Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Scandal / Carolyn Jewel. 2009

I learned a new word reading this book. That's always fun. It's also great to see another historical from the author of Lord Ruin, a book I really liked. Scandal, by Carolyn Jewel, has received quite a few positive reviews around the web since its release this month and I'm happy to add my voice to the chorus.

I don't have time to write a full review, but let me say that I found this book to be quite fascinating. I had a hard time putting it down once I started. This story of the Earl of Banallt's dedicated, persistent pursuit of Sophie Evans, the widow of Banallt's one-time friend, is moving and emotional. It is told against the backdrop of Napolean's final 100 days--after his escape from Elba, but just before Waterloo. There are reminders in this book, both overt and subtle, that life is precious. The concern about impending war is understated, but I think it serves as an important part of the landscape as we watch Sophie decide whether she's willing to risk her heart, even if she can't be certain it won't be broken yet again.

It's a cleverly crafted book. Banallt & Sophie first met while they were each still married to others. Now each is widowed, but Sophie has no desire to be tied to another man after the disaster of her first marriage. Sophie had not only been a victim of her first husband's careless negligence and infidelity, but also a victim of her powerlessness as a woman in that society. She will not be powerless like that again. Sophie is a strong woman and a very likeable heroine. There are a handful of flashbacks that not only tell the tale of their early relationship, but illustrate how much Banallt has changed by the time he meets Sophie again.

This is also a book about impressions, reputation, and the power of gossip. Banallt is really not the man the gossips like to portray. And even Sophie, who knows him better than most, has a hard time putting the gossip aside. Some of this is due to her own lack of self-worth. But if she can convince herself that the gossip is true, she doesn't have to risk her heart again. I could totally believe her need for self-preservation.

At any rate, well done. Believe the buzz. This is a good book and I happily recommend it.

Today First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh and Promises in Death by J.D. Robb were released. I have them both in my hot little hands. What to read, what to read....

Friday, February 20, 2009

Retreating


I'm packed and ready to go. It's annual retreat time! 48 hours of sewing, friends, as little food as possible (yeah, right!), and not much sleep. This should mean lots of progress on my UFOs!

There's a computer in the lobby of the lodge, but I don't plan to use it.

This is one of my favorite weekends of the year! Many thanks to the family who cheerfully see me off each time.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TBR Day -- A Rose at Midnight / Anne Stuart. 1993

This month's theme in Keishon's 2009 TBR Challenge is to read a book that we bought because of a DIK (i.e. Desert Isle Keeper) review over at AAR. I discovered that I don't have very many unread AAR DIK's lying (laying?--I never know) around. There's Outlander, but that sucker would have taken too long to read. Sigh. One day. Anyhow, I found that I had this book stashed away. I bought it used off Amazon's Marketplace almost exactly 5 years ago. The DIK review is by an AAR reader and may be found here.

If anyone ever wrote the quintessential “tortured hero,” I’m guessing it would be Anne Stuart. Her heroes have been discarded by their families, have made the worst possible choices, and most importantly, seem to thoroughly hate themselves. Usually they are redeemed by innocent (yet feisty!) heroines who teach them how to love (think Chloe & Bastien from Black Ice). In this book Nicholas is about as tortured as any hero can be. What's different this time is so is the heroine, Ghislaine.

This historical takes place in 1803 during the tenuous and short-lived Peace of Amiens. Ghislaine is living quietly in England, serving as a chef to her friend, Lady Ellen Fitzwater. Ghislaine is the daughter of French aristos who were beheaded during the Terror. Shortly before Ghislaine's world was torn apart at the age of 15, she met and developed an infatuation for Nicholas Blackthorne, a carefree young man of 22 who was visiting her family. Ghislaine's father, seeing the unrest caused by the Revolution, asks Nicholas to marry Ghislaine and take her safely to England. The father will then get his wife and son to England separately. Nicholas, however, being young and selfish refuses. The Comte is unable to save his family. He and his wife are captured and beheaded; Ghislaine and her little brother escape and are left to fend for themselves on the streets of Paris where Ghislaine's life descends to hell. Ghislaine manages to pull herself up and make a life for herself, but not until after she's been brutalized and permanently separated from her brother. She meets Lady Ellen 9-10 years later and accepts Ellen's offer of a job in England. She is with Ellen when the book opens.

Meanwhile, Nicholas has been living a dissolute life. He is the unwanted second son, left to inherit nothing but debt when his older brother and father die. Nicholas is infamous for the 7 duels he's fought and the 2 men he's killed. He's also a cousin of Lady Ellen. He arrives at Ellen's after his latest duel. He's hiding out until it's determined he either has to flee England for awhile, or it's safe to return to London.

For the last 10 years, all Ghislaine has wanted is revenge upon Nicholas--the target she blames for all of the misery she has had to endure. When he shows up at the estate where she is working, she decides her chance for revenge has come and she poisons Nicholas. While she makes Nicholas very sick, she doesn't manage to kill him. Nicholas realizes he's been poisoned by the cook and he ends up recognizing Ghislaine as the young woman he left behind all those years ago. He had actually been attracted to her back then, but he was not willing to act upon those feelings. So, he decides to kidnap Ghislaine and take her to his property in Scotland where he can seduce her and extract some revenge in return.

When Ellen discovers that Ghislaine has been taken by Nicholas, she goes after them, under the escort of her brother's best friend, Tony. There is a wonderful, very funny romance between these two that we see along with the main story of Nicholas and Ghislaine. Tony and Ellen are an interesting light counterpoint to the dark and tortuous road that Nicholas and Ghislaine have to go down together.

This book is a road story, taking place as they travel first to Scotland, then to Holland, then to Venice, and finally to France. Nicholas and Ghislaine are together constantly, as are Tony and Ellen. However, the four don't get together until the end when they are all in Venice. Ghislaine's story of what she endured after Nicholas "betrayed" her is slowly revealed. Ghislaine is a wonderfully constructed character who is deeply conflicted by her old feelings for Nicholas, by her hatred of him for his betrayal and now his control over her, and by the feelings (attraction) she has for him now. This is also a story of forced seduction that many readers will believe crosses that line over to rape. When Nicholas finally has his way with her, Ghislaine is just as angry with herself as with him because she admits to herself that she loves him. This scene makes sense to me because Nicholas is so full of self-hatred, he only sees himself as destructive. But he finally begins to change and both of them deal with their respective pasts.

I found myself pulled into the story almost immediately and I loved the way Anne Stuart gradually revealled Ghislaine's past. Once I started, I had a hard time putting it down. I'd definely recommend this book, although if books with "forced seduction" turn you off, you might want to avoid it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kreative Blogger Award

A couple of weeks ago, Christine kindly honored me with a Kreative Blogger Award. As Christine said, we both have a love of books and our respective crafts (cross stitch in Christine's case). I'm flattered by the award, and in the "Kreative" spirit, I thought I'd share 6 things I've learned about creativity through my quilting:

1. You don't have to finish everything you start. (This applies to books as well as quilts.) Some things just don't "work" but they can be instruments of learning. The colors may be off, the balance of shapes may be wrong, or it's just plain boring. Life is too short to waste on projects (or books) that are no longer interesting. Stop and go work on (or read) something that IS interesting.

2. Step back and take a long view once in awhile. Colors look very different together from afar than they do up close. It's the impact they have from a distance that you want to focus on.

3. Use more red, yellow, and orange. These are "warm" colors and it doesn't take more than just a few scraps of them to perk something up and totally change the look. As much as I love blue and green, I need to spice things up more often.

4. Do it right. Even if that means doing it over again. Yeah, it's frustrating, but I'm so much happier with myself when I do it right. I'm just enough of a perfectionist that doing it right matters. Basically, I know who I am.

5. Don't be afraid to learn new techniques (or read a different genre). They say brain exercise will stave off dementia. Trying something new means it might take a little longer, but the result is extremely satisfying.

6. Practice, practice, practice. The stuff I make now is much better than the stuff I used to make. I love seeing how far I've come, especially with my machine quilting.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Scents

Authors will frequently use scents and perfumes as descriptors to help shape their characters. Usually these are pretty recognizable, such as fruits or plants like lavendar. One that I saw recently was new to me, although in looking around I found out that it's really extremely common.

When I read Veiled Promises last month, we were frequently told that Matteo smelled of bergamot. I'd never heard of it before and discovered that it's a common ingredient in modern perfumes and deoderants. I was curious as to what it smells like.



Meanwhile, for Christmas I received a gift card to The Candle Lab, a small group of local stores that lets you make your own scented soy candles. On Saturday I went in to use my card and saw that bergamot was one of the available scents and decided to make a candle with that scent mixed with lavendar and english ivy. I like it. It's very strong though--tangy and sharp. I can only burn the candle for half an hour or so before it gets too strong. Anyhow, now I know what Matteo smelled like.

Oh, and here's a little work in progress that is NOT from my UFO pile. Lest I be accused of ADD and starting yet another project, in my defense let me say that this is for a friend who just had a baby 3 weeks ago. She and her husband picked out this monkey fabric. The pattern is from Maple Island Quilts, called BQ2. This picture shows the first 7 blocks I finished. I now have 12 done and 8 more to go. This will be simple. No borders. After I stitch the blocks together I'll quilt it with straight line cross hatching. Should be done by the end of the month.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from January

It was actually rather difficult to pick my 5 favorite books from last month. Only a couple stood out as being fabulous reads. Most were just average. They were enjoyable, but not so compelling that I dropped everything to finish them. Maybe that's why I got so much quilting done. I wasn't held captive by my reading. It's interesting to note that 4 of the 5 are historicals, but not a Regency-set in sight. One medieval and 3 Georgians. I came this close to putting Sylvia Day's Don't Tempt Me on the list, which is set in pre-Terror Paris. It deserves an honorable mention for the setting alone.

5. What a Scoundrel Wants by Carrie Lofty. This book took me over a week to read. Like Christine I found this book very slow going to start. I spent a week reading the first half. I finished the last half over a two-day period. I really enjoyed how different it was from more traditional romance. Even though I wasn't loving it, I kept at it because there's been so much positive buzz on the 'Net. I found myself confused by who was allied with who. I kept wondering if I was supposed to know more about the Robin Hood mythology than I do. I understood why Meg & Will had their first passionate encounter, but nothing from that encounter and their respective subsequent behavior meshed *for me* with their ongoing lust for one another. It just didn't compute. Also, it seemed to take way too long to explain the essential conflict in the story. Once that finally began to make sense to me, I became more and more engaged. Enough so that I did reach the point where I didn't want to put the book down. There's a moment when Will actively seeks in his own mind to put himself in Meg's shoes and imagine going through life blind. When he does that, I finally believed in his attraction to her. And we finally understand enough about Meg to know why she had trust issues. Then I could believe in her attraction to him. All in all I'm glad I read it and I will be watching for Ada's book.

4. Veiled Passions by Tracy MacNish. I blogged about this one here. This book stuck with me for days. I really found the theme of revenge very compelling.

3. A Lady's Secret by Jo Beverley. I used to be a member of JB's Yahoo group and when she was writing this she called it her "nun on the run" book. It does have a humorous beginning as Petra, dressed like a nun, receives help from Robin to escape from some nasty people. JB's books are always good and this one, connected to her Malloren series, was no exception. I also read Lord of Midnight this month, one of her medievals. I liked that one, but found the heroine to be a tad annoying--enough so to keep the book from being a Phave.

2. Flat-out Sexy by Erin McCarthy. I am an anti-NASCAR snob, for sure. I've avoided the Harlequin NASCAR books, even if they have great reviews. But I'm a big Erin McCarthy fan and I wasn't going to miss this. I found Tamara to be a well-written character who, as a widow with serious responsibilities toward her children, must decide whether to take a chance on a relationship with another driver. It means living with the risk that she could be widowed again. She's also slightly older than your typical heroine and I found her insecurities about her body (that bore those 2 children) to be honest and realistic. Elec (strange name) also seemed realistic and not too-good-to-be-true. I raced through this one and am eagerly awaiting the next title in the series, Hard and Fast (May 2009).

1. To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt. I've yet to read an Elizabeth Hoyt book that I did not absolutely love. Honestly, she delivers consistently well-crafted books with characters that are just out of the ordinary. Some of the best parts of the book concern Lord Vale's PTSD and the way that Melisande deals with it (of course it's not identified in the book as PTSD). There are some traumas that one cannot fully recover from. The reality of this enhances the book. Melisande is a heroine who is not physically beautiful, but she displays an inner beauty that Vale recognizes and falls in love with. It's heart-stopping the way he shows her that. I read this book while on a cross-country flight and the 4.5 hours felt like 2. I was entranced.