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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