Saturday, May 19, 2012

Darkness, My Old Friend by Lisa Unger

In Darkness, My Old Friend, the police ask Jones Cooper, who has recently retired from the Hollows Police Department, to look into a cold case, the disappearance of Marla Holt. Meanwhile, Michael, Marla's son, asks Eloise, a psychic and PI Ray Muldune to find out what happened to his mother all those years ago. Cooper is also looking for another missing mother at the request of Paula Carr. For someone who's retired, he's a busy man. Another resident, Willow Graves is new to The Hollows and is having a hard time adjusting. Her desire to run away leads her in dangerous directions.

I loved this book. This is the first book I've read of Unger's, but it won't be the last. It started off with great intensity and was thrilling to read. I didn't want to put it down. I loved the interconnecting relationships...much like a huge spider's web. I guess it's typical of a small town where everyone knows everyone else or is at least connected to lots of the other residents. I had lots of "aha moments" when those connections came to light.

The book contained lots of interesting characters, but my favourite character was Jones Cooper. He's about the same age as me and is questioning, "Is this all there is?". That's something I'm sort of struggling with myself. I also understand his recent retirement woes because my husband retired three years ago. It's tough to be doing something different after so many years of the same thing.

The psychic was an interesting addition. I don't know if I believe that sort of stuff, but her story was interesting. She was a bit creepy, though, I thought. She plays a major role in Unger's other book Fragile, which I haven't read.

My one complaint is that the intensity didn't quite carry through all the way to the end. It was still compelling enough, but it sort of leveled off rather than building up to a grand conclusion.

Even though this is the second book featuring some of these characters (the first being Fragile), this book can be read as a standalone book. I haven't read the first book yet, but I'd love to.  I'm going to keep my eye out for it.

New word: mollycoddled (page 153): overprotected. I was pretty sure I knew what this meant, but I like the word so much I wanted to include it in my review. ;)

Highly recommended. I'm looking forward to reading more books by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

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

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

Darkness, My Old Friend, Crown Publishers (Random House), ©2011. ISBN 9780307464996(Hardcover), 358p.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cinnamon Roll Murder by Joanne Fluke

In Cinnamon Roll Murder, Hannah and her sister Michelle happen upon a tour bus crash during some nasty winter weather on a Minnesota road. The bus belongs to a band called the Cinnamon Roll Six. The driver has been killed, but the other injuries are minor. However, when one of the injured band members dies in the hospital, Hannah suspects that all is not as it seems and is determined to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, Norman is engaged to a nasty woman. Hannah must figure out a way to break off the impending nuptials before it's too late.

This book was such a fun read! I've read a few of the other books in this series and have enjoyed them all. The multiple story lines in this one were interesting, especially when two of them collide. Oh, well, I shouldn't say any more about that since I don't want to give too much away.

I loved all of the characters, too! Of course, I like Hannah with her exceptional baking and investigative skills. I found Hannah's mother Delores to be a hoot! I couldn't wait to see what she was going to say or do next. I haven't read enough of the books to know all of the details of the relationships and background information, but I'm sure avid readers of this series will pick up on little nuances I may have missed. Because I didn't know all of the ins and outs of the characters, I was unaware of the full history between Hannah and Norman. Despite that I really liked Norman and knew that he shouldn't marry Dr. Bev. I was rooting for Hannah to find a way to stop the wedding.

I love how the recipes are incorporated into the story. That is, the characters are either making, eating or talking about one of them before the recipe is presented. However, sometimes it felt that the story was more focused on the recipes than it was on the murder/crime and solving it. There were suspects and little tidbits of information discovered along the way, but the murder investigation seemed to be slow going. I wanted a little more suspense/action or a few more twists.

I always love it when authors include recipes with their cozy mysteries. What can I say, I love food! However in this case, I found the recipes a little long and drawn out. They are filled with little asides (Hannah's Notes) and drawn-out explanations. For example, instead of saying "2 cups bran flake cereal, crushed after measuring", Fluke uses 5 long sentences to describe the process of crushing the flakes in a plastic bag. Then, before adding the flakes to the other ingredients she reminds the reader to open the bag first. Ummm...if you need to be reminded that the plastic bag isn't one of the ingredients in the cookies, you should be buying your cookies and not making them. Just saying. Having said that, it was cute that the recipes were written in a quaint and grandmotherly manner. It's all good, but I prefer brevity.

I haven't tried any of the recipes, but I might in the future. I'm a little leery, though.  As I mentioned in my review of the Lake Eden Cookbook, the directions for flour say to "pack it down in the cup when you measure it". This is very unusual. If I did make one of the recipes, I would measure flour like I always do. That is, I would not pack it down.

The book includes an index of recipes at the back of the book. That should be particularly handy to find the recipes.

Recommended for cozy fans, especially fans of the series. Even though I had some problems with the recipes, the book is still a fun read.

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

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit The Murder She Baked website.

Thanks to those nice people from Kensington Books for this review copy.

Cinnamon Roll Murder by Joanne Fluke, Kensington Books, ©2012. ISBN 9780758234933(Uncorrected Proof), 335p.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook

In Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook, the author presents recipes previously featured in the Hannah Swenson mystery novels as well as some newly created ones.

This is such a fun book! I haven't read all of the Hannah Swenson mysteries, but I have read a few of them. It's neat to see all of these recipes all in one place rather than scattered in the many books. There's a story running throughout the book and parts of it are presented before each section. It's sort of a novelized cookbook. Many of the recipes are for sweet tweets with only a few savoury ones. If you are familiar with the series, this shouldn't be a surprise as most of the recipes in the books (at least the ones I've seen) are sweet.

For the purposes of this review, I made one of the recipes, Lovely Lemon Bar Cookies (page 294). It turned out great except that I think I over-baked it a little. I've had lemon bars before, but I don't think they had lemon zest in them. The addition of it made the lemony flavour intense and wonderful. Yum. I'll definitely be making this again.

The end papers are awesome! They feature a map of Lake Eden with all of the points of interests labeled. There's The Cookie Jar, Hannah's Condo, City Hall and many more. I love maps and really appreciated this one.

Even though I enjoyed reading and flipping through this book, I did have a few problems with it. The author's note at the beginning mentions that recipes "written in mixed case and are preceded by an asterisk are new recipes". However, as far as I could tell all of the recipe titles were written in capitals. Some of the recipes in the book are preceded by an asterisk, but the mixed case was missing and misleading. I finally figured it out when I got to the end of the book and saw the list of recipes. In that list, the new recipes are written in mixed case. Perhaps the author's note should have been written differently.

The other thing that bothered me was the instruction for measuring flour. I've done lots of baking in the past and this is the first time I've seen the instruction "pack it down in the cup when you measure it" when it comes to flour. Brown sugar, yes. Flour, no. I'm not even sure what to say about it other than I find it very odd.

I would also have loved it if Fluke would have included a table of contents that at least listed the major sections. Without it, it's hard to find the various sections and the different parts of the story. I don't know anyone who reads a cookbook like a novel.  Also, for previously published recipes, a nice addition would have been a note stating which book the recipe appeared in.

Recommended for fans of this mystery series. I hope to make a few more recipes from the book before passing it on to a friend who's a huge fan of the mystery series.

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

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit the Hannah Swensen Mysteries website.

Thanks to those nice people from Kensington Books for this review copy.

Joanne Fluke's Lake Eden Cookbook by Joanne Fluke, Kensington Books, ©2011. ISBN 9780758234971(Hardcover), 368p.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Needlework Tueday - Sky Scarf

It's been so long since I posted a Needlework Tuesday. That's because I really haven't been doing any needlework or any other crafts for that matter. However, on May 1, I started a year-long project that I wanted to tell you about. It's called the Sky Scarf from Leaf Cutter Designs.

Basically, you look up at the sky, pick two colours that you see, (for example, blue for the sky and white for clouds) then knit two rows using two strands of yarn (one for each of those colours). If you do this for a whole year, you'll not only have a year-long record of your weather, but you'll also have a 5-foot long scarf to wear.

The instructions give you some guidelines as to which colours to use. I had planned to follow their guidelines (with the exception of snow), however, I think I've already screwed it up a couple of times. I couldn't tell if the colour on the sheet was light grey or white, so I guessed. Now, I've changed my mind. It doesn't matter though because I'm only 8 days in. No one is going to notice that the first inch may not be correct. In fact, I probably won't even remember after the scarf is done. I set up a few of my own guidelines to make it easier for myself and make it uniquely mine, but basically I'm following the instructions as given.

Here's a photo of my scarf so far:

...and a close-up:

So what does it mean? Well, all of that white means we've had some cloudy days, but not necessarily rain. About 6 ridges up (that would be May 6), we had a rainy day with some dark grey clouds. Pretty cool, eh?

I love this idea because it's unlike anything I've seen before. It reminds me to take notice of something that is unappreciated or, at least, underappreciated. The Canadian prairies has two things in abundance...flat land and tons of sky. Even though our house is surrounded my tall trees, less than a kilometre from here there's open farmland. I bet I can see for 25 kilometres in any direction. Here's a photo taken not far from my house:

Isn't it glorious?!!

How often do you look at the sky and appreciate what you see?

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather over at Books and Quilts. Click here to see what she's up to this week.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Star Wars: Mysteries of the Jedi by Elizabeth Dowsett and Shari Last

Star Wars: Mysteries of the Jedi features the secrets to becoming a Jedi. It answers such questions as "How does Yoda fight someone so much bigger than him?", "What does it take to defeat a Sith?", "How can you destroy a death star?" and many more!

Enjoyed this book a lot, I did! :) That's a good start, but sorry, I can't talk like Yoda throughout this whole review. It would be fun, but since it doesn't really come naturally to me, it would take me too much time. Besides, there's only one Yoda.

The book is filled with bright, colourful photographs and easy to understand text. It is written for 7-12 year-olds, but despite this, I found the level of information and amount of information perfect for me. I learned a lot about the Jedi as a whole, the Force, and lots of interesting facts about some of the well-known Jedi: Yoda, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Luke Skywalker, Qu-Gon Jinn and others. Each Jedi two-page spread includes the following: species, home world, birth date, height, rank, trained by, weapon, preferred combat style, trademark, plus lots of other information and plenty of photographs.

In addition, the book outlines the Jedi code, steps for Jedi training (youngling, Padawan, Jedi Knight, Jedi Master, and Grand Master), Jedi trials, Jedi high council and tools of the trade (from the A99 Aquata Breather to the holoprojector.)

I loved all of the information presented about the lightsaber, including how to build one. (Note: That is, if you could find a blade emitter, pommel cap, a crystal and many other things.) This part showed all of the various parts of the saber and explains what each one does. It's awesome!! The other lightsaber section I particularly liked was part that explained the seven main forms of lightsaber combat. It was very informative and essential for every Jedi.

The whole book is wonderfully presented, but there were two sections that stood out for me:
page 10-11 - The Force has Two Sides - features Yoda and Sidious and their characteristics. It's visually stunning.
page 76-77 - The Path to the Dark Side - features the many faces of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and describes his decent from potential Jedi to evil Sith. It well explained and visually appealing.

The book contained a very detailed table of contents, which I loved, as well as a pretty good glossary and index. I also really liked the cover featuring Grand Master Yoda. Intense, he is.

Recommend this book highly, I do.

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

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

Star Wars: Mysteries of the Jedi by Elizabeth Dowsett and Shari Last, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2011. ISBN 9780756671976(Hardcover), 96p.

For things you can do to celebrate Star Wars Day, see my post here.

For other participating websites, visit the May the 4th Be With You page on DK's website. Scroll down to the bottom.

Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary by Ryder Windham

Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary features characters, weapons, tools, creatures, droids, uniforms and places from the world of Star Wars. It allows the reader to see, discover and explore those items all in one place.

I loved this book! It's beautifully presented book with wonderful large photographs, including some from the movies, as well as interesting, informative text. The book is a compilation of four previously published books/dictionaries and is organized into the following sections: Episode I, Episode II, Episode III, Episodes IV-VI.

I was a little disappointed that much of this book deals with the first 3 episodes of the Star Wars saga. Episodes IV-VI are grouped together in one section at the back of the book, while Episodes I-III are presented separately and have many more details. The good news is that this book has expanded sections on R2-D2 and the Sarlacc.

Because of this book is a compilation, there's a little repetition in characters. For example, Anakin Skywalker appears at least three times in different sections. First as a Tatooine slave (page 52, Episode I), then as a Jedi Apprentice/Padawan (page 82, Episode II), and later as Jedi Knight (page 134, Episode III). Of course, he appears two more times as Darth Vader. This repetition is true for other major characters whose roles extend over more than one movie. It's ok the way it is, but I would have preferred it if the authors consolidated information like this and put it all together in a section by itself. In the case of Anakin, it would have reinforced his dramatic changes.

The other thing that I found odd was that other than grouping the information by episode, there didn't seem to be an order to the items. The "dictionaries" that I've encountered in the past have all been alphabetical. This one appears to present the items a in random fashion. It might mean something to someone, but not to me. Either an alphabetical order or an explanation for its present order would have been nice.

A few of the pages in the book stood out as my favorites:
page 30-31 - Queen Amidala's gowns. Stunning!
page 128-129 - lightsaber combat - Interesting.
page 212-215 - heavily annotated and labelled photographs of C-3PO and R2-D2. I love these guys. It was nice to learn more about them.
page 266-267 - Expanded photograph of R2-D2 with tons of extra details. Awesome!

The book contained an extremely detailed table of contents, which I always love to see. The index, however, was less than adequate. I couldn't find everything I wanted to. The glossary, too, was a little sparse for a book this size. This book is pretty much a huge glossary anyway, so that doesn't matter as much. The cover is just terrific! Go wrong with Yoga, you can't.

Highly recommended, this book is. ;)

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

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

Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary by David West Reynolds, James Luceno and Ryder Windham, Dorling Kindersley (DK), ©2006. ISBN 9780756622381(Hardcover), 271p.

For things you can do to celebrate Star Wars Day, see my post here.

For other participating websites, visit the May the 4th Be With You page on DK's website. Scroll down to the bottom.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

DK's May the 4th Be With You

Once again DK (Dorling Kindersley Publishers) will be celebrating May 4th with a Star Wars promotion. They have lots of exciting things going on that I wanted to tell you about.

Star Wars Books and Love of Reading Program

DK has a ton of wonderful Star Wars themed books to help all of us get in the mood for tomorrow, May 4th. You can find those here.

Don't have any of those books on your shelf? Or maybe you do and you'd like to get a few more? Or maybe you'd just really like to support a wonderful reading program? Head down to your nearest Chapters/Indigo store on May 4-6, purchase a DK Star Wars book and DK will make a donation to the Indigo For the Love of Reading Foundation.

ABOUT THE LOVE OF READING PROGRAM We passionately believe that when a child has a book put in their hands it changes their life forever. With the support of Indigo customers and employees the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation puts books into the hands of Canadian children. To do date Love of Reading has committed over $12 million to more than 650 high-needs elementary schools across the country so children can develop a love of reading, unleash their dreams and fulfil their potential. For more information about the Foundation visit, their website.

Star Wars May 4th Parties

In addition, several Chapters and Indigo stores across Canada will be having special May the 4th parties this weekend sponsored by DK and featuring costumed characters from Star Wars provided by the 501st Legion. Here’s a full list of stores (asterisk means the 501st will be there)

  • St. John's, NF – Saturday May 5th / Call for details - Chapters St. John’s 70 Kenmount St A1B 1W3 –709.726.0375
  • Halifax, NS – Saturday May 5th / Call for details – Chapters Halifax - Bayers Lake Power Centre, 188 Chain Lake Dr – 902.450.1023
  • Ottawa, ON* – Friday May 4th – 12 noon – Chapters Rideau – 47 Rideau Street – 613.241.0073
  • Ottawa, ON* – Saturday May 5th – 3.00 pm – Chapters Kanata – Kanata Centrum, 400 Earl Grey Drive Unit # 1- 613.271.7553
  • Toronto, ON* – Friday May 4th – 12.30 pm – Indigo Eaton Centre – 220 Yonge St – 416.591.3622
  • Toronto, ON – Saturday May 5th / Call for details - Indigo Yorkdale – 3401 Dufferin St, Unit #29 – 416.781.6660
  • Winnipeg, MB*– Saturday May 5th – 12 noon – Chapters Polo Festival, 695 Empress Street – 204.775.5999
  • Calgary, AB*– Friday May 4th – 2.00 pm – Chapters Shawnessy – The Boulevard Shopping Centre, 16061 Macleod Trail S.E. – 403.201.5660
  • Vancouver, BC* – Friday May 4th – 12 noon – Chapters Robson – 788 Robson Street – 604.682.4066

If you attend the event, don't forget to take your camera and take lots of photos. Then head over to DK's Facebook page and post the photo. You can also tweet them on Twitter using the hashtag #DKmay4th. For each photo they get, they will make a donation to the Indigo For the Love of Reading Foundation.

May the 4th Be With You Photo Contest

As if that wasn't enough, DK is also hosting a photo contest for the entire month of May! Send them your photos of you, family member, or friend reading one of the DK Star Wars books and not only will they make a donation to the Indigo For the Love of Reading Foundation, but they'll also pick their favorite one and that person will win a DK Star Wars library worth $200. DK will also donate a complete set of DK Star Wars Readers to the school library of their choice! For more information about the photo contest, head over to the Photo Contest section on May the 4th Be With You page in DK's website.

DK Star Wars Book Reviews

One last thing, come back tomorrow when I'll have my reviews of two of DK's Star Wars books. Both covers feature my favorite character. Know who I am talking about, do you? Hmmm...?

May the 4th be with you!!