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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