Tuesday, March 21, 2017


#TBRChallenge Reading: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown


2017 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit
Author: Jaye Robin Brown
My Categories: Lesbian YA Fiction
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Comfort Read

This review is almost a week late, and I have written it very reluctantly. I detested the book. It was the antithesis of a comfort read. Given my strong negative reaction, I have been foundering about where I should begin with the story and what I should say.

The premise of the story is very interesting. Joanna Gordon is the daughter of a radio evangelist and is a person of faith and also gay. Her father, Anthony, accepts her fully, or so she thinks, and she's encouraged to offer a series on his radio channel for other gay teens who might be interested in God. To Joanna, it is not inconceivable to think that God loves her just as she is. She does not need to dress in a particular manner or behave a certain way or give up living life on her terms to be acceptable to Him. And she wants other gay teens to feel the same acceptance.

However, the summer before her senior year, in a whirlwind marriage, Joanna's dad marries a younger woman. Elizabeth's condition of marriage is that Anthony and Joanna move from Atlanta to her small religious town in northern Georgia. After they move (not before), Anthony tells Joanna to not be so gay in this new town, to not dress Goth, and in general to not behave in a manner to rile up Elizabeth's relatives and the townspeople. And she should do this for him. In other words, this father who purportedly accepted his daughter's sexuality was uprooting her in her senior year and putting her back in the closet. In order to please her dad, she complies and pretends to be a twinset-wearing straight girl.

At school, she slowly gets in with the popular crowd, but that is how she meets the gorgeous Mary Carlson. How is she supposed to keep her eyes and her hands to herself? How her heart yearns and her body burns. So what is Joanna going to do?

Like I said, this book had promise. But unfortunately, Joanna spoiled it all. She's so self-involved and takes everything that is happening around her so personally. And she's thoughtless, rude to people around her, and generally does not hold good thoughts of most of the people in the book. In general, I found that many of the characters, other than the fabulous BTB, are selfish and mean-spirited. I can read about unlikable characters but not about mean characters. And that is all I have to say about this book. If you've read this book, please do share your thoughts.


Monday, March 13, 2017


For WA State Indie & Self-Pub Writers from @kcls Public Library


The King County Public Library system provides an excellent service to the indie and self-published writers of Washington State.

You can submit your eBook to the KCLS collection with the Library Journal's SELF-e program by sending an EPUB2, EPUB3, or PDF file via this submission form.

You book will then be included in the SELF-e and Indie Washington collections of eBooks by local authors.

BiblioBoard is the platform that you will use to check out and read eBooks available via SELF-e and Indie WA.

Your book may be reviewed by Library Journal and may be included in the national SELF-e collection, thereby, being available across all participating libraries in the U.S. and Canada.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017


My February Reading


February is my All Romance month, and with a couple of notable exceptions, I succeeded with five romances.

The DNF romance I read leads me to protest that writing a romance is not an exercise in connecting the dots unweighted by lack of research and basic writing standards. The condescension and disdain with which that book was written, while assuming that of course it'll be well-received, made me gnash my teeth while soundly DNFing it.

Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas
Categories: Victorian Romance
Comments: With this book, rather than the two that preceded it, I feel that Kleypas has returned to her historical roots. She's found her feet again, and her voice is assured, her comedic wit is balanced, and her characters tender and big-hearted. Despite various naysayers, I liked the heroine and how she's such a perfect foil for the glossy urbane hero with her imperfections.

"She objects not only to me, but to the institution of marriage itself. The title, the fortune, the estate, the social position...to her, they're all detractions. Somehow I have to convince her to marry me despite those things. And I'm damned if I even know who I am outside of them."

I enjoyed seeing how Pandora struggles to assert herself and her rights as an entrepreneur in a Victorian society where a woman becomes the property of her husband after marriage and anything and everything she owns becomes his by right. I loved how Gabriel works to resolve this and workaround the day's existing laws.

One of the things that stood out for me is how much he respects her business acumen and innovation in the face of her other bumbling qualities. He wholeheartedly accepts every facet is her personality. This is a person who's allowed to be a person despite his exacting standards of himself. At the outset he saw her as a disaster and an antithesis to everything he had hoped for in a wife and future duchess. However, over time, he realizes that she is the perfect wife for him.

A Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran
Categories: Romance, Victorian
Comments: What a great book! Duran has yet to disappoint me and this is no exception. I consider her one of the finest historical romance writers writing today. This book is a political Victorian story involving a Member of Parliament and a woman raised in a political family and a mystery they must unravel else their lives are at stake. It is also a story of trust and an amnesia trope. But with Duran, a trope's never a tired execution, but something fresh and new. That is what I really like about her writing. My review is here.

My American Duchess by Eloisa James
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: I really enjoyed the book till the hero and heroine get married and then it went flat for me from there. But the first three-fifths were great with snappy dialogue, great characterization, and a good plot. Merry Pelford is an American heiress on the catch for a titled English gentleman. She has gained a reputation for being fickle because she has jilted two American men. So she's been brought to England, where she may have a clean slate and a wide selection to choose from. When the story begins, Merry has just been proposed to by Lord Cedric Allardyce, the twin brother of the Duke of Trent. Cedric is a virtual Pink of the Ton and very persnickety in his tastes. Merry has some idea that she's being courted for her money, but she's captivated by Cedric's good looks and fine address and believes him to be sincerely fond of her. So she accepts his proposal. However, the same night Merry has a run-in with the Duke of Trent. Neither knows the other out on the darkish terrace. And what ensues then in them revealing their true selves to each other in a refreshingly fresh, witty repartée. They find that they have instant chemistry. And so begins a triangle. My review is here.

A Lady Without a Lord by Bliss Bennet
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: I was very much taken with Bennet's assured writing, complex and unusual characterization, and verve for storytelling, all highlights of a much more experienced author. Harriot is the steward's daughter at the Saybrook estate, but in reality, she's keeping the account books in light of her father's increasingly poor grasp of reality. She's also taken up other steward duties, such as repairing tenant roofs, supervising the sheep shearing, negotiating the vehement opposition to the annual village fête, and so on. In the meantime, Theo, Viscount Saybrook, has discovered that he's been embezzled out of 12,000 pounds. He abandons his libertine ways in London to get down to the root of the problem despite his mathematical disorder. This book is a romance, a mystery, and a coming of age story for Theo. Bennet has done a superb job of showing the progression of Alzheimer's disease and the complexities of dyscalculia disorder in an era when their causes and diagnoses were unknown. If you've never read Bennet before, I recommend you read this book. My review is here.

The Viscount's Bride by Lindsay Downs
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: By God, this was a definite D.N.F.!!! The sheer arrogance with which the historical atrocities (i.e., factual mistakes) were made is breathtaking. He's a member of RWA. Surely, he could've attended a few of the workshops and perhaps signed up on the Beau Monde email loop to avoid some of the most egregious of mistakes. Heck, even picking up a single research book would've solved some of his basic issues. Then there's the writing. And the lack of editing. Here's the last paragraph of the book:

Kathleen, this has to have been the most interesting commission I've ever been given. I meet and marry my true love, help solve several murders, and catch the killers all the while designing pavilions for here and your parents'," Matthew declared wrapping an arm around Kathleen's waist. (punctuation his)

We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama Edited by E.J. Dionne Jr. and Joy-Ann Reid
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: I'm loving this collection of the most prominent and noteworthy of Obama's speeches throughout his eight years in the White House. This is an ongoing reading project, so it'll show up on these monthly reading round-ups for a while.

Becoming the Parent You Want To Be by Laura Davis & Janis Keyser
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: As with most parenting advice, this book's contents are not rocket science, nor are they at the epiphany level. But many times, things that you've read in the past and not connected with suddenly resonate with you when explained differently. Such is the case of this book. And while it claims to be only for small children, I think the book applies equally to older children.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017


A Lady Without a Lord by Bliss Bennet


In keeping with my Valentine's Day tradition, my February reads were all romance and all wonderful! I had become jaded with romance off-late, so I was delighted to rediscover my love for romance. I read Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas, My American Duchess by Eloisa James, A Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran, and A Lady Without a Lord by Bliss Bennet.

Bennet may be a fledgling author but her book stands stalwart with the others on that list. I was very much taken with her assured writing, complex and unusual characterization, and verve for storytelling, all highlights of a much more experienced author.

Harriot "Harry" Atherton is the steward's daughter at the Saybrook estate in Lindsey, Lincolnshire. In reality, she's keeping the account books in light of her father's increasingly poor grasp of reality. Her father refuses to acknowledge his growing disability and his growing reliance on Harry, and Harry struggles with respecting her father and his decisions while trying to circumvent and prevent disasters.

So she's had to deal with repairing tenant roofs, supervising the sheep shearing, negotiating the vehement opposition to the annual village fête by Reverend Strickland of Oldfield and Sir John Mather, and other such matters routinely overseen by a steward.

Enter one Theodosius "Theo" Pennington, the new Viscount Saybrook, a self-professed libertine and childhood playmate of Harry's. A stolen kiss from him in their teens and his rakish reputation has made her wary of him. She cannot afford to fall under his spell, lest he discover her father's true condition that she is at pains to disguise.

Theo's finally returned to Lincolnshire after discovering that he's been fleeced out of his sister's dowry. Something dodgy is going on at his estate and he is determined to get to the bottom of it and recover the money. However, this course of action is a torture for Theo for he has struggled with basic mathematics his whole life. Labeled lazy and useless since his childhood — "did he not always fail the people for whom he cared?" — he lived up to these slurs in his young adulthood by indulging in dissipation. Now, however, despite his disability, he has to solve the mystery of the missing money.

He is determined to recover the money not just to give what he owes to his sister, but also to prove to her and to himself that he can act responsibly, he can manage his estate and take care of his tenants, and he can behave in a "to the manor born" manner. So there's a lot riding on those twelve thousand pounds.

As Theo and Harry struggle to reconcile their past reputations and current roles, not to mention the suspicion of her father for the stolen money, neither can deny the growing attraction between them.

While the romance is perforce the central thrust of the story, the pacing and scattering of the clues of the mystery are also well done. I especially liked the historical details Bennet chooses: The heavy odor of a poorly drawing chimney hung upon Theo....

This book is also a coming of age story for Theo as he figures out how to leverage his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses in order to become an effective landowner and viscount.

Theo closed his eyes for a moment, taken aback by her unexpected praise. True, he might be a dunce when it came to anything concerning numbers, but he did have other skills, other strengths. If he called on the ones he had, instead of continually berating himself for the one he lacked, might he prove himself worthy of the responsibilities that had descended upon him after his father's death?

Bennet has done a superb job of showing the progression of Alzheimer's disease and the complexities of dyscalculia disorder in an era when their causes and diagnoses were unknown. Both Mr. Atherton and Theo present their difficulties in a manner that would be instantly recognizable today but is entirely historically appropriate in the context of the story.

If this is a new-to-you author, please do not hesitate to pick up A Lady Without a Lord.

———
Please note: I was given an ARC of this book by the author.


Friday, February 24, 2017


Eat That Frog: Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time... Part 2


In the blog on Wednesday (February 22, 2017), I introduced the basic concept of the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy.

Continuing on... How do you create the daily prioritized list of tasks?

In order to do so, I ask myself, "Which is the one activity that if I did in an excellent and timely fashion would have the greatest positive impact on the project as a whole or my life?" Thus, I use long-term consequences to make my near-term decisions.

The thing that I, personally, have been and continue to be guilty of is that I'm tempted to clear up the small things first. The thinking is that these are things that I can finish up quickly and that will make me feel accomplished and on top of things. Whereas the reverse is true. Time management is really life management, and while I am free to choose what to spend my time on, my ability to choose between important and unimportant things will determine my successes day-to-day and in the long-term.

Identifying the key constraints of all the tasks also determines the order of execution of the tasks. Say, I'm waiting for something to be delivered to me by someone else before I can start on my part of the project, then I can schedule that task for the afternoon instead of first thing in the morning, even if, it is the most important thing on my list for that day. In this case, the ugly morning frog will have to be the ugliest of all the frogs in my control and not dependent upon others.

An important determiner of the order of tasks is my assessment of my daily health and special needs. Say, my energy levels always flag around 10 o'clock and pick up after lunch at 1 o'clock. Well, then the ugliest frogs are set for the first half of the morning, unimportant tasks for mid-morning, and the lesser frogs for early afternoon.

Sometimes a project is too large and unwieldy to be tackled in one big chunk. So after it is broken down in various sub-tasks, the sub-tasks can be sequenced in order to get the whole project done.

These are some of the ways in which to develop a prioritized list of tasks to do on a daily basis.

One thing to remember is to unitask, that is, focus on only one task at time, and finish it before moving on to the next task on the list. See the blog on Monday (February 20, 2017) to learn how and why unitasking is better than multitasking.

Another thing to remember is to "develop a sense of urgency in everything you do," according to Brian Tracy. Once you start a task, develop the habit of working immediately and fast on it.

The unitasking and fast action help in achieving a task quicker with higher quality. It results in a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

So remember: Eat That Frog every single morning!


Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Eat That Frog: Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time... Part 1


This blog is about the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy.

Eat That Frog! refers to the Mark Twain mantra: "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day."

According to Tracy: "Your frog is your biggest, most important task of the day, the one you're most likely to procrastinate on. It is also the one task that can have the greatest possible impact on your life and results at the moment. [So] tackle your major task first thing each morning before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first."

The way I interpret this is that I should plan my day in advance (say, the night before or at the start of the day) by creating and typing up a prioritized list of tasks I want to get done that day.

"There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important thing." So the first thing I tackle the next day morning is either the most significant task and/or the most 'procrastinable' task. The latter is the task that I'm most reluctant to get done—it might be something I have been putting off for days. So getting that done and out of the way in the morning itself will take the pressure off from the rest of my day.

"Whenever you complete a task of any size or importance, you feel a surge of energy, enthusiasm, and self-esteem," says Brain Tracy. "The more important the completed task, the happier, more confident, and more powerful you feel about yourself and your world. The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well, and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life."

Who wouldn't want these feel-good endorphins first thing in the morning? Especially when, I don't have to have burning pain in my legs or heaving sides to get it? Frog legs for the win! Bon Appétit!


Monday, February 20, 2017


Unitasking Instead of Multitasking is the New Way to Work


I shall be doing a short series of productivity blogs this week. These blogs aren't new—they're from May 2013—but their currency hasn't waned yet.

The buzzword of the late 1990s and 2000s was multitasking. Everyone wanted to be multitasking or wanted it bruited about that they were efficient multitaskers.

But the key question these high achievers failed to ask was: Were they effective as multitaskers? That is, at the end of the day, given the same set of tasks, did the multitaskers or the unitaskers achieve more in terms of quality and quantity?

Has this ever happened to you? You're reading a document, when it suddenly reminds you of the email your friend sent to you yesterday that you hadn't replied to, so you open your email program, only to find two high priority emails from your boss that you start answering, only to be interrupted by your co-worker calling you for lunch. And so your mid-morning goes, by the end of which, all you've achieved is a meal.

Behavior and social scientists now believe that constant context-switching between various tasks causes people to be less effective overall. For something like walking and chewing gum, multitasking works. For something like, writing a scene of your book with complex fight choreography and also having a protracted discussion via email on the minutiae of book contract negotiations, multitasking is counterproductive to achieving the milestones for either of the two tasks.

Every time you switch away from task one to task two, you have to reload all the details about task two in your mind before you can start working. Similarly, switching back to task one requires you to reload those set of details, and back and forth.

In Monk Mind, blogger Leo Babauta explodes the myth that multitaskers are getting more work done and are getting more satisfaction from that work, in terms of quality and sense of achievement.

So for the intellectually challenging tasks, tasks that require a lot of attention and care, tasks involving physical and emotional intimacy, etc., unitasking is to be lauded and actively pursued, because focusing on single tasks is the way to go in order to achieve success.

How do you go about focusing the mind on a single task? Take the case of writing an article for a magazine.

Clear Away Distractions

Close all email systems, browsers, and social media programs.

Turn off all notifications.

Disconnect your computer from the Internet.

Clear your desk of all pieces of paper except for those necessary for your selected task. As in the case of writing the article, you'll need your folder of research material, interview transcripts, and notes.

Leave only the programs open that are necessary for achieving your selected task. So for the article, perhaps you'll need the folder where you've saved your research and nascent article files and your word processing program.

Plug in headphones, whether you play music or not is up to you. Headphones cut out ambient sound and also signal to other people that Serious Work Is In Progress.

Now, do nothing but that one task.

Practice Doing One Thing

If you can't focus on one task for more than a few minutes, start out with small goals in the begining. Say, you'll work on your task for five minutes, then reward yourself by taking a one-minute break to read email. Slowly build up to ten minutes on, one minute off; and so on. Be sure to have a timer set so that you can accurately build this up. In his article, Leo writes, "Set up a positive feedback cycle for single-tasking focus, and you’ll reverse the years of training your mind has gotten to switch tasks."

Sounds overly simplistic? Give it a try. The mind is flexible and can be retrained.

In conclusion, Leo writes, "While a few years ago I couldn’t sit down to work on something without quickly switching to email or one of my favorite Internet forums or sites, today I can sit down and write. I can clear away distractions, when I set my mind to it, and do one thing. And that changes everything: you lose yourself in that task, become so immersed that you pour everything you have into the work, and it becomes a meditative, transformative experience. Your happiness increases, stress goes down, and [quality of] work improves."

An aside...

However, busy moms will still prize multitasking. For example, here's what writer Monica Trasandes wrote in the December 2012 issue of Real Simple: "Recently I found myself walking toward the kitchen with a load of laundry in my arms, two empty coffee cups dangling from my fingers, and car keys tucked between my chin and the clothes."

I think Trasandes is a lightweight. I'd have a book tucked under one arm, a purse dangling from that elbow, the mugs held in one hand, while an empty water bottle and a board game are firmly clasped in the other hand, in addition to the laundry and the keys.


Thursday, February 16, 2017


#TBRChallenge Reading: My American Duchess by Eloisa James


2017 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: My American Duchess
Author: Eloisa James
My Categories: Regency Historical Romance
Wendy Crutcher's Category: New-to-You Author

I really enjoyed the book till the hero and heroine get married and then I felt it went flat for me from there. But the first three-fifths were great with snappy dialogue, great characterization, and a good plot.

Merry Pelford is an American heiress on the catch for a titled English gentleman. So far, she has fallen in and out of love easily, and she has jilted two American men. Despite being a Cabot of Boston, she has gained a reputation as being fickle. So her Aunt Bess and Uncle Thaddeus have bundled her out to her mother's homeland, England, where she may have a clean slate and a wide selection to choose from.

When the story begins, Merry has just been proposed to by Lord Cedric Allardyce, the twin brother of the Duke of Trent. Cedric is a virtual Pink of the Ton and very persnickety in his tastes. However, he also drinks heavily, gambles heavily, and spends money heavily. As a result, he's in need of an heiress bride, even if she is American. Merry has some idea that she's being courted for her money, but she's captivated by Cedric's good looks and fine address and believes him to be sincerely fond of her.

However, the same night of the proposal at Lady Portmeadow's ball, Merry has a run-in with the Duke of Trent. Neither knows the other out on the darkish terrace. And what ensues then in them revealing their true selves to each other in a refreshingly fresh, witty repartée. Merry does not try to hide her American-ness or her abiding interest in facts and figures, and Trent does not hide behind an aloof ducal hauteur. They also find that they have instant chemistry.

The minute they part, Merry hates herself for her capriciousness in constantly being enamored of the homme du jour. She determines to be true to Cedric to whom she has given her word. Meanwhile, the proper Trent is amazed that he is captivated by a woman who's the opposite of who he would consider as his wife and a fit duchess. However, by the time their conversation draws to a close, he has decided that he will have no other to wife.

Imagine his horror then when he finds out a few minutes later that his heart's delight is recently engaged to his brother!

And then follows the constant tug of war between Merry and Trent's growing attraction and feelings for each other, Merry and Cedric's growing disenchantment with each other, and Cedric and Trent continuing sibling hostility, almost all emanating from Cedric. Trent warns Merry to watch out for Cedric's penchant for drunkenness, while he believes that Merry could be Cedric's salvation to a normal life. He tries to stay out of the way of the affianced couple, all the while being unable to help himself for being unable to do so.

At Lady Verker's ball, Trent starts out consoling Merry but they end up in their first passionate moment when both acknowledge to themselves and each other that they were meant to be; anything else would be a travesty. Unfortunately for them, Cedric is hidden in the library, while this is going on. After Trent leaves to fetch Aunt Bess, he rakes Merry over the coals for her inconstancy and insists, vehemently, that none other than he would marry her.

Merry and Trent are in deep despair for two days till the wedding. Then comes an ex deus machina and Trent ends up married to her with Cedric off to the Bahamas. (It's a bit, um, wonky.)

And this is where the story went downhill for me. The story came to an utter standstill with repeated love scenes. There was no advancement of plot or characterization other than the fact that they were having a lot of sex and were getting emotionally involved. In between the love scenes, there was a lot of telling to show passage of time and how much the two of them shared their thoughts with each other and grew as a couple. There was no showing, only telling. It got to the point that when the black moment came, I didn't care very much.

What a pity! The story had such heart, such promise in the beginning. It felt energetic and organic. By the end, I felt the HEA was being pulled together.

Having said all of this, I have loved many of Eloisa James's books, so I will always try her next one.

(May I just say what a gorgeous cover that is? !!)


Tuesday, February 7, 2017


My January Reading


My reading speed seems to have dropped off even more this year if this month is any indication. However, I read great books, so I can't really complain. The Happiness Project had languished on my TBR for years, and every year, I made plans to read it, but it has never happened, for some reason. Not sure why, because it is eminently readable. This year, I decided to spread the reading out, and that's helping to get me to move on it.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: One day, Rubin asked herself what it was that she wanted from her life. And the answer that came to her was to be happy. That started her on a year-long happiness project of self-examination and self-determination. This book is a collection of her thoughts and conclusions of her project and the tools and methods, she used to work through her issues. sEach chapter in this book is by month. I'm going to be reading this book, one month at a time. So expect to see something about this book in every month's reading roundup. This month, I read the "Getting Started" and "January" chapters. My review is here.

Gutenberg the Geek by Jeff Jarvis
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: Johannes Gutenberg, of the printing press fame, was history's first technology entrepreneur and should be Silicon Valley's patron saint. He is also credited with training and producing more entrepreneurs who went on to build tremendous value of their own.

In the end, it was his cash flow and equity structure that did him in. After pivoting from one business to another, solving myriad technology problems with keen insight, recruiting his team, raising capital, perfecting his product through secret alphas and public betas, launching his business, finding customers, and earning revenue, the founder's main investor call in his loan, and in a nasty legal battle, took possession of most of the company's assets.

Gutenberg, who used technology to create a manufacturing industry, was perhaps the genesis of industrialization itself. He had a profound impact on the major events in the centuries to follow. This book goes into great detail about Gutenberg's working years and how he researched and developed all the technology behind his press. Through trial and error and with great vision and determination, he kept refining his product until it was just right. And despite his success being snatched away by his investor, his name came to be associated with his product forever more.

Daughters of a Nation by Kianna Alexander, Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, Piper Huguley
Categories: Historical Romance
Comments: This is an anthology of stories of black suffragettes, where the desperate struggle for equal voting rights for black men and for women is told against the backdrop of American history and the romantic entanglements of the protagonists. I truly enjoy historicals where I’m not only entertained by a well-written story, but I also learn about a part of history about which I have had no prior knowledge. So I really appreciated seeing a bibliography at the end of three of the stories in this anthology. A welcome first for me, because I’m interested in following up on the history behind these stories. This is a unique book in historical context, and one I recommend. My review is here.. Here's a bit about the individual stories:

In the Morning Sun (1868) by Lena Hart
Having lost her beloved James Blakemore to the Civil War, Madeline Asher’s ready to follow her other passion. She moves from her home in Philadelphia to Nebraska to educate and enlist the freedmen to vote. But James isn’t dead, and she runs into him in that tiny town and they learn how difficult it is to be a biracial couple there.

The Washerwomen’s War (1881) by Piper Huguley
Mary Frances Harper, the young daughter of the famous poet suffragette Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, is invited to take a month off from being a student at Milford College to teach adult women at the Atlanta Female Baptist Seminary. There, she comes face-to-face with Gabriel Harmon, a minster whom she’d refused to marry when they’d met before. The two get deeply involved in the washerwomen’s uprising and demand for fair wages.

A Radiant Soul (1881) by Kianna Alexander (1881)
Sarah Webster is a dedicated pastry chef at a hotel in Wyoming Territory. She meets Owen Markham when she returns home to Fayetteville, North Carolina. He’s involved fighting for equal voting rights for black men. Their relationship has to allow for them both to be activists while doing their day jobs.

Let Us Dream (1917) by Alyssa Cole
Bertha Hines owns a successful cabaret in Harlem. In her spare time, she teaches classes on the rights of citizens, civics, and politics for the marginalized African American women of New York City. Enter Amir Chowdhury, an illegal Muslim immigrant from Bengal, India, who jumped a British ship to settle in America. Little did he realize that he’d be treated like an alien and have to hide from immigration officials. He gets involved in activism for immigration reform. The two struggle with acceptance for their bi-racial relationship.

Obama's Legacy by The Washington Post
Categories: Nonfiction
Comments: Bold, deft, and articulate, this collection by some of The Washington Post's best journalists is a great look into the Obamas' public life in the White House. From policy to personal attacks, most aspects of their public life is discussed, critiqued, and praised in these pages. I loved reading it and will return to it.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Best Books of 2016


I read 99 books and poems in 2016, and here's a detailed look at my reading. I read some amazing modern poems and picture books, but for my Best Of list, I decided to choose full-length books: fiction, nonfiction, romance, and children's. Here's what I loved:

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
Lord Richard’s Daughter by Joan Wolf
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
The Innocents by Margery Sharp
Good Time Coming by C.S. Harris
The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

My top favorite book was When Breath Becomes Air. It is simply unforgettable!

For details about each of the books, please visit my blog on All About Romance.


Monday, January 23, 2017


All the Books of 2016


Here are the links to all the books I read in 2016. Lists 1-6 are pieces of one chronological list of 99 books and poems from my Excel Reading Spreadsheet, the pride and joy of my life. Ahem. Click on each image to read it.

List One



List Two



List Three



List Four



List Five



List Six


Thursday, January 19, 2017


#TBRChallenge Reading: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin


2017 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The Happiness Project
Author: Gretchen Rubin
My Categories: Nonfiction
Wendy Crutcher's Category: We Love Short Shorts!

(Ahem! Here goes my justification for not following Wendy's category suggestion. I'm reviewing only the "Getting Started" and "January" portions of the book, rather than the entire thing. So it's a "short," right? Never fear, I won't be reviewing the succeeding chapters every month. That would be an excessive departure from Wendy's themes even for me.)

One day, Rubin asked herself, "What do I want from life, anyway?" The answer came back: "To be happy!" That was the impetus to start a year-long happiness project of self-examination and self-determination. Before this epiphany, she'd never taken a moment to assess how happy she currently was, what made her happy, or how she might be happier.

She readily admits that she wasn't depressed or even unhappy. However, she felt that there were aspects of her personality and her life that could be better, thereby increasing her happiness levels. The most important point she gleaned from all her research was that it was always possible to be happier. There was always room for improvement, no matter where in your life you were, and it all depended on how you thought and acted.

Armed with all her research and the practical self-knowledge after doing her Happiness Project for a year, Rubin decided to share her nuggets of wisdom with others through this book, because as Blaise Pascal has argued: "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end."

Following Ben Franklin's practice, she created a similar daily Resolutions Chart where she recorded a check or a cross for each item every day. In order to do come up with her list of resolutions, she first identified what areas she wanted to work on—her goals—and then converted them into happiness-boosting resolutions—actions—that were concrete and measurable. She decided to focus on one new subject—and all the new resolutions that came from it—per month, and carried forward all the resolutions from the previous months. Some of her work areas were: social bonds, perspective, work & play, passion, money, and mindfulness.

As she worked on arriving at her list of subjects and resolutions, she discovered that some themes kept coming up in her thinking. She put those down as her Twelve Commandments. The number twelve had nothing to do with the number of months of the year; that was just a coincidence. Some of her commandments were: Let it go, Do it now, Be polite and be fair, Enjoy the process, Lighten up, and There's only love.

In addition to this, she came up with a set of fuzzier guidelines called Secrets of Adulthood, which included things like: Do good & feel good, It's important to be nice to everyone, People don't notice your mistakes as much as you think, If you're not failing you're not trying hard enough, What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while, and (a parenting biggie) You can't profoundly change your children's natures by nagging them or signing them up for classes.

Rubin's January Subject was: Boosting Energy Levels. Her corresponding January Resolutions were: Go to sleep early; Exercise better; Toss, restore, organize; Tackle a nagging task; and Act more energetic. While some of them are self-explanatory, a couple of them need a little thinking over.

Energetic:

If you act as if you feel energetic, you will become more energetic. In other words: Be the change you want to see. Why did she address energy? "I know that when I feel energetic, I find it much easier to behave in ways that make me happy."

Organize:

She addressed becoming organized, because "household disorder was a constant drain on my energy." She felt that clearing up her clutter from every part of her house would boost her domestic satisfaction and, thereby, her happiness. Speaking solely for myself, I can attest to this. My Project House Organization has made me feel distinctly successful, clear, and satisfied. Back to Rubin: She first identified different types of clutter, so she could decide how to address each type. For example, Nostalgic Clutter was made up of "relics I clung to from my earlier life." (C'mon, raise your hand if you have unopened boxes in your attic from more than a decade ago.) Bargain Clutter was from unnecessary things bought because they were on sale. A close cousin was Freebie Clutter. Aspirational Clutter were things she owned but only aspired to use. And so on.

A lot of people in her life and on Amazon have accused her of supreme self-centeredness by spending so much effort on her own happiness. However, she agrees with Aristotle, who said: "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."

To this, I add what His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama has said: "“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."

[I will cover the remaining chapters of this book in my monthly reading round-ups, one, each month. I will add links here when those blogs post.]


Thursday, January 12, 2017


My December Reading


I'm usually not a fan of anthologies or short novellas, because I feel that the romance usually gets shortchanged in the shorter format. However, I was intrigued by the premise of the anthology, Silver Belles when Laura K. Curtis tweeted about it. And I'm so glad I read it. Love is for everyone, even for folks in their forties and fifties after the children from their previous relationships have grown up and left home. I enjoyed this read so much that I ventured out and read another short novella. It was less rewarding, but I've changed my mind about romances not working in the shorter format. In the hands of the right authors, they can work convincingly.

Silver Belles by Sarah M. Anderson, Ros Clarke, Laura K. Curtis, Yasmine Galenorn, Suleikha Snyder
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Five happy-for-now stories that are filled with the joy of romance and the joy of the Christmas season. I really liked this anthology.

In A Christmas Pony by Sarah M. Anderson, a pony and a gorgeous animal control officer show up on her front doorstep in rapid succession, and she doesn't know who she's more bemused by. This is a mystery (who does the pony belong to and what was it doing in an urban town?) and a romance all in the small space of a short story.

In Midnight Clear by Ros Clarke, she's felled first by a huge dog and then by the dog's owner. She's recovering from her previous relationship with a vicar, when she finds herself falling in love with a vicar. This is a story of faith and friendship set in a small town in the English countryside.

Sparks by Laura K. Curtis is a boss-employee romance where the work dynamics between them affects their private dynamics, and they both worry about separating the personal from the professional.

In The Longest Night by Yasmine Galenorn, both protagonists celebrate their Pagan beliefs while exploring their personal freedoms to be who they are individually and who they are together.

A Taste of Blessings by Suleikha Snyder has hot romantic tension going on in the midst of a religious Hindu festival. I loved this story for all the cultural details woven seamlessly into the fabric of the Indian Bengali American society in the Midwest. My review is here.

A Match Made in Mistletoe by Anna Campbell
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: Serena Talbot has been in love with Sir Paul Garside since forever. However, Paul has been slow on the uptake. So this year, Serena makes up her mind to compel Paul to kiss her under the mistletoe. With her focus completely on Paul, she fails to realize that his friend Giles Farraday, Marquess of Hallam has been interested in her. Very interested. However, he does not believe his suit will prosper, so he's always hung back.

This Christmas, however, he's determined for Serena to sit up and take notice of him. The story's about Serena gradually realizing why she's more attracted to Giles when it's Paul she supposedly loves—it's about calf love versus mature love. The story was an okay read for me. I have nothing against the premise—in the right hands, the story could be delicious. And while I realize this is a novella, I would've liked to have seen a little more complexity of plot and, more importantly, emotions. Others have liked it more.

Aly's House by Leila Meacham
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Based in a small town in Oklahoma, this is a story of young infatuation, financial power, and horses. Aly has always had an eye for Marshall since she was in first grade and he in fifth. Unlike her family, who thinks she is strange, Marshall's mother envelopes her in love and understanding. So it's doubly shocking to her to find that her father has foreclosed on Marshall's farm. Marshall vows revenge and goes off to become a mover and shaker on Wall Street. How will Ally convince him that loving her is more important than destroying her father? My review is here.

Wild Horse Springs by Jodi Thomas
Categories: Contemporary Western Romance
Comments: There hasn’t been a single Jodi Thomas book that I’ve picked up and been disappointed with. Her quiet storytelling really speaks to me. Only Jodi Thomas with her careful, gently nuanced characterization can craft people who’re emotionally mature, quietly formidable, memorable, and relatable. While this book has some gripping action, overall, it’s a gentle tale of three intertwining strands between a small town sheriff, a bar singer, a park ranger, a law student, and a former Texas Ranger. If you’ve never read Jodi Thomas, this is a good first book by her. If you’re a fan of the Ransom Canyon series, this is a good addition to the series. My review is here.

In Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War II by Rhys Bowen
Categories: Historical Mystery
Comments: You really do not want to miss this story! It's a murder mystery with a patina of romance set in Kent involving MI5 and Bletchley Park during World War II. Simply knowing this sold me on the book, and Ms. Bowen delivered on the promise of the premise with an exciting story. This was my first Rhys Bowen book, and I can’t wait to dive into her backlist. My review is here.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Reading Goals 2017


A new year means a fresh look at reading goals for the year. I really like doing this, because it sets an intention to my reading that I then try to live up to as the year goes on. It means that I do less meandering, less glomming, and instead do more directed reading.

This is not to say there're no on-the-spur-of-the-moment books inspired by recommendations from sources I trust. I'm forever fiddling with my spreadsheet moving stuff around to make room for new stuff, but directed reading allows me to also read some the books I've always said I wanted to read. Sometimes, these books have a tendency to get lost under the allure of the ooh-shiny-new.

As a result, I have already planned out my reading through August. I had to spreadsheet everything in order to get through the books I have for review with deadlines attached to them and reading the books that I have had on my list for a while.

This year's spreadsheet so far includes general fiction, literary fiction, women's fiction, romance genre fiction, nonfiction, and plays. I hope to add poetry to the mix as well, but that will be more of an impulsive choice—I get poems via email daily, and sometimes, I read them and sometimes not. What are not present as much as I'd like on this list are diverse books, works in translation, and children's fiction. I hope to read more in those areas in the latter half of the year.

My Reading Goals for 2016 included the categories listed below plus romance. I tracked which books I read under these categories in a blog post on LiveJournal in addition to adding the appropriate tags to my spreadsheeted book items. My categories for this year are going to be the same—they made for really rewarding reading last year.

General Fiction
Mystery & Thriller
Children's & Young Adult
Poetry & Plays
Biographies & Memoirs
Writing, Parenting, Life Skills
General Nonfiction
In Translation
Diverse
Male Writers

As in previous years, I shall continue to participate in Wendy Crutcher's TBR Challenge where on every third Wednesday of the month, I'll comment on a book from the TBR on my blog here. I try to follow Wendy's monthly themes but since my goal is to read non-romance books for this challenge, my books don't always fall in the same categories as Wendy's. Going off-theme is allowed!

If Vassiliki runs it again next year, I also hope to participate in Vassiliki's ShallowReader Bingo! every month, where for every entry on the Bingo! card, I'll write a sentence or two from the books I read that month. Last year in October, I completed the entire Bingo! card based on one book. That is what I hope to aspire to every month, even though advertising on the side of a bus also counts as reading.

And that's it for now. I'll try to check in mid-year to see how I kept up with my goals and to see what I need to change going forward.


Sunday, January 1, 2017


Happy New Year!


Dear Readers of Cogitations & Meditations:

Wish you all a very happy new year. May this year bring you joy, laughter, and contentment.

Thank you for reading my posts here. Looking forward to a year of writing and reviewing here and at All About Romance.

I can be found on email keira at keirasoleore dot com or on Twitter @KeiraSoleore.

As my Twitter bio states: I'm a student of medieval manuscripts, a reviewer, a book editor, an aspiring historical writer, a book blogger, an avid reader, a choral singer, a proud coffee drinker, a dedicated sun saluter, a fannish beach-lay-abouter, and an all around good egg." I will continue to be so in 2017 as well.

Warm regards,
Keira



Monday, December 5, 2016


Blog on Hiatus


I'm putting this blog on hiatus for the rest of the year. Wishing everyone Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday! See you in the new year.


Thursday, December 1, 2016


My November Reading


Before this month, other than history books—and history books are written by victors—I had not read a Southern account of the U.S. Civil War. It was a difficult read, because it was difficult to know that despite good intentions at the beginning, the occupying Union army behaved no better than the Mongol Hordes and inflicted untold horror on the civilians. This is not the author's opinion, but meticulously researched from first-hand accounts.

Good Time Coming by CS Harris
Categories: Y/A General Fiction
Comments: "I killed a man in the summer I turned thirteen. Sometimes I still see him in my dreams, his eyes as blue as the Gulf on a clear spring morning, his cheeks reddened by the hot Louisiana sun."

So begins a powerful story of the U.S. Civil War as seen through the eyes of an observant and courageous young girl. The brutality of the story is told unflinchingly and in exquisite detail—the grace and beauty of the prose could only come from C.S. Harris.

Ann-Marie St. Pierre “Amrie” lives on a small farm near St. Franciseville, Louisiana. Before the war, she'd believed that she was part of a benevolent nation. The war teaches her to hate the North whose soldiers were committing atrocities on her innocent family and her innocent friends and neighbors. Despite coming from an abolitionist family, she identifies with her slave-owning neighbors and become fiercely Southern as a result of the war.

The book is superbly researched and superbly written. The book releases today. [Edited 12/2: My review is here.]

The Hampshire Hoyden by Michelle Martin
Categories: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: How I love this book! I have read and re-read it until it is falling apart. I find Michelle Martin’s writing solidly in the traditional Regency milieu with a lot of witty repartee thrown in. She wrote scarcely a handful of such books, and while they’re all superb, to me, The Hampshire Hoyden is the best.

From the moment the characters are introduced, they never cease to entertain. There’s not a dull moment to be found in the midst of hilarity, silliness, dueling bookish quotations, an outrageous plot, and a slow-developing, heartwarming central romance. If you’re fond of traditional Regencies, I highly recommend this book. It's OOP, but available used on AMZ. [Edited 12/15: My review is here.]

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: This is a signature Tessa Dare novel, light and with plenty of laughs. Piers Brandon, Lord Granville is a spy and Charlotte Highwood is a spy-wanna-be. She feels she has no accomplishment to date but spying might become her thing. Granville thinks this is dangerous and tries to stop her. In turn, she warns him that her Mama is up to all sorts of marriage machinations, but she, herself, has no designs on him. He's blatantly relieved.

Yet, they find themselves up close and personal at every opportunity, the first of which gets her compromised. They agree with her Mama to a private engagement, but between themselves agree that they had no intentions of marrying. Even after he slowly becomes reconciled to it, she's busy trying to solve the mystery that led to her being compromised, so that she can set him free. And yet, they find themselves up close and personal at every opportunity. Mais bien sûr.

This was the first book we read for our newly formed romance book club. Hooray for the club!

When a Scot Loves a Lady by Katharine Ashe
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: I read this book on a recommendation by Emily Wittmann, and I'm glad I did. I had lately been disenchanted with historical romance—tired of wallpaper stories and their silly plots. With this romance, I was heartened that my beloved sub-genre had not abandoned me. I just needed to look harder for authors new-to-me and take recommendations with an eye to who's doing the recommending. My review is here.

The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: This is a delicious puzzle box of a book with handsome writing that gives a new look to stories set in the Jazz Age. Switching between 1920s New York and contemporary New York, the book is peopled by a witty irreverent flapper, a tough Prohibition agent, a young innocent Princeton student, an accounting wizard, and a musician carpenter.

The contemporary and historical storylines intersect at various points in the book as two smart, clever women journey through life discovering themselves and their romantic inclinations. The story moves quickly between the storylines and the powerful cliff-hangers. The two women leap off the page with a clarity and strength of purpose that is rare in stories. The connections forged between them across the decades is a journey of discovery for the reader. [Edited 1/15/17: Here's my review.]


Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Writing Morning Pages


In January, I wrote a post answering the question: What Are Morning Pages?. A short description is that Morning Pages are handwritten pages of approximately 750 words written strictly in a stream-of-consciousness style every morning as close to waking up as possible.

I've written Morning Pages for every day since January 1. And I've broken every rule of writing these Pages. I have written fewer words than 750 and I've written more. I have written stream-of-consciousness and I've written directed writing where I have some self-help-type things or daily life issues I'm trying to work out. I've written pages in the morning and in the evening and every time in between. I have skipped a day or two here and there and then made up those pages on the next day.

And despite all of these exceptions to the rule, I have consistently handwritten them, and I declare that my Morning Pages exercise has been a success. To me, it is the writing that matters and using your brain to wrestle with issues and coming up with ideas to write about. I believe that writing longhand is key to our mind being able to sift through and process things that really matter to our long term mental health. To that effect, it's like meditation. It's a calming exercise that is in turn a sharpening of the consciousness.

I have benefitted greatly from these Pages. They've become a part of my life—a way for me to celebrate the joys, come to terms with problems, and deal with grief. This year, brought with it all three, the last of which I could've done without, but the Pages got me through everything.

Reporting in every day to a group of Pagers has been fun. In addition to the companionship, those tweets have added the accountability that has been necessary for me to form this new habit and keep me motivated. The group of people I've reported in to has changed over the weeks and months, but Angela Reynolds and Liz McCausland have been consistently tweeting me since the beginning, and I'm grateful to them.

I'll be taking a hiatus from Morning Pages from December 1–31, and I'll resume writing them on January 1, 2017. There's too much going on in December, and I never want writing these Pages to be a chore, but rather, something I eagerly anticipate. So while I know that I'll miss them doing them very much, a hiatus makes sense.

If daily Morning Pages sounds like something you'd be interested in doing, join me in Paging in the new year. Tweet me every morning and let me know you've Paged.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016


#TBRChallenge Reading: When a Scot Loves a Lady by Katharine Ashe


2016 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: When a Scot Loves a Lady
Author: Katharine Ashe
My Categories: Romance, Regency
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Historical

I read this book on a recommendation by Emily Wittmann, and I'm glad I did. I had lately been disenchanted with historical romance—tired of wallpaper stories and their silly plots. With this romance, I was heartened that my beloved sub-genre had not abandoned me. I just needed to look harder for authors new-to-me and take recommendations with an eye to who's doing the recommending.

Lord Leam Blackwood is a Scottish earl, who for the past five years has been residing in London as part of the secret Falcon Club. The club's denizens are involved in various spy activities on shore and off-shore on behalf of The Crown. Leam meets Lady Katherine Savege at a ball and is struck by her vulnerability even as she clings to another man who treats her callously.

Kitty had been taken advantage of by this man in her youth, where he robbed her of her innocence and then refused to marry her. In clinging to him, she's seeking information about all aspects of his life, because she's seeking retribution for his depredations. And she succeeds handsomely in destroying his reputation so thoroughly that he's cast from society. However, her meeting with Leam at that ball convinces her to move away from her path of further revenge on to building a life for herself, to reclaim, in part, the charm of youthfulness.

Five years later, Kitty and her friend manage to arrive at a small inn in a snowstorm, only to find it also occupied by Leam and his friend. This is where Leam and Kitty are helpless to halt their attraction to each other. What had barely begun at the ball is consummated at that inn.

Given how much time Kitty spends with Leam, she detects that occasionally, Leam drops his loquacious Scottish brogue to speak in the cultured tones of a nobleman. Around her though, he always adopts the folksy mien. When they make love, he drops lines of poetry in various languages, again, bespeaking of an education that is at variance with the image he's trying hard to project.

It is an image he has taken pains to develop for the Falcon Club's purposes. And since they're currently on a mission, he doesn't abandon it, even as Kitty and he are drawing closer to each other.

I enjoyed seeing how Leam drops his spy cloak to reveal his Blackwood self to Kitty and how she comes to terms with their new relationship. From its fiery beginning scenes at the inn, the story moves forward at a more measured pace through the rest of the book.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016


My October Reading


I read two Amish romances this month. Before I read them, my only experience with an inspirational romance was the execrable and unconscionable For Such a Time by Kate Breslin. So I was a bit tentative in approaching this pair of inspirationals, but I was pleased with the books. Quieter and sweeter than I had expected and dwelling not too much on the religious aspects of their lives, these books appealed to me in the way traditional Regencies do.

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes
Categories: Contemporary Romance, General Fiction
Comments: I loved this book, especially the novella Paris for One. It is a very sweet romance between a shy English young woman and a confident Parisian young man. She's been constantly taken advantage of and he teaches her to dream, to expect better of and for herself. The short stories in the book are a study of marriages over a period of years; not in the throes of the honeymoon period but after a seasoned number of years have elapsed. I was very pleased with the overall development of the stories—Moyes is clearly a very talented writer. My review is here.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is a workplace enemies-to-lovers romance as well as a Rent-a-Date romance. It's a romance that's an urban modern story as well as a story with old-fashioned values. What I liked most about this book is the banter between the hero and the heroine. It is clever, sharp, very articulate, and very funny. I enjoyed how they are both strong characters who give as good as they get. This isn't a tentative story, but a boldly assured one. Despite the sassiness of the dialogue, the romance is very sweet, and at the same time, very hot—a great combination. There are a few glaring negatives in the book that I have detailed in my review here. This was my October TBR Challenge book.

The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni
Categories: Nonfiction Memoir
Comments: I wrote my October ShallowReader Bingo! Card entirely on this book. It is a memoir narrated by Danielle Trussoni about her second marriage, how it began, and what happened over the ten years of its duration. The author makes herself incredibly vulnerable to judgment by the reader as she goes into excruciating details about the good, bad, and terrible parts of her marriage and what it means to live with someone with whom she’s increasingly disenchanted. I couldn’t look away from this story of the awful wreck of two people’s lives and the awful wreck of their marriage. I despised the author and her husband and had lost every ounce of respect for them by the end. Despite this, the book is a compelling read, because the writing is articulate, imaginative, and even beautiful in parts. My review is here.

A Sister's Wish by Shelley Shepard Gray
Categories: Inspirational Romance
Comments: This is book three of "The Charmed Amish Life" series. Gray is a well-known author of Amish romances, and her experience is visible in her deft handling of her characters' emotions. The central love story is a sweet love story of a girl whose ambition is to have her own family and to look after it. She's courted by a strong man who respects her for her hard work and care in looking after her older siblings and their families. He knows that she will dedicate herself to her own family with love and attentive care. In her, he sees the embodiment of everything he desires in a life partner. The problem with this book is that the central love story isn't on the page very much. The book is over-crowded with the stories of a large cast of characters, and so by the end of the book, while there's an HFN, there's no HEA. There just hasn't been any time to develop a HEA, which it is presumed will develop off-stage and in the following book. My review is here.

An Amish Family Christmas by Shelley Shephard Gray
Categories: Inspirational Romance
Comments: This is fourth book of "The Charmed Amish Life" series, and it tells the story of bad boy Levi Kinsinger, who’s returned home in time to celebrate Christmas with his family—and the miracle the season has in store for him. Unlike the above story, this one stays tightly focused on the central couple. Other characters's stories are developed here, but they are clearly secondary characters and do not dominate the conversation. As a result, the main story's richer and more complex. I enjoyed seeing how his rough edges are smoothened out by her steady and accepting regard, and how bit by bit, they start to trust each other as their attraction and warm feelings towards each other grow. My review is here.