Review: A Monster Calls

Title: A Monster Calls
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: September 27th, 2011
Genre: YA, Fantasy Horror

When thirteen-year-old Conor wakes up from a nightmare at exactly 12:07 one night, he sees a monster outside his window. It’s not the monster he was expecting, the one who haunts his dreams every night. This monster is made of the yew tree outside his window, and it tells Conor that over time, it will tell him three stories. Eventually Conor will tell the story of his nightmare to the monster. Conor has difficulty believing what the monster says is true, and goes on with his life. Lately, life for Conor has been a struggle. His mother has cancer and the kids at school have been bullying him ever since they learnt about his mum. As Conor continues to meet with the monster, he fears the day when he will have to share his story with him. When stories are wild things that don’t end in the way he expected, Conor fears telling his.

I picked this book by chance at my library. I’d heard praise of A Monster Calls, but wrote it off as a book that wasn’t for me. I am so happy that I gave this book a chance. It was tragic and beautiful in every way a book can be beautiful. A Monster Calls is based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, who had the plot and characters for this book ready before she died. Patrick Ness used her ideas to write this book and make it his own. The illustrations were drawn by Jim Kay and they were absolutely beautiful. They captured everything wonderfully and added so much to this book. A Monster Calls is difficult to describe; I wish I could write a review that just said it’s amazing and that everyone should read it. What’s interesting about this book is that the fantasy elements and the realistic part of the plot both would have worked well on their own, but combining them made this book so unforgettable. The writing and the characters were flawless, and I thought Conor was a realistic character with a great deal of depth. The monster’s stories were absorbing and share so many great ideas about humanity and life. Overall, this was a touching book about dealing with grief and loss. This book was truly breathtaking and I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone.


Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?”

In Honor of Our True Selves

It's midnight and I just felt a surge of energy.
The kind you have to record somewhere, somehow before it turns from creative energy to dead energy.
Addie-baby felt it too and started kicking like crazy (see how she's beginning to poke out?)
I have been mulling and mulling over what sort of cook I actually am, what my goals for eating and living well are, and whether or not I'm clearly portraying that in this place.

Here's the deal: As much as I would like to, I cannot afford to get my meat directly from a butcher who only feeds his cows grass. I cannot stretch my budget to only include organic, eco-friendly, local everything. And as much as I would like to, sometimes I cannot stand to pass up sugary confections or a fat, juicy burger (they just taste so good!).

I was reading this post over at Marta's place yesterday, wherein she discusses blogging jealousy and the ideal blogger image she sometimes compares herself to. I chuckled as I realized my "super mommy monster blogger" equivalent.

I sometimes compare myself to an ideal blogger who has everything figured out and is, consequently, far cooler and lovelier than I am. She home schools her lovely children, all of whom are always dressed in homemade yet highly fashionable sweaters, socks, and shoes. She never follows a recipe, but instead creates original creations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, never repeating a meal and never using cream-of-something soup, canned vegetables she didn't jar herself, store-bought bread, or anything she did not make from scratch earlier that day. She has an immaculate house decorated solely with decorative items she either made out of recycled materials or purchased from Anthropologie. She has a master's degree in creative writing and completed her fifth novel while backpacking through the Alps and eating only the berries she picked herself and cheeses she churned from milking cows she met along her way. She speaks every European language and has bosom friends who live throughout the world, all of whom she visits regularly...with her husband and all five children.

I'm beginning to get carried away, but you get the point.

I am not this woman. No woman is this woman.
And gosh, once I'm honest with myself, I never want to be this woman.
Why then, do I compare myself to her so often?
Why then, do I feel inadequate when I don't measure up to her?

Consider this my vow to always show you my true self.
I will be pleased with my best effort. I will accept the imperfections of my photography or recipes or whatever. I will be a real human being who loves Jell-o cook and serve pudding, white dinner rolls, Pasta Roni, and cheese danishes.

I will continue to do my best at living a healthy life and, with pleasure, share my successes and my pitfalls along the way. This is real life, after all. We're all living real lives, however hard we try to profess otherwise on our multiple social media profiles.

Here's to real living, for real!

See you Thursday for a special treat to kick off the Christmas countdown.

The After-Thanksgiving Feast + Pasta with Ham and Peas

Though we didn't have ham for Thanksgiving dinner, Chad insisted that we buy a thick slice from the deli on the day after Thanksgiving. He loves ham, you see, and prefers a second (or third) helping of meat to dessert. Another reason I will never be vegetarian.

I was quite impressed with my hubby's initiative with that slab of ham. He's like my dad on New Year's Day: coming home from the grocery store with the finest ingredients (neither of them ever go to the store by themselves) and a meal list with enough gourmet concoctions to last throughout the day (our usual New Year's menu includes, but is not limited to, french onion soup, ebelskivers filled with cream cheese and raspberry jam, an array of fine chocolates, and an assortment of cheeses--all prepared by my dad).

Chad brushed the ham with a honey glaze, then roasted it in the oven until the honey had caramelized beautifully. Along with the honey ham, we indulged in triangles of brie cheese, green apple slices, a baguette, and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. Yes, when the man of the house is in charge, the day-after-the-holiday meal becomes a gourmet feast.

Before church yesterday afternoon, I tossed that wonderful honey ham with angel hair and peas for a light, but filling lunch. Though my concoction was not as fancy as if a man of the house had been calling the shots, I am pleased with the delicious bowl of pasta I made using our leftovers. I've found that when adding bite-sized ingredients to pasta, it's best to use some form of spaghetti; on the other hand, fun-shaped pasta is easier to eat when the sauce is void of--for lack of a better word--chunks.

Parmesan Pasta with Honey Ham and Peas

one serving spaghetti, cooked
one tablespoon butter
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup thick ham, diced

Melt* butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining ingredients and cook until heated through, paying particular attention to frozen peas. Top with more S&P and parmesan.

*Or skip the saucepan dirtying: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and pop in the microwave for about two minutes. Top with more S&P and parmesan (that part is always important).

Review: Liesl & Po

Title: Liesl & Po
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: October 4th, 2011
Genre: Junior Fiction, Fantasy

Liesl has been locked in her attic bedroom by her stepmother ever since her father became ill months ago. A few days after his death, Liesl encounters a ghost in her bedroom. The ghost, Po, is neither male nor female and both at the same time. When Po goes to the Other Side to look for Liesl’s father, he learns that he doesn’t feel he will be able to move to the Beyond until his ashes are scattered with his wife’s. Liesl and Po set out to bring the box holding his ashes to the house where Liesl grew up. Meanwhile, Will, the Alchemist’s apprentice, is making an important delivery and accidentally misplaces the most important magic in the world. The Alchemist has created a complicated spell that involved bottling the sun. Due to his magic, the whole world is a dull grey colour. Will’s mistake leads him to join Liesl and Po in their quest. As the children and the ghost set out to help Liesl’s father move on, they inadvertently bring colour back to their world.

I recently read an article discussing how a children’s book can become a classic. The article brought up some of the obvious things, such as great writing and characters, an interesting and creative plot and setting. The article believed that the most important quality in a book for children is that the book should be about something bigger and more meaningful than it might initially seem to be. Liesl & Po certainly qualifies, based on that. This book is about losing someone you love and having your whole world feel grey and colourless. This book shares a lot of ideas about life and death, and there were some wonderful passages. Lauren Oliver is the writer of Before I Fall and Delirium, and the one thing that these three books have in common is that they’re all beautifully written. Liesl & Po is a wonderful story about a sunless world where ghosts can appear to humans. The characters were vivid and interesting. They live in a dark world where magic is possible. The plot started with a simple idea (a girl tries to help her father be at peace by taking his ashes home) and turned that into an enchanting story that swept me away. This book is one of those examples of me guessing what was going to happen and being completely off. It seems silly now, but I thought that Po was going to turn out to be Mo’s sister, Bella. I thought that she would have gotten confused and given herself a name that rhymed with her brother’s. This turned out to be wrong, and what actually happened worked much better. The story had a fairy tale feel to it, and I loved the magical world that Oliver created. My one complaint is that parts of the ending felt silly and didn't read as smoothly as the rest of the book. The illustrations by Kei Acedera captured the story beautifully. I actually prefer the blue cover that was under the jacket for the book over the brown jacket cover. Perhaps it will be used in the paperback edition. In other reviews I’ve read, Oliver’s explanation of her reasons for writing this book were used as an introduction. In my edition, the author’s note doesn’t appear until the end. I wish I had read it before I started reading Liesl & Po, because I think knowing that this book was written as a way of coping with grief would have added to my reading experience. This book meant a lot to the writer, which was apparent in every page. Oliver created a heartfelt and touching story about coping with loss and seeing the sun again after a long winter.


“Perhaps that was how the sparrows did it too: perhaps they were looking so hard at the peaks and tips of the new rooftops coated with dew, and the vast new horizons, that they only forgot that they did not know how to fly until they were already in midair.”

In My Mailbox (15)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, in which book bloggers post about the books they've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

I went away for the weekend, and the nearby town happens to have a bookshop I really like. I bought How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, which I'm really looking forward to reading. We also passed The World's Smallest Book Store and I bought Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens and So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson. Earlier in the week, I was in the little shop in my library buying a travel book for my dad. I happened to find The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks for 50 cents, which I read in September and loved (review here.) From the library, I took out Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson. 

From Simon & Schuster's eGalley program, I received Unraveling Isobel by Eileen Cook. I love the cover and the title of this book! I've read one other book by Eileen Cook (The Education of Hailey Kendrick,) and although I didn't like it, it was only because the main character drove me crazy. It was still well-written and I think I said in the review that I'd be willing to read another of Cook's books. So, that's it for me this week. Feel free to post the url to your IMM in the comments.  

Cranberry, Pear, and Gingersnap Crisp

In all the excitement of the holidays, I somehow came down with a nasty cold that has temporarily taken away my ability to taste. For some people, getting sick sends them to bed all day and ensures at least one day of pampering from their mothers or husbands. Others go about business as normal, only slightly deterred by their pounding temples. But me, I stop being able to taste my food. And that, my friends, is the absolute worst punishment anyone could ever curse me with.

This has happened to me before. My family rents a cabin on Lake Coeur d'Alene every August. We spend a week waterskiing, wakesurfing, dock jumping, and eating Mom's best recipes, hardly ever changing out of our swimsuits and definitely never coming indoors until we absolutely have to. But yes, one year I had such a yucky sinus infection that I could not savor Mom's famous barbecue ribs or taste Dad's peach pie. It. was. the. worst.

Honestly, I'm counting my blessings that my taste buds didn't have to miss our Thanksgiving feast this year (the inability to taste came on the following day). I don't know what I would've done if I hadn't been able to savor the sage-butter-rubbed turkey or the homemade rolls or the green bean casserole. It's okay that I can't quite taste the preheated leftovers we've been eating; after all, I already feasted upon those tastes a couple days ago, and how different could they really be? 

Still, a clogged nose sure takes away my desire to cook. What's the point of creating something wonderful if I won't be able to taste it? And so I am left dreaming of tastes that could be, like this pear and fresh cranberry heaven topped with crumble made from crushed gingerbread cookies. 

I had never eaten a fresh cranberry before this week, though I love the dried and sweetened kind. (Pour a bunch of dried cranberries into a bag with a broken chocolate orange and you have the perfect snack for a day on the slopes.) I've always been fascinated with the way cranberries are harvested; it's been a strange fantasy of mine to one day swim through a flooded cranberry field, the tiny ruby orbs surrounding me as I glide through them. 

For Thanksgiving dessert, I decided to let the ruby-red berries swim with pears instead of me (I'll survive).  Pear and cranberry proved to be the perfect companions, complementing one's subtle sweetness with the other's delightful tartness. Since I've always preferred crisps and cobblers to pies and cakes, I crumbled a gingerbread-cookie topping over the fruit for a spicy third player. The result was fabulous, both in aroma and taste--a perfect cap for a holiday dinner. 

Cranberry, Pear, and Gingersnap Crisp
Inspired by smitten kitchen

4 large pears (I used a mix of D'Anjou, red, and Bosc pears), peeled, halved, cored, and sliced 1/4-inch
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons instant tapioca

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup gingersnap crumbs (from about 4 large homemade cookies)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a sealed, large ziploc bag, crush gingersnaps until crumbs are around the size of peas. Combine gingersnap crumbs with other topping ingredients until large crumbs form. Set aside.

In a 2-quart baking dish, stir pears and cranberries together. Add other filling ingredients, and stir until fruit is well coated.

Sprinkle the gingersnap topping over the fruit.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until the topping is nicely browned and the fruit juices are bubbling.

Review: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness

Title: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Scott Pilgrim #3)
Author: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Publisher: Oni Press
Publication Date: March 24th, 2006
Genre: YA, Graphic Novel

Things only seem to be getting worst for our hero Scott Pilgrim. His ex-girlfriend Envy Adams is back in Toronto with her new boyfriend, Todd. Todd also happens to be Ramona’s ex-boyfriend and, even worst, is vegan. Everyone knows that being vegan makes you better than other people and gives you psychic powers, and how will Scott be able to match that? All her wants is some closure with Envy, but instead he has to defeat her boyfriend if he wants to be with Ramona.

Isn’t Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness the best title ever? Nothing seems to be going right as the third volume in the series begins. Things are especially dramatic for Scott, with four girls he at one time dated in the picture at the moment (Kim, Envy, Knives and Ramona.) This book was easier to follow than the second in the series, although at the beginning I had difficult distinguishing between a few of the characters. The diagram at the beginning of all the characters and their relationships helped me keep track (and made me laugh.) The Infinite Sadness was entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny. We see some flashbacks to Scott’s first year of university, when he started dating Envy Adams, who eventually broke his heart. As Scott is struggling with the fact that he’s still broken hearted over Envy, he also has to fight her boyfriend Todd, who has super powers. While their first fight begins at Lee Palace, it continues through the novel, including a battle at Honest Ed’s. While the second and third volumes can’t match the first, it was still a lot of fun to read. I’d definitely recommend this to any reluctant readers, since this is a quick and amusing read.


Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1)
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Publication Date: September 27th, 2011
Genre: YA, Paranormal Fantasy

Karou is an art student in Prague and constantly impresses her friends with her sketches of monsters. Little do they know that the characters in her sketchbooks are real. Karou lives two lives: one attending school and spending time with her best friend, and the other carrying out errands for her foster father Brimstone, who belongs to a entirely different world. When Karou meets an angel named Akiva, he is fascinated with her despite the fact that he is the enemy. As Karou becomes caught up in the oldest war in existence, she might be able to find out whom she truly is. But once she finds out the truth, there’s no going back.

In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor takes a lot of ideas that are quite common in YA fiction right now (such as forbidden love and magical worlds) and makes it feel new again. If anything about the plot description above seems unoriginal, trust me, it’s not. Karou lives in a world where wishes can be bought and a portal can take her to any city in the world. I suppose you could say that there are two types of paranormal novels: ones where the protagonist is unaware of the fantasy world as the book begins, and ones where they are already a part of it. Daughter of Smoke and Bone falls into the latter, and for a while the reader is the clueless one. But there is a lot that Karou doesn’t know about herself and her guardians, so there was still suspense and many unanswered questions until the end. I think what makes this book so good is that it has fantastic writing, wonderful characters and a creative fantasy world. Taylor’s prose was so beautiful and it was very difficult to pick one quote for this review. The world she created was very detailed and original, and I think I would check out the sequel just to see more of it. She also captured Prague perfectly, and now I almost feel as if I’ve been there. Like the world Taylor created, many of the characters were original and captivating. My favourite was Zuzana; I couldn’t help loving this tiny girl who loves marionettes. I loved a lot of things about Karou, such as her independence and bravery, but I felt a bit detached from her, and I didn’t completely buy into her relationship with Akiva. Perhaps that is why this book didn’t have quite the effect on me that it had on some many other reviewers. I did enjoy it and I loved being thrown into the world that Laini Taylor created. I’d definitely recommend Daughter of Smoke and Bone to anyone who loves fantasy and even to those who don’t.


“It is a condition of monsters that they do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry 'Monster!' and looked behind him.”

Review: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

Title: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes #4)
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: September 27th, 2011 (First Published 1894)
Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Now that Dr. Watson is married, he sees less and less of Sherlock Holmes. However, his former flatmate still calls on him occasionally for assistance in interesting mysteries. In The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Watson and Sherlock encounter a stolen racehorse, an elaborate robbery, secret identities, murder and theft. Watson also finally meets Sherlock’s clever brother Mycroft, hears stories of Sherlock’s first cases and even sees Sherlock outwitted. Watson is also first introduced to Sherlock’s greatest enemy, the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty. Sherlock’s famous confrontation with his nemesis at Reichenbach Falls is one of the eleven exciting tales in this volume.

Sherlock Holmes and Watson are back in the fourth book in the Sherlock Holmes series. There are eleven short stories (or cases) in this book. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is interesting because at times the reader is introduced to Sherlock before he was a consulting detective and was just a clever university student. We also get to see Sherlock’s younger brother Mycroft, who might be more intelligent than his brother but is not as driven. It was fascinating to hear about some of Holmes’ first cases. In “The Yellow Face,” Sherlock is wrong in his assumptions, further proof that Holmes is imperfect and makes mistakes, like the rest of us. While things started off strong with “Silver Blaze,” I found myself losing interest midway through the book. I read this book all at once, and I think it’s meant to be read a story at a time (which is how I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.) Things ended on a high note, with “The Final Problem.” This infamous story details Holmes’ first dealings with Moriarty, and their fateful fight over Reichenbach falls. While this was originally intended to be the end of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle continued writing the series. And thank goodness: imagine Sherlock Holmes without The Hound of the Baskervilles! Knowing that Holmes is not actually dead, I enjoyed this story. Of course, I would hate it if he actually died. Although it contains one of Doyle’s most famous stories, I preferred The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: I don’t remember ever losing interest, as I did midway through this book. However, it was still enjoyable and just brilliant. My favourite story was “The Stockbroker’s Clerk:” I enjoy the stories that centre around a robbery, such as “The Red Headed League” in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Overall, this was a great addition to the series and a must for fans of Sherlock Holmes and mystery lovers. While The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or The Hound of the Baskervilles might be a better place to start if you have never read any of Doyle’s books, this addition to the series was clever and often exciting. While it did drag along in the middle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes was still a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I received this e-galley from Penguin Group USA.


"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Review: Silver Girl

Title: Silver Girl
Author: Elin Hilderbrand
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Publication Date: June 21st, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Romance

Meredith Delinn is probably the most hated woman in America. Her husband, Freddy Delinn, has been arrested for cheating investors through a ponzi scheme. Although Meredith had no knowledge of what was going on, she and one of her sons are under investigation and could be facing jail as well. With her future uncertain and no one to turn to, Meredith calls her former friend Connie, who she hasn’t spoken to in three years. Connie and Meredith were childhood friends, and Connie invites Meredith to spend the summer with her in Nantucket. Although she comes to Meredith’s recue, Connie has problems of her own: her husband died of cancer two years ago and she and her daughter have been estranged ever since. As the two of them try to patch up their friendship and move on, the summer provides Connie with a second chance at love, while Meredith is reminded of the person she used to be.

It might be below zero outside, but reading Silver Girl made it feel like summer again. I know I’m always saying this, but I didn’t expect this book to be so good. I assumed it would be a light beach read that would be fun but nothing special. Instead, I found realistic and flawed characters and an engaging plot. The story isn’t exactly original since it’s based on the lives of Ruth and Bernard Madoff. All the same, it was an interesting topic that worked well in the story. This book is very character driven and focuses a lot on flashbacks of Connie and Meredith throughout the years. The use of flashbacks worked very well, especially since it showed how Meredith feels she let down her late father and never lived up to the person she could have been. The strongest part of the story was Meredith’s continuing sadness over her father’s death, which had me a little teary at times. Meredith was an interesting character: she was raised by a doting father who believed she could do anything. Meredith was smart and seemed to have the world at her feet. Her father died while she was away at university, and she saw Freddy Delinn as a sort of answer to her prayers. While they struggled financially in the early days of their marriage, Freddie’s “economic genius” lead him to becoming very rich. Meredith became the sort of person who wouldn’t think twice about spending a small fortune on something like candles. She was blind to Freddy’s illegal activities, and truly believed his success was due to talent. When Freddie was arrested, Meredith lost everything and found herself friendless, broke and universally hated. Now, Meredith is sickened over the person she had become: someone who spent money frivolously and put money before her oldest friendship. I liked how this book showed that a person can start their life over, even when it seems impossible. It also showed that friendship can withstand so much. In a lot of ways, this was a perfect summer read. Silver Girl was well written, had a beautiful setting, flawed but realistic characters, a life long friendship and an entertaining plot. The story was well paced and enjoyable, while it still touched on some more serious issues. I would recommend this book to fans of chick lit or romance. In the summer when I am looking for a beach read, I will have to read more of Elin Hilderbrand’s books.
I received this e-galley from Little, Brown & Company. 


“Sail on Silver Girl, Sail on by, Your time has come to shine, All your dreams are on their way.”

Review: The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: September 1st, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

No one knows that the circus is coming, but by the time the black and white tents are set up it’s difficult to remember a time when it wasn’t there. The circus stays for a few days and is open only at night. They call it the circus of dreams. All of the performers dress in black and white and are like nothing anyone has ever seen before. They do things that seem impossible, as if they were done with magic. Le Cirque des RĂªves is the home of a contortionist, a fortuneteller and two red headed twins who are as old as the circus itself. But more importantly, the circus is the playing field for a game that was set in motion before the circus even existed. Celia and Marco have been raised to compete against each other and only one person can be left standing in the end. When the two fall in love, they do not completely understand the true nature of the game and what that means for them. The fate of the entire circus is closely intertwined in a game like no other, and a farm boy from Massachusetts might be the only way to save the circus.

This book has been surrounded by hype lately, and I keep hearing it praised as the best book of 2011. All the same, I could never figure out exactly what it was about. However, all the recommendations were enough to get me to read this book. The Night Circus is about magic and illusion. It’s about a circus unlike any other that is actually the chessboard for a game: a game which only one of the players will be able to walk away from. The story takes place between 1873 and 1903; beginning when an illusionist named Hector Bowen first meets his five-year-old daughter Celia. Hector and a man called Alexander make an arrangement a year later to have Celia compete with a player of Alexander’s choice. The two children are trained in different ways for this competition. Both are immensely talented magicians who do not completely understand the game they are playing. Just as Celia and Marco are thrown into this game, I was thrown into The Night Circus. It is a world of secrets, performances and unexplainable magic.

If I had to describe this book in one word it would be enchanting. The story, the setting, the atmosphere and the characters were all enchanting. This is Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, and it is truly magnificent. The writing was wonderful, especially all of the detailed descriptions. The first pages are told in the second person, and at first I wasn’t too sure about this choice in point of view. The majority of the story is told in the third person present tense, with a small introduction to a section told in the second person. This ended up working well because I felt exactly what the author was describing, as if I too were filled with awe while viewing the circus for the first time. At times, I felt like I was a part of this world. The story was creative and captivating, and was for the most part well paced. There was one brief moment where the plot was losing my interest, and I just wanted Celia to discover that Marco was her opponent. Right after I thought this, it happened. This book was very difficult to put down: I intended to read a few pages but ended up not stopping for very long until I was finished. The writing and the setting were the strongest elements of this novel. I wasn’t expecting the circus to be so original and vibrant, but it was. While I loved the characters, they did feel a bit distant to me. Maybe it was the narration, or maybe it was because there were quite a few important characters. While I liked Celia and Marco a great deal when they were younger, as they grew older I felt detached from them. I felt like I knew more about the twins than the main characters. Some of the conversations between Marco and Celia (especially her dialogue) felt very forced and unnatural. I did like their romance, but it wasn’t the epic love described on the book jacket. By the end of the book, none of these flaws mattered to me. In a few weeks, I probably won’t remember any of these things that bothered me. While some people loved this book and thought it was perfection, others couldn’t stand it. Since I liked this book so much, I was trying to think of what kind of person The Night Circus is for. Would it be most loved by fans of fantasy? Or is it the opposite: is it perhaps best for people who do not usually read fantasy? One thing is clear: this is a book that is not for everyone. If you like being able to step into the skin of a character or do not enjoy wordy descriptions, then perhaps this book isn’t for you. I would begin reading it with no expectations: don’t begin by expecting it to be a timeless love story or a story about an epic battle, because it’s neither of those two things. However, The Night Circus is an imaginative and enthralling story that left me feeling spellbound.


“Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon, or a wolf and a scarlet-clad little girl. And is not the dragon the hero of his own story? Is not the wolf simply acting as a wolf should act?”

A Soulmate Book and Some Chocolate Cake

I have been reading this book every night before sleeptime and, oh heavens--Molly Wizenberg shares part of my soul. This is the sort of book / personal history / in-honor-of-food-and-life memoir I could see myself writing some day. I love the way each chapter is long enough to acquaint me with the author deeply and personally, but short enough to keep me interested in what's going on. (Confession: Though I'm an English major and head-over-heels-for-words person, I have a hard time finishing books. I never have a problem finishing cookbooks though...)

At the bottom of page 90, just after Molly's serving suggestions for vanilla bean buttermilk cake, I wrote: "Molly W is the type of writer and cook that effortlessly talks you out of eating anything normal or bland and talks you into indulging in a single scoop of zesty lemon sorbet sprinkled with raspberries instead." This book recommends indulgence; in fact, I dare you to read one chapter without munching on a piece of fine cheese or a French pastry. Her imagery is that good.

Read this book. Mark it up. Turn down the corners of each recipe page.
Then buy another copy for your favorite foodie friend. Because she will love it too.
'Tis the season, folks.

No matter if you're postponing the Christmas movies until after this Thursday or if you've been listening to holiday tunes for a month now (me...), the weather outside your window has at least been bordering on frightful lately, right?
I love frightful weather.
It inspires a wardrobe of sweats and moccasins and encourages a night in with a cozy movie.
And a cozy, indulgent treat.
What better treat than a warm, gooey chocolate cake that's ready in five minutes start to finish?

Chocolate cake has always been a little too rich for me, but this recipe gives Chad and me just enough sweetness to satisfy our my late-night cravings. I love putting a couple spoonfuls of this and a splash of that into my mug and then coming out with molten chocolate cake. The chocolate will even ooze over the top and drip down the sides of the cup a little, if you're lucky. And I would bet that you have all the ingredients to make this in your cupboard right now.

The outcome will only improve if you use high-quality cocoa powder and chocolate chunks, but I've made this recipe with Hershey's cocoa and semi-sweet chocolate chips, and it turned out perfectly fine. In the days ahead, I want to try adding crushed peppermint stick, orange zest, or hazelnut flavoring; I'm sure a subtle complementary flavor would be divine. Just stir it in with the eggs and milk.

Do me a favor, my friend. Sometime this week, cuddle up to a Christmas flick (or a good book!) while clutching a mug of this chocolatey goodness and a big glass of milk. This dessert will only enhance your cozy experience.

Molten Chocolate Cake in a Mug
Inspired by a little zaftig

Makes enough for one mug

4 tablespoons whole wheat flour (of course all-purpose works fine)
2 tablespoons agave nectar (or 4 T sugar)
4 tablespoons cocoa powder 
1 large egg, well beaten
3 tablespoons whole milk
4 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup high quality chocolate chunks (I used 70% cocoa, smooth dark Lindt, chopped with a large knife)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mug, stir together the flour, sugar, and cocoa powder.

Stir in the egg, milk, oil, and vanilla.

When well combined, stir in the chocolate chunks.

Microwave for two minutes (or three minutes if you're doing two mugs). That's it!

Bookish Gifts for Music Lovers

Whether you know a musician or just someone who loves music, there's always a few gifts for them that they can enjoy without even having to take off their headphones.

1. Record Breaking Bookends From Selections from Museums of Canada: "Tune in with our fun and funky bookends made from full-length 33-rpm vinyl record albums. Handmade in Canada, they are a great way to organize your book shelves."

2. Drumstick Pencils From "Do you often find yourself drumming away on your office desk with a standard set of pencils? Then grab yourself our all-wood writing utensils which are half drumstick, half pencil and sold in sets of two to give your desk drum a little more authenticity."

3. George Harrison: Living in the Material World by Oliva Harrison and Mark Holburn From Goodreads: "Drawing on George Harrison’s personal archive of photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia, Olivia Harrison reveals the arc of his life, from his guitar-obsessed boyhood in Liverpool, to the astonishment of the Beatles years, to his days as an independent musician and bohemian squire. Here too is the record of Harrison’s lifelong commitment to Indian music, and his adventures as a movie producer, Traveling Wilbury, and Formula One racing fan. The book is filled with stories and reminiscences from Harrison’s friends, including Eric Clapton, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and many, many others. Among its previously unpublished riches are photographs taken by Harrison himself beginning in the mid-1960s. It is a rich tribute to a man who died far too young, but who touched the lives of millions."

In My Mailbox (14)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, in which book bloggers post about the books they've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

Lots of books this week! I'm a bit overwhelmed, to be honest. First off, I have Scott Pilgrim Vs The Universe and Scott Pilgrim in His Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Looking forward to reading these two and finishing off the series. I also took out A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. It was amazing and I put The Knife of Never Letting Go on my Christmas list after reading it. The Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz looks amazing and I might lend it to my Mom when I'm finished. I was a big fan of Kit Pearson when I was younger and her newest book is called The Whole Truth. I'm very excited about reading it! Earlier this week, I read Home for the Holidays (Mother-Daughter Book Club.) In the book, the girls read the Betsy-Tacy series. I decided to take out Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace. In the first book, Betsy is only five, but the series shows her through her high school years and I think it finishes with her wedding. Next I have Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. Of all the books I took out, this is the one I could see me not having time for. Hopefully that's not the case though. And last but not least, I have The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstein. I am technically reading this right now, but I'm only on page 3 or something like that. I don't read very much on weekends, usually. I've heard that this is the best book of the year, so I'm very excited to read it. 

I won Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange from Goodreads! It was actually the first book I've ever won. Ever. Yay! 

What was in your mailbox this week? 

Review: Domestic Violets

Title: Domestic Violets
Author: Matthew Norman
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: August 9th 2011
Genre: Fiction, Humour

Tom Violet never imagined that at 35 he’d be working at a pointless job he hates. He always believed that he’d be a successful novelist by then. Tom has just finished his first novel, which took him five years to write. His father, Curtis Violet, is one of the most talented living writers in America, and how will he ever live up to that? His dad has just won the Pulitzer Prize and left his newest wife, a supermodel who is younger than Tom. When his mother leaves Tom’s dependable stepfather, it seems like everyone is having marital problems. Tom’s sex life with his wife is non-existent at present, and he feels too much pressure over conceiving their second child. His job may be horrible, but so many people are being let off that he might not have one for much longer. Tom hates his job, but at least he gets to see Katie, his beautiful twenty-three year old assistant. As life throws a few obstacles Tom’s way, he will have to decide what kind of man he wants to be.

It wasn’t until I was midway through this book that I realized I rarely read contemporary novels with male adult protagonists. There’s no particular reason for this: I suppose you could argue that since a lot of my recommendations are from girls, I’m more likely to read books about girls. I also seldom read humour, especially when it’s aimed at adults. Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoyed this book was because it was different from what I usually read. And, if I’m being honest, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Domestic Violets. It was a thoroughly entertaining book. I loved Tom’s sense of humour and his cynical wit. As the novel begins, Tom’s stressed because he’s suffering from erectile dysfunction. His famous father has just come to live with him after he left his wife, and eventually Tom’s stepfather joins them as well. Tom’s problems get worst soon enough, between marital and job problems. I’m glad that I didn’t read the jacket description before reading this book, because I thought it was a bit melodramatic and overplayed some of Tom’s problems. At the beginning, I didn’t think I was going to like Domestic Violets. From the first scene, I thought that this was going to be a book just for guys. It reminded me of Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You, which I didn’t enjoy all that much. Although there were similarities between the two books, Domestic Violets was the better of the two. From the description, you might think that his book is just about marriage or the recession. To me, it was about becoming the person you want to be. Matthew Norman is a great writer and I especially liked his insights on writing and being a writer. All the characters were very real and hopelessly flawed. They managed to turn family dysfunction into an entertaining story. Although there some funny parts, I thought Gregory and Tom’s feud was a bit too much like Dwight and Jim from The Office. However, I did enjoy Tom’s memos he imagined people in his life sending to HR. The plot was simple but engaging. There were some things that were predictable, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Domestic Violets as a whole. One thing that bothered me was that Tom got over his problems with Anna too easily, and that scene was a bit awkward to me. It felt like they got past what happened a little too quickly, without spoiling anything. Flaws aside, I’d recommend this book to fans of Jonathan Tropper and maybe even Nick Hornby. Domestic Violets is a promising debut novel and I had fun reading it.
I received this e-galley from HarperCollins.


My 2011 Christmas List

It's getting closer to the big day, so I thought I'd post my Christmas list just for fun. Most of the items are books or related to books. They are either books I'm dying to read or books I've read and loved, and now I want to own them. And a few random other things too.

1. Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R Martin
2. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
3. The Wind in the Willows Cloth Hardcover
4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
5. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
6. Dorothy Parker Complete Poems
7. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
8. Emma  by Jane Austen
9. The Invention of Hugo Cabret  by Brian Selznick
10. The Book of Lies by Mary Horlock
11. Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
12. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Ultimate Edition DVD
13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Ultimate Edition DVD
14. Starbucks and Chapters Gift Certificates
15. How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith
16. The Great Gatsby T-Shirt
17. The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordana

Review: The Scorch Trials

Title: The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner #2)
Author: James Dashner
Publisher: Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 12th, 2010
Genre: YA, Dystopia

This review contains spoilers for The Maze Runner, the first book in the series.

Now that the Gladers are free of the Maze, they hope to be free of the danger and the puzzles and adapt to the outside world and whatever horrors it might hold. But the Maze did not prepare the boys for the world they find. The climate has been brutally affected by sun flares, and the people of the world have been inflicted with the Flare, a disease that causes the infected to become insane and lose their humanity before succumbing to death. And WICKED, the creators of the Maze, are not finished with the boys. After a night’s sleep, they find themselves in Phase Two of the trials. The group has two weeks to travel 100 miles across the Scorch, a burned out section of the world that is inhabited by the Cranks, who suffer from the Flare. All of the Gladers are in the early stages of the Flare, and will be given the cure if they make it to a safety house. The boys learn that WICKED had another group that went through the Maze, only a group of girls with one boy instead of the reverse. While Thomas had a home in the Glade, the outside world is unfamiliar and frightening. When the world seems to be without hope, the boys will have to fight to stay alive.

I read The Maze Runner in mid-August while on vacation, and I thought it was a fantastic start to the series. I loved it, but I was a bit hesitant to read the sequel, since I wasn’t sure it would live up to the original. I finally read The Scorch Trials earlier this week and it didn’t have the same effect on me as The Maze Runner. As the novel begins, Thomas and Teresa are speaking together telepathically from different parts of the safe house, when Teresa is taken and it becomes clear that something is not right. Despite what they were told, the trials are not over and the Gladers are thrown into the dangerous world that Alby warned them of. The Maze Runner was impossible to put down for me, but I didn’t feel that way about The Scorch Trials. While the first book took hold of my emotions, I felt detached from the story while reading the sequel. Although it was interesting to see Thomas’ new memories of his life before WICKED, I didn’t think the story was engaging enough. The post-apocalyptic world Thomas must cross through wasn’t as interesting as the Maze. There was more conflict in The Scorch Trials, but it got to the point where it felt like too much. However, it was packed with action and things were never boring.

I love Newt and Minho, and slightly resented that they were overshadowed by Teresa. Thomas is a bit bland, but he does make a good hero. I didn’t feel much for any of the new characters and was very disappointed when Thomas was separated from the Gladers. If you love character driven books with characters with depth, then The Scorch Trials isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. However, I enjoy this series for being an exciting story that is packed with action. Everything picked up for me when Thomas is reunited with Teresa towards the end of the novel. This part of the book felt more like The Maze Runner. Full of suspense and intrigue, the ending is what made me decide to continue with this series. Although the sequel did not live up to its predecessor, I will still be picking up The Death Cure. The last few pages left me craving answers, and for that reason I won’t be giving up on this series. The Maze Runner was a difficult book to live up to, and I still liked The Scorch Trials overall, though not in the same way.


“He turned to look just in time to see the rain start falling out as if the storm had finally decided to weep with shame for what it had done to them.”

Review: A Study in Scarlet

Title: A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes #1)
Author: Arthur Conan Doyle
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: July 1888
Genre: Fiction, Mystery

Dr. John Watson has just left the second war in Afghanistan and is struggling to find an inexpensive place to live in London. By chance, he runs into his old friend Stamford and is introduced to Sherlock Holmes, who happens to also be looking for a flatmate. Holmes is a peculiar sort who seems to know things about Watson right away, but together they rent rooms at 221B Baker Street. At first, Watson is fascinated by his new acquaintance and his strange habits. Soon he learns that Holmes is a consulting detective and an expert in the science of deduction. When an American named Enoch Drebber is found murdered, Watson accompanies Holmes to investigate. The word “Rache” is written on the wall in blood although the victim had no external injuries. When the case is finished, it’s just the beginning of Watson and Holmes’ adventures.

This is Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel and the third I have read. I don’t think that you have to read them in sequence; I’ve been picking up whichever book I feel like and have had no problems. I recently watched the first episode of Sherlock, which is based on this book. I wish I held off and read the book first, since I knew what was going to happen while reading. The show is set in modern England, so there are many differences between the two versions. The murders, the details and the motifs were different, but the story was similar enough that you could guess what was going to happen. Still, Sherlock is an amazing adaptation and I will definitely continue with the series.

As the story begins and we are introduced to Watson and Sherlock, any modern reader is likely already familiar with the characters. It was interesting to see the two as they first meet, before Watson even knew what Holmes’ occupation was. I enjoyed Watson’s early observations about Holmes (including cataloguing his knowledge and expertise) and Holmes’ explanation of how his mind works. You could tell that this was Doyle’s first novel, and it wasn’t as exciting as the others I’ve read. The majority of the novel is told in first person with Watson as the narrator, but the beginning of the second part is told in third person, recounting the history of those involved in the case. This section didn’t read as smoothly and you could tell that Doyle was still learning his craft. Although I did enjoy A Study in Scarlet, it wasn’t as well written as later books in the series. For that reason, if these are not the types of books you usually like, I’d recommend starting with The Hound of the Baskervilles, as it’s my favourite. However, there is something to be gained from reading the books in the correct order, and A Study in Scarlet is clever and entertaining. The more I read, the more often I find books easy to figure out. I love having the Sherlock Holmes books to read when I want to be puzzled and outsmarted.


“To a great mind, nothing is little.”

Review: Tell it to the Trees

Title: Tell it to the Trees
Author: Anita Rau Badami
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Publication Date: September 20th, 2011
Genre: Fiction, Realistic Fiction

The Dharma family live in an isolated house in Merrit’s Point, a small town in northern British Columbia. One February morning their tenant, Anu, is found dead in the snow from hypothermia. Tell it to the Trees tells the story of the Dharma family in the months leading up to Anu’s death. Vikram Dharma abuses his wife and children, and led his first wife to run away. His thirteen-year-old daughter, Varsha, is terrified that her stepmother will leave her like her mother did. Suman has been married to Vikram for eight years and dreams of taking her six-year-old son, Hermant, and leaving. The Dharma family is full of secrets, and the children have learnt to whisper things they could never tell another person to the tree in their yard. Tree will always be there for them and will never reveal their many secrets. When their new tenant Anu comes into their lives and befriends Suman, things begin to change. When Anu witnesses some of the secrets the children must tell only to the trees, she will have to pay with her own life.

I was drawn to Tell it to the Trees because I thought the title was beautiful and poetic. This is the story of a dysfunctional family and what happens when some of their secrets are shared with their tenant, Anu. The novel begins when the body of Anu is found on the Dharma’s property. The story recounts the events leading up to her death, and the family history of the Dharmas. Vikram’s first wife ran away and then died in a car crash. A year later, he traveled to India and married Suman, who moved to Canada to raise his daughter and care for his elderly mother. Vikram is abusive and cruel hearted, and has made Suman hate herself for who she has become. Varsha, Vikram’s daughter, is terrified that Suman will leave her and would rather her stepmother die than run away. Hermant is only six, but is controlled by Varsha and does what ever she says. The family dynamics were both tragic and absorbing, making this an engaging story. The story is told from the point of view of alternating narrators. I thought the writing in the sections from Varsha’s perspective could be awkward, especially in the first pages when she seems much more intelligent than she is in the rest of the novel. However, the sections from Hermant’s point of view were very well done, and it can be difficult to write from the eyes of a young child. I was impressed with the way Badami made you sympathise with each narrator, at least until the end when it was impossible to feel anything for one of the characters. It was frustrating how some of the characters acted at times, although some of their actions were a symptom of the abuse they received from Vikram. There were many times when the story was disturbing and chilling. The author captured the bitter cold of winter and I think that the early descriptions of the cold helped set the mood of the story. I wasn’t completely absorbed in the plot, but I still read it fairly quickly and enjoyed the book as whole. The ending was left open, and I thought that it worked very well. It made me wish it didn’t have to end. Overall, Tell it to the Trees was a gripping novel about a family that suffers from abuse and the secrets they keep.

I received this e-galley from Random House of Canada.


“Tree will always be here, Hem. It’s ours and it will never tell on us.”

Empty Cupboards: Day 4 / Pumpkin Spice Cinnamon Rolls

All right, all right. I admit it. I caved. We didn't last a week before going to the grocery store.
A (painfully) vegetarian stir fry was ready on the stove when Chad got home on Thursday, but my blood sugar was screaming for protein. Chad could tell the minute he saw me that I needed a good Smash Burger with rosemary fries (and goodness, don't we all?).
I gave a good fight, people, but in the end, I just couldn't go without cheese (or meat or butter). Maybe I'll try the challenge again when I know I'll have protein...if that's not considered cheating. Goodness knows I found protein this week by eating a couple things far too often:

lots of toast with almond butter
lots of fried eggs
lots of extra glasses of milk

By the way, have I told you I'm pregnant?
I'm pregnant.
Twenty weeks pregnant.
Which makes me need to eat even more often and have even more protein.
So I did darn well staying away from the grocery store for as long as I did, thank you very much.

I am happy to say we now have a bag of frozen chicken breasts in our freezer and a big chunk of cheddar cheese in our fridge. And the Costco list that was hungrily added to all week was put to good use on Friday.

To make up for my failure physical inability to complete the empty-cupboards challenge, I have prepared something extra special for you. I call them spiced pumpkin rolls.
You're going to die.
They are autumn on a plate.
And, to make things even better, they are glazed in a cooked-down spiced maple glaze. Holy what? I made them especially for my in-laws who came into town over the weekend (hence the lack of posts until now), but I couldn't wait; I baked a couple ahead of time so I could dig into that harvest goodness.
And dig in, I did.


Spiced Pumpkin Rolls with Maple Glaze
Loosely based on a recipe from So Good and Tasty

I highly encourage you to make this cinnamon roll spinoff as a weekend or holiday activity. The gorgeous color of the dough by itself is enough to knock you out cold, but just wait until they're baked and warm from the oven. You'll notice that I only used whole wheat flour, but don't think that spoils the texture of your favorite cinnamon swirls. The moist pumpkin perfectly combines with the whole wheat to make a workable, supple dough. I don't think you'll even notice the absence of the all-purpose.

I learned from serving these rolls over the weekend that they are significantly better when freshly warm from the oven. The glaze tends to soak into the rolls, so it's best not to pour it on until right before serving. The rolls are fine by themselves, but the glaze makes them irresistible.

And now I bring you (dare I say it)  my greatest original recipe yet.

The Rolls
1 cup milk, warmed
4 teaspoons instant yeast
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (more if using homemade pumpkin puree)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice (ground cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg)
6 tablespoons butter, softened

In a large bowl, gently stir yeast and maple syrup into warmed milk.

In a medium bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, egg, oil, salt, and one cup of flour. Add pumpkin mixture to yeast mixture and stir until thoroughly blended. Add rest of flour one cup at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Add flour until dough holds together nicely but is still very soft; it will be slightly sticky. Knead for a few minutes until dough is smooth and forms into a nice ball.

Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let rise until doubled in size (usually about an hour).

On a well-floured counter, cut the dough in half and roll each into a ball.

Roll each ball, one at at time, into a rectangle that's about 1/2-inch thick. Spread dough rectangle with half of the softened butter. Sprinkle with half the pumpkin pie spice and half the brown sugar. Tightly roll the dough lengthwise, turn seam side down, and cut into fourteen equal slices. Place slices in a buttered baking dish. Repeat with other half of the dough.

Cover and let rise for about an hour. After the rolls have risen, stick the ones you won't be making right away in the freezer (leave them in their pan and cover tightly with plastic wrap). When you're ready to make the extra rolls, pull the frozen dough out of the freezer and let sit overnight. Pop them in the oven in the morning and you have fresh, homemade goodness.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Be sure not to over bake  them or they will be dry.

While the rolls are baking, prepare the maple glaze (recipe below; you'll want to double it if you make all the rolls at once). When rolls are finished, let them cool for a couple minutes before pouring on the glaze.

Be sure to serve these rolls while they're still nice and warm.

Makes 28 rolls.

The Glaze
In a small saucepan, heat one cup of pure maple syrup with 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice over medium heat. Whisking constantly, cook the syrup for 5 - 7 minutes. Let cool for a couple minutes before pouring over cinnamon rolls, waffles, or oatmeal. Glaze will thicken as it cools.

In My Mailbox (13)

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren, in which book bloggers post about the books they've bought, borrowed or received in the past week.

This week I bought the Kobo Touch and a pretty case! Probably should have waited until Christmas, but they were on sale at Toys R Us so I pulled out some babysitting money and jumped on it. It's much quicker than my old Kobo Wifi, so I'm very happy so far. 

This week in e-galleys I received Tell it to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami, Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand and Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. 

I do volunteer shelf reading at the library and happened to be doing the non-fiction books about authors section. I found The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World by Margaret C. Sullivan and Sherlock Holmes was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles by Pierre Bayard. 

Christmas books! Knit the Season is the sequel to The Friday Night Knitting Club, which I liked enough to continue with the series. Home for the Holidays is part of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, and the sequel to Pies and Prejudice. I wish that these books had been around when I was twelve or so. You can also see some of my wrapping paper. 

Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

Title: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Scott Pilgrim #2)
Author: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Publisher: Oni Press
Publication Date: June 15th, 2005
Genre: YA, Graphic Novel

Scott Pilgrim is back and about to fight Ramona’s second evil ex-boyfriend, Lucas Lee. If he wants to date the mysterious Ramona Flowers, Scott will have to defeat her seven exes. Lucas Lee, skater and actor, dated Ramona in the ninth grade, and now Scott will have to defeat him. Will Scott triumph? Will he finally break up with Knives Chau, a self-professed Scott-aholic? Will Sex-Bomb-Omb make it big? And what will happen when Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Envy Adams, returns to Toronto with her band? When it feels like the whole world is against him, Scott will to step it up to be with the girl of his dreams.

In the sequel to Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim is currently dating two girls: the young and innocent Knives, and Ramona, who’s cool and mysterious but comes with tons of baggage. The story begins with a flashback to Scott and Kim meeting in high school, and at first I was a bit confused as to what was going on and why this was relevant. However, it was interesting to learn more about Kim and Scott. I thought that Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World didn’t read as smoothly as Precious Little Life, since there were parts that were a bit confusing and rocky. However, it was still entertaining overall. It makes Canada (specifically Toronto) seem very cool. Which is refreshing, since it feels like all my non-Canadian friends are always making fun of Canada’s 'lameness' (apparently if you live in a country with children playing hockey on your five dollar bills, you’re asking to be made fun of.) There are battles at Casa Loma and the Toronto Reference Library and a gig at Lee’s Palace. I loved the drawings, especially since I’d been to most of the places in the book and knew what they were supposed to look like. The characters are just as quirky and charming as ever, and pretty much everyone is likeable (except the bad guys, obviously.) The plot was fast paced and original, making Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World a book that was a lot of fun to read. The sequel didn’t quite match the original, but it was still fresh and enjoyable. I will definitely be continuing with this epic and funny series.


Empty Cupboards: Day 3 / Couscous Salad

I'm beginning to think this challenge is the best thing that's ever happened in our kitchen. Who knew I had all of these options with so few ingredient choices? I must admit, I've been missing my daily cheddar cheese slices, but my reliance on them may be more mental than anything else anyway. The man and I are not accustomed to a vegetarian diet, though. We're definitely eating differently than usual, but I'm learning that a little change is good for us. 

Day 3: Couscous Salad with French Vinaigrette
My mother makes a mean couscous salad that's fresh and light and fabulous. I was missing the key flavor ingredients though--sliced green onions and feta cheese--so it took me a few minutes to figure out a flavor alternative. Enter French vinaigrette. Homemade French vinaigrette. (Yes, I went to the fridge to grab the bottled kind and found that someone had kindly put it back on the shelf with only a few drops left. That may have been me.) This dressing has just the right touches of mustard and vinegar. My usual liberality with the salt and pepper came in handy with this dressing and, of course, once I tossed the salad with the dressing, I was liberal with the parmesan cheese too.

The Salad
Inspired by Mom

1 cup chicken broth
1 cup couscous, uncooked
1 cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
3 celery stalks, sliced
parmesan cheese

In a small saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil. Stir in couscous and remove from heat. Cover for five to six minutes. Fluff with a fork when all liquid has been absorbed.

Transfer couscous to a medium bowl and add chopped vegetables. Toss with vinaigrette (recipe below).

Serve with liberal sprinklings of S&P and parmesan.

The Vinaigrette
Inspired by David Lebovitz

sea salt
1/4 yellow onion, diced as finely as you can get it
white vinegar
Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil (rough amount)
freshly ground pepper
fresh / dried herbs of your choice (I used dried parsley)

In a jar or your own equivalent, stir together sea salt, onion, and vinegar* until combined. Add Dijon mustard and stir. Add olive oil and stir until well combined**. Give it a little taste test. If it needs more zing, add more mustard / vinegar; to cut down on the bite, add more olive oil.

Just before serving, stir in freshly ground pepper and herbs. Toss with mixed greens or couscous salad, or use as a dip for fresh veggies.

*I have no idea how much mustard and vinegar I ultimately put in; I kept adding it little by little. Experiment to find your ideal flavor (for the couscous salad, I found that more zing is better).
**David says the dressing can stand for eight hours at room temperature. If you're making the vinaigrette ahead of time, it's best to leave the onion out until just before you're ready to serve.