Reviews R-Z

The Reapers are the Angels

by (Joshua Gaylord writing as) Alden Bell

“…I absolutely loved the heroine of this book, a young woman born long after the zombie apocalypse. She’s tough and funny without being cynical (I guess irony does not survive the onslaught of the undead) and her voice is pure American Gothic. The author name checks Buffy, Deadwood, Faulkner and George Romero as influences and I knew after the first page this book would be a scary, sad, thoughtful, beautiful joy to read….”

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Reckless

by Cornelia Funke with Lionel Wigram

“…Funke, who recently finished her Inkworld series, says she was surprised at how quickly she found a new magical realm to write about. And in fact her collaboration with Wigram, the producer on the Harry Potter movies, feels instantly fully realized — probably because of its being rooted in the traditions of the Brothers Grimm. Reckless is the story of a young man who travels to the other side of the mirror, where magic is real and the stakes are very high. Like the old stories this book hearkens back to, there is a distinct shortage of happy endings — except for the readers, because this is the first in a new series….”

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Red Hot Lies

by Laura Caldwell

“…Caldwell’s heroine, sassy redheaded lawyer Izzy Macneil, has her perfect life upended in the first chapter. Her cute fiancé vanishes, leaving behind a dead guy and a great big bunch of missing money. And by the way, the corpse is Izzy’s beloved boss and mentor at her law firm. That will be one awkward Christmas party….”

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Revenge of the Spellmans

by Lisa Lutz

“…This is the third Spellman book, and I am really going to have to make time to go back and read the first two. I loved the bone dry ironic tone of narrator Izzy Spellman, who is on the lam from her family and their prying ways. That they are a family of private investigators doesn’t help her cause. In this outing, she’s looking into the suddenly peculiar behavior of her formerly boringly normal brother and trying to get some sleep among a great many other things. (The transcripts of Izzy’s court-appointed therapy sessions are genius.)…”

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The Rose of Sebastopol

by Katharine McMahon

“…When brave and beautiful Rosa vanishes, her timid cousin Mariella has no choice but to leave her staid English manor home and follow her, even though Rosa’s last known address was Battlefield: Crimea. Marietta finds more than she bargained for as she wades unprepared into the savage, filthy conflict, growing from a shy and unworldly child into a useful human being. Everyone knows a lady preferred not to get her gloves dirty, much less go elbows deep in blood and poop, but that’s cholera for you — no respecter of Victorian principles….”

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The Ruins of California

by Martha Sherrill

“…Remember the 70’s? Me neither. But the author of The Ruins of California, Martha Sherrill, certainly does. This book follows young Inez Ruin, daughter of a depressed Flamenco dancer and a spoiled, wealthy computer genius as she tries to find her own way in California in the 1970’s. The characters are quirky without being cutesy and the author must have been taking notes while the rest of us were off…doing something else, because she really paints a vivid picture of life before Just Say No. (You could smoke on airplanes! I swear to God!)…”

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Runaway

by Alice Munro

“…Compare and contrasts Alice Munro’s Runaway and Alice Mattison’s In Case We’re Separated, two short story collections. One deals with repressed families in the upper Midwest and Canada, the other with loud, demonstrative families in Manhattan. Guess who has the Seder?…”

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The Russian Concubine

by Kate Furnivall

“…Love, war, drugs, sex, rabbits — this book has everything you want in grand romantic drama. The author’s mother was a White Russian (one of the survivors of the Revolution) who grew up in China, and her story inspired Kate Furnivall to write this, her first novel. In 1928 China, Lydia, our young heroine, has a drunken wreck of a mother at home, and a Chinese boyfriend in town. Her teacher, Mr. Willoughby, has a beautiful Chinese mistress and a nasty opium habit. Valentina (the drunken mommy) has memories of when she was a renowned classical pianist and a string of wealthy ‘boyfriends.’ Meanwhile, the Communists, the Nationalists, the warlords and the Westerners are all duking it out for control. If you like your historical fiction big and dramatic, here you go…”

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Sacred Hearts

by Sarah Dunant

“…Dunant returns for the third time to Renaissance Italy (in The Birth of Venus, her heroine was an artist and in In the Company of the Courtesan, we met a very determined lady of the evening) by depositing 15-year-old Serafina into the convent of Santa Caterina literally kicking and screaming at her fate. What happens to Serafina, while it certainly is quite dramatic, is less interesting than the struggles and pleasures of the women of the convent who live apart from men, but not from the concerns of the outside world. Dunant as usual writes about the lives of history’s forgotten, and as usual they have quite a bit to say….”

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The Sari Shop

by Rupa Bajwa

“…It’s written in clear prose, almost like a fable, and as the story of Ramchand — one of the working poor in the city of Amritsar in India — unfolds, I began to feel great hope for him. He breaks out of his years’ long routine of working in the sari shop and waiting on contemptible wealthy women looking for clothes, he teaches himself English, he starts to see what life is like on the other side of town, and the other side of the walls separating rich from poor….”

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The Seas

by Samantha Hunt

“…The Seas by Samantha Hunt, is set in a hard drinking northern fishing village, where the unnamed narrator, a 19-year old girl, thinks she’s a mermaid (but not the cute Disney kind) and loves an emotionally damaged Iraqi war veteran. Fun! Seriously, it’s a little creepy and gorgeously written…”

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Second Shot

by Zoë Sharp

“…Ever have one of those days where you get shot twice and are left for dead in a freezing, muddy ditch? Me neither. What do you wear to something like that? That’s why I’m not a bodyguard, and ex-British Army crack shot Charlie Fox is. Charlie is a bodyguard, and a good one, although the whole ‘getting shot on page one’ probably won’t go on her resume. She’s dealing with a client who doesn’t want her help, her boss is her ex and is about as communicative of his feelings as a hot, sexy tree stump, and she spends half the book gritting her teeth and trying not to bleed to death. The main plot is twisty, the characters are more deeply layered than I was expecting, and when I grow up and become an action heroine, I want to be as tough and cool as Charlie Fox….”

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Shades of Grey

by Jasper Fforde

“…The brilliantly inventive Fforde is back, stepping outside the universe of Thursday Next and embarking on a new post-apocalyptic series set in an unimaginably distant England. But despite the Something That Happened, these folks are neat, civil, orderly, and obey The Rules — those who don’t might find themselves on the Night Train to a re-boot. In this world, your whole life is written in your eyes — you can only see one color, and that color decides your social standing: the Reds look down on the Yellows, and everyone hates the Greys. There’s really no good way to summarize this extremely elaborate book — it’s a love story, a fantasy, high adventure, social satire — honestly?  It’s marvelous. First book of three, and I can’t wait for the next one….”

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The Sheen on the Silk

by Anne Perry

“…In 13th century Byzantium, a young woman poses as a eunuch to try and find her missing brother, but she finds a conspiracy that takes her to the very top levels of this exotic and decadent society. (At least, Rome thought they were decadent. The Byzantines thought the West was a bunch of blue-painted barbarians.) There’s loads of sex, violence and general bad behavior set alongside some very thought-provoking conversation about faith and theology in this fascinating book….”

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Shelf Discovery

by Lizzie Skurnick

“…Where did you learn about getting your period, quantum physics, how to make a deadly accurate slingshot, why relations with your blood relatives leads to tears and how to survive a blizzard on the prairie? That’s right — books: the smart ones, the dirty ones, the utterly tragic ones. Lizzie Skurnick goes back to the YA ‘golden years’ of the late 60s to the early 80s and tells us why they were so important and left such a huge mark on our teenaged brains….”

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Shooting Script

by Elsa Klensch

“…Fashion journalist Elsa Klensch has a new murder mystery, Shooting Script, which may be just the thing for the plane ride home this Thanksgiving…”

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The Sleeping Beauty Proposal

by Sarah Strohmeyer

“…If you ask Genie, things couldn’t be better. She’s got a perfectly fine job at a small college, and perfectly fine relationship with author/hunk/blowhard Hugh. If you ask Hugh — well, he proposes marriage on national TV. Only not to Genie. Ooops. When Hugh retreats to the safety of England, Genie and her friends come up with a plan that may be referred to as ‘harebrained’ — she accepts Hugh’s proposal and starts planning the wedding of her dreams. Ah revenge, it always tastes so delicious!…”

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Sleeping with Schubert

by Bonnie Marson

“…Bonnie Marson’s Sleeping With Schubert, is an urban fairy tale about a young Brooklyn lawyer who faints in the shoe department at Nordstrom and wakes up possessed by the spirit of Franz Schubert.  (I wish I had a dollar for every time that’s happened to me.)…”

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Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

by Jenny Gardiner

“…Jenny told me the inspiration for this book came from the title, which she came up with over a pitcher or two of Margaritas. Some of the best ideas in literature can be traced back to tequila, so I tip my hat to her. Sleeping with Ward Cleaver is very funny right off the bat, and also extremely wince-inducing if you’ve ever been married, living with, seriously involved with, or stood on the bus next to a man in your life. If you don’t see yourself a little bit in the plight of Claire — mother of five, married for 15 years, drowning in a sea of indifference and bad sex, then you are very lucky or very young. Claire looks back on her younger self with longing and can’t figure out how she and her husband (Jack, it turns out, not Ward after all) lost their way. Then, like clockwork, an email arrives from her long lost love, the one who got away. That’s how it begins. How it ends — not like I was predicting — is a little tragic, and a little slapstick, and perfect for your trip to the beach….”

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

by Lisa See

“…Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is set in 19th century rural China, which means I got to know more than I ever wanted to about footbinding. I could so not be a 19th century Chinese lady. They had three-inch long feet! It’s a little like Memoirs of a Geisha (different country, of course), beautifully written and very well researched. Your mom/sister/girlfriend/book club will love it…”

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The Song Is You

by Arthur Phillips

“…Julian is in his early 40s, trying to reconcile the grownup with the bad marriage that he is to the reckless youth he still recalls so clearly. When he meets (or rather, sees perform on stage) a beautiful young Irish singer named Cait, he decides she’s just the project he needs to get himself back on track. She has other ideas. This book is a bittersweet (but occasionally hilarious) love letter to the things about music that tie us to other people: our pasts, stories and memories….”

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Southern Poison

by T. Lynn Ocean

“…All Jersey Barnes wants to do is put her days of espionage and explosions behind her and enjoy her retirement running her bar on the Cape Fear River. Of course, fate and her old handler intervene. There’s maybe a little too much plot, but an extremely entertaining cast of characters including Jersey’s ex-cop father and a flaming alligator lend this book the sort of laid back humor that’s usually missing from tough-gal crime fighting novels….”

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The Spanish Bow

by Andromeda Romano-Lax

“…Journalist turned novelist Romano-Lax immerses the reader in the music, culture, politics and passions of Spain at the start of the 20th century. We follow the lives and careers of three very different and very talented musicians — our narrator and unlikely hero, cellist Feliu, whose eyes are slowly opened to the changing world around him; pianist Justo, his best friend and arch enemy who mostly cares about his next show and the afterparty; and the beautiful Jewish violinist Aviva, whom they both love and who is carrying some major baggage….”

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Specimen Days

by Michael Cunningham

“…Three completely different novellas, all set in New York. I’m only simplifying a little when I say the first features a young man and the ghost of his brother teaming up with Walt Whitman to stop killer machines from going after the woman they both love. Also, the second, an ‘end of days’ crime thriller, kept me up half the night and I am not kidding…”

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The Spellmans Strike Again

by Lisa Lutz

“…The latest dispatch from Spellmanland finds oldest daughter Isabel finally ready to take over the family detective agency, but this will not be a bloodless transfer of power. Blackmail, snooping and spying (on each other) makes it just another day at the office Isabel is inheriting, so try and imagine her excitement. This series has only gotten funnier and more clever as Lutz finds new ways for the clan to fail to respect each other’s personal space….”

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Still Life with Elephant

by Judy Reene Singer

“…Neelie Sterling is having a bit of a rough patch — she could have sworn her veterinarian husband Matt said he was getting a new ‘collie’ but as it turns out, he got a new ‘colleague,’ who’s blonde, gorgeous and uh-oh — pregnant.  At her wits’ end, Neelie spontaneously joins an expedition to Africa to try and save an injured elephant.  That the head of the group is wealthy, hot, and interested doesn’t hurt. But it’s clearly the animals in this story that have the author’s heart. And if you can make it through the part where they actually rescue the mother elephant without shedding a tear, you are made of stone and packing peanuts….”

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Still Summer

by Jacquelyn Mitchard

“…Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean is back with a harrowing tale of dames at sea. She sets her new novel on a sailboat in the Caribbean. Sounds perfect — four high school chums have a long awaited reunion, there’s a handsome deckhand, lots of rum, sun and the ocean — what could possibly go wrong? Well, the boat breaks down, the water runs out, the food goes bad, and there are pirates. Oh, and one of the old friends could possibly be a psychopath. And that’s before the rum runs out!…”

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The Stolen Child

by Keith Donohue

“…Ever look down at the sleeping face of your perfect little angel and think, “This kid can’t be mine — he must have been left by the elves!” That’s what happens to 7-year old Henry Day, kidnapped and replaced by a changeling. The new, fake Henry is just happy to be sleeping in a bed, not in the woods, and spends his life protecting his secret. Aniday, the ‘real’ Henry, lives like Lord of the Flies in the wild with his ageless companions. This is a great story about memories and growing up…”

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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski

“…Oprah was all over this book when it was first released and Wrobelwski backs up the hype with the story of a mute boy raised among highly trained dogs who is forced to head for the literal hills and become pack leader after a suspicious tragedy on his family farm.  As slow moving as a summer river and I mean that in a completely good way — you need some time to hang with the dogs between the horrible tragedies that happen to this poor kid….”

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Stray Dog Winter

by David Francis

“…Back in the waning days of the Cold War, author David Francis took a train trip through Russia. His memory of that place — the enormity, the paranoia, the sheer chilliness of it all — led to this absolutely gripping book, a fascinating mash-up of family politics and gender/espionage thriller. (Gendo-tics?) When young Australian artist Darcy Bright is contacted by his mysterious (EVIL!) sister Finn, he can’t resist her invitation to visit her in Soviet Moscow in the middle of winter. Have fun you crazy kids!…”

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Stupid and Contagious

by Caprice Crane

“…Stupid and Contagious by Caprice Crane (the author is the daughter of Tina Louise and Les Crane). I overcame my aversion to song-titled books for this very funny and cleverly written story of Heaven and Brady, two complete oddball neighbors in New York, who work their way up from ‘annoying’ and ‘possibly deranged’ to true love via a road trip to find the president of Starbucks….”

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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

“…the first two Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley. Flavia de Luce is an almost 12-year-old girl living in a lovely post-war English village, where Things are Not What They Seem. She’s not either, actually, possessing a razor sharp wit and a flair for chemistry; she also always seems to be in the vicinity when trouble happens. A lively blend of Miss Marple and mad scientist, Flavia is a witty, delightful companion, and these books are a charming window into a vanished world….”

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Swimming Upstream, Slowly

by Melissa Clark

“…Well, this could easily have been a horror novel. 27 year-old kid’s TV superstar Sasha Salter is so busy with her career she hasn’t had a date in over two years. So imagine her surprise when she turns out to be pregnant. Seems like she’s the victim of a very rare disorder — Lazy Sperm Syndrome. One of her ex-lovers’ swimmers has been just hanging out down there for years (gag) and finally decided to finish the trip. The writing is a little formulaic but Sasha’s plight — having to contact her whole list right from the beginning — certainly kept my attention….”

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A Tale of Two Sisters

by Anna Maxted

“…Vicious sibling rivalry, family tragedy and disintegrating lives, and yet every word that Maxted writes  is witty and often hilarious. Her sisters are warm and cordial as North and South Korea, and you don’t know who not to root for.  Cassie (the princess — she’s a lawyer) and Lizbet (the good girl — she works at a men’s magazine) go to war over babies, husbands,  and who Mommy loves better (except it’s Mummy, because they are terribly British)….”

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The Teahouse Fire

by Ellis Avery

“…This book is like a series of watercolor paintings — perfect moments and the shimmer of silk. We see late 19th century Kyoto through the eyes of an American orphan, taken in by the top tea family in the city as a servant/little sister/pet dog for the eldest daughter. Aurelia’s struggle to find her footing in her new life echoes the upheaval of Japan as it went careening towards the modern era just prior to World War II. Ellis Avery spent upwards of five years studying the art of tea at schools in the US and in Japan, and her passion for this antique yet timeless ritual shines through….”

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Tears of Pearl

by Tasha Alexander

“…With Tears of Pearl, author Tasha Alexander revisits the life and times of Lady Emily, a perfectly proper Victorian lady who just happens to be an amateur sleuth. She’s also an archaeology buff and in this, her newest adventure, a newlywed. Tasha sits down with me and talks about why she had Lady Emily tie the knot with her mysterious beau, Colin, and what made her set their honeymoon in Constantinople. Of course, this being Lady Emily’s honeymoon, she and Colin are immediately embroiled in a murder in the harem, and everyone from the Sultan to Emily herself has got a secret….”

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House of Night Book 6: Tempted

by P.C. and Kristin Cast

“…I’ve talked to the mother/daughter writing team before about their ‘vampire finishing school’ and it was fun to see how they — and their characters — have changed and developed. The gang at the House of Night is plunged into yet another breathless adventure, but this time P.C. has wisely moved from first person to shifting viewpoints, opening up the stage and letting us see the world these kids live in a little more clearly. I appreciate the strong (and rather non-vampiric) matriarchal society and the message of girl power in general. No sitting around and moping over the wrong boy for our heroine Zoe — she’s a warrior with a heart, whether it’s actually beating or not….”

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The Tenth Gift

by Jane Johnson

“…When Julia Lovat’s awful lover dumps her, he gives her a lovely parting gift. Seriously. (Ummm…thanks?) The gift turns out to be a little book of needlepoint patterns from the 16th century, and Julia soon discovers it served as the tiny diary of a Cornish woman who was kidnapped by pirates. Pirates! Julia follows the clues to Morocco, with Mr. Awful in hot pursuit (for reasons that ramp up his grossness even more). The story shifts back and forth in time between Julia and the owner of the book, Catherine Treganna. Catherine’s story was more colorful but the two were bound together in an intricate and beautiful pattern. When you find out that the author also traveled to Morocco to research an ancestor who may have been — yup — kidnapped by pirates, AND she had a dramatic, romantic and life-changing adventure, it makes The Tenth Gift that much more of an elaborate tapestry….”

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Thank You for All Things

by Sandra Kring

“…This was a little bit of a challenge for me — not because it wasn’t a very good book — it was — but because the message of forgiveness is something I freely confess that I struggle with. If you look at me funny, forget it, I spit on your shoes and you’re dead to me. So when a young mother of two has to pack up and move to the sticks to take care of her ailing father, and then we find out Grandpa Sam was the president of Bad Dads, and then she has to watch her terribly bright daughter (who is the narrator, by the way) become close to the old man…well, it was hard for me to put on my forgiving shoes. Ultimately, I found Thank You For All Things thought provoking in the best kind of way, lasting well past the last page….”

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There Will Never Be Another You

by Carolyn See

“…I got three quarters of the way through this book and said to myself, “If this doesn’t get happier, I am driving into a bridge abutment.” Well, I survived. The author takes every single thing we modern folks are afraid of — from bio attacks to rotten teenagers — and somehow makes it lyrical and hopeful. (This book notably features the worst marriage since Britney and K-Fed.)…”

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The Time Traveler’s Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

“…It makes you take another look at your own life and put problems into perspective. Does your boyfriend suddenly appear naked in the middle of a field after being gone for two years? Okay, maybe that’s a bad example. I wonder if I could be as patient as Clare, who spends her whole life waiting. Is Henry worth it? Clare seems quite certain. And I wonder if I was in Henry’s unusual position, if I would think it was fair to insert yourself in the life of another, no matter how much you love them, knowing it could end at any second. And as soon as I posed those questions, I realize that they are no different than the questions we have to ask ourselves every day, as soon as we let another person into our lives…”

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Tomato Rhapsody

by Adam Schell

“…In his ambitious debut novel, Schell takes the true fact of the tomato’s voyage from the New World to the Old in the 1500’s to its logical conclusion — it was brought there by the Jews who had traveled with Columbus. This is a love story between David, the new Jewish kid in town, and Marie, the lovely shiksa with the evil stepfather, and it’s set in a Tuscan village where the townspeople talk in verse. I haven’t even gotten to the crossdressing Prince or the giant, eggplant-colored Good Padre. It’s hard to describe, but so delicious!…”

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Too Great A Lady

by Amanda Elyot

“…The story of Emma, Lady Hamilton sounds like a particularly bad Lifetime movie, possibly starring Catherine Zeta-Jones as a plucky Welsh miner’s daughter who goes from working in a brothel to being the toast of 18th century Europe, based on nothing more than astounding good looks, incredible personal charm, and an eye for wealthy older gentlemen. It’s actually a true story, and Emma’s accomplishments, along with her weakness for drinking and gambling, made me want to be her BFF.  She managed to convince her elderly husband to move them both into a house with her lover, Admiral Horatio Nelson. This was a forward thinking young lady!…”

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The Town That Forgot How to Breathe

by Kenneth J. Harvey

“…I was talking with my pal (and web goddess) Amy about old school Stephen King — she had recently re-read The Mist and her comment was “like the kids say, it’s teh scary!!1!” Well, I’m here to tell you, this book is teh scary. You’ve got the ocean spitting up drowning victims from the last two centuries, a crazy lady and her ghost daughter, and this poor guy who stumbles into this wretched little fishing village in Newfoundland (the town is called Bareneed – subtle much?) and immediately starts going nuts. I found the end to be a little abrubt but I guess being too short isn’t the worst thing you can say about a book….”

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Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive

by Joni Cole

“…So I had an ambitious plan to interview 4 women, all successful writers, and find out what goes on in their heads that makes the jump between “I’ve got this little idea” and “What photo should I use on my inside cover?” I’d get about 10 minutes from each of them and all my questions would be answered. Well, two hours later, the tape recorder was still rolling and we couldn’t shut up. More interestingly, I asked each of them more or less the same group of questions, and each conversation went off in a completely different direction. Since it’s my show, I decided instead of editing it down to nothing, I would break it into two parts. So, this week I’ll be talking with Joni Cole about the importance of feedback — both receiving it and giving it. And I’ll talk with Heather Cabot about writing for the blogosphere….”

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Turning the Tables

by Rita Rudner

“…Yes, that Rita Rudner. It helps if you find her dry, almost prim delivery extremely funny (as I do) in this tale of sex, gambling and revenge. She’s lived and worked in Las Vegas for a few years and obviously knows and loves the city, it’s lowlifes and high rollers. Did you know in Vegas they have topless hairdressers?…”

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V for Vendetta

by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

“…So I kept seeing the movie trailer with Natalie Portman with her head shaved, and some guy in a smiley mask — I wondered, what’s that all about? It’s V for Vendetta, based on the graphic novel originally published in 1988. I overcame my snobbishness towards the form and I’m very glad I did. There’s not a superhero to be found, just a fascist state, domestic terrorism (or is it freedom fighting?) and a popular uprising against a tyrannical government. I just hope the movie doesn’t suck, because the book was thought-provoking and extremely moving…”

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The Vampire of Venice Beach

by Jennifer Colt

“…The vampires in this book are purely of the black-wearing, goth wanna-be variety, and we’re thrown right into the action as Ephemera, Queen of the Undead, is found murdered at an art opening. (I know, contradiction in terms, right?) Our heroines, twin detectives Terry and Kerry Macafee, are on the case of which creepy scenester did what to whom. This is the third book about the twins, but no trouble catching up. The characters are wacky, the situations are outrageous, and the book is quite a lot of fun, and includes a double twist ending that made me say, “okaaaayŠ”.”

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Variable Star

by Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson

“…Yes, I know Heinlein died in 1988. His widow apparently found extensive notes for this novel, which he began in 1955 and then stuck in a drawer. Robinson was tasked with finishing it, and he did so this year. (Very little of Robinson’s style is evident — it’s all Heinlein, by intent.) If you read Heinlein as a geeky young thing (Stranger in a Strange Land blew my 6th grade mind!) you’ll definitely enjoy the nostalgia factor — it’s a new old book. The plot — a very long and potentially dangerous flight to a new planetary colony — holds up, but the whole point is to revisit that early Space Race, non-ironic, pre-post-modern state of mind. The world has moved on, fiction has certainly moved on, and this book is a lovely window into another time….”

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The Velvet Rope Diaries

by Daniella Brodsky

“…Ms. Brodsky’s last novel was a classic of the chick lit genre, and I’ve said it before — there is nothing wrong with sex and shopping! If you just look at the cover of this book you’ll assume it’s more of the same, and while it does take place in and out of trendy New York nightclubs, boutiques and spas,  the heroine is dealing with chronic depression, crippling guilt and the horror and shame of showing up at a club opening in Last Year’s Mark Jacobs (those are shoes, fellas). I’m very pleased at the growth of this writer — she’s kept a lot of the good stuff from her earlier work and added some real humanity….”

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Vicious Circle

by Mike Carey

“…Mike Carey is a very famous guy who a lot of us don’t know by name. But if you’ve ever picked up an issue of the X Men, Lucifer, or Hellblazer ­ that’s the John Constantine book, tragically cast with Keanu Reeves in a role originally designed for Sting ­ he’s been a featured writer on all of them. Go look in your kid’s room ­ ok, maybe that’s not a great idea ­ but if there are comics in your house, chances are good Mike Carey is one of the writers. Mike decided to step off the high board and switch to fiction, with his Felix Castor series. Felix is a sort of a ghostbuster, who plays a tune on a tin whistle, and sucks the ghost into a cosmic vacuum cleaner. At least, we think. No one really knows where a ghost goes. What’s the next step? Where is he sending them? That’s just one of the moral dilemmas on Felix’s plate….”

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Virgins and Martyrs

by Earl Merkel

“…Earl Merkel’s Virgins and Martyrs takes us to the small Gulf Coast Florida town of Palmetto Bay, where a family planning clinic has just been bombed — meanwhile an erstwhile teen princess suddenly comes down with a whopping case of stigmata, and starts broadcasting messages from Mary aimed at ‘the baby-killers.’ Tossed into the mix is short-fused detective Aria Quynn, who loses her partner in the blast. This book gets lifted above tough-gal cop in trouble status by the secondary players, particularly the nun who assumes responsibility for the young girl at the middle of the storm, and the Valkyrie of an FBI agent who seems to be the only one without an agenda. Merkel has peopled this book with above-average women — good and bad — and while I may not agree with his politics I did find this an extremely compelling story….”

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The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

by Alan Bradley

“…the first two Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley. Flavia de Luce is an almost 12-year-old girl living in a lovely post-war English village, where Things are Not What They Seem. She’s not either, actually, possessing a razor sharp wit and a flair for chemistry; she also always seems to be in the vicinity when trouble happens. A lively blend of Miss Marple and mad scientist, Flavia is a witty, delightful companion, and these books are a charming window into a vanished world….”

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Welcome to Yesterday

by Ian Spiegelman

“…Leon Koch has the gossip desk at the newspaper, a dead agent and a mystery phone caller. This fascinating novel takes us behind the velvet rope to party all night with (boring, strung out) celebrities. I feel a little dirty looking at www.perezhilton.com these days, but I’m just as hooked as everyone else…”

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Whale Season

by N.M. Kelby

“…In the grand tradition of the South Florida Mystery featuring wacky locals and loony villains, I give you Whale Season by Nicole (N.M.) Kelby. She’s a protégé of Carl Hiaasen, who practically invented the genre. This book has a giant tame gator who likes to wear her Minnie Pearl hat, and not one but two Jesuses — only one of them is a homicidal maniac. Her writing is crisp and fast paced, and there’s even room for a little pathos in amongst all the wackiness. I also thought this was very funny: on the one-sheet of press clippings that all the authors send out, alongside the quotes from Publishers Weekly, was this one: “Finally, you’ve written a book that somebody will buy!” — Retired Banker and Nicole’s father-in-law, George Kelby…”

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What Do You Do All Day?

by Amy Scheibe

“…This book took me to a place I’ve never been — the exotic and exhausting world of the stay at home mom. After reading the witty and thought provoking story of Jennifer and her two young children and their exploits in Upper Manhattan, I think I made the right choice by having cats. If you forget to feed them, HRS doesn’t come to your house….”

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What I Meant

by Marie Lamba

“…As a parent of bi-racial daughters (her husband is from India), Marie Lamba understands the need of young women to find fictional counterparts. In this Young Adult novel, Sangeet faces the typical teen pressure of friends suddenly acting all weird, spazzing out in front of the guy you have a crush on, dealing with impossible teachers and being horribly misunderstood by your parents — and she’s got the added responsibility of a dutiful Indian daughter. If her parents’ accusations seem a little harsh and her Aunt Chachi acts like the very Devil and if that cute boy is a little too dreamy, well, I know when I was a teen things were either the most awesomest, ever, or I am SOOO going to die!!!! That’s part of the package — no middle ground. I also liked the fact that Sang’s racial makeup, while part of the story, wasn’t the whole story. That (I hope) is becoming the authentic American experience….”

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When We Get There

by Shauna Seliy

“…Somehow, this first time author has channeled the spirit and memory of a 13-year old boy trying to grow up in a slowly dying coal mining community in Western Pennsylvania in 1974. Lucas, her narrator, is surrounded by relatives straight off the boat from Eastern Europe, and to them, spirits live in the trees and there are voices in the water. The disappearance of his beautiful mother is the central mystery the not-quite-child tries to puzzle out, along with hiding from her heartbroken, unstable ex-boyfriend who thinks that Lucas knows where she went. The broken landscape and the possibility of magic just out of sight make a gorgeous setting for this beautifully written book…”

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Which Brings Me to You

by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott

“…Despite the advice of Gypsy Rose Lee and her fan-waving friends, I don’t trust writers who have a gimmick. I generally think ‘gimmick’ is a substitute for ‘idea.’ It’s like prop comedy. So I was skeptical of Which Brings Me to You, co-authored by Julianna Baggott and Steve Almond. It’s a series of increasingly confessional letters from two people trying to decide if they should give a relationship a whirl — he said, she said. Yeah, I got it. What saves this book is the authors are honest, funny, and most importantly tell a good and captivating story. (My favorite letter was dictated to the male writer by a part of his body that usually doesn’t get to speak. There may have been some alcohol involved.) (Hehe, dictated.) (Yes, I am 12.)…”

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The Widow’s War

by Mary Mackey

“…In the seven years leading up to the Civil War, Kansas was the scene of a horrifically violent civil conflict — sort of a bloody sneak preview of the carnage to come. Mackey sets her romance against this painful backdrop and makes you care a great deal about Carrie, the free spirit who makes a pretty awful mistake in her marriage and then has to pay the price. History is made intimate in this powerful novel….”

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Willow

by Julia Hoban

“…An unlikely heroine — a teenage girl wracked with guilt over the death of her parents (she was driving the fateful car) who turns to cutting to find relief from her pain. If it sounds grim and unpleasant, well, the subject is hardly light but Willow’s narration is utterly without self pity, making it less afterschool special and more cable original. I didn’t expect to love this damaged girl, but I found myself cheering even her tiniest victories….”

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Wisdom’s Daughter

by India Edghill

“…Once in the king’s palace, the only thing these women were allowed to do was have children and gossip. I’m tempted to make a Desperate Housewives joke right here. Edghill does a really good job of letting us see how every move the women made was watched and judged, and while they may have been wealthy and pampered, they were completely slaves to the men in their lives. She then makes the case that the men — particularly the king — are also far from being free, and can’t think of anything but the good of the people. I think I’d still take responsiblity of the ruling class over the life of a peasant, though. Better food at least….”

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With Violets

by Elizabeth Robards

“…Historical fiction of the best kind as Robards tells the story of the young painter Berthe Morisot whose scandalous maybe-relationship with the famous (and married) Edouard Manet threatens her own career and place in society. Extra points for googling the many works of art mentioned in the book, especially Fat Suzanne Manet painted by her non admirer, Degas….”

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You Better Not Cry

by Augusten Burroughs

“…Just in time for the holidays, Augusten Burroughs brings us tales of comfort and joy — wait, what’s exactly the opposite of comfort and joy? That’s more like it. From his deeply perplexed childhood to his fraught-with-drama adult life, these stories are occasionally hilarious, often deeply sad, and always nothing but honest….”

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Your Big Break

by Johanna Edwards

“…What if there was an anti-dating service? Someone to break the news, get your stuff back, and help that big loser get on with his (or her) life? That’s the idea behind Your Big Break.  Despite the lies, cheating and deception that go on, this is a pretty funny book.  Check that — maybe because of…”

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