Thursday, December 22, 2016

Review: The Christmas Surprise

The Christmas Surprise
By Jenny Colgan
Published: December 6, 2016

Rosie Hopkins, newly engaged, is looking forward to an exciting year in the little sweetshop she owns and runs. But when fate strikes Rosie and her boyfriend, Stephen, a terrible blow, threatening everything they hold dear, it's going to take all their strength and the support of their families and their Lipton friends to hold them together. After all, don't they say it takes a village to raise a child?

My review:

The Christmas Surprise starts just after the events of Christmas at Rosie Hopkins's Sweetshop. Rosie's mother and brother and his family have returned to Australia and things are starting to settle down when Rosie gets a big surprise. In addition to this, Stephen's sister comes back to the village from New York, stirring things up. There are also some big changes on the horizon for Rosie and Stephen. 

This is the third book in the series (after Christmas at Rosie Hopkins's Sweetshop and The Sweetshop of Dreams) and I've come to really enjoy the characters and setting. The Christmas Surprise isn't the typical lighthearted holiday read. There is some sadness and darker topics are addressed. Still there are also those funny moments of village life that makes this series so charming. While there is an element of predictability to the stories, that can be enjoyable too when you need some comfort reading.

Having read these books as well as The Bookshop on the Corner I now want to read her other books as well. If you like reading about village life and quirky and endearing characters, consider giving Jenny Colgan's books a try.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Mini Review: Sweetshop of Dreams and Christmas at Rosie Hopkins's Sweetshop

Sweetshop of Dreams
By Jenny Colgan
Published: August 5, 2014

Rosie Hopkins thinks leaving her busy London life, and her boyfriend Gerard, to sort out her elderly Aunt Lilian s sweetshop in a small country village is going to be dull. Boy, is she wrong.

Rosie's life is...comfortable. And even though she might like to pursue a more rewarding career, and Gerard doesn't seem to have any plans to propose, Rosie's not complaining. Things could be worse. Right?

Lilian Hopkins has spent her life running Lipton's sweetshop, through wartime and family feuds. When her great-niece Rosie arrives to help her with the shop, Lillian struggles with the idea that it might finally be time to settle up, and wrestles with the secret history hidden behind the jars of beautifully colored sweets.

But as Rosie gets Lilian back on her feet, breathes a new life into the candy shop, and gets to know the mysterious and solitary Stephen-whose family seems to own the entire town-she starts to think that settling for what's comfortable might not be so great after all.
A charming, heartwarming story of nostalgic sweets and finding yourself, fans of Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Weiner and Jill Mansell will be craving sweets and a romance of their own.

My review:

I decided to give this book a try after reading The Bookshop on the Corner. There are some similarities between the two stories with both women at career crossroads, leaving the big city for rural/village life. In this case, Rosie goes to stay with her great aunt Lilian and takes over running her sweetshop. Unlike The Bookshop on the Corner however, there is also the story of Lilian as a young woman, set in the 1940s. 

I enjoyed reading about village life and all the charming and eccentric characters Rosie meets. Rosie was a likable protagonist and I was glad to see her start to blossom in her new environment. The romance wasn't my favorite aspect though I did warm to Stephen later. I really liked Lilian's storyline but I love historical fiction set during that time period so that wasn't a surprise. I wasn't very familiar with a lot of the sweets mentioned but some of them did sound kind of tasty. The book also includes recipes. Overall I thought reading this book was like wrapping up in a throw blanket with a hot cup of tea on a snowy day. Pure comfort reading.

Christmas in Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop
By Jenny Colgan
Published: October 13, 2015 

It’s a white Christmas in England, and Rosie Hopkins is feeling festive: Her sweetshop is festooned with striped candy canes, luscious chocolate boxes, and happy, sticky children, and she and her boyfriend are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their families.
But when a tragedy strikes at the heart of their charming town, all of Rosie's plans for the future seem to be blown apart. Can she and her loved ones see their way through the difficult times?

Sweet and soulful, heartbreaking and heartwarming, this is the perfect novel for the holidays (or any time of year).

My review:

Parts of this book are very lighthearted, namely the fact that Rosie's mom and brother (with wife and kids in tow) are about to arrive from Australia but Rosie hasn't told Stephen yet and they don't have room for them at their little cottage. There are also the usual small town shenanigans. The darker part is the tragedy that occurs as well as a link to Lilian's past. Rosie is also hoping that Stephen will propose soon or at least discuss the future of their relationship. Of course everything comes to a head at Christmas. I thought this was another charming read and enjoyed returning to the village of Lipton and reading about the various characters. Overall I enjoyed this sequel to The Sweetshop of Dreams and I was glad there was one more story to read (The Christmas Surprise).  

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Post (73) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

After I posted last week's Sunday Post/IMWAYR, my laptop decided it didn't want to connect to the Internet. I just got the part to fix it from Amazon last night. It is so nice to be able to use my laptop again. I have a smartphone but it isn't quite the same and I can't do anything with my blog on it.

As I write this post on Saturday morning it is raining outside. We had freezing rain last night and the roads are really icy. So glad I don't have to work today. It's hard to believe that Christmas is just one week away! I am still not ready. I have some gifts I need to get (good thing for gift cards and Amazon Prime) and today I plan to do some baking and candy making. My book group had to postpone last Tuesday's cookbook discussion/Christmas party due to bad weather. We rescheduled for this Tuesday and so far the weather looks like it will be fine. The next day I will be leaving for my parents' house for Christmas. On Christmas Eve my sister and her husband are coming over for lunch. 

The library had it's annual staff holiday breakfast on Friday. I am in charge of the fun and games part of the breakfast and this year we played "pass the parcel". I wrapped four small boxes in several layers of wrapping paper and inside one box there were chocolate coins and a $5 gift card to Amazon. The other boxes held chocolate coal. The second game was a timed Christmas song guessing game. The first letters of the titles of Christmas songs are given and people have to guess what the song is. My director won that and he was thrilled with his prize (a reindeer toy that lit up  and "pooped" candy).

I had planned to see Rogue One on Friday afternoon but I decided I needed to go grocery shopping and to run some errands before the bad weather hit. Instead I bought the novelization of the movie. After I finish it, I'll decide if I want to go and see the movie later if I get the chance or I may just wait till it is available for rent. Did you see the new Star Wars movie? What did you think?

Merry Christmas (if you celebrate)! I will hopefully have a couple of posts this week and then I'll be taking a brief blogging break.

Last week on my blog:

Books read:

Christmas Joy by Nancy Naigle

I liked this one. It had a nice small town feel with lots of Christmas traditions. There was a good storyline about forgiveness and moving on as well. 

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)

I was so happy that I got to finish this before the end of the year. I do wish I hadn't waited so long between finishing The Two Towers and starting The Return of the King. I loved the emotional moments (even teared up a bit) but I did think the last couple of chapters dragged on (even more than the ending of the movie). I'd forgotten about that. Love this book though. This last book was maybe the most action packed of all of them (until the end). 

Currently reading:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed

I was not originally planning to read this since I was going to see the movie yesterday. Plans changed though so I bought it and so far it is interesting. I'm only in the first chapter (prologue) but hope to read more later today. 

On my TBR pile:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

New books received:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed (purchased)

The Lady of the Lakes by Josi Kilpack (for review)

Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (library)

This is Our Story by Ashley Elston (library)

Uprooted by Naomi Novik (library)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sunday Post (72) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

This past week saw both rain and snow but at least it looks like we won't be getting the 5-8 inches predicted. I did get my snow tires put on just in case. 

At work I had my sock snowman craft night which went really well. It is a fun and easy craft and one attendee said she found it more relaxing than coloring. I also made a return trip to Barnes & Noble to spend more of the remaining book budget. While I didn't spend it all, I did make a dent. 

This Tuesday I have a get together with my evening book group. We are bringing appetizers and desserts from cookbooks we are supposed to read and discuss. My cookbook is Christmas Cookie Swap but I am thinking of making one of the candy recipes from the book instead of cookies.  Not sure what to do about appetizers. I haven't come across anything I can eat in any of the cookbooks I've looked through. Everything has either cheese, tomatoes, garlic or onions. On Friday we have our annual staff breakfast. I am in charge of "fun and games". I have a couple of games planned but I still need to figure out the prizes. In past years we've done an ugly sweater contest and a white elephant gift exchange but this year I wanted to make things simpler.

My plans for the weekend are going to depend on the weather as it looks like we are supposed to get snow and ice next Friday and Sunday. If we don't, I will be visiting my parents. We were originally going to have our family Christmas that weekend but it worked out for Christmas Eve instead.

Last week on my blog:

Alterations by Stephanie Scott (review)

Books read:

God Bless Us Every One by Eva Marie Everson

This inspirational fiction novel is not a retelling of A Christmas Carol though that book plays an important part in the story (the main character is a drama teacher helping with the school performance of A Christmas Carol and there are parallels between her life and Dickens's). There are also interesting facts about Dickens and the importance of the book to the celebration of Christmas.

Books listened to:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (reread)

I loved listening to this and it made me laugh out loud over Anne's antics. I wish Rachel McAdams would read the rest of the series too. I tried to find a version of Anne of Avonlea on Audible that would be similar but so far none of the narrators are quite the same.

Currently reading:

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)

I've read the first few chapters with Merry and "Dernhelm" and the Rohirrim now on the way to Gondor and Aragorn on his journey with the Grey Company. Now the siege of Gondor is about to begin. It's always interesting to be reminded of the differences between the book and the movie.

On my TBR pile:

Christmas Joy by Nancy Naigle

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Review: Alterations

By Stephanie Scott
Published: December 6, 2016

If anyone saw the prom boards Amelia Blanco makes on her favorite fashion app, they'd think Ethan Laurenti was her boyfriend. They wouldn't know that all the plans she's made for them are just dreams, and that she's the girl who watches him from the kitchen while her parents cook for his famous family.

When Amelia's abuelita enrolls her in a month-long fashion internship in NYC, Amelia can't imagine leaving Miami--and Ethan--for that long. As soon as she gets to New York, however, she finds a bigger world and new possibilities. She meets people her own age who can actually carry on a conversation about stitching and design. Her pin boards become less about prom with Ethan and more about creating her own style. By the time she returns to Miami, Amelia feels like she can accomplish anything, and surprises herself by agreeing to help Ethan's awkward, Steve-Jobs-wannabe brother, Liam, create his own fashion app.

As Liam and Amelia get closer, Ethan realizes that this newly confident, stylish girl may be the one for him after all . . . even though he has a reality TV star girlfriend he conveniently keeps forgetting about. The "new and improved" Amelia soon finds herself in between two brothers, a whole lot of drama, and choice she never dreamed she'd have to make.

My review:

I wanted to read this book because it is inspired by the film Sabrina. I've never seen the original version sadly but I have seen the Harrison Ford version several times. 

Like the film character Sabrina, Amelia is obsessed with the son of her family's employer. Ethan Laurenti has become Amelia's perfect guy even though she doesn't really know him. Thankfully Amelia has other interests besides Ethan and when her grandmother signs her up for a fashion internship, it is exactly what Amelia needs to put some distance between Ethan and herself and to follow her dreams to become a fashion designer. Unfortunately it isn't smooth sailing when it comes to letting go of Ethan and Amelia lies quite a bit about him to her new friends, something that frustrated me about her. Fortunately she does learn her lesson and she comes home a changed girl. 

Ethan lacks the charm of David Larrabee from the film. He is obviously pretty entitled and a bit of a jerk where girls are concerned but Amelia still doesn't see it. It isn't till she starts to hang out with Liam that she sees Ethan in a new light. At the same time, Ethan suddenly decides to go after Amelia, ignoring his "friend" Haylo (who thankfully is really sweet to Amelia and down to earth for someone from Ethan's crowd). I liked the friendship that develops between Haylo and Amelia and the relationship between Amelia and Liam though it takes her some time to see what he is truly worth. 

Alterations pays homage to Sabrina, Project Runway and scripted reality TV shows as the Larrabees and Amelia become involved in the filming of a new reality show about Haylo's family. I didn't always care for the details about fashion (I'm more like Liam in that area) or Project Runway (though I have watched a few episodes) but I think readers who like that kind of thing would catch the references and enjoy them. 

Overall I thought this was a cute contemporary story and I was glad to see Amelia grow up and move on from her crush on Ethan and not just find a better guy but also pursue her career goals. Readers who like the movie Sabrina and contemporary YA romance should consider giving this a try. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Top Ten New-to-Me Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. There is a new subject each week and this week's theme is "Top Ten New-to-Me Authors".

Jenny Colgan

I started reading Jenny Colgan's novels when I heard about her latest, The Bookshop on the Corner (aka The Little Shop of Happy Ever After). Then I picked up Sweetshop of Dreams which I liked even more and have since read its sequels. Now I plan to read the rest of her backlist of books.

Karma Brown

I bought this book on a whim because it was a Kindle deal but I really liked it (though it was pretty sad). I plan to pick up her first book soon.

Genevieve Cogman

I decided to read this after reading so many positive reviews from other bloggers. I liked it and the sequel as well. Really interesting world building and I like the main character.

Julie McElwain

I was interested in reading this and after a coworker said she loved it I moved it up my TBR list. I really liked the historical aspects as well as the idea of a modern female FBI agent stuck back in time.  I am looking forward to reading the sequel in a few months.

Connie Willis

I read a review of this in a trade publication and decided to order it for my library. I was curious about it but not sure I would like it (since it is classified as science fiction) but I gave it a try anyway and I'm so glad I did.

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

I had heard of Stephanie Dray before (she wrote a historical fantasy series about Cleopatra's daughter) but I hadn't read her books yet and I was unfamiliar with Laura Kamoie. Then I started seeing this on blogs and in book reviews and because I was planning a visit to Monticello, I just had to read it. I really liked it and found it fascinating to read about both Thomas Jefferson and his daughter. It certainly added to my Monticello trip. While I don't think I'll be reading Dray's historical fantasy series, I would be willing to try another book cowritten by them.

Taylor Jenkins Reid

I had heard of Taylor Jenkins Reid before but what drew me to pick up this book was the premise. I wanted to know how things would turn out for the newly engaged protagonist when her "late" husband turns out to be not as late as she'd thought. I really liked how the author handled it and plan to read her other books in the future.

Amy Hatvany

I know she's written several novels but this is the first one that I decided to try. I thought it was a really good family drama and I thought the author did a good job of showing the impact of adoption on both sisters as well as the birth mother. I especially liked the portrayal of the relationship between the sisters.

Monica Hesse

This is one of my favorite YA books of 2016. I love historical fiction and this time period in particular and I liked how the author included little details about life in Holland during WWII as well as the resistance movement. I look forward to seeing what Hesse writes next.

Sarvenaz Tash

This book was a lot of fun to read, partly because of the setting. I also liked the unexpected romance and friendships. 

Honorable mention:

Kelly Harms (The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay)
Rae Meadows (I Will Send Rain)
Jen Malone (Wanderlost)
Garth Nix (Newt's Emerald)

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Post (71) / It's Monday, What Are You Reading

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a post to recap the past week, showcase books and things we have received and share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a fun weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, where we share what we've read and reviewed over the past week and what we plan to read next.

Happy December! I am so not ready for Christmas. We haven't even drawn names in my family for our gift exchange yet or even set a date to get together. I am going to try to send out Christmas cards this year so I need to look for those too. Lots to do!

I had a nice Thanksgiving with my family and on Black Friday my mom and I watched all four episodes of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. While I liked seeing what everyone in Stars Hollow was up to and there was some good character development for Emily and a little for Lorelai, I was mainly disappointed (Rory, I'm looking at you) and irritated by the final four words (again, Rory). I may have a review post about the series sometime.

This afternoon I visited a friend and we made some no-bake cookies while her husband evaluated my car (he's a mechanic). This week I am going to take my car to my regular mechanic to get the serpentine belt replaced and then look into getting some tires before bad weather hits. I'm really hoping it will hold off till after Christmas. I was happy to find out that the car situation isn't as dire as I'd believed. Aside from the serpentine belt and new tires, the other repairs can wait. I'd like to wait till 2018 to get a new car and that might be possible.

At the library I have my snowman craft night on Tuesday. We have 11 people signed up so far to attend. I'm almost done with my purchases for the year. I am planning to go back to Barnes & Noble on Friday since I still have at least $2,000 to spend in the book budget. I'm also starting to plan programs for January and February. I know I want to bring back the coloring programs and maybe show some movies.

Last week on my blog:

Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morgan (review)

Books read:

The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray

I thought this started out well but I felt a little disappointed in the end. Still it is an page turning novel with a Gothic feel. 

Alterations by Stephanie Scott

This is a contemporary retelling of Sabrina. I liked the modern update though at times I was annoyed with Amelia (because of her lies), I was still rooting for her. I also really liked Liam (based on Linus from the movie).

This was a fun sequel to Sweetshop of Dreams and I liked that it was set at Christmas and included Rosie's nutty family visiting from Australia. 

On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

Just like with If You Only Knew, this novel is about sisters. Jenny and Leo from If You Only Knew have cameo appearances here too as they live in the same town. This story is about Kate, a recent widow and her half-sister Ainsley, who thought she was getting engaged but instead got dumped. A great story about family relationships and a little romance too. 

The Choices We Make by Karma Brown

I bought this e-book on a whim when it was on sale and I'm glad I did. It was a sad story but still good. Hannah is devastated when she can't have children but her best friend Kate offers to carry a baby for her. 

The Christmas Surprise by Jenny Colgan

This is the third (and final?) book in the Rosie Hopkins series. It was sadder than I'd anticipated but I still liked it and there was a happy ending. I love this series and want to check out the author's other books. She certainly makes rural England sound charming. Lipton is like an English version of Stars Hollow.

Books listened to:

The Serpent's Shadow by Rick Riordan (reread)

Currently reading:

A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund

This is a YA inspirational fiction novel inspired by Robin Hood but with a twist. Lady Juliana is the bandit and she kind of reminds me of Merida from Brave (not just because of the red hair).

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)

I can't believe I waited so many months to pick up the story again. I'm at the very beginning. Pippin and Denethor have just met. I can't help but picture Billy Boyd and John Noble as I read.

Currently listening to:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (reread)

Listening to this audiobook is a delight. I love the story but Rachel McAdams does a great job of bringing it to life.

On my TBR pile:

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

New books received:

The Christmas Surprise by Jenny Colgan (for review)

The Choices We Make by Karma Brown (purchased)

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (purchased)

Ross Poldark by Winston Groom (purchased)

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer (library book)

A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund (library book)

Christmas Joy by Nancy Naigle (library book)