John Mayer

“I love you more than songs can say
But I can’t keep running after yesterday”
All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye

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Gerri Hill – At Seventeen

Seventeen

Madison Lansford and Shannon Fletcher met when they were ten years old. Madison-daughter of wealthy parents and Shannon, daughter of their live-in maid and cook-became fast friends, yet both knew their place in life. There was never a doubt that they would become lovers…there was also never a doubt that Madison would marry and maintain her social standing in the community. Little by little, they grew apart, their love affair ending with Madison’s marriage and pregnancy. Now, years later, Shannon returns to her old hometown to care for her ailing mother. Can they rebuild their friendship? Or will their new-found closeness bring back memories of their long-lost love? Travel through the years with Shannon and Madison and watch their love unfold as they move from teens to young women and into adulthood. 

REVIEW
This is the third book I’ve read that’s written by the infamous Gerri Hill, and she certainly doesn’t disappoint. She has the lesbian romance-writing formula down, so I know that I’m always guaranteed a good time. (Snicker) At Seventeen is no exception to that formula. Her novels are pretty quick reads, and perfect if you’re sitting at an airport and need to kill some time before a flight. There aren’t a lot of surprises in the novel, and there’s a comfort in it’s predictability. You know that you can expect good writing and a good ending with Gerri Hill, which is the appeal of picking up her books. At least, it is for me.

Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly with this novel:

The Good – This is almost like the lesbian version of Nicholas Spark’s The Notebook, but the story starts in childhood, ends in (early-ish) adulthood, and no one dies together while holding hands. There’s a clear distinction between what happens in the past and what happens in the present, so there’s no confusion for its readers. It skips back and forth until about a third into the book, then it continues on in the present. The storyline of At Seventeen is really its strong point, and the buildup of the romance between Madison and Shannon is very nicely done.

The Bad – The characters were a bit one-dimensional. Characterizations bring a depth to the story and because of it’s absence in At Seventeen, it left me wanting just a little more. Some of the characters’ actions, especially Shannon’s friends, were confusing. Even when there was some clarification in the end, it wasn’t very satisfying.

The Ugly – There’s a kid in the story. I have no gripes about a kid being in any story, but his presence doesn’t add very much to it. And I get it, you could justify that his existence helps reinforce the message that things happen for a reason, but I felt like he was moved around like a Monopoly piece.  It was almost too easy to roll the dice and move him down the board when they needed him to disappear.

It wasn’t my favorite from Gerri Hill, but I enjoyed the novel and it provided a nice little escape for a few hours.

SOUNDTRACK
1. Priscilla Ahn – Dream
2. John Mayer – All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye
3. Regina Spektor – Fidelity
4. Whitney Houston – Saving All My Love For You
5. John Mayer – Friends, Lovers, or Nothing
6. Colbie Caillat – Realize
7. Mariah Carey – When I Saw You
8. Janet Jackson – Where Are You Now
9. Meiko – Lucky We Are
10. The Cure – Love Song
11. Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud
12. Jason Mraz feat. Colbie Caillat – Lucky

CHEERS!
This book would be best read with a….

SOUTHERN COMFORT CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL
-1 oz of Southern Comfort
-Dash of Angostura bitters
-4 oz of chilled champagne (M&R Asti is recommended)
-Twisted lemon peel

Pour the Southern Comfort in a champagne glass.  Add a dash of bitters, then top off with the champagne.  Garnish with a twisted lemon peel.

Melissa Brayden – How Sweet It Is

Sweet2.jpg

Molly O’Brien is a sweetheart.  Her friends and neighbors all think so.  While she enjoys her quiet life running the town bakeshop in Applewood, Illinois, she wonders if there could be more.  After losing the love of her life four years prior in a plane crash, Molly thinks she’s ready to navigate the dicey dating waters once again.  However, you can’t always pick who your heart latches on to.  When Jordan Tuscana, the beautiful younger sister of her lost love, returns to town, Molly finds her interest piqued in a manner she wasn’t prepared for.

All secrets are uncovered, Molly and Jordan must figure out how to navigate the difficult terrain of their multi-faceted relationship.  Especially when something much deeper seems to be bubbling between them.

REVIEW
The publisher’s summary of this book definitely gave me pause. Just to wrap my head around the storyline of girl falls in love with deceased lover’s little sister…. it seemed too heavy of a read for me.

This might sound a little ridiculous, but what nudged me over the edge was that the woman on the cover of this novel looks a lot like Jillian Michaels. I have a minor crush (okay fine, I own 7 of her DVDs) on her. And How Sweet It Is was the only Melissa Brayden novel that I hadn’t finished. It really turned out that I saved the best for last.

Just a forewarning, if you have a sweet tooth, you may want to read this book on a full stomach. Or just imagine that the Jillian Michaels look-alike is yelling at you to abstain from eating cinnamon rolls and to drop and give her 20 for even thinking about it. I don’t think that it’s a stretch to assume that the author enjoys chocolate and sweets. Actually, I think she’s really borderline obsessed with chocolate. (Midnight Chocolate, anyone?) Maybe I can bribe her into writing one more book for her Soho Loft series. Melissa Brayden, I will give you 500 chocolate Santas if you make my Christmas wish come true. Please?! Pretty please?!

Aside from the description of the decadent desserts that make my thighs feel like they’re ever expanding, the writing in this novel is a real treat for its readers. The author has a mighty set of ovaries for writing this story. She treats each of her characters with dignity. There isn’t a sense of real betrayal, and thankfully, no one in the story is demonized or dehumanized. It’s written sensitively and respectfully, without undermining the love in the past between Molly and Cassie, and the love in the future between Molly and Jordan. Brayden doesn’t gloss over the tough conversations on the complexities of the different relationships, and navigates the readers through those waters with ease.

You really experience the small-town America feel with this novel. The author is adept at changing settings without compromising the writing, or the readers feel for the story. Although, Brayden’s writing has a familiarity and comfort between the stories, that’s not to say that she’s a typecast author. Her stories are as varied as her characters, who are always interesting and unique. What I also enjoy about Brayden’s writing is how she subtly ties the characters in her novels together. Just to give you an example (and this hopefully isn’t too much of a spoiler), in How Sweet It Is, Jordan has a meeting with a potential investor Emory Owen, one of the main characters in Heart Block.  The reader gets a sense that none of the stories really end. Perhaps, this is a clever way for the author to have her readers revisit her novels? If it is, I’m a sucker every time. I’ve reread her books so often, that I’ve practically memorized the words. No joke.

After finishing this review, I’m almost tempted to add a dessert section…

SOUNDTRACK
1.  Heartless Bastards – Skin and Bone
2.  Elliott Smith – Sweet Adeline
3.  Duncan Sheik – She Runs Away
4.  Ani DiFranco – You Had Time
5.  Paper Kites – Bloom
6.  David Grey – This Year’s Love
7.  City and Colour – We Found Each Other In The Dark
8.  Iron & Wine – The Trapeze Swinger
9.  Fisher – I Will Love You
10.  Sam Palladio – When The Right One Comes Along

CHEERS!
This book would be best read with a….

GODIVA CHOCOLATE MARTINI
-2 oz of Godiva chocolate liqueur
-2 oz of creme de cacao
-0.5 oz of vodka (I would recommend Belvedere)
-2.5 oz of half and half

Mix all the ingredients in a shaker. Shake Shake Shake Shake Shake Shake Shake Shake Shake Shake Chica Shake Shake, Mentirosaaaa. Pour into a chilled martini glass. Ladies and gentlemen, you are now entering chocolate heaven.

Holiday Book-Bag 2015

BookTree.jpg

We’re officially in the holiday season!  It’s that time of year when we take out our winter clothes, prepare meals with our crock-pots, dress our cats and dogs in ugly sweaters, dodge elbows and grabby hands while shopping for gifts, drink peppermint mocha lattes from Starbucks, and for some of us… get warm and cozy with some holiday reading.  For your reading, listening, and drinking pleasure…

HOLIDAY READING
Melissa Brayden – Kiss the Girl
Lyn Gardner – Give Me a Reason
Ann McMan – Jericho
BL Miller – Accidental Love
RJ Nolan – L.A Metro

JINGLE ALL THE WAY
Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas
Frank Sinatra – A Jolly Christmas From Frank Sinatra
Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas
Michael Buble – Christmas
Puppini Sisters – Christmas with the Puppini Sisters

A LITTLE CHRISTMAS CHEER
Ultimate Alexander
-1 oz of cold brewed coffee
-8 oz of coffee ice cream
-1 or 2 oz of brandy
-1 oz of chocolate syrup
-Whipped cream
-Chocolate shavings
Process the cold brewed coffee, coffee ice cream, brandy and chocolate syrup in a blender. Pour into a glass and garnish with whip cream and chocolate shavings.

The Grinch
-2 oz of Midori
-1/2 oz of lemon juice
-1 teaspoon of simple syrup
Mix the ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake it off. Strain into a martini glass.  

Hot Buttered Rum
-2 oz of dark rum
-Cinnamon stick
-1 pat of butter
-1 slice lemon peel
-Boiled water
Put the cinnamon stick, lemon peel, and rum in a mug. Fill the mug with boiling water and the butter.  Stir the butter.  

Candy Cane Martini
-1.5 oz of vanilla vodka
-1.5 oz of white creme de cacao
-1 oz of peppermint schnapps
-Mini candy cane
Mix the vodka, creme de cacao, and peppermint schnapps in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake. Pour into a martini glass and garnish with a mini candy cane.  

Hot Cider Nog
-1 cup of half and half
-1/2 cup of milk
-1/2 cup of apple cider
-1 large egg
-1/4 cup of sugar
-1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-Pinch of ground nutmeg
-Pinch of salt
-3 oz of bourbon
-1/4 cup of whipped cream
-2 cinnamon sticks
Whisk together the first 8 ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat and whisk occasionally, until mixture thickens and coats a spoon. (About 15 minutes). Stir in bourbon. Pour into a mug and garnish with whip cream and a cinnamon stick. Makes 2 servings.  

Patricia Highsmith – The Price of Salt

Price of Salt

The Price of Salt tells the riveting story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose salvation arrives one day in the form of Carol Aird, an alluring suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce.  They fall in love and set out across the United States, pursued by a private investigator who eventually blackmails Carol into a choice between her daughter and her lover. 

REVIEW
The first question in my mind was why the heck would the author name her novel The Price of Salt.  As I read into the book, it started making sense. What is salt?  Salt is an essential nutrient that preserves and sustains life. Salt sits on your dinner table and you shake it on your food if it’s bland and you want to enhance the taste.  I interpreted salt as a metaphor for love and it’s application into the story, as well as it’s trans-formative power in Therese’ drab and lifeless existence before she met Carol, is masterful.

With this novel, you’re either going to hate it or love it.  There are certain aspects of this story that can feel very unsettling, and some might even consider Carol or Therese as a sort of antihero.  I was undecided about Carol’s character for most of the novel.  It wasn’t until the last few chapters that I could better understand and appreciate the depth of her love and her pain.  The tone of The Price of Salt is somber, and a love story within that tenor is like the beauty of a rainy day.  This novel’s intensity will leave no doubt to the reader that it is rooted in a deeply personal experience of the writer.  The writing breathes life through the author’s first-hand knowledge of a love that was once considered an abomination within her society.

In 1989, in reference to this novel, Patricia Highsmith is quoted, “Prior to this book, homosexual male and female in American novels had had to pay for their deviation by cutting their wrists, drowning themselves in a swimming pool, or by switching to heterosexuality (so it was stated), or by collapsing-alone and miserable and shunned-into a depression equal to hell.”  I would consider Highsmith as one of the pioneers in queer literature, and her contributions helped pave a happier road for fictional lesbian characters.

The Price of Salt is a priceless gift from the past, and the type of story that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

SOUNDTRACK
1.  Astrud Gilberto & Stan Getz – The Girl from Ipanema
2.  Patsy Cline – Crazy
3.  Billie Holiday – Easy Living
4.  Otis Redding – Try a Little Tenderness
5.  Frankie Laine – Jezebel
6.  Johnny Mathis – Chances Are
7.  Nine Simone – To Love Somebody
8.  Ella Fitzgerald – Embraceable You
9.  Platters – Only You (And You Alone)
10.  Joe Pass – All The Things You Are
11.  Billie Holiday – All of Me
12.  Doris Day – Secret Love

CHEERS!
This book would be best read with an….

OLD-FASHIONED
-2 oz of rye whiskey or bourbon whiskey.  Rye, if you want spicier.  Bourbon, if you want sweeter.
-3 dashes of bitters.
-1 splash of water
-1-2 tsp of simple syrup
-Orange peel
-Large ice cube

Mix the simple syrup, water and bitters in a rock glass.  Drop the large ice cube in the glass.  Pour the whiskey over it.  Mix well.  Twist the orange peel over the drink, then rim the glass before dropping it in the drink. Welcome to the 50s!

Ann McMan – Jericho

Jericho

Librarian Syd Murphy flees the carnage of a failed marriage by accepting an eighteen-month position in Jericho- a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia.  Her plans to hide out and heal her woulds fall by the wayside as she gets drawn into the daily lives of the quirky locals.  She becomes fast friends with Maddie Stevenson, the enigmatic physician who has returned to the backcountry community to take over her late father’s medical practice.  Together they learn that life and love can have as many twists and turns as a country road.  

REVIEW
I was so obsessed with this book for awhile, that an old friend used to joke that it was my new girlfriend, Jeri Cho. I do admit that I spent an enormous amount of time with her. But what did she give me in the end?  She gave me a broken heart. We had a booty call a few months later (Ann McMan wrote a collection of short stories Sidecar, one of them featuring Maddie and Syd). Then, we got back together shortly after that (Ann McMan wrote a sequel, Aftermath) but it just wasn’t the same. I read somewhere that the author was planning on continuing the series with another book in 2015. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m really hoping it will sometime in the near future. I need closure, Ann McMan!

This book earned a lot of awards and recognition, and for damn good reason. It’s one helluva novel. Not only is it a GREAT story, but it’s GREAT writing. Jericho is the complete package: engaging plot, compelling three-dimensional characters (layers upon layers, like yummy 7-layer bean dip), and smart dialogue. The banter between Maddie and Syd is witty, playful, and intellectually flirtatious. Their chemistry is really off the pages.

The romance develops slower than most lesbian novels and that helps it feel more organic and authentic.  You’re at the edge of your seat (or edge of your bed, depending on where you’re reading) eagerly anticipating Maddie or Syd to grow some ovaries and profess their love and affection for each other.  When they FINALLY come together, it’s like the feeling you get when you’re listening to a long progressive house song and the bass drops.  Oh, the feels!

If you enjoy reading books that include any of the following: small-town living, hot doctors, sexy librarians, Katharine Hepburn, Adirondack chairs, classical music, wine, strong coffee, Cheetos… READ JERICHO! Even if you don’t, read it any way. Especially, if you’re planning on relaxing in a cabin during the winter season, and you’re longing to curl up with a good book that will make your insides feel like Christmas.

By the way, is anyone else in California excited that El Nino is coming?! I can’t wait to see the snow up in Big Bear!  It’s going to be amazing!

SOUNDTRACK
1.  Gwyneth Herbert – Only Love Can Break Your Heart
2.  Bach – Suites for Unaccompanied Cello
3.  Leftover Cuties – When You’re Smiling
4.  Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade
5.  Lake Street Drive – You Go Down Smooth
6.  Renee Fleming – La Rondine from Puccini’s Canzone di Doretta
7.  Ella Fitzgerald – Dream a Little Dream of Me
8.  Beethoven – Piano Sonata 8 in C-Minor, Movement I
9.  Joni Mitchell – A Case of You
10.  Ella Fitzgerald – I’m Beginning to See the Light
11.  Melody Gardot – Our Love is Easy

CHEERS!
This book is best read with a….

JUSTIN MALBEC RESERVE 2013

KL Hughes – Popcorn Love

Popcorn Love

A prominent figure amongst New York City’s fashion elite, Elena Vega is a successful businesswoman and single mother to an adorable three-year-old son, Lucas.  Her love life, however, is lacking, as those closest to her keep pointing out.  At the persistent urging of her closest friend, Elena reluctantly agrees to a string of blind dates if she can find a suitable babysitter for Lucas.  Enter Allison Sawyer, a free-spirited senior at New York University.  Elena is intrigued by Allison’s ability to push her out of her element, and the young woman’s instant and easy connection with normally shy Lucas quickly earns Allison the job.  After each blind date, Elena returns home to complain to Allison about her lacking suitors.  As they bond, Elena begins to realize that the person possessing all the qualities she most desires might just be the woman who has been in front of her the entire time.  The vast difference between the two women’s social statuses, however, may be an obstacle not easily overcome.  

REVIEW
If I was limited to using only one word to describe this book, it would be CUTE. The story-line is cute, the kid in the book is cute… an overload of cuteness. It’s so cute that the only thing that I hear right now is my biological clock ticking. This book would really make a fantastic movie. I’d imagine it would fit nicely in the same category as About a Boy and Maid in Manhattan. It has all the ingredients of a feel-good romantic comedy, including an amusing little meet cute.

“When I was your age, all we had were depressing lesbian books and movies.. like The Well of LonelinessLost and Delirious and Kissing Jessica Stein.”  Can I say how glad I am that we’ve moved past that era and that our stories are more varied?  The tone of Popcorn Love is very lighthearted.  It’s not heavy on drama and angst, and it has a happy ending.  I’m a sucker for happy endings.

What kinda irked me about this book, was when Elena would refer to Allison as “dear”. “Dear” is only acceptable if there’s an age difference in decades, if it’s coming from a grandmother, and… this is critical… if it’s coming from someone who is NOT, I repeat, NOT your lover! If my future girlfriend calls me “dear”, I will run out of that relationship with my born-again virginity intact. “Sweetie” is cute. “Honey” is borderline. “Dear” is just creepy as hell.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a cozy, quick read, I recommend picking up Popcorn Love.  I’ll definitely be reading Hughes’ other novels.

SOUNDTRACK
1.  Bjork – There’s More to Life Than This
2.  Andy Grammar – Keep Your Head Up
3.  Michael Jackson – The Way You Make Me Feel
4.  Jessie Ware – Wildest Moments
5.  Carly Rae Jepsen – Gimmie Love
6.  Grimes – Go
7.  Maroon 5 – Sunday Morning
8.  Goldford – Upside Down
9.  Peter Salett – Heart of Mine
10.  John Mayer – Love is a Verb

CHEERS!
This book would be best read with a….

KARL STRAUSS’ PEANUT BUTTER STOUT