Friday, April 30, 2021

Fiction/Nonfiction Mini-Reviews: The Foodie Edition

I've watched Ree Drummond for years in The Pioneer Woman on Food Network, so I was really excited to read her new book all about life on her Oklahoma ranch, focusing particularly on marriage and motherhood.  It's a collection of memories and stories, some older ones repurposed from her blog and others brand-new (she talks about the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on her family).

Ree's personality really comes through in this book - everything I've seen of her on tv and expect her to be.  She's relatable and personable, with an approachable writing style that feels like you're having a conversation with her.  And she's funny!  A little dry humor, sometimes self-deprecating, but I actually found myself laughing out loud at a story or two (especially the story about a doughnut).  I enjoyed reading about daily life on a cattle ranch, practically in the middle of nowhere - I can't imagine having to drive an hour or more to go to the store, and I could definitely do without all the critters she comes across on her property.  Definitely a must-read for fans or anyone who's wondering what it's like to live in the country!  4 stars

Kiss My Cupcake by Helena Hunting (2020)
Blaire has just opened her cupcakes and cocktails cafe when Ronan opens his throwback sports bar on the same day, next door.  It leads to some competition between the two (and maybe some sparks), but when a bigger threat opens across the street, the two decide to work together to make their businesses a success. 

I didn't love this one as much as I thought I would.  I thought the idea was cute - these two business owners in competition with each other as they try to drum up customers realize they actually like working together - but the execution was lacking for me.  Ronan and Blaire felt like caricatures - him always in plaid, her always in '50s-style dresses.  The story, and especially the dialogue, were very repetitive - it seemed like they just kept having the same conversations over and over.  There was a distinct lack of drama - the competitor that moves in across the street is mentioned so little, they might as well not be there.  It just never felt like the stakes were that high and thus the story was very predictable.  However, I did enjoy the creativity in Blaire's cupcakes and the different events they held, and Ronan's grandfather was absolutely adorable; I loved learning more about his story.  3 stars

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Isn't It Bromantic?

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!
Isn't It Bromantic? (Bromance Book Club #4)
Lyssa Kay Adams
Expected publication date: July 20, 2021
With his passion for romance novels, it was only a matter of time before Vlad took up the pen to write a novel the Bromance Book Club would swoon over.

Elena Konnikova has lived her entire adult life in the shadows. As the daughter of a Russian journalist who mysteriously disappeared after speaking out against government corruption, she escaped danger the only way she knew how. She agreed to marry her childhood friend, Vladimir, and move to the United States, where he is a professional hockey player in Nashville.

Vlad, aka The Russian, thought he could be content with his marriage of convenience. But after four years, it’s become too difficult to continue in a one-sided relationship. He joined the Bromance Book Club to learn how to make his wife love him, but all he’s learned is that he deserves more. He’s ready to create his own sweeping romance–both on and off the page.

The Bros are unwilling to let Vlad forgo true love–and this time they’re not operating solo. They join forces with Vlad’s senior citizen neighbors, a group of meddling widows who call themselves The Loners. Just when things finally look promising, the danger from Elena’s past life intrudes, and the book club will face their first-ever life-or-death grand gesture as they race to a happy ever after. - from Goodreads

The Russian is getting his own story.  I repeat, THE RUSSIAN is getting his own story!  Finally!

Friday, April 23, 2021

My 5th Blogoversary + Giveaway!

It's a little hard to believe, but my blog is turning five years old tomorrow!  It went by so fast!  I've had a lot of fun and interacted with so many wonderful people.  The book blogging community is an amazing place, and I hope to be able to talk with you all about books for a long time to come!

As a thank you to everyone who has supported this little space, I'm holding a giveaway for a $40.00 shopping spree from The Book Depository, as long as it ships free to your country.  The giveaway will be open until April 30, 2021, and the winner will be notified by email, with three days to respond.

Thank you and good luck! 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Blog Tour + Review: Le Deal

 Thank you to Trish Collins at TLC Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour for Le Deal by J. Byrne Murphy!  I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
J. Byrne Murphy
Originally published August 19, 2008
Le Deal is an adventure story involving raw entrepreneurship, high-level politics, and a young American family in foreign lands. It is the true story of Byrne Murphy, a businessman who abruptly moves to Paris with his wife and baby daughter in a quest to reignite his career and his fortunes. He quickly finds himself up against strange and powerful forces for which he is ill prepared.

Just days after landing in France, Byrne reads that the newly installed prime minister has declared a moratorium on all new retail development, apparently snuffing out Byrne’s proposed new venture---discount fashion malls---before it’s even started. He and his company will engage in a mano a mano struggle with the prime minister (which reaches all the way to France’s Supreme Court); encounter a ruthless political ambush in Germany by the soon-to-be chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder; and face a threatening (“Is this the Mafia?”) would-be partner in Italy. Counterbalanced against these are a series of mostly charming encounters with nearly all members of the British Royal Family, capped off by a tour with Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, which nearly ended in a royal embarrassment of epic proportions.

Byrne and his wife, Pamela, experience the joys and risks of living and growing their family in foreign lands. From proposals for dalliances to a harrowing experience with a local and dangerous disease during pregnancy, they are reminded time and again that surprises can be ever present in foreign cultures.

Over eight years the company (McArthurGlen Europe) grew from nothing to generating approximately a billion dollars in sales from 11 centers across Europe. Those efforts created nearly 8,000 jobs, opened 1,500 stores featuring 500 brands, attracted nearly 40 million shopping visits per year, and spawned an array of competitors. In short, an industry.

Along the way, the author learns what he, and Americans in general, do and do not know about life beyond our borders. The book ends with a message about the need for twenty-first-century Americans who work in international affairs to truly take “context” into account; to realize, in our quest to accomplish more in less time, that investing the time to understand the nuances of foreign cultures with which one may be working is a key to prospering in this multicultural, polyglot, interconnected, globalized world. - from Goodreads
Looking for new business opportunities in the early 1990s, J. Byrne Murphy joined McArthurGlen to help them launch their designer outlet model in Europe.  Since it had been so successful in America, he assumed the same would follow in Europe, but he and his team ran into more problems than they ever dreamed.
What I didn't love about this book:
  • Very little!  I may not have been the target audience for this book, as it may be more geared towards business-oriented readers, so in some areas the concepts went a little over my head.
  • A lot of the narrative focused on Murphy's work in France, trying to open an outlet in a small town, somewhat to the detriment of the rest of the book, as it felt like he glossed over or sped through his experiences in countries such as Germany and Italy.  I would also like to know how the company fared in other places that were only mentioned in passing.
  • There are a lot of people to keep track of; obviously, they're all important to Murphy and his experiences, but for someone on the outside, it was difficult at times to keep them all straight.
What I enjoyed about this book: 
  • Murphy has a great writing style.  It's very approachable and this memoir often reads like a novel.
  • While he shares his great successes, he isn't afraid to admit when he made mistakes.  He willingly points out his naivete about doing business in a foreign country and the things he wished he had known or taken the time to learn before diving in.
  • This book is a great inside look at what it's like to try to start a business in another country.  Murphy and his team learn that what works here in the United States doesn't necessarily work elsewhere.  He talks about the nuances of local politics, knowing the right people, and staying the course.  It was really amazing to see how some of the discount designer outlets took literally years to get up and running, and most ended up being wildly successful, even though there were a lot of local pressures and doubts. 

If you have an interest in business, and particularly what it's like to start one in a  foreign country, I'd highly recommend this book!  4 stars

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Our Woman in Moscow

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!
Beatriz Williams
Expected publication date: June 1, 2021
The New York Times bestselling author of Her Last Flight returns with a gripping and profoundly human story of Cold War espionage and family devotion.

In the autumn of 1948, Iris Digby vanishes from her London home with her American diplomat husband and their two children. The world is shocked by the family’s sensational disappearance. Were they eliminated by the Soviet intelligence service? Or have the Digbys defected to Moscow with a trove of the West’s most vital secrets?

Four years later, Ruth Macallister receives a postcard from the twin sister she hasn’t seen since their catastrophic parting in Rome in the summer of 1940, as war engulfed the continent and Iris fell desperately in love with an enigmatic United States Embassy official named Sasha Digby. Within days, Ruth is on her way to Moscow, posing as the wife of counterintelligence agent Sumner Fox in a precarious plot to extract the Digbys from behind the Iron Curtain.

But the complex truth behind Iris’s marriage defies Ruth’s understanding, and as the sisters race toward safety, a dogged Soviet KGB officer forces them to make a heartbreaking choice between two irreconcilable loyalties. - from Goodreads

Beatriz Williams is one of my favorite authors, so it's no surprise that I'm totally looking forward to this one - I preordered it back in February!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Colorful Book Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.  This week's topic is colorful book covers.  I always enjoy cover-related topics, so here are some that I found!

What are some of your favorite colorful covers?

Friday, April 16, 2021

Romance Mini-Reviews

 Like You Love Me by Adriana Locke (2021)

Veterinarian Holden McKenzie needs to prove to a potential employer that he's a stable, committed man; when he finds out his childhood friend Sophie needs some quick cash to save her B&B, he proposes a marriage of convenience to help solve both their problems.  Neither expected the feelings the fake marriage brings up.  

I loved this book so much.  Within the first couple of pages, Holden had me laughing out loud.  I liked his drive to obtain a dream job at a prestigious place in Florida, and I loved Sophie's commitment to her late grandmother's B&B and her roots in her Tennessee town.  The banter between Holden and Sophie felt so natural, and even though their marriage started off lightheartedly, as time went on, you could tell the tone got a little more serious as their romantic feelings started to blossom and the stakes got higher.  Their history together (summers spent together growing up) made their relationship feel so effortless and right, and I was rooting for them all along!  The small-town atmosphere, where everyone knows everyone else (and their business), only added to the story.  Overall, a sweet and at times unexpectedly sexy romance!  4.5 stars

Heart Smart by Emma Lee Jayne (2021)
Scientist and college professor Max Ramsey is up for a prestigious fellowship, but due to his gruff demeanor, communications lecturer Holly is brought in to help clean up his image and prepare him for a series of speeches.  They butt heads right from the start, but could their tension evolve into something else? 

This was a really great read.  I loved the college campus setting, with the focus on professors instead of students.  Max and Holly are each well-rounded characters, especially Holly.  At first, Max seems intimidating and dismissive of Holly, and I liked how she never backed down.  There's also a lot of representation here; Holly has ADHD, and it was interesting to see how it has affected her life, her coping mechanisms, and how it's different for her as a woman.  Max not only has a physical disability (a limp as well as scars from a childhood accident), but he also reveals he has Asperger's.  I thought that came across a lot more in the second half of the book, where we can really see his difficulties with social cues and expressing himself.  He seems much more vulnerable than at the beginning of the story.  I wish there has been more in the story about the speech series, getting ready for it, and how Max performed in his bid to win the fellowship, though.  4 stars

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Can't-Wait Wednesday: The Maidens

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!
Alex Michaelides
Expected publication date: June 15, 2021
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Silent Patient comes a spellbinding tale of psychological suspense, weaving together Greek mythology, murder, and obsession, that further cements “Michaelides as a major player in the field” (Publishers Weekly).

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.

Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life. - from Goodreads

This sounds like it's going to be an incredible thriller, and I love the Greek mythology elements!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Podcasts I'm Listening To Lately

Without my work commute, I was finding it really hard to get through audiobooks last year.  While I could listen to them while going for walks or doing chores, they were just taking way too long.  My sister suggested that I try podcasts instead; their shorter lengths make them much more manageable.  Since then, I've found quite a few podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis, and here are some of my favorites!

First up are the two Bravo-related podcasts I listen to (I'm obsessed with Housewives, #sorrynotsorry).  Real Moms of Bravo features two friends (and moms) who recap all their favorite Bravo shows and sometimes talk about personal things.  On Mention It All, Dylan and Bari not only recap the shows, but also insert their snarky analysis and report on all breaking Bravo news.

For deep (and funny) thoughts on all things related to food, you have to try A Hot Dog is a Sandwich.  The two hosts choose a culinary question or debate for each episode, such as crunchy vs. smooth peanut butter, is bacon overrated, and what's the best pizza style.  Since I'm obsessed with the British royal family (and just royalty in general), of course I listen to Royally Obsessed.  The hosts break down all the royal news and sightings each week, as well as "this week in royal history."

Books and the City is hosted by four friends who met at a book club and then started a podcast.  They live and read in New York City.  You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton is the only semi-political podcast I listen to, but it's really so much more than that.  Each week she sits down with a guest (or two or three) and chats about things ranging from religion to cooking to politics (of course).

What are some of your favorite podcasts?

Friday, April 9, 2021

March Quick Reviews

Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg (2020)

Elsie Camden lives in a Victorian England where people must pay to use magic and cast spells, but the ability to break spells is a gift only some are born with.  Elsie is a spellbreaker, but as she is unregistered, technically the work she does is illegal.  One day she is caught by a magic user, and she strikes a deal with the mysterious (and handsome) stranger.  I always enjoy Holmberg's stories; she creates unique and interesting magical systems that merge well with their settings.  The magical system in this book really highlights the class differences of the Victorian era.  I liked Elsie's character; she believes she's using her spellbreaking abilities to help the common people.  The plot was a mix of a historical fantasy and a cozy mystery.  There were some unexpected twists and turns that took the story in some interesting directions, and it sets up the second book of the duology nicely.  4 stars

Layla by Colleen Hoover (2020)
This is not going to be an easy review to write; I've been ruminating on my feelings for a couple days and I still don't have a firm grip on how I feel about this book!  For Leeds and Layla, it's love at first sight, until an attack leaves Layla with a traumatic brain injury.  To help her recover, Leeds takes her back to the B&B where they first met, but while working on their relationship, Leeds meets Willow, and he's torn between the two women.  I think it's common knowledge by this point that this book is a paranormal romance, but I don't want to say too much more than that because it really is better to go in as blind as possible.  Hoover's writing is great, as always, but I couldn't help but really dislike Leeds; he makes so many questionable choices!  The story definitely held some surprises, too - each time I thought I knew what was going on, Hoover threw a wrench into it.  But - I can't decide if this book was totally brilliant or totally cheesy!  I do feel like the ending came on really fast and would have liked a little more closure.  3.5 stars

The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett (2020)
In the 1930s, a young woman searches for her adventurer/historian father, with the help of her former beau, after he disappears while searching for a mystical ring that formally belonged to Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula.  This book is basically the YA/lite version of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, and since that's one of my favorite books, I was both excited and nervous to read this story.  The Lady Rogue is a quick-moving historical fantasy, as Theodora and Huck search Romania for her father and dive into the history of the region.  It had a lot of spunk and humor, which made the sometimes dark topics more palatable.  Although I understood the unresolved feelings Theo and Huck had for each other, I thought the story relied too much on their romance.  It just felt unnecessary in a story that was so heavily focused on danger and adventure.  Not every YA book has to have romance!  Can we focus instead on how intelligent Theo is?  The ending was super rushed, but maybe we'll get to see these characters on another adventure!  3.5 stars

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Luck of the Titanic

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!
Stacey Lee
Expected publication date: May 4, 2021
From the critically acclaimed author of The Downstairs Girl comes the richly imagined story of Valora and Jamie Luck, twin British - Chinese acrobats traveling aboard the Titanic on its ill fated maiden voyage.

Southampton, 1912: Seventeen-year-old British-Chinese Valora Luck has quit her job and smuggled herself aboard the Titanic with two goals in mind: to reunite with her twin brother Jamie--her only family now that both their parents are dead--and to convince a part-owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus to take the twins on as acrobats. Quick-thinking Val talks her way into opulent firstclass accommodations and finds Jamie with a group of fellow Chinese laborers in third class. But in the rigidly stratified world of the luxury liner, Val's ruse can only last so long, and after two long years apart, it's unclear if Jamie even wants the life Val proposes. Then, one moonless night in the North Atlantic, the unthinkable happens--the supposedly unsinkable ship is dealt a fatal blow--and Val and her companions suddenly find themselves in a race to survive.

Stacey Lee, master of historical fiction, brings a fresh perspective to an infamous tragedy, loosely inspired by the recently uncovered account of six Titanic survivors of Chinese descent.
- from Goodreads

I'll never get tired of stories about the Titanic, and this sounds like a really interesting angle!

Monday, April 5, 2021

Battle of the Book Covers #4

In Battle of the Book Covers, I pick one book, compile a bunch of different international covers, and choose my favorite - and I'd love for you to weigh in, too!  (Thank you to Heather at Random Redheaded Ramblings, who put together a list of 25 book blog post ideas, for the inspiration!)
For this edition, I'm going back to 2016 for Fiona Davis' debut novel, The Dollhouse.  Fiona Davis writes beautiful historical fiction novels set in iconic New York City buildings, and their covers generally feature a picture of the subject building, which in this case is the Barbizon Hotel. 

2016 US // 2017 Bulgarian // 2017 Dutch

2017 German // 2017 Italian // 2018 Norwegian

While I love the viewpoint of the German edition and the glamour of the Italian cover, I think my favorite is...

The 2016 US cover!  I love the grayscale with the pops of red.  I think this might have been based on an actual postcard, but I'm not 100% sure!

Which is your favorite?
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Friday, April 2, 2021

Month in Review: March 2021

March was a pretty quiet month around here.  We had a lot of really nice weather, so we took advantage of it and went for afternoon walks almost every day.  My niece had a sleepover at my mom's house one weekend, and since she lives nearby, I spent the afternoon with them, going to the playground and crafting, painting rocks to look like ladybugs.  Tom made a traditional meal for St. Patrick's Day, which is basically his favorite holiday of the year.  While most of my co-workers are busy with tax season, I'm in kind of a quiet time, so I attended some educational webinars and caught up on other projects.

It's hard to believe that it's officially been a year since the pandemic started.  Tom and I are both still working from home, and we don't see that changing soon.  He is eligible to get a vaccine through his employer but hasn't made an appointment just yet.
The Books

The Posts and Reviews
 How are YOU doing?
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