"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Spy Wore Spurs

Last week the “Bug” that was making its rounds hit our house. All I wanted was the couch, a cozy blanket, plenty of comfort drinks, and even more importantly, comfort, cozy books. One genre that I enjoy for light reading is the Harlequin Intrigues. Most of them are interchangeable, but one that I read was a notch above the usual and I thought that you might want to hear about it.

THE SPY WORE SPURS was written by Dana Marton, an author with a long history with Harlequin. The setting and the plot could have been taken from this week’s newspaper.

Former army medic Grace Cordero has returned to the deserted family ranch in South Texas to scatter her brother’s ashes. She and her brother had been close and returning to the ranch is an emotional trip for her.

Hearing shots on the remote ranch one night takes her out in a storm to find Ryder McKay, mysteriously shot and left for dead. McKay is a top secret commando soldier who has been sent to the Texas/Mexican border on a secret mission. Someone is using Grace’s property to smuggle drugs, weapons, and people across the border. 
At the risk of blowing his cover, McKay needs Grace to help him blend in and get acquainted with the locals. When a Mexican woman appears at Grace’s door hunting her husband and two small children, Grace becomes emotionally involved and may become a danger to the mission as well as to herself.

The story follows fairly predictable lines, but with a few twists. The characters were a little better developed than usual for this type of book. The “villain” was not a big surprise, but Martin did a nice job of giving him some personal background which helped to explain his conflict with what he was doing.

The book also has an ending that makes the reader aware that the story is not really over. Whether this was a neat literary trick or a neat trick to prepare us for sequels, we will have to wait to find out.
There is probably a reason why Harlequin Intrigue has been around for ages. They are light, readable, romantic suspense stories and like any other publisher’s series, once in a while a little gem can be found.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: What Never Happens

Once in a while I will read a book that I am not sure that I cared for. In reviewing it, I should tell you what it is that failed to capture me.  However, somebody else's bad review sometimes tells me that it is something that I would like… my taste is not always that of the big guys. So maybe I am doing this book a favor.

WHAT NEVER HAPPENS is by Anne Holt, a bestselling Scandinavian author. She was a new author for me and a friend recommended that I read it. It is very hard for me not to read a recommended book; I am afraid that I will hurt feelings.

Adam Stubo is a policeman in Oslo. He has been with the force for some time and has earned the reputation for being good at the job. His wife, Johanne Vik, is a criminal profiler who trained in the United States. Adam and Vik have recently had a baby and Vik has a daughter from an earlier marriage.

Johanne wants to spend her time with her children; she no longer wants to be involved with the criminal side of life. She is pulled into the police’s latest case very much against her will.

A serial killer is terrifying the more famous people of Oslo. A popular television talk host has been found dead with her tongue cut out and daintily positioned in a folded paper flower. A political leader is found in a crucified position with a copy of the Koran shoved inside her. A literary critic is found dead with a pencil stabbed in his eye.

It becomes evident to Johanne that the killer may be leaving messages to her personally. One of the lectures that she had attended back in the States told of a similar case to prove that sometimes a murderer is never caught. This may be the situation that they are facing now. We do go inside the murder’s mind and one thing we learn from the beginning is that this is someone who has been paid well to kill in the past.

There were some surprising twists in the story, but I did not feel that the author had established good motivation for them. I try to cut translated books a break especially with dialogue flow, but at times this was a problem for me. I also felt no connection with any of the characters. Not even Johanne was a likable character and she should have had some redeeming traits.

I also thought that way too much time was spent on Johanne and Adam’s home life. (Unnecessary details seem to be a trait of Scandinavian authors). All in all, this is not an author that I will pick up again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Several years ago I read THE READER by Bernhard Schlink. The book totally intrigued me. This week a group of friends and I watched the movie and I was reminded how impressed I had been with the story. 

The setting is postwar Germany. Fifteen-year-old Michael Berg is on his way home from school when he becomes violently ill. He is rescued by Hanna, a woman nearly twice his age. They are quickly involved in a passionate and oddly intimate affair. They spend a large part of their time together with Michael reading to Hanna. Then, she inexplicably disappears.

Eight years later, Michael is a law student attending a trial of Nazi prison guards. A group of women, including his ex-lover Hanna, have been accused of the murder of hundreds of Jewish women. The secret that could save her is a secret that she sees as more shameful than murder. The decision that Michael must make is to save her or allow her to maintain her pride.

So many books have been written about the Holocaust, many of them excellent. Most of them deal with the victims’ story; THE READER tells a story from a different view.

The movie captured the essence of the characters and the situation perfectly, thanks to excellent casting. Young Michael was played by German actor David Kross. Not only is he very good, but his physical resemblance to Ralph Fiennes, who plays the adult Michael, was strong.

Kate Winslet was definitely Oscar worthy as Hanna. She was able to evoke sympathy for a person who was accused of horrible crimes.

I suggest that either the book or the movie find its way to you. In fact, I would suggest both. The characters are well developed and easy to relate to, even if the situations are ones that you and I will probably never see. The plot is different from most books being written and full of some heart breaking surprises. THE READER is worth your time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Number the Stars

Lois Lowry is one of the most popular writers of children’s books today and rightfully so. She has written about difficult subjects in ways that children can understand. This is not to say that her books have not met with controversy. For example, The Giver, probably her best known story, has been praised by some educators and banned by others.

NUMBER THE STARS, her other Newbery Award winner, takes place in Copenhagen in 1942 and deals with two ordinary young girls, several Nazi soldiers, and the Denmark effort to save their Jewish citizens.

Annemarie and Ellen are best friends. Even though they pass German soldiers on every street corner on the way home from school, they are not aware of the danger, especially the danger to Ellen Rosen, a young Jewish girl. Ellen’s parents have to escape in the middle of the night leaving Ellen with Annemarie and her parents. Getting the Rosen family out of Denmark calls for more bravery than either girl thought she had in her.

Evan though this is a novel written for young readers, it was a good “short story” for this adult. In few words Lowry is able to bring her characters and their situation to life. Do not expect her books to have an ending without some sadness. She keeps it real and that may be the reason that she is considered to be controversial.

I love a good title, one that adds some extra meaning to the story. This is an author who seems to select the perfect title for her books. NUMBER THE STARS is taken from Psalm 147, reassuring us that God knows each star in the heavens. Although this was something that Annemarie could not understand, the reader does. The tie in with Ellen’s Star of David necklace is important, but also important is the message that each individual, no matter what his or her religion, is numbered and valued.

Lois Lowry is an author that your children should be sharing with you.