Thursday, January 31, 2008

Daisy Dooley Does Divorce by Anna Pasternak

For self- help addict Daisy Dooley, being 39 and single is bad, but being 39 and divorced is even worse. With support from her two best friends - one a commitment phobic serial date, and the other a wife and mother whose marriage is the picture perfect that one all of her friends aspire to – Daisy re-enters the painful (and funny) world of dating that she thought she was leaving behind. Back in the land of lonely Saturday nights, wondering if he’ll call, and awkward setups, Daisy meets up with her post divorce rebound man, and the twenty-something who’s eager to date a “mature woman”, and also battles her feelings for “the one who got away.” Along the way, Daisy delivers laughs and lessons, and is a character you’ll not soon forget.

The book is written by Anna Pasternak, the niece of author Boris Pasternak, the author or Dr. Zhivago, and is a novelization of her series of articles for the London Daily Mail. The book has been picked up by ABC TV for development as a sitcom series.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Secret Between Us by Barbara Delinsky

Single mother Deborah Barr is on her way to pick up her daughter, Grace, from her friend's house late on a dark evening in the pouring rain. On the way home, Deborah is questioning Grace on how much studying was actually going on there, as it appeared that there were boys over. Because she has her learner's permit, Grace is behind the wheel when something darts out in front of the car causing Grace to hit it and veer off the road. Shaken by the accident, both women get out of the car and discover that they did not hit an animal, but a man. Only being less than a mile from home, Deborah instructs Grace to run home to make sure her younger brother, Dylan, is safe and isn't worried because have been gone for so long.

Deborah, a doctor, sees that the man is not conscious and immediately calls 911. Both an ambulance and chief of police, John Colby, arrive. John just assumes that Deborah was the one behind the wheel, and Deborah, feeling a maternal instinct to protect the girl, doesn't allude otherwise.

Deborah's little lie to the police, however, gets much more complicated when the man they hit, Calvin McKenna, dies. What was an accident turns into vehicular homicide. No one seem to know why Calvin was out running in the rain or why he was on a blood thinning medicine that caused him to bleed to death. His widow is angry, and wants justice served on behalf of her husband, so she is bringing a lawsuit against Deborah.

Grace is so consumed not only by the guilt of their secret to the police, but also the secret that she is keeping from her mother. Grace wasn't at her friend's studying that night. She was there drinking with some friends, and then got behind the wheel of the car that caused Mr. McKenna's death. How long can these secrets stay hidden before they destroy their family?

Filled with controversy, The Secret Between Us will have you questioning Deborah's decision as the family's future hangs in the balance. Readers who like Jodi Picoult and Sue Miller will especially enjoy this novel, and this would also make a good title for book groups, as there are plenty of issues and drama to spark discussion.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Snowed In by Christina Bartolomeo

Recently married Sophie Quinn has moved from her busy urban life in Washington D.C. to the cold climate of Portland, Maine because of her husband Paul's job. The frigid temperatures coupled with the aggravation of the heat not working properly are making it difficult for Sophie to adjust. Paul is of little help in that department, putting the burden on Sophie to convince their landlord, Donald, to fix the heat. Furthermore, working as a freelance artist doesn't give her much opportunity to meet people, and Paul claims he is very busy with work to spend much time with her, although Sophie wonders if it is Paul's infatuation with his coworker, Natalie, that keeps him so busy.

However, the usually reserved Sophie wants to make changes in her life, beginning by making an effort to meet people in Portland. She joins a running group where she meets Stephen and his partner, Ned, who she learns is his brother and business partner, not Stephen's lover. Paul's emotional distance has her questioning their marriage, and Sophie's new friendship with Ned might be just the relationship she needs.

This is the perfect book for this time of year. You will find yourself relating to Sophie as she is dealing with the cold and long winter. Sophie diverges from the typical superficial chick-lit character, and you will be both sympathising and rooting for her.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

This fascinating memoir of a Christian Polish family's struggles during WWII in Warsaw reads like a novel. Naturalist writer Diane Ackerman, draws on the diary of Antonina Zabinski, the zookeeper's wife and a woman who finds herself not only caring for all the animals of the famed Warsaw Zoo but also hundreds of refugee Jews. The Warsaw Zoo becomes a hiding place for Resistance activists and escaping families after the zoo and it's family of animals is desecrated. The glimpses of what life was like in an occupied city for Christians and Jews alike was startling. Ms. Ackerman manages to weave historical fact and the images painted by Antonina into a story like no other I've read.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Being at the right time at the right place, college student Nan (a.k.a. Nanny) is looking for a nanny position to subsidise her rent and NYU student fees and happens upon four-year-old Grayer Addison X in Central Park. Mrs. X, in dire need of a nanny, hires Nan to be a part-time caretaker for Grayer.
Little does Nan know that she will become Grayer's full-time caretaker and practically his mother, because Mrs. X is too busy getting tans, pedicures, or who knows what to actually be a mother. Mrs. X is mostly painted as a villain, as her expectations of Nan's responsibilities go far beyond the role of nanny. She has Nan picking up party supplies, calling her husband's office to ascertain his whereabouts, watching Grayer when Nan has class, and much more. In addition to dealing with the demanding Mrs. X, Nan also is caught in the middle of the elusive Mr. X's extramarital affairs.

Despite the aggravation of her job, Nan feels compelled to stick it out for Grayer, as she is the only parent he really has. The two form a strong bond and friendship. Unable to meet Mrs. X's unrealistic expectations in caring for Grayer, Nan is discharged, but later learns she is the first of many Nanny's to be fired by the X's.

This novel was highly entertaining, and I couldn't put it down. My only complaint was that it ended all too quickly. It felt like the authors ran out of steam and abruptly ending the novel, leaving the romantic relationship between Nan and H.H. (Harvard Hottie) unresolved. Despite this flaw, readers will fall in love with Grayer, empthasize with Nan, and even pitty Mrs. X.

I also wanted to note that the movie as well was highly entertaining, with some slight differences from the novel. The longtime standing notion seems to be that the movie is never as good as the book, but I have to disagree this time. I found them both equally enjoyable.

McLaughlin and Kraus's other offerings including Citizen Girl and Dedication (click here for "Reads from the Field" review).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fitzwilliam Darcy Trilogy by Pamela Aidan

Pamela Aidan has created a wonderful trilogy about Mr. Darcy. This trilogy is Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's point of view.

In the first book, An Assembly Such as This explores when Darcy meets Elizabeth for the first time. His intense dislike of the Bennett family and his close friendship with Mr. Bingley is also revealed. After the disastrous ball at Netherfield, Darcy travels to London before returning to Pemberley for Christmas. While in London, Darcy tries to get Bingley more accustomed to society and maybe forget about Jane Bennett.

In the second book, Duty and Desire we learn what Darcy did after he leaves Netherfield. He tries to get over his feelings for Elizabeth. He attends a house party with the intention of finding a wife. But a mystery catches his attention. And at the conclusion of the second book, Darcy realizes he loves Elizabeth and she is the one for him. We are even introduced to a new character, who is a close friend of Darcy's from school and who is more then what he seems.

In the third book, These Three Remain Darcy proposes and is rejected by Elizabeth. He retreats and decides to become the man that would make Elizabeth proud. He is given a second chance when Elizabeth shows up at Pemberley. But Wickham destroys any plans Darcy has by running away with Elizabeth's youngest sister. Darcy takes care of Wickham once and for all. Elizabeth and Darcy eventually get their happy ending.

This trilogy captures all of Darcy's feelings. His love of Elizabeth, his hatred of Wickham, and his friendships. If you love Pride and Prejudice and just can't get enough Darcy, this is the series for you!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

Amy Redwing has always had a special place in her heart for goldens and has even made a career out of it. She rescues abused or neglected golden retrievers and places them at the Golden Heart rescue where they are rehabilitated until they can find their "forever home. " During one rescue mission, Amy pays $2000 to get a very special golden out of a very bad situation. This dog is named Nickie, and it has a deep connection to Amy's secretive past, a past so dark that she is running from it.

Amy's boyfriend, Brian McCarthy, is flabergasted when he accompanies Amy to rescue Nickie, as she has risked her life to save this dog from an physically abusive drunk who didn't want to give her up. Brian also has a secret he is keeping from Amy: he has fathered a child that lives with her abusive mother and Brian's, ex, Vanessa. Brian is looking for a way to rescue his daughter.

Meanwhile, a sociopathic couple, Harrow and Moongirl, keep a young down syndrome child they called "piggy," who they enjoy psychologically and physically abusing, locked in a room. But moongirl is getting sick of the child that has held her back for 10 years and wants to dispose of her by the cruelest means.

Ever since Amy has rescued Nickie, she realizes someone is watching her. She considers that it could be Nickie's owner, but he should still be in jail. Could it be someone from Amy's past seeking revenge? Can Brian and Amy save save his little girl before it is too late?

Although the critics have favorably reviewed this book (People magazine suggests, "A kind of Silence of the Lambs meets Marley & Me") I have to say I was a little disappointed. The coincidences between Brian and Amy's past don't seem plausible, and I didn't think it was as good as Koontz's earlier works. Still, this is a quick read with plenty of suspense to keep the reader engaged until the very last page.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

Growing up in the privileged English countryside, Alba Arbuckle always felt like an outsider. Born in Italy at the end of World War II, she was raised in England by her British father after her Italian mother's tragic death. The discovery of her mother's portrait, drawn by her Navy officer father leads this unhappy, lost soul on a journey to find the Italian family she never knew and hopefully some answers about her exotically beautiful mother. On the famed Amalfi coast, in the tiny fishing village of Incantelleria, she discovers not just her family and a sense of belonging but a tale of betrayal and intrigue involving the mother she never knew.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich

Grandma Mazur is up to no good again. She found a bag of money and decides to go to Atlantic City. She goes without telling anyone her plans, so it is up to Stephanie Plum to find her grandma.

Stephanie determines her grandma is in Atlantic City when she finds a pamphlet on her nightstand. She gets Connie and Lula to go with her. But before Stephanie goes, Diesel shows up. Diesel is looking for a guy who stole a horse. It turns out he stole the horse to save it from being killed. He then stole some money from a mobster to get the horse medical help. If that's not confusing enough, he lost the money and thinks he is a leprechaun! Of course Grandma is the one who found the money.

With Lula, Connie, Diesel, a leprechaun wannabe, and an array of colorful characters, Stephanie is once again up to her neck in trouble. She must get all the money back to the mobster or it is goodbye Grandma.

Plum Lucky is part of a series of books called Between the Numbers. The first title is Visions of Sugar Plums and the second one is Plum Lovin'. They are short little books to help us through until the next Stephanie Plum book is released.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

In the small town of Bascom, North Carolina, the Waverley women are known as mysterious, and local legend has it that the fruits and flowers of the Waverley's garden has the power to cast spells on those who eat them. And even more strange is the old lady Waverly cousin, Evanelle, who gives people random objects because she knows they will need them, and it always turns out that they do. There are also the two Waverly sisters, Claire and Sydney. Claire, a local caterer and self-proclaimed spinster, is content with her life as it is, and Sydney is the wild child who left town when she was 18, never to be heard from again.

Claire's life, however, is about to change when Sydney shows up at Claire's door, looking for a safe haven for her and her daughter, Bay. They left in the middle of the night to escape from Sydney's abusive husband, David. Sydney is tired of running and wants to make a real home for her daughter.

Although Sydney's return gives Claire a chance to learn about the sister and niece she never really knew, not everyone in town is happy about it. This is especially true for Emma, Sydney's former schoolmate who is married to Sydney's first love, Hunter John.

Despite rising tensions in the small town, the Waverley women demonstrate that they are a force to be reckoned with, as they learn about each other and create a sense of family and belonging that both women have missed. In the process, both women learn to fall in love again and for the first time, with the help of the garden.

Both mystical and heartwarming and at turns humorous, this enchanting tale should appeal to fans of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic. I couldn't put it down.