Sunday, January 30, 2011

Save the Date - Jenny B. Jones

Released February 2011

Former NFL star Alex Sinclair needs a fiancee. He's running for congress, but his reputation as a playboy is keeping voters away. Lucy Wiltshire desperately needs funding for Saving Grace. Saving Grace is a home for girls too old for the foster care system, but who lack the job skills and education to make it on their own. When she learns an expected donation isn't happening, she fears she'll have to give up on her dreams.

Alex realizes Lucy may be the answer to his troubles. She's suitable "wife" material. If she agrees to a faux engagement, he'll fund her charity. What neither realizes is breaking off the engagement after elections isn't going to be easy.

Save the Date is a charming, gentle romance. It is a Christian romance, but I bet secular readers will find it just as enjoyable. It's never preachy. Lucy has plenty of spunk. I'm not sure I liked the inclusion of her former boyfriend -- he announced his plans to take a job out of state on the night she thought he would propose. He returns years later. I felt he was little more than an annoyance quite honestly.

There are minor characters that I found to be amusing. One of the elite community members turns out to have a special connection to Lucy. As the book opened, I really loathed this older woman. She was nothing but rude to Lucy at the party where readers first "meet" her. As the reader gets to know this older woman, she becomes endearing. I also really enjoyed her male assistant, though he is very flamboyant.

All in all, I enjoyed Save the Date. It's laced with humor while the blossoming romance takes center stage.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

These Things Hidden - Heather Gudenkauf

Released January 2011

Honestly, I'm not sure what age group this novel would best suit. I'm letting my teen daughter read it next. She's a huge fan of Jodi Picoult's novels and I found myself getting that same chill that I get when reading a Picoult book.

These Things Hidden links a tragic event to three families. The novel starts with the release of 21-year-old Allison Glenn. She's served five-years in prison for a horrifying crime. In the years since her sentencing, Allison has lost everything--friends, family and her stellar education.

After settling into a halfway house, she tries to reunite with her family. Her parents want nothing to do with her. Her younger sister is the one Allison most wants to see but Brynn relives that tragic night. As Allison pushes for a reunion, another startling piece of the past comes into light. Things that have been hidden forever threaten to destroy Allison once again.

While this is a MIRA book, I wouldn't call it a romance at all. It's not quite women's fiction either. It's more a general fiction that keeps you on the edge of your seat. I'd like to say the shocking revelation in the final few chapters took me by surprise, but I had a feeling it was coming. Yet, when it did, I still felt that tug of disbelief.

Allison and Brynn are college-age and many of their thoughts and feelings are on that late-teen, early-twenties level. That's why I'm thinking my daughter will enjoy it. There's no graphic sex for parents to worry about. When the crime is revealed, I don't think it was any more shocking than what a teen reads in the paper. Given that, I think it's a great read for teens.

It's part mystery, part suspense and definitely a page turner. I couldn't stop reading. Now that I've discovered Heather Gudenkauf, I am eager to read her previous novel. I've just found a new must-read author and feel she's earned her place on my very selective list!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Perfect Play - Jaci Burton

Released February 2011

The Perfect Play appears to be the very first in Jaci Burton's Play-By-Play series. It's hot, hot, hot! Meanwhile, there's a great storyline and the characters have great emotional depth, minus, perhaps, one character that I personally could not stand.

Event planner Tara Lincoln's business is taking off. Great news for the single mom whose clawed her way from being a teen mom with no parental support worth mentioning. She just hopes she's doing enough to keep her 14-year-old son from making the same mistakes she did.

When Tara meets NFL star Mick Riley, she's no doubt attracted to him but hesitant on getting involved with a noted playboy. What would someone like Mick want with a single mom. She's convinced he wouldn't want a single mom when he could have any woman in the world. Mick's determined to prove her otherwise.

I really enjoyed most of The Perfect Play. Mick and Tara are a great match; I also adored Mick's family. Their Irish heritage ran strong through Mick's veins, as well as his siblings and parents. I'm hoping for stories for not only Mick's brother but also his sister.

I did say "most" for a reason. Mick's agent is a wicked, wicked pain in the behind. I couldn't stand her character. The fact that she appears to be the heroine in the upcoming second novel disturbs me. If Jaci Burton can take that witch and make her likable, I'll be impressed.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Call Me Irresistible - Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Released January 18, 2011

Long time Susan Elizabeth Phillips fans take note, Call Me Irresistible showcases a large number of SEP's past characters. For this book, she visits the adult versions of three children from previous stories.

In Call Me Irresistible, Ted Beaudine (son of Francesca and Dallie Beaudine of Fancy Pants) is set to marry Lucy Jorvik (daughter of President Cornelia Jorvik and her husband Mat from First Lady). When Lucy's best friend Meg (daughter of Fleur Savagar and Jake Koranda of Glitter Baby) arrives, Meg quickly realizes that Ted is all wrong for Lucy. After some girl talk, Lucy decides to ditch her wedding and figure out what she wants from life.

Meg's stuck in Wynette, Texas, with residents who hate her guts, including one very ticked off groom. She can't afford her hotel bill and her car is on its last leg. Worse, her parents have cut her off because they want her to find her own way. When she's nearly arrested trying to flee the town, Meg's forced to take a job cleaning hotel rooms to pay her debts. The longer she stays, the worse her problems become. She's discovered she's falling in love with Ted and she's definitely not the only woman who has him in her sights and the town is not ready to forgive her from ruining the marriage of the century.

In addition to the novels listed earlier, readers may also remember Ted from Lady Be Good: A Novel where characters Kenny Traveler and Lady Emma Wells-Finch met and fell in love.  Meg also appeared in What I Did for Love: A Novel. With so many characters from previous novels, long-time readers are going to love catching up on the families and relationships.

I've read some of the above mentioned books but not all of them. I did find myself wanting to go back and read the others so that I could have better insight into some of the townspeople. Many bordered on plain rude and I simply couldn't imagine liking them in the past.

I found myself irate during the first part of the novel because the residents of this town really treat Meg like crap. If I lived in that town, I'd move. I couldn't take part in some of their behavior, including Ted's. Not only do they pay Meg less than all other housekeepers at the hotel, but she's told repeatedly to do things over simply because she has to do what her "boss" says. Her "boss" also makes it a habit to check rooms for tips before Meg gets a chance to do that.

Despite the fact that Lucy was a grown woman making her own decisions, Meg took the brunt of the blame. She has very few supporters in the town and, if anything, her determination to prove herself is inspiring. She's probably one of the toughest heroines I've encountered in a novel.

Ted has his moments of strength, but for the most part he came off as a pushover. He may be the Mayor of Wynette, but it's obvious the town rules the roost not him. By the time he seemed to grow a set, I was almost sick of him and thinking Meg should give up.

Once the gossip and mean-spiritedness is under control, Call Me Irresistible became a warm, tender romance. I suppose the conflict was necessary, but at the same time it was maddening because I truly felt for Meg. That's the sign of a good author, they make you truly care about what happens to at least one character in the book. In the end, I definitely would recommend SEP's latest novel. Just be prepared to be really ticked off with some of the characters during the first handful of chapters.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Creed in Stone Creek - Linda Lael Miller

Released February 22, 2011

Now guardian of his best friends' five-year-old son, Steven Creed moves to Stone Creek to start a new life. His plans include renovating a run-down ranch and work pro bono in the small time as a defense attorney. He really just wants to help young Matt move on after losing both parents.

Melissa O'Ballivan is the county prosecutor and is stunned to find herself so drawn to Steven and Matt. After her last relationship ended, she came to realize just how much she missed the children she'd been helping raise. She's not sure getting involved with another single dad is a smart move. Yet, the more time she spends with Steven, the more she wants to be part of their lives. But she's a prosecutor and Steven's a defense attorney, so how can they make it work when their jobs have them pitted against one another?

A Creed in Stone Creek continues the Creed saga, while also tapping into the McKettrick series and the Stone Creek series. Readers will catch up on many favorite characters while reading Melissa and Steven's story.

Linda Lael Miller's always been a master at creating emotional situations and characters who feel like friends. She paints a charming picture of small town life that makes this reader wish all towns were like that. I may live in a small town, but the sense of community is seriously lacking. I love reading Linda Lael Miller's novels because it makes me hope that some day I'll find my very own Stone Creek.

The Amish Midwife - Mindy Starns Clark & Leslie Gould

Released February 2011

When her father dies, Lexie Jaeger never expected him to first reveal new information regarding her real parents. The problem is he tells her so very little that she's still got no idea about her birth family's identity.

Lexie arranges to temporarily move to Pennsylvania to help serve as midwife to the Amish community. There she hopes to unravel the truth regarding her birth mother and why she was given up for adoption more than two decades earlier.

The Amish Midwife takes a hard look at adoption. Lexie's struggle to find out about her past involved many doors shut in her face and a long buried secret that is slowly unraveled over the course of the book.

The story is also laced with a solid look into the life of a nurse midwife. The day-to-day schedule and details into both quick, easy and long, problematic deliveries are written in vivid detail. Readers also watch Lexie struggle to come to terms with her own relationship with a med student and then the possibility of a romance with a doctor in Pennsylvania.

Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould's entry in the Women of Lancaster County series is filled with many layers that range from women's fiction to gentle romance. There's also a touch of medical drama and courtroom drama laced into the pages. It's a great read and one that will keep you engaged for hours.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Legal Answer Book for Families - Attorneys Emily Doskow & Marcia Stewart

Released March 2011

Whether you're considering divorce, getting married, need answers on a custody issue or need advice on any number of family law issues, The Legal Answer Book for Families is a must-have. The legal guide is well organized and covers everything you might need to know. The table of contents makes it simple to find need-to-know information in a matter of seconds.

The Legal Answer Book for Families is divided into the following chapters:
  • Marriage (includes an appendix listing individual state laws)
  • Divorce (includes an appendix listing individual state laws and information on restraining orders)
  • Child Custody
  • Child Support
  • Adoption
  • Children
  • Elder Care
  • Wills & Estate Planning
  • Lawyers
Each chapter contains basic information and then gets into more complex issues. For example, the information on Elder Care covers in-home care versus a residential facility. It discusses Medicaid/Medicare and the importance of having medical and financial powers of attorney. The chapter also talks about long-term care insurance.

The Legal Answer Book for Families is a handy book to have in your book collection. Even if you don't need it for divorce or marriage purposes, you'll find it to be an invaluable resource for preparing for the future.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Life From Scratch - Melissa Ford

Released November 24, 2010

Written by award-winning blogger Melissa Ford, Life From Scratch features recent divorcee Rachel Goldman. Rachel's heartbroken over her divorce, after all she was married for 12 years she's allowed to be out-of-sorts. She realizes that her former life of take-out meals for two is over if she plans to afford having a roof over her head. Therefore, she decides it's time to learn how to cook. Chronicling her culinary adventures, as well as lessons she's learned before and after her divorce, Rachel Goldman shares all in her blog titled Life From Scratch.

The novel seamlessly blends Rachel's blog with the narrative regarding her life and relationships. Her goal is clear. She wants someone unlike her ex. He was a workaholic lawyer attempting to make partner. Her first date turns out to be a replica of her ex. Date number two is everything she imagines she needs, only to realize what she thinks she wants isn't the same as what she needs.

Quite simply, this is a charming and witty novel that proved impossible to put down. Once I'd started reading, I needed to know if Rachel would end up with her hunky new Spanish beau. Rachel makes mistakes along the way and is never ashamed to admit her faults. By the time the book ended, I felt like Rachel was a true friend.

Life From Scratch is a delightful novel. There is nothing about the book that bothered me or felt like it didn't quite fit. I'd happily re-read this novel making it a book for my keeper shelf. Melissa Ford certainly has a winner with this novel and I hope there is plenty more to come!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Silken Thread - Brenda Jackson

Released February 15, 2011

And the "Cruella of the Year Award" goes to... Seriously, that's all I could think while reading Brenda Jackson's latest. The heroine's mother is evil to the fourth power and I spent the entire book on the edge of my seat waiting for her comeuppance.

A Silken Thread takes place in a small town of Hattersville, Ohio. Erica Sanders is all set to marry the man she loves with all her heart. Her mother will do anything to stop it. Karen Sanders wants a long-time family curse to end and the only way that will happen is if she stops Erica's marriage to Attorney Brian Lawson. She wants Erica and town golden boy Griffith Hayes to marry. Supposedly a Sanders-Hayes marriage is necessary to end the curse. The problem is Erica and Griffith are friends and only friends.

As the marriage between Erica and Brian nears, Karen comes up with a dastardly plan to wreck their marriage. Taking only herself into considering, Karen exacts a plan that threatens to destroy the relationships of three couples and their families.

Seriously, Karen Sanders is a bitch with a capital B-I-T-C-H. I've read lots of fiction in my life and she's going to stand out as the best of the worst. I could feel my blood pressure rising every time she made an appearance, so I'm glad my BP usually runs low to spot on.

The rest of the characters in A Silken Thread hit similar notes for me. I couldn't understand how Erica could be so blind to her mother's evil doing. That made me really feel sorry for Brian who was simply caught up in a family of crazy women. Griffith and Erica's best friend April came off as extremely likable characters and I found myself rooting for them from the get-go. The remaining characters are Brian's mother and Erica's father. Her father could have been a little more aggressive when it came to his wife, but in the end, I liked him too.

This is technically a contemporary romance, though it has a bit of the old V.C. Andrews or Mommy Dearest feel to it. If you like a mix of drama and romance, it's a great read, one that I couldn't put down. (And on that note, I still want to smack Erica's mom around. If someone could make her appear, I'd appreciate it!)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Postcard Killers - Liza Marklund & James Patterson

Released August 2010

It's been a few years since I've read any of James Patterson's novels. I grew tired of the "voice" behind the novels to be different than his original novels. The lacked the same level of suspense and emotion that I'd come to expect. My understanding is that he creates the outline, the co-author does the work, and the he reads it over and suggests changes--you can read about it by clicking here. With that, The Postcard Killers had a storyline I thought might change my mind.

I don't want to give away spoilers, but some aspects of the story occur later in the book. If you are anti any revelation of what happens in the second half of the book, stop reading. I don't reveal any huge surprises, but readers should take note that I do discuss more than the first few chapters.

The opening of The Postcard Killers certainly delivers a powerful punch. A sadistic couple are traveling through Europe, befriending newlyweds and other young couples, taking them back to their rental or hotel room and killing them. Once dead, the couple poses the dead to represent famous works of art, takes pictures and sends the pictures and postcards containing a cryptic message to local media.  NYPD Jacob Kanon's daughter is one of the many this couple murdered and he won't rest until they've been caught.

I wanted to love The Postcard Killers, yet as the story ambled on, I grew less interested and plain annoyed. Maybe it's me, but the European police seemed completely inept. They have the killers in custody. The killer asks if they watched security footage after the killers leave. The police suddenly realize they never bothered and suddenly trip over each others to go back and watch all the footage. Based on that alone, they suddenly decide the killers are innocent because they're seen saying goodbye to the murder victims and another person is seen entering and exiting the room later. First, the part where they say goodbye--like that couldn't be faked? How easy would it have been for the killers to kill the victims, say goodbye, change clothing, put on a wig and return later to create their alibi. I was shocked the police fell for that ruse so easily. If it wasn't for Jacob and journalist Dessie, the case would have ended and killings would have continued. I really can't swallow that police in Stockholm are that clueless. From that point on, I couldn't take them seriously.

Dessie and Jacob have a relationship in the novel. Again, I found it hard to buy. Dessie starts the story as a lesbian and in the blink of an eye is straight and falling head over heels for Jacob. Little hard to swallow. I didn't get why it needed to be thrown in that she was freshly out of a lesbian relationship if she was going to be straight for the majority of the novel. Jacob's no better. He mourns his daughter and continually contemplates suicide. The number of times it's brought up that his hygiene sucks and that he "stinks" makes it obvious he cares about nothing other than the killers. Entering into a relationship, given the number of times his foul body odor is brought to the reader's attention, made little sense.

In the end, I'd love to say The Postcard Killers is a great novel, but it really isn't. Patterson's co-author, Liza Marklund, is apparently a bestselling author. Her skill with words is apparent. I easily visualized the setting and characters with incredible ease. However, I do think I'd prefer to read her work without any other author's influence shaping her storytelling. It's not the worst book I've ever read but certainly not something I'd pay full hardcover price for. If you borrow it at the library or get it on sale, it's worth reading. Otherwise, I'd definitely save my money.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Officer Daddy - Jacqueline Diamond

Released February 2011

Officer Daddy continues Jacqueline Diamond's long-running Safe Harbor Medical series. It's a very quick read with plenty of passion and a quick mystery to boot.

Readers of the series will be delighted to know that the book begins with the wedding of Tony and Kate (His Hired Baby.) Tony's brother, Leo Franco, is happy to be trusted with the care of his niece and nephew during the wedding and reception and even happier when he meets a gorgeous blonde OB/GYN, Nora Kendall, who takes over diaper changing duty. Their instant connection leads to a one-night stand resulting in pregnancy.

Nora's had her heart broken when her husband left her for a much younger woman. When she learns his new wife is pregnant, Nora feels doubly rejected because he told her he didn't want kids. Nora's attraction to Leo is immediate, even if he is five years younger, but she never expected to become pregnant. To complicate matters, Leo made it clear at the wedding that he's not ready to become a dad. Nora realizes she's about to learn what single parenting is all about. Meanwhile, the more Leo thinks about fatherhood, the more he wants to be part of this baby's life, but how can he convince Nora that he's suddenly ready?

Officer Daddy continues the stories of the staff at Safe Harbor. I was thrilled to see Nora finally seeing her dream of having a baby coming true, even if I am surprised she never even thought of birth control. Seems out of character for an OB/GYN.

There's a mystery in Officer Daddy that adds another dimension to the story. First, Nora learns the new fertility director isn't happy with her work. He wants her to use newer technology while failing to look at the whole picture, including if the couples can afford the methods he wants her to use. Nora knows her performance is being scrutinized. When it comes to light that someone is selling the names of patients struggling to conceive to an adoption attorney, Nora turns to Leo for help. She needs to know who is breaching patient confidentiality. Together, they unravel the mystery.

By itself, the romance between Leo and Nora isn't very complicated. Nora does have her reservations, but she doesn't let them overcome her. It's the addition of the mystery that creates a nice balance of tension and romance creating an enjoyable story. I can't say this has been my favorite of the books in the Safe Harbor series, Jennifer and Ian's story holds that spot, but it's a great addition and gives readers the chance to see how previous couples are doing.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Three Seconds - Roslund & Hellstrom

Released January 2011

Here it is. A new year's begun and I've found the book that I think people will talk about for months to come. If Hollywood doesn't pick up the rights to this film, I'll be truly surprised.

There are a few key characters in Three Seconds.  Piet Hoffmann is one of the most important. He's an ex-con who's out of jail but has spent nine years as a police informant. When his latest "assignment" leads to murder, he realizes he's in a bad situation. While he once had only himself to worry about, Piet is married with two young sons and will do anything to keep them safe.

Superintendent Ewert Grens is investigating a murder of a Swedish man. He realizes the man must have been the buyer at this Polish Mafia drug deal gone wrong, but what he can't figure out is why the anonymous caller who called to report the murder is also Swedish. It makes no sense for the Polish Mafia to have had a Swede working on their side.

As Grens gets closer to the truth, Piet realizes his best chance for getting out of this is to do as the Polish Mafia wants. He's put back behind bars where he must smuggle in drugs, eliminate the current prison drug dealers and take over all drug trade within the prison. To do this, he must watch his back. Once inside, the police can't protect him and if the Mafia learn the truth, Piet is as good as dead.

Three Seconds is amazing. I want to make sure Kari Dickson gets credit for translating from Swedish to English. I've read translated books before and often get the feeling that the translator struggled to find the best words. Kudos to Ms. Dickson for a job well done.

The action never stops. While first impressions of Piet are less than favorable, after a few chapters I was rooting for him. His character became my favorite and I wanted to see him succeed in his mission. Three Seconds is an edge-of-the-seat crime novel that I found hard to put down. I might be tired from a late night of reading, but it's well worth it.

I won't deny that it did take me a few chapters to get accustomed to the many characters, bad and good, in the story. In fact, I ended up starting over at page 30 and creating a list to ensure I'd have them all down. When I thought I had them pegged, I found myself wavering because nothing is as it first appears.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ain't Misbehaving - Jennifer Greene

Released November 2010

Ain't Misbehaving is a reissue of one of Jennifer Greene's Berkley romances written under the name Jeanne Grant. Carina Press (a division of Harlequin) reissued the book in an eBook-only format. For those with an eReader, you'll find the asking price of under $4 to be well worth it.

Mitch Cochran spent years overcoming a heart issue as a teen and young adult. Now he gives back by visiting children in the pediatric ward. It's there that he meets Kay Sanders and falls head over heels. Kay's a sex-ed teacher who's been engaged before. Both feel a special connection. The problem is Mitch's health has only just improved. He's not accustomed to relationships and isn't certain that an experienced sex-ed teacher is the best way to start.

Emotionally, Ain't Misbehaving captures the reader from the start. The first few pages show that Mitch will do anything it takes to bring happiness to a child's life. When he reunites the child with his mother, even if they cannot be in the same room, I was tearing up.

I realize this is me being nit-picky, but I had a speakerphone as a teen in the mid- to late-1980s (the book was written in 1985). Given that, a speakerphone could have been used to make sure the young one could talk to his mom regularly to ease his fears and I'm surprised the medical staff didn't think of it.

Romance readers know that the conflict is usually a large part of the romance story. There really is no huge conflict between Mitch and Kay. While Mitch has concerns over being "enough" for a sexually experienced woman, he still wants her. Their romance progresses throughout the novel as they both come to terms with the deep feelings they have towards one another.

Ain't Misbehaving is a satisfying romance. There are no huge surprises along the way. At heart, it's simply a story of how two people meet and try to figure out if it is love or infatuation.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Goddess of Fried Okra - Jean Brashear

Released March 2010

Eudora "Pea" O'Brien has only known a few things in life: the road, her mother and her older sister. Pea was eight when her mom died, so her older sister took over. Pea's sister believed strongly in reincarnation and shared her beliefs with Pea, though Pea wasn't quite as convinced that life delivered "do-overs." After her sister's death, 29-year-old Pea spends 10 months not knowing what to do without her sister.

Seeking guidance, Pea talks to her sister's favorite psychic. That woman announces that she sees New Mexico in Pea's future. Pea believes that might be where her sister's newly reincarnated spirit is located. So, she sets off on a journey that will forever change her. Along the way, she becomes the proud owner of a scrawny kitten; companion to Alex, an abused, very scared, pregnant teen; and traveling mate to Valentine Bonham, a gorgeous man who's trying to change his ways.

As the trio heads through Texas on their way to New Mexico, Pea's car breaks down. Pea and her travel mates become stuck in a dusty Texan town with no money and no one to call for help. Pea is lucky enough to land a job at a small cafe, despite not knowing the first thing about cooking, where she learns more about life than she'd ever imagined.

The Goddess of Fried Okra flows incredibly well. Starting the first page, I admit to not being certain I'd like the writing style. Pea's story is told in the first-person and she comes off as very brash from time to time. Yet, within a few pages, the reader empathizes with Pea and can't stop reading.

As the story progresses, the other characters become great adversaries to Pea. Alex's teen rebellion, Valentine's desire to change and Pea's stubborn streak match up well. All characters begin to feel like family.

With a good dose of southern charm, The Goddess of Fried Okra lured me in and delivered a powerful story of life's uncertainties and how even the most mismatched can become the best of friends.

The Road to Christmas: A Sweet Holiday Romance Novel by Sheila Roberts

Release Date - September 20, 2022  Sit down and explore the holiday season through four sets of eyes in Sheila Roberts' latest holiday...