Review: The Dickens with Love by Josh Lanyon

Format: ebook
Publisher: Samhain
FTC: purchased myself
Pub Date: December 2009

The Blurb:
A quirky holiday romance about Faith, Hope, and…er…glow-in-the-dark condoms!
Three years ago, a scandal cost antiquarian “book hunter” James Winter everything that mattered to him: his job, his lover and his self-respect. But now the rich and unscrupulous Mr. Stephanopoulos has a proposition. A previously unpublished Christmas book by Charles Dickens has turned up in the hands of an English chemistry professor by the name of Sedgwick Crisparkle. Mr. S. wants that book at any price, and he needs James to get it for him. There’s just one catch. James can’t tell the nutty professor who the buyer is.
Actually, two catches. The nutty Professor Crisparkle turns out to be totally gorgeous—and on the prowl. Faster than you can say, “Old Saint Nick,” James is mixing business with pleasure…and in real danger of forgetting that this is just a holiday romance.
Just as they’re well on the way to having their peppermint sticks and eating them too, Sedgwick discovers the truth. James has been a very bad boy. And any chance Santa will bring him what he wants most is disappearing quicker than the Jolly Old Elf’s sleigh.

Josh Lanyon's books never cease to surprise me with their terrific characters and complexity. But I will admit...I didn't look forward to reading this one. Because I really (and I mean really) hate Charles Dickens. Yes, I know it makes me sound like a Scrooge.

I hate his cutesy little names that are generally tied to character traits. And I think the man was too wordy. Serialized novels in the Victorian era were often wordy, and I'm no stranger to 19th century literature, but I just can't stand his style of writing. Just a personal preference, and not the fault of Mr. Lanyon.

So it was with great reluctance that I started reading The Dickens With Love. And, despite Lanyon's tongue-in-cheek use of Dickensian names as well (James Winter?), I found myself blasting through it in a single sitting. As usual for anything written by this author.


Hump Day Classic Movie: Star Wars

Some people watch Christmas movies on Thanksgiving. Some people watch football. Our family? We do a Star Wars marathon. And by Star Wars, I am, of course, referring to the original trilogy.

Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope) may not seem like a classic movie, but it was filmed in 1976 and released in 1977. Which is 33 years ago! Myself, I missed the Star Wars mania. I was a newborn in 1977. But Star Wars defined my husband's childhood. And I've seen all of the movies so many times now, that I can recite them by heart.

The number of Star Wars references found in popular culture, television, and movies is mind-boggling.  The first movie is even referenced in Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, explaining how  world culture and religion is distilled into a pop culture phenomenon.

But the best part about Star Wars Episodes IV-VI is that they are just plain fun to watch. Adventure, romance, strange creatures, humor, and lots of space battles.

Are there any holiday movie traditions in your family?


Winter is here. Boo!

I'm a big winter storm whiner. Even though I live in the mountains. The reason? I grew up in the valleys of Northern California. Where our big winter was when the mud puddles iced over. Even though I've now spent more time in the mountains than I ever did in the valleys, snow is still something I'm not fond of.

You have to shovel it. Because I get so much mail, and send so much mail, I'm out there shoveling off the deck, shoveling out the mailbox. I hate it.

You have to drive in it. School doesn't shut down here for snow. Ever. So I don't have the option of not driving in the snow. And since California doesn't use salt on the roads (they use a chemical de-icer which IMO doesn't work), the roads are slick.

But it does have its compensations. It is so pretty.


Review: The Rules of an Engagement by Suzanne Enoch

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Pub Date: October 2010
Publisher: Avon
FTC: Purchased myself

The Blurb:
For proper young ladies, good behavior has always been the rule…
Captain Bradshaw Carroway loves the seafaring life—though he’d rather be battling brigands than his current assignment of ferrying a boatload of spoiled aristocrats. One passenger, however, has caught his eye: a bewitching young minx who definitely distracts him from the rules of shipboard decorum . . .
Some rules, of course, are meant to be broken.
Miss Zephyr Ponsley has traveled the world, but she’s completely innocent in the ways of love. She’s never learned to dance or flirt. But scientific observation has taught her that the laws of attraction have no rules, and that no adventure, on land or sea, is more dangerous—or delicious—than passion!
I loved Enoch's Lessons in Love trilogy. Every book was very different, but the Rake and England's Perfect Hero are my favorites. Partly because they are about the Carroway family, which I adore. So when I saw that Rules of an Engagement was about Bradshaw Carroway, I was doing a Snoopy dance in the aisles of the grocery store.

It's been six years since the last Carroway book. Six years. But I have to say it was worth the wait.  (Okay, technically, this is part of the Adventurer's Club series, but in my heart, it's a Carroway story).


Hump Day Classic Movie: The Untouchables

I usually make fun of Kevin Costner movies. After all, he's our modern John Wayne. Meaning he plays himself in every movie he's in. But in this movie, it works.

I am normally a happy movie person. But The Untouchables made an impact on me. Part of it is the result of the cast. Sean Conner, Andy Garcia, Robert De Niro... Part of it is the fact that this is a bloody movie that really doesn't attempt to gloss over the fact that the subject matter is violent. It's not glamorized. The violence during prohibition was real, but too many movies make it look noble.

I think this is one of those movies everyone should see at least once.


Review: I'll Be Yours For Christmas by Samantha Hunter

Format: Mass Market Paperback (also available as an ebook)
Pub Date: December 2010 (available now)
Publisher: Harlequin
FTC: Received copy for review from author

The Blurb:

From the time they were kids and neighbors, Reece Winston tugged Abby Harper's pigtails and tormented her. But when Abby—now the sole owner of her parents' vineyard—sees Reece Winston again after years apart, she's unexpectedly struck by the need to play a much more adult kind of game....
Then a freak accident forces her to stay with Reece, and Abby decides that what she really wants for Christmas is Reece—perhaps wrapped with a red bow. But as Abby and Reece explore their naughty lists, they begin to realize that nothing is quite as easy as it seems!

I love holiday stories. I especially love holiday romances. Add in a neighbors-to-lovers plot, and I'm a happy little bookworm.

I admit, I normally shy away from most of the category Harlequin books. Not because I have anything against them, but because they are often too short to make me believe in the characters the way I'd like. That wasn't the case with I'll Be Yours for Christmas. The characters were very well done, even the secondary ones, and the plot was interesting and focused.

As someone from the west coast, it was a nice change to see something set in an east coast vineyard. It was unusual and refreshing not to have that Napa Valley feel to a story like this one. And I really loved all of the Christmas elements incorporated into the story. Over a dozen Christmas trees, wine themed ornaments. Small touches, but it kept the holiday feel consistent throughout the book.

The heat between Abby and Reece is scorching! I liked that Abby had a few minor kinks and Reece was very aware of them. The slow build, with a few interruptions thrown in to amp up the frustration, was nice. It felt realistic, especially given their brief "almost" encounter back in high school.

I also appreciated how the author resolved the career conflict while keeping the relationship balanced. The changes were not done in a self-sacrificing way that felt unequal, but instead felt like a move forward for both characters.

My only complaint, and it's a very minor one, was that I felt like the "arson investigation" to hold up insurance payments wasn't really needed. It didn't add anything to the story; there was enough conflict without it.

Grab a cup of eggnog and curl up in front of the fire with this one. You'll be in the holiday mood in no time.

My Grade: A-/B+


Cookbook Review: Perfect One Dish Dinners: All You Need for Easy Get Togethers by Pam Anderson

Format: Hardcover
Pub Date: September 2010
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
FTC: Digital galley received from the publisher via Netgalley

Despite the title, this cookbook is not for the cheap, easy casserole-minded cook. These dishes do go together in (mostly) one dish, but most involve long lists of ingredients and plenty of time.

We made the Frogmore Stew which is essentially a seafood boil. The proportions and cooking instructions were clear and easy to follow. And it was a one dish meal.

I really liked the appetizers and dessert recipes that go with each one dish dinner. The book is really more One Dish Main Course than One Dish Dinner, but that's okay with me. I loved the way some recipes have alternative substitutions that take far less time than the "star" recipe. It adds to the value of the book that these recipes are kind of snuck in rather than set out on their own pages to pad the recipe count.

There are some clever almost Semi-Homemade ideas, too, such as the recipe for Miniature Lemon-Raspberry Cakes that you can find on Amazon here.

The mostly one dish dinners is because many of these require second recipes to make them work. So while there are fewer dishes to dirty (and clean) titling the book "One Dish" is not really accurate.

Also, these recipes are geared towards entertaining, so they are more calorie-laden and involved than your average dinner. At least at my house. ;)

I like the recipes, I like the presentation, but this is more of a Simple Ideas for Entertaining than One Dish or Easy.

My Grade: B


Hump Day Classic Movie: El Dorado

I admit, I'm not  a big John Wayne fan. John Wayne played John Wayne in just about every movie he ever made. Even in the Conqueror (which is my own personal pick for worst movie ever made). But the few movies of his that I do watch nearly all have some interesting co-stars or supporting actors.

In the case of El Dorado, there's Robert Mitchum. And there's a very young, very handsome, James Caan.

I was watching a DVR'd episode of the new Hawaii Five-O starring James Caan's son Scott when I realized it had been a long time since I watched El Dorado. So I dug it out. Sure, it's pretty standard fare for a John Wayne western, but it's one of the few I actually enjoy. Because James Caan was a definite cutie in this role.

Review: Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey

Format: ebook
Publisher: Carina
Pub Date: November 2010
FTC: Review copy received from Netgalley

The Blurb:

One-night stand + two percent condom failure rate = happily ever after?
Bar owner Kevin Kowalski is used to women throwing their phone numbers at him, but lately he's more interested in finding a woman to settle down with. A woman like Beth Hansen. If only their first meeting hadn't gone so badly... 

Beth's tending bar at a wedding when she comes face-to-face with a tuxedo-clad man she never thought she'd see again. She tries to keep her distance from Kevin but, by last call, she can't say no to his too-blue eyes or the invitation back to his room. Then she slips out before breakfast without leaving a note and, despite their precautions, pregnant. 

Kevin quickly warms to the idea of being a dad and to seeing where things go with Beth. After all, he's not the player she thinks he is. But she's not ready for a relationship and, given his reputation, it's going to take a lot to convince her to go on a second date with the father of her child..

I'm not a huge fan of the unplanned pregnancy trope, but Shannon Stacey was able to sneak past my preferences and make me change my mind—at least for this book.

Shannon Stacey writes wonderful contemporary romance with warm, genuine characters and a subtle sense of humor.  I love the Kowalksi family, warts and all. The Kowalksis, and their family dynamics, remind me very much of Nora's classic Silhouettes (MacGregors, Stanislaskis) because there's something so appealing about the group as a whole.


My Amelia Peabody Favorites List

**Caution: Dozens of spoilers ahead**

A few of us were discussing the lovely Amelia Peabody series on Twitter, focused mainly around The Last Camel Died at Noon (book #6). That book is an important one in the overall story, but most of us found it quite slow. The Last Camel Died at Noon ranked quite low for many of us in a list of our favorite Peabody stories.

And because I've been sitting here, languishing on the couch unable to even type, I've been mentally compiling my favorites list. And here are the 19 Amelia books ranked in order of my preference. To find the order of publication, visit AmeliaPeabody.com. In the book list, you can also find the chronological order (archaeological season), as some of the later books were published as "lost journal" books and are published out of order.

If you haven't read any of the books, definitely start with the first one. I think they appeal to both mystery and romance readers. If you've started with a book other than the first one, go back! Although most of these stand alone, part of the charm is watching the characters evolve from one book to the next.

 **Spoiler Alert**

I'm back!

Sorry I've been MIA for the last week, but I got wiped by a bad reaction to the Flumist Vaccine. Being an idiot, I didn't realize that the mist was the live vaccine. Which ended up giving me every symptom of the flu (magnified) except the coughing and congestion. Ugh.

Anyway, I'm back, feeling mostly human, and have a few reviews to post this week including the newest by Shannon Stacey, Undeniably Yours.


Jill Shalvis Giveaway Winner!

The winner of a brand new copy of Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis (as chosen at random by my little guy) is:

tori aka ggs_closet


Please email me your mailing address at buriedbybooks@gmail.com, and I'll get your copy in the mail.