Saturday, December 15, 2012

Call Me Irresistible

Call Me Irresistible (Wynette, Texas #6)Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Meg Koranda arrives in the small town of Wynette, Texas, just in time to fulfill her role as Maid of Honor in her best friend's wedding. Lucy is marrying Ted Beaudine, the town darling and the Most Perfect Man on Earth. Everyone loves him. Everyone. Even sunbeams seem to follow him around! Meg is the only person who finds him irritating, and who likewise irritates him. What Meg quickly realizes is that the match isn't as ideal as it should be, and Lucy is intimidated by her fiance's perfection. When she voices her reservations, she starts a chain of events no one sees coming, and suddenly she finds herself the most hated person in town. Unfortunately for Meg, she lacks the money to leave, so for once in her unfocused life she is forced to find reserves of resourcefulness and determination she didn't know she had in order to survive and overcome the obstacles and complications now blocking her path.

I put this book on hold based on an interesting blurb I found on a list of this year's Top 10 Romance Novels. (Put out by the publisher? I don't remember which list it was.) I was expecting it to be a good story, based on its presence on that list, but I was not prepared to be so drawn in by the story and the complexity of the character development. Then I discovered it was book #6 in a series with at least 7 volumes so far--happy day! I've gone on to read #7 (even better than #6!), and I plan to go back and read the earlier novels as well. What a delight to find a new-to-me author who writes with such depth, humor, and compassion for the follies and foibles of her characters.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways. Some sex scenes and swearing.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Great Escape

The Great Escape (Wynette, Texas, #7)The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To call The Great Escape a romance is technically accurate but so inadequate. It's really a character-driven novel of three couples struggling with identity and history, trying to figure out what they want and who they want to be.

The book opens as Lucy panics and flees her own wedding to The Ideal Man, Ted Beaudine. His perfection has tipped her over the edge into the rebellion she never experienced as a teenager, and she escapes Texas with Panda, a biker who isn't quite what he seems. Panda tries to shock Lucy into returning to Ted--or at least to her family--and he is surprised and dismayed when his efforts fail. He decided long ago he was unworthy of and too dangerous for family life, and Lucy's presence is an unwelcome reminder of what he cannot have. Unfortunately for him, Lucy can't yet bear the thought of returning to her old life as the prim and proper lobbyist daughter of the former president of the United States, instead seeking solace in her new identity as Viper until she can figure out who and what to become now.

Couple number two features depressed and penniless Bree West, whose cheating husband dumped her for a nineteen-year-old office temp, and gregarious real estate salesman Mike Moody, whom Bree has detested since childhood and blames for destroying her chance at happiness with her first love, David. Bree returned to Charity Island after inheriting the guardianship of David's twelve-year-old son, Toby, who happens to idolize Big Mike, and she's grappling with her new realities of poverty and parenthood.

Couple number three consists of famous TV fitness guru Temple Renshaw and the love of her life, Max, whom she deems unsuitable. Temple is known for her harsh onscreen methods of coercing contestants into losing weight on her reality show "Fat Island," and she is no less critical when it comes to herself and shedding the pounds she gained in her despair over giving up Max. She hires Panda to keep her hidden from the paparazzi and prevent her from getting her hands on contraband like chocolate or muffins. But no matter how thin she gets, it's never enough.

Healing occurs slowly as their lives intersect on a small island in Lake Michigan.

I absolutely love this novel. It's the seventh in a series, following Call Me Irresistible, which I picked up because it was on a Top 10 list. Ms. Phillips is now one of my favorite authors. Her characters are real and flawed. They are people you might actually meet or already know. They struggle with PTSD, abuse, societal and familial pressures, sexual identity, body image, and low self-esteem. They crave a sense of purpose and seek to make a positive difference in the world. I'm glad to have met them.

For readers' advisors: character doorway. There are a few sex scenes and some swearing.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet

Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet (Charley Davidson, #4)Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet by Darynda Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Private investigator Charley Davidson hasn't left her apartment building in the two months since she was tortured by the man Reyes Farrow, her supernatural boyfriend, had been jailed a decade ago for murdering. Turns out he wasn't all that dead, so Reyes has been released from prison, while Charley is stuck in a self-imposed one. But a girl's gotta pay her bills eventually, and Charley owes a lot of money to the home shopping channels on television, so she takes the case of a young woman convinced someone has been tormenting her since childhood and is now trying to kill her. Her investigations keep being interrupted, however, by demon attacks, bank robberies, and family interventions. Charley needs to figure out--and fast--what other abilities come with her birthright as the grim reaper, or soon the bad guys might not be the only ones dying.

As always, Darynda Jones' books are a fast-paced, hilarious romp from beginning to end. This one has a bit less sexual content, though, since Charley and Reyes are furious with each other through much of the novel. My only complaint is that I now have to wait for months until the fifth book is released and I can find out what happens next!

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character is secondary. There is plenty of swearing and sexual references, so don't suggest this series for people who want "clean reads." Fans of Janet Evanovich's zany Stephanie Plum series will usually love it, though.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Rainshadow Road

Rainshadow Road (Friday Harbor, #2)Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Lucy Marinn's boyfriend of two years dumps her for her younger sister, she is devastated. She immerses herself in her glasswork and swears off men, even when one comes to her rescue after a drunk spills his beer on her in a crowded bar. Sam Nolan may be handsome and kind, but he's also pathologically afraid of commitment, having grown up with the town drunks as parents. However, when Lucy is hit by a car and ends up in the hospital, Sam again comes to her rescue and agrees to care for her at his house. Magic is in the air, though--literally--and broken hearts begin to heal.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways. The book is set in Friday Harbor, Washington. There are a few sex scenes.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Woman Who Died a Lot

The Woman Who Died A Lot (Thursday Next, #7)The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just sit back and enjoy the wacky ride. Thursday Next is back, a bit more battered than before but still just as determined to save the world from the Goliath Corporation. This time around she's also battling to save the library budget from elimination, find a missing criminal who can manipulate memories, prevent an imminent scheduled smiting of the Swindon business district by the Global Standard Deity, discover the purpose of the illegal body doubles, find out what Jack Schitt is plotting and stop him, keep a genius daughter with bad taste in boyfriends on track to get her Anti-Smite Shield invention working, and figure out why her son is going to murder someone on Friday at 14:02. Among other things. It's a whirlwind of complicated and crazy subplots.

Favorite moments: the reference to Nancy Pearl on page 100!  Thursday's desk has a dedicated red phone with a single button labeled "NP."  It's the emergency hotline to Nancy at the World League of Librarians, and if you summon her, she'll be on the first gravitube from Seattle.  HA!  Also, page 108 and the "Shush Law" that OK'ed violence by librarians against thieves and vandals.

What I love most about Fforde's novels is that they are so very chaotic and zany. They are nonstop action and nonsense that somehow come together in the end to make perfect sense in their own unique way. This series is pure fun , and I love escaping into Fforde's crazy reality.

For reader's advisors: setting and story doorways. Some mild swearing.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ugly Duchess

The Ugly Duchess (Fairy Tales, #4)The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Duke of Ashbrook informs his son, James, that James must woo and marry the duke's ward, Theo, or they will lose everything. The duke has already embezzled a sizable amount of Theo's dowry, and if her mother finds out, she will have him arrested. James is livid but is forced to agree to the plan, on the condition that upon their wedding day, his father signs the entire estate over to him to prevent any more financial disasters. James and Theo have been raised as siblings and are best friends, so when he begins to court her, both are shocked to discover their feelings are deeper than either knew. Two days after the wedding, however, Theo learns the truth and banishes both James and the duke from the house. She never hears from her husband again until the day of the formal ceremony in the House of Lords to declare him dead.

I was going to give this one five stars...until the last third of the book after James returns and is a total jerk. 1 star for that section. He's known all along that he betrayed his best friend and will have to work really hard to rebuild her trust in him and convince her he actually does love her, not her dowry, yet when he finally bothers to come home, all he does is humiliate her and run roughshod over her life, stripping away her freedom and autonomy. I HATED him for that. For not listening to her. For not ever really apologizing or demonstrating that he understood the vastness of her pain. James swaggered in and treated Theo like a possession, not a person, and never ever truly LOOKED at her to see the person she had become or what she had accomplished during those long years alone. Even while he was working to overcome her revulsion at all things sexual, all he did was lie to her and trick her. (And really, under the circumstances, she re-learned to enjoy sex WAY too quickly.)

This book made me so very very angry. I have enjoyed Ms. James' books in the past, but this one.... James (the author as well as the character!) needs to attend some of Alison Armstrong's workshops, especially the one called "Understanding Women"! Particularly the part about The Rage Monster and the proper (and only effective) method of apologizing to a woman.

Oh, and it's loosely a re-telling of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale.

For readers' advisors: story, character, setting doorways. Steamy sex scenes.

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The Duke Is Mine

The Duke Is Mine (Fairy Tales, #3)The Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Olivia Lytton has been raised since birth to be a duchess. Her father and the Duke of Canterwick were schoolmates who pledged to betroth their first-born daughter and son, respectively, so Olivia has always known who she'd marry. However, her fiance is a few bricks shy of a load and five years younger than she to boot, so she takes refuge in bawdy wit, to the despair of her mother and twin sister.

After an embarrassing encounter forced on the pair by their parents, Rupert heads off to war, determined to bring glory upon his family name before he marries Olivia. For her part, Olivia becomes Rupert's champion as she learns to appreciate his sweetness and realizes he had been deprived of oxygen at birth. With Olivia's future settled, she and her twin sister Georgiana head to the country where Georgie is auditioning for the role of duchess to Quin, the Duke of Sconce. (In other words, they attend a house-party hosted by his mother).

Unlike the frequently irreverent Olivia, Georgiana would make an ideal duchess, and the dowager agrees. Problem is, Quin cannot keep his eyes or his attention away from Olivia, and the feeling is mutual. What a tangled web!

I loved Olivia's sense of humor. Were I in her shoes, pledged to marry a man who could never be my intellectual equal and who would require a lifetime of care, I likely would become clinically depressed, but Olivia chooses to make herself laugh instead, and I admire that.

I also loved that you get to know and understand the characters better over time, which makes them more human and sympathetic. For example, Georgie may be perfectly behaved, but she longs to go to university, in an age where women simply weren't allowed access to higher education. Even the obedient child has a bit of rebel in her.

The overall story is a re-imagining of the Princess and the Pea fairy tale, and I enjoyed how Ms. James played with those themes. Apparently, though, the ending was also a tribute to The Scarlet Pimpernel...although it's been too long since I read it to catch those allusions.

Based on other reviews I've read, this is a book you either love or hate, and I loved it. Zany fun, and great for a day cooped up indoors with a nasty cold.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways are primary, setting secondary. Some steamy sex scenes set in Regency England.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dark Destiny

Dark Destiny (Dark Mirror, #3)Dark Destiny by Mary Jo Putney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final book in the Dark Mirror trilogy opens where book two left off: Tory's 17th birthday party. Allarde and Mrs. Rainford get a vision of Napoleon invading England, so the Lackland students return to 1804 to stop this from coming to pass. They successfully thwart one major incursion, but soon Britain's magical defenses are stretched to the breaking point, and the Irregulars realize they will need help from their twentieth century friends if they are to prevent the French from landing on British soil.

There are romantic subplots, as everyone but Elspeth has a romantic interest that grows and develops over the course of the trilogy. Putney hints that Elspeth's love will appear later--perhaps another book? However, the various romances are not the focus of the story, which means a refreshing lack of angst. All the couples will face uphill battles in their relationships: Cynthia and Jack are from different classes, Nick and Rebecca are from different faiths, and Tory and Allarde face disinheritance. Should Putney choose to continue the series, I would be very interested in reading how they all overcome their various obstacles.

The second book is still my favorite of the three, but this one is very enjoyable as well, albeit less exciting. (Things move along slightly too easily somehow.)

For readers' advisors: character, story, and setting doorways. No sex, just a fair amount of kissing and heavy petting. I don't recall any swearing.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

A Kiss at Midnight

A Kiss at MidnightA Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Kate Daltry's father died only months after marrying his mistress, Kate was left alone with a tyrannical stepmother and Victoria, her sweet but dimwitted half-sister. The new Mrs. Daltry blackmailed Kate into staying on for years as an unpaid servant by threatening to dismiss any or all of the estate's servants and tenants. When one of Victoria's tiny Maltese dogs bites her in the lip and causes her face to swell, Mariana threatens to evict the vicar's widow and children in order to force Kate to pose as her sister and convince a prince to let Victoria marry his nephew. But Kate is nothing like Victoria, and the prince, who is betrothed to a Russian princess he's never met, is captivated by her lack of reverence for his title and his person. However much he desires Kate, though, he must marry an heiress in order to support his large household full of his elder brother's cast-off retainers.

This witty retelling of the Cinderella story, set vaguely in Regency England, is great fun, full of quirky, flawed characters I enjoyed getting to know. Might have to add this one to my Christmas wish list!

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, with setting & language (great dialogue) secondary. Some racy sex scenes.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Far West

The Far WestThe Far West by Patricia C. Wrede
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the third book of the Frontier Magic series, Eff joins an exploratory expedition headed west to map uncharted wilderness and discover what is pushing the dangerous medusa lizards ever closer to the settlement lands. No one has ever gone quite so far and lived to tell about it--certainly not the ill-fated Lewis & Clark explorers many years ago. What they find threatens to destroy everyone and everything they know and love if they can't come up with a plan to prevent a massive magical cataclysm.

I love Patricia Wrede's books! Only 2 things keep me from giving this one a 5-star rating: 1) It's obvious from the start that Eff will go on the journey but it takes her a ridiculously long time to see that. 2) Marriage proposals without so much as holding hands or kissing or anything first?! Wrede does a great job with characterization and is a master of using a tiny phrase, gesture, or pause to speak volumes, and I'm not saying there should be some big romantic subplot, but it's just not believable even in the cultural environment of this story that anyone would leap from friendship to proposing marriage without so much as a kiss!

For readers' advisors: character, story, and setting doorways. Squeaky clean read. Written for teens but great for adults, too.

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When Beauty Tamed the Beast

When Beauty Tamed the Beast (Fairy Tales, #2)When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the nobility decide that Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, has impregnated Miss Linnet Berry Thrynne (he hasn't), she is an instant outcast from Society. None of her protestations of purity persuade anyone otherwise, particularly once she appears at a ball wearing an unfortunately designed gown and is seen being rejected by the Prince. What's a father to do but find a duke with an impotent son who would love an heir with royal blood, and marry the two off before anyone finds out she's not actually pregnant? Which is how Linnet comes to find herself accompanying a Duke in a carriage traveling to Wales to meet her betrothed, Piers Yelverton, Earl of Marchbank, known for his brilliance as a diagnosing physician and his horrendous temper. But Piers hates his father and has no intention of marrying, no matter how perfect the bride.

Ms. James freely admits she based Piers on the character of Dr. Gregory House from the tv show "House." Thankfully Piers has a bit more human kindness buried in his soul and doesn't resort to the mean tricks House uses on his friends and coworkers.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, with setting secondary. Some steamy sex scenes.

Oh, and I'd rate it 4 stars for the story, but negative 5 for the gag-inducing cover. What idiot designs these things anyway? I would not have read it if I'd seen the cover before I put the book on hold at my library. Sheesh! Whatever happened to "know your audience"?

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot

Violet Mackerel's Brilliant PlotViolet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot by Anna Branford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Violet is a sweet little girl who wants a blue china bird and needs to think of a BRILLIANT plot to earn enough money to buy it. It takes her a few tries and a generous gift before she succeeds.

It's a very short chapter book. Easily read in a few bedtimes. Large font and frequent illustrations. I'm not sure how old Violet is supposed to be. 5 or 6? Perhaps a little older, since she writes her ideas down in notebooks. The level of the language makes me think it's aimed at older elementary students, however.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Lady Most Likely...: a novel in three parts

The Lady Most Likely...: A Novel in Three PartsThe Lady Most Likely...: A Novel in Three Parts by Julia Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lady Carolyn Finchley believes a house party will be the perfect way to find her horse-obsessed brother Hugh, the Earl of Briarly, a bride. Trouble is, other gentlemen keep falling in love with the women on her list of potential countesses. Hugh may just have to take matters into his own hands and convince the woman he secretly loves to take a chance on him despite her poor opinion of matrimony.

Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway do a splendid job of weaving together three novellas into one virtually seamless story. Each author focuses on a different romantic pair meeting and falling in love at the same house party, with transitions between told from the viewpoint of their hostess. I picked the book up because Quinn is one of my favorite authors, and I was delighted to discover that James and Brockway are similarly witty.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, with setting secondary (Regency England). A bit of swearing and some increasingly steamy sex scenes.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life (Dork Diaries, #1)Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renée Russell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. Not my thing. Silly middle school girl with a scholarship to attend a new private school tries to turn herself into a "cool" kid to make friends but ends up making friends with fellow library-book-shelving volunteers instead. It was refreshing that the cute boy she had a crush on was nice to her and didn't much like the stereotypical spoiled rich girl who was her arch-nemesis. I appreciated that the many manga-style cartoon drawings helped speed the story along so it was a pretty quick read. I'm sure tween girls love this series, but there was too much middle school angst for my taste, although Nikki's dramatics were obviously tongue-in-cheek, meant to highlight the ridiculousness of her "woes."

For readers' advisors: character doorway primary, story secondary.

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Day No Pigs Would Die

A Day No Pigs Would DieA Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Peck's semi-autobiographical novel of growing up in the Shaker Way in rural Vermont in 1940 is full of life lessons--some funny, some painful and violent, and some heart-wrenching.

Twelve-year-old Robert idolizes his father. Haven Peck may not know how to read or write, but he is wise in the ways of the natural world, a good neighbor, and a good man. He is steadfast in his determination to raise his son up to be a good man, too, and to that end teaches him how to take care of the animals, the farm, his mama, and his Aunt Carrie. On a farm, birth and death are everyday occurrences for which there is no escape. But in between the birthing and the dying is a whole lot of laughter, adventure, and love.

In my library, this book is shelved in the adult fiction section, but it really is a young adult novel for older teens. I picked it up because it was on a list of banned & challenged books, and now I'm wondering if it had been challenged in my district at some point in the past and moved from YA to adult fiction as a result?

For readers' advisors: language and setting doorways are primary, character secondary (there is not much in the way of plot--it's more vignettes). The descriptions of farm life are vivid and often brutal, particularly the rape of Robert's pig, the "weaseling" of the puppy, and the animal slaughtering. There are some swear words and some allusions to hanky panky happening down the road. The language is so evocative of a particular time & place it almost begs to be read aloud...which might be a good idea if you wish to read together and discuss as a family.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pirate Santa

Pirate SantaPirate Santa by Clay Clement / Mark Summers
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Well...the illustrations are nice.... The story, though, is puzzling at best. Santa doesn't, of course, deliver toys to misbehaving children, such as Ninja Boy and Pirate Girl (whose crime is being on a pirate ship??), so his cousin Pirate Cap'n Slappy gets really angry and decides to pick up shipwrecked toys from a mermaid and deliver them with the aid of magical dust stolen from Santa and sprinkled on talking sharks who want to be part of the crew. Which turns out to be Santa's plan all along.


I just don't even know what to say about this strange story. It tries to have a moral to the story (i.e. all children deserve toys), but the message is so mixed and bizarre that I got to the end thinking, "What the heck?" Doesn't help matters that the text is intended to be read aloud in a rhythmic sing-song, but the meter isn't consistent, so the flow trips and stutters all over the place. A good editor should have caught those errors and insisted on revisions.

I am thankful to NetGalley and the author/publisher for allowing me to view the eGalley copy.

Oh, and one interesting thing is that the authors are apparently the originators of Talk Like a Pirate Day, which I think is awesome!

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Friday, September 28, 2012

The Great Gilly Hopkins

The Great Gilly HopkinsThe Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever made a decision that had consequences you never could have imagined?

Eleven-year-old Gilly is an angry child. She has bounced from foster home to foster home since she was three. Unloved, she does everything possible to make herself unloveable, proud of her power and status as the county’s most unmanageable brat. This latest placement is the worst yet. Forced to live with the gigantic Maime Trotter and the bizarrely timid little William Ernest in the filthiest house she’s ever seen, she hatches a plan to get her mother to come rescue her. You know what they say about plans, though: they oft go awry, and this one sends shockwaves through the lives of the family she never thought she’d have.

The theme of this book is timeless, although some of the details are now a bit dated, such as Gilly's shock at having a black neighbor and a black teacher. No, the book isn't racist, despite Gilly's early prejudices, and modern children will probably be confused by her reactions, since the world is quite different today than it was thirty-plus years ago.

Katherine Paterson doesn't pull any punches or sugar-coat her stories. They are real--bad things happen, and actions have logical repercussions. I love that about her books!

For readers' advisors: character doorway. Some swearing, as you might expect from a wounded, out-of-control preteen.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Inn at Rose Harbor

The Inn at Rose HarborThe Inn at Rose Harbor by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It took me several tries to get into this book. Not because it wasn't interesting, but because it hit a little too close to home and revived memories of deep, dark fears.

The book opens with the story of Jo Marie, a recent widow who lost her husband after only a few months of marriage. She was in her late thirties when she met her soulmate, Paul, and they fell in love immediately. Despite his deployment to Germany two months later, they managed to sustain their relationship, and he proposed when he flew home at Christmastime on leave. They married in January, and right afterward his unit was sent to Afghanistan, where he died in a helicopter crash in April.

This is pretty much my nightmare scenario. This is what had me jumping every time the phone rang for the first year of my relationship with my (now) husband while he was deployed to Kabul. I was petrified I would lose the love of my life after having finally found him. I imagine this is the nightmare scenario experienced by all military spouses, girlfriends, and boyfriends: having your future together ripped away in one moment of violence. Then again, given recent headlines in the local newspapers, perhaps this is a fear we all share, military or not.

At any rate, by the time I finally managed to get past the first chapter and into the rest of the book, my egalley copy from NetGalley expired. ARGH! So I had to put the physical book on hold at my library and wait until it was my turn.

The Inn at Rose Harbor is actually the story of three people whose lives intersect one weekend: Jo Marie, newly minted innkeeper of the B&B she bought with the life insurance money, and her first two guests, Joshua Weaver and Abby Kincaid. Josh has returned to Cedar Cove to deal with his dying stepfather who hates him, and Abby must face the guilt she has carried for the fifteen years since her best friend died in a car accident. All three need and receive healing over the course of the long weekend.

For readers' advisors: It was hard to decide how to categorize this novel. It's not a straightforward romance, although there is some romance involved. It doesn't quite fit into "magical realism" either, although the angels/ghosts make it lean into the paranormal. I think it will appeal to people who enjoy Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove series, and fans will recognize some secondary characters. It's a contemporary "clean read," with no sex or bad language--a very sweet novel. Character doorway is primary, and setting (Cedar Cove on Puget Sound in Washington) is secondary.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

You Hear Me?: Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys

You Hear Me?: Poems and Writing by Teenage BoysYou Hear Me?: Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys by Betsy Franco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked this poetry collection up because it was on a list of banned or challenged books, and I was curious. These boys are amazing! They blew me away with their honesty, pain, hope, and humor. They made me laugh and moved me to tears. One of the boys died of a drug overdose before the book was even published--a heartbreaking loss of potential and talent.

Yes, some of the language is rough and raw. A few of the boys use words I do not like. But it's authentic, and choosing less-graphic alternatives would not give the same impact.

For readers' advisors: language doorway. This is a book for older, mature teens and adults.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Paris in Love: A Memoir

Paris in Love: A MemoirParis in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightful treat of a book! Author Eloisa James has turned a series of Facebook and Twitter posts from her year living cancer-free in Paris with her family into an engaging and funny memoir. She edited the posts into vignettes and short essays--snippets of life, love, and laughter abroad. It makes for perfect reading on lunches and breaks because it's easy to pick up and put back down without losing track of the "action." I now want to visit Paris if for no other reason than to visit all the chocolatiers!

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting and language are secondary.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

I Love the Earl

I Love the Earl (The Truth About the Duke #0.5)I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't remember exactly how I came to download this ebook. Perhaps it was mentioned on Facebook? But I didn't realize until I'd finished it that it was only a novella. Which is fine--I just wish I'd known. Ah, well.

I liked the concept: spinster sister and bachelor brother unexpectedly inherit a fortune and, in the case of the brother, a title. The new duke decides to give his sister a 40,000 L dowry, which attracts the fortune-hunters. Conflict arises between the siblings when he objects to her choice.

I wasn't sure I would like the book when Rhys, the impoverished earl, acted like an arrogant jerk at a garden party. His "you are destined to be mine" attitude rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it was meant to be romantic, but it felt like a power play.

However, that attitude disappeared, and the story improved. Plus I appreciated Margaret's maturity and independence.

For readers' advisors: story & character doorways, with setting doorway as well, since it was set in mid-18th century England.

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Friday, August 31, 2012

The Proposal

The ProposalThe Proposal by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not all wounds are visible.

Lord Hugh (Emes) Trentham has spent the past several years healing from the emotional trauma incurred during the Napoleonic Wars while leading the charge on a "Forlorn Hope"--what would today be called a suicide mission. His body came through unscathed, but as any veteran could tell you, his mind did not. As a reward for his heroism, he was given a title and transformed from the son of a wealthy merchant into a peer of the realm. Now that his year of mourning for his father is over, he is faced with the intimidating task of finding a wife who can guide his younger sister through the Marriage Mart. But Hugh is NOT good with the ladies. His scowling face scares most of them away before they ever have a chance to meet the person inside.

Enter Lady Gwen Muir, widowed for the past seven years and seemingly content with her peaceful life on her brother's estate. She goes for a long walk on the rocky shore to escape her obnoxious hostess and slips on a gravel slope, severely twisting her ankle only feet away from where Hugo sits hidden from view on a ledge. He reluctantly rescues her; she reluctantly lets him. Time and proximity work their magic over the next week, slowly splintering the preconceptions each holds dear. Nonetheless, the chasm between them is wide, and neither is sure they wish to cross it.

It's a refreshing novelty to read a historical romance novel where the hero and heroine are not only in their thirties but also actively dislike each other at first and come from widely differing backgrounds wherein the heroine has the higher social status. Their first impressions of each other are not favorable and do not improve for quite a while, although their budding physical attraction intensifies relatively early on. I really appreciated the gradual development of their relationship as each struggled with personal demons and societal prejudices. As in real life, nothing was simple.

Other reviewers have pointed out that Gwen's story was originally supposed to have been part of a trilogy that began with One Night for Love I now need to go re-read that one! And maybe A Summer to Remember as well.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting secondary. There are a couple of sex scenes.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jane and the Canterbury Tale

Jane and the Canterbury Tale (Jane Austen Mysteries, #11)Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, I am wimping out on writing this review. I can't think of anything clever to say right now. The book was really good. I did guess the murderer quite early on, but there were enough twists and turns and red herrings that I wasn't at all sure I was right until the very end.

Barron did another excellent job of making it sound as though the book were written by Jane Austen herself, which I appreciate. And I love that she did the research to set her novel in the actual location where the real Jane was at the time the story takes place.

For readers' advisors: story, setting, and language doorways; no sex or onscreen violence

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wicked Business

Wicked Business (Lizzy & Diesel, #2)Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just when Lizzy's life is calming down, Diesel returns. He needs her help in locating another SALIGIA stone--the Lust stone this time--before his less-scrupulous cousin Wulf or the mysterious Anarchy find it. In no time flat, Lizzy is off saving the world again, a madcap romp through dark tunnels with giant rats, posh houses Diesel breaks into so they can gather (i.e. steal) clues, and a natural history museum visit with Carl-the-Monkey. Explosions, fires, kidnappings, and threats abound, so it's no surprise when both friend and foe alike begin accumulating injuries. Good thing Lizzy bakes cupcakes! Baked goods make everything seem better. And they can be used to pacify a loony minion in medieval garb.

Ms. Evanovich had me laughing out loud a few times in this one, and I appreciated that she gave a bit more depth to her secondary characters, particularly Wulf. This offshoot series is as zany as her Stephanie Plum books, with a dose of the paranormal thrown in for extra fun. It's not going to win any literary prizes, but it's great entertainment.

For readers' advisors: story doorway (character secondary), no actual sex, just sexual innuendo, a little bad language, and a monkey who gives people the finger.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Melonhead and the Vegalicious Disaster

Melonhead and the Vegalicious DisasterMelonhead and the Vegalicious Disaster by Katy Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best-laid plans oft go awry, and so do the impromptu ones. No one knows this better than Adam Melon and his best friend Sam. When Adam's mom invites the new girl in school, Pip, over for dinner, disaster is waiting around the corner. Or in this case, inside the duct-work. Adam's mom has resolved to provide healthier meals this year, and thanks to a new Vegalicious cookbook promising recipes kids will love, she is on a creative roll. The kids are awed by the work that has gone into her masterpieces...and horrified at the prospect of eating the bizarre concoctions. Their efforts to spare her feelings have unforeseen consequences when combined with the heat and humidity of September in Washington, D.C., though, and Adam and Sam learn some valuable lessons about honesty (and mold).

I started off thinking this book was silly and cute; I never expected to be laughing out loud by the end. Adam's antics put a grin on my face primarily because he was so earnest and full of "boy logic." Katy Kelly must have (or have had) boys in her household. She does a great job capturing the thought processes of ten-year-old males--or at least it seems so to me, seeing as how I have never actually been a boy myself but do have one in my home every other weekend.

I also appreciated that this story was so positive: all characters meant well and respected each other. This held true across all generations, genders, ethnicities, religions, and physical abilities. I loved the subplot wherein Pip worked to get the teacher to treat her the same as she did all the other students instead of focusing on Pip's wheelchair and cutting her too much slack.

My one quibble was that I can't imagine any parents allowing two ten-year-old boys to visit the Washington Monument and the Air and Space Museum by themselves. Maybe if they were in their mid to late teens, but definitely not fifth graders. It's just a bad idea on so many levels!

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways. Girls will probably like reading this story, but it's targeted toward upper grade elementary school boys. Plus there are a few jokes in there aimed at adults, which makes it a good choice to read with your kids.

My thanks to the folks at NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read the pre-publication egalley!

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Saturday, August 11, 2012


PopPop by Gordon Korman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's tough to be the new kid in town. Marcus Jordan doesn't have anyone to practice football with, so when a middle-aged man appears in the park eager to play, Marcus doesn't ask too many questions. At first. The old guy is GOOD, after all, and he teaches Marcus how to tackle and be tackled without losing focus--a skill which comes in handy after he makes the varsity team over the strenuous objections of the star quarterback who sees him as a rival both on and off the field. Eventually, though, Marcus realizes that his new friend Charlie isn't just eccentric. Covering for Charlie's pranks has gotten Marcus in trouble with local law enforcement, and his increasingly erratic behavior strains the bonds of loyalty and sends Marcus on a quest for answers, to the dismay of Charlie's family, who are desperately trying to maintain a facade of normalcy.

Gordon Korman tackles (pardon the pun) the serious and timely subject of the long-term effects of concussions and sports-related injuries in this teen novel, and he does it brilliantly. What better way than a good story to communicate the idea of consequences and mortality to teenage boys who have always believed themselves to be immortal and invincible? I'm not what you'd call a sports fan (yes, that's the sound of my family laughing hysterically), but I loved this book. It's not preachy, doesn't try to scare kids out of playing, it just subtly raises awareness while weaving together humor and tragedy.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways. A couple of mild kissing scenes and virtually no bad language.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Walled Flower

The Walled Flower (A Victoria Square Mystery #2)The Walled Flower by Lorraine Bartlett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Katie Bonner and her late husband, Chad, had been scrimping and saving for years to buy the old Webster mansion and turn it into a bed-and-breakfast, but before his death, Chad took their savings and invested instead in Artisans Alley, a struggling craft market. It will take years for Katie to get out of debt now, and in the meantime someone else has purchased the aging home and begun renovations. When Katie takes a pizza over to welcome the new business owners to the neighborhood, she is rewarded with an opportunity to swing a sledgehammer and take down an unwanted interior wall. Taking her aggression and disappointment out on the drywall feels so good, she doesn't even notice at first when her efforts uncover the plastic-wrapped body of a young woman entombed between the studs. The girl turns out to be the niece of Katie's friend Rose. Heather has been missing for 22 years, and when Detective Davenport seems disinclined to work very hard on solving the crime, Rose begs Katie to help find the murderer. Meanwhile, there are vendor feuds to soothe, matron-of-honor duties to fulfill, and a new apartment to find, all before next week.

The Walled Flower is book two in the Victoria Square Mystery series set in the fictional town of McKinlay Mill, New York. Bartlett also writes cozy mysteries under the name Lorna Barrett. Either way, I enjoy her stories. They are good, quick escapist reads. I do wish her main characters had better love interests, though. If you're going to include new boyfriends, why have them be so...unromantic and un-supportive? There is such a thing as too incidental to a person's life--I have no faith that either relationship could possibly survive without serious improvement and communication. It feels like Bartlett/Barrett doesn't actually like men, or at least not her romantic leads, which is sad and frustrating, since I read for character as much as for story.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, and there is no swearing or onscreen sex or violence.

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Moonlight in the Morning

Moonlight in the Morning (Edilean, #6)Moonlight in the Morning by Jude Deveraux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hunky doctor, Tristan Aldredge, first met the artistic Jecca Layton at a party in Edilean when she was 19 and he was 27. They spoke for only a few minutes, but the memory stuck with Tristan for years. Jecca, however, didn't give him another thought. Seven years later, Jecca returns to Edilean to spend the summer painting and working with her best friend and former college roommate, Tristan's cousin Kim. The very first night she's there, Tristan literally trips over her...and thus begins their covert courtship maintained in absolute darkness a la Cupid and Psyche. Small towns are hard on secrets, though, and soon theirs is private no more. Despite warnings from friends and family that it will end badly, all is bliss until the summer winds down and Jecca's projects wind up. Even Tristan's formidable powers of persuasion may not be enough to convince Jecca to give up her career in New York to stay with him in Virginia.

I thought the story got off to a rocky start with the assertion that a fully grown man would be so captivated by a distracted teenager that he'd lap up every mention of her name for seven years. It's ridiculous.

Absurdities aside, the book picks up steam once Jecca arrives in Edilean, and I soon found myself absorbed in the story and wanting to know more about the backstories of the secondary characters, some of which seem to be featured in the next book, Stranger in the Moonlight.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, contemporary setting, a few steamy sex scenes, and a few swear words.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

File M for Murder

File M for Murder (Cat in the Stacks Mystery, #3)File M for Murder by Miranda James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Librarian Charlie Harris is delighted to learn his daughter has returned to Athena, Mississippi, to spend a semester teaching drama at the college, but when her unpleasant ex-boyfriend, playwright Connor Lawton, dies under suspicious circumstances, delight turns to worry. Laura discovers the body and the next day becomes the target in a series of increasingly dangerous attacks.

This is the third installment in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series--named for the large Maine Coon cat, Diesel, Charlie's boon companion. "Miranda" James is actually a pseudonym for Dean James...because men don't typically write cozy mysteries?? Not sure about the reasoning, as I know of men who DO write cozies, but perhaps it helps the marketing.

I just love that the protagonist/sleuth is a librarian and uses library resources to help solve the crime. Hooray for microfilm!

For readers' advisors: story doorway primarily, a couple of mild expletives here and there, a couple of "smirks," and a couple of instances of "sputtered with laughter." A light, fun read.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dark Passage

Dark Passage (Dark Mirror, #2)Dark Passage by Mary Jo Putney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After successfully using their magical talents to help thousands of British soldiers escape from Dunkirk in 1940, Tory and the rest of her friends return through Merlin's mirror to 1803, ready to resume their regular lives and vowing to never make that journey again. The best laid plans oft go awry, however, and when Nick comes through the mirror seeking their help to rescue a scientist imprisoned by the Germans in a French castle, it's not long before they are dodging searchlights and bullets.

I do not know why I am finding it so difficult to write this review--it's been "in process" for 4 days now. I loved the book! I especially loved how the first half contained so much character development, and the second half was so exciting I resented having to put the book down. Even though I wasn't wild about the first in this trilogy, this one more than makes up for it.  Why do I not know what to say about it? Grrr. OK, I'll post this as-is and then come back to it if/when inspiration strikes.

For readers' advisors: character & story doorways primarily, setting was secondary. It's a young adult novel, so Putney dialed down the steaminess to just a few make-out sessions.

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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Crystal Gardens

Crystal GardensCrystal Gardens by Amanda Quick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Miss Evangeline Ames awakens with the realization that an intruder is in her rental cottage, the only place to which she can flee is her landlord's dangerous Crystal Gardens. Inside the Gardens, the plants themselves glow with an eerie paranormal light, and her murderous prowler does not survive the encounter. The attempt on Evangeline's life gives Lucas Sebastian an excuse to indulge his attraction to his intriguing tenant, but he does not foresee how inviting her into his home will permanently overturn his bachelor existence. Evangeline not only isn't afraid of his dark talents, she is counting on them to keep her safe. Suddenly instead of two solitary men virtually camping out in a couple of the rooms, there are servants and family members filling a whole wing of the house, cleaning everything in sight.

This was a fun, quick read, full of the usual silliness about "heated eyes" and "raised [paranormal] senses" that substitutes for the solid foundation of a romantic relationship in Quick/Krentz/Castle's books. It follows her usual formula: strong, independent (...and yet somehow vapid) woman is irresistibly drawn to the dark, tormented, but honorable (and rich) gorgeous hunk of a man whose powerful attraction to her leads him to protect her from the Great Danger threatening her life, and through their teamwork they solve the puzzle, thwart the bad guy(s), and discover how her unique talents will heal the particular damage jeopardizing his psyche.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, setting (late 1800s England) is secondary. Several semi-explicit sex scenes. (Ooh! Alliteration!)

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blue Moon Bay

Blue Moon BayBlue Moon Bay by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Heather Hampton is a career-driven architect who has shut herself off from emotion and family, so a trip to Texas to convince her mother to go through with the plan to sell the family property is a journey she dreads. No one is happy to see her, everyone is keeping secrets from her, and not even a couple of wonderful dates with her high school crush can compensate for the frustration and turmoil she experiences while revisiting the scenes of the worst year of her life. But sometimes the only way through a nightmare is to confront the fear, lest the demons in your imagination keep you paralyzed, even if those demons are Moses Lake church ladies bearing casseroles. Buried secrets are about to explode into the open, changing Heather's perception of long-ago events and present-day realities.

The first two thirds or so of this book are character-driven, full of inner dialogue and angst. The pace picks up in the final third, racing along to the conclusion.

My overall rating for the novel is an average of the highs and lows of different aspects. I was absorbed enough to yell out loud at my car stereo numerous times, such as when Ms. Wingate used the word "smirk" four times in the second half of chapter 15 alone. Or when Heather didn't pay attention to Roger-the-dog's urgent attempts to get her to come outside, and then when she did not call 911 to get help for her brother when he crashed the truck and hit his head. Or when she lied to her mother and uncles about how the truck ended up in the fig tree. Much of the book had me hollering, "Just tell the f-ing TRUTH already," at every one of the characters except Ruth. So 4 stars for my level of involvement, 1 star for the lying and smirking, and 2 stars for the annoying angst, for an average rating of 3 stars.

This is the third Lisa Wingate novel I've read, and it contains more religion than the other two. Thankfully, it's still extremely low on the "preachiness scale," although it seems the author believes in predestination rather than free will.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, with setting secondary. No sex or on-screen violence.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bookmarked for Death

Bookmarked For Death (A Booktown Mystery, #2)Bookmarked For Death by Lorna Barrett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book 2 in the Booktown Mystery series opens with an author event in Tricia Miles' Haven't Got a Clue bookstore. Famous local author Zoe Carter had been signing copies of the fifth and final book in her Jess & Addie series, until Tricia finds her strangled in the restroom. Sheriff Wendy Adams is still nursing a grudge against Tricia and drags her feet on solving the case, but Tricia leaves no stone unturned in the quest to discover the killer and get her store reopened before her employees--temporarily on loan to her sister's shop next door--mutiny.

My favorite part in the book is when Tricia explains that mystery fans are not drawn to the genre because of some ghoulish love of murder but rather the allure of justice being served and puzzles solved, since the real world often lacks these qualities. It is a perfect description of why I love cozy mysteries. Thanks, Ms. Barrett, for putting my feelings into words!

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character secondary. No sex or on-screen violence, and I can't recall any swear words, although I might have overlooked one or two.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Kissing Shakespeare

Kissing ShakespeareKissing Shakespeare by Pamela Mingle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm really having a difficult time deciding how to rate this one. One and a half stars for the beginning of the book, three stars for the last half, for an average of two and a half stars overall? The premise was intriguing: a young William Shakespeare is being recruited to the (forbidden) Jesuit priesthood and away from his destiny as the great playwright, so a time-traveler enlists the aid of a modern teenager from a theatrical family to seduce Will and restore history. The author seems to have done a good job researching that era, both the history of Shakespeare & Catholicism as well as the habits of daily life, but the set-up of the story is rushed and full of holes.

The book begins with Miranda upset at her terrible performance as Katharine in her high school's production of The Taming of the Shrew. A cast member she barely knows kidnaps her, taking her first to the roof and then to Elizabethan England. Stephen tells her she is to pretend to be his sister while they stay at his uncle's house, and her mission is to seduce Shakespeare so he will decide not to be a priest after all. She thinks he's crazy and is insulted that he believes she's sexually experienced. But Catholicism has been outlawed in England, and after Miranda--now called Olivia--witnesses a priest being burned at the stake, she stops resisting the plan and becomes an active participant, intent on saving Will's life.

I am glad I kept reading. I almost quit after the fourth or fifth time "smirk" appeared in the text. (Oh, how I wish YA authors were forbidden from using that word!) Mercifully, she invested in a thesaurus about a third of the way into the novel, although that did not stop the incessant eye rolling--both mine and the characters'. However, I was reading an ebook galley copy from NetGalley, so perhaps Ms. Mingle's editors were able to take another run at the manuscript before it went to print.

Word choice aside, I struggled to get past the implausibility of Stephen choosing Miranda for this task. Why choose an American? Why not choose a British girl? How is it possible that her accent, vocabulary, and patterns of speech didn't give her away moments after their arrival at Hoghton Tower? Miranda is supposedly chosen for her acting ability and knowledge of Shakespeare's plays, yet she continues to speak like an American teenager, not like an actress immersing herself in a life-or-death role. It just Fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but this needed too big of a leap.

Still, I enjoyed the fast pace by the end. The spying and sneaking around held my attention, and I wanted to know how the story would unfold.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character and setting are secondary. No actual sex occurs, but it's a near thing.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We SharedThe Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so envious of The Streak. I wish my parents (or I) had thought of that when I was little--to read to me every single night until I went off to college. We were never as financially strapped as the Brozinas were, so I had opportunities Alice does not seem to have had, like going on youth group retreats and mission trips, which would have broken The Streak long before college began. Still, I wish we had tried.

The Reading Promise tells of an eccentric elementary school librarian and his equally quirky youngest daughter navigating the difficult world of single parenting with the help of a promise to read together each and every single day--no exceptions. The stability of their routine supports them through some incredibly trying times. Alice, now a recent college graduate, has a writing style which had me in turns laughing hysterically at the fish funeral, wishing desperately to comfort her pre-teen self, and ready to go to battle at her father's side over the removal of all books from the school library.

My mom, also a retired elementary school librarian & teacher, insisted I read this memoir before she returned it to the library, and I'm so thankful she did. This is a must-read for parents and grandparents (and step-parents). Reading to children enriches both the children and the adults on so many levels, the benefits are incalculable. Not to mention priceless and essential. And free!

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story is secondary. No sex, violence, or bad language, so no excuses!

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Friday, July 13, 2012

The Woman at the Light

The Woman at the Light: A NovelThe Woman at the Light: A Novel by Joanna Brady
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nearly two years ago, my husband and I honeymooned in the Florida Keys. Joanna Brady's vivid descriptions of Key West--the heat, humidity, and history of "wrecking" (the practice of salvaging goods off wrecked ships for profit)--had me feeling like I was right back on the islands. Of course, that may have been due to reading most of the book while sitting in the hot sun of the terrace during my lunch breaks, but I prefer to think of it as "sensory immersion."

There really were female lightkeepers back in the 1800s, primarily widows or daughters of lightkeepers who died or became incapacitated. Emily Lowry is a fictional member of that sisterhood. When her husband vanishes without a trace, she takes over as lightkeeper of Wrecker's Cay, struggling to raise her three young children and another on the way. One day an escaped slave washes up on shore during a storm, and her children persuade her to let him stay and learn to be her assistant keeper. Emily's views on slavery evolve over the course of the next couple of years, as Andrew shifts from being a mistrusted stranger to the love of her life. But storms of all sorts blow across the islands, and nothing lasts forever. Deception and harsh social realities of the 1840s pull her family apart, and loss shadows her every turn.

I am very thankful to have read this novel in the sunshine. The constant specter of death and grief often left me feeling melancholy as it was, so I'm glad gloomy weather did not magnify that effect. I am also grateful for the times of joy and peace which balanced the mood.

What kept my rating from being five stars were the anachronisms that jerked me back out of the story, thinking, "Huh?" For example, the part where Emily notices 10-year-old Martha starting to develop breasts. It wasn't until the past two or three decades that girls starting hitting puberty so young. Before concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) began giving growth hormones to cows, chickens, and pigs and spraying everything in sight with petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers, girls did not enter puberty until they were, on average, 12 to 14. Possibly as old as 16. So Martha growing breasts at age 10 seems highly improbable.

Likewise, when a visiting lightkeeper collapses on the tower stairs due to a bad heart, and he has Emily hand him his medicine, I was confused by the implication that she gives him a nitroglycerin pill to put under his tongue. Really? In an age where doctors still tried to bleed patients and balance their "humors," they had nitroglycerin pills? I sincerely doubt that.

And what was up with the random pot-smoking? I could understand the first time as being a plot device to break down inhibitions, but why continue? What did it have to do with anything else in the story? It added no value, in my opinion. Rather, it lowered my opinion of the characters who partook. And of the author.

Still, it was a delightful book overall--a haunting love story, set in a unique time and place.

For readers' advisors: setting and character doorways are primary. Story is secondary. There are a few scenes with sexual content but nothing especially graphic.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Enter to win a Kindle Fire from Indie Jane

My friend, author Nancy Kelley, is celebrating the anniversary of the Indie Jane blog, of which she is a member.  Want a chance to win a Kindle Fire?  Click here and visit the blog to enter!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Larkspur Cove

Larkspur CoveLarkspur Cove by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Divorce has forced Andrea Henderson to accept the hospitality of her parents' lake house and to dust off her barely-used counseling degree, taking a job working with families referred by Child Protection Services caseworkers in rural Texas. Her first day is already not going well when she gets the news that her 14-year-old son has gotten in trouble with the local game warden, Mart McClendon, for climbing an off-limits rock formation and boating without permission and with alcohol on board. The parents of most of the other teens opt to pay the fine, but Andrea chooses to have Dustin attend the water safety course as a sort of diversion program.

Mart McClendon is not impressed with Andrea's parenting skills when they first meet. She is late, and he is exhausted and in no mood to put up with mothers who shield their punk kids from consequences and try to buy their way out of trouble. But when they begin working to figure out how an older local man with brain damage ended up caring for a traumatized small girl about five or six years old, he soon realizes Andrea is not the spoiled rich woman he assumed her to be.

Both Andrea and Mart have demons to face, remnants and reminders of their pasts. The challenge is learning to trust the future and let love back into their lives.

Johanna Parker and Scott Sowers take turns narrating chapters from Andrea and Mart's points of view. Their voices bring the story alive, Johanna's inviting you to linger and savor the warmth of the words, Scott's evoking the sounds of crusty old Texas fishermen.

Faith and faith struggles are an integral part of this story, but never once did Lisa Wingate get preachy. Rather, God and the church were just part of the fabric of life for most of the characters--much like they would be if someone told the story of my life or of anyone raised in a community of faith, no matter the religion. I'm so thankful to have found a Christian fiction author who doesn't make me cringe!

For readers' advisors: character doorway, with story, setting, and language sneaking in as secondary doorways. No sex, and I honestly can't remember if there were a couple of swear words or not, but probably not.

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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Flipped Out

Flipped Out (A Do-It-Yourself Mystery #5)Flipped Out by Jennie Bentley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, really, because I guessed the villain from the very beginning, although I did not guess a couple of the subplots.

Avery and Derek are about to renovate another house, this time for television. Avery's stepfather has arranged for them to be featured on an episode of "Flipped Out!" which his TV network produces. When the crew arrives to start filming, the director, Nina, discovers that the owner of the house in question is a former colleague and boyfriend of hers from twenty years ago. Tony, now a Maine TV news reporter, has just gotten engaged to Derek's ex-wife, so when he takes Nina to dinner to discuss the past and is subsequently found stabbed to death in his vacant house, both Melissa and Nina are prime suspects. Things are rarely what they seem, however, and most everyone involved is harboring secrets.

My favorite thing about the latest addition to this series is how well-developed the sub-plots are. They are what keep this story interesting and keep it moving. My least favorite thing is that now I have to wait for Jennie Bentley to publish another book before I can find out what happens next in the lives of the residents of Waterfield.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways, a small amount of well-timed swearing, and still no on-screen sex scenes.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Mortar and Murder

Mortar and Murder (A Do-It-Yourself Mystery, #4)Mortar and Murder by Jennie Bentley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In early April, Derek and Avery begin renovating their latest project, a 1783 center-chimney Colonial on the verge of collapse on a small island off the coast of Maine. All is well until they spot the body of a young woman floating in the water. At first they try to stay out of it and let the police do their job, but...that doesn't last long. Not when the girl has a slip of paper with cyrillic writing on it, including the name of their realtor, Irina. Soon they are stumbling over another body and snooping around empty houses, finding secret smugglers' rooms and more cyrillic names. Is Irina's subsequent disappearance a sign of innocence, or is she involved in the human-trafficking ring?

Jennie Bentley is getting better and better at writing cozy mysteries--this time I didn't figure out the bad guys until the very end! I had my suspicions about a few of the red herrings and scattered clues, but I was successfully surprised to discover who was behind the murders. Hooray!

I like the home design/renovation tips at the ends of these books and in this case, I also like the explanation of some of the historical practices such as sailcloth rugs, poor man's runners, and Colonial paneling. Chances are slim to none that I'll ever do such things myself, but I find them interesting nonetheless.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways, a few more mild sexual innuendos and references than in previous books, but still no sex scenes and very little swearing.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Plaster and Poison

Plaster and Poison (A Do-It-Yourself Mystery, #3)Plaster and Poison by Jennie Bentley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Avery and Derek have started a new renovation project turning Kate's carriage house into a romantic getaway apartment for Kate and Wayne to live in after their wedding. Everything is going fabulously well until they discover the dead body of Kate's no-good ex (Shannon's father) laid out in the bedroom upstairs. If that weren't bad enough, Derek's stepsister vanishes, leaving her car and her cell phone at the office where she's been doing bookkeeping while she waits for her husband to realize she's left him.

The third time really is a charm: I didn't guess the culprit until the very end! I had some suspicions about a few things, but I didn't figure it all out right away like in the first two books in this series. Hooray! This one is definitely my favorite so far. Fantastic cozy mystery.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways. Still no sex or violence and almost no swearing.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

American Chick in Saudi Arabia

American Chick in Saudi ArabiaAmerican Chick in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jean Sasson has written several other well-known books (The Rape of Kuwait and Growing Up bin Laden, for example), but this is her own story of going to live in Saudi Arabia in 1978 as a single, blond, American woman. She was and is a champion for women's rights in a region of the world where women are still very much second-class citizens. Sasson was an extraordinarily adventurous woman in an era where even Western women were just learning to spread their wings. (My biggest accomplishments in 1978 were learning to read and attending preschool, so I can't say I have much first-hand experience of this struggle.)

As interesting as I found her stories, I was disappointed that the book felt hastily written. It's extremely short, for one thing--only 67 pages of the 80 in my eBook version from NetGalley were written by Jean Sasson. And not much time is spent on setting the scene or laying out a coherent storyline. I was nearly to the end before I realized that Jean was not the 23-year-old ingenue I'd been picturing but rather a 30-ish twice-divorced woman. Perhaps I should have done some research on her before reading her memoir?  I did read in one of the appendices that more information, including a timeline, is available on her website.  Too bad that wasn't in the book!

In addition to the feeling of skipping thither and yon, I got the impression that this slim volume was written not so much to tell Jean's amazing life story but to highlight a particular viewpoint about women's lack of freedom in Saudi Arabia both then and now. It felt evangelical, like a crusade, which made me uncomfortable despite my belief that Saudi women are long overdue for a cultural revolution resulting in equal rights. For a memoir, very little of the book focuses on Jean's daily life in Riyadh. And if she's going to use the book as a pulpit for freedom, I'd have liked to read more of an in-depth analysis of her day(s?) beneath the all-encompassing black robes and veils. In her thirty years in the Arab world, surely she must have witnessed a variety of responses to the restrictive modes of dress?

Then again, I did just read a Goodreads posting from Jean herself letting readers know that this is only part one of what she envisions as a 5-volume memoir, so perhaps later portions will fill in some details. Obviously I am not the only reader/reviewer who wished for more of the story. Had there been more substance to this first part than tales of three Saudi women she met from different backgrounds and their experiences with their husbands and veils, I would likely have rated the book three or even four stars. As fascinating (and sad, in the later two cases) as the women's stories were, the telling felt more like a campaign than a reflecting back, as I'd hope a memoir to be. Nevertheless, I will be interested in reading volume two to see what improvements and additions Sasson makes.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

A Month of Summer

A Month of Summer (Blue Sky Hill #1)A Month of Summer by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Johanna Parker's versatile voice brings this book to life in the audiobook version of Lisa Wingate's novel. I checked it out at random from my library's digital audiobook service when I was testing their updated mobile app. I'd never heard of the book or the author; I just liked the cover. I liked the ideas of planting a seedling and a month of summer. What an amazing bonus it was to discover such a lovely story!

Rebecca Macklin has spent more than 30 years believing her father abandoned her and her mother for a new life with his new wife and her mentally challenged son. She has held on to that bitterness for so long, she doesn't even see how it's poisoned her relationship with her husband and cut her off from three decades of her father's love. Now her father has Alzheimer's disease, and her stepmother, Hanna Beth, has had a massive stroke. Reluctantly, Rebecca boards a plane to Dallas, leaving behind her 9-year-old daughter, Macey, and her struggling marriage in order to spend a few weeks taking care of her father and stepbrother, Teddy. Their caretaker has vanished, leaving behind a filthy house, disconnected utilities, and empty bank accounts.

Hanna Beth Parker is determined to regain her powers of speech and control over her bodily functions. The idea that her beloved husband and son are dependent on the whims of her angry, hurt stepdaughter scares her. She knows that Rebecca has no idea what really happened all those years ago. But for now, Hanna Beth is trapped inside her uncooperative body with only the nurses and her "neighbor" and fellow patient, Claude, for company.

This is a story about family--biological and otherwise. It's a story of forgiveness and learning to love and trust. It's a story categorized as "Christian Fiction," surprisingly enough, since there is zero preachiness and no sermons on How To Pray And Be Saved From All Your Troubles. (I usually hate "Christian Fiction" because most of it is proselytizing thinly veiled with a not-terribly-well-written story. It makes me embarrassed to be a Christian.) Some of the coincidences, however, are Positively Providential (as Mrs. Rachel Lynde would say).

Johanna Parker's voice wraps around you like a warm shawl on a chilly day. Each character sounds different, almost as though the book were read by a full cast instead of by one talented woman. For example, the native Texans spoke with thicker accents, while Rebecca retained only a hint of her roots, and Macey sounded like a child of the West Coast.

My only quibble with this novel, and the only reason I didn't give it 5 stars, is that at times I felt like Rebecca was a little too angst-y for a 45-year-old woman. Then again, in her situation I might also be afraid to broach difficult subjects with my husband and would shy away from unwanted realities, too. I sometimes found myself almost yelling at my car stereo, "For crying out loud, just say it! Just tell the truth! You people need to learn how to communicate!" As is true in real life, so much anguish and drama would be eliminated if everyone always spoke the truth no matter what, no excuses.

Overall, though, I loved this book and was sad to have it end. I look forward to reading (listening to!) the other books in this series.

For readers' advisors: character doorway, definitely. Everything else paled in comparison, although the story was also good, and the narrator made the language come alive. Since it's Christian Fiction, it's "clean," meaning no sex, violence, or bad language.

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Cooking from the Farmers' Market

Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers MarketWilliams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers Market by Jodi Liano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The photos in this new cookbook are luscious--food porn, to be honest. Gorgeous and mouth-watering enough to make me wish I liked cooking. Tempting enough to have me thinking about actually attempting a few of the simpler recipes.

Make no mistake, this is not a cookbook intended for the culinary novice. I had hopes it might be, especially when it opened with photos of fresh food and charts of fruit and vegetable seasons. It even ends with a fabulous index (by ingredient!) and recipes for some oft-repeated basics like pastry dough and cooked white rice. And every fruit or vegetable begins with a lesson on what to look for, how to store it, and a brief history of the item. Love that!

However, as simple as some of the recipes are, others call for things like "oyster sauce." (Is that a real thing, and do I even want to know?) Not every recipe has been photographed, nor have any key steps. There are cheeses I've never heard of, and instructions I don't fully understand. Blanching, for example. Despite the instructions at the end of the book on how to do that, I'm still not clear on what that word means outside the context of human emotions and facial expressions.

Rather, this is a book one has for inspiration. For planning a fancy dinner party menu to delight one's guests. Or to give to a true foodie--someone whose passion involves shopping for and cooking lovely, healthy food. Don't get me wrong: I adore this book and am thrilled to have received an eBook version through NetGalley. I have immensely enjoyed reading it and even learned a few things along the way. I plan to try out a handful of the recipes on Sundays when I can both go to my local farmers' market and have the free time to work on preparing the dishes. But this beautiful book is better suited to a chef. Maybe not a professional chef who should have already learned these things in culinary school, but an amateur hobbyist chef who enjoys entertaining family and friends.

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