Dogs and Goddesses

Dogs and GoddessesDogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goofy, funny (the talking dogs are hysterical, and the narrator of the audiobook did a WONDERFUL job with them), interesting characters (although a couple of them were very similar) – just right for a beach read or when you need to clear your brain after a hefty/intense/intellectual read. Now I’m ready to tackle some of the medieval non-fiction I’m taking on for a library conference later this year…

Lots of explicit sex if you like that sort of thing. It didn’t make me cringe, so I guess that’s a plus. It’s a little disjointed with three different authors. I assume they each wrote one of the three main “goddesses.” My favorite was Shar, the middle-aged heroine and her dog Wolfie. The other two women and their romantic interests were not as well developed (and as I said, at times hard to tell apart.) The mythology was okay, but don’t expect anything historical (it was made up.) The romances really didn’t have enough tension (will they, won’t they?) to create a very satisfying ending (endings?) And the fate of Kamani Gula (the Mesopotamian goddess) and especially Mina (the evil priestess) was just silly. Like cotton candy – fun once in a while, but I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it.

Book description: Abby has just arrived in Summerville, Ohio, with her placid Newfoundland, Bowser. She’s reluctantly inherited her grandmother’s coffee shop, but it’s not long before she’s brewing up trouble in the form of magical baked goods and steaming up her life with an exasperating college professor. And then there’s Daisy, a web code writer, and her hyperactive Jack Russell, Bailey. Her tightly-wound world spins out of control when she discovers the chaos within and meets a mysterious dog trainer whose teaching style is definitely hands-on. Finally there’s Shar, professor of ancient history at Summerville College, who wakes up one morning to find her neurotic dachshund, Wolfie, snarling at an implacable god sitting at her kitchen table, the first thing in her life she hasn’t been able to footnote. What on earth is going on in this unearthly little town? It’s up to Abby, Daisy, and Shar to find out before an ancient goddess takes over Southern Ohio, and they all end up in the apocalyptic doghouse…

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The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.75. Although it is never stated, Don is clearly someone with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome. I can’t speak to how well he may or may not represent a true picture of someone with Asperger’s. Don is just Don. The book doesn’t label him, and I’m not sure how helpful that is in real life any way. I think we have all experienced being socially uncomfortable and can both empathize with and laugh at the humor in Don’s predicament. And he does manage to get himself into some highly amusing situations. Don and Rosie are both quirky, unique characters. This is a light and funny read, and other than that, the plot is completely predictable. Some of the quirkiness began to get a bit tiring by the end, so I’m not sure I want to read the sequel.

Description: Don Tillman is a brilliant, yet socially challenged professor of genetics. Don decides it’s time he found a wife and designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page survey that filters out the drinkers, the smokers and the late arrivers. Rosie Jarman is not a perfect candidate. Although he disqualifies her for the Wife Project, Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. Suddenly a relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project.

After You

After You (Me Before You, #2)After You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sequel to Me Before You is every bit as good. But don’t expect it to be like Me Before You. Lou has changed. Will’s death left a hole in her heart that money and travel has not healed. Jojo Moyes gives us an unflinching look at love and loss, and how sometimes it takes a devastating accident, and to have our world turned upside down before we find how to move on. I loved all the zany characters and all their faults. I have half a mind to read everything else Jojo Moyes has ever written…

Book Description: Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started. Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

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The Winter Witch

The Winter WitchThe Winter Witch by Paula Brackston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a sucker for pretty much anything set in Wales, good or bad, but this book turned out to be a loving tribute to the landscape. The author has a lyrical way with words, and was able to create a strong sense of time and place, helped by the use of Welsh language words throughout. Morgana was an interesting character, and without the imposition of magic and witchcraft this could have been a 5-star historical romance. While I enjoy a good paranormal or fantasy story, I struggled a bit with it here. I wanted to be immersed in historical Wales, so every time magic was introduced it just didn’t seem quite right to me. I had a few historical quibbles – the use of the famous song Calon Lan, for example, which wasn’t written until 1890 probably at the earliest. It was interesting to learn something about Welsh cattle droving which died out in Wales after the introduction of railroads in the 1840s and 50s. Aside from the language (no glossary provided, which wasn’t an issue for me, but those who don’t know some basic Welsh might wish it had one), other elements of “Welshness” seemed contrived – let’s throw in some references to Welsh cakes and bara brith and carving love spoons. And corgis, of course. The author does live in Wales, and obviously loves her country. Despite my nit-picking here, I enjoyed the book enough to give it four stars. It’s a sweet love story, a tribute to Wales (especially the language and the landscape), and the triumph of good over evil.

Book Description: In her small early-nineteenth-century Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana, who has not spoken since she was a young girl. Her silence is a mystery, as well as her magic. Concerned for her safety, her mother is anxious to see her married, and Cai Jenkins, a widower from the far hills, seems the best choice. After her wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving her mother, and wary of this man, whom she does not know, and who will take her away to begin a new life. But she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the wild mountains that surround it. Cai works to understand the beautiful half-tamed creature he has chosen for a bride, and slowly, he begins to win Morgana’s affections. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there — a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana. Forced to defend her home, her man, and herself, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything. (from book jacket)

About the author: Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, as a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly. (from author’s website)

Longbourn

LongbournLongbourn by Jo Baker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have undoubtedly over-rated this, but I had so few 5-star reads last year, I am trying to even out my 3, 4, and 5 star reviews. So anything even slightly over 4 will be rated a 5 – for now. Obviously I have mixed feelings about that! This book does not try to retell the story of Pride and Prejudice, but it does serve as the framework for a story of the servants at Longbourn. The lives of the Bennets take a definite backseat here, with a lot of gaps. This is its own story. Jo Baker has taken some liberties with their back stories, which might raise some eyebrows, but to say more would be spoilers. I liked the framework. I liked the different point of view of the servants. But I thought the love story between Sarah and James was a bit weak. It sort of lost continuity in the last third of the book – perhaps a few chapters from James’ point-of-view might have been illuminating. The ending was only so-so for me. But there is a lot to enjoy along the way, especially in the day-to-day lives of the servants and their thoughts and feelings. Definitely a book that I could see myself re-reading some day, perhaps alongside P&P and Pride and Prejudice: The Scenes Jane Austen Never Wrote.

Book Description: In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Me Before You

Me Before YouMe Before You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fans of Jodi Picoult ought to like this one. It’s a love story with a twist, a chance to learn something about quadriplegia, and an exploration of the pros and cons of the right to die. The love story of two very different people learning how to relate to each other I thought was very good. I knew how it was going to end, although I kept hoping it would be different. Partly, I just wasn’t convinced by the choices made. I’m sure it’s a tragedy for anyone to become a quadriplegic, but I just couldn’t agree with Will’s determination to die. Why wasn’t he getting counseling for depression? Why wasn’t he able to work? And he tells Lou at the end that the past six months was the best of his life. It just didn’t add up for me at the end. Will was ultimately controlling and selfish. Lou was a dishrag. She did grow tremendously through prodding from Will, but I didn’t get the sense that she had taken control of her own circumstances afterward. Lots of food for thought. This should make for a great book club discussion. And I will probably read more by this author.

Book Description: Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

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Thyme Out

Thyme OutThyme Out by Katie Fforde

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Also published under the title Second Thyme Around. A pleasant enough romantic comedy and just the light-hearted fluff I needed after Cutting for Stone! The story is cute, if somewhat predictable, and the setting is picturesque. The main plot is really about Perdita and her friendship with the elderly and failing Kitty. After Kitty suffers a stroke, it is clear that she cannot continue to live on her own. The author has done a good job of exploring their unusual friendship, issues of failing health, loss of independence, and ultimately dealing with the loss of a surrogate parent. The sub-sub-plots of Janie, who has a crush on Lucas, and Roger, the “long-lost” nephew adds a nice depth and some humor. I was less satisfied with the romance between Perdita and Lucas. After focusing so much in the first part of the book on how badly Lucas had treated Perdita, and on his anger issues, and tendency to be a bully, I just didn’t see enough of a change in him to feel comfortable with their relationship. And to try and justify his behavior by saying that Perdita had been too passive and let him get away with it? Come on, seriously? I am glad that Perdita has learned to stand on her own two feet, but the bully is still a bully. Still, I would read more from this author.

Book Description: For years, things have run quite smoothly for Perdita and her organic gardening business. So what if her hair needs a complete overhaul, her sweater has more holes than Swiss cheese, and there’s no hope of a boyfriend on the horizon? The last thing Perdita wants is a meddlesome man in her life-but she’s about to get one, in the form of her completely infuriating ex-husband, Lucas. Lucas in disagreeable, curt, arrogant, and smolderingly gorgeous. He’s also the new chef at Grantly House, Perdita’s number-one customer. Worse, Mr. Grantly has the insane idea of starting a television cooking show that will put Lucas and Perdita together as “The Gourmet and the Gardener.” Now, things are heating up in the kitchen–and elsewhere. With the bright lights blazing and old feelings stirring the pot, it could be a recipe for disaster…or absolute delight.

Audiobook narrated by Davina Porter. (Seriously, she could read the phone book, and it would be fabulous!)