Thursday, December 28, 2006

Title: My Lady Notorious
Author: Jo Beverley
Published: 1993, Signet
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7.5/10

This is my entry into Angie's TBR challenge for December. We had to read a book pub'd prior to 2006, which wasn't too hard for me since I seem to be discovering lots of old classics recently. I've never read Jo Beverley before and have wanted to for a while. She's a big name in the genre. This is the first book in her Malloren series set in the Georgian period.

I really liked this book, but I read it two weeks ago and I don't think I can come up with a plot summary. A lot happens. I'll hit the high points: the heroine, Chastity, dresses up as a highwayman and captures the coach of Lord Cyn Malloren. Cyn wants some adventure so he goes along with her as she pretends to be a man in order to trick her father and deliver her sister to her affianced. They must figure out all the political intrigue surrounding her father and try to fix her ruined reputation.

Good writing and way more historical detail than you usually find. Not that I can tell you if it was all actually accurate, but it had a genuine feel to it, as if the author had really done her research. Very much a classic romance, but quite well done. The masquerade scene was awesome.

Yay another new author I really like! And she has tons of books out there. I think I'll get the next Malloren book, but according to her website she also has a medieval series that I want to try.

Christmas Loot

Mee hee hee!! Look at all my new books!

Friday, December 22, 2006

A quilt for Grandma

Twin and I finished the lap quilt we made for our Grandma! Phew. That was close. Here is a little picture and if you want more, you can go to Twin's blog where she has a whole post devoted to it.

We're heading home tonight to spend Christmas with the fam. Woo hoo!! I've been packing and trying my best to keep myself from sticking a bunch of books into my bag. I know I'm getting some as presents, so why do I still feel compelled to lug some with me?

Everyone have a happy, happy holiday!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A snowy little village

I don't have any book reviews to post right now because, like most everyone else, I am busy, busy getting ready for the holiday. Not much time for reading with all the present-buying and -making. (Super-crafty Twin and I decided at the last minute to make a lap quilt for our grandma. We like to do things last minute. I didn't have high hopes, but it's turning out better than expected.)

Another reason I have nothing book-related to share is that Twin and I spent a ridiculous amount of time this weekend making gingerbread houses. Martha Stewart had a little piece on making them out of graham crackers and they were so cute that we had to give it a try. She presented it as a kiddie project, but it entertained two (mostly grown-up) adults quite well too. We might have gotten a little carried away.

We built a whole village. We weren't too concerned with making it tasty, as we had no plans to eat it. Aesthetics and construction were our foremost considerations. We got together and wrote a tour for our respective blogs:

The Little Big Red Cottage has a gummy roof and gum drop chimney. Look at its little curly shingles!

The Mayor's house is rightly the most imposing in the village. Twizzler beams and a chocolate wafer porch. It is truly a non-pareil. I decided I would live here, though Julie doubts my mayoral abilities. Like all houses in our village, it has a resident snowman.

Next to the lake is Necco Wafer House. It's made of sesame seed thingies and during construction I had serious doubts about it. Julie maintains that it is charming. I guess I can see the appeal.

Across the lil footbridge is Coffee Bean Cabin. We both agree that the coffee beans were a stroke of genius. (Julie's stroke, I will admit. She is right resourceful sometimes.) The chocolate-wafer chimney and chocolate-pretzel fence are nice touches too. Also note that snowmen in our village wear non-pareil hats.

Next we have Those Neighbors. You know, I'm sure you have some of your own. They're the ones who are slightly odd ducks. They find their gumball stylishness in great good taste, and who are we to question that? However their starlite mint door has started oozing from an unexpected and unseemly chemical reaction with the coconut snow.

Every snowy village needs a little igloo. Ours has a starlite mint divan inside.

The Starlite Manor is suffering greatly from the aforementioned chemical reaction but still looks quite fine. A fine upstanding house. The only graham cracker one on the block. Take that, Martha.

The huge mess we made with all this sticky, sugary goodness was in direct proportion to how much fun we had. :o)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Title: Nature Girl
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Published: 2006, Knopf
Category: General Fiction
Rating: 8/10

Carl Hiaasen is an author whose books are unlike anything else I read. I tend to go for my "nice" romances or mysteries. Hiaasen's books are gritty and cynical by comparison. They're sort of mysteries, but I think I'd label them more satire than anything else. He just likes to make fun of ridiculous, greedy people--and he is so funny. I have to be in just the right mood, but when I'm there I love his books.

His plots are so twisted and strange that they're hard to explain. Before I started this one, I asked a friend who had just finished it what it was about. She looked at me, disconcerted, and finally just said, "Shenanigans." And that's exactly what they are! But I'll try my best for a brief synopsis.

Honey Santana is just sitting down to dinner with her son when they are interrupted by a telemarketer call. Like most people, she is extremely annoyed by hearing a sales pitch while she'd like to be having a pleasant meal. Honey, who is not the most mentally stable, decides to get even with the telemarketer. She figures out who he is, calls him at home, and convinces him that she's a realtor giving out free trips to Florida for people who will come down to listen to a sales pitch. Boyd Shreave decides a free trip to a Bahamas-like destination will be just the thing for him and his mistress. When Boyd and the mistress arrive, Honey takes them on a kayaking trip to an island called Dismal Key. This is no caribbean getaway--it's a swampy island in the most desolate area of the Everglades. They're followed there by a private eye hired by Boyd's wife to get evidence of Boyd's infidelity; Honey's ex-boss who is infatuated with her and now a crazed stalker; and Honey's ex-husband and son, who are worried about Honey. This crazy cast of characters gets into all kinds of trouble running around the deserted island.

Last month I went to a Carl Hiaasen reading/signing that was really interesting. He was talking about how he never outlines his stories and generally doesn't know how they're going to end until at least half-way through writing. He said that if he can see exactly where the story is going, then it's too boring. He creates these completely zany characters and just lets them bounce off one another. Pretty amazing that his stories come out so polished and cohesive.

Anyway, he's a fantastic writer. Everyone always talks about an author's "voice" and sometimes I don't know what the hell they're on about. But with Hiaasen, I get it. That wry, cynical humor is unique, I think. I laughed my ass off on this one. Seeing the idiotic schmuck of a telemarketer get caught up in such a fiasco is priceless. Cathartic, too.
If the trip continued on its present downward trajectory, the dimension of this particular failure would dwarf all the others in Shreave's lackluster past. As usual he deflected both blame and responsibility; cruel chance had imbedded him here--stranded on a scraggly island with a psychotic divorcee, an increasingly unresponsive girlfriend and a half-barbecued cock. [He's accidentally shot himself in the groin with a Taser. ROFLMAO.]
Whenever you run up against some pathetic example of humanity and start to worry about the state of the human race, it's time to read some Carl Hiaasen to remember that at least you can always laugh about it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Advent Blog Tour - December 12

Hello all! Welcome to day 3 of Marg and Kailana's Advent Blog Tour. I've got an excerpt, a recipe, and a little giftie down at the bottom for you.

A Christmas Carol
First, a little piece of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I have to admit that I don't have much use for Dickens generally, but A Christmas Carol is a holiday tradition for me. I read it nearly every year, because it is so lovely and puts me in just the right mood for Christmas. Here is one of my favorite bits, when Scrooge is being haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Present:
But soon the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel, and away they came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes, and with their gayest faces. And at the same time there emerged from scores of bye streets, lanes, and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying their dinners to the bakers' shops. The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner-carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humour was restored directly. For they said, it was a shame to quarrel upon Christmas Day. And so it was! God love it, so it was!
"Is there a peculiar flavour in what you sprinkle from your torch?" asked Scrooge.
"There is. My own."
"Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?" asked Scrooge.
"To any kindly given. To a poor one most."
"Why to a poor one most?" asked Scrooge.
"Because it needs it most."
I love the idea of a Christmas spirit sprinkling us with happy dust. Because that's what Christmas feels like to me--general warm fuzzies that I cannot wholly explain. Family and good food and presents. Traditions and memories of past happy holidays. A chance to just be jolly to all you meet.

Viennese Snowballs

Every year my mom makes batches and batches of Christmas cookies. My favorites have always been Viennese Snowballs, walnut cookies that are rolled in powdered sugar. They are simple cookies--easy ingredients and easy directions, but so delicious.
1 cup walnuts
1 cup butter, at room temp.
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
confectioner's sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350 F. Pulverize walnuts into a paste in an electric blender. With a wooden spoon or fingers, mix the walnuts, butter, sugar, and flour to a smooth dough. Shape the dough into small balls. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet until lightly browned, about 15-18 minutes. Cool one minute. While still warm, roll the cookies in the confectioner's sugar.

And the Little Giftie
Thanks to the amazing creative efforts of Twin, here is an assortment of gift tags just for you. Click on the image below to download and print out on regular 8 1/2 X 11 paper.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

For my big brother

My brother is here visiting us this weekend. (YAY!) Last night he was perusing my bookshelves and making some snide comments. (BOO!) So I must direct him to this awesome post written by Smart Bitch Candy. To prove that lots of seriously intelligent women read (and love) romance.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Title: Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: 1998, Signet
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 6/10

Yes, I'm still reading Carla Kelly. I've been stressed out at work, so I've needed something sweet and nice to read. Unfortunately, this one was really sad and kind of depressing. It was still good, but not exactly the light reading I was expecting.

Miss Jane Milton is the poor relation living with some distant cousins, Lord Denby and Lady Carruthers. For the last 10 years she's been raising Lord Denby's grandson, Andrew, since his mother died in a tragic accident. Six months before the book starts, Andrew's father is killed from injuries sustained at the Battle of Waterloo. Lady Carruthers decides that Andrew must start school though Jane does not want him to, so they compromise by having Andrew tutored by their neighbor, Scipio Butterworth. Scipio invites Jane and Andrew to spend Christmas with him and his brother's family. Jane and Andrew, who are still grieving for his father, have some respite from the uncomfortableness at Denby Hall and, for a while, get to be part of a loving family.

I liked seeing Jane decide to "speak her mind," to give up just dutifully going along with the wishes of others and concentrate on what she needed and wanted. The secrets that she's been keeping are very sad and tragic--she had so much to deal with, it was lovely to see her have a happy ending. But I wasn't completely convinced by the romance between her and Scipio. It found it a little disappointing.

Carla Kelly is known for writing about "extraordinary" ordinary people. Her main characters aren't of the gentry. Scipio in this is a mill owner, and she has some interesting insights into the very earliest stages of the industrial revolution.

I read in an interview that Kelly had a death in the family around the time this was written and I think this book must have been the result. It is very much about the grieving process and how to get on with life after tragedies. All in all, I did like it, but it's way too gloomy for me to ever want to read again. I don't do sad. :)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Santa Blah

I was going to do a proper review for this, but I've decided not to. I don't read short stories very often because I just don't like them. I need a longer story I can sink my teeth into. Romance short stories especially don't work for me--a real love story can not be told so quickly, imo. I think this is a big part of why this anthology was so disappointing to me.

I was seduced into buying it because I'm a Jennifer Crusie fangirl. I love her books. Her story, "Hot Toy," was cute--it's got her funny dialogue. But the plot was so, so far-fetched that I couldn't get past it. Was it supposed to be a joke?

I've never read Lori Foster or Carly Phillips and these stories didn't make me want to change that. Both the stories could have been titled "People Have Sex with a Christmas Tree in the Background." They felt sort of trashy. And not in a good way. I was squicked out by "Christmas Bonus," which had a 32-year-old who has been horny for a girl he's known for five years, since she was 17. ICKY! And "Naughty Under the Mistletoe" was better, but so cliche. Two strangers meet and four hours later, he's thinking, "For the first time, he wanted to connect with a woman in more places than in bed." Ugh. It had some truly cringe-worthy sentences.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Title: Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: 1992, Signet
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 7/10

I love this old cover, don't you? Classic!

Ellen Grimsley wants nothing more than to escape her ridiculous family and go away to school at Oxford. Of course, education was limited for women back then, and once she gets to Miss Dignam's Select Female Academy, she is disappointed to learn that the most strenous courses she'll be taking are embroidery and French. She would rather study geography and Shakespeare. So when her non-scholarly brother asks her to help him out by writing his paper on A Midsummer Night's Dream, she jumps at the chance. Soon James Gatewood, Lord Chesney, is taking an interest in her--both for her enthusiastic scholarship and her charming self. :)

This was lovely too! I heart Carla Kelly. My only problem with this book is that once Ellen admits to herself that she's in love with James Gatewood, I didn't really understand her reluctance to accept his proposal. It bordered on the dreaded Forced Conflict. But, still lovely. Women are so lucky these days to be able to do pretty much whatever they want. This book makes me appreciate that.

And, while this book does make a strong case for female education, it doesn't sacrifice historical accuracy to make Ellen an anachronism. She ends up settling for less than she wants at the end because she was ahead of her time. She is satisfied with her own scholarship and her husband's esteem, and acknowledges that she won't be accepted amongst the men of Oxford. I think this is very admirable.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

DNF: After the Night

I know, I know. It's a classic! I got halfway through and had to give it up. I think part of the problem was genre whiplash. From Carla Kelly to this was a little much. But I just couldn't take any more Gray--talk about a guy who's led around by his dick. Horny bastard. Blech.

But I'm keeping it because I think when I'm in the right mood, I might like it better.

Title: Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand
Author: Carla Kelly
Published: 1994, Signet
Category: Regency Romance
Rating: 9/10

Back when the AAR Top 100 list was going around, JMC recommended Carla Kelly. It's taken a while for me to get around to her, first because they're pretty hard to find, and second because I'm afraid I'm a bit of a snob and don't read many trads. Well, now I've been proven wrong and have learned again the lesson not to judge a book by its cover, or its genre. This was delightful and I loved every minute of it.

Roxanna Drew is a young widow whose husband has recently died from a longlasting illness, leaving her with two little daughters and no money. Her only family is her brother-in-law, Lord Whitcomb, who makes a smarmy proposition which Roxanna cannot even stomach contemplating. She finds a small cottage on a neighboring estate and rents it, even though it is in near ruin. The owner of their new home soon comes visiting--Fletcher Rand, Lord Winn is a military man newly home from the war. The evil Lord Whitcomb is still vying for a way to get Roxanna into his bed and puts forward an official complaint to the sheriff that Roxanna is an unfit mother. He tells her that he will take her children away from her if she does not move into his house. Lord Winn, by now good friends with Roxanna, decides they must marry to save the children. Or at least that's what he tells her. But he likes her. :)

In a lot of ways the plot is standard romance--improbable circumstances which lead two relative strangers to marry, running to Gretna Green. And in some ways it's completely atypical--Roxanna truly loved her first husband and must grieve for him, then get over the guilt she feels at loving another. Lord Winn divorced his first wife because she was unfaithful, and admits that through all his anger and resentment, he did love her. His patience with Roxanna as she comes to terms with their marriage is phenomenal and so endearing.

I think this will become a comfort read for me, because everything is just so . . . nice! And so lacking in melodrama, which is my most common problem with romance books. It's really funny in parts--her dialogue is great. I feel a glom coming on.

I read in this interview from 1998 that Kelly gave up writing regencies because the pay was so paltry. Which is very sad. But I was searching on Amazon and it looks like she has a new book out in March from Harlequin Historical--Beau Crusoe. Sounds like a swashbuckling romance, no? Anyone know anything about it?