Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Buns, by Alice Clayton {ends 2/26}

The Bryants had owned this property for almost one hundred and fifty years. And like so many other family-run hotels, they'd relied too much on "but this is how it's always been done," which simply doesn't work anymore in this modern age. With Yelp and TripAdvisor helping everyone make their vacation plans, reviews could make or break a place. And they'd had their share of bad reviews int he last few years. Couple that with the recent economic crisis and belt-tightening across the board for vacationers, and they wre in danger of losing their beautiful hotel.

Unless ... 

... they had me. Which they did. I rolled my neck, cracked my shoulders a bit, and settled in for the final leg.

I had a hotel to save.

Buns is the third book in Alice Clayton's Hudson Valley series, all of which can be read as standalone novels. I already did reviews on Nuts and Cream of the Crop, so I was looking forward to Buns. The characters from the other books play supporting roles in Buns, as well, and it's fun to see where they're at in their lives.

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Buns, by Alice Clayton
Clara Morgan is living the dream, if you can call rebranding hotels that are desperate for a new life and running any kind of marathon a dream. Which she does. But the career she loves and the endurance races that keep her adrenaline pumping have kept her too busy to put down any roots. Growing up in foster care, she’s never been able to establish traditions of her own, which may be why she’s fascinated by the rituals that generations-old family resorts are known for. She’s especially interested in the Bryant Mountain House, and not just for their secret recipe for the yummy, gooey, can’t-get-enough-of Hot Cross Buns….

Archie Bryant, the man with the Buns, is fifth generation and one-day-owner of the charming yet run-down Bryant Mountain House in Bailey Falls, New York. He’s determined to save his family’s legacy from the wrecking ball the old-fashioned way—by gritting his teeth and doing what needs to be done. There’s no way Archie will be influenced by the new hotel branding expert his father brought in to turn one hundred and fifty years of tradition on its head just to attract a faster, younger, slicker crowd. But when some of Clara’s ideas start bringing in new, paying customers, Archie can’t deny that she may have just given him a shot at keeping his resort open.

It’s sticky, it’s messy, it’s sweet, it’s
Buns.
Although I related most to the main heroine of the second book in the series, Cream of the Crop, Clara and Archie's story was definitely fun to read. Clara is a "hotel fixer": her job is to visit hotels, find out what could make them better/more profitable, and suggest fixes to management. When she meets Archie Bryant, however, whose father owns the Bryant Mountain House hotel, she starts falling for him ... and it's probably not the best idea to get involved with the boss's son!

(they do, anyways, of course!)

Archie comes with his own baggage: his wife passed away a few years ago, and was only 32 years old. He hasn't dated anyone since then, but he finds himself falling for Clara as well.

This was a very cute read, as are most of Alice Clayton's books. I really liked that the characters from Nuts and Cream of the Crop—Roxie and Leo, and Natalie and Oscar, as well as some of their friends, too—make cameos in this book, as they all live in Bailey Falls, where the hotel is located. This gives readers of the other novels in the series the chance to "check in" on them and see what they are up to. The book mentions that the main heroine here, Clara, has known Roxie and Natalie for a while, as well.

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who likes a quick and easy read, and/or for people who like romance stories. You don't need to have read the other two in the series to read this one, as they are all standalone novels, for the most part, but they're helpful in knowing things about the secondary characters from the other books that show up here.

4 stars out of 5.

The Hudson Valley series, by Alice Clayton:
#1: Nuts (my review, purchase)
#2: Cream of the Crop (my review, purchase)
#3: Buns (purchase)

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own. All Amazon links are affiliate links which means I receive a portion of any sales.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a paperback copy of Buns!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, February 26th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be contacted via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of Buns, by Alice Clayton

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Gatekeepers, by Jen Lancaster {ends 2/18}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

“We breed excellence here at North Shore High School.”

I nod instead of saying anything, because how do I even respond to a statement like that?

I also nodded when Vice Principal Torres said the same thing as he welcomed me to the school. He clasped my hand and nearly crushed it in a crippling shake. Then my guidance counselor, Mr. Gorton, went for the conversational trifecta. WTF? Are they all working from the same script?

And how does one breed excellence here, anyway?

In a lab? In a test tube? Or is it more like in a barn?


This book was a heavy read, but that’s what the author intended. The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster (usually a humor writer) is her examination of 2012 in Lake Forest, Illinois, by recreating some of the community’s experiences in a fiction world. That year, three high school students ended their lives by stepping in front of commuter trains. The Gatekeepers puts us in the hearts and minds of who the students at the high school could have been, and how they were each affected by the multiple teen suicides in their community.

Official synopsis: 

Book Review: The Gatekeepers, by Jen Lancaster
"How could we know that forever could end at seventeen?"

Anyone passing through North Shore, Illinois, would think it was the most picture-perfect place ever, with all the lakefront mansions and manicured hedges and iron gates. No one talks about the fact that the brilliant, talented kids in town have a terrible history of throwing themselves in front of commuter trains.

Meet Simone, the bohemian transfer student from London, who is thrust into the strange new reality of an American high school; Mallory, the hypercompetitive queen bee; and Stephen, the first-generation genius who struggles with crippling self-doubt. Each one is shocked when a popular classmate takes his own life…except not too shocked. It's happened before. With so many students facing their own demons, can they find a way to save each other—as well as themselves?


Admittedly, this was a hard book for me to read. Having lost a few people to suicide in my life, I definitely recognized some of the teen’s emotions and responses, and they weren’t fun. I feel the author’s depiction of these situations as real in her fiction were very believable.

The characters became very likable. Mallory started out a little tiring, but as you heard more of her thoughts and reactions, she grew to be a strong, positive friend to many in the school. Kids who weren’t as well-liked in the school were eventually endearing as their inner insecurities and reasoning for how they behaved became clear.

Overall, this is a hard book to recommend to a stranger. I loved the author’s style, and would probably enjoy her memoirs or humor for which she is popular. The Gatekeepers is a highly emotional and well told book of a very difficult subject. I’d give it 4.5 stars out of 5, but it’s not for everyone.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley is a survivor living in a house full of snacks because she grocery shops when hungry. She’s been blogging in and around SE Michigan since March 2002 at SweetlyBSquared.com.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a hardcover copy of The Gatekeepers!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Sunday, February 18th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, otherwise an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Hardcover copy of The Gatekeepers

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Book Review: She Regrets Nothing, by Andrea Dunlop

She'd felt it with a rush upon seeing her cousins. She'd never had a sibling, never had the experience of looking into someone's face and seeing a shadow of her own. It could not be a coincidence that they'd shown up now, she decided. That they'd come for her. And she felt it even more deeply that morning at the condo, with its cigarette funk that hung in the air, the stained beige carpet, the fussy, fat church ladies bustling around industriously; New York was coming slowly into view, an unanticipated escape hatch. As she headed for the door, she felt a wild fantasy well up: a desire to break every dish and piece of glassware in the place, to set fire to the curtains and leave them blazing in her wake.

She would never set food in here again. Her mother was dead. At last.

This book definitely reminded me of The House of Mirth, and its official synopsis below even mentions it. It's also been compared to TV's Gossip Girl.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: She Regrets Nothing, by Andrea Dunlop
In the tradition of The Emperor’s Children and The House of Mirth, the forgotten granddaughter of one of New York’s wealthiest men is reunited with her family just as she comes of age—and once she’s had a glimpse of their glittering world, she refuses to let it go without a fight.

When Laila Lawrence becomes an orphan at twenty-three, the sudden loss unexpectedly introduces her to three glamorous cousins from New York who show up unannounced at her mother’s funeral. The three siblings are scions of the wealthy family from which Laila’s father had been estranged long before his own untimely demise ten years before.

Two years later, Laila has left behind her quiet life in Grosse Pointe, Michigan to move to New York City, landing her smack in the middle of her cousins’ decadent world. As the truth about why Laila’s parents became estranged from the family patriarch becomes clear, Laila grows ever more resolved to claim what’s rightfully hers. Caught between longing for the love of her family and her relentless pursuit of the lifestyle she feels she was unfairly denied, Laila finds herself reawakening a long dead family scandal—not to mention setting off several new ones—as she becomes further enmeshed in the lives and love affairs of her cousins. But will Laila ever, truly, belong in their world? Sly and sexy,
She Regrets Nothing is a sharply observed and utterly seductive tale about family, fortune, and fate—and the dark side of wealth.

I loved all of the Michigan references in this book—they were so specific that I tweeted at the author to see if she was from Michigan, since her bio says the Seattle area, and she said she is not, but she has friends that live here. (at one point, Leila mentions Twelve Oaks Mall, which was funny—I live about 30 minutes from there)

Leila, the main character, is from Grosse Pointe, which does have some "rich" areas, but Leila and her mother are not well off at all. At her mother's funeral, Leila's NYC cousins show up, to introduce themselves to her, and we later find out that Leila's father and their grandfather had a falling out, after which Leila's parents moved them to Michigan.

I was a big fan of Gossip Girl when it was on TV, and this book definitely reminded me of that. Leila is a bit of a gold-digger, in that she wants to live the NYC lifestyle that her cousins do but she doesn't have money to do so; therefore, she dates around, and also mooches off them a bit. There are also affairs throughout the novel and later, another death, which affects everyone.

I'd definitely recommend this book, especially to my Michigan readers. It's a fun read and almost like reading gossip from a friend—a little malicious, but definitely intriguing.

4.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Review: Keep Her Safe, by K.A. Tucker

Prologue
Corporal Jackie Marshall
June 1997

"Hey ..." Abe lowers his voice to a whisper. "I wonder, how honest do you think these narc guys are?"

"Honest enough. Why?"

"His chocolate-brown eyes roll over the bundles of cash. "Wouldn't it be easy for one of those to go missing?"

It's a question you don't pose, especially not while you're in uniform and standing in front of a pile of drugs. "Pretty dang easy, I'll bet."

I am a big fan of K.A. Tucker's books, so when the opportunity came to join the book tour for this one, I was excited to join it in exchange for an e-copy of the novel. The novel clocks in at 448 pages, so it did take me a bit to finish it, but overall, it's a good read.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Keep Her Safe, by K.A. Tucker
Making a Murderer meets Scandal in this story of police corruption, family secrets, and illicit affairs from bestselling author K.A. Tucker, celebrated for her “propulsive plot twists and searing seduction” (USA TODAY).

Noah Marshall has known a privileged and comfortable life thanks to his mother, the highly decorated chief of the Austin Police Department. But all that changes the night she reveals a skeleton that's been rattling in her closet for years, and succumbs to the guilt of destroying an innocent family's life. Reeling with grief, Noah is forced to carry the burden of this shocking secret.

Gracie Richards wasn't born in a trailer park, but after fourteen years of learning how to survive in The Hollow, it's all she knows anymore. At least here people don't care that her dad was a corrupt Austin cop, murdered in a drug deal gone wrong. Here, she and her mother are just another family struggling to survive...until a man who clearly doesn't belong shows up on her doorstep.

Despite their differences, Noah and Gracie are searching for answers to the same questions, and together, they set out to uncover the truth about the Austin Police Department's dark and messy past. But the scandal that emerges is bigger than they bargained for, and goes far higher up than they ever imagined.

Complex, gritty, sexy, and thrilling,
Keep Her Safe solidifies K.A. Tucker's reputation as one of today's most talented new voices in romantic suspense.

This novel has a few twists, some of which I foresaw and some of which I did not. I really liked that included a few different POVs—we hear from Gracie and also from Noah, and the novel also goes from past to present, so we hear from Abraham (Gracie's dad, who died under suspicious circumstances) and Jackie, Noah's mom. The novel also spans two states: it starts off in Austin, Texas, and later, a grown-up Noah drives to Arizona to go find Gracie and give her something important.

I was definitely invested in the characters in this book—the author does a great job at fleshing each of them out. The book starts with a rather surprising event, and then leaves it up to Noah and Gracie to figure out exactly what happened, both with the event and with the events that transpired in 2003, when Gracie's dad died during a drug bust.

I'd recommend this book for anyone that likes mystery or suspense novels, or anyone who is a fan of K.A. Tucker's previous work.

4 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book as part of its promotional book tour. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ready for Wild, by Liora Blake {ends 2/1}

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

She’s not here for a nature walk? She expects me to show her what she needs to see? And she’s implying that I might not be up to the task? Try again, Amber. This is my unit, and I’ve spent more time here than she’s spent getting her hair done. I grind my jaw together, using the time to temper my words.

“Good. I’m only here because I drew the short straw.”

Her lips twist into a smug sneer. “Sounds like you have shit for luck, then, Braden Montgomery.”

“Luck is for suckers,” I volley back. “Hard work gets you what you want, even when bad odds get in the way. You just have to work for it.”


This is the third novel in the Grand Valley Novel series by Liora Blake, so I was looking forward to seeing what happened to a couple characters I’d met just briefly when reading the second book. One of the great strengths of the series is that the individual books are not dependent on each other, but just occur in the same community.

Official synopsis:
Featuring Liora Blake’s signature “funny, endearing, and more than a little hot” (Library Journal) style, the third novel in the Grand Valley series features a rough-talking game warden going toe-to-toe with a TV star who unexpectedly turns his life upside down.

Braden Montgomery is certain about three things: one, luck is for suckers; two, time spent outdoors is what keeps him sane; and, three, when it comes to sharing his bed, there’s only one female he’s willing to put up with—his Chesapeake Bay retriever, Charley. Braden’s constructed his life on these beliefs, and he’s quite content with the status quo.

But when a moment of bad luck lands Braden toe-to-toe with a blonde bombshell with her own television show, his stubbornly structured reality begins to unravel.

As for Amber Regan, her brand has been built on camo, cut-offs, and cleavage. With her own hunting show on the foremost sports channel and enough social media followers to garner her plenty of endorsement deals, Amber’s come a long way from the tomboy in a small Texas town she once was. Unfortunately, ratings are down and her contract for next season is in limbo, so she’s in desperate need of a reboot to save her show—and filming a rough and tough archery elk hunt in Colorado might be the way to do just that. Too bad the local game warden grunts more than he speaks, seems determined to despise her—and makes her heart race in all the most inconvenient ways.


Before actually meeting her, Amber Regan is easily exactly the kind of person Braden Montgomery hates. She’s got a tv show about hunting – so it must be all staged shots, pink camo, sexy poses and high heels. Ugh. But once they meet, he finds out that appearances can be very deceiving.

Amber, Braden, and their friends were fun characters, and great to "hang out" with while reading their story. While the end was pretty predictable, it wasn’t all just happy with everything going their way. I liked reading them having a bit of conflict before their inevitable joy.

Overall, this was an entertaining read and would be a great vacation or beach read. I’ve give it 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend the two other books in the series too if you want to really feel cozy with their Hotchkiss, CO community.

{click here to purchase}

Becki Bayley likes feeding her birds and fish, watching green(ish) grass peek through the snow, and staying cozy under an afghan from her mom while reading a good book. She’s been blogging around SE Michigan at SweetlyBSquared.com since March 2002.

GIVEAWAY:

One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Ready for Wild!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, February 1st, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be notified via email the next day, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Paperback copy of Ready for Wild

Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Review: Match Made in Manhattan, by Amanda Stauffer

So now, in the last third of my twenties—most people's dating prime—I've had two three-plus-year relationships, two or three mini-relationships, and not one blind date, setup, or genuine first date. And I haven't the foggiest clue as to what a typical date looks like. But of paramount importance, it's high time I figure out how to find people to date—assuming I want to branch out beyond the alumni population of my college. The world is big and I am small. Where do I begin?

This book sounded interesting when I received an email about it—from the author herself, actuallybecause I am very familiar with online dating. I met my boyfriend on Tinder, and in the past I have used a good portion of the dating apps available. It was definitely a fun read because it's so relatable.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Match Made in Manhattan, by Amanda Stauffer
After two intense, dead-end relationships, serial monogamist Alison finds herself confused, lonely, and drastically out of touch with the world of modern dating. Refusing to wallow, she signs up for a popular dating app and resolves to remain open-minded and optimistic as she explores the New York City singles' scene. With the click of a button, her adventures begin: On one date, she's dumped before the first kiss; on another, she dons full HAZMAT gear; she meets a tattooed folk singer turned investment banker, an undercover agent who tracks illegal exotic animals, and dozens of other colorful, captivating personalities.

Giving them each her signature "pants speech"—her pants aren't coming off unless she has a real connection with someone—she desperately wants to push past the awkward small-talk phase to find true love, but finding "the one" is starting to feel impossible. That is, until she meets Luke, who is sophisticated, funny, and not to mention, hot. Alison finds herself falling for Luke harder than any guy she's dated and finally letting her walls down, but will he stick around or move on to his next match?

Match Made in Manhattan is a fast-paced, contemporary story about the struggles of dating in the digital age. Replete with online profiles, witty dialogue, and a super-supportive group of female friends, this all-too-real and relatable debut novel will have readers laughing, crying, and rooting for Alison all the way to the end.

Alison is kind of different than others her age—this is her first time trying online dating, and she's had a few 3+ year relationships in the past. Once one of those relationships ends, she hops on the online dating bandwagon, and her adventures in dating are fun to read about.

I was told that this book was actually first shopped as a memoir, and then details were changed and it was rebranded as fiction. I loved that the author separated each online date by chapters and also included the messages between Alison and her suitors—books that have emails or texts in them are always interesting.

I will say I wanted more of a "HEA" (Happily Ever After) ending, but the one that the author chose is probably more realistic. Overall, though, I enjoyed this book, and anyone that's ever done online dating will most likely enjoy it as well.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{click here to purchase}

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. However, the opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Quick Pick book review: Surprise Me, by Sophie Kinsella

  • Opening lines: I have this secret little vocabulary for my husband. Words I've invented, just to describe him. I've never even told him about them: They just pop into my head now and then.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge Sophie Kinsella fan (especially the Shopaholic series) and her books are usually witty and funny.
  • And what's this book about?
  • After being together for ten years, Sylvie and Dan have all the trimmings of a happy life and marriage; they have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, beautiful twin girls, and communicate so seamlessly, they finish each other's sentences. However, a trip to the doctor projects they will live another 68 years together and panic sets in. They never expected "until death do us part" to mean seven decades.

    In the name of marriage survival, they quickly concoct a plan to keep their relationship fresh and exciting: they will create little surprises for each other so that their (extended) years together will never become boring. But in their pursuit to execute Project Surprise Me, mishaps arise and secrets are uncovered that start to threaten the very foundation of their unshakable bond. When a scandal from the past is revealed that question some important untold truths, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other after all.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who likes "chick lit" or a fun read. 
  • Favorite paragraph: There he is in the mirror. My handsome, youthful husband. But what's he going to look like in sixty-eight years' time? I have a sudden dismaying image of Dan all elderly and wizened, batting at me with a stick and yelling, "Humbug, woman, humbug!" 

    Which is ridiculous. He'll be old. Not Ebenezer Scrooge. 
  • Something to know: Kinsella writes other books (standalone ones, like this one) besides the Shopaholic series - I reviewed My Not So Perfect Life recently, too.
  • What I would have changed: It's a little strange how Sylvie calls her father "Daddy" (more of what a little girl would do), since she's a grown woman. Otherwise, wouldn't have changed anything.
  • Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to order on Amazon - it will be online and in stores on February 13, 2018.

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