Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Summer House With Swimming Pool was really jarring after spending a large chunk of my summer reading sweet Mitford books. Also, despite the title, I'm not sure I'd say this was a good summer read. Most of the characters are not good people, and bad things happen on their summer holiday trip. Because I wasn't thrilled with the plot, but was impressed by the writing, I'm doing a giveaway! Yup; scroll to the bottom of this review and you can enter to win a finished hardcover copy!

There's been a medical mistake, and famous actor Ralph Meier is now dead. The hospital blames the actor's general practitioner, Dr. Marc Schlosser, and calls him before the Medical Review Board. And that's where the book opens.  In the following pages, we're taken back through the events of the preceding summer, to the opulent beach house with swimming pool where the Meiers, Ralph & Judith, are vacationing with their sons, Thomas and Alex, famous film director Stanley and his much-younger girlfriend Emmanuelle, and the Schlossers: Marc and his wife, Caroline, and their daughters Julia and Lisa. Full house! The group spends long lazy days by the pool or on the beach; grilling out fresh seafood and drinking wine by the bottle. The kids all get along really well and spend their days in the pool and playing ping pong. No itinerary, nowhere to be, just relaxing. On the surface. 

Under the surface.... That's another story. Nearly all the adults in this book are pretty despicable. Summer House With Swimming Pool is told from Marc's point of view, so we get to hear all his thoughts about the patients he treats. He looks down on all of them. Scratch that. Marc actually loathes all of them. There are a few diatribes where he talks about how disgusting he finds their naked bodies, and how he can only barely stand to listen to them talk when they come in for their check-ups. At first I was making a comparison to the fictional Dr. House of TV fame, but Dr. Schlosser feels much meaner and more spiteful. And then so many of his motivations, for the choices he makes and the actions he takes, while on this vacation are just skewed so far from what I would consider "normal" that it's almost appalling. 

And guess what? The other men aren't right either. There's Ralph, who is openly lecherous toward females. He's pretty non-discriminatory: he leers at Caroline, who's over 40, and her daughter, Julia, who's only 13. And he mentally undresses lots of other girls/women while on vacation. Then there's Stanley, who's over 50 and dating a girl who is roughly 18 or 19. But that's not enough for him, either; he joins Ralph in flirting with other girls at the bar or on the beach. 

Then the unthinkable happens, and Julia is raped one night at the beach. Due to a combination of alcohol and bad decisions, none of the adults are with the young teens Alex and Julia as they walk up the beach to a nightclub. No adults are with them when they walk back. And Julia suffers. (This isn't a spoiler; it's in the Goodreads blurb.)

So at the end of the book, I hated nearly all the characters. But I feel like that's the intended reaction, so that's an indication of good writing. The prose flows seamlessly. The descriptions are so well-written that I really felt like I was there, with those nasty people. Where the book suffers a little are in the repeated extended inner monologues that Marc has, where he discusses all the ways (in graphic detail) that he finds the people around him disgusting. The book also suffers for want of character growth. Not a single character learns anything or becomes any better members of society. And finally, I personally feel like the book suffered a little (for me) for the differences in cultural mores between America & the Mediterranean & Holland. Like, how normal is it for adult males to spend entire days around the pool nude? With pre-teen & teen girls in attendance? The level of alcohol consumption in the book- normal for vacationing Europeans or overindulgence?

My final rating: 3 out 5. Good writing, but I felt like I needed to wash my hands (and my mind) after reading it. Enter my giveaway, win the book, and let me know what you think of it!

*I received my copy of Summer House With Swimming Pool from  Thank you!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare | Audiobook Review

(This entire trilogy has beautiful covers!)

Throwback Thursday Review!

I will soon be posting a review of Clockwork Princess, the last book in this trilogy, but I wanted to post quick throwback reviews for Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince first.  I originally read Clockwork Angel in Feb. 2013.  I gave it 3 of 5 stars on Goodreads and didn't write a review.  To be honest, I think it lost stars only because I was distracted, listening to it in the car during a not-fun commute.  This really is a good trilogy.  I agree with the majority of reviewers... it really is better than the Mortal Instruments series.

This trilogy is set in late 1800s England.  (Don't you love it already?  The dresses, the social mores, the speech....!)  Tessa Gray is on a mission to find her missing brother, who she believes has been swept into England's seedy underground.  She doesn't expect to discover the secret society of Shadowhunters, or to discover that her brother is not at all the person she thought she knew.  Along the way she befriends Jem and Will, which sets up a nice YA love triangle, of course.  Next thing she knows, Tessa is swept up into the fight against the Pandemonium Club and their army of automatons (robots)!

So, so, so much to love about this book!  I love that Tessa stays true to herself and the "fight for right" even if it means letting go of someone she loves.  I love that she doesn't let anything stop her just because she's a girl.  Screw the Victorians and their "weak female" ideas!  She's going to suit up and fight the robots right alongside the gents!  Speaking of, I love the gents.  I love Jem and his quiet reserve; his love of music and poetry, and the way that he cares so deeply for all his friends.  I also love Will, and for the exact opposite reasons!  (They compliment each other nicely.)  I love his wit and his dry humor and his impetuousness.  The girls definitely hold their own, also.  Jessamine is an absolute spitfire and I love her for it.  She is overflowing with confidence.  And Charlotte: she is a winner!  She is totally a proper lady... who can also hold her own in a sword fight.  You don't always get that in a book.  

Ms. Clare also does a fantastic job with world-building.  I had no trouble at all imagining the Shadowhunter world, and it was gorgeous & rich!  

I listened to this on CD and thought the narration was pretty good.  The tone was right and all, but the narrator was a male with a bit of a softness to his pronunciation, so sometimes my mind would wander a little.  And the accent!  The book is set in England, so maybe this shouldn't be a surprise, but the narrator had a lovely English accent.  It sort of surprised me because the author is American, as is the publisher.  But what a lovely pleasant surprise!  

Overall, although I initially gave this only 3 stars, I would definitely highly recommend this book.

*I received my copy via my public library.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Son by Lois Lowry | Audiobook Review

Son is the fourth book in the Giver Quartet, so this review will contain spoilers for the first three books. You've been warned.

This is such a neat quartet of books!  You really need to read all four to get the best appreciation, but each one could also be a standalone.  That really impresses me, that Lois Lowry pulled that off.  If you read The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger you are in for a real treat in Son:  the main characters from the previous three books are all present and accounted for in it!  The Giver isn't mentioned in Gathering Blue or Messenger, but he's brought back into play in Son.  Remember Jonas, who was being trained to be the next Giver?  At the beginning of Son, he's just a boy.  And no, he's not the titular son.  I really just cannot gush enough about how COOL it was to see the whole story from the first three books brought full circle in this fourth book!

Son is told in three parts, with multiple chapters in each part.  There is Before, Between, and Beyond.  In the first part, Before, we meet Claire.  She's a young girl, 13 years old, and is at her first work assignment in her community.  She is a Vessel.  Come to find out, Vessels are young girls (13-16 years old), and their "job" is to produce Products.  Products being babies.  Older girls, who have already Produced one or two Products tell Claire what to expect.  There will be a little bit of pain, and she'll be blindfolded, and then it will be over and she'll get to rest for 6 months before Producing again.  Are you weirded out yet?  I sure was!  Anyway, it gets worse:  when it comes time for Claire to Produce, something goes wrong.  The pain is intense.  She ends up undergoing a c-section, although it's not called that in the book.  Because of this, Claire is allowed a little time to recover and then released from being a Vessel and reassigned to the fish hatchery.  In her society, everyone takes "vitamins" every day, and the vitamins damp down feelings.  There's a clerical error or something and Claire ends up not taking the vitamins, even after being reassigned to the fish hatchery.  She finds reasons to visit the infant care center, and ends up discovering which baby she produced.  No surprise here:  she loves the baby, Product 36, and daydreams of taking him and raising him herself.  Of course that can't happen.  She ends up sort of befriending a nursery worker guy, who is taking extra special care of Product 36.  I say sort of befriending because even though he and Claire talk nearly every day, she never bothers to ask his name.  Seriously.  There's a few places where Lowry asks for suspension of disbelief.  

So that's Before.  And I feel like there'd be spoilers if I went into too much detail with Between and Beyond.  Lets see... so in the official back-of-book description it does say that there's a culmination to the battle between good and evil.  So you know that's coming.  And you know from the back of the book that Claire will stop at nothing to get her son back.  And I mean nothing.  Claire has to work long and hard, like, for years, to get back to her son.  She also ends up having to make a pretty huge sacrifice.  I'm an adult reading this book and I got all kinds of emotionally invested and my heart just broke for Claire.  I was so rooting for her!

I've already gushed about how much I loved the whole tying-it-all-togetherness.  Now for the small gripe: Lowry kind of asks a lot of the reader in making come connection leaps over a few plot potholes.  Like, at one point Claire is in a village where the men all fish, in boats, yet the only way to leave the village is to scale a cliff.  What about the boat, Lowry?  Why can't anyone sail around the cliff?  Just a few little things like that.  I wouldn't say it's enough to knock any stars off my rating.  

I listened to this book on CD and loved it.  I thought the narrator did a great job.  The pacing was great and the narrator kept me engaged and focused.  There were a few times I was tempted to sit in my car in the parking lot and just keep listening.  

This book would be 4 of 5 stars as a standalone and 5 of 5 stars as a series finale!

*I checked out my copy of Son from my public library.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a neat weekly feature over at a blog I really enjoy, The Broke and the Bookish.  They read books similar to some that I've been reviewing, and they're fun and they write well.  Totally worth checking out!

Top Ten Books I Really Want to Read But Don't Own Yet

I don't actually buy that many books.  I use my library pretty heavily, and leave the book-buying for books that I know will stand the test of time, or buy books that I then give away as gifts.  So I'm going to change this week's topic slightly to:

Top Five Books I Really Want to Read But Don't Have in 

My Possession Yet

Whether it be through library request, ARC, or purchase, these are the top five books I can't wait to get my hands on!  (I'm pretty busy this week and could only think of five off the top of my head.)

1. Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon.  I feel like I've been waiting for this for a decade!  Oh wait... I have actually been waiting 10 years... Jan Karon, why did you make us wait so long???

2. A Cold Legacy by Megan Shepherd.  Love, love, love The Madman's Daughter trilogy, and can't wait to see how it wraps up!  I own the second book in the trilogy, Her Dark Curiosity, but I am waiting for a sale to buy myself The Madman's Daughter.  I do actually plan to purchase A Cold Legacy since I own the first two.

3. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King.  I'm breaking all the Top Ten guidelines, aren't I?  I've already read and reviewed this one.  I loved it!  And I already own The Shining so I'd like to own Doctor Sleep too.

4. Daring by James Elliott.  I'm on the holds list for this at my library.  Charming was my first ever urban fantasy novel and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it.  Super excited for the second book in the series!

5. Batter Off Dead and The Death of Pie by Tamar Myers.  These are books 17 and 19 from her Pennsylvania Dutch mystery series.  I started reading this cozy mystery series when I was a young teen and Tamar Myers was the first author I ever met.  I've tried to keep up with the series ever since.  Somehow I skipped book 17 and read book 18.  I own all of the others in the series, so I'll probably try to get a good Amazon deal on these two too.

What about you?  What are the next ten books you want to buy and read?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Messenger by Lois Lowry | Audiobook Review

Messenger: so imagine you're taking a stroll through the woods and all is fine.  I mean, you have a kid with you who is a little whiny at times because he wants candy, but other than that it's fine.  You live in a great utopian society where everyone helps each other and no one cares if you're physically disabled.  Then all of a sudden: WHAM!  The ground opens up under your feet and you fall into a neverending pit of despair.  That's what this book did to me.

Ok.  I don't want to give away spoilers, so you'll just have to know that you were warned of the pit but you'll have to be ok with me not telling you what the pit is.  Messenger follows Gathering Blue in the Giver Quartet, and it follows it very closely timeline-wise.  In Messenger we get Mattie's point of view.  He's now living in Village with Kira's father, who is known as Seer.  (An aside: is it just me, or is it a little cruel/twisted that everyone in the village calls the blind man "Seer"?)  Village is very much a stereotypical utopian place:  everyone has something that they are good at, and they share that talent with everyone else.  It's a barter community, and a little communal.  For instance, there's a man known as "Mentor."  Mentor teaches the school-age children.  Another man, Leader, is sort of like the mayor.  

Unfortunately, something is starting to "sicken" in Village.  The thing that Mattie focuses on is the fact that his friend Ramon's family received a gaming machine.  He wants one too!  The machine is very appealing; pull a handle and watch to see if all three pictures in the window on the front will line up.  If they all match, the machine gives you a piece of candy.  However, Mattie has been unable to go play with the machine for a few days because Ramon and his family have fallen ill.  Mattie fails to see the connection between the gaming machine and the illness, but Seer doesn't.  Seer also feels the unrest in the society.  Many people are calling for the borders to Village to be closed; no new residents/refugees from other societies would be accepted in.  Seer is worried that the border will be closed before Kira arrives, and sends Mattie to go get her.

Thus begins a dangerous, long journey through the forest for Mattie....

This was a relatively short audiobook, only 4 CDs, but it packs a PUNCH.  It is quite a treatise on how things can go wrong, even in the most idyllic of societies.  The book is slightly richer if you've read the previous books, The Giver and Gathering Blue, but Messenger could also stand on it's own.

*I received my copy from my public library.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Team Tynga's Reviews.  You can find their blog here:  This weekly meme, which Tynga's team posts on Saturdays, is all about sharing the books that you received or purchased over the previous week.  Feel free to leave a comment with a link to your own Stack!  My Stacking the Shelves posts have been so short lately because I'm trying to get caught up on my TBR pile.  Here's what I couldn't resist picking up this week:

(Who doesn't love free books?  Go use your local library!)

The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community by Marc J. Dunkelman--we moved into a new house a year ago, and I still barely know any neighbors.  I'm feeling a little bad about that.  What's wrong with us that no one wants to come say hi and introduce themselves?  So I'm hoping that this book will reassure me that it's not me; it's them.  All of them.  All across America people are no longer neighborly.
My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking & Going With Your Gut by Hannah Hart--This looked hilarious, and I do often cook with a glass of wine in hand.  I'm a little more than halfway through, though, and getting more skeptical by the page.  It's not what I thought it was... Also, turns out the basis for this book is a YouTube channel started by the author.  So I think I need to do some "research" and watch some of the shows.
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni--haven't started this one yet, but it's HUGE.  So much larger than your average graphic novel.  Still a graphic novel, so it'll still be a quick read, but I'll get a little bicep workout holding the book!  My aunt recommended this one to me, so I'm already pretty confident that it'll be good.

Divergent-also from the library.  Woo hoo for free movies!  I'm including this in Stacking the Shelves because it's based on a book.  :)  After watching The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and The Fault in Our Stars the hubby thinks he's done watching YA movie adaptations.  That is incorrect.  We will watch all the YA movie adaptations!  

What did ya'll haul in this week?  Leave a link; I love to see what others are reading!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry | Audiobook Review

I loved Gathering Blue!  I think I liked it even more than The Giver, the first book in this quartet!  (This is the second book.)  I listened to it on CD, and I liked the narration ok too.

Gathering Blue takes place in a future dystopian world where physically flawed people are shunned and discarded.  Kira, the main character, has a disfigured leg but has been allowed to live because her mother and grandfather fought for her, and because as she grows and trains in the weavers' hut it is discovered that she has great talent for dying threads and creating intricate, beautiful weaving patterns.  Sadly, Kira's mother passes away while she is still rather young, and she finds herself in court, fighting once more for her right to live.  Once again, her talent for dying and weaving and embroidering saves her.  As the story progresses, Kira struggles with an ever-increasing knowledge of how her society is held together, and what that means for her future.

As I was listening to this audiobook I kept wanting to somehow help rescue Kira!  The poor girl; my heart was ripped out for her.  She is literally the only physically imperfect person she knows.  In her society, even something as small as a broken wrist that isn't set right means that you take a trip to The Field.  Yup.  You just go sit in a field until you die.  They do this to physically imperfect babies too.  How HORRIFIC is that?!?  So Kira, living with a twisted/disfigured leg, is already feeling like the odd man out and then her mom dies.  (Her dad died before she was born.)  One of the other adults in the community actually tries to get the government officials to condemn Kira to The Field.  Kira is a young teen... an adult is essentially trying to kill off a kid.

So that's where the story starts.  But Gathering Blue isn't 100% super depressing, thank goodness.  Kira is tough as nails!  She stands strong in front of the court (literally; she literally forces herself to stand and ignore pain for hours on end in the courtroom) and the court has mercy on her.  She is taken in as a sort of ward of the state.  She gets to live in a pretty nice place with indoor plumbing (no one outside of the government officials lives in anything more than a hut) and learn even more about the art of dying threads and work on embroidering a special robe.  

However, not all is peaches and cream.  As Kira learns her new place in society and tries to figure out how to achieve a blue dye, she also learns about the dark side of her society's government and rules.  What will she do with this knowledge?  What does it mean for future?

The narration: the narration was pretty good.  I didn't have any trouble staying focused, and I feel like the tempo was right on.  However, I spent the entire first two CDs wondering why on earth the one character, a young kid named Matty, was speaking with an Irish accent.  I had just made up my mind that the narrator was crazy and that he was just supposed to sound young when it was finally explained that people from the Fen (like Matty) spoke with a different accent.  So I don't know... maybe other people wouldn't find that distracting but I found it quite distracting.  After that simple observation that people from that area had a different accent it was all smooth sailing.

Oh!  And one last final observation:  even though Gathering Blue is listed most places as "The Giver Quartet Book 2," it is totally doable as a standalone.  There are no character cross-overs and the setting is different.  I'm going to guess that "The Giver Quartet" simply refers to all of Lois Lowry's dystopian novels.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Giver by Lois Lowry | Book Review

I read The Giver in 2010, but thought I'd post my review here before I review Gathering Blue tomorrow.

Here's the Goodreads summary:  Here every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community's Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newberry Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

And here's my review:  In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community's Receiver of Memories.  Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy.  With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newberry Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society.  Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches on the Planet: Make Lunches Your Kids Will Love With More Than 200 Deliciously Nutritious Meal Ideas by Laura Fuentes | Cookbook Review

  • All the "recipes" are super-simple and call for only a handful of ingredients that you're likely to have on hand.
  • The entire cookbook works from a only a handful of ingredients that you're likely to have on hand.  (No tracking down weird foods/spices that you can only find at a Mediterranean specialty shop, for instance.  I'm looking at you, Martha.)
  • I feel like most kids truly will love most all of the meal ideas.
  • No bento-boxing.  No tracking down cutesy little cookie cutters to cut your cheese into stars and flowers.  These lunches can be assembled in 10 minutes or less.
  • Photographs of about 1/3 of the recipes.  I like photographs so that I can know how things are supposed to turn out.  And a majority of the "recipes" in this book are sandwiches, so you don't really need photos.
  • Almost all the meal ideas are nut-free, or could easily be adapted to be nut-free.  I know someone who has to pack nut-free lunches for one of her kids and this might help get her creative juices flowing.
  • All the recipes are super-simple and kind of no-brainers.  Like, I don't need a cookbook to tell me that putting cream cheese between two slices of blueberry bread would be a delicious sandwich idea.  Also, that peanut butter, honey, and whole fruit slices works.  I already know that.
  • Photographs of only about 1/3 of the recipes.  The more photos you put in your cookbook, the higher I'll rate it.  Yes, they're sandwiches and probably don't need photographed, but still I stick to my guns:  photo it all!!!
  • I found ONE new-to-me thing to try in the whole frigging book.  Like I said above, I already do most of the sandwich ideas.  And I'm not even stretching my brain when I do them.
The one thing I tried?  Pinwheels.  Puff pastry sheet sprinkled with meat and cheese, rolled up, sliced, and baked.  I actually tried one of the variations on the recipe as written in the book, so I did shredded cheddar and crumbled bacon.  They're pretty tasty!  The hubby had some last night with dinner, and I brought some for my lunch today.  They were also super simple to make, so it's something I could regularly keep around.

So overall, this cookbook was "meh" for me.  I could definitely see how it could help actual moms pack actual kids' lunches (as opposed to this grown up packing a grown up lunch) so I'll give it 3 of 5 stars.

*I received my copy of The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches on the Planet from my local library.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a neat weekly feature over at a blog I really enjoy, The Broke and the Bookish.  They read books similar to some that I've been reviewing, and they're fun and they write well.  Totally worth checking out!

Top Ten Books People Have Been Telling Me That I MUST Read

I'm actually pretty good about picking up books that friends and family recommend to me, so some of the books in my TTT post I've read recently.  Some are on my shelf waiting for me.  (If I've already read them, you'll be able to link to the review by clicking on the book title.)

1. I feel like the entire book blogging community has been telling me to read Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins.  I haven't even read the first two!  When so many bloggers write so much about a book, I get a little apathetic.  I feel like I already really "know" the story then, and I'd have to read Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door first.  It's on my TBR list, but it's not urgent.

2. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.  Recommended by my sister-in-love, and I loved the book! 

3. If I Stay by Gayle Forman.  I thought I was ok not reading this.  It's short and I've read a ton of reviews and synopses.  But I'm so glad a coworker recommended it!  Yes, it's short, but the author does a lot with those pages.  Amazingly well-written; a pleasure to read, even knowing the ending.

4. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.  I've had a review copy forrrreeeevvvver but haven't read it it.  And everyone and their uncle is book-blogging about how great it is.  I need to get on this one asap!

5. Taliesen and its sequels by Robert Lawhead.  The hubby has moved from recommending it to demanding that I read it NOW over the last few years.  I'm currently reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and will be starting Taliesen next.

6. Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos.  Another sister-in-love recommendation.  I truly enjoy her recommendations, because they're always books that I'd never have picked for myself that turn out to be brilliant.

7. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba with Bryan Mealer.  Recommended by my aunt.  I'm about halfway through.

8. More Libba Bray.  I have a coworker who loves love loves Libba Bray.  She finds it confusing that I have read only The Diviners.  So I've added the Gemma Doyle series, Going Bovine, and Beauty Queens to my TBR list.

9. Manga--specifically Naruto or Dragon Ball-Z.  My teens tell me I need to read these.... I've been a "bad" library employee and have yet to pick one up.  Reading manga is so foreign to me!

10. Climate Changed by Philippe Squarzoni.  Recommended by my aunt.  I'm still on the holds list for this at my library.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Girl's Guide To: Cocktails for Book Lovers by Tessa Smith McGovern | Cookbook Review

Cocktail-to-book pairings?  YES PLEASE!  I got this from my library and I read it cover-to-cover nearly immediately, taking care to Post-It flag all the cocktails I wanted to try!  I narrowed it down to just a couple.  Last year I requested Tequila Mockingbird from my library and did the exact same thing.  I think it's so fun how author-mixologists are pairing beverages to books.

Cocktails for Book Lovers has a very, very short one-page introduction before the author jumps right in to the author-cocktail pairings.  I thought there was a lot of great diversity in this cookbook, in both authors and in cocktail types.  The author devotes a two-page spread to each of 50 different authors.  We get a little mini-bio of the author, a little background on one of their best-known books, a quote from said book, a cocktail, and a second book recommendation for the author.  The cocktails sometimes matched up to a drink that a character from the author's work drank, and sometimes the cocktail is something the author themselves enjoyed.  Hemingway, for example, has a mojito recipe.  This hearkens back to his love of the Florida Keys, where the drink is popular.

At first I was only flagging cocktails if I a) had read anything by the author and b) thought the cocktail sounded yummy and c) had a majority of the cocktail's ingredients already on hand.  Then I came across the pairing for Flannery O'Connor: Salted Caramel & Bourbon Milkshake.  I love all those things!  So I've added Flannery O'Connor to by TBR list and made myself a milkshake.  It was really rich but delicious!

The next drink I tried was a Gin Rickey, which is the pairing for F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The reasoning behind this pairing is that the Gin Rickey is a favorite drink of the fictional Gatsby, from The Great Gatsby.  Just reading the ingredients list I figured it'd be pretty similar to a gin & tonic with lime, but I was wrong!  It's quite a bit more sour than that, as it contains the juice of an entire half of a lime, plus quartered lime wheels for garnish.  I loved it, though.  The Salted Caramel & Bourbon Milkshake was very rich and sweet; this one was a lot less sweet and very refreshing for summer.

Next I tried the Jane Austen pairing: "Miss Austen's Delight."  From the book: "It's little-known that Jane Austen was a sophisticated reveler and wine drinker.  One very popular drink in nineteenth century England was Madeira, a fortified wine."  The "Miss Austen's Delight" consists of gin, Madeira, oj, and maraschino cherries.  It was a tiny adventure getting my hands on Madeira.  Turns out my local grocery store doesn't carry that specific fortified wine, but it does carry other fortified wines, so I subbed.  The drink itself was pretty good, but it's not pretty to look at.  Oh well.  Now I have maraschino cherries in my fridge.  I could make a Shirley Temple later on!

The last drink I attempted was the Hemingway mojito.  DELICIOUS.  But then, I already knew that I liked mojitos.  I liked that this one didn't call for simple syrup; you just muddle the sugar with the mint leaves and top with the ice, rum, soda, and lime juice.  Mojitos are pretty and refreshing.  Can't go wrong.  And the "also recommended" book is one of my top ten fave books!  The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway.  A fantastic book.  He mentions his mojitos and daiquries in many stories.

If I owned this book, I'd try many more of the cocktails, and add to my TBR list.  Alas, I must allow other library patrons an opportunity to peruse this fun book.

Oh, I almost forgot:  a fun fact!  I love finding new fun facts in books.  From the entry pairing Christina Thompson with Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story with Grand Rum Toddy:  "The rum ration was a daily amount of rum that used to be given to sailors on Royal Navy ships.  The last navy issuing the rum ration was New Zealand, which abolished the practice in 1990."  Can you believe it??  All the way up to 1990, New Zealand sailors got a daily rum ration!

*I received my copy of Book Girl's Guide To: Cocktails for Book Lovers from my library.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Team Tynga's Reviews.  You can find their blog here:  This weekly meme, which Tynga's team posts on Saturdays, is all about sharing the books that you received or purchased over the previous week.  Feel free to leave a comment with a link to your own Stack!  My Stacking the Shelves posts have been so short lately because I'm trying to get caught up on my TBR pile.  Here's what I couldn't resist picking up this week:

(Free books!)

Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*CK by Amy Alkon--who could resist a title like that?
City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare--on CD for the commute!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King | Audiobook Review

(What a delightfully creepy cover!)

Doctor Sleep answers the question: "whatever happened to Danny after the incidents at the Overlook Hotel?"  In Doctor Sleep, Danny is now a middle-aged man who uses his talent, or shining, for good.  He works in a hospice and helps ease patients into their final sleep.  He's a recovering alcoholic, clean for over ten years.  He thinks he's past all the mess with the Overlook, until he meets a very special little girl.

At the same time, a group of folks in RVs roam the country.  They call themselves The True Knot.  To you and I, they look like a group of retired folks traveling the country and seeing the sights.  But to those with the shining, they represent quite a threat.  The True Knot subsist on Steam, which they draw from those with the shining via torture and, ultimately, death.  The steam allows them to live nearly forever.  That is, until one of them contracts the measles.

Rose, the leader of the True Knot catches wind of Abra, the strongest case of the shining to date.  She figures that taking Abra's steam will help buoy the group for months, and her measles vaccination will pass to the group via taking her steam.  Can Abra and Dan team up in time to save her life and stop The True Knot?

I LOVED THIS BOOK!  I can't recommend it highly enough.  I think you could even read it without having read The Shining.  You might miss a few references, but you could still enjoy it.  

Stephen King just has such a great way with words.  The reader is totally transported into the story.  It's often tense!  This was a long audiobook; 23 CDs; and I was never bored for a second.  I never zoned out.  There isn't a single wasted word.

And the narration!  The narrator was fantastic.  Great cadence and tone.  I didn't have to work at listening at all.  And a bonus: there's an introduction and a prologue, both read by Stephen King himself!  Yay.  :)

If you haven't already, go read these books!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Shining by Stephen King | Book Review

(This book is so popular that roughly a bajillion editions/covers have been released.  This is the cover on the paperback copy I read.  The hubby and I own it.)

When I got married, I hadn't read any Stephen King books but I had seen The Green Mile on TV (so, I presume, cleaned up a bit).  Hubby is a HUGE King fan, and it wasn't long at all before I was addicted too!  He already owned a ton of Stephen King books, and we've been adding to the collection together, so I'm not sure if he already owned The Shining or if I bought it.  Either way, we own a well-loved (soft!) paperback copy with the cool cover seen above.  I originally read this in 2010 and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads, but I didn't write a review.  This book has been reviewed and reviewed and reviewed nearly to death, so I won't agonize over my missing review.  I already knew that I loved The Shining; now that I've read and LOVED Doctor Sleep I'm trying to convince the hubby to read them.  Can you believe he hasn't read The Shining yet?  CRAZY!

Here's the summary, courtesy of Goodreads.  Just so that you're caught up before I review Doctor Sleep tomorrow!

"Danny was only five years old but in the words of old Mr. Halloran he was a 'shiner,' aglow with psychic voltage.  When his father became caretaker of the Overlook Hotel his visions grew frighteningly out of control.  As winter closed in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seemed to develop a life of its own.  It was meant to be empty, but who was the lady in Room 217, and who were the masked guests going up and down in the elevator?  And why did the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?  Somewhere, somehow there was an evil force in the hotel-and that too had begun to shine..."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Light From Heaven by Jan Karon | Book Review

Talk about your book hangover!  Light From Heaven is the final-for-now Mitford book and it's a doozy.  It probably doesn't help that I spent all summer re-reading all nine Mitford books nearly back-to-back.  I just don't think I'm ready to leave Mitford yet.  Thank goodness the brand-new 10th book is coming out in less than one month!

Continuing in the same vein as my previous Mitford "reviews," this will actually be more of a review.  Spoilers galore.  But the aim is to get us all caught up in time for the release of Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good!

Light From Heaven covers the year that Father Tim and Cynthia spend farm-sitting at Meadowgate.  They're going to relax; take long rambles in the fields and woods, right?  NOPE.  Come on... we know these characters better than that!  Bishop Cullen installs Father Tim as the vicar of a tiny mountain church that's been closed for 40 years.  And Cynthia decides to do a calendar of Violet at the farm.  In between all this, they've still got Dooley on school holidays (he's in vet school at the University of Georgia), and he's ready to be formally adopted by Father Tim & Cynthia.  Dr. Dooley Kavanagh!  Has a great ring, doesn't it?  And Dooley is seeing Lace.  And miracles of miracles, Sammy leaves his dad and comes to stay at Meadowgate.  A full house!

The reader doesn't get much Mitford in this book.  Father Tim ducks in and out of town a few times on errands, but there's not much character development there.  Instead, the action focuses on the little homesteads clinging to the mountainside up past Meadowgate.  Oh, how I want to visit Holy Trinity!  Jan Karon based Mitford on Blowing Rock, NC; I wonder if there is a true-life "Holy Trinity."  I wonder if it's not modeled on Pretty Place, a little chapel in the mountains near where I grew up.  The book describes it as sitting on a ridge overlooking miles and miles and miles of scenery.  Father Tim makes it a regular habit to celebrate Communion outside the church, on the low stone wall overlooking God's creation.  There are only about two dozen folks who make up the main congregation there, and they are characters!  I love them.  And it turns out that a deaconess named Miss Agnes and her adult son Clarence have been taking care of the physical church for all these years, so there aren't any major repairs that need doing.  Things are quite a bit harder up on the mountain, but the people there are absolutely just as loveable as the characters we left behind in Mitford.

And the afterword in the book!  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  KENNY.  Ms. Karon, howwwwww can you leave me hanging like that????  

So now I'm going to be as impatient as can be waiting for Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good.

*I own my copy of Light From Heaven.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

This is a neat weekly feature over at a blog I really enjoy, The Broke and the Bookish.  They read books similar to some that I've been reviewing, and they're fun and they write well.  Totally worth checking out!

Top Ten Books I'm Not Sure I Want to Read for Various Reasons

I'm afraid I don't have a list today.  I have only once DNFed a book, and I still kind of regret it.  I'll probably go back and try again some day soon.  (The White Bicycle by Beverley Brenna)  I will try anything and everything, and I'll give it a really good fair chance.  I listened to the first nine House of Night books by P.C. and Kristen Cast, for example.  And we know what kind of shining literature that is...  (not).  So rather than a list, this is my statement: I'm a lover of books and the characters contained within; I don't discriminate and I (almost always, except for The White Bicycle) give books a full chance.

Please don't misunderstand; I do not think that my method is better than those who are more discerning in taste!  I have probably wasted some time along the way, by doggedly not giving up on books that just weren't for me.  But I doubt myself; I ask myself "what if it gets really good in the second half and I miss that?  What if every other reviewer loves loves loves this book and I've given up on it?"  So I persevere and finish the book.

There have been some books that I've doubted from the start that turned out to be great (Born Confused by Tanuja Hidier; I thought it was too long and that we'd get bogged down in the middle but I was wrong!  The pacing was excellent and I flew through it... or Charming by James Elliott; I would've told you that I didn't like urban fantasy... but I tried it and I LOVED it and I now it regularly makes my Top Ten lists) and there are some I was really excited for and then ended up being disappointed in.  I just love letting books surprise me.

What about you?  What books are you unsure of?  Or are you like me, unable to refuse a book?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich | Book Review

(I've always been rather underwhelmed with this series' covers but oh well.  The books are so good, they don't need the cover to sell them!)

I think it really speaks for itself that I'm twenty-one books into a series and still loving them!  I was on the library's request list for this one months before it was even published.  I even went so far as to request both the physical book and the audiobook to double my chances of getting it quickly!  The physical book came in first, so for the first time since Two for the Money I read the book instead of listening.

I feel like Top Secret Twenty-One was just a little more tense than previous books.  As the book opens, Rangeman is attacked by a terrorist who's aim is to assassinate Ranger.  Ranger... big, strong, invincible Ranger is being attacked!  That's kind of scary.  And it also means that he's not able to watch Stephanie quite as closely, so I felt scared for her too.  

Stephanie, in the meantime, is looking for a used car salesman named Jimmy Poletti.  Turns out he was selling more than just cars out of the back of his lot.  Strange thing is, all of Jimmy's closest buddies are turning up dead.  Even Morelli and his cop coworkers can't figure it out.  Stephanie ends up doing something she never thought she'd do:  protecting Briggs while he helps her find Poletti.  Turns out he was helping cook the books for Poletti, so he might actually be useful.  But will his usefulness be enough to overcome his tendency to annoy?

I just love these books so much!  I love the mystery, and I love the oddity, and I love the characters.  I take comfort in the formulaic layout to these books.  We know that Stephanie is going to destroy 1-5 cars.  We know Lula will eat chicken and possibly date a criminal briefly.  We know Stephanie's apartment might get destroyed.  And we know there will be some oddball occurrence that will eventually figure into the mystery.  (In this book, it's a roving pack of feral Chihuahuas.)  I definitely recommend people try this series.

*I received my copy from my public library.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Team Tynga's Reviews.  You can find their blog here:  This weekly meme, which Tynga's team posts on Saturdays, is all about sharing the books that you received or purchased over the previous week.  Feel free to leave a comment with a link to your own Stack!  My Stacking the Shelves posts have been so short lately because I'm trying to get caught up on my TBR pile.  I abandoned it for most of the summer as I re-read all the Mitford books!  Here's what I couldn't resist picking up this week:


Dangerous Denial by Amy Ray-for review, but a finished copy.  Nice!

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett.  The hubby is the bigger Pratchett fan in our house, but I get to read the new book first.  :)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich | Audiobook Review

Whew!  Did ya'll read my mega-review yesterday of all nineteen previous Stephanie Plum books?  That was one heck of a post, I will admit.  Thank you for sticking with me and coming back today!

Takedown Twenty was just as fantastic as all of the previous books!  Really!  I'm just so impressed with Janet Evanovich.  Even at Book 20, the characters and the plot still feel fresh and funny.  In fact, the books get more and more enjoyable (to me, at least) because I now feel like I really know all the main characters.  I would love to be Stephanie and Lula's friend and hang out with them!

So in this "episode" of the Stephanie The Bounty Hunter Show we have featured:  a giraffe running wild in the streets of Trenton; Morelli's godfather wanted as a fugitive accused of murder; a string of granny murders; a butcher with a penchant for peach Schnapps; and lots of bingo.  If you've ever read a Stephanie Plum book before you're probably nodding your head and going "yeah, yeah... that makes sense.  But tell me:  how many cars does Stephanie total in this one?"  (One, and one is stolen and one is towed.)

In Takedown Twenty Stephanie is tasked with apprehending "Uncle Sunny" (Morelli's literal uncle and godfather, and a local mob boss), who was caught on tape running over a guy.  He skipped bail, and he's in town, but no one's talking.  At the same time, she's asked by Ranger to help look into a string of granny murders.  The elderly women are being targeted at Bingo games and then strangled with venetian blind cords and then dumped in Dumpsters.  Yikes.  While Stephanie is spending her days trying to track down Uncle Sunny and her evenings at Bingo looking for a granny killer, Lula is by her side and insisting that they go giraffe hunting.  Yes:  a giraffe has been spotted roaming the streets of Trenton.  Just like with Uncle Sunny, though, no one is talking.  Lula, of course, names the giraffe Kevin and takes to feeding him.  And just because Stephanie's dance card isn't full enough yet, her mom insists on trying to fix her up with the local butcher, who has a penchant for peach Schnapps.  Are any or all of these things connected?  Will Stephanie find Uncle Sunny?  Why is there a giraffe loose in Trenton?

Guess what?  In Book TWENTY we still don't have an absolutely definitive commitment to Morelli or Ranger!  I'm "Team Morelli;" what about you?  Or are you rooting for Ranger?  I can't say that I'd be disappointed in either choice.  Another reason to be impressed with Ms. Evanovich:  even at Book 20 this love triangle doesn't feel tired.

As with the previous nineteen books, I laughed out loud throughout the entire book.  I love love love the narration and the plot.  These books always go too quickly for my taste!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Stephanie Plum Books 1-19 by Janet Evanovich | Audiobook Reviews

(The covers may not be ultra-fancy but don't let that fool you:  these books are absolute GEMS.)

Mass Group of Throwback Audiobook Reviews

I started reading these in May 2010 and just finished Takedown Twenty in April 2014.  Look for that review, and one on Top Secret Twenty-One soon!  I wanted to get any faithful blog readers up to speed on my journey from one to nineteen first, though.  So here's my thought:  I'll give you my Goodreads stars rating on each and a very very very short plot summary.  I'll let you know that I can't recommend this series highly enough, and that I try to do them all on audiobook.  The narrator is absolutely fantastic and I love sitting in traffic howling with laughter!

One for the Money  4 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  I think I read the first three in book book form.  This one is a hilarious movie starring Katherine Heigl.  A short plot summary:  Pestered by her close New Jersey family, Stephanie Plum offers to catch high-school crush Joe Morelli, cop turned bail jumper, for her cousin Vinnie's company.  She questions "working girls" to find the missing girlfriend of vicious prizefighter Benito Ramirez while Joe secretly watches her back.  Rander mentors her and supplies vehicles when hers explode.

Two for the Dough  4 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  These books have got to be the greatest library patron recommendation I've ever received.  A short plot summary:  This one's double the fun!  Bounty Hunter Stephanie Plum is still learning the ropes at her cousin Vinnie's bail bond office, so when she sets out on the trail of Kenny Mancuso-a suspiciously wealthy, working class Trenton boy who has just shot his best friend-the stakes are higher than ever.  That Mancuso is distantly related to vice cop Joe Morelli-who is trying to beat Stephanie to the punch-only makes the hunt more thrilling...  Taking pointers from her bounty hunter pal, Ranger, and using her pistol packing Grandma Mazur as a decoy, Stephanie is soon closing in on her mark.  But Morelli and his libido are worthy foes.  And a more sinister kind of enemy has made his first move... and his next move might be Stephanie's last.

Three to Get Deadly  4 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  A "saintly" old candy store owner is on the lam-and bounty hunter extraordinaire Stephanie Plum is on the case.  As the body count rises, Stephanie finds herself dealing with dead drug dealers and slippery fugitives on the chase of her life.  And with the help of eccentric friends and family, Steph must see to it that this case doesn't end up being her last...

Four to Score  3 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  Stephanie Plum, Trenton, New Jersey's favorite pistol-packing, condom-carrying bounty hunter, is back - and on the trail of a revenge-seeking waitress who's skipped bail. With the help of 73-year-old Grandma Mazur, ex-hooker Lula, a transvestite musician named Sally Sweet, and the all-too-hospitable, all-too-sexy Joe Morelli, Stephanie might just catch her woman. Then again, with more mishaps than there are exits on the Jersey Turnpike - including murders, firebombs, and Stephanie's arch-rival bounty hunter chasing after the same fugitive - Stephanie better watch her back big-time if she wants to live to crack this case.

High Five  4 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  What’s Stephanie up to now?  Her Uncle Fred has disappeared. A body turns up in a garbage bag. She’s got a nasty bookie following her around town. Grandma Mazur has her hands on the stun gun. Stephanie can’t keep a car for more than forty-eight hours. Two men are trying to get her into bed. She has nothing to wear to the Mafia wedding. And there’s an angry little man (don’t call him a dwarf!) who won’t leave her apartment.  Bail jumping in Trenton is down to small potatoes. Stephanie’s only open case is a small bond for a small violation, committed by a small person who raises Stephanie’s frustration level in big ways. So short of money and long on bills, Stephanie comes up with a plan-–diversify! Signing on as an intern with entrepreneurial Super Bounty Hunter Ranger, Stephanie ventures into Ranger’s mostly morally correct and marginally legal operations.  None of this makes vice cop Joe Morelli a happy man. The cop in him can’t help but wonder as to the source of Stephanie’s expensive new cars. And the rest of him, the man who’s been friend and lover to Stephanie, can’t help but wonder if there’s more to the partnership than meets the eye.  The internship is downgraded to second priority when Uncle Fred goes missing. Even though Grandma Mazur is sure he was abducted by aliens, Stephanie sets out to look for Fred. He’s a perfectly average senior citizen, and he’s disappeared without a trace while running errands. He’s left his ten-year-old Pontiac station wagon locked up nice and neat in the Grand Union parking lot, the cleaning is carefully arranged on the back seat, and his wife is at home, waiting for him to return with the bread and the milk and the olive loaf bologna. Locked in the top drawer of his desk are photos of a body, dismembered and stuffed into a garbage bag. And locked away in the computer files of a another average citizen are the clues that will lead Stephanie to Fred.

Hot Six  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  Low-rent bounty hunter Stephanie Plum reaches depths of personal experience that other women detectives never quite do. In Hot Six, for example, a sequence of new and hideous cars bite the dust; she finds herself lumbered with a policeman's multiply incontinent dog; and she has several bad skin days. All this when she is trying to prove her distinctly more competent colleague and occasional boyfriend Ranger innocent of a mob hit; avoid the heavies trailing her in the hope of finding him; and cope with a wife-abusing bail defaulter with nasty habits, such as setting Stephanie on fire. The peculiar joy of this series is the comic sense of place; Plum's New Jersey is one where everyone you meet, even the most dangerous of criminals, was at school with you, or stole your mother's first boyfriend, or gave your great-aunt a middling good recipe for meatloaf. Evanovich has built up an attractive cast of comic characters with Stephanie's extended family and those of her two boyfriends, the dashing and sinister Ranger and Joe Morelli (the cop whose family are only too keen on his marrying Stephanie). Hot Six will not disappoint either her fans or newcomers.

Seven Up  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  BLOWN UP  All New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has to do is bring in semi-retired bail jumper Eddie DeChooch. For an old man he's still got a knack for slipping out of sight--and raising hell. How else can Stephanie explain the bullet-riddled corpse in Eddie's garden? Who else would have a clue as to why two of Stephanie's friends suddenly vanished? For answers Stephanie has the devil to pay: her mentor, Ranger. The deal? He'll give Stephanie all the help she needs--if she gives him everything he wants...  MESSED UP  As if things weren't complicated enough, Stephanie's just discovered her Grandma Mazur's own unmentionable alliance with Eddie. Add a series of unnerving break-ins, not to mention the bombshell revelation leveled by Stephanie's estranged sister, and Stephanie's ready for some good news. Unfortunately, a marriage proposal from Joe Morelli, the love of her life, isn't quite cutting it. And now--murder, a randy paramour, a wily mobster, death threats, extortion, and a triple kidnapping aside--Stephanie's really got the urge to run for her life...

Hard Eight  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  Fugitive Apprehension Agent Stephanie Plum has a big problem on her hands: Seven-year-old Annie Soder and her mother, Evelyn, have disappeared.  Evelyn's estranged husband, Steven, a shady owner of a seedy bar, is not at all happy. During the divorce proceedings, he and Evelyn signed a child custody bond, and Steven is demanding the money guaranteed by the bond to find Annie. The money was secured by a mortgage on Evelyn's grandmother's house, and the True Blue Bonds Bail Agency wants to take possession of the house.  Finding a kidnapped child is not an assignment for a bounty hunter. But Evelyn's grandmother lives next door to Stephanie's parents, and Stephanie's mother and grandmother are not about to see their neighbor lose her house because of abduction.  Even though Stephanie's plate is full with miscreants who missed their court dates, including old nemesis and violent drunk Andy Bender and an elusive little old lady accused of grand theft auto, she can't disappoint Grandma Mazur! So she follows the trail left by Annie and Evelyn-- and finds a lot more than she bargained for. Steven is somehow linked with a very scary Eddie Abruzzi. Trenton cop and on-again, off-again fiance Joe Morelli and Stephanie's mentor and tormentor, Ranger, warn Stephanie about Abruzzi, but it's Abruzzi's eyes and mannerisms that frighten Stephanie the most. Stephanie needs Ranger's savvy and expertise, and she's willing to accept his help to find Annie even though it might mean becoming too involved with Ranger.  Stephanie, Ranger, Lula (who's not going to miss riding with Ranger), and Evelyn's lawyer/laundromat manager set out to find Annie. The search turns out to be a race among Stephanie's posse, the True Blue Bonds' agent, a Rangerette known as Jeanne Ellen Burrows, and the Abruzzi crew. Not to mention the fact that there's a killer rabbit on the loose!  Strap on your helmet and get ready for the ride of your life. Hard Eight. The world of Plum has never been wilder.

To the Nines  The epitome of laziness:  I didn't even rate this one.  A short plot summary:  Stephanie Plum's got rent to pay, people shooting at her, and psychos wanting her dead every day of the week (much to the dismay of her mother, her family, the men in her life, the guy who slices meat at the deli...oh, the list goes on). An ordinary person would cave under the pressure.  But hey, she's from Jersey.  Stephanie Plum may not be the best bounty hunter in beautiful downtown Trenton, but she's pretty darn good at turning bad situations her way...and she always gets her man. In To the Nines, her cousin Vinnie (who's also her boss) has posted bail on Samuel Singh, an illegal immigrant. When the elusive Mr. Singh goes missing, Stephanie is on the case. But what she uncovers is far more sinister than anyone imagines and leads to a group of killers who give new meaning to the word hunter.  In a race against time that takes her from the Jersey Turnpike to the Vegas Strip, Stephanie Plum is on the chase of her life.

Ten Big Ones 5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  "I'm Stephanie Plum. My mother says that I'm famous and have to set a good example. She's right, but I'm from Jersey and truth is, I have a hard time getting a grip on the good example thing."  Swing off the Jersey Turnpike and you'll be in bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's neighborhood. You'll know it because all hell will be breaking loose. Not that she looks for trouble - it just seems to follow her. In Ten Big Ones it explodes at a deli, and when Stephanie pegs a robber as a member of a vicious Trenton gang, they peg her as dead. Vice cop Joe Morelli fears she's in way too deep - even with the help of crime-solving, cross-dressing, bus driver Sally Sweet, and Stephanie's friend Lula riding shotgun as backup. With a notorious killer on her tail, Stephanie figures the best hideout is Ranger's secret lair...

Eleven on Top  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  Stephanie Plum is thinking her career as a fugitive apprehension agent has run its course. She's been shot at, spat at, cussed at, fire-bombed, mooned, and attacked by dogs. Stephanie thinks it's time for a change. So she quits. She wants something safe and normal. But the kind of trouble she had at the bail bonds office can't compare to the kind of trouble she finds herself facing now...  Stephanie is stalked by a maniac returned from the grave for the sole purpose of putting her into a burial plot of her own. He's killed before, and he'll kill again if given the chance. Caught between staying far away from the bounty hunter business and staying alive, Stephanie reexamines her life and the possibility that being a bounty hunter is the solution rather than the problem. After disturbingly brief careers at the button factory, Kan Klean Dry Cleaners, and Cluck-in-a-Bucket, Stephanie takes an office position in security, working for Ranger, the sexiest, baddest bounty hunter and businessman on two continents. Tempers and temperatures rise as competition ratchets up between the two men in her life--her on-again, off-again boyfriend, tough Trenton cop Joe Morelli, and her boss, Ranger. Can Stephanie Plum take the heat? Can you?

Twelve Sharp  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  Welcome to Trenton, New Jersey, where bounty hunter Stephanie Plum's life is about to implode in Janet Evanovich's wildest, hottest novel yet!  FIRST A STRANGER APPEARS  While chasing down the usual cast of miscreants and weirdos Stephanie discovers that a crazed woman is stalking her.  THEN THE STRANGER REVEALS HER SECRETS  The woman dresses in black, carries a 9mm Glock, and has a bad attitude and a mysterious connection to dark and dangerous Carlos Manoso …street name, Ranger.   NEXT, SOMEBODY DIES  The action turns deadly serious, and Stephanie goes from hunting skips to hunting a murderer.   SOON, THE CHASE IS ON  Ranger needs Stephanie for more reasons than he can say.  And now, the two are working together to find a killer, rescue a missing child, and stop a lunatic from raising the body count.  When Stephanie Plum and Ranger get too close for comfort, vice cop Joe Morelli (her on-again, off-again boyfriend) steps in.  Will the ticking clock stop at the stroke of twelve, or will a stranger in the wind find a way to stop Stephanie Plum…forever?  Filled with Janet Evanovich's trademark action, nonstop adventure, and sharp humor, Twelve Sharp shows why her novels have been called "hot stuff" 

Lean Mean Thirteen  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  At 320 pages, Janet Evanovich's novel is not exactly lean, but it is tightly wound. Stephanie Plum fans will rejoice as their heroine picks her way through a motley cast of deadbeats and lowlifes to solve sordid (and assorted) crimes. On hand, too, are Steph's raucous entourage of friends, relatives, and heartthrobs; past, present, and future.  New secrets, old flames, and hidden agendas are about to send bounty hunter Stephanie Plum on her most outrageous adventure yet!  MISTAKE #1  Dickie Orr. Stephanie was married to him for about fifteen minutes before she caught him cheating on her with her arch-nemesis Joyce Barnhardt. Another fifteen minutes after that Stephanie filed for divorce, hoping to never see either one of them again.  MISTAKE #2  Doing favors for super bounty hunter Carlos Manoso (a.k.a. Ranger). Ranger needs her to meet with Dickie and find out if he's doing something shady. Turns out, he is. Turns out, he's also back to doing Joyce Barnhardt. And it turns out Ranger's favors always come with a price...  MISTAKE #3  Going completely nutso while doing the favor for Ranger, and trying to apply bodily injury to Dickie in front of the entire office. Now Dickie has disappeared and Stephanie is the natural suspect in his disappearance. Is Dickie dead? Can he be found? And can Stephanie Plum stay one step ahead in this new, dangerous game? Joe Morelli, the hottest cop in Trenton, NJ is also keeping Stephanie on her toes-and he may know more than he's saying about many things in Stephanie's life. It's a cat-and-mouse game for Stephanie Plum, where the ultimate prize might be her life.  With Janet Evanovich's flair for hilarious situations, breathtaking action, and unforgettable characters, LEAN MEAN THIRTEEN shows why no one can beat Evanovich for blockbuster entertainment.

Fearless Fourteen  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  Personal vendettas, hidden treasure, and a monkey named Carl will send bounty hunter Stephanie Plum on her most explosive adventure yet.  The Crime:  Armed robbery to the tune of nine million dollars  Dom Rizzi robbed a bank, stashed the money, and did the time. His family couldn’t be more proud. He always was the smart one.   The Cousin:  Joe Morelli  Joe Morelli, Dom Rizzi, and Dom’s sister, Loretta, are cousins. Morelli is a cop, Rizzi robs banks, and Loretta is a single mother waiting tables at the firehouse. The all-American family.  The Complications:  Murder, kidnapping, destruction of personal property, and acid reflux  Less than a week after Dom’s release from prison, Joe Morelli has shadowy figures breaking into his house and dying in his basement. He’s getting threatening messages, Loretta is kidnapped, and Dom is missing.  The Catastrophe:  Moonman  Morelli hires Walter “Mooner” Dunphy, stoner and “inventor” turned crime fighter, to protect his house. Morelli can’t afford a lot on a cop’s salary, and Mooner will work for potatoes.  The Cupcake:  Stephanie Plum  Stephanie and Morelli have a long-standing relationship that involves sex, affection, and driving each other nuts. She’s a bond enforcement agent with more luck than talent, and she’s involved in this bank-robbery-gone-bad disaster from day one.  The Crisis:  A favor for Ranger  Security expert Carlos Manoso, street name Ranger, has a job for Stephanie that will involve night work. Morelli has his own ideas regarding Stephanie’s evening activities.  The Conclusion:  Only the fearless should read Fourteen.  Thrills, chills, and incontinence may result.

Finger Lickin' Fifteen  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  Unbuckle your belt and pull up a chair. It's the spiciest, sauciest, most rib-sticking Plum yet.  Receipe for disaster: Celebrity chef Stanley Chipolte comes to Trenton in a barbecue cookoff and loses his head - literally.  Throw in some spice: Bail bonds office worker Lula is witness to the crime, and the only one she'll talk to is Trenton cop Joe Morelli.  Pump up the heat: Chipotle's sponsor is offering a million-dollar reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the capture of the killers.  Stir the pot: Lula recruits bounty hunter Stephanie Plum to help find he killer and collect the moolah.  Add a secret ingredient: Stephanie Plum's Grandma Mazur. Enough said.  Bring to a boil: Stephanie Plum is working overtime tracking felons for the bonds office at night and snooping for security expert Carlos Manoso, aka Ranger, during the day. Can Stephanie hunt down two killers, a traitor, and five skips, keep her grandmother out of the sauce, and solve Ranger's problems and not jump his bones  Warning: Habenero hot. So good you'll want seconds.

Sizzling Sixteen  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  Trenton, New Jersey, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum has inherited a “lucky” bottle from her Uncle Pip. Problem is, Uncle Pip didn’t specify if the bottle brought good luck or bad luck. . . .  BAD LUCK:  Vinnie, of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds, has run up a gambling debt of $786,000 with mobster Bobby Sunflower and is being held until the cash can be produced. Nobody else will pay to get Vinnie back, leaving it up to Stephanie, office manager Connie, and file clerk Lula to raise the money if they want to save their jobs.  GOOD LUCK:  Being in the business of tracking down people, Stephanie, Lula, and Connie have an advantage in finding Vinnie. If they can rescue him, it will buy them some time to raise the cash.  BAD LUCK:  Finding a safe place to hide Vinnie turns out to be harder than raising $786,000. Vinnie’s messing up Mooner’s vibe, running up pay-per-view porn charges in Ranger’s apartment, and making Stephanie question genetics.  GOOD LUCK:  Between a bonds office yard sale that has the entire Burg turning out, Mooner’s Hobbit-Con charity event, and Uncle Pip’s lucky bottle, they just might raise enough money to save the business, and Vinnie, from ruin.  BAD LUCK:  Saving Vincent Plum Bail Bonds means Stephanie can keep being a bounty hunter. In Trenton, this involves hunting down a man wanted for polygamy, a turnpike toilet paper bandit, and a drug dealer with a pet alligator named Mr. Jingles.  GOOD LUCK:  The job of bounty hunter comes with perks in the guise of Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli, and the dark and dangerous security expert, Ranger. With any luck at all, Uncle Pip’s lucky bottle will have Stephanie getting lucky--the only question is . . . with whom?  Sizzling Sixteen . . . so hot, the pages might spontaneously combust!

Smokin' Seventeen  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  My short review:  I laugh out loud at these books! It's like cotton candy for the brain; not challenging at all to read but totally enjoyable!  A short plot summary:  The bail bonds office has burned to the ground, and bodies are turning up in the empty construction lot. To make matters worse, New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie is working out of a motor home she shares with a dancing bear, and Joe Morelli's old-world grandmother has declared a vendetta against her.

Explosive Eighteen  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  My short review:  Another FANTASTIC Stephanie Plum novel! I also really really highly recommend these on audio. I don't often recommend audio over "real" book, but the characters really come alive in these audiobooks! I'm sitting in traffic chuckling. :)  A short plot summary:  Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum’s life is set to blow sky high when international murder hits dangerously close to home, in this dynamite novel by Janet Evanovich.  Before Stephanie can even step foot off Flight 127 from Hawaii to Newark, she’s knee deep in trouble. Her dream vacation turned into a nightmare, she’s flying back to New Jersey solo, and someone who sounds like Sasquatch is snoring in row 22. Worse still, her seatmate never returned to the plane after the L.A. layover. Now he’s dead, in a garbage can, waiting for curbside pickup. His killer could be anyone. The FBI, the fake FBI, and guns-for-hire are all looking for a photograph the dead man was supposed to be carrying.  Only one other person has seen the missing photograph—Stephanie Plum. Now she’s the target, and she doesn’t intend to end up in a garbage can. With the help of an FBI sketch artist Stephanie re-creates the person in the photo. Unfortunately the first sketch turns out to look like Tom Cruise, and the second sketch like Ashton Kutcher. Until Stephanie can improve her descriptive skills, she’ll need to watch her back.  Over at the Bail Bonds Agency it’s business as usual—until the bonds bus serving as Vinnie’s temporary HQ goes up in smoke, Stephanie’s wheelman, Lula, falls in love with their “largest” FTA yet, lifetime arch nemesis Joyce Barnhardt moves into Stephanie’s apartment, and everyone wants to know what happened in Hawaii?!  Morelli, Trenton’s hottest cop, isn’t talking about Hawaii. Ranger, the man of mystery, isn’t talking about Hawaii.  And all Stephanie is willing to say about her Hawaiian vacation is . . . It’s complicated.

Notorious Nineteen  5 of 5 stars from me on Goodreads.  A short plot summary:  New Jersey bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is certain of three truths: People don’t just vanish into thin air. Never anger old people. And don’t do what Tiki tells you to do.   After a slow summer of chasing low-level skips for her cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds agency, Stephanie Plum finally lands an assignment that could put her checkbook back in the black. Geoffrey Cubbin, facing trial for embezzling millions from Trenton’s premier assisted-living facility, has mysteriously vanished from the hospital after an emergency appendectomy. Now it’s on Stephanie to track down the con man. Unfortunately, Cubbin has disappeared without a trace, a witness, or his money-hungry wife. Rumors are stirring that he must have had help with the daring escape . . . or that maybe he never made it out of his room alive. Since the hospital staff’s lips seem to be tighter than the security, and it’s hard for Stephanie to blend in to assisted living, Stephanie’s Grandma Mazur goes in undercover. But when a second felon goes missing from the same hospital, Stephanie is forced into working side by side with Trenton’s hottest cop, Joe Morelli, in order to crack the case.  The real problem is, no Cubbin also means no way to pay the rent. Desperate for money—or maybe just desperate—Stephanie accepts a secondary job guarding her secretive and mouthwatering mentor Ranger from a deadly Special Forces adversary. While Stephanie is notorious for finding trouble, she may have found a little more than she bargained for this time around. Then again—a little food poisoning, some threatening notes, and a bridesmaid’s dress with an excess of taffeta never killed anyone . . . or did they? If Stephanie Plum wants to bring in a paycheck, she’ll have to remember: No guts, no glory. . . .

And coming soon... actual reviews of Stephanie Plum books!  Look for an audiobook review of Takedown Twenty soon!