Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas

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A summer escape she’ll never forget . . .

Lucia has worked hard as a lawyer in Wales, aiming for a big promotion she hopes will shortly come her way. Finally taking a well-earned break at her grandparents’ house in southern Italy, the sunshine, lemon trees and her nonna’s mouth-watering cooking make her instantly feel at home. 

But she’s shocked to learn that her grandfather is retiring from the beloved family pizzeria and will need to sell. Lucia can’t bear the thought of the place changing hands – especially when she discovers her not-quite-ex-husband Giacomo wants to take it over! 

Then bad news from home forces Lucia to re-evaluate what she wants from life. Is this her chance to carry on the family tradition and finally follow her dreams?

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such savory stories and writing. I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance readers copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are looking for a refreshing travel escape while on lockdown or feeling bogged down by life circumstances.

The Story
Reading stories by Jo Thomas are always such a treat to dive right in and be whisked away to a lovely place.

Reads like the first glance at a restaurant menu, where everything sounds so delicious and you want to devour it all, a good restaurant with good conversation, one where you leave happy and satisfied.

Took me right there. First sip of morning coffee. An early day’s work of homemade pizza dough divided and ready for a lunch time feast, fired in a wood oven. Wandering around the plaza, the market, the people I might meet. The aroma of fresh cut citrus, garden basil, garlic, tomato, mozzarella bubbling, ready for your heart’s content. I was there enjoying it with Nonno and Nonna.

And this one was all about Italy, family, and love. With deeper sentiments, life circumstances, with crossroads that were unexpected, interesting, and dynamic enough to make me think about my own.

The Writing
Every book I’ve read thus far has delivered its promise and this was was no exception. Inviting and not overly descriptive. Just enough to create alluring atmosphere while just enough to allow my imagination to feel like it was my own experience.

I really liked the initial and subsequent use of Italian language and translational presentation.

Questions I had were later answered in more subtle, internal monologue and character interaction. Super gratifying when that happens and when it doesn’t feel forced, jarring, or overly-explanatory. Makes for a good reading experience that doesn’t feel either rushed or boring.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and am looking forward to the next read!

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Chasing the Italian Dream by Jo Thomas Pizza | Erica Robbin
Pizza I craved and ate after reading this book.
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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Fiction Mystery Thriller

The Family Friend by C.C. MacDonald

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Erin lives an idyllic life by the seaside with her baby boy and handsome Australian fiancée. She’s upbeat and happy – a natural mum. At least that’s what her thousands of followers on Instagram think. 

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Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Family Friend by C.C. MacDonald

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I loved the tension in this one. I would like to thank Random House UK, Vintage for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I think anyone looking for a modern read about social media with a bit of a unique twist on side story/pastime hobbies/dabbles you wouldn’t expect, will enjoy this one.

The Story
The overall premise was interesting. The story encompassed important issues of mother-child bonding, the waxes and wanes of having a public life on social media, and relational development, all of which I loved the insight, the perspective, the impact in the way it was portrayed.

I loved some of the social media effects pointed out in the story like forgetting that there are people in existence who don’t judge.

I really enjoyed how developmentally the story sparkled. This tension was kept tight in nature with good timing of reveal of the side stories, the peculiar elements, the intrigue of questioning if this was going to turn supernatural or stay within a realm of certain contextual, highly calculated, psychological play on the mind.

The slower pacing at the beginning however became too slow and content-wise, I would have liked to have seen signs of what was to come in a subtle way, hidden leads to red herrings, rather than focus on the plot as the driving force outright because when it was slow, it was really slow.

The Atmosphere
The atmosphere was driven by the plot but I think could have had a little more spark to tying into the personality of the characters and the world they lived it, how they perceived it as a defining characteristic unique to each character. There were parts that were spot on, others a little more safe and hesitant, that could have been enhanced, whether nuanced or overt, to bring out their personalities a little more.

Pacing
Page 72 is when it picked up for me, almost DNF’d it around 30. The beginning mettled around the slowest parts, drawn out, dramatizing the drama, extending the drama, dramatizing even more drama.

The Ending
The worst part for me was the ending. I liked certain aspects of how elements were tied together but then, spoiler alert, (view spoiler)[the coroner didn’t even request an inquest? All of that work to build a tight story and bam, no proper police procedural? It all came down to something that made a bit of sense, but when the end that would have been justified by the means, it concluded with a sloppy, overlooked police investigation? No satisfying remediation? OMG. #unsatisfyingendings. Too easy of a get away. It was a wiping of hands clean in a story for the amount of time I spent with the characters for it to end like that (hide spoiler)].

The Writing
Great at keeping the tension and chapter transition with good pick up sentences. Probably my favorite part of the writing.

The POV/tense felt inconsistent. I had often wondered if it might have been better served in first person/past tense perhaps. Times I connected with it, other times I had to think hard and I didn’t want to have to think that hard with this one. Especially with the interruptions of social media posts which I didn’t alway understand in their context/hashtag use.

It’s omnipresent action commentary but doesn’t dive deep enough into their thoughts and the separation is inconsistent. Some contrary to what I already thought and expected of the characters in my mind.

Descriptions
The beginning was rocky for me. It was pronoun verb, pronoun verb. Adjective noun, adjective noun.

I think there could have been a bit more creativity in the descriptions for a bit more something something. A bit more variety. Sometimes simple is great. Sometimes simple is boring. Example, instead of middle-aged man, something like beginning to gray, faint roots of gray, gray at the temples, peppered beard, or beginning of some sort of comment on facial lines or age spots, some sort of description to show rather than tell.

Atmospheric consistency in description was an issue for me. Like I imagine where this takes place in the hemisphere based off what I’m being told about the scene, but one day is described as cold January, yet descriptions of a grassy hill are noted. I just feel that if something is described in writing, it should reinforce the atmosphere. The feelings of a cold January were mentioned, but then to switch to a visual most would probably associate with summer was a bit weird for me. Grassy was unnecessarily mentioned again, no strength or purpose given to repeating this again. Would have probably been better served as withered lawn or tindered lawn or frosted fields or dusting of frost on the mountainside or the windy draft bit my cheeks. I don’t know, cold January, followed by grass (as in my visual of live, green, healthy, thriving grass), just didn’t put me in the scene very well.

Characters
I don’t think you have to like every character, but spoiler alert, (view spoiler)[she’s kind of mean (hide spoiler)]. And that would be ok, except I’m not sure if that was the intent. There were certain disconnects between the characters, their actions, and dialogue. Especially toward the end. The two ladies became so squirrely with their trajectory. It became a game of I love you, I love you not. I love you, I love you not. The main, contempt for her son, there was this sort of this misplaced character arc where I wanted to be satisfied in my mind rather than this moral obligation to wrap it all together neatly at the end. And then the end, my thoughts already said, but characters didn’t match or counter the strong emotion I wanted to see restitution with.

Kind of disconnections with interactions, it was hard to gauge where characters stand with each other. It was hard to make the connection of how the characters came to know each other from the beginning. It was more of a telling review style over hints of showing readers the information the author wanted us to have.

A lot of over-explanation and pointing out rationales of behavior and back story. Kind of come to know things about the characters a little too late.

Sometimes I felt like I was diving into a conversation I didn’t know anything about. There was quite a bit of repetition in the beginning, like Ground Hog’s Day movie repetition of activity.

Dialogue
And it was hard to follow the dialogue. Certain tensions of example argument suddenly jolted into a jovial conversation. Even in the dialogue the characters switched opinions during the middle of the conversation. I thought one was thinking/leading to a certain way, the it’s suddenly they were contradictory.

Overall I think the suspense elements could have been strengthened by a few bits that would have made this story and the writing move from ok to fantastic. Plenty of the it factor was there from a creative aspect, but not executed as strong as it could have been for me. I’ll be curious to read more by this author.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Mystery Thriller

A Caller’s Game by J.D. Barker

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“I’m going to offer you a choice.”

Controversial satellite radio talk show host, Jordan Briggs, has clawed her way to the top of the broadcast world. She doesn’t hold back, doesn’t spare feelings, and has no trouble sharing what’s on her mind. Her rigorous pursuit of success has come at a price, though. Her marriage is in ruins, she hasn’t spoken to her mother in years, and she’s distanced herself from all those close to her. If not for her young daughter, Charlotte, her personal life would be in complete shambles.

When a subdued man calls into the show and asks to play a game, she sees it as nothing more than a way to kick-start the morning, breathe life into the beginnings of drive-time for her listeners. Against her producer’s advice, she agrees, and unwittingly opens a door to the past.

Live on the air with an audience of millions, what starts out as a game quickly turns deadly—events long thought buried resurface and Jordan Briggs is forced to reconcile with one simple fact—All decisions have consequences.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Caller’s Game by J.D. Barker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Such a solid read. I would like to thank Hampton Creek Press and author J.D. Barker for providing me with an advance readers copy for free. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an action-packed, escape read. Anyone who favors thrillers will really enjoy reading this book.

The Story
From a good opening line, paragraph, scene, the tension identified early on that created this sort of intrigue for both short term and long term, very satisfying. A unifying relational dilemma, character attributes that are set apart, voices distinct enough to just sit down and enjoy the ride.

All the elements of what I want in an entertaining book were there.

Though still working out in context, I was initially a little bit less sure about some scene plausibility for such an intricate set up, for such a short time frame. However I also realized it made enough sense anyway and ultimately maybe it didn’t matter because the scenes were so tightly written, like scenes in a movie, where it’s best not to over-analyze and be nit-picking over that of which keeps the storyline afloat and just enjoy it, of which I most certainly did.

So I’d say pages 300-350 were just about my threshold for plenty of volley for my mind. Intense, fast-paced, action scenes, complete with a countdown which I found was perfectly laid out with chapter length, change in scene/POV, and character distinction in both narrative and dialogue. Amusement that builds, depth and breadth, multi-dimensional, elements that made for a complete read.

I’m also finding I’m not as keen on action scenes in urban settings with buildings, offices, stairwells, elevators. I much prefer the setting/atmosphere of suspense with eerie mansions, iron fences, the countryside, beachfront, weather changes, seasons, those things of the sort. Just personal preferences though, things I’m learning about myself as a reader.

The Writing
Always well-written and this one was no exception. Affirming and interesting. The reading experiences are always so trustworthy. I didn’t have the urge to cross-check which is always a reading bonus. I like books that I can just settle into.

Loved the end notes. It’s interesting to think back to March 25, 2020. I was just coming into country from service as the borders were closing, crazy to think about, so many unknowns, a lifetime ago, yet just one year next month. I still can’t wrap my mind around it all.

The Characters
A creepy antagonist done well again. This villain, exactly that type that gets under your skin in a psychological way.

I was a little less sure about the daughter, an 11-year-old that sounded so intelligent at times but emotionally not so much with quite the sleeping habit of newborn baby naps. But I also didn’t mind too much, just something I noted as I read along.

Loved the agency banter.

Looking forward to reading more, like the satisfying cheese pull on pizza. You just know it’s going to be good, the anticipation always is there and is maintained consistently throughout the books. Satisfying, versatile, and well-written stylistically no matter the subject matter.

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ARCs Biography Book Reviews Books Cookbooks Featured Nonfiction

Mango and Peppercorns: A Memoir of Food, an Unlikely Family, and the American Dream by Tung Nguyen, Katherine Manning, Lyn Nguyen, Elisa Ung

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A powerful memoir of resilience, friendship, family, and food from the acclaimed chefs behind the award-winning Hy Vong Vietnamese restaurant in Miami.

Through powerful narrative, archival imagery, and 20 Vietnamese recipes that mirror their story, Mango & Peppercorns is a unique contribution to culinary literature.

In 1975, after narrowly escaping the fall of Saigon, pregnant refugee and gifted cook Tung Nguyen ended up in the Miami home of Kathy Manning, a graduate student and waitress who was taking in displaced Vietnamese refugees. This serendipitous meeting evolved into a decades-long partnership, one that eventually turned strangers into family and a tiny, no-frills eatery into one of the most lauded restaurants in the country.

Tung’s fierce practicality often clashed with Kathy’s free-spirited nature, but over time, they found a harmony in their contrasts—a harmony embodied in the restaurant’s signature mango and peppercorns sauce.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Mango and Peppercorns: A Memoir of Food, an Unlikely Family, and the American Dream by Tung Nguyen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness I loved this so much! I would like to thank Chronicle Books for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I’d recommend it to everyone. One that I think everyone would love to have in their cookbook library and it would be a great book club pick.

It’s really a special book, unique with the merging of memoir and cookbook, done excellently.

When reading it I felt like a special friend was sharing a piece of their heart with me, something deep, almost sacred, along recipes that most restaurants hold tightly, and to share them at this point in time made me feel all that more fortunate to have them.

The Story
Depicting life journeys, business journeys, so honest in every which way. From fleeing Saigon as a refugee as the Vietnam War came to an end in 1975 to interpersonal relationships, struggles and celebrations.

It’s very personal as it depicts themes of cultural assimilation, customs, social class, restauranteurship, personal relationships, child-rearing, and everything along the way.

It evoked this strong sense of community, belonging, all while detailing what it also feels like to be an imposter, foreigner, lonely, lost, undeserving, all while having hope and living the best way you know how.

I loved the bluntness, newness, and vulnerability, bringing me in perspective not only as it was and but also how it was perceived.

The Writing
Incredibly well-written and well-organized. I loved how the stories were told in parallel, multiple POVs done really well.

I loved the photos.

The Recipes
I’m excited to try them all. So far I’ve tried two, absolutely delicious so far! Keep an eye on my website as I work my way through them.

A book that made me laugh, made me cry, I felt it to be very touching and I’m looking forward to getting a final copy for myself and for my sister.

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Mangoes and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry Oven | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry Oven | Erica Robbin
Mangoes and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Chicken in Pastry | Erica Robbin
Mangoes and Peppercorns Watercress Salad with Hy Vong's Signature Dressing | Erica Robbin
Mango and Peppercorns Watercress Salad with Hy Vong’s Signature Dressing | Erica Robbin
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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

Lost Property by Helen Paris

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Dot Watson’s life is stuck. She wasn’t meant to be single at this point, or still working in a temporary job she started over ten years ago. She was supposed to be in Paris, falling madly in love, building an exciting career. Instead, every day in Baker Street’s Lost Property office, she diligently catalogues hundreds of lost umbrellas, lone gloves and an alarming number of shoes.

There’s a comfort in her routine that Dot has become quite attached to. But then Mr Appleby arrives at her work asking for help to find his late wife’s purse. 

Dot recognises his desperation and grief – and they stir something unexpected in her: determination. As she resolves to help Mr Appleby, what else might she find along the way?

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Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lost Property by Helen Paris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program. I’d recommend this one to anyone who enjoys romance. It’s fresh, has a unique storyline, and deeper themes that will tug at you heart.

Loved the backstory, side stories, the insight into what really happens to all this lost luggage, research clearly done. Not that I would even know what happens on the back end, but I travel a lot and definitely found some incredible relatability here! The support for this premise was super unique.

One of my favorite aspects of the book were the tidbits of lost items and their owner. Really characterized items from the type of person who wears such clothing items or such luggage pieces, or whatever the item may be. Clever.

The Story
I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this one with its plot, main setting, or occupation. They added so much interest and dimension to the overall story.

Themes of regret, loss, grief, self doubt, frustration, resentment, and hints of jealousy, were all integrated into the plot which made for a stronger, grounded narrative much deeper than I was expecting and I really enjoyed these aspects of the book.

I will say it was a little rather rocky in beginning. I guess bits were less memorable and I didn’t know their purpose nor their context. I didn’t quite identify the bigger picture dilemma or tension early on, aside from typical day to day work complaints. There was some clutter with detail that was somewhat interesting but I kept thinking less would be more. Too many tangents, made me lose focus of what was really happening. But it did come together nearer to the end though, definitely worth reading through.

The Writing
Even though my least favorite, first person present tense narration was used, it worked rather well with carefully curated perspective into her day to day tasks.

Loved the conversation-like writing style. Some casual pop culture references some I got, super clever, others I had to dismiss because I just wasn’t sure I understood, some verbiage I had to look up. Which was ok, I just had to leave the book quite a few times, taking me out of the book when I wanted to keep reading further one. It’s more because when I do that I get distracted and will end up definition, root words, other languages, looking up many other things, then check my email, then… I do love looking things up, particularly fact-checking and such when reading historical fiction/nonfiction, but any other genres not so much.

Descriptions
I enjoyed majority of the descriptions, especially more toward the end, but some became quite sore. Not every noun needs an adjective, especially a color at that. Just my own personal preference, others may love it, I don’t.

Some other examples, perhaps more to do with the writing, is why did I need to know about this character who wore hair gel, slicked back, mentioned, reemphasized as many times. Like one mention was enough, then maybe later a thought about not a hair was out of place or perhaps a mention of some other characteristic that made a more clear picture of the character as rather polished, classic, cool, or rockstar person of the sort. And I still wasn’t sure at second mention whether his slicked back hair made him more rebel rocker-esque John Travolta in Grease or Leonardo DiCaprio, waiting at the top of the staircase. Maybe it was just a simple tease or inside joke unbenounced to me that was I was waiting for to play a bigger role or deeper insight into a character.

It’s just the way my brain thinks I suppose. When I see a recurring description I interpret it as a hint, then tend to wait for some further reveal or deeper insight that will add deeper connection or insight into some bigger reveal in the end. Like I want everything in a book to count. It’s just I found some descriptions didn’t add much meaning, context, drive, or embellishments to the characters or story in their repetition when told the exact same way every time, especially at the beginning when I was loosely connected to the characters and plot.

The Characters
The hardest time I had with the book overall was with the main character. I didn’t get the main character. She commented on stuff happening around her but lacked emotional response. The emotion didn’t come through until about page 120. That was when the writing became the strongest and the plot more captivating. When the emotion was there is when the writing began to shine. Again, it wasn’t until later in the book where more vulnerable, intimate scenes and character expression, reaction, and reflection guided me into what I was wanting to embrace and understand to a certain extent early on.

The main character had great insight, seemed to read people well, but she was sort of lifeless early on I guess. I Iiked her character role, but elements to define her as a person were quite lacking. I needed some reflection earlier on to understand who she was to make a more complete characterization to connect with for stronger understanding later on.

Dialogue
Everyone read the same to me and too much of it. Most of the dialogue didn’t add anything or help me identify characters as unique individuals.

The Setting
Absolutely loved the work environment and beach scenes, took me straight there. Mundane work to a lovely day at the beach.

The little visual details of chapter tags were such pleasant bonuses! Unique for sure!

I am definitely looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Nonfiction

No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out by Michelle Balz

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In No-Waste Composting, you’ll discover the hows and whys of composting and find over a dozen practical step-by-step plans for building both indoor and outdoor composting systems that require a minimal amount of space. 

“I don’t have enough space to compost.” 
“I don’t know what’s safe to compost and what isn’t.” 
“I live in the city, so I don’t think I can compost.” 
“Indoor composting systems are smelly.” 
“I don’t have a garden, so I don’t need to compost.”

You can actually overcome all these doubts and obstacles with the advice found in this book!

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No-Waste Composting: Small-space waste recycling, indoors and out. Plus, 10 projects to repurpose household items into compost-making machines by Michelle Balz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – Cool Springs Press for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

To answer to the book’s first question, I would say I’m definitely obsessed with composting. Whenever I throw a banana peel away without having access to throwing it into a compost, my heart turns a little, thinking of what could be in the little garden of mine.

This is an excellent book. Content, organization, visual appeal and composition, it’s just perfect. I learned a lot. I’m a hobbiest gardener, it’s one thing I’m super passionate about, and one thing I could do all day, every day, gardening is so incredibly rewarding!

I’d recommend this to any gardener, whether a novice gardener starting out, nervous and a notorious killer of your gifted house plants to an expert who can grow passion fruit and lemon trees indoors like my sister, I think anyone will find a treasure of gardening value in this book.

First, the sans serif stylistic heading and body fonts made the reading experience fun and allowed for an ease of reading that drew me in, which is what I’ve really felt I needed this year.

As far as content, it makes a great case for composting and the enthusiasm is inspiring. I liked the troubleshooting, many methodologies, and the boldness to present how domestic animal manuring could be done.

The writing style is very conversation like, inviting, not overly academic yet packed with useful scientific information and rationale.

Structurally this book is very solid. Introductions to a concept, followed by real-life examples, then how to, step-by-step instructions in creating your own project with very affordable options. You can go fancy or budget.

It has a great amount and mix of photos with graphic images along with excerpt tidbits of supportive, detailed side notes that expanded on a lot of good topics.

I will say there were just a few small parts that were repetitive in nature like the urine being higher in nitrogen, benefits of coffee grounds, layering with leaves, burying the fruit and vegetables to avoid pests, but they were minor and I suppose it was good to be reminded of those principles.

I am so excited for next gardening season! If you are too, I’d highly recommend this one!

Looking forward to trying Bokashi method and I’m curious to try spraying the Bokashi tea on leaves, the terra-cotta method, and the Hügelkultur method. Be sure to tag me with your gardening adventures, I’d love to see what you’ve been up to and what methods you use to amend your soil.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

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It’s been a year since Lottie’s fiancé walked out, leaving her heartbroken. But things start to look up when she lands her dream job at a beautiful Lake District estate, with a handsome groundskeeper for a neighbour.
 
So when Lottie is asked to organise a last minute Christmas wedding at Firholme, she can’t wait to get started. Until she meets the couple, and discovers that Connor, the man who broke her heart, is the groom-to-be.
 
As snow falls on the hills, can Lottie put aside her past to organise the perfect winter wedding? And will there be any festive magic left to bring Lottie the perfect Christmas she deserves?
 
Curl up with this gorgeous story about love and second chances, perfect for fans of Trisha Ashley and Milly Johnson.

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A Surprise Christmas Wedding by Phillipa Ashley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Avon Books UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

I love Phillipa Ashley’s stories and writing style. The plot, the twists were well thought out. I liked the feeling that something was lulling, something in the background, a secret still to be revealed, all while instant gratification reveals were woven throughout the plot.

I think anyone looking for Christmas story to read as the days lead up to the holiday will enjoy this book. Romance, tension, cutesy bits, family bond, fun, this book had it all. It followed a timeline like an advent calendar which I quite enjoyed. Built on relational aspects, it was an endearing look into love and loss, life tragedy with hope and cheer, a feel-good story that was not the typical predictable plot one would expect, and a real Christmas mood setter for me because the scene descriptions were so well-fitted to capturing Christmas spirit and described in a lovely way without being over-the-top..

Had all the elements I love in a book. A lovely Christmas setting, enthusiastic characters with life choices and places they wanted to go, descriptions that weren’t over-embellished, and a deeper life roadblock that was realistic and heart-felt.

Though, toward the end, the characters annoyed me. Some disconnects for me, like the mother-in-law reaction of only hoping they were meant for each other. I admit I wasn’t really hopeful for the happy couple either, not the other couple either I suppose. I wanted to root for them at the beginning, but I just wasn’t feeling it toward the end. The elements of the story were there but I guess there was more focus on the details of the event than working through the feelings that I wanted more of.

Some of the overall situations in the relationships were a bit weird to me. Like certain dilemmas made for detours I was less interested in. It was the feelings that were a bit displaced and lesser developed. I guess all-in-all it was hard for me to grasp the coming to terms of their feelings because a high emotion sequence needed a higher emotional response that I just didn’t see in the end. Time or pacing may have been a big factor, maybe from that aspect it could have lingered more in increased length of time to provide resolutions that would have been a bit more realistic. Started out strong though, but I wanted to see it carried out just as strong.

It was just their circumstances and being stuck inside each other’s feelings rather than finding their own. The characters, and I mean actually majority of the characters, didn’t seem to understand how their hurt was being projected. They all reminded me of that Simpsons episode where the family zaps each other as a form of aversion therapy… unsuccessfully: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFCgz….

“Hey I thought we were making real progress…” Marge Simpson

Marge’s response “Hey I thought we were making real progress…”

A bit patched up, a bit packaged up in a very presentable way; however, all while being a bit oblivious to their own being.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the Christmas magic and the way the cutesy parts were displayed, the dog, the pizza party, the gorgeously decorated venue, all for a very lovely time I spent reading and escaping the year’s exhausting moments.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Romance

Finding Love at the Christmas Market by Jo Thomas

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As a single mum, care-home caterer Connie has thrown herself into online dating – or she had until one dating disaster too many. Now she’s hesitant…hurt in the past and with her son to consider, she won’t rush into anything. Then one of Connie’s elderly patients sets her up on a date at a beautiful German Christmas market – with the promise she’ll take a mini-bus load of pensioners with her… 

Amongst the twinkling lights and smell of warm gingerbread in the old market square, Connie heads off on her date with a check-list of potential partner must-haves. Baker Henrich ticks all the boxes, proving to be reliable, thoughtful and keen. But when Connie meets Henrich’s rival William, she starts to wonder if ticking boxes is the answer.

Will Connie find the love of her life this Christmas, and if so – who will it be?

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Finding Love at the Christmas Market by Jo Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This was such a sweet Christmas story. Loved the opening scene with life dynamic, getting right into both the middle of a story yet the beginning of an adventure.

I think anyone looking for a delightful, heart-melting, uplifting, lighthearted, yet meaningful Christmas tale will appreciate this book. It follows characters through relationships and the quirky things about aging, those learning to relish the little victories in life through grief and gain and finding satisfaction and purpose.

The story. With the foreshadowing of tidbits, coming full circle, made for a nice reveal of excitement and hope, the kind of feelings that come with Christmas. I loved the strides the characters made through the conflict.

The writing. I loved how Jo Thomas wrote. The authentic experiences, the setting, the character interactions, all were genuine. Gentle and not over the top, deep enough to bring real life into each character. She wrote appealing to all the senses and I adored the details in the baking scenes, and I especially adored the elderly insight and social activities. Nice way to shape the characters, coaxing them through their celebrations and dilemmas, all while providing entertainment and commentary along the way.

I would have liked a little more conversation of one certain relationship, to have developed a bit more in recognition of reconciliation. And one aspect teetered on less moral ground for my preferences. However I liked the inner monologue which helped to make the teetering situation more palatable for me, especially when the permissiveness and timeline of the situation, from this aspect of single and available both on paper and emotionally finally came to be.

I can’t comment on the recipes as they weren’t contained in the ARC I received. Bummer.

Overall the story was a well thought out plan. It kept my interest. Perfectly packaged but not without some bumps in the relationships, I loved the tension, the anticipation, the wonderings, the joy, the delightful way it all unfolded in this Christmas tale.

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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Thriller

The Coast-to-Coast Murders by James Patterson and J. D. Barker

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Michael and Megan Fitzgerald are siblings who share a terrifying past.

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Both adopted, and now grown — Michael is a long-haul truck driver, Megan a college student majoring in psychology — they trust each other before anyone else. They’ve had to.

In Los Angeles, Detective Garrett Hobbs and FBI Agent Jessica Gimble have joined forces to work a murder that seems like a dead cinch. Their chief suspect is quickly identified and apprehended –but then there’s another killing just like the one they’ve been investigating. And another.

And not just in Los Angeles — the spree spreads across the country. The Fitzgerald family comes to the investigators’ attention, but Dobbs and Gimble are at a loss — if one of the four is involved, which Fitzgerald might it be?

From coastal California to upstate New York, Dobbs and Gimble race against time and across state lines to stop an ingenious and deeply deranged killer — one whose dark and twisted appetites put them outside the range of logic or experience.

The Coast-to-Coast Murders by James Patterson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Little, Brown and Company for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Wow the suspense!

This was an interesting read for me because having read books from both authors, (90s Patterson and a few from the Michael Bennett series, Barker, from the latest She Has a Broken Thing Where Her Heart Should Be and Dracul), I had certain expectations and was not sure how a blend of creative elements and the diversity among the two would play out.



I was excited and I also had questions. Was this going to be a cross-over for new audiences or existing readership or appeal to both? Would it be fresh or familiar and would it even matter? Would I be experiencing reader confusion if there was a certain continuity I was looking for in the writing and storyline? Who contributed what as far as idea, vision, and implementation? Were there creative differences and how did those get worked out? I wanted to know. I don’t know why I wanted to know these things, I just did.

So I’ll just say when I was reading, there were certain recognizable traits I identified and the collaboration was executed fabulously.

The storyline. Ah, makes so much sense. Red herrings, yes, you got me. Ending, yup, well played. The police force with feasibility and critical knowledge, so well polished, and I just love it when I can read a book and not feel the need to nitpick these things apart.

The writing. So fast paced and decisive, as the storyline calls for and the immediacy was so incredibly satisfying. It was a captivating, dive-in of an opening. A few hard-driven parts were almost borderline overstimulating for me, but nonetheless, I happily devoured the book in one sitting.

The lines written without apology, a very natural, yet precise and enticing way of wording, compelling but not over worked or over thought. And there was this persuasiveness that was essential for such a detailed, psychological thrill which was just entrancing. I recognized certain stylistic features that just cut through my mind like, oooh that’s eerie, oooh that cliffhanger, so solid, I’ll keep reading.

I loved how dual scenarios and POVs converged at the surprise elements while still maintaining their distinction. There was this unique quality to the writing, especially for the crime fiction genre, where the voices were undoubtedly distinguishable in both thought and action. I feel like sometimes character traits and voices tend to take on the same persona and get muddy when police investigations take place, definitely not the case in this one.

I loved the characterizations of people, as well as general observations of personal characteristics/habits themselves. And the scenery, I mean Needles, CA., if you’ve ever driven through, you’d recognize that the description of the settings were spot on.

And of course I loved the literary references and the quotes from within the story itself. They generated their own deep significance that articulated the intricacies of the plot so well.

A solid read and I’m looking forward to seeing more collaborations like this.



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ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Romance

Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas

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A heart-warming tale about reclaiming your life, set amongst the lavender fields of Provence.

Can Del find her recipe for happiness? 

Del and her husband Ollie moved to a beautiful village in Provence for a fresh start after years of infertility struggles. But six weeks after they arrive, they’re packing the removal van once more. As Del watches the van leave for England, she suddenly realises exactly what will make her happier…a new life in France – without Ollie. 

Now alone, all Del has is a crumbling farmhouse, a mortgage to pay and a few lavender plants. What on earth is she going to do? After discovering an old recipe book at the market run by the rather attractive Fabian, Del starts to bake. But can her new-found passion really help her let go of the past and lead to true happiness?

Perfect escapism from the author of Late Summer in the Vineyard and The Honey Farm on the Hill.

Escape to the French Farmhouse: The most refreshing, feel-good story of the summerEscape to the French Farmhouse: The most refreshing, feel-good story of the summer by Jo Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Such a great book for the perfect reading escape!

I loved this book, all the components. As far as the story goes there were elements of connection, community, and belonging interlaced with real life challenges and celebrations that were relatable on so many levels.

The author brought forth all the emotion in just enough detail where I could easily sink my teeth into without feeling an incompleteness or feeling drained. The book overall was actually happy and uplifting, even though some stories were quite sad and deeply resonating with me. Stories with subplots that read like I was having a conversation with a best friend. Sometimes the main character was like, ok, what are you doing? But it was a story, her story, and life is not perfect and all the elements of her life were brought in full circle.

I was looking forward to wherever the story was going to take me.

As far as the writing goes, I loved the pacing and tone. Just enough moving the story forward, balanced with backstory, revelation, and self-reflection. Overall the amount of events were fast for the length of time they were set in, but it worked as a driving, yet delicate force to include necessary happenings that were realistic enough to be attainable.

1st person present is my least favorite POV to read, but this was done well because every word, every sentence was intentional, purposeful. It was written with such fluidity that it was a joy and pleasure to read.

The subplots with bigger stories flourished with a diverse enough cast of characters where each had distinguished charm all in their own both in the main character’s description and interaction with them, as well as in dialogue.

And simply the setting. The description of the French countryside, encompassing the main character’s house, market, and lifestyle centered around the beautiful scenery and delicious bakes from the star of the show, lavender, really made me feel like I was there enjoying it along with them. I’ve only been to Charles de Gaulle airport mind you, but through this story of imagine, I was among the lavender fields and dining out, the warm sun on my face, with a crisp, chewy lavender macaron and glass of wine, loving every bit it.

Highly recommend for an absolutely lovely summer read and I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

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ARCs Art Biography Book Reviews Books Featured Graphic Historical Nonfiction

Tolkien’s Worlds: The Places That Inspired the Writer’s Imagination by John Garth

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A lavishly illustrated look at the locales familiar to J. R. R. Tolkien, the creator of Middle-earth.

This book takes you to the places that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien to create his fictional locations in The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and other classic works. Written by renowned Tolkien expert John Garth and prepared with the full cooperation of the Tolkien estate, Tolkien’s Worlds features a wealth of breathtaking illustrations, including Tolkien’s own drawings, contributions from other artists, rare archival images, and spectacular color photos of contemporary locations across Britain and beyond, from the battlefields of World War I to Africa.

Garth identifies the locales that served as the basis for Hobbiton, the elven valley of Rivendell, the Glittering Caves of Helm’s Deep, and many other settings in Middle-earth, from mountains and forests to rivers, lakes, and shorelands. He reveals the rich interplay between Tolkien’s personal travels, his wide reading, and his deep scholarship as an Oxford don. Garth draws on his own profound knowledge of Tolkien’s life and work to shed light on the extraordinary processes of invention behind Tolkien’s works of fantasy. He also debunks popular misconceptions about the inspirations for Middle-earth and puts forward strong new claims of his own.

An illustrated journey into the life and imagination of one of the world’s best-loved authors, Tolkien’s Worlds provides a unique exploration of the relationship between the real and the fantastical and is an essential companion for anyone who wants to follow in Tolkien’s footsteps.

The Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired the writer's imaginationThe Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien: The places that inspired the writer’s imagination by John Garth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Quarto Publishing Group – White Lion for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

This book was awesome.

From gorgeous illustrations to the impressive amount of research, it’s a must have book for any Tolkien collector out there. It will make a beautiful coffee table book in my home and one I’d also recommend as a companion piece to anyone reading one of his pieces or for those just being introduced to the world of Tolkien.

I loved the organization, the range and amount of photos and illustrations, and the amount of detailed discussion of the origin and inspiration that Tolkien depicted in his writing style and world-building mega feat of what I think is the epitome of writing genius.

This book packed so much punch, I admired every bit of information covering the incredibly detailed influences of his work such as geographical processes, ancient architecture, even his recurring nightmares of a wave engulfing the land, bereavements to shipwrecks, and the Elvish language creation which ranged from onomatopoeic words and his studies of Latin.

His imagination was incredible. Some of which also being rooted in a multi-cultural, Gothic atmosphere incorporating unusual caricature from backgrounds of Celtic, Welsh, English, South Africa, and Icelandic tradition, folklore, and wartime events. This book covered it all.

I’ve been a fan of Tolkien since first picking up my first read, The Hobbit, in the 5th grade, and this gave me an even greater appreciation for the creativity that went into his writing.

It was also compelling in the way it made me want to visit all the glorious places, exhilarating locations as some of the foundations for settings in his books, a Tolkien tour.

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Categories
ARCs Book Reviews Books Featured Fiction Romance

A Perfect Cornish Escape (Porthmellow Harbour #3) by Phillipa Ashley

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Summer in Cornwall is the perfect time for a fresh start…
Seven years ago, Marina Hudson’s husband was lost at sea. She vowed to love him for the rest of her life – but when kind-hearted Lachlan arrives in Porthmellow, should she deny herself another chance at happiness?

Tiff Trescott was living life to the full as a journalist in London – until her boyfriend’s betrayal brought it all crashing down. Fleeing to her cousin Marina’s cottage, Tiff feels like a fish-out-of-water. And when brooding local Dirk wins a day with her in a charity auction, she’s thrown headfirst into Cornish life.

This summer promises new beginnings for both Tiff and Marina. But are they too good to be true?

A Perfect Cornish Escape by Phillipa Ashley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Avon Books UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

The stories in this book were excellent! It read as bright and cheery with unexpected deep sentiment as subjects of loss, grief, PTSD, betrayal, desire, belonging, and ambivalence in navigating life’s way were charted.

As far as writing, I really liked the way the characters were shaped. Guiding me to be drawn in rather quickly and profoundly, embracing and opposing certain characteristics of both the protagonistic and antagonistic qualities of the other, well done.

The incorporation of an inner monologue to help form/validate their actions and ideas was a little bumpy for me at first. It was the ease of reading, something about how much of the dialogue was followed by an underlying explanation for saying/feeling that way much of the time at the beginning. It just felt a little interruptive where instead I wanted the dialogue to be more genuine and more easily identifiable/distinguishable to each voice, to have a better understanding of the characters so it would come as a natural understanding without having it be pointed out in the inner workings of their head as much as it was. But I warmed up to it about 1/3 of the way in. Maybe it was more of a stylistic choice and was less pervasive and bothersome to me as the stories went on.

I also would have liked to have seen a little more involvement from the other friends and families of the characters to confirm character qualities and certain circumstances they found themselves in.

Loved the setting! Beachfront, Cornwall, England, the lifestyle of characters, jobs/businesses, leisure time, homes, all to go with it. It made so much logical sense and added a drawn in, dreamy, escapism-type attribute that complimented the overall themes of the stories and brought magnetic value to the succinct title of the book.

It was such a lovely read as far as plot was concerned. The connectedness and portrayal of relatability and realistic life circumstances, not cheesy, not overdone, nor over simplified. And the similes and metaphors, the pop culture references, I love it when writers take risks and just dive into such stuff.

I will definitely look forward to reading more stories from this author.

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