Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ah! 2021--A Clean Slate! What I'm Reading in January

 It never fails-each late December I put away my decorations and decide I want to clean up, declutter, get in shape, eat healthy, and get organized. That lasts about a week, and then falls apart. I've been doing this all my adult life, and I feel the urge rising again. Calendar? Planner? Weekly meal prep? An excel sheet with all my books, alphabetized and color coded, with reading goals for each month? A plan to clean out closets, a basement, a garage? Plan a garden? Organize paperwork? Geez, I'd have to be a wonder woman to get any of it done. 

Oh, I can feel it, rising like sap in a tree. But this time I'm beating it all down. Nope. Not going to do it. I'm going to enjoy the heck out of 2021, and that means setting realistic goals in everything I do so I'm not setting myself up for failure. That means, (although it pains me!) that I'm not going to set a reading goal this year. And I'm going to read whatever I like and whatever interests me. No pressure to read what everyone else is reading; no pushing through a book that just doesn't capture my attention. If it takes me two weeks to finish a book, then so what? Life seems to be busier, somehow, and I just don't have the ability to fly through 3-4 books a week like I used to. Now it's 1-2. Let that anxiety go! 

I hope you also start off 2021 fresh and excited, too. I've got a lot of books calling for me this month. January is usually my best reading month, and right now the snow is coming down hard outside and we're in the middle of a winter storm warning. I'll be shoveling a lot of wet, heavy snow later on tonight. So January, yes it is my month where I read a lot. We'll see what I get through this month. Here's what's on tap:

Looks like I'm making up for my lack of historical fiction in 2020 this month. I've had The Arctic Fury and The Lady Brewer of London sitting at home for weeks now with the aim of reading them in January. The Children's Blizzard I've read about in David Laskin's non-fiction book from 2005--which was amazing! This is a fictional account of that terrible disaster and I can't wait to read it. The Wife Upstairs I just received for my December BOTM. Another domestic thriller with shades of Jane Eyre. The Mystery of Mrs. Christie is a fictional exploration of the strange disappearance and re-appearance of Agatha Christie that has stumped people for decades. 

Right now I'm finishing up Jolene by Mercedes Lackey, and The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler. I haven't made it through my stack of holiday reads, and I may need to set them aside. I fall rapidly out of holiday read mode once December is over. 

That's my January list. I'm excited to start another year of blogging. This will be my eleventh year! Oh my golly. I think I'll be pulling up some of my past posts throughout the year, and I'll be doing something special in March to mark my eleventh year as a book blogger. I've got to admit, my 10 year anniversary slipped by in the crazy days of March 2020, and heck, I didn't even realize 2020 was my tenth year until just now. So we'll celebrate eleven years instead. 

Have a safe and Happy New Year! 

Sending you all a big socially distanced hug-

The Bookalicious Babe

Saturday, December 26, 2020

My Top 20 of 2020: The Books that Powered Me Through a Pandemic and a Derecho (Along with Carbs and Cocktails)

 I'm trying very hard not to fall into the trap of thinking once it's 2021 things miraculously get better for all of us. As it is, I'm tiptoeing through the last five days of 2020 holding on tight to my partner's hand and seeing what each day brings. 

This was, officially, the first Christmas I've had where I've enjoyed cocktails at noon while opening gifts in my jammies. Just an FYI: a grasshopper tastes delicious on Christmas Day. 

As I was lounging around this morning, I started thinking about my top ten books for 2020. I looked at my list, and knew it would be hard to narrow it down, but I thought I'd give it a try. 

It didn't work.

So, in keeping with 2020 and all the topsy-turvy things it brought us, I've decided to present my Top 20 for 2020. I read some pretty good stuff, I must say. I didn't get into much non-fiction, or even historical fiction. I need to be better about reading more diverse voices. However, I see a lot of books that helped me forget all the troubles and worries this past year, even if only for a hour or two. For that, I am so very grateful. Even those weeks where I struggled to finish anything, books helped me tremendously. I present to you my Top 20 for 2020:

I've deliberately not put them in order because darn it all, that's just simply too tough for me to decide. However, I will say The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James and Wife After Wife by Olivia Hayfield are definitely my top two. A haunted motel, and a modern retelling of Henry VIII and his wives are certainly two very different novels, but they were fantastic and I've thought about them all year. 

The Bear, oh, the bear. It caught me by surprise and was just beautiful. It's short, so it won't take you long to read. However, it will get you in all the feels. Mexican Gothic was just flat out gothic horror with a twist, and I absolutely love Silvia Moreno-Garcia's writing. Alice Hoffman's Magic Lessons: I gulped it down. I can't get enough of her witchy tales. 

The Underground Railroad definitely gave me plenty of visceral reactions. Astounding, and profoundly moving. Brilliant. Colson Whitehead deserves every accolade he gets. If you've never read Abbi Waxman, I'm here to tell you to start. Her smart-aleck, sassy ladies are a delight to read. The Midnight Library will have you wondering "what if?" over and over. The Chill was so damn good. Ghostly grudges are not pretty. 

I hope you get a chance to read some of my favorites from 2020. My TBR list for 2021 is already filling up fast for January. I didn't get to read everything I had piled up at home; some books I started and couldn't finish. I've been trying hard to give myself a break this year for not finding my reading groove. I've thought about the reading choices I make, and why. I've felt like I can do better in looking outside my reading comfort zone and exploring more authors and cultures-and more genres. 

I was happily surprised to receive a healthy gift card balance for Christmas to indulge in my book buying habits. Let's see if I can manage to make those gift cards last into Spring. 

What are your favorite reads of 2020? What do you look forward to reading in 2021?

I wish all of you a very Happy New Year, filled with plenty of time to read or listen to your books, and a wish for health and peace for all. 

Thank you for your continued support! 

The Bookalicious Babe💕💕

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Two Novels by Pamela Kelley: The Restaurant and Christmas at the Restaurant

 In my quest to read holiday novels, I picked up Christmas at the Restaurant at my library a week ago. As I started to read it, I realized I had The Restaurant sitting on my bookcase. I had picked it up a few months ago and never got around to reading it. So...I had to read it first before I read the follow up Christmas novel. You're getting two reviews in one post today, Christmas Eve. 

This was a quick read, and I'd recommend Pamela Kelley's novels to anyone who likes a gentle read with likable characters and a uncomplicated plot. That is not to say this was a dull book at all! As a matter of fact, it felt like a good visit with friends I hadn't seen in awhile. Three sisters: Emma, Mandy, and Jill, all have busy lives. Mandy lives in Nantucket with her husband and kids; Jill leads a busy life in corporate Manhattan, and Emma lives in Arizona with her professor husband. Their beloved  grandmother passes away, and leaves them a surprise: they, along with Chef Paul, are owners of Mimi's Place; a local restaurant. Mimi's has been in operation on Nantucket for decades, and is a favorite place for their family to enjoy special occasions. Unbeknownst to the sisters, their grandmother secretly owned it. 

Now, the sisters must work at the restaurant for a year. After a year, they can decide to keep it, or sell it. Paul, the chef, was a favorite of their grandmother, and he is a talented chef. He's also the high school sweetheart of Emma.

All of the sisters are going through some changes: Emma's husband has left her for another man; Mandy's husband has come clean about extramarital affairs; Jill is secretly in love with her business partner, long time friend Billy. Mimi's is their chance to take a breather, concentrate on something other than their personal lives, and give themselves some time together-time they have been lacking lately. 

There's food and wine galore in this novel, and it all sounds delicious. The plot moves along pretty quickly, and there aren't any huge surprise moments. Just a year in the life of three sisters and the restaurant they now own. I say this is a gentle read because there isn't any violence or sex scenes. At most there's some chaste kissing. And I was fine with that. 

Now, onto Christmas at the Restaurant.

This novel takes place a year after The Restaurant. It's Christmas time in Nantucket, and there are activities and traditions galore. Jill and Billy return to spend the month of December in Nantucket, working remotely and spending time at Mimi's helping out each week. Mimi's has had a resurgence of popularity, thanks to some changes the sisters and Paul made, and it's always busy with regulars and tourists. 

Mandy's divorce is going through, and she's found a new calling organizing events at Mimi's. Emma and Paul are going strong; together they keep Mimi's running smoothly. Mandy has a chance at a new romance with Matt, a local fisherman; she's happy to date, but isn't sure about jumping into a relationship. 

There's Gina, the bartender, who is fairly new to Nantucket, but loves working at Mimi's and is settling into her job and community. She's ready for romance, but what's a lady to do when two men, both very different, ask her out on dates? 

This was a really fast read; I started it last night and finished it early this morning (just couldn't stay awake last night!). Even though I immediately picked it up after finishing The Restaurant, I was happy to continue reading about Emma, Jill, and Mandy. Nantucket sounds like a pretty wonderful place to visit. More delicious food and plenty of wine in this novel, too. 

Ratings: 3/6 for each novel. I enjoyed both novels, getting to know Nantucket, and the simple enjoyment of people living their lives and finding happiness in everyday moments. I felt the characters could be developed a bit more, but overall, I will keep reading this series. 

Available in paperback and e-book.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

12 Men for Christmas by Phillipa Ashley


If you're looking for some steam for Christmas, this is the novel to read. A contemporary romance that takes place in the Lake District of England, this was a quick read I picked up at B&N last month. 

Emma Tremayne left her job in London for a quiet place to heal her broken heart. Definitely a fish out of water; a city girl in the country. Her new job with the tourist board in the town of Bannerdale has brought her into contact with the rescue team in town. They are raising money to build a new center; their current digs are pretty small and dumpy. Her idea: a calendar featuring the men-naked. One for each month. These men are super fit, handsome, and perfect for a calendar; now to just convince them. Especially one man in particular: Will Tennant. He's completely against it. 

Sparks fly between Emma and Will, and for most of the novel, both are hit and miss in their interactions. But it's clear there's something building between them, and when it does explode...there's some heat! 

Can the two of them work their way through misunderstandings to find true happiness together? Well, of course they can. However, it's a bit of a bumpy road. 

Most of this novel does not take place at Christmas, except for the very end. Will is tapped to be Mr. December on the calendar; otherwise, there's not much holiday in this. But I didn't mind at all. I am annoyed, however, that Emma is described as having dark hair, but by golly she's a blonde on the cover. Ugh. 

This was also a movie on Lifetime starring Kristin Chenoweth ( I can see her as Emma--a blonde Emma!) but it looks like the movie is from 2009? Anyway, I'd love to watch it if I can find it. 

Rating: 4/6 for a holiday romance with plenty of steam, a hunky hero, and a cast of characters that are charming. 

Available in paperback and e-book. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Mrs. Morris and the Ghost of Christmas Past by Traci Wilton


Christmas cozy mysteries are a fairly new addition to my December reading, but they have quickly become favorites. This mystery, the third in the Salem B&B Mystery series, can be read on its own. I haven't read the first two, but I will probably go back and read them; mostly because I enjoyed this mystery and the characters. If you're interested in the first two in the series, they are Mrs. Morris and the Ghost, and Mrs. Morris and the Witch.

What drew me to this mystery: it takes place in Salem, MA, and there's a ghost involved. Mrs. Morris is Charlene, a recent transplant from Chicago. She's bought an old mansion and turned it into a B&B. That mansion has a ghost named Jack: a handsome ghost who only Charlene can see and talk to. There's a bit of flirty behavior going on between Charlene and Jack, but, well...kind of hard to see a future with a ghostly guy. Charlene moved to Salem to start fresh after her husband's untimely death. Now it's two years later, and while still not ready to invest in a new relationship, she does enjoy a slow simmering attraction to Sam, a Salem detective. 

It's a week before Christmas, and Charlene's parents are visiting. Her Mom is a bit of a pill, and her Dad is charming. A supper out at the local popular Italian restaurant Bella's begins this cozy mystery. A fundraiser for the local children's foster home has plenty of people at the restaurant, and when co-owner David gets up to speak, the excitement builds. He just won ten million in the lottery, and he's about to hand out a few checks. One check will help Felicity House expand and provide shelter for even more children in need. However, David's checks aren't quite what everyone expected, and in the midst of outrage, David heads outside, only to be hit by a car and left for dead in the street. 

There are lots of people who are suspects, and I honestly didn't know until close to the end who actually killed David. Was it the money hungry younger wife? His business partner? His son, angry over his Dad's lack of attention? Charlene just can't help herself, and starts asking questions. She may just put herself in danger if she isn't careful. 

This was a fun mystery. The focus is mostly on local restaurants and shops; some Salem tourist attractions are mentioned, too. A lot of the tension in the book comes from Charlene and her mother, who isn't happy her only daughter has moved away from Chicago. She also wants Charlene to find another partner, and is a bit pushy when she finds out about Sam. There's Jack, who has feelings for Charlene, and doesn't like to see Sam around. Yes, he's a ghost. Suspending belief is required! 

This helped me stay in the holiday mood over the weekend while I was baking cookies and hanging out at my boyfriend's non-holidayish home. We did finally get out a few things to make it look more festive-however my house is decorated and I missed being with my tree this weekend! I'm home tonight, tree lit and holiday scented candles burning. 

Off to my next holiday read-take care and spend some time soaking up the season! 

Rating: 3/6 for an entertaining cozy mystery. Easy to follow, even though it is the third in the series. For those who love quick reads, likeable characters, and the charm of Salem, Massachusetts, I'd recommend this series. 

Available in paperback and e-book.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Two Holiday Novels: Happily This Christmas by Susan Mallery & One Charmed Christmas by Sheila Roberts

 'Tis the season! All the holiday books! Yay! I decided to deliver two holiday book reviews in this post since I read these back to back over the weekend. A big shout out to my friend Lee B. for passing on these two books to me to get my Christmas reading moving along. 

I'll start with Happily This Christmas by Susan Mallery. 

This is part of the Happily Inc series (book #6) so I am sure I missed a few things because I haven't read any of the other books. However, there is plenty here that makes it feel like a standalone, so don't hesitate to read it and then if you like, go back to the other books in the series. 

Officer Garrick McCabe lives next door to Wynn Beauchene, but they've never really met each other. Wynn has certainly noticed Garrick-how could she avoid checking him out when he mows his yard shirtless? While both have noticed the other, neither is in any hurry to make the first move. Until Garrick's young daughter Joylyn is heading to his place to stay through Thanksgiving. Her husband is in the military and is away on duty, and Joylyn is eight months pregnant and, quite frankly super crabby and bitter. Garrick enlists Wynn's help in making his home look more comfortable and homey for his daughter, and from there, romance blooms. Slowly, for sure, but at a steady pace. Wynn has a lot of friends in Happily, Inc (this is the actual name of the town) and has a pretty good life as single mom to her teen son Hunter. She is, however, ready to begin looking for love and a relationship after many years on her own. Can Garrick be her happily ever after?

In One Charmed Christmas, a cruise down the Rhine River finds a group of people coming together to enjoy what is sure to be an interesting trip. Some romance, some new friendships, and a few life changes are in store. Catherine, a widowed woman who is going to have chemotherapy in the new year for her cancer, and her friend Denise are on board. Denise has talked Catherine into coming along on the cruise after another friend cancelled. Catherine's two grown children have already made plans for Christmas which don't include their mother, and she's decided to take a chance and have some fun. Sophie and Sierra are two sisters who find a few surprising truths on the cruise. Finally, there's Rudy, a retired doctor, and his daughter Athena. After a terrible second marriage, Athena is determined to protect her father from any other money hungry women. 

All of these characters (and a few more!) form friendships on the cruise. I have to admit, this sounds like a cruise I would want to take--stopping at all of the towns along the river; eating German pastries and fabulous food, shopping at Christmas markets--sounds like heaven to me (pre Covid-19, of course)! This was definitely a different and refreshing holiday tale-first one I've read where the majority of the story is on a cruise ship. 

There is romance a plenty in each novel, but nothing over the top. Enjoyed both novels, and they got me in the mood for Christmas--that and the snow that fell Friday night. I'd have to say One Charmed Christmas has a slight edge over Happily This Christmas if I have to vote on a favorite. 

Happily This Christmas: 4/6

One Charmed Christmas: 4/6 

Both are available in paperback and ebook. 

Monday, December 7, 2020

Fox Crossing by Melinda Metz


So far in December I've read a few books that have nothing to do with this holiday season. I found this book when I was looking at new paperbacks at B&N and it certainly gave me the winter feels. The blurb on the cover says "A novel of a small town, love, luck, and one extra-special fox...". Sealed the deal for me. I absolutely love reading about small towns. This small town is in Maine; Fox Crossing has a population of 713. It's also the last stop before people start back on the Appalachian Trail, so it definitely sees a lot of hikers from all over the country. 

Annie Hatherley works and manages her family's outfitting shop-Hatherley's Outfitters. She's an experienced trail guide and works as an extractor-someone who goes out to find people in trouble on the trail and returns them to safety. She's a prickly one, is Annie. She routinely gets angry at customers who come into her store, naively thinking they are ready to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness. She knows exactly what they need to survive and thrive on the trail, and woe to those who don't listen to Annie's advice. Into her store comes Nick Ferrone, a man from Bensalem who has decided to hike the 100 mile trail--and isn't exactly as prepared as he seems. Sparks fly between Annie and Nick-attraction mixed with annoyance. Nick reluctantly accepts a tracker from Annie that will show his location to her and if he gets in trouble, she will be able to find him on the trail. 

Nick, of course, gets in trouble, and Annie saves his life. Their attraction is growing, but Annie knows he's only in town for a few weeks, and he'll leave. She's a capable, strong Hatherley woman who doesn't need a man to be happy. 

The fun part of this novel is about the fox. This fox, known around town as The Fox, is part of the town lore and people continue to believe in the power of the fox. When this distinctive fox shows up, good things happen to those who see it. Not seen for quite some time, the fox is popping up here and there, and yes indeed, things begin to happen. 

At first, the novel seems a bit slow; however I did love getting to know the townspeople: Banana, Honey, Belle, and Shoo Fly are just some of the colorful characters. It didn't take much for me to fall deep into this story. Something about the small town vibe, the connection to nature, and the feeling of a place where people go to let the outdoors work magic on their souls. The tension between Annie and Nick is a major part of the plot, and if you're anything like me; well, Annie got a bit annoying with her stubbornness. However, she does evolve after some hard truths hit her, which had me heaving a sign of relief! Yes, I felt the novel had a slow start, but then it picked up and I couldn't put it down.

I so enjoyed this book: the people, the setting, the emphasis on living with nature and learning from it. The healing that nature can do if we just be still. The glimpse into hiking the Appalachian Trail (which, in another life, I'd be interested in doing-at least bits of it) and all the preparation and planning that goes into such an undertaking. It all comes together into a novel that was a surprise find for me, and all because the cover caught my eye. I guess that fox can do magic for me, too. 

Rating: 4/6 for an novel about a small town, the connections people have to each other, the nature that surrounds them, and taking a chance on love. Perfect for those who like small town novels and animals. 

Available in paperback and ebook.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Frontier Follies by Ree Drummomd


I've watched Ree's cooking show (The Pioneer Woman) off and on for years, and have purchased a few of her cookbooks. She's got some pretty divine recipes--if you haven't tried her cheesy olive bread, please do. It is flat out amazing (just ignore the calories, please). I've eaten it just for a meal and didn't feel one lick of guilt.

I read her first book, Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels years ago, and enjoyed her stories of meeting and marrying Ladd, her ranch-owning cowboy, and their first years together. This book, however, is more of a short essay collection, which I loved! Stories about raising her children, her in-laws, learning to live on a ranch after being a city girl; all the oops moments over the years. Her love for Ladd is never wavering, and I find it so refreshing that after twenty-five years of marriage, they are still madly in love with each other. Ree doesn't hesitate to own up to her own mistakes and how she's learned from them. There is nothing in this collection of essays that will bring you down; in fact, it made me grin reading it. If anything, Ree reminds us that life is ever changing and always interesting, even in the quiet moments. 

This would make a perfect gift for anyone who loves Ree's blog or cooking show--it also explains all the flowers! I always wondered. And Ree, I get it. I love them, too. 

Take some time to read this book. You can pick it up, read a few chapters, and put it down. There is no timeline; it's just as if she sat down and had a conversation with you that kept evolving. Perfect for when you want to read a little, or a lot, after a busy day. 

Rating: 5/6 for a supremely enjoyable look at life on a ranch in Oklahoma, parenthood, and a long-lasting marriage. There is even a chapter on her love of dogs. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.