Monday, March 2, 2015

Descent/Tim Johnston/375 pgs.

The Courtlands are having a family vacation before 18 year-old Caitlin heads off for college. Caitlin is a runner, and ultimately wants to run in the mountains--so they head towards Colorado, where the Rocky Mountains await. Once there, Caitlin and her 15 year-old brother, Sean, go for an early morning run. Their parents receive the phone call no parent ever wants to receive: Sean was injured, and taken to the hospital. When asked about Caitlin, the sheriff says that there was only Sean that they had seen. Thus begins the hunt for Caitlin, and the fracturing of the Courtland family. This is one of the most suspenseful, beautifully written "missing person" novels I have read. Highly recommended!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March Challenge/ SCCCLD

March Challenge

Mulling over March, the phrase 'Time Marches On' popped into my head.  

So, for your March Challenge, march over to the shelves and find some historical fiction that takes place in the twentieth century.  To jump start your search, check out the link on novelist for a list of titles.  Historical Fiction set in the Twentieth Century

Those are worth one extra point, but if you really want to score big, find a title that involves historical fiction and time travel.  That's worth two points!  

For more idea's visit Novelist.  
Just be sure to stay in the Twentieth Century for most of the story.  

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Skink, No Surrender / Carl Hiaasen / 281 pages

Wow!  This is classic Hiaasen!  We have young people who do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons...Heroes, if you will.  We also have young people who do not...who, in fact, almost ruin their lives by making foolhardy decisions.  We also have a most unorthodox grown up - The Governor.  Richard is determined to rescue his cousin Malley, and Skink(The Governor) is an invaluable resource - even if he is a crazy old man...with lots of friends.  This is a riveting journey through a Florida most of us will never see, a testament to ecology, and a portrayal of a maverick's determination to do what is right...also a cautionary tale against meeting up with strangers online.

GASP / Lisa McMann / 273 pages

Jules is plagued by what she believes is a family curse.  She sees visions of catastrophes in which people die.  Some victims of the tragedies who are saved have visions themselves of impending doom.  Jules and Sawyer and friends and family heroically strive to avert these catastrophes or at least to be on hand to save as many victims as possible.  Sawyer's vision caused him to save several during a school shooting.  One of the wounded victim's visions are haunting her.  Multiple stories intertwine to create a suspense and emotion filled story detailing the determination of young people to do the right thing, even at great risk to themselves.
Visions Book 3

Memory Maze / Gordon Korman / 234 pages

Hypnotists book 2
Dr. Mako is determined to find young Jackson Opus.  He wants his power to control others to augment his own power.  Although Jackson's family has gone into hiding to protect his identity as a powerful young hypnotist, Mako is determined to find him and use for his nefarious purposes.  The reader discovers Mako's plot and realizes Jax has unfortunately turned his back on his family and friends for no good reason.  Skillfully written, the reader will find him/her self telling Jax not to do it.

For Your Eyes Only (FYEO) / Joanne Rocklin / 136 pages

Mr. Moffat, a poetry-loving substitute teacher, makes a huge difference in the lives of his sixth grade students.  After Mrs. Silverberg slips on a snail and breaks her leg (which may or may not be troublemakers Andy's fault), Mr. Moffat takes charge of her class while she recovers.  Mr. Moffat gives each of the students a notebook (probably purchased with his own money) and encourages them to write in it every day.  Their writings will be confidential - for his eyes only.  He writes a poem on the board each day and encourages his charges to immerse themselves in the world of poetry.  As is true for a majority of students today, the students in Mr. Moffat's class suffer abuse, divorces parents, limited incomes, friendship foibles, etc.  Mr. Moffat is there for them as they deal with life, love, and literature.
This is a heartfelt approach to middle school problems.  It would be an excellent read aloud - especially a prelude to a poetry unit.

Discovering Martha / Joanne Rocklin / 137 pages

"When she was four and a half years old, Martha Green was discovered in the meat department of the L. A. Food Mart."  She starred in two commercials - one for Souper Soup and one for Wendy Wet.  Now she is an unpopular sixth grade has been with two older brilliant sisters whose college costs necessitate dual incomes and make Martha a latch key kid.  Her best friend, Winston, who lives upstairs in their apartment building, is gifted and has a heart condition.  When Martha unpacks an unknown package addressed to "The Resident and discovers a guitar, plum purple and shiny," she is amazed.  "Now wouldn't it be the most amazing thing, she thought, the most incredible, amazing thing, if this guitar were like magic sticks and magic beans and magic pots that made wishes come true in storybooks?" Martha and her Shakespeare-quoting, clarinet-playing friend fashion a sort of contagious, magical good will routine while dealing with a memory-impaired grandpa, cliques, peer pressure, bullies, a robbery, and the meaning of friendship and the necessity for honesty.  I highly recommend this one for elementary age students!  No objectionable language or situations to shatter a heartwarming, true-to-life, morality tale.

"Is that magic?  One person making another person feel better, think better?  Could be."
"To thine own self be true." (peer pressure, cliques)

Hidden / Helen Frost / 148 pages

Eight year old Wren Abbott is accidentally kidnapped.  She was waiting in the car while her mother went into the gas station to get a soda and pay for the gas.  Wren hears a gunshot!   When someone gets in the car, she  knows it's not her mom because the person smells of cigarette smoke and has a deep gruff voice.  Has her mother been shot?  She hides under a blanket on the back floor.  The man drives off unaware of his human cargo.  When the man pulls their car into his garage, Wren hides in a boat in the garage.  West's wife, Stacey, hears about the kidnapping on TV.  They look for, but are unable to find, her.  Their Daughter, Darra, leaves food and water for Wren.  Fast forward six years and Wren and Darra are cabin mates at a UP summer camp.  Their recognition, communication, and reconciliation are heart-warming, realistic, and inspiring.  Written in poetic free verse and stylistic verse created solely for this book, Hidden won for Ms. Frost a generous fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts...well deserved!! 

Bigger Than a Breadbox / Laurel Snyder / 225 pages

The New York Times said this book is "as miraculous an insight about divorce as anyone could hope to have."  Publisher's Weekly said its "insightful, memorable, and complex characters...result in a story with the same qualities."  Twelve year old Rebecca realizes she is the new girl at school in Atlanta.  She had never been the new girl before.  She had "always been the Since Kindergarten kid" at her school in Baltimore.  But her mother wants a divorce from her father and has taken Rebecca and her three year old brother home to her mother's.  Rebecca finds a bread box collection in the attic of her grandmother's house.  Most are old, rusty, and empty.  One is new-looking, red, and contains an Agatha Christie mystery.  Is it possible that the bread box is magic?  Can Rebecca use it to get her parents back together?  Ms. Snyder certainly weaves a web of empathy around Rebecca.  The reader experiences along with her the tragedy of divorce and the desire to make everything better.  Would that every child going through this devastation had a magic bread box and a loving, understanding grandmother.   

Zane's Trace / Allan Wolf / 194 pages

To say Zane Guesswind has the deck stacked against him would be a gross understatement.  He has epilepsy.  His father was an alcoholic who walked out on the family after one of his mother's botched suicide attempts.  His mother, a schizophrenic, killed herself with an antique British dueling pistol once used by his Wyandot ancestor to kill American colonists during the Revolutionary War.  His grandmother passed for white.  His grandfather did not find out she was black until long after Zane's mother was born.  Zach draws on his bedroom walls with Sharpie markers.  It seems that what he writes/draws comes to pass.  His grandfather suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and speechless after Zane drew a huge hammer boinging him in the head.  Zane believes he is responsible.  Zane borrows a 1979 Barracuda and sets off for Zanesville, Ohio.  He intends to shoot himself with the antique pistol on his mother's grave.  Along the way, he picks up Libba Ration, a figment of his past.  "This suspenseful novel is a fast-moving look at families and how we can only escape them when we accept the way they are."  An excellent author's note distinguishes fact from fiction within the narrative and expands on the former.  An extensive bibliography and resource list finish off this clever, humorous, sad, inspiring story.

"Life unravels as it's lived.  It can't be woven back together."

The Thickety / J. A. White / 488 pages

Kara Westfall lives in the village of De'Noran with her younger brother, Taff, and her somewhat useless father.  They, like all the villagers, are Children of the Fold, followers of Timothy Clen, who recorded all his teachings in The Path and cleansed the world of witches, sacrificing himself so that all could enjoy two thousand years of peace.  All magic is banned on this island cut off from The World.  Young Kara's mother was killed as a witch and her father hasn't been right since.  Kara is suspect because of her mother's reputation and is scorned by her classmates, especially Grace, the Fen de Stone's daughter.  Kara shares her story with a clearer, Lucas, her best, and only friend...the one-eyed bird, her trip into the forbidden Thickety, finding the grimoire, her first spell, Taff's kidnapping, Simon's death, her vision in the Well, the dreaded Sordyr.  Kara realizes that she, too, is a witch...but a good witch.  One who wants to heal...that she must at all cost resist the evil pull of Power and thwart Grace's  attempt to control all.  This first book in a trilogy is extraordinarily captivating, surprising, and inspiring, Allusions to organized religion and an insistence upon the necessity of  following one's own conscience in what knows to be right even if it appears to conflict accepted practices are two dominant, eminently discussable themes.  Both Lisa McMann and Angie Sage have grace the jacket with glowing endorsements.  The Thickety definitely leaves the reader with a desire for more...

"Secrets and lies can weigh more than boulders."

Black Run / Antonio Manzini / 255 pages

This ARC's cover drew me to this book on this snowy Presidents' Day, 2015.  A partially plowed winding snowy road is depicted with a mysterious man in the background and huge drops of blood in the foreground.  Deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone has been transferred from his beloved Rome to the frozen northern town of Aosta.  When a murdered man is run over by a snowcat grooming the slopes of a local ski run, it becomes his responsibility to investigate.  This one is a page-turner and although I had the murderer ID'ed almost from the beginning, the tense narrative had me doubting my conclusions.  Also, Rocco's side business was a bit of a surprise...and a disappointment...Was this done to make our hero more human...more realistic?...just disappointing...

Gone Missing / Linda Castillo / 277 pages

This Kate Burkholder thriller is not set in Painter's Mill as is common.  Instead Kate is on loan along with state agent John Tomasetti to investigate several missing girls, including one she has recently had a run-in with in Painter's Mill.  Kate's intuition, her past, and her knowledge of Amish ways leads her to discover the unlikely culprits.  The ending in open-ended.  Have all the villains been dealt with?  As always ...a good read!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Perfect Poison / Amanda Quick 352 p.

Perfect Poison / Amanda Quick 352 p.

While acting as a botanical and poison expert in a murder investigation in Victorian era London, spinster Lucinda Bromley realizes that the poison used came from one of her plants.  She hires Caleb Jones, the investigative member of the Arcane Society and descendant of an alchemist family, to find the murderer and keep her name out of the investigation and out of the press.  She has been thoroughly scandalized in the gossip mongering papers when her fiance is poisoned after drinking tea she poured.  Together, these two paranormals seek the thief who stole the poisonous plant and the brains behind the operation.  Who knew that steamy romance would blossom between the spinster and the dedicated bachelor.

House Calls and Hitching Posts / Elton Lehman 358 p.

House Calls and Hitching Posts / Elton Lehman 358 p.

Dr. Elton Lehman returns to his roots in Ohio where he practices for some 40 years culminating with being named Country Doctor of the Year.  He respects his Amish patients, carefully balancing medical technology with their values of simplicity, home health remedies and unwavering faith in divine providence.  This peek into a country doctor's daily life is revelation, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, always informative.

Wild West Christmas / Kathleen Y'Barbo, Lena Nelson Dooley, Darlene Franklin, Vickie McDonough 364 p.

Wild West Christmas / Kathleen Y'Barbo, Lena Nelson Dooley, Darlene Franklin, Vickie McDonough 364 p.

Four single daughters live with their widowed father on a cattle ranch in Horsefly, Texas in the 1800s.  Each are blessed with a talent.  Charlsey, "Charlie", can ride, rope and work the ranch with the best of them.  Accountant Harold Miller III almost blows it when he courts Charlsey and ignores that dusty cow-puncher "Charlie".  Sharp-shooter Lucy brings home the meat for the family.  When she joins Major Paulson's Wild West Show, shades of Annie Oakley, she begins to fall for the Major's evangelist son, Gordon.  Although Sarah is the horse-trainer on the ranch, cattle rustling is a serious crime.  She fights her attraction to Mexican drifter, Carson Romero when he seems to be a prime suspect.  When Texas Ranger Josef Mueller rides back into town, he brings back the insecurities and hurts she felt when children chanted the rhyme he coined about Bessie Mae, Bessie Mae, plain as day.  Josef is there to do his job, find the bad guy.  He is drawn to beautiful Bessie Mae, but he escaped Horsefly once and he isn't going to return for good.

Girl with a Pearl Earring / Tracy Chevalier 233 p.

Girl with a Pearl Earring / Tracy Chevalier 233 p.

Tracy Chevalier wonderfully takes the reader into the 17th century world of Delft.  Girl with a pearl earring tells the story of Greit, a 16 year old, who takes a job as a maid in the home of painter Johannes Vermeer after her father is blinded in a tile factor accident.  She is perceptive about her world.  Through her narrative, the daily grind of laundry, meal preparation, food gathering, and, child care is so richly and gently detailed that one sees Greit's raw, red, chapped hands.  Chevalier tells how a maid became the subject of one of Vermeer's greatest portraits.  

10-10-10 10 Minutes, 10 Months, 10 Years / Suzy Welch 226 p.

10-10-10 10 Minutes, 10 Months, 10 Years / Suzy Welch 226 p.

10-10-10 provides a methodology to make personal decisions both big and small consistently.  When faced with a dilemma, situation, or life changing event, stop and ask yourself three questions.

  • What are the consequences of my decision in 10 minutes?
  •  In 10 months?
  •  In 10 years?

She illustrates how to use this in her own life as well as others who practice 10-10-10 in their lives.  She points out you have a rational about your decision; no longer rely on your "gut", snap decisions, or go along with the flow.

Welch points out this using this has changed her life.  She now has clear, straightforward and transparent reasons for her decisions that she is able to share.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Unending Devotion / Jody Hedlund / 368 pages

     This Christian romance is set in the 1880's in Michigan.  It is about the conditions in the towns surrounding lumber camps.  Lily is traveling as a photographer's assistant to lumber towns.  As a woman, she is in the vast minority ( about 200 to 1). Many young women were lured to these towns to work in "hotels" only to find themselves caught up in prostitution.  They were unable to leave and suffered greatly.  In this story, Lily's real mission is to rescue her sister who is being held in one of these "hotels".  She meets Connell, a man she is attracted to, but finds that he actually is the son of the owner of one of largest logging companies.  The logging companies were a major part of the problem because in addition to clear-cutting trees, the logging camps full of young men with no diversions were the perfect clients for the taverns and prostitutes.  It was a working relationship which was mutually beneficial. Not so good for the girls or a decent town.
     Most of the action in the book is due to Lily's impulsive decisions, but it is still an interesting book with a satisfactory ending.  It may be the author's favorite character since it looks like the cover art used her as a model.  Check it out.

Senator Marlowe's Daughter / Francis Parkinson Keyes 465 p.

Senator Marlowe's Daughter / Francis Parkinson Keyes 465 p. Deceased Author

Faith Marlowe life is turned upside down when her beloved father, Christian, loses his bid for re-election. Her mother becomes a terror. (frankly gold-digger comes to mind) Flossie leaves Christian taking Faith with her to Europe. Flossie beauty gains her protectors; one even escorts her and Faith to the boat. Once on board, Flossie is overcome with seasickness leaving Faith on her own, ignored by all except for a older homely boy on his way to study painting. Sam Dudley takes on the role of guardian, a role he was to play for some 30 years. Faith becomes his favorite subject producing many of his greatest works featuring her. For 10 years Faith and her mother wander Europe with Faith absorbing many languages. First love blooms when she meets German baron, Rudolf von Hohenlohe. When their marriage dissolved into one of name only, she, with their son, returns to America just as the world is plunged into World War I. There she plunges into work in her hometown where the Marlowe name means something. The war forces many changes and Faith's life is no exception. The threads all tie together in Keyes indubitable way.

Ultimate Celebration Cards / Sarah Crosland 184 p.

Ultimate Celebration Cards / Sarah Crosland 184 p.

Sarah Crosland presents over 200 unique card designs, season by season.  Spring brings cards for Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter; summer, Mother and Father's day cards, Independence Day; fall brings Grandparent's Day, Jewish New Year, Halloween, Diwali; and winter features Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas and more.  Beautifully photographed with simple explanations, a delight.

Creative Cardmaking : a Complete Guide 480 p.

Creative Cardmaking : a Complete Guide 480 p.

Delight your friends and family with wonderfully creative greeting cards.  This how-to book features 80 grand cards using easy to find materials.  Every step is simply explained and well photographed.  It is like four books in one with contents from greeting cards for every occasion, vintage greeting cards, creative correspondence, and stenciling and embossing.  I especially enjoyed the creative correspondence section where Michael and Judy Jacobs explain simple projects for those with little time.  Some of the projects utilize used paper (their mantra is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle).  Check out the French Door Foldnote where the note folds into the envelope or the Diamond Foldnote.

Encyclopedia of Greeting Cards Tools & Techniques / Susan Pickering Rothamel 304 p.

Encyclopedia of Greeting Cards Tools & Techniques / Susan Pickering Rothamel 304 p.

Susan Rothamel has written a peach of a book on card making.  From A to Z most every term used in card making is explained.  She has techniques and tips on a boat load of card making skills like embossing, accordion card folding, die cutting, glues, envelope making and quilling.  Samples abound illustrated the specific term or technique.  There is a history of card making (Hallmark came later into the greeting card world).  Featured artists along with their speciality are interspersed.  The back of the book includes holidays around the world as well a good grouping of quotes.   A good go-to book for getting a new concept.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

World Gone By / Dennis Lehane 308 p.

World Gone By / Dennis Lehane 308 p.

In the past ten years, Joe Coughlin has distanced himself from his former life as the crime head of Floridian gangsters. Prohibition is behind him. He acts as the consigliere to the Bartolo crime family. He feels he is farther enough from the family business to be on the good side of everyone, even the law. So he is surprised to learn that there is a contract out on his life. Raising his son alone after his Cuban wife was murdered, he works to keep most of his work hidden from his 10 year old son. He is a seemingly master at juggling his service to the various fractions of his "family", his politically connected mistress, and his son.  There are deeper currents running through his life that he cannot control.  That life is unraveling.  How it plays out is what Lehane is superb at.  A page turner that is more than a mystery more than a crime story.

Hundred-foot Journey / Richard C. Morais 245 p.

Hundred-foot Journey / Richard C. Morais 245 p.

Now a motion picture, this is the story of Hassan Haji, a boy from Mumbai, India. Hassan narrates his own story beginning with his grandfather who starts a restaurant during World War II which his father inherits. The father expands and grows the business.  When his mother dies in a fire, the entire family migrates to London.  There they languish, in sorrow, until his father takes them on a tour of Europe where they discover a small village in France.  There his father turns to what he does best, running an Indian restaurant; and, evokes the ire of the 2 star French chef.  There develops a war albeit a culinary war where Madame Mallory seeks to oust Hassan's father.  She has met her match as he counters each of her moves until a disaster happens.  Madame Mallory finds herself offering a chef position to Hassan and the die is cast for him to pursue his own Michelin stars and, ultimately, his own Parisian restaurant.  Morais rich descriptive prose gives life to the story.  The sights, sounds, and smells float off the page as he describes the trek of the Haji family from Mumbai to Paris. 

Key of Valor / Nora Roberts 352 p.

Key of Valor / Nora Roberts 352 p.

The Key of Valor is the third and final in the trilogy where three strong women must find the key to unlock the glass prison containing the souls of three daughters of a god, imprisoned by an evil sorcerer.  The first two keys have been found and the pressure is on the last, Zoe McCourt.  Zoe, a single mom, is one tough woman.  She has pulled herself up by her own bootstraps. She has protected her son, succeed in supporting her son, and formed a business partnership with the other two women involved in the rescue.  She is also determined not to let a wealthy businessman into her and her son's life.  She has stood on her own two feet much too long to get involved with Bradley Vane IV.  Bradley is drawn to her.  And, he is patient.  Slowly Bradley creeps into her life and a romance grows.   She is bound and determined to complete this quest and get her own business off and running.  The power of friendship between the three women and their mates proves to be a formidable team.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

White Ginger / Thatcher Robinson / 289 pages

     I am always looking for a thriller series that doesn't follow the formula. I love kickin' female main characters. The Michael Munroe series (by Taylor Stevens) started that need and wanted another one. I do believe I have found it. Bai Jiang (by chang) lives and works in San Francisco. She is a people finder, a souxun  (so-SOON) who works mostly out of Chinatown. Her life is rather complicated as her grandfather is head of the Chinese triad but Bai isn't part of that world. At least she is trying real hard to stay out of it.
     A young girl is taken from her family and Bai is contacted. After following the tangled trail given by the young lady's family, Bai is taken down some very dark and very dangerous paths. We see part of the slave and drug trades plus what power the Chinese have in certain cities. Bai tries very hard to maintain her calm and professionalism but as the twists and turns deepen she knows she must call upon her family ties to help find the girl and protect her family no matter what.
     This isn't a novel for the cozy set. We have violence, graphic scenes, language and yes, sex. In my opinion it fits. Bai inhabits a world that isn't commonplace middle America. It is exciting and very dangerous and very addicting. We are immersed in a world most of the public chooses not to see. Bai is the person who straddles both, struggling to maintain her Buddhist beliefs and to give her daughter a normal life. I highly recommend this for adrenaline junkies and lovers of "quick moving work it out later" novels. I can't wait for the next one. Bai Jiang is a character to watch. In case you were wondering white ginger is the translation of Bai Jiang in certain Chinese dialects. 

Six Degrees of Reading: The Informationist: A Vanessa Michael Munroe novel by Taylor Stevens, Vanishing Act: A Jane Whitefield novel by Thomas Perry, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie / Alan Bradley / 416 pages / 8 discs

     I do not know why I have put off listening to this series. I should be ashamed of myself. I guess it was because every publication crowed how wonderful it was. I am usually very wary of those kind of recommendations. They really don't turn out well for me. But as I was driving to Chicago I figured why not. I have been handsomely rewarded.
     We meet 11 year old Flavia de Luce who lives with her family in a slowly disintegrating house (Buckshaw) in the middle of the British countryside. She has two older sisters who are interested in reading and themselves. Her father is in his study looking at his beloved stamp albums. So Flavia has been left to her own devices and having rather a quick and agile mind, reads the textbooks about chemistry in the laboratory in the attic of the house. One morning she discovers a dying man in the garden and immediately knows he will cause trouble for her family. The police are summoned and Flavia is summarily dismissed which erks her to no end. She decides she will solve the case in her own manner.
     You can imagine what this young lady will get up to. She uses her brain and makes assumptions, hypotheses, and conclusions in order to find the answers. As it turns out she is sometimes ahead of the police which surprises them. I love the asides about her family history especially about the spectacular failures of her uncles. She is snarky about her sisters and the plans for revenge verge on the awesome. I am rather fond of this 11 year old precocious and delightful young lady.
    The narrator for this series is beyond awesome. Jayne Entwistle gets it perfect and the tone and range are just wonderful. I can't imagine anyone else doing the reading. We actually feel as if Flavia is sitting down with us and telling the story over a cup of tea. Astounding and wonderful. I recommended this to higher middle grades, teens and adults. No language but descriptions could be a little uncomfortable. Flavia has some tight scrapes but not overly dramatized. I am definitely looking forward to the next one The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag.

Six Degrees of Reading:  Full Dark House: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery by Christopher Fowler, Some Danger Involved by Will Thomas, The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie King. 

Rosie Dunne/Ceclia Ahern/434 pages

Rosie Dunne's dream is to manage, and eventually, own a luxury hotel. She loves everything about the hotel experience, down to the little soaps. Her best friend since they were five is Alex. Alex's dream is to become a doctor. The friends are partners in crime growing up in Dublin until Alex's family moves to Boston for his dad's job for their senior year of high school. They remain long distance best friends via email and IM. Rosie's acceptance to Boston College to study Hotel Management and Alex's Harvard acceptance means they will be back together again until Rosie's life goes off track and keeps her in Dublin. Everyone around them seems to know they are destined to be together as more than friends, even Rosie and Alex, but the two never seem to be on the same page at the same time.

The novel is told entirely in email and IMs, birthday cards and wedding announcements. Ahern really puts the characters, especially Rosie, through the wringer. Rosie is one resilient Irish lass.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Heroes Are My Weakness/Susan Elizabeth Phillips/367 pgs

I couldn't wait for the next book from my favorite author - Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  But for some reason, this book took me almost 2 months to finish.  The characters just didn't "click" with me, and there were so many additional story-lines occurring that my attention often wandered.  Annie Hewitt must return to the Maine island where she grew up in order to receive her inheritance.  She is a down-on-her-luck actress who has been reduced to performing kids' puppet shows, and the puppets accompany her.  Leo Harp also has returned to the island and the two reconnect with interesting results.

Dragonfly in Amber / Diana Gabaldon / 743 pages

This is the second installment of Gabaldon's Outlander series.  The beginning of the book was a bit jarring; the end of the first book leaves our heroine Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser safely in Scotland with her 18th century love, but in the beginning of the 2nd book, she is driving with her daughter in 1963 Scotland.  After the first couple of chapters we get a flashback to explain how she ended up back in the present (or more recent past to us) and who her daughter's father is.  The series is Dr. Who meets Braveheart.  Fans of either who can appreciate a strong female character will love this book,

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Haunted/Kay Hooper/310 pgs.

This is #15 in the Bishop/Special Crimes Unit series, but it isn't necessary to read the others in the series first in order to follow the action. Strange things are happening in Sociable, a small town in Georgia. Trinity Nichols, the sheriff of Sociable, calls Bishop, head of a special FBI unit, to help when evil forces become present in Sociable. There is murder, mystery, suspense, and the paranormal at work in this novel--a fast and entertaining read!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Night Diver / Elizabeth Lowell / 351 p.

I picked up this book because it has been years since I had read a Lowell romance.  I used to read most of what she wrote.  But as often happens with prolific authors, the books start to be the same.  The locales and physical characteristics of the lovers change, but the basic personalities are much the same as many previous books.  In this one, beautiful and honorable Kate Donnelly has come home to try to help save the family business--deep sea treasure hunting--even though she is now deathly afraid of the water.  Holden Cameron, handsome and protective, is there to shut them down.  But, of course, the sparks fly, danger is all around and the two of them save the day. Not anywhere close to as exciting as her best effort "Tell Me No Lies."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian / Sherman Alexie / 230 pages

     This awesome YA book is set near Seattle on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit and also Reardon.  Sherman Alexie is writing a mostly autobiographical novel about a very smart Native American boy who decides to go off the reservation to high school in nearby (22 miles) white high school, Reardon.  It is a culture shock in every way imaginable.  Being brown in a white world is not a plus.  Not only will he have to prove himself, he will face prejudice and just plain ignorance that a white person will never encounter.  Arnold (Junior) manages to deal with his life in many unique ways.  Humor is one of his best qualities.  He also has to deal with a lot of tragedy and death that non-rez kids don't encounter.  
     Sherman Alexie has written a funny, but very real look into the life on the rez.  He does seem to want to get across the message about alcohol ruining lives.  This should be a book read by all high school students and anyone wanting to learn more about other cultures in the United States.  It is easy to sit back in a comfortable middle class chair, watching the news, and muttering about "why don't they just do whatever (fill in the blank)."  It is difficult to break out of a culture without losing your heritage.  Definitely put this at the top of your "read" list.

The Preacher's Bride / Jody Hedlund / 376 pages

     This historical Christian romance is set in Roundhead times in England. It seemed to me that the Puritans persecuted themselves almost as much as the Royals did since they had so many rules.  The book is loosely based on the life of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress.  In this story, the main character, Elizabeth, spends all her time caring for John's children and enduring assaults from a royal gentry who can abuse people without any consequence. She is a very Christian, dedicated young woman of high morals, but seems to have really poor self esteem since she is so old (teens) and unmarried.  She feels her sister is the really attractive one in the family.  Had she not felt this way, I'm not sure she would have stayed so faithfully in the background without receiving even so much as a thank you.
I really wanted her to stand up for herself, but women didn't do that in those days.
    The book seemed familiar.  Apparently I read it before about five years ago.  Still interesting.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mr. Miracle/Debbie Macomber/255 pgs

Harry Mills is an angel sent to earth to help  24 year-old Addie Folsom get her life back on track. He is sent as a junior college professor of literature--the class Addie needs in order to complete her GED. There are other interesting characters in Addie's class, plus her next door neighbor, Erich, with whom she had issues growing up. There is the typical Macomber misunderstandings and resulting romance--not one of her best efforts.

The Rosie Effect/Graeme Simsion/344 pgs.

The Rosie Effect picks up where The Rosie Project left off. Don and Rosie are now married, and are living in New York: Don is a visiting professor at Columbia University, and Rosie is continuing in the PhD/MD program. Then, Rosie unexpectedly turns up pregnant. It's strongly hinted that Don has Asperger's syndrome, so his unique way of looking at the world, causes Rosie to be concerned about his suitability as a father. This sequel is as funny as its predecessor, and gives the reader a different perspective on life with unique challenges.

Insatiable Appetites/Stuart Woods/309 pages

Stone's back and this time so is his ex-wife Dolce. After an old friend passes away, Stone is in charge of distributing the estate. Surprises await him while executing his duties, but nothing he can't handle with extreme grace and composure, of course. Stone's unnatural good fortune continues to extend to those around him.

I used to think that an STD would be Stone's biggest foe, but now I've decided that high cholesterol and heart disease will be his undoing with all the rich meals he eats on a daily basis with no exercise regiment (except in the sack) to offset them. This series remains entertaining albeit in a much different way than in the beginning. It's good for a laugh.

Before I Go/Colleen Oakley/312 pages

At twenty-seven, Daisy Richmond is a breast cancer survivor. She has undergone a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy and came through with flying colors. But the day before her four-year "cancerversary", she receives devastating news: her cancer is back and it's spread to several other places, including her brain. With surgery to remove the tumor in her brain and the possibility of a clinical trial, she may have a little more than six months to live. Without those things, maybe four. Her most urgent concern is not of her own health or mortality, but that of her husband's future without her. First and foremost, he must graduate on time with his DVM and PhD. Second, her wonderfully intelligent but decidedly impractical husband will need a new wife to take care of him. So instead of concentrating on her own health and spending what time she has left with loved ones, Daisy goes on a hunt for Jack's new mate.

Written in a much lighter tone that the subject matter would suggest, this novel tends to skip over the physical aspects of cancer and spends much of the time in Daisy's head. Not overly sentimental, it's a decent first novel.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hidden Talents / Erica James / January Challenge Self Help Books

Sixty-three year old Dulcie Ballantyne had made a lifelong habit of not making drama of the unexpected.  "Overreaction serves no purpose other than to make a difficult situation a lot worse."  Her lover, Richard, has suffered a heart attack and, as his mistress, she is shut out of the information loop.  Richard is committed to his wife and two sons and their relationship is mutually acceptable.  Ever one to try new experiences, Dulcie has started a Writer's Group.  The group members - Victor, Jack, Jaz, Beth, and Dulcie, are cast in detail and we are are privy to their troubles.  All, except Victor perhaps, are in the group for the fun, challenge, and escapism it offers.  I highly recommend this one for its in-depth characterization and the triumphs and troubles of a group of admirable, lovable individuals.  If you are not inspired to join a Writer's Group immediately, I would very surprised.

"Sometimes one has to take a chance in life.  Some risks are worth taking."
"Procrastination is the thief of time."
"A caged bird thinks of nothing but flying away."

School Days / Robert B. Parker / 295 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

Boston PI Spencer is called to Dowling, Massachusetts by Lily Ellsworth, a well-to-do grande dame. Her grandson has been arrested in a school shooting that resulted in seven deaths.  He says he did it.  His parents believe him and the evidence and his co-conspirator indict him.  His parents don't want Spencer to investigate. They just want their monster of a son gone.  They have already cleared out his room.  Despite opposition, stonewalling, and attempts on his life, Spencer is determined to find out why the catastrophe occurred.  As always, Robert B. Parker has crafted a page-turning who-done-it...and why story sure to captivate and challenge.

The Body in the Library / Agatha Christie / 198 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

A girl is found strangled in Colonel Bantry's library - a girl in cheap satin, a peroxide blonde.  Is the Colonel guilty of murder... or is Basil Blake, the film man responsible for the blonde's presence in the otherwise staid, respectable establishment and town?  Miss Marple uses her keen instincts and observation skills to unmask the killer.  The who-done-it is most refreshing for its scarcity of inappropriate language and its ability to test one's deductive reasoning skills.  Can you solve the mystery before Miss Marple?

Double Play / Robert B. Parker / 288 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

This was a most engaging, informative accounting of Jackie Robinson's baseball breakthrough.  Because of the controversy and opposition to his being signed to play for major league baseball as its first black player, Mr. Robinson is assigned a bodyguard - Joseph Burke, an ex World War II marine with a failed marriage and a botched assignment to his credit.  Parker has done great credit to Jackie Robinson and portrayed him as a man of integrity, determinations, and strong moral fiber.  He plays well against Joe Burke and his attempt to establish his own moral compass.

Blue-eyed Devil / Robert B. Parker / 276 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

Virgil Cole, Everett Hitch, and Allie French have returned to Appaloosa, a town Cole and Hitch had cleaned up.  Now Appaloosa has a chief of police, Amos Callico, and twelve policemen.  On the third day back in town, Callico summons Cole and Hitch and informs them that he is in charge but he could use additional guns.  Cole and Hitch refuse to work for him.  They are hired on to protect the Boston House Saloon and are quickly protecting the working ladies and fellow saloon owners.  Pony, a Chickasaw acquaintance from Brimstone, shows up with his full-blooded brother who is guilty of attacking a train and killing several people.  Cole and Hitch facilitate his escape and Pony's elopement with Laurel.  Once again, they are instrumental in settling a town but are once again out of a job when the dust settles.  Good western, bad language...

Brimstone / Robert B. Parker / 293 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

"We risk our lives to do what we think is the right thing to do."  Lawman Virgil Cole parrots back to his sidekick, West Point-trained, Everett Hitch.  They plan to challenge the owner of Pike's Palace.  Pike had made an unholy alliance with Brother Percival to close down all the competition.  Pike and the Reverend had shared Allie French and a mother/daughter pair they had rescued and brought back to town.  With Allie and Pony's help, Cole and Hitch battle the forces of evil and return the town control to the good guys.  Allie longs to return to Appaloosa and a civilized lady's life since she is now responsible for Laurel's well-being.  This is the third book dealing with the exploits of Cole and Hitch, and although it is a bit slow in parts, it is an enjoyable read.  I'm not sure, however, if the four-letter-word language present in the book was typical of the Old West.

Resolution / Robert B. Parker / 292 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

"Sometimes you gotta kill one person early on to avoid killing four or five later."  This advice from Virgil Cole causes lookout Everett Hitch to draw on and kill Resolution's town tough guy, Koy Wickman, a hired gun employed by Greed copper mine owner, Eamon O'Malley.  Hitch's job is to provide security for Amos Wolfson's Blackfoot Saloon, but in a town without a lawman, he becomes the go-to person for all in trouble.  Virgil Cole shows up in Resolution after killing a man who accosted Allison French.  The man refused to draw so Virgil broke the rules of being a lawman and shot the man.  Now he is a gun for hire.  When Wolfson realized that power has shifted from him to Hitch and Cole, and that they are men of integrity and scruples, he brings in more hired guns and invites Cole and Hitch to leave.  This is a continuation of the story begun in Appaloosa and is continued in Brimstone.  A bit slow in parts, but downright engaging in others, it should appeal to fans of Wild West lore.

"It's better to be feared than loved."  Machiavelli

Appaloosa / Robert B. Parker / 276 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are town tamers.  They move from town to town in the 1800's West, establishing law and order, and ridding the towns of their undesirable characters.  Hitch is well-read, level-headed, and demurs to Cole's lead.  Cole is amazingly fast on the draw, fearless, a might crazy, and caught up with the evil widow, Allison French.  "Cole gets fractious when he's annoyed."  Cole and Hitch arrest a renegade rancher, Randall Bragg, who with his gang, have committed a slew of lawlessness, including murder of a local sheriff and deputy.  The notorious Shelton Brothers have come to town to assure that justice is not served.  This should appeal to readers drawn to tales of the Old West.

"Keeping quiet never caused me no trouble."

The Professionals / Robert B. Parker / 289 pages / November Challenge Deceased Authors

Attorney Elizabeth Shaw, who specializes in wills and trusts at a Boston law firm, comes to Spencer with a most unusual request.  She has become friends with wives of very wealthy men and four of these wives share a secret.  They are,or have been, lovers of one Gary Eisenhower.  Mr. Eisenhower is now blackmailing them to keep their secrets.  Shaw wants Spencer to make Eisenhower go whatever means necessary.  Spencer, being Spencer, succeeds, of course, but not without several surprises and clever plot twists.

God Save the Child / Robert B. Parker / 205 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

The story opens with a missing fourteen year old boy.  The authorities do not seem overly concerned.  It isn't at all uncommon for teenagers to escape parental restrictions in a bid for temporary freedom.  When a ransom note arrives, however, the case becomes a kidnapping with threats received on multiple fronts, and Spencer  intensifies his investigations.  He is relentless in his pursuit of a body builder, Vic Harroway.  It is not enough for Spencer that the whereabouts of the boy has been determined.  Spencer wants to know why he was taken in the first place.  As always, Parker has written a gripping page-turner, unfortunately littered with objectionable language.

Made in America, My Story / Sam Walton with John Huey / 346 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author

This was an inspiring, eye-opening account of the man behind the Wal-Mart empire by the man himself, Sam Walton.  Mr. Walton wrote the book to impress upon his grandchildren and great grandchildren the importance of integrity, values, and hard work.  He hopes that they will never become part of the idle, show-off rich.  Same was a hard worker himself, arriving at the office at 4:30 each day and working every Saturday.  He enjoyed what he did, and believed in teamwork and the necessity of always doing better.  He loved to hunt and play tennis.  He is a true American folk hero...
You can visit Mr. Walton's second store on the square in Bentonville, Arkansas - Walton's 5 and 10.  Attached to the store is an incredible museum detailing the man, his empire, and a delicious 50's-style ice cream parlor.

A Caribbean Mystery, Miss Marple series book 9 / Agatha Christie / 299 pages / November Challenge Deceased Author / February Challenge Caribbean

Miss Marple has gone on holiday to a Caribbean island and is queried by an old acquaintance as to whether she should like to see the face of a murderer.  Before the gentle man can share the picture he is holding, however, they are interrupted.  The gentleman is murdered and the picture goes missing.  Miss Marple used her extraordinary reasoning, communication, and observation skills to unearth the murderer.  Ms. Christie's mysteries are refreshing for their absence of objectionable language and situations, and the humility and dogged determination of the protagonist.

We Are Pirates! / David Handler / 269 pages / February Challenge Cruise Ship

"We are pirates! We are men and women without a country.  We are outlaws in our lives and outcasts in our families.  We are desperate, and so we seek desperate fortune.  We band ourselves to the trade of piracy on the high seas."  This manifesto is proclaimed by Gwen Needle and her band of misfit pirates:  Errol, a senile old man whose stash of pirate lore and professed stint in the navy inspired the adventures; Manny, a Haitian caregiver at Errol's nursing home; Amber, Gwen's new best friend; and the shanghaied Cody Glasserman.  Gwen's teenage terror/tedium has beset her small family and her father, Phil, is caught up in his next big deal as a radio producer.  The tale starts off a seeming lark, turns dark and deadly, and somehow ends somewhat happily - at least for most.  This was most assuredly a page-turner and fairly reeked of Daniel Handler's Lemony Snicket prose with frequent repetitions of familiar phrases, i.e., "at this time in history..." etc.

The pirates do encounter a cruise ship...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

SCCCLD February Challenge

Here it is,
 the month of romance and cold weather.

Since I plan to spend the second half of the month cruising in the romantic, sunny, warm Caribbean,
 it is only fair that all those left behind share in the experience.  

For your February Challenge find a story that 
includes a cruise ship 


 takes place in the Caribbean. 

 For your effort you will receive one sunny bonus point.

Here are a few ideas to get you started: