‘Four Nights with the Duke’ by Eloisa James: Romance by the master of romance

4 ngihts

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

No one writes romance like Eloisa James (except perhaps Julia Quinn). Is it her years studying (and teaching) Shakespeare that gives her stories an extra bit of veritas?

Emilia Gwendolyn Carrington, the female protagonist in this love story, knows what she wants. She’s known it since she was a child. She wants Vander, also knows as the Duke of Pindar. That’s where it all gets sticky in a convoluted way that only James would be able to write her way out of.

Mia’s father and Vander’s mother were lovers for years and years. In the meantime, Vander’s father was still living while the affair raged. The why’s and where’s come out in detail in this story.

Mia needs a husband. If she doesn’t bet one, she will lose custody of her frail nephew, and he might lose his estate. She happens to have a letter that enables her to blackmail the duke into marrying her. She plans on a quickie marriage and quickie annulment. Vander thinks otherwise.

Mia is a great character. She is not a slender heroine with long limbs. She describes herself as having “distressing expanses of pink flesh,” and she prefers not to look in mirrors when not clothed. She also writes novels — the romance novels of that time. So the story alternates between the love story and her correspondence with her editor about her current novel.

It’s all beautifully written and carefully crafted, featuring characters from previous novels, including “Three Weeks with Lady X.” Don’t miss reading both romance stories!

Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by Avon Books for review purposes.

‘Must Love Dogs: Bark & Roll Forever’ by bestselling author Claire Cook


Rating: 5 stars

“Must Love Dogs,” the original bestselling book by Claire Cook, is also known to millions as the book that spawned the fabulous movie of the same name starring John Cusak and Diane Lane. Well, the series “Must Love Dogs” is on its fourth book, and Sarah and John Anderson (who is now starting to be known as just “John”) are working on trying to have a baby and moving in together.

Of course, as in all the MLD books, nothing is simple in the Hurlihy household — which includes Sarah’s father and her siblings and their multitude of progeny. Sarah’s got pregnancy on the mind (she worries she’s too old), and because she works in a preschool, there are plenty of youngsters around, a frustrating and lovely situation which Cook plays for a lot of laughs.

One of the reasons Cook’s series has been so popular is the strength of her main character. Sarah Hurlihy combines the best and worst of most women. She has been hurt in the past: Her first husband left her for a younger woman, and after saying for years that he didn’t want children, he is now the father of twins who attend the preschool where Sarah works. Sarah wants love and a family. Her own extended family can be trying at times although she loves them dearly. And Sarah has the requisite insecurities — is she pretty enough, is she smart enough, and the big one — does he love me enough?

Sarah’s problems are multiple, complex, and sometimes achingly realistic. Her father, another great character — Irish to the bone and flirting with women of all ages — is one of those problems. Another is Sarah’s niece. Is she having sex, and if so, is she using protection? Will Sarah be able to sell her house? Is John’s thinking of just renting out his condo a way of having a “fall back” if their relationship doesn’t work out? What happens if they don’t find a house they like?

You’ll want to start this series at the beginning with the original “Must Love Dogs” so you don’t miss a minute in the lives of the characters. Be careful: You might become hooked. Reading about how life goes on for this wacky but marvelously lovable family becomes as addictive as Frango mints.

All these and more issues and questions abound in this humorous and clever sequel to “Must Love Dogs: New Leash on Life (#2)” and “Must Love Dogs: Fetch You Later (#3).”

Claire’s own story is an uplifting one. She began her career as an author at the age of 45, writing her first novel in her minivan. She walked the red carpet at the opening of the “Must Love Dogs” movie at age 50. Now she’s happily writing both fiction and nonfiction (“Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention“) and speaking at conferences about reinventing your life.

Buy “Must Love Dogs: Bark & Roll Forever” at Amazon and read the reviews on Goodreads.

Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by the author for review purposes.

Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships by Catherine Thimmesh


Rating: 5 stars

Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships by Catherine Thimmesh is more than just a cute book with beautiful photographs about animals making strange friends.

It is a book that can be used as a teaching tool to demonstrate diversity and acceptance of differences. In this beautifully photographed book, a stray cat frolics with an orangutan, an owl cuddles with a basset hound, and there is a shot from the famous set of photographs shared across the internet of the polar bear playing with the sled dog.

Animals can make friends cross-species as is clearly depicted in this lovely set of photographs. The question, obviously, is why can’t people just get along with each other? We are, after all, the same species. Yet different skin color or different eye shape, and all too often the face of prejudice is shoved between us.

The photographs and the text explaining each one will have the readers perusing them over and over. The cat and the bear at the Berlin zoo continue to amaze me. The cat entered the bear’s enclosure, and not only didn’t Mauschen, the bear, not attack the cat, she also protected the cat from the other bears. For more than twelve years now!

On each page, above the text explaining the picture is a poem. The poems are short and humorous — and perfect for reading to small children and discussing with them.

A personal favorite is the story about the cheetah and the Antolian dog. Brought together as babies, they grew up together, eating, playing and sleeping side by side. For more than eight years they have been friends. The poem on that page:

No matter if spotted or dot-less and white, a friend gives protection through day and through night. (Teachers, have your students tell you which animal is spotted and which is dot-less and white.)

This book’s a great gift for friends young or old. Find it in the bookstore; I guarantee you’ll be sold. (I also guarantee that the poems in the book are MUCH better than that one!)

This review was based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher.

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith


Rating: 5 stars

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith is a wonderful story of an adventure (and alien) — filled summer, and it’s the first title in the Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast series.

David (Scrub) Elliot is sent to Washington state to stay with his grandmother for the summer. David’s parents don’t have much time for him as they both work full-time. This summer, instead of camp or a stay with his aunt nearer his Florida home, he has flown across the country to see the grandmother he hasn’t met since he was a baby.

Continue reading

‘Absolutely Almost’ by Lisa Graff: Compelling middle grade fiction


Rating: 5 stars

“Absolutely Almost” by Lisa Graff is a touching, sympathetic book about a boy who struggles for acceptance by those around him: his parents, his classmates and his teachers. Graff’s writing and first person narrative clearly show the main character’s inability to cope with much of what’s expected of him while engendering sympathy from the reader.

It’s about Abie, a boy who is not good at much. He is beginning at a new school in New York at the start of the book because he got kicked out of his private school. The reader quickly gets the idea that Abie is slow. He doesn’t “get” what other kids his age (ten) get.

He is abysmal at math. He tips the delivery person wrong every week that his family orders Chinese food. Either he gives way too much or too little. He ends up in “math club” at school instead of regular math, but he doesn’t realize that it’s a special math class for kids who need extra help.

While Abie’s parents don’t understand him, he has a best friend who lives down the hall in their apartment building, and his newest babysitter, Calista, an art student, really understands him and manages to help him emotionally.

What Abie loves are donuts, and there is a drawing of donuts at the beginning of each chapter. Some chapters are only one page, but the titles of the chapters are important.

This isn’t an action-filled book; rather, it’s a book that needs to be talked about, discussed and dissected. Abie is a great character because he’s complex. Although he’s not clever in many ways, he is sensitive and perceptive. He’s a good friend, and he’s persistent when he wants to do something.

Graff draws a clear picture of a fifth-grade bully who makes Abie’s life miserable for a while. While Graff does show some coping strategies that Calista and Abie’s math teacher help him with, it’s clear that the sting of the nastiness still hurts.

This book combined with Spinelli’s “Loser” would be a great unit for fourth or fifth graders working on friendship and kindness. In both stories there are kids who are different and are treated as outsiders. What makes “Absolutely Almost” special is that it’s written in first person narrative, which makes the readers feel closer to Abie. The reader will “get” that which is confusing to Abie. And one can hope that it will engender feelings of sympathy and compassion.

It’s a story that should be required reading for anti-bullying groups, and teachers will want to have in their classroom library. It would be a great fourth or fifth grade read aloud.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Philomel, for review purposes.

‘The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy’ by Julia Quinn


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

In “The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy,” Julia Quinn proves that there can still be unique plot twists inhistorical romance novels. Let’s face it, in romancenovels there are a few themes that are tried and true. Hasty marriage, couple begins to fall in love, secret or problem ensues, problem is overcome, couple lives happily ever after.

But in this story, Sir Richard’s secret, and the reader knows it’s a secret — the author leaves no doubt about that — is not uncovered until well into the story. And it’s not a secret that this reader guessed, although other more astute readers might have clued in earlier.

Iris, Sir Richard’s quarry, is not stunningly beautiful but rather pale and lacking in any distinguishing features except for her extremely light hair. But she is intelligent and perceptive, and Sir Richard likes those traits.

Iris knows that Sir Richard is not all that he seems, but she agrees to marry him — in unseemly haste — when the situation arises. But just as she is really starting to fall in love with him, the secret rears its ugly head, and Iris is left doubting that Sir Richard has any feelings for her at all.

Of course, there is a solution to all problems in the world of historical romance, and it will come as no surprise to all readers that Iris and Sir Richard live happily ever after. Fans of Quinn will recognize her love of language, her eye for details, and her quirky characters and humor. It’s a delightful read.

Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by Avon Books for review purposes.

‘Three Times Lucky’ by Sheila Turnage is a fabulous middle grade read


Rating: 5 stars

“Three Times Lucky” by Sheila Turnage is a story so full of fabulous characters that when the last page is read and the book closed, the reader will feel almost lonely.

Mo (short for Moses) and her best friend, Dale, and the many quirky characters who reside in Tupelo Landing (population 148) come to feel like friends.

Mo has a problem. She doesn’t know who her mother is. Mo was found as a baby, floating down a creek during a hurricane (hence her name, Moses).

Luckily for Mo, she lives with the Colonel and Miss Lana, a wonderfully colorful couple who will charm and amuse readers with their clever conversation and unexpected actions.

Turnage does love her mysteries, and she adds mystery upon mystery in this story that unfolds as slowly as syrup running down a warm pancake — although Miss Lana calls them “crepes” in her cafe.

Mr. Jesse, a neighbor, is killed and Mo and Dale decide to track down the killer. Finding the killer becomes rather more important when Miss Lana and the Colonel disappear.

Does it have to do with a recent bank robbery? Will Mo find out who her upstream mother is? Where did Colonel come from? And will there be a happy ending?

All these questions and more will be answered by reading this charming and clever story. Turnage’s writing is overflowing with simile and metaphor. Her imagery is keen: “I hear whispers the way a knife-thrower’s assistant hears knives.”

Her characters show strength while at the same time having all-too-human flaws. While Mo has her issues being literally a foundling, Dale struggles with an abusive alcoholic father, and Mo’s archenemy deals with a nagging cruel mother. When Mo is drowning in self-pity, he points out that he’s sick of hearing about her “Upstream Mother.”

‘“You think you’re the only person that ever got thrown away?” he said. “You think Anna Celeste doesn’t get thrown away every time her mother looks razor blades at her? You think I don’t get thrown away every time Daddy…”’ The unspoken words Dale doesn’t utter are “beats me and my mother when he’s drunk?”

This is a great book for children from fourth grade through seventh grade. It’s also a great read aloud. Students will love learning about Southern terminology as well as Southern cooking (fried baloney sandwiches and sweet tea).

Visit Sheila Turnage online for more information about this delightful author.

Please note: This review is based on an advance readers copy provided by the publisher, Dial Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.

‘What About Moose?’ by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“What About Moose?” is a lovely and funny picture book by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez; it’s illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi.

The authors’ rhymes are as smooth as silk and as flowing as the flowing-est robes. The metric movement and consistency are impressive, indeed, and that’s just all the technical stuff.

The story demonstrates that terrific quality that makes us identify with the characters: As we read about Moose giving orders, acting as director as his animal friends build a treehouse, and absolutely refusing to do any of the heavy work himself, we think, ”Boy, do I know a few people exactly like him!”

Kids will love reading this one aloud or hearing an adult read it to them. It’s easy and fun ’cause the rhyme’s so well-done. And when Moose faces his inevitable come-uppance, everyone will happily agree, Yeah, he had it coming! “What About Moose?” will be fun for all.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover picture book provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers for review purposes.

‘Mindsharing: The Art of Crowdsourcing Everything’ by Lior Zoref


Rating: 5 stars

“Mindsharing: The Art of CrowdsourcingEverything” by Lior Zoref is a book that everyone should read. Everyone. Young people will totally understand his message of using social networks to make important decisions. Older people will be astounded at the information in the book — the efficacy, proved in studies, of getting information from a network.

Zoref shares an important video on his website, mindsharing, about how to use Mindsharing resources to manage your career. The information contained in the book is a veritable goldmine for individuals, but also for corporations.

What he writes makes sense: Don’t forget to say “thank you.” That’s what teachers teach their students, and it holds just as much for those using their social network for assistance. But who really thanks a social network? Probably not as many as should be doing so.

And Zoref guides readers on how to post on social media and give value. He points out, no surprise, that no one cares about posts detailing what one had for breakfast. Or that one has been waiting for 15 minutes in the line at Starbucks (I made that one up). So he shares five possible posts that one could write about apple pie. I’ll let you guess which is the lowest in value:

  • I made a great apple pie.
  • Here’s a picture of the apple pie I baked tonight. My friends said it was amazing.
  • The secret to making a great apple pie is XXX.
  • I just had friends for dinner. I made this apple pie which was devoured in two minutes (picture). Here’s my recipe. The secret to a great apple pie is XXX.
  • I just had friends for dinner. I made this apple pie, which was devoured in two minutes. Here’s a link to my blog with the recipe and a video showing you how to make it. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Zoref writes that one of the posts “simply shares a fact about something that happened. It has no inherent value for the crowd. There is nothing in the post that will make people care. Nothing for them to learn. No reason for them to share it or engage.” But his last example has the potential for great value. While not everyone will want to learn how to make an apple pie, some may want to learn your secret. They may share it. They will visit your blog and perhaps watch the video. You have provided value — a recipe and instruction video.

Zoref gives details about how many contacts you need in your social network for mindsharing to work (250 people). He explains why. The book is also filled with resources about specific sites to access for mindsharing help. He also talks about mindsharing etiquette like “don’t nag.”

Long story short — it’s a fascinating book that reads like a fiction novel. Perhaps that’s because he’s included many short (very short) stories that help explain how it all works and the plethora of ways in which it works.

Want to change careers? Want to get a better job? Have a sick child and want some input about a diagnosis?

Mindsharing works.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by Portfolio/Penguin for review purposes.

‘As Night Falls’ by Jenny Milchman: Adult psychological thriller


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“As Night Falls” by Jenny Milchman isn’t a mystery — it’s much more a keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat book. It’s a book you won’t want to put down until the last page. It’s about a family held captive in their house by two escaped convicts — one of whom will stop at nothing to avoid going back to prison.

Part of the suspense is that we do not completely understand the relationships between the characters and one of the escaped convicts. The narrative alternates — always third person narrative — between Nick, one of the escaped convicts; Sandy, the mother; and her daughter, Ivy. At first, it takes a bit of extra concentration to get used to the different points of view. When Sandy’s point of view is being written, Ivy is referred to as “her daughter,” and when it’s Ivy’s point of view, the narrator uses “Ivy’s mother.” There is also a narrative stream that goes back in time, and it’s from when Nick was a child — from his mother’s point of view. It’s all a bit confusing at first, but it works well and helps spotlight the theme of mother-child relationships and how they affect the children. I’ll leave it at that so there are no spoilers.

The story is well paced and the characters are well drawn. At times, Ivy seems almost too stereotypically snotty, but Milchman gives her depth later when Ivy reflects on what happens and how she has reacted. Spoiler alert — the dog does not die. I actually texted the publicist in the middle to ask that question. I don’t know if I would have finished the book if she had told me the dog dies. It doesn’t.

Those who love scary books about ruthless killers will enjoy this one. There is also an “Of Mice and Men” feeling to the story. Milchman blurs the lines between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” She raises some fascinating questions for book clubs to ponder. What makes a person bad? Can a child be raised in such a way as to “go bad”? What about those raised to do bad things? Nature, nurture or simply socio-economic status?

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover picture book provided by Ballantine Books for review purposes.

‘No One Else Can Have You’ by Kathleen Hale: Creepy YA murder mystery

no one else

Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“No One Else Can Have You” by Kathleen Hale is a very different kind of young adult murder mystery. There are many aspects of this novel that set it apart from other books of that genre.

The protagonist, Kippy Bushman, is a rather strange but very determined girl. Her best friend was brutally murdered, and the local incompetent sheriff has arrested the wrong person. Kippy wants to find out who really killed her friend Ruth. Hale makes almost everything in this novel a tad off kilter — from the crazy characters (literally and not) to the setting and the Wisconsinite way of talking.

Kippy must take strange and extremely dangerous risks to find the killer. She also must struggle with her own mental issues — and is no stranger to psychologists (her father is one) and rehabilitation facilities. True to character, she makes some crazy moves in the story and does some really outrageous things — but she gets the killer in the end.

Before that, though, readers will learn that in Wisconsin (at least in the part where the story takes place), people call each other by both first and last names. So Kippy is Kippy Bushman throughout the novel. They also like to say “you betcha” a lot.

Hale’s characterization of the ultra-religious fanatics is hysterical. “Oh my Gah,” says one of the characters who can’t bring herself to say “God.” She admonishes others to also use “Gah” instead. She is one of the meanest characters in the story, of course.

Hale brings plenty of red herrings and twists to the story. The reader will certainly want to keep reading not only to find out “who done it” but also to keep meeting all the crazies and find out what they will do next. The action is humorous and disgusting (at times), so those with soft stomachs had better beware. There are also many sexual references; the murdered girl, and many of those in the high school, have no problem openly sharing relationships with multiple partners.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Harper Teen, for review purposes.

‘What’s a Dog For?’ by John Homans: Why we are fascinated with our dogs


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

“What’s a Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend” by John Homans takes the reader on a journey that goes back tens of thousands of years — to the beginning of man’s relationship with wolves, who would evolve (with and without human help) into our current melange of dogs.

Homans alternates between reminiscing about his childhood dogs, his current dog, Stella, a Labrador mix from a shelter, and theories about how and when dogs became domesticated. He describes a particular study with Siberian foxes. The experimenters selected for breeding the most human-friendly foxes. After several generations of selective breeding, the foxes actually changed physically. They became more dog-like, with floppy ears, wagging tails and star-shaped blazes on their foreheads.

In another study, scientists working with dogs have discovered that dogs understand human gestures better than our closest primate relatives do. When humans point to something, our dogs understand. Primates generally do not.

Dog owners know that pointing “trick.” For example, my own dog will visit a child sitting with other children in a circle when I point to that child. But apparently, scientists didn’t believe it until it had been proven. When scientists went to test the Siberian foxes, they were amazed to find out that those foxes also understood human pointing.

Homans also takes on the AKC and the subject of dog breeds. Documentaries have been filmed about the horrors that selective breeding have created in certain breeds. For example, many cavalier King Charles spaniels suffer from a disease called syringomelia. It’s caused by a brain too large to fit into the skull, and, according to Homans, “the Kennel Club admits that as many as 50 percent of King Charles spaniels have the underlying condition.”

Although they claim that only 5% of the dogs show clinical symptoms, “some veterinarians believe that a substantial portion of the dogs that appear to be asymptomatic are nevertheless in chronic pain — pain that, being dogs, they can’t make known.” It’s horrible to think that one’s beloved dog might be in constant pain.

Those are just a few of the areas competently and fascinatingly covered by Homans. He also dares to take on the controversy with Oreo’s Law — the ASPCA shelter dog Oreo who was euthanized even though there were rescues who wanted to pull him. Justified or not? Homans lays out the story for the reader to decide.

The book is eminently readable, and although chock-full of facts and data, it consistently grabs and keeps the reader’s attention. Dog lovers will want a copy of this on their bookshelves.

Please note: this review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, The Penguin Press, for review purposes.