October 2018 recap


• Now that the weather has turned (hello, sweater weather!), Cars & Coffee has ended for the season and for once, Matt and I didn’t have a single thing planned for the weekend! I stayed in my pjs as long as possible and snuggled up with a good book.

• October started my short work weeks. For the rest of the year I work – at most – 4 days a week, sometimes as little as 2. These extra-long weeks have been spent snuggling pups, time travelling to the 1500s, and being as lazy as possible.

• Instagram photos you might have missed: foggy mornings, I discussed favorite childhood books that managed to pass me by, and some Poe + skull love for Halloween.

• In October I read a total of 8 books: all print! Things were evenly split between library grabs/books I already own and ARCs: 4 each. My favorite reads of the month were The Dream Daughter and The House Next Door (both reviews linked below), and Dear Fahrenheit 451, a delightfully charming collection of break-up notes to books.


LAST NIGHT WITH THE EARL BY KELLY BOWEN is the follow-up to this summer’s A Duke in the Night. As much as I loved the first book, I have to admit, I think I might have loved Last Night even more! An only son and heir – long thought dead – returns from Waterloo horrifically injured. Content to remain “dead,” he secrets away to the family’s country estate, an estate that is now, unbeknownst to him, a school for young ladies. And one of the teachers is the former fiancee of his best friend.

THE DREAM DAUGHTER BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN might be an exploration of a new genre (sci-fi/fantasy), but it’s still a Diane novel at heart and easily one of my favorite reads of the year. No surprises there, right? A woman in 1970 loses her husband in the Vietnam War and, shortly after, learns their child has a fatal heart defect. Knowing she can’t bear to lose her child too – the last link she has to her husband – her brother-in-law confesses a secret: he can travel through time. And if Caroline wants to save her child, she needs to travel too. If you’ve ever read a Diane novel, you already know you’re going to need a lot of tissues on hand. Silly me for thinking the 9/11 scene would be the emotional one. What happened after was even worse.

THE SPELLBOOK OF KATRINA VAN TASSEL BY ALYSSA PALOMBO is a Sleepy Hollow retelling, giving Katrina’s side of the story. I went into this one expecting a spooky, supernatural read just in time for Halloween. While I read its 400+ pages in nearly one sitting, I was slightly disappointed in the lack of moodiness. As I said in my review, this book has more sex scenes than spells.

OCTOBER’S MINI REVIEW ROUND UP includes a 70s haunted house novel, a contemporary Christmas romance set in Switzerland, and a Middle Grade story about censorship.





November releases I need to get my hands on!

A new month brings new releases that are screaming my name! Inspired by a two-part series I did last year where I highlighted the books of the first and second halves of 2017, this year I’m doing it a little differently. Instead of breaking it down by genre, I’m focusing on each month’s releases I need in my life.

Curious about previous books I featured?
sci-fi/fantasy part 1 | sci-fi/fantasy part 2
contemporary part 1 | contemporary part 2
historical fiction part 1 | historical fiction part 2
mystery/suspense part 1 | mystery/suspense part 2

May releases I need to get my hands on!
June releases I need to get my hands on!
August releases I need to get my hands on!
September releases I need to get my hands on!

Daughters of the Lake by Wendy Webb | November 1
On the verge of divorce, Kate heads for the comfort of her parents’ home on Lake Superior. Instead of finding solace, however, Kate discovers a body washed up on the shore. Within the folds of the woman’s vintage dress is an infant. No one seems to be able to identify the woman..except Kate. She’s seen her before. In her dreams.

The blurb mentions “haunting folktale that has been handed down in whispers over generations” and a century-old love story that ended in tragedy. Does this scream my name or what?? (Okay, cheating a little here: I have an ARC of this one, but it sounded way too good to pass up putting it on this list!)

River Bodies by Karen Katchur | November 1
I mentioned this one a few weeks ago in a recently added post. When Matt and I bought our house, Karen’s debut was the first book I read, so she holds a special place in my heart. Even more exciting than a new Karen novel is a new Karen series; River Bodies is the first in the Northampton County series. If you like mysteries, you are seriously going to want to check this one out!

A body has just been discovered outside a small Pennsylvanian town. The crime shockingly similar to a two decade-old cold case. Though the detective is desperate to connect the two murders, there’s no concrete evidence to link them and the locals certainly aren’t talking.

My One and Only Duke by Grace Burrowes | November 6
Another ARC I have and one I’ve been devouring these past few days! Practically overnight Quinn Wentworth went from London banker to locked in a prison cell awaiting execution. Unbeknownst to him, he’s just been declared the long lost heir to a dukedom, and offers marriage to a pregnant widow – neither one truly believes they have a chance at a future.

Historical romance with a Cinderella twist? Yes please!

Bringing Down the Colonel by Patricia Miller | November 13
The subtitle is A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the “Powerless” Woman Who Took on Washington and nothing more needs to be said. I am SO ready.

Madeline Pollard was still a teen when she began an affair with a Kentucky congressman, one of the most powerful men in the country. A decade later, in 1893, the pair were finally to be married after a decade-long relationship (and the passing of his wife)…and then he suddenly broke off the engagement and quickly married someone else. Madeleine sued him for breach of promise and over the 5-week trial, every last detail of their affair was made known to the public. And when the trial was over? Madeleine won.

haunted houses, Christmas weddings, rebel librarians: mini reviews!

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons | orig. 1978
Colquitt and Walter live a quiet, private, and privileged life. Each house on their street is bigger and more lavish than the one before it and the neighborhood parties are legendary. Unlike their neighbors, however, Colquitt and Walter are fortunate enough to have an empty lot on one side of their property – until the day its sold and a young architect arrives with an even younger couple (Daddy is footing the bill for their wildly expensive dream home). Even before the house is finished, everyone agrees it’s downright gorgeous. Then odd things begin happening, initially written off as tragic coincidences, though Colquitt slowly begins to suspect something far more evil is to blame.

From the moment I first heard about this book and immediately put in a request at the library I was beyond excited to read this book. I’ve mentioned it both on the blog and on Instagram, giddily sharing lines and snippets once I finally was able to dive in. I was in the mood for a good, Halloween read, and what could be better than a haunted house??

On the surface, I enjoyed The House Next Door. It was one of those reads where I was completely immersed while reading and when I wasn’t I was thinking about it and looking forward to my lunchbreaks so I could sneak in a few chapters. However, this book was originally published in the 70s and has some pretty outdated views: the only family in the neighborhood with small children is labeled trashy and low class, allowing their brood to run around acting out and terrorizing everyone in sight. At one point the house turns two men gay. ..yeah. This is highly scandalous and shocking enough to result in death after the father-in-law of one of the men has a heart attack upon discovering the two and dies.

So although there are some scenes and opinions that had me, a reader in 2018, raising my eyebrows, I had fun with this one. How could you go wrong with an evil house doing sinister things to families, especially the week of Halloween? A word of caution though: don’t become attached to any of the animals or pets mentioned.

Christmas at the Chalet by Anita Hughes | October 16, 2018
Prior to this one, I had only read one other novel by Anita Hughes (California Summer), but enjoyed it to the point where I happily picked up a Christmas novel in October. Felicity, owner of Felicity Grant Bridal, is convinced she’ll wake up on Christmas morning to an engagement ring. After all, she’s almost 30 (spoiler: I began the eye-rolling in the first chapter) and has been with Adam six years. They have the same goals and want the same things out of life, so it’s only a matter of time before he finally proposes. Unfortunately for Felicity, the day arrives without a ring and, instead of happily announcing their engagement, the two have a massive fight, resulting in Felicity storming off angry to Switzerland where she’s about to take part in a fashion show that could take her career to a new level. One of her models, Nell, has a wedding coming up..only Nell’s newly-divorced parents hate each other to the point where they insist she has two weddings just so they don’t have to see each other.

Look I’m definitely in the minority here. Other reviews for this book have been great so far. Sadly, I can’t echo their praise. There are three storylines in this one: Felicity’s, Nell’s, and flashback scenes featuring Nell’s parents, and I didn’t care for any of them. If anyone deserved sympathy, it was Nell. Her wedding should be her day and I felt so sorry that her parents were selfish enough to where they couldn’t put aside their difference and act civil for a few hours. Felicity was the worst, though. Her end game is to have a ring on her finger, regardless of how Adam feels. And when it seems she’s finally going to get her wish? She has a complete character change and brushes Adam off. Uh? There’s another love interest here, a doctor named Gabriel, and their scenes literally amounted to a handful of pages where each conversation consisted of Gabriel admonishing Felicity for not wearing a coat/hat and suggesting she might have a concussion or broken ankle. He also told her fairy tales. So imagine my surprise when they confess they’ve fallen in love with one another. Uh???

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes | September 18, 2018
When June brings home a book from her school library, she doesn’t think anything of it. After all, she’s an avid reader and adores her librarian – Ms. Bradshaw has yet to steer June wrong when it comes to books! June’s parents, however, take one look at the title (The Makings of a Witch), say it’s much too scary for their 7-grade daughter, and immediately march down to the school to an emergency PTA meeting. From there, a full-scale investigation is launched; Ms. Bradshaw is put on leave and books are tossed into industrial-size garbage cans. What’s worse, June’s books at home have undergone the same treatment: her parents have taken all of her books, refusing to give them back until they’ve been read and deemed appropriate (and thoroughly edited – her parents have ripped out pages, blacked out sentences, re-written entire endings). June refuses to stand by silently and, with the help of a Little Free Library, becomes the Rebel Librarian, running a full-scale library out of an empty locker.

Oh, this book was great. Characters and scenes saw me seeing red. It was bad enough that the school was banning books, but to have June’s books at home confiscated?? I can’t imagine. There’s some filler with crushes and her best friend, but I was far more intrigued by the library June created. This was a one-sitting read and I have never been more thankful my parents never tried to censor what I read.

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Palombo
Pub. Date: October 2, 2018
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, St. Martin’s Griffin!)
Summary: When Ichabod Crane arrives in the spooky little village of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster, Katrina Van Tassel is instantly drawn to him. Through their shared love of books and music, they form a friendship that quickly develops into romance. Ichabod knows that as an itinerant schoolteacher of little social standing, he has nothing to offer the wealthy Katrina – unlike her childhood friend-turned-enemy, Brom Van Brunt, who is the suitor Katrina’s father favors.

But when romance gives way to passion, Ichabod and Katrina embark on a secret love affair, sneaking away into the woods after dark to be together – all while praying they do not catch sight of Sleepy Hollow’s legendary Headless Horseman. That is, until All Hallows’s Eve, when Ichabod suddenly disappears, leaving Katrina alone and in a perilous position.

Enlisting the help of her friend – and rumored witch – Charlotte Jansen, Katrina seeks the truth of Ichabod Crane’s disappearance, investigating the forest around Sleepy Hollow using unconventional – often magical – means. What they find forces Katrina to question everything she once knew, and to wonder if the Headless Horseman is perhaps more than just a story after all.

These chilly mornings and chunky sweaters have me reaching for atmospheric, fall reads. Okay, who am I kidding, I went straight into fall mode right after my early September birthday when temperatures were still hovering near 100! So supernatural tales might not have been sending shivers down my spine while I was lying in pools of sweat, but now that fall is well and truly here, I am living for darker tales and what screams autumn more than a Sleepy Hollow retelling?

Katrina Van Tassel is the sole daughter of a wealthy farmer. Though she could easily have her pick of the most eligible bachelors, Katrina prefers spending her time with books and her dog – clearly a girl after my own heart. Unfortunately for Katrina, the one man determined to have her is the one she despises above all others: Brom Van Brunt. As children, the pair were thick as thieves as a threesome: Brom, Katrina, and Charlotte. Everything changed the day Brom branded Charlotte a witch; as Sleepy Hollow’s favorite son his words certainly have weight. Charlotte was effectively cast an outsider, still unmarried at 20, while it would appear Katrina’s father would love nothing more than to see his daughter married into the Van Brunt family.

Then a young man arrives from Connecticut. Ichabod Crane will be Sleepy Hollow’s schoolteacher, along with taking on pupils for music lessons. As the days stretch into weeks, Katrina and Ichabod become close, far closer than teacher and pupil, all the while Brom still vies for Katrina’s hand. A disastrous All Hallow’s Eve leads to Ichabod’s abrupt disappearance: did he abandon Katrina when she needed him most or could the legends of the Headless Horseman be true? Could Ichabod have been taken by the ghostly rider?

It should come as no surprise that I think Alyssa and her books are great. She’s a #HistoricalFix darling – we love her!! – and her novels have a way of completely enchanting me. Her books are slightly doorstop-length, but she writes in a way that I find myself flipping the pages at a blinding pace. The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, for example, is just over 400 pages. I read close to 350 in one sitting. Short chapters (think a few pages max) plus incredibly engaging characters and plots make for stories I literally can’t put down!

Despite my enthusiasm for this one, I have to admit I was expecting something a little more on the paranormal side, particularly with its title. That said, apart from the Horseman and Charlotte’s herb concoctions, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel was far more a romance than anything else, though a romance I found myself falling for. I was swept up in Katrina and Ichabod’s torrid affair, their secret nighttime trysts in the woods, and held my breath as I waited to see the consequences of their actions. It pains me to stop myself here, but saying anything more about these two would result in massive spoilers!

Although The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel has more sex scenes than spells, I was thoroughly enamored and found myself practically glued to the pages. It should say something about Alyssa’s skill as a writer that this over 400-page novel was just shy of a one-sitting read. Great characters and an engaging plot definitely made reading this one a breeze and I love retellings that explore other sides of the story. I do wish there was a bit more of a moody, broody quality to the story rather than the overly large emphasis on romance, but I really enjoyed this one and it’s the perfect time of year to sink into its pages! Alyssa has yet to let me down and I’m already anticipating her next release!

recently added.

The beginning of the week saw temperatures in the high 80s and we were still cranking up the a/c. Yesterday it dropped and, as I’m typing this, it’s 40 and rainy and with wind chills in the 30s. #Pittsburghweather.

One thing I love about colder temperatures is that it makes for perfect reading weather! Let’s be real, is there anything better than curling up with a cozy blanket, hot cup of coffee, and a thick book? Snow storms tore through the East Coast this January – you might remember all the bomb cyclone talk on the news. More like binge cyclone, amiright. In this post I shared five series to dive into, featuring contemporary romance, historical mysteries, and fantasy! A few years earlier I did a 2-part post on 19 series to read over the winter (Adult and YA).

This time of year is excellent for sinking into longer, moodier, heavier reads and while the four below aren’t multi-book series (okay, two are), they are books that sound perfect for grey, dreary days!

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
I forget where I first came across this one, but the moment I did I put in a request at my library and now have it sitting at the top of my stack of books! I always assumed Siddons was a “women’s fiction” writer, someone moms read. Much like Susan Wiggs, I couldn’t be more excited to be wrong!

This is a haunted house novel. A creepy, gothic tale from the 70s? Yes, please! A couple enjoys a relatively privileged life, hosting patio get-togethers and proudly displaying their perfectly manicured lawn. Then construction begins on a new home in the empty lot next door. Suddenly strange, unexplained things begin happening, a string of terrible tragedies, madness, and death. Does this not sound like the PERFECT fall read??

River Bodies by Karen Katchur
Karen and her books hold a special place in my heart. Her debut, The Secrets of Lake Road, was the first book I read after Matt and I bought our house. River Bodies, due to release November 1, is the first in a new series and I am so ready.

A body has just been discovered outside a small Pennsylvanian town. The crime shockingly similar to a two decade-old cold case. Though the detective is desperate to connect the two murders, there’s no concrete evidence to link them and the locals certainly aren’t talking.

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner
Susan is an auto-buy author for me. I will read whatever she writes, no questions asked. My introduction to her work was last year’s A Bridge Across the Ocean, which unsurprisingly earned a spot of my Top Reads of 2017 list. In February she released As Bright as Heaven, another novel that made it onto part 1 of my Top Reads of 2018 and one that again had me ugly crying.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t even need to read the summary before I added The Last Year of the War to my To Read list, though it’s clearly such a me book. When Elise’s father is arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer, the entire family is moved to an internment camp and it’s there Elise befriends a Japanese-American girl. I know for a fact this one will put my heart through the wringer and, thanks to the amazing publicist, I have a copy! If you need me I’ll be drowning in my tears.

A Rogue by Night by Kelly Bowen
If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m a huge fan of Kelly’s Devils of Dover series. So huge, in fact, that when I returned from my month-long break, it was Last Night with the Earl that announced my return!

A Rogue by Night will focus on Harland Hayward, a Baron-slash-country doctor and brother to the two ladies from the previous novels. Thought he’s appeared in the other books, it was only in brief scenes and conversations so I’m thrilled at the chance to actually get to know this man! There’s also some illicit smuggling. Like I’m going to pass that up! Seriously, this series is quickly becoming a historical romance favorite of mine and I cannot wait for more.

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain
Pub. Date: October 2, 2018
Source: ARC + finished hardcover via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!)
Summary: When Caroline Sears receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970 and there seems to be little that can be done. But her brother-in-law, a physicist, tells her that perhaps there is. Hunter appeared in their lives just a few years before—and his appearance was as mysterious as his past. With no family, no friends, and a background shrouded in secrets, Hunter embraced the Sears family and never looked back.

Now, Hunter is telling her that something can be done about her baby’s heart. Something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Caroline has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage that Caroline never knew existed. Something that will mean a mind-bending leap of faith on Caroline’s part.

And all for the love of her unborn child.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Time Travel

In the mid 1960s, Caroline Sears is thrown headfirst into her new hospital job after she’s tasked with caring for the one patient the other nurses avoid. Listless, depressed, and possibly suicidal, Hunter refuses to speak to any of the doctors, won’t give the nurses the time of day…until he sees Caroline. Suddenly this strange and silent man begins to smile and laugh, fully willing to allow Caroline – Carly – to show him how to use crutches to get around on his newly broken leg.

Five years later Hunter is part of the family. Literally. Though Carly was initially hesitant to introduce her sister to a potentially disturbed patient, the pair immediately hit it off and, just a few years later, have a beautiful little boy, John Paul (naturally after John Lennon and Paul McCartney – Carly’s sister is a massive Beatles fan and the first day Carly met Hunter he sang right along with the latest Beatles song, odd at first since the song was just then making its debut on American airwaves, but Carly quickly learned that Hunter had a knack for just knowing things).

While Patti and Hunter have a perfect life, Carly’s is beginning to fall apart. She only just learns of her husband’s death – killed in Vietnam – when she discovers their unborn daughter (the baby Joe hadn’t even known about, Carly herself only recently found out she was pregnant) has a heart defect and the chances of survival are virtually nonexistent. With her world shattering, Hunter reveals a secret to Carly: he’s a time-traveler. And in order to save her child, Carly needs to get to the future.

Any new Diane Chamberlain novel is a cause for celebration. By curling up with an industrial size box of tissues, obviously, because as I’ve said time and time again, this woman has it out for me. So pardon me if I had a moment of blissful ignorance: why surely a sci-fi time-travel romp won’t have any heartbreaking scenes! For once, a sunshiney, happy tale!

Yeah, I was sniffling and puffy-eyed well before finishing. My bad.

St. Martin’s, maybe spring for a puppy? An entire menagerie of cute baby animals? Although what does it say about me that, not only do I keep coming back to these gut-punch stories, but I actually look forward to them?? The Dream Daughter pulls all the stops and I refuse to spoil anything, though I will say the moment I saw the chapter heading noting the date was September 2001 (and set in New York), I wailed a loud “nooo” and had to take a break.

Silly me, thinking 9/11 would be the emotional scene. What happens after is even worse.

Don’t take my unrelenting weeping as a sign this book is anything but amazing. The Dream Daughter is phenomenal and Diane Chamberlain proves she can shine in any genre, yet underneath the fantasy elements lies a very real, very universal question: how far will a mother go to protect her child? The characters are all so beautifully crafted, but Carly is sure to stick with readers, this one included. A slightly reserved woman content to spend to rest of her life in her childhood cottage undergoes a huge overhaul, discovering courage and tenacity she had no idea she possessed. She lost her husband and is all but guaranteed to lose her child unless she makes the leap – literally – decades into the future. Not only is she totally on her own, but she’s essentially in a new world: computers, cell phones, the Internet. Even money is a bit bewildering (Carly quickly learns a few hundred bucks in 1970 went MUCH further than in 2001). I can’t say enough about Carly and her character growth. I would not fare a fraction as well as she did if I were in her place.

As always, the time spent within the pages is all too brief compared to how long the story stays with me afterward. The Dream Daughter might be a dip in a new genre, but at its core it’s still a classic Diane Chamberlain novel that long-time readers are sure to love. Few things make me ugly cry like her books, but they’re just so. good. I can’t help but delight in each heartbreak – and eagerly await the next one. It will come as no surprise to anyone when The Dream Daughter finds its way back to the blog at the end of the year as a Top Read of 2018.

where I’ve been.

After a blogging break in September, The Pretty Good Gatsby is back in action! Earlier in the week I kicked things off with a gushing, rambly review of Kelly Bowen’s Last Night with the Earl, the second novel in her Devils of Dover series, and my final read in September. After a seriously lackluster summer, this one was an absolute joy!

But before we can get to the exciting posts and reviews I have planned for October, let’s do a recap of September! So what have I been up to this past month?

I TURNED 30 By far the highlight of the month. Unfortunately, I spent the day at a funeral. My bonus grandfather passed away a few days prior, so the day itself wasn’t exactly the celebration we had in mind, but birthdays can be celebrated any time. So while I wish the circumstances would have been different, when we all got together, the party was lovely.

I CHOPPED OFF MY HAIR As much as I’m obsessed with long hair, I absolutely love it super short. Every Fall I chop it off, letting it grow out again throughout the year, and by the time Fall rolls around once more I’m sick of it and ready for it to be gone ha. I shared a quick pic on IG: chin-length is my go-to. My ultimate hair dream is to one day be brave enough to do a pixie. About five years ago when partially shaved heads were super trendy, I went for it, so you’d think a pixie wouldn’t be a big deal!

I BASICALLY LIVED AT MY LIBRARY After a seemingly never-ending string of awful, disappointing, or just plain blah ARCs, I decided to put review copies on the back burner for a bit. And honestly? It was awesome. September started with an ARC of And the Ocean was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, a bizarre Moby Dick retelling told from the perspective of a whale pod. This book sealed the deal and the next 10 books I read were all library grabs. Definitely the highlight was Jude Deveraux’s A Knight in Shining Armor, a time-travel romance. I furthered my Dilbert obsession (and still have several collections checked out that I’m eager to dive into) and played catch-up with Harrow County, a fun graphic novel series that put me in a Fall mood…despite the VERY Summer temperatures lol. I’ve shared my love of nonfic before and had a fun time with Of All the Gin Joints, a trip through old Hollywood. Lastly, I dipped back into ARCs with Last Night with the Earl to close out the month and what a way to finish!

What’s been going on in YOUR life??