Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Review: Starless

Starless Starless by Jacqueline Carey
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

A lush, gender-bending retelling of the classic Hero's Journey in a fantasy world full of gods and gifts. Khai is a young warrior, honed for a life of service as a Shadow, paired at birth to the Princess Zariya as her protector. Khai's training begins in infancy and it isn't until puberty that the young Shadow learns the truth--she was born female, but raised as an "honorary boy".

It changes everything, and nothing. Even though there's never been a girl Shadow, Khai is ready to take on her/his responsibilities and learns that an evil presence created by the gods may destroy everything, including his/her beloved princess.

Carey has brought us lesbian heroines before in her Santa Olivia novels, and a bi-heroine in the acclaimed Kushiel series. This time she delves deep into classic high fantasy with a warrior and his/her love, a quest, and a band of brothers and sisters brought together to fulfill a prophecy. Excellently done with outstanding world building and a welcome diverse addition to the fantasy realm.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Review: Saga, Vol. 9

Saga, Vol. 9 Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: If you're not reading Saga, Vol. 9, you're not reading the finest graphic novel being published now. And the graphic novel format is perfect for this tale. The combination of art and text couldn't be duplicated in a standard novel, not the way it works here.

Start with Volume 1. Read SAGA. Be blown away.

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Review: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was fun to re-read this classic by two masters of fantasy. I'm looking forward to seeing the new series on Amazon Prime, but I'll also be intrigued to see how the cast and story is updated. For example, this book had many tongue-in-cheek references to the movie The Omen, and would likely shoot right over the heads of some modern viewers.

But it was still a fun read, and highly recommended.

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Monday, October 08, 2018

Review: Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires Everywhere Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I pulled this off the library "Sizzler" (Hot titles) shelf on a whim because I'd seen it on the bestseller lists for a long time, and because my son-in-law is from Shaker Heights.

It was an engrossing read. So many of the characters struck me as people I might have known, their lives and behavior all too familiar, and yet the story unfolded in a fashion that kept me turning pages late into the night. To me, this is the hardest type of novel to write well. A story of largely ordinary people who each have lives worthy of deeper exploration.

I understand now what the buzz is about and I'll check out more books by Ms. Ng.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Review: The Governess Game

The Governess Game The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars



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Review: Circe

Circe Circe by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was a youngster, one of my favorite books was D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. I still have my copy.

That's simply my way of saying that reading a re-telling of a classic tale from my youth is not only a pleasure, but to see the myth turned around to be woman empowered and turned away from the male POV is a very special pleasure indeed.

What we know of the witch Circe comes from the classic myth told by men, repeated in The Odyssey by Homer and passed down for generations from Odysseus' perspective. Now we get to hear the other story, the story of a powerful woman born of the gods who has to navigate her way through a world of petty Olympian personalities and mortals with limited ideas of what a woman can be. I found CIRCE to be engrossing, powerfully told, beautifully written and wonderful tale of a girl who doesn't fit in, so she makes her own place. I highly recommend it.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Review: Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History

Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History by Steven J. Zipperstein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was all too timely as we see a new rise of anti-Semitism around the world and what it means for Jews in the United Kingdom, the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and especially in the former Soviet Republics.

We all grew up knowing of the Kishinev Pogrom. It's still remembered during memorial services, and for some of my family from the Bessarabia region of Rumania/Russia/Moldavia it was part of our personal history. Zipperstein digs deep into the research, separating fact from myth to the best of his ability based on surviving material. Because the pogrom occurred in the early 20th c., technology in the form of telegraph lines, steamships, trains, and the modern press moved the story forward in a fashion that would have been impossible 100 or even 50 years earlier.

The hate that led to the murders in Kishinev lives on, particularly in the scurrilous writings of the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It laid the groundwork for the big lies of the Nazi era and the Stalinist regime, and continues to fuel hatred today. This is an important work of history, well worth reading so that we never forget how quickly hate can make events spiral out of control.

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Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We've been asking for more diverse SF & Fantasy and Naomi Novik has brought us a fabulous tale with three strong women protagonists, set in a fantasy Russia that's far different than the traditional European settings of earlier fantasies.

Miryem is a Jewish moneylender's daughter, but when her gentle father can't collect on the money owed him she sets out to force the people in her village to pay her, in produce and chickens if not in silver. However, she becomes so successful that she gains a reputation for spinning silver into gold...and that attracts the eye of the otherworldly Staryk, who crave gold.

Wanda is the peasant girl with an abusive father and a hardscrabble life who goes to work for Miryem's family to pay her family's debts, and finds it may hold the key to her own survival and that of her brothers.

Irina is a duke's daughter with the blood of the fey Staryk in her veins, but no expectations of a HEA. However, when presented with a ring of Staryk silver, Irina's life begins to take on new shape as her fey blood calls to her across the lines dividing the Staryk kingdom from the human one.

The three women will come together because of silver and magic, and a winter that never ends, in this spin on the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, demon lovers, and the all-too-real history of Jews and pogroms in Eastern Europe. One of the best fantasy novels I've read this year, and I look forward to more of this award-winning author's work.

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Review: Portrait Of A Spy

Portrait Of A Spy Portrait Of A Spy by Daniel Silva
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A painfully moving tale of people trying to do the right thing, especially to help women who are held back by government and religious authorities. The Gabriel Allon tales are truly ripped from the headlines and catching up on them is a glimpse into recent historical events. I'm still enjoying them immensely, but sometimes they're so wrenching that I can't read them too close together. It will be a while before I'm ready for #12.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review: Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride

Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride by Elizabeth Rolls
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I liked the story and I enjoyed the characters, but I could barely read it because of the constant back-and-forth switching of POV. Within the same scene we'd jump from head to head and it made the narrative confusing and unnecessarily distracting. This is a shame, because I've enjoyed other Regency romances by Ms. Rolls and I don't recall them having this issue, or perhaps not to this degree. I'll continue to read her work and hope this was a one-off.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Review: A Study in Honor

A Study in Honor A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In an all too real, all too dystopian near future, there are still people on whom you can rely, people who have your back. People like Dr. Janet Watson and Sara Holmes.

Watson is a war veteran, scarred and damaged, unable to practice surgery with only one arm and a malfunctioning, ill-fitting bionic replacement for the arm destroyed in battle. Holmes is....Holmes. Enigmatic, elegant, owner of an outstanding DC property, in need of a roommate. And that's the beginning of the adventure as these amazing women team up to solve a mystery with broad implications.

"Holmes and Watson" is one of the most enduring tropes of the last 150 years and O'Dell has put a fresh spin on it with characters who are so very different from the traditional canon, yet bring the sensibilities we've come to cherish in these partners in crime-solving. The mystery is engrossing, the action is non-stop, and I look forward to reading more of these tales.

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Review: European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fun read that explores many of our classic horror villains and tropes, but upends them by making the monsters women who cooperate rather than tear things up. Goss has delved deep into literature of the macabre to bring forward characters like Mary Jekyll and her half-sister Diana Hyde (who may be my new role model) Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein and so on. However, it was especially delightful in this novel to figure out early on who the woman head of the secret society of mad scientists was. The clues were there, and...

S

P

O

I

L

E

R



since I'm one of the few people I know who actually read and enjoyed H. Rider Haggard, I knew it was She Who Must Be Obeyed! Great fun to see Ayesha again.

The best part of these books is how girls are getting it done. No man swoops in to save them, they figure things out and take care of it. I'm looking forward to reading more Adventures of the Athena Club!

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Happy Birthday to the Star-Spangled Banner!

“You underestimate the will of the American people, Doctor.” He poked his finger in the air for emphasis. “When you push us, we push back. Hard. John Bull cannot bully America into surrendering now any more than you could forty years ago. Have you already forgotten the lesson of Fort McHenry?”
He rummaged in his desk and pulled out a tattered newspaper, much folded and creased.
“My mother sent this to me with the letters, a newspaper from home. A Mr. Key wrote a poem about the battle, titled ‘The Defence of Fort McHenry.’ Look here—‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’ That’s America, Charley! I won’t ask you to drink to an American victory, but you won’t mind if I have a tot?”
David poured himself some rum while humming a tune. She listened, her head cocked to the side.
“I know that tune—I heard it in the inn where I waited to board the Lady Jane. It is ‘To Anacreon in Heaven,’ is it not? I recall the people who attempted to navigate its melody often failed miserably.”
“Maybe it’s a song best attempted while drinking for the full effect. But I’m told it is now popular in Baltimore with lyrics based on Mr. Key’s poem—‘And the rockets’ red glare…’”
Charley snickered as his voice strained through the notes. “That tune will never catch on, Captain. Certainly not the way you sing! Best you stick to sailing your ship.”

--Sea Change

Charley's wrong, of course. The poem and song became a part of the American nation. Today it is still our much loved (if difficult to sing) national anthem celebrating the land of the free and the home of the brave! Happy birthday, Star-Spangled Banner!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Happy #LaborDay!

“You may have noticed I am wearing one of your shirts this morning.”
“Oh yeah,” Rand murmured. He’d noticed. Looked like she had two puppies in a sack in there, tusslin’ when she moved.
“The reason I am wearing your clothes is because the laundry needs to be done and you have not done it.”
That statement took him out of his contemplation of how much fun it would be to undo the rest of the buttons on his shirt and give those pups some air.
“What?”
“I said, you have not done the laundry, Washburn.” Julia turned back to the grate to squat down and flip the cakes.
“Yeah, well, that’s your job. You’re the wife.”
She turned her head and looked up at him with raised brows. “Is that what you thought? That because that magistrate pronounced a few words over us I would take over all the domestic chores? Who did your laundry before you had a wife?”
Rand shifted and ran his free hand through his hair. “I did my laundry. But I didn’t like it!”
“No one likes it. Here is what I propose… I will continue with the chores I have been doing, the cooking and tending the garden and keeping the cabin neat. I will even do the mending. But you will do the laundry. After all,” she said dryly, “it’s not like you have a lot of acreage to plow out there.”
“No, but I do have to hunt and fish to keep food on the table. I can’t be spendin’ all day doin’ women’s work!”
“If it is women’s work, it is not work this woman ever did. At the estate where I lived there were laundresses who did the cleaning for the entire household. I can cook better than you can, but it seems to me that if you have experience doing laundry, then you can continue to do a better job than I would. Not to mention that if I am spending all my time doing laundry, then I won’t have time to make the pork pie I was planning for dinner. With persimmon cake for dessert.”
There was something wrong with this logic, Rand knew it, but he couldn’t come up with a good argument. It became even harder to think about it when Julia waltzed past him into the house carrying a plate and leaving behind an aroma of griddle cakes, syrup, and woman.

--Smuggler's Bride

Happy Labor Day to all the hard working American women and men who keep the laundry clean, the fish caught, and the persimmon cake on the table. This is your day to be recognized, and for all of us to be aware of how much we depend on the labor of others. Thank you!

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Review: Regency Christmas Gifts: Three Stories

Regency Christmas Gifts: Three Stories Regency Christmas Gifts: Three Stories by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful break from summer's heat, with Kelly's trademark stories of rather ordinary people being extraordinary human beings. They're not only doing well, they're doing good, what's called tikkun olam--"repairing the world" among those of us who don't celebrate Christmas, but still enjoy a solid, weepy love story.

Each of these tales has its own charm as lives are made better and love discovered during the holiday season. I miss the old Regency Christmas collections that used to come out each year, but it's nice to know some of the best authors in the genre continue to release their holiday best.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

#IVoted

“If I climbed I could gather more gourds, and some fruit also.”
He looked at her sternly.
“There will be no climbing.”
Daphne stopped smiling and straightened her sore back, because she had been thinking about this all day.
“I am not sure I should have to always do what you tell me to do, or not to do, Dr. Murray. I know you are a natural philosopher and learned, but in America they let men vote equally, the stupid ones as well as the clever. Not that I am stupid, I am just not as learned as you are. While we are here on this island, just the two of us, we should be voting as equals, don’t you think?”
He looked at her in astonishment, setting down the gourd.
“I am amazed, Miss Farnham, that a properly brought-up Englishwoman would take the riff-raff in America as her model for appropriate behavior. No, this is not a situation calling for some anarchic form of democracy. Your vote is not equal to mine."

--CASTAWAY DREAMS

Be like Daphne! Get out there today and exercise your right to vote! When you're done, you can read all about Daphne Farnham and grumpy Doctor Murray in the Aspen Gold winning historical, Castaway Dreams, available in ebook and print again!   #FloridaPrimary #IVoted


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Happy #NationalDogDay!

The pups were in the scullery and Mattie sat amidst them on the floor as they frolicked about her looking like animated snowballs. Their mother watched them closely, but Daphne came over and hummed to her, scratching her behind her ear, and the dog relaxed. Coquette’s coloring was more varied than Pompom’s, as she sported dark tan ears, a pattern carried over onto some of the pups.
Most of them left Mattie to mock-fight among themselves, but one, the smallest of the litter, ran at Mattie, pounced on her gown, then jumped off. He hunkered down on his chest with his bottom in the air, tail wagging as he yipped in joyful play.
Mattie scooped the little clown up and covered him in kisses as he squirmed in her hands and tried to lick and bite at her chin. She looked up at them then, her blue eyes wide over the dog’s head.
“Oh look, Papa! Look, Miss Burke! It is our puppy!”
Lydia leaned over and said in St. Armand’s ear, “I am not going to tell her she can’t have that puppy.”

--The Pirate's Secret Baby 

Today is #NationalDogDay, though diva dachshund Dodi would assure me that every day in our
house is Dog Day. She came to us nearly three years ago as a pup from Doxie Tales Rescue, but like most owners of dogs, I believe she rescued us more than we rescued her. She keeps me moving, guards my domicile, listens patiently when I read aloud to her, cuddles and watches football with my husband, and gives us unlimited love every day.

I hope all the good boys and girls currently with rescue organizations or shelters find their forever homes, and that all of them have a wonderful life.

If you'd like to read more about Mattie and her pup, or Daphne's bichon Pompom, check out award-winners Castaway Dreams and The Pirate's Secret Baby, and look for grown-up Mattie's story, What the Parrot Saw, in 2019.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Review: A Compromised Lady

A Compromised Lady A Compromised Lady by Elizabeth Rolls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this novel very much. A young woman with a damaged past overcomes great obstacles to find her HEA. The hero is solid, dependable, my favorite kind.

What kept me from giving it five stars though was the abrupt POV shifts within a scene. There were even secondary characters whose POV would pop up in the middle of a scene. That kind of writing interrupts the flow of my reading, and I would have enjoyed this story even more if POV was consistent.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

1814--The Burning of the White House



The next afternoon Captain Fletcher told Mr. Bryant to muster the crew and Charley joined them, standing apart from the ranks of seamen.
When they were all assembled, he looked out over the assortment of Yankee privateers and their British doctor and said, “Men, I have news from home.”
He waited for the murmurs to die down.
“I received correspondence on St. Martin that I wish to share with you. Last August, while we were at sea fighting for the rights of sailors and free Americans, the British burned our nation’s capital, Washington City.”
Now the mutters from the men were angry as they shifted their feet and looked at one another. The Americans had burned York in Canada, and Great Britain might be justified in saying it’s tit for tat to burn the Americans’ capital, but Charley just scratched her ear and wisely refrained from pointing that out.
Plus, Captain Fletcher was still speaking.
“But take heart, men, just as your countrymen did! America cannot be frightened into submission!” He waved a paper. “I have here the account of the battle of Baltimore and the glorious defense of Fort McHenry! The nation still stands strong, boys, and will never bow to tyrants! A cheer for the United States of America, and an extra ration of rum tonight for its gallant heroes!”
The men threw their hats into the air while cheering, “Huzzah for the United States!”
Charley slipped quietly back to sick bay, leaving the Americans to their celebration, and wondering again what would become of a British surgeon held on an American vessel during wartime.

--SEA CHANGE


Today's the anniversary of the capture and burning of the new US capital of Washington, District of Columbia. This is when First Lady Dolley Madison famously saved the iconic portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart.

If you'd like to know more about this pivotal period in American history, or learn what happened to a captured British surgeon, you can enjoy Sea Change for 25% off until the end of the month at Smashwords with discount code BV79D.


Review: A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #1)

A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #1)A Lady's Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Delightful debut novel set amongst the upper class of Victorian England. A widowed countess lands in the middle of a mystery and discovers a talent for deduction. I look forward to more “Countess of Harleigh” mysteries.


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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Review: A Princess in Theory

A Princess in Theory A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fabulous Cinderella story where the prince—really, he’s a prince—has to work hard for his HEA. It was a delightful story full of smile out loud lines and snappy writing. I’m looking forward to more stories of Reluctant Royals and their woes.

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Review: In Debt to the Earl

In Debt to the Earl In Debt to the Earl by Elizabeth Rolls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very satisfying Regency, with many of the elements one seeks in these stories: Visits to Vauxhall, a society prizing manners over morality, Captain Sharps and gambling dens, and women who have to make tough life choices in a world dominated by men.

Elizabeth Rolls is writing the kind of Regency romance we don't see often enough these days.

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

Happy #BookLoversDay!

He returned with his copy of Captain Johnson and arranged himself on her bed while Lydia took the chair. She didn’t want to admit it to the two pirates, but she also was
captivated by the tales of long ago miscreants and their adventures.
“As you know, Mattie, Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, was a commodore of pirates, commanding other captains beneath him. He was not a good man at all, but he was a very successful pirate, so successful that the governor of Virginia Colony offered a huge bounty on his head—one hundred pounds!”
Mattie’s eyes grew large as her father gave her an edited version of Blackbeard’s life, but even so she was frowning at the end.
“‘Here was an end of that courageous brute, who might have passed in the world for a hero had he been employed in a good cause; his destruction…was entirely owing to the conduct and bravery of Lieutenant Maynard and his men.’”
“Blackbeard did not treat his crew well, Papa. You are the better captain. I am glad Lieutenant Maynard stopped him.”

Pirate tales and book lovers have gone together since forever, getting a boost from A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, written by Captain Charles Johnson in 1724, still enjoyed today.  

You can celebrate #BookLoversDay by curling up with your own pirate tale, be it A General History or Treasure Island or Captain Blood...or perhaps a more modern offering with romance and adventure? After all, as Mattie learned in The Pirate's Secret Baby, you're never too young or too old to enjoy a good swashbuckling tale.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Review: Evelyn, After

Evelyn, After Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this novel disturbing, but that's not a complaint. An ordinary--too ordinary--life upended by betrayal and secrets, and the before-and-after scenes encapsulate how many women lose their identities until they're only known as someone's wife or someone's mother.

Evelyn drifts through her days volunteering, taking care of her husband and son, cooking, running errands, but she's lost the part of herself that defined who she was until one night when it all changes. I won't go into more detail because I don't want to give away the story, but this novel will resonate with women of a certain age who put their own life plans on hold...and never seemed to grab them back.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2018

THE PIRATE'S SECRET BABY, Available again!

I've been working on edits this morning for What the Parrot Saw, the story of grown-up Mattie St. Armand from award-winner The Pirate's Secret Baby. In the meantime, you can now purchase Secret Baby in print and ebook from the usual vendors.

When the rights for my books were returned to me I was anxious to republish and get them back out and about into the wild, and into the hands and ereaders of any who may have missed them the first time around. One of the real pleasures in this process has been to broaden the distribution of my novels, and to hear back from readers around the world who're able to access my historical romances.

If you haven't yet had the opportunity to read The Pirate's Secret Baby or any of my other work, I hope you'll give them a chance. And, as always, it's a kindness to your fellow readers and to authors too when you take the time to leave a rating or review. Just this week I saw a new review for Sea Change, and it recharged my writing batteries.

I couldn't do this without y'all, and I thank you!


Monday, August 06, 2018

Review: Jane Doe

Jane Doe Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's said revenge is a dish best served cold, and "Jane Doe" is very cold indeed, making for a delicious tale of female empowerment and justice.

Jane works a perfectly ordinary job at a Minneapolis insurance company, being a little mouse in flowered frocks and forgettable looks. It's a ruse. The self-described sociopath is out for blood, stalking a self-important cad. The reasons why begin to unfold like an origami flower that leaves bleeding paper cuts, and will leave the reader satisfied and satiated at the conclusion.

As Victoria Dahl the author was on my autobuy list for romance. Now as Victoria Helen Stone the author's shift from romance to suspense makes her an autobuy for me in two categories, and that makes me one happy reader.

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Review: The Hunger Pains

The Hunger Pains The Hunger Pains by Chelsea Field
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great summer refresher, full of snappy characters and sharp writing. I'm enjoying this series and appreciate a heroine who learns from her mistakes and doesn't make TSTL choices just to keep the narrative going. The mistakes she makes are often connected to her being the kind of person who cares about other people, and that's why she digs for answers when her clients are at risk.

I look forward to reading more of Ms. Fields' work.

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Happy #NationalWatermelonDay!

“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!

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Review: Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge

Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An excellent and disturbing re-telling of "a tale as old as time". We're told the servants are turned into household objects when the prince is cursed, but what do we really know about them, the ordinary people who populate the Beast's domain?

Lucy is one such individual, a maidservant in the castle, sharing the curse. This is her story and it's intriguing, and horrifying, and shows us Beauty and the Beast in an entirely new way. I enjoyed it immensely, but the difficult subject matter of sexual assault and revenge will not sit well with some readers.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Review: The Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely adorable. A heroine whose vulnerability is only exceeded by her courage, a hero whom you want to tuck under your arm and carry home (forget the mad bedroom skillz, I lust after his other talent!!!) and a story that's both timeless and totally 21st century.

This is one of the best contemporary romances I've read in ages and I look forward to more from this debut author.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review: The Other Lady Vanishes

The Other Lady Vanishes The Other Lady Vanishes by Amanda Quick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amanda Quick's tales have moved from Regency and Victorian England to 1930s California but they still have her trademark capable heroines and mysterious heroes. While the earlier Regency novels are keepers for me (love the Pino covers!) I also enjoyed this more modern tale of suspense involving Hollywood stars and secrets.

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Review: The Armored Saint

The Armored Saint The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A dark, grim, bloody YA that's not going to be for every reader, but one that raises interesting questions about religion, the makings of a hero, and communal responsibility. I'll be looking for Book #2 to see where this goes.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Scottish edition

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

The older I get, the more I value being able to move, and to travel. I'd long had an overseas walking tour on my bucket list, with the Scottish Highlands at the top. This year I decided to make it happen.

In December I made the reservation with Country Walkers  for their Highlands and Isle of Skye tour, and I knew I needed to up my game when it came to walking. I was used to doing my daily 10K steps, and loved to walk around cities for pleasure when I'd be traveling, but I was nowhere ready for a walking tour. I spent the next six months investing in new hiking boots, a daypack, trekking poles, a hydration pack and some good socks. I also purchased a Florida State Parks pass.

The latter was an important motivator. I'm blessed to live in North Central Florida, a land of slightly rolling hills and numerous outdoor activity sites including state parks like San Felasco Hammock and Payne's Prairie. These areas provide plenty of opportunities to get out and walk in the woods (or on the prairie), a delightful Florida winter activity.

However, our rolling hills are no match for terrain like this, the view of Loch Lomond from atop Conic Hill (elevation 1,184 ft./361 m.). Yes, I climbed up here on a breathtakingly beautiful day, my first day trekking the Highlands.

We set out from Glasgow with the option of two walks, one around the loch and the woods of the Trossachs, the other up the hill. I lined up with the hill walkers. Since I hadn't come all this way just to sit on my butt I gamely climbed on, grateful I'd invested in good trekking poles. I have to say it was worth it for a scene like this. Afterward, when we'd discuss the merits of the easy vs. moderate walks I could tell myself, "You made it up Conic Hill, you have this."

The way the tour worked we would be transported to our trekking site while our luggage would be taken ahead to our next stop for the night. You can see from the map how we made a circuit around the Highlands and Skye, returning to Glasgow at the end.
Our group was made up of mostly more experienced hikers from more mountainous locales--Santa Fe, Denver, Australia--but I was pleased that I was never the last to straggle in. I had worried about that, especially when I casually asked a fellow traveler the first day what she'd done when she got to Glasgow and she said she'd taken a nine-mile hike around the city to relax.

But it was easier after that first day. Here's a shot of all of us at Rubha Hunish, the northernmost point of the Isle of Skye. In the background at the horizon you can make out the Outer Hebrides. I'm the short one in front with a blue jacket and a bare head. 

Of course, since it was Scotland, we also took time to sample a wee dram or two. I especially enjoyed the single malts collection at Cuillin Hills Hotel on Skye, and our tour of the Blair Athol distillery at Pitlochry.

But what I liked best was just being there, and seeing it on foot. The flowers, the lochs, Flora MacDonald's home and gravesite, the hills--all of it was breathtaking and truly one of the last best places on earth to visit in its natural state. No coach tour would have compared. Walking the land, even when we were stepping through sheep and their residue, made for a truly unique experience.

There were  so many other sights I could describe and pictures I could post, but the real takeaway from this trip was learning more about a part of the world I'd only read about in numerous novels or seen portrayed in films and television. It's a rugged, windswept country and I feel blessed that I could be a part of it, if only for a brief period.
Duntulm, Skye

Glencoe

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: Eat, Pray, Die

Eat, Pray, Die Eat, Pray, Die by Chelsea Field
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A humorous (well, except for the "you've been poisoned and you're gonna die" parts) mystery in the vein of the "Stephanie Plum" style popularized by Janet Evanovich.

Isobel is an Aussie with a new job and a huge debt, the kind of debt that involves loan sharks and people who break legs. The job is using her unique genetic code and skill set to be a taster for celebrities as risk of being poisoned. She's still on probation, and may not live long enough to have to worry about the bruiser sent to collect from her.

I very much enjoyed this first in a series novel, one that sets up interesting romantic possibilities (If Izzy survives), extols the joys of a long black (I too love the Aussie coffee culture) and promises a good summer beach read. I'm looking forward to reading book 2.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Happy #NationalPecanPieDay!

Julia took a moment to go over and watch the cane mill, where a placid ox hitched to a lever walked ’round and ’round the contraption. The cane mill was two vertical iron rollers set in a heavy wood frame, and Franklin Ivey and the other feeders slowly passed the towering red cane stalks between the grinding rollers as the ox worked the treadmill. As the juice was squeezed out of the stalks of cane, it ran into a trough attached to the mill frame, while the cane pulp fell from the other side.
The uncooked cane juice in the barrels was pale green, and as it cooked and was stirred it thickened and ripened to a deep amber, becoming the syrup prized for sweetening everything from coffee to pecan pie to biscuits.

--Smuggler's Bride 

I admit to some befuddlement over today being #NationalPecanPieDay, because every Southern gal knows pecans are a fall harvest. I keep my fresh, in the shell nuts in the freezer to use all year, but I make my pies for Thanksgiving and winter events.

However, I freely acknowledge than anytime is a good time for pecan pie and in the summer you can add some fresh churned ice cream to go along with your pie.

The other nice thing about pecan pie is it's easy to make (especially if you use a pre-made pie shell.) You can use either corn syrup or cane syrup for your sweetner, and in just about an hour you can have a hot pie fresh from the oven. Here's a classic recipe:


PECAN PIE

1 cup corn syrup or cane syrup
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) pecans
1 (9-inch) unbaked deep-dish pie crust

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Mix corn syrup, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla using a spoon. Stir in pecans. Pour filling into pie crust.

Bake on center rack of oven for 60 to 70 minutes. Cool on wire rack before serving.








Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Remembering Hamilton



Underfunded, understaffed, looked down on by the regular navy, despised by the merchants who paid the tariffs, the Revenue Marine was no one’s darling.
Well, except maybe Alexander Hamilton, he’d loved his revenue cutters that brought money into the Treasury, but look what happened to him, Rand thought. Irritate the wrong people and there you are, worm food.
--Smuggler's Bride

Today is the anniversary of the stupid duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, a tragedy resulting in the death of this Founding Father who did so much for our country.

I read Ron Chernow's biography many years ago and was captivated by the amazing man who accomplished great things in his brief lifetime. Hamilton's legacy helped me write Smuggler's Bride, my novel about the early Coast Guard, aka the Revenue Marine.

Alexander Hamilton was flawed, but his legacy lives on. I haven't seen the musical yet but I hope some day to be in the right place at the right time to get Hamilton tickets. 



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Review: Wicked and the Wallflower

Wicked and the Wallflower Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This first installment in the Bareknuckle Bastards series shows wonderful possibilities regarding characters we were introduced to in The Day of the Duchess. There were fabulous bits of dialogue, a really interesting heroine and a very dangerous hero. In addition, I like revenge stories and the smuggling plot device was excellent. I love historical tidbits worked into a story without too much exposition.

This book is for romance fans who enjoy quality writing and intriguing heroines. I'm looking forward to the next story in the series, as all the introduced characters show great promise.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Review: The Chateau

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

Tiffany Reisz is the best erotica writer you're going to read this year. That's a subjective opinion, but this is my review so I'm letting it stand.

We know Kingsley Edge from previous Original Sinners stories, but here we see him stripped bare, literally and figuratively, as he fulfills a request for his commander in the oh-so-secret French military agency using his special skill set. Kingsley is sent to find the commander's missing nephew, believed to be in a cult holed up in a mysterious chateau.

Madame runs the chateau with a firm hand and she takes a special interest in the young French lieutenant. He thought he knew what sadists could do to him (and how much he'd love it), but he's never met a mistress like Madame. Her level of cruelty is breathtakingly exact, and he will emerge a different person...if he makes it out alive.

While Reisz brings the heat in all of her books, she excels at characterization in erotic lit. This is what's missing from so many of the books today, characters who are more than cardboard figures doing their Tab A/Slot B routine over and over again. I recommend all of the Original Sinners series, and this book to anyone who wants to explore more of the background of the characters who make the series so popular.


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Review: A Touch of Flame

A Touch of Flame A Touch of Flame by Jo Goodman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jo Goodman doesn't write fast, but she writes very well, and that makes me happy. Her books are worth the wait and she brings characters to life in a fashion that has the reader chuckling aloud at the snappy dialogue and quick-witted responses.


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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: The Unlikely Master Genius

The Unlikely Master Genius The Unlikely Master Genius by Carla Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sailing Master Able Six is a savant, a man with a beautiful mind and a lowly beginning. He's a true polymath, but a bastard raised in a Scottish workhouse doesn't have the connections needed in Regency England to allow him to fully use his gifts. However, some of his former captains know his worth and have encouraged Able to teach at St. Brendan the Navigator School, where poor boys like him have a chance to advance themselves by serving in the Royal Navy.

You're going to need your hankies. When Carla Kelly writes a book about boys being trained for battle during the Napoleonic Wars, you can't say you didn't know what to expect. However, it's a gentle love story about a man who could easily go insane from a mind that won't shut down and the woman who nurtures his soul. It's also about lost boys. As much as we Americans view the Royal Navy during the War of 1812 as a place of floggings and impressment, for some boys and men it was an opportunity to advance themselves, and to be fed on a regular basis.

Able and Meridee are introduced in the short story "The Christmas Angle", and this is the first of the St. Brendan novels. One of the joys of a Carla Kelly Regency is that it's about people who are not powerful or privileged. It's about everyday people being good, though Able's far from ordinary and Meridee's quite extraordinary for loving him and appreciating him.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Review: Hamilton's Battalion: A Trio of Romances

Hamilton's Battalion: A Trio of Romances Hamilton's Battalion: A Trio of Romances by Courtney Milan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This delightful collection highlights that love is love, and that it wasn't just straight White Christian men who brought about the beginnings of this great nation. The first romance is about Jewish soldiers during the Revolutionary War, the second is about two gay men who discover love can bring enemies together, and the third is a post-war tale of women of color in New York finding kindred spirits where they least expect it.

I enjoyed this collection very much, and it's a wonderful opportunity for readers who have promised themselves they'd add more diversity to their reading lists.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Review: How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It by Arthur Herman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's no secret that I love my public library. I'm also proud we're part of the chain of Carnegie libraries, public institutions started or boosted by a grant from Andrew Carnegie back in the day.

But what kind of society produced a robber baron who wanted to use his megamillions to promote literacy and civic involvement? It was the Scots, according to Arthur Herman in this wonderfully readable history of the modern Western world. Economic systems, good governance, modern medicine, civic engagement, universal literacy--especially universal literacy--are all legacies of a tiny nation north of England.

I recommend this book in particular to anyone who's a student of American, Commonwealth or British history. I would have enjoyed it even if I wasn't planning a trip to the Highlands this summer, and it was a fabulous adjunct to my travel guides and memories of my previous visits to Scotland.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Celebrate Juneteenth With a Good Romance



The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology

The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology by Kianna Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I live in a small town in North Central Florida where, until recently, we had monuments to the Confederacy in our public square and in the naming of public buildings. A special day like Juneteenth resonates in our community as a very real celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing enslaved people throughout the South.

This outstanding collection celebrates the 19th of June (and if you don't know why that's a holiday, each story explains it), and the brave women and men who were strong in the face of adversity, whether it was a Jim Crow rail car of the late 19th c. or the Freedom Riders of the 1960s. Some of the stories are Inspirationals, some are straight historical romance (with some sensuality), all are well-written and entertaining.

Since this collection was released I've read more by these authors, all of whom are talented storytellers, and I applaud them for putting together a very special anthology.

Monday, June 18, 2018