Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe by Mary Simses

Another book that kept staring at me from the bookcases at work while it was still in hardcover.  I finally gave in and bought it in paperback.  And while I did enjoy the novel, I do have a few issues with it.  

First of all, I must admit that I love blueberries.  I mean seriously love blueberries.  As in eating a bowlful of frozen blueberries on a regular basis  and keeping large bags of them in the freezer kind of love.  

So that may have swayed me when I saw the cover of this book.  But as I finished the book, I have to say the title and the cover really aren't much of a match for the story inside.  Yes, blueberries are mentioned throughout the story, but in a way that becomes annoying. Ellen mentions, quite frequently, how her grandmother made the best blueberry muffins EVER.  And how the town of Beacon needs better blueberry muffins than what the cafe offers.  Ok.  Got it.  

 Ellen travels to Beacon, Maine to deliver a letter from her late grandmother to a man she knew many years before.  Ellen is a lawyer in New York City, engaged to an up and coming politician, and happy as a clam.  Until she almost drowns and is rescued by Roy, a local contractor.  Ellen is so happy to be rescued and so caught up in the moment (and her instant attraction to Roy) that she plants a big one on him and it's caught on camera and put in the local newspaper.  She's then known around town as "The Swimmer".  What started out as a quick trip to Maine quickly becomes extended as Ellen begins to realize her grandmother had a past that was very different from what Ellen knew, and she must figure it all out before she can leave Maine.  And then there's Roy.  He just keeps popping up, and her attraction to him is causing her some inner turmoil.  

All in all, the story was entertaining.  It was what I expected, except for that darn cover.  I thought it would be more food related.  In this aspect, the cover is deceptive.  Yes, blueberries are mentioned, and so is the cafe. But they are not the main focus of this novel! The epilogue is really the only part of the book that ties completely into the cover.  I am one of those people who likes the cover to match the overall inner thread of a story, and I feel like that this one just didn't do that.  It is a story about forgiveness, making choices, and finding love in unexpected places.  It's about the fact that we never do know our parents and grandparents that well, and we certainly have no idea who they were and what their hopes and dreams were when they were very young.  Did they love someone else?  Did they have plans that suddenly changed?  Are there people and places they never talk about?  

Fans of contemporary female fiction will enjoy this novel.  There are no great surprises and no terrible secrets.  A good vacation read.  Just be sure there are blueberries within reach.

Rating:  6/10 for a well drawn town with quirky characters and a heroine who finds the courage to jump.  

Available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Prototype by M.D. Waters

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I was eager to begin reading this sequel to the fantastic Archetype,  which I reviewed earlier this year.  But you know how after reading an incredible book (I'm talking about The Book of Life) you feel a bit empty inside and nothing appeals to you?  Well, I felt a bit like that last week.  But I pulled myself out of my reading funk and I am so glad I did with this latest thriller by M.D Waters.

Prototype returns to the world of Emma Wade, a clone on the run from two worlds:  that of the resistance she worked for, and that of Delcan Burke, the man who will move heaven and earth to reclaim Emma as his wife.  The resistance is where Emma met and fell in love with Noah, but her capture by Declan's world meant a completely different life; one where she was to be the perfect wife and produce children in a world where so many women are infertile it has divided the country into two factions and created an industry devoted to cloning women.  Clones are fertile and will produce children and boost a dangerously declining population.  Women in the Eastern United States are seen as objects to own.  Emma, however, had managed to escape this situation as a youth, and ended up as a kick-ass resistance fighter in the Western United States.  Until she fell in to the hands of Declan Burke.  

Archetype was especially good because you didn't know anything more than Emma did, as she slowly realizes her life is not her own, and memories from the real Emma intrude into her dreams.  Archetype ends with a bang and I couldn't wait to see what happened to Emma in Prototype.   I wasn't disappointed!

Emma finds herself on the run, unable to hide from Declan.  He's taken to the airwaves to call for the return of Emma at any cost.  She's hunted by the entire world and has no recourse but to return to the resistance, where she will be safely hidden.  Her feelings for Noah are still incredibly strong--and now there's another person to care about.  What will she do?  Will she stay with the resistance and fight to expose Declan's unethical cloning practices?  Does she have a chance to reclaim her love with Noah?  And what is happening to the "successful" clones besides Emma?  Lots of action in this one, some seriously intense moments between Emma and Noah, and truly a race to the end.  

I completely enjoyed this ride.  It's well written; Emma's torment between what she longs for and what she needs to do is very evident and you can't help but feel for this poor woman--she doesn't belong anywhere.  I would certainly recommend both Archetype and its equally enjoyable conclusion, Prototype.  They do take place in the near future but the technology isn't so far-fetched that you can't imagine it taking place in the next 50 years.  Take a chance on something different and read these books.  Trust me.  You'll enjoy them.  

Rating:  8/10 for another thrilling ride into the future with issues  about the morality of cloning and how to treat a clone--as a human, or a non-human with no rights?  Emma is an incredibly strong female character who grows in confidence and strength through both novels.  

Available this week in the United States in hardcover, e-book, and audio.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Grand Central: An Anthology


I'm not one for anthologies.  I like to dive into a book and get a good long story out of it.   But I've discovered that short stories do have a benefit, and in an increasingly busy life they can give me a bit of relief when I want to read but just can't sit down for long and enjoy a 400 page novel.  And I've realized they are perfect when I'm reading in bed at night--my ability to stay awake and read more than a few pages has diminished over the past year.  I'm still hoping I'll find the magic solution to getting by on 5 hours a sleep each night, yet still have oodles of energy to cruise through the day.  

Grand Central is an anthology about the famous Grand Central Station in New York City, just after World War 2 has ended and servicemen and women are finding their way home.  Each author--and there are 10  in all--writes a story that centers around September 20-21, 1945.  Each is about the after effects of World War 2 on both civilians, survivors, and battle weary servicemen and women who just want to go home to their families.  Each story is poignant and moving; from the Jewish holocaust survivor who is paraded around at fund raising events, to the British war bride and her child waiting under the big clock to greeted by her American husband, to the female pilot who struggles through her painful grief.  Each story is remarkably different, but all have the same themes of love, forgiveness, and forging a new life in a very different world.  So many stories echo the sentiment "don't look back, just move forward".  I can't imagine how the world managed to move forward after such enormous upheaval; I guess that speaks to the courage and determination of those who lived through it all.  

I think all the authors did a remarkable job with very different takes on this theme.  And in the middle of it all, the Grand Central Station shines as a crossroad for so many different lives.  And it speaks to the talent of the writers that in every story there are reminders of the stories you've just read; a glimpse of a  previous character, an echo of a violin; the oyster bar that is a setting in many of the stories. 

A great book to take with you when you can't focus on a long story, but want something you can read for a bit then put down and pick up.  That is the beauty of an anthology.  And it does take talent to write a fully developed short story.  You'll find yourself picking this one up quite frequently!  

Rating:  7/10 for talented writers who all wrote a distinctly different short story on the same theme.  The characters will tug at your heart.  

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

It's been awhile since I have enjoyed a trilogy or even a series as much as I've enjoyed the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness.  And finally, we have come to the end of the road.  The Book of Life is the final thrilling novel in the adventures of Matthew Clairmont and Diana Bishop; one   a 1500 year old vampire and the other a contemporary witch who denies her powers.   They  meet over the mysterious Ashmole 782 at Oxford and fireworks happen.  

Before I begin my review, I'm going to tell you one thing:  if you haven't read any of these books, I'm not going to give away anything.  You really do need to read the books!  

In this final novel, it continues right where Shadow of Night ends.  Diana and Matthew are back at Sept-Tours, along with a cast of characters that have become deeply involved in the lives of Diana and Matthew.  You'll find yourself smiling as you meet them all again.  Deborah Harkness brings characters to life in such a way that they seem very human--even the daemons and vampires!  There are no one-dimensional people in this world; all are fully three-dimensional characters that are hard to forget.  

The one thing that kept returning to my mind as I read this book was the treatment of marriage.  It's been a very long time since I've read a novel where the romance part of marriage wasn't at the forefront, and often the story stopped once the marriage happened.  But with Matthew and Diana, I am amazed at how their relationship plays out over the trilogy.  Yes, Matthew is a vampire, and Diana is a mortal witch.  Their relationship is based on true, deep, lasting love.  It is full of respect, protectiveness, and the knowledge that there is simply no one else for either of them.  They learn secrets about each other, yet accept both the good and the bad.  It's a relationship to be admired and aspired to for anyone looking for love. 

With that said, wow what an excellent book!  I will admit it took me about 50 pages to get in the swing of things remembering characters, but after that it just continued to build in excitement and action until the thrilling conclusion.  And Diana is kick-ass.  She becomes the most amazing, vibrant woman--truly a lioness, which Matthew uses as a term of endearment.  The arc of her development from a restless and unhappy professor to a woman of power is very well done and another favorite part of this trilogy.  Bravo, Deborah Harkness!  

So--I don't tell you much.  I'll leave that for you to discover as you hunker down this July and read the further adventures of Matthew and Diana.  You will not be disappointed.  All is neatly tied together, questions are answered, and you are left feeling a bit bereft after finishing the last sentence.  Yes, I've actually sighed a number of times after I've finished and put the book down!  

Rating:  9/10 for a brilliant conclusion, well-developed characters, and story arcs that answer all questions.  

Available today!  Tuesday, July 15th in the United States in Hardcover, E-book, and audio.  

And the winner of a hardcover copy of The Book of Life is…….

Kate!  Please email me your address!

Monday, July 14, 2014

One Day Left!! Enter to Win! Oh Yeah. And Other Stuff

If you haven't entered to win a copy of The Book of Life, what the heck are you waiting for?  Click here to enter the giveaway.  Tomorrow my review of The Book of Life will be posted.  I promise I've not given any of the story away.  I like people to discover the great parts of books all by themselves.  

So this has been consuming my life for the last few weeks--The Book of Life made me want to be on a deserted island with no distractions so I could read it in one gulp.  But life is super busy and I had to squeeze it in when I could--which meant the four other books I've started have fallen to the wayside.  Boo.  

To give you a mini-preview of what I'm going to be reviewing in the next few weeks, here's what I'm reading now:

 You'll see upcoming reviews for these books in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, watch for my review and the winner of a copy of The Book of Life tomorrow, Tuesday July 15th.  Seriously people!  You will love it!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Want to Win a Copy of The Book of Life? Here's How

July 15th is the day you will call in sick, cancel all appointments, and ignore the phone.  It's the day The Book of Life goes on sale in the US!  

And I'm giving a copy away to one lucky reader.  

What?  Yep.  I've just started reading it myself to get ready to review it on July 15th, and I'm quite willing to forgo any communication or activities for the next week so I can enjoy this final book in the All Souls Trilogy.  And while I'm sad it's the end of the journey with Diana and Matthew, I'm also glad it is a trilogy and their story has a conclusion.  I've found some series drag on too long and I lose interest.  But this?  heck no!  Still eagerly turning the pages.  

So how do you enter to win a copy?  

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter now!  You have until midnight, July 14th to enter.  Open to US residents only.  Thanks to Viking/Penguin for providing the giveaway.  I'll post my review of The Book of Life  and the winner on July 15th. Good luck!

Have a wonderful July 4th!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

This is the third JoJo Moyes book I've reviewed and I can say with absolute certainty that she's on my list of authors I will read without hesitation.  It takes talent to write a novel each time that is completely different from previous works.  Honestly, I don't know how she does it, but I will not question and instead just enjoy.

One Plus One is a contemporary story about a single mom who struggles to pay her bills while raising her daughter and stepson.  Her hubby had left a few years previously, claiming "depression" and moving in with his Mum hours away from Jess and their kids.  Still married, he continues to provide excuse upon excuse as to why he doesn't help support the kids and why he won't come home.  Meanwhile, Jess works hard at a few jobs: barmaid and cleaning woman.  

Enter Ed.  He's a self-made software millionaire who doesn't much care about the money he's made.  He has a beach home in the village where Jess lives, and she regularly cleans the home.  One night, their paths cross and become entangled in an utterly strange, yet completely understandable way.  Soon Ed finds himself driving Jess, Tanzie, and Nicky to Scotland in order for Tanzie to compete in a math olympiad.  A whiz-bang brilliant mathematician, Tanzie has the opportunity to attend a prestigious, very expensive private school.  A scholarship will pay for almost all of her schooling, but Jess has no way to pay for the balance.  Unless Tanzie wins the math competition and the grand prize.  Gee, no pressure there, right?

This journey to Scotland is the main story of the novel.  Ed and Jess have hours--yes, lots of hours to get to know each other on the journey from England to Scotland.  I can't tell you why the trip takes so long, but oh my.  Just imagine yourself stuck in a car crammed with people and a dog and you'll laugh out loud at all the issues that unfold.  Smell-o-vision will spring up without any effort on your part.  

So what makes this story so enjoyable?  Ed and Jess are two complex characters.  Ed has wealth, but a life that is falling apart.  Jess is barely making a living, but keeps getting up each day to do it all again because she has no choice.  Her eternal optimism and belief in something better keeps her from giving up.  Tanzie and Nicky are two kids who don't fit into any easily labeled group and pay the price for being different.  They are both wonderful characters  and tug at your heart.  We all know kids like Tanzie and Nicky.  This odd ball group of people come together in a peculiar way and it's a treat to watch their evolution from strangers to a family.  Love does find us in strange, unexpected, and wonderful ways.  

Rating:  8/10 for a completely different love story populated with characters that are perfectly imperfect.

Available today--July 1st in the US in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

Thanks to Viking/Penguin for a review copy.