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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs

A couple months ago I read The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan Wiggs and before I'd even finished it I knew I would need to read The Apple Orchard. As if by magic, it appeared on NetGalley and I wasted no time requesting it. Love when that happens.

Here's the summary of The Apple Orchard:

Tess Delaney makes a living returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners. She loves illuminating history, filling the spaces in people's hearts with stories of their family legacies. 
But Tess's own history is filled with gaps: a father she never met, and a mother who spent more time traveling than with her daughter. 

Then Dominic Rossi arrives on the doorstep of the San Francisco shop Tess hopes to buy, and he tells her that the grandfather she never knew is in a coma. Tess has been named in his will to inherit half of Bella Vista, a hundred-acre apple orchard in the magical Sonoma town called Archangel. 
The rest is willed to Isabel Johansen. A half sister she hadn't heard of. 

Isabel is everything Tess isn't: all softness to Tess's hard angles, warm and nurturing where Tess is tightly wound. But against the rich landscape of Bella Vista, with Isabel and Dominic by her side, Tess begins to discover a world filled with the simple pleasures of food and family, of the warm earth beneath her bare feet. A world where family comes first and the roots of history run deep.

Okey dokey. So remember how in The Beekeeper's Ball I felt like the history of Isabel's grandparents kind of overshadowed the romance? This one also has a lot of history, but in the case of this one it really was more about figuring out Tess and Isabel's past, and not so much the previous generation's past. I much preferred the way time unfolded in this one, with most of the stories making sense and being relevant to the story in the book. That said, again the book veers away from a traditional romance a bit, and becomes more about Tess herself than about Tess and Dominic. I honestly didn't get a great feel for Dominic, and while I could see them falling in love, he didn't stand out to me as memorable.  Tess and Isabel are really the stars of this one, and it's very lovely.

As The Apple Orchard opens, Tess is all hard angles and cigarettes. She's too skinny, full of anxiety, and determined to get the next prestigious promotion. She's all business and has no problem separating a person from their heirlooms.  After discovering a family she never knew existed, she's forced into a unique situation of helping them recover the family estate by using her background. She is finally able to get some answers about her father and learns why her mother kept secrets from her. She learns to relax and let's go of some of her single-minded focus on career. By the end, she's likable and really seems to be happy with her life.

Overall, The Apple Orchard is a really pleasant read. It moves along quickly and I was eager to get back to it at each opportunity. I would really hesitate to call it a romance, and would classify it as woman's fiction (which I didn't realize I enjoyed).  This family history blends well with what we learn in The Beekeeper's Ball without duplicating every single detail, which can be tricky to do in a series.

I am anxious to read the next book in the Bella Vista Chronicles, even though it's not clear who it will focus on.

The Apple Orchard came out in paperback on May 1, 2014.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hexagon update #20- 2014.

Over the last two weeks I've basted another 31 hexies and completed one special flower. This brings me to 2056 done with 864 to go.

Remember when in sent the hexie kits out to my friends and family? I've gotten enough back to make a flower. I'm hoping there will be three or four.
Front porch sewing.
On the boat sewing.

I also cut what I think will be the home stretch of pinks, giving me roughly 550 2.5" squares. I'm mostly guessing here, but I'll need to do a few more white and gray as well.

Linking up with Jessica at Life Under Quilts.


Monday, July 21, 2014

The Texas Rodeo Barons, Books 1 & 2

Ok, so remember how much I loved that first Donna Alward that I read? That has led me to keeping an eye out for her new books on NetGalley and requesting any I find--- even if the title is "The Texan's Baby" and it has a hugely pregnant woman on the cover.  Normally, even the cowboy on the cover wouldn't make me overlook the pregnant woman but I made an exception. I finally sat down to read it a couple weeks ago, and discovered that Alward writes a really great Harlequin- she's 2 for 2 on the Harlequins for me now.  After reading this one and discovering it was first in the series, I went back to NetGalley to look for the rest. There are (going to be) six of them- all by different authors. The next three were already available so I snapped them up. Of the four I now have/have read THREE of them involve babies and children. So we'll see how that goes. 

Wow, that's possibly the longest intro paragraph I've ever written. And how were the books?

The Texan's Baby by Donna Alward was terrific. I'd give it a good four stars.  Lizzie and Chris end up expecting a baby after a one night stand at the rodeo. This is, of course, out of character for both of them.  I thought I'd really be put off by it, and honestly it wasn't nearly as annoying as I predicted. They both handle the situation as adults, with little or no drama about paternity or responsibility or money. This made the pregnancy a near non-issue and only a way to get them together quickly.  I enjoyed seeing them squirm through figuring out how to explain a pregnancy to their families when they weren't actually dating.  The big conflict comes about from their jobs, not the baby. It turns out that Lizzie is heading up her family's oil energy company and Chris works for a rival company.  Lizzie doesn't handle the conflict in this well, and I'm not 100% sure I like the way it's resolved- I felt Lizzie doesn't grovel enough or come through with enough legitimate reason to act the way she does.  Despite this, I felt like the romance was solid enough to keep me looking for Alward's books, and I immediately requested the next three in the series.

Second up was The Texan's Cowgirl Bride by Trish Milburn. This is the one book of the first four that does not include babies, but it does have a tragically dead wife to make up for it. Travis is a returning war hero turned PI (of course he's a returning war hero, aren't all the ones who aren't cowboys?) who finds himself falling for Savannah Baron (sister of Lizzie.)  The problem is that Savannah is experiencing a health scare and Travis has already lost one wife. Is he willing to fall in love again with someone who might also die on him?

This one wasn't as strong as The Texan's Baby. I liked each of them individually, but I didn't find the relationship to be as strong. It felt like it was much more about the surrounding details than about the couple themselves. Additionally, I felt like perhaps Savannah's health problems were drawn out a bit too long for sake of the story (I base this entirely on my imagination, perhaps it does take this long.)  Once again I enjoyed seeing the Barons, but did not feel as though all the siblings took over the story. Despite not loving it as much as the first story in the series, I'm looking forward to the next two (four) books.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

We went to Alabama!

It's been five years since we braved the drive home to see my family. In other words, way too long. We had so much fun, but I find I'm not interested in typing out a recap, so here's a barely annotated photo history.

On the road!
20 hours and 1200 miles later.
Too tired to really enjoy sparklers.
The middle child.
My baby brother.
My mom with four of the boys.
Sunset on the tenneessee river.
Mid run selfie on the river.
The Pirate camped with his cousins. He was sooo dirty.
Pretty girl got her ears pierced.
The Alabama cousins. Anna wasn't interested in pictures.
The Bug loved the pools.
There were kittens.
Her hair turned to ringlets in Alabama.
Mid run on the Old Railroad bridge.
My sister-in-law with my baby.
This is the Pirate preparing to jump. Both boys did this for hours.


Headed home. Compare this to the first picture and notice how much more stuff went home with us!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On Sunset Beach by Mariah Stewart

My recent disappointment with Susan Mallery's Fool's Gold series has led me to try to find other small town romances to fill that gap. I've been aware of Mariah Stewart for years, but never took the time to try one out. These two things combined to have me request On Sunset Beach from NetGalley.

Here's the summary:
From New York Times bestselling author Mariah Stewart comes a captivating and heartwarming new novel in her beloved Chesapeake Diaries contemporary romance series—perfect for fans of Barbara Freethy, Robyn Carr, and Susan Mallery.
Carly Summit’s name couldn’t be more fitting, since in life she always lands on top. She grew up wealthy and privileged in a tony Connecticut town, opened her own gallery in New York City, and is about to make art world history displaying previously unknown works by a prominent twentieth-century painter. No wonder she possesses a can-do attitude that can’t be soured. Ford Sinclair is another story. A military career in war-torn Africa, where he witnessed unspeakable violence and suffering, has left him haunted and deeply cynical. Now he’s looking for a way to forget and a place to belong. He hopes to find both back home in St. Dennis.

When Carly is forced to move the premiere of her new exhibition from Manhattan to St. Dennis, and Ford agrees to take charge of the town’s only newspaper, the two cross paths. But it’s hardly the start of a beautiful friendship. While Ford can’t ignore her charms, Carly’s unflappable good cheer only confounds him. Yet beneath Ford’s stormy brooding, Carly sees a man worth caring about—even if her warmest ways can’t thaw his frozen heart.

My thoughts:
First of all, I think perhaps "frozen heart" is stretching things a bit far.  Ford is a bit shellshocked from his past, and finds it hard to think about his future in general. He's not sure that he really fits in in St. Dennis any longer but he also can't think ahead to what he does want to do.  When his mother conspires to throw him into her role at the newspaper, he agrees temporarily, only to discover that it's not the terrible hardship he'd imagined. The reader doesn't really see his role in the paper beyond how it applies to Carly, but we do see his dissatisfaction and uneasiness with life lessen as the book progresses. Ford is likeable, even when his war memories intrude.

Carly is a bit harder for me to like. She's very successful, but not afraid to admit that it was her family's money that enabled her to become a success. Sure, mom and dad paid for the first art gallery, but now she's successful both professionally and financially in her own right. However, in the first half of the book there are quite a few examples of her wealth that just felt like showing off to me. This doesn't continue through the book, and I came to admire her ability to go with the flow of the art exhibit in St Dennis, even when it disrupts her plans. At times she's a bit too good to be true, and every thing falls into place a bit too neatly for her. She works hard, but she's able to overcome any short deadline or change of plans with grace.

The romance itself is steady. It's not overnight and neither do either of them deny the attraction. I admit I found Ford a bit smarmy in their inital meeting, but that element dropped off quickly. It isn't perhaps the most swoonworthy of romance novels out there, but it does make me interested in the remainder of the series and I'll certainly be picking up another to see if it fills the hole left by Fool's Gold.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hexagon update #19-2014

Last week we drove from South Dakota to Alabama and back (more on this later, hopefully). I had high hopes for making hexagons during the 20 hour drive, but turns out my children are very needy. Then when we were there I had other things to do- like eat all the things. Regardless, I managed to baste 115 more hexies and sew together four more flowers. This brings me to 2025 done (over 2000!!!) and 895 (or so) to go. Hopefully soon I'll have more exciting pictures to show than more pink hexies in my little blue box. Also, I asked Mike if he'd wash the windshield so my pictures were prettier. He declined to stop on the interstate to do so.


Linking up with Jessica at Life Under Quilts.


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Once Tasted by Laura Moore

I can not resist a cowboy!  This will be very well illustrated in the next couple weeks, based on the upcoming reviews. Sorry about that, non-romance readers. (Are there even any of you left reading this blog??)


Here's the blurb for Once Tasted:
Three siblings, an extraordinary family, a lasting heritage—in the irresistible Silver Creek Ranch trilogy, they’ll fight for the land and the people they love.
Everything has come easily to Reid Knowles, the middle son of a California ranching family. But his charmed life is suddenly complicated when his good friend and neighbor asks him to help run the winery next door. His neighbor’s niece, Mia Bodell, is in charge—and she has made it clear that she’d rather be roped to a steer than to Reid Knowles. Never one to back down from a challenge, Reid vows to win her trust.

Her life marked by loss, Mia knows that nothing comes easily—love included. In high school, her heart was crushed by Reid, and even though years have passed, the hurt lingers. Mia is achingly aware that the teen heartthrob has matured into a devastatingly handsome playboy, and the budding winemaker refuses to let down her guard. But one taste of unbridled passion changes things. From Reid’s first intoxicating kiss to his unexpectedly tender seduction, Mia is swept into a passionate affair that could tear her heart to pieces . . . or give her everything she has ever wanted.

A cowboy and a winery? In one book? Of course I asked for it.  And then, as I do, I sat on it for a while. When I realized that my time was running out I decided I better at least sample it and ended up reading the entire thing in a matter of days.  Final verdict? Very good, but with a few minor flaws.

Reid is *almost* unlikable by his complete perfection. He's laid back, handsome, completely liked by both men and women. He breezes in and out of the ranch and no one is annoyed. His one "flaw" is some behavior from high school *that only he knows about.*  All of this together should mean that he's a complete stereotype (he is) and that we will all just roll our eyes. However, Reid is saved by his genuine desire to help Mia with the winery and make up for his bad behavior in high school. He feels as if he was a jerk to Mia then and knows she hates his guts (really she's just still mortified)  and really really wants to help her out. In hindsight, it seems obvious even to him that he would fall for her.

Mia, on the other hand, is a strange combination of traits. Tall and shapely with beautiful hair, she finds herself lacking. She hates her curly hair, but doesn't cut it. She dresses in shapeless worn out clothing for no reason I can discern.  She's very very focused on the wine itself and because of her history her social skills are incredibly weak- which is why she needs Reid.  Her uncle takes off and leaves the winery in her hands forcing her to realize that he did it on purpose because he trusts her. Mia really does grow through the novel, she stands up to her greedy slimeball cousin, she learns to trust Reid, even though she doesn't want to, and she's mostly honest from beginning to end. It is easy to see why they would fall for each other.

There are a few other small problems with the book- it's very much a roller coaster of good, good, good-- bad, bad, BAD- which seems a bit lazy on a plot making level. People who are looking for really outstanding writing won't find it here, but neither will they find anything unbearable (I'm looking at you, Susan Mallery!) If the first or third book in the series were to show up at the library or on NetGallery I'd be more than happy to find out what happens with the other siblings.

Overall: Nice solid read, firmly in the romance camp, hot cowboy included.

Once Tasted was published in May 2014.

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