Wednesday, November 16, 2016

TBR Day. A Kind of Honor / Joan Wolf. 1980

Wow. This book is nearly 40 years old. And no, it hasn't been in my TBR pile 36 years. I bought it used a number of years ago, so I have had it a while. The romance I read these days is written much differently than it was back in the 80's. It was kind of refreshing to read a book so noticeably different in style and tone from those published today.

A Kind of Honor is Joan Wolf's second published book. (And it's a vast improvement over her first book, which I reviewed for TBR Day 6-1/2 years ago.) This one takes place during the winter/spring of 1812-13. England is preparing for what it hopes will be a final and decisive blow against Napoleon's army in Spain. But there's a traitor leaking vital information to the French. Our hero, Adam, who is home after being wounded in Spain, is tasked with finding and stopping the leak.

It's made obvious right away that the traitor is a French émigré, the Duc de Gacé. Gacé is married to an Englishwoman, who is described as the most beautiful and gracious woman in Society. Amanda, or "Nanda" to her family, is unhappy in her marriage to Gacé. Her focus is on her step-daughter and her son. As Adam works to expose Gacé, he falls in love with Nanda and she with him. So now he must also find a way to free her from her husband.

The book is told primarily from Adam's point of view. Occasionally we are let into Nanda's head. A couple of the transitions were a bit abrupt and confusing-- I chalk that up to it being some of Wolf's earliest writing. But there's also a feeling of distance from the characters. There's an awful lot of telling and not much showing. In many ways, it reminded me of some Presents I've read that were also written in the 80's. Anyhow, there's so much focus on Adam and his work that the romance is very much in the background. So that part didn't work so well.

What did work well was the historical aspect. This book is firmly rooted in time and place. Not only are the efforts to defeat Napoleon front and center, but there's a genuine feel that the social mores of the time are important. When they are broken (because yes, there is adultery) they are not broken lightly.

For those of us who like our historicals to have that strong sense of time and place, this book works very well. It's also interesting to look at an author's earliest writing. Only two years after this would come His Lordship's Mistress, which is one of my all-time favorites. But unfortunately, A Kind of Honor lacks that emotional connection that I'm always hoping for. Still, I have to say that even though I wished for more romance, I really did enjoy reading it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Few Finished Projects

I haven't shown off any of my finished projects since last spring when I finished the purple and green quilt I'd first begun for my sister. As I look around, it doesn't seem as if I've finished all that much stuff, yet I've been spending a lot more time sewing over the last 6 months than I used to. As is typical for me, I am working on half a dozen thing simultaneously. It's kind of like how I read--a library book here, a book on my phone everywhere, another book on my Kindle over there, and an audio book in the car. Sometimes I feel like a poster child for middle-aged ADD. But I'm managing to be productive.

One thing I'm also doing? Hanging out on Instagram. It's where a lot of the other quilters are. I've discovered swaps! Too. Much. Fun. There's more about that below.

Anyway, there's proof I've made stuff!!

First up is this little backpack. I found the pattern on Craftsy. It's not very big, about 8" x 11" and not designed to hold anything really heavy. It was perfect to use on my vacation instead of a purse. It wasn't the easiest thing to make, to be honest, but I was very happy with how it turned out.

Here's a paper-pieced mini quilt. The patterns are from Designer's Workshop. Artist and designer, Eileen Sullivan, sells the best patterns. I own quite a few of them. You'll see that the little hanging below is similar to a set of fall leaves I made last year. Anyhow I love these little projects and have plans to work on those other patterns I have. They are great ways to use up scraps of fabric in my stash.

Lots of quilters on Instagram take part in mini quilt swaps. Someone organizes a swap based on a theme. Quilters sign up and agree to make a small quilt, usually no more than 16" square, and send it to someone in exchange for receiving one in turn. After following a couple of these swaps, I decided to enter my first one. This swap used the paper piecing patterns by Kristy Lea, aka QuietPlay. My partner requested a block out of Kristy's Retro Kitchen collection. So here's what I made:

And here's what I received in return:
It's even prettier in person. Check out the detail in the binding. I need to try that technique sometime.

There are some stunning pieces in this swap that involved over 300 people from around the world. Search #quietplayswap on Instagram for a peek. Needless to say, I'm hooked. And currently entered in two more swaps! Wait til you see the little Christmas tree I'm working on. Or, if you want an advanced sneak peak, you'll find me over there as @QuilterPhyl. I've already posted one picture.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

TBR Day. Cold Pursuit / Toni Anderson. 2014

I've had a few book in Toni Anderson's Cold Justice series on my Kindle for a while now, and finally read the first one last month. Since the theme this month includes suspense, I had a great excuse to move on to Book 2. And I'm glad I did. I found this book just as engrossing as A Cold Dark Place, with a nice blend of suspense and romance.

Cold Pursuit opens with a bang-- literally. Single mom Vivi is Christmas shopping with her young son, Michael, in a Minneapolis mall when terrorists strike. Also shopping in the mall is an FBI agent who is part of the same Behavioral Analysis Unit as the heroine from ACDP and on leave. Jed is a veteran and immediately goes into combat mode. Vivi hides her son in a small cabinet and quietly goes looking for an escape route. Jed helps Vivi and some others get out and then goes back for Michael. Along the way, SWAT arrives and most of the terrorists are taken out. But one one avoids capture. During the ensuing investigation, it is discovered that Michael may have heard and/or seen something significant. Only there is a problem. Michael is mute. There is no easy way to discover if he knows anything.

Vivi and Michael are taken to a safe house, but -- as you might expect -- it doesn't remain safe for long. So Jed takes them off to his home in Wisconsin, a secluded cabin near his family. As all this is happening, Jed & Vivi find themselves more and more attracted to one another. Jed especially tries to resist, because hey-- this really isn't the time, is it? I won't go into the rest, but there are plenty of twists and turns. I really didn't want to put it down.

It was interesting to read this book now. The people behind the terrorists are trying to provoke a war between the U.S. and Syria. As we know, in real life, the war in Syria continues, with world-wide implications. We are all aware of how horrifying the images have been. And then there are people trying to make political fodder out of the refugees. I think there were parts of this book that hit home in a way they might not have had I read it when it was first published.

There are several interesting secondary characters, especially Jed's family. Young Michael is key to the story, but he doesn't come across as an overly cute plot moppet. Quite the opposite actually. The book is tied in the loosest of ways to ACDP, so there's no need to read that one first. After reading two books in the series I appreciate the deft blending of romance and suspense. I'm really quite eager to read more of them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Phyl's 4 Recent Phaves

In no particular order, here are some VERY brief remarks about four recently-read books that I really enjoyed.

A Cold Dark Place by Toni Anderson. If you are squeamish or easily triggered by violence or sexual assault, this is NOT the book for you. But if you like well-written, suspenseful romantic suspense, I do recommend this one. The hero is a hired gun who steps in when the criminal justice system fails. The heroine chose a career in law enforcement specifically to try and find her twin sister who was kidnapped, and never found, when the girls were young. The conflicts were not forced, and very interesting moral questions were raised. To top it off, there was just enough romance.

The King's Man by Elizabeth Kingston. Twitter friend Jessica raved about the audio version of this book, narrated by the incomparable Nicholas Boulton. It's a medieval that features a hero whose life is not really his own (see the title) and a heroine who can fight and lead as well as any man. Unfortunately, to do so she needs to dress and act the part of a man. There's an arranged marriage, the treacherous waters of medieval politics, and adventure on the road. Both the hero and heroine have to come to grips with who they are as individuals and who they can be together. I had to drive with the windows up so I didn't miss a word (I hate to use the A/C)! But totally worth it. Thank you, Jessica.

What We Find by Robyn Carr. Carr begins a new series with this book, once again centered around a small community. Maggie and Cal wind up at Sullivan's Crossing for very different reasons, although essentially they both need emotional healing from recent events. This is a much richer book than many of Carr's recent Thunder Point or Virgin River books, some of which I DNF'd to be honest. I thought there was better character development here and I also thought that Maggie was one of the stronger heroines Carr has written. Maggie doesn't need to be rescued or taken care of; she needs time and space to deal with recent upheavals in her personal and professional life and to re-orient herself. In the end what develops in her relationship with Cal is a partnership, with plenty of give and take. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

Acute Reactions by Ruby Lang. This book was both funny and tender with an interesting set-up. Petra is fighting to establish a solo medical practice as an allergist when Ian comes in as a new patient. He wants allergy shots to he can be near his girlfriend's cat. They are immediately attracted to one another, but Petra could lose her medical license if she got involved with Ian. And Ian-- well, there's that aforementioned girlfriend. The story seemed to flow at just the right place. Petra and Ian have significant issues to overcome and I appreciate a story where we see the characters grow and change. I really cared for these two. Hard Knocks, the next book in the series, is already on my Kindle.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

TBR Day. The Secret Heart / Erin Satie. 2014

The Secret Heart is Erin Satie's debut novel, which is almost hard to believe because it was one of the more polished books I've read in a while. With one book, Satie landed on my auto-buy list. I'm kicking myself that I didn't read it much sooner than this.

Caroline Small, the daughter of an impoverished Marquess, knows that if she doesn't marry, and marry well, she and her younger brother face very precarious futures. She happens to be staying at a Duke's estate where an old friend of hers lives as the Duke's ward. There she meets Adam, heir to the dukedom, the man who becomes the focus of Caro's attentions. For marriage to Adam would solve Caro's problems.

Caro and Adam each have a secret. Caro dances, having learned ballet from her governess. Adam boxes anonymously, as it would be a huge scandal for the heir to a dukedom to be caught brawling with the lower classes.

Rather than spend a lot of time describing the plot I simply want to say how much I appreciated Satie's writing. There's a wonderful sense of time and place. The characters are facing real problems, especially Caro who needs to marry. Her manipulation of Adam is deliberate. Which doesn't make Caro particularly likable, but it does make her understandable and vulnerable. I like that Satie took a risk to make one of her main characters less than likable. And Caro does have to face the consequences of her actions, not the least of which is finding herself in love with Adam, and, when her schemes appear to fail, no expectation of being able to marry him.

Adam, who is fighting demons of his own, not to mention an extremely controlling father, finds himself first enchanted by Caro and then disillusioned by her schemes. Adam is not at all your typical Regency hero, and that makes him unique and fascinating.

This is one of those books I couldn't put down. I highly recommend it and -- no surprise here -- I have already started reading the next book in the series, The Lover's Knot. I'm hooked.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

TBR Day. Vacation pictures

Well, another month, another TBR failure. So how about some vacation pictures? I just got back from two weeks of driving out to the Rocky Mountains and back. I'm too swamped to write about anything I read, but I can post pictures!

We had a picnic lunch next to a prairie dog colony at a state park in Kansas:

In Estes Park, CO, two elk wandered into the town square:

Mama moose and her baby in Rocky Mountain National Park:

Sunset over our campground in Utah:

We drove through Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and stopped to see the views:

On the west side of the Grand Tetons are Idaho's wheat fields:

Wildflowers spotted along the way. Don't ask--I have no idea of their names:

Late afternoon over Lake Yellowstone, a few hundred yards from our campsite:

Waiting for Old Faithful to erupt:

Beehive Geyser, near Old Faithful:

Hello Mr. Bison!! (shot with a zoom lens--I'm not stupid)

 Sunset over Yellowstone's Hayden Valley:

Driving through Nebraska on the way home:

We stopped at LOTS of quilt shops. My family is so patient.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

TBR Day. Unsuitable / Ainslie Paton. 2014

I'm two weeks late with this and almost considered skipping again, but I liked this book so well that I decided to suck it up and finally write my TBR post.

The home page of Ainslie Paton's website, has a little box that says "Favourite Tropes - New Takes" and in that box are pictures of a bunch of her books, including this one, Unsuitable. Unsuitable is a new take on the "busy executive needs a nanny for his kid" trope by making the executive a woman and the nanny a man. I thought this made Unsuitable a fun choice for "Favorite Trope" month.

Here's the blurb:
Can they make trailblazing and homemaking fit, or is love just another gender stereotype? 
Audrey broke the glass ceiling. Reece swapped a blue collar for a pink collar job. 
She’s a single mum by design. He’s a nanny by choice. 
She gets passed over for promotion. He struggles to find a job. 
She takes a chance on him. He’s worth more than he knows. 
There’s an imbalance of power. There’s an age difference. 
There’s a child whose favourite word is no. 
Everything about them being together is unsuitable. 
Except for love. 

Paton does a great job of turning a favorite trope on its head-- all the way to the end when Audrey is the one who has to go to Reece and grovel to get him back. Audrey chose to have a child on her own using a sperm donor. As the book opens Audrey has to find a new nanny. When Reece shows up at her door, Audrey is nonplussed, because she assumed, as she thought of Reese Witherspoon, that this Reece was also a woman. Audrey, however, recognizes her own biases for 2 reasons: 1) Reece is able to establish an instant rapport with 3-year old Mia, and 2) Audrey doesn't want to be guilty of the same discrimination she faces in her male-dominated profession. After some trials, she agrees to give Reece the job as carer to her daughter.

Reece turns out to have an amazing gift working with children. But he continually has to deal with all of the assumptions that people make about him and how painful it is to be denied opportunities with children simply because he's a man. I think Paton explores this issue very well and I liked the way this book got me thinking about my own biases.

Audrey chose to be a single parent because she didn't really trust relationships and she desperately wanted to have a family. She's estranged from her parents and pretty much on her own with the exception of a few close friends. She's good at her job, but she works in the construction industry, and is often passed over in favor of her male colleagues.

It's not long before Audrey and Reece realize how attracted they are to one another. Audrey feels guilty as she is Reece's employer. She also feels awkward over the fact that she's several years older than Reece. She doesn't want a permanent relationship-- she just wants her little family of herself and Mia. It's clear that Reece is the emotionally mature one (again going against trope). So it's Audrey who has to decide that she does indeed want Reece permanently in her life.

Like the other Paton book I read, Grease Monkey Jive, Unsuitable, is on the longish side (about 350 pages). The length gives us a chance to see Audrey & Reece weather some storms as their relationship deepens and develops. In the end, though, it's Audrey who has to relinquish absolute control over her life and let someone else in. This was a thought-provoking, satisfying, and entertaining read.

I'm just sorry I've been so preoccupied by other things that I didn't take the time to write about it sooner.