Friday, June 29, 2012

Brand New Human Being

Brand New Human Being
Emily Jeanne Miller
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
272 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

I have got to say - really, I absolutely MUST SAY - that I loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it.

Reading Brand New Human Being is kind of like watching a supermodel slip and fall on the runway, knocking out one of her teeth. You are filled with a mixture of horror, gratitude that it isn't you, and a wee tad of schadenfreude, because, let's face it, who doesn't like seeing other people miserable? So long as it isn't you, right?

Or maybe that's just me.

Here we have Logan August Pyle, whose father, Gus, died four months earlier, leaving behind a young widow (Bennie, only four years older than Logan) who got all of Gus's cash and the lake cabin. Logan was left with his boyhood home, a tract of land that other people want and are willing to pay for but which yields no monetary satisfaction for Logan, only a sense that he's safeguarding his father's legacy. Oh, and a watch he can't find - Logan was left that, too.

Logan's wife, Julie, works for a law firm, and by "works," I mean she WORKS. All the time. She's rarely home, and when she is, she is focused nearly solely on her and Logan's four-year-old son, Owen. Logan, meanwhile, was supposed to complete his dissertation and become a doctor of literature, but with Julie's pregnancy and the death of his father, well, you know how these things happen. They don't happen - that's what happens.

The real problem for Logan is that he is fast becoming a spectator in his own life.

I stand there, seemingly paralyzed, looking down. Julie's on her side, one bare shoulder uncovered, and Owen's back is pressed against her front, her arm wrapped around him and her hand tucked under his chin, and he clasps the hand with both of his, as if in prayer. Outside it's begun to rain, hard, and raindrops slide down the windows, changing the light to liquid as it passes through the panes and collects on the bed, where the two of them lie curled together in such a way that it's hard to tell where mother end and child begins. Is this hell or is it heaven? I have no idea.

Logan loves his son, and he loves his wife, but he's jealous of both of them. He's jealous of a lot of people, even if he can't see it himself. His father was destroyed by a cancer that ate him up for four years, and Logan is being consumed by a disease as well: inactivity. He can't even rake his lawn, much less work on his marriage and fatherhood.

But then one day, he catches Julie in an apparent compromising position, and he leaves. He grabs Owen and heads to the lake cottage where Bennie lives. Lest you think he heals, you would be wrong. Things go from awful to horrible. At one point, he "baptizes" both Owen and himself, believing that the two of them can be brand new. But when an adult is baptized, he accepts his shortcomings, professes faith that they can be corrected, and surges forth, determined to be a better person. In Logan's case, he believes other people need more improvement than he does.

This is a funny, sweet, sad story, and I enjoyed it so much. Logan does some awful things - so does Julie, for that matter - and there are times you want to wring his neck. But you can't help but like him, and that's a testament to Emily Jeanne Miller's writing. She creates characters who are pretty unlikeable, but she inspires us to like them anyway.

Give this book a try. It's a quick read, and worth every minute.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The King's Pleasure

The King's Pleasure
Heather Graham, writing as Shannon Drake (website)
Published by Open Road
Available on Amazon Kindle
382 pages
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3 / 5 cupcakes

Well. I did not love this one. In fact, I struggled with it a LOT. I must have put it down three or four times, and had to force myself to pick it back up. It isn't that this is a bad book, it's just that I didn't like the way it was written.

Let's start with the pros:

  • You get a lot of English and French medieval history, which actually is rather interesting. Heather Graham, writing here as Shannon Drake, writes the Social Studies portion of the festivities in an entertaining fashion, not dry or dull at all.
  • Adrien MacLachlan is a hunka hunka burnin' love, girls. Big, brawny, ultra masculine. Hair on the chest and a brogue to match. He loves his woman and will protect her - even from herself - at all costs.
  • Danielle D'Aville, our plucky heroine, is plucky indeed. And she's very pretty. 
  • It's fast-paced.
And that's about it for the good stuff. 

Now we get to the negatives, and they are legion:

  • In the majority of sex scenes, Adrien all but rapes Danielle. For reals, people. He forces himself on her time and again. Now, we do see that she responds, but you'd have to be a box of rocks not to respond to him. She pushes against him, she pulls him to her. But for all of her robust responsiveness, she nonetheless refuses him, and he does not respect that. Look, I'm all for a feisty minx givin' 'er to her big man, but Danielle's repeated resistance became kind of awkward and uncomfortable. 
  • The battle scenes got soooooo redundant. I felt like I read the same scene over and over again. After those times when I put the book down, I'd have to double and triple check to make sure I hadn't misplaced my bookmark, because I would have SWORN I'd read some of that stuff beforehand.
  • The supporting characters are straight out of Central Casting. There is not an original one in the bunch, from the men who covet Danielle to the woman who wants Adrien. Can you believe they plot against our happy couple? I know! I'm shocked too.
  • The non-rape sex scenes are tepid. Yes, there is some hotness there, but not enough to keep you hooked. While we know that these two can rock that headboard right into next week, their couplings are pretty standard fare. Oh! There is a brief episode of spanky panky, so yet again, I can drag Christian Grey's name into this review. Hey, Christian!
  • It's just kind of ... boring. 
Here is a little snippet:

He clenched and unclenched a fist, trying to ease some of the tension from his body. She had matured from a beautiful girl into a voluptuous and stunning woman. She was more fiercely independent than ever, as prickly as a wild rose, but in her he could still see the passion of the girl he had known with the healing hands, proud spirit, and undying courage.

Healing hands? Proud spirit? Undying courage? Um, okay.

If you dig history, then you might want to give this a try. In fact, history buffs might be all over it, maybe to fact check Ms. Graham / Drake's assertions. But if you're looking for a hot historical romance novel, this isn't your best bet.

On the Island

On the Island
Tracey Garvis Graves (website)
Published by Plume
Available on July 10
336 pages
Pre-order at
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
5 / 5 cupcakes

When I was thirty, I doubt I even noticed sixteen-year-old boys. I'm pretty sure they were as nonexistent to me as my job as Bruce Springsteen's back-up singer. I wanted a mature MAN, not a kid who hadn't started shaving yet.


What if I was stranded on a tropical island, Castaway styles, with a sixteen-year-old? What if he turns nineteen, I'm thirty-three, and we're still on that island? What if we survive all manner of plane crashes, sharks, bats, jelly fish, rats, near starvation and broken collar bones? What if all we have is each other? Could that teenager become my lover?

This is the premise of Tracey Garvis Graves' amazingly enjoyable On the Island. Anna Emerson has been hired by T.J. Callahan's parents to be his tutor. T.J. is in remission from Hodgkin's lymphoma, having missed quite a bit of school. His parents want to spend the summer in the Maldives, and the plan is for Anna to catch T.J. up with his schooling. The two must travel separately from T.J.'s parents, and their trip does not go smoothly. When the pilot of their small plane has a heart attack, they crash land on an uninhabited island. Anna and T.J. must now rely on each other to survive.

I had long since abandoned the notion that I held any kind of rank over T.J. I may have been older and had more life experience, but that didn't matter on the island. We took each day as it came, addressing and solving problems together. 

This business-like partnership slowly evolves into something more. At least it was slow on Anna's part; T.J. is attracted to her from the start. In fact, that's one of the things I enjoyed about this book: as it alternates between Anna's and T.J.'s points of view, T.J. is written realistically. He's a horny teenage boy; he checks out Anna's body, gets aroused, and thinks about sex all the time. But he waits for her to come around, and when she does, that's also presented realistically. Anna knows that she's experiencing more than tutor-student feelings for him. His post-chemo hair grows in, and he gets taller and more physically mature. When they do have sex for the first time, it isn't so much an act of capitulation on her part as a realization that she likes him, he likes her, they want each other, and if being stranded on this island has taught her anything, it's the pointlessness of postponing happiness.

Their relationship is not without its problems and challenges, though, and again, they are presented realistically. Anna is in her thirties and wants a family. T.J. is a teenager who is supposed to be doing keg stands and playing beer pong. But "Fantasy Island" effects change on the two of them, bringing them closer emotionally and physically.

The sexy times are hot; not Christian Grey or Gideon Cross hot, but hot. There aren't many of them, either, so what Graves has makes sense. If there was scene after scene of Anna and T.J. rocking the headboard - or the coconut tree, as it were - their coupling would be prurient, rather than nicely hot.

Hey, it's summer time. And for those of us who occasionally get tired of the older, experienced man with the younger, nubile girl, On the Island provides a terrific change of pace.

Just One of the Guys

Just One of the Guys
Kristan Higgins
Published by Harlequin Mira
384 pages
Available on
I bought this book my own darn self, thank you
4.5 / 5 cupcakes

In honor of the Sharing My Favorite Blog Giveaway, I read a Kristan Higgins book this week. I've read a lot of her books - I love her beyond words - and I find myself parsing them out, making sure I don't read all of them all at once, because then I have to wait for the next one to get written.

Just One of the Guys is pretty standard Higgins fare. It's set in the northeast (in this case, northern New York, as opposed to her more typical locales in New England, and features a young woman trying to find love while dealing with a colorful family.

Chastity Virginia O'Neill is the youngest of five kids, the other four being older brothers. Longtime family friend, Trevor Meade, is sort of an honorary brother, as much a part of the family as if DNA claimed him. When Chastity returns to Eaton Falls, her small hometown in upstate New York, after college, grad school, and establishing her journalism career, she also returns to the specter of Trevor. She has loved him since she was ten-years-old, a love that is largely unreciprocated. In search of romance, she meets Dr. Darling (seriously - that's his name), and tries to see if she can love someone like she loves Trevor.

As with Higgins' books, you know how this will end, but she gets you there in cute, humorous, sometimes heartbreaking ways. I did cry about four times while reading this. Chastity's complete, consuming love for Trevor can only end in one of two ways, and because she misinterprets everything, she comes awfully close to having to settle for a life she doesn't really want. What she wants is Trevor, and having had a brief taste of him when she was in college, she wants more.

He swallowed and gazed at me, serious and quiet. I could see him weighing the intelligence of what we were about to do, what we had already done, could see his hesitation. Because I'd loved him for so long, been crushed by my yearning for Trevor for so damn long, I slid my hands under his shirt and pulled it over his head. "Please stay," I said, kissing his beautiful neck.

The only complaint I have about this book is that we don't get to see the happy couple together romantically for more than a few pages. That's the case with most of Higgins' books, which may be why my favorite is My One and Only, in which our hero and heroine are trapped in a car together for chapters on end.

Kristan Higgins peppers her books with a lively cast of supporting characters, never more so than with this one. What with four brothers, some sisters-in-law, a passel of nieces and nephews, co-workers and firefighters, there are a LOT of people. You get to know most of them, but the danger is not getting to know Trevor as much as you want. A similar problem existed with Malone in Catch of the Day. It's a compliment to Higgins that we want more of her heroes.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Now, this is funny

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Haole Wood

Haole Wood
Dee DeTarsio
Published by Just Publishing
Available May 14, 2012
284 pages
Available on Amazon Kindle
Thanks to Dee DeTarisio for the preview
4 / 5 cupcakes

Those Hawaiians know how to have FUN, people. Let's all move there today. I'm sure they would be thrilled.

First, a disclaimer: I received this from Dee DeTarsio in exchange for an honest review.

Second, a caveat: I cannot stand "guardian angels" in books. And I really don't like it when authors use that hoary chestnut, "If only I had known" at the end of a chapter, just to force you to keep reading. And since a guardian angel and chapter cliffhangers show up in this book, you know my review will be honest.

So. Having said that ...

I really liked this book.

Jaswinder Park ditches her job as a San Diego TV weekend weather girl to go spend a few days in Hawaii, bailing out her paternal grandmother. She assumes that she will be back in time to hit the airwaves, with nary a ripple in the Pacific Ocean to cause her stress. Well, as those chapter cliffhangers tell us, you should never, ever think that your plan is working perfectly. Because Jaswinder's sure doesn't.

First, she discovers that Halomi is in the old grey bar hotel because she was growing - and disbursing, in her own way - the marijuana. Then Jaswinder suffers a long-distance firing from her job. She gets drunk and has hot island sex under a banyan tree with a doctor. She gets sunburned. Halomi faces a murder charge, and then - AND THEN - her guardian angel, and a rather large guardian angel at that - shows up to "help."

Got that? Good. Because it all happens in the introductory chapters.

Stuck (as if you could really be STUCK) in Hawaii, Jaswinder needs to prove her grandmother's innocence and figure out what she wants out of life. The island changes her; in fact, the island is a character in itself in this book. She connects with the locals and her Hawaiian ancestry. And she makes mistakes. Oh, my, does she screw up, but that's what I liked about her. She's real. Her mistakes aren't wearing the wrong top with the wrong skirt; they are jealousy over pretty women, presuming guilt and a healthy dose of selfishness.

In addition to being something of a mystery - who DID kill the guy Halomi is accused of murdering? - this is a romance. That dude Jaswinder rocked the banyan tree with turns out to be a dermatologist, and a hot one at that.

I didn't want to think. I just wanted to touch and feel and taste ... and bite and squeeze. Scratch and suck. I couldn't believe my own hands were reaching down and pulling up his t-shirt, over and off his head. Hubba hubba. What a body. I couldn't even remember his name but he remembered ien because he whispered it in my ear.

Now, there is not a lot of Hot Sexy Times in this book, but that's okay. It isn't one of those books, because it's more about a woman trying to come to terms with her role in her family and her role in her own life. Jaswinder suffers from Second Born Syndrome, always feeling like she matters less than she does. She likens herself to Suellen O'Hara, Scarlett's sister, who loses her boyfriend to her hotter older sister. Jaswinder, it appears, lost a love to her sister, but that thread is not developed very well. I would like to know more about what happened between the sisters. Even so, we definitely understand Jaswinder's sense of not feeling as if she counts for much in her family. Yet who has to save the day?

About that guardian angel. He turns up, and I don't really know why. Haole Wood doesn't need him, and neither does Jaswinder. He offers her some guidance and insight, but nothing she couldn't have come to on her own, or, better yet, with the aid of Halomi. Granted, Halomi doesn't appear to have a firm grasp on the English language (her main means of communicating is to say "Not that"), but it would have added some nice depth for her to help her granddaughter the way the angel does.

Even with that and the "If only I'd known" cliffhangers at the end of chapters, this is a sweet, delightful, fun book. I laughed out loud in quite a few places. Jaswinder is sassy and feisty, bless her. And her voice is so real - confused at some points, hopeful at others, snarky and sarcastic most of the time. She uses self-deprecation and snark to protect herself, and learning to lower that shield takes some time.

This is a terrific summer beach read. I mean, if you're going to read about Hawaii sun and surf, you might as well enjoy it yourself in some fashion, right?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dead Scared

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Dead Scared
S. J. Bolton
Published by Minotaur Books
Available June 5, 2012
384 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

I really liked this book, but it frustrated me. Bolton does so many things well - creates characters we care about, crafts a suspenseful atmosphere and mood, keeps us turning the pages. But there are some issues here, and those are what cause me to give this four cupcakes, rather than five.

Dead Scared is the follow up to Now You See Me, but you can read this without having read its predecessor (I did, although I will say I am intrigued by what the first book might have included). Lacey Flint - evidently not her real name, and while we are told that she can't tell us her real name, we are not told why - is in her late twenties but can pass for five or so years younger. Based on that, her superiors (including Mark Joesbury, who is or is not a prospective love interest - he and Lacey seem to dance around that idea) send her undercover to Cambridge to see what she can find out about a rash of suicides. She is not to investigate; she just needs to gather information.

Well, you can't keep a good DC down, so naturally Lacey begins to investigate. And here is where the plot becomes a wee tad convoluted. Okay, a LOT convoluted.

First, there is a school psychiatrist, Evi Oliver, who is physically disabled (which is another mystery of sorts) and who counseled some of the girls who killed themselves. Evi herself is being attacked by Forces Unknown: she receives frightening messages written on her bathroom mirror, hears strange noises, and seems to be spied upon.

Then we have Nick Bell, the doctor treating one of the girls who attempted suicide. Is he a good guy, or is he up to no good?

The story skips back and forth across time, going into the heads of characters whose identities are revealed in the book's final act. This background intel helps us understand why the bad guys do what they do and what the girls think and feel as they kill themselves. It's eerie and disturbing, to say the least.

There are red herrings GALORE here, so don't get attached to someone you think might be the villain. Some of the "gotchas" are a little far fetched, but some make you think, "Oh, now I get it." Those are the good ones.

As for Lacey and Mark, we want more of them. They spend very little time together, and that's frustrating. We need to see them work more as a team. Lacey sends email reports to Mark, and those moments are when we connect with him, because he is kept on the fringes of this novel (and that's why I want to read the first one - I hope to get to know Mark better).

Bolton peppers the book with some humor and a little romance, here and there. Lacey's initial exposure to Oxford is humorously detailed:  "He'd taken pity on me earlier as I'd stood at the painted-arched doorway, feeling like an extra in a Harry Potter movie in my borrowed gown."

Dead Scared will keep you on the edge of your seat, furiously turning pages to find out the villain's identity. We also want to know what happens to Evi, who is beset upon by all manner of sadness and struggles. And Lacey, who, at the start of the book, appears to be about to jump to her death.

This is a good mystery that could have been told more effectively. The jumps in time and perspective get jumbled, and you have to make a HUGE leap to accept what has been happening to these girls. It's a little too fantastical to believe. Still, though, it's good. And I do like Lacey and Mark - I just want more of them together.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Little Night

Little Night
Luanne Rice
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
Available June 5, 2012
336 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3 / 5 cupcakes

Let's say your sister is married to a man who hurts her. Not only does he physically abuse her, he isolates her from her sister and parents. He is hateful. And let's say that one day you go visit your sister and her two children, and one of the children says that Daddy sometimes hurts Mommy. So you beg your sister to leave - you will protect her and the children. Just as you're leaving, here comes the husband. He clamps his hand around your sister's throat and throws her against a wall. What do you do?

In the case of Clare Burke, she attacks her brother-in-law. Unfortunately, she doesn't kill him. She merely hurts him, and has to spend two years in prison for assault. When she gets out, she has Paul, the love of her life, as well as her job. For the ensuing eighteen years, she lives. Perhaps not with great joy or fulfillment, and certainly with no relationship with her sister Anne. And then one day, Anne's daughter, Grit, shows up on Clare's doorstep. Grit has her own sadnesses and secrets, and as the two women grow closer, they help each other heal from the hurts imparted by Anne. They also come to believe that Anne is in New York as well.

This is a pretty simple story of several complex characters, especially Clare, Grit and Anne. Luanne Rice keeps a good pace and creates sympathetic characters in Clare, Grit and Paul. (Oh, Paul - I love him. He's just a good guy, and you don't often come across fictional men who are purely good.) Anne is not so sympathetic, although I think we are supposed to empathize with her. But I didn't. Perhaps that is due to insufficient explanation of why she allowed her husband to cut her off from her sister and parents. And Frederik, the husband. He is almost a caricature of the Angry, Abusive Spouse.

Fortunately, though, we have Clare. There are blanks where she is concerned; she alludes to the terrors of prison life, but aside from a weight gain and poor skin, we are told nothing about it. She distances us from that experience, but perhaps that's how she survived the experience. I don't think it's an accident that Clare spends her life following birds: this is a woman who knows what it's like to be caged in and what it's like to be set free. That she wants to believe that an extinct bird continues to exist makes sense. She wants to know that her sister, extinct to Clare for twenty years, is alive and well.

Paul, who has loved her since high school, believes Clare is worth fighting for and will do anything to make her happy. But first he needs to convince Clare that she deserves to be happy.

Love and hope. For Clare they hadn't gone together in years. Her skin rippled. Paul was somewhere in the park. She knew the way an owl, gliding low over hills, senses her mate without hearing his call. He'd be doing his Urban Park Ranger duties, along the way keeping watch for the Whekau. Although he didn't believe in the bird the ay she did, he had his own reasons for wishing a vanished species could someday come back.

Luanne Rice takes some shortcuts in this book, not just with Anne and Frederik, but with Grit as well. Grit is able to pull herself together with alarming alacrity, which is frustrating because Grit, of all people, ought to need more time. In fact, the treatment of Grit is the reason I can't give this book more than three cupcakes. I feel cheated by her rapid healing.

Yet I do think Little Night is a good book. Not great, not fabulous, but good. It is a very quick read, and Clare is worth getting to know.

Beneath the Shadows

Beneath the Shadows
Sara Foster
Published by Minotaur Books / St. Martin's Press
Available June 5, 2012
320 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

I loved this book.

Mysteries are so much fun to read, IF they are done correctly. If you know whodunit before the hero, or if you are left with no surprises, then the mystery is dull and pointless. But if you are kept guessing, and if the resolution makes sense, then the mystery is beautifully crafted. And that's what Sara Foster has done here.

Grace, her husband, Adam, and their baby daughter Millie return to Adam's grandparents' cottage in North Yorkshire. Adam wants them to escape from the hurly burly of London, and since the cottage is paid for, they can downsize and reconnect with simplicity. But shortly after they move, Adam takes Millie for a walk and never returns, although Millie is left in her stroller on the front porch.

A year later, Grace and Millie return to the cottage, after living in France with her parents. Grace wants answers - what happened to Adam? - and she needs some sort of closure. She begins having strange nightmares, and as the locals fill her with tales of ghosts, she becomes increasingly unsettled. Why does the grandfather clock - the "heart" of the cottage, as Adam said his grandfather called it - periodically stop ticking? What are those weird noises she hears? Why do some people stare at her?

And, most importantly, how can she make peace with Adam's absence? She goes through old papers and photographs, desperate to solve the mystery of Adam.

She had to summon all her will power to swallow the emotion that began to rise in her throat. She searched their faces for some clue that their love story was destined to end abruptly, that they weren't as happy as she had imagined - but all she could see was joyful smiles and laughter. That night, as they had gone to sleep in a four-poster bed, Adam had whispered his love in her ear, telling her he'd had the greatest day of his life. And when he'd first held Millie in his arms he'd promised he would do everything possible to protect his family. He'd said it with such gravitas ... Too much gravitas? How would she ever know? Could she really live the rest of her life with all this doubt? But what choice had he left her?

The answers will not come easily to Grace, either because she asks the wrong questions or because those who might help her refuse to do so. As with much of life, Grace comes to understand that figuring out what happened to Adam is just one mystery to solve. There are others, and the thing about secrets is that those who try to keep them do not want you to find them out.

Sara Foster does a fine job of crafting this story. She keeps you guessing from page to page, and the answers do not come easily or conveniently. There is nothing cheap in the resolution to this book, and for that, I doff my wig in gratitude. I admit to a few remaining questions, but not for major plot threads.

This may not be a great beach read, in that you don't want to put it down when you need to roll over and burn your back side, but it's great for a rainy, dreary summer day. In fact, that may be the perfect ambience for this gripping mystery.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Five Miles South of Peculiar

Five Miles South of Peculiar
Angela Hunt
Published by Howard Books
Available June 5
384 pages
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Do you ever read a book in which you find yourself hating just about every character? I do. Maybe it's just me, but sometimes I really loathe those people. For instance, in The Replacement Wife, I HATED Camille. HATED. HER. I hated every character in that Fifty Shades nonsense (GOOD GRIEF, not that again), other than my main man Christian Grey. In Bared to You, I hated them all except - le sigh - Gideon Cross.

And in Five Miles South of Peculiar, I hated every character except Nolie and Erik.

Nolie is the youngest - by ten years, making her an "oops" baby - of three sisters, the older two of whom, Darlene and Carlene, are twins. Carlene, she of the beautiful voice and beauty pageant good looks, takes her talents to Julliard, eventually winding up on Broadway. Before she goes, however, she has to say goodbye to her high school boyfriend, Griffith.

Darlene, meanwhile, has become the proverbial hearth in the home of Peculiar. She hosts book clubs, she organizes pot luck suppers, she volunteers here and there. After her husband's sudden death, she begins dating Henry Hooper, the town's mayor.

Then there is Nolie, who makes aprons for townspeople and dreams of raising Leonberger dogs. Of the characters mentioned heretofore, Nolie is the only one with a truly pure heart, albeit a terribly broken one. She was supposed to have married her teenage sweetheart, but she didn't. You'll have to read to find out why.

With Carly in New York, Darly and Nolie have run The Sycamores, their family estate, for years. Then one day, Erik Payne, a minister recently let go from his parish because he and his wife divorced. Erik can't find a new ministry, so he comes to Sycamores to work as a handyman until he secures a position. Nolie finds herself drawn to Erik, and their relationship deepens into a close friendship.

But Carly comes home, ostensibly to celebrate her and Darly's 50th birthdays, but really because, due to an operation, she no longer can sing. She has nowhere else to go. But she and her twin have a fractured, combustible relationship. How can they learn to get along?

This is a sweet, ambling story about a family learning to love each other, in spite of past hurts. Carly and Darly do some truly nasty, mean-spirited things to each other, each seemingly oblivious to how their actions will affect the other. Even when they do realize it, they keep doing what they're doing. There is no one to root for when it comes to Darly and Carly, not to mention the men in their lives.

But Nolie. Sweet, kind, selfless Nolie. Oh, you want her to find happiness. You want her to get over her broken heart. When she stands up for herself to someone who done her wrong, you cheer. She inspires affection in you, as does Erik. They have no hidden agendas; these are two people who want to see if God's plan for them includes personal happiness and contentment.

Ah, yes, God. He's very present in this book, but not in a way that people who find Christianity off-putting will be off-put. Angela Hunt's message is soft and unintrusive: trust God, and see where He takes you. For instance, when Carly is in church, she finds herself questioning her relationship with God:

During the benediction, she gripped the back of the pew in front of her and wondered how long it had been since she turned her attention toward God. Sometimes she thought of him as a habit she'd left behind in Peculiar, but occasionally she'd been keenly aware of him in New York. She glimpsed him in the faces of caring strangers, heard him in the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and inhaled him in the crisp breath of autumn. She tasted is goodness in sparkling sunsets and felt his presence in the quiet night ... but why did she so rarely stop to notice him?

That's the way Hunt uses God in this story. Pages and chapters will go by with nary a reference, and then just a mention. Yet we know that these characters, especially Nolie and Erik, are waiting for God to answer their prayers, to send them a message.

There is a lot of family history and anxiety between the twins, and it is mined here. We certainly understand why the two don't trust each other or, for that matter, much like each other. Not that I can blame them, because I didn't like them, either.

Five Miles South of Peculiar is one of those books that feels peaceful, yet melancholy. There is an underlying sadness that you hope goes away, but you know probably won't. Too much has happened for it to evaporate.

Yet if anyone deserves to be happy, it's Nolie and Erik.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dirty Little Secret #53

Welcome to Dirty Little Secret, a weekly meme hosted by Under the Covers. Every Thursday we get to know other bloggers and our readers more intimately by asking them a question hoping to reveal their dirty little secrets. We hope that you will all join us!

To participate in the meme all you need to do is:

1. Be a follower of Under the Covers.

2. Create a post in your blog taking the meme image (code above) and copy instructions.

3. Answer the question we propose! This can be done in any way you like, post a video, write a post etc.

4. Then add your link below.

Non-bloggers: We want to hear from you as well!!! Let us know your answer in the comments!

We hope you join us and let us know your Dirty Little Secrets!

This week's question: 
What book would you recommend to to heat up your summer!

I've got this one. The book you need to read to heat up your summer is Bared to You, by Sylvia Day. This book is HOT, people. It's an erotic romance, and is the first of a planned trilogy. You will see some similarities to my boy Christian Grey, but I think Bared to You has hotter sex scenes.

Read it with the air conditioning cranked and a cold beverage nearby, because you will get HOT.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Heat Rises

Heat Rises
Alice Gaines
Published by Avon Red
Publication date: July 17, 2012
144 pages
Available for pre-order on
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview.
4 / 5 cupcakes

Now, here is a novella that doesn't pretend to be anything other than erotica, with a dash of romance. No hidden agenda to write about a character's personal journey into redemption or the symbolism of water and wine. Here, my friends, HERE is a book all about rockin' the headboard.

And does that headboard ever ROCK.

So Laura and Ethan knew each other back in business school, when one night, flush with the thrill of tequila-laden margaritas, Laura confesses her naughtiest desires to Ethan, including directional signals and locations. She tells him all manner of things she wants to do to him and Ethan ... rebuffs her. Not because he isn't attracted to her, but because she is drunker than Cooter Brown and he doesn't want to take advantage of her.

Cut to six years later. Ethan and Laura are both stranded in a small town during a snow storm. Ethan knows of a cottage where they can hole up until help arrives.

And we're off to the races.

"I want you naked," she said, hardly recognizing her own voice. That was the sound of a woman with demands. A woman who didn't give a fig for anything but her own needs. She didn't have to. She could enjoy this man any way she wanted and then never have to face him again. She could excite him any time she wanted and enjoy the consequences.

That, in a nutshell, is the plot. Laura and Ethan make a deal: she will do to him all the things she promised while in her margarita haze, and he will accept. Then, when the snow plow shows up, it's over.

They proceed to work out several fantasies, including the co-ed and the plumber, some oral fixations and one involving pancake syrup. Alice Gaines writes one hot scene after another, all the while offering us some insights into these two people. We like them! And what's also nice is having the man be the one who begs for the relationship, with the woman wanting only the sexy times.

This is a quick, hot read. There is even a little spanky panky going on, so suck on THAT, Christian Grey.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Circle of Danger

Circle of Danger
Carla Swafford
Published by Avon Books
Publishing date: June 19, 2012
336 pages
Available on
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
2 cupcakes (for the sexy times)

Before I eviscerate this book, let me just say that I admire writers tremendously. It is so difficult to create characters who inspire us to care about them and to send those characters on a path that keeps us entertained, interested and emotionally invested. I try really hard not to write negative reviews about books; I would rather not write a review at all than pick apart an author's work.

But when I read something like Circle of Danger, I feel like someone (in this case Carla Swafford, is toying with me, and I am not amused.

Here is the absolutely ridiculous, if not insultingly silly, premise of this book: there is a group of people called The Circle who are assassins <insert first mocking snort here> who kill people - I can't even tell you who they kill or why. But they're assassins. And at one point, their top dog was a guy they called Master who abused them when they were younger.

So we've got a band of secret assassins once ruled by a deranged pedophile. With me so far?

When Marie, one of The Circle, gets caught in an operation, she is injected with a green serum that - GET THIS - makes her crave sex. She cannot function unless she has sex and an orgasm.

I KID YOU NOT, people.

So you can see, can you not, that we basically have an excuse for sex scene after sex scene.

But oh, there is so much more. Because we also have Bad Guys, the ones who are creating and using the serum - called Blossom Flower - who must be caught.

Marie's protector, Ryker, who has Issues with a capital I-S-S-U-E-S, provides the services necessary to relieve her of her ... um ... burden. See, he loves her and she loves him and they've loved each other FOREVER, but they just can't admit it, for pity's sake. So Marie isn't really sure how much of her itch she needs Ryker to scratch is due to Blossom Flower or her own desires. And Ryker's Issues cause him some problems, because he cannot "achieve completion" unless, well, I won't give that part away, just in case you decide to read this dreck.

This book is just so awful. And what's worse is that I think we're supposed to take it seriously, which makes me want to laugh or cry. I'm not sure which. Here is a sampling for you:

His own release denied him unless he showed her his dark side. His thumb pressed into the tight opening near where he thrust into her. Tempted, but a hidden fear stopped him from pressing further. In all likelihood, she would hate him for pushing her too far too soon.
 So he worked at bringing her relief. Not one inch of her body had been missed by his touch or mouth. She screamed his name with another wave of satisfaction but she gripped his thighs, telling him to keep pumping.

For the love of Christian Grey.

There are some action scenes, and there is quite a bit of headboard rockin' (these two quite literally rock the headboard, almost through the wall). The sex scenes are hot. There. I said something positive. The sex scenes are HOT.

But the rest of this book is dreadful.

Sexy Snippets: Circle of Danger by Carla Swafford

Hey, kids! it's time for another meme from Reading Between the Wines. This time, your assignment - if you choose to accept it - is to turn to a random page in the book you currently are reading and post a sexy paragraph or two, so other participants can add the book to their TBR list if they like. Then add your post to the linky below so everyone can follow along. Have a sexy good time!

I'm reading Circle of Danger, by Carla Swafford, which evidently is a follow-up to Circle of Desire, a book I have not read. I don't feel like I need to read it to understand Circle of Danger, which, quite frankly, I can't figure out if I like or not. But it has some hotness, so without further ado:

"No! Again. Please!"
So he sank back into her warmth and pushed her knees toward her shoulders as he hammered into her. She screamed and climaxed again.
Hell! She felt so good. He had to let go. Please let it happen this time.
No matter how he positioned her, his need grew with no relief. He didn't care. Her satisfaction only mattered. Her hands pushed beneath his jeans and travelled over his hips, stroking scars he'd never thought were erogenous until now.
"More," she pleaded. 

Uh, yeah. She's under some kind of drug that makes her crave sexy times, and he's able to scratch her itch, but not to his own completion.

If you know what I mean.

Like I said ... so far, I feel like the premise is just ridiculously silly, but the thriller part - can they catch the bad guy - is keeping me going. The headboard rockin' isn't bad, but I'm hoping the hero can, you know, release.

Wallflower in Bloom

Wallflower in Bloom
Claire Cook
Published by Touchstone
Publication date: June 2, 2012
272 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4.5 cupcakes

I think I have another girl crush. And Claire Cook, I'm talking about you, sister.

Before we begin this review, please stop what you're doing and get yourself a copy of Wallflower in Bloom. You're welcome.

Deirdre Griffin is approaching middle age and doesn't have a whole lot to show for it. Her life is consumed by her brother, Tag, an advice guru (as Deirdre puts it, "Think Deepak Chopra meets Bono") with millions of followers happily paying to hear such chiasmi slogans as "You don't have to be a winner to start, but you have to be a winner." When Tag thinks of - or, more frequently, hears - a chiasmus, he tells Deirdre to write it down, because it might come in handy. (A chiasmus, by the way, is an inversion of a parallel structured phrase.)

Deirdre not only is Tag's manager and personal assistant, she lives in a house he pays for, travels with his credit card, and is responsible for his life. Her two sisters also are tied financially to Tag (one as his housekeeper, one as his art dealer), as are their parents and even Tag's ex-wives. All of them live in a sort of commune on Tag's property.

But then one day, Deirdre decides she's had enough. A school friend of Tag's, Steve Moretti, happens upon Tag, Deirdre and their parents in Austin, where Tag is giving another one of his personal appearances. Steve is a landscape designer, and when Tag catches him kissing Deirdre, he humiliates his sister, telling Steve that he didn't need to make out with Deirdre in order for Tag to consider doing business with him. Convinced that, yet again, she is being used, Deirdre quits Tag, heads back to Boston, where she runs into her on-again, off-again boyfriend, who announces that he's (a) getting married because (b) his girlfriend is pregnant. Marriage and fatherhood are two things he told Deirdre he did not want, so clearly he did not want them with her.

Tired of being the family wallflower, Deirdre enters herself in a contest to be a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.

Yes, she will cha cha and rhumba her way to freedom, a freedom she explains to Steve that has been difficult to achieve.

"Because every time I quit, he offers me more money? ... Because his business owns the house I live in?  Because my family is like a giant soul-sucking octopus, and once they get their tentacles on you, there's nothing you can do to get away?"

What bothers her is her dependence on her brother and her inability to forge a life apart from him. She recalls various episodes of her life, all of which seem to point to Deirdre being the forgotten member of the Griffin household. Dancing with the Stars may be the only way she can break free.

Only it isn't, because her getting on the show is tied to Tag's popularity.

To combat her sense of hopelessness, Deirdre frequently turns to food. And this is one of the reasons why I love Claire Cook - it's her ability to accurately reflect the battle that many of us have with food.

It was the story of my life. When in doubt, eat. When in eat, doubt. I ate when I was anxious about something. But as soon as the food was in my mouth, I realized I didn't really want it, so I didn't even enjoy it. Or sometimes even taste it. Maybe I should just start carrying a spittoon with me wherever I went.

Perhaps getting on a show that depends on skimpy costumes and vigorous dance steps is not exactly the salve for Deirdre's tortured soul, but we can understand why it's important to her and why she needs it.

Deirdre is so wonderfully written. You will love her beyond words, and you will want her to cast off her wallflower-ness and embrace all of the things about her that you love. But there are times when her self-help bent gets a bit much, especially when her self-awareness seems to come too easily. Then again, with Tag around all these years, perhaps it's easy because it's been there all along.

Read Wallflower in Bloom and enjoy Claire Cook's witty, moving and delightful writing. And most of all, enjoy Deirdre Griffin.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Final Crossing

Final Crossing
Carter Wilson
Published by Vantage Point
320 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4 out of 5 cupcakes

Hold on to your bra straps and belt buckles, kids, because Final Crossing might just cause you to lose your brassieres and britches.

Jonas Osbourne is a retired Army Ranger, currently working for a revered Senator. The subject of political speculation himself, Jonas has no small measure of power in Washington, and other than being recently dumped by a girlfriend, his life is running along without much drama. But then he nearly gets run over by a Chevy Impala, and he learns that a man he served with in Somalia and thought was dead - and who tried to kill him, after beheading a baby and chopping the ear off of a little girl - not only is alive, but crucifying people. And that's when Jonas's life gets a little more rambunctious.

Rudiger Sonman (there is a reason for that last name, and you will understand it when you read the book) remembers Jonas from Somalia, and he remembers the crimes he committed. But he believes he is God's agent, sent to find The One. He crucifies and waits three days, believing each time that he found The One. Jonas, however, presents a problem, and Rudiger likes to eliminate problems.

Fortunately for Jonas, Anne Deneuve, an intuitive medium who works for the FBI, is around to help him. And by "help," I mean professional AND personally assist. Jonas is not an easy man to love; in fact, Anne herself calls him an ass on more than one occasion. Yet we can see that he is lovable, and we can see why Anne is drawn to him.

As Rudiger continues his hunt for The One, Jonas and Anne must try to outwit him. And that's where the action portion of the festivities comes into play. There is a LOT of action in this book, some of it gruesome but all of it nerve wracking and thrilling. Carter Wilson knows how to create tension in a scene, and he also knows when his readers need a little break. He peppers the book with witty throw-away lines - "He swerved behind a Fiat (who the hell drives a Fiat?) ..." - and draws a fantastic character in Jonas Osbourne, a man whose political life may not give him all that he needs.

Yet there was something connecting both events. Jonas realized in both of his near-death moments, they were the only times Jonas felt truly and utterly alive. It was something beyond the adrenaline rush. Beyond the fear. His mere survival buttressed his ego, telling him he survived for a reason. That, despite all his success in life, he was meant for something more.

Anne sees it, too. She asks him if he has changed since his accident, if perhaps he has a hero complex. Jonas isn't so sure. He doesn't really want to save people, yet he does feel as if he must. He believes - he knows - he must find Sonman.

This is an engrossing, entertaining thriller of a book, with a little smidge of romance thrown in. Carter Wilson writes snappy dialogue (although I hate that phrase - "snappy dialogue" - because it sounds like something you would say about His Girl Friday or The Gilmore Girls) and crafts a compelling mystery.

The bad news is that Jonas's story ends after 300 pages or so. The good news is that my Spidey Sense says there is a sequel to come.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Good Father

The Good Father
Diane Chamberlain
Published by Harlequin MIRA
368 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
3.5 / 5 cupcakes

The Good Father is as much the story of what one man would do for his daughter as what two mothers would do for theirs. It is also the story of how one little girl can heal three broken people.

Travis Brown is twenty-two, an age when most people are fresh out of college, bursting with the promise of what they will do next and believing that the world is their oyster. But for Travis, the world seems more like a dark, gaping wound. His high school love, Robin, had a life-threatening heart ailment, worsened by an unexpected pregnancy. Her father took advantage of her ill health to force a breakup between her and Travis, but when Travis found out about the baby, he refused to cede custody. He and the baby, a little girl named Bella, lived with his mother in Wilmington, NC, where Travis, who once dreamt of being a marine biologist, struggled to find construction jobs. But then his mother's house burns down, and Travis and Bella find themselves homeless.

Meanwhile, Robin, who believes Travis is married, tries to forget about Bella. She is engaged to Dale, a mayoral candidate in Beaufort, working at his family's bed and breakfast. Dale's sister also finds herself unexpectedly with child while as a teenager, and experiencing her future niece's birth forces Robin to remember Bella ... and wonder about Travis.

Then there is Erin, a thirty-something pharmacist from Raleigh. Erin recently moved into a small apartment, away from her husband, Michael, and their fractured marriage. Erin and Michael lost their daughter ten months earlier in a freak accident, and each mourns in a different way. Erin cannot understand Michael's grief, and he cannot understand hers.

Erin and Travis meet at a coffee shop when Travis comes to Raleigh for a potential job. Erin finds herself drawn to Bella, who is close to the age of Erin's daughter.

I breathed in the musty smell of her hair again. I couldn't pull the scent of her deeply enough into my lungs. Beneath my hands, I felt her ribs and the little knobs of her spine. She was tiny for four. Tiny and way too thin. Carolyn at three had been bigger than Bella at four. I rested my chin on the top of her head and opened the only book she seemed to own, and while I read to her, I thought of all the books and toys in Carolyn's room. I could go to the house and get some of them for her. If I could make myself go into Carolyn's room. 

Unfortunately, Travis's job prospect turns out to be both less and more than he expected, and he needs Erin's help. As Robin discovers that her in-laws have secrets of their own, Travis desperately tries to take care of his daughter, and Erin struggles to not succumb to her grief.

This is a gripping story, told from the points of view of Travis, Robin and Erin. We feel Travis's hopelessness and despair. We sympathize with Erin's disconsolate loss. We cheer for Robin, who has survived so much in her life and yet has so many more challenges to come. And Bella. Oh, Bella. We understand Erin's need to clutch her tight and protect her. We need the three grown-ups to persevere because we need Bella to be safe, loved, cherished.

The only problem with this otherwise very well written book is its predictability. We know Travis's job is not what he expects. We know that Dale and his family are not as perfect as they appear. At no point, will you be surprised by any of the events of this book.

Fortunately, though, the characters will keep you turning the page. And the characters are the reason why this book is as good as it is.

Temptation Island

Temptation Island
Victoria Fox
Published by: Harlequin MIRA
600 page
Available on UK
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview
4 out of 5 cupcakes

The subtitle for this book, Sexy, Sensational, Sinfully Good, pretty much sums it up.

I don't even know where to begin to summarize the plot, because there is a LOT going on here. The island in question actually appears in less than half of the novel. The rest of it takes place in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, London, and a private school in England, not to mention the Mediterranean Sea. The story is told primarily from three points of view (but there are more thrown in, although it never gets confusing):  Lori, a beautiful Spanish girl trapped in a Cinderella nightmare; Aurora, a spoiled, overly indulged and utterly ignored teenage daughter of two successful country singers; and Stevie, a London native who moves to New York to start over.

For all of the glamorous locations and people, the gut of the story is focused on a very seedy, dark underbelly of Hollywood, and each of the three women comes to this unsavory element through different paths. Lori, in trying to escape the evil stepmother and stepsisters, is rescued by the mysterious and attractive JB Moreau, whom we are told repeatedly is Up to No Good. Yet he seems to treat Lori extremely well, appearing as her knight in shining armor (Lori's story is the fairy tale of the three). She becomes a top model and moves to Los Angeles. Aurora, a hot mess if ever there was, meets Pascale, a French bundle of complexities and curiosity, at boarding school; Pascale's uncle is JB Moreau. Stevie becomes a movie star and meets Xander, an actor / director who gets very skittish anytime JB Moreau's name comes up.

Ah, JB Moreau. He is the magnet that draws the three women - amongst other people - to Cacatra, the eponymous island, where the only rest and relaxation you will get is if you avoid all of the characters in the book. Something very nefarious is afoot on Cacatra, and our three heroines become involved in it.

The plot is convoluted - there are a LOT of characters and subplots - yet this is an edge-of-your-seat page turner of a book. Victoria Fox knows how to create characters who draw us in, and she can tell a story. She writes some decent sex scenes, too.

And then, she didn't know how it happened, they were kissing each other, their bodies apart one second and together the next. His lips, his tongue, that scar she had noticed that felt, beneath her mouth, like danger. The smell of leather and the smell of him: his neck, his skin, the softness of his mouth and eyelashes. His hands held her face, one thumb on her chin where it was cut, the fingers behind her jaw, beneath her earlobes. She had never been kissed like that. She could kiss him forever. She could kiss him till her mouth bled. 

Another thing Victoria Fox does well is create some ambiguity with her characters. JB Moreau is a bad guy, apparently. He does very bad things and he poses a threat to everyone in his orbit. Yet ... he helps Lori, and he cares about her. And he rescues another character, much later in the book. In fact, the theme of rescuing and saving is bigger than any temptation. That Stevie is stronger than she realizes does not surprise us, because she left a terrible situation in London to try to save herself. Aurora, too, must save herself, because her parents certainly aren't interested.

Temptation Island might be better titled Deception Island, because nothing is as it appears. But whatever its name, this is a fun book that you will not want to put down, so make sure you have a few unfettered hours in which to read it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

If it's free, it's for me!

The kids over at The Revolving Bookcase are hosting a blogoversary giveaway. You can win all sorts of goodies, including books and a $50 Amazon gift card.


So go ahead, help them celebrate their blogoversary, and win something.

You're welcome.

18 & Over Blogger Follow #33: (Cat)Fight Club!

18 & Over Blogger Follow is a weekly feature that begins on Fridays
and runs through the weekend, hosted by Crystal from
Reading Between the Wines. This is a Friday blog hop with the
objective to find and visit other book blogs that share the same interest as you, 
namely books geared towards the 18 & over crowd,
and make some new friends!

How to join in:
-You should run a book blog that features and reviews mostly adult reads, some Y.A.’s are okay but 18 & over adult reads should be your majority.
-Make a separate post for the 18 & Over Book Blogger Follow on your blog.
-Copy the html for the button above and place it at the top of your post.
-List & answer the ‘Question of the Week.’
-Place your name and blog title in the linky below and the url for a direct link to your post
-Visit the other blogs on the list and say 'Hi!' Following each blog is not mandatory but I know it is always appreciated, and if someone comments saying they’re a new follower it’s polite to follow back. J It’s always nice to spread the 18 & Over Book Blogging love!
-Contact me (readingbetweenthewines10 at gmail dot com) with any questions!

This week's question:
Fight Club! Heroine v. Heroine. Pick your two favorite
kick-ass book heroines and pit them against each other.
Who would win?

In this corner, the unlikely kick-ass heroine Elizabeth Bennet, from Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth may not literally kick your ass with her hands or feet, but her wit and intelligence will leave you so discombobulated that you won't realize that you've lost until it's too late. She put a beat down on Lady Catherine de Bourgh and on Miss Bingley, two formidable opponents. She also snared Mr. Darcy. <Insert heavy sigh here> Even more importantly, Mr. Darcy loved her for who she was, imperfections and all, and, unlike a lot of women, Elizabeth did not change to get the man. She changed when she wanted and how she wanted. 

And in this corner, Eponine, the kicking-assiest character EVER, from Les Misérables. I know some may think that Eponine is weak - she pines for a man who will never love her, and she helps him with his assignations with the woman he does love - but to me, Eponine is a total kick-ass. SHE determines how she will live. SHE determines how she will die. She loves Marius, and even though he does return her love, she chooses how she will deal with it. 

I realize these are not traditional kick-ass heroines in the Katniss Everdeen vein, but they both kick lots of ass. I don't know which one would win, but whichever one does, it will be on her terms. 

Who are your kick-ass heroines, and which one would win in a fight?

Saving June

Saving June
by Hannah Harrington
Published by Harlequin Teen
ISBN-10: 0373210248
336 pages
Available on
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.

4.5 / 5 cupcakes

I will get to the bottom line, straight away: you must read this book, because if you don't, you miss something extraordinary.

The plot appears simple: Harper Scott's older sister, June, commits suicide a week before she would have graduated from high school. The girls' parents are divorced, their mother having already succumbed to grief over her marriage and their father all but evaporated from their lives. June was the "good" daughter, seemingly confident, successful and the standard to which her parents held Harper.

And then she kills herself, and Harper finds the body.

The book begins at June's wake, during which Hannah Harrington establishes the taut dynamics in the Harper home: Mom is vacant and self-focused on her own loss, Dad is on the periphery, Aunt Helen is brittle and judgmental, and Harper is unable to cry or, for that matter, appear terribly disturbed by her sister's death. We also meet Harper's best friend, Laney, as well as Jake Tolan, a mysterious boy who shows up, smokes, and irritates Harper.

Since June did not leave a note, Harper is forced to try and figure out why her sister killed herself. She pries through June's stuff and uncovers a few clues. She also discovers one last thing she can do for her sister: take June's ashes, which her parents plan to split, and scatter them in California, a place June desperately wanted to go to.

Harper, Laney and Jake hop in Jake's minivan, affectionately named Joplin (after the singer, not the Missouri town), and head west. Jake, as Joplin indicates, is a fan of classic rock and the blues, and the road trip not only gives Harper a chance to take care of her sister, it also provides a learning opportunity about music. (Hannah Harrington even provides playlists for us, so that we can create the soundtrack for the book.)

What makes Saving June so good - so phenomenal, actually - is its realism. Harper is confused and unsettled. She feels guilty. She also feels a little unburdened. She feels forgotten and abandoned. But mostly she feels lost. Why did June kill herself? What was her relationship with Jake? What will Harper do when Laney heads off to college? Can anything come of Harper's interest in photography? And most of all, who is Harper without her sister serving as the measuring stick for her life?

As Harper herself observes,
Well, my head could use some clearing. Everything is so complicated. The mess with Laney. How I feel about Jake. How I feel about my sister. I want someone to make things black-and-white. Someone to tell me, These are the people worth caring about, who won't hurt you or let you down. These are the people who will put you through the wringer and abandon you in the worst ways. When it really counts.

The one thing Harper knows to be true is that June was more than how she was categorized; she was not the person they wanted her to be.

I don't want to think about Aunt Helen. She's just like everyone else downstairs, seeing in June only what they wanted to see - a perfect daughter, perfect friend, perfect student, perfect girl. They're all grieving over artificial memories, some two-dimensional, idealized version of my sister they've built up in their heads because it's too scary to face reality. That June had something in her that was broken.

Harper realizes that Jake hold some of the answers, but she can't bring herself to ask him. And that's something I really liked about this book. Harper wants to know, but she's afraid to find out. She waits for Jake to tell her about June, even as she yearns to interrogate him. She doesn't want to know that someone saw June's death coming, that Jake knew her sister better than Harper did. But at the same time, she wishes June had a Laney - a friend to stand by her side.

This book is beautifully written. Harper makes mistakes; oy, does she make mistakes. She sometimes says the wrong thing, sometimes does the wrong thing. She will fill your heart with love for her even while she breaks it with her loss. Laney and Jake are nicely developed, too. They each have struggles, and each of them needs something from the trip to California.

I do, however, have two quibbles with this book. The first is that a resolution to on character's problem seems very convenient, almost cheapening the issue in the first place. It was an unexpected development, because nothing comes easy for Harper. The other quibble is the adults in Harper's family, who seem like cardboard, stock characters.

But those complaints are minor when seen in the scope of this book. It is just so good. It will make you laugh, it may make you cry. Read it. Right now.