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Showing posts from 2017

Review: A Duke in Shining Armor

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A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ms. Chase is on my autobuy list, and has been since she was first published. There are reasons her Lord of Scoundrels is on almost every shortlist of recommended historical romance--smart, capable heroines, uber male heroes, great historical detail, she brings it all.

I'm already looking forward to the next "Difficult Dukes" offering. This one set the stage for the story of three dissolute friends and their forays into romantic love with a runaway bride, rival best friends and concepts of honor over everything else, not to mention enough book and library love to charm any bibliophile.

A satisfying page-turner that will help you recover from all the frenetic holiday events.

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Review: Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch

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Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Too much of this graphic series is eerily prescient with its #MeToo storylines and banned words (and concepts). Of course, the people who should read this won't, so it's left to the rest of us to buy outstanding graphic novels like Bitch Planet and be ready to step back into the fray.

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Review: Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America

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Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America by Steven J. Ross
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This reads like a thriller, all the more amazing because it’s based on true events. It’s hard to believe that the Nazi threat wasn’t taken seriously in the 1930s, in fact, Hitler had widespread support and the German government could exercise tremendous influence in Hollywood. A handful of Jewish activists, many of whom were WWI veterans, banded together with other veterans and supporters to expose the Nazi threat.

Densely packed with facts and figures, it’s a cautionary tale that’s sadly timeless as Nazis again get airtime and exposure for their warped cause.

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Review: A Hope Divided

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A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This series continues to be enthralling, telling of a league of enslaved and free spies during the Civil War. I enjoyed this second entry even more than An Extraordinary Union, the first book in the Loyal League series. Excellent research, well crafted and complex protagonists and secondary characters that really come to life.

I'm very much looking forward to more historical romance from Ms. Cole.

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“You ain’t from around here, I can tell that from how you talk.”
“No, ma’am, I’m from England.”
“Hmph. Only good thing that ever came from England was tea.”
Julia didn’t think it necessary to explain that tea came from China, for Ma Ivey was still talking.--Smuggler's Bride

Today is #InternationalTeaDay and I'm celebrating at lunch with a pot of gunpowder green. Of course, that's what I do every day when I'm home for lunch. Tea drinking is as much a part of my daily routine as my love of coffee, with a pot of green in the afternoon and a cuppa black in the early evening.

I'm very particular about my tea drinking, which is why I almost never order it when I'm out. Unless it's brewed properly, loose-leaf in a warmed pot, I'd rather have coffee. I do take bagged tea when I'm traveling, but I also have a tea press if I have the opportunity to bring water to a near boil in my hotel room.

There's nothing quite like a soothing cup of tea in the middle of …

Review: Artemis

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Artemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really wanted to give this a higher rating. I loved the "gee whiz!" aspect of solving problems in a closed space environment, I liked the idea of an Arab woman protagonist with a sketchy personal life, and I loved that it passed the Bechdel Test--women were talking with other capable women about science, politics and economics.

But it could have been so much better. Jazz struck me as a Heinleinesque heroine, and not in a good way. She could do amazing things in crisis situations, she was smart and capable, but when she mused on her own life, her sexuality and her choices it was like being in the head of a 17-year-old boy writing about girl stuff. Trust me, women do not focus on their own boobs unless they've got a mammogram scheduled or the darn things are getting in the way again.

I've heard this is already optioned for movie, not surprising given the success of The Martian, and I hope it will get a female dir…

Bringing science to life (and to Micanopy)

“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.”
She couldn’t help it. She was so excited at learning how to make a fire that 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? She vowed when she returned to England, she would make it her goal to learn one new thing each day.--Castaway Dreams

Yesterday I learned about gender differences in identifying colors, training cats, preserving flavor in salsa, and earworms. I was a guest judge at the Micanopy Academy Science Fair, and it was fabulous. Students presented entertaining and unusual research and I had a glimpse into where some of these young men a…

Review: Provenance

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Provenance by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another winner from Ann Leckie, set in the same universe as her previous works, but with a different race/set of characters. Part of what Leckie does so well is gender-bend characters, making the reader see them and their interactions in an entirely new way.

However, the protagonist of Provenance is clearly a young woman, dealing with so many of the same issues young women deal with every day: her job, her friends, her siblings, and, most of all, her mother. Ingray needs her powerful mother's approval to secure her place in their political fiefdom and she risks all on a mission to recover revered artifacts.

Part of what I loved about Ingray was that she's not superwoman. She makes mistakes, she can't manage her hair, she gets upset, and she cries. Just like some real women do.

I was concerned about whether I would enjoy Leckie's writing after the Ancillary series, but now I know she can be added to my autobuy l…

Review: Don't Let Go

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Don't Let Go by Harlan Coben
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gripping mystery involving black helicopters, secret government agencies and a mystery surrounding a night of tragedy for a group of high school students. I read it in one afternoon--a real page turner.

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“Please keep an eye on them. I’m going down to the beach for more water.”
“What if they try to escape?”
He handed her his stick.
“Bash their little heads, Miss Farnham. They’ll behave.”
She looked at him skeptically, but took the stick. Pompom sniffed all around the valise, then flopped down next to her, eyeing the pot with his head on his paws.
Alex returned and added water to the pot, careful not to let it fall below a boil. Eventually, after some whining (the dog) and grumbling (Miss Farnham), he pronounced the crabs ready for consumption. He extracted the crabs by using his stick to flip them into the air.
“Catch them, Daphne! Quick, before the dog grabs them!”
Holding the valise open, Miss Farnham dashed about, catching the manna as it fell from the heavens. The dog barked, and she laughed, and Alexander felt almost lighthearted.
He put it down to hunger.
--Castaway Dreams

I've always felt it's important to count your blessings as often as possible, but Thanksgiving gives us a sp…

Goodbye, CompuServe

It's the end of an era, and for some of us, a very personal loss. CompuServe is closing.

Yes, I know, you're probably scratching your head and saying, "Didn't they shut down years ago? My granny used CompuServe!"

Your granny wasn't the only one. Back in 1992 friends in science fiction fandom started asking me, "What's your email?" I looked at them blankly, and a kind soul explained to me how it worked.

"You mean I can send a message to anyone, anywhere?"
"Sure, as long as they have an email address."

I needed email for my responsibilities as event coordinator for the first night of ConFrancisco, the 1993 World Science Fiction Convention in San Francisco. When I asked which service was best, I was told GEnie, Prodigy and CompuServe were all good choices, but many preferred CompuServe because of its civility--moderators kept forums from erupting into flame wars. This appealed to me, so I became 71702,3077 at CompuServe.com. I a…

Review: Someone to Wed

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Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two of my favorite tropes--Beauty and the Beast and Marriage of Convenience are combined in a moving, warm story that's "adult" in the best meaning of the word. Best of all, this is a reverse B&tB--the heroine, Wren, has a massive port wine birthmark covering her face. Her perceived disfigurement is so severe that the very few times she goes out in public, she goes out heavily veiled.

She has no friends. Now that her aunt and uncle are dead, she has no family. She has no social contacts at all, but Wren is a successful businesswoman, so she decides to fill at least one void in her life--she's going to buy a husband.

Alexander Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has responsibilities he never wanted and not enough money to make things right on his inherited estates. To Wren's dismay, he may be cash-strapped, but he's also drop-dead gorgeous. Westcott knows his looks contribute to his being an asset on…

Review: Secrets in Death

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Secrets in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a talented author who keeps me reading a series where we're now up to book #45. Yes, it featured many of our favorite characters, but part of the fun is seeing the interaction of all of them--much like a family reunion.

The question wasn't who had a motive to murder Larinda Mars but rather, who didn't? The gossip show hostess had a sideline as a blackmailer and her files contained intel on nearly all the rich-and-famous in NYC, including Nadine, Mavis, and, of course, Roarke and Eve Dallas.

While I had suspicions about the murderer, the "whodunnit?" part was well crafted and kept me turning pages in satisfaction up until the very end. I'd never recommend someone dive into the "In Death" series with book #45, but for fans it will be a must-read.

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Review: Mischief

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Mischief by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun Halloween treat for fans of Reisz' Original Sinners series, as Nora offers her lover Nico a traditional American Halloween celebration. Naturally, in addition to bobbing for apples there's bobbing for other treats involving a friendly waitress who's up for a threesome.

There's a great twist at the end, and I enjoyed this little seasonal offering very much.

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Review: The Duchess Deal

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The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun romance, the kind where the snappy dialogue makes you grin out loud. This Beauty-and-the-Beast variation was just what I needed this week, and I recommend it to anyone who wants a pick-me-up with their romance reading.

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Raising up the next crop of readers

I'm still tutoring young readers through the United Way's Reading Pals initiative. This year I again have a 3rd grade girl, and I suspect that will be my "default setting" as long as I'm in the program. As much as I love working with younger readers just discovering books, there's a sense of urgency with the 3rd graders. Some have already been held back. All will be expected to read and comprehend chapter books by the time they're in 4th grade. In addition, reading as a skill isn't taught past 3rd grade so I want to do my best to help them learn how books work; what it means to read an unknown word and figure it out from context, how to get a feel for the author's structure of the writing, and, perhaps most importantly, how to enjoy reading.
My pupil this year is Camille (not her real name), and she's been an intriguing student. I've been coaxing her along,  trying to figure out what piques her interest and so far, it seems to be Disney pr…

Review: Color Me Gray

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Color Me Gray by Rose Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We met Mags in Cutting to the Chase, the best friend who's socially awkward and naive, hiding her personal pain under a cheerful facade. A humiliating practical joke in high school only reinforces Mags' lack of self-esteem, so when a cute, older boy at a party pays attention to her, she thinks her life may be turning around.

Instead, it's a step toward personal disaster. Color Me Gray covers many of the issues that make up the tough life of young adulthood--sexuality, body image, domestic violence and career choices. But it also shows how friendship (sometimes in the most unexpected places) and family can lead to new beginnings and offer hope when all seems hopeless.

This is the second Rose Phillips YA I've enjoyed, and I'm hooked. Sometimes it's hard from the distance of years to appreciate how difficult life can be for those just stepping out into the world. Phillips brings teens and their issue…

Persimmon season! Time to make the cake!

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“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 time when the North Florida farmers market has lovely, ripe, orange persimmons. You can eat them as they are, or soften them up and turn them into yummy treats.

It's also the time of year when I re-post one of my most requested recipes for using up those lovely g…

Review: Duke of Desire

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Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A satisfying conclusion to the "Lords of Chaos" story arc as Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore begins his long awaited mission of revenge against the secret organization of powerful men who abuse women and children for their pleasure. First though he has to rescue Lady Iris Jordan, kidnapped by mistake as the Lords seek their own revenge against the Crown and its officers.

Hoyt's long-time readers will enjoy this latest installment, but the novel can also be read as a stand-alone. Raphael's dark secrets set against Iris' quiet determination to bring him into the light make for an engrossing romance full of angst, passion and danger. The author's use of the Georgian period for her stories offers a setting of decadence and power set against wrenching poverty and inequality, and will leave historical romance fans feeling they've gotten more than their money's worth in the Maiden …

Review: Before the Rain Falls

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Before the Rain Falls by Camille Di Maio
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A touching and moving tale of a woman who spends her life in a Texas prison for murdering her sister, and how her tale impacts a reporter looking for redemption and a doctor thrust back into the small town she left behind.

Poignant and shocking, convicted killer Della Lee's tale of love and murder captures the despair of a life with few choices, and offers a glimpse of life behind bars for women in a justice system that cared little for them.

The ending was a touch predictable, but in some ways that added to the enjoyment of seeing how characters lives intertwine and what the future can hold for people brought together by chance and family.

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Review: His Perfect Partner

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His Perfect Partner by Priscilla Oliveras
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yazmine Fernandez has always believed in "family first", so she's not impressed by busy executive Tomas Garcia's being MIA from his young daughter's father/daughter dance practice. She's got enough on her mind with caring for her ailing father while focusing on trying to get her New York dance career back on track. But the handsome ad exec and his adorable daughter Maria are making it hard for Yazmine to keep focused.

Tomas is hesitant to get involved with dating a woman focused on her career to the exclusion of her loved ones, but Maria needs what the graceful dance teacher can offer...and Maria's father is finding it hard to resist her as well.

Oliveras' debut novel is a sweet tale of family, friendship and making the tough choices, especially when one's in the "sandwich generation", caring for elderly parents as well as seeing to the needs of children. The dyn…

Review: An Echo of Murder

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An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another gripping William Monk tale had me guessing whodunnit until the very end. There were suspects, but bringing the facts together took a team, and that's part of what made this story work. It wasn't just Hester and Monk, it was Monk's assistant detective, Hopper, Crow the surgeon, attorney Oliver Rathbone and Scruf.

Some of them are the usual players in this series, but we also got enough new characters to add interest and zip. A damaged doctor from Hester's service in the Crimean war...some long-lost relatives, and the growth of mudlark Scruf into "Will Monk", an apprentice physician who took on his mentor's name, but not his profession as a police officer.

As usual, I look forward to more Monk mysteries from Ms. Perry.

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Review: An Echo of Murder

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An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another gripping William Monk tale had me guessing whodunnit until the very end. There were suspects, but bringing the facts together took a team, and that's part of what made this story work. It wasn't just Hester and Monk, it was Monk's assistant detective, Hopper, Crow the surgeon, attorney Oliver Rathbone and Scruf.

Some of them are the usual players in this series, but we also got enough new characters to add interest and zip. A damaged doctor from Hester's service in the Crimean war...some long-lost relatives, and the growth of mudlark Scruf into "Will Monk", an apprentice physician who took on his mentor's name, but not his profession as a police officer.

As usual, I look forward to more Monk mysteries from Ms. Perry.

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Review: Seven Stones to Stand or Fall

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Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[disclaimer--I'm in the acknowledgements for assistance with the story Virgins in this collection]

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall will be enjoyed by Outlander fans who like the broader story, tales about the secondary characters--Ian Murray, Lord John Grey, Lord John's family, Roger Mackenzie's family and more. Lord John in particular has his own side collection now of mysteries he solves in his travels in the British Army, and I find those stories especially enjoyable. John's a good detective.

Most of these have been reprinted in other collections, but it's a pleasure to have them all together to be enjoyed again.

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Review: A Conspiracy in Belgravia

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A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I believe what I'm enjoying most about his series is its focus on the restraints on women's lives in the 19th c., particularly married women, women of the middle classes, unwed women living at home, and women without their own resources. In addition to all that, there's an intriguing mystery to solve, fun cryptography, and almost obscene descriptions of pastries.

Charlotte Holmes is a fallen woman who investigates mysteries both criminal and domestic. She does this through an elaborate ruse involving her fictitious brother, "Sherlock Holmes", aided by her companion, Mrs. Watson and various other individuals, supportive or otherwise.

We see some characters from the first novel return, there's an intriguing marriage proposal ideally suited to Charlotte, and a set-up for the next mystery. I look forward to seeing more in this series and encourage readers to start with the first Lady She…

Review: Blood Enemies

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Blood Enemies by Susan R. Matthews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Andrej Koscuisko is living a life of practicing surgery and making reparations for his work as Fleet Medical Officer for the Jurisdiction. But when he leaves his safe haven to help his former staff he finds himself in the middle of a terrorist genocidal war. Worst of all, his skills as the most qualified Ship's Inquisitor--torturer for the Jurisdiction--will be brought back into use, and it could cost him his sanity and the lives of his loved ones.

This latest installment in the Under Jurisdiction series wraps up a number of storylines from earlier novels, and gives some resolution to characters like Andrej. It's unflinching in its exploration of Andrej's need to inflict pain, the monster inside him he's worked so hard to overcome, but Matthews delivers a solid story. Many readers couldn't get past An Exchange of Hostages, the first book exploring Andrej's in the Fleet, but for fans of the se…

Review: The Wicked City

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The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting book but I'm ambivalent about reading more in this universe. There are loose ends, characters who walk on-and-off scene and some great historical detail. Part of the problem may be my coming to it in a roundabout way, having read Cocoa Beach first.

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Post-#Irma Update

The storm passed over us in the pre-dawn hours. We hunkered down (Dodi the dachshund too) in an interior room with all of our "Go!" supplies and flashlights but we were extremely fortunate. We're still getting gusts and I fear our trees are weakened from all the water and wind, but if nothing falls on the house we should get through this without trauma.

I cannot say enough about the crew at @FloridaStorms who have been broadcasting non-stop since this all began. They're based at WUFT.org, the multi-media operation at my alma mater, the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. I'm a former radio news director and station owner and I know how difficult and how vital radio is at a time like this. The mainstream media is who I trust in an emergency.

This is also the time when you are glad you have a strong and capable state and local government. And NOAA. And FEMA. And all the blessed first responders. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to…

Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

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Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a novel for everyone who loves novels, who understands the empowering nature of words to change lives, and for everyone who likes a good dirty story.

Nikki is a young Englishwoman of Punjabi descent, pressured by her family to do the expected thing--go to law school, marry a nice Punjabi boy (preferably one chosen by her parents), but she's living the western life in London and loving it. Searching for some extra cash and a little resume building, Nikki offers to teach a writing class, but what she finds is something very unexpected. The women--all widows--want to tell stories, and the stories they want to tell are erotic. As Nikki and the widows tell their tales they also share their personal lives, and the more they become involved with storytelling, the more Nikki learns there's an undercurrent of danger within the tight-knit community that will put her at risk.

I loved how st…

Hurricane Prep

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“What should I do to prepare for the storm, Doctor?” He still watched her, and his eyes changed. He didn't smile at her—she could not imagine that happening. Instead, his look was, if not approving, at least less censorious. “A very good question, Miss Farnham.” He straightened up from his labors, wiped his hands on a cloth and then covered the bowl with it. “The Magpie is a sound ship, and the captain and crew are experienced. But if I were you, I would pack a valise. It should be a bag you yourself can carry. In it, only put those things that are absolutely necessary, or those things you would preserve at all costs.” “One bag?” Daphne stared at him. “But…but it is impossible. I could not pack everything necessary to me into one bag!” He cocked one of those accusatory eyebrows at her. “Impossible? That is too bad. Let me tell you what will happen if the worst occurs and we have to abandon the ship: you will grab the first thing at hand and cling to it. It might be a book, it mig…

Review: Cocoa Beach

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Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Florida's a land of smugglers, land speculators, gamblers, desperadoes and settlers. It was at the beginning, it is now, and it was certainly the case during the Jazz Age. Until a devastating hurricane and the crash of the stock market slowed its fevered growth, Florida was the destination for re-inventing yourself.

Cocoa Beach has all of that, and more. It's a real page turner, full of secrets and hidden identities and characters who are not what they seem. The setting was also part of the story, the heat and humidity and insects part of the age before air conditioning and mosquito control make the peninsula habitable.

I'm going to look for more books by Ms. Williams, and if they're as good as Cocoa Beach, I'll add her to my list of authors to look for.

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Review: The Talisman Ring

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The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A delightful re-read of a Georgette Heyer classic, with some true laugh out loud scenes.



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Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not one who reads the tabloids (unless they're in the doctor's waiting room, and then all bets are off) or watches reality TV, so I didn't think I'd enjoy this book as much as I did.

Evelyn Hugo was a Hollywood star in the 50s & 60s, using her sex appeal and her genuine acting skills to rise to the top. Along the way she accumulated seven husbands, and now she's finally ready to tell her story.

The young reporter assigned to interview Miss Hugo is plucked out of obscurity, but she will have no other write her story. Monique has to wonder why, even as she's pulled into a memoir more searing than any she could have imagined.

Evoking the glamour days of Hollywood, when the studios controlled a star's image, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is about fame, and power, and ultimately, the choices we make in love and life.

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Review: Tyrant's Throne

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Tyrant's Throne by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You'll need to get out your handkerchiefs, again, but it's worth it. Sebastien de Castell brings his Greatcoats story to a rousing conclusion with plenty of swordplay, heart-wrenching moments, and odes to friendship, bravery, and love along the way.

The young heir to the throne is finally in the palace, but the work is just beginning. There are still enemies aplenty, duchies in rebellion, and an enemy lurking over the border in Avares.

The real question underlying all of the series is "Can the rule of law triumph over the rule of man?" and it's put to the test, repeatedly, but perhaps never more so than in this final, concluding novel. Fans of the series will find it a must-read, and I would encourage anyone who likes The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, Zorro or who thinks Basil Rathbone was the true star of all of those films where he was cast as the sword wielding villain to check out …

Review: Heart of Gold

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Heart of Gold by Beverly Jenkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes, especially now, you just want to read a story about good people going about their lives and being helpful to one another. Heart of Gold is that sort of a book, and Ms. Jenkins' writing kicks it up to a whole new level of quality.

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Review--The St. Johns: A Parade of Diversities (Rivers of America, #24)

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The St. Johns: A Parade of Diversities by James Branch Cabell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm rereading my favorite Florida history, because no one brings the snark like Branch Cabell. For example: "Andrew Jackson, that idolized heckler for the unshaved frontier, who was now beginning to dominate the United States as an epitome of their national failings....His disposition...was embittered by the discovery that he did not even have the power to appoint his own relatives and personal friends to many of the better paying offices."

We could use some JBC about now.

It's out of print, sadly, but is worth hunting down. Even if you're not researching Florida you'll be entertained.


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Review--The Ballad of Black Tom

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The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

H.P. Lovecraft was a notorious racist at a time when you had to be truly egregious to stand out in a racist society. He also left the horror genre the seminal Cthulu Mythos, the germ of an otherworldly monstrous realm of Elder Gods that spurred the imagination of horror writers for generations to follow. THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM is a re-imagining of the Cthulu story in a very different fashion than Lovecraft could ever have envisioned, or tolerated.

Tom Tester is a musician, a loving son, a man with an inquiring mind. But in 1920s New York what a black man got was police brutality of a sort still experienced today, hatred, suspicion, and, of course, the disdain and racism of the white community.

Victor LaValle holds up a mirror to Lovecraft, both the racism and the writing, and gives us a new telling of the rise of the Elder Gods, with Black Tom at the center. It's fabulous storytelling with characters who can exist i…

Review--An Extraordinary Union (The Loyal League, #1)

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An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent Civil War tale of spycraft and bravery involving an African-American woman with special talents.

Elle Burns risks her freedom and her life by working behind Confederate lines, pretending to be enslaved so she can gather information. Her cover is put at risk when she's contacted by Malcolm McCall, a Pinkerton detective pretending to support the rebels, but it's her heart that's at greatest risk.

Alyssa Cole tells a story long overdue for the telling, of the bravery of those willing to risk all to break the chains of slavery during the Civil War.


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The Joy of Lex(icons)

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I was re-reading The Reluctant Widowby the divine Georgette Heyer when I ran across a word which I could easily figure out in context, but which was somewhat new to me. That is to say, I didn't recall running across it in conversation or in other books.

The word is "matutinal" as in "the matutinal habits of apparently a hundred cockerels..."
I figured it meant of the morning: cocks crow at dawn, matins are morning prayers and likely share a root, and it made sense that it would be the antonym of nocturnal, or if not the antonym, then the word that corresponds to the morning time period as nocturnal corresponds to the evening.

Why does any of this matter? Because at my age it's unusual (but delightful!) to be surprised by an English word unfamiliar to me. It's also delightful because when I work with my little Reading Pals I try very hard to help them understand the idea that when they're reading and they come across a strange or new to them word, sou…

It's Tu B'Av! Party like it's 5777!

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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.’”
He smiled winsomely.
“Naturally, I began courting her in earnest.--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 …

Review--Beauty Like the Night (Spymasters, #6)

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Beauty Like the Night by Joanna Bourne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would have read this through in one sitting but:

1. nature called

2. sleep called

3. it was even better extending the joy of reading a new Joanna Bourne Spymaster novel a second day.

From her first novel, The Spymaster's Lady Bourne treated us to what's really a family saga, a story of French and English agents whose lives cross in the most interesting ways. Her writing is superb and a master class for anyone who thinks you need dialect to write a non-English speaking character. She captures a mood and a moment with rare style, and makes me sigh happily as a writer and a romance reader when I see how she brings her characters to life.

In brief, we met Severine de Cabrillac as a little girl in The Forbidden Rose and saw her unique upbringing referenced once or twice in other novels. It was inevitable that she would go into the family trade. Now though she's retired from spycraft and using her unique skill set as an…

Review--The Scribe of Siena

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The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An outstanding debut novel, which is being compared to Outlander. Like that novel, Scribe is hard to classify: It's a time-travel historical with a strong romantic interest, which means I ended up shelving it on three or four spots in my lists.

Beatrice Tovato is a NYC neurosurgeon who gives in to her brother's entreaties to visit him in Siena, Italy. He's a historian and the two share many common interests, and Ben's her only living relative. But when she arrives, it's to close up her brother's estate following his death. Beatrice is drawn to Ben's work, and the more she tries to uncover the mystery he was researching, the more she's drawn in until it becomes literal: Beatrice finds herself in the 14th century...and any student of European history knows what happens in Europe in the 14th century.

Winawer skillfully weaves in the daily life of the Tuscans, the difficulties of a modern, profes…

It's #NationalWatermelonDay!

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“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 eyed 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.

Review--The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4)

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The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've enjoyed the writing throughout this series. Stiefvater has a distinctive voice, and I find people either like her a lot, or can't get into it. I happen to like it. That said, I found the "upgrade" of a minor character to one who plays a major role in the final novel to be somewhat of a deus ex machina attempt and a tad off-putting. We're so familiar with the stories of Blue, Adam, Gansey, Ronan and Noah by the fourth book that a new player involved in the resolution of the crisis is a distraction.

That said, people who've been reading the series will want to read this final volume. I was intrigued by the idea of a kiss from one's true love being fatal rather than fulfilling, and fans will definitely want to see how Blue and Gansey's story plays out.

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Review--The Nonesuch

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The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Georgette Heyer is a comfort read for me. Of course, like almost all Regency era romance writers, I read her long ago and re-read her frequently. THE GRAND SOPHY, FARO'S DAUGHTER, THE DEVIL'S CUB, THE UNKNOWN AJAX--all are on my shelves, well-worn and much loved.

It's been decades since I read THE NONESUCH, and while there's still a great deal about it that appeals to me (older heroine, country setting, well-drawn secondary characters), I'd forgotten that the H&H "Black moment" was predicated on a big misunderstanding, one of my least favorite plot devices. Ah well, of course they work things out, and there's a lot of fun along the way, but that's why I gave this classic a 4 star instead of 5 star rating. Your reading mileage may vary.


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Review--G-Man (Bob Lee Swagger, #10)

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G-Man by Stephen Hunter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just love it when you close a book with a happy sigh, having had an enjoyable getaway between covers. In G-Man (Bob Lee Swagger, #10) Hunter brings his usual roller-coaster ride of gun lore, shootouts, history and Mr. Bob Lee hissownself. Bob Lee's now in his 70s, looking to the past as well as the future as he delves into some family history. He knew his father Earl was estranged from Sheriff Charles Swagger, his abusive father, but Bob Lee never knew why. When new information is uncovered linking Charles to the earliest days of the FBI, he wants to know more.

Fans of the series remember Charles from the earlier book about Earl, Hot Springs so some of his story won't be a revelation. Much of the rest of it will be. In addition, there's gangster history, various Public Enemies and overtones of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance because Hunter, like so many of his fans, loves classic film.

While the book could stand alone, I hi…

Review--Come Sundown

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Come Sundown by Nora Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was good, entertaining as all of Ms. Roberts' books are, but as soon as the villain was introduced I knew he was the bad guy. The name, the description, all of it was like a bell ringing. I would have enjoyed a little more suspense. Nonetheless, it was a satisfying look at a strong family and a strong heroine, and sure to entertain fans of Nora's many works.


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Florida's wildlife

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I've switched up my daily walks to get in my steps early in the morning, before the heat, humidity and rain become unbearable. I don't like getting up at 5:45 to manage this, but it's worth it. Not only am I getting in my 10k steps before 10 a.m. but I get to see some beautiful sunrises.

It's also an opportune time to observe some of the wildlife. Our heavily wooded neighborhood is home to plenty of owls and hawks, and I see and hear them finishing up their nightly rounds or just starting the day's hunt.

It's also the best time to spot the Florida Bare-chested Running Hunk. This is a creature seen throughout the peninsula, but when one lives in a college town the numbers rise even higher. While not as colorful as the Painted Bunting, it has a certain appeal. In the summer it's an early morning or evening traveler due to the aforementioned weather, and spotting a flock does help make getting up (literally) at  the crack of dawn more tolerable.

Incidentally, …

Review--The Red

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The Red by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some erotica just hits all the right notes: the sex is smokin', the writing is crisp, the characters are engaging and the story is engrossing. The Red is one such novel. The always entertaining Tiffany Reisz has done it again, proving that she can transition between stand-along novels, short fiction, fantasy, erotica and erotic romance while still maintaining her unique voice.

The Red is absolutely not for the faint-of-heart. Mona Lisa St. James promised her dying mother she'd run the family art gallery, but The Red is in the red and it's going to take a miracle to save it. But instead of an angel, what Mona gets is a devilish offer: become a man's whore (his words) for one year, allowing him to use her sexually in whatever fashion suits him, and he'll pay off the debt. She's tempted by the mysterious Englishman, but how far is Mona willing to go to save her legacy?

Reisz calls the book "a fantasy" and th…

Review--Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas

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Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas by Laura Sook Duncombe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Enjoyable overview of women pirates through history. I'd read much of Ms. Duncombe's source material (Johnson's book of Pyrates, Fanny Campbell, the Cordingly, Stark, Konstam and Druett books) so there was little new here for me, but for a reader whose life isn't all about the pirates it's a good introduction.

I especially liked how Duncombe made it a point to include the non-European pirates. When I do presentations on women pirates I highlight the career of Cheng I Sao, who, as Duncombe points out, was the most successful pirate of all time.

These transgressive women of the sea continue to fascinate readers and another book focusing on women pirates is always a welcome addition to my bookshelf.


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Happy Bastille Day!

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“Doctor, we are going to be stopping at the island of St. Martin soon, and there’s something I want you to do there.”
Alcott looked at him sharply. “That is a French island, is it not?”
“It was. French and Dutch. At one time a friendly port for Americans. Now, well, it’s still friendly, we just have to be more careful because the Royal Navy has a presence there as well.”
“Is there someone on the island who’s ill?”
“No, not that I know of.” He took a deep breath. This was more difficult than he expected it would be.
“There is a lady there I want you to visit. A Mrs. Cornelia Olifiers. You will like her,” he added quickly. “She’s friendly, and outgoing, and…friendly.”
Alcott was watching him with a strange expression on his face.
“And I am visiting Mrs. Olifiers because…?”
In for a penny, in for a pound. Or in this case, a fee to be paid in good American dollars.
“Madame Cornelia operates an establishment where a young man like you can meet ladies and spend the evening with them.”
Dr. Alcott was…

Coffee for the Win!

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“Is that coffee I smell?”
Washburn filled the doorway to the kitchen, a look of such amazed wonder on his face that she had to smile.
“Indeed, there was coffee with the supplies. Help yourself to a cup while I finish this up. The grits are about ready, and if you can wait a few more minutes, there will be ham and eggs as well.”
“Bless you, darlin’. I’m beginnin’ to think you an angel sent from above.”
He poured a cup from the pot next to the fire and dumped in a generous serving of sugar before bringing it up to his nose. He closed his eyes and inhaled, then opened them and took a reverent sip.
“Ah,” he said with feeling. “Hot and sweet, just the way I like it.” He was watching her as he said it, and Julia turned away to whip the eggs more fiercely before pouring them into the pan. --Smuggler's Bride


I didn't need much convincing that coffee is the elixir of life. Heaven knows I need it to jump start my brain in the morning! But it's nice to know that it's not just me saying…