Saturday, October 12, 2013

Halfway to Heaven

Halfway to Heaven (Calhoun Chronicles #3)Halfway to Heaven by Susan Wiggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Senator Cabot's younger daughter, Abigail, is a brilliant astronomer and a lousy dresser. Freshman Congressman Jamie Calhoun decides the best way to win her father's influence is to "help" Abby romance and win the husband of her dreams. So why are neither truly happy when it works?

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary. Story and setting (circa 1870s or 1880s Virginia) are secondary. Mild sexual content and swearing.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Nowhere Near Respectable

Nowhere Near Respectable (Lost Lords, #3)Nowhere Near Respectable by Mary Jo Putney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, really.

When Lady Kiri Lawford accidentally overhears her potential mother-in-law insulting her and her mother, she is so furious, she "borrows" the best horse in the stables and sets off alone for her brother's house in London. Not the smartest plan in the world, as it turns out, because while still far from home, she stumbles across a group of smugglers who capture her, chain her up in a cave, and then begin debating the merits of raping & killing her versus holding her for ransom. She is ultimately freed by a combination of an honorable customer of theirs and her own skills, including using her diamond ring to saw through the manacles and her knowledge of hand-to-hand fighting.

Her rescuer turns out to be Damian Mackenzie, friend and former classmate of her brother's, owner of a fashionable gambling establishment and the illegitimate brother of Lord Will Masterson. Even though Mac is not really suitable marriage material, he appeals to Kiri's rebellious side, and she can't quite make herself stay away from him once they are back in London. One night, she and a friend sneak out and go masqueraded to Mac's club under the pretense of repaying him the money he spent rescuing her. They see it as a great adventure, but the adventure turns serious when Kiri notices a young woman being abducted and charges into the fray. The kidnapping turns out to be part of a much larger conspiracy, and soon Kiri is going undercover, using her unique perfumer's talent of identifying scents to locate the culprits.

The reason this novel didn't rate a full four stars (or more) from me is that it requires more than the usual amount of willing suspension of disbelief. I could believe that Kiri's childhood was unusual enough to have afforded her training in a particular type of Indian hand-to-hand combat, and I could even believe that she'd been trained as a perfumer. My own husband has an incredibly strong magnetic pull on me, so I could just barely stretch far enough to believe in the power of her attraction to Mac. But I had a hard time swallowing the concept that her brother the Duke, her stepfather the General, or her mother the Hindu princess would have ever allowed her to move into a boardinghouse for spies and go out unchaperoned, dressed as a doxy, looking for traitors and criminals!

Still, the story was highly engaging, and I enjoyed the historical thread regarding the state of the British royal family during the Regency period. It was a fun read.

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

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Kiss and Spell

Kiss and Spell (Enchanted, Inc., #7)Kiss and Spell by Shanna Swendson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love how Shanna Swendson continues to keep this series so entertaining by tweaking what happens with the main characters' magical lives--i.e. in this volume granting Katie magical powers she's never had before. In the previous book, Owen had to cope with magical immunity for the first time ever. It gives Swendson a chance to play "what if" with her characters, to discover how they would react, adapt, and work together.

In book #7, Katie is delighted to spend her days receiving private magic lessons from Owen & Rod. The secrecy isn't terribly fun, but she gets to experience life as a magical being. Soon she realizes that something odd is happening at the office, but before they can get to the bottom of the mystery, she wakes up in an alternate New York City, where she works at a coffee shop in a bookstore that Owen has just purchased. Only the occasional memory flash pokes Katie to wonder if something just might be awry. Some folks just seem so familiar, though....

My favorite thing about this volume in the Enchanted, Inc., series is that Katie and Owen finally get a chance to go on real dates and actually deepen their relationship. They finally have a chance to build a more solid foundation, to learn more about each other, and to confirm that no matter the reality, they really are meant to be a couple. It's the much-needed eye of the storm. But don't worry--the fast-paced action returns quickly.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways, setting is secondary. No sex, and I don't remember any bad language.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Sometimes a Rogue

Sometimes a Rogue (Lost Lords, #5)Sometimes a Rogue by Mary Jo Putney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

More like 3.5 stars. I'd say four, if it weren't for the slightly-too-easy escapes from disaster. And the fact that Mariah going into labor in the opening scene was a bit too sudden and dramatic. Not that water breaking and things going awry isn't likely, especially in that day & age, but as someone who is currently waiting for labor to start, I can tell you that water breaking--as the first sign of labor--is almost certainly not followed seconds later by second stage labor (i.e. the pushing phase), no matter what is portrayed on tv or in movies.

Still, I really enjoyed the story of Sarah Clarke-Townsend and Rob Carmichael. She's the identical twin of the pregnant Duchess of Ashton; he's the Bow Street Runner and friend of the Duke of Ashton who races to rescue her from the kidnappers who've abducted her by mistake. Sarah is no fragile flower, though, and Rob's admiration for her intrepid spirit grows by the hour as they struggle to evade capture throughout the Irish countryside. A near-death calamity leads to Sarah claiming, for expediency's sake, to be his fiancee, which turns out to be the best thing for both of them as they turn pretense into reality.

This is a great series for keeping oneself entertained and distracted. I seem to have accidentally skipped book #4, however, so I do need to go back and locate that one now.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways, primarily, but also historical setting (Regency England). Several sex scenes later in the book, but thankfully not especially explicit. Some mild swearing, particularly on the part of a young girl who's spent an unfortunate two years with her crude and abusive grandfather.

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sweet Salt Air

Sweet Salt AirSweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 stars

Charlotte and Nicole have been best friends since they were about eight years old, but for the past ten years their friendship has been sustained mostly through brief emails and phone calls. Nicole doesn't know it, but about a month before her wedding, her husband-to-be and Charlotte got drunk and had a brief sexual encounter on a secluded beach. Both regretted it immediately, never spoke of it to anyone, and have avoided all contact with each other since then, but the guilt continues to strain their relationships with Nicole. Now Nicole needs Charlotte to come back to the island of Quinnipeague, Maine, for the first time since the wedding and interview locals and some regular summer visitors as part of a collaboration on a cookbook Nicole is writing. Charlotte sees it as her chance to atone for her sins and agrees.

Nicole is grateful for the writing help as well as for the moral support as she tries to prepare the family's summer home for sale now that her father has died and her mother can no longer bear to visit without him. However, the effort of keeping a secret from Charlotte is too much for Nicole, and in no time at all she blurts out the burden she's been carrying alone for four years: her brilliant surgeon husband, Julian, has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and the treatments aren't working to stop the progression of his disease. Julian hasn't allowed Nicole to tell anyone--not her mother, not his kids, not his parents, not his friends, and not his colleagues--for fear that it would end his career.

One of the locals Charlotte would like to interview for the book is Cecily Cole, whose garden is the source of most of the herbs on the island and is viewed with awe and not a little superstition, but Cecily is dead, and her son refuses to participate. However, Charlotte cannot resist the lure and sneaks down to the property one night when she can't sleep, only to discover Leo on a ladder attempting to fix a large, heavy shutter by himself. Leo does not welcome her presence but does let her help him fix the shutter. Over Nicole's strenuous objections, Charlotte returns night after night, slowly getting to know the infamous local bad boy...who it turns out is not actually all that bad.

I loved this book. It's a great example of "women's fiction": romance is a very strong element, but the central focus of the novel is the friendship between Charlotte and Nicole. It's very much a character-driven story, with the island itself feeling like another character, as it's shaped so much of their lives. (Not to mention the near-mystical properties of Cecily's herbs.)

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways are strongest. A little swearing and plenty of sex scenes, although nothing too terribly explicit--more often than not just telling readers how often and where Leo & Charlotte are getting busy.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows (Outlander, #8.5)A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a bittersweet story! This novella tells what really happened to Roger MacKenzie's parents, specifically his father, during WWII. It's beautiful and heartbreaking all at once to know...and yet to realize that Roger will never fully know the truth.

For readers' advisors: story and setting doorways, primarily. A little sexual content and bad language.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Not the Killing Type

Not the Killing Type (A Booktown Mystery, #7)Not the Killing Type by Lorna Barrett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bob Kelly expected to be routinely re-elected to his role as President of Stoneham's Chamber of Commerce. He never anticipated he'd be challenged, much less by two competitors, including his ex-girlfriend, Angelica Miles, and the owner of a sign-making shop, Stan Berry. And he certainly never expected that Angelica's sister Tricia would discover Stan's recently stabbed body minutes before the voting was to take place!

Tricia's not so thrilled with the discovery either, especially since it seems to be the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, of her on-again/off-again relationship with Police Chief Baker. To clear her sister's name, Tricia once again snoops around looking for clues as to who murdered a man few seemed to know very well. In the process, she must deal with an unwelcome ex-husband who has reappeared and is campaigning to win her back, a new crush who's way too young for her and who may be a suspect in the murder, Angelica's full-steam-ahead battle for the Chamber Presidency, and her duties as bridesmaid for her former assistant, Ginny.

Once again, Lorna Barrett succeeds in writing an interesting story with increasingly complex characters. The slight haze of melancholy which envelopes Tricia is more palpable in this latest entry in the Booktown Mystery series, and I had a hard time shaking off the feeling of loneliness when the book ended. I truly hope she either finds a man who will put her first and appreciate and love her the way she needs him to, or I hope she can make peace with being single. She may need to learn how to put herself first sometimes before anyone else will, though.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways. There's a twist at the end that I didn't see coming. The occasional swear word slips in now & again, but it's pretty mild. No sex or onscreen violence.

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Murder on the Half Shelf

Murder on the Half Shelf (A Booktown Mystery, #6)Murder on the Half Shelf by Lorna Barrett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #6 in the series opens with Tricia lugging Angelica's suitcases up to the new B&B for a sneak-peek stay that Angelica won at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting. The sisters are looking forward to seeing the new inn...until Tricia takes Angelica's smuggled-in dog for a walk and finds yet another dead body. The night goes downhill from there, including the discovery of a decidedly UN-dead boyfriend from Tricia's long-ago past. The latest murder puts Tricia's current relationship on her current boyfriend, Chief Baker, investigates the crime.

As with the earlier books in this series, the murder plot is interesting, but the meat of the story centers on the relationships between the characters and the developments in their lives. Mr. Everett, for example, is having difficulties communicating with his bride regarding the amount of time she is spending focused on their new charitable foundation. Tricia is struggling to find a new assistant manager to replace Ginny, who's now running a shop down the street. Angelica and Bob's romance is pretty much DOA. And Chief Baker's insistence on remaining neutral for the duration of his investigation is definitely not going over well with Tricia, who is fed up with being treated as a suspect just because she has the bad luck to keep stumbling over bodies.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. There are a few mild swear words every once in a great while, but definitely no sex scenes or graphic on-screen violence.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Apple Orchard

The Apple Orchard (Bella Vista, #1)The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tess has worked hard to get where she is in her career as a sort of modern-day treasure hunter who tracks down lost objects such as Annalise Winters' mother's necklace, missing since the day Ms. Winters' mother was taken by the Nazis in Denmark. Her firm not only locates items of immeasurable personal and monetary value but also arranges auctions for the items clients wish to sell, and Tess is expecting a big promotion when an unexpected visitor arrives and upends her world. The grandfather she never knew is in a coma, and she must work with the half sister she never knew she had to save the family's property, an apple orchard in Sonoma, CA, from imminent foreclosure.

I "shelved" this book as both romance and non-genre fiction because although there are strong romantic elements (i.e. Tess falling for the banker who comes to tell her about her grandfather), the romance isn't central to the story. It's every bit as much about Tess learning to slow down and really allow people into her life. It's also about family history, told in flashback scenes from the point of view of her grandparents when they were children in Denmark during the Nazi Occupation, as well as Tess's mother during her pregnancy. And it's a bit of a mystery, solving the puzzle of what happened to a particular family heirloom. I'm glad this is book #1 because I'm hoping to learn more of Isabel's story in book #2.

The one thing I didn't like?  As a stepmother myself, I found the epilogue highly improbable, at least as far as the children's reaction went.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story is secondary, and setting is fairly strong, too. There are a couple of sex scenes, but nothing explicit--more the "fade to black" type.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fifth Grave Past the Light

Fifth Grave Past the Light (Charley Davidson, #5)Fifth Grave Past the Light by Darynda Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #5 picks up a few days after book #4 leaves off. This time Charley is juggling a case involving a cheating husband; her suspicions that her boyfriend, Reyes, might be a serial arsonist; concerns over her sister's nervous new client; and a couple dozen terrified dead blonde women who have taken over her apartment but don't seem to want to communicate with her or cross over. Her friend Garrett is being frustratingly closed-mouthed regarding his time in Hell and his subsequent investigation of all things Reyes. And now Uncle Bob's boss, the chief, has become suspicious about how she solves so many cases so quickly and is snooping around, turning up where he is least expected and most unwanted. What's a grim reaper to do?!

I love these books so much! It's nearly impossible to put them down, and this one is no exception. I craved reading it like Charley craves coffee, and that is saying something. It's very fast-paced, which is great, except then I finished it too quickly and now have to wait (impatiently) for the next one.

I finally figured out who Charley reminds me of: a combination of Janet Evanovich's heroine, Stephanie Plum, and the character of U.S. Marshall Mary Shannon, played by the actress Mary McCormack on the TV show "In Plain Sight." Charley is brash and often crass, independent and yet endearingly vulnerable and empathetic. She gets herself into all sorts of messes because she barges full speed ahead in pursuit of justice and in defense of the defenseless. It's a really good thing that she has supernatural healing abilities and can sometimes stop time or leave her body to act in times of life-and-death emergency--qualities both Ms. Plum and Agent Shannon lack.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, and I definitely would not suggest this series to anyone looking for "clean reads," as the language and sex scenes are not tame.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love By Numbers, #2)Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lord Nicholas St. John has been hounded by matchmaking mamas and their devious debutantes ever since a popular women's magazine published a ridiculous article touting him as a "Lord to Land," complete with silly instructions on the best ways to do so. When a friend from his school days approaches Nick seeking help locating his missing sister, Nick grabs at the excuse to leave London far behind.

Lady Isabel Townsend is struggling to keep her young brother's estate afloat after their father, the "Wastrearl," abandoned them, died, and left them penniless. Their home is actually a secret refuge for battered and beaten women and unwed mothers, but if they can't find a way to fix the leaking roof (among other things) and raise enough money to send the young earl off to school, "Minerva House" might be forced to shut down.

Nick and Isabel's paths collide when Nick tracks his school chum's sister to the village near Isabel's home. Isabel has read the infamous article, but what she gleaned from it was that Nicholas is an antiquities expert--exactly the sort of person she requires to assess her prized collection of statues in preparation for selling them off to raise the funds they so desperately need. She invites Nick and his friend to come evaluate the sculptures, planning to simply prevent him from ever meeting her brother's new governess, knowing that the two have likely met before and would recognize each other, but unaware that he's only there because he is actually searching for Georgiana.

Although both have sworn off marriage and love, sparks fly amongst the ancient statues, and secrets cannot be hidden for very long. It was a decent idea for a plot; my reason for only rating it 3 stars (which is quite generous) is that Isabel turns from a strong, independent woman into a ninny when Nicholas is present, and that is a TERRIBLE foundation for an ongoing relationship. (For more on that topic, see ) I felt like the characterizations weren't consistent and believable, and given the constraints of the time, the sex began absurdly early.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character & setting secondary. The story takes place in 1823 in England. There are a number of fairly explicit sex scenes.

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

No Quest for the Wicked

No Quest For The Wicked (Enchanted, Inc., #6)No Quest For The Wicked by Shanna Swendson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Katie Chandler is Bored. Bored bored bored. Now that MSI is pretty much the only game in town as far as magic goes, there isn't much for the marketing department to do. That is, until her boyfriend discovers that the language has changed on the ancient document he's translating, indicating that the Eye of the Moon--an incredibly powerful and dangerous gem lost for centuries--is now on the move and may be in New York City. The last time anyone used it, war broke out, so tracking it down is imperative, and only magical immunes like Katie and Owen can be trusted to locate and recover it. Unfortunately, they soon learn that the Eye, which gives the holder power over others, has been fused with an Elven knot, which bestows invulnerability. Katie and Owen are not the only ones determined to find the Eye, and soon there is a knock-down, drag-out race raging across the city between an ever-increasing number of factions, all with their own agendas.

Whew! Talk about fast-paced! Book #6 in the Enchanted, Inc. series is a whirlwind of a novel--fun and funny. The addition of Katie's grandma and former boss to the mix was highly entertaining. I also appreciated the character development as Owen learns to cope with his new non-magical reality.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways. No sex, violence (not really), or bad language that I can recall. Setting is contemporary New York City.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Season

The SeasonThe Season by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Best friends Alexandra (Alex), Eleanor (Ella), and Vivian (Vivi) are about to experience their first Season, but none of them is terribly eager for matrimony just yet. Neither are Alex's three older brothers and their close friend Gavin, who have been pressed into service as escorts to a variety of society functions. Still, they are teenagers, and flirting is inevitable, as are misunderstandings, jealousies, hurt feelings, and, of course, True Love.

Gavin is still trying to adjust to his new role as the Earl of Blackmoor, and he is unconvinced that his father's death was really an accident. Vivi and Alex think Ella is being overly dramatic when she tells them of a clandestine conversation she overheard in a garden, but then when they learn Gavin's house has been burglarized, they start to wonder whether someone is indeed spying for the French to aid Napoleon, and whether Gavin might actually be in danger.

This YA novel was her first published book, and it's pretty good for a debut novel, although I did wish an editor had cut the excess descriptions of how someone laughed, smirked, etc. Sometimes the dialogue can really just stand on its own! "Impishly smirking" and whatnot is overkill.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways. Lots of kissing and angst, but no actual sex. I think there might have been a couple of swear words.

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Friday, July 5, 2013

The Mystery Woman

The Mystery Woman (Ladies of Lantern Street, #2)The Mystery Woman by Amanda Quick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars just because Ms. Quick dialed back her over-use of her most formulaic words and phrases (i.e. heat, heated, jacked up, raised senses, running hot, psychical, para-senses, etc.) and for a change included a hero who didn't believe in the paranormal at all, despite his own talent for finding things. While the sex scenes (I hesitate to call them love scenes because there still isn't a lot of foundation for the romance) remain eye-rollingly silly, at least there was no stock description of mind-blowing aura merging and whatnot. Hooray for small favors!

In book two of the "Ladies of Lantern Street" series, we follow Flint & Marsh agent Beatrice Lockwood as she masquerades in her role as a virtually invisible paid companion to wealthy ladies in need of assistance foiling dastardly plots. Beatrice came to the agency some months earlier when her previous employer was murdered by someone seeking to kidnap her. She manages to create a new life for herself in a new career, until during the course of an investigation she is located by Joshua Gage, former spy for the Crown, who needs her assistance in trapping the man blackmailing his sister, a client from Beatrice's old life. The blackmail scheme turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg, so Joshua and Beatrice team up to stop a madman before they become the next victims.

My favorite thing about this novel is that Beatrice is so strong and well-prepared. She carries a small pistol strapped to her thigh, she has a vial of specially-prepared smelling salts to ward off unwanted sexual advances, and she thinks quickly in emergency situations. She is no wilting wallflower. I appreciated that very much.

For readers' advisors: story and setting doorways (i.e. Victorian England). A couple of sex scenes.

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Sentenced to Death

Sentenced to Death (A Booktown Mystery, #5)Sentenced to Death by Lorna Barrett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's time for the first-annual Founders' Day celebration in Stoneham, NH, and Tricia's friend Deborah Black has been put in charge of the festivities. However, when Deborah steps up to the podium to give her welcome speech, the small plane which has been buzzing the area with its Founders' Day banner suddenly goes into a soundless nose-dive right into the gazebo where she's standing, killing both Deborah and the pilot instantly. Both the sheriff's department and the NTSB rule the crash an accident, but oddities in the aftermath have Tricia questioning that pronouncement and doing a little sleuthing on her own.

Tricia's love life is still in shambles, her champion assistant, Ginny, is leaving to manage another store, and her sister Angelica is pushing her to make some changes in her own life to break out of her stagnation. I think one of the strongest features of this series is the ongoing character development. Another reviewer of this book mentioned that while she didn't always like Tricia, who can be pushy and tactless at times, she sympathized with her and appreciated the flaws and depth of all the characters, and I completely agree.

Ironically, the main storyline of Deborah's death isn't the biggest mystery in the series at the moment, although I admit the twists and turns were surprising. The true puzzle is the secret of the company Nigela Ricita Associates, which has been buying up or investing heavily in Stoneham properties in the past couple of books. What is the ulterior motive there, and why does Antonio give me the creeps? I look forward to the next book in the series to see if any of that gets resolved!

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. No sex, bad language, or on-screen violence (even the plane crash is only briefly described).

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Much Ado About Magic

Much Ado About Magic (Enchanted, Inc., #5)Much Ado About Magic by Shanna Swendson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #5 in the Enchanted, Inc., series begins with Katie Chandler returning to New York City just in time to become embroiled in a propaganda war between her employer, MSI, and their rival, Spellworks. A series of dark spells has the magical community flocking to Spellworks for protection amulets and bracelets, never realizing the whole thing is part of a more sinister plot. Katie's boyfriend, Owen, is working feverishly to reverse-engineer the spells and find a way to neutralize them before they get even more out of control, but it soon becomes evident that a key part of the competition's strategy involves discrediting and falsely accusing Owen of creating the mess in the first place. Even Katie's boss, Merlin (yes, that Merlin), is powerless to stem the tide of rumor and suspicion. It's up to Katie to sort out fact from fiction in time to prevent a corporate takeover with deadly consequences.

I was so excited when I stumbled across a WorldCat listing for one of the later books in this series and realized that although my library couldn't purchase print copies of volumes 5, 6, or 7, we could get the ebooks through OverDrive. Hooray! I love this quirky, humorous series, and I was bummed when I had to stop reading at #4. But now my library has digital access to all seven books in the series, so I can find out what happens in the continuing saga of the battle for control of the biggest companies in the magical community.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character is secondary. There is no sex or real violence, and I can't recall any instances of swearing.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Mouse-Proof Kitchen

The Mouse-Proof KitchenThe Mouse-Proof Kitchen by Saira Shah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received this as an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) from, and when I started reading it, I questioned my sanity in requesting it in the first place. Not because it's a terrible book--it's not. Rather, because a woman in her late 30s, six months pregnant for the first time with a much-anticipated daughter should probably not read a story about a woman in her late 30s who just gave birth for the first time to Freya, an unexpectedly severely handicapped baby girl. Anna's despair, frustration, and need to control something--anything--in her out-of-control life rang out so strongly, I had a hard time disengaging my own emotions from hers.

Anna's husband shirks responsibility and provides virtually no support--emotionally, financially, or practically. I kept wondering why she stayed with him. She supposedly loved him very much, but I really didn't see why. He ignores her for most of the book and spends most of his time shutting out the world while he works on composing movie music and flirting with Lizzy, the flibbertigibbet teenager they pay to help take care of Freya...which she never actually does.

Anna becomes increasingly short-tempered and shrewish as the book progresses and her exhaustion (mental and physical) mounts, which is certainly a realistic reaction to her situation. I didn't always like Anna, but I also could empathize with how she was feeling, and I certainly don't claim I'd react any better were I in her shoes. How does one cope with the collapse of one's dreams of parenthood? How do you face a lifetime caring for a child whose brain never fully developed and who has constant seizures, a lack of muscle control, and will only ever be, in essence, a gigantic infant, no matter how long she lives, never capable of caring for her own most basic needs, if she even survives at all?

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting (they move from England to a village in France) is secondary. To me the tone of the book was...heavy and frequently depressing. The secondary characters are quite well-developed, and the mystery of their neighbor's mother's death during WWII was intriguing. I think this would make an excellent choice for an adult book discussion group.

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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Chapter and Hearse

Chapter and Hearse (A Booktown Mystery, #4)Chapter and Hearse by Lorna Barrett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tricia's sister Angelica has finally published her cookbook, but when her boyfriend Bob Kelly doesn't show up for the book launch party, Tricia offers to go track him down for her. His car is parked nearby, so Tricia walks down the street looking for him in the shops, and just as she approaches the town's history bookstore, she's knocked off her feet by an explosion. Bob is injured, and the store's owner is killed, but strangely enough, Bob is unwilling to speak to anyone about what happened and so becomes the main suspect. Strange incidents keep occurring, and soon it becomes clear that Jim isn't the only target, and Bob isn't the only suspect.

What's most surprising to me about the 4th book in this series is the amount of character development. The third installment in the series has quite a bit, too, and this one builds on that foundation. Tricia's love life is kaput, with Captain Baker backing off to take care of his ailing ex-wife, and newspaperman Russ Smith turning into a stalker. You also get more glimpses into Tricia's family dynamics that have led to her people-pleasing tendencies. Her loneliness really comes through in the tone of this book. I am looking forward to seeing her continue to develop, and I'm hoping Captain Baker's wife goes into remission soon!

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, no sex or bad language.

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Bookplate Special

Bookplate Special (A Booktown Mystery, #3)Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Tricia Miles, owner of the Haven't Got a Clue mystery bookstore in Stoneham, New Hampshire, finally hits the breaking point and tells her houseguest and former college roommate, Pammy Fredericks to leave, she never imagines she'll find Pammy dead in the dumpster behind her sister's cafe a short time later. Thankfully, this case gets assigned to a handsome deputy, Captain Baker, and not Tricia's nemesis, Sheriff Adams. Nevertheless, Tricia can't resist nosing about, searching for information that might help uncover why Pammy was killed and by whom. Pammy wasn't well-liked, and her death turns out to be quite the complicated puzzle.

There were some surprising twists and turns in this fast-paced cozy mystery. I was able to figure out a couple of them in advance, but I definitely did not guess correctly as to exactly who had done what, to whom, when, and why. This would make an excellent beach read.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, no sex or bad language. This is book 3 in the Booktown Mystery series.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gluten for Punishment

Gluten for Punishment (A Baker's Treat Mystery, #1)Gluten for Punishment by Nancy J. Parra
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars for the strange detail issues. For example, in my reality, flour bombs + people coated in wheat flour + open bakery door = no-longer-GF-certified premises, but that didn't happen in this case. She kept serving the food that she'd put out, and it didn't sound like she had to decontaminate the bakery. At the very least, she allowed all the people--including herself--who'd gotten coated in flour to enter and touch things in her store, which astonished me to the degree that I was completely distracted from the point of this early scene.

Somewhere near the beginning of the book, Parra says Toni lived in Chicago for 15 years, but then later on in the book, she says 10 years. Again, the inconsistency yanked me out of the story.

And finally, the scene where Toni is kneading & proofing the dough to work through her anger: I have been gluten-free for about seven or so years now, and I have NEVER kneaded any gluten-free dough. The purpose of kneading is to develop the gluten and evenly distribute yeast gases. Gluten-free dough is usually more like thick cake batter, or at the very least too sticky to do much more than spread or drop into a baking container. Did Parra not consult ANY gluten-free bakers before writing & publishing this book? But then, she includes recipes at the end of her book, which implies that she--or someone she knows--does bake GF foods. Perhaps Parra should have consulted this website (or one of hundreds like it) before writing this scene: (Scroll down to the section on bread baking)

However, I did find someone who created a GF bread dough that does need to be kneaded: Which means it is possible, if not probable, that Toni could have sort of kneaded her bread dough. Probably not long enough to work off her anger, though. And then there is the issue of how long the character "proofs" her dough vs how long GF dough can/should be proofed. But I'm tired of focusing on all the things that annoyed me about the book and pulled me away from the story.

Irritations aside, I enjoyed the basic story of a newly divorced woman who'd inherited her mother's house in her hometown in Kansas and who'd therefore moved back home and opened a gluten-free bakery in the heart of wheat country. A local farmer sabotages her grand opening, and when she later finds him dead in front of her store, she becomes the main suspect in his homicide. When the police seem disinclined to search elsewhere for the culprit, she takes matters into her own hands and agrees to assist her eccentric grandmother by asking around, gathering information to locate the real murderer, despite the increasingly personal threats she receives.

I was correct in my suspicions as to one of the guilty parties, but I didn't solve the whole thing.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways, no sex, and if there was any swearing, I don't remember it.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Secrets of an Organized Mom: How to Declutter and Streamline Your Home for a Happier Family

Secrets of an Organized Mom: How to Declutter and Streamline Your Home for a Happier FamilySecrets of an Organized Mom: How to Declutter and Streamline Your Home for a Happier Family by Barbara Reich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two and a half stars, actually, but I'll round up because not everyone will be as horrified as I was at the instruction to organize your books by size. BLASPHEMY! And also only appropriate for people who own about 2 shelves of books. For the rest of us, that's a truly idiotic thing to do--a complete time waster, both on the "organizing" end as well as on the "finding ever again" side. *shudder* That concept deeply offends my librarian soul.

On the plus side, many of her ideas are pretty practical, particularly her overarching rules of Purge, Design, Organize, Maintain, and nine of her ten "commandments." The exception being #9: "Use one kind of hanger, storage container, etc." That's all well and good if you've got loads of extra cash to spend, but it's definitely not something I'd put right up there as one of the most important rules. And I do not share her love affair with plastic, handy as it is in some cases. I'd much prefer non-toxic alternatives whenever possible. However, she is correct that when purchasing containers, having them all the same (or coordinating) shapes and sizes does usually make the best use of your available space because they fit together well, stack efficiently, and are visually pleasing.

I like that she takes you through each area of the home, as well as seasonal things like holidays, vacations, and even moving. (Her story of losing luggage when her twins were babies cracked me up: the queen of organizing hadn't packed a change of clothes for everyone in the carry-ons? Ha!) I also liked how she advocated labeling things...perhaps to an extreme...because it makes me even more thankful I talked my husband into buying me a label-maker last summer. I love my label-maker!

I didn't find any concepts in this book especially earth-shattering, but they were good reminders of ways to break tasks down and to look at your space with new eyes, and most importantly, to be persistent in getting through your problem areas. Like Commandment #1 says, "Do the thing that is most distasteful to you first." Home office, here I come!

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Out of Circulation

Out of Circulation (Cat in the Stacks Mystery, #4)Out of Circulation by Miranda James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #4 in the Cat in the Stacks series is just as delightful as the first three. This time, librarian Charlie Harris is back in the thick of things when he finds his housekeeper trapped in a dark stairwell with the body of the most loathed woman in town. Since her mother is the primary suspect, Chief Deputy Kanesha Berry is taken off the case, and she asks for Charlie's help in proving her mother's innocence. With his enormous Maine Coon cat, Diesel, by his side, Charlie obliges, enlisting the help of his household to ferret out decades-old secrets and grudges.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. Once again the pace is relaxed, with the murder occurring relatively late in the story. It's a cozy mystery, so no sex, bad language, or on-screen violence.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Classified as Murder

Classified as Murder (Cat in the Stacks Mystery, #2)Classified as Murder by Miranda James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the second book in the Cat in the Stacks mystery series, librarian Charlie Harris lands in the middle of another murder mystery when he discovers James Delacorte dead at his desk in the middle of his locked home library. Mr. Delacorte had hired Charlie to do a complete inventory of his rare book collection because he suspected one of his relatives had been stealing valuable volumes. Chief Deputy Sheriff Kanesha Berry requests that Charlie complete the inventory as quickly as possible, before anything else goes astray...and while he's at it, to please keep his eyes and ears open and report back his observations to her. This puts Charlie, and his son Sean, who's temporarily moved back in with him and is acting as Charlie's assistant, at the center of the deadly family drama.

What a light, fun read! I did actually guess the murderer fairly early on, but I didn't figure out the mystery of the missing books until the end. For a mystery novel, this was much more a character-driven story about a father and son trying to reconnect after an estrangement that began with the loss of a wife/mother. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book.

For readers' advisors: character doorway, with story as secondary. No sex or onscreen violence. Nor any bad language that I can recall, although occasionally it's implied.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Murder Past Due

Murder Past Due (Cat in the Stacks Mystery, #1)Murder Past Due by Miranda James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, actually.

Charlie Harris is a part-time college archivist and reference librarian who lives in the house his Aunt Dottie left to him. He takes in boarders to both help with finances and alleviate the loneliness he's lived with since both his wife and his aunt died three years ago. Soon after 18-year-old Justin Wardlaw, Charlie's current boarder, learns his biological father is the famous novelist Godfrey Priest, he argues with both his dad and then his biological dad over plans for his future. However, Justin never imagines he'd return to Godfrey's hotel room to discover his body lying on the floor, and he panics, turning to Charlie for help. Since the acting Chief Sheriff's Deputy is the daughter of Charlie's housekeeper, he promises Azalea he'll do what he can to poke around and help uncover the murderer--interference that is not always welcome nor prudent.

This is book one in a lovely cozy mystery series. I accidentally read book three first, but thankfully it was long enough ago that I had forgotten many of the continuing details of the characters. (I hate reading series books out of order.) The library theme is what first caught my eye: I love books that have librarian heroes and heroines!

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways are primary. The book is set in Athena, Mississippi. All the sex mentioned happened nearly 20 years in the past, and if there is any swearing, I can't recall it right now.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

The Serpent's Tale

The Serpent's Tale (Mistress of the Art of Death, #2)The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Adelia Aguilar, a doctor trained in the medical schools of Salerno, Italy, is learning to enjoy her new life in the fens of medieval England when she receives a summons from the Bishop of St. Albans, her former lover and the father of her infant daughter. King Henry II's mistress has been murdered, and Adelia's services are required to investigate and discover who poisoned Rosamund. Queen Eleanor is being blamed for her death, and their respective allies are on the brink of another civil war. On the way to Godstow Abbey, the bishop's traveling party stumbles across the body of a young man, and suddenly Adelia has not one but two murders to solve. Her efforts at solving the crimes are hampered by weather, quarreling soldiers, and the presence of one or more killers in their midst. As bodies pile up and food supplies dwindle, Adelia struggles to uncover the truth before she or someone she loves becomes the next victim.

I think I loved book two in this series even more than book one. For one thing, Ms. Franklin skipped the odd Greek chorus opening and closing in this one. For another, I already knew the main protagonists, so I was able to dive in to the world of twelfth century England much faster. And the story moved right along so that it was very difficult to put the book down at the end of my lunch breaks.

The language was much...saltier...this time around. Perhaps because there were more mercenary soldiers speaking? Then again, even the supposedly religious men frequently peppered their language with swearing. It is, after all, barely more than a century after the Norman Conquest demoted Anglo-Saxon (i.e. Old English) to be the dialect of the lower classes and categorized it as coarse.

I very much appreciated the author's note at the end, giving some historical context and background. Ms. Franklin managed to fit this story into one of the convenient gaps in the medieval records. After reading this novel, I'm curious about the real lives of Henry and Eleanor and may need to go locate a couple of biographies on the pair.

For readers' advisors: story, character, and setting doorways are all strong. There are some brief moments of sexual innuendo and one sex scene with virtually no details. And, of course, there is a fair amount of use of the ordinary Anglo-Saxon terms for things (what we now think of as swear words).

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Tailor's Daughter

The Tailor's DaughterThe Tailor's Daughter by Janice Graham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Veda Grenfell comes from a prosperous tailoring family, but her brother longs to be a scholar rather than take over the family business one day. Veda, on the other hand, loves tailoring and has a knack for design, but is stymied by her gender and the societal restrictions of 1860s London. A series of tragedies plague her small family, including the illness that leaves Veda deaf. She struggles against the overwhelming isolation that causes, determined to find a way to communicate and make a life for herself. Love and marriage seem unlikely in the extreme when society equates physical disability with mental incompetence, but hope is hard to extinguish, despite cruel disappointments and heartbreaking betrayals.

My aunt and uncle recommended this book to me, and I am so grateful! It's a very character-driven story, where I felt immersed in Veda's life and the strangeness of her silent world. I agonized alongside her when she lost loved ones, and I cheered her on as she fought to make those who remained understand and communicate with her. My heart broke for her many times, and I KNEW she was not told the truth when she was in France.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary; setting secondary. The relaxed pace might frustrate those who read for story, although the end gets much more exciting. There is no onscreen sex or bad language.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Dream Lake

Dream Lake (Friday Harbor, #3)Dream Lake by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex, the youngest of the three Nolan brothers, is an outstanding carpenter and contractor who sinks deeper and deeper into depression and alcoholism with each passing day. His decline is a source of sadness and frustration for the ghost who has been tethered to him since Alex first began helping his brother Sam renovate the Rainshadow Road house. The ghost remembers only bits and pieces of his past and needs Alex's help to figure out who he is and how he came to haunt the Rainshadow Road house in the first place, decades ago, and for that, Alex must be sober and cooperative.

Zoe Hoffman is the chef and co-owner of Artist's Point, a bed-and-breakfast in Friday Harbor, Washington. Her grandmother raised her after her mother took off when she was tiny, and her father abandoned her at his mother's house when Zoe was in the third grade. Now Emma's health is failing, and Zoe hires Alex to renovate the old cottage Emma still owns on Dream Lake so that she can bring her grandmother to live with her there. Zoe and Alex met once several years ago, and it didn't go well: Zoe looks like a blond, vintage pin-up girl, and Alex resorted to rudeness to keep himself from drooling over her. Growing up with abusive, neglectful, alcoholic parents left Alex convinced he is undeserving and incapable of being in a loving relationship, and he recognizes that is exactly what Zoe needs and wants. Still, the two are unwillingly drawn together, and slowly learn that love is worth fighting for.

I absolutely fell in love with these characters and this book. I think my favorite character was the ghost, and I so appreciate that Ms. Kleypas made even a spectral person seem real. I was also grateful that Alex struggled so hard and for so long against both his alcoholism and his phobia of commitment. It drives me crazy when romance novels (or any type of story) make obstacles dissolve once boy meets girl, like somehow the power of attraction alone can overcome addiction or abuse. The closest Kleypas came to doing that was to have Zoe's cooking help Alex cope with the DTs, but that made sense for a book in a series laced with gentle magic.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is definitely primary, but story is strong, too. There are sex scenes and some occasional swearing.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Crystal Cove

Crystal CoveCrystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Justine Hoffman was raised by a mother who never wanted to settle down and stay in one place, never allowed her daughter to put down roots. Consequently, Justine craves stability, and as the co-owner of a bed-and-breakfast in Friday Harbor, Washington, she strives to make her guests feel at home. The one thing she despairs of ever finding, though, is love. Justine and her mother are hereditary witches, and it turns out that when she was a child, her mother placed a geas on her, cursed her to never find love so that she would never experience the pain of loss. Justine decides to break the curse, no matter the consequences.

Jason Black is a very wealthy video game designer and reclusive mogul. When his assistant books rooms for Jason and his team at Justine's B&B, he has ulterior motives. Jason knows he has no soul, and he believes Justine's grimoire holds the key to saving him, whether she wants to loan it to him or not. He just didn't plan on falling for her first.

This book could have been so good. It's the fourth installment in a lovely series of magical realism romances, although I accidentally read it third. Unfortunately, Kleypas jumped on the 50 Shades of Grey bandwagon, opted for explicit sex scenes with bondage, and lost interest in making the characters or main relationship likeable.

The concept of Jason having no soul was muddled: supposedly all that meant was that when he died, that was No afterlife. Which really made him desperate enough to do genealogical research on hereditary witches and enlist his assistant's family's help to do the impossible, regardless of the cost to himself or anyone else? So if he was in all other ways "normal," why did he have to be such a ruthless, controlling jerk? Why are his eyes described as "fathomless...shrewd and opaque as blackstrap molasses--could have belonged to Lucifer himself"?

The fact that Jason was manipulative instead of kind completely undermined the story's central relationship. There was just no foundation for any kind of believable romance--nothing in common, no real friendship or companionship, nothing whatsoever to form a scaffolding for building a life together.

The tipping point for me, however, was when the hemp ropes came out and Justine allowed Jason to turn her into a human pretzel during a graphic sex scene. How can I put, NO. A thousand times NO! There isn't anything wrong with choosing to be passive. Being tied up, restrained, unable to move, on the other hand, I find neither sexy nor erotic. All I could think was, "OW!! Use your safe word! USE YOUR SAFE WORD!!" But she never does, and then she wakes up to find him vanished, having stolen her most valuable possession. Yep. What's even better is that she only stays furious for a few days and then melts for more explicit sex when she catches up to him. Because, see, he "loves" her. Yes, indeedy--this relationship is solid!

Ugh. The more I think about this book, the more the bad parts eclipse the good parts. So I'm going to stop concentrating on this one and move on to writing my next review. (Of book 3 in this series, which I adored!)

For readers' advisors: story doorway. Do not suggest it to anyone who didn't love 50 Shades of Grey or similar titles.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Husband List

The Husband ListThe Husband List by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Caroline Maxwell's life as a human pincushion is as confining and uncomfortable as her corsets. The life of an heiress in 1894 New York City looks glamorous from the outside, but Caroline longs for adventure and secretly harbors a crush on her brother's best friend, Jack Culhane. Jack is rich enough, but her parents (particularly her mother) consider his money to be "too new," so her list of prospective suitors has been narrowed to one name: Lord Bremerton. Unfortunately, the new heir to a dukedom has a few unsavory secrets that put her happiness--and her safety--in jeopardy.

This book was so much better than I expected! I anticipated a light, fun read and was delighted to discover well-developed characters and a much more exciting plot than usual. For some reason, the historical setting was also a surprise. Apparently I put the book on hold out of habit (I always put Evanovich's books on hold as they come in), and by the time it was my turn to check it out, I'd forgotten what it was about. I love happy surprises!

My only quibble:  when the authors use the term "waiter" to describe the footmen who serve the food at mealtimes.  There was no such thing as a "waiter" in upper class homes!  Such an anachronism stood out like a sore thumb.  Oy.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways, also setting. Some heavy petting but no sex, and I can't recall any bad language either, although there may be a salty word or two somewhere.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Conferences rock!

The past couple of days, I have been lucky enough to attend the 2013 OLA/WLA Library Conference in Vancouver, WA.  The weather has been gorgeous, and the sessions I attended were excellent.  But the highlights for me were the two breakfasts and the dinner I attended.  I was able to sit pretty close to the front, so I could both see and hear well.

Thursday morning's keynote speaker was the famous Librarian in Black, Sarah Houghton.  Hooray!  If you've not read her blog, you can check it out here.  She was funny and full of useful, practical advice about how to maintain and improve library service with little to no money (i.e. in the era of dwindling budgets).

Thursday's dinner featured guest speaker Gene Ambaum from the fabulous library-world comic strip Unshelved.  Hilarious as always!  His talk focused on ways to deal with the of our library patrons.  You know--the ones for whom we create code names or at least nicknames.  We all love working in libraries, but there are days when you just want to hide out in a back room.  Or say the things he puts in the comic strips which would get you fired in real life.

And finally, Friday's CAYAS-sponsored breakfast featured the children's picture book author George Shannon.  Another local Pacific NW author and librarian!  He cracked me up as well, and I loved that he talked about the connections we make as librarians with the people we introduce to books, information, and ideas.  Plus, he read from his book White is for Blueberry and when we had a little time left over, he shared his brand new book, Turkey Tot, for which he'd just received the galleys.

Shades of Milk and Honey

Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1)Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2.5 stars, really.

Plain-looking Jane Ellsworth has resigned herself to being a spinster. Well, almost resigned. She plans to help her beautiful younger sister marry well so that she might live in her sister's household someday after their father dies. Melody is eighteen and has let her beauty carry her through life, never working to cultivate lady-like accomplishments such as those in which her elder sister excels. Friction begins to creep in to their relationship when both women develop crushes on the same man, and their mutual jealousy creates a painful barrier between the sisters. When Jane attracts the attention of not one but two eligible gentlemen in the neighborhood, Melody seeks solace in the arms of a man who is neither available nor honorable. Jane must use all her skills to keep the situation from exploding into a full-blown disaster.

I received a copy of this book from a good friend, and I was really excited to read it. There are a number of very positive reviews. I think, though, that it would have been better had I not been under the impression the author was "Austenesque." Yes, the setting is roughly like that of Jane Austen's novels, magic notwithstanding, but the comparison of the two authors isn't all that apt. Kowal has none of Austen's biting wit nor social satire. The characters felt like she'd taken Austen's originals, put them in a blender, and came out with an odd mish-mash of personalities and flaws. I kept getting flashes of scenes or situations, and then was confused or reminded to reign in my imagination when what actually happened was different.

Melody really was just a pretty face hiding an immature, selfish temperament. Captain Livingston is Wickham, Frank Churchill, and Willoughby all rolled into one--how did no one predict his bad behavior? The neighbor's 16-year-old sister whom Jane befriends (and whose name escapes me at the moment, as I left the book at home) starts out sweet and reminiscent of Georgiana Darcy but then turns into an irrational shrew by the end. Likewise, the girl's older brother begins as a mixture of Mr. Darcy, Col. Fitzwilliam, and Mr. Knightley and then devolves into impetuous behavior that feels inconsistent with his character. I'm all for character development...but this didn't come across as creating depth.

Since I read for character as well as story, it didn't help matters that I found the budding relationships to be...thin? Weak? I wanted there to be more of a foundation for Jane to fall in love--with either of her suitors, both of whom seemed interested in (or hostile towards!) her merely for her skills at "glamour" (i.e. magical illusions).

I am still debating whether to read the next two books in this series. There is potential for a lovely historical fantasy series, if only Kowal can break free of Austen's shadow and just focus on doing her own thing.

For readers' advisors: setting and character doorways. It's a pretty slow-moving story until the very end. No sex, and I can't recall any real swearing.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Death and the Girl Next Door

Death and the Girl Next Door (Darklight, #1)Death and the Girl Next Door by Darynda Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lorelei has had flashes of visions all her life. Some come true; others make no sense. None of that has ever bothered her two best friends, Brooklyn and Glitch. However, when the school's loner, Cameron, starts stalking Lorelei, and a new boy comes to town who has all the girls drooling, their lives are going to get much more complicated, for one of Lorelei's visions is about the new boy being tortured and another is about herself covered in blood and puking by the side of a road. All is not as it seems, and the trio suddenly find themselves part of an otherworldly battle.

I had really high hopes for this new series because I LOVE Darynda Jones' First Grave on the Right/Charley Davidson series. Unfortunately, I got the feeling that this book was rushed to print way before it was ready. The pacing felt off, there were about two dozen too many variations on the word "smirk" used, and the characters never quite gelled for me.

The heat and intensity of Charley & Reyes' relationship did not translate well to a story about teenagers--even supernatural ones. All the descriptions of Jared as "supernova hot" had me rolling my eyes and/or gagging. Not that I didn't believe Jones intended for him to be gorgeous, just that it was too full of teen angst & hormones. There wasn't enough maturity in the characters to believe anyone had fallen in anything but lust.

Similarly, the pacing seemed...wrong. It took forever for anything to happen or be explained (or discovered/uncovered). It took a bizarrely long time for anyone to figure out why Cameron hated Jared, and then even when Cameron is F I N A L L Y confronted with the truth...nothing changes. The feud continues. That was ultra-annoying. And what was up with the poltergeist scene? Shouldn't there have been some sort of follow-up scene with the two girls? The whole book ended up coming off like a really really long, scattered prologue for the rest of the series. I may still read book two to see if it improves, but it's moved WAY down my priority list. *sigh*

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. Character is probably supposed to be secondary, if only I could get past my annoyance with them. There is no actual sex, just a couple of kisses and a lot of supposedly steamy descriptions of Jared's hotness. It would probably make a decent book to read with a group because there could be so much to discuss, given its flaws.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Mistress of the Art of Death

Mistress of the Art of Death (Mistress of the Art of Death, #1)Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1171, Simon Menahem of Naples, Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, and Adelia's servant Mansur are summoned from their homes in sunny Salerno to the chilly clime of Cambridge, England, to uncover the monster who has brutally murdered four small children, all of whose deaths have been blamed on the town's Jewish population. King Henry II is displeased to have lost so much revenue since the Jews have been sequestered in the sheriff's castle for protection for the past year, and he has asked his cousin to send experts. Simon is the King of Sicily's chief investigator, and Adelia is Salerno's top "doctor of death" (the medieval equivalent of a forensic pathologist). The two friends must fight prejudice and suspicion to solve the crimes before the killer takes any more lives, including their own.

Why is it often so much more difficult to review a really good book? I've been working on this review on and off for nearly a week, and all I can think of is, "It's really good. If you like historical mysteries with well-written characters, you'll love this book. Don't let the odd Greek-chorus-like opening and closing put you off. Those parts don't last very long, thankfully." I don't know what else to say that doesn't give anything away.

For readers' advisors: character, story, and setting doorways. Lots of historically based swearing. Not a cozy mystery because of the suspense and the horrific damage done to the children. Some nudity and one mild (and improbable, given the injuries sustained just prior) sex scene.

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

Dream Eyes

Dream Eyes (Dark Legacy, #2)Dream Eyes by Jayne Ann Krentz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two years ago, Gwen Frazier was nearly the third member of a research study murdered by a serial killer using a paranormal weapon. She defended herself and sent him screaming off a cliff and over the falls to his death, but now it seems someone else has picked up where he left off. She enlists the aid of Judson Coppersmith to help her find who murdered her friend and mentor. Tracking down the culprit uncovers a long history of murder-for-hire, and Gwen is back on the hit list.

Krentz's books are always quick, easy reads. The characters are nearly the same from book to book, and the romance is highly predictable, but it's a decent escapist read. I actually thought the minor character of Gwen's "brother" Nick was the most interesting and unique person in this story.

Thankfully, Krentz has slightly toned down her over-use of her favorite words and their synonyms (hot, heat, para-senses, jacked, etc.) in this volume of the Dark Legacy/Dreamlight/Arcane Society series, although she repeats "wack-job" a time too many.

The book is set in the fictional town of Wilby, Oregon, somewhere along the north coast, so far as I can tell, given the driving time mentioned from Seattle & Portland. I love that it's set in my home state! But setting isn't a big appeal doorway because it's not really very unique to Oregon. It could be set pretty much anywhere with hills, trees, and water.

For readers' advisors: story doorway. There are a couple of formulaic sex scenes that I kind of skimmed because they are pretty much the same as in all the books in this multi-branched series, with the hero & heroine's auras fusing in a blaze of perfectly tuned paranormal heat.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate

A Murder at Rosamund's GateA Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1665, Lucy Campion is a chambermaid in the household of a London magistrate. He is an honorable man, and the family is kind to their staff, even allowing them to join the family at evening meals when there are no guests and encouraging Lucy's participation in the after-supper discussion of texts the magistrate reads out loud. This routine is disrupted, however, when a series of young, pregnant serving girls is found murdered and the crimes hit too close to home. Lucy is determined to find justice and exonerate the innocent, lest the dead keep haunting her dreams. Her quest is interrupted by plague and complicated by social hierarchy as she risks her own life and virtue to uncover the killer.

There were enough twists and red herrings in the story to keep me from guessing the killer--always a plus. My one quibble is that Adam, the magistrate's grown son, is a bit uneven in characterization, especially related to his actions and treatment of Lucy. Yes, he is drawn toward her, and yes, he feels honor-bound to leave her alone, but his behavior is a pendulum that swings a little too far for plausibility, in my opinion. Still, I have high hopes that their relationship will be better developed over time in subsequent novels.

I received a free advance reading copy (ARC) of this book from, and I'm excited to discover a new mystery author to follow, for this is the first in a new series by debut author Susanna Calkins. I really appreciated the Historical Note at the end of the book, detailing how the author worked to make the novel historically accurate aside from some minor tweaks to things like the duties of magistrates and constables, as well as updates to the spelling and phrasing.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways, primarily, with story secondary. There was no sex and only very mild historical swearing, to the best of my recollection.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Flight Behavior

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Dellarobia was seventeen, she married Cub Turnbow because they had a baby on the way. She miscarried shortly afterward, but the damage was done, and her dreams of college and escaping the confines of impoverished Feathertown, Tennessee, died also. More than a decade later, Dellarobia's quiet despair leads her to hike up a hill for an adulterous rendezvous. Before she arrives, however, she sees the forest aflame with a soundless fire and returns home with the conviction that the miracle was meant to save her. She is no longer the same person; sparks of her original personality have reignited. When her father-in-law decides to cut down the forest to pay a large debt, she lobbies her husband to intervene, telling him they should at least look at what they are selling off before it's too late. Grudgingly, her in-laws and her husband agree to make the trip, so this time Dellarobia wears her glasses and discovers that the flames are actually butterflies. Millions--maybe billions--of monarch butterflies.

News of the butterflies spreads to news outlets, both local and national, and soon Dellarobia is in the uncomfortable media spotlight as the woman whose "vision" led to the discovery. When a stranger appears at her door, she impulsively invites him to dinner and changes the course of her life forever, for he is a lepidopterist--a butterfly scientist. The unearthly beauty of the butterflies is actually a natural disaster: they should have returned to the milder climate of the mountains of Mexico, and an Appalachian winter might mean their extinction.

Kingsolver is a master of character development. I didn't find much to admire in Dellarobia to begin with, given her her chain-smoking and her decision to throw her marriage away on a foolish obsession. But she grows and changes into a woman I could empathize with and respect. And Kingsolver doesn't skimp on the other characters, either. For example, Cub is a good, kind man who is simply a bad match for Dellarobia. Their children come to life, particularly five-year-old Preston, the budding scientist. Even Cub's mother, Hester, is depicted with depth. No one is simply a stereotype--not the preacher, nor the congregants, not the scientists, and not the townsfolk. Kingsolver grew up in Appalachia and treats it with respect, acknowledging both the poverty and limited choices but also the inherent thrift. Everyone--environmentalists and locals alike--acts with the best of intentions. I really appreciated that.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways, primarily, but also language and story (as is customary with Kingsolver's novels). No sex, aside from a pair of butterflies, nor violence, and only a little mild swearing. The pace of the book is generally relaxed, so I wouldn't suggest it to anyone who only reads "page-turners."

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Loving Miss Darcy

Loving Miss Darcy (Brides of Pemberley, #2)Loving Miss Darcy by Nancy Kelley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Three and a half stars, actually.)

Two years after Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy, it's time for Darcy's younger sister to make her debut in society. But Georgiana still hasn't emotionally recovered from her colossal mistake in nearly eloping with Mr. Wickham and doesn't trust her own judgment when it comes to men. In an effort to boost her confidence and protect her from unsavory types, her guardians--Darcy and Col. Richard Fitzwilliam--ask the colonel's friends to dance with her at her first balls. Despite their best efforts and intentions, somehow rumors still leak out, and Richard is forced to more fully examine his own feelings toward Georgie as he races to uncover the plot to damage her reputation.

This is a light, fun read for Jane Austen fans. Nancy Kelley again remains consistent with Austen's original characters and tone. The one exception is that she develops Kitty Bennet into a much more mature and intelligent girl than in the original Pride and Prejudice, but I can live with that, since Kitty's been away from Lydia for two years, and all of us would like to think we improve with age. Plus I'm hoping Nancy's next book will focus on Kitty and Sebastian.

A couple of things brought my rating down a bit. First, there is a scene at Pemberley fairly early on in the book at the start of the Christmas gathering when Simon starts talking, and I hadn't even realized he was invited, much less had arrived. I flipped back several pages to see if I'd missed something, but there was no mention of him until he spoke. When Elizabeth's parents started speaking soon afterward, it was only slightly less jarring, and for the same reason.

Second, I thought the ending was a bit too...easy? I can't think of the precise word I mean. It just felt slightly rushed, maybe, or the villain was caught and too-gently dispensed with...I don't know. And when they were confronting him, one of his physical reactions was exactly the opposite of what would have made sense to me: he sat back instead of lunging up in protest/denial. I won't say any more than that because I want to avoid spoilers.

And third, there were a couple of painful (to me) grammar errors that jumped out at me, particularly toward the end of the book. There were occasional missing words or letters throughout, but they didn't bother me as much as the later incorrect sentence structures. (Nancy, please let me know if you'd ever like me to proofread your manuscripts for you. I'd be delighted to do so!)

Overall, though, I very much enjoyed reading book two in the series.

For readers' advisors: setting, story, and character doorways. No sex or swearing.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Wicked Wager

The Wicked WagerThe Wicked Wager by Anya Wylde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy from the author herself. Thanks, Anya!

While sneaking out of a window to avoid being trapped into matrimony, Lord Richard Hamilton encounters Miss Emma Grey cursing inventively in the darkness and immediately falls in love with her. Because her uncle, the Duke of Arden, has his doubts about the match and wishes them to wait a year to marry, the young lovers agree to Richard's harebrained scheme to disguise himself as an elderly gardener so he can follow Emma to the duke's home and find a way to somehow compromise her, thereby forcing the wedding date to be moved up. Unsurprisingly, nothing goes quite as planned, and soon Richard's best friend is called in to pretend to be Richard, while the real Richard tries to avoid being blackmailed by the duke's widowed sister. Emma's cousin is dismayed to find herself pursued by Emma's supposed fiance, and he is horrified to find himself pursued by another of her houseguests.

I enjoyed this light historical-romance-turned-murder-mystery. It was fun, and the scene with the mouse in the breakfast room made me laugh out loud. The novel's tone reminded me often of Noel Coward plays: bordering on farcical. Willing suspension of disbelief is required, for there is simply no way an earl in 1800s England could ever hope to successfully masquerade as a duke's head gardener, not even to win a ridiculous wager. Ask anyone who's ever seen Gosford Park or Downton Abbey--servants had their own hierarchy, rules, patterns of speech, and customs, and no earl would ever have been able to fool any of them for a moment.

Still, the silliness was a breath of fresh air during a gloomy week in February, and thankfully Ms. Wylde didn't spend too much time describing the canoodling couples, as those sections often made my eyes roll.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, setting is secondary. There are no real sex scenes, and only mild period swearing.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Still Life with Shape-Shifter

Still Life with Shape-Shifter (Shifting Circle, #2)Still Life with Shape-Shifter by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second book in this series is much better than the first, in my opinion. I found Melanie to be a more sympathetic character--the protective older sister who's practically raised her shape-shifting sister, Ann. Ann is young and heedless, fun-loving and full of enthusiasm. She doesn't worry about much of anything, whereas Melanie worries constantly. Enter Brody Westerbrook, a secondary character in book one, who is researching a book on shapeshifters, and all of Melanie's instincts go on high alert. Matters are soon complicated by their mutual attraction and Ann's mischievous impulse to invite Brody to go with them for lunch, dinner, and pie. Soon, though, Melanie starts noticing that Ann tires more easily, a concern echoed by Ann's boyfriend William, brother to Dante from the first book.

The chapters from Melanie's point of view alternate with chapters from Janet's point of view. Janet starts out as a teenage girl who has compassion for an injured wolf, first feeding and then bandaging his leg. Since this is a book about shapeshifters, it comes as no surprise to readers that the wolf is only a wolf half the time and the rest of the time is a teenage boy. The two develop a friendship and then fall in love, a relationship that continues even as Janet goes to college and graduate school.

It takes until nearly the end of the novel before the two storylines intersect. I kept waiting and waiting, trying to figure out how the characters were connected since they lived in separate states and didn't seem to have anything in common other than their loved ones' genetic trait of shapeshifting. Shinn left the timeline purposefully vague--it's not clear until the last couple of chapters when Janet's story actually takes place.

I am curious to see how many books Shinn writes in this series. This one has a lot of world-building aspects, establishing more rules and context for the existence of shapeshifters, more parameters and potential characters. I have a hard time knowing how to categorize it, as I can't quite bring myself to label it fantasy, although in many ways it is. I may change my mind later--who knows?

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. There are a few sex scenes and some swearing. Nothing terribly explicit, though.

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