Tag Archives: book review

Book Review of Pushing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid and a Recipe Review of the recipe it contained Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters


There is an entire sub-genre within the romance and mystery genres that involves cooking and baking where a particular recipe plays an important role in character development or the plot’s unfolding. The heroes of these culinary romances are generally no-nonsense women who have a business to run, or life to live, and children and grandchildren to raise. Through cooking for and feeding others these heroes express and often identify their femininity and inner goddess. I am oversimplifying the idea but these female heroes don’t need the hero in their lives, but through cooking for him they reveal to themselves they are a woman, have womanly thoughts, and the hero might be good to have around.

I do not read contemporary romances and hardly any mystery novels so I have missed out on this sub-genre. Most I have seen on the self, at least mystery-wise, look like I would get cavities by reading the book, if it were possible. Pushing the Line was a self-published book on the 2015 RWA RITA Award finalists’ listings so I thought I would give it a try.

Book Review: Pushing the Line by Kimberly Kincaid

Pushing the Line (No. 4 of The Line Series) by Kimberly Kincaid is a 2015 RWA RITA Award finalist in the novella category. Pushing the Line is a self-published novella. The RWA Rita Awards define a novella as a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words long. Other literary and genre awards recognize different word count maximums as their definition of a novella (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novella). Novellas generally contain chapters, think Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, whereas short stories have a blank line between sections.

Novellas, because of their nature are often quick reads and contemporary romance Pushing the Line is no different. One can read Pushing the Line in under 3 hours. I purchased it as an e-book and its formatting within my Kindle was not a problem to the reading experience. In summary, Harper McGee a free spirited artist crashes, emotionally and physically, back to her hometown after the death of her beloved grandmother who raised her. She discovers her grandmother left her the local landmark candy shop, and what does someone who has not spent more than seven days in one place since college do with a such business. The candy shop coincidentally and mysteriously catches fire after the reading of the will. McGee rushes into the burning building (????) and our hero Aaron Fisher the fireman leads (drags?) her out of the dangerous situation. McGee cannot sell the business after the fire until the building is brought up to city building codes, so she contracts to have the renovation done and guess who is the sub-contractor (this is quite believable, actually): our hero Fisher the fireman. Sparks fly and embers burn as McGee and Fisher, both rootless, figure out what to do with the attraction between them. Here enters the mystical, magical pecan cluster chocolate candy. This recipe is a plot device that proves to all who eat the candy, and to McGee, she is the mythical feminine figure who possesses the magic to cook this recipe like no one else. It is a romance novella and ends as a romance should.

Pushing the Line is very well done. It deserved its RWA RITA nomination. I kept expecting the disagreeable cousin to demand McGee sell the candy shop so he could receive a full portion of the inheritance. I fully expected him to be behind the candy shop fire. I still feel the old wiring explanation is not right, and the disagreeable cousin faded from the story much to easily. Perhaps in an effort to keep the story under 40,000 words that complication had to be edited out. I did not know how Kincaid was going to wrap up the story for her happily ever after ending, and she provided a good ending. Pushing the Line was well written, well formatted, and an enjoyable read.

Recipe Review: Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters

I made Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters as Kincaid presented the recipe at the end of Pushing the Line. I knew that as I read through the recipe the first time there were going to be problems. The end of the recipe she says to drop the chocolate and pecan mixture by a tablespoon onto waxed-paper sheets. I did not see how the evaporated milk-sugar mixture could hold any shape when hot, so I used little shaped squares and any excess would be treated as goo and shaped later with a spoon. Where the recipe goes wrong is it does not tell the reader/candy maker how hot to heat the evaporated milk-sugar mixture. I followed the recipe as written and did not use a candy thermometer.

There is nothing magical about basic cooking and this is a basic recipe. Cooking and baking is plain, old fashion chemistry. Cook the candy until it reaches the temperature point of “soft ball”, and you can get all fancy after that. Once you master, for example, cooking a hard-boiled egg you can then get fancy and magical with the deviled egg recipes, but you have to learn how to boil the egg first.

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Evaporated milk, sugar, and clear corn syrup mixture heating in a double boiler.

So, you have the sugar and corn syrup and evaporated milk heating in the double boiler (a very important thing that double boiler) and you now need to take your candy thermometer and heat the mixture until the thermometer reads 230 °F (110 °C). Stir constantly for two minutes, and do not let the heat rise above 240 °F (115.5 °C), otherwise the sugar will do things you don’t want it to do. Remove from heat and carefully add in small amounts the milk chocolate chips or pieces, stirring between additions until what you added melted. Then, add the pecans and stir until coated. I chopped the pecans into small pieces. Spoon into your candy forms or chance the waxed paper. Refrigerate immediately.

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Spooning the chocolate pecan mixture into the candy forms.

I did not allow the evaporated milk-sugar mixture to get hot enough and it was a soft goo that did not take any shape even after refrigerated overnight. It has to be eaten with a spoon. It tastes very good spread on toast.

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The soft chocolate pecan mixture after being refrigerated overnight was not solid enough to hold a form. It tastes good when spread on toast.

Grandma Izzy’s Pecan Clusters taste good, but you need to use a candy thermometer to get the evaporated milk-sugar mixture hot enough the sugar dissolves properly so that you get to the “soft ball” phase. Enjoy this good recipe and its good story.

Pushing the Line (No. 4 of The Line Series) is available as an e-book and as a printed book through your favorite online retailer or by ordering through your local book store. You can check with your local library or state library to see if it is available. If not, request it.


Here is a link to Kimberly Kincaid’s website. You can order it through her links. That helps her out, too.


For a quick summary of candy making, I would encourage you to look at Wikipedia’s entry. The entry reports “soft ball” starts at 234 °F (112 °C), but I think there is enough wiggle room when it comes to thermometer accuracy to think 230 °F (110 °C) is a good starting point, too.



Poetry Review: She of the Dreaming Sky (2005) by Diane C. Randall

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“She of the Dreaming Sky” (2005) took time to assimilate. Randall describes her poetry as “spiritual poetry” and that is true. The challenge when reading “spiritual poetry” is not to be intimidated or put off by the intimacy expressed by the poet. A spiritual expression, in my mind, is an effort to get at as direct as possible the point of entry where the artist makes first contact with the word, music, image, motion, or other creative endeavor without judgement as it enters his or her conscious awareness. Anyone who can do this well for an entire poetry collection is to be commended.

Western European art and poetry often desire to use the entire planet’s cultural treasure chest in its creative expression. Randall uses the entire North American cultural palette with a deft hand. Some individuals may find reflections of their own insecurities in her poetry, and criticize her for that perceived appropriation. My response to such complaints is two questions: Who are you to order the structure of image or sound or voice of the interaction of a soul and spirit at point of contact? What are you projecting onto what is in front of you?

The poems within “She of the Dreaming Sky” took time to unwrap. I selected it from the bookstore shelf because it was the first woman-authored poetry collection I pulled from the shelf. First read-through I was disappointed. The poems felt cliché and, as someone who has over the years hung out with Tai Chi practitioners and aging hippies, tired. Then, I would read a line or phrase whose clarity stunned me.

Reading the poems in “She of the Dreaming Sky” is like watching an autumn cloudy sky being cleared of gray clouds by a brisk north wind. The clouds are moving, going somewhere, and a patch of painfully blue sky appears above you. The brilliant blue sky is there existing behind the clouds all the time. You as reader must have patience to wait for the clouds to clear. One after another the poems became clear – or I became clear – with the passage of time.

The book comes with a compact disc sound recording of eight poems from “She of the Dreaming Sky” read with music in the background. This is a good multi-media presentation of the work. Artwork throughout the collection is by Randall. It all looks and sounds good.

“She of the Dreaming Sky” made me cognizant of what I project onto the world. I had to work for that realization, and to appreciate the quality of these poems. This collection contains many more good to excellent poems than okay to “meh” poems that you see in other collections identifying themselves as “spiritual poetry”. It is easy for “spiritual poetry” to be cloyingly grocery store cake frosting sweet, extremely earnest, and downright icky in my opinion. Randall avoids those pitfalls by crafting her poems to get to as close as she can to that point of contact between the subconscious and that part of her that devises words.

I have not located a website for either Diane C. Randall or her publisher Pearl’s Book ‘em Publisher. “She of the Dreaming Sky” is available on online and through your favorite local bookstore or library.

If you are interested in “spiritual jazz” I would recommend Raven Wolf C. Felton Jennings II. He creates spiritual jazz of the St. Louis tradition and is phenomenal. Pug Dog Records is his own label. As Raven Wolf says, “Change your music, change your life”.    http://www.pugdogrecords.com/node/9

Book Review: My Lady, My Lord (2014) by Katherine Ashe

A 4th century BC sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, procreation, and sexuality. It is one of the most famous works by the Attic sculptor Praxiteles.

A restored 4th century BC sculpture of Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, procreation, and sexuality. It is by the Attic sculptor Praxiteles.

I saw the self-published title My Lady, My Lord (2014) by Katherine Ashe (Martha Trachtenberg, editor) on the 2015 RITA paranormal romance finalist list and purchased it as an e-book without reading the synopsis. The cover image provided no hint about the story. I had no idea what the story was about, and I did not care. If the book made a RITA finalist list, it had a good chance at being really good.

The first chapter establishes the hero, Ian Chance, eighth Earl of Chance, is not a nice person, but he respects his mother. Chance likes liquor, lonely widows, and stewing in rakish environments. When I finished the first chapter I thought “What have I got myself into?” I checked with RT Book Reviews and they assigned a “hot” rating to the book, which the first chapter alone earns. In the scheme of things the first chapter is not that “hot”, but it is explicit. Chance is comfortable with his body. The rest of the book is pretty tame once you get past the “hot” and important first chapter.

I would describe My Lady, My Lord as a cross between the movies Freaky Friday and You’ve Got Mail. Our hapless heroes, life-long neighbors and antagonists Chance and bluestocking Lady Corinna Mowbray have the bad luck of arguing in front of a statue of Aphrodite who happens to be hanging around the museum incognito. The next morning Chance and Corinna wake up, and the fun begins. Both must learn important lessons, and humble themselves. Chance learns how difficult it is for Corinna, an intelligent and enterprising young women in 1822 to get anything, including starting her own business, accomplished. Corinna learns Chance’s life as a rake and eighth Earl of Chance is not as easy as she would have assumed. They both botch some encounters, and step away from debasing the other and doing irreparable damage to the other’s future when they realize they cannot commit to ruining the other no matter how much they despise the other.

I thought this book was very funny. The banter between characters was wonderful. The book flows well. The book is set in 1822, which Katherine Ashe call’s “Regency-era” but RT Book Reviews calls “Victorian” and “Historical”. I would identify the book as a “Regency” era story. Yes, the story is completely improbable, but who cares. The story is entertaining. The “paranormal” listing is only because of what happens to Chance and Corinna, but otherwise it is a solid Regency romance. I read straight through in one night, and laughed the whole time. This is a fun story with a stubborn couple. I have not encountered anything like it before.

Please, note the Aphrodite sculpture image I used is not what is described in My Lady, My Lord. I could not find an image as described by Katherine Ashe. The images I found of a reclining Aphrodite were unusable for various reasons.

Below is Katherine Ashe’s website for My Lady, My Lord.


A complete list of 2015 RITA finalists in all categories is here


Book Review: Many Lonely Lords, or Douglas: Lord of Heartache and Worth: Lord of Reckoning, both by Grace Burrowes

When the Romance Writers of America (RWA) 2015 RITA finalists, the premier U.S. awards for the romance genre, were announced in late March I thought I would read and then review finalists for several categories. I decided to start the reviews with the self-published finalists. I have nothing but respect, and am in awe, of writers who self-publish and do it so well their work is nominated for an annual industry award. The RITA award is a way to acknowledge excellence in the romance genre by recognizing quality published romance novels and novellas. The award is named to honor RWA’s first president Rita Clay Estrada. Since I discovered the RITA finalist lists several years ago, I reliably find a good read and unknown to me authors.

The first books I downloaded from this year’s finalist list were Grace Burrowes’ finalists. Grace Burrowes has three, count them three, published works nominated for the 2015 awards. The two Historical Romances: Long, Douglas: Lord of Heartache (traditionally published, Sourcebooks, Casablanca, Deb Werksman, editor) and Worth: Lord of Reckoning (self-published) are part of the Lonely Lords Series, which is up to twelve published books. The third nomination is a contemporary novella, Kiss and Tell, which I have not read, yet.

There lies the problem…the Lonely Lord Series. So far most of the romance novels I have read since March have been about Lonely Lords. While each book is able to “stand alone” it helps to know the others for background because all of the characters interact throughout the, so-far, twelve book series. Full novels are happening while other separate novels are happening. For example, in Trenton (Book 10 of the series) events are simultaneously, but independently, happening in Darius (Book 1 and also a 2014 RITA Historical Romance: Long finalist). I now fully appreciate the duress Darius was under while he was emotionally doing the best he could in his story while dealing with all the family drama and tragedy we discover in his brother Trenton’s story. While certain events that happen in one book may be described differently in another, the difference serves the needs of that particular novel, and that is a good thing.

If you expect a linear time sequence moving from one book to the next, you will not find one. Burrowes is proving herself to be a master at plot and organization. Over the 12 book sequencing, it is best to think of how the stories are position in time as seen in Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant (2015) or Doerr’s award-winning All the Light We Cannot See (2014), but I am not sure that was Burrowes intention with the Lonely Lord Series even though that is the best description I can make among the series’ novels.

I read Douglas: Lord of Heartache first because it is Book 8 of the Series, and it was the first book in the award category listing. In synopsis, an unwed woman born a lady but with an out-of-wedlock child is the steward of one of her rich, titled cousin’s estates, and is asked to advise a Viscount Amery if a particular estate he might purchase would be profitable farm investment. To say more would be to give away the story’s intrigue. The twists and turns of this book were not expected; this is not your usual historical romance novel. Burrowes chases the female protagonist, Gwen, up a tree and throws all sorts of rocks and smelly, rotten vegetables at her. Douglas, the male lead, is also put through trials and tribulations before earning Gwen’s hand in marriage. The Windham family play a prominent role to the story, if you are familiar with in Burrowes’ Windham Series. The overall story starts out as a “seduction” narrativebut Burrowes turns that plotline/device on its head. Douglas: Lord of Heartache is a “happily ever after” story where that ending description is undisputable.

Worth: Lord of Reckoning is Book 11 of the Series. This is the better book of Burrowes’ two 2015 RITA historical long fiction finalists.  In synopsis, Worth Kettering, solicitor/man-of-business for normally ignored/underserved individuals in late Regency-era London and “rake at large” visits his country estate for the first time in five years, where he meets his housekeeper, Jacaranda, and their lives become entangled, everyone has their secrets, and everyone must decide what is more important, money, family or love. Burrowes puts all her characters, primary and secondary, through hoops of fire and Jacaranda and Worth are no different. It is a true “happily-ever-after” story. Worth’s financial wellbeing is not settled until the very end, and I did not know if his finances would be successfully resolved. I think what I like about Burrowes writing, and why I am willing to read all twelve books is that she leaves you questioning if some aspect of the character’s life is going to work out for the best for the male and female heroes. Worth is better written than Douglas. Worth has better dialogue, a smoother flow, and a better first third. The Douglas story is more unconventional and daring, but not as daring as Darius (Book 1) which I think is a better book. Worth is my favorite of all twelve books.

The RITA awards will be announced July 25, 2015. Worth is an e-book, though a print copy is available through Amazon. Douglas looks to be available as a print copy or e-book pretty much everywhere. I am including links to Burrowes’ website and the RITA awards information.

Douglas: Lord of Heartache


Worth: Lord of Reckoning


For more information on 2015 RITA finalists, past winners, and the Romance Writers of America