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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