Archives for June 2016

Melissa’s Review: Garbage Bag Suitcase by Shenandoah Chefalo

Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Memoir

Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Memoir
written by Shenandoah Chefalo
published by Shenandoah Chefalo Publishing, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble, AmazonBook Depository, Goodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
I’m not sure you can enjoy a book like this. It’s both heartbreaking and horrifying. I think most of us know families where the children aren’t wanted, and Chefalo’s book is a wrenching reminder of what that does to the children. I can’t imagine not loving my kids. I can’t imagine choosing anything other than what I think is best for them. I can’t begin to imagine how long it’s taken Ms. Chefalo to fix her broken heart. I’m angry at her caregivers, angry at the system, angry at the people I know who’ve made similar choices. It’s hard not to sink in a world like ours, and Ms. Chefalo not only taught herself to swim, she’s teaching us, too.


Would I recommend it: It would be irresponsible of you NOT to read this book.


About the book – from Goodreads: 
Garbage Bag Suitcase is the true story of Shenandoah Chefalo’s wholly dysfunctional journey through a childhood with neglectful, drug-and alcohol addicted parents. She endured numerous moves in the middle of the night with just minutes to pack, multiple changes in schools, hunger, cruelty, and loneliness. Finally at the age of 13, Shen had had enough. After being abandoned by her mother for months at her grandmother’s retirement community, she asked to be put into foster care. Surely she would fare better at a stable home than living with her mother? It turns out that it was not the storybook ending she had hoped for. With foster parents more interested in the income received by housing a foster child, Shen was once again neglected emotionally. The money she earned working at the local grocery store was taken by her foster parents to “cover her expenses.” When a car accident lands her in the hospital with grave injuries and no one came to visit her during her three-week stay, she realizes she is truly all alone in the world. Overcoming her many adversities, Shen became part of the 3% of all foster care children who get into college, and the 1% who graduate. She became a successful businesswoman, got married, and had a daughter. Despite her numerous achievements in life though, she still suffers from the long-term effects of neglect, and the coping skills that she adapted in her childhood are not always productive in her adult life. Garbage Bag Suitcase is not only the inspiring and hair-raising story of one woman’s journey to over- come her desolate childhood, but it also presents grass-root solutions on how to revamp the broken foster care system.



Summer Reading Challenge: First Comes Love by Emily Giffin (spotlight)

facebook-src (2)

First Comes LoveFirst Comes Love
written by Emily Giffin
published by Ballantine Books, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble (Nook) (print), Amazon, iBooks, Book Depository, Goodreads

** I’m really enjoying this read from Ms. Giffin. I’ve loved all of her books. I can’t wait to see how this one ends. **

About the book – from Goodreads: 
In this dazzling new novel, Emily Giffin, the #1 New York Timesbestselling author of Something Borrowed, Where We Belong, andThe One & Only introduces a pair of sisters who find themselves at a crossroads.

Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond.

Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands.

On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired.

As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them, but also come to terms with their own choices. In their journey toward understanding and forgiveness, both sisters discover they need each other more than they knew . . . and that in the recipe for true happiness, love always comes first.

Emotionally honest and utterly enthralling, First Comes Love is a story about family, friendship, and the courage to follow your own heart—wherever that may lead.

may-Love (1) 



Melissa’s Review: Within Reach by Jessica Stevens

Within Reach: A Novel

Within Reach
written by Jessica Stevens
published by Spark Press, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble (Nook) (print), Amazon, iBooks, Book Depository, Goodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
I tore through it in a day. It’s a little bit cheesy and a little bit predictable, but it’s a nice read. I wish there would have been a bit more explanation about the whole soul-mates/magic thing, but as I wasn’t looking to read anything too mind-bending, I wasn’t overly disappointed. This would be a good book to take to the pool or the beach–it’s light and has a happy ending.



“When has anything worth having been easy?”


Would I recommend it: If you’re in the mood for a love story, go for it!


About the book – from Goodreads: 
Dying wasn’t on seventeen-year-old Xander Hemlock’s summer to-do-list. Finding ways to spend more time with his girlfriend, Lila, was the most critical thinking he planned on doing. But that was before he found himself trapped in a realm of only darkness with thirty days to convince Lila he’s not actually dead—well, not completely, anyway.

As Xan tries to show Lila she isn’t alone, she struggles to comprehend how her life has changed so completely. Six months ago her life was perfect: she was on her way to becoming a professional dancer, her parents were still married, and her boyfriend was alive. But now, with her anorexic tendencies stronger than ever, she must decide which is the lesser of two evils: letting go to be with a boy she doesn’t love, or holding on to the unreasonable, yet overpowering, feeling that Xan is still within reach…and trying to show her something.

Improbable and endearing, Within Reach is a story of two soulmates discovering that sometimes it takes more than one lifetime to get it right.



Heather’s Review: Gamer Girl by Glynis Astie

Gamer GirlGamer Girl
written by Glynis Astie
published by Tikinou Publishing, LLC, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Amazon, Goodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

** This review first appeared on Heather’s blog. **

Did I enjoy this book: 
Glynis Astie is one of my new favorite authors, and I’ll tell you why: She is versatile, she is funny, and her writing just gets better with each book. I read her debut trilogy (French Twist, French Toast, and French Fry), which was loosely based on her own life, and enjoyed the books immensely. I was looking forward to reading Gamer Girl, her fourth novel, and was thrilled (a.k.a. stupid excited!!) when she sent me an ARC. I promised to read it and review it (honestly!) and so here we are.

This was a new twist on the Chick Lit genre and I had fun reading it. I liked the glimpses into the MMORPG gaming world (and as a fan and player of World of Warcraft, I could relate!), and I really enjoyed the differences between Meri’s online gaming persona and her real life persona. It was neat to see her become more like her online persona as the book continued.

Meri’s grandmother was a hoot–if you like an eccentric grandmother, with a fondness for pinching the hot boyfriend’s bum, she’s for you. I laughed almost every time she was on the pages–she’s the type of character you wish you could meet in real life.

The story was unique, and I thought Meri’s struggle with trusting and letting go were genuine and well done. Morgan, the hot boyfriend, had his own struggles and I wish there had been more about him throughout the book. I felt like I knew Meri’s best friend, Declan, a lot better than Morgan. The supporting cast was as unique as the story (both the real life story and the gaming story) and here’s another book where I think the characters will stay with me for a little while.


Would I recommend it: Yes! It’s a unique twist on the Chick Lit genre and a fun summer beach read. Very enjoyable!


About the book – from Goodreads: Struck by tragedy at an early age, Meri Palmer escaped into the only world she understood. Within the virtual realm of online gaming, she lived a life filled with mythical creatures and thrilling adventures, where she was strong, powerful, clever, and beautiful—everything she believed she wasn’t in real life. As the years went by, her desire to cling to her cherished fantasyland only grew stronger.

But when Meri meets Morgan, equal parts gorgeous and goofball, she begins to wonder if the time has finally come to rejoin the so-called real world. Channeling the bravery of her fairy warrior alter ego, Meri slowly lets Morgan beyond the protective walls she’s built around her heart. Just as she finds a comfortable groove in an uncertain world, Morgan succumbs to insecurities of his own, leaving her lost and confused. Through her battle to regain her equilibrium, Meri will discover that even in reality, things aren’t always what they seem.

Will Meri win the battle raging in her heart and summon the will to rescue her knight in shining armor? Or will she give in to the fear and find her game over?


In the Kitchen: Home Chef: Lox with Blini


Hi, Everyone!

In an effort to spend less time meal planning and more time reading, I decided to give Home Chef a try. It costs less than taking the whole family to a restaurant, and it seemed like a fun way to add some new recipes to my repertoire.

Tonight: Lox with Blini, Shaved Cucumber Salad, and Scrambled Eggs


Breakfast for dinner? OK, sure!


Home Chef said I was supposed to make this recipe for breakfast. Listen. Breakfast at my house involves me gulping half-cold coffee while tossing toast at my kids. I’m not a breakfast at breakfast kind of gal . . . I’m lucky if I get myself together for a decent lunch. Anyway. Breakfast for dinner it is!












OK, so here’s the thing, Home Chef. You really need to stop telling me to make salads without tomatoes. I Just. Can’t. Do it.





So. Once I’d sufficiently Melissa-fied the salad, it was on to the Blini.

GUYS. Did you know that ‘Blini’ is code for TINY PANCAKES?!?  I know, right?  YUM.


I kind of wish I had a bunny to share these with . . .

The recipe told me I was supposed to make an even dozen and then toss the rest of the batter.


No again, Home Chef. We don’t waste tiny pancake batter! We LURV tiny pancakes!

Yeah. I went there. Know your Meme, people!

Anyway. I tossed in a few extra eggs so there would be enough to feed the kidlets, made my tiny lox roses, and, after using less than half the amount of sour cream the recipe called for (Seriously. Who needs that much sour cream?), I ended up with a big fat plate of yum:

IMG_0632 IMG_0630


If I make it again:

Husband is the pancake master around here, so if anyone’s going to make blini again, it’s him. I mean, sure, I’ll do it for a blog recipe, but honestly, I’m a freezer pancake kind of gal. Plus, I’ll be honest, I like my lox on something a bit crispier, like a bagel or a crostini. Pancake lox was fun to try, but it won’t be a regular occurrence at our house.

Did my kids eat it:

They ate the tiny pancakes. With syrup. We didn’t share the lox.



Paul’s Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney

Hi, Everyone! I’d like to introduce my son, Paul, to you! He is a new reviewer for EFC. He is almost 8 years old and a certified bookworm. He and I talked about this book, and I typed his review based on our chat and the questions he answered.


The Long HaulThe Long Haul (Diary of a Wimpy Kid #9)
written by Jeff Kinney
published by Harry N. Abrams, 2014

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble (Nook) (print), Amazon, iBooks, Book Depository, Goodreads

Did I enjoy this book: Yes, I really enjoyed it.

In The Long Haul, Greg and his family were going on a road trip to Disney World. But they didn’t get to go because the trip was a total disaster. And they got to go where Greg wanted to go . . . Soak Central!

It is really funny. The writing is good. I like the pictures, too. They are really cool and add to the story.  I like Greg because he has a funny imagination. My favorite scene was when their pet pig tried to escape the car. I was laughing out loud. I had to show my mom and brother that part. The seagull part made me laugh, too.



Would I recommend it: Yes, I would tell my friends to read The Long Haul.


About the book – from Goodreads: 
A family road trip is supposed to be a lot of fun . . . unless, of course, you’re the Heffleys. The journey starts off full of promise, then quickly takes several wrong turns. Gas station bathrooms, crazed seagulls, a fender bender, and a runaway pig—not exactly Greg Heffley’s idea of a good time. But even the worst road trip can turn into an adventure—and this is one the Heffleys won’t soon forget.




In the Kitchen: Home Chef Subscription: Patio BBQ Steak Sandwich


Hi, Everyone!

In an effort to spend less time meal planning and more time reading, I decided to give Home Chef a try. It costs less than taking the whole family to a restaurant, and it seemed like a fun way to add some new recipes to my repertoire.

Tonight: Patio BBQ Steak Sandwich


Look at all the yummy ingredients!


Here’s the recipe, step-by-step. We used our grill and not a grill pan.


The onions are prepped. We did not grill these. I did them on a pan. The rolls are smothered with parsley butter, then we grilled them!


Yes, I forgot to take a picture before I started eating. Sorry . . . not sorry. It was so good. The barbeque sauce was tasty. And grilled corn on the cob is fabulous! Again, arugula! How did I not know how wonderful arugula is?!?!


If I make it again: I would probably use a different cheese. Home Chef sent cheddar, which was all right, but I would use provolone. Other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Did my kids eat it: Once again, we didn’t share. This was for us. Will I make it for them? Yes. I think they would like it.



Blog Tour: The Make-Ahead Kitchen by Annalise Thomas

The Make-Ahead Kitchen: 75 Slow-Cooker, Freezer, and Prepared Meals for the Busy Lifestyle

The Make-Ahead Kitchen
written by Annalise Thomas
published by Front Table Books, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble (Nook) (print), AmazonBook Depository, Goodreads

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Did I enjoy this book: 
Melissa and I both tested some recipes from The Make-Ahead Kitchen cookbook.

I tried the Pumpkin Pie Slow Cooker Oatmeal. It was really easy to throw together in the crockpot, and it was done by the morning. I did substitute the brown sugar with Splenda Brown Sugar Blend. What I failed to realize is that you should use half the amount called for when using the blend. The Splenda brown sugar blend doesn’t measure 1-to-1 like Splenda. The recipe was still good, but by reducing the amount by half, I can knock a few carbs off the recipe, which is important in our household. Anyway, I put everything in my crockpot on low and went to bed.


When I made it downstairs, I found my crockpot half empty.


My husband really liked it. A lot. My youngest liked it, too. My other kids didn’t want to try it. It was tasty and reminded me of pumpkin pie. I think it will be a frequently made breakfast in our house this fall and winter.


When I make it again, I’m going to use half the amount of Splenda Brown Sugar Blend and set my crockpot to warm instead of low, which was a tip from the cookbook’s author. My crockpot on low resulted in a delicious oatmeal that was a bit overcooked. I think the warm setting will be perfect.

As for the rest of the cookbook, I echo some of Melissa’s sentiments. There are a lot of full-fat ingredients. But, if you know what you’re doing, swapping out some of the heavier ingredients (light mayo for regular mayo, Splenda instead of sugar, etc) won’t be a problem. I do wish the nutritional information was included for each recipe. For a family like mine that has to count carbs, I spent quite a bit of time inputting the recipes into an app to determine the nutritional values. The recipes all look delicious. There are a few more that I really want to try. The recipes are easy to follow as well. I also like the introductions to each recipe.


Would I recommend it: If you are looking for some cook-ahead comfort meals and some easy recipes, then you may like this book. Take a look at some of the recipes and ingredients and decide from there.


I tried out the recipe for Roasted Cauliflower & Chicken Curry Pasta Bake. Here’s how things went down:

I was sort of horrified by the ingredient list. I mean, a CUP of mayonnaise? That’s just plain crazy. I calculated the calories per serving given the listed ingredients and came up with something nearly 800 calories per serving (and that’s assuming 8 servings in the 13×9 pan the recipe calls for). I decided to make a few swaps.

13459662_10103679666770233_413683652_n (1)

Om nom nom roasted cauliflower nom!

  • Instead of regular cream of chicken soup I used two cans of Fit and Active brand (175 calories per can compared to Campbell’s 270 per can).
  • Instead of a cup of regular mayo I used a half-cup of Hellman’s low fat mayo (only 120 calories instead of nearly 750 for regular) and a quarter cup of regular mayo. I skipped the last quarter cup all together because I just couldn’t bring myself to include it.
  • Instead of melted coconut oil I used a calorie-free coconut oil spray.
  • I swapped out the full fat cheese for Fit & Active’s reduced fat cheese, which saved me another hundred-ish calories.



I wanted to healthify the meal without losing the integrity of the recipe (especially since I’m reviewing it for the blog), which is why I didn’t drastically change anything. If I made the recipe again I’d skip the pasta all together and add an extra head of cauliflower and more chicken. I’d also, I think, skip the second can of soup and swap the rest of the regular mayo for fat-free. I’d likely have to add a bit of liquid… skim milk perhaps. . . to make up the difference. I’d also mix everything together before I popped it into the baking pan, but that’s a personal casserole preference of mine. Ultimately my family thought this recipe was UBER tasty, and I will be making it (albeit a less calorically dense version) again. Thanks, Ms. Thomas!




I thought it needed an extra dusting of curry before I slathered it with mayo and cheese. . . I was right


the finished, cheesy, curry goodness. YUM.










Would I recommend it: Though I didn’t try them, the rest of the recipes appear to be just as filled with full-fat ingredients as the one I chose, so if you’re looking for a new round of healthy recipes I’d keep looking. If, however, you’re interested in some updated comfort foods, I’d give this book a look.


About the book – from Goodreads: Skip the hassle of last-minute meals and leftovers and replace them with simple, healthy, delicious, and easy-to-prepare make-ahead dishes! Your family will love these comfortable meals, new favorites, cozy drinks, and tantalizing desserts–all of them prepared ahead of time so you don’t have to worry! Enjoy simple, soul-filling foods without the chaos of preparing them at the last minute.



Summer Reading Challenge: Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford (spotlight, giveaway)

facebook-src (2)


Everybody Rise: A Novel

Everybody Rise
written by Stephanie Clifford
published by St. Martin’s Press, 2015

find it here: (affiliate links) Barnes & Noble (Nook) (print), Amazon, iBooks, Book Depository, Goodreads

About the book – from Goodreads: It’s 2006 in the Manhattan of the young and glamorous. Money and class are colliding in a city that is about to go over a financial precipice and take much of the country with it. At 26, bright, funny and socially anxious Evelyn Beegan is determined to carve her own path in life and free herself from the influence of her social-climbing mother, who propelled her through prep school and onto the Upper East Side. Evelyn has long felt like an outsider to her privileged peers, but when she gets a job at a social network aimed at the elite, she’s forced to embrace them.

Recruiting new members for the site, Evelyn steps into a promised land of Adirondack camps, Newport cottages and Southampton clubs thick with socialites and Wall Streeters. Despite herself, Evelyn finds the lure of belonging intoxicating, and starts trying to pass as old money herself. When her father, a crusading class-action lawyer, is indicted for bribery, Evelyn must contend with her own family’s downfall as she keeps up appearances in her new life, grasping with increasing desperation as the ground underneath her begins to give way.

Bracing, hilarious and often poignant, Stephanie Clifford’s debut offers a thoroughly modern take on classic American themes – money, ambition, family, friendship – and on the universal longing to fit in.



a Rafflecopter giveaway



Release Day Launch: All Access by Liberty Kontranowski (spotlight)

All AccessAll Access (Fangirl Series #1)
written by Liberty Kontranowski
published by Marching Ink, LLC, 2016

find it here: (affiliate links) Amazon, Goodreads

About the book – from Goodreads: Every fangirl has a fantasy . . . what happens when that “if only” dream comes true?

Though she’s a single mom wedged firmly into thirty-something territory, author Kallie Reagan’s devotion to rock star Niles Russell knows no bounds. To pay homage to her muse, Kallie writes a smokin’ hot novel featuring a hero who looks and acts an awful lot like Niles — and a heroine who may or may not have a smattering of herself thrown in for fun.

When Niles learns about the book and surprise-texts Kallie, the two deliciously complicated creatives become fast friends . . . and so much more. But trying to define a relationship that’s laced with closeted skeletons, half-truths, and constant question marks proves harder than making it big. If they’re going to progress from Fangirl Infatuation to The Real Deal, these two need to give each other All Access to the most important place of all: their hearts.


Liberty KontranowskiAbout the author: Liberty Kontranowski is a romantic women’s fiction author who adores all things lovey-dovey with a pinch (or more) of hubba-hubba. When she’s not at the keyboard, she’s taxiing around her three boys, knocking back craft beers with the hubs, blogging, fangirling, and dreaming up more fake people. She also spends an inordinate amount of time drinking coffee and dreaming of the day she can bid adieu to far-too-wintry Michigan and move to a place where she can write with her toes in the sand.

Liberty loves to hear from her readers (and otherwise cool people) so give her a yell.

Find Ms. Kontranowski here: blog, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads