Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Shelfari Play Book Tag Challenge: Trim That TBR

I am very active on and I post all of my reviews there in several places:

Play Book Tag (PBT)

Books 4 Cooks

Historical Mysteries

 and my Personal Favorite; Book Chat

During the year all of the groups host one or more reading challenge, which (depending on the complexity & reading genre) I usually take part in.

The following reviews are from PBT's "Trim That TBR (To Be Read):
1. Takedown Twenty, Janet Evanovich: ★ ★ ★ 1/2

+ One half for not stupidizing her characters..... Finally Stephanie seems relatively normal (as she can possibly be), and Lula isn't a wildly spun-out caricature as she once was....
++++++++++++++++++++++++SPOILER (of sorts)+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ 
Stephanie is in a very unpopular place, she is assigned to bring in Joe's elusive Uncle Sunny", whom everyone loves..... Causing Grandma Bella to put the eye on Stephanie not just once, but every time she sees Stephanie. While searching for Uncle Sunny, Lula & Stephanie come across a giraffe that Lula names Kevin.

It may have been my imagination but it seemed to me that Joe & Stephanie didn't spend a large amount of time together.... just a few quick get togethers.... Of course there was Ranger always saving her..... and Stephanie's inability to make up her mind.

After have a very Near Death Experience where she is dumped off the side of a bridge... Stephanie seriously questions her job as a bounty hunter.... Which leads to her helping Ranger search for the murder of elderly BINGO playing women.......
I found this to be a very fast (4 hour) read. It had all the usual characters, it was amusing, the story was interesting (I didn't figure out who the murder was), and it held my interest. It isn't good enough to buy a copy of.....
2. Death of a Policeman, M.C. Beaton ★ ★ ★
 This is the most recent Hamish Macbeth mystery.....

As usual Blair is out to get Hamish via a spy on the force.....  Young good looking copper named Cyrill had been busted by the crooked Blair & sent to get the goods on Hamish.  In the midst of ditching Cyrill, Cyrill is murdered....

Going through Cyrill's things Hamish finds a name & address of a local restauranteur who seems to have a slight smell of fishiness, which puts Hamish on the trail of possible police corruption.

There are many side plots that include the regular townspeople of Lochdubh and a twist of an ending, which was a wee bit overdone!
3. Mysteria Lane ★ ★
 Four authors known for their Paranormal Romances writing four different romance stories about one town filled w/ different paranormal beings.  For the most part, the characters do not know each other from story to story, so there is very little overlapping, but the town is the same as is the "wishing well" fountain in the center of town.

Disdaining Trouble by Davidson:
Triplets w/ magical powers getting in trouble harassing the town, teaming up to make their powers stronger. One falls into the fountain and when she comes out (much to the dismay of her sisters) she has become the Supreme Lord of Demons in another world.  More to the dismay of her sisters she falls in love w/ the local Pizza Man......

The Nanny From Hell by Grant:
Shay is a demon, her specialty is to have people (especially men) fall in love with her & then destroy them.  She is sent by Satan back to Mysteria to kill the child who will grow up to become the Slayer of Demons & Satan himself.  The local Demon hunter, Quel, can smell her coming miles away, however when she falls into the fountain in an unplanned car accident things go awry for Shay.

A Tawdry Affair by Showalter:
Evie, Godiva, & Glory are sisters living in Mysteria......  Evie is involved w/ a vampire & Godiva is involved w/ a werewolf.  Most everyone in Mysteria has a love interest, except Glory. What makes things worse for Glory she is the Witch of Love and her sisters are not...... but Glory has been wronged and she is about to make the man who hurt her pay by making him fall in hot desire for her & denying him as he denied her.   This was kind of stupid.......

It's In His Kiss by Cast:
Summer is taking over teaching her sister Candy Cox's High School class....  What is odd about Summer is her magic is that of Opposites....  any magic worked around her has exactly the opposite effect of the desired outcome.  Summer is in love w/ the Kenny, a Faerie with whom she grew up, however once puberty set in they drifted apart.  It was ok, I really didn't like Summer too much, she was way too wishy-washy.
4. Mysteria Nights ★ ★

A compilation of Mysteria and Mysteria Lane, the latter being the second half of the two books (which of course, being a ROO, I read first). I only read the four I had not previously read, had I read them first I'm pretty sure I'd not have read the sequel.

Mortal in Mysteria, Cast
A demon lord begins doing good deeds for people he is supposed to torture (maim, kill, send to hell) and he likes it so very much that he continues to do good deeds. Of course Satan catches up with him and is sent to Mysteria (the place of his first evil deeds) as a human, where he meets the local minister (a seer who has denied her sight). Up until his appearance on her farm her church was empty.... he brings in all the local women, and in turn their men follow.....
In this first story he has a Scots accent that rings really phony and is dropped in the sequel..... I really didn't like this story it was very contrived, but I did like the sequel.

Alone Wolf, Davidson
A werewolf buys a house that is haunted by a very ornery ghost. The ghost being that of the former inhabitant & handy woman who still makes all need repairs. Attached to the house is also Queen of the Naiads who is about to return to her watery realm, and the love struck Realtor.....

The Witches of Mysteria and the Dead Who Love Them, Showalter
Three witch sisters are living together and one in particular is having man problems..... She is hot for the local bartender, who is seemingly hot (off & on) for her.... So she sets a trap for him.... It isn't that he doesn't love her (growing up as her best friend) but every time he gets near her he hears a voice telling him that to love her is to die and he simply wants to continue living.....
When they finally get together All Hell Breaks Loose and he dies......... The sisters decide to revive him, but when they go to the grave to get his body & revive him, his body is gone.....

Candy Cox and the Big Bad Werewolf, Cast
Candy Cox is the local h.s. English teacher, she has given up on love until one of the witch sisters convinces her to try dating and helps her along w/ a spell. The spell snags a werewolf who will be her true love, but given his promiscuous past things go awry.
5. Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, Maureen Johnson ★ ★ ★ ★

 Ginny receives a package from her Aunt Peg who passed away.  In the package are 13 Little Blue Envelopes containing the secrets of Peg's life and instructions on how to unravel those secrets.....

The first Little Blue Envelope comes with the following instructions: "I'd like to play that game one more time--except now we're going to be a little more literal. Today's game is 'I live in London.' Notice that I have included $1,000 in cash, a one-way ticket from New York to London, and a backpack. (Keep a few buck for a cab to the airport.)

Upon booking the ticket, packing the backpack, and hugging everyone good-bye, I want you to go to New York City. Specifically, I want you to go to 4th Noodle, the Chinese restaurant under my old apartment. Something is waiting there for you. Go to the airport right from there......"

There are also rules about not using maps, guidebooks, cell phones, or a laptop.

Off on an adventure to discover who her aunt really was, how she lived, loved, and died......

I found the mystery of this book to be engrossing, so much so that I was up all night in order to finish reading it.  The story itself was exciting but the characters were a bit flat and I felt that I never got to know any of them very well... This isn't great literature, but it is a quick and enjoyable read.
6. Best/Worst Christmas Pageant Ever: ★ ★ ★ ★
How delightful: a very rowdy & unpopular family takes over the annual christmas pageant by force with a delightfully surprising outcome!

Very heartwarming & fun.... Simple and easy to read....

Thank-you to everyone who read & reviewed it, so to encourage me to read it as well!
7. Floors, Patrick Carman ★ ★ ★ ★

Leo lives in the basement of Whippet Hotel w/ his father.... They have lived there since Leo's mother died. The Whippet Hotel is no ordinary hotel, it has secret rooms, hidden floors, magical rooms, and a special elevator for the hotel's ducks. The guests are as odd as the hotel itself.

Merganizer Whippet has disappeared and the hotel manager, the very nasty Ms Sparks, has taken over. Then things begin to go awry, someone is sabotaging the hotel and it is up to Leo to solve the puzzle and save the hotel. Could it be the mysterious man who wants to purchase the hotel and tear it down?

There was so very much going on, that at first it was difficult for me to keep up.... but the story had a magical touch of creative eccentricity which kept me reading until the end. The story will delight most children who like the wacky world of inventions, fantasy & adventure all rolled into one.
8. A Beautiful Blue Death, Charles Finch ★ ★ ★

Lady Jane Grey's former maid, Prudence Smith (who has changed households to be w/ her Fiancee), had been found poisoned. There was a suicide note addressed to her Fiancee James.... However it was soon brought to light that Pru only ever called James, Jem, and Pru was illiterate, so she never could have written the note.

Also coming to light was the fact that although there was Arsenic in a bottle next to the glass, there was only arsenic on the rim of the glass, not in it. Also odd was an absence of finger prints on the glass and another very rare type of poison that actually killed Pru.

Pru was working for a rather gruff man, George Barnard in charge of the mint. The mint had recently been under attack as there was a large amount of new gold coinage soon to be released to the public, and Barnard was set to guard it. The gold coinage was secretly stored in Barnard's house until such a time when it was to be released. Staying in Barnard's house were his two nephews and two men from Parliament (who were also guarding the gold coinage).

I do like Charles Lennox..... He is so different a person from the prescribed Gentlemen of the times. He was intelligent, curious, and interested in humanity. He's not stuffy, erudite, nor arrogant. I also like his relationship with; his childhood friend & neighbor Lady Jane Grey, his butler Graham, his brother Edmund, friend Thomas, the semi-incompetent Scotland Yard Inspector Exeter, as well as the local merchants & workers.

I am taking this down 1 star because of the way the conclusion was written. Basically the conclusion jumped ahead ten years for Claude Barnard and then went back to the present time to conclude for his uncle George Barnard. I believe the book would have been so much better had the author stuck to the time line rather than follow the characters' individual stories.
9. Destiny Rewritten, Kathryn Fitzmaurice ★ ★ ★

 I have really have mixed feelings about this book..... I liked the story but I don't believe that I liked the writing, it seemed to be a tad bit run on and at the beginning "chatty". The story is about destiny, controlling that destiny, and taking random action that is out of character in order to change destiny.

The story takes place in San Francisco with a young girl, Emily (named after Emily Dickinson) who has decided against her mother's wishes she will not be a "Great Poet" rather a writer of romance novels..... Emily lives with her mother (an English Professor & a writer for Hallmark), her younger brother (he's going into the Military), and her Aunt (who has a need for order).

Emily's mother believes that she sealed Emily's destiny when she bought "The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson" and inscribed it to Emily at birth..... The "Book" has special meaning; for not only was it inscribed to Emily at birth, Emily's mother made notations about their lives throughout the "Book" next to specific poems that reflect the specific event. There is even a notation in the "Book" about Emily's unknown father.

Emily begins to ask questions about her father, Emily's mother reveals that the answer is in the "Book" and just as Emily is about to search for the answer, her brother gives the "Book" away with various other things that are going to the local thrift shop.

Throughout the story are Emily's letters to Danielle Steel which mostly go unanswered, until the letter about losing the "Book".... to which Emily receives a response from Danielle's A.A. and a holy card of St. Jude.

There is also: a group of of environmentalists who are tree-sitting trying to keep the local university from cutting down an ancient stand of oaks; Emily's best friend who is a science whiz; and a friend who aspires to be a great poet.....

The book came to a satisfying conclusion.  ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
10. Giada's Kitchen ★ ★ ★ ★

I liked the book and I liked the recipes....It was easy to read & follow. I wish there had been more photos, but the ones there were very saliva inducing..... Then there were the photos of Giada's cleavage which I could have done without... actually the series of photos were of here preparing certain dishes, but he cleavage was right up front center stage......

So, due to the fact that I lost my original post and I'm too lazy to rewrite the entire original review, I'm just going to give you a short list of recipes that I found interesting.....

Fresh tomato & goat cheese strata w/ herb oil; Tuscan mushrooms; Crispy smoked mozzarella w/ honey & figs; Pecorino crackers.

Tuscan white bean & garlic soup; Spicy calamari stew w/ garlic toasts; Curried chicken sandwich w/ radicchio & pancetta; Panini w/ chocolate & brie; and Focaccia lobster rolls.

Grilled eggplant & goat cheese salad; Fennel slaw w/ prosciutto & pistachio pesto; Asparagus & zucchini crudi; Spicy parmesan green beans & kale; asparagus, artichoke & mushroom saute w/ tarragon vinaigrette; and Baked artichokes w/ gorgonzola & herbs.

Pastina w/ clams & mussels; Asparagus lasagna; Giada's carbonara; Swiss chard & sweet pea manicotti; Linguini w/ shrimp, arugula & lemon oil; Orzo stuffed peppers; and Orecchietti w/ sausage, beans & mascarpone.

Rib eye steak w/ black olive vinaigrette; Prosciutto lamb burgers; Turkey osso buco; Chicken scaloppine w/ saffron cream sauce; Roasted pork loin w/ roasted garlic vinaigrette; Swordfish poached in olive oil w/ broccoli rabe pesto; and Roasted halibut w/ grapefruit fennel salsa.

Strawberry & mascarpone granita; Chocolate panna cotta w/ amaretto whipped cream; Citrus semifreddo; Espresso chocolate mousse w/ orange mascarpone whipped cream; Ricotta cappuccino; Orange & chocolate zeppole; and Almond, pine nut & apricot coffee cake.

Polenta crusted shrimp w/ honey mustard; Parmesan fish sticks; Prosciutto mozarella pinwheels; Orecchiette w/ mini chicken meatballs; & Summer grilled fruit.....
11. Lost Lake, Sarah Addison Allen ★ ★ ★ ★ ♥

What a very lovely book, one filled w/ love, loss, anger, redemption, magic, and adventure. This is the continuation of the short story: "Waking Kate" after Kate has awakened and has gone to search for her Great-Aunt whom she had met as a child.

As I stated: Kate has awakened from a year's deep sleep, brought on by the death of her husband. During that time her mother-in-law has taken complete control and rearranged Kate's life. Kate's daughter has taken the brunt of the take-over.... forced to stop wearing the clothing she loves, forced into a school she hates. Their house and business has been sold and they are in process of moving in w/ the mother-in-law, when Kate stumbles upon a post card that her Aunt Eby had sent to her years before, inviting her to come stay at Lost lake whenever she wishes...... Kate's mother had been so resentful of her Aunt's happiness, that she hid the postcard away.....

 On the way to their new life, Kate decides to stop at Lost Lake for a short visit w/ her Aunt Eby..... and the magic adventure of healing the past begins.......

I enjoyed the story as it felt as if I was there. I enjoyed most of the characters and even the ones I didn't care for well written, all came to life for me.... I liked that the magic was dispersed throughout the story and was not only real for one particular character. I was able to figure out a good portion of what was going on, but this was not written as a mystery. This is a good story about awakening to the possibilities of changing one's own life story!
12. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt ★ ★ ★ ★

Well now I'm beginning to wonder what took me so long to read this book...... I read over dinner last night and I found it to be suspenseful, spooky, magical and heartwarming!

Winnie lives at the edge of town w/ her parents in a very particular house that backs up onto the woods. Being a much prized & only child, Winnie has never been allowed far from her family.

The woods is a magical place where very few people ever visit..... Except the Tucks, who visit every ten years or so. The Tucks are an odd family who are content with their life, although never seem to age......

Then comes along the smarmy man in the yellow suit with bad intent in his heart......

When Winnie, the Tucks, & the smarmy man meet up, well nothing good can happen.... or can it?

What a delightful book, and first I wasn't liking the author's style of writing, but as my interest in the story grew, I was able to ignore the style and I became entranced with the story.
13. 3 Below, Patrick Carman ★ ★ ★
This is a continuation of "Floors".....  Ms. Sparks the ousted Hotel manager has returned w/ a sinister plot to take over the Whippet Hotel for default of taxes.....

She hires a mysterious man to keep an eye on Leo (the young boy who now owns the Hotel) & his friend/half-brother, Remi.

In order to save the Hotel from default, Leo & Remi have to travel in the Duck Elevator to # Floors below the Hotel.....

The book lacked character stories & sub-plots.  It was mostly about the adventure of the two boys....  The adventure was just too fantastical for my liking.
14. History Decoded, Brad Meltzer ★ ★ ★
I'm not sure about this book, it took me about 4 weeks to read.....  The author wrote as if he was speaking to his audience, but none of the conspiracy theories were ever proved.... although, many seemed to have more than convincing arguments.

Leonard predicting the Great Flood of the World? JFK & the fourth bullet (this made sense). The missing Freemasonry corner stones of the White House & Capitol. There is no gold in Fort Knox and the fact that the National Audit has never accounted for the consistently rising prices/value of gold?  John Wilkes Booth was not killed, but continued to live under an alias (this made sense). The missing gold of the Confederacy (this also made sense)..... Roswell & Sector 51 (this fell short)

This was interesting but nothing to get excited about.... 
15. A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity Whitney Otto ★ ★

This is an interesting piece of "Modern Literature"..... poetic, waxing melancholia, & romantically depressing. The author earned rave reviews for "How to Make an American Quilt", which I did not read.

The beginning of each chapter offers us a B&W copy of a Ukiyo-e wood block prints and a brief explanation of the print the chapter that follows is likened to the story taking place in the print.
That being said; the book takes place in San Francisco with an odd group of friends 3-4 young women and one young man. One of the young woman is having a relationship w/ the young man and it all seems very casual..... Parties, drugs, and lethargic living.... people seemingly lost in a narcissistic culture.

I didn't like the characters, they had nothing to offer anyone..... they were shallow and uncaring people.

I would say that this book was a waste of my time, but as it filled the challenge requirement, it redeemed itself.

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