Saturday, December 31, 2016

Review--The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's clear why The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award in 2016. The combination of skilled writing and world-building keep the reader on her toes in a satisfying science fiction novel about the end of the world.

It's a fabulous tale and I can't wait to see where Jemisin goes with her masterful storytelling.

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Review--The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Harry Bosch, #21)

The Wrong Side of Goodbye (Harry Bosch, #21; Harry Bosch Universe, #24)The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Bosch's life changes as he ages, but one thing remains the same, his commitment to getting the answers and solving the crime. Now that Harry's left the LAPD he's splitting his time between a smaller police department and private investigation. It's the latter that leads him to a possible missing heirs case, and the story unfolds with two side-by-side investigations.

Longtime fans of Bosch will find this another satisfying entry in the long-running series, but it even works as a stand-alone novel.

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Review--Christmas in America

Christmas in America (Gentry Family, #0.5)Christmas in America by Holly Bush
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As is usually the case with collections, I liked some stories more than others. I'm giving this one four stars primarily because of Donna Thorland, author of the Renegades of the Revolution series. Her bittersweet (to those of us who've read the books) Christmas story fills in a gap in the history of one of the recurring characters, incidents that were referred to but never clarified.

The other tales were enjoyable, and in keeping with the season, but Thorland's offering really hit the mark. Her research and writing are outstanding.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review--The Chemist

The ChemistThe Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I sometimes find myself out of step with other readers. Something everyone else loves leaves me feeling "meh", while I'll enjoy the hell out of a book that's getting less than stellar reviews.

This seems to be one of those times. There were parts of The Chemist that seemed over-the-top and strained my credulity, but no more so than plenty of other thrillers I've read and enjoyed. And I liked the premise, a lot. A scientist with a particular set of skills works for a super seekrit government black ops agency. She is a torturer par excellence, known as The Chemist.

But the chemist knows too much, and is on the run for her life, and when she's offered a chance to stop running she grabs it...and things get worse.

There's a highly improbable (but sweet) love story, an intriguing cast of characters, and a high stakes, fast-paced action scenario. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Many of the negative comments I read at this site were all about Ms. Meyer being the author of the Twilight series. This struck me as short-sighted and mean-spirited, and I'm not sure a male writer who crosses genres would have had the same crap shoveled at him. This book is very different from Twilight, and should be judged on its own merits. I would cheerfully read another suspense/thriller novel by Ms. Meyer, and applaud her willingness to try something different than the books that brought her fame and fortune.

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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review--Wild at Whiskey Creek (Hellcat Canyon, #2)

Wild at Whiskey Creek (Hellcat Canyon, #2)Wild at Whiskey Creek by Julie Anne Long
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Absolutely delightful friends-to-lovers tale. There were laugh-out-loud moments, and I didn't feel the conflict was too contrived, though it was clear to anyone who knew these two that they were slated to be together or miserable apart for all their lives.

I also liked that there were no obvious villains and that most of the time these two acted like grown-ups. The theme of financial insecurity, where a family can be one car breakdown from homelessness was also handled sensitively.

Ms. Long has made a graceful transition from writing fabulous historicals to writing fabulous contemporaries, and I look forward to her next novel.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016


CrosstalkCrosstalk by Connie Willis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed it, but it's not going to be the book of Ms. Willis' where I grab fans of romantic comedy with science fiction and say "Read this, right now!" That would be Uncharted Territory.

The characters and set up were interesting, but I felt Briddey was far too easily manipulated by Trent and others. Even CB, to a degree, moved and directed her actions and all of them kept information from her, limiting her ability to act. The length of the novel and the pacing contributed to Briddey's problems far too long as well. I kept gritting my teeth after the umpteenth selfish act by Trent and hoping Briddey would stand up and say, "No."

I love Ms. Willis' novellas. She really shines in that genre and this would have been far more enjoyable, in my opinion, had it been a novella rather than a novel.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Review--2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet novel about some not-so-sweet characters, including a motherless little girl who desperately wants to sing jazz. There's also her absent father, the neighborhood that helps raise her, and two longtime friends dipping their toes into the murky waters of romanceland's familiar trope of friends-to-lovers.

Then there's The Cat's Pajamas, a struggling nightclub with an over-zealous, code enforcing cop breathing down its neck. The habitues of the jazz club are a book in themselves, a father trying to reconnect with his musician son, some scheming to keep the club open, fake Cubans and more.

I stumbled across this little literary gem at an indie bookstore, Mac's Backs in Cleveland. If nothing else, it's a good illustration of why we need bricks-and-mortar stores, where you can browse, wander among the stacks, and maybe walk out with an unexpectedly enjoyable read.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review--Do You Want to Start a Scandal (Spindle Cove, #5)

Do You Want to Start a Scandal (Spindle Cove, #5)Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Absolutely delightful addition to the Spindle Cove/Castles Ever After series. I feared the book would lose me after the hero did something exceedingly stupid, but the author kept the story going in just the right way. That's the difference between a journeyman and a master when it comes to romance writing.

Scandal is certain to delight Ms. Dare's legion of fans, and can be read as a stand-alone by anyone wanting to check out this always satisfying author.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Review--The Year of the Crocodile (Cyclone, #2.5)

The Year of the Crocodile (Cyclone, #2.5)The Year of the Crocodile by Courtney Milan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There were some great laugh-out-loud lines in this short piece set in the Cyclone storyline. The cross-cultural, take-no-prisoners attitude of the future in-laws is every couple's nightmare, but it was handled with style, humor and panache. Ms. Milan's move into contemporary romance continues to satisfy.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Review--Unquiet Land (Elemental Blessings, #4)

Unquiet Land (Elemental Blessings, #4)Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sharon Shinn offers outstanding fantasy worldbuilding, and her stories are a pleasure to read because the characters seem so grounded and human, even when they have enhanced abilities.

In Welce there are primes who are connected to the "elements": Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Wood, Soul. We've had stories dealing with Air, Fire and Water, and now we get torz or Earth, people who are connected to the soil and rock.

Leah Frothen has returned home after many years abroad, some of them spent as a spy for Welce. Now she's anxious to spend time with the daughter she gave up, a child who doesn't know her birthmother exists.

Shinn's characters, especially the women, deal with issues that resonate in the real world. It's not always about finding a magic ring or pulling a sword from a stone. Sometimes, the story is about people who make difficult life decisions that have consequences. I highly recommend her novels, both the YA and adult ones, and this latest Elemental Blessings offering is an excellent addition to her body of work.

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Review--A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock, #1)A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining twist on the Sherlock Holmes legend. What if Holmes wasn't who we thought he is, but instead was a woman, constrained by Victorian society and mores, but possessing the same keen mind and abilities?

Thomas presents us with a tantalizing new series, where Holmes is teamed with Mrs. John Watson and together they work to unravel a series of mysterious deaths.

We're introduced to a number of characters in this first novel, some familiar, some new, and I found the entire experience quite satisfying. There's a hint of a romance, and I wondered if there would be a Mr. Adler in Miss Holmes' future adventures to keep things interesting.

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving

Before we celebrated US-style Thanksgiving in Florida (the Spaniards celebrated Thanksgiving with the Timucua Indians at St. Augustine long before those latecomer Pilgrims set foot aboard ship) we had cane grinding in the autumn to share the work and feast with friends:

As the shadows lengthened, the men began gathering around the tables like wasps drawn to sweet fruit, cozying up to their women and trying to talk them out of some of the food before the feast officially began. Ma Ivey ruled her dirt yard like an empress and wasn’t above slapping a reaching hand with a wooden spoon when they drew too close. Finally though, the last of the cane was put through the mill and the syrup cooked down, and as the night sky filled with stars the feast began to a chorus of tree frogs and crickets serenading the workers. They lined up before the platters of roast pig and venison, quails, turkey, and doves. Even a possum or two joined the potatoes in the smoldering coals.
There was fish stew and slow-cooked turtle, gator tail and fresh bass, and plenty of home-brewed ale and scuppernong wine to wash it down.
The ever present corn was there, too, as meal, mush, bread, pone, grits, and “roasenears,” cooked in the hot coals. Julia grinned to herself. There would be plenty of cobs for the privies after tonight’s feast.
The children and old folks were served first, then the men, then the women took for themselves, the fires from the pits and fat pine torches lighting up the yard. By the time Julia had her plate filled—and Rand had his second serving—the men were rosining their fiddle bows and bringing out the banjos and whistles.
Rand made room for Julia to sit beside him, and held up an object in his hand.
“Look, the wishbone!”
“And that means…what?”
“It means you and me got to make a wish.”
He showed her how to grasp the bone, and warned her it would take some strength to make it snap since it hadn’t dried out yet.
“So give it a good tug and make a wish.”
“What should I wish for, Rand?”
He looked at her, his face half lit from the fire, and for a moment she thought he was someone else, someone she didn’t know. Then he smiled and said, “Wish for your heart’s desire, darlin’. That’s what I’m goin’ to wish for.”
They tugged the bone, and it broke with a crack that sounded too loud in the night air.
Julia held the larger piece. “I wished we could always be as happy as we are right now.”


Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may your blessings be bountiful, and your turkey tender and moist.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review--Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)

Nemesis Games (Expanse, #5)Nemesis Games by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mark Twain famously said that a writer's job is to take characters and "chase 'em up a tree and throw rocks at 'em."

James S.A. Corey's figured out how to do this, and dazzle us with science too. In the penultimate Expanse novel he takes his four protagonists, separates them, and throws them all into danger that just gets more and more intense.

It was nice seeing the crew of the Roci away from James Holden, and the set-up for the final book was excellent. There's not much more to say at this point, because if you're not reading the series from the beginning it's hard to explain. On the other hand, if you are reading from the beginning it's a special pleasure to get some of the backstory and character development on the rest of the crew. Amos is now my favorite character.

I'm very much looking forward to the final novel.

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Review--Mockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can Explain

Mockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can ExplainMockingbird, Vol. 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I want to thank all the internet trolls who get hysterical over girls in comics. Had they not gotten their knickers in a twist I might not have discovered this wonderful, feminist, funny collection by Chelsea Cain. I'm looking forward to re-reading this slowly and leisurely when the final volume pulls it all together.

The salty tears of the sad, sad trolls just make it all that much better.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Review--Someone To Love (Westcott, #1)

Someone to Love (Westcott, #1)Someone to Love by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another winner from Ms. Balogh. I like to return to early scenes in her books to study how she sets up her characters, revealing little bits and pieces of them. This is another example of excellent writing craft, but more importantly, it's a darn good story.

Anna Snow is an orphan, but she has a decent life. The orphanage where she was deposited as a young child isn't luxurious, but it's not Dickensian either. Her fees were paid by an unknown benefactor, and now that she's grown she's a teacher at the institution.

But one day she receives a life changing letter from a solicitor and nothing is ever the same. Can money buy happiness? Does status and privilege make one's life better?

Avery Archer might know. The Duke of Netherby is intrigued by the dignified young woman whose life intersects with his when Anna's true identity is revealed, and nothing for him will ever be the same.

I especially enjoyed that the protagonists aren't standard cover model beauties. Anna is described as plain by most people who know her, Avery is barely average height and somewhat effeminate looking, an appearance he emphasizes with bright, colorful clothing compared to the sober colors of his peers.

Balogh sets up interesting family dynamics and a succession of stories based on Anna's relatives and how their lives are upended by her arrival. I look forward to reading more in the future, and plan to re-read this one at a future date when I want to pick up a "comfort" read about romance growing quietly in unlikely places.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Thank you for your service

Cover of sheet music for Image via WikipediaThank You.

I wanted to take a moment today to say "thank you" to the veterans. It is because of their service in the armed forces that I get to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Have a meaningful Veterans Day.
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Thursday, November 03, 2016

Persimmon time!

“Possum hangin’ in the tree,
Raccoon on the ground;Raccoon say, you stingy rat,Shake them ’simmons down!”
Julia paused in her singing and frowned down at the spoon stirring through the cake batter.
“Possum hanging in the tree?” Where had that come from? “Goodness, I’m becoming countrified!”
She chuckled, looking out the kitchen window at the activity in the yard. Rand was doing the morning chores in preparation for their trip to the Iveys’ farm. For a moment she watched him as she stirred, indulging herself in a fantasy that theirs was a normal marriage, two people on the Florida frontier, making a new life together.
But it was as much a fantasy as singing raccoons.

--Smuggler's Bride

It's that  time of year! The farmers market is full of bright orange fruit, mouth-puckering sour if you eat them too soon, but perfect for eating and baking when they're nice and ripe. Here's my annual posting of the recipe for Smuggler's Bride Persimmon Cake:


Preheat oven to 325F

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup margarine, butter, or coconut oil
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 cup persimmon pulp--approx. six small ripe Florida persimmons
½ cup chopped pecans

To get persimmon pulp: Take very ripe persimmons, cut in half, scoop pulp out.  Remove pithy seed area, pulse a few times in food processor.

1. Stir together dry ingredients

          2. Cream sugar and margarine, add eggs, add dry ingredients, pulp and nuts.

          3. Pour mixture into standard loaf pan (grease and flour pan, if not nonstick model), bake one hour and 15 minutes.  Let cool on rack ten minutes, remove from pan. Freezes well.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Review--League of Dragons (Temeraire, #9)

League of Dragons (Temeraire, #9)League of Dragons by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A satisfying conclusion to an excellent series, but I think, like many fans, I'd want to know what happens next. However, I respect the author's saying this is the final book, and we can leave it at that.

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review--Saint's Blood (Greatcoats, #3)

Saint's Blood (Greatcoats, #3)Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Darn you, de Castell, you killed off one of my favorite characters and made me cry ugly! And yet, I couldn't put it down. I was worried I'd be worn out by all the mayhem visited on the Greatcoats, especially the First Cantor, but you kept the momentum going with a great tale of religion, politics and law. The ending was bittersweet, particularly the extra bit at the end after the acknowledgements.

Oh well, that's why I keep tissues on hand when I read really good books. Thank you.

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Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review--For This We Are Soldiers

For This We Are Soldiers: Tales of the Frontier ArmyFor This We Are Soldiers: Tales of the Frontier Army by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoy Carla Kelly's Regency romances, but I really like her tales set in the American West. Her depth of knowledge of the period, her eye for detail, all of it combines with excellent story-telling to make for a great reading experience.

This collection of tales from the frontier isn't a romance collection, and three of the stories appeared in the (also excellent) Here's To the Ladies, but it's a good purchase for her fans. I hope Ms. Kelly continues to bring us tales from the frontier army, a milieu she handles better than any other romance author today.

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Review--Revenge in a Cold River (William Monk, #22)

Revenge in a Cold River (William Monk, #22)Revenge in a Cold River by Anne Perry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been a fan of this series since Face of a Stranger, but I found the ending on this latest William Monk mystery strangely unsatisfying. It felt rushed, and the reader is left practically dangling after the very well done action at see climax.

But any Monk novel that reveals more of the detective's hidden past is a must-read for fans, and I enjoyed that aspect of the novel very much.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sometimes, Change is Good

As many of you know, I've been working hard since Amber Quill Press closed. I edited and re-released three of my earlier novels as ebooks at Amazon and Smashwords. I've been shopping the manuscript of WHAT THE PARROT SAW, and hope for good news on that front. But in the meantime, I'm still writing.

I'd started work on a novel that has possibilities, but yesterday I made the tough decision to set it aside for now at 10K words in, and try a different project. Book #1 was frustrating me because I couldn't figure out enough of the characters' goals, motivations, and conflict, and when the author can't finger the GMC it's time to re-think it. Debra Dixon's classic Goal, Motivation, and Conflict is often referenced by romance writers, and it's become somewhat of an industry bible for good reason. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to write a novel, in any genre.

In the past I've sometimes had to get 1/3 into my manuscript before I knew the GMC, one of the pitfalls of being a "seat-of-the-pants" writer. But I know myself well enough now to know that occasionally the best ideas aren't ready to come forward, and if I put this book on the back burner I can begin a new project that feels more solid to me.

So there it is. Sometimes the writing process takes more time and effort, at least for me. People often ask me if I enjoy writing, and I come back with classic reply, "No, I enjoy having written." So I'm off to do the painful writing part so that in a couple months I can sit back and enjoy having written.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review--Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)

Cibola Burn (Expanse, #4)Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellent entry in the Expanse series, with an ending I totally did not see coming (but should have). Corey takes to heart Mark Twain's advice about chasing your characters up trees and throwing stones at them. The crew of the Roci are in it again, this time when they're sent to be mediators in a conflict between squatters and corporations on a newly uncovered habitable planet.

The analogies to the Wild West and the American Frontier are drawn in broad strokes. It's the farmers vs. the ranchers, the settlers vs. the railroads and banks, pick your favorite and it's worked in there.

The only thing that kept this uber space opera from five stars was the feeling that it could have been trimmed. After a while, you can get burned out on all the danger and violence and favorite characters in jeopardy. But it's still one of the best science fiction epics available today and I highly recommend this series.

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Sunday, October 02, 2016

Review--Knight's Shadow (Greatcoats, #2)

Knight's Shadow (Greatcoats, #2)Knight's Shadow by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

More swashbuckling yumminess featuring the greatest fictional swordfight since Inigo Montoya fought The Man In Black. I can't imagine why someone would read this before Traitor's Blade, so let me just throw out there that you should read the first of The Greatcoats novels before picking this one up.

Knight's Shadow continues to ask tough questions about whether Right Makes Might and the role of people who stand up and say, "Hold on, that ain't right!" It's a philosophical as well as adventurous story, and should appeal to fans of Dorothy Dunnett, Terry Pratchett, Alexandre Dumas, Rafael Sabatini and Raymond Chandler (The Venn diagram of the fan groups who would enjoy this story should be very interesting.)

I eagerly look forward to reading the next book in the series.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

National Coffee Day!

"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."

--Smuggler's Bride

It's #NationalCoffeeDay (Seriously? As if every day is not coffee day?) and I've already celebrated with a few cups of my favorite morning roast. If you're one of those who just can't face the day without that stimulating brew, be like Rand Washburn and raise your cup to coffee!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Review--Sustained (The Legal Briefs, #2)

Sustained (The Legal Briefs, #2)Sustained by Emma Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How do you reform a rake? Throw a plot moppet at him, or in the case of Jake Becker, six of the little darlings.

Jake's living the good life as an up-and-coming defense attorney in D.C., on his way to making partner. Sure he defends low-lifes and spoiled brats, but he's good at it, he's handsome, he's buff, and he can get all the women he wants and ensure they're gone the next morning.

Then he has his pocket picked and meets Chelsea McQuaid, a young woman caring for her orphaned nieces and nephews, and his life will never be the same again.

I liked the dialogue and the depiction of the children, and the plot crisis was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be, but it was handled well and the writing was fast paced and on point. The first person narration makes it harder for us to get a full vision of Chelsea, who had her life completely upended by her new responsibilities. Jake could walk away from the situation, she cannot, but we only hear her POV on what this means for her in her dialogue.

The sex is steamy (once they figure out how to avoid the moppets) and the supporting characters add to the story. Ms. Chase writes entertaining contemporary romances, and I look forward to reading more in the Legal Briefs series.

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Review--Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)

Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)Traitor's Blade by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A swashbuckling delight, sure to thrill fans of Dumas, Sabatini, and people who know that even though Basil Rathbone plays the villain, his sword work is what you want to watch in the film.

I loved the world building. Falcio Val Mond is a Greatcoat, one of the former king's magistrates, trained to sing the law and dispense justice in the king's name. But now the Greatcoats are in disgrace, scattered throughout a kingdom where the rule of law has been supplanted by the rule of venal, greedy men. De Castell does a masterful job of creating flawed but very human characters in Falcio and his companions, and the echoes of The Three Musketeers chime throughout the narrative. The fight scenes in particular are wonderfully done, and worth studying for craft and choreography.

I look forward to the further adventures of the Greatcoats, reveling in this grand fantasy with larger than life characters.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Another year of helping young readers

I started my fifth year with Reading Pals, a volunteer organization that matches adults to young readers needing some assistance. We spend an hour a reading books together, and it's one of the highlights of my week.

My pal this year is a young man in the 3rd Grade, and Jackson (not his real name) is already a veteran of the program, being matched with a pal last year as well. I usually have little girls as my Reading Pal, so it'll be fun and different having a boy. I try not to be stereotypical when it comes to gender roles, but having two sons, four brothers, and a husband, I know how most eight-year-old boys think. I anticipate more fart jokes in my future.

I also spent a few minutes with my Reading Pal from two years ago, who's now a poised young lady almost ready for middle school. We talked a bit about books she read this summer, and she asked if I would pass along my Smithsonian Magazines to her. I used to give her my copies each month and I'm pleased as punch that she wants to continue receiving them. Periodicals are a great way to keep kids interested in reading since they feature lush photography and shorter articles.

It's not always easy to break up my Wednesday to run across town to the school where I volunteer. Sometimes the kids would rather be out on the playground than hanging with some old lady. Sometimes I'd rather be on the playground than hanging out with a kid with attitude. But at the end of the day, if they close the book with satisfaction and say, "I liked that story!", it's all worth it.

After all, how will I get my next generation of readers if I don't prime the pump now and then?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review--Thieving Weasels

Thieving WeaselsThieving Weasels by Billy   Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm conflicted about this novel because there were parts I enjoyed, the snappy writing in particular, and parts that bothered me. I wanted to root for the hero, who truly had a hellish childhood (and given the circumstances of the book, his family was doing its best to ensure a hellish adulthood), but his moral slides bothered me a lot, especially the casual thefts.

I think it will appeal to teenage boys, and that is what got it three stars instead of two. Any book that gets teenage boys reading gets a star, even when there are morally ambiguous protagonists.

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Review--Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Captain James Holden's life would be pretty good, if only the dead man would stop talking to him. I can't say who the ghost is because of spoilers, but fans of the Expanse novels know that his insistence on interrupting Jim at the most awkward times, like when he's trying to just take a leak...well, it can't be good.

And it's not. Holden has enemies he's not aware of, and alien life forces more vast and dangerous than he can contemplate. But it's not all about him.

This is space opera! Huge ships traveling vast distances, conflicts both military and personal, truly existential questions of morality, humanity, religion and redemption. It's got it all, and it's a hell of a page turner. As much as I enjoyed the first two novels, I couldn't put this one down. I loved the discussions of responsibility and morality, and I enjoyed the human touches, the heroes and villains who were neither all bad nor all good, but much more complicated than that.

If you've been thinking of diving into the series, you have to start with the first novels to get the full flavor, but once you're hooked, you'll stay for the entire roller coaster ride.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Celebrating #InternationalTalkLikeAPirateDay!

“A sail, Cap’n! Three points off the starboard bow!”
Jack shaded his eyes and he could see it now, a schooner rigged fore-and-aft. This wasn’t a good sign, since schooners were the favored vessels of—
“Pirates!” the lookout yelled. “It’s the Zephyr!”
“Damnation,” Jack said to himself. It would be just his luck that out of all the pirates in the Caribbean, his ship would come across the Zephyr.
The schooner was also flying Cartagenan colors. No doubt the Zephyr carried a letter of marque from the fledgling republic, full of official seals and ribbons, and about as meaningful as a parrot’s chatter. Jack knew this since he had a similar letter of marque.
“Cap’n, he’s signaling he wants to parley,” the lookout called.
The Zephyr’s gunports were closed, and she looked innocent enough. Plus they had the advantage of the wind while the Jade was on a lee shore.
“Haul back, Mr. Rice. We shall see what Captain Sinister wants.”
“That pirate’s name is Captain Sinister? What kind of a name is Captain Sinister?"
The Bride and the Buccaneer

September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, and we're celebrating in fine style. The rum is flowing, the dachshund is barking out orders (she always wants to be the captain) and we're honing our cutlasses and priming our pistols for a day of pillaging and piratical acts!

Actually, only the dachshund part of that is true--she does always want to be the captain. In the meantime, you can relax with an award-winning piratical tale of hijinks on the high seas with The Bride and the Buccaneer, Captain Sinister's Lady or Smuggler's Bride, all ready to be loaded onto your ereader.

Channel your inner pirate! It's your day to celebrate a little nautical naughtiness!

Monday, September 12, 2016

My New Muse

We were blessed to have our previous dachshund, Yofi, for 16 wonderful years. You can find older posts in this blog where I refer to Yofi as "my muse" because she'd sleep in my office, and tolerated my reading my manuscripts aloud to her.

She'd also help me break through sticky plot issues. We'd take long walks, and this freed up my mind to explore new directions with my writing. Sometimes I feared I was rushing her home to get to my keyboard, and I had images of her flying behind me like a wiener dog shaped kite.

Now we have Dodi, nine months old (picture) and settling into her routine. Today on our walkies I suddenly saw a whole new direction which includes pirates for troublesome Book #9, and I knew where I needed to go with this story.

It's good to have my muse back again.

Review--Exile for Dreamers

Exile for Dreamers (Stranje House, #2)Exile for Dreamers by Kathleen Baldwin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellent "Stranje House" tale, a sequel to A School For Unusual Girls. The first book was about an academy for girls who didn't fit into their neat little cubbyholes in Regency England, girls who had "abilities" that scared their families, or who liked to study engineering, or take long runs every morning. Their fed-up families would send them to Miss Stranje's school, known for its strict discipline and draconian measures.

What the clueless families didn't realize is Miss Stranje's school takes these unusual girls and hones their abilities in service to the King and the fight against Napoleon and England's enemies.

This second novel focuses on Tess, who suffers from dreams that come true, and who fears her life will end in madness as it did for her mother and grandmother. Tess also harbors a tendre for Lord Ravencross, the brooding and wounded neighbor whose estate borders the school's property.

This is another satisfying Regency paranormal YA with mystery, intrigue, and girls who aren't afraid to be themselves. Two more romances are set up with other characters, so we can look forward to more tales of Miss Stranje's school for unusual girls. I would definitely recommend this novel to older teens who are curious about the allure of Regency romances and who like strong heroines and dreamy heroes.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Review--The Underground Railroad

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes, fiction is the best way to handle the horrors of history. It can bring to life an era, a place, in a way that involves the reader differently than the cold facts of non-fiction. The Underground Railroad is one of the best books I've read on the evil that was the age of slavery in the United States. I live in a former Confederate State and we're still dealing with the aftermath of the "peculiar institution", peculiar because after a point it was unique to the South, and the slave owners and lawmakers fought hard to keep it alive.

Whitehead's novel incorporates elements of magic realism in the form of an actual underground railroad with cars and conductors and tracks, but this winding tale of Cora, who escapes from her life of bondage, incorporates details of the true Underground Railroad and the men and women who ran to freedom. It also focuses on Ridgeway, a slave hunter who becomes obsessed with bringing Cora back.

This is a difficult book to read, as the author unrolls the macabre reality of slave life without flinching. It's not a book one can read lightly, but it's worth the effort.

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Monday, September 05, 2016

Review--The Hating Game

The Hating GameThe Hating Game by Sally   Thorne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved it. A classic rom-com updated for today, with great dialogue, characters who breathe life into the story, over-the-top situations and lots of fun times.

It's always a pleasure to see a debut author take off like this. Kudos to Ms. Thorne, and I eagerly await her next novel.

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Sunday, September 04, 2016

Review--The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns, #4)

The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns, #4)The Guns of Empire by Django Wexler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been engrossed in Wexler's series from the first, since it draws parallels from Napoleon's campaigns and I wanted to see where it would end up. But the parallels only go so far, since this is a fantasy novel and the characters don't match up to history.

However, in this book we're introduced to the Duke of Wellington stand in, we have an analogy to the Russian Campaign, and we see the Vordan Army advance on its goal of seizing power from the Black Priests. It's a real page turner and there are multiple storylines and characters to keep track of, but it's a satisfying entry into the series. Lives are lost, loves are revealed, and there's a great build-up to the final book at the end. I'm eagerly looking forward to see how the story plays out.

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Review--Saga, Vol. 6

Saga, Volume 6Saga, Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So romantic! So wonderfully on point! So bloody! *Le sigh* The latest volume of Saga brings much of the story full circle as our "Romeo and Juliet" hero and heroine, and their daughter Hazel, find much of what they've been seeking. There are still crises and issues to be resolved, and threats hanging over them, but this volume was one of the most satisfying of a very satisfying series. There's a focus on the healing power of love and romance, and romance novels once again play a role in the narrative.

I enjoyed seeing Hazel become more of a person too. Up until now she'd been an occasional narrator of her backstory, but I'm liking her as a child capable of action and agency.

If you haven't been reading Saga, you must start with Volume 1. Really, I insist. The story, art and characters are so awesome you don't want to overlook a single bit of it.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016


MisbehavingMisbehaving by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun, sexy romance with laugh out loud moments and lots of steamy action. Bea reviews sex toys for a living, but she needs a helper for a book review. Enter the man from her past, the one who got away. Over a wedding weekend (with a funny, very much in love couple) these two will rediscover the joy of sex, over and over and over again. Recommended for anyone who's been wanting to check out a well written, erotic romance. This is a great starting point for exploring the field.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

This Writing Life

It was a strange morning. Now that I've got  three books in my backlist available again (Captain Sinister's Lady, The Bride and the Buccaneer, Smuggler's Bride) and I have What the Parrot Saw under consideration by TPTB, I started work on Unnamed Book #9. Kind of like the unnamed Tropical Depression #9, but my book won't be called "Ian" or "Hermine".

Anyway, I started to jot notes on the as yet unnamed hero and heroine for Book #9. Spent a good hour working on personality traits, location notes, what the MacGuffin is, etc. Then the diva dachshund disturbed me with her tennis ball. One must obey the doxie directives, so I got up to toss the ball a few times and (ha!) wear her out.

After about the fourth squeaky ball event, I found myself thinking about a totally different novel. One I'd thought about a few years ago. One that linked to my other Regency Pirate books (The Pirate's Secret Baby, Castaway Dreams, etc.) Suddenly, I knew what I needed to do. That was the book I needed to write. Scenes started popping into my head, I abandoned the puppy (fortunately, she decided to chase squirrels in the yard so it worked out) and sat down to spend the rest of the morning jotting notes. I also rearranged a book shelf to have easier access to the books I'll need as resources.

And that's how the writer's journey sometimes goes. You think you know where you're headed, but suddenly you see an interesting side road and say, "Hmmmm....I wonder what's down there?" and you're off and running.

As always, more on this as it develops!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Review--First Star I See Tonight (Chicago Stars, #8)

First Star I See Tonight (Chicago Stars, #8)First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another winner featuring the Chicago Stars, a sassy heroine, a funny (and smart) hunk of a hero and some mystery too. SEP gives good banter, and the give-and-take between Coop and Piper shines. She's a private detective, he's a former quarterback who owns a successful nightclub, and together they make the sparks fly even as they insist they can't stand one another. There are even cameos by the heroine of the first Chicago Stars book and a certain tough sports agent.

It's good to see Ms. Phillips back with a new offering, a fun, sexy, and witty read.

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Friday, August 26, 2016

It's grape to be in Florida!

"They lined up before the platters of roast pig and venison, quails, turkey, and doves. Even a possum or two joined the potatoes in the smoldering coals. There was fish stew and slow-cooked turtle, gator tail and fresh bass, and plenty of home-brewed ale and scuppernong wine to wash it down."

Late summer in North Central Florida is pretty awful, with 98% humidity matching the 98F temps, but there are a few compensations. You can sneak off to the springs and dip yourself in wonderfully cool water, and you can eat grapes while you tube down the river.

This is the season is when mounds and baskets and trays of scuppernong and muscadine grapes show up at the farmers market, and the U-Pick sites do a brisk business. I keep a bowl of these lovelies on the counter and snack all day on them. I'd be tempted to make them into jam but they never last long enough. They're perfect just the way they are.

Soon the weather will turn cool, even here. So enjoy your dog days, and take advantage of the summer bounty where you live!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


WintertideWintertide by Linnea Sinclair
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I very much enjoyed An Accidental Goddess and was intrigued to see there was a prequel setting up more information about the society in that novel. Where Goddess was SF, Wintertide is pure epic fantasy, but quite well done. The protagonist is a classic young person on a quest, but it's always a pleasure to see a woman in that role for a change. I figured out what was happening with the love interest from the scene with the flower chain, but it was still a satisfying read. I especially liked how she wasn't dependent on her lover to complete her quest.

A good, solid story with interesting characters, perfect for a long plane ride.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review--Tell No Lies

Tell No LiesTell No Lies by Gregg Hurwitz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was good, but it wasn't keep-me-up-all-night-reading good. I couldn't buy into the villains having the skills to pull off as much as they did, and it was too over the top. But the premise was solid and the characterization, especially the probation counseling group, was very well done.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

Review--The Bourbon Thief

The Bourbon ThiefThe Bourbon Thief by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A true Southern Gothic tale with deeply buried family secrets about incest, sexual assault, race, the origins of the family fortune, and bourbon, of course. For bourbon is the southern drink of choice for generations, and while it's a part of celebrations, it's also been behind family tragedies as well.

The Bourbon Thief begins with a beautiful woman, a one night stand, and a stolen bottle of rare bourbon. The thief begins to tell her tale, unraveling a skein of deception and drama through a long night fueled by bourbon.

I liked it, a lot, but there were moments where I rolled my eyes over the lack of clarity between characters. One or two grown-up conversations might have staved off a great deal of heartache, but that wouldn't have made for a very good story.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review--Illusion Town (Ghost Hunters, #13)

Illusion Town (Ghost Hunters, #13)Illusion Town by Jayne Castle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jayne Castle Harmony world books are comfort reads. You're there for the Dust Bunnies and for the exotic location, and protagonists who are pretty much the same protagonists in each book--she's afraid of intimacy, he's buttoned up in some fashion or very logical and unemotional.

This one is set in a Las Vegas doppelganger, a favorite setting for Ms. Castle in her Jayne Anne Krentz books as well. It has the glitz, the glamour and the dark side of a gambling and entertainment haven built on over-the-top illusion. It has a Vegas style quicky wedding with a "We did _what_ last night?" morning after, and a mystery that brings back characters from previous novels across the Krentz/Castle/Quick spectrum.

This one was rather heavy on the exposition, but I may have felt that way since I'm such a longtime reader. Would I buy another one? Sure. But new readers may want to start with some of the earlier Harmony books to get a feel for the series.

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Saturday, August 06, 2016

Review--Jane Steele

Jane SteeleJane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ever read a Victorian novel where you wished the heroine would just pick up something sharp and stab the evil people beleaguering her?

Me too.

Enter Jane Steele, who doesn't tolerate pedophiles, wife beaters or rapists and makes her displeasure known with extreme prejudice. She's a fan of Jane Eyre (while seeing some of the flaws in poor Miss Eyre's choices) and has to make her own way as a governess for a rather unusual household in the English countryside.

I thought it was delicious, and I read it in one afternoon. There was intrigue, and intriguing characters and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'll look for more of Ms. Faye's novels after enjoying Jane Steele

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Friday, August 05, 2016

My Worldcon Schedule

It's almost time for MidAmeriCon II, the World Science Fiction Convention. I'll be moderating two panels this year and I'm looking forward to a lively program:

Writing Erotica
Wednesday 16:00 - 17:00, 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)

Erotica might be said to be created to stimulate or sexually arouse the reader or viewer. We ask what the difference is between erotica and pornography, what the place of erotica is within the sf community and its works. We might share the odd tip as to what makes good -- or bad -- erotica.
Adult Content. Not for Children.
Rachael Acks, Christie Meierz , Belinda McBride, Jeffe Kennedy, Darlene Marshall (M)

The "One True Love" Narrative Trap in Young Adult Fiction...and How to Smash It!Saturday 10:00 - 11:00, 2503A (Kansas City Convention Center)

True love in YA fiction has been a mainstay of the genre, but life is rarely that simple, especially for teens...even fictional teens! Why do we fall into this trap? Authors share their tips and tricks for writing love, romance, and the teen dating scene.
Darlene Marshall (M), Sarah Beth Durst, Tessa Gratton, Peadar O Guilin, Denise Grover Swank

See you in Kansas City!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Happy #WatermelonDay!

“Watermelon!” Jack said. “I don’t believe I have had any yet this season.”
“What is it?” Sophia said, and the Reavers and Jack stared at her.
“You ain’t never had watermelon?” Tom piped up.
“No. It is a melon? But how do you eat it?” she said, eyeing the large chunks of fruit.
“Show the lady, Tom.” Martha laughed.
Tom grabbed a chunk off the middle of the plate and dived in headfirst, snapping off a sizable piece, chewing it with delight, and then spitting the seeds out the door.
“You are joking,” Sophia said to Jack.
“No, that’s how you eat watermelon. You learn this and soon you will be a real Floridian.”
He was grinning at her and reached for his own slice of melon, and never one to resist a challenge, Sophia wiped her hand on her table linen and picked up her own slice. The juice ran down her fingers but she managed to bring it up to her lips without too much trickling down her sleeve. She took a bite and there was an explosion of sugar in her mouth, and a cooling sensation from the juicy fruit.
“Oooh,” she moaned when she caught her breath, “this is wonderful!”
--The Bride and the Buccaneer

Watermelons are a local crop, and I'm darn glad of it. When I was carrying my first child in the middle of a brutal Florida summer, I ate so much watermelon I'm surprised that boy didn't pop out spitting seeds!

It's still a favorite summer treat, and it's so good for you--high in vitamins, fiber, water, and, of course seeds. You can purchase seedless watermelon, but there goes half the fun of eating it.

Enjoy your summer, and all the bounty it offers!

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Review--Allegiance of Honor (Psy-Changeling #15)

Allegiance of Honor (Psy-Changeling #15)Allegiance of Honor by Nalini Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is best enjoyed by fans of the long running series, and the author makes a point of mentioning that. Allegiance has a story within it, but is also a way of updating the reader on all the various pairings and developments that have occurred in the Psy-Changeling universe, sort of a "Where are they now?" with a mystery alongside it.

It also sets the stage for a new character universe with the next generation of Psy/Changeling/Human interaction and I look forward to reading those books as well.

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I have another novel I'm tweaking for re-release this autumn. Smuggler's Bride was one of my first books, and it has a special place in my heart. This one is my piney-backwoods Florida Cracker novel and it was especially fun to research and write. I even learned how to cook a possum!

I'm dusting off the manuscript, doing a little nip-and-tuck on the editing, and then it will join Captain Sinister's Lady and The Bride and the Buccaneer in ebook format. More on this as it develops!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Review--City of the Lost (Casey Duncan, #1)

City of the Lost (Casey Duncan, #1)City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was different, refreshingly so. Imagine an isolated community, almost a desert island (though it's in the remote Yukon Territory of Canada) where people who need to disappear, can. Some are victims. Some are perpetrators. All must escape their old lives, and, for a price, a certain mysterious corporation can make it happen.

Casey needs to get away. She's already killed one man--the book stars with that sentence--and now her past is catching up to the police detective. But when she gets to Rockton she finds her professional skills are the real reason she's there. Someone's killing people, and the sheriff--the only native of the town--needs more help.

This was a quirky mystery with interesting sociology overtones, and I found it a real page turner. I haven't read Ms. Armstrong's supernatural novels, so I came to this one with no expectations, and I found it a solid, satisfying mystery novel with intriguing characters. I look forward to more in the series.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Review--Last Shot (Tim Rackley, #4)

Last Shot (Tim Rackley, #4)Last Shot by Gregg Hurwitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid Tim Rackley suspense offering, this time with a complicated antagonist who could be Tim's shadow. The story starts with a prison break and the US Marshal's office is called in, with "Troubleshooter" Rackley on the job. It was amusing and poignant to see his home life with his active and into everything toddler son, especially since the series has focused so much on Rackley's tragic family circumstances.

And this book is all about family. The escaped con has an agenda, and his purpose is slowly revealed over the course of the story while a little boy's life hangs in the balance. Rackley is driven to find the fugitive, but the two of them are sides of the same coin--highly skilled ex-Special Forces.

I found the story engrossing, and once again, it could have been ripped from the headlines in its take on corrupt Big Pharma companies. I would suggest readers start with Kill Clause, the first Rackley novel, to appreciate the full character development that Hurwitz so skillfully weaves in.

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