Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Touchstone/The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King - a Two for One Review

A touchstone can tell if something is gold or dross

I went to the library a few weeks ago and finally picked up a book that is NOT a Mary Russell series book by Laurie R. King, called The Bones of Paris. I got a few pages in when I realized that it was, sadly, the second book featuring the hard-boiled American Harrison Stuyvesant and the incredibly damaged Bennett Grey.

So, I went back to the library and picked up the first book, Touchstone. Because, you know, you can't read a series out of order...

The Mary Russell series is the first thing I recommend when anyone asks if I have anything good to read. I love those books, I love the character development, and since I LOVE the writing, I hoped that I would also enjoy these books. (I do also very much enjoy her other series about Kate Martinelli.)

Harris Stuyvesant is an operative in the fledgling FBI in 1926. He travels to England to try to track down a hunch - a serial bomber operating in the US whom he believes may be an up-and-coming Labour leader in the lead up to the General Strike that was threatened in England at the time. (By the way, one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels also deals with the build up to this same strike. Totally real event. But I digress...) He gets a lot of runaround throughout the British police/secret services, but eventually runs into a scary guy named Carstairs, who suggests that he talk to a man who barely survived The Great War, with some rather special abilities. Grey can basically sense the disharmony in a person when they are lying, as well as having hyper-sensitivity to smells and sounds. Cartstairs had a pretty awful plan for him after the war, before Grey eventually came apart, revolted, and went to hide out in the country. Being around people and all the constant disharmony was physically painful and intolerable to him for many years.

Grey and Stuyvesant both mistrust Carstairs, but the suspected bomber is dating Grey's former fiancee, and Grey's sister is her best friend and also works with their cause. Grey would like to test himself in public a bit and agrees to introduce Stuyvesant to the main players during a country weekend at the former fiancee's family manor.

Harris falls in love at first sight with Sarah Grey, which complicates matters some as he's trying to operate undercover, and needs to use her to get close to Bunsen, the suspected bomber.

I admit that I didn't love this book quite as much as King's other works. It read like a very, very long background file with little action. I liked the characters, and they do wind up fairly well developed because of all the backstory. However, there was a lot of discourse and discussion, political history, the conflict between Carstairs and Grey that is all intellectual, leaving the story dragging more than a little.

The book does end with a good action scene, and a believable but not totally satisfying ending. I almost always enjoy reading books between the World Wars, and the characters made it interesting enough, but it wouldn't necessarily be on my must-read list.

But then I went ahead and picked up The Bones of Paris.
Montmarte from the Musee d'Orsay

This book picks up 3 years later, in roaring 1929 Paris. It takes place within the art and literature scene of Paris at the time, so it's littered with true-life characters.

Harris has quit the FBI (he and J. Edgar just don't see eye to eye...) and is operating as a private detective throughout Europe. He's a little down on his luck when he is hired by an American to find his niece who's gone missing - someone Harris had run into on the Cote d'Azure previously. The American is willing to pay handsomely, so off he goes to Paris to track her down.

She (Phillipa - Phil or Pip, depending on whom he's talking to) had gotten very involved in the outre Paris art scene, and while investigating, Harris runs across some  photos that are maybe supposed to be shocking "artsy" death scenes, but that he suspects may be the work of a real serial killer. He finds a Parisian police detective who may agree and is willing to help, but Harris also sends the photos to Grey for verification. Unfortunately, Grey can tell that they are all too real.

The noble, rich patron of some of these artists has hired a new assistant, none other than Sarah Grey. Harris is concerned for her safety.

The mystery aspect and overall pacing of this outing were much more to my taste. Grey is more of a side figure (though I wouldn't have minded more of him), and with the background that we got in the overly explanatory first book, I was able to accept his abilities and just get on with the solving of the mystery. The characters continue to develop in believable and real ways. Harris is flawed, but I very much enjoy him. The smattering of real people are fun to read about and yet not too intrusive. 

There is a lot more action in this book, and the mystery is satisfying, both in keeping you guessing and in the solution. The setting is well-researched and fun to read about. There is more "showing" than "telling" about what's going on.

I would very much recommend this book, and hope to see more of THIS Stuyvesant and Grey. But I think it would be hard to understand without the first - and yet it's hard to fully recommend the first... Tough dilemma.

Paris is a very cool place to visit, even in a book, and due to Ms. King's scene-setting abilities, it was very fresh in mind during the tragedy this week, 

Overall, I'm glad I read them, particularly since I enjoyed the second one so much. Pin It

Thursday, October 8, 2015

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

Pretty cover

I went to the library this week and picked out two non-series books by some of my favorite series authors. (A reminder, I love love love series development...) I figured, I love their series, the writing must be good for their standalone novels, right? I haven't read the other yet (review to come when it's done) but I read How to Start a Fire within maybe 30 hours.

If you aren't familiar, Lisa Lutz wrote a series of really funny mystery books that starts with The Spellman Files. Her characters in that series are in no way "normal" but they are amusing and funny and somewhat insane, and still somehow really easy to relate to.

How to Start a Fire is a standalone novel about three friends (Kate, Anna, & George - for Georgianna) who met in college, are completely different, and yet remain close friends for nearly 30 years. They are not normal in many ways, and some pretty awful things happen to them, and yet some parts of the novel made me laugh out loud.

Before I go much further, you need to know that the story is told in third person, focusing from time to time on each character's thoughts and actions, but every single chapter is set in a different year, from their meeting in 1993 to around 2013, with no rhyme nor reason to the jumping. The "timeline," or lack thereof, really reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife, but without the logic behind such jumping around.

This is my big issue with the story. I like the characters fairly well. I'm not sure I understand most of Anna's motivations, but she is interesting. Kate is the most sympathetic to me, and I understand why she does what she does. George is nice enough, but for me remained on the periphery of the story.

I enjoyed the characters, and the plot points would have been fairly interesting if...

I just really, really would have liked the story in order. I was able to figure out fairly well what might have been the big secret that "happened." The jumping around (and I'm a pretty involved reader) just made me mad. I had to keep looking back to try to keep track of whether some other part of the story had happened yet or not. I prefer to read like I'm lost in the story, and this kept pulling me back out of the story and into my life.

Therefore, I can't say much about what happens, because the author wants it to be a secret.  I did like the writing for the most part, if it had been sequential. I read it quickly, and was invested. I just don't like the format at all. And... There isn't much resolution. I think I've mentioned it before, but I do much prefer a good solid ending.

If that kind of thing doesn't bother you, this is a good character study type book. It's not a mystery, definitely more of a "coming of age" story, but it's not bad. Just not my favorite set up.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

All I own in this world (minus my jewelry, some bottles of wine and the unity candle from our wedding) is on a truck somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.  While I've been waiting for it to arrive, I've had ample opportunity to read.  And drink coffee.  Sounds heavenly, right? Well, it should be....but it isn't thanks to Mr. Grisham and Gray Mountain.

Everything was right with the world when the book started.  Interesting characters (a hotshot lawyer, his loyal staff and a new female lawyer in town fresh from NYC), a well researched topic (strip mining in rural Virginia), drama in the form of a possible murder....all the classic Grisham was there.  And then with about 100 pages left, I noticed there no way this book was going to wrap up in the usual Grisham way.  As I kept reading,   it became more and more evident.  And I was right.

Look, I read John Grisham because he and his books are something I can count on. They are a constant in my never-constant Army wife world.  When they don't deliver, it makes me mad.  The book can't end without me knowing some very specific details!  Does Samantha stay or go? Does the mining company go after her too or not?  What about Jeff? Does he come back?  Ugh. 

It's frustrating enough that I've had to wait over a week for our household goods.  I don't need one of my go-to authors adding fuel to the fire.  Wait, is that the moving truck I hear?

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Reluctant Duchess by Sharon Cullen

The Reluctant Duchess by Sharon Cullen
I received a free e-copy of this book from in return for a review. 

It has been a while since I tried a new straight Regency romance novel, and I can happily report that I enjoyed this one as a nice and easy romance read.

The plot: Sara, the plain and painfully shy orphaned cousin of a murdered Society star, Meredith, begins receiving letters from a witness to the two-year old unsolved murder - or maybe even from the killer himself - and goes to Meredith's fiance for help. Gabriel Ferguson, the Duke of Rossmoyne (known as Ross) has just returned from a stint in India, where he went to escape his grief over Meredith's death. Sara's aunt and uncle, whom she (somewhat confusingly) refer to as her parents, have fallen apart and are living apart after their daughter's death, and she feels like Ross is the only one who can help. In true classic Regency romance fashion, Ross's partying days are over and he finds Sara's calm and intelligent demeanor attractive, while she realizes that he is not the man her cousin originally fell in love with. Sara knows, though, that her fear of Society and social situations will not work well in the post of a Duchess. Also, of course, they must track down Meredith's killer.

While there is always a certain amount of formulaic plotting in these books, I find I don't mind it if they work well. This one did. Ms. Cullen has created interesting characters whom I liked and rooted for. These particular two are not only reasonable, with at least some true-to-life concerns, they also have social consciences. Sara is correct to worry about whether she could face Society - Ross has to meet Queen Victoria, for example, and any duchess of that time would have to, also. Ross left for India while he still had the reputation of a party animal, so to speak, so even his own mother has doubts of whether he can settle down - and rightly so. The story begins the day he returned from India - it seems reasonable that his mother hasn't realized that he's changed.

The plot moves along pretty quickly and well. The physical romance scenes are steamy without being too explicit. I'm not sure that Ms. Cullen has the correct forms of address for the various levels of nobility (and that's based on research, not just other novels) but other than that, I have no beef with the writing. The grammar and dialogue are good.

This book will be published as a Random House Loveswept e-book on November 10th. I would recommend it to fans of Regency romance looking for a no-brainer read.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Doing it for Love by Cassie Mae

I received an e-book copy of Doing it for Love by Cassie Mae as an advanced reader copy from Net Galley. It will be released on September 29th.

The plot: An engaged woman, Elizabeth, already feels like she and her fiance are "peas and carrots" in bed, rather than chocolate mousse. She makes a challenge with Landon (the fiance) - nothing but kissing until the wedding, and if one caves first, the other gets to pick the honeymoon destination.

Doing a little research on, it looks like Cassie Mae has a fairly good following for YA romance, plus a few other books both on her own and co-authored, all seeming to be set in high school or college. Looking a little further, it does look like this is her first full large-publisher adult contemporary. I had not heard of her before, but the premise sounded interesting and I tried this book. It's going to be a Random House Loveswept line novel when it comes out, so it's a little short and slightly sweeter than I had anticipated based on the blurb.

I don't know, since I haven't read the YA novels, if this is her first foray into full adult romance and "the act" or not, but it kind of seems like it. Sadly, this novel fell very flat for me. Rather than being full of fun and  sexual tension, it felt full of annoyance and whining, and I was over it within the first few chapters.

Elizabeth and Landon live in NYC. Landon is a film-school graduate and has a grant to make a movie, which he works on 20 hours a day. Elizabeth has left college and is only 21 (22?), and works retail. The book begins with some "peas and carrots" sex (if you happen to read this, get used to that phrase. You'll hear it over and over and over) followed by an unexpected proposal. Elizabeth is determined to put the spark back into their love life, and Landon wants their honeymoon to be at the Sundance Film Festival. She has no interest in Utah in February (I do, but hey...) so she comes up with the idea that they can't kiss or do anything below the neck until the wedding night. If she caves, he gets Utah, if he caves, she gets a beach honeymoon.

They are a cute couple when they are not whining, and clearly do love each other. There are some funny best friends, and some humor here and there. But I admit that I am probably not the target audience here. Coming from a middle-aged perspective, they're idiots. Landon's mother is a witch and apparently always has been, and she hates the idea of Lizzie and thinks they are too young. Lizzie's parents are more supportive, but also have age concerns. Frankly, I do, too. One of the major plot points is that they are always broke and at one point, Lizzie breaks a bowl with their last box of mac and cheese and they supposedly have nothing to eat until payday. So, what on earth makes her think it makes sense to get married in the boathouse in Central Park, or plan a beach getaway??? Supposedly she has a lot saved, and she is responsible and wants to keep the nest egg, but to worry about food and not use that? Isn't that what the emergency savings are for? I don't even think I'd care if they went to City Hall, but to plan an elaborate wedding in that situation (yes, the parents save the day. Yay, parents.) seems beyond stupid.

Anyway, that perspective aside, some of the "let's break each other" scenes are funny and hot. Others just feel like a slog. They are totally ignorant of the fact that intimacy can help you feel connected and bonded to your partner, and so they both are just grouchy, all the time. She whines and eats too much and can't fit into the dress she wants. He whines and needs more money for his movie and picks fights. Fun. Not.

The grammar was fine, but the overuse of food metaphors annoying, the characterization thin, the mood blah, and overall, I didn't much like it. Sorry, Net Galley. Pin It

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Good news? I have tons of time to read this summer!

Bad news? I am moving from Virginia to Washington state (thanks, Uncle Sam) and our house will not be ready until possibly Oct. 1. 

Let's just focus on the good news, shall we?

Since I am literally homeless and pinging around this grand country mooching off of friends and relatives for at least another 3 weeks, I've read lots.  And lots.

This week, I was invitied to my mother-in-law's monthly book club.  She had already finished the book, so she dialed it up on her nook for me, I threw the kids in the pool and headed out to the backyard to read/make sure no one drowned.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry was this month's pick and was a nice little escape in the midst of my nomadic life.  AJ owns a bookstore (who doesn't love a story set in a bookstore?) and is in the midst of grieveing the recent loss of his wife when he finds an infant left to his care.  Left with only a note pinned to her chest, baby Maya and AJ make an unlikely pair.  AJ becomes her foster parent and eventually her adopted father.  The story unfolds as to why baby Maya ended up in the bookstore but not without some unexpected twists.  At one point, I actually put down the nook to go find my MIL and exclaimed, "Can you believe that part about ___? I did NOT see that coming!"

This book was the perfect reminder that I should make more time to read and might even prompt me to start up a book club when I get to Washington.  After we get a house, that is.

**How cool is their club name?

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Gasp!  I do actually still read books.  And then I, even more sporadically, write reviews!  I have read many good, and even a few great, books in my long absence, but I always seem to write more reviews in my mind than I actually sit down and write here on the family blog.  But in the short minutes of the perfect storm of cooperation that my children are currently displaying, I thought I'd let you know about this gem of a book.

The Book of Speculation was reviewed as recommendation for people who loved The Night Circus.  I thought: "You should write that down.  You won't remember the name of it and you LOVED The Night Circus.  Go ahead.  Write it down.  Or even pre-order it.  DO IT!"  Then I didn't.  Until it popped up on another list and I finally pulled the trigger and bought the book.  I read it in its entirety during a long weekend trip to the Great Wolf Lodge.  And though the subject matter is distinctly aquatic, I did not take the book to the water park, which means I gave up precious moments of sleep to read it.  I don't regret that decision.  Remember how East of Eden revived Oprah's Book Club? Well, it did.  And though I wouldn't compare this to a classic literary work (East of Eden is really good and I'm not always a lover of Hemingway), this revived my desire to review.

There are similarities between The Night Circus and The Book of Speculation in that they both follow family lines for generations, carnivals and circuses do play a large part in the setting and the plot, and much is forfeited to fate and destiny.  However, The Book of Speculation centers on the past affecting those in the present while the The Night Circus doesn't make it that far in its mythology.  The Book of Speculation centers its magic around sirens (or mermaids or rusalkas) and tarot rather than the use of magic and sleight of hand as The Night Circus does.  They are indeed different stories with similar overarching themes:  both great reads.

In The Book of Speculation, a librarian receives a very old and water-damaged book from a stranger who had purchased it at an estate auction in a larger lot of other items (hence the book purchased on speculation).  Simon starts digging into the people and the history of the images in the book all while his life is figuratively and literally falling apart.  He lives in his childhood home which is on its last days of being on land as it sits precipitously on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Simon does not have the money to save the house from its demise and must ask a neighbor and family friend for help.  Which becomes even more difficult as Simon learns more about the people in this mysterious book and the more recent history of his parents and their relationship with these neighbors.  To further complicate things, Simon's sister is coming back to town for a visit and she seems unwell.  She's obsessed with her tarot cards (her current profession in a traveling carnival) and seems haunted by what the cards show her.  All of this as Simon discovers a pattern to the tragic deaths: there is a succession of suicides by drowning in his family.  All women, all circus/carnival performers, all "mermaids", and all dead around a certain time period, now Simon is compelled to learn more to try to break this inheritance of tragedy.

The book jumps from century to century fairly seamlessly, and I loved that each time it  jumped I missed the other storyline while I was reading about the other characters.  I also enjoyed the description of the towns and cities up and down the East Coast frequented by the traveling circus during colonial times.  I imagine the amount of research that went into writing this book is staggering, but well worth the time in my opinion.  Just as giving up precious moments of sleep to read this selection is well worth the extra cup of coffee you'll need the next morning. 

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George

So... I guess - according to the back of the Advanced Reader Copy that I received - that I've been reading Elizabeth George since around 1988. Wowza. Because I know I started the Lynley novels when they came out. And I was young. And I loved them all, until 2012, when (sorry, minor spoiler) one of my favorite characters was killed off. I got mad. I quit reading her books.

But it was probably kind of too bad. I remember distinctly a conversation from when I was working at the University of Illinois - so somewhere in the 1997-99 range - where I recommended these books to a co-worker, talking about how much I loved the character development as much as I loved any individual plot within the series. As I discovered in this new outing, that has not changed. Mind you, I've missed a few steps, and now I'm convinced that I'll be making that right. It seems like I may have "only" missed 4 books, and I actually do own one of them, just never managed to get myself to pick it up... ;) 

At any rate, this is a fabulous read in the regular Elizabeth George style. It starts off with a sort of pre-quel sequence, with the chapters telling us we're so many months 'before it happened." Don't know what "it" is, but these chapters tell a compelling story of a young man with (amongst his family, anyway) nearly unacknowledged Turretts syndrome. They refer to it only as The Wording... And boy, is this family dysfunctional... The young man, Will, has a brother named Charlie who has his own issues. Centered on all this is their mother, Caroline, who is as ab unlikable a person as you're likely to see. Eventually, it is revealed that Will has committed suicide, and Caroline is now working as a kind of general assistant for Clare, a noted feminist author and lecturer.

In a fairly comic (for the series) scene, Barbara Havers, trying to escape an attempt by long-term Yard secretary Dee Harriman to find her "a man", happens across a lecture by Clare. She and Clare bond, and oddly, Caroline tries to stop it. Clare's friend and publisher, Rory (who has her own issues) intervenes, and from this, we see that Caroline remains nuts, and Rory is baffled as to why Clare would keep her around...

Finally "it" happens, and it's Clare's death. The original autopsy declares it to be a heart attack, but Rory is unconvinced, and remembers the encounter with Barbara. She convinces Barbara to investigate, but no one else really thinks it's worthwhile...

Here's where I have a gap - Barbara is in horrible trouble over something in one of the books I haven't actually read. So Lynley is fighting for her to get back to her normal inventive self, but apparently the new boss (whom Lynley has had relations with, again where I've missed it) really wants Barbara to either change completely - she's trying, but the stifling of her personality is also apparently stifling her intuitive abilities - or to quit. So Lynley has to convince the boss that Barbara can be trusted to follow orders AND also be given some leeway to follow her nose... Eventually he is successful, and the mystery plot really begins.

The character development remains top notch. Lynley is moving on from the death that shall not be named, but not thoughtlessly or carelessly. Barbara has to deal with being under a guillotine of professional issues of her own devices, and she both accepts and chafes at that, which rings true.

I won't give away any of the actual mystery, but the investigation kept me on my toes and very interested. The more details we get about Caroline's family, the more we are sucked in, and the more we hear about Rory, the more we are sucked in, and... All very good. There were some surprises, too. I don't like when mysteries have a "secret" where the reader can't figure anything out on their own, but I also don't like feeling way smarter than the characters. The plot line works well enough here that neither of those things happen. 

Fans of Elizabeth George ought to be happy, and if you were like me, go ahead and give her a go again. However, I can't recommend this if you have no history with the series. As I said, I'm feeling like I'm missing some stuff, and if this is the 20th book, I've read 4/5ths of the series... Jumping in now would not be ideal. But, as mentioned before, this is one of the series I most recommend at any time, so read them all. ;)

This book will not be released until October 27th, 2015, but when it comes out, I recommend it highly. And if you're not caught up, you have several months to get there!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

I truly enjoyed this book. It was funny, engaging and well-written.

Zoe Webster is a high school junior whose parents have divorced. Mom won the custody battle and moved them to a small town, well away from the high-powered father, prep school, and life that Zoe preferred. The story starts with a small teaser prologue about the end of the book - a good grab, and already interesting - but the book really starts on the first day of school. Since Zoe and her dad are scheming to get her back to NYC and the private prep school, she thinks she's just marking time. However, she's quickly drawn into a very bizarre quest by Digby, who is, well, odd.

There had been a kidnapping of a high school girl over the summer, and Digby is convinced that it's related to his 4-year-old sister's disappearance nearly 10 years earlier. He's returned to town to live with his mom, as his parents had divorced after the sister's disappearance. He immediately has begun trying to solve both the crimes, and is enough of a personality force that Zoe can't resist. The high school quarterback, Henry, was Digby's best friend from his earlier life, and warns Zoe that "once you care, you're in Digby World."

The story takes us through Digby's investigation (dragging Henry and Zoe kicking and screaming behind him) and Zoe's road to fitting into a new school. Some of the capers they get into are a little unbelievable, but hey, it's fiction. I can live with that. The book reminds me of the snappy dialog of an Aaron Sorkin show, the action of Percy Jackson, the uncomfortably observant BBC Sherlock, and the comedy/caper aspect of Janet Evanovich;s Stephanie Plum - all things I love.

There are some things that, as a grown-up (or maybe just an experienced reader) I can see coming from a mile away, but that's OK. I don't mind plot points that I've seen before if they make sense and are well done, and that's what I saw here.

The amazon blurb mentions this being something of "a romance between two people who aren't sure they like each other", but I wouldn't want people to think of this as a classic teen romance, just for girls. Zoe has a crush, but there are no "acts" of romance and it's not all about "How can I get him to like me?" I definitely am going to suggest that my twin 13 year old boys read this - it is NOT particularly girly, though it's told from Zoe's first person view. (Zoe acknowledges that she's "one of the guys" herself.) There might be a couple of more mentions of outfits than boys would care about, but mostly, it's a mystery/adventure/comedy, and I know they'd enjoy it. I laughed out loud more than once, and I would definitely recommend this to 7th grade and up. The content is not too R rated for middle schoolers. (But do be warned, there is a sleazy gyneocologist and the plot does involve some drug dealers. No drugs are taken. No alcohol consumption by teens.)

As they work through the mystery and the maze of high school, we see some growth and different aspects to not just the three main characters, but some of the more minor ones, as well. The end is satisfying (I like my mysteries to be solved, thank you,) but the book does end on a bit of a teaser. I hope that it means we might be seeing Zoe, Digby, and Henry again, along with their interesting pool of friends.I highly recommend this one.

This book is scheduled to be released in August. I was provided a free ARC by in exchange for review, but I suggest running out to get it when it comes out!

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Ever After (#3, Nantucket Brides triology) by Jude Deveraux

Back in the early 90's, I was a dedicated romance reader. I still have fondness for and reread some of my favorites from time to time, though I now tend to go for the more mystery/thriller romance combinations. Back in those days, Jude Deveraux was a "buy it as soon as it comes out" author for me, but I haven't read a new book of hers in years.

When I was offered this book for pre-release review, nostalgia made me take it, and I'm glad I did. This is certainly being released at the right time - perfect easy summer beachy read. But when I got it, I hadn't realized it was the third book of a trilogy, and I just knew I wouldn't enjoy it as much without having read the other two. So, off to the library I went, and I've now devoured all three books in the last four days.

This particular book is about Hallie, a newly minted physical therapist who has suddenly inherited a house on Nantucket from that plot-saving unknown rich uncle, and Jamie, who has a skiing related bum knee and has thousands of cousins/siblings/etc. who set him up as her private client. Old fans of Deveraux will not be surprised that his last name is Taggart.

Hallie's stepsister is somewhat evil, and Jamie is hiding something more than a jet-setter's bum knee. Oh, and there are ghosts. ;) But, no one's life is in danger, no one is in a lot of trouble with the law... These (because all three are the same type) are just good old, (not even "will they or won't they?" but "how will they?") love stories.

The first two books (also obviously set on Nantucket) also deal with all manner of Montgomery-Taggart relations, and some other ghosts.They're fun, and I found them all to be charming, easy reads. Ms. Deveraux is clearly enchanted with Nantucket, and her descriptions are beautiful, though I admit that her characters' disdain for tourists makes me a little scared to go be one. :D

This last story would have probably stood alone better than I anticipated. Many trilogy romances seem to take the whole first book to set up, then shortchange the first story by the set up, and the second two stories by needing to keep us updated on the first couple. These were definitely pretty standalone, with some characters in common, but not having the "old" couples crowding the new story out. There is one character that you won't understand if you don't read the first one first, but it might not even matter.

Jamie and Hallie are a likeable couple, and while - since this IS romance - you figure they'll end up together, it kept me interested to see how it happened. A return of a few Montgomery/Taggarts that even I (after all these years) recognized was enough to make me smile and nod, without them taking over the storyline. The dialog rings true, I didn't question motives of the characters, and all in all, it's a very nice easy romance read for those who prefer their love stories to be just that, without murder or international spies or... ;) You get the drift.

I would recommend reading the trilogy in order, in part only because they are all good reads, but also because while this book stood alone better than I anticipated, my appreciation was clearly richer for having read all three.

This book should be released on or about July 1st. 
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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

Can you recommend a book where the writing is fabulous, but you hate the story? I just don't know. I feel like Ms. Clifford (an award-winning writer for the New York Times) has amazing skills. I just don't love the story she tells.

Evelyn Beegan is a 26 year old living in Manhattan, and she's new money. Her father has made a boatload suing Big Pharma companies. Her mother is desperate for both herself and her daughter to fit into "old money" society, and has been for years - as shown in a flashback scene. Evelyn doesn't seem to question this at all, and herself strives to fit in to the pre-crash (and pre-Facebook/Twitter explosion) 2006 socialite world.

Evelyn's job is for a new start-up website called "People Like Us" - a pre-Facebook social site for the elitist of the elite. She's the membership director, and she did go to a fairly elite boarding school. She has the in, but she's still not feeling exactly like an insider. She knows there's something still out there, just one tier up, and she herself says she's never felt like she fit in anywhere. Her initial ideas for getting members seem reasonable, but she starts down a path to get them that involves bad decision after bad decision.

Ms. Clifford does a fabulous job writing this world. It's very easy to picture the people and places, and she really puts you in the mood of the time. Aside from the obvious hindsight that we know the bankers in the story are going to be in for a huge problem (they take a moment make fun of the NINJA mortgages, then dismiss the issue...) there is also a very strong sense of personal impending doom for Evelyn. The writing, as I said, is excellent.
My problem is the character. I had no one to root for, and that doesn't make for an enjoyable read for me. Evelyn is so desperate to join this elite group that she continually lies, manipulates people, ditches the only two people you can even think of approving of in the book... I understand that Ms. Clifford doesn't necessarily want us to like Evelyn, either, but it made the book a bit of a slog for me. I knew she was in for a fall, but I just didn't care. Some of the jacket reviews mention how delicious it is to watch someone fail, but I didn't even get that out of it. The people who cause the fall are also so unlikeable that you can't enjoy their enjoyment in her denouement, either.
So... Some people may not mind that lack of a true heroine, and if that's the case, they will certainly enjoy the pace, quality of writing, and tone. It's just personal preference for me to have someone to relate to within a novel that makes it totally enjoyable to read. The author is very good at what she does, it's just not my cup of tea as far as the premise.

This was an Vine selection - it won't be released until August 18th, 2015. I feel like it's going to be a popular book club selection, and maybe for good reason. It's not a bad book by any means. It's just not something I totally enjoyed.

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The reading gods were smiling down on me this week and I actually got to read (and finish) a book.  I finished it last night after spending 3 hours at a wine festival (hence the water bottle).

The Girl on the Train reminded me a lot of Gone Girl except with multiple couples ...crazy women, strained marriages, sneaking suspicions between young couples that no one had the balls to  just come right out and confront, etc.  The Girl on the Train is more layered, however and provided a bit more intrigue.  Oh, and the fact that one of the main characters is an alcoholic always keeps things interesting.  

Overall, I recommend it as a quick-ish easy read.  It's well written, flips between different character narratives without being confusing or annoying and wraps up with nice, satisfying ending. 

I wonder what the reading gods have in store for me this week?

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas

A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas is a Young Adult re-imagining, or, maybe more a sequel to, Sleeping Beauty. Short review is that I'd recommend it with a few caveats...

I like re-tellings as a rule. It's always fun for me to see a different take on a familiar story, and though I love Disney, I don't take their versions of the fairy tales as the untouchable definitives. Ms Thomas does a nice job of imagining what it really would be like to wake up with all around you gone, in the future, with a prince you didn't fall in love with, but who merely kissed you. In this version, the castle didn't sleep, so her family is gone. Many princes had tried before to wake her - the one who managed it doesn't seem particularly worthy, and why would she love him immediately? Why would he love her?

Add to that a kingdom that's been in civil war since her father died, the current king with dubious motives, and a girl who doesn't seem to even know herself, and it's a good story. Add in some other romantic possibilities and a witch, and you've got a really good plot.

However... Maybe it's just a function of Aurora not being on an even keel herself, but I had a harder time connecting to her than most main characters. I get that there is conflict between her mother's (echoed by the current queen's) strictures, being raised to be a perfect princess, and her own sense of right and wrong. But I found her to be wishy-washy and therefore kind of annoying. Maybe that's the Disney lover in me, but if she's going to be a spunky heroine, be one. Perhaps I'm just impatient. I will say that this aspect was when the book dragged for me. She'd do something fun or thoughtful, then agree to do nothing and that led to a lot of sitting in her room, thinking. So, that's where I'd disagree with the editorial review on the product page that says it's a "dazzling" story.

Also, we are clearly going to get a sequel. I don't mind sequels. In fact, as I say in lots of my reviews, I actually adore series that involve long character development arcs. But those that I adore can always stand alone, with a clear beginning and end, even if you jump in out of order. Sadly, Ms Thomas seems to go with the "Empire Strikes Back" school of sequel thought, without a definitive ending, and that just ticks me off.

Overall, I was entertained, though, and I'll keep an eye out for the next. There is a good possibility going here, and the writing skills aren't bad, so I hope the next will improve a little.
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Monday, March 9, 2015

Fun Romantic Thriller - Do or Die by Suzanne Brockmann

I was offered, through my Vine membership, an ARC of Suzanne Brockmann's newest book, but it was on the leftover list, so it is actually now available to everyone already!

I picked it because I was a fan of Ms. Brockmann's Troubleshooter series, to a point. I probably didn't read the last three or four, after some of my favorite characters found their happiness.

One thing I love about that series was that couples' stories often lasted over an arc of 2-4 books, with maybe one focusing on that couple and relationship, but the stories lasted. I love, love, love character development over the course of a series, and Ms. Brockmann delivers. Thankfully, I see shades of this in this first installment of "Reluctant Heroes."

The core cast is new to me, at least, and the main story couple was certainly no one I recognized (though again, I missed the last few of the old series.) We have someone call Jules, but he doesn't even have a speaking cameo. ;) One of the main sidekicks knows Ric and Annie, and I know they were at least introduced in one of the last Troubleshooters books I had read. But, since this is a "reset" so to speak, new readers won't be missing anything. People know people we don't know ourselves, and since the familiar names' backstories don't come into play, they just come off as extras to a new reader.

This book has Brockmann's trademark fast pace, bloody action scenes, and hot romance. I cared about the main characters, and liked that they are not perfect. I'll be very interested to see where she goes with the core group that she introduced - there are a lot of fun possibilities for future stories.

I would have liked to know a little more about Phoebe, the main heroine. Unless she is a carryover that I didn't get to, the trademark character development is actually missing for the main protagonist. We got a lot more backstory on the people who will probably be covered in later installments. I liked Phoebe a lot, but wasn't sure quite where she was coming from. We're told she's a good lawyer, but there's not much proof there. We are shown, in detail, that she's a great improv actress, and that's awesome, but why? How? And after being slightly reluctant to get involved, I felt that her sudden devotion to the mission was a little unexpected, or at least under-explained. I would have liked to have known more about her and her motivations.

But, overall, I flew through this book within 24 hours and will definitely look for the next. If you're expecting a trademark Brockmann romantic thriller, I think you'll be happy. If you're looking for something deeper, you're up the wrong tree. Pin It