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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