13 November 2011

To Catch a Leaf

By Kate Collins
First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, November 2011
ARC courtesy of Kate Collins

Abby Knight and Marco Salvare (and their mothers) are planning their wedding showers - one for each family, of course. They need to book venues, pick out shower invitations, and try to keep their mothers from interfering too much. What could possibly interrupt their plans? A dead dowager, that's what.

And not just a dead dowager, a dead dowager whose body was discovered by none other than Grace Bingham, Abby's dear friend and co-worker. To heighten the mystery, Grace has been left with some rather odd bequests from her dead friend which only serves to make Grace the number one suspect in her death. As usual, Abby and Marco are on the case.

The usual cast of characters are at play here - Abby's mom, her cousin, her roommate, her roomate's cat, and her co-workers at the flower shop. Added to the fun on a regular basis is Francesca, Marco's mom. Hopefully, we'll see more of her in future installments.

While solving the murder, Abby and Marco spend a considerable amount of time interviewing the deceased's family, and what a dysfunctional crew they are! Collins writes the characters in this family with a cracking wit and yet with a believability that only she could bring to such a wealthy, art-infested, lover-sharing, self-centered family.

Installment twelve of the Flower Shop Mysteries has a bit of everything - money, art, cats, ghosts, flowers, and murder. How could you resist?

22 August 2011

The Lady of the Rivers

By Philippa Gregory
Published by Touchstone
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Available 11 October 2011
ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada

This novel begins in France with a young Jacquetta of Luxembourg befriending an "odd trophy of war", Joan of Arc. Joan is being imprisoned at the castle of Jacquetta's great-uncle, Lord John of Luxembourg. We learn of Jacquetta's talents when she reads Joan's cards and realises she can see into the future.

This ability leads the widowed Duke of Bedford to wed a seventeen-year-old Jacquetta. The duke believes he can find a way to turn iron into gold and he wants Jacquetta to work with his alchemists and astrologers, to scry, and to look into the future. Their marriage is loveless and childless.

When the duke dies, Jacquetta marries Richard Woodville, the duke's squire. They are madly in love, marry without the king's blessing and, according to some historians, go on to produce sixteen children. Their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, eventually becomes queen consort of Edward IV of England.

The novel centres around Jacquetta's presence in the court of King Henry VI and Queen Margaret. Jacquetta and Queen Margaret have a very close relationship and Jacquetta and her husband are faithful to the House of Lancaster. Although Jacquetta has vowed not to read cards or perform any sort of witchcraft, she is naturally born to it and cannot help the visions she sees. While she tries to help the queen and guide her during the War of the Roses, Margaret usually pays little attention and reads into the visions what she herself wants to see.

This fictitious account of Jacquetta of Luxembourg and her presence in the court of England is compelling reading. As always, Gregory hits all the right notes with her combination of history and story-telling, bringing another little known female historical figure to light.

If you would like to hear Philippa Gregory talk about this book, click here.

08 August 2011


By Ellen Hopkins
Published by Atria Books
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
October 2011
ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada

"If I'm in the middle of my life, is this really all I've got to show for it?"

Triangles is a novel of three women facing mid-life and wondering if they've made the right choices. Holly has just lost 60 pounds and taken up running and extramarital sex after years of being at home and raising her three kids. Andrea is a single mom who can't seem to keep a love interest. Marissa is still married, barely, and has fallen into emotional despair.

Ellen Hopkins explores the lives of each of these women in an unusual way - through poetic verse. I have to admit I was not looking forward to reading this book once I discovered it was all poetry. However, poetic verse turned out to be a brilliant device to delve into the complexities of middle age. In many ways, one poem told more than several regular chapters would have been able to tell.

Childhood, parenthood, adoption, drugs, terminal illness, extramarital affairs, weight loss, friendship, teen pregnancy, and ordinary day-to-day activities are all covered in this novel (and covered well). The book is well written and a flick through the pages shows the different poetic styles Hopkins incorporated throughout.

The poetry is thoughtful, insightful, and heartbreaking, as well as funny, beautiful, and sexy. I raced through this book hoping each story would end the way I wanted (didn't happen) and I just wanted more, more, more when it was over.

Don't let the thought of reading poetry put you off this book. Empty your head of all such thoughts and throw yourself into the emotions and stories of Triangles,

05 August 2011

The Curse of the Holy Pail

By Sue Ann Jaffarian
Published by Midnight Ink
Kindle Edition

In the second Odelia Grey mystery the plot revolves around a vintage lunchbox. The lunchbox is the only one in existence and was made for The Chappy Wheeler Show, a popular 1940s cowboy TV show. Chappy Wheeler was murdered and every owner of the lunchbox since has died. The lunchbox is now worth a hundred thousand dollars and collectors are on its trail (thus earning it the title The Holy Pail).

Odelia, a paralegal for a successful law firm, becomes involved in the hunt for the pail when a client requires her services. Sterling Price has a vast collection of lunchboxes - Odelia is particularly drawn to the Zorro pail - and shows Odelia his prized possession: The Holy Pail. Sterling turns up dead, the pail goes missing, and Odelia finds herself trying to track it down.

Jaffarian has written quite a vibrant character; Odelia Grey is an overweight, forty-something woman who, like a lot of overweight, forty-something women, has food issues, work issues, love issues, and the various other stressors that come with being middle-aged. Odelia is smart, funny, and sexy, with a love for her off-the-wall cat, Seamus, and her boyfriend, Greg. Jaffarian makes sure to include Odelia's family, friends, and co-workers to round out her main character.

There are six books in the Odelia Grey series - time for me to catch up!

03 June 2011

The Scent of Jade

By Dee DeTarsio
Published by Just Publishing
05 October 2010
Kindle edition courtesy of Dee DeTarsio

In a rut in San Diego, Julie Fraser decides to surprise her husband, Colin, by joining him in Costa Rica where he is on a business trip. Julie expects her vacation to be one of lounging by the pool and ordering room service. She couldn't be more wrong.

A string of mishaps is awaiting Julie on this vacation: she accidentally steals a jade idol believed to be directly related to global warming, finds herself lost in the rainforest, gets stoned, befriends a monkey, is rescued by a gorgeous local, discovers a love potion, and gets arrested, all the while trying to ensure the idol doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

Julie's time lost in the rainforest isn't just a series of escapades, however. The reader also gets to know Julie in non-humourous moments as she reflects on her marriage and her life in San Diego.

DeTarsio has given us a bit of mystery, a bit of suspense, a bit of romance, and a lot of humour all rolled into one book. It's a quick read, due not only to DeTarsio's nicely paced writing but because you just can't leave at the end of a chapter. Wondering what was going to happen to Julie kept me going page after page after page.

This book is a step away from conventional chick-lit or women's fiction or however you want to phrase it. There is no shoe shopping, manicures, or pedicures; just a dirty stinky woman lost in the jungle (who would probably much rather be shoe shopping and having manicures and pedicures).

This is a fun book. And even though Julie was dirty and smelly through most of the book, she was a breath of fresh air to me.

01 June 2011

Royal Flush

By Rhys Bowen
Published by the Penguin Group
Berkley Prime Crime mass market edition / September 2010

In installment III of the Royal Spyness Mysteries, Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the later Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, granddaughter of the least attractive of Queen Victoria's daughters, half-sister to Hamish (present Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch), thirty-fourth in line to the throne, is forced to leave London for Scotland's Castle Rannoch after a failed attempt at a new business venture - escort services.

In previous installments of this series, the Queen has asked Georgie to keep on eye on the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson. Georgie arrives at Castle Rannoch only to find Mrs. Simpson and a group of Americans have taken over her home which is in close proximity to Balmoral where the Prince of Wales is summering. With her brother, Binky, laid up in bed and her sister-in-law, Fig, going out of her mind with the unexpected guests, Georgie finds herself investigating a series of mishaps that have her wondering if one of the houseguests is trying to kill members of the royal family.

As usual, Bowen does a delightful job with the dialogue in her books - the jibes at Mrs. Simpson and the Americans are an absolute hoot. Bowen portrays British society in the 1930s perfectly, particularly that of the royal set.

There's plenty of historical fiction in this book, but mostly there's a mystery to solve and my "favourite penniless heiress" does her best to solve it.

30 May 2011

Skipping a Beat

By Sarah Pekkanen
Published by Washington Square Press
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada

"What would you do if your husband suddenly wanted to rewrite the rules of your relationship?"

Michael Dunhill lives an exceptionally wealthy life. He runs his own company, has a massive home, owns a basketball team, and shares every material thing he has with his high school sweetheart, his wife Julia. Julia also runs her own company, making sure she has some money of her own should her marriage to Michael ever fall apart. Not that she envisions her marriage ending but, given her family background, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Unfortunately for Julia, Michael dies...for four minutes and eight seconds, before a portable defibrillator jump-starts him back to life.

But with a new chance at life comes a new Michael. The old Michael had little time to spend with Julia and a lot of time to spend with his business. Julia settled for this arrangement; after all, she had a lifestyle that would be the envy of any woman and a good single female friend to share her evenings with. The new Michael has decided to give away all his money and material possessions and spend his time loving his wife the way he did when they were young. Julia's not so sure she wants to give up her lifestyle for the promises made by this new Michael, but she goes along with his plan to give him three weeks before she makes her decision.

Pekkanen takes the reader from the past (where Mike and Julie met and fell in love) to the present (where Michael and Julia find fame and fortune - and adjust their names to reflect their new social status). Mike and Julie are likeable characters, the kind of characters you root for - you want good things to happen to them. Michael and Julia are not as likeable. Both are caught up in the lifestyle wealth has afforded them and they have drifted apart as a couple.

Pekkanen is trying to make us think about what we would do if our spouse decided to give away everything we have worked for to live on love (or at least live a more modest lifestyle). As we see Julia struggle with her decision, there are moments the reader hates her but also moments where the reader can identify with her struggle. Michael's character doesn't get off lightly, either. There are moments when you despise him, as well. Kudos to Pekkanen for showing all sides of the emotional conflicts that come with this situation.

Overall, I found this to be quite an enjoyable book. I wanted to know what Julia's decision was and I wanted to know what influenced her decision. This is the first novel I have read by Pekkanen and she's won me over with her easy to read style. I look forward to reading more by this author.

18 March 2011

Night of the Living Dandelion

By Kate Collins
First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, April 2011
ARC courtesy of Kate Collins

In book eleven of the Flower Shop Mysteries, we find Abby and Marco drawn into investigating a murder when the body of a local nursing director, Lori Willis, is found in the garbage bin behind Marco's bar.

Townspeople have already been suspecting Marco's friend, Vlad, of being involved in Lori's disappearance because some of her belongings and her car were found behind his apartment building. There have been a lot of rumours concerning Vlad since he arrived in New Chapel; rumours that he is a vampire. He prefers to wear black, has pale skin and dark hair, is from Romania, and has prominent canines. When it is discovered that Lori has died from exsanguination, Vlad becomes the number one suspect.

A hilarious sub-plot to the crime investigation is when Abby's cousin, Jillian, has concluded she has been bitten by a vampire. This compels her to roam the streets dressed in a dark cape and to consume raw meat. If you've read previous editions of the series, you know how funny it would be to see Jillian in such a state, and Collins writes it well and humourously.

Another plotline - although not so funny - is the fact that Marco has been called back to the Special Ops division of the US military, which is devastating news to both him and Abby. They know they are living on borrowed time and must make the most of what they have at the moment. Marco wants to make sure Vlad's name is cleared, so he keeps giving Abby tips on how to become a better private investigator. While Abby appreciates the help, she would rather have Marco with her than off on a secret mission in an undisclosed part of the world.

If you haven't read any Flower Shop Mysteries you can still enjoy this book on its own. If you're already a fan, you'll love this addition to the series. Kate Collins has written another clever, interesting mystery and has further developed Abby and Marco's love story which, let's face it, is one of the main reasons we keep coming back!

06 February 2011

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard

By Richard B. Wright
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Is it possible for England's most famous playwright to have an illegitimate daughter? According to an elderly housekeeper at Easton House in Oxfordshire, it is. Aerlene
Ward, now old and feeble, tells her story to Charlotte Easton who has promised to record every word. But will Charlotte believe Aerlene's tale - as told to Aerlene by her own mother, Elizabeth - or mock her for making up such a story? As Aerlene dictates the story of her life to Charlotte, Charlotte raises an interesting point when she asks if the stories being related really happened.

Aerlene's reply:

"...In relating anything we only approach the truth; we are never exactly there. Moreover, does not another truth besides the factual lurk in any account of events? A truth far more important?...Is the reader not entitled to a little more, even if it is not exactly what happened? And is it not also possible that out of that imagined conversation, a truth beyond the factual might emerge?..."
Excellent piece of writing by Wright, indicative not only of the truth of the matter at hand in this book, but of any book written.

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard is a little confusing as it is told by both Aerlene and Elizabeth, so some time-shifting is involved. To add to the confusion, Aerlene is nicknamed Linny and Elizabeth is nicknamed Lizzy, and their stories are quite similar. However, trying to figure out if Shakespeare really did have an affair with Elizabeth is more than enough to keep the reader interested.

Wright interestingly inserts characters who give their opinion of Shakespeare's plays to Aerlene who, being a woman, cannot see the plays performed. Also of interest is the fact Aerlene can read (as most women of the day could not) and has managed to obtain copies of Shakespeare's plays, thus elevating him to hero status in her mind.

Wright has written a beautiful novel that provided fodder for much discussion at my book club meeting. While we all enjoyed the book, we had different views on whether we thought Shakespeare was actually Aerlene's father. I wasn't convinced, but most others were. We thought Wright wrote in a convincing female voice; however, many thought the language wasn't "period" enough. We agreed that the male characters in Wright's book were more sympathetic than the female characters, with much discussion centering around Aerlene's Uncle Jack and Aunt Sarah.

Richard B. Wright has written a wonderful piece of historical fiction. It's an interesting, well-written piece about a topic many have discussed before and many will again: Did Will Shakespeare leave behind a bastard?

21 January 2011

A Question of Love

By Isabel Wolff
Published by HarperCollinsPublishers

Laura Quick is host of Britain's popular new quiz show, Whadda Ya Know?!! She has spent several years trying to get her life back on track after losing her husband, Nick, and the show is a welcome distraction. Laura's intelligence and hosting skills are a hit with the fans and the critics love her. Apparently, so does an old flame who sees her hosting the show and becomes a contestant with the sole purpose of rekindling the romance. Of course, old flames have new lives and this one comes complete with a six-year-old daughter and a mental ex-wife.

While the romance portion of the book is interesting and well constructed, it's the general knowledge game show parts that kept me tearing through the pages. Some interesting facts I discovered while reading this book: the traditional Muslim colour for mourning is white; gnu is the alternative word for wildebeest; there are seventy-eight Tarot cards to a deck; hippopotamus milk is pink. It's not too often one comes away so knowledgeable after reading "female literature"!

Overall, A Question of Love is an enjoyable novel with some plot surprises along the way. Although it isn't a new release, if you can get your hands on it, buy it, read it, and fill your head with a good story and some general knowledge.