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 felt...off. 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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