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Showing posts with label review copy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review copy. Show all posts

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.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Swan Point by Sherryl Woods

Waaaaay back in college, my friends and I used to read a lot of romances featuring pregnant women and babies by choice. Not just because a series we liked went there. We sought them out. I know. One of the authors that we loved was Sherryl Woods. After college I moved on, and I relegated Woods to the category of authors who wrote books about babies and I never looked back. This summer a friend of mine mentioned Woods and I thought I'd take another look. Happily Swan Point has no babies at all on the cover. It does, however, have children in it.


Here's the summary:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Sherryl Woods draws readers back into the world of strong friendships and heartfelt emotions in Serenity, South Carolina

Determined to build a new life for her family after her divorce, Adelia Hernandez has bought a home in the historic Swan Point neighborhood of Serenity. Promoted to manager of Main Street's most fashionable boutique, she feels revitalized and ready for a fresh start as a single mom. But barely into this new independent phase, she crosses paths with the sexiest man to hit Serenity in years.

Gabe Franklin, back in town to make amends for past mistakes, has no intention of settling down, but Adelia's proving irresistible. Cheered on by their friends, "the Sweet Magnolias," Gabe is bringing long-absent passion and laughter into Adelia's life. To his surprise—and hers—sometimes a rolling stone is just what it takes to build the rock-solid foundation of a family.

So as I said, there are children. Adelia is a single mom of 4, fairly fresh out of a publicly embarrassing divorce. Her self-esteem has taken a giant hit, and she's pretty much brand new to the world of both dating AND being anything other than a mom. She really opens up in the book and starts to accept that yes, she CAN have something that she loves as an individual, something that she's not just doing for the benefit of her children. I'm learning that when done well, I don't mind the addition of children to a book, if they are there as part of the new family and not just for comic relief.

By the same token, Gabe has a lot of growing to do. He has to overcome his past in Serenity and learn to deal with the parts of being in a small town that scared him off before. He falls for Adelia pretty much before he even talks to her, and while his words insist he can't stay, can't do it, his heart and brain is telling him otherwise. While he does insist a TAD too long that he's not right for relationships, he manages to pull it off in the end.

The romance in this one is sweet and flirty. Any action is behind closed doors other than a few stolen kisses. It's believable and I enjoyed it a lot. The biggest flaw of the book are the Sweet Magnolias (been there done that, see also Fool's Gold) and basically all the name dropping from the other books in the series. Books like this make me really appreciate Lucky Harbor, where you might meet people from other books, but it's not a challenge to squeeze them all in. Would I read another? Yes, I would. Would I recommend it glowingly like I do Lucky Harbor? Not yet.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Texan's Twins by Pamela Britton

Back to those Rodeo Barons! The Texan's Twins is the fourth book in the series, and the third one with kids in it. I don't know. I like the series and the adults and I'm not finding the kids to be too distracting, but I don't usually find the addition of them to be incredibly romantic. So much of the plot line revolves around the kids. And the more of this I write, the more I realize that perhaps the appeal of these books (that is, books with kids in them) is NOT a "baby hungry biological clock ticking" way but in a "single parents deserve love too" way. I'm going to need to think on this more. There is definitely a difference in my mind between a book like the first Barons book (where the hero and heroine are pregnant from a one night stand) and this one (where the heroine comes into the story with 5 year olds.) One is about wanting a baby with a person and the other is falling in love with someone else AND their kids.

Ok, long intro, what's it about anyway?

Definitely Not Daddy Material!

Jasmine Marks is focused and hardworking, and when she took a job as engineer for Baron Energies, she left behind her support network. Now, the burden of caring for her twin girls is all on her, and she doesn't have time for a dilettante playboy like Jet Baron. Besides, she needs her job, and she can't blow it by getting involved with the boss's son.

On the surface, Jet Barron is a dabbler, dropping into work one day and riding rodeo the next. But when he makes his mind up, he goes for it, full-out. He knows a lot more than anyone suspects, about the oil business, about women. And this woman needs someone to count on—which will be Jet, if he gets his way.

First, the characters. I really enjoyed both Jasmine and Jet in this one. Jasmine is exactly as described. She works her behind off to provide for her girls and is successful at it. She's also realistically exhausted and stressed to her limits, and a health scare does not make it easier. She turns to Jet for comfort, because she has no one else and she can not resist his offer. She's terrified to start to care for anyone and insists to herself that this is just temporary, a way to ease stress. She doesn't see at all this is what love is all about. Jet has a honestly earned reputation as someone who can't be taken seriously. He understands why that is but he kind of chafes at it, as he isn't really as flighty as his reputation seems. Jet has been pulled into Baron Industries because of his father's injury (Really? How long can that take to heal anyway?) and while he has no desire to take over the company, he is legitimately happy to be working there. He especially loves working with the newest engineer, Jasmine. Jet falls fast and never really denies what he feels even as he is amazed by the possibility, and when things finally implode (in a scene I have never seen in a romance!) he gracefully steps out of the way for Jasmine. It is thoughtful and kind and makes me love Jet more.

Even the addition of the two little girls doesn't really distract from the story here. They are always present (Jasmine is a single mom with no other support, this is a plot point) and the story is very much about Jet falling for all three of them. Was it a perfect romance? No, but it was very good and I read through it very quickly. I am still enjoying the series very much, with two books remaining.

The Texan's Twins was published on September 2.


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Texas Rodeo Barons, Books 1 & 2

Ok, so remember how much I loved that first Donna Alward that I read? That has led me to keeping an eye out for her new books on NetGalley and requesting any I find--- even if the title is "The Texan's Baby" and it has a hugely pregnant woman on the cover.  Normally, even the cowboy on the cover wouldn't make me overlook the pregnant woman but I made an exception. I finally sat down to read it a couple weeks ago, and discovered that Alward writes a really great Harlequin- she's 2 for 2 on the Harlequins for me now.  After reading this one and discovering it was first in the series, I went back to NetGalley to look for the rest. There are (going to be) six of them- all by different authors. The next three were already available so I snapped them up. Of the four I now have/have read THREE of them involve babies and children. So we'll see how that goes. 

Wow, that's possibly the longest intro paragraph I've ever written. And how were the books?

The Texan's Baby by Donna Alward was terrific. I'd give it a good four stars.  Lizzie and Chris end up expecting a baby after a one night stand at the rodeo. This is, of course, out of character for both of them.  I thought I'd really be put off by it, and honestly it wasn't nearly as annoying as I predicted. They both handle the situation as adults, with little or no drama about paternity or responsibility or money. This made the pregnancy a near non-issue and only a way to get them together quickly.  I enjoyed seeing them squirm through figuring out how to explain a pregnancy to their families when they weren't actually dating.  The big conflict comes about from their jobs, not the baby. It turns out that Lizzie is heading up her family's oil energy company and Chris works for a rival company.  Lizzie doesn't handle the conflict in this well, and I'm not 100% sure I like the way it's resolved- I felt Lizzie doesn't grovel enough or come through with enough legitimate reason to act the way she does.  Despite this, I felt like the romance was solid enough to keep me looking for Alward's books, and I immediately requested the next three in the series.

Second up was The Texan's Cowgirl Bride by Trish Milburn. This is the one book of the first four that does not include babies, but it does have a tragically dead wife to make up for it. Travis is a returning war hero turned PI (of course he's a returning war hero, aren't all the ones who aren't cowboys?) who finds himself falling for Savannah Baron (sister of Lizzie.)  The problem is that Savannah is experiencing a health scare and Travis has already lost one wife. Is he willing to fall in love again with someone who might also die on him?

This one wasn't as strong as The Texan's Baby. I liked each of them individually, but I didn't find the relationship to be as strong. It felt like it was much more about the surrounding details than about the couple themselves. Additionally, I felt like perhaps Savannah's health problems were drawn out a bit too long for sake of the story (I base this entirely on my imagination, perhaps it does take this long.)  Once again I enjoyed seeing the Barons, but did not feel as though all the siblings took over the story. Despite not loving it as much as the first story in the series, I'm looking forward to the next two (four) books.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Suddenly Last Summer by Sarah Morgan

I was determined to write a really great review of this one, because I just loved it so much, but alas, I've waited a couple weeks and now have forgotten a ton of detail. The short version though, is that I loved it and highly recommend it.

Suddenly Last Summer is the second book in the series that began with Sleigh Bells in the Snow, which I read and really enjoyed at Christmas. This one picks up at the end of spring/ beginning of summer as Snow Crystal Resort is gearing up for the summer season. Here's the blurb:

Fiery French chef Élise Philippe is having a seriously bad day. Not only have the grand opening plans for her beloved café fallen apart, but Sean O'Neil is back in town and looking more delectable than ever. Memories of the electrifying night they shared last summer leave Élise very tempted, but she knows all too well that eventually Sean will be leaving…again.

Being back in Vermont—even temporarily—is surgeon Sean O'Neil's worst nightmare. Returning home to the Snow Crystal Resort means confronting the guilt he feels about rejecting his family's lifestyle years ago. But discovering that Élise is still in Vermont and still sets his blood racing is a very welcome distraction! Remembering last summer and how good they were together is going to make walking away more difficult than he could imagine….

And my thoughts in more detail:

Sean and Elise have a history of one really great night together. They both walk away from it completely satisfied, and with the understanding that neither one of them is interested in a relationship. This suits them both just fine- until Sean comes back home for the summer and after spending time together realizes that he's wrong about why Elise does not want a relationship and at the same time that mayyyyybe he is interested in something more after all.  I really loved Sean. He's not perfect. He's arrogant and sexy and fully committed to his job and full of guilt over a fight with his grandfather. He desperately wants to be a part of his family while at the same time does not at all want to live at Snow Crystal.  He's not someone you'd want to fall in love with at the beginning, but by the end you want him all for your own.  Possibly his best quality is that he's entirely honest- he's upfront that his job is his life and he really means it when he says he's not good relationship material until he realizes he wants one, and even then he doesn't try to deny it.

Elise is also highly lovable. She's adopted the O'Neil family as her own and when she says family is the most important thing, she means it. She's dedicated to Jackson (From Sleigh Bells) and is not shy about professing her love and affection for her adopted family.  If anything, perhaps she goes a bit too far towards unbelievable in this, but not so far as to make me crazy. She maintains her character all the way to the end and is a terrific match for Sean.

The plot itself is fairly similar to the first book- Snow Crystal is in trouble \ and all the family rallies to help.  Unlike Sleigh Bells, this one takes place over several weeks (months?) time and the realization of their true feelings is more realistic. I absolutely freaking LOVED the moment Sean realizes the truth, and scene where all is revealed. It's not Pride and Prejudice good, but it's one of the best I've read in a very long time. I love that Sean doesn't make a big turn around to suddenly giving up his fancy career, which would not have been at all realistic.  I am already anxious to read Tyler's story and since this one doesn't even come out until June 24th (I read it in March!) I have a very long wait to go. I have added Sarah Morgan to my list of auto-read authors and highly recommend you pick up the series.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Her Kind of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry

So last time I read a Sarah Mayberry book I said that  wasn’t jumping on the Mayberry bandwagon again. I appreciated the adultness of the interactions, I liked the characters honesty with each other, but there were some aspects that didn’t thrill me. The same things are true of Her Kind of Trouble. I really appreciate that the hero and heroine are  honest with each other. For the entirety of the book they act like actual adults and never play guessing games.  That said, I had some issues with the actual plot.

Here’s the blurb:


It takes one to know one

The moment Vivian Walker spies Seth Anderson she knows they're a match made in hedonistic pleasure. And everything that happens between them proves her right. Even better, they both agree their one night together is all they'll share.

Now, years later, Seth remains one of Vivian's favorite memories. Surely the sizzling chemistry has faded, though, right? Apparently not. Because when she sees him again he's still sinfully attractive. More than that, she actually likes the man he is. When Seth suddenly becomes a full-time dad to a newborn, Vivian falls hard. Despite the changes, however, she knows Seth will never settle down. And he will definitely never commit to one woman. So she needs to strengthen her defenses before she gets into real trouble!


My thoughts: Vivian and Seth are both really terrific characters. They are full-fledged adults with no hangups. They aren’t distrustful by nature or scared of relationships and neither have been horribly burned by the past. They both know that starting a relationship with each other is a very bad idea, because as it turns out their siblings are married to each other. They’ll be seeing each other at every family event for the next 50 years. For the last ten years they have had a terrific relationship of flirting around each other and knowing it’s going nowhere.  When Viv finds out that Seth is expecting a baby with an ex-girlfriend, she’s prepared to give him hell for it.  No one is expecting the baby’s mother to be involved in a horrible accident and Seth to get immediate and full custody of a newborn.

This is where my problem lies.  (And it’s really hard to explain without spoilers, I’m sorry!) The setup itself- a really great attraction between two really great people- is light and fun and the seriousness of the situation with Lola (the baby’s mother) is in direct contrast. I assume that Mayberry was trying to show the serious side of Seth  and Vivian and she does a great job of it, but it’s so hard to read about. Seth is really a standup guy. He does a million thoughtful things for everyone around him during a time that is both full of joy and sadness and the author does a  wonderful job of making me fall in love with him a little myself, but the entire time I was reading I couldn’t keep thinking of this poor woman whose real time tragedy was being used a  plot devise.  Usually when someone dies in a romance novel it’s something in the past, but in this one it’s a central theme of the book. Granted, she was a minor character, we never even actually meet her, but it was very uncomfortable for me to read about it.

Final Verdict: I’ve decided that Mayberry writes terrific characters, and the romances are well done, but I think the surrounding plots are maybe just a little two uncomfortable for me. I don’t always need things nice and easy, but I didn’t like the discord of killing this poor woman off so Seth could be the hero.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Little One-Yard Wonders

Guys, I know most of you don't sew, but this book is SO adorable! I requested a review copy on NetGalley but I really really want to buy one of my own. The full title is Little One-Yard Wonders: Irresistible Clothes, Toys, and Accessories You Can Make for Babies and Kids.

Here's the description:
This newest addition to the best-selling One-Yard Wonders series features 101 delightful projects for babies and kids, each using just one yard of fabric and many requiring just a few hours to complete. Step-by-step illustrated instructions, beautiful close-up photographs, and pattern pieces included in a bound-in envelope make it easy and fun to create all kinds of adorable items, including the Merry-Go-Round Dress, the Ruffle Romper, the Western Shirt, and the Secret Monster Overalls. From tops and caps to play mats, pillows, and plushies, this book overflows with creative clothes, accessories, toys, and furnishings for little ones from newborn to elementary-school age. Whether you're furnishing your nursery, making new clothes for a growing child, or creating a unique gift for a baby shower, this collection has the perfect project for you.

I didn't actually get a chance to sew something from the book because a) hexagons and b) when you are looking at a e-book you're missing the vital patterns for most of the items.  That said, some of them are just adorable. There are at least two or three shirts I'd like to try, a ruffly tiered skirt, some super cute little stuffed animals, a monster towel, this cute little crib rail- the list goes on and on. Only a handful look complicated, and there are so many cute gift ideas. Best of all- none of them require a ton of supplies or fabric and very few of them are ridiculous as many books of this sort tend to be. I would guess that many of the projects are suitable for beginner level sewing as well as some more advanced (there is one button up shirt that I am definitely up for! I'm no longer scared of zippers but buttonholes give me the fear!)

This one will be out in May, and I might just ask for it for my birthday...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

When We Met by Susan Mallery

I have come to realize that there are a handful of authors that are always very solid for me. They are rarely spectacular books and they tend to blur together in hindsight, but I look forward to reading them and I can trust them to pull me out of whatever reading slump I am in.  Nora Roberts is one. Jill Shalvis. And, as your probably guessed from the title of this post, Susan Mallery is another.  When We Met is the latest installment in the Fool's Gold series, and while the town itself is a bit unbelievable the books are satisfying and I will always request them from the library or NetGalley.

So what's this one about? Here's the blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery invites you back to Fool's Gold, where a newcomer to town might finally meet the man she never knew she needed…

Angel Whittaker earned his scars the hard way, but the scars that can't be seen are the ones that haunt him the most. Since he moved to Fool's Gold, California, he's cobbled together a life for himself as a bodyguard trainer. If he's not exactly happy, at least his heart is safe.

Working with pro-football superstars taught tough-talking PR woman Taryn Crawford one thing—she can go toe-to-toe with any man. But then dark, dangerous former Special Ops Angel targets her for seduction…and challenges her to resist his tempting kisses.

Even in four-inch heels, Taryn never backs down. Unless, somehow, Angel can convince her that surrender might feel even better than victory.

Short review:
More memorable than most Fool's Gold books, but only because of Angel. Taryn will be forgettable.

The Long of it:
One of the problems/appeals of Fool's Gold (the town and the series both) is the amazing amount of extraordinary men in the town. Fool's Gold is supposed to be a small town where everyone knows everyone. It's full of quirky festivals and volunteer activity, which I buy, and also dozens of specially trained doctors and special forces and formerly pro athletes. I live in a very small town. Probably smaller than Fool's Gold. We have to drive hours to see a dermatologist, let alone a fancy burn specialist. We don't have a bodyguard school, a search and rescue club, a fancy hospital, or a Starbucks.  I occasionally get hung up on how it's possible that Fool's Gold is small enough for everyone to know each other, and yet large enough to support all these things. That said, I'm ok with an abundance of big masculine men.

Angel has been in Fool's Gold for half the series now. He's always mysterious and quiet and never mentions his past.  I've been waiting for his story, because I was looking forward to the time that the most dangerous of them all fell in love. When we finally do learn about his past, it only serves to make you love Angel more. He is full of heartbreak and guilt over the death of his wife (this is only the very slightest of spoilers, you know from the beginning) and the contrast between the big warrior with the scar on his neck and the man in love with his wife is really well done.  The book handles this really well- Maria is never pushed aside and his love for her  and memory of her is allowed to be all it should be.  Angel has decided that it's time to be a full part of Fool's Gold and contacts Mayor Marsha about volunteer opportunities (another thing- why would they see the Mayor? It just doesn't make sense) and gets assigned to a troop of little girls. Think Brownies, not Girl Scouts. They are seven. This is possibly the best part of the book and easily the most memorable. Angel is not at all prepared to guide seven year old girls but can't find a way to back down. So.. he asks Taryn to help.

Taryn is not particularly likable, or believable. She has a rough past but finally overcomes it to get her first real job at age 30.  Now, at 34, she's so successful as to be able to buy all designer clothes and shoes. What? REALLY? Even if you work hard and apply yourself, I just don't see that happening in four years. Taryn's defining characteristic is her love of nice clothes and shoes, and it's supposed to come off and cute and charming but it failed with me. I just kept thinking how it wasn't possible to spend thousands of dollars on a single pair of shoes over and over on four years work experience.  She had a tough childhood that makes it near impossible to trust anyone, and I did find that sympathetic and believable. Overall, I just didn't find Taryn to be a memorable lead.

The relationship itself is fairly well done. I love the opening scene and the way both characters pursue the affair. They aren't hesitant to go after they want and there is no internal resistance, which is rare in a romance novel.  The sexual tension is good, particularly in the beginning. I appreciated that they didn't skirt around Angel's late wife and he didn't cling to his love for her as a reason not to fall in love again.  Clearly, for me, this book hinges on Angel, with Taryn being much less interesting.

Would I recommend this book alone? No, but mainly because I'll forget all but the barest of facts within a month.
Would I recommend Susan Mallery and the Fool's Gold series? Yes, to anyone who enjoys a nice solid, mostly predictable comfort book, because that's what these are- total comfort.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

I love love loved A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, so of course I requested Delancey.  I was not disappointed!

The Blurb:
In this funny, frank, and tender new memoir, the author of the New York Times bestseller A Homemade Life and the blog Orangette recounts how opening a restaurant sparked the f irst crisis of her young marriage.

When Molly Wizenberg married Brandon Pettit, he was a trained composer with a handful of offbeat interests: espresso machines, wooden boats, violin-building, and ice cream–making. So when Brandon decided to open a pizza restaurant, Molly was supportive—not because she wanted him to do it, but because the idea was so far-fetched that she didn’t think he would. Before she knew it, he’d signed a lease on a space. The restaurant, Delancey, was going to be a reality, and all of Molly’s assumptions about her marriage were about to change.

Together they built Delancey: gutting and renovating the space on a cobbled-together budget, developing a menu, hiring staff, and passing inspections. Delancey became a success, and Molly tried to convince herself that she was happy in their new life until—in the heat and pressure of the restaurant kitchen—she realized that she hadn’t been honest with herself or Brandon.

With evocative photos by Molly and twenty new recipes for the kind of simple, delicious food that chefs eat at home, Delancey is a moving and honest account of two young people learning to give in and let go in order to grow together.


The short of it: Wizenberg has a way of writing that makes me feel like we’d totally be friends. I’d love to hang out with her, and I could completely relate to how this all went down.

All the rest: You know how sometimes you really want to encourage someone, even when you think that they might not succeed at what they are attempting? Or really even follow through on trying? And so you do that pat-pat go-for-it you’ll-be-great thing? Well that’s pretty much what happens here. Molly and her husband are going along being newlyweds. Molly is writing a book, Brandon is in grad school. It’s all good. Sure, Brandon occasionally gets a wild hair to build a boat or something, but that never actually happens. So when he decides to open a pizza restaurant, Molly is encouraging. She’s neck deep in her first book, and not really paying attention and one day she wakes up to discover that Brandon really is opening a restaurant, that it wasn’t just something he’s going to lose interest in.  Molly realizes that this really isn’t something she wants, but it’s too late to do anything but jump in with both feet.

This isn’t really a book about life in a restaurant, and it isn’t really a book about food (Even tho there is plenty recipes in the book). This is really a book about a marriage and about diverging dreams and what that can do to a marriage.  It's about waking up one morning and realizing that the life you have is nothing like the one you imagined that you would have, and then learning to embrace that one instead.

It's really hard for me to put my finger on exactly what it is that I like about Wizenberg's writing, but I really do. I would read everything she writes.  She really captures the details of how her relationship changes without really giving up too much privacy. She's funny, open, honest. I really like her. i didn't finish the book thinking that she left big holes in the story, so if she left anything out she did so seamlessly. Life isn't perfect, and she didn't shy away from admitting her part in the struggle.  I would happily recommend this book (or A Homemade Life) to anyone who enjoys a memoir or a foodie book or even just a well written story.

Delancy will be released on May 6th.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward

Fresh off my enjoyment of Her Rescuer Rancher, I stumbled across House on Blackberry Hill by Donna Alward on NetGalley.  This is Alward's first non-Harlequin and I was curious to see where she would go with it.

The Summary:
When a young woman inherits a rundown mansion, the last thing she expects to find is the key to her heart…

Abby Foster is a fish out of water in the Maine coastal town of Jewell Cove. The crumbling Foster estate, left to her by a relative she never even knew, has everyone’s eyes on her—an eerie reminder of the long-buried family secrets that have haunted her…forever. Single, stunning, and sometimes too strong-willed for her own good, Abby’s plan is to sell the house and hightail it back to Nova Scotia. But another part of her is intrigued by the idea of starting over somewhere new—and finally learning the truth about her heritage.

The House On Blackberry Hill

Enter Tom Arseneault. The best contractor in Jewell Cove, Tom is determined to restore the beauty and prestige of the Foster mansion—and maybe even work his charms on its beautiful new heir. The attraction between him and Abby is undeniable, and the more time Tom spends on the house the more he wants to be in it with her. But Abby’s not sure she can trust him—or anyone in Jewell Cove who seems to know more about her family history than she does. Home: Is it really where the heart is after all?

The Short Review:

I didn't love it, nor did I dislike it. Alward has a lot of potential in this market, but the book did have some flaws.

All the Deets:
First, the good. Jewell Cove (the series) has promise. I can see Alward becoming one of those authors who write small town series that I pick up for comfort (think Susan Mallery, Jill Shalvis, Nora Roberts).  Everything about the plot itself is fairy well done. I love the house, I like the town, I like the historical mystery. I didn't find the haunted aspect to be cheesily done, or completely unbelievable.  I enjoyed all of the secondary characters a great deal.

So what's the deal then? I didn't love the hero and heroine. Tom's backstory is well done. I understand him coming into the relationship with baggage, but it seems that it's written a bit to mislead you as to exactly what his problem is. Regardless of that, it unfolds slowly and evenly and is well paced.  Abby also has unhappiness and trust issues in her past, but I find it hard to relate to her and it seemed a bit unnecessary. Honestly, Abby comes off a bit bland and uninteresting.  It's really hard to see why Tom falls for her and the attraction is there on paper, but I didn't really feel it.

That said, this is Alward's first book for St. Martin's Press and I have high hopes that the next one in the series will improve on this. Obviously I have no real knowledge of publishing, but I would think the transition to another editor and style would take a little practice.

The House on Blackberry Hill will be out on April 29, 2014.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Therese, Faustina and Bernadette by Elizabeth Ficocelli

The Blurb: In Thérèse, Faustina, and Bernadette: Three Saints Who ChallengedMy Faith, Gave Me Hope, and Taught Me How to Love author, speaker, and retreat leader Elizabeth Ficocelli introduces her readers to three remarkable women saints who became not only her role models, but also her life-changing friends. Thérèse, Faustina, and Bernadette taught Ficocelli about faith, hope, and love, and showed her what true Catholic womanhood looks like.
Some of the best saint stories are not about wonder-workers, but rather the everyday saints—friends who understand the challenges of marriage and motherhood and the banalities of day-to-day life. Bestselling author Elizabeth Ficocelli discovered three such friends in Thérèse of Lisieux, Faustina of the Divine Mercy, and Bernadette of Lourdes. The witness of their lives moved Ficocelli to cultivate the virtues of faith, hope, and love as she journeyed from a successful career as a marketing executive to what she found was a more authentic, even counter-cultural Catholic womanhood. Ficocelli offers women the wisdom of these saints for their own spiritual journeys.

In Short: Oddly compelling, but at the same time hollow feeling.  It feels like the author is rehashing stuff she’s done before (I say that not having read anything else she’s written.)

The Long Version:   I am (still) fascinated with non-fiction books about other people’s spiritual journeys. In particular, I enjoy it when people convert to another religion, or in this case from non-practicing-Christian to Catholicism.  I am ALSO fascinated with Catholicism. I requested this one from NetGalley  They weren’t mothers, nor where they even wives.  That said, I could see understand that one might learn something from them. For example, Saint Therese was an example of pure love. And, in all honestly, I did see where the author is going here. I can see how you should learn from the book that You! Too! Could be sainted if you only love Jesus/everyone enough, but I absolutely could not tell how the author was relating that to her life. Her personal stories were interesting, but they didn’t relate to the specific saints that she was claiming she was learning from.

I also didn’t feel like the book itself delved very deep. Let’s take for example Faustine of the Divine Mercy. Ficocelli repeated “Divine Mercy” roughly every other sentence, but barely even touched on what “Divine Mercy” means. Yes, I can see, God’s Mercy. Whatever. Tell me what that really means and why I WANT that, don’t assume that I know. OR assume that I am well versed in Catholic theology and write ALL the book like I know what you’re talking about. (It’s like telling someone they have a “Federally Compliant ID card” but not explaining what that is or why it matters.) Ficocelli also continually refers to books she’s written or read about each or the saints prior to writing this one, and I couldn’t tell what new thing this book brought to the table. Sure to me it’s all new, but I hate to read something that feels like a summary of something else. Perhaps if she’d done a better job of relating her personal stories to each saint and tying it all together I would not have felt this way. I really came out of it feeling like this is a 60 minute speech she gives somewhere and she padded it out to be a 180 page book.

In the end, I am more interested in the lives of these saints, and exactly what made them a saint, but I didn’t feel that this book was one I’d recommend to other people.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Struck by Genius by Jason Padgett

Struck by Genius:  How a Brain Injury Made Me aMathematical Marvel is a non-fiction book along the lines of A Beautiful Mind, which I loved, and The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, which I did not love as much.  Padgett suffers through a violent mugging that leaves him seeing things most people can’t see- the very structure of the universe. After a period of depression and seclusion, he finds himself fascinated with math and geometry in ways that make the average person’s brain hurt. He instinctively knows theories that he’s never before encountered, with no education to back them up, and without the vocabulary to describe them. He can draw fractals. He is eventually diagnosed with acquired savant syndrome and acquired synesthesia. In exchange he also gets a healthy dose of OCD, paranoia and PTSD.

I found the majority of the book to be incredibly fascinating. It’s nearly impossible for me to comprehend the idea of looking at a flood light and seeing pi. Fractals and imaginary numbers and math theory seem more like fiction than reality (and I say that having taken years of calculus in college.)  Padgett not only understands these things instinctively, he literally sees them.  The math talk isn't so heavy that you can't follow along, nor is it at all boring.  I wish there had been a little more about how this affected his personal life once he left his house, and I think the last chapter took a philosophical turn that was absolutely unnecessary but otherwise I'd easily recommend this to anyone who enjoys non-fiction of this sort. 
Struck by Genius will be released on April 22, 2014.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Recent reading

I may not have been posting much lately, but I have been reading. Unfortunately, several of the books I've read aren't out for another six weeks. I've scheduled full reviews of them for closer to their release dates but meanwhile, my brief thoughts-

First, When We Met by Susan Mallery. We all know I'll read every Fool's Gold book she writes. This one features a strong hero and a forgettable heroine, but I'd still recommend the series.

Next up, Delancey: a Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage by Molly Wizenberg. I loved this every bit as much as A Homemade Life.

Then I moved on to Donna Alward's House on Blackberry Hill. I didn't love this one as much as Her Rancher Rescuer, but that may be because Alward is testing the waters on full length romances. Despite the shakiness, I will go on to read them rest of the series.

White Cat by Holly Black. This is the first in a series of books about curse workers. This is a unique take on the paranormal and one I quite enjoyed. It's got curses, deception, mob-like loyalties, and just the slightest touch of romance. Unlike many books in the YA world, while there are more in the series it does not end on a cliffhanger. Which is good because I ILL'd it so my wait time on the others is fairly long.

I have a ton more books waiting on the iPad, so hopefully reading will continue at this nice pace!


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Her Rancher Rescuer by Donna Alward

So remember last week when I told you what I was reading? I didn’t finish any of them. Instead I wandered off and read a romance novel. Shocker, I know. I grabbed Her Rancher Rescuer on NetGalley because of a good review I read, and the other night when all my paper books were out of reach I fired it up. I read it in about 24 hours and I have to say it was worth it. This one was really worth your purchase.



Amy has always lived in the same small town, and always had a reputation as someone who can’t keep a man. She’s prone to diving in heart first and then getting hurt when things don’t turn out. Having grown up under the shadow of her father’s abandonment, she’s finally ready to break away from the town and become more than what people expect. After yet another humiliation at a wedding Amy hides in the ladies room, only to be rescued by handsome millionaire Jack Shephard. Jack was an Olympic skiing hopeful, who had his dreams shattered after a crash, and now owns a successful sporting goods chain and ranch/retreat center. He is in a bit of a bind as his resort manager has fallen and broken her hip, and Amy sees her chance to get out of town with an offer to help him. Of course they are crazy attracted to each other, so what’s gonna happen when they are cooped up in a house together?



Here’s why this was great, despite the millionaire premise- both main characters are flawed. Both have made mistakes. The growth that they both do thru the course of the story is real and believable. Amy has to learn to see herself as worthy in and of herself and not just as half of a relationship. She’s always been on the search for a man to bring her happiness after seeing her mother so devastated by her father’s desertion. Amy realizes after the wedding that she has to get out of town and make a success of herself or she’s going to always be the same old predictable, lonely Amy. Once she realizes that she’s fallen for Jack, she’s still willing to walk away and not throw herself after him (so long as she believes he isn’t in love with her too, anyway.)



Jack himself has an incredibly scandalous past. His skiing career ended on a terribly after he tried too hard to rescue someone who didn’t want rescued. He is terrified to open up again, because of way the old relationship ended. He has to learn that he can trust a woman with his heart, and he has to learn to risk himself for happiness. Jack may be a millionaire hotshot, but he really felt like an ordinary guy. He is successful in business, but has this big glaring hole in his life. He tries to do the right thing by Amy, but there are so many little moments where it’s obvious that he is scared and clueless on what he should do. He messes up in the end, of course, but never comes off as a heartless jerk.



The story itself is just really well written. There is a ton of tension, despite being PG in nature. Amy and Jack are both vulnerable but not stupid, and you can see the affection and respect between them. The ranch setting is there, but doesn’t play a huge role in the story, beyond a reason to get her out of town. If you are a fan of Harlequin romances, this is one I would highly recommend. If you are on the fence about them, this would be a good one to test out. I ended the book with a smile on my face and the desire to find more books by Alward.

(Sorry about the weird bolding- Blogsy apparently doesn't believe in paragraph breaks today!)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Random Things on a Friday and some recent reading

I have decided to change how I use my friends list at Goodreads. Up until now I have accepted friend requests from people I know from the blogging world  and real life but NOT from random strangers. Every morning I get the email of updates and barely glance at it. I realized that I’m really skimming it to find the people who read what I read. I mean, duh.  So even tho I love many of you very much, I’m going to be removing you from my list.

This winter is killing me, like it’s killing many of you. It’s been so cold for so long and the very idea of going outside is painful.  In order to feel active again, Mike and I rejoined the YMCA. I am looking forward to zoning out on the treadmill for a bit. To make this even more fun, we both got Fitbits. He has the Fitbit Zip and I ordered a Fitbit Flex (hot pink, thank you!) He is loving his and mine should be here any moment. If you have one I'd love to  hear how you like it and it seems theres is a buddy system on the website, so once I get signed up I'll be looking for people I know.

 I started the year off great with a gratitude journal, but at the end of January I pretty much lost interest. I think I’m going to continue using the journal- I have several other pretty goal sheets and lists in there- and revisit the gratitude idea every couple of months. I found that some days I was grateful for the same things as the day before, and giving it a little breathing room will make it enjoyable and not a chore.
What am I reading? Not a lot.  I have no idea where my time is going.
I recently finished Incognito by Andrea Raynor. This got my attention because it was about her experience at Harvard Divinity School, and I am always fascinated by religion and by how people experience faith. I was hoping it would be a bit like Girl Meets God- someone struggling with where their faith was leading them, without being a call to the faith- and I suppose it was, but it didn't have the same emotion that Girl Meets God does. It read much more like anyone else struggling to declare a major and I think that dedicating a life to God would be a bit more climatic than this was.  Additionally, the cover copy reads like there's going to be scandalous bits, and she shies off from really going there. I think she's trying to paint herself as a little wild and make her decision to enter the ministry as more of a moral dilemna, but there's really never any doubt. She didn't quite go far enough with her relationship scandals (what scandals?) or her ambivalence. I had a similar reaction to  the one about the weight-lifting librarian.
I am nearly done with White Cat by Holly Black.  This one is a YA set in what is to me a very unique world of curse workers. It's a world with organized crime conducted by curses, which is pretty cool. I had to request it by Inter Library Loan, and it's paper, so it took me a while to get back into the habit of a paper book again. There are two more in the series and I suspect that I'll want to read them as well.
And I've gotten a good jump into City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I resisted because have you SEEN how big these books are? Enough people mentioned them as being incredibly romantic that I had to see what they were talking about.  I find that this one reminds me of the "Fever" books by Karen Marie Moning but I can't pinpoint why.
I also have a giant  "stack" of NetGalley books waiting on the iPad. I've pretty much completely lost track of what's going on there, so I need to sit down and get it straight.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dark Tide by Susan Sleeman

Dark Tide was an impulse grab from NetGalley. I have a horrible habit of judging a book by the cover and I like that this one was a bit atmospheric and didn't have any people on it. 

The Blurb: Gina Evans knows her brother was murdered;even if the police won't believe her. After catching a quick glimpse of the evidence her brother had gathered, the same criminals are after her and her baby niece. And Gina's only hope is the man she left behind. Despite the painful memories, private investigator Derrick Justice won't fail Gina and her baby. Yet now, the woman he never stopped loving and the baby he's come to adore are in a killer's crosshairs. But can Derrick trap the cold-blooded murderer before he strikes again?

The Short of It: Pleasant enough, but probably not memorable for long. Skip it.

All the thoughts: This one had a number of flaws for me. First, the mystery elements of the plot just didn't make a convincing story for me. From the moment the villian is mentioned it is clear who it is, and the red herring switches from "very suspicious" to "completely trustworthy" overnight, literally.  Gina is convinced of a conspiracy but it really didn't feel that way to me.  Both Gina and Derrick are completely likable people, and I wouldn't have minded a bit more of them, and of seeing them fall in love again, but it was almost like it picked up back in the past and their feelings were never gone.  The issues that broke them up just aren't issues any longer, so there's no real conflict. While I expect a suspense book to focus on the actual mystery, I fel tthat it really gave short shift to the romance.   The book is also near the end of a series of the Justice family, and the other family members have much too large of a role in the story. 

Last, I completely missed the Love Inspired label on this one until after I finished it, and that completely colored how I felt about the religious aspects of the book. As I was reading it, I kept thinking that the discussions about God and frequent prayers were pretty heavy-handed. Since this was an e-book, I never flipped back to the cover to see that it was supposed to be this way, and it was jarring and out of place. I suspect if I'd realized that going in that I would still have read it, but I wouldn't have keep pausing to wonder what was going on.  The fault in this situation is all mine.

Overall, it was an ok read, but I probably won't seek out the author again and I have no desire to read the rest of the Justice family's books.

Source: NetGalley

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean


The Blurb:

From the author of the bestseller The Disappearing Spoon, tales of the brain and the history of neuroscience.

Early studies of the functions of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike-strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, lobotomies, horrendous accidents-and see how the victim coped. In many cases survival was miraculous, and observers could only marvel at the transformations that took place afterward, altering victims' personalities. An injury to one section can leave a person unable to recognize loved ones; some brain trauma can even make you a pathological gambler, pedophile, or liar. But a few scientists realized that these injuries were an opportunity for studying brain function at its extremes. With lucid explanations and incisive wit, Sam Kean explains the brain's secret passageways while recounting forgotten stories of common people whose struggles, resiliency, and deep humanity made modern neuroscience possible.


The Short of it: However you felt reading that lonnnnnng title? That’s how you’ll feel reading the book. It’s two parts interesting and one part can-you-hurry-it-up-already.


The Rest of it: For the first 3/4ths of the book I found it completely fascinating and understandable.  The tone is such that even someone with no knowledge of the brain could easily follow along, and the parts about how your brain changes (or doesn’t) to accommodate injury and illness is pretty amazing. The last couple chapters veer more into talking about the soul and consciousness, and the controversy that happened when researchers started to pinpoint areas of the brain the controlled specific actions and emotions and I felt like that part wasn’t quite as well done. This is likely because of the unscientific nature of the soul itself and so is understandable, if a bit boring. If I had a complaint about it it would be that I would have liked to see more of the interesting cases and less of the process of presenting the work and the background of the scientists themselves. (Tho to be fair, several of those were fascinating as well.)  Overall, quite interesting and a nice break from my usual reading material.


Source: NetGalley

Friday, January 10, 2014

She is not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick

After staring at a blank screen for way too long I’ve decided that I really need a format for these longer reviews. So trying this simple one out for She is not Invisible by Marcus Sedgewick.


The Blurb: Laureth Peak's father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers--a skill at which she's remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.


The short of it: Great concept, but I found the execution lacking. Perhaps a tween reader would enjoy it more.


All the rest: So the idea of going to a strange city and finding their father through pattern and mystery sounds great. How will this blind girl navigate a strange country? What kind of danger will she be in (Lost? Mugged? Worse?) Her father is obsessed with the idea of coincidence and has been writing thoughts on it in a notebook for years and I really love thinky things like that. His notebook is found and Laureth and Benjamin set off to recover it, and then find their dad. The clues in the notebook are increasingly scary, and I can see how a younger reader would get caught up in the tension, but for myself all I could think was that it was pretty farfetched. A reader would really have to believe in all the coincidence that was being presented in order to believe that her dad was really in danger. I couldn’t really get past the point that the author was able to write whatever he wanted, so then it was just fake coincidence, which makes this whole discussion very meta. Anyway, even with an open mind, I found it hard to see past the writer to the story. This reminds me a lot of my experience with The Westing Game- I just could not get “into” the story and look past the writing and so it failed with me. And, without giving away the ending, it felt like he wasn’t sure how to conclude this great idea he had going, and the end doesn’t match the rest- the mystery building is just solved with everyday events, nothing to merit all that buildup. I think it’s entirely possible that the problem here is with the specific reader tho, and not the book itself. I’d recommend it to some younger readers- I think it would be possible for them to get wrapped up in the story and find it amazing.


Source: NetGalley


Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

One of the last books I read in 2013 was The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan. I adored the first books in the series earlier in the summer and when this showed up on NetGalley I was quick quick to grab it up. I barely hesitated before diving into it.

Sebastian and Violet have been friends for years, but a long held secret between the two of them has begun to threaten their friendship- and I'm not talking about the fact that he's secretly in love with her. No, this secret is much more scandalous and threatens to ruin the lives of their families as well. Sebastian is well-known for his talks on evolution and genetics, and in the era of Darwin has quite the crowd of followers, many of whom wish him ill. What will happen when he fesses up his hatred of this life to Violet? Can he just stop being the scandalous man everyone believes him to be?

A description like that sounds like this one will be all about Sebastian but shockingly, it's not. Sebastian is terrific. He's loyal to Violet to the core, even when he's setting aside his love for her in order for her to be happy. Violet has more than one secret, and her history with her late husband has taught her that she's unlovable, hard and brittle. She knows that were she to dare to have feelings that she'd shatter apart. It is very hard for the reader to like Violet at all. She's purposely this way, and honestly I think Milan might drag this out a touch too long. However, when the secrets all come out, and boy howdy do they!, you find yourself wanting to hug Violet yourself. Violet and Sebastian are SUCH a good pairing. He so desperately wants her and yet he keeps himself from even touching her casually, so long as he can tell she can't handle it.

This being a Courtney Milan book, there are of course other issues at play. As with the others in the series, she addresses social issues and women's rights and changing thought. I can't really go into this more without giving away spoilers, but needless to say it's very well done and I completely loved it.


Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Two for Christmas by Susan Mallery

I have been reading a ton of books lately, but haven't found the time to sit down and tell you all about them. Plus it's mostly romance, and well, that always goes over SO well around these parts. Regardless, I'm going to tell you about these two Christmas books by Susan Mallery.  You'll remember a few years ago when I went on a Fool's Gold streak, right? Well I missed a few in the series, but when I saw these two on NetGalley I thought it might be time to dive back in. I had a few quibbles with them as a whole- namely that there are just so many characters that pop up from previous books, and so much alluding to previous books that  it gets a bit annoying. Also, Fool's Gold is presented as a small town, but all the details lead one to picture a much larger place (a trauma center? really?) Despite this, both books were about what I would expect from a Fool's Gold novel.

A Fool's Gold Christmas was last year's offering. Evie Stryker is in town- temporarily- and finds herself running the local dance studio. She's got an awful history with her family, and is planning to leave town as soon as she gets a little money saved. Dante Jefferson is the lawyer downstairs from her studio, and is predictably annoyed by having little dancers over his head. He storms in to quiet them down and discovers Evie. Now, Dante and Evie are both supposed to be complete humbugs in a town dedicated to holidays and festivals, but I don't think Mallery really pulls this off. They said they hated the season, but they sure did participate in it. The humbug aspect and the family history are both very thin false fronts on the story (again with the details to make people interesting that really aren't pulled off well!) but under that is a solid story about the two of them falling in love. I really appreciated that they mainly acted like adults and didn't spend needless time fighting their attraction.

Christmas on 4th Street is the new Fool's Gold novel. Noelle is fairly new to town. She's faced down a devastating past and is ready to do something she loves, so she opens a Christmas shop in Fool's Gold. Gabriel is in town on leave from his job as an doctor in the Army. He's suffering from fatigue from the job and needs a break to decide if he's going to reenlist or not. Noelle and Gabriel really fight their attraction to each other, to a believable amount, and their ultimate happily ever after is well done. There's a nice solid bit of them snowed into a cabin alone, and the discovery of not one, but two litters of kittens. As always, Mayor Marsha knows more than she should, and behaves quite like a fairy godmother, but it's really lightly done. I preferred these two to Evie and Dante, and felt like it was a stronger book overall.

Much thanks to NetGalley for giving my the chance to catch up.

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