Monday, January 27, 2020

Review Roundup: 'Twas the Month After Christmas

The problem with most holiday novels is they come out so early in the year. I'm not usually ready for Christmas reading in September and October (even though I love love love Christmas books I just can't quite bring myself to read them before Thanksgiving - which is October in Canada). Then I start reading them in November and December and life gets super busy and I just don't get around to reviewing them in time for, you know, Christmas. The great thing is that most of these books aren't super Christmassy SO you can still read them now, since we're going to be buried in snow for another month (at least in my part of the world). I don't want you to miss out on some of these fun reads so I hope you enjoy my mini roundup of  Christmassy reads that were published last year.

Royal Holiday - Jasmine Guillory (Goodreads)
Have you been reading Guillory's series? I have been and it's been thoroughly enjoyable (you can read my review of The Wedding Party here). Royal Holiday follows Vivian (mom of Maddie, the heroine in The Wedding Party) as she and Maddie travel to England. Vivian hasn't allowed herself much time for life, let alone love, so it's a thrill when she relaxes on the vacation and finds a man. She also finds herself, which was the best part of the story. There's only the smallest hint of Christmas in this book (I think the actual day is skipped over entirely) so you can totally get away with reading this now and you should if you want a fun book to read featuring an amazing heroine.

Christmas by the Lighthouse - Rebecca Boxall (Goodreads)
So...this one was a bit of a dud. I was just...bored? I didn't connect with Summer or Jude so I couldn't really connect with their story. I did like that they were able to really figure themselves out and what they really wanted over the courser of the novel. I just wasn't sure I liked how they went about it? Or how they had ended up in those situations to begin with? The setting was really lovely and how they created their own family was nice too but overall? Major miss.

A Wedding in December - Sarah Morgan (Goodreads)
I love Sarah Morgan and was really excited that she had another holiday novel this (er, last?) year because I adored The Christmas Sisters (review here) in 2018. Her latest featured two sisters and their mother as they all try to get through a wedding (a very surprise wedding, btw). The tricky thing is they're each hiding so many things from the others but over the course of the novel everything gets exposed, for better or for worse. (No wedding pun intended.) The setting - mostly in snow-covered Aspen - was delightfully wintery and I loved reading about all the women in the story. Definitely recommend this romance for a January or February read.

An Alaskan Christmas - Jennifer Snow (Goodreads)
This book isn't remotely Christmassy but, my goodness, I enjoyed it so much. It's a really sweet romance with a super complicated back story for the hero and heroine. They knew each other when they were kids but Erika moved away to the big city and forgot her hometown friends. She's been ordered to take time off from her job at a hospital so, on a whim, she travels back to her hometown and stays with her her childhood BFF, Cassie. Reed is Cassie's brother and he's not happy to see Erika. But, surprise surprise, he's not happy because he's always had feelings for her. It was both fun and frustrating (but in a good way) to read as the two figured their shit out and learned that what they thought was the best life for them may not actually be doing them any good. The setting was lovely (just look at that cover!) and I'm a sucker for small town romances, especially when there's a sort of second chance element to the story. It was a quick read but I enjoyed the time I spent in Wild River, which is good because Snow (who's Canadian!) is writing a series.

My final Christmas review book was another dud. Sigh. There was just so much that made me cringe. Olivia runs a non-profit, which I absolutely adored. However. She is SO pushy when it came to Guy and requesting donations and sponsorship which his company had been providing for decades. I understand she thinks her cause is the most important ever but she couldn't grasp that perhaps they decided to donate elsewhere or the company had to cut back due to financial issues. Guy could have handled it better as well. Also? He's kind of a major dick, imo, and I couldn't understand why Olivia could fall for him. And at some point Roberts has him commenting on some woman's "rack"...seriously. That's the term she had him use. WTF? And don't even get me started on Olivia's friend Morris. That whole situation is terrible and ugh. He's in love with her but she doesn't feel that way for him but he thinks she should and pressures her to date because of all the things he's done for her and he could be so good for her. UGH. I know I'm not normally so negative in these reviews but the whole book left me feeling icky instead of festive.

Bonus: Finding Christmas - Karen Schaler (Goodreads)
This novel was really cute. Schaler is the woman behind the Netflix sensation The Christmas Prince (which I've watched and I definitely enjoy her books more). I was supposed to attend an event hosted by HarperCollins Canada when Schaler visited Toronto but we were hit with a majorly dangerous ice storm and my friend and I weren't able to make the drive to the city. HCC sent us copies of the book though so I was able to enjoy the adorably festive novel. Bookmark this one for next Christmas because it's full of holiday feels and it's best read curled up next to the Christmas tree with a mug of hot chocolate. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Review: Recipe for a Perfect Wife

It's a happy day for me when Karma Brown has a new book out. I've been eagerly awaiting Recipe for a Perfect Wife since I first knew it was being published and the book goddesses must have been listening to me - and everyone else I know who was also looking forward to it - because it was released early! I decided to choose it for my first read of 2020 and it was an excellent choice. I was completely riveted and could hardly put the book down.

Here's the synopsis:
When Alice Hale reluctantly leaves a promising career in publicity, following her husband to the New York suburbs, she is unaccustomed to filling her days alone in a big, empty house. However, she is determined to become a writer--and to work hard to build the kind of life her husband dreams of, complete with children.
At first, the old house seems to resent Alice as much as she resents it, but when she finds an old cookbook buried in a box in the basement, she becomes captivated by the cookbook's previous owner: 1950s housewife Nellie Murdoch. As Alice cooks her way through the past, she begins to settle into her new surroundings, even as her friends and family grow concerned that she has embraced them too fully: wearing vintage dresses and pearls like a 1950s housewife, making elaborate old-fashioned dishes like Baked Alaska, and drifting steadily away from her usual pursuits.
Alice justifies the changes merely as research for her novel...but when she discovers that Nellie left clues about her own life within the cookbook's pages--and in a mysterious series of unsent letters penned to Nellie's mother--she quickly realizes that the housewife's secrets may have been anything but harmless. As she uncovers a more sinister side to Nellie's marriage and with pressure mounting in her own relationship, Alice realizes that to protect herself she must harbour and hatch a few secrets of her own...
Brown alternated chapters between Alice and Nellie and I loved the dual narrative. Not only because it gives the reader two characters and viewpoints (double the fun!), but also because it shone a light on what it was like to be a 1950s housewife. What I learned? I would have failed as a 1950s housewife. And possibly would have accidentally burned the house down.

In all seriousness though, there were a lot of similarities between Alice and Nellie's lives which, honestly, is kind of disheartening. We think feminism has made such great strides in the last number of decades but Alice was still facing some of the same expectations Nellie had been in the 50s. For example, people still tend to assume that a woman should get married and then (immediately) want to have kids. That's changing, a little bit, but as a woman who has no plans to get married to her boyfriend and definitely does not want to have kids, I can tell you I'm in the minority and am constantly questioned or told I'll change my mind because, why wouldn't I want kids? I could identify with Alice as she struggled with trying to articulate why she wanted to wait to have kids when her husband was more than ready for her to be barefoot and pregnant (yes, he did say that in the book but he wasn't really as obtuse as that comment makes him seem).

Because I follow Brown on social media, I knew she had done lots of research both for the recipes she included in the book and for the life Nellie would have had in 1955. The recipes were such a fun addition because it really showed what life was like and it was so neat to read Alice's reactions to them as well. What was with all the jelly salads in the 50s? Blech. Though I do have to say, one of the meals Alice took objection to is one I can actually make (remember: undomestic goddess here). Porcupines - or porcupine meatballs as they were called in my house growing up - are ground beef and rice balls, cooked in tomato soup and spices. These days we make "porcupine mush" instead of meatballs and add in red pepper flakes for an extra kick, with the rice on the side. It's way tastier than you - and Alice - might expect.

The story takes a turn that you might not expect, especially if you've read Brown's books in the past, and even though I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, I was totally riveted. I kept thinking, Is it actually go down like that? Because that would be shocking if it did. Lots of internal conversations as the story reached it's conclusion.

I also liked that Alice was so very real and relatable and also so very flawed. She has a host of issues she really needs to work out instead of hiding them from herself and her husband. She made some really unhealthy choices and I constantly found myself wishing she and her husband would just talk to each other. He wasn't perfect either but they were both sort of expecting the other to read their minds. And we all know how well that works out, right? Even with her flawed personality - or perhaps because of it - I loved reading about Alice and am pleased with the way Brown decided to end the story.

Recipe for a Perfect Wife needs to be added to your To Be Read list immediately. Karma Brown's latest novel is smart and so well written. You'll be engrossed in the lives of the characters she created and will want to rush to find out how the story ends but also take your time because it's such a good read.

*An ARC of this novel was provided by the publisher, Viking (Penguin Random House Canada), in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Review: The Little Bookshop on the Seine

Rebecca Raisin's books have been on my radar for awhile now but, for some reason or another, I just never picked one up. That changed when I had the chance to review the newly rereleased The Little Bookshop on the Seine. It seemed like a perfect read for me as it featured a (bit too) dreamy bookshop owner who travels to Paris to explore a brand new world and tries to jumpstart her stagnated life.

Here's the synopsis:
It’s The Holiday on the Champs-Élysées in a great big love letter to Paris, charming old bookstores and happily-ever-afters!
When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.
But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true.
I think I might have been burned just a little bit by high expectations. I had already seen some glowing reviews from bloggers I trust so I went in expecting something fantastic - which may have been a mistake. The book was really sweet and a nice read but it didn't completely wow me. 

Sophie (the owner of the Paris bookshop who came up with the whole swap idea) is completely unreasonable. I was so frustrated with how she was reacting to the issues Sarah was facing. What did she expect would happen? And even though it was part of her story arc, Sarah's inability to stand up for herself - at first - was hard to read. Maybe it's one of those cases of it's hard to read because I sometimes feel like that too and it's a part of my personality that I'd like to work on. Too much psychoanalysis for a book review? Moving right along!

The other thing that nagged at me a little was that, while this is a stand-alone novel, it does follow a novella about Sarah and how she and Ridge originally started dating. Do I think you need to read it first? Not necessarily. I didn't, after all (though I learned I do have it on my kobo and have for some time...). But there were a few moments when I felt Raisin was relying too heavily on readers already knowing Sarah (and her past), Ridge, and the girls at The Gingerbread Cafe. I also felt like Sarah, at times, used British phrases instead of American ones. She calls a macaron a biscuit, for example. Americans (or Canadians, even, and we use a lot of Britishisms) would not use "biscuit" to refer to a cookie. A weird thing to bother me, perhaps, but bother me it did. 

I did adore the people Sarah met, and connected with, in Paris. Raisin created some wonderful characters and I was fully invested in all of their lives. Even Beatrice who was completely awful to Sarah (side note: I totally called Beatrice's secret and am shocked none of the characters figured it out). It was just a wonderfully fun cast of characters who were so great to read about.

And the setting! Swoon. I've never been to Paris (it's on the never-ending bucket list) but I kind of felt like I was there with Sarah, experiencing the city for the first time. Plus, the magic of the bookshop was just...oh, it was wonderful. I wished I could explore Once Upon a Time (and Sarah's shop in small-town Ashford, too!) and run my hands over the spines to see what sorts of stories the books would want to tell me.

All in all, The Little Bookshop on the Seine was sweet and heartwarming. Rebecca Raisin has created a character and a story that is a love letter to both book lovers and Paris. 

Buy the book 
Harlequin * Indiebound * Amazon * Barnes & Noble* Google * iBooks * Kobo

Connect with the author
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About the Author
Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris series and the Gingerbread Café trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines.

*An egalley of this novel was provided by the publisher, Harlequin, via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration for the purposes of a blog tour. All opinions are honest and my own.*