Friday, December 19, 2014

Review--A String of Beads

A String of BeadsA String of Beads by Thomas Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jane Whitefield is one of my favorite heroines. She's not flashy, but she gets the job done.  In her case, "the job" is keeping people alive and getting them new identities when bad things happen. This time Jane is brought home, literally, when her Seneca tribal leaders task her with helping one of their own.

Part of what I've enjoyed about the series is how Jane's methods have to evolve and change in a post-911 world. If you're new to the series, I recommend starting with the first book, but there's enough exposition in this one to bring new readers up to speed.


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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review--The Turning Season

The Turning Season (Shifting Circle, #3)The Turning Season by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this, and it's my favorite (so far) of the Shifting Circle novels.

The reason I liked it so much is Joe. I mean, how can you get a more ordinary hero name than "Joe"? And he is ordinary, and yet, exactly the kind of hero you want to marry. He's a keeper. Not uber-handsome (he's described as having a "round, baby-face" and has to work at keeping the weight off now that he's no longer 20). Joe's an ex-cop and has that old fashioned quality where he'd be described as a "mensch", a man you can count on to do the right thing, to help out, to stand by you. Not a billionaire Dom, not a SEAL, just a good guy.

Can you tell I'm half-in love with him myself?

Oh yeah, and Joe's completely human. But Karadel is not. She's a shifter trying to get her animal self under control, or at least to settle on one animal, preferably a housecat. She's shifted into being an elephant and a giraffe in the past, and can't control when her change will happen.

And you thought you had a complicated love life!

Karadel works as a veterinarian, though she's not really a doctor. The shifter community in their small Illinois town depends on her and she's experimenting with different medical formulas to help them. But when a shifter changes into a bobcat in public to fend off a rapist, Karadel fears the entire shifter community is threatened. At a more personal level, she has no idea how Joe will respond when he learns of her secret life.

If you're new to the series, I recommend starting with #1 as characters are introduced and grow into their own stories in later books. However, you could read The Turning Season on its own and enjoy it as a fantasy and as a gentle romance.


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Monday, December 15, 2014

"A Noble Hound" 1998-2014

"As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master. When Odysseus saw the dog on the other side of the yard, dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaeus seeing it, and said:'Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?''
This dog,' answered Eumaeus, 'belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks....'
So saying he entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years."--Homer, Odyssey



YOFI 
The Diva Dachshund
1998-2014
"Good girl!  Good dog!" 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review--Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover In the Civil War

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil WarLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book had me turning pages like I was reading a novel, anxious to see what happened next. The untold stories of women who serve in wartime, in all capacities, are being brought to light by talented authors like Abbott.

I was especially taken by the tale of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond abolitionist, and her free woman of color cohort, Mary Jane Bowser. Van Lew sent vital information to the Union, much of it gathered by Bowser. At great risk to her own life, Bowser was sent as a "slave" housemaid to the Confederate president's house, never letting on that she could not only read and write, but was gifted with an eidetic memory. As the author points out, women like Bowser were "below suspicion" as they cleaned and dusted around the papers on Jeff Davis' desk.

I had a particular interest in the story of Emma Edmonds, who served with valor and zeal in the Union army as "Frank Thompson". As readers of my books know, cross-dressing women soldiers and sailors were more common than standard histories lead us to believe. I highly recommend the Hugo-award winning essay "We Have Always Fought", by Kameron Hurley, for more on this.

Finally, the stories of Confederate spies and activists Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow are better known to fans of history, but Abbott gives them a fresh spin and really brings these women to life, with all their virtues and flaws.

I highly recommend Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy for all readers interested in the US Civil War and in women's history and studies.



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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Review--Only Enchanting

Only Enchanting (The Survivors' Club, #4)Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best, so far, of The Survivors' Club series by Balogh. She's always top-notch, but sometimes her books are truly a cut above. In Only Enchanting, the story of Flavian evolves slowly and carefully, with small clues along the way like marker stones along a path.

Unlike some of the other Club members, Flavian's wounds aren't on the surface. Handsome, sophisticated, his war injuries only become obvious when he opens his mouth and his noticeable stammer emerges, a speech impediment brought about by head injuries and PTSD trauma.

Flavian doesn't understand his attraction to the quiet, unassuming widow Agnes Keeping, but she can't help but fall-head-over-heels in love with him, something she thought would never happen, and it scares her to her core.

There was a point where Ms. Balogh almost lost me, where a character was about to do something that would move the story into Stupid Plot Device territory, but this is what makes the author so talented: she took the reader to the brink, but didn't step over the edge. Reading a Balogh is like taking a master class in how thoughtful romance should be written, and I recommend her books to all those readers who are not yet part of her legion of hardcore fans.


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Review--Gunpowder Alchemy

Gunpowder Alchemy (The Gunpowder Chronicles, #1)Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has a lot going for it, and I really enjoyed it. It's a wonderful steampunk romance, but with a refreshing twist: Imperial China, Opium Wars, Non-European protagonists, Opium zombies and more. It's the first in a series, and is openended as a romance novel, but the crisp writing and wonderful evocation of place has me anxious for the next novel by Ms. Lin.


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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review--A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America

A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in AmericaA Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America by Allyson Hobbs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Movies like "Imitation of Life" and "Pinky" opened up a new world to White Americans, the world of African-Americans who were "passing", living as white people and hiding their African roots.

This fascinating history explores 200 years of passing in America, what it meant to the people who made these choices, their families, and to society as a whole. It's a sad and important story that's neglected in American history classes, and Hobbs' excellent book brings these tales to life for a generation that wishes to view itself, and the country, as post-racial.


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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Feasting With Friends, Florida Style

Before we celebrated US style Thanksgiving in Florida (the Spaniards celebrated Thanksgiving at St. Augustine long before those latecomer Pilgrims set foot aboard ship) we had cane grinding in the autumn to share the work and feast with friends:

From SMUGGLER'S BRIDE:

     As the shadows lengthened, the men began gathering around the tables like wasps drawn to sweet fruit, cozying up to their women, and trying to talk them out of some of the food before the feast officially began. Ma Ivey ruled her dirt yard like an empress and wasn't above slapping a reaching hand with a wooden spoon when they drew too close. Finally though, the last of the cane was put through the mill and the syrup cooked down, and as the night sky filled with stars the feast began to a chorus of tree frogs and crickets serenading the workers. They lined up before the platters of roast pig and venison, quails, turkey, and doves. Even a possum or two joined the potatoes in the smoldering coals.
     There was fish stew and slow-cooked turtle, gator tail and fresh bass, and plenty of home-brewed ale and scuppernong wine to wash it down. The ever present corn was there, too, as meal, mush, bread, pone, grits, and "roasenears," cooked in the hot coals. Julia grinned to herself. There would be plenty of cobs for the privies after tonight's feast.
     The children and old folks were served first, then the men, then the women took for themselves, the fires from the pits and fat pine torches lighting up the yard. By the time Julia had her plate filled--and Rand had gotten his second serving--the men were rosining their fiddle bows and bringing out the banjos and whistles.
     Rand made room for Julia to sit beside him, and held up an object in his hand.
     "Look, darlin', I got the wishbone!"
     "And that means...what?"
     "It means you and me got to make a wish."
     He showed her how to grasp the bone, and warned her it would take some strength to make it snap since it hadn't dried out yet.
     "So give it a good tug, and make a wish."

Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving, with plenty of feasting with family and friends.