Sunday, October 15, 2017

Review: An Echo of Murder

An Echo of Murder An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another gripping William Monk tale had me guessing whodunnit until the very end. There were suspects, but bringing the facts together took a team, and that's part of what made this story work. It wasn't just Hester and Monk, it was Monk's assistant detective, Hopper, Crow the surgeon, attorney Oliver Rathbone and Scruf.

Some of them are the usual players in this series, but we also got enough new characters to add interest and zip. A damaged doctor from Hester's service in the Crimean war...some long-lost relatives, and the growth of mudlark Scruf into "Will Monk", an apprentice physician who took on his mentor's name, but not his profession as a police officer.

As usual, I look forward to more Monk mysteries from Ms. Perry.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: An Echo of Murder

An Echo of Murder An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another gripping William Monk tale had me guessing whodunnit until the very end. There were suspects, but bringing the facts together took a team, and that's part of what made this story work. It wasn't just Hester and Monk, it was Monk's assistant detective, Hopper, Crow the surgeon, attorney Oliver Rathbone and Scruf.

Some of them are the usual players in this series, but we also got enough new characters to add interest and zip. A damaged doctor from Hester's service in the Crimean war...some long-lost relatives, and the growth of mudlark Scruf into "Will Monk", an apprentice physician who took on his mentor's name, but not his profession as a police officer.

As usual, I look forward to more Monk mysteries from Ms. Perry.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Review: Seven Stones to Stand or Fall

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[disclaimer--I'm in the acknowledgements for assistance with the story Virgins in this collection]

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall will be enjoyed by Outlander fans who like the broader story, tales about the secondary characters--Ian Murray, Lord John Grey, Lord John's family, Roger Mackenzie's family and more. Lord John in particular has his own side collection now of mysteries he solves in his travels in the British Army, and I find those stories especially enjoyable. John's a good detective.

Most of these have been reprinted in other collections, but it's a pleasure to have them all together to be enjoyed again.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia

A Conspiracy in Belgravia A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I believe what I'm enjoying most about his series is its focus on the restraints on women's lives in the 19th c., particularly married women, women of the middle classes, unwed women living at home, and women without their own resources. In addition to all that, there's an intriguing mystery to solve, fun cryptography, and almost obscene descriptions of pastries.

Charlotte Holmes is a fallen woman who investigates mysteries both criminal and domestic. She does this through an elaborate ruse involving her fictitious brother, "Sherlock Holmes", aided by her companion, Mrs. Watson and various other individuals, supportive or otherwise.

We see some characters from the first novel return, there's an intriguing marriage proposal ideally suited to Charlotte, and a set-up for the next mystery. I look forward to seeing more in this series and encourage readers to start with the first Lady Sherlock novel, A Study in Scarlet Women.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Blood Enemies

Blood Enemies Blood Enemies by Susan R. Matthews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Andrej Koscuisko is living a life of practicing surgery and making reparations for his work as Fleet Medical Officer for the Jurisdiction. But when he leaves his safe haven to help his former staff he finds himself in the middle of a terrorist genocidal war. Worst of all, his skills as the most qualified Ship's Inquisitor--torturer for the Jurisdiction--will be brought back into use, and it could cost him his sanity and the lives of his loved ones.

This latest installment in the Under Jurisdiction series wraps up a number of storylines from earlier novels, and gives some resolution to characters like Andrej. It's unflinching in its exploration of Andrej's need to inflict pain, the monster inside him he's worked so hard to overcome, but Matthews delivers a solid story. Many readers couldn't get past An Exchange of Hostages, the first book exploring Andrej's in the Fleet, but for fans of the series it's a satisfying conclusion to Andrej's role.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: The Wicked City

The Wicked City The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book but I'm ambivalent about reading more in this universe. There are loose ends, characters who walk on-and-off scene and some great historical detail. Part of the problem may be my coming to it in a roundabout way, having read Cocoa Beach first.

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Post-#Irma Update

The storm passed over us in the pre-dawn hours. We hunkered down (Dodi the dachshund too) in an interior room with all of our "Go!" supplies and flashlights but we were extremely fortunate. We're still getting gusts and I fear our trees are weakened from all the water and wind, but if nothing falls on the house we should get through this without trauma.

I cannot say enough about the crew at @FloridaStorms who have been broadcasting non-stop since this all began. They're based at, the multi-media operation at my alma mater, the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. I'm a former radio news director and station owner and I know how difficult and how vital radio is at a time like this. The mainstream media is who I trust in an emergency.

This is also the time when you are glad you have a strong and capable state and local government. And NOAA. And FEMA. And all the blessed first responders. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."

My taxes helped buy me security and peace of mind and I don't begrudge a penny of them.

In addition, it's important to know your neighbors and to support one another. We've been texting, checking on one another, offering support and electricity for those without power. Thank you, neighbors for being there for one another.

We'll get through this together. We're Floridians and we may seem crazy to the rest of the world, but we pull together in a crisis. That's #FloridaStrong!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a novel for everyone who loves novels, who understands the empowering nature of words to change lives, and for everyone who likes a good dirty story.

Nikki is a young Englishwoman of Punjabi descent, pressured by her family to do the expected thing--go to law school, marry a nice Punjabi boy (preferably one chosen by her parents), but she's living the western life in London and loving it. Searching for some extra cash and a little resume building, Nikki offers to teach a writing class, but what she finds is something very unexpected. The women--all widows--want to tell stories, and the stories they want to tell are erotic. As Nikki and the widows tell their tales they also share their personal lives, and the more they become involved with storytelling, the more Nikki learns there's an undercurrent of danger within the tight-knit community that will put her at risk.

I loved how stories helped the women learn, grow, resolve issues and come together. It appealed to me as a reader, and as a writer. This was a debut novel and I look forward to more from Ms. Jaswal's storytelling career.

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Hurricane Prep

“What should I do to prepare for the storm, Doctor?”
He still watched her, and his eyes changed. He didn't smile at her—she could not imagine that happening. Instead, his look was, if not approving, at least less censorious.
“A very good question, Miss Farnham.” He straightened up from his labors, wiped his hands on a cloth and then covered the bowl with it.
“The Magpie is a sound ship, and the captain and crew are experienced. But if I were you, I would pack a valise. It should be a bag you yourself can carry. In it, only put those things that are absolutely necessary, or those things you would preserve at all costs.”
“One bag?” Daphne stared at him. “But…but it is impossible. I could not pack everything necessary to me into one bag!”
He cocked one of those accusatory eyebrows at her. “Impossible? That is too bad. Let me tell you what will happen if the worst occurs and we have to abandon the ship: you will grab the first thing at hand and cling to it. It might be a book, it might be a scarf, it might be one of those shoes you are wearing now that will soon be unfashionable and unwearable. It will not be those items most important to you, I can guarantee it.”
--Castaway Dreams 

Hurricane Irma is out in the Atlantic, and Florida is under a state of emergency. Normally, I'd be writing on a weekday morning, but instead I headed to the store an hour ago to get last minute supplies. Early in hurricane season I stocked up on batteries, water and canned food. I already had lanterns, a weather radio, a power inverter for the car for recharging electronics, a tarp for the roof, and a large cooler chest. Oh, and a fully charged ereader that works in the dark.

This isn't my first rodeo, or my first hurricane. I've lived in Florida almost all my life, and I know when to hunker down and, I hope, when to bug out.

So today I stocked up on dog food, propane for the gas grill, more water, and bags of ice for my big freezer. I was glad I went early because almost all the water and most of the ice was already gone from the grocery store. Ideally they'll restock before the weekend when the storm's expected to hit (unless it veers off.)

I also have a "go bag", as Dr. Murray recommends. Everyone should have a go bag and a list of what else you would bring with you if you had to suddenly leave--the dog's crate, meds, family photo albums, important papers--the essentials.

I'm not too worried. North Central Florida is where people evacuate to rather than from, but we get our share of high winds, torrential rains and potential sewer flooding and power outages. It's just best to be prepared.

On that note, I'll have at least one other task before the weekend: I want to be certain I've got enough coffee ground for my French press. Last time we lost power in a storm, I realized I hadn't ground the coffee beans to get me through the crisis with my sanity intact. This time, I'll be prepared!

Monday, September 04, 2017

Review: Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Florida's a land of smugglers, land speculators, gamblers, desperadoes and settlers. It was at the beginning, it is now, and it was certainly the case during the Jazz Age. Until a devastating hurricane and the crash of the stock market slowed its fevered growth, Florida was the destination for re-inventing yourself.

Cocoa Beach has all of that, and more. It's a real page turner, full of secrets and hidden identities and characters who are not what they seem. The setting was also part of the story, the heat and humidity and insects part of the age before air conditioning and mosquito control make the peninsula habitable.

I'm going to look for more books by Ms. Williams, and if they're as good as Cocoa Beach, I'll add her to my list of authors to look for.

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Review: The Talisman Ring

The Talisman Ring The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A delightful re-read of a Georgette Heyer classic, with some true laugh out loud scenes.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not one who reads the tabloids (unless they're in the doctor's waiting room, and then all bets are off) or watches reality TV, so I didn't think I'd enjoy this book as much as I did.

Evelyn Hugo was a Hollywood star in the 50s & 60s, using her sex appeal and her genuine acting skills to rise to the top. Along the way she accumulated seven husbands, and now she's finally ready to tell her story.

The young reporter assigned to interview Miss Hugo is plucked out of obscurity, but she will have no other write her story. Monique has to wonder why, even as she's pulled into a memoir more searing than any she could have imagined.

Evoking the glamour days of Hollywood, when the studios controlled a star's image, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is about fame, and power, and ultimately, the choices we make in love and life.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: Tyrant's Throne

Tyrant's Throne Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You'll need to get out your handkerchiefs, again, but it's worth it. Sebastien de Castell brings his Greatcoats story to a rousing conclusion with plenty of swordplay, heart-wrenching moments, and odes to friendship, bravery, and love along the way.

The young heir to the throne is finally in the palace, but the work is just beginning. There are still enemies aplenty, duchies in rebellion, and an enemy lurking over the border in Avares.

The real question underlying all of the series is "Can the rule of law triumph over the rule of man?" and it's put to the test, repeatedly, but perhaps never more so than in this final, concluding novel. Fans of the series will find it a must-read, and I would encourage anyone who likes The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, Zorro or who thinks Basil Rathbone was the true star of all of those films where he was cast as the sword wielding villain to check out Greatcoats, starting with Book 1, Traitor's Blade

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: Heart of Gold

Heart of Gold Heart of Gold by Beverly Jenkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes, especially now, you just want to read a story about good people going about their lives and being helpful to one another. Heart of Gold is that sort of a book, and Ms. Jenkins' writing kicks it up to a whole new level of quality.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review--The St. Johns: A Parade of Diversities (Rivers of America, #24)

The St. Johns: A Parade of Diversities  (Rivers of America, #24)The St. Johns: A Parade of Diversities by James Branch Cabell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm rereading my favorite Florida history, because no one brings the snark like Branch Cabell. For example: "Andrew Jackson, that idolized heckler for the unshaved frontier, who was now beginning to dominate the United States as an epitome of their national failings....His disposition...was embittered by the discovery that he did not even have the power to appoint his own relatives and personal friends to many of the better paying offices."

We could use some JBC about now.

It's out of print, sadly, but is worth hunting down. Even if you're not researching Florida you'll be entertained.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Review--The Ballad of Black Tom

The Ballad of Black TomThe Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

H.P. Lovecraft was a notorious racist at a time when you had to be truly egregious to stand out in a racist society. He also left the horror genre the seminal Cthulu Mythos, the germ of an otherworldly monstrous realm of Elder Gods that spurred the imagination of horror writers for generations to follow. THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM is a re-imagining of the Cthulu story in a very different fashion than Lovecraft could ever have envisioned, or tolerated.

Tom Tester is a musician, a loving son, a man with an inquiring mind. But in 1920s New York what a black man got was police brutality of a sort still experienced today, hatred, suspicion, and, of course, the disdain and racism of the white community.

Victor LaValle holds up a mirror to Lovecraft, both the racism and the writing, and gives us a new telling of the rise of the Elder Gods, with Black Tom at the center. It's fabulous storytelling with characters who can exist in the world of mysticism and the world of Harlem clubs, and should be read by all who appreciate the legacy of the early 20th century pulp, but need to experience it--or re-experience it--as a 21st century reader.

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Review--An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League, #1)

An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League #1)An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent Civil War tale of spycraft and bravery involving an African-American woman with special talents.

Elle Burns risks her freedom and her life by working behind Confederate lines, pretending to be enslaved so she can gather information. Her cover is put at risk when she's contacted by Malcolm McCall, a Pinkerton detective pretending to support the rebels, but it's her heart that's at greatest risk.

Alyssa Cole tells a story long overdue for the telling, of the bravery of those willing to risk all to break the chains of slavery during the Civil War.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Joy of Lex(icons)

I was re-reading The Reluctant Widow by the divine Georgette Heyer when I ran across a word which I could easily figure out in context, but which was somewhat new to me. That is to say, I didn't recall running across it in conversation or in other books.

The word is "matutinal" as in "the matutinal habits of apparently a hundred cockerels..."
I figured it meant of the morning: cocks crow at dawn, matins are morning prayers and likely share a root, and it made sense that it would be the antonym of nocturnal, or if not the antonym, then the word that corresponds to the morning time period as nocturnal corresponds to the evening.

Why does any of this matter? Because at my age it's unusual (but delightful!) to be surprised by an English word unfamiliar to me. It's also delightful because when I work with my little Reading Pals I try very hard to help them understand the idea that when they're reading and they come across a strange or new to them word, sound it out and put it in context.

In this case, languid Francis Cheviot was explaining to his hostess that he is up far before noon (his usual time to wake) despite having an undisturbed night save for a few minor incidents, such as the aforementioned hundred cockerels. From that it's easy to figure out that if Francis was listing all the things that had him up way too early in the morning, then matutinal (which Spellcheck is insisting is misspelled and couldn't possibly be a real word--which is why you can't rely on these programs) in context has to do with mornings. It's easy enough to keep on reading and not let a stray new word stop me in my tracks.

This is not a passage I could easily use with a 3rd grader, my usual age group, but it makes me feel better about being able to share the experience that no matter how many years you've been reading, the basic skills stay the same and will help you through life.

Monday, August 07, 2017

It's Tu B'Av! Party like it's 5777!

“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.’”
He smiled winsomely.
“Naturally, I began courting her in earnest.
--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. If you want to read more about Gabriel Moses Lopez and his courtship of Miss Kahn, check out Captain Sinister's Lady. 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.

Review--Beauty Like the Night (Spymasters, #6)

Beauty Like the Night (Spymasters, #6)Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would have read this through in one sitting but:

1. nature called

2. sleep called

3. it was even better extending the joy of reading a new Joanna Bourne Spymaster novel a second day.

From her first novel, The Spymaster's Lady Bourne treated us to what's really a family saga, a story of French and English agents whose lives cross in the most interesting ways. Her writing is superb and a master class for anyone who thinks you need dialect to write a non-English speaking character. She captures a mood and a moment with rare style, and makes me sigh happily as a writer and a romance reader when I see how she brings her characters to life.

In brief, we met Severine de Cabrillac as a little girl in The Forbidden Rose and saw her unique upbringing referenced once or twice in other novels. It was inevitable that she would go into the family trade. Now though she's retired from spycraft and using her unique skill set as an private investigator in Regency London. When secretive Raoul Deverney surprises her in her bedroom and demands her assistance, she's annoyed and intrigued, enough to risk herself and her heart in helping him find his missing daughter.

Bourne does not write novels quickly, but for me this is part of the enjoyment. They are a rare vintage to to savored, not gulped, and well worth visiting again for a re-read. I will enjoy re-reading her published novels while I eagerly await the next one.

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Review--The Scribe of Siena

The Scribe of SienaThe Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An outstanding debut novel, which is being compared to Outlander. Like that novel, Scribe is hard to classify: It's a time-travel historical with a strong romantic interest, which means I ended up shelving it on three or four spots in my lists.

Beatrice Tovato is a NYC neurosurgeon who gives in to her brother's entreaties to visit him in Siena, Italy. He's a historian and the two share many common interests, and Ben's her only living relative. But when she arrives, it's to close up her brother's estate following his death. Beatrice is drawn to Ben's work, and the more she tries to uncover the mystery he was researching, the more she's drawn in until it becomes literal: Beatrice finds herself in the 14th century...and any student of European history knows what happens in Europe in the 14th century.

Winawer skillfully weaves in the daily life of the Tuscans, the difficulties of a modern, professional woman 600 years in the past, and a budding love story. It will appeal to readers looking for a solid summer getaway, one that will keep them engrossed until the last page.

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Thursday, August 03, 2017

It's #NationalWatermelonDay!

“Watermelon!” Jack said. “I don’t believe I have had any yet this season.”
“What is it?” Sophia said, and the Reavers and Jack stared at her.
“You ain’t never had watermelon?” Tom piped up.
“No. It is a melon? But how do you eat it?” she eyed the large chunks of fruit.
“Show the lady, Tom.” Martha laughed.
Tom grabbed a chunk off the middle of the plate and dived in headfirst, snapping off a sizable piece, chewing it with delight, and then spitting the seeds out the door.
“You are joking,” Sophia said to Jack.
“No, that’s how you eat watermelon. You learn this and soon you will be a real Floridian.”
He was grinning at her and reached for his own slice of melon, and never one to resist a challenge, Sophia wiped her hand on her table linen and picked up her own slice. The juice ran down her fingers but she managed to bring it up to her lips without too much trickling down her sleeve. She took a bite and there was an explosion of sugar in her mouth, and a cooling sensation from the juicy fruit.
“Oooh,” she moaned when she caught her breath, “this is wonderful!”
--The Bride and the Buccaneer

Watermelons are a local crop, and I'm darn glad of it. When I was carrying my August baby in the middle of a brutal Florida summer, I ate so much watermelon I'm surprised that boy didn't pop out spitting seeds!

It's still a favorite summer treat, and it's so good for you--high in vitamins, fiber, water, and, of course seeds. You can purchase seedless watermelon, but there goes half the fun of eating it.

Enjoy your summer, and all the bounty it offers!

Review--The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4)

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4)The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed the writing throughout this series. Stiefvater has a distinctive voice, and I find people either like her a lot, or can't get into it. I happen to like it. That said, I found the "upgrade" of a minor character to one who plays a major role in the final novel to be somewhat of a deus ex machina attempt and a tad off-putting. We're so familiar with the stories of Blue, Adam, Gansey, Ronan and Noah by the fourth book that a new player involved in the resolution of the crisis is a distraction.

That said, people who've been reading the series will want to read this final volume. I was intrigued by the idea of a kiss from one's true love being fatal rather than fulfilling, and fans will definitely want to see how Blue and Gansey's story plays out.

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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Review--The Nonesuch

The NonesuchThe Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Georgette Heyer is a comfort read for me. Of course, like almost all Regency era romance writers, I read her long ago and re-read her frequently. THE GRAND SOPHY, FARO'S DAUGHTER, THE DEVIL'S CUB, THE UNKNOWN AJAX--all are on my shelves, well-worn and much loved.

It's been decades since I read THE NONESUCH, and while there's still a great deal about it that appeals to me (older heroine, country setting, well-drawn secondary characters), I'd forgotten that the H&H "Black moment" was predicated on a big misunderstanding, one of my least favorite plot devices. Ah well, of course they work things out, and there's a lot of fun along the way, but that's why I gave this classic a 4 star instead of 5 star rating. Your reading mileage may vary.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review--G-Man (Bob Lee Swagger, #10)

G-Man (Bob Lee Swagger, #10)G-Man by Stephen Hunter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just love it when you close a book with a happy sigh, having had an enjoyable getaway between covers. In G-Man (Bob Lee Swagger, #10) Hunter brings his usual roller-coaster ride of gun lore, shootouts, history and Mr. Bob Lee hissownself. Bob Lee's now in his 70s, looking to the past as well as the future as he delves into some family history. He knew his father Earl was estranged from Sheriff Charles Swagger, his abusive father, but Bob Lee never knew why. When new information is uncovered linking Charles to the earliest days of the FBI, he wants to know more.

Fans of the series remember Charles from the earlier book about Earl, Hot Springs so some of his story won't be a revelation. Much of the rest of it will be. In addition, there's gangster history, various Public Enemies and overtones of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance because Hunter, like so many of his fans, loves classic film.

While the book could stand alone, I highly recommend the entire series starting with Point of Impact. Characters appear throughout G-Man who are introduced in earlier novels, and it'll make the reading experience that much better. With this novel we'll get the snappy patter, excellent pacing and interesting characters (Grumleys!) that bring it all together for a perfect summer read.

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Review--Come Sundown

Come SundownCome Sundown by Nora Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was good, entertaining as all of Ms. Roberts' books are, but as soon as the villain was introduced I knew he was the bad guy. The name, the description, all of it was like a bell ringing. I would have enjoyed a little more suspense. Nonetheless, it was a satisfying look at a strong family and a strong heroine, and sure to entertain fans of Nora's many works.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Florida's wildlife

I've switched up my daily walks to get in my steps early in the morning, before the heat, humidity and rain become unbearable. I don't like getting up at 5:45 to manage this, but it's worth it. Not only am I getting in my 10k steps before 10 a.m. but I get to see some beautiful sunrises.

It's also an opportune time to observe some of the wildlife. Our heavily wooded neighborhood is home to plenty of owls and hawks, and I see and hear them finishing up their nightly rounds or just starting the day's hunt.

It's also the best time to spot the Florida Bare-chested Running Hunk. This is a creature seen throughout the peninsula, but when one lives in a college town the numbers rise even higher. While not as colorful as the Painted Bunting, it has a certain appeal. In the summer it's an early morning or evening traveler due to the aforementioned weather, and spotting a flock does help make getting up (literally) at  the crack of dawn more tolerable.

Incidentally, the illustration is for the German edition of Smuggler's Bride. It does feature a Florida Bare-chested Hunk, though of the native Cracker variety rather than the Running ones who migrate here. I confess, this is my favorite cover. Nothing says "Hot lovin' on the Florida frontier!" like a killer flamingo looming in the background. Check it out for yourself, free from Kindle Unlimited and available in paperback too.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review--The Red

The RedThe Red by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some erotica just hits all the right notes: the sex is smokin', the writing is crisp, the characters are engaging and the story is engrossing. The Red is one such novel. The always entertaining Tiffany Reisz has done it again, proving that she can transition between stand-along novels, short fiction, fantasy, erotica and erotic romance while still maintaining her unique voice.

The Red is absolutely not for the faint-of-heart. Mona Lisa St. James promised her dying mother she'd run the family art gallery, but The Red is in the red and it's going to take a miracle to save it. But instead of an angel, what Mona gets is a devilish offer: become a man's whore (his words) for one year, allowing him to use her sexually in whatever fashion suits him, and he'll pay off the debt. She's tempted by the mysterious Englishman, but how far is Mona willing to go to save her legacy?

Reisz calls the book "a fantasy" and there's a hint of the paranormal as well as the fantasy sex, but it's masterfully done. I highly recommend The Red for readers who aren't afraid of adult themes and situations, and who like their sex scenes written for an intelligent audience.

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Review--Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas

Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven SeasPirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas by Laura Sook Duncombe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enjoyable overview of women pirates through history. I'd read much of Ms. Duncombe's source material (Johnson's book of Pyrates, Fanny Campbell, the Cordingly, Stark, Konstam and Druett books) so there was little new here for me, but for a reader whose life isn't all about the pirates it's a good introduction.

I especially liked how Duncombe made it a point to include the non-European pirates. When I do presentations on women pirates I highlight the career of Cheng I Sao, who, as Duncombe points out, was the most successful pirate of all time.

These transgressive women of the sea continue to fascinate readers and another book focusing on women pirates is always a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Happy Bastille Day!

“Doctor, we are going to be stopping at the island of St. Martin soon, and there’s something I want you to do there.”
Alcott looked at him sharply. “That is a French island, is it not?”
“It was. French and Dutch. At one time a friendly port for Americans. Now, well, it’s still friendly, we just have to be more careful because the Royal Navy has a presence there as well.”
“Is there someone on the island who’s ill?”
“No, not that I know of.” He took a deep breath. This was more difficult than he expected it would be.
“There is a lady there I want you to visit. A Mrs. Cornelia Olifiers. You will like her,” he added quickly. “She’s friendly, and outgoing, and…friendly.”
Alcott was watching him with a strange expression on his face.
“And I am visiting Mrs. Olifiers because…?”
In for a penny, in for a pound. Or in this case, a fee to be paid in good American dollars.
“Madame Cornelia operates an establishment where a young man like you can meet ladies and spend the evening with them.”
Dr. Alcott was young, but he was not stupid. “You are taking me to a brothel?”
“Not so loud, or they’ll all want to go!”

--Sea Change

Ah, the French! Friends to America and providing rest and relaxation to Americans abroad for a long, long time. Vive la France!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Coffee for the Win!

“Is that coffee I smell?”
Washburn filled the doorway to the kitchen, a look of such amazed wonder on his face that she had to smile.
“Indeed, there was coffee with the supplies. Help yourself to a cup while I finish this up. The grits are about ready, and if you can wait a few more minutes, there will be ham and eggs as well.”
“Bless you, darlin’. I’m beginnin’ to think you an angel sent from above.”
He poured a cup from the pot next to the fire and dumped in a generous serving of sugar before bringing it up to his nose. He closed his eyes and inhaled, then opened them and took a reverent sip.
“Ah,” he said with feeling. “Hot and sweet, just the way I like it.” He was watching her as he said it, and Julia turned away to whip the eggs more fiercely before pouring them into the pan.
--Smuggler's Bride

I didn't need much convincing that coffee is the elixir of life. Heaven knows I need it to jump start my brain in the morning! But it's nice to know that it's not just me saying this, it's scientifically proven: drinking more coffee leads to longer life. I'll drink to that!

Friday, July 07, 2017

Review--Lost Boy

Lost BoyLost Boy by Christina Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm very tempted to shelve this in "horror" rather than "fantasy" because it's pretty horrific. Not the writing, that's top-notch, but the story itself...

If you're the sort of individual who finds the idea of a boy who won't grow up, who surrounds himself with other lost children who don't grow up, to be monstrous, then this is the book for you. It's more Lord of the Flies than tinkley little fairies, and the hero is clearly James Hook, a Lost Boy who is more than he seems.

A thoughtful look at the Peter Pan legend told with a fresh perspective, but it's not a light read. I may still move it to the horror shelf.

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Happy #WorldChocolateDay!

"Do you know what I miss the most?”
“Your frivolous hats?”
“No, I mean food I miss. I miss my morning chocolate. I would have chocolate and a small sweet roll every morning when I arose.”
“That is not a breakfast,” he said dismissively. “Good hot porridge, thick enough so a spoon stands straight up in the center, with plenty of cream and honey, now, that is a breakfast that gets your bowels moving so you can start your day.”
His face grew red when he’d realized what he said to her, russet enough to match his hair.

--Castaway Dreams

Stranded without chocolate? Horrors! One of the key items in my "go" bag is a bar of dark chocolate, because if you have to bug out fast, you'll want to have chocolate. Happy #WorldChocolateDay!

Thursday, July 06, 2017

It's #NationalFriedChickenDay!

Amanda picked up a chicken leg and tore off a huge bite.
“Mmmm, Sukie makes wonderful chicken!”
Morgan beamed at her.
“I like a woman with healthy appetites. None of this picking around at bits and pieces like some ladies!”
“Oh.” She put down her chicken. “I have to be careful not to overindulge.”
“Because I have a tendency to eat too much, and then…” She looked down at her plate.
“You don’t think there’s, well, too much of me?”
He stared at her, then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.
“Come here, Mrs. Roberts. Right now.”
Amanda seemed startled at this change in course, but dutifully stood up and walked over to her husband’s chair.
He put his hands around her waist and yanked her into his lap.
“Morgan! What are you doing?”
“‘Too much’? Someone has been filling your head with bilge, lass.”
--Captain Sinister's Lady (available again in ebook!)

It's #NationalFriedChickenDay which I'm certain is a state holiday in Florida. This is the best time of year for it too, served with a side of coleslaw, hush puppies, and watermelon to cool you off after. Now, that's some good eating!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Review--Nothing Left to Lose (John Cleaver)

Nothing Left to Lose: A Novel (John Cleaver)Nothing Left to Lose: A Novel by Dan Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's a wonderful thing when a series concludes and you turn the last page with a satisfied sigh. I read NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE straight through on a summer afternoon, dying (ahem) to find out what happens with our hero John Wayne Cleaver, boy monster hunter and serial killer wannabe. The ending is all I could have asked for, and I won't go into details because *spoilers*, but I highly recommend starting with I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER and reading it for yourself.

I will say that LOSE had delightfully snarky dialogue, interesting monsters, new characters and some soul-searching by our young sociopath as to his life's goals. If you're up for a dose of horror with characters who stick in your mind, check out the John Cleaver novels. I'm glad I did.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Fourth Of July

"I am not sure I should have to always do what you tell me to do, or not to do, Dr. Murray. I know you are a natural philosopher and learned, but in America they let men vote equally, the stupid ones as well as the clever. Not that I am stupid, I am just not as learned as you are. While we are here on this island, just the two of us, we should be voting as equals, don’t you think?"
He looked at her in astonishment, setting down the gourd.
"I am amazed, Miss Farnham, that a properly brought-up Englishwoman would take the riff-raff in America as her model for appropriate behavior. No, this is not a situation calling for some anarchic form of democracy. Your vote is not equal to mine."

--Castaway Dreams

Fie on thee, Dr. Murray! July 4 is Independence Day, a day for all of us in the United States to celebrate our freedoms, our hard-fought liberty and the creation of a new type of nation: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Fill your Independence Day with song and fireworks and good times and parades and maybe some BBQ. It's your day, America! Celebrate!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review--The Girl Who Knew Too Much

The Girl Who Knew Too MuchThe Girl Who Knew Too Much by Amanda Quick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amanda Quick, best known for her Regency and Victorian historical romance moves into the 20th century with this engaging novel. It's hard to think of the 1930s as being a period for historical romance, but that seemed the most appropriate shelf, and the historical details made this even more fun.

Ace cub reporter Irene Glasson finds a dead woman in the bottom of a swimming pool at a swanky resort, the very woman she was supposed to meet. But that's not the worst of it. Someone tries to kill Irene, she has her own dark secrets to keep hidden, and the enigmatic owner of the swanky resort is far too interested in her.

It's typical JAK/AQ, which means the hero and heroine are cut from familiar cloth, but the Hollywood and California setting, the speedy roadsters, smart dames and mysterious gentlemen make it an engaging read and a good summer choice.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review--Over Your Dead Body (John Cleaver, #5)

Over Your Dead Body (John Cleaver, #5)Over Your Dead Body by Dan Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another engrossing John Wayne Cleaver, Boy (would be) Serial Killer story. John's still hunting demons, putting his special sociopath skills to work to find the monsters. His relationship with the body inhabited by the demon Nobody and two of his previous friend/girlfriend grows, and he steps up to new responsibilities.

I can't wait for the next volume!

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Monday, June 19, 2017

The War of 1812

She asked him once if the privateers made a difference for America. He looked at her blankly for a moment, then said, “Bear in mind, Doctor, we are not the Royal Navy with hundreds of years of ships at our beck and call. The United States is young, but we are strong because we put everything we have into the fight, especially at sea. Yes, our privateers make all the difference in this war. Every ship we capture is another blow to Britain and its allies.”
--Sea Change

June 18 is the anniversary of the start of the War of 1812. It's often overlooked in American history classes, but this conflict was pivotal in proving that the United States was a nation to be reckoned with. Some refer to it as "The second war of American independence", and the US privateers played a key role in the battle with Britain.

If you'd like to know more about the US privateers in 1812 or you're just looking for a great beach read, try Sea Change, available again in print and ebook. You don't have to take my word for it, you can read the reviews!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

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!"

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!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review--Moses: A Human Life

Moses: A Human LifeMoses: A Human Life by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another deep and thoughtful book from Dr Gottlieb Zornberg that will have you dwelling on the subject long after you close the cover. I read the book over the course of months, because there was so much to absorb and think about that I couldn't do it in one or two sittings. I was especially impressed by the author's writing on the role of women in Moses' life, from before he's born until late into the wanderings in the wilderness. It's said in Judaism that the Exodus from Egypt came about because of the women who took action, and Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg brings that to life in her book.

Highly recommended for a serious reading of the life of the man most revered in Judaism.

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Saturday, June 10, 2017


Sawbones (A Laura Elliston Novel)Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I would have tagged it "'The Fugitive' meets 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman'" but what do I know? Regardless of how it's pitched, it's an exciting, fast paced read full of blood and gore, and even some romance.

Dr. Catherine Bennett is a surgeon in a man's world, forced to flee NYC when she's falsely accused of murder. She heads west hoping to reinvent herself and practice medicine far from people who know her, but ends up surviving an Indian attack only to be at risk of discovery by bounty hunters and people from her past.

There were a couple too many coincidences for me to be completely enamored of the story, but the action kept me turning pages and I look forward to reading the sequel.

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Thursday, June 08, 2017


HuntedHunted by Meagan Spooner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read a lot of Beauty and the Beast stories over the years, and I'd put this one in the top five. Yelena, nicknamed "Beauty", is a hunter like her beloved father. When the family suffers a reversal of fortune the father and daughter depend on their hunting skills to keep the family alive.

This Beauty is bookish, yes, but also an athletic outdoorswoman, skilled with her bow. It's a refreshing change from the usual B&B fare. We also have two sisters who, rather than being greedy and hating Beauty, love and support her, another refreshing change.

The Beast is...the Beast. We know he's got a prince inside of him, but he is sufficiently beastly to Beauty to help us buy into the entire tale.

Finally, using Russian folklore and setting for the tale helps give it a fresh twist, and works well with the narrative.

I'm almost sorry it's shelved as a YA novel. Had I not read such glowing reviews from fellow authors, I might have missed this altogether, and that would have been a shame. I highly recommend it to readers of any age. It's excellent.

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Monday, June 05, 2017

Review--The Devil's Only Friend (John Cleaver, #4)

The Devil's Only Friend (John Cleaver, #4)The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Teenage serial killer wannabe John Wayne Cleaver is back, hunting demons both real and personal. I'd recommend starting the series with I Am Not A Serial Killer, but if you're hooked like I was you'll want to keep up with his adventures.

There's a high gore and body quotient, but fans of Dexter are likely to enjoy these novels as well.

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Balticon51 and Baltimore's Historic Ships, or "How I Spent My Holiday Weekend"

We were in Baltimore over Memorial Day, enjoying a relaxing weekend with friends at Balticon51, an area science fiction convention. It was my first visit to the city since Worldcon in '98 when I came down with mono. My memories remain mostly fuzzy about that time period.

This time though it was all good. Even though we were there primarily to catch up with good friends (I'd list them all but I'm afraid I might leave someone off--they know who they are), it was also a very enjoyable convention. I volunteered for a Green Room shift, because cons run on volunteer power and as a Green Room manager at numerous Worldcons I knew exactly how important it was to have the room well staffed. However, Manager Eileen did a bang-up job and only needed me for a couple hours, so I was free to hang out and visit with people. I even attended some program items, including a valuable one on how to hand-sell your books.

I also took time to see some sights. Baltimore, of course, is a historic US harbor and features in some of my novels, particularly Sea Change:

"The Fancy is rigged for speed,” he said, pointing to the raking masts. “She’s fine-lined and tall, and built in Baltimore, home of the fastest vessels afloat. And that ability to maneuver quickly is necessary, because unlike your British merchants, we do not have a fleet of navy ships escorting us everywhere. We Americans have to rely most on our own wits, our seamanship, and our gunnery skills to stay free.”
The ship I'd most hoped to see while in Baltimore's Inner Harbor is The Pride of Baltimore II, modeled on the Chasseur, the most storied American privateer of the War of 1812. However, the Pride was cruising in the Bahamas, so instead I visited two other historic ships. One was the USCG Cutter Taney,
 The Taney served in WWII and subsequent actions, through the Viet Nam war and into the era of drug interdiction. It's now part of the Historic Ships collection in Baltimore. While I don't write in the era of the Taney's service, I did research the USCG aka the Revenue Marine for Smuggler's Bride, so I've always had an interest in the USCG vessels. Touring the Taney was a reminder of how cramped conditions are and were in these smaller vessels, and what life was like for those who served aboard them.

I may not have had a chance to see the Pride of Baltimore, but I did see another storied sailing ship, the USS Constellation.  This is not the frigate Constellation of the War of 1812, but the sloop-of-war Constellation built in 1854.

While it's a bit past the era I write in, life aboard a USN ship in the mid-19th century is similar enough that I could enjoy the tour and find neat tidbits to work into my future novels. Here's a picture of the captain's day room, a space used for discussion of ship's business with the officers, and other purposes. I found it surprisingly spacious. There was also a zinc tub built into the bulkhead next to the captain's "seat of ease", which could be easily drained by pulling a plug. It's a neat feature I hadn't considered until now. 

I've often said one of the best parts of being a writer is doing the hands on research, whether it's caving in North Central Florida for The Bride and the Buccaneer, or walking the streets of St. Augustine for Captain Sinister's Lady, or a day at the beach with mojitos (all the books). Now I can add another historic ship tour to my research notes, and I look forward to sharing the information in future novels.

Review--No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories

No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short StoriesNo Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Short Stories by Lee Child
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hardcore Reacher fans will want this collection of short stories, some of which were originally published elsewhere. We see young Jack Reacher (not John, no middle name), whose own family calls him "Reacher" from the time he's a toddler.

Most of the stories deal with Reacher while he was a young man or still in the Army, but there are some post-Army tales as well, and of course, there's coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

The collection may not make sense to people not fans of the series, but for the rest of us, it's a delightful summer read.

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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Review--The Kill Artist (Gabriel Allon, #1)

The Kill Artist (Gabriel Allon, #1)The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For years I've heard wonderful things about this series, but I put off starting it, partly because I knew if I liked it I'd want to glom the whole series right away. That would make my other books feel neglected.

Ah well, they'll just have to get used to it. The complicated story of Gabriel Allon, Israeli assassin and art restorer is the best kind of spy story. Complicated people living lives where morality is awash in gray tones and one's values and choices are subject to the worst kinds of compromise.

Of course I'll start reading the next book right now.

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