Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Diary of a Parent Trainer

Diary of a Parent TrainerDiary of a Parent Trainer by Jennifer Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Katie Sutton is a thirteen-year-old expert in parent management, so she is writing the ultimate user guide to grown-ups. She knows all the "Modes" and how to switch a grown-up from a less-desirable mode to another, more favorable one. Katie has two best friends, an older sister, a younger brother, a widowed mom, loads of other relatives, and a crush on a cute boy. Life is pretty good until her mom does the unthinkable: finds a boyfriend. Suddenly, all Katie thinks she knows about managing the behavior of her grown-ups gets called into question by the invasion of this stranger into their lives.

For some reason, this book reminded me of Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, although I read that so long ago, I'm not sure how they are similar, other than being about British teenagers with crushes. In any case, I enjoyed reading the mock-diary-style tale of changing household dynamics told from a teen's point of view. Coincidentally, I was concurrently reading A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom and found these two sides of the family coin tracked well together. I think it would be a good choice for tweens, especially those who have experienced divorce or the death of a parent.

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

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Monday, May 28, 2012


ShiftShift by Kim Curran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever wished you could go back and make a different decision? Turn left instead of right? Answer the phone instead of letting it go to voicemail? Sixteen-year-old Scott Tyler can--he's a Shifter, with the power to change his reality by deciding to change decisions he's already made. Sometimes that saves his life. Sometimes it kills his sister. And then there are the decisions that lead to meeting a girl named Aubrey...and being hunted by a brain-eating psychopath.

I read an advance copy of Shift, courtesy of NetGalley, and I loved it! A very fast-paced read from a new British young adult author (so new, she's not even on Fantastic Fiction yet). The story is set in modern-day London, but with a few tweaks: some children are born with the ability to "shift," to change their minds and thus their realities. These children are recruited to join a special school that trains them to control their abilities, and the teenage "graduates" go on to work for a variety of departments, including mapping likely outcomes of Shifts and "fixing" timelines gone wrong. At the onset of adulthood, entropy sets in, and Shifters lose their abilities. At least, that's what everyone believes until Scott and Aubrey stumble over some evidence that reality is not what it seems.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, setting secondary. There are a few swear words and some violence, but not much.  The ending could have benefited from a slightly longer explanation of what happened to Scott.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to PemberleyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the eve of the annual Lady Anne Ball at Pemberley, an hysterical Lydia Wickham arrives by coach, sobbing that her husband and Captain Denny are lost in the woodland and possibly shot. Mr. Darcy and Captain Fitzwilliam mount a small search and rescue mission and discover a drunken Wickham kneeling over Denny's body, saying he's killed his only friend. They return to Pemberley and summon the magistrate and constables. But is Wickham really guilty of murder?

James does a pretty good job of summarizing Pride and Prejudice and keeping faithful to the original characterizations. The chain of events seems plausible for the world of Jane Austen, although James' use of the term "police" seems out of place for the time period. (The word existed, but did the "police force" exist as such?)

The epilogue to this book is quite unnecessary, however. The superfluous explanatory scene feels like it should have been put at the end of the original Pride and Prejudice instead (or cut entirely). It really has almost nothing to do with the murder mystery but rather is a conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth that primarily rehashes their bumpy courtship--a conversation which should logically have occurred during the engagement or honeymoon periods, not 6+ years into a good marriage.

Still, it was an enjoyable read.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, setting is secondary

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Copper Beach

Copper Beach (Dark Legacy, #1)Copper Beach by Jayne Ann Krentz

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I usually like Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick's paranormal romance novels. They're enjoyable formulaic escapism. So maybe it was listening to this one on CD that made the difference, made me realize just how repetitive and ridiculous the language, characters, and story were. At first I was excited that finally one of these novels didn't have the instantaneous, sizzling mutual attraction between the two main characters, but no, that did not last or make the hero or heroine at all three-dimensional. This romance sped straight through the usual absurd pattern of lust masquerading as love. I think I got eye strain from rolling my eyes so much and gagging during every single romance-focused sentence.

And for pete's sake, use a thesaurus! Employ some plain old imagination. STOP saying idiotic things like "his eyes heated," "her eyes were hot," "he jacked his senses," "resonating frequencies of their auras," etc. Find a new way to show or explain what is going on. Stop relying on the same tired expressions you've used thousands of times in dozens of other books. In fact, next time, please try eliminating all forms of the words "hot" and "jacked." (There are about a dozen other words I'd like to see vanish from the book, but mercifully I cannot recall them at this moment.)

What's the book about? Oh right--the story. A paranormal books dealer is being blackmailed and pursued for her ability to "unlock the psi-code" of a forty-year-old lab notebook, so she hires someone to find the blackmailer, and he hires her to find the book. A couple of crazy people try to kidnap and kill her, yadda yadda. Some supposedly-hot sex happens (see above comment about eye rolling). If you've read one, you've read 'em all.

For readers' advisors: story doorway, if I have to pick something. Some sex scenes and swearing.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Zero Gravity Outcasts

Zero Gravity OutcastsZero Gravity Outcasts by Kay Keppler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Five years ago, Minka Shokat was falsely accused of treason and kicked out of Central Command, so she's not their biggest fan. But she still needs their money, so she and her partners, Anjali and Tex, occasionally transport Central Command cargo in their modified junkheap of a Wayfarer Class spaceship. When Minka discovers that this time their cargo is accompanied by the gorgeous ex-boyfriend who didn't support or defend her, she is furious. When she finds out their "cargo" is the very general who brought the charges against her in the first place, she is livid. However angry she is, though, she first has to survive the journey, and that is no easy task when hostile ships are attacking from all directions.

While reading this novel (novella?), all I could think about was Firefly. The characters were different, of course, and the universe wasn't as fleshed out, but there were many similarities: futuristic setting of humans colonizing other planets, centralized galactic governmental agency bad guys, struggling independent spaceship crew, innovative defenses based on designs by the brilliant crew members, etc. Minka's little pine tree for some reason always made the phrase "Earth that was" run through my head.

It was an entertaining and quick read. Not very deep or complex, just fun. I think it would have benefited from being a little longer--more time to develop the story instead of rushing through the exposition via the gossipy Tex, and no need to skip entirely over the delivery of the rest of their cargo or gloss over the battles to get to the happy ending.

For readers' advisors: story doorway primary, setting secondary. No sex, but there is some swearing.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Rules of the Game

Rules of the GameRules of the Game by Sandy James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maddie Sawyer is a successful romance novelist who decides to scope out the clientele of a few biker bars in search of a suitably masculine "bad boy" to hire as her date to her 15-year high school reunion. In one of the most improbably lucky encounters, she meets The Perfect Man, Scott Brady. He's gorgeous, calm, patient, intelligent, sexy, and only seems to have one flaw: he's a slob. Then again, Maddie is no neatnik, so she can hardly complain. Problem is, he doesn't want her money. He wants her to pretend to be his girlfriend so his family will stop fixing him up on blind dates. Her orderly plan flies out the window, though, when he changes the rules of the game on her and decides he wants to date her for real. But both have secrets, and Maddie's past is about to erupt into the present. She will need all the calm support Scott can muster to help her cope with her out-of-control life.

I never expected to be in tears at the end of a romance novel. I mean, really? Tears?! For a romance novel?! Yet, that's exactly what trickled slowly down my cheeks last night as I finished reading in the wee hours of the morning (despite end-of-week exhaustion and aching eyes). James' story grabbed me from the get-go and didn't let up until the last page. I felt like the characters were real people I might actually know, including the angry teenager. And while I heartily disapprove of Maddie's stupidly dangerous plan to hire a stranger to accompany her from New York to Indiana--ladies, do not try this at home!--it was such a good story, that more than made up for the implausibility. I will definitely be checking out more of Sandy James' books.

For readers' advisors: some spicy sex scenes and a few scattered swear words. Character and story doorways vying for primary status.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom

A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom: Expert Advice from Other Stepmoms on How to Juggle Your Job, Your Marriage, and Your New StepkidsA Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom: Expert Advice from Other Stepmoms on How to Juggle Your Job, Your Marriage, and Your New Stepkids by Jacquelyn B. Fletcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking by the nonfiction stacks of my library and saw this book out of the corner of my eye. A coworker had put it on display. I saw it and thought, "YES! Someone wrote a book for people like me!!" Most of the books I've seen, including the excellent book Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today's Blended Family, focus primarily on stepfamilies where both spouses bring with them children from previous relationships. This is not me. So much of what these other books have to say is only partially relevant to my situation. Not so with Fletcher's book!

I have never thought of myself as "a career gal" in the fast-talking, high-powered executive sense of the word. I am, after all, a public reference librarian. It is not likely I will ever have to worry about making more money than my husband (an IT manager). But like the women in this book, I have been in the working world for years and had no children of my own when I married my husband. I cannot adequately verbalize how great it felt to find a book like this that speaks to my situation and focuses not just on the hardships but on the joys and the things you can do to improve your family life.

That is not to say that I identified with every situation mentioned. I have never, for example, felt marginalized by church members who didn't know how to adjust for stepfamily dynamics. That concept came as a surprise to me. However, practically everything else resonated with me, to one degree or another, and not only made me feel better about both my successes and failures as a new stepmom but gave me tools and tips for improving myself and my relationships. My only complaints are 1) that once in a while it feels a little redundant, and 2) that I didn't find this book 3 or 4 years ago. Oh, how it would have saved me so much stress and heartache the past few years! Ah well.

For readers' advisors: suggest this title to women in serious relationships with men who already have children. For that matter, it also works for women in serious relationships with other women who have kids.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Perfect Imposter

The Perfect ImposterThe Perfect Imposter by Wendy Soliman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Struggling modiste Katrina Sinclair lets herself be talked into switching places with her childhood friend, Julia Dupont, the Marchioness of Lanarkshire, at Lady Marshall's house party in the country. Katrina needs the money Julia's patronage could bring, and she is indebted to Julia's father for saving her from charges of murdering her husband, so she gives in to the emotional blackmail and takes Julia's place for the week. Meanwhile, Leo Kincade, Julia's former fiance, has been tasked with tracking a jewel thief rumored to be planning to steal a tiara from one of Lady Marshall's guests and sell it to aid Napoleon. Leo knows immediately that Julia is not quite herself, and things get even trickier for Katrina when Julia's husband arrives unexpectedly, as does Katrina's vengeful brother-in-law.

This book has so much potential! I really wanted to like it, and I did at first. However, I was reading a galley copy badly in need of one more round of editing. The occasional typos were distracting (i.e. "produce" instead of "product," etc.), but more distracting was the overuse of particular words. Note to Ms. Soliman: if you are going to use a distinctive word like "somnolent," for example, do not use it more than once or twice and definitely not within a few pages of each other.

The use of the word "rumbled" was even more troublesome for me. In context it meant "to expose as a fraud," and yet every single time I read it, my brain substituted the word "tumbled," and I had to back up and re-read the section to clarify that Soliman was not talking about any form of sexual encounter. I'm sure it was exciting to use what I assume to be a historically accurate slang term, but I was yanked out of the story each and every time, which is irritating. Use it once and clearly, and then pull out your thesaurus and get creative from there on out, please!

As for the story itself, the premise was interesting: who was stealing jewels and why was Julia so desperate to sneak away without her husband's knowledge? The trouble I had with it was:
1) The plot holes were huge. (Really?! No one is going to notice a society lady has been replaced by her dressmaker?! Not even her HUSBAND, friends, or former lover?!)
2) The characters' behavior and motivations felt inconsistent. It's one thing to have multi-dimensional characters, it's another to make them lurch from one personality trait to another.
3) The end was confusing (Did I miss something? Why were all these minor characters suddenly appearing, apparently in on the sting? How does it make sense that Julia and her father showed up at the last minute?).
4) One of the Big Secrets was quite obvious to me from the very earliest pages of the book, and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to have figured it out then or not.

For readers' advisors: (historical) setting and story would be my best guess at appeal factors for this one. But I would suggest Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney, Julia Quinn, or Eloisa James instead.

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