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.