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.