Book Review and New Release: Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery (Book 12.5 of the Fool’s Gold series)

Title: Christmas on 4th Street
Author: Susan Mallery
Series: Fool’s Gold
Genre: contemporary romance
Published: 2013
Pages: 336
Format read: ebook
Rating: C+

As much as I’ve enjoyed many of Susan Mallery’s novels, her Fool’s Gold books have been really hit or miss for me from the start. The last few were definitely on the “miss” side of the equation; this one was at least closer to the “hit” side.

Noelle Perkins is, like many Fool’s Gold protagonists, a relative newcomer to Fool’s Gold. Her tragic past has been hinted at in previous books as she has befriended the heroines of the last three novels. She’s finally opening her brand new Christmas-themed store, The Christmas Attic, and has resigned herself to the fact that all of her new found besties have found love before her.

It’s Fool’s Gold, though, so you know that won’t last for long.

Gabriel Boylan, an Army doctor, is on a forced leave to recuperate from an injury he sustained while on the job. With nowhere else to go, he decides to visit his twin, Gideon, another recent Fool’s Gold convert (and hero of book 11, Two of a Kind), for the holiday.

Gabriel and Noelle have a meet-cute, which is indeed pretty cute, but both are hesitant to pursue anything–him because he’s come to believe that nothing ever lasts and life is too uncertain, her because she wants something long term and know that Gabriel is temporary personified. He’ll be leaving town before the first of the year. To avoid his parents, who soon join the brothers in town for the holidays, Gabriel takes a job working at Noelle’s business.

The hero and heroine are definitely the best part of this book–I really enjoyed both of their characters. For the most part their journeys were believable, though it felt like it took an inordinately long time for us to figure out what exactly the drama in Noelle’s past was. Still, I was rooting for them both all along.

There were some amusing moments, like this one where Noelle tells Gabriel she’ll come early to his family Thanksgiving celebration so he won’t have to spend too much time alone with them. It’s before they’ve admitted their mutual attraction, and is pretty indicative of Noelle’s internal dialogue, which I enjoyed.

He started to leave, then turned back to her. His bandaged hand came up and lightly grazed her cheek. She felt the heat of his touch all the way down to her toes. The contact was an unexpected as her visceral reaction.

“Thank you,” he murmured.

“You’re welcome.”

She thought about mentioning he could thank her in other ways. Like kissing. Or walking around shirtless. But he just headed for the back room, apparently unaffected by their brief contact.

Yep. Noelle and I think alike for sure. Shirtless guys can make everything better. (Don’t believe me? Check this out.)

However, Christmas still had the same elements in it that have been bothering me about this series for a while now:

  • I’m pretty sure Mayor Marsha is supposed to be quirky and wise, but honestly, she creeps me out. I’m really glad I don’t know anyone like her in real life. Every time she corners the hero for a chat in one of the books, I want to urge him to run. Away. Quickly.
  • No matter what happens in the first two-thirds of the book, the endings lately are all the same. The heroine realizes she’s in love before the hero. He leaves town, under the influence of varying degrees of freaked-outness. A portable party comes her way, complete with nearly every woman in Fool’s Gold, potent margaritas, and delicious food. The hero is bashed as not being worthy. The hero, finally realizing he does indeed love the heroine, comes back. They reconcile. Cue ending theme music.
  • A fairly complex problem–in this case, dealing with Gabriel’s relationship with his father–is solved quickly and painlessly, in one neat stroke.

On the plus side, although I’m fairly certain we’ll see Dellina Hopkins in a future book as a heroine, we weren’t hit over the head in this book with several set-ups for future books in the series. We also didn’t have nosy townspeople confronting the hero with proof of his idiocy after he broker the heroine’s heart, as has also happened before in the series.

I do enjoy Mallery’s writing–her Blackberry Island series books are wonderful–but I really think the Fool’s Gold needs a little shaking up to make the stories feel fresh again. I’ll keep on reading them for now, though, eternally hopeful….

C+ rating.

I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Week in Review: What I’m Reading, and a Must-See PSA for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (10/5/13)

I love this video in a way that’s probably not exactly healthy. It gives me something to look forward to every October–I try not to watch it all year long. Now that I’ve got a semi-intelligent phone, though, I’m definitely going to pick up that app.

In the interest of keeping healthy, of course. That’s all. Honest.

Back to the real world this week–no more Baltimore Book Festival. (Until next year, at least. My sister-in-law said in a text as we chugged away via train on Monday that “we’d be glad to have you back”. I’m keeping it as evidence, and will bring it out next September as needed. ;))

So…on the long, arduous train journey (long because of the inevitable delays by train, arduous because I had to sit with Mini Moe#2, who is not known for her patience), I did get a lot of reading done. I read all four of the Ever After titles that were being released that day: Wish Upon a Star by Michelle McLean, Haunted Chemistry by Lindsey R. Loucks, Ruby Hill by Sarah Ballance, and Mercy by Jan Coffey. I especially enjoyed the last two.

Next I picked up Susan Mallery’s Christmas on 4th Street, which I received through NetGalley. It was better than the last few books in the series at least. Review is coming. Now I’m reading Annie Seaton’s Dangerous Desire for an upcoming blog post; Shock Me by Ashley C. Harris is waiting in the wings.

On audio, I finished Jennifer Lynn Barnes’s The Squad: Perfect Cover which I absolutely loved. It didn’t hurt that one of my favorite narrators, Amanda Ronconi, reads it–but the story was a lot of fun all on its own. Geeky High school girl turns-spy-cum-cheerleader. I’m planning on reading book two in the series (Killer Spirit) soon, but will do so knowing there’s probably no more books to come in that series since they both came out in 2008.

Drat.

Mini Moe#2 was actually finished with The Bride Wore Size 12 before I even got to start it, darn that girl–but I’m finally listening to it now. So far it was definitely worth the wait.

What are you reading this weekend? Which guy would you pick for your “man reminder“? (By the way, I just Googled the app, and not only is it free but it is “now with more hot guys”! Win-win! Excuse me while I go download.)

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Three Ways YOU Can Help Grant Wishes (Three Wishes Blog Blitz and GIVEAWAY)

Today I’m participating in the Three Wishes Blog Blitz, hosted by author Juliet Madison! From 2nd to 6th September you’ll have the chance to win some awesome prizes at all the blogs participating in the blitz, including mine. All you have to do is follow my instructions below for winning the prize I have on offer, and then you can click over to Juliet’s blog to enter her prize draw, and see the list of all other blogs taking part and enter their giveaways as well. How cool is that? Why is it called the Three Wishes Blog Blitz? Juliet’s new  romantic comedy release, I Dream of Johnny, is about three wishes, a high-tech genie in a lamp, and one very unfortunate typo that proves magic isn’t all it cracked up to be…

This past summer I read a lot  of books. As usual, I tried to get as caught up in my Goodreads challenge as I could before school started again–especially before NaNoWriMo…I mean, November…hits. One of the books that I read this summer that I know is going to stay with me a long time (and not just because I’m going to make my eighth graders read it this year too!) was John Green’s The Fault in Our Starsa story about Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old girl with a terminal form of cancer. One of the lines from that book that the characters say over and over again (and sometimes I was able to read it without crying–but not always) is the world is not a wish-granting factory.

Sad, but true.

However, I really believe people can make a difference, even if the world isn’t going to go around sprinkling magic dust everywhere. Maybe we can’t exactly grant wishes, but we can help to make things better. I’ve collected three ways you can help, if you’re so inclined. There are many, many more…this is just a small sampling.

 

1. Donate.

  • Donate new or gently used items to charity. There are all kinds of charities out there that accept and need donations all year round. The Salvation Army, local shelters, veteran’s organizations–the list is endless, and they’re always in need.
  • Donate recyclable products. Our school–and many of the other schools in my area–have paper dumpsters in the parking lot from Paper Retriever. Newspapers, magazines, catalogs, even school papers can all be placed in the bin, and our school gets a certain dollar amount per pound collected. It helps the environment, helps clear away clutter, and helps our school!
  • Donate your hair. Actress Shailene Woodley, who is going to play Hazel Lancaster in the upcoming movie version of The Fault in Our Stars, decided to cut her hair before shooting began and to donate it to Helping Children with Hair Loss, an organization that provides free human hair replacements to children who have lost their hair for medical reasons. They help more than 300 children every year. There are many similar organizations out there as well, including Locks of Love, which many of my students have donated hair to over the years.
  • Donate your time to a worthy cause. So many worthy groups in your area need volunteers. While staying home with her premature son, for example, a good friend of mine volunteered for our local Meals on Wheels group as a driver. If you have time to spare, find a cause to support and offer your time!
  • Donate money. Of course all of these charities will always accept monetary donations, or you can donate to an event sponsored by the charity, like a walk/run or dinner. Mini Moe #1 and I always participate in the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, walking 8K to help out our local YMCA’s programs.

2. Use your talents. There are fantastic charities out there looking for homemade items such as quilts, blankets, afghans, pillowcases, and more. Here’s just a few notable ones:

  • The Quilts of Valor Foundation’s mission is to “cover all combat service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing Quilts of Valor”. Completed quilts can be donated, as well as pieced tops and fabric. Longarm quilters are also needed to quilt the donated tops. They have an awesome website that has tons of patterns, including a series of mystery quilts that can be sewn and donated. So far QOVF has donated more than 88,000 quilts to service men and women.
  • Project Linus provides “love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers”. Blankets and quilts can be sewn, knitted, or crocheted, and they even offer kits (including a no-sew blanket) and patterns for sale on their site.
  • Need something smaller and quicker? A basic pillowcase can be made in less than an hour! American Patchwork and Quilting magazine has a 1 Million Pillowcase Challenge going on now. So far 500,000 pillowcases have been donated to charities across the United States. Their site offers more than 35 different free patterns that you can use.
  • I’ve also helped out locally by making a memory t-shirt quilt for our local Hospice, and making small quilts for a local hospital’s neonatal ICU unit They were used in the hospital to cover the incubators–to shelter the babies from the light, and to give them (and their parents) something bright and cheerful to look at. So ask around–I’m sure there’s plenty of local places you can help out as well.

shop for charity header

3. Shop! There are so many ways that you can contribute to charities just by doing the regular shopping you were going to do anyway, not even spending an extra dime yourself. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • One of my favorite online fabric stores, eQuilter.com, donates 2% of every purchase made through their site to charity. You can choose which one at checkout–their current choices are the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, Engineers Without Borders USA, Rainforest Action Network, Altrusa International, Ocean Conservatory, and Mission of Love Youngstown, Ohio.
  • Online sites like Shop for Charity let you shop at many of the stores you are probably going to shop at anyway (more than 50 stores can be accessed from their site, including Amazon, Target, and iTunes) and donate to the charity of your choice–there’s currently 28 charities to choose from. By you clicking through their site’s link and making a purchase, they get a commission of the sale, and at least 10% of that goes straight to the organization you selected.
  • Finally, in my search for new back-to-school bags, I found this fantastic site. Esperos bags (their slogan is CARRY HOPE) makes sturdy and attractive canvas backpacks and tote bags that look like they’ll even stand up to the abuse that the Moe household dishes out. They’re reasonably priced and every bag donated helps send a child in need to school for a year.

I ordered this one–nice, yes?

What special charities to you support? What “wishes” do you help to grant? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Finally, a chance to win! I’ve got TWO prizes up for grabs today–brand new copies of the latest trilogy in Susan Mallery’s best-selling Fool’s Gold series (Just One Kiss, Two of a Kind, and Three Little Words), and a US$15 e gift card for either Amazon or Barnes and Noble–winner’s choice. After you finish filling out my Rafflecopter entry, continue down to the end of the post where you’ll find a link to Juliets site, where all the other blog stops are listed. Tons of chances to win more prizes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Once you’ve entered my giveaway, visit Juliet’s blog & enter her giveaway too, and visit any or all of the other participating blogs to enter more prize draws. You could potentially win a whole heap of prizes! Good luck! Visit the official Blog Blitz post here: http://julietmadison.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/3-wishes-blog-blitz-official-post/ 

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Book Review: Three Little Words by Susan Mallery (Book twelve of the Fool’s Gold series)


Title: Three Little Words
Author: Susan Mallery
Series: Fool’s Gold
Genre: contemporary romance
Published: 2013
Rating: 3 ½ stars

I always want to like Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold books more than I actually do. Don’t get me wrong—the setting is charming, the small-town feel is idyllic, and the characters are fun and quirky. They’re feel-good books, to be sure. I have enjoyed much about these books—obviously, because I keep coming back for more. Lately, though, their “cookie cutter” feel is beginning to overpower their overall charm for me.

They start out with two characters—our hero and heroine—who aren’t in/don’t want to be in/never can be in a true relationship. In Three Little Words, it’s Ford Hendrix and Isabel Beebe. Ford, recently out of the military, has never been in love and therefore assumes he never can be. Isabel is fresh from a divorce, and only in town temporarily—she’s getting the family bridal boutique ready to be sold and then she’s back off to NYC where she’ll begin her own business with a designer friend.

Next our hero and heroine start some sort of relationship that for whatever reason isn’t a “real” one. In this case, Ford’s mother is anxious to marry off her last two single children—Ford and his divorced brother Kent—and Ford and Isabel agree to have a fake relationship to keep her off of Ford’s back.

The hero and heroine, of course, always know the deal—they will not/cannot fall in love…but of course they do. In Fool’s Gold, it’s almost always the heroine who realizes it first, but she knows that she can never, ever tell the hero. Because then the gig would be up. (It’s usually at this point that the heroine loses some of her appeal for me. Her inner monologue tends to turn a bit maudlin.)

But he finds out, and…leaves. The heroine is sad, so all the women of the town (okay, not all of them but it feels pretty darn close) converge on her house with frosty alcoholic beverages and yummy snacks. They drink together and commiserate with the heroine’s plight.

Someone/something/the entire town helps the hero see the error of his ways. He rushes back to her, declares his love, and FINIS! story over.

In between each of these steps, though, we also see a huge amount of set-up for future books. We’re practically hit over the head with future love possibilities galore, and it really begins to feel like they detract from the time spent on the current story. Oh, and there’s always an older town resident or two running in and out of scenes, doing things that are vaguely disturbing: octogenarians drooling over twenty- and thirty-something guys and pinching their butts, mothers setting up a booth at a town festival to get applicants for their sons’ hands in marriage, mayors who freely admit to knowing everything and blithely encouraging the rest of the townspeople to just accept it….

Kind of scary.

Still, this installment had more going for it than some—mainly Ford and Isabel and their backstory. Once upon a time—fourteen years ago—Ford was engaged to Isabel’s older sister. Maeve called off the wedding at the last minute, and Isabel, who had harbored a crush on Ford forever, was devastated. She wanted to make everything better for him. When Ford left town to join the Navy days later, she began writing him letters. She wrote letters to him for ten years, pouring out her heart to him in each and every one.

I know I’m only fourteen, but I love you. I’ll love you forever and I’ll write you every day. Or at least once a week.

Ford never responds, and finally when Isabel believes her current boyfriend is going to propose, she stops writing.

The letters are a really sweet touch. There’re excerpts of some of them scattered throughout the book, and Ford uses the “I’ll love you forever” comment to tease Isabel more than once.

Ford comes off as over-the-top confident of himself and his abilities, and though some reviews I read found this to be annoying, this was one of my favorite things about him. I loved his snarky comments. He totally didn’t take himself at all seriously, and I found his cockiness endearing. What can I say? He reminded me of Han Solo, one of my all-time favorite movie heroes. I’m a sucker for the confident ones with a touch of bad boy.

For the most part the childhood crush-all grown up troupe was nicely done here. With a little less set-up for future novels and a little more originality in the overall plot arc, this would definitely have gotten a higher rating. It’s a sweet, fell-good story. If you are a die hard Fool’s Gold fan, you’ll like it. If you like sweet contemporaries, it’ll do.

In a nutshell: Though this is definitely the strongest of the current trilogy, it still falls prey to the too-predictable Fool’s Gold formula. The charismatic hero and the adorable-ness of Isabel’s letters bumped it up to a 3 ½ star rating.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery (Book eleven in the Fool’s Gold series)

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Title: Two of a Kind
Author: Susan Mallery
Series: Fool’s Gold
Genre: Contemporary
Published: 2013
Rating: 3.5 stars

I went back and forth on this one. And back. And forth. And back again. There were things I liked, things that drove me a little crazy, things that made me go “Huh?”, and parts that were mildly disturbing. I really enjoyed the ending, though, for all its abruptness (quick endings seem to be the way of things in Fool’s Gold, I’ve noticed), so I’m sticking with three and a half stars. My love/hate relationship of sorts with this series continues.

Two of a Kind is the eleventh (!) book in the Fool’s Gold series (not counting the series novellas, which would make that number considerably larger) and features Felicia Swift, who made her first appearance in book ten, Just One Kiss, and Gideon Boylan, who we first met sometime during the Styker family books (Summer Days, Summer Nights, All Summer Long, and A Fool’s Gold Christmas). Both were formerly in the military–Felicia handled the logistics for a Special Forces unit and Gideon was in Black Ops. Both feel as if they can’t fit in with “normal” people–Felicia because of her uber-intelligence and less-than-traditional upbringing (her parents signed her over to a university for “enrichment”–i.e. guinea-pig-dom–at an early age) and Gideon because he was still suffering the aftereffects of a two-year imprisonment by the Taliban.

Felicia and Gideon have a history–they met overseas, where Felicia successfully seduced Gideon into ridding her of her virginity at the age of twenty-four. Her teammates Justice Garrett and Ford Hendrix (both also coincidentally living in Fool’s Gold now) had burst into their hotel room the next morning, and the two hadn’t seen each other since. Until this book’s opener, that is–which was one of its best scenes, BTW–when Gideon witnesses Felicia in a less-than flattering encounter with a six-legged foe:

“Rational thought and a working knowledge of hand-to-hand combat were useless when faced with the villainous power of the American house spider.

Felicia Swift stood immobilized in the corner of the warehouse, aware of the web, of the arachnid watching her, no doubt plotting her downfall. Where there was one female American house spider, there were others, and she knew they were all after her….

The light suddenly blacked out. Felicia jumped and turned, prepared to do battle with the giant mother-of-all-spiders. Instead she faced a tall man with shaggy hair and a scar by his eyebrow.

‘I heard a scream,’ he said. ‘I came to see if there was a problem.’ He frowned. ‘Felicia?’

Because the spiders weren’t enough, she thought frantically. How was that possible?”

Having had two arachnid encounters myself in the past week (sadly, without any intervention from big, brawny men), this opening really spoke to me. There were other similar moments, where I enjoyed Mallery’s writing and the characters she created–especially Ford, Carter, and Reese. At those times I was leaning toward a four-star rating. And then there were the other moments….

Felicia’s character, for example, is supposed to be super smart, but socially stunted. She essentially grew up on a college campus, and missed out on being a regular kid. As an adult, now, she wants nothing more than to be considered “normal” and to have a husband and a family. She just doesn’t read as quite “real” to me, though. Sure, she acts intelligent and uses big words and appears to miss social cues, but she comes off as…robotic, I guess. More caricature than character. Other characters’ responses to her often don’t seem realistic either. Several times when her friends are amazed by statements she makes and questions she’s asked, I just didn’t understand why. Maybe it’s just me, but often they seemed like statements and questions that close friends would make to each other. Or maybe I just spent too many quilt nights watching Sex and the City. I suppose that could be the case.

Gideon was more realistic, but the man had some real issues stemming from his imprisonment that I just don’t see getting fixed by the book’s quick HEA. At the very least, he’s going to have to really talk to someone about them. The whole denial thing is just not going to cut it.

Finally, the entire town of Fool’s Gold continues to bother me. I know that it’s supposed to be an ideal small-town environment and its inhabitants love it there, but I’m with the newcomers who tend to find it more on the disturbing side. People are waaaaay too involved in everyone else’s life. If perfect strangers were calling me up at my workplace and offering relationship advice, I’d stop answering the phone. Mayor Marsha has become Yoda in a suit and pumps–seriously, she’d creep me out in real life. There have been a few books in this series that just haven’t worked for me and several others that I’ve been iffy with, like this one; and yet I’ve stuck with the series for more than eleven books, and keep coming back for more….

It’s mostly for the characters. I really liked the two teenaged boys she introduced in this one, Carter and Reese. They were well-written, if a tad bit mature for their age. (Ah, fiction!) The rivalry between Ford Hendrix and his business partner Angel Whittaker made for some of the funniest parts of the book, as did their roommate Consuelo’s methods of dealing with them. Mallery tends to be heavy on the hinting of what’s to come in the series, and gosh darn it, she does make me want to keep reading to see how things will end up for the characters that she’s introduced in her earlier books. Ford is going to be the hero of book twelve, and I’m dying to read his story. His brother Kent’s turn is probably going to be soon as well, and you can sign me up for his story, odd townfolks and all. Darn that Susan Mallery!

In a nutshell: Promising story and characters, but ultimately it didn’t quite fulfill that promise for me. In the end, though, I’m still anxiously awaiting future installments to the series, ever hopeful…

(I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley and a print copy as a part of Susan Mallery’s “Review Crew” in exchange for an honest review.)