Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith

A heartbreaking love story, set in Kentucky, in the midst of a snowstorm? Yes, please.

The reader is introduced to Eamon Royce, a Louisville cop, and his brother, Dalton, a bike-shop owner. These boys were born six days apart, grew up together, and their mothers had been best friends. When Dalton’s mother passed away, the Royce’s adopt Dalton and treat him like he had always been a part of the family- because he had been.

When Eamon meets Evangeline “Evi”, a ballerina and ballet teacher, he knew it was love at first sight, and that one day they would be married. From there, it’s a blissful whirlwind romance. Eamon knows Evi worries about him while he’s on duty, but she never once asked him to give up the job he loves. Deciding that he’ll do anything to make sure that Evi is always taken care of, he makes a pact with Dalton. Dalton agrees that if something were to ever happen to Eamon, he would take care of Evi.

(Photo: Google Images)

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While miles apart on a fishing trip, Eamon receives a call from Evi- she’s pregnant, and he’s over the moon, joyous. Dalton can’t be more thrilled for the two of them, and he ups the ante with the pact- he will take care of Evi and this unborn child.

Then, the worst and unexpected happens- Eamon is killed in the line of duty, sixteen days before Evi gives birth to baby Noah. She is distraught, and Dalton knows he has to be strong for her, but he’s also swallowed by grief. Determined to keep his promise, Dalton makes sure that Noah is loved and cared for, as well as Evi. He knows that no matter what, he will never replace the love that Eamon had for these two, but it’s more than the pact keeping him to his promise- it’s the fact that these two are his family. He loves them both. And as time passes and the sharp ache from the loss dulls, Evi and Dalton learn that the two of them have more than kind feelings towards each other. Dalton and Evi end up snowed in together with baby Noah at his grandparents. Now, the two of them have a chance to sort out their tangled feelings of past loves and the future of their relationship.

(Photo: Google Images)

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Cross-Smith has made a gorgeous debut novel with Whiskey and Ribbons, and a new fan out of me. The writing is beautiful, and the word choice shows, rather than tells, the reader how the characters feel. I loved the repetition of certain words and phrases, giving them deeper meaning and allowing the reader to roll them in their mouths or swirl them in their minds. And the development of the characters is wonderful, especially Dalton’s as the man who has always been in the shadow of Eamon’s family.

Overall, it’s an intimate story line full of family, faith, love, duty, and grief. I absolutely recommend you give it a read, but prepare to have your heart broken.




Thought Piece: Kentucky Derby Day & Bookie Faves

Since I moved to the Lexington area, Derby Day has become my favorite “local holiday”.

I didn’t really follow horse racing except for occasionally catching the derby on TV. Then, when I moved, I met some wonderful people who introduced me to the racing world, and gave me some excellent tips on picking the derby winner out of the 20-horse field. I decided this would be the perfect time to share some of that advice, as well as some suggestions for those of you who are interested in horse racing and celebrating the annual event!

  • Follow the Road to the Kentucky Derby and if you plan on betting on the horses, take note of who places (that is, which horses come in first, second, and third) in each race. This will help you familiarize who is in contention!
  • Follow Steve Haskins’ weekly Derby Dozen article! He gives excellent tips and information on the horses, providing insight that isn’t readily available to the general public. (It’s not too late to scan through the last article of the year!)
  • Check out the Daily Racing Form headlines for analyses of each derby prep race to gain extra insight, as well as headline reports of the horses and their connections.
  • Watch the prep races! It’s more exciting to catch them in real time, but there are usually replays available to study. Keep an eye on your favorites, and note how they do. Did they run to the front? Come from behind? Get jostled and bumped by other horse and riders? Did they appear exhausted towards the end of the race? Knowing these details will help you predict how the horse will run in the large field of twenty horses at the derby.
  • Once you’ve picked a horse (or however many you want, I usually pick a top three and a long shot to bet on), learn more about them. I like to know who their sires (their fathers) are, who their owners are, and what farm bred them. They don’t call this the sport of kings for no reason, and names carry a lot of weight in the elite racing industry. I also like to find out specifically where the horses like to run in the racing field, and which position they draw in the starting gate. The numbers on the gate go from 1-20, and the lower the number, the closer to the inside of the track the horse is. The inside of the track is a shorter distance to run than the outside of the track, and therefore the horses who get to the inside quicker will have to exert less energy than the ones running toward the outside of the track. Sometimes, a bad position draw will be enough for me choose one horse over another as my absolute favorite.

When the first Saturday in May officially arrives, and if you’ve done your due diligence, then you’ll have a horse (or maybe a few) in mind that you’ll be ready to put your money on! This is where the fun begins! Now, I’m really, really terrible about betting money, mostly because I’d rather keep the money that I have rather than bet to make more. Also, I’m not a very lucky person in that sense of things. SO, I’m not going to tell you how to bet your money, but I advise you to check out Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies! Haha, I’m not calling anyone a dummy, but this is the simplest explanation I think you can get! Personally, I like to bet $2 to win on my favorite horses as a keepsake incase they win, and I’ll also spend the $6 for a win/place/show on my long-shot horse. Sometimes it pans out and I’ll make a few bucks, and sometimes it doesn’t but I can easily recoup that $6!

The other big part about derby day is the celebration of the event. Traditional points to note:

  • Attire- This includes donning classy spring dresses and over-the-top hats, seersucker suits and dockers, and basically pretending you are classy folk, even if you aren’t, haha!

  • Food & Drink- “derby pie” which includes bourbon, chocolate, and walnuts; mini hot browns, a strangely delish blend of bread, cheese, ham, and bacon; bourbon balls, which are like chocolate truffles with a kick; and of course, mint juleps. This is blasphemy I’m sure, but I actually don’t care for mint juleps, and from what I’ve heard, they’re an acquired taste. I prefer to just leave everything but the bourbon out, haha.

  • Singing “My Old Kentucky Home”- the official state song of the Kentucky commonwealth. There really is something about being with a thousands of fellow racegoers and drunkenly stumbling along the lyrics- it’s actually pretty emotional, though that could be the juleps. (I’m just kidding about the drunkenness.) Want to impress your friends at smaller gatherings? Here are the lyrics– sing along through the second chorus!
  • Roses- The derby is associated with two sayings: “The Run for the Roses” and “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.” If you’re having a derby party at home, don’t forget to incorporate roses in the decorations mix!

Last but not least, if you’ve caught the racing bug after all the excitement of Derby, here is a recommended list of racing-related reading!

  • Ruffian, Burning From the Start by Jane Schwartz
  • Affirmed by Lou Sahadi
  • Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda by Dave Feldman
  • Secretariat by William Nack
  • Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
  • Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach
  • Three Strides Before the Wire by Elizabeth Mitchell
  • The Horse God Built by Lawrence Scanlan

With all that said and done, I wish you all an excellent Derby! May all the horses and riders have a safe trip around the track, and may your bets win!

Hello December ❄️

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

… And hello Everyone!

Can you believe that we are already on the last month of the year? I have no idea where the time has gone, but I know it’s been a whirlwind!

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

I wanted to talk to you all today about my goals for my blog. Since June, I’ve been trying really hard to be more active here and on social media, and I’m loving being a part of the amazing the bookish blogging community. I made it a goal to post every other day, and to push myself to read as many books as I could in November- knowing this would be tough due to my day job work schedule being at it’s busiest. It was a little stressful, I’ll be honest, but I’m proud that I made it happen!

But now, I need to recharge a little, and I think that since the holidays are near, it’s time to give back some of the love you’ve all shown me. So this month, I’m going to do my first ever giveaway (!!!) and do more on my social media accounts. I’m also cutting my posts back (just a little!), in the hopes that I’ll be able to give myself some time for more social aspects of the holiday season- time with my family, evening gift exchanges with friends, and maybe the occasional outdoor adventures to enjoy this seasonal weather we’ve been having in the Bluegrass. On a more personal note, I’ve also put myself on a book buying ban for the month of December (Lord knows I bought enough to last me the winter this past month!) and am doing a no-spend month. The holidays, to me, are about giving, NOT getting, so I’m trying to give more than I get!

(Photo Credit: Google Images)

On that note, I need some help from you all. I have some giveaway ideas, but what would you recommend as good prizes? Comment below with your suggestions, or message me on Twitter or Instagram!

Wild Ride by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach

I’ve been wanting to read Wild Ride for almost four years now. Maybe three months after I moved to Lexington, a friend and coworker was reading it and said it was really good. Fast forward four years, and I finally got the chance to read it, and I honestly think that I wouldn’t have appreciated the book as much as I do now.

See, being in the Bluegrass has really broadened my Thoroughbred knowledge, and I’ve gained a deeper respect for the industry in the area. Despite what you read in the media- because there is always a dark side of each industry- it is truly regarded as the Sport of Kings for good reason. Generations of families taking the chance on the next superstar, and pouring hours, years, lifetimes of dedication (and money) into their horses. Not only have I gained a deeper understanding of the industry, but I’ve also learned my way around (for the most part) Lexington and the surrounding area. I haven’t gone full local (because I still can’t stop acting like a tourist or shake my New England accent), but while reading Wild Ride, I could easily picture the locations mentioned, or the events occurring.

The byline of Wild Ride is “The Tragic Fall of Calumet Farm, Inc., America’s Premier Racing Dynasty”, but Auerbach doesn’t just rehash the demise- she delves into the history of Calumet from the very origins of it’s founder, William Monroe Wright.

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The reader learns about the self-made businessman who eventually decided to move from Chicago to the Bluegrass and start his own harness horse breeding operation. From there, his son Warren takes over the family operation, despite being at odds with the way his father ran the place. He converts what becomes Calumet Farm into a thoroughbred operation, and an empire is born. Though strong in business practice, the younger Wright had a lot of horsemanship skills to learn, but his progress turned out derby winners and two Triple Crown winners. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse, and when he passed on, his wife and son became benefactors of his estate, and his wife Lucille inherited the farm, along with gigantic sums of money.

Lucille decides to keep the farm, and in doing so blossoms into one of the social elite. She meets Gene Markey and remarries, and the Markeys, adding a touch of glamour that the Wright men did not achieve, take Calumet to up the social ladder. While Lucille enjoyed being  Lady of Calumet, her son Warren Jr. was moved to the wayside. He didn’t care for the farm life, and had many peculiarities that made him difficult to work with. On top of that, there was some discrepancies about him being the legitimate son of Warren Wright Sr. Lucille did very little to defend her son because he was seen as an embarrassment in her circle. This feud caused much heartache for his wife and four children, and eventually the Wright family became estranged to the Markey family, most so after Warren Jr. succumbs to an early death.

Knowing fully about the family feud, Warren Jr.’s eldest daughter, Cindy, marries a man named J.T. Lundy. Determined to run Calumet, he pressures and fights with Lucille to run the farm. Lucille and Lundy stubbornly spar, neither one giving up, until Lucille’s age catches up to her. Through the will of Warren Sr., the farm is finally turned over the Wright children, and because of their disinterest in the farm due to all the past heartache, Lundy takes over in care of the Wrights. From here, as secretary Margaret Glass notes, Armageddon begins with the fall of Calumet.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

If you live in the area, you can still drive past the farm, and see for yourself the images that Auerbach describes- the white double fencing, the devils-red trim on white washed barns, the acres of famous Kentucky bluegrass dotted with horses. But the Calumet you see isn’t the dynasty that existed prior to 1990, and reading about the fall brought chills to my spine.

If you’re a horse junky like me, or interested in historical novels (Kentucky history in particular), horse racing and breeding, or crime novels, Wild Ride is a must read.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Alright, since I wrote a ridiculously long movie comparison for the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’ll keep Chamber of Secrets short and sweet. Here’s how things compare to the movie version, and a few little things that I just wanted to point out.

  1. Harry’s first glimpse of Dobby is in the garden, not in his room at the Dursley’s.
  2. When Ron and the twins rescue Harry from the Dursley’s, they had pick the lock to get Harry out of his room, then pick the lock on the cupboard under the stairs to retrieve Harry’s school things and trunk, without waking the Dursley’s. The movie made it seem a much faster and more dramatic rescue.
  3. The movie cut the de-gnoming of the garden and about a month of living with the Weasleys. Also, Percy. Poor Percy, even though he’s such a prat (see urban dictionary : prat: Basically someone who’s a major idiot, or is delusional and dumb. Acts against logic and thinks hes self-righteous. AKA: Major dumbass. Good example: Percy from HP .) you lose a lot of his story.
  4. The howler never congratulated Ginny on being placed in Gryffindor. I mean come on, she’s a Weasley, of course she made Gryffindor. That howler was just pure rage.
  5. Professor Binns, History of Magic professor and the only ghost teacher, tells the story about the Chamber of Secrets, not McGonagall.
  6. No surprise- Lockhart is even more smarmy than his actor counterpart.
  7. The movie put more focus on finding and being in the Chamber of Secrets. In the book, Harry didn’t run that much from the basilisk. Fawkes did most of the heavy lifting there. And with that in mind, there was no delay from fang-in-arm to healing-tears-from-Fawkes like there was in the movie. Movie Harry probably would’ve died from the venom. Just sayin’.
  8. Just want to point out- gut instinct told Harry to pierce the Riddle Diary with the basilisk fang. Watching the movie, I kept asking myself what made him do that? Other than Riddle yelling for him to stop, that is. Just curious.

Ok, as always, the book is better, read the book. That is all.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

What?! Just because I’m a 25 year old adult doesn’t mean I can’t reread the Harry Potter series…LOL! As I said in my last post, my parents brought me my boxes of childhood memorabilia and books. Among the books were the HP series (except  Prisoner of Azkaban, for some reason) and I can’t possibly keep myself from enjoying them again- especially with the new release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. So, I eagerly devoured the first book in 2 days. Because I know you all don’t live under a rock, instead of the typical summary, I’m just going to remind you of the things the movies left out like I did when I re-read the fourth book (Goblet of Fire).

First off, the thing that bothered me the most about the first Harry Potter movie was how dumbfounded they made Harry seem. He questioned EVERYTHING, repeated everything, and barely said more than boo to anyone except Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid. In the books, Harry’s sassy personality that we all love is apparent much quicker in the books than in the movies.

“Hagrid almost had to drag Harry away from Curses and Counter-curses (Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs, Tongue-Tying and Much, Much More) by Professor Vindictus Viridian. “I was trying to find out how to curse Dudley.””

Second, Peeves. I don’t think Peeves is mentioned once in any of the movies. Filch and Mrs. Norris stalk the halls of Hogwarts in the movies, but in the books, Harry and his friends have to also dodge Peeves, the school poltergeist.

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“A bundle of walking sticks was floating in midair ahead of them, and as Percy took a step toward them they started throwing themselves at him. “Peeves,” Percy whispered to the first years…”Go away Peeves, or the Baron’ll hear about this, I mean it!” barked Percy. Peeves stuck out his tongue and vanished, dropping the walking sticks on Neville’s head.”

Then, there’s the school song. Not a peep about it until the third or fourth movie, even though the first night that Harry’s class arrives, they learn the lyrics. I don’t think this one is really a big deal overall, so I understand why they left it out of the first movie, but it would have made more sense to have it there than in the future films.

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(Photo Credit: Google Images)

The last difference that stands out to me in the way they not only learned about the sorcerer’s stone, but also the protective tasks they must pass before getting to it. In the movie, Harry and his friends are much more secretive and seem to get most of their information from Hagrid by chance. In the book, they are bolder about gathering information, asking direct questions to Hagrid, telling him they are actively trying to figure out who Nicholas Flamel is, and they even tell Professor McGonagall that they know about the stone. When it comes to getting to the stone, there are more tasks than the movie shows (which isn’t surprising, due to the movie length I’m sure they had to cut for time) and the one that Hermione gets rewarded for at the end of it all  makes more sense if you know about the task she performed!

Of course, there are more things I could go on about (Norbert’s escape, the dark forest unicorn hunt, Harry’s introduction to Malfoy, etc etc) that vary from one medium to the other, but I’ll stop before I get too ranty and nit-picky. The important thing to remember here is that the magical world of Harry Potter continue to be expanded in individual imaginations and cherished, no matter what medium you experience it in!

Magnolia Wednesdays by Wendy Wax

November is one of my busiest times of year. Usually, my family travels to Kentucky to visit for a week or so, my workplace holds a large event at the beginning of the month and at the end of the month, and Thanksgiving falls right in the middle of it all. Suffice to say, reading has been an afterthought. However, when my family came to visit me, they brought me boxes of my childhood treasures and my book collection from home. I knew I had a few books I hadn’t read stashed away. Digging through the boxes, I pulled out a small stack and dubbed Magnolia Wednesdays as the first to read.

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This 400-plus page paperback kept me hooked- I didn’t want to put it down, even though I knew I had to at times. It follows main character Vivien Armstrong Gray, a journalist who rebelled against her southern belle upbringing. Fleeing the life she made in NYC with a lot of skeletons in her suitcase, Vivi finds herself sheltered in her sister’s home in Atlanta suburbia. Melanie, Vivi’s sister, knows this sudden visit is suspicious- her sister was never the family type and only made the occasional holiday appearance. Even when Melanie was in need the most after the passing of her husband J.J., Vivi couldn’t seem to handle sticking around for very long.

As Vivi learns to navigate the life of suburbia, she can’t help but let her journalistic nature get the best of her. Emerging herself in Melanie’s daily life, Vivi seeks out stories for her column and tries to find the truth behind her brother-in-law’s sudden death. While taking belly-dancing classes at her sister’s dance studio, she learns that there’s more going on in suburbia than she expected, and more complicated issues than her alias suggests every week in the paper. When things come to a head by the end of the novel, you can’t stop turning the pages.

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I give this one a good recommendation for all it’s interesting plot twists and entertaining banter between characters. Though I did have a few minor issues with point of view changing abruptly and paragraph breaks inconsistently defining the direction of the story, it wasn’t something that I got hung up on long enough to distract me from the action.