T. L. Morganfield

The Feathered Serpent's Nest: the Reading Life.

Butterfly Swords (Harlequin Historical)

Butterfly Swords - Jeannie Lin Loved, loved, loved this book. I loved Lin's My Fair Concubine, but this one blew that one away on so many levels. The heroine has to be one of my favorite of everything I read so far, self-sufficient and tough and yet still feminine and relate-able. I also really loved the hero, which I wasn't expecting, given that he's a Westerner, but the whole cross-cultural theme worked very well for me. It's woven quite flawlessly throughout the story. I loved the fact that the story was an action/adventure on top of the romance, so it read fast and furious compared to most of the stuff I've been reading, which seems quiet with the conflict arising mostly from internal turmoils (which isn't necessarily bad, just a different type of story). I'm definitely a Lin fan now and look forward to tearing through the rest of her backlist as soon as I get them.

The Taming of Mei Lin

The Taming of Mei Lin - Jeannie Lin Is it a fair statement to say that I'm only giving this four stars because it is so short? Hmmmm.... Well, I think the main issue I had was that because it was so short, the romance felt like it progressed too quickly. Perhaps if the characters' reactions to each other very early in the story had been stronger, the attraction apparent from first sight, then the way it unfolds would have worked better for me. On the whole though, I liked the story, particularly since I'd just read Butterfly Swords and this is a telling of a story brought up in that book.

The Conqueror's Lady (Harlequin Historical)

The Conqueror's Lady (The Knights of Brittany, #2) - Terri Brisbin Can't think of anything I didn't enjoy about this. I liked the writing style and the setting was pretty cool. I never found myself annoyed with the characters, which is always a good thing. Will look for more of the author's books in the future.

Innocent in the Harem

Innocent in the Harem - Michelle Willingham Mostly I liked this, though I was disappointed to find out it was just a novella and not a full-length novel (I'll have be more careful about what I buy on Amazon), and I personally think it would have worked better as a novel. I loved the setting and the historical period, but on the whole the characters and their relationship just felt too rushed to be really believable. As a result, it felt more like their relationship was based more on sex than love. I would really like to read a full-sized novel set in this historical period and will look for more. I enjoyed the author's writing style, so I'll look for more work by her, preferably novel-length.
How to Disgrace a Lady (Harlequin Historical) - Bronwyn Scott I couldn't think of anything I didn't enjoy about this book. The writing was really good, the characters interesting, and even the rake had my sympathies (something I wouldn't have expected, given my growly disposition about men who flit about from woman to woman). I particularly enjoyed the regency setting, so I'll be looking for more regency romance in the future. I'll also look into picking up the other two books in this series as well.

My Fair Concubine (Harlequin Historical)

My Fair Concubine - Jeannie Lin I loved every bit of this book (well, except maybe the title, but more on that later). I'm only 3 books into my foray into reading historical romance, but already I'm wanting to run over to Amazon and buy the rest of Lin's backlist. She does a fantastic job of immersing the reader in Tang Dynasty China and incorporating the cultural norms into the love story and how the hero and heroine interact and relate to each other. And the love scenes were darn near perfect, without relying on the sometime snicker-worthy "throbbing member" and other such wording. The overall writing was enthralling, the details integrated so well and colorful. My only complaint is the title, in that it really has nothing at all to do with anything that happens in the actual story, so I have to assume it was the publisher's idea. However, the title didn't do anything to hamper my enjoyment of the book. I'm looking forward to reading more of Jeannie Lin's work in the future, and it's this kind of excellent cultural immersion that I want to strive for in my own work.
Surrender to the Roman - Marty Kindall Chester I really enjoyed this one, but found the final confrontation between the hero and the antagonist a bit anti-climatic. I was hoping for a gladiator-style battle in the arena but instead got a quick fix with the antagonist taken care of off screen (and not even at the hands of the hero). On the whole though I found the story and characters compelling, and I loved the setting.

Wolf Hall: A Novel

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1) - Hilary Mantel The writing style and voice were just too odd for me to finish. Read probably about half before decided I just didn't want to finish this.
The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien There's entirely too much description of wandering for my taste, but I suppose that's a product of the time in which it was written. My son enjoyed it and wants me to continue on to The Two Towers, so he obviously didn't find it as tedious as I did.
The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Walt Disney Company This was a Christmas present from my mom when I was about 12. She got it on the discount rack at Kmart and I used this book so much that both the front and back cover have fallen off. I just took it out and looked through it again last night, to find something to stretch my drawing muscles on since I haven't done any drawing in 15 years now. It's every bit as wonderful and full of inspiration as I remember it being. My daughter loves looking through it too.
The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics - Freddie E. Williams II A pretty cool book, and not to difficult to follow along with. My experience is with GIMP rather than Photoshop, but most all of the stuff talked about in here I was familiar with and knew how to do, I just never considered using it this way. This book has made me excited about trying out digital drawing. The one downside to this book is that it stops at the inking stage and doesn't go into doing color (which, I suppose is something he doesn't do, so understandable, though it would have been nice to have had a co-author who does digital coloring to add a couple chapters about that at the end of the book. The cover illustration erroneously leads the casual browser to believe that coloring will be addressed). Overall though a good read.

Five Dances with Death: Dance One

Five Dances with Death: Dance One - Austin  Briggs I wasn't expecting much going into this, with it being self-published and all, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I don't have much trust in the quality of self-published stuff, but I'm willing to give anything about Aztec history and mythology a chance, so I downloaded a sample to see if it was something I could like. The writing style and pacing convinced me to buy. And I ended up quite enthralled with it.

Really, there's isn't much to not like about this book. The research shines through elegantly and is rarely delivered in clunky ways; it pretty much blends seamlessly in with the story. I wasn't overly fond of Angry Wasp in the beginning and there are some inconsistencies with his character (like him having no concept of rape as a tool of power...yeah, not buying that. He's a man of power whose fought in many wars and seen horrible things. Him not agreeing with its use, yes, but not realizing it could be used that way, no.), but he grew on my after a while. At no point did I feel bored with the story and was disappointed that there was no more for me to read once I got to the end.

I would have preferred the author use the actual Nahuatl names for the cities and the historical character, such as Moctezuma the Younger and Cuauhtemoc, but being familiar with the names, it's just a personal preference. I would have also have preferred to get the full 5 parts in one book rather than broken up, since this really isn't a very long novel, and if each part is a similar length, it's still nowhere near as long as Aztec. It does break at a good point though, and I will be looking for the rest of the installments.

Finally, the author calls this a "paranormal", but I think it's closer to fantasy than paranormal. The magic is concrete with rules governing it, and it's taken as matter-of-fact and accepted in the culture as portrayed. And Angry Wasp uses it a lot and gets himself in trouble with it. And the god Tezcatlipoca is an actual character in the book. It might be nitpicking, but it's the difference between say X-Files (paranormal) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (fantasy). I don't mind that it's more fantasy than paranormal, since I love fantasy and am more inclined towards it than paranormal, so the fantasy elements didn't in any way impeded my enjoyment of the book. If anything they enhanced it.

I look forward to the next installment when it becomes available.

The Stocked Kitchen: One Grocery List . . . Endless Recipes

The Stocked Kitchen: One Grocery List... Endless Recipes - Sarah Kallio, Stacey Krastins Disclaimer: my agent gave me a complimentary copy of this book. It was my decision to review it though.

I'm not much of a cook. It's not something I particularly enjoy doing, and usually will opt for putting a frozen pizza in the oven or making some Hamburger Helper. I just don't have a whole lot of time to plan and cook meals. There are a few from-scratch things I do make, like burritos and spaghetti, but that's about it. In general, I find cooking takes a lot of time and I often don't have the stuff needed to make anything different from my normal meals. And my cupboards are loaded with spices I used only once and never again (in fact I had spices in my cupboard from before we bought our house, which was eleven years ago). Needless to say, I'm not all that enthusiastic about cooking and would rather go out to eat any day of the week.

In steps The Stocked Kitchen, and in all seriousness, it's changed my perspective on cooking. Good meals don't have to take hours to prepare, and even my kids are eating it. They're notoriously picky eaters--and there's still stuff they won't eat--but to my surprise I'm hearing a lot more "Wow! This is really good!" rather than "I'm not eating that!" But my husband is the most thrilled to be eating more home-cooked meals and spending less going out to dinner. We haven't made a meal yet out of this book that he doesn't like.

The selling point for me about this cookbook is undoubtedly the shopping list. If you have everything on the shopping list, you can make anything in the book. It does take a couple attempts to figure out what you will use most often and so what to stock up on, but once you figure that out, it's easy to keep what's needed on-hand. There's also stuff that you won't use as often depending on what appeals to you, and this can mean having to throw away some fresh produce until you figure it out (I ended up wasting my fresh basil because none of the recipes I made the first week used it). It might be helpful to set out a meal plan for the week ahead of time, to avoid wasting on the fresh produce. Pretty much everything else on the list will keep a good long time before you open it and use it.

I would really give this book 4 and 1/2 stars, because it's not perfect, but it's darn near close. I live in a high altitude state, which means more cooking time and more liquids, but there's no high altitude directions included, which means I'll have to experiment to get some recipes right (the stroganov came out quite dry but still tasty). There's also no quick reference to prep time. You have to read the actual recipe to see how long it will take to make, and in one case I didn't see the mention of marinading time and so that set back dinner by an hour. I know now to read the recipes carefully before hand, but a quick prep-time reference at the top, like in some of my other cookbooks, would have been most helpful.

I think this book will be particularly good come the holidays, when we have to bring dishes to the family get-togethers. I get tired of making the same green bean casserole or fruit salad every time, so I'm looking forward to trying out some of the dip and pasta salad recipes. Already I've worn a crease in the middle of the book from using it, and hopefully it won't start falling apart (a spiral-bound version would be fantastic).

The Hidden Goddess

The Hidden Goddess - M. K. Hobson On the whole I enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as "The Native Star", and at the end I was left feeling rather melancholy because the series seems wrapped up now. It's got a "happily ever after" feel to it, which for some reason I found oddly dissatisfying (even though I'd been rooting for Emily and Stanton to finally get to be together through the whole book). I liked this universe and was looking forward to getting to explore it over the course of 3 or 4 books, but instead it all wraps up in two. (edit: Upon visiting Hobson's website, I see that this isn't the end of the series, but rather is the end of the stories about Emily and Stanton. That makes me feel better, so I'm going to knock the rating up to 4 stars.)

It also seemed to take a really long time for anything substantial to start happening. The first third of the book is little more than setup and Emily and Stanton's romantic moments being constantly interrupted by people showing up (this was something I felt happened way too much in the book, to the point that as soon as they started getting cozy with each other, I knew someone was going to barge in and they were going to be put off yet again. And naturally it happened just like that. It got to be annoying after first two or three times.). The fact that I'd just finished reading the first book might have contributed to my impatience with how long it was taking for things to start happening too, since a lot of it was getting the reader up to speed with things that happened in the previous book, but when something substantial finally happened, I looked down at the progress bar on my Kindle and found that I was exactly 33% of the way in. So yes, slow starting.

Things really cook after that, and it's one exciting scene after another, along with multiple "Oh no!"'s. Emily's missing early years are finally revealed, as are Stanton's years training to be a sangrimancer. A lot of really fascinated and well-drawn characters come out over the course of the book, and things twist and turn and get all confusing, but eventually it all comes back to form cohesive sense. The big final battle was a little difficult to follow as it happened though.

One final thing I wanted to comment about, since I brought it up in the review of the previous book: the Aztec sangrimancers wanting to destroy the world angle. I was meh about it then, and though I think it worked in the context of this book, it did get me thinking about how sangrimancers were portrayed in this universe. It occurs to me that there isn't a single positive sangrimancer in either book. They seem to be the token "black hats" and this does kind of bother me. The credomancers come in all flavors, and you never really can tell what they're up to, but all sangrimancers are evil, vile creatures, no exceptions. When Stanton was one, he took absolute glee in murder and suffering. I can see this being a modern commentary on the evil of human sacrifice, and the use of Aztecs is an easy shorthand for human sacrifice=evil, but at the same time it's reinforcing narrow understanding of blood sacrifice in general (Christ died in blood sacrifice, of his own choosing, and Quetzalcoatl advocated for auto-sacrifice rather than the killing of others). Where are the sangrimancers that practice self-bloodletting to perform beneficial magic? Surely sangrimancy is as diverse a magical field as the other two.

The Native Star

The Native Star - M.K. Hobson I need to find more books like this, because 95% rocked. I'm a history buff and am particularly interested in the whole 1850's to 1900's America era (my latest project takes place in 1852, so naturally I've been reading quite a bit about it in the non-fiction arena. Note to folks: if you want to be able to use all the cool Old West trappings, set your story after 1860, because a lot of that stuff wasn't around in the 1850's) and while I think this still qualifies as Steampunk, it's distinctly American and I rather like that.

I loved Stanton from the moment walked on stage and was really glad to see that the things I enjoyed about him remained intact despite his character transformation over the course of the book. Emily took a little while for me to warm up to. She came off as a little whiny initially, but eventually I grew to like her a lot. Caul is appropriately sinister and mad, and I particularly enjoyed his savage stuttering. The underlying love story was satisfying as well.

Things I didn't particularly care for: I was really meh about the whole Aztec sangrimancers angle, with them wanting to destroy the world. I feel slightly less annoyed with it now that I've read the opening of The Hidden Goddess and see that it's more complicated than that, but on the whole I would like to see a more diversified portrayal of Aztec religion in fiction. They seem to be an easy boogy man to slap on things as mindless, border-line psychotic villians and paints Aztec religion with too broad a brush. The mass human sacrifices the Spanish saw when they arrived was the byproduct of the political philosophies of one particular Cihuacoatl that reigned in his position through 4 different Emperors, and these practices weren't widely popular with the people, even in the valley of Mexico itself. Otherwise Cortez and his band of conquistadors wouldn't have encountered so many tribes eager to aid him in overthrowing Tenochtitlan. I'm not entirely sure that the next book is going to go far enough to correct this stereotype, but I'm willing to see where Hobson takes it. I hope it's in a good, diversified and thoughtful direction.

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold I was expecting to like this more than I actually did. After about the 50% mark, it started dragging (perhaps explaining why the movie only utilizes about half the book). I enjoyed it while I read it, and it is quite readable, but it's not sticking with me much

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