Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Thinking About Reading Challenges, TBR Piles, and All the New Books of 2020: What's in Store for January

Is it wrong that I've already ordered two new paperbacks, and two hardcovers, all new titles that are out in January? See, this is why I tell myself I won't limit myself on how many books I can buy each month. I'd last about 10 minutes before I broke that promise, so I'm not going to try, and heck yes, I'm not even going to feel bad about it!

However, I'm happy to say I am still checking books out at my library. And I have been thinking and pondering for days just what to do with all of my TBR piles sitting around at home. Brilliant breakthroughs have not made an appearance, so in the spirit of not putting ridiculous pressure on myself, I'm just going to make an effort each month to grab a few books off my bookcases and my piles on the floor and read them, then pass them along to friends and family.   So for every new book I buy, I've got to read that much out of my piles at home. HOLY HECK.

January is usually one of my big read months. The weather may turn nasty at any given moment, and I usually just spend most of my time reading at home when I'm not working. I expect that to happen this January, too. It's my official hermit month. It begins at midnight tonight. 

Here are a few of the books I plan on reading and reviewing in January:

This is a TBR book; also fills a requirement for my book club theme this month. 

Another TBR book--I started it very early this morning and already cried. Better get the tissues out cause I know there's more to come. 

New in January--I can't wait to read this! The latest from the author of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.

Just checked this out today from the library, already started it, and was immediately  sucked into the story. Two women living in the same house 50 years apart; marriages, secrets, and trying to be the "perfect wife". 

I'm planning on a few other titles for January but haven't landed on exactly what just yet. I'm still wrestling with the idea of signing up for the Goodreads 2020 Reading Challenge when it's available. It does give me an easy and quick look at what I've read over the year, and I do like to have a goal. However, sometimes it can make me feel panicky when I haven't had time to read at a steady pace. So is it worth it? I don't know. I think 2020 will be a year when I will be more patient with some of the books I read and give them a fair shake before I DNF and pick up something new. It's a TBR pile knockdown kind of year and I can't wait to rediscover some of the books I bought a year or two ago and never read. So while I'm excited for the year of 2020 in reading, I'm being cautious about goals and strategies and working on just rediscovering and discovering some pretty fantastic stories. 

I can't wait to share it all with you! 

Happy New Year!  

The Bookalicious Babe

Friday, December 27, 2019

My Top Ten Reads of 2019...and a Few Honorable Mentions

I saw a few book bloggers posting their top reads of the year and decided I should bite the bullet and take care of mine. I'll still get in a few reads before January 1st, but neither will be cracking my top ten. I whittled it down from 20, so I think I did pretty good just making my list and not over-thinking. I'm kind of surprised what came out on top. 

Before I list my top ten, I want to put out a few honorable mentions. These were books I read in 2019, long after the rest of the world read them. They were both oh so good and I loved them very much. However, to be fair to the rest of the books I read in 2019, they won't be in my top ten even though they were fan-freaking-tastic! Those books are:

                          Where the Crawdads Sing by Deliah Owens

                      Eleanor Oliphant is Completey Fine by Gail Honeyman

Okay... Bookalicious Babe Top Ten of 2019

9.  The Ghost Manuscript by Kris Frieswick

7.  The Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton 

5.  Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

4. The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michelle Richardson

3.  The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

2.  Old Bones by Preston and Child

And....my top read of 2019:

1.  The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell

Well there it is! It was an interesting reading year. I didn't read nearly as much as I wanted to, but I did enjoy some pretty interesting books. 2020 will start off with some books that will carry over from 2019. Is it wrong that I've already ordered two more books that are out in a few weeks? So much for not adding to my TBR pile. 

I'd like to say I'll read more non-fiction, expand my horizons and read all sorts of different stuff. But I honestly just don't know what the year will give me, but my arms are wide open and ready to enjoy whatever the Book Gods decide should come my way. 

What are your top reads for 2019?  Please share! I'd love to know!

Thank you all for following my posts this year, and thank you to everyone who decided to join the bandwagon, both via email and on my facebook page. I appreciate you all very much. Can't wait to share with you again this coming year. 

With much love and gratitude--

The Bookalicious Babe 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Anything but Civil: A Hattie Davish Mystery by Anna Loan-Wilsey

It's Christmas Eve!  I had the chance to finish up a mystery that caught my eye earlier this week. It takes place in Galena, Illinois, which is about 1.5 hours away from where I live, and a place I've visited many times over the years. And...it takes place at Christmas! I'm still a bit surprised I found two random mysteries this month that have a Christmas theme. 

Anything But Civil is the second in the Hattie Davish series. I haven't read the first one, but it didn't seem to be too much of an issue. I probably will go back and read it eventually. Hattie is a young woman who is a traveling secretary, and she's in Galena, IL with Sir Arthur Winslow-Greene, an Englishman who has settled in the United States to study the American Civil War, which has been over for decades. He's hired Hattie to be his secretary on a visit to Galena (home of U.S. Grant) to interview his latest book topic: General Cornelius Starrett. Sir Arthur and Hattie will be spending the Christmas holiday in Galena, in a well appointed rental home perched above the Galena River, a tributary of the Mighty Mississippi. Everything seems to be going fairly well; until the arrival of the General's obnoxious and odious son, Henry Starrett. Henry is loud, boastful, and a veteran of the Civil War. He's out to harass a local man who was a copperhead during the Civil War, and whom Henry sees as a traitor. He makes no bones about his hatred for Jamison. 
Guests of Sir Arthur arrive at his home for the holidays, and they add to the mix of personalities and surprise! all of them also seem to have ties to the Civil War. When a supper at General Starrett's home ends with many of the guests (including Hattie) suffering from food poisoning, it looks like someone is out to get Henry. A few days later, Henry is found by Hattie in the park, beaten up and dead from a bullet to the chest. Oh, this is when things really start to get complicated. Sir Arthur's gun is missing, there's signs of a scuffle, and who would beat up Henry, then shoot him? It's up to Hattie to figure it all out and save Sir Arthur from a jail cell. 
I liked the cast of characters-each had a reason to see Henry dead. It's hard to figure out just who is guilty when Henry was the kind of man who created enemies everywhere he went. Hattie uses all of her detective skills to put together clues to try and figure out what happened, and the more she digs, the more she realizes whatever happened to Henry has roots stretching back to the Civil War. It's a complicated tangle of secrets that had me wondering just who was guilty up until the end. 
I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery. I wouldn't say it's a cozy mystery, but more like a tier above a cozy mystery. I loved reading about a familiar place-Galena. That's why I picked it up in the first place. Hattie is smart, resourceful, and makes a heck of a good detective. The mystery was pretty good, too. It had me wondering for most of the book how everyone and everything fit together. I'll be reading more of Hattie's adventures for sure. This series was published about 6-8 years ago, and I know there are at least 4 in the series. 
Rating: 4/6 for a solid murder mystery that had me trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together without success until the very end. Fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this series. 
Available in paperback and ebook. 

Wishing you all a wonderful Holiday Season and a Very Happy New Year!! Stay tuned for my Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2019...coming soon! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street by Karen White

It's safe to say I'm a HUGE Karen White fan, and especially of her Tradd Street series. I eagerly await the next in the series, and dang it all-- I found out there's going to be just one more in the series. I'm glad, because this one ends with a bit of a cliffhanger that absolutely must be resolved. 

I don't want to give a lot away, since this is the sixth in the series. But the basics of the series I can certainly share: Melanie is a real estate agent in her hometown of Charleston. She sells a lot of old historic homes, and she loathes them, mostly because she can see and hear the dead. A town with the history of Charleston has spirits everywhere, and Melanie isn't a fan of her talent, inherited from her opera singing mother. 

Melanie's home on Tradd Street was inherited from an old man who enjoyed Melanie's company, and knew of her talents. He was convinced his home would be safe in her hands. And through this series, it is safe in her hands after she reluctantly takes ownership and begins restoration work. Of course, there are spirits, both helpful and malevolent hanging around, and Melanie has to solve the historical mysteries before someone gets hurt. Through it all is Jack Trenholm, a dashingly handsome author of historical novels, who is intrigued with Melanie's home and the possibility of writing a new novel based on the history of her home. Jack is, of course, interested in Melanie, too. The attraction between the two moves through all six of the books, and I guess I'm not giving anything away when you see that by this novel, they're happily married, with toddler twins. But the course of love and marriage doesn't run smooth, mostly because Melanie's upbringing left her with some trust issues. Those trust issues drive the plot toward an ending that had me anxious for Melanie, and completely irritated at her, too. 

This sixth novel finds Melanie again dealing with some really unhappy spirits who seem to have been stirred up by the excavation of an old cistern in her back yard. She sees a man with no eyes, a bloody shirt, and some pretty serious anger issues hanging around upstairs, and she just knows trouble is around the corner. Juggling her family, her job, her marriage, and her insecurities, along with the latest threat from Marc Longo, a total jerk who is out to take Melanie's home away from her...well, it's all a big pot that will boil over, with unexpected consequences. 

I rarely, if ever, finish a series. They tend to "jump the shark" about half-way through and I lose interest. This is one series I will read until the end. I absolutely love it. Melanie has come a long way, but she still has moments of annoyance that make me want to shake her! I love the full cast of characters--her parents, her sister, her friends, and yes, even her enemy Marc. Jack is pretty yummy, too. I love the blend of history and paranormal, and of course Charleston is on my list of places to visit. It all combines to make a series that will remain one of my favorites. I don't know how I'm going to wait for the final book in the series! 

And yes, I would recommend reading the series in order, because so much of what happens develops over time, and it will make more sense if you follow the books in order--especially to see the developing relationship between Melanie and Jack, and Melanie and her mother. 

Rating 5/6 for an interesting historical plot about a Revolutionary War spy ring, ghosts, clues, and a race to put it all together. A satisfying addition to the Tradd Street series. Loved it! 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Two Holiday Novels: Christmas Angels by Nancy Naigle & We Met in December by Rosie Curtis

I'm working my way through the stack of holiday novels I have at home, and decided to review two today, since I've managed to finish them both this weekend. 

Christmas Angels by Nancy Naigle caught my eye during a trip to B&N a few weeks ago.  If you're looking for something very sweet and tame, this is for you. I knew when I bought it I was guaranteed a gentle read, and it delivered. Liz Westmoreland has a very busy job and is wildly successful at it, but she dreams of returning to Antler Creek, North Carolina, where she spent summers and Christmas with her grandparents. They owned Angel's Rest, a wonderful lodge in the mountains that had a reputation for miles around as a great place to stay. After her grandparents sold the place and died shortly thereafter, Liz went on with her life, but always had the dream of going back and opening Angel's Rest again. 

Call it coincidence, or fate, but Liz sees Angel's Rest is up for sale the night before the auction, and throws caution to the winds and winds up buying it. Traveling to Antler Creek, she runs into Matt Hardy, who, as a child, spent time at Angel's Rest and quite vividly remembers Liz. He's always had a crush on her, and now she's back. Will Liz find a home at Angel's Rest, and love with Matt? 

This was a really simple, Hallmark-type plot. Nothing wrong with that; in fact, it is the perfect book to tuck into after a long day at work. Grab a cup of tea and relax. Rating: 3/6.

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis is set in London, and centers around a year in the life of Jess and Alex. Both are new to London, and have just moved into a very large home in Notting Hill owned by their friend Becky. She's inherited the home from her grandparents, and wants to help her friends with some affordable housing. Jess meets Alex on her first night there, and is instantly smitten. Alex is fresh off a break-up with his fiancee, and has left his career as a lawyer and is working through nursing school. He's not interested in romance, even though he thinks to himself that Jess is exactly the kind of woman he would be interested in--if he was interested. Emma, a glamorous gal, joins the group, as well as Rob, a forty-something Scottish chef who lives in the basement. The five all come and go, having get togethers, drinking wine, and watching Netflix movies when they have the chance, but all are super busy with their careers. 

This novel moves through a year, starting in December, when they all move into the house. Becky has said "no messing around" amongst the group living there, which causes Jess a moment or two of despair. However, she comes back from vacation to find Alex and Emma have begun a "friends with benefits" relationship under cover. Crushed that her crush is involved with someone else, Jess works her way through the next year building her friendship with Alex, all while wishing she could get over her deepening feelings for him. You also get Alex's side of the year, as we see him diving deep into school and nursing rounds, often exhausted and short of money as he works on his dream. Alex and Jess take walks around London, spending time together, but neither making a move towards romance. Will they ever come together? 

There are a few events that throw curve balls, just when you think they might finally own up to their feelings for each other. But, it is a holiday romance, and while there is a happy ending, it took a long time to get there. I would have been happy to see this shortened to a six month event! Rating: 3/6.

So. Two holiday novels about two couples who inch their way towards happily ever after. What both had in common were unrequited love, fear of rejection, and other characters finally interfering to push each couple towards confessing their feelings and resolving their issues. Phew! 

Both are available in paperback and ebook. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

American Cozy: Hygge-Inspired Ways to Create Comfort & Happiness by Stephanie Pedersen

I've been curious about the idea of hygge--a Danish way of being that puts creating and living a comfortable, cozy life at the top of your priority list. This may seem very simplistic, and it is, mostly. What's not simple is wrapping your brain around it and changing your life enough that you feel pretty hygge all the time. And just for your reference, it's pronounced "hoo-gah".  I've found myself saying it over and over lately, in order to retrain my brain to think the pronunciation correctly and stop it from thinking "hi-gee".  

The author, Stephanie Pedersen, takes hygge and adds an American spin on it. I haven't read any other hygge books, so I can't say how different, if at all, it is regarding the Danish practice of hygge. But I think I can say with a lot of confidence that Americans seem terribly busy, busy, busy and distracted. We seem to constantly be scrambling to get things done, and are so busy cramming our days with so much, we're always tired, worn out, stressed, and frazzled. So what to do about it?

There's nothing in this little book that is mind altering, or radical. It's about being organized, having a plan, keeping things simple, and taking the time to chill out--even if it's just for ten minutes walking around the office building to stretch your legs. It's about leaving work at work, and committing to not looking at work emails after you've left the office. Saying no instead of always saying yes. Picking a few things you really enjoy doing, instead of trying to do it all, and being miserable. For me, it's about decluttering both at work and at home. I dread cleaning my house. I love a clean house, with everything in its place, but honestly, I'd rather read a book than clean. My house always has a slightly disheveled look about it--definitely lived in by a bookaholic. Reading American Cozy has given me thought about how that clutter grows and can become overwhelming, and really stifle my ability to function at full speed. 

Yes, a lot of hygge is about minimalism. Part of the clutter is about thinking we need to have a bunch of stuff, when we don't. While I didn't learn anything I didn't already know after finishing this book, it did remind me of how easy it would be to eliminate the clutter, get my butt into a routine to keep my house tidy, and to curb my mindless social media checking (this takes up waaaay too much time!) each day. So for me, setting up routines and taking the time to do bits and pieces every day--and committing to that--will go a long way towards establishing my own kind of hygge. 

I have made some changes in my life in the last 6 months that have helped me feel less overwhelmed, and I've mostly kept to them each day: setting up my coffee pot each night and programming it to start each morning; having my workout gear ready to go and my recovery drink mixed and in the fridge, so all I have to do it grab it and go. Having my gym bag packed each night with my water bottle (I can't live without it at the gym!). I've also worked on food prepping each weekend--grocery shopping and preparing breakfasts and food for lunches during the week, and having a pretty good plan for suppers. Those small changes, oh--they have made a huge difference. I make better food choices because I've got my meals ready, I'm not rushing around in the morning and forgetting things, and I walk in the door after working out and smell fresh coffee ready for me. 

So, for me, I did enjoy this book very much. It didn't teach me anything new, but reminded me of what I need to do in order to have a better balance in my life, and how to lessen my stress by not waiting to tackle housework or other chores until they are BIG and take too long to do. I've already decided to spend some time in January picking away at areas of my home that need some serious  decluttering and organization. I'm excited to start. 

This would make a great gift for anyone who is interested in living a bit more minimalistic, or is just tired of the clutter and needs some inspiration. It really is all the little things we can do to help us focus on being in the moment, enjoying the company of friends and family, and not wearing ourselves out with long, unproductive work days. Get your hygge on, people! 

Rating:  4/6 for a how-to on making your life an oasis of calm and relaxation. It's not about more time, but about using the time we have more efficiently, and more purposefully to achieve hygge in our lives. You can do it! 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Christmas in Vermont by Anita Hughes

The Christmas tree is up at my house, and I was either too lazy or just not feeling the vibes to put out all my Christmas decorations. I went minimal and I'm happy with it. Just a few wreaths (battery operated timed lights rock!), stockings for Bud and I (I told him that meant he had to fill mine this year), a few candles to make it smell like a pine forest. I have a few items my Dad made that I absolutely have to put out each year; I'll confess I had a few tears putting them out and thinking about my Dad. Christmas sure does make you think about holidays past, and all those people who aren't here to celebrate with us. 

I've managed to avoid holiday cookies and treats so far, but I'm sure I'll cave and devour something a bit closer to December 24th! Reading this novel--some of the food made me have a few pangs, but I stayed strong. 

So, if you've followed my blog for a while, you know I have a love/hate relationship with Anita Hughes novels. I've read a few, and they are a bit too far out for me to really enjoy them. The characters live lifestyles that don't evoke any empathy for them, and they seem a bit shallow. But I keep coming back to try another one of her novels. I haven't given up just yet. 

Christmas in Vermont wasn't bad, but I did have a few issues. I did like the setting: the town of Snowberry, Vermont, and the homey Smuggler's Inn, run by Betty. Betty is a recently widowed woman who is struggling to keep the Inn open due to big medical bills from her husband's illness. Snowberry is reminiscent of a Hallmark holiday movie town--perfect shops, decorations, and people. Emma has arrived for a week's stay at the inn between Christmas and New Year's Day. Her friend Bronwyn gifted her the trip because Emma just broke up with her latest boyfriend, and a series of happenings in New York led  Bronwyn to believe that fate was at work for Emma, and she just had to go to Snowberry. Staying at the inn was Emma's true love, Fletcher, and his daughter Lola. It's been eleven years since they broke up and graduated from college, and maybe, just maybe, it's time for them to reconnect and try again. 

Synchronicity is a major theme in this tale of two people who connected once long ago, and through misunderstandings and miscommunication, lost their chance to remain together. Of course Fletcher has no idea Emma is purposely staying at the inn, and he's astonished to find his college girlfriend back in his life, all these years later. 

Oh, and guess what? Fletcher's engaged, and his fiancĂ© is staying at the inn, too. Whoops. 

I didn't really feel a big connection between Fletcher and Emma, and the flashbacks to their time together in college weren't super interesting. It just felt like a college romance that ended as they do, when people graduate and go their separate ways in life. Emma's inability to remain committed to a relationship has convinced her she's never going to settle down and have the family she wants. Fletcher is engaged to a woman who doesn't seem well suited to him, and isn't fond of his very precocious daughter Lola. The plot was fairly thin, and easy to see how it would end. Yes, it did remind me of a Hallmark Christmas movie; it was pretty tame all around. I am happy the ending wasn't tied up in a tight little bow; it made sense that happily ever after doesn't happen automatically. Growing a relationship is part of the path to that happily ever after we all hope for. 

So-a bland kind of story, but it should put you in the holiday spirit. No surprises here, just an easy read holiday romance about second chances and synchronicity. 

Rating: 2/6 for a tale of two people rediscovering each other again, and the chance to get it right the second time around. I didn't feel much chemistry between the two main characters, and the supporting characters all seemed fairly standard and unremarkable. Enjoyable but not a Wow! story. 

Available in paperback and ebook. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

An Ale of Two Cities: A Literary Pub Mystery by Sarah Fox

I had to start out my December reads by finishing this cozy mystery, the second in the Literary Pub Mystery series by Sarah Fox. I reviewed the first in the series back in March: Wine and Punishment, and enjoyed it enough that I had to snatch the second mystery up as soon as it came into the library. I can't wait to see what happens with the third in the series. 

This cozy mystery is set in the little town of Shady Creek, Vermont. It's winter, and time for the annual Winter Carnival, a week-long event that includes an ice sculpting contest, a hockey tournament, a parade, and lots of activities for tourists and townspeople. 

Sadie, our intrepid mystery sleuth, continues to run her literary pub The Inkwell, and is a bit melancholy about the upcoming Christmas season--it's her first in her new hometown, and she'll be spending it alone-all her family will be traveling around and no one will be home. But before she can think too much about it, one of the competitors in the ice sculpting contest turns up dead, with an ice pick in his chest. Freddy Mancini, renowned chef and local celebrity, has returned to compete in the ice sculpting contest. But Freddy is a real jerk-so full of himself he alienates those who helped him along the way. He's only in town for one day and he's already angered a lot of people. But who would want to kill him?

Sadie starts to ask questions, and sleuth on the side. Mostly because one of her employees is under suspicion, and Sadie just has to prove Mel's innocence before she's arrested for murder. Add in Sadie's developing crush on Grayson, the local brewery owner, and she's got her hands full. But can she solve the mystery before she finds herself in danger? 

There are a lot of suspects, and every one of them has a reason to see Freddy dead. A second murder creates even more urgency for Sadie, and muddies the waters a bit as she works to solve the murders. I guess it's hard to look at the folks in your small town and realize one or more are killers! But, as cozy mysteries go, you get to know the supporting cast of characters, the town, and some of Sadie's background. All in all, a satisfying second in the series. The story just happens to end on Christmas Day, so somehow I managed to read a Christmas cozy mystery without even trying! 

Rating: 4/6 for a winter cozy mystery that was a quick read. Any mystery that includes a literary pub has me sucked in, and I enjoyed reading this second in a series. You'll be wanting a hot chocolate or coffee with this one, as there is snow, snow, snow featured prominently throughout the story. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

It's December!! Holiday Reads are in the House Wahoo!

Reading holiday novels in December has become an annual tradition for me and something that I look forward to every year. I usually accumulate a few in November and have to sit on my hands to keep myself from not starting them before Thanksgiving. I managed to only read one ahead of December, so I consider that a big win for me. 

Here's what I'll be reading to get myself into the holiday mood:

I haven't read any of this series, and I'm not starting with the first one, but I don't care! Love me some Jenny Colgan. 

A sweet little non-fiction book about achieving comfort at home, American hygge style. 

I'm returning to Charleston again for a ghostly tale in my favorite series. 

Saw this at the bookstore and it was an impulse buy. Don't know much about it! 

 I have a love/hate relationship with Anita Hughes. Her novels are so outside of my reality, but I can't seem to stay away. 

Returning to Ireland for Christmas. Love this series. 

Christmas and romance go together, and I can't resist it. 

I'll probably be reading more than these, too. I'd like to try some cozy mysteries with a holiday theme. My Christmas tree is up and decorated, I'm working on the rest of the house (forcing myself to keep it simple!), and I'm ready to be on the couch with a cup of tea (I love tea AND coffee), a blanket, and some mint chocolate Hershey's kisses. Bring on the holidays!