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BookChick (Simcoe, ON Canada)
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Merry Acres Widows Waltz
Merry Acres Widows Waltz
by Nan D. Arnold
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 15.92
6 used & new from CDN$ 15.91

3.0 out of 5 stars A fast-paced read, April 19 2011
Georgiana Duncan insisted that she and her husband, Daniel, move to the retirement community of Merry Acres when they reached "that" age. Now, with few prospects for making new friends, a husband too busy gambling or playing golf to stick around for long, and a money-pit of a house to fix up, Georgiana isn't too sure. She becomes even more concerned about her decision to move there when several women's husbands end up murdered. Are the newly minted widows in Merry Acres hiding something, or is there some other force at work here? And would Georgiana really be so unhappy if her own husband were to mysteriously kick the bucket?

"Merry Acres Widows Waltz" was certainly a departure from my usual reading selections. It had murder, intrigue, and a breathless (yet satisfying) ending. I couldn't help but feel some pity for our main character, Georgiana. We find her at the beginning of the novel uncertain as to why she was so determined to move to Merry Acres in the first place. Her husband certainly hasn't changed since the move, their house continues to drain their financial resources, and the women in the community seem distant and just a little unusual. When the men living in the community begin meeting their untimely demise, one by one, Georgiana is really questioning her decision to become a part of the retirement community. But with a mystery on her hands, and the free time to solve it, she begins chasing down some surprising answers.

Well-written, fast-paced, and clever, "Merry Acres Widows Waltz" is a must-read for anyone who enjoys curling up with a good mystery.

3.5 stars out of 5

Love in Mid Air
Love in Mid Air
by Kim Wright
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 10.65
28 used & new from CDN$ 1.24

4.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking look at marriage, Aug. 27 2010
This review is from: Love in Mid Air (Hardcover)
Elyse Bearden is on a flight on the way back from a pottery show when she makes a decision that will change her life. She switches seats with a stranger and ends up sitting next to Gerry, the man who will cause her to question everything that she's ever believed in. After a brief but chemistry-filled encounter with him, she returns home to her passive husband Phil, her fulfilling pottery business, and her young daughter Tori, but suddenly things don't look the same as they always have.

Weeks later, Elyse finally gathers enough courage to call Gerry. The chemistry between them is still there, and they meet up in a hotel. Their affair has officially begun. In the next months Elyse alternates between trying to save her failing marriage while falling for Gerry. Her friends and fellow book-club members try to convince her of all that she will lose by walking out of her marriage, and by doing so spark heated discussions about their own flawed personal lives. Ultimately Elyse must decide if all that she will gain by walking out on her marriage will be worth all that she loses.

Anyone who has ever been married knows that it's not all a walk in the park. Yes, there are good times, bordering on perfection. For every good time, there seems to be a bad time too; many marriages eventually reach the point when one contemplates walking out the other, even if that final step is never taken. Our divorce rate (almost 40% of Canadian marriages ended in divorce in 2003) should emphasize that point. "Love in Mid Air" was a reflection on marriage- the sacrifices that we make to stay married, the times when we wish that we could leave, what can be lost by staying, and what we can gain by leaving. It was interesting to me that Elyse spends much of the book giving her marriage one last shot. She attends counselling with her husband, she tries wearing sexy lingerie for him, and she tries to be more agreeable in his prescence. Yes, she's involved in an affair with Gerry at the time (including monthly hotel visits and frequent phone calls), but she's still giving her marriage one last effort. Some could argue (and some in the book do) that Elyse isn't being fair- she should either concentrate on her marriage, or she should leave Phil and concentrate on her new relationship, but I would have to say that at least she did make an effort. The fact that these continued efforts didn't work attest to the fact that her marriage really wasn't working anymore.

I only had one small problem with the book, and that was within the conclusion. A particular event occurs towards the end which wrapped things up tidily, but I felt that the particular event essentially excused Elyse from her actions. Cheating is wrong (although not always black and white), even during the last gasps of a marriage. I think that Elyse should have had to fully face the consequences of cheating on her husband.

Aside from that, I found the book enjoyable and found it very thought-provoking. It presented the institution of marriage from a variety of different directions. It would make a fantastic book club selection.

All I Ever Wanted
All I Ever Wanted
by Kristan Higgins
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The perfect balance of romance, humour, and happily-ever-after, July 31 2010
Callie Grey has been in love with her boss since, well, since well before he was her boss! Mark has to do nothing more than smile at her and her stomach automatically knots. He was her first kiss, in a closet of her youth, and he's continued to hold a special place in her heart despite the fact that she's well into adulthood. Then there's the matter of their five-week fling about a year ago. Callie found herself in Mark's bed, and hasn't been able to forget about it, despite the fact that Mark broke up with her because of "the timing".

Callie finds herself wanting to forget about Mark, fast, when Mark announces that he's dating the company's newest employee, who happens to be the spoiled daughter of the firm's largest client. Callie's friends urge her to find someone new, if for no other reason than making Mark realize what he's missing. She throws herself into online dating, but is taken aback when she finds herself falling for the town's newest, but rather aloof, vet.

Suddenly Callie finds herself thinking "Mark who?" but little does she know that the path with her new beau will be rough sailing ahead.

I have to admit that I shy away from reading romances. I'm a chick lit kind of girl, and there's so much of that out there that I haven't ventured into reading a lot of romance. That being said, I have to say that the cover and the description of Kristan Higgins' latest just called out to me. It called out so much that I read it shortly after receiving it, and I have to say that now I know why this one was calling my name. Higgins has written a book that is, yes, packaged as romance, but it kind of sits on the fence between romance and chick lit. It's not quite romance, not quite chick lit, but it is a delightful combination of the two.

I really, really enjoyed this book. Callie, our main character and all-around sweetheart, was someone that I loved from the beginning. She's the peacemaker that you can find in most families, the one slow to anger but quick to love, and you just can't help but root for her from the very beginning. She has this genuine desire for people to like her, but I never saw that as a bad thing (being a bit of a people pleaser myself). She lives with (and adores) her elderly grandfather who lost a leg after a stroke and an accident. She loves her father despite the fact that he cheated on her mother 22 years ago. She's a hard worker, a good sister, beloved by her nieces, yet she can't seem to get a break. Here she is, stuck working with and mooning after Mark, a man who so clearly does not deserve her. I was so glad when Ian, hunky vet with a reserved personality, broke onto the scene. Now there was someone that I could see Callie with! Handsome, mature, maybe a little wounded emotionally, but I could tell that there was a good person hiding under that gruff exterior.

Callie wasn't the only character that I loved. There was Ian, of course. Noah, the gruff grandpa with a heart of gold. Bowie, the beloved husky. Freddie, the slacker brother with a surprisingly good "listening ear". One of Higgins' strengths lies in creating quirky (imperfect) characters that you just can't help but love. While reading I wished that I could just drop in and have dinner with them all.

There were a couple of really funny scenes in here (the scene with the turkey had me laughing out loud), as well as some touching moments. "All I Ever Wanted" was the perfect balance of romance, humour, fun, and of course, happy endings, and it left me wanting more. Fans of both chick lit and romance should find this one to be a worthwhile summer read.

Beach Week
Beach Week
by Susan Coll
Edition: Hardcover
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Examines the relationship of a teenager and their parents with wit, July 31 2010
This review is from: Beach Week (Hardcover)
Jordan Adler has had a rough go of things since her family moved to the D.C. suburbs. Not only was she forced to make new friends and new connections in the middle of her formative high school years, but she was injured by a wayward soccer player and had to endure a year of migraines and MRI's. Her parents haven't had the best time of it, either. Charles Adler had moved to D.C. in order to run a project to revitalize the downtown area. The project has encountered opposition, though, and until it is completed he doesn't receive the sizable bonus that he's been promised. The medical bills resulting from Jordan's injury continue to pile up, and Leah Adler, his wife, hasn't been able to find work. Leah, meanwhile, finds that she doesn't quite fit in in her new hometown. The other mothers have made an effort to exclude her, all she and her husband seem to do is fight, and her daughter is growing more distant.

Insert beach week into the mix, and they have a disaster on their hands. Beach week is a right of passage in D.C., where a group of girls go away to the beach on their own to celebrate their impending adulthood. Jordan doesn't really want to go, especially since she's met a handsome college man named Khalid, but her parents are insistent that she attend. The parents of the girls who are going get together to assess what their liability will be if things end up going horribly wrong, but beach week doesn't turn out at all like anyone thought that it would.

"Beach Week" is filled with sharp wit and dry humour, and it addresses something that every parent fears: when their child reaches that terrifying time of being not quite a teenager, but not quite an adult. The funny thing about the book is that I didn't particularly love any of the characters, which is usually a benchmark for me of how much I will enjoy the book, yet I appreciated the story and enjoyed it. The parents of all of the girls were the kind of people that you just love to hate- judgmental and cliquey, yet they were really no better than any other parent around them. Despite the fact that Charles (Jordan's father) was not a character that I particularly loved, I did appreciate the fact that he is portrayed as being flawed and quite human, even though he tries to keep it all together for the sake of his wife and daughter. You get the sense that he is quite overwhelmed by both of them.

"Beach Week" is a must-read for any parent of a teenager. Susan Coll examines the relationship between teenagers and their parents with humour and sensitivity, making this book one not to miss, even if you do want to slap some of the spoiled teenagers and their indulgent parents along the way.

Seven Year Switch
Seven Year Switch
by Claire Cook
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.99
25 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for the beach this summer!, July 22 2010
This review is from: Seven Year Switch (Hardcover)
Jill Murray feels like she finally has it all together, seven years after her husband Seth left her and their three-year-old daughter Anastasia in the middle of the night, leaving only a note behind. Sure, she's working three jobs to make ends meet, and sure, their house isn't as nice as the others in the neighborhood, but she's managing it, and all that really matters to her anyways is Anastasia.

When Seth reappears out of the blue, apparently finished with his stint in the Peace Corps and ready to be a father again, Jill is terrified that he will disappoint them, and especially their daughter, again. Anastasia is thrilled to have her dad back in her life, but Jill can't help but have her reservations.

Meanwhile, things are getting even more complicated on the man front. Jill is finding it next to impossible to resist her sweet and charming client, Billy, but is afraid to introduce yet another thing into her already chaotic life. Unable to figure out what to do, Jill takes a giant leap and takes a solo trip to Costa Rica, hoping that she'll be able to find out some answers while she's there.

Jill Murray is the protaganist that you're rooting for from the very beginning. She's sweet and lovable, yet closed off. She's been hurt before- big-time- and she's not keen to let anyone into her carefully constructed bubble. As a reader, I rooted for her all the way through. I hoped that she would come out of her shell, live a little, and realize that although she had been hurt before, not all men would be like her husband. Jill's neighbor, Cynthia, who likes to appear vapid but is anything but, was a welcome addition to the cast of characters. The fact that she was Jill's complete opposite made for an interesting comparison, and an even more entertaining friendship.

I loved the underlying theme about change and growth. The title comes from the concept that every seven years our skin completely regenerates itself, making us essentially a whole new person. Throughout the book we are presented with the concept that change, and especially personal growth, can be a good thing, if only we open ourselves up to it.

I really enjoyed "Seven Year Switch" and read it in less than a day! Claire Cook takes a situation that is serious and all too real (abandonment) and turns it into something fun, heartwarming, and empowering for the people involved. I highly recommend that you slip this one into your bag the next time you're headed for the beach- you won't be disappointed!

Farm Fatale: A Comedy of Country Manors
Farm Fatale: A Comedy of Country Manors
by Wendy Holden
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.85
31 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars A little too light for my taste, July 20 2010
Illustrator Rosie and her newspaper columnist boyfriend Mark are ready for a change. Actually, Rosie's ready for a change, but Mark isn't quite there yet. Rosie longs for the peace and quiet of the countryside, rather than the hustle and bustle of the city, and when Mark is offered the opportunity to write his own column about life in the country, the two jump at the chance at a new start in a new locale.

Samantha, who fancies herself to be a famous actress (despite the fact that the only film she's ever acted in went straight- to- airline), is also considering a move to the countryside as research for her upcoming acting role. She falls in love with "The Bottom", a house located in the picturesque town of Eight Mile Bottom, and is determined that she and her wealthy husband Guy become the most popular residents in town. She's not prepared for the fact that a reclusive rock star as well as an actual film star have already taken up residence in Eight Mile Bottom, so she'll have some competition.

Both couples find that life in the country is not quite what they had envisioned, but will they like what country life has to offer?

I have to admit that "Farm Fatale" was not my favourite Wendy Holden book, although it was definitely not my least favourite either. It fell somewhere in the middle. My problem with the book was not the writing or the setting (both wonderful), but the characters and the fact that I just didn't like them that much. Mark (Rosie's boyfriend) was selfish and quite unlikable. Samatha was borderline psychotic, thinking not only that she was famous, but that everyone wanted to be like her (which couldn't be further from the truth). Guy, Samantha's husband was quite despicable, and I couldn't feel an ounce of pity for him. Jack, the farmer, was too moody for me, and I couldn't bring myself to like him either. With the exception of Jack, the above characters were all supposed to be villanous, so I really wasn't supposed to like them, but the biggest problem was that I didn't even like Rosie, the character that you were supposed to like. She acted like a doormat throughout the book, unable to assert herself to her rude boyfriend or her best friend with a hellion for a child. Luckily Rosie redeemed herself in the last quarter of the story and became quite likeable. It was at that point that I began to cheer her on. I require my chick lit (in fact, most of my reads in general) to have at least one character that I actually care about what happens to.

The last quarter of the book saved the whole thing for me. Suddenly the characters were quirky (and I was rooting for them!), and a couple of fun new characters were introduced that made the whole plot more enjoyable. In fact, I would have loved to have had two in particular (Mark and Iseult) introduced much earlier. That may have changed my whole opinion of the book.

Despite my ramblings to the contrary, I really did enjoy "Farm Fatale". I just wish that it would have been a little more concise in the beginning, with a few more likable characters. This will still make a great light beach read, as there are plenty of enjoyable scenes and the ending was quite satisfying.

Cold Rock River, 2E
Cold Rock River, 2E
by Jackie Lee Miles
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 18.99
10 used & new from CDN$ 9.38

3.0 out of 5 stars Southern fiction with heart, July 20 2010
This review is from: Cold Rock River, 2E (Paperback)
After a rough childhood filled with secrets and misunderstandings, Adie Jenkins finds herself pregnant with the baby of the only man who's ever paid any attention to her. Although Adie is only 17, she decides to marry Buck and he moves her away from her home in Cold Rock River to start fresh in Hog Gap. Once they arrive, things don't start improving. Buck's mother, Verna, hardened from years of disappointment, both resents her and tries to make her life more difficult. Buck is having problems keeping a job for any length of time, so they live with his mother and his "baby-brained" brother. When Buck finally manages to find a job, he works long hours with Imelda Jane, the store owner's shameless daughter, and Adie is sure that something is going on between the two of them.

Thankfully there is some good to go along with the bad. Murphy is a local chicken farmer who helps to set Adie up with a home for herself, Buck, and the upcoming arrival. He also helps her to start her own business in order to supplement the meagre income that Buck is bringing home. Murphy and Willa Mae, an elderly woman filled with spunk, become unexpected friends at a time when Adie needs friends the most. Willa Mae carries around a journal of mysterious orgin and trusts Adie enough to let her read it. The journal is the story of a black slave, and the tragedy found in her story helps Adie to get through her own.

"Cold Rock River" tells the alternating stories of Adie and Tempe, two women who experience tragedy after tragedy as a result of their circumstances. I especially enjoyed the story of Tempe, a black slave girl who is moved from plantation to plantation. She has everything taken away from her, but somehow she finds the resolve to carry on. This part was especially well-written- the story was written authentically, with spelling and grammatical errors diliberately inserted to give Tempe a true voice. The horrors that many slaves had to endure at the hands of their masters were detailed, and gave me a new appreciation for what they had to go through just to get through the day.

The only problem that I had with this book was how much tragedy every character experienced. It seemed as if every person in the book had been through multiple devastating tragedies, and it made me wonder how much tragedy one person could go through in a lifetime, even if times were hard. Adie's family experienced tragedies, as did Buck's family; Adie and Buck go through several after their marriage, and Tempe the slave girl experienced several unthinkable ones. It seemed like they would just get through one tragedy and another one would rear its ugly head. I found myself having to suspend my disbelief that so much could happen to such a small group of people in order for me to enjoy the story.

Thankfully this didn't detract from the story for me overall. Jackie Lee Miles has a gift for getting inside a character's head, and this book was a tribute to triumph over adversity. All in all, it was a satisfying read.

The Season of Second Chances: A Novel
The Season of Second Chances: A Novel
by Diane Meier
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A coming-of-age take in midlife, July 20 2010
Joy Harkness is surprised when she's offered a prestigious position at Amherst College, working with the respected Bernadette Lowell. At the time she's working for Columbia University and feels a little burnt out with both New York and with her job, so she's excited to relocate, although she's not quite sure why Amherst wants her so badly. She moves to Massachusetts with her few belongings not quite knowing what to expect.

When she arrives she decides to buy a house. In all of her years in New York she had never really put down roots- her apartment was rented and she had kept a safe distance between herself and her colleagues. However she's decided that it's time for things to change, and Joy starts looking at real estate. She finds a run down old house, neglected at best, and surprises even herself when she decides to buy it and restore it.

The purchase of her house leads to her meeting Teddy, the local handyman with a gift for restoration. She and Teddy begin having a strange and oddly dependant relationship with one another, and as her house is restored to its former glory, Joy feels that something inside her has changed as well.

As its title suggests, "The Season of Second Chances" is all about getting a new lease on life. Joy's house was a metaphor for the change happening in her life. As her house changes and becomes brighter and newer, Joy becomes brighter and newer herself. When she initially takes the position with Amherst College she is rather reclusive, protecting herself from the people around her. She doesn't go to a lot of social gatherings with her colleagues, and her closest friends in New York are elderly sisters who still live together after many years. Her new office mates change all of that, forcing her through their kindness to open herself up to the friendships that are being offered to her. I would hesistate to call this a coming- of- age story, since Joy is middle-aged, but that's exactly what this is- a journey where at the end Joy finds that she has developed into someone new.

I didn't enjoy the relationship between Joy and Teddy, the handyman. Teddy struck me as odd (which he is supposed to) with his strange dress sense and his complete dependance on his mother. However I believe that this relationship was supposed to serve as a launching pad for Joy's future romantic life- she needs to be in this relationship in order to know how to handle adult relationships in the future.

What I really enjoyed was Joy's transformation. At the beginning of the book she seems to be contained in a private bubble, one where she can't be reached by any human, but by the end of the book she becomes someone entirely different- someone who feels emotions and lets people into her life, even if there is the possibility that she could get hurt in the process.

I really enjoyed the majority of this book, and the underlying message- it is never too late to grow emotionally and to make changes for the better.

A Thread of Sky: A Novel
A Thread of Sky: A Novel
by Deanna Fei
Edition: Hardcover
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.30

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about the complex relationships between females, July 20 2010
When Irene Shen's husband of thirty years is killed in a sudden accident, coincidentally as he's leaving her to start a new life, her whole family falls apart. Her three daughters, all blaming Irene for their father's death, scatter across the globe. Nora, the eldest, lives in New York and is involved in a tumultuous relationship. Kay, the middle child, is living in China, learning the heritage and language of her ancestors. Sophie, the youngest, is prepared to escape to college as soon as she receives her high school diploma.

Irene, desperate to reconnect with her daughters, plans a last-minute trip to China and invites her distant mother and sister along. These three generations of women reluctantly set off on their trip, but don't realize that instead of finding their heritage, they will end up finding themselves.

I enjoyed the complexity of "A Thread of Sky"- the six women begin their journey distanced from one another and holding on to their carefully guarded secrets, but it isn't until those secrets begin to tumble out, one after another, that they really open themselves up to the possibility of connection. It's like at the beginning of the book each woman is surrounded by safe layers, and as their trip continues on they start stripping those layers off. At the end of the book we are presented with a new version of each woman, the authentic version.

My only complaint would be that the story meandered at times. I felt as if the same things could have been accomplished in less time just by removing a few unnecessary scenes. The beginning was especially slow for me, as we meet all six female characters and get a feel for their back story. Deanna Fei was taking a risk by focusing on six central characters, but handled it well and it ended up paying off.

"A Thread of Sky" was filled with beautiful scenery, detailed history, closely guarded secrets, and an emotional journey. It was an ultimately uplifting story about the bonds between mothers and daughters, sisters and siblings.

Girl Crazy
Girl Crazy
by Russell Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.77
16 used & new from CDN$ 0.09

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense and raw, July 20 2010
This review is from: Girl Crazy (Paperback)
Justin, an unhappy teacher at a community college in Toronto, has just gotten out of a relationship with the reserved Genevieve. They're carrying on an awkward pretense at being friends when he meets Jenna, a girl in her early twenties who is having a miscarriage when he overhears her conversion on a payphone and decides to help. Justin gets her to a hospital where she will be looked after by a friend of his, a medical resident, and slips her his number before he leaves. Jenna calls a few days later and they get together for coffee. Justin is attracted to her toughness, her vulnerability, and her blatant sexuality. Justin loves women, women of all shapes and sizes. He loves their breasts, their hair, their shape, their smell. Much of the novel is devoted to Justin's descriptions of the beautiful women that he encounters.

Justin and Jenna start having a relationship- one that it sexual and raw and tumultuous. Her erratic behaviour draws him in again and again, and he can't seem to let her go. When Justin finds out one of the secrets that Jenna has been hiding, will they be able to make it work, or will that be the end of the road for them?

If I had to describe "Girl Crazy" in one word, it would be "intense". The whole ride is intense, and exhausting, but only in the way that something can be exhausting if it is so new to you. Jenna's world, a world of ripe sexuality and drugs and guns, is so different from the life that Justin led before he met her, yet he is inexplicably drawn to it. If I got to describe this novel in another word, it would be "dark". At times reading the book is like being exposed to the dark underbelly of humanity. Everything that your parents warned you against is in here, from the drugs to the underground poker games to the dimly lit insides of a strip club.

Reading "Girl Crazy" was a little like being a voyeur. We are privy to many of the thoughts that Justin has, and he has a fixation with women. We read about how he feels about women and their various parts, and we read about how the tiniest sliver of silk or a brightly coloured headband can turn him on. It was fascinating, and wasn't pornographic but rather psychological. It was like studying the inside of the stereotypical male brain.

I'm going to caution those who don't appreciate sex in their books to stay away from this one; there is lots in here. However, if you can handle that stuff, "Girl Crazy" is the fascinating portrait of what makes a man tick, while offering insights into the lives of those who tend to make bad decisions.

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