Wednesday, November 20, 2019

A Short and Sweet Review: Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz

If you are a fan of all things Julia you will love this might even become a personal treasure that you enjoy rereading as your beef bourguignon is percolating in the oven. If you've written Julia Child off as a skit on SNL, you'll be delightfully surprised by how accessible and personable the real woman was. And if you've ever pursued a dream, trying to make it real, this book will stick with you long after you turn the last page.

I had heard how little Julia knew about cooking before moving to France with her dear husband, Paul. (in the 'how to husband' handbook, they should put a chapter on Paul!). But I was blown away...oh my, she ate dreadfully and really, it wasn't her fault. She just hadn't met a beautiful filet of sole marinating in a luscious puddle of butter yet.

But she will, and that's so much a part of the fun of this book. Really, Julia had quite a life story going (yes, she was working in the precursor of the CIA during WWII!) before she found her life's calling. But once she found it she dove in head first and never looked back.

So much of her story is also a love story about her life with Paul, and readers will want to know more about this creative and supportive man. But it's also the story of so many cooks who learned to love their craft because of a woman who fell in love with food and then made the rest of us fall in love too.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Short and Sweet Review: Wish Upon a Cowboy by Jennie Marts

Harper Evans’ luck has been very bad. She trusted her mother and that landed her in the county Jail, with custody of her son going to her mother-in-law, who was never her fan. She’s free now and ready to reclaim her son and make a fresh start, the only problem is she’s broke and stuck in a Colorado mountain town with no friends and only a slim thread of hope to hang onto.

Logan Rivers just fired his housekeeper because her idea of keeping house had more to do with playing between the sheets than washing them. Now he’s running the family ranch while his dad is out of town and doesn’t have time for cleaning house and putting three squares on the table every day. Plus, the learning disability he struggled with in his youth has led to what seems like an insurmountable problem that could cost the ranch thousands, not to mention what little self-respect he still has.

When Harper applies to be Logan’s new housekeeper she decides not to tell him about her son, or her bad luck with the law. Her new job might solve one problem for them both, but neither of them expects the growing attraction they start to feel. Logan’s luck in love has been lousy and he’s not anxious to be hurt again. Harper came to town looking for her son and she can’t get him back without a steady job and a place to live. If she risks her heart with Logan and tells him the truth does she put her future with her son at risk?  

Once again Ms. Marts is drawing her readers back to the cowboys of Creedance, Colorado and readers will be happy to go on this journey. Personally, this is my favorite book of this series thus far. The author has written compelling characters with fleshed out back stories. Plus, with each new book Marts adds layers to the community of Creedance and its citizens. By now readers are feeling very much at home with the folks they’ve come to love and root for in this little mountain town. There’s no doubt they’ll be rooting for Harper and Logan as well.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Short and Sweet Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

I am not normally a fan of ‘Best Of’ lists, like best books of the year, best summer reads, etc. I find they tend toward either the depressing or the pretentious. Why is that? Why can’t lists like that be filled with fun books that you’ll find hard to put down and even harder to say farewell to when you reach the end? But that’s a topic of another post.

I’m also not particularly into the ancient Greed gods, although I do have the basic working knowledge a liberal arts education affords those who at least pay some attention in class. So you can imagine how uninterested I might be in a ‘Best Of’ book that revolves around the Greek gods. I know, right? And yet...

Circe kept showing up on list after list; it kept being mentioned here and there in various interviews and articles. I’ve even heard it’s been optioned for a TV series. Plus, I am a fan of Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series. The delightfully strong-willed heroine is, as her fans know, completely smitten with the ancient Greeks, so you get a little schooling in that arena along with a great story to boot. In other words, all the pieces were in place for me to finally jump in and read Circe. And I’m so glad I did!

Author Madeline Miller has done an ingenious job of taking the ancient gods and incorporating their existing stories into a fully developed tale of Circe, the daughter of Helios, the sun god, who traverses the heavens daily, spreading the sunlight from sunrise to sunset. While he’s an awesome god, he’s not much of a dad. Still, Circe is devoted to him and follows him everywhere. She’s the classic odd-kid-out of the family: not as lovely as her sisters, not as talented at, really, anything.

Circe longs for acceptance and love, but she’s the independent type as well and she’s discovered a growing knowledge of herbology, along with a talent for witchcraft. When she finds love in the wrong place—with a mortal—and breaks a BIG rule in the god realm in the process of trying to make her love acceptable, Zeus commands she pay a price. And with gods, those prices can be steep. She’s banished to live alone forever on a remote island.

You’d think she’d be devastated, but Circe finds satisfaction in being removed from the petty concerns of the gods. She’s able to find herself and develop her talents. Not that it’s easy, or fast. These things take time, centuries even. And gaining wisdom from what you learn takes even longer.

This could have been a long slog through eternity with Circe alone on that island. But it turns out she gets a lot of visitors. Hermes, the god of, well, a bunch of stuff, keeps popping in. He’s full of the latest gossip and good for a turn between the sheets. She knows he’s also reporting back to the curious gods what’s happening on her island—gods love gossip, it seems. Pretty soon mortals come to her shores as well. And let’s just say, you don’t want to come to her house with anything but good intentions. She can be an unforgiving hostess.

Despite the occasional bad guest, Circe finds herself growing more and more fond of those pesky mortals. Aren’t they cute? Some are even lovable. The gods, however, haven’t forgotten her and she gets a brief reprieve from island life to help out her relatives, but you know how it is when you visit relatives, the results can be monstrous-literally.

Eventually, the reason you probably know Circe’s name arrives: Odysseus, hero of The Odyssey. (You read that in school, right? No? neither, but I get the idea and you will too.) Soon, he is smitten with Circe and she with him, although with mortals, nothing lasts forever. Her relationship with Odysseus sets into motion all the pieces needed to pull together Circe’s lose ends. There are still many twists and turns ahead for her and I don’t want to give anything more away, so I’ll leave you with this. Read this book, it’s quite an epic tale of its own. You’ll be glad you did and, like so many good books, it will stick with you after you’re done. Plus, you’ll learn all that great god info in a very user friendly venue—it’s a win/win.

Bottom line, this is one of the best written, most beautifully fleshed out page turners I’ve read in a long time. I’m in awe of Ms. Miller; she knows her stuff, both with the Greek gods and with the art of writing. Well done! the different gods as you meet them, it's fun to get a quick low down on each one's story and helps you better appreciate the big picture. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

For The Love of a Good Series: Cowboy’s of Creedance Series by Jennie Marts

#3 in the series: It Started With A Cowboy

I am late to the party with this fun cowboy/hockey romance by Jennie Marts. I missed the first two books(Caught Up In a Cowboy and You Had Me At Cowboy) but I’ll be going back to catch up on the other James brothers. In the meantime, let me tell you about this one...

Colt James is part of a large ranching family that seems to have an endless supply of handsome sons. And not just handsome, but good guys, in their ways. Though they’re cowboys they also love hockey, and Colt’s older brother is a professional hockey player. Colt had his own hockey dreams but an accident put an end to that and, even worse, an end to his confidence. In his mind, he’s cursed and no success can come his way in life or love.

Enter Chloe Bishop, an adorable, caring school teacher with a wicked case of ‘neat freak’. She likes a place for everything and everything in its place. Chloe came by this obsession after surviving an abusive father and now she’s taking so much control over her life that she doesn’t have much of a life beyond her classroom, her cat and her knitting.

Colt and Chloe had met before this story began, but just met, nothing more. Still, they made powerful impressions on each other and they haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Not that they’ve done anything about it. But their ‘good guy’ and ‘caring teacher’ sides meet up to help out some kids who want to play hockey. Now Colt and Chloe are growing closer and starting to turn what had been daydreams and fantasies in some very steamy encounters.

The question is, will their own insecurities get in the way of their happiness? And what about the neighbor’s ex-husband who just got out of prison...Chloe is all about protecting them from the same sort of abuse she suffered as a child, while Colt is all about protecting Chloe. You know their lives will get complicated before this story ends.

Jennie Mart’s is the author of many delightfully humorous romances and now that she’s turned her eye on the western version with this cowboy series she’s writing a whole new world of compelling and steamy romances with just the right touch of humor. That makes for a fun read and, if that’s your cup of tea, you need to check this one out!  

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

For The Love of a Good Series: The Charles Lenox Mystery Series by Charles Finch

As promised, here is the first of my new, now-and-then recurring blogs on great book series I have found and loved. Of course, great series are found in all genres, and if you read my blog regularly you know I do read a wide variety of genres. But if I’m reviewing a great series in a genre you haven’t read, that might be the prefect entre to a new world of reading. So give it a try!

This blog’s entry is in a genre I truly love: mysteries. You might know that I have a cozy mystery out there called Framed( A Kay Conroy Mystery). If you’re curious, click HERE to check it out, but I’ll leave any further chit chat on that book for another day. On to our new series: The Charles Lenox Mystery Series by CharlesFinch.

Set in Victorian England, our protagonist is an interesting and complicated character. I actually reviewed the first book in this series a couple of years ago so I’ll copy a little bit of that review from myself as an introduction.... (click HERE to read the entire review)

Set in Victorian England, Charles is a gentleman of the upper class with Parliamentary aspirations who has discovered he has a real talent as a detective. With time and means to pursue this talent he’s already earned a reputation among his peers-and Scotland Yard-for both good and bad outcomes. But he knows his way is the way of the future so, invited or not, he doesn’t stop until the crime is solved.

His neighbor and lifelong friend, Lady Jane, is a frequent companion with a great interest in Charles’ activities and well-being. Readers will wonder if something deeper is developing between these two and it very well may be.

Along the way readers are treated to a fun education in Victorian England. If you are a history buff as well as a lover of a good mystery, this one’s a page turner. And the good news is, once you turn the last page, there are nine more books to go.

But guess what-the good news is there are now eleven more to go! Charles Finch (interesting that he has the same first name as his hero, don't you think?) has been busy writing since that last entry and this is a series that’s still active-meaning we can expect even more books, which is THE most wonderful thing for readers who have fallen in love with any series.

A good series will not only entertain you with each individual book’s story (in this case, a mystery) but will also use each book to flesh out and build the character’s relationships. Some series seem to take forever to do that. In part this can be because each book follows quickly on the timeline of the last so not as much can occur in that amount of time. The Charles Lenox mysteries expand their timelines just enough that we can begin to live our protagonist’s life with him and the author can really develop a well fleshed out character with a full life.

Along with Lady Jane there are several other recurring characters whose stories, though minor, are often compelling. You’ll find yourself hoping to see how they are doing in each new book. Definitely a good sign for any series.

And of course, this is an historical series, so the opportunity to learn about the era in a very entertaining way is always there. As well as learning about the early days of detection, when the detective was not what he/she is today and their tools were far more limited. That means our author needs to be more creative with the story and character, unable to lean on science for quick answers. Which of course makes for a very entertaining read, that lucky for us readers, can last a long time with this intriguing series.

ps...if you become a fan, be sure to follow Mr. Finch on Facebook. His posts are fun for his readers and you'll have opportunities a plenty to win free books!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Short and Sweet Review: A Knight's Captive by Lana Williams

I love Ms. William’s books but I’m particularly fond of her medievals, so I’m delighted with the arrival of this third entry in her Falling For a Knight series, A Knight’s Captive. This series follows a family of English knights who are determined to save Scotland, at the risk of their own lives, from the wrath of the English king. That means stopping the Scottish Lord Graham from plotting Scotland’s rebellion.

Graham’s plotting depends upon the marriage of his daughter, Arabela, to Sir Rory, a particularly repulsive pawn of a man. Can you blame the girl for deciding to run away right before the wedding?

Meanwhile, Sir Chanse de Bremont has been tasked with kidnapping Graham’s daughter in order to stop the marriage and the rebellion. Imagine his surprise when he finds she’s on board with the leaving-the-castle part of the plan, but not so much the kidnapping. You’d think he could just let her go on her own but it’s pretty clear early on that she could use some help escaping—and surviving. After all, her father is not taking this new plan lightly. Everyone is searching for her and now those who have helped her are at risk as well.

While Arabela and Chanse have a common interest-avoid the wedding-their personal motivations are not the same and each has held back some of what it most dear to them from the other. This series has a magical component that plays into the storyline just enough to make a difference at the right moment, but mainly it is a major motivation for Sir Chanse to keep his plans close, hesitant to reveal more than is absolutely necessary to Arabela. Of course, Arabela wants to avoid marriage to the creepy and cruel Rory, but she understands some of what her father is up to as well. And she has a backup plan she’s not sharing.

Despite their small deceits and equal doses of stubbornness, each begins to see the better qualities in the other and soon there’s more attraction than just escape. As always, the author doesn’t disappoint readers; her characters are well written making the reader feel for each of them. The secondary characters are just enough and, often end up with a story of their own, down the line, so pay attention!

If you are a fan of historical romance, particularly in a medieval setting, you’ll find this an enchanting read so check it out now!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

For the Love of a Good Series

photo courtesy Open Book Bookstore

I finished reading a book last night and now I’m wondering what to read next? Yes, writers are avid readers too-maybe some of the most avid! I love the luxury of letting someone else spin a story for me, not knowing quite where the author will take me. But eventually, all good stories come to an end. Then what?

Well, as lots of readers have learned, a good series will keep you going and the story will (almost) never end. Of course, all stories come to an end, whether it’s a short trilogy, like my Keeper Series, or a crazy long one like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series—25 and counting. If you pace yourself, reading other authors here and there, a good book series can keep you entertained for years, leaving you no time to bemoan that there’s nothing to read.

Finding a good series, however, is the first step. Finding two or three is even better, because you can jump around series while still always having a ‘next book’ on the horizon. Not to mention that errant ‘single title’ that begs from the bestseller list to be read. And also, let’s be honest here, series don’t write themselves. We have to give authors time to come up with those wonderful story ideas, write the first draft, edit, edit, edit....edit some more and eventually, put their baby out there for all the world to enjoy. (While they go back and come up with ideas for the next one...we KNOW your waiting!)

With all of this in mind, I’ve decided to start another recurring column about book series, along the lines of my recurring ‘Short and Sweet Review’ columns where I review books I’ve read and mostly loved. The first one is coming soon, so keep an eye out. 

But in the meantime I thought I’d ask for you to share series titles with me. What book series (absolutely any genre!) have you loved over the years. Maybe you are still reading your way through...maybe you sigh, remembering the bittersweet moment you finished the very last book in a wonderful series. Yes, I’ve been there too. Don’t be shy, help your fellow readers out.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back soon with the first series recommendation and, over time, many more. Happy reading!