Sunday, December 31, 2006

Passage, by Connie Willis

Connie Willis
ISBN: 0-553-58051-5
Book #06-167

Dr. Joanna Lander's research project focuses on near-death experiences. Unfortunately for Joanna, the hospital where she works is home to a celebrity author whose specialty is also NDEs. Maurice Mandrake, however, is a quack whose subjects, carefully led by him, all "see" exactly the same things on the Other Side, including angels, life reviews, a tunnel with light at the end, dead relatives, and more. Joanna's mission is to get accounts of the experience from people as soon as possible afterward, before they've had a chance to confabulate with Mandrake and contaminate their stories.

When Joanna finds out that a new doctor on staff is looking for her to help him with his NDE research, she does everything she can to avoid him. But Richard Wright is no Maurice Mandrake. Richard has had success replicating NDEs with drugs, and he wants Joanna to help him prove that what patients remember of being revived after death is chemically induced. As Joanna helps Richard screen participants for his study, she encounters some truly memorable characters, particularly Maisie, a young girl who is awaiting a heart transplant. Maisie's fascination with all things disastrous is a touching transference of her fears about her own fate and her rebellion against her mother's relentless mantra of positive thinking.

Over the course of the study, Joanna becomes convinced that she almost understands the significance of the subjects' NDEs, particularly the deep dread they all seem to be trying not to acknowledge. Unable to put her finger on it, she herself becomes one of Richard's subjects. Her hypothesis leads her to track down her high school English teacher, only to find his mind ravaged by Alzheimer's. The professor's niece agrees to help Joanna track down the textbook that may be the missing piece of the puzzle. In the face of Richard's skepticism, Joanna closes in on the answer with the help of the most unlikely of subjects, including Mr. Wojakowski, whose accounts of his adventures in WWII may or may not be true; Coma Carl, who has been unconscious for months but occasionally speaks in his "sleep;" Vielle, her nurse friend who works in the hospital's emergency room and who shares Joanna's love of movies in their weekly Dish Nights, and even her former teacher, whose seemingly random comments are actually lucid answers to questions posed hours or even days earlier.

PASSAGE is a fat, satisfying read, suffused with a sense of urgency and full of emotional resonance. Willis manages her multiple plot lines with all the finesse of the finest jugglers, hurling information at readers faster and more fiercely, building dread and anticipation as events hurtle toward a climax of epic proportions. Willis milks circus and disaster analogies with aplomb, keeping readers on the edge of their figurative seats as first one character and then another faces death-defying challenges. Details of several historic tragedies underscore the tension of the plot, and make for an interesting blend of fact and fiction. Each chapter begins with a quote of some famous person's last words, which is a nice touch. PASSAGE is a truly memorable book by a gifted author.

Somebody's Baby, by Tara Taylor Quinn

SOMEBODY'S BABY (Harlequin SuperRomance #1272)
Tara Taylor Quinn
ISBN: 0-373-71272-3
Book #06-170

Caroline Prater, widow of six months, is pregnant. Four weeks pregnant. After seeking out John Strickland because he knows her sister, from whom Caroline was separated at birth and put up for adoption, Caroline's loneliness led her to a one-night stand with the well-known architect. Now she has several reasons to go to Shelter Valley, Arizona, and make a new life for herself. Putting her small-town Kentucky roots behind her, Caroline enrolls in college and goes to tell John about their baby.

John is attracted to Caroline almost against his will. Shocked and dismayed at her announcement, John vows to do the right thing by this woman and their child, but his resolve is tinged with disappointment because he was never able to have a child with Meredith, the wife he lost in a car accident six years earlier. John is impressed by the contradictions that are Caroline. Small-town woman she may be, but her computer skills are excellent, and she has made it her business to learn a great deal. Still, John can't help puzzling over Caroline's decision to move to Shelter Valley, because he's certain she's keeping something from him. He's also shocked to learn that Caroline has a teenaged son enrolled at Harvard, yet another seeming dichotomy in the young widow's life.

Tara Taylor Quinn's Shelter Valley stories are very popular, and deservedly so. Her books are taut and well-written, deeply emotional, and thoroughly interconnected, although each stands alone as a story in its own right. Caroline is one of her more admirable heroines, although the very qualities Quinn wants us to admire about Caroline are a bit problematical. Someone as internet savvy as Caroline and as dedicated to researching topics that interest her would not have the blind spots Caroline does, such as not knowing whether to order red or white wine because she supposedly doesn't know the difference. Between TV and Caroline's voracious appetite for knowledge, this small detail was hugely unbelievable. It was rather incongruous, also, that Caroline asked what model of car John drove; one would think a Cadillac would have a logo on the glove compartment. Also, although Quinn is trying to convey Caroline's pride and poverty by having her wearing clothes made out of old curtains and being unable to afford cute new clothes, it's hard to accept that there wasn't a Walmart within 100 miles of Caroline's hometown--or Shelter Valley, for that matter. Brand-new clothes at Walmart are often cheaper than seconds or discounts at outlet stores.

Other than those quibbles, however, Caroline is a straightforward, honorable woman with a deep-seated integrity and stalwart loyalty to those she loves. John is an endearing hero, sharing lengthy conversations with his dead wife, and panicking over the possibility of losing a child who hasn't even been born yet. Quinn makes good use of locale in her story, too--readers will enjoy visiting such sites as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum with John and Caroline. Ms. Quinn does a nice job of recapping the relationships of everyone in Shelter Valley without making new readers feel like strangers at a family reunion. SOMEBODY'S BABY is a solid offering from an author whose ability to write deeply touching stories remains as strong as ever. Readers are likely to enjoy another visit with their old friends in Shelter Valley.

The Books of 2005


Dr. Laura: The Unauthorized Biography--Vickie L. Bane (241)
To Love a Scottish Lord--Karen Ranney (375)
Time and Again--Kathryn Jensen (248)
Autobiography of a Face--Lucy Grealy (223)
Nothing Sacred--Tara Taylor Quinn (296)
Hannah's Vow--Pam Crooks (353)
Song of the Road--Dorothy Garlock (421)
The Meanest Doll in the World--Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin (260)
The Quiet Little Woman: A Christmas Story--Louisa May Alcott (122)
Under a Lucky Star--Diane Farr (346)
Friday--Robert A. Heinlein (357)
Always--Jude Deveraux (392)
The Night Lives On--Walter Lord (235)
A Child's Promise--Deborah Bedford (309)
Sweet Everlasting--Patricia Gaffney (374)
Triangle: The Fire that Changed America--David Von Drehle (328)

Dead Witch Walking--Kim Harrison (416)
Ghost Girl--Torey L. Hayden (307)
The Five People You Meet in Heaven--Mitch Albom (196)
A Perfect Husband--Aphrodite Jones (347)
Murder of a Small-Town Honey--Denise Swanson (248)
Haunted--Heather Graham (379)
Dangerous Evidence: The True Story of an Accused Man's Search for Justice--and the Woman Activist Who Fought for His Rights--Ellis A. Cohen with Milton J. Shapiro (359)
Without Pity: Ann Rule's Most Dangerous Killers--True Cases from Ann Rule's Crime Files, Volumes 1-8--Ann Rule
Dream On--Beverly Brandt (334)
Color the Sidewalk for Me--Brandilyn Collins (373)
Dead Ends: The Pursuit, Conviction, and Execution of Female Serial Killer Aileen Wuornos, The Damsel of Death--Michael Reynolds (292)
Head Over Heels--Susan Andersen (372)
Whippoorwill--Sharon Sala (377)
The Seductive One--Susan Mallery (312)

Prairie Rose--Susan Kirby (357)
Leaving Ireland--Ann Moore (410)
Breath of Scandal--Sandra Brown (457)
Five Kids, One Christmas--Terese Ramin (248)
Skylark--Jo Beverley (374)
Seeds of Hope: The Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, California Territory, 1849 (Dear America)--Kristiana Gregory (182)
Haven--Bobbi Smith writing as Julie Marshall (321)
The Trouble with Valentine's Day--Rachel Gibson (373)
Second Sight--Beth Amos (449)
A Painted House--John Grisham (AUD)
Homeport--Nora Roberts (456)
A Trick of the Light--Tina Wainscott (339)
Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper Case Closed--Patricia Cornwell (346)

My Big Old Texas Heartache--Geralyn Dawson (373)
Blue Skies--Catherine Anderson (419)
Hosea's Bride--Dorothy Clark (250)
Sweet Memories--LaVyrle Spencer (348)
The Scottish Bride--Catherine Coulter (358)
Simply Irresistible--Kristine Grayson (319)
Kansas Brides: Four Marriages Face Conflict in the Town of Cedar Springs--Denise Hunter (462)
Flour Babies--Anne Fine (178)
Shades of Gray--Wendy Douglas (296)
Close to You--Christina Dodd (396)
Hot and Bothered--Susan Andersen (376)
No, Daddy, Don't: A Father's Murderous Act of Revenge--Irene Pence (317)
Judas Child--Carol O'Connell (420)
Fantasy Lover--Sherrilyn Kenyon (307)
The Angel Doll: A Christmas Story--Jerry Bledsoe (103)
Tempting Fortune--Jo Beverley (434)

Hatchet--Gary Paulsen (195)
The Veil of Night--Lydia Joyce (312)
The DaVinci Code--Dan Brown (454)
The Devil Wears Prada--Lauren Weisberger (360)
What Do You Say to a Naked Elf?--Cheryl Sterling (326)
The Good, the Bad, and the Undead--Kim Harrison (453)
Wild Horses--Bethany Campbell (298)
Halos--Kristen Heitzmann (302)
Special of the Day--Elaine Fox (373)
Total Rush--Deirdre Martine (326)
Hidden--Tara Taylor Quinn (377)
Journeys: A Reading and Literature Program--Richard J. Smith and Max F. Schulz (541)
Almost a Bride--Jane Feather (435)
Shadowheart--Laura Kinsale (502)
Fate Is Remarkable--Betty Neels (220)
Yet Love Remains--Mary Burchell (189)
The Frog Princess--E. D. Baker (214)
One Last Time--John Edward (231)
Except My Love--Mary Burchell (188)

Slow Way Home--Michael Morris (280)
Tweed--Lass Small (185)
Poisoned Vows--Clifford L. Linedecker (298)
The Messies Manual: The Procrastinator's Guide to Good Housekeeping--Sandra Felton (155)
Uncle John's Second Bathroom Reader--Bathroom Readers' Institute (224)
A Most Unsuitable Man--Jo Beverley (370)
Pillow Talk--Hailey North (375)
Undead and Unappreciated--Mary Janice Davidson (271)
The Secret School--Avi (153)
Empty Promises--Ann Rule (524)
Standing in the Light: The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania, 1763 (Dear America)--Mary Pope Osborne (184)
When Will This Cruel War Be Over? The Civil War Diary of Emma Simpson, Gordonsville, Virginia, 1864 (Dear America)--Barry Denenberg (152)
Forbidden--Helen Kirkman (346)
A Woman's Innocence--Gayle Callen (375)
Because You're Mine--Nan Ryan (362)
To Pleasure a Prince--Sabrina Jeffries (364)
The Duchess's Next Husband--Terri Brisbin (297)
Princess Nevermore--Dian Curtis Regan (232)
Hand Quilted with Love--Joyce Livingston (170)
Brian's Winter--Gary Paulsen (133)
Drop-Dead Blonde--Nancy Martin, Elaine Viets, Denise Swanson, and Victoria Laurie (343)
Dead Certain--Mariah Stewart (374)

To Tame a Highland Warrior--Karen Marie Moning (366)
Betrayal in Death--J. D. Robb (AUD)
Sex, Lies, and Vampires--Katie MacAlister (342)
Take Me, I'm Yours--Elizabeth Bevarly (375)
Truly a Wife--Rebecca Hagan Lee (323)
Sex and the Single Vampire--Katie MacAlister (371)
No Safe Place--Bill G. Cox (319)
The Wedding--Nicholas Sparks (AUD)
Summer Lovin'--Carly Phillips (298)
Every Which Way But Dead--Kim Harrison (501)
A Coal Miner's Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, Lattimer Pennsylvania, 1896--Susan Campbell Bartoletti (216)
Not Just for Tonight--Susan Johnson, Katherine O'Neal, and Diane Whiteside (330)
A Season of Miracles--Heather Graham (379)
Mr. Blue--Myles Connolly (126)

Wild Women: Crusaders, Curmudgeons, and Completely Corsetless Ladies in the Otherwise Virtuous Victorian Era--Autumn Stephens (243)
In a Dark Wood--Amanda Craig (308)
The Searching Hearts--Dorothy Garlock (366)
Windfall--Cindy Holby (354)
Involuntary Daddy--Rachel Lee (249)
Song of Redemption--Lynn Austin (348)
Sweet Adventure---Mary Burchell (192)
Salem Witch Trials--Kathryn Wesley (357)
White Deception--Susan Edwards (321)
Stonewrods: A Ghost Story--Pam Conrad (130)
Forgive the Wind--Cindy Holby (370)
The Monkey's Paw and Other Tales of Terror--read by Victor Garber (AUD)
You Slay Me--Katie MacAlister (342)
Whose Child?--Susan Gable (299)
Almost Perfect--Julie Ortolon (298)
Feet First--Leanne Banks (379)
Chill Factor--Sandra Brown (389)
The Mirror--Marlys Millhiser (383)
Heart Choice--Robin D. Owens (339)
This Is Graceanne's Book--P. L. Whitney (298)
Beyond the Burning Time--Kathryn Lasky (272)
Big Cherry Holler--Adriana Trigiani (272)
The Heart Reader--Terri Blackstock (137)

Mercy at Midnight--Lois Hoadley Dick (214)
My Sunshine--Catherine Anderson (421)
Plain Jane--Fern Michaels (384)
The Children's Blizzard--David Laskin (295)
Courting Claudia--Robyn DeHart (370)
Just Perfect--Julie Ortolon (292)
Boo Hiss--Rene Gutteridge (340)
The Unwilling Bride--Margaret Moore (377)
More Than You Know--Evelyn Rogers (338)
Sins of the Night--Sherrilyn Kenyon (365)
The Ghost Children--Eve Bunting (166)
A Deal with the Devil--Liz Carlyle (375)
Oceans of Fire--Christine Feehan (371)
World of Pies--Karen Stolz (149)
It's in His Kiss--Julia Quinn (368)
What They Did for Love: The Untold Story Behind the Making of A CHORUS LINE--Denny Martin Flinn (212)
The Unknown Twin--Kathryn Shay--(298)
Time Stops for No Mouse--Michael Hoeye (250)

Kiss the Bride--Patricia Cabot (344)
A Kingdom of Dreams--Judith McNaught (438)
The Cabin--Carla Neggers (378)
Survivor in Death--J. D. Robb (375)
Prisoners of Hope (242)

Troll Fell--Kathryn Langrish (264)
Finding Mary Blaine--Jodi Thomas (377)
Fever 1753--Laurie Halse Anderson (251)
Dovey Coe--Frances O'Roark Dowell (181)
It Happened One Autumn--Lisa Kleypas (391)
There's Something About Christmas--Debbie Macomber (284)
In the Name of Love and Other True Cases: Ann Rule's Crime Files, Volume 4--Ann Rule (414)
Some Like It Wicked--Deborah Raleigh (350)
All I Want for Christmas--Sheila Rabe (324)
Brian's Return--Gary Paulsen (117)
Beauty Like the Night--Liz Carlyle (419)
Mostly Mayhem--Lisa Manuel (303)
The Christmas Quilt--Jennifer Chiaverini (225)
The Next Ex: A Madeline Carter Novel--Linda L. Richards (377)
Lethal Lies--Laurie Breton (379)
America's Dumbest Criminals: Wild & Weird Stories of Fumbling Felons, Clumsy Crooks, and Ridiculous Robbers--Daniel Butler, Alan Ray, and Leland Gregory (235)
Plain and Simple: A Woman's Journey to the Amish--Sue Bender (152)
Deadly American Beauty--John Glatt (292)
The Helmet of Navarre--Burke Wilkinson (156)
Dime Store Magic--Kelley Armstrong (414)
The New Yorker Book of Lawyer Cartoons--The New Yorker (86)
The Wedding Deception--Adrienne Basso (350)

Her Man Friday--Elizabeth Bevarly (374)
The Bride and the Beast--Teresa Medeiros (324)
Waltz with a Vampire--Maggie MacKeever (286)
Jane Millionaire--Janice Lynn (321)
A Lawman for Christmas--Pat Pritchard (319)
Ace of Hearts--Barbara Metzger (340)
The Morning After--Lisa Jackson (442)
Eat Cake--Jeanne Ray (253)
The Texan's Reward--Jodi Thomas (346)
The Lost Boy--Dave Pelzer (340)
The Hadassah Covenant: A Queen's Legacy--Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen (349)
Finders Keepers--Shirl Henke (298)
The Bride--Julie Garwood (358)
Blue Smoke--Nora Roberts (370)
Industrial Magic--Kelley Armstrong (528)

196 Books Total, 61,299 Pages

Not a Sparrow Falls, by Linda Nichols

Linda Nichols
ISBN: 0-7942-2727-0
Book #06-169

As a teenager, Mary Bridget Washburn made a disastrous decision out of hurt and anger, and she's been on the wrong path ever since. Spiritually weary of the emptiness resulting from her bad choices, Mary resolves to go straight. She ends up in Alexandria, Virginia, living under her mother's name and trying to make a new life for herself. She is drawn to a church in her new hometown, where she encounters a young teen and discovers the girl's desperate prayer. An impulsive act lands Mary in trouble yet again, but is the impetus for her involvement with the girl's family, and may ultimately lead to new beginnings for everyone.

Linda Nichols has written a wonderfully poignant book that holds up well to repeated reading. Despite her tainted past, Mary is a heroine to admire, doing the best she can in the worst of circumstances. Alasdair, the minister hero and father of troubled teen Samantha, is a man tormented by guilt and sorrow, bound by family tradition and unable to heal his own hurts, let alone recognize his daughter's pain. Alasdair's sisters represent the gap between the way things have always been done and the possibilities that change can bring. Nichols's villains are realistic, multi-faceted characters with good points and bad. Readers will fall in love with Mary's grandmother and root for good to triumph over evil.

NOT A SPARROW FALLS is a vibrant, emotional read that will linger in readers' memories long after the cover has been closed.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Smoke Thief, by Shana Abe

Shana Abe
ISBN: 0-553-58804-4
Book #06-153

Clarissa Rue Hawthorne has made a name for herself in London as the Smoke Thief, a jewel thief as elusive as she is daring. Of course, no one knows that Rue is the person behind the thefts, and she likes it that way. Nearly ten years ago, she escaped Darkfrith, her hometown, and the clutches of her people, the drakon, a clan of shapeshifters with the ability to change into dragons. Unfortunately for Clarissa, her escapades have caught the attention of the very people she most wants to avoid, except that they are under the assumption that the notorious thief is a halfling male.

Christoff, Marquess of Langford and leader of the drakon, must catch the Smoke Thief before the clan is exposed to the mortal world. Kit is under pressure, because his clan is dying out and he must mate with a full-blooded female in order to carry on the line. Setting a trap for his prey, Christoff baits it with the Langford Diamond, gambling that the lure of the valuable jewel will be irresistible to his target. No one is more surprised than Christoff at the identity of the Smoke Thief, but when Clarissa proposes a plan to save the drakon, hunter becomes captive and Kit and Rue join forces for the good of their people.

Shana Abe has gifted readers with a gem of a story, taking an unusual premise and stamping it with her own magical touch. Kit and Rue are a sizzling combination, as wily and sensuous a couple as ever dreamed up by the greats of romantic fantasy. Abe's light touch with the lore and legend of the drakon makes for easy reading as she weaves their history into her plot. Kit is a wonderful hero, fully in charge of his people, charismatic and compelling, yet completely devoted to his chosen mate even in the face of all obstacles.

Rue's servants make for an excellent supporting cast, and, indeed, Zane gets his own story in Abe's next book, THE DREAM THIEF. The scenes in the menagerie are beautifully written, illustrating the growing trust and affection between Clarissa and Christoff in the midst of the animals' plight and their search for Herte, the Langford Diamond, the key to the drakon's survival. THE SMOKE THIEF is a magical read, as ethereal as smoke and incandescent as dragon fire. It takes a talented writer to carve out new territory in the realm of the paranormal romance, but Abe does the job with elegance and panache. THE SMOKE THIEF is a truly memorable love story, destined to be a classic.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Perfect Wife, by Lynsay Sands

Lynsay Sands
ISBN: 0-8439-5499-X
Historical Romance
Book #06-164

Avelyn has been indulged by her loving parents for as long as she can remember, but all that is about to change. Her betrothed, Paen de Gerville, is back from the Crusades and intends to claim his bride at long last. Fearful that Paen will not appreciate a curvy wife, and tormented by her three nasty cousins, Avelyn vows to lose weight before her wedding so she can be the beautiful bride she's certain her fiance is expecting. To that end, Avy has her maid alter her wedding gown to a smaller size, and instructs her to cut off the excess fabric. Of course, when her wedding day arrives, the gown is much too small, and Avy's mother refuses to let her wear the only other gown available, a red, wrinkled thing that makes Avelyn look like a round, ripe cherry. The only solution? Bind Avy and sew her into her gown.

Paen is ready to settle down to hearth and home, until he meets his bride and realizes there's something very wrong with her, and not just the fact that her posture is ramrod straight and she apparently cannot bend in the middle. Paen soon realizes the cruelty Avy has experienced at the hands of her cousins and resolves to show her how much he desires and approves of her. Unfortunately, his new wife is astonishingly clumsy and beset by one gaffe after another, and Paen begins to figure out that no one could possibly be that accident-prone.

THE PERFECT WIFE is a perfect romance: funny and sweet, touching and tender, with the perfect balance of humor and sensuality. Readers are certain to enjoy Avy's efforts to become the wife she thinks Paen wants, while Paen puzzles over the mystery of how to bring out the best in a woman who seemingly has everything he's ever wanted in a wife. The end of the book is somewhat reminiscent of Catherine Coulter, especially in the characters' speech patterns, and readers will have to decide for themselves whether or not that's a good thing. For most, however, THE PERFECT WIFE will be the perfect diversion for a cold winter afternoon.

Just for Kicks, by Susan Andersen

Susan Andersen
ISBN: 0-7783-2315-3
Book #06-132

Carly Jacobsen is a Las Vegas showgirl with legs up to there and a soft spot for animals and other strays. Wolfgang Jones, second in command of the Avventurato Casino's Department of Security and Surveillance, is Carly's polar opposite in every way. Wolf objects to Carly's penchant for rescuing pets, and he's got her pegged (so he thinks). When Wolf's parents dump his teenaged nephew, Niklaus, on his doorstep, Wolf's frustration knows no bounds, particularly when he thinks Carly is trying to seduce Nik.

Body-checked by an old lady with an enormous pocketbook, Carly twists her ankle and suddenly finds herself dependent on Wolf. Forced into each other's company, Wolf and Carly begin to see each other in a new light. Wolf learns to appreciate Carly's big, generous heart and her rapport with abandoned animals and sick children. Carly sees the lonely man who's isolated himself to keep from being hurt, a loner who doesn't know how to express his innermost feelings. As Wolf helps Carly train a problematic pup and Carly helps Nik adjust to living with his uncle, the attraction between Wolf and Carly sizzles.

Susan Andersen always writes books that are packed with her own unique blend of humor and sensuality, and JUST FOR KICKS is no exception. Wolf and Carly have great chemistry, and readers will enjoy the sparks that fly between this unlikely couple. JUST FOR KICKS is definitely a keeper.

The Agony of Alice, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
ISBN: 0-689-81672-3
Book #06-163

In the summer between fifth and sixth grades, Alice McKinley moves to Silver Spring, Maryland with her father and her nineteen-year-old brother, Lester. This is a difficult time for Alice, because she's about to become a teenager, and she's keenly aware of the absence of her mother, who died when Alice was very young. When school starts, Alice longs to be assigned to Miss Cole's class, hoping that the beautiful young teacher will be a role model to her. Assigned to lumpy Mrs. Plotkin, Alice does her best to get transferred.

Sixth grade is full of hurdles and pitfalls, and Alice trips over all of them on her road to self-discovery. Shopping for jeans with her brother, comparing life experiences with her friends, and getting to know her new teacher are all events that bathe Alice in an agony of embarrassment and awkwardness.

Gawky and endearing, Alice is a heroine young readers can identify with, good-hearted but not perfect by any means. Alice's machinations to get closer to Miss Cole will be familiar to any reader who ever wanted to win the approval of an adult role model, and her search for someone to fill the gap of the mother she barely remembers will hit home, too. THE AGONY OF ALICE is a funny, touching novel for young readers.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Visions of Sugar Plums, by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich
ISBN: 0-312-98634-3
Book #06-161

Stephanie Plum, as always, is dreaming of the perfect Christmas. There's just one problem. She's not the least bit ready for the holiday: no tree, no gifts, no lights, nothing. When she finds a mysterious blond hunk in her kitchen, Stephanie pulls her Smith & Wesson out of her cookie jar, but her best attempts at getting rid of Diesel only serve to irritate him and confuse her. Diesel accompanies Steph on her latest fugitive apprehension, in search of a toymaker named Sandy Claws.

VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS is a novella, but it's chock full of the improbably hilarious antics Evanovich's fans have come to expect from the Plum clan. Grandma Mazur has a new studmuffin, perfect sister Valerie and her ambulance-chasing boyfriend Kloughn have an announcement to make, toyshop elves go on the attack, and Stephanie's long-suffering mother is displaying a troubling tendency to hit the booze and the bubble bath. In short, life in the Burg is the same as ever.

This slight volume is heavily padded with recaps of the first nine Plum novels, including Historic Moments, New Characters introduced, and Automotive Factoids. If it's been a while since your last visit with Stephanie and crew, this is the story for you. If you're new to the series, the teasers will certainly lure you in for a closer look at life in Stephanie Plum's world. Sweet, snappy, and stuffed with merriment and mayhem, VISIONS OF SUGAR PLUMS is destined to be a classic holiday treat.

The Books of 2004



Spindle's End--Robin McKinley (422)
A Face First--Priscilla Cummings (197)
One for the Money--Janet Evanovich (287)
The Twilight Before Christmas--Christine Feehan (293)
The Artful Miss Irvine--Jennifer Malin (222)
The Ideal Bride--Nonnie St. George (254)
Patience--Lori Copeland (328)
Again the Magic--Lisa Kleypas (391)
Kiss Me Again--Margaret Moore (375)
Roller Skates--Ruth Sawyer (186)
Growing Wings--Laurel Winter (195)
Divided in Death--J. D. Robb (357)

Absolutely Captivated--Kristine Grayson (384)
Vital Signs--Bobby Hutchinson (296)
The Inn at Oak Creek--Linda Barrett (296)
Dreamwold Castle--Florence Hightower (214)
One Night of Passion--Elizabeth Boyle (376)
The Bad Beginning--Lemony Snicket (162)

The Ideal Bride--Stephanie Laurens (368)
Trading Places--Fern Michaels (390)
The Pleasure of His Company--Mary Blayney (254)
Night Fire--Catherine Coulter (388)
Hadassah: One Night with the King--Tommy Tenney with Mark Andrew Olsen (351)
The Tea Rose--Jennifer Donnelly (756)
Heart Duel--Robin D. Owens (324)
An Independent Wife--Linda Howard (251)
The Wedding Night--Barbara Dawson Smith (342)
Holding the Dream--Nora Roberts (356)
To the Last Breath--Carlton Stowers (258)
A Kiss for Julie--Betty Neels (187)
Kaleidoscope--Lauralee Bliss, Gloria Brandt, DiAnn Mills, and Kathleen Paul (477)
Fog Magic--Julia L. Sauer (107)

The Magic World--E. Nesbit (246)
The Wishing Chalice--Sandra Landry (327)
No Ordinary Child--Darlene Graham (296)
Twins Times Two--Lisa Bingham (248)
The Pied Piper's Bride--Myrna MacKenzie (186)
Cupid's Dart--Maggie MacKeever (253)
The Master Quilter--Jennifer Chiaverini (327)
Adventures of a Scottish Heiress--Cathy Maxwell (353)
Wild Desire--Phoebe Conn (358)
Sweethearts of the Twilight Lanes--Luanne Jones (375)

Key of Light--Nora Roberts (342)
Key of Knowledge--Nora Roberts (338)
Key of Valor--Nora Roberts (340
The Misconception--Darlene Gardner (307)
The Thief of Always--Clive Barker (213)
Yours Always--Gabriella Anderson (319)
With All My Heart--Barbara Dawson Smith (353)
Uncertain Magic--Laura Kinsale (376)
Half Magic--Edward Eager (217)
Upon a Wicked Time--Karen Ranney (372)
Harmony--Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle (408)
Heart Thief--Robin D. Owens (343)
Beyond Paradise--Elizabeth Doyle (384)
Winter of Change--Betty Neels (191)
"I": The Creation of a Serial Killer--Jack Olsen (361)
Enchantress from the Stars--Sylvia Louise Engdahl (288)
Neurotica--Sue Margolis (310)
Young Pioneers--Rose Wilder Lane (175)
A Garden in the Rain--Lynn Kurland (420)
The Devil's Heiress--Jo Beverley (374)

High Energy--Dara Joy (362)
Complete Abandon--Cheryl Holt (378)
Rejar--Dara Joy (390)
Taming the Heiress--Susan King (344)
A Killing in the Family--Stephen Singular with Tim and Danielle Hill (281)
If You Really Loved Me--Ann Rule (595)
Girls' Poker Night--Jill A. Davis (227)
Nerd in Shining Armor--Vicki Lewis Thompson (324)
Princess Charming--Beth Pattillo (308)
The Perfect Match--Susan May Warren (327)
Undead and Unwed--Mary Janice Davidson (277)
The Sacrifice--Beverly Lewis (347)
Inklings--Melanie M. Jeschke (402)
Beyond the Highland Mist--Karen Marie Moning (375)
Gregor the Overlander--Suzanne Collins (311)
Silverbridge--Joan Wolf (386)

Pay It Forward--Catherine Ryan Hyde (288)
A Loving Scoundrel--Johanna Lindsey (355)
Sweet Hush--Deborah Smith (324)
Reason and Romance--Debra White Smith (316)
Secret Santa--Robert Tate Miller and Beth Polson (151)
Ain't She Sweet?--Susan Elizabeth Phillips (AUD)
Prairie Moon--Maggie Osborne (358)
Cry for the Strangers--John Saul (AUD)
Devilish--Jo Beverley (372)
Sweet Deceit--Lynn McKay (304)
Well Wished--Franny Billingsley (170)
Snowbird--Stef Ann Holm (372)
The Angel of Darkness--Caleb Carr (752)
In Quest of Ghosts--Hans Holzer (215)
The Trouble with Harry--Katie MacAlister (338)
Wanted Across Time--Eugenia Riley (391)
Every Storm--Lori Wick (359)
The Buck Stops Here--Mindy Starns Clark (359)
The Shop on Blossom Street--Debbie Macomber (344)
My Face to the Wind: The Diary of Sarah Jane Price, A Prairie Teacher--Jim Murphy (182)

So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, An Irish Mill Girl--Barry Denenberg (170)
Rose Daughter--Robin McKinley (292)
Daisy's Back in Town--Rachel Gibson (348)
Almost Like Being in Love--Christina Dodd (375)
Secret Santa---Anne Osborne Poelman (153)
No Flying in the House--Betty Brock (157)
Ghost Girl: A Blue Ridge Mountain Story--Delia Ray (216)
Not a Sparrow Falls--Linda Nichols (351)
Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie: The Oregon Trail Diary of Hattie Campbell--Kristiana Gregory (161)
If I Gained the World--Linda Nichols (413)
Once a Bride--Shari Anton (352)
Blue Waltz--Linda Francis Lee (342)
Temptation of a Proper Governess--Cathy Maxwell (372)
Not Quite Married--Betina Krahn (356)

Heaven on Earth--Constance O'Day-Flannery (349)
Dear Maggie--Brenda Novak (299)
Lancaster's Orphans--Robert J. Randisi (309)
Midnight Is a Place--Joan Aiken (287)
The Legend MacKinnon--Donna Kauffman (405)
A Woman in the House--William E. Barrett (248)
Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane--Suzanne Collins (309)
The Kitchen Witch--Annette Blair (295)
Midnight Magic--Avi (247)
Cowboy Christmas--Catherine Palmer, Linda Goodnight, and Lisa Harris (327)
Where the Bodies Are Buried--Fannie Weinstein and Melinda Wilson (256)
Boo Who--Rene Gutteridge (344)
Tempting the Highlander--Janet Chapman (355)
England's Perfect Hero--Suzanne Enoch (374)
Tiger Lillie--Lisa Samson (309)
My Seduction--Connie Brockway (368)

A Case of Nosy Neighbors--Lori Copeland (306)
Visions in Death--J. D. Robb (338)
Nellie Bly, Reporter--Nina Brown Baker (116)
Jack and Jill--Louisa May Alcott (292)
She's Come Undone--Wally Lamb (AUD)
The Princess Diaries--Meg Cabot (AUD)
Howl's Moving Castle--Diana Wynne Jones (329)
Chalk's Woman--David Ballantine (282)
My Pleasure--Connie Brockway (360)
A Lady of His Own--Stephanie Laurens (425)
Blue Dahlia--Nora Roberts (367)
Katie's Dream--Leisha Kelly (330)
Northern Lights--Nora Roberts (562)
Sarah's Song--Karen Kingsbury (157)
His Every Kiss--Laura Lee Guhrke (370)

The Reptile Room--Lemony Snicket (190)
Strong for Potatoes--Cynthia Thayer (248)
When He Was Wicked--Julia Quinn (368)
Ares of Westford--Robin Hardy (240)
Holly--Jude Deveraux (277)
Whispers--Belva Plain (AUD)
Over the Edge--Michael Fleeman (290)
Yours Until Dawn--Teresa Medeiros (373)
The Florabama Ladies' Auxiliary & Sewing Circle--Lois Battle (358)
The First Day--Barbara McMahon (297)
Comanche Woman--Joan Johnston (388)
Noble Destiny--Katie MacAlister (366)
The Christmas Train--David Baldacci (AUD)
Prince Charming's Child--Jennifer Greene (187)
Life in These United States--Reader's Digest (215)
Mischief and Marriage--Emma Darcy (186)
Silver Bells--Luanne Rice (210)
Double Dare--Rhonda Nelson (175)
What Lies Beneath--Anne Stuart, Joanna Wayne, and Caroline Burns (378)
Her Perfect Stranger--Jill Shalvis (219)
Mistress to a Tycoon--Emma Darcy (184)
Night's Edge--Maggie Shayne, Barbara Hambly, and Charlaine Harris (377)

Kiss Me, Kill Me--Ann Rule
The Stand--Stephen King (817)
A Loving Scoundrel--Johanna Lindsey (355)
Song of the Road--Dorothy Garlock (421)
The Redemption of Sarah Cain--Beverly Lewis (316)
A Texan's Luck--Jodi Thomas (344)

171 Books Total, 52,576 Pages

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

Libba Bray
ISBN: 0-385-73231-7
Young Adult
Book #06-162

After spending her first sixteen years in India, Gemma Doyle is finally granted her wish of living in England. Unfortunately, Gemma's mother has committed suicide (rather than be murdered) under very strange circumstances, and Gemma is haunted by her part in her mother's death, particularly since her family have agreed to claim that Gemma's mother died of cholera. Shipped off to Spence Academy to learn to be the perfect rich man's wife, Gemma finds herself at odds with the other girls in her school until she does a favor for Felicity, leader of the clique at Spence. Suddenly Gemma is one of the in-crowd, and she forces the group to accept Ann, a poor relation whose future as a governess is unavoidably assured. Along with Pippa, the acknowledged beauty of the school, the girls immerse themselves in Gemma's mother's diary. They are soon caught up in a mystery as malevolent as it is magical.

With the help of her friends, Gemma develops the supernatural powers that have marked her as a leader of The Order. Together, the girls try to learn the fate of two girls who died in a fire at Spence, and who seem to be the key to present events. Gemma herself must learn the identity of the handsome stranger who has followed her from India and who may hold the key to her mother's death.

A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY is a marvelous book, moody and evocative of teenaged angst at its most anguished. Gemma is far from a perfect heroine, and her friends are equally flawed, which should help readers identify with them as a refreshing change from heroines who are a little too good to be believed. Gemma's revenge against the catty girls who have tormented her will leave readers giggling in appreciation, and her regrets over her last words to her mother will evoke sympathy from anyone who ever missed a chance to say goodbye. Libba Bray ties up enough of the story to leave it completely satisfying, but the promise of the next book, REBEL ANGELS, will guarantee a hurried trip to the nearest bookstore for readers hungry to learn the secrets of The Order and the ultimate fate of Gemma and her friends.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Alice's Tulips, by Sandra Dallas

Sandra Dallas
ISBN: 0-312-20359-4
Book #06-159

When Alice Bullock's husband, Charlie, joins the Union Army during the Civil War, the young wife has no idea what's in store for her. Pretty, flirtatious, and selfish, Alice is no stranger to controversy, but her quick thinking usually gets her out of trouble. Alice writes letters to her sister, Lizzie, on a regulr basis, and it is through these letters that Sandra Dallas presents her story.

Alice and Charlie have only been married a year when Charlie runs off to be a soldier, leaving Alice to live with her mother-in-law, a dour older woman who doesn't much care for Alice and her flighty ways. As the war wears on, however, the two women have to rely on each other more and more. Alice throws herself into the war effort, designing a flag for Charlie's unit to carry into battle, and coming up with an idea for a quilt pattern that the local ladies can use to put quilts together for their Yankee soldiers. Alice strikes up a mild flirtation with the brother-in-law of her friend Nealie, but soon tries to back away from the Sam and his controlling, violent possessiveness. Matters get worse when Alice accompanies a vain older woman to the city to meet a soldier she's been corresponding with, only for Alice to learn that Mrs. Kittie has arranged for Alice to spend time with the very man she's been trying to avoid.

When Sam turns up dead (by way of several unhappy encounters with an axe), Alice is the main suspect and must endure the gossip and censure of the entire town. Sandra Dallas masterfully injects her plot with suspense, because readers are kept guessing as to whether Alice actually did murder Sam.

Alice's letters run the gamut of emotions. Alice herself is not especially likeable at the beginning of the book. Young, vain, and more than a trifle impressed with herself, Alice shares her opinions freely. Gradually, however, Alice matures, without losing that fun-loving side of herself that is so appealing to the other characters in the story as well as to her readers. Her bitter regret over telling Charlie not to come back if he can't dance with her adds poignant irony to an already memorable book. Alice's constant criticism of her sister's husband makes for fun reading, too. History buffs will enjoy the chance to view the rigors of war from the side of Union characters and to see that it was not only Southern families who suffered deprivation during the War Between the States. The details about quilts and quilting that Dallas gifts her readers with are well-written and welcome, as well.

ALICE'S TULIPS is an engaging novel and highly recommended. Readers will most likely glom Sandra Dallas's backlist after reading Alice's story from her own point of view.

The Books of 2003


A Victorian Rose--Catherine Palmer (124 pages)
The Cottage--Sandra Steffen (338)
Beautiful Child--Torey Hayden (326)
Another Chance, Another Time--Catherine Snodgrass (184)
The Christmas Quilt--Thomas J. Davis (272)
The O'Reilly Factor--Bill O'Reilly (214)
The No Spin Zone--Bill O'Reilly (190)
Christmas in Canaan--Kenny Rogers and Donald Davenport (325)
Caroline's Waterloo--Betty Neels (187)
Just Before Daybreak--Elizabeth Turner (351)
Pilgrim's Promise--Emma Goldrick (187)
The Woman in the Wall--Patrice Kindl (185)
Once a Dreamer--Candice Hern (376)
Dangerous Attractions--Colleen Easton (318)
Lord Logic and the Wedding Wish--Melynda Beth Skinner (222)
Grail Prince--Nancy Affleck McKenzie (510)
Storm Warning--Dinah McCall (378)
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio--Terry Ryan (351)

Summer of Storms--Judith Kelman (385)
A Gentle Awakening--Betty Neels (189)
Rose in Bloom--Louisa May Alcott (311)
Stardust--Alane Ferguson (119)
Just Over the Mountain--Robyn Carr (376)
Born in Sin--Kinley MacGregor (372)
Eye of the Beholder--Ingrid Weaver (251)
Pamela's Second Season--Donna Simpson (255)
All a Woman Wants--Patricia Rice (372)
Mrs. Mike--Benedict and Nancy Freedman (284)
Thorn in My Heart--Liz Curtis Higgs (453)
Stuck on You--Patti Berg (374)
Loverboy--Lauren Agony and Jan Springer (154)
Ellen Foster--Kaye Gibbons (126)

Claiming the Highlander--Kinley MacGregor (373)
Riding in Cars with Boys--Beverly Donofrio (204)
The Christmas Basket--Debbie Macomber (238)
The Kissing Game--Kasey Michaels (334)
The Destiny--Kathleen Givens (380)
Seven Days to Forever--Ingrid Weaver (248)
The Mulberry Tree--Jude Deveraux (377)
The Bad Seed--William March (217)

An Old-Fashioned Girl--Betty Neels (186)
Portrait in Death--J. D. Robb (354)
The Gift--Julie Garwood (373)
No Need to Say Goodbye--Betty Neels (189)
Boston Jane--Jennifer L. Holm (272)
A Scandalous Marriage--Debbie Raleigh (219)
Mr. McAllister Sets His Cap--Laura Paquet (220)
Brides of Prairie Gold--Maggie Osborne (372)
A Secret Infatuation--Betty Neels (189)
Just Ella--Margaret Peterson Haddix (218)
My Father's Dragon--Ruth Stiles Gannett (87)
Angels Among Us--A Guideposts Book (128)
Flesh & Blood: Guilty as Sin, Erotic Tales of Crime and Passion--edited by Max Allan Collins & Jeff Gelb (354)
The Adventures of Treehorn--Florence Parry Heide (122)
Honey Moon--Susan Elizabeth Phillips (440)
Jane-Emily--Patricia Clapp (160)

An Independent Woman--Betty Neels (186)
The Great Good Thing--Roderick Townley (216)
Birthright--Nora Roberts (465)
The Rose of York: Love and War--Sandra Worth (273)
Through the Window--Diane Fanning (241)
Kushiel's Avatar--Jacqueline Carey (702)
Holes--Louis Sachar (233)
Wild Orchids--Jude Deveraux (341)
The Perfect Wife--Jane Goodger (314)
The Soul Collector--Kathleen Kane (312)
Changing Habits--Debbie Macomber (352)
The Doll People--Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin (256)
Chocolate for a Woman's Heart & Soul--Kay Allenbaugh (510)
Bookends--Jane Green (358)
All Souls: A Family Story from Southie--MIchael Patrick MacDonald (266)

The Wedding Escape--Karyn Monk (371)
The Baby on the Car Roof and 222 More Urban Legends--Thomas J. Craughwell
Just the Way You Are--Christina Dodd (374)
A Celebration of Babies--edited by Sally Emerson (71)
Down By the River--Robyn Carr (377)
Understudy--Carole Bellacera (382)
Coffin on a Case--Eve Bunting (105)
Getting Lucky--Susan Andersen (364)
The Promise of Jenny Jones--Maggie Osborne (377)
The Best Man--Maggie Osborne (424)
Lover Beware--Christine Feehan, Katherine Sutcliffe, Fiona Brand, and Eileen Wilks (362)
Skating Shoes--Noel Streatfeild (221)
Time for Andrew--Mary Downing Hahn (165)
Bridget Jones's Diary--Helen Fielding (271)
The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold--Francesca Lia Block (229)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix--J. K. Rowling (870)
Jackson Rule--Dinah McCall (289)
When It's Perfect--Adele Ashworth (373)
To Sir Phillip, With Love--Julia Quinn (372)

Serial Murderers--edited by Art Crockett (470)
Abandoned Prayers--Gregg Olsen (399)
Crimson Stain--Jim Fisher (314)
Damsel in Green--Betty Neels (216)
Looking for Lcey--Linda Francis Lee (340)
Blood and Lust: The Best of Court TV--David Jacobs (351)
Cruel Doubt--Joe McGinnis (488)
Shattered Love--Richard Chamberlain (246)
Murder in Spokane--Mark Fuhrman (356)
Son: A Psychopath and His Victims--Jack Olsen (538)
Evidence of Murder--Bill McClellan (346)
Scandalous Virtue--Brenda Hiatt (378)
A Rage to Kill and Other Cases--Ann Rule (382)
Sleep, My Child, Forever--John Coston (316)
When You Believe--Deborah Bedford (285)
Maggie's Miracle--Karen Kingsbury (164)
Suddenly Gone--Dan Mitrione (313)
The Bridal Veil--Alexis Harrington (312)
Shadow Game--Christine Feehan (323)
Seabiscuit: An American Legend--Laura Hillenbrand (347)
White Lies--Linda Howard (253)

The House Where the Hardest Things Happened--Kate Young Caley (160)
One Day, My Prince--Linda Jones (393)
While Innocents Slept--Adrian Havill (250)
A Rose for Her Grave and Other Cases--Ann Rule (513)
The Widows of Wichita County--Jodi Thomas (379)
The Replacement--Anne Marie Duquette (296)
One Night of Scandal--Teresa Medeiros (370)
Three Roads Home--Travis Thrasher (372)
A Man to Call My Own--Johanna Lindsey (344)
Covenant Child--Terri Blackstock (305)
John the Deliverer--Rhiannon Neeley (93)
The Texan's Dream--Jodi Thomas (342)

Jack of Hearts--Marjorie Farrell (348)
Boo--Rene Gutteridge (299)
Forever and Always--Jude Deveraux (330)
Tying the Knot--Susan May Warren (313)
Hello, Darkness--Sandra Brown (404)
Little Girl Blue--David Cray (304)
Firestarter--Stephen King (401)
The Betrayal--Beverly Lewis (358)
A Lantern in Her Hand--Bess Streeter Aldrich (318)
Miss Parker's Ponies--Victoria Hinshaw (224)
Crystal--V. C. Andrews (168)
Silver Lining--Maggie Osborne (344)
My Outlaw--Linda Lael Miller (307)

Chesapeake--Nora Roberts (374)
Temptation--Nora roberts (216)
Phoebe--Diane Noble (156)
Hot Under the Collar--Kirstin Hill (318)
Thorns in Eden--Rita Gerlach (324)
The Mansion in the Mist--John Bellairs (170)
The Endearment--LaVyrle Spencer (340)
Sun and Candlelight--Betty Neels (217)
Sybil--Flora Rheta Schreiber (450)
King of Hearts--Pat Pritchard (318)
Yesterday and Forever--Vickie Presley (310)
Recipes for Easy Living--Curtiss Ann Matlock (395)
Summer's End--Lyn Cote (265)
Among the Hidden--Margaret Peterson Haddix (153)
The Bride Quilt--Pamela Quint Chambers (347)
Imitation in Death--J. D. Robb (342)
Only the Wind Remembers--Marlo Schalesky (376)
Two Short and One Long--Nina Ring Aamundsen (103)
Charming the Highlander--Janet Chapman (375)
Single White Vampire--Lynsay Sands (369)
Redeeming Love--Francine Rivers (464)

A Gentleman at Heart--Barbara Pierce (319)
Shotgun Wedding--Maggie Osborne (360)
Hawk's Way--Joan Johnston (296)
Completely Smitten--Kristine Grayson (352)
Thoroughly Kissed--Kristine Grayson (348)
Count on Me--Kathryn Shay (298)
An Elm Creek Quilts Sampler--Jennifer Chiaverini (721)
To Sing Me Home--Doris E. Smith (192)
Emma's Journal--Ed Rowell (164)
Maggy--Sara Seale (191)
The Christmas Doll--Elvira Woodruff (151)

I Do, I Do, I Do--Maggie Osborne (346)
A School for Sorcery--E. Rose Sabin (318)
The Living End--Lisa Samson (306)
Seen By Moonlight--Kathleen Eschenburg (392)
Two Hearts in Time--Eugenia Riley (112)
Mine for All Time--Julia Hanlon (317)
Coraline--Neil Gaiman (162)
The Winter Seeking--Vinita Hampton Wright (129)
Long Time Coming--Edie Claire (422)
An Unmistakable Rogue--Annette Blair (319)
Catching Katie--Robin Lee Hatcher (341)
When a Texan Gambles--Jodi Thomas (330)
The Ideal Husband--Shari Anton (386)

181 Books Total; 55,030 Pages

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ghost Stories of Ohio, by Edrick Thay

Edrick Thay
ISBN: 1-894877-09-8
Book #06-151

GHOST STORIES OF OHIO is a slim volume of tales and legends from the Buckeye State. The actual ghost stories told in the book are not especially detailed or memorable, but the author's deft mixture of fact and fable makes the book interesting from a historical perspective. The photos of famous Ohio denizens and domiciles are well worth a look, and readers will gain an appreciation for state history and geography.

Thay recounts the story of the Mothman, which was made into a film a few years ago. Readers are also treated to stories about the Underground Railroad, misplaced gravestones, tragic train wrecks and more. Learning that famed author James Thurber once lived in a home haunted by a suicidal husband might help to explain such stories as "The Catbird Seat" and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

GHOST STORIES OF OHIO won't take anyone long to read. Although interesting and informative, it probably won't cause anyone to lose sleep, either.

Marriage Most Scandalous, by Johanna Lindsey

Johanna Lindsey
ISBN: 1-4165-0545-8
Historical Romance
Book #06-150

As a young man, Sebastian Townshend accidentally killed his best friend in a duel over Giles's wife. Disowned by his father, and grief-stricken over Giles's death, Sebastian retreated to the Continent, where he has made a name for himself as The Raven, a mercenary who will take on any job no matter how impossible, Sebastian is surprised to be approached by Lady Margaret Landor, the sister of Giles's former fiancee. Maggie has been trying to find Sebastian to get his help. Someone has been trying to kill Sebastian's father, and Maggie is afraid that Sebastian's younger brother is impatient to claim his inheritance. When Maggie agrees to pay Sebastian an exorbitant sum for his help, he has no choice but to accompany her back to England. Maggie coaxes Sebastian to pretend to be her husband, as that is the only way she can be certain he won't be barred from his father's estate.

Johanna Lindsey always writes an interesting story, full of twists and turns. Unfortunately, her language is so contemporaneously colloquial that it becomes a distraction to readers who prefer to immerse themselves in the Regency setting. Furthermore, the entire plot hinges on Maggie's agreement to be labeled a "divorcee" in an era when divorce was extremely rare and virtually ruined a woman's life, yet the characters act as though Maggie will simply be somewhat inconvenienced by the results of her charade.

As in previous books, much of the denouement reveals secrets that are jaw-droppingly improbable, but Lindsey's way with a one-liner may mitigate that for some readers. Lindsey's books are always enjoyable, and MARRIAGE MOST SCANDALOUS is no exception, but the author does her fans a disservice with her casual approach to the reality of Regency life.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

First Impressions, by Jude Deveraux

Jude Deveraux
ISBN: 0-7434-3714-4
Women's Fiction
Book #06-149

Eden Palmer was raped as a teenager, and the resulting pregnancy caused her to be kicked out of her home by her upright, image-conscious parents. Given a small amount of money, Eden made her way to Arundel, North Carolina, where she found a job cataloging papers for the crotchety Mrs. Farrington. When the elderly lady's son attempted to molest Eden's young daughter, Eden and Melissa fled in the middle of the night.

More than twenty years later, Melissa is a young wife, pregnant with her first child. She and her husband have dug their roots into Eden's apartment, and tensions among the trio are at the breaking point. Learning that Mrs. Farrington has left her the beautiful old mansion she once lived in, Eden seizes the opportunity to give Melissa and Stuart a chance to work on their marriage and hurries to Arundel to claim her legacy. Once there, however, it soon becomes obvious that someone is not happy about Eden's inheritance. Could it be the mysterious Jared McBride, who searches Eden's new home by flashlight in the dark of night? Or is it Braddon Granville, the handsome widower who gives Eden the job of her dreams, designing gardens for an exclusive residential community? The questions pile up rapidly, but Eden is having the time of her life for the first time in her life.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS is a fun read, laden with Deveraux's trademark wiftiness. Deveraux's wealth of information on eighteenth-century gardening is interesting and dovetails nicely with the historical aspects of the plot. The real problem is that, with so many plots juggled at once, it's inevitable that Deveraux drops a ball or two along the way. The subplot involving Melissa's father pops in and out with the barest of resolutions, and certain characters remain sketches rather than fully-fleshed members of the story. Initially satisfying, FIRST IMPRESSIONS ultimately leaves readers hungry for more: more resolution, more information, and more romance.

The Nobodies, by N. E. Bode (Julianna Baggott)

Julianna Baggott
Book #06-148

As an Anybody (a person with magical talents), Fern has gotten used to the strange things she is able to do, especially when it comes to shaking things out of books. When it comes to shaking an endless stream of Diet Lime Fizzy drink bottles stuffed with messages from "the Nobodies," however, Fern is more than a little taken aback. And when she and Howard (the boy with whom she was switched as an infant) end up at Camp Happy Sunshine Good Times, where all the counselors drink Diet Lime Fizzy and the camp is exactly the opposite of happy, Fern knows she must do something to save the day.

THE NOBODIES is the sequel to Baggott's previous book, THE ANYBODIES, but it's a rather jumbled, incoherent effort. The author's note in the beginning is reminiscent of the best of Lemony Snicket, but the humor in the actual story seems heavy-handed. The physical oddities of the campers never get explained satisfactorily, and a lot of other plot points are abandoned along the way.

The final chapters are among the best, as Baggott reverts to what worked so well in the first book, drawing on her love of books to propel the action and introduce new characters. Alas, the technique comes so late in the story that it isn't enough to compensate for the mishmash that precedes it. A third book would be worth a read, but it would be a make-or-break volume for the series for most readers.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson

Shanna Swendson
ISBN: 0-345-48125-9
Book #06-146

Katie Chandler is a Texas belle living in New York City. Her small-town sensibilities are baffled by New Yorkers' blase response to things that seem totally bizarre to her, like why everyone is ogling the ugliest guy in the bar as if he were Johnny Depp, or cute young women wearing fairy wings on the subway. It doesn't help that her boss is straight out of The Devil Wears Prada, nice one minute, and demon spawn from hell the next. Just when Katie has begun to think about going back to her family's seed and feed business in Texas, she gets a job offer online. With nothing to lose, she takes a meeting and ends up becoming the new go-to girl at Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc.

Much to Katie's surprise, all the weird things she thought she was seeing are real. Her very ordinary view of life is a valuable asset to her new boss, because she sees through spells and illusions to the way things actually are. Suddenly, Katie is a key player in the battle against an evil merchandiser bent on putting black magic in stores everywhere. Her shy, cute co-worker is one of the most powerful magic-wielders, and together, they must come up with a plan to save the world.

Swendson's secondary characters are just as interesting as Katie, Owen, and the magical Mr. Mervyn. Anyone who's ever suffered through a bad fit on a blind date will appreciate Katie's married friend's attempts to find the perfect men for her former roommates. Swendson keeps the whimsy front and center, with a boss who really is an ogre, subway trains that arrive on request, and mundane reactions to magical events.

Sex and the City meets Ella Enchanted in this sweetly hilarious book from author Shanna Swendson. The good news is, the sequel is already in stores, and a third volume is due out next year. Paranormal lovers who need a break from the sturm und drang of the more intense stories currently available will almost certainly enjoy Swendson's amusing take on the magic of modern Manhattan.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Great Little Madison, by Jean Fritz

Jean Fritz
ISBN: 0-590-43749-6
Book #06-144

James Madison is perhaps best known for being the fourth President of the United States, but this biography, published by Scholastic, brings Madison's many other achievements to light. Small in stature and in voice, yet in possession of a formidable intelligence, Madison was an unlikely figure to shape the Constitution. He hated public speaking, mostly because he could rarely be heard beyond his immediate circle of listeners. If it were not for his passionate dedication to the Constitution as the ultimate law of the land, America might have taken on a very different national identity. In the years leading up to the War of 1812, with New England threatening to secede from the Union and the battle between political parties roiling at its vituperative worst, the nation seemed to be holding its collective breath, waiting to see if the fledgling country would stand on its own or collapse like a house of cards.

This slim book is packed with loads of interesting information. Many readers may be unaware of what a spoiled twit Dolley Madison's son (by her first husband) was. Many of the stories students learn about American history are fleshed out in Fritz's book, including the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the squabbles over where the nation's capital should be located, and the bitter struggle between two major political parties for control of the nation. Fritz's kamikaze approach to writing is a bit confusing at first: his account of Madison's life begins almost in mid-thought, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear and engaging. Young readers with a love of history will enjoy the appearances by many of the glitterati of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially since most of the leading figures of the day are portrayed as normal people (with normal flaws) who did extraordinary things when the occasion called for them. THE GREAT LITTLE MADISON is a great little book about a truly remarkable figure in early American history.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Pretend Engagement, by Jessica Steele

Jessica Steele
ISBN: 0-373-03824-0
Harlequin Romance #3824
Book #06-143

Distraught to discover that the man she loves is married with children, Varnie Sutton retreats to her country house to lick her wounds. Unfortunately, healing her heartache will have to wait, because it turns out that Varnie's scapegrace stepbrother has granted use of the house to his boss. Leon Beaumont is dodging the media, and if Varnie gives Leon the boot, it will likely cost her brother his job. In an attempt to help Johnny keep his job, Varnie goes further and pretends to be the hired help. Naturally, sparks fly as Leon objects to Varnie's tendency to be "lippy," and Varnie resents Leon's arrogance. When a married admirer discovers Leon's hiding place, Varnie claims to be Leon's fiancee to get rid of the woman, but the news leaks to the press, and suddenly Leon is splashed across the headlines.

I generally like Jessica Steele's writing, but A PRETEND ENGAGEMENT had all the lapses of logic that prejudice non-readers against romance novels. The setup for the pretend engagement was overly long and hinged on a succession of actions on Varnie's part that Ms. Steele repeatedly points out as uncharacteristic of her heroine (not taking her customary shower before bed, walking naked to the bathroom in the master bedroom, etc.). By the time Varnie leaps to Leon's defense and establishes the faux relationship, the plot had lost all credibility. I wasn't willing to suspend disbelief because I wasn't invested in the characters enough to forgive them their lapses. The bickering between Leon and Varnie settled into one note, hit hard and often. Leon's constant use of the word "lippy" to describe Varnie got old quickly. The scene where Leon begins to make love to Varnie only to have her call it off was awkward and uncomfortable--far better to forego such a scene than try to titillate readers without giving them a payoff they don't want in a sweet romance, anyway.

The last few chapters were markedly better, but the improvement was too little, too late. With so much having gone wrong early in the book, Ms. Steele was not able to redeem her plot enough to win me over. A PRETEND ENGAGEMENT was a disappointing effort from an author who can do much better.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Where Mercy Flows, by Karen Harter

Karen Harter
ISBN: 0-7862-8616-4
Book # 06-145

Samantha Dodd left home with her boyfriend right out of high school, yet another bad decision in a young life filled with them. Fast forward seven years, and Samantha is on her way back home to Washington state. Sick in body and spirit, and with a young son to care for, Samantha has no choice but to turn to her parents and the younger sister she's never measured up to. TJ's appearance is proof of Samantha's irresponsibility, but she hopes that her parents will accept their grandson and love him despite his parentage.

Not much has changed in Samantha's hometown. Some people are thinner, some aren't; some remember her hellion ways fondly, and others resent her reappearance. None of that matters when Samantha realizes her husband is back in town, too. Sammy has spent five years looking for Tim, hoping to mend her fences with him, or, if that's not possible, to receive his forgiveness for wronging him. Meanwhile, Donnie, the best friend of Samantha's childhood, has made it clear that he's been waiting for Sam to see him as other than her youthful playmate. Worse yet, the Judge, Sam's stern, unforgiving father, still disapproves of Samantha and her reckless past. As Samantha's medical condition deteriorates, her personal life disintegrates exponentially, while the people who love her search for a way to motivate Sam to fight for her life.

Karen Harter has written an inspirational novel that is eminently readable, with a likable heroine and hero and a worthy supporting cast. Sam's struggle to earn her father's love is clearly a metaphor for her spiritual floundering. As we get to know the Judge better, his harsh, black and white view of the world seems to mellow and make more sense in an admirably uncompromising way. TJ is adorable, and Harter hits just the right tone for this young character, making him emiently believable. Readers will smile through their tears as Donnie tries shock therapy to get through to Samantha, and the Judge gradually breaks down the wall between himself and his errant daughter. Ultimately, WHERE MERCY FLOWS is touching and triumphant, although not, perhaps, in a way readers will expect.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Match Me If You Can, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Susan Elizabeth Phillips
ISBN: 0-06-073455-8
Book # 06-142

Match Me If You Can is another entry in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Chicago Stars series, and SEP is on top of her game with this release. Annabelle Granger is the disappointment of her family. Living in a shabby old house that once belonged to her grandmother, Annabelle is intent on succeeding at her matchmaking business, Perfect For You (formerly Marriages by Myrna), much to the dismay of her highly successful brothers and parents.

Heath Champion is a wealthy sports agent whose self-imposed timetable indicates the need to find the perfect wife and settle down. Although he's already signed to Annabelle's rival, Power Matches, helmed by the icily perfect Portia Powers, Annabelle's ineptitude appeals to him, so Heath agrees to give her one chance to find him a hot date, on the condition that Annabelle accompany him on this date and end it promptly after twenty minutes. Annabelle pulls a fast one and soon has Heath signed up for her matchmaking service, to Portia's fury.

Portia stalks Annabelle and is discovered by Heath's bodyguard, Bodie, a bald, tattooed muscleman who is Portia's complete opposite. Blackmailed into a date with him, Portia is deeply shaken at how quickly he threatens her narrow focus. Meanwhile, Heath discovers that Annabelle has an in with Phoebe Calebow, owner of the Chicago Stars and dedicated adversary to any player Heath represents.

Match Me If You Can is as tightly choreographed as the most complicated squaredance, with plotlines twisting, overlapping, changing direction, and reversing completely, all without missing a beat. Phillips has a knack for creating characters who are likeable and surprising. Portia's unexpected vulnerability is a treat, as readers will find themselves switching from loathing her to rooting for her. Bodie is a very modern alternate lead, with his formidable appearance and his sudden glints of charm. But the book truly belongs to Heath and Annabelle, and a terrific team they make. When Heath attends a very special party with Annabelle and the Stars' ladies, his utter mystification at pint-sized feminine wiles is amusing and endearing. Annabelle's family are not what they seem, but it takes seeing them through Heath's eyes for readers to get a more accurate vision.

As is often the case with Ms. Phillips' work, Match Me If You Can goes right to the edge of over-the-top humor without taking it too far. The epilogue may be a bit too tidy for some readers, but is eminently satisfying for those who like the ultimate happily-ever-after. Match Me If You Can is a fun, fast free-for-all of friendship, foreplay, and fulfillment.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Getting started

I am an avid reader whose personal book journal is limited to title, author, and number of pages. I thought it might be fun to write reviews of the books I've read and see what other people think of them, too. I'm currently reading Match Me if You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and I will post my review as soon as I finish it. Join me on my journey through Mt. TBR!