Monday, February 29, 2016

A Reckless Desire - Review

A Reckless Desire (Breconridge Brothers) by Isabella Bradford
Rating: Very Good
Source: Publisher
Description:  For fans of Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Sabrina Jeffries: the elegantly seductive third historical romance in Isabella Bradford's Breconridge Brothers trilogy.  Lord Rivers Fitzroy is as charming and sought after as his rakish elder brothers, though he immerses himself more in dusty books and scholarly pursuits than in bawdy houses.  Yet, hell-bent on making the most of his remaining bachelorhood now that his father insists he marry, Rivers becomes the favorite of a troupe of Italian dancers.  One night, after a performance, the handsome lord is challenged with a most provocative wager: Turn the players' meek and mousy cousin into the first lady of the London stage.  But Lucia di Rossi is not what seems.  Scorned by the rest of her family, Lucia longs for the respect and stardom of a great actress.  River's wager could be the answer to all her hopes- so long as he understands that she wants to be an actress, not his mistress.  The two commence her metamorphosis in earnest - even as passion begins to take center stage.  As Lucia's dreams come true, she fears that it may be Rivers, not she, who is the master performer.  Is he only making her believe he cares?  Has she found the spotlight only to lose her heart - or will the final curtain reveal a love strong enough to last?  (from Goodreads)

Genre: Romance - Historical

Why I Picked This Book:  I read the 2nd book in this series and enjoyed it so I was excited to read this one about the youngest brother.

My Impression:  Last year, when I read Bradford's A Sinful Deception, I was surprised with how unique it was.  This series takes place a little earlier than most of the historical romances I read - around the end of the 1700s - and Bradford really makes class distinctions and social issues into her stories.  That was definitely the case in this book.  I really enjoyed the My Fair Lady plot line where the very proper Lord Rivers takes the street urchin with no education and no breeding and transforms her.  But this is not a fun romp -I feel like the reference to Julia Quinn in the blurb is inaccurate.  The reference to James and Jeffries is probably much closer.
I really enjoyed this book and felt like it was different than any historical I have read before.  There was a definite awareness of the class difference on Lucia's part and she really struggled in the beginning with how to act around Rivers.  There are a lot of little misunderstandings but not for the usual reason.  The main characters aren't refusing to listen or reading innuendo into random sentences.  They truly don't understand the other at times because their worlds are so different.  He isn't thinking of her in the same sphere of his usual theater mistresses but Lucia struggles with understanding that as the world of wealthy lords and theater mistresses is really all she knows.
I like Lucia.  She's intelligent and a quick learner and I liked how she and Rivers became friends.  As he gets to know her and comes to respect her he begins to understand how much being a working actress would mean to her.  Lucia is trying to make the most of this opportunity to become an actress so that she no longer has to depend on her family who do not respect her or particularly like her.  I enjoyed that she is trying to become an actress and not the usual courtesan that you sometimes see in historicals where the heroine is forced to earn her own way.
There were a few times when the misunderstandings drug a bit but it felt very natural.  I liked seeing Lucia come into her own and how she handled things with Rivers.  The ending did wrap up a little quickly and felt a bit contrived but I really liked these characters so I was okay with it.  While this is the 3rd in the trilogy the stories are kept very separate and we only see the brothers in the last third of the book so you could easily start with this book.
Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Absolutely!  I really enjoyed the uniqueness Bradford brought to the story.

Would I Recommend this Book?: Definitely!  If you enjoy historicals like Eloisa James and Sabrina Jeffries I think you'd enjoy this one.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

This Week in Reading - February 28

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.

What I Got:

One Night Charmer by Maisey Yates -  I really enjoyed a novella I read from Yates despite some flaws with the heroine so I'm really curious to see what she does with a full length novel. (Netgalley)

Secret of the Staircase by Steven K. Smith -  I first saw this series on Yvonne's blog Socrates' Book Reviews and was intrigued.  They're MG mysteries with a dash of history.  I put the four books into paperbackswap just to see and just got this one this week.  I'm hoping to get the first 3 soon!  (paperbackswap)

It was a fairly quiet week book-wise!  I actually don't have anything pending at Netgalley which is good.  I'm really hoping to get my percentage up and have less books sitting around unread.  That will happen right?


Reading:  Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase and Brooklyn Secrets by Triss Stein

Listening:  I'm still listening to In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware and it's still excellent. I'm getting towards the end and while I have some ideas I don't really know how she's going to get everything wrapped up.

Watching: I'm still watching Top Chef but I've wandered over to true crime shows and have been watching Web of Lies which is on Investigation Discovery  

Off the Blog:

This week was really busy but one of those kinds of busy where you feel like you've been hit by a truck but when you start listing what you've done it really isn't that much.  I hate when that happens!  Right now I'm super tired and worn out feeling for absolutely no reason which has interfered with my blog visiting so hopefully I'll get caught up in the next couple of days.
We are preparing to add camping vacations to our repertoire and have been working our way down a list of supplies.  This past week we finally got a tent!  It's finally becoming a real thing and I'm looking forward to it.  I've never really been camping so it should be interesting.  There are a ton of really pretty state parks and national forests in driving distance that I'm looking forward to exploring.
The play last week with the Tornado was really fun and he really enjoyed it.  They did a fantastic job though it wasn't a story from Winnie the Pooh that either J or I remembered.  Does anyone remember Kanga being really obsessed with cleanliness and getting rid of germs and thinking all the animals in the Hundred Acre Wood were too dirty for Roo to play with?  While I've always liked the stories I never read more than a few so I'm wondering if this is just something I've missed.

On the Blog:

What Happened:

What's Coming Up:

Monday: A Reckless Desire - Historical Romance Review
Tuesday: Top Ten Books to Read if You're in the Mood For...
Wednesday: Murder in an Irish Village - Cozy Mystery Review
Thursday: Beyond the Books - My Fears
Friday: Friday Linkups with Excerpts from Current Book
Saturday: TBD

Have a great week and happy reading!

52 Pins in 52 Weeks - February Edition

I love Pinterest.  I love pinning recipes from my favorite food blogs or scrolling down the Everything section to see what everyone else has been pinning.  I love the idea of all the crafts and recipes and everything else right there at my fingertips.
Right now I have around 9,600 pins in 60 boards.  I do use Pinterest a pretty good bit but tend to stick to the boards regarding Dinner and let other delicious looking recipes or fun crafts languish unused and ignored.  This year I'm trying to get more use out of Pinterest so at the beginning of the year I created my 52 Pins in 52 Weeks Board as well as a Results Board to keep track of it.  I'll be posting my results the last Saturday of each month.

Not pretty but tasty!  A Soft Pretzel and Spicy Mustard make a pretty good lunch!

Week 6:

The PinThe Perfect Soft Pretzels from The Baker Upstairs
Reason Picked: Who doesn't love a soft pretzel?
The Basic Idea: A big soft pretzel just using the oven
The Results: The flavor was delicious and the exact right flavor for the pretzel.  The outside texture was a little too bready and didn't have the chew that soft pretzels usually have.  Dipping the pretzels in the water and baking soda was just messy and I don't think added anything to the finished product.  Next time I'll probably drop them in boiling water before I bake them to see if that improves the texture.  And there will be a next time because flavor-wise these were perfect.  I did half the recipe and I was glad I did that because it worked fine and the pretzels themselves didn't keep very well.

Week 7:

The Pin:Chapter Books to Read Aloud from Oak Park, IL Public Library
Reason Picked: The Tornado (who just turned 6) and I have just graduated to chapter books to read at bedtime and I'm always looking for new ideas
The Basic Idea: A list of books that would be appropriate and interesting for children between the ages of 4 and 7
The Results: We read Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo and The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warren both were successes.  He did get a little restless during some of the chapters of The Boxcar Children so I think he did find it a little slow at times but he really liked the story and would frequently ask questions about something in the story line or to do with one of the characters during the day.  I thought the list was quite good and reminded me of several classics I had forgotten about and had some newer books as well.  I definitely plan on reading more from the list.

Week 8:

The Pin:  Copycat Panera Macaroni and Cheese from Shugary Sweets
Reason Picked: I love Panera's Macaroni and Cheese and would love to make it at home
The Basic Idea: A creamy macaroni and cheese with lots of white cheddar
The Results: Ehh... I didn't love it.  The macaroni and cheese wasn't as creamy as I wanted it to be, the cheddar I think was too sharp, and I didn't love the introduction of the dry mustard.  My quest for a Panera copycat continues!

Week 9:

The Pin: Chipotle Honey BBQ Burger from Taste and Tell
Reason Picked: I love a good burger and I adore chipotles in anything
The Basic Idea: A delicious burger stuffed blue cheese and topped with a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce
The Results:  The Chipotle Honey BBQ sauce was sooooo good.  Since I'm the only who likes blue cheese I only stuffed 1 burger with the blue cheese and topped the rest with cheddar.  Both versions were really good and we'll definitely be having these again!.

I'm linking up with Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Friday, February 26, 2016

Friday Linkups: The First Family Detail

It's Friday linkup time!  I'm linking up with the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings of Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice.

This Week's Book Blogger Hop Question:
Do your children, siblings, or other family members enjoy reading as much as you do?

My Answer:
Yes and no.  Emma (19) and Eleanor (20) both enjoy reading but don't read all that much right now as they're busy with school and everything.  Paul (18) is not a reader and we tease him a lot that books won't actually hurt him.  I think he might find he enjoys reading when he's a bit older or he may not.  The Tornado (6) is learning to read and is really excited about it.  He's always loved books and we've read a story pretty much every night so he's thrilled that he can now sound out most of the words in the books.

This week's book is one that's been sitting on my stack for awhile.  Last year I read The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower and absolutely loved it so I was intrigued by The First Family Detail by Ronald Kessler.  While Brower's book focused on the staff of the White House Kessler seems to focus more on the Secret Service.  So far this is interesting and easy read but I'm not liking it quite as much as The Residence.  It feels a little more gossip column then the other but we'll see how it goes.

The Beginning: 
Chapter 1
The nuclear football is a leather-covered titanium business case that weights forty pounds.

My Thoughts:
I can't imagine carrying that around all the time.  Not only is it heavy but there's so much responsibility!

The 56:
John Hinckley is still considered a Class III threat.  In 1982, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shootings of President Reagan and three others who were with him.

My Thoughts:
I suppose if anything should get you listed as a Class III threat actually shooting a president would do it.  I think hearing about how the Secret Service deals with this kind of threat will be interesting.

So what do you think?  Keep reading?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Beyond the Books - Scariest Moment

This week I'm linking up with KissinBlueKaren for Beyond the Books.  This is a meme where we all answer a non-bookish question.  It's always so fun to see everyone's answers and get a peak at the blogger beyond the books.  This week's topic is - My Scariest Moment.

At first I really couldn't think of a scary moment.  I mean in general I'm incredibly paranoid - the scratching on the window is ALWAYS an axe murder never a branch - but nothing really terrifying has ever happened to me.  So I started to think about the times I've been scared and April 27, 2011 came to mind.

April 27, 2011 started with the tornado warnings sirens blaring and school delays.  This isn't uncommon here.  Huntsville, AL has been the Weather Channel's city most likely to get hit by a tornado for years.  We get a lot of warnings here and the weather people always seem to be forecasting doom and gloom.  I can't count the number of times I've stood outside and pointed out funnel clouds and wall clouds and talked about how weird it felt. Most people I know are pretty calm about tornado warnings.  If they start talking about the area you're in maybe you'll put your shoes on and get in the basement or closet but most people don't really take the warnings seriously.  Or they didn't.

Anyway back to that morning.  The warning passed and the weather cleared up a little.  The next storm wasn't expected to hit until late afternoon so Emma and Paul caught the bus to the middle school and J dropped Eleanor off at the high school. I put the Tornado (who was 15 months old) down for his morning nap and the day continued like any other day.  My mother was in the area and stopped over for a visit.  And then my phone rang.  It was J asking if I was watching the weather.   It was getting bad.  I shoved the Tornado into our pantry under the stares with my mother and stood at the window and the sky turned green and the wind picked up.  J made it home right before it hit but just barely.  And then it was calm.  We went outside and checked for damages.  Branches and trees were down everywhere but most structures looked okay.  J left to go pick up the kids.  With all the trees down what is normally a 5 minute drive took almost 2 hours.
The end of the driveway

We laughed and talked about how the weather people weren't wrong this time.  People came with chainsaws and ATVs to try and move some of the big trees that had fallen across the main road that runs by our house.  I took a few pictures.  Mother left and J and the kids finally made it home.  The kids talking excitedly over each other about what their few hours at school had been like.  The power had gone out and we made guesses as to when it would come back on and opened the refrigerator doors for 5 seconds twice so that we could make something to eat.  It was Emma who heard the news first.  There was another tornado spotted just a few miles away from our house.  We crammed back underneath the stairs.  Emma, then Eleanor, then the Tornado and me, then Paul and then J.  And we waited really in truly believing that it was nothing just like it always is.
This was taken only a few miles away and the photographer is looking in the direction of my house
Except it wasn't.  In the center of house tucked underneath the staircase passing a bag of marshmallows back and forth we felt safe but we were starting to realize the noises were getting louder.  The thunder was getting sharper and more frequent and then we heard it.  At first I thought it was the roar of thunder but the noise didn't stop.  I've heard comparisons to trains but to me the noise sounded like somebody had put a really loud thunderclap on repeat.  The noise just went on and on.  And then it stopped and there was silence.
Taken by Glenn Baeske - The Huntsville Times

When we came out we surveyed the damage.  We were so incredibly lucky.  We lost about 15 trees but the house was intact with no damage where so many of our neighbors were not so fortunate.  Whole areas and subdivisions were destroyed and 9 people in our area were killed.  The father of a classmate of Eleanor's was killed when he left the safety of the closet to tackle his daughter who just needed "one more thing" just as the roof was ripped off their house.  She survived with only bumps and bruises.

We had no power for about 10 days and school was cancelled for 2 weeks while everyone regrouped and rebuilt.  As horrible as it sounds the days after were fun.  We all slept in the living room and played board games by lantern light and the majority of the day was spent hauling branches and figuring out what we were going to do about food.
Playing Apples to Apples in the dark.  I don't remember if it was just before Easter or if Easter had just passed and I hadn't put up the decorations!

You can still see bits of the devastation that occurred that day.  There are empty lots, big dips in the ground where massive trees were pulled up and chimneys that are standing in empty fields.  And I think we all take tornado warnings a little bit more seriously now and I can still remember huddling in the dark hearing the sound of the tornado passing over the house.

So that's my story of my scariest moment which ended up being a little more long winded than I intended!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thread and Gone - Review

Thread and Gone (Mainely Needlepointers #3) by Lea Wait
Rating: Very Good
Source: NetGalley
Description:  Angie Curtis and her fellow Mainely Needlepointers know how to enjoy their holidays.  But nothing grabs their attention like tying up loose threads.  So when Mary Clough drops in on the group's Fourth of July supper with a question about an antique needlepoint she's discovered in her family attic, Angie and her ravelers are happy to look into the matter.  Angie's best guess is that the mystery piece may have been stitched by Mary, Queen of Scots, famous not just for losing her head but also for her needlepointing.  If Angie's right, the piece would be extremely valuable.  For safekeeping, Angie turns the piece over to her family lawyer, who places it in a safe in her office.  But when the lawyer is found dead with the safe open and ransacked, the real mystery begins... (From Goodreads)

Genre: Mystery

Why I Picked This Book:  This is the 3rd book in the Mainely Needlepointers and I've really enjoyed the series.  I also love the bits of history Wait mixes in with the murder.

My Impression:  Starting a new book in this series is like curling up with a warm blanket and a cup of tea on a cold and dreary day.  It's so comfortable and I'm immediately pulled back into the world of Angie Curtis and Haven Harbor, Maine.  This visit to Haven Harbor takes place in July and the lobster boats are bringing in tons of fresh lobster.  I really enjoyed that aspect of the book as it filled in a bit of what life in Haven Harbor is really like.
I loved the research done on the needlepoint.  Wait always pulls in a historical mystery in some way and this one involving Mary, Queen of Scots was fascinating.  I especially enjoyed the note at the end where she explains what is really true and her own personal connection to the story.
Angie's personal life is still meandering along and I enjoyed seeing her friendship with Sarah as well as her relationship with her grandmother and the changes that her grandmother's marriage are going to bring.  I was pleased that there was less emphasis on Angie's drinking.  In the last book Angie spent a lot of time drinking heavily and that was distracting.  There were a few mentions in this book but it seemed less prevalent.
As for the murder itself it definitely kept me turning pages.  I had a few suspicions of what was going to happen but I didn't have everything figured out.  This is a series that is proving to be tried and true.  I'm looking forward to the next book to catch up with the residents of Harbor Haven and see what mess they land themselves in next!

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!  I'm already looking forward to the next book.

Would I Recommend this Book?: If you enjoy a cozy mystery this is a great series to pick up.  I've really enjoyed all 3 books.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Top Ten Books Out Of My Comfort Zone

This week's topic from The Broke and the Bookish is Top Ten Books I've read and enjoyed that were out of my comfort zone or weren't my usual type of book.   This is a pretty relevant topic to me right now as one of the things I want to do with my reading is read outside my comfort zone more but I still want to read books I like and enjoy!  This can be a little tough to manage both so I had a good time making this list as I was able to see what I read that wasn't quite the regular for me but that I still enjoyed and hopefully that will give me something to work with for the coming year.

What I Have Read

1.  Casino Royale by Ian Fleming - A lot of the books I read are on the feminine side - cozy mysteries, women's fiction, foodie memoirs are all usually written by women and have a woman as the primary character.  I don't think I've ever read a book that was as masculine without trying as the first James Bond book.  It was fascinating, well written and a little bit slower than I expected but I really enjoyed it.  I'm looking forward to starting the 2nd book soon.

2.  The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot - And on the opposite side of the spectrum we have one of the girliest books I've ever come across!  I don't read much YA but a podcast I listen to (Super Serials) had a discussion about this one back in December and I've heard good things about Cabot's writing and I enjoyed the movie (my oldest was OBSESSED) so I thought it'd be fun to read.  Even though there were times I wanted Mia and Lily (especially Lily) to just SHUT UP a few times I enjoyed this one.  It definitely felt like the voice of a teenage girl.

3.  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - I actually have a very long relationship with Hitchhiker's Guide.  When I was a kid I became familiar with the story because of a computer game I played with my dad that was based off the book.  This was the kind of game that had no graphics - not just bad graphics but NO graphics - just text and you typed in what you wanted to do next.  My kids look at me like I've grown another head when I try to explain the style of game to them.  I read the book as a teenager but this was the first time I've read it as an adult and I really enjoyed it.

4.  Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley - I didn't have high hopes for this one.  I didn't get her earlier book French Milk at all and I haven't fully wrapped my head around graphic novels as a concept but I loved this one.  It was absolutely fantastic.

5.  The Question of the Missing Head by E.J. Copperman - The main character in this mystery series has Asperger's Syndrome and it made me hesitate on reading it.  I was afraid it was going to be done badly, trivialized, or made fun of but it was really splendidly done.  Samuel really does have Asperger's and it feels very true to life.  He's open and honest about how it affects him and how he doesn't and while the book is bizarre at times it's because there actually is a head missing and not making light or making fun of Samuel.

6.  Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee - I avoid controversial books like the plague.  I don't want controversy, I don't want hard issues that I'm supposed to think about, I don't want angst or unhappiness.  So when this book came out my dislike of controversy plus the fact that I didn't love To Kill a Mockingbird (I liked it and it has stuck with me but it wouldn't make my top 10) didn't really have me rushing to read it.  But then people started saying they weren't going to read it and people shouldn't read it and my contrariness started to fight with my dislike of controversy.  Then when I discovered my library had the book on audio on it's digital site, it was only about 6 hours, and read by Reese Witherspoon and I figured it was a sign that I should read/listen to it.  And I actually enjoyed it.  There were problems - big ones.  I could tell why the manuscript had been rejected in the first place and why the publisher had asked for more of Scout/Jean Louise's childhood.  There were brilliant little nuggets sprinkled throughout the wheel spinning and I really appreciated Lee's sly humor.

7.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - While this book was incredibly popular I had zero interest in reading it.  It was YA and dystopian which are 2 genres that have never really grabbed me.  However, I got talked into reading it because it was the book of the month for a book club I was in at the time and I ended up absolutely loving it.

What I'm Going to Read:

Since I've been on a bit of a drought in Out of Genre books I thought I'd add in the ones that I'm planning on reading soon.

1.  Cinder by Marissa Meyer - I've heard nothing but glowing praise for this series and the premise has definitely caught my attention.  I'm in the middle of an audio book right now, have one more lined up and then it is Cinder time!

2.  The Good Marriage by Stephen King - I've never read Stephen King though I've seen several of the movies based off his books - and Misery in play form which was fabulous.  These are a little scarier than I tend to read but this one looks great and it's short so I'm a little more comfortable starting this one then some of his higher page number books.

3.  Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon - Between the YA romance-ish fiction and the whole bubble girl concept this one didn't interest me but not only have bloggers that I really trust given it fantastic reviews but I've loved what they had to say about it in the reviews.  I'm really looking forward to trying this one!

What's a book outside of your comfort zone that you've enjoyed?  Any recommendations?

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Rain Sparrow - Review

The Rain Sparrow by Linda Goodnight
Rating: Very Good
Source: NetGalley
Description:  New York Times bestselling author Linda Goodnight welcomes you back home to Honey Ridge, Tennessee, with another beautiful story full of hope, haunting mystery, and the power to win your heart...
Famous yet anonymous thriller writer Hayden Winters lives a life colored by lies.  Deeply ashamed of his past, his hunger for an honest relationship and dreams of starting a family remain unsatisfied and he can trust no one with his secrets.  He's determined to outrun his personal demons, but the charming old Peach Orchard Inn and a woman whose presence is as gentle as a sparrow's song stops him in his tracks.
Carrie Riley is afraid of everything from flying to thunderstorms and pretty much of life itself.  But meeting the enigmatic writer staying at the end emboldens her to learn everything about him.  When they discover a fragile boy hiding at the end, Hayden is honor-bound to help Carrie protect him.  Soon they're led to a centuries-old mystery that haunts Hayden's sleep and his only safe haven is Carrie.  As the secrets of the past and present force their lives to become entwined, all that's left to come to light is love - if the grim truth doesn't tear them apart first.  (From Goodreads)

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary Romance

Why I Picked This Book: There's a writer AND a librarian!  And an Inn!  I couldn't resist

My Impression:  After reading the blurb I didn't realize that the book had 2 timelines so I was surprised to find myself in 1867 shortly after starting the story.  In the 1867 story we meet Thaddeus, a former Union soldier with more than his share of tragedy in his past, moving to Tennessee to help his friend and cousin run a mill.  But after that first chapter we're back in modern day meeting the thriller writer Hayden Winters who is rummaging about the kitchen of the Peach Orchard Inn in desperate search for coffee and soon after Carrie appears to save the day.
Normally in books with dual timelines one really interests me and the other is kind of taking up space but that wasn't the case in this book.  Both timelines hooked me though I did read the 1867 story with growing dread as more and more modern hints indicated that things weren't going to end well.  The modern story was a little less intense but I loved the characters.  Carrie and Hayden were really interesting people and I loved them together.  I liked that Hayden wanted to be around Carrie for who she was and just genuinely enjoyed spending time with her.  Carrie was insecure but not over-angsty and mostly just wanted to do her own thing quietly.
This book really reminded me of a Robyn Carr book with the community building and the feel that you're getting a peek into day to day life for the characters and not just the love story.  There's a lot going on but it all felt very natural and didn't get overwhelming.  I really liked Brody's character and liked that his situation and his feelings were complicated.  His relationship with Hayden was especially nice.
This is one of those books I could talk about for ages.  There's so many different relationships and challenges and bits of happiness and the characters are well developed and complex.  I was immediately pulled into the world of Honey Ridge both present and past and I just couldn't wait to find out what happened next.  This was my first book by Linda Goodnight but it definitely won't be my last.
This is actually billed as the 2nd in the Honey Ridge series but it doesn't read like a series book at all.  I had absolutely no problem jumping in on this book.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?:  Yes!  I really enjoyed this one and definitely want to read more of Goodnight's books.

Would I Recommend this Book?: Yes!  I really enjoyed this read and think women's fiction readers would as well.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

This Week in Reading - February 21

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.

What I Got:

Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan - I love a World War 2 setting, interesting sounding characters, and a swirling mystery where nothing seems to add up at first and this one seems to have all 3.  Well the setting is actually post-World War 2 but that'll work.  The main character is a former secret service operative and has now found work as a debt collector.  There's people who aren't quite what they seem or who they say they are and I can't wait to find out more! (NetGalley)

Deep Dark by Laura Griffin - There was a reference to CSI and hacking in the blurb.  This is an author I've been wanting to read.  I was not strong enough to resist.  (NetGalley)

Silenced in the Surf by Kate Dyer-Seeley - I've read the first two mysteries in this outdoorsy mystery series set in the Pacific Northwest so I couldn't resist the blog tour for the 3rd book! (Publisher)

Death on Eat Street by J.J. Cook - It's a cozy mystery involving food trucks!  I couldn't resist!  (Paperbackswap)

The Arrangement by Mary Balogh - Because this year I'm going to get back to historical romance and Balogh is one of my favorites.  (Paperbackswap)


Reading: The First Family Detail by Ronald Kessler and Brooklyn Secrets by Triss Stein

Listening:  In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.  I'm about 30% in and so far this is SO good!

Watching:  I've been watching lots of True Crime shows on Investigation Discovery and am still obsessed with Top Chef on Hulu.  I'm finishing up Season 6 right now and about to start season 7 and I'm recording season 13 that's currently on Bravo!

Off the Blog:

We took the Tornado to a play tonight (Saturday night).  The local children's theater is putting on Winnie the Pooh and while it isn't his favorite he does enjoy the story so I'm hoping it will be fun.  J and I also got tickets for the And Then There Were None production that another theater group is putting on next month.  I'm really excited though I suspect it will have the play ending which is not my favorite.  Until then I'm counting down the days until Lifetime premiers the BBC edition of And Then There Were None.  I've seen the previews and it looks fantastic.

Speaking of previews I've become obsessed with the preview for Me Before You - the film version of Jojo Moyes book.  I haven't really wanted to read it because I've heard it causes ugly crying and I'm not a fan but the story in the preview looks amazing so I think I'm going to brave it.  Have you read Me Before You?  What did you think?  How does the preview look compared to the book?

The weather is starting to be bearable here!  Friday the Tornado and I even opened up the sandbox and were outside for an hour or two.  But as stuff starts blooming my allergies start to show back up (not that they really go away).  J has been on me about going to an allergist and I'm not sold on the whole idea.  I'm a fan of Benadryl and it does work but the allergies do seem to be ramping up.   I had an allergy test done when I was diagnosed with asthma (very mild) about 15 years ago and I know I'm pretty much allergic to everything outside.  Has anyone been to an allergist?  Good experience?  Bad or neutral?  

On the Blog:

What Happened:

What's Coming Up:

Monday:  The Rain Sparrow - Fiction Review
Tuesday: Ten Books I Enjoyed that Weren't My Typical Genre
Wednesday: Thread and Gone - Cozy Mystery Review
Thursday: Beyond the Book - My Scariest Moment
Friday: Friday Linkups featuring my current book
Saturday: 52 Pins in 52 Weeks - February Edition

Have a great week and happy reading!

White Barbecue Sauce - A Recipe

I live right around Huntsville, Alabama which is an area known for 2 things - the first is a ridiculous number of Aerospace Engineers (I'm the daughter of one and the wife of another and I've worked on a few space related projects myself) and the second is White Barbecue Sauce.  I'm not sure how well known White Barbecue sauce is.  Years ago you only knew about it if you lived in North Alabama but now the world is so much smaller so it wouldn't surprise me if this has spread.  If it hasn't it should because it's amazing!
The sauce was created by Bob Gibson who owned a little barbecue restaurant called Big Bob Gibson's which still exists in Decatur, AL.  He came up with this tangy sauce in 1925 and it's been a staple ever since.  It's delicious on chicken, hush puppies, and pretty much anything else you can come up with.  There are a few bottled versions you can buy (including one by Gibson's) but it's so easy to make and tastes so much better that I always make my own.

Today I thought I'd share a recipe for White Barbecue Sauce.  It's so simple that you probably already have all the ingredients.  This recipe comes from Southern Plate which is a cookbook (and blog) by Christy Jordan who lives in the same area that I do.

Alabama White BBQ Sauce

2 cups mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar

In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together and stir well to dissolve the sugar.  Refrigerate several hours before serving.

And that's it!  This recipe tastes very similar to the sauce you'd find if you were eating at Gibson's where it was originally invented.  Now while this is a really good simple recipe I actually prefer this more complicated recipe from Southern Bites.  If you can't find creole mustard I've used just regular spicy brown in a pinch and it's worked fine.

I take chicken breasts pounded to between 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick and brush them with a little olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt and pepper and then on a greased broiler pan I pop them under the broiler for about 8 minutes or so.  I then brush the sauce over each side, flip the chicken and broil for another 8 minutes or so.  Then I brush both sides of the chicken and serve them with a bit of sauce on the side for dipping.  

This works great with most barbecue type sides though I like sweeter things like this corn casserole or baked beans to balance out the acidity of the sauce.  The sauce is also great with all kinds of things that could use a bit of a kick!  

I'm linking up with Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth Fish Reads

Friday, February 19, 2016

Friday Linkups: Murder in Mesopotamia

It's Friday linkup time!  I'm linking up with the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer, Book Beginnings of Fridays hosted by Rose City Reader, and the Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice.

This Week's Book Blogger Hop Question:
Do you have a favorite place to read?

My Answer:
I love the idea of reading in this big comfy chair in the living room but that never really seems to happen!  In reality my favorite place tends to be in bed after everyone else has gone to sleep.

It's been awhile since I featured an Agatha Christie and I just started one of my favorites - Murder in Mesopotamia.  This is one of her archaeology books where a murder happens in the midst of an archaeological dig in some exotic location.  One of the reasons I love them is because Agatha had a very strong personal connection to archaeology.  Not only was she fascinated by it in her own right but her 2nd husband was a renowned archaeologist. This adds a real touch of authenticity to the books and you can just feel her love for dig sites and history.   Most of them are stand alones but in this one features Poirot completely out of his element but still being Poirot!

The Beginning:
The events chronicled in this narrative took place some four years ago. Circumstances have rendered it necessary in my opinion, that a straightforward account of them should be given to the public.

My Thoughts:  
This is a pretty common device that you see in Christie books.  The book itself is coming from a journal from someone involved in the case or the case caused such a scandal and so many rumors that a character on the outskirts rights a clear record down.  It works very well story-wise but doesn't make for the most riveting beginning.

The 56:
"I've made up my mind to tell you - everything!  I must tell some one or I should go mad."

My Thoughts:
I love a secret!  This one sounds like a good one!

So what do you think?  Keep reading?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Not Me - Review

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
Rating: Very Good
Source: Library (audio)
Description:  In Why Not Me?, Kaling shares her ongoing journey to find contentment and excitement in her adult life, whether it's falling in love at work, seeking new friendships in lonely places, attempting to be the first person in history to lose weight without any behavior modification whatsoever, or most important, believing that you have a place in Hollywood when you're constantly reminded that no one looks like you. (from Goodreads)

Genre: Nonfiction - Memoir

Why I Picked This Book: I loved Mindy as Kelly Kapor on The Office and really enjoyed her previous book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

My Impression:  I wasn't sure what to expect with Why Not Me?  Mindy had covered most of her childhood and early career in her first book so I wasn't sure what was left.  In her 2nd book she takes us back to college and then to the end of The Office and the beginning and creation of the Mindy Project.  We see her a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and a whole lot gutsier but still most definitely herself.  She's the woman you want to be best friends with because not only is she intelligent enough to have discussions about comedic greats and the ins and outs of becoming a successful writer but you just know you could also debate if those shoes really work with jeans and she'd be all for it.
I really enjoyed her stories on her short lived time as a sorority girl, dating a guy in the Secret Service (or at least I think he was), getting her show started, and listening to BJ Novak defend himself for his behavior at the theater.  I didn't find this book laugh out loud funny and there weren't moments where I absolutely repeat something to my husband (which is best - he's still recovering from the Bill Bryson book I read a few weeks ago) but it was entertaining and interesting and just plain fun.  Mindy has mastered being smart but not pretentious or unapproachable as well as being shallow without being superficial or vapid.  She's incredibly honest  and witty and listening to this book made me feel happy.
My primary complaints would be that the stories do feel a little random and there are a few that kind of feel like filler.  Also, there's not nearly enough BJ Novak but I guess it really isn't his book so I can't complain too much about that.
I went the audio route which is read my Mindy and is lots of fun.  Listening to it feels a bit like hanging out with a good friend.  If you're an audio fan I recommend going that route though I really think it would read great as well.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Absolutely!  In fact I'm thinking about going back and getting the audio for Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? because I really enjoyed the audio of this one.

Would I Recommend this Book?: This is a bit more of a difficult question than usual because I don't think she's for everyone.  If you're familiar with The Mindy Project or her character on The Office definitely pick this one up.  If you're not maybe watch an episode (she's way more put together and less crazy than either character) and see what you think.  Or get this one from the library - especially if you can get it on audio.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

German Men Sit Down to Pee - Review

German Men Sit Down to Pee: And Other Insights into German Culture by Niklas Franks and James Cave
Rating: Good
Source: Author
Description:  Welcome to Germany, a country where you should always wait at the red man, show up on time for your wedding, and be extremely suspicious if anyone offers you a doughnut.  German Men Sit Down to Pee is a tongue-in-cheek guidebook to German culture that highlights the "rules" Germans consciously and unconsciously follow, and tries to make a little sense of it all along the way.  Why, for example, mowing your lawn on a Sunday will mean getting an earful from your neighbour, but lie naked in the middle of a public park and nobody will bat an eyelid.  Ideal for anyone planning on visiting on moving to Germany, German Men Sit Down to Pee offers a collection of insights inot German rules and cultural norms that those visiting Germany will not only find humorous, but useful for avoiding any cultural faux-pas.  (from Goodreads)

Genre: Nonfiction - Travel

Why I Picked This Book: The title made me giggle and I don't really know that much about modern German culture so I was curious.

My Impression:   This was a really interesting little book (it's around 115 pages) and I loved that it was factual but didn't take itself to seriously.  It covers everything you can think of about day to day life in Germany - shopping, work, spending habits, rule following, and holidays to name a few.
I know a number of people who travel to Germany for work and I think this book would be very useful - especially the section on meetings.
I learned that there are almost as many types of sausages as there are beer and that some are very rare.  That patriotism is a conflicting emotion for most Germans and that history is taken very seriously.  Actually most things are taken pretty seriously - including bathroom habits!
The description of the Christmas Markets made me want to plan a trip to Germany (in German style - about 2 years in advance.  Another positive thing about going in December is that I'd miss the asparagus season.  My dislike of asparagus and my complete lack of punctuality pretty much confirm my complete lack of German roots
This quick read was light and informative.  I would have liked some personal stories and some more details about the authors' experiences in Germany I think would have made this book more interesting.  If you're heading over to Germany or someone from Germany is heading over here pick up this book so you don't make the faux-pas of trying to make small talk or not taking your hobby seriously.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: I would.  I like their writing style and would enjoy seeing what they come up with next.

Would I Recommend this Book?: If you have an interest in German culture or are planning a trip to Germany I think this would be a good book to pick up.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Guest Post: Life On the Mayflower from Noelle Granger

Today I'm thrilled to have author and blogger (and a whole host of other things), Noelle Granger with us!  Noelle is the author behind the Rhe Brewster mystery series which you must pick up if you enjoy mysteries (my review for her 2nd book - Death in a Dacron Sail can be found here).
I am honored to be asked by Katherine to do a guest post.  When she asked me what I might write about, I didn’t have to think long or hard. One item on my bucket list is to write a historical novel about Mary Allerton, who came to the New World as a four-year-old, on the Mayflower. What’s so special about this particular woman is the length of her life. She lived to be 82, the last Mayflower survivor, and thus saw the unrolling of history beginning with the bitter cold November day when the Pilgrims’ transatlantic voyage came to an end with the sighting of land at Cape Cod.

Mayflower II, an exact replica of the original ship (As a young girl, I was privileged to be in Plymouth Harbor when the Mayflower II sailed into Plymouth Harbor for the first time. What a raucous greeting she got!
What I’d share is the story of the Mayflower and what life was like aboard during the months it took to reach the New World.  So what do we know about the Mayflower? It was a typical English merchant ship of the early 17th century – square rigged and beak bowed (square sails and a pointed prow) – with high, castle-like structures fore (in front) and aft (behind) for the protection of the ship's crew and the main deck from the elements.  The problem was these superstructures made the Mayflower unable to sail well again the prevailing west-to-east winds on the North Atlantic, which is why the voyage to American took sixty-six days.  With the westerly winds at it back, the Mayflower made its return trip to England in less than half the time, April-May of 1621.

The Mayflower and the Speedwell in Dartmouth Harbor by Leslie Wilcox
                By 1620, the Mayflower was an aging ship, nearing the end of a normal working life for a merchant ship, about 15 years. Surprisingly, there are no exact measurements of her hull because measurements in those days were not standardized. The best guess is that the Mayflower measured about 100 feet in length from fore to aft and about 25 feet at her widest point. That’s pretty small – think one third of a football field and half as wide. She had three decks: an upper deck, a gun deck and a cargo hold.                       

The gun deck (labelled above as the main deck) was where the passengers lived during the voyage. Imagine life in a dark, airless space 50 feet by 25 feet with a five-foot ceiling, crowded with 102 fellow travelers, 34 of them children! ‘Crowded’ is probably an understatement, and think about the noise level on the gun deck! The gun deck also contained port and starboard cannons, a storage place for powder and ammunition, and something called a windlass, which was used to raise and lower the ship's main anchor – hence only 50 feet of livable space. Imagine 34 children running around in this cramped and not particularly safe area for more than two months! It was possible to go up on the main deck for air, but there were no stairs; the passengers had to climb a ladder.
Below the gun deck was the cargo hold. Here the Mayflower’s passengers kept most of their food stores, clothing, bedding, tools and equipment and weapons.  There was no livestock on board; the Pilgrims did not have chickens, goats, or cows traveling with them, and this added to the misery of starvation during their first year in the Plimoth Colony.
There was no latrine or privy on the Mayflower. The ship's crew fended for themselves and gun deck passengers most likely used an open bucket affixed to the deck or bulkhead to keep it from being jostled at sea. There was no place to wash, either. Washing would involve using sea water, but most likely the passengers wore the same clothes for the sixty-six days of the trip. So add to their miseries the smell. This was compounded by the odor of sea sickness, especially during the storms the Mayflower encountered so late in the season. The crew called the passengers “glib-gabbety puke stockings.”
So who were among the Mayflower passengers? Roughly forty were Pilgrims. Of the rest, some men were going for adventure, but many went going with their families because they couldn’t find work in England. There was a doctor, a shoemaker, a blacksmith and a cooper, former farmers, weavers, and shopkeepers, along with some indentured servants.
What did the passengers eat? All of them had a steady diet of salt horse – salted beef, pork or fish – and hardtack, a hard, dry biscuit. Day after day, month after month. Early on, there were dried peas and beans, and some cheese and butter. But the hardtack, which grew harder with age, got infested with the bugs that were everywhere on board, the butter turned bad and the cheese got moldy.
To cook, the passengers built charcoal fires in braziers, but with the weather stormy and the ammunition in close proximity, this wasn’t possible much of the time. So the passengers ate their food cold for much of the voyage. There was water and beer to drink (not the same as modern beer), but the water became unsafe to drink after standing in barrels so people mostly drank beer, even the children. After a while, even the beer soured.
High winds and rough seas tossed the passengers about. To add to their misery, in the midst of one fierce storm, the main deck beam cracked, and salt water poured in on the passengers, soaking their clothes, bedding and food.

During another, John Howland, one of the Pilgrims, was pitched overboard. He survived because he managed to grab a topsail halyard that was trailing in the water and was hauled back aboard safely.  

What would children like Mary Allerton done for fun on the Mayflower? They might watch the crew, or they could play with the two dogs on board. There was also a cat, whose job was to catch rats. There were books to read, if the child could handle adult books. There was singing, too, but mainly psalms. Not so much fun, to my mind.
The worst was yet to come for the people on the Mayflower. During the winter of 1620, the passengers remained on board. The men had been unable to complete enough dwellings on shore for everyone because of bad weather, freezing temperatures, and sickness. In addition, there was a combined outbreak of scurvy, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. When it ended, there were only 53 passengers, just over half, still alive. Half of the crew died as well. On March 21, 1621, when enough huts had been completed for the move to land, the surviving passengers finally disembarked from the Mayflower.
So what do you think? Would you have survived this voyage?
Needless to say, my admiration for these doughty people has grown by leaps and bounds as I learn more about them.

The Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, by William Halsall, 1882

Monday, February 15, 2016

Beauty, Beast and Belladonna - Review

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna (Fairy Tale Mystery #3) by Maia Chance
Rating: Very Good
Source: Publisher
Description:  From the author of Cinderella Six Feet Under, a beauty must solve a beastly murder.  Variety hall actress Ophelia Flax knows how to win over an audience.  That's why she's accepted the marriage proposal of the brutish Comte de Griffe to nettle occasional investigative partner - and romantic sparring partner - the pompous if dashing Professor Penrose.  But with his boorish table manners, wild mane of hair, and habit of prowling away the wee hours, the comte has shredded Ophelia's last nerve.  She intends to disengage from her feral fiance at his winter hunting party - until Penrose, his lovely new fiancee, and a stagecoach of stranded travelers arrive at the comte's sprawling chateau.  Soon she can't tell the boars from the bores.  When one of the guests is found clawed and bloody in the orangerie, Ophelia is determined to solve the murder before everyone starts believing the local version of Beauty and the Beast.  But until the snows melt, she can't trust her eyes - or her heart - since even the most civilized people hold beastly secrets... (from Goodreads) 

Genre: Mystery

Why I Picked This Book:  I've been wanting to read this series for awhile and actually have the first two books so I jumped at the chance to review the 3rd book.  Plus, I really enjoyed a book by Maia Chance in a different series.

My Impression:  Where to even start with this book?  This isn't just a simple cozy with a murder or two.  This is a complicated story but it's so beautifully done it didn't feel overly complicated or messy.
The atmosphere is heavy at the chateau.  Not only is Ophelia trying to figure out how to get out of her engagement but she's trying to figure out who is stealing items from the guests' rooms, who murdered the vicar, is everyone really who they say they are, and deal with her past relationship with Proferssor Penrose.  Along with that is a mysterious beast like creature that has been spotted in the countryside, the mysterious death of several farm animals, and the villagers vocal unhappiness and unease about Comte de Griffe's plans to cut down a portion of the forest. There's a Gothic-y atmosphere but Chance's light turn of phrase and quick on her feet main character keep it from feeling overwrought.
I loved Ophelia.  She's intelligent and grounded with a good sense of humor and a strong dash of mischief.  She definitely isn't a conman but she seems to have a talent for getting herself into situations that she has to extricate herself from rather carefully.
This is the 3rd book in the series but the first book I have read.  Most of the relationships were formed prior to this book but it at no point got confusing.  Without over explaining, Chance made it very clear who was who and how they were connected.  I am excited to go back to the earlier two books and get the scoop but only because I want more from the characters not because I wasn't sure what was going on.
The mystery wraps up nicely and all the loose ends are tied up nicely without being contrived.  I thoroughly enjoyed all the time I spent with Ophelia and Professor Penrose and want more!  My only negative is that if you're looking for a straight retelling of Beauty and the Beast I don't think you'll find that here though there is discussion of the story and the legend of the beast itself.

Would I Read More of this Series/Author?: Definitely!  I'm very glad I already have the 1st and 2nd book in the series to dive into and I can't wait to find out what Ophelia does next!

Would I Recommend this Book?: I think any mystery lover would really enjoy this one and this author in general.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

This Week in Reading - February 14

It's Sunday Post time!  This is hosted by the awesome Caffeinated Book Reviewer and gives us all a chance to recap our week.

What I Got:

A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison - I'm so excited about this one!  I've really enjoyed the first 2 books in this series and this one features not only the old Honeychurch Hall but a hidden room!  (NetGalley)

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones - This series has been high up on my TBR for awhile now and I finally decided just to go on and get the first one.  (Paperbackswap)

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Bryan Wansink - I've been wanting to read this one and it finally came up on my wishlist over at paperbackswap.  I've got about 10 pounds or so I want to lose so I'm curious to see what this one has to say about eating and how our brain works and all that stuff.  (Paperbackswap)


Reading: Thread and Gone by Lea Waite and Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Listening: I'm almost caught up on my podcasts.  I discovered What Should I Read Next a few weeks ago and have really been enjoying that one.  I'm also loving Super Serials, The History Chicks, and Avon on the Air

Watching: Well War and Peace (which I really enjoyed) is over and Lifetime will apparently be showing the BBC version of And Then There Were None in March and I cannot wait!  Until then I'm catching up on all the NCIS franchises and Criminal Minds

Off the Blog:

Well the Tornado got over whatever bug he had pretty quickly, it definitely didn't seem to be strep and no one else got sick so we are keeping our vacation plans!  We're currently down in south Mississippi enjoying some (slightly) warmer weather and a few days away which is always good.  This is the first time in awhile that J has been able to get away from work long enough to go with us so that's doubly exciting.
I tried one of the many "Slow Cooker Risotto" recipes that seem to be floating around on Pinterest and I was seriously underwhelmed.  I like risotto pretty well when someone else makes it for me but all that tending it requires drives me crazy.  I figured if I could just dump stuff in the crock pot for a couple of hours that would be perfect.  Instead the flavor was kind of bland and the rice had far more bite than I wanted it to have and instead of creamy it leaned more toward glue-y.  Needless to say I won't be making that recipe again but if anyone has any risotto recipes that don't require standing and stirring for 30 minutes straight please share!
We are out of town today and aren't too big of Valentine's Day celebrators.  The past few years I've made something fun for dinner and we've watched a movie but that was about it.  I'd love to know how everyone else celebrates Valentine's Day!

On the Blog:

What Happened:

What's Coming Up:

Monday:  Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna - Cozy Mystery Review
Tuesday: Guest Post: Life on the Mayflower with Noelle Granger
Wednesday: German Men Sit Down to Pee - Travel Nonfiction Review
Thursday: Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling - Humorous Nonfiction Review
Friday: Friday Linkups with excerpts from current book
Saturday: TBD

Have a great week and happy reading!

Pretty Little Liars + Princess Diaries - Reviews

I listen to a Podcast called Super Serials and every week they have a discussion about a Middle Grade or Young Adult book.  Generally they're books like Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley Twins, or Animorphs but lately they've been mixing in a few more Young Adult books.  Back in December they did Pretty Little Liars and The Princess Diaries which are two books I've been thinking about reading.  I thought it'd be fun to give them a read and see what I thought.

Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard -
My library had an audio copy and I ended up going that way.  The book is read by Cassandra Morris who does a fantastic job of making the teenage girls sound like teenage girls without going over to caricature.  The basic premise of the story is that you have a group of 5 popular 7th grade girls and 1 goes missing.  Three years later the 4 remaining girls start getting texts or emails signed with the initial "A" (the missing girl's name was Allison) and whoever is sending them knows all their secrets.  From the beginning I kind of felt like the book was written to be a TV show.  I can't exactly say why but something about the way the scenes are set and the dialogue feels like a TV show.  I really loved the premise and the way it unraveled and I wanted to know what all was going to happen.  BUT - I'm definitely way older than the target market for this book and it was very apparent to me.  I felt like the middle of the book took way to long and there was too much time of the girls kind of spinning their wheels and worrying about life decisions, what was going on, what people were going to think, etc and I just wanted stuff to happen!  Overall, I enjoyed this though it was never something I was super excited to start back up and get back into the story.  I'm not sure if I'll continue with the series but I do want to find out what happens and how everything wraps up so I might.  This doesn't end of a cliffhanger necessarily but there are a lot of questions at the end.  I watched the first couple of episodes of the show to see how it differed and it was pretty similar.  The main difference is in the book 3 years have passed since Allison disappeared and in the show only 1 year had passed.
My Rating: Just Okay though I am glad I listened.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot -
Mia Thermopolis is an awkward fourteen year old high school freshman who doesn't feel like she fits in anywhere.  It doesn't help when her mother starts dating Mia's algebra teach (whose class she is failing) or when her father comes to town to hell her that not only is he a prince but she is the heir to the throne of the principality Genovia.  Lots of angst and fretting follows this announcement and the middle got really slow and Mia fretted and worried and got horribly embarrassed or incredibly self-righteous.  Mia's friend Lily drove me CRAZY!  Up until the end I really had no idea why Mia was friends with her other than the fact that she didn't have anyone else.  Lily is really awful to Mia but doesn't spend much time looking at her own actions.  I did really enjoy the last quarter of the book when Mia really started figuring things out and stopped wringing her hands and the last 20 pages or so had me smiling.  Grand-mere is definitely much more formidable than the Julie Andrews version but by the end I kind of liked her.  This wasn't my favorite read but it was entertaining and I loved the authenticity Cabot brings to the character.  They sound and act like teenagers which at times is great and at other times not so much.
My Rating: Good though that's mostly on the strength of the 2nd half of the book

While both books involve high school students the characters couldn't be more different.  The PLL girls are definitely on the popular side whereas Mia is definitely on the outside.  There's sex, lots of alcohol and a dash of drugs in Pretty Little Liars where Mia hasn't been kissed and only drinks wine at dinner in France and isn't a big fan of it.  I'm not a big YA reader so I don't have much to compare these too but I found the stories both really interesting.  While I won't be dashing out to pick up the next book for both series right away I do plan on continuing with them both.  I want to find out what happens!