Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Dead Lie Down - Sophie Hannah (Mystery)

Released June 2010

It has been ages since a mystery kept me guessing until very close to the end. The Dead Lie Down did just that while also keeping me riveted to the stories of not one by two sets of characters.

Ruth Bussey is falling in love with Aidan Seed, but she hides a secret that she's hesitant to reveal. The truth is, so is he, and it may be the secrets they hide that drew them together. When Aidan reveals he murdered a woman named Mary Trelease, Ruth is shocked and unsure what to do. Aidan knows he killed her, yet Ruth knows Mary Trelease is very much alive.

Ruth contacts Sergeant Charlie Zailer to voice her concerns. Charlie's got her own troubles. Her engagement to DC Simon Waterhouse is not delighting everyone in their lives and it's stressing Charlie. However, she and Simon both get drawn into Ruth's story. When they meet Mary, they know Ruth is definitely telling the truth, yet Aidan is certain he killed Mary and aspects of his story are equally convincing. The pair decide to investigate and unravel this very convoluted case.

The Dead Lie Down fascinated me from beginning to end. It's a book that requires some thought, what I call a meaty tale, and took me a couple days to work my way through. There are lots of details that you need to pay close attention to and the story does jump from Charlie to Ruth's point of view throughout. The changes in storyteller and handled seamlessly, so you shouldn't ever have to go back and figure out who is talking.

Apparently, this is not the first Charlie Zailer novel. I'm intrigued with Sophie Hannah's writing and feel the need to locate her previous books and catch up. She's definitely a British author to watch.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger (Literary Fiction)

Reissued January 2001

After seeing a South Park episode picking on the reasoning behind The Catcher in the Rye making the list of banned books, I decided to reread it. I remember having to read it in high school and don't remember loving or hating it. I think it fell in the land of in between. Either way, it didn't leave that much of a lasting impression.

The plot within The Catcher and the Rye involves a 17-year-old private school student named Holden Caufield who shares a snippet of his life from a year earlier. Holden comes from a seemingly well-off family, but he doesn't try hard in school. At the age of 16, he's booted from a few and he's about to be booted from Pencey Prep because he's failing all classes except for English.

After fighting with his roommate over a girl, Holden sets off into New York City. There the reader gets some insight into Holden's past, present and possibly his future. This is not a happy tale. It's clear from the start that Holden suffers from depression, yet every adult he's in contact with seems to overlook this. I did what I could to research depression in the 1950s, when the book was written, and the disease did exist.

As an adult, I'm amazed at how much stronger an impression it left. In short, I couldn't stand the book. I found myself wondering where the parents/authorities were when Holden packed up and left school after having a squabble with his roommate. The school should have notified the parents that Holden was missing, yet that doesn't seem to have happened. I found that annoyed me to the point that I was ready to give up reading.

I also found myself annoyed with Holden's frequent use of "and all." After reading numerous sentences all ending with "and all," I was also ready to call it quits.

I know the book has a huge following of fans and many people find it to be life-transforming reading. I guess I'll have to remain in the minority because I really wasn't impressed.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Magicians - Lev Grossman (General Fiction)

Released May 2010 (Paperback)

Pulling from Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia and other favorite childhood and young adult fantasy novels, The Magician weaves the tale of Quentin Coldwater, a teen who is fascinated by a popular fantasy series Fillory and Further. He's extremely gifted, which makes it hard to fit in, but his addiction with the novels complicates that even more.

When he shows up for a college interview only to find his interviewer's body, Quentin is handed a mysterious envelope. That envelope brings him to a hidden college where magic is the main course. There in Brakebills Quentin discovers more about himself and magic than he ever thought possible.

The Magician isn't going to be suitable for the younger crowd, but I'd happily let my high schooler read it with the understanding that life and relationships aren't always pretty. The writing is great and the characters are strongly developed. There are a few aspects, such as Quentin's friend Julia's story, that I wonder how things would have played out if the author had changed things. However, I also realize that the way the story progressed required certain decisions. But, I'm torn if I would have loved rather than liked the story if things had been different.

For the most part, I wouldn't say this is a fantasy novel. There are aspects, especially towards the end, where it takes a stronger fantasy leaning, but it's best described as a coming of age story.

I enjoyed The Magicians, but I won't say it mesmerized me. I read quickly and this book took me two days to work my way through. It's a good read, but not something I'd list as a keeper.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Hers for the Evening - Jasmine Haynes (Erotic Romance/Anthology)

Released May 2010

Hers for the Evening consists of three novellas. In the first, Three's a Crowd, Courtney O'Brien wants to revitalize her love life. While she and her husband Seth are still happily married, their sex life has been hit or miss. Their girls are growing and off at college, but Seth is busy with his job and it often seems too busy for her.

Sparking a plan to put a spark back in their marriage, Courtney calls her friend Devon and asks her to set up a wild weekend where Courtney and a courtesan will give Seth an evening he'll never forget.

Devon Parker gets her own story in Stand-in. She's been hot for her business partner for a long time, but being business, they can't risk a relationship. To ease her sexual frustration, she calls Courtesans and gets a Hunter Nash look-alike. What she doesn't know is that Hunter sees her tryst and wants in.

Finally, Simon Foster wants nothing more than Haley Ventura to forgive him in Surrender to Me. After learning her deceased husband was having an affair, in Simon's bed no less, Haley shut Simon out of her life. She's been a widow now for a year and Simon wants to move on and win her heart. With a call to the Courtesans, Simon arranges to make Haley's biggest fantasy come true.

All three novellas feature older, 40-somethings. For the romance reader who wants more mature characters, this is a good choice providing you like a lot of heat. This is erotica so the sexual encounters are graphic, yet I found extremely tasteful. I don't mind erotica, but many books rely on crude terminology. Jasmine Haynes manages to make the book extremely sexy without having to revert to the really crass language. I loved that.

Of all the stories, I have to say I liked Surrender to Me most. The characters, particularly Haley, showed impressive growth from start to finish. She had hurdles to overcome and did so with grace.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square - Rosina Lippi (Women's Fiction)

Released March 2009

You know, I really, really loved this book. It's everything I like in romance. Chemistry is plentiful. The characters are engaging and easy to relate with. Even the setting drew me in. It's easy to imagine living in Lamb's Corner and never wanting to leave. When I learned that author Rosina Lippi is one of my favorite authors Sara Donati, I now have some additional books to find!

Julia Darrow left Chicago with a broken heart and started a new life in Lamb's Corner. There she owns a charming antique linens and pajama shop. While she's friendly with the townspeople, she doesn't want to share her past or her secrets.

Every year or so, John Dodge packs up and leaves for a new location. He spends his months purchasing failing businesses, building them up and then moving on to the next challenge. He never expects to find love in a small town and he's not really sure it's the right thing when he knows he'll be moving on soon enough.

However, Dodge falls head over heels with Julia. He knows he'll never settle down, so is it fair to try to learn her secrets when he'll be leaving?

The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square doesn't rush to the ending. The narrative and dialogue travel steadily, but at a slower pace, making the book great brain food. While the reader has a little more insight into Julia's past, it's still awesome to witness Dodge unraveling the pieces and learning a little about himself in the process.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One True Love - Lori Copeland (Historical)

Released March 2010

While this may be the third novel in the Belles of Timber Creek series, I didn't feel that I was missing any pertinent background. As a stand alone novel, I think One True Love works extremely well. Characters from the previous two books have minor rolls in Lori Copeland's latest, but the key focus is on Copper Wilson.

Copper is happily involved in her new job as a school teacher, but things go awry when a cat and dog break into her school room and begin fighting. In the melee, the wood stove is knocked over and fire breaks out. Meanwhile, the vicious dog is blocking the doorway and the windows won't open. Copper is able to rescue two students trapped inside, but badly injures herself in the process. Her only hope of ever being able to use her ankle again involves traveling to Colorado to see a doctor more capable of treating her.

This leaves Copper stuck with wagon master Josh Redlin. She's met him before and they definitely did not get along, but now her fate rests in Josh's hands. Like it or not, she's stuck with him, and pretty soon, she realizes she kind of likes it!

One True Love is a gentle romance. While it is a Christian fiction offering, I enjoyed the fact that the couple were able to express some emotion through stolen kisses. Some Christian authors skip over those aspects, but I like the realism. Christian or not, affection is meant to be shared! With this novel, I enjoyed every step of their journey together and hope that this isn't the end of our visits to Thunder Ridge.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Bride Collector - Ted Dekker (Suspense/Mystery)

Released April 2010

They're made to look beautiful, they're posed in a veil and then they're drained of blood. At the crime scene, he leaves a cryptic note. That's the MO of the Bride Collector and Special Agent Brad Raines is determined to stop him. However, before he can stop the madman's murders, he must figure out who the Bride Collector is. This means teaming up with a group of brilliant, yet mentally ill men and women from the Center of Wellness and Intelligence.

Brad finds himself intrigued by Paradise, a young woman who has a special connection with the bodies. She's able to "see" everything play out. The problem is that she doesn't always remember what she's seen. When the killer targets those close to Brad, he realizes that he may need to take drastic steps to reveal the killer's identity before another victim is chosen.

Can I suggest not curling up in the sun unless sun screen is at hand. With a sunburned nose and cheeks, my dedication to reading this book is very clear. The characters fascinated me. The pacing was superb. While readers know the killer's name, the actual revelation of his identity surprised me and that doesn't often happen with mystery novels. A few twists took me by surprise and I find myself wondering if changing those aspects would have made the book better or given it less of a dramatic impact.

Regardless, this is a creepy novel that gets into the head of a serial killer and gives you reasons behind his madness. Because the action is told from Brad's, Paradise's and the killer's perspectives, you get a very clear glimpse into all of the action.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What's New, Cupcake? - Karen Tack & Alan Richardson (Cooking)

Released April 2010

Blow your friends, family or acquaintances away the next time you're asked to bring dessert. Karen Tack and Alan Richardson's latest collection of "do-it-yourself" designer cupcakes is just as much fun as the previous book's. This time, I thought a little more care went into describing the techniques and equipment used before diving into the cupcakes.

If you're unfamiliar with their cupcakes, Tack and Richardson turn ordinary cupcakes into extraordinary pieces of art. In the previous book, they tackled my favorite artist Monet and created adorable spaghetti and meatball cookies. This time, there are some that truly mesmerized. Top on my list are the Busy Bee cupcakes. They do look like a honeycomb, complete with jelly bean bees. My neighbor keeps beehives, so I've seen the inside of a hive many times and this cupcake collection is extremely similar, right down to the glistening honey in each comb's cell.

Other favorites include the All Cracked Up cupcakes that come in a carton of eggs. Lemon curd forms the very realistic egg yolk. I also love the I'm Seeing a Pattern cupcakes that are simple to make, yet seem very intricate.

Step-by-step instructions follow each cupcake. You're treated to dozens of photographs detailing the steps needed and the final product. Many of the cupcakes have simple tasks that young children can help with making the creations a great family kitchen project! I highly recommend owning What's New, Cupcake? and its sister book Hello, Cupcake!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Sweetheart's Knitting Club - Lori Wilde (Contemporary Romance)

Released November 2009

Flynn MacGregor fell head over heels with the town's bad boy, Jesse Calloway, as a teen. That's why it came as such a shock when he was arrested for drugs and thrown into jail. Ten years later, Jesse's back and Flynn is just as smitten with him now as she was then. The problem is Jesse was in jail for a crime he's always sworn he didn't commit and that the evidence was planted.

The difference now is that Flynn's been seeing a former classmate. Beau is now sheriff and while she may have reservations about marrying him, the townspeople respect him and he's always been good to her. When Beau beings urging her to set a date, Flynn finds herself torn. Should she settle with a man she admires or throw caution to the wind and choose the man she feels certain is her soulmate.

The Sweetheart's Knitting Club didn't throw any twists in that shocked me. The story is straightforward. Romantic trysts between Jesse and Flynn heat up the pages and I liked seeing their relationship progress.

My biggest problem with The Sweetheart's Knitting Club is that the heroine seemingly lacks any intuition. She's engaged to a man she doesn't love and who comes across as very controlling, yet she never sees it. I suppose given her backstory, she's cared for a sick mom, alcoholic father and siblings for years, but even then I have a hard time that she'd be so blind to the overly possessive nature of he fiance.Without giving away any spoilers, the ending itself left me cold. I definitely would have preferred one of the plots to be finalized more than it was.

Overall, I enjoyed Lori Wilde's latest offering. I won't say it was her best because I definitely think You Only Love Twice far surpasses this one. There is another novel set in Twilight, Texas, coming out soon. Maybe that unresolved storyline will be finalized in this new offering; I hope so anyway!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Reviews Coming Soon

I'm actually in the middle of two books, but the long weekend (Good Friday and Easter) have slowed my reading pace a bit. Watch for these reviews soon:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tell All - Nell Carson (Contemporary Romance)

Released April 2010

Kat Callahan's publisher wants her "tell-all" book about Hollywood celebrities Alex and Victoria Janssen ASAP. The celebrity couple disappeared, along with their son, and the media's in a frenzy. Hoping to ride their current popularity, Winslow Publishing wants the book completed and printed now. The problem is Kat's computer got hit with a virus and the computer technician says all he can do is reformat her hard drive. She'll have to retype her edits.

Meanwhile, Kat's R&R trip to Colorado is out. But the person with whom she was swapping homes shows up as expected. For the next few weeks, she has to deal with the sexy cowboy being her roommate. What she doesn't know is that cowboy Tanner is really Alex Janssen's brother, Luke. Luke is there to keep the book from being published so that the truth about Alex and Victoria's son remains secret.

Tell-All is a fun romance. The chemistry between Tanner/Luke and Kat is evident from the very start. Obviously there is deception lurking in the background that threatens to tear the relationship apart, but I think the author does a good job keeping that aspect balanced.

Once again, however, I do find myself struggling to recommend this book to readers. It's not that it isn't a worthy read, because it really is a great story, but Avalon is a smaller publisher and their suggested retail price of $23.95 is unrealistic in today's market. Even on sale, Amazon is charging $17.24 for the book. When people can go pick up another romance from a bestselling author for $7 to $10, it's really hard to urge people to go out and spend $24 on an author you probably do not know.

Given that, if your library has a copy, I'd definitely read Tell-All. Otherwise, a used copy is your best bet.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith

 Release Date - October 25, 2022 After his dad's death, Adam Stillwater and his mom do everything in their power to keep the family...