Tag Archives: The Best Of

Mary’s Favorites of 2016

Gosh, I cannot believe it’s the end of 2016 already! Where did the year go? (Please, dear Lord, tell me the rest of you feel this way and it’s not just me!)

Anyway, I don’t always get a chance to write reviews for books I’ve read and loved, so this is a great time to do an end-of-the-year recap and share with all of you some of my favorites from 2016! There are a few so – far warning – you should hide your wallet if you don’t want to be tempted!

Infiltration (Omega Sector Series Book 1) by Janie Crouch
Romantic Suspense released by Harlequin Intrigue on December 14, 2014

The wrong place at the wrong time; that’s the only way Sophia Reardon could explain her predicament. She wasn’t even an FBI field agent and now she was being taken hostage. By her ex-boyfriend Cameron Branson. The moment Sophia walked into his undercover operation, Cameron warned her that his employers would want to break her. So keeping her by his side, pretending not to have feelings for her, was the best way to maintain his role in the dangerous organization, and the only way to keep them both safe. Because if they got their hands on her, she could expose him and his secrets. And then they’d no longer have any reason to keep her around.

I loved, loved this book. Actually, I really like Janie Crouch in general. She writes fast-paced romantic suspense with great characters and interesting plots. This one was no exception. Cam is protective but sensitive. He knows Sophia doesn’t have any reason to trust him, and yet, he works hard to show her she can. Sophia is a smart heroine thrust into in a dangerous situation she is incredibly unprepared for. Her feelings and former relationship with Cam color her actions but they never came across as stupid or naïve. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who loves romantic suspense.

Triple Dare (The Art of Seduction Book 3) by Regina Kyle
Contemporary Romance released by Harlequin Blaze on November 17, 2015

Globe-trotting fashion photographer Ivy Nelson is home to help her family out of a jam. When she donates her services to a charity calendar, the last thing she expects is hunky firefighter—and object of all her hottest fantasies—Cade Hardesty to walk through the door. Cade is ready to get naked for a good cause, and the heat Ivy feels is anything but professional.

When a sexy dare turns into a scorching kiss, they can’t help but give in to their desires. But Cade wants Ivy in his bed for more than one night. Can the hometown firefighter convince the photographer that her wanderlust should lead her into his arms for good, or will one of them run before they both get burned?

This book was just plain fun. Low angst and lots of humor. I mean, it’s starts off with the heroine photographing the hero wearing nothing more than a sparkly g-string and a Santa hat while holding a kitten. Heaven help me, it doesn’t get any better than that! Both Ivy and Cade are likable characters and the story flows smoothly. Small town, friends-to-lovers and a nice supporting cast of characters round the romance out nicely. If you are looking to kill a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, this is exactly the book you should pick up.

Killing Trail (Timber Creek K-9 Mystery) by Margaret Mizushima
Mystery released by Crooked Lane Books on December 8, 2015

When a young girl is found dead in the mountains outside Timber Creek, life-long resident Officer Mattie Cobb and her partner, K-9 police dog Robo, are assigned to the case that has rocked the small Colorado town.

With the help of Cole Walker, local veterinarian and a single father, Mattie and Robo must track down the truth before it claims another victim. But the more Mattie investigates, the more she realizes how many secrets her hometown holds. And the key may be Cole’s daughter, who knows more than she’s saying.

The murder was just the beginning, and if Mattie isn’t careful, she and Robo could be next.

I’m a fan of mysteries and I adore dogs, so picking this up wasn’t a difficult choice. Mattie is a great character but untrusting. When she’s paired with Robo to form the first K-9 unit in her small town, it’s a real test for her – especially when they are thrown into their first case. Robo was his own character with a distinct personality. The mystery was well done and low on the angst side. An overall great read.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker
Contemporary Romance published by Carina on November 30, 2015

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard’s antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.

Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?

Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.

Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

I picked this up because I have a love affair with the theater and was hoping this novel would feed my adoration. It did. Yay! Plus it used one of my absolute favorite tropes: enemies-to-lovers. Needless to say, my recommendations for 2016 would not be complete without mentioning this book. Richard starts out as a real jerk, and what I really love is that by the end of the book he’s still kinda jerky. Not in a mean way – but in a grumpy, manly way. Lucy is strong and no push over, which is the perfect foil for Richard. They were a great couple and it was lovely to be along for the ride as they got their HEA.

That’s it, folks. Some of my favorite reads from 2016. Have any of you read these? What are some of your recommendations? (My TBR list can never be too long!)

Babs’ Top 10(ish) Reads of 2015

I read a lot of fabulous books this year and can’t wait to share some of my favorites. I’m cheating a little bit with my list. For some of these, I read more than one book in a series but am counting them as one read for this list. These are in no particular order–

Captive PrinceCaptive Prince and Prince’s Gambit by C. S. Pacat. (male/male fantasy) I kept hearing awesome things about this series and finally read the first two books this year. They are incredible. I love the world and characters. Damen and Laurent are so complex and interesting. Kings Rising is one of my anticipated reads in 2016.

Rock Hard and Rock Redemption by Nalini Singh. (contemporary) Books 2 and 3 of Singh’s Rock Kiss series are great. This series is quite the switch from her Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunters series and I love them. Rock star heroes for the win!

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. (male/male contemporary) I loved this story. I’ve went back and re-read different parts of the book because I just can’t leave Jamie and Wesley. The sequel, Us, is also on my list of anticipated reads in 2016.

Nuts by Alice Clayton. (contemporary) This is my first Alice Clayton book. It’s a great, fun read. I’ve read it twice and still laughed out loud reading it the second time. I love humor in my romance and this is full of it. It’s also a sweet love story. I can’t wait for Cream (of the Crop) (Oscar’s story) in 2016.

SustainedSustained by Emma Chase. (contemporary) Another great, fun read this year. The hero gets pulled into a wild family that totally disrupts his life and he just can’t stay away. There’s humor, fabulous chemistry between the hero and heroine, and a lovely story.

Radiance by Grace Draven. (fantasy) Draven is a new-to-me author. I read Radiance this summer on vacation and could not put it down. There’s a slow-burn romance between the hero and heroine. They end up great partners and lovers. The world is fantastic–so unique and detailed to me. I can’t wait for the sequel in 2016 and to read more of her books.

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan. (New Adult) Book 3 in Callihan’s Game On series is just as fabulous as The Hook Up. I was not disappointed. This series is so different from her Darkest London series and I enjoy them for different reasons. I highly recommend for fans of new adult and sports romance.

Wild Seasons book series by Christina Lauren. (contemporary) I read the available books in this series this fall. Another set of fun reads. The couples in the series are great. I really enjoyed how they met in the first book. The humor is fantastic (if you can’t tell, I like humor in my reads). The friendships came across as genuine even though they had different backgrounds. The chemistry between the couples and their stories were awesome.

The WalshesThe Walshes by Kate Canterbary. (contemporary) This series was a fab find earlier this year. I heard about it on Twitter I think. This messed up bunch of siblings try to overcome their childhoods and run a successful business in Boston. I got a real sense of Boston in the series–I love when authors can make the city a character. The siblings are all wildly different. They are loud and crazy at times and have tempestuous love stories to go with all that drama. There are four books in the series so far with a few more siblings to go. I think Shannon’s story is my favorite so far.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. (fantasy) This is a bit less romance-like than the others on my list but I couldn’t not put this book on my list of top reads this year. I loved this story. A great twist on traditional fairy tales (don’t go into the woods! here there be dragons!). Agnieszka is such a fabulous heroine. There’s kind of a romantic relationship in the story so that’s why I have it on my list. I have my own thoughts on how I think that ends up since Novik doesn’t explicitly say how it goes in the story.

Bonus:

Saga Volumes 1-3 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. (comic book, sci fi/fantasy) I. Love. This. Series. I can’t get enough of it. I’m pacing myself because there are only 5 volumes so far and I don’t want to read them all at once. There’s action, comedy, adventure, romance! It has it all. The artwork is also incredible. I highly recommend for anyone looking to try comic books. (There’s some graphic content, violence, sex, language so I recommend for mature readers.)

The Martian by Andy Weir. (science fiction) I listened to the audiobook for this one and loved it. The narrator was great. Watney was funny and engaging. I love how Weir was able to keep me entertained even though Watney’s on this barren planet all alone. I also enjoyed the movie.

That’s my list for 2015. What’s on your top reads list this year?

Let’s Talk Books!

RiseSo my friends, “Best of” lists are popping up everywhere … and this year I’m jumping on that train again. I was the first to do “most anticipated” lists … but I can’t handle that these days. I’m still working on documenting all the books I’ve read this year in GoodReads. We’ll see how that goes.

What I want to know is – what books have you read this year that you would recommend? Or what authors?

I’m planning on doing a “top ten” list at some point … but like Wendy said – what if I read a favorite book on December 31?? So, I’m holding off until the new year. 😀

[And if anyone would like to or be willing to help me celebrate ALBTALB’s fifth blogiversary in January please let me know!] <3

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Happy weekend, my friends! I thought about doing a serious post – and one that probably would get me in trouble … but I’m just not up to it today. I hadn’t written it yet, and my brain is floating around and my thoughts are even more scattered than usual. I have, however, been wanting to write one of these posts for a while. I did them at TGTBTU, and it’s just something that’s fun.

So – here’s a list of ten of my current favorite things.

1. The Clarisonic Mia2. I got this as a present. (Maybe I shouldn’t analyze why because it might upset me.) But, I love it. It’s fabulous. As you see, I was gifted the acne one, which … is fine. For a while, I was having major problems. “My face exploded” might be one way to say it, and I hated it. I haven’t run out of the wash that comes with it, so I can’t tell you how much that matters or not… but I’ve been told you can use it with whatever face wash you prefer. I love it. I use it once a day, and have noticed a huge difference in the past few months.

2. Dr. Scholl’s For Her Hidden Arch Supports Oh. My. God. These things are amaaaaaaziiinnnnggg. I have no arches. It’s terrible. Equally terrible, I have to wear heels to work. (Well, not have to, but I honestly am too short for flats. And, actually, yes, I did have LS professors that told me I had to wear heels in court. So…) These save my feet. When teaching I have to walk around and stand for over an hour, and it’s fine. Shoes that used to have me hobbling by the end of work, are now fine. I love them. I wish I could buy them in bulk. I would.

3. Philips Bliss Epilator. So, this is the one I have. Obviously (and sadly!) It’s been discontinued, or something, But I love it! OH! I just found it at Sephora – and for so much cheaper! $70 bucks! Seriously – say goodbye to shaving! I even :X use it on my face. Too lazy to tweeze or thread those brows? Epilate! Warning: not for the pansies. It might take some getting used to. And a measured pain threshhold. I don’t think it hurts that much, but I know others who have been traumatized. Not so here. Underarms etc too. Great for summer. I’ve had mine for years. (Like five?) It’s rechargeable, and wonderful. I’m always happy to recommend it.

4. Pour La Victoire + MyHabit. Well, MyHabit is amazon’s flash sale site. It’s got free shipping, and free returns, and often up to 80% (if not more) on designer brands. J’adore. I’ve checked, and they also have super reasonable rates for international shipping. (At least, last I looked.) Almost all my PLVs have come from Amazon. I’m addicted. And? Most of my shoes have been free courtesy of Swagbucks. (Which, if you have any questions about that feel free to ask!) This sandal (the Shanna) is from PLV’s spring collection. I’m not in love with it, but we all have to admit it is a very sexy shoe. And, we should all know, I have a major weakness for snakeskin shoes. Which, for PLV, they actually are. (Many other brands are a lie.)

5. 39DollarGlasses.com No joke – you can get prescription glasses – lenses and frames for $39. You can’t really beat that. Their frames aren’t bad either. And they’re durable. I’ve :X stepped on my pair like 6 times – they’re still good. Note, my eyes are horrible, so I had to pay a little bit more (I think 40something) for my first pair. They also often have deals – like 15% off, or $15 off. And in fact, if you use this link, it should get you 20% off your first purchase. The entire purchase. They of course also have the fancier lenses and frames, and that’ll cost you a bit more. Still, cheaper than normal retail, I imagine.

6. Lime La Croix. I love seltzer now. (Funny, because once when I tried it in elementary school, I spat it out. Of course, I was told it was like soda pop. So.) Now, I love it as a mixer. Almost all the La Croix flavors, but of course the lime, right? 😀 It really is the best one as a mixer. Also, however, I like drinking it straight. It often helps settle an upset stomach, and more generally, cut grease. You know, if you ate something like, pizza, or anything else bad for you. Chips, etc, a good follow up as a palate cleanser is seltzer. And it’s nice to have on hand.

7. Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. No pictures here – I have none, and I’m not about to steal it from Panera. But yes – the soup from Panera. I adore it. But one day, I got the bread bowl for take out, and felt totally cheater. I only got a cup of it! And a big sour dough bowl. So, boo. After that I decided to make it myself. There are a number of copycat recipes online, and I recommend you look for and find your favorite. I got the one from all recipes – and personally, would add some fresh mushrooms diced the next time. The recipe calls for mirepoix, which then you add a roux to. I then added chicken breast that I diced up (and here I’d add the cream – just a bit; I messed up the first time and added it after the stock had heated. Eek! I’m lucky it didn’t curdle.) Then, stock, and the wild + long grain rice. I bought zataran’s mix because it was cheapest at the store. 😀 And done! So freaking delicious. Oh, also, I doubled, if not tripled the mirepoix amount from all recipes. I like a healthier soup. I also didn’t use butter, instead using olive oil.

8. First, DUDE! Did you guys know that amazon now sells wine?! No idea how long it’s been up, but I just saw it. But anyway, what I want to do is talk about one in particular.  Yellowtail bubbles. It’s a very drinkable sparkling wine. Beyond that, the price is great. You can usually get it for ~$8. Which, is a great thing. Next, it’s got a really fun “reusable” cap. So, you know how usually you have to finish a bottle of champagne? Not so here! You can seal it up and stick it in the fridge. You can also actually keep the top and use it for other bottles. (You know, other cork savers etc usually suck out the air; which, for bubbly isn’t very helpful. And flat bubbly is baaad.) Then also, sparkling wine is gorgeous with these hibiscus flowers in syrup. Add a teaspoon or two of the syrup, and drop a flower into the bottom of the champagne flute. Awesome cocktail, gorgeous, and simple. Of course, after you finish the cocktail, you get the treat of eating the flower too. Very nice. And fancy.One of these days I hope to buy a 50 flower jar. 😀

9. Tito’s Vodka. I actually first heard of it on the radio. (On the Elvis Duran on the Morning Show – my morning companions for many many years.) The host, Elvis was talking about this vodka – made in Austin! Austin being one of my favorite cities, and vodka also being a favorite, my ears perked. Awesome vodka? Made in the states? Yes please! No import cost! I finally went to the liquor store, and found a 1.75 liter bottle for a reasonable price … and I bought that bitch. Of course, this is after I asked twitter, and was told by some people after trying it, it’s the only vodka they’d drink. Good enough for me! I now have a new go-to vodka. Always a good thing.

10. Lime sugar. No pictures for this one either, because, well, it doesn’t photograph well. It’s prettier in real life, but more, it’s the amazing smell that really does it. What is it? Exactly what it sounds like. That, and it’s versatile. You can turn it into lime simple syrup. Use it in drinks. (Hello mojito?) And, I ran out of sugar while making a tres leches cake, and used a tiny bit of lime sugar. I have to say that I think it added and extra dimension and depth to the cake. (Of course I only used a little under a quarter cup, but still. Excellent.) Use it in pizzelles, as a garnish, really anything you like.

So! What would be on your current favorites list? Inquiring minds want to know! And if you have any questions about mine, please ask! I love dishing about stuff.

Guest: Megan Caldwell Shares Some Fun

Hello lovelies! We’ve got wonderful author Megan Caldwell (aka Megan Frampton) visiting with us today! She’s absolutely lovely and has a very lovely dry sense of humor. But today, she’s here playing with us and offering some lighthearted fun. Enjoy!

In a few days, my romantic women’s fiction title, Vanity Fare, will be released.

But I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t like reading about how people got inspired to write whatever story it is they wrote, I don’t care about the writing process (it’s PAINFUL and UNIQUE for every author), I don’t need to discuss the heroine’s journey and all that crap. It’s boring (to me, at least).

[Sidebar: I’m reading Lime’s blog, and the guest author posts, and they’re intimidating. They’re pretty, and well-written, and talk about all sorts of things I’ve never even thought about. So, yikes]

Instead, let’s talk about some favorite things: Food, books, and foxy men. And we’ll ask you to make some difficult choices, too.

Food: If you had to eat just one type of food for the rest of your life, what would it be? It can’t be as widespread as ‘protein,’ nor does it have to be as specific as ‘butternut squash soup.’ I think I would choose cheese, because there are so many varieties, and you can get the gamut of flavors. Nuts would come in a close second, but lose because of the dreaded Brazil nut.

[Second sidebar: One of my closest friends and I have had a years-long argument about the best kind of nut. She has the audacity to cite the Brazil nut as the best, whereas I counter with cashews. What say you?]

Books: If you could only read in one genre for the rest of your life, what genre would it be? And, if you’re feeling reckless, which author from that genre would you read over and over again? I’d pick historical, even though I don’t read as much historical as I used to. And for the one author, I’d go with Mary Balogh, whose traditional Regencies are on my all-time keeper list.

[Third sidebar: When you talk to someone who’s not as avid a reader as you, do you find they totally don’t get the idea of an all-time keeper list? And isn’t it fun to explain romance novel terms to non-romance readers? I just told my husband what ‘smexy’ was, for example.]

Foxy men: This is the toughest one, but also potentially the most fun. If you could stare at one guy for the rest of your life, who would it be? Living or dead or fictional or not, it doesn’t matter. I’d go with David Gandy as Jericho Barrons, which is kind of cheating, but I’m writing this, so I get to do what I want.

[Fourth sidebar: Does your significant other get bugged when you go on and on about how gorgeous some other guy is? Thankfully, mine does not, but I try not to do it too much, out of respect. But he does the same to me, so that’s fine]

What choices would you make?

Thanks so much to Megan for stepping in with a post today! I enjoyed the lighthearted tone, and to convince you all to come and play, she’s offering a copy of her upcoming release Vanity Fare!

Molly Hagan is overwhelmed.

Her husband left her for a younger, blonder woman; her six-year-old son is questioning her authority, and now so is she. In order to pay her Brooklyn rent and keep her son supplied with Pokémon and Legos, not to mention food and clothing, she has to get a job—fast.

So when an old friend offers Molly a freelance position copywriting for a new bakery, finding romance is just about the last thing on her mind. But the sexy British pastry chef who’s heading up the bakery has other thoughts. And then so does Molly, when she meets the chef’s intimidating business partner—who also happens to have a secret that might prevent Molly from getting her own happily ever after.