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!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Review: Light It Up

Light It Up Light It Up by Nicholas Petrie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Peter Ash books continue to satisfy as the war veteran deals with his PTSD and returning to a more normal life. Of course, it's complicated. Peter's on a security detail for a cannabis operation in Colorado when things go south, big time. Now it's up to him to uncover why his team was hit and solve the puzzle behind the robbery.

As Bob Lee Swagger and Jack Reacher age out of their action/adventure years it's good to know we've got new over-the-top heroes like Peter Ash to keep us entertained.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Springtime!

Greetings from sunny North Central Florida and my little dogwood tree. I was sure this one was lost a few years back, but it's hanging in there, even if it's a bit lopsided now from lost limbs.

I know it's springtime not just because of the increased level of sneezing and sniffling around town, but because I had my first sighting this week of a flock of Bare-Chested Buff Running Hunks. They're best spotted early in the morning but worth it. Who needs caffeine when you've got eye candy? (Note to self--restock snack bars and Gatorade in the feeder.)

Whether you're waiting for the lilacs up North or for the cooler autumn temps Down Under, I hope you get the weather you're longing for. In the meantime, I'll keep an eye open for the Running Hunks.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review: The Lucky Ones

The Lucky Ones The Lucky Ones by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What does it mean to have a family? For Allison, being taken from unsatisfactory foster homes to live in The Dragon, an old mansion on the Oregon coast, meant she had a family of brothers and sisters who loved her and a father who was a world-famous surgeon.

But it all ended when she fell down a flight of steps and was whisked away "for her own safety" according to her aunt. It's an episode she can't remember and she's never had contact with her Oregon family since. Until now, over 10 years later.

I couldn't put The Lucky Ones down. It was at times poignant, funny, horrifying and sexy. It also deals with the tough questions of medical ethics, atonement, choices, mental illness and what it means to have a family that one isn't born into, but that's every bit as real.

Reisz is best known for her erotic Original Sinners series, but she's equally adept at writing engrossing mysteries. I look forward to her next book, no matter the genre.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day Greetings!

            Julia sniffed. “I am impressed you can recite poetry, Washburn. Rather like a counting pig at the fair. One watches in amazement, wondering how an animal can do that.”
            “Now that hurts! I can say pretty things, too.”
            He crossed to where she stood beside the bed, and took her hand in his. His touch was warm, and she gave an involuntary shiver having nothing to do with the night air.
            He stroked the ball of her hand with his thumb, soothing over the nicks and calluses raised by the chores of daily farm work. He took his other hand and lifted her chin, looking deep into her eyes.
            “Y’know how when you whack the woodpile, and all them big ol’ palmetto bugs come scamperin’ out? Your eyes are just as brown and shiny as a palmetto bug runnin’ in the sunlight, darlin’.”
            Julia made a strangled noise and pulled back on her hand, but Washburn was holding it tight, a smile dancing in his eyes despite the soulful tone of his words.
            “It is clear that pretty words are not your forte, Washburn. Best you stick to smuggling salt. And you can fetch your pallet after you let go of my hand.”
            “Aw, now I’m gettin’ warmed up. Let me think on it.”
            Washburn moved in closer, and still holding on to her hand, moved the other down her back until it rested on her backside. He began stroking her, a slow circular caress that seemed to facilitate his thinking if his furrowed brow was any indication.
            However, it was putting paid to her thought processes.
            “Your eyes are like pecans, Julia. Brandy brown, and like the nuts, you’re hard on the outside, but buttery on the inside. It’s a chore getting to that good stuff, but that’s part of the fun, workin’ your way past the shell to the rich meat. And when you crack a pecan and the nut comes out whole, have you ever noticed how it’s like two lips, plump and tasty and just waitin’ for the right someone’s mouth to enjoy all the pleasure trapped within?”
            A faint smile at that one. “Better, but not quite Byron.”
            “How ’bout this then?” He moved in even closer, and released her hand, running his finger along her eyebrow down to the outer corner of her eye, where he feathered it over the soft skin at her temple, a touch as light as a moth’s wing passing in the night. The hand behind her back pulled her in until she was standing between his legs, and could feel how seriously he was taking this wordplay.
            “Your eyes are the smoky bronze of coffee, rich and deep. It settles in your belly and warms you from the inside out. Hot, and able to get a man up in the mornin’, and keep him up all day. Without coffee, the day is dull, flat, lifeless. But with that first taste of the stimulatin’ brew, you know you can face anythin’. It makes your heart beat a little faster, and the colors all seem sharper, the air brighter.”
            Her mouth was dry as she swallowed. “Much better.”
            He angled his head toward her, his own lips a fraction from hers. “Jamaican rum,” he breathed against her mouth.
            She pulled back and looked at him, one eyebrow raised.
            “Your eyes are like Jamaican rum, darlin’, golden dark and potent. It goes down smooth but it has fire to it. A man has to be careful, too much can make him lose his head, drownin’ in honeyed dreams.”
            “Don’t lose your head,” she whispered.
            “Too late.”

--Smuggler's Bride


Happy Valentine's Day! Whether you're celebrating with your sweetie or taking a day to pamper and love yourself (and that's very important), remember that love and the words of love come in all forms. You don't have to be a poet to say "I Love You", and sometimes the simplest sentiments are the most heartfelt.

And don't forget, an entertaining romance is a delightful gift any day of the year. Treat yourself or treat someone you love. Hint--they go well with chocolate.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Review: The Wanted

The Wanted The Wanted by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Robert Crais' Elvis Cole novels don't come out that often, but they're well worth the wait. Ever since The Monkey's Raincoat I've been a fan of Elvis and his partner/bestie Joe Pike.

The Wanted is another winner. Snappy dialogue, interesting characters, a solid mystery and a climax full of surprises you won't see coming, this one has it all. It's not to be missed by Crais' fans, but it also works well as a stand-alone for those new to the series. However, for true reading pleasure, I recommend starting with the first book and enjoying the ride.

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

Review: Saga, Vol. 8

Saga, Vol. 8 Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Saga is simply the best. It's the number one current graphic novel I recommend to people for the quality of writing and art combined into one brilliant package. It's about family, love, war, diversity and features Lying Cat, someone we could use in Washington right now.

If you've never read a graphic novel or you think they're simply comic books, check out Saga.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Review: The English Wife

The English Wife The English Wife by Lauren Willig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Engrossing tale of Gilded Age New York, the "400" who were the upper tier of society with secrets upon secrets leading to what appears to be a murder suicide. There's also an intriguing romance and good sense of place. Ms. Willig's talents for research and craft are on full display and it would be interesting to see if she follows the main protagonists into another crime-solving tale.

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Review: Two Kinds of Truth

Two Kinds of Truth Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It takes a special kind of writing talent to keep you invested in characters 20 books into a series. Michael Connelly has that talent. This latest Harry Bosch police procedural is a page-turner from start to finish with two mysteries going on: solving a double homicide at a small pharmacy and figuring out why Harry's being accused of falsely sending a man to death row.

The plot is as current as today's news, involving the opiate epidemic and DNA evidence to free the innocent. That's part of what I love about these books. Harry's aging in real time, dealing with different cases and feeling differently about himself, life and all that goes with it compared to 30 years ago.

We also get a guest appearance by his half-brother Michael Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) and the interaction between the two of them highlights their different worlds and the different truths in their lives. A must read for Bosch fans.

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Thursday, February 01, 2018

Review: Dragonflight

Dragonflight Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a re-read of a SF classic, a novel that inspired much of the fantasy and paranormal romance written in the last 50 years. Yes, it's been 50 years since Dragonflight was published. Re-reading it as an adult gave me a new perspective and a new appreciation for McCaffrey's skill as a writer.

Part of what made Dragonflight and the Pern series new and fresh was relationships. The lead character was a woman, Lessa, and her complicated relationship with F'lar was like a breath of fresh air in a genre filled with guys doing stuff and it being all about the guys and their stuff or their quest or their Campbellian journey to adulthood. Women were there to be adjuncts or stuffed in a refrigerator before the end of the tale. In Dragonflight, F'lar is a warrior but it's Lessa who gets things done and makes necessary changes in Pern society to carry the day.

The Pern books can be enjoyed by people of all ages, with some specifically written for a younger audience. I highly recommend them.

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Boskone 55, or "In what universe does traveling from Florida to Boston in February make sense???"

Yes, it's that time again. Time to dig out the snowboots, retrieve the down coat and keep a weather eye open for blizzards. Boskone 55 (February 16-18, 2018) in Boston, MA is New England's longest running science fiction and fantasy convention. I've been attending since 2003 when I sent a son up north to school and thought it would be nice to pop in on him and have a fun weekend filled with discussions of books, film, art, music, games, and more. 

Naturally, there was a blizzard that weekend and we were snowed in at our hotel. That particular Boskone is remembered as "Snokone", but we still gather each President's Day weekend and I have to admit, it's a lot of fun.

Kudos to the Program Committee for putting together a great range of activities and panels.  Here's my schedule, and I'm humbled to be surrounded by such talented panelists.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey

Format: Panel
16 Feb 2018, Friday 17:00 - 18:00, Marina 4 (Westin)
Fifty years ago, Anne McCaffrey released Dragonflight, the first novel in her Dragon Riders of Pern series. This epic fantasy series captured the hearts and minds of generations of readers. What is it about this book and this series that is so compelling?
Rob Greene, Jen Gunnels, Mary Kay Kare, Darlene Marshall, Bob Kuhn (M)

It's Not Always About Sex

Format: Panel
17 Feb 2018, Saturday 12:00 - 13:00, Harbor III (Westin)
Speculative fiction is filled with friendships that turn into romantic entanglements. Is that all there is? Can’t our characters just have friends, of whatever gender, without hookups and/or heartbreaks? How about we rescue the world from the odd apocalypse or alien invasion, and forget about the sex for a change?
Juliana Spink Mills, Darlene Marshall (M), E.J. Stevens, Tamora Pierce, Steven Popkes

Reading by Darlene Marshall

Format: Reading
17 Feb 2018, Saturday 13:30 - 14:00, Independence (Westin)
Darlene Marshall

The Magic of Historical Fantasies

Format: Panel
17 Feb 2018, Saturday 15:00 - 16:00, Harbor III (Westin)
Fantasies set in the past are growing ever more popular. Why do we love stepping back in time and sprinkling a little magic into the past? Could these same stories be told in modern times, or would some of that magic be lost? And when changing the workings of the known world by adding magic, is it still important to keep historical details correct?
Darlene Marshall (M), Mary Robinette Kowal, Scott Lynch, Beth Meacham, Walter Jon Williams

Religious Characters in Fiction

Format: Panel
17 Feb 2018, Saturday 16:00 - 17:00, Harbor III (Westin)
What challenges are involved in authentically depicting characters — perhaps like Russell's Emilio Sandoz, Pratchett's Brutha, Addison's Maia, or Wilson’s Alif — for whom religious belief is important? Are SF/F/H audiences accepting of these figures, or resistant? Is it easier to write characters who share your own beliefs, or more difficult (at least to do it well)?

Stephen P. Kelner Jr. (M), Max Gladstone, Darlene Marshall, James D. Macdonald
For more information about Boskone, visit The Boskone Blog, Twitter, and Facebook as well as by going to the Boskone website to register at http://www.boskone.org/register/

See you in Boston!

Review: Michael's Wings

Michael's Wings Michael's Wings by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another winner from erotica author Reisz, but as the author points out in the beginning, this collection of short stories is best appreciated by readers who're familiar with her The Original Sinners series, especially ones who've read The Siren.

Michael and Griffin are lovers but as with the best love stories, it's complicated. This collection follows them on part of their journey and Reisz brings her usual heat, sensitivity and humor to the writing. One laugh-out-loud moment was a discussion regarding the card game Cards Against Humanity:

"Remember he won the game on the 'How did I lose my virginity?' card."
"Answer: The Make-A-Wish Foundation."

If you like heated BDSM scenes, snark and romance then the Original Sinners may be for you. On the other hand, if you're turned off by relationships with multiple partners and sexual hookups that get so complicated you practically need a flow-chart, it may not be your cup of tea. I happen to love the series and look forward to Reisz's next work.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Why I Love Research

I'm re-reading one of my favorite Florida histories, James Branch Cabell's The St. Johns; A Parade of Diversities and enjoying it all over again. This is one of my favorite quotes, and it seems timely: "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...."

It really is an entertaining history, well worth tracking down in a used bookstore.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review: The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a cracking good tale! Half the fun was identifying the 19th C. tales of the fantastic that are referenced: Rappaccini’s Daughter, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Frankenstein, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Cornish Giant, The Prisoner of Zenda and The Island of Dr. Moreau are some of the stories mentioned as wonderful plot points.

But at its heart, The Alchemist’s Daughter is The League of Extraordinary Gentlewomen (along with a token male, one Mr. Holmes), sisters brought together by circumstances. They’re not all exactly human, but they share a common need to be accepted, part of a family.

Mary Jekyll, a conventional London spinster, uncovers a mystery following her mother’s death, a near feral young woman named Diana Hyde who claims to be her sister. From there the mysteries grow and expand as they meet others connected to Mary and Diana by a mysterious scientific society.

I would love to read more tales of these women and their adventures (chronicled for profit by one of their little band) and it’s fun to see a new take on classic tales of English literature.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

These Boots Were Made for Walking

There's something poignant about retiring your hiking boots. These Mephistos have served me well over more than 25 years. They've trekked from the winding streets of Edinburgh to the ramparts of Masada, from the heights of Hawaii's Big Island to the depths of a North Florida cave, from the California coast to Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Australian Outback.

These Nubuck beauties were re-soled three times, got new laces more than once, and are still in good shape. However, technology has advanced over the decades and it's time to replace them with 21st century hiking boots, boots that are waterproof, boots that weigh less.

Sure, I could still wear them on weekends and for casual walks, but there are people who need them more than I do. That's why I'm donating these boots and some of the hiking socks to our local homeless program.

Shoes and warm socks, as well as packages of unworn underwear, are some of the greatest needs for people on the street. When the seasons change and you finally get around to that long deferred closet clean-out, check with your local shelter agencies and see if they can use your running shoes, low-heeled boots, or other items you're no longer wearing. You'll have the memories, but someone else will have the benefit of warm, dry feet.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Review: A Taste of Honey

A Taste of Honey A Taste of Honey by Rose Lerner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the more common tropes in historical romance is the aristos leaving tradesmen's bills unpaid because a gentleman always pays gambling debts to another gentlemen, but hoi polloi have to wait their turn.

But if you're one of those tradesmen you could be one bad debt away from bankruptcy or debtor's prison yourself. You had to put up the capital to fund your venture, unpaid bills mean you can't pay your creditors.

I hadn't planned on this being a screed on market economics, but part of what I enjoyed most about A Taste of Honey was its focus on ordinary people with businesses to run and bills to pay rather than the ton, bakers and shopgirls instead of dukes and countesses. We met Robert Moon earlier in the Lively St. Lemeston saga, but now he gets his own story, and it's as hot and sweet as cakes fresh from the oven. Be warned, if you're dieting this book will make you moan in frustration because while the sex between Robert and his assistant Betsy is hot, the pastry and confection descriptions are even hotter.

Lerner has earned a reputation not only for writing excellent romance but for her ability to bring in local color and ordinary people to her stories. It's a nice change from the glittering ballrooms and Almack's, just as a good loaf of rye makes a nice change from fluffy white breads.


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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Review: A Queen from the North: A Royal Roses Book

A Queen from the North: A Royal Roses Book A Queen from the North: A Royal Roses Book by Erin McRae
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this alternate history spin on The War of the Roses very much, as it combined the best of The Crown with some intriguing characters in a world similar to ours, but not exactly the same. In the Unified Kingdom of Britain the Lancasters hold sway, and have since Richard III was defeated. York is a backwater with a huge chip on its shoulder, Ireland is an independent kingdom and the Commonwealth is pushing back at edicts from London. America as a nation does get mentioned, so one presumes there was a revolution.

Enter Lady Amelia, staunch daughter of Yorkists, who catches the eye of the Prince of Wales. Their relationship has all the earmarks of a marriage of convenience uniting North and South, and there's a paranormal element as well.

I wanted to give it 4.5 stars. While I understood the circumstances preventing the protagonists from talking to one another, too many Big Misunderstandings could have been cleared up with a conversation or two. However, I'm already looking forward to another Royal Roses book and hope to see more of this universe.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Beach time

One of my few regrets about living in Gainesville for my adult life is its distance from the ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Granted, it's the place to be during hurricane season (or as I told more than one concerned friend during Irma, "We're the place Floridians evacuate to, not from"), but I miss being close to the sand and the sea, especially the Gulf.

I grew up in SW Florida and spent many days at Naples, Bonita Springs, Estero and Fort Myers beaches. When our children were small we often vacationed at Clearwater beach or with the grandparents in Fort Myers. Now, though, I don't get over there as much as I'd like. However, since my son married into a Yankee family that likes to come south in the winter, we're spending the end of the year at Siesta Key.

This was our third visit to the son's in-laws and we opted to stay for a week and really make a vacation of it. We had a charming, rustic Old Florida cottage on the Intracoastal Waterway and every morning I'd eat breakfast on our veranda and watch the dolphins jump and the boats cruise by.

Between that and the long walks on the beach, I realized something about myself as a writer. It dawned on me that maybe I should stay in my comfort zone and keep setting my books mostly in Florida and the West Indies. I like it here. I can describe the land and the history and best of all, I get to take research trips to places I love, like St. Augustine, Fernandina, Key West, Siesta Key and other sites. I can share my joy in Florida with people who only know of Disneyworld and South Beach.

This makes me happy, so I'm going to set aside the 10,000 words of the manuscript that had been frustrating me (the as yet untitled Book 9) and start a new story in the land I love. Believe me, you'll hear more on this as it develops.