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Monday, April 11, 2011

Basket of Book Reviews

I am so behind. I've got a stack of books I've finished that still need reviews. I set a goal to review every book I finish. If it was good enough for me to read the whole thing, then it's good enough for a review. So, here you go. I'll review all the ebooks I've read lately next week. These are all print books.

How to Stuff a Wild Zucchini, by Heather Horrocks
Genre: LDS romance
Rating: G, ****

Confession time: I said once that I would never ever read an LDS Romance book. Some day I will learn to never make those kinds of promises to myself. I've broken just about all of them by now. For those who don't know, LDS Romance is written by and for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, aka The LDS Church or the Mormons. The romance books are supposed to fit our teachings and lifestyle- no profanity, no graphic bedroom scenes, characters who are members of the church who are at least trying to live by its precepts. The genre appeared in the late 70s and quickly gained the reputation of being horribly written and sweet enough to gag the sugar-plum fairy. I'm happy to report that the genre has matured and now offers some great stories.

Second confession: I don't read straight romance. Ever. Until now. I have read mystery/romance, ghost/mystery/romance, suspense/romance, and historical/romance. Now I have to admit I've read a straight LDS Romance. No dead bodies, international intrigue, ghosts, or pioneers/Indians.

How to Stuff a Wild Zucchini is a sweet story. Lori Scott is running from a career-ending bust of a Broadway play and the end of a romantic relationship. She lands in Brigham City, Utah, writing a gardening column for a local paper. She thinks the column is all about flowers and ornamental plants for the casual gardener. She soon discovers, to her dismay, the column is about vegetable gardens written for avid gardeners. Meanwhile, the vacationing columnist has generous allowed her to house-sit for him. Lori faces a very large vegetable garden just beginning to produce, especially the zucchini. Vegetables aren't the only things in bloom, either. Handsome firefighter John Wayne Walker shows up to put out the flames in the barbecue only to ignite flames in Lori's heart.

 Okay, that summary does sound a bit cheesy. I found the story sweet and charming with just enough local flavor and zucchini jokes to lighten it up and make it fun. Yeah, I live in Utah. Yeah, I'm a Mormon. But I can kill zucchini. It's a rare gift around here. I also found it very refreshing to pick up a book knowing that it contains no profanity and no racy scenes to skim past. Though the characters were a touch cliché, the book still kept me reading and enjoying. If you want a window on LDS culture, this book offers some glimpses as well as a sweet romance.

The Crystal Throne, by Kathryn Sullivan
Genre: Fantasy, YA
Rating: G, ****

This book is a tweenage girl's dream come true. Magic gates that allow you into a different world where you are the most special person in the world. Talking horses. Magic. Monsters. Talking horses. A sweet guy that sort of likes you. And did I mention TALKING HORSES? Explanation: Tweenage girls (9-13 or so) have a thing for horses. They are magical, wonderful creatures that girls would just die if they can't have a relationship with one. Most girls survive not having a special horse of their own. And as I found out, horses are big and smelly and not really that magical. But it's still a draw for girls. Add talking horses to your books and girls will sigh with longing.

Kathryn draws an interesting world. Threatened by the evil witches, the talking horses must band together with the elves and the other magical folk to try to save their world. But only humans possess the right magic to defeat the witches, and humans only come through the gate when the Watcher sends them through. (The Watcher is a big willow tree that is supposedly haunted by ghosts.) Jeanne and Peter are sent tumbling through the gate with no warning and find themselves in the magical world, hailed as the heroes who will break the witches' curse. Jeanne has no trouble believing she has magic. Peter's strength is his disbelief, but it may also prove his downfall.

If you're looking for a fun book that is appropriate for tweenagers, The Crystal Throne fills the bill. It's a story of courage, belief, trust, and friendship. And did I mention it has TALKING HORSES? (I still have a thing for magical horses- they can be mystical and beautiful and not sweaty, smelly creatures.) The sequel is sitting in my stack of books to read...

The Deadly Sister, by Eliot Schrefer
Genre - Murder Mystery
Rating: PG-13, ***

Abby Goodwin has always covered for her younger sister Maya. Whether it's drugs, skipping school, sleeping around, or running away from home, Abby is the good daughter while Maya is the wild child. Or so everyone thinks. When the popular kid from school turns up dead, all fingers point to Maya.

I read the book but didn't really enjoy it. The storyline is very dark, exploring a murky world of teen sex and drugs, making it seem the norm. The story is told first person by Abby, the good sister. While the writing is tight and the characters believable, the author pulls a twist at the end that just didn't work for me. I saw it coming chapters before he got to it, and, the biggest issue for me, twists of that magnitude don't work in a first person story. You can't get that far into a character's head through reading or writing first person without knowing the character. The twist felt cheap and contrived, completely unbelievable.

If you're into this kind of a thriller, give it a try.

Zombie Raccoons & Killer Bunnies, Anthology edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes
Genre - Horror
Rating - PG to R+ for some stories, ***

This book reinforces why I don't usually care for anthologies. I found a few of the stories absolutely hilarious and wonderful. Most of them were a meh. I skipped a few after the first few paragraphs. The book is based on the theme of evil animals, if the title wasn't a giveaway.

Death Mask by Jody Lynn Nye is a thought-provoking tale of an old woman and her bond with the local animals, especially the raccoons. Local farmers beware of old women with powers. You'll lose. I very much enjoyed this story.

BunRabs by Donald J. Bingle was hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed his tale of the ravaging bunrabs that strike the henhouse just before Easter.

For Lizzie by Anton Strout was a fun romp through a magical library chasing a mystical bookworm that morphs into a more threatening wyrm when fed magical books.

Her Black Mood by Brenda Cooper was more on the dark side. A neglected child passes through a magical gate into another world where her carvings take on life. Never carve in anger is a lesson she rapidly learns.

SuperSquirrel to the Rescue by P.R. Frost was another fun story. Squirrels and crows fight it out over a bird feeder.

Overall, the collection was okay. These stories made it worth reading for me.