Take sure-handed writing, a great main character with a lot of snark, an awesome plotline, a romance on the rocks, and a possible Russian spy. What do...more Take sure-handed writing, a great main character with a lot of snark, an awesome plotline, a romance on the rocks, and a possible Russian spy. What do you have? The recipe for a great book, and also an apt description of “I, Spy” by Jordan McCollum. First novels tend to be a little timid. The author isn’t quite sure of themselves yet, they’re still navigating the market, they’re figuring out who they want to be as a literary artist. “I, Spy” started out with a bang and with the confidence that it takes some authors years to develop. If I didn’t know this was a first novel, I wouldn’t have guessed it. Let me tell you a little about the story. Our main character is Talia Reynolds, an operative for the CIA. When the book opens, she’s creeping her way toward the target’s apartment via the ventilation shaft. The moment is tense, but the humor still shines through—the book is written in first person, and Talia makes great side comments to the reader. We see her pull off her mission and then we see her fight for the job of a co-worker, putting herself on the line by doing so. Right off the bat, we know she’s smart, gutsy, funny, and compassionate—all characteristics that make for a great heroine. We also see her try to juggle a relationship—when you work for the CIA, you can’t tell your significant other what you do for a living until you’re ready to put a ring on it. Talia’s boyfriend, Danny, thinks she works for a law firm, but he’s beginning to think she’s keeping secrets from him. Talia’s career dreams come true when she’s given the chance to track Fyodor Timofeyev, a Russian aerospace executive who might also be a spy. Talia lived in Russia and knows the language and culture. This case is right up her alley. But then she has to make some tough decisions—really tough decisions—and choose between her boyfriend and her country. Not only do I praise Jordan for the quality of her writing, but I have to comment on the professional presentation of this book. It’s self-published, but everything about it is top notch. The cover is excellent, the typesetting looks very sharp, and the editing was great. I did think the commas and hyphens could have been tightened up here and there, but that’s nothing to squawk about. I think that all self-published authors should take their cue from Jordan and take the time to produce classy-looking books that are written well and full of great content. You know you’re looking for a great read this summer—put “I, Spy” on your to-read list. (less)
Sadie Hoffmiller is still running from danger. A threat was made against her life a year ago, and it’s not safe for her to return home. Moving from pl...moreSadie Hoffmiller is still running from danger. A threat was made against her life a year ago, and it’s not safe for her to return home. Moving from place to place, hoping to keep her enemies from picking up her trail, Sadie moves in with Caro, her boyfriend Pete’s cousin, in Santa Fe. The Bureau of Land Management has asked her to follow up on some employees on an archaeological dig, so she has something to do to keep her mind off her troubles.
Digging in the dirt sounded like fun at first, but now she’s starting to wonder. She dislikes feeling grimy and sweaty all the time, but she does take satisfaction in finding remnants of past civilizations hidden in the dry New Mexican ground.
One day on the dig, two fresh bodies are discovered—well, fresher than the others they’ve found. And then Margot, one of the workers on the team, turns up missing. Sadie has to investigate—that’s what she does, after all—and before long, she’s in danger herself as those behind the murders realize she’s not who she says she is. What follows is a tale of danger, hot chocolate, red herrings, and hot air balloon rides at the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Tres Leches Cupcakes is the eighth volume in the Sadie Hoffmiller series, and it doesn’t appear that our intrepid little detective is losing steam. Her no-nonsense approach, her guts and determination, and her amazing recipes keep readers coming back for more.
Perhaps what’s best of all is that these books take everything we love about mysteries and deliver us a story without gruesome details. We get dead bodies but without overt detail, we get romance but without bed scenes, and we get danger but without foul language. Readers know when they pick up a Sadie Hoffmiller mystery that they can trust the contents to entertain without offending.
My favorite part of this book is found in the last pages. Picture Sadie crawling along beneath a trailer home and popping up through a trapdoor into a closet, and then escaping the same way—that made me giggle. Leave it to Sadie to do things her own way each and every time.
There are other books yet to come in the series, so stay tuned for more as they are released. You will not be disappointed. (less)
Seventeen-year-old Sarah has come to New York City for the first time in her life, accompanying her father on a business trip. They have a deal—she’ll...moreSeventeen-year-old Sarah has come to New York City for the first time in her life, accompanying her father on a business trip. They have a deal—she’ll wander around and take pictures while he’s in his meeting, and then they’ll have lunch together before heading home. Sarah is thrilled to be loose in the city, watching people, taking their pictures, soaking up an atmosphere completely different from what she’s used to back home. When her dad calls to say his meeting is going late and he can’t meet her for lunch, she’s not too disappointed—they’ll have dinner together, and in the meantime, she can continue to explore …and people watch.
One person in particular.
A young man caught her eye, or rather, her camera’s viewfinder. He’s wearing a hoodie with the name of her favorite band, and there’s something else about him too—something fascinating. She can’t explain what it is, but she follows him to see if she can figure it out. When they meet, she learns that his name is Sam, and he’s a finder. That’s his job—he locates things for people that they really want. He takes Sarah with him on one of his jobs and she finds herself with a job of her own—to find an amazing piece of artwork for a spoiled starlet, or suffer the consequences. Sarah rises up to the challenge and begins searching for this elusive decoration, and she and Sam begin their adventure together.
Along the way, they make discoveries about life, about family relationships and loyalty, and most importantly, about themselves.
Lisa Mangum is a beautiful writer. She has a way of putting words down on paper that is like a feast for the eye. Every sentence is carefully constructed, and even the most simple actions performed by the characters becomes something to study. As an author myself, I’m in awe of how she does this, and as a reader, I appreciate the time she puts into it. Lisa has worked for Deseret Book as an editor for years, and her knowledge and understanding of the craft are evident in her final product.
More than that, though, Lisa shows us that young adult literature can also be literary. I definitely would call this a literary novel for young adults, and I love that she’s done this—she has paired beautiful writing with an interesting teen storyline, and we aren’t relying on typical adolescent angst or racing hormones or dark plotlines to hold up the book. This isn’t to say that the book doesn’t address difficult topics—Sarah and her father must overcome some misunderstandings and relationship glitches along the way—but these things are handled realistically and respectfully, and I appreciated that.
I’m not a young adult anymore, but I loved this book. Then I handed it off to my teenage daughter, and she loved it as well. She said it was very original, and I agree.
The take-home message for me was that the human spirit is strong, but it needs nourishment to thrive. We can get that nourishment from friends, from family, from our passions and our hobbies, but then we turn all those nutrients into food for our spirits, which allows them to grow and develop and become all that they’re supposed to be. I’ve pondered on this and on the book itself several times since I finished reading it, and that’s the hallmark of a great book, in my opinion—when you can’t stop thinking about it. Well done, Lisa. (less)
Writing this book was an eye-opening experience for me, and I hope reading it will be for you, too. Come with me as I explain my family's financial si...moreWriting this book was an eye-opening experience for me, and I hope reading it will be for you, too. Come with me as I explain my family's financial situation and show you how I gained the knowledge to get out of debt and create a better future for my family. What's even more fun is that you can follow my continued progress on www.milliondollardiva.com as I update with a monthly blog about how we're doing with our new decisions. If I can do it, anyone can - come learn how to be a Million Dollar Diva!(less)
In Christine Bryant's debut novel, she brings us a story of a girl pulled into a world completely different of her own to face not only danger and int...moreIn Christine Bryant's debut novel, she brings us a story of a girl pulled into a world completely different of her own to face not only danger and intrigue, but her own internal demons that have plagued her for years. Caught up in a battle between two forces from another world bent on tearing each other apart, Kira discovers strength she never knew she had and learns that no one can determine your worth for you.
I really enjoyed BOUND - the distinctive use of language, the creativity in plot ... and can I just say, Octavion made my heart go pitty-pat on more than one occasion.
This is a book I highly recommend for anyone looking for an adventure, a romance, a thrill-ride, all wrapped into one.(less)
Kennedy Campbell, renowned journalist, just wanted a story. Making her home at an Afghan refugee camp, she immerses herself in the lives of the people...moreKennedy Campbell, renowned journalist, just wanted a story. Making her home at an Afghan refugee camp, she immerses herself in the lives of the people, coming to care for them like her own family, doing whatever she can to help them. Sending her camerawoman home with the promise to follow shortly behind, she says her goodbyes, only to get caught in a Taliban attack. She flees with some of her new friends and they nearly make it to safety, but she is captured by a wanted terrorist who decides to use her fame for his own purposes, demanding ransom from the United States government.
Ethan Barak knew he was putting himself in a dangerous situation when he agreed to work with MI-6 to bring down international arms dealers, and he was prepared to face that risk. But when one of his enemies kills his father, Ethan is pushed to the limit. No longer content to quietly gather information and pass it along, he wants to bring down the ringleader, and do it now ... in any way possible, including the man's death.
When Ethan and Kennedy meet up, both entangled in a web of danger, they aren't sure if they can trust each other. They've already been misled by so many people. But soon they realize they are working on the same side and come together as allies, determined to find justice in their situation and get themselves back to safety.
My Thoughts: Ribbon of Darkness by Julie Coulter Bellon is a fast, intense read, action-packed to keep you turning pages, but without vulgar language, which I appreciated. It's short enough to read in one sitting, but long enough to provide some good entertainment. The subject matter is timely in today's world political environment, and seems as though it could appear on a headline tomorrow. As I read, I thought that this book would make a good movie as I envisioned the action going from the Malacca Strait in Indonesia to a dark and smoky bar to an elegant home in the capital city and onto a ship headed to open water. Each scene played out vividly for me as I read, and I enjoyed the tense intrigue ... and I have to say, I enjoyed the kissing, too, which was in perfect balance with the suspense, giving us just enough without taking over the story. It was a great way to spend an evening.
You can get Ribbon of Darkness for your Kindle or as a hard copy.
I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my opinion, was not compensated in any other way, and was not threatened by the Taliban to give a good review.(less)
Ida Mae and her friends are at it again, this time solving a mystery in Montana. I had so much fun romping with these little ladies around a snowy ran...moreIda Mae and her friends are at it again, this time solving a mystery in Montana. I had so much fun romping with these little ladies around a snowy ranch to hunt down the villain! (less)
I was inclined to like Dennis Gaunt the first time I met him. He is, after all, the brother of Lisa Mangum, who is one of my very favorite people in t...moreI was inclined to like Dennis Gaunt the first time I met him. He is, after all, the brother of Lisa Mangum, who is one of my very favorite people in the world - not only is she an amazing author and editor, but she's a genuinely fabulous person - and of course her fabulousness had to run in the family, right? Well, it does. Dennis is a great guy, and we made friends immediately. And when I learned he was writing a book, I was even more intrigued. Did Lisa's amazing talent with words run in the family? When I was asked to review Dennis's book, Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon, I got the chance to see for myself, and you know what - this family is seriously blessed with talent.
To start with, how can you not love a title like Bad Guys of the Book of Mormon? You know exactly what you're getting - a book about the scriptures, but one that's a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Dennis goes through the Book of Mormon and discusses each of the bad guys and the things they do that show just how bad they are, and then likens those things to experiences we might have today. Yes, we can read the Book of Mormon and learn from Nephi and think about his courage (hey, I think there's a Primary song that goes something like that) and we can admire Helaman and want to be as his armies (another Primary song moment), but sometimes we need to look at things a little differently - what do the bad guys have to teach us? Laman and Lemuel, for instance, show us what can happen when we are too doubtful, too disbelieving, and yes, too whiny.
There are two sides at work in this ultimate battle of good vs. evil, and in his book, Dennis shows us the ways in which the wicked operate. They've done it this way for centuries - hey, why stop when it's working? If we know and understand the stories in the Book of Mormon, we can be on the alert for wickedness in our lives today, and know how to put a stop to it.
The thing I like best is the perfect balance Dennis strikes between humor and seriousness. He makes jokes all the way through, creating a doctrinal book that's not boring, if you can imagine such a thing, but he never treats sacred topics lightly. That's a tricky thing to accomplish, and yet he does it. It's a lighthearted read that is never lightminded.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about the Book of Mormon, about our Heavenly Father's plan, and/or wants a good, uplifting read.
FTC: I received a free copy of this book and was not reimbursed in any other way. To do so would be following along in the footsteps of the Gadianton robbers and those who seek wickedness in dark corners(less)
What do books and food and blogging have in common? Well, Tristi, of course! And so what better place to find a review of The 2011 Book Blogger's Cook...moreWhat do books and food and blogging have in common? Well, Tristi, of course! And so what better place to find a review of The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook than here? There are other sites reviewing it, and doing a mighty fine job of it, and I think it makes total sense that I should be included on that list. Seriously, my middle name is BooksandBlogsandFood. But it was hard to fit on a birth certificate, so my mom decided to cut her losses and use Paige instead.
But I digress.
The 2011 Book Blogger's Cookbook is a compilation of recipes of foods mentioned in books that have recently been published by some of the most exciting up-and-coming authors I've seen for a long time. Compiler Christy Dorrity had a unique idea - she found book bloggers who had reviewed those books, asked their permission to quote the review, and then partnered the review with the recipe and a bit about the book. What a great way to join together the things that feed our bodies with the things that feed our minds.
You might notice as you flip through the book that two of the quotes are from me. That was a lot of fun. It was also fun to read the other reviews and then to salivate over the recipes. Yes, salivating can be fun.
If you like books, if you like to eat, if you like eating while you read, this book is a must-have. (less)
I spent Saturday evening curled up with J. Adams' newest release The Wishing Hour. Here's a synopsis:
Celine Anderson lives an average solitary life, s...moreI spent Saturday evening curled up with J. Adams' newest release The Wishing Hour. Here's a synopsis:
Celine Anderson lives an average solitary life, sticking to routine, never taking chances, and never experiencing true love. All of this changes when a handsome immortal enters her life. She has never laid eyes on the man before, but she somehow knows him and instantly trusts him completely. Placing her life in his hands, Celine is taken on an unexpected journey and learns of an ancient prophecy she is to take part in. And her immortal guardian is intent on protecting her against those who would see her fail. He has been chosen for this calling and it is his sacred duty to keep her safe–to see the prophecy fulfilled at all cost. If they fail, it will change the world as they know it.
This book is a romantic fantasy, combining some of the elements we all know make the heart go pitty-pat - element of danger, woman in need of protection, gorgeous and muscular protector dressed in black leather (oh, come on, you know black leather makes the heart go pitty-pat, and there's no use pretending it doesn't) and ties them up together in a story of deep and eternal love and bonds that can't be broken by distance or circumstance or even by death. It's a quick read - I think I polished it off in a couple of hours - and it keeps you moving from page to page at a pretty good clip. And while it was romantic, everything was presented in a tasteful way.
If I were to point out anything that I didn't like, I might have enjoyed a few pages more about Celine's life before she met the gorgeous protector. Her life is completely changed by him, and I would have liked to see more of the before so I could draw that comparison. I also would have liked it to be a little longer here and there with more explanations and details. But overall, I enjoyed it very much. The descriptions of the furniture and the countryside made me want to go traveling - or house hunting, I couldn't decide which - and the descriptions of food made me hungry. And as I have already said, it definitely made my heart go pitty-pat. (less)
I will admit that I was a little skeptical when I first picked up Queen in Exile by Donna Hatch. I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy it - I'm strang...moreI will admit that I was a little skeptical when I first picked up Queen in Exile by Donna Hatch. I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy it - I'm strange when it comes to fantasy. I like most elements of it, and yet some just ... don't work for me. I don't really understand high fantasy, and when everything has strange names and I'm having to keep twelve thousand characters straight ... that's not my talent. I have to say, though, that I was very pleasantly entertained by this novel.
Kai, the Darborian knight, did cause a few heart flutters in this crusty old reviewer. I was very intrigued by the connection between Jeniah and her magical creature, the chayim - which reminded me of the tales of maidens and their ability to touch unicorns, but the chayim connection is a lot deeper and has more purpose. The plot moved forward at a really good pace and I read it in two or three sittings.
I liked the combination of action and romance, adventure and magic. All in all, it was a very enjoyable read - without twelve thousand strange names to remember. I was able to track everything just fine. (less)
You all know how I feel about historical fiction. I want to come away from the novel having been entertained, but having learned something. I want to...moreYou all know how I feel about historical fiction. I want to come away from the novel having been entertained, but having learned something. I want to gain insights I didn't have before, and I want to find myself enriched by the experience. This is what I found in the novel Redemption by Susan Dayley.
Susan is a very intelligent writer. She approached this novel only after a huge amount of research, and this shows on every page. She talks about the land, the goods traded by the merchants, the traditions of the people. She paints a picture you can almost reach out and touch, and then she layers in aspects of history and the background of the culture. You really, truly feel you are in the land where Jonah was born and raised.
Then she approaches the story from an unusual perspective. The Midrash identifies Jonah as being the son of the widow of Zarephath, and she writes him as such. I have never seen this done before, and it lent a unique aspect to the story.
To be honest, I would have liked to see more time spent with Jonah as he anguished in the belly of the whale. I felt that part was a little too condensed. What was there was beautiful - I just wanted more of it. Jonah's courtship of his wife was also brief, which may disappoint some romantics out there, but romance is not the focus of the book.
If you are looking for intelligent, well-researched historical fiction, I heartily recommend you pick up a copy of Redemption. You will view the story of Jonah in a completely different way and find yourself drawn into it like never before.(less)
Journey of Honor takes some of the most popular elements of fiction and weaves them together in one - history, romance, adventure. We learn to respect...moreJourney of Honor takes some of the most popular elements of fiction and weaves them together in one - history, romance, adventure. We learn to respect Trace for his dedication to doing what was right, Mose for being a stable influence, and Giselle for bearing her burdens cheerfully. We get a taste of daily life on the trail and what it must have been like for the pioneers as they made their way across the plains, facing things we've never contemplated.
I did have a few small issues with the book - I would have liked to see more showing, rather than telling. I also felt that the editing was a little loose - the story deserved to be gone over and made to shine. I didn't find it believable that Trace, who was a doctor, didn't know Giselle was pregnant. Each of these things pulled me out of the story, but I delved back in to see what was going to happen next.
Regardless of the issues I had with the book, I did find it an enjoyable read and think that it will appeal to anyone who wants a good romance.(less)
Stephanie Saunders is a defense attorney, and she doesn't always have the ability to choose her clients - her boss does that for her. When she's asked...moreStephanie Saunders is a defense attorney, and she doesn't always have the ability to choose her clients - her boss does that for her. When she's asked to defend Josh Durrant, a scruffy-looking accused abuser, she doesn't want to take the case, but she knows it's either do it, or lose her job. She's worked hard to overcome her "Barbie" looks and prove she's smart, and she doesn't want to throw away everything she's invested in her career.
But soon the stress of the case becomes overwhelming and she finds herself seeking solace in the only place where she can really find it - at the stables, with her horse. Josh follows her there, intruding on her sanctuary.
She turns to her boyfriend, Todd Saxton, who is determined to be there for her at all costs ... but before long, she starts to notice that things just aren't right. Not at work, not with her relationship, and not with herself. Unraveling all the cords and making sense of them will shatter all her beliefs and force her to rely on herself like never before.(less)