Sunday, January 29, 2012

Daisy's Best of 2011

I'm so late in posting this, but better late than never.   Right?  The only separation I did this year was for fiction and nonfiction.  Note that these are books I read in 2011 and not necessarily published that year. In no particular order, here's Daisy's Best of 2011:

The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby
A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Shut Your Eyes Tight by John Verdon
Death Notice by Todd Ritter(I can't remember if I read it at the end of 2010 or the beg of 2011)
Bad Moon by Todd Ritter
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Red Hook Road by Ayelet Walman
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose
The Accident by Linwood Barclay
Room by Emma Donoghue
Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
Hush by Kate White
I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg
A Hard Death by Jonathan Hayes
Grace Interrupted by Julie Hyzy
State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy

Four of the five following books come from DK Publishing. In my opinion, you really can't go wrong with any of their books. I read a number of them in 2011 and enjoyed them all. My favourites of those are listed below. The last book in the list is from Random House.
The Best Art You've Never Seen by Julian Spalding
The Cook's Book by Jill Norman, Editor-in-Chief
Fresh Flower Arranging by Mark Welford and Stephen Wicks
The History Book by DK Publishing
Martha Stewart's New Pie & Tarts by Martha Stewart

That's it.  Did you read any of these?  Did any of them make your "best of" list?  Do you disagree with any of my selections?  Do you have recommendations?   Let me know in the comments.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks

In Round Ireland with a Fridge, Tony Hawks goes hitchhiking around Ireland with a fridge in tow on a drunken bet. Along the way, he meets some interesting people, including a phony king, a nun and more town drunks that you can count all the while becoming the talk of Ireland.

I really enjoyed this book. I didn't know what to expect from this book when I borrowed it from a fellow book club member.   I don't read a whole lot of nonfiction, but when she said she liked it and that was good enough for me. I got a little worried, though, when I brought it home and saw that the Hawks is a British comedian. I don't always get British humour. I'm so glad that didn't scare me away, because this book is really funny and contains a terrific story.

I don't want to give away the story, but if you think that traveling around with a fridge (albeit a small one) would hamper Tony's travels, you should think again. The people he met on his journey were intrigued by it all and Tony got very lucky early on. I'm not sure he would have the same experiences in another country, like the US or even Canada.

The book contains several pages of photos. These were nice to see, however, the quality isn't great in this paperback edition. Some of them were hard to make out. One thing I would have like to see included was a map of his route. If nothing else, it would have been fun to follow along as his adventure see how far he's come and how far he had to go. I guess I could have consulted my own map, but then I would have had to get out of my comfy chair. ;)

Highly recommended. You probably won't learn a lot about Ireland, the country, but you will learn how wonderful the Irish people are while you have a laugh or two or several.

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

Apparently, someone made a movie of Tony's travels. For information about it, click here.

For more information about the author, please visit Tony Hawks's website.

I'd like to thank Ana from my book club for lending this book to me.

Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks, Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press), ©1998. ISBN 0312274920(Trade paperback), 248p.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bad Moon by Todd Ritter

In Bad Moon, Eric Olmstead, now a famous writer, comes back to Perry Hollow to bury his mother and honour her last request...find his long lost brother, Charlie. Charlie disappeared the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and hasn't been seen since. At the time, everyone assumed that Charlie went over the falls and drowned. However, his mother wasn't so sure. Now that Eric's come back to wrap things up, he finds out that his mother may have uncovered a string of disappearances that were related to Charlie's in some way. After all this time, finding witnesses and evidence isn't going to be easy for Police Chief Kat Campbell, but she's determined to help her old flame, Eric, find out what happened to his brother.

I loved this book! It was so good and had everything a great mystery needs: a great setting, great characters and plenty of suspense. The story was exquisitely crafted and carefully laid out to examine everyone and everything from every angle until the case was solved. Even though there were plenty of suspects and lots of evidence pointing in different directions, the twists and turns didn't leave my head spinning. I loved that.

All of the characters in the book were pretty good. I really liked them all. The main characters: Kat, Eric, Nick, the mysterious Glenn Stewart and the Santangelos, all added substance to the story. While characters like Louella, Kat's son, James, as well as a host of other more minor characters rounded out the story nicely.

This is a fantastic follow-up to Ritter's first book, Death Notice (my review). I'd be hard pressed to pick which one I liked better. Both are equally good. Even though it's part of a series, this book can definitely be read as a standalone book. There's some information about the first case/book, but nothing excessive. Just enough details to remind those who've read the previous book of the facts, but not so much so as to confuse or alienate new readers.

New word: stultifying (page 62): diminishing interest - to dull somebody's interest by being repetitive, tedious and boring.

Highly recommended. I couldn't have started the new year with a better book! Look for it on my "Best of 2012" list. I hope to read many more books by this author.

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

For more information about the author and his other book, please visit Todd Ritter's website.

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

Bad Moon by Todd Ritter, Minotaur Books, ©2011. ISBN 9780312622817(Hardcover), 356p.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Thirteen by Susie Moloney

In The Thirteen, Paula Wittmore returns home to Haven Woods with her young daughter, Rowan. Paula's mother, Audra, has recently become ill and the two want to visit her. What they doesn't know is that Audra's friends need Paula to return with Rowan to complete their little group and to appease their dark side.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I should state up front that this is not my preferred genre. I've only read a handful of paranormal books in the past and I don't think I loved any of them. Having said that, I liked the first part of the book where the witchcraft was merely suggested or hinted at...just a few unusual things happening. The rest was left up to my imagination. However, later on it got into the incantations as well as some "icky" stuff, which I didn't enjoy as much.

I liked Moloney's storytelling style. She revealed the details slowly and carefully, which added a lot of suspense of the story. A couple of times, though, it came across as a little too cryptic and I couldn't quite figure out what was going on. There were a couple of passages that were awkward and a few that I didn't like at all, but overall it was pretty well written.

The description on the back of the book "The Witches of Eastwick meets Desperate Housewives" was somewhat accurate, only I didn't find the book all that funny. Maybe the humour was so subtle or dark that I didn't quite catch it. Whatever the reason, the humour, which I know exists because I've read about it in other reviews, apparently went right over my head. Also, parts of it seemed a little predictable and the story contained a few clichés that had me rolling my eyes. Only later did I realize that maybe those were the funny bits that I thought I missed. Sometimes I tend to take things too seriously. Really, I have a sense of humour. I just hide it really well.

While this really wasn't the book for me, I think paranormal fans, with a sense of humour, will enjoy it.

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

For more information about the author, please visit Susie Moloney's website.

This book was a win from the Editorial Board Survey I filled out from those nice people over at (Random House). Thanks!

The Thirteen by Susie Moloney, Random House Canada, ©2011. ISBN 9780679313816(Uncorrected proof), 328p.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Affairs of Steak by Julie Hyzy

In Affairs of Steak, Ollie Paras, the Executive Chef at the White House, is paired up with Peter Sargeant, the White House's Sensitivity Director, to find a venue for the Secretary of State's birthday party. The problem is that they don't get along at all. When they inspect the preferred venue for its suitability, they discover two bodies, both with strong ties to the White House. As rumours and suspicions abound, Ollie and Peter must huddle together and figure out who the culprit is before they become his next victims.

I loved this book! I've read two others in the series and loved them as much as this one. This 5th book in White House Chef Mystery series is so well written and fun to read. I just loved to sitting down with Ollie (and Julie) to see what she's cooked up this time. Pun intended. I may be a little biased because I'm a huge fan of Hyzy's and this series. This one seemed a little edgier or had more dangerous situations in it than the other two that I've read. More of the action took place outside of the kitchen, so maybe that's why it felt different. I like to think of the kitchen as Ollie's safe haven; when she's there she's less likely to get into really serious trouble. Anyway, it's all good.

Ollie always seems to have her hands full. She deals with new people to the job, new regulations, new and old rivalries, not to mention cooking elaborate meals for the President, his family and other dignitaries. And that's just her day job! She also investigates murders and other suspicious activities that happen in and around the White House. She's a gem!

My one small complaint is that the characters didn't spent as much time in the kitchen as I would have liked. As I said above, I thought this added more danger to the storyline and I really liked that. However, I love hearing about the food that Ollie cooks for the President, the first family and other visiting dignitaries. Even when it's simple fare, it sounds so scrumptious. A little of that was missing here.

New word: apologetic (page 91): remorseful (I've looked this word up so many times, but I just can't seem to remember what it means.)

I love that this book contained some recipes. These ones look especially delicious. Who doesn't love (or at least like) puff pastry?! In moderation, of course. ;) It makes every dish look and taste extra special. I love that some of these simple recipes could be used for weekday family meals as well as fancy-shmancy company's-coming weekend ones. I already have my eye on the few of them.

Julie also writes another series, Manor House Mystery series, which is just as fun and wonderful as this one. For all of my reviews of Julie's books, please see the Review By Author page on this blog. You can't go wrong with any of them.

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 Julie Hyzy's website.

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

Affairs of Steak by Julie Hyzy, Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin), ©2011. ISBN 9780425245835(Mass Market), 293p, includes recipes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winter, renovations, photos...Oh, My!

Now that winter has invaded Manitoba (+6C yesterday; -28C "feels like" today), I'm planning on having a case of winter blues very shortly. All I want to do is put on some winter weight (eat, eat, eat) and hibernate. It didn't take much because I was already feeling kind of blah after the holidays.

Our home renovations (gutting and redoing two bathrooms) are on a little bit of a hold while our contractor deals with some personal issues and catches up on some outstanding jobs. The little delay will give some of the back-ordered plumbing parts time to get here. However, I just want it done already. Last January we were planning these changes, only to get postponed because of the flood. How much longer can this go on?

On the blogging front, I've made the decision to move my photography stuff to another blog, Daisy's Photography. Well, not really move. It's more of a from-now-on kind of thing. That includes: Wordless Wednesday, Photo Friday, Snapshot Saturday as well as my 365 Project. It'll mean that I'll have fewer posts here, but at least they will all be book related. It's sort of spur of the moment and I'm not really sure about it, but there's enough of it now to warrant its own space. If it doesn't work out, I can always make some more changes.

As for book reviews on this blog, I haven't posted one in awhile. I've been reading a lot, but I haven't felt like writing lately. I'm slowly starting to get into the swing of things again and should have some reviews done by early next week. That's it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Saturday Snapshot - More Christmas Shots

Here are a few more photos from our Christmas getaway.

Open water on Christmas day.  Westhawk Lake is a meteor lake, which means it's very deep. We've been to this location a number of times during the winter over the years and have never ever seen open water. Usually there's a snowmobile trail (or several trails) crisscrossing the lake. Not this year. With the unseasonably warm weather we've had, the lake was mostly open water.   I'm actually surprised that we didn't see at least one boat on the lake.  It would have been suicidal to do so, but I was sure that some yahoo would loved to be able to say "I went boating on Christmas day".  

Closed trail sign.  If you can see the open water behind the sign, it's obvious the trail is closed, but I guess you can't be too careful when the conditions are so unusual.     

Pine Grosbeak - Male. There were lots of females around, but I didn't get a good shot. I love seeing these guys when we are here. We occasionally have grosbeaks in our area, but not this type. These guys prefer coniferous trees; we mostly have deciduous ones.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books. To participate – post a picture that you've taken (or one taken by a friend, or a family member) then add your link on Alyce’s site using Mr. Linky.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Simon & Schuster's Book Blogger Spotlight

Guess who is in Simon & Schuster's Book Blogger Spotlight this month? C'est moi! Go have a look!

Thanks S&S!

I'm more of a backstage person, but being in the spotlight for a change was fun. Thanks for asking me.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Project - Reading - #50BookPledge

I loved reading/skimming over all of the challenge posts in my Google Reader. I bookmarked a bunch in the last few weeks to seriously consider at the end of the year. I haven't participated in many reading challenges, but I figured I'd start with this year. There are so many good many I'd be interested in doing. Some I know I could do pretty easily; others would be fairly challenging. When I sat down to sort through the ones I picked out, it was all too much. It started to get intimidating. I can't do all of the ones I like. Where to start? Which ones do I join? They all looked so good.

That's when I stumbled across The Savvy Reader's #50BookPledge. I heard about this last year, but didn't participate. There aren't a lot of rules to follow, which I like...just read and talk about books. Since I already do that, to me, it sounds like a great place to start.

I haven't counted how many books I read last year (2011). I could go back and figure it out pretty quickly. But, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to join this challenge blindly and hope that I can get read 50 books by the end of 2012. If I don't, that's okay, too. At least I tried.

Have you heard about this challenge? How you joined? How many other reading challenges have you joined?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Weekend Cooking - Roasted Fennel

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.

For more information, see the Welcome post on Beth Fish Reads.

I haven't posted to Weekend Cooking in ages. However, when I tried this recipe last week (twice!! because it was so good), I just knew I wanted to share it. This recipe came on a tag with the fennel. It's so simple with only three ingredients.

Roasted Fennel with Parmesan

4 bulbs fennel
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup shredded or shaved Parmesan

Preheat oven to 475ºF. Rinse fennel in cold running water. Trim tops and cut off base off bulbs. Cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange in even layer over bottom of 9x13-inch pan or roasting pan. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat fennel. Roast, stirring occasionally, until fennel is just beginning to get tender, about 30 minutes. Scatter cheese over fennel and return to oven for another 10 minutes. Makes 4-6 servings.

Until now, I thought fennel was just ok. Now, I think it might be one of my favourite vegetables. With such a high oven temperature, it gets all caramelized and yummy. The cheese definitely makes the dish. I used a jellyroll pan (or as I call it a cookie sheet with sides) instead of the roasting pan as the recipe suggests.


Have you tried fennel/anise before? If yes, what's your favourite way to cook it?

New Year, New Project - Photography

Late last year, I read about a great project that I thought was right up my alley. It's photography related rather than book related. It's called the 365 Project. Basically, you pick a theme and then take one photo a day based on that theme. It sounds like a huge commitment, but fun at the same time. There's a more thorough explanation on the website.

My theme is "Life - Up Close". I had tossed around a number of other ideas before settling on this one as it popped into my head this morning. I really like taking macro or close-up photographs, so I wanted to base the project on that. The "life" part is pretty general and that's on purpose. I can basically take a close up of anything.

Don't worry, I won't be posting my photographs daily here. I think I'll do a weekly post with either the photographs themselves or a link to them. I'll see how it goes as time goes by.

As for other photography memes or projects: I had been doing Photo Friday off and on for a few years, something posting the photos here. I'm not sure if I'm going to stick with it. I might check out the theme and if I like it that week, I'll do it. Otherwise, I think I'll have my hands full with this one.    I'll probably stick with Wordless Wednesday and Saturday Snapshot hosted by Alyce at At Home with Books because I like participating in both of these and can use some older photos that I won't be using for my 365 Project.

Anyone else thinking of tackling a year long project? Have you done one in the past? Do you have any advice? What do you think of this one?

[I'm also thinking of doing a book related one. Stay tuned...]

Wish me luck!