Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Review: Tall, Dark, and Texan by Jodi Thomas

Teagen McMurrary would ride to hell and back to protect his land. He’d certainly never felt that way about a woman. At least not until Jessie Barton showed up with her three little girls, desperate for a place to stay. Suddenly he finds himself proposing marriage, telling himself it is only to protect her and her children …

Jessie had no place to go except Whispering Mountain—and to Teagen, the one person who couldn’t deny her, thanks to the correspondence he shared with her dead husband. But what will happen once the man she’s loved through his letters discovers her tangle of lies?

The third in the Whispering Mountain series, Tall, Dark, and Texan proved an enjoyable read from start to finish. I read the book over the holidays and found myself stealing away at odd moments from the family in order to sneak in a chapter or two.

Jessie is a perfect mix of vulnerability and strength. What I liked most about her was that she didn’t really understand how strong she was until she had to stand up for herself and her children. Her courage grew throughout the novel as did her confidence. Because of this, she was able to make a hard decision that proved the right one in the end. 

The romance between Teagen and Jessie developed at a lovely pace, each learning about the other quickly. I really enjoyed Jessie’s need to be near Teagen without really realizing what she was doing and Teagen’s half-hearted attempts to stop her. From the very beginning the reader knows Jessie is going to win him over in every way without Teagen becoming the typical Alpha-hero. She softened him from the instant she met him. Her secrets are quite understandable and Teagen, after his initial reaction comes to her quickly, lovingly because he realizes she only did what she had to do.

The best part of the romance, however, is two lonely people finding each other. Each are surrounded by family, yet each has a distant ache in their hearts, unable to truly connect with others. Teagen and Jessie complete each other and as a reader, I was wholly satisfied. I look forward to the final installment (will there be one?) featuring Sage and (hopefully) Drum.

Things I Liked

~ In the previous two books, I didn’t have a real liking for Teagen and so in picking up this novel, I was a bit wary. He’s mean, he’s crusty, he doesn’t talk much (I’m a beta-hero girl myself) but Ms. Thomas managed to shine a light into Teagan and gave the reader great understanding of his nature. By the end of his first meeting with Jessie, all my reservations died away.  

~ The children – they weren’t cookie cutter cutsey and they added real value to the story. I loved Bethie’s antics, Rose’s forthright nature but I truly loved the evolving relationship between Teagen and the oldest, Emily.

Things I Didn’t Like

~ There were a few clichés in the book – all things you expect to find in Western romances – the bad guy, the bad family coming to get the children and forcing a marriage … but I was able to overlook these for the most part.

Additional Info

Published  ~ November 2008

~ Price ~ $7.99

Series ~ Whispering Mountain: Texas Rain and Texas Princess

~ Favorite Jodi Thomas ~ Two Texas Hearts

~ Author Website ~ www.jodithomas.com

(this review can also be found at Reading Romance Books)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Is It 2009 Already? ... Crap

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions. I tend to cave easily and forget exactly what I resolved to do anyway. Plus I don't do things like: "I'm going to lose 15 pounds" (although this year I might to get rid of this baby weight and all the fudge I ate over the holidays) or "I am going to quit smoking" (because I don't smoke). Those are your typical resolutions, right?

I could say that I am going to be a nicer person but honestly, I am perfectly nice unless provoked. And OK, some would say I am easily provoked but whatever, I know my limitations. Other people should too.

However 2009 is a special year for me. It's the first year of my baby's life and our family dynamic will never be the same. It's so new and odd to me to be a mother, but wonderful all the same. Some days I wonder if I were crazy to embark on this journey but then I look at his beautiful face (and he smiles, its not gas, I swear!) and I know I am holding onto a miracle. 

Also this year I have several new writing projects lined up. Oh and that little, itty bitty rejection letter to consider. I know I said it didn't bother me and really, it doesn't ... except at like, you know, three in the morning when I am feeding Michael and my mind wanders into the dangerous self-doubt territory. Those 3 am doubts are particularly strong when I am tired and so I've decided to do something about them. As in, not have them. Ever. And to do that, I must resolve. 

Crap. A resolution after all. 

Here it is:

I hereby resolve to take the good and leave the bad. To see the small things as they are - realize when they are actually big and when they are insignificant. And to appreciate each gift I am given. 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Review: Christmas Pie by Emma Craig

Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. One of the things that makes the season so special is re-visiting all those traditions you’ve grown up with and the ones you’ve added on along the way. For me, one of those traditions is reading Emma Craig’s Christmas Pie at least twice. Once right before Thanksgiving and once closer to Christmas.

 Unlike most girls her age, Polly McNamara did not go out with friends to parties or on sleigh rides with charming beaux. She stayed home to take care of her ailing mother and only dreamed of a world of boundless riches and endless fun. But when shopping for a Christmas gift in Chinatown, she received a mysterious coin from an ancient-looking woman - and watched a series of remarkable events unfold...

 Soon, Polly's secret ingredient for happiness would appear in the unlikely form of her handsome and wealthy employer - James Drayton. She discovered he wasn't the snobbish and cold-hearted Scrooge she had always thought, but instead a lonely soul in need of a family. But could their love bridge the class divide and bring them the Christmas miracle they both needed? With a dash of faith and a pinch of patience, Polly set out to cook up a holiday wish as scrumptious as...Christmas Pie.

The book begins a little before Thanksgiving in San Francisco at the turn of the century. Polly, while walking home from work, wanders into a curio shop, drawn by a set of combs in the window she thinks her mother will love. In the shop she is given a coin by a strange old woman and soon the things she wishes for begin to come true. Enter then, James Drayton, Polly’s stern employer. James is a bit of a scrooge but something in Polly melts his cold exterior. Instead of just a typist, he begins to see her as a real person and eventually, the woman of his dreams.

Events, of course, conspire to keep them apart and a colorful cast of extras add rich layers to this Christmas tale. My favorite scene is most certainly when James’ rambunctious puppy has a run-in with a cart full of geese. The chemistry between James and Polly really begins to take off from there. She resists him, of course, for he is her employer and most certainly not of her class but James continues to win her over, starting first with her wheelchair bound mother, his dedication to orphans, and finally, helping to find her brother who was lost at sea.

At times a little purple in prose, this is most definitely a sweet romance worthy of any Christmas. A little bit of magic and mystery, a good dose of familial love and laughter, and the discovery of the one thing you’ve always longed for but never knew it … the perfect combination. I bought the book when it was first published and look forward to reading it each and every year. Out of print now, you can only purchase Christmas Pie used but I encourage anyone who stumbles across the gem to not let it slip through your fingers. 

(this review can also be found at Reading Romance Books)

Monday, December 15, 2008

An Update

That's the only word I can use to describe the past two weeks. 
Let me say it again. 

So. In the past two weeks, I have not:
1. Written a single word
2. Documented anything in the baby book I swore I was going to keep up to date. 
3. Read any of those historical novels
4. Watched a single episode of any of the shows I watch regularly. 
5. Really enjoyed a meal.
6. Written that blog post for the holiday avent tour

In the past two weeks, I have:
1. Changed 5,000 diapers
2. Slept in only one hour intervals
3. Fed baby boy approximately 1,256.87 times
4. Showered. Possibly. Not sure now.
5. Stared at baby in confusion, frustration, helplessness and adoration.

Now if you'll excuse me I must go change a diaper. And wander on over to ReadingAdventures to apologize for not posting that Christmas post. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Review: The Magic of Christmas by Carolyn Davidson, Victoria Bylin, and Cheryl St. John

A Christmas Child ~ Carolyn Davidson

Marianne Winters has no one in the world but her baby brother and, with Christmas approaching, she needs somewhere warm to stay. Will she find her home, and a loving heart, with the lonely pastor, David McDermott?

The lead-off story in this anthology, Carolyn Davidson’s tale really set the tone for Christmas. The story read like a sweetly inspired Christmas tale, set slightly away from deep point of view with strong relationships between Joshua and baby Jesus. 

I enjoyed Marianne and David’s story although I had trouble completely believing the love they felt for each other. I believed their love would grow, however, and so I was able continue reading without being bothered.

~ Favorite Carolyn Davidson: Homespun Bride

The Christmas Dove ~ Victoria Bylin

Maddie Cutler once snubbed bad boy Dylan McCall, but with nowhere else to turn she had come back to town – with a babe in arms. Dylan is a reformed man, and on seeing Maddie again he longs to heal her hurt – and claim her once and for all!

This is my first experience with Victoria Bylin’s writings and I can happily report that I will be on the lookout for her next effort. Her words flow effortlessly across the page, weaving a beautiful Christmas story about forgiveness and acceptance.

The story had potential to be a full-length book but Ms. Bylin did an excellent job of trimming down the details to create a lovely short story. The simplicity of Dylan’s love for Maddie was almost heart-breaking and his love fairly bled through the pages. Maddie, once a spoiled brat and now coming home in disgrace, was a well-rounded character, changed by the birth of her daughter. She was, at times, a little too hard on herself but Dylan provided the perfect balance.

Ms. Bylin, you have found yourself a new reader.

~ Author Website:  www.victoriabylin.com

A Baby Blue Christmas ~ Cheryl St. John

Turner Price hasn’t been the same since he lost his wife and child. But when he finds a young woman and newborn twin babies in his stable, he realizes this may be his second chance to be a loving husband and father, just in time for Christmas!

Easily my favorite story of the three, I went into reading this one expecting to feel that way and was not disappointed. Cheryl St. John is one of my favorite Western romance writers.

Turner and Gabby were truly made for each other – strong and sure, they found themselves in the midst of an almost impossible situation and came through better for their experiences, with each other and Gabby’s sweet nephews.

If anything detracted from the story it is a well-used Western cliché to round out the end of the story and help our hero realize that he really does love our heroine. However, the story was so engaging that even though I knew it was coming, I breezed through the last few pages unbothered and saddened when the story ended.

~ Favorite Cheryl St. John: Sweet Annie

~ Author Website: http://cherylstjohn.blogspot.com/

On a personal note: I read this book at nights, usually at three or four in the morning, while feeding my newborn son. At a time when I am struggling through exhaustion and the slightly panicky feeling of new motherhood, this book helped calm my fears with relatable characters and situations. I owe these authors a debt of gratitude for the comfort they offered.

Additional Info

~ Published: October 2008

~ Price:  $5.99

(this review can also be found at Reading Romance Books)

Why I've Been MIA or Baby Love

Born Sunday November 30 at 3:09 am. Weighed 7 lbs, 8 oz, 20.5 inches long.

Welcome to the world Michael Lee

He's quickly become the light of my life. The nights are long, my heart breaks when he cries, but when he sighs and turns his head toward my voice, I quickly forget every bit of exhaustion and just LOOK at him. 

The Husband and I are blessed beyond measure. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Nicest Rejection Letter

Back in April I went to the Chicago Spring Fling sponsored by Chicago's RWA. I had a lovely time, my second time attending and I even had the chance to pitch to an editor at one of my choice publishers. She was such a sweet person - very encouraging and happy and she asked for a partial and synopsis. So I ran home and tidied everything up and sent it off and crossed my fingers. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, earlier this week a package came to my house and I knew immediately what it was. They had rejected my partial. My heart sank down around my ankles. The Husband opened it up for me and began to read the letter. And as he read, my heart started to rise up back into my chest, inflate just a little bit. Because although the manuscript was rejected, the editor wrote that I was a very talented writer. Me. A Very. Talented. Writer. 

So thank you nameless editor. You rejected me, but you did it in such a way that I didn't even cry. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To Read or Not To Read ~ Historical Fiction

I have a confession to make ... I don't want to read historical fiction. 


Yes, it's true. I've gone to the library and bookstores, I've read the reviews online, I've picked up the books and thumbed through them and thought "this sounds really good" ... and yet, I can't bring myself to read them. Why?

Because I like a happy ending. And one book ruined them all for me. (cough, cough ... Cold Mountain ... Charles Fraizer, are you listening?)

Let's face it, in most historical fiction novels, the guy isn't going to get the girl. Nope, in most cases, something really tragic happens. Which is why the events were impressive enough to be recorded in the first place. History loves to be gloomy. So when a book is based on a true historical events, you are bound to put down the book feeling cheated out of your happily ever after. And so that's why I don't read them. But lately, the urge to really give one a try has gotten stronger. I mean, maybe I am wrong. Maybe it doesn't always happen that. Maybe I just happened to chose the one book guaranteed to prejudice me against historical fiction for all of time. Maybe. 

And so, in the spirit of trying new things (and since I am out of things to read until a new crop of books gets published), I have turned to the one thing I vowed I would never do. Read. Historical. Fiction. 

My heart actually hurts at the thought of all that time spent reading, enjoying the rich tapestry of the author's world only to be blindsided at the end. But I am going to give it a shot. I really am. I chose three books from the library yesterday and one of them is going to be good. I hope. I already know the story of The Other Boleyn Girl (although I refused to see the movie - just as I refused to see Cold Mountain much as I love me some Jude Law). So I am not going into that one blind. The others? We shall find out. I'll keep you posted. 

Here are the quick book blurbs:

The Other Boleyn Girl ~
When Mary Boleyn comes to court as an innocent girl of fourteen, she catches the eye of Henry VIII. Dazzled by the king, Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family's ambitious plots as the king's interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne. Then Mary knows that she must defy her family and her king, and take her fate into her own hands.
The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte ~
Charlotte Bronte, the beloved author of Jane Eyre, lived a quiet and private life in her father's Yorkshire parish. Or did she? What if a diary was uncovered that revealed her secret involvement in one of the most thrilling adventures of the 19th century?
Upon learning that she has been falsely accused of breaching her publishing contract, the normally mild-mannered Charlotte sets off for London to clear her name. But when she unintentionally witnesses a murder, Charlotte finds herself embroiled in a dangerous chain of events. With the aid of her sisters, Emily and Anne, and of the suspiciously well-informed but irresistibly attractive brother of the victim, Charlotte works to unravel a deadly web of intrigue that threatens now only her own safety but the very fabric of the British Empire. Charlotte is plunged into a perilous adventure and a passionate romance that leads her from the peaceful Yorkshire moors to the crime-infested streets of London, across the seat to the Continent, to the ports of Cornwall, the wilds of Scotland, and the palaces of Queen Victoria herself. Will Charlotte be able to stop a devious invisible villain whose schemes threaten her life, her family, and her country?
The Sealed Letter ~
Miss Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a "woman of business" and a spinster pioneer in the British women's movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her cause by the sudden return of her once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen's failing marriage to a stuffy admiral and her obsessive affair with a young army officer. What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama that rivals the Clinton affair - complete with stained clothing, accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape, and a mysterious sealed letter that could destroy more than one life. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Teaser Tuesday ~ Delicious

Today's teaser comes from Delicious by Sherry Thomas
Three years had passed since she kissed him goodbye, weeping uncontrollably. He didn't remember her name, or anything else about her. But he'd known instantly that she loved him. 
(pg. 106 paperback)
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should Be Reading:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

This Girl Recommends ~ If His Kiss Is Wicked (Jo Goodman)

(review can also be round at Reading Romance Books)

Shy by nature, Emma Hathaway usually leaves the drama to her rebellious cousin, Marisol. But when Emma agrees to meet with her cousin’s secret lover to end the affair, she is pulled into a dangerous game. Now Emma is convinced her involvement in the scandal has put her life in jeopardy. The trouble is none of Emma’s confidantes believe anyone is trying to harm her. As whisper of madness begin, Emma turns to the only person who might be able to help …

The very handsome, barely respectable Restell Gardner has gained a reputation for helping people out of compromising positions. Never one to turn away a lady in need, Restell agrees to help solve the intrigue. Sensing there is more to the green-eyed beauty than meets the eye, Restell feels himself falling for Emma. But he resists succumbing to his passion … at least until he learns the truth about the danger that is haunting her. For if he gives into temptation too soon, he could lose Emma forever …

In most cases I like to recap the plot in my reviews but this time around, I think I’ll keep that part to myself. Why? Because the plot is unbelievably grand and therefore I think readers should be able to savor the book page by page instead of having an idea of what happens. The back blurb should be enough to satisfy.

I admit, I have author crush on Jo Goodman. Why? Because her books cannot be considered your run of the mill Regencies. They are dark, they are brooding and they make you think – all things that occur in If His Kiss Is Wicked. I would never want to be Emma Hathaway, not after the horrors she endures but if in being so, I was delivered to the care of Restell Gardner, well, the lady does not end up with a bad deal.

Funny, charming, obtuse and dangerous, Restell Gardner is the perfect combination of an Alpha and Beta hero. Sure, he takes command and does what needs doing, but only after intense thought and deliberation. He never dives in head first and because Emma is a strong heroine, she is involved in most of his decisions.

As for Emma, like most of Goodman’s heroines, she is reserved and smart – able to think and do for herself even when the family she blindly loves condemns her for her actions. She doesn’t accept the fact that she may be mad, she goes out and tries to prove otherwise. This is the kind of heroine I love the most, the kind that really deserves the happy ending.

Things I Liked:

  • The intrigue. I’m not a big fan of mystery and suspense in my romance novels – that is to say, I don’t intentionally seek it out unless I have previous experience with an author. For the most part I think it’s because in most cases, the villain is obvious. Goodman, however, kept me guessing until the very end. I thought I had it all figured out and then in the final pages, the truth hit me between the eyes. Perhaps it had been obvious throughout and I had been too caught up in the story, thinking I already knew the villain, to give it much thought. Bravo Ms. Goodman. 
  • The art references. The characters are intelligent beings who are not undermined by under-researched material. The book is very well researched and the references are well woven into the story. I never felt as though information was being foisted upon me and when done reading, I rather felt like I knew more about art in Regency England than I had previously.
  • As always, Ms. Goodman’s dialogue is superb. And her pacing to be marveled at.
  • My favorite scene was the one in which Restell proposed marriage and Emma accepted with hardly a hesitance. It’s refreshing to read a romance in which love is the easy part. And Restell is at his best in this scene – it shows his respect for Emma as a person, not an object. He recognizes and comes to love her for her intelligence and opinions. Consider: 

“Your ability to put me out of patience is unnatural. What do you suppose would come of a marriage between us?”

“Children, I suspect.” He glanced at her lap and saw her hands were bunched into fists again. It seemed prudent to elaborate. “We would have mutual respect and admiration, tolerance of each other’s foibles and vanities, and a partner for the waltz and whist. We should share a home, the newspaper, a box at the theatre, perhaps a piece of fruit from time to time – I am fond of oranges – and naturally enough, a bed.”

(pg. 190-191)

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • Marisol ~ she seemed to be a two-dimensional character is a sea of well-rounded others. But then, there is always more than meets the eye.
  • Ms. Goodman began a character trait here in her heroine that she later repeated in The Price of Desire. I found the trait (Emma physically attacks Restell without seeming to know what she is doing) a distraction for it smacked too closely of Olivia and Griffin.
  • Emma’s willingness to believe the best in everyone, even after the vicious attack she sustained.

Additional Info:

  • Published ~ September 2007
  • Price ~ $6.99
  • Favorite Jo Goodman ~ This one takes the top spot: If His Kiss Is Wicked
  • Author Website ~ www.jogoodman.com

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Carmel Apple Love

In charge of the appetizer for Thanksgiving? Scrambling yet? I have your solution. A five minute solution. A solution so easy, The Husband even offered to do it for me. Carmel Apple Dip. And no, not straight from the tub. This does actually require some work so you don't have to feel guilty about your lack of effort. 

All you need is a tub of carmel dip (16 oz) and a bar of cream cheese (you're already adding carmel, no need to get fat free, go for the glory!). And a bag of apples. I prefer the Honeycrisp variety (btw, there are an amazing amount of websites out there dedicated to apples ... ). 

Heat the cream cheese in the microwave for 30 seconds, then using a mixer, combine the carmel and cream cheese. Cut up the apples and wa-la! A simple app for not much money or time. The only problem? Getting it to your destination without eating the whole batch first! And even after refridgeration, the dip is still nice, smooth and easy to get on that apple slice.

Next up - Apple Cider

A gallon of apple cider, a carton of Aspen Mulling Company Spiced Apple Cider Drink Mix and a little bit of rum. Just a little bit of rum, so that when you're pulling the turkey out of the oven you don't lose your grip and send that fabulous bird sliding across the floor. I keep the whole mixture on low heat on the stove all day (just make sure you stir occasionally so the bottom doesn't start to burn). Then after the family has returned to the comforts of their own home, feel free to add a bit more rum.

Of course, it's still just as good without the rum, but not half as fun. 

(I did not intent to rhyme. Don't make fun.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Comfort Reads

It's the beginning of winter here in Central Illinois, complete with cold winds and snow. Which always brings to mind my "comfort reads". These are books that I turn to again and again each winter to get me through the chilly months when I absolutely despise going outside to the library or my favorite book store.

I messed around with Picasa today and found a way to collage images so the above is a random sorting of some of my favorite books. I thought about posting lightening quick reviews on each of them but I would only drool over each one of them and become boring, so look at the pretty pictures instead.

(if you click on the picture, you can get a better view of it)
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Teaser Tuesday ~ Birdsong

Today's teaser comes from Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
He felt the simple elation of his victory, the fact that it was he who had won, who had persuaded Isabelle against the weight of convention and sound argument to do the difficult and dangerous thing. And there was the deeper happiness of being with this woman, whom he loved ...
(pg. 96 trade paperback)
Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should Be Reading:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

A Review ~ Secret Desires of a Gentleman by Laura Lee Guhrke

Today I posted my first review over at Reading Romance Books. This week's selection was Laura Lee Guhrke's Secret Desires of a Gentleman. So head on over to take a peek. 

Overall, it wasn't my favorite of Guhrke's but it was still an enjoyable read once I overlooked certain pet peeves. Like the insufferable alpha-hero who persisted in misunderstanding the feisty heroine for most of the book. As far as the Girl Bachelor series goes, this was definitely the weak link. If you are new to Guhrke, don't start with this one but no need to skip it either. 

Let me know what you think!