The Pioneer Woman Cooks — Come and Get It! by Ree Drummond

Genre: Cookbook
Publisher: William Morrow Cookbooks
Publication Date: October 2017

I love The Pioneer Woman! She has become one of my main sources for mouth-watering meals. As a friend so eloquently stated once, Ree Drummond’s books are as much about stories as they are food. She welcomes her readers to catch a glimpse of life on a working cattle ranch. If you’re wondering, it is possible to stay up way too late reading a cookbook.

Come and Get It! brims with “simple, scrumptious recipes for crazy busy lives.” Drummond offers an array of dishes that range from make-ahead, to freezer-friendly, to super-quick because everyone has to eat no matter how busy life becomes. Drummond does not disappoint with her latest release. I’ve already made several of the recipes more than once to high-praise from friends and family.

BROCCOLI CHEESE POTATOES — Without a doubt, this one will perch among my favorites from this book. The broccoli cheese sauce with crispy onions is the perfect topping for your baked potatoes. Prepare to lather it on!

HAMBURGER STEAKS WITH MUSHROOM GRAVY — Love and marriage, love and marriage go together like beef and mushrooms. You can’t have one without the other. Okay, that’s not exactly how the Frank Sinatra song goes, but this I tell you, beef and mushrooms were made for each other and this recipe brings them together in a tasty union.

*SLOW COOKER BBQ CHICKEN — I love chicken and I love BBQ sauce. This recipe is pure goodness and sheer torture combined. Just wait until the sweet and tangy aroma starts to fill your house. As it slowly cooks, waiting to dive in will prove excruciating, but oh so worth it.

*SLOW COOKER BROCCOLI CHEESE SOUP — Soups have a way of hitting the spot when cold weather settles in. The broccoli, cauliflower, and cheese combo is one of my favorites. I followed Drummond’s advice from the Change Things Up Section! and added the cauliflower as well. If you’re like me and enjoy a chunkier soup, don’t substitute it for half the broccoli. Just add the full amount of both!

STEAK AND BELL PEPPER SHEET PAN SUPPER— As the entry indicates, this dish is super quick to put together, but you still feel like you’re serving your family a first-class meal — and that’s because you are! Though this one serves two, it can be easily doubled, tripled, even quadrupled with very little extra work — a must in our home when we easily sit 5-8 people around the table every day.

SKILLET APPLE CRISP — Apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon — need I say more? If you’re hoping for leftovers, one batch might not be enough. It’s that good!

This is only a peek at the deliciousness that awaits between the pages of Come and Get It! Since the cookbook focuses on quick prep and time-saving shortcuts, Drummond utilizes a lot of store-bought sauces, pre-made doughs and crusts, and frozen veggies and fruits. Those who prefer a more from- scratch approach or who live overseas, like me, and don’t have easy access to some of the items, rest assured, these recipes remain perfectly doable. You’ll simply have to factor in longer prep/cook time, something that hasn’t mitigated my enjoyment of this book in the least.

Among other things, Drummond also includes a section of pantry, freezer, and fridge staples she always keeps on hand, as well as a universal conversion chart that I, for one, find especially helpful.

I enthusiastically recommend Come and Get It! to The Pioneer Woman’s fans and anyone who enjoys simple recipes that evoke family and home.

*I don’t have a slow cooker, but these recipes also come together easily on the stovetop requiring only minor adjustments.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

**Originally posted on Radiant Lit.

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A Season to Dance by Patricia Beal

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Bling! Romance
Publication Date: May 2017

Ana Brassfield knows she’ll never be a prima ballerina. Instead, she focuses on goals within her reach, like dancing at the Metropolitan Opera House and her pending wedding to landscape architect, Peter Engberg. When renowned German dancer Claus Gert, the man who shattered her heart years earlier, arrives in Georgia determined to win her back, her carefully laid-out plans crumble. Especially after Peter, witnesses a kiss between Ana and Claus.

Her engagement now broken, Ana moves to Germany to live with Claus and hopefully salvage her remaining dream — dancing at the Met. Burdened by the memory of Claus’ late wife, her still burning feelings for Peter, and the pressure of earning a spot in a large ballet company could prove to be Ana’s undoing as she begins to discover that achieving everything she dreamed of might not provide the happiness she longs for.

In A Season to Dance, Patricia Beal pens a story of forgiveness and second chances that left me extremely conflicted. The author possesses a unique and captivating voice that keeps the reader flipping pages. Beal brings the ballet scenes to life in an exquisite manner that has everyone who ever dreamed of being a ballerina living vicariously through Ana. The vivid setting, which isn’t limited to one city or continent, comes to life like a colorful set that invites the reader to step in and experience it for him/herself. I just wish I could have liked the characters.

Ana comes across as selfish and wishy-washy. The way she flitted back and forth between Peter and Claus had me questioning the sincerity of her feelings. She would drop one and pick up the other within 24 hours, making it look more like fear of being alone than real love. Sadly, the men weren’t any better. While Peter’s decision to break off the engagement after observing the kiss between his fiancée and Claus made sense, his consequent actions should have been a major red flag for Ana. Marriage to a man who responds the way he did to being hurt, is only going to bring more pain and trouble in the long run. As far as Claus, I don’t want to give away spoilers, but he proved equally disappointing. This novel is one of those rare times I would have preferred no romantic pairing in the end. Ana needed to find herself first — without a man.

The faith thread also lacked strength. It felt like something Ana picked up simply because it fell in her lap multiple times rather than a sincere interest and belief. Even by the end, her faith only appeared when convenient around her busy life and not as a priority. This being said, I liked the conversation between Ana and a woman on a bench because the author didn’t shrink from asking some tough questions — ones that many, if not all of us, have struggled with at one point or another.

Ultimately, if you love ballet and want a read that offers memorable settings and a fresh voice, A Season to Dance could be just the ticket. However, if you’re looking for an inspiring romance, I wouldn’t recommend this book.

Review copy provided by the author. Thanks!

Crown of Souls (The Tox Files #2) by Ronie Kendig

Genre: Military Suspense
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: September 2017

Peaceful and tranquil lives elude Cole “Tox” Russell and his team. Six months after stopping a deadly plague, their much-deserved rest abruptly comes to an end when a sniper shot strikes Cole. The enemy turns out to be none other than a rogue Special Forces operator and possibly the only other person as skilled as Cole.

Alec King seeks to execute judgment on the people he deems responsible for the death of his men. To accomplish his mission, he gives Cole an ultimatum — join his ranks or pay the price. As Cole hunts his old friend, he must fight his own demons and the fear that he might be more like Alec than Cole cares to admit.

Ronie Kendig returns with another action-packed read as secrets are revealed and loyalties tested. In Crown of Souls, the team once again jets around the globe as it searches for ancient relics and a madman bent on inflicting pain and destruction. Indiana Jones with a military twist, the story delivers Kendig’s trademark high-octane suspense with a hint of romance and a supernatural element. Intriguing characters and vivid writing capture the reader’s attention.

The author seamlessly combines fact and fiction, making it hard to detect the line between them. Considering the havoc the Knights Templars wrecked in history, they were portrayed too kindly, making it a bit jarring when their historical footprints and purposes were compared with Cole’s modern-day role. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the story and following the elite team across borders (including Israel!) as they strove to thwart evil.

Kendig leaks more hints into Ram’s past that have me salivating to learn what mysteries the Israeli American conceals. It goes without saying that I’m counting down the days for the release of Thirst of Steel, the conclusion in The Tox Files series. I recommend Crown of Souls to military suspense fans who enjoy tracking down ancient artifacts.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Thanks!

Blind Spot (Chesapeake Valor #3) by Dani Pettrey

Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Publisher: Bethany House Publisher
Publication Date: October 2017

FBI agent Declan Grey is on the hunt of an unknown threat. A terrorist’s dying words, “the wrath is coming,” hasn’t given him much to go on, but Declan fears something terrifying is about to occur on American soil. When his investigation takes him to a wary immigrant community, Declan has no choice but to join forces with the one woman who can get under his skin like no other.

Tanner Shaw longs to obtain justice and freedom for the poor and oppressed. For that reason, she joins the FBI as a crisis counselor, but much to her chagrin, her boss partners her up with Mr. By-the-Book. Declan’s overprotectiveness annoys her to no end, but what irks her even more is the growing attraction toward him that she can’t seem to smother. Before she can sort out her feelings, they are launched into a race against time when evidence uncovers that a terror cell plots an attack that could cost thousands of lives.

Dani Pettrey’s Blind Spot delivers two mysteries in one, splitting the focus a bit from Declan and Tanner. While the pair tracks suspected arms smugglers and human traffickers, Griffin McCray (of Cold Shot fame) looks into the shocking suicide of their childhood Little League coach. Although I didn’t mind the simultaneous cases — I love mysteries! — I would have liked to delve a bit deeper into Declan and Tanner’s characters. I wanted to understand them and their backgrounds better — especially Tanner. I did not see her twist coming and loved it! But I had so many unanswered questions, like why non-American born Tanner had such an American name and why she didn’t act more foreign.

Readers will learn more about Luke, the friend who vanished seven years earlier. I’ve said it before, but that thread is lining up to be my favorite. I can’t wait for the next book when we finally get Luke and Kate’s story. I’ve been eagerly awaiting that moment ever since the Chesapeake Valor series started.

I would strongly recommend reading this series in its entirety and in order because the threads continue from one installment to the next and would make it extremely confusing otherwise. I got a little turned around a couple times as it was. Blind Spot returns to Pettrey’s trademark suspense style in that it’s not as dark as Still Life. Pettrey and mystery fans alike will enjoy this story.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Thanks!

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Publisher: Random House Publishers
Publication Date: July 2017

Private Investigator Sunday Night has expertly buried a past and secrets creating an isolated life, void of meaningful relationships or feelings. But when a girl vanishes in the aftermath of a bomb and the family turns to Sunnie to track down Stella, she finds herself unable to ignore the plea.

Unsure whether she’ll find a dead body or a hostage, Sunnie must confront her own demons if she hopes to unravel the truth behind the explosion. Her investigation leads to a deadly group with a much more sinister plot in play than a kidnapped girl, and they’ll stop at nothing to see it through.

Two Nights departs from Kathy Reichs’ beloved Temperance Brennan to introduce readers to a new, tough-as-nails heroine. I generally devour her books and as a fan of Tempe, I couldn’t wait to see what Reichs delivered in this stand-alone novel. Unfortunately, it did not live up to her other work.

For the most part, readers follow the protagonist in first-person point of view (POV) as Sunnie tracks a deranged cult. Occasionally, the story breaks to a third-person POV referred to only as “she.” Here things became extremely convoluted. The story contains two characters who look alike and share painfully similar pasts — either of which could be “she.” The setup of the story, led me to believe “she” was one of those characters only to discover at the very end I was wrong. This led to major confusion, some people seemingly acting out of character, and a failure to empathize and understand the motives of others. In retrospect, I’m not sure whether her identity was vague due to the author’s failed attempt to increase the mystery and suspense or due to poor execution. Either way, the effect remained the same — a perplexing read with hard-to-connect-to characters.

Knowing what I know now and having who-is-who sorted out, I would probably enjoy the novel the second time around. Unfortunately, a reader can’t go through a book once to figure it out and a second time to actually enjoy it.

I struggled to connect with Sunnie and understand her choices and dogged pursuit that at times crossed over into recklessness until about the last ten pages when everything finally comes to light. Sadly, in a 400-page book, that comes 390 pages too late. This could have easily been remedied had some elements been handled differently.

All of this, paired with sections that dragged as characters discussed layouts, logistics, and potential attack plans often led my focus to wander. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t completely dismiss Two Nights. Fans of Reichs’ might like giving this a try. Despite a lackluster first read, I’ll probably still give it another shot down the road.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

**Originally posted on Fiction Addict.