Saturday, May 12, 2018

Princess Elizabeth's Spy

Princess Elizabeth's Spy (Maggie Hope, #2)Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book #2 in this series was enjoyable to read in many respects, but it had so many issues, I wish there had been another round of revisions before it went to print.  For example:
* There was a continuity issue wherein Maggie read a newspaper account of a supposed suicide in a London hotel, then a few scenes later magically knew the young woman had been murdered, but shortly thereafter still thought it was a suicide.  Huh?
* Also, as other reviewers have pointed out, the plot parallels the TV show "Alias" WAY too closely.  I am a huge "Alias" fan, but the TV show did it first and better!
* I liked Hugh, and if Ms. MacNeal hadn't so abruptly had John join the RAF between books & get immediately shot down, the romance would have worked a lot better.
* For a brilliant, logical woman, Maggie sure overlooked the obvious and jumped to too many (wrong) conclusions.  She is new to spying, so a touch of that would be fine, but not constantly.
* The subplot about who killed Lily was rather a dud after the careful opening setup.  Like the author meant to go one way, changed her mind mid-book, and never went back to adjust the scenes/story/plot to fit.
* Maggie often seemed less mature in this book.  I kept trying to figure out how old she was because it felt like she'd regressed.

There are other things, but you get the point.  Still, I like the series overall and am already listening to Book #3.

For readers' advisors:  character, story, and setting doorways.  Some profanity throughout.  Some violence (a pretty high body count--mostly gunshots and one beheading).  Allusions to sex but no actual sex scenes.  Still WWII England in all but a few scenes.  Leisurely pace until the very end.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Cooking for Ghosts

Cooking for Ghosts (The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy, #1)Cooking for Ghosts by Patricia V. Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when four women with four very different life histories meet online and decide to open a restaurant aboard a haunted ship? Lives change, decades old mysteries come to light, and more than food spices up the kitchen.

This book had a little bit of everything: ghosts, romance, mystery, culturally diverse characters, murder, and relationships of many kinds--between friends, parents and children, husbands and wives, newly formed couples, and with ghosts. It's set almost entirely on the Queen Mary, a once-grand ship now permanently docked in Long Beach, California. The ship is both haunted by ghosts and sentient in her own right, taking an active role in the events of the story.

I really enjoyed reading this novel, once I got into it. The women's histories are revealed slowly, and the story is told from nearly everyone's point of view at some point. I highly doubt that Rohini's storyline would have wrapped up so tidily in real life--too many loose ends were glossed over, such as where Naag was staying & what did he leave behind--but I was glad it ended as it did. Likewise, as improbable as it was that all four women ended up paired off, I'm glad no one was left alone & lonely.

For readers' advisors: character and setting are primary doorways. Profanity is sprinkled throughout. There is some sexual content, but no explicit sex scenes. Violence occurs but isn't graphic. The pace is fairly leisurely most of the time, speeding up a bit at the end. It's primarily magical realism. (The author is a big fan of Sarah Addison Allen, as I learned after I finished reading.) One minor character is gay.

This first book in the series is about 3.5 stars, but I'll round up to 4 because I'm looking forward to reading the next two.

The publisher sent me a free copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Someone to Care

Someone to Care (Westcott, #4)Someone to Care by Mary Balogh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Viola Kingsley spent more than two decades as Viola Westcott, Countess of Riverdale. It was a loveless marriage, but she did come out of it with three children. As it turned out, that was ALL she got out of it--upon the death of the Earl, the entire Westcott family discovered that Viola and Humphrey had never been legally married, since his unknown first wife was still alive at the time of their wedding. Overnight Viola went from being a wealthy widow to a penniless pariah. The Earl's title transferred to a very reluctant Cousin Alexander; the Earl's money went to his sole legitimate heir: Anna, his daughter from his first marriage.

Several years later, Viola's life has stabilized: instead of being rejected by her family, the entire Westcott and Kingsley clans have gone out of their way to enfold and support her. Camille, her eldest daughter, has made her a grandmother. Anna is impossible to hate and absolutely insisted on giving Viola's home and dowry back to her and to her youngest daughter, Abigail. Viola worries constantly about her son Harry, back with his regiment and fighting Napoleon's forces, but he says he's having the time of his life. She should be content. And yet....

Just after her grandson's christening, Viola snaps. She has been suppressing her true self for a quarter of a century, and at 42 years of age, she no longer knows who she is and desperately needs to be alone to figure it out. She makes her escape in a hired carriage, which breaks down in a small village in the middle of nowhere, stranding her temporarily at the sole inn. Because Fate has a wicked sense of humor, she's not the only traveler stranded there that day. Marcel Lamarr, Marquess of Dorchester, the only man to ever tempt her to break her marriage vows, is already in the main dining room when she arrives. It's been fourteen years since she sent him away....

Marcel has a well-earned reputation as a gambler and cynic, a long list of former mistresses, and a history of avoiding family responsibility. He's in no hurry to return to his estate and deal with the various relatives living there, including his own children. In fact, he's successfully avoided dealing with them more than a few brief times a year since his wife's fatal accident almost 17 years ago. When he spies Viola, he makes the impulsive decision to send his brother away with his carriage, intending to test his powers of persuasion...and is delighted when she doesn't turn down his offer to escort her to the village fair. He's even more delighted when she agrees to spend the evening with him...and then to run away with him to his remote cottage.

What starts out as an impulsive fling evolves into a far more complicated relationship as the weeks go by, eventually becoming impossibly tangled once they are discovered by their respective families. For it turns out that responsibilities are not shed quite as easily nor permanently as Marcel had talked himself into believing, and to his astonishment, he's no longer sure he wants them to be.

This fourth book in the Westcott series is my favorite so far, and not just because the protagonists are only slightly younger than I am (a nice change from twenty-somethings who are magically as mature as people a decade older). Ms. Balogh is known for her character-driven romances, and this is one of her best, in my opinion. Viola and Marcel bring lots of baggage to their relationship, and the journey they make toward reconciliation and healing, particularly Marcel in his broken relationships with his children, is an absorbing story to read.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting (1813 England) is secondary. There is no violence, but there are sex scenes (not overly explicit) and some mild swearing (mostly variations on "damn").

Many many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC ebook I received in exchange for my honest review.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Heartless

Heartless (Georgian, #1)Heartless by Mary Balogh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars, but I'll round up.

The moral of this story? For the love of Mike, just tell the GD TRUTH already!!! Most of the story and nearly all of the pain and heartache would have been prevented had the main characters, Anna most especially, just told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. GAH!! Perhaps that's typical for victims of abuse, to trust no one and believe the abuser, but it's maddening to read.

My propensity to yell at Anna via my car stereo aside, much of the book was pretty good, if mostly predictable. The character development for Luc was welcome, since I did not like him at all at the beginning and appreciated his sleuthing and defense of his family by the end.

I do think the expression, "La!" was very overused. It's historically accurate, I'm sure, but to modern ears, a little goes a long way. Every time someone said it was like nails on a blackboard for my ears--even reducing the utterances to just the odious Henrietta would have been an improvement.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting is secondary (late 1700s England at a time when hair was powdered and women wore stomachers & wide hoops). A few mild swear words I think, and multiple sex scenes. The deaf character saves the day!

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Saturday, March 3, 2018

Prudence

Prudence (The Custard Protocol, #1)Prudence by Gail Carriger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alexia and Conall Maccon's daughter Prudence is (mostly) grown up now. So what better way to demonstrate her independence than to be tasked by her adoptive father to travel by dirigible to India to set up a new tea business that circumvents the East India Company? The need for secrecy regarding the tea causes no little confusion when the trip takes a decidedly more political...and supernatural...turn. Suddenly Rue and her friends are in the middle of a pitched battle, trying to prevent a war.

Although I enjoyed this first book in the Custard Protocol series, it didn't quite grab me the way the Parasol Protectorate did. I connected more with Alexia than I did with Rue, perhaps in part due to Rue's tendency toward heedlessness. The other characters never fully gelled for me either. Still, I liked the book well enough to read the next one in the series and thought the story picked up at the end. (The plot prior to that was pretty thin.)

Other reviewers have mentioned issues with cultural insensitivity, and I have to agree with them, for the most part. I do think that authors get a great deal of creative license when it comes to creating alternate universes, such as a Victorian England & India with vampires, werewolves, Rakshasas, weremonkeys, and even a werecat. However, I wish Ms. Carriger had written larger roles for Indian characters and not included the part where a dirty, nearly-naked Rue was mistaken for a goddess, for example.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

What Alice Forgot

What alice forgotWhat alice forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I checked this book out because I'd read the cover in the course of designing a Readers' Advisory training, and the concept caught my attention: imagine waking up on the floor of your gym having forgotten the last 10 years of your life, including giving birth to your three children and separating from your--the last you remember--beloved husband. But this story turned out to be so much more absorbing than I even expected!

I would almost categorize it as a mystery, since Alice has to piece together tiny fragments of memory and search for clues in an attempt to reconstruct her missing decade. She's appalled by the sharp, unpleasant woman she seems to have become and devastated by the disintegration of her relationships with her friends and family. They, in turn, don't know what to make of the "new Alice" and are uncertain how to react. Which is the real Alice, and what will happen as her memory returns?

So often I wished I could jump into the book and tell Alice to go online and sign up for Alison Armstrong's workshops at http://understandmen.com/ because the disintegration of her marriage was a perfect case study of what happens when men & women don't understand each other. (I also wanted to tell Nick to go to the same website and sign up for the Understanding Women workshop.)

This would be a great book group choice, and there are some excellent discussion questions at the end of this book. What would your 10-years-ago-self think of your current self? What happened in your life, what choices did you and others make over that timespan, that led to the person you are today?

Now that I know what an outstanding writer Ms. Moriarty is, I'll be putting myself on the hold lists for her other books.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. There is some kissing and mention of sex. I've forgotten whether there is much swearing, although there probably is some (my checkout expired yesterday, so I can't double-check). No violence.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Someone to Wed

Someone to Wed (Westcott #3)Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alexander Westcott unexpectedly inherited an earldom and a struggling estate last year but not the fortune to go with it, making him an excellent candidate for Wren Hayden's husband search. She plans to snare a husband with her fortune in order to overcome the impediment of a marred face and hermit lifestyle. Wren fails to take into account his social responsibilities and large close-knit family, however, and quickly changes her mind. Sparks of interest, though, are not so easily extinguished....

I really liked that the heroine was slightly older (about 30) and had a big purple birthmark on her face instead of being 20 and conventionally beautiful. (OK, so other than the birthmark she was beautiful, but still.) Wren probably should have struggled a bit more in overcoming 20 years of hiding her face behind a veil after 10 years of being locked in her room--had a few more setbacks, perhaps--which really makes my rating more like 3.5 stars, but I so enjoy the Westcott family, I'm rounding up.

I also liked that despite her fear of showing her face to the world and not being taught to read until she was 10, Wren was a savvy, successful businesswoman. Additionally, her blunt, brave honesty saved herself and others from so much anxiety and heartache. I hate when characters avoid saying things because the truth is hard or they fear the answer and think silence or a polite lie will be easier, and then they end up causing MORE pain due to uncertainty, confusion, misconceptions, etc. I hate when this happens in real life, too.

I liked that the romance grew a bit more slowly, although the final scene's dialogue sort of tries to make you think otherwise to a degree. (I didn't buy it, and it was better the other way anyhow.) Alexander and Wren grew to respect each other, which I appreciated.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways are primary (Regency England during the Napoleonic wars). There are a couple of sex scenes but not terribly explicit. Occasionally a mild swear word. No violence.

I received a free ARC from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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