Thursday, August 09, 2018

Happy #BookLoversDay!

He returned with his copy of Captain Johnson and arranged himself on her bed while Lydia took the chair. She didn’t want to admit it to the two pirates, but she also was
captivated by the tales of long ago miscreants and their adventures.
“As you know, Mattie, Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, was a commodore of pirates, commanding other captains beneath him. He was not a good man at all, but he was a very successful pirate, so successful that the governor of Virginia Colony offered a huge bounty on his head—one hundred pounds!”
Mattie’s eyes grew large as her father gave her an edited version of Blackbeard’s life, but even so she was frowning at the end.
“‘Here was an end of that courageous brute, who might have passed in the world for a hero had he been employed in a good cause; his destruction…was entirely owing to the conduct and bravery of Lieutenant Maynard and his men.’”
“Blackbeard did not treat his crew well, Papa. You are the better captain. I am glad Lieutenant Maynard stopped him.”

Pirate tales and book lovers have gone together since forever, getting a boost from A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, written by Captain Charles Johnson in 1724, still enjoyed today.  

You can celebrate #BookLoversDay by curling up with your own pirate tale, be it A General History or Treasure Island or Captain Blood...or perhaps a more modern offering with romance and adventure? After all, as Mattie learned in The Pirate's Secret Baby, you're never too young or too old to enjoy a good swashbuckling tale.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Review: Evelyn, After

Evelyn, After Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this novel disturbing, but that's not a complaint. An ordinary--too ordinary--life upended by betrayal and secrets, and the before-and-after scenes encapsulate how many women lose their identities until they're only known as someone's wife or someone's mother.

Evelyn drifts through her days volunteering, taking care of her husband and son, cooking, running errands, but she's lost the part of herself that defined who she was until one night when it all changes. I won't go into more detail because I don't want to give away the story, but this novel will resonate with women of a certain age who put their own life plans on hold...and never seemed to grab them back.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2018

THE PIRATE'S SECRET BABY, Available again!

I've been working on edits this morning for What the Parrot Saw, the story of grown-up Mattie St. Armand from award-winner The Pirate's Secret Baby. In the meantime, you can now purchase Secret Baby in print and ebook from the usual vendors.

When the rights for my books were returned to me I was anxious to republish and get them back out and about into the wild, and into the hands and ereaders of any who may have missed them the first time around. One of the real pleasures in this process has been to broaden the distribution of my novels, and to hear back from readers around the world who're able to access my historical romances.

If you haven't yet had the opportunity to read The Pirate's Secret Baby or any of my other work, I hope you'll give them a chance. And, as always, it's a kindness to your fellow readers and to authors too when you take the time to leave a rating or review. Just this week I saw a new review for Sea Change, and it recharged my writing batteries.

I couldn't do this without y'all, and I thank you!

Monday, August 06, 2018

Review: Jane Doe

Jane Doe Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's said revenge is a dish best served cold, and "Jane Doe" is very cold indeed, making for a delicious tale of female empowerment and justice.

Jane works a perfectly ordinary job at a Minneapolis insurance company, being a little mouse in flowered frocks and forgettable looks. It's a ruse. The self-described sociopath is out for blood, stalking a self-important cad. The reasons why begin to unfold like an origami flower that leaves bleeding paper cuts, and will leave the reader satisfied and satiated at the conclusion.

As Victoria Dahl the author was on my autobuy list for romance. Now as Victoria Helen Stone the author's shift from romance to suspense makes her an autobuy for me in two categories, and that makes me one happy reader.

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Review: The Hunger Pains

The Hunger Pains The Hunger Pains by Chelsea Field
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great summer refresher, full of snappy characters and sharp writing. I'm enjoying this series and appreciate a heroine who learns from her mistakes and doesn't make TSTL choices just to keep the narrative going. The mistakes she makes are often connected to her being the kind of person who cares about other people, and that's why she digs for answers when her clients are at risk.

I look forward to reading more of Ms. Fields' work.

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Happy #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 said, eyeing 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 first child 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!

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Review: Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent and disturbing re-telling of "a tale as old as time". We're told the servants are turned into household objects when the prince is cursed, but what do we really know about them, the ordinary people who populate the Beast's domain?

Lucy is one such individual, a maidservant in the castle, sharing the curse. This is her story and it's intriguing, and horrifying, and shows us Beauty and the Beast in an entirely new way. I enjoyed it immensely, but the difficult subject matter of sexual assault and revenge will not sit well with some readers.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Review: The Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely adorable. A heroine whose vulnerability is only exceeded by her courage, a hero whom you want to tuck under your arm and carry home (forget the mad bedroom skillz, I lust after his other talent!!!) and a story that's both timeless and totally 21st century.

This is one of the best contemporary romances I've read in ages and I look forward to more from this debut author.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review: The Other Lady Vanishes

The Other Lady Vanishes The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amanda Quick's tales have moved from Regency and Victorian England to 1930s California but they still have her trademark capable heroines and mysterious heroes. While the earlier Regency novels are keepers for me (love the Pino covers!) I also enjoyed this more modern tale of suspense involving Hollywood stars and secrets.

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Review: The Armored Saint

The Armored Saint The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A dark, grim, bloody YA that's not going to be for every reader, but one that raises interesting questions about religion, the makings of a hero, and communal responsibility. I'll be looking for Book #2 to see where this goes.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Scottish edition

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

The older I get, the more I value being able to move, and to travel. I'd long had an overseas walking tour on my bucket list, with the Scottish Highlands at the top. This year I decided to make it happen.

In December I made the reservation with Country Walkers  for their Highlands and Isle of Skye tour, and I knew I needed to up my game when it came to walking. I was used to doing my daily 10K steps, and loved to walk around cities for pleasure when I'd be traveling, but I was nowhere ready for a walking tour. I spent the next six months investing in new hiking boots, a daypack, trekking poles, a hydration pack and some good socks. I also purchased a Florida State Parks pass.

The latter was an important motivator. I'm blessed to live in North Central Florida, a land of slightly rolling hills and numerous outdoor activity sites including state parks like San Felasco Hammock and Payne's Prairie. These areas provide plenty of opportunities to get out and walk in the woods (or on the prairie), a delightful Florida winter activity.

However, our rolling hills are no match for terrain like this, the view of Loch Lomond from atop Conic Hill (elevation 1,184 ft./361 m.). Yes, I climbed up here on a breathtakingly beautiful day, my first day trekking the Highlands.

We set out from Glasgow with the option of two walks, one around the loch and the woods of the Trossachs, the other up the hill. I lined up with the hill walkers. Since I hadn't come all this way just to sit on my butt I gamely climbed on, grateful I'd invested in good trekking poles. I have to say it was worth it for a scene like this. Afterward, when we'd discuss the merits of the easy vs. moderate walks I could tell myself, "You made it up Conic Hill, you have this."

The way the tour worked we would be transported to our trekking site while our luggage would be taken ahead to our next stop for the night. You can see from the map how we made a circuit around the Highlands and Skye, returning to Glasgow at the end.
Our group was made up of mostly more experienced hikers from more mountainous locales--Santa Fe, Denver, Australia--but I was pleased that I was never the last to straggle in. I had worried about that, especially when I casually asked a fellow traveler the first day what she'd done when she got to Glasgow and she said she'd taken a nine-mile hike around the city to relax.

But it was easier after that first day. Here's a shot of all of us at Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point of the Isle of Skye. In the background at the horizon you can make out the Outer Hebrides. I'm the short one in front with a blue jacket and a bare head. 

Of course, since it was Scotland, we also took time to sample a wee dram or two. I especially enjoyed the single malts collection at Cuillin Hills Hotel on Skye, and our tour of the Blair Athol distillery at Pitlochry.

But what I liked best was just being there, and seeing it on foot. The flowers, the lochs, Flora MacDonald's home and gravesite, the hills--all of it was breathtaking and truly one of the last best places on earth to visit in its natural state. No coach tour would have compared. Walking the land, even when we were stepping through sheep and their residue, made for a truly unique experience.

There were  so many other sights I could describe and pictures I could post, but the real takeaway from this trip was learning more about a part of the world I'd only read about in numerous novels or seen portrayed in films and television. It's a rugged, windswept country and I feel blessed that I could be a part of it, if only for a brief period.
Duntulm, Skye


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: Eat, Pray, Die

Eat, Pray, Die Eat, Pray, Die by Chelsea Field
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A humorous (well, except for the "you've been poisoned and you're gonna die" parts) mystery in the vein of the "Stephanie Plum" style popularized by Janet Evanovich.

Isobel is an Aussie with a new job and a huge debt, the kind of debt that involves loan sharks and people who break legs. The job is using her unique genetic code and skill set to be a taster for celebrities as risk of being poisoned. She's still on probation, and may not live long enough to have to worry about the bruiser sent to collect from her.

I very much enjoyed this first in a series novel, one that sets up interesting romantic possibilities (If Izzy survives), extols the joys of a long black (I too love the Aussie coffee culture) and promises a good summer beach read. I'm looking forward to reading book 2.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Happy #NationalPecanPieDay!

Julia took a moment to go over and watch the cane mill, where a placid ox hitched to a lever walked ’round and ’round the contraption. The cane mill was two vertical iron rollers set in a heavy wood frame, and Franklin Ivey and the other feeders slowly passed the towering red cane stalks between the grinding rollers as the ox worked the treadmill. As the juice was squeezed out of the stalks of cane, it ran into a trough attached to the mill frame, while the cane pulp fell from the other side.
The uncooked cane juice in the barrels was pale green, and as it cooked and was stirred it thickened and ripened to a deep amber, becoming the syrup prized for sweetening everything from coffee to pecan pie to biscuits.

--Smuggler's Bride 

I admit to some befuddlement over today being #NationalPecanPieDay, because every Southern gal knows pecans are a fall harvest. I keep my fresh, in the shell nuts in the freezer to use all year, but I make my pies for Thanksgiving and winter events.

However, I freely acknowledge than anytime is a good time for pecan pie and in the summer you can add some fresh churned ice cream to go along with your pie.

The other nice thing about pecan pie is it's easy to make (especially if you use a pre-made pie shell.) You can use either corn syrup or cane syrup for your sweetner, and in just about an hour you can have a hot pie fresh from the oven. Here's a classic recipe:


1 cup corn syrup or cane syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans
1 (9-inch) unbaked deep-dish pie crust

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie crust.

Bake on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on wire rack before serving.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Remembering Hamilton

Underfunded, understaffed, looked down on by the regular navy, despised by the merchants who paid the tariffs, the Revenue Marine was no one’s darling.
Well, except maybe Alexander Hamilton, he’d loved his revenue cutters that brought money into the Treasury, but look what happened to him, Rand thought. Irritate the wrong people and there you are, worm food.
--Smuggler's Bride

Today is the anniversary of the stupid duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, a tragedy resulting in the death of this Founding Father who did so much for our country.

I read Ron Chernow's biography many years ago and was captivated by the amazing man who accomplished great things in his brief lifetime. Hamilton's legacy helped me write Smuggler's Bride, my novel about the early Coast Guard, aka the Revenue Marine.

Alexander Hamilton was flawed, but his legacy lives on. I haven't seen the musical yet but I hope some day to be in the right place at the right time to get Hamilton tickets. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower

Wicked and the Wallflower Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This first installment in the Bareknuckle Bastards series shows wonderful possibilities regarding characters we were introduced to in The Day of the Duchess. There were fabulous bits of dialogue, a really interesting heroine and a very dangerous hero. In addition, I like revenge stories and the smuggling plot device was excellent. I love historical tidbits worked into a story without too much exposition.

This book is for romance fans who enjoy quality writing and intriguing heroines. I'm looking forward to the next story in the series, as all the introduced characters show great promise.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: The Chateau

The Chateau The Chateau by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tiffany Reisz is the best erotica writer you're going to read this year. That's a subjective opinion, but this is my review so I'm letting it stand.

We know Kingsley Edge from previous Original Sinners stories, but here we see him stripped bare, literally and figuratively, as he fulfills a request for his commander in the oh-so-secret French military agency using his special skill set. Kingsley is sent to find the commander's missing nephew, believed to be in a cult holed up in a mysterious chateau.

Madame runs the chateau with a firm hand and she takes a special interest in the young French lieutenant. He thought he knew what sadists could do to him (and how much he'd love it), but he's never met a mistress like Madame. Her level of cruelty is breathtakingly exact, and he will emerge a different person...if he makes it out alive.

While Reisz brings the heat in all of her books, she excels at characterization in erotic lit. This is what's missing from so many of the books today, characters who are more than cardboard figures doing their Tab A/Slot B routine over and over again. I recommend all of the Original Sinners series, and this book to anyone who wants to explore more of the background of the characters who make the series so popular.

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Review: A Touch of Flame

A Touch of Flame A Touch of Flame by Jo Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jo Goodman doesn't write fast, but she writes very well, and that makes me happy. Her books are worth the wait and she brings characters to life in a fashion that has the reader chuckling aloud at the snappy dialogue and quick-witted responses.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: The Unlikely Master Genius

The Unlikely Master Genius The Unlikely Master Genius by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sailing Master Able Six is a savant, a man with a beautiful mind and a lowly beginning. He's a true polymath, but a bastard raised in a Scottish workhouse doesn't have the connections needed in Regency England to allow him to fully use his gifts. However, some of his former captains know his worth and have encouraged Able to teach at St. Brendan the Navigator School, where poor boys like him have a chance to advance themselves by serving in the Royal Navy.

You're going to need your hankies. When Carla Kelly writes a book about boys being trained for battle during the Napoleonic Wars, you can't say you didn't know what to expect. However, it's a gentle love story about a man who could easily go insane from a mind that won't shut down and the woman who nurtures his soul. It's also about lost boys. As much as we Americans view the Royal Navy during the War of 1812 as a place of floggings and impressment, for some boys and men it was an opportunity to advance themselves, and to be fed on a regular basis.

Able and Meridee are introduced in the short story "The Christmas Angle", and this is the first of the St. Brendan novels. One of the joys of a Carla Kelly Regency is that it's about people who are not powerful or privileged. It's about everyday people being good, though Able's far from ordinary and Meridee's quite extraordinary for loving him and appreciating him.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Review: Hamilton's Battalion: A Trio of Romances

Hamilton's Battalion: A Trio of Romances Hamilton's Battalion: A Trio of Romances by Courtney Milan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This delightful collection highlights that love is love, and that it wasn't just straight White Christian men who brought about the beginnings of this great nation. The first romance is about Jewish soldiers during the Revolutionary War, the second is about two gay men who discover love can bring enemies together, and the third is a post-war tale of women of color in New York finding kindred spirits where they least expect it.

I enjoyed this collection very much, and it's a wonderful opportunity for readers who have promised themselves they'd add more diversity to their reading lists.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Review: How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It by Arthur Herman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's no secret that I love my public library. I'm also proud we're part of the chain of Carnegie libraries, public institutions started or boosted by a grant from Andrew Carnegie back in the day.

But what kind of society produced a robber baron who wanted to use his megamillions to promote literacy and civic involvement? It was the Scots, according to Arthur Herman in this wonderfully readable history of the modern Western world. Economic systems, good governance, modern medicine, civic engagement, universal literacy--especially universal literacy--are all legacies of a tiny nation north of England.

I recommend this book in particular to anyone who's a student of American, Commonwealth or British history. I would have enjoyed it even if I wasn't planning a trip to the Highlands this summer, and it was a fabulous adjunct to my travel guides and memories of my previous visits to Scotland.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Celebrate Juneteenth With a Good Romance

The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology

The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology by Kianna Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I live in a small town in North Central Florida where, until recently, we had monuments to the Confederacy in our public square and in the naming of public buildings. A special day like Juneteenth resonates in our community as a very real celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved people throughout the South.

This outstanding collection celebrates the 19th of June (and if you don't know why that's a holiday, each story explains it), and the brave women and men who were strong in the face of adversity, whether it was a Jim Crow rail car of the late 19th c. or the Freedom Riders of the 1960s. Some of the stories are Inspirationals, some are straight historical romance (with some sensuality), all are well-written and entertaining.

Since this collection was released I've read more by these authors, all of whom are talented storytellers, and I applaud them for putting together a very special anthology.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Flag Day

They went up on deck together, David carrying his prayer book. The men were assembled wearing their finest clothing. At the starboard rail a canvas length awaited them, sewn by Sails, weighted to carry its burden to the bottom of the ocean. It was on a trestle, covered with the flag of the United States that fluttered at the edges in the light breeze.
The crew was silent as their captain stepped forward, and a hurricane bird soared overhead, far from land but reminding them all that someday, they would return to their homes.
Some of them.


Today is Flag Day in the United States, the day we mark the adoption of our nation's symbol of freedom.  It was immortalized during the War of 1812 over 200 years ago with Francis Scott Key's poem, now our national anthem.  My flag is flying, as it does on all national holidays.  Long may it wave!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Write What You Know, Florida Style

Early in their journey this morning they passed a burnt-out homestead, its brick chimney all that remained of a family’s dreams. Vines were already encroaching and moving in, but there had been a gardenia bush in bloom near what must have once been the front door, and Sophia paused to snip off a bloom. The lush fragrance filled her senses, but it was also a reminder of the dangers lurking in paradise.
--The Bride and the Buccaneer 

In 1774, English naturalist William Bartram wrote of  the Alachua Savannah, a stretch of land now known as Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park: "The extensive Alachua ia a level green plain, above fifteen miles over, fifty miles an circumference, and scarcely a tree or bush of any kind to be seen on at. It is encircled with high, sloping hills, covered with waving forests and a fragrant Orange grove, rising from a exuberantly fertile soil. The towering Magnolia grandiflora and transcendent Palm stand conspicuous among them.. Herds of sprightly deer, squadrons of the beautiful fleet Siminole (sic) horse, flocks of turkeys, civilized communities of the sonorous watchful crane, mix together, appearing happy and contented in the enjoyment of peace."

While hiking through recently on part of the Cone's Dike and Jackson Gap Trails at Paynes Prairie I saw plenty of "sprightly deer" and cranes, along with some herons, egrets, bobwhites and more then enough mosquitoes. Even with my insect repellent shirt, bandana, and lotion slathered on I still came home with an array of "Greetings from Florida, sucker!" souvenirs.

However, it was worth it. It was one of the rare low-humidity summer days and I wanted to take full advantage.

Some of the trails were underwater due to the record May rainfall, but it was still a great day to be out on the prairie. This chimney marks the Jackson cottage, all that remains of what was once cattleman Archie Jackson's site on the trail where he'd drive his cattle. Once again I saw plenty of evidence of where the buffalo roam, sizable manure piles, but I still haven't spotted the prairie bison. I did see warning signs on the trail reminding hikers that alligators, buffalo and wild horses have the right of way. If you try to pass them while hiking, you could get trampled or end up as someone's lunch.

But even without the bison I still felt my writing batteries recharging. There's a lot of wisdom in "write what you know", and when I begin to draft another book set in the piney backwoods I'll have a fresh feel for the flora, the fauna, and, of course, the ever-present skeeters.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Exploring Natural Florida

It was pleasant rowing, the cypress and sweetbays shading the creek against the rising heat. There was the flash of a deer’s tail as it headed deeper into the scrub oak. A red hawk soared overhead, looking for breakfast, and when she saw a family of otters sliding down the mud into the water, she laughed aloud at their antics.
The creek widened and grew, joining with other waters until it was a small river. It was cool and restful in a way she’d never imagined Florida. Here was a side that showed itself like violets hidden in the forest, a face different from the mosquito-ridden, pestilent, humid sweat bath of the cities.
Julia was so captivated by the sights that she shipped her oars, letting the current take her, and daydreamed until she glanced over the bow of the boat.
And screamed.
A massive sea creature bobbed in the water off the starboard bow, gazing at her with limpid eyes while it masticated a wad of greenery in its whiskered mouth.
Julia’s hand clutched the front of her dress as her heart raced, but then she shook her head and scolded herself for a ninny. It was a sea cow, large and cumbersome, but not dangerous.
It was, however, curious.
--Smuggler's Bride

When Smuggler's Bride was published in German and Estonian (really!), I received fan mail from overseas readers who'd never read anything about Florida that wasn't set at the beach or a theme park.

While I miss being close to the beach in North Central Florida, I love being close to excellent hiking sites and lots of natural springs and rivers. I've been doing more hiking this year, not just because I enjoy day hiking and I finally invested in the right gear, but because I'm going on a walking tour of the Scottish Highlands this summer.

One of my favorite local hiking spots is San Felasco Hammock State Park, just a few miles up the road from my house. It offers a variety of trails for hiking, biking and horses.  I love to spend the afternoon walking through the woods and experiencing the best of hidden Florida. 

San Felasco also offers rolling terrain on some of its trails, a rarity in Florida. This matters because while I can prepare for hiking distances this summer, there are only two ways I can prepare for the Scottish hills: walking rolling terrain (though ours is nothing close to theirs) and walking the ramps at the University of Florida Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (aka The Swamp). There are ramps at the north and south endzones to move pedestrians to the upper levels, and that gives me a better work-out than climbing the steps at the stadium. It's a more natural rhythm and I can use my trekking poles.

So when I can't get out to the country I get over to the stadium, loaded down with my daypack filled with all the gear I'll be carrying--waterpack, snacks, outer gear, extra socks, first aid kit, journal, a few odds and ends, cellphone...and two large cans of tomatoes.

Why tomatoes? No special reason except they're large cans. I overload my pack now so it will feel lighter and more comfortable when I'm actually hiking this summer in Scotland.

So if you don't see a lot of posts from me this July it's because I'll be trekking the glens and enjoying a change from our Florida summer heat and humidity. More on this as it develops!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: Head On

Head On Head On by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second Lock In novel I've read and I enjoyed it immensely. The combination of police procedural and near-future SF worked very well, and the snappy dialogue and sharp writing made it all a great weekend read.

In Lock In we were introduced to the Hadens. Victims of an illness that leaves them fully conscious yet "locked in", unable to move independently, technology has offered a solution of sorts with the Threeps, mechanical bots the Hadens can rent or own and transfer their consciousness into the machine.

Chris Shane (and we still don't know Chris' gender...which is fabulous!) is partnered with the non-Haden but delightfully snarky Leslie Vann in the Haden Affairs division of the FBI. They're investigating the death of an athlete during a Hilketa match, a violent game only played by mechanically outfitted Hadens. As Hadens lose some of their federal benefits and protected status there's money to be made in expanding or exploiting their options, and this can result in theft, fraud...or murder.

While this is billed as a stand-alone novel, I highly recommend reading Lock In #1 first to get the full flavor of how master storyteller Scalzi spins a SF tale that's exciting, funny, and all too real.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Memorial Day

When I was a child, #MemorialDay meant the start of summer. Now I'm an adult and it means so much more to me because I know people who died in service to our country, fighting to protect our nation. Take a moment this weekend to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day. Remember that the freedoms we enjoy this weekend, and all year long, to swim, to gather, to have outdoor concerts, to hike in the national parks, came at a cost. At the start of summer we should always recall those who gave their lives, the "last full measure of devotion" to keep us free.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Review: Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our library has a program called "Sizzlers" where they take selected bestsellers and put them at the front of the circulation desk. They have a short check-out period and the idea is you can get lucky if you've been on a waiting list, or see a book you heard about.

It was the latter for me. I've seen this one on the bestseller lists for a while, as well as bookclub lists and was intrigued. Once I started reading this tale of a family torn apart--based on real events--I couldn't take my eyes away.

In the early 20th century, babies, toddlers and young children were stolen from their families in the South and resold through adoption scams. It only worked because the families they were taken from were poor, uneducated, and fighting well-bribed officials.

The novel is wrenching in its depiction of child abuse and the horrors of a criminal syndicate of kidnapping and murder targeting the most vulnerable. There's also a modern day tale of loving families as a framework, and the issues of an aging and also vulnerable population ravaged by dementia and neglect. The romance aspect almost detracts from the overall tale, and may not have been a necessary plot device, but it's handled well. I can see why this novel remains a Sizzler and a bestseller.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Review: Frankenstein

Frankenstein Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those classics I've always meant to read, and finally did. It's no wonder it's been around for 200 years and is still enjoyed. Some early 19th c. novels suffer from too much exposition and not enough action, but Frankenstein delivers a philosophical polemic on what it means to be human and the dangers of science divorced from ethics, with a healthy dose of horror and gore.

Mary Shelley deserves the title Mother of Science Fiction.

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Writers Alliance of Gainesville gets some TV time

The Writers Alliance of Gainesville was featured on the Ilene Silverman show, a local production that's also available on YouTube. My segment begins at 9:20, and I was darned glad I'd gotten a haircut earlier that day. Also glad I didn't have spinach in my teeth.

Anyway, check it out and discover what the North Central Florida writing community is up to these days.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Review: Someone to Care

Someone to Care Someone to Care by Mary Balogh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

*Le sigh* There is no feeling quite the same as closing a book and realizing there's a happy smile on your face because you enjoyed it so much, but hated to see it end.

We need a word for it.

Mary Balogh is always one of my favorite authors, but with this fourth Westcott tale she brought me catnip: Older protagonists, second chance at love, adults with real adult problems who deal with these problems as adults do, Regency era, and interesting secondary characters.

Viola Kingsley was once known as Lady Westcott, Countess of Riverdale, until she learned her lying, dead scum of a supposed spouse was already married (See Westcott #1, Someone to Love). Now plain Miss Kingsley with three illegitimate children, and grandchildren, Viola has been trying to hold it together and rebuild her life. She thinks she's doing OK until a man from her past--Marcel Lamarr, Marquess of Dorchester--sees her alone in a country inn. Incidentally, I loved how Marcel is described as "fearfully handsome" and it becomes a running gag through the novel.

If you're not already a fan of Mary Balogh there's an extensive backlist of good series and stand-alone books to begin your journey into her writing. With Someone to Care she continues her reign as one of the top Regency writers today.

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Monday, May 07, 2018

Review: The Midnight Line

The Midnight Line The Midnight Line by Lee Child
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A classic Reacher tale, which is always a treat. There's not much more to say by Book #22. Either you're a Reacher fan, or you're not.

If you've never experienced the Jack Reacher books (and for the love of heaven, please don't think those Tom Cruise films give you the full story!!!) start with book 1 and work your way through them.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Review: Lady Of The Glen: A Novel of 17Th-Century Scotland and the Massacre of Glencoe

Lady Of The Glen: A Novel of 17Th-Century Scotland and the Massacre of Glencoe Lady Of The Glen: A Novel of 17Th-Century Scotland and the Massacre of Glencoe by Jennifer Roberson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A "Romeo and Juliet" style telling of the events leading to the massacre at Glencoe at the end of the 17th century. It's of particular interest to readers who want to know more about the Jacobite Rebellion and events that led up to the defeat at Culloden.

I read this when it was first published, and the re-read was in anticipation of a trip to the Highlands this summer, including a trek to Glencoe. Roberson does an excellent job of bringing the land and its inhabitants to life.

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Thursday, April 26, 2018

Review: The Queen of Hearts

The Queen of Hearts The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like tv shows like Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy, or go all the way back to M.A.S.H and St. Elsewhere, you'll enjoy this debut novel. I happen to be quite fond of medical fiction that displays lots of (literal) blood and guts and involves flawed characters with moments of brilliance.

This is a novel about 21st c. women juggling careers and family, about friendship, and ultimately, about betrayal and redemption. Zadie and Emma are BFF's with successful careers: Zadie as a pediatric cardiologist and Emma as a trauma surgeon. They've survived together, weathering tragedy and love affairs, but now a secret from their past threatens to upend their world.

There was so much I loved about this book! The brilliant cover, toddler Delaney's dialogue (I hope it's based on a real child and that she never loses her magical conversation quirks), the husbands, and most of all, this line that made me laugh out loud after the women save a life at the country club:

"The news stories accompanying the picture varied from the lurid (Buzzfeed: BATHING SUIT BEAUTIES DRENCHED IN BLOOD) to the factual (NPR: EMERGENCY CRICOTHYROTOMY PERFORMED POOLSIDE)."

It's often said everyone has one book in them. I hope Doc Martin can offer us more than one.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Review: A Treacherous Curse

A Treacherous Curse A Treacherous Curse by Deanna Raybourn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I luuuuuurve Veronica Speedwell! Unabashedly sexual, going boldly where few Englishwomen dared, the equal of her enigmatic partner, she's the Victorian heroine I didn't know I needed! This third book is delightful with its Egyptian artifacts skulduggery, interesting characters and a glimpse at Stoker's troubled past. I loved it and I look forward to more Veronica in my reading future.

I do recommend readers start with the first book and read them in sequence to get the full appreciation for Miss Speedwell and her no-holds-barred life.

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Monday, April 16, 2018

Review: Cherish Hard

Cherish Hard Cherish Hard by Nalini Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was a refreshing change to read about a blue-collar hero and a rich heroine (even though she supports herself as a teacher), but what I really appreciated about this book was how well drawn the secondary characters were. Each person who appeared on the page seemed very real and not just a plot device, from the BFF to the siblings of the H&H.

The New Zealand setting was also a nice change for a North American romance reader, confirming my desire to see the hunky Kiwis in their native habitat in my future travels.[g]

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Review: The Sins of Lord Lockwood

The Sins of Lord Lockwood The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best historicals I've read this year. We were introduced to Lord Lockwood in Duran's debut novel and readers wanted to know his backstory. Why was he so mysterious? Why was he estranged from his wife?

We get the story here and it takes a strong stomach to read the details of Liam's missing four years. What I loved about this book was the deep characterization. The motivations and goals were shaped by trauma and very real issues, not lame big misunderstandings. The resolution of dealing with the villain was especially elegant in its complexity and execution.

Ms. Duran has been an autobuy for me from her first novel, and she brings her characters full circle with this latest effort. Her loyal readers will not be disappointed.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: His Convenient Marchioness

His Convenient Marchioness His Convenient Marchioness by Elizabeth Rolls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed it. It was the kind of solid Regency I don't read enough these days, and I appreciated the older protagonists acting like the grown-ups they were. I especially enjoyed their being in love with their first spouses. This kind of "second chance at love" tale is harder to write than one where the protagonists have never been in love before and the author did a great job. There wasn't a lot of drama over big misunderstandings that could have been settled with one conversation, their self-doubts rang true and the problems were very real.

Some of the secondary characters seemed just a touch over the top, but in general I not only was quite satisfied with this book, but I'm going to look for more in this series.

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Monday, April 02, 2018

Review: This Fallen Prey

This Fallen Prey This Fallen Prey by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The latest Casey Duncan novel hits the ground running and doesn't let up. In fact, I highly recommend picking up the other two novels first, as this would be difficult to read as a stand-alone without knowing the characters.

Life in the off-the-grid community of Rockton is becoming more and more difficult to maintain. Casey's a good cop with good instincts as a detective, but she's still answerable to the powerful Committee that dictates who is sent to the wilderness town. Now she has a suspected serial killer on her hands and plenty of push-back from the Rockton residents.

It was a fast paced page turner of a read, but I found myself struggling to remember details about some of the characters introduced in previous work. That's no an indictment of the author, more a reflection on my poor memory skills, but it still kept the reading experience to be five star.

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Review: The Wedding Date

The Wedding Date The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my pick on an overwhelmingly busy holiday weekend and it was exactly the getaway-between-covers I needed. A "meet cute" romance with two engaging characters with interesting lives, lots of food-love, great BFFs and some real-world issues for an interracial romance.

Alexa and Drew seem made for each other in so many ways, though neither of them can see it initially. They're high-powered people with intense careers engaging in a long distance romance (with a lot of flight time.) I enjoyed them very much, and I liked that the author didn't shy away from Alexa reminding Drew to check his privilege.

The only thing that kept if from five stars was the lack of communication. There wasn't a clear reason why Drew couldn't seem to maintain a long term relationship and both of them danced around their relationship issues too much for my taste. But the ending was satisfying and the couple was cute, and when I'm looking for a good escape read, that's sufficient. I would definitely read more by this author.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Save the manatees!

The manatee swam closer and bumped up against the boat, threatening to swamp it. Julia held on to the sides and rocked with the boat, but the manatee was not put off by the collision, and instead swam back a few feet and watched her placidly, looking for all the world like, well, like a large wet cow blocking her path.

“Shoo, shoo.” Julia took off her bonnet and waved it at the creature. The manatee must have considered it an invitation, for it swam back to her and before she realized such a monster could move so quickly, snatched the bonnet out of her hand. Soon the calico was being chewed alongside the greens, a colorful sea salad.
“Aaargh! Go away, you beast!”

“Now, that’s not a polite way to say good morning, darlin’.”

--Smuggler's Bride

Today is #ManateeAppreciationDay, though I like to think in Florida we appreciate our official state mammal every day. Manatees are gentle creatures, a valuable part of our ecosystem. Sadly, their biggest threat is from humans, especially human boat propellers.

Some years are better than others for the sea cows, but we're hopeful that with enough (human) education and protection of their habitats that the manatee will be with us for many more years.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: Hellbent

Hellbent Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another non-stop roller coaster ride featuring "The Nowhere Man", Evan Smoak, and his unique still set. Part Batman, part Jason Bourne, Smoak dropped out of the blackest of black ops agencies and left behind his Orphan X identity. Now he helps people in desperate need when the call on The Nowhere Man.

But the Orphan Program isn't done with Evan, and he's pulled back in when his mentor leaves him a mysterious package to protect.

Orphan X has become my new favorite suspense series and I love how Evan tries to interact with regular people in the normal world, with limited success. When it comes to stopping the bad guys though, there's no one who can compare with The Nowhere Man.

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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Review: The Infernal Battalion

The Infernal Battalion The Infernal Battalion by Django Wexler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Shadow Campaigns comes to a satisfying conclusion with The Infernal Battalion as the battlefield is filled with existential forces of good and evil for the soul of humankind. Secrets are learned, friends are lost, some old friends reappear--all the elements that make for a rousing good story.

If readers are looking for a fantasy based on the Napoleonic wars rather than the overdone medieval milieu they'll enjoy The Shadow Campaigns. The world-building is satisfying and the battle scenes are mapped out so well you can practically see them from overhead. Highly recommended for fans of military fantasy.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: Hello Stranger

Hello Stranger Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lisa Kleypas is one of my autobuy authors for historicals, and I enjoyed her contemporary romances as well. Ever since her debut she's been releasing well-researched, satisfying stories and with Hello, Stranger she continues to hit the mark. I especially enjoyed the blood-and-guts aspects of the heroine, Dr. Garrett Gibson, performing surgeries. Kleypas' extensive research into Victorian medicine was fascinating.

I look forward to the next Ravenel novel and all future stories by Ms. Kleypas.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

The Joys of Research

Dr. Murray rose and reached up to the railed bookshelf attached to the bulkhead over his desk, his hand resting on a thick volume.
“Take this with you, Miss Alcott. Study it. You will find it useful.”
It was a worn copy of John Woodall’s The Surgeon’s Mate, and Charley took it, clasping it tight to her bound bosom.
“I have heard of this book but my father did not have a copy. Thank you so much, Dr. Murray!”
He looked at her steadily.
“I am not gifting you with this volume to make you happy, Miss Alcott. I am hopeful that the solid medical advice and common sense for treating men at sea will keep the numbers you kill to a minimum.”
--Sea Change

I spent a day of research and fun in New York City recently thanks to my darling son, who knows his mother very well. Instead of doing the usual tourist things (been there, done that, got the Statue of Liberty hat) he arranged a visit to the library of the New York Academy of Medicine.

The NYAM is an amazing facility and I could easily have spent weeks in the library reading old medical books. Mind you, I'm not a physician or an RN or anything else related to medicine, but since my books feature battles and diseases in a historical context I love the research. The Academy is housed in a classic early 20th C. mansion on the Upper East Side and you can view books in the library by appointment.

Thanks to the 21st c. links at the library website I was able to check out the library's extensive collections and reserve books on naval medicine, including the classic The Surgeon's Mate by John Woodall. First published in 1617, the volume became the standard for naval medicine for many years. It contained instructions on the treatment of disease and wounds, and some common sense advice for the prevention of disease aboard ship. For example, he strongly emphasized properly weighing and measuring ingredients to achieve optimum results.

Woodall tried to cover most or the situations which could arise at sea, including childbirth and, naturally, the treatment of scurvy, as well as recipes for invalid diets. One recipe for the comfort (not treatment) of a plague sufferer sounds surprisingly tasty:

"Lemon or good Citron" stewed in rosewater with cloves. When it's "half-stewed", add powdered "cynamon". Woodall pronounced this "A singular good cordial so taken."

Another volume I (carefully) leafed through was a manual for shipboard medicine by Gregg & Hollis from the 1820s, much used by whaling captains. It was slim and easy to understand, a must for the civilian population who didn't have the background of a ship's surgeon.

The 1881 US Public Health Service Handbook of the Ship's Medicine Chest discussed the serious health issue of constipation. The captain might have a "seat of ease" in his cabin, but ordinary seamen were expected to hang off the bow, even in bad weather. Not surprisingly, this wasn't fun and blockages could result. The Health Service instead wanted installation of a porcelain bowl with a spout "set to discharge through the scuppers" that could be easy washed out with sea water.

 A British guide from 1845 on "The Scale of Medicines With Which Merchant Vessels are to be Furnished" included simple directions on how to stock the ship's medicine chest, with numbered instructions in the manual. Here's a photo of the page on treatment of "clap":

This is an illustration from Woodall's Surgeon's Mate, followed by his instructions on treatment of scurvy:

 Another Woodall illustration on trephining skulls to relieve pressure and swelling of the brain.

As I said, I could easily have spent days leafing through the volumes. My thanks to NYAM librarian Arlene Shaner for arranging my visit, and to my son's girlfriend, who initially said to him, "This sounds like something your mom would enjoy."

She was absolutely right and I hope to return on a future visit to New York City. You can keep your Broadway shows and shopping, just bring me the books!