Blurred by Tara Fuller (Book two of the Kissed by Death series)

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Title: Blurred
Author: Tara Fuller
Series: Kissed by Death
Genre: Paranormal YA romance
Published: 2013
Rating: 5 stars

Tara Fuller’s Kissed by Death series is about reapers–it focuses on teen/young adult aged ones (I’m not sure if there are adult ones or not, I haven’t seen any, anyway)–who are charged with taking souls to their final destination. Or at least, their final destination for now. In this world, reapers are assigned to specific  geographic regions, and each reaper usually is only responsible for souls bound for a specific destination (Heaven, Hell, or Inbetween, a kind of limbo), unless he or she is filling in for or assisting another reaper. They’re not supposed to get too involved in human life–their jobs don’t begin until those lives are pretty much over, after all. But of course, the reapers in this series didn’t get where they are because of their stellar rule-following abilities.

Blurred  is the second book in the series, though I read it first. (And then I immediately had to read Inbetween, book one. I did not pass GO. I did not collect two hundred dollars. I didn’t even take a bathroom break. I actually already had it on my Kindle–though I’m not sure when I purchased it, it was a pleasant surprise that I discovered by accident when I was about halfway done with Blurred–so all I had to do was switch files. My Goodreads review of Inbetween is here.) I was able to quickly pick on up the “rules” of the world even though I hadn’t read the first one yet, but if this one sounds interesting to you I’d suggest starting with book one if you’re able. They’re both fantastic reads, and if you’ve already read Inbetween then what you’ll see of Finn and Emma (the H/h of the first book) in Inbetween will be that much more meaningful.

Trying hard not to spoil anything here, but…*something* happens to Cash, Emma’s best friend, toward the end of Inbetween. If you haven’t read the first book, Tara Fuller shows you the pertinent scene in this book’s opener, so no worries. It’s pretty easy to follow. As a result, he’s having a rough time. He’s alive, but not quite. And he’s seeing things. Awful, hideous things that no one else is aware of. He’s also got some issues with Emma’s new relationship with Finn–he doesn’t quite trust the guy (knowing what Finn is/was, and especially once he finds out about something Finn had used him for in the last book) and he’s always kind of thought that Emma and he might eventually end up together.

Anaya, a thousand-year-old reaper for Heaven, is implicated in Cash’s current condition, though not exactly by choice. In book one she seemed somewhat fascinated by him, but now her feelings are compounded by the guilt she feels for the part she played in making him what he currently is. She’s also supposed to keep an eye on him for her boss, Balthazar, because he’s got big plans for Cash–just not quite yet. The other side is interested in him as well, though, and they’re doing their best to recruit him away from Anaya’s side whenever the she has other commitments to take care of.

I LOVED this book. I loved Cash. I loved Anaya. Even though I was meeting them for the first time, I loved Finn and Emma too. (And Easton; don’t even get me started on Easton. PLEASE tell me his book is coming out, and soon!) I loved the world that Fuller built here…although I think I’d rather read about it safely from a distance, thank you. I’d rather not personally experience *any* of it myself. For all the drama and danger that Emma and Finn had to deal with in Inbetween–and they did have a lot of drama and danger to deal with–everything felt like it was twice as much in this one. Cash has to deal with his physical and mental state; his changing relationship with Emma, who also no longer lives next door; his new-found knowledge of the existence of reapers and other, scarier entities…and that’s all on top of the normal, high-school senior things, like school and his often-antagonistic relationship with his dad. Anaya, on the other hand, has been doing her job for a thousand years, all along believing that she was eventually going to be rewarded for her efforts. She finds out in this book, though, that her boss might have been a little less-than forthcoming in that department, and she suddenly doesn’t know what to do or who to believe. Drama and danger ensue all around.

In a nutshell: 5 shining stars, even if you haven’t read the first in the series–though I can pretty much guarantee you’ll want to afterwards. I can’t wait to see what this series has in store for us next.

(I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

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Vacay!

On vacation, finally! We’re staying in a gorgeous A-frame cabin in Indian Lake. I’ve got the loft bedroom, and here’s the view I can see from my couch:

loft view

It looks even better from the back porch. See?

view from porch

The only *teensy* problem is that it’s still raining on and off and it doesn’t look like it will be totally clear and sunny for any significant part of the week. It’s pouring right now, as a matter of fact. This will not be a huge problem, though, because I brought books!

This week, I’m starting with Nicole Jordan’s Lover Be Mine, because I won it through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, and I want to get my review for it up as soon as possible. Mini-Moe #2 finally wore me down and we’re listening to Mark of Athena while in the car even though I wanted to wait until closer to the release of the next book to start it–my students all assure me it’s a real “cliffhanger” ending. (Sigh.) I’ve got about a bazillion NetGalley books to read, and am not even sure where to start, but probably Kristen Ashley’s Fire Inside (because I’ve heard so much about her books and it’s about time I read one) and RaeAnne Thayne’s Willowleaf Lane (because I read the first one of that series on vacation two years ago, so it seems fitting) are as good a place as any.

Now I’ve got to go post my reviews for Blurred by Tara Fuller (loved it!) and get back to work–er, reading. Here’s the chair I’m going to do it in:

reading chair Ah, vacation.

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Deja Voodoo by Elle James (Book three in the Cajun Magic series)

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Title: Deja Voodoo
Author: Elle James
Series: Cajun Magic
Genre: Paranormal romance
Published: 2013
Rating: 2.5 stars

Alexandra Belle Boyette is fairly content with her life. Sure, she’s almost thirty and the second oldest of nineteen children, but she runs her own business, has two close friends in Calliope and Lucie, and a loyal golden retriever named Sport. So what if Lucie’s blissfully married now to Alex’s older brother Ben and they’re expecting their first child? Alex isn’t jealous–much. And she might have a sometime-stalker in the guy she never should have given the time of day to but did during a weak moment at the local pub, Theo Lodet. Oh, and her mother never stops trying to set her up with random available men by inviting them to family dinners. Which naturally tends to make those random available men run quickly in the other direction. Okay, so maybe her life could stand a little improvement. But surely voodoo magic isn’t the answer. Is it?

Ed Marceaux is in the tiny town of Bayou Miste on assignment. An undercover cop, he’s supposed to keep an eye on the town, looking for suspicious characters who may be after the mafia witness that the Louisiana State Police have stashed out in the bayou outside of town. He’s renting a guest cottage from Alex’s mother, and claiming to be there on a fishing vacation–even though he’s never fished before in his life. Naturally, he becomes a significant part of Mrs. Boyette’s mission to marry off Alex. But he’s a confirmed bachelor. And leaving town at the end of the week. Isn’t he?

Deja Voodoo tries to be cute and quirky, but somehow it just didn’t pull it off for me. It never felt like we truly got into any depth in the story–I had a hard time really engaging with the characters. The drama, the suspense, the voodoo magic, the romance–it all just felt like it was glancing off of the waters of the bayou without marring the surface overmuch. Earlier books and events are alluded to (Voodoo for Two, Lucie and Ben’s story and To Kiss a Frog, the first in the series) but I didn’t really feel as if I missed too much by not having read them, nor did reading this one make me want to run right out and pick them up. This is actually the first book I’ve read by this author, and at the moment I’m fairly ambivalent about reading another. If the opportunity presented itself, I’d probably give her another chance if I didn’t have any pressing deadlines to deal with. There wasn’t anything wrong with this one–the writing was decent–it just ultimately didn’t work for me.

In a nutshell: Just an okay read. I wanted to like its quirkiness more than I did. 2 1/2 stars.

(I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.)

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Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery (Book eleven in the Fool’s Gold series)

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Title: Two of a Kind
Author: Susan Mallery
Series: Fool’s Gold
Genre: Contemporary
Published: 2013
Rating: 3.5 stars

I went back and forth on this one. And back. And forth. And back again. There were things I liked, things that drove me a little crazy, things that made me go “Huh?”, and parts that were mildly disturbing. I really enjoyed the ending, though, for all its abruptness (quick endings seem to be the way of things in Fool’s Gold, I’ve noticed), so I’m sticking with three and a half stars. My love/hate relationship of sorts with this series continues.

Two of a Kind is the eleventh (!) book in the Fool’s Gold series (not counting the series novellas, which would make that number considerably larger) and features Felicia Swift, who made her first appearance in book ten, Just One Kiss, and Gideon Boylan, who we first met sometime during the Styker family books (Summer Days, Summer Nights, All Summer Long, and A Fool’s Gold Christmas). Both were formerly in the military–Felicia handled the logistics for a Special Forces unit and Gideon was in Black Ops. Both feel as if they can’t fit in with “normal” people–Felicia because of her uber-intelligence and less-than-traditional upbringing (her parents signed her over to a university for “enrichment”–i.e. guinea-pig-dom–at an early age) and Gideon because he was still suffering the aftereffects of a two-year imprisonment by the Taliban.

Felicia and Gideon have a history–they met overseas, where Felicia successfully seduced Gideon into ridding her of her virginity at the age of twenty-four. Her teammates Justice Garrett and Ford Hendrix (both also coincidentally living in Fool’s Gold now) had burst into their hotel room the next morning, and the two hadn’t seen each other since. Until this book’s opener, that is–which was one of its best scenes, BTW–when Gideon witnesses Felicia in a less-than flattering encounter with a six-legged foe:

“Rational thought and a working knowledge of hand-to-hand combat were useless when faced with the villainous power of the American house spider.

Felicia Swift stood immobilized in the corner of the warehouse, aware of the web, of the arachnid watching her, no doubt plotting her downfall. Where there was one female American house spider, there were others, and she knew they were all after her….

The light suddenly blacked out. Felicia jumped and turned, prepared to do battle with the giant mother-of-all-spiders. Instead she faced a tall man with shaggy hair and a scar by his eyebrow.

‘I heard a scream,’ he said. ‘I came to see if there was a problem.’ He frowned. ‘Felicia?’

Because the spiders weren’t enough, she thought frantically. How was that possible?”

Having had two arachnid encounters myself in the past week (sadly, without any intervention from big, brawny men), this opening really spoke to me. There were other similar moments, where I enjoyed Mallery’s writing and the characters she created–especially Ford, Carter, and Reese. At those times I was leaning toward a four-star rating. And then there were the other moments….

Felicia’s character, for example, is supposed to be super smart, but socially stunted. She essentially grew up on a college campus, and missed out on being a regular kid. As an adult, now, she wants nothing more than to be considered “normal” and to have a husband and a family. She just doesn’t read as quite “real” to me, though. Sure, she acts intelligent and uses big words and appears to miss social cues, but she comes off as…robotic, I guess. More caricature than character. Other characters’ responses to her often don’t seem realistic either. Several times when her friends are amazed by statements she makes and questions she’s asked, I just didn’t understand why. Maybe it’s just me, but often they seemed like statements and questions that close friends would make to each other. Or maybe I just spent too many quilt nights watching Sex and the City. I suppose that could be the case.

Gideon was more realistic, but the man had some real issues stemming from his imprisonment that I just don’t see getting fixed by the book’s quick HEA. At the very least, he’s going to have to really talk to someone about them. The whole denial thing is just not going to cut it.

Finally, the entire town of Fool’s Gold continues to bother me. I know that it’s supposed to be an ideal small-town environment and its inhabitants love it there, but I’m with the newcomers who tend to find it more on the disturbing side. People are waaaaay too involved in everyone else’s life. If perfect strangers were calling me up at my workplace and offering relationship advice, I’d stop answering the phone. Mayor Marsha has become Yoda in a suit and pumps–seriously, she’d creep me out in real life. There have been a few books in this series that just haven’t worked for me and several others that I’ve been iffy with, like this one; and yet I’ve stuck with the series for more than eleven books, and keep coming back for more….

It’s mostly for the characters. I really liked the two teenaged boys she introduced in this one, Carter and Reese. They were well-written, if a tad bit mature for their age. (Ah, fiction!) The rivalry between Ford Hendrix and his business partner Angel Whittaker made for some of the funniest parts of the book, as did their roommate Consuelo’s methods of dealing with them. Mallery tends to be heavy on the hinting of what’s to come in the series, and gosh darn it, she does make me want to keep reading to see how things will end up for the characters that she’s introduced in her earlier books. Ford is going to be the hero of book twelve, and I’m dying to read his story. His brother Kent’s turn is probably going to be soon as well, and you can sign me up for his story, odd townfolks and all. Darn that Susan Mallery!

In a nutshell: Promising story and characters, but ultimately it didn’t quite fulfill that promise for me. In the end, though, I’m still anxiously awaiting future installments to the series, ever hopeful…

(I received a digital copy of this book via NetGalley and a print copy as a part of Susan Mallery’s “Review Crew” in exchange for an honest review.)

Act Like You Love Me by Cindi Madsen (Book two of the Accidentally in Love series)

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Title: Act Like You Love Me
Author: Cindi Madsen
Series: Accidentally in Love
Genre: Contemporary
Published: 2013
Rating: 3 stars

Brynn McAdams had a rough time of it in high school, and has never gotten over that fact. Two events in particular have stuck with her through the years, bringing her fresh pain whenever she remembers them: accidentally flashing the entire school during a dress rehearsal (this earned her the nickame McFlasher) and getting turned down for the prom by her crush, high school superstar Sawyer Raines. Time has passed, though, and she’s more poised, more confident, and a pretty good actress. Or is she?

Sawyer Raines has returned to his hometown temporarily, to help out his mother by fixing up his late father’s lake cottage and his aunt by directing the community play that she’s the costume director for. He’s a screenwriter, and has had some success in Hollywood–though a very bad experience with an ex has made him leery of relationships with actresses.

Sawyer doesn’t recognize Brynn at all when he first sees her starring in the production of The Importance of Being Earnest, though she knows who he is immediately, and lets her old resentment of him show. Sawyer can’t understand her attitude, yet finds himself drawn to her looks and acting ability. Brynn makes the decision not to tell him who she really is (she doesn’t use a fake name or anything, just lets him believe that she’s been living in LA that she hadn’t grown up in the same small town he did) and that “acting” like she’s in a relationship with him would help her get ready for the real thing eventually–she’s had some problems in the past with relationships. Add to that her older brother’s advice of NOT being herself to get a guy, and Brynn’s plan of attack is starting to look like a bad idea all around.

This book had some cute moments–in particular, I loved the scene where Brynn and Sawyer “meet” for the first time (he thinks–of course it’s meet again, in reality)–and Brynn’s web of lies results in some funny situations. As a whole, though, I just couldn’t really connect with the two main characters. They spent way too much time inside their heads, and what was going on in there didn’t always make sense, at least not to this reader. Brynn’s refusal to get over her high school years in particular began to drive me crazy. More than once in the novel her assumptions about her past were proved wrong, yet she continued to cling to them. Even when given a darn good reason for Sawyer’s “rejection” of her in high school, she still felt angry about it. It was frustrating. Sawyer too was a little over-the-top with his anti-actress stance, though he at least was more willing to put aside his preconceived notions in favor of the possibility of a different reality than Brynn was. Living in a small town myself, it also seemed odd to me that Brynn’s and Sawyer’s mothers could know each other well yet not realize that their children had gone to high school together. How had that never come up?

Cindi Madsen is a new-to-me author, and while this book didn’t quite do it for me, her writing intrigued me enough that I’m definitely willing to give another of her books a try in the hopes that it was just this particular heroine’s story. The first book in the series, Falling for her Fiance, sounds cute (plus, I really do like the friends-to-lovers troupe), as does the next, Cinderella Screwed Me Over (with that title it has to be entertaining, right?).

In a nutshell: this story has an interesting premise and some cute moments, but the characters fell flat for me. Three stars for the ideas, if not their execution.

(I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

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This Girl by Colleen Hoover (Book three of Slammed series)

this girl

Title: This Girl
Author: Colleen Hoover
Series: Slammed
Genre: Contemporary New Adult
Published: 2013
Rating: 4 stars

The Slammed series tells the story of Will Cooper and Layken Cohen (her mother wanted to name her Layla, her father Kennedy, so they compromised). When the series begins, newly eighteen-year-old Layken has just moved to Michigan from Texas with her mother Julia and much-younger brother Kel. Her father had died unexpectedly six months earlier, and Layken is dealing with the after-effects of that as well as resenting the enforced move. Will and Caulder (his much-younger brother) are their new neighbors, and the first people the Cohens meet in Michigan. Slammed deals with Will and Lake’s early relationship and its many–and significant–obstacles. Point of Retreat takes place several months later, and explores the next phase of their life together.

I’d been meaning to read this series for a while, so when book three became available on NetGalley, it seemed like a clear sign that now was the time. I listened to books one and two (Slammed and Point of Retreat) in a little more than a weekend, took a quick break to listen to another book (so as to make the series last longer, of course), and then picked up book three.

This Girl brings the Slammed series to a satisfying conclusion, and it really earned its four stars. Much of the novel is simply Slammed from Will’s point of view (originally we got Layken’s), cleverly revealed as Layken asks Will (mostly but not entirely during their first weekend as man and wife) what various events from their first months together were like for him. Much of what happens we saw in book one, of course, but this time we get to see things from Will’s perspective so we’re also privy to some scenes, events, and conversations that Layken knew nothing about originally. We also understand more of Will’s reasoning and motivation (although all along in this series I’ve identified more with his character than with Layken’s, so much of this wasn’t news to me) throughout. We do get to see Will and Lake’s wedding, glimpses of their honeymoon (it’s fairly PG-13), and some of what comes after. The ending is all new, and definitely squee-worthy for fans.

One of the more satisfying parts of this book is the fact that Layken finally, finally is able to understand what Will was going through in book one. Throughout the series, this is what’s kept me from giving the book five stars–Layken’s inability to really “get” why Will had to make the choices he makes. As a teacher and a single parent myself, it was just so frustrating for me to see her seemingly unable to put herself in his shoes for even a little while. I had to keep reminding myself of her young age, but still. If she wanted to be treated like an adult, she needed to be able to act and think like one. Until she reached that point, it did make me a little crazy listen to Will berate himself for being an a**hole when really I wanted to applaud him for making the right decision and shake her for not getting that he was.

I actually listened to this one on audio as well (yep, got it from NetGalley and *still* purchased the audio–figured I had to have the complete set), and was very glad that even though both books two and three were from Will’s POV that the powers that be decided to go with a different narrator for this one. I liked his version of Will so much better–for one thing, “Caulder” actually sounded like “Caulder”, whereas the other narrator made it sound like “Carter”. Drove me crazy. Plus, this narrator gave Lake a Texan accent, which was kind of cute.

Definitely four stars. Recommended to those who enjoyed books one and two. It’s possible that this one could be read without the others, but the experience would definitely be missing something.

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What the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries (Book One of the Duke’s Men series)

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Title: What the Duke Desires
Author: Sabrina Jeffries
Series: Duke’s Men
Genre: Historical Romance
Published: 2013
Rating: 4 1/2 stars

What the Duke Desires is the first title in Sabrina Jeffries’ new series Duke’s Men, and if the first one is any indication, it could be my favorite series by her yet!

Lisette Bonnaud is the illegitimate daughter of an English viscount and his long-time French mistress. After her father’s unexpected death, George, his eldest son and heir, turned Lisette, her mother, and older brother Tristan out of their home. The three are forced to leave for the continent when Tristan steals a horse from the new viscount that may or may not have been left to him by their father–George had burned the last-minute codicil their father had added to his will. Dominick, the second (legitimate) son became estranged from his elder brother as well when he stood up for them against George. Twelve years later, Lisette’s mother is dead, and she has moved back to England to help Dom with his business, Manton Investigations…not as she’d like, as a full-fledged investigator, but more as an office manager. Tristan is still in France, working for the secret police, and not writing to his sister weekly, as he’d promised to do.

Enter Maximillian Cale, the Duke of Lyons. Max was born a second son, but became first in line for the title when his elder brother, kidnapped as a young child, was proven to have died in a fire years later. Max’s parents also died relatively young, his father from a form of madness that Max is sure must be genetic and his mother soon afterwards. Max shows up on the doorstep of Manton Investigations late one night, angrily demanding to see Dom, who had just left for Scotland on a case. Max is livid because he’d gotten a letter–presumably from Tristan–claiming that he might have proof that Max’s elder brother Peter wasn’t dead at all and when Max showed up for their meeting, Tristan didn’t. Max is sure that Tristan, and possibly Dom as well, are trying to pull an elaborate scam on him. Lisette, sure that her brothers would do no such thing, manages to convince Max to go with her on a trip to the continent to find out the truth. Instead of travelling as a duke and the illegitimate daughter of a peer, however, they pose as a regular (newly) married couple.

What follows is, of course, fairly predictable given the genre, but entertainingly written by Jeffries. I definitely do enjoy her writing style and voice. What I really liked about this one, though, is that so many aspects of the story were outside the norm. Max’s reasons for not wanting to marry for love made a bit more sense (while still being utterly ridiculous, of course. But at least he had good intentions at heart) than the usual Regency romance hero’s. Lisette was a heroine after my own heart, wanting to be an investigator when she was so clearly not at all suited to be one. I’ve wanted to be a spy since I watched my first episode of Scarecrow and Mrs. King back in the 80s, but someone as oblivious to their surroundings as I tend to be clearly would never make it–Lisette and I are clearly kindred spirits. But hey! I totally called the source of the madness in his family, so points for me. I liked the way Jeffries wrapped up the loose ends in this one–the mysteries in Max’s family’s past, where Tristan had disappeared to, and just who it was that he had found were all believable but not immediately obvious plot twists.

The only sticking point in the book is that George come off as a rather two-dimensional villain. He clearly will have a recurring role in the series, though, so perhaps future installments will flesh his character out a bit more to give us more justification for his actions. There’s a ghost of a set-up for future books in the series here, but none of the elaborate “here’s where the future books are going to go” bits that have been taking up so much space in the other series books I’ve been reading lately. (Honestly. Spend more time on the current H/h and less on setting up future books, please! If we like the current ones, we’ll buy the next in the series–I promise. No need to hit us over the head with premature details.)

In a nutshell: What the Duke Desires has a likable hero and heroine, believable but not obvious plot twists, and is a solid start to her new series. 4 1/2 out of five stars.

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School’s out…time to read!

I spent a grueling seven hours at school today, packing up my classroom for the summer. THANK GOODNESS I’m finally done. (I could have been home around four PM instead of six, had I gotten up immediately when my alarm went off this morning instead of finishing the book I’d been reading on my Kindle–Cindi Madsen’s Act Like You Love Me–and starting a novella I purchased last night–Try Me–and not getting up until the dog’s bladder was ready to explode. We’ll not talk about that, though.) Now it’s time to get reading for real. Finally!

“Reading” while working on my room–Make Mine a Bad Boy by Katie Lane, listening on audio. Not crazy about the narrator or the heroine, but it’s entertaining. Yesterday it was This Girl by Colleen Hoover, third book in the Slammed series. Enjoyable–much better narrator than book two had. Nice end to the series.

Finished Olivia Cunning’s novella Try Me while eating lunch–it ended really abruptly, but as it turns out it’s really part of a serial novel, which I hadn’t realized when I “bought” it for free last night. It was a lot of fun and the premise of the series intrigues me (the novellas will each feature a different member of the rock group Sole Regret, and after the first five will cycle through the band members in order again, and then again. The author calls it more of a “rock opera”.) so I’ll probably pick up a few more soon.

In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I need to finish Sabrina Jeffries’ What the Duke Desires, which I won an ARC of through a contest, because it’s due to be released next week. I’ve also got Susan Mallery’s latest Fool’s Gold book, Two of a Kind to read and Elle James’ Deja Voodoo, both coming out next week as well and Blurred by Tara Fuller the week after.

I’ll be posting reviews for the recently read books soon–for now I’ve got to get quilting on my Hospice quilt.