Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Over the Moon at the Big Lizard Diner

Over the Moon at the Big Lizard DinerOver the Moon at the Big Lizard Diner by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For more than eight years, Lindsay Attwood has played it safe. After her ex-husband ditched her upon learning of the impending arrival of their daughter, Lindsay stopped traveling the world and instead took a job in the basement of a museum in Denver, converting her talents for archaeological discovery into those of restoration and cataloging. She wrapped her life around her daughter, Sydney, keeping new people at bay after learning the hard way that men can't be trusted. However, that approach led to fundamental loneliness and an emotional collapse the moment her ex suddenly decided he wanted to be a part of Sydney's life and took her to Mexico for the summer.

Lindsay's twin sister, Laura, and their friend Collie hatch a plan to drag Lindsay out of her despair: Laura invites Lindsay for a visit to Texas, and Collie begs for her help discovering who has stolen dinosaur tracks from a local ranch. Collie persuades Lindsay to go "undercover" at the ranch as a student in the horse psychology camp run by the owner's granddaughter, since it's possible the theft was an inside job. On the way to the ranch, Lindsay nearly runs over a giant dog chased by angry cowboys, and her defense of the dog leads to a temporary adoption--although which of them did the adopting is a matter of debate.

One of the cowboys turns out to be the veterinarian grandson of the same ranch owner whose dinosaur tracks had been stolen, and over the next few days, Zack and Lindsay fall in love while repairing windmills and chasing her escape-artist dog across fields to the Lover's Oak. Once the townsfolk hear they were seen kissing under the famous tree, curiosity is at a fever pitch, and the wedding a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, Lindsay has Trust Issues with a capital "T" and no faith that it's possible to have a relationship with a USDA vet who lives thousands of miles away.

I'm not typically one to notice language unless it's unusually bad (especially grammar and typos) or unusually good. While listening to this audiobook, I noticed not only Johanna Parker's lovely voice, but also the lush, lyrical, evocative, and amusing descriptions and idioms Lisa Wingate used to tell the story. The beautiful words helped me cope with the main character's stubborn refusal to pay more attention to present actions than past hurts.

Seriously--Lindsay is in dire need of Alison Armstrong's workshops on understanding men & women! The horse psychology class was a big step in the right direction, yet it's fairly improbable that Lindsay so quickly went from being a failure to a star pupil, given her inability to fully translate the early skills into the human world. I think she needed a bigger "Aha!" moment first, like some of the other students seemed to have. That would have made it a 5-star book, in my opinion.

For readers' advisors: character and language doorways are primary, story and setting secondary. Some contortions to avoid actual swear words, which was sweet but unrealistic. No sex or violence.

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Not Quite a Wife

Not Quite a Wife (Lost Lords, #6)Not Quite a Wife by Mary Jo Putney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Laurel married James when they were very young and madly in love. He was her brother's best friend from the Westerfield Academy, and they met when he visited her home. After an extended honeymoon of bliss, they returned home to London. Before she could be introduced to the rest of his friends, she witnessed him kill an intruder with his bare hands, and the sudden violence frightened her so badly, she fled to live with her brother, wanting never to see her new husband again.

A decade later, James has a malarial attack in Bristol and is robbed by thugs while delirious. Good Samaritans bring him to the local infirmary and leave him in the care of the nurse on duty...Laurel. She recognizes him right away, and realizes that his fever isn't due to his injuries, so she treats him with Jesuit's bark. While hallucinating, he clutches her, reigniting the passion kept tightly banked for ten years. However, the next morning, Laurel lets James believe it was just a dream, and they part ways again, believing it to be forever.

A few weeks later, Laurel realizes she is pregnant, notifies James, and he jumps at the chance to be part of her life once again. For the sake of the baby, they agree to tell people they've reconciled, dividing their time between Bristol, where Laurel runs her brother's clinic and the connected battered women's shelter, and London, where James is a spymaster for the British government. But Laurel's traumatic memories are not easily eradicated, despite all she learns about the extenuating circumstances of that night, and she doesn't know whether she'll ever be able to put it behind her.

I've never witnessed my husband do anything violent, so I have no personal experience with which to compare, yet I groaned in frustration many times while reading because Laurel was so quick to panic and so slow to listen--a common trait among teenagers, and one I really thought she should have grown out of in the intervening years. Also, even once she knew the full story, the mitigating circumstances barely made a dent in the walls she'd built around herself.

Nonetheless, the story was absorbing, the characters felt like real people, and I stayed up way too late reading because I had to know how James was going to catch the kidnapper. I'm very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series, which tells Laurel's brother Daniel's story.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways, as well as setting (i.e. Napoleonic War era in England). I'd almost characterize it as "Christian Fiction," given the critical importance of Laurel's faith to the story, but there are some sex scenes--albeit not terribly explicit--which you don't typically find in books labeled "Christian Fiction." It's the 6th book in the Lost Lords series, and it's best if they're read in order because the characters from all the other books show up in this one.

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Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs

The Perfect Comeback of Caroline JacobsThe Perfect Comeback of Caroline Jacobs by Matthew Dicks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don't we all have a moment or moments in our childhoods that shaped us, nudged the trajectories of our lives just a little bit, changing the course of who we would become? For Caroline Jacobs, a meek mouse of a woman, these included losing her father, her best friend, and her sister. The wounds of adolescence molded her into a conflict-averse mother and a talented photographer afraid to risk rejection. And then one day, at a PTO meeting, an insult aimed at someone else snaps her virtual bonds.

The next day, when her teenage daughter, Polly, defends her and is threatened with suspension, Caroline impulsively busts her out and takes her on a road trip to Caroline's childhood home to confront the memories that haunt her. Along the way, she finally shares the stories shadowing her life and slowly begins to reconnect with her stubborn, strong, independent daughter.

Every story has different perspectives, though, and Caroline begins to see the shades of grey in differing realities, eventually learning to forgive herself as well as others for their all-too-human mistakes.

I loved this book! The only things holding me back from a 5-star rating are the contradictions and errors that might have been the result of it being an advance copy that I read courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher. I'm hoping the final edits caught the timeline confusion regarding how old Caroline was when her father left, and so on. Details like that yanked me out of the story a few times, which was frustrating. Otherwise, though, it was a great story with well-developed, nuanced characters who evolved over the course of the novel.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary. Some swearing. No sex or onscreen violence, other than someone accidentally falling through glass.

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The Scam

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

AUGH!! Cliffhanger ending, and I was reading an advance copy courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (many thanks), so who knows how long I'll have to wait to find out what happened! I sure hope Ms. Evanovich & Mr. Goldberg are nearly ready to release book #5 in this series ASAP.

This time around, Kate and Nick are leading their team in a con to bring down Evan Trace, a corrupt casino owner who gladly allows his businesses to launder money for some pretty nasty folks. Our intrepid duo first meet up with Trace at his hotel/casino in Las Vegas and then join him later in Macau, where much of the story takes place, aside from some side trips to (and smaller cons in) Hawaii. Not everything goes quite as planned, forcing Nick and Kate to think on their feet...or while dangling above a tank of piranhas.

Book #4 in the Fox and O'Hare series is a fast-paced, funny adrenaline ride. Everyone's favorite characters return to help pull off the latest complicated scam to bring down criminals regular law enforcement can't touch.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character secondary. Writing style is witty. Some mild swearing and reference to (but no on-screen) sexual content.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Double Whammy

Double Whammy (Davis Way #1)Double Whammy by Gretchen Archer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Davis Way desperately needs a job. She's been out of work for over a year, ever since she went a little crazy when she learned her ex-husband had gambled away her inheritance, so when she's offered the mysterious undercover security position for the Bellissimo Casino, she accepts without taking the time to read the entire (very long) contract. Her new job involves lots of wigs and costumes and runs the gamut from gambling to housekeeping. She gets paid lots of money to figure out how various scams and thefts are occurring, and she does it well, given her background as a police officer in her tiny hometown and her training in computer programming. Despite her successes, Davis soon realizes something bigger and darker is going on at the casino--something somehow related to her wretched ex and the boss's wife. Her uncanny resemblance to said wife lands her in jail, and Davis must figure out what's really going on before they throw away the key.

A caper indeed. Fun romp if you don't examine it too closely & notice the plot holes or improbabilities.

Davis Way is like Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum or Darynda Jones' Charley Davidson (minus the supernatural abilities, most of the bad language, and the steamy sex). She's a brilliant woman in some ways, a complete idiot in others, and a little too thoughtless/self-centered in her relationships with family & coworkers. Still, it's a fun, fast-paced, entertaining read, perfect for escaping reality for a while.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. A few swear words. No on-screen sex.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Secrets at Maple Syrup Farm

Secrets at the Maple Syrup FarmSecrets at the Maple Syrup Farm by Rebecca Raisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, really.

Lucy's chronically ill mother can't stand watching her daughter give up her youth and vitality to care for her, so she orders Lucy to quit her job and take a year off to travel, concentrate on her art, and apply to a prestigious art school in France. The last thing Lucy wants to do is leave her mother, but she reluctantly promises to buy a bus ticket for the next bus out of town and let fate take her where it will. She winds up in a small town in Connecticut, where some kind locals take her under their collective wings and help her find a place to stay and a job working for the local recluse who is trying to get his newly inherited maple syrup farm up and running.

Clay, the young curmudgeon she goes to work for, isn't thrilled when she shows up on his doorstep, announcing she's there for the job and that his cousin told her not to take no for an answer. His response is to put her to work doing difficult physical labor for long hours, and her innate stubbornness plus desperate need for money induce her to stick it out just to prove she can, despite having zero knowledge or experience of farming (nor suitable clothing).

For the first time in a long time--perhaps ever--Lucy begins to make friends and have a social life, despite her daily exhaustion. She takes cooking lessons and participates in Girls' Night activities, and when Clay unearths a box of journals beneath the farmhouse floor, Lucy makes an emotional connection to the mysterious author.

Gradually, though they constantly argue and push each other's buttons, Lucy and Clay grow to respect one another, which only fuels the fire of their mutual attraction. However, neither one knows how to trust enough to share the painful secrets and memories each is harboring, and that fear threatens to destroy their fledgling relationship.

It took me a little while to get into this story because I found the beginning rather confusing and lacking in exposition--why was the main character on a bus, and to where, and how old was the woman sitting next to her? I totally thought it was set somewhere in the South such as Virginia or one of the Carolinas at first, instead of Connecticut. Which makes no sense, given the part about the maple syrup farm, but the setting didn't feel...solidly fleshed out, I guess you'd say. I don't typically read for setting, but in this case because so much of the backstory was purposely left mysterious, to be painstakingly dribbled out, the lack of clarity hampered my ability to jump into the novel for a few chapters. I'm sure it didn't help that I read it mostly during lunch breaks at work! Eventually, though, it picked up steam, and I eventually really enjoyed the story.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the free ebook review copy in exchange for my honest review!

For readers' advisors: Character doorway is primary; story secondary. A little sexual content, but nothing explicit (that I can recall--it's been more than a month since I finished reading).

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