Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pleating for Mercy

Pleating for Mercy (A Magical Dressmaking Mystery, #1)Pleating for Mercy by Melissa Bourbon Ramirez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Harlow Cassidy has recently returned to Bliss, Texas, after years of working in NYC as a fashion designer. She's set up a custom dressmaking shop in the house her recently deceased great-grandmother left her, and she's eager to get her new business off the ground. However, having a client's bridesmaid murdered in her garden isn't helping, so Harlow is quite motivated to figure out who the real killer is and clear her name.

This is the first installment of a fun cozy mystery series with elements of magic and ghosts. The Cassidy women have all been gifted with various talents thanks to a wish made by their long-dead many-times-great grandfather, Butch Cassidy. (Yes, that Butch Cassidy.) Death doesn't necessarily put an end to these talented women, either, as Harlow comes to realize.

I read this book about the same time I read the first in another magical mystery series, Secondhand Spirits, by Julia Blackwell. Both are enjoyable, but overall, this one feels more like a cozy, despite surface similarities of magical backgrounds, affinity for knowing what clothes someone should wear, trying to get fledgling businesses off the ground, and potential non-magical love interests. It's a bit lighter in tone.

One thing that left me puzzled, though: How in the world did Miriam and the sheriff know to barge into the bathroom there at the end when Harlow was being attacked by the killer? That made no sense. Did I miss something?

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character & setting secondary. No sex or graphic violence, but I think there might have been a couple of mild swear words? I forget--it's been a couple months since I finished it. (I'm just really behind with reviews.)

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Secondhand Spirits

Secondhand Spirits (A Witchcraft Mystery, #1)Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After leading a globe-trotting, itinerant life for years, Lily Ivory has finally settled down to run a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. She's making friends and enjoying the quirkiness of the area that helps camouflage her own powerful talent for witchcraft. Then one day, a child is kidnapped and a client dies under mysterious supernatural circumstances. Despite her reluctance to get involved and reveal her talents, Lily can't let the evil go unchecked, and she dives head first into a paranormal battle to save the little girl from La Llorona.

The first book in this cozy mystery series felt more like an urban fantasy where the main character happens to solve a suspicious death and save an abducted child. I liked it once I got used to the idea that it wouldn't be as lighthearted as either of Heather Blake's magical cozy mystery series--this series has a more "realistic" depiction of witchcraft, with detailed recipes for brews, spells, charms, etc.

The budding romance angle was appealing to me--I like Max and think the relationship could work if he softens his stance on the (non)existence of magic. I do not like the character Aidan, the male witch. He seriously creeps me out, not the least of which due to his unnatural charisma. I hope future volumes of this series reveal more of his secrets--I feel sure he's got nefarious ulterior motives.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. There are a few mild swear words and a couple of creepy-atmosphere scenes, but no sex or graphic violence. It is a cozy mystery, but it feels a little darker (or perhaps more serious?) than other cozies, even other cozies featuring some type of magic or witchcraft. Fans of the TV show "Charmed" would most likely enjoy this series.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A School for Brides

A School for Brides (Keeping the Castle, #2)A School for Brides by Patrice Kindl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The eight young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy came to attend the school through disparate circumstances and harbor a wide range of goals and dreams, yet they share one thing in common: the understanding that finding a suitable husband is infinitely more difficult when one lives in a tiny village virtually devoid of potential candidates. This doesn't perturb Miss Rosalind Franklin, who would much rather devote herself to scientific studies, but it greatly alarms the other seven, including those too young to be in immediate danger of spinsterhood. Fortunately (for the ladies, anyway), their prospects improve when a young, handsome, injured traveler takes up temporary residence in the school's guest room and is visited by his young, handsome friends. Toss in a mysterious admirer, a scheming governess, and a giant sheepdog, and life in Lesser Hoo is anything but dull.

This was a light, fun read. I very much enjoyed the humorous, vaguely Austenesque style of writing and the creativity of the names. I did have difficulty on occasion, however, keeping the characters straight, so I was thankful for the Character List at the beginning of the book--I referred back to it often.

For readers' advisors: language and story doorway are primary, setting secondary. No sex, violence, or bad language. A few characters from Keeping the Castle reappear in this book, but it's not really necessary to have read the first in the series in order to enjoy the second. Although several of the girls are engaged by the end, the book comes across more as historical fiction than historical romance, since you never really delve deeply into any of the romantic relationships--the development of friendships between several of the girls is just as (or more) important.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Jeweled Fire

Jeweled Fire (Elemental Blessings, #3)Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Corene grew up as a princess in the royal court of Welce, believing she had a decent chance of becoming the next queen. When that changes, she is left without direction or purpose and decides to make a big change to demonstrate her independence. Stowing away aboard a ship headed for Malinqua and a chance to become a queen there by marrying one of the empress's three nephews seems like a grand adventure...until she realizes the current ruler is playing a mysterious game of her own, and the visiting princesses competing for the throne are more like pampered hostages than guests. Still, the chance to reinvent herself gives Corene the opportunity to make close friends--something she's never really had before. Along with Foley, her steadfast bodyguard, Corene and her new friends must uncover the secrets hidden by members of Malinqua's court if they are to survive the struggle for succession.

Corene wasn't my favorite character in the first two books, although she definitely grew on me as Ms Shinn developed her character and gave glimpses of the hurting girl beneath the spoiled behavior. She really gets her chance to grow up and shine in this volume of the series, though! Her impulsive behavior at the beginning definitely fit with the developmental stage of an older teenager, but by the end of the story, I kept thinking she was older than her chronological age.

Interestingly, none of the primary characters in this book has magical abilities, unlike in the two previous volumes. This makes for a different feel to the story. Not better, not worse--just different.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways are primary, story and language strong secondary doorways. Sharon Shinn is a master of world-building! The 3 mild swear words--2 in the same sentence--are the reason I hesitate to mark this book as "clean reads." There are strong elements of romance and murder mystery, although not enough to label them as either of those genres, especially romance since the story would remain even if the romance between Corene and Foley were removed. Book #3 in this series starts off at a leisurely pace that intensifies as it progresses toward the suspenseful climax. Despite the entire book taking place outside Welce, it still should be read in series order so as to fully understand and appreciate the history and context.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Whole Latte Murder

A Whole Latte MurderA Whole Latte Murder by Caroline Fardig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just as things are getting back to normal at Java Jive, the Nashville coffee shop Juliet Langley manages for her best friend Pete, Juliet's neighbor is killed and one of her employees (the neighbor's roommate) goes missing during her shift. Juliet and Pete are determined to find her before she ends up becoming the next victim. Ryder's recent promotion to homicide detective complicates his on-again/off-again relationship with Juliet.

I liked this one MUCH better than book #2. Except for the love...rectangle(?) that drove me nuts. I still hate that Ms. Fardig wrote herself back into a mess instead of developing Juliet and Pete's long-standing-but-suppressed love for each other. Their attempts to date other people will never be successful if they are too cowardly to explore the possibilities of a meaningful romantic relationship with each other first. And once they give their own relationship a chance, there will be no need to date anyone else anyway!

At least the secondary characters were more consistent and logical. I suspected the plasticized Dr. was fishy early on, so thankfully the big reveal wasn't as out of left field as in the previous book.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, character secondary. There is plenty of swearing, but most of the sex happens off-screen. There is a bit of violence, but it's not too graphic.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mug Shot

Mug ShotMug Shot by Caroline Fardig
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Business is pretty good at the coffee shop Juliet Langley manages for her best friend Pete Bennett, until Juliet stumbles over the body of Pete's girlfriend in the tent/booth Java Jive was to staff at a benefit race that morning. When Pete is arrested for murder, Juliet goes on the offensive, determined to clear his name, despite repeated admonitions from her boyfriend, Detective Ryder Hamilton, to stay out of it and let the police do their job. Not listening to him nearly costs Juliet her life.

The second book in the series got off to a rocky start with me when the main character cracked a potty joke worthy of a 12 year old boy in the first scene. Yet we're to believe Juliet and Pete are adults?

I'd hoped it would get better, but I read for character, and I was stunned by the choices Ms. Fardig made between the first and second books in her series. For example, she wrote herself back INTO a corner with the Juliet/Pete/Ryder love triangle, which made no sense. At the end of book #1, Pete and Juliet finally get together and begin to acknowledge that each has been pining for the other for a dozen years, yet two months later when book #2 begins, they've long since broken up and agreed to be "just friends"? For real? No. Finding that navigating a romantic relationship while maintaining a professional one is harder than they thought, OK, but giving up and resuming previous patterns of behavior? No. And Pete picking right back up with his stuck up, bitchy, jealous (ex)girlfriend? HUH?? Also, NO. We're supposed to believe he would rather date someone who treats people, including him, like garbage instead of his best friend who he's been head-over-heels in love with for over a decade? Seriously? No.

So many of the things Juliet says and does in this book are downright idiotic. I had a hard time rooting for someone so immature and lacking in impulse control. The Redheaded She-Devil concept was at least funnier in the first book. This time around I found myself gritting my teeth and wishing she would grow up and think things through for a change.

The secondary characters in book #2 also lack internal consistency. It felt to me like Ms. Fardig started writing the book one way and then couldn't figure out who the killer was and so forced her characters to contort in order to come up with an ending. Particularly the unexpected twist near the end that revealed the murderer--my jaw dropped, and not in a good way.

I did appreciate the section of the book set in Nashville's Centennial Park, as I was just there earlier this summer and visited the Parthenon replica, so I could picture those scenes much more vividly than I would have been able to in the past. I also enjoyed the glimpse into Ryder's past as he took Juliet to the Christmas tree farm.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. There is a ton of swearing, but usually pretty mild as swearing goes. The sex and most of the violence happens off-screen.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Rebel Mechanics

Rebel Mechanics (Rebel Mechanics, #1)Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's 1888. The American Revolution never got off the ground, so the British still rule the colonies. Specifically magisters do--British nobility with magical abilities. A new revolution is brewing, however, this time fueled by young inventors called Rebel Mechanics who believe that non-magical machines are the key to overthrowing British oppression and achieving freedom.

Verity Newton's mother has died after a long illness, so Verity travels from New Haven to New York City in search of a governess position in a wealthy household. The teenager manages to land one on her first day, due in part to transportation assistance from the Rebel Mechanics, who waste no time in recruiting her as a spy for The Cause. Her position as a governess to the governor's grandchildren allows her access to intelligence from the highest ranks of society. Eye-opening experiences convince her of the importance of passing on information to the rebels even as she keeps her own secrets and discovers that not all magisters are alike.

Love love love this book!! I'm so glad the second one has just come out so I don't have to wait to dive back into this reality. I just wish the next book were available on audio already because this one was great fun to listen to. Well-written characters, a story that made me thankful for a long commute, and fantastic world-building.

For readers' advisors: story, character, and setting doorways are all strong. It's marketed as teen fiction, but it works for adults, too, especially fans of steampunk, alternative history, and urban fantasy. Since it's aimed at a YA audience, there is some kissing but no sex, bad language, or graphic violence. It would likely also appeal to fans of Patricia C Wrede's Frontier Magic series.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Crepes of Wrath

The Crêpes of Wrath (A Pancake House Mystery #1)The Crêpes of Wrath by Sarah Fox
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Marley McKinney came to the tiny coastal town of Wildwood Cove to spend a couple of weeks running her Cousin Jimmy's restaurant while he recuperated in the hospital. When he is murdered right after returning to town, Marley struggles to help the police uncover the culprit without becoming the next victim.

What I liked about the first book in this new series:
*It was set on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula.
*The story was interesting, with a few twists and turns.

What I didn't like:
*The budding relationship between Marley and her former crush, Brett, felt too obvious and artificial.
*The dilemma of whether to stay in Wildwood or return to Seattle would have been much more convincing if her life in Seattle didn't sound so lonely & unfulfilling.
*The writing felt very amateurish in many places. Ms. Fox's editor should have helped her tighten her language and eliminate the zillions of repetitions (& variations) of the phrases "spinning thoughts" and "filled my mind." For example, on page 2 of chapter 3, there is an entire paragraph listing questions that Marley is thinking about, followed by a completely unnecessary one-sentence paragraph stating, "Those questions circled around and around in my head." Thank you, Captain Obvious! Removing that extraneous sentence would make the story flow much better, and this is just one example of many.

Bottom line:
The series has promise, but it needs more polish.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, setting secondary. It's a cozy mystery, so a couple of kisses but no sex, graphic violence, or profanity.

I read an ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes

The Secret Ingredient of WishesThe Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rachel Monroe has a secret. Well, two related ones, really: she can make wishes come true, and when she was 10, she accidentally wished her brother would get lost. Which he did. Permanently. Now no one remembers he ever existed except for Rachel, and she spent years in therapy because of it. That one careless moment shattered her family, and ever since then, Rachel has been doing her best to hide from her ability. She thinks she has succeeded until the day she accidentally grants the wish of her best friend's daughter to have a unicorn--or a pony with a party hat on its forehead, anyway--and Rachel decides to flee in order to protect those she loves.

Magic isn't so easily evaded, however, and Rachel soon finds herself out of gas in the small town of Nowhere, North Carolina, taken in by an eccentric old woman who can bind secrets by baking them into pies and who is harboring secrets of her own. She meets new friends, gets a job, and is starting to fall in love with the next door neighbor. For the first time in her life, Rachel begins to feel at home, which is a good thing, because the town won't let her leave. Not the townspeople--the Town itself. Since she can't run away again, when word of her wish-granting secret gets out, she has to come to terms with her ability in order to avoid continuing to live a life of fear and guilt.

This is a good choice for fans of Sarah Addison Allen, as it had a similar feel and concepts (semi-sentient fruit trees, anyone?). There were quirky and engaging characters, a charming town, and magic in the air. A delightful read, to be sure.

It would make an excellent book club selection--there were so many times I wished I could discuss this book with someone! For example, does anyone else feel like there should have been more significance to the poisoned plum tree--how it got poisoned and what might have happened when it was ripped out? Or Rachel's family photo--I was surprised Rachel didn't use it as proof both with her parents at the time of the accident as well as with Ashe when the truth about her brother came out.

This book also made me want to eat pie. Lots of pie. Sadly, the ARC I received from Bookbrowse/the publisher in exchange for my honest review didn't include any. *sigh* Ah well.

For readers' advisors: character, story, and setting doorways were all strong. There is a fair amount of swearing, which didn't bother me but might bother some people (things like "damn" and "bat-shit crazy"). Some kissing, touching, and removal of a shirt but no actual sex scenes. No violence.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cat Trick

Cat Trick: A Magical Cats MysteryCat Trick: A Magical Cats Mystery by Sofie Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Several of Kathleen's friends and acquaintances are involved with putting on the upcoming food tasting event organized by former Mayville Heights resident Mike Glazer. The goal is to bring tourism dollars to local businesses, but Mike is rubbing everyone the wrong way and feathers are ruffled all over town. When one of Kathleen's cats discovers Mike's body inside one of the big tents, there are almost too many suspects to choose from. As usual, despite Detective Marcus Gordon's request for Kathleen to stay out of his case, she gets involved anyway and, predictably, gets hurt, in more ways than one.

I do enjoy listening to this series during my commutes, but I am totally on Marcus's side here: Kathleen has GOT to learn to trust him! I have no problem with her doing a little investigating on her own; I just grind my teeth and holler at my stereo every time she drags her feet on sharing what she's learned. It's so frustrating! When will she ever learn that holding back NEVER ends well?

This book is pretty sedately paced most of the time--it's more about the relationships than the action--which is completely fine with me, in theory. I just wish it wouldn't be "two steps forward, three steps back" with Marcus and Kathleen. There is finally a kiss! And then a big fight. *sigh* Yes, she did call him (last) before heading out the door to prevent a suicide and later to confront the killer. It's not enough, though. Marcus can tell she lacks faith in him, and it ruins their budding relationship (for the time being).

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary. No sex or swearing, and the only violence was some arm-twisting.

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Copycat Killing

Copycat Killing (A Magical Cats Mystery, #3)Copycat Killing by Sofie Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's been raining so much in Mayville Heights that buildings all over the small town are flooding. When Kathleen Paulson and her friend Maggie stumble across the body of mask-maker Jaeger Merrill floating in the basement of the artists' co-op, Kathleen suspects he didn't slip on the stairs and drown by accident. Since Maggie recently argued with Jaeger about the future direction of the co-op, Kathleen fears Detective Marcus Gordon will believe Maggie killed him, and she vows to find the real killer. Jaeger turns out to have a shady past, so Kathleen begins investigating who knew about it.

Kathleen is FINALLY starting to do the sensible thing and call Marcus when she discovers something or figures something out, but it's taking her an unreasonably long time to learn that Bad Things Happen when she doesn't do it right away. And it's taking ridiculously long for her to learn to trust that he will do his job well by following the evidence and isn't actually out to railroad her friends. Honestly, what is her hangup? They are never going to be able to advance their budding relationship if she doesn't learn to have more faith in him!

I did enjoy the story, despite my frustration with the main character(s). I'm looking forward to the next books in the series.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary. The pace is fairly leisurely. There is no profanity, sex, or onscreen/graphic violence.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons (Fox and O'Hare #0.5)Pros and Cons by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare has been hunting down the elusive con artist Nick Fox for three years. She's almost 87% sure she's located his latest scheme, and she is determined to catch him this time. Kate believes Nick is pretending to be Merrill Stubing, wedding planner for the King of Hostile Takeovers and his sexy fiancee. Question is, will she get permission to raid the wedding before Nick's crew makes off with the valuables? Or will Nick glide past her team yet again?

Turns out I'd already read this novella, but listening to it was just as fun and took less than an hour--perfect for commuting. Mostly it's a quick chase story that plays in the mind like an action movie (only with fewer bullets and no car crashes).

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. No sex or violence. Don't remember any swearing, although there might have been a stray "damn" somewhere or something similar. As suspense/action stories go, this one is light and humorous.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016


AustenlandAustenland by Shannon Hale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jane Hayes hasn't had much success in the boyfriend department--she's been dumped a dozen times over the years, sometimes quite painfully. She takes refuge in her favorite movie, Pride and Prejudice. (The real one, a.k.a. the BBC version starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.) Fantasy men like Mr. Darcy don't let you down like real men. Even so, she's reluctant to claim the inheritance left to her by her Aunt Carolyn: an all-expenses paid 3-week trip to Austenland in the UK where she'll live as Jane Austen and her characters did.

Jane eventually decides to make the most of her vacation, using it to immerse herself in her fantasy, thereby putting it to rest forever. Despite having sworn off men forever, Jane finds herself teasing the irritating Mr. Nobley, one of the male actors, and snogging Martin, a handsome gardener, and realizes she not only isn't ready to give up men, she likes the new freer Jane, who isn't so obsessed with finding The One. However, in a world where everyone's playing a role, how do you know what's real and what's not?

I saw and loved the movie a couple of years ago, not realizing it was based on a novel. I did enjoy reading the book, although I think I actually like the movie a little bit better, despite how closely the movie follows the novel. (I usually prefer the books!) It is a good beach read type of book--light and often humorous.

My younger self could really relate to Jane, although my current self wishes someone would smack her upside the head and remind her that there isn't anything wrong with being single, especially when the alternative is accepting a bad relationship like a needy ninny. In most respects, Jane is successful, and I wish she could SEE that and be more self-confident (ironically a trait that would almost certainly attract a better mate for her). My favorite part of the book was actually witnessing Jane rediscover her joy as a painter. I wish more authors would write stories about people who are happy, confident, and single. It can be done! The best romance authors often tell stories about characters who enjoy their lives and then happen to meet and fall in love with someone.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary. There is virtually no swearing and only kissing/making out (no sex). No violence, other than a small tussle in the airport.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Dirt on Ninth Grave

The Dirt on Ninth Grave (Charley Davidson, #9)The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charley Davidson has retrograde amnesia in the 9th installment of this fun, fast-paced series. She's working as a waitress in a diner in Sleepy Hollow, NY, using the name Janey Doerr ('cause Jane Doe is so cliche). Her inability to remember her name or anything about her past causes occasional panic attacks, but she does have some new friends to cheer her up and a stalker cop to shoo away, so there's that. Also, there's the fact that she sees dead people, an angel seems to be trying to kill her, and the mundane wintry world co-exists with one of fiery hot winds and desolation which no one else seems able to see. Good thing she's got coffee! Lots and lots of coffee. She'll need it if she's ever going to figure out what is up with her new BFF Cookie calling her "Charley" in moments of stress, the drop-dead gorgeous Reyes who never sits in her section and isn't really human, and the white-eyed old dead woman Janey sees in all photos of her coworker Erin's baby.

I absolutely flew through reading this book--found every excuse to sneak a few minutes to read, even staying up wayyyy too late one night. Even though Janey/Charley doesn't recognize all her friends and family from the previous eight books, readers of the series will enjoy watching her meet and fall in love with them all over again. Especially Reyes--I particularly enjoyed her confusion over her obsession with this man who seemed to hate her and yet was always there, watching out for her. I appreciated the astonishment and resentment Reyes felt toward this woman whom he'd loved for "a thousand and one" years--how could she have forgotten HIM? Likewise, Janey/Charley's heartbreak when she learns that Reyes still loves the wife who left him, and the torment of being unable to walk away like she believes she should do.

This may be my favorite book of the whole series. So far. Can't wait for the next one!!

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways are very strong, as is language doorway (humor). This book had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. There is some sexual content, but far less than earlier books. There isn't really much violence in this one, as compared with all the supernatural fight scenes of previous installments. What there is isn't terribly graphic. There is a fair amount of profanity, as usual, but it fits the characters.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Caper

The Caper (Fox and O'Hare, #0.6)The Caper by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Super-duper short story. The entertaining tale of one of FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare's many attempts to capture con artist extraordinaire Nick Fox--one that failed by just a whisker. This one is set in old town Seattle, and is particularly fun for anyone who's taken their Underground tour. Easily readable in just a few minutes. Available online only:

For readers' advisors: story doorway. Very fast-paced, quick read for fans of the Kate O'Hare/Nick Fox series. No sex or violence, and the only swearing is "Holy crap!"

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Quiltmaker's Journey

The Quiltmaker's JourneyThe Quiltmaker's Journey by Jeff Brumbeau
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The follow-up story to The Quiltmaker's Gift, this picture book tells how the quiltmaker transformed from an unhappy, sheltered rich girl to a generous woman who lives alone on a mountain sewing beautiful quilts for the poor.

The illustrations are gorgeous and captivate my toddler, making it one of her favorites to read over and over. The story is lovely overall, although I find myself making snarky mental comments about the plot holes (for example: if everyone in the town was rich, did that include the myriad servants, and if so, why didn't they quit?). There is a lot of text, which makes it better for older children, so most of the time I use the pictures to tell an abridged version of the story at bedtime.

Themes: generosity, poverty, animal helpers, use your life

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sleight of Paw

Sleight of Paw (A Magical Cats Mystery, #2)Sleight of Paw by Sofie Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's winter, and Mayville Heights' winter festival is in full swing, giving library director Kathleen Paulson a perfect opportunity to best detective Marcus Gordon at hockey, to his great surprise. For beloved retired principal Agatha Shepard, winter is not so kind, however, and Kathleen is incensed when Marcus seems to believe her friend Ruby may have killed the elderly woman. Kathleen and her two magical cats start their own investigation, heedless of the danger.

This leisurely paced cozy mystery was thoroughly enjoyable right up until the climax of the story, when Kathleen's truly idiotic actions had me growling in frustration and dropping my rating from 4 to 3 stars. Seriously, why does she have such trouble trusting Marcus? She admits he's a good man and a good police officer, following the evidence wherever it leads, in search of the truth, not just an arrest. So what is her deal? Work WITH him, for crying out loud!

Also, I'm baffled by Kathleen's paranoia about having anyone see her talking to her cats or taking them places. People do that All. The. Time. Unless they actually see a cat walk through a solid door or disappear and reappear, it shouldn't be an issue. Get over it, and stop taking up time in the story worrying about what people might think!

I suspected the killer from the very beginning, but I wasn't totally sure until the end, so that was good.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary. Would be a "clean read" except for a few instances of mild swearing such as "crap on toast," so I think I'll go ahead and tag it as such. No sex or graphic violence.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

The Girl from Summer Hill

The Girl from Summer Hill (Summer Hill, #1)The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What would you do if you staggered downstairs for your early morning cup of tea and discovered a gorgeous man stripping to use the outdoor shower on your porch? Casey blinks and pulls up a stool, believing she's still asleep and having a fabulous dream. The fantasy sours rapidly when he notices her and flies into a rage. Having the stranger break through her screen door and accuse her of spying on him, of using her cell phone to take photos or video, first terrifies, then confuses, and finally infuriates her until she roars at him to leave.

As first impressions go, they are not off to a good start. The situation deteriorates when Casey discovers her intruder is both a famous movie star and her landlord, so she takes food to the Big House to make amends and keep Tate from evicting her but overhears him sharing his unfavorable opinion of her with his best friend (and her new champion), action movie hero Jack Worth. She doesn't stick around to hear the end of their conversation, leaving Tate with quite the uphill battle to redeem himself in her eyes as the two meet and clash again and again.

This is a delightful retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I love how P&P frames the modern story, using chapter headings to loosely telegraph what will happen but not constricting the characters to slavishly follow the original plot. It's a completely contemporary novel that uses the structure of Austen's tale to inform not just the casting of the internal play but also the broader story arc.

For reader's advisors: story and character doorways are both strong. There are a few sex scenes but they are not terribly explicit. Some swearing. No violence. Fans of Jude Deveraux will recognize allusions to her earlier works and characters (Montgomery & Taggert families), but it's not necessary to have read them to enjoy this volume.

I received an eGalley ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Just Say Maybe

Just Say Maybe (Thistle Bend, #2)Just Say Maybe by Tracy March
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

1 1/2 stars, technically.

Holly Birdsong first encounters Bryce Bennett when he crashes his rented mountain bike after riding too recklessly down a trail. She next encounters him when he walks into her law office seeking a real estate attorney who can help him with purchasing an abandoned lodge that has caused everyone in the small town of Thistle Bend, Colorado, a great deal of heartache, especially Holly's family. Their attraction is instant...and threatened by secrets and emotional baggage from prior relationships.

I so wanted to like this more than I did! I really liked the first book in this series, and Holly was one of my favorite secondary characters in that one, so I was excited to get my hands on the eGalley copy of this one, courtesy of NetGalley (in exchange for my honest review), but...ugh. I couldn't wait for it to end, almost from the first page. That is never a good sign, and if I hadn't been reading an ARC, I'd have quit and moved on to something better. But I felt obligated to keep reading, and I just kept hoping it'd improve. I did enjoy the brief scenes with the Montgomery sisters, so it wasn't all bad.

I know other reviewers have raved over this book, but I read for character (a la Nancy Pearl's Appeal Doorways), and this book had immature, one-dimensional characters, including the protagonists. They came off as shallow and superficial to me, perhaps because Ms. March spent so much time describing how they looked and how hot and sexy they were. One of the many instances where less would have been so much more! I kept thinking, "SHOW them falling in love, don't tell!" Also, I wish all romance authors would stop writing until they have been through all of Alison Armstrong's workshops about understanding men and women. Lust DOES NOT EQUATE NOR NECESSARILY LEAD TO love, people! No amount of flipping your hair or acting like a ninny is going to make a man fall in love with you. Neither is strutting or showing off going to make a woman want to spend her life with you.

There was virtually no character development or real growth. I don't want to include any spoilers, so I'll just say that Holly's lack of faith in Bryce near the end disappointed me--it was childish of her to jump to (illogical) conclusions and not at least listen to what he had to say. That's not how you should treat people you (supposedly) love!

To sum up: this installment of the series felt juvenile, like it was written by maybe a college student, not the same author who wrote Should've Said No. Or perhaps it was just rushed to print without sufficient revisions and editing? *sigh* I think I'll wait until the 3rd book is actually published before reading it so that I can quit if it's as bad as this one. I really hope it turns out to be as good as or better than the first!

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary, setting secondary. There are several sex scenes and lots of sexual references (see above about confusing lust with love). Some swearing. No violence.

p.s. Why is the woman on the cover wearing an apron?  Holly is an attorney, not a baker or chef!

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at WarGrunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Roach brings humor and humanity to every topic she covers, and her latest book is no exception. It is everything you never realized you always wanted to know about the behind-the-scenes efforts to prepare humans to wage war and (mostly) survive.

Unlike most books about war or the technology of war, this one isn't about the battles or the weaponry itself but about the science--groundbreaking, gruesome, gross...and utterly mesmerizing. Mary Roach is known for her thorough, hands-on research. Here she investigates everything from armor to zippers, flies in fecal matter to the quest for shark repellent, and breakthroughs in penile reconstruction to the struggle for sufficient sleep. Her wry witty tone brings minutia to life and highlights both the sublime and the absurd. She makes footnotes a treat.

For readers' advisors: language (humor) doorway is especially strong. There is some swearing, as you might imagine when dealing with various branches of the military. Be careful which sections you read while eating if you are squeamish.

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

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Little Chickies/Los Pollitos

Canticos: Los Pollitos / Canticos: Little ChickiesCanticos: Los Pollitos / Canticos: Little Chickies by Susie Jaramillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Delightful! ¡Encantador!

What a sweet little book and a clever way to promote bilingual reading experiences to small children. First you read the book straight through in one language (English or Spanish), then when you get to the end, turn the page and read it straight through in the second language. It's printed very cleverly in an accordion format to facilitate this, according to this video. No awkward repetition or lingering on the same pages too long while trying to read in both languages at the same time--I think my daughter will love it instead of getting bored or confused like with other bilingual books!

The book is based on a song, and it looks like the last page of the book contains information on how to find the song online so you can sing the lyrics as well as reading them. Singing is great for helping children break down words into their smaller sounds--an important early literacy skill!

Once I get to see a physical copy, my rating might go up to 5 stars, but I've only seen an ebook version so far, courtesy of NetGalley & the publisher, so I don't yet know how sturdy the flaps and wheels are. Many thanks to NetGalley & Canticos for the ARC!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Natural Born Charmer

Natural Born Charmer (Chicago Stars, #7)Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Dean Robillard is a big-time football star for the fictional Chicago Stars--gorgeous, wealthy, and restlessly unhappy. He decides to drive across the country to the farm he's purchased outside Nashville to check up on his new housekeeper who only communicates with him via email, and along the way he picks up an angry woman in a beaver costume (minus the head). He drives her to confront her weasel of an ex and decides she would make an excellent distraction from his depression during his road trip so capitalizes on her newly broke status to convince her to travel with him.

Blue Bailey is a portrait artist who never stays in one place for long, especially not now that she has discovered her rotten ex doesn't need her help after all: he's found a new (teenage) muse and stolen the $200 she had hidden in her rental room. Her mother recently cleaned out Blue's bank accounts to pay the ransom for a group of girls in Colombia, leaving Blue with a total of $18 to her name, some ratty old clothes, and a car that's given up the ghost. Driving to Garrison, TN, in a fancy car with a handsome man pretending to be gay seems a better option than staying where she is, so she opts to ride. She never expected to grow roots.

I'm giving this one 2 stars because the main romance didn't work for me. I really enjoyed all the secondary characters, especially Nita and Riley. I found April and Jack's relationship plausible, if fraught with emotional scar tissue. However, Dean and Blue's It COULD have been believable--the potential was there, and it started off well. Blue fascinated Dean because she didn't fall all over him like all other women. She was zany and unpredictable. She entertained and amused him just by being herself. If Ms. Phillips had kept going with that, had let her characters slowly grow on each other, gradually developing an attraction to one another instead of flipping the lust switch and turning Dean into a controlling jerk and Blue into a spineless ninny, this could have been an outstanding book.

Instead, it lacks internal consistency. Blue and Dean bicker constantly and enjoy doing so. They had difficult childhoods and have built emotional walls around themselves to protect against future heartbreak, so both have a whole lot of maturing to do before they are ready to trust and risk showing vulnerability, yet the arguing gives them a way to safely spend time getting to know each other. So far, so good.

However, Ms. Phillips chose to make Dean determined to have sex with Blue almost from the beginning, despite his open disdain for her appearance, fashion choices, and lifestyle. It was a power and control issue for him, which is decidedly UNsexy and should have been a complete turn-off to Blue, who was fully cognizant that his so-called interest was due to a lack of better options and a need to dominate. Had Ms. Phillips remained consistent with her original characterization of Blue, Blue would have continued to rebuff Dean's advances and called him on his B.S. until he finally grew to actually respect her and show some kindness for a change. Then and only then would the attraction have been plausible and based on a solid foundation.

But that's not what happened. I abandoned hope when I got to the scene where Dean is hurt and angry with his father and bursts into the caravan, waking Blue and demanding--not asking, but demanding--that she have sex with him. He's again a total jerk, she can tell he's upset, but she gives in instead of saying, "You're furious, so your solution is to RAPE ME?!" Had she done that, it would have brought him up short and perhaps triggered his brain to restart. Not how the scene played out, though, and I ended up howling in frustration in my car, wishing I weren't driving and could skip over the too-explicit and ridiculous sex scene that followed ('cause, you know, if she takes her own clothes off when ordered to, & is inexplicably turned on by being used, it doesn't count as rape??). It gets worse from there, although there is a small bit of redemption by the end when Dean FINALLY admits maybe he has some growing up to do. Note to Dean: if someone has lifelong abandonment issues, perhaps you shouldn't abandon her over and over and over again!!

The character development for everyone else is excellent. *sigh* Four stars for them, zero for Dean & Blue, for an average rating of 2 stars.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary. There is quite a bit of swearing and some semi-explicit sex scenes. Definitely not suitable for listening to with a toddler in the car. The narrator did an excellent job with the voices--only a couple of times did I get confused as to who was talking. She had totally different voices and accents for all the characters.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Big Red Tub

Big Red TubBig Red Tub by Julia Jarman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Stan and Stella are joined in the big red tub by all sorts of animals, until the suds and waves catapult them around the world (twice) and a flock of flamingos tows them home again.

The imagination displayed is great, and it has plenty of repetition, which is fun for a storytime, but the rhythm of the words falters too often for it to be a great choice. I used it with preschoolers, and they really liked it, despite my stumbling over the text more than I'd prefer. This one takes far more memorization and practice to smoothly read aloud than I'd counted on. I keep wanting to rewrite the lines so that they flow naturally.

It's not a bad choice for reading (slowly and carefully!) with your children or grandchildren--it's pretty cute--but I am returning it to the staff library instead of keeping it with my go-to storytime collection.

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Who's in the Tub?

Who's In the Tub?Who's In the Tub? by Sylvie Jones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Willy is reluctant to take a bath, but once he gets in, he doesn't want to get out!

I read this to a preschool storytime group, and the kids got a big kick out of Willy and the animals. Was it his imagination, or did his bath toys really come to life?

The cadence of the text falters only a couple of times, so it's fun to read out loud with a little bit of practice. The pages are different sizes--going from small to large and back down again, which adds interest to the pictures that develop from one page to another.

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King Bidgood's in the Bathtub

King Bidgood's in the BathtubKing Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All day long and well into the night, King Bidgood is enjoying his bath so much that he makes everyone else join him instead of getting out. He hosts mock naval battles, lunch, fishing, and a masquerade ball. Oh, who knows what to do?! (spoiler alert: his Page does! *glub, glub, glub!*)

I wasn't sure how well this would go over when I read it to a preschool storytime because you really have to look at the pictures to appreciate the story, but the kids LOVED it. The repetition of, "...King Bidgood's in the bathtub, and he won't get out!..." had one little boy throwing up his hands by the end and saying, "Not AGAIN!" The parents and other children all laughed or nodded vigorously in response, and my own chuckling made it somewhat difficult to read the rest of the story. It ended up being really interactive to have the kids look at the pictures and announce what was happening in the tub throughout the day.

It comes with a CD, but I haven't listened to that yet.

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Saturday, April 9, 2016

I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend

I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy LegendI Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Listening to Martin Short read his own memoir is definitely preferable to reading it oneself. The "interludes" where Marty, as his friends call him, performs some of his more famous characters can't possibly translate fully to mere print. Likewise, you would lose so much of the life and emotion he brings to the stories and anecdotes he shares if you couldn't hear his voice.

However, it's not suitable for listening to when there are small children present because he occasionally "works a little blue" (as he would say) and swears a fair amount in parts.

I found this audiobook to be a really interesting history of Short's life and career. Much of it took place when I was very young and not aware of who he was--my most vivid memories of his work are of his character "Frahnk" the wedding planner in the Father of the Bride movies, as well as a few more recent characters. Most of the "interlude" sections would probably resonate more with listeners a decade or two older than I am, or perhaps with younger ones who've binged-watched his performances on Netflix or YouTube. This is why I rated it as a solid 3 stars for myself (3 1/2 really), but I would expect many people would rate it 4 or 5 stars.

My favorite thing about this audiobook is how Martin's love for his family, especially his wife, shines through. He acknowledges what a wonderful, supportive upbringing he had, despite some early devastating losses, and the whole second half of the book or so (it's hard to estimate with an audiobook!) is basically an homage to his wife "Nan." Some of his stories about her brought me to tears.

It's also quite the Who's Who of '80s and '90s Hollywood--the nice thing about being such a warm, loving couple is that the Shorts formed long-lasting friendships with a great many people, sometimes spanning from the 1970s to today.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is definitely primary. This is a great one to suggest to fans of Martin Short in particular but also anyone looking for a humorous autobiography/memoir. It does contain swearing, sexual references (nothing explicit), and some drug use.

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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat

Curiosity Thrilled the Cat (Magical Cats, #1)Curiosity Thrilled the Cat by Sofie Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kathleen moved to a small town in Minnesota to head up the Mayville Library during a major renovation project. She took the job to escape Boston and a boyfriend who betrayed her by marrying a virtual stranger two weeks after he had an argument with Kathleen, but she soon fell in love with the town despite the headaches caused by the contractor and a series of suspicious accidents. Not long after she arrived in town, two feral cats followed her home. Kathleen is beginning to suspect something very strange is going on with Owen and Hercules--not only are they unusually intelligent, but she could swear she saw them vanish and even walk through solid doors.

When a lecherous guest conductor dies under mysterious circumstances and Kathleen becomes a "person of interest" in the eyes of the handsome detective after finding his body, Hercules and Owen put their uncanny abilities to good use and ferret out (or filch!) clues to help Kathleen figure out what happened and why.

I accidentally read #6 in this series first, so I had a bit of an advantage when it came to going back and reading (listening) from the beginning because I knew which characters continued on in later books. Even still, I only partially guessed the truth before the big reveal. I've got book #2 on hold, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!

For readers' advisors: The pace of this mystery was pretty slow until the end--it's really much more character-driven than story or plot-driven. Which is fine with me--I read for character primarily anyway, and this was definitely a character doorway book. It's basically a "clean read," aside from a couple of mild swear words/phrases (i.e. "karma's a bitch," and "crap on toast!"). There is no sex or graphic violence. The setting is contemporary Minnesota, but other than a bit of a small-town feel, setting is not a strong doorway.

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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Modern Romance

Modern RomanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Listening to this audiobook was much more interesting than I expected--Ansari did actual research! I didn't think it was going to be an genuine nonfiction title, so I was pleasantly surprised. It was fun to hear him read his own book, and I presume most of his asides to listeners were just for the audio version.

After listening to the book, I am more thankful than ever to have used eHarmony to meet my husband. Ansari mostly focuses on Tinder, OKCupid, and when he looks at online dating, which fascinated me because of the difference in approach and philosophy they have as compared with eHarmony, and hence the clientele they seem to attract. I guess if you are just looking for a way to meet more people, and you're not ready for or interested in a serious relationship, it makes sense that you wouldn't want to invest the time it takes to fill out the long questionnaires eHarmony has you complete. My personal experience (over 8 years ago, so it may have changed since then) was that the process of the questionnaires and the stages of communication functioned as a way to essentially weed out the people you wouldn't be happy with anyway and allows you to just explore relationships that actually have potential for long-term success. It's too bad that the people in Ansari's focus groups don't appear to have caught on to this, since many of them mentioned being exhausted by this process of trying to find someone, and some even realized that too many choices could be overwhelming. If you're basing your dating decisions solely on profile photos (or even brief online profiles), particularly ones which may appear to you in an app purely due to GPS proximity at that precise moment, odds are, it'll take A LOT of bad dates to meet someone who's right for you. Ugh. No thanks!

It was also fascinating to hear about other cultures' current trends in dating and marriage. For example, I had no idea Japan was having such an issue with people not wanting to get married and have children. And the differing views of fidelity around the world were likewise captivating...and often sad. There was a lot of unnecessary and preventable anguish in those too-high statistics on global cheating. We need to take better care of ourselves and each other.

Another relatively recent phenomenon I am thankful to be old enough to have avoided (and which terrifies me when I think about my daughter's future) is sexting. Some younger women apparently choose to sext because they see it as being in charge of their own bodies and sexuality. I'm all in favor of empowering women, How do they not realize that they lose all of that supposed control the moment someone else has those photos? Talk about being poster children for the science of brain development and how the ability to foresee consequences often doesn't mature until your mid-twenties!

Dating in the modern age isn't all bad, though, and I don't want to dissuade anyone from reading this book because my review points out some of the downsides. It's not all gloom & doom out there; I'm merely thankful to be happily married and not dealing with the anxiety of texting etiquette, etc.

For readers' advisors: Ansari is a male comic who swears like a sailor. Do not suggest this book to anyone who doesn't enjoy off-color stand-up comedy routines. I can deal with a certain amount of profanity, but I got REALLY tired of it by the end, especially his overuse of the word "boning" and all its variants. It can take a long time to listen to the entire book when you can only listen while alone in the car--this is NOT a book for children to hear. It would be fun to analyze and debate this book, so if your book group members have a high tolerance for foul language, it might be a great choice to foster a lively book discussion.

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sweet Haven

Sweet Haven (Home Sweet Home, #1)Sweet Haven by Shirlee McCoy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Addie is stressed. Really stressed. Her To Do list is taller than she is and includes things like running her grandfather's chocolate shop while he recuperates from a fall, losing ten pounds in about a week so she can squeeze into a hideous bridesmaid dress for an elderly friend's wedding, making hundreds of candies as wedding favors for said wedding, coping with her hypercritical mother, and figuring out how to keep her oversize puppy from escaping and wreaking havoc on the small town of Benevolence, Washington. She's frustrated by her inability to replicate the famous fudge the store is known for and worried that the business will fail if she can't learn to master it in time to meet not only walk-in demand from tourists and locals, but also the many online orders awaiting fulfillment. The very last thing she needs is the gorgeous new tenant upstairs distracting her. She's been burned before in the romance department, and she is Not Interested.

Sinclair is only back in town for as long as it takes to help his brother clean out their grandfather's house so his pregnant sister-in-law will come home. He harbors bad memories of growing up where his family name signifies lazy alcoholics, and he's worked hard to build a thriving business restoring old buildings, so he can't wait to get back to it. His PTSD and old injuries don't always let him sleep well, however, and soon he finds himself helping to capture Addie's runaway dog who interrupted his jog. In spite of himself, he's drawn to the frazzled accountant-turned-chocolatier and her misbehaving pooch, and before long, fudge isn't the only thing simmering in the kitchen.

This was a very sweet romance. Only a couple of mild swear words kept me from categorizing this as officially a "clean read." There are some steamy kissing (and almost-kissing) scenes, but no sex.

For readers' advisors: character and story doorways are primary. Only the most particular readers would likely object to the "clean reads" label.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for letting me read an advance reader's copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

2 1/2 stars, but I'll round up.

I have mixed feelings about this book, but some of the things I liked include:
* Flipping around your perception of purging to view the process as "choosing the things to keep" rather than the more negative concept of "getting rid of stuff."
* Choosing to keep the things that spark joy in you, no matter if they might not for someone else.
* Getting rid of items you don't like or use, no matter how expensive, new, or who gave them to you. Let them go with gratitude for the service they provided or the thoughtfulness they represent. (This allowed me to give away some clothes I never liked but had always felt I "should" keep.)
* Treat your belongings with respect and make sure each has its own place.
* Gather all items of a particular type together and handle each one to give you the best picture of what you own and which you like best when you are choosing what to keep.

Some things that made me question her sanity:
* SHE DEFACED BOOKS!!! She actually tore pages out to keep just the parts she liked best. I wanted to (metaphorically speaking) kill her when I read that! NO. Just, NO. If you like certain parts, make a photocopy of those bits and donate the book whole so that someone else can enjoy it. Don't destroy it!!
* Likewise, the books she kept now fit on ONE SHELF in a SHOE CUPBOARD. Say what?! Again, no. Just, no.
* There is no way I am going to empty my purse every single time I come home in the evening. No. Way. Yes, I need to go through it more often to empty out the receipts and expired coupons, but doing that every day is a waste of time and effort. The rest of the things in my purse are in there on purpose because I need them frequently. It would be very bad to accidentally leave something at home--this is the same reason I do not change purses to match my outfits.
* What is her problem with manuals? Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Yes, some might be unnecessary, but I referred to our refrigerator & microwave manuals several times just since I began reading this short book, & I've referred to our camera manual numerous times. Get rid of manuals for things you no longer own, but keep ones for things you do, otherwise you will end up asking your local librarians to track down copies, and we can't always find them for you!
* Likewise, get rid of all guest bedding unless you have frequent guests? buy and discard bedding every time you have infrequent guests? Um, NO. Our linen closet is not musty, and there is plenty of room for a spare set of sheets, thanks. Not to mention, when we had a guest room, the sheets could simply stay on the bed. This may be a cultural difference that doesn't translate well from Japan to the US.

Some reviewers have commented on the animism she displays in talking to homes and possessions. I admit, it's a little "out there" for me, but she does say you can do it in your head, and I'm not one to judge--as a child I used to think my stuffed animals and dolls had parties when I was asleep or out of my room, and I still silently thank all green traffic lights, so.... (Had the Toy Story movies been out when I was young, I might have thought they were proof positive!)

Overall, it's worth reading this book if you're looking for help streamlining your possessions to get your life back under control. Just take a few things she says with a grain of salt. And don't stress over her origami sock-folding instructions because she's written a follow-up book with diagrams to better explain her methods: Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Silence of the Library

The Silence of the Library (Cat in the Stacks, #5)The Silence of the Library by Miranda James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Librarian Charlie Harris is assisting his friend and Athena Public Library director, Teresa Farmer, with putting on an event featuring authors of mysteries with "intrepid girl detectives" from the middle decades of the 20th century. They are thrilled to discover that one of Charlie's favorites from childhood, Electra Barnes Cartwright, centenarian author of the Veronica Thane series, is not only still alive but living nearby and willing to come speak during their program. Her most ardent fans immediately descend on the town when they hear the news, demanding to meet her. When the editor of the "EBC" fan newsletter is murdered, Charlie and his Maine coon cat, Diesel, begin investigating to help the sheriff's deputy figure out who killed her and why.

I guessed the murderer & motive long before anyone even died, but it was still a fun book to listen to. This is book #5 in the Cat in the Stacks series, but it could almost stand alone, since the interactions with ongoing characters were relatively minimal. The narrator doesn't differentiate a whole lot between voices/accents for most of the characters, yet I had no difficulty knowing who was speaking.

For readers' advisors: story and character doorways are primary. The violence is offscreen and barely mentioned, really. There is no sex or swearing. It's a light, cozy mystery.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

LaCour's Destiny

LaCour's DestinyLaCour's Destiny by Robert Downs
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received a free eGalley copy of the ARC from NetGalley & the publisher in exchange for my honest review. However, after reading 141 of 238 pages, I just am not liking it very much, so I'm giving up. I think the author needed to do more revisions or have an editor take another, closer look at it before this went to print. There are too many, "Wait, what??" moments for me--and not the good kind, but rather the kind where suddenly the author mentions details out of the blue, or a character leaves the room and a few lines later the main character is talking as though the person has magically reappeared. I can't get a handle on the setting (small town? city?) enough to picture the action, and I find much of the sleuthing Samantha does implausible. Mostly, though, I feel like this is a book that hasn't gelled yet. It could be good with a lot more work, but it's not ready for prime-time. I'll probably skip ahead to the end to see who the killer turns out to be, but I have too many other things on my To Read list to use up any more of my rare free time finishing this book. Sorry, Mr. Downs!

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Secret Sisters

Secret SistersSecret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Three and a half stars, but I'll round up.

When Madeline was twelve and enjoying a sleepover with her best friend, Daphne, a guest at her grandmother's hotel tried to rape and kill her. Only five people knew what happened to the attacker...or so they thought. Nearly two decades later, Madeline, now the owner of the hotel chain, returns to the island after her grandmother's death only to discover that the truth might not have stayed buried. She enlists the help of her chief of security, Jack, and his brother, Abe, to uncover who is behind the recent spate of violence and stop it from spreading any further. It's not the reunion either would have chosen, but Madeline and Daphne are delighted to be together again and are determined to keep the past from destroying the present. If they succeed, perhaps these sisters-at-heart might one day become sisters-in-law.

Fast-paced, exciting plot. Plenty of villains to go around. Likeable main characters but not much real character development. Very enjoyable read.

For readers' advisors: story doorway is primary. Some swearing that might bother the most sensitive. Violence isn't explicitly described & the sex scene is relatively short and not terribly detailed either.

I read an eGalley ARC courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

The 5 Love Languages Military Edition: The Secret to Love That Lasts

The 5 Love Languages Military Edition: The Secret to Love That LastsThe 5 Love Languages Military Edition: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have heard good things about the 5 Love Languages series of books for years, but I had not read any of them until I received this version at a post-deployment yellow ribbon workshop. I now believe ALL military couples should read this edition, and everyone else should read at least one of the others. It would transform marriage in this country and around the world if we all learned to identify and speak the primary (and secondary) love languages of our spouses. Likewise, applying the same principles to our children, parents, extended family, friends, coworkers, and so on would radically improve all types of relationships, making this world a far happier, kinder, better place to live.

I wish I had been introduced to this book before my husband was deployed so that we could have tried out some of the strategies and activities Dr. Chapman suggested as accommodations during periods of separation. However, using the quiz at the end of the book really helped me discover what love languages speak the most strongly to me, and analyzing myself allowed me to identify and understand past interactions, both positive and negative. Now it's my husband's turn to read the book, and I'm excited to practice being "multilingual"!

Other reviewers have noted the prevalence of examples mentioning Christian couples, but the love languages are not specific to one religion or culture. The authors have just had a whole lot of Christian clients over the past few decades, particularly among their military clientele.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Forgetting Time

The Forgetting TimeThe Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Janie's son Noah is an unusual child. He is four years old and refuses to bathe. Not just the usual temper tantrums either, but full-fledged terror-filled panic attacks. She does her best to keep him clean with hand sanitizer and diaper wipes, but that only goes so far. Then his preschool/daycare calls her in to let her know they are going to call child protective services because of some of the stories he's been telling them, and she has to explain that ever since he learned to talk, he's told stories of places he's never been, people he's never known, and about things he's never seen. Every night, like clockwork, her sweet boy has nightmares where he begs and pleads to "go home" and wants to be with his "other mother."

Janie is exhausted, frustrated, broke, and in despair. She has taken Noah to an endless series of doctors and psychiatrists, and the only diagnosis they can come up with is schizophrenia. In desperation, she contacts a doctor she would otherwise consider a loony-tunes quack, Dr. Jerome Anderson, whose life's work has been to document cases of children remembering past lives and past traumas. Janie doesn't know it, but Dr. Anderson has been diagnosed with aphasia--he's losing the ability to speak and remember words--and he needs one last case in order to publish his book before he's too far gone to write. Or care.

They embark on a journey that upends Janie's worldview and alters the lives of two families.

It took me a couple of chapters to really get into the story and figure out what was going on, but once I did, I was hooked. Haunted, really, and not in the "scary-ghost" sense of the word, but in the "can't-stop-thinking-about-it-long-after-lunch-breaks-ended" sort of way. Reincarnation isn't a new idea, but this novel had me thinking about the possibility in an entirely new light. Hoping, in fact, that it might be true, and that these reborn souls might be able to bring peace to themselves and their previous families if we would just listen and help reunite them.

The intense, palpable pain and despair felt by each and every character broke my heart--even the killer's. I'm amazed that Ms. Guskin managed to make the book feel ultimately hopeful, given all that anguish and loss. It struck me that not a single character seemed to have a support network of any type--no really close friends, family, or faith community to rely on in any way. I think that fact is crucial to the story; if any one person had been less lonely, isolated, or in the depths of despair, I think the novel would have collapsed or at least gone in a different direction.

For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, story secondary.  There are some crude situations and language, including some profanity and teen drug use. There is also love that survives anything, even death.

My thanks to for the free advanced reading copy (ARC) in exchange for my honest review.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sara's closest friend is one she's only met through letters. Their correspondence began due to buying, selling, and sharing books, and it grew to include stories of their lives and especially of Broken Wheel, the tiny town where Amy lived. Once the bookstore in Sweden where Sara worked went out of business, Amy persuaded her to come to America for a long visit. Unfortunately, Sara arrived in town only to discover Amy's house was full of mourners after her funeral.

The locals view Amy's bewildered guest as "their" tourist and take her under their wing. Sara becomes frustrated when they won't let her repay them in any way, so in desperation for something to do and as a way to give back to the community, Sara decides to open a bookstore in a vacant shop Amy had owned. She is convinced that getting this town of non-readers to share Amy's large collection of books is something Amy would have loved and the best thing she could do to compensate them for their many kindnesses. Her efforts are aided by a long-standing rivalry with a nearby town and eventually breathe life into the dying village.

Unfortunately, her visa is only for three months and doesn't allow her to work while she's visiting, so when she comes to the attention of the local immigration authorities, some of the townspeople hatch a plan to keep "their Sara" by marrying her off to an eligible the mortification of both.

This was a wonderful vacation read--quiet and peaceful. I enjoyed getting to know the people of Broken Wheel and watching Sara blossom as a person, groaning when she and Tom failed to recognize their mutual attraction, grinning at the shock of each townsperson when she or he actually enjoyed reading a book Sara had recommended. My sole complaint is with regard to the abruptness of the ending--I actually flipped back to see if I missed something! It seemed like the author was leading up to John having a larger role to play, and then he witnessed that kiss...and then it was the epilogue. Wait, what?! There should have been a couple more chapters to resolve Sara's situation (as well as George's). Still, a very enjoyable read.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways are primary. Some swearing and mentions (but not descriptions) of sexual activity. Good choice for book groups, especially thanks to the discussion questions included at the end of the book.

I received a free eGalley (ARC) copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

I'll Always Love You

I'll Always Love YouI'll Always Love You by Paeony Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My daughter and I LOVE this book. The story is about a little bear who accidentally breaks his mother's favorite honey bowl while trying to surprise her by fixing her breakfast. He's afraid she'll be so mad she won't love him any more, so he tests the waters before he confesses by making up various scenarios of misbehavior to see how she reacts. She always responds with "I'll always love you, but you will have to [insert appropriate consequences here]."

I love that this board book shows children they will be loved no matter what mischief they get into, and there are logical consequences for actions--if you get paint on your baby sister, you will have to give her a bath, etc. I also love that it depicts a child telling the truth even when he knows his mother will be upset and that his relief when he knows he's forgiven allows him to think of a solution for replacing the broken bowl. His "flat brain" becomes three-dimensional again (see Jim Petersen's book Why Don't We Listen Better for reference).

This is a great choice for parents and grandparents (or any other adults) to read to little ones.

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