Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The 99 Things Meme

This was fun. Feel free to copy.

Things you’ve already done: bold
Things you want to do: italicize
Things you haven’t done and don’t want to - leave in plain font

1. Started your own blog.
2. Slept under the stars.

3. Played in a band.
4. Visited Hawaii.
5. Watched a meteor shower.
6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
7. Been to Disneyland/world.
8. Climbed a mountain.

9. Held a praying mantis.
10. Sang a solo.
11. Bungee jumped.
12. Visited Paris.
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.
15. Adopted a child.
16. Had food poisoning.
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.
18. Grown your own vegetables.
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
20. Slept on an overnight train.
21. Had a pillow fight.
22. Hitch hiked.
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill.
24. Built a snow fort.

25. Held a lamb.
26. Gone skinny dipping.
27. Run a marathon.
28. Ridden a gondola in Venice.
29. Seen a total eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.

31. Hit a home run.
32. Been on a cruise.
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors.
35. Seen an Amish community.
36. Taught yourself a new language.

37.Had enough money to be truly satisfied.
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.

39. Gone rock climbing.
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person.
41. Sung Karaoke.
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.
43. Bought a stranger a meal in a restaurant.
44. Visited Africa.

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.
46. Been transported in an ambulance.
47. Had your portrait painted.

48. Gone deep sea fishing.
49. Seen the Sistine chapel in person.
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling.
52. Kissed in the rain.
53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater.

55. Been in a movie.
56. Visited the Great Wall of China.
57. Started a business.
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia.
60. Served at a soup kitchen.
61. Sold Girl Scout cookies.
62. Gone whale watching.

63. Gotten flowers for no reason.
64. Donated blood.
65. Gone sky diving.
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp.
67. Bounced a check.
68. Flown in a helicopter.
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.
71. Eaten Caviar.
72. Pieced a quilt.
73. Stood in Times Square.
74. Toured the Everglades.
75. Been fired from a job.
76. Seen the Changing of the Guard in London.
77. Broken a bone.
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.
80. Published a book.
81. Visited the Vatican.
82. Bought a brand new car.
83. Walked in Jerusalem.
84. Had your picture in the newspaper.
85. Read the entire Bible.
86. Visited the White House.
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
88. Had chickenpox.
89. Saved someone’s life.
90. Sat on a jury.
91. Met someone famous.
92. Joined a book club.
93. Lost a loved one.
94. Had a baby.
95. Seen the Alamo in person.
96. Swum in the Great Salt Lake.
97. Been involved in a law suit.
98. Owned a cell phone.
99. Been stung by a bee.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

TBR Day -- Dark Champion / Jo Beverley. 1993

This is officially the last day of Keishon's TBR challenge for 2008. I actually managed to complete an entry for each month (July's was by the skin of my teeth). Before I start my review I want to thank Keishon for a fun challenge. Not only did I make a literal dent in my TBR pile, but I found some other very interesting blogs that are now in my reader's subscription log. I can thank those blogs for some additional excellent reading this year as I tracked down several other books that were mentioned. Now that I almost exclusively only buy ebooks, it is no lie to say my physical TBR is smaller than it used to be. Thanks, Keishon! Now, on to this month's review.

I actually started another book for this month's TBR pick. But I wasn't loving it. I wasn't hating it, but it didn't grab me. I wanted to read something that would grab me, so I put the first book aside and reached for this one. Excellent choice as it turned out. From the initial grusome scene I was hooked by this medieval tale set in 1101 when Henry I was solidifying his hold over England.

Here's the blurb from Jo Beverley's web site:
Imogen of Carrisford is a great heiress placed in peril by her father's sudden death. When her castle is overrun by a brutal neighbor, she flees to the only possible help, FitzRoger of Cleeve, even though he is known as a harsh man.

FitzRoger efficiently retakes her castle, but then Imogen seems to have no choice but to marry him, especially as the king supports the match. Thus begins a power struggle between them, complicated by greedy enemies, and leading them both into deadly danger.

Imogen is a young woman of 16 or 17 who has been greatly sheltered from the realities of life by a loving father who dies unexpectedly. As her father's only heir, she immediately becomes the target of ruthless men who would take her and her father's wealth to use for their own ambitions. The book opens when her castle is under attack. A quick-thinking servant hides the two of them and helps her escape to the one person who could help her regain her holdings. Imogen is young, naive, and immature. She's not used to seeing the kind of brutality she now has to face nor is she used to asking for help. I found many of Imogen's actions consistent with those of a young person who has to grow up in a hurry. While she is admirably determined to do what is best for her people, she makes some mistakes at first and has to learn to do better. In other words, she's very real to me in that she doesn't transform into a woman of grace and maturity overnight. She has to grow into the role she's been thrust into.

FitzRoger is known as the bastard son of Cleeve, so he's considered an upstart and an unknown quantity. But he's also in very good graces with the King, and he's really the best person for Imogen to turn to when she needs justice done. FitzRoger agrees to help her, but stipulates that they must marry so that he has legitimate rights to her holdings. Imogen is reluctant to turn herself and her treasure over to someone she barely knows. But seeing no other options, she agrees. FitzRoger does indeed retake her castle for her and gives her the means to help restore order.

Interestingly, this book is told almost entirely from Imogen's POV. There are a handful of sections from FitzRoger's POV, but they're few and far between. Normally that would probably bother me more, because I really do like multiple POVs. But Imogen needs to grow so much as a person, that I could appreciate her view of the world and how she has to change to fit into it. By staying in Imogen's head, we are given a good look at a noble woman's life in medieval times. Women had few options and were indeed more property than persons. While intellectually Imogen understands her role, emotionally she struggles with what she must give up for safety and security. Fortunately she finds a hero who wants to love her and is willing to give her some ground.

A large part of the book is the dance between the two of them as they settle into marriage and negotiate their relationship with one another. It's fascinating to watch them and here is where Ms. Beverley is such a masterful storyteller. Part of this dance includes what the King of England wants and the politics of the day. For an American like myself who does not know British history very well, Ms. Beverley manages to convey a sense of the day without overwhelming me with details, or, conversely, assuming that I know more than I do. Medieval life was brutal, rough and dirty. She doesn't romanticize it, but does allow for romance to blossom. As it does, events come to a head because the original villians still need to be brought to justice. As events move to a climax Imogen and FitzRoger have to make some difficult choices. But since this is a book with a HEA, they emerge triumphantly on the other side.

While originally published in 1993, it was reissued in 2006 as a special promotion for $4.99 (U.S.). It may still be available at that price. If so, I highly recommend it. How nice to end the year on a high note.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Marrying the Captain / Carla Kelly. 2009

Technically this book doesn't go on sale until January 1, but Harlequin makes its books available a month early via their website for print books or via their ebook site. Using the latter, I had this loaded on my PDA in the early hours of December 1 and finished it the next day. Carla Kelly is one of my favorite authors. I really look forward to her new releases and once again I was not disappointed.

Here's the blurb:

Ever since her father tried to sell her as a mistress to the highest bidder, Eleanor Massie has chosen to live in poverty. Her world changes overnight when Captain Oliver Worthy shows up at her struggling inn. Despite herself, Nana is drawn to her handsome guest….

Oliver planned to stay in Plymouth only long enough to report back to Lord Ratliffe—about Nana. But he soon senses that Lord Ratliffe is up to something, and Oliver will do anything to keep this courageous, beautiful woman safe—even marry her!

Nana Massie, her grandmother, and their two servants make up a small household struggling to keep their inn open. Plymouth has fallen on hard times. The British Navy is busy with a blockade against the French and few ships come to call anymore. When they do, there are other, bigger, more established inns that receive patronage from the sailors. Captain Worthy, as a favor to Lord Ratliffe, shows up to stay in the Massies' inn while his ship is in dry dock being repaired. Captain Worthy is also ill and his need to recover means he spends extra time in the inn getting to know Nana, who helps nurse him back to health. Oliver and Nana soon fall in love with one another, but Oliver is resistant to marriage. During his career he's seen too many women become naval widows. Life in the Navy is dangerous and he has no desire to inflict that kind of anxiety on a wife. Meanwhile, Nana believes herself to be unworthy of the Captain; marriage to her would be a serious social misstep.

This book is in many ways a standard, gentle romance. It is set apart from most Regencies however because of the setting (not London) and the fact that the major characters are not from the aristocracy. The backdrop of the war with France and a look at naval life are also unusual if you are a regular reader of Regency historicals. Ms. Kelly does a masterful job of giving the reader a real sense of the way of life for those men who made their livings at sea--and what it was like for their women who were left ashore. She does it with a deft touch; the details do not overshadow the romance.

There is also a subplot involving Nana's father and the real reason he shows concern for her after neglecting her for so many years. As much as Oliver loves Nana, he did not want to marry her as I said above. Yet threatening behavior from her father leads Oliver to marry Nana to protect her. The situation with Nana's father has to be resolved and the subplot carries the book to its conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It didn't have the dark weight of her last book, Beau Crusoe, but there was plenty of tension to make it an engaging read.

I also want to point out that this book is on sale right now, too:

Buyer Beware!! A Homespun Regency Christmas is not a collection of new stories. All 4 of these have been published in previous Signet Regency Christmas anthologies. The copyright page for the 4 novellas is the last printed page of the book. It is easy to overlook. BUT, if you haven't read these, or at least haven't read the Carla Kelly entry, it is worth reading. Interestingly, the CK story, "An Object of Charity" is set roughly around the same time as MTC. The hero is also a naval captain; the heroine's brother died while serving on board the hero's ship. Near the end of this story, the captain describes life on the blockade. It was a nasty, dangerous way to live, yet necessary to prevent Napolean's incursion into England. It's a powerful passage that I remembered from my initial reading of this story years ago. I highly recommend reading both if you can. While they do not appear in any way connected, the similarity of the setting makes them go well together. I wonder if the republication of "An Object of Charity" was deliberately done.

Anyhow, good stuff. Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Phyl's 5 Phaves from November

November was a pretty darn good reading month. I have to say that I honestly enjoyed every book I read last month. Some better than others, but nothing said "meh" to me when I was finished. Considering I had one set of family here for a week and then took off to visit another set of family for Thanksgiving, I'm amazed I read as much as I did.

This month's honorable mention goes to the trio of old Anne Stuart books I read: One More Valentine, Cinderman, and The Soldier and the Baby. I bought a collection on Fictionwise of Anne Stuart "out-of-print gems." These are 3 of the 5 books included in the collection. They're from the mid-1990s and each campy and fun. It's interesting to read earlier work from one of my favorite authors. I hope they bundle more of her older books. On to my 5 Phaves:

5. Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James. This was a very entertaining book about a lawyer from Chicago who is on temporary assignment in Los Angeles for her firm. While there, she's asked to coach an actor who will be playing the part of a trial lawyer for a film. The actor, of course, is the "sexiest man alive" and attracted to this very smart, self-confident attorney who does NOT fall all over herself trying to impress him. The dialogue is witty and the situations seem realistic to this midwesterner. Terrific debut and I look forward to Ms. James' March release, Practice Makes Perfect.

4. Thread of Fear by Laura Griffin. Ms. Griffin is a new-to-me author. I will be looking for more. This romantic suspense novel tells the story of a forensic artist who is so haunted by the stories behind faces she draws that she wants out of the business. But she's so good at what she does and a very determined sheriff won't let her quit. As the artist and the sheriff fall in love, the artist also becomes a target for a killer. This had great pacing and I was fascinated by the descriptions of what a forensic artist does. It must take great delicacy to do that kind of work and Ms. Griffin conveys that without doing too much of an info dump. This was hard to put down.

3. To Taste Temptation by Elizabeth Hoyt. Geez, does this woman miss? Ever? Not yet anyway. I love the way she tells a story. When a widow agrees to chaperone a young American in Georgian society, she becomes involved with the girl's older brother, despite every effort to hold herself aloof. The brother is in London to discover the truth behind a massacre while he served as a Colonial soldier. He can't afford to be distracted. Naturally they can't resist one another. Delicious. I can't believe I waited 6 months to read this.

2. A two-fer for #2. I had not planned on reading these. Really. I love her historicals, but these sounded too much like chick-lit and not my cuppa'. But there they were--on display at the library. Oh what the heck. Sugar Daddy and Blue-eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas may not be what I thought I normally like to read, but I was quite wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In SD Liberty and Gage don't even meet until approximately half-way through the book. But I was positively captivated by Ms. Kleypas' descriptions of growing up poor in rural Texas, so I barely noticed it took awhile to get to the romance. BED was distinctly different from SD, yet equally riveting. Yes, I was quite wrong. I'll be first in line for Smooth Talking Stranger this spring.

1. Ultimate Weapon by Shannon McKenna. I read most of this while on the Pennsylvania Turnpike last Wednesday. With my itty-bitty book light. (Library copy--can't afford trade.) Thank the Good Lord I don't get car sick and I didn't have to help drive. I loved this and could not put it down. Strong, determined heroine with a traumatic past meets strong, determined hero with a traumatic past. Her achilles heel is a toddler with special needs she's trying to adopt. His achilles heel is the old man who educated him and showed him a world beyond the streets. Together they need to rid the world of a monster. Heat. Lots of yummy heat. Tension, suspense, passion, awesome pacing. Ms. McKenna keeps getting better.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

TBR Day. What a Lady Wants / Victoria Alexander. 2007

This book came out nearly 2 years ago in January 2007 and it’s been sitting on my PDA for about that long. That’s the great thing about ebooks. You can carry several dozen of them around at once and your purse or pocket isn’t any heavier than it would be otherwise. Of course, it’s also easy to forget what’s there or get distracted by other, newer titles like The Bazillionaire’s Pregnant Virgin Mistress (B comes way before W in the alphabetical list, see) that I end up reading first.

Anyhow, this is Book 2 in her 4-book series, Last Man Standing, about 4 friends in Victorian England who make a tontine over who will be the last one to get married. Book 4, Seduction of a Proper Gentleman came out in August. Anyhow, here’s the blurb:

Nigel Cavendish knows he'll marry one day, but hopefully that day is many years—and many women—in the future! Until then, the handsome, unrepentant rake intends to enjoy life's pleasures to the fullest!

From the moment Lady Felicity Melville spies the adventurous scoundrel climbing from a neighbor's window—with his comely conquest's husband in hot pursuit—she knows Nigel is the answer to her prayers . . . with a little reformation, of course! Felicity craves excitement and who in all of London is more exciting than the infamous Mr. Cavendish? So what's a girl to do but hatch a scheme to win what she so fervently desires. But her plan works too well when a game of chance and an errant pistol shot abruptly make them husband and wife—but in a way neither wanted.

Now Felicity has to prove to her wayward husband that she's the only woman he could ever want . . . or need!

Like most blurbs, this one only gives the bare bones of the story. Felicity is a young woman who’s had several seasons and has yet to find anyone to fall in love with and marry. She really wants a home and family of her own. When she meets Nigel, right after wishing on a star, she decides it’s fate and determines that he’s the one she’ll marry. With a little help from Nigel’s sister, Felicity manages to attract Nigel’s attention. Her plan is working until things go awry and she’s forced to marry him before he can decide for himself that he wants her as much as she wants him.

Meanwhile, Nigel’s father has decided that it’s time for Nigel to learn the ropes of being the Viscount one day, and Nigel has to put aside his fun-loving ways and learn the family business as it were. There’s a really nice subplot here about Nigel and his father and their relationship. Nice because not every hero has to come from a dysfunctional family with a mean, autocratic father figure. How unusual!

In many respects, this is standard romance fair. Marriage-minded miss meets marriage-averse man. Attraction occurs. Scandal looms, oh my! Marriage takes place. Love blooms. Big Misunderstanding. Common sense prevails. HEA. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride up to the Big Mis. Victoria Alexander writes wonderful dialogue that is often laugh out loud funny. It’s smart and engaging and does a great job of moving the plot forward. Neither Felicity or Nigel were pushovers. They wanted what they wanted (Felicity wanted Nigel and Nigel wanted freedom) and they were up front and unapologetic for it. I loved this part of the story and the characters Ms. Alexander created. So when the Big Mis occurred it felt contrived and a needless waste of electrons. Really, several chapters could have been omitted from the last quarter of the book. It felt like conflict for the sake of conflict. Here are two characters who spend so much time BEFORE they marry being honest with one another. So why does that change AFTER they marry? Instead the family tragedy that also happens could have been used to create the tension that leads to a realization of deep romantic love. I would like to have seen that.

I’ll give this one a qualified recommendation. If you hate the Big Mis, you might want to avoid this. If that doesn’t bother you so much, than by all means, pick it up (or download it) as it’s definitely worth watching these two spar with one another

Friday, November 14, 2008

World Diabetes Day 2008

Every 10 seconds a person dies from diabetes-related causes.
Every 10 seconds two people develop diabetes.
Over 250 million people live with diabetes worldwide. In 2025, this figure will reach 380 million.
More than 200 children a day develop type 1 diabetes.
In developing countries, close to 75,000 children live with diabetes in desperate circumstances.
Type 1 diabetes is increasing fastest in pre-school children, at a rate of 5% each year.Type 2 diabetes has been reported in children as young as eight.
Type 2 diabetes affects children in both developed and developing countries.

I'd like to call special attention to those 200 children who develop type 1 diabetes every day. Today was picked as World Diabetes Day because it is the birthday of Frederick Banting, who along with Charles Best, is credited with discovering insulin in 1921. Before that discovery, those 200 children were condemned to death within about six weeks of diagnosis. Even today, in many parts of the world, insulin is hard or impossible to get. For those, diabetes is still a death sentence. Thanks to these 2 men, my son is still alive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Learning Web 2.0

I'm at a workshop today and I'm learning nifty things about Blogger. Here I am sending a post via email. Nifty.

"She makes her own quilts"--Prov. 31:22 (NJB)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Being with Him / Jessica Inclan. 2008

Recently I saw a review or a blurb for the October release, Intimate Beings by Jessica Inclan and I was intrigued enough that I made a note of it. When I saw that IB is the second in a trilogy, I knew I’d have to read #1 first, which is Being with Him. I finished it over the weekend and really enjoyed it. Here’s the blurb from BWH:

They are here among us...

Far from home, gifted with special abilities, hunted for their powers. And they are desperate to find their other, the one who completes them...before it's too late...

Sometimes, Time Really Does Stand Still

Mila Adams has always known she was different. For as long as she can remember, she has had the ability to shift time, and who would believe that? Certainly not the obnoxious blind dates her mother keeps foisting off on her. But Mila can't help feeling there's someone out there for her, a soul mate who might understand her unique ability. And when she looks into the dark eyes of financial whiz Garrick McClellan, she can't but feel her time has finally come.

Any man would lust after a beauty like Mila, but the moment Garrick touches her--feels her shifting time just as he can--he recognizes her as his partner in power. Their connection is immediate, passionate, raw, and beyond anything either has ever experienced. But who are they? What is this gift that joins them so intensely? Are there others like them? And why do they feel that time is running out?

That line at the top, “They are here among us…” ought to have clued me in, but I missed it, so when as I read this book, it turned into something I didn’t expect. And that was a good thing because sometimes it really is nice to be surprised by something a little different.

The backdrop for this trilogy is actually a bit of space opera, without all of the SF gizmo. The characters are all human beings who share the same DNA as us earthlings, but they evolved in somewhat different ways because they were born on different planets. A war between races caused children of one race to be “hidden” on other planets—dropped off to be raised in adoptive homes and saved from the other race that would exploit the children's paranormal powers. It’s an intriguing concept. Mila and Garrick were toddlers when they came to earth and their memories of their original homes are more like dreams to them. They discover their powers as they grow up. Mila keeps hers to herself; Garrick suffers when no one believes him about his. They feel isolated and alone and Ms. Inclan does a great job of helping us feel and believe in their isolation. When Mila and Garrick meet it’s explosive; they fill in one another’s missing piece. And when they begin to discover that they’re not who they thought they were, the loneliness and emptiness of their lives up to that point begins to make sense.

It turns out that where they are from, people are destined to pair up in this way. Words such as “twin” or “double” are used to describe the pairing, because pairs have complementary gifts. For example, Mila can shift her time to the future and Garrick can shift his to the past. Together, though, they can do both, and more. In the book Mila & Garrick end up meeting others like themselves, only with different gifts, such as telekinesis or teleportation. I like how Ms. Inclan took the idea of “destined pairs” and added to it a sense of equal partnership because each one has a gift that only becomes more powerful when it’s used in conjunction with the partner’s gift. There’s real equality in these relationships which made the romantic aspects of the book more meaningful.

Some of the book didn’t make as much sense to me, though. The parents do what they can to save their children by sending them off-world, yet they leave no clues that would help them understand who they are. I know that the children needed to be hidden, but I guess I expected more. In addition, they are aided by a mysterious character who is a traitor to his or her race. This character is only hinted at and it’s difficult to understand the motivation behind his or her aid. That makes certain events just a tad too convenient. The book also bogged down in a section toward the end when Garrick and Mila are temporarily stuck on another planet where they find more people like themselves. For me, this section got a little confusing. But these things were minor and I found myself pretty well glued to the book over the weekend. I’d definitely recommend it and I’m looking forward to reading #2, IB. They're both published in trade, so I borrowed these from my awesome public library. I assume there’s a #3, but Ms. Inclan’s web site doesn’t say how soon.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Phyl's 5 Phaves from October

October was a busy month with me wrapped up in baseball and with a quilt deadline, so it doesn't seem as if I did as much reading as usual. But I did manage to find a few favorites that deserve to be mentioned:

5. Rake's Ransom by Barbara Metzger. This was my October TBR read and a thoroughly delightful traditional Regency. I really liked the snappy dialogue and the way the heroine turned from an immature girl into a young woman.

4. The One I Want by Nancy Warren. I've read a few of Nancy Warren's "Bad Boys" novellas but this was the first full-length novel of hers I'd read. This is a fun story of a spoiled rich girl who leaves her native England for Texas when her parents decide she needs to be on her own and earn a living like the rest of us. She decides to start a business that's the opposite of match-making: she'll help couples break up in a gentle, civilized way. She arranges through a friend to rent a house from a former cop who happens to live next door. This book is the story of their romance, but what makes this book a little different is that there are a couple of secondary romances that spring up as the result of her business. It's a very quick read and I found myself laughing out loud several times. Ms. Warren created some interesting characters and I'm going to continue to watch for her books.

3. Power Play by Deirdre Martin. I do love sports, but unfortunately a well-written romance surrounding professional sports is hard to come by. The few I've read often have the details wrong, which is highly annoying if you actually care about the game like I do. Fortunately, this book is an exception; it covers the sport of hockey very well. This is the story of a star hockey player and a famous soap opera actress who decide to fake a relationship with one another in order to boost their popularity with their fans. These two are stars with rather large egos. Their careers are important to them. If they seem a little selfish, well, all the more realistic. I liked the way the two of them become important to one another. They gradually let down their barriers and reveal their insecurities to one another. I found this believable and entertaining.

2. Heart Fate by Robin D. Owens. I've been a big fan of the Heart Mate series ever since I read the first one. I love the world that Ms. Owens has created. It's an interesting blend of science fiction and fantasy with a touch of paranormal. This one was different because it begins with a hero and heroine who are divorcing their respective spouses. He was not married to his heart mate because his heart mate had been forced into marriage with someone else. He feels guilty that he did not go to his heart mate before she married and guilty because he couldn't make his own marriage work. She is wary of anyone who might try and control her the way her husband had; she's not even thinking about a heart mate as she tries to heal from the abuse her ex-husband heaped on her. Both of these characters have a lot of healing to do and they find a way to do it together.

1. Shades of Twilight by Linda Howard. I'm slowly working my way through Linda Howard's back list. I found this one at the library and when I finally started reading it I was sucked in and could not put it down. The heroine in this is second cousin to the hero and she has loved her older cousin her whole life. He marries someone else (another cousin--that was a little weird, but it made sense) but within a few years as that marriage is falling apart, his wife is murdered. Although it is proven he's not guilty, most people in their town don't believe it so he leaves and stays away for 10 years. There is a lengthy buildup to his return home and the start of a new relationship with the heroine. In that buildup Ms. Howard does a fabulous job of creating a heroine who has been abandoned by so many people in her life that she is just a shell. The hero comes home and sees how she has changed from the happy young girl he once knew and is so appalled that he makes it his mission to get her to laugh again. He also needs to solve the mystery of his wife's death because his return brings danger with it. I did guess the murderer. This is significant because usually I never do. But the suspense part was secondary to the relationship which was beautifully done.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Anthologies, Anthologies

First, we have to celebrate! Phils win! Phils win!

My preoccupation with the World Series coupled with a quilt deadline has resulted in fewer lengthy chunks of time for reading. So mixed in with the full-length books I finished this month are a couple of anthologies. And I just got started on a third. I love 100-page novellas. I can usually knock one off in an hour and get back to whatever other stuff is waiting for me. It's often chancy with novellas. Some authors are very, very good with them. Some.... eh, not so good.

I pretty much lucked out with these two. The first one, It Happened One Night, is a Regency collection that was an interesting experiment inspired by an idea of Mary Balogh's. What if 4 authors agreed to write stories based on the same basic plot? How similar or different would the stories be. Mary was convinced the stories would be quite different, and she was right. In this case the plot is 2 lovers reunite after a chance encounter at an inn. The 2 haven't seen each other in 10 years. It was fun to see how differently each author did this. Unfortunately, I wasn't crazy about all 4 stories. But I loved the one by Mary Balogh. Truly, she excels at the short format and she can still pack an emotional punch. It was worth adding this to my Mary Balogh collection just for this story. I also really liked the one by Jacquie D'Alessandro. Stephanie Laurens' story was typical in that it involved a bit of intrigue and a hero who insisted on calling the shots. I usually like Stephanie Laurens, but I'm not so sure the short story is a format suited for her. The final story by Candice Hern was sweet, but I couldn't get engaged by it. I'm shallow--I just don't like stories featuring older couples. Oh well. I wish they'd asked Carla Kelly to be part of the anthology. She's another author who excels at the short format.

The second anthology To All a Good Night was a fun read all the way through. My favorite was the one by Jill Shalvis, but I honestly enjoyed them all. These authors are great with witty dialogue and I love watching their characters spar and get to know one another.

Finally there's this one here that I'm just getting ready to start. I'm reading it more for the J.D. Robb story--a tune up for the next full length book due on Tuesday, Salvation in Death.

So, I mentioned a quilt deadline. A very good friend wanted a Halloween quilt for her mother who was born on Halloween. I found this kit and finished it up Monday, just in time to get it in the mail. I heard from my friend that it arrived safely today. Yea! I hope they like it. Anyhow, the color in the picture is a little washed out. But if click on it you can see the colored thread I used on the black fabric. It was a varigated thread in fall colors. It was a dream to sew with and I'm pleased with the results.

And here's a shot of the back. You can see the stars I quilted into the middle border.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

TBR Two-Fer--Two Barbara Metzger classics

When Signet was still publishing traditional Regencies, they would occasionally reissue two older titles in a combined volume. It was a great way for newer readers to acquire classic books from favorite authors. I picked up a few of these back in 2005 and 2006 and this is one I never got around to reading. This particular duo was reissued in 2006. I love Barbara Metzger’s old Regencies. Like Mary Balogh and Carla Kelly, Metzger has a unique voice. Unlike the other two authors, though, Metzger’s books tend to be much lighter. When I want a dash of humor, I can usually count on a Metzger. Her dialogue sparkles and her books are easy to read.

This duo consists of Rake’s Ransom, originally published in 1986, and A Loyal Companion, originally published in 1992. Interestingly, the stories are very similar (other duet reissues I have don’t have stories that mirror one another as much as this book does). Both books include:

  • A young heroine, raised in the country, spoiled by her widowed father, and given free reign to do as she pleases.

  • An older hero, titled, who has served in the Army in the Peninsula Wars.

  • A dog (well, all of Metzger's books have a dog that serves as a notable character).

  • A forced London season (the heroine, being a bit of a hoyden, would rather stay with her father in the country).

  • A villain who provides the conflict and some degree of comic relief.

Given how similar the two books are, I’m not sure it was such a great idea to read them back-to-back. I was just feeling too much deja vu when reading ALC to enjoy it as much as I might have had I put some time between the two of them. But that said, there are some notable differences:

In RR, heroine Jacelyn accidentally finds herself in a compromising situation with the hero Leigh. For Leigh it’s love at first sight and he insists on a “pretend” engagement, fully determined to see it become a real engagement and marriage.

In ALC, Sonia, a girl who rescues strays, finds herself sent to London for a season where she meets Darius. Darius is an outcast (i.e. stray) from society because of a past scandal. He’s guardian to his 3 young nieces and Sonia sees to it that he’s restored to society.

ALC is well-known among traditional Regency fans because each chapter has a section written from the POV of the dog. Yes, the dog. And in the beginning it works. But the dog takes up so much of the center stage that there is little opportunity to see the relationship between Sonia and Darius develop. The dog tells much of the story, breaking the cardinal “show, don’t tell” rule. This wasn’t so bad in the beginning of the book, but at the end when the tension is building it got in the way. Thus, because the story felt repetitive, and the dog part became annoying, I wasn’t so fond of TLC.

I loved RR, though. Jacelyn is 17-18 years old and she acts that way. Many of her actions are impulsive and immature. Leigh is 28-33 (can’t remember and don’t want to try and find out) and he realizes that he needs to take it slow with Jacelyn. I really thought the characterizations were accurate, and it made me realize how often I read books where the 17-year old heroine somehow has the maturity of a 30-year old woman. I loved that Leigh falls for Jacelyn right away, uses terms of endearment that he really means, but doesn’t push himself on Jacelyn until she’s ready for him. There’s lots of dialogue between the two of them and you can see their relationship grow and develop. You even see Jacelyn grow up as she learns to live within society’s expectations and recognizes that she no longer has the personal freedom she enjoyed sheltered away on her father’s estate. This one I can definitely recommend.

I have Barbara Metzger’s last 2 books sitting on my TBR pile, one of which was published this past summer. After reading this month's TBR I have to go find those 2 books.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sharing blog love

Last week Jace tagged my blog as one of her favorites. How flattering! I'm supposed to tag some other blogs, but since several of my favorites have already been tagged, I thought I'd give you a glimpse of what's in my feeder so you can learn a little more about me. So apologies, Jace, for breaking the rules, but I hope the 3 or 4 of you who read this blog enjoy seeing where I hang out!

Phillies.com. OK, technically this isn't a blog, but my guys are halfway to the Fall Classic and I am obsessed with baseball right now. I also follow Penn State (we're Number 3! we're Number 3!) and the Eagles. I love the fall when I can quilt while I listen to football or baseball at the same time.

My favorite quilting blogs include:

Valori Wells. Valori is a talented artist and designer. I enjoy learning about her design process coupled with glimpses of her beautiful family.
SHNOODLE.A block a day. Seriously. I'm beyond impressed.
Will Work for Fabric. And you think I'm productive? Not!

I subscribe to over a dozen author blogs. A couple really make me laugh as well as make me think. Check out Jill Shalvis and enjoy her pictures of the beautiful Lake Tahoe area while you giggle. Or Word Wenches where the world's best historical romance authors have gathered together to talk about their research, their process and their books. Always interesting reading.

I subscribe to a boatload of reader blogs too. I pop around from place to place, but I have to give a shout out to Kristie J, as hers was the first reader blog I ever found. From there I clicked on all her links and found one great blog after another. Addictive stuff.

Food. I love my food. But I'm not so fond of cooking. I like ideas that make healthy cooking easy. The Crockpot Lady has it down.

And there are some serious ones too. Work-related (boring!--we'll skip those) and health-related. Since our family is touched by type-1 diabetes, I also read a number of diabetes blogs that focus on type-1 and the unique issues we face.

Geez, that's a lot of reading! No wonder I have no time to post more often!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Phyl's 5 Phaves from September

Well, according to that list on the right I only read 10 books last month. Unusual for me as I tend to average 15-20 books per month. But I guess it makes it easier for me to choose my 5 phaves:

5. Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs. This was my first book by PB. And I know some other bloggers have said this book can stand alone, but I strongly disagree. The novella "Alpha and Omega" appeared in the anthology On the Prowl and I am so glad I read that first. I think many nuances would have gone straight over my head had I not. Several times I saw references to what had come before and I couldn't imagine NOT having read AaO first. That said, Cry Wolf was very entertaining and an interesting way for a newbie to enter PB's world.

4. One with the Darkness by Susan Squires. This is her latest entry in her companion series, a different take on the whole vampire thing. This was done with a time travel (TT) twist. The book begins and ends in 19th century Italy, but the bulk of it takes place in 1st century Rome. The unusual historical setting alone made it worth reading. In the best of situations, TT is hard enough to wrap my poor brain around; this book seemed a tad too illogical in its explanations of the consequences of the TT. Nonetheless, I liked the story and the main relationship well enough that I had a hard time putting it down.

3. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. See my post from 3 days ago.

2. Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh. This is another strong entry in NS's Psy/Changeling series. I do agree with some bloggers/commenters who feel that not enough attention was paid to the central relationship. However, there is some great world-building going on in these books and I was drawn in by the ongoing conflicts between the psy and changeling groups, and hints that humans have entered the fray as well. The romance was satisfying enough, but I wouldn't have minded had there been more of it.

1. The Price of Desire by Jo Goodman. I should have blogged about this when I read it. I meant to, honest, but then we had that stupid wind storm; the power went out, blah, blah, blah. This was one awesome book. Layer upon layer gently peeled back in this story that focused primarily on the relationship. There is a small suspense part to the plot, but it doesn't take away from these wonderfully long, intense scenes between our main protagonists. I come away from reading JG's books totally in awe of her talent as a writer. This was no exception. I wish she wrote more than one book a year, but when they're as well-written as this one, she should take all the time she needs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Amy Butler book signing

My LQS sponsored a trunk show and personal appearance by fabric designer Amy Butler last night. Lucky me--I had time to go and meet this extremely friendly, charming, and talented woman. Her fabrics and designs have had a major impact on quilters. Here's a shot of one of the displays of her projects:

This one is a shot of her latest line, Daisy Chain, on the middle shelf:

Here she's talking to one of the people who came to talk to her. She was generous with her time. She explained a little about her design process and answered all kinds of questions:

She's signing one of her books:

Finally, here's what I came home with:

I got a packet with 2 (two!) free patterns, autographed by Amy; a free fat quarter; and 2-1/2 yards for a new purse. Although upon reflection, I'm thinking of doing a messenger bag instead for my laptop.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Sugar Queen / Sarah Addison Allen. 2008

Sarah Addison Allen’s first book, Garden Spells, was one of my 5 Phaves for July. I eagerly looked forward to her 2nd book, The Sugar Queen, and I was not at all disappointed. This is a wonderful novel of a woman shut off from life who comes into her own. Along the way, issues of love, sisterhood, familial responsibility, forgiveness, food, and living life on your own terms are explored. Somehow, Ms. Addison manages to weave all of these themes into this relatively short book while telling a delightful story with warm, engaging characters.

Aside—I wish I belonged to a book club. Either one of her books would make a terrific book club selection. There’s a lot to talk about.

Josey is the sugar queen. She’s a 27-year old woman very much under her mother’s thumb. She still lives at home and spends her days doing whatever her mother asks her to do. Josey has virtually no life of her own, except for her very secret stash of sweets, romance novels, and travel magazines that are all hidden away in her closet. When Josey needs to escape the confines of her life, she finds comfort in the food and reading material in her closet. One day Josey comes home to find a strange woman in her closet. Della Lee is everything Josey isn’t—bold and opinionated—and she threatens to expose Josey’s secrets if Josey doesn’t let her stay for a few days. Soon, Josey finds herself running a few errands for Della Lee and in the process Josey makes a new friend. One thing leads to another as Josey finds her wings. She finds herself getting to know her mailman, Adam, someone she's secretly been in love with for years. She also begins to explore the truth of her relationship with her long-dead father, and standing up to her domineering mother. She also learns more about who Della Lee is and why she's in Josey's closet. It’s hard to say more without venturing into spoiler territory.

Since this book is primarily about Josey’s journey of self-discovery and emergence, the romantic relationship is just one facet of this story. So this is not technically a romance novel. But it does have strong romantic elements and is just so charmingly and creatively written that it’s as satisfying as one could wish for. The chapters are named for various candies (e.g. Sweet Tarts, Mr. Goodbar) and cleverly reflect the themes of the chapters.

There’s just enough information at Ms. Allen’s website to indicate that her next book is about BBQ. Clearly Ms. Allen is using food and our love of it as an enduring theme to run through her books. As someone who loves food as much as the next person, I’m all over that. Meanwhile, I highly recommend this one to you.

Friday, September 19, 2008

ADD part 2

Those 3 projects I have had going apparently weren't enough to entertain me. I saw a version of this basket quilt in Fons & Porter this month. I had been thinking I'd like a project I could hand quilt, and this seemed good for that. It's almost done. It's called Williamsburg Basket because in the magazine it used a reproduction fabric collection. But I pulled some stuff out of my stash. All those half square triangles were a good reminder of the importance of an accurate seam allowance. I did a fair bit of re-sewing, LOL!

Meanwhile, a friend purchased a Halloween kit in July and asked me to make it for her mother who was born on Halloween. They make a big deal about every year. So, when we were at the Sisters show where there were several Halloween quilts for sale, I told her that I'd make a quilt for her mom if she could pick out a pattern or kit that would go together quickly. This is from a fabric collection called Midnight Mischief from Clothworks. Sorry about the small picture. You can go here to get a good view of the individual fabrics and the (free!) pattern. Anyhow, I've started cutting this and I'll be piecing it over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TBR Day. A Matchmaker's Christmas / Donna Simpson. 2002

A Christmas book? Yes, well, Hurricane Ike literally blew through Ohio on Sunday, knocking out our power and pretty much ruining my plans to use an ebook that's been sitting on my hard drive for over a year for this month's TBR read. Things still aren't quite back to normal (The Kid is off school for the 3rd day in a row), so I needed something that wouldn't take long to read. A traditional Regency fits that bill, and the first one I grabbed was this one:

Donna Simpson is the author of about a dozen traditional Regencies, including one of my favorites, Lord St. Claire's Angel. She writes paranormals now as Donna Lea Simpson. I must admit that I haven't read any of those yet, but I certainly enjoyed the half dozen or so of her Regencies that I have, including this one.

A Matchmaker's Christmas is actually 3 romances for the price of one. The primary romance is between Beatrice Copland and Sir David Chappell. Beatrice is the companion of elderly Lady Bournaud. Lady Bournaud realizes that she's nearing the end of her life and decides to do a little matchmaking--she'll pair her long-time companion with her godson, David. What sets this pair apart is the fact that they're older than your typical romance h/h. Beatrice is nearly 40, and David is 47 with a grown son. Another unusual feature of this book is that it takes place far from London--on the edges of the moors of Yorkshire. Lady Bournaud throws a Christmas house party in order to bring Beatrice and David together. To add to the numbers, she also invites a pair of young people that she wants to throw together. A second couple also arrive separately and unexpectedly, creating a bit of a tangle.

The primary story between Beatrice and David turns out to be complicated by the fact that the two of them share a past, although David doesn't recognize Beatrice at first. Beatrice had been the friend of David's long-dead first wife. Beatrice has carried a boatload of guilt around for 20 years over the circumstances of the wife's death and is actually relieved when David doesn't know who she is. Meanwhile, the four young people are busy pairing off, in part to the dismay of Lady Bournaud who wants to see a different pairing. All of this comes together nicely in this sweet, rather gentle story that epitomizes the traditional Regency--manners and mores of polite society dictate how the characters can relate to one another.

I have to commend Ms. Simpson for making all of this work within the shorter format of the old trad. The author manages to adequately describe the house, the nearby village, and the moors, without going into long descriptive narrative. Her characters are individuals and not cookie-cutter members of the haut ton. For example, we have a curate who is about to become vicar in his own parish, and a young woman of good family who happens to have grown up on the frontier of Upper Canada. Miss Allen has been sent to her mother's family in England specifically to make a good marriage. She has a hard time fitting into the polite society she's ill-equipped to deal with. All of the characters are likeable and we get a good look into who they are and what they want.

I can definitely recommend this book (if you can find a copy of it). With shorter days, cooler weather, and halloween candy on sale at Kroger's--you just know Christmas isn't so far away after all.

Friday, September 5, 2008

I think I have ADD

I'm one of those people who constantly moves from project to project. I do finish things, but midway through one project I'll stop and pull out fabric to start another one. Or something will come up that makes me start in on something else--a challenge, a class, a need to make a gift, or a new fabric purchase. All of those things change my focus. I don't want to admit how many UFOs (UnFinished Objects) I have here, but if I were totally honest, it's probably at least a dozen. Here are 3 I started this summer. And I'm not including the one I started the other night because I couldn't get a decent picture of it.

This first one is from a class I took in June with 2 friends. I still have 4 more flowers to add to it. This is funky and fun, but it's large and appliqueing down the flowers is awkward at times.

A while back I posted a picture of some flower blocks that I'm doing as part of an exchange with the same 2 friends. I had another set of blocks to finish and I got those done last week. I'm looking forward to doing the exchange because I have some fabric picked out for the background and borders and I'm hoping it'll work out the way I expect.

Then there's this very busy-looking quilt top that's in progress. While shop-hopping in July I found a pack of the new Boy Scout fabric collection. I brought it home and used the ever-popular Yellow Brick Road pattern to make a throw for my Boy Scout. It's so busy that I wasn't sure I liked it after I put it together, but it began to grow on me and it certainly appeals to a boy. The kid is anxious for it to be finished.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Phyl's 5 Phaves from August

I read quite a few good ones last month and it was hard to narrow it down to just 5. So as a bonus here 3 honorable mentions that didn't make the cut: The Last Rake in London by Nicola Cornick, Flashpoint by Jill Shalvis, and Your Mouth Drives Me Crazy by HelenKay Dimon. Fun reads all. But the 5 best of the month were:

5. Never Lie to a Lady by Liz Carlyle. This one came out last year, but I waited for all 3 books in the trilogy to be published before starting in on it. It was worth the wait. I liked this story of two people who felt very much on the outside of the society in which they lived. They had much in common and their story was very believable. The plot involves some interesting intrigue that pits the hero and heroine against one another at first and I enjoyed the way it was resolved. And I swear, Liz Carlyle gets the best covers.

4. The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran. This is the author's first book. It was the winner in a first chapter contest held by gather.com. It is set against the fascinating history of the 1857 Sepoy rebellion in India. I confess I know little of this era or area of the world, and that made the story all the more fascinating. For a first book, it is very well written, although some of the pacing could have been improved. Nonetheless, I sure hope Ms. Duran will be published again.

3. Letters to a Secret Lover by Toni Blake. This contemporary has an unusual setting--a small town in Montana. Having been to a few small Montana towns, it was easy to imagine the setting and some of the quirky characters who lived there. This was an extremely entertaining read with a handful of twists that kept it interesting. The dialogue is smart and funny and I had a great time reading it. I'll be looking for more books by this author.

2. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. This book seems to be iconic among online romance readers. I frequently see references to this book and when I ran across it at the library I figured I really should read it. What a brilliant book. Really. The dialogue is snappy and funny. The heroine is overweight and cannot believe the gorgeous hero is really interested in her. I love the way Cal breaks down her defenses, almost against his own will. The secondary characters are equally brilliant. It's excellently plotted and paced. Now I get why this book is so popular.

1. Tapestry by Karen Ranney. Well, I think I already said enough.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

TBR Day. Tapestry / Karen Ranney. 1995

There are times when I read a book and I marvel at the mind behind the words. A mind that’s able to evoke so many different ideas and emotions that I continue to think about the book long after I finished reading it. I am left unwilling to start another book because I want to continue to enjoy what I just read, by thinking about it or going back to re-read various sections. This is what happened to me after I read this month’s TBR installment, Tapestry by Karen Ranney.

I’ve gushed over Ranney’s books before. And it is worth noting that she has a new book out on Tuesday. I am so all over that one. It’s already available to pre-order on Fictionwise. But back to Tapestry. Here’s the blurb:

Tapestry is the story of first love/only love. Laura Blake has been in love with her next door neighbor, Alex Weston, ever since she was a child. The Seven Years War separated them, however, and in the intervening years, Alex lost his youthful enthusiasm for life while Laura grew into a woman--more certain than ever of her feelings. Alex returned home from the war horribly scarred, and it is his attitude about his disfigurement and his resultant reclusive life that poses the greatest threat to their happiness. Laura manages to convince Alex of the power of love. But then, fate steps in and separates them once again.

A blurb like that simply cannot do this book justice. It’s a historical set in the early 1760s in England--a time that appears to have been full of political upheaval. Prime Minister William Pitt plays a role in the story and Ranney makes the period come alive, even if you aren’t very familiar with the history and politics of 18th century England. And frankly this is what a good historical should do—give you a sense of time and place without requiring you to know a whole lot in advance. In fact I became interested enough to go read a few Wikipedia entries about Pitt, Frederick of Prussia, and the naval battles Alex was in.

I think the easiest way to describe this book is that it is two stories. Laura had loved Alex as a little girl and made up her mind way back then that when she grew up she would have him. Alex goes off to war while she is still young and when he returns she’s now 18, but he refuses to see her or any of their neighbors. Due to his disfigurement, he’s cut himself off from everyone and lives a very lonely life shut up in his estate. In the “first” story Laura hatches a plan to worm her way into his life and eventually succeeds, although not without some bumps along the way. The story is told with humor and has overtones of a fairy tale as everything becomes so perfect. It is a lovely romance as Laura teaches Alex that he’s lovable and that their life together is worth fighting for. Only just as perfection is reached you realize that there is still nearly half of the book to go! Obviously the book is about to take a turn.

And turn it does. In the “second” story Alex, who had been doing some work for Pitt, agrees to go in person on a mission for Pitt. While on this trip, Alex is caught up in another naval battle and this time the ship he was thought to be on is destroyed with all hands lost at sea. With no one the wiser that Alex has been captured by the French, Laura suffers the worst imaginable tragedy and descends into a profound grief that makes her a shadow of the young, vibrant, happy girl she’d been. The reader realizes that Laura had really been a rather protected, one-dimensional girl whose life had revolved around Alex. She exists, but no longer lives--until she is befriended by another widow who gives Laura something to live for. Laura grows up and becomes a woman who learns how to deal with life on a whole new level, with maturity and determination, even if it must be without the kind of happiness she’d known with Alex.

This part of the book deals with profound grief and how people are changed by it. The grief and its consequences is beautifully and tenderly written. Ranney doesn’t make us wallow in it with Laura, but we are given a chance to understand and experience what Laura must go through in order to learn to live again. At some point she needs to actually make the choice that she will live (not just exist) and she will do it without Alex. And it’s this part of the book that made a good book great. This is a fine and realistic portrayal of grief. And because it's less than half (or even less than a third) of the book, the romance and happy ending are not overshadowed by it. I never felt that I needed to call this a "dark" book.

So, when we all finally learn that Alex actually survived, we see that Alex has to deal with the fact that Laura is not the same woman that he left behind. In the 2 years he’s been gone, Laura and their life together was frozen in time—but only in his mind. He comes back expecting things to be just like they were. But how can they be? She thought he was dead. She had no choice but to move on. Alex has to adjust his thinking as well. Alex has to love the woman Laura's become, not the girl he knew before. While brilliantly done, I do wish this part of the book had been just a little longer. But that’s the ONLY tiny complaint I have about the book.

After I read this, I went to Ranney’s website to see if she has anything there to say about the book. It appears that Tapestry was her first published book, although not the first one she wrote. In response to a compliment about Tapestry, Ranney says (#7) this:

I was in such pain when writing Tapestry that trying to mask it was foolish - it came out anyway. There is one scene in the book where I couldn't stop crying. Not mild tears, but great huge, gulping sobs. My keyboard stopped working, and I couldn't help but think I shorted it out by crying so much. The book helped me walk through my pain, helped me heal, and although I've never been able to read Tapestry through again, I'll always look on it with great fondness.

Isn’t that interesting? I cried my way through more than one scene in this book. I’d love to know which one she sobbed through, although it’s probably none of my business.

While Tapestry is out of print, it is available for only $3.20 if you’re lucky enough to own a Kindle. Online, used print copies are going for over $7.00 each. Tammy & Ali, if you are nice to me and don’t bug me about my two (two!) unfinished summer projects I’ll let you borrow my copy.

Go forth and read it. Highly, highly recommended. 5 stars. A+. Whatever.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Phyl's 5 Phaves from July

This month I read some good ones. But my 5 favorites were:

5. Fairyville by Emma Holly. Hot. Very hot. It is Emma Holly after all. But a delightful story that includes a world that was fun and interesting. Great characters. And hot. Very, very hot. Let's move on, shall we?

4. Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves. A very humorous story about 2 people who are as different as night and day. They are from the same town in Texas, but meet in Las Vegas where they end up getting married, only to regret it the next morning. Once back home they decide to maintain the fiction of the marriage for a month (the reasons are good ones). And of course in the process they fall in love and discover how to live with their differences. I laughed and I cried. I love a book that can make me do both.

3. Embraced by Love by Suzanne Brockmann. This is an early one by Brockmann that I found at the library. An unusual story in that it begins 5 years into the h/h's marriage. Their lives are turned upside down by tragedy and it almost ruins their marriage. They have to learn how to reconnect. I am just getting into reading Brockmann's books and I can see why people like them so much. And this was not your run-of-the-mill story. Well done.

2. Sea Witch by Virginia Kantra. I almost wrote a review of this one. I should have. This is a different paranormal in that the heroine is a selkie; there's not a vampire in sight. Good because I'm getting tired of vampires. Anyhow, selkies are portrayed as very independent, almost hedonistic creatures. The heroine really has to change to make a relationship work. And she has to be self-aware enough to understand what that change means. I think Kantra wrote it just right and it was very believable. The sequel, Sea Fever was just released and sits upon Mt. TBR.

1. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. This is a relatively short book that is probably marketed as general fiction with romantic elements. It is mostly about a heroine with a special magical gift. She's a wounded spirit though and isolates herself from relationships. Her long lost sister shows up on her doorstep with a young daughter in tow. At the same time she meets her new next door neighbor, a single man who's very interested in her. Suddenly her world is turned upside down and she learns to trust and let herself love. This is a wonderful book with richly drawn characters. Pretty amazing considering how short it is. My only wish is that there had been more of it. Allen has a new book out and since it's harcover I've got it on reserve at the library.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dangerous to Touch / Jill Sorenson. 2008

Jill Sorenson's debut novel came to me (free!) when I won a contest over at HelenKay Dimon's blog last month. I can't remember reading anything out of the Silhouette Romantic Suspense line before, so I was looking forward to giving this one a try. Here's the blurb:

All her life Sidney Morrow had tried to repress her disturbing psychic visions. Until a vision of murder shattered her fragile serenity. She had to go to the authorities—make them listen. But Lt. Marc Cruz didn't trust her one bit. In fact, the sensual homicide cop treated her like a suspect. And sent her senses haywire.…

The dark-haired beauty knew something about the serial killer Marc was after. But he was certain "visions" had nothing to do with it. Determined to be her constant shadow, Marc wasn't prepared when desire blindsided him—and put them both in the path of a relentless killer.

This one had a really interesting premise which made the heroine, Sidney, appealing to me. Sidney has a psychic ability to receive visions or thoughts from someone she touches. As a result she doesn't like to touch other people and ends up leading a rather lonely existence. She needs a hero who will accept her as she is and understands that he won't be able to hide anything from her. The book opens when Sidney finds a stray dog. After touching the dog, she gets a vision of a murder and she ends up taking the dog to the police and becomes embroiled in the investigation of a serial killer. Lt. Marc Cruz is the detective assigned to the case and it isn't long before he and Sidney become involved. Marc has issues of his own and he's forced to deal with them in light of Sidney's "gift."

For the most part I really liked this book. It was well-written and drew me in right from the first. Only one thing really bothered me. Sidney's psychic ability gave her an unfair advantage in the relationship when she could touch Marc and sense things from him. A couple of times she even lept to wrong conclusions based on something she "saw." It seems Marc realizes that by simply being with her, his life would be an open book to her. There's a point where he makes a comment to his friend that he thought he'd like to be in a relationship that had total honesty. In a way, Marc has no choice about being honest, yet he never really asks Sidney for this in return. She keeps a lot to herself; because of past experiences she does have a hard time opening up to Marc. But I would have liked to see Marc and Sidney discuss the imbalance in their relationship and how they'd have to deal with it. Also, at the end of the book, I would have expected Sidney to know Marc's feelings with more certainty. Over a month has passed at this point--what? she's had no more visions or feelings after being with him so much? That seemed a little inconsistent.

Otherwise, I thought this was a solid, suspenseful read, and a pretty fine debut. I look forward to reading more books by Jill and am happy to recommend that you give this new author a try.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

TBR Day. Wanted : One Perfect Man / Judi McCoy. 2004

This post is just making it under the wire. Whew. But I did it.

This month's book is a bit of a departure. Most of the books in my TBR pile are historicals, because that's what drew me back into reading romance in the first place. At some point several years ago I read Judi McCoy's "heaven" trilogy and liked it well enough to order her "wanted" series from Amazon (aka Starlight trilogy). I've been meaning to read them ever since. It seemed time to pick a contemporary out of my TBR pile, and this was one of the few available.

Wanted: One Perfect Man is the first book telling the stories of 3 women sent to earth to find specific men and become impregnated by them. These women come from a planet of humans with advanced technological skills, but suffer an inability to give birth to healthy male children. Zara is the heroine of this story. She is sent to a backwater town in north Texas to find the potential father of her baby. She has to adapt to living on earth, find her man, and get pregnant, all within 30 days. Then she'll be picked up by the mother ship and taken back home. Daniel Murphy is a former astronomy professor hiding out in this Texas town with his 8-year old son, Will. Both Zara and Daniel have secrets that they are keeping from the town and from one another. Zara's arrival doesn't go unnoticed by people hunting for aliens come to earth and these characters soon show up in town sticking their noses into everything.

This should not be considered SFF despite the outer space theme. There are all kinds of holes in the story if you look at it as science fiction romance. For instance, even though Zara is human, she expects to have 3 fertile periods during her 30-day stay. She's also supposedly from a technologically advanced society, yet her abilities appear more psychic than scientific. It is no spoiler to say that Zara gets pregnant pretty quickly; it takes less than 24 hours for her to experience some pretty, and weird, signs of pregnancy. So is she human or isn't she?

Basically this book has great potential, but little substance. I like the basic story idea, but it never seems to be fleshed out. The premise of a single dad in hiding along side the alien woman who needs a man is intriguing. But, everything happens too quickly. Supposedly Zara and Daniel have a quick emotional connection, yet they barely talk to one another and they certainly don't trust one another soon enough with their secrets. There are also so many secondary characters that it makes the story drag down.

There are a few humorous moments in the story. And Daniel is a solid hero who has given up a lot to keep his son safe. That helped me keep on reading. But I wasn't so entranced that I couldn't put it down so I could do other stuff. I'm going to read the other two books in the series since I pulled all three of them out. But this one I'd just give a conditional recommendation to. Hopefully I'll like the other books better.

Monday, July 14, 2008

I made it to Sisters!

Sisters, Oregon, USA--home of the premier outdoor quilt show in the country. Set in the high desert of central Oregon, Sisters is a quaint little town that pulls out all the stops to make thousands of quilt lovers feel at home for one day each year in July. And this year I got to go!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fun, Funky Flowers

I'm doing a block exchange with a couple of friends and here is my first set of blocks. The pattern we're using uses a free-form piecing technique. It's very fun, although it wastes a lot of fabric. Because it's free-form, the blocks look slightly different from one another, although they were pieced all at the same time.

The pattern is called It's a Riot! from the April 2008 issue of BH&G American Patchwork & Quilting and it can be found here. My friends and I are pretty much following the color choices in the original pattern. But if you go to the AP&Q web site there's an alternate color option with the flowers done in soft blue & pink. Very pretty, too.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Death Angel / Linda Howard. 2008

You can usually count on Linda Howard to write something outside the norm and she's clearly done it again. Her latest book, Death Angel, is a romantic suspense novel that seems to ignore most of the genre conventions, yet succeeds very well.

For example, in your typical romance, it is assumed that the hero and heroine will spend quite a bit of the book in one another's company. That doesn't happen here. Typically, we'll also know the names of our protagonists. In this one, the hero is known simply as the assassin until about 1/4 of the way through the book.

As far as suspense goes, while there's a lot of tension generated by Drea/Andie's story of being on the run, I was really drawn in by her transformation from frilly, mob boss' mistress to independent, self-sufficient woman.

Death Angel is primarily Andie's story. When we meet her, she's Drea Rousseau, a woman who has allowed herself to become a whore for financial security. She's acting a part and hides her true self from mobster Rafael Salinas. A very intense, sexual encounter with a man known only as the assassin results in Drea making a fateful decision. She steals an large amount of money from Salinas and goes on the run. Salinas in turn sends the assassin after Drea with orders to kill her. In an interesting twist, Drea is left for dead. She recovers and takes the opportunity to remake herself into Andie Pearson, a totally changed person with a new set of goals for how she wants to live her life.

But the assassin isn't so detached from Drea/Andie. And when he learns she is still alive, he eventually re-enters her life. And together they need to make some decisions. What I absolutely loved about this book was seeing two characters make such drastic changes to their lives. One is shallow, one is cold and immoral. But their experiences and connection to one another transform who they are and makes for some very compelling reading.

This is definitely one of those books that some people will hate. But I strongly recommend it, especially if you want something different. Ms. Howard delivers in spades.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Phyl's 5 Phaves from June

OK, in an effort to discipline myself to blog more, I'm going to try a monthly feature where I'll let you know what my favorite books of the previous month were and why. Some I'll have blogged about, others not. In order, least to most:

5. Rock Star by Roslyn Hardy Holcomb. Ms. Holcomb left some comments in a discussion at SBTB about AA romances which led me to seek out this book. I found it at the library and thoroughly enjoyed this contemporary IR romance. I believe this is Ms. Holcomb's debut novel. I found the characters interesting and their story really drew me in. There's a nice little "mini-sequel" available as a free download on the author's web site.

4. One with the Shadows by Susan Squires. Ms. Squires' first book in this paranormal series about vampires who are created because of a symbiotic parasite in the blood is one of my favorite paranormal books. The book previous to this one was disappointing and I almost decided not to read further in the series. I'm glad I gave this one a try as it was much better and I was thoroughly engaged by it. The heroine in particular is someone who has been beaten down by life, but chooses again and again to act courageously. I really liked her.

3. Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase. All those good things other reviewers have said about this one? True. There's an interesting post about the symbolism of jewelry in this book here. I found this story of courtesan turned romance heroine thoroughly believable and I loved the way genre conventions were turned upside down.

2. With Every Breath by Lynn Kurland. I already raved about this one.

1. Lifelines by CJ Lyons. Hands down, best book I read last month. I was tempted to blog about it when I read it, but that was a very busy week and I never got to it. Written by a pediatric ER doctor, this is a medical suspense novel with strong romantic elements. I believe this is intended to be the first of 4 books about 4 women who work in a busy Pittsburgh ER. We are treated to the POV of all 4 women, although heroine Dr. Lydia Fiore receives the bulk of our attention. This is just first-rate romantic suspense with strong characterization and terrific pacing. The medical information is presented easily without making us non-medical types feel lost or overwhelmed. Book 2, Warning Signs isn't due until January 27, 2009, according to Amazon. ARRRGGGHH!!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Healer / Sharon Sala. 2008

Sharon Sala (aka Dinah McCall) is a new-to-me author. I ran over to the library to pick up her latest book after seeing the very hilarious Author Talk interview with her, found here. The Healer is a wonderful story that I read in a day and thoroughly enjoyed.

The Healer is the story of Jonah Gray Wolf, a man with very unusual gifts: he can heal people's injuries and illnesses through touch and he can communicate with animals. His life is destroyed, however, when Jonah heals a man who believes that he can achieve immortality if Jonah is under his control. Jonah goes on the run and stays on the run for 10 years until he winds up in a small West Virginia town. This is where the main part of the book begins and here is where he meets Lucia Andahar, a woman who has experienced trauma of her own. At the time of their meeting, Lucia is being stalked and she is increasingly fearful due to the threatening notes the stalker keeps leaving her, as well as an attempt to kill her dog. She and Jonah are instantly attracted to one another and soon she's told Jonah of her stalker. When he finds and confronts the stalker, it brings media attention to their small town. This in turn brings the ones hunting Jonah into their midst. Jonah decides it's time to take a stand and stop running.

This is a very quick read. Ms. Sala tells an interesting story. Jonah's gift is a mystery--both to him as well as to us. Jonah is an orphan. Since he knows nothing of his parents he doesn't know how or why he came to have his gifts. It is an unusual way to weave in a touch of the paranormal. I think the author is telling us that some things simply cannot be explained. Another thing that's very quick is how fast Jonah and Lucia fall in love. Within 48 hours they know they were meant for one another. I usually question this in a book, but when the characters themselves acknowledge how strange it is to find themselves in love so quickly, it makes it a little easier to swallow. Since it ties into Jonah and his mysterious gifts, it works.

I thought the book had excellent pacing, well-drawn characters, and I could easily imagine the small town of Little Top, WV, where most of the book takes place. Jonah and Lucia's relationship was believable as was the way people reacted to Jonah when they discovered what he could do. I definitely recommend this book and I'll be looking for more Sharon Sala/Dinah McCall books.