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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