Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review--Nothing Too Daring: A Biography of Commodore David Porter, 1780-1843

Nothing Too Daring: A Biography of Commodore David Porter, 1780-1843Nothing Too Daring: A Biography of Commodore David Porter, 1780-1843 by David F. Long
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent, highly readable biography of one of America's early naval heroes, a man who in many ways was a victim of his own hubris. Detailed research and good writing make this a keeper on my history shelf. I first read it when I was writing Captain Sinister's Lady in the late 90s, and now I'm re-reading parts of it for my next novel. It's a pleasure to re-visit such a good biography.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review--Etched in Bone (The Others, #5)

Etched in Bone (The Others, #5)Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm still very much enjoying this series as the humans and Others learn to co-exist, and Etched in Bone, the finale of the Meg and Simon story, will be appreciated by fans of the first four books. My only quibble is the names. Nicknames are all well and good in the real world, but can be confusing in a novel, especially when you have characters whose names are similar--Sierra and Sissy, Clarence and Cyrus and C.J. and Simon and Sam and Skippy and so on. One character is called Cyrus by some, Jimmy by others, and if the reader has to stop and ask--"Wait, who's that again?" it becomes too much like reading War and Peace.

However, we still have humans described by wolves as "exploding fluffballs", Elder Gods who learn how to ask for cookies, communities cautiously coming together, and an interspecies romance. It's an entertaining excursion into the paranormal and a world where humans are not the apex predators, and I look forward to the next story in another part of this well-crafted universe.

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Review--Good Time Coming

Good Time ComingGood Time Coming by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wrenching novel of the Civil War from the perspective of the people left behind, the women and children. Like Cold Mountain it deals with the evil men do during wartime, and the courage and bravery of ordinary people.

Amrie St. Pierre is a pre-teen in Louisiana catching tadpoles with her best friend, Finn. Her physician father and healer mother are abolitionists who oppose the breakup of the Union, but they're loyal to their home, and when war comes Dr. St. Pierre enlists and leaves his wife and daughter to fend for themselves.

The heroes in this novel are not the generals and the soldiers, on either side, but the ordinary folks who try to live their lives and help one another. Unlike Cold Mountain and other war novels written by men, there's a wrenching and particular emphasis on the violence women suffered--black women and white women, free and enslaved--and how war affects them and their children.

Ms. Harris is best known for her Regency era romances and her Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, but this is an outstanding example of historical fiction at its best. My only regret is we don't know more about Amrie's life post-war. She's the kind of heroine who sticks with you, and I'd love to read more of her story.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Noodling away at the next book

Today I was reading an old history of the early United States Coast Guard and I think I found the MacGuffin for my next novel. You don't know what a MacGuffin is? The Maltese Falcon is probably the best example. In my published novels, the pirate treasure in The Bride and the Buccaneer is a MacGuffin.

I was reading about the USCG, actually the early Cutter Service aka the Revenue Marine, because they'd been part of the plot for Smuggler's Bride and I always wanted to do another Coastie book. So much good material there, especially in Florida history!

People ask me what kind of writer I am, a plotter or a "pantser", as in "I write by the seat of my pants." I'm a "pantser", though I prefer Nora Roberts' more elegant term, an "organic writer". I start writing and see where the story takes me. Once I start the "what if?" process, my brain cranks up and I find myself filling in gaps or raising questions at odd moments--it's one reason why I carry a notebook when I walk the dog.

So, I'll see where this story goes but I know so far it's got a Florida setting, a Revenue Marine hero and a heroine who has some valuable property--the MacGuffin. More on this as it develops!


Monday, April 24, 2017

Weird Writer Woes

I drove myself crazy this morning trying to remember a phrase I'd once heard for a useless officer aboard ship (insert joke from all NCO's here). All my naval dictionaries and sources produced nothing except a lot of rude phrases not suited to the scene I was writing.

Finally, after lunch, the penny dropped and I remembered I'd heard it used in an episode of Star Trek, the original series where Kirk gets replaced by a computer ("The Ultimate Computer". Thank you, Wikipedia). So I typed the search question and got back "Captain Dunsel, meaning 'doesn't sail'."

Cool! But knowing better than to trust internet research on its own, I dug a little deeper and found this may have been a phrase invented for Starfleet Academy types, and not a real, historical phrase for a useless officer.

So, I'm back to revising the scene so I'm not inserting a phrase that's not only anachronistic, but fake. By the way, back in the day I would have posted the question in writing to a science fiction APA (amateur press alliance) publication because before there was an internet, we used to say "All knowledge is contained in fandom". I would have gotten an answer, but it might have taken a few weeks...or months.

Now with the internet I have new ways to waste time, but at least I may find my mistakes more quickly.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4)

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle, #4)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 somewhat 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--Where the Dead Lie (Sebastian St. Cyr, #12)

Where the Dead Lie (Sebastian St. Cyr, #12)Where the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another excellent entry in an entertaining and wonderfully researched series. I especially liked how the issue of London's street children resonated with Sebastian, and how he viewed his family dynamics in light of his investigation. There's a set-up for the next book so the ending isn't a conclusion so much as a hint, and I eagerly await the next Sebastian St. Cyr Regency era mystery.

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Review--Saga, Vol. 7

Saga, Vol. 7Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SAGA is the best graphic novel published today. If you've never read a graphic novel, it's an outstanding example of how words and pictures--especially pictures depicting truly alien life forms--can combine in a seamless, beautiful package of thoughtful entertainment.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sassy, Swashbuckling Ladies of the Sea

“Not that there is anything wrong with Mathilde,” he assured her. “It is a perfectly lovely name for a young lady. It strikes me though as not being piratical. Women who are pirates have names that are simple, but do not detract from their fierceness. Girls like Anne Bonny and Mary Read.”
“There are girl pirates?” If she looked happy before, he feared now she would explode with excitement.
“Yes, indeed there are. I will show you Captain Johnson’s book of pirates when we’re aboard the Prodigal Son. So, what shall your name be?”
--The Pirate's Secret Baby

My most requested talk is "Good Girls Go to Heaven, But Bad Girls Go to Sea: Women Pirates Through History". It's no surprise that it's a crowd pleaser. My inbox this month was filling with friends and fans asking, "Did you see the Smithsonian article on swashbuckling women?" I had, and I enjoyed it, just as I've enjoyed tales of women pirates since I first learned about Anne Bonny and Mary Read when I was about Mattie St. Armand's (The Pirate's Secret Baby) age. 

Over the years I've learned there were many more transgressive women who took to the water, on rivers and on the ocean. It's excellent fodder for an author who loved pirates as a child, but like Mattie and other little girls I was especially entertained by stories of lady pirates. It gave me hope for my own future career options.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Review--The Night Mark

The Night MarkThe Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sweet and poignant tale of a woman who believes she has nothing left to live for, and a trip through time that offers her a new perspective.

THE NIGHT MARK refers to lighthouses and how they're identified to ships, but the lighthouse itself is a metaphor for faith, love and hope. It will appeal to fans of the film GHOST and may be a surprise to Reisz fans only familiar with her erotic stories.

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Sunday, April 02, 2017

Review--A Lady's Code of Misconduct (Rules for the Reckless, #5)

A Lady's Code of Misconduct (Rules for the Reckless, #5)A Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another winner from Ms. Duran, intricately plotted, well-executed, with characters that seem very real and complex. It uses the amnesia trope to good effect, and the in-depth look at Victorian politics is also skillfully handled.

The set-up for the next story is included, and I can't wait to read it. This is the fifth "Rules for the Reckless" novel, but you don't have to read the others to appreciate the story in this one. However, if you like A Lady's Code of Misconduct you'll want to check out Duran's backlist for more enjoyable historical romance.

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