Monday, January 30, 2012

The Perfect Dish by Kristen Painter

Title: The Perfect Dish
Author: Kristen Painter
Pages: 272
Published: December 17th, 2010
Procured: Downloaded from Amazon for free while on sale

Texas-born Kelly Spicer is not just one of Manhattan's hottest young chefs, he's also one of the city's most eligible bachelors. Desperate to help his grieving sister, Kelly uses the magic cookbook passed down through his family's generations to conjure up a recipe of chocolate-laced persuasion to enlist the help of the only woman he thinks can reach his sister.

Psychologist Meredith Black has buried two husbands, an experience which has made her an expert in grief and pushed her to pen two books that landed her on the Oprah show and the best seller list. A cynic in matters of the heart, her success does nothing to ease her belief that she's a jinx. She vows never to love again and when she makes that sentiment public, dating Kelly becomes her best damage control.

My Thoughts:

Funny at times, The Perfect Dish wasn't exactly what I expected. Kelly Spicer, Famous Chef in New York City, wants nothing more than to help his sister get over the death of her husband. Using a little extra persuasion from his family's magical cookbook, he convinces the best selling psychologist and grief author Meredith Black to help his sister try and get pass the startling grief. However, there is a lot Kelly doesn't know about Meredith and his heart has a mind of its own.

I had originally downloaded The Perfect Dish for 2 reasons. First, it was by Kristen Painter and I'm a huge fan of her Blood Rights series. Second, it was free and that hit on my one and only challenge for the year, Why Buy the Cow. I'm sad to say though, I only liked this book. It wasn't really that bad and one of the reasons I only liked it is truly a personal thing.

The Perfect Dish, was mostly well written. Kristen Painter does an excellent job of winding up a story that makes the reader want to continue on. My only real problem with the story line though is the magical cookbook. It was such a small portion of the book that it almost seemed like it wasn't necessary. Like the whole book could have stood on its own without the "magical cookbook". I would have loved if the magical cookbook would have been a bigger part of the story, but I like paranormal aspects in books.

Now, my personal "thing" with the book. What do you all think when you see that cover? I think, with such a large whisk, this book has some tantalizing promise of some excellent romance scenes. That is where my complaint comes in. Now remember, this is truly a personal thing. My complaint is quite a few peoples joy. There were no "bedroom" scenes. There was all this buildup and tension complete with a shirt ripping in the back of a taxi cab, and no follow up detail. I don't mind a clean romance, but you have to understand that there were quite a few instances that hinted at the nature of this book not being a clean romance and that's kind of why I wanted to read it. Anyway, like I said, personal opinion.

Overall though, the story was pretty good. I still enjoy Kristen Painter's writing and pacing and I think she has a knack for writing good books. There were a few characters that could have used further development and Meredith was stubborn as hell which was something I liked about her. So, I give The Perfect Dish a 3 out of 5 and recommend it to those who enjoy Adult Fiction with a touch of the Paranormal. Also, it's fairly clean as in there are no sex scenes, you just know they are going on and there is not really any swearing. I'd probably rate it a PG-13 on a movie scale.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In Which I am Well Informed: Maggie Stiefvater's November Cakes

Do you find non-fiction objectionable? Do you loathe and abhor self-help books? Do you find memoirs so depressing you think you may go out and beat your neighbor to make yourself feel better? Well...that's how I feel. If you feel the same, you've found the right place. In my feature IN WHICH I AM WELL INFORMED I will be reading something of a non-fiction nature and I will tell you what I've learned from said item. No worries, this is going to be fun!
**I just want to preface this post by saying that all my thoughts are my own and are only meant in fun and not to be offensive. Sometimes life should be laughed at and not taken so seriously. It's better that way.**
This week on In Which I am Well Informed, I'm going to show you my venture into November Cakes. For all those who don't know exactly what I'm talking about, November Cakes were originally the *fake food* from the Scorpio Races book by Maggie Steifvater. Well, Maggie had the inclination to make a recipe to see if she could do it and so November Cakes are no longer fake. HA! So, I'm going to give you a run down of how I made Maggie's November Cakes using her recipe.

If you want the full recipe, you can click the link above.

Ingredients for the cake:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4+2 TBS Vegetable Oil
1 TBS butter
3.5 cups flour
3 tsp (or one packet) active dry yeast
3 TBS sugar
1.5 tsp salt
2 eggs

1. Microwave milk, water, oil and butter for 2 mintues - Okay, now I only did mine for 1.5 minutes because 2 minutes was too long. The reason the liquid needs to be warm is because it activates the yeast. If your liquid is cold, it won't activate the yeast and your cake/bread won't rise. However, on the flip side, if your liquid is TOO HOT it will only kill the yeast and then your dough won't rise. Hubby (who was a sous chef for years) says the best is for it to be luke warm. This has never failed me when I bake breads, rolls, cakes or whatever has yeast in it.

And besides, as Maggie says in her recipe: "we don't want to kill off our little hard-working yeast, do we? no. we are not killers"

And, before you say it...DO NOT BE AFRAID OF YEAST. Forever, I was super scared to bake anything with yeast. It's not hard at all. At first, it's just kind of scary, although I have no idea just is.

2. Crack eggs into liquid - I didn't actually mix my eggs into the warmed liquid mixture. I just cracked them in and left them.

3. In the mixing bowl of a standing mixer, combine 1.5 cups of flour, the salt, the sugar, and the yeast. Add the liquid and stir thoroughly - It's very important you follow the recipe IN THE ORDER it states. This is because you may screw up your yeast if you don't. SO LISTEN and don't be a killer! :D
This is after I've mixed the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients

4. Add remaining 2 cups of flour ONE CUP AT A TIME, stirring between each addition - This is important because you want the flour mixed evenly and thoroughly and it's all part of the kneading with the mixer.
5. With mixer on low and using the bread paddle or hook, mix dough for 4 minutes. If you don't have a mixer, you can knead by hand for 8 minutes instead - I have a mixer, so I didn't have to knead by hand and in all honesty that would have been difficult because the dough is going to be SUPER gooey. In fact, I've never worked with a dough so gooey. I didn't think it would rise because maybe it needed more flour, but it did and it was so light and fluffy!6. Scrape dough into a greased and floured mixing bowl. Let rise for one hour in a warm place - As you can see in the above photo, the dough was fairly soft after only 2 more cups of flour. I literally had to SCRAPE it with a spatula into my greased and floured bowl. I used butter to grease my bowl as I don't own shortening of any kind. I then tossed a bit of flour in the bowl and moved it around til it coated the entire bowl.

Maggie says she preheats her oven to 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) and then then shuts it off and places her bowl in there COVERED with a towel. I did this and it worked like a charm. I put my bowl on top of a cookie sheet because I was nervous of the oven grill thingy burning my bowl. Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT put the bowl in an oven that is on or too hot. You'll kill your yeast. I didn't even let the oven fully preheat to 100 degrees because it was kinda hot. My dough raised up lovely.

7. After one hour, move the dough to a floured cutting board - I floured my counter top and put it there because there is more room to move. You can use the cutting board or the counter top, but you will need to cut the rolls eventually, so remember that.
That's my hand next to the dough to kinda show you size ratio and that jazz

8. Gently roll it out to a 12 X 20" (ish) rectangle. Spoon the filling (melted butter and orange extract) to cover the rectangle, then roll it up - It's a lot easier to work with after it rises, but make sure it doesn't stick to the cutting board or counter top. If it does, sprinkle more flour. Also, I don't own extract because of the alcohol content (which I told you about last IWIaWI post). I used concentrated Orange Oil instead which was delicious!

Filing Ingredients:
(Maggie's original recipe is a little different. I changed mine because I wanted more filling and moisture)
4 TBS melted butter
1/2 tsp Concentrated Orange Oil
(or orange extract)
1 tsp Vanilla Emulsion (or vanilla extract)
1 TBS Whipping Cream

9. Use a sharp knife to cut the log into 12 rolls - (They should be swirled like cinnamon rolls) - Maggie also says they'll be slimy from the filling (delicious but slimy) so beware of that.
I made little slits on top for measuring purposes. I recommend this because I had to go back and resize the marks when I didn't have quite 12 rolls. Plus, my roll was thicker in the middle (because of how I rolled it out) so my rolls in the middle didn't need to be as long. Also, I found that if you choose NOT to roll the whole thing and instead, cut strips into your rolled rectangular dough and roll each roll separately, that works better.

10. Place each roll cut side up in a greased muffin tin - This was the fun part for me, but I'm a nerd. I had to re roll a couple because the dough was so soft, but re rolling worked like a charm! OR like I said above, you can cut the rectangle into 12 strips and roll each roll separately and it works better.
11. Let cakes rise a little more - Maggie recommends you put the muffin tin back into the oven for another 30 minute rise - remember your warm oven?? This is what she's talking about. DO NOT TURN YOUR OVEN BACK ON. This is just a small rise, though. I made the recipe a second time because I wanted to make them better than before. So, I recommend leaving the rolls out of the oven and letting them rise (uncovered) in the heated kitchen for 10 more minutes. They will rise while cooking. The first time I made these, I let them rise TOO much. When that happens, there aren't enough crevices for the glaze and you want it to soak down into the middle of the cakes layers.
12. Remove the rolls from the oven (ALONG WITH THE TOWEL). Preheat oven to 400 degrees, then bake rolls for 14 minutes - Everyone's oven is different. My oven SUCKS! I had to drop the temp to 350 and cooked them for 7 minutes then flipped them and cooked for another 7 minutes. In my old oven, I may have been able to keep the 400 degree temp and just lowered the minutes slightly. But, being in an apartment doesn't give good ovens. *sigh* So, hopefully you know your oven. If not, CHECK ON YOUR November Cakes while they cook.
These are my rolls strait from the oven

Caramel Honey Glaze:
(again, Maggie's glaze is a little different. I made mine thinner on purpose because I wanted my November Cakes to "ooze honey and butter" as they do in the chapter where Puck signs up for the Scorpio Races)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup whipping cream
8 TBS Butter
2 tsp vanilla extract (I used Butter Vanilla Emulsion - 2 tsp)
1/2 cup honey

13. While the rolls are cooling, prepare caramel glaze - Mix together honey, butter, and sugar in heavy saucepan. Turn on medium-high heat while stirring constantly
Bring the mixture to a rolling boil for 2 minutes (no skimping) while continuing to stir constantly. Add whipping cream and vanilla and mix well, keeping the stirring and heat constant until mixed through. Icing Ingredients:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 TBS Water (OR milk)
1 TBS Melted Butter

14. Spoon glaze over buns and let cool for 5-10 minutes then drizzle on icing in zig zag pattern - The cakes are top heavy, so don't be surprised when the caramel honey glaze doesn't get on the bottom. However, I saturated the tops of mine and the glaze gets all in the nooks and crannies and it's yummy. I actually did all of them once and let it soak in and then went for round 2. For the icing, I added milk instead of water because I've made the icing before and just prefer it, but to each his own. Serve them warm and you are good to go! YUMMY! I think the new glaze "oozes" better. I tipped my rolls onto a pan to drizzle the caramel honey glaze on them. It was better than cleaning it off the counter. It will most likely make a bit of a mess. But a yummy mess nonetheless. Also, if you have any caramel glaze left over (I had a lot left over) you can eat it with apples. It's yummy.

Oh, and Maggie says: "don't get on any strange horse."

They were incredibly delicious and fluffy and moist and amazing all over. I'm definitely making these again! Also, Hubs says they go excellent with his coffee. I don't drink coffee, but they went excellent with my milk! *wink* Bye loves! Hope you all try to make November Cakes. And remember....DON'T BE AFRAID OF YEAST! *hugs*

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles No.1) by Marissa Meyer

Title: Cinder (Lunar Chronicles No.1)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Pages: 390
Published: January 3rd, 2012
Summary:Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

My Thoughts:

A futuristic tale of cyborgs and Cinderella, Cinder is more than just a retelling, it's a layered and fantastical story of pain, loss, love, racism and creativity in a world where everyone is holding on to survival by a fingertip.

In futuristic Beijing, Cinder works in the marketplace, fixing and caring for the mechanical items people bring her way, all in support of the horridly unappreciative step mother and step sister she is supporting. The bright side is her other step sister is wildly loving of her and while her step mother can't stand the sight of her, the youngest step sister cares for her deeply.

Cinder is used to the mean looks thrown her way from most people. She is after all a cyborg. Part human and part machine, Cinder struggles to live a life in a place where cyborgs are not only looked down upon, but it seems they are also on the cusp of following involuntarily into medical testing for the sake of humans. There is a plague raging around the world and the king and queen will do anything to find a cure, especially when the king succumbs to the disease himself.

Cinder is shoved into the harshness of this reality suddenly and painfully on a road she never expected. Because, no matter how bad life seems, there are just some things we think will never happen to us, never cross our paths, we are immune. Through a surprising turn of events Cinder's life takes her in a completely different direction than she ever thought possible. Along the way she meets a series of sub-characters who charm their way through the story and into our hearts making us giggle and question all the little details, lifting secrets and laying lies, all in attempt to flip our minds around a different world and different time.

A story that is more than a beauty who falls in love with a beast, Cinder is the story of loneliness and loss in a world that doesn't give one wit for her feelings because of her high percentage of metal parts. She is human, but she is also machine. Does that make her less important, less human? Strong and witty, Cinder scavenges her way through a a dirty world, polluted, dying from plague, hungry, poor and still she fights for life. The bright spots like Prince Kai and the good Doctor make for small bits of kindness and joy in her life, but she always doubts herself because of her cyborg side. Painfully aware of the metal running through her body and the marring imperfection of it causes her grief in an entirely different way. It's a daily reminder that she doesn't know really who she is and where she came as those memories have been lost.

I must say that the interactions between Cinder and Prince Kai were enjoyable and fun. Prince Kai isn't used to a girl who doesn't fall all over him and Cinder isn't used to anyone showing her the lease bit of attention. It's quite a fun exchange because their reasoning behind the actions aren't quite what we expect. Cinder doesn't fall all over Kai because she is too insecure in herself and her cyborg parts to show them to him. Instead she hides what she is. Prince Kai is young and naive and I enjoyed watching him learn that sometimes you aren't lucky enough to get what you want.

My only real complaint with the book is the ending. It wasn't really a cliffhanger, but it was like the story just ends. Yes, there is going to be more books in the series, but it was a really weird feel to have no sort of falling action to the climax and have the story just end. For that I'm marking it down, but otherwise, I loved the story and the writing and the characters. I give Cinder a 4 out of 5 and recommend it to fans of Young Adult, Dystopian, Fairytale Retellings, Sci/Fi Fantasy fiction.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi - Book Review

Title: Under the Never Sky
Author: Veronica Rossi
Pages: 384
Published: January 3rd, 2012
Summary: Aria is a teenager in the enclosed city of Reverie. Like all Dwellers, she spends her time with friends in virtual environments, called Realms, accessed through an eyepiece called a Smarteye. Aria enjoys the Realms and the easy life in Reverie. When she is forced out of the pod for a crime she did not commit, she believes her death is imminent. The outside world is known as The Death Shop, with danger in every direction.

As an Outsider, Perry has always known hunger, vicious predators, and violent energy storms from the swirling electrified atmosphere called the Aether. A bit of an outcast even among his hunting tribe, Perry withstands these daily tests with his exceptional abilities, as he is gifted with powerful senses that enable him to scent danger, food and even human emotions.

They come together reluctantly, for Aria must depend on Perry, whom she considers a barbarian, to help her get back to Reverie, while Perry needs Aria to help unravel the mystery of his beloved nephew’s abduction by the Dwellers. Together they embark on a journey challenged as much by their prejudices as by encounters with cannibals and wolves. But to their surprise, Aria and Perry forge an unlikely love - one that will forever change the fate of all who live UNDER THE NEVER SKY. (from Goodreads)

My Thoughts:

Radiant and spectacular, Under The Never Sky is devastatingly strong and poignant, showing the world that under the barrage of dystopians, it will not back down.

In a world where anything is possible, Aria lives among the Dwellers of Reverie and it's many Realms. Science, the leading background of the Reams, is the basis for most thought as well as all the support of the people who live within. Aria has resided in Reverie with her mother her entire seventeen years and while she knows of the Outside, it's not something she cares to explore. Suddenly her mother goes missing in one of the outer pods of Reverie and Aria will do anything to make sure that she is alive and well. But things don't go as Aria has planned and instead she finds herself in much more danger than she ever thought possible. Thrust into the Outside under the aether filled sky, Aria must learn to survive and acclimate or death will surely claim her.

Told in a third person double narrative, Veronica Rossi's debut novel, is deeply creative and inventive. Dystopians being rampant around the publishing world, Under the Never Sky definitely stands out as its own breed of novel. Built within the Science Fiction world with a different feel around the government and outsiders, Rossi has crafted her novel into one that is more about surviving what we don't know rather than sticking it to the man. Originally I was leery of reading another dystopian with the fear that it would be much of the same. However, Rossi has significantly done away with the tedium of the genre and created something new and exciting.

I keep attempting to pinpoint the delicious differences between Under the Never Sky and other dystopians, and I think what it really comes down to is most of the book is not necessarily about Aria finding herself and discovering that the government is shite, but rather her fighting from the beginning because nothing is as important to her as her mother. It's a refreshing turn to see a teen not quite so self-absorbed. Hopefully that doesn't come out wrong, because Aria is indeed a conflicting and flawed character and humans in general are prone to moments of narcissism, Aria being no exception. In the same light, Aria sees what's in front of her and can't seem to get past most of her preconceived notions about The Outsiders, particularly Peregrine - the other POV - or Perry as he is known to most and his weird traits and habits.

Perry, a huntsman by lifestyle, is part of the hunt in a way that makes him a bit more animal than human. He is harsh and rough around the edges, but living under "The Never Sky" there really is no other choice. Strong and loyal to those he loves and trusts, Perry is the best sort of ally. Then again, he's the worst kind of enemy. Lean, sleek and deadly, he prowls around every step and every word he utters, always waiting for the sky to drop down an swallow everything - literally and metaphorically. Perry and Aria's relationship is strained and mostly non-existent, but it's truly fun to watch and follow as they learn each others movements and personalities.

Their interactions are one of the largest developments of each others character, showing how each learns what is and isn't true in the world they were raised. Aria and Perry teach each other through pain and trials how things are not always what we thought and that hardships and loss can bring us together to share something that not everyone can necessarily understand. Emotional and heart-rendering, this electrifying tale will keep you on your toes, with a host of sub characters to layer the plot and develop the story, Rossi has created something I won't soon forget. I give Under the Never Sky 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction.

Note: This book alludes to having sex

I'm sure you've all seen that Veronica Rossi and Under the Never Sky are a part of the Dark Days Supernatural Tour currently touring. For all you ARIZONA fans, she's going to be signing at Changing Hands Bookstore, today (Saturday, January 14th) at 4:00 p.m. She'll be there with Tahereh Mafi and Ellen Schreiber. Click the link for any further details.

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