Review: Sarasota Dreams by Debby Mayne

20140228-144652.jpg Sarasota Dreams is the compilation of three novellas. Each novella focuses on a Mennonite man and woman and their search for romance.

I like Amish/Mennonite fiction, and Debby Mayne writes it well. I appreciated that we could see what the men AND women were thinking. Abe had to figure out how to make Mary trust him. Jeremiah had to prove his faithfulness to God before Shelley would let herself fall in love, and Charles had to commit to becoming Mennonite so Ruthie’s reputation wouldn’t suffer.

Besides the romances being very well written, Mayne illustrated her knowledge of the Mennonite lifestyle without making the novellas feel like documentaries. The reader gets more than a glimpse of small business management (diner and souvenir shop), farming, and church life.

These were three lovely, realistic, fun, clean romances. The loyalty to family and community was comforting, and the food sounded delicious. Bring on some coconut cream pie!


New Release March 1!

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Review – Indecent Proposal by Jack Engelhard

indecent proposalRaise your hands those of you that remember seeing the 1993 (20 years ago!) angst fest that was Indecent Proposal. Was you Team Woody or Team Robert? Well, treasure those beloved memories because the original story is far different from the wildly popular film adaptation. This book explores so many emotional, historical, societal, and contemporary issues, that it makes the film look positively flat.

We all know the story – apparently happily married couple try their luck in Atlantic City, get propositioned by a billionaire, and deal with the repercussions. However, the novel explores the still relevant issue of Arab vs Israeli conflicts. Joshua is Jewish and has had harrowing experiences of WWII, and Ibrahim (the billionaire) is Arab and has his own views. Although this may sound a strange aspect to write about, it actually adds to the morality tale. It isn’t just simply a question of “would you spend a night with anther person for $1,000,000?” – the different cultural and historical layers all play a part, especially in the aftermath of dealing with fall out from decisions made.

The character development in the book is really strong. Joan and Josh are not two naive high school sweethearts – they’ve been around the block a few times. Throughout, you will (or at least I did) love and hate these characters with equal measure. No one is perfect, and no one is correct all of the time.

This is not a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination. At times it feels so authentic that you feel like you are a fly on the wall. The discomfort is what really makes this novel; the rawness, emotion, morality, faith, lack of faith, missed opportunities, that you witness when reading this novel, is what sets it apart from most other morality tales. Just like real morality and real humans, this tale will take you all kinds of directions – some expected and many not.

At only $4.95, go and treat yourself to a different kind of novel that will question everything you have ever believed.



Indecent Proposal

Review (Take 2): Once in a Lifetime by Jill Shalvis

20140225-151742.jpg Fly me to Lucky Harbor, home of strong women with loyal friendships, gossipy old Lucille, and quiet alpha men! This installment finds troubled Aubrey making amends to the people she’s wronged, and strong silent Ben finally ready to fall in love again.

I always enjoy Shalvis’ romantic tales. But I also appreciate Aubrey’s friendship with the women who own shops adjoining hers. How fun to be a fly on the wall while the girls eat cupcakes and dish about their lives!

I also enjoy the recurring character Lucille. She’s one of the threads that gives the Lucky Harbor series continuity, and her gossip is good-hearted and harmless.

Shalvis focused a bit on children’s welfare in this novel, and she did it realistically. Shalvis shows the difference between men who shirk their parental duties (sometimes unknowingly), and men who are nurturing and raise their children well.

Lucky Harbor is a must-read for me. I’m invested in the characters, the shops, the relationships and the romances. Thanks, Miss Jill, for yet another happily ever after.


Just Released!
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Review: The Chance by Robyn Carr

20140222-221620.jpg This continuation of life in Thunder Point, Oregon, isn’t as good as the others. Though I love Robyn Carr and her pacific coast characters, the Chance seemed to be rushed — with more telling than showing.

What I did like was that I got to know Ray Ann a little better, and she finally found her soul mate. I also liked the three-teenagers-taking-care-of-their-sick-mom subplot, and the focus on Eric’s garage.

Eric and Laine weren’t really believable as a couple. She’s type-A FBI, he’s a mellow mechanic with a criminal record. I don’t know, it just didn’t jibe for me. I liked their individual stories – he’s the boss of some new Thunder Point characters, she’s the daughter of a demanding surgeon who is showing signs of Alzheimer’s. But together? I couldn’t see their attraction to each other.

One technical thing that bothered me was that there were a lot of typos and misspellings. I realize I read an Advance Review Copy, but a handful of erroneous phrases like “towed the line” instead of “toed the line” cropped up repeatedly.

I enjoyed The Chance. It just didn’t wow me like I expected a Robyn Carr novel to. I will absolutely read Carr’s next novel, Four Friends, because I believe when you write more than one novel each year, there is bound to be one that doesn’t impress me like the rest. I know Robyn Carr excellence is up next.


If you’re a Thunder Point fan and want to read Eric’s story:
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Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

where'd you go bernadetteAre you kidding me? I loved this book! Are you kidding me? I never saw that coming! Are you kidding me? I surely didn’t see THAT coming! What a charming, funny book, that is also horrible and the exact opposite of charming and funny at the very same moment! A true paradox of a book. I shocked myself by laughing out loud at terrible things. I hated and loved most of the characters. I felt sorry for them and angry at them, again, at the same time. I lived near Seattle for a number of years. The description of the Emerald City both offended me and warmed my heart at the same time. It made me angry and giggly at the same instance.

So if we take this book and read the description this is what we get:

Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic….

For much of the book you believe this is what the novel is about. Then the author, Maria Semple, throws in a little twist. A simple hand written note from Bernadette’s husband. Suddenly you start to understand a little bit more. However, Semple then throws in an e-mail from Bernadette and you’re like, “OMGreatGoodness, I am so getting this book now! Oh my, I can’t believe this”…..and the hidden truths of the past and present are dropped here and there, bit by bit….until suddenly the entire picture you had painted in your head is like looking at a Bev Doolittle original painting! You’re looking at this image and the more you look, the more you see….the whole image you first glanced at is built upon one little hidden gem upon another…and another….

I was just as surprised by some of the twists in the novel as the characters were. All I can say is that this novel reinforces what we all already know…Don’t judge a book based solely upon its cover. We all do things for different reasons. We all have pasts that shape whom we are today. What you take as indifference from someone might be anything but….

I admire Semple for not giving this ending a happy ever after finish. There are still messy bits that can’t be easily solved…bits that the characters will have to deal with after this book finishes. I admire her for turning a simple straightforward “chick lit” book into so much more. I appreciate the laughter and the shock value as well. Sure, you might look at parts of the novel and think, “But grown adults would NEVER act that way”….I say hey ho…they do it every single day….thank you Semple for putting it in the light of day….

Until next time….

Urania xx

Buy it now Where’d You go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Four Weddings and a Fireman, by Jennifer Bernard

It takes a certain kind of man to stand out among the Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel.
Firefighter Derek “Vader” Brown is one of a kind—six feet of solid muscle with the heart of a born hero. It’s that protective streak that has him pursuing a promotion to Captain to pay for his mother’s home care. And it’s why he intends to figure out why his sometime girlfriend Cherie Harper runs hot as hellfire one minute and pushes him away the next.
Cherie’s got it bad. Vader sweeps her off her feet—literally—and their chemistry is combustible. There’s just the little problem of a nightmare from her past she was desperate to escape. And then her sister Trixie arrives, causing havoc for Cherie and the male population of San Gabriel. Cherie doesn’t want her past to complicate Vader’s life or his career. But there’s nothing like a firefighter to break through all your defenses, one smoldering kiss at a time . . .

Have I told you how much I love firemen?? No? Well, I am obsessed with them. I think it’s the firewife in me that’s partly to blame, but I can’t get enough firemen books. So when I was given the chance to read Jennifer Bernard’s newest book, I just HAD to jump on it. I’ve read all of her Bachelor books, except for two. They’re some of the ones that staring at me, every time I turn on my Kindle. *sigh* Soon.

This book is about Derek “Vader” Brown. He’s the joker of the San Gabriel Fire department. And I was quite excited to read his story. He’s been dating Cherie, off and on, for over a year now. When he asks her to marry him, she turns him down, TWICE!! That’s right, he asks her on two separate occasions and both times he’s been denied. But he loves her and hopes that she’ll change her mind soon, before he loses his mind.

Cherie has loved Vader, since about two months into their crazy relationship, but she never told him. There are things in her past that she’s afraid of and doesn’t want him to be dragged into it. So when she thinks Vader is getting too close, she puts the rails on. But she knows she can’t keep doing this forever. She hates keeping secrets, but she knows he’s keeping some too. So she decides to let him go.

But soon, Cherie’s past catches up with her and Vader is dragged back into her life. Will their secrets finally get spilled? Will the curse of the San Gabriel Fire department strike again?? I do believe it will.


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Review: Evening Stars by Susan Mallery

20140224-200548.jpg I love this Blackberry Island series! Evening Stars is the newest, and will be released February 25.

Blackberry Island has family issues, local doctors’ practices, small businesses, small-town quirkiness, and romance. Lots of romance! In Evening Stars, Nina gets a chance to think about herself for a change. She learns to stop trying I take care of (control) the people around her, and let go of her worries. One route she takes is having a casual fling with Kyle, a younger man. It is fun but not fulfilling. She also spends time with her ex… Dylan is a great guy but they have more of a friendship than anything else. I liked watching Nina figure out which guy – if any – she really should be with.

Susan Mallery writes characters and dialogue that are so natural I don’t even stop to think that they might not be real. The antique-shop goings-on were fun to read, as were the pediatric waiting room incidents. Nina’s irresponsible little sister offered some comic relief. Dylan and Kyle provided eye candy and nice cars… And great dates. And Nina’s parents illustrate how love might be what makes a family go ’round, but part of that love is responsibility, reliability and stability.

Sometimes I felt like the characters were a bit exaggerated or stereotypical in their behavior, but it’s part of what made the book fun to read.

Susan Mallery and the Blackberry Island series are on my BOLO list. I’ll continue to be on the lookout for more to add to my kindle, because once they’re on there, they don’t last long!


Buy/preorder (Feb 25) Evening Stars

Review: Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick

20140112-094215.jpgThe cover got me. As soon as I saw this sad yet beautiful illustration I needed to know more. Described as a “gripping yet poignant novel about a boy and his dog trapped in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina”, I was immediately intrigued.

Twelve-year-old Zane has been sent to visit his newly discovered great-grandmother in New Orleans. Not a fan of the city he calls “Smellyville”, he nevertheless begins to enjoy the time spent getting to know his long-lost relative. As luck would have it, however, his visit coincides with one of the worst natural disasters in history. After the levees fail, he and his grandmother attempt to leave the city. Zane gets separated from his grandmother and is rescued by a kindly musician and his young charge. Along the way, they encounter much of the horror and lawlessness that pervaded the city during this time. As a young man of mixed race, Zane’s eyes are opened to many societal and racial issues he’s never seen in his home state of New Hampshire.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons. Realistic fiction is always a favorite of mine if it’s packed full of historical facts, and this books fits that description. Although Zane is a fictional character, much of his experiences are based on factual information gathered by the author and others. The book explores the issues of economic and racial disparities without being preachy. There’s no question that people are often treated differently because they’re poor or black. Mr. Philbrick did an excellent job of researching facts and conditions of that horrible time in America’s recent history. As a Newbery Honor author, he knows how to speak to his audience of young readers. Although this book’s intended audience is listed as 10 to 14 years, don’t let that dissuade you from reading it.


Buy it Now: Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina

Review: The Yarn Spinner (a Crossroads Cafe short story) by Deborah Smith

20140222-232044.jpg This short story, part of Smith’s Crossroads Cafe series, is as quirky and eccentric as the novellas that came before it. The Yarn Spinner focuses on Lucy, a woman recovering from a brutal attack that almost left her dead. Cousin Delta’s biscuits — and the unconditional Appalachian love of Crossroads Cove-ites — save Lucy’s heart and soul.

What I love about Crossroads Cove is that even though I don’t readily identify with any of the characters, and even though I get confused with how everyone is related to each other and cousin Delta, the loving and healing nature of Delta and her family touches me deeply. These are people who have needed saving, been saved, and now are the first to step up and save the next ones who need it.

Deborah Smith writes soulful, joyful friendships. I’ll read any amount of quirkiness to experience such heart. And lucky for me, Deborah Smith will deliver another biscuit-laden bit of loveliness sometime this year.


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Review: Bare Essentials by Jill Shalvis and Leslie Kelly

20140222-230439.jpg Bare Essentials is two 2002 novellas put together under one cover. The first one — Naughty but Nice by Jill Shalvis — is about Cassie, much-maligned daughter of the town vixen. Cassie returns to her hometown to start a racy “women’s shop” to spite all the gossips. I loved that she was up for fun with Tag, the new sheriff, while keeping her heart safe. Shalvis wrote some very steamy scenes here, running the gamut from a fling-y diversion all the way to making love because Cassie was falling in love. The plot is simple, the secondary characters pretty flat, and the sex toy conversations a little over the top, but the romance won me over. I rooted for Cassie and Tag all the way to the happily ever after.

The second novella — Naturally Naughty by Leslie Kelly — parallels Cassie’s story but tells it from Kate’s point of view. Because again the secondary characters play such small roles, there is no repetition or redundancy. The story seems new, with a touch of familiarity. The flirting and the sex are graphic and steamy, matching Kate’s outspokenness and sense of fun. Kate and Jack were happy living the single life… until they found each other. They enjoyed each other’s, ahem, company so much that they didn’t even realize they were falling in love. While I found it hard to relate to Kate, and her friendships with the other female characters were awkward, I enjoyed watching her grow as she learned about her family history.

Shalvis and Kelly did a bang-up job writing novellas from the viewpoints of two best friends. They succeeded in creating sexy romances with strong female characters. And with the help of hot heroes, they let Cassie and Kate develop from sullen victims of hometown gossip to women who had something to contribute to Pleasantville. The girls finally realize that how they thought the people of Pleasantville perceived them was really only how they had perceived themselves.


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