Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Hidden Gem Books I Read in 2016

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish is Ten Hidden Gem Books I Read in 2016.  There are so many great books that not nearly enough people have read - or at least not rated on Goodreads!  I'm sticking with books I loved that have less than 200 ratings on Goodreads.

1.  Send in the Clowns by Julie Mulhern (135 Reviews) - This series is one of my absolute favorite cozy mystery series.  It's set in the 1970s and feels very much like it's set during the time but not like the setting is a gimmick.  The mysteries are always fantastic, the characters are interesting, and Mulhern has the most amazing Pinterest boards where you can actually see her inspiration for the clothes, cars, and everything else in her books.  If you've never read a cozy mystery this is a fantastic series to start with.

2.  Body in the Bayou by Ellen Byron (186 Reviews) - This is another cozy series and is set in the bayous of Louisiana.  This is a setting I'm super familiar with and I can tell that the author is as well as it's perfectly done.  The first two books in this series are both super entertaining and have just been a joy to read.

3.  Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France by Thad Carhart (101 Reviews)- This part memoir part history lesson is just lovely.  I loved getting to know the Carhart family (especially the mother who is my new personal hero.  I'm pretty sure that nothing shocked that woman) and learn about life in post-World War II France and thoroughly enjoying getting chapters on the history of France all centered around an amazing former residence of royalty.

4.  Better Get to Livin' by Sally Kilpatrick (83 Rating) - This was an accidental NetGalley request.  I'm not usually a quirky small town reader but this was so much fun without being silly.  I was absolutely delighted with it and if you enjoy small town stories with some seriously quirky characters this is one that absolutely should not be missed.

5.  How Secrets Die by Marta Perry (103 Ratings) - Another quirky small town but this one has a heavy dose of suspense, a sizable helping of characters making their peace with the past, and just a nice dollop of romance.  I'm excited that Perry has a sizable backlist because she's definitely an author I want to see lots more of!

6.  The Rain Sparrow by Linda Goodnight ((174 ratings) - I requested this one off of NetGalley the second I saw it took place in an inn without noticing the darkness of some of the other plot points.  I'm glad I didn't notice them because they may have kept me from reading what was one of my favorite books of 2016.  In a dual timeline book there's usually one timeline that is so much more interesting than the other but this was a rare exception.  I loved all the characters and was so very invested in all the stories.

7.  A Reckless Desire by Isabella Bradford (158 ratings) - This is the 3rd book in a trilogy about brothers and my favorite.  Bradford manages to blend deep social issues into an entertaining historical romance without making light of the issues and without making the book too heavy.

8.  Death and the Brewmaster's Widow by Loretta Ross (152 ratings) - This is a cozy series that needs more attention.  The characters are so unusual without being over the top and there's a history element in every mystery.  I have the third book in this series coming up and I can't wait to catch back up with the Death (pronounced Deeth) and Wren.

9.Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna by Maia Chance (155 ratings) - All the books in this series have slight touches of fairy tale inspiration for an extra bit of fun.  It's a historical mystery which is unusual and the main character is edging towards con-artist which makes for a unique cozy and one that needs more attention.

10. The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala by Laura DiSilverio (212 ratings) - I'm cheating just a little because this has just over 200 ratings but it really should have more.  I can never turn down a bookish book - especially a mystery with books!  Not only do the characters in the series belong to a book club together but they talk about books - A LOT! In this story it's all about Rebecca and I adored every minute of book discussion. To make it even better it had a great mystery attached!

What books did you love that need a little more attention?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ramblings from the Stacks - Reading in 2017

I love the beginning of the year!  There are new lists to be made, new projects to start, new ideas to put into work.  It's all very exciting!  Now I know that really January 1 is not any different from February 2 or November 17 but it FEELS different!  It feels fresh and new and clean.  Now is my time to look at my reading for 2016 and decide what I want to do in 2017.

My goal in 2016 was to push myself more in what I read and I feel like I did pretty well.  Not every book was a hit but I got something out of each one - even if it was learning that a particular sub-genre isn't for me.

But as 2016 wound down I found myself getting overwhelmed in book world.  I love my books and I love getting new books but I feel like I've lost control of the stacks.  There are so many books either stacked up in corners, on my Kindle or on lists to be borrowed from the library and I want to read them all but sometimes it feels impossible.   I've spent some time stacking books and making lists and reading about the challenges that other people are doing (and which I really enjoy following along with!) all the while thinking about what I want to do.  And after a bit of thinking and pondering and overthinking some more I came up with a strategy - I'm going to read what I want to read.  That's not exactly groundbreaking I know but my goal is to do it mindfully.

So I decided to schedule.  I flipped through my TBR and pulled out the first books that jumped out at me.  There's a mix of books - romance, mysteries, fiction and and even a science fiction book.  For now I'm only doing one a month with an occasional classic added in.

My schedule this year -

January - A Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean.  
Reason: I adore Sarah Maclean on the podcast Avon on the Air which has not had a new episode in far too long and have heard fabulous things about a book.  This is the first book in a series that she describes as Regency Era TMZ.

February - Still Life by Louise Penny
Reason: This is a mystery series I discovered after I started blogging and I've been meaning to read it since the beginning.  I love the sound of the Quebec setting and the more procedural style mystery.

March - The Lake House by Kate Morton
Reason: I read one Kate Morton book years and years ago and loved it and swore I'd read more.  That of course hasn't happened but after this book came out I decided I needed to make an effort to make it happen because this one sounds amazing!

April - Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper
Reason: I was so excited about this series when it came out.  I love cozies, I love teapots and a whole series involving both just seemed to good to pass up!

May - When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
Reason: It's been described as Regency Clue.  I really must read it.  Since May is my birthday month this book seems like a perfect birthday present to me!

June - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Reason: I love Douglas Adams' style of humor and this book sounds bizarre and hilarious and completely confusing!

July - Garden Spell by Sarah Addison Allen
Reason: The summer before last I read my very first Sarah Addison Allen book and it was such a perfect summer read.  I've been wanting to read Garden Spell ever since and it seems like it'd be another perfect summer read.

August - Dinner with Edward by Isabel Vincent
Reason: In August school starts back and I get a little bit of my brain back!  This book sounds like a good change of pace.

September - In the Woods by Tana French
Reason: Pretty much all that I said about Still Life except this one seems a little darker and is set in Ireland.

October - Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
Reason: I wanted something a little spooky and I love all things Jack the Ripper!

November - Week in Winter by Maeve Binchey
Reason: Maeve Binchey is an author I've been wanting to read for at least a decade but somehow never did.  I own a copy of this one and it sounds wonderful.  I'm really looking forward to reading this one!

December - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Reason: Last year I attempted to reread Great Expectations which I hated when I read it in high school.  Turns out almost 20 years later I still didn't like it but I could really appreciate Dickens' ability to create atmosphere and memorable characters.  I've always loved this story and this is the year to actually read it!

I've got high hopes for the scheduling!  I'm thinking this is the year I'll finally get some of those "I've been meaning to get that read for ages" books read!  What changes do you hope to make going forward?  Anything you did in 2016 that you plan to keep going?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

This Week in Reading - January 15

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.  I'm also linking up with Kathryn over at The Book Date for What Are You Reading?

What I Got:

Treble at the Jam Fest by Leslie Budewitz - This is an author I've been wanting to read for ages and I love a good foodie cozy! (NetGalley)

Starlight Bridge by Debbie Mason - Another author I've been wanting to read for awhile and this one features a hidden book in an inn.  How can I resist? (NetGalley)

A Perfect Obsession by Heather Graham - I can't resist a Heather Graham book! (NetGalley)

Forever a Hero by Linda Lael Miller - This is the third in the series about three brothers.  I've really enjoyed the first two and am looking forward to Mace's story. (NetGalley)

Seduce Me Cowboy by Maisey Yates - I'm not a big fan of Yates' titles but the main character in this book is the main character in a previous book and I really want to know more about him.  (NetGalley)

Someone to Love by Donna Alward - This is the second book in a new series by an author I've really enjoyed in the past.  I'm excited to see where she goes with this new series set in a little town in Vermont. (Publisher)


Reading: Fudge and Jury by Ellie Alexander and Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

Listening: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce and read by David Tennant who should read all things from now on.

Watching: Now that regular shows are coming back on I've been watching The Big Bang Theory, Bull and all the NCIS shows.  J and I are watching Top Chef and Remington Steele which is on Hulu and features a ridiculously young Pierce Brosnan.

Off the Blog:

Not much to report this week!  No more threats of ice so the routine has been grinding on.  I headed down to visit my grandparents on Thursday and won't be back till Monday.  I'm looking forward to catching up with everyone when I get back!  I'm actually going down by myself which is pretty novel.  J is keeping the Tornado home and they're both very excited about going to see movies, playing video games and just hanging out for a few days on their own.  I have no idea what I'll be walking into when I come home!  They may have created their own language by that point.

My reading year is still going great and I've been making great progress on the books I had planned to read.  I'm going to start throwing some classics and heavier books in which will slow things down a bit but I'm looking forward to them.

On the Blog:

What Happened:

What's Coming Up:

Monday: Ramblings From the Stacks - Reading in 2017
Tuesday: Top Ten Tuesday - 10 Most Underrated Books I Read in 2016
Wednesday: Fudge and Jury - Blog Tour Cozy Mystery Review
Thursday: TBD
Friday: Friday Linkups with teasers from current book
Saturday: Kitchen Counter Cooking School - Review + Recipe

Have a great week and happy reading!

The Underground Culinary Tour - Foodie Nonfiction Review

The Underground Culinary Tour: How the New Metrics of Today's Top Restaurants are Transforming How America Eats by Damian Mogavero and Jospeph D'Agnese

Rating: Just Okay
Source: NetGalley

Description:  In the bestselling vein of "Moneyball" comes an entertaining, behind-the-scenes narrative about how the restaurant business is being transformed by the use of data, in an industry historically run by gut and intuition. From celebrity-run restaurants to today's cutting-edge culinary trendsetters, author Damian Mogavero looks at how the use of data is revolutionizing how restaurants are run, from hiring chefs and training staff to pioneering new recipes, reengineering menus, and transforming the dining experience from the inside out, so that no restaurant is out of anything you want, "ever." After earning his MBA from Harvard Business School, Damian Mogavero founded a pioneering software company to completely reorganize how the restaurant industry functions, from the food they order to the menus they create, from the chefs and waitstaff they hire to the wines they stock. The use of data has helped to re-create the dining experience, maximize customer satisfaction, grow revenues, and improve popularity and profits.
Damian first forged a relationship with Jeffrey Frederick, a recently promoted executive in charge of food and beverage at one of the biggest properties on the Las Vegas strip, who was eager to prove himself in the high-stakes, cutthroat world of Las Vegas dining. Using data analytics, as well as weekly coaching sessions with Damian over the next 15 years, Frederick became one of the most successful restaurant executives in the industry. Damian shows how the use of data provides trendsetting new restaurants, luxury hotels and casinos, and even cruise ships, nightclubs, and beloved mom and pop restaurants with the information they need to transform the food we eat and create the dining experience we have come to expect.

Genre: Nonfiction - Foodie

Why I Picked This Book: One of my absolute favorite books is a book called Tastemakers by David Sax which is all about food trends.  I was hoping this would be similar.

My Impression:  When I was in college there was this little out of the way bistro that I used to go to all the time.  It had the best turkey and Gouda croissants and their creme brulee was to die for.  And then it wasn't.  I'm not sure what I noticed first but it kind of became grubbier and less pleasant and then the quality of the food took a hit.  And then it closed.  With zero notice.  At some point I found out what had happened.  Apparently the bistro had been opened by a married couple - he was the chef, she was the business person.  Everything went merrily along until the marriage ended and he got the restaurant in the divorce.  With no real understanding of the business end of things he let things slide until finally the restaurant itself was seized for back taxes.  This book made me remember that little bistro because they could have seriously benefited from the software that Damian Mogavero and his company created.
There's a lot that's really interesting in this book.  The ability to analyze restaurant data and create a model which allows you to safely make purchasing and staffing decisions is pretty amazing.  Add into the fact that the data is specific about what people buy, what they eat, how long they stay, etc. that it saves the restaurant owner the trouble of having to analyze the data on their own and frees up time to evaluate new business plans and it's not surprising that Mogavero's software is used by Bobby Flay, Tom Colicchio Geoffrey Zakarian, and pretty much any celebrity chef or restaurant empire that you can name.
However, while there is a lot of information that really made me think about the inner workings of a restaurant I really felt that this would have been a fascinating article but makes a very repetitive book.  The data itself doesn't change that much in each case and while I enjoyed getting little behind the scenes glimpses what happens at a little beach side restaurant isn't all that different from what happens inside one of Harrah's Resorts.  While I'm seriously impressed with Mogavero's ability to meld technology and  the dining experience and I wish that more restaurants would implement his software as I think we'd all have better service I don't think I wanted to read 272 pages about it.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Probably not.  While I did find it readable I think he is more geared towards hands on business practices than I'm interested in.

Would I Recommend this Book?: If you are interested in starting a restaurant or improving one you already own or manage then I think this book would be invaluable.  If you're not it makes for somewhat repetitive reading.

I'm linking up with Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Linkups: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again

It's Friday linkup time!  I'm linking up with the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings of Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice

This Week's Book Blogger Hop Question:
Is every day a reading day for you?

My Answer:
I definitely read more on some days than others but I always read some every day even if it's a few pages so I guess the answer is yes!

This week's book is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce.  I listened to the first Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a year or so ago and loved it.  While I had heard of it I know I hadn't read it before or even seen the movie but it was so much fun!  This year my library got the audio for the 2nd book which is narrated by David Tennant who is my favorite Doctor and has just the best voice.  I'm a little nervous because while Ian Fleming (of the James Bond books) wrote the first book this 2nd book is by a completely different author.  I'm hoping that the middle grade format will be more forgiving of the author change and even if it's not David Tennant is reading it and that is never a bad thing!

The Beginning:
Most cars are just cars.  Four wheels. An engine.  Some seats.  They take you to work. Or to school. They bring you home again. But some cars - just a few - are more than cars.

My Thoughts:
This is a pretty promising.  The language is pretty similar to the original and I'm so excited for another adventure!

The 56:
"You mean, you're not in control of this vehicle?"
"No, no. It was me.  I just changed my mind at the last minute," Dad lied.  "I thought it would be nice to go right, that's all."

My Thoughts:
I haven't gotten here yet but I'm guessing this family is figuring out that things aren't quite what they seem with their new car!

So what do you think?  Keep reading?  What is your reaction when a different author continues a series?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Dead and Breakfast - Cozy Mystery Review

Dead and Breakfast: A Merry Ghost Inn Mystery #1 by Kate Kingsbury

Rating: Good 
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Melanie West is getting her life back on track after a messy divorce when her grandmother, Liza Harris, asks her to open a B&B with her. Together, Liza and Melanie purchase a purportedly haunted mansion on the Oregon coast and jump right into clearing out the cobwebs. But while attempting to remove wallpaper in an upstairs bedroom, the new B&B owners stumble upon a very real skeleton in their closet.
The police suspect the skeleton is that of the wife of the previous owner of the B&B, but no one in town seems to want to say much about her. As the inn owners try to juggle renovations with their own amateur investigations, their grand opening looms closer and closer--and a friendly ghost in their walls starts playing tricks. But it all comes crashing to a halt when a new body is found stabbed to death on the beach below the inn--the victim chillingly close in resemblance to Melanie herself.

It seems someone doesn't appreciate newcomers prying into the small town's past, and now it's up to Melanie and Liza to get to the bottom of these murders to save their business...and their lives.

Genre: Mystery - Cozy

Why I Picked This Book: Home renovation, an inn, and a very literal skeleton in a closest.  How could I resist?

My Impression:  What a fun cozy!  The book starts with Melanie and her grandmother (who she is now to call Liza) beginning on the massive task of stripping wallpaper in one of the soon-to-be bedrooms in their soon-to-be inn and discovering a hidden room with a very real skeleton in it.  From there the mystery unfolds as the identity of the skeleton quickly becomes obvious but the police have it seven year old murder way down on their priority list.  In order to get things moving Liza and Melanie start investigating on their own all while trying to get the renovation work for the inn completed.

There was so much I liked about this story.  I enjoyed Liza and Melanie's relationship and that they worried about each other and worked well as a team.  There's hints of a potential relationship in both of their futures that seem pretty fun.  I love the house and that some of the actual complications (like bathrooms, table options, etc) about turning it into an inn were discussed.  The town seems interesting with lots of little shops and restaurants and will make a great setting for future books.  I also am really intrigued but the open ended subplot involving Melanie's mother.  I'm looking forward to seeing where that will go.  The mystery was very well done and super fast paced.  I flew through the book and was happy to see that not only did the murderer make sense but it wasn't flashing red warning sign obvious.

Unfortunately, there were a few things I didn't like quite as much.  While I have no doubt that a fairly rural area would have one major crime team that all the little towns share I didn't believe that the primary detective being called away would mean that the entire second floor of the inn would be closed off until his return.  There were also a few vague things that I didn't quite understand.  The timeline that Melanie and Liza were working under was never really explained - were they weeks off from opening or months?  There was definitely a feel of deadline looming but I was never sure if that was because there was just so much work to be done or because guests were literally going to be arriving suitcase in hand in just a few days.  Also, as much as I love a secret room this one kind of bothered me because it was so unexplained.  Was it an actual room?  What else was in it?  Or was it a closest which would make more sense and also be easier to hide?  These are all minor issues and will definitely not keep me from continuing with the series.

Overall, I found this to be a fun, fast paced cozy mystery read with lots of potential for a really great series.  While there were a few minor flaws I'm looking forward to seeing where the series goes and will definitely be keeping a look out for the next book about Melanie and Liza.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I absolutely would!  I'm looking forward to reading more of this series and going back and reading her Pennyfoot Hotel books as well.

Would I Recommend this Book?: If you like cozy mysteries I think you would really enjoy this one!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Miracle on 5th Avenue - Contemporary Romance Review

Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morgan (Amazon link)

Rating: Very Good
Source: NetGalley

Description:  Hopeless romantic Eva Jordan loves everything about Christmas. She might be spending the holidays alone this year, but when she's given an opportunity to house-sit a spectacular penthouse on Fifth Avenue, she leaps at the chance. What better place to celebrate than in snow-kissed Manhattan? What she didn't expect was to find the penthouse still occupied by its gorgeous—and mysterious—owner.

Bestselling crime writer Lucas Blade is having the nightmare before Christmas. With a deadline and the anniversary of his wife's death looming, he's isolated himself in his penthouse with only his grief for company. He wants no interruptions, no decorations and he certainly doesn't appreciate being distracted by his beautiful, bubbly new housekeeper. But when the blizzard of the century leaves Eva snowbound in his apartment, Lucas starts to open up to the magic she brings…This Christmas, is Lucas finally ready to trust that happily-ever-afters do exist?

Genre: Romance - Contemporary 

Why I Picked This Book:  I've enjoyed other books by Sarah Morgan in the past and I love the whole snowed in concept. It's like the contemporary version of the historical romance house party!

My Impression:  This was such a sweet romance!  I love the whole stuck somewhere trope because it forces characters that would normally be unaware of each other to interact and it's so fun to watch!  With this book the two main characters seemingly have nothing in common.  Eva is optimistic and cheerful while Lucas always looks for a hidden agenda and really wants to be left alone.  She loves romance and music while he writes horror novels and is always thinking about creative ways to kill people.  I really enjoyed seeing them go from strangers to friends who both really wanted more though they were equally unwilling to go about it.  One of my favorite things in a romance is when the characters really support each other and bring out the best in each other which is very much the case in this book.  It was nice to see them really talk to each other in ways that really felt like they hadn't been able to do with anyone else.  I loved the relationships that both characters have with their grandmothers and how it figured into this book as well.  Another fun aspect of the story was that Lucas's writing isn't just window dressing.  It's an integral part of the story and most of the book takes place as he's writing a book which means he disappears for hours at a time.

This isn't the most unique of romances.  Most of the conflict I could see coming from a mile away and could pretty much guess how it was all going to resolve.  However, sometimes predictability is nice - especially when you like the characters which I definitely did in this case.  There is a strong Christmas element to it and it would have been a nice one to read before the holidays but since it's not exactly Christmas-y it was still pretty fun in January!  While this is the end of a friend based trilogy I had no problem starting here.  Since most of the book takes place in Lucas's penthouse the 2 friends from the previous books are fairly minor characters.  This was a nice light romance with some spice and lots of emotional connection.  It was a perfect read from my still frazzled from the holidays brain!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Absolutely!  I have several more books by Morgan (including the first 2 in this trilogy) and I'm really looking forward to reading more.

Would I Recommend this Book?: Absolutely!  If you enjoy contemporary romance I think you'd enjoy this one.