Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Review: Bittersweet by Sarina Bowen

Finally, my first review for a Sarina Bowen book! Woohoo! I discovered Ms Bowen a couple of years ago and promptly fell in love with her writing. Many of her books have become favorites, but I've been in a blogging funk for so long that I never got around to review them. Hopefully, I'll remedy that... but for now, here's my review for Bittersweet, the first book in her new True North series :)


Bittersweet by Sarina Bowen
self-published in June 2016
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the orchard.

The last person Griffin Shipley expects to find stuck in a ditch on his Vermont country road is his ex-hookup. Five years ago they’d shared a couple of steamy nights together. But that was a lifetime ago.

At twenty-seven, Griff is now the accidental patriarch of his family farm. Even his enormous shoulders feel the strain of supporting his mother, three siblings and a dotty grandfather. He doesn’t have time for the sorority girl who’s shown up expecting to buy his harvest at half price.

Vermont was never in Audrey Kidder’s travel plans. Neither was Griff Shipley. But she needs a second chance with the restaurant conglomerate employing her. Okay—a fifth chance. And no self-righteous lumbersexual farmer will stand in her way.

They’re adversaries. They want entirely different things from life. Too bad their sexual chemistry is as hot as Audrey’s top secret enchilada sauce, and then some.
Genre: Contemporary romance
Series: True North, Book #1

The Story: A few years back, Griffin Shipley was forced to take over the family farm after his father's sudden death. Armed with a bachelor in chemistry, Griff hopes to forge a new path for the farm by brewing cider. All he wants is to keep the farm afloat, at least until his youngest siblings head for college. With the busiest season upon him, Griff doesn't need any distraction... which Audrey Kidder definitively is.

After a few colleges and years of self-discovery, Audrey finally knows what she wants to do in life: be a chef and own a restaurant. She's completed culinary school and is now working for one of Boston most prominent restaurant conglomerates. Each year, the conglomerate holds a contest to open a new restaurant and Audrey is determined to win. For now, she needs to impress them with her work even if it doesn't involve cooking. When she is sent to Vermont with a price list to find local produces, the last person she expected to run into is Griff.

Five years ago, Griffin and Audrey shared a couple of steamy nights together. Now reunited, they realize the chemistry is still present and as hot as ever.

My Opinion: As much as I enjoy Ms Bowen's writing, I have to admit I didn't really know what to expect from Bittersweet. In all the books I've read by Ms Bowen previously, sport has been the central theme, the common element. With this new series, it feels like Ms Bowen is branching out, deviating from the familiar path... and it's always a bit scary when it happens. We all like authors for certain specific reasons. Often times, it's because they excel in a genre and when they decide to write something else, readers never know if they'll pull it off. Ms Bowen has become one of my favorite authors and I didn't want her to fall from my personal pedestal. Good news - she didn't :)

Overall, I really enjoyed Bittersweet. My favorite part was the setting. I think Ms Bowen did a marvelous job with the Vermont setting, bringing it to life for the readers. Reading Bittersweet, I had the deep feeling that Ms Bowen knew what she was writing about, especially when it came to farming life. I could also imagine myself at the market or in the orchard :) It definitively set the right mood for Bittersweet and made my read more enjoyable!

I also thought Grumpy Griffin was a good, solid hero LOL. I have a thing for grumpy/grouchy character and Griffin definitively fit that mold :) In all seriousness though, he was a great guy. A good son/grandson, a caring big brother, a dependable friend, fair boss and great boyfriend. What more can you ask? What I liked most about Griffin is his honesty though. He didn't bluff, didn't pretend that everything was fine when it wasn't. He shared his burden with his family and tried to include them in the decision-making. Griffin was tough... but the kind of toughness that comes with the hard, physical work from the farm. Not street toughness if you know what I mean. And I enjoyed this different kind of tough :) Griffin also felt real... he was in no way perfect. He had worries like everyone else and they were believable. I appreciate that he wasn't bitter about having to take over the farm. You could feel that he loved his life, even when it's not an easy one... but it didn't stop him from wondering what could have been. I thought Griffin was a well-layered character :)

Unfortunately, I didn't have the same feeling for Audrey. Not that she was a bad heroine, but she just didn't give off the same "solid" vibe as Griffin. Perhaps it means Ms Bowen wrote her character well though, given Audrey had some self-esteem issues... It was easy to understand where those issues came from because Audrey had a very demanding mother. To her mother, she came off as an airhead simply because she didn't know what she wanted in life and that was sad :( Also Audrey seemed to lack a support system - she didn't seem to have any friends of family. Anyway, I liked Audrey well enough. She was nice, friendly and it was fun to see her so passionate about food and cooking. What didn't work for me though was her dream of owning a restaurant. It's not that I didn't believe it feasible, but it was her attitude towards it. As if it was on the verge of happening. I felt she was very naive about it. Perhaps I've watched too much cooking shows, but to be the sort of chef Audrey seemed to aspire and own her restaurant... it's a lot of hard work. Years of apprenticeship, working in different kitchens, etc. It doesn't happen in an instant because you've won a contest. I felt Audrey lacked the experience. Maybe if she wanted to open the restaurant in Vermont, something low-key... I could see it. But Boston? I felt that was the weakness of Bittersweet.

I also liked the romance quite a bit. It always helps when the H/H have a previous connection. In the case of Griffin and Audrey, it was nice that they had a second chance for something more, especialy now that both of them are more mature. From the blurb, it sounded like Griffin and Audrey were going to be adversaries, the kind that couldn't have a relationship between them... but it wasn't and I appreciate that. I think it would have felt too forced if they had to stay away from each other, especially given their chemistry. I liked that Griffin helped out Audrey and that there wasn't any huge conflict. I don't think this book needed it. All in all, a lovely and intense romance :)

Finally, I loved all the secondary characters :) They were all great without stealing the spotlight. I'm definitively looking forward to Jude and Zach's books!

My Grade: B.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Back in action!

Hey there :) Miss me?

Sorry for the disappearing act ^_^; However, I had a very good excuse this time... I was in Europe for my cousin's wedding! :) As usual, I was hoping to blog while away, but you know how it is: lack of time and internet access. The good news though is that I have plenty of blogging material for the next few posts!

For now, here are some pictures of the wedding :)


By the way, it's good to be home :)

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Friday Girls' Night - Hotpot!

I've been meaning to blog for the past two days - don't want to lose the 30 Days Blogging Challenge blogging mojo, but it's just been so hectic! I knew going into the 30 Days Blogging Challenge that if I completed it, there'd be another big challenge awaiting me: maintaining my blogging through the month of June. June this year is ultra busy for me!! Mainly because my cousin is getting married on June 18, so there's a lot of things to get ready for. Family get-togethers, dinners, the wedding! I'm going to try my best to continue blogging regularly this month, but if you don't hear from me, you know why!

Tonight, I had an impromptu girls' night at home. My friend E had gum graft at the beginning of May and therefore has missed all the gatherings. Earlier this week, she had the stitches removed, so I jumped on the occasion to have dinner with her. However, she still needs to be careful and is preferable for the food to be soft. So I was wondering what to go eat... and thought hotpot would be a great option. So that's what we had!! And I finally got the portions right!

The upper right picture is friend E enjoying hotpot :) The bottom two is us before and after eating... Food coma!! LOL.

My sister's been doing a DIY project: coasters. This will be her little, personal gift for all the weddings she's attending this year :) First up is my cousin. Basically, she printed pictures and stuck them to tiles she bought. Here she is, applying resin to them so it'll protect the pictures like a varnish.


So far, the coasters look great! We're waiting for them to dry to see the final result. After, only one more step: stick felt under them... and voila!

That's it for me tonight! Hoping to do the New Releases post for June this week-end :)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

30 Days Blog Challenge - Complete!!

Woohooo!! I made it!! With this post, I complete my 30 Days Blog Challenge!! Yay me!!

Okay, so I missed one day, but that's acceptable. 30 days of blogging out of 31... for someone who's been having such a hard time, it's awesome! :) Big thank you to Ames for the challenge!! Also, thanks to everyone who participated to the challenge, visited and left comments :) You made a difference!

I'm pretty happy because out of the 30 posts, I have 7 reviews and 11 books related posts. So more than half were about books :) Which is pretty much what I wanted! Now that the challenge is over, I know I'm not going to be blogging daily. It was really hard to come up with relevant topic everyday ^_^; However, for sure, I found my groove and will do it more regularly! :) I'm really excited about it and I think that's what I was missing for so long... That little spark of excitement :)

On that note, I'm leaving you with some nice pictures... In the past month, I was able to blog about another of my hobbies, Chinese dramas :) In one of the post, I mentioned one of my favorite Chinese actor, Yuan Hong. Well, he got married last week-end!! Check out some of the pictures!! 

They make such a pretty couple! His wife is also an actress; however, I'm unfamiliar with her. They were a pretty low-key couple. I heard they were dating... at the beginning of this year IIRC. Can't believe they already got married :)

Loved Yuan Hong's groomsmen!! So handsome... and Hu Ge was one of them! One Chinese tradition is for the groom to go and pick up the bride. Usually, the bridesmaids and bride's good friends will block the groom's passage in order to evaluate his worth through some challenges :P Groomsmen usually help the groom out... It was fun to see Yuan Hong's groomsmen come prepared with bags and equipment. They look like agents on a mission LOL.

In the end, they did succeed in getting the bride! :) Congrats to the couple!!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson

I finished reading this book on Saturday and have been recommending it left and right ever since :P I thought it'd be nice to review it, so people know why I've been pushing it on them :)

The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson
published by St. Martin's Griffin in May 2016
Trixie Watson has two very important goals for senior year: to finally save enough to buy the set of Doctor Who figurines at the local comic books store, and to place third in her class and knock Ben West--and his horrendous new mustache that he spent all summer growing—down to number four.

Trixie will do anything to get her name ranked over Ben's, including give up sleep and comic books—well, maybe not comic books—but definitely sleep. After all, the war of Watson v. West is as vicious as the Doctor v. Daleks and Browncoats v. Alliance combined, and it goes all the way back to the infamous monkey bars incident in the first grade. Over a decade later, it's time to declare a champion once and for all.

The war is Trixie's for the winning, until her best friend starts dating Ben's best friend and the two are unceremoniously dumped together and told to play nice. Finding common ground is odious and tooth-pullingly-painful, but Trixie and Ben's cautious truce slowly transforms into a fandom-based tentative friendship. When Trixie's best friend gets expelled for cheating and Trixie cries foul play, however, they have to choose who to believe and which side they're on—and they might not pick the same side.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Series: None

The Story: Trixie Watson and her two best friends, Harper and Meg, are seniors at Messina Academy for the Gifted - Mess for short - basically a high school for genius. The entrance exam is 3 hours long, there is a gag rule about disclosing their IQ numbers, they take courses such as "History of the American Immigrant" and "Economics of the Third World," they all willingly take on assignments for extra credits... and on the first day of each month, an updated ranking list is posted. Trixie's goal this year is to graduate third, thereby putting an end to her Rank Tango with her arch nemesis Ben West and beating him once for all. That means, between school work, comic books and sleep, Trixie will have time for little else... and she's dumbfound to find out her best friends have a different plan for their senior year - they want some interaction with the opposite sex! When Harper starts dating Cornell, the two groups of friends become one, bringing Trixie and Ben together without them having a say. The more they spend time together, the more Trixie and Ben realize that perhaps there is more to their bickering than the monkey bars episode when they were 8 years old... While they figure out their relationship, they also need to find out what's happening with the rank list.

My Opinion: I've been in a contemporary YA kick lately and picked up The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You on a whim after the cover caught my eye (I was wondering if this book was from a traditional publisher or self-published ^_^;)... and I am sooo glad I did because it was such a great, fun read!! You know when you go into a book without any expectations at all and it turns out to be a gem? Well, that was The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You :)

One of the reasons why I enjoyed The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You is because the Mess wasn't a regular high school. Every student was a genius and so, as Harper pointed out, they were all nerds. It effectively took out the usual cool vs. geek conflict and just like that, The Only Thing Worse Than Me is You wasn't your usual contemporary YA. Obviously, they were not all friends, but it did feel like the characters were all on equal footing. Also, it was refreshing to actually see all the students care about their studies and their grades. The atmosphere was also different because of the pressure these kids were under, their motivation and ambition... and I enjoyed the camaraderie that resulted from it. To some extent, the setting reminded me a lot of the one in Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg - another book which I loved - where the characters were attending a performing arts high school.

I also really liked all the characters. While they were nerds, they were not one-dimensional. They had hobbies, they had likes and dislikes beyond studying. Obviously, it goes without saying that they were very smart and more mature than most teens... but at the end of the day, they were still young adults and act so at certain times. Ms Anderson did a great job balancing everything :) I have to say, I very much enjoyed Trixie and Ben and their chemistry. I loved their verbal duels... both of them were witty and quick-minded and it gave rise to some interesting conversations. I thought their romance was believable as well... because for two persons to snipe at each other the way Trixie and Ben did, there must be some attraction somewhere. Yes, it was really hidden deep, but it had to be there :) I thought the romance was sweet and the reveal at the end, so funny LOL. I loved their circle of friends. I enjoyed their dynamics and it was a lot of fun seeing the guys and girls interact and integrate the bigger group. Their loyalty to one another was admirable... particularly between Trixie, Meg and Harper. It's always nice to have someone at your back who believes in you. I also appreciate that there was no purposely unpleasant character.

There was no emotional conflict in this book. Instead, there was a mystery and I have to say, it was quite unusual! It was very well-done, interesting and definitively pulled me in. My only complaint would be the resolution of it was a bit rushed and hard to follow at times. Still, very refreshing.

Finally, I have to commend Ms Anderson's writing. This was her debut novel and it was very well executed. I really enjoyed Ms Anderson's voice. There was a snappy rhythm to it and Ms Anderson has great timing and is quick-witted. Personally, I never thought that discussions on a club's quorum would make me laugh... but it did in The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You :)

As much as I loved The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, I don't think it'll reach everyone unfortunately. I feel that for maximal enjoyment of this book, the readers have to have an inner geek. There is a lot of references to "geeky" pop culture such as Doctor Who, Marvel comics, Joss Whedon, etc. If you don't have some background info on these topics, you'll miss some jokes and references and that could lessen your enjoyment. The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You has a definite Big Bang Theory vibe to it. If you enjoy that show, then you should be fine! :) I'd still give it a chance regardless, but like I said, it'll be a lot more fun and enjoyable if you catch everything :)

My Grade: A-.  I smiled and laughed throughout The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You. It truly was a fun read for me and I'll definitively be checking out Ms Anderson's next book :)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Young Adult & New Adult

All right! My last Romance Starter Kits post! LOL, honestly, most of the kits contain my favorite books or favorite authors. Guess you recommend what you know :)

Today, I'm featuring Young Adult and New Adult romance books :) Two genres which have really surged in the past few years. In blogland, NA seems to have somewhat eclipsed YA... probably because of our ages LOL. I think it's easier to relate to characters who are in their early to mid-20s than teens :P However, I think a reason why NA is so popular is the flexibility of the genre as well. Teens have to attend high school, not much they can do about that. And if they don't, well the situation is weird... and there are just so many weird situations we can read before getting tired of it. NA though is meant to be the beginning of adult life with many, many possibilities :) Therefore, bigger window for wowzers :)

Without further ado, here are my picks for YA and NA:

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
Letters to Nowhere by Julie Cross
Pivot Point by Kasie West
Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg
The Only Thing Worse than Me is You by Lily Anderson

I love, love My Most Excellent Year. It's just a great fun book. It's a lot more than high school... it's about discovering yourself and families, the one that you have and the one that you choose :)

Letters to Nowhere was very refreshing because the heroine is an elite gymnast. So instead of going to school, she trains and therefore, offers a different perspective/lifestyle. She also deals with the loss of her parents in an accident... at a time where she really needs her parents' support.

Pivot Point is my only non-contemporary YA suggestion. Well actually, it is contemporary, but it has a twist - heroine has a psychic power that allows her to see the two outcomes when she has to make a choice. In this case, her choices are to stay with her mother in the psychic compound or go with her dad in the normal world. I loved the writing, the parallel storylines and the romance was very sweet :)

Amy & Roger's Epic Detour is one of the books that made me fall in love with the YA genre. It showed me that there was a lot more to this genre than books about high school drama. That a contemporary YA book could be deep and fun at the same time :)

I think the reason I love Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg and The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You by Lily Anderson is the same: the characters don't go to a regular high school. In Take a Bow, they are at a performing arts high school and The Only Thing Worse Than Me Is You, a school for genius. It's interesting to see how teens deal with so much pressure and refreshing because they have something else to focus on than who's the most popular and so on.

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
The Friend Zone by Kristen Callihan
The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen
A Shattered Moment by Tiffany King
Wasted Words by Staci Hart

A good romance story doesn't necessarily mean a man and a woman. Love happens to couple of same sex too and it was a pleasure to see Wes and Jamie's love story unfolds in Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy :)

Sport romances in NA aplenty. When I think NA and sports romance, three names come to mind: Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy and Kristen Callihan. Ms Callihan is the one who delivered one of my favorites: The Friend Zone. A womanizer football player trying to be friends with a girl who has nothing in common with him... Is it possible? :)

Ms Bowen is now one of my auto-buy authors. The series that made her so popular is The Ivy Years and my favorite book is The Understatement of the Year. However, since I've already chosen Him, also a m/m romance, I chose my second favorite book, The Shameless Hour. It's rare to see heroines who are so confident in their sexuality and who assume their choices... Even more rare is for these heroines to be likable and that's exactly what Ms Bowen pulled off in The Shameless Hour.

Teens spend years planning what their life after high school is going to be, what they will do in college and after... but what happens when tragedy strikes and those plans change? That's what happens to the heroine in A Shattered Moment. On the night of graduation, her and her best friends are in a car accident... and she's one of three who survives.

Finally, I chose Wasted Words because not all NA are about college students :) The main characters in Wasted Words are out of college and starting their adult lives... This is a sweet and light romance :)

And there you go, my Romance Starter Kits. I do hope that one day, they will serve someone :) And that even romance readers will be able to find new "precious" with these posts LOL.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Romance Starter Kits - Historical

One of the most popular genres in romance is Historical... and it's kind of unavoidable :) Trust me, I tried! However, when all your friends are gushing about some well-known, popular historical romance authors, you wonder... and you start by reading one book, then a second, a third. Next thing you know, you have a list of go-to historical romance authors :)

Like everything else, romance genre popularity is cyclic. I feel that at the moment, historical romance is down... I have no doubt it'll eventually reach the top again. In the meantime, it did leave us with many good recommendations :)

Oh, by the way, I'm a regency historical reader... That's why all of my picks are from that sub-category ^_^;

Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas
The Ideal Wife by Mary Balogh
And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke
My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander
The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie

Lisa Kleypas and Mary Balogh are two big names in historical romance and should be included in every starter kit in my opinion. It's also interesting to see the contrast of their writings which probably stems, in part, from the publishers they are with. I find Avon to be a bit more permissive and probably why Ms Kleypas' style is a bit more fluid. Ms Balogh's style is more restrictive and in my mind, portrays the time period a bit better. Anyway, Devil in Winter is a great book and was part of a hero duel back in the blogging days :) Funnily, Ms Kleypas' next book, Devil in Spring, will be featuring the son of Devil in Winter's couple as its hero :) As for The Ideal Wife, it's one of my favorite books by Ms Balogh. It was first published in 1991 and I read it in 2011 and enjoyed it a lot. I said earlier that Ms Balogh's style was more restrictive. It's also timeless which probably explains her long and steady writing career :) One of the few authors that consistently published her historical books without fail.

I'm a huge fan of Laura Lee Guhrke and that's because I find her books to be different from the typical regency historical romance. She tends to set her stories in the 1890s-1900s... that time period where everything is on the cusp of change. Where the nobility has to adapt to new realities, where the "normal" people are having more opportunities, etc. And that's why I chose And Then He Kissed Her.

My Wicked Little Lies by Victoria Alexander features a happily married couple, something you don't often encounter from the first pages of a historical romance. It has great banter and also, features spies in a different light :)

The Accidental Wedding by Anne Gracie is another favorite of mine. The hero is a nobleman and for once, upstanding. Not a scoundrel or a rake. Heroine has backbone and is independent. Also, you need to enjoy kids because she's the guardian of her 4 half-siblings. Again, the feel and storyline are refreshing compared to most regency historical romance.

Books/Authors I considered:

Loretta Chase - I'm just not a huge fan of hers like many are. She wrote some books that could be considered as classic when it comes to historical romance... but I feel her career has been waning a bit ^_^; So I chose Ms Balogh instead.
Lorraine Heath - One of my favorite historical authors and on my auto-buy list. I left her off from this starter kit mainly because I was already featuring two authors from Avon and I wanted a bit of variety in the starter kit.
Caroline Linden - She's my up and coming historical romance author. Weird to say that from someone who's been published for 11 years, but while I enjoy her writing and books a lot, I feel she hasn't written THE book that will mark her career yet. I'm looking forward to it :) Also, another author from Avon.

Your thoughts? :)