Monday, September 26, 2016

Giveaway & Review: Merry Cowboy Christmas (Lucky Penny Ranch #3) by Carolyn Brown

Blurb from Goodreads:

'Tis the night before Christmas and all through the house is the presence of one wickedly hot cowboy who's come to stay for the holiday. Fiona Logan is downright shocked to return to her childhood home and find that the tall blond stranger who came to her rescue on an icy road will be sleeping just across the hall from her bedroom. Talk about temptation . . . 

Jud Dawson never believed the Lucky Penny Ranch would live up to its name until now. Fiona is gorgeous, smart, funny, and everything he thought he'd never find. Now all he has to do is convince her to stick around town instead of hightailing it back to Houston. But with wild weather, nosy neighbors, and a new baby in the family, getting her to admit that she's falling in love might just take a Christmas miracle.
My Review:
I'm not quite in the holiday mood yet but I couldn't resist requesting and reading the latest cowboy holiday romance from Carolyn Brown after loving other books in this series.  While I didn't love this one as much as the first two books, it was still really cute and the setting can't be beat! Fiona returns to her family home in rural Texas for the holidays after striking out in the big city.  At home, she meets her brother-in-law's cousin, Jud (so I kind of hate this name) who's just moved to town to help his cousins run the Lucky Penny Ranch.  Jud is immediately just a great guy and totally over the moon for Fiona so you are rooting for them to happen. He is nice to everyone and goes out of his way to be helpful. And while their romance did move a little fast, it also felt right in its way. There were a lot of holiday parties and messages, which I think it normal for a holiday romance, but Texas style. My only criticism was not quite understanding Fiona's constant desire to fly the coop (like she originally did when she left rural Texas for Dallas when she was 18). This is a big part of the conflict in this book and it just didn't seem fully realized. Regardless, this was still a fun and fast holiday romance!
Every fiber in her body wanted the kiss. Every bit of her brain said that she should take two steps back.  She listened to the loudest inner voice and moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue. 
Although I liked the second book in this series more than this one, I always love a good holiday romance; this can also definitely be read as a standalone. Two of my absolute favorite cowboy holiday romances are A Bramble House Christmas and Snowbound in Montana, both by C.J. Carmichael. Merry Cowboy Christmas comes out TODAYSeptember 27, 2016, and you can BUY NOW:

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Review: Don't I Know You? by Marni Jackson

Blurb from Goodreads:
A debut novel in stories that follows one woman's life from age 16 to 60, and what happens when certain celebrities—Neil Young, Meryl Streep, John Updike, Taylor Swift, Karl Ove Knausgaard—start turning up in her private life, at the spa, in the middle of a break-up, even on the operating table.

Rose McEwan has lived her life out of the spotlight—daughter, wife, mother, ex-wife, journeyman writer trying to make ends meet. But even so, fame has come to her.

When she is 16, Rose’s parents send her to an arts school where a writing class with John Updike takes an extracurricular turn. After college she goes backpacking around the world with a boyfriend, and while their relationship implodes, she finds herself camping in a cave near the young, pre-famous Joni Mitchell. When she is back home waitressing, Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd show up and whisk her away for some synchronized swimming. Bob Dylan crashes her summer cottage and won’t buy groceries, but at least teaches her son how to play the guitar. During a trip to the Cannes Film Festival, where her husband’s film will premiere, Rose becomes convinced she is being stalked by Charlotte Rampling. Treating herself to a weekend at a spa after the publication of her first novel, Rose is befriended a little too quickly by Meryl Streep. Having failed in her marriage (Gwyneth Paltrow dispenses romantic and skin care advice) and as a thriller writer, she applies for a job writing ad copy but en route to the interview, Van Morrison hijacks her bus. And in the somehow totally plausible final chapter, Rose finds herself on a camping trip with Leonard Cohen, Taylor Swift, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Filled with spot-on social commentary, Jackson shows how the famous serve us in ways we don't recognize. But, more importantly, she shows how the daily dramas of an ordinary woman’s life are as engrossing and poignant as any luminary tell-all. Unputdownable, deliciously fun, and incredibly thought provoking, Don’t I Know You? puts an unremarkable woman center stage, and shows how in the end, an ordinary life might be the most extraordinary one.
My Review:
First, this GR description is almost as long as the book -- way, WAY too detailed.  But if you read that GR description, you pretty much will know exactly what the book was like.  The first chapter was SO good that I was excited to dive into this further.  Unfortunately, the rest of the book didn't live up to that same magic of the first chapter; however, this was definitely still very interesting and unique. We essentially follow Rose through her life wherein she has unique and quite odd encounters with celebrities in her everyday motions, i.e. Adam Driver comes to shovel her driveway; Taylor Swift is an Apple TV guru/installer; Leonard Cohen owns an ice cream truck; Meryl Streep tries to be her best friend after they meet at a spa, etc. The problem for me was that this did not feel like a cohesive novel. Yes, the novel is ostensibly about Rose but each chapter with various celebrities was its own short story that truly could be read on its own. The stories are told linearly and some hints are dropped as to what has happened in the time since the last chapter but it wasn't enough for me to get a sense of the character of Rose, which is a problem since this book is about her.  I found this also to be a bit too voyeuristic for my taste; Rose is basically allowed to live our her own personal fantasies with each celebrity when they seek her out and I just couldn't help but question why and how.  The ending also is absurdly abrupt -- I couldn't believe that was the end and had to check my ARC several times to verify.

This one reminded me a bit of The Versions of Us but with celebrities (it was a bit like Forrest Gump, too) -- it's hard to know how to recommend this but perhaps if you like short stories and/or want to imagine a life intertwined with random encounters with celebrities.  Don't I Know You? comes out tomorrow on September 27, 2016, and you can purchase HERE.
But the quality that most equipped me for writing, perhaps, was a chronic sense of unease. I felt outside most things, a shy and yearning observer--if not a fly on the wall, then an ant at the picnic. At seventeen I was already the omniscient narrator of my own life, both everywhere and nowhere at once. I also had the remnants of a childhood stutter, and dreaded being called upon in chemistry class in case I had to say the word "carbon" with its unforgiving hard c. My stutter did make me choose my words more carefully though. It fed my writing.   
No, the most remarkable thing about me that summer at Doon was the fact that I was full of longings I couldn't name. I thought these longings had to do with art. And in a way, they did; first loves are partly works of fiction.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Review: Strange Things Done by Elle Wild

Blurb from Goodreads:
A dark and suspenseful noir thriller, set in the Yukon. 

"What a wonderful dark, quirky, and complex debut novel . . . Canada’s north was never more sinister." —IAN HAMILTON, author of the internationally bestselling Ava Lee series

As winter closes in and the roads snow over in Dawson City, Yukon, newly arrived journalist Jo Silver investigates the dubious suicide of a local politician and quickly discovers that not everything in the sleepy tourist town is what it seems. Before long, law enforcement begins treating the death as a possible murder and Jo is the prime suspect. 

Strange Things Done is a top-notch thriller — a tense and stylish crime novel that explores the double themes of trust and betrayal.
My Review:
So I really REALLY didn't like Jo, the MC of this story, when I first started reading. And I never ended up liking her for even a minute during and after I finished the book. So that was strike one for me -- I had a hard time understanding Jo's woe is me attitude and reason for moving to this remote area of the world and I had an equally difficult time following her repeated and stupid actions in the course of the book. She was tracking a killer but she always trusted all the wrong people and I guess I assumed she would have had better sense since she was supposed to be a top notch investigative journalist. The problem is that nothing was unique about this story -- I feel like I've already read this story and seen movies with this exact premise.  I kept waiting for something interesting or unique to happen . . . but it didn't.  And this wasn't very thrilling -- there was a little action but nothing like those other, superb thrillers that I've read recently that kept me on my toes and the edge of my seat.  This was just so-so -- I liked the setting but had this been set in a city, it would have fallen flat.

This was sort of a mash-up of Extreme Exposure (investigative journalism romantic suspense) and In the Barren Ground (remote and insanely cold setting in winter) although not as successful as either and with way less romance than either of those unless you count falling for the VERY wrong person. Strange Things Done comes out tomorrow on September 24, 2016, and you can purchase HERE.
Jo stood listening, waiting for something intangible while the steam of her breath moistened her woolen scarf. The sky was still grey, reflected in charcoal shades in the ice beneath blowing snow, like a child's messy chalkboard.  The ferry had vanished, as though the river had claimed another victim. Joe wondered how thick the ice would have to be before it could be crossed. She pictured herself skating away on it, doing slow, graceful loops until she disappeared into the horizon line.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

So, You Want to Go to . . . Seattle!

So, You Want to Go to is a new feature on my blog in which I discuss a destination that I love.  I'm going to tell you about books set there that will give you a feeling for the destination and make you immediately want to visit (and maybe even give you a playlist).  Please let me know about your favorite books that take place in the featured location!

Today I am all about SeattleThe Emerald City! This is such a unique city -- on the water with the beautiful snow-capped Mt. Ranier in the distance -- the perfect mix of beach of mountains!  It's the birthplace of grunge, Starbucks, the EMP, the Space Needle and a million cool neighborhoods.

My favorite thing to do in Seattle is to explore all the neighborhoods!  I love going to the Fremont Market on a Sunday morning (and you have to stop by the troll or wander to the Theo chocolate shop!)  I love having breakfast on the beach in Alki.  I love thrifting and searching for records after grabbing coffee in Queen Anne.  I love sitting in Gasworks Park.  I love walking from Capitol Hill past the Elephant Car Wash to the Space Needle and then over to Pike Place.  So much to explore!  And if it's sunny, you have to take the ferry to one of the islands like Bainbridge and spend the day!  Seattle playlist featuring songs and/or artists from the Emerald City (grunge heavy) below:

Have you read any of these? Have you been to Seattle?
Do you have a favorite book set there?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

 "Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that you are eagerly anticipating.

Today, I am waiting on:  
A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

From Goodreads:
Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. When Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family, however, is another matter . . .

Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—finds herself in Atlanta, repairing objects damaged in a house fire. As she works to restore the home and dreams of one family, she strives to keep the pieces of her own life in perfect order and secure her own happy ending—a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to reconnect with his brother and breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccolo. And soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. Upon landing in Rome, she is enchanted with Italy. But instead of allowing the land, culture and people to transform her, Emily imposes her will upon everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?
I've loved this author's first three books, especially her debut Dear Mr. Knightley so I can't wait for her latest! A Portrait of Emily Price is scheduled to be released on November 1, 2016, and I am counting the days!

What books are you waiting on this Wednesday??

Mini Reviews: Battle of Historical Fiction

Blurb from Goodreads:
What secrets are hiding in the heart of Paris?

At the famous Patisserie Clermont in Paris, 1909, a chance encounter with the owner's daughter has given one young man a glimpse into a life he never knew existed: of sweet cream and melted chocolate, golden caramel and powdered sugar, of pastry light as air.

But it is not just the art of confectionery that holds him captive, and soon a forbidden love affair begins.

Almost eighty years later, an academic discovers a hidden photograph of her grandfather as a young man with two people she has never seen before. Scrawled on the back of the picture are the words 'Forgive me'. Unable to resist the mystery behind it, she begins to unravel the story of two star-crossed lovers and one irrevocable betrayal.

Take a moment to savour an evocative, bittersweet love story that echoes through the decades – perfect for fans of Kate Morton, Rachel Hore and Victoria Hislop.
My Review:
I was really looking forward to this one -- I mean: Paris, a love affair and chocolate?!  I couldn't ask for more. Sadly, the execution of this one resulted in something more boring than romantic.  This is told intercalary between Paris in 1909-1910 and Cambridge, UK in 1988. Graduate student, and granddaughter of a famous author, Petra finds her grandfather's affects include a picture from Paris in 1909 with handwritten note.  She decides to discover the history of this note. So throughout the book, we are lead to believe that her grandfather has done something absolutely awful.  Once Petra actually solved the mystery, it was such a let-down and so not something to spend your life worrying about. This one just missed the mark -- I didn't think the 1909 story was romantic or charming and the 1988 story of solving the mystery was also boring. I would definitely skip this one. The Confectioner's Tale comes out in the U.S. todaySeptember 20, 2016.
A cloud of white swirled high into the air on his left, as a chef measured out sugar as fine was powder. It drifted towards Gui and he breathed in deeply, tasting it in his lungs.   
There were a thousand noises: spoons clattering, liquid being poured in glugs, a deep unctuous bubbling from the stove.  Heat blasted him in a roar as someone opened an oven.  it carried the glorious smell of fresh baking.   
Gui's mouth was watering as he tripped forward, trying to look at everything at once. Mahogany shelves lined the counters, stacked with glass bottles and jar, like something from a fairy tale.  There were whole, plump roses steeping in honey; purple-stained sugar, thick with lavender, tiny jars of crimson threads, cherries and peaches suspended in syrup as if they had fallen there form the trees.   
The luxurious scents wrapped around him. Butter, his nose relayed, cream, nuts, brandy chocolate . . . 

Blurb from Goodreads:
The only thing harder than losing home is trying to find it again.

Cambridge, 1963. Charlotte is struggling. With motherhood, with the changes marriage and parenthood bring, with losing the time and energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, cannot face the thought of another English winter. A brochure slipped through the mailbox gives him the answer: “Australia brings out the best in you.”

Charlotte is too worn out to resist, and before she knows it they are travelling to the other side of the world. But upon their arrival in Perth, the southern sun shines a harsh light on the couple and slowly reveals that their new life is not the answer either was hoping for. Charlotte barely recognizes herself in this place where she is no longer a promising young artist, but instead a lonely housewife, venturing into the murky waters of infidelity. Henry, an Anglo-Indian, is slowly ostracized at the university where he teaches poetry. Subtle at first, it soon invades his entire sense of identity.

Trapped by nostalgia, Charlotte and Henry are both left wondering if there is anywhere in this world they truly belong. Which of them will make the attempt to find out? Who will succeed?
This was a classic case of "It's not you, it's me."  The beginning of this was so depressing (there was a lot of damp and cold and madness and babies getting sick and just everyday misery and drudgery being trapped in a tiny house caring for children) that I didn't want to continue.  Perhaps this ended up being really amazing and lovely but the tone the author set did not compel to want to read more.  I literally had to read something happy after this to even shake the funk that this put me in!  If the premise appeals to you, this may be a really great read for you; for my mood, it just didn't work. The Other Side of the World comes out in the U.S. today, September 20, 2016.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Musts: Highland Fling, The Mystery Lights & So Many Great Discussions!

Monday Musts is a weekly event, started and hosted by Jessica @ Lovin' Los Libros, which asks you to highlight your must read, must listen and must see!

Highland Fling by Katie Fforde

From Goodreads:
After a fight with her boyfriend, a business trip to Scotland is the perfect diversion for Jenny Porter, who works as a virtual assistant for a financial executive. Dispatched to assess a failing textile mill, Jenny instead finds herself determined to save it at any cost after befriending its charming employees. That cost might just be her sanity as she stretches her resources, patience, and compassion to the outer limits.

As she gets to know the colorful Dalmain clan, Jenny just can't say no when asked to help run a mobile food stand, save the family business, put an overbearing matriarch in her place, rekindle an old romance, or throw a dinner party for sixteen on short notice. Then there's the problem of being attracted to the dashing yet abrasive Ross Grant, who has a way of showing up just when things seem almost sane and manageable.

The majestic Scottish highlands, covered in purple heather and dotted with sheep and llamas, provide a dramatic backdrop while Jenny tries to pull everything together in time to save the mill and figure out her increasingly complicated personal life, in this delightful romantic romp.  
So this summer I read and reviewed three Katie Fforde's that have just been re-released for kindle.  This made me think about my favorite book by her, Highland Fling!  So I recommended it to Tanya and in doing so talked with Jasprit about how much we love this one.  Definitely going to re-read soon!


The Mystery Lights - What Happens When You Turn the Devil Down

Loving this album so much!
This space is dedicated to my favorite book blog posts every week since I don't do weekly recaps (I don't have the patience) and there are always posts that I LOVE! There have been some great discussions lately!
What are your Monday Musts??
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