Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Candle

One of my UFOs was this holiday candle pattern called Candles Aglow by Castilleja Cotton designs. I'd purchased a yard of a beautiful gold star fabric for the border when I bought the pattern. Even though the guild UFO challenge for 2009 officially ended last month I decided to work on this anyway because I wanted something new to hang on my front door as part of my Christmas decorating. The hard part was selecting the fabric. Believe it or not, I do not have an extensive collection of Christmas fabric. But once I got past that it took no time to trace and iron on the applique pieces. There are only 9 of them. So I got the top made and quilted the background and candles. I used a gold metallic thread to quilt flames in the background. I had to fool around with needle sizes to prevent the thread from shredding and then it was pretty smooth.

This is how far I got by Saturday afternoon:

But when I went back to work on it on Sunday I looked at my leftover gold fabric and realized I had enough to make a second one, or even a couple of small versions. And here's what I came up with:

The "big" one measures 14" x 24". This smaller version is only 10" x 13.5" and does not have the heavy background quilting. I made 2 of them and finished them up tonight. One will be a gift for a friend. The other will be my very first blog giveaway! So, if you read all the way to the end of this post, be sure to leave a comment by 0500 GMT Saturday morning (midnight Friday night U.S.--EST) and you'll be entered in a random drawing to win. I will ship outside the U.S. Last I looked I only have a couple dozen readers of this blog. So the odds of winning are excellent. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from November

All-in-all, November was a pretty good month. Thanksgiving weekend was extremely quiet with only 3 of us here at home. I left the house for no more than 20 minutes on Black Friday, just long enough to pick up my Daily Diet Coke. Bring on Christmas. I'm ready!

5.5. I have to give a shout-out to "Christmas Promise," a novella by Carla Kelly appearing in the anthology A Regency Christmas (2009). Another wonderful story by the awesome Carla Kelly. Not everyone can pull off the format of telling a complete story in 100 pages, but Kelly can. A war-weary naval captain reunites with a woman he had always loved and never thought to have.

5. Broken Hero by Anne Whitfield. I started the month reading this ebook that I'd had on my PDA for ages. The book is set along the Yorkshire coast of England during WWII and involves a family that is allowing their home to be used by the British Army as a convalescent home for soldiers suffering from what we would probably now label as PTSD. One of the daughters of the family, Audrey, falls in love with the psychiatrist who has been sent to treat the patients. Jake, a doctor and Army Captain, has a tragic past of his own and is resistant at first to Audrey's overtures. Of course, love eventually wins out, but not without some bumps along the way. I especially appreciated reading a historical with this setting and would love to see more authors use it. I see that Whitfield has written several books with a variety of settings and I'd like to see if I can find more.

4. Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts. Book 2 of Roberts' Bride quartet was another winner, this time featuring florist Emma and long-time friend, architect Jack. It's clear that Roberts had a lot of fun writing about the bridal business. The book is humorous as Emma and her partners deal with Bridezilla and continues to celebrate the life-long friendship between the women. Jack & Emma are challenged by their own friends-to-lovers story, because their relationship with one another impacts the other people in their lives. It seems very realistic. The only quibble I have with this book is near the end when Emma goes off the deep end when Jack doesn't seem as committed as she is. Her tirade seemed out of character from what had gone before. Fortunately, this is a relatively short digression, and the make-up scene is touching and romantic. I'm loving this series.

3. Kindred in Death by J.R. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts).This was another satisfying entry in Robb's In Death series. As others have pointed out, there's great comfort returning to this cast of characters again and again. I think that's the main appeal of this book. The murder is rather gruesome and personal and exemplifies why I typically steer clear of mysteries. But the relationships in this book trump the gross stuff and I am firmly along for the ride. Once I began this one I had a hard time putting it down.

2. Sold to a Laird by Karen Ranney. If you've read this blog for any length of time, it's no secret I'm a big Karen Ranney fangirl. I love her work. It's emotional and there's usually a plot twist I never see coming. This book is no different. Lady Sarah is the daughter of an autocratic, ruthless duke. The duke insists that Sarah marry a wealthy inventor, Douglas Eston, and Sarah is left with no choice but to obey. Douglas goes along with it because he falls in love with her the moment he sees her. (I love these kinds of stories.) Soon after they are married, tragedy strikes and as Douglas cares for Sarah through the tragedy she, in turn, grows to love him. With Douglas' help, Sarah learns more about herself and her family, and finds an inner strength that she didn't know she had, although Douglas sees it from the first.

1. Marry in Haste by Lynn Kerstan. This was my TBR read for November, so I already wrote about it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

TBR Day. Marry in Haste / Lynn Kerstan. 1998.

This month's theme in Keishon's TBR Challenge is "thanksgiving." I carefully looked through my inventory of books and I couldn't find one that matched the theme. But with Thanksgiving around the corner here in the US, I wanted to do something that would at least acknowledge the theme. So I chose this book and I'll explain my thinking at the end of the review.

I first read Lynn Kerstan back in 2003 when I began reading romance again. I loved The Golden Leopard so much that I even briefly considered putting it in my Winsor List last month. Anyhow, back in the day I ordered a bunch of her old Regency traditionals and they ended up stashed away in the closet all this time. It was time to bring them out.

Marry in Haste is the story of Diana Whitney, a young woman and substantial heiress living with her chaperone at an old manor in the country. With the assistance of the Earl of Kendal (hero of an earlier book), she is in hiding from her uncle (and legal guardian) who is determined to see her wed to a nasty man she doesn't want to marry. The manor actually belongs to Alex Valliant, the Earl's younger brother who is in the army and presumed to be out of the country. In fact, Alex has returned to England and when he winds up at his manor a minor scandal ensues and Alex offers to marry Diana. She doesn't want to marry someone she barely knows even though she's attracted to him and she turns him down. But when the evil uncle shows up to force Diana to come home she ends up accepting Alex's offer.

Let me just say up front that this is a lovely, lovely story of two people forced by circumstance to marry and then learn to live with and love one another. I loved both characters. They are, in their own way, rather shy people, so neither of them express their feelings well. But they are also strong and determined. Diana in particular works hard to overcome her fears and stand up for herself. They quickly fall in love with one another, but because they don't know how to talk to each other only the reader knows how they feel. Meanwhile, they settle into a chaste marriage. Alex doesn't want to touch Diana until she's "ready" and she doesn't know how to tell Alex that she is ready.

We watch Diana and Alex get to know one another as Diana becomes involved with a group of poor women in the area near their home who are barely making a living. She needs Alex's help as she finds a way for them to earn money for their families and Alex teaches her leadership principles he learned in the army. The ladies become "Diana's Regiment" and through this work Diana and Alex learn to appreciate one another's strengths and gifts. Kerstan writes beautifully...there were moments that made me laugh out loud and moments that made me weepy. There's great emotion in this little book.

For a traditional Regency, this is a pretty atypical book. Only the last 7 pages take place in London; the bulk of it takes place in Lancashire, with a brief trip to Gretna Green. And while Alex is a character who saw plenty of military action, it is Diana who bears a disfiguring scar. That scar is part of what makes her so timid. While Alex initially comes across as autocratic and arbitrary, he ends up deferring to Diana's wishes in the face of her determination to help the abandoned and widowed women around her. Making Diana happy quickly becomes very important to Alex.

After last month's TBR disappointment, I'm happy to say that I highly recommend this one. It was republished as a Signet two-fer in 2005 and you may be able to get your hands on it. Do so if you can. Hopefully Kerstan's backlist will make it into ebook form one of these days.

Kerstan's last book was published in 2005. According to her website, she was in the middle of a trilogy when her publisher decided not to print the last book in the series. Kerstan participates in a group blog with 5 other authors called Story Broads. It was there I learned earlier this year that Kerstan has recently survived a very close call with cancer. She has blogged about it some and so I decided to express my thankfulness that she is still with us and continuing to get better. I don't know if she is still writing or trying to get published again. Selfishly, I hope she is. But mostly I hope she has many more years to live life on her terms, whatever those may be. And if we don't get any new books from Lynn, well, I am very thankful to have a couple more of her backlist in my TBR pile, including the 1996 RITA award-winner, Gwen's Christmas Ghost, co-written with Alicia Rasley.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Monday, November 16, 2009

25 Years of Quilting -- Baby Quilts

I was in my late 20s when I started quilting, and not surprisingly, many of my friends & relatives were busy popping out babies. Naturally, as a quilter I wanted to supply baby quilts. But back in those days I only worked by hand and it took me about 6 months to crank out a quilt. I wish I could have gifted more of my friends and family with baby quilts, but it simply wasn't possible. Here are 3 of the half dozen I made between 1986 and 1990. (Sorry if the images are fuzzy; these are scanned photos.)

But by 1995 I had a new sewing machine and I was putting tops together within a matter of weeks and learning how to use my walking foot to machine quilt straight lines across a quilt. When a co-worker and very close friend found herself pregnant with twins I actually managed to crank out 2 quilts AND finish them within weeks of the twins' birth.
Check out the Elvis fabric in this first one. My friend is a huge Elvis fan. The old world map fabric in the 2nd quilt was to celebrate her husband's Peace Corps experience. I had such fun with these. And I know they were well-loved.

While working on the twins' quilts I unexpectedly became pregnant myself. That was such a shocker, not only to me, but to my friends & family. And my generous quilting friends saw to it that we were ourselves gifted with 4 quilts. That was a good thing because my job & an infant kept me so busy that for the first 2 years I did very little quilting and then I eased back in very slowly as I finally learned to carve out time for myself.

And these days when I want to provide a baby quilt, I know how to make it quick and simple, yet still have fun with the design. This is from April of 2008.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

UFO Challenge Ends. So, how'd I do?

At our guild meeting Thursday night, the 2009 UFO Challenge officially came to an end. I turned in a list of 28 UFOs (UnFinished Objects) that I thought I had a chance I'd work on. I finished 8. On the one hand, that's pretty pathetic. On the other hand, I kept starting other new projects. One woman in our guild reported that she spent over $900 to pay a long-arm quilter to finish her UFOs. I can at least report that I did all the work myself. But there are times I'm darned tempted to pass all those unfinished tops on to a long-armer.

So anyway, here is the 8th and final quilt for this year's challenge. It is totally hand pieced and hand quilted. It's been a long time since I made anything completely by hand. I started it back in 1995 when I taught a small class of women in my church how to quilt. I taught them some simple hand piecing methods and we made this 4-patch sampler. I started quilting it by hand a couple of years ago, but began to seriously work on it for the challenge. I finished it Thursday night at the meeting, just in time to show it off.

The challenge coordinator said we're going to do it again in 2010, starting in January. Maybe I'll be a little more realistic when I put together my list.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from October

My Phillies have just lost the World Series. But October was a fabulous month as they made their run this far and I have to admit I enjoyed baseball more than reading. But I did manage to pick up a few books to occupy my time between games.

5. Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas. The latest offering in the Hathaway family series was a fun, enjoyable read. Kleypas rarely fails to deliver, although this won’t be among my very favorites by her. Nonetheless, I rather enjoyed the way Harry Rutledge manipulated events to get the woman he wanted, even though it took him awhile to realize he was in love with Poppy. However, I did think that for a man as jaded and closed off as Harry, his transformation to happy family man was a little too quick. I’m looking forward to Leo’s story next. That one looks fun.

4. A Virgin River Christmas by Robyn Carr. I continue to enjoy this series and the full cast of characters in Virgin River. Once again we have a widowed heroine and a hero hiding from the world after serving in Iraq. While many of the tropes are the same, this book did have a different feel than the other 4 I’ve now read in the series. That different feel is the result of the fact that the book focused more on Ian and Marcie and not so much on the rest of the Virgin River cast. I enjoyed Marcie’s persistence—she was going to get Ian to listen to her come hell or high water.

3. Black at Heart by Leslie Parrish. This was the third book in Parrish’s Black Cats series and the hero is the namesake of the FBI team, Wyatt Blackstone. The heroine is Lily, a former member of the team who presumably died at the end of the 2nd book, Pitch Black. This book lacks the suspense of the previous two. It also shouldn’t be read without reading the first two. But it works very well as Wyatt and Lily’s relationship changes while they solve the mystery of what happened to Lily. There’s room here for more books and I think Parrish does romantic suspense very well. I hope we see more Black Cats books in the future.

2. Black Silk by Judith Ivory. Well, I wrote about it just the other day. It was hard to decide whether to make this number 1 or 2, but I think it lost points on that bit where Submit decides to run off to America.

1. The Sins of Lord Easterbrook by Madeline Hunter. In the books leading up to this one, Easterbrook is painted as an autocratic recluse. At long last we learn why he is such a recluse and I really loved the premise of this book. It was not at all what I expected. And like the previous books, this one has a strong heroine in Leona Montgomery. There’s a very interesting subplot in the book about the opium trade as well. Like many other readers, I did feel this was the strongest book in the series and very enjoyable.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Black Silk / Judith Ivory. 2002

Not long ago, Jessica mentioned on her blog that she was going to post a review of Judith Ivory’s Black Silk. A few commenters mentioned how they were looking forward to the review. I have to admit, that got me curious. I’d heard of this book, but couldn’t remember where or what. So I looked it up at AAR and found quite a compelling DIK review of the book by Sherry Thomas. Naturally, I had to see for myself what all of the fuss was about, so I reserved Black Silk from the library and finished it up this week.

Oh my. There’s no way I can do this book justice.

If you love words, if you love rich, evocative prose that delivers you into another time and place, this book is for you. It is not meant to be read quickly, but slowly and thoroughly. That means sticking through the first part of the book with its long descriptive passages. There's not much action at first, but the setup is used so effectively to reveal the personalities and characters of the protagonists, Graham Wessit and his cousin-by-marriage, Submit Channing-Downes.

That means if you crave action, this book is not for you. It is a purely character-driven book. Submit had had a happy marriage with Henry Channing-Downes, a man some 30 or 40 years her senior. She was 16 when she married him and is nearing 30 now. Graham had been Henry’s ward and Henry and Graham had had nothing but contempt for one another. Submit and Graham have polar opposite opinions of Henry but are brought together because of an unusual bequest in Henry’s will. Submit is studious, sober, and intent on fulfilling Henry's wishes by delivering the bequest. Graham is fun-loving, flighty, and while intent on having no part of that bequest, he does find himself intrigued by Submit. As a widow, Submit is in mourning, dressed in black (hence the name of the book), while Graham wears brightly colored vests, decorated with multiple watches and chains, as well as multiple rings on his fingers. Ivory spends a lot of time using their wardrobes as metaphors for their personalities. It was brilliantly done.

If you love witty, sharp dialogue, this book is for you. Graham and Submit are in turn challenged and frustrated by one another. They disagree on many things and underestimate on another. It makes for some interesting conversation when they are together.

If you want your romance to take a traditional course where boy meets girl and immediately forsakes all others, this book is not for you. Throughout at least 3/4 of the book, Graham keeps a mistress and she is a central character to the story. While Graham is becoming more and more intrigued by and attracted to Submit, he is still involved with his mistress. This violates one of those unwritten taboos in the genre, which for me made the book all the more interesting because it did so. (That taboo being that once the hero meets the heroine he stays out of any other woman's bed.)

I loved how Graham is revealed to be much more serious and responsible than he appears to be in the beginning. And when Submit is given a taste of independence and freedom she embraces the idea that she--a woman in a male-dominated society--can have a much richer life than she had imagined. She discovers she can earn her own way and she is excited by the thought.

But that does bring me to my one complaint. I won’t be specific for fear of spoilers. At the very end of the book, just before she and Graham get together, Submit makes a choice that seemed so very out of character, especially since she had embraced her independence. Why would she make such a choice? Suddenly she is running away to America, and that runs counter to all that had come before. It struck me as the author adding conflict for the sake of conflict.

Fortunately, and naturally, all’s well that ends well. And I found it an enchanting journey. Black Silk was my first Ivory. I must read more. Meanwhile, I highly recommend this one and can’t wait to see some discussion about it over at Jessica’s, or maybe over here where Lusty Reader read it, but did NOT like it. I'm hoping we'll hear why.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

TBR Day. His Wicked Kiss / Gaelen Foley. 2006.

After a two-month hiatus, I'm back with another TBR review. October's theme is Horror. But I don't read horror and I've pretty much given up on paranormal, so we'll go with another Regency historical because that's 95% of what's in my TBR pile in the first place.

This month's book is number 7 in Gaelen Foley's "Knight Miscellany" series. I read the first 6 books some 4-5 years ago and I'm not sure why this one sat on my shelf for so long--I think it just got buried. I remember that I had really liked those books. But I admit I don't remember the details real well, just that I had always meant to keep reading her books.

Here is the back cover blurb:

An English rose blooming in the untamed jungles of South America, Eden Farraday lives a life of independence–unheard of for a lady–with her doctor–turned–scientist father. But Eden misses England desperately. When the dangerous and darkly charming Lord Jack Knight sails into her life, she seizes her chance to return to civilization, stowing away aboard his London–bound ship.

Roguish and charismatic, a self–made shipping tycoon with a shadowy past and a well–guarded heart, Jack is sailing on a vital secret mission. When the redheaded temptress is discovered aboard his vessel, he reacts with fury—and undeniable lust. Forced to protect her from his rough crew, the devilish Lord Jack demands a scandalous price in exchange for Eden’s safe passage across the sea. As his wicked kiss ignites an unforgettable blaze of passion between them, Jack and Eden confront a soul-searing love that cannot be denied.

I would really like to tell you that I liked this book, but this one just did not work for me. I'm not sure I can even give you a compelling reason why not. But I'll try. Jack is estranged from his half-siblings; I think this is supposed to make him come across as a "tortured hero" but since the estrangement was his choice, it's hard to feel a lot of sympathy for him. It's also hard to feel a lot of sympathy for Eden when she gets angry at Jack about 2/3 into the book. They are married at this point and have arrived at Jack's home in Ireland. He has to go on to London and decides to leave Eden alone in Ireland because his business in dangerous. She gets very angry with him, but he changes his mind, apologizes, and takes Eden to London after all. Yet she remains angry with him for weeks because she doesn't feel like his partner. That kind of attitude strikes me as modern thinking and out of place in a historical. Plus I'm just not a fan of characters that withhold forgiveness when it's been sought after sincerely.

One of the subplots of the book is Jack's work to help Bolivar defeat the Spanish in South America by recruiting veterans of the Napoleanic wars and delivering them to Bolivar. This external conflict was kind of interesting to me, but ended up being downplayed by some of the internal conflicts between Jack and Eden that seemed more manufactured than real. The Jack who appears in the beginning of the book is supplanted by a Jack who behaves irrationally and emotionally. It just doesn't jive with the first part of the book.

For the most part, I like Foley's writing, although in parts the prose is quite purple. However, this time I just couldn't get into the story. It took me over a week to finish it--I kept picking up other books instead. I understand from Foley's website that the 3 books she published after this one about Knight family cousins who come to England from India. That sounds interesting and I'll be looking for those. But this one I cannot recommend.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A UFO Finish and a New Beginning

Over a year ago my son took a beginner's sewing class & made his own pillowcase. I made him this matching throw (it's just a bit smaller than a full-sized quilt). He picked out the fabric. All that gold. Oh my.

I still have 21 of my original 28 UFOs still to finish. So naturally I started a totally new project. I took a plain sweatshirt, much like this one.

I carefully cut off the ribbing and ripped out the seams. Then I cut the body apart into a front and back. I was left with these pieces.

I spray basted the fuzzy sides to this gorgeous Jinny Beyer fabric. It'll be the lining.

And here are the strips all ready to sew to the front. Won't this be a beautiful jacket?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Phyl's 16 Phavorite Romance Novels

Jessica suggested that today, Oct. 16, we honor what would have been the 90th birthday of Kathleen Winsor, the author of Forever Amber, a classic romance first published in 1944, that some probably consider a forerunner of the modern romance novel. (I confess that I've never read this book, although I have heard of it.) Jessica credits Maili for the idea of challenge in honor of Ms. Winsor that is for us to list our top 16 romance reads of all time.

This was not an easy thing. I'd rather list at least 25. But after some thought, these are the ones that continue to stick with me (i.e. I actually remember what they were about) or I turn to when I want to re-read something familiar.

16. Parting Gifts by Lorraine Heath
15. The Price of Desire by Jo Goodman
14. An Arranged Marriage by Jo Beverley
13. To Die For by Linda Howard
12. Heart Thief by Robin D. Owens
11. My False Heart by Liz Carlyle
10. The Temporary Wife by Mary Balogh
9. Tapestry by Karen Ranney
8. The Outsider by Penelope Williamson
7. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
6. The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie
5. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
4. Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas
3. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
2. Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly
1. Heartless by Mary Balogh

The books above were the only ones of the 16 that I could find without tearing my closet apart. Plus I know at least 2 of them are on loan to a friend and one I own as an e-book.
Bonus picture! These are some of the ones I would have liked to have on the list. I found them while I was looking for the ones above.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

25 Years and Counting

25 years ago this fall I took my very first quilting class. I had moved to a brand new town and barely knew a soul. I was homesick and missing my old job. On a whim I decided to sign up for an adult education class at the local high school hoping that maybe I'd make a friend or two. Who knew that I'd walk away changed so very much? Eventually I made friends beyond my expectations and I gained an obsession that has never, ever waned.

So let's celebrate by looking back. Over the next few months I'll treat you to some of my early creations. Lucky you! Here's proof that both the fabric industry & I have come a very long way!

I ended up taking two sessions of the quilting class. We learned only hand sewing techniques which was fine by me because back in those days I was literally afraid of my sewing machine. In the first class we made 3 simple little projects. Here are the two that still survive today. I cannot find the little 9-patch red & white table topper.

I still use that Christmas wreath every year. It was the very first thing I ever quilted. If you click on the picture to enlarge it you'll see how large my quilting stitches are. I agonized over that piece, and shed a little blood, too! Next to the wreath is a pillow which was the result of learning how to piece patches together. That pillow has gotten a fair bit of use over the years although lately it's been put away in a closet.

That first class ended just before Christmas and so my mother took me to a quilt shop and offered to buy me some fabric for Christmas. I picked out six fabrics that would go into my first full-sized quilt--a sampler big enough to cover a twin mattress. So, any of you out there old enough to remember the 80s? Country blue anyone? Blue & pink calico? It was all the rage back then.

Here's what I ended up with. I warned you.

And here are some close-ups. More really big stitches. But I love this quilt. It's very warm and cozy because I used flannel for the backing. Pretty stupid considering how hard that made it to hand quilt, but the end result was worth it. And I learned a full range of techniques: applique, piecing, curved piecing, quilting designs, and full size construction.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves for September

Is is October already? Don't know what it's like by you, but already it feels like November here. Yuk. I need to escape into some good books. So here are some I enjoyed in case you want to escape, too!

5. Fade to Black by Leslie Parrish. This is the first in Parrish's "Black CATs" series. The "CATs" are FBI "Cyber Action Teams" working on Internet-related crimes. This was a suspenseful, entertaining read as the team investigating a serial killer find their way to a small Virginia town because a missing girl from that town may be one of the killer's victims. The team is led by agent Dean Taggert and he works with town sheriff Stacey Rhodes to catch the killer before he strikes again. I liked Stacey because she was smart and capable, not a TSTL bone in her body. Dean is trying to juggle his job and his relationship with his young son (Dean is divorced). The characters seemed realistic and the plot was sufficiently gruesome to keep me glued to the book. I have the next 2 books in the series checked out from the library and will be reading those soon.

4. The Virgin River trilogy by Robyn Carr. There are actually at least 7 books now in this series and I believe 3 more to come in 2010. But the first three books are: Virgin River, Shelter Mountain, and Whispering Rock. These books are set in the very small town of Virgin River in the northern California mountains. It's the kind of territory that is occasionally featured in the news as being popular with marijuana growers. In fact, the growers are a small part of these stories, so it felt rather realistic as I read it. These books are about home, family, marriage, and babies. Carr's heroines have been through the wringer--the first three books feature a widow, an abused spouse, and a rape victim. A look ahead shows at least one other widow. The heroes are former marines who once served together and come to Virgin River to find peace and healing. These books are the quintessential comfort read and I found them quite engrossing. I was very caught up in the world Carr has created and am looking forward to reading more of the series. I will say that you really should read them in order from the first book. Recurring characters are featured heavily as the books move forward.

3. To Catch a Bride by Anne Gracie. This is the 3rd book in Gracie's "Devil Riders" series, but it stands very well alone. The bulk of the book takes place in Cairo when the hero Rafe decides to go there to look for a young Englishwoman who was orphaned some years previously. The girl's grandmother had believed her dead, but now has reason to believe she's alive. I totally enjoyed the unusual setting and once again Gracie gives us a book laced with humor and emotion. This wasn't quite as compelling as the previous book in the series, His Captive Lady, which was my #2 phave in July. But it was darn close. Rafe manages to find Ayisha rather quickly, but soon learns she is resistant to going with him to England to be reunited with her Grandmother. There is more to Ayisha than he realizes and the slow unraveling of the truth was an unexpected plot twist.

2. Summer of Two Wishes by Julia London. I just reviewed this a couple of weeks ago in my previous blog post. This is a very unusual romance and perhaps even rather risky. It deserves a look.

1. Never Love a Lawman by Jo Goodman. This was the first of Jo Goodman's westerns that I've ever read. I should try and find her old ones someday (or maybe they'll be released as ebooks--hint, hint!). I guess you could call this a marriage of convenience/forced marriage story. Rachel has inherited control of a rail spur that leads to the small Colorado town of Reidsville. The will giving her control of the rail line specifies that she marry Sheriff Wyatt Cooper and she agrees to make it a marriage in name early. But when Wyatt falls ill and the truth comes out it becomes a real marriage. Wyatt and Rachel deal with their growing feelings for one another, Rachel's hidden past, and the threat of those who would wrest control of the rail line from Rachel. I loved the setting of this book and once again Goodman uses dialogue to great effect to advance the story and help us get to know these two great characters. Goodman's website indicates there will be more books set in Reidsville and I look forward to them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Summer of Two Wishes / Julia London. 2009.

In what can only be a wild coincidence, 2009 has brought us a second book with a hero who comes back from the dead after his wife has remarried. In Jennifer Haymore's A Hint of Wicked (which was a Phave back in June) we had the story of Sophie who presumably lost her first husband at Waterloo. She remarries years later and shortly after the marriage her first husband returns. In this new book by Julia London we have Macy in a contemporary story of a woman whose husband is presumed killed in Afghanistan when all that is left are his dogtags after an attack on his vehicle. Turns out that Finn was captured by the Taliban and escapes only to find that his wife had remarried just 7 months previous to his escape.

Despite the disparity in time and setting, not to mention the legal situation, both books are eerily similar. They do not tell the romantic journeys of the protagonists in what might be considered traditional romance fashion. Instead they focus on the decision the heroines must make when faced with the fact they they love both the men in their lives, but must choose to be with only one. I was rather reluctant to read SoTW because I knew there would be a "loser" in the Macy stakes. In order to like and sympathize with Macy, I had to assume that both men in her life would be sympathetic characters. And for the most part they were.

Initially I was wary, especially on the heels of AHoW, but I do think London makes it work. In addition, because this book is a contemporary and the legal situation is much different, it necessarily reads very differently than AHoW. I did not spend my time comparing the two books. What I liked about the contemporary setting was London's ability to deal with PTSD as an identified, named disorder that Finn had to deal with. Also, I could appreciate the way Wyatt goes a little off the deep end when he is faced with the fact that he could very well lose the woman he loves because Finn has reappeared. Both men act a little crazy and it was believable. Macy gets pressure from all sides and many people in her life assume that she's going to make a specific choice and are stunned when it doesn't seem as easy to her as it does to them.

There's a wealth of interesting secondary characters here--most of them have very definite opinions about Macy's choice. I read this at the same time there was some discussion going on elsewhere (see here and here) about mothers in romance novels. I didn't actually follow those discussions, but I believe they talked about how often mothers are portrayed as bad or obnoxious. Finn's mother and Macy's mother aren't "evil" mothers, but they do have their moments. Part of Macy's growth in the books is finding the ability to stand up for herself and her choice, and that includes standing up to these two mothers.

I do think this is one of those books that would have benefited from a slightly higher word count. Mostly because I wanted to read more. London created a fine cast of secondary characters. I also wanted to read more about Finn coming to grips with his PTSD and the steps he'd need to take to function normally. That issue is certainly covered, but not with a lot of depth. Because the book does have a full cast of characters and a very compelling conflict, this was an easy, rapid read. I have to admit it was everything I could do to keep from looking in the back to find out who Macy chooses. When I found myself with about 75 pages to go and a meeting to attend, I caved and peeked. It was well worth it so I could go to my meeting and not fret about the time. And so if you'd like to read something a little different, do give this one a try. I recommend it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from August

I was going to write this up on Tuesday, but then I started reading Jo Goodman's Never Love a Lawman and, well, I just had to finish that first!

5. Never Romance a Rake by Liz Carlyle. This was one from my TBR pile that I've had for a year now. The hero, Rothewell, is one of those heroes who is about as dark as they come. A horrific childhood combined with a boatload of guilt over the circumstances of his older brother's death have filled him with a lot of self-hatred. He gambles with some very disreputable people and finds himself agreeing to a wager that, should he win, commits him to marry the illegitimate daughter of his gambling partner. Camille is desperate to be married, period, and makes it clear she supports this wager. The two are drawn to one another immediately, and must learn to make their marriage work, despite their secrets and their pasts. This was another beautifully drawn book by Carlyle that focused on the relationship between Rothewell and Camille. Camille tells Rothewell her secrets from the start, but Rothewell needs to learn to both trust and hope.

4. The Edge of Impropriety by Pam Rosenthal. Despite the fact that this book received numerous excellent reviews when it was released last year, I wasn't too interested in reading it. For some reason the plot description didn't excite me. However, it won the RITA in July and then I saw it at the library, so I decided to give it a try. I'm happy to say I'm glad to have read it. Marina & Jasper's relationship begins as a purely sexual one and they are committed to not being committed. But as that resolve begins to fade, they face problems based on the secrets they've been keeping. I thought the writing was just lovely and I think it's quite evident why this book won the RITA.

3. A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James. This was the final book in James' "Desperate Duchesses" series and well worth the wait. I did enjoy all 6 books in the series, especially this one and When the Duke Returns. And while I think this book could be read on its own, I do not recommend it. The hero, Villiers, was a strong secondary character throughout the preceding books. He had a story arc that was important to understanding his character in this book and his choices. I simply do not think he would have been as interesting a character if I had not known him better. Nell, the heroine, is a practical, down to earth woman and the perfect foil for the heretofore selfish, aloof Duke. As always, James tells her stories with plenty of humor; I laughed out loud more than once.

2. My Wicked Fantasy by Karen Ranney. This is an older book by Ranney that I found on Fictionwise last month. (How nice to find out-of-print books republished as ebooks!) The story includes a ghost. Considering that it was originally published in 1998, before paranormals became big, it was probably unusual for its time. It's being re-published in 2010, so if you don't read ebooks, keep your eyes peeled for this. In a nutshell, heroine Mary Kate is injured in a carriage accident involving hero, the Earl of Sandhurst. When she awakes, she has visions and hears a voice telling her to protect the Earl. While she doesn't understand what she's seeing and hearing, the Earl recognizes things only his long-missing wife, Alice, would know. Being a logical male, he assumes Mary Kate is conspiring with his missing wife and he carries Mary Kate home to force her to tell him where Alice is. Mary Kate does not understand the source of her visions, but she cannot ignore what she sees and hears. I found the first half of the book fairly slow going, but as the tension of the mystery of Alice ratcheted up, and the tension between St. John & Mary Kate grew, I was more and more engrossed. What really fascinated me about this was the counterpoint between St. John's logic and Mary Kate's faith. St. John is a straightforward logical male. I could sympathize with his inability to believe that there's a supernatural explanation for what Mary Kate knew even though he really wanted to believe it. This is a book about faith, and hope, and trust, and well worth seeking out.

1. I Can See You by Karen Rose. The heroine of this book, Evie, was a secondary character in one of Rose's early books, Don't Tell, that I read back in June. So quite a few of the secondary characters were familiar, although their roles were small enough that it's not necessary to have read Don't Tell before reading this one. There is an extremely sick serial killer on the loose in Minneapolis. Evie is a psychology graduate student who notices that some women involved in her research project have become the killer's victims. Her research is a key and she approaches the Minneapolis detectives with what she knows. One of the detectives is the very tired, but determined Noah Webster. Together they race the clock to find him. Meanwhile, Noah is having problems with his partner and Evie herself becomes a target. And of course, Noah & Evie fall in love. This is the first book in a new series and we get a nice introduction to the other detectives in Noah's squad who will be having their own books. Another tightly plotted and engrossing read by Rose. A bit gruesome, though, so reader beware!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Latest QBFF challenge

We were inspired when some of the mini groups in our guild showed quilts that were based on fabric exchanges. So each of the 3 of us picked out a fabric and passed a fat quarter of it to the other two.
Predictably, I picked a blue. The blue has bits of orange in it. Yes, I was going out on a color limb.
But my QBFFs picked fabrics that were not going to let me get away with something comfortable.
We ended up with this:

So, I took a deep breath and randomly pulled out a whole bunch of brighter/intense fabrics and paired some until I got 5 pairs of fabrics.
Then I made those stars I showed you a few weeks ago.

And here's what I came up with:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mountain Wild / Stacey Kayne. 2009

Today is TBR Day. I totally forgot.

Over the weekend I read an older Karen Ranney that I downloaded from Fictionwise. My Wicked Fantasy has a paranormal bent as a ghost is involved. Rather different and since this was first published in 1998, it would have been before everyone else jumped on the paranormal bandwagon. I was going to write a review because of the way the ghost is used and the hero's insistence on the cold light of logic. But then I decided I'd rather make more stars. So I sewed instead of wrote. It'll be a Phave though.

Then on Sunday I started Karen Rose's latest, I Can See You. That was a mistake because on Monday after work I was supposed to be doing a boatload of PTA stuff. Instead, after supper, I buried my nose in the book and didn't come up until nearly midnight when I finished it. There were lots of dead bodies, an incredibly sick, twisted villain, a scarred heroine, a determined hero, and Karen's trademark tight plotting. This is the start of a new series involving the detectives of the Minneapolis "Hat Squad." Oh yeah, another Phave.

So, after the ghost story and all the dead bodies (and 6 more stars--picture to come), I needed something lighter. Hey lookie here-- Kristie, Sybil, and Wendy declared it to be Western Week. OK, I'll bite. I like Westerns well enough, although I rarely go out of my way to read them. But I did have Mountain Wild checked out from the library and I figured I should read it in honor of Western Week.

It turns out that Mountain Wild by Stacey Kayne isn't exactly "light," but it was a refreshing, fast read and quite engrossing. I was intrigued by the story line that included a heroine who had been living the reclusive life of a mountain trapper all on her own for something like 7 years or more. Maggie (or Mad Meg as she's known by people nearby) meets the hero when she rescues him and his dog during a blizzard and nurses him back to health. The story of how Maggie came to be living on her own in the mountains is told in the prologue. She is betrayed by her brother who sells her to a trapper named Ira when she is 13. Fourteen years later, Ira is long dead and Maggie spends her days up in the Wyoming mountains avoiding people--until she meets Garret Daines, a rancher who lives in the valley below her home.

The first half of the book is the story of Garret's rescue by Maggie and how they get to know one another and even begin to fall in love. But when the storm ends and Garret has recovered he must go back to his ranch. Maggie stays in her home with Garret's dog until the spring a couple months later. She goes down into the valley to discover Garret is being threatened by her brother who has become a rather nasty cattle baron, determined to drive out the smaller ranchers. Maggie decides to confront her brother and exact revenge for what he did to her. And she wants to protect Garret from her brother.

These two want to protect one another and eventually must agree to work together in order to eliminate the threat hanging over their heads. I liked Maggie's determination and her ability to live life on her terms. Garret is a fairly typical hero who wants to protect his woman, but learns to accept that she will not side idly by while he rides to the rescue.

As I said, this was a quick enjoyable read and I recommend it.

Oh, I must say--I really like the banner at the top of Stacey Kayne's website. I often buy fabric in those colors.

There. I did my part for Western Week. My next western read will be in 2 weeks when Jo Goodman's newest, Never Love a Lawman, is released. Keep your eyes peeled--Wendy has exciting news regarding Jo in an upcoming blog post.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I'm seeing stars

I should be working on UFOs. Instead I started a new project recently and made some pretty decent progress today. These are HARD. Irregular angles and bias edges made it hard to piece these accurately. I ripped out numerous seams until I got the hang of how to place the edges together.

I drew a star on an 8" block of freezer paper and cut it apart.

I ironed the freezer paper templates onto two 12" blocks of fabric (stacked together right sides up).

I cut out the star block adding 1/4" seam allowances.

I sewed the blocks together.

Credit where credit is due: This pattern is from the July/Aug. 2007 issue of Fons & Porter Quilting.

I can't show you all the blocks because 1) they aren't done yet, and 2) this is part of the latest challenge my QBFFs & I are doing and they aren't allowed to see it yet. Sometimes they read this blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

UFO update

I actually finished this while on the way to California last month. It was a wedding gift for my niece and her new husband. This piano was made from a kit my late mother-in-law left behind when she passed away 3 years ago. I thought my niece might like to have something her grandmother had intended to make. The pre-printed piano keys and music-themed fabric made this a very easy quilt to put together. The curved seams are easier than they look and this was a very fun quilt to make.

So, one more UFO down. Gee. Only 23 more to go.

Oh. Just have to say--I'm never buying that cheap batting from JoAnn's again. It shed worse than a pet.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from July, Pt. 2

Many of us readers have particular authors that we gravitate toward. Their writing and their stories have that certain "something." It was no surprise as I compiled this list to realize that the 5 authors represented here are among the ones I most look forward to reading. I have gushed over a few of them in this blog previously. Without further ado, last month's Phaves:

5. Loving a Lost Lord by Mary Jo Putney. When I started reading romance again about 6-7 years ago, Putney was one of the first authors I discovered. Her Shattered Rainbows is one of my top 10 reads of all time. Putney took a detour into the paranormal (with mixed results in my opinion) and then a publisher switch meant a two-year gap between books. It was with a great deal of anticipation that I read her first straight historical in some 5 years. The hero of this story is the victim of an accident that leaves him with amnesia. He suddenly appears in Mariah's life just when she's in the need of a protector. She tells him that he's her husband and nurses him back to health. I was prepared to dislike this because their relationship begins based on a pretty serious lie. Fortunately the reveal comes well before the end of the book. There is, naturally, a bit of a mystery to solve and the need for Adam to recall who he really is. Adam's amnesia is a convenient plot device, but I think Putney handles it well. While not as emotional as some of her previous books, this is still an entertaining read by an excellent author. I'm so glad she's "back!"

4. A Scotsman in Love by Karen Ranney. This is a Victorian-era romance with a most unusual heroine. Margaret is a woman from a poor and common background. Her artistic talent was discovered by accident when she was a young girl. A patron made it possible for her to receive training and eventually she becomes a renowned portrait artist serving in the Russian court. As the book opens we find her living alone, almost hermit-like, unable to paint and apparently barely hanging on to her sanity. She is renting a cottage on the estate of an Earl who's been away for several years. The Earl has neglected his home and property, living over in France grieving the accidental and tragic deaths of his much-loved wife and daughter. When Margaret and McDermott meet they are angry, hurting people. What follows, of course, is how their relationship brings healing to each of them. This is a rather dark book, but deeply emotional--just the way I like it.

3. Till There Was You by Lynn Kurland. This is Kurland's latest entry in her MacLeod/De Piaget time travel/historical series. Full of familiar characters, this time it's Zachary Smith who finds himself "sent" back in time to Robin De Piaget's castle where he meets Robin's daughter Mary. Mary is trying to escape an unwanted betrothal and Zachary just wants to get back to the 21st century. Naturally there are a few obstacles to overcome. And as Mary and Zachary fall in love, their relationship complicates things even further. This is a nicely plotted book with a hefty word count (you can tell because the font is small and there's not a lot of white space). I found myself deeply engaged in this story and was glad for the length that let me enjoy it longer. I have to say, though, that I needed that genealogy in the back of the book to keep track of all of the secondary characters at first. And I do not think I would have enjoyed this half as much if I hadn't read all of the preceding books in the series.

2. His Captive Lady by Anne Gracie. Gracie has become a real favorite of mine. Her books are so well-written and she has the relatively rare ability to write a book that makes you both laugh and cry. Lady Helen (Nell) is a young woman who has been badly beaten down by life, but she is determined to reclaim something very special to her. Meanwhile Harry is back in England after many years at war; he is weary and just wants to start his horse farm. He falls for Nell instantly and senses that she needs his help. I love how Nell's story is gradually revealed to us as she gradually opens up to Harry. This is just a gem of a story. It was released late last year; I'm sorry I waited so long to read it. Her next book, To Catch a Bride is due in September.

1. What Happens in London by Julia Quinn. This is a rather light-hearted book full of Quinn's trademark humor. Sir Harry is Lady Olivia's new neighbor. Harry spends all day translating Russian documents for the government. Olivia's bedroom window overlooks Harry's office and she begins to spend time spying on him, especially when she hears the rumor that he's a murderer. Harry catches Olivia spying on him and when they finally meet they find themselves attracted to one another despite the initial negative impression each has about the other. They get to know one another and that journey is just delightful. There are several laugh-out-loud moments, especially over some lurid popular fiction and the Russian delegation. The scene where Harry proposes formally to Olivia is original and priceless. This is Quinn on top of her game. I wouldn't call it her best, but it is what I've come to expect from her.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from July, Pt. 1

In June I could not muster enough enthusiasm to select 5 favorite books from what I read. Not a problem for July! Of course, with all those miles to spend reading, I had much to choose from. So as a bonus I have 5 honorable mentions to go along with my 5 phaves. Aren't you all so lucky!?
My biases are definitely showing with this group of 10. Seven of the 10 are historicals (6 of those Regency-set). Only 1 book was a new-to-me author; the other 9 authors I count among my favorites and I try (when the budget allows) to purchase rather than borrow books by these authors.
So in this post, in no particular order, are my Honorable Mentions. Tomorrow I'll post the top 5.
Jade Lee's The Dragon Earl was a fascinating tale of a lost peer who has come home to take his rightful place as Earl. In this case, hero Jacob Cato was left for dead in China when he was still quite young. He had been promised to Evelyn Stanton when they were small children. Jacob returns to England just as Evelyn is about to marry Jacob's cousin, the man who had assumed the Earldom in Jacob's stead. Jacob has to learn to deal with being English, with his anger at having been left all alone in China, and his growing attraction for Evelyn. Evelyn, meanwhile, having been raised to be Countess, struggles over just what (and who) it is she really wants. The plot concerning why Jacob's family was killed is left unresolved. This screams sequel to me, but there's no indication on Lee's website that a sequel is in the works. Meanwhile, I can appreciate why many bloggers are fans of Lee's books and I'll be seeking out more of her backlist.
Jill Shalvis' books always make me laugh. Her blog is the best author blog in the business. She has two new books out right now. I recently finished Instant Gratification, book 2 in her Wilder brothers trilogy. Snappy dialogue and great chemistry made this a very entertaining read. Oooh and look! Her other new book is a baseball book: Double Play. I can't wait to get my hands on that one.
As I continue to read my way through Shannon McKenna's backlist, I found Return to Me at the library. Not quite as heavy on the suspense, this earlier book by McKenna is a fine story about high school best friends who get back together after 17 years apart. Emma now owns a successful B&B in their home town and Simon is back after traveling the world as a photojournalist. They have to deal with their history and the menace that hovers over them. This isn't nearly as tightly written as McKenna's more recent books, but still a thoroughly engaging book. And hey! Taking Heat is out now.
Book 5, This Duchess of Mine in the Desperate Duchesses series by Eloisa James was released in May. The 6th and final book was released last week. That's a long series! I have found James' books to be consistently witty and entertaining. This was no exception as we finally get Jemma's story. Jemma & Elijah are master chess players and the game of chess takes center stage as Jemma and Elijah engage in a chess match both literally and figuratively as they work to put their marriage back together after a long estrangement. I love stories of people finding their way back together; forgiveness is a powerful theme.
My final honorable mention has turned into a far more interesting choice than I originally anticipated. Loretta Chase is probably one of the best historical romance authors out there. Her books are often unusual in setting and her heroines are smart, self-aware, and assertive. I love the way she uses dialogue to advance the story and demonstrate the deepening relationship between hero and heroine. So, do you smell the "but?" Don't Tempt Me, her latest release, is the story of Zoe and Lucien. They were childhood friends who were separated when Zoe was kidnapped at the age of 12 while her family was visiting Egypt. Zoe was sold into a harem and after many years of slavery she manages to escape and find her way back to England and her family. This book gripped me from the first page because Chase can write. When I finished it I could honestly say that I liked it, but didn't love it. Zoe's re-adjustment seemed too easy; the secondary characters read more like caricatures; one particular secondary character could have been fleshed out and made into an interesting counterpoint to Zoe. Then I read this. My repressed inner feminist had to admit that Jessica makes a compelling critical argument about this book and its mysoginistic attitude. Wow. And then yesterday I read this. Candy does a way better job of reviewing this book than I could and her reactions closely mirror my own. I still highly recommend this book. The writing alone is worth it. And it's good to read a book that makes us ask some serious questions.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Vacation by the Numbers

1 Wedding.
1 Minor Fender Bender.

1 Lunch with a Super Librarian. Pie was included. What a treat to meet Wendy and I thank her for taking her lunch hour to make time for me.
2 National Parks. The Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde.

7 States slept in. Indiana, Missouri, Texas, Arizona, California, Arizona (again), Colorado, New Mexico.

7 Quilt Shops visited. My personal attempt to aid the economy.
8 hot air balloons sighted in the cool morning air over Albuquerque as I rode to the airport on Saturday. Practice for the annual balloon fiesta?
11 books read. Several candidates for my monthly Phaves list.
11.5 yards of fabric purchased. Plus one kit and 2 notions. If you look closely at the picture you'll see some fabric with the Route 66 logo. Since we were on or parallel to Rt. 66 from St. Louis to LA it seemed appropriate to buy some Rt. 66 fabric. I also got some Southwest Indian-style fabric and have a great idea to make a quilt with it. Then just some general yardage that struck my fancy.

26 degrees. The difference in yesterday's high temperatures between Albuquerque and Columbus. What's up with that? It's July. It's supposed to be hot here. 70? No thank you! I want my heat back.
1769 miles flown. Someone in the family has to go back to work. The boys continue to explore New Mexico. Hmm. I may go to work tomorrow, but I think it feels like I'm still on vacation!
3946 miles driven. Well, I probably drove a total of 60 miles while DH did the rest. That's how I got all those books read.

Billions of stars viewed. I thought the skies over Flagstaff were clear, but that was nothing compared to the sky over Durango where there was much less ambient light. Amazing and Awesome.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

No TBR review this month

I'm on vacation and reading up a storm. But intermittent access to a computer and the internet mean no TBR posting this month. I'll be back soon!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves for June. Sorta'

June 2009 was probably my lightest reading month since I began this blog. I read 11 books. Normally I read at least 20. I just ended up getting busy with stuff, not to mention I had to finish a quilt for the wedding I'm attending tomorrow. (Picture to come.) As I look at the list of what I read, I will say that I enjoyed them all, but really, only 3 deserve the status of "phave." They are:

3. Gotcha! by Christie Craig. I continue to thoroughly enjoy these funny books with their witty dialogue by Ms. Craig. Can I call them light-hearted romantic suspense? That seems an oxymoron. There's definitely tension as the heroine is being stalked by a seriously bad dude. But her attitude, her relationship with the hero, as well as her relationships with her family members are wonderfully depicted. The secondary characters are lively, not dull wallpaper background for the hero/heroine. There's snappy pacing and it was truly hard to put this one down.

2. Don't Tell by Karen Rose. I've been working my way through Ms. Rose's backlist and this is one of her earlier books. By reading it now I can see how much tighter her writing and pacing have become since this was published. This one takes place over a lengthier time period and is a fascinating look at how a previously abused woman has totally re-made her life after running with her son from her abusive husband. I found it totally believable and there was plenty of tension. It was a great warm-up for her next release due in just a few weeks. Ms. Rose cannot write fast enough!

1. A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore. Usually it's pretty easy for me to finish one book and then move on to the next. But this one was unusual enough that I found it darn hard to pick up another book for a few days after. I see from other reviews that this is a book readers either love or hate. There's been some criticism about the realism of the history portrayed here. Indeed, I questioned that any Duke not named Wellington was that close to the front lines at Waterloo (although I was too lazy to actually research the question). But all that aside, I found this to be a well-written, compelling triangle story that stands a few standard romance conventions on end. For example, normally a book will tell the story of the h/h falling in love. Instead we have a heroine who was truly in love with her (presumed) dead husband and now years later has found love again with her second husband. This is how the book begins. And when the first husband turns up alive, Sophie has to make a choice between two men she still loves. (BTW, was the name "Sophie" a deliberate reference to the most devastating book I ever read, "Sophie's Choice"?) I found all three characters sympathetic. In a typical triangle story, one expects to dislike at least one member, but not in this case. In the end, I thought this was an amazing book and I hope Ms. Haymore continues to surprise us and twist the genre for us once in awhile.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sh! I'm supposed to be packing

We're headed out west in a few hours. Driving cross country to my niece's wedding. With DH doing the driving I should get lots and lots of reading done. No blogging though. I owe a 5 phaves for June. Sigh. Happy 4th everyone!
When I get back, pictures of the quilt I made for a wedding gift. Simple, but striking.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A color lesson

Our retreat this year featured an opportunity to make a mystery quilt (instructions are passed out in phases--you bring the required fabric, but have no idea what you'll end up with). I had cheated by finding the pattern online. I decided the project would be a great way to use up some of my green fabric and make my first monochromatic quilt. Here's the quilt top that I finished the other day:
As I selected the fabrics for this I first aimed for some true green in the 3 required values of light, medium, and dark. To add interest, I chose greens that were on the yellow side of the color wheel and on the blue side of the color wheel.

Now that I study the completed top, I see that I should have worked harder to incorporate the blue/green. Only one blue/green fabric stands out, but you can see quite a bit of yellow/green. When I picked these fabrics, I really liked how they looked together. Indeed, I still do. But after making Springing Up Fun and my Flower Pots, this quilt seems kinda' boring.
While I achieved my goal of a monochromatic quilt, I think it would be far more interesting if I had reached a little further to both sides of green on the wheel. How about a true yellow for one of the light or mediums? And a dark true blue? I could have leaned toward the blue side and used blues and purple. Or leaned to the yellow side and used yellow and orange. Or gone for the opposite side and used red. Nah, too Christmas-y. Still, I think some variation would have looked really cool. If I were at all able to use Photoshop I'd play with the picture and show you what I mean.

Instead this top will go into the UFO pile to be completed at a later date. And next time I try something monochromatic I'm going to break the rule by incorporating something from the other side of the wheel.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

TBR Day. Dead Giveaway / Brenda Novak. 2007

This month's TBR theme is "tortured hero or heroine" and I think Clay Montgomery from Brenda Novak's Stillwater trilogy fits the bill.

I was the winning bidder last year at Brenda's auction for an autographed set of this trilogy. I finally got around to reading the first book back in December. I liked it very much and really meant to read the next two sooner than this. But conveniently for me, when I needed a tortured hero I knew just what to read.

This romantic suspense trilogy tells the story of the Barker/Montgomery family who is deeply affected by the mysterious disappearance of their father/step-father, the Rev. Lee Barker, some 19 years before the books begin. The Rev. Barker was a beloved figure in tiny little Stillwater, Miss. and despite a total lack of evidence, step-son Clay Montgomery was presumed guilty of murder. With no body, Clay was never charged, but he is largely shunned and left friendless over the years by a community convinced he is to blame for the loss of their popular preacher.

The previous book was the story of his sister, Grace. In that book we first learn that Barker was guilty of unspeakable crimes against Grace and other young girls. And we learn the truth of what really happened to Barker when Clay was only 16 years old. In the intervening years Clay has kept silent about what happened in order to protect his mother, his sister Grace, and other sister Molly (all 3 of whom know the truth). While Clay is indeed not guilty of killing Barker, he nonetheless stands guard over the hidden location of Barker's body and he does this by isolating himself on the farm where they'd all lived with Barker. Clay also protects his step-sister, Barker's natural daughter, Maddy, who has no idea of Barker's crimes and holds her father's memory in high regard as does the rest of the town. The difference is that Maddy loves her step-family and is convinced that they couldn't possibly be involved in her father's disappearance.

When Maddy's old school friend Allie McCormick, a cold-case detective in Chicago, moves back to Stillwater, Maddy convinces Allie to use her cold-case skills to find her father. Allie has come back to Stillwater after a difficult divorce where her own father is police chief to provide a stable environment for her 6-year old daughter. It is not long before Allie has an encounter with Clay and she finds it hard to believe all of the rumors surrounding Clay. As she digs into the file and gets to know Clay, she becomes more convinced of his innocence while she's pressured by the town to find him guilty. It's not long before Allie has fallen in love with Clay and Clay with her. Allie, of course, eventually learns the truth and has to decide whether to reveal all or find a way to protect both Clay and his secrets.

Meanwhile, Clay has spent his entire adult life harboring these secrets in order to give his sisters and mother the chance to live normal lives. He has never let anyone close for fear that someone else would suffer because of what he knows. Grace (heroine of the first book) has found love and peace with her new husband and even has a baby on the way. Grace represents all of the things Clay has yearned for--intimacy with someone else and a family to love and care for. He's scared of his feelings for Allie because it would not be wise to involve her in his family. Clay makes a great tortured hero because he wants so badly to live a normal life and no one will let him until he meets Allie.

There are numerous sub-plots to this story and a wide range of secondary characters who help carry the tale. I've really found all of it very well-written. The main characters are well-developed and I could empathize with their dilemma. I also have to give kudos to Ms. Novak for the continuity. This book is clearly meant to follow the first and ends with a lead-in to the 3rd. Yet I do think it could be read alone. As readers, we're allowed to see the truth about Barker early on. It's the rest of the town that has no idea, although slowly but surely the truth is being revealed to select individuals. Some references are made to the first book, but this book does not rely heavily upon them. There was just enough there to refresh my aging memory or inform the new reader who might have missed Grace's book.

I would definitely recommend this book and when I'm done with Maddy's story I will be looking to read some of Ms. Novak's other romantic suspense titles.

Hey! Guess who has a birthday today! Cheesecake ahoy!