Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Giada's Feel Good Food" by Giada De Laurentiis

In her new cookbook Giada’s Feel Good Food, celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis answers the question she is so often asked - how does she cook and eat all that delicious food on television and still look so fabulous?

To do this she is sharing 120 of her favourite healthy recipes as well as all of her beauty and health secrets.  This is a fantastic, comprehensive book for both experienced cooks and those who are new to the kitchen.  It covers meal, drinks, snacks, and desserts, and there is something in for everyone - including vegetarians, vegans, and those who are dairy or gluten-free.

As someone who is not very skilled in the kitchen, I love cookbooks for new ideas but am often thrown off by how difficult or time-consuming a lot of the recipes can be.  But this book does not have any of that intimidation factor for me.  There are tons of simple recipes like Oatmeal with Cinnamon Sugar; Citrus Parfaits; Cinnamon Kettle Corn; Chewy Granola Bars; California Turkey Chilli; Sole with Lemon-Basil Pesto; and Blueberry Frozen Yogurt. 

And in case your mouth isn’t watering yet, check out some of these recipes that just sound delicious - Chicken, Mango, and Black Beans with Lime-Almond Dressing; Grilled Salmon and Pineapple with Avocado Dressing; Swiss Chard Rolls with Wild and Brown Rice and Indian Spices; Mahimahi with Mango-Vanilla Sauce, and the list goes on.

As a vegetarian, I really appreciated how this book included more than just one vegetable side dish recipe.  There are a ton of recipes here and a variety of them as well, both vegetarian and vegan.  I really liked the recipe My Mom’s Vegetable “Meatloaf” with Checca Sauce.  It is lentils, brown rice, and vegetables with lots of tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese in meatloaf form, I absolutely loved it.  My husband and I are smoothie people and there are some great recipes for them in here.  One that is new to us is her Kale, Apple and Cucumber Smoothie.  Even though we had to add a banana to ours to make it a bit more palatable, we really liked the combination.  And the Avocado-Chocolate Mousse is just heavenly!

No matter what your diet, you’ll find more than enough recipes to keep you satisfied in this book.  And it’s okay because there is no guilt when it comes to these foods.  Giada also shares her wonderful tips about beauty and exercise, making this more than just a cookbook  but a lifestyle book. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

"An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" by Chris Hadfield

On December 19, 2012, Canadian Chris Hadfield set off in a Soyuz capsule heading toward the International Space Station where he would serve as Commander, the final act of a lifelong dream that started when he was just nine years old.  It was at that age that he watched the Apollo moon landing from the small town of Stag Island, Ontario and decided that one day he would be an astronaut.  He wasn’t going to let the fact that at the time it was impossible for Canadians stand in his way.

Chris devoted his life to fulfilling that goal.  Even though it wasn’t possible to become an astronaut, he dedicated himself to training as a test pilot with both the Canadian and American militaries while waiting for it to become possible.  When the Canadian Space Agency began selecting astronauts he was ready and able.  And while serving many different roles with the CSA and NASA, he achieved his dream, logging almost 4000 hours in space.

In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything, Chris Hadfield shares not only his journey from nine-year-old boy to Commander of the International Space Station, but also the lessons he’s learned along the way.  It turns out that going to space can teach you a lot about life down here on earth.

Like hundreds of thousands of people, I followed along with Commander Hadfield while he was on the ISS through Twitter, marvelling at the breath-taking photos he was sending back of our planet.  My daughter couldn’t stop talking about him after she and her school participated in Music Monday with him, everyone singing the same song on earth and in space.  As Canadians we were proud that he was the first Canadian to command the ISS.  For the past year, everyone has been talking about Chris Hadfield.

It is amazing to read this book and find out just how much work he put into achieving his dream.  If you ever want to inspire someone to work hard to reach their goals, this is the book to give them.  The book starts with Chris telling the story of he became an astronaut, starting from the day he watched the moon landing.  Then he spends time sharing the lessons he has learned along the way and how you can best apply them to life (lessons such as not sweating the small stuff and staying humble.)  The third portion of the book is about his time on the ISS, letting you in on the secrets of how things work in space.  If you’ve ever seen any of his videos from his time there, you’ll love learning more.

Part memoir, part self-help, this is an interesting book for all readers.  Whether you have a lot of interest in space or very little, there is something here for everyone to learn.  I enjoyed how it wasn't just a memoir but how the book taught lessons through the examples of his life. 

Through the use of social media Chris Hadfield brought little pieces of space down to us and now he is giving us a big look into life in no gravity.  This book is for anyone who has ever gazed up at the sky and wondered what it was like up there.  

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"A Cinderella Christmas" by Holly Kingston

Lucy Tilley dreams of being a famous actress and she knows that everyone has to start somewhere.  But this isn’t what she thought she’d have to do.  

Lucy finally has a part in this years Cinderella pantomime, the hottest show in town.  And to add to that, she’s starring alongside famous TV actor Ryan Aspall, one of the sexiest soap stars around.  The only problem is her part.  She’s not Cinderella, she’s not even one of the stepsisters, no she’s playing the back end of the comedy cow.  

Lucy may not have the best part and she may never be noticed by Ryan but at least she has the support of reality starlet and total diva, Charmaine, who happens to be playing Cinderella.  Sure, her part of the friendship involves running Charmaine’s errands and baby-sitting her dog, but at least she’s rubbing elbows with the (little bit) rich and (semi) famous right?

Only Charmaine isn’t all she seems and before the panto even hits the stage, the drama unfolds backstage.  Will Lucy finally achieve her dream of fame or will she forever be playing the comedy cow?

A Cinderella Christmas is a brand new novella from debut writer Holly Kingston, published by the new women’s fiction imprint Novelicious books.  It is laugh-out-loud funny, has fantastic characters, and will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit.

The characters absolutely made this book for me.  Lucy is adorable and sweet.  I completely relate to her bit of obsession with celebrities.  The development of the friendship between her and front end of the cow Ben is lovely, I was cheering on his character the entire time.  And Charmaine.  Oh Charmaine.  Even though she’s the diva of the story, I loved her.  It really helped that the entire time I was reading I heard her voice as that of a ditzy, actress/reality star from my favourite British soap. 

I liked the setting of backstage at a Christmas panto.  While we do have holiday pantomimes here in Canada, I get the feeling they’re not as popular as they are in England.  The book really gives you a feel of not just all the drama going on backstage, but the romp that is happening on-stage as well.  Poor Lucy, stuck in the back end of the cow.  

I have to say I am now very excited about Novelicious Books and I hope that it will bring us more fantastic writers like Holly Kingston.  This book was the perfect chick-lit rom-com.  It had every element needed - romance, humour, loveable characters, an easy storyline - and with the added bonus of a Christmas setting.  If you’re looking for a book to get you in the holiday mood and make you laugh, this one is for you.

My only criticism of the book?  It finished too fast.  And I don’t think I’m alone with this sentiment.  It is a novella so you know it’s not going to be long but it is so well-written and so much fun you just want it to keep going.  I really look forward to what else Ms. Kingston has to offer.  And maybe one day, we’ll get to revisit the lovely characters from this book?  See where they are a few years down the road?  One can hope.  This book is 5 star chick lit for me.

Thank you to Novelicious Books for providing me with a copy of this book.  The opinions expressed above are all my own.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"There's More to Life Than Cupcakes" by Poppy Dolan

Ellie Redford has a wonderful life with a lovely husband, job, and home.  Everything is perfect for her but to everyone else she is missing one thing - a baby.  The pressure is coming from everywhere, especially her husband Pete.  And it’s not that she doesn’t want a baby….one day.  

With increased responsibilities at work and a best friend who is firmly set against babies, Ellie isn’t sure if having a baby is a good idea right now.  While she tries to figure things out, through the help of an anonymous blog and field research, she signs up for a baking class.  But she’s not prepared for what comes her way in the form of fellow student, the young, hot Joe.  And when a weekly baking class turns into the opportunity to be on a reality cooking show, her personal life becomes even more muddled than before.  

There’s More to Life Than Cupcakes is a funny, smart, and delicious novel from Poppy Dolan.  It is full of fantastic characters, lots of humours, and should come with a warning that all the talk of baking and food will most likely add a few inches to your waistband!

I read Dolan’s first novel, The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp last year when she was a self-published author and really enjoyed it.  So I was very excited to see that she had a new novel, and now she is being published by the brand new imprint, Novelicious Books.  I’m so happy for her, as I really love her writing.  

This book really made my week, actually month, okay the last three months.  I was in a reading slump, not finishing any of the books I started, and then this one came along and I was hooked from the front page.  I’m not a baker, nor do I have any hopes or dreams of being one, but this book had me entertaining the notion for more than a moment.  A rom-com with delicious foodie details?  It’s all right here.

Each character in the book played an important role and were genuinely likeable.  Nothing in the book felt extra.  I thought Ellie and her indecision about having a baby would get on my nerves (as someone who couldn’t wait to have kids, I’m a little biased) but she didn’t come across in that way at all.  Yes, there were times I wished I could reach through the pages and shake her, but I think that is needed in every main character in these sorts of books.

Sometimes when I find myself gushing about books like I’m doing now, with nothing bad to say, I wonder if my readers are going to think it’s all a little too perfect, but that is what this book is.  If you’re a fan of chick lit, I highly recommend Poppy Dolan.  She is someone to keep your eye on, as I expect tons more hilarious, romantic novels from her.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher.  All of the opinions expressed above are true and my own.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"It's Monday! What Are You Reading?"

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

The last few months I haven't been reading as much as I usually do, even with the excitement of literary awards and best books of the year lists.  But this past week, I got back into a rhythm and I chalk that all up to the fact that I was reading one of my favourite genres - British chick lit!

What I Read Last Week
I finally managed to finish Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy.  It's not that it was hard to get to but I kept putting it down and reading another book.  I liked it, but think maybe I built it up too much in mind before I read it.
There's More to Life Than Cupcakes by Poppy Dolan and A Cinderella Christmas by Holly Kingston are two brand new books from a brand new imprint called Novelicious Books.  If you're familiar with the Novelicious website you'll be happy to know they are now publishing books!  I loved both of these books, look for reviews this week.

What I Am Currently Reading
I followed Chris Hadfield on Twitter while he was at the International Space Station and thought it was amazing how much he managed to bring it all down to earth.  He is truly a Canadian superstar and I'm really happy he wrote a book.

What I Plan to Read Next
I actually started Cataract City this past week, I picked it up just to read the first few pages and kept going.  I'm looking forward to The Rude Story of English, a book about the history of the English language, the best and worst of it.

What Are You Reading This Week?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy" by Helen Fielding

Chick lit’s favourite heroine is back!  It’s been 15 years since we first fell in love with Bridget Jones and life is very different for her now.  A widow, she is raising two children, working on a screenplay, trying to figure out all this new technology, and jumping back into the dating pool.  But somethings never change - her fabulous friends are still by her side, she’s still struggling with her weight, and still keeping a diary.  

In Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding introduces us to a 51-year-old Bridget who obsesses over the number of Twitter followers she has, embarrasses herself in front of the teachers and other mothers at school, and in the biggest surprise of all, is dating a 29-year-old name Roxster.  We’ve waited a long time for her return, the question is, is she still the same Bridget we all fell in love with?

First things first, the spoiler heard round the world that had everyone up in arms - Bridget is widowed, Mark Darcy having died a few years earlier.  That’s a tough one to get over but the more I read and the more I thought about it, she just wouldn’t have been Bridget if she weren’t dating.  And I actually think that Fielding did a good job with how she wrote it.  Bridget is coaxed back into the dating world by her friends, a world that now heavily features internet matchmaking sites and text conversations.  Yes, I would have loved to have read about Bridget and Mark married.  I certainly was looking forward to it.  But I guess I'm not as upset about the way things turned as others are.  Things are a little bit more serious in this book but it doesn’t take away from the light-heartedness.

Her kids, Billy and Mabel, are sweet, her new friends are lovely, and yes, Daniel Cleaver is still around.  The book is written in the same diary format as the previous ones and Bridget’s unique tone is still loud and clear.  

There were a few things I couldn’t get past though.  Obviously texting would factor heavily into the book, however, at times there was a little too much of it for me.  I don’t mind texts included in books but entire conversations through text is a little too annoying for me to read.  And while I loved the way Bridget obsessed over her Twitter followers and sending out the right tweets, I found it very annoying that a 51-year-old woman was sending out tweets declaring things to be “totes amazog.”  There were moments in the book that felt that even though her commitments in life had become grown up, Bridget hadn’t.  And while it’s cute when the character is in her 30’s, I would have expected that ten years as well as being married to Mark Darcy would have matured her just a bit more.

I know a lot of people have been disappointed by this book.  I think sometimes when we wait too long to revisit a character, we’ve built things up in our heads so much that we end up disappointed no matter what.  It’s the same feeling I had when I read Revenge Wears Prada.  Maybe nothing would have lived up to the original.  I still think that if you’re a fan of Bridget’s you should pick up this book.  I enjoyed reading it, catching up, and seeing how her life had changed (or stayed the same.)  And there were quite a few laugh out loud moments.  To me, she is still our little Bridget.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"The Imperfect Environmentalist" by Sara Gilbert

Let me start by saying I don’t generally like to read eco-friendly books written by celebrities.  Maybe it’s just me but I wonder how much of it is about their commitment to the earth and how much of it is just about one more thing to add to their resumé.  In other words, I wonder just how much I’ll learn.  But I saw this book by Sara Gilbert and thought, okay, she’s vegan, I’ve seen her on her talk show and heard what she has to say and she sounds really committed, so I decided to give her book a chance.

The Imperfect Environmentalist: A Practical Guide to Clearing Your Body, Detoxing Your Home, and Saving the Earth (Without Losing Your Mind) defies what I think about celebrity books.  Sara writes with knowledge, humour, and authority.  She isn’t condescending (don’t worry, she won’t berate you for not being vegan) but she isn’t light about these things either.  You can tell she is committed to being an environmentalist but respectful of where others stand on the issue.  This book is about educating you about all of the little changes you can make to make a big difference.  You may only be ready to commit to making one change but by the end of the book you'll realize there is a lot you can do.

The thing I love most about this book is how it is organized.  First, it is divided into sections - food, house, home, garden, health and beauty, community, work and money, transportation and travel, parenting, and rites of passage.  Each section has various topics and those have fun headings like “Cut to the Chase, Hippie: What’s the Least I Need to Know?” “Intriguing…I Can Handle a Little More,” and “I Need Some Facts to Bore My Friends With.”  Proving there is something in this book that everyone can do, her advice and tips have the headings “I’m Donald Trump,” “Okay, I’ve Got My Own Place, but I’ve Also Got Credit Card Debt,” and “I’m Sleeping on My Friend’s Couch and Eating Ramen Noodles.”  Taking care of yourself and the environment doesn't require a ton of money and Sara realizes that there are different things you can do based on how much money you've got available.

If you’re already a committed environmentalist, you may not find much new in this book for you.  But that shouldn’t stop you from at least taking a glance at it so you know when to recommend it.  I think anyone looking to make small changes would really enjoy this book.  It shows you that nurturing our planet isn’t a difficult thing to do and it’s not just for people with money or a whole lot of time.  It is for everyone and if you’re ready to make that commitment, you can start here.  You’ll find yourself off and running in no time.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"About A Girl" by Lindsey Kelk

Tess Brookes has always lived life according to plan but one day it all falls to pieces.  And then her whole life changes from one “what was I thinking” moment.

When Tess accidentally answers her flatmate Vanessa’s phone, she sees a way out the mess her life has currently become.  Realizing that the person on the other end of the phone thinks she is Vanessa, she jumps right in and accepts the photography assignment being offered.  A week in Hawaii is just what she needs and since she used to be an amateur photographer, no one will find out that she isn’t Vanessa.  What could go wrong? 

How about everything.  From the moment she arrives in Hawaii, the journalist on shoot with her is trying to get into her pants, she has been assigned the diva of all models, and the subject of the shoot is nowhere to be found.  On top of this, Vanessa doesn’t exactly have the best reputation in the journalism world.  Will Tess be able to keep up her charade for the whole week or will she give in, ‘fess up and head back to England in shame?

About A Girl by Lindsey Kelk is a fun, romantic, loveable chick lit novel.  A bit longer than I was expecting from a typical chick lit book, it has great characters, a beautiful setting, and a fantastic premise (who doesn’t dream of escaping to Hawaii?)

Lately, I’ve had a hard time falling for the main characters in chick lit novels the way I used to.  But right from the beginning, I enjoyed Tess, even when she was that annoying, caught up in her career woman.  I thought the surrounding characters were fantastic, especially Tess’ best friend Amy who provided great laughs.  And as much as you’re meant to hate Vanessa, I thought she was the perfect villain, that girl we all love to hate, and the interactions between Tess and Vanessa were great.

Even though I was surprised at the length of the book when I first picked it up, this book flows well and is a page turner.  The setting is described beautifully and there is a ton of action to keep the book interesting.  Not to mention it’s laugh out loud funny.  I have only read one other book by Kelk (somewhere in the middle of the “I Heart” series) but this book definitely has me interested in what else she has to offer.  

Just a warning - this book does not wrap up neatly at the end.  But there is good reason for that, this is the first book in a series.  Some people may not like the cliffhanger, but I like how you’re left to think about what Tess should do and it seems to work because I can’t wait to pick up the next book to find out what she decided!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"The Midwife of Venice" by Roberta Rich

Hannah Levi is a midwife known throughout sixteenth-century Venice for her skill and bedside manner.  In the Jewish ghetto where she lives, women turn to her for the births, especially for her “birthing spoons” which she developed to help difficult births.  

One night, a Christian count appears at her door with the Rabbi.  The Conte's wife is in labour and near death and he believes that Hannah is the only one who can help her.  It is illegal for Jews to give medical treatment to Christians but the Conte is offering Hannah a lot of money, enough money to pay the ransom for her husband Isaac who has been auctioned as a slave in Malta.

Hannah attends the birth but in doing so she brings upon herself the wrath of the Conte’s treacherous brother.  As she seeks shelter with her sister Jessica who has been shunned from the Jewish community, she tries desperately to save not only the life of her husband but her own.

The Midwife of Venice is the first in a historical fiction series by Roberta Rich.  It is a story of courage set against a beautiful and vibrant historical setting.  Readers will find themselves swept up in the setting and story of this page-turner.

This is a novel that at first glance I probably would have passed over.  However, I read it as part of Retreat by Random House’s book club and I am glad it had me reading this.  As the book moves back and forth between Venice and Malta readers are treated to a novel rich in detail and backdrop.  You feel transported to another time, though the story is still relatable enough to our present time.

This book comes across as being very well researched and having participated in the online book club which Ms. Rich attended, I learned that this is the truth.  You can see her own photos of the Ghetto Nuovo on her website, which is incredible for those who have not been there.  It really brings the pages of the book to life even more.

My only criticism of the book is that while the action kept the book moving from beginning to the end, at times I felt like it moved a little too fast.  A few things could have been explained a bit more, time didn’t need to jump as fast as it did.  It seemed like it all wrapped up a little too quick and a bit too neat in the end.  But that didn't take away from the plot or the action.

I think this is a great book for those people who may think that they’re not really into historical fiction.  It is a fast-paced, modern novel set in an interesting and enthralling time and place.  And if you enjoy this one, you’ll love the fact that it is the first in a series of three and the second book has just been released!