Book Review: Sweet Potato Queens’ 1st Big-Ass Novel

Grade: A

I can still remember stumbling across The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book Of Love several years back and just falling in love with the whole idea of SPQ and more importantly, falling in love with Chocolate Stuff™, a recipe I’ve devoured several times over since first reading about it (it is seriously that good). The SPQ’s Queen Boss Lady, Jill Conner Browne, has written several nonfiction books that will help you fall in love, get married and / or divorced, have children, cook great food and more.

So when their first fictional book came out, The Sweet Potato Queens’ First Big-Ass Novel: Stuff We Didn’t Actually Do, but Could Have, and May Yet, I was pretty eager to get my hands on a copy, which I did, but somehow in the mix of life, love and babies I forgot I’d gotten it. I know, lame. But it was a lucky thing in some ways, because a couple weeks ago I was lamenting the complete and utter lack of anything good to read in my bookshelf that is literally overflowing with books I have yet to read except none of them were the RIGHT book that would fulfill my need for a light hearted, funny, feel good literary experience, when I saw my forgotten copy. It was like fate.

I really had no idea what kind of novel I was delving into – but with good faith and fond memories of Chocolate Stuff™, I jumped in and found the perfect light read – chick lit in all the glory that once gave the genre a good name. It tells a tale about overcoming and surviving life’s not so fabulous moments in the company of good people – a coming of age novel where things don’t always go right but they do eventually work out – with the help of good friends and good food.

The novel begins in the fictional childhood of SPQ Jill Conner Browne and eventually settles into her life as a young adult and beyond and her friendships with Mary Bennett, Patsy, Gerald and Tammy – it (fictionally) tells the story of how the Sweet Potato Queens came to be and the lives and friendships of each SPQ. The general theme of this story is that sometimes you have to step in and create your own success and embrace your inner Queen – because if you won’t embrace it, who will? I devoured this book quickly and I’d eagerly recommend this to any fan of “chick lit” – any woman who’s experienced the pros and cons of life – and anyone who likes good humor, good food and good writing.

You can visit the Sweet Potato Queens online at www.sweetpotatoqueens.com.

Book Review: Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Grade: A

Did you know that Dan Brown’s infamous book-turned-movie, The Da Vinci Code, is actually the second book in a series – Angels & Demons being the first book? A lot of Dan Brown fans seem to disagree about which of these two Robert Langdon adventures was the best, and usually it’s whichever book they read first. I read The Da Vinci Code a few years ago and remember that it took me a REALLY long time to get into, but when I did, I loved it. I also really enjoyed the movie based off the book. So when I found out they were making a movie version of Angels & Demons I decided I should probably get around to reading it now before I broke down and saw the movie – I don’t know about you, but once I’ve seen the movie, the odds of me reading the book are slim to none.

I guess you could say it took me awhile to get into Angels & Demons also, as I’ve picked up and put down this book a few times, but the truth is I just have far too many books vying for my attention because when I did finally re-pick up this book a month ago, it did not take much effort for me to get into the story at all. The only reason it took me an entire month to read it is probably the simple fact that I moved halfway across the country in the middle of reading it. And to go against the norm, I think I’m going to have to say that, although it was the second book I read, Angels & Demons was probably my favorite of the two Robert Langdon adventures.

This story had so many twists and turns, constantly building in ways I rarely saw coming. Dan Brown seems to enjoy leading his readers astray and I constantly found myself being duped by him, thinking I had for sure figured out a plot twist only to be completely proven wrong. And really, having read The Da Vinci Code, I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t. He surprised me with just about every turn from beginning to end and the end… wow. Yeah, never saw it coming, but loved it.

I don’t want to give too many details or give too much away because that element of surprise – it’s really part of the enjoyment of reading this book. But if you are interested in religion, conspiracy theories, science, action and adventure, whodunnit mysteries, travel – anything like that – this book has it all and then some. I really enjoyed it and I’m planning to read the newest Robert Langdon adventure, The Lost Symbol, which comes out this September.

Have you read Angels & Demons or any of Dan Brown’s other books? Which one is your favorite? Least favorite? Have you seen or will you see the movies?

Book Review: Here’s The Story by Maureen McCormick

Grade: A

I originally decided to read Here’s The Story, a memoir by Maureen McCormick, simply because it was the ‘memoir of Marcia Brady’ or rather the actress who played her. I was curious about her life, liked the book cover and thought the Brady references would be fun – a nice, light read. Yeah right. I ended up loving this memoir because it wasn’t just those things at all – it was so much more, far from light and because of that, much more satisfying and riveting to read. You forget sometimes that these celebrities are more than the characters they play – and where Maureen McCormick is concerned I had no idea. It was like finding out that the pretty, seemingly perfect girl from high school has real feelings, a real story, a real life – that in some ways, she’s just like you.

Now, I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder, I’ve never been a drug addict, I haven’t suffered from depression – I’ve had a much easier go if it than Maureen McCormick, but still I can relate to all these shocking things and more. It’ the bits and pieces that made her human, that make me human, too – and those I think are universally relateable. McCormick’s memoir is long in the sense that a lot of stuff happens, seemingly each chapter becomes worlds different from the chapter before, as her life was a roller coaster of new things, new places, new people and new experiences and all of it was fascinating to me.

The “story” has a relatively happy ending, although being her real life and the fact that it’s still going – not everything is resolved by the end and of course it isn’t really an ending at all, just a stopping point. This memoir has everything – you’ll want to laugh and cry along with her throughout her tale and by the end of it, I was truly sorry to finish the book and move onto something new. I’d consider it a must read.

Did you watch the Brady Bunch growing up? Who was your favorite character? Have you heard of Maureen McCormick’s memoir or the life she’s led post Brady?

Book Review: The Perilous Journey

Grade: A+

I am in love with this new series by Trenton Lee Stewart! The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey is the sequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society. That’s quite a mouthful, I know, but it’s seriously worth every word. My husband and I are both huge fans of this new series about a group of extraordinarily gifted children: Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance – each uniquely talented, smart and savvy in their own ways and together quite a team.

I love how this series shows kids that there are different ways to be smart and none are more or less impressive than the others. It teaches kids that there are a lot of ways to solve their problems and that when they think hard and care about something that they can accomplish anything – especially when working together as a team. What a great lesson to learn while reading a thrilling adventure story, huh? They’ll even pick up some great new vocabulary words along the way.

In The Perilous Journey the heroic foursome find themselves leaving home to rescue their beloved mentor, Mr. Benedict, and against all odds manage to leave England and travel to many new, exciting countries, facing off against some pretty terrifying bad guys, and learning a lot about themselves along the way. For four very smart children, they still have a lot of growing up to do, and like all children it isn’t always easy for them – or for their friendships.

I really recommend this series to any child or adult – I think it could be a really fun book to read with your children – or on your own. This, in my mind, is the new BIG series worth trying. I promise you will love it! You can buy the Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perilous Journey together at Amazon.com today for less than $20 with free shipping!

It's Both New AND Exciting

I made some changes to my menu plan for this month. I’ve been feeling much more into cooking lately, wanting to try new recipes – and it’s awesome. I think it’s my weird version of nesting because I don’t really have any nursery stuff to plan. Anyway, Dan and I were talking this morning about how some of our old stand by favorites just weren’t as exciting any more now that I’ve been trying new things so I thought I’d kick it up a notch, add some more new recipes and have fun while this lasts.

I made even more changes when I got a Vivabox in the mail to review for Momma’s Review. It’s the BBQ box and it has 3 great seasonings from Urban Accents and a gift card to get an order from Omaha Steaks or more from Urban Accents, basically, super exciting. I went searching on the Urban Accents website for recipe ideas to use with the seasonings (I’m not a seasoned chef yet and thus can’t really just wing it when it comes to seasoning) and was just drooling over the possibilities. I added in a few new recipes to my menu plan for the next week and a half so that I can try all three seasonings before my review is set to post. Yes I’m that excited. And I know Dan is going to be ecstatic when he sees all my new dinner ideas. He’s been a pretty happy dinner camper so to speak.

I wonder what will be more exciting for him when he comes home tonight – fun new seasonings and a gift card to Omaha Steaks … or … the fact that Rock Band for the Wii just showed up today, too. At least I’m assuming it’s Rock Band, because the box is ginormous and it’s the only big product I’m expecting, but ohhhhh who knows? We’ll find out when hubby comes home tonight and helps me open it!

Anyway, you can go visit the Monthly Menu post if you want to see all the changes, but if you don’t feel like looking over the whole menu, here are some recipes that are new. I may have missed a couple, but these are, I think, the exciting ones:

Book Review: Revenge of the Spellmans

Grade: A+

Next Tuesday, March 10, Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz hits bookshelves everywhere. This is the third installment in a truly addictive series about a family of private detectives, namely one Isabel Spellman. Izzy could be considered the black sheep in her family. Despite her good intentions, things never really go the way she hopes and she frequently finds herself a bit in over her head, getting caught up in her own curiosity and sometimes letting normal people details escape her. And while you may not always be able to say you’ve “been there” when reading about her escapades, in spirit you have. I think we’ve all kind of felt like the black sheep of our lives at one point or another (or constantly).

And that’s one of the things I love about this series. You will find no unrealistically good looking, smart, savvy people who you could never dream of being. I hate those people. Talk about an ego suck. Like Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s Plum series, Izzy Spellman is a girl like you, even on your worst of days, who pulls through in spite of herself. Now, don’t get me wrong, in a lot of ways Izzy is one smart chick. She is a talented PI, in a family of talented PIs, and can usually sniff out a mystery with her nose plugged. It’s turning that curiosity off that’s usually the problem. Imagine being unable to stop yourself from reading that diary, following that car, running a background check on all your boyfriends (and all your family and friend’s significant others, too). She seems to lack an off switch, which makes the people around her crazy sometimes. But to be fair, I don’t think anyone in her family has an off switch either. It’s a family trait.

Anyway, in Revenge of the Spellmans Izzy is forced to endure court-ordered therapy, unemployment, a not so preferable living arrangement, a mountain of secrecy, mysterious blackmail letters, an unintelligible Irish bartender, oh and the guy she’s pretty sure she’s in love with but can’t quite bring herself to tell him? He has a girlfriend now, who despite all her best efforts, she can’t seem to dislike. Amidst all of this is the usual circle of mysteries, in which Lutz weaves the worlds biggest whose duping who and seriously whodunnit web of awesomeness. I actually never figured out any of the mysteries in this book before Lutz wanted me to and I’m GOOD at figuring plot lines out. It’s a talent.

I really cannot complain about this latest installment of Spellman goodness, except to say that, “Lisa, that kiss – and you know which kiss I speak of – was heart breaking. And I’m not sure I’m okay with it.” Oh, and, “I can’t wait for book four!”

Are you new to the Spellman series? You’ll want to start with book one, The Spellman Files (now in mass market paperback!), then move on quickly to Curse of the Spellmans (now in paperback), before finally devouring Revenge of the Spellmans (comes out in hardcover March 10).

If you are already a SpellmanAddict like me, have you gone to Lisa Lutz’s website yet? You can sign up for her quarterly newsletter here!

This review is cross-posted to my review blog @ Momma’s Review