Monday, 30 November 2015

A Fairy Extraordinary Christmas Story - A Review


Read this one to youngsters at Christmas time and start a new tradition or read it yourself for the warm fuzzies and smiles it is sure to evoke.  Granted, the concept has been done many, many times … toys and Christmas decorations with an “awareness” slowly being left behind as the household grows up … but really, does it ever get old?  And, “A Fairy Extraordinary Christmas Story” does have a very touching and yet amusing twist at the end. 

Tallulah is a Christmas Fairy tree-topper.  Ever since she was manufactured she had an awareness of being.  On her first Christmas atop a tree a shooting star blazes outside the window and with that magical occurrence Tallulah realizes that she and all the other decorations are “alive”.

As we meet all the other decorations and ornaments we hear the story about how they are brought out every year and then, sadly, have to be returned to the attic when Christmas is over.  But, maybe not so sad after all since the attic is where all the decorations for all the holidays reside and soon enough Tallulah meets the Easter (Bunny) and Halloween (Skelly and Witch) decorations as well.

As must happen, the children grow up and move out and then one year the parents decide that decorating is too much trouble.  Confused by the sudden quietness of the house and the fact that it’s Christmas and they are still in the attic the decorations decide to take matters into their own hands.  The result is an adventure that warmed my heart and made me smile.

Definitely 5 bookish Christmas Trees for this charming little story.

  * I received this book at no charge from the publisher, Nova Sky Books,
via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from the website)

A. J. York is the author of the middle grade fantasy series called The Delilah Dusticle Adventures. Born in Gothenburg, Sweden and raised in the UK, A.J. York's first love was telling stories through drama.

"I have always enjoyed making up characters and their life stories, therefore I jumped at the chance to study theatre at the University of Brighton.  I later trained as a drama teacher and I have a Master's degree from Goldsmiths. I have gone back to my roots and I now live in Gothenburg. People have told me they love reading my stories and I hope you have fun reading them too!" A.J. York

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR (from the website)

Hailing from the north of England, Gavin Childs is a Design teacher at an International School in Gothenburg, Sweden.

In his spare time Gavin illustrates The Delilah Dusticle Adventures. He is currently working on an animated trailer, and you can find examples of his work by visiting his website:

Merry Mary - A Review

MERRY MARY by Ashley Farley

After having one miscarriage and one stillbirth Scottie Darden is throwing herself into her work to stave off the emptiness she feels from the empty nursery at home.  Working on “Lost Souls”, a photo project featuring homeless people – she hopes it will help establish her career as a photojournalist – she is offering some hot food and coffee to her homeless photo subjects when she discovers a young girl dead in her tent.  In her arms lies a crying baby girl.  As soon as Scottie announces the death, screaming for help, the small group of vagrants quickly disperses.  With no one around and her cell phone charging at home Scottie has a decision to make … wait until someone shows up or take the little girl home with her to a warm home, a bath, a clean diaper and some formula.  She decides her home is the best place.  A decision that will be hard to undo as it doesn’t take her long to fall in love with the baby.

What will happen when an autopsy shows the young woman had recently given birth and was breastfeeding yet there is no baby to be found?

I was hoping for a heartwarming Christmas story as I started reading this book.  There were moments that did tug at the heartstrings but in my opinion this novella could have been so much more.  Despite her heart of gold when it came to Mary (the baby) I really did not like Scottie.  She seemed very spoiled and self-centered.  Her mooch of a husband does a disappearing act halfway through the story, her parents are supportive yet seem slightly aloof and her brother is a hard drinking womanizer who, admittedly, does step up when he’s needed but only as last resort.

The story itself seemed a little far-fetched.  As the characters were having one stressful moment after the next trying to figure out what to do with the baby I was thinking of any number of reasonable solutions.  Of course, that would have made it a 5-page short story.

There was also a little bit of confusion for me as the reader.  At several points near the beginning of the story it looked as if it were going to take a slightly religious path (okay, since it is a Christmas story) then for the second half of the book the whole theme was totally forgotten and never mentioned again.

I’m going to give this one 3 bookish Christmas Trees.  It was well written and it had a good premise.  I guess it was not quite what I was expecting (my fault for having pre-conceived expectations).  Still, it is a sweet holiday idea.

* I received this book at no charge from the publisher, CrushStar MuliMedia LLC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)

If only I had another minute, another hour, another day. There never seems to be enough time to accomplish all that’s on my mind.

I am an indie author, amateur photographer, and mother of two college-aged kids who bring me much joy but are turning my hair gray. My contemporary women’s novel Her Sister’s Shoes, June 2015, is the story of three middle-aged sisters that proves the healing power of family. My debut novel Saving Ben, January 2012, is a tribute to my brother—the boy I worshipped, the man I could not save.

I experienced the fragility of life when my brother Neal died of an accidental drug overdose in 1999, at the age of 37. He touched the lives of many with his wonderful sense of humor, his infectious laugh, and his tortured soul.

I learned a lot during the many years my family suffered the fallout of my brother’s addictions. After Neal’s death, I wanted to share those experiences. I wanted to tell anyone willing to listen how substance abuse and mental illness destroys families. I wanted to counsel groups of students about the dangers of alcohol and drug use. But every time I tried to talk to others about Neal, my voice shook and my eyes filled with tears. So I let the experts do the talking. I chaired education committees at my son’s school to promote alcohol and drug awareness to parents. And I helped to organize a series of leadership symposia where we brought in world-renowned speakers to empower students to become better leaders through honor and integrity and character.
But none of my efforts were enough to fill the hole in my heart created by my brother’s death. So I turned to writing. Saving Ben is not a memoir, but a story about the special bond between siblings.

I grew up in the salty marshes of South Carolina, but I have lived in Richmond, Virginia, a city I love for its history and traditions, for most of my adult life. I love to travel, garden, and when I’m in the mood, I like to try out new recipes.

Sunday Christmas Baking - Round Two

So, yesterday was dedicated to more Christmas Baking, this time for the Greek taste buds in the family.

I did manage to get a couple of Christmas themed short stories read (reviews later today, I hope) while waiting for things to come out of the oven.  Reading Christmas stories seemed appropriate somehow.

Yesterday's results ...

Melomakarona (Honey Walnut Cookies) 
And the sampling plate 'cause, you know, you have to taste before you can give them to folks!

Koulouraki (which I always think of as Greek Shortbread)
and Kourabiethes (Walnut Crescents)


NaBloPoMo  DONE!!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Masked Truth - A Review

THE MASKED TRUTH by Kelley Armstrong

As Riley Vasquez was babysitting one evening, upstairs entertaining the little one so the parents could leave the house without the crying scene, masked intruders broke in.  Riley, hid under the bed as shots were fired downstairs, discovering later that the little girl’s parents had been killed.  Despite the fact that by hiding she undoubtedly saved the child’s life Riley suffered survivor’s guilt.  Her therapist suggested an overnight therapy group may help her open up about what happened in order to deal with her trauma more effectively.  Things did not quite happen that way.  Just as everyone was arriving for the “therapy weekend” masked intruders broke into the facility holding all the patients and the two counselors hostage.  That is until the shooting started.  Riley has only herself and Max Cross to depend on to get them out of there.  Unfortunately, Max is schizophrenic and has a hard time discerning what’s real and what’s imaginary.

This YA novel is a step away from Ms. Armstrong’s usual paranormal fare.  It was a well-written book that kept me turning the pages.  Yes, a little reality suspension was necessary.  Yes, the characters were a little cliché – the strong (thinks she’s not) heroine, the flawed hero, unbelieving parents and bad guys that were a little over the top.  Some of the action was a little repetitive as well, but the book certainly gave you action.  I’m rating this one three stars.  Being a constant reader of Ms. Armstrong’s books, including most of her YA books, this story felt like a bit of a rehash of “The Darkest Powers” trilogy without the paranormal edge … teenagers running from the bad adults, hiding, running and finally having to deal with everything one their own.

It was still a good read just, in my opinion, not one of the most original of her books.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)

I’ve been telling stories since before I could write. My earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, mine would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to my teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make me produce “normal” stories failed. Today, I continue to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in my basement writing dungeon.


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Otherworld Secrets - A Review

OTHERWORLD SECRETS by Kelley Armstrong

If you are an “Otherworld” fan and still suffering from withdrawal symptoms because the series ended this is definitely the book to pick up.  It is comprised of six short stories (I would dare to say novellas) and each was a nice (re)visit with the main characters from the book series.  As I was writing the short synopsis of each story I also got to thinking that these stories stand pretty well on their own too ... if you have not read any books in the "Otherworld" series they still make sense and it may whet your appetite for the series.

LIFE AFTER THEFT (Hope and Karl) 
With baby number two on the way Karl has retired from his life as a werewolf jewel thief, but one of his clients has one more heist that only Karl can pull off – the theft of the ultimate grimoire containing ancient dark magic spells. 

MORGAN (Elena and Clay)
Morgan Walsh has been living with wolves in Alaska – living with them as a wolf – but now he has decided to come to Stonehaven to consider Elena’s invitation to join the pack.  (Elena being the only female werewolf thanks to Clay's impulsive bite and now Alpha in training for the pack)  While on route he stops in Westwood for a bite to eat.  How he resist stopping in a town that advertises itself as “Home of the Werewolves” and the diner gives a 10% discount to all Werewolves and their families … of course the town is talking about their football team ... but Morgan stops anyway.  It’s not too long before he discovers himself in the local jail with barely any recollection of how he got there.  A map with Stonehaven circled and Elena’s telephone number written on it is the only identification he has, so the sheriff calls.  It’s not too long before Elena and Clay realize that things are not quite right in Westwood.

ANGELIC (Eve and Kristof)
With her latest case resolved Eve is ready to join the ghost realm with Kristof for some much needed R&R.  The fates however have a slightly different idea.  They want her to wrap a quick case involving a demon uprising.  To save time she enlists the help of a couple of other avenging angels only to find that she is not the only rule breaker in the “angel corps”.

While performing one of her on stage séances Jaime is visited by a ghost with a mission and no amount of vervain is going to repel this determined spirit.  Not wanting him hanging around as she is getting ready for a weekend visit from Jeremy she decides to see what his request is all about.  Well, she can certainly put her necromancer skills to good use when she uncovers his little secret.

Zoe has always been the only vampire in Toronto and she likes it that way, but when two new vamps come to town with the idea of taking over Zoe gives them a tour of the city they will not soon forget.

COUNTERFEIT MAGIC (Lucas & Paige, Adam & Savannah)
Carlos is still trying to get Lucas to leave the Cabal and a new client shows up to hire Winterbourne Investigations to look into the death of her brother … somehow these two incidents are related.  Not until things in Paige and Lucas’ marriage take a turn for the worse and Adam is possessed by a demon do they get the bottom of what is really happening.

Each story was wonderful, but because they featured my favorite characters from the series I must admit to enjoying “Counterfeit Magic” and “Morgan” the best.

As I was reading this book I realized that I have been quite “brainwashed” by the “Bitten” television series, because every time Clay’s name came up all I could picture in my mind was Greyston Holt.  Not a great hardship, darlin!

("Clay" walking up the stairs after changing out of wolf form ... sorry - not really - but couldn't resist)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website)

I'm married with three kids and live in rural Ontario, Canada. After graduating with a degree in psychology, I switched gears and studied computer programming. Currently, I'm a full-time writer and parent. Could I make this section any more dull? Probably not.


TeeHeeHee - LOTR Bar Battle

I'm not a huge fan but even I found this amusing.

Introducing the first annual LOTR dance battle ....

Your Welcome!  :-) 

Friday, 27 November 2015

Too Many Books - Not Enough Time

In my opinion this is still the BEST bookstore meltdown EVER!

"There aren't enough bowel movements left"


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Stop the Diet, I Want to Get Off! - A Review

This seemed like a good book to review after hitting "publish" on my Christmas Baking Post - just to remind myself why those cookies should get put in the freezer ASAP!

STOP THE DIET, I WANT TO GET OFF by Lisa Tillinger Johansen, MS, RD

Who hasn’t been on a diet?  As Ms. Tillinger-Johansen states in this book it is probably easier to count who has not been on a diet than tally those who have.  The word “diet” itself does not denote the desire to lose weight – diet simply refers to what we eat and drink every day.  A specialized eating plan can be made up to help attain certain goals achieved through what we eat – a healthier lifestyle, prevention of diabetes or high blood pressure and, yes, weight loss.

I have been a TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) group leader for a number of years and I enjoy my group but sometimes I find it difficult to come up with an interesting meeting topic to discuss each week; a topic that will not only be interesting for my members but that will also keep them (and me) motivated until next week’s trip to the scale.  I requested this book hoping it would give me some ideas.  Well, if you are looking for a common sense, easy to read, packed full of information and often amusing book about dieting this is certainly one to pick up.  Having read through this book I feel quite certain there is not one aspect of sensibly eating (diet, if you must) that this book does not touch upon.  Ms. Tillinger-Johansen includes obesity statistics from other countries (staggering!), she discusses fact versus fiction when it comes to dieting and touches on the plethora of diets out there (many some of which can do more harm than good both for your health and your waistline).  There is even a diet that promotes eating baby food … I’m pretty sure I didn’t even want to eat baby food when I was a baby!

What would a diet book be without discussing the evils of distorted body image brought on by Hollywood, advertising, beauty pageants and even Dr. Oz.  Personally, don’t even get me started on him.

All the important subjects are covered including protein, starches, fibre, WATER, fats, fruits and vegetables, vitamins and portion size.  Have a question about their importance and the answer can be found in this book.

On the back cover of this book it states “We’re caught in a never-ending merry-go-round of weight loss plans, fueled by celebrity endorsers, TV doctors and companies angling for a piece of a $60 billion industry.  But do these diets really work?  And how healthy are they?”  If you want to get off that merry-go-round and start eating for your health this book is an excellent resource on how to do that … and most importantly … it does that without being preachy or weighing you down (pun totally intended) with guilt.

I still find this book, packed full of solid information, an excellent resource to use for my TOPS group. 

* I received this book at no charge from the author via WordSlinger
 in exchange for an honest review *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from the book jacket)

Lisa Tillinger Johansen is a registered dietician who counsels clients on a wide range of health issues.  Her debut nutrition book, “Fast Food Vindication”, received the Discovery Award (sponsored by USA Today, The Huffington Post and Kirkus).

She lives in Southern California.

From her website


Lisa helps her patients clients find a realistic plan that works for them. In this fast-paced world, it isn’t always easy to prepare home-cooked meals. Lisa helps her clients devise nutrition strategies for eating on the go, whether at sit-down restaurants or even fast-food establishments.


Now, through this website, and, Lisa answers nutritional questions, gives helpful tips, and creates exclusive videos designed to promote a fun and more healthy lifestyle.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Is That a Werd?

Today is going to be a busy day and I have nothing prepared for my daily NaBloPoMo post, until this came up and got me thinking about a quick post.

When my girls played rep sports we spent a lot of time in the car traveling to various sports venues.  Let me tell you they do not call them "travel teams" for nothing!  We enjoyed making up ridiculous stories as we drove along.  I always said someday I would write them out, which I still might.  But spending all that time in the car, especially after long days spend at tournaments, sometimes you get so tired your mouth does not want to work correctly anymore.  Things fall out that make you shake your head and laugh.  Which led to an imaginary world we made up called "Joe-Land" where nothing could be used except combination words to alleviate the stress of trying to think up a perfect word when you're talking.  There were a lot of rules around "Joe-Land" but just to give you an example ... the national sport was "BaBoJengGolf"; Baseball or Basketball (depending on the season)/Bowling/Jenga/Golf.  (Cut us some slack, the girls were young)


I recently wished another blogger I follow a Happy Blog Anniversary.  I simply commented "Happy Blogiversary".  I know I didn't make up that word - I'm not usually that clever - but judging from the comments people had not heard it before ... so ... I'm claiming it as my word for today. 

That just reminded me of another word I read in a book (Red Tide by Jeff Lindsay) recently, that I meant to comment on in my review and forgot.  The word was "coughter".  I mentioned it to my daughter and she immediately knew what it was - uncontrollable laughing until it makes you cough - and then she said "that would be an awesome word for Joe-Land."  It warmed my heart that she even remembered that made up place.

So there are my first two contributions to "Is that a Werd".  Has anyone else come across words that are not real but yet convey the thought perfectly.  I'd love to see them 'cause who knows, Joe-Land may need a dictionary some day?


Monday, 23 November 2015

Sunday Christmas Baking - Round One

Since I work Monday through Saturday (one of perks - haha - of managing your own office) I am very protective of my Sundays.  I try to have all my errands and "chores" done by Saturday night so Sunday belongs to me.  Even my friends know that unless something is planned in advance chances are very good that I will not even get properly dressed.  I have my breaky, do anything that may really need to be done (like my treadmill and the kitty litter ... both equally despised) then have a shower and put on a clean pair of pajamas.  Then the safe bet is I will make a latte, grab a book and read.

Of course, 'tis the season, so I am doing my holiday baking now.  Years ago I started giving home baked Christmas goodies to co-workers, the young man who mows my lawn, my BFF ('cause she doesn't bake), one or two neighbours and of course my daughters.  It was something I enjoyed doing and when money was tight I thought it was a nice way to share the spirit of the season without the stress and expense of Christmas shopping.  The list of recipients has grown and the past few years it has turned into quite the production.  This year I kind of put out the word that maybe, just maybe, I might forgo the baking this year (it is time consuming and really not that inexpensive anymore).  That statement was met with more than a few pouty faces and half-hearted that's okays.  You would have thought I'd announced there is no Santa Claus.

My oldest daughter actually threw her hands up in the air and announced "Well, now you've gone and totally ruined Christmas".  She was kidding of course, but someone once said many a truth is spoken in jest.

I have a strong "guilt complex" so I took my self off to the grocery store and bought the 10 Kg bag of flour and then to Bulk Barn to get other various and sundry items I would need and began my baking, starting with all the baking I knew would freeze well.

Needless to say no reading got done yesterday and I didn't think to plug an audio book into my ears - just as well - often the mixer and the food processor drown it out anyway.  I just thought I'd share what I was up to yesterday ...

Gooey Chocolate Butter Cookies, Gooey Lemon Coconut Butter Cookies (these are the easiest cookies and the world to make), White Chocolate Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti and Dark Chocolate Walnut Biscotti below.

Fruitcake Cookies (my fave) and Chocolate Rolled Cookies below.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Simply Let Go of the Mouse and Walk Away!

Sometimes you just have to admit defeat, turn off the computer and walk away ...


And then there is that awful moment - just as your finger hits the send button you spot a typo ...

A good friend might do an intervention to let you know it's time to just give up and try again another day ...

BUT REMEMBER ... it could always be worse!

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Real Santa - A Review

REAL SANTA by William Hazelgrove

Just how far would you go to keep your daughter’s belief in Santa Claus alive for just a little while longer?  Would you … be willing to become the town laughing stock?  Put your family’s finances in jeopardy?  Take a chance on alienating the rest of your family?  Risk your life?  George Kronenfeldt does all those things, and more.

When George’s 9-year-old daughter Megan comes home from school and announces that her fourth grade teacher has denounced Santa Claus during a discussion on Global Warming George decides to take matters into his own hands.  Marching off to school to confront the teacher turns into a shoving match and George vows to keep Megan’s belief in Santa alive for at least one more year.  He is determined that having ruined his relationship with his children from his first marriage this time he will be a better parent.  He will use his expertise as an engineer and manufacture a Christmas Eve visit from Santa that Megan will never forget.  One that she can videotape and show her friends … and Santa will stay alive in their lives for one more year … even if he has to be the “real Santa”.

All the nay-sayers will cannot deter him from his mission as he hires a filmmaker to help with special effects, rents nine flatulent reindeer and a sleigh to perch on his roof, a contractor to expand his chimney and a couple of mountain climbers to help him up and down that same chimney.  Soon enough he begins to have his own doubts about his scheme, but he has reached the point of no return and plods forth.  Does Megan get her video of Santa’s visit?  In the end … no, I won’t give it away!  Suffice it to say that I do not think it was by accident that George Kronenfeldt shares his name with that other iconic George of “It’s a Wonderful Life” fame.

This book was a wonderful Christmas read.  George is a loveable loser just trying to do his best when everyone in his life doubts him.  This book has everything you could want in a Christmas read; a little history about Santa Claus, a lot of humor, many touching moments, some suspense and great characters.  Megan’s teacher is the perfect villianess in this book – over the top, set in her ways, crotchety, bitter and determined to stop George at all costs.  Throw in the next-door neighbor with the ugly seasonal inflatables (a tank?) on his lawn, the long suffering wife who decides she’s finally had enough, the vengeful ex-wife and his two slightly neglected children from his first marriage and you have almost the entire cast for this perfect Christmas farce.

I’m going to rate this Christmas read at 4 Christmas trees.  There were a few sections that seemed to go on just a little bit too long and I could have done with less of the film director but don’t let that stop you from picking this book up if you are looking for a Christmas read.  Yes – you will have to suspend reality, take a few things on faith and give in to the spirit of Christmas, but that won’t be so hard to do as you cheer for George right to the end.  

I could so see this book being made into a movie ... I'd watch it. 

* I received a copy of this ebook at no charge from the publisher, Koehler Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website)

William Hazelgrove is the bestselling author of eight novels, Ripples, Tobacco Sticks Mica Highways Rocket Man, The Pitcher, Real Santa, and forthcoming Jackpine and The Pitcher 2 in 2015.

His books have received starred reviews in Publisher Weekly and Booklist, Book of the Month Selections, ALA Editors Choice Awards Junior Library Guild Selections and optioned for the movies. He was the Ernest Hemingway Writer in Residence where he wrote in the attic of Ernest Hemingway’s birthplace. He has written articles and reviews for USA Today and other publications and has been featured on NPR All Things Considered. The New York Times, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today have all covered his books with features.

He runs a cultural blog, The View From Hemingway’s Attic. He lives in Chicago.