Fool’s Gold

9780373776870_p0_v1_s260x420Happy Monday!  Welcome to Fool’s Gold, California in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, this charming town is Small Town, USA at its best with one minor problem: men or the lack thereof.  Men are the minority in Fool’s Gold, by a large margin.

There are twelve books in the Fool’s Gold series by Susan Mallery, and a few novellas as well, mostly Christmas themed.  My mother gave me two of the FG books to read, unfortunately for me they were books 8 & 9, Summer Nights and All Summer Long respectively.  At the time I didn’t realize that I only realized there was supposed to be one book before the two she gave me.   Susan Mallery writes this series as many authors seem to do these days, in trilogies.  So I hit the library and found Summer Days, while reading this set, I began thinking there had to be more books set in this town.  I hopped on the computer to find that I had started with book 7.  Off to the library again to pick up 1-6, along with those in between novellas!

9780373774685_p0_v1_s260x420The first set of three books, the Perfect trilogy: Chasing Perfect, Almost Perfect, and Finding Perfect are a great intro to this little town.  Charity  Jones has just moved to town to take the job of City Planner.  She spent her childhood years moving a lot, so settling down in this little town is just what she’s looking for, Josh Golden local boy done good is not.  Josh is a cyclist, think Tour de France and he’s home again facing some problems of his own, he can’t race anymore.   This “bad” boy is intrigued by Charity and determined to catch her eye, she is equally determined to ignore him.  Liz Sutton left town years ago pregnant and with a broken heart but now she’s back with her son and facing the man she left behind Ethan Hendrix who seemingly wanted nothing to do with their son.  Little did she know he knew nothing about the boy, something about a crazy wife.  Finally Pia O’Brien is shocked and devastated as is much of the town when her best friend dies from cancer.  Her friend has left Pia a gift: frozen embryos.  Pia’s friend was married to a soldier who died.  Pia decides she must 9780778328438_p0_v1_s260x420carry those embryos and have her best friend’s children.  Raul Moreno has recently come to town, former foster kid now rich guy wants nothing to do with women, except Pia and her situation has caught his attention.  These three books seem to have little to do with each other besides being set in the same town.  The next “trilogies” are more connected.

Between the first two trilogies or perhaps somewhere in the middle is the novella Sister of the Bride.  We meet Katie the main character at a pity party in one of the first books.  Her sister is about to marry the man she stole from Katie and Katie has no date for the wedding.  She reluctantly agrees to a set-up for the big day only to find that maybe this isn’t such a bad thing after all.

The second trilogy the Only Books: Only Mine, Only Yours, Only His center around the Hendrix triplets.  Dakota, Montana, and Nevada named by their big brothers are very 9781426834103_p0_v1_s260x420different in their careers and their searches for love.  We see FG become the setting for a reality dating series, the beginning of a therapy dogs ranch, and the fight for a woman to do a typical “man’s job” with the catch being that her boss is an ex-sweetheart.  This set is followed with an e-novella released as Only Us, and then in paperback with another short story in the book A Christmas Bride.

Trilogy Three is the Summer trilogy, the one I started with.  This set is all about the Stryker brothers: Rafe, Shane, Clay, with the first book also being about their mother.  The Stryker family lived in Fool’s Gold when the boys were young.  Their mother was the housekeeper for a Scrooge-esque old man.  The man had promised Mrs. Stryker his ranch when he died, a lie.  Now the boys are back and falling for some very unique women in FG: a goat rancher, the town librarian, and a firefighter who happens to be one of the biggest tomboys I’ve ever come across in literature.  This set is preceded by 9781460311998_p0_v3_s260x420Almost Summer which I’ve only seen in e-format and followed by A Fool’s Gold Christmas about the Stryker’s little sister Evie.  Another novella follows this and as it was released only as an e-book I’ve just learned of it, going to have to see if I can check it out from the library or see if my mom has Halfway There on her Nook.

The most recent trilogy revolves a group of former soldiers including Ford Hendrix, one of the triplets big brothers.  These men and women have come to town to create a bodyguard school, or at least that’s what everyone in town calls it. The counting series (ok I made that name up but you’ll see  why) includes: Just One Kiss, Two of a Kind, and Three Little Words.  This set is also followed by a novella, but as its new I’ll save that for a new fiction Friday post.  If you’re a series reader or a reader that likes to see what the guy is thinking and not just the girl you should check out Fool’s Gold.

As a bonus Susan Mallery has also released the Fool’s Gold Cookbook: A Love Story Told in 150 Recipes.  I have yet to pick this up but after reading about all the foods read throughout the series I just might have to do that.

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Heather Wells is back!

9780594434436_p0_v1_s260x420Heather Wells is back…  At least on my bookshelf she is!  When I really get into a series of books, I have the tendency to binge-read them.  All other books on my to-read list get put on hold so that I can read the series in its entirety (or at least as far in the series as the author has gotten).  I just finished reading books three and four in the series – and am in the process of reading book five.  I’ve been a fan of Meg Cabot, and yes, I do admit to reading some of the Princess Diaries a while back…  We introduced you to the first two books in the series not too long ago, and Miss Wells, soon to be Mrs. Cartwright, continues her career as an amateur detective in Size 12 and Ready to Rock and Size 14 is Not Fat Either.

Now that the dormitory she works at has been nicknamed “death dorm”, Heather in the beginning of book three discovers another dead body.  This time, it was her boss!  Albeit a boss that no one seems to have liked, but it’s a mystery Heather is intent on solving.  Another interesting development is revealed in the beginning of the story.  Heather has been taking classes at the college, and has been secretly dating Tad, her remedial math teacher.  Tad seems to be the ideal boyfriend, yet she can’t seem to convince herself that he’s the right one.  He’s everything she’s supposed to want, but she’s just…doesn’t.

9780060525125_p0_v1_s260x420She’s still totally in love with her roommate Cooper, who is a private detective.  She daydreams about the two of them opening their own business, but she’s not as good a detective as she’d like to be.  Attempting to solve the murder of her boss, she is his with a few more curveballs.  Her ex’s new wife is now pregnant (very publicly, as her ex is now married to Tania Trace, one of the biggest pop stars on the planet).  Amidst the chaos, she is also visited by her father, who is newly out of jail.  She hasn’t seen him in years, yet takes him in, and it isn’t long before he and a “friend” have an interesting proposal.  Passing on what he describes as a great opportunity, the job goes to Mandy Moore.  (Side note – this book was published in 2006, before Miss Moore’s acting career began).

In book 4 Heather is now engaged to Cooper (spoiler of course if you haven’t read this far into the series).  Because Cooper’s brother (who happens to be Heather’s ex) recently was married and has a baby on the way, the engagement is kept secret.  The book takes place during the summer – when the college campus is nearly deserted. Through a series of ridiculous events, the dorm Heather works in is roped into hosting Tania and Jordan’s new reality show (Nick and Jessica ring a bell?).

The mystery Heather and Cooper are working on surround’s Tania.  Part of Tania’s past is revealed, she had once been married to a former teacher who pushed her into the music business.  She’s now being stalked and harassed by him asking for alimony.  This development is a little creepy – and the thought of this young woman being forced to married a middle-aged teacher makes my skin crawl!!

Heather never fails to entertain – and while I’m in work on book #5, I’m wondering when Meg Cabot will follow the series up.  Another slight spoiler – book 5 centers on Heather and Cooper’s wedding.  It’ll be interesting where the series will go from there.  I know I’ll be reading!!

The Outsiders

9780142407332_p0_v2_s260x420The Outsiders is by far one of my all time favorite books to read with students, note I didn’t say teach, this is a discussion book.  One of the first things I tell my students is a bit about the author S.E. Hinton.  She was 15 when began she writing this book, it was semi-biographical based on the groups/cliques of her hometown.  She says she got the letter that it was going to be published on the day of her high school graduation, she was 18.  I love to point out her age it’s a great example of you can do and achieve anything you want and age does not necessarily make a difference.

Ponyboy Curtis, the main character and narrator, grew up in the wrong side of the tracks in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He’s a Greaser, so named for the hair grease they use.  Most everyone in his neighborhood is a Grease but not everyone is in the same “gang”.  I use the quotation marks because in the case of Pony and his friends gang really just means group of friends though some other groups of Greasers are more like the gangs of today.

The other big group are the Socs, short for Socials, the rich kids, the kids that have it all.  These are the kids that run around causing trouble, getting in fights, and it’s just a matter of “boys will be boys” yet if one of the Greasers causes the same trouble he goes to juvie.

Ponyboy lives with his older brothers Sodapop and Darrell aka Darry, seems after the first born the Curtis parents got creative with names.  Darry has been taking care of Soda and Pony since their parents died in a car accident.  Soda has dropped out of school and works at a local gas station with is best friend Steve.  Darry works in carpentry having given up the possibility of college and college football when their parents died.

Rounding out the Greasers is Dally the roughest of the bunch having lived on the streets of New York City for three years, Keith “Two-Bit” Matthews a smart-aleck klepto, and Johnny.  Johnny comes from a bad home, he’s verbally and physically abused.  At the beginning of the book Pony is walking home from the movies alone when he is jumped by a group of Socs, fortunately for him the gang comes along to save him.  Johnny himself having recently been jumped and beaten by a group of Socs hangs back a bit.  

Ok I’m stopping with the recap here before I get to the really good parts partially because almost everyone knows them from the book or movie and partially because if you don’t I don’t want to give it away.

This is one of those books that gets kids reading.  It’s one of two that are listed when my former students have told me “I never read until you made me read ____________” with the other being The Giver.

It’s amazing how a book written in the 60s resonates today.  The hairstyles,clothing, and cars may be different but the attitudes of cliques and teenagers in general is not so far off.  I’ve read this book with students who live in the city, suburbs, and country and all have connected with it in some way.  If you haven’t read it, GO PICK IT UP!  Likewise if you haven’t seen the movie, go get it, just try and pick up the 20th anniversary edition because they added some scenes back into the movie and it’s a fuller retelling of the novel.

New Release Friday: Finding Me

9781602862562_p0_v1_s260x420I’ve just finished reading Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed by Michelle Knight (co-written with Michelle Burford).  Knight was one of the Cleveland girls who was kidnapped by Ariel Castro and imprisoned for over 10 years.  Before the book was released, I hadn’t heard much about the book – or that there would even be a book.  For some reason, even though I knew the subject matter would be incredibly grim, I knew I had to read it.  It was like the commonly-used phrase of watching a train wreck in slow motion.  It was sad, and even halfway through I thought Castro one of the most despicable people ever.  Yet, throughout her years of captivity, Michelle remained positive – positive that one day she would be free, to be reunited with her son, and free of the abuse that she suffered.  This is what really drew me in – her resolve to be free, the strength she had to survive the situation.

In having captured these three young women, Michelle being the first, I wondered how he had lured them away, and how could this have happened – three times!!  He had children of his own, around their same ages, and all three girls knew his daughter.  Michelle said at first, in the encounter that led to her capture, that she trusted him because she had been friends with his daughter, and had met him several times before the kidnapping.  The day she was kidnapped, she had been on her way to meet with her son Joey.  Because she missed the meeting that day, she kept Joey close in her heart.  She never forgot about her son, who was 2 when she went away from him.

Throughout her time under Ariel Castro’s roof, she suffered physical, sexual and mental abuse.  She suffered permanent damage to her jaw, and emerged from his home nearly 40 pounds lighter than when she was captured.  When the police finally raided the home, Micelle had been recovering from some type of illness that had plagued her for weeks.  She was too weak to walk out of the home, and was hospitalized for a few days after being rescued. She also recalls forced miscarriages, the violence and torment she suffered, and the slight resentment she felt when Amanda Berry gave birth to Castro’s child.  That child was cared for by all three young women – and provided a beam of light for them.  Castro also cherished the child, and taken the girl out in public, and oddly never raised suspicion in having a young child with him.

This story is certainly not for everyone.  It’s not for the weak of heart – it is heartbreaking, especially when she reveals near the end what happened to Joey while she was away.  I remember watching her being interviewed on Dr Phil, and wondering how the three girls survived such a horrific ordeal.  The best revenge for Michelle was being free, away from the house finally, and away from him.  She wrote the book to provide hope for those who are abused, those who have been kidnapped and survived.  She mentioned the strength and grace of Jaycee Dugard,  Elizabeth Smart, and Shawn Horbeck.  These may be rare cases in which kidnapped children have been saved and reunited with the children.  There is always hope though.

“Every person who is lost is somebody’s child.  We will never know all their names, but we can still keep them in our thoughts.”

New Youth Book Series

IMG_2347Summer is time for sun, fun, and relaxation.  It’s also a time for great books!  Adults are hoping for a time of relaxation, rest, and renewal, which is why the weather is warm we’re reaching for “beach reads”.  Kids are happy to be out of school, and parents are hoping they’ll be reading over the summer – not only to keep busy – but also to prevent “brain drain”.  Last week we mentioned a few summer reading programs that give kids (and adults) incentive to read over the summer.  Anyone who struggles to get kids to read knows that sometimes it’s just about finding the right book.  If that sounds familiar – it’s exactly what we adults do!!  There are a few new (and new to me) kids series that are sure to get kids reading.

9780547237657_p0_v3_s260x420I’ve recently discovered The Lemonade Wars – and I love this series!  Involving business-savvy Evan in a case of sibling rivalry with his sister, both of whom opened their own lemonade stand.  Jacqueline Davies has written five books on this series, as Evan and his sister investigate a new mystery in each book.

I9780810984257_p0_v3_s260x420‘m totally hooked on the Origami Yoda series.  As if the title isn’t enough to get kids interested, the main character of the series is Dwight, a relatable underdog.  (A Luke comparison perhaps?).  Through the use of a puppet he communicates with his classmates.  He battles his own shyness, the popular crowd, and the 6th grade.  Tom Angleberger is brilliant – and this series is so hilarious.  The next book in the sage arrives in August – something to look forward to this summer!  There’s a companion book that features – what else – an origami guide!

9781442498488_p0_v4_s260x420Anyone remember Ken Jennings?  For trivia nerds Jennings is like a God, going on the most successful winning streak in Jeopardy history.  After his success on the show, he’s written quite a bit.  He’s now writing his own series of kids books, focused first on geography.  This sounds incredibly nerdy, but there’s something really fun about these books.  Uncovering little-known facts about our world, introducing kids to geography, history, and space exploration, these are the perfect books to continue learning throughout the summer.

9780448462592_p0_v1_s260x420For the budding chef, Giada deLaurentis has written a series about food, travel, and adventure for kids.  Beginning in Rome, this Food Network star takes kids on wild adventures spanning the globe, traveling through time,  tasting local cuisine, and getting in touch with local culture.  This will appeal to adventurists as well!

9780142403709_p0_v1_s260x420Another fun mystery series I like is by Jennifer Choldenko, the Alcatraz Series.  Al Capone is at the center of the series – someone this age group would not normally be familiar with.  The first book in the series, Al Capone Does My Shirts is a Newbury Award Winner, though there hasn’t been a new book released in this series in a while.

Keep reading – and encouraging kids to do the same!  There are so many great books out there, this can be a good – or a jumping off point for other books in the series, or the genre.  What are your kids reading?

Sweet Valley Confidential

9780312667573_p0_v2_s260x420This might be the perfect beach read – if you were ever a Sweet Valley High (or any of the other books) fan!  So um, I um, yeah uh, see the thing is, UGH!!!  Ok where to start where to start? Well I was wandering the aisles of the library trying to help the hubby find a book to read as he’s almost done with the Stephen King he’s currently reading.  As we strolled down one aisle something caught my eye it was this book and it’s sequel, I stopped immediately and just stared for a minute before picking up the book all excited.  I loved the Sweet Valley High books as a pre-teen and young teen.  I owned a lot of them, though not all.  I know they were not stellar literature but I really enjoyed them.  I identified with Elizabeth when I first started reading them and Jessica drove me crazy.  I couldn’t resist these new books so I picked them up.

At first I was intrigued by the summary on the book jacket, I always knew Jessica would do something rotten to Liz some day and the idea that Liz would finally see Jess for what she truly was and have revenge had me turning the pages despite the fact that I quickly realized what a train wreck this book truly is.  So here’s the short review: if you loved these series growing up keep that love and DON’T READ THIS BOOK!!!  Please for the love of all that is good I beg of you please don’t read this book, unless maybe you were a big Jessica fan.

Now for the long review and um yeah SPOILER ALERT:

First I should say I do like that this story alternates between present day and flashbacks, I enjoy that style or story-telling however when we start out it’s just Elizabeth and Jessica telling the story, then we get Todd talking, and then Steven, and Bruce.  It’s too much!

So Jessica and Todd are madly in love and have been since their last year of college when they had an affair right under Elizabeth’s nose.  First off um what?  Jessica never really liked Todd after like book 1, or at least she did a really good job of pretending not to like him.  Jessica may be 27 but “listening” to her talk is nauseating, everything is like this and like that UGH! Elizabeth with her heart broken and angrier than we’ve ever seen her takes off for New York where she becomes someone I never thought she would, she drinks, sleeps with two different guys without being in a real relationship, and is all around pissed off all the time.

I was dealing with this all sort of okay until the phone call between Liz and Momma Wakefield who says they do want her at the wedding.  UM WT actual F?  Are you kidding me?  Really “no it’s ok sweetie we know your b*tch of a sister and the love of your life forever tore your heart into pieces and then stomped on it but we really love her so we expect you to be at the wedding.”  Yeah NO, this is not how I would have expected Alice Wakefield to react, I’m sorry I expected her to tell Jessica “No your sister will not be at the wedding, you stole her fiancee, get over it and yourself and grow up child.  Accept the consequences of your actions!  This is already your second wedding you’re lucky your father and I are willing to pay for it!”

I liked that Elizabeth was planning revenge but then in typical Liz fashion decided it wasn’t going to actually make her feel better instead would probably make her feel worse so she didn’t follow through except that subconsciously she did and Grandma’s big 80th birthday party turns out to be a screaming fest.

Oh did I forget to mention Bruce is now Liz’s best buddy, um what? Ok I get people grow up and change but still…  considering what Bruce did to Liz waaaay back in book 2?  Again I say UGH!

The writing in this book is bad, for anyone who has complained about the writing in Twilight and the rest of the Stephenie Meyer books this is WORSE.  So inconsistent, early on Todd mentions to Jessica in what is supposed to be the present not a flashback (those are in a different font and actually not a bad idea just not used well here) that Cara has brought them pastries again which must mean Steven, the twins’ older brother is cheating again. Oh but wait just a few chapters later we find out Steven is gay now.  Ok I won’t judge this part I think it is entirely possible that there are men or women who may not be gay or not realize it until they meet that special someone.  Steven is in love with Aaron Dallas, Jessica catches them together and though her brother says he will tell his wife she decides that she is going to be the hero and tell Cara herself this part is all in a flashback so happening before the earlier scene in the book where the comment is made that Steven must be cheating again.  This just hurt my head.

As you can guess by this point the review was not going to be favorable but then came the moment I had to hold myself back from throwing the book across the room.  Jessica leaves Todd because she doesn’t want to lose her sister and flies to New York to see her.  Liz lets Jess into her apartment and in the space of two pages maybe goes from still totally pissed off to completely forgiving Jessica and deciding she wasn’t really in love with Todd anymore anyway they had just become friends.  Hello whiplash!  Yeah I stopped reading every word and went for the skim just to see how this nightmare ends, Liz goes to the wedding and is the maid of honor and everyone is so happy!  Excuse me while I go puke now.

Glutton for punishment that I am I picked up book 2, which is actually a compilation of e-novellas Sweet Valley Confidential The Serial.  Yep no, got through one section and never again I’m so done!  After all the handwringing, yelling and tears from 10 yrs later ending with the wedding of the year or whatever, NOW Jessica and Todd are separated, Bruce and Liz are together but in the middle of a scandal, and Lila is the new star of True Housewives.  Yeah I’m done, no more trashy soap opera for me.  This has totally ruined my childhood joy of the SVH series.

New Non-Fiction Friday: Here We Are Now

9780062308214_p0_v4_s260x420Just this past April the twenty year anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide passed.  Why are we still talking about his death?  The author of Here We Are Now explains Nirvana’s impact on music, and why he thinks Cobain was one of the best songwriters in rock and roll history.  Charles R. Cross has written about the Seattle music scene for many years, this is his second book about Cobain.  His first was a biography that was published in 2002.  His first encounter with Cobain came while he was writing for The Rocket, a Seattle magazine.  With this experience, he has unique insight into Cobain’s life and career, and recalls in the book getting the call about a body that was found in the area of Cobain’s home and knowing, yet dreading, that it was Kurt.

What was Kurt Cobain’s impact on the world?  According to Cross, it was significant.  Of course he has influenced countless musicians – across all musical genres.  But because of the grunge culture there is also an element of fashion and style.  Who can forget the band t-shirt flannel shirt combination?  I practically lived in baggy corduroys!!  Not only were there similar bands coming out of the northwest, there were bands all over the world that were influenced by the Nirvana sound.  Seattle during the 90s was also undergoing an transformation, and grunge music brought even more attention to the city.  Starbucks began to franchise all over the world, and the tech industry started its own boom.  On Kurt’s influence Cross says –

“It wasn’t Kurt Cobain who made these bands that followed Nirvana successful – it was their talent – but the ground he broke, and the attention Nirvana brought to Seattle, helped get some of this music heard.  Nirvana was a big enough tanker in the water of the music industry that many other bands saw their boats with them”.

I remember the day Kurt died clearly, remember the lost feeling I had watching on the coverage on MTV.  My teenage world had been rocked – and even 20 years later, I understand that because of Kurt music changed forever.  This was a second counter-cultural movement.  The parents of those who had grown up in the 90s had lived through the 60s, and experienced an incredible cultural upheaval.  Living through the grunge era was something similar, and Cross points this out too.

Kurt Cobain was a rock god, however scarred his legend may be.  His influence transcended music – and this influence is exactly what Cross is trying to identify.  Nirvana continues to inspire.  I laugh each time I see a kid wearing one of their t-shirts, wondering if a kid can truly appreciate their sound and impact on the world of music.  Of course they can!  And Cross is reminding us why.