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The Price of Beauty

The Price of Beauty

posted by:
August 27, 2012 - 7:30am

Great-Aunt Sophia's Lessons for BombshellsLisa Cach introduces Grace Cavanaugh who is a bit of a frump, a strong feminist, and an impoverished grad student in Great Aunt Sophia’s Lessons for Bombshells. Grace needs to finish her dissertation in Women’s Studies, which is based on the thesis that beauty in women leads to misery. As she struggles with her work, she receives an offer to act as a companion to her great-aunt who she has only met once as a child. Grace jumps at the chance to head to Pebble Beach, for what is sure to be a summer of comfortable quiet during which she will be able to focus on her studies. But Great Aunt Sophia has other ideas, and for Grace it becomes a summer to remember.

 

Sophia is a former B-movie star who at eighty-five still attracts attention wherever she goes. She decides that Grace is a project and upon hearing her thesis, Sophia sets out to prove Grace wrong. Sophia’s object is to change Grace outwardly which will then improve her self-esteem and create an empowered and desirable woman. Before Grace can blink, she has a trainer, a personal shopper, and some truly awesome lingerie. As Grace’s appearance slowly changes, so too does her view of herself and her perception of beauty. Grace quickly attracts the attention of Declan, a bad boy with a commitment phobia, and Andrew, Sophia's handsome but deadly dull doctor. Grace’s head is telling her to go for Andrew, but her pesky heart and that sexy spark keeps leading her to Declan.

  

In the end, Grace's thesis is turned on its head and she finds personal satisfaction in her appearance and appeal. This fun story goes past a simple ugly duckling transformation tale with plenty of wonderful and unique characters, a whole lot of humor, and a sprinkle of spice! 

 

Maureen

 
 

Fierce Women

Fierce Women

posted by:
August 24, 2012 - 7:30am

Tigers in Red WeatherTigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann is the story of two cousins growing up in Tiger House on Martha’s Vineyard. The first cousin, Nick, is getting married to the devilishly handsome Hughes when he returns from the war. But Hughes returns a different man, slightly distant and living in his own head. Nick requires variety and excitement, but what Hughes provides is stability and normalcy, and they begin to drift slowly apart. Helena is the second cousin, and she was engaged to a man who was killed in the war. She instead marries Avery, who works in Hollywood in the film industry. Later, Helena discovers that Avery’s sole purpose in life is to maintain a collection pertaining to a dead actress and this drives a wedge between the couple.

 

Years pass, and Nick gives birth to daughter Daisy. Helena has a son named Ed, and the children become good friends. One fateful summer in the late fifties, Daisy and Ed discover the body of a young maid left beaten, strangled and covered in a blanket. This discovery affects all of the residents of Tiger House. Relationships deteriorate, secrets are kept and then revealed, and the world spins off its axis.

 

Klaussman, the great-granddaughter of Herman Melville, creates a compelling story. It is told in five parts, each focusing on one of the characters, and several scenes are replayed featuring a different point of view. This technique allows the reader to get a clear picture of the troubles facing Tiger House as well as the extent of the dysfunction within. Because of the unique storytelling style and the strong character development, this would be a good choice for a book club.

 

Doug

 
 

Who Would You Choose?

Who Would You Choose?

posted by:
August 24, 2012 - 7:00am

I Couldn't Love You MoreDon’t be fooled by the cover. Jillian Medoff’s new novel I Couldn’t Love You More looks like a light beach read from the outside, but inside that cover, readers will find a challenging novel about family bonds and the choices we make. Medoff creates characters who feel very real, and she skillfully pulls readers into a story that will make them laugh and cry along with her characters.

 

All in all, Eliot Gordon is happy with the life that she has created with her partner Grant and their blended family. She loves Grant’s daughters Charlotte and Gail, who they are raising along with Hailey, their daughter together. Like her stepdaughters, Eliot comes from a broken home, and she has a complex but loving relationship with her mother and sisters. But when Eliot’s ex-boyfriend Finn, who she has always considered “the one who got away,” arrives in town, Eliot begins to reexamine her life. Finn’s appearance also leads to a series of events that culminates in the unimaginable. Eliot is forced to make a choice that no parent can fathom when two of her children are caught in a life-threatening situation, and Eliot can only save one. The rest of the novel explores the fall-out from Eliot’s split-second decision.

 

Praised by authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, I Couldn’t Love You More is funny, relatable, and wrenching. Medoff explores complex family relationships and the reality of being a stepparent with remarkable honesty and depth. This novel is tailor-made for book club discussions and includes a Reading Group Guide.

Beth

categories:

 
 

Vigilante Justice

Vigilante Justice

posted by:
August 21, 2012 - 6:30am

The DemandsMark Billingham returns with The Demands, the tenth novel featuring Detective Inspector Tom Thorne. Police officer Helen Weeks walks into her local news agent, on the day that the shop owner, Javed Akhtar, is about to crack. He pulls a gun on Helen and takes her hostage, demanding that she contact Tom Thorne and persuade him to investigate a murder. Akhtar’s son Amin was arrested in an altercation that lead to a fatality and was sent to a prison for young offenders. There he was wounded in his cell and sent to the hospital wing, where he committed suicide. It was an open and shut case that did not warrant an investigation, but Akhtar is not so sure. He knows that his son could not have committed suicide and the only way to reopen the case is by taking drastic measures of his own. What follows is a knuckle-biting thriller as Tom Thorne hunts for the killer while Helen is trapped with a man who is at the end of his rope.

 

Fans of Billingham will remember police officer Helen Weeks from the stand-alone thriller In the Dark. Helen was pregnant with her son Alfie and was trying to solve the murder of her partner, Paul. Weeks is a strong, interesting character with a good sense of self preservation, and her return to the Thorne series is a welcome addition. Billingham’s writing gets better with each subsequent novel, and he is a master at building and sustaining tension and suspense throughout his novels. In the Dark works as a gritty police procedural and gripping suspense thriller that is sure to please. 

 

Fans of Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride or Ken Bruen will definitely enjoy these novels. Mark Billingham has truly entered the ranks of the best crime novelists of today.

Doug

categories:

 
 

American Royalty

American Royalty

posted by:
August 20, 2012 - 6:03am

Mary's MosaicJack 1939Here in America, we don’t have a Charles, Diana, and Camilla nor a William and Kate. We do, however, have the Kennedy clan. From the enchanted Camelot era to the recent tragedy of Robert Kennedy Jr.’s wife’s suicide, this extended family’s accomplishments and foibles play out in the press and provide fodder for books to satisfy a public curiosity which shows no sign of waning. Two recent releases, the true crime Mary’s Mosaic by Peter Janney, and the fictional Jack 1939 penned by Francine Mathews, mine the Kennedy history and mystique while each traveling a very different path.

 

Who really killed Jack Kennedy?  Trying to sort out the conspiracy theories surrounding the President’s death is akin to falling down a rabbit hole.  Author Peter Janney takes on the 1964 murder of Washington DC denizen Mary Pinchot Meyer in Mary’s Mosaic and ties the fatal—and unsolved-- shooting of the well-connected Meyer to the events surrounding the assassination of her lover and confidante JFK. Heavily researched and footnoted, Janney posits that the CIA engineered both deaths because Meyer’s pacifism and use of marijuana and hallucinogens were influencing President Kennedy’s views leading to policy decisions contrary to what the CIA felt best for the nation. Janney implicates CIA officials including his own father, Wistar Janney, and Mary’s former husband Cord Meyer in the tangled web of DC agendas and cover-ups. Reading like a who’s who of the Cold War era, Mary’s Mosaic will appeal to those well-versed in the Warren commission report as well as Kennedy family buffs.  

 

Jack Kennedy and family also make an appearance in Francine Matthew’s novel Jack 1939. Set in the Europe of pre-World War II, Kennedy is anointed a secret agent by President Roosevelt who is bucking for a third term in office; Jack’s mission is to interrupt the German machinations interfering with Roosevelt’s ambitions. Matthews, a former CIA analyst, mixes history with a spy thriller in this fascinating and fast-moving story of what-if conjecture.

 

Lori

 
 

2012 RITA Winners Announced

2012 RITA Winners Announced

posted by:
August 17, 2012 - 7:10am

New York to DallasBlack HawkMeasure of Katie CallowayEarlier this month, Romance Writers of America announced this year’s winners of their coveted RITA awards for excellence in romance writing.

 

Fan favorite Nora Roberts took the award for Romantic Suspense with New York to Dallas, written under her pseudonym J.D. Robb. The novel, which is part of her popular In Death series, follows detective Eve Dallas as she tries to catch escaped serial rapist and killer Isaac McQueen. With the help of her millionaire husband Roarke, Eve must confront her own personal demons and capture McQueen in this intense suspense novel.

 

Joanna Bourne’s Regency-set spy romance The Black Hawk won the RITA for Historical Romance. Injured by an assassin, Justine DeCabrillac is forced to seek the help of Adrian Hawker her life-long adversary and occasional lover. The killer has a plan to destroy Adrian as well, so the two must trust each other and work together to bring down their common enemy. Bourne’s writing is a fun blend of passionate romance and intrigue, and readers will quickly see the skillful writing that won her this award.

 

The award for Inspirational Romance went to The Measure of Katie Calloway by Serena Miller. Katie Calloway and her brother flee her abusive husband in Georgia, and she makes a new life for herself as a cook in a logging camp in Michigan. She begins to fall in love with the camp owner, Robert, but complications arise.  Her husband Harlan begins to search for her with plans to kill Katie and marry a rich woman. Can her new relationship with Robert survive her secrets? Miller’s strong characters add depth to this warm historical tale.

 

The full list of winners is available here.

Beth

categories:

 
 

Playing with Identity

Playing with Identity

posted by:
August 16, 2012 - 1:19pm

Playing Dead“Have you ever wondered about who you are?”

 

Playing Dead by Julia Heaberlin begins with a letter Tommie McCloud receives from a stranger, which throws her own identity and childhood into question. This leads the child psychologist and former rodeo competitor on a journey from her native Texas hometown, where she has just attended her father’s funeral, to the Chicago mob scene and meetings with a whole cast of seedy characters. At the heart of the story, though, the question remains: who is Tommie and who are her real parents? Through her journey, she collects little bits of information that eventually come together to reveal a family history far different than Tommie grew up knowing.

 

What sets this story apart from the usual family drama? First is the setting. Heaberlin, a former award-winning journalist and small-town Texas native, evokes a landscape with open ranges, oppressive heat and historical family ties to the land. Second is the plot structure. There is no solid ground. This is a story which continues to unravel, with every piece of the puzzle leading to more questions. Third is a flair for the dramatic. Rodeo competitions, hit men, kidnappings, unsolved murders and a mother with dementia (who of course holds important family secrets) all factor in to the story. A tale of twists and turns, Playing Dead will appeal to anyone who likes family sagas, mysteries or action/adventure stories. 

 

Melanie

 
 

Jane Austen Does The Bachelorette?

Imperfect BlissEssence Contributing Editor Susan Fales-Hill takes on Pride and Prejudice and the result is a delightful summer read called Imperfect Bliss. The Harcourt family of Chevy Chase, Maryland is at the heart of this story. They are a respectable middle-class family featuring a social-climbing Jamaican mother named Forsythia, an inattentive English father, and their four unmarried daughters. Forsythia has big dreams for her girls and even named each after a Windsor royal family member hoping for titled sons-in-law. But love and marriage are the last things on the mind of their second eldest, Elizabeth (Bliss), who finds herself living back home with her special-needs daughter following a messy divorce.

   

When younger sister Diana is picked as the star of “The Virgin,” a reality television dating show, all the Harcourts' lives change significantly. Their home turns into a set and the crew becomes part of their family. While Bliss tries to keep her daughter and herself out of camera range, the show’s attractive host, Wyatt and handsome producer, Dario, are persistent in their pursuit of her. Meanwhile, her other sisters, Victoria and Charlotte are dealing with issues of their own and the whole family must come to grips with their own reality. The humorous hijinks of the television show and the quirky characters comprising this family combine to create an engaging comedy of manners tinged with satire. 

 

Imperfect Bliss is a wickedly funny spin on the pitfalls of modern love and courtship.  This funny romantic comedy is a perfect beach bag book with its homage to Jane Austen and soft pokes at reality television.

Maureen

 
 

The End of Days

The End of Days

posted by:
August 13, 2012 - 8:00am

12.21The Maya calendar counts down to the end of the fourth age of man. Doomsayers believe that this means the end of the world is coming in December 2012. The novel 12.21 by Dustin Thomason is a thrilling story that will have many wondering if we all aren’t just a twist of fate away from the end of life as we know it.

 

In 12.21 Dr. Gabriel Stanton is experiencing a typical day in his lab at the Center for Disease Control in Los Angeles when he receives a shocking phone call from a local hospital. A patient has presented with the symptoms of Prion disease, an extremely rare, highly contagious, and rapidly-progressing sickness.  What follows next is a tense and exciting tale as scientists race the clock to determine the origin of the contamination and how it is transmitted. The main symptom is insomnia, which after several days leads to seizures, dementia, and death. Those infected have no hope of survival, as there is no cure. Ultimately the entire city of Los Angeles is quarantined.

 

Meanwhile Chel Manu, an expert in Mayan antiquities at the Getty Museum, is made custodian of an ancient codex. The dealer who acquired this artifact also develops symptoms of the disease and Gabriel and Chel work together to determine if there could be a connection to the devastating outbreak. With so much technological advancement, could the answer to the epidemic be found in a fabled lost Mayan City?

 

This is Thomason’s second novel, having co-authored the international best-seller The Rule of Four with Ian Caldwell in 2004. Thomason has also been the executive producer for multiple television series including Lie to Me. 12.21 is a fantastic story that readers will not want to put down until the last captivating page.

 

Jeanne

 
 

Where Joy and Sorrow Meet

In the Shadow of the BanyanGrowing up in a wealthy Cambodian family, seven-year-old Raami enjoys a privileged life until a civil war rips from her the only existence she has ever known. In an elegant autobiographical literary debut, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner brings to life the 1975 Khmer Rouge capture of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and one family’s extraordinary fight to live.

 

Told through the curious, fearful eyes of a young girl, Ratner’s story is more than the atrocities of revolution. Rather, it is about not losing faith in life’s beauty and goodness. With Raami’s tender, lyrical voice, the reader is introduced to pre-revolution Cambodia, as well as the new reality of forced labor and other unspeakable horrors. It’s a confusing world where being intelligent can mean death. Silence is the key to survival, and family members become lost. Before they know it, Raami, her beautiful mother and younger sister are forced into a peasant’s life. Raami becomes "koan neak srae," a child of these paddies. Her solace is remembering stories told to her by her stoic Sisowath prince father, who once said he writes because "words give me wings."  

 

Rattner's prose is as mellifluous as the Mekong River that Raami longs to see. Rich with similes, Rattner's images are as magical and lovely as they are harsh. In their fullness, the reader sees a Cambodia that is much more than a war-torn landscape and heartbreaking characters who reflect the human tragedy. A small child when the Khmer Rouge took over her country, Ratner strives to honor the lives lost during the genocides. "Sometimes we, like little fishes, are swept up in these big and powerful currents,” Raami's father tells her. Rattner's personal story describes their journey.

 

 

Cynthia