Blog tour: The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads • Publisher
Publication Date: December 4, 2018
Source: ARC from publisher

In this charming romantic comedy perfect for fans of Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella, critically acclaimed author Teri Wilson shows us that sometimes being pushed out of your comfort zone leads you to the ultimate prize. 

Charlotte Gorman loves her job as an elementary school librarian, and is content to experience life through the pages of her books. Which couldn’t be more opposite from her identical twin sister. Ginny, an Instagram-famous beauty pageant contestant, has been chasing a crown since she was old enough to enunciate the words world peace, and she’s not giving up until she gets the title of Miss American Treasure. And Ginny’s refusing to do it alone this time.

She drags Charlotte to the pageant as a good luck charm, but the winning plan quickly goes awry when Ginny has a terrible, face-altering allergic reaction the night before the pageant, and Charlotte suddenly finds herself in a switcheroo the twins haven’t successfully pulled off in decades.

Woefully unprepared for the glittery world of hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras, Charlotte is mortified at every unstable step in her sky-high stilettos. But as she discovers there’s more to her fellow contestants than just wanting a sparkly crown, Charlotte realizes she has a whole new motivation for winning.

Something you might not know about me is that I absolutely love Miss Congeniality. I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen that movie, so when I got an email from Simon & Schuster asking if I’d like to participate in the blog tour for a book that’s basically Miss Congeniality but with a librarian instead of an FBI agent, I had to say yes. This book ended up being just as fun as I’d expected.

The Accidental Beauty Queen is well-written and funny with charming characters and a sweet romance that takes a backseat to the relationship between Charlotte and Ginny. I loved all of the literary references and I loved that the love interest majored in English literature. I loved Buttercup, the French bulldog. I loved that despite their differences, neither Charlotte or Ginny thought that they were better than the other and that, by the end of the book, they really came to understand each other.

This book was just so cute, so lighthearted, and such an easy read. I would highly recommend it to anybody looking for a quick romantic comedy. Many thanks to Simon and Schuster for the free advance copy!


About the author:

Teri Wilson is the author/creator of the Hallmark Channel Original Movies Unleashing Mr. Darcy, Marrying Mr. Darcy, and The Art of Us, as well as a fourth Hallmark movie currently in development. Teri is a double finalist in the prestigious 2018 RWA RITA awards for her novels The Princess Problem and Royally Wed. Teri also writes an offbeat fashion column for the royal blog What Would Kate Do and is a frequent guest contributor for its sister site, Meghan’s Mirror. She’s been a contributor for both HelloGiggles and Teen Vogue, covering books, pop culture, beauty, and everything royal. In 2017, she served as a national judge for the Miss United States pageant in Orlando, Florida, and has since judged in the Miss America system. She has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses, Audrey Hepburn films, and good books. Visit her at TeriWilson.net or on Twitter @TeriWilsonAuthr.


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Book review: Batter Up by Robyn Neely

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The women in Emma Stevens’ family have a talent for matchmaking, and it all comes down to their cake batter.  Emma herself has matched up countless couples in her hometown of Buttermilk Falls, and so far, there hasn’t been even one break up.  Emma’s matches are perfect.  So perfect, in fact, that an investigative reporter catches wind of her special “batter up” nights at the bakery and decides that he’ll expose her as a fraud.

Batter Up is a cute, quick read that’s not going to change your life, but it will likely help you unwind after a hard day. Obviously, Jason, the investigative reporter, falls hard for Emma, and vice versa. Things happen that prevent the two from getting together, but the book is less than 200 pages, so it’s not like you have to wait too long for the HEA.

I liked this book, but there were a couple things that kept me from giving it a higher rating.

First, Emma is still harboring a grudge over something her neighbor did in high school.  Emma is, I believe, in her late twenties, and it’s time to move on.  Because of this high school drama (which I think was related to cheerleading?), Emma constantly judges everything that Caitlin does, shames Caitlin for being romantically and sexually involved with men, and is generally just unwilling to let Caitlin live her life in peace.  I’m sorry, but high school drama should end with high school graduation.  Get over it.

Second, Emma’s personality really got to me throughout the book.  She’s very stubborn after everything, and she needlessly hangs on to ideas and preconceptions that she should really give up on.  (I guess this is somewhat related to my first point.)  She’s fixated on who can perform the spell, how it should be performed, and how everything must be absolutely perfect for it to work.  She latches on to some kind of prophecy her mother made when she was young without really understanding what she’s doing. And she won’t let go of her initial impression of Jason, even when he proves her wrong.

Although this book could at times be very frustrating, the writing style was engaging and the plot moved along at a pretty fast pace.  I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with this series, but I’ve certainly read worse.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

#mmdreading: a book you chose for the cover

ARC review: London Belongs to Me by Jacquelyn Middleton

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After finishing college, Alex Sinclair flees to London to escape her friend’s betrayal and begin her career as a famous playwright. Living with her friend Harry, his posh girlfriend Olivia, and Olivia’s slacker brother Tom, she should have no problem getting established. But things don’t work out quite as well as Alex hopes when Olivia takes an immediate dislike to her and she finds the London theater scene a little harder to break into than expected. Her ever-present anxiety attacks don’t help, and neither does her growing conflict with Olivia. Will Alex persevere, or it is time for her to return home?

I had a really hard time getting into this book. It’s not the plot, because although it was predictable, I thought that was actually pretty well done. It was more the writing. Because the book, especially at the beginning, relies heavily on similes to paint a picture. There were so many that I actually took to highlighting them on my Kindle. Here’s a small assortment:

(Please note that these are from an uncorrected proof, and the final copy may be different.)

Slow walkers, and abandoned suitcases stacked high on carts like a haphazard Hadrian’s Wall, threatened to impede her progress, but she dodged around the obstacles like a Super Bowl-winning running back.
Alex rattled them off like Drake reeling off rhymes.
Like a sprite on a sugar rush, she veered off-course from Heathrow’s luggage carousels.
She rebounded through the herd, clutching the crumpled paper like a Get Out of Jail Free card.
Like a Rottweiler guarding a juicy bone, her expression snarled ‘approach at your own risk.’
Giggling to herself, she wriggled in her seat like a sleep-deprived kid on Christmas morning.
Alex hugged her laptop tightly against her chest like a life preserver and ran for it.
(All of these are before we even hit the 5% mark.)

To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of the book. It’s actually been over three months since I finished it, and I thought I’d written a review. (I guess I didn’t.)

I know that there’s a lot of unnecessary angst. I know that the characters are either comically perfect or comically evil, and there is no in-between. I know that I highlighted a lot of passages in which I asked myself how Alex could possibly have graduated from college without a brain in her head.

But at some point, I stopped questioning the writing and Alex’s stupid decisions and tried to enjoy the story. And I did. Somewhat. I mean, this wasn’t the greatest book I read all year, but it definitely wasn’t the worst, either. If you’re into British pop culture references, you’ll probably find some enjoyment here.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

Book review: Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid

Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid
Series: Knitting in the City #1
Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: March 14, 2013
Source: Freebie

There are three things you need to know about Janie Morris: 1) She is incapable of engaging in a conversation without volunteering TMTI (Too Much Trivial Information), especially when she is unnerved, 2) No one unnerves her more than Quinn Sullivan, and 3) She doesn’t know how to knit.

After losing her boyfriend, apartment, and job in the same day, Janie Morris can’t help wondering what new torment fate has in store. To her utter mortification, Quinn Sullivan- aka Sir McHotpants- witnesses it all then keeps turning up like a pair of shoes you lust after but can’t afford. The last thing she expects is for Quinn- the focus of her slightly, albeit harmless, stalkerish tendencies- to make her an offer she can’t refuse.

Here’s what happened to Janie Morris on the worst day of her life:

• She found out that her long-time boyfriend had cheated on her.
• She moved out of their shared apartment without having somewhere to go. (She’s homeless.)
• She broke a heel on the way to work and spilled coffee down her favorite white shirt. She’d also run out of hair conditioner, so her curls were going crazy. (Basically, she’s a mess.)
• Upon arriving at work, she was promptly fired.
• The bathroom that she stopped in to collect her thoughts was out of toilet paper.
• Her first interaction with the hot new security guard she’s been secretly admiring is him escorting her out of the office while she’s in this state.

The beginning of this book is hilarious. Janie’s commentary on these things as they just kept piling up on her was great. She can live with the fact that her boyfriend cheated on her. She’ll figure out her living situation. She borrowed a shirt and some flip flops. She’ll find a new job. But the thing that pushes her over the edge is the toilet paper. That’s the one thing that she just can’t let go. I was literally laughing out loud. I’m sure my neighbors heard me and wondered if I was okay.

With such a great start, it’s a shame that the rest of the book didn’t match up.

I first heard about Neanderthal Seeks Human when I was flipping through reviews of Imperfect Chemistry, a book I read a few weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed. Supposedly, according to those reviews, Neanderthal Seeks Human is very similar but even better. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to read this book. I was prepared to love it. I wanted so badly to love it. But I just couldn’t.

The premise was good. Unfortunately, the execution was lacking. This book could have used a good editor or three to cut down on Janie’s rambling, her repetitive internal monologues about colloquialisms, and the excessive amount of unnecessary analogies. (It also wouldn’t hurt to have a good editor go through and correct the grammar and spelling. I am willing to offer my services.)

I appreciated the intent of Janie’s character. She’s supposed to be a quirky, relatable young woman who doesn’t quite know how to handle herself in social situations. Instead of contributing to the conversation at hand, she spouts off random, unrelated trivia. She doesn’t really go out and prefers to stay in with her knitting club. This is all fine and dandy, but the author takes it about seventeen steps too far, to the point that Janie becomes a caricature and not a believable woman.

Let me discuss for a moment the contradiction that is Janie.

First example: Janie devotes an entire night to sorting her comic books by second-wave feminism influence. That’s pretty cool. I thought, oh, wow, finally a feminist character in a romance novel, but no. Janie is right up there with the worst of them, making snide comments about the other women who’ve previously slept with Quinn, her love interest. She refers to them as “slamps,” as if combining the word “slut” and “tramp” into a cute portmanteau makes her assessment any less disgusting. To make this even worse, she claims that she passes no judgment on these women… only on their actions. If they don’t want to be judged for having sex, then they shouldn’t have sex. Super classy, Janie. Super classy.

Second example: Janie isn’t actually too upset when she finds out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her. Although he was cute, she wasn’t particularly attracted to him. She felt that she could never fully be herself around him because his wealth afforded him opportunities that she would never have. She was uncomfortable accepting any kind of assistance or gifts from him, feeling that he was using them as a way to control her. Totally understandable. But the problem is that Quinn is the very definition of what she’s trying to get away from. Not only is Quinn incredibly wealthy, but he orders Janie around, has his guards follow her, and even goes so far as to order her food for her when they go out. It wasn’t okay when her ex did it, but Janie is fine with everything that Quinn does.

Third example: I can accept that Janie is book smart. She certainly has a way with numbers and a good memory for useless information. But she is not otherwise intelligent. Things that should be obvious to anybody with half a brain completely astound her. She doesn’t realize that it’s a bad idea to accept drinks from a mysterious stranger in a shady bar. She can’t figure out who her boss is, even when it’s blatantly obvious. She refuses to believe that she’s conventionally attractive, and somehow feels that men don’t like the “big boobs, small waist, long legs” thing she has going on. I mean,come on. I have met some pretty clueless people in my life, but none quite this bad.

I guess you could say that I didn’t really appreciate Janie’s character. The intent was there. But again, the execution didn’t really work out.

Quinn’s character was fine. Or would have been fine in a different sort of book. He’s very clearly an alpha male, which definitely has its place in the genre. But this isn’t the sort of book that he belonged in. Alpha males don’t match up with chick lit. There is no point in establishing your alpha male character and then being afraid to expand on it.

Sure, Quinn’s employees think he’s a little scary. (I was never quite clear on why.) Yes, he decides that Janie is in some sort of danger and posts guards at her door. (That was a little weird.) And then there’s the way that he always orders Janie’s food for her when they go out. (Also a little weird, seeing how he hardly knew her. What if she’d had allergies?!)

But here’s the kicker. If you’re going to dedicate entire pages to the fact that your alpha male character is good in bed, you need to deliver on that promise. I’m not talking about gratuitous erotica, but at least give the reader something. Because there’s nothing here. It’s as if the author was afraid to write what she was thinking. It reminded me of YA back in the day (because now they’re as full of sex as anything else) because every time that Janie and Quinn kiss, we just fade to black and it’s the next morning. Did anything happen? Apparently, because Janie tells her knitting friends that it did. But what’s the point? WHAT’S THE POINT?

I’ll spare you any further thoughts because I think that I’ll just keep ranting. I’m disappointed. Really disappointed. Because this had all the makings of a great book, but it didn’t deliver.

Book review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: August 14, 2012
Source: Borrowed

A compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle – and people in general – has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence – creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

 

I read this book because supposedly it is considered satire, and my reading challenge stipulates that I must read a satirical book this year. Having finished this book, I am not 100% convinced that it’s satire. I think it may just be a book about awful adults and their daughter who has miraculously turned out to be a productive member of society.

Bernadette Fox was once a revolutionary architect, so talented that she won a MacArthur grant for her work. Then, after disaster struck one of her projects, she never so much as drew another floor plan. These days, Bernadette is an antisocial recluse who outsources even her grocery shopping to Manjula, her Indian virtual assistant. Bernadette’s husband, Elgie, is a famous employee of Microsoft. His TED Talk is the #4 viewed of all time, and his work could change the world.

These two intelligent, Ivy League-educated parents manage to screw up their daughter’s life in just about every way possible, and yet somehow, Bee is a clever, well-adjusted young woman. All the ways in which these parents screw up Bee’s life is basically the premise of this book.

I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to react to this. It was written in such a way that I think I was supposed to find it funny, or maybe I was just supposed to see Bernadette and Elgie as these unpredictable, eccentric people? But I didn’t. I thought they were irresponsible, their relationship was unhealthy, and the way that they acted with blatant disregard for their daughter was just too much.

The premise of this book, of course, is that Bernadette disappears. (That much is clear from the title.) Her frustration is understandable: her little quirks have been blown out of proportion by a neighbor that she doesn’t get along with. Rather than stay to defend herself, though, she falls off the face of the earth.

My first problem with this is that it doesn’t fit at all with the Bernadette we’d met earlier in the book. Bernadette is quirky, yes. She doesn’t like to leave the house except to take her daughter to and from school. She hires Manjula to make phone calls for her. Her home is in such a state of disrepair that a gardener comes to weed-whack… indoors. She has blackberry bushes growing out of control in her basement. Yet, though all of that, it’s clear that she loves her daughter. Bernadette and Bee are best friends. They stand up for each other. They have a special bond. So the fact that Bernadette would just disappear without giving Bee a heads up doesn’t fit with her character at all.

My second problem with this is that Elgie doesn’t really care. Again, this doesn’t seem to fit with his character. Sure, he’s focused on his work. His job takes up a good portion of his life, especially since he’s the head of a huge project and has a large team to supervise. But we never get the impression that he doesn’t care about Bernadette. Actually, at the beginning of the book, it would seem that, despite Elgie’s annoyance at some of Bernadette’s antics (he’s not a huge fan of Manjula), the two are still very much in love. That’s why a lot of what happens toward the end of this book is utter nonsense.

I think I’m actually in the minority, having actually enjoyed the writing style. It’s almost like a scrapbook, almost, with emails, faxes, letters, and articles interspersed with Bee’s observations. It reminded me of some books that I really liked when I was younger.

Overall, I guess this really depends on the reader. (But don’t all books?) For me, it was just too much and too unbelievable. For someone else, it might be engaging and dramatic and hilarious.

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #38: a satirical book.

   Goodreads   Amazon

I bought Seventh Heaven on a whim, after searching high and low for a book that came out 25 years ago, required by my 2015 reading challenge. I looked in the New York Times book review archives. I checked Goodreads best-of lists. I asked family and friends if they knew of anything that had been published in 1990 that was good. In the end, I picked a book at random off a list, bought a used copy online, and absolutely devoured it.

I was entranced by this book from the first page. For one, I absolutely love the writing style. It’s mystical, realistic but not, and flows so beautifully. It reminded me of a Tim Burton film.

Another reason I really loved this book, though, was Nora. Nora, the only divorced woman on her block, or maybe in her whole town, who just wants a friend. Nora, who doesn’t understand why nobody will befriend her son, or why the other mothers don’t want to have lunch, or why her American Dream of a cute house in the suburbs just isn’t working out the way she wanted it to.

In fact, I really loved almost all of the characters in this book. Sure, some of them are terrible people. But they all have entrancing stories to tell. All of their stories are interconnected. All of their stories are important. Nora has such an impact on all of them.

I may have picked this book up on a whim, but I will definitely seek out more of Hoffman’s books.

For my 2015 reading challenge, I crossed off #30: a book that came out the year you were born.

Final rating: ★★★★☆

   Goodreads   Amazon

Well, I’ve had a night to think about it, and I’m pretty sure I finally know where I stand with this book.

I didn’t like it.

It’s difficult, because it actually gets much better around the halfway point, but there’s always something off-putting lingering in the background. Let me start with the basics.

Grace Chapman, wife of literary icon Ted Chapman, has spent most of her life placating the volatile emotions of those around her. As a child, she walked on eggshells, never knowing what side of her bipolar mother she was going to get. As an adult, she has learned to make herself scarce when her husband gets in one of his moods. Despite her absolute terror at her husband’s mood swings, Grace feels that her life is almost perfect. Things change, however, when Ted’s efficient assistant is forced to quit to deal with problems in her own family. Suddenly Grace must deal with Ted’s unrealistic demands, she must organize their household and take on tasks she hasn’t had to deal with in decades. Grace is drowning, so when a young woman appears out of nowhere offering to help, she hires her without much of a thought.

Beth is perfect. Too perfect, some might say. In a matter of days, she has whipped the household into shape. Ted’s the happiest he’s ever been, and somehow, Beth has also had time to clean and organize the entire house AND help with Grace’s charity work. But then strange things start happening. The rentals for a high-end charity event never arrive, leaving the guests disgruntled and Grace embarrassed. A favorite scarf of Grace’s disappears, only to be seen on Beth a few days later. She’s crazy, Ted says, to think anything might be off, especially when their lives are so great. She should be seen by a psychiatrist.

Grace has lived her whole life in fear of becoming her mother, so the suggestion to see a psychiatrist, to become one of those overly-medicated women she’s always vowed not to be, hits her the wrong way. But Dr. Ellery is so understanding. He makes her feel validated and comfortable. So when he suggests that she try this pill, and that pill, and another four pills to combat the side effects of the other two, she agrees. After all, doctors know best, right? Soon, Grace is a shell of her former self and has no idea how to get back to what she once was.

So, overall, the premise is pretty good. It’s actually a bit terrifying, thinking that something like this could happen. So my issue is (mainly) not with the plot, although it could have used an editor to clean it up a bit. My main problem is with the writing.

First, let me start off by saying that the whole writing style is odd. Because Grace is a well-known chef, the author has, for some reason, found it necessary to include a recipe at the end of every chapter. The writing is also very distant, detached, almost like you’re watching one of those Discovery Channel documentaries where the British guy is narrating while a lion devours an unsuspecting antelope. Grace hides in the bathroom as Ted rages downstairs. Here’s a recipe for buttery kedgeree. Grace’s mother often called her ugly and useless. Here’s a recipe for salmon. Beth is surely convincing Ted that Grace is crazy, but Grace isn’t crazy, right? Here’s a recipe for ginger ice cream.

Also, several threads of the plot are started, only to be discarded later. I wanted to know what was going on with Dr. Ellery, how he got away with medicating Grace into a stupor. I wanted to know why Beth targeted Grace’s family. I wanted some justice for Grace at the end, for something to happen to Ted, or to Beth, or both. But the whole book was just flat.

The plot is highly predictable. I could have told you something was off when Grace was looking to check references for Beth and Beth couldn’t provide a current phone number. References by email? Really? And if, for whatever reason, Grace was really that naive and trusting, she had to have known that the charity debacle was all Beth’s fault. But, instead of trying to figure out why all these terrible things have suddenly started to happen after letting Beth into her life, Grace is more focused on the weight she’s gained due to her new medications.

I knew going into this book that it didn’t have great reviews, but I also knew that Jane Green is well-known in the chick lit world, so I gave it a chance. All in all, I’m pretty disappointed. I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn’t.

Thanks to the publisher and Goodreads First Reads for the free copy. 

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆