Saturday, December 31, 2011

Snapshot Saturday - Layla and Abbey

Our largest furry family member meets our smallest family member on Christmas morning.  Layla is hard to miss, but please look closely for Abbey (I've zoomed a couple of extras in case you miss her)...she's the teeny one with the big round black eyes staring into the face of the giant ;)

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ At Home with Books

Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review - Explosive Eighteen

Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich

2011, Bantam Books
Why?  I've read all the Stephanie Plum series and have eagerly awaited 18's publication since I closed the pages of 17
What Now? Glad I didn't purchase a hardback of this one :(  After I write my review I'm anxious to see what other Evanovich fans have to say about this 

Golden Lines:

"Did you report the found driver's license to the police?"
"Yes. I told Morelli."
"Then I'm sure he's there with a cadaver dog.  He's an idiot, but he's a good cop."
"Why is he an idiot?"
"He lets me get close to you."

Lula swung through the coffee shop door and came over to us.  "Is that a gun?"
"Oh for Crissake, who's this?" Brenda asked.
"I'm Lula.  Who the heck are you?"
"This is a private conversation," Brenda said.
"Yeah, but I want to take a look at your little peashooter.  It's kinda cute."
"It's a gun," Brenda said.
Lula pulled her Glock out of her bag and aimed it at Brenda.  "Bitch, this is a gun.  It could put a hole in you big enough to drive a truck through."
"Honestly," Brenda said, "this is just so boring."  And she huffed off to her car and drove away.
"She was kinda snippy, being I just wanted to see her gun," Lula said.


Returning from a ruined trip to Hawaii, Stephanie finds herself in the middle of a crime mess...just from sitting by the wrong person on the airplane.  The man sitting on the airplane accidentally slips a photo into her messenger bag that a lot of people want...and want bad enough to hunt Stephanie down.  Stephanie is trailed by fake FBI men, real FBI men, the hairdresser sister of a mobster and a foreign killer.  She's dodging dangerous people at every move.  At the same time, Stephanie's dodging (unsuccessfully) both Ranger and Morelli after the events in Hawaii and doesn't seem any closer to making a choice.  

What I Liked

Stephanie and Lula - I definitely giggled out loud at more than one place...these two are nuts.

I can't think of anything else. :(

What I Didn't Like

Why the heck did Lula keep saying WHAM?  There were more than enough Food Network mentions so I'm assuming Lula's new saying is a spin-off from Emeril Lagasse?

Stephanie's trip to Hawaii was a major cliffhanger at the end of Book 17.  In Explosive Eighteen it was glossed over like it was nothing.  The one paragraph that finally explained what happened on the trip when Stephanie explained to her mother, Lula and Grandma Mazur could have been developed into the storyline that occurred before this one.  Unless Evanovich is dragging it all out even more, I honestly have no idea what she's thinking by not hashing this out.  

I am no prude, but in all the other books, Stephanie is either with Morrelli or Ranger...not both...and she's usually committed to one of them, not neither of them.  This was a major change of events for Evanovich, and I just can't imagine where she's headed with it.

Evanovich also suggest twice in different places that Stephanie might have been lax in her family planning while in Hawaii.  What is that all about??  You've got to be kidding me???  If Evanovich does that, I'm done.  For a LOT of reasons.

The minor character names in this book were the worst...Razzle Dazzle, Tootie Raguzzi, Lancer Lancelot, Buggy, Magpie, Sly Slasher, Lahonka, ...??? Huh??

Even the bad guys were jokes this time...the scariest character was Razzle Dazzle...and no, that's not a typo.  How can someone be scary with a name like Razzle Dazzle??  Even more important, how can someone be scary when he talks like this"
"You will be stopping moving," he said. "You are understanding?"

All of a sudden, Stephanie is a martial arts expert??  I know she works well with rage, but she's so tough now that even the cops are amazed at her actions on surveillance video??  Huh?

Morelli's interactions with Stephanie after Evanovich's Hawaii explanation are not consistent with his traditional expectations of Stephanie and of where their relationship is or is not going.  

Ranger - I've always been a Morrelli girl, and I have never disliked Ranger, but at this point, I'm beginning to.  If he cares so much for Stephanie, knows he's not interested in a "relationship" and knows Stephanie would be safer, happier with Morrelli, then why doesn't Ranger just step back.  In this book it almost seems like Ranger's using Stephanie.  For example, what happens in a closet where Stephanie and Ranger are hiding is unnecessary.  I had to re-read that page just to make sure it really happened...and still wasn't sure until a few pages later when Stephanie mentions the event and left no doubt in my mind.  Unless, of course, something else happened in Hawaii to make Ranger think he and Stephanie are together??   Unfortunately, I guess we'll never know.

Overall Recommendation:

At first I thought only die hard Stephanie fans would like this, but I'm wondering if only those who haven't read any of the other books would really be the ones to read this?  And, I'm not even sure they would see the series for the wild ride it has been until now.  This is the worst Stephanie Plum yet; I'm so disappointed.  And, I'm not even sorry about giving it a negative review.
I'm sad.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Marriage Carol - Book Review

A Marriage Carol by Chris Fabry and Gary Chapman
Moody Press, 2011
Why?  My first Net Galley review...I love the original A Christmas Carol and this sounded like an interesting retelling of the story.
What now?  No need to purchase a hard copy of this one

Golden Lines

When I looked up we were nearing a curve, and through the haze and blowing snow I noticed two headlights bearing down on us like our oncoming future.  I couldn't scream, couldn't speak, just threw out a hand and pointed.
Instinct.  His foot to the pedal.  Steering wheel one way, then the other.  Fishtailing.  A truck's air horn.  Jacob reached out for me.
Out of control.
A snow globe shaken and dropped.


Marlee and Jacob Ebeneezer are on their way to their lawyer's office in a snowstorm to sign their divorce papers on Christmas Eve.  An accident carries Marlee and Jacob through the past, present and possible futures of their lives depending on their impending divorce.

What I Liked:

I'm a fan of A Christmas Carol and enjoy watching and reading the many different ways the story can be told.  I was intrigued by the synopsis I read on Net Galley and downloaded it because of that alone.  I'd never heard of the book before then.  

The description of the snow, the couple driving and snarking with each other on the way to the lawyer's office was the most vivid scene to me.  I think any couple has moments like these.  

The little twist at the end when Marlee meets the old man's wife...I didn't see this coming and it was a pleasant surprise since I had already decided I wasn't crazy about this version.  

The images of Marlee and Jacob's early life together and how their relationship changed over time.  For anyone who is in a later stage of their marriage, these scenes will be true to heart.  The early, lovey dovey years, the hectic years when the kids are babies, and the growing years as the kids begin to make their own way and you find yourselves looking back toward each other again hit close to home for me.

Like the original A Christmas Carol, the book is very short.  This was very important to me once I started skimming.  I'm one of those people who has a hard time putting a book away once I've started reading it.  The knowledge that the story was a quick one was enough to keep me going.

What I Didn't Like:

As good of a message this is, the story itself is too predictable for me to "like."  The story is a faith based story, but the authors almost hit the reader over the head with religious tropes.  I am a Christian, but I think some readers, who may really need to hear the overall message of this book, could be turned off by the preaching early on.  Even I skimmed through a lot of it.

I thought Marlee was too calm for a woman whose husband/soon to be ex-husband was out lost in the snowstorm after the accident.  Even though they were on their way to be divorced, I didn't see her sitting around "waiting" on what to do next.  If someone is lost in a snowstorm, seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Marlee was the only one who actually experienced the Christmas scenes from the past, present and future.  From the synopsis, I expected them to go through that together.  I was actually looking forward to that.  Marriage takes two...and in any situation where a marriage is splitting apart, it is usually not a one-sided ordeal (except, of course, in extreme cases).  In this story Marlee seemed to be the one who wanted the divorce...all bc of an old flame from high school who drank a lot of Coors?  Again, too obvious and a ridiculous example.  When Marlee saw her future with the high school dude demanding for her to bring him another beer, I had visions of the movie The Urban Cowboy where Debra Winger's character is living with the ex-convict after leaving John Travolta.  She comes in from the grocery story and throws a pack of cigarettes at him; he takes her by the hair and makes her pick the carton of cigarettes up.  I actually rolled my eyes when I read this part of the story.  The obvious made the story feel on purpose and rushed and cheesy.

Um, the melting snow as the visual for the scenes from the past, present and future was pretty silly and "magical" to me...unbelievable.  Good grief.

Marlee was worried that she might have gotten into a car with a serial killer, but she wasn't all that worried about being alone with an older many she's just met in his home during the night of a snowstorm.  Huh?  Again, completely unrealistic.

Overall Response:

This book was just ok to me...I do realize that it may very well be a wake-up call for some couples. Can this book stop a divorce...probably not.  But, maybe, especially around the holidays, it might remind a husband and/or wife of all that they have together.  Maybe.  I also couldn't help but wondering what a great story this could have been had some of the simpler issues been worked out and even developed into a much richer storyline.  If the authors don't have time to develop a story worth reading, what's the point?


This little book might be a helpful gift for a couple in trouble who have a lot more together than they do apart...and just need a reminder.  
I don't review negatively much, and I always feel bad when I do...just because I didn't like this story doesn't mean someone else won't.

FTC Disclosure: An e-copy of A Marriage Carol was sent to me free of charge from the publisher through Net Galley.  All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wanna Be More Organized Wednesday

This is the time of year that everybody begins thinking about resolutions...things they want to do better...getting more organized, staying on a schedule, fixing things that need to be fixed.  I get a little nervous this time each always there are issues that need to be dealt with, but I'm almost scared that if I make a resolution out of them, I'm setting myself up to fail.  As much as I like and need a certain amount of structure, I feel pinned in by too much structure.  Please don't worry if you don't understand because I know how nutty I sound.  

We won't be back to a normal schedule around here for 2 more weeks, so I'm going to try and concentrate on continuing the organizing things that have worked well for me as well as add on a couple more...Here they are: 

1.  Keep plugging away at weekly menus.  I'd love to break out into a monthly format, but I'm just not sure our lives right now would lend themselves to that much structure.  I'm also a freak about fresh as possible food, so I'd rather not buy fresh veggies and meats too early if I can help it.  I've also challenged my creative firstborn to make me one of these: 

With this little snazzy contraption, all members of my family would  know what we're having for supper and I wouldn't have to answer that question 5 different times (at least).  
We also need a better schedule for eating.  We end up eating too late because of the various schedules...I need to pick a time, complete the process by then, eat, and then latecomers can eat when they get home.  

2.  Follow my budget.  We have no credit card debt from Christmas.  I am stunned.  I cannot remember another year where we haven't needed several months after Christmas to pay for Christmas.  It feels a lot better than I thought it would.  

3.  Exercise.  I'm 43. I've always been concerned about my health, but I've officially reached a point where I have no choice but to be concerned.  I have a health concern that isn't a big one, but it could be if I don't get control of it now.  Part of that problem is that I've put on almost 20 pounds since Summer.  I'm not fat by any means, but my metabolism has left the building.  I actually weighed more at the doctor's office last week than I weighed when I gave birth to my middle child...GULP.   Gwyneth is about 5 years younger than me, but I think her sentiment says it all:

4.  Housecleaning.  I don't have house help...and really don't want it.  As messy as my house is right now, I'm particular about the way I like things done.  Especially if I'm going to pay someone, I'd like them to do it my way.  That rarely happens.  I've seen a couple of bloggers who swear by the 15-20 minute per day routine or even a calendar of the bigger jobs...I'm thinking about that.  I don't have an entire day to clean.  I don't want an entire day to clean.  There's got to be a better way.

5.  And, finally, at work, I've got to figure out a way to keep papers from piling up on me.  The first thing I've done is try to make the assignments themselves a little more the hopes that my students' papers might be a little more creative...we'll see.  I'll probably have to add more structure here than I really want...but I get paid for grading those papers :P

That's where I am right now...still in the thinking stages really...we still have Christmas at both grandparents to go so I probably won't make any headway at least until those two trips are complete.  

Till then, any advice?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Books I Read in 2011

I love Top Ten Tuesday lists at the end of the year over at The Broke and the Bookish: the 10 books I hope Santa brings, the best books I read in 2011 and then the top 10 I'm looking forward to in 2012.

I'm not a "typical" reader I don't think.  Of my favorites of 2011 not a single one was actually published in 2011.  When I began blogging and particularly reviewing books, one of my intentions was to prioritize my reading again.  As long as I can remember, reading and books have brought me intense pleasure...after an 8 year stint working with nothing but academic text, I vowed to re-invigorate my reading life.  And, I have.  I still can't get through a book as fast as some of the book bloggers out there, but I also don't really feel the need to...some books were meant to be savored...or thought through as they are being read...while others have to be read every second of every minute bc I just can't stand to wait another minute to find out what will happen next. The Hunger Games and Water for Elephants are the only two books on this list that I flew through.  

1.  Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This was my first read of 2011, and I loved it.  Alcott should be read slow and easy...candlelight or Christmas light preferable.  You also must be able to relax and just enjoy the story for what it is...a family story...but especially that of 4 sisters and how their lives are shaped over time.

2.  March by Geraldine Brooks

After Little Women, I went on an Alcott binge...I read Little Men and Jo's Boys, won an Alcott bio that I started and picked up my first Geraldine Brooks.   Oh my goodness.  American Civil War history in the light of reality vs. fantasy.  The good, the bad and the ugly.  I can't wait to read more of Brooks.

3.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Another book that garnered a lot of hype, but I didn't give in until my firstborn talked me into it.  Katniss is the kind of heroine I enjoy...tough and sensitive at the same time, loyal, head held high, and a fighter.  There was enough believable edge here to keep me interested as well.  A little nervous about the movie... but I always am.

4.  The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

I can't even remember why this book got my attention in 2011...but it did.  This is one of those novels that stays with you for a long, long time after you read it.

5.  HT Be Your Dog's Best Friend by The Monks of New Skete

After I got Layla, I was determined to learn everything I could about my big dog and be the best owner I could possibly be.  I enjoyed learning about the monks, their lives and their dogs.  Their positive reinforcement/leader of the pack take on owning German Shepherds makes perfect sense to me.

6.  The United States of Arugula by David Kamp

A history of the food culture in the United States from the earliest influences, James Beard, Julia Child and friends, to the Food Network generation of today.  How food has shaped communities, re-invigorated run-down areas, brought families together and educated even home cooks on eating well.

7.  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I almost didn't read this one.  Amidst all the hype I kept picking it up, reading the synopsis and trying to get excited about the storyline.  I just couldn't.  At the last moment I downloaded it on my Kindle and read it on a trip to Baltimore...I couldn't put it down.  I even downloaded the Kindle app on my Blackberry so I could read my book everywhere, waiting in lines, on the train, etc...LOVED it.

8.  Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

I chose this as a read to share with one of my classes.  I loved it.  We discussed it for 6 weeks even though I finished it before then, and then we watched the movie, comparing our perspectives with Hollywood's.  I enjoyed this assignment so much that I'm planning to continue it next semester...this time with Marcus Zuzak's The Book Thief.

9.  The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Another slow read...language, language, language.  Again, as with Little Women, take your time and enjoy this one...a family, but not so much a family story as it is a mystery...generations of hate finally come to an end.  Good stuff.

10.  The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

My Tudor addiction is alive and well...I also can't get enough of Alison Weir.  She's something else.

And, there they are...the 2011 reads I enjoyed the most :)
Can't wait to see what happens in 2012 :):)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday at the Movies - Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain
December, 2003

First and foremost, let me say that I am one of those people who very seldom likes a movie as much as a book.  And, I've adopted a self-imposed edict that a movie may not be watched (by me) unless I've read the book first.  I know I'm weird...but, that's just the way it is.  It is important to know this about me though before you take my review to heart.

It's probably important to read my review of the book first as can find it here.


What I liked:

The scenery - nature, the environment, place to place was a hugely important aspect of this novel, so I was very glad to see the movie makers took the time to make sure nature was at the forefront of the movie as well.  

Graphic scenes - please don't get me wrong...I didn't like the graphic scenes...but this is war...there should be graphic scenes...anything less than graphic softens history for each generation removed from the actual events.  As graphic and hard to watch as some of the scenes in the movie, I felt the book descriptions were even more so.  Again, those scenes were not intended for shock effect...but a true depiction of the circumstances.

Attitudes - when the men hear that war has been declared, they begin jumping around hooting and hollering about going to if they're going to wrestle a few rounds with the fellas down the street.  Young and old drop everything, leave everyone and go to fight...they truly think they'll be back quickly...and most of them never return at all.  I think these scenes are important because as bad as things were, ever are, or ever could be again, the tragedies of the Civil War were not seen as such from the beginning.  What is war?  How can you guess if you never been there?  How can you guess even if you have been there?  The men and women who went to Vietnam never expected the horrors and atrocities they suffered there either nor how they would  be treated when they returned.  The men of the North and South never expected such lawlessness as what they left women and children and helpless families were taken advantage of...and the examples could go on and on.  
War should never be taken lightly...with only fist pumping and going over to kick someone's a#$$.  Is there really ever a "winner"?

Ruby/Renee Zellweger - almost a flawless portrayal I think...hardcore, a spade a spade, realistic to the bone, hard-worker, smart, country, and independent.  The following is a perfect introduction to the character Ruby:

Jude Law as Inman - at first I wasn't sure...and I wasn't completely comfortable with his accent, but his acting overshadowed that for me...and that's really saying something.   His plight...a young honorable farmer, off to war, attracted to Ada, a war he doesn't believe in even from the beginning, the violence, wanting to go home, his perseverance, his inability to walk away from someone else in need, standing up for what's right while at the same time trying to be loyal...Inman is probably the most complicated person in this novel/movie, and Jude 
Law nailed it.  

The end - a very important part of this story is the way it ends.  The final scene was not my favorite in the movie and was much more meaningful and emotional in the book.  However, the actual ending "event" was done very well...even if you know what is going to happen (and I did), I felt the anticipation as Inman tracked down the fleeing member of the guard...I even caught myself hoping that the inevitable somehow might not happen.  That's pretty good movie-making, folks.

What I didn't like:

Nicole Kidman as Ada - I was a little nervous about the Nicole Kidman thing from the very beginning.  She just didn't fit my brain's image of Ada as I read the book.  While I felt she gave Ada her best shot, there were moments, especially at the end in the snow, when she looked like she had just put on blush and lip gloss.  That bothered me...I also couldn't help but wonder about her harsh portrayal of a woman with progressive ideas.  In the book Ada is much more believable...I'm not sure I'm really explaining this well...and maybe my doubts were about Kidman rather than her portrayal of Ada.  Kidman's best scene was the one where she is under the house hiding and the rooster attacks her.  Kidman looks like a crazed woman who literally has reached a point of nothing else to lose.  Perfect.

Changes to the story - As expected there were certainly some smaller scenes that were left out...and a few minor changes to the story or characters...and while I notice those, I can deal with them.  However, there was a major shift for Sally Swanger's character.  That I did not understand at with Ada and Ruby after the brutal slaughter of her voice...Did I miss something?  With that big of a change, I felt there should be some outstanding reason, some other part of the story developed...but there wasn't.  

Romance as a bigger theme - The movie was made much more into a love story than the book.  In the book Inman and Ada hardly knew each other when he left.  Their "love" grew from an idea of wanting what they had before the war took it all away.  The movie portrayed them somehow as the love of each other's lives from the very beginning, and I just didn't see it that way when I read the book.  

My Overall Response

I liked this movie enough to buy a copy and keep it in our DVD library.  It was not as good as the book, but what movie ever is?   I enjoyed looking for clips to share for this post which makes me think I will definitely watch it again.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Chistmas!!

Hoping for warmth and peace for all of you this Christmas...whatever brings that to you.  
For me, it will be twinkling lights, family, church, hugs, kisses, opening a few well thought out gifts with a surprise or two, squeals of delight, and content animals.

Merry Christmas!!! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Snapshot Saturday - Layla and Lizzie

I'm sharing two photos of Layla helping us bake cookies...her job was to clean up all the powdered sugar that fell on the floor...not only did she create the job herself, but she also took it very seriously.

The next photo is our Christmas miracle ;) 
Layla and Lizzie seem to finally be settling into a "sisterly" relationship.  I caught them playing together without any snarls or yips yesterday, and after a couple of tries was able to get this photo of them "hugging."  

I didn't have time to adjust my settings, hence the flash in Layla's eyes, but I still think it's a keeper :) 

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ At Home with Books.

Merry Christmas to all!! 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Children of Henry VIII - Book Review

The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
Ballantine, 1996
Why? I'm obsessed with the Tudors
What now? into the glass case of keepers it goes 

Golden Lines

Edward VI, meanwhile, was growing up fast and excelled at riding, running and shooting, despite increasing short-sightedness.  Consistently striving to emulate Henry VIII, he was becoming more and more like his father.  Hands on hips, he would imitate Henry's straddling pose, and emit 'thunderous oaths' in his high, imperious voice.  By calculated displays of wrath and coldness, he sought to make men fear him as they had his father.  By now a fanatical Protestant, he was fond of lecturing those around him in the articles of his faith, a role which sat oddly with his youth.  His councillors and courtiers were already in awe of him. 'He will be the wonder and terror of the world if he lives,' declared Bishop Hopper that year. 

The watching lords and ladies waited politely for their new queen to compose herself, believing that she wept for the late King, since between sobs she had muttered something about 'so noble a prince.' After a while Jane calmed herself and rose to her feet, bracing herself to make a stand against what she knew to be tyranny.
'The crown is not my right,' she stated flatly, 'and pleaseth me not.  The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.'

Mary was, indeed, a political innocent, incapable of subtlety or the ability to dissemble.  Unlike the other Tudor monarchs, who made a virtue of expediency, she ruled according to the dictates of her conscience, which sometimes made her a formidable person to deal with, for she could be ruthless in carrying out what she believed to be her duty.  But, if her conscience did not point the way, then she suffered agonies of indecision; if it did, she never lacked the courage of her convictions.  An objective point of view was beyond her; she was single-minded to a fault.  The quality she admired most in anyone was goodness, which was a quality she herself could boast.

As far as religion was concerned, Elizabeth kept her own counsel.  We know very little of what she was taught as a child, only that she came under the influence of the Cambridge reformers who tutored her and her brother, and of her Protestant stepmother, Katherine Parr.  Although she herself came to embrace their views, circumstances often dictated that she had to be discreet, so she learned a certain pragmatism with regard to religion.  As a result, she was never a bigot or a fanatic.  She was not even very pious.  As an adult, she commissioned a private prayer in which she gave thanks to God for having 'from my earliest days kept me back from the deep abysses of natural ignorance and damnable superstition, that I might enjoy the great sun of righteousness which brings with its rays life and salvation, while leaving so many kings, princes and princesses in ignorance under the power of Satan'.  On another occasion she displayed an unusually enlightened view for her time when she declared: 'There is only one faith and one Jesus Christ; the rest is a dispute about trifles.'

The Tudor reign is probably one of  the most recognized time periods in British history due to King Henry marrying 6 wives, one of whom was Anne Boleyn, the woman for whom Henry broke away from the Catholic Church and began the Reformation Movement.

Edward, Mary and Elizabeth were the three legitimate children of King Henry VIII  and heirs to the English throne.    Henry divorced his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, mother to the Princess Mary, executed Anne Boleyn, mother of the Princess Elizabeth, and lost Prince Edward's mother, Jane Seymour, in her childbed before marrying 3 more times.  His relationship with each of his daughters was strained due heavily to his failed relationships with their mothers.  Prince Edward, on the other hand, was treated as a King from birth because he was a male heir and because his mother survived her marriage.  The children's relationships with one another were also complicated.  Mary and Elizabeth were brought up in different faiths, Mary in the Catholic faith and Elizabeth as a Protestant.  This issue alone caused strife between them all their lives.  Edward was also partial to the Protestant faith, but as a young King was very much led by his uncles and others of his council.  Each reigned as sovereign with Elizabeth ruling as the last of the Tudors.  Weir presents the children of Henry VIII as children first, their interactions or lack of interaction with each other and their father.  Only Princess Mary was lucky enough to have a few years with her own mother before she was sent away.  King Henry's children, their individual lives greatly influenced by the religious and  political climate during their lifetimes, and the favor of their father as well as the people of England shaped each of them into the person they would become and the kind of sovereign they were to England.

What I Liked

Information on King Edward - because he died so young I've not read much about him...He was young, and his reign was short and controlled by his handlers, so I can see why he might be considered less important than the others...however, Edward was a Protestant.  If he had not ruled before Mary, things could have been very different.

Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth - what an absolutely tough cookie this one was...not only tough but smart...she made mistakes but she learned from them...she didn't get caught up in ridiculous stuff and called her own shots.  I knew this about her as Queen but from Weir's research it becomes apparent that those personality characteristics were hers from the beginning.  I like to think she got the best of both her mother and father...the anger and power from her father and her cunning from her mother.  

Historical documentation - while I love a good piece of historical fiction, I especially appreciate a work like this one that presents history in a narrative form.  By the time I got to Mary's reign, I couldn't put the book down...even though I knew what was going to happen next.  Weir pulls the reader in so that he/she feels like these are regular people somehow.  Weir weaves in comments of documents that still exist, those that don't, lands and castles and who they belong to then and now...but in such a way that it feels part of the story.

The Bibliography - I'm a geek.  I know it.  I just love a good bibliography.  Weir provides the reader with access to the documents she studied, previous books read, and lots and lots of primary research.  Her story is based on artifacts and information that is known, not assumed.  I spent an hour just scouring the Bib.

Jane Grey - Jane Grey's story REALLY gets swept under the rug in history, but Weir doesn't shy away from it.  Jane Grey's story may be one of the saddest, in fact, being a pawn of the greedy adults around her and then paying the ultimate price for crimes that were not her own.

Queen Mary - I don't like Mary, never have.  But, Weir gives more of a glimpse into who Mary was and why she was.  There's a lot of information on Mary, and it seems Weir is very careful in the chapters focusing on Mary as queen to produce evidence rather than accepted rumor or stories that have survived centuries but aren't based on fact.  I don't like Mary any better now that I've read the book, but Mary's life was much more complicated than just her nickname, Bloody Mary, implies.  

What I Didn't Like

Mary - in all fairness as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I've never been a Mary this dislike really has nothing to do with the book really...just my personal opinion.  Weir does present Mary in such a light that the reader does get a lot of inside information on WHY Mary acted as she did.  But, that info is presented in an objective manner...the reader gets to decide for herself.  I have always believed Mary was ill suited to the monarchy...while she had many positive attributes and a strong personality, she was too emotional and too sentimental.  She was, of course, the only child of a loveless marriage, watched her father put her mother away, and then never was able to see her own mother again.  Those events alone would render a person psychologically unbalanced; unfortunately, the psychologically unbalanced don't always make good leaders.  I believe Mary was a religious fanatic...she held hard to her catholic faith because it represented something stable to her....something she never experienced anywhere or anytime else.  She truly believed she was chosen by God to be the one who healed England's religious dissention.  Because of this fanaticism she earned the title Bloody Mary...she reminds me of what we know of terrorists today.  

An overwhelming amount of information - it's not that I didn't like the amount of information....but...if a person is not into this kind of history or doesn't have at least a little background in Tudor history, he/she could easily get lost.  This isn't a read for the faint of heart or for someone who's looking for a skimmed over romanticized view of King Henry's children's lives.

Not enough Elizabeth - Elizabeth has her own books later of course so I'm sure that's why Weir chose to cut off this story at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, but she's my favorite so I would have liked to see more of her.  

Overall Response

Weir may be one of the most talented historical writers in the world.  So much so that I added her newest book on Mary Boleyn to my Amazon auto ship before it was published; I don't do that often.  Her ability to weave facts into a captivating narrative is incredible.  Most books chocked with factual information are dry and read like a textbook...not these.


Anyone who is interested in British history, the British monarchy, the history of the relationship between church and state, King Edward, Queen Mary, or Queen Elizabeth should read this book...NOW.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wanna Be More Organized Wednesday

There are times in life when even organization seems chaotic...Christmas is one of those times.  
However, I refuse to let the human made Christmas hustle and bustle break my spirit...even when I venture out like my middle child and I did tonight...even when a car honked at me from behind for no reason...even when there are children screaming in Target, Books A Million and even in Toys R Us.  
Does that seem weird to anyone else?
And, yes, there really were screaming (and I mean screaming) children in all 3 of those stores.

I've cooked meals each night, and my girls and I have baked cookies.   We've watched Christmas movies and Christmas specials together and sipped hot cider and hot chocolate.  My youngest even got her ears pierced with her two big sisters holding her hands so she wouldn't be scared.  A full house is the best Christmas I could ever receive.  I mean that.  

I have a few small items left to purchase to help out my mother-in-law, but I, my dear friends, am done shopping...except for a small pick-up on Saturday at PetSmart.   Yes, Virginia, we are getting a hamster And, yes, I am aware that we have enough animals already.
What's your point?
Tomorrow I also do have to go to the post office and put some items in the mail that should have been sent a week or so ago (ahem, cough, cough).  More about that later.
But, the best shopping news of all is that I stayed within my budget...I knew exactly how much I had to spend...and that was all I spent.
I have NEVER stayed within my budget at Christmas.
I'm a little nervous that I might have forgotten somebody...Yikes!

We've enjoyed a week of home cooked meals so far; we had PW's Dr. Pepper pork last night, will have PW's spaghetti and meatballs tomorrow night and Parmesan Crusted Tilapia Friday night.  We'll begin our traditional Christmas meals on Saturday night after Christmas Eve church services at our local Chinese restaurant...(cue the FaRaRaRaRa  song from "A Christmas Story").  Please watch this movie.  Please.
On Christmas morning my family and I will enjoy a breakfast casserole recipe from an old friend of mine and PW's cinnamon rolls.  We will have a light Christmas lunch with a Honey Butter Pork Tenderloin and sides for our Christmas dinner that night.  
These are definitely wonderful times :) and I am blessed beyond measure.

Anyhoo, even though I'm a little late with the mail, this Wednesday post at 10:35 p.m., and my house is a mess (wrapping paper, cookie baking paraphernalia, and laundry...always laundry), it makes me happy.

Fa ra ra ra ra - ra ra ra ra!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

It's no secret this is my favorite meme...I love participating as much as I love reading everyone else's lists.  
But, this week's Top 10 is my favorite list of the entire's not the easiest, considering I have almost 600 books on my Amazon WishList :/ but it's still fun! 

Dear Santa, 
I know that I really don't need any more books...but you know how wonderful they make me feel :)  I had a difficult time narrowing my list of 600 to 10 but I did it!!!  What do you think about these selections?? 

1.  The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I haven't read anything by Eugenides and plan to take care of that problem asap!  I've heard so many good things about this novel since even before it was  officially released.  

2.  Nighwoods by Charles Frazier

I just finished reading Cold Mountain with my students and loved it.  I loved the story steeped in history and description.  I'm determined to read all of Frazier's novels...lucky for me he has a new one :)

3.  The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason

I've been a fan of Bobbie Ann Mason ever since I read her YA classic In Country.  I can't say enough about her writing and can't wait to dig into this one.

4.  Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward 

I'm all over anything that has to do with my home state Mississippi...Ward's new book is the talk of Indie bookstores all over our state so I MUST have this one.

5.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is my peer pressure selection on the list.  Just by reading the synopsis, this is not a book I would usually pick up...but blogger after blogger, whose opinions I trust have given Morgenstern rave reviews.  I can't stand not having an opinion, so what else can a gal do??  

6.  Joan Didion's Blue Nights 

I know this one will be sad...I meant to read Didion's first novel after her husband's in the world has this resilient woman lived through now the loss of her child.  Writing.  That's all I can figure.

7.  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Review after review has Jobs pegged as a complete total jerk...but at the same time...a genius.  I've always heard there's a fine line between genius and insanity...Jobs may very well be an iconic example of that very premise.  

8.  Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Another genius...alcoholic...sometimes happy, sometimes distraught...but a writer whose novels have withstood generation after generation.  A must have.

9.  Catherine the Great by Robert Massie 

I am constantly reminded that to be a feminist today is NOTHING compared to what women like Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I, etc. had to deal with during their lifetimes.  To be GREAT during times where women were expected to be anything just astonishing.

10.  Food Rules by Michael Pollan

The more I read by Pollan and others like him, the easier it is for me to make healthier choices for my family and my life.

Dear Santa, I usually follow the rules of this meme, but I realized after I'd made my list that there's a book that I desperately need that's not on the list.  I tried very hard to remove one of the original 10 and replace it with this one...but then I decided to let you do that ;)

11.  Honorable Mention - can't believe I forgot this one...of all books to forget :/

Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean

I'm sure I don't have to explain this one :):)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the ladies @ The Broke and the Bookish.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weekend Cooking - Family Fun's Cookies for Christmas and Chocolate Crinkles

When my two older daughters were very young, one of my favorite magazines each month was Family Fun...I liked the format, the ideas, the stories, the pictures, and especially the family oriented (kid oriented) recipes.  In 1998, the magazine published a small hardback book with recipes for Christmas cookies, and I had to have a copy.  That was the year my girls and I started our Christmas cookie bake marathon :)  Of course, then I was the one doing most of the baking, and they decorated whenever possible.  Each year we pull out the little book and pick what we want to make.  We don't try to make a bunch of batches in one day...we plan a recipe a day...for as long as we choose.  So far, we've made Reindeer cookies, The Gingerbread Clan, our own version of Gingerbread houses, Penny Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Crinkles, Thumbprint Cookies, Snowballs & Crescent Moons, & Peanut Butter Sealed with a Kiss.  This year the girls have requested that we add Celebration Sticks and Chocolate Pretzels to our repertoire. 
We vary our choices each year but Reindeer Cookies, Penny Snickerdoodles, Thumbprint Cookies and Crescent Moons make the list every. single. year.  

Last year I couldn't find the little book, and I was so disappointed.  It's not that the book itself is that important to me; it's the memories that book brings back each year.  Fortunately, about March, I found the book!  It was on the shelf amongst my other cookbooks. It's such a slim volume that I guess I just scanned right past it.  I was also sure I had packed the book away in the Christmas boxes so I looked there most of all.  Whew!!

We've made our Reindeer cookies, Penny Snickerdoodles, and Chocolate Crinkles so far this year.  For this week's Weekend Cooking, I decided to share our Chocolate Crinkles :) 

For this recipe the dough must be made at least 2 hours before you want to cook.  We made the dough last night and actually made the cookies this afternoon after church.  In the above picture, my youngest is rolling the dough into balls.  The dough is that hunk of chocolate stuff on the right. 

Here she's rolling the dough balls into powdered sugar.

And here my middle child decided to help as well.

If you don't like chocolate or you don't like powdered sugar all over your kitchen counter, this is probably not the cookie recipe for you. ;)
I don't freak out over stuff like that though.

Even Layla enjoyed cleaning up the powdered sugar that fell to the floor :):)

You don't flatten these cookie dough balls...they flatten themselves as they cook, forming the crinkly look you see in this photo.  Obviously that's why these are called Chocolate Crinkles.

These cookies are a fluffy chocolaty cross between a double chocolate chip cookie and a brownie...melt in your mouth goodness. 

Here's the recipe: 

3/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla 
1 6-ounce bag semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 1/4 cups)
confectioners' sugar for dusting (about 3/4 cup)

In a large bowl, mix the melted butter with the cocoa powder and sugar until well combined.  In a medium-size bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and vanilla into the chocolate mixture.  Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or overnight.  
Preheat the oven to 350.  Roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter.  Pour the confectioners' sugar on a plate or in a shallow bowl; then roll each ball in the sugar. 
Place the balls on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between them (they will flatten and spread).  Bake for 12 minutes, or until the cookies are set.  Lay the baking sheet on a wire rack and cool for about 5 minutes; dust with more confectioners' sugar if desired.  Transfer the cookies to racks to cool thoroughly.  Makes 25-35 cookies.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Candace @ Beth Fish Reads.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Snapshot Saturday - Baking

These aren't the best pictures in the world but they signify the beginning of a very special event at our house each year...Let the baking begin!! 

I first made these reindeer cookies the year my firstborn was in kindergarten.  My oldest is a freshman in college now, and she and her sisters pretty much can do these by themselves.  I just hang around to pay for the ingredients, snap a few pictures, and of course, sample the snacks :)  

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas :)

Snapshot Saturday is hosted by Alyce @ At Home with Books.