Saturday, June 21, 2014


Unexpected is a modern-day romance novel, primarily set in Salt Lake City, Utah. The story follows single mom Natalie Forrester and successful bachelor Ross McConnell, two very different people. After two failed marriages, Natalie has three children, two teenage girls and a son on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and she barely stretches out a living by cleaning houses. In contrast, Ross couldn't be more successful as an attorney. However, he's 37 and single - a horrid crime to his family. Ross and Natalie have many unique encounters that lead to an unexpected relationship as they both search for long-desired happiness in their lives.

Since I adored Karen Tuft's first novel, Reality Check, I was eager to jump into her latest novel. It was definitely different from Reality Check, but not in a bad way. I enjoyed the change of pace - most of the romance novels I read are about young lovers without kids. I especially liked Natalie's character because she's so real. She is hilarious at times, yet she also has a vulnerable side because of all of the heartache she's been through.

I was also impressed with the writing. I was able to vividly see the emotions of the characters through the language she used. Tuft's leading man came to a neat closure that the beginning left unfinished. I don't want to give it away, but you'll know what it is once you read it. It's so cool.

The Last Word: Another great read from Karen Tuft, well done!

Friday, December 13, 2013


Based on the trailers, “Frozen” seemed to be just another one of those annoying animated movies kids drag their parents to the theater to see. Yet viewers have and will continue to be pleasantly surprised by the humor, catchy songs and family values in Disney’s newest film.

“Frozen,” based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, is set in the quaint kingdom of Arendale. It features two heroines - sisters Elsa and Anna, the only remaining royalty of Arendale.

Elsa, voiced by “Wicked” Broadway star Idina Menzel, is the older of the two sisters and is preparing to assume her role as queen. However, she possesses magical ice powers that she struggles to control, causing tremendous inner fear. Elsa locks herself in her room in efforts to protect those around her, especially Anna.

Anna, Elsa’s spirited, playful and awkward younger sister, provides contrast to Elsa’s solemn character. Voiced by Kristen Bell, known for her role in the television series “Veronica Mars,” Anna quickly becomes an audience favorite as she displays her clumsy disposition and strives to reach her older sister.

When Elsa can no longer tame her powers, she runs away, leaving the kingdom to Anna. Anna feels it’s her responsibility to find her sister and make things right again, so she sets out on a blistering journey through the mountains. Along the way, she meets Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), ice trader and mountain man, his reindeer Sven and Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad), all of whom aid her in her search.

Beginning the film with scenes centering around the main characters as young children tugs at the heartstrings of every audience member. The kids’ big eyes, small hands and childish mannerisms have females displaying the universal sign of adoration (i.e. “awww…”).

Anna and Hans (Santino Fontana), a handsome and fine man she meets at the coronation ball, sing a catchy duet together titled “Love Is an Open Door.” They sing about how they’ve finally found someone they can relate to (each other) and how they are so alike. Coupled with their quirky actions, this song produced several hearty laughs. Close-knit harmonies written in the chorus make it appealing to the ear. The song has more of a rock vibe than most songs found in Disney movies, but I loved it nonetheless.

Jamie Sparer Roberts’ (casting director) decision to cast Menzel as the voice as Elsa was a mixed one. At times, I was really happy with the casting. Elsa has an independent personality and Menzel succeeded in portraying that. However, there were times during songs that her singing voice seemed too harsh for a Disney princess. Menzel’s voice is edgy and occasionally it just didn’t fit with Elsa’s character. It was noticeable during “Let it Go,” the song Elsa sings as she decides to stop holding back her powers.

The animation in "Let it Go" is breathtaking. Disney did a masterful job of painting the lyrics of the song. Thousands of fine ice crystals cover an elegant ice staircase Elsa creates. Ice shoots skyward, building an intricate ice structure. An ornate chandelier forms at the crest, hanging at the top of the elegant ice palace. Elsa’s presence, creations and new dress exude power.

As I watched the first teaser trailer for “Frozen,” my primary thought was, that snowman is going to be obnoxious. To my surprise and delight Olaf, the oddly shaped snowman, made me the obnoxious one as I noisily laughed in my seat. Not only did he make witty comments right and left, the irony of a snowman who longed to experience summer was well-played. Olaf’s solo, “In Summer,” was one of the highlights of the movie with lines such as “my snow up against the burning sand, probably getting gorgeously tan in summer” and “just imagine how much cooler I’ll be in summer.” “The Book of Mormon” star, Josh Gad, definitely delivered well as Olaf, providing comic relief throughout the entire film.

To add to an already entertaining film, Disney threw in a fun cameo appearance of Eugene Fitzherbert (Flynn Rider) and Rapunzel in the middle of the number, “For the First Time in Forever,” as well as a hefty plate of colorful chocolates from the home of Vanellope Von Schweetz in "Wreck-It Ralph."

“Frozen” isn’t just entertainment, either; Disney teaches valuable lessons through the story. Two that stood out to me were 1) the value of family, especially sisterhood, and 2) be yourself. Both of these principles are important for all of us to learn, no matter the age.

Because of its uplifting messages, humor and music, “Frozen” reaches people of all ages. The characters are relatable, providing opportunity for connection from many audience members. I recommend it to everyone - no matter who you are, it’s worth the money to experience this movie. “Frozen” may be packed with snow and ice, but viewers are sure to leave with a warm heart.

The Last Word: A Must-see Disney classic

P.S. Sorry, the formatting is slightly off at the end. Not sure what happened.

Monday, September 2, 2013

"Cars 2"


While I was watching a friend's toddler boy a few weeks ago, we watched "Cars 2" together.  I was actually interested in the movie because I hadn't seen it yet.  However, it wasn't quite what I expected...

The premise of the movie is that Lightning McQueen is challenged to participate in a series of races between racers from all over the world.  Though the viewer is updated on what's happening in the races, the majority of the movie follows Mater.  Mater finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time early on in the movie, and from there he finds himself involved in top secret work with high-up criminals and secret agents.  But it's Mater, so he's clueless about everything going on around him.

I'm not a huge Mater fan - I think he plays a better sidekick than lead role, so I didn't particularly enjoy this movie.  Sure, there are some humorous lines and scenes, but it wasn't enough to make me want to watch it again.  I'm sure kids will like it, but if you're a grown Disney fan like me and like to keep up on all of the animated movies, then don't waste your time on this one.

The Last Word:  Mater's movie; not Disney's best

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pumpkin Pancakes
3 cups flour
3/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 (15 oz) can Libby's pure pumpkin
3 cups buttermilk
3 eggs

In a large bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and brown sugar, combining well.
Add pumpkin, buttermilk, and eggs to dry ingredients and mix gently. {If batter seems stiff, add water until it can be easily spooned onto a griddle.}
Heat griddle to medium heat and grease lightly.
Scoop about 1/3 cup of batter onto griddle and let cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
Let other side cook again until lightly browned.
Repeat these steps until all the batter is gone.

These pancakes were pretty rich!  They were also really moist.  Some liked them and some didn't - I was kind of in the middle.   They were alright, but I haven't made them since (and it's been months).  But if you love all things pumpkin, then you might try them.  You'll probably like these pancakes. :) Personally, I think I'll keep searching for a pumpkin pancake recipe to keep.

The Last Word:  Rich fall recipe - for pumpkin lovers

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Code Word"

Navy SEAL Jay Wellman is a member of the Saint Squad, a portion of the larger squad that killed Osama bin Laden.  Jay suffers emotionally when his part of the mission doesn't go exactly as planned.  Carina Channing's family and past still haunt her years after her mother was murdered.  She can't change the fact that she's been born into the Chicago Mafia by virtue of her father.  As a young adult, she's given up her own dreams to protect the dreams of her two younger sisters.  Carina's life has a very fragile balance and it's put in jeoprady when one of the members of "the Family" arrives.  Carina and Jay happen to meet and become acquainted through Carina's youngest sister.  When trouble comes knocking on Carina's doorstep, Jay is immediately there for the Channing girls and takes it upon himself to keep them safe.  As they spend more time together, Jay and Carina begin to develop feelings for one another, but must consider the circumstances, as well as their beliefs.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading every Traci Hunter Abramson book I've read, this one included.  I love the way she combines romance, action, mystery, and religion into one novel.  This one in particular had a larger mystery element, so that was entertaining to read.  It's fun reading all of her books because they're nearly all intertwined, too.  You can find updates on characters from a previous novel in her newer novels.  Her characters are very likeable and their relationships seem real.  If you like LDS fiction that includes some good action, I think you'll like this novel.

The Last Word:  Suspenseful read, more action than romance

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gooey S'mores Cookies
Gooey S’mores Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (7 full graham cracker sheets)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Mini Hershey’s Kisses (or chocolate chips/chunks)
1 cup Jet Puffed Mallow Bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat for an additional 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, use a food processor or blender to crush 7 graham cracker sheets into 3/4 cup fine crumbs. In a separate bowl, whisk together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together. Add the chocolate and marshmallows and stir to combine.
Place 1.5 tablespoon sized scoops of dough onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

(I doubled the original recipe)

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the best cookie dough on the planet.  This stuff is AMAZING.  There may be raw eggs in it, but I'm not one who worries too much about that. ;) These cookies take some work to make because it's basically making chocolate chip cookies from scratch with some extra steps for the graham cracker and marshmallow bits.  But it's worth it!  I shared these with several other people and everyone enjoyed them.  

I've actually made them twice now and I doubled the recipe both times because the original recipe says it only makes 2 dozen - and 2 dozen isn't nearly enough! :)  The first time, it appeared that they weren't done after 10 minutes, so I added 1-2 more minutes to the time.  They were good warm, but they got hard really fast after they cooled.  The second batch I made, I took them out right at 10 minutes and they stayed soft!  So a tip for future baking: even if these cookies don't look done, they're probably done.  I also recommend creaming the butter and sugars for the full three minutes.  It makes the cookies really soft.

Note: I've made these cookies at both high and low altitudes without any changes to the recipe, and I didn't notice any difference in the dough or the cookies.

I recommend this recipe to everyone.  Now, if you're a s'more connoisseur, then you might say that you can't taste the graham cracker well enough.  However, these are still great cookies, so give them a try!


The Last Word:  Scrumptious cookies - both raw and baked!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"

Click to enlarge
The Percy Jackson movies are based on the book series written by Rick Riordan that tell of half-bloods, children born of a Greek god and a human.  They stay at Camp Half Blood for safety, but in this particular installment, their safety at the camp is compromised.  Percy and his friends Grover and Annabeth, as well as his newly discovered half brother, Tyson, set out on a journey to find the Golden Fleece - the only thing believed to be able to solve their problem.

I read 4 out of the 5 books in the "Percy Jackson and the Olympians" series several years ago and I must say that this movie has motivated me to finish the series.  Hollywood pretty much ruined the first book in the series, The Lightning Thief, but this one was - thankfully - way better.  There weren't nearly as many cheesy aspects like I thought there were in the first one.  They followed the book much better than they did in the first movie, too.  There were a few big things that weren't in the book, but I was able to overlook them because they kept with the spirit of the book.  The acting improved and the special effects were pretty awesome. (I bet it would've been even cooler in 3D!)  To me the characters were more likable in this movie - enough that I'm a Logan Lerman fan now. :) Overall, for those who have read the Percy Jackson books, I'd say it's worth the money to see it in theaters.  To those who haven't read the books: read them - they're really good! - and then go see "Sea of Monsters!"

The Last Word: Big improvement; worth it for Percy Jackson fans