Thursday, April 30, 2009

Vision in White / Nora Roberts. 2009

This week romance readers have been treated to an embarassment of riches with all of the new releases from favorite authors. We have new ones from Mary Balogh, Karen Ranney, and Elizabeth Hoyt, just to name a few. There's also the highly anticipated The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie from Jennifer Ashley featuring a hero with Asperger's Syndrome. (I'm in the middle of this one right now and am just fascinated by it.) While browsing at Border's I saw (and had to buy) Lynn Kurland's newest. At last, Zach's story. How did this one fly under my radar? Bad, bad Phyl. But at least I have it. And tomorrow? Carla Kelly's sequel to Marrying the Captain will be available as an ebook at eharlequin. Can I just go without sleep for the next week?
Oh, and let's not forget that the first book in a new quartet from Nora Roberts was also released on Tuesday. This is a return to straight romance with no paranormal elements. Yea! I managed to get my name in early at the library so I was first on the reserve list. I picked it up Tuesday and stayed up well past midnight to finish it that day. So yeah, it was good. Pretty cover, too.
Blurb: Wedding photographer Mackensie "Mac" Elliot is most at home behind the camera, but her focus is shattered moments before an important wedding rehearsal when she bumps into the bride-to-be's brother . . . an encounter that has them both seeing stars.
A stable, safe English teacher, Carter Maguire is definitely not Mac's type. But a casual fling might be just what she needs to take her mind off bridezillas. Of course, casual flings can turn into something more when you least expect it. And Mac will have to turn to her three best friends--and business partners--to see her way to her own happy ending.

This new series revolves around 4 women who have been life-long friends. As little girls they often played "wedding" and so it was natural for them to go into the wedding business as adults. Mac (heroine of this one) is the photographer, Laurel the baker, Emma does the flowers, and Parker seems to run everything and everyone. Mac and Parker are more fully developed characters in this book, but all four women feature prominently. It was enjoyable to see how they worked together as a team to make weddings happen as smoothly as possible. Ms. Roberts wrote their friendship with a deft hand and there were lots of humorous moments as well as serious ones.
Carter is a slightly shy, nerdy hero which makes him quite different from the usual alpha-male type heroes in most romances. He knew Mac briefly back in high school and had had a crush on her then. He's honest enough to admit it to her now, but it's charming how he stumbles through the admission. Carter makes up his mind pretty quickly that Mac is the woman for him, but Mac has commitment issues that she needs to work through that stem from her absent father and self-centered mother.
This is a purely character-driven story. The conflict comes primarily from the baggage Mac carries and has to work through. We see a lot more of Mac than we do Carter; Mac has more "issues" to deal with, although Carter has a couple of his own, too. An awful lot of the story devoted to Mac's craft as a photographer and how she does her work. I found it interesting and it didn't come across as an info dump. But it was beginning to seem like too much about photography and not enough about Mac and Carter. There is a scene involving a photo shoot of a former bride who is now pregnant and wants a pregnancy portrait. It was interesting and a little emotional in and of itself, but afterwards I'm not sure how much it advanced the story. For me the first half of the book was a little slow, but when the second half begins to focus more on Mac and Carter I found the book impossible to put down. Part of that includes Mac learning to stand up to her manipulative mother which lets us see Mac grow and become more self-confident.
As usual, Ms. Roberts provides a satisfying romance that I can easily recommend. I think I'm going to enjoy reading about the other 3 women when their stories appear. From the excerpt in the back of the book, Emma is next (Dec. 2009). The excerpt doesn't give a glimpse of her hero, but if I read a couple of sentences right in VIW, I think I know who he is.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Voices / Yanni. 2009

My late mother-in-law was a Yanni fan and my main exposure to his music was during visits to her home. But last month I tuned in to a PBS Great Performances broadcast of Yanni's latest project, an album and tour showcasing 4 young singers. I enjoyed it enough to check the CD out from the library and I've been listening to it almost continuously for the last several days. I now know what I want for Mother's Day.

Honestly, I'm no music critic and I tend to listen to pop standards of the 70's or Smooth Jazz, depending on my mood. But this album is full of romantic songs, half of which are in Italian and Spanish. The orchestration is rich and the 4 singers have incredible voices. I'm obsessed. I'm even thinking of going to the concert when it comes to my town. Maybe. I hate crowds.

This is great stuff to have in the background while I'm reading a good romance. And check out that picture. Now that he's cut his hair and lost the mustache he looks like one sexy Greek millionaire. I've read about those guys, y'know....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

FINISHED!!!!!

Yes, it's finally done. And here are the pictures to prove it:
















And check this out: here's the listing for this quilt at Brenda Novak's auction to benefit diabetes research. Bidding commences May 1.




Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TBR Day. To Love a Thief / Julie Anne Long. 2005

Today is TBR Day and the theme of the month is urban fantasy, paranormal, SFR, fantasy. But I honestly don't have any of that in my TBR pile. I like some of those once in a while, but I'm pretty much a historical junkie and when I went to the shelf, that's all I found. Interestingly, as I was composing this review in my head, I was thinking that this book has a bit of a fairy tale quality to it. The AAR review called it a Pygmalian story. So we'll pretend this book qualifies for this month's theme because it skirts the very edge of fantasy with an engaging, but rather predictable plot involving a girl living in the slums who is rescued by a hero who just happens to need rescuing himself. Sound familiar?Here is the blurb from the publisher:
Lily Masters has a gift for picking pockets and telling stories—skills that come in handy for surviving London’s slums. She’s proud of providing for herself and her lively young sister, Alice, and she’s never been caught. Well, there’s always a first time. Gideon Cole is a brilliant barrister with an unfortunate weakness for clients who can’t pay. His latest charitable misstep: buying the freedom of a daring, beautiful thief. To repay the debt, Lily agrees to his proposition: pose as the object of his desire and help him snare a wealthy bride. All he has to do is transform the impudent Lily into a diamond of the first water. But the education of Lily could cost Gideon his carefully planned future. While she plays cards with his invalid uncle and Alice charms the servants, the honorable Gideon is harboring less than honorable thoughts. For sweet, stubborn, and sensual Lily has a way of slipping past a gentleman’s defenses—especially when she’s stealing his heart!
That's actually a pretty accurate description of the book. Lily lives a hand-to-mouth existence in St. Giles although she and her young sister were being raised to be gentlewomen when their parents died. Left with nothing, Lily has no other choice (short of prostitution) but to resort to theft in order to buy food and shelter. There's a well-written scene between Lily and Gideon when he questions her morals and she asks him what he wouldn't do for his own sister. Lily is a character who has had to make some hard choices. They may not be "right" ones, but they've allowed Lily and her sister to stay together and survive day-to-day.
As I said above, this really is a familiar plot. Gabriel catches Lily in the act of picking his pocket. She escapes, but is caught again by someone else a day later. Gabriel happens to be nearby and in exchange for the last 30 pounds he has in his pocket, he takes charge of her. He discovers that she'd been educated and so he makes a bargain with Lily. She will help him snare the wealthy bride he's interested in and she will regain her freedom. Lily and her sister Alice go with Gabriel to his uncle's home in the country where Lily learns how to navigate in society. While there she falls in love with Gabriel. Then they go back to London where Lily triumphantly enters society only now Gabriel has to decide what it is he really wants out of life and who he wants to spend it with.
If you're a Regency purist, you'd hate this book. There are some title usage errors that even I noticed. It's a little too easy to introduce Lily to society. A house party is planned and the chaperone seems an after-thought. Stuff like that was bothersome. But while I did note these things, I still found myself really enjoying this. I accidentally left it at work the other afternoon and nearly talked myself into turning around and going back for it--I was very upset with myself. Truth is, Ms. Long has an engaging voice. She lets her characters' dialogue and actions move the story forward so the book doesn't get bogged down with too much introspection. Also, I really liked the depth of Lily's feelings for Gabriel: she loves him and continues with the plan to help him win the bride of his choice because she wants him to have what HE wants, even if it may not be the best thing for him. Gabriel thinks of things much like a man of his era would have--why can't he have both his bride and his Lily as a mistress? It's certainly the example he grew up with. So that part felt true.
In the end I do recommend this book. The fairy tale feel and entertaining voice made it an enjoyable read.

Monday, April 13, 2009

5 Books in 4 Days

Thanks to 20 hours in the car over the weekend (no, I don't get car sick), plus a lazy weekend visiting family, I got a ton of reading done. Yep. 5 books in 4 days. And every one of them was a good read. A couple were even better than good. Here they are in the order I read them:

Never Resist Temptation by Miranda Neville. I'll be honest. I hadn't planned on reading this. Frankly, I find many Avon Historicals to be too modern in tone. But I saw some good commentary about this out in blogland and decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. This was really a very entertaining read and if you like to bake, the recipies and descriptions of the heroine's work as a pastry chef would interest you. Snappy dialogue moved the story along and I was really engrossed in the story.

An Affair of Interest by Barbara Metzger. This is one of the author's old traditionals that is now available as an ebook. Since Metzger is one of my favorite Regency authors, her ebook reissues are an autobuy for me. As usual, this was a fun romp with an impoverished heroine who is determined to help her beautiful sister have a London season so she can snag a wealthy husband who will save the family from their poverty. As one scheme after another nearly lands Sydney in trouble, the hero, Viscount Mainwaring, is there to rescue her.

Scandal by Amanda Quick. This book is nearly 20 years old, but is still available new as a reissue. I found it at my library. I've seen readers mention this book more than once on various message boards as an old favorite. And I can see why. Emily is a very smart, but naive woman, kept in the country by her father and brothers because of a sandal in her past. From there she manages the family finances well enough so that there is plenty of money to cover repeated gambling losses. Simon is a very smart, angry man determined upon revenge against the men who he believes ruined his life, one of whom is Emily's father. Part of his revenge is to marry Emily and separate her from her family. But Emily has other ideas about the value of revenge. This book has wonderful dialogue and kept me up late one night to finish it.

Caught by Jami Alden. I won a copy of this when Jami blogged over at TGBU (thanks Jami!). This is a fast-paced romantic suspense with a computer geek heroine and an ex-military security consultant as hero. These two become involved when they need to find a missing teenager who underestimated the dangers of the internet and is used as a pawn by the bad guys who want her father to turn over a bioweapon. I enjoyed the story and the way the hero & heroine are together for a large portion of the book. I did think there was a little too much mental lusting that slowed the story down here and there, but overall still a fun read. Sybil says the next book, Kept is even better. Since it's in my TBR pile, I'll find out soon.

This one will be one of my April Phaves. Practice Makes Perfect by Julie James. This was just the thing to make those hours on the Pennsylvania Turnpike fly right by. Two lawyers at a typical big law firm competing for one partnership spot. They're both very good at what they do. They're both deserving of the partnership spot. They've been barely civil to one another for years, yet secretly extremely attracted to one another. When they're sent to Florida to wine and dine a client, their true feelings emerge. I'm no lawyer, but all of the lawyer stuff felt right and the dialogue between these two smart, equal people was wonderful. What a great way to end my weekend road trip.

Because today was not so hot. Rest in peace, Harry.

Harry Kalas 1936-2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Finally--It really is Spring.

We interrupt our regular programming to celebrate the return of the baseball season. Because in some circles I am known as Phyllis the Phillies Phanatic.

Defending World Series Champion. How sweet does that sound?







Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Phyl's 5 Phaves from March

5. Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. This is an SEP "classic" as it was originally published in 1987 and republished to coincide with the release of her latest book, What I Did for Love. The new book is set a generation later and one of the characters is a daughter of the h/h in GB. GB is more of a women's fiction book with strong romantic elements than a straightforward romance. I've noticed that some bloggers/commenters really do not like GB. I, however, found it to be quite a page-turner and loved the story of Fleur as she comes into her own and learns to stand up for herself. For a "contemporary" that's over 20 years old, it wears very well.

4. Fragile by Shiloh Walker. This is the first book I've read by Ms. Walker. This was a really interesting romantic suspense about a social worker with a brutal past and an ER doctor who gets to know her when she has to bring clients (abused children) into the hospital. Devon is attracted to Luke but has so many issues to deal with (the title "Fragile" is apt). Luke has problems of his own to deal with, including a twin brother who is on the edge. Ms. Walker does a great job of blending the suspense with the ups and downs of a developing relationship. I thought it very realistic. They have to deal with stress--from their pasts, their jobs, and the outside threat that is very real. I'd love to see a book about Luke's twin, but the website gives no hint that one is forthcoming.

3. The Bride Price by Anne Mallory. I blogged about this back on TBR Day because I thought this was such an effective look at Regency society and a rather unusual story from many angles. I loved the subtle way it was told and how much was unsaid, yet clear to the discerning reader. It was just a well-written story with characters I fully enjoyed. Through Caroline and Sebastian we see just how society operated, how much power the wealthy and titled had, and the importance of legitimacy. I will definitely be reading more by this author.

2. Promises in Death by J.D. Robb. This is installment number 34 in Nora Robert's crime series and the series shows no signs of going stale in this book. The case this time involves the murder of a cop who just happens to be the girlfriend of Chief Medical Examiner Morris, and this makes the case personal for the whole cast of characters. The fact that it was personal gave the book some poignancy. And there are also lighthearted moments as Eve continues to grow into her friendships--she hosts a bridal shower for Louise in the middle of the investigation. It's a "life must go on" moment and shows how far Eve has come since book 1.

1. Kill for Me by Karen Rose. I have become an absolutely huge, huge Karen Rose fan. Her books are taut, finely crafted, and suspenseful. They are NOT for the squeamish! This was book 3 in her Vartanian family trilogy. While I think on the one hand this book can stand alone, I do think it's a case of being a much "fuller" read if you've read the previous two books. There's a large story arc involving the small Georgia town where the Vartanians are from and many of its citizens. In this story it's a race against time to break up a human trafficking ring and Susannah Vartanian holds the key to doing so. Working with special agent Luke Papadopoulos, they track down the bad guys and save some young girls who are in trouble. KR writes books that take place over very short periods of time (e.g. 1-2 weeks) and are extremely intense. I have really come to appreciate how talented a writer she is to keep up the tension and bring all of the threads together. Great, great read.