the ghost bride, by yangsze choo

The Ghost Bride is  debut author Choo’s stand-alone novel about the plight of a young girl in 19th century China. Li Lan is the daughter of a once wealthy and revered family. However, after her mother’s death, her father sinks into a depressive state that he combats by self-medicating with opium. While their financial status continues to deteriorate, Li Lan’s father is approached by the upstanding and well-to-do Lim family, who ask for his consent to have Li Lan marry their recently deceased son–thus becoming the bride of a ghost.

This curious and entertaining tale takes the reader on a journey through the small village of Melaka, as well as the Chinese spirit world. Billed as a romance novel, this story is equal parts mystery and fantasy with some underlying teenage love and angst mixed in. Though Li Lan and her suitors (yes there’s more than 1) are young, for the time period they are of age to marry–and though in her late teens, her time to become betrothed is slowly slipping away.

Not one for the fantasy/magic genre I was intrigued by the premise of this book. I read (or rather listened to the audiobook) because it was a selection by my book club. The majority of the tale is spent chronicling Li Lan’s travels through the spirit world and her interactions with various ghosts–and there are quite a few. I am admittedly biased because I find the twists and turns of ghosts, demons, magical powers, and spirits hard to keep up with, thus making my enjoyment of a book more work than fun.

However, ghosts and goblins aside, the plot is an interesting one and marrying the dead is a practice that actually used to occur. Li Lan and her devoted servant, who also guides her through the behavior of a proper lady and superstitious beliefs, have more of a mother-daughter relationship which gives the book an endearing quality. And Li Lan’s suitors range from evil and stubborn, to mild-mannered, to mysterious and amusing.

I enjoyed the portions of the book that were spent in the real world as opposed to the after-life. Overall, this was definitely off the beaten path of what’s considered a romance novel. If you’re looking for something a little different and enjoyed books like Geisha Girl or Snowflower and the Secret Fan, then definitely check this out.

 

strawberry salsa

 

Whether you’re bringing a dish to a summer party or hanging at home on the deck with family, this quick and pretty dish is sure to please. The original recipe is courtesy of one of my favorite kitchen chef’s, The Pioneer Woman, and I only altered it slightly for a recent book club reunion with some girlfriends.

 

Letting the salsa sit overnight allowed all of the ingredients to spend some quality time together so that when it’s served, you get maximum flavor.

Ingredients

  • salt to taste

Directions

Put the strawberries in a bowl along with the onion, bell pepper, and some of the cilantro, reserving some for garnish. Add some salt and the juice of 1 lime. Mix it all together, cover and refrigerate.

Serve with tortilla chips.

shopping for a ceo’s wife, by julia kent

“…you make me see a world that isn’t there for anyone else.”–Andrew McCormick, Anterdec CEO

This is one of those quotes that makes you swoon. The words were uttered by the hero of Shopping for a CEO’s Wife, to his fiancée, and employee, Amanda. The 12th book in the “Shopping for a Billionaire” series, Andrew is the epitome of the perfect life partner.

Young, rich, powerful, viral, handsome and with a good sense of humor to boot–what’s not to like? Essentially, nothing. Somehow, his perfection wasn’t annoying–so perhaps there was a flaw or two here and there.

Amanda, who has less depth than her soon-to-be-spouse, is young, attractive, and surrounded by a colorful cast of characters (and what a cast it is). There are so many secondary players from the previous books–which I myself have not read–that it was hard to keep everyone straight. However, they are an entertaining bunch, much like the heroine, and help bring depth to what is otherwise a book missing a plot.

The majority of the story focuses on the antics surrounding the wedding planning and the attention, unwanted by Andrew and Amanda, that Andrew’s father James, is orchestrating. Because wedding publicity leads to Anterdec publicity, which is good publicity. Not too far off from today’s reality tv premise.

I found the last 50 pages of the book to be the most engaging. It’s then that we see true conflict when Amanda stands up for her mother and herself, and expresses a feeling of loneliness even though she’s surrounded by people and love. You find yourself drawn in and wanting to know how it all ends. Throughout, however, there is little to grab on to in terms of storyline and Amanda’s ongoing preoccupation with Andrew’s wealth starts to come across as disingenuous. How many times can one be startled about having a $20k monthly allotment when your fiancée is a multi-millionaire and CEO?

If you’re looking for a light-hearted read where the bedroom scenes aren’t very risqué, then this the book for you. The characters are likable, the subject matter isn’t intense, and some of the more comical scenes, while over the top, are fun. I do think it would be of great benefit to read the first 11 books in the series. While that sounds like a commitment, and it is, with this one just over 200 pages in the digital version, I don’t think catching up will take too long.

“All of my fantasies are coming true every day I spend with you. Every damn one.”–Andrew McCormick, Anterdec CEO

Suffice to say, Andrew had some good one-liners.

sexsomnia–sleepless in manhattan, by anya omah

Sexsomnia, or sleep sex, is a condition in which a person will engage in sexual activities while asleep. I had no idea such a thing existed. Intrigued by the subject matter, I borrowed Sexsomnia–Sleepless in Manhattan on my Kindle.

To start, Abigail is one of the strongest heroines I’ve read in quite some time. She’s not a wide-eyed virgin who’s infatuated with the hero. Her initial actions might give you pause, but her dialogue, particularly in the beginning, is demonstrative of genuine reactionary retorts. Absent are the one-liners that have you thinking, “no man would do that and no woman would ever say that.” In their place are the heroine actually rolling her eyes and calling out the hero in what would surely be multiple sexual harassment suits in the face of his over-the-top-behavior.

Jayden, on the other hand, is the typical over protective, arrogant, alpha billionaire that we’ve read before. CEO of the Four Kings Group, a hotel empire, he has a dark secret, rift in his family, owns a club… There’s always a club. The hero always owns it and comps the heroine for everything on the night she’s there and doesn’t know that he is. A fight breaks out and he saves the day. That can’t be considered a spoiler since that same scene appears in most billionaire romance novels. Do people still go to clubs? Is that even a lucrative investment for the rich in this day and age? I digress.

Make no mistake, club scene aside, this was a throughly enjoyable read. Abigail has been diagnosed with sexsomnia and she’s desperate to gain a better understanding of the condition in the hopes  of leading a normal life. While employed as Jay’s assistant, their relationship evolves into more than that of employer/employee and the cloud that hovers over both of their pasts begins to dissipate as they learn to trust one another. But while the past ceases to haunt them, it’s the secrets of the present that threaten to tear the lovers apart.

There is strong subject matter, outside of the sleep condition, but the writer, Omah, handles the situations respectfully and without being overly sensationalistic. A German author, this is Omah’s first book written in English. While there are a few grammatical inconsistencies, they aren’t enough to derail the complexity of emotions and plot that make this book such a good read. By mid-book, the author has you asking yourself, “What would I do in this situation?”

I finished the book in one day and after you’re drawn in, I think you’ll find it hard to put down as well.

Edible Bookmark Request: I have absolutely no idea how to use my Kindle Paperwhite and I find the reading experience on my iPad Mini far more enjoyable. If anyone has pointers on how to get more use out of my Paperwhite, please reach out either in the comments or my contact form–I’m stumped!

 

complicated, by kristen ashley

If I can offer one piece of advice with audiobooks: Don’t listen to one where you have preconceived notions of what the characters sound like, you’re apt to be disappointed. Not the case with Complicated. This stand alone novel has been released as an audiobook only until November 2017, when it will be available in print. Since it’s not part of a series, there was little to no room for disappointment and it’s by one of my most beloved authors, Kristen Ashley.

The story begins in the midst of a 1-night stand. Or rather, at the end. Hickson (Hicks) is fleeing the home of Greta after they met at the club where she sings part-time. He’s the local sheriff, 3-months divorced, begrudgingly, and Greta is a full-time hair dresser during the day.

With the ink barely dry on the papers dissolving his long-time union to Hope, which produced 3 children, the last thing Hicks is looking for is a relationship. Greta, on the other hand, is ever hopeful in spite of her wrong-side-of-the-tracks upbringing and streak of general bad luck. She too was married but her divorce was long ago and left a shadow of ‘it just won’t happen for me’ over her expectations for love. So when Hicks is hastily fleeing her bedroom, Greta, while hurt, is not all that surprised.

With a special needs brother who lives in a facility that offers the best possible care and a mother with no qualms about blackmailing her daughter for money—Greta has her hands full. But she also has a support system composed of the owner of the salon she works in and the proprietor of the club she sings at. Not to mention a local community who comes to her aid in spite of the prom king and queen status Hicks and his ex-wife essentially hold in the town.

The title of the book describes the relationship between Hicks and Greta. For those who are in a marriage or have had the unfortunate experience of divorce, you know that relationships in and of themselves are complicated. With elements such as local gossip, young children, and a murder thrown in—it only serves to make things more convoluted.

Kristen Ashley, true to form,  managed to make us care deeply about the characters she has brought to life through the power of the pen—or in this case, the spoken word. The pain and anguish that Hicks feels for a divorce that was forced upon him leaves us bereft and sympathetic. He’s trying to do the right thing for his family and ultimately himself by learning to live again.

With interwoven intrigue and sex scenes that will leave you blushing, Complicated is a story rife with emotion about people you could easily know and love. The sexual tension, underlying suspense, and deep emotional connection to the characters once again, has us praising Ashley for her storytelling.

If you can wait until the print version of Complicated hits the market in November, you are stronger than I am. At just over 15 hours on audiobook, I managed to finish in about 2 days—listening at every opportunity I could find. And if you’re new to audiobooks, like I was, this is one that won’t disappoint.