Wednesday, December 28, 2011

OTL: Private Selection Frozen Foods

Kroger is our primary grocery store and we love the Private Selection ice cream so I was very pleased to be invited to try some other Private Selection products through

I found the appetizer selection at our store to be fairly limited and there was nothing I thought my husband would like. He did see one that he thought he might be interested in but I told him I was pretty sure we'd already tried it and not liked it very well. Of course now I can't remember which one that was. I chose the Mediterranean-Inspired Hors D'Oeuvers Collection which contained 3 each of spinach pesto puff, mushroom phyllo triangle, and feta sundried tomato phyllo roll. This is supposed to be 3 servings with each serving being one of each type of appetizer. I ate the entire box for lunch and was still hungry. I really enjoyed the spinach pesto puff and the mushroom phyllo triangle while the feta sundried tomato phyllo roll was just okay. The information I received said appetizer prices range from $3 to $7 per box but I don't remember seeing any at my store for less than $6. I have managed to lose my receipt but I'm pretty sure the box I got was close to the $7 mark making it fairly expensive to me. I can't imagine buying several boxes of appetizers for a party could possibly be cheaper than making something on your own even if there would be plenty of other food for guests to eat. Another thing to note with the variety that I purchased is that even though all the appetizers bake at the same temperature, the spinach pesto puffs take nearly twice as long as the other two. If I had been thinking I would have put the spinach pesto puffs in first and then added the others halfway through the baking time but I did it totally backwards and cooked the other varieties first and then ate them while the spinach pesto puffs baked.

For my pizza, I chose the Barbeque Chicken as it looked like one of the few varieties that my husband might try with me. He is definitely not a fan of unusual pizza toppings! While the description on the box sounded very good, the pizza ended up being somewhat of a disappointment. First when I took it out of the box I wasn't sure it was going to be enough for the two of us even though it says it is three servings. It turned out that we were filled up but we did eat the entire thing in one sitting with nothing left over. We both liked the crispy, flat bread crust although I may have over baked it just a bit in trying to get the cheese to look more melted. There were very large pieces of onion on the pizza and the only good thing about this is that it made them easier to pick off since there were so many. The barbeque sauce had a strong flavor and my husband even said it had a bit too much of a kick for him and he likes spicy foods. I thought there was too much sauce as well. While there was bacon visible on the pizza, neither of us could taste it over the flavors of the barbeque sauce and onions. While $5 isn't a bad price for a frozen pizza, we can purchase multi-packs of pizzas at Sam's Club which come out cheaper per pizza, feed the entire family not just the parents, and give us some leftovers.

Now dessert is where Private Selection seems to have things right. We are big fans of the Private Selection ice creams, although there have been a few flavors we didn't care for as much as others. The offer from BzzAgent didn't include ice cream which was okay because it gave me a chance to try another Private Selection dessert. I found the desserts to have more of a selection than the appetizers or the pizza and had a hard time choosing just one that I wanted to try. The range of sizes is better here too from packages with one or two servings to packages of four servings. The range of prices reflects this also at $3 to $5 a package. When I saw the package of four Belgian Chocolate Lava Cakes I knew that was something everyone in the family would like. These are yummy, rich, and chocolaty and I am sure we will be purchasing them again! They only take 40 seconds in the microwave and come out with lots of delicious molten chocolate in the middle. They aren't kidding when they say to wait a minute or two before eating them though because that chocolate gets hot. Last night my husband and I started out sharing one cake but we had to make a second as sharing was just not doing it for us! I think one cake each is pretty perfect though. It is enough to give you lots of chocolate but not so much that you will be overly full or go into a chocolate coma. Just like warm chocolate chip cookies, these chocolate lava cakes are perfect with a glass of milk.

Overall I was not as impressed with the Private Selection Frozen Foods as we have been with some of the other Private Selection products like ice cream and lunch meat. I don't think I'll be purchasing the appetizers or pizza again in the future but I can see trying more of the desserts and other Private Selection products through out the store. I believe the Private Selection products are available at all of the Kroger family of stores, although selection may vary by location.

Do you shop at one of the Kroger family of stores? Have you tried any of the Private Selection products? Are they products you regularly buy for your family? Any favorites?

Full Disclosure: I wrote this post while participating in a marketing campaign for I received one free Private Selection Appetizer, Pizza, and Dessert in order to provide my honest feedback. I will also receive points for when this blog post is reviewed by BzzAgent. This review contains my honest opinion and experience and was not edited in any way by BzzAgent, Private Selection, or Kroger.

Note: All opinions provided on this blog are my own. If a product was given to me for review, the source of that product is noted in the post. Bookstore links are generally affiliate links and I do earn a small amount for each purchase. Other affiliate links will be noted in the post.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Title: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Author: Shirley Jackson
Publication Date: October 2006
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Source: Library

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is the odd, but enthralling, story of two sisters living with their uncle after the rest of their family is poisoned at dinner. The story is narrated by Mary Katherine Blackwood, the younger of the sisters. She is the only one of the family to venture into the village where she must endure the taunts of the townspeople. Things change drastically for Mary Katherine when cousin Charles comes for a visit and exerts his influence over Constance, the older sister.

I don't always read the introductions to books but in this case I'm very glad that I did. Knowing that Shirley Jackson is the author of the short story "The Lottery" gave me a little better idea of what to expect from this story. I really knew nothing about it when it was chosen as the December selection by the Reading with Tequila Book Club on Goodreads. While the author's name clearly didn't stick with me, I do remember reading "The Lottery" in high school and the impact the story had on me. If you haven't read this short story, I highly recommend it!

I'm honestly not quite sure what to say about We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The story, as Mary Katherine tells it, drew me in completely even though it seems that very little actually happens. I do not think the story would have been nearly as interesting if another of the characters had told it. Being in Mary Katherine's head and seeing how she thinks about her situation is exactly what makes the story so compelling. The other characters seem a bit flat but I think that is because we only see them as Mary Katherine sees them and she is quite wrapped up in her own vision of the world.

As far as what actually happens in the book, it isn't much. While there are a few key events, the girls' situation at the end of the story is very similar to the beginning. Their dependence on each other has only increased along with their self-imposed isolation. The strength of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is in the characters and the writing rather than the plot. Had it been written in another style or by another author, I do not think it would be nearly as successful in capturing the reader.

Note: All opinions provided on this blog are my own. If a product was given to me for review, the source of that product is noted in the post. Bookstore links are generally affiliate links and I do earn a small amount for each purchase. Other affiliate links will be noted in the post.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Closed: Giveaway: 52 Small Changes One Year to a Happier, Healthier You

I recently reviewed 52 Small Changes One Year to a Happier, Healthier You by Brett Blumenthal and think it is a great book to start the new year. Rather than simply providing ideas and suggestions about making lifestyle changes, Blumenthal provides an actual road map for success.

Thanks to Natalie with AmazonEncore, I have a second copy of the book to give away. The giveaway is open to US residents, 18 or older and ends at 12:01 am EST, January 2, 2012. The winner will be contacted by email and will have 48 hours to respond with a shipping address or another winner will be chosen.

This is my first time attempting to use Rafflecopter for a giveaway so we'll see if I have it set up correctly. If you are unable to use the widget for any reason, please leave your entries in the comments and I will factor them in. If you are seeing this post via email or a feed reader, you will need to visit the blog in order to see the Rafflecopter widget and enter the giveaway.

Monday, December 19, 2011

52 Small Changes by Brett Blumenthal

Title: 52 Small Changes One Year to a Happier, Healthier You
Author: Brett Blumenthal
Publication Date: January 3, 2012
Publisher: AmazonEncore
Source: ARC from publisher for review

52 Small Changes One Year to a Happier, Healthier You is the perfect book to start off a new year. So many of us make New Year's resolutions only to have them fall by the wayside after a few weeks or even just days. We have lofty goals and try to accomplish them all at once rather than attacking them one at a time and breaking them down into manageable portions. We try to turn our lives at 90 or 180 degree angles instead of working on more realistic 2 degree changes. We forget that many little changes add up to some big lifestyle changes over time.

Brett Blumenthal helps to avoid these typical New Year scenarios by providing a concrete road map of 52 changes, one per week, that you can implement over the course of a year. She focuses on the areas of Diet and Nutrition, Fitness and Prevention, Mental Well-Being, and Green Living. Making small changes in each of these areas can have a big impact on the quality of a person's life overall. Blumenthal gives background on why each of these changes are important, examples of how to make each change a part of your routine, and gives you the tools necessary to do so.

One change a week both sounds like a reasonable goal and like too much, too quickly as one of the first things the author admits is how long it can take a change, even a small one, to truly become a habit. One way the author avoids overwhelming the reader is by changing the area of focus from week to week. Another is by letting the changes build upon each other so you have one change established before adding another component. A weekly checklist is included at the end of each week to remind the reader of each change that has already been worked on so past changes continue to be a focus as one moves through the program.

The book is laid out in a very easy to read fashion. It is divided into three parts - an Introduction, the 52 Week Program, and Tools and Resources. The book makes great use of white space by breaking up the text with text boxes, lists (both numbered and bullet points), and charts. Headers of different types are distinguished by bold text and the text size. Icons are used throughout the book for a quick, visual identification of which area a specific change addresses.

I think 52 Small Changes is a program that can be tailored to each individual's specific focus. If you have already implemented the assigned change for the week, Blumenthal provides extra ideas to take that change a step or two further. If a change is something you are truly not interested in pursuing or you don't agree with it, just skip that week and continue focusing on the changes you have already made up to that point. The overall program seems to be fairly well-rounded with changes that will work in harmony to improve one's health and well-being over the long term.

I received an advance reader's copy (uncorrected proof) from AmazonEncore in exchange for an honest review. I also received a second copy because we thought the first had been lost in the transit process. This is great for my readers as it means I get to give away a copy! The 52 Small Changes One Year to a Happier, Healthier You giveaway is now up and running so if this is a book that interests you, please go enter. It is open to US residents and ends January 2, 2012.

What changes do you want to focus on in 2012? I definitely want to get exercise back into my routine and continue to work on making my family homemade meals so I can influence healthy eating.

Note: All opinions provided on this blog are my own. If a product was given to me for review, the source of that product is noted in the post. Bookstore links are generally affiliate links and I do earn a small amount for each purchase. Other affiliate links will be noted in the post.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kitty and The Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Title: Kitty and The Midnight Hour
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Publication Date: November 2005
Publisher: Warner Books
Series: Kitty Norville, Book 1
Source: Personal Collection

I was introduced to the Kitty Norville series with the eighth book in the series Kitty Goes to War (link to my review). Normally, I wouldn't begin a series with such a recent book but I had received it for review and didn't have time to read the seven previous books in the series. The book was great and I wasn't too lost even without having the background information from earlier books.

I finally just got around to reading Kitty and The Midnight Hour, the first book in the series. Based on the first book and the eighth book, this is definitely a series that I want to catch up on and continue.

Kitty and the Midnight Hour sets up Kitty's world and her place in it. Her personal struggles with being a werewolf are clearly evident even as she endeavors to assist other supernaturals on her late night talk radio show. When she is called in to assist in a police investigation, the publicity escalates conflict within her pack and with the local vampire family. Has Kitty taken on more than she can handle?

Vaughn weaves several different plot lines into this first book and at times I thought there were too many. I can see that each one is a set up for further stories in the series but there were times that  threads were being lost only to have them pop up again in what seemed to be a random part of the story. It just seemed like a lot when also introducing characters and creating a world which Vaughn does very well.

My favorite parts of the book were when I learned about Kitty as a person and not necessarily all the action surrounding her. It was interesting to read this book after reading the eighth because I can see how much Kitty grows and changes throughout the books. I really want to see how she develops from a werewolf at the bottom of the pack into an alpha in her own right.

Overall, I can see development in the writing from this book to that one as well and that makes me more eager to continue on with the series. I think Kitty and The Midnight Hour is a good start to the series but the books will only get better.

Have you read the Kitty Norville books? What do you think of them? Any favorites?

Note: All opinions provided on this blog are my own. If a product was given to me for review, the source of that product is noted in the post. Bookstore links are generally affiliate links and I do earn a small amount for each purchase. Other affiliate links will be noted in the post.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Title: Crocodile on the Sandbank
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication Date: January 1988
Publisher: Hachette Book Group
Series: Amelia Peabody, Book 1
Source: Library

Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first book in a series of historical mysteries centered around Amelia Peabody. When Amelia's father dies leaving her a sufficient inheritance, she travels to Egypt to indulge in the passion for archeology that she and her father shared. Along the way, she rescues Evelyn Barton-Forbes and they become companions on a journey down the Nile. Upon meeting up with some acquaintances on an archeological expedition, a mummy begins appearing in the night to threaten the group. Who is this mysterious mummy and does it post a threat to a specific individual or is it just trying to scare the archeologists away from their finds?

Crocodile on the Sandbank is a good book that took me too long to read due to various personal circumstances. It is full of very descriptive passages of Amelia's journey through Egypt. I loved the language that Peters used as it was so fitting for the Victorian age Amelia inhabits. However, there were times that the descriptions got a bit lengthy and I found I could only read so many pages before needing to take a break. I do think part of this inability to concentrate was due to exhaustion though so it is hard to know how much was due to the book and how much was just my state of mind while reading it.

I loved the characters in this book. Amelia is so full of fire and personality. She is an independent woman full of ideas and ideals. She is not afraid to go against convention when it suits her and she certainly doesn't mind getting her hands dirty. Evelyn seemed strong at times when interacting with Amelia but other times she was too aware of the conventions of society and concerned about how she would be perceived. Emerson and Walter were both a little harder to read even though they were so integral to the storyline.

The story itself is entertaining, although it did get a bit repetitive at times. I think this is another reason that I was only able to focus on the book in small pieces. Each time the mummy appeared, the group seemed to have the same conversations but came no closer to solving the mystery or catching the mummy. Although the book is not long at 262 pages, I think a few of the descriptive passages and repetitive scenes probably could have been trimmed to tighten it up even more.

Overall I did enjoy reading Crocodile on the Sandbank as the November selection for the Reading with Tequila Book Club. If I have an opening in my reading schedule, I would consider picking up another Amelia Peabody mystery but at this point the TBR pile and my book wishlists are too out of control for that to happen in the foreseeable future.

Have you read an Amelia Peabody mystery or any other books by Elizabeth Peters? If so, what did you think of it?

Note: All opinions provided on this blog are my own. If a product was given to me for review, the source of that product is noted in the post. Bookstore links are generally affiliate links and I do earn a small amount for each purchase. Other affiliate links will be noted in the post.

OTL: Mega Swagbucks Friday

Search & Win

The first Friday of each month, I post about Swagbucks.  That is because every Friday means Mega Swagbucks for searching (but I don't want to overwhelm people with reminders every Friday)!  Haven't tried Swagbucks yet?  It is super easy - simply use the Swagbucks search engine to do your normal Internet searching and sometimes you will be rewarded with Swagbucks which can then be redeemed for some great prizes. My theory is that if I'm going to be searching the Internet anyway, I may as well get rewarded for doing it.

My favorite prize is the gift card.  I did my first Christmas shopping on Amazon yesterday and my entire order was paid for using the gift cards I earned through Swagbucks. With fiances being tight this year, having the gift cards to use for Christmas gifts is a HUGE help in allowing us to continue to give gifts to everyone we want to even if they are smaller gifts this year.  There are also tons of other gift cards available or you can redeem for various merchandise as well.

On Fridays, Swagbucks gives out more Mega Swagbucks (anything over 10) than usual which means you can earn your desired prizes even faster.  The most I've gotten from one search so far is 59 Swagbucks.  I'd love to hear if one of my readers finds a high value one today or any other day!

Swagbucks has added a lot of options for getting bucks on a daily basis even without searching.  There are Special Offers, Daily Polls, Surveys, Tasks, Swagbucks TV, and games to play.

With all of these great ways to earn Swagbucks and get gift cards or other items that you really want, what are you waiting for?!  Sign up and start searching :-)

Swagbucks links contained within this post are referral links and I will earn some Swagbucks if you sign up using those links.

Note: All opinions provided on this blog are my own. If a product was given to me for review, the source of that product is noted in the post. Bookstore links are generally affiliate links and I do earn a small amount for each purchase. Other affiliate links will be noted in the post.