Monday, October 27, 2014

Taste of Beirut, by Joumana Accad - A Book Review

This cookbook is one that I have been looking for. My husband served two stints in the Navy and during that time, spent a significant amount of his service in the Mediterranean region. While there, he had the opportunity to eat foods of the region. He gained a love of Middle Eastern foods that followed him back home. After our marriage, when I learned how much he loved this style of cooking, I began searching out recipes. I was often discouraged to find that many recipes are written by people who did not grow up eating these foods. The recipes seemed to be missing something. When I saw this cookbook, I knew I had to give it a try. Taste of Beirut is written by Joumana Accad, a native of Lebanon who came to America in 1979.

The recipes are a nice blend of traditional and modern. In the very first chapter, great detail is given to the basics. One example is the time spent explaining pita bread and it's role in the daily meals. Throughout the cookbook, great care is given to walking you through the recipes. You literally are taken step by step in the preparation with tips for serving and storage of the foods.

I absolutely loved that there is such detail in the book from the descriptions of what meals are traditionally like to what is in the typical Lebanese pantry. Reading through the book, I can feel the passion that the author has for this style of cooking.

The pictures in the book are very well done. I was happy to see that so many were included. Some cookbooks do not have a picture for each recipe, which is a detriment to me when I want to try something new. These pictures actually start making you hungry as you glance through them.

This is the first cookbook that I have on my Kindle that I am looking forward to buying in book form to add to my recipe books collection. It is likely to become one of my most often used cookbooks as well. If you are interested in the flavorful foods of the Middle Eastern regions, this book is a great place to start. It has all the basics that are a part of that region's diet. You can find meal ideas for every meal of the day, including some that can be snacks in between meals. Even my picky eater is enjoying foods made from this book! That alone is a feat worthy of promoting this book.

Book Review: Full Contact, by Sidney Halston

I had the absolute pleasure of reading the ARC for Full Contact, by Sidney Halston. This book is the first that I have read by this author and I was thrilled to have enjoyed it so much.

Slade is a mixed martial arts fighter who has had to stop competing. After numerous concussions from past fights, he is one concussion away from serious, life threatening injury. He becomes a co-owner of the Academy where he now trains MMA fighters. Slade has a reputation of being a man who has thoroughly enjoyed the perks of his fame where the ladies are concerned. Though he has had no interest in having a relationship, he has never let that stop him from enjoying female company. Only one woman has ever truly caught his attention in a more meaningful way....Jessica Cross. Jessica is not free though. She is in a relationship with another man, Dennis Stavros.

Jessica is in a fragile way when we first meet her. The victim of a brutal attack, she is recovering in the hospital. Slade comes to her aid and offers her a safe place to recover from her injuries. As she recovers, Slade's feelings for her deepen.

Jessica returns home and the relationship between her and Slade begins to unfold. I enjoyed their relationship and how Slade was so involved in Jessica's recovery. Jessica was no shrinking violet though. A bartender by trade, she knows how to handle herself around alpha men. There is only one man who can really put the fear into her.

An underlying storyline that comes to light in the book is that of a stalker who has set his focus on Jessica. He is exacting in his efforts and eventually comes face to face with her. The resulting backlash of that confrontation haunts Jessica and shakes her to the core. Will her budding relationship with Slade survive the aftermath of the stalker's claims on Jessica? How will Slade ever forgive her once the stalker's actions are made known?

This book is a great read. I absolutely loved the characters in the story. Sidney Halston has gained a new reader with this book. I look forward to reading more of stories in the future.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review: Rocky Mountain Romance - by Vivian Arend

I have had the pleasure of reading Rocky Mountain Romance, by Vivian Arend.  What a wonderful opportunity to preview this book.  

This is a sweet story of second chances. A year prior to the story's beginning, Steven comes from a family of ranchers. The Coleman family is large, boisterous, and a fun bunch to get to know through the books in this series. Steven is a bit of a playboy. He would much rather be having fun than working. He and Melody were dating, but after one final mistake on his part, she breaks off their relationship and leaves to further her training in the veterinarian career field.

The story open as Melody is returning to town. Having finished her trainings, she is going to be working for the local veterinarian's clinic in their small community. She hasn't had contact with Steven during her time away. Upon her return though, they meet and sparks are definitely still in place between them.

There are a couple of themes to this story. The first is the rebuilding of Steven and Melody's relationship. He has a hard row to hoe with Melody in the beginning. How does a cowboy prove to his lady that he has changed? How does he prove to her that he is no longer the irresponsible man he was when she left? Throughout the story, we see Steven owning up to his past faults and his efforts to show that he is a new man with a stronger sense of responsibility. The secondary storyline is that of Melody finding her way through a very male dominated world. When the clinic's owner decides to take a vacation for the first time in many years, he leaves Melody in charge of the large animal care. Her peer, Tom, is not happy. He has been left in charge of small animals that are brought to the clinic. He is openly resentful towards Melody over the situation. Another source of irritation for her is the reaction of a few of the ranchers who's livestock she is treating. They don't like the idea of a young woman coming out to tend their animals are not shy about letting her know how they feel.

Throughout the story, I have mixed emotions. I love the humor and the verbal banter between Melody and Steven's family. She fits into their family well and the women have embraced her as a part of the clan. The only part that gives me pause is the way Steven & Melody's relationship plays out. I get it that he screwed up in past and he is wanting Melody to see that he is a different man than he had been. It seems so one-sided. In the end however, I felt a lot better about the storyline as Melody has her own moment of realization that she too had a part in the failure of their past relationship. She realizes that she is also at fault and even now is wrong in how she treats & thinks of Steven. Melody finally comes completely to her senses in that regard and makes amends with Steven.

Overall, I loved the story and am looking forward to the next book. Ms. Arend does a great job of bringing you into the world she is writing about. You can connect with the characters and end up alternately wanting to laugh with them or slap them upside the head, telling them to “snap out of it.” I laughed often at the antics between the Coleman family members. Other times, I shook my head wondering why someone would say/do what was happening in that moment. The book thoroughly kept me entertained.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Book Review: Home in Harmony by Christa O'Leary

Our family lives a fairly simple life when compared to others.  We love the quiet and peace that living off-grid brings.  When I saw this book, I thought it may bring yet another aspect of serenity in the home to our perspectives.

As I read the book, I loved that the first thing we really begin to learn is just ow habits, both good and bad, affect our daily life.  Many of the things we do are so automatic that we do them without thought.  It is routine to us.  This not only encompasses what we are aware of, but also what only our subconscious is doing.  Ms. O'Leary gives wonderful examples of the way habits are formed and how they affect us on a daily basis.

In subsequent chapters, Ms. O'Leary focuses on other influences, such as our home, mind, and spirit.  She walks you through each area, pointing out the subtle things we may not realize are bringing discord to our spirit and our general well-being.  She talks about the toxins we face that affect our health and gives ideas on how to eliminate them.  Some of the toxic things are tangible, such as chemicals in the products we ue or foods we eat.  Other toxins are the outside influences such as the negativity in people, media, and the various other ways that we allow the outside world's values touch our life.

One minor area that I cringed at in the book was her skirting the line of the "green" issues.  IN some ways, she sounded more like a "green" activist and it took away from the overall feel of the book that I had been having.  

Overall, the book is good and it has value in bringing awareness to the readers of how much we allow the toxins of life into our homes.  She has good advice on how to shed the standards and values that society deems acceptable or necessary and replace them with the values that we truly feel at peace with.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: Full Throttle by Julie Ann Walker

When I found this title, my attention was caught right away. It jumped out at me above the other titles I was looking through. I have to admit, that with that title, I had high expectations for the story. I hoped that it would live up to its title. I was not disappointed! The story starts with a bang and takes you on an adrenaline filled adventure from start to finish.

Carlos and Abigail have a history. Carlos and his twin sister, Rosa, met Abigail while they were all at college. Abigail came from a wealthy family. Her father was aspiring to become the next US President. Carlos and Rosa came from a much more humble background. The relationships between the three was a very close one. Early in the story, a devastating event would take place that would change Carlos and Abigail's lives forever.

Carlos gave up his studies to become a surgeon and enlisted in the military. He eventually became an Army Ranger. Now, he is working with a black ops group, Black Knights, Inc. The Black Knights are an elite group of soldiers. They are the personal security force that works for Abigail's father, President Thompson.

Abigail also left behind her studies to become a doctor. She is now working in the field of horticulture. In the story, she travels to Malaysia to attend a horticulture conference. She is escorted there with Secret Service security detail. The President sends along a few of the Black Knights to help ensure his daughter's safety. Among them is Carlos, who she hasn't seen since the tragedy at the college 8 years earlier. The attraction between them is still as strong, if not stronger, than it has ever been.

One night, while still in Malaysia, Abigail is kidnapped in a well planned and executed event. The event is one which has a tragic impact on the security detail. It doesn't take long for Carlos to learn that Abigail has been taken. This is where we begin to see just how deep his feelings for Abigail still are. During her captivity, Abigail holds on to the hope that Carlos will find her.

The story is centered on the rescue of Abigail. Carlos finds her and Abigail is forced to face the past. She blames herself for the event that happened during college and lives with that guilt. The secret that she holds may cost her a future with Carlos. When he learns the truth, will he walk away?

“Full Throttle” delivers in a big way. It is page after page of action. I loved how the story amps up the intensity, lets it lower a bit, then takes you back up into the high intensity again. It is like a ride on an extreme roller coaster.

After reading this story, I am excited to start collecting the earlier books in the series to read. I think I have found another “go to” author which I will greatly enjoy reading. Intermixed with the intense storyline we are treated to an absolutely entertaining wit. Abigail doesn't cuss. She does make up her own form of curse words. The things that she spouts off are absolutely hilarious to read.

This book is such a great read. The title describes the story very well. From start to finish, it takes you on a ride at..... Full Throttle.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Flaming Hot

Flaming Hot is an anthology of 3 short stories by Lynn LeFleur. This book is the second in a series about the Firefighters of Lanville, Texas.  All of the stories in this book were well written and complete. One aspect of short stories that always gives me pause is that often you are left hanging when the ending comes. At times, the short stories can seem unfinished with too many aspects of the story being unresolved. Other times, the story goes at an even pace until the very end where the conflict resolution happens in a rushed manner. With Flaming Hot, none of the stories had those issues. I was left feeling really good about the stories and how they ended.

The first story, Fiery, is about Quade Easton and Eve Van Den Bergh. Quade is school counselor who also serves on the town's volunteer fire department. Eve works in a fabric store owned by a friend. After 2 failed engagements, she has sworn off relationships. In spite of her resolve, she finds herself attracted to Quade. Through patience and gentle persistence, Quade brings down the walls she has built up around herself and shows her that love is worth taking the chance.

The second story, Flare, is about Cort Brennanman and Paige Denslow. Paige manages a local convenience store. Cort is a new comer to the town. Coming to the convenience store to fuel up his Harley, Colt's bad boy appearance draws Paige's notice. There is an instant attraction between Paige and Cort, As they begin their relationship, Cort's secrecy about his past raises questions for Paige. She becomes even more concerned when a theft at a convenience store in a nearby town matches up with a night when Cort was MIA. Cort is definitely a man of secrets. Could he be somehow involved with the convenience store thefts that have been happening in their region? The truth comes to light late one night when Paige's store is targeted and she is there alone. Will her bad boy be her savior in her time of need, or will he break her heart?

The last story in the book, Flash, was one that was a bit of a surprise to me. It is the story of Kirk Wilcox and a newcomer, Joshua Stafford. Stories about same-sex relationships are not a genre that I seek out. I read this one though in order to give it a review. I wasn't sure what to expect from it. I have to admit that I did like the story. Kirk and his twin brother, Kory, work at their father's hardware store. No one in town, including his family, are aware that Kirk is gay. He has dated women, but never felt any connection to them. He struggles with his secret life, afraid of what his family and others would do if they knew the truth about him. Josh comes to town and is looking for a temporary job at the hardware store. Kirk and Josh are attracted to each other and soon begin their relationship. Through Josh's support, Kirk is finally able to talk to his family and let them know his secret. Sadly for Kirk, his time with Josh is limited. Josh only planned to be in town for a few months. Time is running out and though Kirk has tried to guard his heart, he has fallen hard for Josh. Can their relationship be enough to convince Josh to stay when the time he planned to leave has arrived?

Word of warning, this book is graphic in nature.  So, if that is not something you want to read, you may want to read something else.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Book Review - Once Perfect by Cecy Robson

Today, I finished reading, Once Perfect: Shattered Past, by Cecy Robson. This book is of a genre that I have not been familiar with. A romance story under the New Adult label. The description of the book intrigued me.

Mateo Tres Santos is a guy from the rough side of town. He is an underground MMA fighter with a criminal past. Mateo works as a bounder in a club and is well respected by his co-workers. He is a complete badass when you look at him. Having a large build, tattoos, along with his past stint in prison, Mateo is one who's appearance puts fear in Evelyn.

Evelyn is a college student who grew up as the only child in a wealthy family. Her mother died when she was a young child and she was raised by her father. Misdeeds of her father prior to his suicide has caused her the loss of the family wealth. Upon his death, Evelyn was forced to face a life of poverty. Having grown up with wealth, she is completely ill equipped to face this future. Friends and those close to her prior to her father's death are no longer a part of her life. They have turned their backs on her in her time of need.

Evelyn finally finds work at a local club. It is here that she meets Mateo. She steers clear of him out of fear. His criminal record, tattoos, and his badass demeanor at work has her completely unnerved when he is around. That is until the night Mateo surprises her by coming to her aid. Mateo, she learns, is a gentle giant. Being the lead bouncer of the club, he has a tough guy image that he has honed well. In private however, he shows Evelyn that he is someone she will never need to fear.

Both Mateo and Evelyn are tortured souls. Each has a past that threatens to consume their lives. Because of their hidden pasts, each is broken and struggles to get through each day. It is compelling to see their vulnerability and how they face it together. Each try to face their personal demons alone. They finally realize that it is their leaning on each other that makes them strong enough to overcome the demons that haunt them. As they faced their struggles, I found myself wanting to cheer them on as they worked through the baggage that they each brought to their relationship.

There are other characters in this book that I connected with as well. Mateo's two younger sisters were especially strong in their influence on me. I find myself now hoping that Cecy Robson will write their stories as well. The traumas that Mateo deals with are ones that have affected his sisters as well. Each had their own experiences with the antagonist that has had a major influence on how they relate to others. I would love to see the girls each have a story that leads them to finding happiness as well.

The humor in the book is of the snarky sort that you would expect from a person in their 20's. It was refreshing and I found myself laughing often. This book was written in the first person. Typically, I don't like books written in that way, but this one worked for me. It was told from Evelyn's perspective. I love the balance that the author had in her writing. In previous books by other authors, that hasn't always been the case. Some write the first person perspective to the point of being anal. As a reader, I really don't care to have an unfiltered glimpse into the person's thoughts and emotions. While this book does let you know what is going on in Evelyn's mind, it is done in a way that eases you through it. Thank heavens!!! I know that I, for one, have no desire to be a fly on the wall inside a college student's mind. <shudder> LOL

Overall, I highly recommend this book. The struggles that are faced in the story are definitely adult issues that I would not suggest for a young teen or someone who is sensitive to topics of abuse. The abuses mentioned are not done in a graphic way, but some gentle souls may have a hard time with it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Shannon Stacey's No Place to Hide

Today, I finished reading my first title by Shannon Stacey, “No Place to Hide.” This is the 4th book in the Devlin Group series.  After reading this book, all I can say is OMG!!!!  I have found another series to start collecting and reading.  I am looking forward to seeing what other series Shannon Stacey has been writing as well.

I was first introduced to this book when I read a review on the Nerd Girl blog. I am always on the lookout for new-to-me authors. As I read her thoughts on the book, I knew that this would end up being a series that I might enjoy. In her review, she mentioned that the books would look great on the shelf with her KGI series by Maya Banks, I was hooked. Now, I knew that I had to read this book.

Knowing that Nerd Girl mentioned the KGI series, I was a little hesitant. I wanted to read the book, but I absolutely love the KGI series and I knew I would be holding this new book to that standard. I determined that I would keep an open mind and started reading.

Within the first few pages, the book had me. I no longer thought about the KGI comparison and was thoroughly absorbed into the story. The characters are well written and I immediately connected with them. I am a sucker for male characters who are a combination of a total badass and the smart-ass humor.

One issue that I knew I might have going into the story was the fact that there is previous history with the male and female lead characters. They were introduced in the previous book and their relationship was left unfinished. (Think Bacall and Bogard on the tarmac at the end of the classic movie, Casablanca.) What I found however was that this book, while a part of a series, can stand alone. There are just that right amount of references to the past that you don't feel like you are coming into a conversation halfway through.

Jack Donovan is a very strong male lead. Total badass, but you get the feeling that he is losing interest in what he does. He has been out of sorts ever since he came back from a mission in Africa a year before this story begins. On that mission, he had rescued Isabelle Arceneau from guerillas that had kidnapped and held her captive for 2 years. During their time together, Jack and Isabelle developed feelings for each other. In the end, Jack walked away from Isabelle leaving both without any closure.

This story picks up a year after Isabelle's rescue. She has begun feeling strong again after dealing with the emotional aftermath from her time in captivity. Suddenly, a new danger has come to her door. She has become the target of an unknown assassin. Out of desperation, Isabelle calls the one person that she trusts to help her....Jack Donovan.

The story takes you on the action packed journey of Jack and Isabelle as they try to stay one step ahead of the assassin. It is no ordinary threat being made towards Isabelle. This assassin is a person of legend who has never failed in completing a job. He is a ghost with no name who is only known by his execution weapon of choice, a very rare antique Russian gun. While trying to find out who the assassin is and why Isabelle has become a target, they struggle to come to terms with the unfinished business of their past.

It would be so easy to have Isabelle be written as a fragile woman in this story, but she is far from it. I love that Shannon Stacey wrote Isabelle to be a strong woman who faces the danger without totally falling apart. She is by no means a shrinking violet in this story. Isabelle has survived living in a personal hell during her captivity and has come out all the stronger. She has her moments of temporarily being unnerved, but I thoroughly loved watching her character's transformation. When push comes to shove, she has no problem protecting herself and facing the ultimate danger.

Underneath this story's action of dodging bullets and narrow escapes, is a story of the love between Jack and Isabelle. Jack is a conflicted soul. He loves Isabelle but is not willing to bring her into the life he lives. He wants her to always be safe and doesn't see how he can make that happen for her if they pursue the relationship. So, he spends a lot of time pushing her away emotionally. Isabelle knows that Jack is the one for her and is willing to fight for him. In the midst of danger, they finally come to grips with their feelings for each other.

Now, Jack has even more on the line in protecting Isabelle. With bullets flying and danger fast on their heels, how will Jack keep Isabelle alive....when there is No Place to Hide?