From a serious book on ancient warrioresses to a quirky one on a dissatisfied wife with a magic potion…. I figured I needed a light, no-brainer for another sleepless night.  Plus, it is in my challenge lists from  Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010.

Author :  Jane Heller

Publication Date :  December 2, 2008

Publisher :  IUniverse

ISBN-10: 059553550X

ISBN-13: 978-0595535507

No. of pages :  336

The Story :

Have you been married for so long you can’t even remember why?  Meet Elizabeth Baskin, a successful high-end hotel rater and a neat freak who feels her husband had become a one-star rater with a paunch,  a bald spot, and heavens! a penchant for sprinkling crumbs on newly dust-busted counters.  She decides that the only way to save her marriage is to make him over and return him to that dashing, funny guy who rescued her from an overheated car on the freeway.

Taking  a tip from her sister, she bluffs her way as a Goldie Hawn referral into the exclusive clinic of Doctor Farkus, the new celebrity-favored “life enhancement” specialist known to have  purportedly amazing potions with secret ingredients from some exotic forest.   At her visit, she runs into Clover, a housewife with the same need:  an enhanced husband.  The two strike up a friendship and agree to keep in each other updated with the results.

After Elizabeth describes her spousal makeover need, Doctor Farkus prescribes his  potion with strict instructions on its dosage.  Elizabeth guiltily but determinedly pours the  potion into her Roger’s orange juice every morning and waits for that magic transformation.  But Elizabeth gets antsy after a few days of seeing no immediate changes and decides to up the ante by dumping the entire two packets into Roger’s morning juice.

By day’s end,  Elizabeth’s wish of a totally enhanced, romantic husband comes true.  But too good to be true?  Indeed, as her Mr. Wonderful soon turns much too marvelous for her to handle.   With Clover corroborating the fact that their super enhanced husbands are just too “hot” for them to keep up,  both friends decide that their old husbands were a much better deal.   So what to do but ask for an antidote?  Only Dr. Farkus is nowhere to be found!

So begins the chase for the antidote that drives these two Beverly Hills wives into all sorts of hilarious escapades in their desperate attempt to save their marriages.

The Review :

Intended to be a light read, The Secret Ingredient will treat you to some chuckles.  It’s really laid-back fiction, the sort you pick up on a lark when you’re tired of serious or “meaty” stuff.  This isn’t the kind of reading for you if you want a novel with more depth.  Rather, you must be in a light and easy mood to be entertained by something like this—where you don’t care how silly and  ridiculous the characters or the plot at times get to be.

With this book,  you just go with the flow to enjoy it.  After all, that’s  what you do when you settle for a fairy tale.

My Mark :    Good — Quirky but Charming!

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Author : Hester Browne
Publication Date : September 5, 2006
Publisher : Pocket
ISBN-10: 1416527265
ISBN-13: 978-1416527268
No. of pages : 416

The Story :

Organized, practical and  self-deprecating Melissa Romney-Jones gets sacked when her company goes into a merger.  She runs into a  school acquaintance and learns that her favorite highschool teacher had gone into her own business.  Desperate to pay the bills, she applies for a job.  Little does she know that the business is actually a dolled-up seedy escort service.  In disgust, she quits but gets an a-ha! moment when she thinks of the business along cleaner and respectable lines — that of providing a pretend-girlfriend service to help men get rid of unwanted girlfriends,   have access to confidence-boosting trophy companionship, get advice on wardrobe and hygiene, among other things, without the hanky-panky.

She sets herself up as the woman any man would want on his arm with a significant wardrobe change, a blonde wig, and a syrupy, girlish name of  Honey.  Honey is the more assertive, cosmopolitan, woman-of-the-world version, the complete opposite of frumpy, timid Melissa.  But when she meets the man of her dreams, she just doesn’t know:  does he want the fantasy Honey or the real-life Melissa?

The Review :

Cute, funny, and spirited, this one is a rather enjoyable read.  Although, not quite up to par with those of Sophie Kinsella,  The Little Lady Agency is quite entertaining,  written in true British style and humor.

If you are to like the book because of the lead character, then Melissa will not disappoint.  With a lot of spunk,  she does what she knows best to do and dares to do so unconventionally.    Although she can be naive, occasionally stupidly so,  some readers would love this imperfect girl ,  who like everyone else,  tries to positively face the world and not cry into her cups of tea.  She isn’t the ideal strong woman who can stand up to any situation.  A girl does need help sometimes.  Well, lots of times for most.  But she is one feisty lady with a big heart.

Pleasant and light, this is another amusing beach read…a nice companion to pass the time with.

My Mark :   Good  — Entertaining!

Sometimes, I just can’t decide what to read next.  How to make that choice?  With a time-honored answer to indecision:  Eeny, meeny, miny, moe!

The Book of Joe is what moe came up with:

Author :  Jonathan Tropper

First Edition’s Publication Date :  2004

First Edition’s Publisher :  Bantam Dell

This Edition’s Publication Date : January 25, 2005

This Edition’s Publisher :  Delta

ISBN-10: 0385338104

ISBN-13: 978-0385338103

No. of pages :  368

The Story :

How else to purge one’s self of the painful past but to write about it?  This is exactly what Joe Goffman did when he left Bush Falls seventeen years ago with the thought of never going back.  He wrote a highly successful semi-biography which trashed everyone he knew.  Although names were changed and the book was  released as fiction,  Bush Falls residents  recognized themselves and didn’t take too well to this immortalized insult. Enmity toward Joe soared along with the success of his book and peaked when it was adapted to a movie with Leonardo di Caprio as its lead.

Now a best-selling author whose success rides on his former community’s humiliation,  Joe has no choice but to return to Bush Falls  when he was told of  his  comatose and dying father.   The town gives him a “welcome home” with a public milkshake pouring incident by an angry resident, a yard littered with his books thrown out by the local book club,  and a bar brawl with an irate psychotic former athlete who didn’t take too kindly to Joe’s inferences about his dubious sexuality.  Just to name a few “welcoming” incidents  for Joe.

Amid all that, Joe discovers his family and former friends again, and realizes that he does need home and home is Bush Falls.  So after years of  denying a past of  perceived betrayal, bitterness, and emotional battering, Joe must face all these and resolve issues with others and within himself if he is to survive his homecoming.

The Review :

My eeny meeny choice proved to be a nice surprise.  I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful novel.  I laughed,  I cried  and laughed again.  With such humor and well placed cynical wit,  it’s easy to smile even while shedding a tear or two on some sentiment.

It’s funny, sad, cynical, very “now”, and quite optimistic.  It’s about family and relationships, love in tethers, and just plain life.   The Book of Joe is about looking beyond people’s faults and seeing why they are so and at the same time, looking into one’s self and discovering how your own flaws affect reactions in others.

The book, with its boyish colloquial writing, has a contemporary feel to it that renders the characters real and easy to relate to.  Although there is nothing profound nor anything really original about the novel, there is a heart-warming glow about this book  that somehow touches you at some point and and makes you glad you’ve come across this story.

As my first book by Jonathan Tropper,  The Book of Joe makes me eager to try the author’s other novels.  He  has an easy going style loaded with great one-liners and witticisms that keeps you entertained until the end.

This is the type of book, though, that just cries out for a cinematic adaptation.  My hunch proved right when my surfing came up with one in the works with Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, and Brad Grey as producers.  As to when this movie will be released, I have no clue.  But I hope I will fall in love with it as I have with the book.

Mark  :  Outstanding


Author :  Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Date of First Publication :  March 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition:  William Morrow

Date of Publication for this Edition :  December 2006  (Mass Paperback)

Publisher for this Edition :  Harper Torch

ISBN 10: 0-06-085398-0

ISBN 13: 978-0-06-085398-3

No. of pages : 432

The Story:

Heaven and Hell had left their agents on Earth since the dawn of time on Earth — an angel to make sure things go right and a demon with the express mission to wreak havoc on mankind.  Things seem to be going so well for both through the centuries; but now the powers-that-be both above and below decide it is time for the showdown between good and evil.

Crowley, the demon had been charged by Hell to oversee the coming of the Anti-Christ.  But hey, he’s enjoying the twenty-first century and Earth is much more exciting than Hell.  Aziraphale, the angel, also in his comfort zone on Earth, finds himself much more comfortable being with humans than with the “hosts on high”.  Both are loath to see THE END.  So angel and demon strike an unlikely alliance to divert the Prophecies and avert Armageddon.

Only no one knows there was a mix-up in the hospital.  Both Crowley and Aziraphale try to influence the little boy, Warlock, to thwart his nature as an Anti-Christ.  Only too late did both realize that Warlock is just a normal boy;  it is Adam who is the Anti-Christ but he had grown up outside their influences.  So, Crowley and Aziraphale both race against time and the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse (Hell’s Angels) to see if they still stand a chance of saving the world.

The Review :

Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett make a rollicking great writing tandem with Good Omens.  I had loads of laughs with this one. The authors must have had a ball collaborating on creating their funny version of  the Biblical Apocalypse.  And got paid for it too!  Lucky guys!

I wish I had read a Neil Gaiman and a Terry Pratchett book to discern which parts were influenced by which author; unfortunately, this is my first time with both and I had to pick up a co-authored book.

Crowley, a dapper demon  and the bookish angel Aziraphale are both lovable characters you wish you could get to know for real.  Despite the overall hilarity in this book, Gaiman and Pratchett throw in some philosophic bones to chew on from time to time, in their characters’ dialogues :  

“Well”, said Crowley….”haven’t you ever wondered about it all?  You know–your people and my people, Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing?  I mean why?”

“As I recall, ” said the Angel stiffly, “there was the rebellion and—“

“Ah yes.  and why did it happen, eh?  I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?”  said Crowley, a manic look in his eye.  “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen.  Unless they want it to, of course.  “

“Oh come on.  Be sensible,” said Aziraphale. doubtfully.

“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley.  “….If you sit down and think about it sensibly, come up with some very funny ideas.  Like : why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying “THIS IS IT!”?

“I don’t remember any neon.”

Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh?  I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out.  Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan.  All of it.  You, me, him, everything.  Some great big test to see if what you’ve built all works properly, eh? You start thinking :  it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire……”

Well, why indeed?

To Read Or Not To Read :

Feeling bored?  Good Omens makes a good cure for a lazy weekend.  Its irreverent, wry wit,  goofy characters, wacky plotline, and footnotes about funny minutae just make this jocular bundle worth picking up.  Take this little aside for instance :

The end justifies the means, thought Aziraphale.  And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. *

Footnote: * This is not actually true.  The road to Hell is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen.  On weekends many of the younger demons go ice skating down it.

Unless you absolutely do not possess a shred of humor where Biblical prophecies are concerned or are a salesman of any kind—door-to-door and telemarketers included,  this book will tickle your funny bone.

Indeed, “the Apocalypse has never been funnier.” —- Clive Barker

My Mark :  Very Good!

After two books on the supernatural in succession, I had the taste for something more grounded, more real.  Ironically, Exile was in my list for the Fall To Reading Challenge.  It’s a novel that can’t be anything but so painfully present— a fictitious story but one wholly based on current world events, dealing  in particular with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Author :  Richard North Patterson

Publication Date :  January 9, 2007  (Hardcover – 1st edition)

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 0805079475

ISBN-13: 978-0805079470

No. of pages :  576

The Story:

The hopes for a beginning toward peace between Israel and its Palestinian inhabitants are dashed when Jewish Prime Minister Amos Ben-Aron is assassinated by a Palestinian suicide bomber on American soil.

A brilliant Jewish lawyer and  promising politician,  David,  witnesses the horrifying murder of the man whom he admires and believes to be the catalyst for peace in the Middle East.  Suddenly he gets a call from a woman whom he had allowed himself to forget.  Hana Arif, the Palestinian law student he had been helplessly in love with  thirteen years ago,  suddenly calls and says she has been accused of being instrumental to the crime.   Would David help her?

Against the certainty of becoming a pariah in his Jewish community, of irredeemably breaking his engagement with his Jewish fiance,  and of wiping out the brilliant political career path he had been so ambitious of, David with his ideals and buried passion, takes up the cudgels of a seemingly impossible case to exonerate Hana.

The case impels him to take a closer look at his culture and at the long-standing enmity between Palestinians and Jews, by going through their histories and understanding both sides’ perspectives.  David follows a dangerous trail for information which takes him to Israel, the West Bank,  and Lebanon as he chases the elusive truth to save his client.

The Review :

I am writing this review just after I have turned the last page of this book.  I’ve been so riveted by it, turning page after page well into the night, as I came to understand much more about the volatile Palestinian-Israeli crisis.

Patterson has written a rare combination of a page-turner and an educational read which explains the present complex issues in the Middle East conflict.   Although couched in fiction, this book is a definite eye-opener  to those who do not understand or had been indifferent to the crisis that presently is, I believe, the greatest and most urgent threat to world peace.

Exile is the type of fiction novel that through its entertainment value, compels you to know more beyond it.  I am inspired to research more on the subject of the ongoing war between the Jews, Palestinians, and the Arab world at large.  It is scary in its magnitude of hatred and seemingly hopeless for its dearth of solution as each side believes so absolutely in the right of its cause.   Basically a war of land rights and sovereignty,  it draws its complexities from bringing  religion, racial history and culture, internal factions, and international politics into the fray, a tangle of elements that cannot be extricated singly to make solutions.

Patterson’s courtroom scenes are energetic,  intense, and a good read.  There is a lot going for this book as a suspense-crime-courtroom-thriller.  But the true merit of this book comes from the extensively researched issues backgounding this novel and the humane and impartial way the author represents the conflict for both sides that one cannot help but be emotionally moved at the plight of both Palestinians and Jews.

The novel never takes sides.  It simply presents the conflict from both perspectives and leaves it up to you to decide who is right.  Since it is impossible for one to make such an opinion with this book alone, Exile goads you to delve and learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with an open  and unbiased  mind.  Current events will never seem so one-dimensional and so distant after this.

To Read Or Not To Read:

Indeed, an important read!  To those, like me, who have been partially oblivious to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, this book should constitute the top of your TBR pile.  This novel is a good starter to point our way toward informing ourselves of a current volatile dilemma facing the world today.   Muslim, Christian, Jew, atheist…whatever your leanings, we still cannot ignore that we are all inextricably connected and therefore will be involved, one way or another,  in this war.

It’s a thick novel but once you’re in it, you’d never feel its length.  In fact, you may end up wanting to know much more.

In A Nutshell:

Exile has successfully given an impartial yet emotional account of the Mid-East crisis.  It is not a finger-pointer ; no side is singled out to blame for starting this whole mess.  As it is, it is everyone and no one and but really the sordid side of human nature that has foisted this problem on us all.  As the author aptly writes:

“…The Promised Land, which many of each side believed was promised to them alone, might be consumed not merely by hatred and violence but also by the most banal of human faults—a failure to imagine the life of another.  The only common denominator of occupation was that it degraded everyone.” —- p. 401

“You know what amazes me, Zev?  it’s that so many Jews and Palestinians don’t give a damn about one another’s stories.  Too many Palestinians don’t grasp why three thousand years of death and persecution make Jews want their own homeland, or how suicide bombings alienate Jews and extend the occupation.   Too many Jews refuse to acknowledge their role in the misery of Palestinians since 1948, or that the daily toll of occupation helps fuel more hatred and violence.  So both become cliches:  Jews are victims and oppressors; Palestinians are victims and terrorists.  And the cycle of death rolls on… In three short weeks I’ve seen all kinds of suffering, from the families in Haifa to the misery of Hana’s parents.   But they live in different worlds…” — p.  407

Please pick up this book and be aware.  It’s a superb read, a must-read,  and will be well worth your time.

My Mark :  Excellent! +++

The little blurb promising a creative and unusual “alien” mystery thriller just leaped out at me from the back cover and compelled me to snatch this one up from a book sale.

Author :  Frank M. Robinson

Date of First Publication : April 1999 (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Forge


Date of Publication for This Edition :  April 2000 (Mass Paperback)

Publisher :  Tor Books

ISBN: 0-812-54164-2

No. of Pages :  347

The Story :

Suppose there were a society of aliens whose existence we know nothing about, living among us for over 35,000 years?  What if they look like us, talk like us, and have imbibed all cultural nuances to seem human?  What if they were your best friend, your nice next-door neighbour,  or your teacher at school?

This isn’t your average  UFO invasion/ body-snatcher story.  The creatively original concept here is that the aliens in our midst are hominids but not homo sapiens; rather they are a different species, who almost lost the fight for survival some 35,000 years ago and have learned to assimilate with the dominant species, us, in order to survive, albeit in small clusters, waiting for the time when they, too, shall have dominion over the earth.

Participating in an autopsy of a sixty- plus- year-old male who died in accident,  Dr. Larry Shea makes this exciting but unfortunate discovery.  The victim possess muscles, bones, and inner organs which were as healthy and strong as a those of a thirty year old.  Measurements of the cranium, heart, etc. are also significantly different from humans, so that  he concludes that the man was not a man after all — not within the biological parameters of homo sapiens.  Dr. Shea prepares to share his discovery with his friends in the Suicide Club, an organization among a group of professionals whose  ties go back to their younger, reckless days.  But, he is murdered before he is able to do so.

Artie and Mitch, two friends from the club, decide to investigate his mysterious death.  Soon, they discover the bizarre and terrifying reason and become the next targets while other members are picked off, one by one, as well.  The killer must be part of the club and they must find him before they become victims, themselves.

The Review :

With the aliens assuming an anthropological nature,  Frank Robinson does  a refreshingly clever and original take on the tired and hackneyed aliens theme with “Waiting“.   This time the aliens are of our earth, just a different branch of the homo genus.

With this unique concept, Robinson blends in a whodunit theme and crafts this sci-fi mystery thriller with a deft hand.   He opens the book with a strange murder and proceeds to compel our reading through skillful manipulation of plot events so that,  as one with the main character, Artie, the reader isn’t quite sure whom to trust as well.

Frank Robinson writes like a typical man would — straightforward and decisive.  His characters seem pretty much like his writing, too — not given to much sentimentality and exuding a no-nonsense quality that would appeal to a lot of male readers.

There is a very strong environmental message in this book, being that man and his activities are the prime factors  for various ecological collapses.  Furthermore,  nature has its own way of addressing its own survival and so as prime factors of destruction, it may well serve us to take serious heed.

Robinson concludes the novel with a good twist to render this book, a very enjoyable read.

My Mark  :  Very Good



Since I’ve been on a voracious path of discovering authors,  Lisa Jackson has been on my list of authors to try.  Her name just  kept popping at me on bookstore shelves;  so finally,  I relented and included her in my growing books-to-read pile.

Author: Lisa Jackson
First Published : 1998
Publisher : Zebra Books
ISBN : 0-8217-7944-3
No. of pages : 451

Synopsis :

Mary Theresa – Marquise – a spoiled, egotistical, only slightly famous actress, suddenly disappears. Maggie McCrae, her identical twin but her total personal opposite, receives a telepathic message from her missing sister, begging for help and warning about Thane Walker.

Thane Walker is one hunky, ruggedly sexy, manly man that Marquise and Maggie have had the hots for, since their teens. The more flamboyant, daring Marquise, predictably,  had snagged the man and had left her twin’s heart in smithereens.

Now, Thane suddenly appears again in Maggie’s life and insists on helping her find Marquise, his ex-wife. Maggie desperately needs to find her twin, who could be in mortal danger. Should Maggie trust the man who had broken her heart?

Finding Marquise will open Maggie up to old hurts and will reveal new secrets about her twin that she’s never known. On top of this she has Thane Walker to deal with…

The Review :

And so goes this suspense-romance that actually reads like a B-movie. And so like one, don’t expect writing that takes pains to develop its characters or convey some dawning life realizations.

The author aims to titillate and she does a very good job with this delectable confection of a romance wrapped in a whodunit-mystery-thriller— the kind of guilty pleasure you don’t want your book-snobbish friends to know you indulge in. 😉

A great companion for the coming summer margaritas and bikinis, Lisa Jackson is another author I wouldn’t mind picking up now and then.

My Mark :  Good; Enjoyable