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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Echo Lake by Carla Neggers

One of the best parts about NetGalley is that it allows me to try authors that have been on my radar but maybe not had any priority for me. Since the decline of Mallery's Fool's Gold series and the end of Jill Shalvis's Lucky Harbor series I've been throwing my net out looking for a good small town replacement. Over Christmas I read Neggars's Christmas novella and enjoyed it enough to move on to the next in the series, Echo Lake.

Here's the summary:
In snowy Swift River Valley, unexpected romance is just around the corner… 
Heather Sloan has landed her dream job—the renovation of Vic Scarlatti's stately 1912 country home overlooking the icy waters of Echo Lake in Knights Bridge, Massachusetts. It's the perfect project for the family business, but for once, Heather is in charge.  

Diplomatic Security Service agent Brody Hancock left Knights Bridge at eighteen, a few steps ahead of arrest and the wrath of Heather's older brothers. Though Brody had never planned to return, Vic, a retired diplomat and friend, needs his help.  

Staying at Vic's guest house makes it impossible to avoid running into a Sloan at every turn—especially Heather. Seeing her again has affected Brody more than he wants to admit. But Heather is wary of Brody's sudden interest in her, and she suspects there's more to his homecoming than he's letting on….  

Set against the scenic backdrop of a New England winter, Echo Lake is a captivating tale of family, friends and the possibility of new love.

Sounds promising enough, right? While I enjoyed it enough while I was reading it, in the time between finishing it and writing this review, I've found a few holes. I think that while I'm not ruling Neggers out, I'm probably also not going to rush to read the next one.  The romance has little to hang on, they barely knew each other as teens and they barely spend any time together in the book. I couldn't quite put my finger on when and how they fell in love. It certainly wasn't in this book. That said, the attraction between them is clear enough, and the scene of their first kiss was really terrific, with just enough heat and romance to make it memorable for me.

Heather is really the central figure of the book, well overshadowing Brody, who does little but hang around and has little to recommend him. Heather is fairly fleshed out and I love that she doesn't shrink under the observation of her five older brothers. She's happy working for the family but she also knows she wants more than that, and is willing to chase those dreams, even before it makes a convenient bow at the end.

I did have some problems with the book. First, there's no real explanation for why Brody left town, aside from some references to a fight involving Heather's brothers. They are wary of each other, but the animosity I'd expect from the summary just isn't there. I understand there's a fine line between making a believable bad boy and making him irredeemable and Neggers just doesn't nail it for me. It was lame. Second, the entire plot with Vic needing Brody's help? Also lame. Third, Heather is renovating this giant house, but she spends 90% of her time in the cellar. And last, winter? Seriously? I live in South Dakota. We have winter and snow and ice. If there's too much ice on the ground to walk to your car, waiting an hour or two for fresh snow to fall on top of it is NOT going to make it safe for you to drive home in.

Would I read more Neggars? Sure, but I'd probably wait to read a review of a spectacular one first, another mediocre one would convince me to move on, too many books, too little time.

Echo Lake was released today.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hexagon Update #1zillion #stillnotdone

I know, you are all waiting on the edges of your seats for an update. Great news! You can see all the updates you ever wanted if you follow me on Instagram! But I suppose I can update here as well if you aren't an IG addict like myself (I'd give up Facebook first).

I now have 2195 hexies basted. Only about 600 to go! SO crazy to be so close. I've sewn together about 130 flowers. I started to piece parts of the quilt top together and that was SO exciting. I worked on it for an entire day and in my head I was kicking ass and taking names. So I had the brilliant idea to lay them all out and see just how far I had to go....

Yikes. Turns out I have a long long ways to go- the part I spent all that time working on is the corner by her foot! It turns out I have to think a lot more about the lay out than I expected, or I end up with too many partial flowers. (And to be fair, the area with flowers on the final quilt will actually be inside this frame, I'm doing a border of white that will be approximately where this outline is, but it's not basted so I had to lay out flowers.)

My goal was to finish by her birthday this year, which would give me 7 more months. Seems a bit impossible from here, but it's not a goal if it's easy, right?

 It's all about the baste, about the baste, more hexies!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Another Week of Random!

This picture has nothing to do with anything, except I love it. Our family and another family have meshed in a really terrific way. We all get along beautifully and have started trading kids off regularly as well as doing things as a family. Last weekend they invited my boys to spend the night in a local hotel and swim. This picture captures all of their personalities perfectly.

Several people have commented on how cold it is when I run. Honestly guys, it's all relative. Temps in the 30s are a beautiful day this time a year. Everyone is outside walking and running and not being stuck inside. Yes, it's still cold, but your face doesn't literally freeze (I use literally here to mean literally.) I have to make sure my ears are covered or I die. I can stand the rest of me being cold, but once the ears hurt I turn back.  Mike, on the other hand, ran one day a month or so ago and came home with his sweat frozen into ice on the back of his neck. That, friends, is crazy. That said, today's goal is to find a new training plan for a half marathon.

National Readathon Day is this weekend! I can't wait to force my kids off their games and videos for four hours of whining about no tv quiet together time. I don't care, *I* am reading all four hours, try and stop me.

Book Report!

What I Am Reading:

  • Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Bosch. This one has been on my list a while, but I just noticed it was on Scribd when I was looking for another title so I started reading.
  • The Man Who Killed Kennedy by Roger Stone. The intro scared me but I'm 7 or 8 chapters in now and it's going pretty well. I was not expecting so much gossip, and I admit to knowing nothing about LBJ at all.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Audio). Yes, still.
  • Fire Me Up by Kimberly Kincaid. I've barely started.
  • Something True by Karelia Stetz-Waters. Reviewed here.

New on my e-shelf:

  • Trade Me by Courtney Milan (NetGalley). I am a total Milan fan girl. I'm a bit nervous about it being a contemporary.
  • The Dead Play On by Heather Graham (NetGalley). Katherine, I'm looking at you. Why do I need more titles??

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Something True by Karelia Stetz-Waters

Remember how I said I wanted to try to break out of my rut this year? No? Maybe I just thought it? Anyway, today's book, Something True by Karelia Stetz-Waters is both completely familiar and completely different- it's a romance, but it's not a traditional romance, in this one it's two women who meet and fall in love.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, I feel much the same way about the romance as I do any other romance I read- it had similar strengths and flaws. What I didn't expect was to be so pleased to have a new source of conflict that you'd never get in a traditional romance (perhaps my reading rut is deeper than I thought?)

Here's the summary from Amazon:
Tate Grafton has a tough exterior, but underneath she's kind, caring, and fiercely loyal. That's why she first started working at Out in Portland Coffee-it was her way of repaying the shop's owner for taking her in as a homeless teenager. Nine years later, the coffee shop is floundering and Tate feels like she's letting life pass her by . . . until she shares an unforgettable night with a beautiful stranger. When the mysterious woman disappears the next morning, Tate doesn't even know her name. 

Laura Enfield was supposed to be in Portland for only a few days-just long enough to oversee a simple business deal before joining her conservative father on his political campaign. But when the closeted Laura romances an employee of the coffee shop her company is shutting down, things get suddenly complicated. Now, the lies she's told for years are beginning to unravel, and her biggest secret is about to be exposed. Laura can't stop thinking about the barista with the soulful eyes, but after a lifetime of deception, can she finally embrace something true?

Now before I start I feel like I should get this out of the way- I am not gay. I don't pretend to begin to understand the emotional complexities and serious dangers of being gay and coming out, let alone in the very public way it is in this novel. I support gay rights and I believe in marriage equality. I am not "squicked out" by the idea of reading a gay romance. I don't expect that anyone who reads my blog would be, but if you do keep your comments polite or I'll just delete them.

On with the book! I'll start with Tate. Tate is out. She works at a coffee shop that proudly declares it and her friends are unashamedly out. She's given her entire life to the owner of the shop for rescuing her as a teenager, and she feels insanely guilty for not enjoying her tiny studio apartment and her lack of a life more. She's always the one who gets dumped, even tho she seems to have no real flaws. Despite all this, she's really the heart of the story. She's so loyal and determined to put everyone else first. She's got a bit of a white knight complex, and is determined to save everyone else even if it brings heartbreak to herself.

Laura has spent her entire life hiding what she is. Her father is a successful politician at a very high level from the Deep South, and coming out has never been an option.  Laura has decided that it's time to take a risk and since she lives on the road nearly full time she decides that while she's in a new city  that this is the time. She walks into Out in Portland and all but invites Tate to join her at the gay bar, which Tate does, and then she "lets" Tate take her home. Laura sneaks out early the next morning, intending never to see Tate again. She's not so much scared for herself, but she knows that it'll sink her father's future if she comes out.

Did the romance work? Well, the attraction was certainly there. Even I have a crush on Tate now. These two really struck a cord with each other and you could feel both their attraction and their vulnerabilities. I loved that. What didn't work for me, and what rarely works for me in a traditional romance either, is that the entire book takes place in a week or two. It felt so rushed. I'm not completely convinced in Laura and Tate's Happily Ever After, which is the one thing I'm always expecting in a romance. There are some really great scenes where the emotion just shines through- in the Palm Springs house, Tate and her bike on the bridge, Laura in the bar with her coworkers (if you've read it) and some parts that are just too much ( I could have done without the entire side story of Krystal and her father, and Laura's SUV adventure.)

Overall, still very satisfying and it was terrific to have a new source of conflict in a romance (ie, if your partner isn't out.) I wouldn't recommend this to just anyone, even tho it isn't particularly racy and there's really no shock value to it, but I would recommend it to anyone who isn't threatened by two women falling in love.

Something True came out on January 13, 2015.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Return of Random Friday

I'm just as surprised as you are, Sirius Black!

It has been stupidly cold here since Christmas, but the last two days were beautiful, in the 30s. All the paths are mostly clear of snow and the urge to run outside struck strong. Unfortunately I couldn't go Wednesday (more on that momentarily!) but last night Mike pushed me out the door at 5 and I had my first outdoor run in months. It was awesome. I didn't quite make it 3 miles, because all the snow that had melted during the day was turning back to ice and the ground got slick, but I could have. I am WAY behind on my two miles a day goal, but I expect that when the weather picks up again I'll start making up ground.

And why didn't I run Wednesday as well? Because I had book club! I realize that most people who want a book club already have one, and I've been talking about it half my life. So finally I decided to put up or shut up and we had our first meeting this week. We read Station Eleven and while we got a bit sidetracked on discussion it was a lot of fun. Since it was our first meeting we spent a lot of time talking about other books and our bookish history and getting to know each other's preferences. We are planning to rotate through our own TBR for titles. I chose Station Eleven, Jenna chose next months book (The Man Who Killed Kennedy ), Lyndee will go next, etc.  We have veto power, but the idea is that we have to not reject it without a good reason. No one wants depressing books, but that's about it. No excessive crying (sorry, Shawna.) Anyone have suggestions?

Book Report!

What I Read (Am Reading):

  • Something True by Karelia Stetz-Waters (NetGalley) This one is outside of my usual romance road, as it features two female leads, but I'm enjoying it.
  • The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work by Christine Carter. (NetGalley) I DNF'd this one. It just was not what I thought it would be.
  • Echo Lake by Carla Neggers (NetGalley) My first full length Neggers, review to come.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Personal e-book/audio) I listened to this one for two miles while I was on the treadmill. Guys, I'm not feeling the love everyone else does.
New on my e-Shelf:

    The ones I'm hoping to read next, but don't hold me to it:

    • Fire Me Up by Kimberly Kincaid. (NetGalley) I read another in this series recently and thought I'd give her a second chance.
    • Sweet Talking Man by Liz Talley. (NetGalley) I've yet to read a Liz Talley I didn't love.
    • Tales from Another Mother Runner by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea (NetGalley, but I would have bought it.) I need to get my mojo back and I loved their first two.

    Monday, January 12, 2015

    I've Got My Duke to Keep Me Warm by Kelly Bowen

    What is it with romance novels all having cutesy titles now? I suppose this is better than the old style of Wild Savage Love or whatever.  I started I've Got My Duke to Keep Me Warm back in November, I almost finished it before it's December 16th release date, and then Christmas happened. So it became my first book of 2015 instead. Don't let this incredible delay of finishing it turn you away tho, it was really a lovely debut.

    Here's the description:

    WHERE SECRETS SMOLDER . . .Calm. Cool. Collected. Gisele Whitby has perfected the art of illusion-her survival, after all, has depended upon it. Years ago, to escape an abusive husband, Gisele "disappeared." Now she must risk revealing her new identity to save another innocent girl from the same fate. But she needs a daring man for her scheme, and the rogue in question shows a remarkable talent . . . for shattering Gisele's carefully constructed facade and igniting her deepest desires.
    . . . PASSION IGNITESThis isn't the first time Jamie Montcrief has awakened naked and confused from a night of drinking. It is, however, the first time a stunningly beautiful woman offers him payment afterward. Gisele has a business proposition for him, a mission involving cunning thievery and a brazen rescue. How can he say no to a plot this dangerous . . . and a woman this delectable?

    Gisele is desperate. Time is very quickly running out to stop her abusive husband from taking a new wife. (Don't let the relationship here stop you. It is explained well, but not without spoilers.) She has to prevent him from subjecting another woman to what she knows lurks behind his facade of normalcy. The problem is, she can't stop him herself (spoilers!) so she has to recruit the perfect partner. She finds more than she bargains for when she stumbles across Jamie Montcrief. Gisele has been through more than any woman should have to bear, and is still so human. She's not a depressed, scared creature, but instead strong and honorable and determined. She takes risks but only ones that will help other people, nothing foolish or unthought out. 

    Jamie is a true hero. (I think I might always say that.)  He's carrying a ton of guilt around with him from his war days, and he's not exactly legitimate, but aside from those minor things he's perfect. He Does The Right Thing. Jamie's backstory, while not as tragic as Gisele's is well done and you can see exactly how he ends up naked and hungover. When he realizes the gravity of the situation Gisele has hired him for, he doesn't hesitate.

    Was the romance believable? Not entirely. It's hard to get a fix on just how long the story takes. At times it seems so quick and unbelievable, but at other times you think maybe weeks have passed. I want to think this in intentional- you need to believe there is a rush on stopping the wedding, but you also don't want it pointed out that they fell in love in a week. I didn't really see much of a falling in love, at least not on Gisele's part. It's not until she's confronted with Jamie's past that I felt that she saw much in him but lust.

    Which brings me to one of my two quibbles- I had a hard time believing that their first "moment" together would have happened so early. No, I'm not talking upon meeting, but if the entire book is only a week or two? And this goes back to the unclear time line, I'm not sure how fast things happened. I felt that with Gisele's past, she probably wouldn't be so quick to make out with Jamie.  My other quibble is that at times the dialogue felt too modern. This is common in romance novels. I think inexperienced authors often fall to the too modern or too stilted side of things. I'm willing to overlook this in a debut author, and can honestly say I enjoyed the dialogue tremendously, even if it was out of time, and am happy to give Bowen a second chance. I feel like she has a lot of potential and an eagerly awaiting the sequel, A Good Rogue is Hard to Find.

    Thursday, January 08, 2015

    Happy New Year 2015!

    Sheesh. I haven't posted in a month. New Years Resolution #1: Blog more!  Am I the only person who really feels that the new year doesn't begin on January 1st but rather on the first "back to normal" day of the year? The first day everyone goes back to work/school/daycare? So this last Monday for me. Which means this post is still three days late.

    I've tried to sit down and formalize some resolutions and honestly I find it somewhat slippery. Maybe that's a sign that I need some meditation and calm in my life. Resolution #2: Find some calmness. Picture my thoughts as smooth as glassy water... oh look, a sunny beach! with waves! and boats! and swimming! and... not so smooth. Where was I?
    (not a sunny beach!)
    Ok, seriously tho, this year I'm going to get back to blogging. I miss it. (says everyone with a blog, ever.) I didn't even do a best of or an end of year recap this year (last year) and now I feel like everyone has moved on. I read 58 books, more than my goal of 52. A brief glance says they were almost all romances or non-fiction, with a large percentage of the non-fiction being about running. My goal this year is another 52 books. I'd like to be better about NetGalley feedback, even if that means reporting that I could not finish the book. I'd like to review more here and on Goodreads. I have started my very own face to face book club (we meet next week for the first time!) so at least 12 of those books should be of interest to more people than just me. I have a list of half-read series and have done the legwork to see where I can get them without buying them. I am READY for a good reading year.

    Last year I trained to run a half marathon and ended up injured. My injury is healed (I think) and I'm getting back into running. Mike and I have challenged ourselves to run 730 miles this year, including 2 half marathons and at least 2 5Ks.  He's got a few more on his list, because he loves trail running. I'm currently behind 5 miles (counting today, and it's still early) but it is South Dakota winter, which means negative wind chills and ice, and treadmills are boring. Unless you watch Gilmore Girls while you run (Resolution #Next: Finish Gilmore Girls. #teamjess!)

    My goal is to finish the hexie quilt for Lauren by her 5th birthday, which is August 31st. This is an insane goal. I have a very long ways to go. I have about 2200 hexies basted and around 120 flowers sewn. That leaves about 700 hexies to baste and maybe 250 flowers to sew together, and then assembling the whole thing. Did I also just say I was going to read 52 GOOD books, blog about them, and then run 730 miles? I do still have a job, right?

    Speaking of jobs, my new job is EXCELLENT. I love it. I have been here two months and I am still very excited to come every day. It has so much potential and it's interesting and my new bosses are terrific.

    And lastly, the resolution I make every year: Be the friend I'd like to have. Say the compliment that I thought in my head outloud. ("Your dress is so cute!" "Your child was very helpful and considerate to mine." "Thank you for getting back to me so quickly." Etc.)

    Here's to a really INTENTIONAL good year in 2015!

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