October 31, 2011

But Inside I'm Screaming by Elizabeth Flock

So this could have been a very interesting book. It had all the right elements and a main character that could have been compelling. But sadly it had no depth to it, and things were "told" instead of "shown."

Isabel breaks down on live television and as a result, heads home to commit suicide. She doesn't quite succeed though and finds herself transported to the mental institution of Three Breezes. Here she doesn't feel as if she belongs with the other patients. She doesn't think she's quite crazy enough. But she does still know that she wants to kill herself, and that she's not happy with the doctors there who want her to undergo Electric Shock Therapy. Isabel is determined to die still, but it doesn't look like she's going to get her chance. Mixed in with her time at the institution are also memories of events that all led up to her breakdown. Memories of her husband's abusive ways and her father's absence help to contribute to her unstableness.

Isabel could have been a fantastic character. Since she is the main character she's the center of attention and the book pretty much focuses on her. However I never really understand why she does the things she does. For example, she develops some friendships at the institution, but its never really clear on why she picks the people she does to become friends with. I can understand why Isabel is depressed and there of course, but we're always told why she does this and that instead of having the character express it through her actions. The doctors at the institution were all pretty bland and I thought that maybe differentiating them from one another with some unique characteristics would have been nice. The other patients seemed kind of cookie cutter too instead of being unique as well.

I liked the idea of the plot but didn't care too much for the way it was done. While I find exploring the mind of a mental patient (albeit a tame one) interesting, I didn't find Isabel very compelling. I also didn't like the way the book jumped around from the present to different points in the past (in no particular chronological order) as it didn't flow very smoothly. It could do it randomly in the middle of the page sometimes and my brain would take a few seconds to keep up. Since this book deals with depression and suicide there are some pretty rough descriptions in here. There is also cussing and mention of rape and its probably not a book for the light hearted.

Not terrible but not especially interesting. It didn't make me want to go out and read another book by Flock right away.

But Inside I'm Screaming
Copyright 2003
316 pages

October 29, 2011

Sand in My Bra by Jessica Maxwell

I like travel novels but until now have only read them by men. Not anything intentional on my part but I am a little sad to say that I'm a bit disappointed with this first travel book by a woman that I've read. Or I should say women, it's a collection of short stories by several different women.

These short stories range all over the place. Most take place out of the United States in places such as France or Australia in the outback. But there are a few in the US like a Burning Man event out in the desert or some mentions of Montana. And since this book seems to think its about misadventures, the stories usually attempt to be humorous in their tellings and more about little embarrassing stories than travel narratives. There's the lady who is obsessed with poo, another who bartends in Australia, another who details the joy of airline travel and many others.

Each of the stories pretty much has a different writer but I found that their writing styles were all very similar. I don't think its a result of editing but rather that they are all the same type of writer. They try to be humourous and I did enjoy some of the stories they chose to tell better than some of the others, but if asked to pinpoint which author I'm not sure I could tell you which one stood out for me. None of the writing was outstanding though.

I do have to say that this book didn't really satisfy the travel aspect for me. For example, telling a tale about your underwear falling down your legs is not travel writing, even if the event did take place in a foreign country. While I understand that this was supposed to be a book about misadventures, most of these stories were things that could happen in your hometown and still not be very interesting. I really don't care about some guy's junk you saw on a beach and how that 30 second glimpse is the main focus of your short story. There were barely any stories that fascinated me and I really was looking forward to hearing some travel stories from women. But alas they were more concerned about their cellulite and makeup than in having an adventure.

Kind of a sad little book despite its attempts to be funny. At least it was a quick read.

Sand in My Bra
Copyright 2003
194 pages

On Tall Pine Lake by Dorothy Garlock

This was not one of Garlock's better ones. In fact, I'd have to say that this is probably the worst book of hers that I've read so far. Which is a shame, because normally I like her books pretty well.

Just before getting ready to move, Nona gets a message from her estranged half brother asking her to hold a package for him. Thinking nothing of it, she continues on with her plans and she, an old friend Mabel, and her little sister Maggie head out to Tall Pine Lake where she will be managing a camp. Once there though, she is instantly confused and enchanted by the new owner of the camp, Simon. Simon knows that she is in danger because of her brother and he makes it his duty to keep her safe. But its hard to keep Nona safe when she's constantly arguing with him and when bad guys are roaming the woods around the camp. It'll be a much tougher job than Simon thinks.

With the exception of Mabel, the characters in this book are pretty pitiful. Nona has no reason for her anger and the way she lashes out at people is just weird. I can't follow her motivations at all. And then there's Simon, while I understand why he does what he does he just goes about it in a strange kind of controlling way. Instead of explaining things straight out he keeps secrets that don't really need to be kept and just serve to make the plot confusing. Little sister Maggie has a small role and she's actually a bit dumb in my opinion. I know she's a teenager but her thought process is a little more juvenile than even that at times. There are some side characters as well which don't really add anything. And lastly the bad guys who were polar opposites of each other and also not the smartest bunch either.

The plot was actually decent and probably would have been more enjoyable to read if the characters were decent as well. It was kind of rushed though and I think the book would have actually been more charming without all of the intrigue that Garlock brought into it. There's some minor cussing and some harsh talk by the bad guys, but its a pretty tame book in my opinion. The romance was only so-so and I think that's because I didn't like the characters who were involved in the romance. In fact, I would have rather read about the older lady Mabel having romantic interludes than reading about Nona and Simon.

Ah well, I'll still read more by Garlock but hopefully they'll be an improvement on this one. The charm just wasn't there this time.

On Tall Pine Lake
Copyright 2007
372 pages

October 28, 2011

Extras by Scott Westerfeld

I had read the original trilogy to this series, this book, just like its title is an extra. And while it incorporates the world and some of the characters from the originals it is also vastly different from them as well. I won't go as far to say that its as good as the others, but it still isn't bad.

Aya is virtually a nobody. Its been three years since Tally Youngblood set the world free of its mind constraints and since then, everything has boomed; population, popularity, body modifications, anything. In Aya's city especially people are now ranked by their popularity, and the more popular you are, the better benefits you have. And there are many ways of becoming popular. You can be beautiful, be especially good with tech gadgets, or uncover interesting stories. Aya is the last sort, she's stumbled on to a very big secret. But as a result she may now be in danger, and only one person may be able to help her. But Tally hasn't been seen in quite a long time.

Aya is kind of annoying. I tried to like her, I really did. But it was just so hard to. I think it was mostly because she didn't really value herself without other people valuing her. Fame was everything, and while characters can grow, I just don't feel that she really did. Even her brother was more enjoyable to read about than her. I also found her love interest kind of boring despite his weird modifications. Tally, as always was interesting, but she seemed to veer a bit from her personality in the other books.

I didn't find this one as compelling as the original series. While it was nice to see what happened to Tally's world, the plot flew by so fast and the second half didn't flow as well. Things just kept changing without really making too much sense. I did like the innovations with the network and popularity standings though. Its like social media on speed and I can definitely see something like that happening in the future. To an extent it already does a little bit. Westerfeld also uses some unique language in this book. He's developed his own sort of slang for this world and it really works and is believable linguistically.

Not as good as the others but still a worthy read. I kind of hope he comes out with another one.

Copyright 2007
417 pages

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Ok, so I'm definitely in the minority with this book. I didn't really like it at all. In fact to me, it was a book for teenagers trying to be angsty to try to relate to. But even then I'm not sure how they could relate to some of it.

The book is told through a series of letters from our main character Charlie, to an unknown person that he actually doesn't know as well, but heard that they were a good person. It tells of his first year of high school, the friends he makes, the things he does, the sadness he faces and all other emotions wrapped into one. He goes to parties, reads books recommended by his attentive English teacher, falls in love, and deals with his family issues and pours his heart out to the recipient of the letters.

For characters I thought they were written ok but I didn't relate to any of them and nothing convinced me to like any of them. Charlie's friends are a pretentious group that in reality would probably have nothing to do with Charlie. And that leads me to the main problem of this book, Charlie. There is something wrong with Charlie and it goes beyond being an angsty teenager. I admit that there are some aspects of his personality that some people could probably relate to, but all of them together leads me to believe that charlie is an autistic, albeit a high functioning one. In fact, when he got his license I got a little scared for his fictional world. His letters show him as childlike and immature but we were led to believe through all of them that he is actually quite brilliant. But we only have his word to go on it because based on his letters he is not. The reactions to him are not normal either. If he was truly the way he says he is, people would avoid him, make fun of him, etc. And as far as being a wallflower, I've always associated that with shy people who have trouble making friends. Charlie is neither shy and he appears to be ok at making some friends and not hanging out in the back of the crowd at parties. In fact he is the center of attention sometimes.

Although the letter writing is creative, since Charlie was the narrator I didn't enjoy reading the book. I found it tedious and boring at times and too many themes were thrown in to make it believable. And some of the most important ones were just glossed over. Its written for young adults but there is a lot of mature themes in here like rape, abortion, abuse, etc. But its handled indelicately and doesn't really express how serious these types of issues can be, and that scares me for any naive readers who happen to pick this book up. This book also has a tendency to pick a few things the author thinks is "cool" (and thinks others will think is cool) and then proceed to obsess over them, which was just annoying.

I won't say this was the worst book I've ever read but it definitely wasn't very good. Speaking from a true wallflower who was shy and unpopular in high school, it simply wasn't realistic.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Copyright 1999
213 pages

Ice by Sarah Beth Durst

Huh, so this book was a bit different from what I originally expected. I have to be honest, I only picked it up because of the cover, I love polar bears. And the cover has some very beautiful artwork including a polar bear. It was in the young adult section, and while I do read young adult quite often, I'm not sure what age range I would classify this within the YA genre. The print was large and geared towards the younger end of the spectrum while the content seemed towards the older end of YA. And the novel is based off of a fairy tale (one that I hope to read someday).

Cassie has had an unusual life. Growing up on a research station in the arctic, her only companions were those that worked there and her father and grandmother. From a young age, her grandmother had told her a story of how her mom, having been promised as a wife to the polar bear king, instead ended up the prisoner of trolls. As Cassie grows, she concludes this was just her grandmother's way of softening the story of her mothers death. But on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie learns differently when the Polar Bear King comes to claim her as his bride instead. She makes a deal that if he will release her mother, she will become his life, and is whisked away to his icy castle (which she finds strangely beautiful). She likes the polar bear king, but just as they are growing closer, another bargain of his goes South and he becomes the prisoner of the trolls. Cassie knows she must find a way to rescue him.

Cassie was about the only character I could really like in this book. She was headstrong and courageous and wanted to follow her own dreams, although she was willing to compromise. I think that makes a decent sort of person. What I had a problem with were the rest of the characters. Her parents were weak and I was very unsympathetic to them. Other side characters only seemed to make problems.

But my biggest problem with the characters would have to be the Polar Bear King. Sure on the outside and superficially he seemed to be a pretty cool guy. Handsome, smart, interested in doing what was right for the world, what could be so wrong you say? Well, this is a young adult novel, and as such, most young adults tend to fall for the romantic and I can just picture young girls falling in love with this guy and thinking that the way he treats Cassie is perfect. When we look past his splendor though, what we get is a guy who wheedles her into doing things she doesn't want, leaves her along for long portions of time because of his devotion to his work (no matter how noble that's not healthy) and the biggest of all, sets about to "fix" her without any input or permission from her and claims it was because he loved her. Let's just say that what he did would be the equivalent to a guy hiding someone's birth control. I just have a lot of problems with him being the hero in the book because of that.

So now that I've ended my rant on the characters, I do have to say that I enjoyed the plot of the book. Although I haven't read the fairytale its based on I find this story concept enchanting and being set in the polar region its different from most fairy tales I've encountered. There are a few parts that get choppy and bounce around without making sense, but the majority of the book flows smoothly and has a great deal of unique fantasy aspects in it. There is some cussing in the book, but it was mainly mild, but I can see some of the themes being a bit too dark for someone who enjoys happy fairy tales.

An interesting book, despite my disgust with the one character I do sheepishly admit that I enjoyed reading it. I would only caution that if you're giving it to a teenage daughter to read, explain that the relationship is not a good one.

Copyright 2009
308 pages

The Copper Sign by Katia Fox

**This book was received as part of the Amazon Vine program.

This was a pretty interesting book. For some reason I had it in my mind as a fantasy, but I'd actually probably consider it historical fiction. Regardless, it had a strong main character and a compelling storyline.

Ellenweore is a young girl who often works in the blacksmith shop with her father. Her mother is cruel to her and when Ellen catches her dallying with a local knight, she has to run for safety as she knows she'll be killed for the knowledge. Dressed as a boy she finds work in a blacksmith's shop who does a lot of sword smithing and apprentices herself on. She still remains as a boy though as women are not allowed to enter that field. But something happens there as well and through her life, despite being talented in smithing, Ellen doesn't seem to be able to stay in one place as long. Add to that a half brother who doesn't realize they're related and who wants Ellen all to himself, and things are surely complicated for her. All she dreams about is forging a sword for the King, but it seems unlikely that she will ever have a chance to do so with so many things going against her.

Ellen is an interesting character. Sometimes I liked her, sometimes I didn't. She had a tendency to be harsh for no particularly good reason (or at least a reason that wasn't explained fully) and at other times she could be extremely understanding. She also had some weaknesses despite being a strong female character so that made her realistic as well. The men in the novel varied, I liked Isaac despite his foolishness but the rest of the men seemed to undergo drastic personality changes and become something completely unlike what they had started out as. True this can happen in real life, but no to the extent it does in this book. The other side characters were nice though and Jean especially was a favorite for his stolid ways.

There are some elements in this book that are supposedly pulled right from history; however, I am no historian so I couldn't begin to say whether or not they are accurate. But it seemed ok to me. I do like that Fox chose to have a woman character doing out of gender things in a time where that was a little tougher to do. And its kind of a rag to riches story as well which is always charming. The translation (as this book was not originally in English) seemed to be just fine and the story came out clearly without anything seeming lost. There are some harsher elements in this story like death, rape, and miscarriage and while its not overly described it is not minimized either.

Definitely a good story with a strong female protagonist. If more of her works are translated I will keep a look out for Katia Fox.

The Copper Sign
Copyright 2006
634 pages

October 25, 2011

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Yuck. I can honestly say I really didn't care much for this book. Yeah there were some redeeming qualities, but it just wasn't for me.

Frank and April Wheeler are your average couple in the suburbs. He has a job in the city, she's a stay at home mom, and they have a couple of kids. The difference is they both know that they deserve something better, that they're not the same as their suburban counterpoints. They make big plans to move to Europe, where April will be the breadwinner and Frank will find what he wants out of life. All they have to do is sell their house and notify Frank's job, and April has to find her job of course. But things rarely go the way they want them to.

I didn't like any of the characters in this book. I was completely unsympathetic to Frank and April. In fact, I thought they were a perfect couple of narcissists. So they thought they were too good for suburbia and deserved better, boo hoo. Maybe I'm just mean tonight but I honestly couldn't wait for the book to be over so I wouldn't have to read about them anymore. And because they were the main characters the rest of the characters were written as simpering idiots and weak people in comparison to them. They were probably actually very charming people.

So maybe I just belong in Suburbia as I thought they really were pretentious characters. And I guess that might have been Yates goal and the whole book was about that general culture, but its not exactly a compelling topic for me. In fact, I actually found the book pretty boring. The one good feature is that it gets a little more exciting in the end, although in a sad depressing way, but at least something happens instead of the characters talking about making things happen. And in a detached way I can say it was written with a clear voice. Yates has a nice flow of words despite his topic being uninteresting.

Obviously I didn't really like it. It won't quite make the one star rating of books I've read this year, but it came pretty close.

Revolutionary Road
Copyright 1961
337 pages

October 23, 2011

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver.

This was kind of an odd book. I actually started out not really liking it at all, but at the last quarter of the book I found myself enjoying it more. I've read better by Kingsolver, but it wasn't terrible.

Alice is fed up with her marriage. The only light in her life is her daughter Taylor, and granddaughter Turtle. Turtle is actually adopted, her mother found her left in her car when she was about three, but they are a tight knit family. So when Turtle sees a man fall into a hole while on vacation, Taylor has no idea that her world is about to be turned upside down. After being on numerous tv shows, someone sees Turtle, and realizes that she is a part of the Cherokee nation and as such probably hasn't had a legal adoption. Taylor, scared she'll lose her little girl, flees to the wind and runs into several strange people, while her mother Alice tries to find some way to hold the family together.

There were a lot of characters in this book, and most of them were great. There were a few that were kind of out there and I don't see what they added to the story, but I guess thats just my opinion. The character Barbie especially, sure she was unique but she kind of just detracted from the story. Taylor's boyfriend Jax also didn't do anything for me. There were some side cuts to his point of view during the book and they just didn't help the plot along at all. I did like Turtle, I thought she was an interesting little girl with a sad story. Taylor too was inspiring in her devotion to the little girl. But I think my favorite character was Alice. There was just something about her that was comforting.

The plot tends to meander here and there throughout the book. In fact I had a hard time keeping with it in the beginning because it just didn't grab my interest. In fact, it finally grabbed my interest once they got to Heaven. And by Heaven I mean a small town going by the name that has a large population of Native Americans. The book goes into more culture and stories and just general warm people when it gets there and the book undergoes an amazing transformation into something interesting. But still, that slow start is a killer for me. Kingsolver does have a nice writing style though and her characters express themselves well. There isn't too much offensive in the book although it is a little sad.

Not my favorite by her but it won't keep me from reading the other ones. If you can get through the beginning of this book the end makes it all worthwhile.

Pigs in Heaven
Copyright 1993
343 pages

October 22, 2011

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Is it horrible to say I liked the mini-series better than the book? Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the book, but I think I like the way the plot elements and changes were in the series. But aside from that, it is quite strange how a story about a church being built can be so interesting.

Pillars takes place during the time of the War of Succession, when King Henry has died and his nephew Stephen has usurped the throne from Henry's daughter Maud. But the war is just a background to this story. This story is more about the priory of Kingsbridge and its quest to build a cathedral. Tom Builder, a man who has recently lost his wife and is looking for work, happens to be there the day the old church burns to the ground and is hired by Prior Phillip to build a new cathedral. But they are dogged every step of the way by a greedy Bishop, a crazy violent Lord and other misfortunes that seem to pop up over the years. Tom has two sons as well, Alfred, his natural son, and Jack, his stepson. The two have a combative relationship and their main fight is over Aliena, a local merchant whom both wants. This adds yet another problem to the work of the cathedral as both are masons who can be easily distracted. The cathedral has its ups and downs of building and it seems that it will never be finished.

This book has some great characters. You really hate the bad guys and you really cheer on the good guys. I think my favorite character was probably Prior Phillip. He didn't always do the best thing but he tried to do the right thing by everyone. He just had a lovable air about him. I also liked Tom Builder. He too wasn't perfect but was just an all around good guy. William Hamleigh was probably the character I liked the least, but that's ok, he made a terrific bad guy and you couldn't help but hate him. The same applies to Bishop Waleran. There were numerous characters though of course and they were all important to the story; and they all fit in the story as well.

You would think that the building of a church would be a boring story plot but Follett manages to make it interesting by incorporating all the different people and their lives into the book. The church becomes representative of their struggles instead of the main focus. And it works. Sure the book is lengthy and can get a bit slowed down at times, but it actually is pretty interesting throughout most of it. And don't think because its about a church that there is nothing offensive or tame about this book. There is descriptive sex scenes, violence, and other bits that may be too much for the more sensitive readers. But I thought it was all well done.

A very interesting book, I really enjoyed it. I know this is the only one of this type that Follett has done, but I may have to check out some of his other works.

The Pillars of the Earth
Copyright 1989
973 pages

October 16, 2011

Honey and Dust by Piers Moore Ede

I bounced back and forth between liking and disliking this book. There were a lot of great aspects in it, and bees are always fascinating (and honey delicious) so I really liked when the book centered around those topics. But the travel part and the author's personal narrative were not as compelling to me.

After being hit by a truck, Piers Moore Ede decides while recuperating that he would like to write a book about bees and honey, most specifically the honey trail through the world. It will be a challenge because he is not a bee keeper himself, but he's always loved honey and wanted to know more about the different varieties. He travels mostly in the middle east, Lebanon, Syria, India, Nepal, and other places. Each place his main goal is to learn the original ways of keeping bees and about the wild bees and the way their honey was gathered. Sadly, because this is the Middle East during a war time and because of the multiple diseases bees face everywhere, he finds the old ways dying out and the bees dying out. Still, he learns a lot about bee culture and tastes some pretty unique varieties. He also goes into a description of some baklava that makes my mouth water as well.

Piers does really connect with the people he visits well. They respond to his genuine interest in all things honey, and also the questions about their culture. The veiled insults towards America and the president at the time probably help him as well. The people he meets were all rather interesting. Totally different from one another, they still have one thing in common, bees.

So with all this wonderful information about honey and the old ways of collecting it, whats wrong with this book? Well, he travels all over and quite a bit of the story is devoted to his accident and recuperation and it actually takes a big portion of the book. He also has a description of a 10 day silent yoga retreat that was somewhat out of place as well. So honestly this would probably be more of a memoir, I just couldn't seem to get into that part. But when he talks about food and honey and the things made with it, that's where he shines. I really enjoyed those descriptions and he made me see the way the honey was gathered extremely well. I also wish there would have been more pictures of his travels aside from just the one on the cover. It would have been interesting.

Not a bad book, but not what I was expecting either. I was really looking forward to being doused in honey. And it really only shared a spotlight with everything else.

Honey and Dust
Copyright 2005
290 pages

Shadow Tag by Louise Eldrich

Wow, this book really struck home for me. I could relate to it and its amazing how a couple can seem so perfect on the outside, and have such an insidious underbelly when in private. Deeply disturbing and very sad, this book was a hard one to read.

Irene America and her husband Gil have been an iconic couple for quite so time. Gil is a painter and has become famous off of painting Irene in various posings, some quite ugly and shocking, and some beautiful and demure. They have three kids who are all pretty unique themselves but each with their own problems as a result of their parents crumbling marriage. To put it bluntly, Gil is an abuser, and Irene an alcoholic. Irene wants out of the marriage but can never seem to quite get away from Gil. She even tries through her diaries. After finding out Gil was reading her red diary, she starts putting in untruths to drive him crazy and writing the real information in the blue diary, which she keeps in a safe deposit box. But even this isn't enough to completely destroy the relationship, Gil just won't let her go.

These characters were haunting. Gil especially. He is the perfect portrayal of a mostly emotional, sometimes verbally and physically abusive person. He also has a tendency to be narcissistic as well, which really escalates. Having had experience with an abuser I was shocked at how well the author got all the little signs right, the things said, things done, the emotional yoyo he kept his family on, that I had to look her up and discovered the Erdrich had personal experience to draw from when writing his character. Irene, despite being abused, wasn't a very easy character to like though because of the diaries and her alcoholism. But even when she didn't have alcohol she still couldn't get herself away from Gil, which is sadly realistic of these types of relationships. The children were also very interesting and sad at the same time.

This is not a cheery novel. It probably won't make you cry but it has a very depressive theme. Its beautifully written although I honestly think the part about the diaries, while quite a large bit of writing, didn't really do as much for me as the 3rd person narrative did. I also wasn't a big fan of the ending. There are some descriptive scenes about sex, rape, and other disturbing things in this book so those reading it should be advised. Its a very realistic book, and could be written from life probably.

It never ceases to astound me what human beings can do to each other, even if they claimed to be in love before. This book is definitely one to read, but one to be careful while reading as well because of its heavy themes.

Shadow Tag
Copyright 2010
255 pages

October 14, 2011

Chicken Soup for the Single's Soul

Now that I'm newly single again and not enjoying it very much, I decided to give this a read to see if it could help. It had some nice stories, but unfortunately there weren't really any I could identify with. But hey, it passed the time and got my mind off things for awhile I guess.

Like most of the Chicken Soup books, this one has a bunch of stories separated into type. In this case its Single and Happy, Dating, Finding Your Mate, Making a Difference, Single Parenting, Single Again, Losing a Partner, We Are Not Alone, Friends and Family, and of course the lengthy stuff there always seems to be at the back. All the stories are meant to be inspirational and uplifting and there is a wide variety of people telling their experiences. Since this one is for the Single's Soul it of course has stories of divorce, raising the kids alone, losing a spouse, never having found your special someone, and other like themes.

Some of the types of stories to be found in this compilation are those of single parents struggling to make ends meet for their kids and the kindness from strangers that was given to them. Another story might talk of how a person adjusted after the death of their spouse. I think one of the stories that most resonated with me was the story of the woman who could only afford to live in a trailer park, yet still with her meager earnings managed to create a small library and bake bread for the even poorer families around her, mostly for their children. Her desire to do this eventually led her to her new career and a happy life. That was really inspiring to me. Another story that I particularly enjoyed was that of a single man constantly looking for the perfect woman, and finally finding acceptance with just being by himself. That was the type of story I really looked for in this book. But there were others I enjoyed for sure, those that talked of having the strength to leave and how they put their life back on track after they left the relationship, those that did find true love even after they thought they'd never have it again.

Despite all these wonderful stories, I found a few things that I didn't like as well. Mainly, the book didn't really have anything I could identify with. And there were more stories about moving on to find that new special someone than there was just about accepting the state of singleness. More appropriately this might have been called Chicken Soup for the Returning to Dating's Soul. There were even some stories in here from happily married people that didn't really have anything to do with being single.

To me, I consider the chicken soup series to be a form of Christian fiction, and as such there is a lot of religion incorporated into the story about praying, etc. They aren't all like that, but its a predominant theme. But since the stories are meant to be inspirational that can be expected. They are organized well and I'll admit that a few made tears come to my eyes, but I didn't have any full out crying in this one like I have with some of the others.

Its a good book, don't get me wrong. But it just didn't satisfy what I was looking for.

Chicken Soup for the Single's Soul
Copyright 1999
387 pages

October 13, 2011

The Endless Forest by Sara Donati

The Endless Forest is the sixth and final book in Sara Donati's series. The series is set in the 1800's and involves a large family living at the edge of ruralness. It's not really necessary to read the other books before this one, but it does help with some of the background and keeping the people straight.

Its years later and Elizabeth and Nathaniel Bonner's children are mostly grown up and starting families of their own. Hannah is the town's doctor and little Birdie is in school, and their own Daniel has finally found happiness in pursuing Martha Kuick. Martha has a terrible mother though and she arrives in town to put a damper on things and cause trouble like she normally does. She has brought a young boy, believed to be her son, with her as well and soon shuffles him off onto the Bonners and their relations. All they want is to live in happiness, but it seems like there is always something happening in the small town of Paradise.

The characters were their old familiar selves from the previous books. Hannah was a bit more matronly and wise than she had been previously, but I suppose age will do that to a person. Regretfully Elizabeth and Nathaniel, while being in the book, don't have as large of parts compared to when the series first started and they were the main characters. The largest set of characters were Martha and Daniel and while they were compelling characters, I didn't find them as enjoyable to read about as Elizabeth and Daniel. Jemima Kuick, Martha's mother, was just as nasty and lowdown as ever.

This plot tended to meander quite a bit. It was more just the telling of what happened in a span of time and the difficulties of normal life than any one set problem that they had to overcome. Sure Jemima presented problems, but that was only part of it. I do like that the epilogue of the story was told in newspaper articles, I thought that was clever. Donati's writing is always very good and you can tell her linguistic background through the use of accents and voices for her characters. I do have to warn though that she doesn't shy away from descriptive sex in this book. If that's not your thing you may want to avoid it.

A nice ending to the series. I enjoyed finding out what happens with all the characters and putting a finish to their stories.

Book One: Into the Wilderness
Book Two: Dawn on a Distant Shore
Book Three: Lake in the Clouds
Book Four: Fire Along the Sky
Book Five: Queen of Swords

The Endless Forest
Copyright 2010
623 pages

October 11, 2011

The Exile by Diana Gabaldon

Ok, so I knew this was going to be a graphic novel. Not my favorite but I honestly didn't have a problem with that format--- starting out that is. The biggest thing about this book to me was that it advertised that it would be telling Jamie's side of the story. And for those of you who don't know who Jamie is I'd stop reading this review right now, there's no point in reading this book or review without having read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon or you will be completely lost.

The Exile is a graphic representation of Diana Gabaldon's first book, Outlander. The basic premise of the story is that a mysterious woman, Claire, travels back in time in Scotland and gets caught up in events that force her to marry a young Scotsman named Jamie. They are constantly managing to get in trouble but tend to fall in love with each other despite themselves as well.

Since this is a graphic novel I'll focus on the art first. While the pictures were very very pretty, they completely don't fit my original thoughts on what everything would look like. Gabaldon tries to explain this with a footnote at the end explaining why some things had to be the way they are, but my thought is that if you can't make it like the book and true to it, why bother? I was mostly disappointed in Claire, who really did look like a tart throughout the whole book and who's cleavage grew larger and larger with each page. I was half surprised she didn't float away. Jamie was ok, but still didn't really look like I pictured him to be.

Because this book boasted that it was from Jamie's perspective, I was much surprised to see that it really wasn't. It had scenes primarily with him of course, but the whole book was just a very scant retelling of Outlander with no new information that I could see. And since it had been awhile since I've read Outlander, I even had some trouble lining up the storyline for a bit. There were also side stories involving other characters and in this type of a book I thought they were out of place because there wasn't enough information shared to keep it from being confusing.

I just wasn't impressed by this. It had the opportunity to be something unique and it just didn't seem to pull it off real well. The artwork was nice but that was about the only thing that was done well in this book.

The Exile
Copyright 2010

Doctor in Petticoats by Mary Connealy

This book is the first in a series called Sophie's daughters. Its based off of characters in a previous series known as Lassoed in Texas but its not really necessary to read that series first. I had actually gone backwards in this particular series but I was very relieved to find out that this first book is much better than the other two in the series.

Beth has been East receiving medical training and now is on her way home to become a doctor of sorts to her town. With her on the stagecoach is a man named Alex who appears to be drunk until the stage enters danger and he steps in to help. With the wreckage of another stagecoach Beth learns that Alex is a doctor, and a very good one at that, but he is haunted by his past and unable to do any medical procedures without Beth there to help him. Thinking it practical, they decide to marry and run a doctor's office together. But trouble doesn't leave them for long, with Alex a deserter from the army someone begins to hunt the both of them.

While I believe that all of Connealy's characters fall in love entirely too fast, the characters in this book are pretty good. I like how no-nonsense Beth is and Alex is a surprisingly sensitive character where most of her male characters are strong and gruff. Even her parents play a larger role in this book and are very strong supportive characters. I think about the worst character was the Lieutenant. I couldn't understand his rapid thought changes or the motivations behind them. He was just plain confusing.

The plot goes well enough. It adds a certain element of uniqueness in her writing for it to be the male character being tracked down for once. And the fact that she tried to throw in a woman doctor and show the hardships they faced in that era was interesting as well. The writing was as clear and easy to read as ever and even though they're simple, Connealy has a way with romances that keeps them entertaining. This is a Christian Fiction novel like many of her others but there's barely any mention of religion in this one. Which made it nice and non-distracting.

Definitely the best one out of the series although not the best of her work. I think anyone who liked any of her other books would probably enjoy this one.

Doctor In Petticoats
Copyright 2010
318 pages

October 09, 2011

The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory

Yikes, another not so great book from Gregory. I've liked a couple of her works but it seems to be either very good from her or not so good at all. And this was no so good at all.

Queen Elizabeth is newly come to the throne and she discovers with it that it is deeply indebted and she has enemies on all sides. The church does not agree with her and everyone of her advisors wishes her to marry and produce a heir. But she's fallen in love with Robert Dudley. A man who is already married and with a young strong wife whom he ignores, Dudley is in love with the Queen too. But he also sees her as a stepping stone to rise to the position of King. The Queen's main adviser William Cecil knows this can't happen or she'll lose her crown, but it is very hard to stop love.

The characters were rather weak in this novel. Especially the women characters. It was rather sad how they looked to a man for everything, especially Elizabeth who was supposed to have been a strong woman. She was a simpering ninny in this book and it was very disappointing. She was also ruthless when it came to some things. Robert Dudley was a hard man to like and I could feel myself resenting him for the way he treated his wife and for the way he controlled the Queen and manipulated her. William Cecil was about the most logical one in the book, but he too was not very likable.

I thought it was a pretty boring book. Like some of her others she gets lost in the details and conversations and not a lot actually happens in the book. It moves slowly and I kept wondering when the next scene of the Queen and Dudley would be over as they were pretty repetitive and similar. There are some mentions of sex in this book and they are a little more descriptive than they are in some of the other books. I'm no historian so I can't say anything on how accurate the book is, but this one isn't very much fun to read. It was well written with clear writing, but that's about the only thing it had going for it.

Another not so good book from Gregory. It makes me a little apprehensive to read anything else by her.

The Virgin's Lover
Copyright 2004
438 pages

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

***Please note: This book was received as a free ARC copy.***

This book was entirely charming and definitely one of those feel good types of books. While its probably not a classic or masterpiece, in its own way its just as good as any of those types of books. Maybe I'm biased because I love food and heartwarming stories, but I think this book rates five stars easily. For those not familiar with Friendship Bread, it is a fermented starter that is lovingly cared for for 10 days, and then split into four with the owner keeping one to bake and three to give away and keep the starter circulating. If you've ever been the recipient of a starter you know it makes awesome bread, but gets a bit overwhelming at times.

There are many characters and happenings in this book but one thing remains solid; friendship bread is the primary character in this novel. From Julia, who has been in a deep depression ever since her son died to Hannah, a talented cellist who is going through a separation with her husband, friendship bread changes the outlook of each of these women and helps them be strong on their own. They find solace in each other and at Madeline's tea shop, where the kindly Madeline plys them with baked goods and friendship. There is also Edie, who is desperately wanting to report on a good story and who is lukewarm on accepting advances of friendship from Livvy (who happens to be Julia's estranged sister). There are several other characters short stories as well in the novel that are used to show how the friendship bread starter is being passed around town. While the story has much to do about delicious food and the bread itself, it is more wrapped around the people that make the small town so unique.

The characters in this book are wonderfully and all delightfully real. They have their flaws and make mistakes, but they strive to work through them. They just seem very human in a wonderful sort of way. I especially was enchanted with Madeline, the owner of the tea shop, because she seemed like someone I would be friends with and real life and she could cook some fabulous sounding dishes.

The writing was good. I'm not a fan of the tense Gee used but after awhile I was able to ignore it and really get into the story. In fact, I could barely put the book down I enjoyed it so much. It is an easy story to read and filled with emotion, friendship and love. There's nothing offensive in the writing and any age groups would be fine for this novel. The pace is done well in addition and I was glad to see that Gee included an epilogue for the readers to follow up on the story and characters. It was a pleasant surprise.

I'm very pleased that I got a chance to read this book. I would definitely read other books by Gee and will be on the lookout for more works from her. I highly recommend this book; especially to those who love food and cooking books.

Friendship Bread
Copyright 2011
363 pages + recipes and tips

Checkout Girl by Anna Sam

*Please note that this book was received as a free Advanced Readers Copy*

I have mixed feelings on this book. When reading the synopsis I expected funny stories of different people that came through the writer's line. And there is that, but there's some other stuff too that I wasn't as taken with.

In this book, Sam ranges all over the job of a supermarket cashier. From uniforms to early birds and all other types of customers, she covers everything there is to know about the job. Some of the stories are just plainly told, while others are set up in a dialogue format. She weighs in on bosses and Bargain Hunters (coupon people).

Since it is a collection of stories, as said before I expected just funny dialogues, much like you see on the spoof online sites out there. She does this, but it's a smaller part of the book. She gives other things a lot more detail, like uniforms. Honestly I thought she was overly snarky on the uniform descriptions. She may have been going for funny, but it sounded more sour. This same feeling holds true for her thoughts on asking "Are you open?" The snarky reply to that "I'm not, but my register is." And this is only done because she feels it is rude to equate the cashier with the machine. As a linguist this doesn't win with me and instead of feeling sympathetic towards the plights of cashiers in this book, instances like this make me roll my eyes (and that's coming from someone who was a cashier for years). I also felt sorry for the poor Bargain Hunters (coupon deals and such) that she chose to make fun of. They get her scorn but she doesn't know why they might be trying to save a buck.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that a good portion of the writing left a bad taste in my mouth. I tried desperately to enjoy it but there was just so much that wasn't funny in the book that it was hard to enjoy the good parts. And there were good parts. Her drunken customer descriptions and the late nighters stories were good. She can definitely write well it's just the tone I think needs work.

I would probably give this book a 2.5. I almost gave it a two but there was a good portion of the book I enjoyed. I just wish she had found a way to be funny without being cruel to certain types of people.

Checkout Girl
Copyright 2011
178 pages

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

I found the Other Queen quite tedious. It was not near as good as some of Gregory's other works and I couldn't wait for it to be done so I could move on to a different book.

Mary Queen of Scots is being held prisoner in England after she flees Scotland. She longs to return to her throne, but at the time, is held by Queen Elizabeth. Her jailers/companions are Bess and George Shrewsbury, a count and countess. Bess is a self made woman who's most important wishes are to maintain her home and wealth. George cares mostly about his honor but comes to like this unfortunate Queen. As Mary surrounds herself with plot and intrigue, none of them are safe though.

I didn't really like any of the characters in this novel. They were all pretty self absorbed. Bess was at least interesting, but still not very easy to warm too. Her husband was a fool and a pretty big one at that. And Queen Mary I just did not find charming like she was supposed to be in the book. Since these were the main three characters in the book and the narration told from all of their points of views, it was rather disappointing to not enjoy reading about any of them. Even the side characters didn't have a lot of depth and weren't really needed.

Gregory in this one again selects three characters and has the narration told by each of the three in different chapters. This serves to make the book very choppy and hard to sink into. The book was also quite boring as we are told about a lot that happens, but none of it actually happens in the book, it is just passed on my word of mouth and so we see three people laze about a home for most of the book. I'm not a historian, so I can't comment on whether or not this book was historically accurate, but this one didn't even have the saving grace of being interesting. I think the only thing I did like about this book was that it served as a continuance for the rest of the series.

Not a very good book by Gregory. She has done much better than this. I can only hope that as I continue reading her books, that they are much better than this one.

The Other Queen
Copyright 2008
438 pages

The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory

This book is best read after The Other Boleyn Girl. It takes up only a few years after that book. It could be read as a standalone, but I think you get a better introduction to some of the characters by reading the other first.

Three very different women come together in this book. Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's fourth wife. Jane Boleyn, disgraced wife of George Boleyn who was Henry's 2nd wife's brother. Lastly, Katherine Howard, a cousin of the Boleyn's who was Henry VIII's fifth wife. With a troubled homelife, Anne is eager to start anew as Queen of England but soon finds herself at the wrong side of Henry's temper. Grown to a miserable old man, he doesn't like to realize he is gross and unattractive and Anne makes him feel this way. Meanwhile, Katherine loves court and all its intrigues and will do anything to have more pretty things. If this means flirting with a King old enough to be her grandfather, so be it, it can only lead to her advantage. And Jane will guide them both stopping only to think of herself and how it will effect her.

I really like how Gregory wrote Anne. I thought it was a very sympathetic description and she was one of the nicest characters I've ever seen in one of Gregory's books. She was just very likable. Katherine on the other hand was a ninny, harmless, but somewhat boring at times. Jane was a bit strange and its hard to like her because of the other books and her actions, but you can pity her easily. By far the most outrageous character of the book was the Duke who played all the Boleyns like pawns; he is truly evil in this series.

I like the premise of this book and how it tells the tales of some of the lesser known Queens of Henry. However, I am no historian so that doesn't have any bearing on my enjoyment of the books. This could be different for someone who actually does know European history better than I. I wasn't a big fan of how the book jumped around between the three women's points of view. It just made it so choppy and to be honest, I could have done without Jane's input at all. I liked Anne's input the best and think she should have been the voice of the whole novel. A word of warning to some is that this book doesn't shy away from descriptions of sex, rotting wounds, and other things that may not agree with some. But it does make it very realistic.

A good continuance of the series. I look forward to reading more by Gregory.

The Boleyn Inheritance
Copyright 2006
516 pages

A Plain and Fancy Christmas by Cynthia Keller

I'm a big fan of Amish novels. I've even read one of Cynthia Keller's other works. And I find it funny that while both involved Christmas in the titles, there are barely any Christmas scenes in either of them.

A Plain and Fancy Christmas is the story of two Rachels. Switched at birth, they find out what really happened around their thirtieth birthdays. Curiosity overcomes both of them and Ellie, the Rachel raised in New York City, decides to go visit her birth family. The Amish Rachel isn't sure what she wants but she feels unsettled at how her family seems to like Ellie better than her and decides to visit her birth family in the city and takes her daughter Katie with her. As the two become more familiar with their families they decide to trade places for awhile in an attempt to figure out who they really are.

There wasn't very much to these characters. They had a few base attributes that were played on rather heavily such as Rachel being out of place no matter where she goes and Ellie being liked and good at everything where ever she goes. It just didn't seem fair to poor Rachel. And then there was Leah King, the Amish mother. She was very hard to like and went through such a change in personality towards the end with weird motivations that I just couldn't like her very much. The New York City mother was a much better character in comparison because at least she was kind to everyone.

I did like the plot and the concept of two very unlikely family's having babies switched at birth. It played into the whole nature vs nurture aspect of raising a child and what would they be like if circumstances were very different. The writing was easy to read and follow even though there was a great amount of characters involved and Keller has a knack for telling a story simply. As stated before, for being a novel that is titled with Christmas, there was barely any Christmas in this story and that was disappointing. I was kind of hoping for some nice holiday cheer.

An ok book. Not the best Amish fiction out there but a nice quick read for anyone who likes Amish fiction or culture.

A Plain and Fancy Christmas
Copyright 2011
323 pages

Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate

I had read the 2nd book in this series by Lisa Wingate a long time ago (Word Gets Around) and I had enjoyed it. Enough that when I saw this first book I decided to give it a read. They can be read in any order as the plots are separate from one another, so that didn't make any difference to my enjoyment of this one. What did make a difference was the fact that this one was almost excruciating to get through.

Mandalay Florentino is a producer from California who has landed in Daily, TX as part of a secret plan to have American Megastar come to town for the top final five, of which a Daily resident will be a part of. Amber Anderson, local talent, is under big wraps for this announcement and it's Mandalay's job to make sure everything runs smoothly. But of course there are always hitches when you have to deal with the paparazzi. She has to deal with her love life too and a new found attraction for a country boy passing through. Mandalay wants to do her best, but she has a lot of things working against her.

There weren't very many characters that I liked in this book. I found Mandalay boring and whiny and she didn't ever seem to do very much. She just had other people do everything for her. Carter was sweet but kind of unbelievable and he just seemed to pop up like a gopher in almost every chapter. Imagene was about the only character I liked as she seemed down to earth and since she took turns being a narrator with Mandalay, we got to know her pretty well. Amber Anderson, who only make a brief appearance was overly saccharine sweet and also an unbelievable character.

Between the slow moving plot and the writing, there was definitely a reason why I didn't enjoy this installment of Lisa Wingate's. The plot leisurely took its course getting to the conclusion with a lot of useless filler. But the writing was the real kicker. Wingate decided to make sure that you knew these people had accents and spelled things out phonetically to illustrate these accents. Charming for about the first paragraph, it quickly grated on my nerves after and made the book difficult to read. She also switches back and forth between Mandalay and Imagene as narrators and while they have different voices, sometimes they run together and confuse the reader that was as well. I should also note that this is considered Christian fiction and much to my delight, there was barely any mention of religion at all making it entirely non-preachy.

Not the best for sure and it makes me a bit hesitant to read the third book in the series. I probably will though just because I don't like to leave anything unfinished.

Talk of the Town
Copyright 2008
359 pages

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

I guess I should first put out a disclaimer that I know barely anything about English history. Therefore I don't look at this book from a historical perspective, but rather just read it as I would any fiction book. Out of all the ones I've read from Gregory, I do have to say that this is probably my favorite.

Mary Boleyn is the younger daughter of a great house. Already married, that doesn't stop her when her family decides to use her to seduce King Henry VIII as he has shown interest in her. She bears him two children and while she is doing so, her older sister Anne then catches his attention. Anne has bigger plans though, plans that include the crown if she can manage to convince Henry to quietly remove the current Queen who has produced no heir for him. Mary has to help her sister despite being heartbroken herself, and the game becomes dangerous with intrigue as each step must be played right or they will face the hangman.

I liked Mary as a character. She may have been too sweet and good at times, but as the narrator there is a certain charm about her. She just seems down to earth when compared with the rest of the characters and she wants the same things I do from my life. Anne was a snippy thing and I think Gregory made it hard for any reader to like her as she was full of ambition without a care for hurting anyone. King Henry was as selfish a King as he was in Gregory's other book, The Constant Princess. He is also another hard to like figure in history. Mary and Anne's brother George was an interesting character. He had a bright personality despite all his troubles in the court.

Since this is based on history I thought that it flowed pretty well. There was enough of a draw that I had to keep reading and didn't want to put it down. It did move slowly in some parts but luckily that never lasted to long. I would have much preferred to hear more about Mary's life but she is slowly taken over by Anne in the book, even though she is the narrator. For those faint of heart there are some somewhat graphic scenes about childbirth, miscarriages, and sex in this book. They aren't horrendous descriptions but still enough that if you picture it in your head you might be queasy.

An interesting tale. I found it engaging and will definitely read more by Gregory.

The Other Boleyn Girl
Copyright 2001
661 pages

Wrangler in Petticoats by Mary Connealy

Well I did it again. After reading the last book in this series first, I then moved on to the 2nd in the series. Guess that leaves the first for last. It didn't effect the reading too much, but I do highly suggest reading the Montana and Texas trilogies before reading these books of the Sophie's daughters trilogy. There is a lot of background to be had.

Sally is the tomboy of the group. As such she has a penchant for going around in boys clothes. But that's not important, what is important is that she and a group of travelers are off to visit her sister Mandy. They are ambushed on the way though and Sally is the sole survivor despite getting shot at and falling off a cliff. Locally Logan, a tremendous artist who happens to be in the area painting scenery is there to help her after her fall. He takes her back to his cabin where his friend and helper Wise Sister tends to her wounds. They then have to plan what to do next as the people who shot her realize she's still alive, and they don't want witnesses.

I think the only character I actually liked in this book was Wise Sister. She was indeed wise and had common sense and just seemed the most believable out of all of them. Logan, what can I say, I've hung around plenty of artists and none seemed so scatterbrained or single minded as him. They had some depth. Sally too was pretty one dimensional with only a few interests and I couldn't follow her thought processes at all. Everything just seemed so conflicting with her. It is important to note that several of these characters are recycled from the Lassoed in Texas series and Montana Marriages series and as such it is highly advisable to read those books before these in order to understand who, why, where and what these characters are.

I thought the plot was kind of shakily done. There was the whole boy saves girl romance but she was too busy berating him for being an idiot that you don't really see a whole lot of the romance. The bad guys were dangerous but unconvincing and it seemed foolhardy for them to go to the extremes that they did. Since this is a Christian fiction book there is a bit of religion incorporated, but not as much as there has been in the previous series. I think I would have liked this book a whole lot better if the characters had better motivations and had there been a more deeply involved plot. It just seemed like this one was rushed through.

Another one that isn't so great by Connealy. I can only hope as I venture into some of her other series that they were as good as the first few seemed to be.

Wrangler in Petticoats
Copyright 2010
314 pages

The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

I've read some of Philippa Gregory's other works and enjoyed them. That being said, this is not one of my favorites of hers.

Catalina, the Infanta of Spain, was born to be Princess of Wales and Queen of England. She believes it is her duty and right by birth. When she finally reaches of age, she makes the journey to England where she is married to Arthur, future King of England. After Arthur's untimely death however, she has to find a way to reclaim her place and try to betroth herself to his younger brother, King Henry VIII. Through this she has to stand courageous and face down her opposers and those in the royal family who do not wish her to become a part of it, namely the King's mother.

Since these characters are all based on real people it is hard to say whether or not they are accurate. We have accounts in history but the vast majority of this book is speculation on what they may have thought or did. Catalina is pretty full of herself despite being the protagonist to choose for and you can't help but wonder if she could have had an easier happier life if she would have just put down her ambition. Arthur, her first husband, seemed to be a nice thoughtful man and it makes for a not so nice comparison to his brother Henry. Henry is described as a very selfish person and while history leads us to believe it is true, it is still hard to conceive that his brother could be so different.

Since most of this book did happen in history it stands to reason that it is a very accurate representation of the historical events. I don't know too much about English history, but I would imagine that if it were too different from what actually happened, there would be more criticisms of the books. For the parts that can't be verified, I thought Gregory did a great job at expressing what these characters wanted or needed in their life. I do have to say that I wasn't thrilled with the way she bounced around in viewpoints though. The whole book is filled with italicized sections that are supposed to be Catalina's personal thoughts and I found them hard to read and they disrupted the flow of the book. The book too moved very slowly and considering that a large part of Catalina's time was spent with Henry, it was only reflected as less than half of the book while the main parts were dedicated to her childhood and her time with Arthur. While these are important parts it just felt like it took forever to get to the main premise of the book.

Not the best but not terrible. I much prefer some of Gregory's other books over this one.

The Constant Princess
copyright 2005
390 pages

Sharpshooter in Petticoats by Mary Connealy

So I am all for the publisher putting a number on these books so I can read them in order for once. Thinking this was the first book because it was about the oldest daughter, I read it first. Now it probably didn't make too much of a difference, but it still annoyed me. And then I actually read the book and was annoyed further.

Mandy is a great shot, in fact, probably the finest sharpshooter around. But that doesn't keep her from hiding out in her mountain fortress until handsome Tom Linscott comes to her rescue. Mandy has been hiding out with her three small children ever since the Cooter clan declared a feud on her. With her previous husband dead from the feud, Mandy fears that its only a matter of time for Tom since he insists on marrying her. They have to find a way to keep their family safe or die trying. But there's a lot more of the Cooters than there are of them.

This book brings together all the characters of Connealy's Texas series and of her Montana series and kind of focuses on the next generation. If you haven't read these other series, things could probably get confusing pretty quick. I highly recommend not starting on this series first because of it. Having only seen Mandy as a somewhat confusing child in the Texas series, I was surprised at the woman she became. She just seemed a little harsh. Tom too wasn't that appealing (and I hadn't found him appealing in the other books either) so I guess in a way they fit together. The way Connealy brought in all the other characters was a bit too contrived as well.

I didn't like the plot much at all. While a blood feud may seem exciting there were just too many implausible aspects in this one. Not to mention the nice rumors that were generated about Mandy after so short a time. And I couldn't understand how Connealy could have such bloodthirsty scenes and then make the ending the way she did. I was just left scratching my head. Without giving too much away, it was very anticlimactic. The storyline also tends to bounce around from here to there while having way too much going on to make any one certain story important. Since Connealy is a Christian fiction writer I should touch on that; there actually wasn't a whole lot of religion mentioned in this book. Which is very different compared to her others.

Obviously I wasn't a big fan and while its not the worst of hers that I've read, it ranks pretty close to the worst. I can only hope the previous two books are better.

Sharpshooter in Petticoats
Copyright 2011
315 pages

Calico Canyon by Mary Connealy

Calico Canyon is the 2nd book in the Lassoed in Texas series. While these books don't necessarily need to be read in order, it does help a tiny bit if they are. At least, some side stories make more sense that way.

The same day after being fired from her job as schoolteacher because of the rowdy Reeves boys, Grace finds herself fleeing town as her abusive adoptive father has finally tracked her down. She stows away in the back of a wagon and later wakes up to find herself in the home of the Reeves and their just as rascally father. Because of the odd circumstances the preacher finds them in, they are married quickly to prevent scandal and then find themselves snowed in with each. Not such a bad ending? Well not when they can't stand each other. In addition to having to try to live with each other, Grace must also worry about her pursuer and if he really truly is gone from her life now that she is married.

I like Grace as a character. She's got a lot of spunk and is one of the stronger female characters within the series. At least she doesn't waver as much in her convictions as the other ones. Daniel Reeves is a little less likable. He's kind of a grouch and prone to highly illogical thinking at times. The boys could be cute at times but fought way too much to be believable and I often got tired of the countless descriptions of their wrestling around with each other. Grace's father was a truly despicable man and it was a pleasure to hate him throughout the novel.

The plot was good. Could have used more excitement earlier in but it really starts gearing up in the second half of the book. This one wasn't so much of a romance as the others as there was not a lot of wooing involved in this relationship. Like all the others this is a Christian fiction book and it does use it periodically throughout the novel. It wasn't enough to be grating though and at least, unlike some of her others, it was used logically.

Not the best of Connealy's work but it wasn't too bad either. Definitely held my attention for the entire time I was reading it.

Calico Canyon
Copyright 2008
284 pages

Petticoat Ranch by Mary Connealy

Oh goodness, I'm not sure what Connealy was thinking with this one. Needless to say I found myself shaking my head a couple times while trying to read this first book in the Lassoed in Texas series. As a note I actually read the last book in this series first and it didn't really make a difference.

Sophie is a widowed women with four young daughters. She's been hiding out in the bush after her husband's lynching to protect herself and her daughters from the townspeople out to marry her off over the freshly dug grave. But then, on a stormy night, a man who looks just like her husband ends up in her care after a fall. Its his long lost twin brother Clay and he decides to do right by the family and marry Sophie. He buys back his brother's old ranch and that's when the problem starts. A band of vigilantes who have been up to no good killing people and now they want the ranch one way or the other.

The characters were pretty awful in this book. I might give a way a little bit but some of this stuff just made me so incredulous. For one, the daughters are a whiny crying mess all the time, yet when its just their mother with them they are capable and cool headed. While I realize different people react differently around certain people, it was just too much of a difference to be believable. Then there was Clay. He was a complete idiot when it came to all aspects of life and marriage and considering the way he traveled around, it just didn't seem like he would be that naive about everything that came to women and their feelings or even interacting with people in general. Sophie was ok. She bounced back and forth between being dependent and independent and I was never quite sure where the motivations for her actions came from.

The plot was actually decent; had the characters been able to pull it off. There was a lot of intrigue and excitement. But then there came the "call" that was put out by Sophie for help that men hundreds of miles off were supposed to be able to hear. I know this is Christian fiction but really? It just seemed pretty far-fetched. The Christianity in this book was also very preachy, down to the fire and brimstone preacher sermons they all attended. Some of her other books do a much better job at showing rather than telling the message she's trying to get across.

Not a very good book by Connealy. I hope the next in the series improves a bit.

Petticoat Ranch
Copyright 2007
285 pages

The Husband Tree by Mary Connealy

The Husband Tree is the 2nd book in Mary Connealy's Montana Marriages series. That being said you don't have to read the series in order. Sure it will help with some little things, but it doesn't effect the overall enjoyment of the series.

Belle Tanner has been quite a few husbands, and after burying the last one she vows no more. Even her daughters agree they've all been worthless. They can handle the ranch all by themselves. Silas Harden feels the same way about women. Too many wiles and they just are up to no good. So he feels pretty safe helping Belle herd a bunch of cows to sale across a treacherous path with just her daughters for help. But when some other folks come along to help they must put up a guise that they are married to keep Belle and her daughters safe. And they discover they like the playacting a little too much.

Belles a great character. She's strong and vibrant and doesn't take crap from anybody. Although I do think she weakens a bit towards the end. Silas is quite moody but still a good guy all around. The daughters are probably the best though. They're kind of inspiring with how tough and go-to they are. I do have to say that I didn't like Wade though. He appears in the third book as well (which was my least favorite of the series) and he just seems kind of whiny in this book.

The plot was nice. A tough cattle drive run by women. My kind of action anyway. And the romance was quite nice as well. Really the only thing I didn't like was the side plot with Wade and Glowing Sun. It just didn't mesh well with the rest of the book. This is a Christian fiction book, but unlike some of the author's other books, it doesn't come into play as much. God is mentioned here and there but it isn't an overt storytelling or preachy.

A pretty decent book. Not as good as the first but still well done.

The Husband Tree
Copyright 2010
315 pages

Montana Rose by Mary Connealy

Sometimes its hit or miss with Connealy's work. This one was a hit for me. It taught some very important lessons about being yourself and was a very inspiring book for me.

Cassie had been controlled for all of her not so long life. Now eighteen and pregnant, she has to watch as her husband is being buried. As it is rural Montana the dirt isn't even all settled before numerous men start clamoring to be the one to marry her and take care of her. Luckily, Red Dawson steps in before one of the less than savory men takes off with her against her will. She's frightened of Red at first and he's taken aback at her meekness and cringing, but together they learn about having a true relationship.

I really related with Cassie and her need to please people. It seems that she gave up a lot to try to make the people in her life happy and that still didn't work for her as they just kept taking more and more without giving back. And Red gave me hope that there are good people out there who love unconditionally and don't grow angry for minor things. I realize its just a story, and these are characters, but they had to be based off of real people in some way and that's what makes the story nice for me.

The plot was interesting although the bad guy was kind of off here and there for me. It was nice to see Cassie grow as a person and how the book reflected the changes and struggles that she had as a person. I would say that that was more of the plot than the plotting bad guy. The writing of course was charming and down to earth and made you really care about the people in the book. It is Christian fiction so it was a quite heavy theme of Christianity in the book. But it didn't seem preachy to me and because it was written the way it was, it wasn't oppressing.

Definitely a strong tale of growth and inspiring. This is probably the best one of hers I've read so far.

Montana Rose
Copyright 2009
318 pages

Allison's Journey by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Ah Amish romances, I don't think there's anything better for lifting my spirits a bit while I'm down. This one wasn't too bad, it had some plausible conflict but still was a nice gentle story.

Allison has been sent to live with her cousins for the summer. The reason being is that her dad felt she was becoming too tomboyish and that she could learn to be a proper lady there since she wasn't learning it from her crabby aunt's teachings. Once she reaches her cousins, she discovers she likes it there and starts learning different things. She also makes new friends and even sparks the interest of Aaron, who previously never had anything to do with girls. But as much as Allison would like to stay, there are duties that call her back home to her father's.

Allison was a great character. It was refreshing to see an Amish girl be a tomboy for once in a novel and like things that boys should like. Aaron wasn't quite as nice of a character, he had a lot of conflicting emotions and I couldn't quite figure out where they all came from. The side characters were all nice too and it was nice to see that they weren't all wise leaders, that some of them had problems of their own as well.

For a plot I thought this one was nice. It kept to something that could definitely happen in an Amish community and also explored them moving to different communities. That was something I haven't seen much written about before. Since this is Amish fiction it can be considered Christian fiction. It was pretty light in the first part of this book but got heavier later on. And that's where I ran into a problem with the book. It seemed that as soon as Allison found herself, she was desperate to go rescue everyone else. It just seemed like maybe she should have reflected on her own beliefs and changes before rushing out to save others.

A very nice Amish fiction book. I'll definitely check more out by Brunstetter.

Allison's Journey
Copyright 2008
284 pages + recipe for peanut brittle

The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

I forget how this came to be on my reading list, but when I saw it the other day I picked it up again out of curiosity. It was an interesting book, but more hype than anything.

The Sociopath Next Door explores the possibility of there being sociopaths all over. It tells why they are the way they are, who they could be, and why they do the things they do. The book even goes so far as to say that about 4% of the population is probably sociopathic. That's quite a large number if you think about it. The author also explores what a conscience is and why sociopaths don't appear to have one. Largely the book gives examples of a few sociopaths and their behaviors, and gives some minor details on sociopaths in general.

The book makes a lot of good points on the behaviors to look out for in a sociopath. The problem with it is that I think every person exhibits these behaviors here and there in their life (and I don't think I've just been surrounded by an exorbitant amount of sociopaths in my life). The key is finding a reoccurring pattern. She does make a good point that most sociopaths look like everyone else and to an extent behave like everyone else. Not all can be a Sadaam Hussein and instead we may not ever realize that the person we've been working with possesses no conscience. A scary thought for sure but the majority of sociopaths we come in contact with will have no effect on our lives. Or at least these are the lessons I took from the book.

The chapters are nicely separated and the writing is scientific yet still approachable for the average person. I do think that the book could create some paranoia. While there is a lot of talk about what they do, I really don't think the book is a comprehensive guide for recognizing the sociopath. It also tends to go on and on about the same topics without delving in more deeply in other important areas. There is a lot for instance about the story of one of the sociopaths, but hardly any information on how to avoid these types.

An interesting book for sure but not one that I would base any social actions on. Definitely a good read if you are interested in psychology.

The Sociopath Next Door
Copyright 2005
218 pages

Passion on the Vine by Sergio Esposito

This is a book for a wine lover. Since I think most wines taste like vinegar I'm not sure where that leaves me. I knew it was going to be about wines a bit, but I didn't expect 90% of the book to be about wine. Especially since it called itself a memoir about food and family as well.

Sergio Esposito moved to the states when little. Even when he was little though he loved wines and built himself up through the years to where he could have a career in wine. This led to him becoming a buyer of wines for a store he opened in New York completely dedicated to Italian wines. For these buyings he frequently travels to Italy and seeks out the best. But he also learns the stories behind them and the methods used to produce these vastly different wines.

Esposito focuses more on wine than any people in this novel. But he does come across quite a few characters. And the stories he tells about them are nice. They are all devoted to their work but each is different and has different attributes that makes them completely unique. This ranges from the Prince who destroyed all his vines but then gave away all his wine to the wine maker who liked to be at the height of fashion at all times.

There were a few saving graces to this book. The few descriptions of food were absolutely luscious and I found myself wanting to eat all of it. Even the rabbit when normally I think bunnies are too cute to be eaten. Guess I may have to venture out in my adventures of eating more from the way this book makes all types of different foods sound amazing. But then we get into the descriptions of the wines, and like I said for a wine lover this may have been great, but for me it just went on and on about things I didn't really care about. It held a few interesting points but it just droned on so much that those who only just like wine or aren't big fans of all probably wouldn't be much interested in the book.

Great for wine lovers, not as great for me. Luckily the food descriptions made it somewhat worthwhile.

Passion on the Vine
Copyright 2008
284 pages

Sow and You Shall Reap by B.P. Smythe

*This book was received as a free Advanced Reader's Copy*

I actually don't read thrillers and murder mysteries too much. But when approached about this book I thought I'd give it a try. There certainly was a lot of excitement in this book, and plenty of intrigue to keep things interesting.

Elizabeth Waverly has been in prison before, mainly for abusing those under her care at a nursing home. She and her partner Norman Christie have bigger fish to fry now, however. A person who was responsible for sending them to prison, and who shares the same first name with Elizabeth is first in line for a very generous will should her mother die. Elizabeth and Norman help this along, and take care of the other Elizabeth for good measure and then Elizabeth Waverly assumes her identity. But before they can make out with the money, a new will is found and a brother enters the picture. He buys some property in Majorca and makes Elizabeth and Norman's plans much more difficult. Many more people will die and strange happenings start as a result and it is only a little more time before things just aren't what they seem.

Elizabeth and Norman are decidedly deliciously evil bad guys. Especially Elizabeth, the trauma of her past mixed with the ruthlessness of her future ensure that she is a force to be reckoned with. Norman too is a pitiable yet hate-able character. The other characters, Victor, Helen, and the rest have some important roles, yet I felt that I would have liked to have more information about them. There are a couple of scenes that describe Victor further which was helpful, but not so much background on Helen except through her father. I did like some of the side characters and their different stories. Here the author gave some background on their personalities through use of flashbacks and it helped explain their actions in the future.

For a plot this one definitely had a lot of murder and intrigue. In fact, I wondered what lurked around the corner at every page because I was never quite sure what was going to happen. A complaint I would have though is that towards the end it seemed rushed and actually kind of confusing. I had to reread the last three chapters a couple times before I finally understood what happened even though I couldn't quite understand how it happened (my imagination filled in that for me). I liked the touch of supernatural the book had as well, but it almost seemed an afterthought and I would have liked to see it incorporated sooner into the novel. Still, it was spooky and I liked the author's descriptions on some of the horrors that were beginning to move around. The writing itself was very direct and easy to read; I can see people of all types enjoying the tone of the novel.

Not a bad book, while there were a few flaws I largely enjoyed it. Definitely worthy of 3 1/2 stars to even 4. If you like thrilling tales of murder and the supernatural, this might be right up your alley.

Sow and You Shall Reap
Copyright 2011
347 pages