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Monday, December 27, 2010

Post-Holiday Catch Up




For Christmas, there was only one thing on my list. I was dying to own a Kindle. Despite my attempts, the Kindle became a challenge to order. Because I had Best Buy Rewards and Gift Cards to use up, we went there to order the Kindle in mid-December. Sure, I could have ordered from Amazon, but I had $40 in certificates so it made sense to shop local.

Our Best Buy was sold out, but promised they could get one in by Wednesday, so we went ahead and paid for it. Turns out that was a HORRIBLE mistake. Amazon told area stores (I checked Best Buy here and in neighboring states and Staples in Vermont and neighboring states) that the Kindles were in high demand again this year and they had orders to fill before they could accept additional orders. Shipping delays until after New Year's were guaranteed. I honestly didn't want to wait and opted for the Nook.

Now, I do understand the Nook doesn't have the same storage capacity, though I can add an SD card, so that's not a problem. The Nook also has a much shorter battery-life, but I work on the computer daily, so I don't mind charging it as needed. I've used about a third of the battery right now between my kids playing games on it (comes with Sudoku and Chess), my daughter reading her book one night and downloading books to it and checking everything out. It's better than my laptop, so I won't complain.

What does amaze me is the screen. My teen son compared it to an Etch-a-Sketch. He's right, it does have that quality. Words are crisp on the page. Controls are easy, including the touchscreen that I'd heard others complain about. It doubles as an MP3 player, so that's never a bad thing. Best of all, I took it out into sunlight and didn't have any problem reading outside (though it's downright cold and blizzard-like right now, so I won't do that until summer.) Day three with my Nook and I'm overjoyed.

One thing I really like is how easy it is to use a site most publishers are now using for review copies (NetGalley). It takes seconds to move a book from NetGalley to my Nook. It was easy to figure it out and in a matter of seconds a book is ready for reading. I'm hooked.

I've played with my friend's Kindle and my Nook and honestly they're both great, but the Nook being readily available locally gives it the edge in my opinion.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Zombie Cupcakes - Zilly Rosen (Cookbook)




Released February 15, 2011

www.andrewsmcmeel.com
www.ivy-group.co.uk

If there's one thing that amuses me, it's a good, emphasis on good, zombie movie. Fido, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and even Norway's Dead Snow all are great representations on zombie movies of today that should become classics. When I learned of a cookbook that was presenting cupcake designs with zombie or Halloween themes, I was highly amused and couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of Zombie Cupcakes.

If you know of the Hello, Cupcake design books, you get the basic premise for Zombie Cupcakes. There are a number of different cupcake designs ranging from falling out eyeball cupcakes to a corpse's hand rising from the grave. Each "recipe" is rated so that you know if it is difficult to make or incredibly easy. A full list of necessary ingredients is given, along with some cake and frosting recipes. Cake recipes include basics like Red Velvet Cake, but also throw in some more unique ones like Honey Cake or Applesauce & Caramel. 

Recipe instructions are easy to follow, so you can rest assured your cupcakes will look like those pictured in the book. Some of the more difficult ones do require a little more talent, such as shaping the a zombie's hand, but the instructions make it seem like even a beginner will be able to turn out something similar, even if it isn't perfect.

Within the recipes, you'll also find some zombie trivia. Take the test and see how you score. I got a perfect score, but then I also admit that there is not likely a zombie movie around that I haven't tried to watch. If it's available with Netflix, I've seen it. From now on, I'll be watching my zombie movies with a zombie-themed treat!

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'll Be Home for Christmas - Julie L. Cannon




Released September 2010

www.summersidepress.com

Maggie Culpepper has given up on God. After her mother dies, Maggie decides there's no way she's going to freely give her heart to someone else only to have God snatch them away and leave loved ones heartbroken. With that, she enlists in the U.S. Navy WAVE program and heads off to serve her country during WWII.

William Dove has loved Maggie for most of his life. He knows she loves him too, so he's shattered when she enlists. One thing is certain, he is determined to change her mind and realize there is a happily ever after.

I'll Be Home for Christmas is a holiday romance that left me with mixed feelings. I adored William's character and really felt he was the most sensible of the lot. Given that, it's got to be obvious that Maggie did little for me. In fact, there were times I wondered how William could tolerate her. She's so angry with most everyone and everything that it's off-putting. She treats William like dirt, yet he sticks by waiting for her to change. Definitely a more patient man that I could ever be. In the end, I honestly felt she wasn't good enough for William and wished he would move on.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Family Affair - Debbie Macomber



Released January 2011

www.debbiemacomber.com

I'll start off by saying this is not a new story. Debbie Macomber's Family Affair was first released in 1994 in Purrfect Love. This is not a long story, expect a total of 99 pages. The novella follows with a few recipes for homemade cat treats. Readers whose cats have sensitivities to grains, like my boys, should note that the recipes all call for whole-wheat flour and/or cornmeal.

In Family Affair, Lacey Lancaster moved to San Francisco after learning her husband was leaving her for another woman. Lacey's kept her heart locked away and doesn't think men are particularly trustworthy. The light of her life is her Abyssinian cat. She's not of fond of her neighbor Jack, a man she is convinced is cheating on his girlfriend.

Jack Walker noticed Lacey the day she moved in and he wishes she'd give him the time of day. One evening while he and his sister are having an argument, Lacy shows up at his door asking them to tone it down. His tomcat escapes and mates with Lacey's cat. This gives him the perfect opportunity to become a part of Lacey's life, even if it is only until the kittens are born.

Soon, the pair find themselves falling head over heels. Does Jack have the skill to show Lacey that not every man is a cheater and that he's hear to stay?

Family Affair is a cute story, though I'm not sure it's good enough to make my permanent library. It's short enough to read in an hour or two, but satisfying enough that the story will stick in the back of your mind.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Twas the Night - Sandra Hill, Trish Jensen & Kate Holmes



Released November 2010

www.bellebooks.com
www.bellbridgebooks.com

'Twas the Night offers a trio of Christmas tales finds its way to Belle Books. Originally published by Leisure/Dorchester in 2001 under the title Here Comes Santa Claus, readers who missed this romance anthology of sorts have the chance to enjoy some fine holiday stories.

The basic premise involves a Christmas wedding in Maine. Sam, Kevin and Stan were foster children at the White Mountain Home for Boys in Snowdon, Maine. Now George, a man who means the world to all three of them, is about to get married, and he wants his "boys" to be his best men on his wedding day.

Each author writes the story from their character's point of view. Alternating chapters are written by one of the three authors--Sandra Hill, Trish Jensen and Kate Holmes).

Things start off with Sandra Hill's Sam Merrick, a Blue Angels pilot, heading to Maine. Unfortunately, a snow storm cancels flights all along the East Coast leaving Sam in an unpleasant mood. George suggests Sam hitch a ride with the Santa Brigade, a group of charitable elderly men and women heading up to Maine via bus. Sam has no intention on riding to Maine with a group of elderly men and women until he learns his childhood crush, Reba Anderson, is the director of the retirement community on the Santa Brigade. Sam would love to rekindle things with Reba, but she's not quite as forgiving.

Trish Jensen shares P.I. Kevin Wilder 's point of view. On his way to Maine, Kevin stopped off in Schenectady, New York, in an attempt to locate Callie Brandt, a woman dodging an arrest warrant. A problem on the tracks has canceled train service. Kevin's only hope of getting to Maine for the wedding is by agreeing to join Sam and everyone on the Santa Brigade. As the biggest troublemaker of the group, Kevin's not thrilled to be joining elderly men and women who always viewed him as a juvenile delinquent--hence his nickname JD. Callie Brandt happens to come across his path right at that moment giving him the perfect opportunity to play dumb and have her escort him to the truck stop where the Santa Brigade is meeting him. With Callie in custody, the bus ride is about to get even more exciting.

Finally, Stan Kijewski's story is shared by Kate Holmes. Stan, quarterback for the San Diego Typhoons, is in Vermont where he's been requested to give Dana Freeman a ride. George saved Dana from a home for girls and she's heading to Maine for his wedding. Dana's nothing like what Stan was expecting from a Vermont woman. Stan's been the object of Dana's fantasy for as long as she can remember.When they learn roads to Maine are closed due to the storm, they have no choice but to join the Santa Brigade.

What follows in the trio of tales as the couples head north and east to reach the Maine wedding on time. Romances between each couple are definitely heated and full of passion. I happened to enjoy Sam and Reba's the best, likely because I felt they had the strongest connection. This doesn't mean the other romances were lacking, but Sam and Reba had a teen romance that's being rekindled throughout the story.


As a side note to part of the storyline, I've lived in Vermont for close to four decades and few roads ever get closed in heavy snow. Even in a blizzard, roads are open to any one adventurous enough to drive them. There may be temporary detours due to accidents or highway and police department warnings to stay home but the interstate and major highways don't close.

If you want a lighthearted contemporary romance, you won't go wrong with 'Twas the Night. It's a great way to relax from stressful holiday preparations or trips to overly crowded stores.

Friday, December 10, 2010

How Sweet It Is - Sophie Gunn (Contemporary Romance)



Released January 2011

www.hatchettebookgroup.com

Lizzie Carpenter understands the struggles single moms face. As a pregnant teen, her boyfriend up and left for Europe without a word. Fourteen years have passed and Lizzie is employed and spends as much time with her daughter as possible. Her home may need repairs but being a loving mom comes first.

When Lizzie and her daughter, Paige, receive a letter from the father Paige has never met, both fly into a state of panic. Lizzie is terrified he'll take her daughter away, Paige is ashamed he'll see the house and think poorly of them. Lizzie meets with her "Enemy Club" former high school enemies who are now friends and makes a wish that a handyman will knock on her door and start making repairs without wanting anything in return.

Enter Tay Giovanni. He's in the small New York town hoping to make amends for tragic situation he played a role in. While trying to work through his guilt, he overhears Lizzie's wish. He has the skill to fix up her house and makes the offer. He'll help her out until it's his time to leave and wants nothing in return.

Lizzie can't believe a man that good looking doesn't want something. However, the more time she spends with him, the more she finds herself falling in love. Can she stand forming a relationship with someone who's made it clear he plans to get out of town when the moment is right?

How Sweet It Is balances the blend of characters and plot extremely well. Many romances tend to focus on one or the other and months after reading it, you may remember a character or the plot but not both. With How Sweet It Is, I definitely think I'll remember Tay in particular. His situation could be that of anyone's and the pain he feels comes through clearly throughout the book.

Sophie Gunn's romance sets the stage for a series of novels. Each member of the Enemy Club has a story to tell. It sounds like Nina's story is next, though quite honestly, I'd love to read Jill's story next. I think of all the women in the Enemy Club, Jill and Lizzie have the best possible link and Jill's story will tie in incredibly well!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Goodnight Tweetheart - Teresa Medeiros




Released December 14, 2010

www.simonandschuster.com
www.teresamedeiros.com

First, let me say that Goodnight Tweetheart is very addicting. I am one of those thousands, maybe millions, that think Twittering is a fad that will eventually disappear. I have no use for Twitter and am somewhat saddened that people feel it's a good thing to share intimate details of your life. Too many sickos in the world for my liking to even think of doing that.

Given that, Goodnight Tweetheart is all about Twittering. After having a successful first novel, an Oprah pick no less, Abby Donovan's discovered that fame can be fleeting. Her publicist urges her to sign up with Twitter and start connecting with her fans through that medium. As a n00b, Abby connects with a college professor who is current on sabbatical. Mark Baynard shows her the ropes and soon a strong connection forms between the two.

While Mark's touring the world, Abby begins to realize she may have met Mr. Right. That is until the truth about who Mark really is comes to light...

I've read many of Teresa Medeiros' historical romance novels over the years. I was intrigued with her entry into contemporary romance/women's fiction. Though the characters are solely chatting through Twitter, they still build a strong romance. 

I admit, I like a book that delivers the unexpected, this time I was surprised, if not possibly shocked. But, I don't plan to give spoilers. All I can say is read Goodnight Tweetheart and then feel free to head to the comment section and share your thoughts on Mark's big secret.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chronicle Books' Friends and Family Sale

Ticket Stub Diary
Friends & Family Holiday Sale Extended!
Enjoy 35% off and FREE ground shipping
on our website for one more week!
Use promo code FRIENDS at checkout
through Dec. 12. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Blackboard Books Giveaway

Congratulations to Meredith from Florida. Her name was drawn from the hat as the winner of the Blackboard Books Boxed Set of Grammar Guides.

Just in time for the holidays comes a second contest. Want to win? All you have to do is post a comment about your thoughts on these books, and I'll be choosing one winner from the posts. (Winner must have an address within the United States. Winner will be chosen Christmas Eve, so all entries must be received by noon EST on December 24th.)

Blackboard Books Boxed Set: 
 
i before e (except after c), My Grammar and I . . . Or Should That Be Me?,
and 
I Used to Know That

 
By Caroline Taggart, J.A. Wines, and Judy Parkinson
Published by Readers Digest
October 2010
$35.00 US
978-1606522202

The first three titles in the Blackboard Books series are now available in an attractive box set! Test your knowledge on all subjects, from English Lit to Western Civ, from Grammar to Idioms, from Physics to Math and so much more. Inside you'll find:

i before e (except after c):
old-school ways to remember stuff In this clever-and often hilarious-collection, you'll find engaging mnemonics, arranged in easy to find categories that include geography, time and the calendar, numbers, and astronomy. Perfect for students of all ages!

My Grammar and I...Or Should That Be Me?: How to Speak and Write It Right
Avoid grammatical minefields with this entertaining refresher course for anyone who has ever been stumped by spelling confusion, dangling modifiers, split infinitives, or for those who have no idea what these things even are.

I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot from School 
Take a trip down memory lane with this light-hearted and informative reminder of the many things we learned in school that have been forgotten over time, from Shakespeare and diphthongs to quotients, phalanges, and protons. After all, as Stantayana reminds us, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Author Bio

Judy Parkinson,
 author of i before e (except after c): old-school ways to remember stuff,  is a graduate of Bristol University. She is a producer of documentaries, music videos, and commercials, and won a Clio award for a Greenpeace ad. Parkinson has published four books. She lives in London.

J. A. Wines, author of My Grammar and I...Or Should That Be Me?: How to Speak and Write It Right, is a graduate of Oxford University and the author of several books on grammar and trivia.

Caroline Taggart is the author of the best- selling I Used to Know That, The Classics, and An Apple a Day and coauthor of My Grammar and I . . . Or Should That Be Me? She is also the editor of Writer's Market UK & Ireland, a guide for aspiring writers. She has worked in publishing for more than thirty years, the last twenty in nonfiction.

For more information please visit http://www.rdtradepublishing.com/book_display.php?isbn13=9781606522202 and follow the book Facebook

Love Finds You: Under the Mistletoe - Irene Brand & Anita Higman




Released September 2010

www.summersidepress.com
www.anitahigman.com
www.irenebrand.com

Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe is another entry into the Love Finds You collection of gentle romances. They are Christian novels to an extent given the scripture and Christian references, but I think anyone looking for a heartwarming story will adore the romances.

Irene Brand's entry, An Appalachian Christmas, shares the story of Julia Mayfield. She has no experience caring for children, but that doesn't stop her parents from sending Julia on a trip with her toddler nephew in tow. Julia's sister died during childbirth and the father of the baby died in WWII. Julia's heading to Mistletoe, Kentucky to introduce her nephew to his paternal grandparents. In Mistletoe, things don't go as planned when the boy's grandparents refuse to see him. She's taken in by David Armstrong's grandmother hoping they might come around. David Armstrong is hiding a secret that he can't reveal to Julia, but he's falling in love with her just the same. Meanwhile, she's falling for David, but can she really give up everything to stay in Mistletoe?

Once Upon a Christmas Eve is Anita Higman's offering. Holly Goodnight's mother abandoned her as an infant. Now that Holly's store has been named Best Christmas Store in America, she's caught the attention of a novelist who wants to turn her childhood tale into a heartwarming story the public will love. As she spends more time with Van Keaton, Holy begins to wonder if she's found Mr. Right at long last. Her best friend since childhood, Owen Quigley isn't as pleased and needs to figure out how to reveal his true feelings before it's too late.

The two stories in Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe are incredibly satisfying. They're the perfect length for between holiday errands or cookie baking. As is true of Christian romances, you won't find the sex, but that doesn't make the chemistry any less apparent. Both sets of characters have an obvious attraction that warms the reader's heart with each turn of the page.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kill the Dead - Richard Kadrey




Released October 2010

www.richardkadrey.com
www.eosbooks.com

Kill the Dead, the follow-up to Sandman Slim, brings readers into another glimpse of James Stark's, aka Sandman Slim, life. For those who, like me, are new to the story, James Stark came from the depths of Hell to seek vengeance for his girlfriend's death and rid the world of some evil in the process. He won't rest until he's found the man who put him in Hell.

Stark receives an unusual request this time around. Lucifer's coming up from Hell to oversee a biopic of his life. He's in his human form and needs protection. He wants Stark as a body guard, and it's not in Stark's best interest to say no. Things get hairy when a massive amount of undead known as "drifters" hit the area. Someone's released them and Stark needs to find out who and why. Stark's definitely got his hands full, but a Czech porn star/movie star in Lucifer's film is ready to help out and kick butt. With a helper, maybe things will be a little easier for Stark...

The opening line says it all... "Imagine shoving a cattle prod up a rhino's ass, shouting "April Fool!", and hoping the rhino thinks it's funny. That's about how much fun it is hunting a vampire." I read that line and promptly burst into laughter. Richard Kadrey never eases up on the wit. Sure, this may be a horror/suspense entry, but it's hilarious.

As a fan of zombie movies, I would love to see this book come to the big screen. It has the potential of becoming a favorite like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. The humor, nail-biting action and engaging characters all help draw the reader in.

I missed the original book in the Sandman Slim novels, so I did struggle to keep track of some characters. I had to keep a chart to keep them straight as I started the novel. Soon, I had them figured out and all was good. If you want a change of pace, I highly recommend picking up Kill the Dead and enjoying every second!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Long Road Home - Mary Alice Monroe



Released November 2010

www.MIRABooks.com

Originally published in 1995 by HarperCollins, Mary Alice Monroe's The Long Road Home is back. I have to admit, I was eager to read this romance. It's set in Vermont and I often find that authors who don't live or spend plenty of time here rely on untrue stereotypes that end up painting an inaccurate picture of the residents and towns. Given that, I was ready to see what Mary Alice Monroe had to say.

Relatively speaking, Monroe does a great job. Some aspects such as Vermonter's not being a "chatty group" are not necessarily true of all areas. The hick accent (yeh-up) is another thing that is not very common that tends to be heard mainly in Northeast Kingdom regions and only with the older Vermonters, particularly those who grew up on farms. I know many of today's farmers and they have no discernable accents and are generally grammatically correct in speech and writing.

Like many states and counties, different regions present a different way of life and types of people. The area this book seems to be set in the mountains a short distance from Rutland. Rutland has a reputation for drug and gang crime so people are a little more suspicious of new faces from my understanding. Given that, I think the author does capture their wariness pretty well.

On a dismal, rainy day, Michael MacKenzie walks into banker Charles Walker Blair's office in Blair Bank, announces Charles ruined his life, puts a gun to his head and kills himself. Charles has never figured out why Michael blamed him or what his bank had supposedly done.

Nora MacKenzie remembers her husband's last words to her--"Don't trust anyone." For the past year, the estate has been tied up in an investigation to unravel his complicated business dealings. The estate is supposed to be settled, but at the lawyer's office, Nora learns they need more time but the end result won't change. Nora is bankrupt. Her only hope at paying off creditors is to auction everything she owns. She negotiates possession of a sheep farm in Vermont despite the lawyer's persistence that the farm is unfinished and worthless. Packing up anything the lawyers will allow, including a mysterious notebook she finds hidden, Nora heads off to Vermont.

In Vermont, Nora learns there's a man living on the farm. She doesn't know anything about the mysterious C.W. (Charles Walker) other than she's told by neighbors that he's reliable. C.W. can't understand why Michael MacKenzie's widow has shown up. When she asks him to help her unravel her financial situation, he agrees. The thing is she has no idea that he was there when her husband died and he wants to keep that a secret.

The Long Road Home covers the relationship that develops between Nora and C.W. as the mystery regarding Michael's missing wealth is unraveled. It's a strong romance with a dash of mystery that many readers will enjoy. I know I laughed and shed a tear making this a highly-recommended romance. This is Mary Alice Monroe's debut novel, so fans of her current work will enjoy the glimpse into her earliest writing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Tenth Circle - Jodi Picoult



Released October 2006

www.jodipicoult.com

Once again, the key reason I picked up a copy of Jodi Picoult's The Tenth Circle is because an area high school banned the book from its English class. This time, parents claimed the book was violent, there was graphic rape and bullying. And again, I still feel parents are being overprotective because like it or not, rape does happen, bullying happens and kids see far more violence on the nightly news or in a newspaper than they'll "see" in this book.

In The Tenth Circle, Trixie Stone is heartbroken over the break up of her and her jock boyfriend, Jason. Jason is the classic all-American with a bright future. He's the town's hockey star and idol of many. One night, Trixie is at a friend's house where a plan is in store for Trixie to make Jason jealous and win him back. The night ends with Trixie saying she's been raped by Jason.

Trixie's dad, Daniel, will do anything to protect his only child. When she tells him Jason raped her, he feels the wind knocked out of him. He's never felt such intense hatred and rage for another. But Daniel knows that Trixie needs him now more than ever. Neither Trixie nor Daniel's wife Laura know of Daniel's past. They don't know why he fled Alaska and that weighs heavily on his mind now that he's facing another tragic event.

What follows is the story of the Stone's life after the rape. Trixie tries to return to school while the case builds, but the treatment from not only fellow students but also teachers makes it impossible for Trixie to go on with her life. Adding layers of complication is the prosecution's announcement that they don't have much of a case and Jason is likely to get away with it.

The Tenth Circle made me cry. I definitely needed Kleenex handy. It certainly didn't help that I have a 14-year-old daughter and kept imagining what I would do if she came to me stating her boyfriend had raped her. It would take every ounce of self-control to not castrate him. Therefore, I found it all to easy to related to Laura and Daniel as they tried to keep things as normal as possible for Trixie.

There are a few surprises thrown in. What is very interesting is the tie-in to the classic Dante's Inferno and snippets of a related graphic novel that Daniel is writing. The graphic novel adds essential breaks to the very gripping, very emotional story.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult



Released February 2008

www.jodipicoult.com

I have this thing about book banning. After hearing on a local news station, that parents confronted an area high school and demanded that Nineteen Minutes be banned from the classroom, I decided I had to read it for myself.

I do agree that it's a parent's responsibility to monitor what their child reads, plays and watches. However, banning a book being taught in an English class because of the content seems a little absurd. Life, in general, is full of atrocities. Columbine happened and you can't make it go away. Even if parents think they can ban away fiction of this nature so that their teen doesn't know, you can guarantee that your teen is exposed to things ten times worse on a daily basis simply by watching the evening news.

If you were to ban every book that contained violent or graphic context, you'd have to remove To Kill a Mockingbird (rape and racism), Romeo and Juliet (suicide), Macbeth and Hamlet (murder), etc. The list goes on. I've read Nineteen Minutes and cried. Now it's in the hands of my 14-year-old who says the author's done a fantastic job capturing all aspects of bullying and the lack of response from teachers.

Nineteen Minutes takes place in small-town New Hampshire. Peter Houghton's been bullied since kindergarten by a variety of people, including his older brother. His first day of school started out with his lunch box being thrown out the window and nothing ever improved. He's now well into high school and the one person he could count on for protection has become one of the popular kids. Peter's reached his breaking point.

After one last targeted act of bullying pushes Peter over the edge, he goes to school with guns and targets those who made his life a living hell. The one person he counted on, the local judge's daughter, watches her friends die and blacks out the events. Whether or not Jodie will be a worthwhile witness is anyone's guess.

As a parent, I found myself torn. I felt horrible for everything Peter endured. I could sympathize with the actions that did push him over the edge. I was disheartened that the bullying was allowed to carry on for so long and teachers did little to stop it.

However, I also found myself feeling horrible for the victims. I can't imagine getting that call that my child's been killed by a peer that snapped. Jodi Picoult excels at creating a sympathetic situation where the reader clearly sympathizes with both sides of the picture.

Nineteen Minutes ends with a series of discussion questions. My teens and I have discussed the aspects of this book. One of the leading questions that we're still debating is how much responsibility should the bully take when his actions lead to causing another to snap and go on a rampage. It's an extremely interesting case and one that I feel is perfect for classrooms. It might help teens understand how their actions can impact the world around them--good or bad.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Holiday Triplets - Jacqueline Diamond




Released December 2010

www.eharlequin.com

www.jacquelinediamond.com

The latest entry into Jacqueline Diamond's Safe Harbor Medical romance series shares Sam Forrest's story. Sam's created a few ripples as head of pediatrics. Once again, she finds herself in a heated battle with the hospital administrator, Dr. Mark Rayburn, when she learns he wants her clinic space for a new fertility lab.

Things take a turn when one of the teen moms Sam's been counseling gives birth to triplets and decides they're too much. Sam's already fallen for the newborns and agrees to adopt them herself. Mark is shocked that workaholic Sam would agree to add more chaos to her life. However, the more time he spends with her, the more he's falling in love. The question remains--will she ever see him as more than an obstacle to her life goals?

Set in the midst of the holiday season, The Holiday Triplets is a sweet romance. Characters shine and adjust to new situations. I'll admit that I felt Mark, given his role as hospital administrator, was a little on the wimpy side and often did as he was told rather than what he felt was best for his hospital. It took me a bit to warm up to him for that reason.

Sam's been a favorite character. She's bold and definitely doesn't care if she's upset someone in the process of getting things done. She certainly has her flaws, but then no one is perfect. She's all about the greater good and not keeping everyone happy. Sometimes in life, you have to take the reins and get things done. I think that's what made me enjoy her so much. I saw a little of myself in her.

Jacqueline Diamond's The Holiday Triplets is an easy read. Perfect for filling time between cookie batches or holiday gift wrapping.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Duke's Night of Sin - Kathryn Caskie




Released December 2010

www.avonromance.com

www.kathryncaskie.com

Following the death of her fiance, Lady Siusan Sinclair has felt empty. A passionate encounter in a dark library invigorates her, but at the same time, she knows she's risked a lot by having sex with a complete stranger--unprotected sex at that. Her family's already been through numerous scandals, so she opts to run off and become a teacher at a school for young girls. If she is pregnant, her father will never know.

Sebastian Beaufort, Duke of Exeter, must find a bride. However, the only woman to appeal to him is a complete mystery. He never saw her face, only her dress as she ran from the dark library where they made love. He knows she is the woman he needs, yet he has no idea how to find her. When he heads to Bath to discuss Gemma, his niece's, education, he's surprised at how drawn he is to Gemma's teacher. Little does he know that his mysterious woman and Gemma's teacher are one and the same.

The Duke's Night of Sin is the third novel in the Sinclair's series. I missed the first two books and didn't feel I lost any backstory with the Sinclairs. I don't necessarily think you must read the books in order, though after reading Siusan's story, you may be intrigued enough to go back and catch up!

Full of passion and romance, I found Kathryn Caskie's novel to be mesmerizing. I read it in one sitting and would love to read more. I'm especially eager to see who the younger sister, Priscilla, is matched when her novel is written.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Zombie Survival Guide - Max Brooks



Released September 2003

www.crownpublishing.com

If zombies were real, how prepared are you for survival? Max Brooks bestselling The Zombie Survival Guide delves into the best way to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. From the best weapon to the best vehicle for travel, nothing is ignored in this guide.

Presented as a non-fiction "how-to," the son of famed Mel Brooks melds humor to every page. The book contains a thorough weapons guide, best hideouts, places to avoid and even covers the best terrain for traveling. He finishes the book with details on recorded zombie attacks and leaves you blank pages for noting additional zombie attacks, as well as a sample on how to fill out the pages.

If you're a fan of zombie flicks, particularly Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead, you're definitely the right person for Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide. It's humorous and definitely needs to be studied by some movie makers who keep trying to come up with a zombie movie but missing by a mile.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cousin Myrtle - P.J. McCalla (General Fiction)




Released October 2010

www.theelevatorgroup.com

Seeing friends struggle to make ends meet and eventually divorce, twenty-four-year-old Jessie knows her ticket in life was to meet and marry a rich old man. When she meets seventy-four-year-old Sam Sharpe, owner of a number of gas stations and body shops, Jessie knows he is her ticket to her desired lifestyle. Jessie does what she pleases and Sam seems to dote on her every movie. She never expects him to open their new home to his elderly cousin Myrtle though. As time passes, Jessie's resentment towards being Myrtle's caregiver grows.

Meanwhile, Myrtle realizes that Jessie's simply after a sugar daddy and definitely not the right woman for her cousin. Myrtle's been evicted from her home and sees Sam as gullible enough to taking her in for good, especially if she acts bedridden. She begins to plot to get him to see the light and remove Jessie from his life before it's too late. Myrtle's running a con of her own and she doesn't want Jessie to get in the way of her goal.

From the get-go, Myrtle is a despicable character. There is nothing redeeming about this woman. Jessie's not much better, however. I honestly hoped Sam would smarten up and kick both women out and find a gentler, kinder soul for himself.

By chapter 14, Cousin Myrtle reaches its big moment. I thoroughly believe the story could have ended there. However, it doesn't. Cousin Myrtle then continues on and deviates into Jessie's conflict between finding friends and companionship with those closer to her own age. Eventually, she makes a decision that forces her to realize she must make a choice, if it's not too late.

Cousin Myrtle's not a bad story. It is a good study into the highs and lows of large age gaps between spouses. I'm still not sure it needed the second conflict added, but that's the path the author chose.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Fall - Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan (Horror)



Released October 2010

www.thestraintrilogy.com
www.harpercollins.com

Continuing where 2009's The Strain left off, The Fall continues the saga as man battles vampire to save the planet. I highly recommend reading The Strain first. It details a lot of backstory involving the characters and their plight.

 A few characters share center stage in the second of this trilogy. Ephraim Goodweather is doing all he can to keep his son, Zack, safe. Zack's mother has been turned and desperately seeks Zack so that she can obey her master's request that she spread the disease to her pre-teen son. While trying to remain a step ahead of his ex-wife, Ephraim is also trying to help learn how the vampiric disease came about and what they can do to stop it.

Abraham Stretrakian survived the Holocaust and is damned if he'll let vampires end his life. He knows more about the vampires than anyone and knows that everyone's future depends on his obtaining the rare book Occido Lumen.

Joining them in the quest to end the vampire race are Vasiliy Vet, an exterminator; CDC Dr. Nora Martinez and Gus Elizade, a teenager and seasoned criminal. No one truly understands the danger that awaits them as the Master and a horde of ancient vampires begin their own battle for control of humankind.

Guillermo del Toro wowed me years ago with his story Pan's Labyrinth. His vampire series is just as amazing. It's brutally graphic, yet there is incredible heart to each of the characters. I definitely found it easier to bond with the characters this time around.

With the exception of the vampires, it's hard to decide which character could be expendable if it comes to that point. The vampires grow more cunning and I thought there was a little more detail into the hideous creatures, particularly with the aspect of their "stinger" and the worms within them this time. The writing is incredibly vivid and it's easy to create mental images as the scenes play out. I can't wait to see how Eph and his team defeat the Master, the rest of the vampires and restore hope for humanity, if that's even possible...

Monday, November 8, 2010

No Place to Run - Maya Banks (Romantic Suspense)




Released December 2010

www.penguin.com

Five months after a passionate affair, Sam Kelly is shocked to find Sophie Lundgren floating half dead in the lake behind his home. He and his brothers, all part of the Kelly Group International, nurse the pregnant Sophie back to health. All are suspicious of her actions, but she's told them they're all in danger, so safeguarding all members of the family takes priority.

Soon, it's apparent just how much danger they all face. Keeping Sophie, her and Sam's unborn child and the rest of the family is going to require every ounce of skill the men and women of KGI possess.

The storyline in No Place to Run certainly takes an important place in this story. The reader knows Sophie's secret from the start, but the rest of the KGI has to learn what she's hiding. This heightens suspense as the reader waits to see if they'll be able to figure it before it's too late.

Sam and Sophie's relationship is very steamy. Romantic scenes heat up the room and definitely relate just how much these two characters need each other. Other characters are given a little room to grow and it's clear that Garrett's story is next. I can't wait to see Garrett fall head over heels! Readers are treated to a glimpse of Ethan and Rachel (The Darkest Hour) now that their story's been told. If you missed the first entry into this series, No Place to Run does stand alone, but, like me, you'll probably be intrigued with the family and want to read the first book.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Taste of Romance - Roni Denholtz (Contemporary Romance)



Released December 2010

www.avalonbooks.com

Meet Nicole Vitarelli, host of the new cable show A Taste of Romance. Nicole's show is doing well, but her executive producer wants to put a face to the boyfriend she's always mentioning on air. There's one big problem, Nicole's as single as they come!

Desperate to find a stand-in beau, Nicole asks her neighbor, Jeremy Perez, to play the part of her boyfriend. He agrees on one condition, Nicole must cook dinners for him from time to time.

Nicole loves to cook and she certainly doesn't mind being in Jeremy's company, so this arrangement can't be bad! There's just one little problem. The pair of them have relationship phobias that they must overcome if they can make a real go of their budding romance.

I fully enjoyed the relationship between Nicole and Jeremy. They clicked from the start and had a great thing going. Now, every romance story has to have that hurdle. I'm still waiting on that one romance that ignores that common plot device and goes for that dose of originality.

I know from experience that people can have a happily-ever-after romance without running into some disagreement or misunderstanding. I kind of hoped that A Taste of Romance would be that one to bypass the norm. It's not, but the story is still great. Avalon Books aren't long, so if you like series romance, you're bound to enjoy this one!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Best American Comics 2010 - Edited by Neil Gaiman (Comics)




Released October 2010

www.bestamericancomics.com

Comics by nature are subjective. I never understood my brothers' fascination with superheroes any more than they understood my passion for Archie comics. The Best American Comics 2010 introduces segments of what the editors felt were some of today's best comics, many came from graphic novels.

Qualifications for those comics that made it into this book included:

  • Book had to have been published in North America
  • Publication date had to have been between September 1, 2008 and August 31, 2009


Among the comic snippets, I certainly had favorites. C'est ci n'est pas une comic (A George W. Bush Administration Retrospective) cracked me up. There's a lot of truth to that one.

The Lagoon was intriguing, somewhat creepy yet also slightly romantic. The comic series starting with Defining Beauty that chronicles a pregnancy certainly will hit many women as being very, very true. But hands down, it was The Alcoholic that made me cry. There's so much truth to that story and it will be hard for anyone to not be affected by it.

You'll find a wide range of comics, including a snippet from Scott Pilgrim, a take on Genesis and the extremely true The War on Fornication.

Comic aficionados will love the collection of comics found within. Maybe in future editions we'll find one of my favorite comics, Questionable Content, as it has finally been released in a book format.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dead Even - Brad Meltzer (Legal Fiction)




Released November 2010

www.bradmeltzer.com
www.harpercollins.com

Every now and then a book really catches my attention and Dead Even is one that hooked me from the start. The story is pretty involving. Sara and Jared Tate are happily married attorneys. Sara's finally landed a job after months of searching and she's working for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. Jared is a defense attorney on the ladder for promotion to partner.

On Sara's first day as ADA, she takes a case meant for another lawyer but that seems so dull, she figures he'll never miss it. She finds out soon enough just how wrong she really is. The simply burglary case isn't quite what a seems. Suddenly, Jared's dragged into the case after the accused hires him as his defense attorney. Jared's been told that if he loses, Sara dies. Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger catches up with Sara and informs her that if she loses, Jared dies. If they tell anyone else, again their spouse dies.

Dead Even is gripping from the start. It's one of those rare books that hooks you in and keeps you up till the wee hours because you just have to know how this horrible predicament is going to be resolved. Author Brad Meltzer creates incredibly evil bad guys making it clear that they will do exactly what they've promised.

Originally published in 1998, Dead Even is definitely worth reading if you missed it the first time around. I found it hard not to try to cast the characters while reading because I see potential blockbuster smash with this chilling legal suspense!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Katrina's Wake - Donald L. Canney (Non-Fiction)



Released September 2010

www.upf.com

In Katrina's Wake details the hard work put forth by the Coast Guard during the 2005 hurricane season. Most of the media focused on New Orleans during that time, but there were many affected in Florida too. The book opens with the rescue of a fishing crew off Florida's coast and then follows Katrina's path of destruction to Louisiana.

My knowledge of New Orleans following the hurricane is limited to what the media showed. Clearly from the photographs, U.S. Coast Guard interviews and first-hand accounts, there was far more to the devastation than the media shared. I fully understand having read this book just how much effort went into rescuing people while also keeping the Coast Guard members safe from panicky people who thought of themselves before the welfare of others.

Despite mandatory evacuation orders in New Orleans, only about 80 percent of the residents opted to leave their homes. This left tens of thousands at risk. The U.S. Coast Guard ended up saving more people in two weeks than they typically do in a five- or six-year span. In addition to the huge numbers needing rescuing, Coast Guard stations were subject to looters stealing their computers, phones and other important supplies. Some Coast Guard stations were destroyed by the storm itself. Many Coast Guard members were also dealing with the loss of their own homes.

Within In Katrina's Wake are photos of U.S. Coast Guard activity and the aftermath of the hurricane. Taking the narrative and photos into account, this offers a much clearer image of the impact the hurricane had on the area. It's a fascinating read and one that is certain to evoke tears from time to time.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Simply Irresistible - Jill Shalvis (Contemporary Romance)



Released October 2010

www.hatchettebookgroup.com
www.jillshalvis.com

There's nothing like a cold, rainy day to help you lighten your reading pile. With my kids glued to their game system and household chores done early, I pulled out some books, found a cozy place near the heater and spent an afternoon engrossed in books.

Jill Shalvis' latest release, Simply Irresistible, takes the reader to Washington State. Maddie Moore's mother has died and she and her half-sisters have inherited their mother's coastal inn. Given that Maddie's just lost her job and loser boyfriend in one shot, she's ready for a change of pace. She just needs to convince her sisters that renovating the inn is the best plan of action. Not an easy task because they want to sell quickly and get back to their lives elsewhere.

Though she's sworn off men, Maddie's first day in Lucky Harbor finds her enjoying the attentions of Jax Cullen. When she learns Jax is the handyman the sisters need to hire to fix up the inn, she's uncertain how well this will work out. The last thing she wants is another man to ruin her life, but Jax is incredibly hard to resist!

Simply Irresistible pulls no punches. Sparks fly immediately and Jax and Maddie are unable to keep away from each other. Of course there has to be conflict, but it's all internal and up to Maddie to overcome. I definitely liked that option over the overused evil ex-boyfriend returns and wants to kiss and make up technique used in so many romances. Even though it's a minor change of pace, it meant the world to this reader to have that fresher option.

For a true feel-good romance, you definitely can't do better than Jill Shalvis. I'm eager to see what's brewing for Maddie's sisters. Their stories are to come.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Love Finds You in Deadwood South Dakota - Tracey Cross (Christian Romance)




Released August 2010

www.summersidepress.com

When her husband dies, Jane Albright isn't too upset. He was a hard, potentially abusive man, so she and her young son are likely better off without him. That's until she learns that he'd never paid his debts and that the owner of her land, freight company and home, Franklin Lloyd, is giving her three months to move on. Jane manages to convince him to give her six months, but she's pregnant and finding a company willing to take on a woman to transport freight is a huge, seemingly impossible challenge.

Franklin Lloyd quickly becomes enamored with Jane and her young son. However, he knows she's too full of pride to accept charity or agree to another marriage of convenience, so he's determined to watch her back until he can come up with a plan that allows her to pay off the debt as easily as possible without hurting her pride.

Love Finds You in Deadwood South Dakota is another entry into the "Love Finds You..." series. Tracey Bateman/Tracey Cross is a skilled author and I've enjoyed many of her books over the years. Her characters are always strong and likable.

There is another layer to this story that I don't want to reveal as it happens later in the book. It adds incredible tension that truly had me on the edge of my seat wanting to physically get inside the book to smack some sense into a few characters. The story definitely draws you in and keeps you on edge until the situation is resolved.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Home Outside - Julie Moir Messervy (Landscaping)



Released January 2009

www.taunton.com

Julie Moir Messervy's award-winning landscape design guide is a must-have. If you struggle with garden design, you'll find this book to be an invaluable resource. If you simply want different ideas for your existing garden space, you'll still find Home Outside to be a great addition to your library.

Filled with beautiful photographs of gardens of different shapes and sizes, Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love offers a wide array of garden and patio designs. Each garden incorporates outdoor living space so that you add square footage to your home without having to pay hefty construction costs. If you've ever wanted an outdoor kitchen or a tranquil location to kick back and relax on a sultry summer evening or crisp fall day, Home Outside is going to help you achieve your goals.

The book begins with an introduction in garden design. As you progress, you learn about landscaping on a budget, creating your dream garden one section and a time and getting a layout for your garden design. You'll learn how to plan a garden around a slope, come up with a themed garden design or plan a great outdoor space for entertaining. The book is fill of ideas and base plans to get you started.

I loved how the author included before and after pictures of many different homes. You get a great idea for the basic lay of the land and how the homeowner's ultimate goals turned their newly purchased home and yard into their own personalized living space. With so many pictures giving you ideas, you'll find this to be an amazing resource for your own garden and patio landscaping goals.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Love Finds You in Sugarcreek Ohio - Serena B. Miller (Amish)



Released July 2010

www.serenabmiller.com
www.summersidepress.com

With her aunts getting older, Rachel Troyer is hoping she can persuade them to give up their bed and breakfast. She has enough money for them to retire for good and enjoy the rest of their lives. However, their Amish beliefs have them determined that they must continue to offer their home to others.

When a stranger shows up in Sugarcreek, the aunts are only too happy to take him and his young son into their home and lives. Rachel is less than pleased. She's uncertain about Joe Matthews, he's hiding something and she's determined to unravel the truth.

Joe Matthews is on the run and he simply wants to find a place where he and his young son can start again. When he's offered a job helping to repair and maintain the Troyer sister's bed and breakfast, he thinks things might finally be looking up. However, Rachel's suspicions and her job as a police officer have him on edge. Can he finally find a place to call home or will Rachel's suspicions destroy everything he and his son need?

Love Finds You in Sugarcreek Ohio is a charming romance. It incorporates Amish culture with American culture. I found myself intrigued with this small Amish village and all the residents within it.

There is the romantic angle between Joe and Rachel and the mystery regarding Joe's past that keep the reader hooked. It's a well rounded story that will delight those looking for a gentle romance with strong characters.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bound, Branded & Brazen - Jaci Burton (Erotic Romance)



Released March 2010

www.penguin.com


 Bound, Branded & Brazen features a trilogy of novellas set in Oklahoma. Following the death of their uncle, Jolene McMasters asks her sisters to return home to the family ranch. Each novella in this book revolves around a sister's romantic entanglements.

In Bound, Valerie McMasters never thought she'd return to the ranch. She's spent years getting her medical license, working her way into a private practice and forgetting about the husband she left behind. Now she's back and her attraction to Mason is stronger than ever. But she's not set up for ranch life, no matter how great their sexual encounters may be...

Branded finds Brea trying to come to terms with herself. She's had men tell her she's no good at sex, and she's convinced she's a failure. So when the man of her fantasies, a ranch hand named Gage, tries to show her otherwise, she's not sure if he's simply saying it to get what he wants or if she's been wrong about herself.

The final novella, Brazen, features Jolene. Jolene's remained at the ranch all these years and she's definitely fixated on her ranch hand Walker. However, no matter what moves she makes, Walker rebuffs her every advance. She knows he's into her, so why the cold shoulder when things start to heat up?

At heart, this is a contemporary western romance packed with sizzling sexual encounters. The plot of each sister's quest for fulfillment is strong and accentuated by the steamy sex scenes. To me, this is what erotic romance should entail. There's a solid plot with steamy sex in the background, not the other way around.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the McMasters sisters and wouldn't mind trips to the ranch in the future. They were all likable and I'd love to see what happens next.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

One Lane Bridge - Don Reid (General Fiction)




Released October 2010

www.davidccook.com

From the first page, something about One Lane Bridge held my attention firm to the pages. Before I knew it, I'd finished this charming tale of one man's unusual discovery. It's the perfect book for cozying up on a cold snowy or rainy day.

J. D. Wickman and his wife are empty-nesters with a little dilemma on their hands. One of their waitresses is stealing money. They trust these women and can't imagine one of them would hurt them that way, but the evidence is clear and they must now face the task of determining which woman is the thief.

They also are concerned with their college-aged daughter. After an attack on campus, their daughter is shaken up and wants to come home and  take a semester off. J. D. seems okay with the decision but his wife is less than thrilled.

All of these becomes a minor concern to J. D., however. One night while out driving, he loses his cell service and his car overheats.  He walks up to a small farmhouse to ask for help and discovers an unusual family. They don't have a phone. The woman is very sick and they can't afford medical help or groceries. J. D. wants to help them out, but the husband is too proud to accept charity.

When J. D. returns the next day with his wife in tow, J. D. makes a shocking discovery. It makes him and those around him doubt his sanity. J. D. is determined to unravel the truth about this family and find out what led him to them in the first place.

One Lane Bridge may be a Christian novel, but it's a feel-good story that anyone will enjoy. It's not preachy and is, instead, part general fiction, part mystery with a dose of paranormal tossed in. The characters, setting and themes all work flawlessly at holding the reader's attention from start to finish.

As a side note, the author Don Reid is the same Don Reid of the Country group the Statler Brothers. I'm not a huge country fan, but it's obvious that Don Reid has incredible talent when it comes to storytelling. If you want a lighthearted read that keeps you guessing, One Lane Bridge is a great choice.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Twelve Wicked Nights - Nadia Aidan (Erotic Romance)




Released November 2010

www.penguin.com

Attorney Isabella Andreu returns to her hometown shortly after her fiance announces it's over. The coward didn't even tell her to her face, he broke up with her via the phone. It's the holiday season and Isabella is ready to help out in her family's bakery and enjoy her time off.

Navy SEAL Justin Rourke has been friends with Isabella for as long as either can remember. When Isabella's mom calls him because she's worried about Isabella driving in the blizzard hitting Virginia, he sets off to find Isabella and bring her to his home.

Stuck in Justin's home for one snowy evening is incredibly difficult. A game of strip Scrabble leads them to realize they can't ignore their sexual yearnings. When Justin learns that he's about to be deployed, Isabella asks for one special gift. She wants Justin to provide her with every sexual experience possible.

For whatever reason, I couldn't get into Twelve Wicked Nights. It wasn't the characters; I actually liked their strengths and weaknesses. I think it was the fact that the different nightly sexual trysts (bondage, spanking, blindfolds, etc.) were the entirety of the plot. The plot simply revolves around the different styles of sexual encounters. I don't mind sex and I'm definitely no prude, but sex, sex and nothing but sex grew tiring. I couldn't see the couple building a true, lasting relationship just on the basis of sexual desires and little else.

There is a little conflict thrown in to the mix, but by that point the story had already lost me. I just didn't care about what each character decided after that.

If you want a story that involves little more than one sex scene after the other, you'll enjoy this book. If you like a strong plot with sex to spice things up, you may want to bypass this story.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Track of Sand - Andrea Camilleri (Mystery)




Released October 26, 2010

www.vpbookclub.com
www.penguin.com

Inspector Montalbano awakens to find a horse has been beaten, killed and dumped right outside his Sicilian beach home. Determined to find the savages, Montalbano begins his investigation.

He discovers the woman missing her prized horse but soon learns another horse is also missing. His case leads him to the world of horseracing and even the mafia. When Montalbano's home is broken into, he realizes he must be onto something. Keeping those around him safe and finding the horse's killer may be challenging, but he's certainly up to the task.

I've never read other Montalbano mysteries, so this was a new experience. The stories are written by Camilleri who lives in Italy, but translated into English by translator and author Stephen Sartarelli. This isn't a lengthy book by any means, it's barely 258 pages. However, the mystery is meaty and keeps you hooked. I also appreciated the notes in the back that help clear up Italian words or phrases. I've taken a little Italian and knew many of them, but when it came to culinary dishes having the extra explanation was greatly appreciated.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Somewhere Along the Way - Jodi Thomas (Contemporary Romance)




Released November 2010

www.penguin.com
www.jodithomas.com

Following on the heels of June's Welcome to Harmony, Somewhere Along the Way continues sharing stories about residents in Harmony, Texas.  Reagan Truman is about to celebrate her eighteenth birthday. She wonders if she and Noah should be more than friends and also finds someone new who catches her eye.

Attorney Liz Matheson is new in town, ready to start life on her own and away from her slightly domineering mother and man-hating sister, Claire. When Liz meets her strange building mate, she's shocked at how powerful her attraction is to him.

Gabe Leary wants to be left alone. How he ended up trading kisses for answers to Liz's prying questions is beyond him, but he's defenseless against his strong attraction to her. However, secrets from his past keep him from wanting to bring her into his life of seclusion.

Hank Matheson, Liz's brother, still wants nothing more than to marry Sheriff Alex McAllen. She's just as determined to keep their relationship as it is. She cannot see reason behind marriage when everything is perfect the way it is.

A stranger comes to town and spends her time crying in the graveyard. No one knows who she is or why she's there, but Harmony's residents hope they can change this lonely woman's life.

Events culminate when Reagan is injured. Suddenly, a town full of good friends and secretive strangers converge to help the young woman. When the dust settles, no one will remain unchanged.

Somewhere Along the Way is extremely powerful and gripping writing. It's full of passionate moments, hidden secrets and likable characters. Given that, there were a number of subplots and when all was revealed, I felt a little cheated. Not by the way things ended, but that everything seemed resolved at the speed of light. That rush to a conclusion didn't work for me. I wanted more. Hopefully with the next book in this series, I'll get to see exactly where each character is and how they are doing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grace - Shelley Shepard Gray (Christian Romance)




Released November 2010

www.harpercollins.com
www.shelleyshepardgray.com

With Christmas just around the corner, the Brenneman's are looking forward to a huge family gathering and no guests at their bed and breakfast. Unfortunately, a letter arrives announcing an unexpected guest. This letter is followed by another surprise guest who desperately needs a place to stay.

Levi Bender is trying to avoid a painful past and really wants to hide out at the Brenneman Bed and Breakfast. The last thing he wants is to get dragged into a family gathering. Melody Gingerich is pregnant and alone. All she wants is to avoid community gossip and being away from her home in the latter stages of pregnancy seems like the best solution.

While Melody and Levi may want to keep their secrets, Katie Lundy is determined to find out what brought these two strangers to her parents' home. She's not thrilled that their arrival has turned the family holiday into a flurry of activity, but her attentions turn to discovering Levi's and Melody's secrets.

Grace is a charming holiday novel. I started it to fill a few minutes while waiting for dinner to cook and ended up unable to put it down. I was taken in by Melody especially who is so emotionally and physical torn up that the reader can't help but hope that her time at the bed and breakfast really turns things around.

Best of all, there are recipes in the back. I'm thrilled the author included them because the recipe for cinnamon rolls using a yellow cake mix is on my list of things to do during today's very rainy day!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sexiest Man Alive - Diana Holquist (Contemporary Romance)




Released October 2007


www.hatchettebookgroup.com
www.dianaholquist.com


While she's gained many clients by doing seamstress work out of her home, Jasmine Burns doesn't want the opportunity of a lifetime to pass her by. Famed costume designer Arturo Mastriani is hiring and she wants the job. The problem is Jasmine lacks self-confidence, especially around men.

Surprisingly, especially to herself, Jasmine wows Arturo after she runs out of her interview and leaves her design books behind. She lands the job and learns she will be working closely with Hollywood heartthrob Josh Toby, the name given by Jasmine's psychic sister as being Jasmine's one true love. Jasmine's nerves are making it hard to be around Josh, but it's obvious there's a spark if only she could find a way to feel comfortable around him.

Sexiest Man Alive has been sitting on my shelf for years. I don't know what kept me from reading it. Jasmine, despite her insecurities, is a lot of fun and Josh definitely oozes sex appeal. It was obvious once I started reading that this was not the first time Jasmine's been in a book. Turns out that Jasmine's sister, Cecelia, was the leading lady in 2006's Make Me a Match. Amy, the psychic sister, also appeared in her own book in 2008's Hungry for More.

I found the romance and storyline in Sexiest Man Alive to be quite charming. I don't know that I'd put it on my keeper list, but it's been out long enough that you'll find it for a bargain. For that reason, it's definitely worth reading during your down time.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Montana Glory - R. C. Ryan (Contemporary Romance)




Released November 2010

www.hatchettebookgroup.com
www.ryanlangan.com

The final entry into R.C. Ryan's McCord series finds Zane McCord falling head over heels for a single mom. Riley Mason is hired to get the books balanced at the McCord Ranch and she couldn't be happier. On the run, she needs a place where both she and her four-year-old will be safe.

It isn't long before Riley realizes she doesn't want to live without Zane, but she can't expose the family to the danger from which she is running. Meanwhile, Zane knows there is something more to Riley, and he wants to get to the bottom of her secrets.

Montana Glory offers a couple sub-plots. First, the long-running mystery about the supposed treasure on McCord property finally reaches a conclusion. Readers will learn whether Coot McCord was simply a storyteller. The other storyline involves Coot's sister and the ranch foreman Cal who are in love but too blind to see the truth. Readers will finally discover if there is a happily ever after for the older pair.

Characters from the past two novels, Amy and Jesse (Montana Legacy) and Wyatt and Marilee (Montana Destiny) appear frequently in this novel. You'll learn what the couples are up to now. Plus, you get to know Riley and her precocious four-year-old daughter Summer. They are a great match for Zane who's always been a bit of a playboy.

Montana Glory ends the series on a very positive note. But at the same time, I do hope in the years to come we might get to experience the family as they've aged. Maybe returning a couple decades later to share more of Summer.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Book News - Home Outside by Julie Moir Messervy Wins Gold Medal

Home Outside: Creating the Landscape You Love has won the 2010 Garden Writers Association Gold Medal Award for Best Book Writing.

As changes in the housing market have homeowners planning renovations instead of relocations, Messervy suggests moving beyond the walls of the house to the landscape outside.While many homeowners are comfortable with do-it-yourself home decorating, design and renovation, it's often a different story when it comes to tackling landscape design. That's where Home Outside comes in.

In Home Outside, Messervy demystifies the art and practice of landscape design by introducing her easy, tangible and yet intuitive six-step process that helps professionals and homeowners transform an ordinary property into a unique and personal "home outside." Developing a "home outside" not only expands the amount of valuable living space, it also increases the pleasure one gets from the property as a whole.

Home Outside is a user-friendly guide that features clear and concise writing, beautiful photographs, before and after images, diagrams, green tips and case studies, which help illustrate that good landscape design is approachable, affordable and attainable.

Watch for the review of Home Outside to be posted next week.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Killer Mousse - Melinda Wells (Cozy Mystery)



Released February 2008

www.penguin.com

www.dellacooks.com

I do look culinary mysteries. As an avid collector of cookbooks and a book addict, it's always seemed natural to me to blend fiction with recipes. Other genres haven't seem to catch on yet, though I have picked up a few romances with a culinary theme. It remains the culinary mystery that appeases my passion for both reading and cooking.

Killer Mousse is the first entry into Melinda Wells Della Cooks mystery series. In this novel, new TV chef Della Carmichael is finishing up her first live taping of her show. The person chosen to sample her recipes is none other than Mimi Bond, the woman who Della replaced. When Mimi keels over following a spoonful of Della's chocolate mousse, Della becomes an instant celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Not to mention, she prepared the food herself so she's also the prime suspect.

Wanting to clear her name, Della, widow of the late Detective Carmichael, begins her own investigation. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that someone wants to keep Della from unraveling the murder. Worse, the killer seems to be willing to go to any length to keep his/her identity hidden.

There is a lot I enjoyed in Killer Mousse. Starting with the recipes, which all sound great, the instructions are clear and most novice cooks will have no problem putting these entrees, sides and desserts together. The mystery is good, but not exceptional in my eyes. It had a lot going for it. Being an armchair sleuth type, I like to try to solve the mystery before the main character and I couldn't do it this time. I was stumped and while I had a guess, it was wrong. Part of my issue is that there were many characters to keep track of and each had his or her own reasons for being a likely suspect.

The story's good and the romance between Della and the reporter had potential. However, their time seemed so rushed together that I never felt they truly had time to build up any kind of passion before they were jumping into intimacy. I'm not a prude nor have I ever been a widow, but it seems to me that Della would have been far more conscientious about her romantic encounter with a man who first made her very uncomfortable. That aspect of the book could have been omitted and I think I would have liked Della's character more.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Creativity for Christians - Sheilah Vance with Reverend Felicia Howard



Released September 2010

www.theelevatorgroup.com
www.tegfaith.com

Creativity for Christians is a collection of insights about overcoming the worst possible situations. Stories within this book are endearing and definitely prove that in the darkest of times, there are others out there who've been handed a lot worse.

The book starts with writing instructions that help you write your own story. It covers the basics including writing exercises to get you started and a guide into creating your outline, beginning, middle and end.

All of the stories within Creativity for Christians come from members of the Bethel African Episcopal Methodist church in Pennsylvania. Each story is clearly related to the reader and one, the story of a young blind boy now adult, will certainly stick with me for years. Other stories include a woman and her estranged husband who find romance bloom after shocking news and a devastating fire that led to the church gaining a new address though it never moved location.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fiance at Her Fingertips - Kathleen Bacus (Paranormal Romance)















Released May 2008

www.dorchesterpub.com

Tired of her mother's meddling, Debra Daniels finds the perfect product on a novelty store's shelf. The self-proclaimed Boyfriend-in-a-Box kit comes complete with everything needed to convince those around you that you have met the man of your dreams and that you're headed for your very own happily ever after.

Debra's delighted when the items in the kit begin working. Then the unthinkable happens, Debra's father comes home with her very own Lawyer Logan. Logan's playing along a little too well and Debra can't figure out why. How can a fictional "boyfriend" become a living, breathing, very attentive man.

Fiance at Her Fingertips is steamy fun. The romance is quirky with plenty of humor tossed in at the right moments. I'm not sure I enjoyed every aspect. It is a romance and it's true of the genre that a conflict must be thrown in. When the conflict arrived, I wondered why it hadn't been handled another way and then everything came to a resolution a little too quickly for my liking.

All in all, this is definitely a book worth reading and given that this is an older release, it shouldn't be hard finding a copy!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chosen - Chandra Hoffman (General Fiction)















Released September 2010

www.chandrahoffman.com
www.harpercollins.com

Drawing from her own experiences as the director of an adoption agency, author Chandra Hoffman delves into the lives affected by the adoption process, including both the joys and heartbreaks. Chosen isn't always an easy read, it had me itching to smack a few characters around, but the author does a great job at portraying all angles of adoptions.

Chloe Pinter is the director of Chosen Child, a Portland adoption agency. Chloe's life in Oregon revolves around her work, but she's also trying to figure out if she and her boyfriend really mesh or if her job, and his lack of one, are bound to draw them apart.

Chloe tried to help Paul and Eva Nova adopt a child, but that adoption fell through. It seems the pregnant 13-year-old and her mother were simply in for the free restaurant meals and groceries. Shortly before the birth, they announced plans to raise the child on their own. With hearts broken, Paul and Eva were lucky enough to finally conceive and are waiting the impending birth of their son.

Francie and John McAdoo are friends with Paul and Eva. Francie's frustrations with conception end with another failed in vitro attempt. They're delighted when a young couple, Penny and Jason, choose them to adopt their unborn child. Penny and Jason are ex-cons and have their own interests at heart, no matter how greedy those interests become.

On Thanksgiving, Chloe visits Penny and Jason with a pre-cooked meal and finds their run-down apartment is filled with baby supplies. She fears this adoption may be falling apart and warns the McAdoo's to be prepared for heartbreak.

Meanwhile, Chloe is arranging another adoption where a teen, Heather, is about to have her second child. With the father in jail, Heather knows it is best for her young son if she places her unborn child for adoption. All seems to be going well with Heather, and Chloe hopes it remains that way.

Soon a tragic event makes everyone stop and think about their choices along the way. Only a miracle can restore peace to the lives of many Chloe has been working incredibly hard to help.

There is one key issue I had with Chosen. It's apparent from the synopsis that you're supposed to sympathize with Penny and Jason, but I really couldn't. They're ex-cons and broke the laws putting them in their situation. They could have learned from past mistakes but don't. They continue to make bad choices and then whine consistently when those bad choices don't pay off. I had my fill of them far before the end of the book.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fine Cooking: Appetizers (Cookbook)















Released November 2010

www.finecooking.com

Fine Cooking Appetizers is a compilation of appetizer recipes for all cooking levels. Best of all, many of the recipes adapt easily to dietary guidelines. If you have a low-carb guest, try the Curried Pecans or Greek Salad Skewers. Tackle a healthy seafood feast with Crabmeat-Avocado Quesadillas or Scallop and Mushroom Rosemary Kabobs.

Recipes are divided into six sections:
  • Quick and Simple
  • Passed and Plated
  • Spread and Scooped
  • Sliced and Served
  • Stuffed and Skewered
  • Sips and Sweets

I love cookbooks. With two shelves full of new and old cookbooks, I still find myself searching to fill gaps. I have hundreds of cookbooks, but few really tackle appetizers. Sure, there are recipes out there, but if you're hosting a cocktail party, finding new and exciting recipes can be challenging. Add in diet trends, such as the friend who is going low-carb or the relative watching sugar intake and it's simply frustrating.

Fine Cooking: Appetizers changes all that. You have a solid collection of appetizer recipes that suit any style of party. Try the Stuffed and Skewered selections for a patio party or Passed and Plated options for an elegant cocktail party. At the end of Fine Cooking's cookbook, you'll find a handy metric conversion chart. Along the way, you'll find tips for purchasing foods like corn on the cob or creating Chinese restaurant quality scallion pancakes.