Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And She's Off!! Traveling the Rails Once More . . .

Left the Vincent Hill Grade/Acton Station on the Los Angeles County Metrolink this morning at 7:12 AM and ended up about an hour and a half later at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. It is a scenic and historic landmark, built in 1939, and the scene of so many traveling service personnel during America's involvement in WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, and those who have been deployed during their "peace time" overseas assignments. It is now a very busy rail depot, right across the street from the site of the original settlement that was called El Pueblo de Los Angeles and is now simply known as Olvera Street. The oldest remaining home is located there.

>Anyway, I am now on the Amtrak Coast Starlight traveling along the California coast until San Luis Obispo and then turning inward to the central valleys, past Salinas, San Francisco, and Sacramento, and moving steadily toward Portland, Oregon through the northern most areas of California. It is a beautiful route and one of the earliest here in the far West. I will be overnight on this train until 3:00 PM on Thursday, and an hour later will board the Amtrak Empire Builder.

I think train travel is the civilized way to go -- I will only board a plane if there is an emergency in my family!! If I wanted to be a sardine I would grow gills. The last experience a year ago on a plane scarred me for life -- and hubby and I have been train buffs all our lives anyway. So happy trails to all of you as you contemplate your summer travel plans, and let us all say a prayer for safety, rest, restoration, and coming home renewed and refreshed.

Until next time . . .

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's June 29th, and a Red Letter Launch Day!

Today is a very important day for two authors: Beth Williamson writing her inaugural novel Ruthless Heart as Emma Lang, and Lorelei James and her new novel Raising Kane.

Both these women are well-known writers of note, each having a long and varied list of fine novels and short stories that have pleased, entertained, and thrilled readers for a long time.

Beth Williamson is best known for her historical novels set in the "Old West" of the 19th century and now she is branching out into a new phase of her career under the pen name Emma Lang. You can read more about this new endeavor at where you will find a large body of information about Beth's current releases and more about this new novel being released today. Beth also has the last book in her Devils on Horseback series available in ebook format now. If you have been following this series you have been waiting for "Lee's story."

Lorelei James has been well-known for her cowboy novels and especially her recent series set in Wyoming and featuring the McKay family--the brothers, the cousins, and all their wild ways, their loving and their goings-on. Ms James seems to have tapped into the very heart of this family that has been a part of the Wyoming scene for decades and whose love for the land and their ranches has sustained them through many a human crisis. You can read more about this fascinating woman as well as this latest release in the McKay family saga entitled Raising Kane at

Both these books are available at a number of ebook sellers and I encourage you to seriously consider becoming the owner of one or both. If you have not read anything by these authors you are in for a treat!!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Well, It's Monday Again . . .

Time is winding down and only two days until I board that Amtrak train for Portland, OR. But the books are not very far away. I have an eBookwise reader that is fully loaded, about six bags of print books that need to be read of which I will stuff some in the suitcases, but even as I get my and the hubby's clothes in the washer, I take a break to read a few paragraphs or write a short review -- so and so forth.

I just finished reading A Passion to Die For which I downloaded from Harlequin as one of their free reads. I really did enjoy it -- and I think it is well worth paying something for. Marilyn Pappano has written scads of books in a variety of genres and I really enjoyed this one because it was a romance -- a relationship of long standing that still wasn't going as well as it should; a past that insisted on showing up and disrupting people's lives; a hidden killer who was very manipulative, very skilled, and probably a serial killer; and a drop-dead gorgeous cop that wanted his girl forever and she just couldn't make that commitment. Love and suspense: what a combination. Beings as how I am almost always awake for about two hours in the middle of the night, I read this novel and found it quite engaging. I think the plot is probably not all that unusual, but the characters were interesting, the back story was certainly important to the outcome of the mystery, and the friends that formed the circle around the hero and heroine were interesting and were the kind of people I would have loved to have had around me at some point in my life.

So this experience has once again convinced me that not all "free" reads are just fluff--that there are some quality novels, short stories, and novellas to be enjoyed. It also re-affirms my long held conviction that even though Harlequin has been around for a long time, they still have people on their staff that recognize good writing and are not afraid to authorize its publication.

I really recommend this book -- not complicated or deep, but a very nice read and one that will entertain as it should.

Have a great week, whatever you do and wherever you may be. Until Next Time . . .

Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts

"Romance, in Emmaline's opinion, made being a woman special. Romance made every woman beautiful, and every man a prince. A woman with romance in her life lived as grandly as a queen, because her heart was treasured.

Flowers, candlelight, long walks in the moonlight in a secluded garden . . . just the idea brought on a sigh. Dancing in the moonlight in a secluded garden--not that reached the height of romantic on her scale."

Thus, the guiding philosophy of Emmaline Grant. Her story is told in the second book in Nora Robert's series, Bride Quartet, the main characters being the partners in a wedding service called Vows, Emma was the flower queen, so to speak. She understood them, loved them. could picture arrangements of them in her mind that fit the personality of the bride and set the tone for the entire wedding. She and her three best friends had entered into this business venture a number of years ago and in spite of everything that could challenge them personally and from a business perspective, the joint venture had flourished. Now Emma, a beautiful and empathetic woman in her own right, recognizes that she may be professionally satisfied, but her personal life is a wash. Perhaps the fact that one of their circle has found her mate and will be married in a few short months. Men flock to Emma's side but she is very particular and she has spent more time hooking up her would-be dates with some of her friends than she has going out with them.

Along with the four friends, three men are a living, breathing part of Vows as friends and "big-brothers." Parker Brown's brother, Del, is the attorney for the business. Parker & Del's family mansion is the site for all the weddings they put together, and Parker is the lady that seems to keep them all focused and on schedule. Jack Cooke is Del's best friend from college and has become extended family to all the girls. And Carter is Mac's fiance--a gentle giant with a Ph.D. in English and who has finally broken through Mac's resistance to a romantic relationship.

Coming home from a party she really didn't want to attend, Emma's four year old car breaks down--the battery connections are corroded. This is not really a mystery since Emma has not taken the car in for maintenance once since buying it. It is Jack Cooke that comes upon her by the side of the road, gives her a jump, and follows her home. It is also Jack whose handsome face suddenly makes an impression on Emma as they are "under the hood" trying to figure out what was wrong.

Needless to say, Jack and Emma's affair lights up the Connecticut skies. Jack is actually a romantic at heart, and there are so many ways that he "gets" Emma--her philosophy, her joy, her goals for herself and her professional life, her desire to have a future with someone who really loves her. But Jack has been a "love em and leave em" kind of guy, and Emma knows this. So she is willing to "stay in the moment" for now.

I have to say that Nora Roberts has been writing romance novels for decades and she really knows what she is doing. She can hook the reader just about as well as any writer I know, and she sure does it here!! My emotions were so in this novel. When the dating road became rough and rocky for these two, I was very upset. I just couldn't figure out what was wrong and why things couldn't be "rosey" for them. (I had to read the rest of the book!) This is a very romantic story, and I love the joshing and fun that this group of people indulge in throughout. This book is also very strong because the foundation of all these relationships is the bond between these four women. No one dares hurt one of them; the other three become enraged "mother bears." Somehow the friendships forged in difficult times in their girlhood have survived and only become stronger. That bond is what makes this book and all the books in this series work.

For some, I have no doubt that Emma's sunshine personality and view of life will be irritatingly sweet and hard to take. I found it refreshing. The world could use more Emmas. And I hope that all romance fans will take the time to read this series. It is well-worth the effort! I give this book a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday at the Ole Book Bag

Actually, Wednesday is just about gone. Tried all day to get to the computer but hubby and granddaughters sort of planned my day up until now.

I have been awash with Ellora's Cave novellas, Quickies, etc for The Book Binge as well as trying to decide what print books to drag along on my upcoming journey. Today was a red-letter day for my reviews: All three of The Book Binge reviews were mine, and I was really surprised and pleased, especially as one was historical reading, one was inspirational, and one was erotic romance. All three were really good books. I have a couple of shopping bags of books to read for TBB as well as a bunch of bags and books that I have commandeered from my daughter's reading shelves. Add to those the books I brought home from my blogger get-together last week, and I am awash with books. It is a wonderful and blessed feeling. I sometimes don't know where to start, so I try to read those that need reviewing first and insert one or two for myself and for this blog. The truth is this: as long as I am surrounded with books I am basically a happy camper!

Some of the authors I hope to read in the coming days are Sarah McCarty, Vivian Arend, Jean Johnson, Shelley Laurenston, Beth Williamson, Emma Lang and more. I'll also be packing, getting stuff ready for some projects I have at work that need to go forward in my absence, and so on. So there's lots of stuff to get to. Next week at this time I will be on the train. Hopefully I can get an internet connection to keep you all up-to-date, not only on the travels but on some of the progress I am making through the myriads of books on my ereader as well as some of the print books I will have with me.

Until next time . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Well, I am off to the Opthalmologist . . .

No eye problems, although the hubby goes in frequently as he had corneal transplants four years ago. No, my glad and happy experience will be to get a numb face and frequent needle pricks for botox -- don't get excited, folks, it's not for the wrinkle stuff. Actually I have what is referred to as a hemispheric blephospasm -- one half of my face twitches. So the botox paralyzes the muscles so I don't look weird when I am up in front of people. Don't look forward to it, but the good news is that I only go in about every six months. Not much else going on except trying to get a bunch of little short stories and novellas read so I can get reviews posted on The Book Binge and then pack my laptop for the upcoming trip.

Hope you all are having a good week so far . . . Until tomorrow . . .

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rainy Days & Mondays Always Get Me Down . . .

It worked for Karen Carpenter so maybe it is just the right thing to start the week. It is going to be a bear, to say the least. Lots of things to do for my job before I leave on the Amtrak Coast Starlight on June 30, but never fear, even though I will be on the train for three days as I wind my way toward Minneapolis and a professional 8-day conference. So as I look to the next 10 days it can be exhilirating but it is also daunting. I get to the place where I just stand in the middle of the living room or my office and declare: "I don't want to do this! I don't want to go--it's just too much trouble." Of course, once I am on my way it is great. Getting ready to go anywhere has always seemed more trouble than it's worth.

I always felt that way when my kids were little and about the only vacations we could afford were camping vacations. Ugh!! I didn't enjoy those at all! I had to do the same stuff that I had to do at home but with fewer conveniences, outdoor toilets, cold water only, etc. Not a vacation for me, that's for sure. It was just about the death of me on a couple of occasions. So traveling coach class on the Amtrak and boarding at a motel with a good bed, a TV and a shower just doesn't seem too bad to me these days. I'll hook up with hubby, daughter and granddaughters as the Empire Builder rolls through Minneapolis at the end of my conference and we will be in Chicago for three days. We LOVE Chicago, and it will be a trip down memory lane as we visit old haunts and give our granddaughters the town tour. Hubby and I met and married in Chicago so there are lots of special places for us.

Hope your week is getting a nice start, and let's all breathe a prayer that at the end we will have accomplished some goodly portion of what needed to be done. Blessings . . .

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday--It's Father's Day

Sunday around our house is hectic at best. There are, of course, the usual get up, get dressed, go to church, fellowship with friends, etc. Today, I am coming off of a really energizing gathering yesterday with a group of blogger colleagues that I am delighted to have met, thanks to my daughter. What a neat group of people! Went forth with empty hands in the morning and came home in the afternoon with MORE BOOKS!! Can life get any better?????

Today is Father's Day!! And I can't help remembering my own dad, a man who was large in stature as well as in spirit, a man who could laugh with gusto, frown in such a way that the Universe paused, and who could coo and purr when holding a baby. He loved my sister and me to distraction (second only to my mom), and he loved his grandkids. He was a great big North Dakota farmer with a great sense of the world. He was perfect in so many ways and flawed in so many ways as well, and I miss him a lot. I still think on him often and ask him to keep on praying for me and all the people I love. I am so happy he and my mom are back together now. He died when he was just 60 years old, and the years without him were very hard on my mom. The two happiest days in her life were the day she married him and the day she died and went to be with him again.

Now I look at my hubby of 51 years, dad to my kids and granddad to our grandchildren. Perfect in so many ways and flawed in others. I was thinking early this morning that when I was 19 (when we met) and he was 24, that age difference didn't matter much. Now it matters a lot, and with his recent close call--being just days away from a major heart attack--I guess I am more grateful than ever that he is still with us. We are having more fun now than ever--we laugh a lot and talk a lot, and we really are BFF.

So to all dads everywhere: Happy Father's Day. Until next time . . .

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Well, It's Wednesday Plus One--Widening One's Horizons

Well, it's Wednesday plus One and I am knee deep in granddaughters, scrambled eggs, home fries, toast, hot chocolate with marshmallows, and noise from three computers as they play their internet games. Hubby is running the vacuum and I am working on the blog and on reviews for The Book Binge. Lately they have been sending me a plethora of novels, novellas, and short stories for review and it has been interesting to indulge in so much erotic romance, contemporary & paranormal as well as a few historicals. It's been a pretty good assortment and that's what makes it interesting and with all the books out there, both print medium as well as digital, there is absolutely no reason anyone -- and I do mean anyone -- should be bored with only one genre.

Perhaps that is the greatest challenge for me in this renewed love affair with books: to expose myself to romance literature and even some non-fiction books that I have previously just rolled over and acted as if they didn't exist. In past years I didn't have a lot of time to read. My kids know that all the way back to when they were little kids I took a "Mom's Reading Day" when I would prepare easy meals that they and their dad could manage, and I would just sit in the bed with a stack of mindless novels next to me -- and just let my brain "rest" from all the stress of being a professional woman, wife and mother. Perhaps that is where my kids learned to appreciate books--mom was putting her nose in a book at every chance as well as the monthly reading day.

Even then there were lots of limitation, mostly economic, so I just got paperbacks on sale and with a fairly limited subject matter. Of course I had--and still have--my library card and that was a life-saver. Even out here in the boonies we have the book mobile once a week and if it is the end of the month and my book budget is exhausted or there is a book that I want to read and my daughter isn't finished with her copy yet, I will hit up the library and about 70% of the time I can get the book I want.

So my challenge for 2010 is not so much seeing how many books I can read, but trying at every possible opportunity to read books whose subject is one I would not ordinarily gravitate toward. At my age I don't indulge in too many challenges except "one foot in front of the other," "warm and walking," etc. But I have found that so far I have read some books that have pushed the parameters of my mind and I have found that good, even stimulating.

So . . . have you read some books so far this year that have introduced you to a new author, a new subject, a new genre? Share your experience. And thanks for stopping by . . .

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review: Bittersweet Homecoming by Ann Jacobs

This is one of the Lawyers in Love series and is one of the best of that group of novels, in my opinion. That is not to say that the other stories are not good reads, but I just liked the dynamics of this story and I particularly liked the main characters. It is a story that is rooted in our modern world and deals with some of the fall-out that comes from trying to keep this world a safe place for our children and for all our populations.

Gray Syzmanski, a graduate of Harvard Law School, has put the possibility of a lucrative law practice on hold to work for the DEA as an undercover agent, working to upend and disrupt the drug cartels of South America. Just before leaving for a particularly difficult under cover operation, Gray had met Andi Young, another attorney to whom he had been introduced and who definitely began to "light his fire." They had a sizzling weekend together with the expectation that they would re-connect when he returned in about two months. On their last time together, the condom broke and Andi became pregnant.

Not too long after that, Andi received word that Gray had died in the operation. Gray's mother, the matron of a well-to-do family, essentially repudiated Andi, and so she chose to have their baby boy and to raise him as a single parent. Six years later, in conversations with her two best friends, one of whom now works for the law practice established by Gray's grandfather, Andi learns that, in fact, Gray was alive, had returned to Florida, and was taking up a limited law practice at the same firm. The trouble was, he had been imprisoned by the cartel, tortured, and he was permanently disabled. Andi finds he is living in the same condo where they spent their weekend together six years earlier, and visits him, informing him that he has a son.

Oh my . . . what a tangle. Gray's mother is now dead, Andi is working for the district attorney's office, and Gray has become an emotional "shadow of his former self," knowing his disabilities and being convinced that no one . . . and he truly meant NO ONE . . . would want to ever again be with him romantically. The perverbial "fly in the ointment" is their six-year-old son.

This is really a beautiful story about the damage people suffer when they put their lives on the line to try to keep drugs out of the hands of our young people. The ripple effect is clearly a part of this tale, where two people try to pick up the strands, not only of their lives, but also an emotional attachment that was put on "hold" by unforeseen circumstances. Not only is Gray the victim, but the love relationship has taken a near-mortal hit, and then, of course, there is the little boy. He is the joy of his mother's heart, and if for no other reason, she is grateful for this "fruit" of that long-ago weekend with Gray.

There is pain and fear, insecurity and hard decisions here; Gray must face his demons and Andi must make some important decisions that will effect not only her life but that of their son. I was emotionally drawn into this story more than most--these people were really good people, and their lives had been put through the meat grinder. I found myself rooting for these folks and especially for their little boy. The story is beautifully written in such a way that the reader can really enter into the anxiety and joy, the ups and downs that are at the root of the journey of discovery which this couple must take.

Of course, there is some very hot sizzle between these two and yet they must decide if that is enough for them as a couple and for the future. Some of the scenes are very erotic. It is a very good read, with a good plot, well-developed characters, enough conflict to move the story along. This novella is not too long so it is not a major investment in time. But it is, I believe, a story well worth reading. Ann Jacobs is no novice writer, and she has once again demonstrated her ability to spin a good yarn. I give this book a 4.5 out of 5.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It:s Saturday and I am awash with Computer Woes

Not the kind of woes that a crashing pc can induce -- rather, it is setting up a new one.  I have just acquired a refurbished Mac G4 and had to move it and set it up in my house.  Now I cannot speak for anyone else, but just looking at the jumble of wires behind most computers is daunting to say the least.  I just finally decided I had to wade in and get it done.  

It has become a *metaphor* for me -- the messes of life that just seem to sit in the background and which keep on plaguing me until I dive in and get them done.  

Saturdays are a mess for me anyway -- Sundays are big days at our house and just getting everything ready takes some energy.  Why I decided to do this today, I cannot say, other than my hubby got out the industrial wet/dry vac and started in on the room, moving furniture, and so forth.  How could I ignore that?  So I am here, typing on a keyboard that the computer does not recognize so all the apostrophes and things are all goofy and I am trying to write something someone else would like to read.  It is a good day for computer woes.

I am still wading through lots of novellas for reviewing at The Book Binge 
where I review regularly.  I am going on a train trip in about three weeks so am getting ready to load up my eReader for three days on the train to Minneapolis for a 8-day convention, so lots of ebooks are an absolute must.  I will also be taking a few print books which I will need to review as well.  

I missed the Wednesday *Ole Book Bag* --the day after Super Tuesday elections here in California where hubby and I are precinct coordinators for 9 precincts--a 16 hour day--so Wednesday came and went without an entry.  I have several book reviews I will be posting either tonight or tomorrow afternoon, hoping to have some interesting thoughts and books for your consideration.

Until then . . . thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review: Born to Be Wild by Christine Warren

Dr. Josie Barrett brings out the animal in men, literally. As the local veterinarian in a town that's approximately sevent percent Others, most shapeshifters, Josie deals with beastly situations all the time. It's practically part of her job description. But when the wereswolves of Stone Creek, Oregon, start turning downright feral, Josie smells a rat--among others, more dangerous critters.
Teaming up with the feociously sexy Eli Pace, a ful-time sheriff and part-time were-lion, Josie tries to contain the shapeshifiting problem begore it spreads like a virus. But when more shifters get infected--and stuck in their animal forms--the fur really begins to fly. Josie and Eli have to find the cause very quickly, before the whole town goes "to the dogs." But first, they have to wrestle with a few animal urges of their own.
I have to start out by saying that I am an unmitigated Christine Warren fan and I have read everything I can get my hands on, as quickly as I can obtain it. When I saw this book on the shelf, I bought it without even thinking. And I want to say right at the outset that I was NOT disappointed in this book.
I think the setting is different from a number of her other books. Not urban or suburban, but a community that is small, remote, and 70% Other. Not her usual context. But it works, and the mystery surrounding the damage being done to the shapeshifter community is worrisome and hurtful right from the start. It is also the context in which Josie really comes face-to-face with the new sheriff who has left behind his position as a detective in Seattle so he can now be in a small community with room to run. His "lion" self could no longer endure the confines of the city. He is, of course, "taken" with Josie and she with him. They have been living in the town together but never really had any opportunity or need to meet before this. Now finding a wounded, unconscious, and slow-healing wolf in the forest has prompted their meeting.
Warren has a proven track record as a paranormal romance author and she continues to add to her reputation with this novel. It is readable, full of romance, sparkling dialogue, amusing repartee, and suspense. It is so well written that the perpetrator of the crime is not to be discovered until almost the end of the tale. No easy resolutions here. There is a real conflict also in deciding if the injured wolves should be treated by the local general practitioner (who is well versed in treating Others) or by Josie. Actually, the initial "call" was to bring the injured wolf to Josie since the GP was on a fishing trip.
This is a good novel, with colorful characters, great romance, good dialogue, and a plot that holds it all together. It will not be a waste of time, in my humble opinion, and I hope that lovers of paranormal romance, and especially those who like Warren's style and past offerings will consider reading this newest in her releases. I give this book a 4.25 out of 5.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Review: An Impossible Attraction by Brenda Joyce

With her mother's passing, Alexandra Bolton gave up on love to take care of her family. Now, with the Bolton name in disgrace due to her father's profligate ways, marrying an elderly squire might be the only way to save her family from absolute ruin. But when she meets the infamous Duke of Clarewood, old dreams and old passions are awakened as never before. Yet she cannot accept his shocking proposition!
He is the wealthiest, most powerful peer in the realm, and having witnessed the cold horror of marriage as a child, he has vowed never to wed. But Alexandra Bolton inflames him as no woman has ever done, and she also serves him his first rejection. Now Clarewood, who always gets what he wants, will choose which rules to play by. But when passion finally brings them together, a terrible secret threatens to tear them apart.
Perhaps we all learn, as we grow older, that there has to be a balance in our lives between what we desire and what we must do as a duty. Certainly the young men who were caught in the years of the military draft learned early on that duty to one's country was an ever-present necessity and an irrevocable eventuality during their early adulthood. So it was with Miss Bolton, eldest sister of three, whose mother made her promise to "take care of" her two very young sisters and her father. Well let me tell you, she like many others, found out that there is no "taking care of" a father who loves his booze and is addicted to gambling. And this young miss has what may be seen by many to have a very well-developed sense of concern for her family. But to break her engagement to a man she truly loved? Oh my!! Now that is a sense of duty!
Set in the rigid social confines of Regency England, Alexandra Bolton's story may not sound to believable to us today, but it was not one that was extraordinary for that time. It was, rather, the expectation in many circles. And the keeping of a deathbed promise was as binding as a marriage vow. So we find this young lady impoverished, taking in sewing from the grand ladies of a society where she was no longer welcome, just to keep some food on the table and a roof over their heads.
The hero, Stephen, Duke of Clarewood, is powerful, pretentious, arrogant, self-centered, wealthy, and bruised in his heart because of his loveless childhood and the wounds he experienced within a household that was an "armed camp" rather than a loving marriage between his parents. He has money, power, and mistresses, some of whom refuse to go away. Yet this man longs for love and genuine affection from someone who loves him for himself. He doesn't think that person exists. His encounters with Alexandra are a wake-up call to his deadened emotions. He is not very likeable and he is not used to dealing with people as persons in their own right. Why should he? He has never had to before.
Joyce's novel is about addiction and its ravages on families and loved ones, cruelty and poverty and the damages of gossip and class distinctions. It is about good people getting caught in the "meat grinder" of jeolousy and about how duty and true affection are often at odds with one another. It is beautifully written but it is not a fluffy novel. It is as up and down as a roller coaster and the people in this world of Brenda Joyce can be catty, hurtful, beautiful, caring, strong, and open-hearted. Alexandra encounters them all. Her heart has a difficult time finding its resting place. It is a book that will carry the reader on, either willingly or unwillingly, into the world of fashionable excess, social ruin, the cruelty of those whose only concern is themselves. It is a literary banquet for the serious reader and can only be appreciated if the reader approaches it as such.
I liked this book a lot, and hope that all of you will give it due consideration. I give it a 4.5 out of 5 rating.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review: Sinful Surrender by Beverley Kendall

Millicent "Missy" Armstrong is entering her third London Season, but not for lack of suitors. Since her debut three years ago, Missy has received twenty marriage proposals. But she is interested in only one man--her brother's best friend, James Rutherford. As a child, Missy looked up to James. As a grown up, her admiration has blossomed into the longing of a beautiful, sensuous woman, and she won't rest until James admits his love and desire for her . . .
James Rutherford rues the day he let his physical weaknesses get the better of him by kissing Missy. His best friend has made it clear that Missy is off limits, and though he avoided her for three years, he hasn't forgotten the feel of her soft lips pressed against his, and it seems neither has she. For no matter how much James tries to discourage Missy, he keeps winding up in her arms, sharing heated caresses that promis the most delirious pleasure.

I would be very surprised if there are any females on the planet who have not experienced an overwhelming "first crush" on a luscious male during those later teen years. Many of those high school crushes turn into genuine love that lasts a lifetime. Most don't. But everyone who has experienced one knows that the feelings they invoke are like a force of nature. Anyone who has gone through this experience also knows that is is the "can't sleep, can't eat, can't think about anyone else . . ." phenomenon. Growing beyond those first loves can be very painful. All that being the case, Missy & James are caught in a situation that is made even more difficult by Missy's brother who, for some reason not really explained very well, he has put Missy "off limits" to James. Perhaps he is seeking a more prestigious bridegroom for his sister. For whatever reason, Missy is absolutely determined that she will have the person of her choice, the love of her life, or none at all!

James has also been catapulted into a very difficult situation. That birthday kiss was far from brotherly, and because of that, Missy became an ever-present participant in James' dreams for years following that event. Now as romance stories go, James and Missy get very well acquainted--in the intimate sense--but only about half-way through the book. And when I got to that point, I knew that the author was not going to grace the reader with an easy and anticipated "happy ending" any time soon. Lots of stuff to go through, many ups and downs for these two. This story is rife with good and bad people, other lovers whose attempt to be together bodes ill for James & Missy in a very cruel way, broken hearts, disappointments that were deeply felt as I read this story.

Missy was not always an easy heroine to understand. There were times I was really irritated at her for a variety of actions and reactions. Yet in the midst of all her human flaws, I perceived a woman who had come to terms with her own needs and living in a marriage of convenience would not satisfy any of them. She would have her heart's love, a marriage filled with love and caring, or she would pass on the whole scene. Plucky lady, our Missy. And as she grew in her own journey of self-awareness, she was able to chart her future, even in the confines of a society that was very unforgiving for anyone who wasn't male or wealthy.

So I have to say, all things being considered, that this was a book I really liked. In fact, I think is is going high on the list of books I really, really, really like. Don't know why, but I think these characters and their stories are real, believable, and they spoke to me in real, human, believable terms.

This is a debut novel for Beverley Kendall and as a first effort it can easily hold its own within the world of historical romance. I look forward to future works by this writer. There is real talent here and I think a very good grasp of both the genre and the historical context. I give this book a rating of 4.75 out of 5.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Review: Spider Touched by Jory Strong

Jory Strong is an author I have not encountered before reading Spider Touched. However, whatever may have been the public's response to her previous efforts, this novel is a memorable experience in the literature of alternate realities. This book is filled with shapeshifters, dark and violent humans whose sadism violates the citizenry by their very presence, witches, gifted humans of various psychic abilities, wealthy and powerful people who rule with no concern for anyone but themselves, vampires, fallen angels and ghouls. Strong has connected with the strangest of muses as she has built a world that is as dark and confusing as a John Carpenter movie, riding on a background of unrelieved sensuality and eroticism. In fact, the background of some of the contemporary post-apocalypse movies flashed through my mind as I was reading. Even so, this is a book that should be assigned in college courses on the contemporary American novel.

Spider Touched tells the story of Anana and Tir, individuals who have strange and wonderful abilities but have not the slightest idea of what they are. The tale Strong weaves is obviously a story of good against evil, love against the forces of all that is alien to true relationship, but that is where any semblance of simplicity ends. The characters are dark, dark, dark!! Not many smiles, little tenderness to be found, and apart from the smouldering sexuality of the main characters, no regard or closeness to speak of. It is a world culture and society that is completely foreign to anything familiar; in fact, the world as we know it has ceased to exist. It is raw and cutting in its intensity and certainly not a novel for the fainthearted.

When all is said and done, Strong is an author of awesome proportion. Her skill at putting such a novel together is extraordinary. The various characters appear and then disappear, the strands of their individual experience merge and then separate and then merge again, just like the webs which spiders create with such care and intricacy. It is truly a work of literary art! It is not easy to read, but once begun, draws the reader on, moving from one scene to the next. When I read the final paragraph, my comment literally flew audibly out of my mouth: “Oh my gosh, what a book!” If one is seeking a quick and facile literary experience here, forget it. Reading Spider Touched takes commitment to the reading task! My rating: 5.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Review: Dark Angel/Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh

These two novels have been re-published in this formate at the insistence of Ms Balogh's fans who have long desired to read some of her early work that is no longer in print. So two of her most popular, now out-of-print novels have been re-released and but together in a single volume.

Dark Angel: Jennifer Winwood has been engaged for five years to a man she hardly knows but berlieves to be honorable and good, Lord Lionel Kersey. Suddenly, she become the quarry of London's most notorious womanizer, Gabriel Fish, the Earl of Thornhill. Jennifer has no idea that she is just a pawn in the long-simmering feud between thes two headstrong, irrisistible men--or that she will become a prize more valuable than revenge.

Jennifer is the daughter of a viscount who is a long-time friend of the Earl of Rushmore, father to Lord Kersey. When Jennifer was 15 and Lionel was 20, the two families entered into an informal betrothal between these two. Jennifer has been waiting five years for her engagement to be announced and the wedding to proceed. Now she is 20, coming to London for her first Season, and hoping to be married in two months. But the path to true love is never smooth, and Jennifer doesn't realize that she has some really rocky paths to tread before she finds the man who will capture her heart for the rest of her life. This is a true Regency romance and testifies to the skill and expertise that has long been the earmark of Balogh's writing style. This is a tension-filled story and it keeps the attention of the readers on the edge until the very end of the story. I have to say: I loved Gabriel. He is a rake and a man who has been placed at the bottom of society's ladder of esteem. But there is honor in this man and a deep desire to be a good person. I think you will like him well before you reach the end of the story. Jennifer proves to be a young miss who has far more depth as a person than anyone realizes. You can see her growing through the difficulties and becoming truly a mature and beautiful woman, not only in body but in spirit. Remember, this is Regency England, so the treatment of women is dreadful. But it is heartening to see young women who are caught in the throes of situations beyond their control find creative ways to come to terms with the conflicts and repression in the world they must inhabit.

Lord Carew's Bride:

Jennifer's cousin, Samantha Newman is smarting after she too is toyed with by Lord Kersey. In the midst of her heartbreak, she seeks solace from her new friend, the disabled landscape gardener Hartley Wade. If only she knew that Hartley is secretly Lord Carew, and that he hides more than extraordinary wealth: a passionate secret held deep in his heart that only her love can reveal.

This novel takes place six years after the previous story and features Jennifer's cousin who has been scalded and disillusioned by Lionel's heartless and self-centered manipulation. She has come to believe that love is a thorn patch from which no one emerges unscathed. She happens upon a gentleman, one who sounds like an aristocrat but dresses like a commoner, and who is the first person to listen to her and treat her like an equal and not a child. As a woman of 24 she is in her last London Season, and she seeks no mate. She wants peace and safety. Hartley Wade seems to be a person whose genuine esteem and caring gentleness fits the bill.

This is a lovely story. It is a favorite and often requested novel from Balogh's early writing days, and after reading it, I can understand why. It is a beautiful tale that gives insight into the stresses of living as an aristocrat in Regency England, in spite of class or wealth. It is a look-see into the long-term effects of thoughtless and selfish actions, into the life-long harm that can and was done to innocent people in the name of power and ambition. It is also the picture of a man I think was truly a sociopath. Balogh fans will continue to love this story and if you are new to it, I think you will come to like it so very much. It is beautifully written and is a literary delight. I give this novel a 4.75 our of 5 rating.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review: First Knight by Delilah Devlin

While hiding her true identity, Maddie must seduce the mysterious Lord Garon to cement their marriage contract and assure she won't be returned into her lecherous stepfather's care. Fresh from Crusade in Palestine, Lord Garon has a secret he must hide, a hunger that must be fed, and a dark and uncertain future. Having shed himself of a fiance he'd met only briefly years before, he's home to lick his wounds. The only thing he wants is a warm-blooded meal, but the new housekeeper is strangely insistent on giving him more.

This is one of many short stories that are available as ebooks, and it has become one of my favorites. It is a tale set in the early Middle Ages, when knights from all over Europe were hearing the distant call to save the Holy Land from the onslaught of the Infidel. Lord Garon l'Albermarle is one of those knights and after eight years away from his lands and estates, he returns to find a somewhat mousy woman as the steward and housekeeper of his properties and home. But he returns with a heavy heart, as he is now changed. Unknowingly giving himself into the clutches of a Saracen prostitute who was also a vampire, Lord Garon now knows that his “unnatural appetite” as well as his inability to sire any children, coupled with his immortality—it will become noticeable eventually that he never ages—place him at great risk. But more than anything, he wants to return to his home, his birthplace, the land that made him the knight he was when he departed for Crusade. Accompanied by his cousin Raymond who serves as his Captain-in-Arms, Lord Garon faces an uncertain and probably an unhappy future.

Madeleine du Prey waits patiently for her overlord as he enters the castle keep. Knowing that she must do all she can to cement her marriage contract with Lord Garon, she plans her seduction quietly and efficiently, not yet knowing that her soon-to-be husband not only will desire her as any human husband would, but would have her provide for his warm-blood needs as well. Having listened attentively to all the “lessons” given her by the cook and other castle women, Maddy believes that she is prepared to offer herself to Lord Garon, as much for his comfort as for her own future security. Her persistence pays off and the marriage is consummated, thereby preserving the marriage contract and securing Maddy's future with her husband.

Both these main characters are delightful in their own way. Lord Garon is a man of principle who has had his life totally changed and upended by his unwise encounter with a Saracen whore. Yet he loves his land and his people, and hopes that somehow he can find a way to live a peaceful, if not secretive life on his estates. Sheltered and aided by his cousin Raymond, we see a man of great strength who has been brought low in many ways. Yet his early encounters with Maddy speak of his gentle nature and his hopes that try so hard to survive in the midst of what would appear to be a hopeless situation.

Maddy is a woman of her times. She knows that by becoming steward of Lord Garon's estates, she is stepping into a position most often held by a man. She says of herself that she is a woman of “unfeminine opinions.” With intelligence and care, she wins the love of the people of both the castle and the villages, seeing to the planting and harvesting, care and cleaning, health and welfare of all those who are connected to Lord Garon and to his land. Yet she fears her stepfather, a man who, it turns out, is a werewolf, and who desires her for himself.

This is a truly beautiful love story—an unusual knight with an unusual problem, an unusual bond between Lord Garon and Maddy in that she is open and caring in spite of his being a vampire. Cousin Raymond who looks so much like Lord Garon participates in the subtrefuge that hides this dark secret, and Maddy's creativity and her growing love for her husband fuel the budding hope that perhaps in spite of everything, these people can life peaceful and relatively normal lives. The need for offspring to preserve the title lead these three into a menage de trois but it is gentle and loving and filled with caring and hope for the future.

This short story has much in it to enjoy and to actually inspire. It is a story about redemption and about finding the “silver lining” in the cloud. It is a good read and has all the necessary elements of a really good love story. I give this a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It's Wednesday: Time For The Ole Book Bag

I'm departing just a little from the format of previous weeks to pose a question. I was browsing my favorite book blogs, one of which is Anna's Book Blog, and she had a discussion of reviews in general. That gave me an idea that I sort of wanted to explore -- namely, do reviews really help foster interest in books? I know some of us spend a good deal of time writing them, and some of the reviews I have read have been very stimulating. Others have been -- well, dreadful -- strictly from a writing point of view (former English teacher in another life) so my views are prejudiced in that sense. However, even some of the dreadful writing has stimulated some interest in the book(s) in question. So my question is this? Do book reviews really help to foster interest in either reading, buying, borrowing a book or going to library for a book? I would love to have your input on this.

The discussion I read on Anna's Book Blog was about whether or not reviews should be general information, or should there be more of a synopsis of the story, or are spoilers really OK? However, I don't want to steal her "thunder" but this other question seemed to carem around my mind so I am putting it out there for your consideration.

BTW, I have not included my really cute graphic because it has gone somewhere on my computer, either my laptop or desktop, and haven't been able to locate it. So for the second week, we are without that lovely graphic. One of life's deeper mysteries, I realize, but I will widen the search, as the mystery buffs understand.

Have a wonderful week -- I hope you all had an enjoyable and safe Memorial Day celebration. We had a lovely BBQ with friends on one of the most beautiful spring days. Even here at the edge of the Mojave, the weather was spectacular. Even so, let us all remember with gratitude those men and women who, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, " . . . gave that last full measure of devotion" to their country through the years. And we keep their families in our thoughts and prayers.

Until next time . . .

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review: Again The Magic by Lisa Kleypas

Lady Aline Marsden was brought up for one reason: to make an advantageous marriage to a member of her own class. Instead, she willingly gave her innocence to John McKenna, a servant on her father's estate. Their passionate transgression was unforgivable--John was sent away and Aline was left to live in the countryside, an exile from London society.

Now McKenna has made his fortune and he has returned, more boldly handsome and more mesmerizing than before. His ruthless plan is to take revenge on the woman who shattered his dreams of love. But the magic between them burns as bright as ever. And now he must decided whether to let vengence take its toll, or risk everything for his first, and only, love.

I have to acknowledge that I have read this book "out of order" with the other Westfield stories that were written after this one. Aline Marsden is the oldest sister of Marcus Marsden, Earl of Westfield and subject of one of Kleypas' "Wallflower Series." It bears the unmistakable mark of Lisa Kleypas' writing style, her faultless research and deep understanding of this historical time period in English history, and her rather adventurous spirit that brings "the Americans" into the context of the story.

This story is about class--the unbending separation between peoples because of parentage and birth that was much more a part of English society than many contemporary readers realize. We hear lots about the caste system in India. Don't kid yourself--the same prejudices were alive and well in English history for hundreds of years. John McKenna was a bastard who didn't know the identity of his father, who was brought to Aline's estate as a stable boy when he was 8 years old, whose only maternal memories were because of the mothering he received from the housekeeper, and who was Aline's childhood playmate for years.

Now they are grown, and while this story takes place over a period of 13 years, Kleypas takes the time and pages to fill in the blanks about McKenna's and Aline's personal history. Lifelong friends, now grown adults whose friendship has blossomed into love, and all between two people who can never be together within the confines of aristocratic English society. They are very careful to plan their private moments, but in an unguarded moment, another person on the estate sees their embrace and reports it to Aline's father. While Aline's virtue was not compromised, she has ruined her reputation in her father's eyes. McKenna is sent away, but he will not truly leave unless Aline convinces him that she no longer wants him in her life. Her heart breaks as she pushes him away with cruel words that shatter his caring and gentle soul.

This is a 5 tissue story--and Kleypas has the writing skills to keep the reader entranced and enthralled until almost the last minute. The tension becomes almost unbearable -- what will really be the outcome for McKenna and Aline--is there truly any future possible for them after 12 years of hurt, disillusionment, and sorrow hidden under years of pride?

I really really liked this book -- but then, I haven't read a Kleypas story that I didn't like. I loved her Wallflower Series so this book was a real "find" even though it is set in a time prior to that series. If, like me, you haven't read this book, you owe it to yourself to do so. It is another one of those historicals that seem to define all others. I give this book a 4.75 out 5 rating.