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Friday, October 24, 2014

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan

I really hate to admit it, but Maybe This Christmas was a bit of a let down for me. I really loved the first two in the series, and I liked this one a lot, but it wasn't the terrific conclusion that I was anticipating.

Here's the summary:
This winter, ex-skiing champion, reformed heartbreaker and single dad Tyler O'Neil has only one mission—making sure his daughter, Jess, has the best Christmas ever. The fact that his best friend, Brenna, is also temporarily moving into his chalet at the overbooked Snow Crystal resort is a delicious distraction he's simply going to have to ignore. Theirs is the one relationship he's never ruined, and he's not about to start now.

Ski pro Brenna Daniels knows all about the perils of unrequited love—she's been in love with Tyler for years. But living with him is absolute torture… How can she concentrate on being his friend when he's sleeping in the room next door? Then when Tyler kisses Brenna, suddenly the relationship she's always dreamed of feels so close she could almost touch it. Could this be the Christmas her dreams of a happy-ever-after finally come true?

This one has a lot of *other* stuff going on. There is a really well thought out background of Brenna and Tyler's high school years, and in general a lot more information about the O'Neil family history. There's also more detail about Tyler and his daughter, Jess. All of that was well done, for the most part.

So where does this one fall? I think it's probably mostly because I love best friend stories so much, but I didn't really get that moment of giant revelation like I did with Elise and Sean in Suddenly Last Summer.  This would still be fine, but I also didn't really feel like Sean was falling in love. It was clear he was attracted to her but I just didn't see the romance from his end. On her end, she's been in love with him since high school, and just saying that seemed to be all we got. It was a sweet story, and it was a nice conclusion to the series, but it wasn't a stellar romance. That said, I'll be first in line for the next Sarah Morgan.

Maybe This Christmas will be published on October 28th.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

One in a Million by Jill Shalvis

Guys, I'm so sad! This is the LAST Lucky Harbor! The good news tho, is the Lucky Harbor is going out on a high note, unlike some other series (*cough*Fool'sGold*cough*) and not dragging on to a sad end.  I loved all of Lucky Harbor, but I think these last three were the best.

Here's the summary for One in a Million:


As the brains behind wedding site, Callie sees it all: from the ring to the dress, the smiles . . . to the tears. It's that last part that keeps her single and not looking. Getting left at the altar will do that to a girl. But when Callie returns to her old hometown, she finds that her sweet high school crush is sexier than ever. And he makes it hard to remember why she's sworn off love . . .

Tanner is a deep-sea diver with a wild, adrenaline-junkie past-and now his teenage son is back in his life. How can Tanner be a role model when he's still paying for his own mistakes? It's hard enough that gorgeous Callie has appeared in town like a beautiful dream, challenging his best-laid plans to keep his heart on lockdown. Though there's something about being around her again that makes him feel like he can be the man she-and his son-deserve. Little Lucky Harbor holds their past; can it hold a beautiful new future?

First of all, as a whole, Lucky Harbor is pretty unbelievable. I mean really?  SO many hot guys! But Shalvis is aware of this. She even pokes fun at it, unlike other small towns that just keep adding all these unrealistic characters with high profile jobs. I live in a small town and we barely have a hospital, let alone a burn unit and a sports rehab and a spy training camp and and and... where was I? Ah yes, my love of Lucky Harbor. Honestly, this is a series that I could see myself reading again, should I ever have time to reread 12 books.

In specific, Callie and Tanner were pretty sweet. Callie had a huge crush on Tanner in high school and figures he doesn't even remember her. It's adorable watching her realize that he knows exactly who she is, without any unbelievable bit about return feelings back then. I enjoyed the unevenness of them both knowing about the crush, and felt Shalvis took the tension from that just far enough.  Callie is determined to never fall in love, she's been jilted once and she just doesn't believe it can happen, but she's pretty quick to fall back into her crush.  It takes her longer than it should to actually realize that love is possible and feels more like a plot flaw than something believable. Being left at the alter IS a big deal, but this "insecurity" isn't strongly reinforced by the rest of the book.

Tanner is wonderful. Of course, why wouldn't he be?! More and more I find that romance novel heroes rarely have real flaws. They are never insecure or unattractive and even if they have some horrible past, the most  this will affect them will be in being commitment shy.  Tanner is very quiet about his feelings, but he's able to admit to himself that he would like a little more than what Callie is giving. He has a teenage son who has recently come to live with him, and while he doesn't know how to parent, he sure does get everything right there- toes the line when it matters, and lets it go when it doesn't. The relationship between Tanner and his son starts off very strained, but is pulled around in a mostly satisfying manner. Tanner really doesn't fail at anything, which is nice for reading, but perhaps strains credibility a bit (I can hear a non-romance readers reaction to this sort of character, and my hackles are already up!)

It sounds as if I didn't really enjoy this one, and of these last three is probably is my least favorite, but overall I really did like it. I flew through it in a matter of days and am so sad to see it end. Lucille, of course, is front and center keeping up with her old antics. Callie is her granddaughter and is there to keep an eye on her, but Lucille does what Lucille wants. The actually falling in love parts are so sweet and honest, and you really do believe in their feelings for each other. If you're looking for a nice strong author for contemporary romance, Shalvis would be my first choice. I'd try to read each "set" of three in order, but it's not necessary to read all 12 in order. You see the other characters occasionally, but they don't play a big role in the other sets. (Lucky Harbor is 12 books broken down into four 3 book sets of connecting characters.)

One in a Million will be published on October 14th.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Texan's Surprise Son by Cathy McDavid

There's always one right? One bomb in any set of books? One that just doesn't stand up to the others? For me, and the Texas Rodeo Barons, The Texan's Surprise Son is that one. In the interest of full disclosure, it's possible that I went into this one with lower expectations. I've read one other Cathy McDavid and it was a bit of a disappointment as well, so it's possible that colored my experience. I've officially added McDavid to the list of Authors Who Are Not For Me.

So what's this one about? Another baby, if the title didn't give it away.

Taken By Surprise

Jacob Baron is shocked to discover he's a father. But he's determined to do right by his son, despite the lack of strong role models in his own life. Jacob's a bull rider, and there's no halfway with him. He'll be the kind of dad his son needs…even if Cody's attractive aunt, Mariana Snow, seems to question his daddy skills at every turn.

Jacob cooks, cleans and has a nice touch with a two-year-old. He also has broad shoulders, gorgeous eyes and a mouth that can only be described as sexy. But Mariana's own part-time, no-good father was a rodeo star. She knows their charms can't be trusted. She's hanging around for Cody's sake, that's all. At least, that's what she keeps telling herself….

In this one, the baby plays a giant role. He is in every scene and conversation, pretty much.  The romance is completely unbelievable and undeveloped. Mariana is completely unlikable. She's supposed to be a bit of a control freak, but she's so extreme that if I knew her in person I'd probably hate her. Frankly, anyone who hires a babyproofing service is never ever going to appeal to me.  She had what should have been completely reasonable reservations about Jacob, but blew them so far out of proportion. If she's listened one second to anything going on around her, they would have been so obviously unfounded. Add to this that she's a brilliant lawyer who should be smart enough to see this, and I just didn't like her. At all.

As for Jacob, I didn't think his issues were quite as bad but I still had some problems. He is apparently hung up on being Brock Baron's adopted son, and feels like he's never been treated the same and is asked to prove himself too much. He is partially right, he is being asked to prove himself, but the issues with Brock are either not real or too easily resolved. One conversation should not be enough to right a lifetime of wrongs OR to suddenly allow you to see them all in a new favorable light.

Add all this to the weak romance, and I can't really recommend it. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bring Your Lunch: Quick & Tasty Wallet-Friendly Lunches for Grownups by Califia Suntree

I was SO excited to see this cookbook pop up on NetGalley. My work schedule has recently changed so that I only get a 30 minute lunch period each day*. This is not enough time to go home and eat, so I have been bringing my lunch every day. I have a handful of constraints- while we do have a fridge and microwave at our disposal, they are in the dungeon of a basement and I prefer to use my precious 30 minutes to actually eat. So food should ideally be both ok eaten at room temperature and not be so delicate that it will spoil in a lunch box with blue ice for a couple hours. During the winter I'll be more willing to sit in the basement, but so long as the weather is nice I plan to eat outside at the picnic table. So you can see why this cookbook would get my attention!

I ultimately found about 1/4 of the book useful- the sections on containers and packaging, and the general ideas for sandwiches and salads. I did not find any of the recipes useful because so many of them required actual reheating and refrigeration. None of them seemed quick to me. Basically, she was giving out regular recipes cut down to one or two servings and then reheated. I can figure out how to make leftovers on my own. I was hoping for some nice room temperature salads or other ideas and the book completely fails on that. If you have time to sit and reheat and space to spread out your lunch, this may be ideal for you, but for myself, it was pretty useless.
Bring Your Lunch was published on September 9th.

*I'm taking 30 minute lunches so I can leave at 2:30 on Wednesdays to take the Princess to ballet class.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Three recent non-fiction reads

In the last couple of months I have read three non-fiction books that I would group loosely into the same class of books.

First, Things a Little Bird Told Me by Biz Stone. I admit it, I picked this up because Janssen told me to read it. This is written by one of the creators of Twitter and he seemed like a really likable guy. The first 3/4 of the books are about his experience with blogging, Google, and the actual creation of Twitter, and then he kind of veers off on a tangent of doing good things for the greater good. It's not that I don't agree that people should do these things, but it changed the tone of the book. Despite this, I still recommend the book to others and I did like it quite a bit. The morning after I wrapped it up I happened to see a podcast with him on my phone and listened to that during my run. It was a nice way to finish it off.

Then I read Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. I read Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics and assumed I'd enjoy this as much. I did not. I felt it was largely a rehash of the first two, just approached differently. It did not help that I listen to the Freakonomics podcast (again, on my runs) and so much of the book was covered much more interestingly on the podcast. I'd skip this one and listen to the podcast instead.

Last, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. This also came highly recommended by Janssen and usually her recs are spot on. Unfortunately, while this did have some interesting bits I found the writing itself dull and when I realized my library copy would poof in a couple days I intentionally chose to not even try to finish. Sorry Janssen!

Monday, September 22, 2014

He's So Fine by Jill Shalvis

I stayed up way too late three nights in a row finishing off the two most recent Lucky Harbor books- It's in His Kiss and He's So Fine.  This is tricky when one gets up at 5 am to go run. I. Am. Tired.  Was the worth it? HECK YES. I only wish that I'd had the third in the set on hand for when I finished this one up. (Note: I'm writing this review in July to be published in September. I'm guessing that I will still be tired by the time it publishes. Hopefully because I stayed up way too late to read the third book.)

Here's where we start with this one:


For Olivia Bentley, Lucky Harbor is more than the town where she runs her new vintage shop. It's the place where folks are friendly to strangers-and nobody knows her real name. Olivia does a good job of keeping her past buried, not getting too cozy with anyone . . . until she sees a man drowning. Suddenly she's rushing into the surf, getting up close and personal with the hottest guy she's ever laid hands on.

Charter boat captain Cole Donovan has no problem with a gorgeous woman throwing her arms around his neck in an effort to "save" him. In fact, he'd like to spend a lot more time skin-to-skin with Olivia. He's just not expecting that real trouble is about to come her way. Will it bring her deeper into Cole's heart, or will it be the end of Olivia's days in little Lucky Harbor?

Wow, look at that! The description is fairly accurate on this one- depending on your definition of "trouble."  The trouble in this case is more of a mess of her own making than anything like a stalker or building fire.

He's So Fine starts off with Cole and Olivia in the most intimate way possible, without actually getting intimate. After Olivia leaps into the freezing water to "rescue"  him, Cole's only possible response is to take her on the boat and get her nekkid. So she doesn't freeze, of course.  The first two chapters are really well done, with both Cole and Olivia making the best of an awkward situation that is made even more awkward by the appearance of Sam and Tanner on the boat. I literally laughed out loud at one moment, sitting in the hallway at work.

Cole is Mr. Fixit. He takes care of everyone and fixes everything. He's much like McGuyver in his ability to weird a screwdriver and duct tape. When he comes to believe that Olivia is broken, his every instinct is to fix her too. He is slow to realize that her personality has her taking care of him in return, probably because he's slow to realize that he needs taking care of at all. Cole has a really bad relationship in his past, one that he's tried very hard to move on from, and to not hold against future relationships. However, this also has made him see things in black and white, with no shades of gray. So when it comes out that perhaps Olivia has misled him a bit (a lot bit) about her past, he absolutely does not take it well, and is not willing to listen to her.

Olivia grew up with an entirely different life, and an entirely different name. She doesn't really intend to lie to Cole, but by the time she realizes that this is more than just the man working next door, it's too late to take back her lies. Unfortunately, the lies she told will absolutely come out one day, so she's constantly aware that they are on a countdown to when he walks away. She falls in love in a panic, because she can't think of a solution and she knows everything will crash. And it does.

With the help of their friends, they both come to realize where they went wrong, and they both do a bit of public groveling. I found both of their reasoning to be solid and believable, but wished all the way for Olivia to stop digging her hole deeper. She knew from fairly early on that she should 'fess up, and while I could understand why she didn't, it didn't make me not want to shake her. I stayed up way too late to finish this one, just like the last, and really wished I could just continue on to Tanner's book.

He's So Fine will be published on September 30th.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Guest Post! Trucks and TROBO the Storytelling Robot

A very good friend of mine, from high school, has formed a company that makes an interactive plush robot named TROBO. TROBO is adorably cute, and they are currently fundraising on Kickstarter for their first production run. You can go now and pre-order your own TROBO. Chris has agreed to write a guest post for Books. Lists. Life. and as a parent of a toddler, has chosen to send me a book review. That seems fitting, no?
(Chris is the one in yellow.)
Trucks Get Stuck – A Board Book Review

I’m a father with a 2and a half year old named Asher.  He loves cars, trucks, and trains.  Our bedtime book collection heavily reflects this.  At about the 8th book into our collection of truck books, I began to see a theme with truck books.  They all get stuck somehow or have to get someone else unstuck.  On the surface, it seems like “truck” and “stuck” rhyme, so why not make a book about it?  In fact there is an adorable favorite in our collection who’s title is a little too on the nose for this blog, called, “My Truck Is Stuck”.
So since there is a common theme, I am reviewing a few of our favorites.  Since I mentioned “My Truck Is Stuck”, by Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk, let’s start there.  Though the title, in this context, is a little obvious, the storytelling totally works.  This poor chap does get his truck stuck, and enlists the help of many different vehicles, including a Jeep branded Wrangler to help him get out, finally succeeding with the help of a… well let’s not give it all away.  But here’s the fun spin on this yarn, his truck gets stuck, because a pile of sneaky beavers set a trap, and they’re slowly over the story, whittling away his huge payload of bones.  You don’t catch it until the end, but it creates a wonderful little chuckle every time you’re reading it before bedtime.  The rhyming is slightly repetitive, but the meter flows pretty well.  I recommend this book for its creative spin on why the truck gets stuck and the subplot of the great bone caper the beavers pull off.  Lastly, the artwork is jut adorable and inspires me to whip out my pastels and try the style for my own characters.

Next up, “Red Truck”, by Kersten Hamilton and Valeria Petrone, is a delightful tale of not how our truck gets stuck, but how our tow truck is perfect for getting others out of a jam.  This one has less overall verbiage than I may like, but the experience still works.  It also incorporates special effects on some words, like “zoom”, and “vroom” encouraging mom and dad to sound out the story, making it more interesting than just a poetic read.  We follow the tale of how our red truck saves a stalled school bus full of children trapped in the snow.  It took me a little time to get used to the artwork, as some of the perspective seems off.  But then again, it’s a children’s book and is clearly crafted with intention.  My favorite page is a two-page spread on page 7, where the truck goes up a large, squirrely hill.  It’s text says, “Can Red Truck make it up the hill? Red Truck CAN, Red Truck WILL!”  - what a nice metaphor for overcoming tough obstacles. 

Lastly, I’d like to highlight a series that is a character-driven, personal favorite. “Little Blue Truck”, by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry is built around a meek old farm truck, that gives friendly honks and advice to frogs, other cars, and people.  Little Blue Truck (LBT) finds himself in tough situations and uses kindness and friendship to solve his story problems.  First, in “Little Blue Truck Leads the Way”, we see LBT mosey into the city.  Although we don’t get to know why he’s there, we can assume from the art that he’s bringing melons in from the farm to sell.  He gets mesmerized by everything being larger than he is, and quickly runs into stereotypical New York crabby-cabbie style cars, that just want him to get out of their way.  A traffic jam ensues, and LBT helps everyone calm down and get out of it single file.  The meter in the text is pristine, making for a friendly, poetic read, that you can spontaneously turn into song, should you choose to do so.  The artwork is very complex and detailed.  Though a good Photoshop rendering can fool anyone, I believe this is a refreshing use of traditional paints (either acrylics or oils).   Jill uses a lot of dry brush techniques to communicate motion, and though her attention to building detail is remarkable, my favorite page is 15-16, where a big street sweeper is kicking up a mountain of dust.  Asher’s is 19-20, where he gets a bird’s eye view of the traffic jam, full of cars and buildings. 
The second book we got was, “Little Blue Truck”, which was published a year earlier.  This jaunt through farm country introduces us to all the friendly animals LBT knows well.  One day a huge, extremely arrogant dump truck rumbles through, being rude to everyone, and lands himself in an enormous mud puddle.  Since he wasn’t nice, he has no one willing to help to get out until LBT steps up.  The artwork is beautiful and light-hearted, and my favorite panel is page 9-10, where the big dump barrels on through.  The only minor flaw in this book, is that they call the dump truck, “the Dump”, to help a rhyme work, which feels a little awkward.   My wife and I thought only these two titles existed, but during this blog, I’m pleased to have just found “Little Blue Truck's Christmas”, which I am ordering next.  And as my wife , Asher, and I say on the last page, “Thanks little blue truck” for all the happy bed time readings.
Chris Harden is a husband, father and the cofounder of TROBO the Storytelling Robot, a talking plush toy and interactive digital board book series that teaches kids 2-7 about science and engineering.  TROBO is currently live on Kickstarter at

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