Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Latest in My Long List of Book Reviews...

Nature Girl, by Carl Hiaasen. Honey Santana thinks people should just act right. When a clueless telemarketer, Boyd Shreave, calls her during dinner, she tries to teach him some manners and he calls her a “dried up old skank.” Honey, who frequently hears two songs playing in her head at the same time, cooks up a plan to really teach Boyd something. She tricks him into coming to Florida by pretending to be a telemarketer herself and offering a deal he can’t pass up. When he gets to Florida, Honey takes Boyd and his girlfriend to one of the Ten Thousand Islands, hoping he will learn to appreciate nature and goodness, but Boyd is bulletproof and behaves like a spoiled brat the whole time. Things are complicated by an unwashed (literally) fishmonger/stalker named Louis Piejack; a half Seminole and his “hostage;” and Honey’s ex-husband Perry and her son Fry. They all end up on the island and Hiaasen’s hilarious ridiculousness ensues. Things get resolved -- mostly -- and I found this novel to be quite a page-turner. Very enjoyable.

The Vintage Caper, by Peter Mayle. When a hot-shot Hollywood lawyer's most treasured and expensive wines are stolen, his insurance company calls in Sam Levitt, a gourmand and lawyer-of-all-trades with a varied background, to investigate. The investigation takes Sam to Paris and Bordeaux, where he hooks up with the elegant insurance agent Sophie Costes, a fellow wine and food snob. The trail finally leads them to a man named Francis Reboul in Marseille, and soon, with the help of Sophie's journalist cousin, Phillipe, they get an in with Reboul and close in on closing the caper. While the plot may be predictable, the pleasures of this very French adventure—and there are many—aren't in the resolution, of course, but in the pleasant stroll through the provinces and in the glasses of wine downed and decadent meals consumed. (Publisher’s Weekly review)

Lean Mean Thirteen, by Janet Evanovich. Stephanie Plum works as a bail bondswoman for her cousin Vinnie in Trenton. She's mostly in love with Morelli the cop, who calls her Cupcake, but she's also mesmerized by Ranger, who works serious security and calls her Babe—a split in nomenclature that aptly characterizes this delectable long-running series. Ranger needs Stephanie to plant a bug on her ex, the ever-smarmy attorney Dickie Orr. When Dickie goes missing, a lot of bad people and places start to blow up, burn up, and turn up. Evanovich smoothly slips from the hilarious to the hair-raising, from the erotic to the familial, carrying the running jokes we love so well: exploding taxidermy (a regular plot point here); waiting for the cable repair guy ("those fuckers!" say at least half a dozen characters); Stephanie's oddball assortment of colleagues, buddies, and relatives. Stephanie saves herself in the end, as usual, but both Ranger and Morelli mop up the mess, also as usual. We end with pizza and a tangled tale of underwear. (Booklist review by GraceAnne A. DeCandido) I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and found myself laughing out loud frequently.

Return to Sullivan’s Island, by Dorothea Benton Frank. Frank creates a world in which aspiring writer Beth Hayes, whose chirpy internal monologues and quiet uncertainties make her easily endearing, is as much a character as the house she lives in. After graduating from college in Boston, Beth returns to the South to spend a year house-sitting her family's home, Island Gamble, while her mother, Susan, visits Paris. Frank's portrayal of a large and complicated family is humorous and precise: there's Susan, adoring and kind; Aunt Maggie, a stickler for manners; twin aunts Sophie and Allison, who run an exercise-and-vitamin empire; and uncles Timmy and Henry, the latter of whom has ties to Beth's trust fund. Frank's lovable characters occasionally stymie her pace; there's almost no room left for Beth's friends or her love affairs with sleazy Max Mitchell and cherubic Woody Morrison, though these become important later on. Frank is frequently funny, and she weaves in a dark undercurrent that incites some surprising late-book developments. Tight storytelling, winsomely oddball characters and touches of Southern magic make this a winner. (Publisher’s Weekly review) I found Beth to be flighty and somewhat immature for a 23-year-old, but overall I enjoyed reading this novel.

Just Desserts, by Barbara Bretton. Finn Rafferty shows up at Hayley Goldstein’s bakery in New Jersey to order a cake for a world-famous rock star’s concert after-party in Atlantic City. Hayley is a little skeptical at first, but the contract is negotiated and Hayley and her staff start designing the cake. This is the chance of a lifetime. She can afford to upgrade her baker’s kitchen and pay off a few bills. What Hayley doesn’t know is that she is the aging rock star’s long lost daughter. Finn, attracted to Hayley, promises not to tell her even though he hates keeping it from her. When she finally finds out, her world is turned turned upside down, and Hayley will need help letting down her guard and hanging onto the things that matter most. And the rocker's lawyer, Finn Rafferty, may just be the man for the job.

Time Is a River, by Mary Alice Monroe. Mary Alice Monroe is becoming one of my favorite authors. Years ago I abandoned mainstream novels for mysteries, but I’m finding lately that I’m enjoying them again. Time Is a River is the second of Monroe’s novels that I’ve read (the other was Last Light Over Carolina, which is coming out in trade paperback). Mia Landan is a breast-cancer survivor. Her older sister sends her to a retreat in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC, called Casting for Recovery where she learns to fly-fish and shares her feelings with other breast cancer survivors. The retreat makes her feel much better and she goes home to Charleston a day early and surprises her husband in bed with another woman. Mia runs from the house, gets in the car, and drives back to North Carolina. She stays in a small cabin that belongs to Belle Carson, her fly-fishing guide and the leader of the retreat. As Mia lives in the cabin and goes fishing on the river, she begins to learn who she is and just where she fits into her own life. As she gets to know the people of Watkins Mill, the small mountain town near the cabin, she learns of a mystery that has cast a pall over the town and especially over Belle. Even though Belle tells her to leave it alone, Mia must find out the truth. Along the way, she makes friends of many of the townspeople. The town librarian and the local newspaper editor/town historian help her in her quest. As she gets to know the focus of the mystery, she learns more about herself and nature and fly-fishing. There is a romance in this novel, but it is not the main plot. It's handled beautifully. It’s a heartwarming story, well-told and well-plotted, and it has a very satisfying ending. Mary Alice Monroe is an excellent writer. I’m going to read more of her novels.

I swear, I'm going to get some knitting done and try to tone down this reading frenzy. I'm making a sweater with a peace symbol knit into the front. I've finished the back and I'm almost to the point where I have to start the design on the front. The yarn is a lovely green called malachite, and it's made of Pima cotton and Tencel (50/50). Very soft and silky. I'll have more information later on.


Bridget said...

These sound pretty interesting, though I've never been able to get into the Janet Evanovich books. I'm not sure why.

I find that at times, I'm reading more than I knit, and vice versa. Then there are times when my brain can't handle either one!

Anonymous said...

Checked out 3 books from the library Saturday, and have read two of them already.

Maybe there's a reason you're a librarian :)


Theresa said...

Dear Marie,
I believe you are obsessed with your Kindle. Did I spell obsess correctly? All those s's, so little brain. I loved your book reviews. Perhaps you should have your own column in the local paper. After all, if they have time to read about a zucchini queen, they should have time to read your book reviews.
On another note, I haven't touched my peace sign sweater. Please do not get ahead of me.
your secret admirer


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