Tuesday, December 30, 2014


by Lucy Christopher

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis:  You saw me before I saw you.
A girl: Gemma, at the airport, on her way to a family vacation.
You had that look in your eyes.
A guy: Ty, rugged, tan, too old, oddly familiar, eyes blue as ice.
Like you wanted me.
She steps away.  For just a second.  He pays for her drink.  And drugs it.
Wanted me for a long time.

He takes her, before she even knows what's happening.  
To sand and heat.  
To emptiness and isolation.  
To nowhere.  
And expects her to love him.

Written as a letter from a victim to her captor, this is Gemma's desperate story of survival.  Ty has stolen her body.  Against every instinct screaming inside her, will he also steal Gemma's heart?
from the back of the book

Review:  I had a hard time with this book because I didn't buy Ty's motivation for kidnapping Gemma.  I thought Ty was too nice of a guy to be a kidnapper; I liked Ty as a character.  I also was rooting for a relationship between Gemma and Ty even though Ty kidnapped Gemma.  I think the author wanted us to believe that they were going to fall in love (I'm not saying that they did, I'm saying what the reader wants to happen).  I should not be rooting for a romance between an abductor and a victim. That is just wrong!  I do love the description of the scenery and the landscape.  It makes me want to explore the desert of Australia.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Heroes Are My Weakness

Heroes Are My Weakness
Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Heroes Are My Weakness

Genre: Romance

Summary (from the publisher): The dead of winter.

An isolated island off the coast of Maine.

A man.

A woman.

A sinister house looming over the sea ...

He's a reclusive writer whose macabre imagination creates chilling horror novels. She's a down-on-her-luck actress reduced to staging kids' puppet shows. He knows a dozen ways to kill with his bare hands. She knows a dozen ways to kill with laughs.

But she's not laughing now. When she was a teenager, he terrified her. Now they're trapped together on a snowy island off the coast of Maine. Is he the villain she remembers or has he changed? Her head says no. Her heart says yes.

It's going to be a long, hot winter.

Review:  Just like her last two new releases, this book didn't live up to Phillips' usual high standards for contemporary romance.  The beginning was difficult to get into, especially because most of the conversations occurred between Annie and the puppet voices in her head, which almost made me put the book down several times.  More importantly, though, Annie is convinced that Theo once tried to kill her, and yet she finds herself having romantic feelings for him?  Completely unbelievable.  Plus, the summary hints at a huge gothic mystery suspense, and I figured out right away what the twist was going to be. The last half was much better, especially once Theo and Annie start talking more and sharing secrets from their pasts. 

Rating: 3 stars

Secret Santa

Secret Santa
Fern Michaels, Marie Bostwick, Laura Levine, Cindy Myers

Secret Santa

Genre: Christmas Romance

Summary (from the publisher): Christmas is the time for miracles, mayhem, and holiday romance in these wonderful stories from four of today's most beloved authors…

"Mister Christmas" by Fern Michaels
A week before Christmas, attorney Claire O'Brien is summoned to Ireland to change her wealthy client's will--only to encounter resistance from his handsome nephew. Will Claire be forced to spend the holidays up close and personal with her irresistible Irish nemesis?

"The Yellow Rose of Christmas" by Marie Bostwick

Though Miss Velvet Tudmore wrote off romance years ago, rumor has it she has a secret admirer. And when her surprise suitor promises to reveal himself at the annual Christmas ball in Too Much, Texas, Velvet starts to wonder: is it ever too late to find love?

"Nightmare on Elf Street" by Laura Levine
Aside from the mortifying costume, how bad can a gig as a mall Santa's elf be? Jaine Austen finds out when she's teamed up with the Santa from Hell. But things go from bad to worse when he's found murdered on the job--and Jaine is a suspect. Now all she wants for Christmas is to find the real killer…

"Room at the Inn" by Cindy Myers
When a Rocky Mountain blizzard forces Barb and her husband to spend Christmas in a remote Colorado cabin with their fellow travelers, Barb struggles to cope--especially when her husband reveals troubling news. But sometimes a holiday shake-up is all a woman needs to discover what she's truly made of….

Review:  I have a secret weakness for cheesy holiday romance short story collections, and so I thought this would be a fun book to read in the car on the way down to my in-laws to celebrate Christmas.  However, I was seriously put off by the beginning of the first story, when Claire gets drunk in an airport and vomits in the bathroom then runs to catch her plane completely hungover.  I have no interest at all in reading about the shenanigans of irresponsible young women like this, so I gave up on the book.  I did come back to it later and read the last story, "Room at the Inn" by Cindy Myers, which I mostly enjoyed.  It was a nice little story where rich society wife Barb discovers the joy in having a simple Christmas, and in the last page, discovers what she really wants to do with her life.  I read the first page or two of the middle two stories, but decided they weren't my cup of tea either.

Rating: abandoned

The Christmas Promise

The Christmas Promise
Donna VanLiere

The Christmas Promise (Christmas Hope, #4)

Genre: Christmas Fiction

Summary (from the publisher): Each Christmas we are given a promise from heaven. And each year on earth we make promises to each other.

This is a story about how a promise from one person to another shows us the true meaning of faith, remembrance, and love.Seven years ago Gloria endured a family tragedy that almost shook her faith entirely. Each Christmas she places a card in an envelope on her tree, restating a promise she made to her husband before he died. Now, having moved from her small town and all the painful memories it held, she is building a life by caring for people in need. Whether it's a young mother who can't pay her electric bill or a family who needs some extra food, Gloria always finds a way. Miriam is a thorn in Gloria's side. Miriam is a constantly critical, disapproving neighbor who looks with suspicion at all the good things Gloria does. When a twist of fate makes them roommates instead of neighbors, it's the ultimate test of patience and faith.

Chaz has a good job as head of security at Wilson's Department Store, but each night he returns home to an empty apartment. He longs for a wife and family of his own but realizes that the life choices he's made have alienated him. He befriends a young boy whose mother has fallen on hard times, giving him a chance to have a life he thought impossible.In The Christmas Promise, the lives of these characters collide and we learn that even as we move ahead, the past is never far behind. And when we are forgiven much, we love much.

In this warmly humorous and deeply poignant story, we are reminded that the Christmas Promise is the promise of second chances.

Review:  This was a nice, quick, feel-good Christmas read.  The story touches a little on runaways, alcoholism, and domestic abuse, so it's not entire a light and fluffy story.  The main characters had enough flaws to make them interesting, and by the end, everyone had addressed their problems and found their happy ending. There were a few too many ancillary characters for such a short book, and I think a little more depth and length would have improved it.

Rating: 3 stars

Miracle in a Dry Season

Miracle in a Dry Season
Sarah Loudin Thomas

Miracle in a Dry Season (Appalachian Blessings, #1)

Genre: Christian Fiction

Summary (from the publisher): It's 1954 and Perla Long's arrival in the small town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle. 

Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor...until he meets Perla. She's everything he's sought in a woman, but he can't get past the sense that she's hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla's unique way with food brings both gratitude and condemnation, placing the pair in the middle of a maelstrom of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.

Review:  If I was rating this book solely within the realm of Christian fiction, I would give it 4 stars.  It is a lovely, gentle, non-offensive romance about judging others and forgiveness.  The moral lessons about judging not lest ye be judged and those without sin casting the first stone are as relevant today as they have ever been, and provide a nice reminder to the reader to apply these lessons in her own life.

This story was set in 1954 in Appalachia, and as I was reading, I kept forgetting both the time period and the setting.  It seemed to me that the moral code of the characters was a little outdated for 1954, and would have been more appropriately set in the early 1900s or even late 1800s in any farming state.  The author states that her "love of the Appalachian Mountains informs [her] writing" but I would have enjoyed more descriptions of the beautiful mountainous setting.

Rating: 3 stars

Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Books of 2014

Here is a list of my top reads in 2014.  I had a hard time picking these books because I didn't feel that I had read as memorable books as I did last year and a lot of the good books I read were juvenile fiction or young adult fiction. I did not include any books that were second or third in a series but I would like to mention Prodigy and Champion by Marie Lu as well as Blood of My Blood by Barry Lyga.  I rated those books very highly but they are not the first book in the series. These books are in no particular order.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I appreciated Auggie's attitude in this book and how Auggie affected other people in his life.  You can read my review here.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
I love memoirs and this one was well written about a child who had gone through the system in Florida.   I was amazed by her ability to come out of the situation and accomplish so much.  You can read my review here.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
I love a good dystopian trilogy and this series started out so strongly!  You can read my full review here.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
The story was such an interesting concept and would create a lot of discussion.   You can read my full review here.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This book has stayed with me since reading it and I can't stop thinking about the story.  You can read my review here.

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman
This was an unexpected fantastically good book.  It is on the lighter side but it isn't too light.  You can read my review here.

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
I loved the historical aspect of this story and how it is about a social worker in the 1960s.  You can read my review here.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
This is a juvenile fiction book but yet I emotionally connected with this story.  You can read my review here.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Byea
This was a very heartwarming, emotional juvenile fiction book.  You can read my review here.

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

This was a heartbreaking, eyeopening memoir of a boy soldier in Sierra Leona.  You can read my review here.

My goal for 2015 is to read my adult books that are good since half my list are not adult fiction books!

The Weight of Silence

The Weight of Silence
by Heather Gudenkauf

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: It happens quietly one August morning.  As dawn's shimmering light drenches the humid Iowa air, two families awaken to find their little girls have gone missing in the night.

Seven-year-old Calli Clark is sweet, gentle, and dreamer who suffers from selective mutism brought on by tragedy that pulled her deep into silence as a toddler.  Calli's mother, Antonia, tried to be the best mother she could within the confines of marriage to a mostly absent, often angry husband.  Now, though she denies that her husband could be involved in the possible abductions, she fears her decision to stay in her marriage has cost her more than her daughter's voice.

Petra Gregory is Calli's best friend, her soul mate and her voice.  But neither Petra nor Calli has been heard from since their disappearance was discovered.  Desperate to find his child, Martin Gregory is forced to confront a side of himself he did not know existed beneath his intellectual, professorial demeanor.

Now these families are tied by the question of what happened to their children.  And the answer is trapped in the silence of unspoken family secrets.
from the book jacket

Review:  This is my second book that I have read by Heather Gudenkauf.  After reading this book (and One Breath Away) I am in awe of her ability to write about major situations that are relatively short lived and make a 300+ page book and manage to keep and hold my attention while providing back story.  The majority of this book happened in about 14 hours but yet I learned so much about all the characters.  It was hard to put this story down because I needed to know what happened to Calli to cause the selective mutism and then what happened to make her finally talk.  I also needed to know what happened to the girls.  Gudenkauf also has talent when writing from different points of view.  This story is told from the perspective of Calli, Ben (Calli's brother), Martin, Antonia and the sheriff, Louis.  The one weakness in this story for me is the perpetrator.  I won't tell you who it is and what he/she did but it just didn't fit in the story and there wasn't enough motive.  We don't find out until the very end who the perpetrator is and that really brings down the whole book.

Rating: 4 stars

Best Books of 2014

Here are the best books that I read in 2014 in no particular order. 

Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle
Villa Triste
A fascinating and beautifully written novel; it's a combination of a modern day mystery and a historical fiction book set in Nazi occupied Italy.  You can read my review here.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Me Before You
Don't judge this book by its cover - it may look like a cheesy romance, but it is a deeply moving story of self-discovery, quadriplegic life, and the difficult topic of euthanasia. You can read my review here.

Runner by Patrick Lee
The best kind of thriller, with non-stop action and well-developed, compelling characters.  You can read my review here.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All the Light We Cannot See
A beautifully written story about a blind girl living in France during World War II.  You can read my review here.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)
A truly moving story about a girl who experiences a terrible tragedy and has to make a life-changing decision about her future. Warning - this book will make you cry! You can read my review here.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
A good women's fiction summer read about the relationship between a working mother and a stay-at-home dad; Rowell has a gift for character development and natural dialogue.  You can read my review here.

The One and Only Ivan by Daniel O'Malley
This is a fascinating juvenile fiction book written from the point of view of a gorilla.  It's not the kind of book I would have picked up myself, but I was amazed by how the author makes you identify with the animals.  You can read my review here.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor & Park
I loved this story about a weird girl and a geeky boy falling in love with each other; the author really gets inside the kids' heads and makes you feel their pain and joy..  You can read my review here.

Shake Down the Stars by Renee Swindle
Shake Down the Stars
An unexpectedly emotional read about a mother falling to rock bottom after the death of her daughter, and how she makes a new life for herself. You can read my review here.

The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman
This book about a woman's process of self-discovery following the death of her mother was such a quick and easy read; the author has a knack for capturing conversations that are both poignant and funny.  You can read my review here.  

The Martian by Andy Weir
The Martian
A snarky engineer gets left behind on the planet Mars, and has to figure out how to survive by his wits until a rescue mission can be launched.  I'm not normally a science fiction fan, but this read like it was a true story.  You can read my review here

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry
A delightful summer read about a snarky bookstore owner who is drawn out of his grumpy solitude by a quirky and charming book sales rep and a surprising little girl.  You can read my review here.

Leaving Unknown by Kerry Reichs
Leaving Unknown
A quirky and delightful coming of age story with unconventional and loveable characters.  You can read my review here.

I figured that since it was 2014, I should pick my 14 favorite books of the year.  As of December 13, I only have 13 that really stood out, so I wonder if I will read any really fantastic books in the last two weeks of the year?  Once again, my favorite books cover a variety of genres.

Because of Mr. Terupt

Because of Mr. Terupt
by Rob Byea

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Synopsis: It's the start of fifth grade for seven kids at Snow Hill School.  There's Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who's having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school.

Only Mr. Terupt, their new and energetic teacher, seems to know how to deal with them all.  He makes the classroom a fun place, even if he doesn't let them get away with much...until the snowy winter day when an accident changes everything-and everyone.
from the book jacket

Review: At first I thought this book was going to be too juvenile for me especially because it was written from the perspectives of fifth graders but the characters started to grow on me, especially after the accident.  I was brought to tears too many times to count while reading this book.  Since the book is being told by seven fifth graders we see the world through their young eyes and experience the accident and aftermath in their eyes and it puts a different spin on the book because fifth graders are young and don't understand the world like adults to.  It was definitely interesting to put yourselves in their shoes. While this book is written for a much younger audience, I think adults would enjoy reading this book as well.

Rating: 4 stars

Monday, December 15, 2014

Stars Go Blue

Stars Go Blue
Laura Pritchett

Stars Go Blue: A Novel

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher): Laura Pritchett is an award-winning author who has quickly become one of the west’s defining literary voices. We first met hardscrabble ranchers Renny and Ben Cross in Laura’s debut collection, and now in Stars Go Blue, they are estranged, elderly spouses living on opposite ends of their sprawling ranch, faced with the particular decline of a fading farm and Ben’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He is just on the cusp of dementia, able to recognize he is sick but unable to do anything about it —the notes he leaves in his pockets and around the house to remind him of himself, his family, and his responsibilities are no longer as helpful as they used to be. Watching his estranged wife forced into care-taking and brought to her breaking point, Ben decides to leave his life with whatever dignity and grace remains.

As Ben makes his decision, a new horrible truth comes to light: Ray, the abusive husband of their late daughter is being released from prison early. This opens old wounds in Ben, his wife, his surviving daughter, and four grandchildren. Branded with a need for justice, Ben must act before his mind leaves him, and sets off during a brutal snowstorm to confront the man who murdered his daughter. Renny, realizing he is missing, sets off to either stop or witness her husband’s act of vengeance.

Stars Go Blue is a triumphant novel of the American family, buffered by the workings of a ranch and the music offered by the landscape and animal life upon it.

Review:  This book reminded me of Plainsong by Kent Haruf, and in fact, the author thanks Haruf in her acknowledgement section.  I found that interesting.

I don't know quite what to make of this book.  I didn't exactly love it, because the subject matter is so difficult and the characters are so sad, but it was moving and powerful and thought-provoking.  And I think it might be the kind of book that I remember for a long time, but it's hard to say now because I just finished it this morning.

Tackling the depressing subject of Alzheimer's, this novel is written from the perspective of an elderly rancher with dementia as well as from the point of view of his crotchety caretaker wife.  Both characters made me want to cry - Ben, because of his moments of clarity where he realizes what is happening to him and is determined to face the rest of his life with strength and dignity.  And Renny, because she struggles to care for Ben despite challenges they have faced in the past and the difficulties of dealing with his forgetfulness and rage. 

The descriptions of the ranch, ranch life, and the Colorado scenery are hauntingly beautiful, adding to the sense of desolation.

Rating: 4 stars


Ruth Reichl


Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  In her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.

Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.

Review:  Maybe I should create a new genre called Foodie Fiction, because that's definitely what this book is.  Is it great literary fiction?  No.  The main character hints at tragedy earlier in her life, but this isn't explored until very late in the book, and then only briefly, so it was hard to really get to know Billie.  I found quite a bit of this book unrealistic - Billie's first day on the job, her relationship with her family, how perfectly things seem to happen to her, and then why on earth was there such a mystery about the Lulu Swan letters?  It just didn't make any kind of logical sense.  And the characters in this book are such serious foodies that it started to drive me a little crazy.  I mean really, do we need to only eat balsamic vinegar that has been aged in six different types of wooden casks?  Come on.

BUT.... this book was so much fun to read.  I enjoyed reading about Billie discovering herself in New York City, and I liked the sections that talked about recipe development.  I think travel food writer Sammy was my favorite character, with his impressive vocabulary and quirky personality. But my favorite parts were the Lulu Swan letters, and although I couldn't fathom why they were hidden so mysteriously, I did enjoy the mystery of finding them.  

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life
by Leila Sales

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: You think it's so easy to change yourself.  You think it's so easy, but it's not.

Elise Dembowski is not afraid of a little hard work.  In fact, she embraces it.  All her life, she's take on big, all-encompassing projects.  When she's fifteen, she embarks on the biggest, and most important, project of them all: becoming cool.  Except she fails.  Miserably.  And everything falls to pieces.

Now, if possible, Elise's social life is even worse than it was before.  Until she stumbles into an underground dance club and opens the door to a world she never knew existed.  An inside-out world where, seemingly overnight, a previously uncool high school sophomore can become the hottest new DJ sensation.  Elise finally has what she's always wanted: acceptance, friendship, maybe even love.  Until the real world threatens to steal it all away.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was a fast and easy read but not one that stands out.  There was too much in this book that just fell into place too easily and some things were just not explained well.  We don't know why Elise is bullied and picked on.  She doesn't seem that uncool to me.  Elise is quite down on her life at one point and the next time we see her time has passed and she seems to be coping OK.  I just didn't think that was realistic.  I also didn't think that what happened to Elise at the underground dance club was realistic either.  Perhaps I was looking at this book in a too analytic way and perhaps I'm not young enough to really appreciate this book.

Rating: 3 stars