Monday, September 24, 2012

Shades of Gray: A Novel of the Civil War In Virginia

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Ha. Thought this was gonna be about the OTHER Shades of Gray didn't you? I haven't read about the 50 of them, but I read this one with absolute and total immersion. I was captivated, mesmerized and I can honestly say that this was the only book that has brought me to tears, and certainly the first one that kept me that way for an entire chapter, in many years.

I am a sucker for Civil War tales. Especially those that are well-researched, well-written and have women in nontraditional and important roles. Jessica James provided all three in a beautiful tale of the passion that existed both in the front lines and behind the scenes. Although we believe that women today have crossed barriers to become active members of our armed forces, in fact those barriers were crossed over a century ago when hundreds of American women with allegiance to both Confederate and Union sides donned uniforms and fought alongside the men. The only difference in the armed forces today is that the women who choose that life don't have to bind their breasts, hide their sex and know that if they are found out they will be court martialed.

If you enjoy historical novels, if you read Gone With the Wind and wished it hadn't ended, then you will be as delighted as I was to delve into these pages. My own Civil War novel will be on the shelves very soon, and I can only hope that I portrayed my heroine as earnestly and with as much knowledge and passion as Jessica James brought to Shades of Gray. I am told that the book has also been re-released under the name Noble Cause, with a happier ending (although this was in print before 50 Shades of Gray, obviously the name similarity is troubling, and it's not fair to this book to share the same name).

The Amazon description:
Honor & conviction clash with loyalty & love in this award-winning romantic Civil War novel that pits brother against brother. This is the tale of Colonel Alexander Hunter, a dauntless and daring Confederate cavalry officer, who, with his band of intrepid outcasts, becomes a legend in the rolling hills of northern Virginia. Inspired by love of country and guided by a sense of duty and honor, Hunter must make a desperate choice when he discovers the woman he promised his dying brother he would protect is the Union spy he vowed to his men he would destroy. Readers will discover the fine line between friends and enemies when the paths of these two tenacious foes cross by the fates of war and their destinies become entwined forever. Author Jessica James uniquely blends elements of romantic and historical fiction in this deeply personal and poignant tale that, according to one reviewer, “transcends the pages to settle in the very marrow of the reader’s bones.” Winner of numerous national awards, James has received critical acclaim for this page-turning story of courage, honor, and enduring love. Destined for an honored place among the classics of the American Civil War, Noble Cause is a book to read, and keep, and remember forever.

On a humorous note, I had ordered this book for my Kindle and was surprised when I was asked by a friend if I had purchased Shades of Gray yet. I said yes. Wondering to myself "when did Melinda become an avid Civil War buff?" A few days later I read the reviews for the "other" book and realized how very worlds apart are the two. (I started reading the "other one" but it didn't capture my interest.)

Thursday, September 20, 2012


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Just. Wow.

I was NOT expecting to be entranced, captivated, entertained, wowed (Just. Wowed.) or enthralled....but I was. I didn't know who to root for, or how the tangle could all be unwoven, but author Lexi Revellian managed it all and made it look effortless. Excellent job!

Imagine if you were suddenly on the run and had to not only hide from your enemies, but also from those you consider your friends because you can't explain why you are who they think you are, but aren't. You have all of the memories of a lifetime, but were "born" yesterday. The only one that can get out of the mess the other you doesn't know that this new you exists. And, now the original "you" has disappeared and is also in mortal danger. You see what I meant by "tangled?" Never fear however. As I said, you are in excellent hands for this particular ride. Just make sure you keep your hands and feet inside the car. It's going to get bumpy!

 Amazon describes the book like this: 

Beth Chandler, bright, attractive but unassertive, is accidentally replicated in a flawed experiment at the government research institute where she works. A second Beth comes into being, complete with all her memories. To Sir Peter Ellis, MI5 chief, the replica is an embarrassment that must be hushed up and disposed of. Overhearing him, Beth Two goes on the run. With no official existence, homeless, penniless and pursued by Sir Peter's agents, she has to find the inner strength and aggression to survive on icy London streets.

Meanwhile the original Beth, unaware of what has happened, becomes romantically involved with Nick Cavanagh, the spec op she believes is there to protect her. In fact, he's hunting her double. Nick refuses to face his moral doubts about Beth Two - as far as he's concerned, it's not his problem. As events unfold, and the situation grows more complicated, he has to decide whose side he is on.

A Witch's Tale

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I love witches. The good kind. The Wiccan and Pagan (capital 'p,' not the little 'p') kind. I love the idea of using herbs in the way that they have been used since man first stood upright and realized that if he rubbed a little bit of this weed on his neck he didn't have to wrestle with his woman so long before she agreed to mate with him. And that if he boiled a bit of that root to drink when he felt too sick to hunt, he was soon out of the cave and off to work. I don't see anything sacrilegious in using plants of the earth in charms and talismans.

So many witch stories disappoint me though. Either they portray witches as evil crones or as bumbling twits. Karolyn Cairns not only did not disappoint me, but she enchanted me from the title page to the final one. I disagreed with the way the story line went in a place or two, and I got confused about exactly how the love spell was working...or not working...on Gavin. But in the end I don't think I could have written it better (high praise indeed *smiling*) If you like a light historical (medieval) romance with a touch of paranormal, then buckle up and sit back to enjoy the ride!

Amazon says:

Madeline Farrand was condemned to burn for witchcraft when her spells go awry. A novice witch, she struggles to learn her craft on her own when her mentor dies. Sir Gavin de Mortaine swaggers to her rescue and stops her execution. Intent only on seducing his flame-haired enchantress, he refuses to believe she is really a witch. Unable to deny the reward he demands of her because of a strict code of witches, Madeline agrees to a fortnight as his companion at the coronation festivities for James Stuart.

Sir Gavin only seeks a pretty distraction during the tournament. His valiant struggle to right past wrongs ignites a desire in Madeline to be seen as a real knight's lady. She uses her spells and magic to bind Gavin to her, realizing painfully all he professes to feel for her can't be real. She vows to help him win the tournament and reclaim his birthright, even if it means he will marry another.

Madeline soon learns her magic can only create more mischief as her spells backfire with disastrous and often hilarious results. She finds herself in a disturbing position when she decides to spy on Gavin's rival, Sir Rohan de Warren. With the worst reputation in the tournament, Rohan is nothing like he is thought. Madeline is shocked to find herself drawn to him. Despite her loyalty to Gavin, she starts to gain real admiration for Rohan. His dark eyes taunt her claims to love Gavin. Rohan has never lost at anything. Driven and ambitious, the knight has no intention of losing the tourney, even when his sponsor demands it of him with his scheming and plotting. Rohan sees a prize far greater than a title and rich estates.Soon the prize worth winning becomes his rival's redheaded companion. Madeline learns through a twist of fate the greatest magic of all comes from the heart in this glittering tale of pageantry, chivalry, and witchcraft.

(I especially loved Rohan's horse! I want one of his daughters!)

Interview With A Jewish Vampire

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Being the sucker that I am for an interesting title, you know I had to add this one to my collection. Kudos to author Erica Manfred for a creative twist to an old idea.

Nicely written, a cute story line, certainly not an average tale. If you are "into" vampires or if you are Jewish (or would like to be) you're going to really enjoy the read. (If you don't like vampires and you grow quickly weary of Jewish kvetching then you may want to download and read a sample first). I was captivated immediately...between the title and the first paragraph of the description: middle-aged Jewish woman looking for a mate is contacted by a vampire and she says to herself, "he may not be alive, but at least he's Jewish." Her mother, the atheist, however is just happy if Rhoda has a man. Oy vey.

Amazon describes it thusly:

The last thing zaftig middle-aged journalist, Rhoda Ginsburg, expected when she signed up for JDate was to fall in love with a vampire. But when she meets drop-dead gorgeous Sheldon, a Hasidic vampire, she falls hard. She rationalizes that he may not be alive, but at least he’s Jewish.

She learns that back in the nineteenth century Sheldon was a rabbi who was turned into a vampire by Count Dracula, an anti-Semite who got his kicks from turning Orthodox Jews into vampires because then they’d have to drink blood, which isn’t kosher.

Soon after she meets Sheldon, she discovers her beloved mother, Fanny, is terminally ill, so she comes up with the crackpot idea of getting Sheldon to turn Fanny and her friends, known as “the goils,” into vampires. Once she becomes a vampire, Fanny tires of her boring life in Century Village, Florida, and, seeking thrills, she goes clubbing and disappears into the nightlife of South Beach in Miami. When Fanny and her goil posse “go rogue” and start preying on the young, Rhoda and Sheldon must track them down to keep them from killing again.

Interview with a Jewish Vampire turns vampire lore on its head, proving that not all vampires are young and beautiful and it IS possible to be undead and kosher.

The Red Gorilla of Oz

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Richard Capwell stepped into some pretty big shoes when he attempted to carry on where L. Frank Baum left off a hundred years ago as the official royal historian of the magical world of Oz. Apparently, Mr. Capwell's feet are almost exactly the same size as Mr. Baum's, because I totally lost myself in this newly penned tale and completely forgot that the words were coming from a different source than the original books.

Many other authors have attempted to continue reporting the news from Oz over the years, including several that were endorsed by Baum's family (I personally enjoyed many of the ones by Ruth P. Thompson). In my humble opinion, Mr. Capwell is probably the one who comes closest to capturing not only Baum's whimsy but also his ability to so cleverly weave a story combining flights of fantasy along with lessons for today, that children won't notice they learned something. (I didn't notice it either, honest!)

From the Amazon page:

Sebastian is the clumsy, heedless prince of the red gorillas. The Eternal Flame that protects his troop has inexplicably gone out, and the jungle is withering and dying. Sebastian must venture down Crimson Mountain to find Glinda, who he hopes will restore the flame. On his journey, the red gorilla makes good friends and faces dangerous enemies. Meanwhile, in the Emerald City, all of the wonderful animated characters such as Jack Pumpkinhead and Scraps have lost their spirits, and Ozma must discover why her dear friends can no longer move nor speak. Her investigation reveals previously unknown secrets about the early history of Oz. 

And, indeed, Capwell tied up a lot of loose ends for me. Am I the only one that wondered what happened to the Winged Monkeys when their mistress was killed? Did anyone remember to feed them?  Inquiring minds wanted to know.

And Richard Capwell told us. And did so in such a delightful way that I immediately went and purchased the 2nd of his Oz tales Santa Claus in Oz. We all know that many times writing in a series can be deadly for an author. The sparks that burned so brightly in the first tome die into embers that not even the most potent wind can blow into a flame. This was NOT the case for Capwell. I enjoyed the Santa book even more than the first. Very cute. Well written. No editing or formatting errors.

Keep 'em coming, Richard! 

Note: Wondering how many of you are Oz fans? I have "good" copies of all of the Baum-written ones. Still collecting on the others. Do you collect anything Oz-related other than the books? Do you play the RPG online Oz game?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Crossroads Cafe

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I paid more for this book than I EVER pay for Kindle books. Something about it tugged at me, and I'm so glad it did. It was worth every cent. It is one of the very few books that I've read in the last year that I am sure I'll read again someday. Yes, it was a little schmaltzy. Yes, it was a romance. But, it was oh! so much more.

From the Amazon description:

A Hollywood actress known for her beauty flees to a secluded mountain cabin in North Carolina after being severely scarred in a car accident. There she finds unexpected love and a new life with a man who lost his family in 9-11.

With 4.5 stars out of over 300 reviews, it's obvious that this book tugged at a lot of people. And kept on tugging. Although a couple of reviews called it 'boilerplate' I thought it was anything but. I have not been a big fan of cookie cutter romance novels since I was a teenager. Although I can figure out that two people are attracted to each other and read about their romance without retching, I do not want their romance to be the star of the show. I want dialogue deeper than "oooh, I really shouldn't be attracted to him, but oh, I just can't help myself." Deborah Smith managed to weave a romance in between true angst (not the fake stuff they toss into Harlequins "oh no, I see him with another woman, he doesn't love me any more, woe is me") in a setting that anyone with Southern blood will recognize as "where real people live."

Crossroads Cafe was not only well written, but was well edited and nicely formatted. If I had three thumbs, they would all three be up for this one.