Thursday, July 28, 2011

Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven (Smythe-Smith Quartet, #1)Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love Julia Quinn because her books make me laugh out loud. This one is no exception. Honoria and her friends and cousins crack me up! I stayed up until 2 a.m. to finish reading this book, despite being totally exhausted after working all week. This is why I purchase Quinn's books instead of just checking them out from the library.

Fans of Julia Quinn will recognize the Smythe-Smith family from the horrendous annual musicales mentioned in most, if not all, of Quinn's novels. Honoria Smythe-Smith is one of that family's infamously untalented musicians (she tortures ears with the violin), but the difference is, she KNOWS she's awful. However, it is the duty of the unmarried Smythe-Smith women to play in the quartet. Honoria is therefore desperate to get married. (Well, and because she wants a large, noisy family to compensate for her currently too-silent home.)

Marcus Holyrood has promised Honoria's brother he'd watch out for her and make sure she doesn't marry anyone unsuitable. Last Season he scared off a couple of fortune hunters, an elderly hopeful, and a man with a cruel streak, all without Honoria knowing what he'd done. This year, however, the social recluse finds himself in a more hands-on role.

For readers' advisors: it's a tough call on doorways. Character and story are strong, but Quinn's humor also makes language a contender, and the 19th century England time period makes setting a factor as well. Anyone else who read this want to chime in and give your opinion?

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The Secret Mistress

The Secret Mistress (Dudley, #3)The Secret Mistress by Mary Balogh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mary Balogh manages to take a young, wide-eyed ingenue and make her interesting, sympathetic, and endearing. Angeline's excitement and restless energy born of her enthusiasm for her first London Season are adorable. She finds everything thing fresh, new, and wonderful, and that makes those around her see the world through new eyes, too.

Likewise, Balogh takes a proper, stiff-necked young man and turns him into a startled romantic. His good manners win Angeline's heart, but her impulsive behavior has him bewitched, bewildered, and befuddled. She forces him to reexamine his perspective of the world and himself. It is an utterly delightful take on a tale older than time.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways primarily, but also setting, as it's set in 19th century England

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Smokin' Seventeen

Smokin' SeventeenSmokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. I'd give it 2 1/2 stars, maybe. The whole Stephanie/Morelli/Ranger triangle is getting really stale. I think Evanovich wrote herself into a corner when she based so much of the humor and sexual tension of her earlier books on those relationships. Who can Stephanie choose, and who gets the shaft? And would either choice be believable, or would it kill the series? I understand Evanovich's dilemma, but if she continues to do nothing, she's going to alienate readers by the droves.

There were a few chuckles in this book, but no belly laughs. The bail bonds office hasn't yet been rebuilt since it burnt to the ground, so Vinnie, Connie, Lula, & Stephanie are sharing "office space" in Mooner's bus. Then a backhoe uncovers a body where the dumpsters used to be, and the search is on to figure out who did it and why. (I actually guessed really early on who the killer was.) More bodies turn up. Business slows down. Vinnie comes up with some...creative advertising.

Meanwhile, Stephanie's mom decides Stephanie will never get married at the rate she's going, so she fixes Stephanie up with Dave Brewer, recently returned to the Burg to live with his folks after his divorce and a scandal over foreclosure fraud. Now Stephanie has three men, not just two, vying for her attention.

For readers' advisors: story doorway. The character development is virtually nonexistent in this one.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

First Grave on the Right

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1)First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OK, where is the next one?! And why did I wait to read this one? I put it on hold a while ago and then kept suspending my hold because I couldn't remember why I'd put it on hold or where I'd heard about it. (Apparently I'd read an excerpt on Eventually I forgot to re-suspend the hold, and the book showed up at my library, so I checked it out with some others and read those first. But by yesterday I needed something to read at lunch and grabbed First Grave on the Right, which grabbed me right back. Could not put it down. Even took it with me when we went to run errands this afternoon.

It's got a sort of Stephanie-Plum-sees-dead-people feel to it. Similar zany, fast-paced style and sense of humor but with more ghosts and steamy supernatural sex scenes. See, Charley Davidson is the grim reaper, but in a nice way--she helps the departed pass through her into the light. Only sometimes they need her to do things for them before they go, like solve their murders, for example. So she helps her Uncle Bob, an Albuquerque police detective, with his case files.

Meanwhile, she's also dealing with an irritating but super-good-looking skiptracer named Garrett Swopes who has the hots for her but who is also having a hard time believing she can see dead people. And then there is Big Bad, the mysterious blurry black shadow who's saved her life several times over the years and keeps appearing at the edges of her vision. Not to mention the fantasy lover who has been visiting her dreams every night for the last month or so and is now starting to appear other places, such as her shower, living room, office, and who may turn out be less a fantasy and more...out of this world.

I'm glad this is the first in a series because I can't wait to find out what happens next.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways

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Marrying Daisy Bellamy

Marrying Daisy Bellamy (The Lakeshore Chronicles #8)Marrying Daisy Bellamy by Susan Wiggs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this novel. I wasn't all that particularly interested in the characters at first. They seemed...well, like kids in their early twenties. But then at a certain point, the story started to get interesting and more complicated, and eventually I was really hooked. I did guess a couple of the plot twists in advance, but Wiggs handled them with more depth and maturity than is usual for the romance genre.

Daisy Bellamy has been in love with Julian Gastineaux since they were teenagers; however, a drunken weekend party her senior year in high school resulted in an unplanned pregnancy with Logan O'Donnell as the father of her son Charlie. Logan turned out to be a good, responsible father, and he wants them to be a family. But Julian is the one who lights Daisy up, and when he proposes, she says yes. Unfortunately, Julian's secret mission for the air force wreaks havoc on all their lives.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live

The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really LiveThe Not So Big House: A Blueprint for the Way We Really Live by Sarah Susanka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Until a friend loaned me this book, I'd never heard of Sarah Susanka or her Not So Big House movement. Now, it seems like I'm hearing and reading her name mentioned everywhere, and for good reason. She advocates home design that is functional and beautiful and human-sized, based on how we really live and what we really need our homes to provide for us. The opposite of the McMansion, in other words. And wow, do I ever wish I could live in a home she designed for me! The photos in this book make me long to dive right in, they are so welcoming and cozy.

The intended audience for this particular book is really those who are planning to build or substantially remodel homes, which I am not. But the great thing is that there are so many photos and such clear descriptions of the goals of the design and the ideals behind the floor plans and detail work, that I think I will be able to incorporate some of the philosophies into my already-built home. And I will definitely be checking out more of her books to see what else she has to say!

I also love that Susanka emphasizes good design going hand in hand with environmentally friendly design--as in the two are inextricably linked. Part of the philosophy of the Not So Big House is to put less of a burden on our planet, both in building and in ongoing expenses (i.e. energy efficiencies). I really appreciate that she sees eco-friendly choices not as luxuries but as necessities. And I am grateful that someone out there is fighting back against the scourge of soul-less "house farms" that have exploded on the scene in recent decades. People would be much happier and less stressed if their houses really did rise up to welcome them home every day instead of causing them unconscious psychological pain. So thanks, Sarah Susanka!!

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Friday, July 1, 2011


QuicksilverQuicksilver by Amanda Quick

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amanda Quick/Jayne Ann Krentz writes quite formulaic stories, but the upside is that they are entertaining, quick reads. This latest one is set in London in the late 1800s. Virginia Dean and Owen Sweetwater team up to figure out who is murdering glasslight readers before the killer succeeds in killing Virginia. The paranormal artifacts from In Too Deep reappear in this installment of the Arcane Society series, but this time they are brand new.

The romance in this novel felt forced, but the suspense kept me turning pages.

For readers' advisors: story doorway

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Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home

Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First HomeNolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home by Ilona Bray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so glad I checked this book out this spring! I started reading it thinking my husband and I were going to buy my grandfather's house, figuring I'd just skip over all the parts that didn't apply to us. Luckily, I stink at skimming, so I ended up reading nearly everything. I learned SO much about this whole home-buying process, from vocabulary (what "points" are, for example) to what to expect and what to watch out for at each stage in the process. Buying a house turned out to be a whirlwind experience once we decided to buy an entirely different house, and having read the Nolo book was a sanity-saver for me. It's so well organized and well written--very clear and easy to follow. I referred back to multiple sections many times, especially the chart on paying points to lower your interest rate (pg. 134) and how long it takes to recoup the costs. That page helped us know we shouldn't waste our money because the current cost of points is too high. Thank you, Nolo Press!

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