That Summer by Lauren Willig

18404166Lauren Willig is an author that I just know that I’m going to love. Like all of her books, one of our heroines is modern and the other is from days past. Julia, our modern heroine, has been left a house in London by a distant aunt, so she goes to England to get it ready for sale. While there, she discovers a family secret, a mysterious painting and the truth about her mother’s death when she was a small child. Julia also meets a dashing young Brit, who helps her sort through the junk her ancestors left behind, and helps her find herself too.

In between, we flash back to 1849 and the plight of Imogene Grantham. Trapped in a marriage to a man who likes to collect pretty things and not much else, she finds real love with an artist commissioned to paint her portrait. Unlike like most of Willig’s other books, things don’t go quite as planned in the nineteenth century romance, but it feels more real that way.

This book was a quick read and I definitely didn’t want it to end. I hope Ms. Willig will revisit this universe again in the future.

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Off The Menu by Stacey Ballis

13186433The food theme continues in Ms. Ballis’s latest book as our main character is the executive culinary assistant to a TV chef with boundary issues. Through a fluke of a fake eHarmony dating site, she meets a fabulous, non-crazy man who is perfect for her. Her family is big, but loving, and she has a weird-looking, but amazing dog named Dumpling that is the love of her life (until RJ, that is).

The book is full of enough Big Name Food People to keep it real and current, while fictionalizing the story so no one gets sued. Unfortunately, our heroine suffers from Has Everything Syndrome, making her hard to relate to. She owns two houses (one in Chicago, natch), is ridiculously successful at her job, where she works on two television shows, writes cookbooks and hobnobs with the fabulous. Her big conflict in the book is trying to choose between two once-in-a-lifetime job opportunities. Alana wasn’t off-putting, but it did get a little ridiculous after a while.

We get to catch up with Melanie from her last book, and everything’s coming up roses for her as well. All the business ventures were successful and her brand continues to grow.

Ms. Ballis’s next book is also set in the culinary world, but luckily it doesn’t come out until March 2015, so I have plenty of time to de-tox from all this delicious food talk.

Good Enough to Eat by Stacey Ballis

8300253This book centers around food and our relationship with it. Our heroine, Melanie, lost 140 pounds to get her life/health back just before we meet her, and opened a healthy food store where the food actually tastes like food. However, her husband decides he wants a divorce because he’s been having an affair with her heavy former co-worker. Melanie is trying to get her life back on track while juggling her new business, new condo and newly single status.

Each chapter starts with a vignette from Melanie’s childhood surrounding a specific food. And to my delight there are recipes for all these foods in the back of the book. Even if I hadn’t fallen in love with the story, I’d be buying my own copy of this book just for that! Melanie has a great chosen family, made up of a colleague from culinary school and his boyfriend, a woman from a local women’s shelter that cooks with her and a young woman who ends up becoming her roommate and part-time helper in the cafe. Each of the characters is well-drawn and I feel like I could go to Chicago and visit them at Dining By Design.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Stacey Ballis book without romance. Melanie meets a man at the Holocaust Museum in DC (no, seriously!) and they start a relationship back in Chicago. There weren’t any huge, ridiculous fights or unrealistic dates. Without giving anything away, I like how nothing is wrapped up or too finished when the book ends. I can easily envision all of the characters continuing on with their lives in Chicago after the book leaves them.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

17978421I was wrong in my last Binchy post as THIS is the last book Mrs. Binchy wrote before she died. According to the dust jacket, it was completed just a couple weeks before she passed. It feels little different than her previous works and I wonder if she had the chance to edit it properly. Her website is gone (sniff!), so there’s no further information to find.

There’s a long run up to the actual “week in winter,” where we learn more about our heroine, Chicky Starr, than anyone else in the book knows, but time pass very quickly and oddly. The meat of the story comes when Chicky comes home to Stoneybridge and ends up buying a small mansionhouse on the coast to turn into a bed and breakfast. We do get to check up on the Binchy’s Dublin in a couple of chapters, so it was nice to know that the door to that universe wasn’t completely closed, even though this book takes place on the Atlantic coast.

Each chapter is the story of a character who inhabits the world and after the midway part of the book, we start to get to know the guests during that first week. The writing is SO good and like Mrs. Binchy’s Dublin books, this one makes me wish Stone House existed, so I too could spend a cold wintery week in a tiny coastal town, eating delicious Irish food and lounging with Gloria the cat in the Miss Sheedys room. And I hate being cold in winter! The book ends rather abruptly, though not at all unhappily, so I wasn’t quite prepared for the last page to arrive.

I have decided that I want to read and re-read all of Mrs. Binchy’s novels this year. Some of the earlier works I’ve not read at all and some of them I haven’t read since I was a preteen, though I count them among my very favorite books. I’m hoping to read them in order of publication, if for no other reason than I’m a completist and I’d like to see if there are other characters besides our Dublin set that appear or are mentioned in other books and I had no idea. Mostly, I’m just not ready to let Mrs. Binchy’s books go quite yet.

More Like Her by Liza Palmer

10252845I was so excited to see that my favorite author, Liza Palmer, had a new book out. Her characters always hit me righthere and I just can’t put them down.

Because she’s my favorite author, I didn’t bother to read the summary or the back of the book at all, because, hey, it’s Liza Palmer! I’m sure I’ll love it! So, then I read the prologue, which is the 911 transcript of a shooting at a school, and I had to put the book down and walk a away for a couple days. I’m glad I picked it back up and the actual circumstances of the shooting didn’t push my buttons the way I thought it might (though the real test will be when I try to go to sleep tonight).

Frannie Reid is so much like me, it’s a little ridiculous (and I’m not going to go back to read my other review of Palmer’s books because I’m sure I say that about all her protagonists), so it was a nice journey to see where she was when the book started, how she handled THE EVENT and the fallout from there. Her friends were a trip as well as the peripheral characters and I found myself not able to book the put down, not wanting to give up that world until I saw it through to the end.

It comes together a little quickly at the end for me, not near enough emotional resolution considering what happens and how. The characters had reality shoved upon them in the most awful way, and I suppose a happy ending is the least they deserve for surviving at all.