Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Book Review: To Win Her Favor (A Belle Meade Plantation Novel) by Tamera Alexander

The USA has been the place of new beginnings for a lot of people and it is now different for Cullen McGrath - at least that's what this young man from England is hoping for. After being involved in a horse racing scandal that nearly destroyed his life he set out for Nashville, Ky to seek a new start.  But the plan that sounded so good in theory is harder than thought to achieve in practice and the old demons come visiting. Despite Cullen's best efforts to make an honest living and stay away from horse racing, being in Kentucky horse racing is never far away and eventually his past catches up with him.

At the same time, Maggie Linden wants to make a name for herself as well in Nashville. She has a mare called Bourbon Belle and she is convinced that she is a winner. A winner in the Drayton Stakes that is, the horse race in the USA with the biggest winner's purse. She wants to enter Bourbon Belle, but her father has his own plans. Afraid of losing his estate Linden Downs to creditors, he makes a deal with Cullen that Cullen really should refuse, but is drawn to because it promises success and money.

This story plays in the middle of the 19th century in Kentucky, so slavery will be mentioned and it is throughout the book. Especially since the author chose to include a secret society that is responsible for heinous acts, including lynchings and raids. The author does not shy away from showing the dark side of the South during that timeframe and some readers may object to the detailed description of that time period.

But those passages are balanced by the love story that is developing right at the beginning of the book. There is plenty of behind closed door action taking place and this book is therefore definitely for the adult reader. Cullen and Maggie are bound to each by their desire to improve their lives, but coming together for these two is not easy. There is a lot of distrust and hesitation on both sides. The South is still in turmoil and Cullen is from a very background than Maggie, who needs to overcome her background and upbringing, which was very much focused on class and family history, to start appreciating what Cullen can do for her.

available for pre-order at

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The opinion expressed in this post has not been influenced by any third parties.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: The Complete 101 Collection: What Every Leader Needs to Know by John C. Maxwell

I am currently getting a Masters in Public Health with a focus on Leadership and so naturally this book was of interest to me. I had not heard of the author before because in my studies I focus mostly on authors that apply leadership theories to public health and healthcare. But clearly John Maxwell is an incredibly prolific author. Reading his biographical information, I found out that he had published more than 70 book that have sold in many different countries and several of his book were on the NY Times Bestseller list.

In this book, Maxwell attempts to summarize a lot of the leadership articles he had published over the years. He succeeds in writing a book that provides a comprehensive overview of leadership theories and advice to the reader. The book despite its seemingly complex goal is still written in plain English, which makes it easy to read for just about anyone. You certainly do not need to be academic to read this book and benefit from it. 

Maxwell covers several leadership topics in this book, namely:

  • Leadership
  • Attitude
  • Self-Improvement
  • Relationships
  • Teamwork
  • Success
  • Mentoring
  • Equipping
Since this book is a compilation of earlier books on the specific topics, there is some overlap. But that does not take away from the overall quality of the book. Mentioning a similar lesson in more than one topic makes sense at times and so the reader may appreciate, just as I did, that some statements seem repetitive of earlier chapters because the same issue applies to more than one nuance of leadership.

Overall, I found this to be a well written book on leadership that is general enough that it can apply to people in a number of professions. The author paints a comprehensive picture of how people can improve leadership skills and succeeds in writing a book that is easy to comprehend, yet complex in its coverage at the same time.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinion expressed in this post is solely my own and has not been influenced by any third party.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Book Review: The Nibelungen Hoard by Edwin M Todd

Growing up in Germany, I was familiar with the legend of Nibelungen and the tales of Hagen and Siegfried. I imagined stumbling across the famous treasure one day and having to fight off the evil Alberich. Even in popular culture, you will still find references to the Nibelungen Legend, so I was definitely interested when given the chance to review a mystery book dealing with the legend of the Nibelungen. 

This book spans several decades of German history. I starts with SS lieutenant Johann von Ritter in the final days of WWII. Once a strong believer and supporter of Hitler and the Nazi ideology since it was the only ideology that he was familiar with growing up in Germany, the experience of several years of war have taught Johann differently. He feel betrayed by the Nazis and in a last action of disobedience, hides a strongbox that he was supposed to transport to the port of Stettin and away from the advancing Russians. He manages to disclose its location in two letters; one letter goes to his sister. The other letter is intended for his friend, but Johann is badly injured and so his second letter is entrusted to a nurse that takes care of him after his leg was amputated. 
Lena Mueller, a young nurse, works in a school turned hospital in these final days of the war. Doing whatever she can to help the wounded, and very little it is in most cases since supplies are low, she is drawn to Johann. Not sure why, but somehow he is different than other patients and when the last evacuation truck leaves, she and the remaining staff are faced with the advancing Russians. In the melee that follows, Lena and Johann become lovers and Lena will carry Johann's child. 
Fast-forward to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Christoph Mueller is called to his dying grandmother, who entrusts a letter to him. Lena Mueller is the grandmother and the letter is the second letter written by Johann von Ritter with clues to the strongbox he hid in the final days of WWII. Christoph at first does not know what to make of the letter, but in the end he tries to solve the puzzle of the two letters and retrieve the strongbox that contains a great treasure.
The author Edwin Todd manages to diligently research two important periods of German history; these are final days of WWII and the period when the Wall came down. In this story, these two periods are linked by the story of a treasure that goes back hundreds of years and is central to German history and culture. Both periods, including the modern period around the Berlin Wall coming down, are full of danger and suspense. The author manages to engage the reader in both parts of his book, even though I have to admit that the part around WWII was my favorite part of the story. The storytelling here is no-nonsense and gripping. I really felt transformed into these final days, full chaos and people feeling lost and not knowing who to turn to.
I was very impressed with the intelligence of the author that is behind the story and his telling of the story. It is a very complex story that still enables the ready to follow quite easily. The storyline is definitely one of the more unique ones I have encountered recently and the ability of the author span two far apart periods of German history is impressive.
About the author:
Edwin M. Todd grew up in Scotland, but obtained a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College. He continued to work as a lawyer and also owned a successful construction company. True to Scottish roots, he is now the director of the referee department for USA Rugby. As part of his prior professional experience,  Edwin had to write mostly technical pieces. This historical mystery is his first work of fiction.

About the book:
The book is available at
ISBN: 978-0692288566
Publisher: ET3 Publishing
Date of publish: November 2014
Pages: 302
S.R.P.: $13.00

Disclaimer: I obtained a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. The opinion expressed in this post is solely my own and has not been influenced by third parties.

Book Review: A Heart's Danger (A Journey of the Heart) by Colleen Coble

This is the third installment of the Journey of the Heart series by Christian author Colleen Coble and this is one series that I really like. In part the series appeals to me because the books are short and perfect to take along in the purse when you have to wait for an appointment or simply want to take brief breaks to read. I also like the series because it is a story of a modern woman, Sarah Montgomery, who was born a few decades too early.

Sarah, after the tumultuous events in the previous book. finds herself at Fort Laramie with a fiancee she does not love and who betrayed her. But there is also Rand Campbell, the man she really loves, but who is unfortunately engaged to another woman. Of course, intrigue must happen and it may be up to Sarah to avoid disaster and save Rand.

This is a nice little book and it shows that mean-spirited people existed throughout all ages and while Sarah is modern, she is also still part of the existing culture that has certain expectations of women. Rand, on the other hand, is clearly a product of his time, and it will not be easy for him to leave his fiancee before the wedding, no matter how much she expects him to go through with the wedding.

To throw another angle into the story, the location is Fort Laramie and the Sioux are on the warpath. In addition to the drama inside the fort, our characters are also facing a real threat to their lives from the Sioux surrounding the fort. The reader will definitely not be bored reading this book and for those reader that love Colleen Coble, they will recognize her characteristically strong women in Sarah and the mix of romance and action that never gets old.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book for purposes of an honest review. The opinion expressed in this post is solely my own and has not been influenced by any third parties.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Purex Insider Product Review: Dial Baby Body & Hair Wash and Dial Kids Foaming Hand Wash

As many of you will know, Dial has a special line for kids that encompasses a number of products, including hand soap as well as baby-approved soap for bath-time. I was fortunate to be selected to try out two new products by Dial for baby, a hand soap and a soap for bath-time that can also be used to wash the fine hair of the little ones.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - nice packaging for the Dial kit with coupons and samples
 I received the body and hair wash that is specifically formulated for ages up to 2 years old. This formula was developed between Dial and Pediatric Dermatologists to be sure that baby skin can tolerate the use of the formula. It is of course tear free and hypoallergenic as well as pH balanced. The important thing is that the formula is paraben free and contains no artificial dyes.
Developed with Pediatric Dermatologists, this tear-free formula is pH balanced and hypoallergenic, with no parabens or artificial dyes, for babies’ perfect skin. Gently removes environmental dirt for a head to toe clean! - See more at:
copyright Durhamonthecheap - I love the child friendly form of the handsoap
 The hand soap is for kids, so the formula is a little bit different and this soap smells like watermelon. This is too cute for kids, my little one was excited to get his very own soap that mom and dad are not allowed to use. The soap is generating foam easily, so the kids know that it is working and washing their hands is fun. Like the body wash, this product is also free of artificial dyes, has no parabens and is pH balanced. I am very happy to say that Dial has discovered that kids are a target market and parents sometimes need help to get their kids into the habit of teaching good hygiene. Having their own special hand soap certainly has done the trick in my house. Whether it is a lasting effect (I hope), but my little one has been busy trying out his soap and making sure that the adults do not use HIS soap. If this attitude lasts, I will gladly use my regular soap and leave the Dial for Kids Watery Melon soap to the little one!
copyright Durhamonthecheap - who can say no to packaging that is this cute? My little ones will love a soap just for them.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - and as a mom I certainty appreciate the child friendly hair and body soap

Disclaimer: I received a free product in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this blogpost are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Update: McDonald's on S. Roxboro in Durham - my faith in service is restored & they do care about customers

So I had recently blogged about a disappointing experience at the local McDonalds. This is a fairly new McDonald's, but it is close to my house and stop by regularly for a snack or a quick meal.

Well the reaction to my blogpost as well as my web-submission to McDonald's about the incident was swift. I was called by the manager within 2 days of the incident and he apologized and promised to talk to the staff about the issue. I explained to him that I will return to his location and only felt the need to submit the issue and blog about it because a multitude of things were wrong within one single order. He offered me a free meal the next time I am at his store and followed the phone call up with an email and to me the matter was resolved.

But shortly thereafter I was also contact by the regional office. The first contact was via twitter, then via phone and again, there was an apology. I indicated to the staffmember from the regional office that the manager had already contacted me and I understood that service can be an issue, but if I have a bad experience, chances are that other customers may also have bad experiences. Today, I got a nice handwritten note in the mail with a number of coupons. To me, this matter is resolved and as stated earlier, I will continue to visit this McDonald's. I will inspect my food when I get drive through orders now and most likely will probably pick up my food inside the store to go. But I understand that service can be an issue. To me what matters is that the reaction by McDonald's was quick and included not just a pro-forma email, but handwritten notes and personal phone calls. Even if McDonald's is a fast food chain, people leave good money there in exchange for a service and this follow-up by McDonald's indicates that they take their service and not just their food serious.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - very much appreciate the nice handwritten note to apologize for the earlier mishap

Monday, April 6, 2015

Book Review: The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress by Victoria Alexander

A love story for the true romantic - that is what comes to mind when reading the latest book by Ms. Alexander. Lucy Merryweather has it made, she is an heiress, having inherited her great aunt's fortune and now she can enjoy life. Her path is not only paved by her great aunt's money, but also by a list of unfulfilled wishes that same great aunt left her. Some more traditional than others; some are outright risque for the time. And one will trump them all!

Travel the world
Solve a mystery
Ride an elephant
Take a lover
Kiss a stranger
Be painted sans clothing
Make certain the world remembers my name

So Lucy starts on her journey to check of the bucket list that her great aunt gave her and enjoy life free of parents, free of (financial restrictions) and only followed by a private investigator that is handsome and intelligent at that. Therefore Cameron Effington follows Lucy as a private investigator and no wonder the two get closer. Cameron finds Lucy interesting, not just as a subject of an "investigation", but also as object that deserves more than his interest since his heart is definitely skipping a beat whenever he sees Lucy. As Lucy works downs the list her great aunt left her, she and Cameron realize that the adventures listed by Lucy's aunt may also serve as stepping stones for their real life romance.

This book was written for the true romantics at heart. Ms. Alexander uses the list to let our pair go from adventure to adventure, realizing that most of life's fun is experienced together.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in advance of publication. The opinion expressed in the post is solely my own and has not been influenced by any third party.

Book Review: Against the Tide (The Brodies Of Alaska) by Kat Martin

This is my first book by Kat Martin and I really enjoyed reading this book. It has the right mix between romance and adventure. Ms. Martin was able to write a love story that makes turning the pages of the book easy. The question is not just how people will find together that seem made for each other, but, may be even more crucial, will they survive to find each other.

Liv Chandler fears for her life and is on the run because the police has been proven to be useless in protecting her. Where to run now to? Live finds herself in the remote village of Valdez, Alaska and seemingly at the end of her road, she encounters charter boat captain Rafe Brodie.  The reader may think that anyone who can make a living as a charter boat captain in Alaska must be tough and Rafe is certainly tough. He proves more capable of protecting Liv than the police so far. But soon death keep knocking. The first mate of Rafe's turns up dead and Liv fears for her life, Rafe close by or not.

Are her enemies close? Where can Liv and Rafe turn to in such a remote area as Valdez? Before Ms. Alexander allow the reader as well as Liv and Rafe to relax, there are plenty of twists and turns, danger and threats to overcome, sure to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in advance of publication. The opinion expressed in the post is solely my own and has not been influenced by any third party.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

McDonalds S. Roxobor in Durham, NC - service review, because they need to pick it up!

I went to the McDonald's on S. Roxoboro in Durham, NC this evening to purchase a quick dinner. I usually go to McDonald's a couple of times of month because it allows me to grab something to eat that can be healthy, such as their side salad. This evening, the experience was subpar and not just missing the point by a little bit, but a total fail that makes me now think twice before selecting McDonald's over the Wendy's, LilCesars, Amante, Subway and the two grocery store delis in the same shopping center.

I purchased a side salad and not only did I not receive any dressing, I was also given a spoon to eat my salad with and then realized that the salad had a best buy data of 4/4/15 1:36PM - well over 6 hours before I purchased it. In a day and age when McDonald's is trying to convince the American public that its offerings are healthy, this is not sending the right message that this chain can be frequented by people who want healthy menu options. No salad that is beyond the best buy date is considered appetizing or maybe even safe for consumption.

I submitted my experience to their website because the Facebook page of the restaurant in S. Durham is not set up to accept comments nor is the main McDonald's Facebook page. So we will see what comes out of this. Lately, my experience with the service at fast food places in S. Durham has been really bad. Couple of days ago, the Dunkin Donuts denied participating in a statewide promotion and before I even could place my order, was told the promotion was only on Mondays, when the sign on their own drive through indicated it was valid for any day in April. So now the McDonald's experience makes me wonder whether the fast food places need to first teach their staff good customer service before trying to present any new menu changes. Because if the staff has already issues to get things right, then menu changes will be a total disaster. Dunkin Donuts to their credit did things right, I called their customer service number and they did follow up with the franchise location to educe the owner about the lapse in server as well as giving me credit for two free drinks.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - I am adult and  good at eating, but I feel lost when I am supposed to eat salad with a spoon

copyright Durhamonthecheap - the final for the Duke game is on TV and the best buy date for the salad was 6 hours earlier!

copyright Durhamonthecheap - McDonalds must definitely try harder to compete against the Wendy's and Lil Cesars
Will I go back to McDonald's? Yes, but less often and I will go inside, check my food diligently and do not care if the staff hates me for it. But a salad that is 6 hours past the sell buy date, lacking the dressing and expected to be eaten with a spoon is a fail that only deserves this.

Product Review: Purex Insiders- Dial Miracle Oil Hand Soap

I love being a Purex Insider because I get to try out great new products on a regular basis and one of my favorites has been this great new soap - Dial Miracle Oil Hand Soap. It cleans, but it also moisturizes your skin and leaves it nice and soft even after washing your hands multiple times a day.

copyright Durhamonthecheap - my great Purex Insider kit, coupons, full size sample and information booklet

copyright Durhamonthecheap -the Dial Handsoap is smelling great and goes on so soft and smooth on your skin
 This new product by Dial is great because the addition of Marula oil ensures that the skin is deeply hydrated and stays soft and smooth for hours. The Marula oil also protects the skin from free radicals. I am not sure you can tell from the close up above, but the soap is really soft and applies to the skin almost like a lotion. It leaves the skin after a single wash soft and the dirt is also easily removed. I have previously used the bodywash by Dial with Marula oil and it has the same smoothing effect on skin.
copyright Durhamonthecheap - love my new Dial Miracle Oil Hand Soap

Disclaimer: I received a free product and free product coupons from Purex in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed in this blog are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.