Book Review: The Will

the willle sigh… My 2nd less than stellar review, The Will. This one saddens me because the book is by one of my most favorite romance authors–Kristen Ashley. Here goes.

In a Nutshell
Josie is an idiot and Jake is an alpha male who sometimes speaks in complete sentences. They fall in love, have drama, and live happily ever after. That about sums it up.

Tara’s Take
Honestly, I hate to be so harsh, but I really struggled reading this book. I actually took copious notes on how much I disliked it–primarily because of the heroine. Let me explain:

Josie is a big fan of hip hop music and is close personal friends with one of the rap game’s most prominent stars. But Josie knows NO slang and has to have everything explained to her. (Because hip hop never uses slang.)

She speaks like a robot who’s learning the English language. Instead of saying, I need to go to the mall and get some clothes for gardening…She says things like, “…I needed to go to the mall in order to acquire clothing that would be more suitable to tasks such as these.” Seriously, no one speaks like that! And it’s that way through the entire book! Even her thoughts were ‘proper.’ I don’t know who or what she was supposed to be channeling in her speech.

She’s refined, cultured, and traveled the world–but yet, she behaves like she has no common sense. The contradictions were all over the place and impossible to ignore.

Take for instance when she was sitting in restaurant. She could tell simply by the way a man was walking towards her that he was going to hit on her. Yet, she spent weeks holding hangs, cuddling, spending almost every waking hour with Jake (the hero) and had no idea he was interested in her romantically. WT*?!?!?

Again, because this is one of my most fave authors–I’ll stop right there. Suffice to say, I can’t recommend this book. BUT–here’s the thing, I am so committed to this author, I will read the next book in the series when it comes out. I just know she can do better!

 

Book Review: The King

the kingAs many know, The Black Dagger Brotherhood series is the only paranormal series that I read and I LOVE it. I waited, anxiously, for the most recent installment to come out–The King–and I was not disappointed!!!

In a Nutshell
There were several story arcs in this book, but not nearly as many as books past. The primary focus is on Wrath–the king of the race and last pure vampire–trying to have a baby with his half human wife, Beth. Between the assassination attempts on Wrath’s life and his service on the throne being brought into question, repeatedly, this is one more life changing decision–should it come to fruition. The angst, however, makes for a good read.

Speaking of the assassination attempts–the last one was spear-headed by Xcor, leader of The Band of Bastards. His relationship with a very pregnant Layla, continues to bud. But there are new complications in their already challenging situation.

One of the story arcs I’m really looking forward to seeing continue is that of Assail and Sola. She is a small time thief and he’s a big-time drug dealer. Their feelings were explored in the last book, but circumstances beyond their control brought them to the forefront. But is it destined to become an unrequited love? And is his drug dealing within the vampire race really prudent?

Throw in Trez’s responsibilities to the Shadow race along with his infatuation with Selena; a revelation regarding his brother iAm; and that will about round out the book.

Tara’s Take
The King is without a doubt one of my favorites in the series. It’s also the 2nd book I’ve given 5 stars to on my GoodReads account. The author, J.R. Ward, was said to be aware that the first book she wrote that was focused on Wrath, Dark Lover–also the first in the series–was not as strong as some of the other books. This one is stronger by leaps and bounds and definitely delivers. Wrath has endured much over the prior 11 books, so it was nice to see his complex personality shine and take center stage.

Previously, some of J.R. Ward’s book had so many story arcs going on it was hard to keep up and remember what was happening from chapter to chapter. With fewer plot-lines to follow and the clear evolution of Ward’s writing, The King delivers on many fronts. I simply can’t say enough good things about this book. The stories, the character development… I really hate that it’s all over for 2014 and I have to wait a year for the next book. Ugh!!!

Book Review: Consequences

For a while now, I have refrained from posting bad reviews. With the exception of my review  for Poughkeepsie–and even that book I found good in; if I don’t have anything good to say about a book–I just don’t say anything at all (i.e. no review is written). I’ve been encouraged by quite a few people to break that trend and that starts, today.

I disliked this book so intensely, I couldn’t stay silent. But before I dive in, let me first say: I have a tremendous amount of respect for writers–fiction in particular. It truly takes a gifted person to ‘create’ a character. I’ve said many times that my respect and personal enthusiasm for independent authors is off the charts. Ok, I had to get that off my chest. Now, let’s dive in.

ConsequencesIn a Nutshell
Consequences, by Aleatha Romig is a dramatic love story that’s not good–ok, the story is just bad. Claire, is a meteorologist working as a bartender in Atlanta during the recession. (You know, the current recession that we’re repeatedly told is over–that one.) Anthony, is a controlling, domineering, billionaire psychopath.

Anthony abducts Claire and whisks her away to Iowa. Yeah, Iowa. Claire is originally from Indiana so she easily adapts to the change in weather and scenery. While Claire’s ‘prison’ is a gorgeous mansion, it’s still indeed a prison. She suffers from repeated physical and mental abuse at the hands of Anthony–the billionaire who has a staff of many who love him–even though he’s holding a woman hostage in said mansion and they see the clear signs of said abuse. This goes on, blah, blah, blah…and then the end has a twist to get you to buy the next book. Yes, there are actually 2 more in this series. But this blogger won’t be reading them.

Tara’s Take
I don’t even know where to begin–though you got the gist from above. The storyline of this book is just ridiculous. It was pitched as ‘dark’ and while the subject matter is such–without being written graphically–it’s also beyond unrealistic. I read an awful lot of fiction–some paranormal–so I’m more than happy to suspend reality, but this was on a whole new level.

Claire is repeatedly abused and constantly trying to escape, yet when given the opportunity to go back to the happy life she was living pre-abduction, she CHOOSES to stay with her captor. The man who beats, rapes, humiliates, and abuses her–repeatedly. I think the author was going for a Stockholm Syndrome diagnosis–but I don’t buy it. Anthony has no redeeming qualities–oh wait, he’s philanthropic–seriously, that’s a tax write-off, don’t be fooled.

As I stated above, I have honestly tried to stay away from writing bad reviews because I don’t want to put that level of criticism in written form. This book was just so bad. Since I obviously couldn’t find anything, and I mean–anything, positive to say about this book I will say–kudos to the author for publishing a book, several in fact. Ok…that’s as good as it gets for me.

Note: I am fully aware that there are, unfortunately, women who are and stay in abusive relationships. Women who believe they deserve the unkind treatment that they endure day-after-day, who feel they have nowhere to go and no one to turn to and that is not only sad but frightening. No one deserves to be mistreated. In no way do I want to seem insensitive to the women who are in dangerous and abusive relationships. For those women, I pray, and I hope they will get help.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) : The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

Recipe Roundup: Cheesy Grits Casserole

cheesey grits casseroleRemember the grits of old, or even of now I guess? When we had grits they had milk and sugar and were everything sweet and yummy.  I may have to make that version soon now that I think about it. But I digress… This recipe is much more savory and it involves one of my all-time favorite ‘food groups,’ cheese (don’t judge me).

Originally, I had seen a similar recipe from one of my most beloved cooking shows/celebrity chefs Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. But then I found this one. I heated up a square a day for breakfast during the week and was ready to rumble. Enjoy!

Original Recipe from Food.com

Ingredients:
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick-cooking grits
1 (16 ounce) package sharp cheddar cheese*
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, slightly beaten

Directions:
1. Heat water and salt to boiling.
2. Gradually add grits and return to boiling.
3. Reduce heat.
4. Simmer uncovered, stirring for 5 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and allow to cool, slightly.
6. Add cheese, butter and eggs, mix well to ensure all of the grits are incorporated.
7. Bake at 350 degrees until a light golden brown, about 50 minutes.

(Tara’s Tips: *It goes without saying, NO pre-shredded cheese was used in the making of this recipe. I shredded two 8oz.-blocks of cheddar cheese.)

Book Review: Rare and Precious Things

rareandpreciousWhere is MY Ethan Blackstone?!?!? I had to get that out.

Initially, I thought this book was going to be nothing but sex–and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I just knew Raine Miller would provide so much more, and she didn’t disappoint. What an incredibly lovely story. There were some stressful moments, I won’t lie. But overall, it was so refreshing to read about the deep-seated love two people have for each other, without a lot of drama thrown in just to beef up the plot.

In a nutshell:
Rare and Precious Things is the conclusion to the Blackstone series. (Though I read Miller’s acknowledgements and we could very well see The Blackstone’s again in the future, yeah!) Ethan and Brynne are anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child. Dealing, finally, with Ethan’s post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his having been in Afghanistan serving in the British Army’s Special Forces.

Brynne hasn’t seen the last of her past in the physical, nor has Ethan for that matter–character reappearances from books’ past. But the overarching theme is the loving and committed relationship that Brynne and Ethan have. Her pregnancy is relatively smooth. Ethan’s business as a security specialist is not without excitement, but for the most part is ‘normal.’ I don’t think I’m giving anything away by saying The Blackstone’s get their happily ever after, and so do some other people.

Tara’s Take:
One of the primary things I loved right off the bat with this series is that it didn’t involve a billionaire and a naive 20-year old. Ethan is successful and money is never an issue, but he’s not totally over the top filling closets with designer clothes especially made for Brynne. And while Brynne does model nude to make ends meet, she has a full-time job and doesn’t need to be coddled.

Ethan’s PTSD is something more people can relate to in this day and age than we may realize. Coupled with Brynne learning how to deal with it as well, along with her own past demons–it’s reminiscent of real life couples dealing with the struggles and tragedies that affect so many.

Brynne is managing hormones that bring about insecurities related to her ever-changing body as a result of pregnancy. Ethan is trying to be the best man he can possibly be in the face of becoming a father for the first time. Honestly, I really think this series could be a tv mini-series. Then again, I’m admittedly biased and I’m not sure any actor could ever do these characters justice in my eyes–Miller has written them just that well.

Recipe Roundup: Coca Cola Cake

coca cola cakeI am the girl who ALWAYS asks in restaurants, “Do you have Coke or Pepsi?” And if the answer is Pepsi, I get stick with water or iced tea. Coke has kick and can quench a thirst water can’t sometimes. But that’s just me.

Naturally, when I came across a cake that had Coke in it, well–of course I was going to give it a try. You don’t even need an electric mixer, how new age is that? Came out very moist. And I got to drink the rest of the 20oz. bottle of Coke that wasn’t used. Enjoy!

Coca Cola Cake
I found this recipe on no rules, just happy crafting

Preheat oven to 350, and grease up (I like Crisco) a 9×13 (or so) pan.
(Tara’s Tips: I sprayed a 9×13 glass pan with Pam.)

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda**
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup coca-cola (from bottle is my preference!)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract

Glaze:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup coca cola

Mix:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda**
1/2 tsp cinnamon

** Note: I have made this with baking powder or soda – Either way works. “powder” is what was listed in the recipe I got it from, but soda is slightly better results.–(Tara’s Tips: This isn’t my note, but I followed it and used baking soda, worked like a charm.)

In a saucepan over medium high heat stir this up good until it boils:
1 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup coca-cola (from bottle is my preference!)
1/2 cup buttermilk

Now take off heat and add that to the flour mix & whisk until combined.

Then add:
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix, put in pan, bake it for about 30 minutes. Yes, it’s a quick bake. Don’t over-bake it!

When cake is nearly done make the glaze by mixing in saucepan:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup coca cola

Once that boils, remove and slowly stir in 4 cups of confectioners’ sugar until nice and smooth. Then add in about a cup of chopped pecans, and give it a stir.

Once cake is done and out of oven (toothpick should come out clean), pour this warm glaze right over the top of the hot cake!

Wait.

Let it set… let it cool for a few minutes at least…

Enjoy warm or cold. (next day/etc. feel free to microwave for a few seconds to warm it up… so good)

Book Review: Kaleidescope

kaleidescopeI have read so many of Kristen Ashley’s books it’s not even funny. She has several series and I just love so many of them. Kaleidoscope is part of Ashley’s Colorado Mountain series, which is one of my faves of hers. (It’s also a primary reason I have been so infatuated with moving to Colorado!)

In a nutshell:
Kaleidoscope follows the story of Jacob (Deck) Decker and Emmanuelle (Emme) Holmes. They were best friends, years ago. She was a bit frumpy in those days and he was dating, and went on to get engaged to her best friend. They connected back then on more than a physical level, but always respected the boundaries that were in place because he was taken. But he’s not anymore.

Fast forward many years and Emme is now the successful manager of her family’s construction business. Deck is…well, it’s hard to describe what Deck is. Law enforcement hires him for the cases they can’t break and he also works some on his own. Private investigator. Commando. Super sleuth. All of the above? Anyway, he’s working a case with the local police department that–unbeknownst to her–involves Emme and her boyfriend. Yeah, now she’s taken. Oh, and her frumpy days are long gone.

As Emme works to restore her dilapidated, historic home and Deck works to make sure she’s safe, they begin to realize what was between them all those years ago is stronger than ever.

Tara’s Take:
This is in my top ten of Ashley’s books. It’s not a traumatic, angst filled tale. The heart of the story is about two people reconnecting many years later and figuring out how they work. Yes, there’s some intrigue thrown in, but it’s more of an aside than the primary focal point.

I found this book to be refreshing. Who hasn’t had things in their past shape who they are today? Who hasn’t felt lonely and wished for more, even though they were afraid of what that might mean? The feelings expressed by the hero and heroine in this book were true to form and had me thinking, I can relate. Which only made this story that much more engrossing.

Side Note:
One of the many things I love about Ashley’s books is the fact that the characters aren’t 20. More often than not, her main characters are older 30’s to mid-40’s. Realizing I’m dating myself, it makes it that much easier for me to identify with them. We’ll just leave it at that. The male characters are strong and not ‘broken’ like so many mainstream love stories these days. It’s usually the female character that is working through some issues and the man is right there to support her and hold her up when she needs it. You gotta love that!

Recipe Roundup: Cheesy Honey Mustard Chicken

unnamedMy quest to find delicious non-dry boneless, skinless chicken breast recipes continues. And I finally found one that is good enough to share. Also, with all things in the recipe department–I changed a few things. Enjoy!

Cheesy Honey Mustard Chicken
From Plain Chicken

Ingredients:
4 boneless chicken breast*
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp paprika
lemon pepper to taste
4 Tbsp bacon, cooked and chopped (I used Oscar Meyer bacon bits in the yellow bag)**
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

(Tara’s Tips: *So I didn’t use regular chicken breasts, I used thin sliced. Everything still turned out yummy, but I think regular thick cut chicken breasts would absorb more of the marinade because it makes so much. **That note next to the bacon is NOT my note. I have no idea what a yellow bag of bacon bits is. I fried up 4 slices of bacon and then chopped them up.)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Season chicken breasts with lemon pepper.  Place in 9×13 baking dish.
  • Combine honey, mustard, lemon juice and paprika.  Pour over chicken.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.
  • Top each chicken breast with 1 Tablespoon of bacon and 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese.  Continue to bake until cheese is starting to brown (about 10 minutes).

Book Review: Raw

rawRaw by Belle Aurora is one of those books that was following me. It was constantly turning up in my Goodreads search. It appeared, repeatedly, when I was on Google. I saw it on other book blogs. It was in my  Twitter feed. Seriously, the book was stalking me! Which is funny because…

In a nutshell:
Twitch is a sociopathic stalker. He’s been watching Alexa (Lexi), forever–and she knows it. He’s covered head to toe in tattoos, constantly wears a hoodie, and lurks in the shadows. Lexi, is a straight and narrow, upstanding social worker, helping underprivileged teenagers. Lexi soon learns that nothing is at is seems with Twitch–or is it? Aurora takes the reader through incredibly emotional twists and turns with this story–drug use, graphic sexual situations, and heart wrenching trauma. The story of Twitch and Lexi is complex and certainly not for the faint of heart.

Tara’s Take:
I admit that when I first started reading this book, it was a bit of a challenge for me. I almost gave up. Suffice to say, I persevered and finished–and I am sooooo glad I did! I cried. Literally, shed real tears. Be warned, this book is not an easy read. There are some very disturbing scenes. Often, Lexi wonders what the H*ll she’s thinking and doing and so does the reader. But it works. This is more than opposites attract or the good girl being drawn to the bad boy. There is a lot of depth to the main characters and to the supporting cast in the book.

The story is set in Australia, which I was looking forward to ‘seeing’ some of in the book. However, you don’t. It is really more of an in-depth emotional character development, which again, works. I’ve never been ‘Down Under’ so bringing some of the beauty I’ve heard about to life through words, would’ve been nice–but by no means was I disappointed.

One can only hope that there will be a sequel. Raw was released in Jan. 2014 as a stand alone and currently, Aurora hasn’t let the world know if there’s a sequel coming. But my fingers are crossed!

Recipe Roundup: Mashed Potatoes with Kale

kale mashed potatoesWelcome to March! Since it’s still cold here, very cold, and there’s still a lot of snow on the ground–thought I’d kick off the month with some comfort food. And what says yummy comfort better than mashed potatoes?

Giada DeLaurentiis is one of my most fave celebrity chefs–I even went to see her at a personal appearance and got my cookbook signed. Plus, I DVR her show every week. Which is where I discovered this recipe.

I love kale. But the way I have been taught to prepare it–while delicious–is also relatively unimaginative. But this way, this is just delish. And you get your starch and green veggie all in one dish. Enjoy!

Mashed Potatoes with Kale
From Giada DeLaurentiis show, Giada at Home, on The Food Network

Ingredients
Potatoes:
5 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 4 pounds)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Kale:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
One 12-ounce bunch kale, stemmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

(Tara’s Tips: I used pre washed and precut kale from a 16oz. bag and just estimated out 12oz. Worked perfectly. I also used red onion because I just like red onion better. And I did not use low-sodium chicken broth, I used the regular stuff.)

Assembly:
1 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature (about 8 ounces)*
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning

(Tara’s Tips: *Ok, so I thought I had all the ingredients for this recipe and it turns out I didn’t. So instead of mascarpone, I used ricotta because that’s what I had in my frig. Was still yummy and I’d do it again! And it goes without saying that I shredded my own Parmesan cheese. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, see my prior recipe with the pre-shredded cheese rant. (Seriously, with all my substitutions, does this even count as Giada’s recipe anymore???))

Directions
For the potatoes: Combine the potatoes, garlic, salt and butter in a 5-quart saucepan with enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain in a colander and remove the garlic cloves. Return the potatoes to the pan and mash the potatoes until smooth using a potato masher.

For the kale: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, salt and pepper. Cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the kale and chicken broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, 10 to 12 minutes.

To assemble: Add the kale mixture, mascarpone cheese, chicken broth, butter, Parmesan, salt and pepper to the potatoes. Stir over low heat until smooth and warmed through. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and serve.