Saturday, January 27, 2007

Spy Goddess: Live and Let Shop, by Michael P. Spradlin

Michael P. Spradlin
ISBN: 0-06-059407-1
Young Adult
Book #07-005

Rachel Buchanan is the ultimate California princess: wealthy and spoiled in everything except her parents' time and attention, she has made a career of getting in trouble to get attention. Unfortunately, her parents' solution to the problem is to sic their lawyer at her, so when Rachel gets arrested for grand theft auto (she simply happened to be in the car when it was stolen and was the only one who got caught), naturally the lawyer is left to handle the legalities. Unfortunately for Rachel, her smart mouth draws the judge's ire, and she is sentenced to a year at Blackthorn Academy. The Pennsylvania boarding school is under the direct supervision of headmaster Jonathon Kim, a former special forces agent who is universally admired by his students. Except, of course, for Rachel, who is completely focused on escaping Blackthorn and getting back to her friends in California.

Rachel's misfortune proves to be the making of her, however. Her protests are met with Mr. Kim's quietly dignified reasoning, and her outbursts are ignored. As she finds herself outwitted at every turn, Rachel reluctantly concedes her admiration for Mr. Kim. Her innate curiosity leads to the discovery that Mr. Kim is running a covert spy operation, and when the headmaster disappears mysteriously, it is Rachel who convinces the other students that their leader is in trouble and it is up to them to save him.

SPY GODDESS: LIVE AND LET SHOP is first in a series that promises to be very successful. Rachel is an appealing amalgam of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sidney Bristow. (Adult readers may find Rachel rather similar to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum.) Her smart mouth and self-consciousness will appeal to girls of all ages, but the martial arts and mystery subplot will draw in male readers, as well. The mystery was a bit skimpy and incoherent, but the action and dialogue make up for that, and the relationships between the characters are far more interesting, anyway. Reluctant readers will find the brisk pace captivating. All in all, SPY GODDESS: LIVE AND LET SHOP is an appealing story that will leave readers wanting more.

Here Today, by Ann M. Martin

Ann M. Martin
ISBN: 0-439-57944-9
Book #07-004

Eleanor Roosevelt Dingman lives with her family on Witch Tree Lane, which is her town's version of the wrong side of the tracks. In 1962, it's not normal to have a mother whose focus in life is to be a star, but Ellie loves her beautiful mother even as she's embarrassed by her too-tight clothing and her endless quest to thrust herself into the spotlight. As Ellie struggles to survive the bullying and harrassment inflicted on the denizens of Witch Tree Lane, she must also try to hold her family together as her father passively accepts his wife's defection and her younger siblings cope in their own ways.

Ellie is an admirable heroine, plucky and intelligent, but not overly precocious or cloyingly precious. Ann M. Martin's skill as a writer of hundreds of books serves her well. Through Ellie's eyes, readers will experience the horror of anti-Semitism and gay-bashing (although the latter is not explicitly identified--younger readers may not actually understand why the spinster couple's mailbox is constantly being destroyed). Readers facing the pain of divorce will identify with Ellie's desperate search to find her mother in the city and force her to make the Dingman family whole again.

Martin brings the turbulent 1960s to life with vivid accuracy, especially the nationwide grief after President Kennedy's assassination. The games that Ellie makes up for her siblings and their friends to play are amusing, and readers will appreciate Ellie's desire to fit in with the popular kids. Mr. Dingman is a quiet presence in the book, and Ellie's frustration at his response to his flamboyant wife is understandable, though eventually tempered by the realization that we cannot compel those we love to be what we want them to be, no matter how hard we try. Ultimately, Martin has penned a poignant coming-of-age tale that is destined to become a classic.

Measle and the Wrathmonk, by Ian Ogilvy

Ian Ogilvy
ISBN: 0-06-058686-9
Book #07-003

Measle Stubbs is an orphan who lives with his guardian, the scarily dreary Basil Tramplebone. Basil's hobby is his train set, which he keeps in the attic and forbids Measle to touch. When Basil catches Measle playing with the trains, he unleashes some very powerful magic on the boy, leaving Measle in horrible straits, indeed. As Measle learns how clever one small (make that one-half of an inch) boy can be, he bands together with Basil's other victims to thwart the Wrathmonk and win back their freedom.

Fans of the Lemony Snicket books will undoubtedly enjoy this rather macabre tale, particularly as it ends on a better note. Basil is a deliciously repellent villain whose diet of donuts and lemonade may put young readers off sweets for a while. Basil's other victims are a well-rounded cast: the capable Kip, high-strung Lady Grant and her precious Manolos, nimble Kitty, Frank the electrician, William the encyclopedia salesman, and the redoubtable Prudence and her dog, Tinker. In their eyes, Measle grows to his full potential, proving himself both intelligent and resourceful. Trapped in an artificial world on a tabletop, the group must avoid Basil during the day, and Cuddlebug, Basil's horrible pet, at night, all the while looking for a way out of their predicament.

Ian Ogilvy has written a charming book that will appeal to young readers of both sexes. Boys will especially enjoy Measle's hygiene issues, and all children will likely appreciate the horrors of trying to escape from giant cockroaches and other creepy things. MEASLE AND THE WRATHMONK is a delight from start to finish, but readers can look forward to the next Measle book, MEASLE AND THE DRAGODON.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Prophecy of the Stones, by Flavia Bujor

Flavia Bujor
Translated by Linda Coverdale
ISBN: 078681835-2
Book #06-152

On their fourteenth birthday, three girls, strangers to each other, are sent on a quest to save the land of Fairytale. Each bearing the stone she is named for, Jade, Opal, and Amber form an uneasy alliance as they try to discover exactly what it is they are meant to do. Meanwhile, in a world much more like our own, a young girl lies comatose in a hospital bed, dreaming uneasy dreams about three girls whose success or failure will mean life or death to her.

Flavia Bujor was thirteen when she wrote this book, and fifteen when it was published. THE PROPHECY OF THE STONES wants to be a lovely fairy tale imbued with serious thoughts about the state of the world, but it never quite hits the mark. It's difficult to tell if this is due to the translation from the original French, or to the author's youth and inexperience. Long descriptive passages contradict themselves, and are filled with words that often fail to be coherent. Bujor fails to tie her two worlds together, except through characters' names: the modern story gets short shrift and is left hanging, while the fairy tale resolves itself in a string of cliches. There is no doubt that young Ms. Bujor has a great deal of talent, but she needs to do a lot more reading and writing to help it mature, and spend some time with a judicious editor who will help her sharpen her plotting and imagery.

Angels Fall, by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts
ISBN: 0-7862-8829-9
Romantic Suspense
Book #06-157

Reece Gilmore is a top chef who survived a brutal slaying at a restaurant back east. On the run from the terrifying memories and nightmares that have haunted her, Reece ends up in the tiny town of Angel's Fist, Wyoming. Captivated by the scenery and in need of car repairs, Reece takes the Help Wanted notice at the local diner as a sign that she should stop in Angel's Fist for a while. Unfortunately, the idyllic scenery is no guarantee against violence, and when Reece witnesses a murder, yet the local authorities can find no evidence of it, the terrors are back with a vengeance. The locals all seem to wonder if Reece is a couple of fries short of a happy meal, but Brody, the ruggedly good-looking author Reece encounters while hiking, is the only one who believes her story, and he agrees to help her try to track down the victim.

Nora Roberts is possibly the best-selling author ever, and ANGELS FALL will only add to that reputation. Her plot is taut and twisting, deflecting suspicion in several directions and making full use of a very well-written take on GASLIGHT. The supporting cast is colorful. Reece's boss, Joanie, is also her landlady and mother of the town hunk, affectionately called Lo (short for Lothario) for his luck with the ladies. Mac Drubber, owner of the general store, is Reece's self-appointed sponsor in town, but even he questions her sanity as events spiral out of control. Kindly Doc Wallace seems to believe Reece, and Linda-gail, her new best friend, is supportive, but her relationship with Lo makes her suspect. No small town would be complete without a sheriff, and Rick Marsdon is on hand to help Reece remember the details of her story, although he remains skeptical, particularly as unnerving things keep happening to Reece and no one else is around to witness them.

ANGELS FALL is a long, satisfying read that will help readers while away a few cold winter evenings with breathtaking suspense and Roberts' trademark dry humor and hot romance. Reece and Brody are probably her best lead couple since Jed and Dora in HIDDEN RICHES. ANGELS FALL showcases one of the romantic greats at the top of her game, and is highly recommended.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Stay with Me, by Beverly Long

Beverly Long
ISBN: 0-425-20062-0
Book #06-166

Sarah Jane Tremont is a social worker at an elementary school. Burned out by the futility of trying to help impoverished families, Sarah quits her job and drives to the beach to consider her options. Talking on her cell phone, she realizes she has the information she needs to help one of her clients, but her path has led her to follow a strange set of footsteps along the shore. As a sudden storm builds out of nowhere, Sarah turns to see a huge wave of water bearing down upon her. The next thing she knows, she's in Wyoming Territory in 1888.

John Beckett knows trouble when he sees it, and when his dead brother's wife turns up in skimpy clothing, looking thin and helpless, he knows he's got a problem on his hands. Sarah seems different, though, and her behavior is not that of the selfish, grasping woman who made life hell for the Becketts. It's not like Sarah to help out a friend in need, take up for the underdog, and work to earn her keep. When the town starts buzzing that Sarah was seen in the middle of the night with John's best friend, Fred, John is furious to have fallen for the woman's lies and feels betrayed by Fred. A few home truths later, all seems to be mended, but Sarah must first overcome the enmity of the other woman in John's life: his mother.

Beverly Long's book is an engaging entry in one of the more popular paranormal sub-genres. Even better, it looks like there will be a sequel to STAY WITH ME, as George follows Sarah's footsteps into the future with a message for Rosa, Sarah's client. STAY WITH ME is sure to please.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Promise of Happiness, by Betty Neels

THE PROMISE OF HAPPINESS (Harlequin Romance #2301)
Betty Neels
ISBN: 0-373-02301-4
Book # 06-154

When Becky learns that her nasty stepbrother plans to kill her beloved pets, Becky runs away from home. Stranded in the rain, she encounters Baron Raukema van den Eck, who offers her a job looking after his mother. Naturally, the job involves travel to Holland and a glimpse into a life Becky could only have imagined. Becky finds herself enjoying her new life, although worried that her stepbrother or stepmother will track her down. Worse, though, is the realization that she has fallen hopelessly in love with her new employer, who will never notice a timid mouse of a girl.

There are rarely surprises in a Betty Neels novel, but that's not what her fans are looking for from her books. All the typical Neels characteristics are fully in place in this book: older hero who is kind to children and animals, proud and sweetly stubborn heroine, a beautiful potential rival, fabulous menus with amazing desserts, and snippets of travelogue woven into the course of the story. Neels never disappoints, and in THE PROMISE OF HAPPINESS, she ties up loose plot ends with a satisfyingly terse finality along the route to the happy ending.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Carolina Isle, by Jude Deveraux

Jude Deveraux
ISBN: 1-4165-0972-0
Book #06-168

Sara and Ariel are cousins who look exactly alike, but the resemblance ends there. Sara is the daughter of a Southern belle who was disowned by her family for marrying beneath her, while Ariel is wealthy and so pampered that she's never worn clothing that wasn't made specifically for her. Ariel's mother has already chosen Ariel's prospective husband: David, the best friend and closest companion of her childhood. When Ariel sees Sara's boss, R. J., she falls for him and coaxes Sara to swap lives with her so she can be closer to R.J. and get to know him. Sara, longing to meet the family she's been estranged from all her life, agrees to the switch. With a little help from Ariel, both couples end up in Arundel, North Carolina (Ariel's hometown) as R.J. explores the possibility of buying a small offshore island to develop as a resort.

Once on King's Isle, which the quartet have been warned is peculiar and dangerous, the four are soon locked up in the local jail, charged with running over a dog in the street. Outraged, because the dog had clearly been mistreated and starved, R. J. tries to argue, to no avail. Released on bond, the four are warned not to try to leave the island before their appointment with the local judge. They find rooms at a boarding house run by an aging, predatory woman, but that's not all they find. Someone has murdered Nezbit, the owner of the dog they supposedly killed, and R.J. and Sara realize that the plot to swindle money from R.J. has escalated. With a handful of local oddballs helping them, R. J., Sara, David, and Ariel determine to try to locate Nezbit's legendary cache of hidden treasure. As they get closer to their goals, Sara and Ariel find themselves re-evaluating exactly what they want out of life and love.

Jude Deveraux has always had the ability to weave magical tales that tinge humdrum reality with a sheen of fantasy, and CAROLINA ISLE has that same fey quality. As Sara and Ariel impersonate each other, it becomes clear that although they are remarkably alike, they are also not as different as they thought they were. R. J. is a nice change from Deveraux's usual heroes, not especially good-looking (although fabulously wealthy), but older and a bit more sarcastic, too. David turns out to be more than just a pretty face, blessed as he is with diplomacy and focused on his political ambitions. One does not enter Jude Deveraux's universe expecting things to be as they are in real life, but that escapism is her trademark and one she has honed to perfection. CAROLINA ISLE is a nice vacation destination for the homebound.

The Books of 2006


Title, Author, Total Pages

The Alibi--Sandra Brown (490)
Silver Blades: In the Spotlight--Melissa Lowell (131)
A Perfect Hero--Samantha James (376)
Thy Heart in Mine--Cara West (301)
Depraved: A True Story of Sadistic Murder in the Heartland--John Glatt (241)
Only for a Knight--Sue-Ellen Welfonder (383)
The Winter Mantle--Elizabeth Chadwick (506)
The Knight at Dawn: Magic Tree House #2--Mary Pope Osborne (66)
Be Mine Forever--Rosemary Laurey (350)
Jane's Warlord--Angela Knight (312)
Into the Water--Diane Fanning (244)
Haunted--Kelley Armstrong (495)
Mortal Sin--Laurie Breton (384)
Summer Breeze--Catherine Anderson (432)
Do They Wear High Heels in Heaven?--Erica Orloff (320)
The Forest Lover--Susan Vreeland (AUD)
Trust Me: Men of Steele--Caroline Cross (185)
Nancy and Plum--Betty MacDonald (190)

The Outlaw Groom--Pat Pritchard (349)
Mercy--Jodi Picoult (400)
Kirsten on the Trail--Janet Shaw (48)
Mind Reader--Victoria Cole (252)
As Big As Texas--K. N. Casper (296)
Red Lily--Nora Roberts (371)
Fast Food Nation--Eric Schlosser (364)
Landing It: My Life On and Off the Ice--Scott Hamilton with Lorenzo Benet (324)
Silverwing--Kenneth Oppel (216)
Infernal Affairs--Jane Heller (319)
Silver Blades: The Competition--Melissa Lowell (116)
The Sister Secret--Jessica Steele (189)
Blindsighted--Karin Slaughter (389)
Sweet Violet--Catherine Palmer (337)
Schoolroom in the Parlor--Rebecca Caudill (117)
Big Girls Don't Cry--Brenda Novak (298)
Flash Point--Sally John (348)
Two for the Dough--Janet Evanovich (312)

Three to Get Deadly--Janet Evanovich (344)
Four to Score--Janet Evanovich (338)
High Five--Janet Evanovich (340)
The Little Lame Prince and the Adventures of a Brownie--Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (327)
In Deep Voodoo--Stephanie Bond (372)
Once Upon a Prince--Holly Jacobs (187)
The Thrall's Tale--Judith Lindbergh (450)
The Sugar Camp Quilt--Jennifer Chaiverini (306)
The Thief and the Beanstalk--P. W. Catanese (272)
If You Only Knew (The Friendship Ring)--Rachel Vail (226)
A Christmas Baby--Annette Blair (299)
Ruthie's Gift--Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (150)
Jack of CLubs--Barbara Metzger (343)
Lady Danger--Sarah McKerrigan (333)

Love Comes Softly--Janette Oke (188)
To Find You Again--Maureen McKade (342)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince--J. K. Rowling (652)
Change of Life--Judith Arnold (252)
Mossflower--Brian Jacques (376)

Prince of Frogs--Barbara Plum (320)
Colliding Forces--Constance O'Day-Flannery (342)
Love, Loss, and What I Wore--Ilene Beckerman (139)
Best Laid Plans--Constance O'Day-Flannery (344)
The Painted Rose--Donna Birdsell (325)
The Bronze Bow--Elizabeth George Speare (254)
The Courier--Melanie Jackson (322)
Rainsinger--Ruth Wind (248)
The Prince of Midnight--Laura Kinsale (405)
The Peacemaker--Lori Copeland (298)
Sleeping Beauty--David Halliday (76)
The Drifter--Lori Copeland (292)
Shadowed Secrets--Lois Richer (277)
The Great Mom Swap--Betsy Haynes (149)
One Last Christmas--Loyce Livingston (170)
The Girl in the Blue Dress--Mary Burchell (188)
Dark Desire--Christine Feehan (315)
Turning for Home--Sarah Challis (313)
Missing Incorporated--Tess Pendergrass (299)
Copycat--Erica Spindler (400)
Dying Declaration--Randy Singer (417)
Dear Dr. Bell...Your friend, Helen Keller--Judith St. George (89)
Death, Bones, and Stately Homes--Valerie S. Malmont (295)
The Anybodies by N. E. Bode--Julianna Baggott (276)
Frisco's Kid--Suzanne Brockmann (249)
Summer Reading Is Killing Me!--Jon Scieszka (73)
Dark Gold--Christine Feehan (312)
Billy Dead--Lisa Reardon (260)
Dark Prince--Christine Feehan (447)

The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1777 (Dear America)--Kristiana Gregory (173)
Firestorm--Iris Johansen (339)
Wait for the Sunrise--Cassandra Austin (296)
Hot Six--Janet Evanovich (350)
In the Country of the Young--Lisa Carey (288)
Seven Up--Janet Evanovich (309)
Around the Next Corner--Elizabeth Wrenn (314)
The Reptile Room: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Second--Lemony Snicket (190)
The Things We Do for Love--Kristin Hannah (433)
Plain Jane: A Novel of Jane Seymour--Laurien Gardner (342)
Where I'd Like to Be--Frances O'Roark Dowell (232)
The Thief Lord--Cornelia Funke (349)
Friday's Child--Georgette Heyer (480)
The Goblin Wood--Hilari Bell (294)
The School Story--Andrew Clements (196)
A Kiss of Fate--Mary Jo Putney (398)
The Shadow--Shelley Munro (398)
The Cinderella Pact--Sarah Strohmeyer (290)
The Moorchild--Eloise McGraw (241)
Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch--Alice Hegan Rice (160)
Loser--Jerry Spinelli (218)
If Tomorrow Comes--Sidney Sheldon (408)
To Love an Older Man--Debbi Rawlins (249)
Princess Academy--Shannon Hale (314)
Reconstructing Natalie--Laura Jensen Walker (312)
Bet Your Bottom Dollar--Karin Gillespie (293)
A Dollar Short--Karin Gillespie (322)
The Husband Quest--Lori Handeland (296)

Sweet Grass--Dee Marvine (283)
Hard Eight--Janet Evanovich (341)
Freedom's WIngs: Corey's Diary, Kentucky to Ohio, 1857 (My America)--Sharon Dennis Wyeth (108)
The Wizard Test--Hilari Bell (166)
A Fistful of Charms--Kim Harrison (528)
An Unquiet Grave--P. J. Parrish (429)
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America--Erik Larson (432)
A Break with Charity: A Story About the Salem Witch Trials--Ann Rinaldi (298)
Everything's Coming Up Josey--Susan May Warren (313)
Hers to Desire--Margaret Moore (376)
Yellow--Janni Visman (173)
A Christmas Legacy--Kathryn Shay (298)
A Bride Most Begrudging--Deeanne Gist (347)
Warrior in Her Bed--Cathleen Galitz (185)
Five Children and It--E. Nesbit (184)
Memory in Death--J. D. Robb (375)

One Forbidden Evening--Jo Goodman (444)
Calculated Loss: A Madeline Carter Novel--Linda L. Richards (408)
Lost and Found--Carolyn Parkhurst (292)
Picket Fence--Kimberly Cates (379)
Just for Kicks--Susan Andersen (379)
The Tea-Olive Bird Watching Society--Augusta Trobaugh (228)
The Eye of the Dream--Elizabeth SInclair (177)
Been There, Done That--Carol Snow (329)

Magic or Madness--Justine Larbalestier (271)
Searching for David's Heart--Cherie Bennett (220)
Sins of Midnight--Kimberly Logan (375)
A Place Called Bliss--Ruth Glover (239)
Stolen Magic--M. J. Putney (410)
With Love from Bliss--Ruth Glover (235)
Match Me If You Can--Susan Elizabeth Phillips (386)
A Pretend Engagement--Jessica Steele (185)
The Great Little Madison--Jean Fritz (153)

Where Mercy Flows--Karen Harter (418)
Enchanted, Inc.--Shanna Swendson (308)
Too Close to Home--Maureen Tan (296)

The Nobodies, by N. E. Bode--Julianna Baggott (292)
First Impressions--Jude Deveraux (340)
Marriage Most Scandalous--Johanna Lindsey (326)
Ghost Stories of Ohio--Edrick Thay (192)
The Prophecy of the Stones--Flavia Bujor (386)
The Smoke Thief--Shana Abe (324)
The Promise of Happiness--Betty Neels (187)
January 1905--Katharine Boling (178)
Retrieval--Jeanie London (340)
Angels Fall--Nora Roberts (717)

Fairest--Gail Carson Levine (326)
Alice's Tulips--Sandra Dallas (246)
The Kite Runner--Khaled Hosseini (371)
Visions of Sugar Plums--Janet Evanovich (230)
A Great and Terrible Beauty--Libba Bray (403)
The Agony of Alice--Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (131)
The Perfect Wife--Lynsay Sands (354)
'Tis Herself--Maureen O'Hara with John Nicoletti (308)
Stay with Me--Beverly Long (310)
Passage--Connie Willis (780)
Carolina Isle--Jude Deveraux (397)
Not a Sparrow Falls--Linda Nichols (351)
Somebody's Baby--Tara Taylor Quinn (298)

170 Books Total; 55,681 Pages