Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Ugly Teapot: Volume 1 by Fred Holmes

Fourteen-year-old Hannah Bradbury loved her father so much that she worried about him constantly. After all, he was a photographer who traveled to the most dangerous places in the world. To allay her fears, each time he came home he brought her silly gifts, each one with supposed magical powers: the Seal of Solomon, the Ring of Gyges, even Aladdin’s Lamp. It was that lamp that Hannah found most unbelievable, for it looked like an ugly teapot. Nevertheless, her father assured her it was real, and made her promise to save her three wishes for something very special. Then...six months later...the unthinkable happened. Her father was killed while on assignment to Baghdad. And so on the day of his funeral Hannah did something she never thought she would ever do. She took out that teapot and gave it a rub...

REVIEW:
This middle grade adventure story has great bones and moments of real excitement, but in the end I never felt a real emotional connection to Hannah. The story presented the great love Hannah had for her father, but it quickly became clear he was a neglectful parent at best. Hannah's mom and brothers were introduced but never fleshed out as characters which felt like a missed opportunity. The end, though not a surprise, was disappointing. There were other elements that didn't gel for me- the telepathic dog didn't add enough to feel like an essential plot point, and it never made sense that Hannah's dad would never have taught her anything about photography given how the relationship between them was presented. I also thought Hannah's thoughts and actions painted her as younger than 14. The writing was good and the adventure part of the story moved quickly, I just wish there had been more character development to make me more invested in the story.

3.5 stars

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Bricking It by Nick Spalding

When siblings Dan and Hayley Daley inherit their late grandmother’s derelict Victorian farmhouse, it seems like a dream come true. All they have to do is fix the place up and sell it for a tidy profit!

Except—as anyone who has renovated an old house knows—things are never that easy.

The walls are rapidly crumbling around them, the architect is a certified lunatic, the budget is spiraling…and then there’s the disturbingly intelligent cow to worry about.

On top of all this, the renovation is being featured on a daytime reality TV show, and as soon as Great Locations presenter Gerard O’Keefe catches sight of Hayley’s first-floor balcony, he’s determined to woo her out of her ban on romance, whether she wants him to or not.

Will Dan and Hayley survive and sell up? Or will the whole thing collapse on them like a ton of bricks?


REVIEW:
I'm a fan of Spalding's work, but this book was especially hysterical. If you have ever been involved in any kind of home renovation project then this is the book for you. It is very British and at times almost over the top, but then Spalding always pulls it back just enough to keep it real. Strong characters, great premise, and all in all a fantastic read.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Taking Charge by Ruth Cardello

Lucy Albright never wanted her family’s Texas ranch, but now it’s in foreclosure. She’s already lost so much she can’t bear the thought of losing one more thing. Lucy learned the hard way not to accept help from a man when there are strings attached, so she’ll do whatever it takes to save the ranch on her own terms—even if that means launching an online business marketing high-tech sex toys.

Ranch manager David Harmon has a reputation for being a cowboy with a heart of gold. Even if she refuses his help, down-and-out Lucy is the kind of woman he’ll do anything to protect. And while David may not know much about Lucy’s naughty side business, that won’t stop a cowboy from doing something he’s set his mind to.

With the ranch threatened by a scheming neighbor, Lucy can’t help but keep David around. Their attraction may be undeniable, but will the spark between them burn her entire future to the ground?


REVIEW:
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I thought there was comic gold to be found in a heroine saving her ranch by selling sex toys on the side, but that subplot as it developed was just rather sad and intrusive. David seemed like a great guy, one who deserved better than Lucy who I just never could warm to throughout the book. She drifted too much for my taste- I just wanted to yell at her to stand up and take responsibility for her own life. I also felt like I was watching an old time western where the one guy in town controls everyone else- is that so likely in this day and age? I haven't read other books in the series, and the side characters as introduced here were enjoyable so perhaps this is a better read if you are already following the series.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Good Earls Don't Lie by Michelle Willingham

Lady Rose Thornton never expected to find a half-naked man in her garden. The handsome Irishman claims to be the Earl of Ashton, but was Iain Donovan truly robbed by thieves? Or is he merely an impoverished stranger lying to her?

After losing everything in the potato famine, Iain is searching for a wife whose dowry will save his estate. The beautiful and charming Lady Rose, unable to walk because of an illness that stole her strength, agrees to help him find a wife, but only if he will help her learn to take her first steps.

As their friendship takes root and blossoms into something more, secrets about Iain’s birthright threaten the growing feelings between them. He has no right to love a woman like Rose, who deserves a better life than he can give her. Rose believes that there is more to Iain than a broken past, and she brings light to his shadows.

Within the walls of a secret garden, sometimes miracles happen…


REVIEW:
This book was well-written and enjoyable, if a trifle slow at many points. I found the beginning rather clunky- it was hard to believe no one knew to expect an earl to be arriving, and I found his attempts to prove his identity rather tedious. Once that was taken care of, the relationship that developed between Iain and Rose was lovely. I definitely enjoyed his efforts to help her walk, and found myself wondering why no one else was pushing for the same outcome. The whole sub-plot with Iain's mother was unexpectedly harsh but understandable once revealed. All in all, a good read.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rogue's Wager by Christi Caldwell

London, 1821

Lord Robert Dennington, the Marquess of Westfield, has long reveled in the freedom afforded him as the ducal heir. He knows he must someday do right by the Somerset line, but he’s in no hurry to give up his carefree existence.

Helena Banbury is a bookkeeper in a gentleman’s gambling club, adept at analyzing numbers and accounts but helpless for lack of influence. She’s never belonged among the nobility on the gaming hell floors, but neither does she feel completely herself among the men who run the Hell and Sin Club, despite the fact that they are family. The once-illiterate girl from the streets wants more than the gilded walls her protective cage can offer.

When Robert mistakenly enters her chambers one night, Helena is forced out of her predictable life and thrust into the glittering world of Society. Will the charms of the marquess prove more perilous than any danger she ever knew on the streets?


REVIEW:
This regency romance features great characters and some believable dramatic twists. Helena and Robert are both strong characters who make an enjoyable couple, and the secondary characters are also well-drawn (for the most part). The reason I didn't give more stars is the fact that I walked away with more questions than answers regarding Helena's early life. I don't understand how she fell in with her street brothers (and her real brother) given that he was apparently separated from his family at birth, I don't understand why her father never actually searched for his family, and I don't know how Ryker and Helena know who their father is given all that separates them from him. I assume some of these questions might be answered in the next book in the series, but feel they needed to be addressed in this one to make the narrative more believable. Still, all in all a decent read.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Hunter Bride by Cynthia Woolf

Jo Shafter is not your simpering miss. She’s a bounty hunter and a darn good one. For the last five years she’s tracked down the men who killed her parents and little brother. Finally, she captured ringleader and sent him to prison. Now Jo can begin the new life she wants more than anything, that of a wife with a husband and children. Manlier than most of the men of her acquaintance, she becomes a mail-order bride.

Sam Longworth is the sheriff of Hope’s Crossing. He wants a wife to cook and clean and give him children, a demure miss who won’t give him any trouble. One who will be happy with the simple life he leads.

A nemesis from Jo’s past shows up with murder on his mind and Jo is drawn back into her old life in order to protect not only herself but Sam.

Both Sam and Jo have secrets from their past. Can they build a happy marriage when neither trusts the other with the full truth or will the secrets drive them apart?


REVIEW:
I wanted to enjoy this book, especially given that it dealt with a strong woman trying to make her way in a more conventional world. The problem was that neither Jo nor Sam were particularly realistic characters. The way Jo behaves makes it impossible to believe she could have survived as an independent bounty hunter- she made stupid decisions for no comprehensible reasons other than to create a "conflict" for them to resolve. She and Sam had no true chemistry and he was just kind of a jerk at times. There were also a lot of distracting grammar and spelling errors that made for a frustrating read. I certainly won't be looking to read the rest of the series.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Texas Rose Forever by Katie Graykowski

Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that goes double at the Texas Rose Ranch, home to the Rose family through five generations of toil, sweat, and scandal. From the moment CanDee McCain is hired to write a history of the Roses’ empire, she’s bowled over by tall, sexy Cinco Rose. True, the man initially mistakes her for a stripper, but he certainly puts the man in manly. For the first time since her cheating ex left, stealing her novel-in-progress in the process, CanDee is ready to have a little fun.

No woman has ever made Cinco feel both so at ease and so turned on. Since his divorce, he’s preferred a saddle and solitude to risking his heart again. Yet something draws him to the fast-talking, leggy redhead. CanDee’s not just sweet; she’s smart and brave too. But her research is uncovering long-buried secrets that could jeopardize everything the Roses prize most—and destroy a love that’s just begun to bloom.


REVIEW:
This start to a new series serves up a fun and funny couple with a delightful family (and accompanying family ranch) as the backdrop. I thought the whole "I thought you were a stripper" thing was a bit over the top, but CanDee dealt well with it (and honestly I can't get over thinking a name like that would often lead to similar confusion...) The romance between these two is lovely, but rather lacks in the dramatic tension I usually expect in a romance novel. There are scenarios that are obviously supposed to provide that "will they/won't they" tension but it never seems real. I also didn't love how CanDee dealt with her thieving ex- I was looking for a completely different resolution there! Nevertheless, an enjoyable afternoon read that provides a little wish fulfillment escape from ordinary life.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

Known as England’s Nazareth, the medieval town of Little Walsingham is famous for religious apparitions. So when Ruth Galloway’s druid friend Cathbad sees a woman in a white dress and a dark blue cloak standing alone in the local cemetery one night, he takes her as a vision of the Virgin Mary. But then a woman wrapped in blue cloth is found dead the next day, and Ruth’s old friend Hilary, an Anglican priest, receives a series of hateful, threatening letters. Could these crimes be connected? When one of Hilary’s fellow female priests is murdered just before Little Walsingham’s annual Good Friday Passion Play, Ruth, Cathbad, and DCI Harry Nelson must team up to find the killer before he strikes again.

REVIEW:
Though I usually enjoy the Ruth Galloway series, this offering was not up to the usual standard. The mystery itself wasn't as engaging and seemed to be wrapped up very quickly at the end. The focus of the book seemed more on the personal relationships but even there I found myself struggling to enjoy. I begin to tire of Ruth and her love for a man who cheated on his wife with her and now seems content to waffle between the two of them based on his mood. Frankly, I can't understand why either of these women is still so focused on gaining his love and approval. All in all a rather disappointing offering from a normally enjoyable series.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

It’s early 1938, and Maisie Dobbs is back in England. On a fine yet chilly morning, as she walks towards Fitzroy Square—a place of many memories—she is intercepted by Brian Huntley and Robert MacFarlane of the Secret Service. The German government has agreed to release a British subject from prison, but only if he is handed over to a family member. Because the man’s wife is bedridden and his daughter has been killed in an accident, the Secret Service wants Maisie—who bears a striking resemblance to the daughter—to retrieve the man from Dachau, on the outskirts of Munich.

The British government is not alone in its interest in Maisie’s travel plans. Her nemesis—the man she holds responsible for her husband’s death—has learned of her journey, and is also desperate for her help.

Traveling into the heart of Nazi Germany, Maisie encounters unexpected dangers—and finds herself questioning whether it’s time to return to the work she loved. But the Secret Service may have other ideas. . . .


REVIEW:
After the overwhelming tragedy of the last book, I was delighted to see Maisie Dobbs back and closer to her normal form. The historical look at 1938 Munich was chilling; as always, Winspear paints an accurate and insightful picture of the past. The mystery here was less important than the fact the it gave Maisie the chance to find her way back to herself. I was glad to see some characters from the past return to Maisie's life, and can't wait to read her next adventure.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Travelers by Chris Pavone

It’s 3:00am. Do you know where your husband is?

Meet Will Rhodes: travel writer, recently married, barely solvent, his idealism rapidly giving way to disillusionment and the worry that he’s living the wrong life. Then one night, on assignment for the award-winning Travelers magazine in the wine region of Argentina, a beautiful woman makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Soon Will’s bad choices—and dark secrets—take him across Europe, from a chateau in Bordeaux to a midnight raid on a Paris mansion, from a dive bar in Dublin to a mega-yacht in the Mediterranean and an isolated cabin perched on the rugged cliffs of Iceland. As he’s drawn further into a tangled web of international intrigue, it becomes clear that nothing about Will Rhodes was ever ordinary, that the network of deception ensnaring him is part of an immense and deadly conspiracy with terrifying global implications—and that the people closest to him may pose the greatest threat of all.

It’s 3:00am. Your husband has just become a spy.


REVIEW:
This latest from Chris Pavone was a delightful read. Fun characters, enjoyable travel writer premise, lovely descriptions of travel. Why only four stars? Because the big "surprise" wasn't a surprise and made me think Will was a bit thick for not figuring out what was going on a lot sooner. Regardless, a great vacation read!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wake: A Novel by Anna Hope

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequence or aftermath.

London, 1920. The city prepares to observe the two-year anniversary of Armistice Day with the burial of the unknown soldier. Many are still haunted by the war: Hettie, a dance instructress, lives at home with her mother and her brother, who is mute after his return from combat. One night Hettie meets a wealthy, educated man and finds herself smitten with him. But there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach. . . . Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, she looks for solace in her adored brother, who has not been the same since he returned from the front. . . . Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door, seemingly with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out-of-work veterans. But when he utters the name of her son, Ada is jolted to the core.

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.


REVIEW:
This incredible novel follows three women as they try to make sense of life in a post-WWI world. All have suffered losses, all are trying to find a way to deal with those losses without losing themselves. The way the stories intertwine as the novel approaches its conclusion is surprisingly effective and did not feel contrived (as I had feared it might). This is not a happy read but I think accurately captures the flavor of the era and the devastation that WWI wrought across Europe. High recommended!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Marriage Pact by M.J. Pullen

Marci Thompson always knew what life would be like by her thirtieth birthday. A large but cozy suburban home shared with a charming husband and two brilliant children. A celebrated career as a writer, complete with mahogany shelves and a summer book tour. A life full of adventure with her friends and family by her side.

Instead, Marci lives alone in 480 square feet of converted motel space next to a punk rock band, hundreds of miles from her friends and family. She works in a temporary accounting assignment that has somehow stretched from two weeks into nine months. And the only bright spot in her life, not to mention the only sex she's had in two years, is an illicit affair with her married boss, Doug.

Thirty is not at all what it is cracked up to be.

Then the reappearance of an old friend with whom she had made a drunken marriage pact ten years earlier opens a long-forgotten door, and the lines between right and wrong, heartache and happiness are all about to get very blurry, as Marci faces the most difficult choices of her life.


REVIEW:
This should really be a 2.5 star review which is rather disappointing. Though this book was well-written, the heroine was just to unlikable to carry the story. Marci was stuck in a dead end job and a dead end relationship with her boss, and yet somehow just thought everything would somehow resolve itself without any work on her part. Then an old friend swoops in to carry her away and she seemingly falls into another relationship without actually making any attempt to address the problems in her life? I found her too frustrating to wish her well, and didn't like that she saw herself as a victim rather than an active participant in her life. It wasn't until the very end that I found anything redeemable in Marci, and that was just too late. I never understood the attraction to Doug, and I thought Jake deserved better than his relationship with Marci, but again it seemed like he had put no real thought into that either. All in all, a rather aggravating read for me.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Letting Go by Molly McAdams

Grey and Ben fell in love at thirteen and believed they’d be together forever. But three days before their wedding, the twenty-year-old groom-to-be suddenly died from an unknown heart condition, destroying his would-be-bride’s world. If it hadn’t been for their best friend, Jagger, Grey never would have made it through those last two years to graduation. He’s the only one who understands her pain, the only one who knows what it’s like to force yourself to keep moving when your dreams are shattered. Jagger swears he’ll always be there for her, but no one has ever been able to hold on to him. He’s not the kind of guy to settle down.

It’s true that no one has ever been able to keep Jagger—because he’s only ever belonged to Grey. While everyone else worries over Grey’s fragility, he’s the only one who sees her strength. Yet as much as he wants Grey, he knows her heart will always be with Ben. Still they can’t deny the heat that is growing between them—a passion that soon becomes too hot to handle. But admitting their feelings for each other means they’ve got to face the past. Is being together what Ben would have wanted . . . or a betrayal of his memory that will eventually destroy them both?


REVIEW:
From the opening pages, I knew I as going to have trouble liking this book, but I had some hope. As I continued reading however, that hope was lost. I have to say, I did think that McAdams did justice to the overwhelming feelings of loss involved with the death of a loved one; that part of the novel rang true. Unfortunately, most of the rest of it did not. To me, all of these folks were way too young for their single-minded devotion to getting married and living happily ever after. The way that Grey gushed about her love made me think she had a lot of growing up to do, while Jagger on the other hand seemed remarkably (and unrealistically) mature about her ongoing feelings of guilt about their relationship. The stalker was an unnecessary added element- it was also clear from the get-go exactly who it was. And the whole sub-plot about Jagger's mother? I find it unrealistic that folks who have been so close for so long had absolutely no idea she was an evil manipulative monster. I think this book tried to do too much and so had no real substance to the story. Sadly, a disappointing read.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Beach Hut by Cassandra Parkin

It is autumn time and on a peaceful Cornish beach, Finn and his sister Ava defy planning regulations and achieve a childhood dream when they build themselves an illegal beach hut. This tiny haven will be their home until Ava departs at midwinter for a round-the-world adventure.

In the town, local publican Donald is determined to get rid of them. Still mourning the death of his wife, all he wants is a quiet place where he can forget the past and raise his daughter Alicia in safety. But Alicia is wrestling with demons of her own.

As the sunshine fades and winter approaches, the beach hut stirs old memories for everyone. Their lives become entwined in surprising ways and the secrets of past and present are finally exposed.


REVIEW:
This lyrical novel traces all manner of love and loss, and the complicated ties that bind us to family. From the moment I started reading, I couldn't put it down. The characters were wonderfully drawn- fragile and full of life, wrestling with the realities of life and death decisions. Donald's anger at the world was almost painful, as was Alicia's desperate effort to find love and acceptance in the wake of her mother's death. Finn and Ava were quirky and wonderful, yet they soon revealed their own demons through the sad tale of their past. The tension was palpable as the story built to a powerful conclusion. I confess I never saw the twist in Donald's story coming, yet once I read it, I knew how true to the story it was. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Point of Control by L.J. Sellers

In her personal life, FBI agent Andra Bailey works hard to control her sociopathic tendencies. But on the job, her cold logic comes in handy.

Now two world-renowned scientists have disappeared, and the bureau assigns Bailey to find them and hunt down the kidnapper. The agent soon suspects that a rare-metal shortage may be the link between the disappearances and that the motive is far more dangerous than she imagined. With the market in turmoil and prices sky-high, electronics companies and their power-hungry CEOs are ready to do anything—even kill—to keep production lines going.

When a third scientist disappears, Bailey throws caution aside to track the crimes to their source. But by immersing herself so deeply in the case, she risks letting down the defenses she’s built to contain the sociopath inside her.


REVIEW:
I picked up this book with no previous exposure to the author because the plot sounded interesting. Unfortunately, the blurb about the book proved more enjoyable than the book itself ever did. There is no mystery here- you know from the start who the villains are and why they do what they do. I was intrigued by the idea of a sociopath FBI agent, but never connected with Bailey as a character. I would also greatly prefer to have the character gradually reveal her problem through her actions rather than through her internal monologue; Bailey worked being a sociopath into every thought she had. It was too much- I got it the first time, I don't need her to remind me of it constantly. I wanted this book to be a real page turner but instead found myself struggling to finish. After reading this one, I'm unlikely to see out another book by this author.