May 31, 2012

book reviews: may 2012 recap

May's Read of the Month
Crushable men and conflicted leading ladies were aplenty in this month's featured reads.

After longing for seriously delicious romance this year, this month's offerings did not disappoint (Though after reading the Fifty Shades books, it takes a lot more to make me blush). The love stories came in a variety of packages: young adult, romance, chick lit and historical fiction.

My Read of the Month for May goes to Elsa Watson's Dog Days. A book so cute I audibly giggled and grinned throughout most of the reading, the clever story-telling gives the reader kine insight into the minds of an enjoyable protagonist and her new best friend -- a dog. This was territory I had not delved into in my reading material for a while, and I am glad it turned out as well as it did.

It is a read I definitely recommend for those of you looking for a beach read.

With that, let's take a look back at this month's featured titles...


Taking Shots by Toni Aleo
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Toni Aleo's Taking Shots has all the sexiness, romance and humor a person could ask for. As far as romantic reads go, this one is perfect for fans of love and sports.

Photographer Elli Fischer has a nasty history, complete with a mostly nasty family, medical scares and a complete dick of an ex-boyfriend. When she catches the eye of Shea Adler, captain of her favorite hockey team and an all-around hottie, she has a hard time believing his feelings are genuine.

But they are. After winning the Stanley Cup the season before, Shea is ready to get more serious about his life. That means ditching the string of one-night stands with ice bunnies and giving his heart a chance to fall in love.
Read the rest of the review here.





The Selection by Kiera Cass

Rating: 4 of 5
Set in our future, Kiera Cass' The Selection tells the story of a young woman taken from a humble upbringing and placed in the limelight to compete for the heart and hand of her nation's prince.

The Selection is a cute read well-suited to a young adult audience. While I enjoyed the story, it was not what I expected. Pitched to me as a cross between The Hunger Games and The Bachelor, I found it leaned significantly more toward the latter. I was OK with that, but it forced me to make more comparisons between The Selection and The Hunger Games than I might have otherwise made. I wish it had not been made, because it was not fair to either story.
Read the rest of the review here.


The Last Boyfriend by Nora Roberts
Rating: 4 of 5
The Montgomery men are back in the second sexy installment of Nora Roberts InnBoonsboro trilogy. If I did not already have a crush on them, I certainly would after reading The Last Boyfriend.

In book two, the hyper-organized and ultra sweet Owen sees longtime family friend and pizzeria owner Avery in a new light after Lizzy, the ghost at the Inn literary pushes them together. The two have a lot of history. Not only is Owen technically Avery's business and apartment landlord, but they grew up together. Avery fell in love with Owen when she was five, declaring she planned to marry him someday, and he played along. Contrary to what either of them says, neither ever quite got over that puppy love.
Read the rest of the review here.


Vivid by Andrea Murray
Rating: 3.5 of 5
In Andrea Murray's Vivid, a teenage girl must face the reality behind her unique power and the circumstances that left her orphaned.

After years of hiding the secret of her past and her abilities, everything changes for 16-year-old Vivian Cartright following an encounter with a bully at her school. Having witnessed her mother's death when she was 5, Vivian, like her mother, possesses power to control energy.

For more than 10 years she manages to keep only her Aunt Charlotte in the know. But as her power grows stronger, it becomes more difficult for her to control. The realization of her power yields differing reactions from her best friend, Abby, and her boyfriend, Easton. While dealing with this, memories of Vivian's past, and her mother's death, resurface.
Read the rest of the review here.


Dog Days by Elsa Watson * READ OF THE MONTH *
Rating: 4.5 of 5
In Elsa Watson's Dog Days, a cafe owner best known in her small town as a dog hater has her life turned upside down when she swaps bodies with a canine.

As she prepares for her town's annual canine festival, Jessica Sheldon knows her cafe must do some serious business or risk shutting their doors forever. Unfortunately, her lifelong fear of dogs has dubbed her a dog hater, which makes her canine-crazed townspeople hesitant to give her business. At the same time, she is seriously crushing on Hot Max, the town's adorable and hunky veterinarian. So far, she has managed a bit of small talk when he comes in for his daily cup of java.

When Jessica has a run-in with Zoe, a stray pup abandoned her family, and a jolt of lighting, the two find themselves in swapped bodies. Together, they must successfully complete the dog festival, face issues from their past and see if they can land the guy, too.
Read the rest of the review here.


The Devil Has Dimples by Pepper Phillips
Rating: 4 of 5
A young woman must uncover the truth behind her origin and upbringing before moving on with her future in Pepper Phillips' The Devil Has Dimples.

Still dealing with the death of the only mother she has known, Sara McLaughlin's world takes a shock when she discovers that she was not only adopted, but that her birth mother has died. She rushes to Boggy Bayou, La., to confront the lawyer who sent her word only to learn that the situation is more complicated than she thought.

Not only is she shocked by word of her adoption and the terms of her birth mother's will -- which stipulate that she must stay and work in the town for six weeks if she wants to inherit anything -- but Grant, the lawyer, is gorgeous devil of a man with dimples who will be her roommate if she stays in town.
Read the rest of the review here.


Willow Pond by Carol Tibaldi
Rating: 3.5 of 5
A young mother, her family and friends join an inept police team in searching for her kidnapped son in Carol Tibaldi's prohibition-era debut novel Willow Pond.

Beautiful and smart, Laura Kingsley Austin recently left her man-whore movie star husband to raise their toddler son in NYC's Greenwich Village. When their son, Todd, is kidnapped while visiting her estranged husbands, Laura and a cluster of reporters and police officers depend upon their Hampton home, Willow Pond, to look for answers.

As the case progresses, evidence points back to a person Laura refuses to believe is involved. While searching for her son, a new romance and her soon-to-be ex's attempts at reconciliation complicate her life even more.
Read the rest of the review here.


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book review: willow pond

A young mother, her family and friends join an inept police team in searching for her kidnapped son in Carol Tibaldi's prohibition-era debut novel Willow Pond.

Beautiful and smart, Laura Kingsley Austin recently left her man-whore movie star husband to raise their toddler son in NYC's Greenwich Village. When their son, Todd, is kidnapped while visiting her estranged husbands, Laura and a cluster of reporters and police officers depend upon their Hampton home, Willow Pond, to look for answers.

As the case progresses, evidence points back to a person Laura refuses to believe is involved. While searching for her son, a new romance and her soon-to-be ex's attempts at reconciliation complicate her life even more.

Set during a fascinating time in U.S. history, the scene settings and character settings are the novel's greatest strengths. As someone who loves period drama (you all have followed my Downton Abbey obsession from the beginning) the historical feel of this book appealed to me.

I was also intrigued by the main storyline of the book: a child kidnapped and the culprit is presumed to have links to the mob or old Hollywood. However, at times the story strayed away from this main plot point, and I frequently became frustrated with the lack of progress in finding Todd after so much time passed.

While I enjoyed parts of Laura's romance with German ex-pat turned investigative reporter Erich Muller and the baby daddy drama with Phillip Austin, this part of the story took turns I found overwhelming and distracting from the main point of the story: a woman searching for her lost son.

Without giving away any spoilers, Laura and Erich's lives together get more complicated than Anna and Mr. Bates' drama in season two of Downton Abbey (If you watch the show, you'll get this reference. If you don't, you should probably stop what you're doing and watch it). By removing one or two of these elements, the story would have progressed more smoothly.

Even though Laura has probably the most awesome name any character or person could ever hope to have, at times I she seemed like a weak protagonist. Too often she sat by and did nothing, and I wanted to tell her to get moving either to find her son or settle down with the man of her choosing. While she was nice enough and admirable for wanting a better life for herself and her family, I did not connect with her on as deep of a level as I hoped.

I preferred her speakeasy-owning, bootlegging, philandering aunt Virginia, who for better or worse is a woman of action. Perhaps the most intriguing and dynamic character in the story, Virginia has more layers than an onion and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants.

Carol Tibaldi creates an entertaining and diverting world in Willow Pond. I would definitely check out her future offerings.

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Read an excerpt of Willow Pond here.

Check back tomorrow for an interview with the author.

About Carol
Carol Tibaldi was born and raised in Bayside, New York and attended Queens College of the City University of New York. She loves to travel and has lived in London and Los Angeles. For twenty five years she worked as a newspaper reporter and covered the crime beat. She is a history buff and loves to research different time periods having a special affinity of the prohibition era and the Civil War. Willow Pond is her first novel and she is hard at work on the sequel.

Connect with Carol
Amazon: http://amzn.to/AthqHg
Amazon paperback: http://amzn.to/KOfH3w
FB: http://on.fb.me/H9e2VW
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/H595Aj

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excerpt: willow pond

Blogger's Note: Enjoy this excerpt from Carol Tibaldi's debut novel Willow Pond. Be sure to check at 9 a.m. CDT for my review of the book.
Laura Kingsley Austin was Jean Harlow beautiful.

Men first noticed the butterfly tattoo, its saucy wings peeking from her cleavage; it was quite the conversation piece. Unfortunately, that wasn't what Laura had intended. It had first appeared one crazy night when she'd gone with some friends to Bacchanal, her aunt’s speakeasy, and had too much to drink. One of them dared her to get a tattoo, so she did. Ever since that night, she'd shied away from having too much booze.

Years later, everything in her life had changed. After separating from her husband three months earlier, Laura had moved into an apartment on Patchin Place in Greenwich Village. She loved the village and its diversity of people, and felt a kinship with the artists and writers living there.

Her whole apartment could have fit into one corner of Willow Pond, the huge colonial mansion she'd left, but it was all hers. She loved every cramped inch of it.

The front door of the apartment opened into a long hallway. To the left was a good sized living room, which she had decorated in the English country style. Her writing table sat in the northeast corner of that room, and it was there she now sat, surrounded by writing pads, pens, pencils and an old Remington.

Since she’d moved to the village, her life had changed more than she’d ever imagined it would. For the first time since her marriage, she felt her life was her own. She wasn't being controlled by her husband or anyone else, and neither was her son, Todd. Like her, he smiled and laughed a lot more these days.
About the Book
The Roaring Twenties crumble into the Great Depression. Bootlegging is flourishing. Virginia Kingsley, New York's most successful speakeasy owner, is queen of that castle. Rudy Strauss wants to help with her business. Virginia, wisely suspicious, refuses. He shifts his trademark toothpicks to the other side of his mouth and asks about her niece, Laura, and Laura’s nineteen-month-old son, Todd. Virginia warns him off, but Rudy is intrigued. Laura is movie star beautiful but it is her ex-husband, Phillip, who is an actor. Laura, a writer, is devastated when Todd’s nanny calls, hysterical, saying Laura’s son has been kidnapped.

About Carol
Carol Tibaldi was born and raised in Bayside, New York and attended Queens College of the City University of New York. She loves to travel and has lived in London and Los Angeles. For twenty five years she worked as a newspaper reporter and covered the crime beat. She is a history buff and loves to research different time periods having a special affinity of the prohibition era and the Civil War. Willow Pond is her first novel and she is hard at work on the sequel.

Connect with Carol
Amazon: http://amzn.to/AthqHg
Amazon paperback: http://amzn.to/KOfH3w
FB: http://on.fb.me/H9e2VW
Barnes and Noble: http://bit.ly/H595Aj

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May 29, 2012

camp nanowrimo: ready your cabins

Mr. Bingley helps me plot out my Camp NaNoWriMo book.

The June 2012 Camp NaNoWriMo session kicks off Friday. If you are participating, congratulations and best wishes for a successful session.

Before heading to your cabin to write 50,000 words in 30 days make sure your backpacks and sleeping bags ready to go. As a two-time NaNoWriMo participant and winner, the No. 1 most important item I suggest you campers to pack is a well-planned and -developed story. I tried both sessions of Camp NaNoWriMo last year without a plan, and I fell spectacularly short of my word-count goals. That's why I'm such a believer in preparedness now.

Here are a few of the planning tools I use:

•  Character Sketch: Give your character a name, description and back story. I cut out pictures from magazines and write out key facts to know about them. Well-developed characters are important. Readers will follow a story if they care about what happens to the character.
As a note, do not get too bogged down in the process that you never get around to writing. There is no need to know your characters' various childhood pets and teacher names unless those facts are absolutely crucial to telling your story. Remember: brevity is beautiful and simplicity is sweet.

•  Before and After: This is a good resource for developing both your characters and plot. By determining where each main character is before and after the story will help you fill in the plot points in the middle. For example, if your character is a broke, single, soon-to-be college grad before and a successful book editor/wife to a wealthy entrepreneur after, something has to happen to get her there. That is your story. Story is what happens to a character

•  The 10-Scene Tool: I first read about this in James V. Smith Jr.'s The Writer's Little Helper and have loved it ever since. Most commercially successful books have 10 key scenes to move the story along. This includes the opener, conclusion and conflicts that set the rising action. Knowing your 10 main scenes will help with pacing and ensure you drive your story in the right direction.

•  Sell It: Write down what you imagine will appear on the back cover/inside flap of your book. Whatever you put there is the most important part of your story. Make sure to keep that in mind. Plus, it only takes a few minutes to do and serves as an excellent writing exercise.

•  Working Synopsis: Write a paragraph or three about the main action that will occur in each chapter in your book. Doing this legwork in advance will give you more freedom to focus on generating quality word count during the month. And this is called a working synopsis, because it is not set in stone. If something in the story changes as you write it, let it happen. Just go back and update your working synopsis to reflect the changes. This, along with the back cover synopsis, can also be beneficial resources later when you try to query the finished project.

•  The Ultimate Plotting Kit: To make this you will need index cards, an index card holder, pens
 and a highlighter. Using the note cards, create an abbreviated version of your character sketches, 10-scene tool, working synopsis and anything else you might need. Once complete, you will have a mobile novel kit that can go anywhere with you. One reader mentioned that she set aside each chapter card when she was done with it, because it gave her a sense of accomplishment to see that pile get shorter. I love that idea.

With this advice, campers, go forth and prosper/spread your wings and fly/reach for the stars/some other nerdy cliche of your choosing.

I believe in you. You can do it.

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May 28, 2012

writing with pepper

Blogger's Note: Pepper Phillips, author of The Devil Has Dimples, shares a few tips for writers as part of her Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour. Welcome, Pepper. 

Read my review of The Devil Has Dimples here.

Describe your planning/plotting/research process for writing a novel.

I have a massive spreadsheet that I've tinkered on through the years.  It begins with an overall view of the book which really makes me think if I have a full book or just an idea.  This saves a lot of time later on.  Some of the questions I ask myself might take awhile to answer as well.  It has character charts for the hero and heroine, different archetypes, a timeline, list of characters with descriptions and their purpose in the story, scene and sequel, progress chart, research, editing and some other stuff that I thought would be handy on that particular book.    I'd be happy to send anyone a copy if they email me at joey@kricket.net and put Writing Spreadsheet in the subject line.

What steps do you take to overcome writer's block?  Tips for other authors on buckling down and writing?

With the above spreadsheet, I don't get writer's block.  I think the key for me is to get the concept of the story down first.  That's not to say the story doesn't change when I'm cranking out words, because it does.  That's when I go back into my plotting and see if it enhances the story and usually it does.  I believe our subconscious mind is always working in the background, we just need to listen to it when it speaks to us.  On buckling down and writing, it's choice.  We all have the same amount of time in the day, sure there is the day job, being the wife, the mother, but...and this is important, you need 'your time'...if you're really squeezed for time you can carve it out in minutes throughout the day and evening.  There's a story of a man, I believe Samuel Pepys, in the 1660's who wrote his massive diary during his fifteen minute wait for dinner, and this was with a quill and pen.  The best plan is to carry a notebook with you everywhere and use it whenever possible.  You'll be surprised at what you can accomplish in mere minutes several times a day.

How do you come up with story ideas?  Any tips on creativity and brainstorming to share?

Ideas...they just come.  Often when I'm busy doing something else.  I write down a brief note, with title if it comes to me, and put it in my idea folder.  It might be something I hear, see or read that makes my mind start asking, 'What if?"  On creativity, be ready to try new ideas.  Think outside the box.  Read craft books, author memoirs, and in whatever genre appeals to you.  Also read outside your favorite genres just to see what other authors are doing.  Just reading other authors can open your creativity.  I'm always reading...

About the Devil Has Dimples
Adopted!

In the Deep South, one of the first questions asked when meeting someone new in a small town is, “Who’s your daddy?” The answer defines you as a person. Not knowing is disheartening.

Sara McLaughlin never knew she was adopted and is stunned to realize that if she wants to find out the questions burning in her brain as to the ‘why’ she was given up at birth, and who her father might be, she has to live in her birth mother’s apartment for the next six weeks.

Grant St. Romain, attorney, is supposed to be helping, but the hunky dimpled devil is making her mind think of other things.

Can she find the truth? Or will she break her heart trying to find out the answers in Boggy Bayou, where many secrets are hidden?

About the Author
Pepper Phillips wrote her first play in the seventh grade. But before that she read every book in her age group at the small local library. An only child, she entertained herself in the worlds she created in her mind. She's still pretty mindless in some respects, but her writing world is where she is the happiest. She ventured into self-publishing in 2011.

Contact Pepper
Pepper Phillips Website
Amazon
Smashwords
Nook
Twitter:  Pepper_Phillips
Facebook 

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May 27, 2012

book review: the devil has dimples

A young woman must uncover the truth behind her origin and upbringing before moving on with her future in Pepper Phillips' The Devil Has Dimples.

Still dealing with the death of the only mother she has known, Sara McLaughlin's world takes a shock when she discovers that she was not only adopted, but that her birth mother has died. She rushes to Boggy Bayou, La., to confront the lawyer who sent her word only to learn that the situation is more complicated than she thought.

Not only is she shocked by word of her adoption and the terms of her birth mother's will -- which stipulate that she must stay and work in the town for six weeks if she wants to inherit anything -- but Grant, the lawyer, is gorgeous devil of a man with dimples who will be her roommate if she stays in town.

Determined to uncover the mystery of who her father is and why she was secretly put up for adoption, Sara relies on the help of Grant and meddlesome townspeople to find the truths. Along the way, the couple opens up more than a few old wounds while also toying with the new feelings developing between them.

A fast read that had my interest from the get-go, The Devil Has Dimples offers an entertaining mystery as the main characters piece together broken history. With a satisfying conclusion, and more importantly a compelling journey, the novel maintained its momentum well. It also settled the most crucial questions (Namely, who's the daddy and why was Sara adopted).

The main couple was a fun one to follow. With instant attraction and sizzle from both sides, Sara and Grant were clearly smitten and the tension was good. Sara was a likeable character and a solid protagonist. Grant was a delicious heartthrob. What's not to like? Their interaction with each other was enjoyable -- whether sharing a meal at home or following the mystery's trail.

However, I would have liked to see their relationship go farther in the book (emotionally and physically). There were also a few points about each characters' relationship history that I would have liked to learn more about (like their previous unsuccessful trips to the alter). I guess I'm just a big old sucker for romance and I like it when it is heaped on.

Perhaps the story's strongest element is its depiction of a small town filled with busy bodies who know everything, but still manage to keep a few big secrets under wraps. More specifically, the story truly captured the spirit of Louisiana. Though I am no expert on the state, I traveled there for business every other month for three years, and this story took me back in the best ways.

The Devil Has Dimples was well worth my time and a pleasure to read.

Rating: 4 of 5

Be sure to check back tomorrow for a guest post from the author.
Read an excerpt of The Devil Has Dimples here.

About the Author
Pepper Phillips wrote her first play in the seventh grade. But before that she read every book in her age group at the small local library. An only child, she entertained herself in the worlds she created in her mind. She's still pretty mindless in some respects, but her writing world is where she is the happiest. She ventured into self-publishing in 2011.

Contact Pepper
Pepper Phillips Website
Amazon
Smashwords
Nook
Twitter:  Pepper_Phillips
Facebook

Receive Change the Word's latest updates in your Inbox. Subscribe by entering your information under "Follow by email" in the sidebar. Follow me on Twitter @lmchap or "Like" Change the Word on Facebook.

excerpt: the devil has dimples

Blogger's Note: I am pleased to share this excerpt of Pepper Phillips' novel, The Devil Has Dimples, as part of her Chick Lit Plus Blog Tour. Enjoy!

Check back at 8 a.m. for my review of The Devil Has Dimples.
You knew Maudie Cooper was really dead when you read her funeral invite listed in the Boggy Bayou Chronicle.

I’m T-Jack Couvillion, newspaper owner and reporter of ‘The oldest family-run newspaper in Louisiana.’  I can’t report all the news, else I’d be sued every week after the paper came out.  So, I just ramble my thoughts down in case I need to jog my memory later on.  You never know when some bit of information might sell more papers.

Back to Maudie.  There had been talk, of course.  Someone said Maudie was dead, but I couldn’t print her obit, ‘cuz I couldn’t find out if it were true.

Some figured she finally found a salesman gullible enough to believe her blarney about being rich.  Heaven knows, she cornered every male that ate their lunch at Hank’s Hole-in-the-Wall, her hunting ground.  Most never came back.  Maudie could talk them to death.  Fact is, she talked so much they didn’t notice she put her lunch on their tab.  Or they didn’t care.  It was a small price to pay for their freedom.

About the Devil Has Dimples
Adopted!

In the Deep South, one of the first questions asked when meeting someone new in a small town is, “Who’s your daddy?” The answer defines you as a person. Not knowing is disheartening.

Sara McLaughlin never knew she was adopted and is stunned to realize that if she wants to find out the questions burning in her brain as to the ‘why’ she was given up at birth, and who her father might be, she has to live in her birth mother’s apartment for the next six weeks.

Grant St. Romain, attorney, is supposed to be helping, but the hunky dimpled devil is making her mind think of other things.

Can she find the truth? Or will she break her heart trying to find out the answers in Boggy Bayou, where many secrets are hidden?

About the Author
Pepper Phillips wrote her first play in the seventh grade. But before that she read every book in her age group at the small local library. An only child, she entertained herself in the worlds she created in her mind. She's still pretty mindless in some respects, but her writing world is where she is the happiest. She ventured into self-publishing in 2011.

Contact Pepper
Pepper Phillips Website
Amazon
Smashwords
Nook
Twitter:  Pepper_Phillips
Facebook 

Receive Change the Word's latest updates in your Inbox. Subscribe by entering your information under "Follow by email" in the sidebar. Follow me on Twitter @lmchap or "Like" Change the Word on Facebook.

May 25, 2012

thrown not stirred

Blogger's note: Reading in the Kitchen got sexier this month with dishes from E L James' best-selling Fifty Shades trilogy. Today, we close-out the series with a Reading in the Bar entry. Read about the inspiration behind the cooking series here.


There are a few defining "firsts" in a woman's life. The first day of work. The first date followed by a first kiss. Her first love. Her first heartbreak. The first time she throws a cocktail in another woman's face in a fit of anger.

In E L James' Fifty Shades trilogy, Ana Steele encounters each of these firsts. And thanks to two of my very good friends, I got to live the last. Yes, that's right. I threw a drink in another person's face. Just like Ana threw her lemondrop cocktail on that skank Mrs. Robinson in Fifty Shades Darker. What a rush.

But before I get ahead of myself in spilling all the details of spilling the contents of my martini glass, let's head to the bar to mix ourselves a drink.


Part One: Getting Buzzed

Over a dinner of seared cod, potatoes, asparagus and hollandaise sauce, I told my sister, Sarah, about my desire to recreate a strong, powerful and delicious lemondrop cocktail. The rock star bartenderess that she is, Sarah invited me to visit her the following Sunday evening at the bar where she works. Sundays are usually slow early in the evening, and considering that I had to work the following morning, going in for an afternoon drink seemed like a good idea.

As we researched possible drink mixes I had only two requests: "It needs to be strong. And it needs to be delicious."

"I've got it."

And got it she did. Check out her recipe.

Carrick Grey's Lemondrop Cocktail

Ingredients
Vodka
Triple sec
Sugar
Sweet and sour mix
Ice 
Twist of lemon

Directions

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour in vodka, counting to five as you do. Pour in triple sec, counting to two. Sprinkle sugar and add a splash of sweet and sour mix. Shake, shake, shake the cocktail. Rim a martini glass with sugar and pour the contents of the shaker in it. Add a twist of lemon. Drink responsibly.

This beverage was delicious. It was chock full of alcohol, but the taste was not overpowering. I think the touch of sugar and sweet and sour hid the potency of the drink, which is a good and bad thing. Good, because it went down easily and tasted fantastic. Bad, because it went down easily, and I got a little silly and decided to order another round of drinks staying out much later than an alleged grown-up should on a Sunday night.

Kudos to my sister, the best bartenderess in Lincoln, for a drink well made.


Part Two: Starting a Bitch Fight

Fresh off of the success of this beverage, which required almost no effort from me (besides losing a bit of sleep during a night out), I wanted to delve even further into my Fifty Shades world and take this drink to a new level. I wanted, no needed to experience the thrill of throwing a drink in another person's face. It's something I've always wanted to do (for serious), but good manners and a fear of getting in trouble had thus far prevented me from seeing this dream through. I wanted that to change.

This may come as a shock to all of you (damn, sarcasm does not translate well in print), but I am a fairly ridiculous person. As a ridiculous person, when I get a ridiculous idea into my head, I typically go for it.

My decision made, the next step was to find someone half as crazy as me and willing to help. After receiving less than promising responses (but not a hard "no") from two of my friends I had an epiphany. I would ask my writing buddy Jacie. A fellow writer, Jacie is all about new and different experiences and frequently humors me in my "research." Plus, she is one of those wonderful people who seems to find laughter in just about every situation. If she agreed to do it, I knew we would end up having fun, too. And because she is such a good sport, I was willing to make a sacrifice, too.

"Jacie," I called out, walking down the hall from my office at work to her's. "Will you do me a favor?"

"Sure," she says, then after a moment adds, "wait, what is it?"

"Will you let me throw a drink in your face," I asked. Her mouth dropped open a little, and I took her momentary shock as an opportunity to finish my pitch. "It's for my blog. I recreated a drink from Fifty Shades and now I need to throw one in someone's face, because that is what happened in the book. And if you do it, I promise you can throw one at me, too."

"I can throw a drink in your face if I let you throw one in mine?"

"Yes."

"Yeah, OK."

What a good friend. The next evening, with an abbreviated version of Ana and Mrs. Robinson's conversation and a glass in booze in hand, Jacie and I recreated the scene. Watch for yourself.


Not to brag, but I am damn good at throwing a drink in a person's face. I mean, did you see that technique? I took that booze and made it my bitch. And talk about a rush. I don't remember when I have ever felt more alive than at the moment I aimed, extended my arm and let that drink fly. Even though it took less than a second, I swear time slowed down. It was beautiful.

I'll be damned if I don't want to do it again. I've tasted the thrill of a true bitch fight, and I liked it. Unfortunately, my sister, who shot the video, assures me that she will kick me out of her bar if I ever do it there. I guess nepotism means nothing these days.

For her part, Jacie took it like a champ. Seriously, what a pro.

And, because I am a woman of my word, I let Jacie throw alcohol in my face. Twice, in fact, because the first time she missed and hit my shoulder and ear. Watch it here.


That one cracks me up to watch. Not only do I scream like a little girl, but you also get an audio cameo from one of the broomies ("Awe, you missed!"). Plus, it's more like a scene from America's Funniest Home Videos than anything. I have a good enough sense of humor to laugh at myself and my ridiculousness now that it is done.

I'll admit it, as fun as it was tossing a drink on Jacie, it was also pretty funny having it done to me, too. As predicted, we laughed a lot, and I smile every time I think about it. And now that I know what it is like to be on either side of it, I may just have to write a drink toss into one of my books. 

Thank you for following this series. Reading in the Kitchen and Bar will be back next month with all new culinary/mixology adventures inspired by books. I would like to thank everyone who acted as a guinea pig or research assistant on this project. You never know how good of friends you have until they willingly eat anything you put in front of them or agree to take a drink to the face. I am a blessed woman indeed.


Check out the other recipes from the series:






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fifty shades delicious

Blogger's note: Reading in the Kitchen will get a little sexier in the month of May as I make dishes from E L James' best-selling Fifty Shades trilogy. This is part fourth in a four-part series. Read about the inspiration behind the series here.


After already setting the culinary bar pretty high for women worldwide, Ana Steele ups the ante in E L James Fifty Shades Darker by baking a birthday cake for her main squeeze, Christian Grey.

I know a chocolate cake seems simple enough. You open the cake mix, pour it in a bowl, add an egg or three, oil and water, mix it all together and bake for half an hour. Then, you remove the beautiful cake from the oven, say a quick prayer of thanks to Betty Crocker, and you frost it with some canned sugar. Wah-lah. Cake!

But Ms. Steele, being the good little part-time submissive cook she is, baking a cake for her man means doing it from scratch. She did not stop there. While she let the freshly baked cake cool, she goes out to buy fancy chocolate -- apparently expensive enough to warrant withdrawing $50 from her bank account -- to make the frosting. What a bitch.

In actuality, as I learned, baking a cake from scratch is not that hard. The hardest part was finding chocolate fancy enough to meet Ana and Grey's luxurious taste.

For the sake of this recipe, I made cupcakes instead of a cake. My reasoning? Because I seriously do not need to throw down a whole chocolate cake by myself. My non-beach-ready body would hate me if I tried. Plus, it made sharing it with taste testers even easier. And like Ana and Grey, easy is one of my favorite routes, too. (Oh, the puns.)

But back to the recipe. With the exception of the fancy chocolate and whipping cream for the frosting, I had all of the supplies in my cupboard. (Even Mrs. Jones would approve with the baking supplies in my pantry.) So wearing more clothes than Ana did, I hit the store. The whipping cream was easy enough to find, and I allowed myself a few jokes as I picked my container (i.e. "Don't go running out on me if I whip you too hard" and "The safe word is red.")

Laughing at my own wittiness, I wandered to the candy aisle. Somewhere between the bags of M&Ms and gummy worms, I found it.



I knew this chocolate had to be good. Not only was it the most expensive available in the candy aisle at my local grocery store (at a pricey $5 a bar), but it has the name "Excellence" in it. Plus, upon looking at the back of the packaging, the picture of the master chef carefully examining the chocolate forced me to acknowledge what the name said all along. This chocolate would be excellent. I was sold.

Christian's Birthday Cake
Chocolate Cake
Ingredients
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease two round 9-inch cake pans or two regular muffin pans. Mix together dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients and mix with hand mixer for two minutes or until well blended. Spoon the mixture into the pans until more than half filled. If making cupcakes, fill only 18 of the spots.

Place in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes if using cake pans or 20 minutes for cupcakes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. After about 10 minutes, remove from pans to cool more.

If making cupcakes, slice the cupcakes in half horizontally.

Fancy Chocolate Frosting
Ingredients
3 ounces fancy chocolate
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions
Melt chocolate in microwave for one to two minutes (but do not overcook). Stir until smooth. Add egg yolk and butter, mixing. In another bowl, whip vanilla, powdered sugar and heavy whipping cream. Fold one third of cream mixture into chocolate until mixed in. Add half of the remaining mixture, folding until blended. Combine the last of the whipped cream and chocolate.


With a spatula, place a thin layer of frosting on top of the bottom half/halves of the cake or cupcakes. Place the top half on top and use the remaining frosting on top. For maximum shine and solidification, chill in refrigerator for one hour before serving.

Like the restrained lady I so desperately want to be (especially if Christian Grey is the one doing the restraining -- boom, another pun!), I managed to share most of these cupcakes with several others. And the response was positive, if somewhat lackluster.

My broomies had the same response when they took their first bites moments after the frosting was done.
Broomie 1: "It's good."
Broomie 2: "Yeah. It's good."

My male office mate was about the same: "I like it."

Then, I shared it with my cake-loving lady office mate. Surely she would be the one to see the light and appreciate what must be a cake worthy of Christian Grey.

Her response: "It's good, but I don't think the frosting tastes expensive."

She might as well have slapped me in the face. Didn't she know that between the fancy chocolate and whipping cream (not to mention the sugar and egg at home) I spent more than $10 making that frosting? We are talking 10 whole dollars. If Grey felt the same way about Ms. Steele's final product, it's no wonder he always has that twitchy palm ready and poised to take a swat whenever he gets the chance.

If my sister had not soon followed up with a report that she, the cocktail waitress and the door guy at the bar all quite enjoyed the cupcakes I gave them, I would have surely despaired. The door guy, cocktail waitress and my sister are all cute, and they liked the cupcakes. That is all the endorsement I needed.

As it is, the cupcakes were gone fast, and I was not responsible for eating the bulk of them. I call that a success. My friends just need better adjectives.

This recipe is delicious. If I had to bet, I would guess Mr. Grey himself would have found it as appetizing and nearly as satisfying as vanilla ice cream in bed after dinner. I still don't think it would save Ana from a spanking, but then again, what would?

Read my reviews of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.






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May 24, 2012

book review: dog days

In Elsa Watson's Dog Days, a cafe owner best known in her small town as a dog hater has her life turned upside down when she swaps bodies with a canine.

As she prepares for her town's annual canine festival, Jessica Sheldon knows her cafe must do some serious business or risk shutting their doors forever. Unfortunately, her lifelong fear of dogs has dubbed her a dog hater, which makes her canine-crazed townspeople hesitant to give her business. At the same time, she is seriously crushing on Hot Max, the town's adorable and hunky veterinarian. So far, she has managed a bit of small talk when he comes in for his daily cup of java.

When Jessica has a run-in with Zoe, a stray pup abandoned her family, and a jolt of lighting, the two find themselves in swapped bodies. Together, they must successfully complete the dog festival, face issues from their past and see if they can land the guy, too.

Told from the perspective of Jessica and Zoe both pre- and post-body switch, this story was a fun mix of Freaky Friday and Homeward Bound with a healthy dose of romance.

Aside from the general intrigue surrounding the body mix-up, both of the protagonists bring a lot to the table in terms of difficult histories, lonely presents and uncertain futures. Each was also charismatic, likeable and enjoyable to follow.

The supporting characters were also fun. In a town that takes its love of dogs seriously, it is not hard to imagine how kooky they can be. The activities surrounding the festival are fun and keeps the story moving forward at a good pace.

Plus, Hot Max, the vet, is totally crushable, and it was easy to understand how both Jessica and Zoe could fall for him. I would let him rub my belly, if you know what I mean.

A great poolside read for summer, Dog Days is a solid read that will make even non-pet lovers smile.

Rating: 4.5 of 5

Check out my interview with author Elsa Watson here.

About the Author
From 1996 to 1998, Elsa Watson served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, where she began writing novels, all in longhand. She now lives in Washington State with her husband, cat, and two dogs. Her short work has appeared in the Writers Journal, Snowy Egret, and Renaissance Magazine. Elsa is proud to live by the motto: any day on which you pet a dog is a good day. 

Contact Elsa
Twitter: @elsa_watson

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May 23, 2012

interview with the author of 'dog days'

Blogger's Note: I am pleased to welcome Elsa Watson today as part of her book tour for Dog Days. She was good enough to answer questions about writing this book and writing in general. Elsa, thank you for joining us.

Change the Word: How did you come up with the idea for Dog Days?
Elsa Watson: I was sitting in a coffee shop, watching people walk by with their dogs, when I thought “I wonder if I could write a story about a woman who turns into a dog?” And then, seconds later, I thought “Wait, what if they switched bodies? Could I pull that off?” 

That last question took me a while to answer. I got to work on the book right away, but it took time to sort out Jessica’s character and storyline. Zoe’s fell into place pretty quickly, but a lot of my early thoughts about Jessica wound up on the cutting room floor. 

CTW: What was writing from an animal's perspective like?
EW: Really fun!  Zoe’s sections of the book came so easily that I sometimes I felt like my dog Kota was channeling to me. I spend a lot of time talking for our dogs, putting words in their mouths, so writing Zoe’s sections was like doing that but with more time to elaborate. And, because Zoe turns into a person, she has a lot more to talk and think about than just trying to remember where she lost her squeaky toy. She really has a lot on her plate.

CTW: How did you go about capturing a dog's voice?
EW: There’s a moment right after the switch when Zoe starts to realize that she’s in the wrong body. She looks down and thinks, “Hey, these are the wrong feet!” That was the first Zoe line to pop into my head, so that was where I began. It may seem like a simple line, but it sums her attitude up in many ways. Even in the face of something crazy and earth-shattering—something that would cause a person to freak out—she accepts it with a shrug of her doggy shoulders, notes what happened, and moves on.

Other parts of her voice were conscious choices. I decided early on to use the present tense for Zoe, since dogs live so much in the moment. I also thought that would help distinguish her sections from Jessica’s, which are in past tense. I knew that I wanted her to think in short sentences and to use active verbs. The biggest problem I had was in toning the writing down. At first it was tempting to end every sentence with an exclamation mark, especially when Zoe was excited. 

CTW: Tell me about your pets. What are their names? Personalities?
EW: Our shepherd mix Kota was the inspiration for Zoe. Kota finds all kinds of things funny. She thinks it’s hilarious when the cat is on the other side of the French doors, or when she finally finds us after she’s been hunting for us all over the house. And she chases her tail to get our attention, doing this adorable circle dance. Curiously, she’s shy at the dog park – that’s one way in which she and Zoe are different.

Lucky, our senior dog, feels things very deeply. We adopted him when he was three, and he’s never been as carefree as Kota. He worries more, and he likes to be next to his dad at all times. But Lucky also has buckets of confidence. At the dog park we call him the referee, because he’s always running around making sure the other dogs are following the rules. Whose rules?  Beats me—his, I guess!

CTW: How did they help you with the story?
EW: Kota was hugely helpful with Dog Days – Zoe wouldn’t exist without her. Whenever I hit a tough spot or wondered what should happen next, I just sat back and thought about what Kota would do in that situation. The answer was almost always easy to find. (She’d look for muffins! She’d move in on the cat! She’d ask Max the vet to rub her ears!)

Lucky is the inspiration for the dog in the book I’m working on next, The Love Dog. It features a dog named Apollo who’s the star of a reality TV show called the Love Dog. On the show, Apollo mends broken relationships. Behind the scenes, he’s a deeply caring dog who feels it’s his mission to create love wherever he can. That’s so like Lucky. Still waters run deep with that one.

CTW: What is up next for you and your writing career?
EW: As I mentioned, I’m finishing up The Love Dog — Tor-Forge will publish it in February 2013.  I’m also working on two e-novellas. A Christmas Tail picks up where Dog Days leaves off, following the same characters through a holiday adventures. The Puppy Trap is about a pair of look-alike dogs, Sasha and Zipper, who work together to repair their owners’ relationship. These shorts are a lot of fun.  I’m really enjoying writing pared-down, shorter stories—it’s an interesting challenge.

CTW: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
EW: Write what you feel passionate about, even if it feels zany. I knew I was taking a risk with Dog Days, since it isn’t a typical romance. You should have seen the strange looks some people gave me when I described it. (A dog and a woman switch bodies?  Whaaat?) But risks can pay off. 

Also — and I say this more as a reader than as a writer — pay attention to voice. I’ll devour a book in which the voice is great, even if not too much happens. If, on the other hand, the plot’s exciting but the voice doesn’t grab me, I’m more likely to put it down. This is just my personal preference, but since I love reading, I hope all aspiring authors will do this so I can adore their books.

CTW: Anything else you would like to share?
EW: Thank you so much for reading this. And I hope you have a wonderful summer coming up with lots of great books in store. My reading list goes on for miles, and I’m excited about every single title on it!

Check back tomorrow for my review of Dog Days.

About Dog Days
Struggling café owner Jessia Sheldon volunteered to be the chairperson of Woofinstock, Madrona’s annual dog festival, to overcome her reputation as “number one dog hater” in her dog crazy town. Determined to prove her dog-loving credentials, Jessica rescues Zoe, a stray white German shepherd—and in the process the two are struck by lightening.

Jessica wakes to discover paws where her feet should be, and watches in horror as her body staggers around the town square…Zoe and Jessica have switched bodies. Learning to live as a dog is difficult enough, but Jessica’s real worry is saving her café from financial ruin. To complicate matters, she’s falling hard for Max, the town veterinarian.

It’s clear that Zoe is thrilled to live life on “human terms,” but she’s also anxious to use her new skills to find her missing family—who may not want her back. And Jessica needs to confront a complicated figure from her past before she can move on with her new life. Jessica and Zoe will need to learn from each other to set things right, and possibly find love and acceptance in the bargain.

About the Author
From 1996 to 1998, Elsa Watson served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa, where she began writing novels, all in longhand. She now lives in Washington State with her husband, cat, and two dogs. Her short work has appeared in the Writers Journal, Snowy Egret, and Renaissance Magazine. Elsa is proud to live by the motto: any day on which you pet a dog is a good day.

Contact Elsa 
www.elsawatson.net
www.Facebook.com/ElsaWatsonAuthor
Twitter: @elsa_watson

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May 22, 2012

creating the story

Blogger's Note: Today Andrea Murray, author of Vivid dishes on the research and planning behind creating her story. 

Read my review of Vivid here.

By Andrea Murray
Guest blogger

When I began this first novel in the series, I began with Vivian.  As crazy as it sounds, I dreamed about her.  The first dream I had was the scene at the lake where Easton sees her "drawing lightning" into her body.  So, I knew her powers had to involve energy. 

Ironically enough, science was my worst subject in school, but lucky for me, my husband (who is a coach and a closet nerd) loves science and teaches science.  He helped some with my questions about electricity and energy, but I did some Internet research as well.  I took a few liberties--sorry, science experts--since it is science fiction, but I tried to use as much science logic as possible.

I am a list maker, so I create a lot of outlines.  I try to keep my writers' notebook handy, but if I happen not to have it with me, I write on Wal-Mart receipts or check stubs, anything around.  I am currently halfway finished with the second novel, and both times I wrote vague outlines of the entire book.  I knew the beginning, the end, and some of the action in between. 

As I write, the outlines become more specific, and I find myself going back into earlier chapters to add foreshadowing when a good idea strikes me later.  My students are constantly asking me what's going to happen in the next book, and I always respond, "I don't know.  The characters haven't shown me yet."  It drives them crazy!

With the first novel, the majority of the action occurs in or around the school, and Vivian is the only character with special gifts (unless you count Trista's bitchiness), so I didn't have to do a lot of advanced planning on the supernatural part of it.  Hoyt, the villain, evolved with the novel and with each of Vivian's dream chapters.  In the second novel, readers will see MANY more characters with special abilities, so accordingly, the planning has been more involved.  But I am loving it!  This second novel is so much more than the first, and I can't wait to see what Vivian does.

About the Author
Andrea has been teaching English for longer than most of her students have been alive.  She has taught everything from junior high language arts to concurrent credit freshman composition. She lives in a very small town in Arkansas with her precocious daughter, energetic son, and racecar-driving husband.  When she isn't writing or reading novels for her students, she's probably watching reality television or cheesy science fiction movies.  In addition to Vivid, Andrea has also written Vicious, the sequel to her first novel.  

Buy the Book
http://www.amazon.com/Vivid-The-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B006M5L7EK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335996082&sr=8-1


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May 21, 2012

book review: vivid

In Andrea Murray's Vivid, a teenage girl must face the reality behind her unique power and the circumstances that left her orphaned.

After years of hiding the secret of her past and her abilities, everything changes for 16-year-old Vivian Cartright following an encounter with a bully at her school. Having witnessed her mother's death when she was 5, Vivian, like her mother, possesses power to control energy.

For more than 10 years she manages to keep only her Aunt Charlotte in the know. But as her power grows stronger, it becomes more difficult for her to control. The realization of her power yields differing reactions from her best friend, Abby, and her boyfriend, Easton. While dealing with this, memories of Vivian's past, and her mother's death, resurface.

Though it started off slowly, Vivid was a fast read once the story picked up steam about 50 pages in. Vivian is an interesting character, mostly because of her unique power. Despite the fact that she generally seems like a nice girl who just wants to be normal, Vivian is also human enough to want revenge on her enemies and to act out sometimes. However, because it took me a while to get into the excitement of the story, it also took a while for me to bond with the main character.

Beyond the mystery surrounding her power and how it affects others, what I most enjoyed about this story was how it addressed bullying. Though a little more dramatic than I remember my high school experience, popular girl Trista and her band of jerk friends are a good example of what teenagers should not be like. They made for good, realistic villains.

And while I was not crazy about Vivian's BFF, Abby, other supporting characters, such as Charlotte and Easton were a good addition to the story. I think the high school girl inside all of us wants to find a guy like Easton.

An entertaining read with a solid cliffhanger ending, I would gladly read a second installment to see what happens to Vivian as she uncovers the truths of her past.


Rating: 3.5 of 5

About the Author
Andrea has been teaching English for longer than most of her students have been alive.  She has taught everything from junior high language arts to concurrent credit freshman composition. She lives in a very small town in Arkansas with her precocious daughter, energetic son, and racecar-driving husband.  When she isn't writing or reading novels for her students, she's probably watching reality television or cheesy science fiction movies.  In addition to Vivid, Andrea has also written Vicious, the sequel to her first novel.  

Buy the Book
http://www.amazon.com/Vivid-The-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B006M5L7EK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335996082&sr=8-1

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May 20, 2012

book review: the last boyfriend

The Montgomery men are back in the second sexy installment of Nora Roberts InnBoonsboro trilogy. If I did not already have a crush on them, I certainly would after reading The Last Boyfriend.

In book two, the hyper-organized and ultra sweet Owen sees longtime family friend and pizzeria owner Avery in a new light after Lizzy, the ghost at the Inn literary pushes them together. The two have a lot of history. Not only is Owen technically Avery's business and apartment landlord, but they grew up together. Avery fell in love with Owen when she was five, declaring she planned to marry him someday, and he played along. Contrary to what either of them says, neither ever quite got over that puppy love.

While exploring a new personal relationship, they also delve into another business venture together and deal with an unwanted visitor from Avery's past. Fighting a lack of time and Avery's fear of falling in love, the couple comes to realize that a first boyfriend or girlfriend has the potential to be the last and permanent.

This story was ridiculously adorable, even if it had similarities to other books in Nora's past. I said it when I reviewed The Next Always, and I'll say it again: you can always count on a well-written and entertaining story when it comes to Nora. No matter what. Yes, we've seen the ghost in the inn. Yes we've had longtime friends fall in love years later. It's still a good read.

After reading about the renovations in book one, we see the Inn BoonsBoro have its grand opening, which is a complete treat. Based on the real hotel Roberts and her husband own, the place sounds fantastic. A historic building brought back to life, each room's theme focuses on a couple from literature. There's an Elizabeth and Darcy, Buttercup and Westley, etc. If I am ever in the area, I have to see this place. So good job on the advertising, Ms. Roberts. It worked.

My favorite part of the book was the Montgomery men. They are completely crushable. I thought I had it bad for Beckett, until I got into Owen's head. What a total cutey. He deals well with Avery's crazy and loves her for it. (Avery is also a fun protagonist who compliments her man well.  But the men really shine in this series.) Based on the tension already sizzling between the final brother, Ryder, and the innkeeper, I can already imagine how delicious book three will be when it is released in November.

A quick read, I found The Last Boyfriend delightful and it kept my interest. The only drawback was that the end felt a little rushed to me, but the final conclusion was satisfying enough. Well done, Nora. Well done as usual.

Rating: 4 of 5

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May 18, 2012

setting the bar

Blogger's note: Reading in the Kitchen will get a little sexier in the month of May as I make dishes from E L James' best-selling Fifty Shades trilogy. This is part third in a four-part series. Read about the inspiration behind the series here.


I will tell you one thing I have learned through this reading and cooking adventure — that Ana Steele is a classy lady. She definitely has set a standard for Saturday lunches, which I am confident I will never duplicate.

In Fifty Shades Darker, after a satisfying session with Grey in the playroom, Ana whips up a light lunch... of poached salmon and watercress and cilantro sour cream dip. While it sounded delicious when I read it, I could not help but wonder why Ana was trying so hard. This is Saturday lunch at home, we're talking about.

When I am in a relationship, and a man wants me to make him lunch on a Saturday afternoon, the outcome would probably fall into one of these categories:
  • I make him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whatever bread I have at my ready. He wants French Bread? He can make his own damn sandwich.
  • I heat up a frozen meal or leftovers.
  • I order take-out from my favorite Chinese restaurant. If I want to impress him, I dispose of the restaurant evidence before he notices. More likely, I will hand it to him in the container it came in with a plastic fork and spoon.
Want to know what I am not going to do? Make him lemon poached salmon on a bed of salad topped with a fancy dip and served with boiled potatoes. It is not that I don't care, because I do. I just have more important things to do on a Saturday afternoon than create culinary masterpieces.

Then again, I've never met a Christian Grey. Maybe he is just that good in bed. I bet he is that good in bed.

Since Ana did slave away in the kitchen to make Christian a well-balanced and delicious meal for his birthday lunch, I decided to give it a shot. It sounded delicious, fit nicely into my pescetarian diet and I already had potatoes from the previous two recipes. Plus, I've never poached salmon, or anything but an egg for that matter. I saw this as the greatest challenge of my kitchen career, or at least one of them.

My worries were for nothing. In actuality, it was ridiculously easy.

I bought a nice piece of boneless Alaskan salmon and sliced it into three servings. Then, I placed a regular-sized skillet (is there a more technical term?) on my stove over medium-high heat. I poured about one cup of water in. While that heated, I squeezed in the juice from one lemon, added some salt, lemon pepper, sliced onion and a bit of basil for color. Once the water was to a boil, I lowered the temperature to medium heat and placed the salmon in the pan, skin-side down. It looks super gross at first, kind of like the boiled chicken topped with chicken water Lindsey made in season three of Arrested Development. I shook off the disturbing thought and covered the pan and left it to cook for about seven minutes.

While that was going on, I tackled the dip. In the book she says it has sour cream, cilantro and watercress. I know all about the first two — they are delicious and staples in my cooking. But I was at a loss with the watercress. I have heard of it, but it could be anything. Before buying my groceries, I searched on the Interwebs. Through all my research, I learned watercress is a leafy plant popular in Europe. I also learned that it might be difficult for me to find fresh watercress here in Nebraska.

I did what any girl in my position would have done. I called my mom and asked for a substitute. "Arugula." Though not a perfect substitute, arugula is a spicy enough leafy plant to do the trick.

For the dip, I minced a bunch of cilantro leaves and a bunch of arugula. I mixed it with the sour cream and added a dash of pepper, because I worried the arugula was not spicy enough. This made way more dip than I needed for this dish. Even with making three servings of fish, salad and potatoes, I still had more than half the dip left. I used the leftovers with celery sticks and lentil chips for a light snack the next few days.

By the time I was done with this, it was time to turn off the stove. I was pleased to discover perfectly poached and pink salmon waiting for me to eat. I have to say I was shocked. I mean, you see the picture above. That pan looked nasty. And while the watery broth left behind was not at all appetizing, it was exciting to see how lovely and pink the salmon appeared. I may have found a new way to impress friends for dinner. Because fish skin grosses me out, I removed the skin and discarded it before plating.

On a bed of arugula-based salad mix, which I found at the local Trader Joe's, I placed a salmon patty and sliced boiled baby potatoes. I added a dollop of the dip on top of the salmon and I dug in.

This meal was fantastic. It was so good, I ate it for lunch twice in the days to follow. A light and flavorful dish, this makes a perfect summertime meal for salmon lovers. While I was selfish and did not share this dish with anyone else, I did pack it along to take to work one day. I had a couple of people, including my boss, comment on how nice my salad looked.

It's hard not to feel smug after someone tells you that. Maybe Ana cooks fancy lunches so she can feel smug from the compliments. The girl may be onto something.

Check back next Friday for the final Fifty Shades-inspired Reading in the Kitchen recipe followed by a Grey Reading in the Bar.


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