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Sealed With a Kiss

Sealed with a Kiss - Rachael Lucas

Kate is dumped by her snoozer boyfriend, so naturally she takes a job as Girl Friday to a real Scottish Laird on a remote Scottish island. It's a romance novel, so you know what happens next!

 

First, I have to say that I'm so used to everything being paranormal these days, I spent the first two-thirds of the book waiting for the seals to reveal themselves as selkies, or something, and - I cannot stress this strongly enough - that did not happen. This is really quite a sweet romance. There's a minimum of drama, pretty much no peril, and a lovely community of people. I could empathize completely with Kate and her decisions, and if I had a handy Scottish isle, I'd probably move there tomorrow. I'll be seeking out more titles by Rachael Lucas, and I recommend this one!

 

What Went Well:

  • Honest characters
  • Great setting

 

Even Better If:

  • More!

Dead Lions

Dead Lions - Mick Herron

A group of has-been MI5 agents try to solve the murder of a retired former agent and a cold-war-era Russian spy, who may or may not have existed.

 

There's plenty of action and misdirection in this one, and lots of who-can-we-trust suspense. The group of "slow" MI5 agents are all distinct, maddening, tragic personalities, and readers get into the heads of each of them. There are some weirdly ineffective devices (when our hypothetical mouse gets to the top of the stairs, he'd die if he went left so it's good he goes right, etc.) and the third quarter drags. But fans of the spy genre will enjoy this, despite. 

 

Went Went Well:

  • Strangely likable group of misfit agents
  • Believable plot


Even Better If:

  • Less hypothetical mice
  • More even pacing

 

The publisher provided this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Release date 7 May 2013.

Ours to Love

Ours To Love  - Shayla Black

From the jacket: "Eager to rejuvenate Javier’s life, [Javier's brother] Xander shanghais him to Louisiana, where they meet beautiful London McLane. After a decade of tragedy and struggle, London is determined to make a fresh start—and these sexy billionaire brothers are more than willing to help. In every way. London is stunned to find herself open to every heated suggestion…and desperately hoping that her love will heal them. But a killer is watching, on a single-minded mission to destroy everything the Santiago brothers hold dear, especially London. As fear and desire collide, every passionate beat of her heart could be her last."

 

Ok, so this is one of those 50 Shades scions that falls somewhere between romance and erotica. Author Shayla Black has made an honest effort to provide some plot and character development. That said, the book does include the usual erotica and romance tropes. This is a solid read and fans of the genre(s) will love it.

 

What Went Well:

  • Plot (there is one)
  • Likeable characters

 

Even Better If:

  • Not brothers!

 

The publisher provided this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Release date 7 May 2013.

The High Plains Sifter: Retro-Modern Baking for Every Altitude

The High Plains Sifter: Retro-Modern Baking for Every Altitude - Chris Reynolds

The altitude here is about 4000 ft. and I've had ongoing problems with my baking. I bought this book in an attempt to figure out what's been going wrong.

 

Author Chris Reynolds has tried to create a useful recipe book and reference, but self-publishing has done him a disservice. The book suffers from a lack of professional editing, some of which would result in recipe disasters. Also I find it difficult to believe that every recipe in a given chapter might require the exact same adjustment at altitude. The book was laid out with a color kindle in mind, and the half-tone text of the recipes is difficult to read on my kindle4. And the full text of Reynolds' suggestions for adjustments at altitude is given at the beginning of every chapter.

 

The recipes look good and I will be trying some, but I will be using my best judgement rather than blindly following the recipe. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I found the reference I was looking for.

 

What Went Well:

  • Recipe selection
  • Nice photographs that work well in black and white

 

Even Better If:

  • Professionally edited
  • Designed with multiple platforms in mind

Albert of Adelaide: A Novel

Albert of Adelaide: A Novel - Howard Anderson

Platypus Albert escapes the Adelaide zoo in search of Old Australia. He's not sure what he finds, but it's not what he was looking for.

 

I admit I was skeptical about this book. I'd read several reviews that talked about how funny or clever it is, or how it is the next Watership Down. But I was reading these reviews everywhere, and a digital sample is free on amazon.com, so I gave it a shot.

 

I wouldn't call it hilariously funny, or even an heir to Watership Down. But I did enjoy it much more than I hoped. There are plenty of humorous moments, but the thing I wasn't expecting is that it's a Western. Like, Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour western, only with platypuses (platypi? platipodes?) and wallabies and dingoes. After reading Watership Down as a child, I'm always afraid that books starring anthropomorphic animals are going to devolve into allegory, but if it was there in this book it was thickly-veiled enough for me to cheerfully ignore it. This book does go to some dark places, which sometimes pulled me out of the happy fantasy.

 

I love that it was written by Howard L. Anderson, a 69 year old organized crime lawyer from New Mexico.

 

What Went Well:

  • Honestly a good Western
  • Totally original

 

Even Better If:

  • Tone stayed lighter

 

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores - Jen Campbell

A compilation of odd questions and strange conversations submitted by bookstore clerks and complied by Jen Campbell.

 

It's always fun to hear that other people share your pain. Read this book and laugh out loud.

Don't Turn Around

Don't Turn Around (PERSEF0NE, #1) - Michelle Gagnon

Noa is a hacker. She's hacked a fake family, an apartment, and a life for herself, on her own at age sixteen. But she wakes up on an operating table and has to go on the run.

 

This is the first book by Michelle Gagnon, and that shows around the edges a bit. The teenage characters have too much agency, help appears from nowhere, and there are a few too many coincidences. That said, whatever its defects, I know plenty of readers in the target age group that will like it a lot, and I enjoyed the book and will be reading the sequel.

 

What Went Well:

  • Lots of action
  • Sympathetic characters


Even Better If:

  • Teen characters seemed like teens
  • Take a breather for characters AND readers - too much is happening too fast

Viral

Viral - James Lilliefors

Charles Mallory, a former CIA operative, is left to stop a bioterrorist plot after his father dies. He must use his brother, his business, and complete strangers, as well as his CIA contacts to preserve the lives of millions in Africa.

 

I was interested in this novel because I find epidemics and virology fascinating, but was there was less detail about the actual viral agent that I would have liked (it wasn't quite a McGuffin, but it had definite McGuffish tendencies). The protagonist was rather cold, and used others without remorse. Also, author James Llliefors could have cut the novvel by about a third. There was a lot of traveling thither and yon that the book could do without.

 

What Went Well:

  • Interesting premise
  • Suspenseful

 

Even Better If:

  • Shorter
  • All characters were better developed and more complex, particularly secondary characters

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons In Life, Love, And Language - Deborah Fallows

Deborah Fallows and her family move to China for two years, and Fallows recounts the experience of living in China through the lens of her attempts to learn Mandarin.

 

I enjoyed this a lot. I am always fascinated by cultures different from mine, and Fallows' point of view is sympathetic with mine. Examining the disconnect between the Chinese and American meanings of phrases like "I love you" or "not allowed" is a great way of exploring the greater disconnect of her cultural transition.

 

What Went Well:

  • Insights seem genuine and not forced
  • The new culture is approached with an open mind and heart

 

Even Better If:

  • Chapters were longer
  • More phrases were covered
  • More narrative connection between chapters

Faun

Faun - Trebor Healey

The book description on amazon calls this "a new fairy tale about lust and faith," which is a good a summation as I can think of. Things have been getting weird for Gilberto, and the situation comes to a head, so to speak, when he starts high school. Gilberto gets fur, horns,a tail, and has an odd effect of girls, all of which he tries to hide with less and less success.  Finally he runs away, and is taught that he has become a satyr.

 

Here's the thing: the sexuality in this book made me uncomfortable. Between Gilberto's age (and the age of some of his paramours) and the women's helplessness, not to mention Gilberto's OWN helplessness, I got kinda creeped out. This book went unfinished for over a month, because at about 75-80% completion it was so dark and sexually weird I had no desire to finish. I eventually picked it up again, just to get it crossed off the list, and was relieved that there was some non-creepy closure. I can't in good conscience recommend this book (by Trebor Healey) to anyone.

 

What Went Well:

  • Writing was good
  • Acceptable plot resolution

 

Even Better If:

  • I don't know what to say here, because changing my biggest complaint (the indiscriminate, underage, out-of-control sexuality) would make it a completely different book. On the other hand, I'd rather have read a different book.

The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground

The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground - Michael Harris

I read the kindle sample of this book today. The story seems interesting enough, but something about the author Michael Harris' voice bothers me. There's an underlying false bonhomie, or arrogance, or something that I find distasteful.  Deleted the sample; no plans to buy or read the book.

Trapped

Trapped - Kevin Hearne

Iron Druid Chronicles, volume 5. Granuaile's training is complete, and it's time to make her a full druid. Too bad the Roman pantheon is getting involved!

 

There's a big leap forward in time between Tricked and Trapped, and I missed the sort of volume four-point-five, Two Ravens One Crow, which I will have to read next. There's a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, but the point is that Atticus has GOT to get his apprentice sorted before he does anything else life threatening, or all of druidry potentially dies with him. I enjoyed the focus on Atticus and Granuaile and their resolving tensions. I feel like everything else in the book took a back seat to this issue, and that's Ok with me.

 

What Went Well:

  • Atticus and Granuaile's relationship

 

Even Better If:

  • Oberon was a dog still, and not a furry human being

Tricked

Tricked - Kevin Hearne

Iron Druid Chronicles, volume four. Atticus tries to fake his own death, with mixed results, but gets drawn into one of Coyote's ploys in the process. Native American drama and hijinks ensue.

 

This volume was much better than the last; my faith in the series is restored. Granuaile is rounding out nicely, and these's some unresolved sexual tension between her and Atticus. All in all, I'm beginning to understand some readers' claims that Iron Druid is the new Dresden Files. My only complaint there is that Atticus is not showing the same kind of character development and growth that Harry Dresden enjoys.

 

What Went Well:

  • Interesting details of Native American beliefs
  • Things keep moving right along

 

Even Better If:

  • Atticus still needs to be growing, even after 2100 years!

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation

The Eighty Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired A Nation - Elizabeth Letts

What a great story.

 

A Dutch emigrant, trying to make a life for his family, impulsively pulls one particular sorry horse off a trailer bound for the glue factory, rescuing what was to become the most celebrated jumping horse of his era. Only, at first the horse can't even walk over poles on the ground!

 

This is a sweet book.  I'm in love with the man, the horse, the family, and basically everybody involved, including author Elizabeth Letts.

 

What Went Well:

  • Total lack of sensationalism or scandals
  • Very well researched
  • Just the right choice of images and clippings

 

Even Better If:

  • There are a few spots that drag narratively and could use some tightening up

The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld

The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld - Christine Wiltz

Author Christine Wiltz worked with both primary and secondary sources to bring Norma Wallace and the world of New Orleans prostitution to life.

 

Norma is portrayed as a colorful, willful, obsessively independent woman. The portrayal is so sympathetic that occasionally I find it unbelievable, but that may be my prejudices showing. Certainly I felt a lot of sympathy for her by the end of the book, even while wanting to shout at her and shake her.


New Orleans is as much a character as Norma in the beginning of the book, and Wiltz does a great job of invoking the romance of the city from the 1920's through WWII. In fact, I found the background information on the history of bad behavior in New Orleans to be just as interesting as Norma herself.

 

What Went Well:

  • Norma as a complex woman of her time
  • Research seems thorough

 

Even Better If:

  • Norma portrayed as slightly less saintly
  • Narrative needs faster pacing
SPOILER ALERT!

Hammered

Hammered - Kevin Hearne

Iron Druid Chronicles, number three, and it's going kinda downhill. Atticus is battling with the Norse gods in this installment, and it really is TOO EASY. He kills, I dunno, 4? Norse gods in about 10 minutes. He offs the Norns by accident, for cryin' in the night! Also, Atticus? Just say No, buddy.

 

I still enjoy Atticus, and his new apprentice seems awesome. That not withstanding, this is definitely the weakest volume so far. I don't know how I feel about a cameo by Jesus.

 

What Went Well:

  • Squirrel!

 

Even Better If:

  • If it was that easy, all the kids'd be doin' it!
  • More dog