Monday, November 30, 2015

Secret Lives of the Tsars + The Romanov Sisters

I don't remember exactly what instigated my interest in Russian history.  It might have been a documentary on the Discovery Channel in the 90s when they were looking for the remains of Nicholas II and his family.  It might have been a museum exhibit which featured the stunning over the top gorgeousness of the Tsar's jewels.  Both of these happened I just don't remember which came first.  Whatever it was, I spent years reading and watching everything I could get my hands on.  Over the years my interest has waned a bit and been replaced by new interests but when two books on Russian history came up on NetGalley (last year *eek*) I couldn't resist.

In Secret Lives of the Tsars, Michael Farquhar takes us on a whirlwind tour of the Russian monarchy.  We start with Ivan the Terrible who really in truly earned his name and work our way up through the Romanovs all the way to the terrible end in 1918.  The writing on this is very casual.  It's kind of like Russian history in People magazine form.  The focus is more on the personal than policies and public works.  There is a chapter for each Tsar and Farquhar is not exaggerating with Autocracy, Debauchery, and all the rest.  There is plenty of each of the adjectives in the title!  
If you're looking for a detailed book on Russian history this isn't the book for you.  However, if you want an overview of each of the Tsars and all the madness this makes for a seriously entertaining read.  The format is very logical and Farquhar takes us ruler by ruler in chronological order with a brief explanation of who they are.  This was a fascinating read and while it's not a definitive guide for Russian history it provides a great starting point.  I think my family is very glad I've finished the book so I'll stop regaling them with the extravagant misdeeds of the Romanovs.  4 Stars

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

After looking at the Romanov dynasty as a whole I focused down a little with The Romanov Sisters.  After all the madness and mayhem of the previous book this book was just simply heartbreaking.  While the title of the book is The Romanov Sisters the focus of the book seems to be mostly on the Romanov family as a unit with a more detailed look at Alexandra.  Rappaport did a good job of setting the scene with taking the reader through a tour of the family's Alexander Palace with it's homey, family oriented, and decidedly non-royal interior. While I was familiar with the basic outline of the story I knew nothing of the girls individually as I've always thought of them as a block.  Seeing their characters more developed was interesting as was seeing how they lived as a family.  The truly heartbreaking part was how unsuited Alexandra and to a lesser extent Nicholas were for the job of rulers of Russia and how that played a part in the terrible end.  Well researched and very readable this is an excellent read if you're interested in learning more about the Nicholas, Alexandra, and their family.  4 Stars

I really enjoyed reading these two books together.  While written in completely different styles with one being a short overview of 300 years and the other being an in-depth look at 20 years, Secret Lives of the Tsars really provides a background and deeper understanding for the world that the Romanov girls and their parents lived.   

Saturday, November 28, 2015

This Week in Reading - November 29

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.

What I Got:

The Spring at Moss Hill by Carla Neggers - The main character is a children's book illustrator who lives in a refurbished hat factory.  How could I resist that?  While this series hasn't been Keeper Shelf material I do always enjoy a visit to Knight's Bridge. (NetGalley)

At the used book store I got:
The Tale of Holly How by Susan Witting Albert

Hearse and Buggy by Laura Bradford

Murder on the Rocks by Allyson K. Abott

Banbury Bog by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton

Fade to Black by Wendy Corsi Staub


Reading:  Snowflake Bay by Donna Kauffman and The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

Listening: I listened to Super Serials discuss the Hunger Games which was entertaining.  Last week a couple of people mentioned that they couldn't find the podcast listing.  Hopefully, this link should help you out.  It gives all their contact info plus the Not-So Required Reading List.  TV Crimes with Wil Wheaton and Mikey Neumann has another podcast.  This one is about a Murder She Wrote episode which makes me nervous as I adore Jessica Fletcher.  Next week I'll probably go back to audio books but I'm not sure which one quite yet.

Watching: I'm caught up on Criminal Minds and am almost done with Waking the Dead on Hulu.  

Off the Blog:

Thanksgiving was fun though very busy since we ended up doing 3 days worth!  It was great to see everyone but the last couple of crazy weeks have caught up with me and I'm feeling not so great.  I've spent today (Saturday) in bed so I'm hoping I'll be back to normal Sunday.  The main problem is that my head's hurting too bad to read so I've mostly been staring blankly at TV.  That's all for now as I'm going back to bed!

On the Blog:

What Happened:

What's Coming Up:

Monday: Secret Lives of Tsars + The Romanov Sisters Nonfiction Review
Tuesday: Dead to the Last Drop - Cozy Mystery Blog Tour Review + Giveaway
Wednesday: A Cold Creek Christmas - Contemporary Romance Review
Thursday: Beyond the Books: Bucket List
Friday: Friday linkups with current book
Saturday: TBD

Have a great week and happy reading!

Mystery Behind the Wall - Childhood Favorite Review

Mystery Behind the Wall by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: Library
Description:  When the Boxcar Children find an old journal behind the closet wall in the guest room, they never dream it will lead them on a search for a valuable coin collection.  What happened to the girl who wrote the journal...and what is she trying to tell them?  (from Goodreads)

Genre: Children/MG

Why I Picked This Book: 
My Impression: I think I was about 7 when I discovered the Boxcar Children and pretty much immediately fell in love.  I loved the idea of the 4 kids essentially playing house in an old train car and then their continuing adventures were just so much fun I read every book the library had multiple times.  There's only 2 I really remember vividly - the first one and this one which is later in the series but still part of the original set.  Even as a kid I loved mysteries with ties into the past and the fact that they actually get started on this search by something that had been hidden in a wall captures my imagination to this day.
Rereading this I can see why I loved it as a child.  The adventure and the figuring out the puzzle are lots of fun even today.  You do have to suspend your belief quite a bit but I don't think that's that uncommon for this genre.  I would've liked a little more resolution about what happened to the Shaw family but I think that's the adult brain looking for meat to the story versus an issue the intended audience would have.  While I'm not sure I would have loved this as much if I hadn't had such fond memories of it I still found this incredibly readable and I'm looking forward to making this series bedtime reading when the Tornado gets a little bit older

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?:  Definitely!  I'm really looking forward to reading this one out loud and I wouldn't mind catching up on some more of the Alden family adventures!

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Yes - I think most kids would enjoy this series and it's fun for adults too!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday Linkups: The Romanov Sisters

It's Friday linkup time!  I'm linking up with the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings of Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice.

This Week's Book Blogger Hop Question:
How reliable can you say you are about in terms of having promised reviews completed for blog tours or publisher and author requests?

My Answer:
So far I'm at 100% reliable for blog tours though I did have one scheduled post that for some reason didn't publish at the time it was supposed too but I had it up by 8am.  I've shifted the occasional author/publisher request but so far I've been able to give at least a week's notice.  I'm hoping that this streak will continue!

This week's book is one I've had for far too long and am just now managing to read!  I've been reading The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport this week along with Secret Lives of the Tsars by Michael Farquhar for a joint review on Monday.  They're both fascinating reads so far.

The Beginning:
The day they sent the Romanovs away the Alexander Palace became forlorn and forgotten - a palace of ghosts.

My Thoughts:
I love this first sentence.  I can just picture the deserted rooms and hallways littered with stray belongings but empty of people.

The 56:
Beyond the sickroom, however, the spectre of a Russian throne without a male heir once more rose, provoking considerable concern about what would happen should Nicholas die.

My Thoughts:
It's strange to me that a male heir is that important.  Not because of modern attitudes but because there have a been a number of female rulers within the Romanov dynasty including Catherine the Great.  It's strange to me that we go from it being acceptable for Catherine the Great to overthrow her husband and take control to it being impossible to consider that one of Nicholas II's daughters could take control in not that great of a time span.

So what do you think?  Keep reading?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful Tag

I saw this tag over at La La in the Library and thought it sounded perfect for today!

1.  What is a book cover that reminds you of Thanksgiving
Cider Brook by Carla Neggers.  I don't exactly know why but this is the first cover that came to mind when I read this question.  I think it's the combination of the fall leaf colors and the word cider in the title.

2.  Two authors you are thankful for
Agatha Christie because I've gotten so much joy from her books both in reading them and in the collecting.
Mary Pope Osborne who wrote the Magic Treehouse books which was instrumental in getting my older kids really reading.  The Tornado and I have started reading a chapter or two at bedtime and he's enjoying them as well!

3.  A book you liked but wouldn't read twice
So many!  I read a lot of cozy mysteries and while I thoroughly enjoy (most of) them they're not books I would want to reread.

4.  Which 5 fictional characters would you like to invite to Thanksgiving dinner
Hercule Poirot - because he's just fascinating and I'm curious as to how crazy he'd drive me in real life
Oreo and the kittens from All I Want by Jill Shalvis (I figure 1 dog and 2 kittens can count as 1 guest and I'm also assuming that it's okay to have animals at Thanksgiving dinner)
Mrs. Weasely from Harry Potter because she seems like someone who'd be fun to talk to but helpful if the turkey didn't turn out right.
Lady Danbury from Julia Quinn's books because she says exactly what comes into her mind and she's always been one of my favorite characters.
Claire Waverley from Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen - while I haven't read Garden Spells Claire plays a small role in The Peach Keeper which I did read and her food sounded amazing and she came across as a very calming presence which I think we'll need between Poirot and Lady Danbury.

5.  What is a book that is stuffed with action?
The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown.  It wasn't the greatest book but they did nothing but run from place to place.  I felt like I needed a nap after I finished it!

6.  If you could make any food item from a book and serve it for Thanksgiving what would it be?
I would love a box of Turkish Delight as mentioned in both The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis and Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott.  The descriptions made my mouth water and I desperately wanted to try some.

7.  One Fall-ish book others should read for Thanksgiving
Not really Fall-ish but The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.  I was hesitant to read it because I was afraid it would be preachy but the message is absolutely amazing and it really puts everything in perspective.  It's everything humanity should be in the face of the worst humanity can be rolled into 1 book and heartbreaking and calming at the same time.

8.  Two books you are thankful for
Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher - I haven't read this book in awhile but it was my sanity for so long.  I think I read through 2 copies and was working on a 3rd!
The Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie - I love this book and have read it countless times and always discover new little details.  This was the first book by Agatha that I really fell in love with it and it remains a favorite.

9.  Which two books mashed together would you like to read
I can't think of 2 specific books but I'd love to see a book featuring both Miss Marple from Agatha Christie and Miss Silver from Patricia Wentworth.  Since both writers are deceased this isn't likely to happen but they'd be fabulous together!  I can picture them sitting somewhere knitting and gossiping together and noticing every tiny detail.

10.  In general what are you thankful for this year?
So many things!  I'm thankful that my 3 older kids seem to be finding their way with what they want to do in life.  I'm thankful that the Tornado is adapting so well to kindergarten.  I'm thankful that J's stress at work has diminished a little and he's actually been able to relax some lately.  I'm thankful for all the wonderful books I've gotten to read this year and all the wonderful people online that I've gotten to talk about them with.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Christmas at Evergreen Inn - Review

Christmas at Evergreen Inn by Donna Alward
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Source: NetGalley
Description:  Welcome back to Jewell Cove, where this holiday season, there happens to be no room at the inn...When a December Nor'easter roars up the eastern seaboard, Jewell Cove cop Todd Ricker spends his day off being a Good Samaritan to stranded holiday travelers.  But when the roads close and Todd can't make his way home, he discovers that the Evergreen Inn is full up.  Until another Good Samaritan opens her doors and offers him a place to stay.  Lainey Price is not looking forward to Christmas, but just because she's not filled with the holiday spirit doesn't mean she's going to turn Todd out into the stormy night.  Even if it means offering the handsome police officer the couch in her tiny cottage.  But when the weather takes a turn for the worse, the two are snowed in for a wintery evenings by the fire.  With Christmas only a few days away can Todd convince Lainey to open her heart to the season...and love?  (from Goodreads)

Genre: Romance - Contemporary

Why I Picked This Book:  Donna Alward's Jewell Cove series is one of my favorites so I'm always excited to try the new book!

My Impression:  I have mixed feelings about romance novellas.  On the plus side it's a great way to get a taste of an author's writing style without committing to a whole book.  On the negative it's hard to cram a full fleshed romance with a HEA into 100 pages.  Because of that my favorite type of novella is one where the couple already has a history.  They could have dated before or in Todd and Lainey's case been friends since childhood.

Todd has been around in previous Jewell Cove books.  He's a good guy, a bit of a flirt, but always willing to lend a hand.  He's had his eye on Lainey for years but more an eye of admiration versus unrequited love.  On her side Lainey has been aware of Todd for years as well.  She thinks he's somewhat of a player but deep down a nice guy.   This is a difficult time for Lainey and she's really not feeling the Christmas spirit.  I loved that Todd stepped into fix it and he was really sweet about it.

This was a nice novella with a lovely little story about re-finding your Christmas spirit.  Lainey and Todd aren't the most memorable characters but they worked for a novella.  And I also discovered that Todd would most definitely consider me a city person as I saw nothing wrong with what Mr. Sewell was wearing to drive north!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Yes!  I'm already anxious for the next Jewell Cove book!

Would I Recommend this Book?: If you're not already a fan of this series than no probably not.  Go start with House on Blackberry Hill (which is fantastic!).  But if you've been the Jewell Cove series for awhile this is a nice little treat until we get our next full length novel!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - My Top Ten Books about Food and Family

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is a Thanksgiving freebie.  When I think of Thanksgiving the 2 things that jump to mind are food and family so that my decision for the freebie part of this pretty easy!

My Top Ten Favorite Books about Food and Family:

Too Many Cooks: 4 Kids, 1 Mom, and 102 Recipes by Emily Franklin - This was a fun book about Franklin's yearlong experiment trying to get her kids to try different things.  Some was successful and some not so much but I love her laid back attitude about the whole thing.  Plus there were some pretty yummy recipes to try!

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg - I had heard so many raves about this book that I was a little nervous going in and was thrilled when I ended up thoroughly enjoying it.  And her food descriptions made me hungry.  Don't read it on an empty stomach!

Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts - This is the 2nd in the Gallaghers of Ardmore series and centers around Shawn the cook in the family bar.  There's food, friends to more, and a little bit of a ghost story.  What more can you ask for?

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder - This was a childhood favorite but when I reread it a few years ago I was surprised about how much of the book centered around food.  There's talk of meat preserving, butchering day, and all kinds of different treats and meals.  The majority of their day is spent acquiring, preserving or preparing food and I found it absolutely fascinating.

Make the Bread Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn't Cook from Scratch - Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods by Jennifer Reese - I got this from the library thinking it was a cookbook but it was so much more.  I learned a number of things from this book including I don't want to make cheese, if you have chickens trouble will find you, and turkeys don't make good pets.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn - I laughed and cried with this one.  There's family, heartbreak, fun, strength, a very angry rooster, and lots and lots of food.

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals that Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor - This is just an amazing story of survival.  The food only really becomes a focus in the last quarter or so of the book but family is always there and it's just an amazing read!

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley - I was resisted reading this one for awhile because I was lukewarm at best about her earlier book, French Milk.  But I finally gave in and got it from the library and ended up really really loving it!  I found her relationship with both her parents interesting and the food sounded amazing!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl - Do not read this book without a box of chocolates nearby.  Actually the book should come with chocolate.

Meet Your Baker by Ellie Alexander - The only thing I didn't like about this cozy mystery set in a bakery called Tort was that it isn't actually real.  Jules' concoctions sounded beyond amazing and my mouth absolutely watered.  Plus, I loved her relationship with her mother as she tried to figure out how to get what she wanted to do figured out.

So what are your favorite books about food and family?

Monday, November 23, 2015

What I've Learned From Reading Challenges This Year

I love Reading Challenges!  The pretty buttons and the variety make me sign up happy every year.  Plus, the ideas are just so awesome!  Read a book for each letter of the alphabet?  Set in each state of the U.S.?  Foodie books?  Cozy Mysteries?  Library books?  Historical Romances?  Yes please!  Sign me up!
And that's what I've done for the last 2 years.  There are so many fascinating, interesting and just plain challenging challenges that it's hard to resist them.  So what have I learned after 2 years of signing up for them?

Long story short - I suck at them.

I mean, I do the reading but for some reason the tracking, linking up and all that just doesn't happen.  Or it does until all of a sudden the wheels come off and it just doesn't anymore.  This year I think I made it to April.

And this year one of my resolutions was to actually keep track of my challenges.  I love the idea of challenging myself more in my reading and looking for books that fit the different categories but after 2 years of trying and 1 year
of really committing to trying I'm going to have to admit that it's just not going to happen.  At least not right now.

This is the time of year that I'd be signing up for all the fun stuff so I've decided that I'm going to use the time I'd spend looking for fun stuff figuring out on what I CAN do that will challenge me.

So this post is my white flag of surrender to challenges.  I will be living vicariously through your signup posts so sign up for good stuff!

And while I'm pondering my reading for next year let me know how you feel about challenges.  Do you love them?  Avoid them?  Do you keep up with them?  And if so please give me hints!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

This Week in Reading - November 22

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.

What I Got:

On Thin Icing by Ellie Alexander - I loved the previous 2 books in this series and am excited to be on the blog tour for the 3rd.  I can't wait to see what's going on now at Tort.  I've read enough to know I'll need to have pastries handy!  (Blog Tour)

I do have 1 request pending and a book on its way from paperbackswap so next week won't be quite as quiet but I am doing okay on slowing down the number of books I"m getting which is definitely good!

I am heading to the used bookstore this week but am going to try to keep the number a little more manageable.  I'm hoping to find some Patricia Wentworths and Catherine Airds that I'm missing.


Reading: Dead to the Last Drop by Cleo Coyle and A Copper Ridge Christmas by Maisey Yates

Listening: I finished Go Set a Watchman this week.  I enjoyed it though I can see why it was rejected originally.  If you're on the fence about reading it I definitely recommend the audio.  Reese Witherspoon does a good job narrating it and her accent actually sounds right.  This week's Super Serials podcat episode is about The Hunger Games so I'm really looking forward to that.

Watching: I'm still watching Waking the Dead on Hulu and am still very much enjoying it.  There's apparently a spin off about ME called Body Farm that I'm going to try next.  Other than that J and I have been watching Major Crimes and The Big Bang Theory and enjoying both.

Off the Blog:

This week is going to be pretty busy.  All the kids are out of school for the week.  Emma will be coming home from college Monday night and Eleanor is still transitioning between where she's finishing up the semester and where she's moving.  Paul actually is spending this weekend at Emma's college visiting her so there's been lots of back and forth.  I think tomorrow the Tornado and I are going to Birmingham with some friends to go to the zoo and this Peruvian market one of the friends if familiar with.  I think it'll be a lot of fun!

Coordinating Thanksgiving will be a bit of a challenge this year with 3 families in town but it will a fun few days with lots of food and lots of visiting!  I'll probably need to fast next weekend!

I've been actually in the mood to cook this week which has been fun.  I tried lots of new recipes but I think the winner was this Crock Pot Mississippi Pot Roast.  I'd been seeing the recipe around Pinterest for ages and when the grocery store had a great deal on a chuck roast I decided to give it a try.  It was seriously tasty.  I did brown it as suggested but I'm not sure that made much of a difference flavor-wise.  I shredded the meat about 20 minutes or so before serving and let the meat soak in the sauce which really let the flavor set in.  At first I thought it was really greasy but I finally realized was that what I thought was grease was actually the very flavorful melted butter so be sure to mix that in!  It was fantastic on mashed potatoes and was even better when we had the meat on slider buns with a little bit of provolone!

On the Blog:

What Happened:

What's Coming Up:

Monday: What I Learned from Reading Challenges
Tuesday: Top Ten Tuesday - My Top Ten Favorite Food and Family Reads
Wednesday: Christmas at Evergreen Inn - Contemporary Romance Review
Thursday: Beyond the Books: Thanksgiving
Friday: Linkups with excerpts from current book
Saturday: TBD

Have a great week, a fantastic Thanksgiving, and happy reading!

Miss Marple Orange Iced Scones from Caught Read-Handed

I've been reading cozy mysteries for years and years and they've always been my go-to genre after a bad day or to bust out of a slump or when I just don't feel like handling violence or difficult themes that can happen so often in more standard mysteries.  One of my favorite things about cozies, especially in the last 10 years or so, is the variety of cozies.  There are PIs, Investigative journalists, mayors, antique store owners, artists, dog trainers, contractors, clothing store owners but my 2 favorite types are either the bookstore owner/librarian or the baker/chef/restaurant owner.

So when I got Caught Read-Handed by Terrie Farley Moran for a blog tour back in July I was thrilled to discover that this book had a little bit of both!

In Moran's Read Em and Eat series the main characters Sassy and Bridgy own a cafe/bookstore named Read 'Em and Eat.  And if I could make fictional places real this place would be high on my list.  All the food has a literary name and inspiration but the best part are the tables.  Each table is named and decorated for a particular author.  There's Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, as well as my personal favorite and where I would be sitting - the Agatha Christie table, and a big selection of other tables.

Ever since I've been reading cozies I've wanted to try the recipes that often appear in the back of the foodie mysteries and when I got to the end of this one and discovered that the recipe included was for Miss Marple's Orange Iced Scones I knew this was definitely one I could not resist trying!

Miss Marple's Orange Iced Scones

from Caught Read-Handed by Terrie Farley Moran
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375
Place first 4 ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Use a stand mixer or hand (I used a pastry blender) to blend the butter into the flour, sugar and baking powder until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Mix in egg and milk.  Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.  With a spoon or ice cream scoop drop 12 equal amounts of scone batter onto the baking sheet.  Leave 2 inches between the scone batter balls to allow for spreading.  Bake at 375 until the edges and tops of scones turn a golden brown.
Orange Icing
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/2 of a large orange, juiced
Place powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Add the graded orange rind to sugar.  Squeeze the orange half over the rind mixture.  Use a spoon to mix the icing together.  Icing should be fairly runny.  Spoon drizzle over warm scones.

Best served with a pot of Earl Grey tea and a Read 'Em and Eat mystery

My changes:  I made the scone batter exactly as the recipe says except I ended up adding the tiniest extra splash of milk.  When it came to the icing I had to get a little creative as I had decided to make this on a whim and I didn't exactly have an orange.  Luckily I had a jar of dehydrated orange peel and a bottle of orange juice.  I used close to a quarter of a cup of juice and that was a bit to much.  Next time I'll add it with by tablespoon until I get the right consistency.  Also I mixed the icing with a fork but that's just because I've found that combines powdered sugar and liquid easier.

My results: Yum!  The scones are light and buttery sweet without being sugary and the orange glaze (because mine is much more of a glaze than an icing) add a delicious citrus-y note.  These would be perfect for a breakfast roll or an afternoon snack and would be lovely with a cup of Earl Grey as Moran suggests!

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Linkups: The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry

It's Friday linkup time!  I'm linking up with the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings of Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice.

This Week's Book Blogger Hop Question:
Do you read everyday?  If so do you have a "page goal"?

My Answer: 
Yes, I read every day even if I'm really exhausted I read a page or two before going to sleep.  I don't really have a page goal for ebooks but I always try to shoot for at least 50 pages with print books.

This week's book is The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn.  I heard such fantastic things about her 2nd book - The Kitchen Counter Cooking School - that I bought it new several years ago but then somehow never read it.  Then last year I read her 3rd book - Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good - and loved it and somehow in all that I go her first book which is this one.

My Beginning:
As a little girl, while other children played house, I played restaurant.

My Thoughts:
I love that food is such a presence in her life even from a young age.  I can't even imagine knowing what I wanted to do that early on.

The 56:
It's 8:00 a.m. and we're wandering through the Saxe-Breteuil market in the Seventh arrondissement, one of the city's largest outdoor markets.  The Eiffel Tower looms at the end of the stalls, presiding over the the market like a guardian.

My Thoughts:
I love how she sets the scene.  I can just picture it all!

So what do you think?  Keep reading?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Christmas Bridge - Blog Tour Review + Giveaway

The Christmas Bridge by Elyse Douglas
Rating: 3 Stars
Source: Blog Tour

Description:  A First Love,  A Second Chance.  A young widow travels to New York on business a few days before Christmas.  She has reluctantly made a date with a lover she hasn't seen in 20 years, and she is nervous and apprehensive.  Twenty years before, she made a difficult decision that has both troubled and haunted her ever since.  She knows she's about to come face to face with her past and she's hoping for some redemption and resolution.  She also wonders if she can somehow pick up where she left off 20 years ago and start again.  An exciting chance encounter changes everything.  Now, not only will she face the past with hope to rekindle an old romance but there is the possibility that this chance meeting will bring her love and happiness she never thought possible.  Once again, she will  have to choose.  She will have to make the right decision.  She will have to believe that Christmas miracles can still happen (from Goodreads)

Genre: Romance - Contemporary

Why I Picked This Book:  I was intrigued by the 2nd chance after 20 years and the cover grabbed me!

My Impression:  Have you ever read a book where the way you think and the way the characters think is so fundamentally different it's hard to connect with them?  That's kind of where I was with this book.  I liked Olivia well enough.  She's a nice person, she's intelligent, and her struggles through grief felt real but she wasn't really someone I felt like I'd be friends with or really even understood.  Her hangup on her "mistake" of ending a relationship with someone that resulted in her having a happy life and child with someone didn't make sense to me.  I didn't dislike her I just never felt like I connected with her.

I did enjoy her interest in her art, her relationship with her daughter and father-in-law and I was pleasantly surprised with the direction the book ended up going.  I liked the new possibilities that came into her life.   I also enjoyed how readable the book was.  Sometimes when I don't connect with characters in a romance I lose interest in the book and find it hard to read but this zipped by and I was interested to see what happened next.

While not for me, I am curious to see what else this author has to offer.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Lowcountry Bordello - Review

Lowcountry Bordello (Liz Talbot #4) by Susan M. Boyer
Rating:4 Stars
Source: NetGalley
Description:  The Charleston streets are dressed for the holidays in sophisticated Southern style: topiaries adorned with red ribbons, garland entwined with white lights, and poinsettias potted in gold planters.  The high class bordello in a stately historic home is certainly no exception.  When Private Investigator Liz Talbot's dear friend Olivia swears she saw a dead body in the parlor of this bordello, one Olivia accidentally co-owns, Liz promptly comes to her aid.  With her wedding back home on Stalla Maris less than a week away, Liz must juggle one elderly madam, two ex and future in-laws, three ghosts in the bordello, four giddy bridesmaids, five lovely courtesans, six suspicious patrons...and a partridge in a pear tree as she tries to keep her bridesmaid out of jail and live to walk down the aisle (from Goodreads)

Genre: Mystery

Why I Picked This Book: I read, reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed the previous book in the series, Lowcountry Boneyard, back in April and couldn't wait to read the next book.  Plus, I was curious to see how one accidentally co-owns a bordello.

My Impression:
Pro: In the earlier book I had read in this series I was a little confused by Colleen, Liz's ghostly friend.  I was pleased that in this book not only did Boyer give us a few paragraphs to explain her purpose but her role in the active investigation really made sense.
The mystery itself was entertaining with lots of red herrings and suspects.  I did find out how one accidentally co-owns a bordello and it made sense though I do question how sweet sweet little Aunt Dean really is.  I loved seeing Nate and Liz again and was glad that Nate played a bigger part in the investigation than he had in the last book.  I love how they work together.  They really work as a team which is nice to see.  I'm normally not a fan of a lot going on in mysteries and there was certainly a lot going on in this one but it helped that I really liked all these people and wanted to hear more about the wedding planning and all that.  It did make me even happier that I skipped the big wedding.  Just reading about all the planning made me stressed!  It also made me happy that the reason Liz and Olivia are friends is explained.  When we first meet Olivia she's very much a "with friends like these who needs enemies" kind of friend but we do see why Liz is so loyal to her.

Cons:  There are a lot of characters and while most of them are fully fleshed out and easy to remember we only know the *ahem* visitors at the bordello by their name and who their "niece" is.  Frequently it took me a minute to remember what details went to which person.  It didn't diminish my enjoyment but it was about the only negative in this fun mystery.

Overall: Boyer is going on my auto-buy cozy mystery authors list.  This was my 2nd book by her and I think I enjoyed this one even more than the last one.  The pacing is good, the mystery is interesting and entertaining, and I want to be friends with Liz and Nate.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!  I'm already looking forward to my next visit with Liz, Nate, and everyone else!

Would I Recommend this Book?: Absolutely!  If you enjoy a cozy mystery this series is proving to be excellent.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Echo Lake - Review

Echo Lake (A Swift River Valley Novel) by Carla Neggers
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley
Description:  In snowy Swift River Valley, unexpected romance is just around the corner... Heather Sloan has landed her dream job - the renovation of Vic Scarlatti's stately 1912 country home overlooking the icy waters of Echo Lake in Knights Bridge, Massachusetts.  It's the perfect project for the family business, but for once, Heather is in charge.  Diplomatic Security Service agent Brody Hancock left Knights Bridge at eighteen, a few steps ahead of arrest and the wrath of Heather's older brothers.  Though Brody had never planned to return, Vic, a retired diplomat and friend, needs his help.  Staying at Vic's guest house makes it impossible to avoid running into a Sloan at every turn - especially Heather.  Seeing her again has affected Brody more than he wants to admit.  But Heather is wary of Brody's sudden interest in her, and she suspects there's more to his homecoming than he's letting on.  Set against the scenic backdrop of a New England winter, Echo Lake is a captivating tale of family, friends, and the possibility of new love.  (from Goodreads)

Genre: Romance - Contemporary

Why I Picked This Book: This is the fourth book in the series I've read and it's a series I always enjoy.  Plus they're renovating a house!  I can never resist renovating a house!

My Impression: 
Pro:  I loved going back to visit Swift River Valley and Knight's Bridge.  Neggers has done a good job with her world building in this little town I can really picture it.  I also really liked Heather.  She says what she thinks and frequently instantly regrets it.  She has a sense of humor and an ingrained practicality.  She puts up with her brothers but holds her own and she's good at her job, incredibly capable and intelligent.  As well she's just nice.  Heather is someone I can imagine being friends with though she's one I have a feeling I'd want to shove a little periodically to get her out of her comfort zone.
I enjoyed the interaction between Heather and Brody.  Brody doesn't go too alpha male and respects her opinion and her abilities.  I also liked that the the Sloan brothers and Brody weren't continuing their teenage feud.  They were wary of each other but it was an active dislike which would've felt a bit unrealistic in my opinion.
I was also so glad the costumes from That Night on Thistle Lane made an appearance and I absolutely loved that Heather dressed up in them when she was bored.  I think if I had a bedroom full of old movie costumes that's what I'd be doing with my free time.
Con: While I really enjoyed reading this and I loved the community feel and all the characters I never really felt connected to the actual romance.  Brody was a bit one dimensional and feels somewhat disconnected from his surroundings.  Also, the end wrapped up a little too fast for me.  It felt like they needed to discuss more and have a little more time together.
Overall: While this isn't a book that has a place on my Keeper Shelf I did really enjoy the read.  The characters are nice but different enough to be interesting, the place is beautiful, and it was great to revisit Knight's Bridge.  While not mandatory, this is a series best read in order.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Absolutely!  I'm hoping Adrienne gets her own story at some point and I'd love to see more Sloans.

Would I Recommend this Book?:  Yes - especially if you enjoy contemporary romances with a lower heat rating.

Monday, November 16, 2015

An Old-Fashioned Christmas - Blog Tour Review + Recipe

When I got the tour invitation for An Old Fashioned Christmas: Sweet Traditions for Hearth and Home by Ellen Stimson (Amazon link) there was no way I was passing it up.  A cookbook with a holiday theme?  A cook that considered herself "a bread and butter cook ... possibly more butter than bread"? That gorgeous Christmas-y cover?  Yes please!

The blurb did not oversell this book.  It's absolutely lovely.  Charming stories with a good dash of humor, beautiful home-y pictures, delicious looking recipes with photos and stories attached tom them.  I am not a snow fan and consider anything under 50 bundle up and stay inside weather but this book made me want to spend a Christmas in Vermont!

When it came to deciding what recipe to try out it was a tough decision - should I go savory with Citrus Soy Pork Loin?  More sweet with John's Grandmother's Roske Cookies or Maple Pecan Cookies?  Maybe some Salted Caramel Turtles?  Or back to savory with Cheddar Chive Biscuits?  There were tons more choices and finally after much thinking and deciding I decided to go with:

Luxurious Garlicky Scalloped Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds red potatoes
1 1/2 cups half and half
3 cups heavy cream
3/4 ounce minced fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
butter for the casserole dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Wash and peel the potatoes.  Slice potatoes 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick.
Combine potatoes, half and half, heavy cream, garlic and salt and pepper in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 6 to 8 minutes.
Pour potatoes and sauce into a buttered casserole dish and bake for about 45 minutes.

My Changes:  I ended up using Russet potatoes instead of red because I have a weird aversion to red.  I made sure I sliced them really thin and they cooked well.  Also due to an unfortunate incident regarding my kitchen scale (life lesson - don't store your scale on top of the toaster oven) I didn't have a way to measure 3/4 of an ounce of garlic so I ended up using a heaping tablespoon and it was nice and garlicky without being like biting into a garlic bulb.

My Results: Seriously yum!  It was pretty simple to make and really the most time consuming task was slicing the potatoes.  The rest was dump, stir, dump in casserole dish and bake.  It was a little more liquidy than I expected but that wasn't really a bad thing and the flavor was amazing.  I had it with fried pork chops and the simple crispiness of that contrasted really nicely with the flavorful sauciness of the potatoes.  I'll definitely be making this dish again!

Bottom Line:  Not only is this book full of family friendly recipes that are just a touch unusual but the book itself is lovely!  I have a feeling it will be on my coffee table all during the Christmas holidays and I expect it will be well paged through by all who see it.  I also have a feeling that more than a few of these recipes will end up on my holiday table and in Christmas goody bags.

This book was received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

This Week in Reading - November 15

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.

What I Got:

Nothing!  Nada!  Zero!  Not even anything from the library!  My TBR shelf and Kindle just sighed with relief a little.  I did almost cave and head to the used bookstore today but I held strong.  There should be a medal for that!


Reading:  Knight's Bridge Christmas by Carla Neggers and Read It and Weep by Jenn McKinlay

Listening: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee read by Reese Witherspoon.  So far I'm enjoying it though I can see why it was rejected in the first place.  I'm also listening to the latest Super Serials podcast which is making me very happy.  They have the Hunger Games coming up next I think.

Watching:  Waking the Dead on Hulu.  It's a BBC crime show and I watched the first 5 seasons on Netflix and loved it and just about cried when I discovered that there are 4 seasons they didn't have.  Thankfully, Hulu saved the day.  I'm also catching up on this season of Doctor Who.  So far I'm really enjoying it but I'm several episodes behind.

Off the Blog:

The Tornado was out of school Tuesday and Wednesday for Veteran's Day.  Tuesday was a half day for public school so he got all of it off. We had a playdate with friends which was fun.  The host is from Peru so she did a whole Peruvian feast for lunch and it was sooo good!  I had never had Peruvian food before but the flavor profile was amazing and I loved the heat of it.  It's definitely a cuisine I plan on exploring more.

I'm trying to keep the holiday season from getting out of control already. I'm trying to get some lists made and remind myself not to panic.  Every year I always think I'm going to get out of ahead of everything and every year I end up scrambling. 

Like everyone else around the world, the violence in France on Friday has left me speechless.  There has been so much said by many who are far more eloquent and expressive than I am so all I can say is that my thoughts and prayers are with those that lost loved ones or had their whole world shaken that night.

On the Blog:

What Happened:

What's Coming Up:

Monday: Old Fashioned Christmas - Blog Tour Review + Recipe
Tuesday: TBD 
Wednesday: TBD
Thursday: The Christmas Bridge - Blog Tour Contemporary Romance Review
Friday: Friday Linkups featuring excerpts from current book
Saturday: TBD

Have a great week and happy reading!

Milk Chocolate Thumbprints from Fat Witch Baker + Review

There is not much that I enjoy more than wandering the cookbook section at my library and picking up whatever book looks tempting.  A few weeks ago the book that landed in my bag was a thin volume entitled - Fat Witch Bake Sale: 67 Recipes From the Beloved Fat Witch Bakery For Your Next Bake Sale by Patricia Helding with Lucy Baker.  For starters - isn't that a fantastic name for a Bakery?  It sounds like the name of a bakery in a slightly paranormal cozy where the amateur detective sells baked goods designed to fix whatever ails the customer.  The cover is pretty tempting too with yummy bar cookies, brownies, cake and tarts stacked up.

The book itself is broken up into useful chapters - especially if you're cooking for a crowd (or a Bake Sale) - there's a chapter focusing on Chocolate, Kid Friendly, Gluten Free, Halfway Healthy, Vegan and several others.  The offered treats range from chocolate layer cakes and brownies to the slightly more exotic Chinese Lucky Almond Cookies, Danish Blondes as well as Gluten Free and Vegan options.  There are also tips for hosting a successful bake sale and packing up your treats.

The recipe I decided to try is a little bit on the more basic side but doesn't lose any of it's chocolate decadence.

Milk Chocolate Thumbprints

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces milk chocolate, chopped into small, even size pieces
1 tablespoon unsifted cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
big pinch of salt
36 to 48 large milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease 2 large baking sheets with butter or cooking spray or line them with parchment paper.

In a small heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat, warm the butter and chopped chocolate, stirring frequently, until almost completely melted.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the cocoa.  Set aside to cool for 3 to 5 minutes.

In a large bowl using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, egg and vanilla until creamy.  Add the chocolate mixture and beat until well combined.  Sift the flour, baking soda and salt directly into the chocolate mixture and beat just until no trace of the dry ingredients remains.

Using a teaspoon, drop balls of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, making sure to space them at least 1 1/2" apart.  Using your thumb (it helps to wet it first) or the back of a spoon, make a small indentation in the center of each ball of dough and fill each with one large chocolate chip.

Bake the cookies for 9 to 12 minutes (It took mine about 10 minutes).  Cool on the baking sheets on a rack for 20 minutes.  Remove the cookies to the rack and cool completely

Changes Made: I started with jumbo chocolate chips but didn't think they made enough of an impact and switched to Hershey Kisses.  Other than that I followed the recipe exactly.

My Results: The cookies came together pretty easily but the texture of the dough was very odd.  It was stickier and more liquid than most dough but still held together.  Baked the cookie almost resembles a meringue with the smooth crispy outside texture and the light softer middle.  The flavor was similar to a brownie and really would have been good even without the chocolate chip.

Bottom Line: I'm not sure this is a book I'll be rushing to buy right now.  While I liked these cookies and there are other recipes I'd like to try there just aren't all that many recipes in this book and a number of them are either Vegan or Gluten free which doesn't particularly interest me.  However, I do plan on getting this from the library again and trying a few more recipes.  If you bake a lot for entertaining or have dietary issues I think this would definitely be one not to pass up.  Otherwise, it's definitely great to try but not necessarily a buy.

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday Linkups: The Wanderer

It's Friday linkup time!  I'm linking up with the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings of Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice.

This Week's Book Blogger Hop Question:
How long does it normally take you to read a book?

My Answer:
It depends on the genre.  A cozy mystery or a romance typically takes me 2 or 3 days though when I had more reading time I could usually get through 1 a day.  A nonfiction or more detailed book can take 4 to 5 days though it can take longer if the book is super dense.

Something about the falling temperatures and darker nights tends to pull me more towards romance than any other genre.  It could also be the huge number of Christmas romances that I seem to have requested from NetGalley that puts me in that frame of mind!  Whatever it is the next book I'm planning to read off my TBR pile is The Wanderer by Robyn Carr which is the first book in the Thunder Point series and the first book I've read by Carr.

The Beginning:
It took Hank Cooper almost eight hours to get from Virgin River to Thunder Point, Oregon, because he was towing his fifth wheel, a toy hauler.

My Thoughts:
I know Virgin River was Carr's earlier series so I'm curious if Hank was in any of those books.  Also, towing a 5th wheel for 8 hours does NOT sound fun.

The 56:
Right then, Cooper thought if there was anything suspicious to know about Ben's death, Mac was a good guy to have on the case.

My Thoughts:
Is there something suspicious about Ben's death?  I'm intrigued.  I kind of figured this for a more fiction style romance than a mystery one.

So what do you think?  Keep reading?  What kind of book do you like to read when the nights get longer and temperatures are colder?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Beyond the Books: Bedtime Routine

This week I'm linking up with KissinBlueKaren for Beyond the Books.  This is a meme where we all answer a non-bookish question.  It's always so fun to see everyone's answers and get a peak at the blogger beyond the books.  This week's question is - What is my bedtime routine?

My bedtime routine isn't particularly elaborate or something that I consciously planned out but it does seem to be the same every night with very few exceptions

First off is a bath.  I pretty much take a hot bath every night sometimes for a long time and sometimes for just a few minutes.  I've found if I skip it it takes me way longer to go to sleep and I don't sleep nearly as well.  On the rare occasion I'm just too tired or it's too late a shower might work but I much prefer a bath.  Plus this is one of the few times I read print books so I'd hate to cut it out!

Second is the whole moisturizer routine.  This is a serious process and one that deserves it's own category.  There is body oil topped with enough regular lotion to sink a ship.  Then there's the wrinkle cream which I started using when I accidentally turned the camera around on my phone and saw my forehead up close and personal unexpectedly.  It was a bit terrifying.

Third is the straightening up the bathroom - PJs on, whatever I was wearing that day put up, towel hung up and everything else straightened up.  This is one I've kind of added because it makes the next day so much easier so it's not fully in the routine.

Fourth is I flip my phone over to vibrate and lay it next to my bed, make sure the Tornado is tucked in, if I'm reading a creepy mystery or romantic suspense I check the door locks again.

Fifth - I settled down with my book (usually my Kindle) and read until my eyes absolutely refuse to stay open anymore.

That's about it!  What do you have to do before heading to bed?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Look Both Ways - Blog Tour Review + Giveaway

Look Both Ways (A Witch City Mystery) by Carol J. Perry
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: Blog Tour
Description:  In Salem, Massachusetts, there are secrets everywhere - even in the furniture.
When Lee Barrett spots the same style oak bureau she once had as a child on the WICH-TV show, Shopping Salem, she rushes to the antique shop and buys the piece.  Just like she beloved bureau she lost in a fire, this one has secret compartments.  It also comes with an intriguing history - it was purchased in an estate sale from a home where a famous local murder took place.  The day after the bureau is delivered, Lee returns to the antiques shop and finds the owner dead.  The police suspect the shop owner's unscrupulous business partner, but Lee wonders if the murder is connected to her new furniture.  At least part of the answer may be revealed through a mirror in the bureau, tarnished and blackened, allowing Lee to tap into her psychic visions.  Using this bureau of investigation, Lee may be able to furnish her policeman beau with the evidence needed to catch the killer - before the next one to be shut up is her... (from Goodreads)

Genre: Mystery 

Why I Picked This Book:  There's a bureau with secret compartments!  I dream of finding a a secret compartment in a piece of furniture or a house or really anything.  Plus I love mysteries that dig into the past even if it's not that distant.

My Impression:  I fully expected to like this book with the antiques and secret compartments and a famous murder and not only did I like it but I thoroughly enjoyed it!  Antique shopping with Lee is now on my Fictional Bucket List.  I loved shopping with her as she looks for furniture for her laughably bare apartment and was thrilled to join her when she volunteered to find props for a series of plays on a teeny tiny budget.
There's a lot going on in this one - plays, an old murder, a new murder, a jewel hunt, dealing with a developing psychic power, and a developing romance - but it all works together and I never felt overwhelmed or that the mystery itself got buried in the details.  I really liked Lee and Pete together and liked that while he does remind her that he is the police officer and he does worry about her safety he also listens to her and values her opinion.
The mystery itself was entertaining with lots of twists and turns.  There are several valid suspects and a bunch of different motives.  I had several theories as to the who and the how by the time I got to the end and I enjoyed seeing which way the author went.  The paranormal aspect does help with the solving of the mystery but it's more of a nudge that contributes to solid police work versus taking over.
Lee is an interesting character.  She's a young widow who has a decent amount of money but doesn't harp on how much money she has which is nice. She's creative and intelligent but not super nosy.  When she hears something that she thinks is connected to the murder or is threatened she immediately calls the police which I appreciated.  She has a good group of friends and there was just an air of niceness that surrounded her life.
Very few books are perfect and this one has it's flaws.  There are several kind of clunky conversations where a character explains more than seems natural and there is some repetition.  Something will happen to Lee during the day and then she'll come home and tell her aunt of Pete all about it.  These flaws didn't affect my enjoyment.  I found Look Both Ways to be a fun, twisty turny mystery with  likable characters and a hint of paranormal.  And I also want a cat just like O'Ryan!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!  There are a few hints about earlier books that I'd love to read and I look forward to seeing more of Lee in the future.

Would I Recommend this Book?: If you enjoy Victoria Laurie or Juliet Blackwell or other paranormal cozy mysteries I think you'll enjoy this one.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

After Alice - Blog Tour Review

After Alice (429x648)About After Alice

• Hardcover: 288 pages • Publisher: William Morrow (October 27, 2015)
Down the rabbit-hole, where adventures await . . .
When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice's disappearance?
In this brilliant new work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings—and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll's enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice's mentioned briefly in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend but arrives a moment too late—and tumbles down the rabbit-hole herself.
Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. The White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts—droll and imperious as always—interrupt their mad tea party to suggest a conundrum: If Eurydice can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or if Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. In any case, everything that happens next is After Alice.
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My Review:

So first off, full disclosure: I've always been a fan of the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland and even liked the Tim Burton movie a few years ago though I thought that all the characters - especially the Mad Hatter - weren't mad enough.  I did finally get around to reading Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass this past year and I was slightly less enthusiastic.  I enjoyed the story itself but it was a little too nonsense for me.  I think it's perhaps because I read it as an adult and not as a child as well as in real life I tend to be pretty methodical and routine oriented so I just wasn't caught up in the nonsense that is so Alice.
I loved the part of the story that takes place in Wonderland.  The writing tone is very similar to the original with the same almost sing-song quality but to me felt like there was a little more structure to it.  I loved Ada though especially at the beginning she isn't the easy person to like but it was really fun watching her journey and her reasons for looking for Alice once she got past her initial apathy.  Meeting all the weirdly wonderful creatures through Ada's eyes was delightful and it was fun to compare the somewhat shyer Ada's impressions with what the bold Alice saw.
There are two plot lines at work here.  The first is Ada's story as she goes through Wonderland and the second is what's happening in the regular world as Alice and then Ada disappear.  It took me quite a bit longer to connect to this story and since it had equal time it did bring down my enjoyment of the book.  While I did really come to enjoy it in the last quarter of the book for the earlier part I really could have done with less Lydia and Miss Armstrong and much more Ada and her adventures.
All in all, this was a fun read and a fun compliment to the original Alice in Wonderland.

gregory maguireAbout Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; Lost; Mirror Mirror; and the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Out of Oz. Now a beloved classic, Wicked is the basis for a blockbuster Tony Award–winning Broadway musical. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts. Find out more about Gregory at his website and follow him on Facebook.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Christmas in Mustang Creek - Review

Christmas in Mustang Creek by Linda Lael Miller (Brides of Bliss County #4)
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: NetGalley
Description:  Charlotte Morgan grew up at Mustang Creek, Wyoming, and couldn't wait to escape to the big city.  But life in New York isn't as fabulous as she'd like to admit, she's lonely, doing a job she doesn't love and dating to many frogs she meets online.
There was one potential prince, Jaxon Locke, a veterinarian with definite possibilities but his move to Idaho to fill in at his dad's vet practice ended things just as they were getting interesting.  What Charlotte doesn't know is that he misses her, more than he expected.
Now an aunt who needs Charlotte's help, a new job for Jax, and a magical house guest named Mrs. Klozz all combine for a magical Christmas and a new beginning.

Genre: Romance/Contemporary

Why I Picked This Book: I have been wanting to try Linda Lael Miller's books for ages and this Christmas story in The Brides of Bliss County series seemed a perfect place to start.

My Impression:  This book requires a mug of hot chocolate, comfy close and a big fluffy blanket.  A snowy day and a roaring fire is also recommended though not required as the book will make you feel like you have these things.
This is like the very best of a Hallmark movie.  Mustang Creek is beautiful and charming and full of lovely people and delightful shops.  Charlotte's family home is a beautiful Victorian filled with all kinds of treasures.  Jax is just the nicest guy.  He's smart, he has a sense of humor and he loves animals not to mention the fact that he's not bad looking.  I was worried that his ending up in Charlotte's home town would come across as creepy or needy but it didn't.  He's totally upfront and honest but at the same time doesn't have any expectations.  It's hard not to like him - especially when you see him at work!
I didn't warm to Charlotte quite as much.  She's nice but so wish-y wash-y that I wanted to shake her sometimes.  She has this idea of what Jax wants but it's not really based on anything other than her own preconceptions. It feels kind of like she's just spinning her wheels which makes sense given her situation in the book but I wanted her to make a decision a little faster.  While I didn't dislike her I think my lack of connection to her kept me from really being swept up in the story.
Than there's the side characters - Charlotte's friends, Jax's business partner, Aunt Geneva, and the fabulous Mrs. Klozz.  These are all people I want to see more of.  I was worried that Mrs. Klozz would be over used and her magic would seem a bit heavy handed but it was absolutely perfect.  My main Christmas wish would be for her to come cook for me for a day!

So get yourself a cup of hot chocolate, curl up all warm and cozy, and spend an evening in Mustang Creek.  You won't regret it!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!  I'm looking forward to going back and reading the earlier books in the Brides of Bliss County series.

Would I Recommend this Book?: Yes.  If you like a sweet Christmas romance with just a little heat this is a great one.  Plus, there's puppies!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

This Week in Reading - November 8

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.

What I Got:

I didn't do quite as well at staying away from NetGalley as I had planned but I couldn't resist the Lea Waite and somehow that led to getting the Alyssa Maxwell.  Quiet Neighbors doesn't come out until April which is virtually empty so I decided that didn't count!

Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson - There's a cemetery and an old used bookshop.  What more does a book need?  Plus I love how creepy the cover looks.  (NetGalley)

Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell - It's Christmas in a country house at the end of 1918 and evidence of foul play is turning up in Christmas boxes!  (NetGalley)

Thread and Gone by Lea Waite - This is the third in the Mainely Needlepointers mystery series and I've loved the other two.  This one involves a piece of historic needle point and a murder.  (NetGalley)


Reading: Echo Lake by Carla Neggers and Lowcountry Bordello by Susan M. Boyer

Listening: I just finished Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo which I really enjoyed and am next in line for Go Set the Watchman.  In between I'll probably do some podcast listening though my favorite - Super Serials - had to take a week off for health reasons.

Watching: I've been catching up on Criminal Minds this week and enjoying it.  I've still got a few more episodes before I catch up but I like the Aisha Tyler addition.  I got caught up with NCIS: Los Angeles and watched Nora Roberts' Blue Smoke which I enjoyed.  Also, The Librarians started last week!  I didn't love the premier but the 2nd episode was good so I'm excited to see where this season goes.

Off the Blog:

This week was pretty low key.  It was grey and rainy almost every day which didn't make me want to leave the house very often so I did get a lot of things done at home which always makes me happy.  I swapped out my Halloween decorations for fall decorations and hit the point about in the middle that I always hit where I suddenly can't remember WHY I have all these decorations.  But now that they're done I'm enjoying them.
The big news this week is that Eleanor is moving back local.  She decided to change her major to Secondary Education and decided she wanted to go to the local University.  She and her boyfriend found a nice little apartment about 15 minutes away and signed the lease this week.  I think she's excited to have her energy really focused and we're looking forward to having her closer.
Today (Saturday) J and I took the Tornado to the Peanuts movie.  We all really enjoyed it.  It was true enough to the old movies that J and I liked it but it had some physical humor that had the Tornado giggling.  I think it was a winner for all of us.  

On the Blog:

What Happened:

Saturday: This Week's Menu

What's Coming Up:

Monday: Christmas at Mustang Creek - Contemporary Romance Review
Tuesday: After Alice - Blog Tour Fiction Review
Wednesday: Look Both Ways - Cozy Mystery Blog Tour Review + Giveaway
Thursday: Beyond the Books: Bedtime Routines
Friday: Linkups with Current Book
Saturday: TBD

Have a great week and happy reading!