26 May 2017

Friday Reads 26 May 2017

Friday Reads videos are big on YouTube, so I thought I would try my hand at them myself. I think it will take a few tries for me to figure out the balance between what goes in my book reviews on the blog and what I will talk about in the videos.

22 May 2017

The Little French Bistro by Nina George

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Literary fiction? Romance?
Format: Free digital ARC from First to Read (no compensation in exchange for review)
Heat Level: Subtle -- sex is mentioned, but not explicitly described
Expected publication date: 13 Jun 2017

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and make a purchase, I'll get a few coins to put toward my light bill. You don't want me sitting in the dark, do you?

This book confused me as far as how it should be categorized. Literary fiction? Romance? Women's fiction? I expected it to be cheerful and uplifting. Wouldn't you expect that if the book was described as having "buoyant charm"? Anyway . . .

The Little French Bistro by Nina George is a novel about a woman discovering her power late in life. Marianne has been married for 41 years to a man she is pretty sure doesn't love her. On a vacation to Paris, she decides she can't take it any longer and runs off to Brittany. Once there she slowly reinvents herself and has to decide where she truly belongs.

Having never read any of George's work and knowing little about this novel before requesting it from First to Read, I was expecting a comic chick-lit trifle. Instead, if I had to describe it in one word, I would say "melancholy". The tone and plot similarities (a German woman shows up in a random town after a breakup and makes friends with the locals) reminded me of the 1987 movie Bagdad Cafe.

The description of Marianne's childhood and marriage definitely helped me understand how she got to the point where she wanted to escape her life. I also appreciated reading a book about people closer to my own age. Most of them were at least 60 years old and had all the life experience and heartache to go with their advanced age. Marianne experiences a reawakening that is a welcome reminder that you can't always tamp down your own desires in favor of someone else's preferences.

After the first few chapters, however, this book began to resemble literary fiction, which I do my best to avoid. I mean, I like pretty words as much as any other reader, but I also like dialogue and characters actually doing something. There wasn't much dialogue and when there was dialogue, it was poetic but vague. There was a lot of talk of superstitions and witches and healing and the power of nature and the sea that became tedious to read. The reader is treated to the inner thoughts and reminiscences of each of the characters, but not enough scenes to make us understand why the residents of the small seaside town that Marianne escapes to fall in love with her.  There were incidences of almost magical realism that don't come to fruition.

The Little French Bistro is well written, but it feels more like a meditation on life rather than a story. The reader is given a look into the sadness and melancholy of each character's life, a few lines about how (some of) the characters' lives improved, and then the book is over. Despite the age of the characters, I would have enjoyed this in my late teens when I was into reading all about melancholy and pretty words just for their prettiness. Nowadays I want books that get to the point a little quicker.

The Little French Bistro on Overdrive
The Little French Bistro on Book Depository
The Little French Bistro on Amazon

19 May 2017

Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands Romance Collection

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Christian historical romance, novella collection
Format: Free digital ARC from NetGalley (no compensation for review)
Sweet or hot?: Completely sweet
Expected publication date: 01 Jun 2017

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and make a purchase, I will get a few coins and my coffee budget will thank you. However, if you are skint and have to borrow the book from your library, I understand.

I've read quite a few of these historical romance novella collections but this is the first time I've actually written up a review of one. I'm not sure whether I prefer the collections that have a loose theme or the ones where all the novellas are set in the same town.  Anyway . . .

Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands is a novella collection from Barbour Publishing. The premise that connects all the stories is that Turtle Springs, a small town in Kansas, has lost the majority of its men due to the Civil War. In order to revitalize the town, the women decide to place an ad in several papers around the country for husband auditions that will be held in May 1866. Each of the stories follows a different woman during the time period surrounding the auditions.

My favorite story in the collection is "The Kidnapped Groom" by Susan Page Davis, which is about two kids who "kidnap" a man for their widowed mother so she won't have to go through the husband auditions. The author did a good job of giving the reader a full story within the limitations of a novella's length, which always earns high marks from me. My second favorite is "Louder Than Words" by Gina Welborn, and it is about a reporter who comes to town to write a story about the husband auditions and the local woman he becomes smitten by. Welborn does a great job bringing the characters and their conflict to life, but the story ended too abruptly for me.

As can be expected with Christian romance, the heat level on these books is zero. It is all sweetness and light. There isn't much Christian content, either. "Louder Than Words" addresses a crisis of faith, but the other stories get by with a few Bible verses being quoted at the beginning of the chapters. The lack of heavy sermonizing makes this a collection that can be passed on to a secular friend, but devout Christians might prefer more faith-based content.

This may not be the most well-rounded example of a novella collection, but it is worth checking out. It is just the type of volume to keep on hand when I need a historical romance fix between other books.

Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands on Amazon
Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands at Book Depository

07 May 2017

Sunday Salon: Finding the cozy mystery for me

This past week was Mystery & Thrillers Week at Goodreads, and I took the opportunity to read one of the cozy mysteries from my Overdrive wish list, Hooked on Murder. My overall reaction to it was, "Meh." I could picture my husband's aunts enjoying it, though.

I was ready to say that cozy mysteries aren't for me but after some thought, I'm going to keep looking for just the right series. Although I didn't realize it at the time, Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen is considered a cozy mystery series and I read and enjoyed five of those in rapid succession. I also read and enjoyed a couple of Barbara Bretton's books from her Sugar Maple series. Those are considered paranormal romance but the small town setting gave me a cozy mystery vibe. Perhaps the key to enjoying cozy mysteries for me is to circumvent all the books with punny titles that are set in bakeries and have recipes in the back in order to find a mystery that is historical and/or has a bit of magic in it. Any suggestions?

ABANDONED: I think it is time to admit that I am not going to read Jane Austen's Persuasion. I wanted to try the Serial Reader app and thought that starting with an Austen book would be a good way to ease myself into reading classics. There was also a retelling of this book that I was interested in reading (can't even remember the title now!). I've enjoyed many retellings of Pride and Prejudice without ever having read it but I'm starting to feel a little guilty about that, so I thought I should read the original first this time. That was a month ago and I'm still only 12% done. The language is more twisty than I expected. I realize now that the only other time I attempted Austen was in audio form and I understood it just fine. It sounds like I need to see if my library has Persuasion on audio or give Librovox a try.

CURRENTLY READING: I'm almost done with the Seven Brides for Seven Mail-Order Husbands Romance Collection, which I received as a digital ARC through NetGalley. To be honest, I have read better novella collections from Barbour Publishing, but it is a good book for me to have on the go. Even though I am trying to break out of my historical romance rut, I find myself craving it after I read one or two books from another genre. Novella collections like this are good to keep handy so I can get my fix and then move on.

UPCOMING: I took a detour for Mystery & Thrillers Week, but now it is time to get back to my ARCs. As I've written before, it weighs on me to have them sitting here unread. In addition to the one mentioned above, I have a graphic novel interpretation of The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck and The Little French Bistro by Nina George. I will probably read The Good Earth last because I'm hoping that it will put me in the mood to read the other four graphic novels that have been gathering dust on my bedside table for nearly a year.

So, what are you reading next?

05 May 2017

Hooked on Murder by Betty Hechtman

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Cozy mystery
Format: E-book borrowed from library
Heat level: none

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post and if you click through and buy something, I'll get a few pennies to add tomatoes to my tacos. It doesn't even have to be this book. Thanks!

In keeping with Goodreads' Mystery & Thrillers Week, I picked a mystery from my TBR list and gave it a go. There weren't a lot of choices on my list because I don't read this genre much, and I'm not sure that this is the book to change my mind. Anyway . . .

Hooked on Murder is a cozy mystery and the first book in the Crochet Mystery series. Our amateur sleuth in this series is Molly Pink, a forty-something widow who works as an event planner at a bookstore. At the start of the novel, Molly finds the dead body of Ellen Sheridan, the woman who leads the crochet group that meets at her bookstore. Of course, it is poor timing because the police arrive shortly thereafter and Molly becomes the prime suspect.

Let me start with the good points of this book. When I first saw that the book had a pattern and a recipe, I thought the author was going overboard. However, once I read the book I saw that both had their place and fit in nicely. The way Hechtman turned Molly into a crocheter was smooth, and she extolled the calming nature of needlework without sounding too New Age. I also liked that Molly was trying to carve out space for herself after losing her husband and she wasn't whiny about it. As much as I enjoy reading romances, it made sense to me that a woman who had been with someone for most of her life would want to savor the opportunity to make her own decisions.

Most of this book was bland enough to be inoffensive, but there was one aspect of the story that did annoy me. The jabs that the characters took at knitting got my back up a little. In one passage when Molly goes into a yarn shop for the first time and sees knitters working at a table, she says, 

"I watched their needles clack as they went back and forth on rows of knits and purls. It seemed boring compared to the excitement of going in a circle and then having spaces and yarn going around edges like I'd done in the granny square." 

There is also a showdown of sorts between knitters and crocheters earlier in the book. Maybe it is because I learned to knit and crochet at the same time many years ago and still do both, but I don't appreciate it when practitioners of one craft act as if it is superior to the other craft. As a stitcher on a budget, I didn't appreciate the subtle dig against buying yarn at craft stores like Michaels instead of at specialty yarn shops, either. There weren't many of these insults but enough to alienate at least part of the readership who would be most likely to pick up this book. I also wonder if this sentiment runs through every book in the series.

On top of all that, the recipe and the pattern at the back of the book were both rather basic. I imagine that the audience for this kind of book would already be experienced crocheters so a simple granny square would not appeal to them. The cake recipe didn't look like anything special, either.

Hooked on Murder ticks all the boxes on the contemporary cozy mystery checklist. There is the over-40 amateur sleuth, the boyfriend in law enforcement, the baked goods, and the craft theme. I wasn't able to predict the murderer, which is always good when reading a mystery. There wasn't anything especially compelling about the book, though. If it were a TV show, it would be the type of show that my kids used to watch with their grandmother because there was nothing questionable for either demographic. I can think of a few aunties to buy this for, but I can't see myself continuing with the series.

Hooked on Murder at Amazon
Hooked on Murder at Book Depository

02 May 2017

Sex Appeal by Lori Foster

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Contemporary romance
Format: E-book borrowed from library
Heat level: Somewhere between warm and hot; sex is described but not at the erotica level

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post and if you click through and buy something, I'll get a few pennies to add tomatoes to my tacos. It doesn't even have to be this book. Thanks!

I don't know why this book was on my library wish list. I thought it might have been on that NPR list of 100 swoon-worthy romances that they posted a couple years ago, but it wasn't. Surely I must have gotten the recommendation from some romance review blog or podcast because I've avoided Harlequins since high school. Anyway . . .

Sex Appeal follows the nearly instant romance between Shadow Callahan and Brent Bramwell. The book is set during winter, and Brent takes a spill on the ice right in front of Shadow's novelty shop. She has an immediate attraction to him and tries to sign him up for a sexiest-man-in-town contest that all the shop owner's in the strip mall are participating in to drum up business. He is attracted to her, so of course, he pretends to go along with it -- for the time being.

This book is better than the Harlequin romances I read in high school, in that there was snappy banter between the hero and heroine that kept me turning pages. However, it does have the same problem that plagues many category romances, or at least the ones I've read. There isn't much real conflict keeping the couple apart. The B-plot that was supposed to add suspense was predictable and did more to push the couple together than to separate them. The characters just needed to wake up to what was right in front of them and then the story was over.

At 224 pages, Sex Appeal is a quick romance perfect for deck chair reading on your next cruise. It is part of Harlequin Temptation's Blaze/Heat line, so you may only want to hand it off to your more liberal cousin.

Sex Appeal on Amazon