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Monday, November 29, 2021

Book Make Great GIfts Guide 2021

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

It’s time for my annual Books Are Great Gifts Guide for everyone on your holiday list. Books are easy to wrap, and never the wrong color or size- they’re the perfect gift! 

With people traveling again, National Geographic’s fantastic coffee books are perfect for the adventurer or armchair traveler on your list. Their 100 Perfect Weekends and Ultimate Journeys For Two fit the bill. History fans will enjoy The 21st Century-Photographs From The Image Collection and birders must have Complete Birds of North America. 

There are many wonderful biographies out now. For your well-informed aunt, Cokie, a biography of groundbreaking newsperson Cokie Roberts by her husband Steve V. Roberts or Katie Couric’s memoir Going There would be appreciated. The TVLand and MeTV fan will enjoy Ron and Clint Howard’s memoir The Boys, a love letter to their parents. 

Qian Julie Wang’s moving memoir  Beautiful Country about growing up as an undocumented immigrant in Queens was a Read With Jenna pick. Your uncle will get a kick out of John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Molloy’s The Greatest Beer Run Ever a true story about a New York City bartender who travels to Vietnam during the middle of the war to deliver beer to his regular customers. 

The tennis aficionado will relish Billie Jean King’s enlightening memoir All In. For your son-in-law the baseball fanatic, Joe Posnanski’s The Baseball 100 is an all-encompassing review of the top 100 players ever. For the Syracuse basketball lover, Carmelo Anthony’s memoir Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised shares his story of growing up in the tough housing projects of Red Hook and Baltimore. 

For your cousin who spent last year binge-watching TV, Mike Roe’s The 30 Rock Book takes a deep dive into every episode of the comedy.  Welcome to Dunder Mifflin by Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman is for the uber-“Office" fan. If your Dad binged “The Sopranos”, he’ll love Woke Up This Morning by cast members Micheal Imperioli and Steven Schrippa. 

For your neighbor whose TV is always tuned to the Food Network, Trisha’s Kitchen by country star and Food Network host Trisha Yearwood is filled with tasty recipes. Pair it with a pretty tea towel and a Trisha Yearwood CD for a special touch. If you know someone who loved Stanley Tucci’s Italian travel and food show on CNN, his memoir Taste is perfect. 

Your best girlfriend will love Helen Ellis’s funny and touching essay collection Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light. For your Peloton-riding friend who loves to laugh, Laurie Gelman’s novel Yoga Pant Nation will keep her in stitches. 

Your sister who enjoys good glass of rosé wine will like Jamie Brenner’s Blush, a novel about a family who owns a Long Island winery. Beck Dorey-Stein’s novel Rock the Boat is good for your pal who is missing her summer vacation at the Jersey Shore right about now.

Many people enjoy historical fiction, and there’s lots of good ones to go around. Lauren Willig’s Band of Sisters builds her fascinating story around the real women of Smith College who went to France during WWI to help villagers displaced by war. Susan Elia MacNeal’s The Hollywood Spy takes her London-based heroine Maggie Hope to Hollywood during WWII to investigate a woman’s drowning. She finds a big KKK presence and a Nazi connection that complicate her investigation.

Naomi Hirahara’s novel Clark and Division shares the story of a first generation Japanese American woman who wants to find out why her sister died after their family’s time spent in a California internment camp during WWII. Beatriz William’s Our Woman in Moscow is set during the Cold War with a woman looking for information about her sister who disappeared after the sister’s husband was outed as a Russian spy.

For the kiddies, the children's book concierge from the Book Cellar in NYC had suggestions. For the littlest ones, One, Two, Grandma Loves You by Shelly Becker and Dan Yaccarino counts down all the fun things they will do with Grandma. Fans of the Wimpy Kid and Dog Man series have a new one to try- Ben Yokahama and The Cookie Chronicles from Matt Swanson and Robbi Behr. Young adults who devoured Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series should start her new series Realm Breaker. 

Happy shopping to all, and don't forget to support your local independent bookstore.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Keep Me Warm at Christmas by Brenda Novak

Keep Me Warm at Christmas by Brenda Novak
Published by MIRA ISBN 978077831256
Mass Market Paperback, $9.99, 416 pages

Last Christmas I read Brenda Novak's A California Christmas (my review is here), the seventh book in her Silver Springs series and was pleased to see we return to Silver Springs again this Christmas for Keep Me Warm at Christmas.

Tia Bennett is a young actress recovering from a terrible car accident that left her face disfigured. She is recuperating at the home of Maxi, the producer of her breakout film, which has just been released and is garnering Oscar buzz for Tia and the movie.

The paparazzi swarmed her Los Angeles condo, so Tia takes Maxi up on his offer to hide out at in the guest house of his gated home in the small town of Silver Springs. All she has to do is feed and care for his pet parrot while is he out of the country.

While Tia is severely depressed about her situation, she discovers that Maxi has also invited Seth, a reknowned artist and sculptor, to stay in the main house. Seth is still mourning the loss of his young wife three years ago. He grew up in Silver Springs, one of many young boys adopted by Aiyana, the woman who runs a school for troubled teens.

Seth is back to teach an art class Aiyana's school. While he loves Aiyana, he is still troubled by his past. His birth mother gave him and his two brothers up, and later reclaimed his older and young brother but not him. As a young teen, Seth had problems with the law, but straightened his life out.

After Seth sees how depressed Tia is, he becomes determined to reach out to her. He cooks for her, encourages her to exercise, and when a paparazzi comes looking for her, Seth protects her.

Tia and Seth are both going through difficult times. Tia fears her burgeoning career is over, and her Mennonite family is pressuring her to come home to Iowa. Seth is missing his wife and dealing with his in-laws who see him as only an ATM. Can they bring each other out of the depths of their sadness?

Keep Me Warm at Christmas is about forgiveness. Seth has to decide if he can forgive his birth family and in-laws, Tia has to work on forgiving her family,  and Tia has to think about forgiving Seth for something he says that hurts her deeply.

We learn a little bit about the Mennonite religion in this novel, something I found interesting as I don't know much about the relgion. We don't see much of Aiyana and her family as we did in the last book, this one really revolves around Tia and Seth. I hope to revisit Silver Springs again next Christmas and see  more of Aiyana and her family.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Holiday Romance Blog Tour.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam

The Hookup Dilemma by Constance Gillam
Published by Entangled ISBN 9781682815724
Trade paperback, $15.99, 322 pages

From the moment Elliott Quinn sees gorgeous Rashida Howard get out of an Uber in front of his father's office, she catches his eye. He is sitting in a booth at the bar across the street, head down in on his phone, paperwork capturing all his attention. So begins Constance Gillam's The Hookup Dilemma.

Rashida is angry that her appointment with Marcus Quinn has been canceled yet again. She sees that Elliott has an open seat across from him in his booth and asks if she can sit there, her feet are swollen and she needs to sit down.

They talk and flirt, and Elliott offers to take her to dinner at the Four Seasons nearby. The flirting is hot and heavy, and they end up in a room after dinner. While the sex is amazing, Rashida sneaks out early without leaving her number or last name.

Rashida is concerned that her grandmother's Millhouse neighborhood near downtown Atlanta is heading toward gentrification, leaving the elderly people who have called it home for decades behind. She wants to meet with Marcus Quinn, an architect who bought a building and wants to bring in Whole Foods and Starbucks, and eventually buy up homes and build McMansions in their place.

What Rashida doesn't know is that the Elliott she had hot sex with is Marcus Quinn's son, and with his father out of commission after having had a serious heart attack, Elliott is now the point man on the Millhouse project. If he can't make this project happen, his father's company will be bankrupt.

Although Rashida and Elliott are on the opposite sides of this issue, they can't fight their attraction to each other. They are thrown together, and Elliott has become so entranced by Rashida, he wants to find a way to make both this project work and find a solution for Rashida's grandmother and her neighbors as he has come to know and like them.

If Elliott and Rashida can't find a compromise, any future together is unlikely. I liked the theme of gentrification, it seems to be a growing problem in many large cities, like my own of New York City. I also liked the multiracial aspect of the story. There is a lot of explicit sexual content, so if that is something that you don't like, this book is not for you. 

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Constance Gillam's tour. The rest of her stops are here:


Monday, November 22nd: Reading Reality

Monday, November 22nd: @nikkihrose

Monday, November 22nd: She Just Loves Books and @shejustlovesbooks

Tuesday, November 23rd: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, November 24th: @boozy.bookstacker

Friday, November 26th: @reading_with_nicole

Friday, November 26th: @addictedtobooks86

Monday, November 29th: @ohyouread on IG and @ohyouread on TikTok

Wednesday, December 1st: Nurse Bookie and @nurse_bookie

Thursday, December 2nd: @bryantparkbooks

Friday, December 3rd: @breysreviews

Saturday, December 4th: @mrsboomreads

Monday, December 6th: @nerdy_book_lover_1987

Wednesday, December 8th: @bookdragon217

Thursday, December 9th: @moonlight_rendezvous on IG and @moonlight_rendezvous on TikTok

Friday, December 10th: Stranded in Chaos and @sarastrand9438

Monday, December 13th: @what.ems.reading

Wednesday, December 15th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, December 16th: @bookscoffeephotography

Saturday, December 18th: @welovebigbooksandwecannotlie on IG and @welovebigbooks on TikTok

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Christmas Wedding Guest by Susan Mallery

The Christmas Wedding Guest by Susan Mallery
Published by Harlequin  ISBN 9781335522450
Trade paperback, $16.99, 432 pages

Last Christmas, I was enchanted by Susan Mallery's Happily This Christmas, a holiday story in her Happily Inc. series, so I was excited to see that she has a new Christmas book in a new series. The Christmas Wedding Guest is the second book set in Wishing Tree, Washington, a town that celebrates Christmas year-round.

Sisters Reggie and Dena are helping their mother plan a Christmas vow renewal. Their parents didn't get the big wedding 35 years ago, and now Mom wants all the bells and whistles.

Dena is a schoolteacher who also owns the town's B&B, left to her by her aunt. She is also pregnant, ready to be a single mother after she feels that love has passed her by. Last year on Thanksgiving weekend, Reggie's boyfriend proposed on Friday, hosted a big engagement party on Saturday, and broke up with her on Sunday.

Reggie moved to Seattle for her job, and is not excited to see everyone again after last year. Her high school boyfriend Toby moved back to town with his eight year-old son to live with his grandmother. He is a hugely successful businessman, and his son is in Dena's class.

Micah is a rock star who lost his wife and unborn baby in a car accident last year. He came to Wishing Tree to work with a friend and get away from it all, and ends up staying in Dena's B&B. Dena, like every other woman, is attracted to the handsome man, and Micah seems to like Dena as well.

The characters in The Christmas Wedding Guest don't necessarily have secrets, it's more that they have complications in their life. Dena is a pregnant soon-to-be single mom with horrible all-day sickness, Micah is trying to move on from his tragic accident, and while Reggie is thrown together with Toby who left town abruptly at age eighteen without a word to Reggie, Toby is determined not to get romantically involved with anyone.

No one creates these charming towns populated with characters that you feel like you know as friends as well as Susan Mallery. On her website susanmallery.com, you can see maps of the towns like Happily, Inc. and Wishing Tree, with all of the charming small businesses highlighted. Looking at them makes you feel like you are walking through the town you just read about. Her books are Hallmark Christmas movies waiting to happen.

I adored The Christmas Wedding Guest as much as Happily This Christmas, and like last year, I will be giving this book to someone I know who loves Christmas. I can't wait to read more books in the series so I can get to know the people of Wishing Tree better.

My review of Happily This Christmas is here.

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Holiday Romance Book Tour.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer
Published by MIRA, ISBN 9780778311584
Trade paperback, $15.99, 416 pages

At this time of year I enjoy reading Christmas books, and the opportunity to read a Hanukkah story intrigued me, especially Jean Meltzer's The Matzah Ball with its unique leading lady. Rachel is the daughter of an esteemed rabbi father and doctor mother. She's also secretly Margot Cross, the bestselling author of twenty Christmas romances.

Rachel's lifelong best friend Mickey is one of few people who know she is Margot, and the only one who has seen her Christmas room- filled to the brim with all kinds of Christmas decorations, including her beloved and numerous Santa collection. It's every Hallmark movie come to life in one room. 

The other secret Rachel has is that she has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Most people don't understand the disease, believing that people who suffer from CFS are just low-energy or lazy. Rachel can be bedridden for days, unable to even raise her arms without pain. (Jean Meltzer also has CFS, something that gives the reader a better understanding of the disease.)

When Rachel's publisher tells her that this year they want her to write a Hanukkah romance, Rachel is stunned. How can she write a Hanukkah romance? Christmas is so festive, with so many different traditions, like the Rockefeller Christmas tree, and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show. Hanukkah doesn't have all that.

Rachel decides that she must do some serious research for her Hanukkah book to get it right. She hears about the Matzah Ball, a big weeklong party for wealthy Jewish people to be held at a ritzy New York hotel. That's perfect! There will be lots of single people there, she can soak up the atmosphere and get some good details for her book.

There are some problems though. The host of the event is Jacob Greenberg, CEO of Greenberg Entertainment, one of the premier event organizers in the world. Jacob is also the guy who humilated and broke Rachel's heart at summer camp when she was twelve.

The event is sold out, but Jacob is willing to let Rachel come if she volunteers the week of the event. Jacob has a different view of what happened when they were twelve; he believes that Rachel broke his heart.

What happens when Rachel and Jacob spend the week working together? There are misunderstandings,  mishaps, and yes, sexual tension. The Matzah Ball is a funny, sweet enemies-to-friends story. The characters are delightful, and as someone who has planned events in the past, I reveled in the descriptions of the event coming together. I liked learning about Hanukkah, the traditions and the food, and you will pick up a fair amount of Yiddish phrases. 

The Matzah Ball is a welcome addition to the canon of holiday romances, and I hope that Jean Meltzer continues Rachel and Jacob's story in future books.

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Holiday Romance Tour.

Monday, November 15, 2021

The 21st Century- Photographs From the Image Collection from National Geographic

The 21st Century- Photographs from the Image Collection of National Geographic
Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426222375
Hardcover, $50, 430 pages

Each year around this time, National Geographic publishes a few coffee table books that would make wonderful holiday gifts. This year, add The 21st Century- Photographs From The Image Collection  to that list.

With over 11.5 million photos in their photographic archives and more than 50 million photos on their digital servers, National Geographic explores our "shared history through photography" and in this brilliant book they explore the first 21 years of the 21st century. 

Photographer Brent Stirton believes that photography is "bearing witness to the truth". In this book, we bear witness to history, nature, animals and the people of the 21st century through stunning photos. Interspersed throughout the book are pages titled Through the Lens where photographers explain how and why they got the shot.

We see incredible photos of a "glass frog" that looks like it is transparent, a huge polar bear peering through the door of cabin, and orphan elephants playing together. A photo of a mass mosaic created by Korean children is amazing, as is one of the Artic National Park in Alaska. 

There is an incredible overhead shot of 1902 canoes and kayaks trying to break a record for the most boats together. Kindergarteners nestled in their blankets for naptime, and an overhead photo of newborn babies in an Orlando hospital will melt your heart.

Astronaut Scott Kelly's spacewalk shot is brilliant, and a photo of surgeons standing over a face prepared to be transplanted will take your breath away. The photos of the abandoned and destroyed Chernobyl control room 20 years later and three first responders looking up at the scene in New York on 9/11 take you right back to those historic incidents, as does the one of Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman holding off the mob that tried to take over the Capitol building on January 6th.

If you know someone who appreciates photography, or who used to have a subscription to National Geographic magazine, The 21st Century is a book they will treasure for years to come. It will give them hours of enjoyment, and it's something to share with the entire family.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of the stops are here:

Tour schedule:

Tuesday, November 2nd: she treads softly
Wednesday, November 3rd: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, November 4th: Instagram: @the_booksandwich
Friday, November 5th: Instagram: @nurse_bookie
Monday, November 8th: Laura’s Reviews
Tuesday, November 9th: Instagram: @geronimoreads
Wednesday, November 10th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, November 15th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, November 16th: Instagram: @extrovertedforbooks
Wednesday, November 17th: Instagram: @tarheelreader

Friday, November 12, 2021

Friday 5ive- November 12, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week.

1)  When you get up at 6am to do laundry, sometimes you are greeted by this gorgeous red sky over the East River. It almost makes it worth getting up so early. Almost.

2)  Living in New York, surrounded by concrete and highrise buildings, it's a treat to see pretty landscaping. I saw this in front of the Bristol apartment building while I was running errands.

3)  Also while running errands, I listened to a fascinating podcast. On Next Question with Katie Couric, journalist Margaret Sullivan talked with Katie about her book, Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy. Sullivan (now with The Washington Post and formerly with The New York Times) spoke about her work as the editor at The Buffalo News and how important local newspapers are to a community and our democracy. Local newspapers attend city, town council, and school board meetings, report on local arts scenes, and highlight community members. So much of today's media are now in the hands of politically motivated monopolies (Sinclair Broadcasting TV stations) and hedge funds that only care about profits (Alden Global Capital which now owns such prestigious newspapers as Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Baltimore Sun), it's dangerous to our democracy. Young reporters from Report for America also shared their work in local communities underserved by media. As someone who grew up in a small community with a very strong local newspaper that still exists, I really appreciated this podcast and I will be buying Margaret's book. 

4)  On Veterans' Day, MeTV ran the series finale of MASH, which is something that is rarely seen on TV. I've been on a MASH kick, as TV Land runs two hours of episodes in the morning from 9am-11am and I like to watch it while I'm doing my morning chores. I vividly recall watching the last episode in my college dorm, with dozens of us crowded around the television in the common room, and I'm not sure I have seen it since then in 1983. The MeTV broadcast also had interviews with cast members, writers, and producers during the three hour event. It was a powerful ending to a classic television show that artfully combined drama and comedy. You can see the interviews here

5) I read three books this week. The first is a super suspense thriller, All Her Little Secrets, a debut novel by Wanda M. Morris. When lawyer Ellice Littlejohn walks into her boss's office early one morning and finds him dead from a gunshot wound, she runs away to her office and tells no one. Why? Ellice, the only Black lawyer at Houghton Transportation Corporation, was having an affair with her now-dead white boss. She finds herself caught in a dangerous tangled web that includes her younger brother, along with the CFO of Houghton who clearly dislikes Ellice, the female head of HR, and the CEO who appears to be suffering from dementia. It's a twisty novel that combines the movie Get Out with the legal thrillers of John Grisham. It's a real page-turner.   

Now that Mariah Carey has declared it's time for Christmas, I read two holiday-themed books. Jean Meltzer's The Matzah Ball serves up a Hanukkah story. Rachel, the daughter of an esteemed rabbi, has a secret- she is also Margot Cross, the bestselling author of twenty popular Christmas romances. When her publisher tells her they want a Hanukkah-themed book this year, Rachel must get herself invited to the Matzah Ball, an NYC event that is organized by a man who broke her heart as young teen at summer camp. It's a delightful holiday story, full of heart and humor, and I so enjoyed learning about Jewish foods and traditions. My full review posts on November 21st. 

The second holiday-themed book is Susan Mallery's The Christmas Wedding Guest. The story takes place in the town of Wishing Tree, near Seattle. This town is all about Christmas, with Christmas-themed stores and restaurants surrounding a town square called The Wreath. Sisters Dena and Reggie's parents are renewing their wedding vows at a huge traditional wedding they didn't have when they eloped 35 years ago. Dena is a schoolteacher who also owns the town B&B, and is pregnant having decided to become a single mom when love has eluded her. Reggie left town last year after her boyfriend proposed to her on the Friday after Thanksgiving, hosted a huge engagement party on Saturday, and then dumped Reggie on Sunday. When Reggie's high school boyfriend returns to town with his young son, and rock star Micah is a guest at Dena's B&B, sparks fly and the road to true love is rocky indeed. It's the first book in a new series, and no one gets readers more invested in these charming towns and the people living there better than Susan Mallery. My full review posts November 22nd. 

Stay safe and healthy all.