Sunday, December 30, 2007

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

John Tyree always felt like an outsider growing up in his small North Carolina town. Unlike his friends, John lived in a small house and was raised by a father who wasn't interested in sports and other after school activities like the parents of his friends. His father's only interest was coin collecting. A man of few words, he had tried to engage John in coin collecting, but John had little interest in his father or his hobby. After high school, John spent most of his time drinking and working odd jobs. Finding this lifestyle less than satisfying, John decided it was time to move on and grow up, and so, he enlisted in the service.

On his third leave from the military, John spent the hot Carolina day surfing and met the girl that would change his life forever: Savannah Lynn Curtis. Their romance was young and full of promise, and John vowed that when he was done in the military, he would marry Savannah. But keeping up a long distance relationship was hard, especially after 9/11 when John felt compelled to stay committed to his country. Unsure of their future, Savannah confesses that she has fallen in love with someone else in a "Dear John" letter she sends him overseas.

A few years later, John returns to the states to attend to his father and his failing health. While home, he also intends to confront the woman that broke his heart but who he still loves. Although it appears that Savannah has moved on, John sees that things are not always what they seem, and he learns the greatest lesson there is to learn when it comes to affairs of the heart.

The premise of Sparks' stories always sound so sappy, but I get sucked in every time. It is so easy to fall into the romanticism he creates in his books. Dear John is a story about love and loss that would even melt the most hollow of hearts. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Gift by Richard Paul Evans

To Nathan Hurst, the holiday season is a reminder of the tragic Christmas morning when he lost his younger brother in an unfortunate gun accident that left his family in despair. It was a loss so great that his father took his own life to escape the grief, and his mother, who has succumbed to dementia, has seemed to have permanently blocked not only the event, but also her only living son, from her memory.

Since this tragic day, Nathan would prefer not to acknowledge that Christmas even exists, that is, until a chance meeting with a young woman and her children in an airport restores his faith in the Christmas spirit.

While traveling for business, Nathan runs into Addison, a single mother of a young girl and a frail boy who suffers from leukemia, stranded in a Denver airport. Feeling sorry for the family, Nathan offers his hotel room to Addison. Touched by his offer, Addison and Nathan form a friendship that turns into something romantic. Meanwhile, Collin, Addison's sickly son, heals Nathan of both his bronchitis and Tourrettes just from his touch.

When Collin uses his power to save the life of their pomeranian who was hit by a car, the driver wants to use Collin's powers to cure her dying son. Soon, everyone wants to exploit Collin for their own personal gain, including Addison's selfish ex-husband. Although Collin's power is miraculous, it is also a double-edged sword, as every time he heals someone, he is left weak and sick. The power that heals others is killing the healer. Can Nathan protect Collin and his family before it is too late?

This isn't usually the type of book I enjoy reading, but I wanted to read something relating to the holiday season. As hokey as it may sound, this book really makes you reflect on the meaning of Christmas. I was captivated from the first page, and I think anyone would be touched by this thoughtful tale.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik

Landvik delivers with another sweet and sentimental tale of life, love and family in her quirky version of Minnesota. We first meet Joe Andreson, in the early 70s as he is moving from small-town northern Minnesota to Minneapolis after the loss of his father. A regular guy who just happens to be a high school hockey star and work on the school newspaper, Joe can only imagine two paths for his future: the NHL or becoming a journalist.

But life throws Joe a curveball, and he ends up on a path he never envisioned, owner of the local grocery store. He watches his platonic high school girlfriend, Darva, leave for Paris to become an artist, and his other friends also move on, up and away. Meanwhile, he secretly pines after his clandestine high school love, the attention-hungry cheerleader Kristi, who ultimately becomes a televangelist.

The reader follows Joe, his family and friends from his high school days through middle-age. Though as a young man Joe seems to think life has passed him by, ultimately Joe embraces his choices, realizing that he has quietly attained the happiness, love and success that have eluded so many others.

The View from Mount Joy has great potential for book discussions. It is also a lovely holiday read, with its themes of friends and family. Landvik fans will not be disappointed with this moving and heartwarming tale, and those not familiar with her work will surely be tempted to try out some of her other titles.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

After escaping his small, hometown of Bush Falls, New York, Joe Goffman headed for the big city and never looked back, that is, until now. Joe receives a phone call from his estranged brother informing him that his father had suffered a heart attack and is in a coma.

Going back home is never easy, especially when the entire town hates your guts. You see, Joe received fame (and a lot of money) for writing the bestselling novel that was made into a feature film about his high school experiences in Bush Falls. Although it was written as fiction, Joe portrayed many members of the community, including some of the team members of the champion basketball team who may have been responsible for his best friend Sammy's suicide, in a very negative light. As you can imagine, Joe has made many enemies.

Now Joe has to face the demons he left behind in Bush Falls as he tries to make amends with his estranged brother and reconnect with his high school sweetheart.

Balancing both somber and humor moments, Tropper tells a heartwarming tale about homecoming and forgiveness. The Book of Joe will resonate with anyone who has ever had to go home again to deal with a life you thought you left behind forever. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Blood Brothers by Nora Roberts

Caleb, Fox, and Gage share the same birthday, 7/7/77. On the eve of their tenth birthday, the boys decided to go camping in the woods at The Pagan Stone. Of course they lied to their parents because there is no way their parents would have let them go. When midnight rolls around, the boys decide to take a blood oath to be friends forever. When their blood hit the stones it unleashed a terrifying evil. For one week during the seventh month every seventh year, the town of Hawkins Hollow went crazy. Murders, rapes, suicides, robberies...anything awful that could happen would. And when the week was up the good people of the Hollow never really remembered what happened or why they acted out of the ordinary. The three boys and a few others were unaffected but witnessed it all.

Twenty-one years later, Quinn Black is coming to the Hollow to write a book about this phenomenon. She has written a few books about paranormal occurrences. What she didn't expect was that she would be connected to this town. She sees the evil in the shape of a boy and has strange nightmares. While staying at her hotel she sees the evil again and notices another guest sees it too. Turns out Layla is connected to the town also. As far as Caleb knows no one but the boys have ever seen the evil. They decided to work together to put an end to the evil. Quinn calls in her friend, Cybill to help research, and it turns out she is a part of it too.

This is the first book in a trilogy. It gives us mainly background information and to get to know the characters. Blood Brothers is also about Caleb and Quinn falling in love. The next two books will be about Fox and Layla and Gage and Cybill. This was a great start to what is sure to be another terrific trilogy by Nora Roberts.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James

If you love Jane Austen, you won’t be disappointed with this latest entry to the crowded field of Austen-inspired novels. Author Syrie James, writing in the first person as Austen, presents this story in journal-form as part of a lost manuscript found in an old chest.

The premise that Austen left behind a memoir is simply a delicious one to those who know and love her writing. James delivers with a well-imagined story of Jane’s love affair with Mr. Ashford, a dream suitor who is Jane’s perfect match in wit, style and temperament. In addition to the satisfaction the reader gets from finally seeing Jane portrayed as something other than the maiden aunt or unwed spinster, the story also gratifies readers with insights into the period in her life when Jane was revising and preparing the novels she wrote in her youth for publication. You will be delighted in the ways the author has imagined that Jane’s love affair impacts rewrites of her famous novels.

Appealing primarily to fans of Austen, you will surely find this delightful gem of a book irresistible. For those enchanted by Austen’s writing, you will not be disappointed in the voice and tone James uses to expertly capture Austen’s style. Cleverly conceived and executed, you will only be disappointed in the lack of a happy ending in marriage for our Jane. Alas, even in the realm of the speculative fiction, Jane Austen remains unlucky in love. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Someone to Love by Jude Deveraux

Jace Montgomery lost his fiancee three years ago. He was on a business trip to England and Stacy decided to come along at the last minute. While in England they had a fight and Stacy left. Next thing Jace knows, Stacy is found dead of an apparent suicide. Jace is devastated. Now three years have past and Jace finds the book Stacy had been reading when in England. Inside the book is a picture of an ugly mansion in England and a cryptic message written on the back, "Ours again. Together forever. See you there on 11 May 2002." May 12, 2002 was the day Stacy killed herself.

Jace finds the mansion and learns that it is for sale, he borrows money from his billionaire uncle and buys the house. Once there he learns the house is haunted. So he pretends he is writing a book about the ghost of the house and doesn't tell anyone his real reason for being there: to find Stacy's killer.

Jace meets Nigh Symthe, who is back home from her journalist job. She has always felt a connection to the mansion and becomes Jace's research assistant. The ghost, Ann Stuart, also supposedly committed suicide. For Jace to figure out Stacy's death he must investigate Ann's.

Jace is thrust into a world of ghosts, murderers, and noisy neighbors. With Nigh's help, can Jace figure out the mystery surrounding Stacy and Ann's death or will Nigh and Jace be the next victims?

Monday, December 3, 2007

Manless in Montclair by Amy Holman Edelman

Isabel left her husband, Michael, at home with a headache while she went to the dentist to get her teeth whitened. When she returned, Isabel found Michael lying in a chair with a pool of blood surrounding his head. The cause of the death unknown.

The reader is then whisked away to Isabel's early twenties. This was during the time she had first moved to New York City and was trying to determine what she wanted to do with her life. The story continues alternating from past, where we learn how Isabel and Michael met and fell in love, when they had moved to the suburb of Montclair, New Jersey, and how Isabel almost had an affair, to the present, where Isabel finds out that Michael's death was caused by a massive brain hemorrhage and where she is learning for the first time how to be both a widow and a single mother.

Although nothing can replace the love she shared with Michael, Isabel is determined to fill the rather large hole in her heart that Michael's death has left. She finds comfort in an unsuspecting neighbor, but he is unable to committ. After trying various online dating tactics, Isabel sends an email out to all her friends asking them to forward the email on to anyone who can "find Isabel a man." The one who does will receive a trip for two. Although the email gets her all kinds of media attention and both wanted and unwanted emails from prospective mates, Isabel finally realizes that being alone doesn't mean she has to be lonely.

Even though I couldn't identify with being a widow, the book was written in such a way that the reader could really sympathize with Isabel's grief and the struggles of being back in the dating pool. This book was thoroughly enjoyable and I couldn't put it down. If you liked Lolly Winston's Good Grief, this is the book for you.