Monday, February 27, 2017

Good Clean Food: Super Simple Plant-Based Recipes for Every Day by Lily Kunin

Genre: Cookbook
Publisher: Abrams
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Good Clean Food's author admits from the start that while her plant-based diet truly improved her quality of life, it may not have the same effect on everyone. I appreciate that honesty. That said, I also do feel that many of the recipes in her cookbook and healthy-eating guide have incredible merit.

The book begins with a bit of insight into why she opted to start eating this way. The personal stories add depth to the cookbook and drew me in. Next up is a list of equipment you need to create the recipes within, such as a blender, food processor, and strainer. From there it goes into the ingredients that should always be on hand.

Once these informational sections are done, she dives right into the recipes. Recipes are suitable to both vegetarians and vegans. You'll learn how to make plant-based milks, like almond milk or hazelnut-hemp milk. Some have ingredients that may be difficult to find in your area. I've never seen wakame in stores and ran into my local health food store to learn they don't have it either. It would have to be purchased online.

Some recipes didn't impress me (mainly due to the ingredients that I simply don't enjoy or have allergies to), while others did. The sweet potato hash is delicious. We also adored the sesame noodle bowls with pan-fried tofu. In addition to food recipes, there are beauty product recipes like coconut mint hair treatment and a detox bath. For those recipes alone, this book is well worth the meager asking price.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Guests on South Battery by Karen White

Setting: Charleston, SC
Genre: Paranormal
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: January 10, 2017

I did feel as though I'd stepped into an ongoing saga as I started The Guests on South Battery. I stopped and checked and sure enough, this is the latest in a five-book series. Don't get me wrong, the book hooked me, but I also felt that I'd missed some backstory between Melanie and Jack.

In The Guests on South Battery, Melanie and Jack's twins are now 10 months old, so Melanie's heading back to work as a realtor. It's hard enough leaving her babies, but it's even harder when Melanie's first client is a young woman who inherited a local house that seems to be haunted. Melanie's client, Jayne, only wants Melanie to sell the house and find something newer for Jayne to buy, but it's not going to be that easy. Melanie sees the spirits, but there seems to be an invisible curtain that's preventing her from getting a full sense of why this house is being haunted.

Melanie and her mother are no strangers to spirits, both see or sense ghosts who need their help. This time, however, it's going to take teamwork to figure out why Jayne's house is haunted and what they can do to set things right.

I admit that this book had the perfect mixture of creepiness, romance, and character development. I found myself hooked, even though I felt some backstory was missing. There were times I couldn't get Melanie's reluctance to be honest with her husband.

There was another thing that may have to do with me missing the first four books. Melanie is obsessed with ABBA. After a few mentions of the song "Mamma Mia" and the band itself, I felt like I was being hit over the head with ABBA references and didn't get why. I admit the music is a throwback to my younger years, so I get that, but to bring it up almost every chapter was tiresome.

Despite these niggles, I was hooked by The Guests on South Battery and couldn't put it down. That in itself deserves very high praise and is a good reason to get this and the other books in this series.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Take Me Back by Rosalind James

Setting: Paradise, Idaho
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: February 28, 2017

Hallie Cavanaugh never planned to step foot back into Paradise, Idaho.  When her father suddenly dies, she is required to attend his funeral or else.  That was the way of her father - his way or no way.  She learned that all too well when she was younger.  Her mother divorced her father way back when, leaving her alone to face the full brunt of his ruthlessness.  Still, she went to see what it was all about, planning on returning to Washington as soon as it was over.

However, Henry Cavanaugh was even ruthless from his grave.  In order for her get her inheritance, she had to stay in Paradise, in his house, for six months straight.  That might be all fine and good except the will also stated she couldn't have sex with Jim Lawson for the said six months, among other things.  Well, she had no plans on doing that (again).  She remembered all too well what happened last time.

Jim Lawson, widower, father and deputy sheriff of Paradise, also had no plans on having sex with Hallie again.  He had only showed up for the will hearing because his half-brother Cole was required to attend.  Seeing Hallie again, even after all these years, brings back memories he'd rather forget.  He has a daughter now and can't afford to get tangled up with Hallie.  Except you can't always choose what your heart wants, even fighting hard against it knowing no good will come of it.  Yet when it becomes clear that Hallie's life is in danger, Jim will do everything in his power to make sure she's safe.

A mix of intrigue, romance, and family drama, TAKE ME BACK has a bit of everything that keeps the pages turning.  Jim and Hallie's previous relationship plays a big part of who they are today.  Hallie's father wasn't a nice man, and there is a bit of intrigue as to how he died, who wanted him dead and then comes after Hallie.  (This is not a spoiler because it happens in the first chapter of the book.)  The story follows Jim and Hallie's rediscovery of each other as well as other secondary characters who support the storyline.   Each one is complex, with unique personalities and reasons for being in the story.  The sexual tension is quite palpable and the drama unfolds nicely to escalate into a climactic ending.  Overall, well written and full of little twists and plenty of action.   

Jennifer Jones
4 1/2 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Girl 99 by Andy Jones

Setting: England
Genre: General Fiction/Humor
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: February 14, 2017

When his girlfriend dumps him right before Christmas, Tom's not as devastated as one might think. He's had plenty of experience with women - from affairs with co-workers to distant acquaintances - and Sadie was number 85, so she's definitely not the first and won't be the last. It's this little tidbit that leads to the dare Tom accepts.

His friend sets an unusual wager on the table. Tom has a few months to bring the total number of women he's slept with to an even 100. He takes on the challenge, as he knows it won't be any problem at all.

Just as everything's going great, Tom comes across number 99. Verity is more than he ever expected to find. She may just be the woman he's been looking for.

The humor in Girl 99 is there and definitely has the British wit I grew up with and appreciate. That said, I did struggle to connect with Tom. I loved him at first, especially at Christmas when he interacted with his much younger sister. When it came to women, however, I had a hard time liking him, and then the bet wasn't something I admired either.

That said, the characters did come to life and definitely had me either loving them or really disliking them. The writing was very slow to start, but as I settled in, it became hard to put down. Over all, this is a book I liked, but I'm a step away from saying I loved it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Turn Towards the Sun by Emma Davies

Setting: Rowan Hill, England
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union
Release Date: February 9, 2017

After spying a job ad seeking a helper in a quiet community that's home to several artists, crafters, and such, Lizzie hopes she'll land the job. Her childhood and young adulthood were a mess, and Rowan Hill offers the chance to start anew. Her interview goes well and she lands the job, but in reality, her troubles are only beginning.

It isn't long before things happen within the community and all eyes look at Lizzie as the cause. From ruined handmade furniture to missing orders, Lizzie's place within the community is threatened. She's certain she's not to blame, but can she unravel the truth before she's fired and sent on her way?

Turn Towards the Sun got off to a bit of a slow start. This is actually the second book in the Rowan Hill series, so I had to adjust to the characters' relationships and the community itself. When the mysterious happenings occur and the actual mystery starts to pick up, I was already well into the book. But, the pacing also allowed me to really get to know the characters. From Ellie and her frantic wedding planning while her fiance is away to the very pregnant Jane, I felt as though I became part of the community.

As for the mystery, I was never that puzzled by the "whodunit" aspect. I had the guilty party pegged early on. Watching others realize it drew great satisfaction for me. I'd known for a while and wanted them to finally get it.

I found myself enchanted by Rowan Hill. It's exactly the type of community I'd love to be part of, and that setting in itself is a great reason to let the book sweep you away for a few hours.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

After You Were Gone by Alexis Harrington

Setting: Gila Rock, Texas
Genre: Western Romance
Publisher: Montlake Romance
Release Date: February 7, 2017

Set in the small Texas town of Gila Rock, Mitchell Tucker has come home after spending seven years in prison.  His only goal is to make amends with Julianne Emerson and then get the heck out of there.  Some things are harder said than done because Julianne wants nothing to do with him and won't even let him come near her.  He doesn't really blame her, after all he killed her husband all those years ago and went to prison for it. Setting fire to the barn had been done in a fit of jealousy, but he'd never meant to hurt Wes.  He just wants a chance to do whatever he can to help her now.

Julianne can't believe Mitchell thinks to show up and get forgiveness from her.  She lost not only her husband in the fire, but afterwards she lost the baby as well.  Times have changed and she no longer can afford to feel for Mitchell what she used to feel.  She now has to sell her family farm and try and make a go of it with the town store her uncle left her.  She has her good friend Cade to help, but when Cade breaks his arm, she has little choice to accept the free help Mitchell is offering to get her life on track.

Mitchell is grateful for the work, even if it's little consolation for the hurt he's caused Julianne.  His family hasn't changed much and he wants nothing to do with his mean brother Darcy or his equally rotten father, Earl.  After taking the stray dog from the house with him, he moves into town to help Julianne.  However, people and things from the past all seem to conspire against him and Julianne ever being able to make amends.  Yet with someone threatening Julianne, he knows he has to stay close to keep her safe.  When all the truths are exposed and the lies uncovered, there may be more destruction ahead.  Will they be able to overcome it all together, or will their love go down in flames?

I've been eagerly awaiting the next book by Alexis Harrington after I  read nearly all her books in a row after discovering her.  She takes a break from the historical and brings the readers to modern day Texas.  With her unique storytelling ability, she's able to transport the reader to the dry, dusty little town of Gila Rock where we can almost feel the burning sun and taste the dust in the wind. 

Vivid imagery and colorful characters bring this backdrop to life, creating the perfect environment for these two lost souls trying the reconnect after all the years.  The lively secondary characters, as well as Jack the dog and the townsfolk, give this story a well-rounded appeal.  The suspense is equally thought out, and even though it wasn't about who was doing what, the suspense of what was going to happen next kept the pages flying.  Mitchell and Julianne's romance simmers quietly before reigniting full flame. 

I highly recommend this modern-day journey of forgiveness, redemption and second chances. 

4 1/2 stars
Jennifer Jones

Monday, February 13, 2017

Sugar by Kimberly Stuart

Setting: New York and Seattle
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Release Date: February 7, 2017

As the talented pastry chef at New York's L'Ombre, Charlie Garrett is tired of being underappreciated. When her former beau offers her a position in Seattle in his new restaurant, she jumps at the chance to move across country. There, she has creative freedom to come up with a new dessert menu. What he doesn't tell her is that she's also about to be dragged into a reality cooking show that will change her life.

When Charlie meets Kai, a local diner owner, she falls hard. However, balancing her new job and celebrity status with a new romance is tougher than she could ever imagine. She may have no choice but to really decide if a personal life is more important than her dream career.

Sugar hooked me from the start. I don't always agree with Charlie's decisions, but I loved seeing how she'd come out. I was definitely rooting for her and Kai and kept reading to see what would happen next.

There's very little I didn't like about Kimberly Stuart's contemporary romance. The only thing I might think of changing was the addition of a few recipes. So many of the desserts Charlie whips up had my mouth watering and had me wanting to go into the kitchen and get baking.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Fly! by Xavier Deneux

Genre: Board Book
Publisher: Chronicle Kids
Release Date: March 7, 2017

Fly! is a Touch, Think, Learn book. It's a lot of fun to read and play with. While the story tells the tale of a couple of birds that meet and have a family together, there's an interactive nature thanks to the removable pieces that children will move from page to page to act out the narrative.

Geared for ages three and four, I found myself really enjoying the story too. It's colorful and easy to read, which is perfect for the beginning reader. Sentences are never too long ("Bird arrived at the foot of the tree.") and the pictures capture the action. Pieces children can remove include birds, the sun, different sections of the nest, the egg shell pieces, and then the apple from an apple tree.

Xavier Deneux's book is a must-have. It's one of the better books to cross my desk, and one that I'm so glad came my way.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward

Setting: Texas
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: February 21, 2017

A history of severe mental health issues keeps Suzette Kendall from wanting to pass on her genes to any child, but she and her husband still want kids. Together, the couple finds a surrogate and begin the journey to parenthood.

Dorrie seems like the perfect woman to carry their child to term, but nothing in this journey goes as planned. What follows is a very emotional journey full of twists and turns.

The Nearness of You is told from several perspectives. Each chapter begins with a clear announcement of who is speaking, so there's never any confusion. I found myself engrossed in their story and all the problems and celebrations they encounter along the way.

Amanda Eyre Ward painted a very emotional story of motherhood. It starts in the present, goes back in time, and then travels forward again with an ease that lures you to keep reading. It's definitely a one sitting kind of book that made me very happy I chose it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Always by Sarah Jio

Setting: Seattle, Washington
Genre: Women's Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: February 7, 2017

Kailey seems to have it all. Her fiance, a man who comes from a rather prominent family, is taking her out for another romantic dinner. She never expects their night out to take a shocking turn. While waiting for Ryan to get the car, she spies a homeless man sitting on a nearby bench. Looking into his eyes, she realizes she's found her long-missing boyfriend, Cade McAllister.

Kailey was madly in love with Cade. They were soul mates, and she never could figure out why Cade vanished. He was the partner in a very successful record label, had plenty of money, many friends, and seemed to be sitting on top of the world. Yet, one day, he just vanished without a trace, leaving Kailey shocked and heartbroken.

As a reporter, she's already working on a case involving Seattle's homeless, so she dives in to uncover what happened to Cade. Along the way, she must make the choice between the men who love her.

Always switches back and forth between present day and a decade earlier as Kailey and Cade form their very passionate relationship. The switches are seamless, so push aside fears of the switches being jarring and taking you from the current emotions.

While the relationships take center stage, there's also plenty of focus on the plight of the homeless, and the fact that addiction is not the only reason so many end up on the streets. I like that the book focused on that aspect.

In the end, I knew Kailey had to make a choice, and I found it hard to decide who she'd end up picking. The ending is just as emotional as the progression through the stages of her research and involvement in Cade's life as a homeless man. This is an emotional story that I am very glad I read.

Monday, February 6, 2017

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

Setting: England
Genre: Chick Lit
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: February 7, 2017

Katie Brenner's trying to live out her dream of working for a top marketing and design firm in London. She just wishes she had it all like her boss, Demeter. Demeter has the perfect husband, family, house, and job. Katie just needs to get Demeter to recognize her skill and, perhaps, her name. Especially now that there's a guy in Katie's sights that makes London more fun than ever. It all goes awry when Katie is fired. With nowhere to turn, she returns to her father's farm and helps her stepmother and father launch their holiday retreat, complete with yurts and farm animals.

With her skills, Katie's able to create promotional materials that draw flocks of people to their newly opened vacation retreat. When Demeter shows up and doesn't seem to recognize Katie, Katie has the chance to get even, but the more she learns of Demeter, the more she realizes she may have misjudged everything she thought she knew.

My Not So Perfect Life takes a little bit to get going. I was drawn into Katie's life, but the romance with the mystery man was a little slow to build and then the flurry of Katie being fired hits and the story changes for the better.

I loved the retreat her family creates with her help. I could imagine myself in Somerset among the sheep, cows, chickens, and horses. I found myself enjoying watching Katie grow in ways she would have never grown in London. When Demeter enters the picture, the story really kicks off and I was hooked.

There's plenty to enjoy in My Not So Perfect Life. Katie's relationship with her dad, her co-workers, and the mystery man all make for an enjoyable read.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Somebody Like You by Donna Alward

Setting: Darling, Vermont
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: February 7, 2017

Set in the fictional town of Darling, Vermont, Donna Alward's latest romance makes me wish spring would seriously arrive, sooner rather than later! The setting certainly captures the charm of many smaller Vermont cities and larger towns, and the characters draw you in and make you feel like part of the community.

At the age of five, Laurel Stone and Aidan Gallagher's sweet childish pose on Darling's Kissing Bridge became a great way to market the town's allure. It's been 20 years, and in that time, Aidan broke Laurel's heart. Back in town after a painful divorce, Laurel wants nothing more for her nursery/gardening store to thrive.

Unfortunately for Laurel, her return to town is plagued by vandalism and theft. As Aidan is a member of the town's police force, Laurel finds herself seeing far more of him than she wants. He's grown up and is incredibly tempting, but Laurel is not going to fall for him a second time.

When the town approaches the pair about posing on Kissing Bridge again, the pair cannot deny there is an attraction to one another. The Kissing Bridge is supposed to bring couples together forever, could the magic be working on this pair?

I tried to place the town that Darling was modeled after, but really never got a strong connection. It could be so many places. The author does a great job creating the feel of a Vermont city/town and the people within in. Even after finishing Somebody Like You, I found myself wanting to keep reading. I wanted to see more of Aidan's family return for their own romances. Luck is on my side as there are two more Darling, Vermont, romances coming out this spring that will focus on Ethan and Rory Gallagher. I'm excited!

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith

 Release Date - October 25, 2022 After his dad's death, Adam Stillwater and his mom do everything in their power to keep the family...