rainy day baking: banana walnut honey power bites!

It’s a yucky, rainy, cold day in Pittsburgh and, I don’t know about you, but in my mind, that means time to bake! I don’t post recipes often, though I would love to start doing it more; the last one was back in April: a Thai cucumber noodle bowl – it’s SUPER quick and it’s vegan! Matt’s totally a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but he absolutely loves this dish and it’s now one of our go-to easy dinners!

I LOVE bananas…but I can never eat them fast enough and I wind up with a lot of brown mush. Yum. I happened to have a few on hand and really didn’t want to throw them out. Perfect solution? Baking!

I came across a recipe for banana bread and modified my version a bit by adding in cinnamon and honey and by substituting the eggs with applesauce. Because of the applesauce these mini muffins/power bites turned out more dense than regular muffins, but they’re crazy filling. ALSO, this recipe is highly customizable! Want to throw in some chia seeds? Go for it! Have a nut allergy? Toss in some chopped up dates instead!

Banana Walnut Honey Power Bites
Recipe adapted from Hell Yeah It’s Vegan

Ingredients
¼ c plain, unsweetened vegan milk
½ tsp apple cider vinegar
½ c vegan butter *I used applesauce instead*
1 cup light brown sugar
3 very ripe medium bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
1½ c flour
½ c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
¾ c walnuts, toasted and chopped
A pinch of cinnamon
⅓ c honey

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease and flour a 9″ loaf pan. *I made mini muffins rather than bread*
In a small bowl, stir together vegan milk and vinegar. Set aside for a few minutes.
In a large bowl, cream together vegan butter and sugar.
Add bananas, vanilla, and milk mixture and beat.
In a medium bowl, sift together flours, powder and soda, nutmeg, and salt.
Add dry mixture to wet and beat just until all of the flour is moistened.
Fold in walnuts.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the loaf comes out mostly clean. *Because the mini muffins were smaller, they only took 30 minutes to bake*
Slide a knife around the outer edge of the loaf to ensure nothing is stuck.
Cool 5-10 minutes in loaf pan, then flip loaf out onto a wire rack and cool fully.

weekly wrap-up 12/4

↠ Yesterday my grandfather and I took my nieces to the Carnegie Science Center and, to be honest, I think I had more fun than they did! It’s been ages since I’ve last visited and they’re constantly changing their exhibits and displays. They have workshops and lectures and it’s seriously a blast every time I go! This time they had a floor entirely dedicated to water, rivers, and rain. Fun fact about me: I’m a huge weather nerd, so I was basically in heaven! The second floor was roboworld and had full-size replicas of some of the most famous robots in pop culture! You could play basketball against a robot, control another robot, and ‘see’ through the eyes of one. Super cool! This floor also has an entire room for the miniature railroad which was probably my absolute favorite part. Each figure/house/tree/etc is hand-crafted and based on an actual part of Pennsylvania! This display is constantly being added to, but first started 98 years ago. BodyWorks had some of the neatest displays: actual hearts and skulls. There was an entire arm (skin removed) to show the veins and arteries. VERY interesting!! We didn’t go aboard the Requin, an actual WWII sub docked outside the building, but once the weather turns warmer I’d love to check it out! There’s also an Omnimax theater and a planetarium and I HIGHLY recommend a visit if you’re ever downtown! Since I was little the Science Center has been one of my favorite places and since it’s constantly evolving and changing, there’s always something new to see.

↠ A group of girls and I recently started a book club and I missed our very first meeting! Bay ate some food she shouldn’t have and was pretty sick just a few hours before I was supposed to leave. But I’m now a vom clean-up pro, so..

READING REPORT Last week I was at 174 books read for the year with 120 written by women, 54 written by men. Today I’m at 177 books reads with 121 written by women, 56 written by men.

WHAT I FINISHED Sophie Jordan’s newest historical romance, While the Duke Was Sleeping was fantastic and I discussed it more in my 5-star review (!!!) linked below. I also read a 2017 novel, Josh Sundquist’s Love and First Sight, a YA novel about a boy – blind since birth – who has the opportunity to undergo an experimental surgery to grant him vision. While the story itself was just okay, I was EXTREMELY impressed by the amount of research that clearly went into this book! Little details I never considered (perspective and depth perception) were totally unknown to Will. In one scene, when he’s basically learning to see, his parents ask him to identify fruit. By now he knows his colors and sees a red object, but because he has no knowledge of size, he had no idea if it was a raspberry or a watermelon. Check back next month for my full review! Lastly, I finished the audio of Ernest Cline’s Armada, another sci-fi novel full of 80s pop culture and video game references. Fine, enjoyable, and forgettable. Someone who’s into video games will definitely appreciate this one more than I did!

CURRENTLY READING I’m finishing up Caroline Kepnes’ YOU, the novel we chose for our book club read. VERY unsettling and disturbing and creepy, but I’m hooked.

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? I posted my November recap – the reviews were mostly duds – and I had more fun writing the non-book posts! Here’s to hoping December will be a better month for reading. Love, Alice by Barbara Davis would have been SO much better if the book got rid of an entire storyline. I would have preferred this one far more if it had only focused on the historical aspect (a pregnant, unwed teen is sent to an asylum until she gives birth, is forced to give up the baby, and becomes determined to get her baby back). The present day story was terrible and I hated the main character. WARNING: much of my review was just a big ol’ rant about her. But then Sophie Jordan appeared like an angel and came through with While the Duke Was Sleeping, her latest novel and the first in a new series! I was starry-eyed the entire time I read this one. After rescuing the Duke, a shop girl leads his family to believe they’re engaged. Hijinks ensue. I loved this one and the wait for the next book will be such torture!


 

The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
Eleven years after The Lace Reader, Brunonia is back with the sequel! I’ll admit I haven’t read The Lace Reader, but it sounds like it has a hint of Magical Realism and it takes place in Salem, so! Seventeen years after the events in The Lace Reader, several characters are back. The Fifth Petal focuses on an investigation into a 25-year-old homicide dubbed “The Goddess Murders” in which three women – descended from accused Salem witches – were brutally murdered one Halloween night. Intriguing!! Thank you, Crown!

Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane
A novel about a teen L.M. Montgomery!!!! Thank you, Razorbill!

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney
Not to be confused with this The Girl Before (which I really enjoyed)! This novel has been getting some major buzz for a while now and is purported to be 2017’s It Read, the next Gone Girl and Girl on the Train. I’m very hesitant to read novels dubbed The Next X (particularly when I wasn’t a fan of said novels) but I’m curious about this one. After a terrible break-up, Emma searches for a new place to live and lucks out with a minimalistically-styled house. The only catch is that the architect who designed it put a set of rules in place: no photos, no books, no knick-knacks. Later, Jane suffers from her own tragedy and needs a fresh start. A strange house catches her eye and after she moves in, she learns about the untimely death of the previous tenant…a woman her own age. Thank you, Ballantine Books!

While the Duke Was Sleeping by Sophie Jordan

While the Duke Was Sleeping by Sophie Jordan
Pub. Date: October 25, 2016
Source: Library
Summary: Shop girl Poppy Fairchurch knows it’s pointless fantasizing about the Duke of Autenberry. Still, dreams can’t hurt anyone . . . unlike the carriage Poppy spies bearing down upon the unsuspecting duke. After she pulls him to safety, the duke lapses into a coma and Poppy is mistaken for his fiancée. But one person isn’t fooled: his arrogant and much too handsome half-brother, Struan Mackenzie. Soon Poppy isn’t sure what she wants more . . . the fantasy of her duke or the reality of one smoldering Scot who challenges her at every turn.

An illegitimate second son, Struan may have built an empire and established himself as one of the wealthiest men in Britain, but he knows he will always be an outsider among the ton. Just like he knows the infuriating Poppy is a liar. There’s no way the haughty Duke of Autenberry would deign to wed a working class girl. It doesn’t matter how charming she is. Or tempting. Or how much Struan wants her for himself.
Genre: Historical Romance

You might remember how, back in October, I fell head over heels for historical romance. In that post I listed several titles I had come across and was interested in…and one in particular I immediately requested at my library. That book was Sophie Jordan’s, While the Duke Was Sleeping, her latest novel and the first in a brand new series. Over Thanksgiving I devoured it and I think it’s safe to say my newfound obsession with historical romance isn’t stopping any time soon!

Poppy Fairchurch is a shop girl at a florist. Like clockwork, the handsome Duke of Autenberry comes in each week to purchase flowers and, from their few (and far too brief) interactions, Poppy has developed a terrible crush, going so far as to fantasize about the day the Duke will fall madly in love with her and whisk her off to a life of luxury. Unfortunately for Poppy, her fantasies become a stark reality after she saves the Duke’s life. After she pushes him out of the way of a carriage, Poppy accompanies him back to his manor where she learns he has fallen into a coma. Worse yet, the housekeeper overheard Poppy’s whispers and believes the two are betrothed. Even worse is that Poppy must keep up the charade: as it turns out, the Duke’s family adores her. All the while, the Duke lays in his bedchamber entirely unaware of his new fiancee.

An outlandish premise, sure, but this one was oh so fun. Poppy’s fibs and lies quickly spiral out of control and really reach a boiling point once she realizes she has feeling for the Duke’s estranged half-brother Struan. You see, Poppy witnessed the pair brawling in the street shortly before she saved the Duke’s life. In becoming immersed in the family, however, she starts to spend more and more time around Struan (begrudgingly, of course, since Poppy is convinced he’s a heartless, no-good beast). Over time, however… Let it be known that my absolute favorite romance trope is when the couple starts off as rivals or enemies.

Struan has his own battles to deal with. He and the Duke share a father, though it was made very clear who was the favorite son. Struan and his mother were left destitute in Scotland while Marcus was practically swimming in money and riches. Once his mother passed away, Struan was left to fend for himself and he made a solemn vow to get revenge on the father that abandoned him. He spent years making a name for himself, ultimately amassing even more wealth and property than the Duke. Upon returning to England where he was eager to show off, he learned his father had died, leading to a rather tense meeting with his brother. The two never got along and, in an attempt to make his brother hurt, Struan became determined to steal his future wife. Perhaps not the best way to begin a relationship, but I couldn’t put the book down.

For a romance novel there’s a surprising amount of substance. Not just with the backstories (Struan’s abandonment issues and need for revenge/acceptance, Poppy’s role as caretaker to her younger sister), but with the characters themselves. Each one had their own voice, their own personality (even the Duke who was in a coma for nearly the entire length of the novel!) and I loved that. I have read a few other novels written by Jordan and found this to be a consistent trait: she’s a MASTER at breathing life into her characters.

Longtime readers of this blog know just how stingy I am with my praise and ratings. To date, I have read 176 books in 2016 and While the Duke Was Sleeping is only my 9th 5-star read. So yeah, when I say I loved this book, I mean I really loved it. While the Duke Was Sleeping is one of those novels I could talk about FOREVER – most likely with an overabundance of exclamation points and capslock. I was completely invested in these characters, I cringed, I laughed, at times I was so overcome with secondhand embarrassment that I actually had to set the book down and walk away! I couldn’t be more thrilled that the sequel, The Scandal of It All, is due out early next year. I need more of this series!

November 2016 recap


WHAT I…DID

↠ November started with a bang: on Halloween our street lost power and omg for a second I thought there was going to be some Purge-type thing happening. Thankfully everything was back up November 1, but that was one chilly, dark day.

↠ My brother’s band played their very first show and it was great! Their second one is next week and I’m super excited. Give them a listen: stream their ep!

↠ Matt & I binged The Crown. I loved it and need the next season now thanks. (& in the meantime, can Victoria hurry it up please???)

↠ One weekend Matt decided he wanted to start decorating for the holidays and now our house looks like a winter wonderland haha! I’ve never been one for this time of year, but for some reason, I’m really looking forward to it now :)

↠ One of my favorite boutiques is closing and they’ve been having amazing sales. I scooped up this dress (suede pockets gasp!!) for an awesome price, along with a few others, and my wardrobe has never been happier!

↠ It’s been ages since we went to see a movie, and one day Matt & I decided to see what was playing. We’re both biiiig fans of Dan Brown’s films (I also think his books are a ton of fun) and saw Inferno. On its own it was good, but when compared to the other Robert Langdon movies it’s probably my least favorite.

↠ So if you’re not from Pittsburgh, let me tell you how crazy the weather is around here: this picture of Bay in the snow? Two days earlier it was 74 degrees. Since that one snow, it’s completely melted and as I type this, it’s pouring out. It’s also gone back up to the mid-60s. It’s a wonder how anyone manages to stay healthy!

↠ The end of November is a flurry of food and celebrations in my family. My sister was born on Thanksgiving (though this year her birthday fell this past Monday – I posted a little throwback photo on IG!) and Matt’s birthday is today!

↠ Every Thanksgiving my grandparents head out to Colorado to spend the holiday with my aunt and uncle, so I end up on dogsitting duty ♥ As much as I love Bay, it was so relaxing spending the majority of the week with Myra. Unlike my pup who’s 2 and ALWAYS WANTS TO PLAY!!!!, Myra is perfectly content to take a nap after a good belly scratch. I got a lot of reading done. I also got to snuggle this guy.

↠ I’m still head over heels for historical romance and have been taking full advantage of my library!

WHAT I…REVIEWED

AN IMPORT OF INTRIGUE BY MARSHALL RYAN MARESCA is a book that sounds great: a new installment of a fantasy series where a foreign diplomat is murdered and the two least popular constables are sent to get to the bottom of the crime. YES PLEASE! Unfortunately, this novel suffers from Second Book Syndrome and isn’t accessible at all to newcomers. Nothing is explained, made-up terms aren’t defined, there’s no backstory/recap for book one provided. Although this novel personally isn’t for me, I’m sure fans of the first book will have a much easily time reading it!

WITH LOVE FROM THE INSIDE BY ANGELA PISEL is a heartbreaking look into life on Death Row. Seventeen years ago a woman was found guilty of murdering her infant son and, after years of believing she was innocent, her daughter finally became convinced of the evidence and cut all ties, moving away and beginning a new life where no one knows her past. Now that her mother has an execution date, she wants to reconnect with her daughter…just as her daughter stumbles upon a discovery that could change everything. I did have a few unanswered questions, but if you love a good book with a highly controversial topic, look no further.

SWEET SOUTHERN BAD BOY BY MICHELLE SUMMERS is a quick, easy read and came into my life at just the right time. A location scout discovers the perfect spot for a new vampire miniseries, unfortunately, she needs to convince the cranky writer who lives there to allow a film crew to take over his house for a few months. While I enjoyed this one, the actions of two male characters had me seeing red. However, I liked the secondary characters enough that I’m considering picking up the other books in this series.

LOVE, ALICE BY BARBARA DAVIS is a novel that initially sounded like it was written for me, it checked all my boxes of things I love. Sadly, I just couldn’t get over the main character and my review was more of a rant about her than a discussion of the book oops! This book is overly long and SO MUCH could have been cut – I actually think I would have liked it far more if it was just a historical novel, no present day element. As it is, I’d say give this one a pass. If you want a book about a search for a baby given up for adoption decades earlier, there are far, FAR more novels out there.

WHAT I…BLOGGED

OCTOBER 2016 RECAP

RECENTLY ADDED a YA retelling, a Jazz Age murder mystery, and (obvs) historical fiction!

IT’S BOOTIE SEASON: 8 PAIRS I’M OBSESSING OVER

NOVEMBER BARKBOX UNBOXING

WEEKLY WRAP-UP 11/6
WEEKLY WRAP-UP 11/13
WEEKLY WRAP-UP 11/20
WEEKLY WRAP-UP 11/27

Love, Alice by Barbara Davis

Love, Alice by Barbara Davis
Pub. Date: December 6, 2016
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Berkley!)
Summary: A year ago, Dovie Larkin’s life was shattered when her fiancé committed suicide just weeks before their wedding. Now, plagued by guilt, she has become a fixture at the cemetery where William is buried, visiting his grave daily, waiting for answers she knows will never come.

Then one day, she sees an old woman whose grief mirrors her own. Fascinated, she watches the woman leave a letter on a nearby grave. Dovie ignores her conscience and reads the letter—a mother’s plea for forgiveness to her dead daughter—and immediately needs to know the rest of the story.

As she delves deeper, a collection of letters from the cemetery’s lost and found begins to unravel a decades-old mystery involving one of Charleston’s wealthiest families. But even as Dovie seeks to answer questions about another woman’s past—questions filled with deception, betrayal, and heartbreaking loss—she starts to discover the keys to love, forgiveness, and finally embracing the future…
Genre: Southern Fiction, Mystery, Family Saga

Oh dear. (and you know this isn’t going to be a praise-laden review if it begins with oh dear.) I’m the kind of reader that knows what I like when it comes to genres and tropes – and because of that, I tend to have pretty good luck with my reads – but every so often a book will come around that, on the surface, sounds like a novel I would love only to realize a far different story lurks within its pages.

Dovie Larkin has made a routine of eating lunch at the Magnolia Grove cemetery. A year ago, just a few weeks before they were going to walk down the aisle, Dovie’s fiance committed suicide. Her hurt and confusion only escalated with William’s lack of a note or explanation and so Dovie has taken to spending her days sitting near his grave, as though the answers she seeks will suddenly appear.

It’s while she’s eating lunch one day that she notices an old woman place a letter at the foot of the town’s most famous headstone, a statue of an angel watching over the resting place of a nanny. Rumors have surrounded the poor girl for decades – tales of an affair with the husband, for what other reason would there be for her to rest forever in the plot of Charleston’s richest family? Allowing curiosity to get the better of her, Dovie takes the letter and, worse, reads it. In doing so, she finds herself becoming immersed in a tragedy spanning oceans and decades.

That sounds interesting, right? I like family secrets! I like old mysteries! Unfortunately, Dovie herself played a large part in my utter disappointment of Love, Alice. For a year now she’s been spending her lunch hour at the cemetery and, until now, her boss has been incredibly lenient. He’s allowed her to grieve in her own way and has even turned a blind eye to the multiple occasions when time simply got away from her and Dovie returned late. But now her lapses in judgment are beginning to reflect poorly on him. Jack fought hard to get Dovie her promotion as museum curator and he needs her head back in the game, especially with the $2 million donation the Tate family is presenting to the museum.

How does she react? Not only does she blatantly forget about a meeting with Mrs. Tate, but she continues to while away the day at William’s grave. I don’t like to quote early copies, but at one point Dovie herself remarks on her appalling attitude:

“She had dealt with him on three different occasions, and out of those three, she had been late to a meeting, and had failed to deliver the same folder not once, but twice. Not exactly a stellar record.”

You know what would happen if I routinely came back late from lunch, made a habit of forgetting meetings (with someone about to donate two million dollars to my workplace!), and left important documents at home multiple times? I wouldn’t have a job. I would have been sent packing LONG before it even reached the point of numerous missed meetings and forgotten papers. I have know idea how or why Dovie kept her job throughout this book.

Had the novel been solely about the discovered letters, I would have been on board. HOWEVER, there are a handful of other storylines thrown in and many of them are so painfully predictable (from the start I had a feeling William was going to be gay, so that ‘big reveal’ wasn’t surprising at all, though I did raise my eyebrows at the near-instantaneous friendship that blossoms between the lover and Dovie). The identity of Alice’s baby also was unsurprising.

I would have loved to have read a book told entirely through Alice’s perspective. An unwed teen with a baby on the way (and the father recently lost at sea), her mother forced her to move into a church-run home for other pregnant girls and the living conditions were terrible. A quick note: at the end of the novel the author discusses the real homes that inspired Blackhurst Asylum for Unwed Mothers (including the startling news that one similar asylum in Ireland was still in operation until 1996. Once the baby is born, Alice’s hand is forced once more as the baby is immediately taken away (she doesn’t even know whether she gave birth to a boy or girl) and sent overseas to America. Penniless and ill, Alice doesn’t give up in her fight to be reunited with her child and that story kept me reading to the end.

Love, Alice is a novel that suffered from predictable twists and a frustrating main character and with only one storyline worth reading, the book’s near 450-page length felt overly long and wholly unnecessary. Maybe other readers would feel more for Dovie’s character, but her plight didn’t affect me one bit. In fact I feel the novel would be greatly improved if it was strictly a historical novel with no present day aspect. With a lot of editing (the cemetery and a high-end restaurant in the same town share a name which resulted in my intense confusion for a moment) Love, Alice could have potential, but as it stands, I wouldn’t recommend this one. There are countless other ‘search for baby given up for adoption years earlier’ novels out there.

weekly wrap-up 11/27

↠ Three days later and I’m still stuffed! Did you have a good Thanksgiving?? Ours was super low-key and quiet. This year Matt’s family were out of town visiting relatives in Colorado, so it was just dinner with my family. Do you do Black Friday?? This would have marked my 10th year in retail if I didn’t get out of it earlier this year. Black Friday was actually the one day I ENJOYED working! Crazy and insane – once I saw a fight break out. Over books. A manager had to step in and break the ladies apart! I’m not a shopper and when I do buy things, I prefer staying in my jammies. No Black Friday madness for me, though Matt bought some things online. For me, it’s all about Small Business Saturday.

↠ I have an uncle and aunt out in Colorado as well and my grandparents spend Thanksgiving with them, so I was on dogsitting duty. For four wonderful day I hung out with this girl and, even though I missed my own pup, I have to admit it was SO relaxing. Myra and I napped and watched a lot of tv and read…basically we didn’t move from the couch the entire time ha! I also got to spend time with this cuddler.

↠ There’s a week in February where it’s one birthday after another (my niece’s, my sister’s, then Bay’s birthday on ♥ valentine’s day ♥) and November is one big fluffy of partying too: first there’s Thanksgiving, then my other sister’s birthday is tomorrow and Matt’s is the 30th. I’m going to be a big ball of turkey and cake by the time December rolls around.

READING REPORT Last week I my total for the year was 170 books read with 116 written by women and 54 written by men. This week I’m at 174 books read, 120 written by women, 54 written by men.

WHAT I FINISHED My review is linked below, but Sweet Southern Bad Boy is the third novel in Michelle Summers’ Harmony Homecomings series. While I had a few problems with the men in the MC’s life, I enjoyed this one enough to be curious about reading the first two books (the couples from both were featured as secondary characters in this one). Last week I mentioned I was listening to the audio of Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places, a British mystery series that follows an archaeologist. While it was an okay read, I’m a little disappointed I didn’t enjoy it more. A former co-worker and I came across this series one day and were both instantly interested, so it’s a shame it didn’t live up to expectations. This should be a series made for me: the sequels involve Victorian murders, WWII invasions, Roman history, medieval holy relics, religious apparitions, etc. Despite my meh reaction to this first book, the series sounds way too intriguing not to give it another shot. Speaking of second chances, I’m SO glad I picked up Gemina! You might remember that I did NOT enjoy Illuminae at all, so I was totalled baffled by my decision to grab Gemina one day at the library. Guys, this is why second chances exist. I was hooked and tore through this one in no time. I also read Love, Alice by Barbara Davis. Another book that sounded right up my alley (after her fiance committed suicide just weeks before their wedding, a grieving woman has become obsessed with spending time at the cemetery…when she sees a woman leave a letter on a nearby grave, opening the doors to a decades-old mystery), another book that was a letdown. Keep an eye out for my review soon!

WHAT I’M CURRENTLY READING Remember last month when I fell in love with historical fiction? I had immediately requested Sophie Jordan’s While the Duke was Sleeping from my library and it recently arrived. I’m only about 60ish pages in but am having a blast so far! Poppy is a florist with a massive crush on the Duke of Autenberry, the gorgeous man who frequents the shop. Her fantasies suddenly become reality after a run-in with a carriage leaves the Duke in a coma…and Poppy is mistaken for his fiancee. Naturally there’s the devilishly handsome half-brother with a grudge who sees through Poppy’s story. I’m pretty sure I know how this will turn out but I’m totally giddy already! I’m also listening to Ernest Cline’s Armada. Last year I read Ready Player One and, while I thought it was really fun, it took such a long time to get through. Problem solved with audiobooks! I’m about halfway through Armada and it’s fun!

MISSED SOMETHING THIS WEEK? With the holiday hubbub things were a little quiet around here and only one review went up: Michelle Summers’ Sweet Southern Bad Boy. A woman is scouting locations for a teen vampire miniseries and finds the PERFECT place…unfortunately, the home belongs to a cranky writer with a deadline looming and three kids he’s trying to care for while his sister-in-law is recovering from an injury. Hijinks ensue. I did enjoy this one (and like I said I’m interested in reading the other books in this series!) but the men in this one had me seeing red.

The Book of Summer by Michelle Gable
Michelle is an absolute doll. Her previous novels (A Paris Apartment and I’ll See You in Paris) were excellent and she was one of our #HistoricalFix guests over the summer! I HIGHLY recommend her books if you like historical fiction based on actual people and events. This latest, The Book of Summer is calling my name and I’m so tempted to push my other books to the side so I can settle in with this one! Cliff House was once a grand home, full of life and people. Now, a century on, it’s fallen into ruin to the point where the family has to make the decision to pack up the belongings and leave the island for good. The book is told through the eyes of Bess in the present day and Ruby, a newlywed during WWII. That the house is the star of the show makes me think of Black Rabbit Hall, my TOP READ of 2016! Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!

Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens
Chevy is another second chance author. Last year I grabbed That Night from the library and could barely get through it (though I’m thinking a lot of that was due to the narrator). A few months later a copy of Those Girls showed up at my door and I was hesitant to read it, but completely shocked when I found myself thoroughly enjoying it! Never Let You Go follows a mother and her daughter as they run away from an abusive man. Eleven years later Lindsey is finally getting her life back on track when her ex-husband is released from jail. Although she believes she’s managed to cut all ties from her past, Lindsey can’t help but feel like she’s being watched, and eventually her new boyfriend is threatened and her home is broken into. She’s convinced it’s her ex, but he claims to be a changed man. So, SO looking forward to reading this one! Thank you, St. Martin’s Press!

The One True Love of Alice-Ann by Eva Marie Everson
You know I love me a good WWII novel! Alice-Ann is 16 and dead set on marrying her brother’s friend Mack, but when Pearl Harbor is attacked and Mack enlists, Alice-Ann realizes she needs to confess her feelings. Three long years of letters bring the two close…until one day the letters stop. Naturally Alice-Ann fears the worst, that Mack was killed. Over time, she strikes up a friendship with another man also haunted by the war, and as their friendship deepens, Alice-Ann wonders if she can ever truly get over her lost love. Thank you, Tyndale!

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner
A while ago I grabbed this one on netgalley so I was totally surprised when a physical copy appeared at my door! Another novel that bounces between WWII and the present day. A German ballerina and the daughter of a French resistance spy board a ship, both women eager to make a new start with their husbands in America, but only one woman disembarks in New York. In the present day, a woman tours a supposedly haunted ship and winds up following a seventy-year-old tragedy. Thank you, Berkley!

Sweet Southern Bad Boy by Michele Summers

Sweet Southern Bad Boy by Michele Summers
Pub. Date: December 6, 2016
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Sourcebooks!)
Summary: When Katie McKnight gets lost location-scouting for her father’s TV studio, she stumbles upon the perfect setting for their angsty new teen vampire series—a remote barn house unfortunately occupied by a grouchy, disheveled, and incredibly sexy man who instantly mistakes her for the new nanny. Should Katie tell him the truth, or get her foot in the door?

Bestselling author Vance Kerner doesn’t just have writer’s block—he’s been run ragged ever since he was saddled with taking care of his brother’s three kids, an adopted kitten, and a runaway mutt. The last thing he needs is a teen drama defiling his property, but with fascinating and unconventional Katie underfoot charming the entire Kerner household, Vance is finding it harder and harder to say no.
Genre: Adult, Contemporary Romance

Katie McKnight has one final chance to please her father. After leaving her job as a teacher, Katie has been bouncing around between various roles on her father’s movie production team, ultimately being given the task of finding a location for a teenage vampire/zombie miniseries. Instead of heading to the location her father had in mind, however, Katie finds herself outside the perfect house in Harmony, North Carolina. The only problem is how to convince the owner to sign her contract.

Vance Kerner is a bestselling author who’s suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. With his brother out of the country and his sister-in-law recovering from an injury, Vance stepped in to care for his niece and nephews. Now he’s completely overwhelmed and his deadline is looming overhead. Help couldn’t come at a better time, as Vance mistakenly assumes Katie is a nanny he hired. Katie desperately needs this deal to work…but is she willing to spend a month caring for three children and taking care of a cranky writer’s home?

Every once in a while I love to escape into a romance – especially during these chilly months! Sweet Southern Bad Boy was calling my name and, while I had some seriously issues with certain characters, I thoroughly enjoyed it – and am curious about the other books in the series (which feature several couples seen in this one)!

I was on board with Katie playing nanny to three kids. I could get behind her staying in Vance’s house for a month (ever the gentleman, he opted to retreat to his barn-turned-loft to get some writing done). I could even put aside my usual reservations with instalove for the sake of a fun story. The three kids are great, Katie’s a pro with them, and she and Vance have fantastic chemistry. …so what was the problem? There was no in-between: the men were either capital J Jerks or gosh darn good ol’ boys.

There are no surprises when it comes to Katie’s on again off again boyfriend/almost-fiance. It’s obvious from the beginning he’ll be out of the picture, so it was a little unnecessary for Summers to make him SO unlikable. Tad comes from a wealthy family and essentially bought his way into his position for Katie’s dad. He makes comments about her weight, her job (which he steals behind her back), follows her from Hollywood to North Carolina while she’s working to demand she return home with him right now, or she’ll be sorry. He’s rude and arrogant and belittles her any chance he gets. Her father was the same way: he made it extremely clear that he doesn’t think she made the right choice in getting a degree in education (why not??) and feels he needs to Fix It by going behind her back to sign her up for accounting classes at the local community college. He fires her without letting her know and instead has Tad take over the location scouting, all the while demanding Vance keep his mouth shut if he ever hopes to see big screen adaptations of his books. Katie is almost 30 years old. She’s more than capable of making her own decisions, yet she’s treated like a doormat by the men in her life.

On the other hand, I loved Katie’s relationship with Vance’s father, General Kerner. When Vance was a teen, he had a massive falling out with his dad and the two haven’t spoken since. Katie unknowingly runs into the General one day and the two strike up an easy (albeit unlikely) friendship. He’s gruff and tough on the outside, but he’s really a big ol’ softy and I thought he was great.

I’m not a fan of instalove, so naturally the romance didn’t immediately appeal to me. Within a day Vance is already hinting at a relationship with Katie and he doesn’t let up. A few weeks later he lets her know he’s fallen in love and while this will work for die-hard readers of the genre, I felt it was a little hokey. THAT SAID, I really did enjoy them as a couple!

For all my complaining, I honestly liked this one. Sweet Southern Bad Boy had me flipping the page and held me captive until the end. I could have done without the actions of certain characters and the motives behind them, but I didn’t let it hinder my enjoyment of the novel. This is the third book in the Harmony Homecomings series and I’m VERY curious about the first two: they both feature couples seen in this one and I’d love to get to know their backstories! If you’re the type of reader who views chilly, snowy days as the perfect opportunity to snuggle in with a romance novel, look no further!