Book Review—The Replacement Crush

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This is the story of a high school girl named Vivvy—sorry, she hates that—Vivian, whose heart is broken by an attractive, thoughtless jerk named Jake. Viv is smart and funny. She loves romance books and the original Star Trek series—especially Mr. Spock. Any decent guy would be lucky to have her. But because of what happened with Jake, she has taken herself off the market. From now on, she plans to focus on boys who frankly do nothing for her. No sparks, no chance of another broken heart.

I enjoyed this story very much. Each of Vivian’s friends is unique and, like dueling Greek choruses, happily expresses their opinions about true love, raging hormones, and revenge. Of course, it takes two to make a romance, and Dallas is the mysterious newcomer who represents everything that threatens Viv’s plans. He, too, is smart and loves Star Trek—especially Captain Kirk. Also, he is computer-savvy, and plays the cello—the cello! Didn’t see that coming.

If you enjoy breezy romantic comedy with lots of snappy dialog, quirky townsfolk, and a nice beach setting, then this book is for you. And don’t let yourself get too upset with Jaz. She means well.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
True love can’t be strategized.

After book blogger Vivian Galdi’s longtime crush pretends their secret summer kissing sessions never happened, Vivian creates a list of safe crushes, determined to protect her heart.

But nerd-hot Dallas, the sweet new guy in town, sends the mission and Vivian’s zing meter into chaos. While designing software for the bookstore where Vivian works, Dallas wages a counter-mission.

Operation Replacement Crush is in full effect. And Dallas is determined to take her heart off the shelf.

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Book Review—The Wendy

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The Wendy is a delight—beautifully written and funny. Loosely based on characters created by J.M. Barrie, I sensed a bit of Dickens in the troubled upbringing of a modern girl named Wendy Darling who was just not at home in the eighteenth century. It seems men were not kind to women back then, the majority seeing them as suited for nothing more than matrimony and motherhood—if they had to be put up with at all. Then, this headstrong girl with grand ideas of captaining a ship enters the stage, and not only are the Neanderthals incensed at her boldness but astonished that she has skills.

Wendy is smart and accomplished and can hold her own against anyone—even the eternally pompous and mean-spirited Captain Hook. And she’s wise, considering she is only sixteen. Though I found her irresistible—especially her eyebrows—my favorite aspect of the novel is the voice of the narrator. I mean, it’s just so wonderfully witty. In fact, some parts made me laugh out loud. Good thing I was alone at the time.

For those who enjoy fantasy with their historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. It’s perfect for kids and highly entertaining for adults. A real gem.

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Book Description
THE WRONG KIND OF HERO.

“Girls can’t be in the navy! Girls take care of babies! You’re so stupid, you don’t know anything!”

London. 1783. Wendy Darling is an orphan, living in an overcrowded almshouse, ridiculed for believing in a future she can never have. More than anything in the world, she wants to be the captain of a ship. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

By 1789, she’s sixteen, old enough to be sold into service as a dressmaker or a servant. When she learns the Home Office is accepting a handful of women into its ranks, she jumps at the chance, joining the fight against the most formidable threat England has ever faced. Magic.

But the secret service isn’t exactly what she had hoped. Accompanied by a reimagined cast of the original Peter Pan, Wendy soon discovers that her dreams are as far away as ever, that choosing sides isn’t as simple as she thought, and that the only man who isn’t blinded by her gender… might be her nation’s greatest enemy.

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Book Review—Nora & Kettle

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At first, I had trouble getting into this book because it deals with violence against women and girls. I am the father of two daughters, and stories of physical abuse at home—in any time period—really set me off. Fortunately, Nora & Kettle is a beautiful novel and demonstrates in intense, sometimes lyrical prose, the sheer power and majesty of the human spirit. I felt Lauren Nicolle Taylor’s characters were well drawn and personable, and the setting believable. Her decision to contrast the life of a “rich girl” and her little sister with two homeless Japanese-American boys was the right one and proves to be very effective.

The terror behind the walls of Nora’s home echoes what was happening in a major city in post-war America in the early 1950s. Kettle and his “brother” Kin are just as much victims as she is. Like Nora, they must find a way to survive in a world that doesn’t want them. They must, at all costs, remain invisible and avoid confrontation. In Kin’s case, though, his anger gets the better of him, bringing more bad luck.

As a young adult novel, this story is pretty dark. But the lessons it teaches to a new generation are well worth repeating and make Nora & Kettle a book worth reading.

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Book Description
After World War II, orphaned Kettle faces prejudice as a Japanese American but manages to scrape by and care for his makeshift family of homeless children. When he crosses paths with the privileged but traumatized Nora, both of their lives are forever changed…

Lauren Nicolle Taylor’s Nora & Kettle is a heart-wrenching historical fiction novel that will appeal to fans of books by John Green and Ned Vizzini, novels such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Beginning of Everything, Eleanor & Park, The Book Thief, and classics like The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye.

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Book Review—Opening Belle

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For me, the best part about reading fiction by female authors is getting a clue as what women are really thinking when men make fools of themselves—unfortunately, a daily occurrence in most places. And reading about the highly paid boors, rakes, and mansplainers who inhabit the corridors of Wall Street, well. Let’s just say I am genuinely impressed at the depths to which my fellow knuckle-draggers can stoop.

That said, Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry was a lot of fun. Following a stressed-out protagonist making boatloads of money while fending off the advances of the less evolved—not to mention contending with an entitled husband who cannot seem to comprehend the meaning of work—and you have the makings of sheer, page-turning mayhem. If you like reading about harried women professionals determined to blow up the glass ceiling, then grab this book. As a bonus, you’ll learn a lot about the inner workings of Wall Street—unless of course, the author was making the whole thing up.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Maureen Sherry’s funny insider novel about a female Wall Street executive also trying to be a mother and a wife is a “compulsively readable…cheeky—and at times, romantic—battle-cry for any woman who’s ever strived to have it all and been told by a man that she couldn’t” (Entertainment Weekly).

It’s 2008 and Isabelle, a thirty-something Wall Street executive, appears to have it all: the sprawling Upper West Side apartment; three healthy children; a handsome husband; and a job as managing director at a large investment bank. But her reality is something else. Her work environment resembles a frat party, her husband feels employment is beneath him, and the bulk of childcare logistics still fall in Belle’s already crowded lap.

Enter Henry, the former college fiancé she never quite got over; now a hedge fund mogul. He becomes her largest client, and Belle gets to see the life she might have had with him. While Henry campaigns to win Belle back, the sexually harassed women in her office take action to improve their working conditions, and recruit a wary Belle into a secret “glass ceiling club” whose goal is to mellow the cowboy banking culture and get equal pay for their work. All along, Belle can sense the financial markets heading toward their soon-to-be historic crash and that something has to give—and when it does, everything is going to change: her marriage, her career, her bank statement, and her colleagues’ frat boy behavior.

Optioned by Reese Witherspoon who called it “smart, biting, and honest,” Opening Belle is “funny, relevant, and often shocking….Even if your own life is far from a fairy tale, it will allow you to laugh, learn, and maybe even lean in—to hug your own family a little closer.” (The Washington Post).

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Book Review—The Thinnest Air

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Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction featuring female protagonists. And I was delighted to learn that The Thinnest Air by Minka Kent has two. Meredith and Greer couldn’t be more different. The former is beautiful and, to be truthful, a little ditzy. She’s not sure what she wants to do in life and, by some stroke of cosmic luck, has managed to marry a wealthy investment banker. Greer, on the other hand, is practical and focused—even hard. She’s looked after her sister since they were little and apparently has zero sense of humor, not to mention a talent for winding people up. Each, however, is strong in her way.

The book is organized into chapters that alternate between Meredith and Greer, which I found to be compelling as a storytelling device. By the midpoint, I actually found myself preferring Greer’s story to Meredith’s. Maybe it’s because the older sister is a no-nonsense kind of gal. Overall, this novel works as a fun, taut thriller. But I have to say I was somewhat disappointed in the ending, which I won’t reveal here. Suffice it to say that the author set up a path that needed to lead to its logical conclusion but retreated at the end. Nevertheless, fans of the genre will find the story entertaining and the characters appealing.

Now, If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to enjoy a nice glass of Merlot and contemplate whether to name my next kid Isabeau.

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Book Description
A woman’s disappearance exposes a life of secrets in a twisting novel of psychological suspense from the author of The Memory Watcher.

Meredith Price is the luckiest woman alive. Her husband, Andrew, is a charming and successful financial broker. She has two lovely stepchildren and is living in affluence in a mountain resort town. After three years of marriage, Meredith’s life has become predictable. Until the day she disappears.

Her car has been discovered in a grocery store parking lot—purse and phone undisturbed on the passenger seat, keys in the ignition, no sign of struggle, and no evidence of foul play. It’s as if she vanished into thin air.

It’s not like Meredith to simply abandon her loved ones. And no one in this town would have reason to harm her. When her desperate sister, Greer, arrives, she must face a disturbing question: What if no one really knows Meredith at all? For Greer, finding her sister isn’t going to be easy…because where she’s looking is going to get very, very dark.

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Book Review—Lucky Jim

I’m pretty sure most readers today have never heard of Lucky Jim, that crazed, lunatic’s cry of literary rage against the sheer boredom of academic life in the early 1950s. I read the novel decades ago and recently picked it up again, having decided to take a break from nail-biting stories of horror and suspense. And I must say, Kingsley Amis’s excoriating masterpiece is just as hilarious the second time around.

When you first meet Jim Dixon, what strikes you is not only his penchant for mockery but his incredible ability to pull the most inventive faces. In fact, I counted no less than ten throughout the book, my favorite being his shot-in-the-back face. Those coupled with his irritatable mumblings, drunken ramblings, and blatant ignorance about women make for an antihero par excellence. And the highlight of these antics? A leaden, uninspired speech he must deliver to hundreds of students and faculty entitled “Merrie England,” whatever that means.

If you love scathing, satirical stories featuring romance, give Lucky Jim a try. And don’t worry that the book was published more than sixty years ago. Its razorlike humor is as fresh as ever. Try to decide which is your favorite Jim Dixon face. And imagine you had to deliver that ill-fated “Merrie England” speech. Hint: a few pulls of good Scottish whiskey and you will indeed be merry. Good luck.

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Book Description

Regarded by many as the finest, and funniest, comic novel of the twentieth century, Lucky Jim remains as trenchant, withering, and eloquently misanthropic as when it first scandalized readers in 1954. This is the story of Jim Dixon, a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that “there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” Amis’s scabrous debut leads the reader through a gallery of emphatically English bores, cranks, frauds, and neurotics, with each of whom Dixon must contend in one way or another in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancy.

More than just a merciless satire of cloistered college life and stuffy post-war manners, Lucky Jim is an attack on the forces of boredom, whatever form they may take, and a work of art that at once distills and extends an entire tradition of English comic writing, from Fielding and Dickens through Wodehouse and Waugh. As Christopher Hitchens has written, “if you can picture Bertie or Jeeves being capable of actual malice, and simultaneously imagine Evelyn Waugh forgetting about original sin, you have the combination of innocence and experience that makes this short romp so imperishable.”

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Book Review—Twist of Faith

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Twist of Faith is a stunning story that turns on the eternal question, “Who Am I?” And it’s something that the heroes—if you think one of those exists in this novel—and the evildoers have in common as they go about their daily business. For me, the book reads like a madman’s dream where photographs can come alive, and the dead can speak. It’s a well-thought-out tale of intrigue and revenge—mostly revenge—that surprisingly leads to a high body count for a book that is not really a police procedural.

There’s a lot of anger in this tale, and I think the author was able to channel it in the lissome, paradoxical character of Ava. Though she defies reason, we want her. Bad. And maybe it’s the allure of danger that surrounds her. Or it could simply be that she was raised French and Catholic. Either way, watch out.

If you like the strange and mysterious, then grab this book. And you might want to crack open a nice Château Lafite Bourdeaux to put yourself in the mood.

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Book Description
When family secrets are unearthed, a woman’s past can become a dangerous place to hide…

After the death of her adoptive mother, Ava Saunders comes upon a peculiar photograph, sealed and hidden away in a crawl space. The photo shows a shuttered, ramshackle house on top of a steep hill. On the back, a puzzling inscription: Destiny calls us.

Ava is certain that it’s a clue to her elusive past. Twenty-three years ago, she’d been found wrapped in a yellow blanket in the narthex of the Holy Saviour Catholic Church—and rescued—or so she’d been told. Her mother claimed there was no more to the story, so the questions of her abandonment were left unanswered. For Ava, now is the time to find the roots of her mother’s lies. It begins with the house itself—once the scene of a brutal double murder.

When Ava enlists the help of the two people closest to her, a police detective and her best friend, she fears that investigating her past could be a fatal mistake. Someone is following them there. And what’s been buried in Ava’s nightmares isn’t just a crime. It’s a holy conspiracy.

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Book Review—Sticky Fingers

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Every once in a while, you come across a collection of short stories that are, well, magical. And I had the good fortune to experience a great deal of magic in Sticky Fingers by JT Lawrence. First of all, let me just say, I never knew South Africans could be so damn funny. Come to think of it, I’ve only ever met one South African, and she was sweet. And, okay, kind of funny. Moving on.

These stories range from the macabre to the flat-out hilarious. My favorite was “Off the Hinge.” I never realized it was so difficult to secure a pint of milk for your tea. Maybe that’s why I always take mine black. On the other hand, considering the narrator’s predicament, perhaps milk is the least of her worries.

If you like stories that disturb rather than horrify, then get this collection. Each one reminded me of a modern, well-made Twilight Zone episode featuring great actors. And if you’ve ever had a chance to catch the original television episodes, you’ll know I’m setting a high bar.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Diverse, dark-humoured, and deliciously bite-sized, this compelling collection of 12 short stories by JT Lawrence include:

ESCAPE

A suicidal baby knows he was born into the wrong life. He has to get creative to correct the mistake, much to his mother’s horror.

THE ITCH

An intense, uncontrollable, unexplainable itch lands the protagonist in a mental institution.

BRIDGE GATE

In this poignant and charming short story, a daughter yearns to connect with her absent father through the letters they exchange. She’s not put off by his pedantic corrections of her writing, despite the slow reveal that he is less than perfect himself.

THE UNSUSPECTING GOLD-DIGGER

A woman gradually poisons her husband so that she doesn’t have to break his heart.

***

“Each story is masterfully constructed … Humorous, touching, creepy, but most of all entertaining, this collection is superb.” — Tracy (Amazon review)

***

If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl or Gillian Flynn you’ll love these unsettling stories with a twist in the tale.

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Book Review—The Locksmith

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Peeling away the layers of anything is usually a mistake. Just ask someone who has had to use sharp tools to prise old wallpaper off the plaster walls of an ancient house. Sometimes, you’ll discover a kid’s crayon drawing of a scarecrow. But other times, you might find something sinister—like dead cockroaches.

The Locksmith reminded me of this nasty renovation business because the protagonist, Jude, is naturally curious and insists on getting to the bottom of things, especially in relationships and usually at her peril. Unfortunately, her children and new life partner must be pulled along to suffer the consequences. But it’s for their own good, you understand.

The writing is accomplished and the characters vivid, but I was disappointed by the ending. The author does such a beautiful job of building toward a natural—inevitable—denouement, then snatches it away in a sharp turn to the right. No spoilers here, but I think she would have done well to adhere to Chekhov’s gun principle. That said, the book is most certainly worth reading for fans of dark mysteries and slow-boil suspense.

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Book Description
Jude doesn’t like secrets, they breed poison, but she knows her husband is hiding something from her. To uncover the truth she flees with her three young children to stay with her mysterious mother-in-law, Audra. Through Audra, Jude believes she can uncover the truth that will heal them all. Only Audra has secrets of her own and will stop at nothing to keep them.

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Book Review—Pocketful of Bones

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Pocketful of Bones is a quiet story in the way Psycho and The Lottery are quiet. At least, that’s what I was thinking as I made my way through this marvelous and absorbing tale of villains, victims, and valentines. Maybe unsettling is a better description. One minute, someone is having a conversation, and the next, they are dead. And it’s hard to know where you stand with well-drawn characters like Tibba and Finny because, at times, someone can at a moment’s notice turn from victim to villain. And someone who you thought might be conniving turns out to be sweet and loyal.

For me, the best thing about the novel was, I really didn’t know what to expect. For the record, I’ve had my fill of serial killers. So, as the bodies piled up in Pocketful of Bones, I was surprised at the logic and—dare I suggest it?—the correctness of it. The story unfolds as though Fate itself were guiding mother and son to their inescapable destinies. And along the way, they planted the annuals. In short, they were born for this.

If you’re looking for a satisfying read that both perplexes and horrifies in a Canadian sort of way, I suggest you read this book. And remember: anyone is capable of murder; some see it as just another tool in the toolbox.

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Book Description
Finnegan MacGillivray, red-haired, freckle-faced social pariah, finds solace in his mother’s garden while she entertains “dates” in his home. When an accident takes the life of a friend, Finnegan buries the evidence amid the purple dead nettle and bougainvillea, and unearths a treasure trove of human remains. Did his house rest atop an ancient burial ground? Or was there a killer tucking him into bed at night?

His fascination with bones grows as fast as his obsession with his mother. She rejects his advances, and he escapes to the other side of the country. Years later, he returns to his childhood home, to the secrets and the guilt and the bones — and to fulfill his destiny.

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