Wednesday, December 16, 2015

TBR Day. A Christmas Fling / Beth Barany. 2013

Like many of my fellow TBR bloggers, I have a large collection of holiday romances. I searched my Kindle for books with the word "Christmas" in the title and came up with at least a dozen titles. I remember this one by Beth Barany, an author I've not read before. I was intrigued by the cute premise of one of Santa's elves falling in love with a human. Plus it was only $0.99. I'm a sucker for those.

Dahlia, a Santa’s Elf, has 21 days left before Christmas to create the best toy in the world without using magic or revealing her true identity. Stuck on how to complete the prototype, and working as a temp in San Francisco’s financial district with no time for love, will her innocent Christmas fling get her unstuck, or will she turn her back on her beloved career for her heart?
Liam, an up-and-coming financial analyst, swore off women after getting dumped by the love of his life. He just found out his ex is going to the company Christmas party with his rival Michael Hendricks. Up for promotion against Hendricks, Liam has to win the favor of his boss. His best bet is to invite the vivacious secretary Dahlia to the party. Will Dahlia be a welcome distraction, or will she turn his life upside down?
I wish I could say that the book lived up to its promise. With both world-building and character-building to be done it wasn't very tightly written. There were some repetitive phrases that annoyed my inner editor. There were bits with Liam's mother that were rushed and not terribly believable. I'm not sure why she was even necessary to the story. Permeating the first half of the book is Dahlia's frustration with her inability to finish the toy she needs to make. Liam to the rescue! With a simple suggestion, and his Leatherman tool, Liam fixes it. Argh! Frankly, someone who wants to be a "master" toymaker should be able to figure out a couple of wires. It bugged me that Liam had to come to the rescue in that way. And finally, the ending was quite rushed. All of the problems are not problems at all. That's not good world-building.

I did like both Liam and Dahlia and I think Barany did a good job with their characterizations. Their relationship was believable to me. But that just wasn't enough to make up for the things that bugged me.

I think I'll go re-read some of my old Signet Regency Christmas anthologies to cleanse my palate.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

TBR Day. Deadly Descent / Kaylea Cross. 2011

So in my previous post I reported that I'd be having a hysterectomy because I had an early form of uterine cancer. I'm now home recovering, doing very well, and grateful for a pathology report that said the cancer was contained and further treatment isn't necessary. Just regular screenings.

I didn't think I'd get a TBR post done because I wasn't paying close attention to the calendar and thought it'd be too soon after surgery. But I got it done! It's short, but it's done. Yay me.

It's paranormal/romantic suspense month in Ye Olde TBR Challenge and I chose this military suspense novel that's been languishing on my Kindle for way too long. This is Book 1 in Kaylea Cross's Bagram Special Ops series. The series involves American military personnel stationed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Deadly Descent is the story of Devon Crawford, an officer and Black Hawk pilot, who is fighting her attraction to Cam Munro an enlisted Pararescueman. Cam is off-limits because of anti-fraternization rules in the military. But just when Devon allows herself to explore a romantic relationship with Cam, despite the rules, they are both caught up in a dangerous mission that finds Devon and her crew shot down behind enemy lines with Cam nearby attempting a rescue before it's too late.

I really, really liked this book. I know very little about the military or conditions in a war zone, but the descriptions felt very authentic and real to me. The suspense element was extremely well done. I was totally caught up in the second half of the book when Devon is shot down. Cross did an excellent job of describing all of the things that made the rescue difficult and building the tension until they are all finally out of danger.

A number of characters are introduced in the beginning of the book--clearly characters who will show up in later books. But they weren't shoved in my face, and several of them were integral to this story. I am now very interested in reading the rest of the books in the series. So if you like a tense thriller, and have an interest in a military romance, I do recommend this book.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A personal update

I've been, for the most part, a pretty deep lurker during my years on the Internet. Lately, I've taken lurking to new depths. Life has taken some difficult turns, one of which I want to share now.

Last spring I experienced some post-menopausal bleeding and saw my doctor in early June about it. I'd been taking hormone replacements and I'm overweight. Bleeding is not uncommon because of the way fat cells store estrogen. I stopped the hormones and the bleeding stopped. But my doctor never saw a fat woman who could go home and forget about it. She said we still need to check it out.

The pelvic ultrasound was negative. The biopsy (which didn't happen until August, for Reasons) was not. On August 17 I learned I have uterine cancer.

People, I have the best doctor. I took her flowers.

So Thursday I'm having a full hysterectomy. The cancer cells taken in the biopsy were "level 1," which is a good thing. Still, you never take anything for granted. They'll do a pathology report and I'll find out next week what comes next. Hopefully, just radiation and lots of checkups for the rest of my life.

I'm looking on the bright side. I'll be home through the playoffs and World Series. I can stay up and watch those games that don't end before midnight and not have to get up for work the next day. I can read, and read, and read. Although I doubt there'll be a TBR post this month.

I'm good. Really I am. Cancer is a damn scary word. But so far, every indication is I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm surrounded by lots of love. I'm good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

TBR Day. Home by Morning / Alexis Harrington. 2011

It's historical month for the TBR Challenge and I want to know why we aren't talking about the novels of Alexis Harrington more often.

Several years ago I read her Harper's Bride, a book set during the Yukon Gold Rush. (The Yukon Gold Rush, people!) And when I finished that book I immediately bought Home by Morning. I can't believe I waited four years to read it.

Home by Morning is set during September and October of 1918 in Oregon, where horses are still more common than automobiles, the telephone only works during the day when the operator is on duty, and the small town of Powell Springs is more rural than not. Doctor Jessica Layton is passing through her home town on her way from New York to a new job in Seattle. Her sister Amy, Jessica's only remaining family, still lives there and Jessica wants to spend a few days with Amy before moving on. The same day that Jessica arrives, the great flu pandemic of 1918 also arrives in Powell Springs. Powell Springs is temporarily without a doctor of its own and Jessica soon finds herself taking care of many of the flu victims.

Meanwhile, Cole Braddock, the man she once loved, is working hard on his ranch while his brother is in France with the Army. Jessica and Cole had a bitter falling out and now Jessica discovers that Cole is on the verge of proposing to Amy. All Jessica wants to do is move on, but the epidemic keeps her in Powell Springs. As Jessica deals with the tragic effects of the flu and the unwanted attention of the town's minister, she also has to deal with those who don't want to trust a female doctor. Being around Cole resurrects old feelings, but she doesn't want to stand in the way of her sister who basks under Cole's attention. Eventually Cole and Jessica come to terms with what separated them, but they still need to find a way to move forward.

Harrington does a wonderful job of giving you a sense of what it must have been like during those awful fall days of 1918. We learn that Riley, Cole's brother, is suffering in the trenches of France while his wife is home, filled with worry. That Wikipedia article about the flu pandemic (link above) mentions that the American press minimized the extent of the flu to keep morale high. As a result, Jessica's ignorance about what she was facing rings very true. The minister who sets his sights on Jessica also heads up the local branch of the American Protective League. Reading that made me think that American citizens during WWI faced serious privacy issues. Threats to privacy are not new, just the methods are.

Clearly, a book set during a lethal epidemic and a gruesome war (well, all wars are gruesome, but the stories of the trenches in France are particularly awful) is not going to be lighthearted. Parts are rather heartbreaking. So be forewarned that this is heavier than many romances.

Finally, while I certainly liked this book, I wish the romance had been resolved a little better. I won't give away spoilers. I do believe in the HEA here, but it comes about abruptly and I felt it needed one more conversation between Cole and Jessica. Still, I highly recommend this book, especially if you want to read a historical that's non-European and non-19th century.

Harrington has written two more books about Powell Springs and there are some Montana-set books that I'm very interested in. The Bridal Vail looks interesting. I guess I'll be over here spending some money.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

August Recap

I've been largely absent from social media of late. You'd think that would mean I got more reading done, but, in fact, I've been preoccupied by other issues the last couple of months. It's not bad stuff either--just job changes and family changes. My parents recently sold their house and moved into a retirement community, for example. There was also a lovely trip to Brooklyn for a family wedding.

All that aside, I did manage to carve out some time to enjoy several good books. Here are a few worth mentioning.

Ghost Killer by Robin D. Owens is the third book in her trilogy about a woman who reluctantly discovers that she is tasked with the job of helping ghosts move on to the next life. I wrote about the first book, Ghost Seer, last year. The three books take place over a short time span, just under a month. Owens draws on the history of Colorado during the latter half of the 19th century because the ghosts who have to move on are from that time period. The various locations are lovingly described and as I read this one, I wanted nothing more than to take a vacation out there near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. If you'd like a paranormal that's a touch different, I recommend this series. There's an excellent romance that develops through the books. Owens does not always keep her website up to date, but an Amazon search revealed that there is at least one more Ghost Seer book coming in 2016, so I'm psyched for that.

A couple of years ago I read Dani Atkins' debut Fractured. (I wrote about it here.) I read a self-pubbed version; it was eventually commercially published in the US under the title Then and Always. I really liked that book and kept an eye out for her next book, The Story of Us, which was finally published here in the US in the late spring. I also liked this book very much, but it is not a typical romance. Emma is on the verge of marrying her childhood sweetheart when a devastating accident postpones the wedding. In the aftermath of the accident, Emma gets to know the man who rescued her and also learns some things about her fiance, Richard, that has her questioning her choices. In the end, I think I liked Jack and Richard more than I liked Emma. Still, it was a compelling and emotional read that I recommend if you can handle a love triangle.

I've had Suleikha Snyder's Bollywood and the Beast on my Kindle for ages and I finally queued it up. Indian American actress Rocky finds herself in trouble with the media while working on a Bollywood film. To keep her out of the spotlight, she goes to live in the home of her co-star on the outskirts of Delhi. There she meets Ashraf's brother Taj, a recluse and former action hero. Taj was horribly injured--he keeps himself hidden away because of his scars and his long, difficult recovery. Taj resents Rocky's presence in the house and they fight from the beginning. Rocky's ability to stand up to Taj breaks down his defenses and soon they are lovers and in love. While I thought they went from fighting to loving almost too fast, I very much enjoyed this book. It was a great take on Beauty and the Beast. There was also a sweet secondary romance involving Ashraf.

I'll wrap this up by mentioning Lauren Willig's The Lure of the Moonflower. I've enjoyed all of the books in this series, including this one, but I'm glad to see it finally wrap up. It's been a great journey and I'm a fan of the humor Willig brings to her writing. Still, it was time to bring it to a conclusion and I thought Willig ended the series on just the right note. This one takes place in Portugal which got me thinking that I'm way overdue to re-read one of my favorite books of all time, The Winding Stair by Jane Aiken Hodge (originally published in 1968). Seriously, if you are a fan of Regency-era romances and want to read a classic, TWS is a must-read. And hey! There's a Kindle version. Awesome, because I have no idea where my much-loved paper copy is.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Another Little One

No TBR post this month. I've not been reading as much as usual lately. A number of things have just sucked up my free time. Including this little quilt I made in just under a week back in July. I needed a gift for a co-worker who had quit her job to move to a new city. She went above and beyond last year helping me with a project and I really wanted to do something for her. So I pulled some fabrics in our university's school colors (purple and white) and made this:
Sorry about the lighting. The whites turned out yellow in the quilt and background. I wish I'd gotten better pictures but these will have to do. It's not very big--about 21" x 16".
A look at the quilting:
I added a hanging sleeve to the back and it was all done.
My 8th quilt of the year! 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Recent Reads

Series, series. Everything is part of a series. I'm pretty sure I've said this before, as has every other blogger, probably.

Several months ago I discovered that my local library has the entire Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh available in audio. I've been listening to them at a rate of about 2 per month and I just finished Blaze of Memory, the 7th book in the series. First, I'm extremely glad I decided to do this re-read. It's been almost nine years since the 1st book, Slave to Sensation, was published and over the years I've forgotten as much as I've remembered. Some books have been more compelling, and thus more memorable than others. Some, like Blaze of Memory have not been so memorable. Case in point, with BoM-- as I listened I knew I'd read it before, but honestly couldn't remember any of it until near the end. And this is kind of important because Singh has carefully built the Psy-Changeling world and each book is full of clues as to what will be coming. When I finally get to listen to the latest book, Shards of Hope, I suspect that some parts of it will make much more sense than they did when I read the book in June. Anyhow, I am enjoying the re-read and the narration by Angela Dawe. Her voice goes a little lower in volume when it goes low for the male lines, which makes it hard to drive with the windows down on the freeway (I hate to use the A/C). But I figure that's on me, not her.

In between Psy-Changeling books I've been listening to Kate Reading read Loretta Chase. OMG, how I love to listen to Kate Reading! She's become my favorite narrator. Anyway, I listened to The Last Hellion and Miss Wonderful. Mr. Impossible and Lord Perfect are on deck. Many readers prefer TLH to Lord of Scoundrels and they may have a point. I had forgotten much of TLH and I think I may even dig out my print copy in the near future. Such an excellent book that had me laughing and crying.

In print I've read more of Beverly Jenkins' Blessings series. I mentioned starting it back in November. I love the concept behind this series because I so, so wish the world were really like this. That more people who had wealth would use it to invest in the lives of others. That we would pay more attention to our elders and benefit from their wisdom, and sometimes, from their mistakes. That we would find a way to help and protect the lost among us, especially children. Henry Adams, KS is not utopia, but it sure sounds like a wonderful place to live.

Fiona Lowe has two books out in a new series set in Medicine River, MT. The most recent book, Truly Madly Montana features a heroine with Type 1 diabetes. From my perspective as a mother of a son with T1, I don't think she could have nailed the diabetes aspect better. I myself struggle with not limiting my son or smothering him with my worries. In TMM, Millie doesn't want people to know she's diabetic because they'll 1) assume she can't take care of herself, and 2) automatically place limits on what she can or cannot do. Lowe covers it all: the blood sugar highs and lows, the tether to an insulin pump, the distraction of a continual glucose monitor, and the fact that a diabetic can't go more than a few hours without thinking about his or her blood sugar. And all of this was packed into a very nicely done romance with a hero who has to let go of his issues and trust Millie to take care of herself.

Finally, once upon a time I loved Anne Stuart's Ice series. I haven't re-read them to see if I'd still feel that way (I kind of suspect not), but I did read the newest book Consumed by Fire. As I understand it, this is more of a spin-off series than a continuation. A few members of "The Committee" are mentioned but don't really have much to do with this book. Anyhow, I don't have much to say about CBF other than the fact that I loved the dog. Otherwise, it's more of the same: the romance is loosely developed and the hero is a jerk.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Solar Eclipse Baby Quilt

It's been a very productive year in my Quilt Cave. This is the 7th quilt I finished so far in 2015. I should point out that I didn't actually start all of those quilts this year. The one I'm about to show you I started last fall for the baby daughter of a friend. Because my friend N. is a very patient woman, I ended up finishing several projects before finally finishing this one.

When N. announced her pregnancy I was often found salivating over Elizabeth Hartman's modern quilts. So I picked the pattern called Solar Eclipse and chose these bright colors that I hoped would complement the peach and grey of the baby's room.
Don't those bolts look pretty stacked up? I texted the picture to N. who gave the thumbs up and I got to work. Here's the end result.
I quilted simple straight lines horizontally, vertically, and then diagonally. Once again using my favorite Aurifil 40 wt. white thread.
 Those blocks are 16", so the quilt is rather large (for a baby quilt), 64" x 48".
By the way, if you didn't click on that link to Hartman's pattern to see her version of the quilt, you should. It's quite striking. So here's that link again.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

TBR Day. Fool Me Twice / Meredith Duran. 2014

Meredith Duran's Fool Me Twice is up for an RWA RITA award next weekend in the "Historical Romance: Long" category. I cannot tell you if it deserves to win as I've not read any of the other nominees in this category, but I will say that I liked it well enough that I would be perfectly happy to see it win.

The blurb:
A lady with a secret...
All Olivia wants is the chance to make a home for herself. When she realizes that the infamous Duke of Marwick might hold the key to her freedom, she boldly disguises herself as the newest and bravest in a long line of the temperamental duke’s housekeepers. Little does she know that the wickedly handsome Alastair de Grey has very different plans for her. . . .
A man with a passion . . . for vengeance
Alastair de Grey has suffered a betrayal so deep that he will use whatever means necessary to destroy his enemies -- even his brazen and beautiful housekeeper. But his vengeful plan fails to account for his single weakness: an irresistible and growing passion for the enigmatic Olivia...

Olivia seeks a position in the Duke's household because she believes he has some letters that she can use as blackmail against the man who is trying to kill her. Alastair has been living as a recluse since the death of his wife. After her death Alastair discovered that his wife had been betraying him and undermining his work in Parliament. The depth of his self-loathing and humiliation has caused him to withdraw into just 2 rooms of his house. When Olivia shows up hoping to get a job as a maid, the butler, seeing she's qualified for more than being a housemaid, immediately hires her as the housekeeper and soon Olivia finds herself helping Alastair get back on his feet--in part due to compassion and in part to get him out of his rooms so she can search them for the letters she needs.

As I read this, at first I found it hard to understand why Alastair had become the way he was. The depth of his withdrawal seemed out of proportion to what had happened, especially as it became clear that the activities of his late wife had never been made public. But my feelings changed as his character responded to the ways Olivia challenged him again and again. Later, when he discovered Olivia searching his rooms for the letters she needed, his sense of betrayal did seem natural. I really liked the way Duran showed Alastair at war with himself over the betrayal vs. the Olivia he had come to know. The details of Olivia's past and the reason someone sought to kill her emerged slowly over the course of the book. I liked the way that was done and that it kept me engaged and eager to read more.

This book has some beautiful prose and the bulk of the book focuses on Olivia and Alastair--one or both of them were always on the page. There's a book before this, That Scandalous Summer, about Alastair's younger brother. I read it last year, and to be honest, I couldn't remember much about it. Which proves that you don't need to have read it before reading this one.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Paint Chip Challenge 2015

Five years ago I did a paint chip challenge with my sister and the QBFFs. It was so much fun I decided to do it again. As president of my quilt guild this past year I got to issue a quilting challenge to members so I went to Home Depot, picked up a bunch of paint chips and passed them out. (If you're interested, I wrote about it back in October so you can see the rules I passed out with the paint chips.) This is the paint chip that I got:
And here is what I made:
This quilt is from a pattern called Geometric Gradation that I purchased from Geta Grama, a quilter from Romania. She does the most amazing work. I have two of her other patterns I hope to get to one day.

My quilt is smaller than the original pattern because I only collected 8 blue fabrics in the right shades of blue (that pattern calls for 11 rows). This is a great quilt for snuggling on the couch, although right now it looks pretty awesome hanging on the wall.
I quilted it with white 40-wt. Aurifil thread in an all-over meander pattern. Now the trend these days is to get a little lot fancier, but there are times when the simplicity of meandering compliments the simplicity of the quilt top. And it's rather soothing and comfortable to sit down, listen to a good book (SEP's Match Me if You Can if you're curious), and let the rhythm take over. The background is Kona Snow and the blues are an assortment of batiks. It quilted like a dream.

Finally, here is an assortment of some of the other challenge quilts. The lighting was tricky, so I'm sorry some pictures aren't as good as others. I love the variety. Enjoy!

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Little Something

I've actually finished a few things recently. Two of them are lap-sized and all I need to do is get some photos taken so I can post them here soon. I also whipped out this little wall hanging that I gave to my husband yesterday for Father's Day.

This is called Moonlight Moose and it's from a kit by On the Trail Creations that I bought through Keepsake Quilting (they have the BEST catalog). It's pretty small, about 11"x 16". It only took me 4 days to finish, but I worked on it for several long stretches during those 4 days. There's a lot of stitching and I had to keep changing thread colors and presser feet. It was well worth the effort, though.

So here's the finished project:
And next, here is an interesting view of the background, raw edges and all, before the applique pieces were added.
This is a close-up of the stitching. I used some of my machine's decorative stitches, which is something I rarely get a chance to do.
The raw-edge applique pieces were ironed on and stitched into place:
And then I added some background quilting. Here are a couple of close-ups of that:

The pattern came with an extra set of pattern pieces. I can certainly see myself making this again using my own fabrics. The instructions were well-written and easy to follow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TBR Day. It Started at Waterloo / Lynne Connolly. 2015

I love history. Since tomorrow marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, it seemed fitting to mark the occasion by reading this book. Now, I have to admit, it was only in my TBR e-pile about 12 hours before I began reading it, because it was just published yesterday. But I do have a couple other books by Lynne Connolly waiting to be read, so this does meet this month's theme of "More than One [author]."

With barely more than a day to read the book and write this review, it's a good thing it was relatively short.

This book is aptly named. It opens during the infamous ball given by the Duchess of Richmond the evening of June 15. Hostilities would begin the next day, culminating in the final battle at Waterloo on the 18th. Amelia Hartwell is the daughter of a British officer. She's minor gentry; she and her family have been following her father ("following the drum") for several years. She knows Dr. Will Kennaway, an army surgeon, as she's spent time with him over the last few years helping to care for the wounded. The two of them see each other at the ball and are talking just when it becomes apparent that the fighting is about to commence. During this time we learn that Amelia is ill-at-ease in fine society, and that she has strong feelings for the handsome doctor.

The second chapter begins three days later, after Napoleon's surrender. Soldiers are still being treated for their injuries. Will and Amelia have worked side-by-side, almost non-stop for those three days and they are exhausted. They pretty much fall into bed--to sleep--and are later caught by Amelia's mother who has come looking for her. Next thing we know, Amelia and Will are married.

Soon we learn that Will has been keeping a secret (which really isn't a secret to us because it's in the blurb). He's an earl. It's a title he never wanted, but inherited when his older brother died. With the war over, he is compelled to go back to London, take up his title, and enter society. This terrifies Amelia, who only wanted to work by her surgeon-husband's side. The bulk of the book is the story of both of them coming to terms with their marriage, their place in society, and the fact that their previous plans to continue hospital work have to change.

For the most part, I liked the book. It was very much like reading a traditional Regency. There's the overbearing, social-climbing mother; there's a powerful society matron; there's an uncomfortable society dinner; etc. Connolly does these things well. The part about why Will had kept his title a secret made sense, but the scenes with Will's younger brother seemed like a rushed resolution. Amelia and Will began their marriage under one set of expectations that had to change when Will agreed to go back to London as the Earl. With changed expectations, there's a lot of unhappiness on both sides that they need to work through. That's the part that interested me the most, but because the book is short, it wasn't dealt with as much as I would have liked. Still it was an enjoyable read and a fun way to mark this anniversary.

Tomorrow, lots of folks will be focused on Waterloo. But did you know that June 17 has been a busy day in history too?

  • 1775 -- The Battle of Bunker Hill, the second battle of the American Revolutionary War.
  • 1885 -- The Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor.
  • 1972 -- The Watergate break-in occurred and Nixon's staffers were arrested.
  • 1994 -- L.A. police chase O.J. Simpson while the world watches.
And, oh yes-- it's my birthday :)
58 years and counting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

TBR Day. I Hear Adventure Calling / Emilie Loring. 1948

When it comes to "old school," I imagine it doesn't get too much better than this. If Mary Balogh was my gateway BACK to romance 10 years ago, Emilie Loring was my introduction to it (along with Grace Livingston Hill) over 40 years ago when I was 13 or 14. This Wikipedia entry about Loring is well worth reading. I had a rather large collection of Loring's books at one point, but I gave them away during a move. After a Twitter convo with @emilyjanehubb, Emily Jane kindly sent me a half dozen of her Loring duplicates. I was so thrilled because I immediately recognized several of the books she sent me. This one, though, I did not remember, so it became the perfect choice for this month's TBR Challenge.

The back cover blurb: Fran had been warned about Myles Jaffray. According to the gossip, nothing could stop Myles from breaking a woman's heart--not even a wedding ring. The more Myles made himself a part of her summer evenings, the more determined Fran became to resist his advances. But when the art gallery she worked for was robbed and the burglar left clues leading straight to Fran, she desperately needed help. The only person she could turn to was the man she despised--Myles Jaffray.

Reading Loring again after 40+ years and in a world that has changed in so many ways, the story itself became rather incidental to the experience of reading the book. The story is actually somewhat conventional. So rather than discuss the story, here are some the things about the writing, the setting, and the time period that hit me:

  • Right off the bat, on page 1, I was transported to the 1940s. In my head it's like watching a black-and-white post-war movie. There's an elevator operator, a switchboard operator, and Fran is wearing a beret. And on page 2 there's mention of a white cross in a field in Belgium. The war, and its aftermath, is a quiet backdrop to the book.
  • I think Loring was a champion of smart, independent women, even if they wind up in traditional rolls at the end of the day. In this book, Fran may be an heiress, but when a man she doesn't know (the hero, Myles) is in charge of the purse strings, Fran gets herself a job and learns to stand on her own two feet.
  • They didn't call it PTSD in 1948 (I don't think), but Loring understood the horror of war. There's a brief scene from Myles' POV where an airplane goes overhead and he's mentally transported to a time when he parachuted somewhere in Europe to help rescue the crew of a downed bomber. He cuts off his memory before it gets graphic, but Loring lets us know that even though the war is over, Myles is still dealing with the things he saw and had to do.
  • Loring never met an adjective she couldn't use. That Wikipedia entry puts it more kindly by saying she painted pictures with her words, describing things in exacting detail. This is the first sentence of chapter 2: A breeze lightly scented with the salty tang of kelp, murmurous with the lazy lap of the tide against rocks, stirred the palm-designed chintz hangings at the long open windows of the dining room in the Sargent home, Rocky Point. It's beautiful writing, but I've become accustomed to writing that moves the action forward as opposed to elaborately setting the stage. I'm not trying to be negative, because it isn't a bad thing, it's a different thing.
It was wonderful to re-visit Emilie Loring's world again. I think anyone who loves the Romance genre as it exists today should read at least one of her books. It's a narrow, white, upper-class world she created, but the romance was central to what she wrote and you can see modern genre conventions on every page.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Something Whimsical

Last summer a couple of my friends and I were each asked to make a small wall hanging (24" x 24") using pieces of two specific fabrics. We were given fat eighths (9" x 11") of a bright orange batik and a dark purple batik. And we were challenged to use the word "whimsey" as a theme. Our challenger was the owner of SewBatik, a fabric company that sells direct to consumers at quilt shows and online. Our quilts were due April 15, and I'm finally getting around to showing them off here.

QBFF T. calls her quilt "Sunshine and Showers."
I love the beading to show the rain, and the lace trim to represent flowers. It's the perfect May quilt.
She did a great job quilting this.

QBFF A. simply called hers "Whimsey Challenge." It's a beautiful, bold, graphic quilt.
Look at all of that beading!
The quilting cleverly follows the background's horizontal lines.

Finally, here's mine. When I saw the fabric, all I could think of was "Flower Power."
I quilted flowers all over it using yellow thread.
Groovy, huh?

Monday, May 11, 2015

April Reads

I'm going to experiment with a more rambling sort of post about my reading. Perhaps if I'm a little less formal, I'll be inclined to do this more often. I hope this is interesting, and even mildly entertaining. So here goes:

For some time now I've wanted to read Susan Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles and when I noticed that my library has them in ebook form, I started checking them out. I read the first one, Summer at Willow Lake, back in February and then the next two, The Winter Lodge and Dockside, in April. I have really enjoyed these books, especially the fact that some of main characters are older (i.e. 40). In some ways this series is similar to other long, small-town series such as Robyn Carr's Virgin River series. Yet Lakeshore has more depth to it, which is probably an indicator of Wiggs' strength as a writer. The characters are very inter-connected and I'm not sure how easy it would be to read just one book as a stand-alone. At any rate, I'm eager to read the rest of the series and will probably be caught up by the end of the summer. Oh, and one more thing: these books have a feature that I wish I could appreciate more-- they are peppered with recipes that look delicious. I suspect if I cared more for cooking I'd be eager to try some of them out. But I do like how the dish, or an ingredient, is actually relevant in some way to the story.

I finally read Hard Time by Cara McKenna. I'd been meaning to get to it forever. Librarian heroine! Anyhow, I loved it. It gave me quite the book hangover, too. I thought about it for days. The ex-con and librarian make for the most unlikely of couples, yet McKenna made it work and made it believable that they could last as a couple. There's a depressing, dark tone, from the description of working in the prison, to the small economically-depressed community where Annie works. Eric and Annie's relationship is a bright light against that background. Anyhow, this is one I know I'll read again.

Usually I read a new Mary Balogh book as soon as it comes out. I don't know why, but I put Only Enchanting on the back burner and then realized I'd better read it before the next book is released in June. I liked it much better than some of her other recent releases so now I'm eager for that June release. Balogh was my gateway author back into romance, so I am very sentimental about her books and perhaps not always very objective either.

I did read the latest Nora Roberts stand-alone, The Liar as soon as it came out. I hesitate to call it romantic suspense, even though there's a thread of it running through the book. Heck, it was pretty obvious from the very beginning who the villain was going to be. But what I did like was the slow build of the romance and the way Shelby puts her life back together after her SOB husband dies. I found it entertaining and absorbing.

My re-reading via audiobook continued in April and I listened to 3 books: Nora Roberts Rising Tides (liked it very much), Lisa Kleypas' Again the Magic (I think I liked it better the first time around, but still found it entertaining), and Eloisa James' A Duke of Her Own (what the heck was I thinking). As an audiobook newbie, it's interesting to me how different the reading experience can be. Listening to ADoHO was downright boring through most of the middle. If I found the initial reading of it boring, I no longer remember that fact. Perhaps I skimmed it when I read it back then. But what you can skim in half an hour might take 4 hours to listen to. I persevered because I listened in the car and it passed the time.

And I'm going to end this with a mini-rant. I admit, I usually avoid negative comments about books, but this one bugged me for so long, and then I looked at my April list in preparation for this and it all came back to me. In browsing through my library's audio selection, I ran across Jennifer Ryan's The Return of Brodie McBride. The very brief description sounded interesting-- Former Army Ranger Brodie McBride returns home after 8 years to find the woman he never should have left behind.

Anyhow Brodie, when he was 18, decides he's not worthy, and breaks up with his girlfriend and then hightails it out of town. However he manages to have sex with his girlfriend, Rain, and another woman before he leaves, without protection, natch. His girlfriend and the other woman wind up pregnant and then Rain winds up raising both little girls. I am not going to try to describe this mess of a plot. There are so many things that made no sense to me (like, how do you get custody of a little girl without some kind of guardianship decree?). But here's the biggest one. Brodie comes home determined to marry Rain. After all, she HAS to know how much he's always and only loved her (even though he slept around while he was gone). C'mon, Rain. He left you pregnant with no explanation, no clue as to his whereabouts, and evidence that he'd had sex with another woman within hours of being with you. Snap! So easy to forgive. Within a week, Rain and the girls have moved in with Brodie and everything is going to be perfect--I assume. I DNF'd it. Do yourself a favor, avoid this one.

Sigh. We need a palate cleanser after that. Here you go:

Monday, May 4, 2015

The One in My Heart / Sherry Thomas. 2015

When I found out a couple of weeks ago that Sherry Thomas had a new book out, I bought it right away, even though it's not a historical and it's written in 1st person POV. I am fine with the former, a lot more cautious about the latter. But Thomas is pretty much an auto-buy author for me. Anyhow, after I bought it I found out that the hero, Bennett, is the great-great-grandson of Gigi and Camden from one of my all-time favorite books, Private Arrangements. I knew I wouldn't be able to read this right away, but I was looking for something to listen to. So I downloaded PA and (since it takes 7-10 days to listen to a book) ended up reading the two simultaneously as I finished up PA

That wound up being pretty weird. The books are very, very different. But there are a couple of references to Cam & Gigi in TOIMH that me and my crappy memory would undoubtedly have overlooked otherwise. I liked this book. I didn't love it, but I did like it and was pretty absorbed in it, especially the second half.

Evangeline, the heroine, has a chance encounter with Bennett that leads to a one-night stand. A few months later, they meet again and Bennett has a request. He'd like Eva to pretend to be his girlfriend as he attempts a reconciliation with his parents, from whom he's been estranged for over a decade. Eva is reluctant, in part because she is strongly attracted and she is afraid to become attached. Eva has abandonment issues, among other issues. As the book moves along, we learn that Eva's and Bennett's lives have intertwined at previous points even though they've never met until the book's opening. 

Both characters are interesting. Eva is an assistant professor of materials science working toward tenure. She's geeky and has geeky friends. Her interactions with her friends are fun and funny. Bennett is a doctor who made a ton of money before going to medical school. (How he made the money relates, in part, to PA.) Most of the book takes place in New York City where Bennett has a Park Avenue apartment--a deliberate ploy to put himself in the same sphere as his wealthy parents. I enjoyed the descriptions of the city as well as the fact that both of them had jobs that kept them busy and occupied. The book takes place over a several month period.

One thing that I often find hard in books with 1st person POV is when it becomes pretty clear to the reader that something is happening and yet the narrator is oblivious to it. Eva falls hard for Bennett pretty quickly and whenever he does something to communicate his feelings, she's sure it's all an act. Of course we know better. I don't know--I think this kind of thing is why I generally stay away from 1st person and it may bug me, but not you. I also found it hard to fully sympathize with Bennett's estrangement from his parents. For a guy who's done some rather bold things with his life, I'm not sure why he needed Eva as a cover to re-connect with them. I didn't feel the angst that I think I was supposed to feel.

Still, the story was interesting and had a subplot involving Eva's stepmother, Zelda, that I really liked. I took a look at a few Amazon reviews before writing this and it's clear that this book won't appeal to everyone. But I'm certainly not sorry I bought it. For now I can say that I'd read more like this from Thomas.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TBR Day. Craving Temptation / Deborah Fletcher Mello. 2014

I purchased this book last fall in part because I'm trying to make an effort to read more diversely. (The Twitter conversation surrounding #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been eye-opening.) This multi-cultural romance features a heroine whose father is a conservative Muslim and an African-American hero. It is the 2nd book in Mello's 2-part Just Desserts series. I have not read the first book and while the characters from it are a significant part of this story, I didn't feel I was missing anything important. The blurb:

After a rocky year, life is once again sweet for brothers Troy and Quentin Elliot, and Quentin's new wife, Harper. Their bakery, Just Desserts, is thriving, with Quentin as pastry chef, and attorney Troy handling the books. In fact, Troy is ready to pursue his next big goal: to run for Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee. The competition is tough, but there's one challenge Troy doesn't anticipate--his opponent's distractingly beautiful campaign manager and daughter, Amina Salman. . .

A fellow attorney, Amina hopes to reconnect with her estranged father. But a chance meeting with Troy quickly complicates her task. Not only is her passionate spirit at odds with her father's conservative values, her attraction to his rival leaves her even more conflicted. Soon, Amina and Troy are falling in love--but when they surrender to sweet temptation, they find themselves with more at stake than a campaign victory. . .

Amina's parents divorced when she was 12 and Amina ended up with her mother in Atlanta while her older brother, Basil, and younger sister, Rasheeda, stayed with their father in Memphis. Basil and Rasheeda grew up in a conservative Muslim environment, while Amina spent only her summers with their father. Her mother had "returned to her Baptist roots" and accordingly, Amina has lived between two worlds. As the book opens she is now a successful attorney with strong management and PR skills who has moved to Memphis to try and re-connect with her father and siblings as she manages her father's mayoral campaign.

Here are a few random bullet points:

  • For the most part I enjoyed the book. That's because I liked Amina. She was respectful toward her father, yet she remained true to herself. She was willing to disagree with him and she stood up for herself.
  • Amina's brother is the source of the conflict in the book. He is a mean bully who has been over-indulged by their father. Basil constantly undermines what Amina is trying to do for the campaign. This makes it easy for Amina to resign as campaign manager when her relationship with Troy deepens to the point it's a clear conflict of interest.
  • There are 2 parts to the book. The first half was Amina & Troy sneaking around to get to know one another and the second half was Basil going off the deep end trying to control Amina and using Rasheeda to do so.
  • I have to admit, I found it odd that Amina's father, who believes women are to be behind the scenes as wives and mothers, would allow his daughter to manage his campaign. And why do so if he wasn't going to take her advice?
  • When Basil goes off the deep end, it's because he's engaged in some shady real estate deals and he wants Amina to cover it up. He becomes violent and threatening towards Amina. At this point some of it seemed over the top. But, I liked that Amina doesn't give in to her brother.
  • There's no real conflict between Amina and Troy. Which is OK, but it makes you realize that this is rare in romance. And when Amina doesn't tell Troy something that he should know immediately, her reasons for waiting make sense and she's not running off by herself in a TSTL moment.
  • Troy came across to me as such a perfect man he was almost a cardboard character.
  • I really liked seeing Amina's relationship with her sister grow and how Rasheeda gains the courage to stand up for herself both by watching her sister do so, and -- I loved this -- through the romance novels Amina gives her to read.
So to sum up, I did like the book. Despite the fact that I am calling the suspense stuff at the end over the top, I have to admit that I couldn't put it down when I got to to it. I also want to say that I thought the description of conservative Muslim beliefs was respectful. If there were errors, I am not conversant enough to have recognized them. I would like to read more by this author.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Some Book Talk and more

Well, hasn't the romance online community been messed up this week? I'm glad I've managed to stay away from the big blogs and virtually hang with folks who tell it like it is and mostly just want to read some good books. So in that spirit, how about a little book talk and a couple of pretty pictures?

First up, I've totally failed at posting my last two TBR Challenge reads. I did read the books. In February my recommended read was Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex. This review of the book at DukeDukeGoose (damn, is that not the best blog name ever?) is what made me decide to read it for the February challenge. I have to admit I was skeptical because it's a Regency "chick in pants" book and I generally find them implausible. Not this time. Essex made it perfectly reasonable that heroine Sally Kent could pass as a young boy who knew her way around a ship. People often see what they want to see. And when the hero figures out the truth pretty quickly, well, it's because he knew the family. Sailing in the British Navy was not a comfortable job, and Essex doesn't shy away from that. At the same time she doesn't dwell on the unpleasantness overmuch through all the action. The relationship between Sally and Col develops at a reasonable pace and the resolution makes sense. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

My series catch up book for March was Jade Lee's Wedded in Scandal. This was a case of going back to the beginning after having started mid-way through her Bridal Favors series last year. This book is about Helaine, a woman who is trying to establish her dressmaker's shop. Helaine is actually the daughter of a disgraced Earl who ran away leaving his wife and daughter destitute. Helaine is trying to win the business of the hero's sister who is about to be married and needs a trousseau. I found quite a few things to like about this book. The first is the way Helaine stands her ground against Robert, the hero, who wants to make her his mistress. He has no clue who she really is and Helaine is aware that she could lose the business she's carefully built if she chooses wrong. I also thought parts of the book were quite funny. Humor is always subjective, but this book made me laugh out loud in some places.

I've been averaging 2-3 audiobooks per month, mostly listening while in the car. All re-reads. I listened to Courtney Milan's Turner series and recently started in on Nora Roberts' Chesapeake Bay series. Oh, and I listened to Nicholas Boulton's reading of Flowers from the Storm. OMG, now I know why everyone was raving about his performance. So glad I bought that one. I'll listen again, I'm sure. I (mostly) gave up buying soda to pay for my Audible subscription. I figured it was a good incentive to cut down on my diet soda consumption and it's been totally worth it.

A few brief comments about other recent reads:

I have loved Grace Burrowes "Kiss" series. I think she has a great contemporary voice and I hope she keeps writing them. I'm a non-lawyer working in a law school and I do enjoy books that feature lawyers. I thought the first book, A Single Kiss, gave a fascinating look at family court.

Today I finished Razed by Shiloh Walker. I loved it. Could not put it down. Keelie is a closed-off woman and Zane has been in love with her for years. It's sweet with a healthy dose of angst. It's not one of Walker's suspense novels. I would say you should read the first Barnes brothers book (Wrecked) first.

I keep a list of what I've read in the sidebar on my blog (in case you're seeing this in a feeder). Looking back at the last couple of months, I'd say I haven't read any clunkers; I'd recommend them all. I will say that I especially liked Once Upon a Rose (Laura Florand), Riding Dirty (Jill Sorenson), and Say Yes to the Marquess (Tessa Dare). I have to admit, that last one surprised me. Dare's books are really anachronistic and the purist in me usually shies away from books like that. But she has a way with characters that I can't help but love.

OK. Well this has been a long post. I'll conclude with a couple of pictures. We had to travel to eastern Pennsylvania last week to see my parents. We made a "slight" detour and went up to Niagara Falls to see the ice that had built up over the winter. A good chunk of the ice is gone now, but there was still a lot to see. We enjoyed the view, spent a wonderful night in a B&B on the Canadian side and visited a most awesome quilt shop in Ithaca, NY on the way south. Here are a few pictures of the ice:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Something Rather Modern

The quilt on the cover of the fall 2013 issue of Modern Quilts Unlimited was the source of my latest finish. The quilt's designer is Jen Eskridge and she created an interesting pattern that was fun and rather different than anything I've made to date.
I gathered up a collection of fabrics that all fell into the same group of colors: brown, gray, black, white, and off white. I made a bunch of circles. Some circles were sewn inside bigger circles, others were scattered to overlap. While I followed the layout above in general, mine comes out looking slightly different. There is less space between the circles, and I think I wound up with more circles than in the original. Still, this was a great, easy-to-follow pattern.
I finished this top almost a year ago and was immediately intimidated by all of the white space I needed to quilt. I wanted to do something creative in the background, but instead I settled on quilting a variety of motifs in the circles themselves and doing a plain meander in the background. I'm not disappointed. When the light hits it just right, there's such texture!

Here is a shot of it while in the middle of quilting the background:
And here a couple of close-ups of the circles. Hopefully you can see some of the different ways I quilted the circles.

Here's a shot of the back of the quilt:
I kind of like looking at the back, even though some of my quilting isn't as smooth as I'd like.

This is going to a former co-worker as her "good-bye" present. She has waited very patiently for it. We're having lunch soon so I can give it to her.