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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Flag Day

They went up on deck together, David carrying his prayer book. The men were assembled wearing their finest clothing. At the starboard rail a canvas length awaited them, sewn by Sails, weighted to carry its burden to the bottom of the ocean. It was on a trestle, covered with the flag of the United States that fluttered at the edges in the light breeze.
The crew was silent as their captain stepped forward, and a hurricane bird soared overhead, far from land but reminding them all that someday, they would return to their homes.
Some of them.


Today is Flag Day in the United States, the day we mark the adoption of our nation's symbol of freedom.  It was immortalized during the War of 1812 over 200 years ago with Francis Scott Key's poem, now our national anthem.  My flag is flying, as it does on all national holidays.  Long may it wave!

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Write What You Know, Florida Style

Early in their journey this morning they passed a burnt-out homestead, its brick chimney all that remained of a family’s dreams. Vines were already encroaching and moving in, but there had been a gardenia bush in bloom near what must have once been the front door, and Sophia paused to snip off a bloom. The lush fragrance filled her senses, but it was also a reminder of the dangers lurking in paradise.
--The Bride and the Buccaneer 

In 1774, English naturalist William Bartram wrote of  the Alachua Savannah, a stretch of land now known as Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park: "The extensive Alachua ia a level green plain, above fifteen miles over, fifty miles an circumference, and scarcely a tree or bush of any kind to be seen on at. It is encircled with high, sloping hills, covered with waving forests and a fragrant Orange grove, rising from a exuberantly fertile soil. The towering Magnolia grandiflora and transcendent Palm stand conspicuous among them.. Herds of sprightly deer, squadrons of the beautiful fleet Siminole (sic) horse, flocks of turkeys, civilized communities of the sonorous watchful crane, mix together, appearing happy and contented in the enjoyment of peace."

While hiking through recently on part of the Cone's Dike and Jackson Gap Trails at Paynes Prairie I saw plenty of "sprightly deer" and cranes, along with some herons, egrets, bobwhites and more then enough mosquitoes. Even with my insect repellent shirt, bandana, and lotion slathered on I still came home with an array of "Greetings from Florida, sucker!" souvenirs.

However, it was worth it. It was one of the rare low-humidity summer days and I wanted to take full advantage.

Some of the trails were underwater due to the record May rainfall, but it was still a great day to be out on the prairie. This chimney marks the Jackson cottage, all that remains of what was once cattleman Archie Jackson's site on the trail where he'd drive his cattle. Once again I saw plenty of evidence of where the buffalo roam, sizable manure piles, but I still haven't spotted the prairie bison. I did see warning signs on the trail reminding hikers that alligators, buffalo and wild horses have the right of way. If you try to pass them while hiking, you could get trampled or end up as someone's lunch.

But even without the bison I still felt my writing batteries recharging. There's a lot of wisdom in "write what you know", and when I begin to draft another book set in the piney backwoods I'll have a fresh feel for the flora, the fauna, and, of course, the ever-present skeeters.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Exploring Natural Florida

It was pleasant rowing, the cypress and sweetbays shading the creek against the rising heat. There was the flash of a deer’s tail as it headed deeper into the scrub oak. A red hawk soared overhead, looking for breakfast, and when she saw a family of otters sliding down the mud into the water, she laughed aloud at their antics.
The creek widened and grew, joining with other waters until it was a small river. It was cool and restful in a way she’d never imagined Florida. Here was a side that showed itself like violets hidden in the forest, a face different from the mosquito-ridden, pestilent, humid sweat bath of the cities.
Julia was so captivated by the sights that she shipped her oars, letting the current take her, and daydreamed until she glanced over the bow of the boat.
And screamed.
A massive sea creature bobbed in the water off the starboard bow, gazing at her with limpid eyes while it masticated a wad of greenery in its whiskered mouth.
Julia’s hand clutched the front of her dress as her heart raced, but then she shook her head and scolded herself for a ninny. It was a sea cow, large and cumbersome, but not dangerous.
It was, however, curious.
--Smuggler's Bride

When Smuggler's Bride was published in German and Estonian (really!), I received fan mail from overseas readers who'd never read anything about Florida that wasn't set at the beach or a theme park.

While I miss being close to the beach in North Central Florida, I love being close to excellent hiking sites and lots of natural springs and rivers. I've been doing more hiking this year, not just because I enjoy day hiking and I finally invested in the right gear, but because I'm going on a walking tour of the Scottish Highlands this summer.

One of my favorite local hiking spots is San Felasco Hammock State Park, just a few miles up the road from my house. It offers a variety of trails for hiking, biking and horses.  I love to spend the afternoon walking through the woods and experiencing the best of hidden Florida. 

San Felasco also offers rolling terrain on some of its trails, a rarity in Florida. This matters because while I can prepare for hiking distances this summer, there are only two ways I can prepare for the Scottish hills: walking rolling terrain (though ours is nothing close to theirs) and walking the ramps at the University of Florida Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (aka The Swamp). There are ramps at the north and south endzones to move pedestrians to the upper levels, and that gives me a better work-out than climbing the steps at the stadium. It's a more natural rhythm and I can use my trekking poles.

So when I can't get out to the country I get over to the stadium, loaded down with my daypack filled with all the gear I'll be carrying--waterpack, snacks, outer gear, extra socks, first aid kit, journal, a few odds and ends, cellphone...and two large cans of tomatoes.

Why tomatoes? No special reason except they're large cans. I overload my pack now so it will feel lighter and more comfortable when I'm actually hiking this summer in Scotland.

So if you don't see a lot of posts from me this July it's because I'll be trekking the glens and enjoying a change from our Florida summer heat and humidity. More on this as it develops!