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28 Mar, 2018

A Princess in Theory

/ posted in: Reading A Princess in Theory A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
on February 27th 2018
Pages: 360
Series: Reluctant Royals #1
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Published by Avon
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Also in this series: A Duke by Default

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

Goodreads

I don’t generally read contemporary romance but people have been raving about this book.  I’ve also liked Alyssa Cole’s historical romances so I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did.

I laughed out loud to see that this story starts with a variation on the Nigerian Prince email scam.  Naledi receives an email claiming that she may be the long lost betrothed of a prince of an African country.  Now if she’s only send all the necessary information to establish her identity…..

There are many places where this book could have easily gone from entertaining to annoying.  The author did a great job with keeping the mystery/suspense up but allowing pieces of the puzzle to be revealed in a natural way instead of dragging out conflicts. 

There is a lot going on in this book. 

  • There is the Prince and the Pauper aspect as Thabiso tries to live as a normal person for a week.  He gains insights on how he’s been treating all the “little people” in his life. 
  • Naledi is having to deal with white male colleagues who use her for grunt work in their lab.  Any time she speaks up for herself she is afraid of being labeled a “difficult black woman.” I like the way another woman in the department was eventually able to stand up for her.
  • Naledi has a rich friend who overruns any boundaries Naledi tries to set up but who she knows cares about her. 
  • Then there are the mysteries of why her parents ran away from Africa with her and what is the new illness that appearing in Thabiso’s country.

That’s all without adding in the romance aspect. 

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes romance books.  It is the start of a series.  Somewhere in this series I want a book about what happened with Thabiso’s assistant.  She travels with him to the U.S., starts a whirlwind romance with a woman she meets on Tinder, has some sort of bad break up that she refuses to talk about, and then heads back to Africa with Thabiso and Naledi.  There’s way more to that story than the teasing bit we saw in this book. 

via GIPHY

 

20 Mar, 2018

The Best Boomerville Hotel

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Best Boomerville Hotel The Best Boomerville Hotel by Caroline James
on March 13th 2018
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ruby Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Let the shenanigans begin at the Best Boomerville Hotel …
Jo Docherty and Hattie Contaldo have a vision – a holiday retreat in the heart of the Lake District exclusively for guests of ‘a certain age’ wishing to stimulate both mind and body with new creative experiences. One hotel refurbishment later and the Best Boomerville Hotel is open for business!
Perhaps not surprisingly Boomerville attracts more than its fair share of eccentric clientele: there’s fun-loving Sir Henry Mulberry and his brother Hugo; Lucinda Brown, an impoverished artist with more ego than talent; Andy Mack, a charming Porsche-driving James Bond lookalike, as well as Kate Simmons, a woman who made her fortune from an internet dating agency but still hasn’t found ‘the One’ herself.
With such an array of colourful individuals there’s bound to be laughs aplenty, but could there be tears and heartbreak too and will the residents get more than they bargained for at Boomerville?

Goodreads

This book wants to be a fun romp in the country with an eclectic group of people.  That’s a fun premise for a book.  I’m always on the look out for books with middle-aged or older protagonists. 

I got a bit thrown off right at the beginning of the book with her definition of Boomers.  She defines them as 50-69 which is a tad young for a book published this year.  She then makes her main character 50.  So this is supposed to be a book celebrating Baby Boomers yet she makes the lead as young as she possibly can.  Then there are several comments throughout the book about how they don’t want “elderly people” at the hotel.  Older women at the hotel are described as “ageing” in a disparaging way.  That all seemed odd for a book that is supposed to be celebrating Baby Boomers.

There is a party that is held at one point in the book.  They decide to have Indian food.  That’s fine.  Then they decide to make it a costume party where all these upper class white British people will be wearing saris, turbans, and other Indian styles of dress.  That’s pushing pretty far towards creepy and inappropriate.  Then they decide to make it a party celebrating the British Raj.  Yeah.  That’s pretty out of touch.

Then there is the Shaman.  He doesn’t have a name.  He isn’t seen often.  He has both a “gypsy caravan” and a teepee.  He does sessions of some kind in there.  They appear to involve getting people high.  Then he starts showing up and making mysterious pronouncements of doom while also healing people with a touch before disappearing from sight.  One time he turns up to do a Shamanistic wedding ceremony and the guest indulge it as “a cabaret with a difference.” 

So the guests are all rich white people who can take off for weeks at a time to stay at a hotel and putter about.  The entertainment is a mish mash of other people’s cultures for fun.  The “romances” in the book are pure insta-love.  Our main character had two men fall for her on the first day she was there.  They were just overtaken by her beauty.  Once people decide to look at each other as a potential romantic interest, that’s it they are getting ready to get married.  This is explained as people being old and not having much time left. I get not dawdling but this felt more like, “You’re breathing.  You’ll do.”

I’d love to see this idea with maybe fewer characters so each could be well developed as a person instead of a stereotype – flighty artist, dirty old man, etc. 

 

17 Mar, 2018

Ecstasy

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Ecstasy Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era
Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time the center stage.
Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?
Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, author, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

Goodreads

I received this book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Alma Mahler was a very interesting woman. She was ambitious in a time and place that did not reward that in upper class white women.  She wanted to be a composer but was told that she couldn’t if she wanted to marry the man she wanted.

This book does a good job of highlighting the mental cost of requiring a woman to be a wife and mother if that is not their desire. Her depression and their martial troubles in the face of his refusal to see her as a creative human being was well written.

I wish this book had pulled me deeper into the story emotionally.  Great historical fiction should immerse you in the time and place.  It should take a little effort to get your focus out of that world when you put the book aside. This reading experience felt very surface level which is a shame. Early 20th century Vienna and the artistic world there could be a very lush setting for a novel.

I enjoyed learning about this woman that I had not previous been aware of.

08 Mar, 2018

American Panda

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading American Panda American Panda by Gloria Chao
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 311
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Goodreads

This book is so good!  

Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books.  What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations.  Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience.  Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility.  His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren.  Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her.  From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?”  This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.

The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions.  There is:

  • A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
  • A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
  • Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
  • Mei’s mother 

Mei’s mother’s story was amazing.  At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class.  Her phone messages are played for laughs.  As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts.  She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined.  As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.  

It’s great.  I would recommend this one to everyone.  Go get it and read it and pass it on.

24 Feb, 2018

A Spell in the Country

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Spell in the Country A Spell in the Country by Heide Goody, Iain Grant
on February 23rd 2018
Pages: 446
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Dee is a Good Witch but she wonders if she could be a better witch.
She wonders if there’s more to life than Disney movie marathons, eating a whole box of chocolates for dinner and brewing up potions in her bathtub. So when she’s offered a chance to go on a personal development course in the English countryside, she packs her bags, says goodbye to the Shelter for Unloved Animals charity shop and sets a course for self-improvement.

Caroline isn’t just a Good Witch, she’s a fricking awesome witch.
She likes to find the easy path through life: what her good looks can’t get for her, a few magic charms can. But she’s bored of being a waitress and needs something different in her life. So when a one night stand offers her a place on an all-expenses-paid residential course in a big old country house, she figures she’s got nothing to lose.

Jenny is a Wicked Witch. She just wishes she wasn’t.
On her fifteenth birthday, she got her first wart, her own imp and a Celine Dion CD. She still has the imp. She also has a barely controllable urge to eat human children which is socially awkward to say the least and not made any easier when a teenager on the run turns to her for help. With gangsters and bent cops on their trail, Jenny needs to find a place outside the city where they can lay low for a while.

For very different reasons, three very different witches end up on the same training course and land in a whole lot of trouble when they discover that there’s a reason why their free country break sounds too good to be true. Foul-mouthed imps, wererats, naked gardeners, tree monsters, ghosts and stampeding donkeys abound in a tale about discovering your inner witch.

Goodreads

This book was absolutely ridiculous and I loved it.  I actually, honestly, literally laughed out loud a few times.  From surveys where the only right answer is commenting about the survey taker’s flaming hat to absolutely perverse imps to flying landscaping equipment, it took every stereotype about witches and twisted them delightfully. 

This is a book that you don’t try to hard to make perfect sense.  It is a madcap romp and you should just go along for the ride.  There are witches of all ages and abilities.  Some use herbs.  Some use whatever is laying around.  Others have a complete set of every type of mystical craft available in occult stores. 

My only complaint is that with all the action the characterization took a back seat.  Sometimes it was hard to keep track of which witch was which.  But that is a minor quibble.  Pick this one up for a light, silly story.

22 Feb, 2018

The Belles

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Goodreads

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did.  I’ve been hearing about it for so long and have heard such glowing praise of it that when I finished it and felt a bit blah towards it, I was disappointed.

The Hype

This book has been super hyped because of the use of a black model in a gown on the cover.  It was celebrated as a great step forward for representation in books and it is.  But because of that I thought that race would play a bigger part in this book than it does.  Skin color in this world is decided on a whim.  There is no change in status/power/importance placed on the skin color that you have.  It is a fashion accessory.  It just seemed like it went from “Yay for Black Girls” on the cover and in the promotions to “But actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with you specifically” in the story.  If I didn’t know anything about how this book was promoted, it probably wouldn’t have felt strange to me.

Worldbuilding

The author does a great job in the opening of setting up the world.  It is imaginative and vivid.  After that though the world building just seems to stop.  This is a long novel at 448 pages.  In most fantasy books that size you’d know about countries around the area, the basis of the economy, how people of different classes live, what is their technology based on, etc.  The main character is very sheltered but that isn’t unusual in fantasy.  Usually they find out more about their surroundings that she does in this book though.  At least they show some interest in what is going on around them.  Camillia really doesn’t.

Wishy Washy Heroine

Events happen to the characters in this book.  They do not direct the action.  I think this is the key to my dissatisfaction with this book. 

Every time she is asked to make a decision, she puts it off for days. Eventually she makes a decision but it is usually irrelevant by then because events have moved on.  When deciding between what is right/hard and what is easy/cruel, she always chooses easy/cruel if forced to make a choice in the moment.  She seems like she is supposed to be a nice person – she remembers servants’ names! – but she is so very weak.  Only after witnessing and participating in abuse after abuse does she start to think that something might be wrong.  I would be much more interested in reading a story about the one of her fellow Belles who threw a fit about what she was being made to do almost from the beginning.  

Series vs Stand alone book

It is fine to have a book designed to be part of a series but I hate it when there is no resolution at the end of a book.  Even just wrapping up some side storylines is more satisfying than a totally open-ended book.  In a way this feels like the story is just starting and the pages run out.  That’s fine if you can move right on to the next book but it is annoying here.  At the end I kept thinking of questions that weren’t answered and thinking, “Maybe that’s in the next book” instead of enjoying what was in this one.  

Overall

I think the idea was good.  There are some very creative details in the world building like teacup elephants and mail being delivered by small balloons.  It may turn out to be the beginning of a good series.  But it doesn’t stand alone well as a single book.  

07 Feb, 2018

Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies by Evy Journey
on November 29, 2017
Pages: 181
Genres: Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Cooking a wonderful meal is an art. An act of love. An act of grace. A gift that affirms and gives life—not only does it nurture those who partake of the meal; it also feeds the soul of the creator. These are lessons Gina learns from her mother, daughter of an unfortunate French chef.

Gina is a young woman born to poor parents, a nobody keen to taste life outside the world she was born into. A world that exposes her to fascinating people gripped by dark motives. Her passion for cooking is all she has to help her navigate it.

She gets lucky when she’s chosen to cook at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area where customers belong to a privileged class with money to spare for a dinner of inventive dishes costing hundreds of dollars. In this heady, scintillating atmosphere, she meets new friends and new challenges—pastry chef Marcia, filthy rich client Leon, and Brent, a brooding homicide detective. This new world, it turns out, is also one of unexpected danger.

Goodreads

 

The main character is working at a restaurant.  She has a chance to serve one of the dishes she created to a favored client.  He is there on a date with her childhood best friend.  He immediately, like while sitting in front of his date, starts talking about his interest in the main character.  That’s super creepy behavior.  Then he starts to stalk her in spite of her repeated requests for him to stop.

Apparently every time her friend’s boyfriends meet our main character they immediately fall for her without her doing anything at all to encourage them.

 

 

 
I actually checked several times to confirm that this was written by a woman. You usually don’t see the ‘vapid heroine who doesn’t do anything to attract men but they fall all over her just for existing storyline’ in books written by women. You especially don’t see it to the point where other women are physically attacking her – repeatedly. This book also doesn’t really seem to consider stalking to be a bad thing. It is just proof he loves you. If he won’t stop, you just haven’t said no hard enough and why are you wanting to say no anyway?

I thought our stalking dude was obviously the bad guy of the story but I was wrong.  Our MC decides to move in with her stalker because he’s rich and she wants to live that lifestyle until he gets tired of her and kicks her out.  That’s her plan. When her mother tells her that it is a completely stupid idea she is presented as out of touch.

I didn’t care about anyone in this story except maybe Christi, the main character’s childhood best friend.  Everyone else was only out for themselves and didn’t give you any reason to root for them.  I’m not a fan of books with amoral characters.  Books where everyone is just using each other with no concern about the right or wrong of their actions don’t usually work for me.  That’s definitely the case here.


Evy Journey, writer, wannabe artist, and flâneuse (feminine of flâneur), wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. Armed with a Ph.D., she used to research and help develop mental health programs.

She’s a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her despite such preoccupations having gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen to spin tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest  

I received a copy of the book from IRead Book Tours.

06 Feb, 2018

Deborah Calling

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Deborah Calling Deborah Calling by Avraham Azrieli
on July 25, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Jordan/Israel

Deborah’s father dreamed that, one day, she would become a prophet—a seemingly impossible dream for a woman in a patriarchal society. To see her father’s dream come true, Deborah made the cunning decision to become a man and sought out a mysterious elixirist who can turn women into men.
Under the elixirist Kassite’s tutelage and training, Deborah learns the essential traits of masculinity and steadily grows stronger, building muscle and willpower. But Kassite requests something in return: he needs Deborah's help to escape the tannery and return to his homeland. It is the beginning of another thrilling adventure through the desert—a cat and mouse chase between Deborah and her violent fiancé who still hunts her, a chance meeting with an ancient healer with a prophetic message, and a revelatory spiritual experience in an abandoned cave.
As she continues on the path God has laid before her, Deborah witnesses the darkness that can take hold in the hearts and souls of men—evil that causes her to reflect on the wisdom, insight, and inspiration she has gained from the women in her life. Will becoming a man truly help her become a prophetess, or might there be another path? Visionary dreams, a mysterious eagle, and an extraordinary band of ex-slaves will help Deborah find the answer . . . and ultimately her calling.

Goodreads

I haven’t read the first book in this series that imagines the life of Deborah from the biblical book of Judges.  I received this book as part of a blog tour but it was not difficult to understand what had come before.  We know in the bible Deborah is leading the tribes of Israel but how did a woman get to this position of authority?  This story posits that her father had a dream that said that she would be a prophet.  She can not imagine how this could happen as a woman so she decides to take a potion that would turn her into a man.  Obviously, hormone therapy wasn’t available then so she is getting scammed by the people who are supposedly helping her.

She has a lot of internalized misogyny.  This isn’t surprising given the thoughts about women in her time.  But the men who are supposedly helping her keep drilling it into her head.  Women are stupid and emotional.  Men are in all ways superior.  I started highlighting these comments as they came up in the book.

“Girls aren’t stupid.” “It is not a matter of stupidity, but of destiny. Women exist to keep the home—make food, sew clothes, bear children, care for infants. That is why the gods made women fit for domesticated submission—passive, temperamental, small-minded, and anxious.


Deborah’s face flushed with shame. The mere sight of someone resembling Zariz had caused her to cast off all masculine strength and posture, instantly regressing to the foolish girl she had once been.


Kassite might view it as yet another manifestation of feminine weakness.

 

There are more but that is the general idea.  They keep telling her that she needs to search inside herself to get the final inspiration to complete her transformation to a man.  I was hoping that this led to her realizing her strength as a woman and deciding that she didn’t need to change herself externally in order to be able to be a prophet.  The book could have easily had that be the outcome.  I thought that was what it was leading to.  Instead she decides to embrace her life as a woman because she has a magical dream where she sees herself dispensing justice as a woman.  What?

When she declares this to her “mentors”, they dismiss her ideas and no longer accord her the same respect as when she was trying to be masculine.

“I am disappointed,” Kassite said. “You still think like a girl.”

Obviously the constraints of the time and place restrict how “Smash the Patriarchy” the story can go but I wanted more realization of feminine strength than was seen in this book.

This is part of a continuing series.  You don’t know at the end how she rises in power.  This is a story that I would love to hear but I’m not sure that I will be satisfied with this author’s imagining of the story. This book works fine as an adventurous historical fiction tale but it was worrisome to read this much internalized misogyny that isn’t disputed in the text from a male author.

There are also some anachronisms in the story especially in regard to the horses.  I’m a horse history nerd so that might not bother anybody else.

 

23 Jan, 2018

Heroine Complex

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Heroine Complex Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
on July 5th 2016
Pages: 378
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by DAW
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: California

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco's most beloved superheroine. She's great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss's epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.
Unfortunately, she's not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.
But everything changes when Evie's forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest comes out: she has powers, too. Now it's up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda's increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right... or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Goodreads

Annie and Evie have been friends since Annie first stood up for Evie against some bullies in elementary school.  Now as adults, Evie is Annie’s personal assistant.  Annie is San Francisco’s only superhero Aveda Jupiter.  She’s all about the glory.  She dumps everything else on Evie who takes it because she feels like she owes Annie.

Annie/Aveda is truly abusive to Evie.  Everyone sees it but her.  When Evie is forced out of the shadows she needs to rely on her own powers to save the city and find a life for herself outside of Aveda Jupiter’s orbit.

Good things about this book:

  • Asian female superheroes – Annie is Chinese and Evie is half-Japanese
  • The menace is fairly lighthearted and fun.  It starts with demons taking the form of cupcakes that bite and ends with demonic minions who complain about everything the boss demon does.  I could imagine this whole book as a technicolor comic strip.
  • Evie learning to stand up for herself is wonderful.

Annoying things:

  • Evie has been suppressing her emotions in order to keep her powers under control.  When she starts to get in touch with her feelings, the first one that she notices is lust.  She refers to her lack of lustful feelings as the Dead Inside-o-meter.  The idea that she hasn’t had sex in three years is considered proof of emotional problems.  I’m not a fan of stories that consider either asexuality or celibacy as the weirdest thing that ever happened.
  • Evie’s teenage sister is the worst person ever.  Well, maybe second worse next to Aveda.  It is hard to tell but then they start hanging out together and amplify each other’s behavior and it is everything horrible.  They are selfish and childish but Evie is supposed to be seen as no fun for objecting to it all.
  • I didn’t like the romances in this book.  They just seemed added because you have to have a sexual partner (see complaint 1).  Suddenly, she has feelings for a person who annoys her all the time?  The fact that someone annoys you is actually stated as proof that you probably deep down want to sleep with them.  No, maybe they are just annoying and you have the good sense to stay away from them.

 

18 Jan, 2018

Son of a Trickster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Son of a Trickster Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Canada
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: British Columbia

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.

Goodreads

This is not the book that I expected from the blurb.  I expected urban fantasy with Jared finding out he’s supernatural in the beginning of the book and then he has adventures.  That doesn’t happen.  Instead this is a hard look at the life of a First Nations teenager who lives with his unreliable and violent drug dealer mother and her boyfriend.  This book takes you up close and personal into a life of poverty and crime.  There is almost no magic happening for the first 2/3 of the book.  

It even has two of my automatic DNF plots.  His dog dies of heartworm at the beginning of the book (with a very odd veterinary clinic scene that isn’t anything that would happen for real).  There is also a scene of his mother killing a dog with her truck on purpose.  Animal abuse is a DNF.

I also absolutely hate stories of teenagers who do nothing but drink and take drugs.  I hate it in real life and I hate wasting my time on that type of plot in books.

So, knowing all that, why did I finish this book and think it was great?

The writing pulled me in and kept me engaged with the story.  Jared looks like he has nothing going for him.  His mother is an addict and dealer.  He is doing some low-level dealing.  But he is trying to keep his mother’s bills paid while also trying to keep his father and his new wife’s rent up to date.  He even helps his elderly neighbors with their chores.  None of the adult relatives in Jared’s life are responsible so he feels that he needs to be.  The only person he feels like he may be able to rely on is his paternal grandmother but his mother has forbidden him to talk to her.  He does anyway and he really wants to go live with her in order to finish school but he feels that it would be a betrayal of his mother, even when she is continuously betraying him.  By the end you want to protect him from yet another person who lets him down.

As Jared starts to see manifestations of his traditional beliefs appearing before him, he decides that he has been doing too many drugs and decides to get clean.  I love that that was his response to an invisible bear in the living room and cavemen in his bedroom.  But the magic is real and has always been there even if it is just starting to get through to him.

The author did a good job depicting the charm vs the dangerous irresponsibility of a drug-involved parent.  Jared’s mom obviously loves him and dotes on him but she also exposes him to men who hurt him and she will disappear without warning.  She relies on him to get her through bad trips and lavishes presents on him when she is manic.  She’s horrible but draws you into her self-absorbed world. 

Jared’s friends feel real.  They are a mix of popular and unpopular kids.  Native and non-Native also.  Each is well fleshed out and are unique characters.  

Of course this book really started to pick up for me when the magic became more apparent.  And then it was over.  I feel like there wasn’t a resolution.  This is part one of a series so I know that there will be more to the story but I would have liked to see more of an ending than this.  

 

12 Jan, 2018

Family Tree

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Family Tree Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
on January 9th 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Vermont

Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.
Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

Goodreads

I chose to read this book because of the mystery surrounding her grandmother’s old cookbook. I wanted to see how it saved the family farm. You know, “living well is the best revenge” and all that.

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This book is told in alternating time lines. In the present timeline, Annie has had an accident that put her in a coma. She’s been moved to back to her hometown in Vermont. She wakes up not remembering much about her previous life.

In the flashbacks, you get the story of her growing up on the farm and falling in love with the new kid in town. Then you find out how she became the producer of a hit TV cooking show and met her husband.

I found myself getting bored with the flashbacks. I was much more interested in her current situation than with how she got here. I was glad when the storylines converged and it was all in the present.

 

How was the foodie content?

  • You get the basics of how maple syrup is made
  • You get a brief look at distilling whisky
  • She did run a successful cooking show
  • She really likes to cook

But what about the mysterious cookbook that saves the farm?  That gets into spoiler territory so I recorded some spoiler-full observations about the book if you are interested.

 

I would recommend this book to people who like romances with former partners. If you are most interested in the food portions of the book you might be a bit disappointed because it doesn’t play as major of a role as I would have thought.

03 Jan, 2018

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading That Inevitable Victorian Thing That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 330
Genres: Alternative History, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ontario, Canada

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Goodreads

This is a YA alternative history book that imagines that the British Empire is still alive and well.  The decision that made the difference was that Queen Victoria named her eldest daughter heir and then married off all her other children to people in the Empire instead of other European royal families.  Now, the Empire is predominately made up of mixed race people.  Canada has a high percentage of people originally from Hong Kong.  The Church of England consists mostly of a DNA database that chooses the best DNA match for people.

The Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret wants one summer away.  She decides to make her debut in Canada while passing herself off as a cousin to one of the leading families there.  She makes other friends though who aren’t in on her secret and this leads to romantic entanglements that aren’t what she expected.

I thought the world building was interesting in this book.  It was intriguing to think about what might have happened if the British had treated their subjects as people worthy of respect.  If you pick too much at the assumptions made in the book though it might all fall apart.  My recommendation is just to enjoy it and go along for the ride. 

At the end of the book the main characters are hatching a plot.  It doesn’t seem very well thought out to me so I will be interested to see what happens in upcoming books. 

 

20 Dec, 2017

Sins of the Cities series

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Sins of the Cities series An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles, Matthew Lloyd Davies
on February 21, 2017
Pages: 247
Series: Sins of the Cities #1
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship...
Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding... it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.
Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

Goodreads

This is all Joce @squibblesreads’ fault.  She had a video comparing this book to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.  I had recently read a m/m historical romance and found it pretty disappointing.  She said that Rowley and Clem were her favorite couple.  I decided to give this one a try.

This book was so good.  Clem runs a boarding house that his half brother owns.  He was born after an Earl raped an Indian nanny who accompanied his brother’s family home to England.   Clem is seen as an embarrassment to his snobbish family and this is a way of keeping him out of sight.  The only condition of his employment is that he has to keep a drunken ex-vicar in the house no matter what.  Clem is a methodical person who needs to do one thing at a time.  Other people think that he is slow and clumsy because he gets flustered with too much stimuli.

Rowley is a taxidermist who takes lodgings at the house after setting up shop next door.  He prefers to be alone and can’t handle other people’s anger well after surviving an abusive childhood.  His quietness settles Clem.  The two of them gradually find enjoyment in each other’s company.  They have a nightly cup of tea together.  They are just starting to acknowledge feelings for each other when there is a robbery attempt and then a murder.

This is when homosexuality was still banned in England.   There is a pub called the Jack and Knave that Clem frequents.  It is open only to approved people brought by known clients.  Inside the Jack, gay men and women are free to socialize openly.  Many of the characters in this series are regulars there.

This book does a very good job on the romance portion of the book.  There is sexual activity but it is loving and in context of a relationship.  A mystery is introduced in this book but is not fully resolved until the series is over.   It involves Clem’s half-brother and then inheritance of the earldom.


Sins of the Cities series An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities, #2) by K.J. Charles
Pages: 250

In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.
Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel—or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.
Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.
But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust—and, perhaps, the only man he could love.

Goodreads

Nathaniel is a regular at the Jack and Knave who is still grieving his partner’s death five years ago.  He is a journalist and is assigned to debunk a medium.  He starts his investigation with Justin Lazarus and finds himself intrigued.  Nathaniel is surprised when investigating Clem’s mystery also leads him back to Justin who met one of the players in the saga one year ago.  This is not a slow burn romance like the first book.  This is hate/lust leading to sex leading to regret/embarrassment.  Then they are forced back together and over time a relationship builds.

Justin had a rough upbringing and has major trust issues.  He doesn’t feel bad at all about fleecing the rich and gullible.  Nathaniel is firmly on the side of living a moral life and not hurting anyone.  He has a hard time accepting the good in anyone in a dishonest profession.  Nathaniel is also uncomfortable moving on and feeling attracted to another man for the first time.  He especially doesn’t want to fall for someone so unlike his beloved partner.  The book talks about how difficult it was grieve when no one in the outside world knew of the love between the men.

The mystery continues to be resolved.  In each book a little bit is solved so it doesn’t feel like you are missing a conclusion even if you don’t have the whole picture yet.


SPOILERS

Sins of the Cities series An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles
on October 3, 2017
Pages: 246
Series: Sins of the Cities #3

On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.
Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.
But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

Goodreads

In this final book of the series, detective Mark finds the lost heir to the Earldom.  He is a trapeze artist performing with his twin sister.  Most people would jump at the chance to go from music hall performer to aristocrat but Pen Starling wants nothing to do with it.  He is genderfluid and comfortable living in a world where he is able to dress in a costume that fits how he feels on each day.  If he becomes an Earl, he would be forced to live as a man full time.  As he says, if he had been raised to be an Earl he might have been able to pass himself off as an eccentric recluse but as a former commoner he would be watched.  Information is given about court cases of the time regarding transgender people.

Mark is a Polish immigrant.  He was born with one arm.  He makes his way confidently through a world that makes no accommodations for people with disabilities.  He is pansexual and has previously had relationships with both men and women.  He embraces Pen’s genderfluidity as a wonderful aspect of him.  

This is my favorite of the books.  I loved Mark and Pen’s relationship.  The resolution of the mystery was unexpected and very satisfying to all parties involved.  I will definitely read this author again.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
15 Dec, 2017

The Baleful Godmother series

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Baleful Godmother series Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin
on November 7th 2016
Pages: 391
Series: Baleful Godmother #1
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, Historical
Published by Emily Larkin
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

On her 25th birthday, Charlotte Appleby receives a most unusual gift from the Faerie godmother she never knew she had: the ability to change shape.
Penniless and orphaned, she sets off for London to make her fortune as a man. But a position as secretary to Lord Cosgrove proves unexpectedly challenging. Someone is trying to destroy Cosgrove and his life is increasingly in jeopardy.
As Charlotte plunges into London’s backstreets and brothels at Cosgrove’s side, hunting his persecutor, she finds herself fighting for her life—and falling in love…

Goodreads

This is historical romance series with a fantasy twist.  Once upon a time a fairy was helped by a woman.  In exchange, she asked for each of her female descendants to be granted one wish when they are in their early twenties.  This series covers a few of the descendants as they choose their gift and then deal with the consequences in their lives.  I hadn’t read a series before that combined fantasy and Regency romance.

In the first book Charlotte decides to wish for the ability to shapeshift.  She uses this gift to disguise herself as a man to attempt to live an independent life.  This is a good opening for some social commentary about the restrictions on women.  The book is also funny as Charlotte tries to control a male body with its over large hands and obvious responses to sexual attraction.  Her employer (and eventual love interest) thinks he is taking a young, particularly naive man under his wing and teaching what life in London is like.  As their friendship and attraction deepen, both need to comes to terms with their own understanding of what it means to be attracted to a personality no matter the shape of the body that it is in.


The Baleful Godmother series Resisting Miss Merryweather by Emily Larkin
on December 5th 2016
Pages: 157
Series: Baleful Godmother #2

Sir Barnaby Ware made a mistake two and a half years ago. A massive mistake. The sort of mistake that can never be atoned for.
He knows himself to be irredeemable, but the captivating and unconventional Miss Merryweather is determined to prove him wrong…
The daughter of a dancing master and a noblewoman, Miss Merryweather had an unusual upbringing. She sees things no one else sees—and she says things no one else says.
Sir Barnaby knows he’s the villain in this piece, but Miss Merryweather thinks he’s the hero—and she is damnably hard to resist…

Goodreads

Barnaby Ware was introduced in book 1 as the man who broke up a marriage and a lifelong friendship by having an affair.   When the wronged party attempts to reach out to him in forgiveness, he resists because he feels that what he did was unforgivable.  When he visits his former friend he meets Miss Merryweather.  Unbeknownst to him, she is due to receive her fairy gift in a few days.

This is a novella instead of a full length novel.  It is also the most forgettable of these books for me.  I was more interested in the friendship that was trying to be repaired instead of the romance that is supposed to be blossoming.


The Baleful Godmother series Trusting Miss Trentham by Emily Larkin
on January 9th 2017
Pages: 375
Series: Baleful Godmother #3
Published by Emily Larkin

Letitia Trentham is noteworthy for three reasons. One, she’s extremely wealthy. Two, she can distinguish truth from lies. Three, she’s refused every man who’s ever proposed to her.
Until Letty receives a proposal she can’t turn down.
Icarus Reid barely survived the Battle of Vimeiro. He lives for one thing—to find the man who betrayed him to the French. He doesn’t want to marry Miss Trentham; he wants to use her talent for uncovering lies.
Suddenly, Letty finds herself breaking the rules, pretending to be someone she’s not, and doing things a lady would never do. But her hunt for the truth may uncover more than one secret—including the secret that haunts Icarus day and night. The secret he intends to take to his grave…

Goodreads

This is one of my favorites of the series.  Lydia has been living with her gift – the ability to tell lies from truth – for several years.  She has refused all offers of marriage because she knows that the men have only wanted her money and not her.  She gets involved with an injured former soldier who hears about her ability (but not the magical reason).  He wants her to help him find out what happened in the ambush where he was injured and all his companions were killed.

I liked the fact that this book had an older and wiser heroine.  She’s seen it all moving through society with the ability to cut through all the games and polite phrases.  The chance to do something new thrills her.

Icarus is suffering from severe PTSD.  He’s suicidal and has nightmares every night.  It is a good representation of this.  As the wife of a veteran with PTSD, I appreciated the thoughtful portrayal.


The Baleful Godmother series Claiming Mister Kemp by Emily Larkin
on February 6th 2017
Pages: 220
Series: Baleful Godmother #4
Published by Emily Larkin

Lucas Kemp’s twin sister died last year. He’s put aside his mourning clothes, but not his heartache. If Lucas ever needed a friend, it’s now—and who should walk in his door but Lieutenant Thomas Matlock…
Lucas and Tom are more than just best friends; they’ve been in love with each other for years. In love with each other—and pretending not to know it.
But this time, Tom’s not going to ignore the attraction between them. This time, he’s going to push the issue.
He’s going to teach Lucas how to laugh again—and he’s going to take Lucas as his lover…

Goodreads

I did not like this book.  I wanted to.  This book focuses on two male characters who were important in the last book.  I liked them.  I wanted to find out more about their relationship.  My problem with this one was the way the sex was handled.  I’m not a huge fan of sex in books anyway.  I much prefer slow burn romances and fade to black sex scenes.  While the other books have had sex scenes there was enough romance and character development to balance them.

In this book, there is just sex.  You don’t get the romantic parts that were seen in the other books.  I think that the difference was here because it was switched to a m/m story instead of a male/virginal female story.  I don’t think that is a good reason to leave out the romance and tenderness though.  Relationship development is still important and that didn’t happen here.


The Baleful Godmother series Ruining Miss Wrotham (Baleful Godmother, #5) by Emily Larkin
on May 25th 2017
Pages: 390
Published by Emily Larkin

Eleanor Wrotham has sworn off overbearing men, but she needs a man’s help—and the man who steps forward is as domineering as he is dangerous: the notorious Mordecai Black.
The illegitimate son of an earl, Mordecai is infamous for his skill with women. His affairs are legendary—but few people realize that Mordecai has rules, and one of them is: Never ruin a woman.
But if Mordecai helps Miss Wrotham, she will be ruined.

Goodreads

Eleanor is searching for her sister, who ran away to marry a soldier.  Eleanor’s fiance ran off because of the scandal her sister caused.  Her father and aunt kept her sister’s letters from her.  Now she has found a several month old letter saying that her sister is in trouble. The only person willing to help her is a relative of the man who jilted her. 

This ends up being a road trip story like book 3.  I don’t think it is quite as strong as that one but is enjoyable nonetheless.


The Baleful Godmother series Discovering Miss Dalrymple by Emily Larkin
on October 24, 2017
Series: Baleful Godmother #6

At the age of four Lord Vickery was stolen by gypsies and sold to a chimney sweep. At the age of five he was reunited with his father. His history is no secret—everyone in the ton knows of his miraculous rescue.
But when Vickery finds his father’s diaries, he discovers that there may be a secret buried in his past…
Georgiana Dalrymple knows all about secrets. She has several herself—and one of those secrets is her ability to find missing people.
When Lord Vickery turns to her for help, Georgiana sets out to discover just who he actually is…

Goodreads

Georgiana can find anything, including the answers to old mysteries if she just asks the right questions.  But is uncovering the truth always for the best?

I liked this book a lot.  It was nice to see the heroine trying to convince the hero that she would stand by him instead of the other other way around like it is common in a lot of historical romances.  There is no meet-cute here.  They have known each other all their lives and their relationship is formed out of their friendship.  It was a nice end to the series.

Overall, I’d highly recommend this series if you like historical romances.  Just skip the third book. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
12 Dec, 2017

The Promise Kitchen

/ posted in: Reading The Promise Kitchen The Promise Kitchen by Peggy Lampman
on August 16th 2016
Pages: 380
Genres: Fiction
Published by Lake Union Publishing
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Georgia

Shelby Preston, a young single mother, is at a crossroads. She feels suffocated by her hardscrabble life in rural Georgia and dreams of becoming a professional chef. Lord knows her family could use a pot of something good.
In Atlanta, Mallory Lakes is reeling from a bad breakup. The newspaper food columnist is also bracing for major changes at work that could put her job at risk. Determined to find the perfect recipe for how to reinvent herself, she gets involved in the growing farm-to-table movement. But an emotional setback threatens to derail everything she’s worked for. Shelby and Mallory couldn’t be more different. But through their shared passion for food, they form an unlikely friendship—a bond that just might be their salvation.

Goodreads

This book has been sitting on my ereader for a long time.  Now I’m upset that I didn’t read it sooner.

Shelby is a young single mother who follows food blogger Mallory and loves to make her recipes.  She wants to be a chef but that would require her to leave her daughter with her mother in southern Georgia and move to Atlanta to work and go to school.

The newspaper Mallory writes for has just moved totally online and she has thrown herself into creating a new, indispensable, digital persona.

Shelby and Mallory cross paths at the grocery where Shelby gets a job.  Their lives start to intersect more and more until the day when they are bound together by an accident.

The writing in this book was very beautifully done and pulled me in immediately.  I loved the contrast between the poor, rural Shelby who dreams of a better life and urban Mallory.  One of the themes in the book that haven’t seen written about much in foodie fiction was the accessibility of foodie culture.  Shelby decides which of the meals that she will make based on what is available and affordable at her local grocery store.  She talks about how she understands that Mallory feels that all the produce needs to be organic but that isn’t possible for her.  When Shelby tries to get a job in a deli at the grocery store, she wears her best clothes for the interview but realizes that they are shabby compared to the affluent people she sees there.  The grocery store in question just rebranded as an upscale store, losing some neighborhood clients in the process.

Overall, I wasn’t as invested in the story by the end as I was in the beginning.  I wasn’t a fan of the romance angle for Mallory or of the accident plot that seemed like it wasn’t necessary.  However, I think that the well done characterizations of Shelby and the secondary characters is still enough to recommend this book.


There are recipes in the back of this book like there are in a lot of books that feature food.  But guys, I actually made one of the recipes.  I know, shocking, right.  I think that reading all the people who link up at the Foodies Read pages is getting to me.

There was a recipe for Pimento Cheese.  I eat 99% vegan at home but back in time I really did love some pimento cheese.  I decided to try to veganize it.  I used vegan mayo and Daiya cheddar shreds.  I love Just Mayo’s vegan mayo but I actually hate Daiya fake cheese.  I think they taste like wax.  There wasn’t another cheddar selection in the store though so I gave it a try.

It was amazing!  Totally had the right taste and texture.  I can’t take attractive food pictures to save my life and I contend that there is nothing that can make pimento cheese photogenic anyway, but here it is.

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • Foodies Read 2017
17 Nov, 2017

Hiddensee

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Hiddensee Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire, Tbd
on October 31st 2017
Genres: Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Germany

In this imaginative novel rooted in the rich soil of early-nineteenth-century German Romanticism, beloved New York Times bestselling author Gregory Maguire twins an origin legend of the famous Nutcracker with the life of Drosselmeier, the toymaker who carves him.
Gregory Maguire’s novels have been called "bewitching," "remarkable," "extraordinary," "engrossing," "amazing," and "delicious." Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked, Wonderland in After Alice and Dickensian London in Lost, Maguire now takes us to the Black Forest of Bavaria and Munich of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffman. Hiddensee recreates the backstory of the Nutcracker, reimaging how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how it magically guided an ailing little girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a snowy Christmas Eve. It also brings to life the mysterious godfather Drosselmeier—the ominous, canny, one-eyed toymaker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s ballet—who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.
But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism a migrating strain of a Hellenic mystery-cult, and ponders a profound question: how a person who is abused by life, short-changed and challenged, can access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless. Ultimately, Hiddensee, offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized on the eve of a winter holiday, has something precious to share.

Goodreads

I came at this book with no idea of the story of The Nutcracker.  I’ve never seen it.  I know there are mice and some soldiers.  That’s all I know.  I didn’t even know that there was a grandfather who made a nutcracker. 

If you aren’t like me (several hundred years out of date with your pop culture), you may see more allusions to the story you know.  For me this was just a series of vignettes in the life of a boy named Dirk.  He was a foundling who seems to move randomly in and out of different people’s lives in Germany.  My favorite part was the subtle, dry humor that is slid into the narrative.

For me this book didn’t stand up to the love that I have for Wicked.  I keep waiting for a book from this author to reach those heights for me.  Hoping for this level of love did decrease my enjoyment of this book somewhat.  It is harder to let this book try to stand on its own without the expectations placed on it. 

This would be a good book for fans of The Nutcracker who want to delve more deeply into the world.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
08 Nov, 2017

Made for Me

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Made for Me Made for Me by Kathryn R. Biel
on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Love & Romance
Published by Kathryn R. Biel
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Michele's lack of focus in life hasn't bothered her, until the day she finds herself with mounting credit card debt, unable to afford her rent, and without a job. While her meddling family questions how she can end up in this predicament, at the age of 29, and single to boot, Michele doesn't want to admit the truth. All she wants to do is sew.
Faced with the prospect of moving back into her parents' house, Michele throws a Hail Mary pass and applies for a TV design contest, Made for Me. In order to win the contest, Michele will have to compete with nine other contestants to design the new wardrobe for Duchess Maryn Medrovovich, who's about to marry Prince Stephan of the United Republic of Montabago.
While in the seclusion of the show, Michele starts to realize where her focus in life should be, and what's truly important to her. However, a dashing competitor might just cause her to lose her focus once and for all. Can Michele keep her eye on the prize while being true to herself?

Goodreads

I’ve mostly been reviewing very serious books lately so I decided to throw in some lighter fare to prove that I haven’t lost my love of pink books.

Made for Me starts this series of related books.  Each one features a secondary character from the previous books. 

This book was pure fun.  It is set on a Project Runway knock-off reality show called Made for Me.  (The contestants aren’t allowed to mention Project Runway by name.)  Every challenge is to make a look for a commoner who is about to marry into the royal family of an European country.  The winner will win a job as her designer for a year.

The fun of this book is mixing in the competition aspect of the reality show with the chick lit standards of finding yourself and maybe finding love. 

What I didn’t like was the attitude that the main character had about a bisexual contestant.  She voiced a lot of stereotypical thoughts about him.  She assumed that he would be unfaithful in an monogamous relationship purely because he was bisexual.  That’s a stereotype that I thought we were all moving past but it still lives here.  It is challenged lightly. 

Besides that, this one was cute and fun.  I’d recommend it.


Made for Me New Attitude by Kathryn R. Biel
on March 14th 2017
Published by Kathryn R. Biel

As if it's not bad enough that I didn't win the reality design TV show I was on, try coming home to a one word note indicating that my ten-year marriage is over. So here I am, a suddenly single mother in my mid-thirties, doing what everyone advises me to do—have a fling. Except it doesn't go as planned, so I do the next best thing, which is sit on the couch and mope. But having to provide for a five-year-old doesn't let me stay home for too long. Before I know it, I'm back to dying my hair wild colors and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
Except Tony, the fling that wasn't, keeps popping up in the most unlikely places and won't leave me alone. I'd like to be strong—I'm way too old for him—but he's cute and funny and sexy and oh, my ex is getting married to a girl named Bambi. All I know is the way I'm doing things isn't working. If I want to be happy again, I'm going to need to get a new attitude.

Goodreads


This book follows another contestant from Made for Me when she goes home after the show.  Her husband has left her and she needs to decide what to do with her life.

Starting out I liked this book more than the first one.  Kira is older and has a child.  She has to get herself together and act like a grown up.  I appreciate that in a book. 

I wasn’t thrilled about the end of this book.  It took the plot to a place I’m not fond of.  The book also seemed to treat the main character of Made for Me as more flightly and unprofessional than she was made out to be in the first book.


Made for Me Once in a Lifetime by Kathryn R. Biel

Ten years ago, the Sassy Cats were at the top of the charts until Callie Smalls walked away to pursue her career in fashion and television. The other four members—Angie, Tabitha, Mandy, and Daphne—were left to fend for themselves and continue on with their lives.That is, until the day when Callie decides to book a gig for the group at a major music festival, without talking to her former band mates. Scattered across the country, at different points in life, can they rekindle the magic in the music?A soccer mom who's husband doesn't know about her past. A fading star, sacrificing all to stay in the spotlight just one second more. A party girl, challenged with her most important role yet. A tiger mom, fighting for her son. A desperate woman, unhappy and alone. A lot can change in the course of a decade. Will it be harmony or hatred for the Sassy Cats?

Goodreads


This book looks at the life of the host from the Made for Me TV show.  This was a more difficult book for me to get into because of the completely unlikeable main character.  

I also wasn’t a fan of some of the romance here.  It seemed very forced.  The relationship was argumentative and somehow that was supposed to clue us all in that they loved each other.  Not a story line that I’m very fond of. 

The relationship that I did like was the mother of the autistic child.  She had to let go of her attempts to control the situation and accept help from her husband.  That felt very realistic to me. 

Overall, I’d say read Made for Me and maybe skip the other two.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
28 Oct, 2017

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dear Martin by Nic Stone Dear Martin by Nic Stone
on October 17th 2017
Pages: 224
Narrator: Dion Graham
Length: 4:32
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Listening Library
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: Georgia

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.
Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Goodreads

I managed to avoid finding out exactly what this book was about before listening to it.  I didn’t even read the full blurb.  (I deleted the part I didn’t read in the synopsis above.)  Not knowing what was going to happen let the emotional impact of the book hit me full force. 

This is an amazing and necessary book.  If any of you are thinking, “I read The Hate U Give, I don’t need to read this one,” get that out of your brain.  While the subject matter is similar, these books are very, very different.  Dear Martin depicts an attempt by an African-American teenager to move past an emotionally traumatizing incident with a police officer.  He finds that that is harder than he expects though as his eyes are opened to what is going on around him. 

I appreciated the way he struggles with different approaches to living in a racist society through his interactions with several adult African-American men in his life.  Each discusses his struggles and his way of surviving, allowing Justyce to try to choose the best options for him. 

The narration in this book was very well done by Dion Graham.  It is a short audiobook at just four and a half hours.  This is one that I will relisten to with my husband in the future. 

I don’t want to say much more about the book.  If you don’t already know the whole plot, I’d recommend just starting this story without finding out much more.  This is a hard-hitting book that will move you.  It is a must read for everyone.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
26 Oct, 2017

A Spoilerific Review of Origin by Dan Brown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Spoilerific Review of Origin by Dan Brown Origin by Dan Brown
on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 461
Genres: Fiction
Published by Doubleday Books
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: Spain

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

Goodreads

I swear Dan Brown is my soul mate.  I want the worlds that he describes in his books.  That may be concerning to other people.  The last few books have been dark and I love it that way.

I actually find his books to be frustrating to read the first time.  I just want to know what the point is.  I don’t have time for people beating around the bush.  Hint – If you are talking to Robert Langdon just tell him what you have to say.  If you hint and hem and haw and say that you’ll tell him the important point at a later time, you aren’t making it through the book.

If you haven’t read the book yet, I’ll just say that I appreciated the way this book played with the formulas of his previous books.  If you have read it, I have a lot more to say but first we have to give all the spoiler warnings.

Ok, we’re going to be talking about EXACTLY what happens in the book so turn back now if you don’t want to know.

You’ve been warned…….

…….Still here?  Ok. 

First of all, let’s talk about how he upended the expectations that he built in the previous books.

  • The art doesn’t mean anything except for Winston’s self portrait. 
  • The church isn’t involved at all at the end. 

Seriously, I loved that.  What seemed formulaic all through the book – “Here’s another bad priest manipulating a devout follower to kill people” – was all a red herring. 

  • He’s on the run with a beautiful younger woman AND IT ISN’T ROMANTIC AT ALL.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I am over the idea of young women falling over themselves for the hero of every book.

I do have a question about Ambra’s story though.  Her big secret is that she is infertile.  Is this a nod to Inferno (in which case it shouldn’t be a surprise at all) or are we living in a universe where the events of Inferno didn’t happen?  I loved the ending of Inferno.  I actually stood up and cheered.  I’m not talking about the ending of the movie version of Inferno which was an absolute abomination.  I’m talking about a plague released on the whole world ending of the book.  My love of the idea of (SPOILER) that a plague could be released that makes 1/3 of the world infertile leads into my appreciation for the ideas in this book.  I’m not a fan of the idea of unlimited human growth nor of the idea that humans have to be the dominant species on Earth.  Evolve away!

So, what do we think about the idea of life evolving as a way to control energy?  I think it is a cool (no pun intended) idea but I don’t know how viable of an idea it is.  As an agnostic/atheist person it doesn’t bother me theologically. 

I am a fan of the idea of humans melding with artificial intelligence.  Of course, the whole time I was thinking, “And then some fool drops an EMP…” because obviously, I’m a cynic.  I would love to live in a utopia of high technology that saves the planet.  I’m afraid to see I don’t see it happening though.

Winston 

I loved him.  I don’t even care if you are a murderous rampaging machine.  Ok, I sort of care.  I don’t mind that he killed his creator.  That was probably kind seeing what kind of death he was facing.  I’m a veterinarian.  Euthanasia is a huge part of my life.  I’m not happy about him killing the iman and the rabbi.  That was unnecessary.  Bad Winston!  Somebody is going to have to come up with some laws to control AI that work a bit better than the ones in I, Robot.  Maybe add in “humans are free to make their own decisions.”  Of course, letting humans make decisions leads to a whole bunch of really bad decisions like Donald Trump.  Somebody else needs to take a crack at making laws that don’t get us all locked up. 

So what did you think?  Do you want this world or not?

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
25 Oct, 2017

The Crows of Beara

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Crows of Beara The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson
on September 1st 2017
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ashland Creek Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Ireland

When Annie Crowe travels from Seattle to a small Irish village to promote a new copper mine, her public relations career is hanging in the balance. Struggling to overcome her troubled past and a failing marriage, Annie is eager for a chance to rebuild her life.
Yet when she arrives on the remote Beara Peninsula, Annie learns that the mine would encroach on the nesting ground of an endangered bird, the Red-billed Chough, and many in the community are fiercely protective of this wild place. Among them is Daniel Savage, a local artist battling demons of his own, who has been recruited to help block the mine.
Despite their differences, Annie and Daniel find themselves drawn toward each other, and, inexplicably, they begin to hear the same voice--a strange, distant whisper of Gaelic, like sorrow blowing in the wind.
Guided by ancient mythology and challenged by modern problems, Annie must confront the half-truths she has been sent to spread and the lies she has been telling herself. Most of all, she must open her heart to the healing power of this rugged land and its people.
Beautifully crafted with environmental themes, a lyrical Irish setting, and a touch of magical realism, The Crows of Beara is a breathtaking novel of how the nature of place encompasses everything that we are.

Goodreads

I was excited to try The Crows of Beara from the description of magical realism and environmental activism but I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the story.  I put it aside for a while.  Honestly, I probably would have DNFed it if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a book tour book for me and I had to read it.  I knuckled down to read it and found myself drawn into the world.  I finished it in two sittings.  I’m glad that I didn’t pass on this one based on a snap judgement on a day when I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it.

This is a quiet character-based story.  Daniel and Annie are both recovering alcoholics.  Daniel has been sober for nine years but Annie is just recently out of rehab.  Both are still dealing with the serious repercussions of the issues that drinking caused in their lives.

I appreciated the fact that the author showed them both still struggling.  You see this from Annie’s point of view most.  She is working hard to find AA meetings to attend while in Ireland.  She is trying to avoid pub culture and alcohol during business meetings even though she really wants to drink.

The story of the mine versus the community takes a backseat to the story of two people trying to rebuild their lives after they ruined them while drinking.  The story summons the quiet of a rural, mystical part of Ireland.  The author does a wonderful job of evoking mist-covered cliffs and coastlines.  Read this one on a rainy day while snuggled in a blanket with a mugful of hot chocolate.

About Julie Christine Johnson

Julie Christine Johnson’s short stories and essays have appeared in journals including Emerge Literary Journal; Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt; and River Poets Journal. Her work has also appeared in the print anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and psychology and a master’s in international affairs. Julie leads writing workshops and seminars and offers story/developmental editing and writer coaching services.

Named a standout debut by Library Journal, very highly recommended by Historical Novels Review, and delicate and haunting, romantic and mystical by bestselling author Greer Macallister, Julie’s debut novel In Another Life (Sourcebooks) went into a second printing three days after its February 2016 release. A hiker, yogi, and swimmer, Julie makes her home in northwest Washington state.

Find out more about Julie at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also follow her on Instagram and Pinterest.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
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