Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Phyl's 5 Phaves from October

Silver Linings by Jayne Ann Krentz. I saw a reference to this a while back (on Smart Bitches?) and was able to read it because my local library has a fine collection of older Krentz titles in large print. Hugh was once engaged to Mattie's sister, Ariel. When Hugh and Ariel broke up, Mattie threw herself at Hugh, but Hugh turned her down. Shortly after that, Hugh realized his mistake, but Mattie won't have anything to do with him. Finally they reunite--over a dead body. Hugh rescues Mattie and manages to insinuate himself back into her life. This is a campy, fun story. Originally published in 1991, it's quite dated to those of us now accustomed to daily use of the internet and cell phones. Still, Mattie makes a great foil for Hugh who is typically alpha and sometimes quite clueless. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Heart Search by Robin D. Owens. Owens' "Heart" series is for people who are fond of fated mates and cats. As I've said before, I love the world of Celta that Owens has created in this series. Heart Search opens with an interesting situation: Laev, the hero, is a widower who had mistakenly assumed the wrong woman was his intended HeartMate and he had endured a difficult and troubled marriage with that woman. Meanwhile, Camellia had lived with the knowledge that her HeartMate had married another woman. To add to that pain, Camellia has had to struggle on her own because her father and her uncle constantly steal from her, despite every effort to prevent it. As the book opens, Laev is now a widower and he is trying to recover many family heirlooms his wife had stolen from him before her death. In his search he discovers Camellia, but because of the mistreatment each has experienced it takes them awhile to trust one another. I enjoyed the romance and the visit with familiar characters. I like that Owens has her characters growing older. The couples from the earliest books now have nearly-grown children.

Prey by Linda Howard. Judging by some reviews I've read over the years, I may be in the minority when I say that my favorite Howard books of the last half dozen years have been the ones like Prey that involve some sort of outdoor adventure/survival--such as Cover of Night and Up Close and Dangerous. This latest adventure involves two competing wilderness guides, Angie and Dare. Dare has had a thing for Angie for years, but she's made it clear she's not interested. Unfortunately, Angie's business is going under and Dare's success is partly to blame. Angie contracts one last trip, to help a client hunt for a bear. But it turns out this trip is really meant to be a cover-up to murder and Angie barely escapes with her life. Meanwhile, Dare "happens" to be nearby. He rescues her, they work through their issues, and together they escape two killers--the murderer and a bear with a taste for human flesh. Yeah, it's gruesome, but I liked it. Campy, suspenseful, and sweetly romantic.

The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts. This sweet little book took no time to read and was a very enjoyable start to my holiday reading for 2011. Merilee White is a shy young woman who wants to become a veterinarian. Until she can afford vet school, she works in a big box pet store. Zach Stone is "adopted" by Ambrose, a cat who is the 3rd main character in this story. Ambrose, on the verge of losing his 9th and final life, knows he needs to do something for Zach in order to have a chance at making his 9th life last a good long time. Zach is a firefighter who has soured on relationships after too many of them in his life went bad. But when Ambrose sees how lonely Zach is, he finds a way to make sure Zach and Merilee get together. There's just one word for this kind of book. Cute. And sometimes Cute really hits the spot.

Snapped by Laura Griffin. The latest entry in Griffin's "Tracers" series begins with a campus shooting that appears to be an open and shut case of a deranged individual lashing out at random. Only when eyewitness Sophie Barrett realizes that there had to be more to this shooting than authorities believe, she ends up becoming a target herself. Meanwhile, homicide detective Jonah Macon, who has been assigned the case, finds himself attracted to Sophie. He's got a conflict of interest because he's attracted, but no one believes that Sophie saw anything significant. As Jonah starts looking into it, he also realizes that Sophie is a loose-end the killer will want to deal with. Once again Griffin has written a taut, fast-paced thriller with just the right amount of romance. This is a great series that you can read from the beginning or jump in at any point.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Today I give thanks, 2011

In the United States, today is Thanksgiving Day. Last year for Thanksgiving I wrote this post where I listed 53 things for which I am grateful. As I said then, a healthy percentage of us will spend the day with family and/or friends. We'll eat too much, watch some TV (football!), and hopefully even spend some time counting our blessings.
In what has now become tradition, tomorrow, Friday, another healthy percentage of us will run out the door at some freakishly early hour to spend tons of money. Because despite how grateful we may be today, apparently we still don't have enough stuff.

I hate shopping (unless it's for fabric!) and I hate crowds. I'll be hibernating at my parents' house.

Last year, since I was 53 years old, I decided to list 53 things for which I was grateful. This year I've edited the list a little to reflect some of the changes in my life. And I added one since I'm a year older. In the order in which they occurred to me:
  1. My husband.
  2. My son.
  3. My parents, siblings, and their families.
  4. My in-laws, including my husband's siblings and their families. We were supposed to visit them for Christmas this year, but circumstances have caused us to change our plans. I'll miss seeing them. It's been too long.
  5. Despite various health issues, my parents are still living independently.
  6. This blog and the online friends I have made.
  7. My smartphone. I am addicted to the Internet.
  8. My Pfaff 7530. 17 years old and still a workhorse, although it had to pay a visit to the hospital last month.
  9. My Brother PQ 1500-S which makes machine quilting a dream and kept me from going crazy while my Pfaff was in the hospital.
  10. My BFF MJ.
  11. My QBFFs AM and TB.
  12. Mary Balogh's A Summer to Remember--the book that re-ignited my love of the Romance Novel.
  13. Mary Balogh's Heartless--still my favorite.
  14. Jesus Christ.
  15. The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies. Sigh. Wish I could have added the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies to this.
  16. The 1980 Philadelphia Phillies.
  17. Penn State. This is hard. My alma mater has been shattered by men who chose to protect the status quo rather than expose a child predator. Some of the best years of my life were spent at Penn State. I met my husband there. Penn State is so much more than football or our ex-coach. I hope someday we can remember that.
  18. Social networking.
  19. My home. 
  20. My fabric stash.
  21. Chocolate.
  22. Peanut Butter.
  23. Weight Watchers.
  24. Those 86 lbs. I lost in 2005-2006. I've gained some of it back, but have managed to keep most of it off.
  25. Insulin.
  26. A stable, steady job and an employer that lets me work only 30 hours/week.
  27. Libraries.
  28. Old friends.
  29. New friends.
  30. All those quilt ideas running around in my brain.
  31. Summer days when the temperature goes over 90.
  32. Snow days.
  33. Mike Schmidt.
  34. Sean Connery.
  35. Flannel sheets.
  36. Home-grown tomatoes.
  37. My Kindle. I've read quite a few wonderful ebooks that I wouldn't have been able to read without it.
  38. The Internet.
  39. Twitter. I rarely tweet, but I do enjoy the tweets of those I follow.
  40. Google. Yeah, I know, they want to rule the earth. But still....
  41. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. What fun places to shop.
  42. Volkswagon. In the last 30 years I have owned and driven just 3 VW diesels. Can you say 45+ MPG? A total of 425,000 miles.
  43. ESPN.
  44. XM Satellite radio.
  45. Diet Coke.
  46. Mexican restaurants.
  47. Enjuvia--best drug ever.
  48. Music. I love Smooth Jazz, especially Chris Botti.
  49. Yellowstone National Park.
  50. Christmas lights.
  51. Leftover turkey.
  52. Romance authors who write the books that enrich my life.
  53. High-Def TV.
  54. The book that came out this past year from the contest that made me a winner: It Happened One Season.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Phyl's 4 Phaves from September

I'm trying to remember what the heck I was doing in September that kept me so busy. Because apparently I only read 8 books and a small collection of 4 very short stories. Weird. Because all it did was rain. It's not as if I went outside and did something active or useful. I didn't finish a quilt either. Oh well. But that leaves me with only 4 books that I want to talk about this month. And they are:

4. The Unmentionables by Karen Ranney. Here is the product description from Amazon: The Unmentionables is a collection of short stories told by Victorian undergarments, from the under appreciated pair of drawers belonging to a countess, to the corset owned by a young miss, to a pair of enthusiastic stockings, and finally to a maid's shift. This collection of very short stories barely took me 30 minutes to read--about 5-10 minutes per story. It's a fine piece of whimsy that was both romantic and interesting as I considered how different the Victorian clothing was from what I typically wear each day. For less than the cost of my Daily Diet Coke I was treated to something fun and imaginative from my favorite author.

3. Kissing Comfort by Jo Goodman. Goodman's latest is a western historical that takes place largely in San Francisco. The story begins with a prologue that tells how 5-year old Comfort Kennedy became the ward of her two "uncles" and continues 20 years later with a fully grown Comfort reluctantly entering into a sham engagement with Bram DeLong. Bram and Comfort had been friends for a long time; Comfort had even believed herself to be in love with Bram. But when she agrees to the false engagement she realizes her feelings aren't quite what she thought. Meanwhile, Bram's older brother Bode, who has long had feelings for Comfort, proves to be a more steadfast, honest individual, especially when Comfort finds her life in danger. The tumultuous post-gold rush setting of San Francisco is an interesting one as secrets are revealed and Comfort learns what it really means to be in love. While not as deeply emotional as Goodman's other recent books, this was still a very satisfying and entertaining read.

2. After the Fire by Kathryn Shay. I've only read a few of Shay's books before this one; as near as I can tell this is one of her early books that she's made available as an ebook. This is the first in a trilogy involving three siblings and the fire department they all work for in the town of Hidden Cove, somewhere in upstate New York. When a huge fire injures all three of them, and some of their colleagues die, the siblings make a promise to one another that they will make the changes necessary in their lives to improve their lives and live without regrets. Mitch, the oldest, is in a bad marriage and wants to try and put things right. Jenn, twice-divorced, wants a baby. Zach, also divorced, wants another chance with his ex-wife. Shay switches back and forth, telling the stories of all three. There's a resolution to two of them and the 3rd carries into the next book. I found this to be a rather realistic look at the fact that life is often messy and sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. Not everything ends the way you might expect. I had a hard time putting this down and I went back to Amazon when I was done and bought the next book in the trilogy.

1. Vienna Waltz by Teresa Grant. This book is primarily a mystery, with some very nice romantic elements. And I have to say, I'm really not normally fond of mysteries. I'm not sure why, but that's how it is. What I am, though, is a Regency history junkie and I especially enjoyed this book that gave me a look at the pomp and society surrounding the 1814 Congress of Vienna. This fictional story incorporates all of the main players at the table: Talleyrand, Castlereagh, Metternich, and Tsar Alexander. The main protagonists are Suzanne and Malcolm Rannoch who have been married little more than two years and still have a rather fragile relationship. They met in Spain where Malcolm did intelligence work for the British Army. Now he's attached to the British delegation. When a rather infamous courtesan is murdered, it is Suzanne who finds her husband bent over the woman's body. Questions surround Malcolm's involvement with the woman and the questions threaten Suzanne and Malcolm's marriage as well as Malcolm's life. Together they must solve the mystery of who murdered the beautiful Tatiana and as they do so, they begin to trust each other with their secrets. It's a complex story, but Grant's writing made it easy for me to follow along as she unraveled the mystery. My favorite parts, though, were about Suzanne and Malcolm. I'd read that many Regency fans are very fond of Grant's earlier books involving sleuths Melanie and Charles. Turns out this is the same couple, re-named at the request of Grant's new publisher. While the other books were written earlier, this is the first one in the time line. I may finally go and read the other books since I certainly liked this one well enough.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It's a Mystery!

No, sorry, I'm not referring to this month's TBR challenge. I even started a Barry Eisler John Rain book (which I am enjoying). But I put it on the back burner because my sewing machine came home from the hospital and I got an itch to make up for lost time (my baby was gone for a whole month!).

So, no TBR book for me this month. Instead, I've been working on a mystery quilt! It's a mystery because I have no idea what I'm making. I just follow the instructions handed out once a week by AQS and see where they take me.

Here's where I started with Block Buffet, a 6-week mystery challenge designed by Linda Hahn. You can see the color chart on the left. Since I am making this totally from my stash, there are some colors where I'm having to use 2 or 3 fabrics. Hopefully this will add a nice slightly scrappy look to my quilt. Based on all of the pieces I cut out, this quilt will be a very bright, colorful piece. I'm excited to see the end result.

First, I had to cut out hundreds of squares, rectangles, triangles. I never did add up how many I cut. I may have to do that at some point. Each different-sized piece has a letter value assigned to it and I put them into labeled baggies to keep them safe.

And here are some of the blocks I've already begun to sew together.

One issue I have is that I have not been able to keep up with the pace of the instructions. This is week 5. I'm working on week 3. But between family and work and just life in general, I can't work that fast. I'm going to try and keep from downloading week 6 until I'm caught up. We'll see how that goes!

Stay tuned for the solution to this mystery!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fall Table Runner

Just popping in to show off another table runner made from the Waffle Time pattern by Atkinson Designs. This makes at least 3 of these I've made now. I do love this pattern.

Projects like this help me practice my machine quilting and even play around with some slightly different motifs.

Best of all, it looks nice on my kitchen table!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Phyl's 5 Phaves from August

I'm catching up!!

5. Swept Away by Karen Templeton. Someone must have mentioned this book in their blog back at the beginning of the summer (probably for TBR day). I wish I could remember who so I could say thank you. Anyhow, I'm glad they did as this was a nice inexpensive download for my Kindle that I really enjoyed. Carly Stewart is a retired ballerina who is traveling through little Haven, OK with her recently bereaved father when their RV breaks down. What starts out as a brief stay grows into something more when Carly finds herself attracted to rancher Sam Frazier--widower and father of 6 kids, including a 15yo teenage girl with an attitude. Carly is an atypical heroine. She's not the mothering type and she is truly struggling over the loss of her career. Sam had married his high school sweetheart and never figured he'd fall for someone like Carly who is independent, tough, and a little prickly. This short category romance is an example of the genre done right. Great pacing, well-developed characters, and even a nice secondary romance between Carly's father and the local midwife.

4. Wicked Surrender by Jade Lee. This was a rather interesting story of Sher, a woman running a minor playhouse who feels keenly what it costs the members of her troupe to live on the edge of society. I don't mean polite society, but society in general. Actors are easy to cast aside and ignore. It is automatically assumed as well that actors are of loose morals. Sher and the members of her troupe are one small disaster from living on the street. What Sher wants more than anything is the security of a respectable marriage and a family. She receives a proposal of marriage from Kit, a younger son from an aristocratic family. She accepts the proposal to the dismay of Kit's family. Meanwhile, Kit's cousin Brandon, a Viscount, wants to make Sher his mistress. Sher is very attracted to Brandon, but she is determined to achieve her goals and she manages to resist Brandon. I really liked the way Lee wrote Sher as a woman whose "no" meant "no." As Sher suffers rejection from Kit's family, and the rest of society, Sher begins to have doubts that marriage to Kit will give her what she's looking for. This book struck me as a realistic portrayal of the kind of class conflicts that were likely in that era. I enjoyed the characters and the setting. I have the sequel in my TBR pile.

3. A Night of Scandal by Sarah Morgan. This book received a lot of attention around romance blogs this summer, so I gave it a try and have to add my voice to the chorus and say it was really enjoyable. Nathaniel is an actor who had a very traumatic childhood. Katie is a costume designer working on Nathaniel's current play and hoping for a big break. When something happens at the start of a performance that brings someone from Nathaniel's past back into his life, Nathaniel runs from the theater and uses Katie to hide from everyone. Katie is the opposite of Nathaniel. She's shy and has a poor self-image. But she is emotionally whole while Nathaniel is not. I liked the way they helped one another and enjoyed the emotional aspects of this story. Again, this is another example of the short novel done right.

2. The Many Sins of Lord Cameron by Jennifer Ashley. This is the 3rd book in Ashley's Mackenzie brothers' series and rather different than the previous entries. Ainsley and Cameron are both widowed; Cameron's marriage had not been a happy one while Ainsley had had a genuine fondness for her much older husband. Now Ainsley is left with little money and has a position working as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. I found it interesting (and realistic) that Ainsley is truly at Victoria's beck and call, even if it means searching Cameron's room looking for something she believes a blackmailer may have hidden there. Cameron catches her and it leads to him helping her stop the Queen's blackmailer and, of course, their romance. The plot didn't draw me in so much as the characters. Again, Ashley has created vividly drawn characters who have some very real problems to solve. I love the writing--there's humor and emotion. This was a great entry in the series.

1. Master of Crows by Grace Draven. Almost all of the books I read are chosen because 1) I've read the author in the past and liked their books, or 2) I've read a good review somewhere online. I rarely, rarely, browse or choose a book because of it's cover. Then I saw this cover on the Passive Guy's blog:

It just seemed so romantic. Anyhow, for $2.99 it was certainly worth a try. And I ended up just loving this story. Talk about your tortured heroes. Silhara is a mage targeted by the god Corruption. Corruption comes to him night after night, trying to seduce him. Meanwhile, the magicians of the Conclave are suspicious of Silhara and they send Martise, a slave woman, to spy on him. It turns out that Martise has an unusual magical gift and as Silhara works to teach Martise how to use her magic, they become attracted to one another. Silhara has no future as long as Corruption remains undefeated, and Martise is still obligated to Conclave. They need to defeat Corruption and find a way to be together. It turns out that this cover has lots of great details from the book. I'm sure I'll read this again.