Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Release Date - October 2, 2018

Let me give a little background. When I was 18 (go back to the '80s), a friend went to Planned Parenthood for her first pap smear. Pro-lifers were outside and threw rocks at people entering the building. She was terrified, all because she needed an affordable pap smear. I have not had respect for pro-lifers since that moment.

A Spark of Light takes a look at both sides. Several women are in a women's clinic for different reasons. A gunman walks in. Some are shot, some are taken hostage. The resulting story looks at all of the women, the law enforcement trying to save them, and the gunman.

Hugh McElroy is the police negotiator. He's stunned when he discovers his teen daughter is one of the hostages. He's raised her almost single-handedly. The only person helping him out, Aunt Bex, is one of the hostages whose been shot.

Over the span of the story, which is told backwards in terms of time, you meet the doctor, his pregnant nurse, a pro-lifer who snuck in to prove it's a murder factory by posing as a woman in need of an abortion, a woman who came for an abortion, an older woman who is there for an unknown reason, and Wren, Hugh's 15-year-old daughter. Then you have the gunman, George, who is there after his own teen has an abortion.

I love Jodi Picoult's books. This one ended up being a miss. I finished it, but I never felt a big connection to the characters. My own personal bias had me disliking the pro-lifer and George, but the story is set up in such a way that it's really hard to like them anyway. If anything, it's Olive (the older woman) who broke my heart and made me wish things were better for her.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

After the Fire by Will Hill

Release Date - October 2, 2018

It's been a while since a book has caught my attention and had me refusing to budge. I found it and am so glad I did. I'd been on a bit of a reading slump because a number of books I picked up were okay but nothing special. This is special. It may not be easy, but it is going to leave a lasting impression.

If you were alive or know of the Waco siege, this book is going to tug at your emotions. There were times After the Fire was a little hard to read. I was pregnant when the Waco siege happened. I remember reading how a 10 year old was one of Koresh's wives. It outraged me. The second I started reading Will Hill's book, I knew where he'd come up with the inspiration from his story. I loved that it was told from the viewpoint of a surviving teen. I got her fear, her anger, and even her hope. 

Moonbeam is the storyteller and heroine. She's one of the survivors of a Waco-like siege of the place where she's grown up, the Lord Legion's compound. It's her story to tell, but she's been raised to believe that outsiders are evil and only those living in the compound are trustworthy. She knows things, however, and part of her wants to reveal everything. But, to do that she must trust in strangers, and that's a hurdle only she can overcome.

I had such a hard time getting anything done while reading After the Fire. I didn't want to go do the grocery shopping, though I needed to. I didn't want to work. I didn't want to take the dog for his walks or cook dinner. I was hooked. I had to read through the chapters and let Moonbeam tell me everything. 

Now that I'm done, I'm putting this book on my list of the best YA novels in 2018. It broke my heart. It made me truly happy. It had me smiling and grabbing Kleenex interchangeably. It made me angry. I felt so many emotions, but the one I liked the most was hope. I felt hope for Moonbeam as she explored her past and came to terms with what her future could be. Hands down, I loved After the Fire.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Nightmare Before Dinner: Recipes to Die For: The Beetle House Cookbook by Zach Neil

Release Date: October 16, 2018

Zach Neil's The Nightmare Before Dinner: Recipes to Die For: The Beetle House Cookbook is a Halloween-themed cookbook that offers tempting recipes from Beetle House restaurants. The cookbook offers recipes in these categories:

  • Sauces and Dips for the Recently Deceased
  • Nightmares Before Dinner
  • Herbs, Plants, and Cauldrons
  • Platos de los Muertos
  • Tricks and Treats
  • Poisons, Potions, and Elixirs
  • Put the FUN Back in Funeral

Starting with Sauces and Dips for the Recently Deceased, there are recipes for items like homemade ketchup and a very cheesy Cheshire Sauce that looked tempting based on the photo of grilled baguettes with the sauce. There's also a vegan version of the Cheshire Sauce.

Nightmares Before Dinner is all of your appetizers. I loved the spin on shrimp cocktail that has a raspberry cocktail sauce. The Beetle Bacon Bread doesn't sound good for you, but it certainly sounds delicious.

Herbs, Plants, and Cauldrons is next. These are all the recipes for soups and salads.. The recipes that most caught my eye are the Barbarous BBQ Beef Ramen and the beef stew. This section is pretty limited with five recipes.

You'll find the main dish recipes under Platos de los Muertos. I love the picture and recipe for The Silence of the Lamb Chops. The raspberry glaze paired with the compote-like apple mix sounds amazing. Shrimpy Hollow also sounds hearty and perfect for the current cooler weather.

In Tricks and Treats, you'll find all kinds of sweet treats. I need to try the Blood Orange Cheesecake when blood oranges are available again. I'm always a sucker for chocolate cake, so the Red Velvet Midnight Espresso Cake caught my eye.

Poisons, Potions, and Elixirs is the section where you'll find cocktails and beverages. I'm not much of a cocktail drinker, so this section is a little less appealing to me. I stick to beers. There are recipes like the Big Fish Bowl or the Franken-Martini.

Finally, there's the meal plans under Put the FUN Back in Funeral. The meal plans incorporate recipes found in the book plus decorating ideas.

If you're looking for a cookbook that pairs clever recipe names with tempting recipes, Zach Neil's The Nightmare Before Dinner: Recipes to Die For: The Beetle House Cookbook delivers. It's packed with recipes and some also have photos so that you can see the final product before you attempt it. It's ideal for the person who loves Halloween any time of the year.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Christmas in Evergreen by Nancy Naigle

Release Date - July 10, 2018

Evergreen is a magical town where the Christmas spirit tries to remain throughout the year. The town's Christmas-themed diner and its snow globe are rumored to really make your wishes come true.

Allie Shaw is selling her veterinary building and heading to Washington D.C. She wants to see if she and her boyfriend can really make a go of it. It's a big change, but it's one she's ready for. Even if it means leaving the Christmasy town she loves behind.

At the airport, a winter storm cancels flights. She books a room in the airport hotel and discovers the next morning that flights are still canceled. She has no choice but to return to Evergreen for Christmas.

Ryan Bellamy and his young daughter are still moving on after his wife's death. He plans a sunny beach getaway for Christmas. His daughter isn't convinced that Florida is the place Santa will really be. When their flight is canceled and they learn flights are still canceled the next day,  he takes a stranger up on her offer. She'll drive them to her hometown, Evergreen, until the airport opens again.

Ryan never expects to find himself falling for a town like Evergreen or a woman like Allie. He knows this stop is only temporary, but his daughter wishes on the town's snow globe that it could be their new home.

Any time a novel has Vermont for a setting, I try to pick out the author's inspiration for the town he or she creates. Christmas in Evergreen is written as the book form of the Hallmark movie. It's set in Evergreen, Vermont. There is no Evergreen, and try as I might, I couldn't pick up on the inspiration.

My best guess is St. Albans or Swanton. They're the only towns on Rt. 7 that are north of the airport that have a Main Street with businesses. The kicker is that I can't think of any towns in Vermont that would be cut off if there was a rock slide. There are always backroads available.

The other issue is that in my lifetime, I cannot think of a time when the airport was closed for more than a day with a big snowstorm. I looked up last winter's stats as we had a cold, snowy winter. Weather cancellations occurred on 0.67 percent of all flights. A news story said that on one of our biggest storms, the airport had to cancel six flights as they'd spent the prior day treating runways in preparation. For any reader who isn't familiar with Burlington. There is also no airport hotel that's connected to the airport. One is in the planning stages, but it's years away.

Does all this really matter? Not really. I admit that. It's just one of those things I pick up because I have lived here for almost all of my life.

The main romance is charming. I loved the speed at which the romance between Allie and Ryan grew. I really liked the interactions between Allie and Ryan's daughter. They were so tender and you just knew they had to end up together.

The book ends with a recipe for sugar cookies. It sounds good and I'm going to try it this Christmas.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Season of Silver Linings by Christine Nolfi

Release Date - July 17, 2018

I'd held off reading The Season of Silver Linings because I prefer reading holiday novels closer to the holidays. The third novel in the Sweet Lake series has been out for a few months, but it's still available in paperback or e-book.

Jada and her two friends have turned Wayfair Inn into a thriving business. As a pastry chef, Jada is plenty busy, but Linnie's upcoming wedding has everyone feeling a bit stressed. Linnie is weeks from her big day, but she still can't find a dress. Cat is newly married and focused more on her new husband. Jada's tackling an awful lot in these weeks before the wedding.

Her hands are full trying to convince her long-time friend's little girl that dress-up costumes are not suitable attire for a flower girl. She's battling her feelings for Philip, the girl's dad, and the guilt she can't shake off after Philip's wife's death. A stranger coming to the inn and asking all kinds of personal questions is a little too much.

Jada is pretty sure that stranger knows Philip's late wife, but she's not sure how they connect. She's certain to get to the bottom of it. She's falling hard for Philip and his little girl, and she won't let them get hurt.

I had not read the other Sweet Lake novels, so this was my introduction to all of the characters. I think I needed to read the other two. For much of the novel, I struggled to find a reason to bond with the characters.

The relationship between Jada and Fancy is endearing. I loved their interactions. I also liked the romance that slowly formed between Philip and Jada. The rest seemed like a big distraction. There's already enough conflict with Jada worrying about becoming a bigger part of Fancy's life and hiding a secret about the death of Fancy's mom. It just seems that everything else was unnecessary. 

I would have loved The Season of Silver Linings had it been all about Jada, Fancy, Philip, and the mystery guest. Adding Linnie's bridal panic and Cat's desire to be with her husband rather than holding up her end of the business felt unnecessary to me.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Dear Santa by Nancy Naigle

Release Date - October 16, 2018

For three generations, Heart of Christmas has sold unique items to the residents and visitors of Pleasant Sands, North Carolina. This year, Angela Carson is struggling to keep her grandmother's store open. A large competitor opened up and is threatening to put her out of business. Out of desperation, Angela listens to her young niece and asks Santa for help.

To make matters worse, the good-looking guy Angela bumps into is her competition. Geoff Paisley and his mom own the Christmas Galore chain. He's in town to make sure his newest location thrives. If it knocks out the competition, that's just an unfortunate side of retail.

When Geoff's mom is hospitalized, he has to take over the new Dear Santa app. Some letters get an automated response, but others get a personalized answer. He finds himself charmed by one letter and keeps talking to the mysterious woman. Little does he know that letter writer is the same angry store owner who blames him for her store being on the verge of closing down.

When the truth is revealed, can Angela and Geoff come up with a way to get past business and continue a relationship that seems too good to give up?

There were so many characters I just didn't like. Angela's sister was miserable. She simply had no supportive qualities at all. Angela loves her shop, but she's so stuck on griping about the competition that she never really takes time to consider other ways to make the shop competitive. Given her interest and knowledge of history, from the beginning, I wondered she didn't convert her business into a history museum. I had a hard time getting past that aspect.

Geoff was a bit of a pompous jerk. I didn't like his "I'm here to dominate the market and if it puts another in financial ruin, so be it" attitude. Good looking or not, as is mentioned a lot, he was a jerk.

I'd love to say that something in the book sparked my interest, but it just never did. I never formed a bond with characters that made me interested in what happened to them. As a result, Dear Santa turned out to be a miss for me. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Love in Catalina Cove by Brenda Jackson

Release Date: October 30, 2018

I'll start by saying that Love in Catalina Cove has cover art that caught my eye. I love the beach scene painted on the cover. I also found myself immediately liking Vashti's character. She's tough, but she's not so tough it makes her cold and distant. I liked Sawyer, too. As a couple, I really enjoyed them.

Vashti left Catalina Cove, Louisiana, years ago. When she refused to name the father of her unborn child, the entire town turned against her. That child died soon after childbirth, and Vashti left, made a name for herself, and vowed never to return. The only reason she's back now is to sell the inn her aunt left to her. Once that sale is complete, she won't return.

Sawyer and his teen daughter, Jade, have made Catalina Cove their home after Sawyer's wife and Jade's mom died. He's the town's beloved sheriff. He never expects to find himself truly drawn to a woman he pulls over for speeding.

During her return, Vashti is determined to make sure Sawyer is nothing more than a brief fling. She's been in love twice, and both times her heart got badly burned. Three times is not in her future. Meanwhile, her return to town leads to a discovery that she's been lied to for 16 years. These lies have her questioning who she really can trust.

The romance was steamy. The characters, well most of them, were truly enjoyable. Generally, I'd say this was a solid 4-star romance. I have one major issue with it. Without giving away spoilers, things became so coincidental at one point that I had a hard time with the story from there. Read it and you should know what I'm getting at.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Mistletoe Miracles by Jodi Thomas

Release Date: September 25, 2018

Mistletoe Miracles is really three stories in one. It's written with the same warmth Jodi Thomas is so good at. I loved it, though I do wish it hadn't ended. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the characters.

His family's ranch is in danger of bankruptcy. Griffin Holloway doesn't want to lose Maverick Ranch to debt, but there's little hope. The only way out that he can see is to find a bride with lots of money. But, what woman would want to marry a man just to bail out his ranch?

Jamie Johnson loves her home and job in Crossroads, but the advances of a married co-worker are less than enjoyable. She tells everyone in town that she's married as a cover. She's shocked when she returns from a school trip to find a very sexy "Mr. Johnson" in her shower.

Jaxon O'Grady has been living the life of a hermit ever since an accident left him with physical and emotional scars. He sees a car accident and finds an injured dog after the ambulance leaves. He can't help but find himself involved in both the dog's care and the dog's owner's situation.

Each story is so touching. The three romances blend seamlessly into the story. While they're separate, they work well together and bring more of Crossroads' community members to life. I love that town and the people in it. So far, this is my favorite holiday romance this season.

Donald and the Golden Crayon by P. Shauers

Release Date - September 28, 2018

Donald and the Golden Crayon turned a gloomy, rainy afternoon into a joyous one. I snickered several times and even chuckled out loud while reading it. This parody of the current presidency is also a fun spin on the very popular kid's book Harold and the Purple Crayon. It joins other kid's books written by Stephen Colbert and John Oliver on my keeper shelf.

In this humorous parody, Donald has a golden crayon. With it, he'll make his dreams come true. He'll draw his expansive golf course and a wall to keep those who aren't perfect like him out. He'll tweet his late-night messages, even if they make sense to no one but him. Covfefe, anyone?

Enjoy this parody that is certain to make the non-MAGA crowd laugh. Nothing is made up. It's all based on things that have been said or done within the current presidency. It even uses the BEST words. I loved it.

The Road to Christmas: A Sweet Holiday Romance Novel by Sheila Roberts

Release Date - September 20, 2022  Sit down and explore the holiday season through four sets of eyes in Sheila Roberts' latest holiday...