24 February 2014

Christmas Countdown (Lost, Inc., Book 2; Love Inspired Suspense No. 320)


Synopsis from back of book: A simple trip home for the holidays is all former FBI profiler Maggie Mason wants. But a serial killer has other plans. Trapped in a deadly game of cat and mouse, Maggie finds an ally in Lost, Inc. with private investigator Dr. Ian Crane. The handsome widower is reluctant to love again, and the last thing Maggie wants is to put Ian in the line of fire, too. Love could cost them everything...unless they can find their way to each other in time for Christmas.

First line: Something wasn't right.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Love Inspired Books, 2012; I think I acquired this book through my subscription with Harlequin Reader Service.

My thoughts: That first line pretty much summed up my feelings about this book. I struggled to get into the story. I couldn't understand how this woman could have been running and hiding from this serial killer for so long, why every time she moved to a new place, rented a house, he soon found her and she had to run again. I kept thinking why does she keep getting a new phone when she knows he's gonna eventually trace it? Of course, it was then revealed that she wasn't just hiding from him, but also hunting him, and trying to keep him distracted looking for her so he won't go after her friends and family or any new victims.

While trying to stay a step ahead of this serial killer, there is also a stalker on the loose. I think this storyline was actually a continuation from a previous book in the series (which I have not read), where a stalker was threatening Maggie's brother's girlfriend, but had in the end been arrested and was now in jail. He's referred to as Mr. Blue Shoes, because he wore blue shoes, a key piece of evidence in his arrest. Except now it's apparently occurred to someone to have the man arrested try on those blue shoes, and guess what? They don't fit. So he's obviously not the stalker. In the wake of O.J. and "if the gloves don't fit, you must acquit", I find it hard to believe that the size of the suspect's feet and the size of the shoes would not have been compared during his trial before he could be found guilty. And then, an officer commented to Maggie that the suspect had been calling his victim (who was his ex-girlfriend) every day, trying to convince her he was innocent. This man is in jail and he's allowed to call his victim? Every day? Would that really happen?

I never connected with any of the characters, and when I put the book down and picked it up later I didn't always remember exactly what had happened in the previous pages. Fortunately, as with most of these Love Inspired books, it was a quick read, and it did have a sweet and satisfying HEA in the end.

19 February 2014

Big Brother


Goodreads synopsis: For Pandora, cooking is a form of love. Alas, her husband, Fletcher, a self-employed high-end cabinetmaker, now spurns the “toxic” dishes that he’d savored through their courtship, and devotes hours each day to manic cycling. Then, when Pandora picks up her older brother Edison at the airport, she doesn’t recognize him. In the years since they’ve seen one another, the once slim, hip New York jazz pianist has gained hundreds of pounds. What happened? After Edison has more than overstayed his welcome, Fletcher delivers his wife an ultimatum: It’s him or me.
Rich with Shriver’s distinctive wit and ferocious energy, Big Brother is about fat: an issue both social and excruciatingly personal. It asks just how much sacrifice we'll make to save single members of our families, and whether it's ever possible to save loved ones from themselves

First line: I have to wonder whether any of the true highlights of my fortysome years have had to do with food.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, published by HarperCollins Publications, 2013; 373 pages; borrowed from my local library.

My thoughts: I joined Weight Watchers about eight months ago. I quickly dropped ten pounds, and then my weight just hung in one spot, fluctuating a pound or so up and down each week. Tracking points is hard, cutting out unhealthy food and only shopping healthy is hard when you're on a budget (my daughters both also began trying to eat healthier and I swear our grocery bill tripled), and when you cook something from a recipe you've used for years, such as turkey and rice or chicken and dumplings, trying to figure out how many points your recipe breaks down to is sometimes a logistical nightmare. So when Pandora and her brother Edwin began their diet plan, I had a lot of sympathy for how hard it must have been. One thing I liked about Weight Watchers is you can still eat any kind of food you want. You might use all your daily points on one meal and then go hungry the rest of the day, but it's your decision whether to do that or not. With the diet Pandora and Edwin go on, envelopes of a drink mix, well I don't think I could do it.

Pandora is forty (if I remember correctly), has been married to Fletcher for seven years, has helped raise his two children, and has her own business. She's put on a little weight, like so many of us do as we get older, but she isn't necessarily what you'd call fat.

She hasn't seen her brother in a few years, and when he comes to visit and she picks him up from the airport she is shocked by how large he is. 386 pounds. For awhile his weight is the elephant in the room. She's afraid to address it, so she doesn't say anything to him, though she says plenty to us, the reader.

The book is broken into three sections. The first is about Edwin's extended visit which causes a huge strain on Pandora's marriage. The second section is about Pandora deciding that she is going to make Edwin lose weight, a decision which puts even more strain on her marriage. The third section is much shorter, more of an epilogue, and it left me feeling a little betrayed, a little angry, and after some time passed a little confused as to how I should actually feel.

I don't have any personal experience with someone who is obese the way Edwin is, so I certainly can't speak to how realistic the book is. I often worried that the diet Pandora and Edwin used was not actually healthy. How can a liquid diet be healthy for weeks on end? So I had mixed emotions throughout the entire book.

I did hit, for me, one especially sour note. Edwin admitted that he'd done heroin for awhile, and when Pandora expressed dismay at this he brushed it off, telling her it takes years and years to become addicted to heroin. The conversation ended there, with me holding the book in disbelief, because it only took my daughter three months to become addicted. I know it's just a book and it's one character's opinion, but it threw me completely out of the story for awhile.

I love Lionel Shriver's writing, her voice. The only other book of hers I'd read previously was WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, which was harrowing. At first I thought BIG BROTHER, compared to WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, was a much lighter and easygoing read, but in the end it wasn't by much. That other book had some elements in the ending that took me by surprise also, so now I wonder if she throws that curve at you in all her books.

The narrative is in first person from Pandora's point of view, and it's a wonderful character study as she fills us in on her past, her marriage, her relationship with her brother and father and her non-relationship with her younger sister. Having Edwin living in her home and seeing the mess he's made of his life causes her to reflect and examine her own life. She loves her husband, and he adores her. But eventually she's backed into a corner of whether to put her brother or her husband first. She often felt Fletcher wasn't as supportive as he could have been. I felt Fletcher was pushed to his limit, and when he finally delivered that ultimatum to Pandora I couldn't blame him one bit. Pandora was so caught up in trying to fix her brother she didn't maintain her marriage so of course it began to break as well.

Overall, a very affecting book. I think I'll look at obesity through clearer eyes now. But I'm not actually sure if that's true. 

16 February 2014

Through His Eyes

Synopsis from Goodreads: Two psychics – one serial killer.

Someone is stalking women and murdering them in Key West.

Levi Wolfe and Trudy Tucker join forces to help identify the murderer and stop him. Levi can channel the deceased victims and Trudy can tap into the mind of the killer. As a psychic detective team, they’re formidable. As lovers, they discover that they’re insatiable.

But if Trudy can see through the killer’s eyes, can the killer see her?

Stats for my copy: Ebook received from the author; anticipated publication date Spring 2014.

My thoughts: Trudy Tucker is a psychic who recently began using her ability professionally to help law enforcement track down murderers. When a vision comes over her, she finds herself seeing the world through the eyes of the killer, and experiencing his thoughts in her head. Levi Wolfe is also a psychic, and having embraced his own abilities long ago he's a celebrity, appearing on television and radio, in magazine, and lusted after by millions of women. His connection to a murder is through the victim's eyes. When a serial killer begins a spree in Florida, Trudy reluctantly teams up with Levi to investigate.

I discovered author Deborah Camp when I picked up an old (1985) Silhouette, Love Letters, a couple of months ago. I then began following the author on Facebook, and when she offered copies of her newest book, the first in a planned series, to review, I jumped at the chance.

We meet Trudy first, and I connected with her character quickly and easily. She is still not completely comfortable with her new profession, but then who would be? I imagine it would be incredibly unsettling to be going about your day, doing mundane little chores, and then to suddenly find yourself inside the mind of a madman while he murders someone. And while you might want to try to find a way to shut that ability off rather than offer your services to help find and stop said madman, how in good conscience could you turn away?

When we meet Levi, we get Trudy's impressions of him first. Her mentor, Quintara, trains young psychics like herself, helping them learn to control their ability and not allow it to control them. Levi is close friends with Quintara, and occasionally puts in an appearance at her workshops. He makes Trudy uncomfortable, and she is a little disdainful of his womanizing reputation and fame seeking ways. Of course, as we get to know Levi better, we, and Trudy, learn there is much more to the man than what's on the surface. And as I connected with Trudy from the beginning, I just as quickly fell for Levi. He's charming, arrogant, demanding, determined, reticent, funny and sexy. All traits that I very much like in a hero.

The supporting characters are also fleshed out and have their own distinct personalities. And the serial killer plot is absolutely chilling.

The attraction between Levi and Trudy is palpable. She resists it at first, as one should with a man who doesn't believe in relationships or happy ever after. But inevitably she gives in, and there are some scorching scenes after that point. And I'm still a little surprised at myself for this, but frankly, there was too much of that. I'm not a prude, I don't have a problem with sex in a book, explicit or otherwise. In fact I like explicit and erotic and pushing boundaries and I certainly don't avoid it and often seek it out. I think I just liked the story so much that the sex scenes felt over the top and extraneous to me. I would have enjoyed the book just as much if the sex had been tamer or less evident on the page. I don't entirely understand my own thoughts on this aspect, but in today's market, in the wake of that book I refuse to read, I don't doubt that others readers will feel differently.

So what it comes down to is I really really liked this book. I got very caught up in and invested in the story and the characters, and was often on the edge of my seat, not wanting to put it down and go to bed.

And then. Then I reached the last paragraph. And I literally sat up and exclaimed “what the fuck?!” And now my entire perception of one character has been confused and turned completely on its head, and I have to WAIT to find out what happens next! Seriously, Ms. Camp?! 

06 February 2014

The Babe Magnet

Synopsis: Holt Landen was in trouble. He'd been left a six-month-old child he never knew he had, and while he'd attracted plenty of babes in the past, they were always the kind in high heels and garters. Diapers were disturbingly new, and they called for a plan.

Stevie Stedquest had a problem, too. She dispensed parenting advice on a radio talk show, but she didn't have kids. And though she wanted a child of her own, Mr. Right was nowhere on the horizon – only commitment-phobes and womanizers.

Baby Isabelle needed a mother in the worst way. A temporary marriage between her newfound father and Stevie would solve the problem, but they seemed terribly mismatched. Fortunately, Isabelle had two aces up her diaper: opposites attract, and her daddy wasn’t the only babe magnet in the family.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc., 2004; 374 pages; purchased at a library sale.

My thoughts: Where do I start? Ok, with Holt. He's a self-confirmed permanent bachelor, whose parents went through an ugly divorce when he was seven, remarried and divorced again. Holt doesn't believe in love and he's definitely not looking for Miss Right when there are so many Miss Right-nows around. And when a Miss Right-now starts thinking she could be Miss Right, he disabuses her of that notion quickly and moves on to the next Miss Right-now. And then he gets a call from Texas – one of his Miss Right-nows has died in a car accident, leaving behind a six month old baby with a birth certificate naming him as the father. Despite not wanting children and having no idea what to do with one, Holt mans up, goes to Texas and takes custody of his daughter.

Baby Isabelle's mother provided for her financially but not emotionally, leaving her with nannies who never stayed long. Now she's a skinny little waif baby with Attachment Disorder who doesn't like to be touched and cries all the time. When Holt is about at the end of his rope, Stevie's radio program comes on and her voice has a miraculously soothing effect on Isabelle. Holt's solution becomes clear – get this Stevie woman to marry him, become Isabelle's legal mother through a step-parent adoption, then divorce amicably and co-parent Isabelle while living in houses across the street from each other. What could possibly go wrong?

Stevie, of course, is resistant, and I like that it took her awhile to come around to the idea of marriage with Holt. I like the marriage of convenience trope, but I especially like it when the reasons for the marriage are compelling and believable. Holt is everything Stevie avoids in a man, but Isabelle eventually wins her heart, convincing her to agree. It's no spoiler to say that of course Holt and Stevie will end up loving each other and having a satisfying HEA, and the journey to that point is a fun ride.

Robin Wells has a wonderful sense of humor without taking her characters over the top, and her descriptions of Isabelle when she first comes into Holt's and Stevie's lives made my heart ache for her sad little life. The characters of Holt and Stevie are fully fleshed out, and the supporting characters and their side stories are also given substance without interrupting the flow of the book.

Stevie has struggled with weight issues, and is still very self-conscious about her body. At one point, Holt drags her to a mirror and tells her he wants her to see herself the way he sees her, then proceeds to describe her body to her in great complimentary detail. It's a very well written sweet romantic scene that quickly turns scorching hot. In a later scene Holt and Stevie indulge in a little role playing that had me laughing out loud. Actually, I laughed out loud several times throughout the book.

I'm very pleased to have discovered this new to me author, and I'm eager to track down the rest of her backlist. 

She'd said she loved him, for Pete's sake. He couldn't sleep with a woman who loved him! That was just courting disaster. - pg 317

01 February 2014

Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade

Synopsis: When you drop your Diet Coke can or yesterday’s newspaper in the recycling bin, where does it go? Probably halfway around the world, to people and places that clean up what you don’t want and turn it into something you can’t wait to buy. In JUNKYARD PLANET, Adam Minter—veteran journalist and son of an American junkyard owner—travels deeply into a vast, often hidden, multibillion-dollar industry that’s transforming our economy and environment.

Minter takes us from back-alley Chinese computer recycling operations to high-tech facilities capable of processing a jumbo jet’s worth of recyclable trash every day. Along the way, we meet an unforgettable cast of characters who've figured out how to build fortunes from what we throw away: Leonard Fritz, a young boy "grubbing" in Detroit's city dumps in the 1930s; Johnson Zeng, a former plastics engineer roaming America in search of scrap; and Homer Lai, an unassuming barber turned scrap titan in Qingyuan, China. JUNKYARD PLANET reveals how “going green” usually means making money—and why that’s often the most sustainable choice, even when the recycling methods aren’t pretty.

With unmatched access to and insight on the junk trade, and the explanatory gifts and an eye for detail worthy of a John McPhee or William Langewiesche, Minter traces the export of America’s recyclables and the massive profits that China and other rising nations earn from it. What emerges is an engaging, colorful, and sometimes troubling tale of consumption, innovation, and the ascent of a developing world that recognizes value where Americans don’t. JUNKYARD PLANET reveals that we might need to learn a smarter way to take out the trash.

Stats for my copy: Hardback, published by Bloombury Press, New York, 2013; borrowed from the library.

My thoughts: At the library with my daughter one day, waiting for her and wandering around aimlessly, this book caught my eye and on impulse I checked it out. Very interesting look at what happens to our trashed items when they go in the recycle bin, and more. I had no idea recycling was such a huge industry! My own experience with recycling has been limited. In the last city I lived in we had curbside recycling and I did participate unfailingly. But then I moved to the smaller city I'm in now, where that was not an option. We do have several Paper Retriever bins around town for magazines, newspapers, junk mail and the like, with proceeds to benefit the local schools, and I dump a lot of stuff in them. But I haven't yet visited the city's new recycling center or gotten into recycling other items. Though living paycheck to paycheck, I am a big proponent of reusing. Probably 90% of the furnishings in my home came from thrift stores, garage sales, or hand me downs from other people. I've often wished I could just buy new stuff whenever I want, but I guess I can console myself with the idea that I'm maybe helping the environment a little by going used used used all the time.

But back to the book! Mr. Minter takes us all over the country and out of the country to visit scrapyards and recycling facilities. His accounts of the shredders and other machinery is fascinating, as are the stories of some of the people he's met throughout the years. I never would have dreamed that something I toss into a bin might end up in another country, when I myself rarely leave one state. Wonderfully detailed and at times captivating account of the trash trade.