Sunday, June 5, 2016

An Embarrassment of Riches: Marrying Winterborne, The Fairest of Them All, and Hot in Hellcat Canyon

There are times as an avid reader that a good book is hard to find. Granted, in the modern age with a new book every 30 seconds, it may be silly to say that; however, I believe every reader has a story of a "drought" of sorts, where all the books read are just okay.

And then there are the other times. The times of feasting and the time of plentiful, nourishing rains. May 31, 2016 was one of those rainfalls.

There were a slew of books that came out for the start of Beach Reading 2016, but these three have me dying to locate the book before and anxiously waiting for the book that follows.

Case Study 1: Marrying Winterborne

Now I loved Lisa Kleypas' contemporaries, though it was her historicals I longed for, and when COLD HEARTED RAKE came out, I bought and devoured it like most everyone else. And it was good, but it was MARRYING WINTERBORNE that I waited for.

Rhys Winterborne is a self-made Welshman who owns the biggest and most glamorous department store in London, making off the rack shopping a thing. (Don't you love when favorite authors clearly watch the same beloved British dramas we do?) He is a vintage Klepas sex-on-a-stick hero. He reminded me a lot of Derek Craven (as Helen reminded me of the shy Sara), but still Rhys is wholly his own person. And the lovemaking! Every scene more delicious than the last. And then...the dark secret and it was a sticky wicket and I worried he would be stupid, but in the end, he surprised me. And Helen.

Rhys is so unbearably romantic and passionate; and I don't know where Ms. Kleypas finds her little details--she had an Author's Note about bustles--but what I wanted to know more about were Welsh customs and the like, because the oathing stone ritual made me swoon. This book is so romantic and so intense--it has my highest recommendation.

Case Study 2: The Fairest of Them All

I got hooked on Cathy Maxwell's new series, which I think has the subtitle of poor Gavin the Duke cannot catch a break or get laid. THE MATCH OF THE CENTURY was so much fun that I immediately pre-ordered THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL, even though I don't typically go for the lady thief motif. However, once again, I was thoroughly absorbed by this book and I could not put it down. (Let's not speak of my laundry or chores.)

Charlene "Char" Blanchard is essentially living by her wits to help her aunt, who takes care of her, and make sure they are not thrown out in the street. At a ball, she meets Gavin Whitridge, the Duke of Baynton (he must think his title is a bane), who falls immediately in love with her. Marrying the duke would solve every problem she has except one: she already has a thing for his twin brother, Jack, newly returned from America and who knows she's a thief.

So there are some problems, not the least of which that no one really wants to hurt Gavin, who has already been thrown over in the last book by his youngest brother. And Gavin is really, really tired of being dumped--he's nice, he's gorgeous, he's rich, and he has the bloody title. What does a man have to do to get married already?

Ms. Maxwell does a fine job of weaving in some history of the War of 1812 (Jack comes to England to try to prevent the war--to no avail), which seems rarely touched on in Regency set novels. The story itself is well-woven...and a delight to read.

Case Study 3: Hot in Hellcat Canyon

So Julie Anne Long has been my go-to historical author for several books now, so when she said her next book was a contemporary, I was all, "NOooooooooo!" And the title seemed a little campy...and I just wasn't sure I could believe it would be as good as the Pennyroyal Green series. But it was. It was JUST. AS. GOOD.

Britt Langley is a woman after my own heart. Witty, artistic, and inclined to arrive at work not a second too soon, she's a waitress at the Misty Cat Tavern (which was a "misprint" of the sign request, the owner had wanted to call it the Aristocrat Tavern. Bless their hearts.) It's a regular day waiting tables when John Tennessee McCord's truck breaks down and he decides to stay in town a few days while its repaired.

JT happens to be a well-known actor from Hollywood who has come to the area just ahead of a film schedule for a show that is supposed to jumpstart his currently stalled career. He's not prepared to fall for the waitress who values the power of an extensive vocabulary, but fall he does, and it's the easiest thing he's done in a long time. All is puppies and apple pie until JT's ex-girlfriend and powerful moviestar, Rebecca Corday comes into town.

One minute you're laughing, the next minute you're crying, the next minute you're fanning  yourself because JT is sexy as hell and knows how to wield it. But the black moment comes...and then there's a bigger black moment...and another...and finally I just can't take it any more and for the love that is holy, they better make up--and then there was the wedding toast speech.

This series is off to a rip-snorting hell of a good start. I cannot wait until Fall when we get the second in the series--and I anticipate loving it as much as I did this one. And I really do hope Franco gets his own book. Just because I'd like to see him suffer...and then get his own HEA.

Any of these books--ALL OF THESE BOOKS--should be in your beach tote this summer, if they aren't already. Summer 2016 has the best summer reading I've had in a long time.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Actual Review: Tiffany Girl by Deeanna Gist

I am definitely a girl who eats her supper before she says grace, both literally and figuratively, so it’s no surprise then I tend to veer toward the kind of romance where the HEA couples are eating before they even know what’s on the menu, if you catch my drift. Inspirational novels tend to be toward the bottom of my preferred reading list, mainly because a) if there is so much as a hint of “I want to have sex with this guy”, the guilt is turned on and frankly, I had way too much of that growing up; and b) the story tends to be more about the spiritual growth in God for the characters rather than the romance, which is why I’m reading the story in the first place.

But where I went wrong is thinking all inspirational novels are like that. For years, I went to the library and would be drawn to a lovely cover and a promising story and I’d look at the publisher—and if it was an inspirational publisher, I’d put it back. Imagine all the stories I’ve been missing all this time. I know!

So at the RWA conference this year, I went to a workshop called Bare Naked Plotting. (How can you not like something with the word naked in it?) And color me shocked when I realized our teacher wrote inspirational novels (and she used the word naked!) On top of it, she used the movie IRONMAN to explain plotting and identity and essence—and anyway, I immediately decided I’d found a soul sister. She revolutionalized the whole concept for me, as well as concept of what makes an inspirational an inspirational. I dearly wanted to win one of the books, and I even said a little prayer, hoping my name would come out. And it did—the first name drawn—apparently God had been dying to have me read an inspirational for years.

On the flight home, I read TIFFANY GIRL (which is about 500 pages) and just could not put it down. It was funny. It was touching. It was sweet. It was ROMANTIC. But the most shocking thing of all, it was sexy. I mean, seriously, seriously sexual tension sexy! I think they kissed twice, but there’s a scene where they’re making a “phenakistascope”, which is a 19th century version of the modern GIF. Anyway, they’re posing in various stances for the waltz that will make up the pictures for this thing and let me tell you, Sylvia Day couldn’t have packed more sexual tension and “sex” into a scene where everyone was fully clothed. It was just fabulous. And romantic. And I wanted to tell everyone about this book and scene so they’d run out and get the book.

Now, meanwhile there is an actual story going on, and I was impressed (and horrified) at how much tribulation Ms. Gist put the characters through. Everyone suffered, constantly, and just when you thought, “YAY! Things are finally turning around!” something even worse would happen. Becoming a New Woman (or the equivalent of the modern woman in the gay 1890s) definitely wasn’t all it was cracked up to be; however, Flossie Jayne is one plucky heroine who is easy to root for; and Reeve Wilder is exactly the sort of kind yet exasperating hero you want for her.

Anyway, as you might guess, they get married, and I honestly thought where they kiss at the wedding was the end of the book. Inspirationals, as you know, don’t have sex. But Ms. Gist takes us a chapter further, and we have another scene, much like the “phenakistascope” scene, and while she lives up to the requirements of an inspirational novel, she gives those of us Readers who want to see what happens behind closed doors just a bit more. Yes, a tender, worthy Christian husband, but still a man who can’t keep his hands off his beautiful wife. A story that focuses on the sex positive aspects I expect from a modern romance novel.

Definitely go find this book, especially if you’re like me and thought all inspirationals were the same.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Dad

Marshall Eldon Colley, 92, of Harrisburg, MO, passed away peacefully Saturday, September 13, 2014.  Marshall was born on December 31, 1921 (before the time this would have been a lucky tax break), on the family farm, to his parents, Benjamin F. Colley and Lucratie St. Clair Colley.  He was the fourth of six children, and the last surviving member of the group which included: Brooksie Shields, Trixie Ramsey, Nellie McConnell, Helen D. Forbes and Pete Colley.

            Marshall served in World War II from 1942 – 1945 on the U.S.S. New Mexico, fighting in the Pacific theater.  He was a welder who fortunately got to spend most of his time below decks, out of fire, but he enjoyed the perks of serving with the Greatest Generation, including eating fried fresh egg sandwiches in Hawaii and touring Boston, where he first tried Chinese food and roller skating.

            When Marshall came home, he took the sound advice of his elders and found a nice girl at church to settle down with.  He met Betty Sue Bacon in St. Charles, MO, and they married July 26, 1947.  They were married 50 years before she preceded him in death in 1997.

            In 1948, Marshall moved his young wife to the family farm, where Betty exchanged the glamorous life of working in a shoe factory to being a farmer’s wife.  In 1950, the first of their three children, William Eldon was born; and in 1959, their daughter, Marsha Sue was born.  Marshall continued to provide for his family by working the farm all through the 1960’s until he decided to try his hand at working at the University of Missouri, at the hospital in maintence, once again using his welding skills that served him so well in the Navy and on the farm.  In 1975, this smart decision became clear when Marshall and Betty’s third and final child, Frances Marie, was born, much to the shock (and of course, joy) of everyone.  (As in most things, Frances turned out to be the most expensive.)        

            In 1986, Marshall retired from the university; however, his idea of retirement was going back to cattle farming full-time (rather than half-time).  This included all the usual tasks retired people love to do: birthing calves, baling hay and feeding cows in the dead of winter when anyone with sense is inside and warm.  In his “spare time,” Marshall would weld on home projects for himself (Why buy it when he could engineer it himself?), fix broken farm equipment at no charge for neighbors and friends, do various “honey do” projects for his sisters who lived nearby, and make sure his supply of winter wood was well-stocked.  He never worked so hard in his life.

            Marshall continued to farm and bale hay until he was 80.  At 80 he decided that baling hay was a young man’s game; however, he didn’t sell off the rest of his cattle until he was 83.  When he finally gave it up, he leased his land to a fellow cattle farmer and as the cattle farmer would come out to set up fence for the cows that would graze on the leased land, Marshall would venture out to help him, typically outworking everybody.

            He played the fiddle by ear; cooked biscuits and gravy every Saturday morning; and could make just about any tool or item you needed from a store.  He loved motorcycles (all engines really), and first took up riding one when he was almost 50 and didn’t give it up for 40 years. He still thought the Model T was one of the greatest cars ever made, though he could drive about anything. He liked to take walks, go hunting and fishing.  The only movie he every really approved of was O Brother Where Art Thou.

            Marshall was a deacon elder of Mt. Pleasant Christian Church, and he lived his life to the best of his ability to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”  He was kind, funny, quiet, serious and every bit of a gentleman.  He loved pie, especially chocolate meringue, the Grand Old Opry and baseball.  He was the best of men and daddies.  He was one of a kind and will be missed.

            Marshall is survived by two daughters, Marsha Sue Schafer and husband, John of Harrisburg and Frances Marie Colley of Columbia.  Also surviving are his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife and a son, William Eldon Colley and by his siblings.

            Services honoring Marshall’s life will be held at 1:00 p.m., Friday, September 19, 2014 at Carr-Yager Funeral Home in Fayette with his niece, Rev. Sheila Christy and Rev. Travis Fritz officiating.  Interment with military honors will follow at Perche Church Cemetery near Harrisburg.

            Visitation will be Thursday evening from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Carr-Yager Funeral Home.

            Memorial contributions are suggested to the Heifer Project International which is a charity organization working to end hunger and poverty around the world through sustainable agriculture.



Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Changes and Movings and Daddies

My dad is still doing okay, getting stronger I think, but I sense a bit of depression in him about where he is at now, in the rehab center. I keep poking him to eat more so he can be sprung from the joint. Meanwhile, I've been sorting my spare bedroom (aka the junk and craft room) into a semi-permanent place for Dad. We're all going to have be watched a little closer; and that's just as well, I need someone to cook supper for and he needs someone to eat with. We'll see how it goes.

As if the sorting and moving and cleansing of the "craft" room isn't enough, I've been rerouted at work into a new location, which has been stressful for me, mostly because I take it personally that I'm being shoved out of one spot and being shoved into another, where I'm not really wanted either. My allies say I'm being punished; my supervisors say there was no other options available to them; and I keep looking on the job postings site because this is nothing if not a motivation to get the hell out of here. Today's Wednesday--I should pick up a paper.

I love books--so having to pare down my books because after moving them last weekend, I was very adamant that I was going to pare the damned things down to "KEEPERS" (and possibly the TBR pile). Those previously shelved "keepers" which I deemed unlikely to read again, et al, were ruthlessly tossed into boxes. I hope someone loves the stories as much as I did, but stories are meant to be shared. Don't worry, plenty of books remain...and I'm sure any shelf space I got back will be taken back over. Although yesterday, I bought three Kindle books because a) they were cheaper and b) I didn't have to find them a shelf. I don't see myself ever being a sole Kindle librarian (no paper at all), but I see myself getting more and more into it.

Lastly, my best friend, the one I've known the longest and best, her daddy died last Friday. He was a Johnny Cash of a man: big, bold, rumbling, and protective. He was funny and a merrymaker; he wasn't a complainer about work or his health--maybe the occasional politician, but who isn't? He was ornery as hell--and he loved being known for it. He loved bluegrass and fixing cars and singing and gardening and cooking...and just being a daddy. He was a daddy to those of us who already had daddies but watched us when our daddies weren't here to watch over us. He could be aggravating--as everyone can be--but he was a man you couldn't help but love and respect, and we did. We love and respect that man to heaven and back. I'm going to miss like hell him calling me "Red" and giving me shit about my driving. The world is less without him.

So much has happened in this past week, so much change and sadness. Hug everyone a little tighter, tell them you love them, listen to their stories because you never know when you may not get to again. The deaths of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall also have affected me deeply--as well as the death of James Garner a few weeks previous. So many wonderful, bright and shining lights.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Disney Taught Me About Being a Real Writer

I went to the RWA 2014 conference this year. Please read PJ's blogs on The Romance Dish--because that woman can certainly sum up an experience. I'm sure I'll write my version later, but I wanted to share something I learned at the conference.

The conference was filled with all day, on the hour sessions about writing, publishing, thriving, branding, marketing, and anything a writer/author needs to refresh themselves for another year of doing this. One of the sessions I chose to go to was GETTING INTO THE SPACE OF YOUR MUSE. Actually this was a two-hour class and I only stayed for one because this class overlapped with another class I wanted, but let's just say the second hour was MEDITATING and I've had classes about that already.

That arrogance of mine aside, there was something the presenters kept saying at this workshop--and it was about how there are two core beliefs we operate from as humans: fear and love. Most of the time, we operate out of fear. I totally believe this. I wrote a fantastic paper about it in college once for an exam and my teacher loved it. (Again, neither here nor there. Just saying, I've always believed this to be true. We operate out of love or fear, but never both at the same time. They're just opposite sides of a coin.) So much of the reason we're not writing, not pursuing our dreams, is out of fear. It's certainly not out of love.

We fear rejection. We fear failure. We fear success. We fear never being able to repeat a success. We fear. We fear. We fear. Fear is useful, perhaps, when it comes to outrunning snakes--I mean, those little bastards are dangerous and creepy. Not so useful in creating our best life.

So say you're a writer...or an artist...or a scientist even. You're born and you seem to have a special talent for something. You're a bit like Pinocchio, a wooden boy with real potential, that the Creator made to do exactly what you have the real potential for. You only need to practice those things, those talents, to become your best self, a real boy. But we end up running with the wrong crowd (FEAR)--the Fearmonger, the Procrastinator, the You Suck gang--and like Pinocchio, while we thought we were real, suddenly we're not, we're really not, and we tell lies to ourselves, like it doesn't matter if we don't do the things we love most, it wouldn't work out anyway, we shouldn't disappoint our families--and our nose grows. And we're very miserable. And a lot of the time, if we let it go on too long, we behave likes asses. We're wooden, we're fake, we're frauds, and we're unlovable. These are the things we tell ourselves.

But say we finally come home to the place we always belonged, to the place we were happiest, and started living the life we always imagined, like Pinocchio did. He comes home; the Creator welcomes him back; and the fairy godmother (LOVE) comes in the night and turns him into a real boy. When we come to the thing that truly makes us happy, love shows us that we are real writers...and painters and scientists.

That's what I feel like: like a wooden fraud who lies to herself all day and isn't doing THE THING she most wants because she's afraid of something, most likely everything. That's what the class taught me. Operate from a place of love instead. I was always a real writer. I just didn't believe it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hellie's Reviews: Sophia Nash's THE ONCE AND FUTURE DUCHESS

Sophia Nash’s THE ONCE AND FUTURE DUCHESS, which is part of her series of the Royal Entourage, is really a very hysterical “The Hangover” a la Regency era. I am not a fan of the movie, The Hangover (I think I’m the only one) but I do admire the shenanigans and problems that they all have to deal with the morning after and go, “How the hell did this happen?” Such is this series. The Prince has issued a royal decree that all the participants of this evening must now marry and reform—after all, we can’t have what’s going over in France happen over here in England! The beheadings!

The Duchess of March also happened to be there that night…though her shenanigans were definitely more on the prudent side. However, this doesn’t keep George from issuing a royal command she marry too; and it appears she and George have the perfect candidate in mind. Actually pretty much everyone sees it, even James himself, the Duke of Candover, since he’s in love with Isabelle, but made a promise to her father not to let her marry someone like him. You know, old. And there is a whole bunch of nuanced issues that made up motivations and kept everyone from having a happy ending for a long, long time, like the Duke of March was like the father Candover wished he’d had and he would never disappoint the man’s final and only request, blah, blah, blah. Noble people are so exhausting. It works out, eventually. To keep you from losing despair though there is a lovely subplot with Candover’s friend and an abigail who tricked him into marrying her that fateful night. Hilarious.

I’m not sure if there are any other stories to wrap up in this series, but the series itself has been solid and hilarious and well-characterized. If you haven’t read the Royal Entourage series, I recommend it, especially if you liked The Hangover…and even if you didn’t. Five stars. 

What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ramblings and other Tuesday Observations

This is why I don't keep journals. I always get discouraged if I don't write something every day or so, as if I'm slacking. Or if I'm not slacking, then it must be I'm so boring I don't have anything worth writing about anyway, so why did I even start a journal in the first place?

No one should wander out alone in my brain. It's a treacherous place, honestly. Go in groups. Take swords.

I have been reading, even if I don't have any reviews here right now. I may do a review on the Nora Roberts' trilogy I just read, which most everyone else has too. But the reviews of the newest books I've gotten lately, those will probably go to The Romance Dish. I've gotten quite a selection so I hope to have new reviews soon for everyone. So you guys can still be assured I'm still literate. I'm not a complete drooling mass who only googles pictures of Tom Hiddleston all day. (Though admittedly it's probably a close thing.)

Here is my current project at home. Not the quilt (which is still unfinished in the whole quilting phase part of it.) Nope, now it's painting all the time and the Brene Brown class, which is art journaling for the soul and she has an assignment every week so you can't fall too behind. Writing prompts. Always helpful.

It's still in process. It's supposed to be Lancelot and the Lady of Shalott. Again I have cut out the unfortunate aspects of their hands until I can "fix" them. Mostly I work on the faces there's a lot to do here...but so far, I'm liking the faces so far.

What have you all been up to?