Category Archives: Ok Read

A Holiday Treat to Indulge a Reader…

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR7 Review #1   Our First Christmas by Lisa Jackson

Every year, during the school break and holidays, I indulge in one good Christmas themed romance novel for sheer entertainment. This year, after finishing my B.Ed degree and the 15 week teaching internship that went along with completing the last stages, I finally had time again to read MORE books for the sheer pleasure of it and decided to sign up for a CannonBall challenge again.

Our First Christmas is actually a 435 page anthology of 4 holiday romance novels, only one of whom had been previously published as a Silhouette novel. Every story in the book not only tied into the holiday theme, it also contained flashbacks to a prior “First” Christmas that each couple had shared. Having taught Grade 9 English Language Arts and Literary Theory as part of my Internship, I found the use of Analepsis most entertaining!

While each story had its own charm, from the almost murder mystery feel of “A Ranger for Christmas” by Mary Burton to the meaningful look back at what truly makes a good marriage in “Under the Mistletoe” by headline author Lisa Jackson, I have to admit that one story stood out from the rest.

Christmas in Montana” by Cathy Lamb was a very original story of a young woman who returns to her home state after a dozen years of running away from issues and the man who truly held her heart. Lamb uses a healthy dose of humour to keep the reader entertained through the tangled dynamics of modern life, stepmothers, multiple half siblings, Internet businesses, aging and the feminism debate. Instead of revealing all of the details from the heroine’s past, they appear like bread crumbs to be followed along the story’s trail, leading to a wonderful and touching conclusion.

Now that the decorations are down, the house is set to rights for the New Year and the routine begins again this week, it was time to savour the last story and write up my first review of this challenge.

Paperback format, 435 pages, published by Kensington Fiction

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Review #91 Their Frontier Family by Lyn Cote

I forgot a book I was in the middle of reading during one of my recent Writers In The Schools Visits.  I checked into the hotel and discovered this oversight before I headed off to supper with a friend.  Since I needed to pick up a few other items, I stopped at the nearby Walmart to check out the magazine section.  Compulsive readers can sometimes survive a reading craving that way.  Selection being what it was mid-month, I wandered over the the book section for something small and quick.

I thought I might make it through this whole year without a Harlequin fix.  Though this is not a book by that ever so famous publisher, Their Frontier Family does fit into the standard format, appearance and formula… except that it was both Historical and Religious!

I picked it up on a whim since I am still a bit of a Little House on the Prairie girl at heart.  Since sleep is sometimes hard to come by for me in any hotel, I decided to see if the story would  hold my attention.  Just after midnight, I had inhaled the book and was tired enough to sleep well until the morning.

Their Frontier Family deals with an unwed mother and former Saloon Girl who was taken in by a small Quaker community.  Sunny still feels as if many of the members blame her for the life she was born into and dreams of better for herself and her small daughter.  Noah Whitmore earned the wrath of his Quaker father when he chose to go off and fight in the Civil War.  Now he wants to start a new life in Wisconsin and offer Sunny a fresh start if she goes with him as his wife.  He proposes to the lonely woman even though he believes that the war destroyed his ability to love or feel joy again.

The story deals with how these two lonely souls find their way back to love with each other and forgiveness through God in a way that was tender and unique without being as pushy as some of the more fundamentalist Christian romance novels I have read in my life.  The plot felt a bit constrained by the length and format allowed in this type of story, but it was an enjoyable read that made a hotel stay bearable and added one more book to my challenge.

Their Frontier Family, paperback format, 279 pages, published in 2012  by  Love Inspired Stories

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Review #81 & 82 The Bridge Across Forever and One by Richard Bach

One of the challenges of owning a vast book collection is always what to read next after a major binge.  Having spent most of the summer with my nose in Darkover novels, I fully intended to move back to something else in this genre. Then I was tucking the last two Darkover novels back into their place on the shelves and had to rearrange the B section a tiny bit, stumbling over my two Richard Bach books in the process.

The Bridge Across Forever is billed as a love story on the cover and details the author’s adventures to discover his soul mate, the ultimate person that he was meant to spend his life with. While tenderly and poignantly written at times, this book also contains a lot of selfishness and narcissistic navel-gazing.  The problem with Great Truths in life is that they are so often delivered through us fallible human beings.  Great paintings, music, plays and words all have the power to touch us to the core… if only we can get past the flawed medium trying to put such glory into words.  This is not to say that Bach portrays himself as perfect and blameless.  He is very good at detailing the flaws in his life and problems that keep he and Leslie Parish apart for so long.  The story of their trials and tribulations is both frustrating and inspiring at the same time.

One is a sort of sequel to The Bridge Across Forever and is perhaps the more powerful of the two booked.  I was hooked and intrigued from the moment I read the words on the back cover. “I gave my life to become the person I am right now.  Was it worth it?”  The book deals with the intriguing idea that we are all part of a much larger whole and that ultimately, despite our restrictive individual perceptions, which trap us as our “reality”, we are ONE.  The novel contains the unique blend of inspirational writing and storytelling that first made Bach famous in Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

While both books stand as a testament to what Richard experienced during his marriage with actress Leslie Parish, the fact remains that the story beyond these books did not have a happy ending.  Richard and Leslie divorced after 20 years in 1997 and he married his third wife, Sabryna Nelson-Alexopoulos two years later.  On August 31st of this year, the author was involved in a landing accident with his plane on San Juan Island in Washington.  He suffered serious head and shoulder injuries but has begun to recover slowly.

These two books, along with Jonathan Livingston Seagull, remain the only works by Richard Bach that I have read.  I enjoyed rereading them, but was reminded again of how a writer’s personality, especially in semi-autobiographical stories, can sometimes get in the way of a great message.  I wish him well in his recovery and hope that his stories have not come to an end.

The Bridge Across Forever Paperback format, 396 pages, published in 1984 by DELL Publishing

One Paperback format, 378 pages (but strangely LARGE type), published in 1988 by DELL Publishing


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Review #71 Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

It was with some trepidation that I opened Lament after my youngest daughter finished reading it. Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver was one of the best new books I’d read a few years ago in the YA category, but the mucking about that she did to the story line with the rest of the trilogy left a bad impression to say the least.  In my opinion, Shiver remains strongest as a stand alone novel and I felt totally disenchanted by the thought that a trilogy was more marketable and profitable.  Shiver’s story was so strong, the ending so startling that I felt in awe of all the possibilities that lay before the amazing characters.  Then the two other books totally ripped apart what I had hoped and imagined, culminating in one of the most dissatisfying conclusions to a series I’d ever experienced.

Given this bias, I am amazed that I added Lament to my challenge list.  The first few chapters were hard.  I found myself thinking that the “impossible odds love story” was just too formula, too predictable and too “young”.  Slowly, Stiefvater’s incredible style and descriptive prose drew me in.  I fought it.  I didn’t want to be drawn into another tale only to hate where the author would lead me.  When the love triangle emerged, I nearly groaned.  Is there no other plot line for young women to read these days? Visions of Team Edward and Team Jacob began to blur my vision.  Luckily, the swift pace of the plot pulled me on and I ended up finishing 3/4 of the novel in a single gulp.

Lament’s ending is wonderful, poignant and satisfying.  I was also surprised to discover that this novel was actually written BEFORE Shiver, Linger and Forever.  The writing seems as mature and polished as in Shiver, so it didn’t feel like a “younger” work.  The novel didn’t try to wrap everything up in a neat package and allowed me to imagine how the story would unfold after this glimpse.  The fact that there is another novel written about one of the characters now intrigues me rather than filling me with dread, so I may see if I can find a copy of Ballad to read before the year is out.

Maggie Stiefvater has plenty of talent to share with the world and with her readers.  Whether or not she can thrive given the current market pressure of selling stories as trilogies remains to be seen.  I blame editors and publishers for that more than the authors.  When compared to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books, all of whom could stand on their own if necessary, or even Sherrilyn Kenyon’s passionate tales that keep each book self-contained but within a much wider world behind it, I can’t help but feel as if the YA format is missing out on an important lesson…

Just tell one good story at a time.

Paperback format, 356 pages, Copyright 2008, Scholastic Canada Edition

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Review #68 Turning Japanese by Cathy Yardley

Amid all the Darkover Novels, dystopian stories and Dark Hunter romances, I found time to squeeze in a novel I picked up on sale at Chapters.  Turning Japanese is a witty and entertaining, if somewhat self-indulgent, fictional tale of a half Japanese, half Italian-American young manga artist from a small town who wins an internship in Tokyo for a year.

Lisa Falloya has been reading manga for years when she wins the contest offered by one of the comic publishers in Tokyo.  She soon finds herself leaving a boring desk job and workaholic fiancé behind for a year as she moves to Japan’s largest city where nothing goes quite as planned.

One of the reasons that I enjoyed this novel so much was that many of the places, foods and cultural references were familiar to me after our family’s visit to Tokyo in December of 2011.  Many of the experiences that Cathy Yardley’s character describes in this first person narrative were ones that we could relate to.  The only difference was that our family of  people over 6’ got stared at a lot!!

The narrative in Turning Japanese is strong but somewhat whiny at times.  While this seems true to the character and spurns her growth from timid sidekick to determined, independent female who empowers others around her wherever she goes, it was hard to like Lisa on more than one occasion.  Some of the generalizations and stereotypes about Japanese society felt cliché… to easy a trap to fall into and to easy for a North American reading audience to believe.  Just as Peter Mayle offended quite a few locals with his vignettes in A Year In Provence, I wonder how some Japanese people would feel about some of these sometimes less than flattering glimpses into their culture and society.

All in all, Turning Japanese was a fun read because I still miss Tokyo, I love comic books and I am a big fan of young women being able to choose their own destiny… but there were enough speed bumps along this journey that I can only give Turning Japanese a 3 star rating.

Paperback format, 310 pages, 2009 published by Thomas Dunne Books

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Review #64 Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

As someone who grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie books and watching the TV series, I loved stories of Pioneer life and the American frontier.  Caddie Woodlawn was written in 1935, a historical fiction awarded the Newbury Medal in 1936 and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958.  The version I discovered in our book bin this summer, as I ran a camp for young writers & illustrators was the Scholastic reprint version of the 1973 book, beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman.

Caddie Woodlawn is a tale of settler life on the frontier, but it is more the coming of age story about a young tomboy who refuses to settle into the mold of what is expected of a “proper” young lady.  While it chronicles her rough and tumble adventures, against a backdrop of what life would have been like in Wisconsin during the 1860s, the book also shows Caddie’s strength of character and loyalty as the friendly Indian tribe in her area is suspected of planning a Massacre like in other parts of the West. Charming, whimsical and easy to read, Caddie Woodlawn is a wonderful book for readers of any age who want to learn more about frontier life.

Paperback format, 275 pages, Scholastic Edition published in 1991 of the 1973 version with illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman

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Review #20- The Second Summoning by Tanya Huff

The Second Summoning is the second book in Tanya Huff’s trilogy about a group of magical protectors known as Keepers.  The heroine of the first novel and her Bystander companion, Dean, are trying to come to terms with the boundaries of their relationship. Bystanders’ memories are always supposed to be altered after something happens so that they don’t have to cope with the reality that our world does contain magic and wonder but also things that go bump in the night.

The Second Summoning contains the trademark humour and wit that makes any Tanya Huff novel fun to read, but of the 3 books in thie trilogy, it is perhaps the one I like the least.  Perhaps it is the self-doubt and angst that seems to hinder the forward progress of the main plot line.  Perhaps I just have too many memories of how the old TV series Doctor Quinn changed when the main characters consummated their love at last…  Whatever the reason, I find that parts of this story drag slightly.  The subject matter is interesting and the story contains enough plot twists to entertain, but like some fast food meals… once you are done, it leaves you feeling somehow less than fully satisfied.

Paperback format, 416 pages, published in 2001 by Daw Books

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Review #6

Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey has been one of my favourite authors since her debut short story appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s third Swords & Sorceress anthology back in 1986.  I own all of the Valdemar books and most of the other novels that she wrote or co-wrote.  I had avoided picking up a copy of Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit until my husband found a copy on sale at our local bookstore.

Mercedes Lackey’s interpretation of the classic Arthurian legend is an intriguing one, based on the Welsh Triad theory that there may have actually been three women named Gwenwyfar (Guinevere) as wives to the High King of Britain. The central character of her novel is actually a warrior daughter of  King Lleudd Ogrfan Gawr (Ogrfan the Giant).  As a tall woman named Jennifer, I was looking forward to a tale of someone who didn’t fit into the traditional female role.  Called at an early age to serve the Goddess Epona, protector of horses, and the path of Iron, Gwenwyfar grows as a warrior and a scout who strikes terror into the hearts of raiding Saxons as the White Spirit.  When duty demands that she become Arthur’s 3rd wife, only to become entangled with the plottings of his bastard son, Medraut (Mordred) and her feelings for Lancelin (Lancelot) the book races towards a surprising new twist to the familiar tale.

Mercedes Lackey has always been one of those writers who creates vivid, believable characters that draw you deeply into her stories.  While I enjoyed this book, I found that it sometimes stumbled as Lackey tried to cram in all the necessary historical details and celtic mythology to flesh out the perspective she’d chosen to take.  It lacked the rich flow that permeates the novels set in worlds of her own creation such as Valdemar or the Dragon Jousters.  Her talent for believable detail still shines in this novel, but it somehow lacks the smoothness of the Elemental Masters series set in the early 20th century.  Perhaps the need to weave in so many key figures from the legends hampered her imagination somewhat.  This tale is certainly not as innovative as the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley which I must now go pluck of my bookshelf to read next.

Hardcover format,  401 pages, published  in 209 by Daw Books

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Review #5 The Future of Us

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why was a pivotal story for our family that helped one of my daughters get through a very difficult time.  I continue to recommend it to teachers and parents alike when the issue of bullying comes up.  I purchased this newest book for my girls as a Christmas gift and stole it from the bookshelf as soon as one of them was done reading it.

The Future of Us is a double narrative set in the mid 1990s as the Internet was just coming into being and things like Facebook were far in the future… or at least they were supposed to be.  The two main characters, Emma and Josh, are neighbours and childhood friends who have had a falling out… until the free AOL disk installed on Emma’s new computer accidentally gives her access to their Facebook profiles 15 years in the future.

The premise of this story was intriguing and the two points of view, set over a week in the characters lives, created two very different points of view and sense of voice.  I found myself wondering if they had started this collaboration as a variation of the old “letters” exercise between authors where each one has a chance to alter the story slightly as they send their pieces back and forth to each other.  Midway through the book, I found myself disliking the female character so much that I actually took a break for a few hours.  I’m not sure if Asher’s character Josh is just more likable than Emma or whether his writing and slightly more descriptive style is just stronger.  My daughter, who’d had a similar reaction when reading the story, urged me to soldier on and I am glad that I picked the book up again.  It had a very nice message in the end and an ending which allows a reader to imagine their own possibilities.   As someone well beyond the angst-ridden teenage years, I felt sorry for Emma’s desperate search for the “perfect future”.   Instead of looking for that one Happily Ever After, maybe we need to remind others that every day of our lives is a chance to make changes, grow and reach for dreams.  There is never just one perfect path to find, but a wealth of possibilities too infinite to imagine.

Hardcover format,  356 pages, published  in 2011 by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Group

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