26 March 2017

Sunday Salon: It's a Wash

In January, I wrote a post about reading only from my TBR list until the end of March. I also tried to resist the urge to add any new books during that time. Well, we are almost at the end of March and I'd say that I broke even. I read eight books that have been on my radar for a while, but they came from the free books on my iPad and my wish list at the library. This means my Goodreads TBR list didn't decrease at all. In fact, it increased because I added six books. So, like I said, the challenge was a wash. I'm still going to make an effort to get through the books on my lists, either by reading or purging.

One thing this personal challenge caused me to do is to think more carefully before I add a title to my TBR list. I added six titles in the past three months but there were about 15 titles that I didn't add. My routine has been to add any book whose title I want to remember, and then every few months I delete titles that no longer interest me. There are worse ways to kill time on a lazy afternoon than clearing out my TBR list, but I'd rather spend that time reading.

I also came to the realization that I don't finish books as quickly as I thought. I've read 14 books total since the beginning of the year, but I expected to read twice that many in the space of three months. The reading itself goes quickly, but when I put a book down it takes longer for me to pick it back up. I don't seem to need reading as an escape as much right now as I have during other times of my life. For instance, this time last year I was working a stressful job and I picked up a book every chance I got. I finished 24 books by the end of March 2016 and 11 of those books were novella collections with at least five stories each so they were LONG books. I know that reading isn't a race, but I'm sure I would get more enjoyment out of a book than with whatever else I'm wasting time on.

The last thing that slowed down the clearing-out of my TBR list was that I signed up for NetGalley. In the past, I only requested advanced reader copies (ARCs) occasionally and rarely received them; before this year, I think I only read and reviewed two. However, it occurred to me that I could provide a better reader experience by reviewing some upcoming releases along with the backlist titles. With my past experience, I requested several ARCs at once because I expected that I would have to wait a while to get any. Boy, was I wrong! I got every title I asked for almost immediately. I know that there are bloggers who stack up ARCs and keep requesting more as if it is no big deal, but the pressure of the looming publication date weighs me down. If I don't write a review for each ARC before its publication date I know that I will feel guilty. Currently, I've reviewed two ARCs and have four to read, so I won't be requesting any more for a while. After I read these, I want to get back to knocking titles off my TBR list.

23 March 2017

The Second Chance Tea Shop by Fay Keenan

The Second Chance Tea Shop (Little Somerby)

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Women's fiction, contemporary romance
Format: Free ARC obtained through NetGalley (no compensation for review)
Sweet or hot?: Medium; a few sex scenes, a few curse words

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.

The Second Chance Tea Shop by Fay Keenan chronicles the courtship of Anna Hemingway and Matthew Carter. Anna is a widow with a three-year-old daughter who has returned to her hometown to run the local tea shop and finally get out from under the oppressive grief of losing her husband two years prior. Matthew is the managing director of the local cider farm, and he has a few issues of his own. The book follows them during a year of activities in their village of Little Somerby.

My first thought after finishing this book is that title is slightly misleading. The tea shop of the title does not play as big a role in the story as I expected. With books like The Friday Night Knitting Club and The Shop on Blossom Street, a lot of the action is in the shop or concerns various patrons of the shop. In this book, the shop really is just a place where the heroine works. The regulars are mentioned but they aren't fleshed out in a way that would make the book feel like it had an ensemble cast.There are a few times where Keenan seems to remember the title and makes a reference to the shop being Anna's saving grace, but I didn't get the feeling that it was central to the plot.

Other than that, there was plenty to like about this book. Keenan paints a picture of the village and the various events that makes you want to tarry a while. She gives readers a portrayal of Anna's grieving process that felt realistic without bringing the tone of the book down too much. The kids in the book add to the story without being annoying. Although there is a bit of drama in the second half of the book, it isn't of the nail-biting sort.

The only aspect that could stop you from recommending this book to your maiden auntie is the sex scenes. There isn't exactly the explicit detailing of Card A going into Slot B, but the scenes don't fade to black, either; the lights are on the whole time. It's nowhere near 50 Shades of Grey, but it is surprising considering the tone of the majority of the book.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley where the publication date is listed as 01 Apr 2017. However, it seems that the book was actually released on 10 Mar 2017. So if you would like to escape into a bit of light romance while the kids are driving you crazy over spring break, give this a try.

15 March 2017

Behind the Scenes by Jen Turano

Behind the Scenes (Apart from the Crowd, #1)

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Christian historical romance
Format: Free ARC obtained through NetGalley
Expected publication date: 04 Apr 2017
Sweet or hot?: Definitely sweet

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.

Unlike many readers, I don't have a list of "auto-buy" authors, but if I did then Jen Turano would probably be on it. I've never been disappointed by any of her books. That is why I jumped at the chance to get an ARC when I found out she was writing a new series, even though requesting ARCs is not a regular part of my book blogging life. Anyway . . .

Behind the Scenes is set in 1883 and follows the romance of Permilia Griswold and Asher Rutherford. Both characters were introduced in the free novella that started the series, At Your Request. Permilia is a wealthy young woman whose forthright manner and late debut have relegated her to the wallflower section at events. Since wallflowers are generally ignored, this allows her to secretly write about the fashionable set as gossip columnist Miss Quill. Asher Rutherford is the owner of a highly popular department store and the subject of a death threat that Permilia overheard at the society event of the year. Unfortunately, she didn't see the faces of the assassin and his client. As they say, hijinks ensue when Permilia and Asher try to stay one step ahead of the killer while trying to figure out who he is.

I hope my summary doesn't make this sound like a thriller because it isn't. It is closer to a cozy mystery than a thriller, except there is no body. This book, like all of Turano's novels, is light fun. It is a romance, after all. We know the hero and heroine will make it to the end of the book; the mystery is a reason for them to keep getting thrown together so we can enjoy their delightful dialogue, which I can hear clearly in my head as I read.

Turano's style isn't preachy, so she doesn't beat the reader over the head with the messages in her books. Asher questions whether he should be more "masculine" like the alpha males around him. Permilia wonders she couldn't keep working with her father in his mining business instead of being sent to the city to be turned into a lady. Gender equality, being who you are, finding God's path for your life -- these concepts are all worked into the story naturally. Although I am a Christian, I do appreciate reading a "clean" book that doesn't feel like a Bible study.

As is customary with romance series these days, this book does not end in a cliffhanger. There are a few minor loose ends that will draw you to the next book in the series for more information, but the main plot of this book is definitely wrapped up at the end. If you pick this up when it is released 04 Apr 2017, it would make a lovely spring break read.

Behind the Scenes at Amazon
Behind the Scenes at Book Depository

14 March 2017

Bring on the Blessings by Beverly Jenkins

Bring on the Blessings

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Women's fiction
Format: Kindle e-book
Sweet or hot?: Sweet; there are references to sex but no explicit scenes and a few four-letter words

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.

Beverly Jenkins is an author whose name is bandied about a lot on blogs and podcasts that focus on romance novels. In fact, if those were your only sources of information, you may come to believe that Jenkins is the only black romance author in America. She is certainly the first one mentioned whenever someone asks for romances written by people of color. Because I tend to be a contrary soul, I have resisted picking up any of her books partly for that reason. However, in an effort to break out of my rut and read more black authors, I picked up one of her books. Leave it to me to pick one of the few books in her catalog that isn't a romance! Anyway . . .

Bring on the Blessings starts off with the story of how Bernadine Brown became a multimillionaire and decided to put her money to good use. In her case, that turned out to be buying a town that was deeply in debt. Since it was one of the original townships set up by freed slaves after the Civil War, many people are interested in keeping it alive and preserving its history. Add in a few foster kids and some townspeople who aren't happy about the town's new owner, and you have the setup for this novel.

I would say that this book would be filed under "women's fiction" rather than romance. It endeavors to be the story of the redemption of a town and as such follows an ensemble cast rather than focusing on one hero and heroine. There are slight romantic elements but they aren't the main focus of the book. The majority of the characters, including the romantic couples, are over 30 which makes a refreshing change from the 18-year-old virgins in most of the historical romances I read. Yes, I said "couples" because there are two couples making eyes at each other. One doesn't end up together (yet) and the conflict keeping the other couple apart is solved with one quick conversation. There is a nod to a third possible couple that may get together in a future book.

This is the first book of six, and it feels like it. I didn't get hooked by the story until about 50% of the way into it because the first half involved fleshing out the details already disclosed in the summary. This isn't necessarily a bad thing when all six books have already been published and I can get the next one at the click of a button on my library's website. I would have been more disappointed if I was reading this back in 2009 when it was published and had to wait another year for the next book.

I get the feeling from this first entry in the Blessings series that these will be what I call gentle books. Nothing momentous happens; any conflicts are resolved quickly. Some people may call that dull or unrealistic, but I think there is a readership for books where a white knight (who happens to be a black woman for a change -- huzzah!) sweeps in with a seemingly bottomless purse and a magic contact list to solve all the problems. The key to making this kind of story enjoyable is to create characters that a reader wants to spend time with, and I think Jenkins has done just that. I'll definitely be reading the next book.

Bring on the Blessings at Overdrive
Bring on the Blessings at Book Depository
Bring on the Blessings at Amazon

01 March 2017

Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister

Farewell, Dorothy Parker

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Women's fiction, fantasy
Format: mp3 audiobook downloaded from public library
Sweet or hot?: Medium; no graphic sex scenes but the F-bomb is dropped several times

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.

This is one of those books that I'm never sure how to classify. It is closer to women's fiction than chick lit or romance. There is a ghost but I wouldn't call it fantasy and it is definitely not horror. There are serious themes but it is too light to be magical realism, which is more literary. I guess I'll just call it "fiction" and move on . . .

Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister is the story of  Violet Epps, a movie critic who writes biting reviews for a prominent weekly entertainment magazine but is timid in her real life. At the start of the story, Violet has several tough issues to face but crippling social anxiety is keeping her from handling them well. She schedules lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, frequent dining spot of Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle, to calm herself and gather strength to do what needs to be done. Little did she know that the spirit of Dorothy Parker herself would hitch a ride in her handbag.

I experienced this story on audio and I can't imagine doing it any other way. While Angela Brazil is not one of my favorite narrators, I adored her Dorothy Parker voice. It made me picture bobbed hair, cocktail glasses, and 1930s movies. I don't think I could conjure that voice in my head if I was reading it on the page.

Technically this isn't a novel about time travel because Dorothy Parker is a ghost, but it still hit those beats for me. The conversations between Violet and Dorothy Parker, where they were making comparisons between the culture of the past and the present day, were some of the best in the book. Meister says in the author's note at the end that she is a longtime fan of Dorothy Parker, and it shows in the writing. Meister also did a good job conveying the importance of the events in Violet's life that turned her into a meek, unassuming adult. We as readers do spend a good bit of time in Violet's head revisiting some events but it never feels like a rehash because Meister shows us something new each time we go back.

I'd say that this is a good book for anyone who wants to take a break from all the "murder with a side of pie" mystery novels that seem to be marketed to women my age. Romance is not a focus of the story so you can hand this book to your Aunt Pearl without worrying about sex scenes, but you may want to warn her that the F-word comes up once or twice.

Farewell, Dorothy Parker at Overdrive
Farewell, Dorothy Parker at Amazon
Farewell, Dorothy Parker at Book Depository

27 February 2017

Sprucing up the old blog

There are changes afoot! I've been adjusting a few things with this blog, hoping to make it more accessible and make the content more compelling. Here are a few of the adjustments:

--I changed "girl" to "gal" in the blog name. I was afraid that "Average Girl Reads" would mislead readers into thinking they would find a lot of young adult book reviews here. Besides, I can still be a gal at 50, right?

--I signed up as an affiliate for Amazon and Book Depository. You may have already seen the links in some of my recent reviews. I know that book lovers in this modern age want to be able to click through and purchase a book if a review strikes their fancy, so I wanted to make it convenient for my readers. The extra affiliate pennies I earn will also help keep my coffee cup filled, which will enable me to read more books. See, it's a cycle.

--Since I know what it is like to not have an unlimited budget for books, I will include the Overdrive link for a book if it is available. It is my understanding that this is the e-book service used by a large number of public libraries, including my own. If your library uses a different service, let me know and I can try to add those links, as well.

--When Google Reader shut down years ago, I never replaced it with another RSS reader. Instead, I started following the Facebook and Twitter feeds of blogs that I really wanted to keep up with. So, in that vein, I started a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account for this blog. In those feeds, you will get notifications of when I post new reviews to the blog, of course, as well as additional random bookish thoughts I may have throughout the day.

--Lastly, I signed up with NetGalley and First to Read in an attempt to get advanced reader copies (ARCs) of upcoming releases. When I started this blog, it was partly to show love to public libraries and the backlist books. I am still all about that, but now I think it might be fun to add reviews of a few new books to spice things up. There seems to be a lot of competition for these digital galleys so I may not get very many, but I'm giving it a go.