Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wallflower in Bloom by Claire Cook

I'm a big fan of novelist Claire Cook.

Ever since I read Best Staged Plans, I've been hooked on her books.

And what a fascinating personal story she also has. Claire Cook became a best-selling author, after writing her first novel in the family's van when she was 45; while waiting for her children at swim practises. Five years later, she was walking the red carpet for the premiere of: Must Love Dogs, based on another highly acclaimed novel that she wrote.
Wowsa. That's my kind of creative inspiration. Claire Cook has proven and in a big way that real-life dreams can and do come true.
Speaking of Best Staged Plans, you can read my full review of that wonderful book here.
 I was happy to note the recent release of her newest book: Wallflower in Bloom.

And as expected, Ms. Cook did not disappoint.
As is the case with most of Claire Cook's novels, this one centers around a large, somewhat dysfunctional family and in particular the main character Deirdrie Griffin and her brother Tag.
Deirdrie is Tag's personal assistant. Tag is a world-renowned motivational guru with millions of fans around the world. Adored and fawned over (especially by the ladies!) wherever he goes with Deirdrie always close behind. She is left to sort out the many details and intrigues in Tag's life and to pick up the pieces, when things go haywire! And that happens a lot.
It's the behind part that Deirdrie is sick of. Being out of the spotlight, feeling that she is just a glorified "gopher" that never really has a chance to shine on her own merits or have a life of her own.
But a twist in fate is in store for Deirdrie when she gets to be on the hit TV show: Dancing With the Stars, when a replacement dancer is needed. Being Tag's sister for once is paying off and in a big way. She grabs the chance and goes for it. And dances her way to a whole new life in the process.
 As a big fan of Dancing With the Stars, I also loved reading about the behind the scenes action at the show. And how Deirdrie went from a very average dancer to being able to hold her own and to go on to perform (and well) in front of millions of viewers. Talk about her time to shine!
This was such a fun read from beginning to end. I was sorry to turn the last page!
If you love a good read, happy endings, Claire Cook's writing, Dancing With the Stars; any or all of these, you will love: Wallflower in Bloom.
One more thing, isn't this a great cover? I think it's so perfect for the story.
Keep them coming Claire. Can't wait to see what your next book will be about.
Overall rating for this book: Excellent. 5 out of 5.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Deluxe 6 Qt. Slow Cooker

As any of my regular readers already know, I love to cook! And second only to finding or creating a great new recipe, I love to discover a new kitchen appliance or gadget that makes the process even more enjoyable.

I recently gave slow-cooking another try. The last time I had, was many, many years ago. And in the meantime, slow-cookers have come a long way! I tested out the Hamilton Beach Set & Forget Deluxe 6 Qt. Slow Cooker and overall, I'm very impressed with this small appliance. A far cry from my little, old crockpot type cooker, from years ago! ;<)

What did I like about this slow cooker?

It has a nice large ceramic liner, that's easy to clean and allows for a large meal to be prepared in it.

As a vegetarian, for me that's usually a soup or stew. But I've got a lot of other recipes planned to try in the near future, in this slow cooker, including: lasagna, steamed breads,'s actually a very versatile way to cook and definitely not for just a big piece of meat or chicken as a lot of people still think. I'll be sharing a couple of excellent slow-cooker cookbooks here in the near future too.

This slow-cooker has a nice chrome finish on the outside that's easy to clean. A handy spoon rest in the lid handle, complete with spoon.  Easy to read and program, front panel. Very quiet operation. Reasonably priced too. Today I noted this slow-cooker at Amazon on sale for just $49. Well worth the price. And a 5 year limited warranty.That's the first time I've seen this for any small kitchen appliance.

And for people who do enjoy cooking meat, poultry in a slow-cooker, there is a handy temperature probe included.

And what didn't I like?

Rather minor negatives but perhaps things the company might want to consider for future models and marketing. This particular model features metal clips to secure the lid if you want to transport your slow cooker to another location: potluck dinner, another room...and avoid spillage.

These clips are only for this purpose and not to be used when cooking in the slow cooker.

 I found the video a bit misleading (click through to the product page to see this) as no mention was made of whether these clips were to actually be used for cooking but it appeared that way. I finally found the recommendation for transport use only, in the FAQ section at the company's website. I did not note any mention of this in the users guide I received either.

Speaking of the users guide, I did note that after cooking time is complete that the unit will beep and then revert to WARM mode for (total of) 14 hours and then shut off. This is too long, IMO in terms of food safety. I was surprised by this. Not something I would personally recommend.

As I said, minor complaints.

Overall, I'm impressed with how easy this slow cooker is to use and how good the cooking results are too. I will definitely be using it on a regular basis.

Stop by the Hamilton Beach site for lots of great recipe suggestions for slow cookers and their other appliances too.

Overall rating for this product: Very Good. 4 out of 5.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Mr. Cheddar Review: Innova Dry Cat Food


Mr. Cheddar here....

Yes, I have been snoozing quite a bit lately, what with all the oh so hooooot weather and all.

I love a good nap, almost as much as I love a good bowl of kibble.

And wowsa, Meowmie has recently found another winner in that department that I am just a  lovin' : Innova Dry Cat Food (regular and sigh...low-fat formula too.) Although why I would really need any kind of "low-fat" kibble is beyond my comprehension. But it seems to make Meowmie happy and it tastes great so who am I to complain.

And I do want to keep my slim physique in top form so why not watch the catories, right!!! Can't really improve on purrrfection but must try to stay the dreaded "bag belly" that seems to be a problem for so many felines I've met. Not me of course but it can happen! Yikes.

BTW, I love that babe on the Innova low-fat bag so that helped to convince me too.

Who says advertising doesn't work??? Snort.

Oh what a blue-eyed vixen....perhaps the company is reading this and can find a way for us to meet? I certainly hope so. I'm not getting any younger and the perfect female companion for me has still not appeared sigh...oh well, I live in hope. I know she's out there, somewhere...waiting for me too.

Perhaps this "bag lady" is THE ONE!!!

 And remember this sage advice, my dear feline and human fans:

 If it's the truth, it ain't bragging!

Innova gal, DOOOO RSVP, sooner than later. I will be waiting oh so impatiently for your email.

Anyhoo...back to this kibble. I love everything about it. Tasty, satisfying, keeps my tummy working from entry to exit (if you get my meaning snort....) in perfect harmony.

And Meowmie's given it the thumbs-up too in terms of ingredients, so no problems with getting her to bring home the goods.

Here's some information about this food from the Innova website:

For less active cats and cats prone to undesired weight gain, Innova developed our Low Fat Adult Cat Food. This unique formula provides all the same nutritional benefits of our regular Cat & Kitten Food, but with 50% less fat than Innova Cat & Kitten Food to assist with weight management in low activity or sedentary cats. In addition, we included L-carnitine to help metabolize fat and retain lean muscle mass.

Click through to their site to read the complete ingredient list and lots of other good information too.

I definitely give Innova dry cat food the "Cheddar- paws up"

And speaking of 'bag bellies"'s  Meowmie's final word:

Overall rating for this product: Very Good. 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Finding Kate Huntley by Theresa Ragan

As I blogged about recently here I've been focused on a number of writing projects, including a novel, in the past few months.
It's a daunting task to write and to complete a novel. At least that's been my experience so far. It's been thrilling, energizing, frustrating, at times- all-consuming. And along the way, it's been other writers, bloggers, friends and loved ones who have kept me going, when I just didn't feel like continuing.

One of the most talented, inspiring and encouraging people I've met in the past few months, is author: Theresa Ragan. If you aren't familiar with Theresa's books yet, you will be. This woman is an achiever and then some!

Here's an Interview with Theresa from the CreateSpace website that gives an overview of just some of this author's amazing accomplishments to date. And Theresa is not just an achiever when it comes to writing novels, she's one terrific and supportive person too.

Stop by Theresa's blog for  more information about her life, work and to read more about all of her books.

After I got to know Theresa online, I was eager to read some of her work. I started off with the novel: Finding Kate Huntley, a suspense-packed thriller that takes the reader on a fast-paced and memorable journey.

When lead character, Kate Huntley is only 15 years old, she witnesses the murder of her beloved father, while they are on board a boat vacationing in the Caribbean.

Her father, who had been a respected, well-known US scientist, had warned her just before his untimely death, to "trust no one". It is a warning that Kate takes to heart and never forgets, spending the next 10 years of her life in hiding; living in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti.
 In spite of the poverty and other difficulties of living in this foreign and unfamiliar place, Kate learns to love Haiti and many of the gentle and kind native people she gets to know. But she also never forgets her father's warning and endures the ache of losing him, year after year. Kate vows to find the person(s) responsible no matter how long it takes, find out why and to avenge his death.

Fast-forward to Kate at 25, still living and working in Haiti. She is recognized by Jack Coffey, rookie FBI agent who has been sent by the agency to find Ms. Huntley and bring her back to the States where they are also still trying to find the reasons behind her father's murder and to solve the case.
 Jack Coffey works first of all, to gain Kate's trust, not an easy assignment in itself. Then to complete his FBI duties to get her back to the (supposedly) safer US, where Kate had been born and to hopefully and finally unravel the mystery of her father's death. Along the way, there is romance, intrigue and lots of surprises and awakenings for both Kate and Jack.

Although this would not normally be "my kind of book" to read (I've never been a real fan of thrillers, crime stories etc) I found myself turning page after page, anxious to see how things would turn out. I don't want to spoil the I'll leave the details for you to enjoy!

Theresa Ragan shows an attention to details that is commendable. She not only is a compelling writer and takes the time to develop each chapter throughout the book; Theresa also ties up ALL the loose ends, at the conclusion of the story. I appreciate that. You would think that would be a given for any well-written/regarded novel, but as any avid reader knows, that's just not the reality, for too many books.
If you are looking for a fast-paced, engaging novel with plenty of twists, turns and romance along the way, you'll want to check out: Finding Kate Huntley by Theresa Ragan. Available in print and ebook formats.

Overall rating for this book: Very Good. 4 out of 5.    

Saturday, August 11, 2012

belVita Breakfast Biscuits

 I recently noted an ad for belVita Breakfast Biscuits  in a local grocery store flyer.

As a person who is not a big-breakfast eater on most days (exception: Sundays when my dear Joe makes a late morning "fry-up" fit for royalty, that I enjoy immensely!!!) I was eager to check this new product out. Even planned to purchase some, until I started doing some checking online.

I've thought for a very long time that Kraft Foods is lagging well behind many other food manufacturers when it comes to truly addressing the needs and wants of increasingly savvy consumers who are looking for quality products that really do "walk the talk".

The days of shoppers being at the mercy of the food "giants" with their clever marketing campaigns (often targeting young children with sugary junk) and lulling us all into believing that we can take their word at face value when it comes to (supposedly) wholesome, nutritious products, is long gone!

Hooray, and hooray again for ingredient lists and the Internet!

belVita is a "shortcut" attempt by Kraft/Nabisco to jump on the current and growing market trend for better, more nutritious snack and breakfast foods. Unfortunately, they've fallen short of the mark, again!

Check out the ingredients in the belVita Golden Oat Flavour: whole grain blend (rolled oats, rye flakes), enriched flour [wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1), riboflavin (vitamin b2), folic acid], high oleic canola oil, sugar, evaporated cane sugar, whole grain wheat flour, malt syrup (from corn and barley), invert sugar, baking soda, salt, soy lecithin, disodium pyrophosphate, datem, ferric orthophosphate (iron), niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin b6), riboflavin (vitamin b2), thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1).

Nothing new or noteworthy here. Plenty of sources of refined sugar though. Nothing organic either.

Come on Kraft, join the 21st Century!

 This is nothing more than a glorified cookie, cleverly marketed as a healthy breakfast option.

Comes complete with some cutsey marketing tactics: belVita "in action" video

The nutritional "benefits" albeit limited of belVita.

Do these companies really think that the majority of consumers are still this gullible?

A couple of other points I noted at one of many belVita sites. They suggest repeatedly that these are to be eaten with other healthy foods such as a glass of milk, help sustain a person and stave off hunger for 4 hours. Maybe with the addition of other higher- protein foods, that might work. But with just 4 grams of protein in these breakfast cookies, they certainly aren't going to do the job on their own! A good "hit" of quality protein is in the 15-20 grams range for an average person per meal.

These cookies sell for about $3-4 per 250 gram box. For the price of a couple of boxes, a person could easily make a batch of energy bars at home that would be a lot better nutritionally and probably taste-wise too.

As one of many quick breakfast/snack alternatives: here's a popular recipe for  No-Bake Energy Bars from my cookbook: Not Just for Vegetarians that you might want to try. They certainly are tasty, filling, kid-approved and easy to make too.

 Countless other recipes for energy bars and other quick breakfast options online too.  If you need "breakfast on the go" you don't have to settle for something as lame and lacking as  belVita Breakfast Biscuits are.

And one more thing, what's with the letter casing for the name of  this product? Is that suppose to make it better? Or does Kraft have 4 year olds in their marketing department these days LOL!

Overall rating for this product: BAD. 0 out of 5. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Jane Fonda Prime Time: Fit & Strong Exercise DVD

I've always believed that regular exercise was an essential part of staying well and feeling energized. When I recently had some issues with one of my ankles that didn't allow me to walk or do any weight-bearing exercise, for extended periods of time; I went looking for a workout DVD that I could still do.

After reading some very inspiring comments/reviews about: Jane Fonda Prime Time: Fit & Strong DVD, I decided to give it a try. And I'm certainly glad that I did.

First of all, how could anyone not be inspired and encouraged by anyone who looks as good as Jane Fonda does? I think she's absolutely beautiful. In her 70"s now (seemingly ageless!) and in much better shape than a lot of women in their 30-40's.

 And she certainly is a pro when it comes to putting together an exercise video that is not only effective but fun and informative too. Hard to believe it was the late 1970's when her first exercise videos were available. How time flies!

The Jane Fonda Fit & Strong DVD includes two workouts, each approximately 30 minutes including a warm-up and stretches to finish. There is also an introduction (calming and empowering) and balance exercise (so important to maintain our balance) segment, both that are worthwhile adding to any daily exercise workout.

Jane Fonda not only explains each exercise well, she also shares interesting facts/stats throughout, the workouts about the importance and benefits of exercise. For example: did you know that people between 50-72 can actually increase their muscle mass/strength by as much as 200% with regular strength training exercises? Amazing! And we all know how important it is to stay strong, whatever age we are.

Jane also talks about the importance of balance and working to maintain a good level of ability in this regard, throughout our lives. Unfortunately, changes to balance start to happen in our 20's and decline from there. But with specific balancing exercises added to our daily exercise regimes, we can help to stem the tide. Such an important topic that from what I've seen elsewhere is usually overlooked when it comes to any type of exercise programs/DVDs.

The Jane Fonda Prime Time: Fit & Strong DVD  is a very good way to ease back into an exercise program, if you've been unable to participate in regular exercise, for whatever reason. Even if it just comes down to being unmotivated or as in my case, having an injury that made my regular activities hard to continue on a regular basis. This DVD would be too easy for someone who is already working out at an intermediate level but that's just not the reality for a lot of us.

Some other things I appreciate about this DVD. Jane Fonda has a very soothing, relaxing voice to listen to. It's easy to focus on what she is saying and to follow her instructions to the letter.So many exercise DVD's are lead by instructors with annoying, grating voices that definitely don't add to the routines.

 And speaking of instructions another helpful and appreciated point I noted with this DVD: when Jane is referring to working the left arm or leg...she is working the reverse herself, so that what we see facing the TV matches up with her instructions. So many instructors don't bother to do this.

The only thing that could be improved on this video is a minor issue. I found the background used for this workout distracting and "busy" looking. For example, there is a coffee table directly behind Jane Fonda when she is working out. When she is doing chair exercises, it looks like there are "wings" sticking out from both sides! A simple, attractive room without so much clutter would have added to the appeal of this DVD. Minor but something that could be improved upon.

If you stop by Amazon, you can read many positive reviews about this DVD. Some very touching personal comments included and written by people of all ages.

 It really is never too late to get more physically active and strive to be in better shape. Our attitude is so important in terms of what aging well really means and in all areas of our lives, not just the physical. Again, Jane Fonda touches on this topic in the short introduction segment; a great way to begin the workouts.

Overall rating for this product: Very Good. 4 out of 5.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Ohio Knitting Mills Knitting Book by Steven Tatar (with Denise Grollmus)


As any of my regular blog readers know already, I am a self-proclaimed yarn addict! And how. If I'm not working on at least 2-3 knit or crochet projects at any given time, I'm just not happy!

My love of all things yarn-crafting extends to the pleasure of finding a new and unique knit or crochet book. And just recently, I found one that I'm very excited about:

The Ohio Knitting Mills Knitting Book is a book that came about in a very unusual way. Author Steven Tatar was hunting for scrap metal when he stumbled upon the now shuttered Ohio Knitting Mills. He subsequently bought the company's sweater archive and opened the Ohio Knitting Mills store, in Brooklyn, NY where for two years he sold vintage knits and wrote this book.

The author now sells limited edition sweaters online at:

The Ohio Knitting Mills Knitting Book traces the history through four decades of this historic Ohio mill from the 1940-1970. It makes for fascinating reading. Sharing a part of crafting in America through some of the most creative and turbulent times the USA has ever seen. And along the way, the reader is taken back in time to enjoy the styles, trends and fads of each of these decades. Including 26 knitting patterns from the original OKM archive.

What keeps this book fresh, timely and oh so 21st century are the updated versions of the original patterns that are included. Complete with full instructions and graphs where applicable.And wowsa, these are knitting patterns that are definitely worthy of a retro-encore!

Here are just a few examples of the unique patterns in this book:

Ski Chic Fatale


California Dreaming



Father Knows Best


Hippie Stashbag

The Ohio Knitting Mills Knitting Book is visually stunning with sepia-toned text pages and full-color photos throughout. The attention to detail and precision work that went into this 158 page book is evident throughout. Another plus: there are patterns for knitters of all skill levels from the beginner to expert, included in this book.

If you love retro-knit fashions this is a book you won't want to miss. Would also make a memorable gift for any yarn/American craft history buff on your gift list too.

This book is a great example of that timeless saying: "everything old IS new again"

You can read more about this unique knitting book and also find ordering options at: Thomas Allen and Son. Priced at: $22.50 CDN and $17.95 US.

Credit: "Excerpted from The Ohio Knitting Mills by Steven Tatar with
Denise Grollmus (Artisan Books). Copyright 2010. Photographs by Anna

Overall rating for this book: Excellent. 5 out of 5.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

And the Winner of the Ice Cream Lover's Contest Is....

.... Crystal from Dream Baby Dolls!

Congratulations Crystal. I hope you enjoy all of your prizes!

You have 2 weeks to claim your prize package.
If not claimed within two weeks time, another winner will be chosen.

Send your mailing address to:

MRLR at myway dot com

and I will get your prizes sent out.


Stay tuned for another great contest/giveaway, this one open to Canadian and US residents, coming up in September.

And lots of new product reviews coming up, starting again this week at MRLR.

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest.
It was such fun reading all your fav ice cream flavours.

Happy August!
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