#BookReview: The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews

Book Version of Hallmark Christmas Movie. The title is basically all you need to know here. If you like the Hallmark Christmas Movie craze, you’re going to love this book. If that isn’t really your thing… you should still try this book out, since it *is* funny and includes a compelling small-town mystery of long-lost family. This is an excellently written story that fits well within the space intended, and thus is another sure-fire winner for an author who seems to be in that “groove” now. All the feels, a touch of humor, a dash of Christmas magic, and no true anxiety/ fear inducing drama. Truly, all you can really ask for in a story of this type. Oh, and this one is a short and easy read too – perfect for a quick bite to get you in the Christmas spirit or to kick off your three months of Christmas. Or for when your family is over for Christmas and you need a break! ๐Ÿ™‚ Very much recommended.

This review of The Santa Suit by Mary Kay Andrews was originally written on August 19, 2021.

#BookReview: Much Ado About Barbecue by Sally Kilpatrick

Fun Southern Enemies To Lovers Romance. The title of this review tells you most everything you need to know here. This book has quite a few moving parts, but overall they work together to create a solid, fun Southern romance – in this case, centered on the titular barbecue and the retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The intricacies of barbecue – and no, you damn Yankees and foreigners from other nations (joking, an allusion to Southern comic Jeff Foxworthy’s “Redneck Games”), simply putting something on a grill is not “barbecueing”, nor is the grill itself a “barbecue” – are discussed well, but always in context with and service to the overall story and character development. Small town southern life, with all of its greatness and pitfalls, are also shown well – yes, including the one person who claims to be able to speak to ghosts. The pranks are mostly in the past, and it is always quite clear that they were in the past. The reasons for the enmity between the leads are compelling, tragic, and completely “reasonable”-ish for where the characters were at those points, and the slow-burn nature of the romance allows both to see that perhaps there is more to the adult versions of each other than they remember of the kid versions. And that perhaps there was more going on with the kid versions that their own kid versions didn’t fully know about. For the clean/ sweet crowd, this has very minor cussing – including a grandma who actively admonishes such words in her presence – and no even fade-to-black sex. (Some heavy kissing though, for those more absolutist against absolutely anything physical.) Oh, and there is a more minor subplot – revealing even its nature would be a spoiler – that is refreshing, accurate… and yet still feels mostly thrown in due to the author’s own political leanings. It totally works, and it is nice to see an author defying the normal conventions of the genre to even subtly go there, and yet it also *does* feel a bit forced, as though this was a wrinkle intentionally placed to draw the eye away from the actual main subject to a degree. Still, on the whole a solid, fun romance novel that does a great job of explaining Southern Barbecue, and very much recommended.

This review of Much Ado About Barbecue by Sally Kilpatrick was originally written on August 11, 2021.

#BlogTour: The Crying House by BR Spangler

For this blog tour, we’re looking at one hell of a creepy murder mystery that is semi-deep in a series and contains near immediate spoilers for the previous book. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Crying House by BR Spangler.

Here’s what I had to say on Goodreads:

You’ll Never Look At Ye Olden Ways The Same Again. This was my first book from Spangler, and is the 4th book in this particular series. It picks up seemingly some period of time after the events of Book 3, and immediately spoils some of the ending there. So if you have particular cares about such… start at Book 1 here and work your way here. As a police procedural / murder mystery of the book type series, this one actually works quite well and features a technique (used in a variety of ways) that will both creep you out and cause you to think twice about certain olden ways of doing certain things. What were y’all *really* up to, humanity of old???? Several different deaths drive the action here, and there is indeed quite a bit of action along with the mystery, including a pulse pounding race to… well, not quite the finale, but the effective end (+ some exposition) of that particular thread. And then another bit of action to resolve the other main thread before ending on a series explosion big enough that you’re going to want the next book in your hands immediately. Very much recommended.

Below the jump, the various publisher details of the book, including a description, author bio, and links to social media and to buy the book. ๐Ÿ™‚
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Crying House by BR Spangler”

#BookReview: Second Chance Summer by Poppy St James

Sometimes You Find Yourself By Accident. Let’s be perfectly upfront: I don’t have one qualm whatsoever in telling you right here, right now that by the end of this book, the couple is together and everything is awesome. *THIS IS A ROMANCE BOOK*, and therefore this is a given. ๐Ÿ˜€

With that out of the way, this was actually a fun and fast one, reading seemingly much faster than its near 300 page length would generally suggest. It is fairly low angst, as much as that can be said of a romance featuring someone running from their life and another person trying to recover from his. It is utterly steeped in small town Southern charm, even if rooted in Texas (where they somehow think they are different from other Southern towns – you’re not, and football is as much a god anywhere in the rural South as it is in Texas ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). And it has all of the requisite fish-out-of-water / good ol’ boy hijinx. The one thing it doesn’t have, which some romance fans will hate and others love, is that there is little more than kissing in this book, even as the couple is shown in bed overnight together. So for those “sweet” / “clean” romance types, this one is for you. If you *have* to have sex in your romance books… just know up front this one isn’t that. It was a great read regardless of that point, and a solid way to pass a couple of hours on a long summer day. Very much recommended.

This review of Second Chance Summer by Poppy St James was originally written on June 22, 2021.

#BlogTour: The Summer Of No Attachments by Lori Foster

For this blog tour, we’re looking at a light hearted Southern romance that has a remarkable number of attachments for a book titled “The Summer of No Attachments”. For this blog tour, we’re looking at The Summer of No Attachments by Lori Foster.

First, here’s what I had to say about the book on Goodreads:

Record Scratch. There’s… a remarkable amount of attachments here for a book titled “The Summer of No Attachments”. #ijs ๐Ÿ˜€

But seriously, this is one of those feel good, not even quite Hallmarkie (since it doesn’t really even have any even pushover “big threat”) Southern romance tales. Yes, there are a lot of heavy elements here – mom abandons son, drug use (off screen), abuse (also mostly off screen), #MeToo moments (also off screen), etc – but there is also quite a bit of lighthearted banter and romance. And puppies! And an old cat! This is apparently book 2 of a series, but it totally works as a standalone, as the people from Book 1 barely show up at all – making this one of those barely connected tangential “series” that share the same world and even town, but don’t heavily feature in each others’ tales.

Overall truly a light and refreshing read, despite its occasional heft, and great for a relaxing summer read, or a relaxing read at any point in the year really. Very much recommended.

Below the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the publisher’s information, including a description, author bio, and various links!
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Summer Of No Attachments by Lori Foster”

#BookReview: A Lot Like Love by Jennifer Snow

A Lot Going On – And Yet It All Works. This turned out to be one of two romance novels I was reading at the same time, that release about a week apart, that both featured single dads and their only children. So that was interesting as far as my own reading went, but not overly relevant to what you, the reader of my review, want to know about. ๐Ÿ˜€

Here, Snow packs quite a bit into a fairly Hallmarkie romance. Which as I’ve noted before, there is a *massive* market for, so I totally get why she went this particular route. (Particularly when given her other creative outlets such as her satirical Housewife Chronicles books and her *dark* alter-ego J.M. Winchester.) We get a female coder – more common than some might have you believe, but still accurately portrayed both in real life and in this text as a male dominated field. We get an overbearing boss – which happens at all levels of coding, from the small companies our female lead works for here to the biggest companies on the planet. (I happen to currently work for a Forbes 50 company in the tech field, though to be honest my bosses are quite awesome here. :D) We get a tween girl whose dad doesn’t fully understand her, who wants to do one thing – in this case, write code – and yet whose dad is pushing her to more “typical” activities. We get the small town businessman dad whose business is struggling and who has many issues of his own, both from being a former NFL star and from having his wife die several years prior to the events here. We even get a hint of a long-ago romance and long-lost love via another side story. And we get the classic Hallmarkie former high school frenemy who shows up again… and may not be all that is remembered or presented. So like I said, a LOT going on, particularly for a 300 ish page book.

And yet, in classic Hallmarkie/ Snow style, it really does all work. It is (mostly) pretty damn realistic, despite what a few other reviewers claim, including several messy moments. It hits all the notes that any romance reader will want to see, yes, including a few sex scenes – oral (both ways) and full penetration – and the requisite-for-the-genre happy ending.

A truly excellent tale and a fine way to pass some time sitting in the shade or on a lounger whiling the summer away. Very much recommended.

This review of A Lot Like Love by Jennifer Snow was originally written on June 17, 2021.

#BookReview: Rock The Boat by Beck Dorey-Stein

Great (Summer) Read. This is one of those books that is a great read at any time of the year, but by the end feels particularly like the great “end of summer” movies of old such as American Pie. Largely taking place over the course of one summer, with its titular event the week after Labor Day, this book follows three former high school friends as they rediscover themselves and each other now in their early 30s. Dorey-Stein does a remarkable job of showing inherently flawed – and thus, realistic – characters just trying to live their lives and rebuild old friendships in the wake of various personal tragedies and struggles, all with a smattering of laugh out loud hilarity and heart breaking poignancy. One of those books and stories with a great deal of catharsis and resetting, perfect for the “let’s get back to work” period there at the end of summer – or any time one needs such a feeling. Very much recommended.

This review of Rock The Boat by Beck Dorey-Stein was originally written on June 17, 2021.

#BookReview: In A Jam by Cindy Dorminy

Sweet Home … Well… Er… Georgia. This was a sweet and fun yet angsty look at small town Southern life mostly through the eyes of a woman who was raised as a damned Yankee. Being a native Georgian and actually having lived in Leesburg – home of Luke Bryan, Buster Posey, and Phillip Phillips and County Seat of Lee County, where the *real* Smithville, Georgia is located – I can testify personally that the small town life depicted here is pretty damn realistic. (And if you can’t tell from the pair of D’s I’ve already used, I can also testify from the side of being a bit of a black sheep/ outsider in these realms, despite arguably having a *deeper* connection to Southern History than many I’ve encountered in these real-life small Southern towns. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

But you’re not reading this book for reality. You’re reading it for hilarity. And if you like the style of Southern rom-com ala Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama, you’re going to enjoy this tale. It’s got plenty of fish out of water hilarity as this Yankee tries to learn Southern speech and customs. It’s got the crazy old lady hilarity. It’s got the zaniness of various family / friends / neighbors oddballs and their connections. And yes, it has a bit of heat (though nothing more than heavy kissing “on screen”, for those that care about such things – either direction) and a lot of savory.

Overall, a solid “homemade” jam that has a deeper profile than many might expect, but hits all the notes it has to hit to be beloved by many who appreciate what it is. Very much recommended.

This review of In A Jam by Cindy Dorminy was originally written on June 5, 2021.

#BookReview: Haven Point by Virginia Hume

Excellent Debut. First off, I have to thank a very particular PR person at St Martin’s – they know who they are, I’m not going to publicly name them in this review. I had requested this book on NetGalley around the time I first saw it there, and after several weeks languishing in my “Pending Requests” queue there, I finally contacted a contact at SMP I’ve worked with on various other ARCs and Blog Tours in the past, and that person was able to approve my request for this book, and viola. I’m reading it. ๐Ÿ˜€ So while I normally don’t even mention this level of activity in reviews, this effort was unusual and therefore it deserves this unusual step of thanking the person involved directly in the review.

Having told (vaguely) the story of how I obtained this ARC, let me now note what I actually thought about the book, shall I? ๐Ÿ˜€

As I said in the title, this really was an excellent debut. There are a lot of various plot threads weaving themselves in and out of focus over the course of 60 or so years, and anyone of a few particular generations, particularly those from small towns, will be able to identify readily with many of these threads. In 2008, we get a grandmother waiting to reveal some secrets to her twentysomething/ thirtysomething grand daughter – this actually opens the book. Then we get both the grandmother’s life story – up to a particular pivotal summer – interspersed with the granddaughter’s life story – mostly focused on two summers in particular, but with some updates in between. The jumps in time are sequential, but not always evenly spaced, so for example we start the grandmother’s tale during WWII when she is serving as a nurse and is courted – in the rushed manner of the era – by a charming doctor. When we come back to her tale after spending some time in the granddaughter’s life, we may be days later or we may be years later, depending on how deep in the story we are at this point. Similarly, when we leave the granddaughter in 1994, we may come back to later that summer or we may come back to 1999. (Or even, more commonly for the granddaughter’s tale, back to 2008.) 2008 serves as “now”, and the histories of the two women remain sequential throughout the tale. The editing, at the beginning of the chapter, always makes clear where we are in the timeline, and yet this style of storytelling *can* be jarring for some. So just be aware of this going in.

But as a tale of generational ideas, aspirations, and difficulties… this tale completely works on so very many levels. Perhaps because I find myself of a similar age as the granddaughter, and thus much of what she lives, I’ve also lived – particularly as it relates to a small town home town and its divisions.

And, for me, Hume actually has a line near the end of the tale (beyond the 90% mark) that truly struck a chord: “Haven Point has its flaws, of course it does. But while it might not be the magic that some pretend, there was never really the rot she claimed either.” Perhaps the same could be said of my own “small town” (it now has a population north of 100K) home town.

Ultimately, this was a phenomenal work that many will identify with but some may struggle with. I will dare compare it to The Great Gatsby in that regard and in this one: keep with the struggle. It is worth it. Very much recommended.

This review of Haven Point by Virginia Hume was originally written on June 5, 2021.

#BookReview: The House With The Blue Front Door by Elizabeth Bromke

Interconnected and Interweaving. Bromke executes on an interconnected and interweaving style here better than many other attempts I’ve seen at such an approach. Told via half a dozen or so perspectives – mostly the various ladies who live in a particular neighborhood – this book has its own central mystery while also revealing bits and pieces of a larger mythos. A mythos that will leave the reader with bated breath desperate for the next book… where it is possible Bromke will continue to tease out this particular larger, seemingly darker, mystery. If you are a reader that can have *no possible spoilers* when reading a book, you’re going to want to start with Book 1 of this series. I personally started with Book 2 and had no real problems following the story (thanks in part to Bromke putting a summary of each character and where they are at the start of the tale), but I generally have no issues doing this and back reading the original stories. This is one of those women’s fiction tales that might come close to the cozy mystery label, perhaps – I’ve never read a book knowing it was labeled as a “cozy mystery”, but knowing how friends speak of what that genre entails, this book certainly gets close to that feeling. Ultimately a fun, compelling, and short-ish (just over 200 page?) read that truly will have you coming back to this series. Very much recommended.

This review of The House With The Blue Front Door by Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on April 24, 2021.