Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cleaning out the old, and a resolution or two

Cleaning is usually at the very bottom of my "to do" list, somewhere after "sleep" and "invent flying car". However, I had the dictum "You don't put flowers on a dirty table!" drilled into me at an early age, so when I got a spiffy new pen display case, I knew I had to clean my desk before I could put my fountain pens in their new home.

Once I cleaned my desk I realized I now had a floor to contend with, and bookshelves going gray and...well, you know how these things escalate.

It's probably a good thing. I found books and notes under piles of other books and notes, the dust bunnies ran in terror from the corners of the office and the windows are letting in sufficient sunlight.  Here's a picture of my desktop with the new pen home. They seem very happy in their swanky surroundings.

While 2014 was a difficult year because of the death of my elderly canine companion, it also saw a great deal of joy. My eldest son is engaged to be married and both my boys are doing wonderful things with their lives, teaching, working, making the world better. My husband is golfing more, which is a good thing--it means he's not working so hard.

I've gained many new fans over 2014, and hope to meet even more readers in 2015. My new year's resolutions are more of the same: Finish the book (#8, working title: The Legend of Marauding Mattie, or, The Pirate, Her Cabin Boy and What the Parrot Saw) in a timely fashion, and keep walking for exercise. I've already started ramping up the daily walk from two miles to three miles. If I start in the Florida winter, it's easier to endure it in a Florida summer.

How about you? Any special resolutions to welcome in the new year?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review--The Kraken King

The Kraken King  (Iron Seas, #4)The Kraken King by Meljean Brook
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel was originally released as a serial, but it's now available in one volume. I liked it very much, but while the length of the story worked well for format used in serial segments, it was a bit unwieldy as a novel. Nonetheless, it's an excellent example of the best in steampunk romance and will be a hit with Brook's legion of fans.

The characters in The Kraken King include some we've met previously (Zenobia Fox) and some new ones. It's also a fun departure from Eurocentric steampunk. I recommend starting with The Iron Duke to get the full flavor of the worldbuilding Brook's constructed with her Iron Seas stories.

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Review--A String of Beads

A String of BeadsA String of Beads by Thomas Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jane Whitefield is one of my favorite heroines. She's not flashy, but she gets the job done.  In her case, "the job" is keeping people alive and getting them new identities when bad things happen. This time Jane is brought home, literally, when her Seneca tribal leaders task her with helping one of their own.

Part of what I've enjoyed about the series is how Jane's methods have to evolve and change in a post-911 world. If you're new to the series, I recommend starting with the first book, but there's enough exposition in this one to bring new readers up to speed.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Review--The Turning Season

The Turning Season (Shifting Circle, #3)The Turning Season by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this, and it's my favorite (so far) of the Shifting Circle novels.

The reason I liked it so much is Joe. I mean, how can you get a more ordinary hero name than "Joe"? And he is ordinary, and yet, exactly the kind of hero you want to marry. He's a keeper. Not uber-handsome (he's described as having a "round, baby-face" and has to work at keeping the weight off now that he's no longer 20). Joe's an ex-cop and has that old fashioned quality where he'd be described as a "mensch", a man you can count on to do the right thing, to help out, to stand by you. Not a billionaire Dom, not a SEAL, just a good guy.

Can you tell I'm half-in love with him myself?

Oh yeah, and Joe's completely human. But Karadel is not. She's a shifter trying to get her animal self under control, or at least to settle on one animal, preferably a housecat. She's shifted into being an elephant and a giraffe in the past, and can't control when her change will happen.

And you thought you had a complicated love life!

Karadel works as a veterinarian, though she's not really a doctor. The shifter community in their small Illinois town depends on her and she's experimenting with different medical formulas to help them. But when a shifter changes into a bobcat in public to fend off a rapist, Karadel fears the entire shifter community is threatened. At a more personal level, she has no idea how Joe will respond when he learns of her secret life.

If you're new to the series, I recommend starting with #1 as characters are introduced and grow into their own stories in later books. However, you could read The Turning Season on its own and enjoy it as a fantasy and as a gentle romance.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

"A Noble Hound" 1998-2014

"As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master. When Odysseus saw the dog on the other side of the yard, dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaeus seeing it, and said:'Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?''
This dog,' answered Eumaeus, 'belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks....'
So saying he entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years."--Homer, Odyssey

The Diva Dachshund
"Good girl!  Good dog!" 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review--Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover In the Civil War

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil WarLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book had me turning pages like I was reading a novel, anxious to see what happened next. The untold stories of women who serve in wartime, in all capacities, are being brought to light by talented authors like Abbott.

I was especially taken by the tale of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond abolitionist, and her free woman of color cohort, Mary Jane Bowser. Van Lew sent vital information to the Union, much of it gathered by Bowser. At great risk to her own life, Bowser was sent as a "slave" housemaid to the Confederate president's house, never letting on that she could not only read and write, but was gifted with an eidetic memory. As the author points out, women like Bowser were "below suspicion" as they cleaned and dusted around the papers on Jeff Davis' desk.

I had a particular interest in the story of Emma Edmonds, who served with valor and zeal in the Union army as "Frank Thompson". As readers of my books know, cross-dressing women soldiers and sailors were more common than standard histories lead us to believe. I highly recommend the Hugo-award winning essay "We Have Always Fought", by Kameron Hurley, for more on this.

Finally, the stories of Confederate spies and activists Belle Boyd and Rose Greenhow are better known to fans of history, but Abbott gives them a fresh spin and really brings these women to life, with all their virtues and flaws.

I highly recommend Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy for all readers interested in the US Civil War and in women's history and studies.

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Review--Only Enchanting

Only Enchanting (The Survivors' Club, #4)Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best, so far, of The Survivors' Club series by Balogh. She's always top-notch, but sometimes her books are truly a cut above. In Only Enchanting, the story of Flavian evolves slowly and carefully, with small clues along the way like marker stones along a path.

Unlike some of the other Club members, Flavian's wounds aren't on the surface. Handsome, sophisticated, his war injuries only become obvious when he opens his mouth and his noticeable stammer emerges, a speech impediment brought about by head injuries and PTSD trauma.

Flavian doesn't understand his attraction to the quiet, unassuming widow Agnes Keeping, but she can't help but fall-head-over-heels in love with him, something she thought would never happen, and it scares her to her core.

There was a point where Ms. Balogh almost lost me, where a character was about to do something that would move the story into Stupid Plot Device territory, but this is what makes the author so talented: she took the reader to the brink, but didn't step over the edge. Reading a Balogh is like taking a master class in how thoughtful romance should be written, and I recommend her books to all those readers who are not yet part of her legion of hardcore fans.

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Review--Gunpowder Alchemy

Gunpowder Alchemy (The Gunpowder Chronicles, #1)Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has a lot going for it, and I really enjoyed it. It's a wonderful steampunk romance, but with a refreshing twist: Imperial China, Opium Wars, Non-European protagonists, Opium zombies and more. It's the first in a series, and is openended as a romance novel, but the crisp writing and wonderful evocation of place has me anxious for the next novel by Ms. Lin.

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