A Storm Called Katrina by Myron Uhlberg and Colin Bootman

When I chose this book from Netgalley, I wondered if information about a national disaster could be distilled into a meaningful (and appropriate) children’s book. The answer is: absolutely.

A Storm Called Katrina Front Cover

A Storm Called Katrina Front Cover (Peachtree Publishers)

THE PLOT: Louis Daniel is a 10-year-old boy who lives in New Orleans. When the levees break, Louis’s family is forced to abandon their home and try to make their way to safety. But in the Superdome, Louis’s father becomes separated from the rest of the family. What can a little boy do to help find him in all the chaos?

MY TWO CENTS: The book does a fantastic job of making a connection between Louis and a little lost dog. As I’ve mentioned in another post, sometimes people feel more strongly about animals than they do about human victims. Children especially will be more interested in a poor abandoned dog who finds a happy home than they would be in human refugees, yet the point is made. Also, it’s wonderful that Louis gets to use his musical talent, and the one item he took from their flooded house (his horn), to help his father find them in the Superdome. It makes Louis the hero of the story in a believable way. It emphasizes that children can use problem-solving skills, and the talents they develop can be used in ways they wouldn’t necessarily imagine. The illustrations are very nice. They show the family’s danger, but aren’t overly scary.

BOTTOM LINE: If your child asks questions about disasters such as Katrina, or you feel your child should be gently exposed to some of the harsher realities of life, check out this book. It’s a way to introduce a difficult subject while still highlighting the positive elements of human survival.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups. The recommended age is for Age 4/preschool and up, but I think first grade (Age 6 and up) might be more appropriate. Really, it depends on the maturity/reading level of your child. As always, read the book yourself first to make a determination.

ON SALE DATE: The book is available now in hardcover.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Not Quite a Wife (Lost Lords #6) by Mary Jo Putney

I’ve been reading Mary Jo Putney books for over 20 years now (YIKES!!!) I know many readers love the “Fallen Angels” series, but it’s Silk and Shadows that has remained my favorite Putney book all these years. Not Quite a Wife is the latest in the “Lost Lords,” a series about men who became friends as boys at an unusual school.

Not Quite a Wife Front Cover (Zebra Books/Kensington)

Not Quite a Wife Front Cover (Zebra Books/Kensington)

THE PLOT: Laurel Herbert married James Kirkland when she was 18, he was 21, and they had known each other for about 5 minutes…and after their dreamy year-long honeymoon, they separated. What happened? Innocent, religious Laurel walked in on her spymaster husband killing a man with his bare hands. Whoops. They’ve lived apart for ten years. Now, a feverish James is attacked and robbed on the street and carried unconscious into the clinic run by Laurel and her brother, Daniel (the next Lost Lord, natch). Laurel cares for James’s injuries and fever, but the malaria attack is so bad that he’s not in his right mind. In his dream state, he makes overtures to Laurel, who’s been celibate for 10 years, and…well, you KNOW she winds up pregnant.

This all happens in, like, the first two chapters, so I’m not giving much away. The bulk of the book is really about their reconciliation. This is all setup for trying again for the sake of the child. But how are they going to make two totally separate lives into one marriage? How can Laurel live with her beliefs and her husband at the same time? Oh, and Laurel has helped rescue a Jamaican girl from a slaver, so now the slaver is out for revenge and Laurel is in danger.

MY TWO CENTS: At one point, Laurel describes a gown as being “quietly elegant,” and that describes Mary Jo Putney’s writing as well. The majority of the book is people talking. While they talk, they often “frown thoughtfully” and “smile ruefully.” (Putney uses these terms A LOT in all her writing, not just this book.) There is some action toward the end of the book. On the whole, though, if you’re looking for mystery, constant danger, or humor, this is not the book for you. There are a couple of steamy love scenes.

Super-shout-out to the absolutely fabulous scene of ALL the Lost Lords wives together, discussing Laurel’s problem. There’s almost a throwdown between Cassie of Book 4, No Longer a Gentleman and Sarah of Book 5, Sometimes a Rogue, over the former’s previous relationship with the latter’s husband. Continuity is nice in a series!

Otherwise, there was a lot of predictability here. You know from the summary copy and from the way the couple immediately, “accidentally” fall into bed together that a pregnancy is coming. I think, by the end, the reader can comfortably guess how Laurel will reconcile her issues with violence. The satisfaction readers will get from this book is from the journey, not the destination.

That said, I’m not sure romance readers will sympathize with Laurel. She’s kind of sanctimonious, and readers of the whole series are likely to side with James since they already “know” him. And unfortunately, modern readers are less likely to be shocked by violence. On the other hand,  imagine a marriage between someone adamantly for gun control and someone absolutely resolute about the right to bear arms. The debate about the necessity of violence is a timeless issue.

I can’t stress how glad I am that once James finds out about the pregnancy, his immediate reaction isn’t: “Whose baby is it, since I don’t remember having sexual relations with you.” I hate that plot device more than anything else in romance, and if that had happened, I wouldn’t have finished the book. I probably would have thrown it.

SPECIAL COVER NOTE: I have to give a shout-out here for how beautiful and relevant this cover is. Love of music first brought Laurel and James together, and it continues to get them through rough patches. And really, how many romance covers show a piano? A gorgeous piano? And the combination of colors…really, this is just a standout cover. I wish her sleeve weren’t dipping provocatively, but it’s a small gripe.

BOTTOM LINE: Not my favorite book of the series, but a good read for winding down in the evenings. Read it if you’re following the series, but Putney’s Silk and Secrets is a better “spouses who married young, separated for years, and found their way back to each other” book. I think we got introduced to two future Lost Lords in this book. Daniel’s book, publishing in August of next year, is Not Always a Saint. I’m assuming the one after that will be about the steamship captain we’re briefly and mysteriously introduced to.

TEACUP RATING: I give this book about three to three-and-a-half out of five teacups. Sort of an average to slightly above-average read, definitely not bad, but I don’t think this book on its own would hook new readers into the series.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be available in mass market paperback and ebook formats on August 26, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.




Last day to win a copy of Jane Feather’s Trapped at the Altar!

Pocket Books is giving away two copies of Trapped at the Altar! To win, just comment on this thread, or on the Jane Feather Q and A, here. Pocket Books will ship copies to the two winners. Today’s the last day, so comment now!

A Triple Knot by Emma Campion

Here’s a period in English history I’m barely familiar with: Edward III and the Hundred Years’ War. This book focuses on Joan of Kent (“the Fair Maid of Kent”), who ultimately married Edward the Black Prince and became the mother of Richard II. I’m thinking the “triple knot” of the title refers to Joan’s sticky three marriages, which make for very interesting reading.

A Triple Knot Front Cover (Crown Publishing/Random House)

A Triple Knot Front Cover (Crown Publishing/Random House)

THE PLOT: Poor Joan of Kent is one of those royal cousins who is too near the throne for comfort’s sake. She knows she’ll be used as a pawn in whatever alliance her cousin, Edward III, can most benefit from.  But Edward’s young son Ned, the future Black Prince, has decided that someday Joan will be his queen. In the meantime, 12-year-old Joan meets and is instantly smitten with Thomas Holland, a young knight.

Some manipulation results in Joan marrying Thomas in secret and consummating the union. However, Joan’s mother and cousins refuse to acknowledge the marriage and instead marry her off to Will Montagu. For nine years, Joan and Thomas fight to annul her marriage to Will and have their marriage confirmed…and all the while, Ned lurks around, biding his time, knowing that no matter what, Joan will someday be HIS wife and queen. A tangled knot, indeed.

MY TWO CENTS: This is the kind of book that makes me want to get nonfiction and research the period. The author’s note helps the reader understand how much of the book is “real” and how much is imagined history…and I would have bought a lot more as “real.” It makes sense, though, that history didn’t record a lot of Joan’s early movements.

I feel that Joan and Thomas are an easy couple to root for. I also like that Ned is an ambivalent character…hero one minute, villain the next. As a reader, I was involved enough to want Joan to stay away from him, but you know that’s not going to happen.

Even though the cover indicates romance, this is a fairly clean book. The reader is mostly told that the deed has been done, with no details, which is what I prefer in my historical fiction.

NOTE OF CAUTION: There is an event of animal cruelty that reverberates throughout the entire book. If you are an animal lover, you’ll find this violence disturbing, but it does have a place in the narrative. (Funny how sometimes I get much more upset about descriptions of fictional animal violence than semi-nonfictional human violence.)

BOTTOM LINE: I very much enjoyed this book. I was willing to believe this was all true history, which is a sure sign of good historical fiction. I’ll definitely be picking up Emma Campion’s The King’s Mistress, about Edward III and Alice Perrers,  and probably checking out her books written as Candace Robb as well.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups. Loved it! If you enjoy historical fiction, put this one on your reading list.

ON SALE DATE: The book is available now in paperback and ebook formats; audiobook will be available July 29, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


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Jane Feather Q and A TODAY! Win a Copy of Trapped at the Altar!

Trapped at the Altar Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

Trapped at the Altar Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

I’m so excited to have been given the opportunity to do a Q and A with historical romance author Jane Feather, who has written so many fantastic series…the V series, the Charm Bracelet trilogy, the Bride trilogy, the Cavendish Square trilogy and the Blackwater Brides trilogy among others. I’ll also be giving away two copies of her newest book, Trapped at the Altar, courtesy of Pocket Books! I’ll tell you how you can enter to win below the Q and A. So without further ado, here are my questions and Jane’s responses.

Q: You’ve written about many different historical time periods, including some that are pretty unusual for romance books. How do you choose what period to use for your setting?

A: It depends on what historical hook I find when I’m thinking/researching historical plots. There’s always some fascinating fact somewhere in the past that’s crying out for a story set around it.

Q: What specifically made you choose the time period of the Monmouth rebellion for your new series?

A: I’ve always been intrigued by the historical figure of Judge Jeffries, the Hanging Judge who presided over the Bloody Assizes in the wake of Monmouth’s failed rebellion. I started out with a plot in which he and the assizes played a much larger part, only the romance had to take precedence so the timing became a bit skewed and I couldn’t get as far as Monmouth’s actual landing on English soil.

Q: Some readers are so captivated by the historical figures you portray that they research to learn more about the factual people and events. Does this surprise you? Are there any particular research resources you would suggest?

A: I think it’s wonderful that readers would be sufficiently interested in the historical background to research it for themselves. It makes me even more determined to ensure I get my own facts right. Wikipedia is, of course, a quick and easy route to research but I have always preferred books of historical research. You can’t go wrong with any one of the series Oxford History of England. I also rely on my copy of Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars by David Chandler, if I’m setting a book at any time during that period, and I love Trevelyan’s Social Histories of England. Other than that, historical biographies are wonderful sources for material.

Q: What is your favorite time period that you’ve written about? What time periods would you still like to write about in future books?

A: I really enjoyed writing the trilogy set in 1900 England, it was so liberating to leave behind the conventional issues of regular historical periods. I would love to write more set in the early twentieth century, including World War 1.

Q: I have read about 35 of your books, and although some characters may have similarities to others, I’ve never felt like I’m reading the same character twice. How do you make sure each new character has a voice that is unique and distinct from your previous characters?

A: I confess it’s hard, but changing historical periods and adding interesting secondary characters can help with the differentiation.

Q: Do your characters sometimes take on lives of their own? For example, have you ever intended for two characters to end up as a couple, only to find out as you’re writing them that they don’t really seem suitable for each other? Has a secondary character ever become much more important than you originally intended?

A: I think they always take on a life of their own. Certainly I’ll realize that something I intended to happen would no longer make sense because the characters moved in an unexpected direction, and often I find myself enjoying writing a secondary character so much that they play a much larger part than I’d originally intended.

Q: Despite the historical settings, your female characters usually find a way to assert their own identities and an independence more commonly found in contemporary women. How important is this to you as a writer? Do you feel these characters are anachronistic or just forerunners to modern women?

A: It’s very important for me as a writer to create strong, independent female characters. There are actually plenty of real-life examples of such women throughout history from Boadicea onwards, so they’re not automatically anachronistic. I do try to build into their backgrounds some unusual factors that explain their differences from the conventional female figure.

Q: Can you reveal the title of the next book in the series? What characters will we be seeing? How will it tie in to “Trapped at the Altar?”

A: The next book is not actually connected to this one in terms of plot, period, and characters. It’s set in 1796, at the close of the French revolution and the beginning of the Napleonic Wars. However, the concept of “trapped” will certainly be a shared plot issue. It doesn’t have a title as yet.

I want to give a HUGE thank-you to Jane Feather and her Publicist, Tatiana, at Pocket Books! Now, if you’d like to win one of two free copies of Trapped at the Altar, just comment below. (Don’t worry if your comment doesn’t show up right away; I moderate comments to prevent spam.) You have until noon on Friday, July 25, to comment. On that day, I’ll randomly pick two comments to receive a free copy!

The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister #4) by Courtney Milan

Alas, we come to the final full-length book in the “Brothers Sinister” series. The book’s original title was The Mistress Rebellion, and, according to the author note, it was going to have a completely different kind of male lead. I think everyone will agree that the author made excellent decisions with both the title change and the hero’s personality.

The Suffragette Scandal Front Cover

The Suffragette Scandal Front Cover

THE PLOT: Frederica “Free” Marshall is a suffragette in 1877 England. She runs a newspaper “written by women, for women, about women.” Edward Clark is a man with a tragic past. He’s been pretending to be dead for years after a family betrayal. Now he’s come back to England to stop his own younger brother, James, from persecuting Edward’s childhood friend, Stephen Shaugnessy. Only he finds out that James isn’t really after Stephen; he’s trying to bring down Stephen’s employer…Free.

Edward is really the rightful Viscount Claridge, but he has promised James that he’ll “stay dead” and let James be the viscount if he just stops the attacks on Stephen (and Free). But of course James won’t stop. In the meantime, Free is drawn to this man who is a self-proclaimed untrustworthy forger, but may be a whole lot more besides. How does Free stay safe without giving up her newspaper? How does Edward avoid claiming his rightful inheritance and becoming a peer? Will he ever confess to Free that he’s lied to her about his identity? How do they both stay the people they are without compromising for love?

MY TWO CENTS: I know this will come as a shock to my readers (sarcasm), but I loved this one. I may even have loved it a little more than The Heiress Effect (reviewed here), but I’m not sure. That’s a LOT of love.

Free is a fantastic character. She’s absolutely intelligent and firm in her beliefs throughout the book. She’s strong but not abrasive. It would have been easy to make an abrasive suffragette, but Milan deftly makes Free lovably assertive, not annoyingly aggressive. Edward is also a great character, and Free’s perfect match. Their first few scenes together are almost like a screwball comedy of one-upmanship (hint: Edward never wins). But the real key is that, by the end of the book, they know each other well enough to truly complete the other. It’s like magic.

I also have to mention yet another three-dimensional villain in James. He’s not your normal mustache-twirling “Mwha ha ha” villain. He’s really a weakling who convinces himself that he’s completely justified in all his actions, no matter how loathsome they are. Luckily, Edward has his number and knows just how to play him.

BOTTOM LINE: Another stellar offering from Courtney Milan, quite possibly the best in the whole series. How lucky for us readers that Free “demanded” her own book! And we still have Stephen Shaughnessy’s novella, Talk Sweetly to Me, to complete the series in August. My only fear is that her next series, the “Worth Saga,” won’t be as good…but maybe it will be even better.

TEACUP RATING: An easy 5+ teacups out of 5. Okay, maybe 6 out of 5, because the thimble speech really deserves a teacup all on its own. (Read the book. You’ll get it.)

ON SALE DATE: E-book formats are on sale now; audio will be released soon. I don’t see a print version listed on Amazon, but print versions are usually available at some point.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


The Innkeeper’s Dog by Deborah Bence Boerema

This is the first children’s book I’m reviewing, and it’s well worth checking out. It’s written especially for Christian families, but I think its message would be appealing to any religious group if adults make slight adjustments as they read to children.

The Innkeeper's Dog Front Cover (Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC)

The Innkeeper’s Dog Front Cover (Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC)

THE PLOT: Thaniel the Spaniel has been hearing stories his whole life about the night Jesus was born. He feels left out and inadequate next to his other animal friends, who all gave gifts to the baby. As time goes by, though, Thaniel learns that his own special qualities are gifts he can continue to give every day.

MY TWO CENTS: It’s been many years since I considered myself a religious person…and the end of this book choked me up. I’m not even kidding. I truly felt like I was reading someone who gets it, who really understands the true meaning of Christianity. If you are Christian, this would be a beautiful story for your children to grow up with.

I think non-Christian parents could also slightly adapt the book as they read to children. After all, the message of service to and care of your fellow humans is universal, and a very worthwhile message to pass on to children. For instance, think of Charlotte’s Web. Its message isn’t specifically Christian, but the idea of sacrificing for your friends is common to many religious beliefs.

Finally, I love that The Innkeeper’s Dog has a dog as the main character. Awww, puppies! The illustrations are very sweet and children will enjoy looking at them.

NOTE: Some activities related to the book are available here under the “Lessons from Thaniel” tab.

BOTTOM LINE: A perfect children’s story for Christmas, or really any time of year. Start a new family tradition with this book.

TEACUP RATING: Absolutely 5+ out of 5 teacups. Incorporate reading into an afternoon teatime with your children to nurture their love of reading.


Jane Feather Interview and Book Giveaway!

I’m so excited! I’ve been invited to host Jane Feather for an interview, and Pocket Books will be giving away two copies of her newest book, Trapped at the Altar!

Trapped at the Altar Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

(Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)


The interview will post on Friday, July 18th. Anyone who posts a comment on the interview will be entered to win one of the copies. You will be able to comment from July 18th, once the interview is posted, until the following Friday, July 25th. Two commenters will be chosen at random. Their names and addresses will be supplied to Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, who will then ship out the books.I really appreciate Jane Feather for taking the time for the interview, and Pocket Books for offering me this opportunity! I hope you’ll join me for the interview!

Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness by Donna Smallin

I don’t know exactly when clutter started taking over my life, but I’ve been battling it for a while. When I saw this little book available on NetGalley, it seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.

Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness Front Cover (Storey Books)

Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness Front Cover (Storey Books)

THE COVERAGE: This is more of a fun book, a flip-through, than a “sit-and-read-it” book. There are pages that have only a quote, one quick idea, or a statement of encouragement. (See the subtitle: “One-Minute Tips”.) Other pages have bulleted lists of ideas or “how to” guidelines. It covers all kinds of cleaning tips, not just de-cluttering, although that is the focus.

MY TWO CENTS: This would be a great housewarming gift for someone, or a gentle push for your favorite hoarder. Some tips are really good ideas. The book is aimed at making someone overwhelmed by clutter feel less guilty (THANK YOU!) and take small steps toward digging out. Some were tips I’d heard before; some were just common sense. Others were new and very helpful. And the tone throughout was encouraging and nonjudgmental.

BOTTOM LINE:  I’m not sure everyone would call it “good value,” but I find it very helpful. I see that this author has more books like this one, and I’ll be checking them out. Like I said, they might make great gifts!

TEACUP RATING: It’s hard to give an actual teacup rating for this book, given that it’s single-page tips and not a narrative. Given that it’s a flip-through book, I’d give it maybe three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be available in paperback and ebook formats on December 16, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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