Titanium Noir by Nick Harkaway (SciFi / Mystery)

Writing: 4.5/5 Plot: 4.5/5 Characters: 4/5

Screams noir from the very first (excellent) sentence. Cal Sounder — hard-nosed detective (with a heart, of course) — specializes in “socio-medical criminal investigations.” In other words, he gets called in on highly sensitive cases — those concerning the Titans, the medically enhanced elite who run … everything. In this case he gets thrown a murder — of a very odd Titan.

I liked this book a lot — it made me think, it surprised me (after 50+ years of reading SF, this is difficult to do), and it was quite well-written. The banter between characters was edgy and often laugh out loud funny (in the wry snorting kind of way); the plot kept twisting in unexpected directions; and the rich inner life of our hero often featured struggles with confusing philosophical issues. I really liked the way being / becoming a Titan had a cost. Nothing about the story was straightforward. A side note in the story — writing with a pen engages theta rhythms and parietal lobe activity in the brain leading to better and faster retention. I knew it!

Great for fans of John Varley’s Irontown Blues — one of my favorites.

Some good quotes:
“No need to waste a perfectly good bit of bad news with conversation.”

“In her hands, a corpse is like one of those old Bibles chained up in a dusty room, not only the printed text and the rich colours of the pictures, but the records of marriage and birth and deaths in the back pages, the history of a town.”

“If either one of them was possessed of a rich and healthy interior life, we wouldn’t be meeting at Victor’s.”

“But at the end, he clapped, the way people clap when they’re crying inside.”

“She hates old movies and TV shows. A lot of people do, without knowing why. It doesn’t occur to them to notice that we’re locked to the patterns of life in the moment T7 was developed, as if there can’t be new things because the old ones aren’t going away.”

“I should have preferred him discursive. I suspect his death is very much of his own engineering, thought of course one always looks to the employer in such a context.”

Thank you to Knopf and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 16th, 2023

The Cliff’s Edge by Charles Todd (Historical Mystery)

Number 13 in the Bess Crawford series. Bess served as a nursing sister on the battlefields of WWI in France. Now it is 1919 and the war has ended. Bess is asked to nurse a formidable (and delightful) Countess Dowager through a gall bladder surgery in Yorkshire. But when the Dowager’s godson is gravely injured and another man killed during a terrible accident, Bess goes to help and becomes enmeshed in a bitter feud.

Oddly enough I find this series very calming (for me, not the characters!). The pace of life was slower at that time, and the authors (a mother and son team who go by the pseudonym “Charles Todd”) do an excellent job of blending action, context, interactions, and scene setting to keep the interest of different types of readers. This particular story was more gripping than usual, and I found myself wildly swiping my kindle pages to get to the end. Complete closure on the mystery but an additional little cliffhanger about the personal background of one of the series’ main characters has me wriggling with anticipation.

Thank you to William Morrow and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on February 14th, 2022.

To Play the Fool by Laurie R. King (Mystery)

The second in King’s Kate Martinelli series. Same good writing and characters but I didn’t like this one as much. The historical context for this one is the whole concept of “the Fool” as in the King’s Fool — the one person who could be honest with the King and who adopted a jester’s style of witlessness while speaking deep truths. It’s a concept that I find very interesting, but (IMHO) too much of the book was devoted to academic discussions about the Fool in history and whether or not a man of interest in a strange homicide was truly a Fool or just playing one.

Aside from that, the story was interesting — an impromptu cremation of a body in Golden Gate Park by a group of homeless people, sparks (pun intended) a Homicide investigation and all fingers point to a monkish “Brother Erasmus” as a person of interest. But Erasmus can’t or won’t speak in coherent sentences and instead speaks only in quotations (mostly biblical and Shakespearean). Makes for interesting interrogation.

The Best Reading of 2021 (for me)

Skip to the category you favor if you don’t want to read them all! Search this site if you’d like to see the more complete review of each — I’m too lazy to put in all of the links.

• Facing the Mountain By Daniel James Brown — The acclaimed author of The Boys in the Boat (which I loved) tackles Japanese Americans in WWII — both those interned in camps following FDRs Executive Order 9066 and those who served in the military’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the single Japanese American unit, which also happened the most highly decorated.
• Her Honor by LaDorris Hazzard Cordell — Well-structured and fascinating memoir of Cordell’s experiences as a Judge in Northern California.

• Early Morning riser by Katherine Heiny — The biting inner commentary of a second grade Michigan school teacher following an unexpected path through her own life.
• The Human Zoo by Sabina Murray: Filipino-American writer Christina Klein (Ting) travels back to the Philippines — ostensibly to write a book about an episode in Filipino history featuring a headhunter tribe’s role in Coney Island’s “human zoo.”
• The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich: The novel is based on the experiences of Erdrich’s grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, in his determined fight against the proposed termination of his Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa named in House Concurrent Resolution 108 passed in August of 1953. Profound, brilliant, amazing, etc. — have been rendered meaningless through overuse. So just think about what they used to mean and apply here.
• The Sentence by Louise Erdrich: A Minneapolis bookstore is haunted by its most annoying (and recently deceased) patron. It’s not just any bookstore — it’s Birchbark Books — the very real bookstore owned by none other but the author herself who makes cameo appearances in the story. It’s a tender, multi-faceted story with characters that are so real, so nuanced, and so vibrant it made me cry to know that I would never actually be able to meet them.
• Horse by Geraldine Brooks: Rich, insightful fictionalized history of slavery, a champion racehorse, and the modern day research tools that bring the story to life.
• Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams: Motherless Esme grows up in the Scriptorium (OED prime editor James Murray’s repurposed garden shed) playing under the table as her father and other lexicographers labor over entries for the decades long effort that will result in the magnificent Oxford English Dictionary.
• Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler: a recast of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew — brilliant, witty, impossible to put down and with a completely different set of messages (we like the “shrew” from the beginning).
• American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld — Fiction loosely based on the life of Laura Bush (the names have been changed to protect the innocent!). Very, very, well-written.
• Maud’s Line by Margaret Verble — Beautifully written, eye-opening, 1926 Cherokee life for young girl who wants more out of life.
• Booth by Karen Joy Fowler: A fictionalized history of the Booth family from 1822 to 1865 when its most infamous member — John Wilkes — shot Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes is kept as an important but minor character throughout until his action at the end tears everything apart. Great breadth of character and story.

• This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub — Bizarre, upper West Side, limited time travel story with good insight and character depth.
• In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner — coming of age story, from rural East Tennessee to elite private high school scholarship. Clashing experiences and values.
• Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus: Elizabeth Zott — master chemist — trying to do science in a late 50s / early 60s world that treats women as incapable, inferior, and irrelevant. But don’t worry about her — she gets places and keeps us laughing the whole way. Fun!
• Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner: great story that manages to combine a fascinating bit of history and early feminism with a literary mystery, historically accurate relationships, insightful writing, in-depth characters, and some great historical characters tossed in (Peggy Guggenheim, Daphne DuMaurier, Samuel Beckett to name a few)
• Adult Assembly Required by Abbi Waxman: A light and fun novel that allows us to inhabit a happy, kooky world full of lovable characters with more intellectual curiosity than I typically expect in this genre.
• Apples Never Fall by Liane Morarity: Impossible to put down, this is a twisted, gripping, family drama / mystery that explores the violence and cruelty as well as the compassion, kindness, and personal development of ordinary people.
• A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow: Zinnia Gray of Ohio is the Dying Girl. Afflicted with GRM — a malady that always kills before its victims reach 22 — she has become obsessed with all things Sleeping Beauty (a girl with very similar problems). What follows is a funny and piercingly acute adventure through alternative narratives where an array of women try to alter the “crap” storylines they were given.Clever and funny with plenty of gender benders, surprise twists, and sass.

Marry Him by Lori Gottlieb — Hysterically funny and simultaneously insightful memoir on middle age dating
• A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear: Historical mystery at its best. Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs (a “psychologist and investigator” well connected with both the war office and the local chapter of Scotland Yard) continues to solve complex crimes while the timeline moves from early WWI (the first volume) through 1942 (WWII) in this 17th installment. The plot of A Sunlit Weapon centers around the women pilots who comprise the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).
• The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang — a deeply reflective novel that masquerades (well!) as a steamy romance.
• The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo — A novel-in-verse coming-of-age story about an Afro-Latina teenager with an intensely religious immigrant mother and a father who is absent even in his presence.

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Writing: 5/5 Plot: 4.5/5 Characters: 5/5

A fictionalized history of the great racehorse and leading stud sire Lexington. The story is told through three alternating voices in two time periods (2019 and the 1850s): Theo, the well-mannered and highly principled mixed-race art history student, who discovers an old equestrian painting in a neighbor’s throw away pile; Jess, an Australian zoologist who finds herself articulating skeletons for the Smithsonian; and Jarret, the enslaved person who was with Lexington from birth to death as groom, trainer, and best friend.

It is a rich story full of insight into individuals and loaded with in-depth domain knowledge about a variety of professions and interests across time — the art world, the world of research, museum administration and networks, and of course the complete world of horse racing in the 1850s (which, even though I am not interested in horse racing at all, is completely fascinating).

While the primary characters were fictional, most of the others — artists, art dealers, race horses, trainers, grooms, and owners — were not. Cassius Clay (the first one, not Muhammad Ali) and Martha Jackson make significant appearances in this tale that blended so much history and showed the utter connectedness of individual stories throughout time.

It is a story suspended in racial issues and the nature of tentative friendships across racial divides. From slavery to the modern day micro-aggressions and biases that Theo experiences as an educated man of color in Washington, D.C., Brooks captures the inner thoughts of those involved including the “friendly” whites. The slavery she depicts goes farther than the traditional stories of beatings and rapes and delve into the realms of individual feelings, attitudes, and coping mechanisms. Spanning the Civil War, we see the confusion, the anger, and the value different people put on different aspects of life.

Brooks goes farther in drawing a parallel between the treatment of slaves and the treatment of the horses. Treating humans like animals is appalling, but she points out that even animals should not be treated as they were (see quote below). Jarret saw Lexington as a sentient being with talents, preferences, and fears. It is clear that Lexington would not have achieved what he did without this different kind of relationship. This is beautifully done.

My only annoyance with the book (which I’ll try to explain without spoilers) is the end of Theo’s story. Up to that point, the experiences of black characters could be said to be typical experiences of the time. Theo’s ending was very atypical and — unlike the rest of the book — was intended to shock rather than to teach. For me it didn’t fit and it didn’t add anything to the main themes of the book.

That aside — beautiful writing, meticulously researched, thoughtful treatment of difficult topics — a masterpiece of a book by Pulitzer Prize winning author Geraldine Brooks.


“An empathy grew in him. He began to watch people with the sensitive attention he’d only ever accorded his horses.”

“Theo shifted in his seat. He imagined she would file the exchange away as an example of how easy it was to offend a Black person. He felt irritated and suddenly exhausted.”

“He conceived, in those hard days, a renewed gratitude toward his father, who had endured hardship to rise to a measure of dignity that had extended its protective cloak over Jarret’s childhood. He learned, in those fields, what he had been spared. He felt a new understanding for the folk who bore it, and an admiration for those brave enough to risk everything to run away from such a life.”

“Because it had been his whole life, Jarret had never realized what it meant to be skilled at something that was highly valued. Now, he was merely a pair of hands, the same as any other.”

“The strong and the weak, she thought. Predator, prey. Nature’s way. God’s way. Even the Bible patriarchs had slaves. Who is Jarret to stand against it in this foolish, headstrong way, when even his own father, who is most injured in the business, accepts it? Why should she sit and shiver in the dark on his account.”

“It was impossible not to find in this picture an equivalence between the men and the horse: valued, no doubt, but living by the will of their enslaver, submitting to the whip. Obedience and docility: valued in a horse, values in an enslaved human. Both should move only at the command of their owner. Loyalty, muscle, willingness — qualities for a horse, qualities for the enslaved. And while the horse had two names, the men had only one.”

“His argument mirrored Frederick Douglass’s caustic essay arguing that no true portraits of Africans by White artists existed; that White artists couldn’t see past their own ingrained stereotypes of Blackness.”

“But Jarret thought both his father and Dr. Warfield treated horses like mechanical contraptions: do this, get that. Jarret disagreed, but had never said so. To speak of horses as beings with feelings, even souls — it might seem like foolishness, or even maybe sinful, in the eyes of the angry God of the White church Dr. Warfield attended.”

“Jess loved the interior architecture of living things. Ribs, the protective embrace of them, how they hold delicate organisms in a lifelong hug. Eye sockets: no artisan had ever made a more elegant container for a precious thing.”

Thank you to Penguin Group Viking and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 14th, 2022.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan (Historical Fiction / Women’s Fiction)

Writing: 3/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 4/5

Warm-hearted, home-front WWII story about the way people (in this case mostly women) pull together in times of hardship. Based on the real life “Kitchen Front” radio cookery program which was designed to help its listeners make the most of wartime food rations — this is the tale of a competition to find a new, female, co-presenter for the BBC show. Four women in sleepy Fenley Village take up the challenge: Audrey, widowed mother of three trying to eke by with a home baking business; her estranged sister Gwendoline, married to the Lord of Fenley Hall and possessor of Audrey’s crippling mortgage; Nell, undercook at Fenley Hall and terrified of the outside world; and Zelda, a London chef bombed out of her kitchen and sent to the Fenley Pie refectory to work bringing a surprise with her. Alternating between their four voices we get the backstories, recipes, and current challenges (plenty of drama there!) while we follow their inspiring journey from fierce competitors to best friends using will, determination, and compassion to overcoming terrible adversity.

Definitely an upbeat story along with impressive food and food preparation descriptions (though I am only interested in eating food so I kind of skimmed those bits). This is one of those books where human initiative solves problems with the help of some luck and overly-easy good results, but it’s a nice, buoyant glimpse into a world with some obvious parallels to approaches to the problems of today.

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on February 23rd, 2021.

Just Like You by Nick Hornby (Fiction)

Writing: 4/5 Characters: 4/5 Story: 3.5/5

London, England.  Boy meets Girl in this simple story with character depth and plenty of everyday life thrown in. Girl is Lucy — a 42-year old white English teacher, divorced with two sons. Boy is Joseph — a 22-year old black “portfolio worker” (someone who works lots of jobs rather than one) interested in grime music and hoping to DJ. (As an aside, it is not possible to have a Nick Hornby book in which there is no character who is immersed in music).

I’m a Nick Hornby fan — this book had the great dialog and likable characters I’ve come to expect from him — while the characters didn’t all agree with each other, I would be happy to spend more time with most of them. Plenty of topics covered in ways that gave me something to think about: race, age and socioeconomic gaps, stereotypes, affinity groups, and how opinions can be formed by one’s willingness to to cling closer to or distinguish oneself from a group.

Brexit and later the Trump election form the larger-than-life background topics. He must be kicking himself to have finished this too soon — the pandemic would have made another excellent backdrop! By throwing together two people with wildly different backgrounds and characteristics, each situation can be specific to them and not representation of a category. I liked the way difficult issues could be presented and discussed as part of daily life without the heavy handedness of larger-than-life events. I also liked the fact that there was no clear resolution, because guess what? How often do we get real resolution in life? Deftly done and entertaining to boot.

Thank you to Riverhead Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on Sept 29th, 2020.


2019 in Book Review!

Happy New Year everyone!  I read about 120 books this year, and these are my favorites by category.
Literary Fiction
  • A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza: Insightful and intimate story about the intra- and inter-personal dynamics of an Indian-American, Muslim family living in Northern California.
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan: Born a slave on a brutal Barbados plantation in 1818, Black becomes a naturalist, scientist, and inventor via circumstance mingled with aptitude and fortitude. The book defies categorization — it is simultaneously a wild adventure story and a personal reflection on a life propelled by both trauma and serendipity.
  • Clover Blue by Eldonna Edwards: Northern California commune in the 70s, 10-year old Clover Blue is a wonderful character. Completely engrossing.
  • Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles: A deep, richly painted, adventure story in East Texas just after the civil war. (avail 4/4/20)
  • Lilian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney: Exquisite language, New York City in the 20s through 80s, highest paid woman in adverstising.
  • Circe by Madeline Miller: A surprisingly engrossing page turner that brings to life the stories of antiquity in a new genre of fictionalized mythology.
Historical fiction
  • City of Flickering Light by Juliette Fay: Holllywood during the silent era
  • The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chun: A thoughtful and unusual memoir-style novel describing the personal journey of a female, bi-racial mathematician as she simultaneously navigates a male dominated field and slowly uncovers the truth of her family history.
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier: In 1933, Violet Speedwell is one of the many “surplus” women — women for whom there simply are no men, WWI having depleted the stores. This quiet, slow-paced, and yet utterly engrossing novel follows the 38-year old Violet as she slowly makes an independent life for herself without the availability of traditional options.
General Fiction
  • The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman: Funny, intelligent writing, quirky characters, grammar jokes, literary references, and a hidden part of L.A.
  • The Astonishing Life of August March by Aaron Jackson: A fast romp through NYC from the 30s to the 60s. August March literally grew up in the theater — literally. Tossed in a laundry basket at birth by an empty-headed starlet, raised by the laundress who found him, but left him in the theater at night so she could sleep, and educated by a typically vain and pompous leading man (who was the only one to know he existed
  • The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman: Perfectly paced story about a sanctuary for battered women and a woman and child show up. Big themes of Justice, Vengeance, Forgiveness. Classic literary references, balanced views. I forgot how much I love Carol Goodman!
  • Good Talk by Mira Jacob: A memoir in graphic novel form. Personal experience as a person of color raising a bi-racial child up through the Trump era
  • All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung:well-written and insightful memoir about the author’s trans-racial adoption (white family, Korean birth family), eventual reunion with her birth family, and the birth of her first child.
  • Gender Mosaic by Daphna Joel and Luba Vikhansi:Completely shifted the way I think about gender. Focus on research and evidence and NOT on identity politics. Based on copious (and referenced) research and clear but comprehensive writing makes everything pretty straightforward.
  • The War that Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan:Unbelievably good. The story not of WWI, but of how the war happened despite everything that worked so hard to prevent it.
  • The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis:Fascinating book about the birth of the field now known as Behavioral Economics. Part biography, part history, part research summary, this is the story both of the evolution of a friendship and collaboration as well as the melding of two previously disconnected fields: Economics and Psychology.
  • On The Clock by Emily Guendelsberger:Journalist undercover at a series of high churn, low paying jobs: Amazon fulfillment center at “Peak” (December), a Convergys call center, and a McDonald’s (located at the corner of Tourist and Homeless in downtown San Francisco).
  • The Lost Man by Jane Harper: Completely absorbing. Part mystery — part family drama, all playing out in a landscape that is real, but unlike any that most of us know — the remote Australian Outback.
  • The entire Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths — my new favorite mystery writer
  • Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: A beautifully done fantasy novel that (as an aside) turns gender stereotyping on its head. A merge of fairytales, with a well-blurred line between the magical and the familiar and an unparalleled evocation of place
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of Januart by Alix E Harrow:Great adventure story! Love, betrayal, and a panoply of creatures, cultures, and “magical” objects that leak through Doors: the thin boundaries between our world and innumerable others.
YA and children’s
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: Vivid and visceral — the kind where every phrase says far more than its constituent words would suggest. Strong themes of righteous vengeance against evil combined with realistic and subtle explanations of what people do. Vibrant, powerful writing.
  • All That’s Bright and Gone by Eliza Nellums:A beautifully imagined book about a child growing up and making sense of her (in no way average) world.
  • This I Know by Eldonna Edwards: A luminous voice — a delicate and unique coming-of-age story set in rural Michigan in the 60s.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub (Fiction)

Plot: 3/5 Characters: 4/5 Writing: 4/5
Engaging novel about the complex family dynamics of three generations of Stricks: Astrid (a 68-year old widow and newly woke bi-sexual), her three adult children, and her teenage granddaughter Cecelia — all in various stages of “growing up.” Evolving relationships between couples, parents and children, siblings, friends, and ex-lovers pepper the plot. Featuring lesbians, bi-sexuals, single mothers, and trans teens, there are strong themes around gender norms, roles and expectations and the impact they have on our lives.

The characters are all well-drawn and interesting, the writing insightful and clean, the story interesting. My only complaint is the (mostly) subtle anti-man feeling permeating the text. All the male characters are stunted, shallow, or dead with the exception of one delightful teen boy … who actually turns out to be a girl in boy-skin (trans). There were even a couple of quotes which were meant to be light and funny, but really are pretty awful:

“It seemed so easy, to cut out the creeps and sexual predators, just by cutting out all the men.”

“It’s always white men, you know, nine times out of ten. It’s white men who turn to violence against their families, against strangers, against the world.”

This kind of thinking is a big problem. Even if it’s true that most violence is done by men (and reducing the set with “white” is actually completely incorrect), it does not at all follow that most men are violent. This is the kind of sloppy thinking and gross over-generalization that brings out hate all over the place. I wish authors would be more careful about popularizing this kind of thought.

That aside, I did enjoy the book. Some very good lines:

“Astrid’s greatest strength, as a person, had always been her iron tear ducts.”

“Any perks were vastly outweighed by the crushing feeling of apocalyptic failure and profound injustice.”

“So much of becoming an adult was distancing yourself from your childhood experiences and pretending they didn’t matter, then growing to realize they were all that mattered and composed 90 percent of your entire being.”

“No one laughed at gorgeous white men. It was a design flaw in the universe.”

“Nicky made marriage look like an art project, and Elliot made it look like prison.”

“Cecelia wanted the Hollywood version of her own life — fast-forward, with wrinkles made out of papier-mache. It was too hard to wait and see.”

“All love settled. Not settling for something less than you deserved, just settled down, the way breath settles in a sleeping body, not doing more than necessary.”

“That was the problem with being part of a family: Everyone could mean well and it could still be a disaster. Love didn’t cure all, not in terms of missed communication and hurt feelings during an otherwise uneventful dinner conversation.”

“The downside of Buddhism, as Cecelia understood it, and also of years of therapy, was that no one ever seemed to think anything was their fault. Everything was always open to everyone else’s feelings, or the ultimate balance of the universe. If the point of life was to let things go, then you never had to be sorry about anything.”

Thank you to Riverhead Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on May 5th, 2020.


Backpacking Book Review #3

The end of the backpacking trip was a little surprising.  Slipping down a sandy friction pitch I was pushed over by the pack and landed right on my face — specifically my poor nose — on a flat but very hard rock.  Did not even realize that this was possible.  Don’t think I’ll include a photo because really — you don’t want to see it!  But no broken teeth or nose, just some very strange bruising and a better attitude to scampering down friction pitches in the future …

Meant to Be Yours by Susan Mallery

Thank you to Harlequin and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on October 22nd, 2019.

Hunky Vietnam Vet Jasper (who is not as “broken” as he thinks) is freshly returned from his book tour. A successful action adventure writer, he wants to finish off one series so he can start another but is flummoxed by his utter inability to write women. Enter Renee Grothen — wedding planning extraordinaire — who herself has given up on men after some very bad experiences. And guess where they both live? Happily Inc — a (fictional) wedding destination town with a real Disneyland flair. We learn this all in the first few pages and we know how it’s going to end — but the journey is fantastic.

I really don’t care for the romance genre but I read everything Susan Mallery writes. Her characters are interesting and nuanced (yes — sexy as well) and the plots are twisty and fun with captivating side stories. To start with, Renee works on theme weddings, and although I am personally not into decorations, weddings, etc, I loved hearing about the “Dallas Cowboys,” Nutcracker, and Apple themed weddings, just to name a few. Add to that a town that features an animal preserve, a horse ranch run by the adopted daughter of the King of El Bahar, and a woman who can actually sense what animals are thinking — and you have all the ingredients of a pretty engaging story. Some extremely well-written and steamy sex scenes as well. This is not a “cozy romance” — the attraction between our two is palpable rather than polite.

Fun read!