Call Me Irresistible

by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Not sure what book I was thinking of when I gave this Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel only 3 stars on Goodreads. Must have been another book. It is not only a 5, but one of my favorites. I listened to this on Audible this time, and it is at least my 3rd go-round with this one. I’ll have to rely on my memory for this review.

Besides being very very funny, I loved the characters. Both the two main characters and the hilarious, maddening, and crazy residents of Wynette Texas. The two main characters are Ted and Meg. Ted is Ted Beaudine, the only son of Francesca and Dallas Beaudine first introduced in Fancy Pants, one of SEP’s first books, and the one that started the Chronicles of Wynette. Meg is Meg Koranda, daughter of Fleur Savagar and Jake Koranda of her third novel and first contemporary, Glitter Baby. If I started talking about Meg and Ted’s parents it would go on and on but suffice it to say that all 4 of them are forces of nature and legendary in the SEP universe. Francesca and Dallie have significant roles in this novel, and the Korandas make a brief but spectacular and welcome cameo appearance. When they appeared on the scene I actually whooped.

Meg is funny, smart, good-hearted, brave, and something of a screw-up in her own eyes. She has always struggled to measure up to her fabulous parents and her brothers, knew she never could, so has never tried. She spends her glamorous life traveling around the world on her parents’ money, having daring adventures and lots of fun, but she feels like she doesn’t really fit in anywhere. Ted is just the opposite. He is a paragon of perfection. Birds start singing when he appears on the scene, and rays of light seem to follow him around. I have to say that this whimsical trait S.E.P. gives him was genius on her part. (Meg finds it “creepy”.)He is adored and worshipped in Wynette where he solves everyone’s problems and never fails at anything he does.
“He sounds like Jesus. Except rich and sexy.”
“Watch it, Meg. In this town joking about Jesus could get you shot. You’ve never seen so many of the faithful who’re armed.”

Plus he’s a genius and uses his powers for good. And he’s humble. And he’s marrying the perfect woman, Lucy Jorik, of First Lady and daughter of Cornelia Jorik, ex-president of the United States. She’s perfect but we still like her. SEP’s next book, The Great Escape, is Lucy’s story and runs concurrently with this one. Meg, her best friend and maid of honor, senses there is something very wrong behind all this perfection. And when good-girl Lucy ditches Ted at the altar, all eyes turn to Meg. She is blamed by everybody, even Ted and Lucy’s parents. To make matters worse, Meg’s loving parents in a burst of tough love have finally cut her off and she has no money with which to skedaddle out of Wynette and all of the torches and pitchforks gathering at the Wynette Country Inn. The story of how Meg not only survives being destitute, hated, and treated like dirt, but finally starts to fit in, thrive, and find her self-esteem is as entertaining as hell. But strangely, I found Ted’s journey even more fascinating and well-crafted. Meg sees through him almost immediately and understands that behind all that goodness lies a lot of fear. Is there anything behind that emotionally controlled mask?
The answer is yes.
3 stars (???) bumped up to 5.

Rating: 10 out of 5.

The Secret of the Sand Castle (Judy Bolton # 38)

by Margaret Sutton

Thus endeth the Judy Bolton series. At least the ones written by Margaret Sutton. This one is pretty good. Even though I gave the last one 5 stars, it was not really for the story but for Margaret’s daring to tackle the issue of racial prejudice and right-wing hate groups. This one is almost 4 stars.

Roxy, Judy’s look-alike cousin we first met in #14 The Clue in the Patchwork Quilt, wants Judy to investigate a piece of property she inherited through her stepmother who treated her equally with her biological children. She will get a 24th share of The Sand Castle, a seaside cottage on Fire Island. Roxy knew that Judy will be visiting her great friend, Irene, on Long Island to celebrate her daughter, Little Judy’s birthday. Also joining them will be Pauline, another NYC friend I think we first met in #6, The Ghost Parade, and Flo, another friend of Irene and Judy that we met in #30 The Phantom Friend. Coincidentally Flo is a cousin of Roxy, but not a cousin of Judy, even though Roxy and Judy are cousins. This is because Judy’s mother was sisters with Flo’s dead biological mother and Flo and Roxy were related through her stepmother. This story could really have used a family tree because there are so many relatives involved and many of them have important roles to play. Also coincidentally the Sand Castle is the little cottage on the beach that Dale and Irene rented last summer, and Dale and Irene want to buy it. Also coincidentally, The shady lawyer handling the estate is Dale and Irene’s lawyer. There are a lot of coincidences in this book as there are in most children’s mystery series.

Instead of a quick day trip, the girls (and little Judy-because Dale, Irene’s husband is hopeless) the girls are stranded on Fire Island because of an impending storm and spotty boat service since it is off-season. While there, Judy encounters A mysterious Woman in Black (No not that one), who may or may not be one of Roxy’s relatives, a ghost, or someone else entirely. Also, buried jewelry, stolen loot, harmful family gossip, a jilted lover, an old bank robber fresh out of prison who is also a relative, and a plane crash that kills a father and maybe a 12-year-old child (not to mention a young pilot-Judy Bolton is not for the faint-hearted), a kidnapping, and a daring rescue (yay, Pauline!). Also, it turns out that Flo being on the expedition to Fire Island is not such a coincidence after all. Judy finds the Jewels and the warring family is semi-reconciled, although still difficult. As usual, Peter comes in at the end, if not to the rescue, at least to arrest the bad guys. The book ends with **Spoiler**Aggie, the little 12-year-old, who is not dead after all, reunited with her rehabilitated bank robber Grandfather and finding a home with Aunt Hazel, whom Judy got to know on the bus to Long Island (coincidentally). And Little Judy has her birthday party.

The book ends with a teaser for what was planned to be the next book, The Strange Likeness, but alas, it was not to be. The longest-running juvenile series by a single author was canceled. Based on conversations with Margaret before she died at age 98 in 2001, the book was completed 45 years after Sand Castle by 2 of Margaret’s devoted fans using Margaret’s own outline and with the full cooperation and participation of two daughters.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Small Admissions

by Amy Poeppel

This was an absolute delight. It is the story of Kate, a STEM doctoral candidate on the fast track whose life falls apart when she gives it all up to move to Paris with a guy who immediately dumps her. At the Airport. Heartbroken and her promising career in shambles, she is virtually catatonic for a year, having to move into her married sister Angela’s Tribeca apartment to be taken care of. When she finally starts showing some signs of life, Angela sets her up both in an apartment and with an interview for a position as assistant director of admissions for one of the most elite Manhattan private schools. Even though Kate is totally unqualified and massively screws up the interview with inappropriate comments and her too-short skirt, she gets the job much to her and the reader’s surprise.

“ I should probably tell you right off the bat-I’ve never actually had a real job before, so I don’t really have many of what you might call skills…for example, I’m trying to become a better judge of character or at least better than I used to be. These days I don’t tend to like anyone.”
Mr. Bigley looked confused.
“What I meant is, I’m discriminating. But I’m not an asshole. I bet that’s a good quality for anyone working in admissions. Right?”….
“You can often glean a thing or two from how people dress. I really didn’t know what to wear today. Everyone said, “Wear a blazer,” but for some reason, I feel totally dykey in a blazer. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian…I swear-given the choice-you’d rather see me naked than in a suit….It’s like I always say, better a naked lesbian than…me…in a blazer.” What was happening? She shook her head and felt a trickle of sweat run down her back. “Was that out loud?” she asked and fanned herself with a copy of the school newspaper.
“But speaking of apparel,” she said suddenly….”

And on she goes.

Although always a little batty, Kate is as intelligent as they come and realizes this unexpected opportunity could be her salvation. Fully expecting to be fired any minute, she buckles down to learn the job and do it well.
Kate’s journey is told from multiple viewpoints including letters, emails, and messages. It would probably be very confusing listening to it on Audible! Besides her own, told in 3rd person, we hear intermittently from two concerned close friends since college(one in first person), her long-suffering sister, and even the Park Avenue parents who will do anything to get their little darlings into the revered school. Towards the end of the book, another party chimes in out of the blue and tells his side of the story solving the ongoing mystery of why “Kate-tastrophe” was hired to begin with and was able to hang on until she became an indispensable, if always unconventional, member of the close-knit team.

Although at first impatient with her self-indulgent wallowing in her misery and general hopelessness, I grew to love and respect Kate. It was interesting how the stronger she becomes, the more the foibles and flaws are revealed in her supportive supposedly “together” friends and family. We get to know them quite well directly and indirectly. We get a peek into the messed-up lives and relationships of a few select parents who are wrestling with the admissions process. And their good, bad, and misunderstood children. The book is mostly hilarious and told in an imaginative and unusual manner which reveals the layers and differing perspectives of many people and happenings. The humor is comic, wise, dry, and irreverent and the story takes some surprising and sometimes delightful turns. And one is pretty shocking, although, yes, I should have seen it coming. The tangents it sometimes goes out on turned out to be some of my favorite parts and turn out not to be not so tangential after all.

I really liked Limelight by this author, but this book, her first book, I loved. And she has two more. Only two? Hope she is busy coming up with more!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Airs Above the Ground

by Mary Stewart

This one takes the typical Mary Stewart heroine(nice, sensible, spirited, smart, and attractive) to Austria. I think this is the only one of her books where the heroine is already married. Vanessa and her husband had been planning a second honeymoon to Italy when he puts everything on hold because his company is supposedly sending him to Sweden. Vanessa is not pleased, to say the least, and they part in anger. But then she sees her husband in a newsreel about a tragic circus fire in a small village in Austria! And, he has a protective arm around a pretty young woman! Despite her angry parting words, Vanessa and Lewis are happily married and her upstanding husband has never given her a reason not to trust him. What is going on? Coincidentally, A friend of her mother’s has asked her to chaperone her 17-year-old son, Tim, to visit his estranged father in Vienna not far from where the newsreel was filmed. What is a concerned and suspicious wife to do? Need you ask?

If I had to name a favorite Mary Stewart novel, this would be it. Tim and Vanessa become the best of friends despite their age difference, and their relationship is charming. When Lewis is tracked down, he has a very good if rather astounding reason for his deceptive actions and his many “business trips” to Europe. It turns out that there is a lot more to her husband than Vanessa was aware of. In most of Mary Stewart’s novels, the romance is tinged with darkness and suspicion with little room for humor. I loved that this one was happy and even lighthearted. The rapport and banter between Vanessa and Tim and Vanessa and Lewis and eventually Tim and Lewis was a highlight.

Of course, there is intrigue and danger involved, including a thrilling chase over the rooftops of a fairy tale castle and a terror-filled race by car and train to rescue Tim from an unthinkable fate. Yikes! Poor Tim. PTSD is definitely part of his future. And intertwined throughout is the small family-owned circus which proudly features a Lipizzan stallion. When Vanessa, a qualified veterinarian by the way, is called on to treat an old broken-down horse who was injured in the fire, it leads to two of the most touching and triumphant scenes in a Mary Stewart novel that I can recall.

The crime part is a bit pedestrian. I liked the romanticism and drama of what turned out to be the red herring much better. But that is just a quibble. There is another mystery that crops up in this one that is much more intriguing and involving than the mere breaking of international laws. I’ve never forgotten what I learned about the Lipizzan horses and their history when I read this for the first time. I listened to this one on audible, and as usual, this added even more enjoyment to this story that I last read many many years ago.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Named of the Dragon

by Susanna Kearsley

I enjoy books that have spooky or paranormal elements in them but keep you wondering if, after all, there might be a logical explanation for at least some of it. Sometimes what seems to be paranormal activity is actually quite earthly activity. Sometimes there really are ghosties and ghoulies or all manner of supernatural happenings. And sometimes it is a combination of both. The late great Barbara Michaels was a master of gothic and contemporary romantic suspense novels that were firmly rooted in the metaphysical. Susanna Kearsley is often compared to Mary Stewart, but I find her more closely aligned with Barbara Michaels. Susanna (may I call her Susanna?) loves to use the dual timeline where the heroine travels in some way between two worlds, present times and times of centuries past. She is known for her impeccable research and authenticity in bringing forth past worlds.

Lynette is a literary agent spending the Christmas holidays in Wales with one of her authors and good friend, Bridget, Bridget’s boyfriend, a critically acclaimed author, and his brother. Nearby is a near-legendary reclusive grouchy playwright as well as the caretaker of Castle Farm (a real place) and his wife. Also living in an apartment attached to the main house is Elen, a young widow with a baby, whom, shall we say, has her feet firmly planted in the clouds. Or as it is put, “She’s just inherited her mother’s way of seeing things, the Celtic way, that sees the past and future worlds all blended in with ours. That isn’t mad, it’s Welsh.” She is convinced that a dragon is after her baby, like in an ancient Welsh tale, and that Lynette has been sent to protect him. Sadly, 5 years earlier Lynette’s own baby died in childbirth, and Lynette, continually haunted by nightmares, has not healed from the tragic loss. Interwoven throughout the book are elements of the Arthurian myths and legends and actual British history alike including Henry VII, his remarkable mother Margaret, and the baby who would someday become Henry VIII. As is usual while reading Kearsly’s books I was driven to Wikipedia and Google Maps to get a grounding in the historical background and the actual historical sites that come into play. Margaret and Merlin come to both Lynette and Ellen in dreams, and we are meant to see parallels and influences between the present and the past. Is history repeating itself? Is Elin’s baby really in danger? And what is Lynette meant to do about it?

For me, Susanna did not adequately bring the fantastical together with the real in a coherent way. To my mind, this intertwining should have been the heart and soul of the book. I loved learning about Queen Margaret, legendary and historical Welsh figures, and the Arthurian legends as told by Tennyson and other accounts. I was awaiting with curiosity and interest for all to be revealed and past and present, and reality and fantasy to come together in true Susanna Kearsley fashion, but it just didn’t. I don’t mind if mysterious things remain mysterious or not fully explained, but I at least want these things addressed and acknowledged. For example, At one point, while sightseeing, Lynette sees an old man, “tall and thin with stooped shoulders and with wispy white hair that blew wild in the wind” emerge from a cave. He is wearing a woolen wrap that trails behind him. He approaches Lynette with eyes as “sharp as chips of gray granite” and in a melodious voice intones, “ Take you care of the boy.” Her two companions saw and talked to him earlier so he is not a figment of Lyn’s imagination. Lynette makes no connection with Merlin come to life, or Elin’s oft-stated belief that Lynette is her baby son’s protector because Merlin told her so. She wonders about it for about five minutes but strangely concludes the old guy was referring to her adult male companion whom he must have taken to be her boyfriend. And then she just forgets all about it. She is unfazed, while I was all “WHY ISN’T SHE FREAKING OUT RIGHT NOW!!??” That she might have just had an encounter with Merlin does not even cross her mind after all that she has been exposed to. It’s where the book lost me.

As always, Susanna Kearsley’s prose is beautifully written, her characters are interesting, the dialogue sophisticated, and the descriptions evocative. There is an exciting climax and satisfying resolution to Lynette’s road to her personal recovery and romantic happy ending. The clues to the source of the danger and mystery, when we find out there is real danger and mystery, are fairly placed along with some very plausible red herrings. I think she tried to tackle too much in this fairly short (for her) novel and just fell too in love with all of the trappings. Interesting trappings, but in the end, just trappings.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Seaview Manor

by Elissa Grandower

This started out pretty well. I was in the mood for a good gothic and this one came to my attention as a likely prospect. I liked the heroine who seemed to have a lot of gumption and an interesting background. I loved the 1970s New York City vibe the book started off with. It reminded me of T.E. Huff’s contemporary Gothics. Unfortunately, the male writer of this one (under a female pseudonym) didn’t measure up to my expectations. This was disappointing and surprising because Hillary Waugh was a very respected and pioneering writer of the police procedural subcategory of mysteries and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Surprisingly, the mystery part was one of the disappointments in this. In the end, it seemed pretty slapdash and not well thought out or constructed.

Andrea, our heroine, is in a dead-end boring job with a scientific journal and answers an employment ad looking for a young, personable, single female who is adventurous and able to travel. After a somewhat unusual interview, she is selected to be the pretend girlfriend of Charles Carteret, the attractive young head of a very wealthy and prominent family. Her mission is to become friends with Regina, his mentally disturbed sister who is suffering from a devastating disappointment in love which has caused her to become a recluse, depressed, and completely closed down. Hopefully, Andrea, spending the summer with Charles, Regina, and their family on their private island, can penetrate the wall she has put up and start the healing process. This seemed a pretty questionable plan to both me and Andrea. But she is talked into it.

The writing was engaging with a good setup for intrigue, danger, and mystery. It was cooking along pretty well until about the halfway point when smarmy Daniel, Regina and Charles’s stepbrother and the supposed object of Regina’s unrequited love, arrives on the scene. A handsome and charming ladies’ man, he and Andrea start flirting with each other although she is careful not to be inappropriate. Daniel whines about how unfairly he has been treated inheritance-wise and has a “slightly soft body.” Gothic good guys don’t whine and their bodies are not soft unless they are elderly, so I discounted Daniel immediately and soon viewed him with suspicion and distaste. But not so Andrea. Despite the attractions of Charles, she likes him, trusts him, and is even attracted to him. Which, in turn, makes her look stupid and a person of no judgment or sense. After some admittedly suspicious behavior on Charles’ part when a stable worker is killed, she jumps to the conclusion that Charles is a murderer without a thought as to why he would murder that person. It’s not that he had no motive, but that the thought of “what is his motive?” and puzzling over what it might be never enters her mind. This was the point I lost interest in the novel. After a few more chapters, I started skipping through to the end. The death is ruled an accident even though proof that it is not is in plain sight. And on and on. Questionable motivations, unnecessary lies, “proof” that is not proof of anything, and ludicrous actions abound. Not to mention a jarring change of literary point of view near the end. The main thing though was having to see everything through the eyes of a heroine that was just so clueless. I got very antsy and impatient which was not helped by the fact that I was forced to read this book in hardback (interlibrary loan) as it was not available on Kindle. And I had another book with lots of potential waiting in the wings. Even the romance was a bust.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

The Last Hellion

By Loretta Chase

This was my second book by Loretta Chase and it does measure up to Lord of Scoundrels. I listened to it on audible read by the very talented Kate Reading who has a voice perfectly matched to both of the dynamic couples in the books. I wearied of Historical Romances quite some time ago, but Loretta Chase reminds me of why I used to gobble them up. When I finished the first novel, I was hoping that it wouldn’t be the last I saw of the unforgettable Lord and Lady Dain so I was very pleased to see them again in this, and not just in passing. Not to mention the large and very surprising role the dutchess’s hapless silly brother Bertie has in it!

In 1820s London Lydia Grenville is a crusading journalist who also writes best-selling serials in secret. She meets our bad boy hero Vere Mallory, Lord Ainsworth, after practically running him down in her carriage while in hot pursuit of a bawd who has kidnapped still another young innocent country girl for nefarious purposes. He follows her with mayhem in mind and they face off in a dark alley which ends with the Amazonian Lydia, as always accompanied by her mastiff Susan, knocking him down in the mud. In full public view. Coralie temporarily escapes Lydia’s wrath but the rescued country girl, genteel and well-educated Tamsin, becomes Lydia’s girl Friday. There are many subplots in this which makes the book a bit episodic. It is very action-packed. Lydia continues to pursue and outwit Coralie, the infamous and evil madam, steals back Tamsin’s stolen rubies, rescues a pitiful new mother from prison, participates in a dangerous and exciting carriage race, and foils a kidnapping. Somehow Ainsworth always seems to be around to either lend a hand or to complicate matters, to Lydia’s frustration. It is a passionate battle of wills and they are evenly matched. They fall in lust, then love, quarreling and fighting every inch of the way right up to the altar (she lost a bet). Meanwhile, we learn about their tragic backstories and uncover the mystery of Lydia’s parentage. Tamsin is no slouch either and has her own story and romance as well.

It’s a wild ride and very entertaining with lots of caustic and amusing banter, comedy, adventure, and drama. Social conditions and women’s issues are given due attention. To top it off, the passionate and satisfying romance was free from silly misunderstandings, deceptions, and stupidity. They were made for each other for many reasons, but mostly because they both hide hearts of gold.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Penny Plain

by O. Douglas (Anna Masterson Buchan)

I couldn’t take any pleasure in myself if my face were made up.” Pamela swung round on her chair and laid her hands on Jean’s shoulders. “Jean,” she said, “you’re within an ace of being a prig.

“Jean, I’m afraid you’re a chirping optimist. You’ll reduce me to the depths of depression if you insist on being so bright. Rather help me to rail against fate, and so cheer me.”

This started off fairly promisingly with the rich and fashionable but very likable and down-to-earth Miss Pamela Reston retreating to the small Scottish village of Priorsford because she has become bored with the social whirl of London and wants to rest and rediscover herself and the joy of living. Her exotic ways have quite an impact on the villagers there and vice versa. Of particular interest is the very well-read Jean Jardine, her next-door neighbor, and her little family who are genteelly poor, but very happy and delightful. Some of the initial exposition, Pamela’s description of the town and her new neighbors takes place in letters to her brother, Biddy, Lord Bidborough, who is on business in India. The tone reminded me of the letters compromising 2 Jean Webster books, Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy. Of course, we know that Pamela’s description of her new friend and her charming family is going to intrigue Biddy to no end and that he will come to Priorsford the first chance he gets to visit his sister and proceed to quickly fall in love with both Jean and her family. Unfortunately, the letters ceased way too soon. As the book’s focus shifted to Jean and her three brothers, It wasn’t long before it started to remind me of the children’s classic, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.

This book was a mainstay of my childhood reading history. I read it over and over, loving it very much, although I was an adult before I could ever find the longed-for sequels to the original story, in which Polly Pepper and her family (3 brothers, and the youngest little sister Phronsie) grow up into upstanding citizens and get married. I won’t go into all of the parallels, but the main one is the utter and unremitting goodness of both Polly Pepper and Jean Jardine, the two heroines, and their self-sacrificing devotion to their brothers. But I am no longer an innocent and naive little girl appreciative of a stellar role model like Polly Pepper. Jean was just too good for me.

I was led to the author of Penny Plain by her association with a favorite “old-timey” author, D.E. Stevenson. Loving her novels, I am no stranger to lovely, kind, and good heroines. But I am afraid that Jean was just too much. I started to lose touch with her when she gave a bedraggled sad stranger a valuable and treasured book when he confides that it contains a song that his mother used to sing to him when he was a child. She pretty much lost me when she turned down Biddy’s inevitable marriage proposal because “We belong to different worlds” and also,

“My feelings,” said Jean, “don’t matter at all. Even if there was nothing else in the way, what about Davie and Jock and the dear Mhor? I must always stick to them—at least until they don’t need me any longer.”

Girl. But praise be, it turns out that the poor stranger was in fact a very wealthy but dying man who leaves his entire fortune to Jean because of her little act of generosity. Even though Jean and her little family have been living pretty much hand to mouth, she views this windfall not with joy and gratitude, but with suspicion and fear. She doesn’t want it. She is persuaded to see the value of her legacy (she can use the fortune to do good works and give to charity! Yay!) Eventually, she even buys a spiffy car and buys some nice clothes in Glasglow. Another big plus is that now she is worthy of Lord Biddy!

There were enough enjoyable things about this novel that kept me going to the end fairly happily. Most of the character sketches of the Jardines and their neighbors were well done and engaging. Most of the townspeople were very lovable and even the two flies in the ointment the snobby Mrs. Duff-Whalley and her shallow, fashionable, but surprisingly self-aware daughter were entertaining and had a few layers to their personality. I loved the wise and gentle parson and his merry big-hearted wife, Mrs. Macdonald, and their little story. She liked the place kept so tidy that her sons had been wont to say bitterly, as they spent an hour of their precious Saturdays helping, that she dusted the branches and wiped the faces of the flowers with a handkerchief. I was moved by how Jean helps Miss Abbot the dour local seamstress who is going blind but is too proud to ask for help. But sometimes the book took off on short tangents that had nothing to do with anything and added nothing to the plot or character development. Peter the beloved family dog going missing for example. It was further hampered by the use of archaic words and long passages written in the Scottish vernacular and in dialect, which unlike in most books set in Scotland that I have read, was largely indecipherable without a lot of effort and research. In addition, the book is littered with cultural and literary references that were no doubt familiar to readers of the day (World War I era) but which have since been lost to obscurity. (a song called Strathairlie, “Mary Slessor of Calabar”, Mrs. Wishart, Maggie Tulliver, Ethel Newcome, Beatrix Esmond, Clara Middleton, John Splendid, the Scylla of affectation nor the Charybdis of off-handedness, King Cophetua, and on and on. I looked up everything I didn’t “get”, or tried to. As an aside, Mary Slessor needs to have a movie made about her life.

If I had had a daughter, I would have given her this book to read as a child and been very happy if she liked it. But in the future, when I next want to read a wholesome old-fashioned novel, I’ll just stick with D.E. Stevenson or Elizabeth Cadell.
**2 1/2 stars**

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

P.S. In looking up Five Little Peppers for this review, I discovered that there was a series of movies based on their adventures and some of them are available on YouTube. Can’t wait! And I just may re-read the book.


by Jennifer Crusie

Most of the books I read aren’t exactly mentally or emotionally taxing, however well written and enjoyable most of them are. But I was in the mood for something even less challenging than usual. I picked up this one by the lauded award-winning Jennifer Crusie knowing that this one was one of her early “category” romances re-marketed as a mainstream if short novel. Its first iteration was as Harlequin Temptation # 463 way back in 1993. Digression Warning! So many best-selling novelists first got their start writing old Harlequins and Silhouettes, Candlelights, or Loveswepts. I am sure they must be gratified when their publishers bring back their old very lightly regarded series or category books as “legitimate” novels. Pro tip: if you are a former reader of these “catagories” be sure to do your research before purchasing an unfamiliar-looking book by Debbie Macomber, Jayne Ann Krentz (or her many pen names), Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, or many others. You may have already read it. In fact, I probably had read this particular book 30 years ago, but of course, I didn’t remember any of it this go-round, so it didn’t matter.

He shuddered. Kate reminded him of Valerie and his ex-wife, Tiffany. Women like that always got what they wanted no matter what it took, not caring who they trampled on to get their way. Efficient. Calculating. Manipulative. Most likely she’d come to the resort to sharpen her golf game, get a tan, snare a husband, and improve her stock portfolio. God preserve me from a woman like that, he thought, and grinned again. God wouldn’t have to preserve him from a woman like Kate Svenson. She’d made it very clear that she wasn’t interested.

Kate has a high-powered career as a business consultant to multinational corporations at her father’s firm. She specializes in businesses that are in trouble and she is very very good at it. But she is a little sick and tired of the people she has to deal with and feels like her life is slipping away. She wants marriage and a family along with her career. She has been engaged three times to suitable men (successful and ambitious, handsome, and good guys) but all three times she broke it off. Something wasn’t right. Encouraged by her best friend Jessie, she decides to apply her business acumen to getting a husband. She determines that a resort catering to her type of man in Tobey’s Corners, Kentucky is just the ticket and books a 2-week vacation there. Unfortunately, every time she goes on a date with a man there that fits her profile, he ends up badly injured or almost dying. This is much to the amusement of the resort owner’s laconic and very attractive brother who is the groundskeeper.

“We gave him CPR. He’s going to be all right,” Kate said. “The doctor said so.” “Dating you is like dating death,” Jake said. Kate looked exasperated. “Nobody has died.” “Not yet.”

Later, she couldn’t remember whether she had tried to stop or Donald’s trying to ruin her potatoes the way he’d ruined everything else had made her temporarily insane. Whatever the reason, she stabbed him with the sharp, narrow, old-fashioned fork and hit a vein in the back of his hand. Donald screamed, and she shoved his hand away so he wouldn’t get blood on her potatoes. “I’m so sorry, Donald,” she said and took another bite…
“What’d you do, bite him?” “He should be so lucky,” Kate said. “I stabbed him.” Jake handed her a drink. “Try not to injure anybody else, okay?” “He deserved it,” Kate said. “I’m sure he did. But if you go around wounding every guy who deserves it, you’ll be taking out most of the hotel.”

They actually hit it off and become friends because they are as far away from each other’s romantic types as can be. He is a lazy and unambitious underachiever, and she is the type of woman who will try to change him and make him move to the big bad city.

It pretty much plays out romantically as you think it will but with some interesting side trips. Kate decides to help a local country bar owner increase her profits and ends up bartending there which she is excellent at, thank you very much. She unexpectedly makes friends with a young Barbie Doll-like fellow vacationer who is there to sow her wild oats before settling down with her rich much older fiance. Things don’t go according to plan. Of course, we have an antagonist, Valerie, who is sleeping with Will, Jake’s brother. She is the ambitious social director who has a much-inflated opinion of herself and her future both with Will and the resort.

“…I’m indispensable.” “Lucky you,” Kate said uneasily. She felt a sudden need to get far away from Valerie, as if she had something contagious that she might catch. Like maybe ruthless ambition and a total lack of humanity. 

Times have changed a lot since 1993. Some aspects of Jake and Kate’s relationship are dated and will not sit well with modern sensibilities. Some are quite ahead of their time and would warm the hearts of progressive feminist-leaning type readers. I was really surprised when Kate takes up for Valerie when her “just deserts” time arrives near the end. She is a bitch and Kate very much dislikes and disapproves of her and her schtick but it didn’t negate the fact that she was treated shabbily by nice Will. When she delivers some home truths to the brothers, it leads to some drama and complications which weren’t easily or totally predictably resolved. But Kate always has the high road and doesn’t back down.

It met all my expectations. It was very funny with a hero and heroine who were well-developed and somewhat unusual. It wasn’t what I would call “gripping” or a page-turner by any means. You pretty much know how it will play out, with some surprises and tensions here and there in the journey to the happy ending. Leisurely read in between other activities, it took me 2 1/2 weeks to finish it. And the book was an enjoyable pressure-free 2 1/2 week “something to read” which really hit the spot.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Search for the Glowing Hand (Judy Bolton #37)

By Margaret Sutton

When a Muslim family is burned out of their store and Mosque, Judy gets involved. Who set the fires and why? And who pulled the fire alarm across town diverting the firefighters from the real fire? Suspicion has landed on 10-year-old Ken Topping because his hands now glow under ultraviolet light. The police had coated the alarm handle with a chemical to catch those responsible. But Judy thinks he is innocent partly because Ken is friends with the Muslim boy who was injured in the fire.

As Judy investigates, she discovers an organized international group of bigots that share more than a passing resemblance to groups who are operating today, almost 60 years after Margaret Sutton wrote this book. They are called The Wasps (John Birch Society?), and yes, they are against anyone who is not White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant. Their mission is to infiltrate high schools and church groups to spread their hate disguised as Patriotism and traditional Christian values. A number of Judy’s acquaintances, including the snobby trouble-making Vincent family, have found much to like in their agenda.

While trying to find the real culprits, Judy finds plenty of excitement, including riots in the streets of usually peaceful Farringdon. A house that the Muslim family, The Wards, was buying in an exclusive neighborhood is set on fire and burned. According to Lindsay Stroh, Margaret Sutton’s daughter, The issue of inclusion and diversity hit close to home for Margaret. Her nephew Victor married a Muslim woman and also converted to Islam himself. Margaret was also heavily involved in encouraging the integration of her community and joined Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. This book is based on an actual incident, as all of the Judy Boltons are. One of Lindsay’s schoolmates was Indian and when they moved into a wealthy white neighborhood, they were the victims of arson.

Unfortunately, Margaret’s message for her young readers was muddled somewhat by the introduction of the controversy of the local high schools becoming co-ed instead of Boys Only and Girls Only. The ”Anti-Wasps” who were protesting the segregated schools were almost as unsympathetic as The Wasps. Also, a number of loose ends were left untied, and we never really see if or how the original families who were against “Heathens” living in their exclusive neighborhood had a change of heart. We are told that the whole community banded together to welcome the Wards and their mosque to the neighborhood once the outsiders were arrested by Peter and the rest of the FBI. A little too pat and rushed.

According to a friend and fellow member of The Judy Bolton Discussion Group, William Land, Some of the problems with some of Margaret’s later books could possibly be laid at the feet of the publishers who considerably reduced the page count of the Judy Bolton books and other children’s series starting in the 1960s. Sometimes Margaret seems to have been trying to tackle too much in the fewer pages allotted to them. Also, the series was coming to an end and Margaret still had a lot to say (my speculation entirely).

Nevertheless, despite its lack of clarity and lingering questions, This book deserves 5 stars for the difficult and controversial issues that Margaret Sutton addressed in this particular volume. Especially for the time it was written. There are a lot of tense scenes, and Judy proves her moral and physical courage on more than one occasion. She was a real heroine in this. I’m sure many of Margaret’s young readers were influenced by her take on the integration and inclusion of those of different faiths and ethnicities. Although there is no doubt where Judy and her friends stand on the issues, it is not always easy, simple, and straightforward for all of the characters we meet in this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.