Monday, December 22, 2014

Make My Wish Come True - Review

Make My Wish Come True by Fiona Harper

Rating: 3.5 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Juliet is tired of working tirelessly to make Christmas perfect for everyone except herself while her sister Gemma breezes in and out with only the  slightest of excuses.

Gemma is tired of her sister thinking that she's irresponsible and unreliable.  It isn't her problem that Juliet is determined to be stressed.

After an uncharacteristic argument Gemma comes up with an idea.  She will stay and run Juliet's Christmas, because really how hard can it be? Juliet will take Gemma's tropical vacation.  But the sisters quickly learn that maybe the grass isn't greener on the other side.

Genre: Fiction

Why I Picked This Book:  It looked Christmas-y and is set for the most part in England which had been sadly lacking in my Christmas reading.

My Impression:
Pro:  I had only glanced at the premise when I request this book and if I had studied it more closely I probably wouldn't have requested it.  Going in I didn't have high hopes for the actual premise.  How could it possible be set up and not just seem silly?  But it worked.  It made sense why Gemma came up with the idea and it made sense while Juliet took her up on it.  I loved both Juliet and Gemma.  They were both flawed and had real issues with each other and it was interesting to watch them both figure themselves and each other out.  There wasn't a lightbulb moment where they each realized that the other sister's life was more difficult than they had given them credit for and everything was fixed.  It slowly evolved and they began to understand why the other acted the way they did. I really identified with both sisters and I really wanted them to work through their issues.

Con: The romance in this is a subplot at best and really I could have done without it.  One had red flags popping up from the beginning and the other had an ick factor though it does get resolved.  While I really liked Juliet the parts from her perspective did tend to drag a bit.  Partly because at the beginning of her vacation she wasn't doing much other than figuring out how to do nothing.

Overall: This was an interesting read about sisters with lots of baggage learning to get past it and rebuild a relationship with each other.  It also is about two women getting a better grip on who they are as people.  If you're reading this book for those reasons I think you'll really enjoy it.  If you're reading it as a Christmas romance I think you'd be disappointed.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!  Despite my hesitation about the premise I really enjoyed this.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Definitely!  Though I'd recommend it as fiction not a romance.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

This Week in Reading - December 21


It's Sunday Post time!  Hosted by the awesome Kimberly over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer

What I Got:

Medium Dead by Paula Paul - I haven't read many historical mysteries and this one with the comparison to Jacqueline Winspear set in Victorian England looked intriguing.

Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander - Have I mentioned I have a weakness for any book involving chefs?  Especially pastry chefs?  Throw in a murder and I can't resist.

Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small Town Obituary Writer by Heather Lende - Really the title says it all on this one.  This comes out in April and I'm really looking forward to reading it.






Currently:

Reading:  If You've Got It, Haunt It by Rose Pressey

Listening: Still listening to Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag.  I haven't had much listening time in the last couple of weeks but I'm almost done with this one.  

Watching:  I'm loving The Librarians!  I watched the first show this week and loved it.  I enjoyed it more than the most recent movie.  I think this show has lots of potential and TNT owes me one for cancelling Perception.  I also enjoyed The Sing-Off.  I don't know why but I love acapella.  I'm just sad it was a one episode competition instead of the longer ones they've done in the past.  I have caught up on this season of Doctor Who.  I'm currently emotionally crushed but I have hope that it'll get better.

Off the Blog:

So we have all (J, Paul, Emma and myself) gotten addicted to a trivia game called Trivia Crack.  It turns out when it comes to trivia games none of us are good people.  There's a lot of trash talking around the house and periodically one us will scream something along the lines of "What!", "You've got to be kidding me" or "Boom" depending on what happened.  Right now we're all pretty neck and neck with J taking a slight lead because he can kill us all at sports. Our dinner table conversations have turned to the various weird questions we've gotten.  Eleanor came home for the weekend and has joined in the fun.  It is good to know that the kids either through us, the public school system or their own initiative do seem to have a pretty broad knowledge of science, arts and history.

I think I've gotten Christmas taken care of.  There are a few things that didn't end up being able to do but it'll be fine.  I did manage to stop by the mall so the Tornado could visit Santa.  When I asked him what he had asked Santa for he informed me that he had so many questions he had forgotten to ask for anything.  Apparently they did discuss the reindeer in detail though.  Whatever mall Santas get paid it isn't enough.  This year has just seemed so crazy.  I don't know if it was because Thanksgiving was right at the end of December or I just wasn't paying attention.  Regardless, I'm spending Christmas day in my pajamas and doing nothing more challenging than deciding how many of the Doctor Who Christmas specials I want to re-watch.  
  

On the Blog:

What Happened This Week:

Thursday: Bonfire Night plus The Christmas Bouquet - Reviews (my first and probably only DNF)

What's Coming Up:

Monday:  Make My Wish Come True - Review
Tuesday:  Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing this Year
Wednesday: TBD
Thursday: TBD
Friday: Linkups with whatever book I'm reading
Saturday: TBD but something food related

Have a great week and happy reading!

Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen - Cookbook Review

Last summer I didn't miss an episode of the American Baking Competition.  I loved the format, loved the judges, I loved the job Jeff Foxworthy did hosting and I loved seeing what the various contestants would come up with to deal with the challenge of the week.  While Francine might not have been my absolute favorite she was probably a close second and she was one that was always entertaining to watch.  Between her flavor combinations or what she said you never knew what to expect.  So when I came across her cookbook on Blogging for Books I didn't hesitate.  And I"m not disappointed!  It's no secret that I enjoy baking and that I love cookbooks and this one was a treat.  There are a lot of classic (classic - not basic) recipes like Carrot Cake, Banana Pudding, Catch-a-Husband Blackberry Cobbler, Lemon Bars, and Nana's Iced Pound Cake.  There's a nice choice of unusual recipes like Cheesecake Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars, Pretzel Pie, Chocolate Whoopie Cake, Honey Bun Cake, and Francine's World-Famous Chocolate Bacon Peanut Butter Pie.  This was the pie that on the show that British baking purist Paul Hollywood thought sounded awful only to admit upon tasting that he had been wrong and it was absolutely delicious.
In the week that I've had this book I've made two recipes.  I made the Cheesecake Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars and they've won over everyone.  I followed her instructions to the letter and they were clear and precise. I think they'd be easy for a baking novice to follow but I didn't feel like anything was over-explained.  The cookie bars have been a hit though I think when I make them again I'll bake them for about 5 minutes less than called for as the crust dried out a little.  That hasn't stopped everyone from scarfing them down - including the extremely picky Tornado.

Next up were these Cheese Muffins -
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pans
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cubed Cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease 12 muffin cups.
In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and butter.  Add the flour, baking powder, salt and cheese and mix, stirring with a wooden spoon, until just combined.  Do not overmix.  Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin cups.
Bake until golden brown on top and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes in the pans, before turning out onto wire racks to cool at least slightly.

If you slather a little honey on these I could inhale them.  The texture is almost like a biscuit and they little cubes of cheese give little cheesey explosions though grating the cheese would work as well.  I did end up with more than 12 - more like 16 - but I'm not complaining.  These would be great served with breakfast or alongside a soup for lunch or dinner.

I'm looking forward to trying out more of Francine's recipes!  The hard part will be deciding which one to try next!

I'm linking up with Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

*This book was provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Linkups: Christmas with Anne













It's Friday Linkup Time!  I'm linking up with Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings on Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice.

This Week's Question:
Do you write a review for every book you read or only review copies from publishers?

My Answer:
I review pretty much every book I read/listen.  The main difference is that I publish the review book reviews as close to the review date as possible whereas I may store the review for a book I read just for fun for a week when I get behind.

For my last Christmas book of the year is a book I reread every year around this time.  This is a collection of short stories and excerpts from L.M. Montgomery.  All are Christmas-y and all are wonderfully feel-good!

The Beginning from "Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves"
"Matthew was having a bad ten minutes of it.  He had come into the kitchen, in the the twilight of a cold, grey December evening, and had sat down in the wood-box corner to take off his heavy boots, unconscious of the fact that Anne and a bevy of her schoolmates were having a practice of "The Fairy Queen" in the sitting-room."

 My thoughts: This excerpt is from one of my favorite scenes in the book Anne of Green Gables.  I'm always thrilled to revisit it in this this story.

The 56 from "Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket"
"The khaki boy said he hadn't tasted anything half so good since he left home.  "They didn't give us pound cake in South Africa," he said"

So what do you think?  Keep reading?  Do you have any rereads for around the holiday season?


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bonfire Night plus The Christmas Bouquet

Bonfire Night by Deanna Raybourn

Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Lady Julia Grey and her husband Nicholas Brisbane are very much surprised to hear that he has been left a country house and even more surprised to hear that they have to be there in 2 days for All Hallow's Eve and Bonfire Night or they forfeit their inheritance.  However, in the charming and beautifully run house all is not as it seems.

Genre: Mystery
Why I Picked This Book:  Even though I'm incredibly behind on the series I love it and couldn't resist picking up this novella.

My Impression:
Pro:  Once again Raybourn impresses me with her ability to fully flesh out the world around her characters without being excessively descriptive.  The house the Brisbanes inherit is beautiful and and fascinating with nooks and crannies and mysterious stairs and halls. Mrs. Smith may as well be an actual person she's so vividly drawn.  Unlike in previous novellas the cast list is small so it isn't difficult to figure out who everyone is and their personalities are well fleshed out.

Con:  I loved absolutely everything about this novella until I got to the ending.  It felt a little rushed and if you weren't familiar with the series I think it would've felt a bit like it came out of left field.

Overall:  With interesting characters and beautiful settings this is a must read series for mystery lovers.  This would be a perfect Halloween/Fall read for those who like creepy atmosphere but don't like scary books.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Yes, definitely!  I'm hoping to do a massive read of the series in 2015.

Would I Recommend this Book?: This book may not be the perfect choice for new readers but I'd definitely recommend the series.




The Christmas Bouquet by Sherryl Woods

Rating: DNF
Source: NetGalley

Description:  An unexpected pregnancy is not on Caitlyn Winters' schedule.  A driven medical student, she barely has time for a relationship much less a baby.  She's unexpectedly fallen in love with family medicine resident Noah McIllroy.  With the help of Noah and her large and interfering family can she figure out how to have everything she wants?

Genre: Romance
Why I Picked This Book: I loved Sherryl Woods' other books and was in a Christmas-y mood..

My Impression:
Pro:  Sherryl Woods' writing didn't disappoint and I'm really looking forward to seeing more of the O'Brien family in their books.

Con: Have you ever hit the point with a person where you're so annoyed with them that nothing they do wouldn't be annoying?  They could be sitting their quietly breathing and it'd be enough to drive you nuts.  That's where I got with Caitlyn before I put this down.  It wasn't a good sign for me when the book started off with a pregnancy test.and an unplanned one at that.  The pregnancy is definitely unplanned and definitely not at the most convenient for her so I could understand this not being a joyous surprise.  However, her complete inability to see anything positive or be able to change anything at all got annoying as it went on far too long.  Noah was a good guy, a bit too good but while reading I was so annoyed at Caitlyn all I had left over was pity for him.  I wanted to tell him just to run away and quickly!  It should have been a giant flashing red sign for him that he had never once met her family in any form after a year and when it was revealed that she had not only not mentioned him to them but actually hid signs of presence and gone out of his way to lie I had a hard time believing she had any real feelings for him.  It's Sherryl Woods so I'm sure the ending would've wrapped things up nicely and redeemed Caitlyn but I'm not sure this is a happy ending I could have rooted for.  If Noah had been my friend I would've told him to go to a lawyer, make sure they agreed to a custody plan and then walk away.

Overall:  While this didn't work for me part of it is my dislike of pregnancy based plot lines.  If that doesn't bother you you may have an easier time with Caitlyn.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Absolutely!  I've read and enjoyed several books by this author.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  I would recommend this author but not this particular book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All He Wants for Christmas - Review


All He Wants for Christmas by Lisa Plumley

Rating:  3 Stars
Source:  NetGalley

Description:  Toy Company CEO Jason Hamilton has appeared in some very un-family friendly photos.  To revamp his image the board sends him to Kismet, Michigan to the highest performing store and home to manager, Danielle Sharpe.  Danielle's goal is to get into the corporate and get herself and her children out of Kismet.  She's hoping Jason's visit may just be the way to do it.

Genre: Romance

Why I Picked This Book: It sounded like a cute premise and the cover looked adorably winter-y.

My Impression:
Pro: There's a lot to like about this.  The premise is unique.  I can't think I've read a book around a toy store and the challenges to keep it not only going but successful. The amount of scandal worked.  It was enough where you could see some outrage but not so much that there was no way to recover.  The banter was cute and light and as characters these two really worked well together.  I loved how Jason was not only fine with Danielle's kids but good with them. As well, the setting of Kismet, Michigan is nicely done.  It's definitely steeped in Christmas but not so much it's silly.  I can easily picture it as a tourist-y destination for the holidays.

Cons: Here's the hard part.  Have you ever had a book just not work for you but you can't put your finger on exactly why?  That was this book for me.  Obviously, there's a lot of good points but this isn't a book I would say I enjoyed.  After much thinking it over I think my problems were the characters were just a bit too over the top.  While I liked Danielle and Jason the way they acted reminded me far more of teenagers than a company CEO and top performing store manager.  Their internal dialog just seemed a bit immature.  Danielle's kids were a little to adorable.  Her ex was a little too much of a jerk and the new wife was a little too much of a bimbo.

Overall:  While I think this would be a fun holiday read for many people it didn't quite work for me.  The setting and the premise were great but the characters seemed a little too stereotypical or over the top.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?:   There's a lot of potential here so I'd like to read one of the earlier books in the series.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Not sure.  If someone is looking for a light holiday romance this would certainly fit that but it's not my favorite of the Christmas books I've read this year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I Read in 2014

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is my Top Ten Books read in 2014.  This a tough one because I read some fantastic books this year!  I'm not counting rereads so these are only first time reads!  So here's my top ten favorites from various genres.  Just click on the title to go to my review:

Non-Fiction:

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg - I had loved Wizenberg's previous book but I think I loved this one even more.  I really had no interest in opening a restaurant but now I really have no interest!  That being said, I would wait in whatever line I had to wait in to get a seat in Delancey!

Murder on the Home Front by Molly Lefebure - a true account from a female journalist turned secretary to one of the most renowned early pathologists.  She gives us a look at the morgue and police investigations in World War 2 era London.

The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax - I read this book back in January and March and am still talking about it.  It's fabulous but don't go into a grocery store right after reading it or you will spend far too much money!

Louisa Catherine: The Other Mrs. Adams by Margery M. Heffron - I know a lot about John and Abigail Adams but I know very little about their son and President John Quincy Adams and even less about his wife.  This was a really interesting look at a little known First Lady.

Mysteries:

Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison - I really enjoyed this modern day mystery set in England.  It had touches of history, lots of mystery and great characters.  I'm hoping there will be another one out very soon.

Buried in a Bog by Sheila Connolly - Do you ever have an author whose writing just works for you and you're not even quite sure why?  That's Connlly for me.  Her mysteries are definitely not flawless but I always enjoy them.  This is the first of a series set in Ireland.  

Romance:

When the Rogue Returns by Sabrina Jeffries - I read Jeffries when I first started reading romances back in college but had stopped years ago.  I was thrilled to rediscover her with this fabulous story.  The plot was intriguing and the characters were well developed.  

Fiction:

The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow - I was almost afraid to read this book as my expectations for it were so high but it didn't disappoint!  There's a lot of history, a touch of mystery and a good dose of heart.  

The Birds and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier - This book wins the award for book I've recommend the most this year.  The Birds is the short story that Hitchcock loosely (and I mean loosely) based his movie of the same name on.  I've always thought the concept was kind of silly until I read the story.  Now I'll never look at birds the same way again.  The other stories in this collection are great too. 

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio - This is the most feel good book I read this year.  Throw in the children's book references and the treasure hunt through bookshelves and if you put this book down without a smile on your face I'm not sure we can be friends!

I wouldn't have expected it but this was probably one of my best years for non-fiction.  I had a hard time picking just a few and I definitely feel like I'm leaving great ones out.  What were your favorites this year?