Estelle: Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes

Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes: a novella, prequel to The Girl You Left BehindHoneymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 16, 2013
Publisher: Penguin
Pages: 75
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: Paris, marriage, honeymoon, past and present shift, art
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: Liv is on a honeymoon with her new husband in Paris, but he’s unable to breakaway from work and she spends a lot of time wondering if this marriage was a good idea. Newly married, a shopgirl and a painter go through intense up and downs as she questions his devotion to her.

Confession: Rachel from Hello Chelly bought me a beautiful copy of Me Before You for my birthday and I haven’t read it yet. It’s gorgeous red jacket is glaring at me from the bookcase as I type this. I will get to it, I swear. This is the truth after I read through this author’s novella, a prequel to her latest release, The Girl You Left Behind.

I wish novellas existed whenever you had apprehension about any book. In a few chapters, Moyes gives us a glimpse into the new marriages of two couples: one between a young 23-year old and her architect husband and the other between a young shopgirl and her artist husband in the 1900s.

Both girls are in the fabulous Paris (and I just finished reading a book set in London so now I am focused on having my own European adventure soon) and should be reveling in their new loves, but instead face some roadblocks. Liv’s husband seems adamant to work during their already short honeymoon to ensure a big deal doesn’t fall through. And in Sophie’s world, a little birdie plants the seed that her husband’s talent is dependent on him bedding his models.

It’s impressive to see so much emotion organically present in 78 short pages. Sophie’s despair about returning home if this doesn’t work out, Edouard’s surprising devotion, Liv’s fear that marriage will leave her lonely, and David’s apologetic ambition. “A Honeymoon in Paris” was a great introduction to Moyes’ work and I feel even more inclined to pluck Me Before You off my shelf and order her other latest from the library.

If you want to give some grown up reading a try, this is a great avenue to experience it before making a full commitment.

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Cooking from Fool’s Gold Cookbook by Susan Mallery

Fool's Gold Cookbook by Susan MallerySusan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold Cookbook
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 272
Keywords: cook by season, cookbook with romance short story
Format read: ARC provided by McAllister PR! (Thank you!)

Why do I not review cookbooks more often? Especially one like Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold Cookbook. If you are a frequent reader here, you know I’m a big fan of Mallery’s series and her love stories so it’s an extra bonus to get a brand new novella within the pages of 150 mouthwatering recipes. (You may not want to check it out on an empty stomach.)

Divided by season, each recipe is made up of ingredients that are already in your pantry or are easy to find at the neighborhood grocery store. Fajita quesadillas, peach pie, watermelon lemonade, Greek salad sandwich, pumpkin spice latte muffins, breakfast burritos… the possibilities are indeed endless. In fact, it was really hard for me to narrow down which recipes to sample this past weekend. I wanted to make everything.

The cookbook is crisp looking, color coded by seasons, and easy to read. I do wish there were more pictures and the prep time was listed above the directions, but I can guarantee that whatever level you fall into in the kitchen, there is a recipe that will fit your needs and not take your entire day to prepare. (More time to read!)

Here’s a sneak peek of the inside:

Susan Mallery Fool's Gold Cookbook Fall Sample

Susan Mallery Fool's Gold Cookbook Winter Cupcake Sample

Isn’t it gorgeous?

Well to celebrate the release of this cookbook we whipped up two recipes from it this weekend. I must say first that my husband is a very picky eater so we did modify our dinner choice: Fettuccine with Citrus-Parsley Pesto. It was such a refreshing and light pasta dish and instead of shrimp, we marinated chicken breast in orange juice for a few hours in our fridge and then cooked it into the pasta and sauce.

Best of all? We only needed to purchase pesto, chicken, and fettuccine for this dish. Super affordable and easy. (Oh and we topped it off with some fresh bread.)

Modified Fettuccine with Citrus-Parsley Pesto

For dessert, I broke my ban on all things pumpkin (it’s been too early!) and decided to bake pumpkin whoopie pies. Again, I had most of the ingredients (including a can of actual pumpkin) and decides how messy it is to roll balls of dough around in cinnamon and sugar, the final product was so worth it. (Even my husband who does not like pumpkin loved them!)

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies from Susan Mallery's Fool's Gold Cookbook

With the colder months coming up, I know I’m going to be more inclined to stay in and cook (since my apartment won’t be a thousand degrees) both old standbys and tasty new concoctions.

I’m really impressed with the easy to understand instructions and the variety of food contains in Susan Mallery’s newest venture. (Plus it’s adorable that the included novella lends a backstory to the fictional existence of the cookbook too!)

For fans of the Fool’s Gold series and foodies,  I definite suggest adding this to your wish list immediately.

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Big thanks to my helper:

Pepper Cooking Assistant

McAllister PR was generous enough to provide us with 2 copies of the Cookbook to giveaway! Try your luck! Open to U.S. and Canadian residents!

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Note: screencaps taken from early copy of the cookbook; the finished copy may differ a bit.

Estelle: Big Sky Wedding by Linda Lael Miller

Big Sky Wedding by Linda Lael Miller: August 2013 Harlequin romanceBig Sky Wedding by Linda Lael Miller  ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 384
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: life changes, ranch, romance, baggage
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Other book I reviewed by Linda Lael Miller: Big Sky Summer

Summary: Celeb heartthrob Zane Sutton is escaping Hollywood for his neglected ranch in Montana. He doesn’t plan to have his half-brother, Nash, in toe or the mysterious Brylee, living on the ranch next to his. Brylee hasn’t fully moved on since she was jilted at the altar, even though it seems like everyone else has. She’s a workaholic and has been totally avoiding going out with her best girlfriends, yet for some reason she can’t stop thinking about Zane despite their awkward first meeting. Is she capable of moving forward for good?

I think it’s a pretty fair statement to say that you don’t want to meet the man of your dreams when you are literally hugging a tree.

Right? Not exactly the best first impression.

This is how it all starts for Zane and Brylee. It’s one of those situations where they can’t stop thinking about each other after that first, very strange meeting. But things are standing in their way, of course. Zane is focused on settling down on his ranch and unexpectedly integrating his younger brother into his life. (Their dad is known for leaving his kids for long periods of time.)  And though it’s been years since Brylee had been publicly embarrassed when she was left at the altar, she hasn’t moved forward much and, instead, dedicates most of her time and energy to her business.

This is only my second Miller romance, and while I really liked Big Sky Summer, I did like this book more. I think Zane and Brylee were more relatable characters and I liked how the author chose to focus on the lives of these two characters that were undoubtably filled with more than just a budding romance. (In fact, my one complaint is that the romance happens too close to the end and the good stuff felt rushed.) Miller is so fantastic at making her setting shine: the horseback riding, the small town feel, the cowboy hats. I don’t think I’ve ever has a desire to visit Montana and after reading her books, I’m ready to pack my bag.

Let’s be real, folks. A title like Big Sky Wedding pretty much tells us how things are going to turn out, but how Zane and Brylee actually get there? It’s not melodramatic, it’s not over the top unrealistic, it just sort of is. Of course, there’s a good amount of hotness thrown in with some “eff you” heels and a killer red dress. But I don’t want to give too much away. Except there is one detail at the end of the book that really surprised me, and that I thought was a pretty awesome decision on behalf of the gentlemanly Zane.

Oh, and any book that has the line “kiss me cowboy” is a must-read for me.

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The lovely folks at Little Bird Publicity have given us one copy of Big Sky Wedding for a lucky winner (must be a U.S. resident). Good luck!

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Estelle: The Returned by Jason Mott

The Returned by Jason MottThe Returned by Jason Mott ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Harlequin
Pages: 352
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: death, family, outrage, goverment “control”
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: Loved ones coming back from the dead, a.k.a. “The Returned”, catapult society into some unknown territory. Is it a miracle? Is it a curse? What does it all mean?

You think people coming back from the dead, and you think the worst, right?

As I was reading about Jacob, the young son of Harold and Lucille, returning from the dead as the small boy he was when he drowned, I kept thinking… okay, he’s going to be a zombie, right? Something is going to go wrong here, isn’t there?

And things did go wrong, but not in the way I thought they would. Instead an entire society is divided over what to do about the Returned, an epidemic occuring all over the world. Riots, attacks, brutal murders are happening all over. The Returned are segregrated from the living and treated like crap by some, while others think it’s a miracle. An unexpected moment to share with someone you loved.

Jason Mott jumps from Harold and Lucille’s story to their regretful town pastor and to another neighbor who wants to get rid of the Returned as soon as possible. Dispersed between are short vignettes from the Returned, speaking of past and present experiences. Structurally, The Returned could have been stronger (though it might have just been the formatting of the ARC that made it a little jarring), the pacing sped up, and the action could have been written with more clarity. There were several instances where I had to go back and reread scenes just to get the picture right in my head.

But it was the ending that really affected my review of this book. That and the author’s note. I was super surprised to be crying on a subway platform in those final passages. During my reading, I found myself waiting for something gruesome to occur when, instead, it was the stark contrast of reactions from the people experiencing this that turned out to be the most disconcerting. Was it jealousy or fear of the unknown that prompted people to become so blood thirsty for people who had already died once?

I have no idea.

I’ve noticed a running theme in a few of the books I read this year (i.e. 11/22/63 by Stephen King and All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill). Sometimes what sounds so great doesn’t end up to be all that great afterall. The Returned joins this group with the confusing control of the government, the pain of having to watch a loved one leave more than once, and the realization that time does not have a pause button.

The truth is many of us have lost someone important in our lives and if we haven’t, we will. I’m pretty positive we would give up just about anything to have one more moment to laugh together, share a story, or just share a cup of coffee. Even if how it was happening was still a blurry concept… isn’t it enough that it was happening at all?

There’s so much to think about after finishing The Returned. Days after I reached the final page, my emotional reactions are still coming in waves. It’s definitely a book to check out.

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Estelle: Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg SloanCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 29, 2013
Publisher: Dial
Pages: 384
Target audience: Middle grade
Keywords: tragedy, family, adoption, young geniuses
Format read: ARC from TLA. (Thanks!)
Other book reviewed by author: I’ll Be There

Summary: When her adoptive parents die in a car accident, Willow shuts down. The uber smart girl who loves to spend time in her garden no longer exists. Instead, Willow is quiet as her new companions help her to work through this tragedy.

I love Holly Goldberg Sloan’s writing because it instantly transports me back to my younger self and all the reasons I loved books in the first place.

Her themes revolve around unconventional families, tragedy, fate, and how the smallest act of kindness can utterly change someone’s life.

With her succinct writing style, Sloan has written a beautiful book about young Willow, probably the smartest protagonist I have ever encountered, who must deal with the shocking deaths of her parents. She was adopted by them, and now she is surprisingly “adopted” by high schooler Mai, her mom, her brother, and (kind sorta) her school counselor. This group of people couldn’t form a more eclectic family, and together they learn how to evolve individually as they help Willow to grieve and move forward.

At first sight, Willow is a little hard to get a handle on. She knows even the smallest details about the plants in her garden, she can learn to speak Vietnamese in record time, and she’s sort of walks around like she’s a little 50-year old with super complex brain functions. This little lady, even when brought down by absence of her parents, has no idea the effect she has on the people she comes across, and I loved watching that happen. Slowly and meaningfully, I knew Sloan would connect the dots in a way that would make me nod my head and think “all is right in this world.”

For all the serious situations surround the main plot, I promise there are some sweet, funny, and wonderful moments to counterbalance the flow.

Counting by 7s felt like a poetic masterpiece as I got swept into Willow’s story and this cast of colorful and complex characters. (I love that the adults are facing their own demons too.) It really is a team effort to make these people feel whole again, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. My only warning? Have tissues on hand.

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Estelle: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing by David LevithanTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 208
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: sexuality, breaking records, relationships, family
Format read: ARC paperback from TLA (Thank you!)

Summary: Two boys (exes) try to break the world’s record of longest kiss. Two other boys in a long term relationship go with the ebb and flow of their romance. Two boys meet at a gay prom. One boy’s secret comes out. Encompassing these three separate stories is the narration from those who lost their life to AIDs.

I have no idea how David Levithan does it.

None. Nada. Zip.

His work in Two Boys Kissing is like a performance arts piece. As I was reading it, super savoring each word, I kept thinking about how I would love to hear all of it spoken aloud to an audience. The words, so beautiful when strung together, are just that effective. I was smiling, I was tearing up, my heart felt heavy, my heart felt light. How he writes such poetry without being overly flowery and keeping these lives so grounded, I will never know.

What I do know is that Two Boys Kissing has moved my favorite David novel (Love is the Higher Law) down a slot and will reign as number one for a long, long time.

Harry and Craig are best friends, ex-boyfriends, who are vying for the ultimate world record of longest kiss. They plan on kissing for over 32 hours in front of their high school, friends, family, and strangers. At the same time, a town or two over, Avery and Ryan meet at a gay prom, hoping it’s the start of something. Peter and Neil have been in a relationship for a stretch of time and are working through what happens when things aren’t so new anymore. Cooper is only out to those he “hooks up with” online but when his parents discover his truth, he flees.

With narration provided by those who have succumbed to AIDs, readers learn about their hardships, their joys, and how far the world has come and how far it still has to go for acceptance. The four stories weave within one another detailing varying degrees of relationships, honesty, and support. For every time my heart would break a little bit for these characters and even their “ancestors”, there were equally wonderful moments to be had around the corner (i.e. the most romantic visit to a bookstore ever and evidence that you can tweet and kiss at the same time).

Levithan challenges his reader with use of the “Greek chorus” and while I think it might take a little getting used to for some, their presence makes Two Boys Kissing feel epic without losing its accessibility. It’s touching without being melodramatic. Their commentary and their observations really lend a ton of perspective to how society has evolved and struggled and continues to do both today. And the characters! I have no doubt that each of these characters truly represents a living and breathing person dealing with similar situations, and I think it’s a testament to David’s talent that he makes them feel that way (and not like caricatures) in 208 short pages.

Two Boys Kissing is honestly one of the most profound and powerful books I have ever read. It needs to make its way into as many hands, homes, and bookshelves as possible.

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