Monday, March 31, 2008

"Chaotic" Kelley Armstrong

AAAIIIEEEE!! I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get ready for my trip. The trip to HAWAII! That I leave for in just over a day! (If you could see me right now, you'd know that I just ran a circle around my living room.)

I did manage to read "Chaotic" -- Kelley Armstrong's short story in the anthology Dates from Hell. The story is part of her Women of the Otherworld series. I really liked it. While Hope's power is maybe not very flashy (she senses chaos, so she has visions of bad stuff happening and can read people's minds when they're having chaotic thoughts), her struggle dealing with it, and resisting the urge to revel in it, is really interesting. Both she and Karl (her love interest and a werewolf jewel thief) are just ever so slightly morally ambiguous, which I find quite refreshing. I had to read this story before I started Personal Demon, which I've just bought and is narrated by Hope. That one's definitely going with me on the trip. :)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Winter Sea, Susanna Kearsley

Title: The Winter Sea
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Published: 2008, Allison & Busby
Category: Fiction
Rating: 9/10

I have been looking forward to this book for ages! It has sadly not been published in the US; I ordered my copy from Amazon UK and the American dollar being what it is right now I had to pay a pretty penny for it. But it was so completely worth it. And ask anybody, I'm a terrible pinchpenny. ;)

Carrie McClelland is a historical novelist struggling with a new book about the attempted Jacobite invasion of Scotland in 1708. She had originally intended to set the book in France (where James Stewart was living), but while in Scotland visiting her agent she sees Slains Castle, a stark and beautiful ruin on the western coast, and feels an immediate connection with the place. She knows that she has to set her story there and decides to name her heroine Sophia Paterson, after one of her own ancestors who lived in the same time period. In Carrie's book, we see Sophia as she arrives at Slains Castle, which becomes the center point for the invasion. Lots of political plotting going on, and lots of Scottish rebels coming and going -- including one who steals Sophia's heart. Carrie is amazed by how well the story flows. But as she turns to researching the historical facts of her book, she realizes that she's writing the story exactly as it really happened -- without knowing the history first. She begins to think she must have her ancestor's memories.

This is a gentle, quiet kind of book. Kearsley does a good job of drawing out the suspense (both of Sophia's seemingly doomed romance and Carrie's reaction to her discovery that she's apparently a conduit for her ancestor's story), but it's definitely not a nail-biting kind of story. Which suits me just wonderfully. The settings are so vivid and the characters so interesting that I was perfectly content to float along through the story.

The narrative alternates between Carrie in the present and Sophia in the past, with the two storylines faintly paralleling each other. Sometimes this set-up bothers me, as I generally care more about one story than the other. But like Rosario said in her review, as I was reading about Carrie I wanted to stay with her, but then when I was reading about Sophia I wanted more of her. I loved hearing both stories and they worked together really well.

And there is just some lovely, lovely writing.
On Tuesday night, the last night that I spent in France, I dreamt of Slains. I woke, still in my dream, to hear the roaring of the sea beneath my windows and the wind that raged against the walls until the air within the room bit cold against my skin. The fire was failing on the hearth, small licks of dying flame that cast half-hearted shadows on the floorboards and gave little light to see by.
'Let it be,' a man's voice mumbled, low, against my neck. 'We will have warmth enough.' And then his arm came round me, solid, safe, and drew me firmly back against the shelter of his chest, and I felt peace, and turned my face against the pillow, and slept.
I've enjoyed all of the Kearsley books I've read, but this one definitely stands out as a favorite. It's got the interesting historical aspects that I loved in Mariana and the wonderful setting from The Shadowy Horses. And it's a little heavier on the romance than some of hers (you all know how I adore a love story). Well, Sophia's love story is very romantic -- it made me do plenty of happy sighs. :)

**The Winter Sea is being released in Canada in May.

EDITED TO ADD: this nifty book trailer. It contains photos of Slains Castle, where the book is set.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mary Stewart fan site!

Exciting news! Twin and I have been working the last couple months to build a website -- a fan site (completely unauthorized, of course) for Mary Stewart, our favorite author. And it's finally ready for visitors! It's at

I first got the idea for the site from looking at the stats for this blog -- a lot of people seem to arrive here by googling "Mary Stewart summary" or something like. And I haven't even talked about her all that much. I did a little research and there was almost nothing on the web about Stewart. Horror! Because she's sooo wonderful! Even the synopses to be found on Amazon and B&N tell you almost nothing. We had a lot of fun putting our site together, and I hope that people find it useful.

Now I know that some of you are also Mary Stewart fans -- so do me a huge favor and go take a look at the site. I've never built a website before, so I would love some feedback. I'm open to any and all suggestions for improvement. I've also started a Mary Stewart Novels blog as a way of chatting with other fans.

And if anyone would like to link to the site from your blog, that would be AWESOME. Help me give the Googlebot a tickle. I would love for people to be able to find the site by googling.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fire Study, Maria V. Snyder

Title: Fire Study
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Published: 2008, Mira
Category: Fantasy
Rating: 7/10

I've done a buddy review of this one over at Breezing Through with my friend Nath. So head on over there. ;)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

TBR Day: Stitches in Time, Barbara Michaels

Title: Stitches in Time
Author: Barbara Michaels
Published: 1996, HarperCollins
Category: Suspense
Rating: 7/10

I am really late in posting this. I meant to post this review this morning as part of Keishon's TBR day (details here). Does this still count? It's not quite midnight yet. ;)

I had many reasons to read this book. I've been wanting to read more Michaels (everyone says good things about her); someone was reading it lately (Samantha?) and they said the hero was a cuddly bear (love it!); and the action centers around a quilt (I quilt).

Rachel is a graduate student working on her dissertation and working part-time in a high-end vintage clothing store. One day three gorgeous nineteenth-century quilts are left on the porch by a would-be theif. Rachel is strangely drawn to one of them, an album quilt, and strange things start to happen. Her boss's husband (who Rachel has a little crush on) makes a pass, then Rachel discovers that she's started to violently sabotage her boss, without having any conscious knowledge of it. They start to think that the quiltmaker had imbued the quilt with some sort of black magic, and they don't know how to stop it. Rachel and her friends must figure out how to rid her of this possession before history repeats itself with tragic results.

I freely admit that I'm a total weenie about ghost stories, I really am. In the light of day, I have no trouble dismissing any kind of paranormal occurrence as a bunch of hooey, but when I'm wrapped up in a book I can get scared. And possession by an evil spirit is something that I find especially creepy. To not have control over your own actions would be horrible. Poor Rachel blithely grinds up glass and puts it in these people's food, and she doesn't even know she's doing it. But the whole paranormal suspense here was done well; it gave me major shivers without ever going over the top. The main characters are all highly educated people who provide all kinds of anthropological evidence about folk magic done all over the world -- even my very rational mind began to think that maybe there is something to all this superstition.

Michaels's characters are so real. They're definitely not perfect -- they have petty arguments and get snappish with each other. But they still somehow manage to be really likable. And Rachel's love interest, Adam, is adorable. A sort of absent-minded professor type, constantly cheerful and helpful but also occasionally clueless.

This is the second Michaels book I've read, and I have to say that I'm not really feeling it. Maybe she is one of those authors I can appreciate as a good writer, but whose books just don't do much for me. I think I'll go back to her Amelia Peabody series (written under the name Elizabeth Peters). They are more my cuppa.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Meet Winky

I've had almost no time for reading the last couple of weeks (so sad!); I'm actually completely caught up on my reviews, something that has not happened in a long time. So instead of talking about books, I'll tell you about my new sewing machine.

Isn't it beautiful? It's a Singer Featherweight, made in the 1950s. They're simple little machines (they don't even do zigzag), but they last forever and are really strong. Great for quilting, which is what I mostly use it for. I named mine Winky, because sometimes when you whiz along too fast his little light starts to flicker.

They were made to be portable machines, which is perfect for me because I have to lug it to the quilting classes I take at my local quilting shop. Although the machines are small, they come in these really heavy wooden boxes that weigh more than the machines do. So my mom found this great fabric case on the web and ordered me one. (Thanks, Mama!)

I've had even less time for quilting lately as I've had for reading (because as much as I like quilting, reading totally trumps it), but I will show you this one that my mom, Twin and I made together a couple weeks ago. It's from a book called Easy Pieces (though we didn't think it was all that easy). We really like how it came out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How do you read blogs?

I'm curious about how you all follow the blogs you read. Do you all use RSS feed readers? I used to use Bloglines, but switched over to GoogleReader a few months ago. Bloglines was fine, but I think GoogleReader makes it a little easier to manage your feeds (deleting, adding, filing). Plus I use so many other Google products (blogger, gmail, googledocs) that it's easier just to remember one password. Which I'm sure is all part of their evil plan to take over the world, but hey, I'm lazy.

Do you use a feed reader? Which one? And how many blogs do you follow? I'm currently subscribed to 55 blogs. As you can see from the picture, the unread list piles up fast. I've been completely away from the Internet for only 5 days, and I have 82 unread posts. Eek!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Me in books.

I was playing with LibraryThing today and noticed that they have a link to the blog of this guy who used the book covers from his LibraryThing account to make photomosaics of himself.

I had to try for myself. It was really easy, though you do have to download this program called AndreaMosaic.

I had to shrink the images so much to get them on the web that you can't actually tell that the tiles are book covers. But they are, trust me. :) Here's me last fall in Prospect Park in Brooklyn:

And me at the beach in Corolla last year:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

And Only to Deceive, Tasha Alexander

Title: And Only to Deceive
Author: Tasha Alexander
Published: 2006, Harper
Category: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Rating: 7/10

I ordered this book after seeing Tasha Alexander's first sale story at Dear Author. She said that her book "included lots of [her] favorite things: Victorian England, art forgery, dashing gentlemen, gorgeous gowns, ancient Greece, and Paris." SOLD! Especially the part about ancient Greece--loves me some antiquities. :)

Lady Emily Ashton's brand-new husband has just died while on safari in Africa. She's not too cut up about it, though, as she never really got to know him during their short marriage and she only married him in the first place to get away from her overbearing mother. But now as she hears all the wonderful things people are saying about him and reads his fascinating journal (which includes romantic notes about how very much he loved her), she begins to regret losing him before she even knew what she had. She finds out that he was very interested in classical studies and begins studying Greek literature and art. But just as she comes to think he was the perfect man, she starts to suspect that he was involved with an art forgery ring. And the dangerous consequences of it are catching up with her.

I have to admit that the other reason I bought this book was this great quote from the back cover: "Had Jane Austen written The Da Vinci Code, she may well have come up with this elegant novel." Not that I usually pay much attention to quotes or that I was any great lover of The Da Vinci Code, but it certainly intrigued me. I liked the idea of combining the slightly snarky commentary on etiquette and smart romance of Jane Austen with a suspenseful, chase-across-Europe kind of story. And that's very much what the book is. I was not completely wowed by the suspense part (a bit tepid; don't expect a ton of danger or thrills), though Emily did make for a fun amateur sleuth.

What did work completely for me was the story as historical fiction, with a nice little subtle romance thrown in. Victorian England is portrayed very nicely, and Emily moves through the restricting society with a hint of rebellion that makes her a very engaging character. I've got the sequel, A Poisoned Season, on my to-buy list.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Countdown to Hawaii.

Some of you might notice the new countdown widget on my sidebar that says, "30 days until Hawaii!!" That's right, I'm going to Hawaii. Eeeee!! This time next month I will be in paradise.

It's actually a family vacation. And we are not one of those families that normally jets off to tropical islands or goes skiing in Vail. Um, no. We've gotten around the country quite a lot on our many camping trips, but we've never gone nearly so exotic before. So this is a huge deal for us. We've all been looking forward to it for months and months.

But this post wasn't just to make you all jealous. ;) I've been collecting some books to read this month that are set in Hawaii, to make the wait a little less intolerable. So far, I've got:

Hawaii, James Michener (I'm not exactly sure I'm going to get to this one, actually, as it's about a million pages long, but who knows)
The Shadow and the Star, Laura Kinsale
Your Mouth Drives Me Crazy, HelenKay Dimon

Anyone have any other recommendations for books set in Hawaii? Or just advice about Hawaii would be good too. We'll be on Maui for 7 days. *sigh*