more luck with more practice.

Like most things in this world, the slicer is made for a right-handed person. I happen to be left-handed. So when I use the slicer, I can't easily see what the thickness dial is set to. It's just something I'll have to get used to.

Back to those scalloped potatoes. Scalloped potatoes are fairly easy to make, but slicing the potatoes can be chore without a mandoline. Luckily, I have one now and I had those potatoes sliced in no time. I'd love to include a picture, but they were so good, we ate the whole thing. Delicious.

The second thing I tried to make using the slicer was sweet potato fries. While the regular potato went through the slicer (set on thin slices) with no difficulties, the sweet potato (set on large julienne) was less successful and took a little practice. After a few tries, I was able to get some decent looking fries, though, so I'm happy.

If you're in the market for a mandoline slicer, this one can be found on the CSN Stores website.

And that's not all. In a day or two, I'll have my second review of another CSN Stores product!

Disclaimer: I received a coupon/gift certificate from those nice people at CSN Stores that partly covered the cost of this item. I tried to present an honest review despite that fact.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Q & A with Anne Fortier

HarperCollins Canada has put together another fabulous blog tour. This time it's for Anne Fortier's book, Juliet. If you remember, I posted my review of this wonderful book awhile ago. Today is part two of the tour as Anne stops by to answer a few of my questions. Enjoy!

Me: How long did it take you to write Juliet? Are you working on anything right now?

Anne: I got the idea for JULIET in 2005, and started writing later that year. By early 2008 I had entered the editing phase together with my agent, and by early summer 2009, I rounded up my final edits with the publisher. Because JULIET has been sold to 33 countries so far, there has been an obscene amount of PR work to be done, but I am doing my best to get going on the next book.

Me:In Juliet, the point-of-view shifts from first person in the present to third person in the past. How did you decide to write it this way?

Anne: I was very aware that it can be tiring for the reader to switch back and forth between two different narratives, so I did not want to create two parallel narrators. I wanted the reader to identify first and foremost with Julie Jacobs in the present day, while the medieval narrative is told from several different points-of-view, and quite often from Romeo’s. In that way it resembles Shakespeare’s play, which has many different characters in play in different scenes.

Me: How did you decide to take on the subject of Romeo and Juliet?

Anne: It actually started with a fascination with the city of Siena. Only after deciding to write an historical novel set in Siena did I discover – thanks to my mother – that in fact, the very first version of the Romeo and Juliet-story had been set in Siena, long before Shakespeare. Knowing that, it was irresistible to sit down and think about what the Bard’s tragedy might have looked like, had the events played out in the city of the Palio horserace.

Me: Do you remember the first time you read Shakespeare? Did you love it right away or warm up to it later?

Anne: I first read Romeo & Juliet in high school, in a Danish translation, and I definitely did not fall in love with it then and there. I thought the language was very complicated, and there was always something about Romeo that annoyed me – the infatuation with Rosaline followed by the sudden passion for Juliet. It wasn’t until I started working with the play in order to write JULIET that I began to fully appreciate it. Now, or course, I love it.

Me: Tell us about your writing environment. (music or quiet, desk or comfy chair, etc.)

Anne: I always write most efficiently at a desk, but I do like to lie on the couch while I am working on a plot. When I was younger I always had music playing – music that fit the atmosphere of the story – but over the past five years I have come to prefer silence and find music very distracting. I don’t mind ambient noise so much, except if it is people talking. My most unfortunate habit is to eat sweets while I am writing; for some reason I just crave chewing on something. A toothpick helps, though.

Me: Tea or coffee? Cats or dogs? Dark or milk chocolate?

Anne: Hot chocolate, actually. Or herbal tea. Big black dog, and dark dark dark chocolate … 85 percent. I munch that whenever I feel a headache coming on, and it usually helps.

Well Anne, thanks so much for taking time to answer my questions. I really appreciate it. I can't wait to read more of your work. Hopefully, I won't have to wait too long. ;)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

CSN Stores - Finally!

Way back on July 20, 2010, I posted about CSN stores and how I was going to buy something from them, but I didn't know what.

I had tons of trouble just picking out something. I didn't have a problem finding something I liked. The problem was that I liked everything. I tried to narrow it down to something I really needed. I had various things in mind: bookcase, pasta bowls, bread machine, another bookcase, another set of pasta bowls, mandoline slicer, various kitchen utensils, various home furnishings, another bookcase and on and on. At least one thing was out of stock and decided to wait for awhile for it to come in. In the meantime, I had picked out more stuff I liked. Almost every other day I changed my mind. I'm usually really good at making decisions, but this was hard.

I finally made a decision and ordered the items. I had a little trouble with the ordering process and found it a little confusing at times. I should say at this point that I'm not a big online shopper. I can count the number of times I've ordered something online on one hand. So my experience with ordering will probably be very different from those who do a lot of online shopping.

Anyway, I added the items I wanted to my cart, which went fine. However, the final price changed a number of times before I actually submitted the order. I think it had to do with the international fees (I'm in Canada so this covers the international shipping costs, duties, and brokerage fees), which kept changing based on the various fields I filled in (postal code, coupon, etc.) At one point the charge disappeared all together. If that wasn't confusing enough, at first it was presented as one charge, then on the final screen, it was split between the two items. I almost backed out of the order because of the fluctuating price. However, I submitted the order and crossed my fingers.

After that ordering confusion, everything went very smooth. I received an order confirmation email immediately and shipping emails shortly after that. Once the items crossed the border, I received another email letting me know. I received the items a lot sooner than the estimated delivery time. Yippee!

So, the items are here and I absolutely love them!!!!

Did I forget to mention what I got? You'll just have to come back for my reviews which should be posted in the next day or so.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to Photograph Absolutely Everything by Tom Ang

How to Photograph Absolutely Everything is a reference book for the amateur/recreational photographer that features step-by-step instructions on taking successful photographs with a digital camera. It starts off with a primer on the different digital cameras and their features. It then discusses the many aspects of photography: focusing, settings, timing, composition, lighting, cropping, etc. before getting into the instructions for taking pictures of people, landscapes, animals, architecture and events. The book also has a creative section for those wanting to make works of art. The last section covers more mundane applications like documenting items for insurance purposes, recording collections or photographing building projects or home interiors.

This is a great book. It's filled with hundreds of photographs and detailed instructions to get good results whether you own a simple point-and-shoot type digital camera or a more complicated DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex) camera. Tom Ang, the author, provides many tips and tricks for setting up the shot and setting the camera to achieve the results you want. He proves that by giving simple clear instructions, the amateur photographer can take decent and sometimes outstanding photographs without the need for expensive camera equipment (other than a digital camera) or an extensive course on photography.

The diversity of the photographs and situations in the book are outstanding. There are just too many to mention. I'll just say that everything I would want to photograph was included; I couldn't find one thing missing. In that sense, the book really does tell you how to "photograph absolutely everything". While this book does offer a lot of things, it will not replace the owner's manual for your camera. The two do make great companions, though. The manual tells you how to use the camera, this book tells you how to take the photographs.

Even though I do have a DSLR camera (don't ask me what all of the buttons are for), I really appreciated that the majority of the demonstration photos had Ang holding a point-and-shoot type camera. It made me realize that great photographs can be captured with a variety of digital devices. I'm probably going to try out many of these techniques on my husband's point-and-shoot camera to see what kind of results I'm going to get.

The adequate table of contents gave a general overview of what the book contained, which should aid in finding the various sections. The glossary had clear concise definitions and was interesting. It introduced some great photographic terms. My one disappointment was that it introduced terms that weren't in the index. So I could read the definitions for "clone" and "white balance", for example, but I couldn't read more about them because they were absent from the index. Having said that, the index does contain many entries and is useful for finding items in the book.

Highly recommended. You won't be an expert photographer after reading or going through this book, but you will have some techniques up your sleeve to create some wonderful photographs.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Publishing website.

For more information about the author, his work and his other books, please visit Tom Ang's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

How to Photograph Absolutely Everything by Tom Ang, DK Publishing, ©2007. ISBN 9780756643089(Paperback), 384p.

The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew

The Practical Astronomer is a guide to the night sky for the amateur astronomer. The book features a general overview of the universe and a section on the equipment for watching and recording observations before getting into the meat of the book: the constellations and objects found within them, the planets and their moons, and other items you might see if you look up at sky, such as comets, meteors, atmospheric phenomena, UFOs, the ISS (international space station), satellites, weather balloons and so on. The book also has star charts and a reference section, both of which will aid the avid stargazer.

I loved this book. If I'm outside on a clear night, I always look up at the stars, but with the exception of the Big Dipper and Orion (my favourite constellation because he's just so darn easy to find), I don't really know what I'm looking at. This book has definitely expanded my knowledge of the night sky. My favourite part is the section on starhopping, which is a new-to-me term. Basically, it's "using known stars or group of stars to point the way to other stars or celestial objects". As it turns out, I was already doing it (in a very limited way) and I didn't even know it. You know how you can use the Big Dipper to find the North Star and the Little Dipper, well, that's starhopping. This book has lots of examples.

Beside the large section on stars, there's also a section for planets. There's tons of interesting facts to read about: rings, moons, retrograde motion, Uranus's axial tilt and much more. There's even an explanation for us "old folks" on the demotion of Pluto and why the solar system now only has 8 planets.

Closer to the back of the book there are star charts for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. I've seen these before, but had no idea how to use them. Thankfully, the authors have included a great explanation of how to use them. It'll still going to take me some time to figure out exactly how they work, but at least now I have a chance.

The book also includes a glossary with clear, concise descriptions of the some of the terms used in the book as well as a really good index and table of contents. All of these helped me find items I was interested in.

Highly recommended. Perfect for star-gazing adults, but even a budding teenaged astronomer would love this book.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the DK Canada website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at DK Canada for this review copy.

The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew, Dorling Kindersley Limited (DK), ©2010. ISBN 9780756662103(paperback), 256p.