Saturday, December 1, 2018

Tales of the Traveling Totes: Seaside, Scottsdale, and Sedona

Happy December, My Lovelies! It's time for another Tales of the Traveling Totes post!

We traveled to three of my favorite places in the world this past quarter:  Seaside, Florida, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Sedona, Arizona.  

Our first stop was Seaside during Shanley Belle's Fall Break.  Unfortunately our girls' fall breaks did not coincide, but Shelley was able to drive down for the weekend and meet us.  

La Countess du Monet loves to ride bikes, and so do I!  Seaside is a bike lover's paradise.  It's fun looking at the architecture, shopping, and visiting the Seaside Airstream Trailer Food Trucks!

Mr. Sketchy Reader and I have considered retiring to Seaside, but we've taken it off the list of possibilities because the red tide was in while we were there!  It was my first experience with the airborne menace, and I have asthma.  It was horrible for a couple of days, but we did have a few good days, too!

Shelley is cooling off in one of the fountains at Watercolor.  It was very hot while we were there, and I loved it!  Our girls have very different personalities!

Boathouse at Watercolor

Western Lake

Of course while we were there Shanley Belle and I had to visit one of our favorite Indie bookstores, Sundog Books.

I bought these books, and Shanley Belle and I went to Lisa Patton's book signing for her new book, Rush.  I haven't read it yet (and I'm dying to do so) because I've been either sick, traveling, or reading books I'm obligated to read for publishers.  

I love the architecture at Seaside.  This is Truman's house from the movie The Truman Show.

We attended the Farmers' Market on Saturday.  I loved the selection of heirloom pumpkins!

Next, we visited Scottsdale during Thanksgiving.  We lived in Scottsdale in the early 90s.  Shanley Belle was born there, and I love it.  Although I love Alabama, and I grew-up here, Scottsdale is the home of my heart.  I would move back there so fast it would make your head spin!  I've always wanted to take both girls and show them why I love it so much.  I'm so blessed we were able to go.  However, the red tide situation from Seaside eventually caused me to get bronchitis, and we left for Scottsdale the day after I finished my second round of antibiotics.  I felt a little better after a day or two in Scottsdale, but I did not take as many photos as I wish I had, but the rest of the family took some good pictures.

La Countess du Monet loves Scottsdale, too.  This is our home away from home for the week: the Hyatt Regency Gainey Ranch.

I love Gainey Ranch for its location.  We almost bought a house in Gainey Ranch when we moved there. It's the first time I've ever stayed there (usually we stay either at the Scottsdale Princess or The Phoenician).

This is Maggie.  She's a rescued Great Horned Owl, the largest owl inhabiting Arizona.  The Hyatt invites these rescue birds of prey to visit during the daytime to keep the birds away from guests (and their food) while dining alfresco.  What a great idea because other hotels and restaurants we visited didn't have the predators keeping the birds at bay!

It was fun having breakfast with Maggie!

We spent a lot of our time in the car showing the girls around.  Some of the places (like the original Chuck Box in Tempe) aren't very photogenic.  We took the girls to see our house, my favorite parks, shops, our former church where Shanley was dedicated, etc...

The two photos above are from the General Store in Pinnacle Peak.  We lived not very far from here, and it was our favorite place to have breakfast while living in Scottsdale.  This is the outside plaza where I like to eat.  Shelley loved it!  It hasn't changed much at all except that they've opened a new coffee shop recently in the store.

We took Shanley to visit ASU which was like a ghost town because the students were out for the Thanksgiving Break.  I wanted to see what she missed by not going to ASU for their doctoral program and choosing LSU instead.  Yes, I admit that I'm that petty!  I sure am!!!  Maybe she can join their neuro-lab once she's finished her post doc!  *tee hee*  She loved the campus, by the way.

We also visited Old Town Scottsdale because we enjoyed going there a lot when we lived there.  Of course we had to go to The Sugar Bowl for ice cream.  

The seasonal flavor is peppermint, and it's my favorite!

On Thanksgiving Day we had dinner at the Arizona Biltmore.  

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was the Holiday Tea at The Phoenician.  It was probably one of the best High Teas I've had anywhere. Ever.  It was the best!

Shelley in the lobby at the Phoenician after we enjoyed our tea.  She said she enjoyed Arizona, but Alabama's home!  She's a funny bird!!!

Next stop:  Sedona!

We wanted the girls to visit the beautiful red rocks of Sedona.  It's such a beautiful part of Arizona, and we had a blast!  Below are a few of the highlights.

The red rock formations truly are spectacular!

Each time I visit Sedona I hike up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross.  It is so beautiful!

We enjoyed the art, food, shopping, and Christmas spirit at Tlaquepaque. 

I love how this fountain is decorated for Christmas!

La Countess du Monet and I are tired!  We need to recover, so we're spending Christmas at home, hopefully outside by the fire watching Hallmark movies!

What are your Christmas plans?

Please visit the other ladies and see where their travels have led them.   Jackie is hosting a lovely giveaway, so make sure to leave a comment at the Purple Chocolat Home for a chance to win a MacKenzie-Childs tote!

The Traveling Tote bloggers would love for you to visit.  

Debbie with Miss Aurora @ Mountain Breaths
Emily with Miss Courtney Childs @ The French Hutch
Linda P with Miss Lola @ Life and Linda
Patti with Miss Kenzie and Miss Taylor @ Pandora's Box
Rita with Miss Luna C @ Panoply
Sarah with Miss Merri Mac @ Hyacinths for the Soul
Ricki Jill with Countess De Monet @ The Sketchy Reader
Jackie and Miss Madi K @ Purple Chocolate Home  (enter to win here)
Cherry Kay and Carrie Ann Hall @ Entertaining Women (She's new!  Welcome, ladies!)
Jenna with Miss Coquille @ The Painted Apron

Join us for our next adventures March1, 2019!

Until next time...

Ricki Jill

Friday, November 9, 2018

Literary Friday: On Magnolia Lane

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  It has been storming and raining all week, plus I'm nursing a bad cold.  Luckily for me I was able to read Denise Hunter's latest novel from her Blue Ridge Series, On Magnolia Lane.  So far I am absolutely loving this series!

According to Goodreads:

From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom (now a beloved Hallmark Original movie) comes the final book in Hunter’s Blue Ridge Romance series.

Pastor Jack McReady has secretly carried a torch for Daisy for two long years. She’s a member of his congregation, after all, and she’ll never see him as more than a trusted counselor. Jack’s best friend Noah has taken every opportunity to encourage his lovesick friend, but when Noah catches wind that Daisy has joined an online dating site, he takes matters into his own hands and orchestrates a meet-cute of the most unconventional kind.

Owner of the local flower shop, Daisy Pendleton is content with her small-town life, but she’d sure like someone to share it with. After several disastrous first dates, she’s about to give up—and then she finds a seemingly wonderful man online. Daisy gets to know TJ through a series of messages but finds herself spending more time with Pastor Jack outside of the church at the same time. What she doesn’t know is that her online prospect and Jack are one and the same. 

Just as Daisy’s love life starts to look promising, a mysterious woman appears in town. Daisy is faced with a revelation about her family that turns her world upside down, and she looks to both TJ and Jack for help.

Jack must find a way to reveal himself as her online suitor without breaking her heart and losing her trust. As Daisy faces Jack’s betrayal, she’ll have to learn to extend grace to herself, her family, and the man she’s grown to love.

My Review

This book has the cutest love story!  I love Pastor Jack's character: He's patient, kind, athletic, and easy on the eyes.  He's had a crush on Daisy for at least two years, and she's totally oblivious to his feelings for her.  What makes it even more humorous is that she is a constant fixture in his office seeking counseling.  That's what's so sweet about their romance: He knows everything about her, warts and all!  

All of Jack's friends have noticed that he's crushing on Daisy, so they begin to plot in order to nudge them together.  Jack's friend Noah sets-up an account for Jack on a dating website under a false name.  When "TJ" and Daisy meet online, they are definitely compatible and enjoy conversing with each other.  Daisy is definitely smitten with TJ, but at the same time she starts going on rock climbing dates with Jack.  She becomes torn between the two, and she wants to meet TJ in person.

If Daisy's love life isn't enough, she discovers a devastating family secret from a woman visiting from North Carolina.  She is perplexed on how to proceed with her family, so of course she seeks the advice of Pastor Jack.  I love books about family secrets!  This story has a lot to ponder, including how we sometimes put our parents on a pedestal where no one but God belongs.  It also addresses forgiveness, overcoming obstacles, and the comfort in learning how God sees us rather than how the world sees us.

I highly recommend On Magnolia Lane and this entire series, especially if you enjoy Christian fiction.

Below are the first two books in the series.  I've read both, and I reviewed Sweetbriar Cottage.

Read my review HERE.

I also enjoyed Honeysuckle Dreams.

Denise Hunter

Aren't the Blue Ridge Series book covers gorgeous?

Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Disclosure:  I received an ARC from the publisher Thomas Nelson via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.  Thank you!

What are you reading this weekend?

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill

Friday, November 2, 2018

Literary Friday: The Clockmaker's Daughter and The Witch Elm

Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!

During Halloween week, I read two books that I thought would be appropriate for the holiday:
The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton, and
The Witch Elm by Tana French.

One of the books was fantastic with a complicated yet genius plot, and the other one was, um, "meh!"

According to Goodreads:

A rich, spellbinding new novel from the author of The Lake House—the story of a love affair and a mysterious murder that cast their shadow across generations, set in England from the 1860's until the present day.

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor on the banks of the Upper Thames. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing the drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery, and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter. 

My Review:

First of all I must disclose that Kate Morton is one of my favorite writers of all time.  I was so looking forward to reading The Clockmaker's Daughter because it's a Victorian ghost story set (primarily) in the present.  Birdie Bell, the clockmaker's daughter and a ghost, tells much of the story through her point of view.  She slowly reveals her background, love story, and then the story of the "visitors" to Birchwood Manor with whom she's made a "connection."  Elodie also has a tragic background, and she has a connection to Birdie Bell that is slowly revealed in the narrative.  

The plot of this novel is very complicated.  Reader, you must pay attention or you will miss a seemingly unimportant plot point only to realize later that it's an important cog in the mechanism of the story.  The major vignettes are set during the Victorian era (early and then late), shortly after World War I, during World War II, the 1980's, and the present.  The way that Morton interweaves the stories and reveals the connections between disparate characters is sheer genius.  

Not only was I fascinated by Birdie and Edward Radcliffe's love story,  I also enjoyed how a family story told to Elodie by her late mother has a connection to Birchwood Manor; family stories have always intrigued me!  If you enjoy historical fiction and romances, complicated, well-drawn characters, intricate plots, intrigue, suspense, and English countryside settings, then you will love this wonderful novel.  The Clockmaker's Daughter will definitely make my Best Three Books of 2018 List.

According to Goodreads:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who's dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family's ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden - and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we're capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

My Review:

I was so looking forward to this stand alone from Tana French.  I love her Dublin Murder Squad Series (I highly recommend the series), and I couldn't wait to read The Witch Elm.  I even pre-ordered an autographed copy of the book.  Unfortunately I was very disappointed in this novel for several reasons.  The first one is petty, I'll admit, but I have to wonder why throughout the book the tree is called the wych elm, yet the title is The Witch Elm.  Hmmm...

Toby is not a very sympathetic character.  His whole family is a dysfunctional mess: they're entitled, selfish, secretive, violent, and evil.  When Toby and his cousins were kids, their parents couldn't wait  until summer to travel and leave them with their uncle in the family ancestral home.  This book is a super illustration of what happens to young people without appropriate adult supervision because Uncle Hugo did not supervise the kids.

There's a sadistic plot twist late in the book I wasn't expecting, and I almost DNF'd the book right then and there, but I decided to persevere and finish because surely SURELY Tana French wouldn't let her readers down; there MUST be an incredibly GRAND ending, right!?!  RIGHT!?!?!?  

I'm let down.  

In other bookish news...
Stay tuned for an announcement next week about the launch of The Sketchy Reader Book Club beginning January 2019!

Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill