Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Ten Books of 2013

It's that time of year, and since all the cool kids are doing it, I'm making my own list of "Best Books of 2013" based on my Goodreads & Booklikes rankings.

So here's my Top Ten, culled from my five star rankings. They're in no particular order and believe me, it wasn't easy narrowing this list down!

1. The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater--The writing is poetic, one of my favorite characters is a hitman, and Blue still doesn't know which boy she'll kill with a kiss. Read The Raven Boys, then read The Dream Thieves and you can suffer with the rest of us waiting for the next book.

2. Her Hesitant Heart--Carla Kelly--It's got everything Kelly fans could desire: tons of angst (have your hankies ready), love, and most importantly, ordinary people being good.

3. A Dangerous Fiction--Barbara Rogan--It's cliched to say "I couldn't put it down!", but that's how I felt about A Dangerous Fiction. Rogan brings an insider's keen view, pulling the reader into the New York publishing milieu with all of its jealousies, intrigue, excitement and larger-than-life personalities.

4. It Happened One Midnight--Julie Anne Long--Just delightful. The writing sparkles, the characters shine, the continuing saga of the Eversea & Redmond families captivates.

5. The Golem and the Jinni--Helene Wecker--Dear Alachua County Library District--Thank you for not sending the overdue book police after me. I loved this debut novel and had to finish it. I promise, I'll drop it off tomorrow.Sincerely, A satisfied scofflaw.

6. River of Stars--Guy Gavriel Kay--Best epic fantasy I've read in years, and one of Guy Gavriel Kay's best novels. I hadn't read G.G. Kay for a while but the reviews of River of Stars were so glowing that I gave this one a try, and it was a good choice.

7.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane--Neil Gaiman--There are authors who are good, and entertaining, and then there are authors who are in the master class. Neil Gaiman is one of those authors.

8. The Turncoat--Donna Thorland--The characters in The Turncoat are complex and well-drawn, including the villains. The research and writing will delight fans of historical fiction, and I'm eagerly looking forward to Thorland's next novel for more of this fresh look at the founding of the American nation.

9. Dangerous Women--George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, eds. Wonderful anthology bringing together some of the best genre writers in the business, from the fields of mystery and suspense, science fiction, horror, fantasy and romance. Each story is a separate treat to be savored.

10. Ashes of Honor--Seanan McGuire--If Ms. McGuire chose to stop writing October Daye stories today, I'd be satisfied. This sixth book brought much of Toby's personal life to a great place, and kept the pages turning with a storyline that revealed much, and didn't leave people's lives dangling.

So that's my top ten, picked from my five star reviews of 2013. There were many 4.5 star reviews that almost made the list, and if you'd like to follow what I'm reading, you can catch my reviews at Goodreads and on occasion at Booklikes, Shelfari and LibraryThing.



Monday, December 23, 2013

Review--Parasite

Parasite (Parasitology, #1)Parasite by Mira Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cue the grainy black and white movie of the serious looking lady in a lab coat saying, "There are some things man was not meant to know..." or, better yet, bring on Igor and some wild-haired Dr. Frankenstein ("That's 'FRAHNK-en-shteen') eyeing the skies for lightning. Now you've set the tone for Parasite by Mira Grant.

It's the kind of medical/sf thriller that scares the bejeezus out of you because it all sounds way too plausible. Bring on Veridian Dynamics, or its equivalent, convincing us our lives will be so much better if we allow them into our home, or in the case of Parasite's SymboGen Corporation, allow them into our bodies. They'll cure what ails us with modified tapeworms! What could go wrong?

This is the first book in a series, and I look forward to staying up past my bedtime and being terrified by the next Mira Grant Parasitology thriller.



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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review--The Republic of Thieves

The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard, #3)The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was a long time coming, but well worth waiting for. We've had hints about Sabetha over the last two books, and now we get to meet her in all her glory. Sabetha's relationship to Locke Lamora helped mold the man he is today, and it's a relationship full of twists, turns and romance, but the course of true love is never an easy one.

Part of what I like about Locke and Sabetha is they understand choices have consequences. Too often in romantic fiction characters make decisions based on what's best for them and for their needs, but those aren't always the best decisions.

I won't go into the plot, because it's complicated, and frankly, I wouldn't recommend this doorstop of a tome to anyone who hasn't read the first two books. What I would recommend is that you read The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. Then you'll be banging on the bookstore doors to get your hands on The Republic of Thieves.


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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Review--Royal Airs

Royal Airs (Elemental Blessings, #2)Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Excellent world building from Sharon Shinn, as usual. The story was entertaining, but it didn't rock my world like some of her other books. Nonetheless, it will be enjoyed by her fans, especially if they've already read Troubled Waters, the first book in the Elemental Blessings series.


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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

She excused herself from the heat of the cane fires and walked to the tables where the women were laying out an array of pumpkin and pecan pies, shortbread oozing with sweet jam, all of it covered with light cloths to keep the insects off. Crocks of preserves and pickled tomatoes, cucumbers, and relishes shone in the sun. Her persimmon cakes were added to the pile. While once Julia might have wondered who could consume so much food at one sitting, she’d seen the Crackers sit down to their victuals and knew the food would be little more than a memory by the time the day was done.
Barefoot children chased a brindle hound bitch through the yard, stopping long enough to beg for slices of buttered cornbread before heading down to the creek for some of the last swimming they’d do before the air and the water got chilled by winter.
Smuggler's Bride



I want to wish all my friends and readers a very happy Thanksgiving holiday. I'm thankful for my family, my health, and the joy I experience when people say my stories entertained them. Thank you all very much.

And I don't care what those Yankees claim, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1565, in St. Augustine, Florida. You can read more about it here.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review--The Bondwoman's Narrative

The Bondwoman's NarrativeThe Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a fascinating peek into American history, women's literature, slave narratives and gothic novels. I gave it five stars because I'm not going to judge the author's sometimes fractured grammar and spelling. The book was spell-binding.

"Hannah Crafts" was a literate slave woman, light-skinned, able to pass for white when she needed to. The extensive research Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. puts into tracking down the author of The Bondwoman's Narrative reads itself like a detective novel, and one can almost feel his joy when certain clues cause information to click into place, authenticating the veracity of the tale.

Part of what makes The Bondwoman's Narrative so interesting is how Crafts brings a woman's perspective to the story in her discussion of relationships between mistress and maidservant, and her frank inclusion of the sexual abuse slave women faced from both their white masters and sometimes, from fellow slaves.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Antebellum US history.


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Monday, November 18, 2013

Review--Rose Under Fire

Rose Under FireRose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another powerful, moving, important novel from Elizabeth Wein. I say "important" because of her gift for bringing history alive for the YA (and adult) reader in her tales of the courage of young women during WWII.

Rose is an American teenager, barely out of school, who leaves small town Pennsylvania to fly planes for the British ATA (akin to the US WASPs) during the last years of WWII. There's interaction with Maddie, the protagonist of Code Name Verity, but Rose's story is unique, particularly for younger American readers who may not have a good grasp of the role American women played during the war. Rose is captured in a flight that takes her away from the Allied occupied areas, and because she's a civilian and not a military POW, she's sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp for women.

Like Wein's previous work, this novel again makes me want to stop teenage girls on the street, the ones who think YA novels are about sparkly vampires and the mopey girls who pine for them, and say, "Read this!" Rose Under Fire is about friendship between women, and survival, and sacrifice, and honor, and all those things important to a woman's life, and it's not about a woman's love life defining who she is. That, to me, is one of the most positive statements a YA novel can make for the intended audience, boys or girls.

The only thing that kept me from giving it five stars (I'd give 4.5 if I could) was that unlike Wein's last novel, Rose didn't stun me with its construction and ending. That doesn't make it any less worth reading, and I did stay up late at night to finish the book. I highly recommend it, for YA and adult readers.


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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review--Charming

Charming (Pax Arcana, #1)Charming by Elliott James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even though the urban fantasy field is saturated with good writers, it's always a pleasure to read a debut novel by another talented author. While many of the characters are the same otherworldly species we've come to expect, Charming is highlighted by snappy dialogue, fast pacing, good action scenes and a conflicted, troubled hero who'd be right at home bending an elbow next to Harry Dresden.

I'll be looking forward to the next installment.



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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veterans Day

Dr. Murray looked like he was about to say something, but
Carville spoke up, saying stubbornly, “I still don’t believe the
United States surrendered.”
“A peace treaty is not a surrender, Carville,” Charley said. “I
am sure there is more to this than we know.”
Indeed, when Captain Doyle returned there was a full report. A
peace treaty had been negotiated restoring Great Britain and the
United States to their antebellum status.
“But what of the prisoners?” Charley asked Captain Doyle.
“A Yankee trader from France bound for Charleston put into
port a few days back. That is how we got the news. The governor
is not interested in having a gang of Americans roaming through
Kingston, and asked if we would ‘host’ them for a while longer
until they can ship out with their countrymen.”
It was that simple. Men who two days earlier would have run
each other through or blown each other to pieces, now were up on
deck toasting each other’s countries with carefully rationed grog.
Captain Doyle wisely put a limit on the amount of alcohol served,
knowing that it wouldn’t take much to re-ignite the conflict on a
smaller scale.
“Captain Fletcher told me I do not understand men, Mr.
Bryant,” Charley said in bemusement later that night. “I have to
agree with him.”
Mr. Bryant shrugged his shoulders. “They fought when they
needed to fight. Now they’re anxious to go home. We sailors are
not complicated creatures, Doctor.”
--Sea Change

November 11 is Veterans Day in the US, formerly known as Armistice Day. It marked the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the end of World War I, but now it's the day we salute the women and men who fought for us. They are the ones who defend our country from foreign enemies, and we owe them our respect and gratitude for doing that difficult job.

I'm proud to live in a community that hosts an excellent VA Medical facility. I've visited friends being treated there, and I'm always impressed by the caring individuals who work so hard to give our veterans their health care. It's not a perfect system, and for many veterans and their families there's far too much waiting and red  tape, but it's a vast improvement over what existed 100 years ago.

In the best of all possible worlds, we wouldn't need standing armies and navies (and the Marines, the Air Force, and the Coast Guard) but until that day, they do the work that needs to be done.

Thank you.


Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Joy of Imagination

She continued to unpack her belongings as the youngster arranged her dolls on her bunk. A new doll with a china head was part of the crew and Mattie addressed them in a low voice as she played.
“…and you must always obey the captain’s orders or else she’ll maroon you!”
“Perhaps we can have a tea party with your friends there?” Lydia said a touch frantically. “If you cooperate and have your lessons with me each morning, and do your chores, we will have a tea party later in the voyage.”
“Pirates don’t have tea parties, Miss Burke, that would be silly.”
--[WIP] The Pirate's Secret Baby

I was taking my daily walk around our neighborhood and saw two little girls playing in a front yard. A tree had been cut down, large circles of wood were scattered on the ground, and the girls were rearranging them to be a "fireplace" and "kitchen" in their pretend house.

I loved seeing this. Here are two budding mechanical engineers, or architects, or building construction majors, having fun outdoors in the fresh air. They had no electronics or pink plastic castles or adult interference, just the power of their own imaginations.

My imagination is my primary tool and my daily walk helps hone that tool. I don't wear headphones or earbuds while I'm walking, and keep my phone off. This is my time where the fresh air and walking motion jars ideas loose from my brain. I do take a small notepad and a pencil, and my neighbors are used to the sight of me going from nearly four miles an hour to a full stop, jotting down a snippet of dialogue or a plot point before it can get away.

And for whatever it's worth, I don't think tea parties are silly at all. In fact, I hunted high and low to find a non-pink tea set (bless you, Fisher Price!) so my sons would have tea parties with me when they were small. We all enjoyed them, along with an array of stuffed animals like Windy and Peetoo (the boys named them), bear puppets who also, I was assured, enjoyed a good cup of pretend tea.

So here's to the joy of using your imagination! I raise my (pretend) tea cup to all the little girls and boys who still have the most fun by using the best toy of all.

 

Friday, November 01, 2013

Review--Carla Kelly's Christmas Collection

Carla Kelly's Christmas CollectionCarla Kelly's Christmas Collection by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always, Carla Kelly brings the angst, but also the hope for a better tomorrow. I'd read two of these stories in other collections, two were new to me, but all were enjoyable.  Kelly's stories of ordinary people are every bit as satisfying, if not more so, than a thousand Regency tales of dukes and heiresses.


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Thursday, October 24, 2013

It's Time to Make Smuggler's Bride Persimmon Cake

I was at the farmers market yesterday, and it was overflowing with ripe, orange persimmons. Persimmons played a role in Smuggler's Bride, as kidnapped heiress Julia Delarue cooked her way into the good graces of smuggler Rand Washburn: 
“I have to hunt and fish to keep food on the table,” Rand said. “I can’t be spendin’ all day doin’ women’s work!”
“If it is women’s work, it is not work this woman ever did. At the estate where I lived there were laundresses who did the cleaning for the entire household. I can cook better than you can, but it seems to me that if you have experience doing laundry, then you can continue to do a better job than I would. Not to mention that if I am spending all my time doing laundry I won’t have time to make the pork pie I was planning for dinner. With persimmon cake for dessert.”
There was something wrong with this logic, Rand knew it, but he couldn’t come up with a good argument. It became even harder to think about it when Julia waltzed past him into the house carrying a plate and leaving behind an aroma of griddle cakes, syrup, and woman.
--SMUGGLER'S BRIDE


Julia's Persimmon Cake


Preheat oven to 325F


1 cup sugar
3/4 cup margarine or butter
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 cup persimmon pulp--approx. six small very ripe Florida persimmons
½ cup chopped pecans


To get persimmon pulp: Take very ripe persimmons, cut in half, scoop pulp out. Remove pithy seed area, pulse a few times in food processor.

1. Stir together dry ingredients

2. cream sugar and butter, add eggs, add dry ingredients, pulp and nuts.

3. pour mixture into standard loaf pan (grease and flour pan, if not nonstick model), bake 1.25 hours. Let cool ten minutes, remove from pan.

Freezes well. You can also try baking it at 350F for 1 hour, depending on your oven.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Slow Writing Movement

We've all heard of the "slow food movement", which advocates leisurely meals prepared from scratch. I'm a fan.

I'm also a fan of the "slow writing movement". Not writing out my manuscripts with a quill pen, but taking notes by hand. I've found over the years that I retain information better if I write it out in longhand. Because I want to maximize my enjoyment of that notetaking, I use the finest "ingredients". Today I was researching 19th C. Key West, Florida. I set up my latest Circa notebook from Levenger's, filling it with Rhodia paper, organizing new tabbed dividers. Then I got out my fountain pens--two Cross models, a Lamy Safari, a Sensa, all with different inks. Finally, I picked it all up and moved it to my back porch because it's a lovely day in North Florida.

The research is going well (though I need to further research a question about sovereign territory), and I enjoyed the notetaking. The flow of ink, the smoothness of the paper, it all contributed to my retention of the knowledge.

It reminds me of something from my past. Some of my older friends remember when I was a news reporter, then a news director, and I smoked a pipe. I had quite a collection of lovely, smaller bowl pipes for women, including some with rhinestones and a meerschaum carved like a full blown rose. I gave up smoking when I got pregnant the first time, but I still miss the pipe smoking ritual, and the fountain pens remind me of that. Pipe smoking is a leisurely process. You're constantly tamping, and relighting, and cleaning, and mixing oxygen in with a pipe tool. But this leisurely process helps you slow down, focus, re-think a little bit. My note-taking is like that. It's leisurely, but I retain far more information this way.

So, as much as I'm dismayed at schools no longer teaching penmanship, I'll enjoy my pens and paper and hope that like the slow food movement, we'll see a return to the slow writing movement.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review--Box Office Poison

Box Office Poison (Linnet Ellery, #2)Box Office Poison by Phillipa Bornikova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Box Office Poison is Boffo, Critics Rave!" Well, this critic is raving. Hooray for Hollywood! Linney Ellery, the young attorney with uncanny luck is back in another adventure as her "white-fang" firm of bloodsucking leeches--yes, the attorneys in her firm really are vampires--sends her to Tinseltown to help arbitrate a dispute between human actors and fey actors, the Alfar.  It's bad enough the humans have to Botox and nip-and-tuck themselves into getting cast for a decent part, but now they're competing against elfin glamour and the humans cry "Foul!"

Linnet accompanies vampire partner David Sullivan to a place of artifice where vampires spray on tans, everyone talks movie-speak and the weather is a far cry from NYC in winter. But when Alfar actors go on murderous rampages for no apparent reason, Linnet begins to suspect there's more going on than a simple labor dispute.

I blew off an afternoon of work because I wanted to see how it would all end. I knew (or strongly suspected) who the villain was, but couldn't figure out the end game and Bornikova kept the stakes and the suspense high. I can't wait for the next installment!


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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Review--The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie

The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures, #6)The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this late-Victorian era romance, a period of great change in society, science, and opportunities.

Daniel Mackenzie's appeared as a young man in earlier Ashley novels, and it's a pleasure to see him grow into the promise he showed earlier. What I liked best about Daniel was that he's a nice guy. That's it. He's not over-the-top angsty, despite his traumatic childhood, he's a cheerful, optimistic man full of life and for once is someone who says exactly what he means.

The heroine, Violet, is a fraud and a trickster, a woman who survives by her wits helping her mother conduct "seances" for the gullible. Daniel immediately sees through her tricks, but more importantly, he sees Violet--the fragile girl, the sharp mind, the inner beauty shining through her difficult life.

It was entertaining and enjoyable from start to finish.


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Saturday, October 05, 2013

Review--The Dream Thieves

The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle, #2)The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was worried the sequel to The Raven Boys wouldn't hold up to the amazing writing of the first book in The Raven Cycle, but I needn't have worried. The characters, the dialogue, the plotting, all came together for a reading experience that reminds one why we enjoy fantasy fiction.

The Ley Lines have been awakened and the fallout continues for Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Blue and Noah. This time it's Ronan's story, as his dreams become reality, but of course, one's dreams include nightmares.

The writing is poetic, one of my favorite characters is a hitman, and Blue still doesn't know which boy she'll kill with a kiss. Read The Raven Boys, then read The Dream Thieves and you can suffer with the rest of us waiting for the next book.

My only regret is that since the books are shelved in YA many adults will pass them by. The Raven Cycle is worth reading even if you're long past your high school angst.


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Review--The Top of Her Game

The Top of Her GameThe Top of Her Game by Emma Holly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a re-read for me, and it's held up well after a number of years on my shelf. Dom Julia is a city slicker stuck in Montana at a snowed-in business retreat. She's on a mission to find out who's engaging in corporate espionage at her Wall Street firm, but it's also an opportunity to explore her desires with some of her co-workers.

What Julia doesn't count on is rugged cowboy Zach, who's intrigued by the "take charge" lady. But can a down-home boy like Zach offer anything (besides an amazing body) to a sophisticated woman used to so much variety in her sex life?

I enjoyed this partly because there seems to be a glut of Mdom romance on the market right now, and it's nice to have a little Fdom for a change. In addition, Holly is one of my favorite authors for combining romance and hot erotica in a story that leaves the reader satisfied. She's always on the short list of authors I recommend to readers who picked up that book and think it's the final word on BDSM romance.


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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review--London Falling

London FallingLondon Falling by Paul Cornell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent urban fantasy/police procedural. The city of London itself is a character in Paul Cornell's take on police work in the heart of England. I hope it's the start of a new series, because I hated to say goodbye to these characters.


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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review--This Case is Gonna Kill Me

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me (Linnet Ellery #1)This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful new urban fantasy series that's a mash-up of John Grisham, Carrie Vaughn and Julie James.

Linnet Ellery is fresh out of Yale Law and working at a "White Fang" firm in NYC, thanks to her vampire foster family connections. Linnet's human in a world where werewolves, vampires and elves have come out, and working with the supernatural beings makes her life that much more complicated. Being targeted for death because of the estates & probate case she's handling is not what she anticipated, but the more she digs into the mystery of why this case has hung around so long, the more dangerous it gets.

The urban fantasy field is still alive and kicking, and a new, fresh voice that keeps readers turning pages late into the night is welcome.
In addition to a knowledge of the legal profession in 21st C. America, the author brings a love of riding and horses that'll thrill anyone who once collected horse figurines, or wished she had a pony of her very own.
I'm really looking forward to the next Linnet Ellery adventure.


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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

International Talk Like A Pirate Day

    
“Avast, ye scurvy dog! Strike your colors or I’ll…I’ll…what will I do, Mr. Turnbull?”
“Say, ‘I’ll scupper your ship and use your guts for garters, ye lily-livered—oh. Captain, sir!” Turnbull knuckled his forehead and said, “Um, I have to be off now, Mattie,” before scurrying below.
Mattie looked up then and spotted the governess, her face lighting up. She ran over and Lydia Burke squatted down on the deck to open her arms to Mattie’s embrace.
“Miss Burke! Miss Burke! I am so happy to see you again!”
“I am happy to see you too, Mathilde. I missed you,” she said fiercely, hugging the child to her chest. Mattie drew back her head and looked at her.
“I am not Mathilde any more, Miss Burke. Now I’m Marauding Mattie, the terror of the West Indies!”
“Are you indeed, miss?” She said in a voice that might have left icicles on the rigging as she looked up at Marauding Mattie’s father, who devoutly wished he was somewhere else at the moment.
The governess stood, still holding Mathilde. If she were a dragon she’d be breathing flame protecting the child. Rather than make Robert angry, he found it gratifying she would champion her welfare. Mathilde needed someone to watch her back because while there were few things in the world he was certain of, he knew pirates did not die of old age in bed. At least, not their own beds.
“Mathilde, you know I said you needed a governess.”
“Papa did say that, miss. He said my governess would keelhaul me if I disobeyed her commands.”
--From The Pirate's Governess, a work in progress


 Happy ITLAP Day to all the girls and boys with piratical aspirations!

"Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates." Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Review--The Mad Scientist's Daughter

The Mad Scientist's DaughterThe Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a lovely novel that built over the time spent reading it, and I'd recommend it, not as a romance, but as women's fiction. At the core of the story it's what the title says: it's about the Mad Scientist's Daughter, Cat.

Cat's world is more futuristic than dystopian, what we might encounter with climate change. Nonetheless, people go shopping, go to school, get jobs, create art and fall in love. Cat's father, far from being the typical "There are some things man was not meant to know!" mad scientist is one of the more sympathetic characters in the novel. Cat's mother is a woman who puts her own career on hold to raise her daughter--parents very much like many of us or our peers.

If anything, Finn is the weakest character, which makes sense. He's a machine. It's her life, and how Finn contributes to it, that make the story truly interesting. Her relationship to the android is more a reflection of who she is as a human being, as an adult, as a woman seeking answers in her own life and place in the world, rather than being a book about the two of them.

The Mad Scientist's Daughter was bittersweet and thoughtful, and I look forward to reading more by this author.


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Sunday, September 08, 2013

LoneStarCon3, or, "How I Spend my Summer Vacation--Worldcon 2013"

This was my first visit to San Antonio, since I'd had to miss LoneStarCon 2 in 1997, but it was worth the wait. While everyone was complaining about the 100F temperatures, my response was, "Ahhhh...dry heat!" When you live in North Florida, almost anyplace is a better place to be in August.

Most of my time was spent at the convention, and I enjoyed it immensely. After picking up my program participant materials and checking my schedule, I tracked down the crew for the Hugo Award Ceremonies and the Green Room, both areas where I'd volunteered. I added rehearsals and Green Room shifts to my schedule, then dropped off books at Old Earth Books in the Dealers Room. They've always given me table space and sold my novels for me at con, which makes my life much easier.

For those who've never been to the World SF Convention, it's important to note that unlike other major SF & Fantasy events (Dragon*Con, SDCC), Worldcon runs entirely on volunteer help, from the con chair down. I've felt obligated to volunteer from my very first Worldcon in Boston, because it truly is an area where you have to pay it forward. If people don't volunteer, there's no event. My first job was gophering, but over the years I've worked in Program Operations, Green Room, Hugo Ceremonies, and as a Program Participant.

I always check the "willing to moderate" box on the Program form, so this year I had two panels I was moderating, and two where I was participating. My first morning at Worldcon I worked in the Green Room, helping direct people to their panels, inviting them to partake of the refreshments, the usual small things that help the participants meet-and-greet before they go on-stage. Then I switched hats, took my seat at the tables and met a couple of my fellow panelists for my afternoon item, The Future of the Small Press with Gary K. Wolfe, Michael Underwood and Neil Clarke. I think I was the only one who was purely a writer, not involved with the publishing end of it, but it was a good topic and we had excellent questions from the audience. For the record, the consensus was that while the small press world is changing, it's still very much alive and vibrant.

Later that afternoon I was on The Fake Hugo Awards with Dave McCarty, Guy H. Lillian III and Nicki Lynch, and I had prepared quite a list of awards I thought should be given out: "Most Unnecessary Sequel", "Series That Should Have Stopped at Book Five (or One)", "Most Egregious Use of Photoshop for Book Covers", "Most Baseless Self-Promotion by an Author", and more. As you can tell, it was largely in a humorous vein and the audience happily chimed in with their $.02.

Much of the real action of Worldcon is the evening parties where various conventions bid to host future Worldcons. Since voting continues into Saturday (the convention starts on Thursday), there were parties from Spokane, Helsinki and Orlando, all bidding for 2015. Spokane was the ultimate winner. There were also parties from other sites thinking ahead to hosting Worldcons (Dublin, Japan, New Orleans) and thank-you parties from the immediate past Worldcon, Chicago. Special interest groups also had their get-togethers, so you could party hop well into the wee hours. And I did.

Nonetheless, I was up bright and early the next morning because I was moderating two panels. The first was Magic Realism and it was amazing, not because I was moderating, but because of the other authors on the panel: Howard Waldrop , Rudy Ch. Garcia, Guadalupe Garcia McCall and Stina Leicht. If you haven't read these folks, you need to add them to your reading list. We could easily have gone for another hour talking about the use of Magic Realism in Latino literature and politics, but also its use in European lit, non-Western writing, and whether there were great books in US publishing using magic realism as a theme.

After a lunch break I moderated I Married a Werewolf: Paranormal Romance with Carrie Vaughn, Jean Johnson, Gail Carriger and Charlaine Harris. There was so much amazing talent on the dais (no, I am not including myself, I was only the moderator) that it was a wonder the microphones didn't explode. The panel was very well attended too, with fans of all the authors well represented in the audience.

More visits to the Dealers Room and exhibits, and if you're wondering what I do when I'm not on panels, I run across old friends from previous Worldcons and catch up with them and their lives, exchange fannish gossip, talk about the publishing industry and have a great time. I also attended some other panels on various topics, though as usual the Children's Programming had some of the best items ("How to Interpret Blood Spatter." Seriously.)

Sunday is Hugo day. After my Green Room shift my schedule was freed up for rehearsals with Paul Cornell, the Toastmaster of the convention. The winners' script was embargoed until later that evening, but we could practice walkthroughs, timing, sound checks, that sort of thing. My role was that of the House Announcer, aka "The Voice of God". I did the opening and closing announcements ("Please set your phones on stun...") and said "Accepting for Joe Smith is Cindy Jones..." when the winners weren't present.

There were some technical glitches in the broadcasting of the program, but overall the ceremony itself went well, the Hugo statues were quite lovely this year and the winners were thrilled. The Hugo statue is always a rocket ship, but the base design changes with every convention. You can read more about the Hugos, and who the winners were, here.

After the Hugos comes the Hugo Losers Party, where I was both a guest and a volunteer. The party is traditionally hosted by the next year's Worldcon, and London2014 (LonCon) did a lovely and elegant presentation, transforming a hotel suite into a black-and-white stylish venue. My job there was to be a Door Dragon, politely checking guests' invitations at the door.

My final panel was the following morning(!) but I made it, bright-eyed and coherent to discuss Writing Outside Genre with Ellen Datlow moderating, and Lezli Robyn and John Maddox Roberts joining me as panelists. Post Hugo panels are always difficult since some folks leave right after the ceremonies, but we were pleased by the number of con goers who made the effort to join in our panel and our discussions.

After that it was goodbyes, collecting my earnings and leftover books, closing ceremonies and the hand-off to London. We received the very sad news that Fred Pohl, one of the true masters of SF had passed away, and that evening many toasts were drunk to his memory. Despite that, the convention was viewed as a success by those who worked, spoke, performed, and won awards, and I'm looking forward to doing it all again in London next year.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Review--Midnight Blue Light Special

Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid, #2)Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellent offering from McGuire, with laugh-out-moments, especially when the mice are in the scene, and truly memorable characters. Verity Price's conflicted love life with Dominic (who still may or may not betray her), her amazing family, and their hereditary enemies, The Covenant, all would be interesting enough, but when you throw in the complicated cryptid community it gets that much better.

I'm really looking forward to the next book in this series.


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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review--The Last Word (Spellmans #6)

The Last Word (The Spellmans, #6)The Last Word by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's always been a bittersweet note to the Spellman novels. Yes, they're sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, but there are underlying tensions and disappointments for the characters that preclude complete happiness at the end of the novel.

Spellman #6, The Last Word, may be the last of the Spellman novels and it raises the bar on melancholy. Isabel is still careening through life, making mistakes in her judgment, her boyfriends, her wardrobe choices, but it's more disconcerting to see this behavior in a woman in her mid-30s than in a 20 year old. I kept thinking that if I was this woman's BFF, I'd be rolling my eyes at her antics and wondering when she was going to grow up. Perhaps that's what Isabel needs in her life, some female friends who'll tell her home truths.

In addition to dissatisfaction with Isabel's messed up life we have two characters facing debilitating illness, a former flame with real life problems, and a mystery involving the FBI and embezzlement. Despite all the turmoil though the patter is still snappy, and there are genuine funny moments.

This book will best be appreciated by fans of the Spellman family, but if it's the swan song for the Spellmans, I'll understand hope Lutz brings her writing talent to a new, fresh setting.


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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Where do you get your ideas?"

“Do you have everything you need?”
Daphne looked at the items in front of her and ticked them off on her fingers.
“I gathered the driest wood and plant shreds I could find. Here is your piece of char cloth. I have my twigs ready and more dry wood. I prepared the firepit.”
“Then stop humming and listen, Miss Farnham.”
Daphne couldn't help it. She was so excited at learning how to make a fire the humming was springing out of her like the water burbling up to the pool. Why had no one ever realized how much she loved learning new things? Why had she never realized it?
Daphne vowed when she returned to England, she would make it her goal to learn one new thing each day. Maybe learn a new word like “gravitas,” or how to build a fire, or how to help gruff surgeons smile.
That last one needed further work.
           --Castaway Dreams



I'm often asked, as so many authors are, where I get my ideas. Part of the idea behind Castaway Dreams came from one of my favorite movies, 1950's Born Yesterday, with William Holden and Judy Holliday. The lovely and talented Miss Holliday plays Billie Dawn, the girlfriend of crooked businessman Harry Brock. Holden, a cynical newspaperman, is hired to teach Billie and give her some "class" so she'll be more of an asset to Brock.

I have great admiration for Holliday as an actress. She was typecast as the classic ditzy blonde, but she brought verve, poignancy and an innate intelligence to her characters. Sadly, Holliday died young, but her work lives on. If you've never watched Born Yesterday, one of the great romantic comedies of the mid-20th Century, I strongly encourage you to give it a viewing. It's on Turner Classic Movies tonight at 11 p.m. ET.





Monday, August 19, 2013

My Worldcon Schedule--LoneStarCon3, San Antonio, Texas

Here's my Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention) program schedule. In addition to these panels, I'm working in the Green Room (look for me on the early morning shift) and will once again be the Voice of the Ghoddess at the Hugo Awards Ceremony, as well as working the after-Hugos party. Whew! 

In addition to my program appearances, signed copies of Castaway Dreams will be available in the Dealers Room at Old Earth Books. Support your indie bookseller and get some great vacation reading. Castaway Dreams is a finalist for the Aspen Gold Reader's Choice Award, sponsored by the Heart of Denver Romance Writers of America. The winners will be announced in September. Also, Castaway Dreams and Sea Change are now available in Kobo editions. They've long been available from all the other major vendors in all formats.

(The (M) means I'm moderating those panels.)

The Future of the Small Press
Friday 13:00 - 14:00
Gary K. Wolfe (M), Kaja Foglio, Michael Underwood, Darlene Marshall, Neil Clarke

The Fake Hugo Awards
Friday 18:00 - 19:00
Sure, the Hugo Awards have a prize for everything from Best Novel to Best Semiprozine to Best Fan Artist. But what about an award for the Best SF Novel by an Author Who Insists They Don't Write SF? Or Best Rant About the Death of Science Fiction? Come out and see what else our panel can suggest.
Dave McCarty (M), Darlene Marshall, Guy H. Lillian III

Magic Realism:
Saturday 11:00 - 12:00
Magic Realism, Science Fiction, Fantasy. How can you use these terms to describe the varied work of Angélica Gorodischer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Laura Esquivel?
Darlene Marshall (M), Howard Waldrop , Rudy Ch. Garcia, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Stina Leicht

I Married a Werewolf: Paranormal Romance
Saturday 13:00 - 14:00
Vampires and werewolves (and sometimes even zombies, as the recent Warm Bodies showed) are more complex creatures than they used to be. Moreover, over the years, they have become the subject of romance. Why, and in what ways?
Darlene Marshall (M), Carrie Vaughn, Jean Johnson, Gail Carriger, Charlaine Harris

Writing Outside Genre
Monday 10:00 - 11:00
Many genre writers also write things on and over the edges of genre. Why do they do this? How is the experience of writing in different genres different?
Ellen Datlow (M), Lezli Robyn , John Maddox Roberts, Darlene Marshall

Friday, August 16, 2013

I typed "The End" today on [working title] "The Hot Pirate's Secret Baby", aka "The Pirate's Governess"

Yep. Only five months after missing my self-imposed deadline, I've finished the first draft of novel #7. It's a great feeling, knowing I've got a book I can work with. Oh sure, there's still oodles to be done. Just an hour after I typed "The End" I jumped out of my chair at lunch, ran back to the computer, and changed the wording of the last sentence.

Now I'm going to clean it up. I'll go back through it and where I have brackets like this : [describe dress], [supper menu], [THIS MAKES NO D*MN SENSE AT ALL!!!] I'll fill in the blanks. Or make it make sense.

Then I'll let it sit for a week while I attend LoneStarCon3, the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas. Some time away from the book will allow me to look at it with a fresh eye and catch mistakes before I send it to my beta readers.

When it's finally as clean and shiny as I can make it, I'll send it to my publisher, who'll let me know when it will be released.

In the meantime, I'm already thinking ahead to novel #8, jotting down notes and gathering research material. This time I hope to stick to my one year timetable. More on this as it develops.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review--The Beast

The Beast (Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus, #21)The Beast by Faye Kellerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a credit to the author that she can still bring the suspense after 21 books following the same couple. Rina and Peter are talking about moving to live closer to their grandchildren, but in the meantime, there's still one more weird murder case for Peter and his crew to solve. I must admit, I was kept guessing until nearly the end about the "whodunit" details, and stayed up late reading.

The novel was also highlighted by appearances by the Decker's foster son, Gabriel Donatti, and a phone call or two with Gabe's father,the rather sociopathic Chris Donatti in Vegas.  Good times with dysfunctional families!

Naturally, this book will be a must read for Kellerman fans, but those who've never read the series are recommended to begin with the first novel, The Ritual Bath.


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Friday, August 09, 2013

Review--The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are authors who are good, and entertaining, and then there are authors who are in the master class. Neil Gaiman is one of those authors.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a tale of childhood and magic, but where it really shines is in how it captures the fears and realities of childhood, the powerlessness, the terror of things going wrong.

I don't need to write a synopsis of the book. It's Neil Gaiman. Read it. That's all.


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Friday, August 02, 2013

Read-A-Romance-Month

Romance Matters
by Darlene Marshall

I’m thrilled to be participating in National Read-A-Romance-Month.  I heard recently from a fan that her 96-year-old mother enjoys my books, and re-reads them often. They’ve become comfort reads for her, and I’m trying to write faster with that particular lady in mind.

We have a shorthand in Romanceland, a language for readers and writers in our genre. If you tell people about your “comfort reads”, they understand it’s those books you can read over and over again, just as one visits old friends or returns to a favorite garden. I’ve always felt if we can share the concept of comfort reads, we can share the concept of a comfort community, a group that knows exactly what you mean when you say “I love romance novels because it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

If you’re reading this, you are likely a member of that comfort community of readers who appreciate romance. I have friends, well meaning friends, who ask me when I’m going to write a real book. Mind you, this is after 10 years of publication in historical romance. They can’t understand why I would write “those” books with the (to them) embarrassing covers, and same plots, and you’ve heard it all before.

In Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels*, Sarah Wendell of  “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” says, “…many people who disdain the romance genre and look down on the women who read it presume that reading about courtship, emotional fulfillment, and rather fantastic orgasms leads to an unrealistic expectation of real life…That accusation implies that we don’t know the difference between fantasy and real life, and frankly, it’s sexist as well.”

She’s right, and she’s far from the only person who feels that way. Author Maya Rodale says romance novels, “depict stories of women choosing to live and love to a higher standard, and they are rewarded for it in the end.” (Emphasis mine)

I like books that reward women for being strong, and I like a happy ending.  25 years ago my husband survived a major heart attack, but it was a long recovery process and I had two toddlers to care for as well. When I could grab a few moments for myself at the end of the day, I’d pick up a romance novel. For that brief space I could escape what I was experiencing in my real life, especially the crushing fear that I would be widowed and raising my sons without their father. Thankfully, my husband is doing just fine and our sons are grown, but I remember how romance novels comforted me, helping me through the most difficult period of my life.  

When I began to think maybe I could write a book and sell it, I asked myself, “What stories do I like?” and the answer was (with apologies to Garrison Keillor) stories where the women are strong and the men good-looking, where the heroine can have adventures, save herself and him, and end up with happiness at the end.

That’s why I read romance novels, and that’s why other readers come back to the genre.  We want a story that entertains, that brings us into other worlds, and that leaves us satisfied at the conclusion.  A well-written tale is worth reading, no matter what genre, but for comfort reads you can’t beat a great romance.

This blog post is also an opportunity to recommend authors, particularly ones I’ve enjoyed in ebook form. The first author is mystery writer Barbara Rogan whose new release A Dangerous Fiction has the beginnings of a lovely romance and it’s got an older than 20-something heroine, which I also enjoyed. When you’re looking for something a little steamy, one of my favorite erotic romance authors is Anne Calhoun. Her work is thoughtful, hot, and romantic, a great combination.

*Full disclosure—I’m quoted at least three times in Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels.  I think that rocks.

QUESTIONS FOR THE AUTHOR:

What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?

If I’m going with craziest, I’ll have to choose the lovely (real) sword my brother gave me a few years back. It perches atop a bookcase across from my desk and reminds me when I’m writing that if I get stuck, have someone rush into the scene swinging a cutlass. Works every time!

If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)

The story of my life might be called “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!” or a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:  “And Though She Be But Little, She is Fierce!”

I would want to be played by Emma Thompson, a great actress whose comedic talents are underappreciated. If she played me, there would definitely be comedy.

What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?

My sons bought me an illustrated copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. They clearly know their mother well.

If you had to pick one romantic scene or couple to recommend to a first-time reader of YOUR books, which would it be? (Any picks for romance novels in general?)

I would pick Daphne and Alexander from my newest release, Castaway Dreams, and I would pick the scene where the couple is adrift in a lifeboat, learning how to tolerate one another and survive. It was fun for me to write, and I think it showcases my “voice” as a romance author.

If I was picking a romance author in general, I'd fall back on the recommendation so many other readers and authors offer, Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. It's one of my comfort reads, and a great example of the genre at its best.

Thank you, Romance Matters, for inviting me to participate in Read-A-Romance-Month. This has been great fun, and I’ve loved reading what the other authors and writers have to say about my favorite genre.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review--The Suitor

The Suitor (The Survivors' Club, #1.5)The Suitor by Mary Balogh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been reading a lot of angsty erotic romance lately and this was the perfect break. Light and sweet, like a fresh watermelon sorbet.

The Suitor is a short story that's a set up for The Arrangement, Balogh's upcoming release. We met Viscount Darliegh in The Proposal, a blind veteran of the Peninsula War, recovering with other wounded souls at a friend's estate. Now a nubile young woman is being thrust in Darliegh's direction as a marriage prospect, and she wants nothing to do with him as she loves another.

It's a gentle story of a redemptive love, and it reminded me of so many classic Regency love stories. No pirates, dukes who are spies, rakes or rogues, just nice people finding each other and courting within the confines of The Season. I liked it, and look forward to the next book.


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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Review--The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't care who wrote it, I really enjoyed this mystery by "Robert Galbraith" and I look forward to more Cormoran Strike adventures. The whodunit kept me guessing up until the end, the characters were vivid and memorable, and the writing was excellent. The only reason I gave it four instead of five stars was the abrupt POV shifts in the middle of scenes. I know that's becoming far more common these days, but it's still something that annoys me as a reader.


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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review--A Dangerous Fiction

A Dangerous Fiction: A MysteryA Dangerous Fiction: A Mystery by Barbara Rogan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's cliched to say "I couldn't put it down!", but that's how I felt about A Dangerous Fiction. Rogan brings an insider's keen view, pulling the reader into the New York publishing milieu with all of its jealousies, intrigue, excitement and larger-than-life personalities. At the heart of the story is a woman's need to uncover the truths about her own life, even as she's the target of malevolent foes she can't identify. Danger, suspense, romance and the deep bonds of friendship--A Dangerous Fiction has it all.

(Disclaimer--I received an advance review copy of this novel from the publisher)


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Monday, July 22, 2013

Tu B'Av Sameach!



“Apparently Miss Kahn wasn’t quite as phlegmatic on the idea of
arranged marriage as I was. When her parents told her what they
planned, she immediately dashed off a vitriolic letter, informing me
that it is a new century, and she lives not in the ghetto in Europe, but in
a country founded on principles of freedom. She added she had no
intention of marrying, how did she put it? ‘A swarthy Spanish pirate of
low ways and poor prospects.'"
--Captain Sinister's Lady


To translate the post title into English, "Happy 15th Day of the Month of Av!" Why is this day different from all other days? It's the day specifically marking romance and love in the Jewish calendar.

Tu B'Av (15th of Av) is a minor festival that's grown in prominence in recent decades, largely because enterprising folks in Israel found a way to monetize it. It's now celebrated much the way Valentine's Day is celebrated in other societies, but the festival dates back--waaaaaay back--to Temple times in Judea, around the beginning of the Common Era.  There are a number of customs associated with Tu B'Av, but one of the sweetest is having all the unmarried women don white dresses and dance as a group in front of the young men. The sweet part is the girls exchanged dresses first, so the poor ones would wear the fine dresses of the rich girls and vice versa so no one would be embarrassed.

You can read more about Tu B'Av's origins and customs here. No matter what your background, it's always nice to have a special day for love, so take a moment tonight to kiss your sweetie, gaze up at the full moon, and remember romance.



Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review--Sanditon

Sanditon: A NovelSanditon: A Novel by Jane Austen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. The first 11 chapters are from Jane Austen's own hand, her final, unfinished novel. The remainder was penned by "Another Lady" in 1975, the author Marie Dobbs/Anne Telscombe. Miss Dobbs finishes the novel based on Austen's bones of the beginning, and appears to hold the mantra, "What would Jane Write?" in her mind while finishing Sanditon.

Sanditon will be enjoyed by fans of Georgette Heyer, as well as Austen fans. There's a quietly manipulative hero, a heroine of backbone and intelligence, and enough oddball characters in the tiny seaside village of Sanditon to be instantly recognizable by fans of both authors. It's a classic Regency romp, and I recommend it.


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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review--Discount Armageddon

Discount Armageddon (InCryptid, #1)Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have become such a Seanan McGuire fangirl! Her newest urban fantasy series clinched it for me when I laughed out loud at the Aeslin mice. Best secondary characters ever!

Discount Armageddon combines dance moves, monsters, zoology (sort of) and romance on the mean and grimy streets of New York as it follows Verity Price through her life as a cryptozoologist, part of an unusual family of humans dedicated to studying the things that go bump in the night.

I look forward to further adventures of the Price's and their interesting acquaintances, and would recommend this series to anyone who thinks the whole paranormal urban fantasy thing's been done to death and there's nothing fresh to say.


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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review--The Double Cross

The Double Cross (Spanish Brand, #1)The Double Cross by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My only complaint about Carla Kelly novels is sometimes her heroines are so perky and full of goodness that I just want to punch them. Of course, when I factor in what horrific lives so many of these women have before they meet the hero, I get ashamed of myself and just enjoy the read.

Paloma Vega is a classic Kelly heroine, but the setting for this tale is the Spanish Southwest in the 18th c., an unusual setting for a historical, but familiar ground to Ms. Kelly. Her first novel was set in Spanish America, and she returns to the New Mexico/Texas area with this tale of plucky Paloma and Marco Mondragon, a government brand inspector who keeps track of cattle, landowner records, and by default ends up acting as a quasi-lawman/magistrate on the frontier.  Widower Marco wants a dog to warm his bed at night but ends up with Paloma (and a dog) and learns how to open up again and take a chance on love.

All snarky comments aside, one of the things Ms. Kelly does best is show ordinary people living lives of extraordinary grace, and that's a treat. I also enjoy how she shows widows and widowers finding love again, much as real people do.

I look forward to more Spanish Brand stories in the future.


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Sunday, July 07, 2013

Review--The Guns of August

The Guns of AugustThe Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI (2014), this Pulitzer Prize winning history deserves a re-read. Tuchman's writing grips the reader as a world marches, seemingly inexorably, to madness and war.

World War I may seem like ancient history to some, but its echoes still resonate in the Balkan conflicts, in the European economic woes, and in the violence in countries in the Middle East carved out of the carcass of the Ottoman Empire.  Anyone interested in current conflicts would benefit from learning how the world went up in flames at the beginning of the 20th century.





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Thursday, July 04, 2013

Independence Day


      Charley didn’t know anything about guns, but the sailors and Mr. Silas Stuart, the mate, seemed impressed with the speed of the “Cannies” at their stations. Naturally, they placed bets on whether the next shot would hit the barrel floating off the starboard bow.
      “They’re fast, but accuracy counts,” Stuart said. “Now, if you want to see real accuracy, watch the Americans. ‘Cousin Jonathan’ is so skinflint about outfitting ships I suspect the cost of each ball that doesn’t hit its mark is deducted from the sailors’ pay!”
      “Those Yankees will never be able to stand against our big Navy guns,” the cook said with a grin.

--Sea Change

The cook aboard the Lady Jane was wrong.   The United States Navy was able to stand against the Royal Navy's guns in war, not once, but twice within 40 years.  Each time, the young nation proved itself a force to be reckoned with.

We celebrate our hard-won independence today as John Adams said we should: "It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore."

Have a safe and patriotic Fourth of July!


Monday, July 01, 2013

Canada Day

“England’s a big place all right, but not as big as it would like to be.
Couple a years back they was all fired up over there ’bout Canada
rebellin’ and the U.S. givin’ them an assist. There was English ships
burned on the border lakes, and it looked like war all over again.”
--Smuggler's Bride

Whew!  Glad we could avoid further hostilities with England and our friendly neighbor to the north. Happy Canada Day, and here's another apology for that whole burning York incident. Things just kinda got out of hand during the War of 1812.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review--Ashes of Honor

Ashes of Honor (October Daye, #6)Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Ms. McGuire chose to stop writing October Daye stories today, I'd be satisfied. This sixth book brought much of Toby's personal life to a great place, and keep the pages turning with a storyline that revealed much, and didn't leave people's lives dangling.

SPOILER ALERT





October finally acknowledged what the readers have known all along: She was meant to be with Tybalt, the King of Cats. In addition, her personal life, while still full of danger, has progressed to the point where she has a place and a role in the Fae world.

I do look forward to more stories in the October Daye universe, but Ashes of Honor was what we needed to see in terms of Toby's character development and personal growth.


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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review--Assassin's Gambit

Assassin's Gambit (Hearts and Thrones, #1)Assassin's Gambit by Amy Raby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the rating indicates, I really enjoyed this debut paranormal/fantasy. The faux Roman setting was different than the usual medieval trappings, the heroine was intelligent, resourceful and not TSTL, and the hero was cunning and brave without being larger-than-life. In fact, as an amputee many sell him short thinking he can no longer be a warrior, but he proves a warrior's greatest asset can be his mind.

The other thing I liked about the book was it passed the Bechdel Test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_...) The two assassins, Ista and Vitala, have a complicated relationship that does not have a man at the center of it.  I liked that, a lot.

I'm looking forward to the next book in Ms. Raby's Hearts and Thrones series.

TRIGGER WARNING--discussion of and scenes of sexual assault may be difficult for some readers.


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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Father's Day

     “‘Walk the plank’? Wherever did you get that idea, child?”
     "Mama told me stories of the buccaneers and the pirates who live in the islands. She said my Papa was the fiercest pirate of all!”
     He wasn’t about to deny such a sterling character reference.
     “Fiercest of all, am I? Hmmm…it occurs to me that if you are going to join the crew of my ship we need to give you a pirate name.”
      She stopped skipping and looked up at him, and one would think he’d just handed her the moon on a platter.
     “A pirate name! Oh yes, please, Papa!”
     They resumed walking and he thought about it, swinging her valise as he walked. She began skipping again.
     “Not that there is anything wrong with Mathilde,” he assured her. “It is a perfectly lovely name for a young lady. It strikes me though as not being piratical. Women who are pirates have names that are simple, but do not detract from their fierceness. Girls like Anne Bonny and Mary Read.”
     “There are girl pirates?” If she looked happy before, now he feared she would explode with excitement.
     “Yes, indeed there are. I will show you Captain Johnson’s book of pirates when we’re aboard the Prodigal. So. What shall your name be?”
     “What is your pirate name, Papa?”
     “I find being Captain St. Armand is sufficient in the course of a day’s work,” he said dryly. “For you…what about Tilly?”
     She thought about this, her steps slowing as she tried the name out.
     “No, Papa, not Tilly. If you give me that name, people might call me ‘Silly Tilly’ and that would not be a good pirate name.”
     “An excellent point,” he said. They were now in town and people called out greetings to them, some even fit for the ears of an impressionable child. He ignored most of it and concentrated on the task at hand.
     “I have it!” he snapped his fingers and looked at her. “Mattie! You will be Mattie! How does sound? Marauding Mattie, scourge of the West Indies!”


--WIP [working title] The Hot Pirate's Secret Baby, aka The Pirate's Governess

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, especially the ones who understand little girls who long to be pirates.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Flag Day

“You underestimate the will of the American people, Doctor,” he poked his finger in the air for emphasis. “When you push us, we push back. Hard. John Bull cannot bully America into surrendering now any more than you could 40 years ago. Have you already forgotten the lesson of Fort McHenry?”

He rummaged in his desk and pulled out a tattered newspaper, much folded and creased.

“My mother sent this to me with the letters, a newspaper from home. A Mr. Key wrote a poem about the battle, Doctor, titled ‘The Defence of Fort McHenry’. Look here–‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’. That’s America, Charley!"

---SEA CHANGE

June 14 is #FlagDay, the day the United States honors our nation's star spangled banner.  If you've got a flag, fly it proudly!




Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review--The Speckled Monster

The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling the Smallpox EpidemicThe Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling the Smallpox Epidemic by Jennifer Lee Carrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some of us are old enough to remember lining up at school for polio vaccine. It's hard to convey what it meant to our parents to know this childhood terror could be prevented with a simple oral dose of medicine (bless you, Dr. Salk).

In the 17th & 18th C., smallpox destroyed populations, upset the balance of power in European courts as it killed rulers and heirs, and terrified communities at the first sign of the distinctive pox. Prior to Edward Jenner making the connection between cowpox and smallpox vaccination, two brave individuals, a Boston physician named Zabdiel Boylston and an English aristocrat, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, risked ridicule, censure and even death threats to spread the idea of inoculation against smallpox. They didn't fully understand the disease, but they did see how people in Turkey, and African slaves, exposed themselves to the disease through subcutaneous methods and gained immunity. To save their children, Boylston and Lady Mary risked all and inoculated them against "the speckled monster".

If you like medical histories, you'll enjoy this book. The author writes in an easy, novelistic style that brings the characters to life and makes it read like a mystery. The research is wonderful, but be forewarned--it contains photos of smallpox victims in the terminal stages of the illness that are not for the faint of heart.

Smallpox ceased to be a threat in the 1970s. Other diseases have cropped up to concern us, but none of them have the impact of what smallpox did in its time.


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Monday, June 10, 2013

Review--The Sword Dancer

The Sword Dancer (Sword Dancer, #1)The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. It's for fans of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", Jackie Chan movies, great love stories, and historical romance. I really enjoyed how the characters were drawn, their relationship developing in a thoughtful fashion with true issues and problems, not fake or spurious conflict. It was a real page turner, and I look forward to reading more from Ms. Lin.


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