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.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Pretty Purple Quilt

In my February posts about my sister, I mentioned that she gave me a ton of her stuff--fabric, tools, a machine, and lots of partially completed projects. I brought it all home, stacked in the guest room and tried to figure out where to store it all. Gradually, I organized it, re-arranged some of my own stuff, and figured out how to put it away. It was an emotional process and it took months. I didn't always get a lot of sewing done; it was hard to find the energy as I continued to get used to her being gone.

A few months before she passed away, Char handed me this particular quilt and insisted that I finish it soon. It's actually a quilt top that I made for her back in 2006. She sent me the pattern and fabric and asked me to make just the top. She was going to use it in the book she was writing. When I was finished I sent her the completed top, the pattern, and the leftover fabric. In the book, it's used to demonstrate a basting technique. So she basted the layers together, took pictures for the book, but in the years following never got around to quilting it.

When she gave it to me last fall, she said she couldn't find the pattern or leftover fabric. I wasn't able to find it either as I went through her sewing room. So I can't tell you the name of this, but it reminds me of a floor tile pattern or a garden trellis. I just think of it as the pretty purple quilt. I spent the winter quilting it and finished it in March.
 I didn't do anything fancy with the quilting, just a simple meander across the whole thing.
I keep it on my bed now. A warm, comforting reminder of Char.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

TBR Day. Special Interests / Emma Barry. 2014

I remember reading a number of positive reviews of this book when it came out almost exactly two years ago. I'm sure I purchased it on the strength of those reviews, but like too many of the books I buy, it got pushed to the back burner. I was scrolling through my Kindle titles recently and realized that this would be an excellent choice for this month's TBR Challenge.

The blurb:
Compared to love, politics is easy
Union organizer Millie Frank's world isn't filled with cocktails and nightclubs…until she's turned into an unwitting minor celebrity. As if being part of a hostage situation wasn't traumatizing enough, now her face is splashed across the news. But Millie's got fresher wounds to nurse—like being shot down by the arrogant bad boy she stupidly hit on.
Parker Beckett will do whatever it takes to close a deal for the senate majority leader, including selling out union labor. Charming and smart on the surface, he's also cynical and uncommitted—an asset on the Hill. But something about Millie has stuck with him and when negotiations bring her to his office, Parker breaks his own rules and asks her out.
Parker can't understand how Millie has retained her idealism in a place like D.C. Millie can't believe what Parker's willing to sacrifice in order to pass a budget. But as they navigate their political differences, what grows between them looks a lot like a relationship…and maybe even a little like love.
Special Interests by Emma Barry, is a smart, fun look at two people at political odds who cannot fight their attraction to one another. It seemed extremely appropriate to read this book during a time when we in the U.S. have an abundance of "Super Tuesdays." The primaries dominate the news cycle and cynicism about our government abounds. I liked reading a book about two people who are behind the politicians whose faces are in the news, yet are the ones doing the real work of government.

To me, the book's strengths lie in the ways we get to know both Millie and Parker. Parker is a workaholic--any personal time he gives himself is devoted to his mother and his grandparents. Millie cares deeply for the unions she represents, but is also dealing with the trauma of having been caught up in a hostage situation. The dialogue between the two is great and pretty funny in spots. There's real poignancy to Parker's interactions with his grandfather who has Alzheimer's, and also to the way Parker helps Millie with her nightmares. When their personal and professional lives overlap, there is a genuine conflict that needs to be resolved. Passing a budget is a very real issue, as we Americans have experienced in the not-too-distant past. And given a government where compromise isn't on the table, there's a cost to getting results. All of this is so well portrayed in the book.

One aspect I didn't care for so much was that Millie's insecurities got in the way so easily and then what I perceived to be Parker's over-reaction to them. Their relationship is still very new and playing out against a very stressful political issue and suddenly there's an all-or-nothing moment. I had a hard time buying into that. But it only briefly dimmed my enjoyment of the book, and Parker and Millie's reconciliation was sweet and believable.

Altogether, this is an easy book to recommend. I've already purchased Private Politics, the next book in the series, and look forward to reading it.