Book Reviews: Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon, Need by Joelle Charbonneau, and The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Come Rain or Come ShineCome Rain or Come Shine
A Mitford Novel #11
Jan Karon
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-399-16745-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls.

Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple.

So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun.

An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis.

And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends.

Piece of cake, right?

In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited—because you’re family.

By the way, it’s a pretty casual affair, so come as you are and remember to bring a tissue or two. After all, what’s a good wedding without a good cry?

Like so many others, I’m a longtime fan of Mitford and its wonderfully normal citizens, quirks and all, and I’ve laughed and cried my way through every book in the series. Come Rain or Come Shine fits right into the mix and I loved being back in the center of this delightful place. It’s even better that the story centers on one of my favorite characters, Dooley, adopted son of Father Tim and Cynthia, and his upcoming wedding to Lace Harper.

There’s a lot going on in Dooley’s life all at once—graduation from vet school, starting his clinic, getting married—but that really isn’t so unusual and it’s even less unusual that money could be a little tight at such a time. What’s so heartwarming is the way others in the community come together to make this wedding happen, good evidence of the affection the townspeople have for one another.

I do wish there had been more of Father Tim and Cynthia but this is the way life evolves from one generation to the next, isn’t it? Truthfully, there isn’t any real plot here but that’s not what comfort fiction readers look for and the important things, the characters, just sail off the page and into the readers’ hearts.

Technically, this is not part of the original Mitford series but more like an offshoot. When it’s all said and done, I don’t really care because I love this book as much as the earlier ones. I do think there’s a bit too much headhopping and, because of that, I heartily suggest that readers new to the series start at the beginning because, otherwise, you just won’t get the full effect and you won’t understand the characters. Guaranteed, you’re going to love Mitford and it’s citizens 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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NeedNeed
Joelle Charbonneau
HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-41669-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

One of the many things that concerns me about today’s society is that we’ve been teaching our children to expect far more than they’ve ever earned, a sort of privilege in which many of them believe that all good things must come their way. Such is the darkness at the heart of the social networking site, NEED. It’s a hopeful sign that Kaylee recognizes the fallacy behind what NEED offers but she joins anyway. She’s a smart girl, though, and it doesn’t take her long to begin to realize the truly awful things happening and the demands that teens are facing in exchange for having their needs met.

The action takes off exponentially and tension continues to build as teen and adult readers alike go along for the rollercoaster ride until a most satisfying ending. If I have any reservations, it’s that I don’t really think that teens, despite their feelings of privilege, are quite this gullible (although they DO tend to behave like sheep and follow the latest fads just because everybody else does). I also think there are way too many narrators but, on the whole, I do recommend this. It’s not Ms. Charbonneau‘s strongest work—she’s one of my favorite authors—but it kept me up at night and that’s a good thing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Katarina Bivald
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2016
ISBN 978-1-4926-2344-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy’s funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor―there’s not much else to do in a dying small town that’s almost beyond repair.

You certainly wouldn’t open a bookstore. And definitely not with the tourist in charge. You’d need a vacant storefront (Main Street is full of them), books (Amy’s house is full of them), and…customers.

The bookstore might be a little quirky. Then again, so is Sara. But Broken Wheel’s own story might be more eccentric and surprising than she thought.

A heartwarming reminder of why we are booklovers, this is a sweet, smart story about how books find us, change us, and connect us.

Being a former bookstore owner and current bookblogger, it’s only natural that I would be drawn to a book about, well, books and the love of books. As it turns out, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend was not exactly what I thought it was going to be but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this quiet yet quirky story.

From the beginning, I had to suspend a lot of disbelief. For instance, I found it hard to credit that Sara would leave Sweden and her life behind just because she lost her job even though her life really was all wrapped up in that job and in her correspondence with Amy. I also found the willingness of the townsfolk to have Sara move into Amy’s house more than a little puzzling.

Putting those issues aside, this is an appealing story and, having had a bookstore myself, I totally get Sara’s desire to share her love of books with the town. There’s something truly uplifting about finding the right book for a person or just in helping them experience the joy of escaping into whatever world a particular book offers. I don’t mean to sound silly about it but being a bookseller is a passion that never goes away and I know that librarians and individual readers lending books to their friends feel the same joy. That goes for today’s book bloggers, too, who simply have to tell people about the books they want others to know about. Because of all that, and Sara’s general aimlessness, I did believe in her idea of having the bookstore.

The other aspect of the tale that I found interesting is the juxtaposition of the dying town, Broken Wheel, with the nearby more prosperous town of Hope. Without knocking the reader over the head with the comparison, Ms. Bivald brings the two towns into the full light of day and watching what happens to Broken Wheel and to Sara when she opens her bookstore is endearing to say the least. Bookstores really can be the heart of a community and that’s why I long to be running one again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Reviews: Notown by Tess Collins and The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey

NotownNotown
Book One: The Midnight Valley Quartet
Tess Collins
BearCat Press, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-937356-31-6
Hardcover

The Notown of the story is a nowhere kind of place, a coal mining town set in Kentucky’s Cumberland Mountains. The heroine of the story is a no-good kind of girl, a product of her times in the 1960’s, at least in this particular place. Randi Joe Gaylor’s daddy is a coal miner who, although not always successful, works hard to feed his many children. Her mother is something else, a woman of secrets. But Randi Jo slowly discovers the whole family has secrets, some more gruesome than others, some because once again, these people live in this time and in this place. Murder and betrayal are a part of their history, as well as the history of the people they know. And if you’re born a Notowner, as Randi Jo finds out, you are always a Notowner. There doesn’t seem to be any way out.

Notown is a crime story, although it’s not a mystery. The people, even Randi Jo, as we follow her life from the time she’s a little girl, to young love, marriage and motherhood, to her final degradation and redemption, seems to personify a class of people. Who says America doesn’t have a class system? In Notown it throve, sad and joyless.

Once into the story, the writing is riveting, faithfully reflecting Randi Jo’s voice. Hard reading, at times, because the emotion can only be taken in smaller doses. I think it might be overwhelming in one fell swoop, needing time to be assimilated. Notown is excellent and is sure to make you think about the world and the people in it.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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The Widows of Braxton CountyThe Widows of Braxton County
Jess McConkey
William Morrow, July 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-218826-7
Trade Paperback

Kate Krause was a very happy bride as she traveled with her husband, Joe, to her new home in Braxton County, Iowa.  Kate and Joe met online but Kate felt that they were just right for each other.  Kate’s widowed mother had passed away and her grandparents raised Kate. Her grandmother complained endlessly and Kate’s life was not a happy one.

When the new couple arrived at Joe’s farm, a woman that Kate first mistook for a housekeeper met Joe and Kate at the door.  The woman was Trudy Krause, Joe’s mother.   Joe explained that he didn’t tell Kate about Trudy because Trudy was to have moved to a retirement home prior to the couple’s homecoming but there was some problems at the home and her room would not be ready for weeks.

Kate soon found that life was not going to be as she pictured it.  The farm was in bad financial shape and Kate’s savings were used to pay some of the debts but it wasn’t enough.   Joe would not agree to let Kate help him with the management of the farm even though Kate had proven to be an excellent money manager.  Plans for Trudy’s move to a retirement home did not materialize.

As Kate became acquainted with the neighborhood, she finds that the Krause family harbors a long kept secret about a mysterious death.   This secret haunts Kate as dangerous, unexplainable events begin.

A Krause family member, but not one that Joe associates with, owns the local hardware store.   Joe warns Kate not to shop at that store.  Kate ignores his wishes, makes friends with the owner of the store, and finds out a little more about the mysterious past and haunting secret of the Krause family.

The book goes back and forth between present day and the past where the Krause mystery began.  I found this book to be very interesting and I could not wait to get to the end but when I did, I wished the book were longer.

Jess McConkey a/k/a Shirley Damsgaard is an award-winning writer.  Love Lies Bleeding was the first book I read by the author Jess McConkey and it was a good read.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, September 2013.

Book Review: Eat, Brains, Love by Jeff Hart

Eat, Brains, LoveEat, Brains, Love
Jeff Hart
HarperTeen, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-220034-1
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

The good news: Jake’s dream girl, Amanda Blake, finally knows his name.

The bad news: it’s because they both contracted a mysterious zombie virus and devoured the brains of half their senior class. Now Jake and Amanda are on the run from Cass, a teen psychic sent by the government’s top-secret Necrotic Control Division to track them down. As Jake and Amanda deal with the existential guilt of eating their best friends and set off in search of a cure for the zombie virus, Cass struggles with a growing psychic dilemma of her own—one that will lead all three of them on an epic journey across the country and make them question what it means to truly be alive. Or undead.

Not sure if you’d like a zombie novel? Afraid it’ll just be gruesome with none of the touches you love, like romance, mystery, government conspiracies, maybe even a little humor? Fear not, dear reader, here’s a zombie novel anyone can love.

Jake is a stoner and a bit of a geek but he also has a mouth on him so when Chazz, resident tough guy jock, picks on him, he has a comeback. That’s not necessarily a good idea since Chazz is about twice his size, or so it seems, but the hottest girl in school, Amanda, saves his bacon with a few words to her belligerent boyfriend. So begins what is destined to become a beautiful relationship…right after Jake and Amanda suddenly turn into eating machines with their fellow classmates as the main entree.

In the meantime, Cass, a teenaged psychic, has been drafted into the Necrotic Control Division and is tasked with helping track down zombies before the general public can learn that they exist but it turns out this particular case is going to cause problems for Cass and her colleagues in ways you might not expect. As soon as the NCD gets called into the school massacre, they start with damage control, making witnesses forget what they’ve seen and creating a story about a mass shooting, but Amanda and Jake are now on the run and Cass has to lead the NCD in finding them.

What follows is a glorious road trip replete with a deepening conspiracy, a clash of musical tastes, development of a new kind of weapon, budding romance, a power-hungry megalomaniac,  sartorial splendor, jealousy, a rush to get to Iowa where there might be a cure for this highly disgusting disease (which just may be the STD that would make folks think twice about unprotected sex), a sort of reversal of roles—imagine zombies afraid of the living for a change—and, yes, a whole lot of gruesome. I mean, come on, how can you have a zombie novel without gruesome?

Jeff Hart has come up with a fabulous expose of THE REAL TRUTH about zombies and everybody should put Eat, Brains, Love on their required reading lists. After all, you never know whether your next-door neighbor or the cashier at the local convenience store might be a little bit , er, different and you’ll want to be prepared. Meanwhile, I can hardly stand the wait for the next book in this “tasty” series 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2013.