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REVIEW: Wildflower Hill

Author: Kimberly Freeman

2011, Touchstone

Filed Under: Romance, Historical.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 3
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 3

The experience of reading Wildflower Hill was similar to watching a Lifetime movie: it has a weak plot and bland characters, but I found myself staying up late to finish it anyway. The novel tells the story of three generations of a Scottish family, the Blaxland-Hunters, as related through alternating narratives by both the matriarchal grandmother, Beattie, and her granddaughter, Emma. There’s plenty of romance (and with it heartbreak), ballet, fashion design–but it does manage to dodge being either your typical romance novel or, worse, chick lit.
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REVIEW: The Map of Time

[This time-travel-focused genre buster is a C4 Great Read. Find it and other C4 favorites on our Great Reads shelf at Powell's.]

Author: Félix. J. Palma

2011, Atria Books

Filed Under: Literary, Historical, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance.

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 9

There’s very little I can say about this book without spoiling something. So I’m going to try something a little different to start. Let’s do word association. Take a look at this list and see how many things you think could help make for a good story:

Victorian romance. Parasols. Hoodwinks. Murder. Historical figures in fictional situations. Meticulous plotting. Vengeance. Paradoxes. Bawdiness. Secret societies. Blackmail. The Terminator. Drunk British whores. Jack the Ripper slaughtering drunk British whores. Minority Report. Tribal magic. The time machine in H.G. Wells’s attic. Street brawls. Apocalyptic robot battles. Dimensional rifts. Time travel. Henry James and Bram Stoker having a sleepover. Time Cop. Lava guns. Immortal dogs. Naive girls easily coerced into sex. Parallel universes.  Steam powered automatons. Fourth dimensional dragon-like beasts. Sword fights.

Pretty good odds for an entertaining book right? Right. In any case, if that piqued your interest sufficiently, go ahead and skip the rest of the review, pick up this book, and enjoy.  Read on and I’ll try and explain a little more substantively, but be aware that while I’ll try to limit them, there will be spoilers after the break. If you already think you want to read the book, do so, then return to my review in the future (oooooh).

Last chance to avoid SPOILERS. Okay, you’ve been warned.
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REVIEW: Irish Thoroughbred

Author: Nora Roberts

1981, Silhouette Books

Filed under: Romance

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C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 4
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 0

Irish Thoroughbred is Nora Robert’s first novel. My book club chose it as a vacation from all the backbreakingly serious books (Townie, Just Kids) we’ve been mucking through. As expected, it’s an easy read, crushable in a single day. And although it’s a vapid book, it offers several steamy moments and a comfortably predictable plotline (much like a Lifetime Original movie).

We follow Adelia, a poor Irish orphan who immigrates to the US to work with her uncle, a hand on a horse ranch. Aside from the uncle, the only other character worth noting is the young boss, a wealthy landowner and horse breeder named Travis. Predictably enough, Travis and Adelia are beautiful, bull-headed, and destined to be together, just as soon as they overcome a few obstacles.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t only the love story that was predictable. Roberts’s characters embody every old-fashioned romance-novel stereotype possible. Adelia is the quintessential damsel in distress. She’s tiny, feisty, and rather dumb (it’s 1981 and, OK, she’s a country bumpkin, but still, she’s excessively impressed by the airport, a dishwasher, indoor fountains at the mall…).
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REVIEW: The Woman Who Wouldn’t

Author: Gene Wilder

2008, St. Martin’s Press

Filed Under: Literary, Historical, Romance.

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 3

Yes, this is the same Gene Wilder who played Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein. (Note to Gene Wilder:  I love you and Young Frankenstein is perhaps my favorite movie ever. Thanks. You can stop reading here.) And yes, he should probably have stayed with acting rather than becoming a novelist. That’s not to say he’s a bad writer by any means. He’s just not a great novelist.

I very much enjoyed Wilder’s last book, My French Whore. It wasn’t deep literature with lasting staying power, but rather a cute, short, at times funny, period romance. The Woman Who Wouldn’t, his second novel, is a cute, short, at times funny, period romance. Both books are worth the read, and you could easily read both in one  afternoon. They really are novellas–which is fine, I like novellas–so it’s hard to judge them as novels.
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REVIEW: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Authors: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

2008, The Dial Press

Filed Under: Literary, Historical, Romance

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 7
Depth..... 5

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (I’m going to call it GLAPPPS from here) is an epistolary novel occurring immediately post World War II. At its heart, it’s a subdued romance, though on the surface it’s a tale of community and friendship and bravery and belonging. Not really my kind of book. Still, I liked it.

Juliet wrote a column for a London newspaper during the war. When she hears of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society, she becomes intrigued by the name alone–as, I admit, I was with the title of this book. She writes letters to a number of the inhabitants of the small British island, and slowly begins to cultivate fondness for, then relationships with, many of them. Most especially the kind and quiet Dawsey Adams (who, I should note, reached out to Juliet and informed her of the society in the first place).

The society originated on the occupied Channel Island as an excuse to have dinner parties under the noses of the Germans. As the occupation stretched, and with it the lack of news from the mainland, the false literary pretense of the group became real, a connection to culture and community. Eventually the pigs they were eating in secret ran out, along with much of the rest of the island’s food. The society continued, with the dinners replaced with the best they could come up with: most creatively, potato peel pie.
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REVIEW: Stray

Author: Rachel Vincent

2007, Mira

Filed Under: Horror, Romance, Chick Lit, Thrillers, Young Adult

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 3
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 3

I’m not sure I can say that I liked Stray. I wouldn’t read it again and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else (unless they were a werecat enthusiast, in which case I’m sure it would come to mind, and I would bring it up, and I would say, check this shit out). But I did read it in one week. Which says something.

First, a few fun facts about werecats:

  1. Werecats have this amazing sense of smell. Lines including descriptions such as: “my citrus-scented pants” and “wholesome femininity layered with Herbal Essences and cherry Bubble Yum” really clue the reader in.  Over and over and over again
  2. Werecats do not have nine lives. As the protagonist puts it, “that would be cool, though.” Maybe her werebabies will have that gene?
  3. Good werecats don’t eat human flesh. Bad “strays” do.

Did I mention that I trash-picked this book from the trash? Yep. Found this gem on the side of the road. Look at the cover: You would have picked it up, too. There’s a sex kitten right on the cover and you wonder, is that a tattoo on her lower back, or a scratch mark?

I’m not always a fast reader. Sometimes I forget my book at home and end up spending the day with the Metro. Or I switch around, hopping from story to story.

One week says something. It says that I opted to read about werecat love triangles when I could have been out at the bar or catching up on my new favorite British teen drama, “Skins” or, you know, going to the library for a better book. It says that I remembered to bring it with me to work everyday so that I could read it on the train and on the elliptical machine at the gym. It says that I maybe hunted around my room for it late one night when it was hiding under my blankets and I really wanted to know whether or not the protagonist was going to be raped by the bad guy.


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REVIEW: The Girl She Used To Be

[2010 Edgar Award nominee for Best First Novel By An American Author---see reviews of other 2010 Edgar noms here.]

Author: David Cristofano

Grand Central Publishing, 2009

Filed under: Mystery, Romance

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 2
Entertainment..... 2
Depth..... 1

I’ve seen almost nothing but adoring reviews for The Girl Used to Be. Do not be fooled by them.

Girl is a novel about the Witness Protection Program, and a girl named Melody who feels very sorry for herself because she’s in it. She feels so sorry for herself and so bored that she runs off with the son of the mafia don who had her parents killed. Charitably, that’s a difficult premise to pull off. Uncharitably, Girl is the worst book I’ve read in a long time.

I don’t think anybody should read this book, and all the glowing reviews out there are cause for concern. If you’re thinking of reading Girl, first allow me to lay out exactly why this “eloquent, haunting,” “humorous, poignant, and compelling” novel is actually none of those things.

In fact, it’s not really a mystery or a thriller, either—I’m only filing this review under “Mystery” because Girl‘s up for an Edgar Award. No, friends, this is a romance. And it’s a romance of the very worst kind.
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REVIEW: Plain Pursuit

Author: Beth Wiseman

2009, Thomas Nelson

Filed under: Romance

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 4
Entertainment..... 2
Depth..... 1

Is your idea of a happy ending a sexless marriage between a submissive yet nosy woman and a rich, pushy doctor in which they adopt a child before their third kiss? Oh it is? Well boy, do I have the book for you. Plain Pursuit is full of flat characters and boring, predictable events. It was clear from the beginning how it would end, and Beth Wiseman, picking up the Daughters of Promise series where some other author wisely she left off, writes competantly, but as if she’s on auto-pilot, merely filling in the blanks between mandatory plot points.

To be fair, I am clearly not the ideal reader for this book. To be honest, if not as fair, I find it hard to believe there is an ideal reader for this book. Judging from the jacket copy, Amish-centric stories are a burgeoning sub-genre in the Christian romance section of whatever bookstores have Christian romance sections. But I’m hard pressed to buy that even the most vacuous readers (if there are such things) will find something to enjoy in reading multiple versions of drek like this. I got this book for free from the somewhat dubious Booksneeze.com. They offer free copies of their faux-religious books if you agree to post your review on a commercial site like Amazon. So I’ll be posting this review there as well; I hope it drives sales up.


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