Review: According to Jane, by Marilyn Brant

According to Jane
According to Jane
Marilyn Brant
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Summary (From
It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett’s teacher is assigning Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. From nowhere comes a quiet ‘tsk’ of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who’s teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author’s ghost has taken up residence in Ellie’s mind, and seems determined to stay there. Jane’s wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go – sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane’s counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham. Still, everyone has something to learn about love – perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie’s head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending.

I have to confess: one of the reasons I chose to read According to Jane was that I got it free for my Kindle, and I like free. I’m really glad I downloaded it though, because this was a delightful novel, and totally worth its real cover price.

As someone who dabbles in fan-fic from time to time, I really liked the concept of an author or character taking up residence in someone’s brain and spouting off advice, and Brant managed to take that concept and spin a delightful story. Imagine having Jane Austen herself whispering in your ear when you most need it, or just making curt observations about the people in your life. Lead character Ellie doesn’t have to imagine, it happens to her, and while the version of Jane who has moved into her brain restricts her advice to love and personal relationships, and not general info (like acne rosacea treatment, for example) they end up in a very special kind of long-term relationship.

Of course this is a contemporary piece of fiction that skirts the lines between women’s fiction, chick-lit and true romance, so it has to have humor and it has to have sex, and Brant delivers just enough of each to keep the reader satisfied. There’s also nice character growth, particularly from Sam (the main male lead in the novel, and Ellie’s love interest) and Ellie’s older sister, who starts out as a bully and ends up as a friend.

This isn’t the type of novel people are going to write long treatises about, or debate in classrooms, but if you’re looking for an entertaining read that can be devoured in a single rainy afternoon, this book is for you.

Goes well with: hot chocolate and Milano cookies.

Booking Through Thursday: Travel


On Thursday, October 7th, Booking through Thursday asked:

When you travel, how many books do you bring with you?
Has this changed since the arrival of ebooks?

There are three things that determine how many books I bring with me on a trip: why am I going, where I am going, and how long I will be gone. If I know I’m going to be spending ten days on one of those Royal Caribbean cruises, for example, I know that having books to read is essential so I’ll bring as many as I can. On the other hand, when I was in San Francisco for a novel-writing workshop I only brought a couple of books, because I knew I’d need to be either writing or sleeping in my down time. When I visit my mother in Mexico, I bring a mix of books I haven’t read, which I’ll read in the evenings or while sunning on the deck, and then leave, and books I’ve already read, because she lives in a town where finding English-language books is difficult and Amazon deliveries aren’t possible.

I’ve only had my Kindle for a month, but I’m already in love with it, so chances are I’ll choose it over real books in the future, unless there’s something that a) I want to bring to my mother or b) isn’t available. I will say that it’s the lighted leather cover that really MAKES the kindle for me. Without the cover, it’s nice; with the cover, it’s phenomenal.

Review: The Wedding Gift, by Kathleen McKenna

The Wedding Gift
The Wedding Gift
Kathleen McKenna
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Summary (from
17 year old Leeann Worthier is the perfect girl in town – or so she says. George Willets is the heir to a booming petroleum business. When they announce their engagement, George’s controlling mother is unimpressed, and Leeann absolutely refuses to live with her mother-in-law. So George gives his new wife a house as a wedding gift. Thirty years before, the same house hosted a grisly scene: George’s uncle and cousins were all slaughtered and his aunt Robina accused of both murder and suicide. The house is a gorgeous, well-maintained mansion, but has stood empty since the tragedy. It’s intimidating, but who is Leeann to turn down a free house? When the ghost of Robina begins to haunt Leeann, she realizes she’s made a huge mistake.

When people ask me to try their product, whether it’s a book or something else, I always have a moment of pause. After all my first instinct when someone says, “You should try out… you will like them :),” is to run in the other direction. It’s the same with books – I love to read, and I review a lot of books because publicists ask me, but when authors contact me directly I always worry that I won’t like the book, and then their feelings will be hurt.

Fortunately, I did NOT have this problem with The Wedding Gift, when the author asked me if I’d review it. In this novel Kathleen spins a story that is equal parts silly, sappy, and spooky, and she does it well. From observations about what really goes on behind the Piggly Wiggly (it’s a southern grocery store chain, I swear!) to when Leeann snubs a rude waitress in the funniest, most horrible way, to the interactions between Leeann and George, and Leeann and her parents, this book is wonderful. I read it in the bathtub (as I often do) and at one point I had to get up and confirm that the window behind me was secure, while at another I realized the water had gone cold and my feet were completely pruney.

The page for The Wedding Gift mentions that this novel is the first in a trilogy. I look forward to parts two and three, and many more of Ms. McKenna’s books.

Goes well with chicken fried steak and sweet tea.

Review: The Naked Gardener, by L B Gschwandtner

The Naked Gardener
The Naked Gardener
L B Gschwandtner
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Summary (from
In a remote forest of northern Vermont, Katelyn Cross takes five women on a wilderness canoe trip where they hope to come up with ideas for saving their dying town. Although the river is not always what it seems and the women have not left their problems behind, a painting ritual creates a new way to look at the world – and themselves. Artist Katelyn Cross loves Greg Mazur and he loves her. He wants to be married but a previous relationship that went sour has made Katelyn overly cautious about any permanent commitment. And what about Greg’s first wife? He lost her to cancer and Katelyn worries that he’s only looking for a replacement. What’s a girl to do? Canoe down a river with five gal pals, camp out, catch fish, talk about life and men. The problem is, a river can be as unpredictable as any relationship and just as hard to manage. On their last day, when the river turns wild, the women face the challenge of a lifetime and find that staying alive means saving themselves first while being open to help from a most unlikely source. As Katelyn navigates the raging water, she learns how to overcome her fear of change in a world where nothing stays the same. When Katelyn returns to her garden, she’ll face one more obstacle and the naked gardener will meet the real Greg Mazur. What readers are saying about The Naked Gardener: Lyrical … Scandalous … Empowering … Exhilarating … Honest … Sensual … Fun … Gentle … Pleasurable … Transporting … Timeless In her first novel, award winning writer L B Gschwandtner explores the push and pull of love, a woman’s need to maintain her individuality within marriage, and the bonds that can make women stronger even when the world feels as if it’s breaking apart.

I’ve known L B Gschwandtner through her wonderful website The Novelette for several years now, but only in the very cursory way that people who occupy overlapping circles do. I’ve participated in her contests, she’s visited my blog, etc. Even so, when she announced the publication of her first novel, I had to read it. Lucky for me, it’s available for the kindle for less than a dollar, though it’s totally worth the print-edition price of $10.99.

I actually started reading The Naked Gardener the day I downloaded it, a couple of weeks ago, but I had a stack of review books with deadlines that had to come first. I revisited it over the weekend, and ended up staying up to the wee hours because the story caught me, and held me so tightly that I had to finish it immediately. I really loved the idea of Katelyn naked in her garden – it struck me as something my mother would do, and I liked the women Katelyn befriends. I think Maze could be interesting but we heard about him more than we heard from him, and while that’s fairly normal in a story that focuses on women, I hope he’s a bit more present in the next novel.

If you’ve ever wanted to run away to a rural farm, have a canoe adventure, or just share stories with a bunch of new friends, or even if you’ve already done all those things, this novel is one you’ll enjoy, both for the obvious story, and the deeper one, about finding yourself, facing your fears, and learning to accept and love yourself as you are, not as you wish you were. I can’t begin to speculate about the best diet pill for women, but I am fairly certain that Katelyn, Erica, and the rest of the women in this novel would never touch them, but would instead take off down the river, or start a project, or have another candid conversation, and never care that dieting might be in order.

I don’t think you have to garden naked to appreciate The Naked Gardener, but I’m certain that it will inspire many of us to try it at least once. I don’t have a garden, but I do have a very private back yard with just the right amount of sun (at least at this time of year)…this book reminded me of why I love that privacy so much.

Goes well with freshly-baked artisan bread and local honey.

Review: Body Work, by Sara Paretsky

Body Work
Body Work
Sara Paretsky
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Summary (from Publishers Weekly):
Paretsky’s superb 14th novel featuring PI V.I. Warshawski (after Hardball) delves into Chicago’s avant-garde art scene. At the trendy Club Gouge, where Warshawski is keeping an eye on Petra, a young cousin who caused trouble in the previous book, performance artist Karen Buckley (aka the Body Artist) invites members of the audience to step on stage to paint her nude body. The intricate design that one woman paints on Karen’s back provokes a violent outburst from Chad Vishneski, a troubled Iraqi war veteran. When two nights later, someone shoots the woman who upset Chad outside the club, Chad is the logical murder suspect. Hired by Chad’s estranged parents to clear his name, Warshawski straddles a minefield that reaches from the Windy City’s neighborhoods to the Gulf War battlefields. Scenes with her aging neighbor and a new love interest give a much needed balance to the serious plot. This strong outing shows why the tough, fiercely independent, dog-loving private detective continues to survive.

I’ve been a fan of private investigator V. I. “Vic” Warshawski ever since my mother and I discovered her at the San Jose Public Library on one of the ritual Saturday trips we used to make. Books, coffee, a “little something” in honor of my grandmother, and then back home. Perfect mother-daughter weekends. In any case, I’ve now read more of Vic’s adventures than my mother has, simply because she lives in a place where English-language fiction is difficult to obtain.

Body Work, the most recent of author Sara Paretsky’s novels about the fictional female detectiv,e is one of the most satisfying novels I’ve read in a long while. It had everything from Vic using her picklocks to enter a crime scene (evidently they weren’t Kwikset locks) to Vic babysitting her pesty younger cousin Petra, to Vic sharing meals with her downstairs neighbor/adopted family member Mr. Contreras, to Vic getting brutally beaten while on the job.

Even better, Body Work also has an interesting plot that involves edgy performance art, the blogosphere, the Gulf war, corporate politics, unrequited love, illegal drug running, and international money laundering, and it shows that Ms. Warshawski is comfortable working with 21st century technology even though she has a special affection for old-world pleasures like a proper cappuccino, a soaring Italian aria, and a steaming hot bubble bath at the end of a hard day’s detecting.

And yet, Paretsky gave us even more: she gave us Jake, the classical bass player who is not only Vic’s neighbor, but also her current lover, and one who – we hope – will stick around for another book, even if he is squeamish about the sight of blood – something to be concerned about when you’re close to Victoria Warshawski.

Review: Driftwood Lane, by Denise Hunter

Driftwood Lane
Driftwood Lane
Denise Hunter
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Summary (from Amazon):
Meridith can handle anything: guardianship of three distant siblings, a dilapidated Bed-and-Breakfast, even an ever-present handyman who’s dismantling more than her fireplace–or can she?

When the death of Meridith’s estranged father leaves her with custody of three siblings she’s never met, she reluctantly goes to Nantucket to care for them–but only until their uncle returns from his trip. Little does she know, the uncle is already there under the guise of her friendly handyman, with plans of his own.

Will the love that grows between them be strong enough to overcome the secrets that brought them both to Driftwood Lane?

After a summer spent devouring everything Elin Hilderbrand had ever written, you might think I’d had enough of novels set on Nantucket Island, but as a 3rd generation beach baby, I can never get enough of seaside settings. For me, reading about the beach is like a wannabe modern nomad comparing rates on rv loans: I can never get enough of them.

Denise Hunter’s Driftwood Lane is, in many ways, the perfect seaside romance. 25-year-old Meridith shows great strength and great love in giving up her life in St. Louis to act as caretaker for the three half-siblings she’s never met – or even heard of – until the day she’s informed that her father and his second wife have died in a tragic accident. The bed-and-breakfast where the kids live, Summer Place, while desperate for some TLC, is on the beach, and perfectly represents those too-cute beachfront homes I’ve always wanted to rent, and never have.

Then there’s Jake, the dashing handyman/love interest. He’s fiery and passionate, a bit mysterious (at least to Meridith), and kind of a rogue, but also tender, and his scenes with Meridith are full of hilarious bickering, misunderstandings, and a requisite number of warm, friendly, almost tingly moments.

The children, Noelle, Max and Ben, are well-written, also, with the right blend of brattiness covering their fear, but a sweetness to them as well.

I enjoyed the quick pace of Driftwood Lane. I’m generally a fast reader, anyway, but this book moved along at a really nice clip, and though I had moments where I found certain plot points a bit implausible, I merely reminded myself that this is a romance novel, and some level of willful suspension of disbelief was therefore required.

It should be noted that though this book is categorized as Christian fiction, and references God in the back-cover blurb, there was nothing in it that felt overwhelmingly religious, and nothing at ALL preachy. A few characters mentioned church, or leaving things up to God, but, speaking as someone who isn’t particularly Christian, I didn’t find any of it off-putting, though non-religious readers will want to avoid the Reading Group Guide at the end.

All in all, I thought Driftwood Lane was an entertaining, escapist read, and while I have not read any of Denise Hunter’s previous three Nantucket novels, I wouldn’t object to doing so in the future.

Goes well with strong tea and oatmeal-raisin cookies