Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Job

The Job (Fox and O'Hare, #3)The Job by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare once again teams up with Nick Fox, world-class thief and con man, this time to figure out who is framing Nick for crimes he's not actually committing. What they discover leads them to set up a complicated con to catch a sadistic drug lord who has bought himself a new face, making it impossible for authorities to identify and capture him. To pull it off they'll need the help of Kate's dad and his former covert ops pals, actor Boyd Capwell, their favorite driver Willie Owens, custom builder Tom Underhill, and CGI specialist Rodney Smoot.

Book #3 in the Fox and O'Hare series is just as fun as the first two. It's fast-paced and humorous, picking up where the previous novels left off. There isn't much in the way of character development, but the characters are fun to spend time with. It's escapist literature, perfect for reading on the beach or tucked up on the couch with a quilt and some hot chocolate, depending on your vacation venue.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. There is no sex or graphic violence, but there is some mild swearing.

I received a free ebook copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

First Frost

First FrostFirst Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sarah Addison Allen's book, Garden Spells, is one of my all-time favorite novels, so when I had an opportunity to win a free Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) of First Frost from Bookbrowse in exchange for my honest review, I jumped at the chance.  First Frost picks up the story of the Waverley women of Bascom, North Carolina, ten years after the end of Garden Spells.  Bay is now fifteen, her mother is happily married to Henry, and her Aunt Claire is happily married to Tyler.  Claire and Tyler live in the Waverley house with their nine-year-old daughter Mariah, while Sydney, Henry, and Bay live in Henry's farmhouse.  Evanelle isn't moving as quickly as she used to, but she still feels the urge to give people unusual objects they'll soon need, and her best friend and housemate, Fred, has begun to do the same.

The tension in First Frost, thankfully, isn't due to stress in the marriages--I absolutely hate when sequels ruin love stories just to provide plot points.  Rather, each of the Waverley women is struggling with a different issue in her personal life: Claire has been doing virtually nothing but making special candies for the past year and feels trapped and exhausted by it, Sydney desperately wants another baby but hasn't been able to conceive, Evanelle is facing fading health and a friend who cannot bear the thought of losing her, and Bay, well, Bay knows where things belong and is tormented when others can't see it, in this case a boy she knows she's meant to be with who barely knew she existed until she wrote him a note that gained her some unwanted notoriety.  A mysterious stranger asking the townspeople questions about the Waverleys in general and Claire in particular just adds to the anxiety and tension.   They all know things will get better, as they always do, after the first frost of the year when the apple tree in the backyard blooms.  The trick is to hang on until then.

I loved being able to revisit the enchanting world of Bascom.  The story is delightful--perfect for a cozy fall or winter evening.   I didn't want to put it down.

What I did want, however, is for the mysterious stranger subplot to have been better developed.  I felt like it started to go in an interesting, magical direction and then sort of fizzled out by the end.  Otherwise, though, I loved spending time with these characters and this story.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting secondary.  It's a lovely story about family supporting and nurturing each other.  There is no sex (well, mention of it as Sydney focuses on conception but not any real sex scenes), violence, or swearing that I can recall.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Only Enchanting

Only Enchanting (The Survivors' Club, #4)Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mrs. Agnes Keeping, a young widow, lives quietly with her sister, a spinster music teacher, in the English village Inglebrook. She had married an older gentleman for comfort and convenience and doesn't expect or wish to ever fall in love. In fact, she rather fears it, thanks to her mother's scandalous behavior and consequent abandonment of the sisters when Agnes was a small child. However, when she goes to a ball given by her new best friend, Sophia, Lady Darleigh, Agnes accidentally falls in love with Flavian Arnott, Viscount Ponsonby. Thankfully, he doesn't live in the area, and she believes she'll never see him again. This being a romance novel, she of course sees him again five months later when he and the other members of the Survivors' Club journey back to Middlebury Park for their annual gathering.

Flavian was shot in the head and trampled by a horse while fighting Napoleon's army in France. He has recovered from most of his wounds, thanks the the ministrations he received at Penderris Hall, home of the Duke of Stanbrook, but he still suffers from gaps in his memory, stuttering, and unexpected flashes of anger--symptoms familiar to many of today's soldiers as well. One of those frustrating holes in his memory relates to his former fiancee who jilted him to marry his best friend after he was wounded in battle. News that she's widowed and finished with her mourning period inexplicably sends him into a panic, where only marriage to Agnes feels safe. The difficulty lies in stitching together enough pieces of the past to understand the present and salvage their future together.

Mary Balogh does such a fantastic job writing multi-dimensional characters. It's one of the things I like best about her books--you feel like the people in them are real, and you enjoy spending time with them.

My only quibble with book #4 in this series is that I could have used some sort of chart or character list to help me keep the names and relationships straight. I thought I had read all three of the previous novels, but thanks to Goodreads, I just discovered that I'd only read the first one...which helps explain why I struggled mightily to connect titles, first names, and last names. My husband is in the military, and I have the exact same difficulty with his colleagues--it's taken me years in many cases to link a face with the three separate things she or he might be called, according to the circumstances. I have often wished for a cheat sheet with my husband's friends & coworkers, and I definitely wished for one while reading Only Enchanting.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways. Mild historical swearing and eventually a couple of sex scenes.

I received a free e-galley copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Waistcoats & Weaponry

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School, #3)Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book #3 is a fast-paced romp of a steampunk story with misbehaving mechanical servants, party crashers, werewolf pack politics, a stolen train, a love triangle, tangled loyalties, a power-grab conspiracy, disguises, revelations, desperate decisions, and so much more. This time, most of the story takes place away from Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies. A year has passed since the end of Curtsies and Conspiracies. Not long after Sidheag receives bad news regarding her family, Sophronia, Dimity, and Pillover head to Sophronia's home to attend her eldest brother's engagement ball. All seems to be going swimmingly until Sidheag and two werewolves show up, and not long after the werewolves leave, all the mechanical servants suddenly freeze in their tracks and begin singing. The confusion provides the perfect cover for Sophronia and her friends to escape and help Sidheag head north, but none of them has the slightest inkling what chain of events this will set in motion.

This series just keeps getting better and better! Now that I've gotten more of a feel for who/what "Picklemen" are, I have no complaints whatsoever. Well, aside from the fact that I now have to wait for the next installment to be written and published.

For readers' advisors: story, character, and setting doorways are all strong. There is no sex or swearing (what Dimity considers "bad language" hardly counts).

Many many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher who let me read a free eGalley copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Seventh Grave and No Body

Seventh Grave and No Body (Charley Davidson, #7)Seventh Grave and No Body by Darynda Jones
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am so frustrated with this series right now!  It used to be one of my favorites, but after the first few books, the novelty and humor of Charley's particular brand of cavalier recklessness started wearing off, and now it grates on my nerves.  There is zero character development in book seven.  None.  Charley does not learn from her (gigantic!) mistakes.  At. All.  I listened to the downloadable audiobook version in my car on my commute, and so many times I found myself quite literally yelling at my stereo, "You are an IDIOT!!  No!  Nonononono!  Stupid stupid STUPID!!!"  My fellow motorists must have thought I'd lost my mind.

You would think that Ms. Jones would have Charley grow up at least a little bit over the course of the series.  Use some common sense every once in a while.  But no, despite being hunted by 12 Hellhounds so dangerous they terrify even the uber-powerful Son of Satan (Reyes) and the Champion Gladiator Demon (Osh), Charley repeatedly sneaks out, trying to evade her self-appointed bodyguards, putting everyone's life at risk...even AFTER her folly nearly kills said bodyguards.

You would think that Ms. Jones would have Charley learn to use her newfound powers strategically.  But faced with a human villain in a house with a human victim, does she take advantage of her supernatural talents and friends, slowing time long enough to capture the murderer and free the prisoner?  No, instead she starts a fight with her protectors on the front lawn.

It's as though she goes out of her way to be self-absorbed and childish.  She never takes seriously Reyes' admonition to learn to use her special abilities to fight for her life against the Hounds, and in the climactic showdown, it's like she basically forgot everything Reyes taught her and just sat frozen and useless for most of the battle while everyone else was ripped to shreds.

One of my other pet peeves with this book is that you could create a new drinking game based on the number of times Charley says, "affianced," "sweet," and "It was weird."  Repeated words and phrases stuck out like sore thumbs in audiobook format, as did the excessive explicit sex scenes.  All of which really got in the way of the story.  When Ms. Jones got out of her own way and focused on the fast-paced story, the book was really exciting and enjoyable.

For readers' advisors:  story doorway.  Lots and lots of sex and profanity.  Some humor (or attempts thereof).

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Rocky Mountain Miracle

Rocky Mountain MiracleRocky Mountain Miracle by Christine Feehan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Someone has been spreading rumors that, to get his hands on millions of dollars in inheritance money, Cole Steele killed his father and intends to kill Jase, his fourteen year old brother. Itinerant veterinarian Maia catches Cole's attention when he hears her defend him to the locals, and he starts hanging out in the bar watching her play drums several nights a week. Cole is doing his best to convince her to sleep with him when he gets a call from Jase, frantic because his favorite horse has been severely injured. Cole insists Maia go with him to the ranch. As they drive through the increasing snowstorm, animals swoop down from the darkness and run into their path, frantic to warn Maia of danger ahead--men and blood and violence.

However, between the snowstorms, the injured horse, and a wounded mountain lion, Maia isn't leaving the ranch any time soon. Thank goodness for Jase's presence because Cole gets sexier as his secrets come to light and barriers soften and collapse. When she learns Christmas is a traumatic time of year in the Steele household, Maia is determined to do what she can to banish the hateful ghost that permeates the house. But it isn't a ghost causing the dangerous accidents, and Cole soon realizes that whoever killed his father is still out there.

Seriously, I got it the first time--he's a sexy bad boy inexplicably obsessed with the traveling vet, and even though she knows better, she's attracted to him, too. Despite the obnoxiously repetitious beginning, I eventually enjoyed this story of abused brothers learning to trust each other and heal with the help of a vet who can communicate with animals. I kind of wanted the mountain lion to have a bigger role in the story, though.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. There is a fair amount of swearing; some pretty explicit sex scenes; and a ridiculous number of descriptions of the main characters' potent attractiveness destroying all good intentions of self control, liquid fire of desire, careful defenses not working, branding kisses, yada yada yada.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I really wish all romance authors would take Alison Armstrong's Queen's Code workshops (see before they wrote any more novels. Lust does NOT equal love, and too much sexual chemistry is a bad thing, not the fire that keeps a relationship going as so many people seem to believe. Which is not to say that attraction isn't critically important, just that both parties need to feel comfortable enough to be their true selves in order for a relationship (of any kind, really) to grow and strengthen over time. Desperately twisting oneself into a pretzel in an effort to be what one thinks the other wants never works in the long run, and neither does invading someone's personal space with blatant sexuality. Ms. Feehan does eventually get her characters to the point of showing their true selves to each other, but I almost didn't read far enough to find that out because the beginning of this novella was so full of raging lust and hormones.

I received a free eGalley copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  Apparently this novella was published a decade or so ago as part of a couple of story collections and is now being repackaged on its own in ebook format.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Heroes Are My Weakness

Heroes Are My WeaknessHeroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost quit reading within the first few chapters because I really didn't much care for any of the characters, but I'm glad I kept going because they eventually started to grow on me.

The novel opens with Annie Hewitt, a debt-ridden ventriloquist stricken with pneumonia, driving through a blizzard on a small island off the coast of Maine to a cottage she must live in for the next 60 straight days lest ownership revert to her ex-stepfather. The sudden appearance of a man on horseback causes her to skid off the road into a snow-filled ditch, and things don't improve even after she drags her feverish self and her suitcases of puppets through the cold night to the dark cottage where the caretaker hasn't turned on the utilities as requested. The rider turns out to be her former step-brother and ex-boyfriend whom she hasn't seen in 18 years--since he tried to kill her. Theo Harp is now a famous author and recent widower, but this time she has the courage to stand up to him, in the process learning that all wasn't as it seemed back when they were teenagers.

Annie's mother never treated her very kindly, but on her deathbed, she promised Annie that the cottage contained "her legacy" and there would be plenty of money, so Annie begins the search, hoping to discover something that could help pay off the bills she incurred catering to her mother's dying whims. Annie spends hours up at Harp House trading housekeeping labor (to prevent Theo from firing her friend who can't do the work due to a broken foot) for wi-fi access so she can research the art and objects she finds. None of it seems valuable, but someone sure wants to scare Annie away because there is a series of break-ins, vandalism, threats, and once someone even shoots at her.

My favorite part of the book, I think, is the subplot about Jaycie's four-year-old daughter Livia who became mute after witnessing her mother shoot her father. Annie's talent for ventriloquism helps draw Livia out and start the healing process.

For reader's advisors: character and setting doorways. There is some swearing and eventually some sex scenes.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies & ConspiraciesCurtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #2 in the series kicks off with the girls in Sophronia's class at the floating Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality undergoing their six-month evaluations, the results of which put everyone out of sorts. Sophronia is grateful for the friendship of Vieve and the sooties in the boiler room, and visits them even more frequently. It's with their assistance that she begins to work out the threads of the complicated machinations afoot regarding a new guidance valve and a test of aether travel. Many factions seem to have a stake in the outcome, from Picklemen to flyway men, vampires to government agents, and it's up to Sophronia to figure out who is trying to kidnap her friends Dimity and Pillover, and for heaven's sake, why?

Although I still haven't managed to work out exactly who the Picklemen are and what their agenda is, I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced romp through an alternate 19th century England where werewolves and vampires live side by side with ordinary humans, and most of the servants are mechanical. It was interesting to watch Sophronia grow and learn the hard way that sometimes her actions have unexpected consequences--a lesson all teenagers need, even the exceptionally mature ones.

For readers' advisors: setting and story doorways are primary. No sex or bad language. Sophronia is in a bit of a love triangle, but so far everyone is very formal and respectful.

I received a free ebook copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Sixth Grave on the Edge

Sixth Grave on the Edge (Charley Davidson, #6)Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book #6 picks up only a few days after Book #5 ends. Charley's life hasn't become any less chaotic or complicated. Since Reyes proposed, Charley has been stalling and trying to uncover more information about his background, namely his human family. As a favor to FBI Agent Carson, she's looking into a long-unsolved kidnapping where the missing child just happens to be the one and only Reyes Farrow--a fact Agent Carson does not know. However, it's not as straightforward as Charley thinks: there is more than one kidnapping in this particular story, which mucks everything up.

While she's trying to figure out what to do, gunmen break in and threaten to harm her nearest and dearest if she doesn't track down a witness to a murder who is being kept in protective custody. Again, there is more to this story, and not everyone will escape unscathed.

She also gets a visit from a panicked man who lost his soul to a demon in a card game and needs her to get it back for him so he can someday go to heaven to be with his 3-year-old daughter who just died. Over Reyes' objections, she goes to meet the demon and makes her own bargain with him. A demon with an ulterior motive? What a shock!

Then there is the ghost who so terrifies her teenage friend Quentin, that she traps him on a tram car until Charley can come to his rescue and help the girl cross over. The child's abusive life and horrible death prompt Charley to make it her mission to discover what really happened and ensure supernatural justice takes place.

In the midst of all this, Angel's mom tracks Charley down, demanding a truthful explanation for the money Charley has been depositing into her bank account every month. Angel is furious when (some of) the truth comes out, and it leads to more revelations of what really happened when he died.

Add to that Charley's "ingenious" plan to make Uncle Bob jealous enough to ask Cookie setting her up on several consecutive blind dates. As with all of Charley's plans, it goes awry. It's a busy week in Albuquerque.

There is actually so much going on in this installment of the series, that it felt very much like a middle book--a way station enroute to a larger climactic moment in a later book. Lots of loose ends that don't get tied up, especially with Charley's dad's mysterious behaviour. It feels to me like it ended mid-scene, in fact. I was a little startled when the credits music started playing, as I had been expecting another chapter to follow.

While I still enjoy the author's style, I did find myself a little frustrated that there really wasn't any character development for Charley. Despite all her catastrophes and near-death misadventures, she just never seems to grow up at all. I appreciate that much of her attitude and banter is a defense mechanism, yet I really wished she would learn to think things through a little more, to heed other people's warnings and not barrel head-down into danger all the time, forcing others to come to her rescue. She's got a big heart, but I'm growing a little weary of her foolish recklessness.

I wonder how much of my dissatisfaction has to do with the fact that I listened to the book instead of reading it? The narrator, Lorelei King, did an excellent job, I thought, of giving each character a distinct voice and personality. I'm not sure why Cookie's voice was so deep as to sound masculine, but otherwise I thought Ms. King did an excellent job of bringing to life the words on the page. However, when read out loud, I really noticed the repetition of certain elements, like Charley asking, "What can go wrong?" or all the ways to talk about Reyes being hot--in all senses of that word. I found myself much more impatient than with earlier books. I think I'll go back to print rather than audio with Book #7.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. There is a great deal of swearing and sexual content. I've seen this book characterized as "urban fantasy," which makes a certain amount of sense--it's too chaotic and lacking a central mystery to call it a "mystery." I listed it as "suspense," but it's also not terribly suspenseful, although "humorous romantic paranormal suspense" is more or less how I'd describe it.

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Royal Airs

Royal Airs (Elemental Blessings, #2)Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #2 in the Elemental Blessings series features Princess Josetta and her sister Princess Corene. When Corene flees her abusive stepfather, she is rescued by professional gambler Rafe Adova not too far from the shelter Josetta runs just south of the Cinque, the five-sided boulevard separating the nicer part of Chialto from the slums. That encounter is a turning point the lives of all three, as well as the start of an unexpected turn in the complicated politics of the nation.

I was grateful for the explanatory charts of characters, blessings, calendars, and money that Shinn includes at the start of the book. I referred to them time and again to help me keep track of the complicated relationships between characters, especially. It had been a while since I'd read the first book in the series, and the family connections are even more muddled now, thanks to revelations in Book #1 (Troubled Waters) as well as in the second half of Book #2.

For readers' advisors: setting and story doorways are primary, character secondary. One swear word, and the few sex scenes are nearly entirely offscreen.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Books Can Be Deceiving

Books Can Be Deceiving (Library Lover's Mystery, #1)Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lindsay Norris is the director of a small town public library. Her best friend Beth is the children's librarian. Beth has spent the past five years dating a famous picture book author/illustrator who is a total jerk, and she breaks up with him the night before discovering he has plagiarized her work on a picture book she wrote and would like to get published. When she and Lindsay go to confront him, they discover he has already had a fatal confrontation with someone else, but the town's police chief is convinced he need look no further than the angry ex-girlfriend to close this murder case. Lindsay refuses to let her best friend be railroaded and sets out to solve the crime herself.

My favorite thing about this book were the snippets of library life--very very brief mentions of quirky questions and patrons. As a reference librarian, I can totally identify with those. Unfortunately, the characters and much of the story felt pretty one-dimensional and formulaic. It wasn't a terrible book. I just really wanted to like it more than I did, and I was hampered by the stereotypical characterizations and idiotic actions of the narrator, especially by the end of the novel. I mean, seriously, someone breaks into your apartment in the middle of the night, and once you chase the person out, you don't pick up the phone and call the detective?! Yeah, I can see not calling the idiotic chief of police, but to not pull out the intelligent detective's business card, even the next morning?? Oy.

I'm also confused by something that happened at the crucial climactic moment, but as talking about it would be even more spoiler-ish than my previous complaint, I will just rant to my mom, who read the book before she gave it to me. (Standard practice in our family.)

For readers' advisors: story doorway. No sex, on-screen violence, or swearing.

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Monday, September 1, 2014

I Ate a Cicada Today

I Ate a Cicada TodayI Ate a Cicada Today by Jeff Crossan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"I ate a cicada today. I know that sounds crazy to say. But it flew in my mouth, and it didn't fly out. I ate a cicada today."

For kids, especially 8 year old boys, who are enjoying language exploration, this could be a fun choice. The vocabulary, rhymes, and humor would most likely fly over the heads of preschoolers, but primary school students should get a kick out of both the book and the song as well.

The illustrations are simple watercolors which enhance and emphasize the humor of the random, quirky lyrics. ("I followed a swallow today. She wanted me to go away. She swerved and she swooped. I looked up, and...oops!"

This picture book comes with a CD, but my free review e-copy didn't include the audio files, so I've only heard a sample of the first few pages. I can't speak to the full song, but the sample certainly got stuck in my head! I think elementary school teachers could easily incorporate Crossan's book and music into their story times.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Goodbye Witch

The Goodbye Witch (A Wishcraft Mystery, #4)The Goodbye Witch by Heather Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Darcy's best friend Starla rushes in to As You Wish, panic-stricken because she's just seen her ex-husband for the first time since he tried to kill her two years ago, Darcy is determined to keep her friend safe. The trouble is, no one else can see Kyle, and how do you defend against someone you can't see? While Darcy's police chief boyfriend focuses on locating the fugitive, Darcy turns her attention to puzzling out why Kyle has suddenly reappeared after all this time. As with everything in this magical village, all is not as it seems, and unraveling the secrets to uncover the truth can be painful in more ways than one.

This is my favorite book in the series so far. The character development is especially strong for a cozy mystery, and I really enjoyed the relationships between all the major and even the minor characters. I admit, I was teary-eyed on more than one occasion! Bring on book #5!

For readers' advisors: character and story are both strong. There is no sex, bad language, or on-screen violence. There is magic, however, as most of the main characters are witches or related to witches. Contemporary setting--a magic-themed neighborhood of Salem, Massachusetts.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Mill River Redemption

The Mill River Redemption: A NovelThe Mill River Redemption: A Novel by Darcie Chan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the early 1980s, Josie DiSanti flees to Mill River with her two young daughters after they lose everything in a house fire, including Josie's husband.  The trio takes refuge with Josie's aunt, a lovely, generous woman Josie barely knows, and they begin to rebuild their lives.  Twenty or so years later, a tragic accident breaks the bonds of sisterhood.  A decade goes by in icy silence, until their mother's will forces Rose and Emily to live side by side one summer and work together to solve the clues to unlock their inheritance.

It's easy to get hooked into this story and the lives of these characters.  The nonlinear storytelling keeps readers in suspense for much of the novel, wondering what exactly happened the night of the fire and how is it possible that two sisters went from being devoted confidants to mortal enemies?  Eventually I did get a little impatient and wished Chan would hurry it up and tell the backstory faster, as she alternated between the early '80s and present day for most of the book.

The road to Rose's alcoholism was paved with Josie's good intentions, and my heart broke for them even as I inwardly groaned and chided her for focusing too much time on her career--a completely understandable series of mistakes that predictably snowballed into a giant mess.

I haven't yet read the first of the Mill River books--Mill River Recluse--so I'm not sure how much the characters overlap, but I got the feeling with this novel that the secondary storylines must have picked up where they left off in the first book.   I'm hoping the same is true in the next book, since it seemed like there was still more story to tell.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, primarily.  No on-screen sex, but a little bit of bad language.  Many thanks to NetGalley for the free ebook copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

True Love

True Love (Nantucket Brides Trilogy, #1)True Love by Jude Deveraux
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three and a half stars.

Alix Madsen spent only one summer on Nantucket when she was a small child, so when Adelaide Kingsley dies and leaves Alix her home on the island for one year, Alix is puzzled and reluctant to go...until her boyfriend dumps her. After that, a year away seems much more enticing. What she doesn't know is that the year has strings attached: she is supposed to uncover what happened when Valentina Montgomery vanished two hundred and two years ago.

For his part, Jared Montgomery Kingsley really does not want Alix living in his home for the next year. She's a newly graduated architecture student, and he is a famous architect who has no desire to put up with the fawning adoration of an acolyte. He owes her parents for essentially saving him and putting him on the path to where he is now, yet he hates that he has to keep their secrets and not tell Alix that each of her parents has spent a great deal of time on Nantucket these past twenty years or so. However, his grand plan to avoid her falls through when she and her best friend Izzy arrive three days early. That's when he begins to discover that Alix is everything he never knew he wanted.

As expected, book one in the trilogy helped explain some of the context for book two, For All Time which I accidentally read first. I highly recommend reading the series in order.

When I began reading True Love, I wasn't sure I was going to like it. Jared starts out arguing with his (several times great) grandfather, the ghost who's haunted Kingsley House for the past two centuries. Caleb has been visible to each of the heirs as well as the occasional female relative...and Alix when she was four years old. The argument read like a temper tantrum, making 36-year-old Jared seem petulant and immature, but thankfully I kept reading because it got better. While he will never be my favorite fictional hero, Jared did grow up and develop over the course of the book.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story and setting secondary. Some sex scenes and sexual references. I can't recall if there is any swearing.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Witchy

The Good the Bad and the Witchy (A Wishcraft Mystery, #3)The Good the Bad and the Witchy by Heather Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book #3 in the Wishcraft Mystery series starts off with a boisterous birthday bash for Harriette, an eighty-year-old "floracrafter," (a witch whose magical specialty is flowers), complete with her signature black roses and an aging stripper. The party is just getting going when Darcy Merriweather discovers the recently murdered corpse of the young man who'd come to deliver the birthday cake. Michael's ghost attaches itself to Darcy, urging her to help him find his killer, but Darcy's snooping puts her in conflict with Nick, her police chief boyfriend, because it gives the jealous Glinda ammunition she can use to threaten the couple.

Ms. Blake does such a good job of weaving together subplots and building 3-dimensional characters--better than many, if not most, cozy mystery authors. That's why my rating for this one is 4 stars, even though I often wonder why someone doesn't just wish to discover the murderer--Darcy is a Wishcrafter, after all, and I don't recall any stated laws of wishcraft she'd be violating. Perhaps Ms. Blake will explain that in a future book? Then again, if wishing solved the murders, these books would be VERY short.

I finally realized what I am picturing in my head when I read descriptions of the Enchanted Village: the set of Gilmore Girls but with a magical theme. Makes me wish it were a real place.

For readers' advisors: story & character doorways are both strong, and setting is secondary. No sex, bad language, or on-screen violence.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Inn at Last Chance

Inn at Last Chance (Last Chance, #7)Inn at Last Chance by Hope Ramsay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jenny Carpenter used to be a teacher, but when she realized she was destined to become the unofficial spinster of Last Chance, South Carolina, she decided to take charge of her life in other ways and fulfill her dream of owning a B&B. She bought the rundown Jonquil House mansion from the last member of the Raintree family, famous horror author Gabriel Raintree, and she's spent the past few months renovating it into the floral-themed inn she's always wanted. She hasn't even received delivery of her mother's antique furniture yet when the grumpy former owner himself shows up on her doorstep demanding to be allowed to rent a room.

Gabe needs a quiet place to hide and write, and he is not pleased when the frumpy innkeeper turns him away. Jonquil House is both the source of his happiest memories and his greatest pain--the perfect place, he believes, to get his creative juices flowing again. Luckily for Gabe, Jenny's book group needs to ask him for a favor, so they guilt her into offering him a room in exchange for being the featured guest at their upcoming save-the-library fundraiser. And that is when the ghost starts making his presence known.

I requested a copy of this book from NetGalley, thinking it would be a nice, light romance, along the lines of Debbie Macomber's works. Just goes to show, you can't judge a book by its cover! Yes, some aspects were similar--e.g., there were no explicit sex scenes--but I was not expecting it to be more ghost story than grand passion.

I think the book had the potential to be a solid 4 stars instead of a weak 3 if Ms. Ramsay had also taken another look at her character development to make it more internally logical--i.e. to give it more of a solid foundation/structure on which to build the story. It would also have been nice to see Jenny develop more of a backbone & not be so meek with those sewing circle/book group ladies--the new pastor was a jerk, and she should have SAID so!

Ironically, I found the haunting more believable than the budding relationship. I found Gabriel's motives for hiding his diabetes from Jenny completely inexplicable, for example, and he was so rude to her for so long, and she had such unresolved mommy issues, that their attraction really didn't make much sense. Still, I did eventually root for them to get together.

What holds the book together is the plot, which I found to often be quite engaging, particularly when the ghost was acting up. However, I don't know that the homage to Jane Eyre works tremendously well, which would be great fodder for a book group discussion. (There is a reading group guide included at the end of the book.)

For readers' advisors: story doorway, a little swearing, what sex scenes there are fade to black. It's the seventh book in the series, so readers might want to start with book #1, Welcome to Last Chance.

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred DressesThe Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nobody really pays much attention to Wanda Petronski other than to tease the shy, silent girl about the hundred dresses she claims to have, so no one even notices at first when she stops showing up to school. When her classmates do think of her, it's often to wonder why she would lie about something so obvious--she clearly has only the one dress, which she wears every single day.

Maddie's best friend Peggy instigated the daily teasing sessions, and Maddie has always felt guilty about that, but she's been afraid to speak up for fear the girls' attention would turn to her next. After all, she's poor, too, although not quite so poor as Wanda. When Wanda stops coming to school, Maddie wants to do something to make up for hurting her, especially after they all learn the truth of the hundred dresses. But are they too late?

This classic story highlights not only the emotional pain inflicted by bullies but also the trauma caused by bystanders who privately object yet publicly do nothing to stop the abuse. Like Mean Girls, but for an older elementary school crowd. It would be a great choice for a classroom read-aloud and discussion (or role-playing session), as well as an excellent book for parents and grandparents to read (aloud or silently) and discuss with their children/grandchildren. Even though it was first published in 1944, it's still relevant today, other than the sexist design/coloring competition and the fact that girls only wear dresses to school.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sheila Rae's Peppermint Stick

Sheila Rae's Peppermint StickSheila Rae's Peppermint Stick by Kevin Henkes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great little book about an older sister who doesn't want to share with her younger sister. The illustrations really tell this story and convey Sheila Rae & Louise's feelings better than words could ever do. The last page, however, I often skip when reading to my daughter because it seems like it was tacked on to appease parents, and I don't find it believable. Too saccharine.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Death and the Girl He Loves

Death, and the Girl He Loves (Darklight, #3)Death, and the Girl He Loves by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not even moving to the other side of the country can stop Lorelei McAlister's visions of darkness, death, and destruction.  In fact, they have recently gotten worse.  So much for that plan to stave off the end of the world!  To add insult to injury, she's now receiving death threats.  I mean, come on!  Overkill, anyone?

When she's attacked at boarding school despite being in her own personal version of Witness Protection, Lorelei decides it's time to go back to New Mexico.  If the world is going to end, she might as well be with her friends and family, right?  Besides, Riley's Switch is where her gorgeous boyfriend Jared (a.k.a. Azrael, a.k.a. the Angel of Death) lives.

The conclusion to the Darklight trilogy is very fast-paced.  I raced through it in a couple of days, and only took that long because I (inconveniently) had to do other things like work, take care of my infant daughter, eat, sleep, wash dishes, and so on.   I thought the way Ms. Jones tied everything together at the end was both clever and satisfying, although I did have a couple of microseconds of feeling like the solution was a tiny bit too easy after three books of angst and whining.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character secondary.  No sex, but there is some heavy petting & a little bit of very mild swearing.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Death, Doom, and Detention

Death, Doom and Detention (Darklight, #2)Death, Doom and Detention by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lorelei McAlister, high school student and the last female descendent of the prophet Arabeth, is soon going to have to save the world from an invasion of demons. How? She has no idea. She's still struggling with the recently resurfaced memory of her parents' death when she was six--the day demons first broke through into this world, and Satan's second-in-command, Malak-Tuke, took up residence in her body.

Luckily for Lorelei, she's got some help in the form of a half-human/half-angel protector, Cameron; her best friends Brooklyn & Glitch; Jared, the super-sexy Angel of Death her grandparents won't let her date; and a network of church members who believe in the prophesies of Arabeth. Plus, she's just discovered she has the power to go inside a photograph to see what was happening in the moments just before it was taken, which is way cool, if not obviously helpful.

Even though Lorelei knows the war is coming soon, her more immediate concern is with the weird way everyone at school is starting to act. What is up with the stares? Even Jared is acting strangely. Her visions become increasingly specific and frightening, making class an ever more dangerous place to go.

I enjoyed book #2 far better than Death and the Girl Next Door. There is still a lot of whining and angst, but the story also gets fleshed out more--missing pieces filled in. The cliffhanger ending had me rushing to my computer to put book #3, Death and the Girl He Loves on hold at the library.

For readers' advisory: story doorway is primary, character secondary. Humorous, snappy dialogue. Heavy petting & teen hormones but no sex. I don't remember any swearing, but I'm writing this review a couple of months after finishing the book, so I can't be certain.

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Thursday, May 29, 2014


Shimmer (Charley Davidson, #5.5)Shimmer by Darynda Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Super short. Pretty humorous. Includes a fairly explicit sex scene. Well, the whole thing is just one scene, part of which is a quickie on the couch (that ends up on the floor). I'm not even sure what doorway(s) to tag it with because the whole thing is so short. Anyone who likes the Charley Davidson Grim Reaper series should enjoy this little vignette. Definitely don't read it unless you've read the first 5 books in the series, though, as it contains spoilers.

You can read it online here:

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Friday, May 23, 2014

A Witch Before Dying

A Witch Before Dying (A Wishcraft Mystery, #2)A Witch Before Dying by Heather Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Darcy Merriweather, Wishcrafter and sole remaining healthy employee of her aunt's private concierge service, As You Wish, has just been hired to clean out Patrice Keaton's house so her daughter Elodie can sell it. Patrice has been missing for a year and a half, and Elodie can no longer afford to maintain both her mother's house & business. She warns Darcy that it'll be a big job--Patrice was a hoarder--but neither one expect that one of the first things Darcy uncovers will be Patrice's dessicated body.

The more Darcy digs through the debris, the more she uncovers a complicated web of wishes and secrets. At the heart of it all is the Anicula, a charm that both mortals and Crafters (as the witches prefer to be called) alike can use to make unlimited wishes. It's a power coveted by many, and Darcy has her hands full determining who might want it enough to kill for it.

To top it all off, Darcy must complete her investigation while simultaneously dealing with her aunt's imminent wedding, which seems to have been cursed, so many things are going wrong, and the Peeper Creeper who's been watching Darcy from the woods and breaking into homes all over town.

The second installment of the Wishcraft Mystery series does not disappoint. It's light, fun, and a fast read full of quirky characters you'd love to know in real life. Well, perhaps not the creepy Andreus Woodshall, who looks normal in the daylight and scary in the shadows. But definitely handsome police chief Nick Sawyer and his spunky daughter Mimi, Darcy herself, feisty Mrs. Pennywhistle, and the "familiars," Archie the macaw and Pepe the mouse.

For readers' advisors: story doorway, with character a distant second. No sex or on-screen violence, no bad language.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

For All Time

For All Time (Nantucket Brides Trilogy, #2)For All Time by Jude Deveraux
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Montgomery-Taggert clan is back with a whole new generation, but some things remain the same: family legend states you marry the one who can tell the twins apart. Problem is, this time the twins are princes, and the heir to the throne has his engagement already arranged. Still, Graydon is fascinated by Toby and decides to trade places with his younger brother and stay on Nantucket for an extra week after his cousin's wedding just to see what it's like to feel like an ordinary man rather than a crown prince.

Toby's introduction to the twins does not go well. When Rory approaches her group at the restaurant the night before the wedding, she takes an instant dislike to his presumption they'd stop what they were doing and pay attention to him. The day of the wedding, Graydon pretends it was he who'd come over to them at the bar, angering Toby, who hates liars, especially smooth, handsome ones like the men her mother constantly throws in her path. He will have to work very hard to convince her to give him another chance.

An accident in Lanconia means Graydon has to stay put for a while, joined by his bodyguards, Daire and Lorcan. Initial assumptions lead to hurt feelings, which leads to Toby falling asleep in a vacant house and dreaming of a past life filled with friends and family in different clothing and social roles. It's the most realistic dream Toby's ever had, though, and suddenly, a tiny hidden room in the house fills her with terror and the conviction that she once died inside. At least the mystery serves to somewhat distract Toby from the knowledge that her time with Graydon will soon end, so falling in love with him would be a Bad Idea.

Unbeknownst to me when I requested the ARC from NetGalley, this is the second book in the series. I normally do not read series books out of order, and this is a prime example of why: I spent much of the novel wishing there were a detailed family tree and glossary of people and houses to help me keep track of who was whom. I kept having to flip back and reread pages, trying to piece together what was going on and how everyone was related. I'd definitely suggest reading this series in order, since one book flows right in to the next.

I'd classify this romance novel as a good beach read. Graydon is so improbably perfect (A prince who cooks, organizes messy rooms, waters plants, has the body of a toned warrior, and pitches in to help plan a fancy wedding? Riiiiight.) that I almost tagged the book "fantasy." It's a fun read, though.

For readers' advisors: story doorway. Lots of kissing, not much sex or bad language.

I received a free Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Summer at Willow Lake

Summer At Willow Lake (Lakeshore Chronicles, #1)Summer At Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Olivia Bellamy is a talented "fluffer" of real estate, but her eye for design doesn't transfer to her romantic life, and once again she has chosen poorly when it comes to men. She has been expecting a proposal, not another disillusionment, and when the ax falls, she takes her grandmother up on a summer-long job offer to escape the city and lick her metaphorical wounds. Olivia is tasked with getting Camp Kioga, the family's former summer camp, rehabilitated in time for her grandparents' 50th wedding celebration. Problem is, the only local contractor available turns out to be the very same man who broke her heart when they were teenage counselors at the camp ten years ago.

Connor Davis isn't quite the Bad Boy he likes to let people think he is. He has built a successful business and plans to build his dream home on a piece of property he bought. But dream homes cost money, so he takes the job at Camp Kioga not realizing that "Olivia" is the same person as "Lolly," his former best friend and the love of his life. He never told her what really happened all those years ago, so he's got a steep hill to climb to win her trust again.

This is the first installment in the Lakeshore Chronicles series, and it's interesting how many subplots/secondary characters end up getting novels of their own later. Ms. Wiggs does a good job of laying the groundwork early. Of course, part of the reason I know that is that I accidentally read this book fourth, or so, instead of first. I'm not sure how that happened, as I hate reading series out of order, and I've owned a copy of this book for so long, I no longer recall when/where/how I came to have it on my nightstand.

As with most, if not all(?), the other books in this series, this tale is non-linear in chronology, slowly doling out information to readers, while the main characters know most of what happened all those years (and even decades) ago. I like this style better in the other books where the characters are more often learning alongside the reader what really happened at crucial junctures in the past. This volume would have been better had the revelations occurred more quickly, in my opinion. As it was, I sometimes grew tired of Olivia's repetitive insecurity--by the age of 27, you'd think at least some of that would have worn off, especially when her business became so popular and she lost the weight she'd gained in adolescence. It's a good beach read, but lacks the depth of later books in the series.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character secondary. There are a couple of sex scenes, but they're not particularly explicit, as well as some inner dialogue (monologues?) of horny adolescents. Some mild swearing on occasion as well.

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The Pigeon Loves Things That Go!

The Pigeon Loves Things That Go!The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! by Mo Willems
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no story to this book--it's a very short list of "things that go," including a joke at the end that will appeal to preschoolers learning about humor. I'm not sure it's suited to be a board book (which is the copy we own) because babies and toddlers won't get the joke. On the other hand, it's really too short to be a proper picture book. Perhaps the board book format just helps keep younger siblings from tearing the pages?

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Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book! The expressions on Pigeon's face are pitch perfect--EXACTLY like a child trying to distract you from putting him (or her) to bed.  Great for caregivers of preschool-age children (also kindergarteners & even first graders) to read to said children.  Or just to read to themselves for the chuckles and memories.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

That Summer

That SummerThat Summer by Lauren Willig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Julia has been fiercely American since moving to New York when she was a young girl. She has blocked out nearly all memories of her years in London while her mother was still alive, so when she receives word she's inherited a house from a great aunt she doesn't remember having, she thinks it might be a scam. Then during the course of cleaning out the house and the accumulated detritus of generations, she discovers a vibrant painting in the back of a wardrobe, and curiosity leads her to investigate its provenance and ties to a portrait in the drawing room. She is aided by Nick, the handsome antiques dealer her cousin Natalie has laid claim to...which doesn't do much for family harmony.

One hundred and sixty years earlier, Imogen Grantham reluctantly posed for a portrait her husband commissioned. She had no desire to spend so much time in the presence of a man who seemed to see too much, but like most things in her life, she had little choice in the matter. Over the course of their weekly sessions, however, artist and subject gradually became friends. When their friendship turned intimate, life got complicated.

This would make a great book group selection. When I finished reading, I desperately wanted to talk it over with someone, to discuss and analyze what really happened back in January of 1850.

The story alternates between 1849 and 2009, primarily, and I found myself getting nervous reading the historical sections because the atmosphere felt so dark and oppressive that it didn't seem likely Imogen and Gavin's story would end well. Emotionally it was easier for me to read the modern-day sections, even as Julia struggled to finally face the truth of what happened the day her mother died a quarter century ago.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story and setting secondary. There are only a couple of mild swear words that I can recall, and no on-screen sex scenes.

I received a free Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) from in exchange for my honest review.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

A Potion to Die For: A Magic Potion Mystery

A Potion to Die For: A Magic Potion MysteryA Potion to Die For: A Magic Potion Mystery by Heather Blake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carly Bell Hartwell's love potions are never more popular than when Mr. Dunwoody predicts someone will be getting divorced soon. His occasional prognostications are never wrong and inevitably lead to Carly being chased to her potion shop by a mob of panicked spouses worried that their marriages might be less solid than they thought. That all changes the morning Carly and her hex-selling cousin Delia discover a body in Carly's break room--a body clutching one of Carly's potion bottles. The fact that the potion wasn't the cause of death doesn't seem to matter to the spooked crowd, which evaporates as quickly as it gathered. The investigation, led by Carly's delicious ex-fiance, Sergeant Dylan Jackson, doesn't progress fast enough to suit Carly's dwindling bank account, and when her falling down house demands immediate repairs, Carly decides to ferret out the truth of who killed local lawyer Nelson Winston, and why she's being framed for it.

Quirky characters fill the pages of the first book in this fun new cozy contemporary mystery series from the author of the Wishcraft Mysteries. Blake does a good job of bringing the small town of Hitching Post, Alabama, wedding capital of the South, to life.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character and setting are secondary. I'm marking it "clean reads" because I can't remember any bad language, and there are no sex scenes or on-screen violence.

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Garden Spells

Garden SpellsGarden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So far as I can tell, this has been my most popular review on Goodreads.  Since I'm behind in writing my reviews, I decided to post this older (2007) one here in the meantime.  Enjoy!

What I learned from this book is...if an apple tree throws its apples at you, for goodness sake, pay attention already!

This book is lovely, magical, enchanting. I sat down to read just one chapter, basically to decide whether it was worth holding onto even though it was already overdue. At 2:30 a.m. I finished the whole darn thing. Couldn't stop myself. I floated in a state of suspended reality, where time had no meaning.

The basic idea of the book: two sisters experienced their childhoods very differently. Now, as adults, they must come to terms with choices, past and present, and with the unique abilities each woman inherited. In Bascom, North Carolina, townsfolk know Claire's garden grows produce with mystical properties, like the honeysuckle wine she makes that lets you see in the dark. Sydney has a gift for revealing a person's inner self through a haircut. Bay always knows where things belong. And whatever Evanelle gives you, no matter how strange, you'll be certain to need before too long.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Jane's Melody

Jane's Melody (Jane's Melody, #1)Jane's Melody by Ryan Winfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jane first sees Caleb at the cemetery, standing at her daughter's new grave, but he vanishes before she can talk to him. She next runs across him playing his guitar on the streets of Seattle, where he is reluctant to speak about her daughter, Melody. The third time she finds him, he has just been mugged, robbed of his guitar and hence his livelihood, so she makes the impulsive decision to take him home with her, hire him to do a major yard renovation, in the hopes that he'll open up and tell her more about her daughter's last days and weeks before her drug overdose. She soon learns that Caleb is mature far beyond his 24 years, and his presence in her life might be the balm she didn't know she needed, if only she is brave enough to take the necessary leap.

For a romance novel, there is an enormous amount of grief and melancholy permeating the pages. Jane's life hasn't been easy--from her family of addicts and enablers, to the boyfriend who abandoned her when she got pregnant in college, to raising her daughter on her own on an insurance agent's unpredictable salary, to the heartbreak of losing her daughter to drugs and alcohol. Still, she has created a life for herself in spite of her obstacles. She has a close circle of friends and a nice home. What she lacks is self confidence, which is one of the three reasons I had difficulty suspending disbelief on occasion. I just couldn't always buy that Caleb would be so attracted to a woman who had no concept of her own self-worth that he'd think a 16-year age difference was irrelevant. What did he find irresistible about a grieving woman who had no faith in her own lovability?

The second quibble I had with the story was also related to Caleb's age. Twenty-four is still in the "Knight" phase for men (see Alison Armstrong's PAX Program) where they are seeking adventure and testing their mettle. Had Caleb been a few years older--say, 30--it would have been far easier to believe he was wanting to find his "Queen" and build his castle, so to speak. Likewise, it would have been more plausible that he had had time to cultivate domestic and handyman skills. It jolted me out of the world of the story every time Caleb demonstrated knowledge and aptitude for something that it didn't seem likely he'd have learned while homeless or couch-surfing, although I suppose some of those skills might have been learned when he was still a kid.

My third bone to pick with the book happened mostly in the middle of the novel when Jane and Caleb were having sex in every conceivable room on every conceivable surface all the time. I think it's a male delusion that (sorry for the blunt language ahead) women orgasm due solely to penetration. Almost no women can do this (see Mary Roach's book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex). I guess it just makes men feel better to believe what works for them also feels earth-moving to their partners? So it was absurd to have Jane in raptures at Caleb's prowess when most of the time he was just demonstrating stamina, not finesse. My eyes rolled so hard, I think I sprained muscles.

That said, I really did enjoy large chunks of the story. The scene where Jane reads Melody's baby book had me bawling. Jane's friendship with Grace was beautiful and also had me in tears sometimes. When I could forget the age, self-esteem, and sex issues, I was totally absorbed in the book.

For readers' advisors: character doorways is primary, story and setting (Puget Sound area, mostly) secondary. Clearly there are sex scenes, so don't suggest it to anyone who asks for "clean reads." It's a contemporary romance, the first in a series that continues with Jane's Harmony.

I received a free ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

The Winter Lodge

The Winter Lodge (Lakeshore Chronicles, #2)The Winter Lodge by Susan Wiggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jenny Majesky has secretly always wanted to be a writer, but instead she's been running the family's bakery since her grandfather died and her grandmother had a stroke. Lately she has also been writing a popular food column for the local newspaper based on her grandmother's old recipes from Poland, and she dreams of turning her columns into a book, but her dreams go up in smoke one night when the family home burns to the ground only a few weeks after her grandmother passes away. Shell-shocked by her series of staggering losses, Jenny teeters on the brink of despair, rescued by the estranged love of her life, police chief Rourke McKnight, her newly discovered half sister Olivia, and the wider Bellamy clan.

When Rourke heard the address of the house fire, he broke all kinds of speed records racing to the scene, heart in his throat, bargaining with God the entire way. He vowed to never again be so stupid as to let Jenny go if only she could please survive the conflagration. And when he discovered her alive and well at the bakery, puzzled by his unexpected arrival, his relief confused her even further, for it had been years since the pair had allowed themselves to so much as be in the same room together. Then Jenny learned she was homeless, and Rourke leapt at the chance to make good on his promise and insisted she stay with him until she could get back on her feet...or forever. But first it will take a lot of work to overcome the years of pain and guilt that have kept them apart.

I absolutely LOVED this book. The characters felt so real, even when they made bad choices I could sympathize. The love triangle between Rourke, Jenny, and Joey was heart-breaking because each of them truly loved the other two and wanted what was best for them, despite disagreeing what that might be.

Wiggs continues her pattern of setting up future books in the series, most particularly with the Daisy sub-plot (see Marrying Daisy Bellamy). And I thought the structure of flipping back and forth between past events and present-day worked better in this book than in the first book in the series (which I admittedly accidentally read after this one). I am tagging this book "mystery" as well as "romance" because Jenny finally uncovers the truth about her mother's disappearance all those years ago, and it has repercussions--and dangers--for her life today.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways are both strong, and setting (bucolic Avalon, NY) seems to be a big draw for some readers as well. There is a little swearing and some sex, but not terribly explicit. I had a very hard time putting this book down.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Candlelight Christmas

Candlelight ChristmasCandlelight Christmas by Susan Wiggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Logan O'Donnell is a dedicated father who's worked hard to provide for his son, Charlie, creating and running a prosperous insurance company in the small town of Avalon. When his ex-wife's new husband gets transferred to a far away military base, Logan is left with a Charlie-sized hole in his life, and he decides to embark on a new business venture, one that fills him with the passion and purpose his insurance company never has. It's his sister's friend, Darcy, who gives him the idea.

Darcy has just divorced her cheating ex-husband and vows never again to marry, especially not a man with kids. Giving up her stepchildren was as difficult as giving up her marriage. Still, it's hard to resist Logan, and even harder when he sets out to persuade her to give them a chance.

I am so delighted to see Logan get the happiness he deserves! I felt so bad for him in Marrying Daisy Bellamy because he tried so hard to make things work and be the best father he could be, and it wasn't his fault that Daisy was in love with someone else. I'm glad Ms. Wiggs gave him his own book. Interestingly, according to the timeline of book #2 in this series, The Winter Lodge, this book takes place in about 2018.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways. Some sex scenes but nothing terribly explicit.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Dixie Wants an Allergy

Dixie Wants an AllergyDixie Wants an Allergy by Tori Corn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dixie goes to school, it seems like all her new friends have exciting allergies that let them do fun things like wear sparkly bracelets, eat special snacks, and go for rides in ambulances. Dixie feels left out, and she wants an allergy, too! All too soon she learns to be careful what she wishes for because having an allergy is not all it's cracked up to be. The next time she makes a wish, she'll wish for something better.

This is a cute picture book to introduce the concept of allergies to a young child. I liked how the illustrations showed Dixie daydreaming about having an allergy like each of her friends and being the center of attention, but then discovering that being the center of attention can be quite uncomfortable. My one suggestion to parents and grandparents would be to pair it with a story where the main character doesn't always get what s/he wishes for, since in this book both of Dixie's wishes come true, giving a mild underlying impression that all wishes come true, which isn't the lesson I'd want to teach.

I received a free ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

The Chase

The Chase (O'Hare and Fox, #2)The Chase by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Master thief Nick Fox and FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare have returned, teaming up to steal back an ancient Chinese statue from former White House Chief of Staff, Carter Grove, who stole it years ago from the Smithsonian Museum--a fact only a select handful of people know. China wants their statue back now, though, so Nick and Kate have only a couple of weeks to break in to Grove's heavily guarded and wired mansion, grab the statue, sneak in to the heavily guarded private airplane of the Chinese playboy sent to retrieve it, and swap the real one for the fake one in the safe. What could go wrong?

Carter Grove is a Bad Guy (patterned a bit after Karl Rove, perhaps?)--he's manipulative, greedy, unscrupulous, controlling, and runs a private security forces company staffed by mercenaries chosen because they enjoy killing. He feels entitled to have whatever he wants, including a wide variety of expensive artwork belonging to other people. When he realizes he's been robbed, his fury knows no bounds, and he sets out to destroy everyone who tricked him.

Luckily, Kate and Nick have backup: Kate enlists her dad--a retired black ops agent--and a couple of his old cronies. Nick finds a disgruntled Geek Squad techie willing to put his hacking skills to use for the greater good. Plus Boyd and Willie make encore appearances as well.

Whereas the first book in the series reminded me of a combination of the TV shows White Collar and Burn Notice, the second book also reminds me of the movie Ocean's Eleven. Nick manages to merge Matt Bomer's (White Collar) intelligent con artist with that of Simon Baker's (in The Mentalist) and add it to Jeffrey Donovan's (Burn Notice) and George Clooney's (Ocean's Eleven) strategic thinking. Special Agent Kate strikes me as a blend of Mary McCormack's character in In Plain Sight and Sandra Bullock's character at the beginning of Miss Congeniality, albeit less frumpy.

I think I liked this one a little better than the first one, mostly because all the setup was out of the way. Once you accept the basic premise of a straight-laced FBI agent sacrificing some of her principles to work with the very criminal she's dedicated her career to putting behind bars, then you can just sit back and enjoy the wild ride. What I don't understand is why this book is called The Chase and the first is The Heist, when really it would make more sense the other way around.

For readers' advisors: it's a fast-paced adventure with no sex and very little swearing. Story doorway is primary.

I received a free ebook Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Kenny and the Dragon

Kenny and the DragonKenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kenny Rabbit is a bookish sort of a boy. He lives on a farm with his parents, and his best friend is the town's bookseller. Then Kenny's dad spies a dragon on their farm, and Kenny learns that not everything you read in books is true, certainly not when it comes to dragons. THIS dragon loves creme brulée and hasn't ever eaten a princess. Unfortunately, the townsfolk are fearful of having a dragon in their midst, and Kenny must come up with a daring plan to save his new friend.

I absolutely fell in love with this sweet story of friendship, loyalty, bravery, and ingenuity! I can see why it won Switzerland's Prix Chronos award, which, according to Tony DiTerlizzi's website is "an inter-generational book award with the ambition to encourage people to read and to bring together generations: children at the age of 10 to 12 and elderly people together read and review five nominated books."

For readers' advisors: It's got some great vocabulary words, so it might be a bit of a stretch for some 3rd and 4th graders, but it would make a great choice for reading with an adult at bedtime.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Bad Kitty School Daze

Bad Kitty School DazeBad Kitty School Daze by Nick Bruel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Kitty and Puppy fight like, well, cats and dogs! All that hissing and chasing has gotten them in trouble, though, so it's off to obedience school to learn how to play well with others. Can Puppy learn to control his drool? Can Kitty learn how to improve her attitude? The teacher, Miss Dee, sure has her work cut out for her.

The illustrations in this book are just superb! It's practically a graphic novel because so much of the story is conveyed wordlessly through the animals' expressions and body language. I'd not heard of this series before, but they were on a face-out display at Powell's Books and caught my eye, so I picked this one up and right away started cracking up. It's such a fast read, I almost read the whole thing while standing in the aisle, but eventually I decided to go ahead and purchase it for my nephew and read the rest when I got home. A couple of weeks later, a little girl I know had it with her, and we started talking about it--she loved it as much as I did, although for slightly different reasons, given our age & experience differences. We sure agreed about how funny it was, though!

For readers' advisors: fast-paced read, perhaps good for reluctant readers due to the prevalence of visual clues and relative lack of written words (for a chapter book). Perhaps a read-alike for the Captain Underpants series?? I haven't read those in a while, so please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth

Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Super SleuthFancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth by Jane O'Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was cute. Nancy is rather more mature for her age than is quite believable, but fans who have outgrown the Fancy Nancy picture books will probably like this new series of short chapter books. The vocabulary is pretty advanced for easy chapter books, but O'Connor does continue the pattern of Nancy using big words and then explaining their meanings, which helps.

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Nancy Clancy, Secret Admirer

Nancy Clancy, Secret AdmirerNancy Clancy, Secret Admirer by Jane O'Connor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The second book in the series is just as cute as the first. This time, love in is the air, and Nancy and her best friend, Bree, decide they simply MUST play matchmaker, pairing the babysitter with the guitar teacher. How can they pull it off? By playing Secret Admirer, of course! Many hijinks and big words later, their plan is about to come to fruition (a fancy word for getting to the end). Will it work?

For readers' advisors: early chapter book series aimed at grades 1-3. Fun for Fancy Nancy fans who've outgrown the picture books. Similar audience to Junie B Jones, although I personally like these much better, since Nancy & Bree are more like how I hope my daughter is in a few years. Junie B drives me nuts!

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Etiquette and Espionage

Etiquette and Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sophronia Temminick is shipped off to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality as a covert recruit--meaning neither she nor her family know it's actually a training academy for lady spies. Sophronia becomes suspicious during the journey to the floating school when their carriage is ambushed by flywaymen intent on stealing a mysterious "prototype" from Mademoiselle Geraldine...who turns out not to be the headmistress after all.

Sophronia's natural inquisitiveness and propensity for sneaking, er, exploring, lead her to make friends in unusual places--always useful when one wants to gather information and thwart nefarious plots. With help from her roommate, Dimity, a few of her fellow first-year students, and her friends Soap and Vieve, Sophronia discovers a demoted classmate knows more than she should about the missing device, and they collaborate to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

Carriger does a fantastic job of world-building, bringing to life a Victorian England where servants are mechanical, vampires and werewolves can be teachers, and a school can float courtesy of massive coal-fired boilers. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Sophronia's universe, and I look forward to the rest of the series. I will have to check out Carriger's adult series, now that I know this is a YA spinoff of that one.

For readers' advisors: setting doorway is primary, story is secondary, as the plot doesn't really ramp up until later in the book. No sex or bad language.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

The Garden Plot

The Garden PlotThe Garden Plot by Marty Wingate
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pru Parke is nearing the end of the year she allotted herself to find a full-time gardening job that would allow her to remain in England. Pru is a transplant from Dallas, Texas, but her training and passion are for historical English gardens. So far, though, she's only managed to cobble together a series of part-time and temporary jobs, including the latest: turning the Wilsons' back yard from an eyesore into a showpiece. Unfortunately, before she has time to do much more than cut back all the ivy, she literally stumbles over the recently deceased body of the Wilsons' landlord and friend, Jeremy Pendergast.

Although the Detective Inspector seems like a decent...and attractive...gentleman, Pru can't bear the thought of her new friends being murder suspects and is quick to leap to their defense, which occasionally lands her in hot water with the police for interfering in their investigation. It also puts her own life in jeopardy on more than one occasion.

I received a free ebook copy from NetGalley, and I very much enjoyed reading it. I am looking forward to more installments in this new cozy mystery series. However, I hope that Ms. Wingate puts additional effort into character development and strengthening her plot lines in future books because it bothers me that so much of the storyline in The Garden Plot depends on Pru making foolish decisions and withholding information and evidence from the police, not to mention the unprofessional behavior of DCI Pearse as he begins dating a suspect in an ongoing murder investigation. Don't get me wrong--I liked the main characters, I just didn't think their choices always made sense.

My original rating was 4 stars.  I stayed up too late finishing the book, since I didn't want to go to bed without knowing what happened.  But then over the course of the next day, my rating fell as I started thinking about all the things that bugged me, like, for example, how Pru didn't put two & two together regarding the "mice" in her basement, and how she went to all the trouble to copy her photos onto her laptop and two flash drives and then didn't bother to give anyone the drives or to even really look at the photos herself.  And why was Pru's one-year deadline so rigid?  I agreed with her friend Jo that that made no sense.

For readers' advisors: story doorway. No sex, no real on-screen violence, and I don't recall any swearing.

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