14 July 2018

The Hope of Azure Springs


Goodreads synopsis: Seven years ago, orphaned and alone, Em finally arrived at a new home in Iowa after riding the orphan train. But secrets from her past haunt her, and her new life in the Western wilderness is a rough one. When her guardian is shot and killed, Em, now nineteen, finally has the chance to search for her long-lost sister, but she won't be able to do it alone.

For Azure Springs Sheriff Caleb Reynolds, securing justice for the waifish and injured Em is just part of his job. He's determined to solve every case put before him in order to impress his parents and make a name for himself. Caleb expects to succeed. What he doesn't expect is the hold this strange young woman will have on his heart.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Revell, 2018.


First line: “She dead?”

My thoughts: The only downside to loving a book by a new to you author is realizing that it's a debut novel, and there is no back list to run out and hunt down!

Orphaned at age twelve, Em and her younger sister, Lucy, are put on an orphan train, where they end up being separated. The book opens seven years later, and Em has been found shot and unconscious and taken into Azure Springs. A local couple, Abraham and Abigail Howell, take her into their home to care for her while she recuperates.

Em is such a richly drawn character. We actually start getting to know Caleb, the sheriff, a little sooner than we do Em, since she is bedridden and sleeping a lot in the beginning. Caleb is determined to find the men who shot Em and killed her guardian, and thus he spends some time with Em, questioning her and slowly learning about her life before Azure Springs. He, too, is richly drawn. In fact, while the point of view changes back and forth between Em to Caleb, the supporting characters are still all well fleshed out.

It's not love at first sight, certainly not instalove, which I was very happy about. In fact, Caleb is quite smitten with Eliza, the Howells' oldest daughter, and she definitely has her sights set on him. He looks at Em and sees a waif, a thin, plain looking girl, who he initially mistakes for a child.

And that's a theme of the book. I don't ever get the impression that Em is ugly. But she's not a classic beauty or glamorous looking. Her own view of herself is skewed. Town after town with the orphan train, being overlooked by all the prospective families until most of the other children have been claimed, left her feeling unwanted and self-conscious about herself. As she and Caleb develop a strong friendship, she's grateful for that, but she assumes he won't ever want more than friendship with her. Especially compared to girls like Eliza.
While his pa talked, Caleb envisioned Em's freckled face. “Beauty is something we get to define. We may not see it right away, but when we do, we have trouble even remembering the other definition. We wonder how we were ever so misled. All we can see is the one person who defines it for us.”

That's just a tiny example of the beautiful writing. 

I loved watching Em grow and become more self-confident, falteringly but with self-determination. I loved Em's interactions with the Howells' younger daughters, seven-year old twins. I even enjoyed her interactions with Eliza, the only Howell not to welcome her with open arms, but who instead was snobbish and at times downright rude to Em. In fact, in the middle of one of those passages I wondered if there would be more Azure Springs books, as Eliza seemed like the perfect person to get her own story and have her character redeemed by love. Or even Margaret, a widow who owns a boarding house in town and gives Em her first paid job, and becomes a dear friend while imparting words of wisdom. And then I set the book down to see if the author was active on Goodreads, so I could ask her if there were going to be more Azure Springs books. She responded: “My second book is stand alone but the characters do pass through Azure Springs and we get to see lots of characters from The Hope of Azure Springs in it.” I'm already excited for that next book to come out!


When Em finally has the chance to travel to the town where she and her sister had been separated, I cried for several pages. A beautiful story, beautifully written, and emotionally satisfying. 

04 July 2018

Restoree

ANNE MCCAFFREY

Goodreads synopsis: SHE WAS A RESTOREE

KIDNAPPED  Torn from Earth by a bizarre and nameless black force, Sara had no idea where she was or why she was in a beautiful new body...

ENSLAVED  Controlled by brutal guards and tamed by terror, she could not comprehend her role as a nurse for a man who appeared to be an idiot...

AWAKENED  But once she discovered that the plane she had been brought to was Lothar and that the man she was caring for was its Regent, Sara knew they had to escape -- and fast.

And when they did, they became fugitives on a world of multiple evils -- bound together on a daring adventure that would either join them for all time...or separate them forever!

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Del Rey Books, 1982.

How acquired: Book Mooch.

First line: The only warning of danger I had was a disgusting wave of dead sea-creature stench.

My thoughts: When I was young, late teens/early twenties I think, I devoured all of Anne McCaffrey's Pern books, but I never read any of her other books. About ten years ago I did read one of her non-science fiction/fantasy books, THE LADY, which I enjoyed. But after starting a reread of the Pern books, I decided I wanted to branch out and began collecting everything of hers I could find. RESTOREE was her first published novel, so it seemed like the perfect place to start.

The writing put me in mind of Mary Stewart, though I haven't read anything by Stewart in several years. Sara is walking in Central Park one minute, then the next minute she is nursemaid to a nearly catatonic man on a different planet, with her memories of the events in between hazy. For the first part of the book I was completely captivated as Sara becomes more aware of her surroundings and the man she is caring for, and then as she and Harlan escape from a sanitarium and travel to (relative) safety. After that, some of the fascination wore off as Sara found herself involved in the politics surrounding Harlan. But towards the end it picked up again, and overall I really enjoyed it.


I'm on a quest now to read all of Ms. McCaffrey's other books, preferably in publication order, which should probably take me about ten years or so! 

17 June 2018

Finding Our Forever (Silver Springs, Book 1)


WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS INFORMATION THAT SOME MAY CONSIDER SPOILERS.

BRENDA NOVAK

Goodreads synopsis: The search for her birth mother brought Cora Kelly to the New Horizons Boys' Ranch. Getting a job there was easy enough, but confiding in the ranch's owner that she's really her daughter? That task is daunting. Especially with Elijah Turner watching her every move.

Elijah can't deny his deep attraction to Cora. But there's something about the ranch's newest employee that has him questioning her motives. If she's there to hurt his family, there'll be hell to pay. Yet, if the feelings the lovely teacher awakes in his guarded heart are any indication, Cora's appearance might be just what they were all waiting for.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Harlequin Special Edition, 2017.


First line: Cora Kelly had never met her birth mother.

My thoughts: I work in the adoption field, and I'm always a little leery of reading a book that has an adoption storyline. I can't enjoy the book if adoption is sensationalized or portrayed negatively. But while I've never read this author before, I see her name and hear about her a lot (and a quick perusal of my book collection shows I have six more of her books waiting to be read), so in I went. And I'm really glad I did, because I really liked it.

Cora has applied for and acquired a job at New Horizons Boys Ranch specifically to meet her birth mother, who owns the ranch. It was a closed adoption, so Aiyana wouldn't recognize her name, and Cora doesn't tell her or anyone else who she really is. She's had a good life, she loves her adoptive parents, but there's always been something missing, not knowing her heritage and where she comes from. Throughout the book she struggles with it, with getting close to Aiyana, and Aiyana's adopted son, Eli. Struggles with hiding the truth from them, with whether or not to come clean, or to just leave when her year's contract is up. Constantly wondering and questioning why Aiyana has adopted eight kids, but didn't want her.

Eli is an unexpected complication. Unlike Cora, he was not placed for adoption at birth. He was taken from his abusive and neglectful mother at the age of ten (if I remember correctly). So he's come from a completely different place than Cora, and isn't quite as well adjusted as she is. He loves Aiyana and his adopted brothers, he loves helping run the ranch and making a difference in the lives of the boys there, but other than that he's emotionally closed off. Until he meets Cora, and she gets into his head and under his skin.

The building romance between Cora and Eli was sweet, and I especially loved how supportive and accepting he was when he finally learned Cora's, and Aiyana's, secret. There's a wonderful and touching scene when Cora's adoptive parents learn she has found her birth mother, and Cora drops everything to run home and reassure them that she loves them and that her search for Aiyana is no reflection on them. And when Cora finally learns why Aiyana placed her for adoption, it was a sad story, but an understandable, believable, and worthy story, just like the stories of the hundreds of birth mothers the agency I work for has encountered over the years.


Well done, and beautifully written. Plus a gorgeous cover! And now I'm off to hunt down the rest of the Silver Springs series. 

13 June 2018

Sport (Harriet the Spy, Book 3)


Goodreads synopsis: Eleven-year-old Sport Rocque is living a happy life, keeping his father's absent-mindedness under control, and managing the family budget. When Kate, Sport's new -- and nice -- stepmother enters the picture, things couldn't be better. Then comes the news: Sport's wealthy grandfather has just died and Sport is a multimillionaire.But millions of dollars equals millions of problems, as Sport soon discovers when his mother returns and kidnaps him to double her share of the inheritance! Life at the Plaza Hotel is no fun when you're a prisoner. Will Sport manage to escape and return his life to normal?

Stats for my copy: Paperback, Dell Yearling, 1979.

How acquired: Via Book Mooch.

First lines: “Don't you understand that I was once fifteen years old! That I looked at my mother the same way you're looking at me? That I see the hatred in your eyes and the despair and the love and all of it?”

I'm eleven,” said Sport.

My thoughts: Those opening lines set the tone of the relationship between Sport and his mother. And how many times will you see the word “goddamned” in a children's book? That took me by surprise, especially coming out of a mother's mouth to her little boy. Throughout the entire book, Sport's father very honestly talks to his son or around his son about what a horrible mother his ex-wife is, and how she lives out of the country so she doesn't have to exercise her parental rights. It was actually quite refreshing!

I think I may have liked this book the best of the three “Harriet the Spy” books. Although Harriet doesn't even make an appearance until page 110. But that was fine with me.

The book also matter of factly addresses racism, with a police officer calling Sport's friend, Harry, the N-word, and referring to Harry and another friend as “Ellis Island”.

There are lots of humorous scenes, especially some of the scenes with Sport's father's new girlfriend, which made me laugh out loud. But the best part about her was the way she quickly took to Sport and lavished him with the unconditional love he'd never gotten from his mother.


This is just a wonderful little gem of a book.  

07 June 2018

The Long Secret (Harriet the Spy, Book 2)


Goodreads synopsis: Who's been writing those strange notes popping up all over town? Notes like, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth is a rotten parent" or "You need more pull to get a rich man into Heaven than to get a camel through the eye of a needle"

Harriet the Spy is going to catch the mysterious note leaver if it takes her all summer! It sounds like someone religious, she reasons, like The Preacher, or his fanatical sidekick, Jessie Mae, who brings her Bible to the beach. Harriet's friend Beth Ellen is no help at all--her mother has just returned from seven years in Europe and is driving Beth Ellen crazy. But Harriet's doing fine on her own. And the secret she finally uncovers is going to surprise everyone

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, HarperTrophy, 1965.

How acquired: Via Book Mooch.

First line: The notes were appearing everywhere.

My thoughts: I read and loved HARRIET THE SPY when I was a kid, and upon reading it again as an adult not too long ago I still very much enjoyed it. But I don't remember reading this book, or the next book, SPORT, when I was younger.

In this book, it's summer and Harriet and her mother are staying at the beach, while her father comes out on the weekends. Janie was Harriet's best friend in the first book, but Harriet muses at one point about how during the summers at the beach Beth Ellen is her best friend. Beth Ellen is very quiet and demure, and she sometimes seems weary of Harriet's company, yet at other times she welcomes Harriet's brash enthusiasm.

The book starts out with Harriet still spying on people, while Beth Ellen follows along in her wake, and determined to figure out who is leaving mysterious notes all around town, notes that are vaguely insulting to the person who receives them. But somewhere along the way the focus shifts to Beth Ellen, and ultimately this was more her book than Harriet's. Beth Ellen lives with her grandmother. One day her grandmother excitedly informs her that her mother, Zeeney, is coming home. Beth Ellen doesn't know her flighty mother, and is very apprehensive about meeting her. And rightly so. Zeeney is a flat out bitch who cares about nothing other than having money, having expensive stuff, and running around partying and being seen.

I loved the friendship between Harriet and Beth Ellen, and watching as both girls learn a bit about themselves and each other. This was a quite enjoyable little story.
I was born in October,” said Harriet as though October were the only really satisfactory month to be born in.


Me too, Harriet, me too! 

30 May 2018

A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me

JON KATZ

Goodreads synopsis: In his popular and widely praised Running to the Mountain, Jon Katz wrote of the strength and support he found in the massive forms of his two yellow Labrador retrievers, Julius and Stanley. When the Labs were six and seven, a breeder who’d read his book contacted Katz to say she had a dog that was meant for him—a two-year-old border collie named Devon, well bred but high-strung and homeless. Katz already had a full canine complement—but, as he writes, “Change loves me. . . . It comes in all forms. . . . Sometimes, change comes on four legs.” Shortly thereafter he brought Devon home. A Dog Year shows how a man discovered much about himself through one dog (and then another), whose temperament seemed as different from his own as day from night. It is a story of trust and understanding, of life and death, of continuity and change. It is by turns insightful, hilarious, and deeply moving.

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughts: I've never had a Border Collie, but I've heard stories and heard that they are very energetic and high maintenance. I really enjoyed this book for the most part.

But. I love dogs. I am a dog lover. I want all the dogs. I would love to foster dogs, but my resident dog lived in a backyard for six years and was completely unsocialized when I adopted him, and since I do have to work outside the home full time, I don't feel I'm in a position to be a good foster home. While the author loves his dogs, I didn't get the sense that he is a dog lover. For one, his labs came from a breeder. I will never buy a dog from a breeder. I wish breeders no longer existed. There are so many millions of dogs in shelters, living on the streets, or being euthanized because nobody wants them, that it seems unethical to me for dogs to purposely be bred. And yes, I realize that there are so many children in foster care that need to adopted that maybe I shouldn't have bred my own. But dogs are my passion so I don't care how unreasonable it is, that's how I feel.

Then there was this passage:
For the noblest of reasons, it had also become popular – and immensely rewarding – to go to the local pound and bring home stray and abandoned animals. Many were lovely, companionable dogs, but some were mixed breeds unsuitable for suburban families, tense and unpredictable around other animals, kids, even their owners. This can also be true of purebred dogs, some of whom suffer from overbreeding and don't live up to their TV commercial images.

I don't know why that paragraph rubs me the wrong way. It's an innocuous three sentences. There's truth in them. Maybe it's the phrase “become popular”, as if he's dismissing adopting shelter dogs as being beneath him, or being a fad. And of course, as I got further into the book, his descriptions of Devon certainly prove “This can also be true of purebred dogs”.

I did love this quote though:
Dogs live on a scale that I can comprehend; their lives are an outcome I can affect. They make me happy, satisfy me deeply, anchor me in an elemental way. Sometimes it's hard for me to trust people, or to find people I can come to trust. I trust my dogs, though. They would do anything for me, and I for them.”

When one of the author's labs begins ailing and is euthanized, I cried. It's a hard decision, and it's one I've had to make myself, more than once. It's been two years since I lost my dog Max to cancer, but sometimes the grief is still fresh, as if it just happened last month.


But other than the occasional wince or incredulous “did this guy know nothing about dogs” reaction to some of the things he did (throwing a choke chain on the ground next to the dog to get his attention or correct his behavior? Seriously?), I loved the stories about Devon himself, about his personality. I could read about that kind of stuff all day long. 

27 May 2018

The Stepmother

CLAIRE SEEBER

Back cover copy: Jeanie and Matthew are a happily married couple who both have teenage children from previous relationships. No one said it would be easy to raise a blended family under one roof but Jeanie and Matthew are strong. They will make it work. And whilst Jeannie's stepdaughter Scarlett rejects her, Jeanie will just have to try harder to win her over. But Jeanie has a past. A terrible secret she thought she'd buried a long time ago. And now, it's coming to the surface, threatening to destroy her new marriage. Someone is playing a terrifying game on Jeanie and she must put a stop to it once and for all. After all, a fairytale needs a happy ending...Doesn't it?

Stats for my copy: Trade paperback, Bookouture, 2016.

How acquired: Bought.

My thoughtsI went into this book with high hopes because I loved LULLABY, the only other book I've read by Ms. Seeber. Too high. The book never really gripped me until about the last eighth. I never connected with Jeanie, who narrates for us. Jeanie's sister, Marlena, also provides occasional narration, and I actually liked her better, even though we see less of her. The back cover copy says “Jeanie and Matthew are strong”, but I definitely did not get that impression of Matthew and I didn't like him at all. If his mother had been around he would've been a mama's boy, but instead he was still letting his ex call the shots.

I have several more of Ms. Seeber's books, and I will keep reading her, in hopes that LULLABY wasn't a one off. But if I'd read this one first, I wouldn't have rushed out and bought everything else of hers I could find.