Sunday, November 30, 2014

431 (2014 #59). The First Love Cookie Club

by Lori Wilde

Normally I don't read romance novels.  However, the author of this book is coming to town this weekend, and my local book club is a (nominal, because we meet at the site) host for a meet and greet for the author and publisher on Friday night.  I thought I should read at least one of Lori Wilde's books before she gets here.

I was pleasantly surprised.

The First Love Cookie Club is the third book in the Twilight, Texas series.  They don't need to be read in order.  What makes this series interesting for me is that Twilight is loosely based on my town of Granbury, Texas.  I wanted to read some of the books to see if I could recognize any of the people, places, or events described.

Lori Wilde did a good job of giving a feel for the town without necessarily being too specific about locations.  We have lots of bed-and-breakfasts similar to the Merry Cherub, we do have a downtown courthouse square (just four blocks west from my home), and the lake is nearby as well (two blocks south).  She specifically mentions Hood County (where we are located) and Highway 377 here; but otherwise, this could be any other small North Texas town on a lake.  That is a plus in my opinion, as many readers can identify with the setting.  Yet the descriptions of places still made me feel this was definitely set in Granbury.  I even think I've seen a house here like the one pictured on the cover of this edition:

The story is set in December, beginning with Twilight's annual Christmas festival with a Dickens theme.  Well, Granbury has its annual Candlelight Tour of (mostly historic) Homes the first weekend of the month, many of the homes are Victorian, and some of the tour guides and carolers dress in Dickens style.  There's a parade (albeit the weekend before) and lots of other holiday events that, once again, are typical of many small Texas towns.

Then there are the people.  I swear the members of the First Love Cookie Club must be modeled on some of the well-known female personalities around town, past and present.

Our lead characters, the main couple, are Sarah Collier (aka Sadie Cool) one-hit-wonder author of a children's book, The Magic Christmas Cookie, and Travis Walker, local bad boy turned game warden and model single dad.  Travis' daughter Jasmine (aka Jazzy) suffers from a life-threatening illness and writes a letter to her favorite author - Sadie - wanting to meet her before she dies.

Sarah doesn't know Jazzy is Travis' daughter, and Travis doesn't know Sadie is really Sarah - who, nine years ago at age 15, interrupted his Christmas Day wedding to Jazzy's mother to tell him the magic "kismet" cookies she and her grandmother bake every Christmas make her dream of her destiny - him.

Despite the corny set-up, I found Sarah and Travis to be well-developed characters.  Sarah, the only child of two successful heart surgeons who have little time for her, now lives in New York City and is rather anti-social.  Travis is an amazingly understanding heartthrob who reminds me a lot of MY husband.  Travis has had a tough life too, losing both of his parents at a young age, and his shotgun wedding wife Crystal leaves him due to her immaturity and inability to deal with Jazzy's illness.

Both Sarah and Crystal have secrets that help explain some of their behavior - Sarah's is hinted at early on.  Another character with a secret is Travis' aunt Raylene.  Her subsequent behavior, however, comes totally out of the blue and isn't really explained in this book.  Supposedly it's explained in a novella, but I felt it was disruptive here.

The only other gripe I have is the name of another minor character - the sheriff, Hondo Crouch. He was a real person (the man who invented Luckenbach, Texas, and a swim coach at various children's camps in Texas until his death in 1976 - I actually met him).  For those of us old enough to remember him, having a character with his name is a bit disconcerting.  I can understand Hondo as a first name for a Texas sheriff character, but I wish Lori Wilde had come up with a different last name.

All in all though, this was a fun, easy, Christmas romance.  I'm off to read The Christmas Cookie Collection (four novellas about members of the First Love Cookie Club, including Raylene) next.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Thursday, November 27, 2014

430 (2014 #58). The Secrets of Inchon

by Eugene Franklin Clark,
introduction and epilogue by Thomas Fleming

My father, a Korean War veteran, loaned me this book some time ago, and I decided to read it when I started working on publishing photos from my dad's military scrapbook on my family history blog.

The Secrets of Inchon is a fascinating first-person account of the undercover espionage occurring before the important Battle of Inchon in the Korean War.  Naval Commander Eugene F. Clark (then a lieutenant), was sent to a nearby island along with two South Korean officers to obtain and transmit information needed for the United Nations assault to retake this South Korean city from the North Koreans.

Clark passed away in 1998, but wrote this account in 1951.  His daughter says her "mom, brother and I were breathlessly awaiting each page of this book as it came off the typewriter in the den of our rented house in Arlington, Virginia in the fall of 1951. We had returned from Japan that summer. We had, of course, not been aware of my Dad's spy missions while we were in Japan."  Although he had a Department of Defense clearance to publish it, Clark never did.  Thomas Fleming wrote an article about Clark in a military history journal in 2000, and Clark's family remembered the manuscript in a safety deposit box and sent it to Fleming, who saw about having it published in 2002.

Clark writes quite well, and gives credit where due to his Korean comrades (given pseudonyms to protect their identity in 1951), including the island villagers and resistance fighters in other locations who aided him.  His narrative is quite readable and exciting.  There is a map (albeit not the best) at the beginning of the book to help with locating the many islands referred to in the story, although a larger map with more detail of the island Clark was operating from (Yonghung-do) would have been helpful.  There are also some black-and-white photos of Clark, his Korean teammates, and the Inchon battle.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This book was loaned to me by my dad and has been returned to him.]

Friday, November 21, 2014

429 (2014 #57). The Reluctant Midwife

by Patricia Harman

I'm not sure why I received this advance reader edition - I don't remember requesting it.  While my offspring resulted with the assistance of a certified nurse-midwife, I'm not so enamored of childbirth that I'd really want to read about it.

Fortunately, this book is more about life in rural West Virginia in 1934-35, in the midst of the Great Depression and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Widowed nurse Becky Myers, the main character, has come back to the (fictional) town of Liberty along with her former boss, Dr. Isaac Blum, who is in some sort of catatonic state after the death of his wife in an auto accident.

Through a set of misfortunes, she winds up in the former home of midwife Patience Murphy, now married to the local veterinarian with one child and another on the way.  Becky gets pulled into delivering babies, particularly as Patience's own pregnancy issues make it impossible for her to do so.

Becky also gets hired as a part-time nurse for a CCC camp.  That, for me, was the most interesting part of the story.  I got a little tired of the stories about deliveries - I'm not really interested in reading those sorts of details.  I also found the situation with Dr. Blum to be rather unrealistic and (in some scenes) uncomfortable.

The author, Patricia Harman, is a midwife and has an interesting background.  The book is easy to read, divided into five parts by season of the year, with short chapters and even shorter subchapters within each.  Enjoyed the historical aspects of the book; not so much the characters or the childbirth.

© Amanda Pape - 2014

[This advance reader edition will be passed on to someone else to enjoy.]