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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