Archive for the ‘Melissa’s Picks’ Category



I have to send a thank you to the library user who recommended this book to me.  I don’t know her name, but we had a nice chat about romance books — and she came back to the Reference desk to make sure I had the title correct.  She said she thoroughly enjoyed it.  I did, too!

The story takes place in the late 1800s.  Cora Cash is one of those rich, eligible, young women whose father makes more money than they can spend.  Her mother aspires to have the status of the Vanderbilts or Astors, and has set her sights on a titled husband for her daughter.

While riding in an English fox hunt, Cora breaks away from the pack and falls from her horse.  The handsome man who finds her and brings her to his drafty ancestral home is none other than the Ninth Duke of Wareham. Cora’s mother could not possibly object when the Duke declares his love for Cora and asks for her hand.

The marriage is less of a fairy tale.

Ivo, as the Duke is called by friends, seems to care for Cora.  But his emotions get tied up in knots over how things look.  It is not just the social customs that must be maintained, but he is also struggling to make sure that Cora is nothing like his own mother.

For her part, Cora loves the Duke.  She tries to please him by fixing up his family home, but in doing so she only fuels rumors that the Duke married the rich heiress for her money.  In addition to walking a fine line with his pride, Cora has to adjust to living in a foreign country and learning to cope with her domineering mother-in-law.  Her troubles seem especially poignant at the Duke’s home, where the servants are civil to her face, but unlikely to follow any requests that aren’t deemed “proper” (like removing the many pictures of Ivo’s mother and her former lover, the Prince of Wales, from the bedrooms).

Instead of talking to one another, the couple struggle with misconceptions that might break them apart.

While the story has opportunities to go gothic, it doesn’t.  The old home is certainly drafty, but Goodwin resisted the tired “dark and stormy night” scenarios.  Cora is surprisingly sympathetic as well.  She easily could have turned out to be spoiled and heartless, but she isn’t.  Spoiled, for sure, but she doesn’t turn out to be the shrew.  Snappy dialogue and interesting secondary characters also kept me turning the pages.  I especially liked Bertha, Cora’s maid from South Carolina.  It is through Bertha’s eyes that the book shows the “downstairs” portion of the social classes.

Goodwin’s book provides lots of details of the Gilded Age: the extravagant parties, the fashionable clothing, the social expectations.  She notes in the Acknowledgements that “When it comes to the Gilded Age, the more fantastical the circumstance, the more likely it is to be true.”

I would recommend this as a good read-alike for fans of Downton Abbey or even The Great Gatsby.

Check the WRL catalog for The American Heiress

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thinking I enjoyed this debut fantasy by Emily Croy Barker. And I’m torn with how to write this review–because a big part of what I liked about the book was not expecting the plot twists.

So before going into a brief summary–here are some of the book’s other appealing features:

There are plenty of interesting characters in the story. Nora, a graduate student in English Literature, is the central character. One reviewer described her as an American Hermione (from Harry Potter fame, of course). I don’t know that Nora was that studious! In fact, my one complaint about the book is the title: “The Thinking Woman’s Guide.” No doubt Nora is smart, but there were times I wanted to smack her because she seemed to miss the obvious. The main male character is the magician Aruendiel–he’s talented, but flawed. He makes no apologies for his arrogance. I would probably hate meeting him in real life, but he keeps things interesting within the pages of a book.

The setting is a mix of modern and medieval. Putting a modern woman in the medieval world creates interesting situations, some I found myself thinking about long after the book ended. I also got a kick out of the period quotes from English literature. It was fun trying to identify the literary references, and I was amused with how the author was able to fit some of these in the story.

So stop reading the review now and pick up the book if you want to avoid the plot summary.

The book begins in our modern world with Nora Fischer having a crappy day. Her advisor is unhappy with the progress on her thesis, her boyfriend dumped her for another girl, and there’s a mouse in her kitchen!  Although Nora is oblivious, the reader quickly realizes that when Nora wishes for something it unexpectedly comes true. I was all ready for her fairy godmother to swoop in and tell her about her magical heritage when–SURPRISE–that didn’t happen!

Instead, Nora stumbles through a hole in the fabric of universes and ends up in a medieval world where magic and wizards exist. Nora is enchanted, literally, by the Faitoren. The spells are particularly powerful, and she is caught up in the life of these fae-type creatures who love beauty and fun. It isn’t until after she has a devastating emergency that she realizes she is in danger. She calls on the magician Aruendiel to come to her aid.

The next 500 pages of the book include magic, romance, battles, kidnappings, murders, and more!

I listened to much of this hefty story as a downloadable audiobook. AudioFile magazine gave the book well-deserved double honors—naming The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic one of the Best Audiobooks of the year in Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Audio Theater, and Alyssa Bresnahan one of Best Voices in the same category for her excellent narration.

The author has an excerpt, map, and book club guide available on her webpage.

Check the WRL catalog for The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

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coloradokidTime for a confession. I’ve been binge-watching the SyFy series Haven on Netflix.  Haven is a fictional small town in Maine where people are cursed with unusual gifts–like being able to conjure storms when they are stressed or make monsters attack when they are frightened. It’s not spells or demon powers–it’s what residents call “the troubles.” The series has an interesting (and attractive) cast, and I like the supernatural twist on the solve-the-mystery-in-an-hour format.

In the opening credits of every episode there’s a note that the series is based on The Colorado Kid by Stephen King.  So I read the book.

Newspaper intern Stephanie spends an afternoon with veteran newspaper men Vince and Dave discussing a cold case mystery. It’s a case the older men say isn’t really appropriate for a big newspaper like the Boston Globe because unlike many of the often repeated local stories–like the ghost lights or the mysterious shipwrecked boat–this one doesn’t have a clean “musta-been” explanation. For example, the ghost lights appearing above the baseball field “musta-been” a reflection off the clouds, or maybe it “musta-been” aliens. As Vince explains, the story of the Colorado Kid has too many unknown factors.

He and Dave proceed to tell Steff what little they know about how a man from Colorado went to work one morning and ended up dead on a little island off the coast of Maine only hours later. He was unidentified for months. But even when the police followed an initially  missed clue and identified him, they were no closer to understanding why he was found so far from home or why he had a Russian coin in his pocket.

Nothing fits together, and that can be frustrating for some readers, but I liked the interaction between Stephanie and the old timers. It was nice to see that she was beginning to fit in with the small town community. And I liked that Vince and Dave laid out all they knew about the Colorado Kid and accepted there are just too many things still unknown to be able to give a guess, a “musta-been” explanation, as to what happened. The newspaper can’t print the story because there’s nothing but questions left at the end.

So what’s all this have to do with Haven the TV series? Some character and place names are the same, and some facts about the mystery of the “Colorado Kid” are mentioned in earlier episodes, but you really get to the meat of it in the author notes at the end of the book. King explains that not all mysteries are solvable, and “it’s the beauty of the mystery that allows us to stay sane.” Nicely put, Mr. King. And I think the reminder that everything doesn’t always have an answer is the inspiration for the television show.

Check the WRL catalog for The Colorado Kid

Just for fun, check the WRL catalog for season 1 of Haven

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Chose-the-Wrong-Guy-Gave-Him-the-Wrong-Finger-book-coverLooking for a fun book about getting over an old love? Pick up Chose the Wrong Guy, and get ready to laugh. And then cry. And maybe laugh some more.

Ten years ago, Quinn was interrupted right before she walked down the aisle by her fiance’s brother, Frank. Frank felt compelled to tell her that Burke, her fiance, had had an affair (or two) while they were engaged. After calling off the wedding, Quinn and Frank leave town for a couple days of drowning sorrows and steamy sex. When Quinn comes back to her senses, she returns home alone and settles into a quiet rut. Which is where the story picks up.

Quinn has a successful business making original bridal gowns (as penance for walking out on her own wedding?)  She prides herself on being able to create the perfect gown for the bride and her party.

When Dolly, the grandmother of the two brothers decides to get remarried, she comes to Quinn for her gown. And Quinn realizes she’s not as over the high school romance as much as she thought she was.

With the help of her best friend Glenn, she tries to change her life. He gives her a mission every day for a month (experience speed dating, eat breakfast out, try a new hairstyle, etc.) There are some laugh out loud moments as Quinn tries new things to shake up her perspective. (I made a mental note not to try all of Glenn’s suggestions!) And with the brothers back in town for the wedding, there is certainly opportunity to confront the past and put it behind her.

In many ways it reminded me of the movie The Runaway Bride.  Like the Julia Roberts character, Quinn needs to figure out who she is before she can take the steps to be with someone else.

Harbison’s characters are imperfect, and that’s what makes them appealing. I felt like I knew people like them in “real life”–and ended the book hoping they would find their happily ever after.

Check the WRL catalog for Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave him the Wrong Finger

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naturalsIf you enjoy television shows like Criminal Minds or  CSI or Cold Case, or any of the many TV dramas that involve solving criminal cases in an hour, you should pick up the YA novel The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Cassie is a 17-year-old with a gift for reading people. At the beginning of the book she’s working in a diner using her gift of picking up subtle details to figure out what kind of eggs a customer might order, or if they are likely to skip on the check. She catches the attention of an FBI agent named Briggs who has developed an experimental program  that uses gifted teens to help solve cold cases.

He asks Cassie to join his group of “naturals” so she can develop her skills. Cassie doesn’t have anything to lose. Her dad is serving overseas in the military and her mother, who taught her much of what she knows about reading people, was murdered years ago. With little to keep her in Denver with her grandmother and the hope that maybe she can learn something about her mother’s unsolved murder, she agrees to join the eclectic group and work for the FBI.

The “naturals” live together in a house in Quantico, Virginia, near FBI headquarters. She meets Michael, the handsome rebel who reads emotions, but doesn’t like to be read himself; Dean, the other profiler, who is the son of a convicted murderer; Lia, who specializes in deception and sarcasm; and Sloane, the computer nerd whose gift is  numbers and probability. The characters are easy to distinguish and likeable–if also somewhat stereotypical.

The plot moved along quickly and kept me entertained.  Interspersed with the training exercises and the teens getting to know one another (in part through a risky game of “Truth or Dare”) are chilling chapters from a serial killer–a killer who seems to be escalating in the number and brutality of murders… a killer who targets Cassie as the next victim.

The Naturals is listed as the first in a series.  I couldn’t find out when #2 is due, but will stay on the lookout.

Check the WRL catalog for The Naturals

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supremesNancy from Circulation recommended this book to me.  In particular, she said the audiobook was really enjoyable — and she was right — I loved it!  It is narrated by two different women playing the role of the main characters.  The voices were perfect for the story, and  I was quickly drawn in.  But I don’t think I would have picked it up without her glowing review. Here’s what Nancy has to say about this book:

In the small southern town of Plainview, Indiana, there are three female childhood friends, Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean, who have lived through the 1960s, one adventure after another. Nicknamed “The Supremes” at an early age due to their looks, attitude, and regular meetings at the same table at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat diner.

The story begins as the girls reach middle age. Their group includes their husbands, and they meet regularly after church for dinner at Earl’s, now managed by his son. You soon find out Earl’s is much more than the first black-owned business in a racially divided town. It is a place of refuge, peace talks, and forgiveness.

The first of the wonderfully charismatic, strong-willed women you meet is Odette who is the “say it like it is and don’t take no guff off of anyone” member of the trio. I fell in love with her sense of humor and her realistic viewpoint when she describes an early morning bout with hot flashes and her refrigerator remedy.  She states, “I opened the refrigerator door to get the water pitcher and decided to stick my head inside.  I was in almost to my shoulders, enjoying the frosty temperature, when I got the giggles thinking how someone coming upon me, head stuffed into the refrigerator instead of the oven would say, ‘Now that’s a fat woman who is completely clueless about how a proper kitchen suicide works!’” Her adventures include visits from her pot-smoking mother and Eleanor Roosevelt (who, by the way, are both dead), and a life-altering event that requires the strength of her family and friends to get her through.

Clarice is the wife of a charming, handsome, but unfaithful, husband. He probably loves her, but can’t seem to manage to be monogamous. She realizes she is following in her mother’s footsteps–and struggles with the thought of how her life might be without him.  She has the perfect marriage in the public eye, but a not so private truth has to be faced eventually.

Beautiful Barbara Jean, the last of the trio, seems to be the one who has dealt with many of her life decisions poorly and struggles to hide her drinking as a result.  The loss of her first love, marriage to a much older man, and losing a child are things even the best of friends cannot always fix.  Luckily for her, Clarice and Odette don’t give up trying.

The story is told by intertwining tales from the past with the current lives of the three and the multitude of friends and family characters they encounter daily. The author invites you to step into the lives of these amazing women as they face racism, greed, emotional and physical tragedy, all the while demonstrating the bond of true friendship. There will be tears of joy and sorrow shed for the characters one minute, and the next you’ll get the giggles–as Odette would say.

Check the WRL catalog for The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook of The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat

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youdroppedHere’s another quirky, fun read – this time featuring a former trophy wife showing her age.

When Maxine Cambridge is dumped by her controlling husband for a younger woman, she moves in with her mom.  The divorce is messy.  She describes it as being at DEFCON 5.

In her desperation to get a job, any job, she unloads the whole story to the luckless manager of the Cluck Cluck Palace–so right from the beginning of the book, you know what Max is up against. There’s a prenuptial agreement. Her husband cheated on her. She left their home with their teenage son, but few clothes, very little money, and not a glimmer of self respect–and she needs a job desperately. Now imagine the scene as she attempts to keep a hapless teen from entering the restaurant until she convinces the manager to hire her. Actually, just read the book, it’s as good as anything you could imagine.

Moments after the most humiliating experience of her life, an old high school classmate notices her. And this is not just any guy–this is a guy who leaves Max speechless as she gazes up at his handsome face. She doesn’t recognize him as the geeky kid who had been her lab partner senior year. But now Campbell Barker exudes sex appeal and success. It really hits home for Max how little she has accomplished since high school. She can barely make excuses for why she can’t have coffee with him to catch up on what’s been happening in their lives since high school before she breaks down.

As fate would have it, Campbell is helping his dad do odd jobs–at the same senior citizens retirement village where Max’s mom lives. Max and Campbell run into each other again and again. And finally things start to look up in her life, not just because of Campbell’s attention, but because she gets a job and starts building her self-esteem.

The book has a good bit of romance, some steamy sex, a number of laugh out loud moments, and a dollop of self-analysis as Max remembers how she doesn’t have to give up all her hopes and dreams just to be with a man. Let me tell you, Campbell is a treasure to put up with all the self-doubt Max has to work through!

I liked the characters and appreciated that they were more mature than the 20- or 30-somethings that seem to dominate the romance genre. The dialog is snappy and fun.  The supporting characters are interesting and provide some depth to the story (though this is still a breezy read). There’s a great twist to the divorce at the end. It made me feel good to spend a few hours in Max’s world.

Check the WRL catalog for You Dropped a Blonde on Me

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takeachanceThis was a lovely book to spend an afternoon reading. I was sorry to leave the small English town where Cleo and her friends live. Nicely woven plot lines kept the story amusing and moving between the main characters.

Cleo is pretty happy with her lot in life. She has an interesting job as a chauffeur and has recently started seeing Will, who is showing potential of being “The One” for her. He has a good job, is good looking, and best of all, came to a funeral so she could show up the boy who tormented her all through school. You’d think after 13 years the resentment would fade, but Johnny LaVentura just pushes all her buttons the wrong way. It doesn’t help that Johnny is now a famous sculptor and dates super-models.

Unfortunately, Will turns out to be much less than she had hoped. His wife, Fia, didn’t think he was all that great either—after finding out about the affair! Despite the odds, Cleo and Fia become friends. And it turns out that Johnny isn’t so bad either…

Then there’s Cleo’s sister, Abbie. Her world is turned upside down when she finds out that her husband fathered a child many years ago. Georgia is now a young woman wanting to develop a relationship with her dad—and Abbie feels like a third wheel in her own home.

The conflicts are nicely resolved by the end of the book. And there’s plenty of happily ever after to put a smile on your face!

If you like books by Maeve Binchy or Katie Fforde, try one of Mansell’s charming tales.

Check the WRL catalog for Take a Chance on Me.

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perfectghostLOVED this book by Linda Barnes!  It’s the first I’ve read by this author who has 16 previous novels, including the Carlotta Carlyle mysteries.  You can be sure I’m checking to see what else the library has by her.

Em Moore is the silent, timid-but-talented writing half of a biography team.  Her partner, Ted, is the charismatic, outgoing personality who handles the interviews and book publicity.

When Teddy dies in a car accident, Em needs to suck up her courage and convince her agent that she can handle finishing their current project, a biography of film director Garrett Malcolm.  We are led to believe that Em needs the money, and she’ll face her fears of being in public and talking to strangers in order to keep the advance on the book.

Barnes does a fantastic job in having me feel sorry for “poor Em” all the way through the book.  She has to travel to Cape Cod on her own, and the only way she makes it out of her apartment is to pretend there is a bubble protecting her from the outside world.  Her first meeting with Malcolm had me cringing — his assistant is patronizing and keeps her waiting long after her appointed meeting time.  Malcolm himself is self-important and  intimidating.  And then there’s the police detective investigating Teddy’s death.  Em avoids his phone calls because she just can’t deal with one more thing on her plate.

Em has small successes facing her fears, that include surviving a confrontation with Teddy’s wife and recovering interview tapes that Teddy hadn’t sent her.  And as unlikely as it seems, she and Malcolm hit it off.  They begin an affair, and she is able to start writing the book in the comfort of his large Cape Cod mansion.  And that’s when the story of this famous director and the tragedies in his life start to come together.  All is not as it seems on the surface, however, and Em keeps digging to figure out what happened all those years ago to Malcolm and his family — and what exactly Teddy was working on before his death.

Engaging writing, clever plot twists — a recipe for a book I just couldn’t put down!

Check the WRL catalog for  The Perfect Ghost

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GameboardRichelle Mead’s latest is a post-apocalyptic mystery with an interesting take on religion.

After “the Decline,” religions are licensed and monitored; there is an entire unit of government that is responsible for investigating supernatural claims and making sure that no faith-based movement gets a powerful following.

Justin March was a successful government investigator who saw something he couldn’t explain, except through unwelcome words that hinted of a higher power.  He included his experiences in a formal report, then was exiled from The Republic of United North America (RUNA) to technology-starved Panama.  He desperately wants to return home, but has no clue as to how to get back in the government’s good graces.

Mae Koskinen is a praetorian, an elite, enhanced soldier of RUNA who is reassigned from her usual security duty following an unfortunate incident at the funeral of her lover.  Her new assignment is to help bring an exile back to RUNA for a special case.  Of course, that exile is Justin March.

Justin and Mae are given a limited amount of time to investigate a series of five ritualistic murders.  Despite the efforts of the best technicians to explain the situation with science, it looks like someone materialized out of smoke and killed unrelated victims.  Justin’s skill and his willingness to explore the supernatural possibilities make him the perfect person to lead the investigation.  In the course of the investigation, Justin and Mae develop a grudging respect for one another.

There are a lot of elements to keep your attention in this book: the hints of what happened to cause this anti-religion environment, the supernatural involvement of gods in the mortal world, the back-story of the main characters, and the developing relationship between Mae and Justin.  I must say it took me a little while to get hooked, but when I did I couldn’t put the book down.

If you want everything tied neatly together at the end, don’t start this book yet.  The mystery of the serial murders is solved, but there are many issues left hanging – you’ll just need to keep reading the “Age of X” series to understand it all.  Next in the series is The Immortal Crown due out in May, 2014.

Check the WRL catalog for Gameboard of the Gods

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geekI saw a pin about this book on my iPad, so in between watching Dr. Who and rereading Jane Austen, I paused my knitting to read Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon.

After a brief introduction where she argues, “Geek is the new cool,” Simon  breaks down girl geekdom into several categories: Fangirl, Literary, Film, Music, Funny-Girl, Domestic Goddess, and Miscellaneous Geek.

Each chapter highlights broad characteristics of the category of geekdom with a brief history, quizzes to assess your geekiness, short bios of important figures (called Geek Goddesses), and must-see websites and books/films/television shows/music to be a true master of your passion.

For the geek wannabe, it gives a great starting point to understanding the canon of the geekdom.  For those that are already immersed, it’s a fun way to compare what you know with Simon’s research.

There’s also a very funny section on “Frenemies” – a brief list of characteristics to watch out for that identify the posers against the true geeks.  You’ll want to make sure you aren’t making any of these faux pas!

This book came out in 2011, so I’m a little worried that as years go by, the references will be less timely, and the links to other resources will stop working. I hope Simon is working on updating the book…

Whether you read it from cover to cover, or just dip into your favorite obsession, embrace your geekiness and read this book, I think you’ll walk away with a good feeling.

Check the WRL catalog for Geek Girls Unite

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illbeseeingyouThis novel reveals its story through letters.  Glory, a 23-year-old, very pregnant mother of an energetic two-year-old son,  picks Rita’s address from a hat at a 4-H meeting.  The intent was to have women select an anonymous pen-pal to help ease the stress of their “situation,” that is, being at home while their husbands are at war.  Glory introduces herself in January, 1943, and tells Rita that if they are going to correspond, they should get to know each other.

Rita replies to the letter a few weeks later and we discover she is a middle-aged professor’s wife from Iowa who loves to garden.  Her husband as well as her newly turned 18-year-old son have both volunteered to serve in the war.

Both women seem to understand the same loneliness and feelings of not fitting in with their community – and they develop a deep friendship through their correspondence.

I enjoyed the intimacy of the letters.  The annoying neighbors, the new friends, what grows well in the gardens, the recipes that stretch the rations, the gossip of their community, the good memories, the very ordinary details of life fill each letter.  I was almost as excited as the characters to start a new letter and find out what would be revealed next.

There is also a bit of romance, lots of family drama, and heartbreak of celebrating holidays without loved ones. Be sure to have some tissues handy because some of the letters will surely break your heart.

Pick this book up if you enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Plot-wise it is very different.  But I was reminded of “Guernsey” while reading I’ll be seeing you – I suppose it’s the glimpse of what happens on the homefront and the fact that both books are written through letters being passed back and forth.

Questions for discussions and a conversation with the authors are included at the end of the book.  The conversation was particularly interesting — co-authors Hayes and Nyhan wrote the book without ever having met in real life!  They only knew each other through phone calls and emails.  Perhaps this is what gives that sense of authenticity to Glory and Rita’s letters.

Check the WRL catalog for I’ll be seeing you

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phantom I have been interested in myths and urban legends ever since a preteen sleepover introduced me to the story of the The Hook (You know, the one about the couple at the local makeout spot who hear a strange scraping noise on the car.  They get scared and drive quickly home — only to find a bloody hook hanging from the car door handle). I have since learned to be skeptical of these stories — though it sometimes is hard to tell what is based on fact and what is fantasy.

I picked up Albert Jack’s book, and skimmed several stories before sitting down to read it cover to cover.  I was pleased to find many a tale I hadn’t heard before.

Did you hear about the scorned woman who stuffed seafood in the curtain rods throughout the home just before her ex-husband and his new wife put it up for sale?  No one could find the source of the growing odor, and no one wanted to buy the home.  After several months the man sells his share of the house to his ex-wife very cheaply just to get it off his hands.  And when the woman goes back to claim the house, she finds it stripped of all the fixtures — including the curtain rods.  Her ex had taken everything to be installed in his new home!  See “The Seafood Effect” in the book.

Or what about the woman who put her Winnebago on cruise control, then walked into the back to make herself a cup of coffee?  After the vehicle left the road and overturned, she supposedly tried to sue Winnebago for not making it clear in the owner’s manual that cruise control, as she understood it, was not a feature in the vehicle. See “Winnebago Whiner” in the book.

Read Jack’s book to replenish your collection of stories to share around the water cooler — and maybe find the glimmer of truth in a few of these tales.  It’s very entertaining reading.

Check the WRL catalog for Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends.

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maddyclareSarah Piper is alone in the world.  She’s working for a temp agency in post World War I England.  One rainy afternoon she gets a call to meet a potential client at a coffee shop.  While this is a bit unorthodox, she needs the rent money, and so goes to the meeting.

There she meets handsome Alistair Gellis, a ghost-hunter.  He needs her to make contact with a potential ghost that apparently does not like men.  While scared of the prospect of seeing a ghost, Sarah agrees.  It’s the most excitement she’s had in her life, and she’s more frightened to disappoint her employer than she is of the ghost.

The ghost story turns into an investigation of another crime – and Sarah, Alistair, and his other assistant Matthew are in danger as they try to solve the mystery of Maddy Clare.

I enjoyed the setting of England between the World Wars.  I thought the author brought in enough detail to give a taste of the period. The author did a good job explaining why the war had such a profound effect on her main characters without having them go on and on about their hellish experiences.

I like being a little bit scared  – and the description of Maddy haunting the barn where she hung herself was creepy, not keep-the-lights-on scary.

I liked Sarah.  She’s smart and practical yet she isn’t afraid to run screaming from a particularly difficult encounter with an angry Maddy.  And who wouldn’t be freaked out by the arrival of hordes of ravens? Those human reactions helped me balance the other-worldliness of the ghost story.

And then there was the love story…  The novel could have survived well without it, but I enjoyed Sarah’s budding romance with Matthew.  In my opinion, it never hurts to have the promise of a happy ending!

The Haunting of Maddy Clare recently won two Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards: Best First Novel and Novel with Strong Romantic Elements.

Check the WRL catalog for The Haunting of Maddy Clare

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mysisterI listened to this award-winning debut novel by Annabel Pitcher and was quickly drawn into 10-year-old Jamie’s world.

The story starts five years after Jamie’s sister Rose was killed in a terrorist attack in Trafalgar Square.  His dad promises they are making a new start – but it’s a new start without their mother who has stayed in London to live with a man from her support group.  Jamie and his big sister, Jas (Rose’s twin), have hopes that maybe it will be different in this new town.  But then their dad puts the gold urn with Rose’s remains on the mantel, and they realize nothing has really changed.

Jamie has quite a few typical – and not so typical – challenges to overcome as a newcomer to this small town.  He has to start a new school and while it is a relief not to be identified as “poor Rose’s brother” it’s still difficult to make new friends.  He doesn’t seem to fit in with anyone, except a Muslim girl named Sunya.  But being friends with Sunya would make his dad mad because his dad blames all Muslims for the terrorist attack.

Jamie would also have you believe he didn’t care that he hadn’t seen his mother, yet he can quickly count off how many days it had been since she walked out.  And he faithfully wears the Spiderman t-shirt she gave him for his birthday every day in case she visits so she’ll see how much he loves it.

You may need to have some tissues handy, but the story isn’t told in an overly sentimental manner.  Coming from Jamie’s perspective you understand why losing his sister when he was five-years-old isn’t as real to him as making friends at school or making the winning goal of a soccer match.  And it’s heartbreaking when Jamie finally understands the grief his parents must feel after losing Rose.

I would recommend this book for all ages.  While Jamie sees things in a very kid-like fashion, the issues he deals with – abandonment, loss, grief, friendship, racism, bullying – can be understood from all ages.  As an adult I ached as well as rooted for him and his sister, two decent kids trying to make it without the solid support of either parent.  And at the end they do seem to be in a better place.

The printed book was checked out when I selected it but I absolutely loved hearing the audiobook read by Scottish actor David Tennant of Dr. Who and Harry Potter fame.  Tennant did a superb job making me believe I was listening to Jamie.

I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.

Check the WRL catalog for My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Check the WRL catalog for the audiobook My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

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week_before Let’s start the week with a light romantic comedy.

Emily remembers her childhood as chaotic and full of drama.  She has worked hard to make her adult life as different from her wacky mother’s as possible.  She is finally living the stable, organized life she always dreamed of — and, though boring, this is exactly what she wants.  She thinks she has fallen in love with “Mr. Right,” a transplant surgeon named Grant.  His family is full of all the tradition and respectability that hers is not.  She can’t help but feel a little intimidated by their perfect lives.

Emily and Grant are tying the knot at his family’s long-time favorite vacation lodge in Vermont.  It will be a dream come true.  They arrive at the lodge a week before the wedding to make last-minute plans and visit with family.  The heirloom dress will fit (serious dieting will make sure of that); the wedding will go off without a hitch (if she keeps her mother away from her future mother-in-law); and Emily and Grant will live happily ever after (despite a friend’s warning that Emily will never have her honeymoon because of Grant’s demanding, important job).

Only that’s not how it turns out. Her ex-husband, Ryan, shows up out of the blue and makes Emily question whether she’s marrying the right man.

The plot isn’t full of unexpected twists.  You could probably fill in how the story ends just by knowing that Emily’s ex showed up before the wedding.  But I liked the way Kendrick works the plot to the inevitable conclusion.  She has a playful, light hand with developing characters, from the brassy mother of the bride to the conservative mother of the groom.  And I was happy to see those passive-aggressive older sisters get their comeuppance!  Read the book to find out how. 

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wandererLet’s end the week with a fast-paced contemporary romance.

Robyn Carr is a familiar name on the bestseller lists and her latest series, which starts with The Wanderer, shows all the earmarks of why she’s so popular.

Henry “Coop” Cooper comes to Thunder Point, Oregon, to pay his respects to an old Army buddy, Ben, who died unexpectedly. Coop doesn’t expect to be the one to receive the estate, a surprising number of waterfront and forest acreage–along with a decrepit bait shop. Coop isn’t sure what Ben’s intent was for the land, so he decides to play it slow, fix up the shop, and talk to the people who knew Ben to get a better feel for his friend’s wishes.

Part of the appeal of the seaside town is Sarah Dupre, a Coast Guard pilot, and her younger brother, Landon. There is a nice blend of a budding romance between Coop and Sarah as well as a friendship with Landon, who is being bullied by the privileged kid in town.

I finished The Wanderer and picked up The Newcomer right away.  The story continues with the same small town characters, this time spending more time exploring the relationship between single parents Sheriff “Mac” McCain and diner waitress Gina James. I’ll have to wait until September to see how all the plot lines resolve in The Hero.

This was my first time reading Robyn Carr. I thoroughly enjoyed the character development for the primary and secondary casts. I didn’t feel like I had to read the second book to complete the story, but it was a bonus that the plot with Sarah and Coop continues. I’d certainly agree the love story is the main appeal, but Carr adds enough meat to the overall arc that if you’re looking for something more than boy meets girl, you’ll find it here.

Check the WRL catalog for The Wanderer

Check the WRL catalog for The Newcomer

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CroakTeenager Lex Bartleby has gotten in trouble, serious trouble, more times than her parents can handle. As hard as it is for them, they send her to her Uncle Mort’s for the summer, hoping he can help her work out a better release for her destructive behavior.

Lex doesn’t understand why she’s so angry all the time, but nevertheless dreads the trip to her uncle’s. She’s prepared to hate every minute she’s away from her twin sister, Cordy.

It turns out, though, that Uncle Mort has experience with angry teens–in fact, he seeks troubled kids out for a pretty special job. Mort is a Grim Reaper, and he finds that kids with Lex’s issues make great apprentices.

Lex is surprised to find that she has a natural ability to quickly free the soul from the deceased–and for once in her life she has lots of friends who seem to understand her. As an added bonus, those wild urges to act out start to fade as soon as she starts working as a reaper.

When the Junior Grims notice a series of suspicious deaths, Lex and her partner Driggs, try to figure out what’s going on. It looks like someone has gone rogue and is killing off people whom he or she thinks deserve to die–murderers, liars, cheaters, etc.–which is something Lex has struggled with ever since her first day on the job. Why shouldn’t these bad people get punished for their deeds?

The book answers some questions, but definitely leaves enough open that you’ll have to read the sequel, Scorch.  Thankfully, that book, too, is in the library collection.

The world-building and explanation of how the Grims collect and deliver souls to the Afterlife is fascinating. And the wide assortment of characters in the town make for interesting reading. The author writes with a nice mix of humor and action. I couldn’t help but turn the page to see what would happen next.

Check the WRL catalog for Croak

Check the WRL catalog for Scorch

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