In accordance with FTC regulations, 16 C.F.R. Part 255, and in accordance with my personal ethics, be assured if I am reviewing a free copy from a publisher, I'll tell you straight out, first thing. The books reviewed here were either bought with my hard-earned money or borrowed from the library. I am no longer reading review copies.

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.

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

Friday, July 4, 2014

Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring, by Alexander Rose (non-fiction)

First: Happy Independence Day from the land of the free (more or less) and the home of beer and BBQ. Let freedom ring, and pass the Gas-X.

I'm taking a break from romance because there's just so much uninspiring work being published these days. Even a couple of my favorite authors have let me down lately, and that may say more about me than about the books. So I turned to non-fiction, my old reliable. I started to read this library book some years ago in paper, and later on Kindle, but it was one of those things where suddenly you're on top for 10 library books, and I never finished it.

I don't know that much about our war of independence. I know the basics but not much more. I used to like spy novels. This book looked like it would work for me and it did.

The author describes exactly what the title says, the formation of our first formal spy ring during the revolutionary war. The writing is engaging for the most part, conversational (Benedict Arnold is described as "snotty"), and I found the book easy to get into. However, I did end up making up a scorecard, because there were just so many people involved, and I kept forgetting which person was a Rebel and which a Brit. Again, that may say more about where I am right now than it does the book.

I did find it difficult to follow at times, because it is written both topically and sort-of chronologically, so there was a fair amount of backtracking and digression and sometimes I got lost, especially if it had been a couple of days since I'd picked it up. The author does go off on tangents, interesting, but then sometimes hard to pick up the thread of the narrative again. A real strength, however, was the way the author helped me to understand the 18th century mind, the concepts of honor, with respect to spying.

The book pokes some small holes in the story that young Americans (at least the ones my age and older) were taught about Nathan Hale, but it does so in a gentle and factual way, not in a nasty, "Inside Edition" kind of way. My goodness, he was barely an adult, had no training in espionage, and essentially walked around in his own clothes, using his own name, in unfamiliar territory, openly asking people what they knew about British troop movements and then writing down the answers in a little notebook. It's no wonder that it took about two minutes to catch him. For some reason, the book's telling of the story of John André affected me more emotionally.

What I found most interesting is that way they all made it up as they went along. How to communicate. Invisible ink. Need to know. They hadn't a clue what they were doing (Washington is well known for having little background in making war and spent several weeks cramming from the classics at the beginning of the hostilities). These were farmers, bank clerks, divinity students, cobblers - rank amateurs up against the best and most sophisticated fighting machine of the time. Some of them were terrified every minute of every day. Some made really dumb mistakes. Some did it for love. Some did it for money. Some bragged afterwards. Some went to the grave, old men, with their secrets.

There's some violence described, as one would expect in a book about war and spies. It's not lascivious, though, which helps, and there's not a lot of it. The descriptions are about a 6 on the ick scale, the book as a whole perhaps a 2. Scalpings, hangings, beatings.

If you live in New York City or visit there often, you may enjoy the way the author tells you that this or that happened at the intersection of 66th and 2nd or whatever.

Kindle formatting mostly okay, a few things that look like typos from a print book. Unfortunately, on the Kindle, the footnotes become end notes, and end notes are a pain. Well worth it, though, if you have an ereader that will bounce back and forth. The few maps at the beginning are worthless on an Kindle.

All in all a worthwhile read for a person with a particular interest in the American war of independence or a burning interest in spycraft. Apparently they're making a movie or a cable TV series out of it, and I may try to check that out in my spare time.

Personal note: Mr. Bat had his pacemaker and ICD put in and is doing okay with it. They put the battery into the subcutaneous tissue of the chest south of the collarbone, and bless him, he has no subcu tissue left, so he's pretty sore. He's holding his own. His appetite wasn't good the next day, turned up his nose at an omelet that he would normally enjoy, but I got him with a doughnut! That man and his sweet tooth. I've got him eating fresh pineapple for the bruising and swelling and it seems to be helping, in addition to ice packs, of course. We're hoping that the pacemaker, which will raise his heartbeat to a minimum of 60 a minute (he's running in the 30s and 40s most of the time - I kid him about being a snake on a cold rock) will improve blood flow to the kidneys and heart and give him some additional quality of life.

A few days before the procedure, I was fussing (I have a black belt in fussing), and he did something he rarely has done: grabbed me by the chin, stared into my eyes, and said, quietly, "Listen up. I am not afraid." 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

If I give a Heyer book a good review, will you come back?

I recently discovered that I had another Heyer book on my Kindle, Black Sheep. I decided to give it 10% and see what happened. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. Really.

Black Sheep was published in 1966 and if I'd read it then I would surely have read everything else I could find by Heyer. Our heroine Abigail is intelligent, reasonably attractive, and has a pretty good understanding of human nature and how to get things done. She has a wicked sense of humor that I think she does not let off the leash near enough when we first meet her. She's no spring chicken (28, I think) and while she has had opportunities, she long ago decided not to settle for second best; she remains single. Our hero Miles, forty-ish, ran away to India some years ago just steps ahead of a scandal that everyone knows about but no one mentions. He's got no patience with ton manners and not a lot of patience with ton conformity. He is who he is and one is welcome to take it or not: it really makes no difference to him. You can see that a lot of the b.s. has been burned out of Miles along the way, leaving only the essential, confident man.

Circumstances are such that they meet, and there's that spark. They fight rather a lot, but I wasn't annoyed by the bicker/banter the way I have been in so many books. Much of the time it was quite amusing, and it tended to advance the plot or help us to understand the characters. It wasn't banter for the sake of banter. The conversations were things I could see real people saying. 

Things are too complicated to explain in a short review, and I really didn't see how the required HEA could come about, but it did. If Miles engineered the majority of it, well, what of it. He does in fact have a great deal of life experience and he has the personality to plow through apparent obstacles. I enjoyed how much Abby's romantic dilemma mirrored a problem she was having with her niece, who was infatuated with an obvious fortune hunter. Your advice has a slightly different flavor when you have to swallow it yourself.

It's very much in the classic mode, I think, with strong wise older man, but Abigail isn't a fool, just less experienced. 

Very clean, kisses at the end only, but folks who object to this kind of thing will note that there's a fair amount of taking God's name in vain so we'll mark it as clean mostly. No violence. Some secondary characters were not as well-developed as they could have been, but I recognized both of Abigail's sisters' "types" from my own life experience, and they were written truly. The subtle but inexorable control exerted over all the family by a person who has good health but thinks they're sick all the time. The teenager who is experiencing love for the first time, testing boundaries, trying to figure out which persona is their true self. The person who has very little moral compass and genuinely does not care how their actions affect others, as long as they themselves are not discomforted. 

Abigail could be seen as a martyr to her family, but she didn't cross the line for me. I completely understood how she got roped in and stayed roped in, and how her strong sense of duty - something we don't understand well today, I think - compelled her to act as she did, even as she thought about having a different life. I did not feel impatient with her.

Kindle formatting okay with a few OCR errors. No errors in grammar. Some Regency slang or argot that at times got a little much. If I'm reading fiction, I don't want to have to Google something every page. The ending, ah, the ending. I was in a mood to find it refreshing and amusing. Another time, Miles's high-handedness and Heyer's ending a book in mid-scene might have annoyed me. But the end was consistent with the plot, characters, and the logic of the book as a whole, and it worked well for me. I loved how at peace Miles was with himself, and how Abby was trending even more that way under his influence. It was nice to read about non-nobility, nice to get out of London, nice to read about people with comfortable incomes related to (gasp!) trade.

I'm not grading books these days, but this was a pretty good read, enough so that I might read it again someday maybe. Not keeper shelf but not bad. 

Personal note: Mr. Bat becoming fragile but still enjoying every day. Pacemaker will be inserted in a couple of weeks, and we're hoping it will improve his quality of life, which he insists isn't all that bad as it is. He's pale and gaunt and walks rather hunched over, but he's still got his ready smile, his sweet disposition, and his open enjoyment of what life brings, whether it's a ripping good thunderstorm or the sounds of doves on our roof. Tonight it was a dessert of lovely ripe cantaloupe with some lemon sorbet and fresh blueberries. No pain, just no energy. I'm glad there's no pain. 


Monday, June 2, 2014

(Sorry) Frederica, by Georgette Heyer (Regency)

I got off on the wrong foot with Ms. Heyer when I read The Grand Sophie: one of the most annoying main characters I've encountered in awhile, and the anti-Semitic section made me queasy. I have put off reading any of her other books, but people keep encouraging me to read a few, specifically Frederica and Venetia, and they've been on sale, so I have tried.

Tried, and tried, and tried. This time I'm about 40% of the way into Frederica and I just can't go another page. I'm sorry, I can see that this book is skillfully written, I can see that it set standards for the Regency romance, I can see that it's probably funny, and that the older H/h make for unusual dynamics, but what I can't see is developing any interest in any of the characters.

Maybe it's just where I am in life. But these characters are flat. Boring. I simply don't give one hoot in a holler about any of them, not even the dog, and that's saying something, 'cause I'm a big sucker for cats and dogs in stories.

Kindle formatting adequate with some OCR errors. Grammar seems perfect to me. Not much happens. I've never in my life met anyone as uniformly unpleasant as the hero's sisters, who seem to be one dimensional. I haven't read it all but so far there's no sex and no violence.

I'm sorry, I just can't. Life is too short to read books you don't enjoy, just because you should. This one is DNF, and it will take a lot of boredom and lack of choice to get me to crack the cover of Venetia. Ah well, the world would be a boring old place if we all liked the same things. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Crazy Thing Called Love (Crooked Creek Ranch), by Molly O'Keefe (contemporary)

Wow, two contemporary sports romances in a row. One more and it will be a trend. I've been reading and hearing the accolades for this book for some months now, but I'm just not that fond of contemporaries, and besides, this looked like part of a series (it is, but you'd never know it). Also I'm rather wary of books with puns in the titles or take offs from song titles. At least this book didn't have a cover with one of the characters staring at me as if I have a fly on my nose. It may have suffered, however, from Thirteenth Tale Syndrome, in which a book receives so much advance praise, it could never meet my expectations.

Long before our story starts, Maddy and Billy were childhood friends and then husband and wife. But not for long. They were very young (oh, do I ever see this a lot IRL) and he was at the beginning of what would be a super-star hockey career, and the center just wouldn't hold for them. Divorce resulted when Maddy caught him with a puck bunny and walked out now and forever, hurt and hurling hurt at him. For this she gave up her dreams?

Fourteen years later, Billy has continued his hockey life, quite a star, but he's never stopped loving Maddy. Maddy remade herself into Madelyn, got a journalism degree, fixed her teeth, trimmed her generous butt, learned to dress, and is now the host of a popular local TV show. The marriage/divorce is kind of their little secret and Madelyn will do anything to keep it that way.

Billy has some serious anger issues that have finally landed him in serious trouble. He's becoming more trouble than he's worth. It's probably his last year of playing and he's about to be sent down to the minors because of his constant fighting. Someone on the TV show gets the bright idea to do a total makeover of Billy. It will boost the ratings like sixty, and Billy will at least partially appease management by submitting to this humbling treatment. Heaven knows he could use some spiffing up, because he's still wearing white athletic socks with black dress shoes.

Wrinkle: it's Maddy's show that will be hosting the 4-week makeover. She's wildly, desperately against it. After all, she thinks she is past all that and does not want to get sucked into his life again in any way, shape, or form. Huh-uh. No sirree Bob. Plus she's afraid that word of their teenage marriage will leak out and she really doesn't want to be identified as Mrs. Billy for the rest of her life. Billy is ambivalent but largely on board with this makeover. In the first place, it might save his career. In the second, well, Maddy.

And so it goes. Billy takes well to the TV show, and Maddy's talent and training conquer most of the glitches, at least initially. But Billy makes no bones about wanting to resume the relationship, and Maddy is just not going there. No. No. No. Billy has gotten over all their past history and Maddy isn't even close, darlings, not even close. Except for lusting after his body.

I tell you straight, I was almost 50% in to this book and was not engaged at all. Same old song, yawn. Then we had a series of events that brought it up past ordinary and I was hooked. I even snarled at my best beloved when he mildly asked if there would be hot supper or if he had a date with the peanut butter jar.

Mark you, the book is not without its problems. A big one for me is the way the author kind of shied past anger management treatment for Billy. Okay, fine, he'd never hit a woman or whatever, but he explodes so easily and breaks furniture and he's a disaster waiting to happen. The roots of his anger are explained, and they make sense, but you don't just lose those impulses to smash and destroy in a couple of quiet conversations and a round of sweaty sex. Would that it were so simple. I know it's not the novelist's role to preach, but it can be to teach, and I would like to have seen some ongoing counseling here.

Maddy was hard for me to like at times, too. She seemed cold to me and was definitely out for number one. Eventually we do understand why and see that it is not coldness but fear and an inability to trust herself, to know her own boundaries. She had turned her back on not just passion, but all emotion, from what she believed was necessity. But honestly, I'm not sure I believe in Billy and Maddy's HEA. I think they'll try, I really do, but I look for Maddy to break again.

Kindle formatting fine and I don't recall any errors in grammar. Some flashbacks, not a lot, and it's quite clear that they are flashbacks. Fairly short but fairly hot sex scenes, not too graphic, though. It's funny in spots. There's a subplot about friendship, what it is, what it isn't, what it can be. A little cartoon-type violence with hockey, but also some domestic violence and cruelty to children that some folks might find hard to read. There are some children involved in the plot starting about halfway in, real kids with real problems, real trouble, and I thought resolution was a little too fast and easy, but heck, you know, it's a romance novel, not a textbook on social work, so I should probably ease up a bit.

The children were probably essential to the author's tale, but I started worrying more about them and less about Billy and Maddy. I will say this: the author surprised me, and more than once. Just about the time I thought I knew where the plot was going, it went somewhere else entirely, and when thinking about it, I could see that it was not a random choice, but one planned many pages before. Even someone like me, who reads superficially and purely for entertainment, and doesn't have much experience in this genre, could see that the author was turning things on their heads and avoiding clichés with great skill.


It was a decent read, worth the time and money invested. I can't imagine reading it again, but it kept me entertained (finally) and was satisfying. Gets a little goofy toward the end. I just don't believe in their HEA, that's all. Possibly that's my flaw, and not the book's. Still, a tale with some unexpected turns, and well told.  

Personal note: We have a date with the pacemaker/implantable defibrillator doctor mid-June and will go from there. Mr. Bat has no pain or distress, feels well as long as he doesn't do much, and we enjoy each day for what it is: a gift. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

An Unsuitable Husband (Entangled Indulgence), by Ros Clarke (contemporary)

Disclaimer: The author, knowing I was going through a tough time, offered me a free copy of this book simply out of the goodness of her heart. But because of said tough time, I was behind in my email reading and didn't know that until after I'd already bought a copy. She's one of my favorite authors. So there you are. End disclaimer.

I know zipola about sports except for American football and I know zipola plus one about that. I watch the Super Bowl for the commercials and go to Super Bowl parties for the food and companionship. In my single days, I'd head for the four-eyed unfortunate-complexioned geek every time and pass by the gorgeous studly jocks. (Mr. Bat is neither, BTW, although he did play basketball in high school.) My point is that I know almost nothing and care very little about sports.

So if you're not a huge football/soccer fan, don't be put off when you read the reviews of this book and find out that the hero is a professional football (soccer) player, a real star. There's a little bit of soccer in the book but not enough to turn me off and I actually picked up a tidbit here or there.

Theresa is a high-powered contracts lawyer and can't you just see her in your mind, all dressed for success in her power suits and hair that has to be cut every two weeks to hold its oh-so-casual but spiky trendy style. She is very smart and she's got her eye on that partnership and its perks. She really does not have time for a serious relationship, and she is as wary as a scalded cat about anything that sounds even vaguely like love. Meanwhile, her mom is all over her about being an old maid, on the shelf, unloved and ending her lonely life surrounded by cats and take-out boxes ("This isn't a Georgette Heyer novel, mother." Ha!). To the point that mom is trying to fix her up with every unattached (is "loser" too harsh a word?) in a 100 mile radius. Theresa just wants to be left alone to practice law and lose herself in the music at a club once in awhile.

That's where she bumps into soccer star Emile. Theresa is so focused on her career that she doesn't realize that she's dancing with and then becoming intimate with the equivalent of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo (google is my friend). Nor does she care, particularly. The sex was good, really good, well, it was spectacular to be precise. Hmmm, she thinks in her contracts lawyer way. How about if she and Emile get married, just for one year, which will get her mother off her back, and there are circumstances such that Emile could use a wife right now, and hey, what's the downside? She'll do all the paperwork for the marriage and the subsequent divorce, no muss, no fuss, right? Sex when they mutually agree, social partners, just enough to get the heat off both of them.

It's a short book and I’m not going to tell you much more than that. You'll just have to read it. It's a modern take on the marriage of convenience and I loved it.

One of the things I like about Ms. Clarke's writing is that her characters are grownups. You may see a character in her books do something really stupid or not thought through well, but they *learn* from it, they apologize, they try to make reparation, they don't do it again. They're flawed and they try to do better, be better. These are people I know, people I recognize, as real as the person next to you in the cube farm. (Possibly more so ….)

The book is also funny in spots. Some of the dialog made me giggle, or snort, and some of the thoughts both Theresa and Emile had gave me mental images it will take awhile to shake. I read this a couple of weeks ago and still smile over a couple of lines. The scene in which Theresa takes Emile to meet her parents is a gem. Oh my stars. Poor mum.

If there is one thing I just didn't get, it was the reason that Theresa is so gunshy about long-term relationships, about love. She panics when she realizes that she is falling for Emile, I mean, really panics. I'll have to read it again (no burden, that) to see if I pick it up on a second reading. Maybe it's just the way she's wired, could be that simple.

Emile is a doll for the most part. Oh, he's got that professional athlete ego, but he's also a truly nice guy underneath all that, and he's not especially afraid to let some of the nurturing side of him show. Heaven knows Theresa could use some nurturing.

Kindle formatting perfect, thank you so very much! Grammar perfect. I learned some things painlessly and the book got me through some boring/tense hours in a waiting room. There's a fair amount of drama packed into 150 or so pages, and not one scene, not one word, is wasted. The sex scenes are short but pretty doggone hot. There's so much going on in such a small space that there's some telling going on here, but that was okay with me, it was good telling, didn't get in my way. 

One last word about this book. I was interested to see how Ms. Clarke handles this aspect of the marriage of convenience. When you bare yourself to another person, and they bare themselves to you, and I don't mean (only) sexually, there is a bond that forms. Theresa is terrified of that bond, desperate to avoid it, but one senses in her the yearning for it as well, just an atom or two of ambivalence, and Emile knows how to bring that yearning out into the open. Finally, finally, she matures enough to give and accept love. It was moving.

I'm not grading books any more. This one was well worth reading. Yes, I'm a fan, but I think this book is definitely up to the high standard Ms. Clarke has set for herself.


Personal note: Trying to get my employer to let me go part-time, meeting fair amount of resistance. We're understaffed as it is - who isn't? Mr. Bat has had a bunch of tests and on Thursday afternoon we hope to learn what the sum of them is. Meanwhile, he feels well but tires easily. We're celebrating every day as it comes, and both of us are purring with the luxury of this three-day weekend in the US. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

It Takes Two to Tangle, by Theresa Romain (Regency)

I'm not a huge fan of stories in which one character pursues the absolutely wrong person for them, stubbornly holding to a bad decision in the face of all evidence. I'm also not a big fan of what I think they call wallpaper historicals, in which people from 1815 talk and act like people from the 20th century. This book has both of these factors to some degree and yet, and yet, I did enjoy it.

Henry is the second son and now the younger brother of an earl. In accordance with his position as second son and his wishes, he bought an officer's position and apparently was a successful leader of men, until a battle near the end of the Napoleonic wars cost him the use of his dominant right arm, a terrible thing for a man who is an artist, a painter in oils. [Brachial plexus injury resulting from inexpert reduction of a shoulder dislocation, for you medical types out there. No cure at that time.] He's back from the war now, living with his brother - who loves him the way we wish our siblings would love us - and his wife - also sweet and loving - and he's trying to learn to paint with his left hand, and he's trying to fit back into the ton, and he's making messes of all kinds.

His sister-in-law decides to set him up with Caroline, the widow of [some noble] who is charming and beautiful and has a mostly good heart, if a fickle one, and she also has a poor relation companion, Frances, who is also a widow. Their relationship is a good one, they are close, and Caroline does not treat Frances as a poor relation, which was refreshing. Frances is very bright, witty, not unattractive, but she holds herself in reserve a great deal. She has hurt and been hurt, and she fears, I think, the power of her emotions.

Until she and Henry meet. She falls for him almost instantly. Henry, lead footed as some men can be, actually interprets her interest in him as willingness to help him pursue Caroline. Frances actually agrees to help him, even though it tears at her heart to do so.

There's more to it. There are some Cyrano aspects, and a really snotty hateful villain. Both Henry and Frances have secrets that cause them to feel less-than. Trust is a huge issue in this story, as well as honor. A desire to be kind gone wrong. The meaning of friendship.

It took me some getting into. I didn't like anyone very much at first. But the author does have a way with description, and I liked the way she used the names of paint colors to describe the world - because that is how Henry sees it. I liked the slow and fits-and-starts progression of the love story. In the end, I even liked Henry and Frances, or at least I wished them well, although I never warmed up to Caroline. There are some easy outs available, and the author took some, but avoided one big easy out that I was afraid would show up. There was some pretty explicit sex that I just skimmed over, although there was some character development in the scenes. The book is heavy in spots: Henry has lost something he can never regain and it touches every aspect of his life. Frances has her own griefs to work through. The book sagged a bit in the middle. There were some nice details: how do you hold on to a bouquet of flowers and ring the doorbell at the same time; both Henry and Frances dislike the name their family calls them (Hal, Frannie) but accept this as a sign of love; both Henry and Frances like to sit on the floor or ground when they want to think something through. 

You know what I really loved about this book? The duel scene. I'm not a fan of duel scenes as a rule but this one was choice. Everyone underestimates Henry, including Henry himself at times, but he's got some skills that are not common amongst the ton, and he uses them. For me the duel scene was worth the price of admission. By the time Henry was done with his opponent, I'm surprised that said villain could even walk off the field.

I enjoyed seeing a loving sibling relationship. Just love. Not unreasonable self-sacrifice, no martyrdoms here. Just love.

Kindle formatting fine. Grammar fine, as I recall. No real violence, despite the duel, although war is briefly described. No pirates, housefires, or kidnappings. It's a pretty quiet story, all in all. I can't imagine that I'll read it again - except maybe that duel scene - but I got my money's worth and was satisfied when I closed the cover on the Kindle.

Next up: a charming contemporary treatment of the marriage of convenience story by Ros Clarke.

Personal: Mr. Bat seems better the last couple of weeks after a major change in his meds. We have a lot of tests scheduled over the next few weeks to see what the next step is. Probably a pacemaker. Doubt he'll ever be strong enough for cardiac bypass surgery. The burning question at Casa Bat is whether I should retire from my much-loved but ultra-demanding job. My guy deserves better than to have a tired, cranky wife (although what an unexpected luxury to have him well enough that I can allow myself to be a little cranky), but he also deserves better than the kind of extreme frugality that my retiring will impose on us. (Save! Start saving now! Even if it's $5 a week, start now! Also: floss your teeth.) He votes that I retire, and I suspect that I will, fairly soon, depending on how the tests turn out. I melted down at work yesterday, first time in my life I've done that, and that's probably a sign. We appreciate so very much your kind thoughts and prayers. We are enjoying each day, each precious day, no regrets.
 



Monday, May 5, 2014

Damsel in Green (Best of Betty Neels), by Betty Neels

I can't recall who recommended this book to me. If you liked the Cherry Ames books when you were a kid, or if you have the slightest interest in nursing as it was practiced a generation or two ago in England, and you'd like to read a very gentle, very traditional romance, this may be a book for you.

Georgina (usually called "George") has been working ER since she graduated from nursing school, and as the book opens, she has just learned that she passed her licensure exam - so the equivalent of being an RN in the US. She's a little pretty, a little plump, a little impulsive, but she's got the makings of a fine nurse. There's a car accident and she takes care of the victims: a young man with a broken collarbone, a little girl with scalp lacerations and a head injury, and a little boy with bilateral broken femurs. Their guardian, the large and handsome and commanding Julius, an anesthesiologist, asks Georgina to take a leave of absence from the hospital in order to care for the little boy during his long recovery at home. She has been feeling a trifle restless lately, and she has fallen in love with the kidlets, and she agrees.

What we know, but H/h don't seem to know, is that it's been love at first sight for both Georgina and Julius. Julius wants to see if she can cope with a ready-made family, if she will love the children as he does. Georgina, well, she just wants to see more of Julius.

There's not much in the way of external conflict. Everyone is so nice - except for the villain Other Girlfriend - that I suspect that their housecats don't even chase birds, and mostly it's just the tension between the autocratic Julius and the I'm Not Worthy Georgina that fills the plot. It's a sweet story, with quite a bit of the action taking place at Christmas.

It's incredibly dated. Anything medical is going to be dated by the time it's published. They don't bother to x-ray the little girl's skull, nevermind a CAT scan or MRI (neither one in common use when this book was written, I suspect). Nobody monitors the little boy for fat emboli. Nobody seems to care that the kids are unconscious for hours. Julius passes gas on his own kids - you never, never should anesthetize family, and nowadays probably wouldn't be allowed to. We don't even know if Julius has privileges at this hospital, for pity's sake. Julius keeps stealing kisses from Georgina -- his employee. Georgina encourages the kids not to report some borderline abusive behavior they've experienced. It was written sometime in the 1970s but could have been written in the 1950s or even the 1930s for that matter.

But therein lies some of its charm. It was a step back into my younger days, and right now my younger days look pretty damned good. Times really weren't simpler then, honestly they were not, just different. It was like taking off a shirt that doesn't quite fit right and slipping into a soft old sweater. Oh, the relief of the familiar and the comfortable.

Ms. Neels has a knack for putting us into the setting with only a few words. I could see the busy Casualty ward, the nurses' dining room, the slightly dowdy clothing Georgina chooses (she is not well off) and the fashions from the early '70s that others wear (a pink pantsuit as formal wear - I think I had one …). I could see the house in England and the landscape in Holland so clearly, but the author doesn't go on and on with description - no Anne Rice-ing here - but gives us just enough.

It was lovely to read this, especially after reading some literary fiction (McCabe's I Shall Be Near to You) that was very good for the most part but very sad - a bad choice right now but so well-written I read it anyway. Damsel in Green was totally unrealistic and completely wonderful. I have no doubt that Georgina and Julius will find their way together, that he will learn to communicate more clearly and she will stop jumping down his throat at the drop of a hat, but she will still be kind and trusting, and he will still be untidy, and they'll have the big family they want and grow old together.

I'm not grading anymore, but I found the book well worth reading and I'll probably read it again someday when the world is too much with me.


Personal note: Mr. Bat is up and down, up and down. We've got another battery of tests later this month. For now, today, he is comfortable and content, and even getting out for very short walks on sunny days. He looks 20 years older than he did in January. We're taking it a day at a time. Thank you for your kind thoughts, prayers, and good wishes. If I owe you an email or phone call, I swear I'll get to it, but right now it's taking all I have to stay on my feet. I have never been so tired. All in a good cause, though, and I wouldn't be anywhere else. Please, God, just a little more time. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Curricle & Chaise, by Lizzie Church (Regency)

This was a Kindle freebie a few days ago and it looked good so I picked it up. While I have some criticisms of the book, overall I enjoyed reading it and plan to pick up another one or two of the author's books to see how they are.

It's about 1810, rural England. Lydia and her much-younger sister have not a penny. Father died in debt and mother died from grief. Lydia sold all their possessions and managed to free them from debt but they are left with no choices. Lydia is not of the nobility and is probably average-looking and about average in intelligence and education for the time. She would have to study quite a bit to qualify as a governess - and she's not much into studying. Lydia has, as we would say now, no marketable skills. Her sister is mentally challenged and will never be able to live alone or work.

Her choices are to go to one of her aunts, one a sweet vicar's wife living on air and garden produce in a tiny little house with barely room for the little sister. The other aunt is a real piece of work but will take Lydia in as a poor relation/dogsbody/slave. It is to the dragon aunt that Lydia goes, sending her sister to the nice aunt.

Living with the dragon aunt is just as bad as she thought it would be or even worse. A small bright spot is her air-head female cousin who has managed to retain a few brain cells not corrupted by her mother's pride and avarice. Another bright spot is the neighbors, brothers, landed gentry: Edward is a bit of a tearaway but so cordial and sweet, and he has a tendre for the cousin. Henry is the older brother, responsible, sober, polite, but nice enough to teach Lydia to ride a horse and to include her in local gatherings to a degree, when she can escape from the dragon aunt. He invites her to meet his mother, a gentle soul. Lydia has some dreams with respect to Henry, but knows they will never come true. There is, unfortunately, a male cousin who is a drunken lout and comes to visit, and things end up about as one would expect, with Lydia cast out of the house in disgrace, fleeing to the nice aunt.

She makes new friends there, and her good heart, exuberance for life in general, and energy endear her to people. Oh, and who happens to be old friends with her new friends? Why, it's Henry. Meanwhile, Sir John across the way is a nice enough if rather odd older man who first offers her a position as companion to his delicate daughter and then offers more than that. What to do? What to do?

This book was just right for me. It's slow paced, there's some character development in the main characters, there were no pirates, housefires, or kidnappings, and there was just enough description to let me know where I was without boring me right off my perch. I hate to use the word "clean" because it implies that sex is dirty, and it's not, but it's the shorthand we use to say: no sex scenes. There were a couple of chaste kisses at the end and that was that. There was humor in spots, fairly subtle.

I did not like the thin characterization of the dragon aunt, and as a fat old bat myself, didn't appreciate that the shorthand to her character was that she was fat and greedy. Boo - hiss! There was not one redeeming facet to the character, and it was all just too thin for me. (Ugh - pun unintended.) The last scene with Sir John seemed wildly out of character until I sat and thought about it awhile, and then realized that it was quite consistent with his basic character. I would also have appreciated more information on Lydia's relationship with her sister: was it all duty? Had they ever played together? Did either one take any joy from the relationship? Was the sister just a Plot Point? I was mildly surprised at the situation regarding Edward at the end, but again realized that it was quite consistent with what we knew of the character.

It's going to be much too slow a read for some people, I think, but I loved the pace. I took several days to read it (I'm back to work and with everything at home, doing 18-20 hour days these days) and could not wait to get back to it to see what would happen to Lydia next.

That may be another criticism: Lydia seems to let life happen to her, rather than grabbing the reins, but on the other hand, at that time and place, what reins were there for her to grab? The helplessness of the poor relation, female version, was brought home clearly again and again. With no real beauty, no skills, and no dowry, what's a woman to do in 1810? The situation was realistic. 

Something else that I liked but that may make others unhappy is the lack of detailed descriptions of the characters. I like populating books in my head with people who look like people I know (although all blond men are a young Peter O'Toole), and I don't know anyone with green eyes. So for me, it was a real advantage not to have to pour the characters in my brain into the mold the author made for me. But many readers want to know what kind of nose the hero has, or how tall and bosomy the heroine is. We're not given this information in this book. Works for me, may not for you. [ETA: the period details are excellent. It's just that we don't have a mention of the hero's green eyes twice on every page the way we have in some books, something that I find most annoying.] 

Kindle formatting fine (thank you, Ms. Church!), no errors in grammar that I picked up. Language seemed appropriate for the time without using a lot of Regency slang - I know, I know, it's Heyer-esque to use it but I find it tiresome when there is too much of it. I enjoyed reading about people who are not nobility and are not involved in the ton.

I'm not grading books these days, don't have the mental energy to discriminate, but this one was well worth reading if you want a slow, quiet, gentle, clean story. I'll definitely buy another of the author's books, and if it's as good, will probably clean off her Amazon shelf. They are very reasonably priced, and free to borrow if you have Kindle Prime. The book is safe to give your young daughter, or your old maiden great-aunt, and that is not dissing it. [ETA: I meant to say that if you like the novels of Candace Hern or Joan Smith, you'll probably enjoy this book as much as I did.]

Monday, March 31, 2014

Dark Witch, by Nora Roberts (drive through review) (paranormal)

Recently read Dark Witch. I'm not a huge Nora Roberts fan and her trilogies generally aren't  - my opinion - her strongest work. But it was cheap and I bit.

This is the first in the Cousins O'Dwyer trilogy. Here's the gist of it, best I can do on a couple of hours of sleep for a book I read a couple weeks ago:.

American Iona Sheehan longs for family and all that family means. Her old grandmother instilled a love of Ireland in her and when Iona has the opportunity, she travels to Ireland. She is to spend time at a castle/hotel, but living nearby are her cousins, Branna and Connor O'Dwyer, and they take her in as family. Iona is good with horses and finds a job nearby also, working for Boyle McGrath who is pretty much all her fantasies come to life. Oh, did I mention that the cousins are hereditary witches with ties back to the 12th Century? And that there's Evil waiting for them, Evil that must be conquered now, since the three of them have been (re)united. 

It was pretty well-written but I couldn't help thinking I'd read it all before in the Circle Trilogy (Morrigan's Cross), only instead of vampires, this time we have witches. It's very much the same story. This book gave me a bit of the creeps, however, possibly because witches seem more "real" to me than vampires (having known some Wise Women over the years, and some would call them witches …) and there was something extra creepy about the villain. Maybe it's because it's really personal with this villain. It's not just take-over-the-world evil, it's "I want your soul" evil.

As always, the dialog is above average and the sibling relationships are warm. The sense of evil is well drawn. The foreboding. But the romance is given short shrift in favor of building the background story and I wanted more romance. Even in one of these trilogies, I expected more gradual progression of the relationship, more relationship-building between the two lovers in this book. I never really warmed up to Iona or to Boyle. 

I don't know if I'll read the other two books. The third won't be released until Fall, I think. I know how everyone will pair up and how it will end, except for the details, because again I've read this story before. Sometimes that can be comforting. Gracious, that must be one of the reasons I read all these Regencies and romances in general - HEA is guaranteed.

Probably for Nora fans only. But it you haven't read the Circle trilogy, I'm thinking this one might be a better read, especially for those of us who aren't much into paranormals with were-raccoons and such. I haven't been grading books lately. They're either good enough to finish reading or they're not (apart from the occasional train wreck). This one was good enough to finish reading, barely. 

Personal note: Mr. Bat is coming along. If you didn't know how sick he is and how grim his prognosis, you'd think he was a fairly healthy old man. We're following all the orders as to daily weight, diet, fluid intake, activity, and a ton of meds. We're hoping for a better outcome than predicted, but we're enjoying each day as it comes, and there's still a lot of laughter in this house. I feel honored to have been given the care of this brave and gentle man in his last (days?) (months?) on this earth. We must be the two luckiest people in the world. We appreciate your prayers, good wishes, and concern. Your caring means so much to us. It is truly a comfort.


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Behind the Red Door, by Jackie Barbosa. Drive-through review.

[ETA: After writing this review, I searched for other reviews, as is my habit. Once I've had my say, I like to see what others think. In this case, I learned in my search that the author has recently experienced an extraordinarily painful personal loss, and while I can't very well send her my usual lemon-pecan poundcake, and I cannot sit to bear witness to her pain and hold her while she cries, a review of one of her books is something I can do. Perhaps people will buy a book or two. There is also memorial fund information at Memorial fund information
May the God of Compassion, the God of Healing take Ms. Barbosa and her family into his loving arms and hold them close. In my faith tradition, this god knows what it is to have a son die.]

A friend recently suggested that I read Behind the Red Door, a collection of Regency novellas loosely connected in that all have something to do with a very high-end bordello. Friend said it might change my mind about erotic romance. Well, "might loosen you up a bit" were her words but it's much the same thing, right? I believe I read another of the author's books awhile back and found it well-written but a bit outside my comfort area. This book was inexpensive, the friend generally reliable, and I bit.

What sets these stories apart from the usual  - you know I'm not crazy about novellas - is that they are whole stories. There's a whole story, beginning, middle, and end, packed into, oh, 70 pages or so each, but they're not overstuffed with unnecessary detail. I got exactly as much backstory as I needed to understand motivation. The characters are distinct: I would never confuse one H for another in this collection. I found myself becoming invested in the outcome very quickly. Each story was satisfying and I felt that the characters would go on just fine. Kindle formatting perfect. I didn't notice any errors in grammar.

The stories are, first of all, romances, and they were unexpectedly … sweet is the only word I can think of. But they are erotic romances and - whew! - they are explicit and hot. Probably not all that much more explicit than your basic romance novel these days, but wowza. The scenes were well-written, though, not too purple, no unicorns in flight, no excessive conversation.

The first story was a lot of fun. The second story has a character with war-related PTSD so you know that the hero, Jack, is still on my mind this morning. The third one lost me a bit because H was such a jackass in about every possible way and I almost did not buy the premise, but in the end I did.

Something I appreciated was some of the asides. For example, one character, after donning a servant's dress to disguise herself, makes note of how uncomfortable and scratchy the fabric is, and resolves that in her house, the staff will have better fabric. There are a number of small things like that, showing me that the author *thought* about what she was writing. 

I've stopped giving letter grades for the moment. Books are either good enough to finish or they're not. This collection was good enough to finish, and I was sad to turn the last page and have it be over.


[ETA: Here's a non-affiliate Amazon link if you're curious: Amazon link to book]