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review 2017-02-17 23:56
Politics, drama, and horses...not necessarily in that order
South Riding - Shirley Williams,Marion Shaw,Winifred Holtby

I decided to tackle a rather formidable bit of fiction pretty much on a whim in the form of South Riding by Winifred Holtby. It took me much longer to read than I had anticipated but that's just a good lesson that sometimes you need to take your time with a book. :-) Apparently this book is a literary classic although I had only heard about it recently through a YouTube channel (Mercy's Bookish Musings if you're curious). What drew my interest (besides the gorgeous cover art) was the setting which is a small area of Yorkshire. (As some of you may know, I'm kinda obsessed with the English countryside and I had the very good luck to visit Yorkshire in 2015 and fell a lot in love with it. THE MOORS, YA'LL.) South Riding is a fictional area of Yorkshire where city councilmen (and a councilwoman) pretty much run the show. If you've ever lived in a small town, particularly a rural one, then you'll recognize the intricate balance between government "officials" and their fellow townspeople. This was set in 1933-35 right at the start of WWII when the country was still harboring hope that the war could be avoided. Our main character, Sarah Burton, is a headmistress who is a revolutionary (at least to the people in South Riding) and ready to shake things up. The lone female on the City Council, Mrs. Beddowes, sees in Sarah a chance to improve the reputation of the school but she also feels that she can muster some amount of control over her (spoiler alert: this is doomed to fail). There are quite a few side stories such as that of Lydia Holly who lives in poverty but aspires to be an academic success the likes of which South Riding has never before seen. Not to mention the rather despicable men who like Mrs. Beddowes are on the City Council. One of them really turned my stomach. *shudder* I went into this book thinking that it was likely to be a romantic tale but if anything the romance was between the characters and their town. It's quite plain that Holtby harbors a nostalgic love of the Yorkshire where she grew up and it's palpable on nearly every single page of this book. If for nothing else, I enjoyed South Riding because of this. Otherwise, it wasn't exactly a life changing read (read Dickens for that). I'd give it a solid 6/10.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-12-28 00:33
#CBR8 Book 128: Wild at Whiskey Creek by Julie Anne Long
Wild at Whiskey Creek: A Hellcat Canyon Novel (Hot in Hellcat Canyon) - Julie Anne Long

Glory Hallelujah (yup, that's actually her name) Greenleaf is the only one in her family who's never broken the law or deviated from the straight and narrow. Unlike most of her other family members, who only seem to leave Hellcat Canyon to go to prison or when they die, Glory was going to become a star, using her songwriting and singing talent to make it big. Of course, then her brother Jonah was arrested for meth dealing and she had to use all her savings to help pay her mother's mortgage, and now she's still impatiently cooling her heels, trying to make ends meet by waitressing badly.

 

Deputy sheriff Eli Barlow has loved Glory since he was twelve years old, but any chance he had of winning her heart was crushed when he had to arrest her brother, his best friends, for meth dealing. He can't entirely understand what she's still doing in town, considering she had several demo tapes recorded and was all set to leave to get herself a music career. He hates that he had to break her heart (and his own) by arresting Jonah, and desperately wants to make things right between them. When Hollywood talent comes to town and takes notice of Glory's talent, Eli realises that the best way to win this woman's heart is to make sure she can leave Hellcat Canyon forever. 

 

Julie Anne Long will always have some leeway with me, having written one of my favourite romances of all time, What I Did for a Duke. I can respect that she wants to try new things, having written historical novels for most of her career. I thought Wild at Whiskey Creek worked moderately better than her first attempt at contemporary romance, Hot in Hellcat Canyon, although she still has quite a way to go to reach the levels of quality or entertainment value of her best historicals. In her biographical information for this book, Long reveals that she herself wanted to become a rock star and did both singing and guitar playing, but writing became her career choice instead. She certainly seems to know what she's talking about with regards to songwriting and composing (I know nothing about guitar playing, and only barely learned to strum a few chords during whatever basic lessons they gave us in music class in secondary school). I will also give her this, the earworm indie hit that is referenced throughout the story ended up getting stuck in my head as I read the book, despite the fact that it was a fictional song, that I'd never heard. I still ended up reciting the catchy chorus in my head. So kudos to you for that, Ms. Long.

 

Couples who have loved one another since they were children can be a tricky thing to pull off, but Ms. Long manages pretty well here. Since Eli and Glory's brother Jonah were best friends and grew up inseparably together, it seems natural he would also have spent a lot of time with Glory during that time. It's established that neither Eli nor Glory are silently and celibately pining for the other, they both date and have other relationships, but share one scorching and very memorable kiss when they are both single. Sadly, this is just before the bit where Eli has to arrest Jonah and send him to prison for years, making the fiercely loyal Glory shun him like the plague. Eli hates that he had to hurt her, and hates the reckless Jonah quite a bit as well, for giving the law-abiding Eli no choice but to do his job. 

 

After pretty much rudely telling everyone in town where to stick it before her brother got arrested, because she was getting out and becoming a big singing star, Glory has been forced to apologise to a lot of people and help support her widowed mother and assorted hard-up half-siblings by waitressing. The arrival of Hollywood TV crews, filming new historical prestige show, set during the California Gold Rush, also brings handsome television and movie actor Franco Francone to town. He pisses off Eli by joyriding his Porsche way above the speed limit through town, and making the moves on Glory, who is clearly the most interesting of all the single ladies in Hellcat Canyon. She's amused by his attention, but mainly flirts with him to make Eli jealous. Eli, on the other hand, has been set up with one of the makeup artists on the show, and tries his best to forget his impossible infatuation with Glory, who he's always known is meant for far better than him and the little mountain region they're from, no matter how lawless and hopeless most of her family members are. 

 

Because they've grown up together, there is no need for Eli and Glory to get to know each other. They have a shared past and just need to get past the conflict caused when utterly decent and law-abiding Eli arrested Glory's beloved, but rather careless brother. It's quite clear that Glory has a lot of talent, and needs to get her chance to show the world. So they need to figure out how they can reconcile their romantic feelings for one another, when Eli doesn't really have any plans of leaving Hellcat Canyon, while Glory wants nothing more than to get away.

 

Having written eleven Regency novels set in the little English town of Pennyroyal Green, Julie Anne Long is good at creating a cozy setting for her books. The towns of Hellcat Canyon and Whiskey Creek clearly have their fair share of colourful supporting cast that help populate the stories, many of whom the reader was already introduced to in the first book in the series. You by no means need to have read the previous book to enjoy this one, but it's quite clear that several of the secondary characters here will feature more prominently in future books. 

 

Sadly, while these books are perfectly entertaining as you're reading them, they're not very memorable. I read this at the beginning of December, and already I'm having trouble remembering specific details about the plot, except that Glory's younger half-brother and his clueless selfishness really annoyed me, plus there was a little too much of the romance plot that was Eli or Glory jealous of the other, but not actually talking to each other. Oh, and Ms. Long needs to realise that now that she's writing contemporary romances, she NEEDS to acknowledge that in the modern world, couples use some form of protection and talk about it before they fall into bed with one another. Really, it doesn't need to take up a lot of page space, but the fact that in both this and her previous contemporary, there is no talk of condoms, other contraceptives, the possibility of STDs or pregnancy. It's a minor point, but I saw it referenced in another review of this book as well, and I absolutely agree. 

 

This book was on Kirkus Best of 2016 list of romances. They clearly have very different taste in romance from me, since the excellent The Hating Game wasn't even on the list, while several romances that I found entertaining, but really nothing special were represented. While this was a better contemporary than her previous one, Julie Anne Long will have to do better to truly impress me, and I'm not going to rush out and get her next book.

 

Judging a book by its cover: Woman in a denim miniskirt stands in a meadow with her back to the camera, holding an acoustic guitar over her shoulders. am assuming this is supposed to be Glory, but based on her description in the book, I don't think it fits her at all. She doesn't seem like the sort of person who would wear pink, for one thing. I'm also really annoyed by the askew "k" at the end of "Creek". I'm sure it's supposed to be playful and whimsical, but it just sets my teeth on edge.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-128-wild-at-whiskey-creek-by.html
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review 2016-12-27 22:54
#CBR8 Book 127: Nuts by Alice Clayton
Nuts (The Hudson Valley Series) - Alice Clayton

Wanting to prove to herself that she can manage on her own, Roxie Callahan moved all the way across the country, away from her somewhat flakey, alternative diner-managing mother and her constant string of usually unhappy infatuations. Roxie has put herself through culinary school and is working hard to establish herself as a private chef to wealthy Hollywood wives. But when a moment of distraction means she screws up with a very important client, it seems as if most of her client base are happy to drop her like the proverbial hot potato. So when her mother calls her and begs her to run the family diner for the summer, while her mother and aunt go off around the world, competing in "The Amazing Race", Roxie doesn't really have a lot of alternatives and returns to the little town in upstate New York where she always felt like a bit of an outcast.

Roxie is determined that she's only staying around for the summer, but finds that there are many positive changes to the place she grew up. The quarterback she had a massive crush on is still handsome as ever, but has moved back to town with his equally attractive husband. The two happily take Roxie under their wing and do whatever they can to throw her in the path of local farmer Leo Maxwell, whose farming co-operative is supplying the town and surrounding areas with fresh fruits, berries, vegetables and produce. It's clear that Roxie's interest in the smoking hot Leo is very much reciprocated, and a scorching summer fling would absolutely make her days running the diner into less of a chore. Leo is clearly quite happily settled in town, though. What happens when the summer is over, and Roxie is going to return to LA?

I've only read one previous romance by Alice Clayton, the first book in her Cocktail series, Wallbanger. It was amusing enough, if a bit long overall and there was a drawn-out love scene involving way too many foodstuffs and dirtying of kitchen surfaces to my taste. This book is the first in her new contemporary romance series, entitled Hudson Valley, inspired by the sustainable food movement, organic farming, slow foods and the recent trend in local farming and wanting to know where your food comes from. The hero is a Manhattan playboy turned hipster farmer and the heroine is the local girl who returns to her hometown to discover that the things she's been running from for years might not be so bad after all.

Raised by a hippy dippy single mother who took over the local diner, and witness to her mother's many dramatic love affairs, Roxie has always had to be the practical, pragmatic one, who made sure the bills were paid and their little family could actually make ends meet, even when her mother was in one of her heartbroken periods. Always fascinated by gourmet cooking, she never really fit in among her peers and only found happiness when she went to culinary school far away, on the other side of the country. Making a living by herself in Los Angeles is incredibly hard, however, and when most of her revenue stream dries up because of one unfortunate cooking mishap, she's left with no options but to return home to run the family diner for a summer.

The local land surrounding the town has been owned by the wealthy Maxwell family for generations, but Roxie is surprised to discover that there is now a large and prosperous farming cooperative being run there, by none other than one of the sons of the Maxwell family. Maxwell Farms, apparently based on the Stone Barns Educational Centre in upstate New York is much more to Leo's taste than taking up the family legacy of big business banking. It's clear that every single woman in town has her eyes set on Leo, but according to Chad Bowman, Roxie's former quarterback classmate and new bestie in Bailey Falls, he's not shown any interest in anyone for years. Until Roxie shows up, that is.

Always careful to never get emotionally entangled in her hook-ups, having seen her mother crash and burn romantically too many times, Roxie makes it very clear to Leo that she's only there for a few months and that theirs will be a purely physical relationship. He seems more than happy to agree, and soon the two of them share more than one steamy evening together. As the summer progresses, Roxie discovers that keeping things completely casual with Leo may be harder than she thought, especially after she discovers some of the things the rest of the town apparently knew about his past, that she, the summer fling, has been unaware of.

After finishing The Count of Monte Cristo, I really wasn't up for reading anything long, complicated or demanding, meaning I pretty much settled for romances in December. This is the second one I read, and it was a lot more satisfying on all levels than Managed. By no means perfect, I liked the setting of Bailey Falls, two protagonists who are both very good at what they do and passionate about it, while bantering amusingly and sharing some believable chemistry on the page. Frequently in these stories, the element thrown in about two thirds of the way through, meant to cause complications for our lovers before everything is resolved to the reader's satisfaction can feel contrived and be quite annoying. I thought the elements of Leo's past that were introduced were well-done, and the complications came more from Roxie's insistence on emotional distance than from his having kept secrets.

The supporting cast, Chad Bowman and his husband, Roxie's mother, some of the colourful townsfolk, as well as Roxie's BFFs in New York, who are clearly being set up as the heroines of the next two books of the series, were also fun to read about. I don't mind sequel-bait if it's done well enough, and since the next hero is large, taciturn brooding dairy farmer neighbour (apparently Clayton's mental image of him is Jason Momoa - I can work with that!), I will probably be checking out the sequel early in the new year.

Judging a book by its cover: Ah, abs. ridiculously sculpted and toned muscles. and some walnuts, just so you understand that the title isn't just a rude pun, but sure, you're supposed to think that too. Since both Leo's ridiculously toned body and his food produce play important parts in the book, I suppose the cover is strangely fitting.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/12/cbr8-book-127-nuts-by-alice-clayton.html
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review 2016-06-29 01:04
#CBR8 Book 63: Second Chance Summer by Jill Shalvis
Second Chance Summer - Jill Shalvis

Lily Danville grew up in Cedar Ridge, Colorado, and loved hiking the mountain trails or climbing the rock faces in the summer, or skiing the challenging slopes in the winter. She was happy there, until tragedy struck and she lost half her family over the course of a few weeks. She's never forgiven herself and wasn't ever planning on returning. Having lost her job in a fashionable salon in San Diego and pretty much been blacklisted in the industry, she desperately needs a job, and has no choice but to return to her home town, to work for her friend Jonathan. She dreads going back for a number of reasons, but most of all because it will mean seeing Aidan Kincaid again, the guy she used to dream of, but could never have.

 

Aidan Kincaid is part of a large and close-knit family. He and his brothers run the Cedar Ridge Resort, which they're trying to keep afloat, despite some serious difficulties thanks to debts run up by their dead-beat dad. Aidan works as a firefighter and volunteers for the local Search and Rescue-service, when he's not co-managing the resort and trying to keep his younger siblings out of trouble. He's got a reputation as a ladies' man, not one for serious commitment, but that's because part of him has been pining for Lily, since the summer when she disappeared from the Ridge. Now she's back and he's more attracted to her than ever. But how long is she going to stay this time? Is she going to leave and break his heart once more?

 

The blurb of the book led me to believe that Lily and Aidan had shared much more of a passionate romance before Lily left Cedar Ridge, when the fact is that they were both teenagers, who spent quite a lot of time together, but only really had anything romantic going at one school dance. Lily, always in competition with her sister, who had admitted to fancying Aidan, as a result never really let herself get too close to him. Once the tragic events that tore her life to pieces occurred, she is incapable of forgiving herself, and she certainly can't allow herself to have feelings for Aidan, as that would feel like a betrayal to her sister. 

 

Aidan never knew about Lily's sister's feelings and wasn't able to act on his infatuation to Lily until that dance. Shortly after, she left town, before he had time to tell her how he felt and for ten years, he's been trying to tell himself that it was probably for the best. Nonetheless, when she returns, the normally very level-headed man gets all out of sorts (to the amusement of his various relatives) and it doesn't take all that long before he's confirmed that the spark is most certainly still there between him and Lily. 

 

This is the first book in the Cedar Ridge series and there are more than enough Kincaid siblings to provide fodder for multiple sequels. The only other Shalvis I've ever read is Rumor Has It, which I read for the RITA Reader Challenge back in 2014. As far as I can tell from the two books I've now read by her, and some general reading on the internet, Ms. Shalvis excels at cosy, comfortable contemporary romances, set in small towns, featuring generally well-rounded protagonists, without too much angst to complicate things.

 

In this book, Aidan has his fair share of troubles, relating to his father, but is really quite a stand-up guy. He's very much a protector, for his family and working both as a firefighter AND in search and rescue. For the past ten years, he's has a number of never-too-serious relationships, but he's always been up front about not wanting long-term commitment and once Lily returns to Cedar Ridge, it's obvious that deep down he was just hoping she'd come back and that with her, he pretty much wants nothing but commitment. 

 

Lily struggles with guilt and grief and has a hard time being back in a place where she suffered such powerful losses. She's pretty determined that her stay is only short-term, covering at her childhood friend Jonathan's salon while one of his employees is on maternity leave. She keeps sending out her resumés, hoping for a job somewhere else, with no wish to settle back in her home town, no matter how tempting the presence of Aidan is. Her attraction to him is also all mixed up in guilt and an overwhelming sense of loyalty to her sister, which is what provides the main obstacle to the romance of the book.

 

I pretty much loved the setting (despite not being an outdoors person at ALL) and the various supporting characters. I liked that what complications and low-level angst there was in the relationship between Lily and Aidan was handled without too much drama, even though both of them clearly had some lessons to learn about communication and not sending mixed signals. I suspect I will be checking out more books in this series, as going back to the fictional town of Cedar Ridge and getting better acquainted with more of Aidan's siblings will provide me with many hours of relaxing summer reading.

 

Judging a book by its cover: There are two different covers for this book. The one I read (featured here), has a rugged man in a rescue service t-shirt and cargo pants, with a rope and what looks like assorted mountain-climbing gear strapped to his side, photo-shopped onto a background of mountains and blue sky. The other cover is a twee watercolour image, full of flowers and mutet pastel colours, more suitable for a children's book than a romance, if you ask me. It also features the hokey tag line: "Sometimes only going home can set you free". Big bowl of nope on that one. I'll take my rugged mountain man any day of the week.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/06/cbr8-book-63-second-chance-summer-by.html
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review 2016-06-19 23:17
#CBR8 Book 60: Hot in Hellcat Canyon by Julie Anne Long
Hot in Hellcat Canyon - Julie Anne Long

Actor John Tennessee McCord was the star of a long-running TV show, but recently, his career has taken a bit of a dive. Having been one half of a big Hollywood power couple and then being rather publically dumped last year certainly hasn't helped. Now he's got a new TV series lined up about the California gold rush and while scouting out the locations for it, his pickup truck breaks down in Hellcat Canyon. Not that he minds all that much, as the burgers at the Misty Cat Cavern, the former Hellcat Saloon, are very tasty, and the blonde waitress there is clearly both intelligent and gorgeous. 

 

Still physically and emotionally scarred from her previous marriage, Britt Langley really isn't looking for any kind of relationship and has gotten very good at charmingly turning away any male interest in herself. She works as a waitress at the Misty Cat Cavern and a part-time real estate agent to pay the bills and nurses plants back from the brink of death in her spare time. When the handsome and charming J.T walks into the Misty Cat, Britt is smitten despite her vows to stay unattached. 

 

Liking the small time charm of Hellcat Canyon and the prospect of wooing the pants of Ms. Langley, J.T. decides to stay around town for a while. The chemistry between him and Britt is noticable to everyone around them, and it doesn't take all that long for them to act on their mutual attraction. But while J.T. may not be as hot a gossip commodity as he once was, the paparazzi will eventually track him down, and what started as a small town flirtation is soon broadcast all over the internet. Can their developing romance survive the sudden glare of the spotlight?

 

I read and mostly enjoyed the entirety of Julie Anne Long's Pennyroyal Green series. This is her first contemporary novel and I was curious to see how she'd manage writing a whole new genre. Sadly, the first half of this book is quite slow and rather boring in parts. The banter between Britt and J.T is pretty good, but nothing much of interest happens, even after they start hooking up. Britt is very wary of commitment and J.T is known far and wide as the "man allergic to the L-word". Just as they are starting to get more comfortable in each other's company, J.T's mega famous mean girl ex shows up to try to get him back. For the first two thirds of the novel, I was really just reading out of loyalty to Ms. Long, but then, towards the end, things started picking up and the book got really very entertaining. J.T delivers one heck of a wedding speech which would melt the heart of any right-thinking woman and Britt engages in some drunken billboard graffiti out of jealousy that made me laugh a lot. It's not enough to get the book more than half a star above 3, though.

 

Unsurprisingly, the book introduces a whole bunch of characters, both from the Hellcat Canyon region and from J.T's Hollywood life, whom I am sure we will meet again in future books. Ms. Long got 11 books out of her previous series, after all, and I'm sure she can mine the little mountain region for quite a few romances in years to come. I'm personally looking forward to that of J.T's former colleague and sometime frenemy, Franco Francone. He plays a significant enough part in this book that I cannot imagine he's a future hero. I pre-ordered this book based on Ms. Long's entertaining historicals, but based on this first contemporary, Ms. Long is off the auto-buy list for now. I'll still buy her books on sale, of course, but I'm going to need something more consistently good for her to move back to "buy at full price" status.

 

Judging a book by its cover: Things I like - the red pick-up truck is relevant to the story, as J.T loves his truck and has spent a lot of time and money making sure it still runs. The cover models look like they have the correct hair colours. I think Britt may have been wearing cowboy boots at some point. The flowers are a nice touch, even though no such profusion of wild flowers are ever mentioned in the book. Things I don't like - the absolutely ridiculous pose. Britt is supposed to be quite petite, which the cover model doesn't look to be. I also think both models could look older, as both Britt and J.T are in their mid-30s.

Source: kingmagu.blogspot.no/2016/06/cbr8-book-60-hot-in-hellcat-canyon-by.html
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