Review: Alaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber

Loved this nice, sweet Christmas story about Josie the chef from Seattle. Josie finds fun, adventure, and romantic interest Palmer while she’s spending some time in Alaska. Though she’s scheduled to go home to Seattle, the fates intervene – and Josie is held in Alaska for longer than she planned.

Palmer and Josie were lovely characters and it was fun to see their relationship develop. I also really liked seeing what Josie was going to cook up next – I guess you could say that I have that in common with cranky but lovable Jack!

Solid, uplifting Christmastime read.

-calliope

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Review: California Summer by Anita Hughes

I love a good starting-over story. In California Summer, Rosie doesn’t have much of a choice. Her Hollywood life fell apart and she ended up in Montecito – uncertain of her future. But, a mother figure/ butler friend/ bff/ neighborhood guy later, and Rosie’s on her way back up. Question is, does she want to go back to the fast lane, or does she want to settle in to Montecito life with the ones she loves?

I loved every fish taco, every Estelle dinner party, and every rose garden chat. Anita Hughes rocked the luxuriousness, as usual, and threw in some pop stars and surfers for good measure. The plot twist was perfect – completely believable and not overdone – and endeared me to Rosie’s boyfriend even more.

The only shortcomings of this novel were that Rosie had two very annoying habits: 1- wearing the same red, full length cocktail dress randomly and to every gathering under the sun, whether it was appropriate or not, and 2- Rosie ran and hid like a toddler from any uncomfortable situation. I just wanted her to get a new dress and grow a set!

Apart from those two things, I liked all the characters, even spoiled Angelica and Hollywood agent Ryan. Hughes did a great job rounding out character development and writing someone for every reader to identify with. My favorite parts were meeting Esmerelda through Rosie’s eyes, and watching Rosie finally grow up.

-calliope

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Review: 51 Weeks by Julia Meyerscough

As I settle in to my mid forties, I often think I should do some kind of challenge before I turn 50. I have one friend who collected library cards from the 50 United States. I know women who took all-girls vacations to tropical locales. And then there’s this book’s protagonist, who decided to do a different challenge each week for the year before she turned 50. The premise fascinated me and had my brain storming ideas from the beginning.

However.

Some of these challenges just left a bad taste in my mouth. I thought they’d be charming challenges, but they were sometimes crass, sometimes crossing moral boundaries, and sometimes just silly. Now, I realize Amy’s friends came up with the list, but even if a good friend of mine challenged me to cross a line that I don’t think a married woman should cross, well, I wouldn’t cross it. Amy didn’t have such scruples. (Maybe I’m a prude, I’ll admit it.)

Playing in the background throughout the novel is the soundtrack to a marriage on the rocks. It was just too much negativity for me when I instead expected a happy go lucky, positive tale of self-discovery.

If you don’t need all the loose ends tied up, and if you’re a little mellower than I am when it comes to following the rules, you’ll likely appreciate Amy’s fun journey, supported by her awesome friends.

-calliope

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Review: A Vicarage Reunion by Kate Hewitt

Oh Esther and Will… hard workers, loyal to a fault, family-oriented… and then one trauma busts it all up and unearths some unexpressed feelings. Thankfully, their little town — including Esther’s family — provides the guardrails to help Esther and Will find their way.

Their struggle was real. I’ve felt it and I’m sure all married couples have felt it at some time in their marriage. Things are going fine until they aren’t. And sometimes the solution isn’t exactly staring anyone in the face. That’s why I am grateful for all the family and friends who witness wedding ceremonies – they’re there to help support the marriage when it’s foundering.

Kate Hewitt wrote more than just Esther and Will’s relationship though. There were family dinners, lonesome walks, friends meeting at the pub, sibling love, the wisdom of a mother, the comfort of a father, and so much forgiveness … all in a little village around an old vicarage in a wonderful, delightful series.

-calliope

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Review: Searching for Billy Shakespeare by Crista McHugh

What fun! Grad student Kate moves in to a unbeknownst-to-her-til-she-got-there posh apartment with a new, silly, girly-girl roommate, and boom, things start happening in her life.

The phone rings, and a gorgeous voice on the other end starts talking, looking for his sister (the roommate) but spending an awful lot of conversation on Kate. Roommate girl’s blondie friends give Kate a makeover (gasp) and help her find her inner fun self. Between the roommate and Gabe nudging Kate to know more of herself than just the Shakespeare-dissertation-writer, Kate develops newfound passion for her grad work and her social life.

This tale of silliness absolutely brightened my week. I didn’t care that there was actually no good plot reason for the roommate to ask Kate to live there, nor that Kate seemed uncharacteristically good natured about a bunch of strangers taking her out for 12 hours. I didn’t care that a few plot points were underdeveloped, or that the roommate did something a little unexpected and possibly contrived. Know why? Because this book made me smile. It’s a good bit of fun in a roller coaster world, and I’m totally glad I read it.

-calliope

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Review: Christmas in London by Anita Hughes

Anita Hughes writes for the reader who wants to escape. No matter if you’re reading Hughes’ beach vacation novels or her holiday books, you’ll remove yourself from reality, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy a ride through luxury. 

In Christmas in London, baker Louisa gets whisked away to London by television show producer Noah. She and her cinnamon rolls are needed for filming a Christmas special with a handsome, charming, world-famous chef and cookbook writer. 

When I read Hughes, I just latch on to the main character and forget my real life. In London, I got to wake up to the smell of coffee and pastry, buy fancy new clothes, take walks with the cutie pie producer, take cooking classes with the famous chef (and hang out in a mansion with him), and live the tv star life for a week… not to mention get a happily ever after (and watch a new friend get one too).

Not a bad way to spend 288 pages.  

-calliope 

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Review: On the Spectrum by Jennifer Gold

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There are a couple of signs that a book really WOWED me.  If I finish it within a couple of days, it’s a given.  But, whenever I feel compelled to immediately write a review, well then you can be sure it’s a winner.

Clara doesn’t want for much of anything, but her life is anything but easy.  Growing up as the daughter of a famous ballet dancer has put enormous pressure on her going back as far as she can remember.  She’s always felt as if she can’t measure up to her beautiful, graceful, and excessively thin mother.  So it’s no surprise that she’s developed an eating disorder.  Maybe not the binging and purging or wasting away type, but still.  Under the guise of healthy eating, she’s obsessively concerned with everything she puts into her mouth.  And who can blame her?  She’s just following her mother’s example, after all.

When things go too far, however, she finds herself sent off to visit her estranged father for the summer.  Sure, it’s in Paris.  But it also means she has to spend the summer with her stepmother and a brother she doesn’t even know.  To make matters more difficult in her mind, he’s on the autism spectrum.  Will they be able to help each other?

There are so many important things going on in this story, things that almost any young person or adult can relate to.  There’s a nontraditional, blended family as a result of divorce.  There’s a love interest, of course.  Because what young adult story wouldn’t have one?  And then there are the more serious issues, eating disorders and children with autism spectrum  disorders.

This is the rare young adult book that I actually feel safe recommending for truly young adults.  It provides a true look at real issues faced by many young people without delving into the culture of sex, drugs, and alcohol so prominent in many of today’s books marketed toward young people.  A great story!

~Thalia

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