Thursday, May 30, 2013

Phyl's 5 Phaves from April

April feels as if it was many months ago rather than just one. Life has been busy and sometimes I have a hard time making myself write. But I do want to say something about the books I really liked each month.

So, the April phave list includes two non-romance books. I should read outside the genre more often. The variety is nice.

5. Touch and Go by Lisa Gardner. This mystery/suspense novel is the first book by Gardner I've ever read. It is clearly connected to a previous book, and while I was somewhat intrigued by the back story, I doubt I'll go back and read that one. However, I think I probably will read Gardner going forward. In this one her characters were well-developed, and I liked the way she wrote from several POVs. Interestingly, one particular character was written from the 1st person POV. What an unusual way to tell a story. Normally I'm not overly fond of mysteries, but this one sounded too interesting to skip. An entire family goes missing and there's not a single trace of evidence to help detectives figure out who took them and why. The bulk of the story takes place in Boston, but it also shifts to rural New Hampshire. I loved the way the differences in policing were described between the two places. There are lots of lies and betrayal, and of course, money is at the root of it all. I had fun with this book and it made for a nice change of pace. And hey, there were even little seeds of a romance planted. Nice.

4. Turning Up the Heat by Laura Florand. This is a lovely novella about a couple, married for 10 years, who have gotten so caught up in the busy-ness of their lives that they've lost touch with one another. The story begins when Léa, needing to take a break, runs away to Tahiti. A frantic Daniel soon follows and slowly, but surely, they begin to really communicate with one another. For a few years now they've been living on assumptions that have long since ceased to be relevant. They married young and their early years were spent saving her father's restaurant, raising Léa's younger siblings, and turning Daniel into one of the most well-known and popular chefs in the world. With those goals accomplished Léa is at loose ends. Meanwhile Daniel has thrown himself into a life he no longer really wants. I enjoy books that take us past the very beginning of a relationship and let us see what happens down the line. Habits need to be adjusted, conversations held, and new plans need to be made. There was no magic formula, just a need for long conversations, patience, and lots of love. I thought this story was nicely done.

3. Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O'Keefe. This is the third book in O'Keefe's trilogy surrounding a couple of hockey players in Dallas. There's a brief prequel novella to this called "Naughty & Nice" which tells the story of Maddy and Billy eloping as teenagers. I wonder if I would have liked this as much if I hadn't read the prequel because it does a good job of describing how young Maddy & Billy were when they first got married. It also gives a rather vivid description of how bad Billy's home life was and what an oasis Maddy was to Billy. But their marriage does not survive Billy's success as a hockey star. Now on the downside of his career, he finds himself playing for a losing team in Dallas where, coincidentally, Maddy has remade herself into Madeline, host of a very popular morning TV show. Madeline has become closed off emotionally and career-driven. She's not particularly likeable. Billy is the team bad-boy, the one who starts the fights on the ice. He has a hard time controlling his temper. When her producers want Billy to come on the show for a makeover, Madeline is resistant because no one knows she and Billy used to be married. Billy recognizes this is a chance to get his Maddy back and he's willing to do whatever it takes to prove to her he's changed. Things become a little more complicated when Billy finds himself taking custody of his late sister's two children. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, to be honest, because I thought Madeline's aloofness was a little overdone. But O'Keefe tells a good story and I found Billy's character to be believable. He had a lot of anger he needed to learn to deal with and I liked his willingness to learn to make the necessary changes.

2. The Wedding Journey by Carla Kelly. This was a re-read prompted by the fact that this book was recently re-published as an ebook. I could have sworn I owned it in paper, but I couldn't find it, so I must have borrowed it from the library when it was first published. I loved this book then, and loved it again now. Jesse is a surgeon with the British Army during the Peninsular war. Nell is the daughter of a debt-ridden soldier and when her father dies, Jesse marries her rather than see her fall into the hands of a brute who owned many of the father's debts. Jesse had been in love with Nell for years, but is so shy she is unaware. The army has to march to Portugal for the winter and the nasty man who wanted Nell and is also in charge of ordering the march "accidentally" leaves the hospital group behind. The journey is the story of this small group of wounded men, their doctors, and Nell, trying to get to Portugal ahead of the French. Told in Kelly's inimitable style, Nell slowly falls in love with Jesse as they struggle to get to safety. Kelly doesn't gloss over the horrors and atrocities of war, but she doesn't dwell on them either. Life is never easy, but the worst is far more bearable with the one you love.

1. All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg. I am a regular listener of ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike In the Morning program. Greenberg has written a couple of semi-autobiographical books and he spent some time this winter talking about his first foray into fiction. I cannot tell you how impressed I was by this look into the lives of three women battling three different forms of breast cancer. Greenberg and his wife lost a dear friend to breast cancer. That experience resulted in this book which is written in 1st person from the three points of view of the women who learn they have the disease. The first part of the book (a little over 50%) is the women telling the story of their lives up to the moment just before they learn of their diagnoses. Each of them have ties to the same Connecticut town, but they meet via an online forum for women with the disease. The second part of the book is about how they deal with their cancers, their careers, their families, and life in general. Each woman is very different, and in one case it was hard for me to agree with that character's choices. Yet the whole book felt authentic. The women come from positions of privilege--that is they have the financial resources that most of us don't enjoy. Greenberg himself, as a well-paid radio host, also enjoys that position of privilege. I suspect he wrote what he knew. He took a risk writing womens' voices and I think he succeeded very well. My only criticism is that I wish the first part, the backstories, had been shorter and the part about the women connecting with one another had been longer. Still, this is a book that I found touching, even funny in parts, and most importantly, hopeful. I was thinking about it for days after I finished it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Placemats!

This is my "Quilts Finished in May" post. It's the only thing I'll actually finish this month, although I've been hard at work on two other quilts. One is a full-sized bed quilt that I'm just starting to quilt; the other is a small hand appliqued, hand quilted wall hanging that I just may finish in June. In the meanwhile, this was my May UFO that I took by the quilt shop this afternoon so I could get myself entered in the May drawing.


This is from a pattern called "Take Four" designed by Cary Flanagan of Something Sew Fine Quilt Design. I bought the pattern and the fabric pack used to make them last summer at one of the quilt shops I visited near Bremerton, WA while on vacation out west. It's a very clever way to use four fabrics and they were quick and easy to make. I know I'll be making more of these!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

TBR Day. Kill and Tell / Linda Howard. 1998


This month's theme is "more than one," i.e. multiple books by the same author sitting in the old TBR pile. In addition to this RS title, I had one of Howard's older category romances which I think I'll save for later this year or next year.

Kill and Tell begins with the shooting death of Karen Whitlaw's father. His body is left in an alley in the French Quarter of New Orleans and detective Marc Chastain is assigned to the case. Marc believes his victim was homeless and estranged from his family, so initially the detective assumes the elder Whitlaw was the victim of random violence. He contacts Karen so she can come to New Orleans to claim the body.

Karen is a nurse in Columbus, Ohio. Her father, a Viet Nam vet, deserted her and her mother when Karen was 7 and Karen's had almost no contact with him since. Her mother had had occasional contact, but over time Karen had refused to speak him when he would call. Now Karen's mother is also dead. Still reeling and grieving from the loss of her mother, a rather wooden and shell-shocked Karen heads to New Orleans to identify and claim her father's body.

At first Marc is inclined to dislike Karen; he has strong beliefs about taking care of family and he makes the assumption that Karen and her mother had abandoned the father. It doesn't take much time at all for Marc to realize he was wrong and instead he finds Karen to be a person he both admires and is attracted to. So he offers to help Karen with burial arrangements and is there to support her through the brief funeral ceremony. She, in turn, allows herself to accept the emotional comfort he offers when she breaks down under the weight of all she's had to deal with. All of which leaves to a night of intense lovemaking.

Meanwhile, a number of things just don't add up about the father's death. He was pretty healthy for a homeless guy and then another body is discovered in Mississippi that is clearly tied to the Whitlaw homicide. The second body triggers the interest of the CIA. Then things become even more complicated when Karen goes back to Columbus and is nearly killed twice in less than 24 hours. Because it turns out that Karen's father left behind a record of his sniper kills in Viet Nam and that book has some damaging information that someone wants to keep very private.

This is a fairly credible suspense story wrapped around a hot and fast romance. The characters of Marc and Karen are well fleshed-out. Karen's initial aloofness makes sense given her family background and the depth of her grief. Howard uses a small secondary story of Marc's police work to show us how he feels about his job. One of the things he wants to be able to do is talk about some of the darker aspects of his work with someone strong enough to understand what he goes through. Howard makes it clear that Karen and Marc are a couple who can be very supportive of one another. I appreciated the descriptions of the French Quarter and the Royal St. police station; Howard made these places come alive. I also had to laugh at one of the scenes set in Columbus. Marc and Karen go to the storage facility to find something Karen's father sent her mother just before his death. The name of the storage facility is "Buckeye Stockit and Lockit." Howard nailed it. Believe me, every third business in these parts is named Buckeye Something or Another.

Now, given this is a Linda Howard book, it should surprise no one that parts of it are rather over the top. Karen and Marc are in love by Day 3 and ready to make babies on Day 5. {Eye Roll.} And the villain acts a little too stupidly at the end. Still, these are minor quibbles over a book I literally inhaled while I spent 5 hours in the car on Saturday.

Oh! And there's sequel bait! A mysterious and shadowy CIA character struck me as hero material. So I had to look it up and lo and behold my book is the 1st of a trilogy. Mr. Mysterious is hero of Book 2, All the Queen's Men, which now proudly resides on my TBR pile. Here's the funny thing. Each month there's always a book that someone blogs about that sounds so intriguing I have to get my hands on it. This is the first time MY OWN BOOK caused me to add to Mt. TBR. Boom!



Saturday, May 4, 2013

Quilts Finished in April

Well I'm half way through my local quilt shop's UFO Challenge and so far so good. I've finished the three projects I'd intended to do. Sadly I haven't won any of the monthly prizes, but I am loving the incentive to get these things done.

First, I need to remind you of this quilt that I made a couple of years ago:


It was for the great-nephew of a co-worker. She commissioned me to make a baby quilt for him. We talked about colors and I found this great space fabric that I thought would be fun for a boy. Only it turns out that the baby's mom hates orange and other bright colors. So we went with Plan B, the blue and brown quilt above.

But that left me with this quilt top. I set it aside to quilt later. And here it is, done at last. I love this version so much. It's bright and happy.


For the quilting, I did free-motion stars all over the whole thing. They're very funky looking. Here's the back where you can see them better:


But of course, this wasn't my only April finish. Don't forget my color wheel challenge quilt.


So, I'm now up to 7 finished quilts in 4 months. However, all but two were started before 2013. Still, I'm feeling rather accomplished.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Phyl's 5 Phaves for March

March was a most excellent reading month. It was good to catch up on a number of books I'd been wanting to read for a while. Here are the ones I liked best:

5. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs. I know I've said I avoid paranormal these days, but the Mercy Thompson series is one I've always wanted to read-- I've heard so many good things about it. It turns out we actually drove through the Tri-Cities in Washington, where these books take place, on our way home from Oregon last summer. We camped a bit to the north of the city and below is one of my pictures of the sunset from our campsite. So while we didn't actually stop and spend time there, I have some sense of the terrain of the area which I think helped my enjoyment of the book. I've already gone on to read the second book, Blood Bound, and I like the way Briggs has created her world, slowly revealing details across the books. I love Mercy--her independence, her determination, and her sense of humor. There's very little romance so far, but you can see her relationship with Adam developing. I'm sure I'll be all caught up on these books by the end of the summer. Great fun.


4. The Conquest of Lady Cassandra by Madeline Hunter. This is the second book in Hunter's latest series and while it helps to have been introduced to some of the other characters, I think it stands alone pretty well. Lady Cassandra had been compromised some years back and shocked society by refusing to marry the man who had compromised her. She's now living quietly with an elderly aunt, the only member of her family from whom she is not estranged, but finances have become a problem. When Cassandra attempts to sell some of her aunt's jewelry, she runs afoul of Viscount Ambury, who just so happens to have been good friends with the man who compromised Cassandra. That man is now dead, having died in a duel. May people, including Ambury, believe the duel was over Cassandra. No one is telling. The carefully constructed plot includes possibly stolen jewelry, a beloved aunt slowly sinking into dementia, a controlling older brother, and lots of simmering sexual attraction. Ambury is a fairly typical alpha male, thinking he knows best and used to getting his own way. Cassandra is not such a conventional heroine and she is the best part of this book. She accepts the fact that by choosing not to marry the man who compromised her she is left living on society's fringes, ignored by most of the people who once knew her. She respects herself, stands up for herself, and makes hard choices, without making stupid choices. Cassandra marries Ambury in large part because he will help her protect her aunt. Ambury and Cassandra learn to give a little-- both because they've fallen in love and because they want their marriage to succeed. I always enjoy Hunter's rich prose and characters who have a lot of depth to them.

3. Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb. After 40-some installments in the "In Death" series, I am sometimes surprised that it manages to continue to hold my interest. This latest book didn't have any particular surprises or twists to the overall story arc. It was just another solid entry that kept me entertained and enjoying my visit with some of my favorite fictional characters.

2. Did You Miss Me by Karen Rose. Rose's latest suspense thriller continues with characters introduced previously in her Baltimore series. While there are quite a few dead bodies, this time the killer has a very specific target--prosecutor Daphne Montgomery. The killer weaves a very elaborate plot, that includes kidnapping Daphne's 19-year old son, Ford, to lure her into his net. FBI Special Agent Joseph Carter is drawn into the investigation when Ford goes missing. It just so happens that Joseph has been attracted to Daphne for a long time, but never acted because he mistakenly believed she is in a relationship with someone else. As Joseph and Daphne are drawn deeper into the killer's plot their feelings intensify. As usual in Rose's books, the romance is present, but is very much in the background throughout. In this particular book it was nice to have an somewhat older hero and heroine (Daphne was a teen herself when Ford was born). Each of them has had to deal with some pretty significant stuff to reach this point in their lives. An awful lot happens in this book in a short period of time. No pun intended--Rose's books are always a significant change of pace from what I normally read and I always enjoy them. And when I'm done, I'm happy to read something much lighter, lol!

1. Unforgivable by Joanna Chambers. I'm going to state up front that I flat-out loved this book. I'd really like to go back and read it again soon. I thought it was that good. Unforgivable is the perfect title for this story about two people who are so deeply angry or hurt that it seems impossible that they could ever forgive one another and move forward together. Viscount Waite, Gil Truman is expecting to marry the woman he loves when he learns that his father's gambling debts are so great that he has no choice but to marry the weak and sickly Rose Davenport. Rose is not aware that Gil is being forced to marry her and she falls a little bit in love with him when she meets him the first time. But after the wedding and an ugly wedding night, Gil abandons Rose to an estate in the country and heads back to London. Gil may be married to her, but he intends to have nothing to do with her. After five years, Rose is healthy and strong so she decides to head to London to confront her husband. Gil is astounded at how different Rose is--and now he's interested in her. But from here they both have an awful lot to work through, and forgive, in order to have a meaningful marriage together. I really appreciated how Chambers' writing made me connect with, and care for these characters. There is no magic bullet for them. They have a lot to work through, Gil especially. I liked how their story slowly unfolds. It felt natural and real. Well done.