Review: Eight Hundred Grapes

Eight Hundred Grapes, Laura Dave

Published June 2nd 2015 by Simon & Schuster

Hardcover, 260 pages

Source- e-ARC from NetGalley


There are secrets you share, and secrets you hide…

Growing up on her family’s Sonoma vineyard, Georgia Ford learned some important secrets. The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred. The secret ingredient in her mother’s lasagna: chocolate. The secret behind ending a fight: hold hands.

But just a week before her wedding, thirty-year-old Georgia discovers her beloved fiancé has been keeping a secret so explosive, it will change their lives forever.

Georgia does what she’s always done: she returns to the family vineyard, expecting the comfort of her long-married parents, and her brothers, and everything familiar. But it turns out her fiancé is not the only one who’s been keeping secrets…

A book about wine?  Yes please!

Georgia walks out of her wedding dress fitting and goes home to her parents’ vineyard looking for comfort. Instead she is confronted not only with her soon to be wedding venue and with the fact that all of her family members are keeping secrets.  Her parents have secrets from her, her twin brothers have secrets from each other – secrets are being discovered nearly until the end of the book!  I won’t ruin the secrets for you but there were some big ones!  I enjoyed the family dynamics and of course I totally enjoyed the wine.  I thought the descriptions of Sonoma and of the winemaking process was really interesting- maybe not for everyone though I could see that being a bit dry for some.

Who will still be in love in the end and which family members will still be speaking I won’t tell you -but I enjoyed the fighting and the dramatics and of course the making-up.  I enjoyed the romance, even if it was a bit predictable in the end.

Georgia tries to “fix” all her family members more than than working on her own life at times which got a bit frustrating for me.  I wanted her to kind of suck it up and make decisions – and clearly the decisions that I felt were right.  But she did come around and I appreciated that she made decisions for herself- not just for her fiance or her parents.

If you’re in the mood for chick lit this was a fun book to read with a glass or two of wine.

Thank you Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Oh! You Pretty Things

First! Holly’s also posting today at the Bubblebath Reader!  Check out her post about life as a graduate student in real life and in fiction!  Are you reading the Garden Intrigue along with us?

Oh! You Pretty Things, Shanna Mahin


Published April 14th 2015 by Dutton

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


Jess Dunne is third-generation Hollywood, but her star on the boulevard has yet to materialize. Sure, she’s got a Santa Monica address and a working actress roommate, but with her nowhere barista job in a town that acknowledges zeroes only as a dress size, she’s a dead girl walking.

Enter Jess’s mother—a failed actress who puts the strange in estrangement. She dives headlong into her daughter’s downward spiral, forcing Jess to muster all her spite and self-preservation to snag a career upgrade.

As a personal assistant for a famous (and secretly agoraphobic) film composer, Jess’s workdays are now filled with shopping for luxury goods and cooking in his perfectly designed kitchen. Jess kills at cooking, a talent that only serves her intensifying urge to dig in to Los Angeles’s celebrity buffet.

When her food garners the attention of an actress on the rise, well, she’s all too willing to throw it in with the composer and upgrade again, a decision that will have far-reaching ramifications that could explode all her relationships.

All the while, her mother looms ever closer, forcing Jess to confront the traumatic secrets she’s been running from all her life.

Oh! You Pretty Things is a dizzying ride at the carnival of fame, a fast-paced and sharply funny work that dares to imagine what happens when we go over the top in a town of gilded excess.

This was a delightfully snarky and funny book.  Jess lives at the edge of Hollywood and like so many others desperately wants to be part of the inside world of the stars.  She doesn’t actually want to be an actor, but she wants in on the glitz and the glamour.  I really liked Jess!  She lives with her best-friend who is an up and coming actress and they were great together.  I love reading about friendships that feel real and are supportive and encouraging – and those that make it through mistakes.  I think the relationship between Jess and Megan was my favorite thing about this book.

In the opposite of a healthy relationship we have Jess and her mother, Donna.  Donna was determined to make Jess into a child star and when that failed she pretty much washed her hands of parenthood.  Donna begins circling closer and closer to Jess as she gains access to celebrities leaving Jess living in fear of how her mom might poison the life she’s created.   I felt myself cringing every time they interacted I was so nervous for Jess!  I loved the family that Jess built herself in contrast to what she had with her mother.

For a book about a girl who wants celebrity this had much more depth than I expected, but Jess still didn’t take herself too seriously.  This debut was a good look at some of the grime behind the glitz of stardom and the real people that live in L.A.   I will definitely look forward to seeing what else Shanna Mahin writes.

4 stars!

Thank you Dutton and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Review: Silver Bay

Silver Bay, Jojo Moyes


Published August 26th 2014 by Penguin Books

Paperback, 338 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley


Liza McCullen will never fully escape her past. But the unspoiled beaches and tight-knit community of Silver Bay offer the freedom and safety she craves—if not for herself, then for her young daughter, Hannah. That is, until Mike Dormer arrives as a guest in her aunt’s hotel.

The mild-mannered Englishman with his too-smart clothes and distracting eyes could destroy everything Liza has worked so hard to protect: not only the family business and the bay that harbors her beloved whales, but also her conviction that she will never love—never deserve to love—again.

For his part, Mike Dormer is expecting just another business deal—an easy job kick-starting a resort in a small seaside town ripe for development. But he finds that he doesn’t quite know what to make of the eccentric inhabitants of the ramshackle Silver Bay Hotel, especially not enigmatic Liza McCullen, and their claim to the surrounding waters.

As the development begins to take on a momentum of its own, Mike’s and Liza’s worlds collide in this hugely affecting and irresistible tale full of Jojo Moyes’s signature humor and generosity.

I love how different Jojo Moyes books all are!  If you loved Me Before You (which I completely did!), you should not expect every book to be similar.  The Girl You Left Behind and One Plus One were both totally different as well.  In Silver Bay our action moves from London to a tiny coastal town in Australia.  Mike is a businessman trying to sell a group of investors on a posh resort in Silver Bay.  He arrives, without fanfare, to check out the town and the services available -such as they are.  Kate is a native of Silver Bay in her seventies.  She runs the down-on-its-luck hotel that Mike checks into.  Kate lives with her niece Liza and her great niece, 11 year-old Hannah.  The scene around Silver Bay includes a mix of boat pilots and guides to take tourists out on the water looking for dolphins and whales.  The dolphins and whales themselves were definitely scene stealing characters as well.  As Mike starts to fall for Silver Bay and the inhabitants the reader falls as well.  It was a bit of a slow start for me, but in the end I was totally on edge waiting to see how the hotel development would play out.

We change perspective frequently and I love getting a story from all sides.  This was particularly helpful in Silver Bay as this was a book full of secrets.  Mike has secrets about why he is in Australia, Liza and Hannah have secrets about why they cannot leave Australia and even Kate has secrets of long-ago love affairs.  The secrets were making me crazy!  Of course the secrets have to come out in the end.  Maybe I started to predict some of the answers but that did not take away from my enjoyment of this book at all.  I certainly did not predict all of the directions the story would take though.  Moyes gives so much life to her characters both the starring and minor roles that in each book I feel totally drawn into the story and anxious for the outcome.

Would it be a Jojo Moyes book if I wasn’t teary at some point?  I don’t know because she’s four for four in making me cry while reading.  I love Jojo even more because when I tweeted that she had me in tears she told me to just keep reading and all would be well.  How sweet is that?

4 stars!

Thank you Penguin Books and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion.  

Review: Reluctantly Charmed

Reluctantly Charmed, Ellie O’Neill


Expected publication: March 17th 2015 by Touchstone

Paperback, 416 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


Ireland is one of those places that I’ve yet to visit but love to read about. I know it’s not all green hills and Guinness but those are so fun to daydream of over a good book!  So between Ireland, the pretty cover and the description for Reluctantly Charmed I was sold.  I’m so glad I was because this was just the light and refreshing book I wanted.  Kate McDaid finds out that she’s inherited something mysterious from a long-ago aunt, also named Kate McDaid, if she publishes 7 messages left along with the will.  The messages turn out to be 7 steps given by the fairies to Kate about reconnecting the fairies and mortals.  Kate has a laugh over the other Kate’s determination to have her message heard and goes along just to see what happens.  A lot happens.  Some magic, some romance and a bit of a reality check about celebrity.  Kate learns that some people take the fairies very seriously.

Kate isn’t your typical damsel in distress chick-lit heroine.  She’s not lighting the world on fire at work perhaps, but she has a job that she likes, she has good friends and is close to her parents, she has a crush on an inappropriate man.  Then come the Seven Steps. I loved that Reluctantly Charmed was able to get more serious with Kate – but still didn’t take itself too seriously.  Kate gets in over her head-but gets her own way out.  She didn’t need a hero to save her in the end -just her own wits.  While I saw the romance coming, the end of the Steps was not at all what I would have predicted and I really liked how it all played out.

I would definitely recommend this for a cute spring read and after this delightful debut I will look forward to O’Neill’s next book.

4 stars!

Thank you Touchstone and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: The Dress Shop of Dreams

The Dress Shop of Dreams, Menna van Praag


Expected publication: December 30th 2014 by Ballantine Books

Paperback, 336 pgs

Source: E-ARC from Edelweiss


From Goodreads…

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Cora and Etta are all the family each other has.  Cora’s parents died in a fire when she was a small child. She knows she was deeply loved, but has basically shut down her heart and emotions since that time. Cora is determined to be a part of scientific research that will save lives, just as her parents planned to do. Etta just wants to see her granddaughter’s happiness and so she makes just one nudge to help.  One nudge is more than enough!  With that one nudge, Cora is knocked out of her academic bubble, which leads to both her and her childhood friend Walter meeting new people.

I wish I could go to Etta’s magical shop and find the perfect dress for myself!  Parts about this book definitely exemplified what I love about magical realism.  There’s no magic wands or magic spells, but just a “feeling” of what’s possible or what’s true-and it’s fun to sometimes believe in magic like that.  Etta’s magic gowns give the wearers confidence and lead them to believe in their own beauty -that’s the kind of magic I think we all need sometimes!  The voice that makes us feel love, the priest who hears confession without words, a cop that can see truths – all kinds of magic that are almost believable.

I really liked Cora; and Etta too despite the meddling. Etta’s push sets Cora on a path to feel everything she’s been missing-both good and bad. I thought van Praag did this so well, because you can’t appreciate joy in the same way if you don’t also know sorrow.  I liked Walt as Cora’s friend and then as her love interest. I thought his deep love over the years was maybe a bit too far fetched, but it was still sweet.  I also loved that there was more than just one romance happening- but those didn’t always feel as real to me either. Still, I really enjoyed the variety even if I didn’t love all the couples.

I don’t know how to quite sum up what I didn’t like about the Dress Shop of Dreams without spoilers, but so I’ll just say that the Cora under great stress was not who I felt I had been reading and I didn’t like that so much. I didn’t think she’d face her problems like that.  Once we got past that confrontation I felt we had the same Cora back and I was overall happy with all the resolutions.

I do not like that every book with magical realism has to hold itself out as “just like Sarah Addison Allen!”  I get it, SAA is wonderful and I love her books.  But don’t hold yourself out to be just like her because its just kind of a bummer when your book isn’t The Sugar Queen.  That being said, if you like magical realism I would definitely give this a chance.  If you haven’t tried magical realism I do recommend this as a sweet introduction.

3 stars

Thank you to Ballantine Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Night Garden: A Novel

The Night Garden, Lisa Van Allen


Published October 7th 2014 by Ballantine Books

Paperback, 352 pages

Source: Edelweiss


From Goodreads…

Nestled in the bucolic town of Green Valley in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies something remarkable: a wild maze of colorful gardens that reaches beyond the imagination. Local legend says that a visitor can gain answers to life’s most difficult problems simply by walking through its lush corridors.

Yet the labyrinth has never helped Olivia Pennywort, the garden’s beautiful and enigmatic caretaker. She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harboring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But when her childhood best friend, Sam Van Winkle, returns to the valley, Olivia begins to question her safe, isolated world and wonders if she at last has the courage to let someone in. As she and Sam reconnect, Olivia faces a difficult question: Is the garden maze that she has nurtured all of her life a safe haven or a prison?

When I started The Night Garden I almost could have believed I was reading a Sarah Addison Allen book, but it quickly became a story all its own.  I loved the idea of the Pennywort Farm, where you can just be given the answers to your hard questions if you wait long enough in the maze.  I just couldn’t love Olivia Pennywort herself.  As she was described as kind of unapproachable to the townspeople she felt that way to me as a reader as well.  I liked her more as her walls came down and she began to act like more of a real person and act for herself.  I liked Sam much more and I was definitely rooting for him throughout-even when I wasn’t sure Olivia deserved him.

I don’t want to give away Olivia’s secret-but that was cool!  I thought this twist by Van Allen was going to have an easier answer and I was gratified that Olivia and Sam had to work harder for their romance.  Also wow!  This got way steamier than I was anticipating!  I loved how the Garden became a character itself that Olivia and Sam had to work with to find a way to be together.

When the book was building up the question of whether Olivia and Sam could be together for so long I wanted more out of the answer in the end.  It felt like the ending was rushed which did not go along with the whimsical style.  Still Van Allen has promise and I will definitely try her first book and keep my eye out for future publications. The writing was lovely and flowery to fit the scene and if you enjoy magical realism I definitely think you should try the Night Garden.

3 stars

Thank you Ballantine Books and edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Landline

Landline, Rainbow Rowell


Published July 8th 2014 by St. Martin’s Press

308 pages

Source: Publisher

If you haven’t read a Rainbow Rowell book yet, you’re missing out.  Her books seem to resonate so well for me with different stages in my life.  Eleanor & Park was an amazing flashback to the 80’s, a surprisingly emotional book about young love and mixed tapes. I reviewed Attachments here, that book made me reflect on my own email history with my best friend-basically chronicling our 20s over email every day.   And I love the pop culture references Rowell throws in her books; make a Time Lord joke and I’m yours!

In Landline Rowell takes a look at marriage and how easy it is to take one’s spouse for granted.  I loved Georgie and Neal.  Really what a name, Georgie McCool-you have to be amazing with that name.  We meet Georgie just as she’s made a pretty crappy choice-to stay in LA and work on a television show while her husband and girls go to Omaha for Christmas.  Georgie thinks her family will function just fine without her, but can she function without her family?

Georgie can’t handle the thought of going home to her empty house and so visits her mother and stepfather.  Georgie’s younger sister is living at home and she was a highlight of Landline for me. She’s a complete smart-ass and a great foil to Georgie’s wallowing in self-pity.  While at her mother’s Georgie picks up her teenage phone to call Neal and finds herself talking to Neal in the past.

What?  This sounds crazy.  And it was kind of crazy, but Rowell makes it work.  In between calls to Neal we get George’s memories from college and these were great.  Georgie takes a hard look at her life and wonders if she can change things on these phone calls-and whether she should. What does she really want in her life going forward?

I appreciated Landline because really, marriage is work.  It should be work.  I enjoy books that don’t show it all as flowers and dinners out-books that show you real life and real hurts.  Landline felt real– at least until the magic phone came about.

I loved this quote–too true

“Georgie was pretty sure that having kids was the worst thing you could do to a marriage.  Sure you could survive it.  You could survive a giant boulder falling on your head– that didn’t mean it was good for you.”

Will Georgie and Neal survive their children and their marriage?  Landline will make you laugh, make you sigh happily over college romance, and sigh sadly over  the slights that happen during marriage.  I still don’t get quite why this crazy phone worked but it did!

4.5 stars!

Thank you St. Marten’s Press for this Advanced Reader’s Copy!