Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book Review: 'The Swallow' by Charis Cotter

✰✰✰✰✰ Polly and Rose are two lonely 12-year-old girls who feel invisible to everyone. Set in the 1960s in Toronto during an outbreak of meningitis, the girls live right next door to each other. One day the girls discover that they can communicate through a shared wall in the attic. Besides being the same age, the girls learn that they are nearly exact opposites. Polly comes from a large family, while Rose is an only child. Polly is boisterous, while Rose is reserved. Polly wishes she could see ghosts, while Rose wishes she didn't. In fact, Polly is so convinced that Rose is actually a ghost, she sets out to prove it.

Follow Polly through the many twists and turns of this gothic ghost story with a surprise ending. You won't be disappointed.

The Bottom Line: This is a bittersweet story of friendship.Written from two points of view, each character has a distinctive voice. I enjoyed the use of mood, setting, and hints employed by the author to keep readers guessing. Readers will appreciate the short chapters making this book a very quick read. Check it out if you enjoyed the movie "The Sixth Sense." Very highly recommended for tweens interested in ghost stories and paranormal fiction. This would make a great gift.

Details: The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter. Hardcover published by Tundra Books in 2014. 322 p. ISBN: 978-1-77049-591-3  Note: I received a free copy from Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2014

Every year I keep a running list of my favorite stories. In case you were wondering, I really do read every single one. The short stories featured in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine are perfect for when you have a little free time and you need to de-stress your life. Check out these excellent stories.

January: This issue focused on holiday stories which is always a treat. I look forward to reading it every year. My favorite was Doug Allyn's "The Snow Angel." This story drew me in from the first sentence. What a great way to start off the year. Next,  I enjoyed "Heaven Knows" by Marilyn Todd featuring a deceased private investigator sent back to Earth to solve a crime. Very clever. More fun stories to read include "Some Flames Never Die" by Percy Spurlark Parker and "Murder and the Spiderbrusher" by Amy Myers.

February: This issue included not one, but two Sherlock Holmes pastiches by Terence Faherty. Additionally, I was pleased to see the return of a favorite character in "Skyler Hobbs and the Smarter Brother" by Evan Lewis. I also enjoyed "Lily's Beef" by Shannon Schuren and "Admit One" by Loren D. Estleman.

March/April Double Issue: My favorite short story for this issue was "Fruit of All Evil" by Marilyn Todd. Other stories I enjoyed included: "Glory of the Worms and Snakes" by Perri O'Shaughnessy and the Passport to Crime feature by Jutta Motz, "The Russian Woman."

May: The last story in this issue, "Teddy" by Brian Tobin, was definitely my favorite. It's one that I'll read again and again. Be sure to check it out. I also enjoyed "My Mom, the Movies, and Me" by Robert S. Levinson and "A Question of Fathers" by Michael Z. Lewin. I've greatly enjoyed reading Lewin's "alien" mysteries, and I was sad to read that this may possibly be the last one. Please say it isn't so.

June: The story I enjoyed the most in this issue was Liza Cody's "A Hand." I hope there are more stories to come featuring the character Shareen Manasseh. Also, I enjoyed "The Accessory" by Robert Lopresti and "Julius Accused" by Dave Zeltserman.

July: This issue featured so many great stories, but be sure to check out "The Very Old Man" by Jenny Milchman. The story features an insecure first time mom with an active imagination. Another story to check out is "Second Sight Unseen" by Richard Helms. I always enjoy stories featuring psychics. Other stories I appreciated this month: "In Her Fashion" by Frankie Y. Bailey, "Pancras Sullivan" by Peter Turnbull, and "It Couldn't Be Done?" by Bill Pronzini.

August: My favorite story in this issue was also the last story. Belinda Bauer's "Two For the Price of One" is short and fantastic. David Dean is one of my favorite short story writers, and he has impressed me again with "Neighbor." I also enjoyed "Cold Island" by Brendan DuBois and "Murder and the Golden Slipper" by Amy Meyers.

September/October Double issue: It was too difficult to pick a favorite this month, so here are the stories I enjoyed the most: "Jaguar" by Joseph Wallace, "Blood Red Roses" by Marilyn Todd, "The Hobby Cop" by Doug Allyn, "The Very Best Neighbor" by Brendan DuBois, "The E-mail Always Pings Twice" by Greg Herren, and Carl Robinette's first story, "The Hard Type."

November: My top three picks for this month were Joan Richter's story "The Golden Peacock," "Deep Shaft" by Suzanne Arruda, and "The Lure of the Green Door" by Norizuke Rintaro.

December: Joyce Carol Oates' short story, "Equatorial," was dark and sinister. It was a great story to start this issue. Also, be sure to check out "The Tavern-Keeper's Daughter" by Miriam Grace Monfredo.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: 'Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies'

✰✰✰✰ The holidays roll around just once a year. There's so little time to try out complicated and time-consuming recipes. That's where the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies cookbook comes in handy. Featuring easy-to-read recipes with full-page, full-color photos, this cookbook is perfect for your baking needs. The book begins with "Cookie Success Secrets" and "Bar and Brownie Success Secrets," which include choosing the proper equipment, storage tips, and choosing ingredients. Each recipe includes nutrition information, preparation time, start to finish time, and the number of cookies or bars each recipe makes. The numbered step-by-step instructions are clear and concise. There is also information on "Cookies as Gifts," a "Metric Conversion Guide," and an Index. Yummy recipes to check out include "Mini Whoopie Pies," "Linzer Cookies," "Chocolate Chip Reindeer Cookies," "Strawberry Cheesecake Bars," "Striped Peppermint Cookies," and Bourbon-Spiked Brownie Truffle Balls." Even if you don't bake throughout the year, there's something for everyone in this cookbook.

Taste Test Notes: There were so many tempting recipes, but I decided to try to make the "Red Velvet Rich-and-Creamy Cookies." The ingredients were super easy to locate at my local grocery store. That's always a plus. Once I had everything gathered, I found that this recipe was very easy to make. While my cookies weren't quite as red as those in the photo, they were very tasty. These cookies aren't big, so you can easily enjoy two or three with your afternoon tea and not feel too guilty.

Here are all the ingredients needed to make this simple recipe!

Here are the finished cookies (without nuts).
Nana's Baking Tip: If you don't like chopped nuts, just omit them and decorate with red sugar crystals instead. Also, these would be a festive treat for Valentine's Day as well.

The Bottom Line: This cookbook will appeal to bakers of all levels. There are recipes for drop cookies, shaped cookies, filled cookies, bars, brownies, and cookie cut-outs. These cookies come in all flavors too like chocolate, raspberry, and peppermint. You can also find a variety of gluten-free recipes. The cookbook is easy to use and the layout is attractive. Baking projects that are fun for kids are indicated, and the inclusion of "Tinsel Time Tips" for festive touches make the book interesting. All in all this cookbook is highly recommended; however, it would have been even better if the editors had included a skill level for each recipe.

Details: Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies by Betty Crocker. Paperback published by Betty Crocker in 2013. 208 p. ISBN: 978-0-544-16664-6