26 March 2018

The Queen of Ieflaria


Princess Esofi has made the long journey to Ieflaria to wed Crown Prince Albion, someone she has been betrothed to since childhood. Although they have never met, they have exchanged many letters, and Esofi is looking forward to her marriage … or, rather, was. The prince has died, leaving Esofi and Ieflaria in precarious positions. Esofi does not want to return to her homeland (from my reading it seemed almost as if she couldn't) and Ieflaria doesn't want her to go, as they really need the magic she brought to fight off the dragons pillaging the countryside.

Esofi needs to marry someone royal to stay in Ieflaria. Someone like Adale, Albion's sister. And that would be an excellent solution to everyone's problems … except Adale never expected to be the heir, is completely freaked out by the idea, and is pretty set on doing a runner. As an alternative to Adele, there are always the Terrible Cousins ... except, well, they're terrible.

Let me just be honest with your here -- I preordered The Queen of Ieflaria because Twitter promised me poofy dresses, fire-breathing dragons, adorable kittens, and girls kissing girls.

It did not lie.

I liked Adale and Esofi -- both very different characters, but each interesting and compellingly-written. Their romance grew slowly from an initial tentative liking into something tender and sweet and rooted. They were so cute together. Every scene with just the two of them getting to know each other left me grinning like a goof and wishing for more. Indeed, I would have been perfectly content if the entire novel had just been a series of scenes in which Adale and Esofi exchange amusing banter while wearing fabulous clothes.

I do wish the secondary characters were a bit more fleshed out. Most were very one-note -- for example, Lady Mireille was very snotty, "Lady Lisette" was very sneaky, and Adele's friends simply seemed like a mass of drunken puppies. I also felt the world-building was a bit uneven -- sometimes Esofi's interior monologue felt very infodump-y and other times I felt I was being tortured with hints of Things That Might Be Important. But, hey, The Queen of Ieflaria is both a debut novel and the first in a series -- I expect the world-building will improve as Calvin goes on and concepts/subplots that are unclear will become crystal.

Ultimately, while I feel The Queen of Ieflaria does need a bit more polish, it was still an extremely enjoyable read. I look forward to reading the rest of the series, Tales of Inthya, when they are released. The second book, Daughter of the Sun, will be out in November and I hope it contains more floofy dresses and even more kissing.

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin. NineStar Press, 2018. Kindle edition.

24 March 2018

Special Delivery From Taste of Home: Winter 2018

The Winter 2018 Special Delivery From Taste of Home subscription box arrived around the holidays and I was just too busy to deal with it so I did what I always do -- stuffed it in the back of the coat closet until there was time to appreciate it properly!


Excuses, excuses. What's in the box?

Now Designs Planta Bowl Cover (Not shown in photo, because in use) -- Eco-friendly cotton shower cap for your bowls. I scoffed when I first saw this -- my storage bowls all have lids. Why would I need this? And then, the very same day, I made a cookie dough that needed to be chilled for three hours and this cotton cap covered my KitchenAid stand mixer's bowl perfectly and I've been using it ever since. These appear to be sold in sets of two ($15.00 from Now and $14.95 from Amazon), so I'm a little sore I only received one.

Oxo Good Grips Vegetable Brush -- I will confess I've never owned a vegetable brush before. When I've need to scrub a particularly dirty vegetable, I've just broken out the nail brush and gone to town. This brush has very firm bristles and is about the size of a computer mouse. I like that the body is nonslip and that the entire thing is dishwasher safe. I would never have bought it for myself, but now that I have it I will retire the nailbrush to the bathroom where it belongs. Retails for $4.99 on the OXO site and Amazon.

Chef'n Looseleaf Kale & Greens Stripper -- Okay. So. My mom gave me one of these for Christmas and it's excellent at what it does. I know it looks gimmicky as all get out, but it works. I've used it on kale, turnip greens, and basil. Retails for $7.99 on the Chef'n site and $7.95 on Amazon.

Cherchies Pasta e Fagioli Soup Mix -- This seems to be the older version of the soup currently offered on Cherchies' site. This soup requires I rinse and soak the beans first, whereas the new quick-cooking version for sale does not. The ingredients seem pretty standard and I will make this soup because cold weather = soup, but I really wish it had slow cooker instructions.

Lodge Mini Magnetic Trivet -- Dishwasher safe, silicone and rare-earth round magnetic trivet that can protect countertops and tables from pot bottoms heated up to 450°F. This trivet fits all my Le Creuset cookware, including my oval 3⅓ quart Dutch oven, round 7¼ quart Dutch oven, and Signature 10¼" skillet. It works well and I would buy another. Retails for $10 on the Lodge site and $6.51 on Amazon.

DollarDays Inspirational Wall Plaque -- Small (8.625" x 2.75") painted wooden plaque that says "FAMILY, may this home be filled with love and laughter." I have no strong feeling for or against this time. It's just ... ehh. Price per unit, according to DollarDays, is $1.40.

Taste of Home Comfort Food Makeovers -- A collection of lightened-up "family favorite" recipes, including appetizers and sweets as well as main dishes. I haven't made anything from it yet, but I have (as usual) studded the book with sticky notes and I'll probably end up making the "Pineapple Oatmeal" before the month is out. This is a 2015 cookbook currently retailing on Amazon for $12.23 and on the Shop Taste of Home Store for $12.99.

$10 Coupon for the Shop Taste of Home Store -- I ended up purchasing Taste of Home 100 Family Meals and Taste of Home Bake Shop Favorites for $13.83, including shipping. These are cookbooks I've borrowed from my library in the past and felt it was worth having copies of my own. So, yes, the coupon is good value.

Special Delivery from Taste of Home Recipe Cards -- Six cards, all focused on winter comfort foods. So far, I've made the "Warm Tasty Greens With Garlic" (used my Chef'n greens stripper, yo) and the "Pinwheel Steak Pot Pie." I enjoyed making both recipes and The Husband definitely enjoyed eating the pot pie.

While I have been impressed by the quality of the revamped TOH subscription box service and enjoyed finding a new box of surprises on my doorstep every few months, I've decided it's time to call it quits. I have, frankly, too much stuff and don't need more. Cancelling was very easy -- I exchanged a few emails with Reader's Digest Customer Service and that was it. The end.

Read about my experiences with Special Delivery and its precursor, Taste the Seasons.

21 March 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Orchids



Two of the thousand orchids on display at the Nutmeg State Orchid Society's annual show and sale last weekend.