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.

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]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A couple of drive-through reviews and an update (some is personal)

Himself has been home for almost two weeks and looks less like something the cat refused to drag in. Pale, gaunt, and fairly lethargic but still my guy. Doctors are not encouraging but what do they know? Mr. Bat is no quitter. Meanwhile, we have had this oasis of quiet time together and we've enjoyed it. I'm going to try to go back to work part-time next week. What will be, will be, whether I'm here to witness it or not. I can't tell you how much your continued concern has meant to both of us. Thank you and thank you and thank you.

I've read a couple of books to tell you about. One is Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane, which is free for Kindle Lending Library, or $2.99 for Kindle. (With no income, I'm grateful to authors who put their backlists or other things out there free or for low cost. Bless you all!) Ms. Austen (I wonder what she would think of "Ms."?) doesn't talk about food very much in her novels, so one must think that when she does, it matters. This is a detailed description of food and cooking in the early 19th century in general, and then specifically with respect to every mention of food in JA's novels and letters. That sounds dry, but I did not find it so, and I'm neither a foodie nor a Janeite. It was probably the author's thesis and it reads that way, but I was still entertained. If you have an interest in food and cooking, or if you love Austen's novels, you may find this worth picking up. Not for sustained reading for the casual reader, I think, but good to pick up half an hour here and there. Certainly made me grateful for food quality laws and the local supermarkets and farmers markets! General information in the early parts of the book and much more specific to books and characters as the book goes on. I'm still working my way through it. 

The other book is Death in the Memorial Garden, by Kathie Deviny. It's a Kindle freebie. Ms. Deviny is probably about my age, retired, and finally wrote the book she's had perking along in her all these years. We will be gentle. It's a sweet little cozy mystery of the Murder, She Wrote type, or some of the later Cat Who books, with no blood and no bad language and interesting, flawed, lovable characters (even the villain isn't a complete monster) all trying to do the right thing. If she has too many subplots and if the book is poorly edited, and the mystery a little weak, well, what can one say? It's a labor of love, like the mittens Aunt Mabel knitted you, and we'll accept it for what it is. The protagonist is an Episcopalian priest in Seattle, and there's some humor that will be familiar to those who have been active in small churches. Church politics is discussed. There's some religious talk, but more in the way of people trying to live their beliefs than in promoting Christianity. If she would hire an editor, I would actually be interested in reading a second book, because I liked Father Robert and I liked Lucy, the retired dentist, and I was sad to leave them. The very sensitive should be aware that Father Robert is divorced and has had one or two relationships that are not discussed. There also is a murder, but we don't see the body, 1 on the ick scale. It kept me occupied for an hour or two on a day when I was desperate for a gentle read that wouldn't make me think or feel too much.

Today is the first day of Spring, and the sun is actually shining for a change and the air doesn't hurt your face. The frost is so deep it will be another month before it's all out of the ground. This was a tough winter, but we got through it. Sometimes all you can do is put your back to the wind, say a little prayer, and wait it out. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Coming home (personal, not a review)

Mr. Bat has shown enough improvement that he can come home - today or tomorrow, says he but in a week says the staff - with a small U-Haul van full of equipment. I'm so excited and so grateful that I mostly am not making any sense. He'll be home for 2-3 weeks and then be re-evaluated to see if he's healthy enough for triple bypass surgery.

He's in a step-down unit and they're not doing anything for him that I can't do here at home - there are advantages to being a nurse, even if a very old and out of practice one - so I've girded my loins, selected five smooth stones, and am going forth to do battle with the staff there to make it happen today.

Thank you for your continued concern, good thoughts, and prayers. It means so much to us, I can't tell you. Oh, it will be so good to have him home!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Still hanging in there (personal, not a review)

Gosh, where do the days go? Mr. Bat is hanging in there. His kidneys have started to function again and I think I startled his internist by doing a quick air pom-pom thing from the '60s when he told me today's lab reports. "Er, yes, Mrs. Bat, grounds for celebration. Um, yes." My guy is breathing better and looks better. The ultimate goal is to get him healthy enough to see if he could live through cardiac bypass surgery. Should be out of ICU in a couple of days. Looks like another 2 weeks in the hospital, then 2-3 weeks for rehab and then home for a bit and then we see. He'll be wearing a portable thing like a belt that will shock him if his heart stops. We have a difficult road ahead, destination still unknown, but we are the two most stubborn people in the state of Iowa, and we'll get through this.

We know our time together is limited. We intend to enjoy it and face it with the same laughter, love, and faith that have sustained us all these years. Your good thoughts and prayers are keeping me on my feet and walking, and I thank you for them. I am certain they have helped him as well. Bless you.

Gave up on the book I was trying to read and am now reading James Herriot's series of vet stories.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hanging in there. (personal, not a review)

First, thank you for all your comments of support and encouragement, of good thoughts and prayers. We feel the support and we are so grateful.

Mr. Bat is hanging in there, holding his own. They will do a test over the next 48 hours that will show us whether his heart muscle is good enough to have cardiac bypass surgery. While it would not fix the congestive heart failure or the rhythm disturbances, it could well help those things, possibly (although not likely) to a near-normal result. We should know by Friday. If the muscle is good enough, then perhaps the surgery would take place in a couple of weeks.

I almost fear to say it, but I think perhaps his breathing was very slightly less awful today. He's getting very good nursing care. (Well, in addition to my 18-hour a day attention. ) :-) We like all but one of his doctors (and he's going to get a tart letter from me when the dust settles, let me tell you. He said, "Well, you need to understand that this man's life is nearly at its natural limit anyway." This man! This man! This man has a name and a good, rich, full life, which is probably more than anyone can say about you, Dr. Jerk.) /rant

I've been reading the same book for a week. So nothing to review. I'll keep working on it, though.

Again, thank you for the caring you're showing us. As a childless couple with no real family left living, good wishes and prayers mean so much I can't tell you.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mr. Bat update - steady as she goes (personal, not a review)

Thank you, thank you for your kinds thoughts and prayers. We can feel the strength of them, giving us peace and courage.

He feels pretty well as long as he doesn't move around much. Pulse ox drops into the 70s when he walks, and also for you nurses, his EF is 20. Ugh. Doctors say treatable but need to find underlying cause of this. More tests today and Monday. His appetite is good, and I always take that as a good sign in man or beast.

MFOB thinking long and hard about retiring, although the plan was to work a few more years. If these are our last months/years, I want to spend them together and not me at the office 60+ hours a week. Heck, I bet I can find all kinds of recipes using cat food ... Seriously, maybe I can find some contract work to do at home to supplement our income. (See, Hippie Girl, this is what you get when you say that money doesn't matter and you give most of yours away. This is what happens. Phooey - no regrets.)

Again, our thanks for your goodness and caring.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Any Duchess Will Do, by Tessa Dare (Spindle Cove series, drive-through review)

So I'm stuck in one corner of an ER cube while they do things to my husband and I obsess over his pulse ox and EKG tracings. I don't want to follow a complex plot in a book and I sure as heck don't want my emotions played with too much. On the other hand, Himself is trying to rest in between things, so I don't want to chat his ear off. On my Kindle is this book. I was well entertained. Blurb from Goodreads:

Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed this season—or any season—but his diabolical mother abducts him to “Spinster Cove” and insists he select a bride from the ladies in residence. Griff decides to teach her a lesson that will end the marriage debate forever. He chooses the serving girl.

Overworked and struggling, Pauline Simms doesn’t dream about dukes. All she wants is to hang up her barmaid apron and open a bookshop. That dream becomes a possibility when an arrogant, sinfully attractive duke offers her a small fortune for a week’s employment. Her duties are simple: submit to his mother’s “duchess training”… and fail miserably.

But in London, Pauline isn’t a miserable failure. She’s a brave, quick-witted, beguiling failure—a woman who ignites Griff’s desire and soothes the darkness in his soul. Keeping Pauline by his side won’t be easy. Even if Society could accept a serving girl duchess—can a roguish duke convince a serving girl to trust him with her heart?

What the blurb doesn't tell you is how funny the book is. The plot is total fantasy, Pygmalion style, but Griff in particular is so funny and witty, and the writing is just so darned cute that I smiled my way through it. There's a sad situation, well, a couple of them, that I found believable for the most part. The author explains her thinking about one of them at the end of the book.

Pauline may be a trifle perfect for a person's taste, but she made plenty of mistakes as well, more human than Mary Sue. Griff was delicious. Sex was hot. There's a swordfight that goes a little far but not gory or anything, at most a 2 on the ick scale. The Kindle formatting was perfect. I thought the end was fairly realistic, considering the plot.

If you're in the mood for something to take you away without requiring much concentration, something you can put down and pick up as needed without having to follow complex plot threads or dozens of characters, this is a good read. I give it a B. Whether it would hold up under serious reading I can't say, but it was a lifesaver to me the day I read it and I'm grateful.

Re Mr. Bat: No change this morning, more tests. Your good wishes, thoughts, and prayers are so helpful and help me feel less alone. Thank you. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Prayers or good thoughts for Mr. Bat, please. (personal, not a review)

Of your charity, if you could please pray for the comfort and health of Mr. Bat -- or if you're not one who prays, if you could please hold a good thought for him --- we would be most grateful. He's in the hospital with a sudden illness. He is comfortable and of course he has this "what will be will be" attitude he's had all his life. I'm frantic.

Please? I thank you from the bottom of my heart.