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Top Ten Books of 2013

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

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

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

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

3. A Dangerous Fiction--Barbara Rogan--It's cliched to say "I couldn't put it down!", but that's how I felt about A Dangerous Fiction. Rogan brings an insider's k…

Review--Parasite

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Parasite by Mira Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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



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Review--The Republic of Thieves

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The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

Review--Royal Airs

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Royal Airs by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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


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Happy Thanksgiving!

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



I want to wish all my friends and readers a very happy Thanksgiving holiday. I'm thankful for my family, my health, and the joy I experience…

Review--The Bondwoman's Narrative

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

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

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

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

Review--Rose Under Fire

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

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

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

Like Wein's previous work, this novel again makes me want to stop teenage girls on the street, the ones who think…

Review--Charming

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Charming by Elliott James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

I'll be looking forward to the next installment.



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Veterans Day

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Dr. Murray looked like he was about to say something, but
Carville spoke up, saying stubbornly, “I still don’t believe the
United States surrendered.”
“A peace treaty is not a surrender, Carville,” Charley said. “I
am sure there is more to this than we know.”
Indeed, when Captain Doyle returned there was a full report. A
peace treaty had been negotiated restoring Great Britain and the
United States to their antebellum status.
“But what of the prisoners?” Charley asked Captain Doyle.
“A Yankee trader from France bound for Charleston put into
port a few days back. That is how we got the news. The governor
is not interested in having a gang of Americans roaming through
Kingston, and asked if we would ‘host’ them for a while longer
until they can ship out with their countrymen.”
It was that simple. Men who two days earlier would have run
each other through or blown each other to pieces, now were up on
deck toasting each other’s countries with carefully rationed grog.
Captain Doyle wisely put a limit on t…

The Joy of Imagination

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

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

I loved seeing this. Here are two budding mechanical engineers, or architects, or building construction majors…

Review--Carla Kelly's Christmas Collection

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

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


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

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

The Slow Writing Movement

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

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

The research is going well (though I need to further research a question about sovereign territory), and I enjoyed the notetaking. The flow of ink, the smoothness o…

Review--Box Office Poison

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Box Office Poison by Phillipa Bornikova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

I blew o…

Review--The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie

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The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

It was entertaining and enjoyable from start to finish.


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Review--The Dream Thieves

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The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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


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Review--The Top of Her Game

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

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

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

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

Review--London Falling

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

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


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Review--This Case is Gonna Kill Me

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This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

The urban fantasy field is still alive and kicking, and a new, fresh voice that keeps readers turning pages late into the night is welcome.
In addition to a knowledge of the legal profession in 21st C. America, the author brings a love of riding and horses that'll thrill anyone who on…

International Talk Like A Pirate Day

“Avast, ye scurvy dog! Strike your colors or I’ll…I’ll…what will I do, Mr. Turnbull?”
“Say, ‘I’ll scupper your ship and use your guts for garters, ye lily-livered—oh. Captain, sir!” Turnbull knuckled his forehead and said, “Um, I have to be off now, Mattie,” before scurrying below.
Mattie looked up then and spotted the governess, her face lighting up. She ran over and Lydia Burke squatted down on the deck to open her arms to Mattie’s embrace.
“Miss Burke! Miss Burke! I am so happy to see you again!”
“I am happy to see you too, Mathilde. I missed you,” she said fiercely, hugging the child to her chest. Mattie drew back her head and looked at her.
“I am not Mathilde any more, Miss Burke. Now I’m Marauding Mattie, the terror of the West Indies!”
“Are you indeed, miss?” She said in a voice that might have left icicles on the rigging as she looked up at Marauding Mattie’s father, who devoutly wished he was somewhere else at the moment.
The governess stood, still holding Mathilde. If she w…

Review--The Mad Scientist's Daughter

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

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

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

If anything, Finn is the weakest character, which makes sense. He's a machine. It's her life, and how Finn contributes to it, that make the story truly interesting. Her relat…

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

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

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

For those who've never been to the World SF Convention, it's important to note that unlike other major SF & Fantasy events (Dragon*Con, SDCC), Worldcon runs entirely on volunteer help, from the…

Review--Midnight Blue Light Special

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Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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


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Review--The Last Word (Spellmans #6)

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The Last Word by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

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

In addition to dissatisfaction with Isabel's messed up life we have two characters facing debilitating illness, a former flame with real lif…

"Where do you get your ideas?"

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



I'm often asked, as so many authors are, where I get my ideas. Part of the idea behind Castaway Dreams came from one of my favorite movies, 1950's Born Yesterday, wi…

My Worldcon Schedule--LoneStarCon3, San Antonio, Texas

Here's my Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention) program schedule. In addition to these panels, I'm working in the Green Room (look for me on the early morning shift) and will once again be the Voice of the Ghoddess at the Hugo Awards Ceremony, as well as working the after-Hugos party. Whew! 
In addition to my program appearances, signed copies of Castaway Dreams will be available in the Dealers Room at Old Earth Books. Support your indie bookseller and get some great vacation reading. Castaway Dreams is a finalist for the Aspen Gold Reader's Choice Award, sponsored by the Heart of Denver Romance Writers of America. The winners will be announced in September. Also, Castaway Dreams and Sea Change are now available in Kobo editions. They've long been available from all the other major vendors in all formats.
(The (M) means I'm moderating those panels.)
The Future of the Small Press Friday 13:00 - 14:00 Gary K. Wolfe (M), Kaja Foglio, Michael Underwood, Darlene M…

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

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

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

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

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

Review--The Beast

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The Beast by Faye Kellerman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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


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Review--The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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

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

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

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


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Read-A-Romance-Month

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Romance Matters by Darlene Marshall
I’m thrilled to be participating in National Read-A-Romance-Month.  I heard recently from a fan that her 96-year-old mother enjoys my books, and re-reads them often. They’ve become comfort reads for her, and I’m trying to write faster with that particular lady in mind.
We have a shorthand in Romanceland, a language for readers and writers in our genre. If you tell people about your “comfort reads”, they understand it’s those books you can read over and over again, just as one visits old friends or returns to a favorite garden. I’ve always felt if we can share the concept of comfort reads, we can share the concept of a comfort community, a group that knows exactly what you mean when you say “I love romance novels because it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”
If you’re reading this, you are likely a member of that comfort community of readers who appreciate romance. I have friends, well meaning friends, who ask me when I’m going to write a rea…

Review--The Suitor

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The Suitor by Mary Balogh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

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

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


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Review--The Cuckoo's Calling

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The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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


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Review--A Dangerous Fiction

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

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

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


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Tu B'Av Sameach!

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


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

Tu B'Av (15th of Av) is a minor festival that's grown in prominence in recent decades, largely because enterprising folks in Israel found a way to monetize it. It's now celebrated much the way Valentine's Day is celebrated in other societies, but the festival dates back--waaaaaay back--to Temp…

Review--Sanditon

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

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

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


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Review--Discount Armageddon

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Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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


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Review--The Double Cross

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The Double Cross by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

All snarky comments aside, one of th…

Review--The Guns of August

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

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

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





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Independence Day

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Charley didn’t know anything about guns, but the sailors and Mr. Silas Stuart, the mate, seemed impressed with the speed of the “Cannies” at their stations. Naturally, they placed bets on whether the next shot would hit the barrel floating off the starboard bow.
      “They’re fast, but accuracy counts,” Stuart said. “Now, if you want to see real accuracy, watch the Americans. ‘Cousin Jonathan’ is so skinflint about outfitting ships I suspect the cost of each ball that doesn’t hit its mark is deducted from the sailors’ pay!”
      “Those Yankees will never be able to stand against our big Navy guns,” the cook said with a grin.
--Sea Change
The cook aboard the Lady Jane was wrong.   The United States Navy was able to stand against the Royal Navy's guns in war, not once, but twice within 40 years.  Each time, the young nation proved itself a force to be reckoned with.

We celebrate our hard-won independence today as John Adams said we should: "It ought to be solemnized wi…

Canada Day

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

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


Review--Ashes of Honor

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Ashes of Honor by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

SPOILER ALERT





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

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


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Review--Assassin's Gambit

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Assassin's Gambit by Amy Raby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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


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Father's Day

“‘Walk the plank’? Wherever did you get that idea, child?”
     "Mama told me stories of the buccaneers and the pirates who live in the islands. She said my Papa was the fiercest pirate of all!”
     He wasn’t about to deny such a sterling character reference.
     “Fiercest of all, am I? Hmmm…it occurs to me that if you are going to join the crew of my ship we need to give you a pirate name.”
      She stopped skipping and looked up at him, and one would think he’d just handed her the moon on a platter.
     “A pirate name! Oh yes, please, Papa!”
     They resumed walking and he thought about it, swinging her valise as he walked. She began skipping again.
     “Not that there is anything wrong with Mathilde,” he assured her. “It is a perfectly lovely name for a young lady. It strikes me though as not being piratical. Women who are pirates have names that are simple, but do not detract from their fierceness. Girls like Anne Bonny and Mary Read.”
     “There are girl pirates?” If sh…

Flag Day

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

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

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

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




Review--The Speckled Monster

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

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

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

Review--The Sword Dancer

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The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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


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