Why would you apologize for what you read for pleasure? Every book read for pleasure should be celebrated. And novels that celebrate love, commitment, relationships, making relationships work -- why isn't that something to be respected? - Nora Roberts

I Tweet not, neither do I Like. OK, so now I Tweet. So sue me.

Here we may criticize the book, but never the one who reads it.

Proud supporter of the Oxford comma, and any other comma I can wedge into a sentence.

Authors: You are welcome to comment here, on the review of your book or any other post.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How did you find out about Santa? (personal, not a review)

We were talking the other day about how we learned about Santa being more a symbol than a reality. It struck me that everyone remembered how they found out; not one person said they didn't remember learning it. So that's a pretty big deal, isn't it: when of all those vague memories of childhood, all those vacations and holidays and special trips to the zoo kind of mush into one, and you can't remember if you got the pet lizard when you were six or when you were seven, but Santa stands out as important enough to remember specifically.

I had suspected something was up for some time, but my parents were very big on the I-will-never-lie-to-you thing, so I trusted them. If they took me to the doctor and thought it likely that I'd need a shot of penicillin (very painful thing in those days, was like injecting Elmer's glue) (also, needles were not disposable in those days, but were reused and sharpened only when they would no longer penetrate the skin due to dullness), they would say so, even though it made me cry in anticipation of pain. When my grandmother died, they told me that she had died, not that she had gone away or was on a trip to Sweden or some malarkey. She's gone and you won't see her again until Heaven. Yes, dead like Sparky the cat and Frosty the dog. (But, um, not buried in our backyard.)

The Easter I was six, I prepared a beautifully dyed egg to be left for the Easter Bunny. It was purple and I'd carefully glued on some purple, pink, and white ribbon that I'd cut into thin strips and braided. In my memory, this thing was at least equal to a Faberge egg, but probably not. After I'd gone to bed Saturday night, my mother stashed it in the refrigerator behind the milk, thinking I wouldn't see it. (You didn't throw away food in our house.) But even though I was tall for my age, at six I was shorter than Mom, and I saw the egg there from below. Immediately put two and two together and extrapolated all the things from that: Santa, Tooth Fairy (who had been very good to me the night I lost all four front teeth on the same day), Easter Bunny, elves, fairies - the whole shebang.

Now, I didn't much care about Santa as such, the story being full of the most enormous plot holes anyway, but I was furious at having been lied to. Immediately I understood why we didn't set out milk and cookies for Santa. Instead we set out coffee with cream and sugar (just like Dad took his coffee) and rye bread with cheese (Dad's preferred snack). It also explained why the Easter Bunny's handwriting was just like my mom's.

Not long before my dad died, we were talking about this and that, and this incident came up. Apparently that line between my eyebrows got deeper, because he said, "Are you still mad about that?" And I found that I was, a little bit, and I said, with just a little heat, "You never apologized for lying!" So he did, and we laughed, and that was the end of that.

But I still think about that beautiful purple egg, and how the Easter Bunny never got to see it.

What about you? Do you remember that moment when you knew? Did you have an older brother who simply couldn't stand it and told you (coal in his stocking!)? Or did you have rational parents who didn't tell you stories about Santa or Father Christmas or the tomte or Saint Nicholas or other gift-bringer of your tradition or faith? I'd love to hear your stories, if you please. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (1843, fantasy with romance elements)

It's a Christmas tradition, one of the very few I have left, for me to read A Christmas Carol sometime between December 20th and 24th. I have every year since I was eight years old, and I've read it from the same battered paperback since 1959. I confess that I'm not a huge Dickens fan overall. A Tale of Two Cities, portions of Bleak House, that's about it for me.

Ah, those Victorians. So completely certain that they could make the world right if they just worked at it hard enough, preached hard enough, and threw enough money at it. I admire their attitude, their willingness to experiment, their energy. As a member of the first wave of the Baby Boom, I remember days when we really did think we could change the world and make it a good place for everyone, everyone, to live. But our post-War cockiness and certainty was not a fraction of the sureness of the Victorians.

Heaven knows, there was much in their world, as in ours, to be made right. Terrible poverty, disease, social injustice, might making right. I think at times we romance readers forget how terrible or simply hard life was for the vast majority of the population of the world. I know people fantasize about going back in time, but I wonder if they understand that the chances are that they would not be the pampered daughter of a wealthy and benevolent duke, but would more likely be, at best, a farmer for whom most autumns would provide a harvest barely adequate to feed his own family. We don't want to think about life harder than that.

But Dickens makes us think about it. 171 years later, he still makes us think about it.

I'm not going to recount the plot. Chances are you've read it, or at least part of it, or probably have seen one or more movie adaptations of it. The only one I've missed, I think, is the Muppets version.

Why do we come back to these old books, when there are something like 300,000 new books published every year just in this country alone? Why not read the latest best-seller, or a little fluff, or some guilty pleasure we tuck away for difficult times?

I come back to the classics, and to this one, for a number of reasons. The sheer beauty of the writing is foremost. I defy you to read the opening of this book without shivering in the cold. Unless you live someplace where it never gets cold, reading the first pages of this story will take you back to that time you had to walk 2 miles in below-zero weather in just your Sunday suit and a newspaper you found in the road, and by the time you found shelter, not only did you have frostbite, but you were so cold it took you days to warm up again on the inside. So cold you were crying. You feel the cold in this book, unrelenting cold, pitiless cold, cold that seeps in around doors and through cracks and keyholes. Cold as a character, one with evil intent - or perhaps simply complete indifference to the effects of its actions, its being.

You also feel the loneliness of Scrooge. He doesn't realize it, and when he thinks of it he thinks that his condition is superior, but there's profound loneliness in the way he lives. Don't we all, at some level, fear the time that we will be so alone? No one is immune to loss. 

It's also funny. Scrooge has a mordant sense of humor. It bites, without apology. Dickens also takes the opportunity to bite a little himself, at self-impressed young men, at the government, at fashion. It's fun.

It is the redemption aspect of the plot that appeals to me. The redemptive power of love - and truth, and our ability to see ourselves clearly - sometimes - and make mid-course corrections. All of us want to think we can do better, be better, and Scrooge shows us that it's never too late. We see how the acts of one person can make the world a little better, or a little worse, and the ripple effects of one person's decisions.

On the con side, it's incredibly wordy. I don't know whether he was paid by the word for this, but you'd sure think so. I didn't realize how over-written it was until I heard it read to an audience and found myself checking my wristwatch every few minutes. Is it over yet? In writing, I'd never noticed how Dickens goes on, and on, and on. I've been told that at the time this was published, many Christmas/Yule/solstice traditions were dying out in the UK, and that this book helped revive them. If so, I'm grateful, I guess, for the detail.

Well, it's time to read. Carefully, because the glue in that old paperback is iffy at best. Take me back to Perry Como and Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney on the radio, the smell of coal burning and bread baking, frost patterns on leaky windows, Christmas tree lights that burned so hot Mom would only light the tree 5 minutes at a time, and glue on my fingers from making paper decorations from red and green construction paper. Take me back even more, to Victorian England, let me see and wonder, and cry, and laugh, and even be a little afraid, but for God's sake, let me get my thermal underwear and battery-operated handwarmers first! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Common Christmas (The Haberdashers Series Book 1), novella, Regency, by Sue London

This is a prequel Christmas novella to the Haberdasher series, which does not seem to have anything to do with men's clothing, but instead some Regency misses who vow - at age 10 or so - never to marry. Gee. I wonder if I can figure out how this works out for them. But this novella stars downstairs staff, so I could not resist.

Grace, daughter of an apothecary, has just lost her father, and her half-brother has thrown her out of the house - she says because he's too cheap to feed her, and we do not learn anything to the contrary. She's been on the streets of London for a week with nothing more than the clothes she stood in, running from the watch and from criminals alike, just trying to stay alive. People she knew from the business, people she thought were friends, will not take her in, even for a night (which seems odd, but plot points are plot points and it's useless to fight them).

For some reason (there are those plot points again), she ends up, soaking wet and starving, at the servant's entrance of an earl's house.

The door is answered by the butler, Dibbs, who very nearly turns her away, but can't quite bring himself to do it. She and the kitten she is holding under her sodden cloak are allowed to come in to the kitchen, get warm, and have some food. Dibbs is trying to decide what on earth to do with her when they learn that the earl, who had gone to his country estate, is coming back to spend Christmas in London instead. And Dibbs, sweet soul that he is, has sent the entire staff away to their various families for the holiday. Aack. Dibbs can't do it all on his own. Panic.

Grace says she can cook, nothing fancy, but good common fare, and so she does, and she settles into place as cook and maid.

Grace loves Christmas, and knowing that her future is very uncertain, decides not to worry too much about next week or next year, but to enjoy this Christmas thoroughly, with greenery and lots of baked goods. And so they all do. Dibbs becomes entranced. It's a romance, so you can take it from there, can't you?

It was a sweet little story. No violence, no real villains, no sex (quiet kisses), no preaching, no angst. Love, and memories of childhood, enjoyment of each day as it comes, letting tomorrow worry about itself.

There's an unresolved plot point that bothered me. Dibbs apparently sets the earl to dig up some dirt on the half-brother, but we don't see the resolution of that, and the investigation is only mentioned in passing in the epilogue. Grace doesn't seem to grieve much for her father or way of life, or even for her … I don't know, her hairbrush or a miniature of her mother or any of the possessions she was forced to leave behind. Possibly being starved and frozen would beat that out of you, but you'd think once she got warm and safe, that there would be some feeling of loss. Never underestimate the stiffness of the British upper lip, I guess.

Kindle formatting fine. Grammar and word use mostly okay, with an objective case noun that was wrong but probably in character. Authors, really, being "tasked" with a project, and "not in a good way" are modern phrases, and it's jarring for an old bat like me to stub my toe on such phrases in a Regency. [Don’t get me started on what television has done to our language, conversation, and humor. Really.] [And get off my lawn.]

Apparently the earl is the hero of the first full novel in the series, and there's some indication of maybe a Sad Past. He seemed like a nice guy in this book. Maybe he's tired of being a rakehell.

Nice little story. Probably not enough to spur me to look up the full novels in the series unless they're bargains, but a pleasant enough way to spend some time when I couldn't sleep, feeling snug in my warm bed, listening to a cold rain and my husband's soft snores. A good reminder that all we have is what we hold in our hands today, and tomorrow, with its joys and sorrows, can safely be left until tomorrow.

Thus endeth the reviews of Christmas/holiday books for this year. Probably. I have just enough time to re-read A Christmas Carol from my 1959 paperback (35 cents), a couple of Carla Kelly novellas, and I think there's a Mary Balogh to be re-read. It's been fun, and I thank you for riding along with me. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

While It Was Snowing: a novella (contemporary) by Elyssa Patrick

Continuing the Christmas/winter novella-fest. This was a Kindle freebie, and I do like stories in which people are trapped in a remote location due to snow. Well, as long as one of them isn't a serial murderer. This also has a curvy, not-ashamed-of-it heroine, and a shy, accountant, bow-tie-wearing hero, which is nearly catnip for me. Oh, and friends to lovers, also good. One-clicked and it's mine!

Warning: We get real specific about anatomy here. It's at the end of the post. 

Felicity and Harry have been friends from childhood. Felicity has her own successful candy store and Harry is an accountant. (Haul out every cliché you've ever heard about accountants. That's our Harry. No pocket protector, though.) Felicity has decided that it's time to take the relationship to the next level and arranges for them to meet at a house in the country for a weekend. She's a little bit nervous about it but, hey, he's a man, what can go wrong?

Felicity, who tends to be right out there with her thoughts and feelings, meets Harry at the door naked, except for a whipped cream bikini. Harry blenches. This is not going the way Felicity thought it would.

Later, they try to discuss it, but both become defensive and then start hurling hurt at one another. Felicity tries to flee, but it's snowing sideways six inches an hour and the roads are closed. No way to get past this except through it.

So we spend the weekend with them as they talk it out.

This was supposed to be hilarious. I did not find it so. I did snicker at the spider in the shower scene, probably because it seemed familiar from personal experience. I liked that Felicity had swiped a variety of sizes of condoms from her brothers. Also, the contract that Harry draws up was pretty funny, especially in light of the contract in 50SoG. Quite likely it would be much funnier to a younger person than it was to me. Age changes some facets of humor.

Even given the whipped cream scene and subsequent frank talk about sex, it's actually pretty clean. Harry wants to take things more slowly, and so they do.

It ends at the - I think at 69%, something like that - with a preview of a novel at the end.

It's a very fast read, 86 pages it says, seemed shorter than that. Good for waiting at the dentist's office, or when waiting in line. There's not much more to the plot than that, so it's okay to pick up and put down as needed. Kindle formatting fine. I wasn't paying enough attention to see if there were errors in grammar but I kind of think not.

Points to the author for spelling whipped cream correctly. More points for making Harry a virgin (yeah, spoiler, but it's in the first lines of nearly every review of the book) and having Felicity not make him feel ashamed of that, or less-than in any way because of it. OTOH, if they're best friends, why didn't Felicity know this about him? Points for having Felicity be comfortable with her body without being belligerent about it.

Um, I'm curious, that is, a friend is curious, yeah, a friend. What brand of spray whipped cream did Felicity use? Because in my experience, I mean, that is, my friend says that when she and her guy tried this, her body was too warm and the whipped cream turned to liquid and ran off immediately. Maybe it was really, really cold in the cabin?

Authors, listen up. The vagina is the inner part of a woman's genitalia. The outer part is the vulva. So if you're going to leave whipped cream marks on a door you're trying to hide behind, it would be, at most, the marks of the vulva - more likely would be marks of the mons - rather than the vagina. To leave marks of the vagina on a door, as the author indicates, you'd have to have several strong people pick you up as if you were a battering ram, hoist your legs into baby-delivering position, open the vulva ditto, and then hit the door with some force. Ouch.

Now, authors, you seem over the past few years to have figured out where the hymen is (= not touching the cervix!) so maybe you can work on vagina/vulva/mons now. Thank you for your attention to this subject. You reach a wide audience. This is an opportunity to teach people the correct names for their body parts. Although I suppose I should be grateful for anything other than Down There, as if it were Australia. [Someday I should do a blog post of the terms I've heard people use for their genitalia over the years.]

I've read worse and paid more. The parts that were good were quite good. It just seemed underdeveloped. Quite pleasant, though. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Rules for a Proper Governess (Mackenzies Series), by Jennifer Ashley (Victorian)

Let's be blunt. I follow this series now primarily to see how Lord Ian and his lady, Beth, are doing. Short answer: fine, but there's not a whole lot of Ian in this book. We continue to read about the extended family in this book. Chronologically, this comes before The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie.

Sinclair McBride is a prosecuting barrister known to be very persuasive in the courtroom. However, when he's not in the courtroom, he's barely alive. He continues to breathe because he has two young children he adores, but his life is mostly shades of gray because he misses, he mourns, he grieves for his wife, who was the light of his life. The children, BTW, are difficult: the son is acting out and has way too much unchanneled energy, the daughter is withdrawn and too quiet. They've just gone through their umpteenth governess. Wearily, Sinclair asks his assistant to send round for another one.

Roberta, Bertie, is a young pickpocket who thieves in an attempt to keep from being beaten by her wastrel father or her criminal boyfriend (well, he thinks he's her boyfriend, she is just trying to stay alive). I'll give her father this: he gives her a roof and he keeps the boyfriend from taking her virginity. Her innocence is long since gone. Her deceased mother and at least one of her father's girlfriends tried to teach Bertie some manners, and she is able to read and write - she's quite bright - and she has a good understanding of human nature. After all, who knows prey better than the predator. She hopes for better days, but most folks in Whitechapel know that better days will not be seen this side of the River Jordan.

Her father makes her swipe Sinclair's pocket watch, and he becomes enraged. His wife gave him that watch and he will not lose it. Things get complicated, but in an odd way, they are attracted to one another, and she even gives him a kiss, hoping to bring some life into his dead eyes.

Things happen and she ends up becoming the children's temporary governess. They at least listen to her (not entirely certain why, except for her demonstrated ability to climb scaffolding and her failure to freak out when they do things), and she uses common sense and no small amount of compassion in dealing with them.

But there are three villains (at least one too many). Sinclair's late wife's family want to take the kids away, primarily to get control of their money. And then there are the vaguely threatening letters Sinclair receives, some of them referring to past deeds of his wife. There's another villain: Bertie's boyfriend wants her back, and he wants her to steal from Sinclair to boot. Or maybe he'll kidnap the kids. Or maybe both. But Bertie is falling for Sinclair, and Sinclair is falling for Bertie. (Yeah, I know, but suspend your disbelief for a couple of hours - romance novels are mostly fantasy anyway.) She's not about to hurt this family, and Sinclair is not about to lose her, or the kids.

Bertie was refreshing. She tells it like it is, folks, and doesn't pretend to be anything she isn't. She reads (and gets the whole household to help her) and studies so she can truly teach the children. She tries to watch over Sinclair of the Broken Soul. Sinclair just broke my heart with his devotion to his children and to the memory of his wife. There is just no joy in his life, no sunshine - except in Bertie.

It's really a simple story. These two redeem one another. The class distinction problem isn't ignored entirely; Sinclair is told in no uncertain terms that if he wants to advance in his profession, he'll marry as the old guard tell him to. Bertie isn't sure she can pass for even middle class. But love and the unconventional Mackenzies just kind of sweep it all away.

Kindle formatting fine in this library book. I didn't catch any serious errors in grammar - either authors are getting better or I'm becoming desensitized to errors. (Lord knows I make enough of them myself, might/may being one, awhile/a while being another, and I could go on.) There's a little violence, a person is shot, past beatings are alluded to, but it wasn't anything that registered more than a 1-2 on my ick scale. Several sex scenes, but darned if I can remember anything about them (sorry).

Some of the action takes place at the Mackenzie compound in Scotland over Christmas, and there are presents and a celebration, all secular.

If I have a serious gripe, it's that Bertie is just too perfect, and there's not enough struggle over the class differences. We could have eliminated one of the villain threads (the one about the letters seemed especially weak to me) and spent more time on having Bertie adjust, lose her Cockney accent, and learn how to fit in at fancy dinner parties.

But even with the limited role of my heartthrob Lord Ian, it was worth my time spent reading it. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong: A Blackshear Family [long] novella, by Cecilia Grant

You need to know going into this review that Cecilia Grant is one of my favorite authors. She is bright, kind, and wickedly but often subtly funny. That may color my review. Still, I think I have demonstrated that I am willing to tell an author that I think they can do better. So I hope to be, in the words of Andrew Sullivan, biased but balanced.

Andrew Blackshear, age 25, oldest of five siblings, our hero, is a man - again to quote someone, in this case Lula in the Stephanie Plum series - who has a lot of rules. Propriety, self-discipline, honor, conformity, and what will the neighbors think guide his every action, and even his thoughts. (We begin to see how the heroine of A Lady Awakened came to be as she is… or was.) At the 2% mark, I was already wondering if there was going to be a formal removal of the stick he's got up his ass, and at the 15% mark wondered if I should offer to scrub in on the procedure.

His sister, two years younger, is about to marry a man who hunts avidly, and Andrew for some reason thinks that giving her a falcon for Christmas will allow her to participate in some aspects of hunting without surrendering herself entirely to her husband's preferences. Which is pretty doggone exceptional of him, when you think about it. Clearly he has not thought this through very well, though, and clearly he doesn't know much about falcons, but his heart is in the right place. He has traveled through rain and mud on December 23 to visit the baron Lord Sharp, a rather benign eccentric who is the authority on hunting birds, and raises them to sell.

Andrew plans to buy a bird and be safely back home by bedtime, so that he does not miss Christmas Eve with his siblings. He cares deeply about his siblings and feels good about having given them some festive and memorable Christmases in the past. (Would like to have heard rather more about those Christmases, doncha know.)

Lord Sharp has a daughter, Lucy, lovely, 21, who is about to go to her first real social gathering for the purpose of finding a husband. Because, after all, that's what women did in those days [and still do, as far as that goes: a friend recently told me that her granddaughter is getting her MRS.]. Lucy has had a different kind of upbringing and has no problem stating her opinion, arguing, and maneuvering, although she's not aggressive or obnoxious about it. She has apparently learned that if you can get a person to agree with you three times, you've got them. I wouldn't call her a free spirit as such, but in some ways her world has been bigger than Andrew's, despite her isolation.

Circumstances are such that Andrew ends up spending the night with the Sharps, much against his will. Circumstances also evolve such that Andrew ends up having to transport Lucy, to whom he has had an instant attraction, some miles to the house party, her first. Without her maid or any kind of chaperone. Lord Sharp trusts him, Lucy trusts him, and they really don't see what the big deal is. Andrew is caught, over and over in this book, between principle and mutually exclusive options that are all the right thing to do. And wrong. Circumstances are such that Andrew and Lucy end up having to share a bed.

Oh my gosh, the squawk that Andrew put up over this last! Andrew knows he's not going to take advantage of Lucy, Lucy knows Andrew is not going to take advantage of her, nobody is going to know, and if he does not share her bed, he will surely freeze or catch his death. All options are correct. No option is correct.

I'm not going to spoil this for you. It's a romance, and there's a HEA. There's also a tremendous amount of character development laid out for us in nearly perfect prose. I could feel how uncomfortable Andrew and Lucy were, physically, emotionally. I could feel their doubts, fears, desires, wistfulness. It was wonderful to see Lucy challenging Andrew's givens, and wonderful to see Andrew learning that following the rules does not always get you to the right answer.

It's also funny in places, witty, amusing. Andrew is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day(s) and he just really doesn't know what to do about it. Too honest and honorable to kick the dog. Frustrated - in more than one way. Holding on to his patience and his temper with both hands.

I think most of us have had times where no matter what it was we tried to do, it blew up in our face. The more well-intentioned we were, the more disastrous the outcome, the more people with hurt feelings, the more complicated the situation became.

I loved this book. It's a very long novella, almost book length, but shorter than Ms. Grant's other titles. You should know, if you are very, very sensitive about sexual consent, that there is a scene - well, it's complicated. Neither party is really giving consent, but neither is it a forced encounter. More than anything, embarrassing to both parties. Still, if you are very, very firm that you will only read books in which there is whole-hearted, vocal, enthusiastic consent by both parties, you should take note. I have a fairly sensitive rape trigger and have been willing to throw entire books at the wall for one dubious consent scene, and this one did not bother me in the slightest. But YMMV and I'm not about to tell you how to feel.

Kindle formatting perfect. Grammar fine, except "those ones"? which was perhaps a character's thoughts. No violence. No villains. Christmas is part of the theme, but it is a secular Christmas, centered around family and food, music and dancing, gathering. So there's no God talk. In fact, Lucy has been raised to be rational and has no experience of church.

My heart felt for Lucy at times, an only child with her nose pressed against the glass, hearing Andrew talk about his siblings and times they had shared, and his knowledge that with his sister's marriage, things would change and never be the same. Which is true: there is never again "just us" and many times you don't even see everyone every year.

Once again, Ms. Grant has written for us something just a little bit off the beaten path, just a little bit more special, a little bit more thoughtful, emotional without being sentimental. My keeper shelf is small, but this is going on it, to be read every year. Thank you, Ms. Grant. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dipping toe in Twitter pool - MFOB_Reads

Twitter, here I come. I've found some really good reading recommendations while lurking there the past few days, and I figure if I just stay out of the drama and the politics and all that stuff, this could be a good thing.

Now if I could just get them to stop recommending that I follow every person and every business in the state of Iowa. I made the mistake of agreeing to follow the local newspaper and ended up with links to every article in it for the past ... I don't know, a long time. I think I've fixed that. I think they've promised not to keep offering me things to follow.

Jeepers, do they read my email? At least I kept them from adding all my email contacts. Yikes!

I'm not sure how follow requests work, but I'll figure it out. If I taught myself to run a computer and taught myself Excel and PowerPoint and Access, I can surely figure this out.

MFOB apparently means something to a Hispanic/Latino group on Twitter, so that was taken. I also Googled it and found Mother-f_____g something or other, so I went with MFOB_Reads.

Jaysus, I need a cup of tea.

ETA: Jeepers, I need a Twitter etiquette book. Do you thank people for following you? Even if it was a day or two ago and you're just now getting back to the computer? How do you know when a thread is dead and your 2 cents isn't welcome. Yikes. This kind of thing was not covered in my grade school deportment classes.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A number of drive-through reviews (long post)

Personal part 1: Mr. Bat has had a rough five or six weeks but is coming out of it. This is our first exacerbation of his underlying diseases, surprised me by how fast it came on. Doctor thinks maybe a virus vs. being pushed a little too hard in cardiac rehab, where he is mostly surrounded by men half his age who just had a heart attack and should return to normal life for the next 40 years after intense rehab. They really shouldn't rehab Mr. Bat the same way. I intend to talk to them tomorrow. 

In any event, I've been reading a lot. Some things have been so good - or so bad - that they cried out for review. Others have been not quite up (or down) to that or have been library books that had to be returned the next day, so no time for any thought. Here are a few things I've read, or tried to read:

The Outlandish Companion, by Diana Gabaldon. Talks about how the series came to be written, discusses history and life in the 18th century, many details about the characters, their astrology charts, that kind of thing. I borrowed it thinking it might help me better appreciate this series that practically everyone adores (I like Lord John and read the books only for the parts with him in them) but all it did was make me dislike the author. Man, no ego problems there! I am truly happy for her that this has turned out so well for her, but she sure does think highly of herself. (This may be a midwestern American way of thinking. We don't like bragging, or what sounds like bragging.) DNF.

What Happens At Christmas, by Victoria Alexander. This was a freebie. Honestly, the plot was so preposterous that I simply could not buy the premise: in order to impress a prince she wants to marry, a woman hires a bunch of actors to pretend to be her family - apparently her family are eccentric - to give him the typical English Christmas he says he longs for. No chemistry between the hero and heroine. I suppose some people would see it as a delicious romp but I just wanted to slap the heroine, take away her subscription to People magazine (so to speak - it's a Regency or maybe a Victorian), and send her to work at the shelters for six months. Silly and shallow. DNF.

The Old Folks At Home: Warehouse Them or Leave Them on the Ice Floe, by Barry Friedman. This short cozy (?) mystery takes place in upscale senior housing, and 1) it was free and 2) the sample was pretty funny … especially when you live in downscale senior housing. It was sarcastic and bitter and very funny in places but went on too long, too repetitive, a little bit on the mean side (I don't much care for mean humor), and the ending was simply pulled out of the air and made no sense, insulting to the reader. For select readers only - very select.

Mistletoe Mansion, by Samantha Tonge. Contemporary romance-mystery with possible mild paranormal elements. Free. Young woman with dreams - but not a lot of plans to make those dreams come true - gets thrown out of the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, by said boyfriend who is tired of waiting for her to grow up and get a steady job and income. Two weeks before Christmas. Knowing that she has nowhere, nowhere on earth, that will take her in. Now, ain't love grand? She lies her way into a job housesitting in a mansion. Heroine just annoying, too young for me, living in a fantasy world. I think maybe younger people might be amused by the writing and all the pop culture and social media references, but I found it tiresome. I'm about 20% in and calling it a day. I have enjoyed, however, the way the book, set in England, has not been Americanized.

My Name is Mary Sutter, by Robin Oliveira. American Civil War-era woman is a midwife and wants to be educated as a physician, ends up serving on battlefields as a thrown-to-the-wolves type of education. The details, medical and historical, were quite good (not for the squeamish, by the way) but I never warmed up to Mary. She seemed cold to me and so single-minded that she often seemed inhuman, certainly lacking in self-awareness, compassion, and humility. It was a good enough library read, but I wouldn't read it again, and only certain types of readers might enjoy it. Not a bad book as such, but not recommended unless you understand what you're getting into. I read the first half and then skimmed through the rest. Not the right book for me at this time. 

When the Duke Was Wicked (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James), by Lorraine Heath. Unfortunately, I read this during one long sleepless night when I was keeping watch over Mr. Bat and most of the details have gone with the daylight. As I recall, the heroine and hero have known one another since her childhood. She has always adored him, but she was too young and he married another, a woman he worshipped, who then died, along with their daughter. In grief, he has become a rake. The heroine wants him to help her find a love match since all she is getting is fortune hunters. H/h love each other, but the hero has pledged never to love another woman because he can't stand the pain of loss and he is not worthy of the heroine. I recall that it was well-written, although his insistence on holding on to his loss and pain seemed a trifle prolonged in such a young man. Still, it wasn't a bad read as I recall it. It helped me stay awake.

The Black Hawk (The Spymaster Series Book 4), by Joanna Bourne. I read The Spymaster's Lady awhile back, a worth-it read, although not without its problems. This is the book about Adrian and Justine, whose relationship goes back at least twenty years. Again, the book was very, very well written, with beautiful prose that is not so self-conscious as to take me out of the story. I would recommend that anyone interested in this series read them in the order that the author suggests on her website, because I really suffered from lack of backstory and I know I missed a lot of references, a lot of depth, a lot of layers of meaning, for not having read some of the other books first. Someday I will read them all in order.

Jonathan Swift, by Leo Damrosch. I know little or nothing about Swift except for Gulliver's Travels and some quotes, so I found this biography fascinating. Very detailed but pretty lively for a standard bio. It's long, about 600 pages, and not something one reads lightly. I just got into it about 20% when my borrowing period expired and I'm back on the waiting list to check it out again to finish it. Good photos and illustrations that came through pretty well on my little Kindle. I'm looking forward to finishing it. What a complicated person he was, and what a complicated time and place! Author really brings things to life.

Personal part 2: Been cruising around Twitter lately, comparing it to Facebook, what I can see without having an account at either site. I've picked up a lot of reading recommendations on Twitter. I think if I can stay out of the drama, it would be a fine place to hear about books. I don't trust Facebook - well, I don't trust any social media - but Twitter seems on its face to be less intrusive into my personal life, maybe. I've read and re-read the recommendations and thoughts you all so kindly shared about social media for the elderly a couple of months ago. If I can just come up with a name for myself, will probably take the plunge and set up a Twitter account, if only for the recommendations and the cute cat photos. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Christmas Violin, by Buffy Andrews (contemporary, novella? or short book?)

Might as well confess it, I like Christmas stories. Pretty concrete thinker, pretty practical and pragmatic, but I have a sentimental side. I try not to get too soppy about it, at least not in public. I tear up over coffee commercials that feature sons who arrive home unexpectedly on Christmas morning, and while I don't care for the song much, emotion bursts from me when Fogelberg sings, "Papa, I don't think I've said 'I love you' near enough." (Because I didn't.) I love stories of love, forgiveness and redemption, new beginnings and hope.

So this time of year is just one bawl fest at Casa Bat. I cry when I'm happy and cry when I'm touched and cry when the waitress tops up my cup of coffee. It doesn't take much. I started crying the other day over a dog that died in 1952.

I loved this story. Love, loss, and going on. Finding kindness where it is least expected. Learning to say, "Thank you," even when the demons in your head are screaming at you. Gosh, I loved this story.

Willow is a concert-level violinist, single, whose little boy died in an accident a couple of years ago. She has withdrawn from public performance, but every day she goes to the child's gravesite and plays the lullaby she wrote for him when she was carrying him. [Are we out of Kleenex? I think there are some soft flannel squares in the linen closet.] One day Peter is visiting his wife's grave, which is close to Willow's son's, and hears the lullaby, which is so sweet and beguiling, so filled with love and longing, and it somehow sounds familiar to him. Also listening is a homeless woman who lives in the cemetery. She keeps an eye on the little boy's grave so that mean people don't steal the little toys on the marker.

This is the story of how their lives intersect, touch, and change each one of them.

It is beautifully told. Happy things happen and sad things happen but I never felt as if the author was pulling my strings simply to manipulate my emotions. We see how the smallest actions we take may affect another person profoundly.

Christmas is fairly peripheral to the story, mostly a way to show passing time and reasons for decorating a grave. Near the end, there's a tiny bit of bland, standard God-talk as part of a religious ceremony; blink and you'll miss it, so I don't think it will be too much for people who celebrate a secular Christmas and are simply looking for a sweet, sentimental story.

Kindle formatting fine, grammar fine, although I was so into the story I may not have noticed something minor (to me). No particular violence. No sex. Not a lot of dialogue, given that the three main characters are alone, but what there was seemed natural to me. Characters were well-developed. There's a fair amount of telling, but that makes sense for this type of story. There are some coincidences, but I swallowed them whole without difficulty. It's a magic book, so we do not examine the author's shirtsleeves too closely. There is not a specific HEA but there is the hope of life renewed, joy returning.

I keep saying: All I really ask is that you tell me a good story. This is a good story. The author has several more books out, one of which sounds good to me, but it's a little past my budget at this time. That's okay. This book was a Kindle freebie the day I got it but is now going for 99 cents. Well worth it.

Speaking of free, Cecilia Grant has a prequel novella that is free this week only, I think. Here's a non-affiliate link if you're interested: A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong    If you've never read Ms. Grant's work (you poor thing!) and aren't sure, this would probably be a good place to start. Free, can't beat it. See if you like her style, her voice. I haven't read it yet. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

An Offer She Can't Refuse: A Regency Romance Serial, by Sophie Carr

Normally I would not buy a book sold in parts. Annoying! I can see the value in it for the author and I can see that it might work for someone who reads in 10-minute snatches on and off, but for someone like me whose Kindle is permanently affixed to her left hand, it wouldn't work. Fortunately, the author also offered a compilation of the parts, and that is what I read. It was a Kindle bargain at $2.99.

The person who told me I should read the book wouldn't tell me much about it except to say, "Trust the author." Huh. Okay. I figured out what she meant as I got into the book.

Laura is a person who apparently has no family, has been a governess, and we learn that several months ago, a soldier with some means and family fell in love with her on the spot. They married and in a matter of a week or two, he was back off to war. Whirlwind romance. His family specifically did not approve of Laura or the marriage. At the beginning of the story, Laura is well along in the pregnancy of his child, and she is missing him. She runs his small household and is comfortable and content enough. At times it all seems a bit unreal.

One night a young soldier is found on her doorstep, bleeding and unconscious. For a half-second, she wonders if it is her husband, but no, hair too dark for one thing. She has the servants bring him in and she nurses him overnight and come morning he is gone, leaving behind a very brief note of thanks. She admits to herself that she was attracted to him and somehow felt safe with him. But he's gone and that's that. She thinks of him from time to time. 

Circumstances are such that when we next see Laura, several years later, she is again working as a governess in a position that is soul-sucking. Much to her surprise, here again is the man she nursed that night, but is he the person he seems to be, and is she safe with him? The attraction is immediate, especially on his part, like a magnet, as if this somehow was meant to be. But his actions are quite outrageous at times and one way or another, he is going to make her unemployed and unemployable. And the story goes on from there. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but there is a HEA.

Here is where you have to trust the author. First, there are editing errors, mostly extra words, but also one apostrophe plural and some other little ticks. You know, I thought we'd gotten beyond that by this time, and it annoyed the heck out of me. Also, the first part of the book is double spaced, which is a trifle odd. I'm not sure if the author meant for that to be symbolic of something; if so, it flew right past my concrete-thinking head. It's a little hard to read for some reason and I was most relieved when the second half was spaced normally. BTW, thank you, Ms. Carr, for inserting the ### between scene changes. Very helpful. Would be more helpful if they were centered rather than left-flush but I'm grateful regardless.

Second, it takes awhile before you learn anything much about the characters. The author doesn't let us in right away. We see fragments of a character, snapshots so to speak, or … remember dancing in a strobe light? Just these half-second flashes of illumination. I was a little confused at first, not sure where I was going with these people, and then I was interested, and then really happy about the way the characters are revealed to us. It worked for me. If you need to know a lot about characters right away, be advised.

The characters were well-rounded and believable to me, even if the circumstances strained my belief at times. Just accept the premise and enjoy the story, okay? Of course, I wish the book were longer and I knew more about the characters, but that's a personal quirk. I want to know their shoe size and how they take their coffee but not everyone does. The conversation seemed appropriate for the time to me, without Regency slang, however, so I didn't have to stop every 10 lines to Google something, and I appreciated that.

There's no violence, just a very brief and not-upsetting description of how he came to have the wound and faint on her doorstep. There's no sex, just a couple of chaste kisses. A couple of times, the men say "damn" or a variation of it in front of a woman, and I'm not sure men would do that then, at least without apology, but then these people immediately took Laura in as if she were family, cherished family, so maybe that's okay. There are several twists in the story, and I was delighted to see them. All of the characters in the book are good people doing their best in life, being their best, and after book after book with paper-thin villains, it's so refreshing to see good people doing their best, making mistakes, carrying on with life. It was a sweet story. No housefires, pirates, or kidnappings. There is a Misunderstanding, and while I was annoyed by Laura's jumping to conclusions, I acknowledge that a person in her precarious position is going to be hyper-vigilant. Still, I thought she was smarter than that. 

My chief complaint (other than the editing in the first half) is that the story wasn't longer. These characters, this plot, deserved a longer book. This is like the Reader's Digest Condensed version of the story: everything essential is there, but you know you're missing out on details and scenes the author cut from the original.

All in all it was a good read, worth my time and money, and when I turned to the very, very last page of the book, and saw that "Sophie Carr" is a pseudonym for one of my favorite authors, I smacked myself on the forehead for not recognizing her style. I guess I was too caught up in the story. Score one for you, author! I'm glad I trusted you.