Grammar Lovers Rock On — Weird Al Yankovic’s hilarious spoof “Word Crimes” mocks “Blurred Lines”

Finally a song for all the grammar Nazis lovers, writers, and Strunk & White followers. Weird Al’s back with a hilarious spoof aiming to save the world from all those dat doan want 2 lern no grammer.

Weird Al Yankovik’s rewrite transforms Robin Thicke’s raunchy “Blurred Lines” into the clever “Word Crimes.” Now this is a song I can applaud—with absolutely no twerking involved.
(Who makes up these words?)




Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Have you ever heard of supernovas? They shine brighter than anything else in the sky and then fade out really quickly, a short burst of extraordinary energy. I like to think you and Ben were like that . . . in that short time, you had more passion than some people have in a lifetime.”

The Book:

Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year’s Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn’t expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they’ve eloped.

Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met—and who doesn’t even know Elsie exists.

Interweaving Elsie and Ben’s charmed romance with Elsie and Susan’s healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there’s more than one way to find a happy ending.

(From cover)

The Author:

Taylor Jenkins Reid

(from Goodreads)

Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist from Acton, Massachusetts. Her first novel, Forever, Interrupted, was named one of the “11 Debuts We Love” by Kirkus Reviews. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.

Find Taylor at: Her Website * Twitter * Facebook * Goodreads



The First Lines:

“Have you decided if you’re going to change your name?” Ben asks me. He is sitting on the opposite end of the couch, rubbing my feet. He looks so cute. How did I end up with someone so goddam cute?

The Good Stuff:

I picked this up from my library shelving cart about a week ago. Something had niggled at me, maybe I’d heard I should read this from someone…? The back cover blurb seemed a little depressing, but I figured I’d give it a whirl when the mood struck me. I’d just read a stack of novels about the more serious side of marriage—infidelity, secrets, etc.—and a few more in the same tone are lined up in my queue. This had a cute cover in my favorite color. It seemed lighter…

I cracked it open Thursday night as the family spread out on the couch for reading time. Next thing I knew, I was on page 79 and it was a half-hour past my kiddo’s bedtime.  I was that sucked in. You know it’s good stuff.

Something about this story just hooked me at the start. Maybe it’s that Elsie is a book-loving, NPR-listening, only child librarian. Maybe it’s because she met her husband at New Year’s (like me), instantly felt that indescribable connection with her future hubby (like me), and he’d proposed by May (like me). Maybe it’s just because the cover was the exact same shade of aqua as the p.j. shorts I was wearing.

Elsie is instantly likable—once again, maybe because she seemed so familiar. Ben, the  love-of-her-life was charming and adorable and passionate about YA novels written for 13-year-old girls. Come on. They are both cute and slightly geeky and totally relatable. I believed that they could meet and know that the other was “The One” that fast. I felt as if  my dear hubby and I could be them 15-years, a kid,  and a mortgage payment later. But we know from the start Elsie and Ben don’t get that. He’s killed in the first chapter when he gallantly rides his bike to the drug store to fetch some Fruity Pebbles for her. We know they don’t get their happy ending together.

But the story is wonderful just the same.

It alternates between the six months Ben and Elsie had together and the six months after his death. It sounds miserable, but it’s not, I promise. Ben never told his mom he’d eloped. He’d never mentioned he was even dating Elsie, so needless to say, Mom’s not thrilled when she not only loses her only child but discovers he’d gotten married on the sly. Elsie has a rather detached relationship with her cool physician parents, so she’s terrified by this new woman who’s just brimming with emotion. Over the six months, they get to know not only each other, but their beloved Ben and themselves.

The Recommendation:

FOREVER, INTERRUPTED is a delightful debut novel that reminds me a little of Rainbow Rowell (one of my writer crushes). It has a similar easygoing familiarity, but the voice is more mature (as Elsie is a few years older than Rowell’s main characters in Eleanor & Park and Fangirl). It’s surprisingly brighter than you’d imagine for a book about a young widow, but don’t expect to make it all the way through without at least a few tears. My hubby politely ignored mine at the end—or perhaps he was just too sucked into the World Cup third place match to notice.

See, now I’m late getting started on dinner prep because I just had to get this out while the experience and the salty tear streaks are still fresh. Great book. Now you’ll have to excuse me—I’m off to add Taylor Jenkins Reid’s sophomore novel After I Do to my library queue.

The Details:

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Print Length: 353 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Release date: July 9, 2013


Murder, Mean Girls, and an Innocent Woman Behind Bars: THAT NIGHT by Chevy Stevens

The Book:

As a teenager, Toni Murphy had a life full of typical adolescent
complications: a boyfriend she adored, a younger sister she couldn’t relate to, a strained relationship with her parents, and classmates who seemed hell-bent on making her life miserable. Things weren’t easy, but Toni could never have predicted how horrific they would become until her younger sister was brutally murdered one summer night.

Toni and her boyfriend, Ryan, were convicted of the murder and sent to prison.

Now thirty-four, Toni is out on parole and back in her hometown, struggling to adjust to a new life on the outside. Prison changed her, hardened her, and she’s doing everything in her power to avoid violating her parole and going back. This means having absolutely no contact with Ryan, avoiding fellow parolees looking to pick fights, and steering clear of trouble in all its forms. But nothing is making that easy—not Ryan, who is convinced he can figure out the truth; not her mother, who doubts Toni’s innocence; and certainly not the group of women who made Toni’s life hell in high school and may have darker secrets than anyone realizes. No matter how hard she tries, ignoring her old life to start a new one is impossible. Before Toni can truly move on, she must risk everything to find out what really happened that night.

But the truth might be the most terrifying thing of all.

(from Goodreads)

The Author:

chevy stevensChevy Stevens is the New York Times Bestselling author of STILL MISSING, NEVER KNOWING, and ALWAYS WATCHING. Chevy grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still lives on the island with her husband and daughter. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her family in the local mountains. Her debut novel, STILL MISSING, won the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. (via Goodreads)

Find Chevy at: Her Website * Twitter * Facebook * Goodreads


The First Lines:

I followed the escorting officer over to Admissions and Discharge, carrying my belongings in a cardboard box—a couple pairs of jeans, some worn-out T-shirts, the few things I’d gathered over the years, some treasured books, my CD player.

The Good Stuff:

THAT NIGHT felt like Orange is the New Black (without the constant girl-on-girl action) meets Mean Girls (less the biting humor and nice clothes) with a touch of Twilight (plain girl obsessed with bad boy no one understands in small Pacific coast town) thrown in for good measure.

The story focuses around that night—the night Toni’s younger sister Nicole is murdered, the night Toni’s life speeds from a lazy downward spiral to being sucked down into a whirlpool (cue Urslua’s evil cackle) she’s powerless to escape.

The story is told from Toni’s perspective, flashing between the year before the murder, her years in prison, and her eventual release after serving her sentence. Though Toni’s age ranges between seventeen and thirty-four, the whole story seemed very YA to me in tone, with no distinction between the teen and the ex-con’s voices. *However, I mentioned this to a friend who happens to be a prison psychologist, and he said this would be correct—prisoners often freeze developmentally at their age of incarceration.* Young Toni skips school, smokes pot, and sneaks out regularly to have sex with her boyfriend, Ryan. They’re really in love. She’s also bullied by her ex-friend Shauna and her clique, who fall upon Toni like a pack of rabid dogs. Toni acts like prey. Fights ensue (actual fistfights—these girls are scrappers). But Toni’s lied so much about her other destructive behaviors that no one (including her frustrating mother) believes the bullies are anything but sweet girls. Toni’s lofty goal in life is to survive until graduation so she can move in with Ryan and get a job as a waitress.

But then her sister is murdered out by the lake where all the kids are partying, and Toni and Ryan find the body. They’re arrested. Shauna and her crew lie, saying the sisters fought that night, and for some reason Toni’s mother believes her. As does the judge, who convicts them despite an unbelievable lack of evidence, and the star-crossed lovers are shipped off to the pen. In prison, Toni is bullied even more, though she does learn to fight back. More violence. No sex. The bullying-violence cycle repeats itself in the halfway house she’s sent to. Once she makes it to the outside, Toni chooses to move back to the same small town where everyone believes she murdered her own sister, her father has given up on her, and her horrible mother totally hates her guts. Oh, and Shauna and her girls still live there, too, and they insist on getting back in Toni’s way.

We know from the beginning of the novel that Toni didn’t commit the crime. We have strong suspicions who did. I kept waiting for some crazy plot twist a-la-Gone-Girl, an untrustworthy narrator or something, but no great surprises were revealed.

The Recommendation:

Chicks in prison stories seem to be hot now, so if your into OITNB, you might give this a whirl. If you totally dig the teen angst, the love of a bad boy, the family who just doesn’t understand, and the whole YA style, you’ll probably love this. If you’re not a huge thriller reader, the wondering if Toni will find out who really did it will be enough to pull you through the novel quickly. I still consider thrillers to have more tense action, twisty plots, and devious villains who constantly raise the stakes (check out this list of top 100 Thrillers via NPR—I highly recommend most of these choices). This was a quick read, more light suspense than thriller for me though.

Chevy Steven’s first novel, Still Missing, has great reviews. I might give that one a try.

The Details:she reads new

That Night by Chevy Stevens
Print Length: 381 pages
Release date: June  17, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

THAT NIGHT is the She Reads Book Club July pick. Head over to to read more about Chevy Stevens, discover fabulous new reads, and enter for a chance to WIN one of five copies of THAT NIGHT.


Summer at the Springs—Kelly Park, Orlando

Drifting down the river from the spring head. -Rock Springs, Florida

Drifting down the river from the spring head. -Rock Springs, Florida

Florida is not all about its beautiful beaches. Our enticing waters come in many forms, and hot days locals flock to our crystal-clear springs—even though we may have a perfectly good swimming pool in our own backyard.

Locals know the best way to celebrate the first day of summer is at one of the  more than 900 natural springs scattered across the state. The clear waters remain at a chilly (for us) 72 degrees year round—refreshing enough to make you gasp when the air hovers in the 90s, but cool enough to keep the gators away—most of the time.

gators florida, alligator kelly park, alligator springs

The sign is posted at every Florida body of water, but last year was the first time we actually saw a gator at the springs. This little guy was about 3 feet long, and hung out along the banks all summer. No, he never bothered anyone. Yes, my heart did leap the first time my son snorkeled past him.

Our favorite local spring is Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park and State Reserve. The park is so popular with Central Florida residents in the know that there is always a line of cars trying to get in, and it’s often filled to capacity by 9 a.m. (And holidays. . .forget about it.) Deer sometimes drop by to entertain the throngs of families patiently waiting. Before mid-morning, picnickers fire up every one of the dozens of grills and fill the pavilions, saturating the humid air with the aroma of grilled meat.

But when you arrive early, you can sometimes spot some of the river’s locals.

otter in spring, ottter eating, otter florida, rock springs, kelly park

Not sure if this otter is munching on a fish or a turtle, but I did my best not to disturb his breakfast.

Rock Spring bubbles up from a cleft in the rocks beside a cave that looks like something the Spanish explorers would have believed was the Fountain of Youth. Swimmers jump in at the spring head or awkwardly plop into a tube while it bobs in the swift current. From there the water slows, and its a lazy 25 minute drift down the river, winding under mossy oaks and feather-leaved cypress trees.

SPRINGS HEAD, Kelly park, florida springs

Some try to walk along the rocky bottom, stopping to sift through pebbles for fossilized sharks teeth. Others snorkel down the river, spotting fish and an occasional turtle.  I go for the tube. That water is COLD.

walking the springs

While the river run and the swimming holes are the draw for most, my kid spends the majority of his day along the sandy shore. There’s always a swarm of kids there, and it’s easy to pick up some friends for water blaster fights or sand castle building.

Which means the hubby and I get to spend the day lounging in the shade with a book. HEAVEN.

springs, reading, reading outdoors, reading lake

And I have to admit, one guilty pleasure there is people-watching. Locals didn’t affectionately dub the place the “Redneck Rivera” for nothing. Folks from 8-months to eighty don their bikinis and sunbathe beside the ole swimmin’ hole. Tattoos are the norm, and I don’t mean the funky hipster variety. (Imagine Stewie from The Family Guy tattooed on a middle-aged could be an ex-biker chick’s inner thigh.)  It’s a great place to jot down character studies—I consider it research. But people are friendly, and the real wildlife is usually of the furry, finned, and feathered variety.

florida fish, fish in springs

For five bucks a carload, Kelly Park is an oasis just outside the suburban sprawl, the perfect way to escape from the traffic and tourists. Whether you’re a local wanting to get back to nature or a visitor looking for “Real Florida” this place is the way to go.

If you go:

  • Bring cash for the snack bar—typical concession fare like hot dogs, snow cones, and cold sodas.
  • If you want to claim a grill, get there super early. Pavilions are reserved in advance.
  • Water shoes are strongly suggested. Masks and goggles if you have some.
  • Bring an inner tube or raft (anything less than five feet is okay) or rent a tough tire tube at one of the shops by the park entrance.
  • The park also has Hiking/Nature Trails and a campground that’s supposed to be gorgeous.

The springs at Kelly Park, Orange county parks, florida springsHours of Operation Summer 8:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m.; Winter 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Park Fees
Per vehicle: $3 (1-2 people);
$5 (3-8 people);

Rock Springs Run State Reserve

c/o Wekiwa Springs State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle
Apopka, Florida 32712
Phone: (407) 884 2008


Happy Summer, y’all!



Mama's Losin' It   Hooking up with Mama Kat to celebrate the first day of summer ;)


Review: THE STORIES WE TELL by Patti Callahan Henry

The stories we tell by patti callahan henryWishing Patti Callahan Henry a very Happy Pub Day!

The Book:

Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family.

But things may not be as good as they seem.

Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets “back on her feet.” Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point. Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it.

The Author:

patti callahan henry authorNew York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry has published ten novels–including one of my favorite reads of last year, AND THEN I FOUND YOU. Hailed as a fresh new voice in Southern fiction, Henry has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and nominated four different times for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Novel of the Year.

She grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of an Irish minister, and moved south with her family when she was 12 years old. With the idea that being a novelist was “unrealistic,” she became a pediatric nurse. Not long after having her third child, she began writing down the stories that had always been in her head. Patti wrote early in the mornings, before her children woke for the day, but it wasn’t until her daughter mentioned  that she wanted “to be a writer of books” when she grew up that Patti realized that writing was her own dream as well. She began taking writing classes at Emory University, attending weekend writers’ conferences, and educating herself about the publishing industry, rising at 4:30 AM to write. Her first book, Losing the Moon, was published in 2004.

A full-time writer, wife, and mother of three—Patti Callahan Henry lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama.

Find Patti at:  Her Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  * Goodreads


The First Line:

My eyes changed color and I didn’t even notice.

The Good Stuff:

By now we’ve all realized that in real life, there is no such thing as the “perfect” family. Chances are, even the most glamorous and stable of folks have something going on behind the facade. In THE STORIES WE TELL, Eve and Cooper live with this disparity: on the surface, everything looks fabulous. In reality, his online magazine is struggling, he’s jealous of the time Eve spends on her successful letterpress business, Fine Line, Ink., their teenage daughter teeters on the brink of full-fledged rebellion, and Eve’s free-spirited sister, Willa, is really a recovering alcoholic living in the guest house until she can piece her life back together.

The story starts strong: on a dark and stormy night, Eve is summoned to the hospital after her husband and sister are injured a car accident. Cooper escapes with only a glaring gash across his face, but Willa has suffered a traumatic brain injury. She can’t remember what happened that night, and Cooper is blaming her and her drunken antics—a story that doesn’t mesh with what either sisters believes.

But why wouldn’t Cooper be telling the truth?

The story also dips into the sketchy subject of financial infidelity. It’s a topic friends and spouses just don’t discuss, yet in these unstable times, it’s something that occurs more than we’d care to imagine. Does sneaking around the bank account destroy trust as wholly as cheating in the bedroom?

Eve and Cooper’s teenage daughter, Gwen, tugged at my gut. Each episode of acting out left me wondering how I’d handle a similar situation—and nervous considering I’ll be parenting a teen in just a few short years. I wanted to yell at Gwen and hug her all at the same time.

The details about Eve’s passion for printing and need to create added a colorful layer to the story. Though the ease of computers, many of us may dabble in graphics and design, but few of us have worked with a finicky old letterpress, hunted through junk shops for antique font sets, or spend hours pondering the differences in the feel of fine papers. I love the premise of the Ten Good Ideas card line—ten commandments for really living, like “be kind” and “search for the true” instead of ten rules threatening you should not do. These rules for living not only exemplified Eve and Willa’s values, but grew from their desire to be good to each other and in life—and made for a highly successful card line.

Patti weastories we tell, jack johnsonves music throughout the story, and I have to admit—she (or should I say “Eve”) has great taste. Songs provide an escape for Eve, act as a precursor of moods, and evoke just the right feelings in the reader—if they’re familiar with the lyrics. But who doesn’t cinch up a bit inside or feel transported to a hazy memory when they hear “Landslide” — be it the Dixie Chicks or Fleetwood Mac version?

It just so happened that my ARC of THE STORIES WE TELL tagged along with me to the Jack Johnson concert in Saint Augustine last month. (I don’t go anywhere without a book.) Imagine my surprise when a day or so later I read about Eve listening one of my favorite J.J. songs, “Flake.”   I dropped the book. The book had just seen that song live! Talk about good karma.


Buy it. Lovely writing, relatable characters, and a plot that will keep you reading until you discover the truth. Toss it in you beach bag (or summer concert bag!). Though the novel delves into some serious issues, it’s actually a relatively light read. At 272 pages, it’s perfect for a weekend away—one of the reasons it’s topping summer reading lists. It would be an excellent summer selection for book clubs as well—plenty of meaty, relevant topics to discuss, but short enough to fit in during the often hectic time of year.


The Details:
The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Print Length:
272 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


A Fresh Turn on the Path Not Taken: YOUR PERFECT LIFE by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Your perfect life reviewA very happy Pub Day to Liz & Lisa!

The Book:

Best friends since childhood, Casey and Rachel couldn’t lead more different lives. While workaholic Casey rubs elbows with celebrities daily as the host of Gossip TV and comes home nightly to an empty apartment, stay-at-home mom Rachel juggles an “oops” baby, two fiery teenagers, and a husband who barely seems the man she fell in love with two decades before. After an argument at their twentieth high school reunion, Casey and Rachel throw back shots to get the night back on track. Instead, they get a life-changing hangover.

Waking up in each other’s bodies the next morning, they must figure out how to navigate their altered realities. Rachel is forced to confront the reason she gave up her broadcasting dreams when she got pregnant in college, and Casey finally steps out of the spotlight to face the truth about why she’s alone. And they soon discover that they don’t know themselves—or their best friend—nearly as well as they thought they did.

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke bring humor and heart to every page of this novel that is sure to please fans of In Her Shoes and The Opposite of Me. Your Perfect Life is a story about two very different women, what they didn’t know about each other, and how, by switching lives, they each learn to appreciate their own.

The Authors:

If you love ::ehem:: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, you’re probably familiar with long-time book bloggers Liz Fenton & Liza Steinke’s  Chick Lit is NOT Dead. Their fun and fabulous site features book reviews, author interviews, and tons of book giveaways. With the release of YOUR PERFECT LIFE,  Liz  & Lisa have transformed it into their own author site. The duo has been best friends for 25 years and survived high school and college together. Liz lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two children. Lisa, a former talk show producer, now lives in Chicago, IL with her husband, daughter and two bonus children.

Find Liz & Lisa at:  Their Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  * Goodreads


The First Line:

My mouth tastes like ass.

The Good Stuff:

Admit it: you’ve had that dream where you switch lives—just for a blessed moment—with someone who doesn’t appreciate your brand of daily chaos. Maybe it’s the friend who doesn’t get how you can spend an entire day constructing the perfect paragraph, the Mother-In-Law who thinks you eat bonbons all day while you stay at home with a houseful of kids, or the old college friend who’s accomplished her career aspirations and so much more, has a nanny and a wine cellar, a perfect husband, and zero body fat. We always think there’s someone out there who has it all together, whose life is so easy compared to our hot mess of domestic and/or professional existence.

Liz and Lisa tapped into our imaginations, constructing the perfect “what if” story. We’ve all read/watched versions of this story before, but what could have ended up as a hokey cliche becomes fresh and funny in their hands. The characters are extremely likable, slightly sassy, and feel—well, kind of like us. I wanted to invite them over to share a pitcher of sangria by the pool and  dish about our days. (Daiquiris would work, but I couldn’t handle the Belvedere and sodas they swig in the book.) Maybe it’s because Casey and Rachel are right about my age. Maybe it’s because I’m a long-time SAHM who just went back to a “real” job and I relate to both sides of that great debate. Maybe it was just a smart, sweet, and insightful take on how women reflect upon that path not taken—and how with one sharp turn we can find our true direction.

And did I mention it was funny? Just look at that first line. If you’re reading this in public, watch out. Snort-worthy.

The Recommendation:

If you enjoy contemporary women’s fiction, a good laugh, or need a fun beach read, buy it. Perfect for a flight, long drive, or vacation read. You’ll breeze right through it, and wish it didn’t end.

The Details:

Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Release date:
June 10, 2014
Print Length: 304 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press

 Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced review copy. All opinions are my own.

The Southern Cowboy Cookbook Dishes Up Banana Dream Pudding (recipe) and Down-home Charm

In the mood for a fresh take on Southern comfort food? Have I got the cookbook for you.

Born of family, faith, and a passion for making the best blend of Southern barbeque around, one of Orlando’s foodie delights is 4 Rivers Smokehouse. Home of the neon “Hot Brisket Now” sign and lines ringing the building on a nightly basis, the first location in Winter Park, Florida, had humble origins. Back in 2009, businessman and weekend chef John Rivers decided to open a sort-of commissary for his “Barbeque Ministry” in the oft chance locals might want to purchase leftovers from his charitable events, or maybe even order take-out. . .

Five years later, John Rivers runs seven ridiculously successful  locations in Central/North Florida (with a Tampa locale in the works). Though his restaurants are one of the only places my family and I eat out on a regular basis, most of y’all can’t just drop by for a heaping portion of 4 Rivers tender smoked briquet, tangy pulled pork, or to-die-for baked beans (which my dad swears are second only to the beans his mom used to make). Lucky, John Rivers has kindly shared his delectable comfort food recipes in THE SOUTHERN COWBOY COOKBOOK.

The recipes are a bold blend of Deep-South specialties, traditional Texas BBQ, and Low Country cuisine. All of my favorite sides from the restaurant are in there: Smokehouse Corn, Baked Cheese Grits, Bacon-wrapped Smoked Jalapenos, and more.

The meat sections are the highlight of the book, as that’s what draws customers to the casual 4 Rivers Smokehouses, even though they know they’ll have to wait patiently outside in the Florida heat (sometimes an hour), salivating as whiffs from the smoker drift across the sizzling parking lot. (Don’t worry, when the lines are long, the clean-cut and uber polite staff hands out samples to waiting customers.) Rivers includes recipes for all of his signature smoked meats, including the rubs, marinades, and finishing sauces. While these particular recipes might not be that useful unless you have a smoker, chances are you know someone who does. . . And you can share the book with them. . .

Most of the other recipes are much more approachable for the average home cook. The sandwich section reads like the restaurant menu board, highlighting creations that sound odd, but are oh-so-scrumptious, such as the Messy Pig (coleslaw, pulled pork, dill pickles, pickled jalapenos, & BBQ sauce slapped on a sandwich bun). Yes, you need many napkins.

Tossed in with the iconic recipes are some contemporary favorites, like Coffee-rubed Ribeye, Gruyere Herb Biscuits, and Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. There are just far too many good ones to mention, and most are accompanied by drool-worthy photographs.

John rivers


I had the pleasure of attending a cooking demonstration and cookbook discussion with John Rivers at the UCF Book Festival back in April. He chatted with the audience about his unlikely rises as a successful restauranteur,  why he’ll never franchise (because he doesn’t want the quality and service to waver), his nationwide search for the perfect barbeque, and the role faith, community, and family play in his business and his life.


Then he made Banana Dream Pudding Cups and passed out samples to the audience.

Banana Dream Pudding Cups (from the Southern Cowboy Cookbook). Perfect for a potluck! Adding roasted bananas makes all the difference!

Banana pudding is a favorite in my house. The simple Southern specialty is a staple at our Easter potluck, and the bowl is practically licked clean by guests. But John Rivers added a twist I’d never thought of: roasting bananas to bring out the sweetness, pureeing them, then adding them to the standard vanilla pudding. Oh, and adding chocolate. And caramel. And Heath bar bits.


4 rivers banana pudding

Of course I had to try the recipe at home.

And you can, too.

When you make the puree (I just used my good old mini food processor), blend until you have your preferred consistency. I tried leaving it a little bit chunky, and it added a nice texture to the pudding. Also, don’t use room temp Hershey’s syrup for the chocolate sauce–far too runny and not rich enough. A nice drizzle of hot fudge sauce (homemade or jarred) works much better. And use real whipped cream—it’s worth the few minutes of work.

Banana Dream Pudding Cups (from the Southern Cowboy Cookbook). Adding roasted bananas makes all the difference!

Banana Dream Pudding Cups

From  The Southern Cowboy Cookbook by John Rivers

Serves 6

Banana Dream Puree

5 large bananas
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups vanilla pudding (I used instant, but I’m sure homemade would be better)

Banana Dream Pudding Cups

1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
18 (1/4-inch-thick) banana slices
12 tablespoons toffee-chocolate bits (like Heath)
3 cups Banana Dream Puree, divided
1 3/4 cups freshly whipped cream, divided
6 tablespoons chocolate sauce, divided
6 tablespoons caramel sauce, divided
18 vanilla wafers

 Make Puree

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lay bananas, unpeeled on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until bananas turn dark brown and go soft. Allow bananas to cool before peeling.

Peel bananas and place in the work bowl of a food processor along with the sugar. Pulse until desired smoothness.

Add pudding to bowl and mix by hand until combined. Refrigerate until cold.

 Make Pudding Cups

Combine graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar, and melted butter in a bowl, and mix until well blended.

In each of 6 glass dishes (I used stemless wine glasses), place 2 tablespoons graham cracker mixture, then top with 3 banana slices and a tablespoon of toffee-chocolate bits.

Spoon in 1/2 cup puree, then top with 1/4 cup whipped cream.

Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon toffee-chocolate bits, and drizzle with 1 tablespoon chocolate sauce and 1 tablespoon caramel sauce. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Place 3 vanilla wafers around each rim just before serving.


The Recommendation:

Buy it. The cookbook is worth the price just for the Thanksgiving menu, which I plan on making for my holiday celebration this year. (Potential guests, expect Prosciutto Brussels Sprouts, Southern Green Beans, and Smoked Turkey.)

Now that I’ve spent the hour salivating over the cookbook and dreaming of BBQ and banana pudding, I’m going to head off to the gym—possibly with a detour afterwards to pick up some 4 Rivers takeout.

The Details:

The Southern Cowboy Cookbook by John Rivers
Print Length: 223 pages
Publisher: Story Farm

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A portrait of a broken marriage set against a kidnapping in Peru… CHASING THE SUN by Natalia Sylvester

The Book:chasing the sun

Andres suspects his wife has left him—again. Then he learns that the unthinkable has happened: she’s been kidnapped. Too much time and too many secrets have come between Andres and Marabela, but now that she’s gone, he’ll do anything to get her back. Or will he?

As Marabela slips farther away, Andres must decide whether they still have something worth fighting for, and exactly what he’ll give up to bring her home. And unfortunately, the decision isn’t entirely up to him, or up to the private mediator who moves into the family home to negotiate with the terrorists holding Marabela. Andres struggles to maintain the illusion of control while simultaneously scrambling to collect his wife’s ransom, tending to the needs of his two young children, and reconnecting with an old friend who may hold the key to his past and his wife’s future.

Set in Lima, Peru, in a time of civil and political unrest, this evocative page-turner is a perfect marriage of domestic drama and suspense.

The Author:

If you are at all a part of the supportive writer/reader online community, you probably know of debut novelist Natalia Sylvester. Born in Peru, she came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in South Florida where she received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Austin. CHASING THE SUN is partially inspired by her own family events. She blogs regularly on her own website and posts each Tuesday on The Debutante Ball.

Find Natalia at:  Her Website  *  Twitter  *  Facebook  * Goodreads


The First Lines:

He is always thinking of the last words he said to her—thank you, see you at dinner, rarely as simple I love you—as if they were status reports to a colleague, a quick memo to see where they stood. Andres always speaks last; Marabela has never cared for last works because her power lies in silences.

The Good Stuff:

CHASING THE SUN is a tense domestic drama that happens to be about a kidnapping. You’d think the plot would hinge on the kidnapping part, but this story is much more about dissecting the crumbling marriage of Andres and Marabela.

Life is tense in Lima, Peru in the early 1990′s. Civil unrest fills the streets, kidnapping for ransom is a lucrative business, and the wealthy live in their own walled worlds to stay safe. Through nearly two decades of hard work and dedication, Andres has built a successful printing company. His wife hides in her dark room when not busy with one of her fund-raisers or social obligations, still clinging to bitterness about the photography career that was yanked away from her. Marabela already walked away from the marriage once, and neither seems sure why they remain together.  For their children? Their families?

Those of us in happy marriages can’t imagine sacrificing everything—from our money to our very souls—without hesitation to ensure the safe return of a spouse. But once the ransom negotiations begin, Andres struggles with how much more he must surrender to for his wife. The kidnapper’s demand is far more than he’s worth. If he gives them everything—every penny he’s earned, his business, his assets—will it be enough to secure her safety?

Complications arise when Andres learns that his first love, the woman he and his family imagined he’d marry, is at a psychiatric facility recovering from the aftermath of her own kidnapping. Would Marabela also come back broken in spirit and body? Would she come back to him at all? Deep down, does he even want her to?

The Recommendation:

Read it.

I can’t express hochasing the sun revieww delighted I was to win a signed copy from Natalia—even though I already had a Netgalley copy downloaded. There’s something about reading a print copy (especially one with that extra sprinkle of the author’s love) that makes the experience that much more immersive. But even if I had no idea who wrote this, I would have picked up a copy just because of the beautiful cover. That, and the premise for the story is just so unique.

Despite it’s eye-catching cover, CHASING THE SUN isn’t a light and frothy beach read. I still raced through it in about two days. (Okay, much of it was a “pool read” on a gorgeous Florida day.)

It’s challenging to “label” this book, as it could easily be considered literary fiction, Latino fiction or even women’s fiction—although the story is told mostly through a male POV. Natalia balances suspense and tight drama, making us weigh how long we must pay for the choices we make and the the half-truths we tell.


The Details:

Chasing the Sun by Natalia Sylvester
Release date: June 1, 2014  (Kindle), June 3 (hardcover)
Print Length: 306 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0544262174
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing/New Harvest

Secrets, tragedy, betrayal and a lakeside cottage… The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

the shadow yearThe Book:

On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her friends, it offers an escape; a chance to drop out for a while, with lazy summer days by the lake and intimate winter evenings around the fire. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again.

Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? Why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?

The Shadow Year is a story of secrets, tragedy, lies and betrayal. It’s a tale that explores the light and dark of human relationships and the potential the past has to not only touch our present, but also to alter our future

The Author:

Hannah Richell was born in Kent, England and spent her childhood years in Buckinghamshire and Canada. After graduating from the University of Nottingham in 1998 she worked in book publishing and film. Hannah began to write in early 2008 while she was on maternity leave, and the result was her first novel, Secrets of the Tides, which was shortlisted for the Australian Independent Bookseller Best Debut Fiction Award, ABIA General Fiction Book of the Year (2013) and ABIA Newcomer of the Year (2013). Her second novel The Shadow Year, published in 2013 .She now lives in Sydney with her husband, their two young children and a black-and-white cat called Lennie and returns to the UK as often as possible to spend time with family and savour the green grass of home.

The Good Stuff:

Told from the alternating perspectives of modern-day Lila and Kat thirty years ago, the story unfolds at a good clip. It took me a few chapters to really become vested in the story (I’ll totally blame that on real life, not the book though) but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. From the prologue, we know something bad is going to happen to someone, but who? Would Lila get back with her husband—and did I even want her to?  Would the peaceful 1980′s dropouts find the commune-like tranquility they longed for or would their de facto leader, Simon, turn it into some cultish situation?

The cottage, which sits beside a peaceful lake in the hills of the Peak District (England), seems the perfect escape when the 1980 group arrives during tha sultry summer, but the harshness of a damp winter soon set in, giving the setting depth and reflecting the characters emotions.

The Recommendation:

This isn’t one of those quaint novels about a woman redecorating a cozy lakeside cottage while she fixes up her life. (Although I do enjoy those stories, too!) This is fraught with unease–it opens with a possible drowning then flashes to a woman still grieving the death of her preterm infant. The flawed characters, moral ambiguity, and intriguing blend of drama and mystery will keep you guessing how all the stories fit together until the end.


she reads new

The Shadow Year is the May She Reads Book Club selection. And guess what? They’re giving away copies to FIVE lucky readers (ends May 30th). Drop by to find out more about Hannah Richell and The Shadow Year, check out other fabulous reviews, and enter to WIN.

Read an excerpt of THE SHADOW YEAR here.

The Details:

Connect with Hannah:

Website | Twitter | Facebook


I received this book free from Central Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Links above may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”