MISTRESS OF MELLYN by Victoria Holt

PUBLISHER: Doubleday, 1960
GENRE: Fiction/Gothic Romantic Suspense
SETTING: England, 19th Century
PSEUDONMYS: link
MY GRADE: B-

FROM PUBLISHER: From the moment Martha Leigh first glimpsed the cold, brooding manse high on the fog-shrouded Cornish cliffs, she felt a chill of apprehension.

Then she met her employer, the arrogant master of Mellyn, and his spoiled, headstrong daughter, Alvean, and knew why the three governesses before her had left the eerie mansion.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, Martha began to be aware of an atmosphere of menace. There had been whispers of past horrors, warnings of violence yet to come–and now there were strange accidents. It was madness to stay on.

But Connan TreMellyn’s dark charm had over-powered Martha’s natural caution. Against her will she felt irresistibly drawn to the handsome, enigmatic master of Mellyn.

Now, even as she found herself being pulled deeper and deeper into a frightening web of unseen terror, she knew she could not, would not leave…


MY THOUGHTS: This story was interesting enough but the plot was very slow moving the entire way through and fairly tame. There have been a few suspicious happenings at Connan’s home lately; mysterious letters, falling boulders, ect. I never once guessed who the culprit was. I don’t like that the tiny bit of action this story had took place during the last thirteen pages. I didn’t get a gothic feel from this story either, not once.

Every single character was underdeveloped and I didn’t feel as if I’d gotten to know any of them. With Connan I’m not seeing any ‘charm’, dark or otherwise. He wasn’t around all that much. I don’t understand where his attraction and ‘love’ for Martha came from at all. They’re hardly ever together and all of a sudden he wants to marry her. I don’t know why he didn’t just marry Lady Linda Treslyn since they were involved with each other.

HER LADYSHIP’S COMPANION by Evangeline Collins

PUBLISHER: Berkley Sensation, 5/2009
GENRE: Fiction/Historical Romance
SETTING: England and Scotland, 1816
AUTHOR SITE: link
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: B

FROM PUBLISHER: In the Scottish countryside of Selkirk, Lady Isabella Stirling resides at Bowhill Park, serving penance for a sin that nearly ruined her family. For five years she has been condemned to a loveless marriage and confined to the estate where she does little more than tend her rose garden. With her husband absent for months at a time and few visitors, Bella lives a lonely existence, denying the passions that burn within her very soul.

Then her cousin comes for a visit and makes an outrageous suggestion: what Bella needs is a lover. A hired lover. Despite her need, Bella says no. But soon Mr. Gideon Rosedale arrives-and he is at her service for two weeks. Indulging in what she intends to be a harmless flirtation, Bella is overcome by Gideon’s intoxicating presence. And when she at last permits him to satisfy her desires, she discovers she’s done the unthinkable-she’s fallen in love.

MY THOUGHTS: The story takes place in England and Scotland in 1816 and spans about ten months. The heroine is Isabella ‘Bella’ Stirling. She’s 24 and has been married to Lord Stirling, 34, for almost five years. He’s impotent and they have no relationship of any kind with each other and he’s rarely at home. He’s both physically and verbally abusive toward her. Bella is 5’8″ and has pale blond and violet eyes. She’s terribly unhappy. Her parents are dead and she’s got two brothers and two sisters who have never come to visit her.

The hero is Gideon Rosedale. He’s twenty-seven, 6’1″ and has dark brown hair and brown eyes. He’s a prostitute and has been for ten years. His mother was one and he doesn’t know who his father is. He was raised up in a brothel. Bella’s cousin, Esmé, hires him to ‘service’ Bella for two weeks. That’s how the hero and heroine meet.

Bella is so lonely and isolated. I think she became a bit obsessed with Gideon, especially after their original two week stay was over. She was so starved or affection that once she warmed up to him, she was not emotionally prepared to let him go. To me, she showed signs of being mentally unbalanced and seemed a bit immature. She also seems hypersexual. That combined with her overall emotional state made me wonder if she was bipolar. I feel she was a bit of a weak character, pretty passive with things that had nothing to do with Gideon.

Gideon seemed a little bland to me. I’d have liked to have known a bit more about his upbringing. I don’t think his character was developed quite enough. Bella’s surely wasn’t. We weren’t told a thing about her past; childhood, upbringing, nothing. I want to know why her siblings never came to visit her.

The sex scenes were very explict but ordinary and there were plenty of them. I was a bit surprised by one scene near the end involving something the hero did to the heroine. I’d give the sex an A-.

Overall, there wasn’t much going on in this story but sex. No real plot at all except toward the end when Bella’s husband pays her a visit. Though the heroine is married to another, she and Gideon have their happily-ever-after. How? You’ll have to read the book to find out! I grade this book 3.5 stars/B-.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

BOUND BY THE HEART by Marsha Canham

PUBLISHER: Avon, 10/1984
GENRE: Fiction/Historical Romance
SETTING: Caribbean & Barbados, 1811/12
BODICE RIPPER? Yes
PURCHASE: link
AUTHOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: D

FROM PUBLISHER: Rescued from the stormy waters of the Caribbean, Summer Cambridge, daughter of the British governor of Barbados faced a new threat aboard the American ship Chimera. Captain Morgan Wade, the notorious buccaneer, brazenly ordered the young beauty to his cabin to be held for his own pleasure!

Summer fought him with the ferocity of a wildcat, but held by his insistent passion, she was swept by waves of desire she had never known, and was powerless to resist him.

Even as she returned to Barbados and the marriage that had been arranged for her, she still trembled with memories of those days and nights of forbidden passions, and of the man whose love would forever hold her heart captive.

MY THOUGHTS: I’m reviewing the out of print paperback from 1984, not the rewritten e-book, which has the rape scene removed.

Summer is blond with gray-green eyes. Her age was never given so I’ll assume she’s in her early twenties. She’s a typical, slightly boring heroine. Not very feisty like I prefer, especially in these older books.

The American hero, Morgan, is thirty-four years old and has long black hair and blue eyes. He buys cargo and guns legally then sells them to the French, then transports them to America. In typical bodice ripper fashion, he rapes Summer aboard his ship once or twice (page 35 of print book) and makes no apologies for it. That’s pretty much where his abuse of her ends.

I liked her terrible husband Bennett Winfield. He lost interest in her right after they married. He suspected her of harboring feelings for Morgan and a secret, and forbade her ever seeing him again and threatened to ruin her and her family if she did. He’s shown violence towards her too. I like him much more than I do Morgan.

The story spans about a little over a year, beginning in June 1811. This just wasn’t a good story at all. It fits my criteria of a mild bodice ripper; it had the typical arrogant hero, rape, a decent amount of time apart from each other (over a year), and evil secondary characters and lots of action involving ships.

Morgan’s slightly younger half brother, Stuart Roarke was just pointless in this story.

I liked the first 119 pages when Summer and her ten year old brother Michael were on Morgan’s ship then island, Bounty Key, but once she returned home about a third of the way into the story, boring throughout the rest of the novel. The last fifty pages or so was nothing but one ship fighting against another and I truly forced myself to finish the book. It majority was so uninteresting to me. I really feel like this historical romance turned into purely historical fiction. The only good thing I can say about this is that I love the cover.

Same review here.

 

ALYX by Lolah Burford with Author Image

PUBLISHING INFO: Signet, 1977
SETTING: Jamaica, 1790s
HEROINE: Alyx de Vere
HERO: Simon
BODICE RIPPER? No
GRADE: A
DATES READ: 1/04, 5/04, 11/06, 10/07

FROM PUBLISHER: They were enslaved in a place where lust knew no bounds-and only love was forbidden… They were two white slaves thrown together in the darkness of the breeding hut. She, Alyx de Vere, a virginal, sixteen-year-old beauty carried off to nightmare captivity on a Caribbean sugar plantation. He, Simon, handsome, young, once heir to a noble title. He felt no desire for this anonymous woman who was forced upon him. And she knew only fearful hatred for this stranger who was about to violate her youthful innocence.

But as night after night of tremulous, fevered mating passed, something forbidden grew between these two desire-damned lovers-a rapturous passion that drove them to dare any peril to free each other from this savage world of bondage and brutal submission. And it was then that Alyx and Simon swore that no power-even death itself-would ever overcome their eternal bond of flaming, all-conquering love…

MY THOUGHTS/SUMMARY: This is is the story of 27 year old Simon and 16 year old Alyx de Vere, both British. Simon was sold at auction to August, owner of a plantation in Jamaica, 10 years earlier when he was 17. This story takes place in the late 1790s in Jamaica.

Here’s how Simon ended up in Jamaica. Simon was in line to inherit his fathers estates and all that came along with it when his father was injured in a horseriding accident. Simon’s jealous uncle Phillip came up with a horrible plan; to kidnap and ship Simon off to a place far away for life so that he would be next in line to inherit his brother’s title and estate. But there was one little problem; what to do with Simon?

Simon’s father was out riding one day while Simon was away at school. His father fell off the horse as went into a coma. Uncle Phillip put his plan into action. He went to see Simon at school, told him his father was hurt and his mother sent him to come get him and bring him home. Later that night, Phillip gave Simon some drugged coffee, which made Simon sick, then he passed out. He was taken to his own room to recover.

When he awoke, he was bound and gagged. Phillip was standing beside him, he removed Simon’s gag and forced him to drink more drugged rum. Simon and Phillip then traveled by carriage. Phillip told him they were traveling ‘towards’ Simon’s father’s. The carriage was then attacked by men who kidnapped Simon for ransom, Phillip watching all the while.

Simon awoke on a bed, bound in a hut, being taken care of by some men for about a week. He was blindfolded one day, put into the floor of a carriage and covered by a rug, so as not to be seen by anyone. After traveling for awhile, the carriage stopped, multiple gunshots were fired and the men who helped Phillip with Simon were killed. Simon knew Phillip did it because he heard his voice. Phillip then forced Simon to swallow some kind of powder.

He was later put on a ship with other captives, they sailed to Jamaica and he was put on an auction block naked, examined by a man who ended up buying him. That man was Simon’s master, August. Simon was sold under the name Aston Smith.

Simon was forced to share August’s bed for five years. When Simon would resist, he’d get whipped. After five years, Simon stopped sharing August’s bed but the rapes continued. Soon after Simon stopped sharing his masters bed, he became one of four *studs*. The studs were to get the female slaves, both black and white, pregnant. After they’d gotten one pregnant, they were given a one month break. Studs were treated better than other slaves.

After being a stud for five years, Alyx arrived. She was sent to Jamaica because she’d gotten caught stealing Simon’s uncle Phillip’s horse. One of her friends dared her to do it just for fun, so she did it then got caught. She’d been there a few months when she’d been put into the breeding hut with Simon. August put those two together until Alyx got pregnant because August wanted those two to have a son that August and his wife could raise as their own, since they couldn’t have their own children.

So Simon and Alyx met in the breeding hut. That’s how the book opens. They were in total darkness every time so they couldn’t see each other at all. The reason for that is so that if they pass by each other, they won’t recognize each other and won’t know who they’re pregnant by or who has fathered whos child.

Just about every night, Simon and Alyx were put in the hut together. They talked and got to know each other. Alyx told Simon how she came to be there and Simon told her his story.

Alyx knew she was pregnant and even threw up once while they were together. She hid the dirty sheet under the bed because she knew if anyone knew she was pregnant, she wouldn’t see Simon again. After a short time, it was discovered that she was pregnant so she didn’t see Simon for a long time. Though they didn’t know what the other looked like, since they’d only been together in total darkness, Alyx recognized Simon one day while they were working. Alyx dropped her bucket of water, Simon looked at her but continued on, she whispered his name and in that moment he knew she was Alyx, since she’s the only one who knows his real name. They talked, he felt her stomach and saw that she was pregnant. They made plans to meet by the fountain later, they met and had sex and were caught by August’s wife. She wanted to have him castrated, whipped and hung. After he was whipped and was about to be hanged, August arrived and saved Simon.

They made plans to escape the plantation together. They met, Simon has his master’s keys, they met the priest who married them, then as they were boarding a ship that Simon had arranged for earlier. As they were boarding it, gunshots rang out and August and his men shot the captain and another man, and made Alyx and Simon return home. Simon was whipped 200 times.

He was then put to work in a field with a man who’d had his tongue cut out. He was also raped by the man from time to time. He then became ‘stud’ to Alyx again. They were told not to talk to each other, so they didn’t. Then he didn’t see her again for three years. One day someone came to the hut Simon lived in and told him his master wanted to see him. When he got there, August told him he’d checked out his story about being an earl and that Simon had been telling the truth. He tore up Simon’s ‘paper of purchase’, introduced him to his son and daugher, then Alyx and allowed them both to sail home to England. They were finally free; Simon, after 13 years, Alyx, after 3.

When Simon arrived at his mother’s home after a few months of sailing, she was surprised to see him but didn’t seem happy. He told her that Phillip had abducted him but she didn’t belive him. All of them then traveled to see Phillip, who was very sick and in bed. He told Phillip that he and his family was going to have to find some place to live, since they were living in Simon’s house. Neither one mentioned the kidnapping.

On the way home, a rider came up to the carriage and told Simon that his uncle wanted to see him. Simon returned alone to the house. When Simon went into the bedroom, Phillip asked Simon if he knew what Phillip had done to him and Simon said yes. Phillip said that he wasn’t sorry for what he’d done and that he’d do it all over again if he could.

Simon wrote up a statement saying that Phillip was retracting his statement about Alyx stealing his horse then got Phillip to sign it. He was going to use that to have the charges against Alyx dropped. Next, he asked Phillip if he ever wondered about him or regretted what he’d done and Phillip said ‘no’. Simon went home, told Alyx she could leave him if she wanted, since they hadn’t been getting along much during the whole voyage back home to England. She said she wanted to stay with him; that’s how the book ended.
________

What I find very interesting is the author’s note at the end of the book about who the character Simon was based on. It says, “In the eighteenth century, the Sixth Earl of Anglesey (uncle Phillip) “is notorious as having procured the kidnapping and bondage in America of his nephew, James Annesley, rightful Lord Altham”.

The girl Alyx’s character was based on was a 14 year old girl who stole a horse and was ‘condemned to transportation’ to Australia and ended up married to the ships captain.

If you want to read more about the real Simon, you can go here.

I read somewhere on the internet years ago (in an obit that I can’t find) that Lolah died in 2002. Below is an image from her, taken from the back of the hardcover edition of her book Vice Avenged (see my review). Image came from the internet.

SALLY’S BAKING ADDICTION: Irresistible Cookies, Cupcakes, and Desserts for Your Sweet-Tooth Fix by Sally McKenney

PUBLISHER: Race Point Publishing, 3/2014
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: A-

FROM PUBLISHER: Named by Huffington Post as one of the “Top 10 Food Blogs to Watch” in 2013, Sally’s Baking Addiction has skyrocketed in popularity since its inception in late 2011. Baking addict and food blogger, Sally McKenney loves to bake. Her famous Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cookies won Nestle’s Dark Chocolate contest in 2013, and now, in her first cookbook, Sally shares her baking secrets with fans everywhere.

Try her No-Bake Peanut Butter Banana Pie, her delectable Dark Chocolate Butterscotch Cupcakes, or her yummy Marshmallow Swirl S’mores Fudge. Featuring a brand new selection of desserts and treats, the Sally’s Baking Addiction Cookbook is fully illustrated and offers 75 scrumptious recipes for indulging your sweet tooth–including a chapter of healthier dessert options for those who follow a vegan or gluten-free lifestyle. With dozens of simple, easy-to-follow recipes, you get all of the sweet with none of the fuss!

THINGS I’VE BAKED

DARK CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CAKE

This isn’t moist at all. It’s dense and very dry. This went into the trash can after eating just one piece. I made half the recipe in an 8″ square pan and it baked in 18 minutes. The toothpick came out with moist crumbs on it so I know the dryness wasn’t due to overbaking. The full recipe only has three tablespoons of milk in it. I followed the recipe and I’m convinced the lack of milk in the recipe is what ruined it. The frosting is good but that’s the only positive thing about this. I made half the frosting and used just 2 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, which was about three tablespoons less than called for, and less milk. Anymore and it would have been too bitter for my liking.

PEANUT BUTTER CHUNK OATMEAL BARS
These are pretty good. They use chunky peanut butter, old fashioned oats, mini semisweet chocolate chips, milk, and a few other things. No egg. They’re not too sweet. They’re made in an 8″ square pan. I cut mine into six bars, not twelve. I didn’t make the chocolate peanut butter drizzle for the top. I think I’d like these better with creamy peanut butter instead of crunchy because the peanuts fall out when you take a piece off with the fork.

FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES

I wish you knew how good these are. I added about 3/4 teaspoon of lemon extract to the dough because I’m obsessed with lemon sugar cookies. I didn’t make frosting for these but rolled the dough balls in granulated sugar instead. I got 25 dough balls using a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon scoop. I chilled the dough an hour, stirring once halfway, which is how long it took for the dough to be firm enough to scoop out without the dough sticking to the scoop.

These are excellent with lemon added. I baked the first batch for 10 1/2 minutes and the next batch for 11 minutes because the first batch wasn’t crunchy enough. The dough spread out nicely and produced a cookie that’s got some thickness to it. They’re crunchy on the outside and chewy, not cakey, on the inside. The bottoms are a deep golden color. I have nothing bad to say about these. This alone is truly worth the price of the book. You could roll the dough in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar too.

When I baked the last six, for some reason they didn’t spread out as much as the two other batches though they were baked on the same temperature, in the same oven, and the dough sat at room temperature for fifteen minutes like before. Go figure!

OATMEAL SCOTCHIES

Theses cookies taste very good but mine didn’t spread out much, only by about 1/2″-3/4″. I used mini semisweet chocolate chips in place of butterscotch and I omitted the cinnamon. I made just half the recipe and got 27 dough balls using a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon scoop. They baked in 10 minutes. To the rest of the dough, I warmed it slightly in the microwave and spread each dough ball out slightly with my fingers on the cookie sheet. They baked up nicely that way and looked normal. They need more salt.

CHUNKY PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

Excellent recipe. I didn’t press down on the cookies with the tines of a fork to make the criss cross pattern before baking. The recipe uses salted butter and no added salt. I used unsalted butter and added 1/4 teaspoon of salt but they needed a bit more. I didn’t add peanuts either. The cookies are very sweet. I got 31 dough balls using a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon scoop. I had to chill the dough for 2 1/2 hours before it was firm enough to use the scoop.

With the first batch I flattened the dough balls slightly because I was scared they wouldn’t spread out. I baked them for ten minutes. They spread out too much for my liking. I wanted the second batch crunchier so I baked for eleven minutes and I didn’t flatten them at all. The cookies were crunchy on the outside and chewy inside and they looked great.

BROWN SUGAR MARBLE POUND CAKE

This is very, very moist. It’s made with vegetable oil and equal parts sugar and brown sugar. It tastes a bit off and I can’t taste the chocolate much. I made my own chocolate frosting for it. I made half the recipe in a 1 qt. loaf pan. It baked in 53 minutes. I also doubled the salt to 1/4 teaspoon but it’s not enough. I also used less vanilla extract. I wouldn’t make this again. It looks good but doesn’t taste so great.

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE MUFFINS

These muffins are made with vegetable oil, yogurt, and cocoa powder and require no mixer, just a large bowl and spoon. I made half the recipe and got nine standard size muffins using a 1/4 c. measuring cup to measure out the batter for each. I used muffin liners and the muffins didn’t stick to them at all when I peeled them off.

I didn’t bake these at a very high temperature for five minutes then lower the temperature like I was supposed to do. I just baked them on 350 degrees F for 18 minutes. They’re very moist and not too sweet. I did add vanilla extract though the recipe called for none. I used mini semisweet chocolate chips. These needed a pinch more salt. I love the way they look, with the cracks on top and I would definitely make these again.

MY THOUGHS: This is a very nice hardcover book that has a photo of every recipe but not always one of the finished product, with the oatmeal scotchies being an example of that. At the time of this review I’ve made seven recipes. All but two of them turned out good. The sugar cookies and peanut butter cookies are truly great recipes with the sugar cookies being the most versatile since you can add anything to the dough- nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit, ect. There’s a great variety of flavors too, like peanut butter, apple, chocolate, caramel.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

BAKING STEP BY STEP: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW TO START BAKING NOW! by Better Homes and Gardens

PUBLISHER:  BHG, 3/2015
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: A-

FROM PUBLISHER: Better Homes and Gardens Baking Step by Step is the ultimate guide and idea-generator for anyone who wants to learn to bake or hone their technique. This stunning book uses clear, step-by-step photos—more than 900 of them—to illustrate essential skills from folding batter to forming a lattice pie crust. Home bakers can make 350 classic and modern treats, both sweet and savory.

Learn to roll and bake the perfect flaky tart or frost and decorate a celebration-worthy cake—or start simple with Peanut Butter Blondie Bars or Blueberry Crisp; Skill Level icons flag recipes easy, easier, or easiest to make. Complete with an Intro to Baking covering everything from stocking the kitchen to using a rolling pin, this colorful book makes baking fun and accessible for everyone.

Review with photos here.

CHOCOLATE CHIP SWEETS: FAVORITE RECIPES FROM CELEBRATED CHEFS by Tracey Zabar

PUBLISHING: Rizzoli, 9/2015
GENRE: Cookbooks/Baking
PURCHASE: link
AUTOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: A

FROM PUBLISHER: Chocolate chip cookies, bursting with melted bits of chocolate, are the perennial favorite of many Americans. For this compilation, Zabar has reached out to the celebrated icons of the baking world to collect an amazing array of user-friendly recipes beyond the classic cookie. There are the signature creations of such top restaurants as Manhattan’s Daniel, Gramercy Tavern, and Betony, and California’s the French Laundry, while others are treasured family recipes. Chefs such as Jacques Torres, Daniel Boulud, Lidia Bastianich, Dominique Ansel, and Sherry Yard share such classics as shortbread cookies and angel food cake studded with chips. Some reinterpret the cookie and make giant variations, such as Florian Bellanger’s Jumbo Chocolate Chip Cookies, while others include add-ins like fresh fruit and nuts, or fold in pretzels and candied orange rind. Puddings, pies, ice-cream sandwiches, cakes, doughnuts, brownies, marshmallows, and waffles, oozing with chocolate, are part of the mix. In this beautifully photographed volume, Zabar discusses how to bake with the variety of flavorful chocolate bits available—ranging from traditional chips and pistoles (or coins) to pearls. Chocolate Chip Sweets will appeal to discriminating chocolate chip lovers who crave this satisfying taste sensation.

THINGS I’VE MADE
JACQUES TORRES CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

This cookie is the one on the books cover. It looks a lot better than it tasted. It’s very buttery. It’s attractive but I don’t care for the flavor of them and wouldn’t make them again. The dough balls spread out nicely and I love the crackle top. The ones in the photo were from my first batch. They were baked on 325 degrees for 15 minutes but that was too long. 13.5 minutes is the perfect time for 1 tablespoon of dough.


RASPBERRY MUFFINS

These miniature muffins are actually called’ chocolate chip berry muffins’. I left out the chocolate and used whole milk in place of cream. They’re supposed to be made with cake flour but I used all-purpose and just left out two tablespoons of it. I made half the recipe and got 23, using a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop to measure out the batter. They baked in 14 minutes, six minutes less than the recipe stated. The full recipe (using 1 1/2 c. flour) states you’ll get about 24, which is clearly wrong. You’ll get double that amount, or 12 regular size muffins. I added vanilla extract and a bit of almond extract to the batter but it needed more almond.

These are incredibly moist, almost too moist because of the raspberries. The tops were gummy the next day. They’re not quite sweet enough. Despite those things this is a very good recipe. The muffin cups are almost 2″ in diameter. The baked muffin tops are flat like in the photo in the book.



PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

These are beyond great and worth the price of the book. They have oats in them and only three tablespoons of peanut butter. I was positive I wouldn’t be able to taste the peanut butter but I was wrong. I can taste and smell it. I think someone experimented with an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe by adding a little peanut butter to it and that’s how this recipe came to be. Just for the heck of it I’ll add an extra tablespoon of peanut butter to make 1/4 cup/4 tablespoons.I used a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon cookie scoop and got 35 dough balls. The dough is soft and took ninety minutes to be firm enough to scoop out without sticking to the scoop. The cookies in my photos were baked eleven minutes and were too crunchy after they cooled but ten minutes was perfect for the other batches, at 350 degrees. My cookies actually look better than the photo in the book.

 

OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES

These turned out great. I made half the recipe. I left out the chocolate chips and added chopped pecans and cinnamon. We were told to let the melted butter cool ‘slightly’ so I let it cool for just ten minutes. The temperature dropped 30 degrees, from 136 down to 106 Fahrenheit. I got 38 dough balls using a 1 1/2″ diameter/1 tablespoon scoop. It took eighty minutes for the dough to be firm enough to scoop out. The dough spread out good and these baked in 10 1/2 minutes. My only complaint is that the dough needed more salt. I think I’ll use 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon next time, not 3/4 teaspoon. I’ll definitely make these again and maybe divide the dough in half, adding chocolate chips to one half.

MY THOUGHTS: The four things I baked turned out great in appearance and I liked the taste of them all except for the chocolate chip cookies, the first thing I baked out of this. There are still quite a few things I want to make out of the book, including several more chocolate chip cookie recipes. There aren’t enough photos of the finished products and I wish publishers would understand the importance of them. I prefer to see what I’m baking before I actually bake it.

There’s a good variety of recipes, like cookies, cakes, muffins, pies, and so on. I like that you can omit chocolate chips and substitute other things in place of them, like dried fruits and nuts, and create your own recipes.

I’m pretty happy with this book and can’t wait to try more recipes.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

MUG MEALS by Leslie Bilderback

PUBLISHER: St. Martin’s Griffin, 9/2015
GENRE: Cookbook/Quick Cooking
PURCHASE: link
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Here are over 100 mouthwatering, lightning-fast, easy microwave recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Whip up a mugful of Huevos Rancheros to start off your day, then lunch on a steaming cup of French Onion Soup or Pork Chops and Apple Sauce. Serve dinner to your whole family in mugs stuffed with Poached Salmon with Dill, Pasta Puttanesca, or Candied Sweet Potatoes–and finish things off right with a decadent Pumpkin Cheesecake. The options are endless, and you can’t beat the clean-up!

Mug Meals makes a wonderful gift, college cookbook, or addition to your collection of mug cake recipes. The ease and convenience of these single-serving recipes are perfect for busy families, singles, teens, college students, and seniors who want to whip up easy food using fresh ingredients or even leftovers.


THINGS I’VE MADE
MINESTRONE

This soup has macaroni, carrot, onion, beans, oregano, basil, and tomatoes in it. I doubled the recipe to make two servings and made it in a 2qt. pot instead of two jumbo mugs. I used celery flakes in place of fresh celery, tomato paste in place of tomatoes, since I don’t like them, and I used onion in place of scallions. I used half the amount of dried oregano and way less basil. I sprinkled dried chives on top for color.

This is a decent recipe and worth making again. Though I used less basil, salt, and oregano it was still a little too much for my liking so I’ll use a little less next time. I undercooked the elbow macaroni and boiled the mixture together at the end for five minutes, so the macaroni was cooked for fifteen minutes total.


APPLE CINNAMON OATMEAL

This is a really good, basic recipe. Just butter, oats, milk, apple, sugar, and cinnamon. I made this in a bowl, not mug, then transferred it to a 5 oz. ramekin and sprinkled chopped lightly toasted pecans on top. I used white sugar in place of brown, quick oats in place of old fashioned, a few dashes of cinnamon instead of 1/4 teaspoon, which is beyond too much, and added a large pinch of salt before microwaving because salt is extremely necessary when cooking oats. I cooked this for the full amount of time, 2 1/2 minutes, but it was overcooked. It makes a small serving but it’s enough because it’s more like a dessert.

Edit: I’ve made this a few times since, cooked it 2 minutes and it was perfect.


MACARONI AND CHEESE

This made a huge serving of mac and cheese, using 1c. cooked pasta*. I used mild cheddar cheese in place of white cheddar and a pinch of ground mustard in place of Dijon. I cooked my pasta in a pot, not in a huge mug in the microwave. After taking my cooked elbow mac out of the pot with a slotted spoon, I cooked 3/4c. frozen broccoli in the same water, then added that to the macaroni that was in a bowl. I discarded the water and made the sauce in the pot, then added the macaroni and broccoli to it and cooked it together for a few minutes.

It tastes very good but the sauce was loose because it had no flour in it like a proper cheese sauce does. Adding broccoli to this was an option so I used it. I’ll definitely continue to make this but I’ll add about a 1/2 teaspoon to the butter before adding milk. The recipe has us add 1/4t. salt but that would be way too much. I only needed a pinch because the pasta was cooked in salted water and the cheese was salty.

*My Barilla elbow macaroni tripled in volume, so 1/2c. uncooked turned into 1 1/2c. cooked.


ALBÓNDIGAS

This Mexican soup uses raw Italian sausage instead of meatballs, carrot, celery, potatoes, cumin, oregano, and onion. I omitted diced zucchini, a diced chile, and diced tomatoes. I used some tomato paste in place of tomatoes. I made this in a 2qt. pot instead of two jumbo mugs in the microwave. The flavoring is off in this but it’s edible. The Italian flavoring clashes with the cumin or something. I wouldn’t make this again.


CHEESY TWO-EGG OMLET

Boy, was this easy to make. I used two jumbo eggs, milk, butter, dried chives in place of scallions, left out the thyme, used half the amount of shredded cheese, salt, pepper, and cooked it for 2 minutes. As you can see the chives rose to the top. It was a little undercooked on the bottom so I put it in the microwave upside down on a plate for 20 seconds. It still wasn’t cooked so I gave it another 20 seconds and it was cooked through on the bottom but the sides were very tough but the inside was moist. I’ll experiment with this so that it’s not overcooked again. I’ll also use a smaller bowl. You’ll need one with a 1 1/2 c. capacity. The photo on the bottom is the cooked egg upside down on a plate.

Edit: I’ve made this quite a few times and I usually cook the egg for 90 seconds, run a fork around the egg to loosen it from the bowl, flip it over and microwave it another 30 seconds or so.


CORNCAKE

Not good, folks. I microwaved this in a 3 cup bowl, not two jumbo mugs. It’s extremely dense and tastes like nothing more than cornmeal with a little onion flavor from dried chives, which I used instead of scallions. The bottom had a raw area and there were pockets of raw egg inside. The corn just falls out of it too when you cut into it. I was able to eat most of it but I wouldn’t make again. You have to use several bowls to make this too.

 

OKLAHOMA CHEESE GRITS

These were surprisingly good. They don’t taste like corn or egg at all, just cheese and chives. I made mine in the bowl I eat cereal in, 1 1/2 c. capacity. You use a small amount of quick cooking grits (corn meal made from hominy for Quaker® brand) and water, microwave a short time, let the mixture sit, microwave again, add in egg, cheese, flavorings, and microwave until risen and firm.

My complaints- After the grits had sat for ten minutes we were to microwave it another two minutes before adding in the other stuff. We weren’t told to stir that mixture after it had sat ten minutes. My final product had quite a few large lumps in it that I think may have been avoided had I stirred the grits/water mixture before adding in the other things. After adding in the eggs and cheese the center of mine was raw on top so I stirred the mixture together and microwaved another thirty seconds, then it was fine. I had to add about three tablespoons more water to the mixture after they cooked because the mixture was too thick. I’ll have to experiment with the timing next time so I can get it just right. These tasted good and I’ll continue to make these.

BEAN SOUP

This recipe is called Split Peas and Ham. You’re supposed to mash up a drained and rinsed can of split peas, add some water to thin it slightly, ham, salt, pepper, onion, and garlic. I used part of a can of navy beans and some drained canned white meat chicken instead. I also added broccoli and used a 14.5 oz. can of low sodium chicken broth plus 1/2 c. of water to make two large servings.

No surprise that this need much more flavor. Onion and garlic are base flavors. You need more seasonings than those to create a flavorful broth. I added some celery but this desperately needed more flavor. I added a little bit of canned chipotle in adobe sauce and that helped some but this still needs some work. Next time I’ll use more broccoli, use half a can of mashed beans and just put the rest in the soup and try to find some way to add more flavor to this. It wasn’t bad at all the way I made it.

 

ORECCHIETTE ALFREDO

This was extremely good. I used spiral pasta instead of orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta). The sauce is made with cream (I used half and half) and parmesan cheese, that’s it. I added raw broccoli and carrot, which I cooked in the water with the pasta, and 1/2 cup canned chicken. I didn’t add any salt at all (the recipe called for 1/4 teaspoon!) because of the salty parm. This was very simple to make and tastes great and I’ll continue to make this.

MY THOUGHTS: These are pretty simple recipes that require you to either cook rice or pasta in the microwave, and chop some vegetables. Easy. The recipes are severely lacking in flavor but it’s easy to experiment with your own seasonings. Most recipes use just scallions and garlic for seasoning. I tried to use the ingredients called for but I don’t like tomatoes so I had to use tomato paste in place of it. I didn’t want to buy celery just to use probably less than two stalks total so I used my handy celery flakes. Most of these recipes use scallions but I prefer to use onion since I almost always have onion on hand, or dried chives.

I’m disappointed that no recipes use lentils, which are a legume and are cooked basically like you cook raw rice. I’m disappointed too that only one recipe uses barley.

Most of these recipes would have you use two jumbo mugs to make one large mug-full of soup. I don’t like that method, I like to have plenty of room to mix things around, so I chose to use a 2 quart pot for most things I made because I doubled some recipes. The method used to cook pasta is silly. You boil it a few minutes in a ‘jumbo’ mug, let it sit a half hour, then boil it again for a few minutes. It’s quicker to boil pasta on the stove in a pot.

This cookbook is alright for giving you ideas but to make the recipes exactly as they’re written, they’re not good. Most things I made turned out but I had to doctor them up and make some changes.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

SALLY’S CANDY ADDICTION by Sally McKenney

PUBLISHER: Race Point Publishing, 9/2015
GENRE: Cookbooks/Candy
MY GRADE: C

FROM PUBLISHER: Sally McKenney, creator and author of Sally’s Baking Addiction, is back with a brand-new cookbook chock-full of a whole new host of treats for your sweet-tooth fix. If you’re a candy and sweets lover, then look no further. Complete with over 75 brand new recipes, indulge in truffles, fudge, caramels, and marshmallows. And if you like Oreos, Reese’s, Snickers, or other candy bar favorites, Sally will show you the best ways to incorporate these into cookies, cupcakes, bars, and more.

Complete with easy-to-follow, step-by-step recipes, Sally’s signature photography for every recipe, and snippets from Sally’s own kitchen experiences, Sally’s Candy Addiction has a recipe for every candy lover in your life.

THINGS I’VE MADE
ULTIMATE PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIES

This is a chocolate brownie with peanut butter ‘filling’ that I used as frosting. It’s supposed to have a layer of chocolate frosting on top of the peanut butter filling with chopped Reese’s Pieces on top of that, but I left those two off. The batter has both melted semi-sweet chocolate and a little unsweetened cocoa powder. They’re bitter and wet-looking, not at all like Sally’s photo of them. I made half the recipe in an 8″ square foil lined pan and baked for 22 minutes. The filling/frosting is very good but needed more milk to make it creamier, but the brownies themselves aren’t good at all. I’d never make these again.

COCONUT CANDY BARS

You’re supposed to chill the mixture, cut it into tiny rectangles, and dip each one into melted chocolate. As you can see I made balls out of this candy instead. I think I got 46. These are made from sweetened condensed milk, a whole bag of sweetened coconut, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. After mixing this up by hand (you can’t use a mixer for this) I was very worried and almost threw it in the trash because it was so dense and sticky and unlike anything I’d ever worked with before.

I added one more cup of powdered sugar (3c. total), almond extract (3/8t.), and ground lightly toasted almonds. After pressing the mixture into a lined square pan and chilling it for a short time I decided to roll the mixture into balls. I quick-chilled the balls in the freezer on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, just until the mixture was firm enough to be dipped into melted chocolate. My balls flattened because the dough wasn’t firm enough, but that’s fine. When I make candy like this, such as peanut butter balls, I stick a toothpick in each ball for easy dipping. You don’t need to mess with dipping the candy with two forks. I always use milk chocolate chips melted with paraffin wax.* The wax thins the chocolate, making it much easier to work with. The chocolate/wax mixture, when you dip something in it, will run off almost like water.

This is a really good recipe. Next time I’ll chill the mixture in the mixing bowl for one hour, roll it into balls, chill those for another hour in the fridge or for 20 minutes in the freezer, then dip them in chocolate.

* Gulf Wax is a brand of paraffin wax. It’s sold in a 16 oz. box and can be found in the baking isle of your grocery store. It has four 4 oz. blocks inside. You’ll need half (2 oz.) of one block per 11.5-12 oz. bag of chocolate chips of your choice.

Chop the wax finely, add it, along with the chocolate, to a small bowl so you can melt it using the double boiler method. Sit the small bowl on top of a small pot, 1 qt. size if you have one, that’s filled with 1″ of simmering water. The bowl that’s on top shouldn’t touch the water beneath it. Keep stirring the wax/chocolate mixture until all the wax has melted. This could take ten minutes or so. I then pour the mixture into a very small (13 oz.), deep bowl (don’t use a shallow bowl) and dip my candy into that. I also stick the toothpick into the side of the very cold candy because it’ll leave a small hole when you remove it and the hole looks better on the side of the candy than on the top. Cover any remaining chocolate tightly and store in refrigerator. It will probably keep for a few months. To reuse, uncover and melt in the microwave.

MY THOUGHTS: Only one of the two recipes I tried turned out. There’s a good variety of sweets in the book, mostly fudge and truffles, but not much that interests me. Some of the recipes are just variations on another recipe in the book. I’m pretty disappointed in this book but I may fiddle with a couple more recipes in the future.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

MURDER MOST MALICIOUS by Alyssa Maxwell

murderPUBLISHER: Kensington, 12/2015
GENRE: Historical Mystery
SETTING: England, December 1918
SERIES: A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery, #1
PURCHASE: link
AUTHOR SITE: link
MY GRADE: B-

FROM PUBLISHER: December 1918: As a difficult year draws to a close, there is much to celebrate for nineteen-year-old Phoebe Renshaw and her three siblings at their beloved family estate of Foxwood Hall. The dreadful war is finally over; eldest daughter Julia’s engagement to their houseguest, the Marquis of Allerton, appears imminent; and all have gathered to enjoy peace on earth, good will toward men.

But the peace of Foxwood Hall is shattered on the morning of Boxing Day, when the Marquis goes missing. Not entirely missing, however, as macabre evidence of foul play turns up in gift boxes given to lady’s maid Eva Huntford and a handful of others. Having overheard her sister and the Marquis in a heated exchange the night before, Lady Phoebe takes a personal interest in solving the mystery.

As the local constable suspects a footman at Foxwood Hall, Phoebe and Eva follow the clues to a different conclusion. But both young women will need to think outside the box to wrap up this case–before a cornered killer lashes out with ill will toward them. . .

MY THOUGHTS: This sounded very interesting and indeed parts were, like the foul ‘gift’ included in several gift boxes for several of the employees of Foxwood Hall. The whole story was very ordinary, slow-paced, and not a whole lot went on. It certainly isn’t action-packed. This was a very mild mystery that seemed like it was for young adults.

There were entirely too many characters to keep track of and I have about 1 1/2 pages of names written down in my notes so I could keep up with everyone…and still had trouble remembering who’s who. I think some of them were added just to help fill pages.

There’s no depth to the story or characters. I like Eva a lot and would have liked to have gotten some background information on her. Julia, Phoebe’s older sister, is very unfriendly, even to Phoebe, and I didn’t get to find out why, or much else about her.

I’m not happy with who the culprit was, his reasons for doing what he did and passing out the ‘gifts’ he did though I loved what the author chose for him to do. Not original but imaginative. I’m sick and tired of authors’ having the culprit confess to at least one person, usually his next potential victim, right at the end of the story, then he/they’re captured and the story is wrapped up with a pretty bow. That doesn’t happen in real life.

Though my review is mostly critical I still enjoyed the story. It was slightly boring because of the pace and I did wish it would move along faster throughout most of it but it still held my interest. I liked both lead characters, Phoebe and Eva. Not quite thirty pages into the story is when the mystery began, and for that I’m happy. I’m impatient so I appreciated not having to get halfway through the story before anything big happened.

I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

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