Saturday, July 31, 2010

I ask your good thoughts and prayers . . .

For those who have lost everything in the new wave of Southern California wild fires. The Crown Fire that has destroyed four homes in Leona Valley, CA began just a couple of miles from our home and it was scary to watch it perched high on one of our mountain ridges -- sort of poised and waiting for the wind to move it one way or the other. As it turned out, it moved northwest of us and while we breathed a sigh of relief, it meant that the danger for other communities was greater.

The greatest loss has occurred in Tehachipee, about 50 miles north/northwest of my home where nearly forty (40) homes have been completely destroyed. Thankfully we think all the animals were rescued -- lots of horses and other livestock in this area -- but the wind has been the chief factor in both these fires. Thankfully, also, the nights have been in the upper 60's and the humidity has increased with far less wind. That is really when progress is achieved against these terrible wind-driven fires.

So, I respectfully ask that you pause and send good thoughts toward all these families that are virtually having to start over. So many homes are under-insured. In the fires in San Diego several years ago, only about 35% of those homes were ever re-built. Everyone else is still living in "temporary" housing, waiting still for some insurance settlements, or just so far under insured that rebuilding is out of the question. And we aren't talking about log cabins here, either.

For all the rest of us, my hope and prayer is that we will be wise in how we use our resources, that we are truly appreciative of all that we have in our lives -- our families, our homes, our jobs, our friends, our books, and our wider circles of influence. And please, please, please, make provision for the unexpected -- so many who lose their homes in these fires have been living in the illusion that it will never happen to us. In both this Crown Fire and last summer's Station Fire, our little community was right in the thick of things.

Until next time . . .

Friday, July 30, 2010

Review: Taming the Highland Bride by Lynsay Sands

She was ready to let her heart run wild . . .
Merry Steward has had enough! Enough of her brothers whose behavior would make even the most improper lady blush. Enough of their Highland home which would surely have fallen to ruin were it not for her. She dreams of escaping into the arms of her betrothed, Alexander d'Aumesbery--even though they haven't yet met. But when they do, Merry is devastated. It seems he is no better than the men in her family.
So beautiful, so brazen, from the moment he meets Merry, Alexand is determined to make her his. Desperate to convince her he's nothing like the members of her roguish clan, he will prove he is every bit the well-mannered gentleman. Yet, beneath it all beats a heart as intense and uncontrollable as hers. And finally, when his life is threatened, Merry realizes he is the husband she has been waiting for, and their passion becomes the one thing that cannot be tamed.
Lynsay Sands is one of those romance authors that just keeps on writing and keeps on delighting her readers, no matter the genre. Whether it is paranormals or settings in ancient times, this writer never misses a beat in giving her fans more of what they love. This novel is no exception. Set in the times of the Crusades, with a hero who has been away from England and his estates for three years, this novel tells a story of an arranged marriage between one of the Clan Stewart--daughter of the Laird--and a knight who has fought valiently and who just wants to come home. He is not really thinking enthusiastically about claiming his bride, a woman to whom he has been betrothed since he was five years old. Yet when her brothers show up at his keep and he is presented with his "prize," Alexander mans up and takes on a woman knows far and wide as "The Steward Shrew." Few know, however, that her shrewish ways are the result of a father and two brothers who have abdicated their responsibilities and have systematically dismantled her patience as they drink away their days. Imagine her distress when the first glimpse of her bridegroom is after he has consumed an entire pitcher of whiskey as anesthesia for his aching tooth as it is being extracted by -- of all people -- the blacksmith. (I think most of us would have been drunk as well!)
Sands have given her audience a wonderful look inside the workings of ancient English society, especially those who live away from the busy urban areas of the times and who must make their lives secure and prosperous under some very difficult circumstances. As always, the politics of that day have perhaps a far greater immediate effect on England's citizens than would or could be true today. Suffice it to say that Merry wants her marriage to have a half-way chance of being congenial, if not loving. Her heart is engaged, almost without her knowing, when her husband's life is threatened, his health is in question from injuries sustained in mysterious attacks, Merry must not only contend with her own emotions and caring for a husband who fires her blood, but with trying to unravel the mystery of the how, why, and wherefore of the attacks on his person. It is also the tale which embraces the sometimes turbulent relationships within families, those related by blood and those who come to be inserted through marriage by royal edict.
This novel is so very well written and is another example of the work of a writer that takes seriously the writing task and who leaves nothing to chance in the telling. It is vastly entertaining as well as educational--I don't think anyone goes away from a well-written fictional work without having learned something that expands one's knowledge base about the world of living and loving, both now and in the past ages. I give this novel a 4.25 out of 5.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Riding Temptation by Jaci Burton

Ever since runaway Jessie Matthew teamed up with the gang of special ops bikers, the guys of the Wild Riders have thought of her as their kid sister--except for Diaz Delgado. Over the past few years he's been watching the budding of a ripe young woman. Jessie's glad somebody finally sees her for who she is--and she's thrilled it's Diaz. His dark good looks and killer body have tempted her since day one.
Diaz's unbrotherly urges have been hard to fight, but the last thing he'd want to do is hurt Jessie and break up the gang. And when they both go undercover to infiltrate a group of gunrunning survivalists, he knows it'll be hard to keep his distance--especially when the mission takes a risky turn. Now Diaz has no choice but to open himself up to the one woman who may be strong enough to take him on.
A dark and brooding loner who rides the open road for the U. S. government; a beautiful young and enthusiastic newcomer to the Wild Riders; an assignment that throws them together in the most intimate of ways and into a situation that it is impossible to extricate themselves without compromising the mission; once again Jaci Burton develops a plot and story line that is awash with story-telling possibilities. The unique aspect of this and all her biker novels is that they are so well-researched, keeping readings such as myself who are not really interested in the biker gang lifestyle and culture interested, even riveted with the flow of the story.
As with all Burton's offering, their is sizzle and romance aplenty, yet that aspect of the novel does not take over the story. It is very well balanced, keeping Jessie and Diaz central to the telling, while also moving through the whole issue of gangs who use their unique lifestyle to front for criminal activities. There is no doubt that the biker gang life is open, freewheeling, and dangerous. Add in the fact that each of the Wild Riders have been rescued not only from their past lives which are checkered at best, but they have also been rescued, in part, from themselves. However, they all still struggle with issues of abuse, abandonment, anger, fear of commitment, and a limited exposure to any kind of healthy relationship. Thus Jessie and Diaz can do well in the bedroom, but both are petrified of anything long term. Jessie is also at that transitional stage in her life where she is more than ready to be viewed, respected, and taken seriously as a woman as well as the skills she has been learning as a Wild Rider. This is her chance to shine.
So, contemporary romance fans, get out your literary "Harley" and be prepared to take a ride on the wild side. This book is so well-written and will catch your interest from the very first word. I give it a rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back Home Again in . . . Sunny, Hot, Dry So. California . . .

Well, we made it . . . the Amtrak Southwest Chief got us here, and only 15 minutes late. It was a beautiful, hot, dry, dusty day when we then boarded the Los Angeles Metrolink train for our little community about 40 miles toward the Mojave Desert. It was in the 100 degree neighborhood when we got to our front door -- but then, it was a dry heat!

I have to laugh whenever someone says that to me. Yes, we have about a 14 percent humidity during the summer months, clear through September, but let's face it, friends . . . hot is hot. I am fond of stand-up comedian Jon Panett (sp?) and his routine about dry heat. "But it's a dry heat, Mr. Panett," says the paramedic as they wheel me toward the ambulance. Now that is not to say that we aren't thankful for the dry heat. We boil during the day and we live on the verge of dehydration most of the summer, but believe me, at night it is very comforting to be able to open the windows and have a very cool 65 degree breeze blowing in your windows and cooling off the house.

Anyway, we were so ready to be home. Lugging suitcases, searching for clean underwear after three weeks away from home . . . just gets very old after a while. But it was a wonderful trip and I come away from that journey up the California/Oregon coast and across the Northern mountains and plains of our country with few words to describe the bounteous and glorious beauty of the ocean, the mountains, and the waving sea of grasses and crops. How we are blessed!!

And one of the great joys was that train travel give one so much time to read!! I have just gorged on books, books, and more books. The eBookwise Reader is a joy and even the few print books I lugged along were great companions. Now it is time to start posting some of those reviews and sharing some of those delights with you.

So onward and upward, reading buddies!! Keep in touch and be sure to share some of your reading delights of this summer. I do check many of my friends' blogs and even though I don't comment often, enjoy getting in on the fun of your reading.

Keep cool . . . whether its a wet heat or a dry heat.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Beautiful Downtown Kansas City (MO) . . .

Well . . . the city travelogue has now taken us to the Midwest and to Kansas City, Missouri--right across the river from Kansas City, Kansas. It is a beautiful urban settlement--lots of parks, beautiful old homes, wide streets and endless highways across the plains of waving grasses and crops. On this past Friday we drove to Abilene, Kansas, home of the 34th president of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower. He was one of seven brothers who were raised in Abilene and their family home stands on the original site and foundation where the family lived for 48 years. Mr. Eisenhower was only one of a handful of army officers who ultimately became General of the Army--a five-star general--along with Omar Bradley, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, and one or two others. In the 50's he was elected president and was re-elected for a second term. He died in 1969. His widow, Mamie Doud Eisenhower, survived him by ten years, dying in 1979. He was a remarkable man, curiously unswayed by political ambition and agendas. He was truly an "everyman's man" kind of person. He was one of a very few high ranking officers who made a point of being with his troops, no matter how "lowly" their rank, especially before a large campaign. He was the Supreme Commander of the European Theater during WWII, and was the person who gave the command that initiated the D-Day attack on Normandy. It was an interesting trip down "memory lane" for some of us who remembered him and his era, and a very educational experience for my kids and grandkids. It was well worth the time and effort to travel there. Having visited President Truman's presidential library/museum last year and Eisenhower's this year, I am determined to take my grandkids to the Presidents Nixon and Reagen libraries that are so close to home in So. California.

Went to church at the beautiful St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in KC this morning, and after a wonderful lunch of that famous KC barbecue, are now packing and getting ready for boarding the Amtrak Southwest Chief this evening for the final trek home.

It is a beautiful, scenic trip through the plains of the Midwest and on into the Southwest states. the scenery is absolutely gorgeous and as we have found out time and again, train travel has allowed us to get in touch with the beauty of our marvelous country in a way that is far more enjoyable than the crush of air travel. If it's an emergency or someone we love is dying, then by all means, go with the plane. Otherwise, the train has our vote.

We are looking forward to being home in a day or two -- hoping for no difficulties with diesel engines or bad track problems due to weather. I hear it has been terribly hot where we live -- 100 plus degrees, but of course, it is the famous "dry heat" -- the dry heat the paramedics are telling us about when they are taking us to the ambulance after suffering heat stroke. (Just kidding) Actually, the hardest part of this summer travel has been the humidity. Today it is 90 degrees with 77 percent humidity. We can hardly breathe. But there are promises of thunder storms so maybe it will cool off later today.
Anyway, please stay cool and hydrated -- if you are thirsty you are already dehydrated--and keep your noses in those wonderful books. I will be returning to some reviews and some regular postings once we get home and lug our suitcases in the front door.
Until next time . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review: The Tarnished Lady by Sandra Hill

You may remember my mentioning that wonderful second-hand bookstore in Minneapolis to which I was introduced during my recent stay there. This is one of the books I discovered while wandering through those stacks. It is not one of Ms Hill's new books. In fact, it is about 15 years old, but I really enjoyed it and would love to share it with you now.

Banished from polite society for bearing a child out of wedlock, Lady Eadyth of Hawks' Lair spent her days under a voluminous veil, tending her bees. But when her son's detested father threatened to reveal the boy's true paternity and seize her beloved lands, Lady Eadyth sought a husband who would claim the child as his own.

Notorious for loving and leaving the most beautiful damsals in the land, Eirik of Ravenshire was England's most virile bachelor. Yet when a mysterious beekeeper offered him a vow of chaste matrimony in exchange for revenge against his most hated enemy, Eirik couldn't refuse. But the lusty knight's plans went awry when he succumbed to the sting of the tarnished lady's love.

This delightful story is set in the time of England's most turbulent past--a time when the Picts & Scots, the Saxons and the Norse were all struggling for supremacy and land and the power that went with it. It is a time when knights, lords, ladies, earls, dukes, and all the aristocracy were little trusted--when loyalty could be easily bought and sold, when a king sat uneasily on the throne and for only a short span of time. It is a time when the rights of women were non-existent, and the power of a woman to hold her property was far too easy to overcome. Thus, Lady Eadyth of Hawks' Lair knew that without the protection of a husband who would also be a father to her son, she stood little chance against a powerful aristocrat who not only wanted her son but all her land as well.

There was only one problem: Lady Eadyth really didn't want marriage in its truest form. She wanted a business arrangement. She sought out Lord Eirik because he had the exact same coloring of hair and eyes as her son and her son's father. She had been conned and heartbroken by that man who had claimed to love her, to whom she had given her reputation and her future, only to have her son repudiated and abandoned. So she makes this business proposal to Lord Eirik who is only open to her proposal because he hates her son's father as much as she does.

This is a wonderful historical romance in its truest sense. It is full of the color, stresses, strains, push and pull of that turbulent time. It is full of the sounds and sights of ancient England and it resonates with the hopes and disappointments of both Lady Eadyth and Lord Eirik. In these characters Sandra Hill has poured her creativity and used them to tell of the hurts and hopes that those ancient marriages contained. She deals with the ever burdensome necessity of finding a place in family and society for illegitimate offspring, along with the very iffy nature of power and the worries of those who hold it. It reveals the kinds of relationships that characterized life in those times, and in the context of those times and the lives of those fictional characters is told the story of Eadyth and Eirik, two very strong individuals who had no choice but find a different way to live their dreams and deal with their failures.

I started out reading historicals many years ago because I learned so much from them while being greatly entertained. They continue to fascinate me, and this book is the kind of fiction that continues to inform as well as absorb the attention of an avid reader like me. There is loving, friendship, family, comedy, heartbreak, betrayal, and suspense throughout this story. There are some twists in the plot and the development of the story that are welcome as they add spice to the story and keep it from becoming ordinary and pedantic.

I liked this book a whole lot and recommend it for those lovers of historical fiction that may have grown a bit tired of the Regency period or novels that seem to conform to the same plot style and progression. Sandra Hill has given us something informative, entertaining, and worthy of the time it takes to read it. I don't think you can do a whole lot better. I give this novel a rating of 4.25 out of 5.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beautiful Downtown Chicago . . .

Time marches on and it would appear that our little family gang does too! Last Saturday we again boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder for the last bit of our trip Eastward and ended up in Chicago. We toured Union Station there -- a beautiful architectural accomplishment in itself and representing the late 1800's in Chicago re-building from the Great Chicago Fire of 1872 -- and then grabbed a couple of cabs to get our gang over to the hotel. As it turned out, we are staying in the old -- circa 1928 -- Harrison Hotel on Michigan Avenue, right across from Grant Park and about a five minute walk from the famous Buckingham Fountain. All the rooms were once rented as "hotel apartments" and today we would have called them Studios. Yes the hotel is old, and yes there is that sense of not being the most modern in town, but it is clean, good beds, very nice bathrooms, and I have to own up to a very simple philosophy when it comes to hotels and motels: good bed, clean bathroom, good shower, good TV, --I'm a happy camper. It is very conveniently located to all the public transit which we have made use of extensively. We all got 3-day passes and we have ridden busses and the "L" and subway to our hearts' content.

Sunday we started our day at a Solemn Choral Eucharist at St. James' Episcopal Cathedral, the home of many entertainers who are based in Chicago and some of music's most famous performers and composers. Of course the service was beautiful and incidentally, while we really weren't "celebrity watching," I saw more actors in that service than I had seen in Hollywood in the last year. Go figure . . . We all went to the Chicago Water Tower which was close by. It and the Pumping Station are the two buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire. We strolled up and down Michigan Avenue -- known these days as "Chicago's Magnificent Mile," peeked in the doors of Fourth Presbyterian Church and saw the "McCormick Stained Glass Window" -- not named after Col. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune and Station WGN, but his ancestor whose inventions began the company we today call International Harvester. It is a beautiful Gothic church and worthy of some of our time. We toured Water Tower Place which is a downtown Mall in a single building, rode the "Red Line" which used to be called simply "the State Street subway line" all the way to the end, almost in Evanston where we saw Loyola University, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, etc. We took a bus back to our hotel all along Lake Michigan and some of the most beautiful park areas. By the time we returned it was raining so we cancelled what we had planned for the evening.

We had breakfast at Ann Sather's Monday morning. If you are in Chicago and haven't eaten at her lovely family restaurant on Belmont in Chicago, you have missed a culinary treat. And the cinnamon rolls . . . Ooooooooo . . . hot and smothered in icing . . . Ooooooo . . . what else can I say? We then spent most of the day at the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of America's really beautiful zoo's and it is completely FREE. They also have a display called "The Farm at the Zoo" that is a working farm sponsored by the John Deere Company. What a great experience for city kids!! We then walked about a quarter mile across lush lawns of clover to the walk bridge over the Outer Drive and on to the beach of Lake Michigan. The grandkid and daughter Tracy went wading in Lake Michigan and then we started our trek back to the hotel. We had literally walked our legs off so we all took a snooze until suppertime. When dark approached, hubby and I, daughter Tracy, and the three granddaughters walked about five minutes to Grant Park to see Buckingham Fountain in all its lighted glory. What a sight!! It also brought back very old memeories for hubby and I because that Fountain had figured prominently in our courtship 51 years ago.

Today we will be traveling to Kansas City via the Amtrak Southwest Chief with the exception of daughter Tracy who will be flying back to Los Angeles. But first . . . it is a trip to the top of the building known formerly as "The Sears Tower" where it is possible, on a clear day, to see seven miles all around Chicago. We'll need to once again get to Union Station and we will be arriving in KC about 10:30 PM or so -- depending on getting past the freight trains.

So our journey goes on . . . My camera is dead and I can't find my re-charger. Oh Duh!! So Tracy has gotten some very good pictures as well as our other daughter who is with us. Hopefully I can post some of those in the next few weeks.

Haven't kept up with The Ole Book Bag as my regular Wednesday Posting, but I trust that all you who stop by will continue to read diligently and without restraint -- or however your life allows. I have had quite a few reviews posted on The Book Binge and there are others there that are really super as well.

Until the next installment . . . Be well, and keep the old nose in the ole book!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beautiful Downtown Minneapolis . . .

Well, it has been an interesting few days here in Minneapolis. The first three days were dreadful in that the humidity was sky-high and for this California girl, it was almost impossible to breathe. I did discover how to get to downtown Minneapolis by public transit from my motel . . . and was pleasantly surprised at how many people use the buses everyday. I even got a bus that comes every few minutes so it was never a long wait. The Convention Center is beautiful, spacious, and just about the perfect place to have a conference the size of the one I am attending. Lots of general meetings these last few days -- the committees are all done and now it is time to vote on all the proposals that have been filed from all over the U. S.

Had a lovely evening with C. J. & Chris -- two blogger/authors that I was delighted to meet while in town. The introduced me to a fabulous second-hand book store (had to be careful and not go hog-wild as I have to cart all those extra books around in my suitcase), had dinner at a lovely pasta bar nearby, visited Lake Harriett and the municipal rose garden, walked and talked and had a great time.

I have not felt well most of the time I have been here -- woke up yesterday with a terrible sore throat but it is better now. Have been going to lots of meetings, riding the bus, reading, reviewing books online, and so forth. Will board the Amtrak Empire Builder early Saturday morning and connect with my hubby, three granddaughters and my youngest daughter as we travel on to Chicago and spend a few days there. Hopefully I will have a WiFi connection there and can keep all of you posted. Until then . . .

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day 2010

God bless America
Land that I love;
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light f rom above.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam . . .
God bless America
My home sweet home!

Well, I Made It To Minneapolis . . .

It's been a bit of a long haul, but after arriving in Portland on Thursday afternoon, we boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder for Spokane, WA where that brand merged with the train coming from Seattle. A bit of a lay-over while they hooked both trains together, but it was in the middle of the night and I slept through most of it. The trip was so beautiful, beginning with the miles of gorgeous mountain vistas along the Columbia River Gorge right after leaving Portland. Eastern Washington is pretty flat--largely agricultural, but the beginnings of the mountainous ranges that eventually merge into the Rockies began at the Idaho Panhandle and continued on into Western Montana--known as Big Sky Country. It was absolutely breath-taking!! Wouldn't have missed it for the world!

Of course, I got lots of reading done -- when I ride on the train it lulls me to sleep at the oddest hours. Just goes to show how tired some of us are. So I find that I sleep part of the day away and read part of the night away, but it all evens out. Met some wonderful people from Minnesota who were coming home after traveling, and some who were coming home to visit with family after moving elsewhere. Had a lovely family from North Dakota right across the aisle and that was a treat.

So now I am in Minneapolis where it is muggy and buggy. We Californians are not used to all this HUMIDITY and it is daunting to say the least. Had to leave my motel room finally, and that wore me out. Not real hot, thank goodness, but it sure felt warm. Hope to get to my convention tomorrow and find out where some of my colleagues and friends may be hiding out.
More later . . .