Wednesday, August 17, 2011

TBR Day. The Soldier / Grace Burrowes. 2011

This month's TBR theme is something erotic or steamy. I don't have anything specifically like that in my collection. However this one has a fair share of heat, so hopefully it qualifies.

Grace Burrowes is a new author and The Soldier is her second book. I read her debut, The Heir, last January and liked it well enough to pre-order this for my Kindle. It was released in June. Obviously it hasn't been waiting to be read very long, but I was in the mood to try it, so here it is.

This is going to be a strange review. As I look back there was a lot in this book that bothered me. But while I was reading it, I genuinely enjoyed the experience. I think Burrowes does a great job with her characterizations and her prose. This is a character-driven story without much external conflict and I do enjoy books of this nature. I had a hard time putting it down and stayed up late the other night to finish it.

The book has three main characters, and they were all born out of wedlock: Devlin St. Just, the hero; Emmie Farnum, a young woman who lives on a neighboring property; and 7-year old Winnie who is Emmie's relative and was fathered by the previous owner of Devlin's estate.

Much is made of Devlin's situation. At the age of 5 his mother had turned him over to his father, a powerful Duke, and asked the Duke and Duchess to raise him as they'd be able to give him a better life than she could. It's actually a poignant story and I loved the way it's told throughout the book and how it affected the relationship Devlin has with his father, the Duchess, and his half-siblings. It struck me as totally realistic that a child brought into that sort of situation would feel both abandoned and on the outside looking in, no matter how much his new family might love him. Devlin spends the book dealing with his family as well as wrestling the demons from his many years of military service fighting Napoleon and the French.

Devlin has recently been made the 1st Earl of Rosecroft and the title comes with a run-down estate that had previously been owned by a dissolute earl who died without an heir. Emmie and Winnie live quietly nearby. Emmie bakes for a living; she sells her wares to the local villagers, but otherwise rarely interacts with them. She's a social outcast and as a result, rather lonely. Her cousin Winnie was fathered by that dead, dissolute earl and for some strange reason Winnie is treated as part of the estate that Devlin is awarded. This is where the logic of the book begins to fall apart. Emmie seems to have an expectation that Winnie, as the bastard daughter of an earl, somehow deserves a better life than what she'd have if she stayed with Emmie. And she wants to give Winnie over to Devlin to provide that life. Now why would Devlin be in any way obligated to do this? Given the social mores of the time, why would Emmie expect special treatment for Winnie? It just didn't ring true and that bothered me.

There's one other thing that bothered me a lot. Emmie is portrayed as a loving, nurturing woman, and she does a great deal to help Devlin heal from his experiences in the war. She encourages him to open up and listens to him as he tells her things he hasn't been able to talk about before. They fall in love, but Emmie is unwilling to trust in Devlin the way he has trusted in her. She hangs on to her secrets and makes preparations to leave the area, despite Winnie's and Devlin's pleas that she stay. At first I can understand her reluctance. One doesn't hang on to things for years and years only to give them up at the drop of a hat. But it goes on and on to the point that when Emmie finally changes her mind and decides to stay with Devlin and Winnie, it's practically the last page of the book. Both me, the reader, and Devlin had figured out Emmie's secrets long before she was willing to give them up. When she finally does so, it's the very end of the book. This creates a rather abrupt ending and I wanted a longer emotional payoff after all that dithering.

Frankly, as nicely as Burrowes writes, there's still an anachronistic feel to the language and attitudes in both of her books. Other online reviewers have commented on this, and I'm not going to rehash it here. Ultimately I think Burrowes shows wonderful promise as a writer and I'm already looking forward to her next book. Meanwhile I offer only a limited recommendation -- this book has a great hero who carries the story and is worth reading about. Unfortunately he comes with a less-likeable heroine and a precocious 7-year old which may be enough for some readers to say no thanks.

Friday, August 12, 2011

More Paint Chip Challenge

Last year, the QBFFs, my sister, and I decided to do a "paint chip challenge." That is, we each started with a paint chip and had to come up with any kind of quilt using only those colors. I got green, H(onorary) QBFF C. got coral, T. got orange, and A. got yellow. You can read more about mine here

Today I have some pictures of the final projects and then a photo of the 4 of us together w/ our quilts. Since my sister, HQBFF C. does not live in this area, it was a real treat for the 4 of us to go out to dinner and talk quilts and quilting.

First, QBFF A. She made 7 panels and then added these purple sunflowers. I could accuse her of cheating, but those sunflowers sure make the panels pop.

Next, QBFF T. She made a lovely Storm at Sea quilt using her colors. This picture isn't very good; the quilt is more orange. I think the colors are better in the final shot at the bottom.

This is C. holding up her paint chip along with her quilt. Her border fabric has some green and brown in it and make a nice frame for the paper-pieced stars.

Next and last, this is mine. I used only what I already had in my stash and decided to make a table runner that I'll be able to use on my kitchen table:

And here we are all together:

Soon I'll talk about the NEXT challenge we came up with! Fun.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Phyl's 5 Phaves for April

You know, if I don't catch up on these posts pretty soon, I'm going to totally forget what I read.

5. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen. Allen's unique lyrical story-telling made me a fan with her first book, Garden Spells. Like her previous books, there's a touch of mysticism, a touch of romance, and several quirky, interesting characters. Allen certainly manages to do a lot with just a few words (her books are relatively short compared to most novels). The themes in this book include the nature of friendship, forgiveness, tradition, and secrets. It's hard to describe this book, so I'll just say go read it!

4. The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig. This is another solid entry in Willig's Pink Carnation series. Laura Grey, a graduate of the Selwick spy school, goes to Paris and poses as a governess in the home of Andre Jaouen, an official in Bonaparte's Ministry of Police. Laura had hoped for an assignment a little more dramatic than watching over Andre's two children. But she soon gets more than she bargained for, especially when she discovers that Andre is not quite what he seems. In turn, of course, Andre eventually discovers that Laura is MORE than he expected. That was quite fun. Another facet I liked is that both Andre and Laura are older and somewhat lonely. The way they were drawn to one another seemed very natural. I know that many say that some parts of this series of books are anachronistic. But I do like the way Willig writes and I thought she did an excellent job in this particular book of creating characters with more depth than some of her previous books.

3. The Apothecary's Daughter by Julie Klassen. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this inspirational Regency that involves two people from the working classes. The unusual characters and setting really drew me in and I've been working on reading Klassen's backlist ever since. I blogged about this book here back in April.

2. A Borrowed Scot by Karen Ranney. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a huge fan of Karen Ranney. I love the emotion that always comes through in her writing. This book is the 3rd in a trilogy of rather loosely-related books that are connected by a mirror with mystical powers. Although the mirror plays a very minor role in this book. The book's beginning seemed rather improbable when heroine Veronica MacLeod is caught trying to sneak into a meeting of a secret society. Montgomery Fairfax, the brand new Lord Fairfax comes to her rescue and ends up agreeing to marry her to prevent her from losing her home along with her good name due to the scandal. Despite the odd beginning, this marriage of convenience story really drew me in. Montgomery is an American from a branch of the Fairfax family that had left Scotland several decades earlier. Montgomery lost his entire family to the American Civil War. The estate he inherits in Scotland is not home to him. Veronica herself has no real family to speak of. Together they overcome the inauspicious beginning to their marriage and find a way to build a life and a home together. This book is filled with fascinating historical details that complement these interesting characters and their relationship. Ranney really excels at writing books that focus on the emotional journey her characters take.

1. Dangerous in Diamonds by Madeline Hunter. This much-anticipated conclusion to Hunter's "The Rarest Blooms" series was worth the wait. The enigmatic Duke of Castleford becomes intrigued by Daphne Joyes, the woman behind The Rarest Blooms, a floral business Daphne runs with her friends who appear in the earlier books. Daphne is a woman with some serious secrets and she goes to great lengths to preserve those secrets. The Duke is a man determined to discover all of Daphne's secrets. A bored aristocrat, Castleford lives a life of debauchery which he begins to give up as he gets to know Daphne better. As usual, Hunter gives her characters a lot of depth and the journeys both Castleford and Daphne take are fascinating and emotional. Hunter writes great dialog and it's wonderful to read the witty exchanges, not only between Castleford and Daphne, but between the other characters as well. Hunter's books are almost always a treat.